My mind was nevertheless somewhat uneasy at the idea of going alone with this Unknown; I stood still and said, “Not so, dear sir; you will first tell me whither; moreover, you may show me your face a little, that I may see whether you have good intentions towards me.”

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The Stranger, however, appeared not to be concerned thereat. “If thou wishest it not, Zaleukos, then remain!” answered he, moving away. At this my anger burned.

“Think you,” I cried, “that I will suffer a man to play the fool with me, and wait here this cold night for nothing?” In three bounds I reached him; crying still louder, I seized him by the cloak, laying the other hand upon my sabre; but the mantle remained in my hand, and the Unknown vanished around the nearest corner. My anger gradually cooled; I still had the cloak, and this should furnish the key to this strange adventure. I put it on, and moved towards home.

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Before I had taken a hundred steps, somebody passed very near, and whispered in the French tongue, “Observe, Count, to-night, we can do nothing.” Before I could look around, this somebody had passed, and I saw only a shadow hovering near the houses. That this exclamation was addressed to the mantle, and not to me, I plainly perceived; nevertheless, this threw no light upon the matter. Next morning I considered what was best to be done. At first I thought of having proclamation made respecting the cloak, that I had found it; but in that case the Unknown could send for it by a third person, and I would have no explanation of the matter. While thus meditating I took a nearer view of the garment.

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It was of heavy Genoese velvet, of dark red color, bordered with fur from Astrachan, and richly embroidered with gold. The gorgeousness of the cloak suggested to me a plan, which I resolved to put in execution. I carried it to my shop and offered it for sale, taking care, however, to set so high a price upon it, that I would be certain to find no purchaser. My object in this was to fix my eye keenly upon every one who should come to inquire after it; for the figure of the Unknown, which, after the loss of the mantle, had been exposed to me distinctly though transiently, I could recognise out of thousands. Many merchants came after the cloak, the extraordinary beauty of which drew all eyes upon it; but none bore the slightest resemblance to the Unknown, none would give for it the high price of two hundred zechins. It was surprising to me, that when I asked one and another whether there was a similar mantle in Florence, all answered in the negative, and protested that they had never seen such costly and elegant workmanship.

It was just becoming evening, when at last there came a young man who had often been in there, and had also that very day bid high for the mantle; he threw upon the table a bag of zechins, exclaiming—

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“By Heaven! Zaleukos, I must have your mantle, should I be made a beggar by it.” Immediately he began to count out his gold pieces. I was in a great dilemma; I had exposed the mantle, in order thereby to get a sight of my unknown friend, and now came a young simpleton to give the unheard-of price. Nevertheless, what remained for me? I complied, for on the other hand the reflection consoled me, that my night adventure would be so well rewarded. The young man put on the cloak and departed; he turned, however, upon the threshold, while he loosened a paper which was attached to the collar, and threw it towards me, saying, “Here, Zaleukos, hangs something, that does not properly belong to my purchase.” Indifferently, I received the note; but lo! these were the contents:—

“This night, at the hour thou knowest, bring the mantle to the Ponte Vecchio; four hundred zechins await thee!”

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I stood as one thunder-struck: thus had I trifled with fortune, and entirely missed my aim. Nevertheless, I reflected not long; catching up the two hundred zechins, I bounded to the side of the young man and said, “Take your zechins again, my good friend, and leave me the cloak; I cannot possibly part with it.”

At first he treated the thing as a jest, but when he saw it was earnest, he fell in a passion at my presumption, and called me a fool; and thus at last we came to blows. I was fortunate enough to seize the mantle in the scuffle, and was already making off with it, when the young man called the police to his assistance, and had both of us carried before a court of justice. The magistrate was much astonished at the accusation, and adjudged the cloak to my opponent. I however, offered the young man twenty, fifty, eighty, at last a hundred, zechins, in addition to his two hundred, if he would surrender it to me. What my entreaties could not accomplish, my gold did. He took my good zechins, while I went off in triumph with the mantle, obliged to be satisfied with being taken for a madman by every one in Florence. Nevertheless, the opinion of the people was a matter of indifference to me, for I knew better than they, that I would still gain by the bargain.

With impatience I awaited the night; at the same hour as the preceding day, I proceeded to the Ponte Vecchio, the mantle under my arm. With the last stroke of the clock, came the figure out of darkness to my side: beyond a doubt it was the man of the night before.

The Stranger

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