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Pandora's Box

Pandora And The Great Box

Long, long ago, when this old world was in its infancy, there was a child named Epimetheus who never had either father or mother. In order that he might not be lonely, another child, fatherless and motherless like himself, was sent from a far country to be his playfellow. Her name was Pandora.
The first thing that Pandora saw when she entered the cottage where Epimetheus dwelt was a great box. And almost the first question which she put to him, after crossing the threshold, was this:
"Epimetheus, what have you in that box?"
"My dear little Pandora," answered Epimetheus, "that is a secret, and you must be kind enough not to ask any questions about it. The box was left here to be kept safely, and I do not myself know what it contains."
"But who gave it to you?" asked Pandora." And where' did it come from?"
"That is a secret, too," replied Epimetheus.
"How provoking!" exclaimed Pandora, pouting her lip. "I wish the great ugly box were out of the way!"
"0 come, don't think of it any more,!' cried Epimetheus. "Let us run out of doors, and play with the other children."
It is thousands of years since Epimetheus and Pandora were alive. Then, everybody was a child. Children needed no fathers and mothers to take care of them; because there was no danger or trouble of any kind, and there were no clothes to be mended, and there were always plenty of things to eat and to drink.
Whenever a child wanted his dinner, he found it growing on a tree; and if he looked at the tree in the morning, he could see the blossom of that night's supper; or at eventide he saw the tender bud of tomorrow's breakfast. It was a very pleasant life indeed. No labor to be done, no lessons to be studied; nothing but sports and dances and sweet voices of children talking or singing.
What was most wonderful of all, the children never quarreled among themselves; neither had they any crying fits; nor, since time first began, had a single one of them ever gone into a corner and sulked. Oh, what a good time was that to be alive in! The truth is, those ugly little winged monsters called Troubles, which are now almost as numerous as mosquitoes, had never yet been seen on the earth. Perhaps the very greatest uneasiness which a child had ever felt was Pandora's vexation at not being able to discover the secret of the mysterious box.
"Whence can the box have come?" Pandora continually kept saying to herself and to Epimetheus. "And what on earth can be inside of it?"
"Always talking about this box!" said Epimetheus at last, for he had grown tired of the subject. "I wish, dear Pandora, you would try to talk of something else. Come, let us go and gather some ripe figs, and eat them under the trees for our supper. And I know a vine that has the sweetest and juiciest grapes you ever tasted."
"Always talking about grapes and figs !" cried Pandora, pettishly.
"Well, then," said Epimetheus, who was a very good-tempered child, "let us run out and have a merry time with our playmates.
I am tired of merry times, and don't care if I never have any more!" answered pettish little Pandora. "And, besides, I never do have any. This ugly box! I am so taken up with thinking about it all the time. I insist upon your telling me what is inside of it."
"As I have already said fifty times over, I do not know!" replied Epimetheus, getting a little vexed himself. "How, then, can I tell you what is inside?"
"You might open it," said Pandora, "and then we could see for ourselves."
"Pandora, what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Epimetheus.
His face showed so much horror at the idea of looking into a box which had been given to him on his promise never to open it, that Pandora thought it best not to suggest it any more. Still, she could not help thinking and talking about the box.
"At least," said she, "you can tell me how it came here." "It was left at the door," replied Epimetheus, "just before you came, by a person who looked very smiling and who could hardly keep from laughing as he put it down. He was dressed in an odd kind of cloak, and had on a cap that seemed to be made partly of feathers, so that it looked almost as if it had wings."
"What sort of staff had he?" asked Pandora.
"Oh, the most curious staff you ever saw!" cried Epimetheus" It was like two serpents twisting around a stick and was carved so naturally that I at first thought the serpents were alive."
"I know him," said Pandora thoughtfully. "Nobody else. has such a staff. It was Quicksilver, and he brought me here as well as the box. No doubt he intended it for me; and most probably it contains pretty dresses for me to wear, or something very nice for us both to eat!"
"Perhaps so,' answered Epimetheus, turning away. "But until Quicksilver comes back and tells us so, we have neither of us any right to lift the lid of the box."
"What a dull boy he is!" muttered Pandora, as Epimetheus left the cottage.

The Knot Of Golden Cord

For the first time since her arrival, Epimetheus had gone out without asking Pandora to accompany him. He went to gather figs and grapes for himself, or to seek whatever amusement he could find with other children. He was tired to death of hearing about the box, and heartily wished that Quicksilver had left it at some other child's door where Pandora would never have set eyes on it.
How she did babble about this one thing! The box, the box, and nothing but the box! It was really hard that poor Epimetheus should have a box in his ears from morning till night; especially as the little people of the earth in those happy days knew not how to deal with troubles. Thus a small-trouble made as much disturbance then as a far bigger one would in our own time.
After Epimetheus was gone, Pandora stood gazing at the box. She had called it ugly over a hundred times; but in spite of all that she had said against it, it was a very handsome article of furniture. It was made of a beautiful kind of wood with dark and rich veins spreading over its surface, which was so highly polished that little Pandora could see herself in it. The edges and corners of the box were carved with most wonderful skill. Around the edges there were figures of graceful men and women, and the prettiest children ever seen. But here and there, Pandora once or twice thought that she saw a face not so lovely, or something or other which stole the beauty out of all the rest. Nevertheless, on looking more closely and touching the spot with her finger, she could discover nothing of the kind. Some face that was really beautiful had been made to look ugly by her catching a sideways glimpse at it.
The most beautiful face of all was carved in the center of the lid. There was nothing else except the dark, smooth richness of the polished wood, and this one face in the center with a garland of flowers about its brow. Pandora had looked at this face a great many times and imagined that the mouth could smile if it liked, or be grave when it chose, the same as any living mouth. The features, indeed, all wore a very lively and rather mischievous expression.
Had this mouth spoken, it would probably have said something like this:
"Do not be afraid, Pandora! What harm can there be in opening the box? Never mind that poor, simple Epimetheus! You are wiser than he, and have ten times as much spirit. Open the box, and see if you do not find Something! very pretty !"
The box, I had almost forgotten to say, was fastened not by a lock but by a very fine knot of gold cord. There appeared to be no end to this knot, and no beginning. Never was a knot so cunningly twisted with so many ins and outs. And yet, by the very difficulty that there was in it, Pandora was there tempted to examine the knot, and just see how it was made. Two or three times already she had stooped over the box and taken the knot between her thumb and forefinger, but without trying to undo it.
"I really believe," said she to herself, "that I begin to see how it was done. Nay, perhaps I could tie it up again after undoing it. Even Epimetheus would not blame me for that. I need not open the box, and should not, of course, without that foolish boy's consent, even if the knot were untied."
It might have been better for Pandora if she had had a little work to do so as not to be so constantly thinking of this one subject. But children led so easy a life before any Troubles came into the world that they had a great deal too much leisure. They could not be forever playing at hide-and-seek among the flower-shrubs, or at blind-man's buff with garlands over their eyes, or at whatever other games had been found out while Mother Earth was in her babyhood. When life is all sport, toil is the real play. There was nothing to do. A little sweeping and dusting about the cottage, I suppose, and the gathering of fresh flowers and arranging them in vases and poor little Pandora's day's work was over. And then, for the rest of the day, there was always the box!
After all, I am not quite sure that the fascinating box was not a blessing to Pandora in its way It supplied her with so many ideas to think of, and to talk about, whenever she had anybody who would listen to her! When she was in good humor, she could admire the bright polish of its sides and the rich border of beautiful faces that ran all around it. Or, if she happened to be ill-tempered, she could give it an angry push, or kick it with her naughty little foot. And many a kick did the mischievous box receive, you may be sure! But certain it is if it had not been for the box, little Pandora would not have known half so well how to spend her time as she now did.

Guessing What Was In The Box

For it was really an endless employment to guess what was inside. What could it be, indeed? Just imagine, my little hearers, how busy your wits would be if there were a great box in the house, which you might suppose contained something new and pretty for your Christmas or New Year's gifts. Do you think that you should be less curious than Pandora? If you were left alone with the box, might you not feel a little tempted to lift the lid? But you would not do it. Oh, fie!
No, no! Only, if you thought there were toys in it, it would be so very hard to let slip an opportunity of taking just one peep!
I know not whether Pandora expected any toys; for none had yet begun to be made, probably, in those days, when the world itself was one great plaything for the children that dwelt upon it.
But Pandora was certain that there was something very beautiful and valuable in the box, and therefore she felt just as anxious to take a peep as any little girl would have felt.
On this particular day, however, her curiosity grew so much greater than it usually was that at last she approached the box. She was more than half determined to open it, if she could. Ah, naughty Pandora!
First, however, she tried to lift it. It was heavy; much too heavy for the slender strength of a child like Pandora. She raised one end of the box a few inches from the floor, and let it fall again with a loud thump. A moment afterwards she almost thought that she heard something stir inside the box.
She listened as closely as possible. There did seem to be a kind of stifled murmur within! Or was it merely the singing in Pandora's ears? Or could it be the beating of her heart? The child could not be sure herself whether she had heard anything or not. But, at all events, her curiosity was stronger than ever.
Her eyes fell upon the knot of gold cord !
"It must have been a clever person who tied this knot," . said Pandora to herself. "But I think I could untie 'it, nevertheless. I believe I will at least try to find the two ends of the cord."
So she took the golden knot in her fingers and looked into it as sharply as she could. Almost without quite knowing what she was about, she was soon busily trying to undo it. Meanwhile, the bright sunshine came through the open window; as did also the merry voices of the children, playing at a distance, and perhaps the voice of Epimetheus among them. Pandora stopped to listen. What a beautiful day it was! Would it not be wiser if she were to let the troublesome knot alone and think no more about the box, but run and join her little playfellows and be happy?
All this time, however, her fingers were busy with the knot; and happening to glance at the face on the lid of the enchanted box, she seemed to see it slyly grinning at her.
"That face looks very mischievous," thought Pandora. "I wonder whether it smiles because I am doing wrong! I have a great notion to run away!"
But just then, by the merest accident, she gave the knot a kind of twist the gold cord untwined itself as if by magic, and left the box without a fastening.
"This is the strangest thing I ever knew!" said Pandora.. "What will Epimetheus say? And how can I possibly tie it up again?"
She made one or two attempts to tie the knot, but soon found it quite beyond her skill. It had untied itself so suddenly that she could not in the least remember how the strings had been doubled into one another; and when she tried to recollect the shape and appearance of the knot, it seemed to have gone entirely out of her mind. Nothing was to be done, therefore, but to let the box remain as it was until Epimetheus should come in.
"But," said Pandora, "when he finds the knot untied, he will know that I have done it. How shall I make him believe that I have not looked into the box?"
And then the thought came into her naughty little heart, that since she would be suspected of having looked into the box, she might just as well do so at once. The enchanted face on the lid of the box looked at her bewitchingly, and she seemed to hear, more distinctly than before, the murmur of small voices within. She could not tell whether it was fancy or not; but there was quite a little tumult of whispers in her ear--or else it was her curiosity that whispered: "Let us out dear Pandora--pray let us out! We will be such nice, pretty playfellows for you! Only let us out.
"What can it be?" thought Pandora. "Is there something alive in the box? Well!--yes!--I will take just one peep! Only one peep, and then the lid shall be shut down as safely as ever! There cannot possibly be any harm in just one little peep !"

How Troubles Came Into The World

But it is now time for us to see what Epimetheus was doing. This was the first time since his playmate had come that he had tried to enjoy any pleasure in which she did not take part. But nothing went right, nor was he nearly so happy as on other days. He could not find a sweet grape or a ripe fig; or, if ripe at all, they were overripe, and so sweet as to be distasteful. There was no gladness in his heart; he grew so uneasy and discontented that the other children could not imagine what was the matter with him. Neither did he himself know what ailed him, any better than they did.
For at the time we are speaking of, it was everybody's nature and habit to be happy. The world had not yet learned to be unhappy. Not a single soul or body, since these children were first sent to enjoy themselves on the beautiful earth, had ever been sick or out-of-sorts. At length, discovering that somehow or other he put a stop to all the play, Epimetheus thought it best to go back to Pandora. But, with a hope of giving her pleasure, he gathered some flowers and made them into a wreath which he meant to put upon her head. The flowers were very lovely --roses and lilies and orange-blossoms, and a great many more, which left a trail of fragrance behind as Epimetheus carried them along; and the wreath was put together with as much skill as could be expected of a boy.
And here I must mention that a great black cloud had been gathering in the sky for some time past, although it had not yet overspread the sun. But, just as Epimetheus reached the cottage-door this cloud began to cut off the sunshine, and thus to make a sudden darkness.
He entered softly; for he meant, if possible, to steal behind Pandora and fling a wreath of flowers over her head before she knew that he was there. But, as it happened, there was no need of his treading so very lightly. He might have trod as heavily as he pleased, as heavily as a grown man--as heavily as an elephant--without Pandora's hearing his footsteps. She was too interested in what she was doing. At the very moment of his entering the cottage, the naughty child had put her hand to the lid, and was on the point of opening the mysterious box, when Epimetheus saw her.
But Epimetheus himself, although he said very little about it, had his own share of curiosity to know what was inside. Seeing that Pandora intended to find out the secret, he determined that his playfellow should not be the only wise person in the cottage. And if there were anything pretty or valuable in the box, he meant to take half of it to himself.
As Pandora raised the lid, the cottage grew very dark; for the black cloud had now swept quite over the sun and seemed to have buried it alive. There had, for a little while past, been a low growling and muttering which all at once broke into a heavy peal of thunder. But Pandora, unmindful of all this, lifted the lid nearly upright and looked inside. It seemed as if a sudden swarm of winged creatures brushed past her, taking flight out of the box,. while at the same instant she heard Epimetheus calling as if in pain.
"Oh, I am stung!' he cried. I am stung! Naughty Pandora! why have you opened this wicked box?"
Pandora let fall the lid, and, starting up, looked about her to see what had happened to Epimetheus. The thundercloud had so darkened the room that she could not very clearly see what was in it. But she heard a disagreeable buzzing, as if a great many huge flies, or giant mosquitoes, were darting about. And as her eyes grew more accustomed to the imperfect light, she saw a crowd of ugly little shapes, with bats wings, looking very spiteful and armed with terribly long stings in their tails. It was one of these that had stung Epimetheus. Nor was it a great while before Pandora herself began to scream in no less pain than her playfellow. An ugly little monster had settled on her forehead, and would have stung her if Epimetheus had not run and brushed it away.
Now, if you wish to know what these ugly things were which had made their escape out of the box, I must tell you that they were the whole family of earthly Troubles. There were a great many kinds of Cares; there were more than a hundred fifty Sorrows; there were Diseases, in a vast number of miserable and painful shape; there were more kinds of Naughtiness than it would be of any use for us to talk about.
In short, everything that has since troubled our souls and bodies had been shut up in the mysterious box and given to Epimetheus and Pandora to be kept safely, in order. that the happy children of the world might never be harmed by them. But by Pandora's lifting the lid of that miserable box, and by the fault of Epimetheus, too, in not preventing her, these Troubles have gained a foothold among us, and do not seem likely to be driven away in a hurry. For it was impossible, as you will easily guess, that the two children should keep the ugly swarm in their own little cottage. The first thing that they did was to fling open the doors and windows in hope of getting rid of them: Sure enough, away flew the winged Troubles all abroad to torment the small people, everywhere.
And what was very strange, all the flowers and dewy blossoms on earth, not one of which had before faded, now began to droop and shed their leaves, after a day or two. The children who before seemed always young now day by day grew older and came to be men and women by-and-by.

What Hope Does For Us

Meanwhile the naughty Pandora and hardly less naughty Epimetheus remained in their cottage. Both of them had been grievously stung, and were in a good deal of pain, which seemed the more unbearable to them because it was the very first pain that had ever been felt since the world began. Besides this, they were in very bad humor, both with themselves and with one another. Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back toward Pandora, while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal box. She was sobbing as if her heart would break.
Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the lid. "What can that be?" cried Pandora, lifting her head.
But either Epimetheus had not heard the tap, or was too. much upset to notice it. At any rate, he made no answer. "You are very unkind," said Pandora, sobbing again, "not to speak to me!"
Again the tap! It sounded like the tiny knuckles of a fairy's hand, knocking playfully on the inside of the box.
"Who are you?" asked Pandora. "Who are you, inside of this naughty box?"
A sweet little voice spoke from within: "Only lift the lid, and you shall see."
"No, no," answered Pandora, again beginning to sob, "I have had enough of lifting the lid!
You are inside of the box, naughty creature, and there you shall stay!"
"Ah," said the sweet little voice again, "you had much better let me out." I am not like those naughty creatures that have stings in their tails. Come, come, my pretty Pandora! I am sure you will let me out I"
And, indeed, there was a kind of cheerful witchery in the tone that made it almost impossible to refuse anything which this little voice asked. Pandora's .heart had grown lighter at every word that came from within the box. Epimetheus, too, though still in the corner, had turned half round and seemed to be in rather better spirits than before.
"My dear Epimetheus," cried Pandora, "have you heard this little voice?"
"Yes, to be sure I have," he answered. "And what of it?" "Shall I lift the lid again?" asked Pandora.
"Just as you please," said Epimetheus. "You have done so much mischief already that perhaps you may as well do a little more. One other Trouble can make no very great. difference." "You might speak a little more kindly!" murmured Pandora, wiping her eyes.
"Ah, naughty boy!" cried the little voice within the box, in a laughing tone. "He knows he wants to see me. Come, my dear Pandora, lift up the lid. I am in a great hurry to comfort you."
"Epimetheus," exclaimed Pandora, "no matter what happens, I will open the box!"
"And, as the lid seems very heavy," cried Epimetheus, running across the room, "I will help you!"
So the two children again lifted the lid. Out flew a sunny and smiling little person, and hovered about the room, throwing a light wherever she went. She flew to Epimetheus and laid the lightest touch of her finger on the spot where the Trouble had stung him, and immediately the pain was gone. Then she kissed Pandora on the forehead, and her hurt was also cured.
After performing these good deeds, the bright stranger fluttered over the children's heads, and looked so sweetly at them that they both began to think it not so very much wrong to have opened the box, since otherwise their cheery guest must have been kept a prisoner among those naughty imps with stings in their tails.
"Pray, who are you, beautiful creature?" inquired Pandora. "I am to be called Hope!"
answered the sunshiny figure. "And because I am such a cheery little body, I was packed into the box to make up for that swarm of ugly Troubles which was to be let loose."
"Your wings are colored like the rainbow!" exclaimed Pandora. "How very beautiful !"
"And will you stay with us," asked Epimetheus, "for ever and ever?"
"As long as you need me," said hope, with her pleasant smile, "and that will be as long as you live in the world. I promise never to leave you. There may be times now and then when you will think that I have vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you least dream of my being with you, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage."

Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

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