In a small town in Italy, there were once two brothers who were both hunchbacks. One day, one of the brothers said: “It is time for me to go out into the world and make my fortune”, and with that, he left his little town and set forth to make his way in the world. He walked and walked, and long after nightfall, he realized that he was lost in the middle of a dark, dense forest.
“My heavens, anything could happen to me here; I could be set upon by assassins! I’d do best to hide myself!” And with that, he climbed up into a tree to spend the night. At the stroke of midnight, he was awakened by a sound, and he looked down out of the tree to see a strange sight. The sound was coming from a hole in the ground, and as he watched, first one old hag emerged, then another, then another, and finally one more. The hunchback was terribly frightened by this, and as he trembled in his tree, the old hags started to march around the tree singing:
“Saturday and Sunday!
Saturday and Sunday!”
This continued for quite a while, with the old hags parading around the tree:
“Saturday and Sunday!
Saturday and Sunday!”
Finally the hunchback, up in the tree, shouted down:
And with that, the old hags stopped their marching and peered around. The hunchback, up in the tree, was trembling with fright.
“Who said that!”, said the first old hag, and the man grew even more frightened.
“Who gave us this wonderful new verse for our song?” She continued. “Why didn’t we ever think of that?” And with that, they began marching around the tree again, singing:
After a good deal more marching, they noticed the hunchback trembling away up in the tree.
“Please, old hags, don’t kill me! What I said was just an accidental slip of the tongue! I didn’t mean any harm by it!”
“Come down from that tree. We’re not going to hurt you. In fact, we’d like to reward you. Ask us for any wish you want, and it shall be granted”
The hunchback climbed down from the tree. “Well, I’m just a poor hunchback, I don’t know what I should want. All I’ve ever wanted was to be rid of this hump on my back, so the children won’t make fun of me any more”.
“Your wish shall be granted.” And with that, one of the hags produced a butter knife and sliced off his hump, fixed up his back with some magic ointment, and hung his old hump on the branch of a nearby tree.
The hunchback, who was no longer a hunchback, returned to his town in the hills, and no-one recognized him, for he looked quite different. When his brother saw him, he could hardly believe his eyes. “This can’t possibly be you!” he exclaimed.
“Oh, but it is! And look at how handsome I am now!”
“You must tell me how you did this miraculous thing!” said his brother. And the hunchback who was no longer a hunchback told him the story of the tree, the hags, the song, and the butter knife. With that, his brother set off for the forest. When he arrived at the tree his brother had specified, he climbed up into it to wait.
At the stroke of midnight, the little hags came out of their hole and began their chant:
And after a little while, the brother shouted down:
The little old hags began to sing again:
But now the rhythm was ruined. The little old hags looked up into the tree in anger. “Who is this assassin who has ruined our verse!” they shouted. “We had such a lovely cadence to our singing, and now it’s spoiled! Come down out of that tree at once!”. The hunchback, frightened out of his wits, yelled down “I won’t come down! You’re going to kill me!”
“We have no intention of killing you. Now come down out of the tree.”
The hunchback finally came down, and the hags took the other brother’s hump from the branch on the tree and stuck it on his chest.
“There. That is the punishment you deserve.”
So that poor hunchback returned home with two humps instead of one.
And thus did the hunchback learn a lesson about blowing the groove.
This story, a fairy tale from 19th-century Italy, appeared in my favorite book when I was a little kid, “Italian Fables”, by the great Italian writer Italo Calvino. I loved that book; fairy tales in Italy aren’t like fairy tales everywhere else. There’s dead man’s arms that can cure all sorts of problems for idiot boys “covered with boils”, mean little girls who get a big splat of pig shit on their foreheads for being mean, other glutenous little girls who eat the fresh-baked bread their mother made on their way to deliver it to Uncle Wolf and replace it in the tin with donkey dung and then get eaten up by Uncle Wolf, and so forth. One of my favorite things was the way some stories would end like this: “And so he lived happily ever after, until one day he fell down a well and died.” My kind of stories!
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