Fairy Tales / Italian Popular Tales

The Cook

There was once a lord whose name was "Abbot-who-eats-and-drinks-without-thinking."

The king went there and saw this name on the door, and said that if he had nothing to think of, he would give him something to think of. He told him that he must do in a week the three things which he told him.

First, to tell him how many stars there were in heaven, how many fathoms of rope it would take to reach to heaven, and what he, the king, was thinking of.
The cook saw that his master was sad, and sat with his head bent over the table, and asked him what was the matter, and his master told him everything. The cook promised to settle the matter if he would give him half of his property. He also asked for the skin of a dead ass, a cart-load of rope, and his master's hat and cloak.

Then the cook went to the king, who said to him: "Well, how many stars are there in heaven?" The cook answered: "Whoever counts the hairs on this ass' skin will know how many stars there are in heaven."
Then the king told him to count them, and he answered that his share was already counted, and that it was for the king to count now.

Then the king asked him how many fathoms of rope it would take to reach to heaven, and the cook replied: "Take this rope and go to heaven, and then come back and count how many fathoms there are." Finally the king asked: "What am I thinking of?" "You are thinking that I am the abbot; instead of that, I am the cook, and I have here the stew-pan to try the broth."

Source: Italian Popular Tales by Thomas Frederick Crane, A. M.

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