Without the right question
   Only a question turns the world's noise into knowledge

In a kingdom long ago there was a man who traveled from the farthest city to the nearest town. And as he went he traded things—a pair of shoes for a piece of gold, a parrot for a bolt of silver cloth—until he was more rich than he had ever dreamed possible. The people thought a man who had so many things must be wise, and no matter where he went they followed him, asking questions.

“Our baby cries,” said one. “What shall we do?”

“My father went to war. How will we live?” said another. But though the traveling man could fetch goods from his sack and add up sums, he could not answer their questions.

One day he met an old woman who carried a wooden box. “Inside this box,” she said, “are answers to all things.”

The traveling man whistled. “I have seen many things,” he said, “but I would give all I have to open that box.”

“Done,” said the old woman.

When the traveling man lifted the lid, he saw to his surprise that the box was filled with coins. Each one was stamped with a curious sentence. “Open the door,” said one. “Give him your love,” said another. “One hundred and five,” said a third.

The traveling man was overjoyed. “I am rich beyond measure,” he said. “I have answers to all things.”

The old woman smiled. “But what good is an answer,” she said, “without the right question?”

Through the Mickle Woods (Valiska Gregory)


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