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Story No. 895

Little Chick-Pea

Book Name:

Italian Popular Tales

Tradition: Italy

(Tuscan, Rivista di Lett. pop. I. p. 161, Cecino) [Cecino, dim. of Cece, chick-pea]

Once upon a time there was a husband and wife who had no children. The husband was a carpenter, and when he came home from his shop he did nothing but scold his wife because she had no children, and the poor woman was constantly weeping and despairing. She was charitable, and had festivals celebrated in the church; but no children. One day a woman knocked at her door and asked for alms; but the carpenter's wife answered: "I will not give you any, for I have given alms and had masses said, and festivals celebrated for a long time, and have no son." "Give me alms and you will have children." "Good! in that case I will do all you wish." "You must give me a whole loaf of bread, and I will give you something that will bring you children." "If you will, I will give you two loaves." "No, no! now, I want only one; you can give me the other when you have the children." So she gave her a loaf, and the woman said: "Now I will go home and give my children something to eat, and then I will bring you what will make you have children." "Very well."

The woman went home, fed her children, and then took a little bag, filled it with chick-peas, and carried it to the carpenter's wife, and said: "This is a bag of peas; put them in the kneading-trough, and to-morrow they will be as many sons as there are peas." There were a hundred peas, and the carpenter's wife said: "How can a hundred peas become a hundred sons?" "You will see to-morrow." The carpenter's wife said to herself: "I had better say nothing about it to my husband, because if by any mischance the children should not come, he would give me a fine scolding."

Her husband returned at night and began to grumble as usual; but his wife said not a word and went to bed repeating to herself: "To-morrow you will see!" The next morning the hundred peas had become a hundred sons. One cried: "Papa, I want to drink." Another said: "Papa, I want to eat." Another: "Papa, take me up." He, in the midst of all this tumult, took a stick and went to the trough and began to beat, and killed them all. One fell out (imagine how small they were!) and ran quickly into the bedroom and hid himself on the handle of the pitcher. After the carpenter had gone to his shop his wife said: "What a rascal! he has grumbled so long about my not having children and now he has killed them all!" Then the son who had escaped said: "Mamma, has papa gone?" She said: "Yes, my son. How did you manage to escape? Where are you?" "Hush! I am in the handle of the pitcher; tell me: has papa gone?" "Yes, yes, yes, come out!" Then the child who had escaped came out and his mamma exclaimed: "Oh! how pretty you are! How shall I call you?" The child answered: "Cecino." "Very well, bravo, my Cecino! Do you know, Cecino, you must go and carry your papa's dinner to him at the shop." "Yes, you must put the little basket on my head, and I will go and carry it to papa."

The carpenter's wife, when it was time, put the basket on Cecino's head and sent him to carry her husband's dinner to him. When Cecino was near the shop, he began to cry: "O papa! come and meet me; I am bringing you your dinner."

The carpenter said to himself: "Oh! did I kill them all, or are there any left?" He went to meet Cecino and said: "O my good boy! how did you escape my blows?" "I fell down, ran into the room, and hid myself on the handle of the pitcher." "Bravo, Cecino! Listen. You must go around among the country people and hear whether they have anything broken to mend." "Yes."

So the carpenter put Cecino in his pocket, and while he went along the way did nothing but chatter; so that every one said he was mad, because they did not know that he had his son in his pocket. When he saw some countrymen he asked: "Have you anything to mend?" "Yes, there are some things about the oxen broken, but we cannot let you mend them, for you are mad." "What do you mean by calling me mad? I am wiser than you. Why do you say I am mad?" "Because you do nothing but talk to yourself on the road." "I was talking with my son." "And where do you keep your son?" "In my pocket." "That is a pretty place to keep your son." "Very well, I will show him to you;" and he pulls out Cecino, who was so small that he stood on one of his father's fingers.

"Oh, what a pretty child! you must sell him to us." "What are you thinking about! I sell you my son who is so valuable to me!" "Well, then, don't sell him to us." What does he do then? He takes Cecino and puts him on the horn of an ox and says: "Stay there, for now I am going to get the things to mend." "Yes, yes, don't be afraid; I will stay on my horn." So the carpenter went to get the things to mend.

Meanwhile two thieves passed by, and seeing the oxen, one said: "See those two oxen there alone. Come, let us go and steal them." When they drew near, Cecino cried out: "Papa, look out! there are thieves here! they are stealing your oxen!" "Ah! where does that voice come from?" And they approached nearer to see; and Cecino, the nearer he saw them come, the more he called out: "Look out for your oxen, papa; the thieves are stealing them!"

When the carpenter came the thieves said to him: "Good man, where does that voice come from?" "It is my son." "If he is not here, where is he?" "Don't you see? there he is, up on the horn of one of the oxen." When he showed him to them, they said: "You must sell him to us; we will give you as much money as you wish." "What are you thinking about! I might sell him to you, but who knows how much my wife would grumble about it!" "Do you know what you must tell her? that he died on the way."

They tempted him so much that at last he gave him to them for two sacks of money. They took their Cecino, put him in one of their pockets, and went away. On their journey they saw the king's stable. "Let us take a look at the king's stable and see whether we can steal a pair of horses." "Very good." They said to Cecino: "Don't betray us." "Don't be afraid, I will not betray you."

So they went into the stable and stole three horses, which they took home and put in their own stable.

Afterwards they went and said to Cecino: "Listen. We are so tired! save us the trouble, go down and give the horses some oats." Cecino went to do so, but fell asleep on the halter and one of the horses swallowed him. When he did not return, the thieves said: "He must have fallen asleep in the stable." So they went there and looked for him and called: "Cecino, where are you?" "Inside of the black horse." Then they killed the black horse; but Cecino was not there. "Cecino, where are you?" "In the bay horse." So they killed the bay horse; but Cecino was not there. "Cecino, where are you?" But Cecino answered no longer. Then they said: "What a pity! that child who was so useful to us is lost." Then they dragged out into the fields the two horses that they had cut open.

A famished wolf passed that way and saw the dead horses. "Now I will eat my fill of horse," and he ate and ate until he had finished and had swallowed Cecino [It appears from this that Cecino had been in one of the horses all the time, but the thieves had not seen him because he was so small]. Then the wolf went off until it became hungry again and said: "Let us go and eat a goat."

When Cecino heard the wolf talk about eating a goat, he cried out: "Goat-herd, the wolf is coming to eat your goats!"

[The wolf supposes that it has swallowed some wind that forms these words, hits itself against a stone, and after several trials gets rid of the wind and Cecino, who hides himself under a stone, so that he shall not be seen.]

Three robbers passed that way with a bag of money. One of them said: "Now I will count the money, and you others be quiet or I will kill you!" You can imagine whether they kept still! for they did not want to die. So he began to count: "One, two, three, four, and five." And Cecino: "One, two, three, four, and five." (Do you understand? he repeats the robber's words.) "I hear you! you will not keep still. Well, I will kill you; we shall see whether you will speak again." He began to count the money again: "One, two, three, four, and five." Cecino repeats: "One, two, three, four, and five." "Then you will not keep quiet! now I will kill you!" and he killed one of them. "Now we shall see whether you will talk; if you do I will kill you too." He began to count: "One, two, three, four, and five." Cecino repeats: "One, two, three, four, and five." "Take care, if I have to tell you again I will kill you!" "Do you think I want to speak? I don't wish to be killed." He begins to count: "One, two, three, four, and five." Cecino repeats: "One, two, three, four, and five." "You will not keep quiet either; now I will kill you!" and he killed him. "Now I am alone and can count by myself and no one will repeat it." So he began again to count: "One, two, three, four, and five." And Cecino: "One, two, three, four, and five." Then the robber said: "There is some one hidden here; I had better run away or he will kill me." So he ran away and left behind the sack of money.

When Cecino perceived that there was no one there, he came out, put the bag of money on his head, and started for home. When he drew near his parents' house he cried: "Oh, mamma, come and meet me; I have brought you a bag of money!"

When his mother heard him she went to meet him and took the money and said: "Take care you don't drown yourself in these puddles of rain-water." The mother went home, and turned back to look for Cecino, but he was not to be seen. She told her husband what Cecino had done, and they went and searched everywhere for him, and at last found him drowned in a puddle.[4]


[4] The myth of "Tom Thumb" has been thoroughly examined in an admirable monograph: Le Petit Poucet et la Grande Ourse par Gaston Paris, Paris, 1875. The author says in conclusion (p. 52): "Si nous cherchons enfin quels sont les peuples qui nous offrent soit ce conte, soit cette dénomination, nous voyons qu'ils comprennent essentiellement les peuples slaves (lithuanien, esclavon) et germaniques (allemand, danois, suédois, anglais). Les contes des Albanais, des Roumains et des Grecs modernes sont sans doute empruntés aux Slaves, comme une très-grande partie de la mythologie populaire de ces nations. Le nom wallon et le conte forézien nous montrent en France (ainsi que le titre du conte de Perrault) la légende de Poucet: mais elle a pu fort bien, comme tant d'autres récits semblables, y être apportée par les Germains. Ni en Italie, ni en Espagne, ni dans les pays celtiques je n'ai trouvé trace du conte ou du nom." This latter statement must now, of course, be modified. To the references in Paris' book may be added: Romania, No. 32, p. 59 (Cosquin, No. 53), and Köhler in Zeit. f. rom. Phil. III. p. 617.

The transformation of the chick-peas into children has a parallel in the Greek story of "Pepper-Corn" shortly to be mentioned.

The next story is one that has always enjoyed great popularity over the whole of Europe, and is a most interesting example of the diffusion of nursery tales. It is also interesting from the attempt to show that it is of comparatively late date, and has been borrowed from a people not of European extraction.[5] The story belongs to the class of what may be called "accumulative" stories, of which "The House that Jack built" is a good example. It is a version of the story so well known in English of the old woman who found a little crooked sixpence, and went to market and bought a little pig. As she was coming home the pig would not go over the stile. The old woman calls on a dog to bite pig, but the dog will not. Then she calls in turn on a stick, fire, water, ox, butcher, rope, rat, and cat. They all refuse to help her except the cat, which promises help in exchange for a saucer of milk. "So away went the old woman to the cow. But the cow said to her: 'If you will go to yonder hay-stack and fetch me a handful of hay, I'll give you the milk.' So away went the old woman to the hay-stack; and she brought the hay to the cow. As soon as the cow had eaten the hay, she gave the old woman the milk; and away she went with it in a saucer to the cat.

"As soon as the cat had lapped up the milk, the cat began to kill the rat; the rat to gnaw the rope; the rope began to hang the butcher; the butcher began to kill the ox; the ox began to drink the water; the water began to quench the fire; the fire began to burn the stick; the stick began to beat the dog; the dog began to bite the pig; the little pig in a fright jumped over the stile, and so the old woman got home that night."[6]

The Italian versions may be divided into two classes: first, where the animals and inanimate objects are invoked to punish some human being; second, where all the actors are animals. The first version of the first class that we shall give is from Sicily, Pitrè, No. 131, and is called:

78. Pitidda.

[5] The discussion of this point may best be found in the following works: Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes of England (Percy Soc. IV.), London, 1842, pp. 2, 159; Romania, I. p. 218; and Un Canto popolare piemontese e un Canto religioso popolare israelitico. Note e confronti di Cesare Foa, Padova, 1879. The references to the other European versions of this story may be found in Romania, No. 28, p. 546 (Cosquin, No. 34), and Köhler in Zeit. f. rom. Phil. III. 156.

[6] Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes, p. 160.


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