“They say many things impossible to prove, as you are doubtless aware,” Tomaso answered.
“Do you then deny that it is possible?” persisted Gregory.
“He is foolish,” Tomaso returned, “who denies that a thing may happen, because he finds it extraordinary.”
“Under certain conditions, you would say, it can be done?”
“When the donkey climbs the ladder he may find carrots on the tiles,” was the Paduan’s reply. The weasel-like face of the Templar contorted in a wry grin.
“You bandy words like an Aristotelian, sir alchemist,” he said sharply, “therefore we will be plain with you. You shall be lodged here with suitable means for your experiments until such time as your pretensions are justified—if they are. Should you prove yourself a wizard, a dabbler in the black art and a deceiver of the people, you shall be so punished that all men may know we share not in your guilt. Reflection hereupon may perchance quicken your understanding. Until you have news of importance for our hearing, farewell.”
With what he could summon of dignity, the Preceptor turned from the calm gaze of the physician and left the guards to conduct him to his lodging. There was really nothing else to do. It was a risk, of course. Tomaso was well known. He had the confidence of the King himself. But the situation was difficult. Prince John, who was usually in straits despite his father’s generosity, had hinted to Gregory lately that he meant to inquire in person about the reported making of gold in the Temple. Could he have guessed somehow that two chests of ingots from a Cadiz galley had come to Temple Assheton instead of to the King’s treasury? Or did he believe the story of the making of gold?
Gregory was but too certain that if John found any treasure of doubtful title he would seize it, and he was acutely unhappy. However, if Tomaso possessed the secret—or some other secret of value—there was yet a chance to save the Cadiz ingots. If this plan failed the scapegoat would not be a Templar.
Tomaso knew what was passing in his enemy’s mind, not through any supernatural means, but by his knowledge of human nature. He was aware, as he lay on his narrow straw bed, that his life was in imminent danger. No one knew where he was; no message could reach his friends. A discredited wizard could count on no popular sympathy. The record of his studies for many years would vanish like the wind-blown candle-flame. Yet after some hours of wakefulness he slept, as tranquilly as a child.
A red-headed youth in the dress of a clerk, who was to have met Tomaso on the morrow, waited for him in vain. On the second day he started in search of his old friend, and weary and mud-bespattered, came at last to Temple Assheton. On the road he fell in with Swart the drover, who told him of the reported alchemy. “Gold would be common as fodder if any man could make it,” Swart growled, “and when a man’s wise beyond others in the art of healing, ’tis wicked folly to burn him alive for’t.”