THE LAST PEARL 495
1 You will do that ? ' said the good angel of the child. ' I will lead you to her directly, wherever^ she maybe. She has no abiding-place—sometimes she comes to the Emperor's palace, sometimes you will find her in the peasant's humble cot ; she goes by no person without leaving a trace : she brings her gift to all, be it a world or a trifle ! To this child also she must come. You think the time is equally long, but not equally profitable. Well, then, let us go for this pearl, the last pearl in all this wealth.'
And hand in hand they floated towards the spot where the fairy was now lingering.
It was a great house, with dark windows and empty rooms, and a peculiar stillness reigned therein ; a whole row of windows had been opened, so that the rough air could penetrate at its pleasure : the long white hanging curtains moved to and fro in the current of wind.
In the middle of the room was placed an open coffin, and in this rested the body of a woman, still in her best years. Fresh roses were scattered over her, so that only the delicate folded hands and the noble face, glorified in death by the solemn look of consecration and entrance to the better world, were visible.
Around the coffin stood the husband and the children, a whole troop : the youngest child rested on the father's arm, and all bade their mother the last farewell ; the husband kissed her hand, the hand which now was as a withered leaf, but which a short time ago had been working and striving in diligent love for them all. Tears of sorrow fell in heavy drops to the floor ; but not a word was spoken. The silence which reigned here expressed a world of grief. With silent footsteps and with many a sob they quitted the room.
A burning light stands in the room, and the long red wick peers out high above the flame that flickers in the current of air. Strange men come in, and lay the lid on the coffin over the dead one, and drive the nails firmly in, and the blows of the hammer resound through the house, and echo in the hearts that are bleeding.
* Whither art thou leading me ? ' asked the guardian spirit. ' Here dwells no fairy whose pearl might be counted among the best gifts for life ! '