[Footnote: Trisulphite of arsenic.]
“Such is the charm of the study. Hope springs continually and failure only means fresh efforts. We would sell the coats off our backs for the means to carry our work further. The philosopher’s stone dances ever before our eyes, and in rags and with the smell of brimstone about us, we, its devotees, pursue it. In truth an alchemist has the odour of his work so strong upon him that you could recognise his calling a mile off. But it is time I began my tale, and remember, friends, that in alchemy as elsewhere all that glitters is not gold.”
THE CANON’S YEOMAN’S TALE OF A CUNNING ALCHEMIST
In a certain town there lived a canon, a man of religion by profession, but in reality so full of iniquity that he could corrupt a whole country-side. In this tale, I will tell you the way in which he beguiled an honest man, for if I were to tell of all his victims my tongue would fail me with the telling. But I beg you, friends, not to misunderstand the drift of my story. I am not out to slander any type of religion; quite the contrary. I wish rather, by showing to what lengths wicked men will go, to put you on your guard to distinguish the knaves from the truly virtuous, lest, if you are deceived by the former, you may unjustly throw some of the blame on the latter. But to my story.
In the same town there dwelt a priest, a man of quiet and virtuous habits, well beloved, and rich enough through the generosity of his landlady, who never suffered him to pay a penny for food or lodging, she loved him so well. One day the canon came to him and begged a loan. “On the third day,” he said, “I will return it you, or you may get me hanged as a thief.” The priest gave him what he asked readily enough, and punctually on the third day the canon repaid the loan in full. “Truly,” said the priest, “thou art an honest man. I should never fear to lend thee whatsoever thou mightest ask.” The canon replied, “Honest have I ever been, and honest I hope I may remain till my dying day. In return for your help and kindness I would make you a small recompense. There is an art which I have deeply studied and in which I have attained to some small skill. If you wish, you too shall know somewhat of my philosophy. Say, have you any quicksilver here, or if not, will you send your man for some? Three ounces we shall need, and you shall see what I can effect with them.”
Off went the servant full speed and brought back his three ounces of mercury. At once the canon set about his trickery. He drew out a crucible from his gown, put in an ounce of the mercury and set it on the fire. “Now,” he said, “I have here a powder that I purchased at a great price. Its virtues are wonderful, for it will turn any metal into silver! Lo! I scatter some in the crucible. Now for the rest, it shall be your part: arrange the logs around the pot and blow the fire. Another time you will understand the ritual.” Thus did that crafty canon, that limb of wickedness, beguile the priest. To those who knew him not he seemed a friend, those who had tried him knew him for the fiend he was. I can scarce bring myself to tell the story of his tricks and wickedness.