My Journey to Cesena in Search of Treasure--I Take Up My Quarters in Franzia's House--His Daughter Javotte
The opera was nearly over when I was accosted by a young man who, abruptly, and without any introduction, told me that as a stranger-- I had been very wrong in spending two months in Mantua without paying a visit to the natural history collection belonging to his father, Don Antonio Capitani, commissary and prebendal president.
"Sir," I answered, "I have been guilty only through ignorance, and if you would be so good as to call for me at my hotel to-morrow morning, before the evening I shall have atoned for my error, and you will no longer have the right to address me the same reproach"
The son of the prebendal commissary called for me, and I found in his father a most eccentric, whimsical sort of man. The curiosities of his collection consisted of his family tree, of books of magic, relics, coins which he believed to be antediluvian, a model of the ark taken from nature at the time when Noah arrived in that extraordinary harbour, Mount Ararat, in Armenia. He load several medals, one of Sesostris, another of Semiramis, and an old knife of a queer shape, covered with rust. Besides all those wonderful treasures, he possessed, but under lock and key, all the paraphernalia of freemasonry.
"Pray, tell me," I said to him, "what relation there is between this collection and natural history? I see nothing here representing the three kingdoms."
"What! You do not see the antediluvian kingdom, that of Sesostris and that of Semiramis? Are not those the three kingdoms?"
When I heard that answer I embraced him with an exclamation of delight, which was sarcastic in its intent, but which he took for admiration, and he at once unfolded all the treasures of his whimsical knowledge respecting his possessions, ending with the rusty blade which he said was the very knife with which Saint Peter cut off the ear of Malek.
"What!" I exclaimed, "you are the possessor of this knife, and you are not as rich as Croesus?"
"How could I be so through the possession of the knife?"
"In two ways. In the first place, you could obtain possession of all the treasures hidden under ground in the States of the Church."
"Yes, that is a natural consequence, because St. Peter has the keys."
"In the second place, you might sell the knife to the Pope, if you happen to possess proof of its authenticity."
"You mean the parchment. Of course I have it; do you think I would have bought one without the other?"
"All right, then. In order to get possession of that knife, the Pope would, I have no doubt, make a cardinal of your son, but you must have the sheath too."
"I have not got it, but it is unnecessary. At all events I can have one made."
"That would not do, you must have the very one in which Saint Peter himself sheathed the knife when God said, 'Mitte gladium tuum in vaginam'. That very sheath does exist, and it is now in the hands of a person who might sell it to you at a reasonable price, or you might sell him your knife, for the sheath without the knife is of no use to him, just as the knife is useless to you without the sheath."
"How much would it cost me?"
"One thousand sequins."
"And how much would that person give me for the knife?"
"One thousand sequins, for one has as much value as the other."
The commissary, greatly astonished, looked at his son, and said, with the voice of a judge on the bench,
"Well, son, would you ever have thought that I would be offered one thousand sequins for this knife?"
He then opened a drawer and took out of it an old piece of paper, which he placed before me. It was written in Hebrew, and a facsimile of the knife was drawn on it. I pretended to be lost in admiration, and advised him very strongly to purchase the sheath.
"It is not necessary for me to buy it, or for your friend to purchase the knife. We can find out and dig up the treasures together."
"Not at all. The rubric says in the most forcible manner that the owner of the blade, 'in vaginam', shall be one. If the Pope were in possession of it he would be able, through a magical operation known to me, to cut off one of the ears of every Christian king who might be thinking of encroaching upon the rights of the Church."
"Wonderful, indeed! But it is very true, for it is said in the Gospel that Saint Peter did cut off the ear of somebody."
"Yes, of a king."
"Oh, no! not of a king."
"Of a king, I tell you. Enquire whether Malek or Melek does not mean king."
"Well! in case I should make up my mind to sell the knife, who would give me the thousand sequins?"
"I would; one half to-morrow, cash down; the balance of five hundred in a letter of exchange payable one month after date."
"Ah! that is like business. Be good enough, to accept a dish of macaroni with us to-morrow, and under a solemn pledge of secrecy we will discuss this important affair."
I accepted and took my leave, firmly resolved on keeping up the joke. I came back on the following day, and the very first thing he told me was that, to his certain knowledge, there was an immense treasure hidden somewhere in the Papal States, and that he would make up his mind to purchase the sheath. This satisfied me that there was no fear of his taking me at my word, so I produced a purse full of gold, saying I was quite ready to complete our bargain for the purchase of the knife.