I was born in Constantinople; my father was a Dragoman of the Ottoman Porte, and carried on, besides, a tolerably lucrative trade in essences and silk goods. He gave me a good education, since he partly superintended it himself,
and partly had me instructed by one of our priests. At first, he intended that I should one day take charge of his business: but since I displayed greater capacity than he expected, with the advice of his friends, he resolved that I should study medicine; for a physician, if he only knows more than a common quack, can make his fortune in Constantinople.
Many Frenchmen were in the habit of coming to our house, and one of them prevailed upon my father to let me go to the city of Paris, in his fatherland, where one could learn the profession gratuitously, and with the best advantages: he himself would take me with him, at his own expense, when he returned. My father, who in his youth had also been a traveller, consented, and the Frenchman told me to hold myself in readiness in three months. I was beside myself with delight to see foreign lands, and could not wait for the moment in which we should embark. At last the stranger had finished his business, and was ready to start.
On the evening preceding our voyage, my father conducted me into his sleeping apartment; there I saw fine garments and weapons lying on the table; but what most attracted my eye was a large pile of gold, for I had never before seen so much together. My father embraced me, and said,
“See, my son, I have provided thee with garments for thy journey. These weapons are thine; they are those which thy grandfather hung upon me, when I went forth into foreign lands. I know thou canst wield them; but use them not, unless thou art attacked; then, however, lay on with right good-will. My wealth is not great; see! I have divided it into three parts: one is thine; one shall be for my support, and spare money in case of necessity; the third shall be sacred and untouched by me, it may serve thee in the hour of need.” Thus spoke my old father, while tears hung in his eyes, perhaps from a presentiment, for I have never seen him since.
Our voyage was favorable; we soon reached the land of the Franks, and six days’ journey brought us to the large city, Paris. Here my French friend hired me a room, and advised me to be prudent in spending my money, which amounted to two thousand thalers. In this city I lived three years, and learned all that a well-educated physician should know. I would be speaking falsely, however, if I said that I was very happy, for the customs of the people pleased me not; moreover, I had but few good friends among them, but these were young men of nobility.
The longing after my native land at length became irresistible; during the whole time I had heard nothing from my father, and I therefore seized a favorable opportunity to return home. There was going an embassy from France to the Supreme Porte: I agreed to join the train of the ambassador as surgeon, and soon arrived once more at Stamboul.
My father’s dwelling, however, I found closed, and the neighbors, astonished at seeing me, said that my father had been dead for two months. The priest, who had instructed me in youth, brought me the key. Alone and forsaken, I entered the desolate house. I found all as my father had left it; but the gold which he promised to leave to me, was missing. I inquired of the priest respecting it, and he bowed and said:
“Your father died like a holy man, for he left his gold to the Church!”
This was incomprehensible to me; nevertheless, what could I do? I had no proofs against the priest, and could only congratulate myself that he had not also looked upon the house, and wares of my father, in the light of a legacy. This was the first misfortune that met me; but after this came one upon another. My reputation as a physician would not extend itself, because I was ashamed to play the quack; above all, I missed the recommendation of my father, who had introduced me to the richest and most respectable families; but now they thought no more of the poor Zaleukos. Moreover, the wares of my father found no sale, for his customers had been scattered at his death, and new ones came only after a long time. One day, as I was reflecting sorrowfully upon my situation, it occurred to me that in France I had often seen countrymen of mine, who travelled through the land,
and exposed their goods at the market-places of the cities: I recollected that people gladly purchased of them, because they came from foreign lands; and that by such a trade, one could make a hundred-fold. My resolution was forthwith taken; I sold my paternal dwelling, gave a portion of the money obtained thereby to a tried friend to preserve for me, and with the remainder purchased such articles as were rare in France,—shawls, silken goods, ointments, and oils; for these I hired a place upon a vessel, and thus began my second voyage to France. It appeared as if fortune became favorable to me, the moment I had the Straits of the Dardanelles upon my back. Our voyage was short and prosperous. I travelled through the cities of France, large and small, and found, in all, ready purchasers for my goods. My friend in Stamboul continually sent me fresh supplies, and I became richer from day to day. At last when I had husbanded so well, that I believed myself able to venture on some more extensive undertaking, I went with my wares into Italy. I must, however, mention something that brought me in no little money; I called my profession also to my assistance. As soon as I arrived in a city I announced, by means of bills, that a Grecian physician was there, who had already cured many; and, truly, my balsam, and my medicines, had brought me in many a zechin.
Thus at last I reached the city of Florence, in Italy. I proposed to myself to remain longer than usual in this place, partly because it pleased me so well, partly, moreover, that I might recover from the fatigues of my journey. I hired myself a shop in the quarter of the city called St. Croce, and in a tavern not far therefrom, took a couple of fine rooms which led out upon a balcony. Immediately I had my bills carried around, which announced me as a physician and merchant. I had no sooner opened my shop than buyers streamed in upon me, and although I asked a tolerably high price, still I sold more than others, because I was attentive and friendly to my customers.
Well satisfied, I had spent four days in Florence, when one evening, after I had shut my shop, and according to custom was examining my stock of ointment-boxes, I found, in one of the smaller ones, a letter which I did not remember to have put in. I opened it and found therein an invitation to repair that night, punctually at twelve, to the bridge called the Ponte Vecchio. For some time I reflected upon this, as to who it could be that had thus invited me; as, however, I knew not a soul in Florence, I thought, as had often happened already, that one wished to lead me privately to some sick person. Accordingly I resolved to go; nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, I put on the sabre which my father had given me. As it was fast approaching midnight, I set out upon my way, and soon arrived at the Ponte Vecchio; I found the bridge forsaken and desolate, and resolved to wait until it should appear who had addressed me.
It was a cold night; the moon shone clear as I looked down upon the waters of the Arno, which sparkled in her light. On the church of the city the twelfth hour was sounding, when I looked up, and before me stood a tall man, entirely covered with a red cloak, a corner of which he held before his face. At this sudden apparition I was at first somewhat startled, but I soon recovered myself and said—
“If you have summoned me hither, tell me, what is your pleasure?”
The Red-mantle turned, and solemnly ejaculated, “Follow!”