We now arranged ourselves to hear the story. The captain seated himself on the sofa, beside the fair Julia, who I had noticed to be somewhat affected by the picture he had carelessly drawn of wounds and dangers in a field of battle. She now leaned her arm fondly on his shoulder, and her eye glistened as it rested on the manuscript of the poor literary dragoon. Lady Lillycraft buried herself in a deep, well-cushioned elbow-chair. Her dogs were nestled on soft mats at her feet; and the gallant general took his station in an armchair, at her side, and toyed with her elegantly ornamented work-bag. The rest of the circle being all equally well accommodated, the captain began his story; a copy of which I have procured for the benefit of the reader.
What a life do I lead with my master; nothing but blowing of bellowes, beating of spirits, and scraping of croslets! It is a very secret science, for none almost can understand the language of it. Sublimation, almigation, calcination, rubification, albification, and fermentation; with as many termes unpossible to be uttered as the arte to be compassed.
Once upon a time, in the ancient city of Granada, there sojourned a young man of the name of Antonio de Castros. He wore the garb of a student of Salamanca, and was pursuing a course of reading in the library of the university; and, at intervals of leisure, indulging his curiosity by examining those remains of Moorish magnificence for which Granada is renowned.
Whilst occupied in his studies, he frequently noticed an old man of a singular appearance, who was likewise a visitor to the library. He was lean and withered, though apparently more from study than from age. His eyes, though bright and visionary, were sunk in his head, and thrown into shade by overhanging eyebrows. His dress was always the same: a black doublet; a short black cloak, very rusty and threadbare; a small ruff and a large overshadowing hat.
His appetite for knowledge seemed insatiable. He would pass whole days in the library, absorbed in study, consulting a multiplicity of authors, as though he were pursuing some interesting subject through all its ramifications; so that, in general, when evening came, he was almost buried among books and manuscripts.
The curiosity of Antonio was excited, and he inquired of the attendants concerning the stranger. No one could give him any information, excepting that he had been for some time past a casual frequenter of the library; that his reading lay chiefly among works treating of the occult sciences, and that he was particularly curious in his inquiries after Arabian manuscripts. They added, that he never held communication with any one, excepting to ask for particular works; that, after a fit of studious application, he would disappear for several days, and even weeks, and when he revisited the library, he would look more withered and haggard than ever. The student felt interested by this account; he was leading rather a desultory life, and had all that capricious curiosity which springs up in idleness. He determined to make himself acquainted with this book-worm, and find out who and what he was.