There was once a Goldfish who lived in the sea in the days when all fishes lived there. He was perfectly happy, and had only one care; and that was to avoid the net that floated about in the water, now here, now there. But all the fish had been warned by King Neptune, their father, to avoid the net, and in those days they did as they were told. So the Goldfish enjoyed a glorious life, swimming for days and days in the blue and green waters: sometimes low down close to the sand and shells and pearls and coral, and the big rocks where the anemones lived like clusters of gay flowers, and the seaweed waved in frills and fans of red and green and yellow; and sometimes he swam high up near the surface of the sea, where the white caps chased each other, and the great waves rose like mountains of glass and tumbled over themselves with a crash. When the Goldfish was as near the top as this, he sometimes saw swimming in the bright water far, far above him a great Gold Fish, as golden as himself, but as round as a jelly-fish. And at other times, when that distant water was dark blue instead of bright, he saw a Silver Fish such as he had never met under the sea, and she too was often round in shape, though at times, when she seemed to swim sideways through the water, he could see her pointed silver fins. Our Goldfish felt a certain jealousy of the other Gold Fish, but with the Silver Fish he fell in love at sight, and longed to be able to swim up to her. Whenever he tried to do this, something strange happened that made him lose his breath; and with a gasp he sank down into the ocean, so deep that he could see the Silver Fish no longer. Then, hoping she might descend to swim in his own water, he swam for miles and miles in search of her; but he never had the luck to find her.
One night as he was swimming about in very calm water, he saw overhead the motionless shadow of an enormous fish. One great long fin ran under its belly in the water, but all the rest of it was raised above the surface. The Goldfish knew every fish in the sea, but he had never before seen such a fish as this! It was bigger than the Whale, and as black as the ink of the Octopus. He swam all round it, touching it with his inquisitive little nose. At last he asked, ‘What sort of fish are you?’
The big black shadow laughed. ‘I am not a fish at all, I am a ship.’
‘What are you doing here if you are not a fish?’
‘Just at present I am doing nothing, for I am becalmed. But when the wind blows I shall go on sailing round the world.’
‘What is the world?’
‘All that you see and more.’
‘Am I in the world, then?’ asked the Goldfish.
‘Certainly you are.’
The Goldfish gave a little jump of delight. ‘Good news! good news!’ he cried.
A passing Porpoise paused to ask, ‘What are you shouting for?’
‘Because I am in the world!’
‘Who says so?’
‘The Ship-Fish!’ said the Goldfish.
‘Pooh!’ said the Porpoise, ‘let him prove it!’ and he passed on.
The Goldfish stopped jumping, because his joy had been damped by doubt. ‘How can the world be more than I can see?’ he asked the Ship. ‘If I am really in the world I ought to be able to see it all—or how can I be sure?’
‘You must take my word for it,’ said the Ship. ‘A tiny fellow like you can never hope to see more than a scrap of the world. The world has a rim you can never see over; the world has foreign lands full of wonders that you can never look upon; the world is as round as an orange, but you will never see how round the world is.’
Then the Ship went on to tell of the parts of the world that lay beyond the rim of things, of men and women and children, of flowers and trees, of birds with eyes in their tails, blue, gold, and green, of black and white and elephants, and temples hung with tinkling bells. The Goldfish wept with longing because he could never see over the rim of things, because he could not see how round the world was, because he could not behold all at once all the wonders that were in the world.
How the Ship laughed at him! ‘My little friend,’ said he, ‘if you were the Moon yonder, why, if you were the Sun himself, you could only see one half of these things at a time.’
‘Who is the Moon yonder?’ asked the Goldfish.
‘Who else but that silver slip of light up in the sky?’
‘Is that the sky?’ said the Goldfish. ‘I thought it was another sea. And is that the Moon? I thought she was a Silver Fish. But who then is the Sun?
‘The Sun is the round gold ball that rolls through the sky by day,’ said the Ship. ‘They say he is her friend, and gives her his light.’
‘But I will give her the world!’ cried the Goldfish. And he leaped with all his tiny might into the air, but he could not reach the Moon, and fell gasping into the sea. There he let himself sink like a little gold stone to the bottom of the ocean, where he lay for a week weeping his heart out. For the things the Ship had told him were more than he could understand; but they swelled him with great longings—longings to possess the Silver Moon, to be a mightier fish than the Sun, and to see the whole of the world from top to bottom and from side to side, with all the wonders within and beyond it.
Now it happened that King Neptune, who ruled the land under the waves, was strolling through a grove of white and scarlet coral, when he heard a chuckle that was something between a panting and a puffing; and peering through the branches of the coral-trees he beheld a plump Porpoise bursting its sleek sides with laughter. Not far off lay the Goldfish, swimming in tears.
King Neptune, like a good father, preferred to share in all the joys and sorrows of his children, so he stopped to ask the Porpoise, ‘What tickles you so?’
‘Ho! ho! ho!’ puffed the Porpoise. ‘I am tickled by the grief of the Goldfish there.’
‘Has the Goldfish a grief?’ asked King Neptune.
‘He has indeed! For seven days and nights he has wept because, ho! ho! ho! he cannot marry the Moon, surpass the Sun, and possess the world!’
‘And you,’ said King Neptune, ‘have you never wept for these things?’
‘Not I!’ puffed the Porpoise. ‘What! weep for the Sun and the Moon that are nothing but two blobs in the distance? Weep for the world that no one can behold? No, Father! When my dinner is in the distance, I’ll weep for that; and when I see death coming, I’ll weep for that; but for the rest, I say pah!’
‘Well, it takes all sorts of fish to make a sea,’ said King Neptune, and stooping down he picked up the Goldfish and admonished it with his finger.
‘Come, child,’ said he, ‘tears may be the beginning, but they should not be the end of things. Tears will get you nowhere. Do you really wish to marry the Moon, surpass the Sun, and possess the world?’
‘I do, Father, I do!’ quivered the Goldfish.
‘Then since there is no help for it, you must get caught in the net—do you see it floating yonder in the water? Are you afraid of it?’
‘Not if it will bring me all I long for,’ said the Goldfish bravely.
‘Risk all, and you will get your desires,’ promised King Neptune. He let the Goldfish dart through his fingers, and saw him swim boldly to the net which was waiting to catch what it could. As the meshes closed upon him, King Neptune stretched out his hand, and slipped a second fish inside; and then, stroking his green beard, he continued his stroll among his big and little children.
And what happened to the Goldfish?
He was drawn up into the Fisherman’s boat that lay in wait above the net; and in the same cast a Silverfish was taken, a lovely creature with a round body and silky fins like films of moonlit cloud. ‘That’s a pretty pair!’ thought the Fisherman, and he carried them home to please his little daughter. And to make her pleasure more complete, he first bought a globe of glass, and sprinkled sand and shells and tiny pebbles at the bottom, and set among them a sprig of coral and a strand of seaweed. Then he filled the globe with water, dropped in the Gold and Silver Fishes, and put the little glass world on a table in his cottage window.
The Goldfish, dazed with joy, swam towards the Silverfish, crying, ‘You are the Moon come out of the sky! Oh see, how round the world is!’
And he looked through one side of the globe, and saw flowers and trees in the garden; and he looked through another side of the globe, and saw on the mantelpiece black and white elephants of ebony and ivory, that the Fisherman had brought from foreign parts; and through another side of the globe he saw on the wall a fan of peacock feathers, with eyes of gold and blue and green; and through the fourth side, on a bracket, he saw a little Chinese temple hung with bells. And he looked at the bottom of the globe, and saw his own familiar world of coral, sand, and shells. And he looked at the top of the globe, and saw a man, a woman, and a child smiling down at him over the rim.
And he gave a little jump of joy, and cried to his Silver Bride:
‘Oh Moonfish, I am greater than the Sun! for I give you, not half, but the whole of the world, the top and the bottom and all the way round, with all the wonders that are in it and beyond!’
And King Neptune under the sea, who had ears for all that passed, laughed in his beard and said:
‘It was a shame ever to let such a tiny fellow loose in the vast ocean. He needed a world more suited to his size.’
And ever since then, the world of the Goldfish has been a globe of glass.