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4. The Man Who Came Out Only at Night

Long ago there lived a poor fisherman with three marriageable daughters. A certain young man asked for the hand of one of them, but people were wary of him since he came out only at night. The oldest daughter and then the middle daughter both said no to him, but the third girl said yes. The wedding was celebrated at night, and as soon as the couple was alone, the bridegroom announced to his bride: "I must tell you a secret: I am under an evil spell and doomed to be a tortoise by day and a man at night. There's only one way to break the spell: I must leave my wife right after the wedding and travel around the world, at night as a man and by day as a tortoise. If I come back and find that my wife has remained loyal to me all along and endured every hardship for my sake, I'll become a man again for good."

"I am willing," said the bride.

The bridegroom slipped a diamond ring on her finger. "If you use it to a good end, this ring will help you in whatever situation you find yourself."

Day had dawned, and the bridegroom turned into a tortoise and crawled off to begin his journey around the world.

The bride went about the city in search of work. Along the way, she came across a child crying and said to his mother, "Let me hold him in my arms and calm him."

"You'd be the first person to do that," answered the mother. "He's been crying all day long."

"By the power of the diamond," whispered the bride, "may the child laugh and dance and frolic!" At that, the child started laughing, dancing, and frolicking.

Next, the bride entered a bakery and said to the woman who owned it, "You'll have no regrets if you hire me to work for you." The owner hired her, and she began making bread, saying under her breath, "By the power of the diamond, let the whole town buy bread at this bakery as long as I work here!" From then on, people poured in and out with no sign of a letup. Among the customers were three young men who saw the bride and fell in love with her.

"If you let me spend a night with you," one of them said to her, "I'll give you a thousand francs."

"I'll give you two thousand," said another.

"And I'll make it three thousand," said the third.

She collected the three thousand francs from the third man and smuggled him into the bakery that very night.

"I'll be with you in a minute," she told him, "after I've put the yeast into the flour. While you're waiting, would you please knead the dough a little bit for me?"

The man began kneading, and kneaded and kneaded and kneaded. By the power of the diamond, he couldn't for the life of him take his hands out of the dough, and therefore went on kneading till daylight.

"So you finally finished!" she said to him. "You really took your time!"

And she sent him packing.

Then she said yes to the man with the two thousand francs, brought him in as soon as it grew dark, and told him to blow on the fire a moment so that it wouldn't go out. He blew and blew and blew. By the power of the diamond, he had to keep right on blowing up to the next morning, with his face bulging like a wineskin.

"What a way to behave!" she said to him in the morning. "You come to see me, but spend the night blowing on the fire!"

And she sent him packing.

The next night she brought in the man with the thousand francs. "I have to add the yeast," she told him. "While I'm doing that, go shut the door."

The man shut the door, which by the power of the diamond came open again right away. All night long he closed it only to see it immediately reopen, and in no time the sun was up.

"Did you finally close this door? Well, you may now open it again and get out."

Seething with rage, the three men denounced her to the authorities. In that day and time there were, in addition to policemen, women officers who were called whenever a woman was to be brought into custody. So four women officers went to apprehend the bride.

"By the power of the diamond," said the bride, "let these women box one another's ears until tomorrow morning."

The four women officers began boxing one another's ears so hard that their heads swelled up like pumpkins, and they still went on striking each other for all they were worth.

When the women officers failed to return with the culprit, four male officers were sent out to look for them. The bride saw them coming and said, "By the power of the diamond, let those men play leapfrog." One of the male officers dropped down at once on all fours; a second one moved up, put his hands on the officer's back, and leaped over him, with the third and fourth following in his tracks. Thus began a game of leapfrog.

Right at that point, a tortoise came crawling into view. It was the husband returning from his trip around the world. He saw his wife, and behold! He was again a handsome young man, and a handsome young man he remained, by his wife's side, up to a ripe old age.

(Riviera ligure di ponente)


"The Man Who Came Out Only at Night" (L'uomo che usciva solo di notte) from Andrews, 14 and 21, Menton, told by Iren Gena and Irene Panduro.

A tale full of oddities, the most striking of which is that of women constables, given as a historical fact regarding a particular police system. In Andrews's first variant, the bridegroom turns into a toad.

Copyright: Italian Folktales Selected and Retold by Italo Calvino,
translated by George Martin,
Pantheon Books, New York 1980