Once on a time there was a father and a mother who had a little boy. They died and the child was left in the street. One of the neighbours had pity on him and took him in. The boy throve well and when he had grown up the one who had sheltered him said: "Come now, Occasion (for this was the boy's name), you are a man; why do you not think about supporting yourself and relieving us from that care?" So the lad made up a bundle and departed. He journeyed and journeyed until his clothes were worn out and he was almost dead from hunger. One day he saw an inn and entered it, and said to the innkeeper: "Do you want me for a servant? I wish only a piece of bread for my wages." The host said to his wife: "What do you say, Rosella? We have no children; shall we take this lad?"
"Yes;" and so they took him.
The boy was very attentive and did willingly whatever was commanded him, and at last his master and mistress, who had grown to love him like a son, went before the judge and adopted him. }216]
Time passed and the innkeeper and his wife died and left all their property to the young man, who, when he saw himself in possession of it, made known: "That whoever should come to Occasion's inn could have food for nothing." You can imagine the people that went there!
Now the Master and his apostles happened once to pass that way, and when St. Thomas read this announcement he said: "Unless I see and touch with my hands I shall not believe it. Let us go to this inn." They went there and ate and drank and Occasion treated them like gentlemen. Before leaving St. Thomas said: "Occasion, why don't you ask a favor of the Master?" Then Occasion said: "Master, I have before my door this fig-tree, and the children do not let me eat one of the figs. Whoever goes by climbs up and pulls off some. Now I would like this favor, that when anyone climbs this tree, he must stay there until I permit him to come down."
"Your request is granted," said the Lord, and blessed the tree.
It was a fine thing! The first who climbed up for figs stuck fast to the tree without being able to move; another came, the same thing; and so on; all stuck fast, one by the hand, another by the foot, another by the head. When Occasion saw them he gave them a sound scolding and let them go. The children were frightened and touched the figs no more.
Years passed and Occasion's money was coming to an end; so he called a carpenter and told him to cut up the fig-tree and make him a bottle out of it. This bottle had the property that Occasion could shut up in it whoever he wished. One day Death went to fetch him, for Occasion was now very old. Occasion said: "At your service; we will go. But see here, Death, first do me a favor. I have this bottle of wine, and there is a fly in it, and I don't like to drink from it; just go in there and take it out for me, and then we will go." Death very foolishly entered the bottle, when Occasion corked it and put it in his wallet, saying: "Stay a bit with me."
While Death was shut up no one died; and everywhere }217] you might see old men with such long white beards that it was a sight. The apostles, seeing this, went to the Master about it several times, and at last he visited Occasion. "What is this? Here you have kept Death shut up so many years, and the people are falling down from old age without dying!"
"Master," said Occasion, "do you want me to let Death out? If you will give me a place in paradise, I will let him out." The Lord thought: "What shall I do? If I don't grant him this favor, he will not leave me in peace." So he said: "Your request is granted!" At these words Death was set at liberty; Occasion was permitted to live a few years longer, and then Death took him. Hence it is "That there is no death without Occasion."
Once on a time there was a convent at Casteltermini which contained many monks, one of whom was named Brother Giovannone. At the time when the Lord and all his apostles were on their travels they visited this convent, and all the monks asked the Lord to pardon their souls; Brother Giovannone asked nothing. St. Peter said to him: "Why do you not ask pardon for your soul, like the others?"
"I don't wish anything." St. Peter said: "Nothing? When you come to paradise we will talk about it." When the Master had taken his departure and had gone some distance, Brother Giovannone began to cry out: "Master, Master, wait! I want a favor, and it is that anyone I command must get into my pouch." The Master said: "This request is granted."
Brother Giovannone was old and one day Death came and said to him: "Giovannone, you have three hours to live!" Brother Giovannone replied: "When you come for me you must let me know half an hour before." After a while Death came and said: "You are a dead man!" Brother Giovannone replied: "In the name of Brother Giovannone, into my pouch with you, Death!" Then he carried his pouch to a baker and asked him to hang it up }218] in the chimney until he came for it. For forty years no one died. At the end of that time Brother Giovannone went and set Death free, so that he might himself die, for he was so old he could do no more. The first one that Death killed when he was free was Brother Giovannone, and then he destroyed all those who had not died in the forty years.
After he was dead Brother Giovannone went and knocked at the gate of paradise and St. Peter said to him: "There is no room for you here."
"Where must I go, then?" asked Brother Giovannone. "To purgatory," answered St. Peter. So he knocked at purgatory and they told him: "There is no place for you here."
"Where must I go, then?"
"To hell." He knocked at hell and Lucifer asked: "Who is there?"
"Brother Giovannone." Then Lucifer said to his devils: "You take the mace; you, the hammer; you, the tongs!" Brother Giovannone asked: "What are you going to do with these instruments?"
"We are going to beat you."
"In the name of Brother Giovannone, into my pouch with you, all you devils!" Then he hung the pouch about his neck and carried all the devils to a smith who had eight apprentices, and the master, nine. "Master-smith, how much do you want to hammer this pouch eight days and nights?" They agreed on forty ounces, and hammered day and night and the pouch was not reduced to powder, and Brother Giovannone was always present. The last day the smiths said: "What the devil are these; for they cannot be pounded fine!" Brother Giovannone answered: "They are indeed devils! Pound hard!" After they were through hammering, he took the pouch and emptied it out in the plain; the devils were so bruised and mangled that they could hardly drag themselves back to hell. Then Brother Giovannone went and knocked again at paradise. "Who is there?"
"There is no room for you."
"Peter, if you don't let me in I will call you baldhead."
"Now that you have called me baldhead," said St. Peter, "you shall not enter." Brother Giovannone said: "Ah, what is that you say? I will be }219] even with you!" So he stood near the gate of paradise and said to all the souls who were going to enter: "In the name of Brother Giovannone, into my pouch, all you souls!" and no more souls entered paradise. One day St. Peter said to the Master: "Why do no more souls enter?" The Lord answered: "Because Brother Giovannone is behind the gate putting them all in his pouch."
"What shall we do?" said St. Peter. The Lord answered: "See if you can get hold of the pouch and bring them all in together." Brother Giovannone heard all this outside. What did he do? He said: "Into the pouch with myself!" and in a moment was in his own pouch. When St. Peter looked Brother Giovannone was not to be seen, so he seized the pouch and dragged it into paradise and shut the gate at once, and opened the pouch. The first one who came out was Brother Giovannone himself, who began at once to quarrel with St. Peter because St. Peter wished to put him out, and Brother Giovannone did not want to go. Then the Lord said: "When one once enters the house of Jesus, he does not leave it again."
These stories have close parallels in two Roman legends collected by Miss Busk. In the first, the innkeeper asks first for the faculty of always winning at cards; and second, that anyone who climbs his fig-tree must stay there. When Death comes the host asks her (Death is feminine in Italian) to climb the tree and pick him a few figs. When once up the tree, the host refuses to let her down until she promises him four hundred years of life. Death has to consent and the host in turn promises to go quietly with her when she comes again. At the end of the four hundred years Death takes the host to paradise. They pass by hell on the way and the host proposes to the devil to play for the newly received souls. The host wins fifteen thousand, which he carries with him to paradise. St. Peter objects to letting the "rabble" in, and Jesus Christ himself says: "The host may come in himself, but he has no business with the others." Then the host says that he has made no }220] difficulty about numbers when Christ has come to his inn With as many as he pleased. "That is true! that is right!" answered Jesus Christ. "Let them all in! let them all in!"
In the other story, a priest, Pret' Olivo, received from the Lord, in reward for his hospitality, the favor of living a hundred years, and that when Death came to fetch him he should be able to give her what orders he pleased, and that she must obey him. Death called at the end of the hundred years, and Pret' Olivo made her sit by the fire while he said a mass. The fire grew hotter and hotter, but Death could not stir until Pret' Olivo permitted her to, on condition that she should leave him alone a hundred years. The second time Death called, Pret' Olivo asked her to gather him some figs and commanded her to stay in the tree. So Death a second time was obliged to promise him a respite of a hundred years. The next time Death called, Pret' Olivo put on his vestments and a cope, and took a pack of cards in his hand and went with Death. She wanted to take him directly to paradise, but he insisted on going around by the way of hell and playing a game of cards with the Devil. The stakes were souls, and as fast as Pret' Olivo won, he hung a soul on his cope until it was covered with them; then he hung them on his beretta, and at last was obliged to stop, for there was no more room to hang any souls. Death objected to taking all these souls to paradise, but could not take Pret' Olivo without them. When they arrived at paradise St. Peter made some objection to admitting them, but the Master gave his permission and they all got in.
Once on a time there was a girl called Saddaedda, who was crazy. One day, when her mother had gone into the country and she was left alone in the house, she went into a church where the funeral service was being read over the body of a rich lady. The girl hid herself in the confessional. No one knew she was there; so, when the other people had gone, she was left alone with the corpse. It was dressed out in a rose-coloured robe and everything else becoming, and it had ear-rings in its ears and rings on its fingers. These the girl took off, and then she began to undress the body. When she came to the stockings she drew off one easily, but at the other she had to pull so hard that at last the leg came off with it. Saddaedda took the leg, carried it to her lonely home, and locked it up in a box. At night came the dead lady and knocked at the door. "Who's there?" said the girl. "It is I," answered the corpse. "Give me back my leg and stocking!" But Saddaedda paid no heed to the request. Next day she prepared a feast and invited some of her playfellows to spend the night with her. They came, feasted, and went to sleep. At midnight the dead woman began to knock at the door and to repeat last night's request. Saddaedda took no notice of the noise but her companions, whom it awoke, were horrified, and as soon as they could, they ran away. On the third night just the same happened. On the fourth she could persuade only one girl to keep her company. On the fifth she was left entirely alone. The corpse came, forced open the door, strode up to Saddaedda's bed, and strangled her. Then the dead woman opened the box, took out her leg and stocking, and carried them off with her to her grave.
This chapter would be incomplete without reference to treasure stories. A number of these are given by Miss Busk in her interesting collection. A few are found in Pitrè, only one of which needs mention here, on account of its parallels in other countries. It is called
Viceroy Tunny" (tunnina is the flesh of the tunny-fish). There was at Palermo a man who sold tunny-fish. One night he dreamed that some one appeared to him and said: "Do you wish to find your Fate? Go under the bridge di li Testi (of the Heads, so the people call the Ponte dell' Ammiraglio, a bridge now abandoned, constructed in 1113 by the Admiral Georgios Antiochenos); there you will find it." For three nights he dreamed the same thing. The third time, he went under the bridge and found a poor man all in rags. The fish-seller was frightened and was going away, when the man called him. It was his Fate. He said: "Tonight, at midnight, where you have placed the barrels of fish, dig, and what you find is yours."
The fish-dealer did as he was told; dug, and found a staircase, which he descended, and found a room full of money. The fish-dealer became wealthy, lent the king of Spain money, and was made viceroy and raised to the rank of prince and duke.