Why the Sea is Salt
Once there were two brothers. One was rich, and one was poor; the rich one was rather mean. When the Poor Brother used to come to ask for things it annoyed him, and finally one day he said, "There, I'll give it to you this time, but the next time you want anything, you can go Below for it!"
Presently the Poor Brother did want something, and he knew it wasn't any use to go to his brother; he must go Below for it. So he went, and he went, and he went, till he came Below.
It was the queerest place! There were red and yellow fires burning all around, and kettles of boiling oil hanging over them, and a queer sort of men standing round, poking the fires. There was a Chief Man; he had a long curly tail that curled up behind, and two ugly little horns just over his ears; and one foot was very queer indeed. And as soon as anyone came in the door, these men would catch him up and put him over one of the fires, and turn him on a spit. And then the Chief Man, who was the worst of all, would come and say, "Eh, how do you feel now? How do you feel now?" And of course the poor people screamed and screeched and said, "Let us out! Let us out!" That was just what the Chief Man wanted.
When the Poor Brother came in, they picked him up at once, and put him over one of the hottest fires, and began to turn him round and round like the rest; and of course the Chief Man came up to him and said, "Eh, how do you feel now? How do you feel now?" But the Poor Brother did not say, "Let me out! Let me out!" He said, "Pretty well, thank you."
The Chief Man grunted and said to the other men, "Make the fire hotter." But the next time he asked the Poor Brother how he felt, the Poor Brother smiled and said, "Much better now, thank you." The Chief Man did not like this at all, because, of course, the whole object in life of the people Below was to make their victims uncomfortable. So he piled on more fuel and made the fire hotter still. But every time he asked the Poor Brother how he felt, the Poor Brother would say, "Very much better"; and at last he said, "Perfectly comfortable, thank you; couldn't be better."
You see when the Poor Brother was on earth he had never once had money enough to buy coal enough to keep him warm; so he liked the heat.
At last the Chief Man could stand it no longer.
"Oh, look here," he said, "you can go home."
"Oh no, thank you," said the Poor Brother, "I like it here."
"You must go home," said the Chief Man.
"But I won't go home," said the Poor Brother.
The Chief Man went away and talked with the other men; but no matter what they did they could not make the Poor Brother uncomfortable; so at last the Chief Man came back and said,—
"What'll you take to go home?"
"What have you got?" said the Poor Brother.
"Well," said the Chief Man, "if you'll go home quietly I'll give you the Little Mill that stands behind my door."
"What's the good of it?" said the Poor Brother.
"It is the most wonderful mill in the world," said the Chief Man. "Anything at all that you want, you have only to name it, and say, 'Grind this, Little Mill, and grind quickly,' and the Mill will grind that thing until you say the magic word, to stop it."
"That sounds nice," said the Poor Brother. "I'll take it." And he took the Little Mill under his arm, and went up, and up, and up, till he came to his own house.
When he was in front of his little old hut, he put the Little Mill down on the ground and said to it, "Grind a fine house, Little Mill, and grind quickly." And the Little Mill ground, and ground, and ground the finest house that ever was seen. It had fine big chimneys, and gable windows, and broad piazzas; and just as the Little Mill ground the last step of the last flight of steps, the Poor Brother said the magic word, and it stopped.
Then he took it round to where the barn was, and said, "Grind cattle, Little Mill, and grind quickly." And the Little Mill ground, and ground, and ground, and out came great fat cows, and little woolly lambs, and fine little pigs; and just as the Little Mill ground the last curl on the tail of the last little pig, the Poor Brother said the magic word, and it stopped.
He did the same thing with crops for his cattle, pretty clothes for his daughters, and everything else they wanted. At last he had everything he wanted, and so he stood the Little Mill behind his door.
All this time the Rich Brother had been getting more and more jealous, and at last he came to ask the Poor Brother how he had grown so rich. The Poor Brother told him all about it. He said, "It all comes from that Little Mill behind my door. All I have to do when I want anything is to name it to the Little Mill, and say, 'Grind that, Little Mill, and grind quickly,' and the Little Mill will grind that thing until—"
But the Rich Brother didn't wait to hear any more. "Will you lend me the Little Mill?" he said.
"Why, yes," said the Poor Brother, "I will."
So the Rich Brother took the Little Mill under his arm and started across the fields to his house. When he got near home he saw the farm-hands coming in from the fields for their luncheon. Now, you remember, he was rather mean. He thought to himself, "It is a waste of good time for them to come into the house; they shall have their porridge where they are." He called all the men to him, and made them bring their porridge-bowls. Then he set the Little Mill down on the ground, and said to it, "Grind oatmeal porridge, Little Mill, and grind quickly!" The Little Mill ground, and ground, and ground, and out came delicious oatmeal porridge. Each man held his bowl under the spout. When the last bowl was filled, the porridge ran over on the ground.
"That's enough, Little Mill," said the Rich Brother. "You may stop, and stop quickly."
But this was not the magic word, and the Little Mill did not stop. It ground, and ground, and ground, and the porridge ran all round and made a little pool. The Rich Brother said, "No, no, Little Mill, I said, 'Stop grinding, and stop quickly.'" But the Little Mill ground, and ground, faster than ever; and presently there was a regular pond of porridge, almost up to their knees. The Rich Brother said, "Stop grinding," in every kind of way; he called the Little Mill names; but nothing did any good. The Little Mill ground porridge just the same. At last the men said, "Go and get your brother to stop the Little Mill, or we shall be drowned in porridge."
So the Rich Brother started for his brother's house. He had to swim before he got there, and the porridge went up his sleeves, and down his neck, and it was horrid and sticky. His brother laughed when he heard the story, but he came with him, and they took a boat and rowed across the lake of porridge to where the Little Mill was grinding. And then the Poor Brother whispered the magic word, and the Little Mill stopped.
But the porridge was a long time soaking into the ground, and nothing would ever grow there afterwards except oatmeal.
The Rich Brother didn't seem to care much about the Little Mill after this, so the Poor Brother took it home again and put it behind the door; and there it stayed a long, long while.
Years afterwards a Sea Captain came there on a visit. He told such big stories that the Poor Brother said, "Oh, I daresay you have seen wonderful things, but I don't believe you ever saw anything more wonderful than the Little Mill that stands behind my door."
"What is wonderful about that?" said the Sea Captain.
"Why," said the Poor Brother, "anything in the world you want,—you have only to name it to the Little Mill and say, 'Grind that, Little Mill, and grind quickly,' and it will grind that thing until—"
The Sea Captain didn't wait to hear another word. "Will you lend me that Little Mill?" he said eagerly.
The Poor Brother smiled a little, but he said, "Yes," and the Sea Captain took the Little Mill under his arm, and went on board his ship and sailed away.
They had head-winds and storms, and they were so long at sea that some of the food gave out. Worst of all, the salt gave out. It was dreadful, being without salt. But the Captain happened to remember the Little Mill.
"Bring up the salt box!" he said to the cook. "We will have salt enough."
He set the Little Mill on deck, put the salt box under the spout, and said,—
"Grind salt, Little Mill, and grind quickly!"
And the Little Mill ground beautiful, white, powdery salt. When they had enough, the Captain said, "Now you may stop, Little Mill, and stop quickly." The Little Mill kept on grinding; and the salt began to pile up in little heaps on the deck. "I said, 'Stop,'" said the Captain. But the Little Mill ground, and ground, faster than ever, and the salt was soon thick on the deck like snow. The Captain called the Little Mill names and told it to stop, in every language he knew, but the Little Mill went on grinding. The salt covered all the decks and poured down into the hold, and at last the ship began to settle in the water; salt is very heavy. But just before the ship sank to the water-line, the Captain had a bright thought: he threw the Little Mill overboard!
It fell right down to the bottom of the sea. And it has been grinding salt ever since.