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THE JUNIOR CLASSICS

 

THE SNUFFBOX

By Paul Sebillot

As often happens in this world, there was once a young man who spent
all his time in traveling. One day, as he was walking along, he picked
up a snuffbox. He opened it, and the snuffbox said to him in the
Spanish language: "What do you want?" He was very much frightened,
but, luckily, instead of throwing the box away he only shut it tight
and put it in his pocket. Then he went on, away, away, away, and as he
went he said to himself, "if it says to me again, 'What do you want?' I
shall know better what to say this time." So he took out the snuffbox
and opened it, and again it asked: "What do you want?" "My hat full of
gold," answered the youth, and immediately it was full.

Our young man was enchanted. Henceforth he should never be in need of
anything. So on he traveled, away, away, away, through thick forests,
till at last he came to a beautiful castle. In the castle there lived
a king. The young man walked round and round the castle, not caring
who saw him, till the king noticed him and asked what he was doing
there. "I was just looking at your castle." "You would like to have
one like it, wouldn't you?" The young man did not reply, but when it
grew dark he took out his snuffbox and opened the lid." What do you
want?" "Build me a castle with laths of gold and tiles of diamond and
the furniture all of silver and gold." He had scarcely finished
speaking when there stood in front of him, exactly opposite the king's
palace, a castle built precisely as he had ordered. When the king
awoke he was struck dumb at the sight of the magnificent house shining
in the rays of the sun. The servants could not do their work for
stopping to stare at it. Then the king dressed himself and went to see
the young man. And he told him plainly that he was a very powerful
prince, and that he hoped that they might all live together in one
house or the other, and that the king would give him his daughter to
wife. So it all turned out just as the king wished. The young man
married the princess and they lived happily in the palace of gold.

But the king's wife was jealous both of the young man and of her own
daughter. The princess had told her mother about the snuffbox, which
gave them everything they wanted, and the queen bribed a servant to
steal the snuffbox. They noticed carefully where it was put away every
night, and one evening, when the whole world was asleep, the woman
stole it and brought it to her old mistress. Oh, how happy the queen
was! She opened the lid and the snuffbox said to her: "What do you
want?" And she answered at once: "I want you to take me and my husband
and my servants and this beautiful house and set us down on the other
side of the Red Sea, but my daughter and her husband are to stay
behind."

When the young couple woke up they found themselves back in the old
castle, without their snuffbox. They hunted for it high and low, but
quite vainly. The young man felt that no time was to be lost, and he
mounted his horse and filled his pockets with as much gold as he could
carry. On he went, away, away, away, but he sought the snuffbox in
vain all up and down the neighboring countries, and very soon he came
to the end of all his money. But still he went on, as fast as the
strength of his horse would let him, begging his way.

Some one told him that he ought to consult the moon, for the moon
traveled far and might be able to tell him something. So he went away,
away, away, and ended, somehow or other, by reaching the land of the
moon. There he found a little old woman who said to him: "What are you
doing here? My son eats all living things he sees, and if you are wise
you will go away without coming any farther." But the young man told
her all his sad tale, and how he possessed a wonderful snuffbox, and
how it had been stolen from him, and how he had nothing left now that
he was parted from his wife and was in need of everything. And he said
that perhaps her son, who traveled so far, might have seen a palace
with laths of gold and tiles of diamond and furnished all in silver and
gold. As he spoke these last words the moon came in and said he
smelled mortal flesh and blood. But his mother told him that it was an
unhappy man who had lost everything and had come all this way to
consult him, and bade the young man not to be afraid, but to come
forward and show himself. So he went boldly up to the moon, and asked
if by any accident he had seen a palace with the laths of gold and the
tiles of diamond and all the furniture of silver and gold. Once this
house belonged to him, but now it was stolen. And the moon said no,
but that the sun traveled farther than he did, and that the young man
had better go and ask him.

So the young man departed and went away, away, away, as well as his
horse would take him, begging his living as he rode along, and somehow
or other at last he got to the land of the sun. There he found a
little old woman, who asked him: "What are you doing here? Go away.
Have you not heard that my son feeds upon Christians?" But he said no
and that he would not go, for he was so miserable that it was all one
to him whether he died or not; that he had lost everything, and
especially a splendid palace like none other in the whole world, for it
had laths of gold and tiles of diamond and all the furniture was of
silver and gold; and that he had sought it far and long, and in all the
earth there was no man more unhappy. So the old woman's heart melted
and she agreed to hide him.

When the sun arrived he declared that he smelled Christian flesh and he
meant to have it for his dinner. But his mother told him such a
pitiful story of the miserable wretch who had lost everything and had
come from far to ask his help that at last he promised to see him.

So the young man came out from his hiding-place and begged the sun to
tell him if in the course of his travels he had not seen somewhere a
palace that had not its like in the whole world, for its laths were of
gold and its tiles of diamond and all the furniture in silver and gold.

And the sun said no, but that perhaps the wind had seen it, for he
entered everywhere and saw things that no one else ever saw, and if
anyone knew where it was it was certainly the wind.

Then the poor young man again set forth as well as his horse could take
him, begging his living as he went, and somehow or other he ended by
reaching the home of the wind. He found there a little old woman
busily occupied in filling great barrels with water. She asked him
what had put it into his head to come there, for her son ate everything
he saw, and that he would shortly arrive quite mad, and that the young
man had better look out. But he answered that he was so unhappy that
he had ceased to mind anything, even being eaten, and then he told her
that he had been robbed of a palace that had not its equal in all the
world, and of all that was in it, and that he had even left his wife
and was wandering over the world until he found it. And that it was
the sun who had sent him to consult the wind. So she hid him under the
staircase, and soon they heard the south wind arrive, shaking the house
to its foundations. Thirsty as he was, he did not wait to drink, but
he told his mother that he smelled the blood of a Christian man, and
that she had better bring him out at once and make him ready to be
eaten. But she bade her son eat and drink what was before him, and
said that the poor young man was much to be pitied, and that the sun
had granted him his life in order that he might consult the Wind. Then
she brought out the young man, who explained how he was seeking for his
palace, and that no man had been able to tell him where it was, so he
had come to the Wind. And he added that he had been shamefully robbed,
and that the laths were of gold and the tiles of diamond, and all the
furniture in silver and gold, and he inquired if the Wind had not seen
such a palace during his wanderings.

And the Wind said yes, and that all that day he had been blowing
backward and forward over it without being able to move one single
tile. "Oh, do tell me where it is," cried the young man." "It is a
long way off," replied the Wind, "on the other side of the Red Sea."
But our traveler was not discouraged-he had already journeyed too far.

So he set forth at once, and somehow or other he managed to reach that
distant land. And he inquired if any one wanted a gardener. He was
told that the head gardener at the castle had just left, and perhaps he
might have a chance of getting the place. The young man lost no time,
but walked up to the castle and asked if they were in want of a
gardener; and how happy he was when they agreed to take him! Now he
passed most of his day in gossiping with the servants about the wealth
of their masters and the wonderful things in the house. He made
friends with one of the maids, who told him the history of the
snuffbox, and he coaxed her to let him see it. One evening she managed
to get hold of it, and the young man watched carefully where she hid it
away in a secret place in the bedchamber of her mistress.

The following night, when everyone was fast asleep, he crept in and
took the snuffbox. Think of his joy as he opened the lid! When it
asked him, as of yore, "What do you want?" he replied: "What do I
want? What do I want? Why, I want to go with my palace to the old
place, and for the king and the queen and all their servants to be
drowned in the Red Sea."

He had hardly finished speaking when he found himself back again with
his wife, while all the other inhabitants of the palace were lying at
the bottom of the Red Sea.



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