On the evening of this terrible day which had decided my fate, I was seated in my lonely dungeon, my hopes past, my thoughts seriously turned upon death, when the door of my prison opened, and a man entered who regarded me long in silence.
“Do I see you again, in this situation, Zaleukos?” he began. By the dim light of my lamp I had not recognised him, but the sound of his voice awoke within me old recollections. It was Valetty, one of the few friends I had made during my studies at Paris. He said that he had casually come to Florence, where his father, a distinguished man, resided; he had heard of my story, and come to see me once more, to inquire with his own lips, how I could have been guilty of such an awful crime. I told him the whole history: he seemed lost in wonder, and conjured me to tell him, my only friend, all the truth, and not to depart with a lie upon my tongue.
I swore to him with the most solemn oath, that I had spoken the truth; and that no other guilt could be attached to me, than that, having been blinded by the glance of the gold, I had not seen the improbability of the Stranger’s story. “Then did you not know Bianca?” asked he. I assured him that I had never seen her. Valetty thereupon told me that there was a deep mystery in the matter; that the Governor in great haste had urged my condemnation, and that a report was current among the people, that I had known Bianca for a long time, and had murdered her out of revenge for her intended marriage with another. I informed him that all this was probably true of the Red-mantle, but that I could not prove his participation in the deed. Valetty embraced me, weeping, and promised me to do all that he could; to save my life, if nothing more. I had not much hope; nevertheless, I knew that my friend was a wise man, and well acquainted with the laws, and that he would do all in his power to preserve me.
Two long days was I in suspense; at length Valetty appeared. “I bring consolation, though even that is attended with sorrow. You shall live and be free, but with the loss of a hand!”
Overjoyed, I thanked my friend for my life. He told me that the Governor had been inexorable, and would not once look into the matter: that at length, however, rather than appear unjust, he had agreed, if a similar case could be found in the annals of Florentine history, that my penalty should be regulated by the punishment that was then inflicted. He and his father had searched, day and night, in the old books, and had at length found a case similar in every respect to mine; the sentence there ran thus:—
“He shall have his left hand cut off; his goods shall be confiscated, and he himself banished forever!”
Such now was my sentence, also, and I was to prepare for the painful hour that awaited me. I will not bring before your eyes the frightful moment, in which, at the open market-place, I laid my hand upon the block; in which my own blood in thick streams flowed over me!
Valetty took me to his house until I had recovered, and then generously supplied me with money for my journey, for all that I had so laboriously acquired was confiscated to Justice. I went from Florence to Sicily, and thence, by the first ship I could find, to Constantinople. My hopes, which rested on the sum of money I had left with my friend, were not disappointed. I proposed that I should live with him—how astonished was I, when he asked why I occupied not my own house! He told me that a strange man had, in my name, bought a house in the quarter of the Greeks, and told the neighbors that I would soon, myself, return. I immediately proceeded to it with my friend, and was joyfully received by all my old acquaintances. An aged merchant handed me a letter which the man who purchased for me had left. I read:—
“Zaleukos! two hands stand ready to work unceasingly, that thou mayest not feel the loss of one. That house which thou seest and all therein are thine, and every year shalt thou receive so much, that thou shalt be among the rich of thy nation. Mayest thou forgive one who is more unhappy than thyself!”
I could guess who was the writer, and the merchant told me, in answer to my inquiry that it was a man covered with a red cloak, whom he had taken for a Frenchman. I knew enough to convince me that the Unknown was not entirely devoid of generous feeling. In my new house I found all arranged in the best style; a shop, moreover, full of wares, finer than any I had ever had. Ten years have elapsed since then; more in compliance with ancient custom, than because it is necessary, do I continue to travel in foreign lands for purposes of trade, but the land which was so fatal to me I have never seen since. Every year I receive a thousand pieces of gold; but although it rejoices me to know that this Unfortunate is so noble, still can his money never remove wo from my soul, for there lives forever the heart-rending image of the murdered Bianca!
Thus ended the story of Zaleukos, the Grecian merchant. With great interest had the others listened; the stranger, in particular, seemed to be wrapt up in it: more than once he had drawn a deep sigh, and Muley looked as if he had had tears in his eyes. No one spoke for some time after the recital.
“And hate you not the Unknown, who so basely cost you a noble member of your body, and even put your life in danger?” inquired Selim.
“Perhaps there were hours at first,” answered the Greek, “in which my heart accused him before God, of having brought this misfortune upon me, and embittered my life; but I found consolation in the religion of my fathers, which commanded me to love my enemies. Moreover, he probably is more unhappy than myself.”
“You are a noble man!” exclaimed Selim, cordially pressing the hand of the Greek.