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

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Booby. The (Il Tonto)


THEY say there was once a widow woman who had a very simple son. Whatever she set him to do he muddled in some way or other.

               'What am I to do?' said the poor mother to a neighbour one day. 'The boy eats and drinks, and has to be clothed; what am I to do if I am to make no profit of him?'

               'You have kept him at home long enough;' answered the neighbour. 'Try sending him out, now; maybe that will answer better.'

               The mother took the advice, and the next time she had got a piece of linen spun she called her boy, and said to him:

               'If I send you out to sell this piece of linen, do you think you can manage to do it without committing any folly?'

               'Yes, mama,' answered the booby.

               'You always say "yes mama," but you do contrive to muddle everything all the same,' replied the mother. 'Now, listen attentively to all I say. Walk straight along the road without turning to right or left; don't take less than such and such a price for it. Don't have anything to say to women who chatter; whether you sell it to anyone you meet by the way, or carry it into the market, offer it only to some quiet sort of body whom you may see standing apart, and not gossiping and prating, for such as they will persuade you to take some sort of a price that won't suit me at all.'

               The booby promised to follow these directions very exactly, and started on his way.

               On he walked, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, thus passing the turnings which led to the villages, to one or other of which he ought to have gone. But his mother had only meant that he was not to turn off the pathway and lose himself.

               Presently he met the wife of the syndic of the next town, who was driving out with her maids, but had got out to walk a little stretch of the way, as the day was fine. The syndic's wife was talking cheerfully with her maids, and when one of them caught sight of the simpleton, she said to her mistress:

               'Here is the simple son of the poor widow by the brook.'

               'What are you going to do, my good lad?' said the syndic's wife kindly.

               'Not going to tell you, because you were chattering and gossiping,' replied the booby boorishly, and tried to pass on.

               The syndic's wife forgave his boorishness, and added:

               'I see your mother has sent you to sell this piece of linen. I will buy it of you, and that will save you walking further; put it in the carriage, and I'll give you so much for it.'

               Though she had offered him twice as much as his mother had told him to get for it, he would only answer:

               'Can't sell it to you, because you were chattering and gossiping.'

               Nor could they prevail on him to stop a moment longer.

               Further along he came to a statue by the roadside.

               'Here's one who stands apart and doesn't chatter,' said the booby to himself. 'This is the one to sell the linen to.' Then aloud to the statue, 'Will you buy my linen, good friend?' Then to himself. 'She doesn't speak, so it's all right.' Then to the statue, 'The price is so-and-so; have the money ready against I come back, as I have to go on and buy some yarn for mother.'

               On he went and bought the yarn, and then came back to the statue. Some one passing by meanwhile, and seeing the linen lie there had picked it up and walked off with it.

               Finding it gone, the booby said to himself, 'It's all right, she's taken it.' Then to the statue, 'Where's the money I told you to have ready against I came back?' As the statue remained silent, the booby began to get uneasy. 'My mother will be finely angry if I go back without the linen or the money,' he said to himself. Then to the statue, 'If you don't give me the money directly I'll hit you on the head.'

               The booby was as good as his word; lifting his thick rough walking-stick, he gave the statue such a blow that he knocked the head off.

               But the statue was hollow, and filled with gold coin.

               'That's where you keep your money, is it?' said the booby, 'all right, I can pay myself.' So he filled his pockets with money and went back to his mother.

               'Look, mama! here's the price of the piece of linen.'

               'All right!' said the mother out loud; but to herself she said, 'where can I ever hide all this lot of money? I have got no place to hide it but in this earthen jar, and if he knows how much it is worth, he will be letting out the secret to other people, and I shall be robbed.'

               So she put the money in the earthen jar, and said to the boy:

               'They've cheated you in making you think that was coin; it's nothing but a lot of rusty nails; [2] but never mind, you'll know better next time.' And she went out to her work.

               While she was gone out to her work there came by an old rag-merchant.

               'Ho! here, rag-merchant!' said the booby, who had acquired a taste for trading. 'What will you give me for this lot of rusty nails?' and he showed him the jar full of gold coin.

               The rag-merchant saw that he had to do with an idiot, so he said:

               'Well, old nails are not worth very much; but as I'm a good-natured old chap, I'll give you twelve pauls for them,' because he knew he must offer enough to seem a prize to the idiot.

               'You may have them at that,' said the booby. And the rag-merchant poured the coin out into his sack, and gave the fool the twelve pauls.

               'Look mama, look! I've sold that lot of old rusty worthless nails for twelve pauls. Isn't that a good bargain?'

               'Sold them for twelve pauls!' cried the widow, tearing her hair, 'Why, it was a fortune all in gold coin.'

               'Can't help it, mama,' replied the booby; 'you told me they were rusty nails.'

               Another day she told him to shut the door of the cottage; but as he went to do it he lifted the door off its hinges. His mother called after him in an angry voice, which so frightened him that he ran away, carrying the door on his back.

               As he went along, some one to tease him, said, 'Where did you steal that door?' which frightened him still more, and he climbed up in a tree with it to hide it.

               At night there came a band of robbers under the tree, and counted out all their gains in large bags of money. The booby was so frightened at the sight of so many fierce-looking robbers, that he began to tremble and let go of the door.

               The door fell with a bang in the midst of the robbers, who thinking it must be that the police were upon them, decamped, leaving all their money behind.

               The booby came down from the tree and carried the money home to his mother, and they became so rich that she was able to appoint a servant to attend to him, and keep him from doing any more mischief.


After the boys, the girls come in for their share of hard jokes; here is one who figures both as a daughter and a wife. Grimm has the same, with a slight variation, as 'Rumpelstilzchen,' p. 219, and the Italian-Tirol Tales give it as 'Tarandandò;' the incident on which these two hinge of a supernatural being giving his help on condition of the person he favours remembering his name, is of frequent occurrence. I have met it in two German-Tirolese stories, 'The Wilder Jäger and the Baroness,' and in 'Klein-Else' in 'Household Stories,' and in a local tradition told me at Salzburg, which I have given in 'Traditions of Tirol,' No. XVI. in 'Monthly Packet,' each time the sprite gets a new name; in this one it was 'Hahnenzuckerl.' The supernatural helper delivering the girl from future as well as present labour occurs in the Spanish equivalent, 'What Ana saw in the Sunbeam,' in 'Patrañas,' but in favour of a good, instead of a lazy or greedy girl; and so with the girl in the Norse tale of 'The Three Aunts.' 'Die faule Spinnerin,' Grimm, p. 495, helps herself to the same end without supernatural aid.


[1] 'Il Tonto.'

[2] 'Chiodacci;' 'chiodi,' nails; 'chiodacci,' old rusty nails.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Booby. The (Il Tonto)
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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