Theeda by Julian Hawthorne
THE BOOK AND THE VASE.
Oscar lived beside the sea, and had no companions
except the waves, the seagulls, the
sunsets and sunrises, the moonlight and the
shore. He was happy, and yet there was
something that he wanted. He could not
tell what that something was, but he did not
the less feel the need of it on that account.
He knew that he had a father, but he had
never seen him. He knew that his father
cared for him, and gave him what he needed
to eat and drink and wear. His mother had
told him that his father was wise and powerful
and good; and that once, before Oscar
was old enough to remember anything, he
had lived with her in the cottage beside the
sea. But soon after Oscar was born, his
father had left them and gone across the sea
to another country. When a few more years
had passed, he had sent for Oscar's mother to
follow him, and she had gone. Oscar could
just remember the ship which had taken her
away. He had sat in the cottage doorway,
and watched the ship grow smaller and
smaller as it receded over the waves. At
first its sails had looked dark, because they
were against the light; but a moment before
it touched the horizon, where earth and
heaven meet, the great white light from beyond
had touched the sails, and made them
gleam like angels' wings. Then ship and
sails had settled into a lustrous invisibility; a
long wave had broken with a hollow sound
upon the shore, and a feeling of tender sadness
had come into the little boy's heart.
Although he was alone, however, he was
not lonely; there was a great deal to amuse
him. The cottage, which was made out of
the hull of an old fishing boat, was as pleasant
a place to live in as a boy could wish. It
was divided into two rooms, in one of which
Oscar slept, and in the other he ate his
dinner. The furniture was very simple—a
bed, a chair or two, a table, and a bookshelf;
but these were all that Oscar required;
and besides, he spent most of his time outdoors.
There were two other things in the
dining-room, however, for which he cared
very much. One was a large book, which
lay on the bookshelf. It was a gift which
his father had left for him when he went
away. It was a large heavy book, with a
dark binding and a golden clasp. This clasp
could be opened only by pronouncing over it
certain words which Oscar's father had bade
the boy's mother teach him when he should
be old enough. These words were a secret,
and if the secret were betrayed, certain penalties
would follow. It was Oscar's habit,
on getting up every morning, to take the
book from the bookshelf, and having spoken
the magic words, to open it and read. Now,
the pages of the book appeared like ordinary
printed pages, and if anyone besides Oscar
had looked into them, they would have read
only a number of stories which were not very
interesting, and which did not seem to be of
any especial importance to anybody. But
with Oscar it was very different; for, as the
morning sunshine fell upon the page, he saw,
not the printed words, but wonderful pictures,
which lived and moved, and had many strange
and beautiful meanings. The pictures were
something like the world in which the boy
lived, but much brighter and more glorious,
and the people who moved in them were far
nobler and handsomer than any that Oscar
could have imagined; and chief among them
was a grand figure which the boy recognised
as his father. While going over the pages
of this mysterious book, therefore, Oscar, in
his lonely cottage, was able to see with his
own eyes all the mighty deeds that his father
had done, and even many of those that he
was at that moment doing; for the book was
a living book, and though it told of marvels
in comparison with which all other fairy
stories would seem dull and commonplace,
yet these marvels were all true. By studying
that book a man could become wiser than
the wisest of philosophers, and see more than
the greatest of travellers, and yet remain as
simple as a little child. It would take a long time
to tell you even a few of the wonders which
this book held between its dark covers. One
of them was, that if Oscar was in any trouble,
he had but to open his book, and the pictures
would show him how the trouble was to be
overcome. Every pain that he could suffer,
and every difficulty that he could meet, had
been met and suffered by his father long
before; so that by seeing what his father
had done, he learned what was the best thing
to do himself. For Oscar was like his father,
though he was but a little boy.
The other thing that the dining-room
contained was a large crystal vase, which
stood in the window. It had seven sides,
and was so large round that Oscar could not
make his arms meet about it. It was filled
with the purest water, and at the bottom
were sand and pebbles, and delicate seaweeds,
red and green, and pieces of rock
covered with curious mosses and tinted
lichens. It was like a little sea, only that
there were no living animals in it. But
under the shadow of one of the rocks lay
a large pearl shell, which Oscar fancied must
hold some living thing, although, often as he
had watched it, it had never yet moved or
opened. But the boy had faith and patience,
and every new day he went to the vase, in the
hope that now at last something might have
come from the pearl shell. It lay quiet, however,
and kept its secret to itself. It must
certainly be a pleasant secret, Oscar thought,
for the shell was exquisitely curved, and its
pearly sides shone with a delicate lustre.
And the more he pondered over the matter,
the surer he became that the vase must have
been given for the sake of the shell, and that
by-and-by the shell would show why it was
there. Sometimes he felt tempted to take
it out of the water, and try whether he could
see inside of it. But he could never quite
bring himself to do this, because, though the
vase and the shell were his own, he felt that
they had been given to him to look at, and
not to meddle with. In his book, too, he
saw that the night always comes before the
morning, and the winter before the spring;
and though he did not understand why that
should be so—why the morning should not
begin just after the sun had set, and the spring
buds and flowers come out as soon as the red
and yellow leaves of autumn had fallen—yet
he saw that one wave followed another to
break against the shore, and that every
flower was a bud before it was a blossom,
and that no happiness was so happy as that
which had been waited for; so he believed
that the secret of the shell would disclose
itself when the right time should come, and
that to try to find it out beforehand would
perhaps be to lose it altogether. Moreover,
was not the shell beautiful enough as it was?
OSCAR INSIDE OUT.
When these early morning hours were over,
Oscar used to go out of the cottage and
wander about beside the sea. The waves
murmured to him, and the sun was warm;
the seagulls wheeled above his head and
screamed with their wild voices; great white
clouds built themselves into cities and palaces
before his eyes; lights and shadows wavered
everywhere, and made the grey rocks and
the distant mountains seem alive; winds
whispered in the long grass, and sang crooning
melodies in the branches of the trees;
little insects and animals ran hither and
thither, and seemed busy even when they
were doing nothing. Sometimes the rain
fell, making a secret sound in the leaves,
and causing the surface of the clear pools
to leap aloft in tiny pyramids; then the
green plants stood up and stretched out
their stems, taking their wetting gladly, and
growing taller after it, though it had made
them bob their heads. With the evening,
splendid colours came along the sky, though
the hand that painted them was not seen:
they, too, spoke a kind of language; the
glories of the day that was past, and the
thoughts and hopes that Oscar had had,
seemed to glow in the heavens as they
glowed in the boy's memory. They faded
at last, and night darkened the world, so
that Oscar might not forget the moon and
stars. These never slept, and therefore
Oscar knew that he might sleep. The
rays that came from them found their way
silently into his heart, and filled it with the
fresh and quiet fancies that afterwards grew
into dreams. For his dreams did not come
from the world he lived in, but from some other.
But what was this that the waves and the
birds, and the light and shadow, and the
trees and the rain, and all the rest of it,
were trying to say to him? Was it really
anything? and if it were, why could he not
understand it? Sometimes he thought he
almost understood it. If the things would
speak a very little plainer, or if he could see
and hear the least bit more clearly, there would
be no more mystery. He thought they would
say, 'Oscar, we are like you. We are here
because you are here. If you were not Oscar,
we should not be what we are. And if we
were not here you could not speak, nor think,
nor be glad or sorry.' But they never did
quite say this. Therefore Oscar was not
quite content, and he felt that he needed
something, he knew not what, more than
the earth and the sea and the sky had given
him. They were so friendly to him that they
made him long for a nearer friendship still.
He could not come closer to them; and if
they could not come closer to him, must not
something be wrong? He found them always
fresh, and full of new things that never came
to an end; they were alive, but the life they
had was not quite the same as his own life.
The world was so big that he could not put
his arms round it and hug it; it was calm
and orderly, and although he could never get
to the end of the new things that were in it,
yet he knew that every year it was the same
world that it had been before. It was not so
with him; for, in spite of his being always
Oscar, he knew every day that he never had
been and never would be exactly the same
Oscar that he was at that moment. So the
world was not only too big for him, but, in
another way, it was too small for him also.
The world could live only a year, after all,
since one of its years was the same as
another; but Oscar felt that he could live
innumerable years, because no one of his
years was the same as any other. Oh, if
he could only find something to love that
would grow in the same way that he grew,
and answer him when he spoke, and be in all
ways both as large and as small as he! Up
and down the shore Oscar wandered, and
through the green shade of the rustling
forest, and with his eyes he sought amidst
the clouds and the stars, but the thing that
he wanted he did not find.
When the rain came down too hard,
Oscar would stay within the cottage, and
study his book, or watch his pearl-shell, or
sometimes go into the bedroom and look
at the things his mother had left behind her.
They were very ordinary things, and there
were very few of them; but they were dearer
to Oscar than anything else. Here was the
jacket his mother used to wear, and against
which Oscar's face had often rested, while
she nursed him in her arms, or lulled him to
sleep. It was full of wrinkles and stains, and
was torn in one or two places; but it was his
own mother's own jacket, and made him think
so vividly of her kind face and loving eyes
and warm soft arms, that he would heave a
deep sigh, and sit still with his eyes very wide
open. Then there was the comb that his
mother used to wear in her hair. It was
made of white ivory prettily carved. Oscar
remembered how his mother used sometimes
to take out this comb while he was sitting on
her lap, and let her hair tumble down about her
shoulders; and she used to let him feel its
smoothness with his small hands, and taught
him how to braid it by weaving three strands
of it in and out.
The feelings that Oscar had while sitting
in the bedroom with these and other things
that had belonged to his mother were very
different from any that came to him while he
was outdoors. They were less cheerful than
his outdoor feelings, but he liked them better.
For in thinking of his mother he forgot himself;
he had been able to put his arms round
his mother's neck and to kiss her cheek. She
had loved him and called him by his name;
he had known that no other boy could be to
her what he was; she had comforted him
when he was hurt or grieved; she had been
made to be his mother, as he had been made
to be her son. It was not so with the world
outdoors—with the earth and the sea and the
sky. These had been made for Oscar perhaps;
but if Oscar had been some other boy
they would still have remained. They belonged
to him only because he was a boy,
and not because he was the boy Oscar.
Therefore he could not forget himself in
loving and giving himself to them, as he
had done in loving and giving himself to his
mother. All this brought him to think that
unless, out of the earth and sea and sky,
something could come to him that should
both bring them nearer and yet be different
from them, the promise which they seemed to
hold out to him would not be fulfilled. It was
not a bigger or a more beautiful world that
he wanted, but a world within the world,
which should contain all that made the outer
world beautiful and lovable, and something
more besides. Such a world within the world
his mother had been to him; but it was nothis mother that the boy looked for, because
he knew that she was gone never to return.
What was it then? Oscar did not yet know;
but now something began to stir within him
that seemed to mean that the answer would
not be long delayed.
THE PEARL-SHELL'S GIFT.
One morning, as he was sitting with his book
open upon his knees, the page at which he
looked seemed suddenly to be overspread
with a grey cloud. At first he could not see
through the cloud, but after a while lights and
shadows began to stir duskily within it, and
presently he saw, as through a mist, some one
walking along a lonely pathway in a forest.
The mist gradually cleared away, but the face
of the person was turned from him, so that it
could not be known who he was. The person
came to an opening amidst the trees, overspread
with soft green grass and flowers of
many hues. In the centre of this grass-plot
was a fountain, bubbling up like living crystal
from a basin of sparkling sand. Around the
margin were the golden smile of buttercups
and the blue glance of forget-me-nots. The
wanderer drew near and bent over the fountain.
Then, out of the pure water, an arm
was stretched upwards, holding in its hand a
radiant pearl. The wanderer took the pearl,
and then the mysterious hand and arm were
drawn under the water again and disappeared.
The wanderer looked at the pearl and seemed
to rejoice in it, as well he might; for it was
the most precious of all pearls. But while he
was rejoicing, a man came up to him who,
though he had eyes and a tongue, was both
dumb and blind; but he talked very rapidly
with his fingers, as most dumb persons can
do; and he used his nose instead of eyes, for
he judged whether or not a thing were beautiful
or valuable by smelling of it. The
wanderer spoke to this odd person, and bade
him look at the pearl and rejoice with him.
But the other shook his head contemptuously,
and said with his fingers that his eyes were
not made to see, and that seeing was all folly
and deception; and that a good nose was
worth all the eyesight in the world. So, instead
of looking at the pearl he smelt of it,
and after doing so again shook his head contemptuously,
and pulled out of his pocket a
raw onion. 'Smell of that,' he said with his
fingers; 'that is worth all the pearls in the
world!' and then he began to try to persuade
the owner of the pearl, by many clever and
cunning arguments, to throw the pearl away,
and take an onion in its stead. Oscar bent
forward in great eagerness to see whether the
owner of the pearl could possibly be so foolish
as to let himself believe that the most precious
pearl in the world could be exchanged for an
onion; but just then the mist arose once more,
and rapidly deepened to an impenetrable cloud,
and the figures of both the man with the pearl
and of the man with the onion were blotted
out. Oscar closed the book. All the rest of
the day he could think of nothing but this
strange picture; and he wondered deeply
whether the blind man with the onion had
succeeded in making the other man as blind
as himself. If only the cloud had held back
a few minutes longer!
Before Oscar went to bed he looked into
the crystal vase, to see whether there were
any change in the shell. For the first time
it seemed to him that it had really moved a
little. But the light was so dim that he could
not be sure. Out of the window the sea had
a marvellous twinkle of moonlight over it,
and the night air was cool and sweet. Suddenly,
a hideous bat, with broad noiseless
wings of filmy black, hovered into the room,
poised itself for a moment over the crystal
vase, and then flitted away again.
The next day was one which Oscar, so
long as he lived, never forgot.
He had had a strange dream during the
night, and this had taken from his memory
the change which he had fancied he noticed
in the shell before going to bed. But now,
when he went as usual to look at it, he saw
that a change had taken place indeed.
The shell was rolled over on its back; the
lid, which heretofore had closed its mouth,
was open; and the shell was empty. Oscar
could see far down into the very depths of
the curving interior; it was as smooth as
satin, and looked fit to house the queen of
the fairies. But there was nothing in it.
When, however, Oscar raised his eyes, he
beheld a sight which made him draw in his
breath with a long sigh of amazement and
tremulous delight. The two largest pieces of
rock in the vase leaned together in such a way
as to make an arch, upon the sides of which
delicate leaves of pink and green seaweed
grew, and other broader leaves clustered
together in a sort of grove further back.
Within this grove Oscar now perceived a
movement, as if something were advancing
through them. In a moment they parted,
and a fairy-like little figure floated between,
touching the sand with the tips only of her
tiny feet. Forward she came until she stood
just beneath the highest part of the arch.
She was scarcely six inches tall, but she was
perfectly formed in every part; and her face,
though it was less than an inch long, was
completely and exquisitely beautiful; and,
moreover, it looked even more good than
lovely. Her hair, which was finer than the
finest cobweb, floated around her like a sort
of brown mist; it was very thick and immensely
long—nearly five inches! Her skin
was more pure and delicate than the inside of
a white geranium bud; but the palms of her
little hands had a faint rose tint, and so had
the tips of her infinitesimal fingers and toes.
Her eyes were like fairy forget-me-nots; and,
ah! who can describe that tiniest marvel of all
perfection, her mouth, with its tender curved
lips, and teeth no bigger than grains of white
sand. This little lady carried in one hand a
broad frond of green weed, which arched over
her head and protected her from the rays of
the sun that fell through the crystal sides of
the vase. Round her neck was hung a necklace
of seed pearls that might have come out
of a mussel as large as a millet seed. From
the waist depended a curiously woven girdle
made of thread-like sea-grasses of various
colours. There she stood, gazing straight at
Oscar with her wondering blue eyes, and her
lips half parted. And Oscar gazed at her,
almost afraid to breathe, lest she should
vanish out of his sight. For he could not
yet believe that she was real. He had never
even dreamed of anything like her before.
But he was awake, and she still stood beneath
the archway of rock, and he saw many sweet
expressions pass over her face. Yes, she was
a real, living little maiden, and she had come
into the world to make Oscar happy; to supply
the want he had felt; to be something
that he could love and live for.
Oscar felt so tenderly towards her, and so
fearful lest he should do something to alarm
or shock her, that at first he did not venture
to do anything at all. He was so terribly big,
he thought, that she must find him frightful.
He longed to show her in some way that
there was nothing in his heart but love and
reverence for her. In the midst of his perplexity,
however, the little maiden smiled a
smile that was all the more delightful because
the eyes and mouth she smiled with were so
small; and with a light movement she half
walked, half floated towards him, until she
stood close to the crystal side of the vase.
The tips of her fingers rested against it, and
she looked up at Oscar with a glance so winning
and so confiding that he no longer felt
any doubt about her or about himself. He
stooped down and put his lips to his side of
the crystal vase, and they kissed each other
In this way the pledge of friendship between
them was given. As soon as it had
been done, the little maiden made a leap as
of joy, and then began to dance about inside
the vase, sometimes touching the sandy bottom,
but most of the time gliding to and fro
in mid-water, turning herself this way and that
in graceful caprioles, diving through the archway
and coming up out of the grove of seaweeds
on the other side; waving her arms
about her head with dreamy motions; sometimes
resting quietly upon nothing, as if she
were asleep; then swimming like a fish with
her arms folded and her feet crossed one over
the other; and now playing at peep-bo with
Oscar behind the rocks. Oscar had never
been so delighted; his eyes sparkled and his
cheeks were red. At last his little playmate
dived into the pearl-shell and disappeared,
and the boy began to fear that he should see
her no more. But in a very short time she
came out again, holding something in her
hand. She smiled and nodded to him, and
rose up through the water until she nearly
reached the surface. Oscar thought she must
be coming out, and his heart beat with expectation.
But she was not coming out.
Instead of that, she stretched up her tiny
hand above the surface, and Oscar now saw
that it held a pearl. He cautiously put out his
own hand, and took the pearl from her fingers.
Then she nodded again, and descended.
'Is this for me?' asked Oscar, very softly.
Hereupon she made him the most charming
little bow imaginable, at the same time
bringing both her hands to her lips, and
blowing him a kiss.
'Thank you, you lovely little creature!'
said Oscar. 'But can you understand all I
say to you?'
Again the little maiden smiled, and
nodded her head up and down.
'And can you speak also?' the boy demanded.
She put up one hand, and waved it slowly
backwards and forwards before her face.
'Ah, she cannot speak!' thought Oscar;
and he felt a momentary touch of sadness.
But at that an expression came into her
face that seemed to say, as plainly as could
be, 'If I cannot talk as you do, still I can
talk.' And not only did her face seem to say
this, but she said it, as it were, with all there
was of her; and although in one sense there
was very little of her, yet in another sense
there was so very much, that not the largest
giant ever heard of could have said so much
without speaking as she could. Oscar could
not account for it. Talking without speaking
was something new to him. 'But, after all,'
he thought, 'nobody could talk under water;
and no doubt thinking under water is the same
as talking out of it.' Besides, though this
wonderful little water-maiden was but six
inches tall, her thoughts were evidently quite
as big as those of an ordinary grown-up
person, so that they must be so much the
more easily visible. And, finally, why should
Oscar trouble himself about how anything
happened, as long as it did happen, and was
agreeable? Probably it was because he
already loved this exquisite fairy so much,
that he was able to understand what was
passing in her mind.
He named her Theeda—he did not know
why, except that that sounded as if it must be
her name, and she seemed to be perfectly satisfied
with it. And so these two fell in love with
each other at first sight, though she lived in
water and he in air, and there could therefore
be no meeting between them, except the
meeting of their hearts and eyes. They
must even kiss each other through the crystal.
Nevertheless they were as happy as the day
was long, and indeed much happier, for time
is a thing with which happiness has very little
to do. Oscar's only regret was that Theeda
could not be with him when he took his walks
upon the shore. He enjoyed his walks, however,
more than he had ever before done,
because now the earth and the sea and the
sky not only said to him, 'We are like you,
Oscar,' but also, 'Theeda loves you!'
Oscar could never see enough of his little
water-maiden; and he talked to her perhaps
all the more because she answered him only
by sympathetic thoughts. He told her all
that he knew of his life before she came to
him—about his dreams by night and his reveries
by day; about all the beauties of the
world that she could not see from the crystal
imprisonment of her vase; about his mother,
too, and how the sails of the ship in which
she went away had been lit up by the light
beyond just before reaching the horizon verge.
He spoke likewise of his father, how good
and great he was, and how, although he lived
and ruled in a distant country, he never forgot
to send his little son all things that were
necessary for his comfort and happiness.
'And I believe, Theeda,' added Oscar,
'that he put you in the pearl-shell for me.
Perhaps you have seen him?'
Theeda threw back her floating mist of
hair, and smiled.
'Ah, of course, everybody who is good
and lovely must have come from him,' Oscar
murmured, as if answering something she had
said. And then he went on to talk about
the book, and of the strange picture he had
seen in it the day before she appeared.
'I think, now,' he said, 'that the wanderer
in the forest must have been myself; and the
precious pearl that was given to him out of
the fountain was you. But who was the blind
and dumb man with the onion?'
At that Theeda's head dropped, and she
sank slowly down on the sand, and she hid
her face in her hands.
'What is the matter, Theeda?' cried Oscar;
'dearest Theeda, what has happened?'
She partly lifted herself up, though still
crouching in the sand, and held out her arms
towards Oscar as if entreating him to do
something. And now, for the first time, he
could not read her thought. She seemed
to beseech him; but he, who would have
given her everything, knew not for what she
besought him. At last she trailed herself to
the side of the vase and put up her lips to be
'I love you, Theeda!' said he. 'See!
with my whole heart!'
But all that day Theeda's sadness did not
wholly pass away; and each morning afterwards,
when Oscar first came into the room,
she would meet him with a kind of timorousness,
and would not be happy until he had
kissed her through the crystal, and had told
her again that he loved her.
She was by no means an idle little maiden,
however. The vase was her home and her
garden, and she was busy many hours a day
in keeping it in order and making it more
and more beautiful. It was wonderful how
much she found to do. In some places, where
the red and green weeds grew too thick, she
pruned them with a little knife that Oscar
had given her, made out of a piece of a
mussel shell, and cut away the pieces that
were decayed. She sifted the brown sand
between her fingers, and cleansed it from all
impurities; and she brought the prettiest of
the pebbles and laid them in tasteful patterns.
She plaited a kind of hammock out of the
sea grass, and hung it at the entrance of the
archway; and in the afternoons, when the
sun was hot, she lay in it and took her siesta.
And now Oscar, from time to time, put in
little sea-animals to keep her company and
amuse her; he found many such in the rock
pools along the shore. There were prawns,
almost transparent, striped like zebras with
fine pink stripes, and having long feelers like
hairs, which they waved about, and, as it
were, asked delicate questions with them of
everything that came near. They moved as
lightly as thistledown and as swiftly as sunshine.
Then there were fishes, slender little
things an inch or two long, with round astonished
eyes, and open mouths that looked as
if they were saying, 'Hoo! hoo!' They
were of all colours, and some of them had
fierce-looking spines on their backs, which
they could move backwards and forwards
very much as a horse moves its ears. These
fish were at first very timid, and kept under
the shadow of the rocks, or lurked amidst the
seaweed. But Theeda soon made friends with
them, so that they regularly came to her to
be fed, and sometimes she used to play at tag
with them, darting round and round inside
the vase, and in and out amongst the rocks,
while the weeds waved to and fro like banners
in a gale of wind. Oscar also brought sea-snails,
with brightly tinted shells, which crawled
slowly about, measuring their way with their
one soft foot, and stretching out little transparent
horns in front, like children feeling their
way in the dark. Besides these there was a
hermit crab, which lived in a pearl shell very
much like Theeda's, but only about a sixth
part as big. This crab was the only ill-natured
creature in the vase. He sat sullenly
in the door of his house, in a little hollow
under a large stone; his little dull eyes stuck
far out of his head, and his ugly claws hung
down in front like a pair of red fists. He
never had a pleasant word for anybody; but,
if any came near him, he either pettishly
hitched himself back into his shell, or else
made a vicious snap at the visitor with his
claws. He even snapped at Theeda two or
three times, and then Oscar wanted to take
him out and throw him back into the sea. But
Theeda was very forgiving, and would not let
this cross little crab be punished. She always
treated him kindly, brought his dinner to him
every day, and did all she could to make him
goodnatured and comfortable. But nothing
seemed to make him any better; and one
day, when Theeda had made him let go of a
prawn which he had caught by the tail with
one of his claws, he flew into such a terrible
passion that Oscar felt very glad, for the sake
of the other creatures in the vase, that he
was no bigger. He made up his mind to
have him out before long.
Except for the crab, the vase was the
most charming place to live in that could be
imagined, and Oscar often wished that he
were able to breathe under water as easily as
Theeda did, and that he were as small as she
was. Theeda, no doubt, wished so too; but
it was not to be. Then Oscar used to hope
that, some day, Theeda would grow up to be
as tall, or nearly as tall, as himself, and then
come out of the water, and live with him in
the cottage. But that did not seem very
likely to happen either. And perhaps, after
all, they were as near together as many people
who live in the same house, and are separated
by neither water nor crystal. Only, when
Theeda brought out her oyster-shell dinner-table,
and set it under the bower of green
ulva leaves, and placed upon it her little
cockle-shell dishes of fresh sea vegetables
(which was all she ate), Oscar's very heart
ached to be sitting at the opposite side of the
table and dining with her. Water then seemed
to him a much more agreeable element to pass
one's time in than air. But, although wishing
can do a great deal, it could not quite make a
merman of Oscar. Theeda ate her dinners
by herself except for the tit-bits that she
gave to the prawns and snails, and the scraps
that the fishes stole when they thought she
was not looking.
'Some day, Theeda, perhaps....!'
Oscar used to say, without ever finishing the
Theeda understood very well what he
meant, and used to look as if she meant it
also. And Oscar's father, who was as powerful
as he was kind, would no doubt be able to
make them happy in the way they wanted, if
he saw that it was best for them. But the
hermit crab had a very ugly and malicious
look, as if he had a mind to prevent anybody
from being happy if he could.
One morning, while Oscar was looking into
the vase, and admiring the bright silver beads
that were forming all over the leaves of seaweed,
and on the lichen-covered surface of the
rocks; and while Theeda was busy feeding
the fishes, who seemed to get hungrier the
more they ate; and just when Oscar was
about to remark that the hermit-crab was not
in his usual hole, nor anywhere else that he
could see—at that moment a dark shadow
suddenly fell across the vase, shutting it off
from the sunlight, scaring away the fishes,
and making Theeda look up with a start, and
then quickly take refuge in her shell, as from
something she feared.
Oscar also looked up, and saw somebody
standing before the window.
It was a boy; but a very odd boy, Oscar
thought. He was not any bigger than Oscar,
but he seemed to be a good deal older. He
had a broad flat face, with a sharp little nose
in the middle of it, a wide thin mouth, and
pale eyes which stuck out very far, and over
which he wore spectacles. He had pale
reddish hair growing upright on his head.
His legs were so thin that it seemed a wonder
he could stand upon them, and indeed they
were bowed out sideways, as if the boy's
weight were too much for them. His arms
also were thin, but his hands were immensely
large and red, with stiff, thick fingers, and
huge thumbs. He was not quite facing the
window, but stood sideways towards it, and
looked at Oscar askance. The skin of this
boy's face was coarse and rough, and seemed
as thick as orange-peel.
'What is your name?' asked the strange
boy, after a while.
Oscar told him what it was.
'What an absurdly old-fashioned name!'
said the boy, contemptuously. 'I have a
better name than that—my name is Kanker!'
'Do you want anything?' said Oscar.
'Yes,' said Kanker. 'I want to ask questions.
I am in search of truth. I never
believe lies; so you needn't tell me any.'
'I never tell lies,' said Oscar, gravely.
'That is a lie to begin with. Everybody
tells lies—except me! Everything lies—the
things that can't talk, as well as the things
that can. The world is a lie.'
'The world is not a lie,' said Oscar, indignantly.
'And if you think it is, why do
you search for truth?'
'I have at all events found the only truth
there is to be found—and that is, that everything
is a lie,' replied Kanker. 'I have proved
it a thousand times already, and every new
question I ask proves it again.'
'What makes your hands so big?' Oscar
could not help asking.
'They are no bigger than they ought to
be,' Kanker answered, holding them up and
looking at them admiringly. 'I use them to
touch things with. I never believe in anything
that I haven't touched. Nothing exists unless
I can touch it. Come out of that room, so that
I may touch you, and see whether you exist.'
'I will come out,' said Oscar; for he
thought it would be better to go to Kanker
than to have Kanker come in to him. 'But
you need not touch me; I can touch myself
if I want to.'
Nevertheless, no sooner had he come out
than Kanker took hold of him by the arm,
and gripped it so hard with his big red hand
that Oscar said, 'Let go, you hurt me!'
'Your touching yourself would prove
nothing to me, you know,' said Kanker.
'Well, you seem to exist. Where are your
father and mother?'
'They are not here,' answered Oscar.
'They are gone—long ago.'
'I don't believe it. Where did they go
'Over there,' said Oscar, pointing across
'Nonsense! Do you mean they are
'No. They are gone to a country over
'How do you know there is a country
over there? Did you ever touch it?'
Oscar shook his head.
'I thought so. Then there is no such
place. Therefore your father and mother
have gone nowhere. Therefore they do not
exist. And what business have you to exist
if you never had a father and mother?'
'I don't know what you mean,' said Oscar,
'and I don't care whether I exist or not,
so long as I do what is right, and am
At this Kanker laughed, a spluttering
laugh, as if he had his mouth full of water.
'Sit down here beside me,' he said, 'I want
to ask you some more questions.'
Oscar sat down beside him. He did not
at all like Kanker, whose voice was as harsh
as his manners were impolite. And he was
certainly ugly. When Oscar did not look
full at him he had something the appearance
of a gigantic crab, which was increased by
his sidelong shuffle in walking, and by the
two great red hands that he carried hanging
before him, very much as a crab carries his
claws. He held a sun-umbrella over his head,
a small book in one pocket, and a roll of
measuring tape in the other. Nevertheless,
Kanker seemed to know so much, and to be
so positive about what he knew, that Oscar
could not help thinking he must be an important
person; not the sort of person to be
contradicted, especially by a person who knew
so little as Oscar did. 'For, after all,' Oscar
thought, 'a great deal of what I supposed I
knew has only been told me. I do not know
it as he knows things—by touching them. It
may be, as he says, that some things that
seem to be true are not true. I wonder
whether he believes in the sun and the stars?
He can hardly have touched them! And I
wonder why he wears spectacles?'
'Why do I wear spectacles?' repeated
Kanker; for Oscar had spoken the last sentence
aloud. 'To see with, of course! Nobody
can see without spectacles; and not only
that, but nobody can see with any other spectacles
than these I have on.'
'Oh, you are mistaken there,' exclaimed
Oscar; 'for I have never worn spectacles,
and I have always been able to see.'
'You never saw anything in your life,'
replied Kanker, very confidently. 'You only
think you see. That is your hallucination.
An hallucination is when you think a thing is
so, and it isn't. You are blind, and probably
deaf and dumb as well. What books do you
'I have only one book,' said Oscar; and
then he told what a wonderful book it was; how
it could only be opened by repeating certain
mystic words, and how its pages were full of
living pictures, representing things which had
been done in the world, and which were being
done now. Kanker burst out laughing.
'I don't believe it,' he said. 'It's an hallucination.
There is no such book, in the
first place, and if there were, it couldn't be
what you say it is.'
This made Oscar angry. 'There is such
a book,' said he, 'and if you don't believe it
I can show it to you.'
Kanker went on laughing and wagging
his great hands up and down. 'Oh! show it
to me—show it to me!' he spluttered. 'Let
me touch it with my fingers, and then perhaps
'Come into the house, then, and you shall
touch it!' exclaimed Oscar. He sprang up
and went into the house, and Kanker followed
him readily enough. 'Let me put my fingers
on it—that's all I ask,' he kept repeating.
'Let me touch it.'
'There!' said Oscar, 'there it is on that
shelf. Do you believe now?'
Kanker took the book down from the
shelf, and felt it all over. 'I believe that this
is something that feels like a book,' he said at
last. 'But I don't believe it is a book until I
see it opened; and then I shan't believe it
has the pictures you talk about unless I see
them, and can put my finger on them; and I
don't believe you can open it.'
'I can open it!' cried Oscar.
'If you can do it, then why don't you?'
Now Oscar knew that the mystic words
which undid the clasp were a secret which he
had no right to disclose. But he wanted so
much to show Kanker the inside of the book,
and make him acknowledge that he was wrong,
that everything else seemed of little account
in comparison. He took the book from
Kanker's hands. As he did so, a strange
feeling came over him. A voice, that seemed
to speak not to his ears, but within him, bid
him pause. Did he care so much for this
Kanker, with his flat face and his great red
hands, as to betray the secret which his mother
had confided to him? Oscar hesitated.
'Ha! I knew you were lying!' said Kanker,
with his disagreeable laugh.
'You shall see that I am not!' retorted
Oscar, becoming angrier than ever. Then
he began to repeat the mystic words. But
he found it hard to pronounce them, and
some of them he could scarcely remember.
His teeth chattered as he went on, and his
heart beat painfully. But Kanker was watching
him askance with his pale spectacled
eyes, and Oscar would not stop. At last he
had spoken all the words; the clasp flew
back; the book opened!
'There!' said Oscar, thrusting it into
Kanker's hands. 'It is open: now look for
yourself!' Then he turned away, and hid
his face in his hands.
All of a sudden he heard again Kanker's
hateful spluttering laugh. He looked up in
astonishment. Kanker was pointing contemptuously
to the page.
'No pictures here!' he was saying. 'Show
me your pictures! There's nothing but
printing here, and very stupid commonplace
Oscar fixed his eyes upon the book; but
they were darkened, and at first he could see
nothing. At length his sight cleared; but,
alas! it was as Kanker had said: there were
no pictures in the book, no beauty, no life,
and no mystery. It was just like any other
book—ordinary pages printed with ordinary
print. There had been some terrible loss,
but whether the loss were in Oscar or in the
book, Oscar could not tell. He stood there
unable to speak, and almost to think.
'It is just as I knew it was,' said Kanker,
throwing down the book. 'Another of your
absurd hallucinations. You dream about things
until you think they are real. You had much
better do as I do—wear spectacles, make up
your mind that everything is a lie, and trust
to your fingers. By doing that you might,
in the course of time, come to know something.
Look here, I'll tell you what I'll do.
I'll make an exchange with you. It isn't a
fair exchange, for what I give you is worth
a great deal, and what you give me is worth
nothing. You give me your book, and I'll
give you mine.'
'What is your book?' Oscar asked.
'An arithmetic, to be sure!' replied Kanker,
pulling it out of his pocket. 'See, here
is the multiplication table. And here are addition,
subtraction, multiplication, and division.
And here are vulgar fractions. And
here are examples. And here is the Rule of
Three. That's what I call a book worth
'But if you think my book is not worth
having, why do you want it?'
'To make a fire to warm myself with,'
'If you are cold, will not the sun warm
you?' asked Oscar.
'No one has been able to prove that there
is any warmth in the sun,' said Kanker. 'It
only seems to be warm. But I know that a fire
is warm, because I can burn my fingers in it.'
'But if the sun feels warm, is not that as
good as if it were really warm?'
'For you it may be,' answered Kanker,
'but not for me. I care only for truth, and I
don't choose to be warmed by anything I
don't believe in. That is the reason I carry
a sun-umbrella. Well, will you let me have
'It is no more use to me,' said Oscar,
gloomily. 'I do not care whether you take
it or not, or what becomes of it.'
'You will find my arithmetic much more
useful,' returned Kanker. 'Come outside and
see me make my fire.'
But Oscar turned sullenly away.
Kanker went outside the cottage, with the
book in his arms. After a moment, Oscar
could not help going to the window to see
what was being done.
Kanker had laid the book across two
stones, and had gathered some bits of driftwood
from the shore for kindlings to put
underneath. Now he struck a match, and
held it to the kindlings. But at that there was
a sudden and mighty sound, like thunder, and
also like a great voice speaking some solemn
and awful word. And the book seemed to
dissolve, and in its place arose a tall pillar of
light, more dazzling than the lightning, which
hung for a moment near the earth, and, to
Oscar's amazed eyes, took on the likeness of
a glorious and majestic figure, which bent
upon him a look that made his heart tremble.
Then the figure moved away through the air
seaward, casting a radiance across the waters,
and making the sun look red and dim. It
drifted slowly away over the sea, and at last
became as a bright star, further and further
off, until it vanished in the depths of the sky.
Then a great coldness fell upon Oscar, and
the daylight became dusky to him, as if it
were already evening; and he knew that the
dazzling face which he had seen was the face
of his father. Now he understood what the
book had been; but it was too late.
THE SECRET OF THE WAVES.
It seemed to Oscar that many hours passed
away while he remained crouched down on
his knees in a dark corner, shivering and
miserable. At last he looked up. It was
evening, and a bitter wind was blowing outside;
heavy clouds were driving across the
sky, and rain was beating on the roof. Kanker
was sitting in the middle of the room,
with his chin upon his hands, staring at him.
'You had better go,' Oscar said. 'What
other harm do you want to do me?'
'It is you who have done harm to me,'
replied Kanker, 'by giving me a box of gunpowder
to make a fire with. The explosion
has cracked my spectacles. However, I bear
no malice. What do you keep that jar of
'Ah! that is where Theeda lives,' exclaimed
Oscar, rising, with some cheerfulness in his
face. 'I had forgotten her.'
'Theeda? what is Theeda?' demanded
'She is my playmate and companion,'
Oscar said. 'She is dearer to me than anything
else in the world, and nothing in the
world is so lovely as she.'
'And do you mean to say she lives in the
water? Pray, how big is she?'
'She is not so tall as your hand is long.'
'No such creature ever existed,' said
Kanker, positively. 'In the first place, no
one ever was made of that size, and in the
second place, it is impossible for anyone to live
under water. It is another of your hallucinations.
There is no use in your denying it. I
shall believe in her when I see her, and not
'I will not let you see her,' replied Oscar.
'Just what I expected! When did you
see her last yourself?'
'Just before your shadow fell across the
'What language does she talk?'
'She does not talk at all, but I know all
'This is really too absurd! Have you
ever touched her?'
'No. It is enough for me to look at her.'
'I will tell you what it is,' said Kanker,
lifting up one of his ugly fingers and holding
it at the side of his little sharp nose. 'You
are crazy—quite crazy! You have lived here
by yourself until you don't know what is real
from what isn't. Now, I will make this bargain
with you. If you will let me put my
finger on this Theeda of yours, and I thereby
prove to my own satisfaction that she exists,
I will let you use me for your servant the rest
of my life. Do you agree?'
Oscar waited a little while before answering.
He hated Kanker, and he thought that
if Kanker became his servant, he should be
able to make him as miserable as Kanker had
made him. He did not stop to think whether
Theeda would like to be touched or not; it
seemed to him an easy way of being revenged
on his enemy, and that was all. 'Yes, I agree!'
'Very well!' returned Kanker. 'And, of
course, if I prove that Theeda does not exist,
you are to become my servant for the rest of
'There is no danger in my promising that,'
said Oscar. 'Let it be so if you wish.'
'Very well!' said Kanker again; and then
they both went to the vase.
'Where is she?' asked Ranker. 'I don't
'Oh, she has gone into her shell; it is
late—she must be asleep by this time,'
answered Oscar. 'You must wait until to-morrow.'
'That won't do!' said Kanker. 'The
agreement was for this evening. If you back
out, you become my servant.'
'It shall be this evening, then,' replied
Oscar; 'but you will regret it more than I!'
And stooping over the vase, he called,
'Theeda! Theeda! wake up! come out!'
They waited a moment. There was no
movement in the great pearl shell, and Theeda
did not appear.
'Come! there's enough of this nonsense!'
Kanker exclaimed. 'You may as well make
up your mind at once to being my servant.'
'Not yet!' said Oscar, scornfully, and he
called in a louder voice, 'Come out, Theeda!
Come out—I want you!'
The shell stirred slightly, but still Theeda
did not appear. Kanker laughed.
Then Oscar grew angry, and in a harsh
tone he cried, 'Theeda, come out! or I shall
not love you or believe in you any more!'
The sun had set long ago, and the sky
was almost dark; but now, through a break in
the clouds, the moon shone down, white and
clear, into the crystal vase. It gleamed upon
the pearly shell; and in its cold lustre Oscar
saw the tiny water-maiden, whom he had
loved better than anything else in the world,
and who was the most precious thing that
the world contained, come slowly out of her
shell, and stand downcast and drooping before
him. Then he felt that, in his anger, and in
his desire to be revenged on his enemy, he
had done a wicked thing, which could not be
forgiven. He had shown what was most
sacred and dear to his own soul to one who
could neither believe in her nor reverence her.
His heart was filled with bitter sorrow and
repentance; but again it was too late.
For, as Theeda stood there in the moonlight,
drooping amidst her shadowy mist of
hair, Kanker put out his hideous red hand,
that was less like a hand than like a crab's
claw, and plunging it into the water, he tried
to grasp Theeda round the waist. But his
fingers met together, and behold! no Theeda
was there. She had faded into nothingness
where she stood; or else the shadow of a
cloud which at that moment passed across the
room, and made the vase and the room dark
again, had caused her to become invisible.
Before she disappeared, however, she bent one
sad reproachful look upon Oscar, and he knew
that he had seen his mother's spirit in her
eyes. He understood all then; but it was too
'I told you how it would be!' said the
harsh voice of Ranker, with his spluttering
laugh, 'and now you are my servant!'
'Yes, for I have lost my Theeda!' answered
Oscar, with a heavy sigh.
But even as he spoke, he chanced to turn
his eyes towards the sea. Beyond the moon
he saw a pure white cloud drifting down the
sky. To Oscar's fancy it took on the likeness
of a female form—the form of someone whom
he knew and loved. She seemed to beckon
him to a far-off country, whither Kanker could
not come, and where he would be free.
'Yes, I will follow her!' Oscar thought;
and, in some way, he slipped from where he
was, and left the cottage and Kanker behind
him, and went down towards the ocean.
Kanker did not at first know that Oscar
had escaped, for he had left something behind
which resembled him, but was not really he.
The next morning, when the sun peeped as
usual into the crystal vase, neither Oscar
nor Kanker were to be seen. But, in the
pearl shell, where formerly Theeda had lived,
sat a great ugly crab, twiddling its huge red
claws, and peering this way and that with its
malicious little eyes, which stuck far out of
its head. Oscar was not in the cottage, nor
on the shore, nor has he, from that day to this,
ever reappeared there. But, if you should
ever happen to visit the place, you will hear
the waves murmur mysteriously to one another,
as they gambol along the beach; and
since they come from that far-off line where
the world meets the sky, they may possibly
know more about Oscar and Theeda than
people like Kanker would be apt to believe.