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Italian Popular Tales
The Ass That Lays Money
There was once a poor widow with an only son, and whose brother-in-law was a steward. One day she said to her child: "Go to your uncle and ask him to give you something to keep you from starving."
The boy went to the farm and asked his uncle to help him a little. "We are dying of hunger, uncle. My mother earns a little by weaving, and I am too small to find anything. Be charitable to us, for we are your relatives." The steward answered: "Why not? You should have come sooner and I would have helped you the sooner.
But now I will give you something to support you always, without need of anything more. I will give you this little ass that lays money. You have only to put a cloth under him, and he will fill it for you with handsome coins. But take care! Don't tell it, and don't leave this animal with any one." The youth departed in joy, and after he had travelled a long way, he stopped at an inn to sleep, for his house was distant. He said to the landlord: "Give me a lodging, but look! my ass spends the night with me." "What!" said the landlord, "what are you thinking about! It cannot be." The youth replied: "Yes, it can be, because my ass does not leave my side." They disputed a while, but the landlord finally consented; but he had some suspicions; and when the boy and his beast were shut in the room, he looked through the key-hole, and saw that wonder of an ass that laid money in abundance. "Bless me!" cried the host. "I should be a fool, indeed, if I let this piece of good fortune escape my hands!" He at once looked for another ass of the same color and size, and while the lad was asleep, exchanged them.
In the morning the boy paid his bill and departed, but on the way, the ass no longer laid any money. The stupefied child did not know what to think at first, but afterward examining it more closely, it appeared to him that the ass was not his, and straightway he returned to the innkeeper, to complain of his deception. The landlord cried out: "I wonder at your saying such a thing! We are all honest people here, and don't steal anything from anybody. Go away, blockhead, or you will find something to remember a while."
The child, weeping, had to depart with his ass, and he went back to his uncle's farm, and told him what had happened. The uncle said: "If you had not stopped at the innkeeper's, you could not have met with this misfortune. However, I have another present to help you and your mother. But take care! Do not mention it to any one, and take good care of it. Here it is. I give you a tablecloth, and whenever you say: 'Tablecloth, make ready,' after having spread it out, you will see a fine repast at your pleasure." The youth took the tablecloth in delight, thanked his uncle, and departed; but like the fool he was, he stopped again at the same inn. He said to the landlord: "Give me a room and you need not prepare anything to eat. I have all I want with me." The crafty innkeeper suspected that there was something beneath this, and when the lad was in his room, he looked through the key-hole, and saw the tablecloth preparing the supper.
The host exclaimed: "What good luck for my inn! I will not let it escape me." He quickly looked for another tablecloth like this one, with the same embroidery and fringe, and while the child was sleeping, he exchanged it for the magic one, so that in the morning the lad did not perceive the knavery. Not until he had reached a forest where he was hungry, did he want to make use of the tablecloth.
But it was in vain that he spread it out and cried: "Tablecloth, make ready." The tablecloth was not the same one, and made nothing ready for him. In despair the boy went back to the innkeeper to complain, and the landlord would have thrashed him if he had not run away, and he ran until he reached his uncle's. His uncle, when he saw him in such a plight, said: "Oh! what is the matter?" "Uncle!" said the boy, "the same innkeeper has changed the tablecloth, too, for me." The uncle was on the point of giving the dunce a good thrashing; but afterward, seeing that it was a child, he calmed his anger, and said: "I understand; but I will give you a remedy by which you can get back everything from that thief of a landlord. Here it is! It is a stick. Hide it under your bolster; and if any one comes to rob you of it, say to it, in a low voice: 'Beat, beat!' and it will continue to do so until you say to it, 'Stop.'"
Imagine how joyfully the boy took the stick! It was a handsome polished stick, with a gold handle, and delighted one only to see it. So the boy thanked his uncle for his kindness, and after he had journeyed a while, he came to the same inn. He said: "Landlord, I wish to lodge here to-night." The landlord at once drew his conclusions about the stick, which the boy carried openly in his hands, and at night when the lad appeared to be sound asleep, but really was on the watch, the landlord felt softly under the bolster and drew out the stick. The boy, although it was dark, perceived the theft and said in a low voice: "Beat, beat, beat!"
Suddenly blows were rained down without mercy; everything broken to pieces, the chest of drawers, the looking-glass, all the chairs, the glass in the windows; and the landlord, and those that came at the noise, beaten nearly to death. The landlord screamed to split his throat: "Save me, boy, I am dead!" The boy answered: "What! I will not deliver you, if you do not give me back my property, - the ass that lays gold, and the tablecloth that prepares dinner." And if the landlord did not want to die of the blows, he had to consent to the boy's wishes.
When he had his things back, the boy went home to his mother and told her what had happened to him, and then said: "Now, we do not need anything more. I have an ass that lays money, a tablecloth that prepares food at my will, and a stick to defend me from whoever annoys me."
So that woman and her son, who, from want had become rich enough to cause every one envy, wished from pride to invite their relatives to a banquet, to make them acquainted with their wealth.
On the appointed day the relatives came to the woman's new house; but noon strikes, one o'clock strikes, it is almost two, and in the kitchen the fire is seen extinguished, and there were no provisions anywhere. "Are they playing a joke on us?" said the relatives. "We shall have to depart with dry teeth." At that moment, however, the clock struck two, and the lad, after spreading the cloth on the table, commanded: "Tablecloth, prepare a grand banquet." In short, those people had a fine dinner and many presents in money, and the boy and his mother remained in triumph and joy.
Source: Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane, A. M.