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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 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. 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. think it is, why do you search for truth?'
And if you
'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
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 read?'
'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. 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. me touch it with my fingers, and then perhaps I'll believe.'
'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
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 sha'n'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?' Kanker replied.
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 con
temptuously to the page.
'No pictures here!' he was saying. Show me your pictures! Here's nothing but printing here, and very stupid commonplace printing too!
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 bookordinary 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 dowear 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 having.'
But if you think my book is not worth having, why do you want it?'
To make a fire to warm myself with,' Kanker replied.
'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