Italian Folktales

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Chapter 200  Jump into My Sack

      Many, many years ago, in the barren mountains of Niolo, lived a father with twelve sons.  A famine was raging, and the father said, "My sons, I have no more bread to give you.  Go out into the world, where you will certainly fare better than here at home."

       The eleven older boys were getting ready to leave, when the twelftlt and youngest, who was lame, started weeping.  "And what will a cripple like me do to earn his bread ?"

       "My child," said his father, "don't cry.  Go with your brothers, and what they earn will be yours as well." '    So the twelve promiscd to stay together always and departed. They walked a whole day, then a second, and the little lame boy feil constantly behiad.  On the third day, the oldest brother said, "Our little brother Francis, who's always lagging, is nothing but a nuisance ! Let's walk off and leave him on the road.  That will be best for him too, for some kindhearted soul will come along and take pity on him."

      So they stopped no more to wait for him to catch up: but walked on, asking alms of everyone they met, all the way to Bonifacio.

     In Bonifacio they saw a boat moored at the dock. "What if we climbcd in and sailed to Sardinia ?" said the oldest boy.  "Maybe there's less hunger there than in our land."

     The brothers got into the boat and set sail.  When they were halfway across the straits, a fierce storm arose and the boat was dashed to pieces on the reefs, and all eleven brothers drowned.

     Meanwhile the little cripple Francis, exhausted and fi-antic when he missed his brothers, screamed and criedand then fell asleep by the roadside.  The fairy guardian of that particular spot had seen and heard everything from a treetop. As soon as Francis was asleep, she came

down the tree, picked certain special herbs, and prepared a plaster, which she smoothed on the lame leg; immediately the leg became sound.  Then she disguised herself ass a poor little old woman and sat down on a bundle of firewood to wait for Francis to wake up.

      Francis awakened, got up, prepared to limp off, and then realized he was no longer lame but could walk like everyone else.  He saw the little old woman sitting there, and asked, "Madam, have you by chance seen a doctor around here ?"

     "A doctor ?  What do you want with a doctor ?"

     "I want to thank him.  A great doctor must certainly have come by while I was sleeping and cured my lame leg."

     "I am the one who cured your lame leg," replied the little old woman, "since I know all about herbs, including the one that heals lame legs."

     As pleased as Punch, Francis threw his arms around the little old woman and kissed her on both cheeks.  "How can I thank you, ma'am ? Here, let me carry your bundle of wood for you."

     He bent over to pick up the bundle, but when he stood up, he faced not the old woman, but the most beautiful maiden imaginable, all radiant with diamonds and blond hair down to her waist, she wore a deep blue dress embroi-dered with gold, and two stars of precious stones sparkled

on her ankle-boots.  Dumbfounded, Francis fell at the fairy's feet.

     "Get up," she said. "I am well aware that you are grateful, and I shall help you.  Make two wishes, and I will grant them at once.  I am the queen of the fairies of  Lake  Creno,  mind  you."

     The boy thought a bit, then replied,

     "And just such a sack shall you have.10 morc wish."

      "I desire a stick that will do whatever I command."

     "And just such a stick shall you have," replied the fairy, and vanished,  At Francis's feet lay a sack and a stick,

      Overjoyed, the boy decided to try them out.  Being hungry, he cried, "A roasted partridge into my sack !" Zoom!  A partridge fully roasted flew into the sack. "Along with bread !" Zoom ! A loaf of bread came sailing into the sack.  "Also a bottle of wine !"  Zoom [ There was the bottle of wine.  Francis ate a first-rato meal.

      Then he set ont again, limping no longer, and the next day he found himself in Mariana, ' where the most famous gamblers of Corsica and the Continent were meeting. Francis didn't have a cent to his name, so he ordered, "One hundred thousand crowns into my sack !"  and the 5ack filied with crowns.  The news spread like wildfire through Mariana that the fabulously wealthy prince of Santo Francesco had arrived.

       At that particular time, mind you, the Devil was espe-cially partial to the city of Mariana. Disguised as a hand-some young man, he beat everybody at cards, and when the players ran out of x, money, he would purchase their souls.  Hearing of this rich foreigner who went by' the name ofl? prince of Santo Francesco, the Devil in disguise approached him without delay.  "Noble prince, pardon my boldness in coming to you, but your fame as a gambler is so great that I couldn't resist18 calling on you."

       "You put me to shame," replied Francis.  "To tell the truth, I don't know how to play any game at all,TM nor have I ever had a deck of cards in my hand. However, I would be happy to play a hand with you: just for the sake of learning the game, and I'm sure that with you as a teacher I'i1 be an expert in no time."

     The Devil was so gratified by the visit that, upon taking leave and bowing goodbye, he negligently stretched out a leg and showed his cloven hoof.  "Oh, me !" said Francis to himself.  "So this is old Satan himself who has honored me with a visit.  Very well, he will meet his match.''24 Once more alone, he commanded of the sack a fine dinner.

     The next day Francis went to the casino. There was a great turmoil, with ail the people crowded around one particular spot.  Francis pushed through and saw, on the ground, the body of a young man with a bloodstained chest.  "He was a gambler," someone explained, "who lost his entire fortune and thrust a dagger into his heart, not a minute ago."

     All the gamblers were sad-faced.  But one, noted Francis, stood in their midst laughing up his sleeve; it was the Devil who had paid Francis a visit.

     "Quick !" said the Devil, "let's take this unfortunate man out, and get on with the game !" And they all picked up their cards once more.

      Francis, who didn't even know how to hold the cards in his hand, lost everything he had with him that day. By the second day he knew a little bit about the game, but lost still more than the day before.  By the third day he was an expert, and lost so much that everyone was sure he was ruined.  But the loss did not trouble him in the least,28 since there was his sack he could command and then find inside all the money he needed.

      He lost so much that the Devil thought to himself, He might have been die richest man in existence to start with,a? but he's surely about to end up now with nothing to his name. "Noble prince," he said, taking him aside, "I can't tell you bow sorry I am over the misfortune that has befallen you.  But I have good news for you: heed my words and you will recover half of what you lost !"

      "How ?"

     The Devil looked around, then whispered, "Sell me your soul!"

     "Ah !" cried Francis.  "So that's your advice to me, Satan ? Go on, jump into my sack !"

     The Devil smirked and aimed to flee, but there was no escape: he flew head-first  into the yawning sack, which Francis closed, then addressed the stick, "Now pound him for all you're worth !"

     Blows rained fast and furious,inside ,the devil writh ed, cried, cursed. "Let me out! Let me out ! Stop, or you'll kill me !"

     "Really ? You'll give up the ghost ? Would that be a loss, do you think ?" And the stick went right on heating him.

     After three hours of that shower, Francis spoke."That will do, at least for today,"

     "What will you take in returnaa for setting me free?"

     "Listen carefully: if you want your freedom back, you must bring back to life at once every one of those poor souls who killed themselves in the casino because of you !"

     "It's a bargain !" replied the Devil.

     "Come on out, then.  But remember, I can catch you again any time I feel like it."

     The Devil dared not go back on his word?  He dis-appeared underground and, in almost no time, up came a throng of young men pale of face and with feverish eyes. "My friends," said Francis, "you ruined yourselves gam- bling, and the only way out was to kill yourselves. I was able to have you brought back this time, but I might not be able to do so another time.  Will you promise me to gamble no more ?"

      "Yes, yes, we promise !"

      "Fine! Here are a thousand crowns for each of you. Go in peace, and earn your bread honestly."

      Overjoyed, tbe revived youths departed; some return- ing to families in mourning, others striking out on their own, their past misdeeds having been the death of their parents.

      Francis, too, thought of his old father.  He set out for his village but, along the way, met a boy wringing bis hands in despair.

     "How now, young man ?  Do you make wry faces for sale ?" asked Francis, in high spirits, "How much are riley by the dozen ?'

     "I don't feel like laughing, sir, "replied the boy,

     "What's the matter ?"

     "My father's a woodcutter and the sole support of our family.  This morning he fell out of a chestnut tree and broke his arm.  I ran into town for the doctor, but he knows we are poor and refused to come."

     "Is that all that's worrying you g  Set your mind at rest?  I`ll take care of things."

     "You're a doctor ?"

     "No, but I'll make that one come.whao is his name ?"

     "Doctor Pancrazio."

     "Fine !  Dr. Fancrazio, jump into my sack !"

     Into the sack, headfirst, went a doctor with all his instruments.

     "Stick, pound him for all you're worth !"  And the stick began its dance.  "Help !  Mercy ["

     "Do you promise to cure the woodcutter charge ?"

      "I promise whatever you ask."

     "Get out of the sack, then."  And the doctor ran to the woodcutter's bedside.

     Francis continued on his way and, in a few days, came to  his  village,  where  even greater hunger now raged than before.  By constantly repeating, "Into my tack a roasted chicken, a bottle of wine," Francis managed to provision an inn where all could go and eat their fill without paying a penny.

     lie did this for as long as the famine lasted.  But he stopped, once times of plenty returned, so as not to encourage laziness.

     Do you think he was happy, though ?  Of course not !  lie was sad without any news of his eleven brothers. lie had long since forgotten them for running off and leaving him, a helpless cripple.  He tried saying, "Brother John, jump into my sack !"

     Something stirred inside the sack.  Francis opened it and found a heap of bones.

     "Brother Paul, jump into my sack !"

     Another heap of hones.

     "Brother Peter, jump into my sack!"  Calling them all, up to the eleventh, he found each time, alas, only a little pile of bones half gnawed in two.  There was no doubt about it: his brothers had all died together.

     Francis was sad.  His father also died, leaving him all alone?  Then it was his turn to grow old.

      His last remaining desire before dying was to see again the fairy of Lake Creno who had made him so prosperous. He therefore set out and reached the place where he had first met her.  He waited and waited, but the fairy did not come,  "Where are you, good queen?  Please appear one more time !  I can't die until I've seen you again !"

     Night had fallen and there was still no sign of the fairy. Instead, here came Death16 down the road. In one hand she held a black banner and, in the other, her scythe.  She approached Francis, saying, "Well, old man, are you not yet weary of life ?  Haven't you been over enough hills and dales?  Isn't it time yon did as every-one else and came along with me?"

     "0 Death," replied old Francis.  "Bless you !  Yes, I have seen enough of the world and everything in it; I have had my fill of everything.  But before coming with you, I must first bid someone farewell.  Allow me one more day.'?

     "Say your prayers, if you don't want to die like a heathen, and hurry after me."

     "Please, wait until the cock crows in the morning."

     "No."

     "Just one hour more, then?"

     "Not even one minute more."

     "Siuce you are so cruel, then, jump into my sack !"

     Death shuddered, all her bones .rattled, but she had no choice but jump into the sack.  'In the same instant appeared the queen of the fairies, as radiant and youthful as the first time.  "Fairy," said Francis,  "I thank you !' Then he addressed Death:"Jump out of the sack and attend to me"

     "You have never abused the power I gave you, Fran-cis," said the fairy. "Your sack and your stick have always been put to good use. I shal1 reward you, if you tell me what you would like." "I have no more desires." "Would you like to be a chieftain ?" "No." "Would you like to be king?" "I wish nothing more." "Now that you're an old man, would you like healthand youth again ?" "I have seen you, and I'm content to die." "Farewell, Francis. But first burn the sack and thestick." And the fairy vanished. The good Francis built a big fire, warmed his frozenlimbs briefly, then threw the sack and tke stick into theflames, so that no one could put them to evil use. Death was hiding behind a bush. "Cockadoodledo !Cockadoodledo !" crowed the first cock. Francis did not hear. Age had made him deaf.

"There's the cock crowing !" announced Death, andstruck the old man with her scythe. Then she vanished,bearing his mortal remains."

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