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- The Elixir - 5/10 -
only louder and more imperiously.
To the listener it was perfectly clear that this was an invocation of spirits, and her knees trembled under her, and her teeth chattered so audibly that she feared he must hear her. Though she closed her eyes tightly in order not to see the hellish brood that was about to pervade that Christian house, fearing that she might be strangled by them or go mad; yet the unholy creatures must have entered the laboratory obedient to their master's call for she distinctly heard him greet one of them solemnly.
As she did not smell any sulphur fumes nor see any dancing flames when she peeped out from under her half-closed lids, she gathered sufficient courage to look about her. But she saw nothing save the doctor on his knees talking into the corner of the laboratory, where there was nothing but the broom with which she had swept the stone floor that morning, and the shabby old brown peruke that Herr Schimmel was in the habit of putting on in the winter when he crossed the court-yard.
These apparitions she knew so intimately that she began to be reassured, and her confidence once restored she reflected that either the spirits must have held her unworthy of a sight of them and have been visible only to the master, or else that the doctor had gone completely out of his mind. Of her own sanity she had no doubts for her mind was made of sterner stuff and would therefore be less easily affected.
Whether Doctor Melchior were holding converse with the broom, or the peruke, or a spectre whom he, and no one else could see Frau Schimmel could not tell, but she had then recovered herself sufficiently to be able to listen attentively.
She crossed herself several times for the sake of greater safety, and what she heard from the doctor's own mouth remained a secret between her and Schimmel.
Not a word did she lose till Melchior went into the library next the laboratory, and then she thought it expedient to leave her hiding-place and hurry to her room.
Schimmel had long been in bed, and his snoring greeted her as she entered, but she wakened him to tell him breathlessly what she had just seen and heard.
After she had explained her anxiety about the doctor and its consequences, she continued that the apparition which the doctor had invoked was the Spirit of Truth. Whether it had been obedient to the call she could not say, but, at any rate it had been no demon of hell-God be praised--bringing a reek of the pit, and besides Satan was the Prince of Lies and would consider himself insulted if he were called the Spirit of Truth, moreover the spirit who had appeared to the doctor had behaved in the most exemplary manner.
The master, too, had confessed with true Christian humility and self reproach that he had sinned against the Spirit of Truth, to whom none the less he had dedicated his body and soul, inasmuch as, influenced by his great love for his wife, he had devoted himself to finding a remedy which would cure her, and had thus become a traitor to the object of his life.
After this he had sprung up and held aloft his hand with the forefinger extended and sworn to the spirit that nothing here after would seduce him from the pursuit of the elixir which was to render Truth triumphant in the world.
Fran Schimmel described how the doctor's eyes had glowed at these words, and how he had looked as if an invisible hand had written "Truth" in large letters upon his forehead. He would be as certain to reach his goal as she would be to pray the holy saints for a peaceful death.
After a long silence and much consideration the only thing that Herr Schimmel found to say in answer to these important revelations was: "It is all the same to me," to which his dear wife, with like brevity, and sincere disgust replied: "You fool!"
The next morning the doctor began work afresh and with redoubled zeal.
Every drug that had been reserved from the laboratory of the late Court apothecary was brought, mixed with the elixir and fused; and he tried each new mixture on himself, for Frau Schimmel was not to be persuaded to smell any more elixirs.
She, however, was more studious than ever of the necessities of the household, and of the material comfort of the doctor and his child, and when she noticed that her master began to cough as his dead wife had done, she entreated him to take better care of himself, and not to leave his son an orphan she also instigated Herr Winckler to beg him to consider his own welfare and that of the child.
There was yet another thing that made her unhappy.
Her whole heart was wrapped up in little Zeno, and when he was dressed in his best on feast-days a prettier and nobler looking child than he was not to be seen.
But the doctor did not seem to have much affection for him; yet in the evenings when the little one was in bed he went through the same performance that had been customary during the lifetime of its mother, and once in a while he would lift the child out of the cradle and press it to his heart so passionately that the boy, in a fright would struggle to get away from him and would cry for Frau Schimmel. Finally the child became so afraid of its father that it would not go near him and this the old housekeeper could bear no longer, so she took her courage in her hands and spoke to her master about it.
She began by saying she had not forgotten that, according to his dead father the saints had endowed her with a very limited intelligence, but that she knew enough to be certain that it could be neither wise, nor right for a man who had been blessed with such a fine son, to be indifferent to his treasure and indeed to estrange it.
The extraordinary man looked at her with his sad eyes and answered thoughtfully: "I demand nothing from the boy be cause I have no other idea than to give him all I have and am. For his benefit I am seeking something higher than the world has yet known, and I shall find it."
The lofty words silenced Frau Schimmel, but she thought to herself: "With my few brains I am yet wiser than you. A heartfelt, willing kiss from your child would make you happier than all the learning that you make so much fuss about, and a caress or a spank from you--each at the proper time--would do little Zeno more good than all the world-improving discoveries in search of which you embitter your days and nights."
One beautiful afternoon in June on her return from the graveyard, whither she regularly took the boy, and where she herself carefully tended the white roses on Bianca's grave, she found the doctor stretched on the sofa, instead of being in the laboratory as usual, and as he sighed heavily when she entered, she asked him respectfully what it was that oppressed him.
At first he shook his head as if he wished to be left alone, but when she, in spite of this, remained and he noticed that her gray eyes were full of tears, he suddenly remembered that by the side of his mother's coffin, and more recently at Bianca's death-bed they had wept together, then his full heart overflowed, and gasping and shaken by his cough he burst forth with: "It will soon be over--I feel it within me, and yet I am no nearer to the goal. All the elements of nature I have called to my aid--all the spirits 'twixt Heaven and Earth over whom necromancy has any power have I made subject to my will and have commanded them to help me --to what end? There stands the elixir and is hardly more valuable than the small beer with which the servant down-stairs quenches his thirst, indeed it is less useful for who derives any benefit from it? I shall quit this world an unhappy man who has wasted his life and talents in untold efforts from his school-days until now--and yet, if the spirit would only reveal to me the missing substance which should give to this liquid in my hand the power that it once possessed, gladly would I sacrifice twenty lives! Oh! you faithful old soul, you can never understand it, I know. But this world, where lying and deceit flourish, would be changed into a Paradise, and it would be an Ueberhell whom mankind would have to thank for the great blessing. And now--now!"
Here he buried his face in his hands like one in despair. Frau Schimmel regarded the sorrowful man with deep sympathy, and as it was in her nature to try and comfort those who wept rather than to join in their lamentations, she cast about her for something that would console him.
She had not far to seek, for there in the bay-window was perched little Zeno, carefully picking the green leaves off a rose bough that he had been told to gather from his mother's grave to take home to his father. The whole stem was now bare but the white blossom at the end was untouched, and still beautiful.
She beckoned to the boy, and in a low voice bade him rouse his father and give him the rose from the churchyard; little Zeno obeyed and walked straight towards Melchior; opposite the sofa his courage failed him for a moment, but he took heart again and laying his little hand on the prematurely gray hair of the disheartened sage said, with all the sweet charm peculiar to a child when it speaks to comfort one who is its natural guardian and support:
"Father, little Zeno brings you a rose. It comes from the churchyard. Mamma sent it to you with her love."
The doctor, deeply touched, sat up suddenly, grasped the child's hand that held out the rose to him and tried to draw the boy towards him in order to embrace him. But Zeno, instead of answering the loving words addressed to him, struggled and cried out sharply, for the strong pressure of his father's hand had driven a big thorn into his finger, and the blood from the wound was running down onto his light blue dress.
The doctor was distracted. He had hurt the one creature for whose future greatness he had sacrificed his waning strength.
There flowed the blood of his son who had come as messenger from his wife On her he had lavished the one great love of his life and the white rose that she had sent him lay at his feet!
As his gaze fell upon the flower that she had loved better than all others, and then rested upon the crying child, a great tenderness filled his soul and for the first time he felt deep remorse that he had not dedicated his whole life to his love. To devote the remainder of his time on earth, which he felt would be but short, to the child who stood there crying, seemed to him at that moment his holiest duty; yet the passion of the investigator within him could not be subdued, for as he looked about in search of a cloth to stanch the blood that flowed from the boy's finger his eyes fell upon the bottle of elixir on the table, and then on the rose at his feet and the thought flashed across him that Bianca who had sent him the rose might have indicated to him by the hand of their offspring the substance which he needed to achieve the object of his life.
Of every element found in water or in air, in the earth or fire, he had
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