The Devil is back, just as full of vanity and other human feelings as he was in Natalie Babbitt's first collection, The Devil's Storybook.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||663 KB|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Artist and writer Natalie Babbitt (1932–2016) is the award-winning author of the modern classic Tuck Everlasting and many other brilliantly original books for young people. As the mother of three small children, she began her career in 1966 by illustrating The Forty-Ninth Magician, written by her husband, Samuel Babbitt. She soon tried her own hand at writing, publishing two picture books in verse. Her first novel, The Search for Delicious, was published in 1969 and established her reputation for creating magical tales with profound meaning. Kneeknock Rise earned Babbitt a Newbery Honor in 1971, and she went on to write—and often illustrate—many more picture books, story collections, and novels. She also illustrated the five volumes in the Small Poems series by Valerie Worth. In 2002, Tuck Everlasting was adapted into a major motion picture, and in 2016 a musical version premiered on Broadway. Born and raised in Ohio, Natalie Babbitt lived her adult life in the Northeast.
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The Fortunes of Madame Organza
There was a fortuneteller once who wasn't much good at her work. No matter who came to her door to get a fortune told, she could never think of any but the same old three: "You will meet a tall, dark stranger" "You will take a long journey" and "You will find a pot of gold." She went through the usual rigmarole, with a crystal ball and chanting, all in a gloomy little parlor lit with one candle, and she even wore a turban with a big glass jewel glued to it, right on the front where it showed. But of course, though this was very nice, the fortunes themselves were what mattered, and since none of them ever came true, it wasn't long before no one came to her door at all and she was forced to take in washing to keep herself going. But she kept the sign on her door saying FORTUNES BY MADAME ORGANZA — though her name in fact was Bessie — just in case.
Now, it happened that one dark night a couple of burglars eased through the village with a satchel of money stolen somewhere else, and they hid themselves in a barn, where in the morning they were discovered snoring away by the farmer; and he ran them off with a pitchfork so all-of-a-sudden that they had to leave the loot behind, buried in the haymow, and didn't dare go back.
Later the same morning, the farmer hired a milkmaid, who, being new to the place and no one thinking to warn her, went off with her first day's wages to get her fortune told. Madame Organza put on the turban, lit the candle, muttered and hummed for a while, and then said, "You will find a pot of gold."
"Goody!" said the milkmaid. And, tripping home, she climbed the ladder to the haymow to have a little peace and quiet for planning what she'd do when she was rich. And of course she sat down on the burglars' satchel and pulled it out and opened it, and there was her gold, great handfuls of glittering coins, just as her fortune had predicted.
"Well! Goody again!" said the milkmaid. She closed up the satchel, climbed back down the ladder, and went to find the farmer. "Please," she said, "does this belong to you?"
"No," said the farmer, "it doesn't."
"Goody three!" said the milkmaid. "It's mine, then, and just what Madame Organza said I'd find." And she let the farmer peek inside at the gold. Then she went away to the city to begin a new life, and was never heard from again, though the farmer thought he saw her there, some time later, rolling by in a carriage, with plumes on her hat and a little white dog in her lap.
But in the meantime her story spread all over the village, and such a noise was made that down in Hell the Devil pricked up his ears and said, "What's that hullabaloo?" And when he found out what had happened, he smiled a big smile and straightaway went up to the World to see what he could do to cause a little extra trouble and confusion, for he'd guessed that Madame Organza's business would be taking a turn for the better.
This was indeed the case. The line of people waiting to get their fortunes told stretched clear to the river and halfway back, with everyone so excited that everything else was forgotten. Cows were left unmilked, pigs unslopped, and bread sat so long in ovens that it burnt away to cinders. And Madame Organza, believing, herself, that she'd somehow got the knack of it at last, was telling fortunes at a great rate, though the fortunes were only the same old three from before.
During the days that followed, thanks to the Devil's interference, the village changed completely. Twenty-two people found pots of gold and went to live in the city, which they soon found dismal to the utmost but were too proud to say so. Another thirty-seven went off on long journeys, ending up in such spots as Borneo and Peru with no way at all to get back, and so they were forced, for a living, to chop bamboo or to keep herds of llamas in the Andes.
All the rest had met with tall, dark strangers who hung about, getting in the way, and looking altogether so alarming in their black hats and cloaks and their long black beards that the villagers remaining were afraid to stay and hurried to move in with relatives in other villages, which caused no end of bad feeling.
At last there was no one left but Madame Organza and the strangers, and since the strangers had the orphaned cows and pigs to care for and didn't want their fortunes told, Madame Organza put away her sign forever and went back full-time to being Bessie. She took in the strangers' washing, all of which was black, and made the best of it she could without complaining. And she put her crystal ball in the garden, where it showed to great advantage, out among the pansies, whenever the sun was shining.
There are few surprises in Hell. At least, the Devil has seldom been surprised — except for the time when someone spotted a rhinoceros.
"Absurd," said the Devil.
"I know it," said the major demon who'd brought in the news. "Nevertheless, I went and looked myself, and it's out there all right, large as life, with a hole right through its horn. It's out there shuffling and snuffling and breathing hard, and I'd say it looks impatient."
"I wonder what it wants," said the Devil. "Well, never mind. Perhaps it will go away."
Now, on this very day a man named Bangs arrived unexpectedly in Hell. Bangs was a mighty hunter who in life had crept about the wild parts of the World, shooting off his gun and making possible a steady stream of elephant's-foot umbrella stands and rabbit-fur muffs and reindeer-antler coatracks and other lovely, useful things, till on the day in question he backed by accident into a boa constrictor. And the boa constrictor, seizing both the opportunity and Bangs himself, constricted the hunter so hard that, before he knew it, he found himself at the gates of Hell, out of breath and very much surprised.
"This is a piece of luck!" said the Devil when Bangs was sent in to see him. "As it happens, you're the very type we need. We've got a rhinoceros loose, and we can't have it snorting about, upsetting people. Go out and catch it. Then we'll pen it up and charge admission."
"Well now," said Bangs, who'd recovered his breath and his swagger, "I don't put much store in bringing 'em back alive."
"Bangs, Bangs," said the Devil. "You've got a lot to learn. Guns are no earthly use down here. You'll have to do the job with a net. But be careful. This rhinoceros has a hole right through its horn and I'm told it looks impatient."
"A hole right through its horn?" said Bangs, turning pale.
"That's the situation," said the Devil.
"Dear me," said Bangs. "I may be the one who made that hole."
"I wouldn't be a bit surprised," said the Devil. "Now, run along and do what you're told."
So Bangs had to take a big rope net and creep out into the wild parts of Hell to look for the rhinoceros, and it goes without saying that, without his gun, he was very much afraid he would find it. He looked all the rest of the day and never saw a thing, but he could hear the shuffling and the snuffling and the breathing hard, always just out of sight. At sundown, however, he was setting up his tent when out through the bushes burst the rhinoceros, like a bus downhill with no brakes, and it chased Bangs all night long, up and down the wild parts till daybreak. And then it disappeared.
This happened three times in a row, and at last Bangs dragged in to see the Devil. "Look here," he said. "I'm supposed to be chasing that rhinoceros, I know, but instead, somehow, it's chasing me. It chases me all night long, and then it disappears. I can't go on like this — I'll be worn to a frazzle."
"Go on?" said the Devil. "Of course you'll go on. You'll catch it sooner or later. I'm depending on you, and I don't want to see you again till the job is done."
So Bangs dragged back to the wild parts. He tried to sleep in the daytime, but this was hard to do, what with the shuffling and the snuffling and the breathing hard always just out of sight. And as soon as the sun went down in the evening, the rhinoceros would burst through the bushes and chase him up and down till morning.
After three weeks of this, Bangs was worn to a frazzle, and so were his boots. He gave up the chase altogether and took to living as wild animals do, always watchful, always listening, sleeping with one eye open. And he dug himself a hole to hide in. But as sure as he came out at night to cook his supper, there was the rhinoceros, and off they would go, pounding through the wild parts till the sun came up at dawn.
"Well," said the Devil after a while, "I guess Bangs is doing the next best thing. He may not be catching that rhinoceros, but at least he's keeping it busy."
"True enough," said the major demon.
"Might as well leave him to it, then," said the Devil. "Pass the word that the danger's taken care of."
So the major demon passed the word and everyone felt relieved. And every month or so the Devil sent someone out with fresh hay for the rhinoceros and a new pair of boots for Bangs — just to keep things even.
There was a soldier once who had nothing at all to do because, though he'd often been to war, at this particular time there wasn't one to fight in, anywhere around. So he did what he could — he kept his sword shiny, and polished his boots, and he practiced marching on an open road, up and down, up and down, with his plumes and tassels bouncing and the buttons on his jacket flashing in the sun, and the sight of him was altogether splendid.
One day the Devil came along, disguised as an old, old man with a weak knee and a strong crutch, and he stopped when he saw the soldier. "I say!" exclaimed the Devil. "What an elegant picture you make!"
The soldier gave him a smart salute. "Thank you, old man," he said. "I'm practicing my marching."
"So I see," said the Devil. "But why aren't you off somewhere, fighting?"
"There's no war anywhere to fight in, dash it," said the soldier, with a sigh.
"Don't despair," said the Devil. "Something will turn up soon."
"I hope so," said the soldier, "for there's nothing I like even half so much. I've seen some lovely wars, old man, some lovely wars."
"Ah!" said the Devil. "I don't for a moment doubt it."
"I fought against the Turks at Heliopolis," said the soldier proudly.
"Yes?" said the Devil. "I was there."
"Well — but I also fought in the Santo Domingo Rebellion," said the soldier.
"I was there," said the Devil.
"Indeed!" said the soldier, with a frown. "However, I was with Napoleon at Austerlitz."
"I was there," said the Devil.
"Hmm," said the soldier. "You've seen a few campaigns yourself."
"Oh, yes," said the Devil. "In fact, I never miss one."
"Then," said the soldier, "I suppose you'll say you were there at Waterloo."
"I was there," said the Devil.
The soldier raised one eyebrow. "Come, come, old man," he said. "Next you'll be telling me you fought in the Siege of Troy and went with Caesar into Gaul!"
"That's right," said the Devil. "I was there."
The soldier tried to hide a smile, for he didn't at all believe what he was hearing. But, deciding to be polite, he said, "It seems I've got a ways to go to match you."
"Yes," said the Devil, "you do."
"Well," said the soldier, smiling once again behind his sleeve, "I must be getting on with my marching. Perhaps we'll meet again at the next great battle."
"Perhaps we will," said the Devil, "for I'll certainly be there." And he moved off down the road, leaning on his crutch, and didn't try at all to hide his own smile.
Some people think Hell is dry as crackers, but this is not the case. There are four nice rivers inside the walls, and a fifth, called the Styx, that flows clear round the place outside.
Hell has the Styx the way castles have moats, but there isn't any drawbridge. Instead, you have to come across the water on a ferryboat run by a very old man named Charon. Most of the time Charon does his job all by himself, but it happened one day that he came to the throne room with a problem.
"What's wrong?" said the Devil, putting aside the novel he was reading.
"Why," said Charon, "they're having some kind of fuss in the World, in case you didn't know it."
"They're always having fusses in the World," said the Devil with a yawn. "What of it?"
"Well, whatever sort of fuss it is," said Charon, "they're coming down in droves and I can't keep up. You'll have to lay on another ferryboat."
"You don't say!" said the Devil. "That's splendid! I'll come and take a look."
And sure enough, there were hordes of people on the far side of the Styx, waiting to get across. Some of them were quite put out to be kept there cooling their heels, and wouldn't stay nicely in line for a minute. And what with their birdcages, boxes, and bags all piled and getting mixed, the confusion was indescribable.
"I'm doing the best I can," said Charon to the Devil, "but you see the way things are."
"Hmmm," said the Devil. "Well now. I'll give you a hand myself. It looks like fun."
He called for a second ferry — which was, like Charon's, more of a raft than a boat — and, climbing aboard, seized the pole and pushed out cross-current into the river Styx. He wasn't as good at it as Charon, not having had the practice, but still arrived not too long after at the opposite bank, where all the people were waiting.
"Ahoy," said the Devil. "Women and children first." And since there weren't any children — indeed, there never are — three old women stepped onto the raft, which was all there was room for, and off they started back across the river.
"And who, my dears, may you be?" asked the Devil, eyeing their silks and feathers.
"We're sisters," said the first old woman. "The last of an important old family. The sort of people who matter."
"We can't imagine what we're doing here with all these common types," said the second.
"It's all a terrible mistake," said the third.
"Indeed!" said the Devil, with a smile. "I'll have someone look into it."
"I should hope so," said the first old woman. "Why, we can't put up with this! Look at these dreadful people you've got coming in — riffraff of the lowest sort? It would appear that anyone at all can get in."
"We can't be expected," said the second, "to mingle with peasants and boors."
"Never in the World," said the third.
"It's true," said the Devil, "that we do have every class down here. But so, I've heard, does Heaven."
"I don't believe it," said the first old woman. "Not Heaven."
"You must be misinformed," said the second. "Only the best people go to Heaven."
"Otherwise," said the third, "why ever call it Heaven?"
"An interesting point," said the Devil. "Why, indeed!"
And all the way across the river Styx the three went on protesting and explaining.
When the raft at last scraped up before the gates, the sisters refused to get off. "We simply can't go in," said the first old woman. "I'm sure you understand."
"Oh, I do," said the Devil. "I do."
"Not our grade of people in the least," said the second.
"Look into it for us, won't you?" said the third. "We'll just wait here and catch the next boat back."
Now, the river Styx flows round the walls of Hell in a wandering clockwise direction, and a long way round it is, too, which will come as no surprise. And though the current isn't swift, it's steady. So the Devil, disembarking, put his pole against the ferry and simply shoved it out again so that the current bore it off, turning it gently in circles, with the sisters still on board. And then he went back to his throne room and sent a minor demon out to give a hand to Charon. For the Devil had had enough and wanted to finish his novel.
Years went by, and dozens of years, with the sisters still floating round the walls of Hell. Every once in a while, in the beginning, the Devil would remember them and go out when it was time for them to pass. And as they came along, he could hear their protestations, steady as the current of the Styx.
"Ragtag and bobtail," they'd be saying. "Waifs and strays. Quite beneath contempt! Commoners, upstarts, people of the street. Not our sort at all." And they would say, "There's been some mix-up, certainly. Why don't they get it straightened out?"
Sometimes they saw the Devil standing on the banks, and the first old woman would call to him, "Yoo-hoo! I say, my good man — have you made inquiries concerning our situation?" And the Devil would wave and nod, and watch as they slowly circled by and disappeared. And then he would smile and go back through the gates for a nice cold glass of cider. But after a time he forgot the three completely. This was not because he was too busy to remember. No, indeed. He forgot them because they weren't the sort of people who matter.
Excerpted from "The Devil's Other Storybook"
Copyright © 1987 Natalie Babbitt.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Fortunes of Madame Organza,
How Akbar Went to Bethlehem,
The Fall and Rise of Bathbone,
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