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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
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 longnearly 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 through it.
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 midwater, 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 drooped, 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 kissed.
'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