From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 300-304.300
IN the days when the famous master Onofrio de Jordano undertook the task of the marvelous building of the Castello Novo, the greater part of the master-builders and workmen of La Cava betook themselves to Naples to work at the building aforesaid, and amongst the others there were two young fellows from the hamlet of Priato, who, attracted no less by their anxiety to see Naples (where they had never been hitherto) than by the desire to earn money, set out on their way on a certain Sunday morning in the wake of one of the master-builders mentioned before. And it happened that as they went thus on their way in the company of a number of other men of La Cava, that these two young fellows, who were not used to the fatigue of a long march, were left some distance behind the others, following the track of those who were in advance.
For the reason that they were ignorant of the way, they wearied themselves so greatly that it was very late when they arrived at last at Torre del Greco, and there one of them, who was very much more awearied than his comrade, proposed that he should tarry for the night. Whereupon the other took heart, and, thinking that he might perchance be able to overtake his companions, took to the road again and set out walking with the utmost speed he could put forth, but in the end his strength did not prevail to take him farther than a certain point between Torre del Greco and Naples before he was overtaken by the darkness of the night.
By this time he began to regret mightily that he had not remained with his companion, but he still kept walking on, and, without knowing where he was, arrived at the 301 Dritto of the Ponte Ricciardo. When he caught sight of the walls and the doors thereof he imagined forthwith that it must be a house of entertainment; so, overcome with weariness and desiring to take shelter from a fine rain which was falling at the time, he drew near to it and began to knock at the door with a stone. After having knocked for some time without bringing anyone to open to him, he straightway made a virtue of necessity, and stretched himself at full length on the ground, and found a resting-place for his head against the door, having made up his mind to remain there until the morning, when his comrade would pass thereby. Having thus settled himself, a light sleep soon came over him.
Now it chanced that on that self-same morning there had likewise set forth from Amalfi a certain poor little tailor, carrying on his shoulders a sackful of doublets which he had made and was minded to sell on the following morning in the market of Naples; and he, like the young man of La Cava, had also been overtaken by fatigue and by nightfall when he had traveled as far as Torre del Greco, and had tarried there to rest over the night, having purposed in his mind to set forth betimes in the morning, so as to arrive at the place of sale at an hour which might let him have a good chance to dispose of his poor wares at a profit.
As luck would have it, he woke from sleep when it was but little past midnight, and, deceived by the exceeding brightness of the light of the moon, he thought it must be near daybreak, and at once set out on his journey. He walked on and on without halting and without marking any sign of the coming of the dawn, and at last began to traverse the gravel pits which lie just beyond the monastery of the Orti, and by the time he had gone so far he plainly heard the friars singing their matins, and for this reason he became aware that a good portion of the night had yet to elapse. At this moment by chance there flashed across his brain the thought of the malefactors who had been hanged upon the Ponte Ricciardo, and because he came from Amalfi, where men are known to be timorous 302 by nature and faint-hearted, he began to be mightily afraid, and picking his way with loitering steps he did not dare to go far forward, and at the same time had a horrible dread of turning back on his path.
And being thus bewildered and filled with fear (for it seemed to him with ever step he went that one or other of the hanged corpses must be on his traces), he came close to the spot the thought of which had smitten him with such dire terror. Then, when he had come right face to face with the gallows, and marked that not one of the criminals hanging thereon stirred at all; it seemed to him that he had by this time left behind him the most pressing part of the danger; wherefore, to rouse up some of the bravery which was within his breast, he cried:
“Aha, master gallows-bird! will you go with me to Naples?”
The young man from La Cava, who had slept but little during the night and very badly, when he at first heard the sound of the approaching footsteps, though that they must be those of his companion, and then when he heard a voice inviting him to go on to Naples he felt quite certain that it must be as he had imagined, and promptly made answer to the invitation:
“Here I am; I will soon be with you.”
When the Amalfitan heard this answer given to his speech he became straightway possessed with the belief that it was the corpse of the man hanging on the gallows which had spoken, and on this account he fell into such a grewsome fit of terror that he ran no light risk of falling down dead on the spot. However, when he turned round and looked back and saw that a certain one was coming towards him, it did not appear to him that the time was a meet one fro halting; wherefore, having flung away the pack which he was carrying, he began to flee at the top of his speed towards La Maddelena, crying out without ceasing in a loud voice as he went:
The man of La Cava, when he heard these cries and 302 marked how rapidly the other was fleeing, at once deemed that he must be attacked by some others; so he straightway followed him as quickly as he could go, also shouting at the top of his voice and saying:
“Here I am; I am coming to you. Wait for me, and do not be afraid.”
These words only served to strike still greater terror into the heart of the fugitive. After following him some distance the La Cavan saw lying upon the ground the pack of wares which the other had thrown away, whereupon he forthwith picked up the same. When he had estimated the value of the excellent goods therein, knowing at the same time that his companion had no such pack in his possession, he was well assured that the man who had fled at his approach could not possibly be his friend; wherefore, troubling himself no farther about the fellow, he made his way back to the spot where he had spent the night in no very comfortable fashion, bearing with him the booty he had captured. Then he stretched himself out once more to rest, and waited there so that at the coming of the day he might go on his way to Naples, either in the company of his friend or of some other.
In the meantime the Amalfitan, uttering the most horrible cries and sobbings, arrived at the Taverne del Ponte, and when he had come opposite to the same the collectors of the cities dues demanded to know of him what might be the reason of the clamor he was making, and to them he answered and affirmed it to be the truth that he had just seen the corpse of a man who had been hanged separate himself from the gallows and give chase to him, pursuing him as far as the brink of the river. To this tale they all of them gave full belief, and, terrified no less than the fellow himself, they took hold of him and drew him into the house. Then, having carefully closed and locked all the doors and duly signed themselves with the sign of the cross, they did not issue forth again until it was broad daylight.
Now the other man from La Cava, who had remained 304 behind for the night at La Torre, together with another wayfarer, also a townsman of the aforesaid place, arrived at the Dritto by the Ponte Ricciardo when the day had broken and it was quite light. The first man, who was still tarrying there, when he heard the sound of their voices knew who they were, and having gone to meet them he told them the whole story of his adventure. Whereupon his companion, who was well versed in all the ways of the country round about, perceived forthwith how the affair might have come to ass, and, so as not to let slip the booty which was inside the sack, they determined amongst themselves to go back straightway to their homes by the way of Somma. This plan they duly carried out, and, when they had divided the plunder amongst themselves, they set out once more for Naples after a little time.
In the course of a few days the story of what had happened was spread by report through all the country, and it was told as a sure and certain fact how the corpses of the men who had been hanged were wont to give chase to any solitary wayfarer who might chance to cross the Ponte Ricciardo, each one who repeated the tale compounding many and divers fresh fables thereanent. By reason of this it came to pass that there was to be found no peasant who would go by that spot before daylight without first having signed both his beast and himself with the sign of the cross. Thus, with this and with divers other precautions the common people hereafter took their way through this perilous region.
* Elf.Ed. — For more stories on Elfinspell by Masuccio, translated by Thomas Roscoe, go here, or some others by an anonymous translator, go here.