Long, long ago, when this old world was young, there was a child, named Epimetheus, who had neither father nor mother. So, that he might not be lonely, another child, fatherless and motherless like himself, was sent from a far country, to live with him and be his playfellow and helpmate. 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 she asked was this : “Epimetheus, what have you in that box? ”
” My dear Pandora,” answered Epimetheus, that is a secret, and you must not ask 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. ” I wish the great ugly box were out of the way ! ”
“Oh, come, don’t think of it any more,” cried Epimetheus. “Let us run out of doors and play with the other children.”
In those wonderful days the children never quarreled among themselves ; they never cried or sulked. Not one of those things called Troubles had yet been seen on the earth.
But this box in Epimetheus’ house began to make a faint shadow of a Trouble in Pandora’s heart. “What in the world can be inside of it ? ” she kept saying to herself and to Epimetheus:
” I wish, Pandora, you would talk about some-thing besides the box,” said Epimetheus at last. ” Come, let us go and gather some ripe figs for our supper. Let us run out and have a merry time with our playmates.”
” I am tired of merry times,” answered Pandora. ” I think about the box 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. ” How, then, can I tell you what is inside ? ”
” You might open it,” said Pandora, looking side-ways at Epimetheus, ” and then we could see for ourselves.”
” Pandora, what are you thinking of ? ” exclaimed Epimetheus. And his face expressed so much horror at the idea of looking into the box, which had been confided to him on the condition of his never opening 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, “by a person who looked very smiling and intelligent. He had on a cap that was made partly of feathers, so that it seemed to have wings.”
” What sort of a 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. ” It was Quicksilver. He brought me hither, as well as the box. No doubt he intended it for me. Probably it contains pretty dresses for me to wear, or toys for us to play with, or something nice for us both to eat.”
“Perhaps so,” answered Epimetheus, turning away. ” But until Quicksilver comes back and tells us so, we have no right to lift the lid of the box.”
” What a dull boy he is ! ” muttered Pandora, as Epimetheus left the cottage. ” I wish he had a little more enterprise.”
After Epimetheus had gone, Pandora stood gazing at the box. In spite of her calling it ugly, it was a very handsome article of furniture. It was made of a beautiful kind of wood, with dark, rich veins spreading over its surface, which was so highly polished that Pandora could see her face in it. The edges and corners of the box were carved with the most wonderful skill. It was fastened, not by a lock, but by an intricate knot of gold cord. There appeared to be no end to this knot, and no beginning. Two or three times already Pandora had stooped over the box and taken the knot between her thumb and forefinger, but without positively trying to undo it.
” I really believe,” she said to herself, ” that I begin to see how it was done. Perhaps I could tie it up again after undoing it. There would be no harm in that, surely. Even Epimetheus would not blame me for that. I need not open the box, and should not, of course, without the foolish boy’s consent.”
Just then, by the merest accident, she gave the knot a twist, and it 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 restore the knot, but soon found it quite beyond her skill.
” Oh,” said Pandora, ” when Epimetheus finds the knot untied, he will know I did it. How shall I make him believe I have not looked into the box ? ”
Then a naughty thought came into her heart. Since she would be suspected of looking into the box, she might just as well do so. Oh, very naughty and very foolish Pandora! Then she thought she heard the murmur of small voices within, a little tumult of whispers in her ear : ” Let us out, dear Pandora ; pray let us out. We will be your playfellows. Only let us out!”
” Is there something alive in the box? ” thought Pandora. ” Well yes I am resolved to take just one little peep ! ”
Meantime Epimetheus was not as happy as usual out of doors. He was afraid he had been cross to Pandora, so he came back softly, meaning to surprise her. But just as he entered, the naughty Pandora had her hand on the lid and was about to open the mysterious box. If Epimetheus had cried out, she would have stopped and probably the box would never have been opened. But Epimetheus was curious himself ; he wanted to know what was in that box. So he was almost as much at fault as she. He kept still and watched.
Pandora raised the lid, and the cottage grew suddenly dark. A swarm of winged creatures brushed past her, flying out of the box. Next she heard Epimetheus crying out in pain, ” Oh, I am stung, I am stung ! Pandora, why did you open the box?
Pandora let fall the lid. She saw a crowd of ugly little shapes with bats’ wings, and long stings in their tails. Then she began to scream. One had stung her.
Now I must tell you that these ugly things were the whole family of earthly Troubles. They were Cares and Sorrows and Diseases and more kinds of Naughtiness than it would be of any use to talk about. Not one had been in the world until Pandora opened the box.
You can imagine that Pandora and Epimetheus did not want the ugly swarm in their cottage. The first thing they did was to open the doors and windows and let the winged Troubles fly abroad.
Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner, with his back toward Pandora. She threw herself on the floor with her head on the box and cried bitterly.
Suddenly there was a gentle little tap on the inside of the lid. “What can that be ? ” said Pandora, lifting her head. Again the tap ! “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.”
” Oh, no,” answered Pandora, beginning to sob again, ” I have had enough of lifting the lid.”
” Ah,” said the sweet little voice, ” I am not like the naughty creatures with stings in their tails. I am sure you will let me out!”
Epimetheus, shall I lift the lid ? ” asked Pandora.
” Just as you please,” said Epimetheus. “You have done so much mischief already, you may as well do a little more.”
” Ah, naughty boy,” cried the little voice, in a laughing tone. ” He knows he is longing to see me. Come, dear Pandora, lift up the lid. I am in a hurry to comfort you.”
” Epimetheus,” exclaimed Pandora, “come what may, I am resolved to open the box!”
“And as the lid seems heavy,” cried Epimetheus, running across the room, ” I will help you.”
The two children lifted the lid. Out flew a sunny and smiling little being, and hovered about the room, throwing a light wherever she went. She flew to Epimetheus and touched with her fingers the spot where the Trouble had stung him, and immediately the pain of it was gone. Then she kissed Pandora on the forehead, and her hurt was cured.
” Pray, who are you, beautiful creature? ” asked Pandora.
” I am to be called Hope!” answered the fairy. ” I was packed into the box, to make amends for that swarm of ugly Troubles. Never fear! we shall do pretty well in spite of them all.”
” Your wings are colored like the rainbow!” exclaimed Pandora. ” How very beautiful ! ”
” Yes, they are like the rainbow,” said Hope, ” because, glad as my nature is, I am made of tears as well as smiles.”
“And will you stay with us,” asked Epimetheus, ” forever 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 desert you. Yes, dear children, I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given to you some day!”
” Oh, tell us,” they exclaimed, ” tell us what it is ! ”
” Do not ask me,” replied Hope, putting her finger on her rosy mouth. ” But trust in my promise, for it is true.”
“We do trust you ! ” cried Epimetheus and Pandora, both in one breath.
And so they did, and so has everybody trusted Hope, everybody who has lived in this world, up to this very day.
Epimetheus (ep i me’thus). Pandora (pan do’ra). I am made of tears as well as smiles : a rainbow is produced only when the sun shines through drops of rain.
Adapted from “A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys “