Rifante Was a Sailor…

by Alfonso D. Rodríguez Castelao (1886-1950).
From Things.
Translated by David Clark.

Rifante was a sailor who made a lot of money which he kept in his pocket like water in a sieve. On land Rifante was nobody at all, but as soon as he set foot on his boat he was turned into a sage. He had many children and a lot of grandchildren and a lot of money to spend because the sea had enough for everybody.

Nobody denied that he was a great skipper, or that he was a good Christian, but at times he seemed to have made a deal with the devil. Other seamen would lay out their nets and catch nothing, while Rifante would arrive and fill his up with fish.

Rifante was also very generous himself. Once when he was on the point of drowning he made an offering to Our Lady and bought an altar cloth which cost six thousand reals, as well as paying for a mass, music,, fireworks, new clothes and enough food to fee a regiment.

Rifante had faith in his lucky star. One time he was ill and his eldest son took over as skipper. When he came back ashore the son went up to his father’s bedside and trembling with fear told his father how the nets had been tangled up in some rocks. Rifante just said “Don’t be scared, Ramón; the sea takes away, but the sea will provide for more.” Then he went silent and turned towards the wall.

Rifante really had a lot of confidence in the sea!

Such generosity had a limit though, and things got bad and hunger came in through many doors. That’s what happened when the sardine fishing boats ruined the traditional way of fishing.

Rifante appeared at our house one day to talk to my father, who had been his friend since childhood and to whom he still turned for advice.

— Do you know what? — he said — We are hungry, famished in my house. You well know I ever asked anything from anybody, but now I’ve had to come to ask you to lend me a thousand reals. I want to put a new balcony up in my house, you know, so that people will see me up working on it and that way they won’t think that my family has nothing to eat.

My father, who had seen a lot of the world, told him that hunger could be cured with bread, bu Rifante went tense and spoke again:

— Shame is worse than hunger.

My father was sure he wouldn’t be able to convince on land a man who was only intelligent at sea, opened a drawer and took out a thousand reals. Rifante, however, stopped him:

— No, don’t give them to me now. I’ll come and get them.

That same evening the noise of people was heard outside my house. It was Rifante, who had come with his wife and children to get the thousand reals.

Rifante’s whole tribe packed the house, and it was frightening to think of them all surrounding their father begging him for bread.

Rifante, cap pulled down over his ears, asked my father for the money and, once it was in his possession, solemnly doffed his cap and said:

— Wife and children: If I die, you know that fifty pesos are owed to this gentleman.

And without another word he put his cap back on and led them all downstairs and out of the door.

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