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- Margery, Volume 8. - 3/11 -
Thus the pinch and sacrifice were on a sudden ended; and albeit a snow- storm ere long came down on us, yet the sunshine in my bosom was still as bright as though Spring had dawned there in the December season, and all care and fear were banished.
It was noon. Master Peter could not come to table for a bad headache, and Cousin Maud scarce opened her lips. The sudden turn of matters had upset her balance, and so dazed her brain that she would answer at cross- purposes, and had ordered so many pats of butter from the farm wench as though she had cakes to bake for a whole convent full of sisters. Likewise a strange unrest kept her moving to and fro, and this was beginning to come upon me likewise, by reason that Ann came not, albeit in the morning she had promised to be here again at noon.
I was about to make ready to seek her, when I was stopped, first by a message from the forest bidding me, albeit I had scarce left the lodge, to return thither no later than on the morrow; and next by an unlooked- for guest, who had for long indeed been lost to sight. This was Lorenz Abenberger, the apothecary's son, erewhile a companion of Herdegen in his youth, and he who, after he had beguiled the other pueri to dig for treasure, had been turned out of the school. Since those days, when likewise he had cast nativities for us maidens, and many a time amused us with his magic arts, we had no knowledge of him but that, after his parents' death, he had ceased to ply the apothecary's trade, and had given himself up to the study of Alchemy. If folks spoke truth he had already discovered the philosopher's stone, or was nigh to doing so: but notwithstanding that many learned men, and among them the Magister had assured me, that such a thing was by no means beyond the skill of man, Lorenz Abenberger for certain had not attained his end, inasmuch as that, when he appeared in my presence, his aspect was rather that of a beggar than of a potent wise-head at whose behest lead and copper are transmuted into gold.
He had heard of the great sum needed for Herdegen's ransom, and he now came to assure me of the warm friendship he had ever cherished for his old school-mate, and that he had it in his power to create the means of releasing him from bondage. Then, marking that I gazed pitifully on his thread-bare, meagre, and by no means clean raiment, whence there came a sour, drug-like smell, he broke into a foul laugh and said that, to be sure, it would seem strange that so beggarly a figure should make bold to promise so great a treasure; howbeit, he stood to his word. So sure as night follows day, he could reach the goal for which he had consumed all his father's and mother's estate, nay all he had in the world, if he might but once have three pounds of pure gold to do whatsoever he would withal. If I would yield to his entreaties and be moved to grant what he needed, he was ready to pledge his body and soul to death and damnation, and sign the bond with his heart's blood, if by the end of the thirteenth day he had not found the red Lion, and through its aid 'Aurum potabile' and the panacea against every evil of body or soul. This would likewise give him the power of turning every mineral, even the most worthless, into pure gold, as easily as I might turn my spinning-wheel or say a Paternoster.
All this he poured forth with rolling eyes and panting breath, and that he spoke every word in sacred earnest none could doubt; and indeed the fervent, eager longing which appealed to my compassion and charity from every fibre of his being, might have moved me to bestow on him that which he craved, if I had possessed such wealth; but, as it was, I was forced to say him nay; and whereas at this minute Susan came in with the tidings that a man had come from the Pernharts', bidding me go forthwith to Ann, I threw over me my cloak and gave him to understand how matters stood with me, bidding him farewell with all gentleness yet of set purpose.
The blood mounted into his pale cheeks; he came close up to me, and set his teeth, and said wrathfully that I must and I should save him, and with him my own brother, if I did but clearly understand the sense and purpose of his entreaty. And he began with a flood of speech to tell me how near he was to his end, with a number of outlandish, magical words such as "the great Magisterium," "the Red Lion," "the Red Tincture," and the like, till meseemed my brain reeled with the sinful gibberish; notwithstanding, to this day I believe that in all truth he was nigh attaining his purpose; and he might have done so at last were it not that, a short space after this, he was choked by the vapor from an alembic which burst.
But whence might I at that day procure the means to succor him?
Again and again I strove to check his fiery zeal, but in vain, till I told him plainly that I had not at my command three pounds of brass farthings, much less three pounds of gold, and that he must apply elsewhere and no longer keep me tarrying.
And I gave him my hand to bid him farewell; howbeit he seized it with both of his, and wrung and shook my arm till it ached; and being beside him self with rage, he admonished me with threatening words and gestures not to ruin his life's work, and him, and those dear to me, by my base avarice. When I had got over my first fear I snatched myself free from the miserable little man, and turned my back upon him; but he leaped in front of me, spread forth his arms to bar the doorway, and shrieked, foaming with fury:
"Away, away, down to the depths! Away with us all! Woe unto thee, mean, blind fool that thou art! Woe unto us all! Take away that hand! Verily even if my mouth were gagged, yet shouldst thou hear what is coming upon thee and all thy race! I could have hindered it, and I would have hindered it; but now it shall be fulfilled. Oh, it was not for nothing that we were young together! I read thy horoscope and that arrogant brawler thy brother's long ago, and when I interpret it to thee, if the blood does not curdle in thy veins. . . ."
Hereupon the blood of the Schoppers surged up; I laid hands on the mad wight, whose strength was scarce greater than mine, but he hit and stamped about like one bereft, crying: "Your planets stand over the houses of Death, Captivity, and Despair. The fulfilment thereof began on Saint Lazarus' day, and on this day it falls first on thee; and thus the doom shall run its course till it hath an end on Saint John's eve, by reason that ye will then have nought left to lose!"
Here Abenberger's raving came to a sudden end. His outcry had brought up Cousin Maud, and when she opened the door behind him and saw a man standing in my way, she clutched him from behind, throwing her arms about him, and dragged him out of the chamber. Meanwhile she shrieked aloud "Fire!" and "Murder!" and again "Fire!" and all the men and wenches ran up in hot haste and had the gold-maker down the stairs fast enough.
Howbeit, I felt truly grieved for him; yet, as I gazed down on him from the window, I saw that he had taken his stand without in the street, and was shaking his fist up at me till a constable saw it and sent him homewards.
Then I must first comfort Cousin Maud for this untoward scene, and suffer her to rub my wrists with wine and spirit of balm, forasmuch as they tingled like fire and were scratched by the hapless wight's nails. She was beside herself with rage, and the evil prediction of the master of the black arts and of star-gazing filled her with unbounded terrors. Thus it was my part, though; the younger, to give her courage, notwithstanding the awful curse haunted me likewise, and rang in my ears even when at last I made my way through the dark streets, followed by the serving-man, to do Ann's bidding. My heart was heavier than it had been for many a day; for my fears were mingled with pity for that hapless soul, so skilled in much learning. I had learned to feel other woes and joys besides my own, and I could full well picture in my mind the despair which at this hour, must wring the soul of that poor fellow. I was glad to think that the serving-man might believe that I put my kerchief to my eyes only to wipe away the whirling snow. At the same time, methought that for certain some new and terrible sorrow hung over us nay, never so clearly as then, after Abenberger's violent attack, had I perceived how much alone and without protection I stood in the world. And wherefor had Ann not come to me? For what reason or matter had she sent for me at so late an hour?
Then, when I looked up at the Pernharts' house; saw that the windows of the first floor which had be made ready as guest chambers some days ago, for my lord Cardinal, were lighted up, so he must have come home and now be lodging there again.
But Ann knew full well how truly I honored the reverend and illustrious uncle, and for sure if he had brought her good tidings she would forthwith have sent me word, or have come to me herself.
What then was now the matter? In what form had the misfortune come upon us which Abenberger had read in the stars?
I lifted the knocker with a faint heart, and could scarce breathe when I had to knock three times or ever the door was opened.
How swiftly my Ann was wont to fly to me when she heard my tap! Was she then afraid to meet me with the message of woe which my lord Cardinal had perchance received from Cairo through his chaplains there? We had the ransom ready to be sure; yet Ursula would be almost forced, after her treacherous deed, to pursue Herdegen to his death; what could she look for if he ever came home again? Come what might then, and were it the worst, I must set out, and that forthwith, even if I found no fellowship but Cousin Maud and Eppelein. And to this purpose I had come, when at last the door was opened.
Below stairs nought was stirring. I hastily flung my wet mantle to Mario, the deaf-mute, who had let me in, and ran up stairs. Hardly had I reached the second floor when Ann met me, well and of good cheer; and when I began, in the outer chamber, to beseech her to be no less steadfast than I was in departing for the East, she nodded consent, and pointed the way into the inner chamber, where we might be more at our ease. I was amazed to see her in such good heart, and all the more so when she told me that my lord Cardinal had come home that morning.
There was above stairs, she hastily told me, a noble Italian Knight, who had desired to see our pictures; so we went into the guest chamber, which was all lighted up as when company was bidden. Nay, it was of such festal aspect as well nigh dazzled me, and I discerned at once that my portrait, which only a few days ago had been hanged on the wall by the side of Ann's for my lord Cardinal, was now placed on two chairs and leaning against the high backs.
All this and more I perceived in a few hasty glances, and when I enquired where might this stranger from Italy be, I was told that he had gone with Master Pernhart into the chamber which had been fitted for his Eminence with the magnificent stuffs from Rome and Florence which he had brought as a gift for his old mother. The finest of these were certain hangings of fine tissue and of many colors, which hung over the wide opening between the great guest chamber and that next to it. And the Italian must likewise have seen these, inasmuch as that they hung down, whereas they were wont to be drawn to the sides. Behind them, all was dark; thus the Master and his wife, with their strange guest, must have withdrawn into the chamber at the back of the house, where the Cardinal had loved
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