The Fourth Story

Landolfo Ruffolo, Grown Poor, Turneth Corsair And Being Taken By The Genoese, Is Wrecked At Sea, But Saveth Himself Upon A Coffer Full Of Jewels Of Price And Being Entertained In Corfu By A Woman, Returneth Home Rich

Lauretta, who sat next Pampinea, seeing her come to the glorious ending of her story, began, without awaiting more, to speak on this wise: "Most gracious ladies, there can, to my judgment, be seen no greater feat of fortune than when we behold one raised from the lowest misery to royal estate, even as Pampinea's story hath shown it to have betided her Alessandro. And for that from this time forth whosoever relateth of the appointed matter must of necessity speak within these limits,[91] I shall think no shame to tell a story, which, albeit it compriseth in itself yet greater distresses hath not withal so splendid an issue. I know well, indeed, that, having regard unto that, my story will be hearkened with less diligence; but, as I can no otherwise, I shall be excused.

The sea-coast from Reggio to Gaeta is commonly believed to be well nigh the most delightful part of Italy, and therein, pretty near Salerno, is a hillside overlooking the sea, which the countryfolk call Amalfi Side, full of little towns and gardens and springs and of men as rich and stirring in the matter of trade as any in the world. Among the said cities is one called Ravello and therein, albeit nowadays there are rich men there, there was aforetime one, Landolfo Ruffolo by name, who was exceeding rich and who, his wealth sufficing him not, came nigh, in seeking to double it, to lose it all and himself withal. This man, then, having, after the usance of merchants, laid his plans, bought a great ship and freighting it all of his own monies with divers merchandise, repaired therewith to Cyprus. There he found sundry other ships come with the same kind and quality of merchandise as he had brought, by reason of which not only was he constrained to make great good cheap of his own venture, but it behoved him, an he would dispose of his goods, well nigh to throw them away, whereby he was brought near unto ruin.

Sore chagrined at this mischance and knowing not what to do, seeing himself thus from a very rich man in brief space grown in a manner poor, he determined either to die or repair his losses by pillage, so he might not return thither poor, whence he had departed rich. Accordingly, having found a purchaser for his great ship, with the price thereof and that which he had gotten of his wares, he bought a little vessel, light and apt for cruising and arming and garnishing it excellent well with everything needful unto such a service, addressed himself to make his purchase of other men's goods and especially of those of the Turks. In this trade fortune was far kinder to him than she had been in that of a merchant, for that, in some year's space, he plundered and took so many Turkish vessels that he found he had not only gotten him his own again that he had lost in trade, but had more than doubled his former substance. Whereupon, schooled by the chagrin of his former loss and deeming he had enough, he persuaded himself, rather than risk a second mischance, to rest content with that which he had, without seeking more. Accordingly he resolved to return therewith to his own country and being fearful of trade, concerned not himself to employ his money otherwise, but, thrusting his oars into the water, set out homeward in that same little vessel wherewith he had gained it.

He had already reached the Archipelago when there arose one evening a violent south-east wind, which was not only contrary to his course, but raised so great a sea that his little vessel could not endure it; wherefore he took refuge in a bight of the sea, made by a little island, and there abode sheltered from the wind and purposing there to await better weather. He had not lain there long when two great Genoese carracks, coming from Constantinople, made their way with great difficulty into the little harbour, to avoid that from which himself had fled. The newcomers espied the little ship and hearing that it pertained to Landolfo, whom they already knew by report to be very rich, blocked against it the way by which it might depart and addressed themselves, like men by nature rapacious and greedy of gain,[92] to make prize of it. Accordingly, they landed part of their men well harnessed and armed with crossbows and posted them on such wise that none might come down from the bark, an he would not be shot; whilst the rest, warping themselves in with small boats and aided by the current, laid Landolfo's little ship aboard and took it out of hand, crew and all, without missing a man. Landolfo they carried aboard one of the carracks, leaving him but a sorry doublet; then, taking everything out of the ship, they scuttled her.

On the morrow, the wind having shifted, the carracks made sail westward and fared on their voyage prosperously all that day; but towards evening there arose a tempestuous wind which made the waves run mountains high and parted the two carracks one from the other. Moreover, from stress of wind it befell that that wherein was the wretched and unfortunate Landolfo smote with great violence upon a shoal over against the island of Cephalonia and parting amidships, broke all in sunder no otherwise than a glass dashed against a wall. The sea was in a moment all full of bales of merchandise and chests and planks, that floated on the surface, as is won't to happen in such cases, and the poor wretches on board, swimming, those who knew how, albeit it was a very dark night and the sea was exceeding great and swollen, fell to laying hold of such things as came within their reach. Among the rest the unfortunate Landolfo, albeit many a time that day he had called for death, (choosing rather to die than return home poor as he found himself,) seeing it near at hand, was fearful thereof and like the others, laid hold of a plank that came to his hand, so haply, an he put off drowning awhile, God might send him some means of escape.

Bestriding this, he kept himself afloat as best he might, driven hither and thither of the sea and the wind, till daylight, when he looked about him and saw nothing but clouds and sea and a chest floating on the waves, which bytimes, to his sore affright, drew nigh unto him, for that he feared lest peradventure it should dash against him on such wise as to do him a mischief; wherefore, as often as it came near him, he put it away from him as best he might with his hand, albeit he had little strength thereof. But presently there issued a sudden flaw of wind out of the air and falling on the sea, smote upon the chest and drove it with such violence against Landolfo's plank that the latter was overset and he himself perforce went under water. However, he struck out and rising to the surface, aided more by fear than by strength, saw the plank far removed from him, wherefore, fearing he might be unable to reach it again, he made for the chest, which was pretty near him, and laying himself flat with his breast on the lid thereof, guided it with his arms as best he might.[93]

On this wise, tossed about by the sea now hither and now thither, without eating, as one indeed who had not the wherewithal, but drinking more than he could have wished, he abode all that day and the ensuing night, unknowing where he was and descrying nought but sea; but, on the following day, whether it was God's pleasure or stress of wind that wrought it, he came, grown well nigh a sponge and clinging fast with both hands to the marges of the chest, even as we see those do who are like to drown, to the coast of the island of Corfu, where a poor woman chanced to be scouring her pots and pans and making them bright with sand and salt water. Seeing Landolfo draw near and discerning in him no [human] shape, she drew back, affrighted and crying out. He could not speak and scarce saw, wherefore he said nothing; but presently, the sea carrying him landward, the woman descried the shape of the chest and looking straitlier, perceived first the arms outspread upon it and then the face and guessed it for that which it was.

Accordingly, moved with compassion, she entered somedele into the sea, which was now calm, and seizing Landolfo by the hair, dragged him ashore, chest and all. There having with difficulty unclasped his hands from the chest, she set the latter on the head of a young daughter of hers, who was with her, and carried him off, as he were a little child, to her hut, where she put him in a bagnio and so chafed and bathed him with warm water that the strayed heat returned to him, together with somewhat of his lost strength. Then, taking him up out of the bath, whenas it seemed good to her, she comforted him with somewhat of good wine and confections and tended him some days, as best she might, till he had recovered his strength and knew where he was, when she judged it time to restore him his chest, which she had kept safe for him, and to tell him that he might now prosecute his fortune.

Landolfo, who had no recollection of the chest, yet took it, when the good woman presented it to him, thinking it could not be so little worth but that it might defray his expenses for some days, but, finding it very light, was sore abated of his hopes. Nevertheless, what while his hostess was abroad, he broke it open, to see what it contained, and found therein store of precious stones, both set and unset. He had some knowledge of these matters and seeing them, knew them to be of great value; wherefore he praised God, who had not yet forsaken him, and was altogether comforted. However, as one who had in brief space been twice cruelly baffled by fortune, fearing a third misadventure, he bethought himself that it behoved him use great wariness and he would bring those things home; wherefore, wrapping them, as best he might, in some rags, he told the good woman that he had no more occasion for the chest, but that, an it pleased her, she should give him a bag and take the chest herself. This she willingly did and he, having rendered her the best thanks in his power for the kindness received from her, shouldered his bag and going aboard a bark, passed over to Brindisi and thence made his way, along the coast, to Trani.

Here he found certain townsmen of his, who were drapers and clad him for the love of God,[94] after he had related to them all his adventures, except that of the chest; nay more, they lent him a horse and sent him, under escort, to Ravello, whither he said he would fain return. There, deeming himself in safety and thanking God who had conducted him thither, he opened his bag and examining everything more diligently than he had yet done, found he had so many and such stones that, supposing he sold them at a fair price or even less, he was twice as rich again as when he departed thence. Then, finding means to dispose of his jewels, he sent a good sum of money to Corfu to the good woman who had brought him forth of the sea, in requital of the service received, and the like to Trani to those who had reclothed him. The rest he kept for himself and lived in honour and worship to the end of his days, without seeking to trade any more."

Footnotes

[91] i.e. cannot hope to tell a story presenting more extraordinary shifts from one to the other extreme of human fortune than that of Pampinea.

[92] The Genoese have the reputation in Italy of being thieves by nature.

[93] It seems doubtful whether la reggeva diritta should not rather be rendered "kept it upright." Boccaccio has a knack, very trying to the translator, of constantly using words in an obscure or strained sense.

[94] i.e. for nothing.
Correct  |  Mail  |  Print  |  Vote

Decameron (Day The Fifteenth) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Fifteenth) Lyrics