THE MAGIC BOX
An Italian Folktale
In one of the fertile valleys of the Apennines-north in Emilia-long ago there lived a rich farmer. He had much land. His vineyards were the best pruned and yielded the best vintage; his olive grove was watched over with the utmost care and never suffered as frost. His fields of grain harvested more than his neighbors; his cattle were sleeker and his sheep gave more wool at the spring shearing. Yes, everything prospered with him. On market-and-fair-days his neighbors would wag their thumbs at him and say: “There goes Gino Tomba. His sons will very rich men one of these days.”
He had two sons. The older was a daredevil who handled a rapier better than a pruning-knife and could swing a broadsword with a steadier aim than a mattock. Tonio, the younger, was an easy-going pleasure-loving rascal who knew more about fiddling than he did about winnowing grain. “If I had a third son, he might have been a farmer,” old Tomba used to say when he came bringing his skins of wine to the inn to shell. “But we must make the most of what the good Virgin provides,” and so he let his older son march off to the wars and set about making Tonio ready to look after his lands when he had gone.
“Hearken to me, boy; I am leaving you as fine an inheritance as any here in the north. See that you keep an sharp eye on it render it back with increase to your brother. Someday he will grow tired of fighting Spain and the French and come marching home.”
In less than a twelve-month old Tomba was dead. Tonio came from the burying, turned himself once about the farm to make sure it was all there, and settled down to easy living. He made what you call good company. It was, Tonio, come to fair; and Tonio, stay longer at the inn; and Tonio, drink with this one; and Tonio, dance with that. He could step the tarantella as well as any man in the north, and he could fiddle as he danced. So it was here and there and anywhere that a feast was spread or a saint’s day kept; and Tonio, the younger son of old Tomb, danced late and drank deep and was the last to stop when the dawn broke. Often he slept until the sun was already throwing late shadows on the foothills.
The time came when his thrifty neighbors took him soundly to ask for idling away his days and wasting what his father had saved. Then he would laugh braggadocio. “Am I a sheep to graze in the pasture or a grain of wheat to get myself all day and every day? The lands have grown rich for my father for fifty years; let them grow rich for me for fifty more. That is all I ask- that, and for my neighbors to prune their tongues when next they prune their vineyards.
But Tonio had asked too much. A place with a master is one thing, but without a master it is quite different. The banditti came down from the mountains and stole his cattle while the herdsmen slept; wolves ravaged his sheep; the bad little oil-fly came in swarms and spoiled the olives as they ripened; the grapes hung too long, and the wine turned thin and sour. And so it went- a little here, a little there, each year. The laborers took to small thieving- a few lambs from the spring dropping before they were driven in from the pastures for counting, a measure of wheat, a skin of wine, that would never be missed. The barns were not fresh-thatched in time, and the fall rains mildewed much of the harvest; the rats got in and ate their share. So, after years of adding one misfortune to another misfortune, there was a mountain of misfortune-large enough for even Tonio to see.
Over one night he became like a crazy man; for one night he had remembered his brother. Any day he might be returning. At the inn the day before there had been two soldiers fresh from the wars, drinking and bragging of their adventures. Another night and who might not come? Once home, the older brother would ask for an accounting. And what then? As master he could have him, Tonio, flogged or flung into prison. More final than that, he could run him through with his clever rapier, and no one would question his right to do it. The more Tonio thought about it, the more his terror grew. He began running about the country like a man with fever in his brain. First he ran to the inn and asked the landlord laughed aloud. “Sit down, Tonio, and drink some of my good Chianti. Why worry about your brother now, when he may be lying in a strange country, stuck though the ribs like a pig?”
He ran to neighbors, who laughed louder than the landlord. “Take up your fiddle and see if cannot play your cattle back into the pasture and the good wine into its skins.”
He ran on his favorite, Lisetta. She cocked her pretty head at him like a saucy macaw. “Let me see,” she laughed, “you have forgotten your brother for ten years, yes? Then come to the inn tonight and dance the tarantella with me, and I will make you forget him for another ten years.”
After that he ran to the priest and found him finishing mass. He did not laugh the priest. Instead he shook his head sorrowfully and told him to burn candles for nine days before the shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua and prays for wisdom. On the way to the shrine he met the half-witted herdboy Zeppo, who laughed foolishly when he saw his master’s face and tapped his own forehead knowingly, “Master, you are so frightened it has made you quite mad, like me.” Then he put his lips Tonio’s ear. “Hearken, I will tell you what to do. Go to the old tsigane woman of the grotto. She has much wisdom and she makes magic of all kinds-black and white. Go to her, master.”
In the end it was the advice of the mad herdboy that Tonio took. He climbed the first spur of the mountain to a deep grotto that time or magic had hollowed out of the rock, and there he found the tsigane woman. She was ages old and withered as a dried fig. she listened to all Tonio had to tell, and left him without a word to go deeper into the grotto, where she was swallowed up altogether in blackness. When she came back at last, she was carrying something in her hand-a small casket bound strongly with bands of brass, and on the top a hole so small it could hardly be seen in the pattern of the carving. She put the box into Tonio’s hand and fixed him with eyes that were piercing as two rapier points. When she spoke, it was as if her voice rumbled out, not from her, but from deep in the rocks.
“Every morning while the dew sill lies heaviest, shake one grain of dust from the box in every corner of your lands-barns, pastures, and vineyards. See to it that no spot is left forgotten. Do this and you will prosper as your father prospered. But never let one morning pass, and never till the day you die break the bands or look inside. If you do, the magic will be gone.”
That night Tonio did not fiddle or dance with Lisetta at the inn. He went to bed when the fowl went to roost, and was up at crowing of the first cock. With the magic box under his arm, he went first to his barns to sprinkle the precious grains; but he found the men still asleep and the cattle unfed. Out of their beds he drove them with angry words. And, still lashing them with his tongue, he watched while they stumbled sleepily about, beginning the day’s work. From the barns he went to the fields, and found the grain half cut and none of it staked. The scythes were left rusting on the ground and the men till asleep in their hunts. Tonio scattered more dust, and then drove the reapers o their work.
And so it was in the olive grove, the vineyards, and the pastures. Everywhere he found men sleeping and the work half done. “Holy mother, defend us!” the men said among themselves after Tonio had gone. “The master is up early and looking about for himself, even as the old master did. We shall have to keep a sharper watch out on things or he will be packing us off to starve.”
After that, every morning Tonio was abroad before the sun, shaking the dust from his magic box into every corner of his lands. And every morning he was seeing something new that was needing care. In a little time the inn and the marketplace knew him no more; and Lisetta had to find a new dancing partner. A twelve-month passed, and the farm of old Gino Tomba was prospering again. When Tonio came to the marketplace to sell his grain and wine, his neighbors would wag their thumbs at him as they had wagged them at his father and they would say: “There goes Tonio Tomb. His sons-when he marries and they are born-will be very rich men.”
And in the end what happened? The older brother never came home to claim his inheritance. He must have been killed in the wars; at any rate, all the lands were Tonio’s for the keeping. He married the daughter of his richest neighbor, and had two sons of his own, even as his father had. And when the time came for him to die he called them both to his side and commanded young Gino to bring him the casket and break the bands, his hands being too weak for the breaking. Raising the lid he looked in, eager, for all his dying, to discover the magic that the box had held all those years.
What did he find? Under the lid were written those words; Look you-the master’s eye is needed overall.” In the bottom were a few grains of sand left, the common kind that any wayfarer can gather up for himself from the road that climbs to the Apennines.
This story is really good. The title added effects to the story because it will make you think of every possibility that could happen and makes you think of something that the title could offer. Anyone who could read this story would really have fun.
“A place with a master is one thing, but without it is quite different,”- a reflection that could be learned form the story, a quote that is quite self-explanatory. Who will be working for something? Who will be working for you, if you yourself do not move? Work could never be done well when there is not one looking after it. A thing could never happen if you are not trying hard to work out for it.
Tonio taught us lesson that everyone should know- industry and discipline have their rewards. The magic box isn’t really a magic, it seems to be the way for Tonio to wake up early and realize the things that he should be doing. The magic box taught him that his eye is all the land need to be productive, not a magic. The real magic is him- to act as a master. We should all realize that things aren’t taken in just a snap of a finger or just a blink of an eye. It is all about you, working for yourself.
Life is never easy as one could say. You always have to strive hard and to work out for you to earn something. Life is not a series of chances but a series of choices. You make your own destiny. Producing and receiving is not a chance, you are choosing it. You choose to work hard, you choose to be disciplined, and you choose to be productive because you choose to provide for yourself. And no one could do it for you, except you yourself.
THE DISCONTENTED FIR TREE
Joseph Burke Egan
On the very edge of a dark wood a little fir tree grew strong and beautiful in the warm sunshine of a summer day. Its dark green needles quivered when the wind touched them and gave forth a happy little sigh, which, like a flower’s breath, perfumed the world about with that sweet, spicy odor which one who has smelled it never can forget. Above the little fir towered the old mother, straight into the sky for a hundred feet, the pride and beauty of the woodland and roundabout.
In spite, however, of its noble mother, of its own lovely form, and sweet scent of its quivering needles, the little fir was most unhappy. Looking across a little ravine, it could see the heart-shaped leaves of the silver birch, fluttering and dancing in the slightest breeze. “Alas!” sighed the fir tree. “Would that I had leaves like the silver birch. See how they spin like spangles in the sun. O dear tree mother, I am tired to death of these sharp, thin needles that I wear. ”
The voice of the little fir reached up to the mother tree and in a low hum she answered, “When the winter comes the birch tree leaves will be torn away by the angry wind, but your delicate needles will remain more beautiful than ever to remind the world of returning into spring.”
“That’s all very well for you to say, but I am tired of my needles and will never be happy until I get leaves like the silver birch.” Now it happened that the great wood spirit was abroad. He heard the complaint of the tree and answered it. In a second the beautiful green needles had dropped off, and in their place sprouted silvery heart-shaped leaves that danced and spun in the breath of the wind.
Hardly had they covered the little tree, however, when a gray goat walked out the shadowy woods. There was something very, very strange about him, for the tips of his curved horns seemed to have a golden light on them and his silver hoofs left no cloven track on the soft, brown pine-needle floor. Moreover, he seemed to grin, as he shook the long beard, and strode up to the tree. Crunch! Crunch! went his jaws and, in no time at all, the little fir was stripped of its glorious foliage and stood naked with all its little brown branches sticking out on all sides like funny fishbones.
“Oh dear,” wailed the little fir, “this will never, never do. I must get the leaves that even a hungry goat cannot eat. Oh how I wish I were covered with leaves of pure gold.”
“Silly child,” murmured the old tree mother. “Gold comes to the woodland in the fall and then only for a few days, for the greedy old wind steals it away and piles it in his treasure chests under the roots of the old oaks.”
“But mine must be real golden leaves that even the greedy old wind cannot snatch away,” said the little fir.
Of course, the powerful wood spirit was not far away. In a second the slender limbs of the fir were sagging under the weight of solid gold leaves. No matter how wind blew, they hung heavy and dead, but shone with the luster of beaten metal.
However, before the little fir could decide whether it liked its new leaves or not, a man strode out of the forest. He was a very queer man. With a shout of joy, the man began picking the leaves and putting them all in a big bag which slung from his shoulders.
“Oh dear, what a dreadful world! I have had my lesson. I was never meant to be anything but what I am.” cried the little fir. “What is more beautiful than a noble fir tree?” murmured the mother fir.
“If only I had my needles back, I would never complain again.” said the little fir. Of course, the wood spirit was still close by. In an instant the baby fir stood clothed again in lovely, sweet-smelling spills, while out of a sack a queer-looking man emptied a pile of golden leaves into a little hollow beneath a horse brier.
“It will be a happy world when we all cease from envying our brother and strive, instead, to make ourselves useful as we ourselves can ever be.”
The little fir tree was unhappy because he is not able contented with what he is and what he has, and these feelings are not justifiable. Why? Because we should bear in mind that we could never be happy if we are not satisfied for who we are and who we are not. None of us is perfect. We could never really gain the approval of one or two people around us. And that is one thing that we should all remember, we created the way we are for a reason and because we have a responsibility to handle. And what will happen if you’ll try to impress others then? They will only take you for granted. The gray goat and the queer man symbolizes how others would abuse you, they took everything they need from the fir tree, and after that, they left the tree with nothing. That is the reason why we don not have everything, it is good to be contented with what you have because in the end you will also suffer from the consequences of ‘want-them-all’ character. Yes, we don’t have ‘everything’, but at least we do not have ‘nothing’.
THE LAST LEAF
In a little district west of Washington Squarethe streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One Street crosses itself a time or two. An artist once discovered a valuable possibility in this street. Suppose a collector with a bill for paints, paper and canvas should, in traversing this route, suddenly meet himself coming back, without a cent having been paid on account!
So, to quaint old Greenwich Village the art people soon came prowling, hunting for north windows and eighteenth-century gables and Dutch attics and low rents. Then they imported some pewter mugs and a chafing dish or two from Sixth Avenue, and became a “colony.”
At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their studio. “Johnsy” was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the other from California. They had met at the table d’hôte of an Eighth Street “Delmonico’s,” and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.
That was in May. In November a cold, unseen stranger, whom the doctors called Pneumonia, stalked about the colony, touching one here and there with his icy fingers. Over on the east side this ravager strode boldly, smiting his victims by scores, but his feet trod slowly through the maze of the narrow and moss-grown “places.”
Mr. Pneumonia was not what you would call a chivalric old gentleman. A mite of a little woman with blood thinned by California zephyrs was hardly fair game for the red-fisted, short-breathed old duffer. But Johnsy he smote; and she lay, scarcely moving, on her painted iron bedstead, looking through the small Dutch window-panes at the blank side of the next brick house.
One morning the busy doctor invited Sue into the hallway with a shaggy, gray eyebrow.
“She has one chance in – let us say, ten,” he said, as he shook down the mercury in his clinical thermometer. ” And that chance is for her to want to live. This way people have of lining-u on the side of the undertaker makes the entire pharmacopoeia look silly. Your little lady has made up her mind that she’s not going to get well. Has she anything on her mind?”
“She – she wanted to paint the Bay of Naples some day.” said Sue.
“Paint? – bosh! Has she anything on her mind worth thinking twice – a man for instance?”
“A man?” said Sue, with a jew’s-harp twang in her voice. “Is a man worth – but, no, doctor; there is nothing of the kind.”
“Well, it is the weakness, then,” said the doctor. “I will do all that science, so far as it may filter through my efforts, can accomplish. But whenever my patient begins to count the carriages in her funeral procession I subtract 50 per cent from the curative power of medicines. If you will get her to ask one question about the new winter styles in cloak sleeves I will promise you a one-in-five chance for her, instead of one in ten.”
After the doctor had gone Sue went into the workroom and cried a Japanese napkin to a pulp. Then she swaggered into Johnsy’s room with her drawing board, whistling ragtime.
Johnsy lay, scarcely making a ripple under the bedclothes, with her face toward the window. Sue stopped whistling, thinking she was asleep.
She arranged her board and began a pen-and-ink drawing to illustrate a magazine story. Young artists must pave their way to Art by drawing pictures for magazine stories that young authors write to pave their way to Literature.
As Sue was sketching a pair of elegant horseshow riding trousers and a monocle of the figure of the hero, an Idaho cowboy, she heard a low sound, several times repeated. She went quickly to the bedside.
Johnsy’s eyes were open wide. She was looking out the window and counting – counting backward.
“Twelve,” she said, and little later “eleven”; and then “ten,” and “nine”; and then “eight” and “seven”, almost together.
“What is it, dear?” asked Sue.
“Six,” said Johnsy, in almost a whisper. “They’re falling faster now. Three days ago there were almost a hundred. It made my head ache to count them. But now it’s easy. There goes another one. There are only five left now.”
“Five what, dear?”.
“Leaves. On the ivy vine. When the last one falls I must go, too. I’ve known that for three days. Didn’t the doctor tell you?”
“Oh, I never heard of such nonsense,” complained Sue, with magnificent scorn. “What have old ivy leaves to do with your getting well? And you used to love that vine so, you naughty girl. Don’t be a goosey. Why, the doctor told me this morning that your chances for getting well real soon were – let’s see exactly what he said – he said the chances were ten to one! Why, that’s almost as good a chance as we have in New York when we ride on the street cars or walk past a new building. Try to take some broth now, and let Sue go back to her drawing, so she can sell the editor man with it, and buy port wine for her sick child, and pork chops for her greedy self.”
“You needn’t get any more wine,” said Johnsy, keeping her eyes fixed out the window. “There goes another. No, I don’t want any broth. That leaves just four. I want to see the last one fall before it gets dark. Then I’ll go, too.”
“Johnsy, dear,” said Sue, bending over her, “will you promise me to keep your eyes closed, and not look out the window until I am done working? I must hand those drawings in by to-morrow. I need the light, or I would draw the shade down.”
“Couldn’t you draw in the other room?” asked Johnsy, coldly.
“I’d rather be here by you,” said Sue. “Beside, I don’t want you to keep looking at those silly ivy leaves.”
“Tell me as soon as you have finished,” said Johnsy, closing her eyes, and lying white and still as fallen statue, “because I want to see the last one fall. I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of thinking. I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves.”
“Try to sleep,” said Sue. “I must call Behrman up to be my model for the old hermit miner. I’ll not be gone a minute. Don’t try to move ’til I come back.”
Old Behrman was a painter who lived on the ground floor beneath them. He was past sixty and had a Michael Angelo’s Moses beard curling down from the head of a satyr along with the body of an imp. Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress’s robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it. For several years he had painted nothing except now and then a daub in the line of commerce or advertising. He earned a little by serving as a model to those young artists in the colony who could not pay the price of a professional. He drank gin to excess, and still talked of his coming masterpiece. For the rest he was a fierce little old man, who scoffed terribly at softness in any one, and who regarded himself as especial mastiff-in-waiting to protect the two young artists in the studio above.
Sue found Behrman smelling strongly of juniper berries in his dimly lighted den below. In one corner was a blank canvas on an easel that had been waiting there for twenty-five years to receive the first line of the masterpiece. She told him of Johnsy’s fancy, and how she feared she would, indeed, light and fragile as a leaf herself, float away, when her slight hold upon the world grew weaker.
Old Behrman, with his red eyes plainly streaming, shouted his contempt and derision for such idiotic imaginings.
“Vass!” he cried. “Is dere people in de world mit der foolishness to die because leafs dey drop off from a confounded vine? I haf not heard of such a thing. No, I will not bose as a model for your fool hermit-dunderhead. Vy do you allow dot silly pusiness to come in der brain of her? Ach, dot poor leetle Miss Yohnsy.”
“She is very ill and weak,” said Sue, “and the fever has left her mind morbid and full of strange fancies. Very well, Mr. Behrman, if you do not care to pose for me, you needn’t. But I think you are a horrid old – old flibbertigibbet.”
“You are just like a woman!” yelled Behrman. “Who said I will not bose? Go on. I come mit you. For half an hour I haf peen trying to say dot I am ready to bose. Gott! dis is not any blace in which one so goot as Miss Yohnsy shall lie sick. Some day I vill baint a masterpiece, and ve shall all go away. Gott! yes.”
Johnsy was sleeping when they went upstairs. Sue pulled the shade down to the window-sill, and motioned Behrman into the other room. In there they peered out the window fearfully at the ivy vine. Then they looked at each other for a moment without speaking. A persistent, cold rain was falling, mingled with snow. Behrman, in his old blue shirt, took his seat as the hermit miner on an upturned kettle for a rock.
When Sue awoke from an hour’s sleep the next morning she found Johnsy with dull, wide-open eyes staring at the drawn green shade.
“Pull it up; I want to see,” she ordered, in a whisper.
Wearily Sue obeyed.
But, lo! after the beating rain and fierce gusts of wind that had endured through the livelong night, there yet stood out against the brick wall one ivy leaf. It was the last one on the vine. Still dark green near its stem, with its serrated edges tinted with the yellow of dissolution and decay, it hung bravely from the branch some twenty feet above the ground.
“It is the last one,” said Johnsy. “I thought it would surely fall during the night. I heard the wind. It will fall to-day, and I shall die at the same time.”
“Dear, dear!” said Sue, leaning her worn face down to the pillow, “think of me, if you won’t think of yourself. What would I do?”
But Johnsy did not answer. The lonesomest thing in all the world is a soul when it is making ready to go on its mysterious, far journey. The fancy seemed to possess her more strongly as one by one the ties that bound her to friendship and to earth were loosed.
The day wore away, and even through the twilight they could see the lone ivy leaf clinging to its stem against the wall. And then, with the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low Dutch eaves.
When it was light enough Johnsy, the merciless, commanded that the shade be raised.
The ivy leaf was still there.
Johnsy lay for a long time looking at it. And then she called to Sue, who was stirring her chicken broth over the gas stove.
“I’ve been a bad girl, Sudie,” said Johnsy. “Something has made that last leaf stay there to show me how wicked I was. It is a sin to want to die. You may bring a me a little broth now, and some milk with a little port in it, and – no; bring me a hand-mirror first, and then pack some pillows about me, and I will sit up and watch you cook.”
And hour later she said:
“Sudie, some day I hope to paint the Bay of Naples.”
The doctor came in the afternoon, and Sue had an excuse to go into the hallway as he left.
“Even chances,” said the doctor, taking Sue’s thin, shaking hand in his. “With good nursing you’ll win.” And now I must see another case I have downstairs. Behrman, his name is – some kind of an artist, I believe. Pneumonia, too. He is an old, weak man, and the attack is acute. There is no hope for him; but he goes to the hospital to-day to be made more comfortable.”
The next day the doctor said to Sue: “She’s out of danger. You won. Nutrition and care now – that’s all.”
And that afternoon Sue came to the bed where Johnsy lay, contentedly knitting a very blue and very useless woollen shoulder scarf, and put one arm around her, pillows and all.
“I have something to tell you, white mouse,” she said. “Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia today in the hospital. He was ill only two days. The janitor found him the morning of the first day in his room downstairs helpless with pain. His shoes and clothing were wet through and icy cold. They couldn’t imagine where he had been on such a dreadful night. And then they found a lantern, still lighted, and a ladder that had been dragged from its place, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it, and – look out the window, dear, at the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn’t you wonder why it never fluttered or moved when the wind blew? Ah, darling, it’s Behrman’s masterpiece – he painted it there the night that the last leaf fell.”
Oftentimes, life throw instances in us that we did not expect we would encounter. But, it does not mean that we will just let those experiences happen without fighting against them. We are given our free will; we are the ones who should handle those things. The outcome of the things in our life will depend on the way we handled them.
In this story, Johnsy decided to just depend her fate on the falling leaves of the tree. She thought that the end of the life of the tree would also be the end of her life, which is quite not good because our life does not depend on the things around us. Sometimes, it is our choice to give up or fight. I learned that there are too many reasons to fight and live. There are too many reasons to hold on than to let go and just give up. There are people around us that still care for us, even though sometimes it does not seem so. We are as important as the people around us. Behrman did everything just to save Johnsy from dying. It is because that time Johnsy is already thinking of giving up. People around us fight for us too, that is how important we are to them.
We are all created for a purpose, and we will never know our real purpose, if we are going to stop fighting today. Learn to fight against all the challenges in this life, AND DO NOT GIVE UP BECAUSE THAT IS SOMETHING THAT MAKES US STRONGER.