Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome | Annotated Tale

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Twelve Feet of Nose (Dodici Palmi di Naso)


THERE was a poor old father, who was very poor indeed, and very old. When he came to die, he called his three sons round his bed, and said they must summon a notary to make his will. The sons looked at each other, and thought he was doating. He repeated his desire, and then one of them ventured to say:

               'But father, dear, why should we go to the expense of calling in a notary; there is not a single thing on earth you have to leave us!'

               But the old man told them again to call a notary, and still they hesitated, because they thought the notary would say they were making game of him.

               At last the old man began to get angry when he found they would not do as he said, and, just not to vex him in his last moments, they called the notary, and the notary brought his witnesses.

               Then the father was content, and called them all to his bedside.

               'Now, pull out the old case under the bed, and take out what you find there.'

               They found an old broken hat, without a brim, a ragged purse that was so worn you could not have trusted any money in its keeping, and a horn. [2]

               These three things he bequeathed in due form of law, one to each of his sons; and it was only because they saw that the man was in his death agony that those who were called to act as witnesses could keep from laughing. To the notary, of course, it was all one whether it was an old hat or a new one, his part was the same, and when he had done what was needful, he went his way, and the witnesses went with him; but as they went out, they said one to another:

               'Poor old man! perhaps it is a comfort to him in his last moments to fancy he has got something to leave.'

               When they were all gone, as the three sons were standing by, very sad, and looking at each other, not knowing what to make of the strange scene, he called the eldest, to whose portion the hat had fallen, and said:

               'See what I've given you.'

               'Why, father!' answered he, 'it isn't even good enough to bind round one's knee when one goes out hoeing!'

               But the father answered:

               'I wouldn't let you know its value till those people were gone, lest any should take it from you; this is its value, that if you put it on, you can go in to dine at whatever inn you please, or sit down to drink at what wineshop you please, and take what you like and drink what you like, for no one will see you while you have it on.'

               Then he called his second son, to whose lot the purse had fallen, and he said:

               'See what I have given you.'

               'Why, father!' answered the son, 'it isn't even good enough to keep a little tobacco in, if I could afford to buy any!'

               But the father answered:

               'I wouldn't tell you its value till those people were gone, lest any should take it from you; but this is its value; if you put your fingers in, you'll find a scudo there, and after that another, and another, as many as ever you will; there will always be one.'

               Then he called his youngest son, and said:

               'See what I have given you.'

               And he answered:

               'Yes, father, it's a very nice horn; and when I am starving hungry I can cheat myself into being content by playing on it.'

               'Silly boy!' answered the father; 'that is not its use. I wouldn't tell you its value while those people were here, lest they should take it from you. Its value is this, that whenever you want anything you have only to sound it, and one will come who will bring whatever you want, be it a dinner, a suit of clothes, a palace, or an army.'

               After this the father died, and each found himself well provided with the legacy he had given him.

               It happened that one day as the second son [3] was passing under the window of the palace a waiting-maid looked out and said: 'Can you play at cards?'

               'As well as most,' answered the youth.

               'Very well, then; come up,' answered the waiting-maid; 'for the queen wants some one to play with her.'

               Very readily he went up, therefore, and played at cards with the queen, and when he had played all the evening he had lost fifty scudi.

               'Never mind about paying the fifty scudi,' said the queen, as he rose to leave. 'We only played to pass away the time, and you don't look by your dress as if you could afford fifty scudi.'

               'Not at all!' replied the youth. 'I will certainly bring the fifty scudi in the morning.'

               And in the morning, by putting his fingers fifty times into the ragged purse, he had the required sum, and went back with it to the palace and paid the queen.

               The queen was very much astonished that such a shabby-looking fellow should have such command of money, and determined to find out how it was; so she made him stay and dine. After dinner she took him into her private room and said to him:

               'Tell me, how comes it that you, who are but a shabby-looking fellow, have such command of money?'

               'Oh!' answered he quite unsuspectingly, 'because my father left me a wonderful purse, in which is always a scudo.'

               'Nonsense!' answered the queen. 'That is a very pretty fable, but such purses don't exist.'

               'Oh, but it is so indeed,' answered the youth.

               'Quite impossible,' persisted the queen.

               'But here it is; you can see for yourself!' pursued the incautious youth, taking it out.

               The queen took it from him as if to try its powers, but no sooner was she in possession of it than she called in the guard to turn out a fellow who was trying to rob her, and give him a good beating.

               Indignant at such treatment, the youth went to his eldest brother and begged his hat of him that he might, by its means, go and punish the queen.

               Putting on the hat he went back to the palace at the hour of dinner and sat down to table. As soon as the queen was served he took her plate and ate up all that was in it one course after another, so that the queen got nothing, and finding it useless to call for more dishes, she gave it up as a bad job, and went into her room. The youth followed her in and demanded the return of his wonderful purse.

               'How can I know it is you if I don't see you?' said the queen.

               'Never mind about seeing me. Put the purse out on the table for me and I will take it.'

               'No, I can't if I don't see you,' replied the queen. 'I can't believe it is you unless I see you.'

               The youth fell into the snare and took off his hat.

               'How did you manage to make yourself invisible?' asked the queen.

               'Just by putting on this old hat.'

               'I don't believe that could make you invisible,' exclaimed the queen. 'Let me try.'

               And she snatched the hat out of his hand and put it on. Of course she was now in turn invisible, and he sought her in vain; but worse than that, she rang the bell for the guard and bid them turn the shabby youth out and give him a bastonata.

               Full of fresh indignation he ran to his youngest brother and told him all his story, begging the loan of his horn, that he might punish the queen by its means; and the brother lent it him.

               He sounds the horn and One comes. [4]

               'I want an army with cannons to throw down the palace,' said the youth; and instantly there was a tramp of armed men, and a rumble of artillery waggons.

               The queen was sitting at dinner, but when she heard all the noise she came to the window; meantime the soldiers had surrounded the palace and pointed their guns.

               'What's all this about! What's the matter!' cried the queen out of the window.

               'The matter is, that I want my purse and my hat back,' answered the youth.

               'To be sure! you are right; here they are. I don't want my palace battered down, so I will give them to you.'

               The youth went up to receive them; but when he got upstairs he found the queen sunk half fainting in a chair.

               'Oh! I'm so frightened; I can't think where I put the things. Only send away that army and I'll look for them immediately.'

               The youth sent away the army, and the queen got up and began looking about for the things.

               'Tell me,' she said, as she wandered from one cupboard to another, 'how did you, who are such a shabby-looking fellow, manage to call together such an army?'

               'Because I've got this horn,' answered the youth. 'And with it I can call up whatever I want, and if you don't make haste and find the purse and the hat, I'll call up the army again and batter down the palace in right earnest.'

               'You won't make me believe that!' replied the queen. 'That sorry horn can't work such wonders as that: let me try.' And she took the horn out of his hands and sounded it and One appeared. 'Two stout men!' she commanded quickly; and when they came she bid them drive the shabby-looking youth out of the palace and give him a bastonata.

               He was now quite undone, and was ashamed to go back to his brothers. So he wandered away outside the town. After much walking he came to a vineyard, where he strolled in; and what struck him was, that though it was January, there was a fine fig-tree covered with ripe luscious figs.

               'This is a godsend indeed,' he said, 'to a hungry man,' and he began plucking and eating the figs. Before he had eaten many, however, he found his nose had begun to grow to a terrible size; a foot for every fig.

               'That'll never do!' he cried, and left off eating the figs and wandered on. Presently he came to another vineyard, where he also strolled in: there, though it was January, he saw a tree all covered with ripe red cherries. 'I wonder what calamity will pursue me for eating them,' he said, as he gathered them. But when he had eaten a good many he perceived that at last his luck had turned, for in proportion as he ate his nose grew less and less, till at last it was just the right size again.

               'Now I know how to punish the queen,' he said, and he filled a bottle with the juice of the cherries, and went back and gathered a basketful of figs.

               These figs he cried under the palace window, and as he had got more dusty and threadbare with his late wanderings no one recognised him. 'Figs in January! that is a treat!' and they bought up the whole basketful. Then as they ate, their noses all began to grow, but the queen, as she was very greedy, ate twelve for her share, so that she had twelve feet of nose added to the length of hers. It was so long that it trailed behind her on the ground as she walked along.

               Then there was a hue and cry! All the surgeons and physicians in the kingdom were sent for, but could do no good. They were all in despair, when our youth came up disguised as a foreign doctor.

               'Noses! I can heal noses! whoever has got too much nose let him come to me!'

               All the inhabitants gathered round him, and the queen called to him loudest of all.

               'The medicine I have to give is necessarily a very strong one to effect so extraordinary a cure; therefore I won't give it to the queen's majesty till she has seen it used on all her servants, beginning with the lowest.'

               Taking them all in order, beginning with the lowest, he gave a few drops of cherry-juice to each, and all their noses came right.

               Last of all the queen remained.

               'The queen can't be treated like common people,' he said; 'she must be treated by herself. I must go into her room with her, and I can cure her with one drop of my cordial.'

               'You think yourself very clever that you talk of curing with one drop of your cordial, but you're not the only person who can work wonders. I've got greater wonders than yours. I've got a hat which makes you invisible, a purse that never is empty, and a horn that gives you everything you call for.'

               'Very pretty things to talk about,' answered the pretended doctor, 'but such things don't exist.'

               'Don't they!' said the queen. 'There they are!'

               And she laid them all out on the table.

               This was enough for him. Taking advantage of the lesson she had given him by her example, he quickly put on the hat, making himself invisible; after that it was easy to snatch up the other things and escape; nor could anyone follow him. He lived very comfortably for the rest of his life, taking a scudo out of his purse for whatever he had to pay, and his brothers likewise got on very well with their legacies, for he restored them as soon as he had rescued them from the queen. But the queen remained for the rest of her life with TWELVE FEET OF NOSE.



[1] 'Dodici palmi di naso,' a nose twelve palms long. Twelve palms make a canna and a half, equal to three mètres.

[2] 'Ciuffoletto.' 'What is a 'ciuffoletto?' I asked. 'Much the same as a fravodo,' the narrator answered; and I remembered that from another, in another tale, I had made out 'fravodo' to be a horn.

[3] That the second of the three sons should be the hero of the story is, I think, an unusual variation.

[4] See Note 4, p. 146. [‘Ecco il vecchio!’ such abrupt interruptions, with change of tense, are often introduced with dramatic effect by the narrators. A similar one occurs at p. 133. ‘He sounds the horn and One comes.’ ]

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Twelve Feet of Nose (Dodici Palmi di Naso)
Tale Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Book Title: Roman Legends: A Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome
Book Author/Editor: Busk, Rachel Harriette
Publisher: Estes and Lauriat
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1877
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: unclassified

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