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

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Old Miser, The


THEY say there was once an old man who had so much money he didn't know what to do with it. He had cellars and cellars, where all the floors were strewn with gold; but the house was all tumbling down, because he would not spend a penny in repairing it; and for all food he took nothing all day but a crust of bread and a glass of water.

               He was always afraid lest some one should come to rob him of his wealth, so he seldom so much as spoke to anyone.

               One day, however, a busy, talkative neighbour would have her say out with him, and among other things she said: 'How can you go on living in that ugly old house all alone now? Why don't you take a wife?'

               'A wife!' replied the old miser; 'how can I take a wife? How am I to afford to keep a wife, I should like to know?'

               'Nonsense!' persisted the loquacious neighbour; 'you've got plenty of money, you know. And how much better you'd be if you had a wife. Do you mean to tell me, now, you wouldn't be much better off with one? Now answer me fairly.'

               'Well, if I must speak the truth, as you are so urgent for an answer,' replied the old miser, 'I don't mean to say I haven't often thought I should like a wife; but I am waiting till I find one who can live upon air.' [2]

               'Well, maybe there might be such an one even as you say,' returned the busy neighbour; 'though she might not be easy to find.' And she said no more for that day.

               She went, however, to a young woman who lived opposite, and said: 'If you want a rich husband I will find you one.'

               'To be sure I should like a rich husband,' replied the young woman; 'who would not?'

               'Very well, then,' continued the neighbour; 'I will tell you what to do. You have only, every day at dinner-time, to stand at the window and suck in the air, and move your lips as if you were eating. But eat nothing; take nothing into your mouth but air. The old miser who lives opposite wants a wife who can live on air; and if he thinks you can do this he will marry you. And when you are once installed it'll be odd if you don't find means, in the midst of so much money, to lay hold of enough to get a dinner every day without working for it.'

               The young woman thanked her friend for the advice, and next day, when the bells rang at noon, she threw open the window and stood sucking in the air, and then moving her lips as if she was eating. This she did several days.

               At last the old miser came across under the window, and said to her: 'What are you doing at the window there?'

               'Don't you see it's dinner-time, and I'm taking my dinner? Don't interrupt me!' replied the young neighbour.

               'But, excuse me, [3] I don't see you are eating anything, though your lips move.'

               'O! I live upon air; I take nothing but air,' replied the young woman; and she went on with her mock munching.

               'You live upon air, do you? Then you're just the wife I'm looking for. Will you come down and marry me?'

               As this was just what she wanted she did not keep him waiting, and soon they were married and she was installed in the miser's house.

               But it was not so easy to get at the money as she had thought. At first the miser would not let her go near his cellars; but as he spent so much time down there she said she could not be deprived of his company for so long, she must come down too.

               All the time she was down with him the miser held both her hands in his, as if he was full of affection for her; but in reality it was to make sure she did not touch any of his money.

               She, however, bought some pitch, and put it on the soles of her shoes, and as she walked about in the gold plenty of it stuck to her shoes; and when she came up again she took the gold off her shoes, and sent her maid to the trattoria [4] for the most delicious dinners. Shut up in a room apart they fared sumptuously--she and her maid. But every day at midday she let the miser see her taking her fancied dinner of air.

               This went on for long, because the miser had so much gold that he never missed the few pieces that stuck to her shoes every day.

               But at last there came a Carneval Thursday, [5] when the maid had brought home an extra fine dinner; and as they were an extra length of time over this extra number of dishes and glasses, the old miser, always suspicious, began to guess there must be something wrong; and to find it out he instituted a scrutiny into every room in the crazy house. Thus he came at last to the room where his wife and her maid were dining sumptuously.

               'This is how you live on air, is it?' he roared, red with fury.

               'Oh, but on Carneval Thursday,' replied the wife, 'one may have a little extra indulgence!'

               'Will you tell me you have not had a private dinner every day?' shouted the excited miser.

               'If I have,' replied the wife, not liking to tell a direct falsehood, 'how do you know it is not with my own money? Tell me, have you missed any of yours?'

               The miser was only the more angry at her way of putting the question, because he could not say he had actually missed the money; yet he was convinced it was his money she had been spending.

               'How do I know it is not your money, do you ask?' he thundered; 'because if you had had any money of your own you would never have come to live here, you would not have married me.'

               But weak as he was with his bread and water diet, the excitement was too much for him. As he said these words a convulsion seized him, and he fell down dead.

               Thus all his riches came into possession of the wife.



[1] 'Il Vecchio Avaro.' (The Avaricious Old Man.)

[2] 'Che campasse d'aria,' who should subsist on air.

[3] 'Abbi pazienza,' have patience; equivalent to 'please,' 'pray excuse me,' &c.

[4] 'Trattoria,' an eating-house, but one where, as a rule, dinners are sent out.

[5] 'Giovedi grasso,' Thursday in Carneval week, a day of a little extra feasting.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Old Miser, The
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: ATU 1407A: "Everything!"

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