One evening, leaving the Soranzo Palace after a marriage, carrying his violin, Giacomo Casanova picks up a letter that a Senator in a red robe had just dropped. He gives it back to him, and to reward him, the Senator takes him home in a gondola.
Casanova is twenty-one years old. This is a piece of decisive luck for him, which will durably mark his destiny. The Senator is Bragadin, a Venitian famous for his eloquence and his Statesman qualities.
During the trip home, Bragadin suddenly collapses onto the bottom of the gondola. He complains about his back, his arm is becoming numb, classical symptoms of an infarctus of the myocardium, which is called at this epoch, apoplexia.
Without panicking, Giacomo leaps out of the gondola, gets a surgeon out of bed, and obliges him to follow him. Bragadin is bled, spread with mercury and weighed down with a cataplasm which would have surely suffocated him if Casanova hadn’t been there. The illustrious patient comes through the ordeal, and our young man goes from violinist to the Bragadins’ family doctor. Luckily, he doesn’t have to do anything else, which allows him to enchant his host with his stories, his knowledge, true or invented, and his dispositions for the occult sciences.
Bragadin finds that he has so much knowledge that he suspects him of getting his science from some supernatural souce. Casanova ends up telling him that their meeting was not by chance, that it is due to the revelations of an oracle. Thanks to an arithmetical procedure, he says that he is capable of answering all sorts of questions, and his answers could not be made by any other person in the world but himself. He says:
“It is a hermit who taught me this calculation. But if I communicated it to you, I would die within three days.”
As he is not in a hurry to lose such an agreeable friend, Bragadin and his two best friends, Dandolo and Barbaro, exhort him not to reveal it. They content themselves with asking all sorts of questions that Casanova transforms into a numbered language. Decrypted, this language delivers rather confused answers which everyone finds divine. Soon, the four men estime each other to the point of swearing eternal brotherhood. Bragadin goes even further and, before disappearing, makes this speech to our hero:
“Whoever you are, I owe you my life. Your protectors, who wanted to make you a priest, doctor, lawyer, soldier, and violinist, were only fools who didn’t know you. It is God who ordered your angel to lead you into my arms. I have known you, I know how to appreciate you: if you want to be my son, you only have to recognize me as your father, and from then on, in my house, I would treat you as such until my death.”
Very touched by this faith in him, Casanova immediately starts gambling again. He leaves for Milano and Mantua with a well-filled purse. This trip appears necessary to him after a complaint was laid against him for a tomb violation. To play a joke on a man who had ridiculed him, he had cut off a dead man’s arm and inflicted such fear on his persecutor that the man lost his mind.
In Mantua, the lure of easy money pushes him to his first real swindle. A new friend takes him to his parents’ home to show him their “natural history cabinet”. He discovers a pile of Cabalistic objects of the worst taste and of no value. His friend’s father shows him a rusty knife which has a strange form, and assures him that it is the same one that Saint Peter used to cut off Malek’s ear, when he came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Olives. Smothering his laughter, Casanova exclaims:
“You possess this knife and you aren’t a millionaire?”
The old man wants to know more. Casanova tells him that it is a magic knife, and that the Pope was sure to make his son a Cardinal to obtain it. He explains to him that the knife permits the discovery of all of the treasures hidden in the lands owned by the Church, on condition, of course that you also possessed the sheath. Hadn’t God said to Saint Peter:
“Mitte gladium tuum in vaginam.”?
Luckily, Casanova knows the owner of the sheath. It would cost one thousand sequins. His friend’s father suggests that, as he has the knife, and Casanova knows the owner of the sheath, they could find the treasures together, and share them. Casanova assures him that that wouldn’t work: it has to be the same person who owns both the knife and the sheath. The gentleman wants to know who will give him the thousand sequins to buy the sheath. Casanova says that he will. He also volunteers to give them to the magician in charge of the operation. They agree to meet the next day to eat a plate of macaroni.
During the dinner, the son takes a letter from his pocket. In the letter, it is written that a very rich man living in the Pope’s States is persuaded that he has a treasure in his cellar. During the reading of this letter, our hero manages to read the name of the village where this person lives: Cesena. He then organizes his mathematical “oracle” which reveals that the treasure is buried near the Rubicon.
The father grabs a dictionary and is able to read that the Rubicon passes at Cesena. Father and son are instantly convinced of his divination skills. Casanova explains that he is the magician and, if they want to share the treasure, they should start by giving him five hundred sequins.
Of course, the old man refuses, in spite of the menace of seeing appear at his home at midnight an “elementary spirit”, paid by Casanova, who would take away the knife. He tells Casanova that he will discuss it when he has seen the sheath.
To be continued.