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THEEDA: AN ALLEGORY.
THE BOOK AND THE VASE.
SCAR 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 No. 608 (No. CXXVIII. N. S.)
his time outdoors. There were two other things in the diningroom, 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 not his 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