THE BOTTLE-NECK 535
question remained unanswered, and' the paper was put back into the bottle, and the latter was deposited in a great cupboard in a great room in a great house.
Whenever strangers came, the paper was brought out and turned over and over, so that the inscription, Mhich was only written in pencil, became more and more illegible, so that at last no one could see that there were letters on it. And for a whole year more the bottle remained standing in the cupboard ; and then it was put into the loft, where it became covered with dust and cobwebs. Then it thought of the better days, the times when it had poured forth red wine in the greenwood, when it had been rocked on the waves of the sea, and when it had carried a secret, a letter, a parting sigh.
For full twenty years it stood up in the loft; and it might have remained there longer, but that the house was to be rebuilt. The roof was taken off, and then the bottle was noticed, and they spoke about it, but it did not understand their language ; for one cannot learn a language by being shut up in a loft, even if one stays there twenty years.
' If I had been down in the room/ thought the Bottle, ' I might have learned it.'
It was now washed and rinsed, and indeed this was requisite. It felt quite transparent and fresh, and as if its youth had been renewed in this its old age ; but the paper it had carried so faithfully had been destroyed in the washing.
The bottle was filled with seeds, it did not know the kind. It was corked and well wrapped up. It saw neither lantern nor candle, to say nothing of sun or moon ; and yet, it thought, when one goes on a journey one ought to see something ; but though it saw nothing, it did what was most important—it travelled to the place of its destination, and was there unpacked.
' What trouble they have taken over yonder with that bottle I' it heard people say ; * and yet it is most likely broken.' But it was not broken.
The bottle understood every word that was now said ; this was the language it had heard at the furnace, and at the wine merchant's, and in the forest, and in the ship,