OF THE MERCHANTS SCEVA AND OLLO

Although both boys of low origin, by hard work at a young age they acquired a small capital and went into business together. At first they were hawkers of small commodities to the local peasants and, by their continual success and hard work, were able to buy larger things. From packmen, carrying their goods on their backs, they rose to be carriers with donkeys and then carts and eventually masters of many waggoners. Throughout this time they had remained trusting partners but, with the growth of trade, the love of money became greater than their love of each other and the partnership now became irksome to them. So they agreed to separate, dividing their wealth in two, cast lots as to who should get which lot and then exchanged farewells and parted. Sceva, a man of a generous nature, begged Ollo to keep in touch. Sceva went to Ravenna. He did not marry but concentrated on building up his business. Ollo went to Pavia, where he married a beautiful woman of the town by the name of Biblis. Gradually the messengers passing between the two became fewer and fewer until they ceased altogether. Saddened by this state of affairs, Sceva determined to visit Ollo and patch up their friendship. He had nearly reached the outskirts of Pavia when he met Ollo hurrying to a distant fair. They were both delighted with the chance encounter and exchanged hugs but Ollo excused himself from returning home with his friend because of the importance of his business. “Normally I would have happily put you up but at the moment all my spare rooms are full of stuff waiting to be sold. Sorry, can’t talk more at the moment.” With that he hurried away. Sceva was rather upset by such treatment but, having come this far, was loath just to turn around and go home. He carried on a little further along the road and met a shepherd whom he engaged in conversation and found that he was one of many who worked on Ollo’s estate. With the help of a few coins he was able to discover all the secrets of the house and the passwords that would enable him to gain admission. So he arrived at the house and explained that he was an old friend of Ollo’s, that they had met on the way and Ollo had told him all his passwords so that he could make himself at home. Ollo’s wife, although she thought such generosity was a little out of keeping with her husband’s character, was not otherwise suspicious of her husband’s old friend and allowed him free rein. The first thing Sceva did was to send the servants out and buy the makings of a great feast, using his own money. Then he invited all the neighbours. They had a fine time, especially because Ollo had been previously noted for being quite tight with his money and they had never seen anything like this. The next day he did the same thing, with even greater elaboration and Ollo’s wife and neighbours all began to think that it would be no bad thing if Ollo’s absence was more permanent if it meant feasting like this. This went on for many days and the wonderment spread far and wide, even as far as Ollo at the fair. When he heard of the reputation that Sceva had already built up and the contrast that was widely being made with his own, he was stupefied and angry to be shown up like this and decided that he would not return home until Sceva was out of the way. Riven with jealousy, he became careless over his financial dealings and his mind was also consumed with worry about the chastity of his wife, Biblis. His concerns were justified. Biblis had never known generosity like Sceva’s. She could also not help noticing that he was a very pleasing figure of a man and she had been lonely in her bed even before Ollo had left on his business trip. The inevitable happened. Afterwards he, as if making quiet pillow talk, suggested they play a game on Ollo and, when he returned, she refuse to admit him and even pretend that she did not recognise him. In the morning he went around all the neighbours and suggested they do the same thing. They, never having had a great regard for him, were quite happy to do so. He even went to the prince of the city and the magistrates and brought them into the plan by the usual method that had worked so well with the shepherd, for it is not the case that the rich are above bribery, merely that they have a higher price. Meanwhile Ollo kept away, waiting for news of Sceva’s departure. At last he decided that he could not wait any longer and made his way back home. Arriving just before dawn, he rode up to the gate and knocked at the door and was annoyed that no one came to instantly open it. Losing his temper he set to constantly banging and calling out to Nicholas the porter, who eventually shuffled to the other side of the door and opened the little hatch. “Shut your noise! Who are you? Why are you making all this fuss?” “Who do you think I am you fool!” “Well, if you do not know, how am I expected to?” “I know you. You are Nicholas, my servant.” “Then I know you are an idiot.” “Open my gate at once!” “How can I do that? I have no idea where your gate is. Doesn’t that prove you are mad? Now either hold your tongue or I will come out there and silence it with this stick.” “You wicked servant! Wasn’t it me, Ollo, who made you guardian of this yard?” “You are a scoundrel and a buffoon, for Ollo is at this moment indoors and in bed with my lady.” “With what lady you devil?” “Devil yourself! My lady Biblis.” At this news Ollo fell off his horse and fell senseless on the ground. Hearing the crash Nicholas opened the gate and came out to see what was going on, by which time Ollo had roused himself and, seeing the old man, cried out to him, “Nicholas, for pity’s sake, come to your senses and look at me and see that I am your master and the husband of Biblis.” “I could see you well enough through my hatch. You may be an Ollo for all I know but not every Ollo is Biblis’s husband.” “I am the very same Ollo who took her to wife in your very presence and that of her parents, Mela and Bala.” “Well, I never saw a drunken man or a madman with such a good memory, for those are their names just as my name is indeed Nicholas. Perhaps you’ve heard of our maid Christina too?” “I’ve no need to have heard of her. I board and lodge her as I do the whole damn lot of you. I built this house and everything in it is mine.” “Christina! Christina! Come here and see a madman of the unluckiest kind, who thinks he owns everything, but a lucky madness too because it makes him a king. Isn’t he the man they took to the galleys for murder but escaped and claimed sanctuary?” Christina arrived and took a good look. “Well, it may be him, but we should not be hard on him. One that’s under the power of madness, he’s allowed to do anything.” Ollo was amazed at the impertinence of his servants. “They get it from Sceva.” he thought. “They must have been paid by him to repudiate me. When he has gorged on all my luxuries and made off they will be falling at my feet and begging my forgiveness. But Ollo will show them the rough side of his tooth.” “Mumble away to yourself you brainless thing,” said Nicholas. “If you don’t want a beating be off sharp.” Christina helped Ollo get to his feet. “If you don’t believe us, then go to our neighbours and see what they say.” Ollo did indeed go to his neighbours and told them of his injuries but they unanimously declared that they had never seen him before and laughed him to scorn. When children started throwing stones at him he went to the magistrates but was rebuffed even by them. By now he was even starting to doubt himself. Then, one day, he saw another of his servants, Baratus, in the street and went up to him. By now Ollo was such a pitiable object that Baratus pretended to confess he knew the truth of what he was saying. “But, master, you were always so harsh with us that we were wary of telling you the truth. The home and the Biblis you search for is actually in Ravenna. Let us go there together.” So the two left Pavia but Baratus, on the first night, deserted him. It was simply another trick. Ollo went mad with the vexation and started attacking the local shepherds that he employed and breaking down their folds, so that Sceva himself was sent for. When Ollo saw him he was filled with remorse. “I badly treated you my friend, I see that, but what can be done now to repair this situation?” “I think the jest has gone too far that either of us can pretend it never happened. When we first parted we divided our wealth into lots and each took a share. Let us do so again but now each take the other’s share. I will give you papers to say I have sold everything to you so you can resume my life in Ravenna and I will continue with your life in Pavia.” Ollo could see no alternative. In truth, when he came to Ravenna and saw the great wealth the Sceva had amassed he privately thought he had got the better of the deal, but Sceva was quite content with Biblis and the community of Pavia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.