From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 50-54.50
IT is generally admitted that the seacoast from Reggio to Gaeta is the pleasantest part of Italy; that part of it near Salerno, which the inhabitants call the coast of Malfi, is full of little towns, gardens, rivulets, and abounds with rich people expert at merchandise. Amongst the rest there is a town called Ravello, in which were many wealthy persons, and one especially, called Landolfo Ruffolo, who, not content with his great store, but willing to make it double, was near losing all he had and his life also. This man, having settled his affairs, as other merchants are used to do, bought a large ship, and freighting it all on his own account, set sail for the island of Cyprus.
He there found many ships laden with the very same commodities as his own; consequently it was necessary for him not only to make a quick market of his goods, but also, if he meant to dispose of them at all, to sell them for a trifle, to his great loss and almost ruin. Grieving much thereat, and hardly knowing what to do, seeing that from great wealth he was reduced almost to poverty, he resolved either to die, or to repair his losses by plunder, rather than go back a poor man to the home from which he had come away so wealthy. Meeting with a purchaser for his great ship, with the money made of that and his merchandise he bought a light little vessel fit for a pirate, and armed and furnished it with everything suitable, intending to make other people’s goods his own, and especially those of the Turks. Fortune was abundantly more favorable to him in this way of life than she had been in trade; for, in the space of a year, he took so many Turkish prizes that he found he had not only got his own again, but made it more than double.51
Being now comforted for his former loss, and thinking he had enough, he resolved, for fear of a second disaster, to make the best of his way home with what he had acquired; and, as he was still fearful of trade, he had no mind to employ any more of his money that way, but set sail in the little vessel in whish he had gained it. He was now in the Archipelago, when at nightfall a sirocco, or great southeast wind, arose, directly contrary to their intended course, which made such a sea that the ship could not bear up against it, and they were glad to get into a bay under the cover of a little island, to wait for better weather.
Landolfo had just entered the harbor when two Genoese caracks came in from Constantinople to avoid the same storm; and, as soon as the men in them saw the small bark, they blocked her in, and on ascertaining that she belonged to an owner whom they knew to be very rich, as men addicted to plunder and rapine, they resolved to make her their prize. Landing some of their men, therefore, well armed with crossbows and other weapons, they posted them as to prevent any of the crew issuing out of the bark, unless at the cost of their lives; whilst the rest getting into the long-boat, and the sea being favorable, soon boarded Landolfo’s vessel, and took all his people and everything in it, without the loss of a man, leaving him nothing but a waistcoat; and after they had cleared out the vessel, they sank her. The day following, the wind having shifted, they made all sail for the west, and had a good voyage all that day; but night coming on, the wind became boisterous again, and the storm was such that the two caracks were parted, whilst that wherein poor Landolfo was, drove with the utmost violence upon the coast of Cephalonia, and was smashed like a glass flung against a wall. The sea being covered in a moment with all sorts of merchandise, and with chests, tables, and fragments of the wreck, all those of the crew who could swim strove, in spite of the darkness and the fury of the waves, to lay hold of such things as chanced to float near them.
Amongst these was the unfortunate Landolfo, who, though 52 he had wished for death a thousand times the day before, rather than return home a beggar, was terrified now that he saw death at hand, and got hold of a plank, like the rest, in hopes that if his fate were delayed, God would send him some means for his escape. Bestriding the plank as well as he could, and driven to and fro by the wind, he supported himself till daylight; and then looking around him he could see nothing but clouds and water, and a chest driving towards him, to his great alarm, for sometimes it came so near that he was afraid it would dash against him, and then he would endeavor, with the little strength he had left, to put it by with his hand; at length a great blast of wind sent it with such violence against the plank on which he floated, as to overset it, and plunge him over head and ears into the water. He rose again, however, and swimming with the strength of fear rather than with his own, he found himself at such a distance from the plank that he was afraid he could not recover it. Getting therefore to the chest, which was nearer, he laid his breast upon it as well as he could, and used his arms for paddles. In this manner was he carried up and down, with nothing to eat, but drinking more than he desired, neither knowing where he was, nor seeing anything but water for a day and a night.
The next morning (whether it was through God or the force of the winds) Landolfo, who was well-nigh become a sponge, grappling the chest with both arms, with the usual tenacity of drowning men, drew near to the island of Corfu, at a spot where, by good fortune, a poor woman was scouring her dishes with salt water and sand. When she saw him approach, and could discover in him nothing in the shape of man, she screamed, and started back in terror. He was too exhausted to be able to speak, and scarcely could he see much; but as the waves carried him towards the shore, the woman could distinguish the shape of the chest. Looking more narrowly, she saw an arm laid over it, and then a face, and knew at once what was the matter. Moved by compassion, she stepped a little 53 way into the sea, which was now calm, and seizing the half-drowned wretch by the hair of his head, drew both him and the chest to land, where, with much trouble, she unfolded his arms from the chest, which she set upon the head of her daughter, who was with her. She herself carried Landolfo like a little child to the town, put him on a stove, and chafed and washed him with warm water, by which means the vital warmth began to return, and his strength partially revived. In due time she took him from the stove, comforted him with wine and good cordials, and kept him some days till he knew where he was; she then restored him his chest, and told him he might now provide for his departure.
He had forgotten all about the chest, but took it from the hands of the woman, supposing that, small as its worth might be, it might serve for his support for a short time. Finding it very light, he was somewhat disheartened; however, whilst the good woman was out of the way, he broke it open, and found a great quantity of precious stones, some of which were polished and set. Having some judgment in such matters, and seeing that these gems were of immense value, he was now thoroughly comforted, and praised God for not having yet forsaken him. However, as he had been twice buffeted by fortune already, and was fearful of a third mishap, he judged that great caution was requisite to bring these things safe home; he wrapped them up, therefore, in old rags, as well as he could, and told the woman that he had no further use for the chest, but that she might keep it if she would give him a sack in its stead, which, she was very glad to do.
Returning her a thousand thanks, he departed with his sack over his shoulder, and passed over in a bark to Brindisi, and thence to Trani, where he met with merchants of his own town, who clothed him out of charity, after he had told them all that had befallen him, only omitting all mention of the cask of jewels. They also lent him a horse, and sent company with him to Ravello, whither he said he wished to return. Arriving there in safety, he gave 54 thanks to God; and now he inquired more narrowly into this sack than he had done before, and found so many valuable jewels, that, rating them at the lowest prices, he was twice as rich as when he left home. Finding means, therefore, to dispose of them, he sent a sum of money to the woman at Corfu, who had taken him out of the sea, and treated him so kindly; and also to the merchants of Trani for clothing him; the remainder he kept, without having any more mind to trade, and lived handsomely upon it the rest of his life.