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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
it was too small for him also. The world could live only a year, after
a 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 beave 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 outdoorswith 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.
TIE PEARL-SHELL'S GIFT.
Ose 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 band 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 fitted 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 longnearly five inches! Her skin was more pure and delicate than the inside of a white geranium bud; but the palms of her little bands had a faint rose tint, and so had the tips of her infinitesimal fingers
a 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
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