Alexander Setonius, a Scot, was first of the moderns to achieve it. In the month of March 1602 he did change a bar of lead into gold in the house of a certain Hansen, at Rotterdam, who hath testified to it. He then not only repeated the same process before three learned men sent by the Kaiser Rudolph, but he taught Johann Wolfgang Dienheim of Freibourg, and Gustenhofer of Strasburg, which latter taught it to my own illustrious master--'
'Who in turn taught it to you,' cried Saxon triumphantly. 'I have no great store of metal with me, good sir, but there are my head-piece, back and breast-plate, taslets and thigh-pieces, together with my sword, spurs, and the buckles of my harness. I pray you to use your most excellent and praiseworthy art upon these, and I will promise within a few days to bring round a mass of metal which shall be more worthy of your skill.'
'Nay, nay,' said the alchemist, smiling and shaking his head. 'It can indeed be done, but only slowly and in order, small pieces at a time, and with much expenditure of work and patience. For a man to enrich himself at it he must labour hard and long; yet in the end I will not deny that he may compass it. And now, since the flasks are empty and your young comrade is nodding in his chair, it will perhaps be as well for you to spend as much of the night as is left in repose.' He drew several blankets and rugs from a corner and scattered them over the floor. 'It is a soldier's couch,' he remarked; 'but ye may sleep on worse before ye put Monmouth on the English throne. For myself, it is my custom to sleep in an inside chamber, which is hollowed out of the hill.' With a few last words and precautions for our comfort he withdrew with the lamp, passing through a door which had escaped our notice at the further end of the apartment.
Reuben, having had no rest since he left Havant, had already dropped upon the rugs, and was fast asleep, with a saddle for a pillow. Saxon and I sat for a few minutes longer by the light of the burning brazier.
'One might do worse than take to this same chemical business,' my companion remarked, knocking the ashes out of his pipe. 'See you yon iron-bound chest in the corner?'
'What of it?'
'It is two thirds full of gold, which this worthy gentleman hath manufactured.'
'How know you that ?' I asked incredulously.
'When you did strike the door panel with the hilt of your sword, as though you would drive it in, you may have heard some scuttling about, and the turning of a lock. Well, thanks to my inches, I was able to look through yon slit in the wall, and I saw our friend throw something into the chest with a chink, and then lock it. It was but a glance at the contents, yet I could swear that that dull yellow light could come from no metal but gold. Let us see if it be indeed locked.' Rising from his seat he walked over to the box and pulled vigorously at the lid.
'Forbear, Saxon, forbear!' I cried angrily. 'What would our host say, should he come upon you?'
'Nay, then, he should not keep such things beneath his roof. With a chisel or a dagger now, this might be prized open.'
'By Heaven!' I whispered, 'if you should attempt it I shall lay you on your back.'
'Well, well, young Anak! it was but a passing fancy to see the treasure again. Now, if he were but well favoured to the King, this would be fair prize of war. Marked ye not that he claimed to have been the last Royalist who drew sword in England? and he confessed that he had been proscribed as a malignant. Your father, godly as he is, would have little compunction in despoiling such an Amalekite. Besides, bethink you, he can make more as easily as your good mother maketh cranberry dumplings.'
'Enough said!' I answered sternly. 'It will not bear discussion. Get ye to your couch, lest I summon our host and tell him what manner of man he hath entertained.'
With many grumbles Saxon consented at last to curl his long limbs up upon a mat, whilst I lay by his side and remained awake until the mellow light of morning streamed through the chinks between the ill-covered rafters.