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Boris Zakhoder

The Hermit And The Rose

The Hermit And The Rose

Translated by K.M.Cook-Horujy
freebooksforkids.net
Illustrated by G.Kalinovky

I

In the Blue Sea there lived a little Crab. And he was very miserable, so miserable that he couldn’t understand why the sea was called Blue, because to him it always looked absolutely grey.

Yes, it was all very strange.

The Hermit And The Rose

In fact the sea really was blue and it was great fun to live in. The fish (it was only in the old days that people thought they couldn’t speak) had even made up a merry little ditty about what fun it was to live in the sea.

Nobody anywhere
The whole world over
Has more fun
Than fish in water!
No people
Or animals
In any
Clime,
Nobody has such a lovely time!
Yes, nobody anywhere
The whole world over
Has more fun than fish in water!

And they sang it the whole day long. The Sea Stars shone brightly, even the wise old Dolphins frisked about like lambs, but the poor Crab sat hunched up in a crevice as miserable as could be.

The Hermit And The Rose

He had everything a real crab was supposed to have: five pairs of legs, eyes on stalks, long, long whiskers and powerful claws. Only he didn’t have a shell. His body was soft all over. Perhaps that was why everyone who did have a shell, and a lot of other creatures too, used to laugh at him, pinch him, bite him and sometimes even try to eat him...

And he sang this mournful ditty:

Oh, the sea has lots of water
And the sea has lots of space,
But you can feel very mizzy
And unhappy in this place!

“The trouble is you’re not hard enough,” said one of his distant relatives, Uncle Crab, who always walked sideways. “You can’t be soft-skinned these days!”

And to prove his point he gave poor Crab a hard pinch.

“Ouch!” cried Crab. ‘That hurts!”

“It’s for your own good,” said Uncle Crab, very pleased with himself. “It’s nothing to do with me, of course, but if I were you I’d try to get myself a decent shell.”

The Hermit And The Rose

And off he scuttled sideways. For the Hermit had sharp claws as strong as any real crab and perhaps even stronger...

Yes, I forgot to tell you that the crab was called the Hermit, because, as you know, he was forever hiding away in cracks and crevices or under rocks, so that he didn’t get pinched.

He was first nicknamed the Hermit by the Sea Horse, who loves poking fun at people, then the Sea Parrots (yes, they do exist) followed suit and soon everyone in the Blue Sea and on the dry land too was calling him by the name of the Hermit Crab.

“That wasn’t a bad pinch,” thought the Hermit, when the pain had gone down a bit. “And the advice wasn’t bad either! Perhaps I really should consider doing that.”

As you can see, the Hermit was not only good at feeling miserable, he could also use his head, in fact, he was a very clever crab!

There were lots of shells around. After thinking hard, he decided: “The best place for a crab is in a shell, of course; and the best inmate for a shell is, of course, a crab. And when a crab crawls into a shell, no one can pinch him, unless I’m very mistaken about shells and crabs.”

So he knocked on the first shell he came to and tried to explain all this to the owner, but the angry Mollusc who looked out exclaimed without letting him finish:

“Nonsense! I’m busy!” And bolted the door of its shell fast.

“The best place for a crab is in a shell,” the Hermit continued, knocking on a second shell, but another very angry Mollusc looked out of this one too and exclaimed:

“Nonsense!”

And also bolted the door right under the Hermit’s nose (although crabs don’t actually have noses, as you know).

But when he knocked on the third shell nobody looked out because there was nobody inside, and - oh, joy! It turned out to be just the right size, not too big and not too small -just the job.

“Yes, we were made for each other,” thought the Hermit, when he had squeezed his soft body into the shell. “What could be better! Now no one can pinch me!”

And he didn’t even take any notice when the Sea Horse, who was bobbing about closeby, gave a shrill neigh (meaning that he was about to say something sarcastic) and
squealed:

“Tee, hee, hee! Our Hermit has retired into his shell!”

And the Parrot Fish, who to tell the truth did not understand this joke at all, repeated it parrot-fashion and spread it all over the Blue Sea.

The Hermit And The Rose

Still when you’ve got everything a person needs for perfect happiness you can put up with a joke like that, can’t you?

II

But strangely enough, although no one (not even Uncle Crab) could pinch or bite our Hermit anymore (not even for his own good), he obviously still lacked something for perfect happiness. Otherwise why did the sea still look so grey to him? And why did he go on singing his sad little ditty?

Oh, the sea has lots of space
But I can’t find a place
Where a little crab like me
Could really happy be.

One day he could stand it no longer and said to a Flying Fish who was passing by:

“How strange it is to live in the Grey Sea! I know there is a White Sea, a Yellow Sea and even a Red Sea, but no one has ever heard of a Grey Sea...”

“Grey!” the Flying Fish laughed. “Why, it’s not grey at all! It’s azure, aquamarine, emerald and cornflower. It’s a lovely bright blue, the brightest blue you’ve ever seen!”

And she hurried off after her friends who had soared up to the surface to admire the blue white-crested waves.

“Everyone I ask says it’s blue. That’s funny!” the Hermit thought to himself. “Why do I alone not see it? Only I alone!”

“That’s why,” a voice replied so unexpectedly that the Hermit was startled and hid in his shell.

When he peeped out, he saw - what do you think? The kindest and wisest of all the sea magicians. Yes, you’re right. It was the Dolphin.

“It’s precisely because you are alone!” said the Dolphin. “Find yourself a friend and you’ll see! Good luck, and reflect upon my words.”

And the Dolphin (who, like all magicians, liked to talk in riddles) swam off with a swish of his tail and went about his business.

The Hermit (who, as you know, was good at using his head as well as being miserable) began to think hard...

And this is what he decided.

“The Dolphin said it was because I’m alone. Well, of course, when I find a friend, I won’t be alone anymore... And what will I see then? Well, of course, I’ll see the sea turn blue... And probably everything will be fine! So I must look for a friend. The trouble is I don’t know what friends are, or where they live, or what they look like. Never mind, I’ll know at once when I find a real friend, because the sea will turn blue.”

And so saying the Hermit set off to look for a friend and to tell the truth this is where our story really begins.

III

I should add that finding a real friend is not that easy, even on the sea bed. Particularly if you don’t know what they look like...

The Hermit visited the shallows and the deep waters and saw many strange creatures, even some monsters, but did not find himself a friend.

In the shallows he met the Ray and asked him if he was a friend. And the Ray, who had been lying in wait for incautious fish all day, said to him:

“Oh, I’m a friend to you, of course! Come over here and we’ll never part!” And he opened his huge hungry mouth...

The Hermit And The Rose

Fortunately our Hermit, as you well know, was very clever. He realised that the Ray was looking for his supper, not a friend, and made himself scarce, while the disappointed Ray muttered his terrible song to himself. It went like this:

Why be in such a hurry, friends?
It's better far to crawl.
Don’t move at such a speed, my friends,
And I will greet you all.

And he was right in a way, because it’s much easier for the Ray to catch something that is crawling than something that is swimming.

In the sea depths where eternal darkness reigns, the Hermit saw a point of light and swam gladly towards it. It was a deep-water fish with such a hard name that the fish herself did not know it. When she caught sight of the Hermit, she tried to lure him towards her with her shining rod, and if he had been tempted by the bait, he would have fared badly, for this deep-water fish has as big a mouth as the Ray...

He greeted the Cucumaria Frondosa and tried to strike up a conversation with her, but the cowardly creature was so scared that she turned inside out and shot her innards at him, because she thought he was an enemy. That’s the way these molluscs protect themselves...

He tried to make friends with the beautiful Medusa, but she turned out to be not only stupid but also poisonous, and he barely escaped her lethal tentacles.

In short, no matter how he searched, he found nothing. Some were afraid of him, some poked fun at him, some tried to eat him, and, of course, none of these could really be
considered good friends!

So at last, very tired and very, very sad, he sat down to rest and said:

“I have scoured the sea bed and not found a friend anywhere. And the sea is still grey. Perhaps it will always be grey for me. Oh dear, I’d drown myself, if only I could!”

IV

At that moment he heard someone repeat his own words, with a deep sigh, like an echo.

“Oh dear, I’d drown myself, if only I could!”

The Hermit And The Rose

The Hermit looked round (or rather swivelled his eyes round, because they were on stalks, as you will remember) and saw no one. No one, that is, except the Rose, the Sea
Rose. But sea roses (clever people call them actinia) can’t sigh, even though they aren’t flowers.

Then there was another sigh, followed by some sobbing. And there was nobody else around except the Rose, the Sea Rose.

“Is that you crying?” asked the Hermit in surprise.

He nearly added “Can you cry?” but just stopped himself in time.

The Rose said nothing, but since she cried even more loudly, there was really no need for an answer.

“Why are you crying? Has someone been nasty to you?” asked the Hermit (who was soft-hearted, as well as being soft-skinned).

“No one dare be nasty to me!” said the Rose. “No one in the whole sea dare lay a finger on me.”

And she straightened up proudly and even stopped crying.

“Then why are you crying?” the Hermit asked her, so gently that the Rose relented and answered:

“I’m just sad. Sad because the sea’s so grey! If I found a friend, everything would be different. But I can’t walk, so all I can do is stand here feeling miserable...”

The Hermit wanted to tell her that he had scoured the sea bed and not found a friend anywhere, but he felt sorry for the poor Rose, particularly as she was so pretty.

And he said to her:

“I’m going round the sea bed looking for a friend too. We can go together, if you like, and perhaps if we’re very, very lucky each of us will find a friend, and then the sea will turn blue and we won’t feel miserable anymore.”

“But I can’t walk,” said the Rose, and her petals drooped sadly.

“Oh, that’s no great catastrophe,” said the kind Hermit. “I can carry you, if you like. It would give me great pleasure.”

The Rose was frightened to move from the spot where she had always stood, even though she was unhappy there... It’s always like that.

But the Hermit spoke to her so affectionately and seemed so kind, that she agreed. The Hermit helped her get down from the rock and climb onto his shell, and off they set.

The Rose began to feel dizzy, for she had never known before what it was like to move. Everything round her seemed to be whirling in a wild dance, the rocks, the seaweed, the oysters clamped to the sea bed, and the sea hedgehogs. She even turned pale, but did not utter a sound - for she was very, very proud!

After a few minutes she got used to it (particularly as the Hermit was not exactly racing along, if the truth were told) and began to enthuse loudly about everything she saw around her.

“Oh, how marvellous!” she exclaimed. “How easy it is to breathe, when you’re not standing still! Oh, what pretty coloured fish! What are they called? And what are those
shining things? Sea Stars, that’s it! I didn’t think they were so pretty. And what’s that? And who’s that? Oh, what fun it is to travel!”

The Hermit And The Rose

The Hermit barely had time to answer her questions. Of course, he had seen everything she was enthusing about lots of times, but he thought to himself (for he really was very
kind): “Let her enjoy herself, poor thing! She’ll soon get as fed up with it as I am... Actually it’s very nice to hear her enjoying herself! I wonder if I found a friend whether he and I would enjoy ourselves together or not?”

And he started thinking how sad it was that he would never, never find a friend. Suddenly, the Rose, who had been quiet for a moment, asked, as if she could read his thoughts:

“When are we going to look for friends?”

At this the Hermit could restrain himself no longer and told her the truth: how he had looked for a friend on the sea bed and seen all sorts of creatures, even monsters, but not
found a friend anywhere...

“Perhaps there just aren’t any friends anywhere,” he said sadly, “and it’s better not to look for them?”

V

“That’s not true!” said the Rose. “There are friends, I’m sure, and the only reason you didn’t find any was because you didn’t know where to look.”

“Well, do you?” asked the Hermit.

“Yes, I do. Real friends live in Red City. They built it themselves and live there happily, and for them the sea is always blue! And you know, they say these friends are my sisters or brothers or some sort of relatives, so we must go there and they will be very glad to see us.”

“Will they pinch us for our own good?” asked the Hermit, who at the word “relatives” immediately thought of Uncle Crab.

“I hope not,” said the Rose proudly. “I told you no one dare lay a finger on me! If I don’t want them to,” she added, remembering that the Hermit had touched her when he was
helping her climb onto his shell.

The Hermit was about to say that he found this very reassuring, although he himself had been pinched many a time, alas, but just at that moment who should appear but Uncle Crab himself.

“Morning, nephew,” he muttered casually and was about to sidle past on his business (crabs always have an awful lot of business), when he suddenly noticed the Rose and his eyes goggled in amazement.

“And what might that be?” he asked, waving a fat claw in the direction of the Rose.

You could hardly say he was the perfect gentleman.

“It’s who, not what. It’s the Rose,” the Hermit explained. “She and I are going to Red City to look for friends!”

The Hermit And The Rose

Uncle Crab was even more surprised. His eyes shot right out on their long, long stalks.

“It’s nothing to do with me, of course,” he said, “but there is something I must tell you. Firstly, Red City is beyond the seven seas, so you’ll never get there! Secondly, its real name is not Red City, but something else, so you’ll never find it! And thirdly, there are no friends there either, so there’s no point in looking for it! In short, what your are proposing to do is ridiculous! And it’s even more ridiculous to drag that object along with you.” And he again pointed with his fat claw at the Rose.

The Rose blanched at the insult, and her petals folded.

Then Uncle Crab had another big surprise, for the Hermit (and I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that he was very kind) lost his temper for the very first time in his life.

“How dare you insult the Rose!” he shouted and lunged at Uncle Crab.

Uncle Crab only just managed to get of the way in time.

“It’s nothing to do with me, of course,” he shouted, after scuttling off sideways to a safe distance, “but in one of the seven seas you are bound to meet Madame C., and she’ll
show you a thing or two! And I hope she jolly well does, wretched boy! For your own good!”

The Hermit grew alarmed. He knew only too well who Madame C. was. And he instinctively slowed his pace.

“Are you afraid?” the Rose asked him gently. “Tell me honestly. Are you afraid of Madame C.? Don’t be! After all, you’ve got me with you!”

And strange though it seemed to the Hermit, he almost laughed.

Now Madame C. was what all the crabs and crayfish called their most terrible enemy, so terrible that they dared not even utter her full name. With her fearsome tentacles she
could seize the strongest crab and he would be as helpless as a newborn babe. And with her terrible jaws she could crack the strongest shell like an egg shell...

How could this poor little Rose help him if he were to meet Madame C.? What could she do?

But he did not laugh, for he did not want to offend the Rose.

“What will be, will be,” he said bravely. “But all the same... All the same let’s hope we don’t meet her.”

“But if we do, we’ll show her a thing or two ourselves,” said the Rose. The Hermit burst out laughing and was surprised to find that he was hardly afraid at all.

And so they continued on their way.

VI

Yes, it was a long journey indeed. Much longer than his first one around the sea bed. They went through the First Sea, the Second Sea, and the Third Sea - and that is much
more quickly said than done. But the funny thing was that this long journey seemed much shorter to the Hermit.

Perhaps because on the way they shared everything, all their food, joys and sorrows, and chatted happily about everything they saw.

On and on they went, and when they arrived at the Fourth Sea, the Hermit suddenly felt that he was too big for his shell and climbed out of it to find another one.

“Wait a minute!” the Rose whispered to him. “Are you going to leave me here?”

“No, of course not,” said the Hermit. “It’s just that I’ve grown bigger and I need a bigger shell.”

“No, you’re going to leave me,” the Rose insisted. She had turned a deathly pale.

So he had to spend a long time reassuring her, and she only believed him completely when he found another shell and sat her on it. And off they went again on their way.

“If you had left me, I would have died at once,” said the Rose.

“So would I,” said the Hermit sincerely.

The Rose beamed happily again and began regaling him with stories and all sorts of cheerful nonsense. As they were talking they did not notice the water getting warmer and
warmer, and this could only mean that they had reached the Seventh Sea, the sea where the terrible Madame C. lived.

“Wait a minute, what’s this?” said the Hermit and stopped, not listening to the end of the story about how the Hammer Fish (which actually exists) married the Anvil Fish (which
actually does not exist) and they had lots of children: the Saw Fish, the Nail Fish, the Sickle Fish, the Tongs Fish, the File Fish, the Horseshoe Fish, the Sword Fish and many others some of which actually exist and others do not...

The Hermit stopped because in front of him was a terrible sight.

A ravine wound its way between towering cliffs, and at the entrance to the ravine lay a huge pile of crab shells. They were all empty, split in half like nuts and crushed like egg
shells. The Hermit even thought he recognised Uncle Crab’s mutilated shell and claws among them. True, in such a mountain of shells, claws and feet it was hard to recognise
any shell, even that of a relative...

One thing was clear: Madame C. lived somewhere near here.

But the way to Red City lay straight ahead, along the ravine.

VII

Slowly and cautiously the Hermit made his way along the ravine, testing every inch of the sea bed with his long whiskers and keeping a keen lookout, although he knew this was almost useless, because Madame C., like all her relatives, octopuses, squid or pen-fish, can make herself invisible when she likes, so that you can’t tell her from a rock or a ball of sand, until she pounces on you, and then it’s too late...

The ravine was growing narrower, the towering cliffs with their dark caverns steeper, and all around it was getting darker... But the Hermit plodded on...

Then it grew lighter, and the danger seemed to be past. They were only a few steps away from the end of the ravine, when suddenly a terrible pair of eyes flashed in a huge cave. Then some long tentacles appeared... and slowly and silently Madame C. swam out of the cave. Although the Hermit had never seen her, he recognised her at once.

“Run for your life, Rose!” the Hermit shouted wildly.

In his horror he had even forgotten that the Rose couldn’t walk and also that he could, for he stood rooted to the spot.

But he raised his claws menacingly to protect the Rose.

But the Cuttlefish (for that is Madame C.’s real name) took her time as she swam silently nearer and nearer. She was confident her prey would not escape her.

The Hermit could already make out the terrible suckers on the ends of her tentacles. Writhing like snakes, the tentacles slid closer and closer, until they seized the poor little
Hermit and began dragging him up to where the large unblinking eyes were glittering. The fearsome jaws snapped.

The Hermit struggled desperately, but the tentacles were as strong as iron. His claws were helpless against them.

“This is the end,” the thought went through his head. “Goodbye forever, Rose!”

At that moment a blinding flash of lightning struck the Cuttlefish’s body at the very base of her tentacles. The Sea Rose had unloosed her fearful weapon, the lethal rays concealed in her beautiful petals.

Yes, she was right in saying that no one dare lay a finger on her.

Flash - the unblinking eyes clouded over. Flash - the tentacles released their victim and hung helplessly in the water. Flash again - and the Cuttlefish leapt back as if she had been scalded (which, in fact, she had!) after releasing an “ink bomb”, a cloud of black liquid like ink. Everything was obscured for a moment by the blackness.

The Hermit And The Rose

When the cloud dispersed, there was no sign of the Cuttlefish.

The way out of the ravine was clear.

“So who showed whom a thing or two?” asked the Rose.

VIII

The way was clear, and when our travellers came out onto a sand-bank they saw Red City shining in the dazzling sunlight! Its walls had fantastic shapes and rose in tiers higher and higher until they vanished high above where the sea ends and the sky begins. And the sound of happy singing and constant chatter (remember how fond fish are of having a chat?) could be heard for miles around.

“Oo, what fun it must be to live here,” the Hermit and the Rose both thought at the same time.

And although they had never seen Red City, they guessed at once that this was it. For the walls were the most marvellous shades of red, pink, crimson, scarlet and vermilion.

“Is this Red City?” they asked the first person they met in unison.

It turned out to be Doctor Crab, who was trying to cure a large Tunny Fish of sea-sickness. The doctor stopped what he was doing and said seriously:

“Hmm. Red City? Hmm! That’s not its scientific name. You can call it Red City if you like, but actually it’s Coral Reef! It was built by corals, and from the scientific point
of view it is more correct to call this structure a Coral Reef.”

“I’ve remembered!” the Rose exclaimed suddenly. “That’s what my friends or relations are called - Corals! Yes, that’s right. Come on, quickly!”

But when the Hermit and the Rose were so close to the city (or reef) that they could see the millions of tiny transparent corollas, very similar to the corolla of the Rose’s petals
(and that is just what corals look like), the Hermit stopped and said, at the very same moment as the Rose said just the same thing, so they said it in unison:

“I DON’T WANT ANY FRIENDS BUT YOU!”

“It’s about time!” a familiar voice rang out. “Looking for something you found long ago is just a waste of time.”

It was the Dolphin, of course, the sea magician.

Seeing that neither the Hermit nor the Rose had understood him, he added:

“Funny pair! Surely you’ve realised by now that you are real friends. People say about real friends that water cannot part them. And seven whole seas haven’t been able to part
you!”

“Tee, hee, hee!” came a shrill neighing sound from close by.

It was the Sea Horse, who was bobbing about in the vicinity as usual. This must have been the first time he had laughed at a joke made by someone else and not himself.

“Tee, hee, hee!”

But neither the Hermit or the Rose minded, of course.

For the sea was so blue! The bluest sea in the whole world!

And life was such fun, so interesting!

So they joined in the happy song which they could hear all round them.

Nobody anywhere
The whole world over
Has more fun
Than fish in water!

sang the fish.

But we are such
Good friends, you see,
That even the fish
Envy you and me,

sang the Hermit and the Rose.

And I think they were absolutely right! Because if you find a friend and are singing a happy song together, you’ve got everything a person needs for perfect happiness!

The Hermit And The Rose

Author: Zakhoder B.; illustrated by Kalinovky G.

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