In the store window was posted a sign: ANYTHING BOUGHT THAT CAN BE SOLD.

Lydia and Sulevi and the other children had gathered some small multicolored stones from the beach, right at the water's edge. They put them in a bag and took them to the store and showed them to the storekeeper.

"How much will you pay us for these, storekeeper?" they asked.

"Oh dear, children, I wouldn't buy those," the storekeeper said.

"Why not? It says in the store window: ANYTHING BOUGHT THAT CAN BE SOLD," the children said, disappointed.

"There you are," the storekeeper said. "Look, children, the sign doesn't say that we will buy anything at all, only anything that can be sold. There's a difference, there really is. Those little pebbles are certainly anything, but I'm sure they can't be sold. It's not worth it, buying something that you can't sell."

"Not worth it to who?" the children asked.

"To me, of course," the storekeeper said. "That's the point, if one wants to be a storekeeper."

"Why isn't it worth it?" the children said.

"But my dear children, why should a storekeeper buy something he can't sell?"

"But if we sell these stones to you, then they're something that can be sold," the children said.

"Oh for Heaven's sake, you don't understand. I couldn't turn around and sell them, that's for sure. And that's why it's not worth it for me to buy them from you. If I only buy and don't sell, I won't be a storekeeper for long. Only Croesus can buy things and not sell anything."

"Who's Croesus?" the children asked.

"A very rich man," the storekeeper said.

"Don't you want to be very rich?" the children asked.

The storekeeper laughed. "Absolutely," he said. "But you don't get to be a Croesus by buying, only by selling."

The children thought that what the storekeeper was saying was confused and incoherent. They fingered their bag of stones and said, "But these are very pretty stones."

"Possibly. The world is full of pretty things. And many of them are also common and free. But people don't pay for something because it's pretty, but only because it's rare," the storekeeper said.

"These are rare," the children said.

"Jewels, precious stones-they are rare," the storekeeper said. "Not beach pebbles. They are completely ordinary stones. Common pebbles. My customers won't see any difference between these and the other pebbles on the beach. The whole beach is full of billions of pebbles just like these."

"Not at all," the children insisted. "We hand-picked these pebbles from the beach. We didn't see two alike. Every one was different. And these are the prettiest ones of all."

"Maybe so, children," the storekeeper said. "But my customers won't know that."

"You can tell them," the children said. "Then they'll know."

The storekeeper sighed. He was becoming impatient. Just to get rid of the children he said, "All right, I'll pay you two Finnmarks per kilo."

And the storekeeper weighed the stones and paid for them. There were five and a half kilos. The children went on their way, happy and richer than before. They felt almost like Croesuses.

The storekeeper asked his assistant to wash the stones and put them in a glass vase with water in it. The water and the lights in the show window made them shine almost like jewels. After thinking for a while, the storekeeper wrote a sign: HAND-PICKED PEBBLES. 100 GR., 1 FIM.

The next week Lydia and Sulevi and the other children returned to the store. The evening lights were already twinkling in the city's windows and on the ocean's surface and on the wet pebbles.

The children were pushing wheelbarrows and baby buggies or dragging suitcases mounted on wheels. The wheelbarrows and buggies and suitcases were crammed with pebbles, pretty, common, free.

"Storekeeper, these are for you," they said as though bringing a gift.

© Leena Krohn