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fanny flatface.

From The suns babies by Edith Howes.
Age Rating 2 to 4.

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Where the waters of an estuary entered the sea were many wide and sunny shallows. Here the flounders fed, and here in early summer their little eggs, laid in the quiet water, rose up and floated at the top. Rocked on the gentle waves, warmed daily by the golden sun, the eggs hatched into flounder babies. Hundreds and thousands of them there were, crystal clear except for two black eyes, and so very small that they could only just be seen. The tide came in and swept them to and fro, and somehow Fanny lost the shoal and was carried out to sea. There the big waves jostled her about, the great sea creatures frightened her. She was lonely and sad and terrified. "Whatever will become of me?" she thought. On the third day she fell in with a shoal of tiny whitebait, all about her own age and size. "I am lost; please let me swim with you," she begged. "You poor little thing! Of course you may," they said. So for several days she swam with them towards the shore, playing and feeding in happy forgetfulness of all past misery. At this time she was so like the whitebait that no stranger could tell the difference. She had the same long slender body, the same round head and pointed tail. A week passed by. One day she said: "I must go down to the sand. Good-bye."

Before they had time to speak she had dropped from their midst. "How very extraordinary!" said the whitebait to each other. For a day or two they played about as usual, but by-and-by one said: "The thought of Fanny worries me. Suppose we go down to see what has happened to her?" "A good idea," said the others. They found her lying aslant near the bottom of the sea. "Are you sick? Why don't you come up?" they asked. "You look very queer, lying on your side like that." "I feel very queer," she said. "Can you see what is the matter with my left eye?" The whitebait crowded round to look. "Why, it has moved!" cried one. "It seems to be coming round the corner of your head." "I thought it felt strange," said Fanny. "What a comical shape you are!" said another little fish. "You seem to be growing flat." "Oh, dear! I wonder whatever is the matter with me? I don't think I shall ever come up to the top again," sighed Fanny. The others tried to cheer her. "Don't be downhearted," they said. "Perhaps you will feel better to-morrow. Maybe you have eaten something that disagrees with you." "But what a pity! She is certainly losing her beautiful shape," they remarked to one another as they swam away. "And that eye is a most mysterious business." They came back again a day or two later. Fanny--could it be Fanny?--was on the sand. She wriggled up to meet them, and they stared more and more. She was not now long and slim, but flat and wide. And her eye! It had gone quite round the corner, and was now on the same side of her head as her right eye. Strange to say, she looked perfectly happy.

"I am well again," she said. "See, my eye has gone round out of the way, and I am so flat that I can lie comfortably on this nice sea-floor. Isn't it splendid?" "It is a very ugly change," said one. "Oh, dear, do you think so?" asked poor Fanny. "At any rate, the change is most convenient," she went on, brightening. "See--one lies on the sand, so. One's flatness allows one to wriggle partly under the sand, so as to escape one's enemies; and one's eyes are both on top, where they are most needed. You had better come down and grow flat, too." "Not for the world!" cried the others in chorus. "What a life, lying in the sand! And what an ugly shape! Are you going to stay here always?" "Yes," said Fanny. "The food here suits me." "Good-bye, then. We are off to the top," they said. As they swam away one impudent little creature turned round and called: "Good-bye, Fanny Flatface!" That is how poor Fanny got the name. "How are you to-day, Fanny Flatface?" the thoughtless little fishes would call as they swam over her head. They thought it a clever thing to say. She would bury herself in the sand and pretend not to hear, but it made her most unhappy. She thought of all the other fishes she had seen. "None of them are flat," she said, "and none of them have two eyes on one side of the head. How dreadful I must look!" Lonely and miserable, she lay there for months, keeping herself well hidden from sight.

One day she left the spot, hardly knowing why, and floated with the tide into the estuary mouth. A sunny shallow seemed to draw her with the memory of early days. She swam boldly in. Yes, this was her old first home. What had become of her brothers and sisters? Would they receive her, now that she had changed so terribly? The mud floor moved, and scores of flounders raised themselves and looked at her. Flat! As flat as herself! And each with two eyes on one side of the head. What comfort! She was no monstrosity, after all. "Who are you?" they asked. "Fanny," she replied. They all came out to look at her. "Why, it really is Fanny!" they exclaimed. "But how you have grown! How bright your red spots are! And how softly silvered is your under-side! How white and strong your teeth! You are certainly the beauty of the family. Have you come to live with us?" "Yes, oh yes," she answered joyfully. What happiness was hers, after the long months of shame and loneliness! It was a pleasant life they led. By day, while the warm sun shone, they basked below the mud. At night they feasted on the shoals of shrimps and jointed darting creatures that filled the water over them. As they slowly moved from bank to bank their upper skins changed colour with the colour of the floor on which they fed, and thus securely hid them from their enemies. One day the whitebait, grown now to little herrings, came up the estuary. "Why, there is Fanny Flatface," said one. Her sister flounders rose beside her. The herrings gaped in wonder. "So that was just your way of growing up!" they said at last. "Just my way of growing up," said Fanny cheerfully.


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