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Age Rating 8 Plus.
From Anyhow Stories
Start of Story
IT lived with three or four imitation ducks in a
cardboard box, to which there was a glass lid. It
was about an inch and a half long, and made of tin :
one side was painted a bright red, and the other a
deep yellow. At the end of its nose was a very
little bit of wire, and this bit of wire sadly puzzled
the poor imitation fish. The ducks and the fish were
all packed in soft cotton-wool, and placed in a quiet
corner of the toy-shop.
The fish would have had a comfortable sleepy
time if its nose had not been always longing to
touch a strange little stick at the other end of the
box. The ducks had no such longing and aching,
at which the fish wondered much, until it noticed
that they had no tiny bit of wire at the end of their
noses, and somehow it could not help connecting this
fact with their placid peacefulness.
One day, the ducks and fish and the little stick
(which, with the exception of about a third of an inch
at one end, was painted a bright red) were all violently
disturbed, and the next minute the lid of the box, in
which they had slept so long, was quickly pulled
open, and a fair little child with golden hair and
large grave blue eyes stood looking at them.
" Oh, you pretty ducks ! " he cried, in a voice so
sweet that the imitation fish longed for a heart to
beat at its sound. " Oh, you pretty ducks, and you
dear little fish, I will take you home, and you shall
swim in the nice cool water." And the lid was
gently closed, and the child carried the box home to
a tall house by the sea. " Now you shall have a large
bath to swim in," the child said, " and you shall be
as happy as the day is long."
And then the gay little clucks and the red-and-
yellow fish were placed in the cool clear water, and
bravely swam upon its surface. Ah, how happy
they were, going round and round as the fancy of the
child directed, listening to the gleeful voice, and
sometimes feeling themselves taken up by the careful
fingers, looked at for a moment, and then tenderly
placed on the water again !
"Mother," the child asked, "what is the little
stick for ? "
"It is a magnet," the mother answered. And
then she showed the child how to hold it close to the
little bit of wire at the end of the fish's nose, and lo !
in a moment, the whole of the imitation fish's being
seemed satisfied, and it clung to the stick as if the
gift of life were in it, or swam swiftly and recklessly
after it, as if a whirlwind were behind.
" There is only one fish, mother," the child said
presently, taking the stick out of the water, " but
there are three or four ducks. Poor little fish ! how
lonely you must be, with no other "
Then a voice was heard calling, and the child
vanished, leaving the fish and the ducks aimlessly
waiting in the bath. Presently the mother came, and
lifted them all out, and put them once more into
" The dear child ! " she said lovingly to herself ;
" all things are real to him as yet ; even this foolish
bit of painted tin he does not dream to be without
life or feeling, for he knows nothing of things that
And she placed the box on a shelf, and left the
fish wondering greatly at the words it had heard.
The next morning the ducks and the little fish
again swam about the bath, and chased the strange
stick round and round, while the child laughed with
glee, and was happy ; but the fish was not so bright
as yesterday, for it remembered the words it had
heard, and wondered much. And yet the child
loved the little fish far more than the placid and
contented ducks that troubled themselves not at all
" Don't be lonely, little fish," the dear voice would
say, while the tender fingers put it away in the
cotton- wool. "I will come and see you again to-
One day the little fish heard the child ask
" Do all fish live in the sea, mother in the great
sea which is before our windows ? "
" All real fish do, my darling," the mother answered.
"And when they are taken out, mother, what
then ? "
" They die the real fish do."
And the poor imitation fish feared lest its falseness
should be betrayed to the one heart that, knowing
no falseness, thought it must be real ; but the
mother said nothing more. And many times that
day it was taken from its resting-place, and looked at
long and lovingly, and kissed. And once the soft
" Ah, dear fish ! you shall not be lonely long. I
will not let you die, because I love you ; to-morrow
I will take you back to your great home, tlie sea."
Then the little fish, having learned to love the
child, trembled, for how could it bear to leave the one
thing that cared for it ?
And when the morrow came, the child took the
fish once more from its soft little home, and looked
at it for a few minutes with sorrowful blue eyes, and
then gently carried it away away from the stick
and the imitation ducks and the little cardboard box
in which it had lived so long, and out of the house
by the sea, which was the child's home.
The sound of the waves came nearer and nearer,
and on and on the child went, until at last he stopped
at the end of a long pier, beneath which the water
rushed and foamed. Then the child looked at the
imitation fish again, and kissed it for the last time,
while his tears fell upon its red-and-yellow sides.
" Farewell, dear little fish," he said. " You shall
never be lonely more, or live in a stupid little card-
board box ; you shall go back to your home in the
sea, and dwell among others like you. I love you,
dear little fish farewell ! " and the child dropped it
into the deep water beneath. For one moment the
poor little imitation fish dimly saw out of one painted
eye the sweet face above, and then the waves tossed
it away and away, farther and farther out to sea.
" Ah, dear child," it cried in terrible fear, " your
purity has been the ruin of my false self. I was not
made for things that were real ; now I am indeed
But no one took any notice of the poor toy, and
the living fish swam past it with scarcely a glance ;
even they knew it was a sham ; and when the fisher-
man cast his line into the sea, the hook at the end
did not touch or hurt the imitation fish ; all around
it was heedless of its presence, only the waves went
on tossing it day after day, week after week. Some-
times the sunlight came, and the real fish swam
about and were glad ; or the storms, and they crowded
into the fisherman's net; but nothing pleased or
hurt or harmed the imitation fish only the waves
went on tossing and tossing.
At last, after a long, long time, the waves seemed
to be going on and on, always in one direction, and
the fish went with them, until at last it was thrown
on the shore among the pebbles and seaweed, and the
little pools of water that collected between great
stones; and the little fish was thankful, for it had
escaped from a great loneliness, and the quiet of the
shore seemed a blessed thing after the ceaseless toss-
ing of the waves.
How long it lay there it never knew, but one day
there was a sudden sound of a voice, and the little
fish was lifted up by hands almost as tender as the
" It is so like a toy my darling loved ! " a voice
said ; and a great happiness stole over the poor little
fish, for he knew the voice of the child's mother.
" He had a little fish that pleased him more than all
his other toys, but he thought it was real, and threw
it into the sea to make it happy," and she raised it to
her lips, and kissed it passionately again and again,
and bathed it in her tears. Then the little fish was
sad, and yet thankful and glad to feel itself gcing
back to the child.
And the mother put it in a soft hiding-place,
and looked at it many a time, kissing it tenderly;
for the sound of the child's voice was hushed, and
the blue eyes that had so lovingly watched the
imitation fish watched it never again grave blue
eyes that were closed for evermore.