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- The Elixir - 6/10 -
added a portion to the elixir, save only the blood of a child.
Breathless he caught the hand of his son and held it over the phial, speaking coaxingly to him while drop after drop of the red life blood trickled into the elixir.
Then he put the child in Frau Schimmel's arms and hurried into the laboratory as fast as his tired feet could carry him. There he blew the bellows so violently that the housekeeper looked at him with silent indignation. When all was prepared he poured the liquid into a crucible, set it among the glowing and sparkling coals and murmured strange words and spells over the seething fluid until it boiled up and the hissing bubbles ran over the rim of the crucible. Then he stood the hot vessel in cold water, pronounced one more incantation over it, held it before a mirror--the symbol of the Spirit of Truth and the emblem which she is always represented as carrying in her right hand--and poured the liquid back into the phial. Beads of perspiration stood on his forehead, his eyes gleamed with excitement, and he breathed heavily as he approached his son to try the power of the new elixir on him.
But something most unexpected happened: Frau Schimmel, usually so timid, pressed the boy's face against her breast and, her good gray eyes flashing with her angry determination to resist, cried out "Do with your elixir what you will, only leave me the child in peace! Little Zeno speaks the truth without any of your mixtures. A child's mind is a holy thing, so his mother who is now an angel would tell you, and I--I will not permit you to misuse it, in order to try your arts upon it!"
And stranger yet! The doctor accepted this rebuff and did not even reprove the old lady for her disrespectful opposition, he only answered. with calm certainty: "Neither the child nor any one else is needed to make the experiment."
He inhaled the contents of the phial himself, in long breaths, staring for some time thoughtfully at the floor and then at the arches of the ceiling. His chest rose and fell heavily, and he wiped the perspiration now and then from his damp brow. Frau Schimmel watched him anxiously, and she could not say whether he looked more like a madman or a saint as he finally lifted his arms towards heaven and cried: "I have found it, Father, Bianca!--I have found it!"
Frau Schimmel left him alone and put the child to bed. When she returned to the laboratory and found the doctor in the same place where she had left him, she said modestly: "Here I am and if it pleases the Herr Doctor to try the elixir on so humble a person as myself, I am at his service. Only one favour would I ask: would the Herr Doctor be so kind as not to ask questions about Schimmel and myself or any member of the honoured Ueberhell family."
But the doctor hesitated awhile before accepting this offer, for he had not forgotten the defiant words with which she had withheld his child from him only a short time before, and moreover the trial which he had made on himself had assured him of the success of his discovery; having inhaled the essence it had seemed to him as if the burden of oppression had been suddenly lifted from his mind. And when he turned to the introspection of himself, and questioned his own heart, he found so many spots and defects on what he had hitherto considered faultless, that he was confirmed in the belief that he had seen the true reflection of his own personality for the first time.
Yes, he might well be certain of his success!
And yet the joy of the discovery was clouded. How often had he dreamed of the manifold effects that would be produced by the elixir! At such moments the hope had sprung up within him that it would possess the power to enlighten him concerning his own nature and existence; would enable him to pierce the veil that hides the mystery of the future from mortal eyes; that it would reveal to the mind of man the true nature of things, and solve the problem of life.
Yet all the questions directed to that end, which he asked himself, remained unanswered, and for this reason he was desirous of seeing whether the essence might not perhaps enable others to grasp the real nature of that which until then had been unfathomable by man.
Consequently he could not resist the temptation, of letting Frau Schimmel inhale the elixir. Then he asked her why every one who was born was destined to die, and disappear?
To which she only answered: "Such things you must ask of the good God, who has so willed it."
When he wished further to know how, and of what ingredients the human blood was made, the old lady laughed, and replied lightly that it was red, and more than that she had not learned from the "Schoolmaster with the Children," from which she had acquired all that she knew.
Then the doctor cried: "And so my hard-earned discovery is of less value than I hoped!"
But these words had scarcely escaped him before he smiled to himself, for it was the elixir that had forced him to this outbreak, otherwise he would never have confessed to any one, be he who be might, that his wonderful discovery was in any way incomplete.
Being satisfied with his experiences for that day he no longer hindered the old lady from going to rest.
On his own bed he lay and pondered over the limitations of his discovery.
To reveal the truth, wholly and absolutely, was not within the power of the elixir, nor unfortunately did it possess the efficacy to lead one to a perfect knowledge of oneself; on the other hand it was capable of forcing any one who used it to be absolutely honest in his dealings with his neighbours, and that surely was no small gain. Indeed it was enough to place him among the most famous discoverers in all ages, and to inscribe his name beside those of the noblest benefactors of man in the whole round world.
Sleepless, yet filled with triumphant joy, like a general who has won a glorious victory, he watched through the night. When Frau Schimmel came to the house on the following morning she found him with the little Zeno between his knees.
Her suspicion was immediately aroused that the father had misused the child in order to try the effect of the elixir upon it, and she stood at the door and listened.
But the little bottle tightly corked peered from the doctor's breast- pocket and, instead of questioning Zeno, he was talking to him earnestly:
"Your mother," he was saying, "was more precious to me than life or aught else, and you, my little one, are dear to me, too, chiefly because it was she who gave you to me, but who knows if I might not have sacrificed you if the success of the work, to which I have devoted so many years, had depended upon it. Now I have reached the goal, and I tell you, my boy, there are only two joys here below so great as to give a foretaste of the bliss that awaits us in Paradise: one is the sweet rapture of true love, and the other, the transport of the inventor when his experiment is successful. I have known both."
During this speech, which the doctor had made under the influence of the elixir, the boy stared at his father with open mouth, undecided whether to be afraid, or to consider it all a jest and laugh.
Frau Schimmel made an end of his doubt, for she could not bring herself to stand by patiently and have the child confused by such extraordinary sentiments. She interrupted the doctor: "Little Zeno finds his pleasure in very different ways, don't you, my lamb? You would rather have your father send you to market with Frau Schimmel who buys cherries for you, wouldn't you? Cherries are better for children than 'true love,' and all the other nonsense that men worry themselves about."
The doctor only laughed and said "One day he will learn for himself what his father meant, and if you wish to buy him cherries, you good old soul, take him along with you and pick out the finest. You might also go to the Nuremberg shop and let him choose the most beautiful horse, and whatever else among the toys that he wishes for, no matter how expensive it may be; for I owe it in part to my boy that I have attained my object, and I must hurt him a bit more. But don't be afraid! He will hardly feel it."
What did that remarkable man have in mind? Certainly, no good!
As Frau Schimmel felt that she stood in the place of a mother to her darling, she demanded respectfully what the doctor meant to do to the child.
He answered in some embarrassment, and without looking at the old lady; "It is because I have need of a larger quantity of the elixir. If I were to bleed another child--and bleeding is good for every one, big or little--they would accuse me of practising the black arts and perhaps, after their fashion of making a mountain out of a molehill, would denounce me as an infanticide. Therefore the boy must spare a few more drops of his blood, and he will do so gladly if he receives something pretty as a reward. I am very skilful and can draw the blood without hurting him."
When, however, Frau Schimmel clasped her hands, and Zeno, whimpering, hid his face in her skirts, the doctor hastened to add: "There, there, I am not going to do it at once, and perhaps it is just as well that I should experiment with my own blood first. So take the boy out and buy him the finest plaything you can find, and leave a message at Herr Winckler's; he is to come to-day to The Three Kings, for I have something very important to communicate to him."
The old lady was very glad to get the child beyond the reach of his father. His happiness was as incomprehensible to her, as his design on the blood of his child was dreadful, and she led the boy forth quickly. The doctor, however, went into the laboratory with wavering steps, and in the next half hour prepared more of the elixir into which he mixed some of his own blood.
The effect was the same as if he had used the blood of his child.
This delighted him so much that he fairly beamed with pleasure. But even then he gave himself no rest. He took the elixir which he had made the day before into the library, and there he wrote and wrote.
At noon he allowed a morsel of food to be brought to him, and ate it seated at his desk. When he had finished he continued his work with his pen, sealing-wax and seal, until the notary, Herr Winckler, called towards evening.
For the first time in the course of their long friendship he fell on the notary's neck, and told him with wet eyes, and broken voice that he had reached the happiest hour of his life, for the great work to which he had already dedicated himself while yet in Padua and Bologna, was completed, and that only the preceding evening he had achieved the most marvellous discovery of all times.
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