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little of her, yet in another sense there was so very mạch, 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
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.
* Ab, 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
weeds wared 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 good-natured 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 sentence.
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 with 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
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 foundand 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 to?' 'Over there,' said Oscar, pointing across the sea. 'Nonsense! Do you mean they are drowned?' 'No. They are gone to a country over there.'
'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 happy.' 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 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