"The Treasure," he said, "is worth millions; but let us have dinner. You are not going to be served in silver plates and dishes, but in real Raphael mosaic."
"My dear commissary, your magnificence astonishes me; mosaic is, indeed, by far superior to silver plate, although an ignorant fool would only consider it ugly earthen ware."
The compliment delighted him.
After dinner, he spoke as follows:
"A man in very good circumstances, residing in the Papal States, and owner of the country house in which he lives with all his family, is certain that there is a treasure in his cellar. He has written to my son, declaring himself ready to undertake all expenses necessary to possess himself of that treasure, if we could procure a magician powerful enough to unearth it."
The son then took a letter out of his pocket, read me some passages, and begged me to excuse him if, in consequence of his having pledged himself to keep the secret, he could not communicate all the contents of the letter; but I had, unperceived by him, read the word Cesena, the name of the village, and that was enough for me.
"Therefore all that is necessary is to give me the possibility of purchasing the sheath on credit, for I have no ready cash at present. You need not be afraid of endorsing my letters of exchange, and if you should know the magician you might go halves with him."
"The magician is ready; it is I, but unless you give me five hundred sequins cash down we cannot agree."
"I have no money."
"Then sell me the knife:"
"You are wrong, for now that I have seen it I can easily take it from you. But I am honest enough not to wish to play such a trick upon you."
"You could take my knife from me? I should like to be convinced of that, but I do not believe it."
"You do not? Very well, to-morrow the knife will be in my possession, but when it is once in my hands you need not hope to see it again. A spirit which is under my orders will bring it to me at midnight, and the same spirit will tell me where the treasure is buried:"
"Let the spirit tell you that, and I shall be convinced."
"Give me a pen, ink and paper."
I asked a question from my oracle, and the answer I had was that the treasure was to be found not far from the Rubicon.
"That is," I said, "a torrent which was once a river:"
They consulted a dictionary, and found that the Rubicon flowed through Cesena. They were amazed, and, as I wished them to have full scope for wrong reasoning, I left them.
I had taken a fancy, not to purloin five hundred sequins from those poor fools, but to go and unearth the amount at their expense in the house of another fool, and to laugh at them all into the bargain. I longed to play the part of a magician. With that idea, when I left the house of the ridiculous antiquarian, I proceeded to the public library, where, with the assistance of a dictionary, I wrote the following specimen of facetious erudition:
"The treasure is buried in the earth at a depth of seventeen and a half fathoms, and has been there for six centuries. Its value amounts to two millions of sequins, enclosed in a casket, the same which was taken by Godfrey de Bouillon from Mathilda, Countess of Tuscany, in the year 1081, when he endeavoured to assist Henry IV, against that princess. He buried the box himself in the very spot where it now is, before he went to lay siege to Jerusalem. Gregory VII, who was a great magician, having been informed of the place where it had been hidden, had resolved on getting possession of it himself, but death prevented him from carrying out his intentions. After the death of the Countess Mathilda, in the year 1116, the genius presiding over all hidden treasures appointed seven spirits to guard the box. During a night with a full moon, a learned magician can raise the treasure to the surface of the earth by placing himself in the middle of the magical ring called maximus:"
I expected to see the father and son, and they came early in the morning. After some rambling conversation, I gave them what I had composed at the library, namely, the history of the treasure taken from the Countess Mathilda.
I told them that I had made up my mind to recover the treasure, and I promised them the fourth part of it, provided they would purchase the sheath; I concluded by threatening again to possess myself of their knife.
"I cannot decide," said the commissary, "before I have seen the sheath."
"I pledge my word to shew it to you to-morrow," I answered.
We parted company, highly pleased with each other.
In order to manufacture a sheath, such as the wonderful knife required, it was necessary to combine the most whimsical idea with the oddest shape. I recollected very well the form of the blade, and, as I was revolving in my mind the best way to produce something very extravagant but well adapted to the purpose I had in view, I spied in the yard of the hotel an old piece of leather, the remnant of what had been a fine gentleman's boot; it was exactly what I wanted.
I took that old sole, boiled it, and made in it a slit in which I was certain that the knife would go easily. Then I pared it carefully on all sides to prevent the possibility of its former use being found out; I rubbed it with pumice stone, sand, and ochre, and finally I succeeded in imparting to my production such a queer, old-fashioned shape that I could not help laughing in looking at my work.