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  • The Little Bird1

    There was an old couple who earned a poor living by working hard all day in the fields.

    'See how hard we work all day,' said the wife; 'and it all comes of the foolish curiosity of Adam and Eve. If it had not been for that we should have been living now in a beautiful garden with nothing to do all day long.'

    'Yes,' said the husband; 'if you and I had been there, instead of Adam and Eve, all the human race had been in Paradise still.'

    The count, their master, overheard them talking in this way, and he came to them and said: 'How would you like it if I took you up into my palazzo there, to live and gave you servants to wait on you, and plenty to eat and drink?'

    'Oh, that would be delightful indeed! That would be as good as Paradise itself!' answered husband and wife together

    'Well, you may come up there if you think so. Only remember, in Paradise there was one tree that was not to be touched; so at my table there will be one dish not to be touched. You mustn't mind that,' said the count.

    'Oh, of course not,' replied the old peasant; 'that's just what I say: when Eve had all the fruits in the garden, what did she want with just that one that was forbidden? And if we, who are used to the scantiest victuals, are supplied with enough to live well, what does it matter to us whether there is an extra dish or not on the table?'

    'Very well reasoned,' said the count. 'We quite understand each other, then?'

    'Perfectly,' replied both husband and wife.

    'You come to live at my palace, and have everything you can want there, so long as you don't open one dish2 which there will be in the middle of the table. If you open that you go back to your former way of life.'

    'We quite understand,' answered the peasants.

    The count went in and called his servant, and told him to give the peasants an apartment to themselves, with everything they could want, and a sumptuous dinner, only in the middle of the table was to be an earthen dish into which he was to put a little bird alive, so that if one lifted the cover the bird would fly out. He was to stay in the room and wait on them, and report to him what happened.

    The old people sat down to dinner, and praised everything they saw, so delightful it all seemed.

    'Look! that's the dish we're not to touch,' said the wife.

    'No; better not look at it,' said the husband.

    'Pshaw! there's no danger of wanting to open it, when we have such a lot of dishes to eat our fill out of,' returned the wife.

    So they set to, and made such a repast as they had never dreamed of before. By degrees, however, as the novelty of the thing wore off, they grew more and more desirous for something newer and newer still. Though when they at first sat down it had seemed that two dishes would be ample to satisfy them, they had now had seven or eight and they were wishing there might be others coming. There is an end to all things human, and no other came; there only remained the earthen dish in the middle of the table.

    'We might just lift the lid up a little wee bit,' said the wife.

    'No; dont talk about it,' said the husband.

    The wife sat still for five minutes, and then she said: 'If one just lifted up one corner of the lid it could scarcely be called opening it, you know.'

    'Better leave it alone altogether, and not think about it at all,' said the husband.

    The wife sat still another five minutes, and then she said: 'If one peeped in just the least in the world it would not be any harm, surely; and I should so like to know what there can possibly be. Now, what can the count have put in that dish?'

    'I'm sure I can't guess in the least,' said the husband; 'and I must say I can't see what it can signify to him if we did look at it.'

    'No; that's what I think. And besides, how would he know if we peeped? it wouldn't hurt him,' said the wife.

    'No; as you say, one could just take a look,' said the husband.

    The wife didn't want more encouragement than that. But when she lifted one side of the lid the least mite she could see nothing. She opened it the least mite more and the bird flew out. The servant ran and told his master, and the count came down and drove them out, bidding them never complain of Adam and Eve any more.

    1 'L'uccelletto,' the little bird.'
    2 'Terrino,' a high earthen dish with a cover, probably the origin of our 'tureen,' almost the only kind of Italian dish that ever has a cover.'

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    Busk, R. H. Roman Legends: a Collection of the Fables and Folk-lore of Rome. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1877. 341-343

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