The last pearl
By Hans Christian Andersen (1855)
It was a rich, a happy house ; all were cheerful and full of joy, master, servants, and friends of the family ; for on this day an heir, a son, had been born, and mother and child were doing exceedingly well.
The lamp in the bed-chamber had been partly shaded, and the windows were guarded by heavy curtains of some costly silken fabric. The carpet was thick and soft as a mossy lawn, and everything invited to slumber was charmingly suggestive of repose ; and the nurse found that, for she slept ; and here she might sleep, for everything was good and blessed. The guardian spirit of the house leaned against the head of the bed ; over the child at the mother’s breast there spread as it were a net of shining stars in endless number, and each star was a pearl of happiness. All the good fairies of life had brought their gifts to the new-born one ; here sparkled health, wealth, fortune, and love in short, everything that man can wish for on earth. ‘ Everything has been presented here/ said the guardian spirit.
No, not everything,’ said a voice near him, the voice of the child’s good angel. ‘ One fairy has not yet brought her gift ; but she will do so some day ; even if years should elapse first, she will bring her gift. The last pearl is yet wanting.’
‘ Wanting ! here nothing should be wanting ; but if it should be the case, let me go and seek the powerful fairy ; let us betake ourselves to her ! ‘
‘ She comes ! she will come some day unsought ! Her pearl must be there, so that the complete crown may be won.’
‘ Where is she to be found ? Where does she dwell ? Tell it me, and I will procure the pearl.’
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 ! ‘
Here she dwells ; here in this sacred hour,’ said the angel, and pointed to a corner of the room ; and there, where in her lifetime the mother had taken her seat amid flowers and pictures ; there, whence, like the beneficent fairy of the house, she had greeted husband, children, and friends ; whence, like the sunbeams, she had spread joy and cheerfulness, and been the centre and the heart of all there sat a strange woman, clad in long garments. It was Sorrow, now mistress and mother here in the dead lady’s place. A hot tear rolled down into her lap, and formed itself into a pearl glowing with all the colours of the rainbow. The angel seized it, and the pearl shone like a star of sevenfold radiance.
The pearl of Sorrow, the last, which must not be wanting ! it heightens the lustre and the power of the other pearls. Do you see the sheen of the rainbow of the bow that unites heaven and earth ? For each of our dear ones who dies and leaves us, we have one friend more in Heaven to long for. Through the earthly night we gaze upward to the stars, looking for perfection. Contemplate it, the pearl of Sorrow, for it hides within itself the wings that shall carry us to the better world.