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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    CÆSAR BASTERGA.

    Had it been Mercier's eye in place of his ear which attended the two men
    to the upper room, he would have remarked--perhaps with surprise, since
    he had gained some knowledge of Grio's temper--that in proportion as
    they mounted the staircase, the toper's crest drooped, and his arrogance
    ebbed away; until at the door of Basterga's chamber, it was but a
    sneaking and awkward man who crossed the threshold.

    Nor was the reason far to seek. Whatever the standpoint of the two men
    in public, their relations to one another in private were delivered up,
    stamped and sealed in that moment of entrance. While Basterga, leaving
    the other to close the door, strode across the room to the window and
    stood gazing out, his very back stern and contemptuous, Grio fidgeted
    and frowned, waiting with ill-concealed penitence, until the other chose
    to address him. At length Basterga turned, and his gleaming eyes, his
    moon-face pale with anger, withered his companion.

    "Again! Again!" he growled--it seemed he dare not lift his voice. "Will
    you never be satisfied until we are broken on the wheel? You dog, you!
    The sooner you are broken the better, were that all! Ay, and were that
    all, I could watch the bar fall with pleasure! But do you think I will
    see the fruit of years of planning, do you think that I will see the
    reward of this brain--this! this, you brainless idiot, who know not
    what a brain is"--and he tapped his brow repeatedly with an earnestness
    almost grotesque--"do you think that I will see this cast away, because
    you swill, swine that you are! Swill and prate in your cups!"

    "'Fore God, I said nothing!" Grio whined. "I said nothing! It was only
    that he would not drink and I----"

    "Made him?"

    "No, he would not, I say, and we were coming to blows. And then----"

    "He gave back, did he?"

    "No, Messer Blondel came in."

    Cæsar Basterga stretched out his huge arms. "Fool! Fool! Fool!" he
    hissed, with a gesture of despair. "There it is! And Blondel, who should
    have sent you to the whipping-post, or out of Geneva, has to cloak you!
    And men ask why, and what there is between our most upright Syndic and a
    drunken, bragging----"

    "Softly," Grio muttered, with a flash of sullen resentment. "Softly,
    Messer Basterga! I----"

    "A drunken, swilling, prating pig!" the other persisted. "A broken
    soldier living on an hour of chance service? Pooh, man," with contempt,
    "do not threaten me! Do you think that I do not know you more than half
    craven? The lad below there would cut your comb yet, did I suffer it.
    But that is not the point. The point is that you must needs advertise
    the world that you and the Syndic, who has charge of the walls, are
    hail-fellows, and the world will ask why! Or he must deal with you as
    you deserve and out you go from Geneva!"

    "Per Bacco! I am not the only soldier," Grio muttered, "who ruffles it
    here!"

    "No! And is not that half our battle?" Basterga rejoined, gazing on him
    with massive scorn. "To make use of them and their grumbling, and their
    distaste for the Venerable Company of Pastors who rule us! Such men are
    our tools; but tools only, and senseless tools, for Geneva won for the
    Grand Duke, and what will they be the better, save in the way of a
    little more licence and a little more drink? But for you I had something
    better! Is the little farm in Piedmont not worth a month's abstinence?
    Is drink-money for your old age, when else you must starve or stab in
    the purlieus of Genoa, not worth one month's sobriety? But you must
    needs for the sake of a single night's debauch ruin me and get yourself
    broken on the wheel!"

    Grio shrank under his eye. "There is no harm done," he muttered at last.
    "Nobody suspects what is between us."

    "How do you know that?" came the retort. "What? You think it is natural
    Blondel should favour such as you?"

    "It will not be the first time Geneva cloak has covered Genoa velvet!"

    "Velvet!" Basterga repeated with a sneer. "Rags rather!" And then more
    quickly, "But that is not all, nor the half. Do you think Blondel, who
    is on the point, Blondel, who will and will not and on whom all must
    turn, Blondel the upright, the impeccable, the patriotic, without whom
    we can do nothing, and who, I tell you, hangs in the balance--do you
    think he likes it, blockhead? Or is the more inclined to trust his life
    with us when he sees us brawlers, toss-pots, common swillers? Do you
    think he on whom I am bringing to bear all the resources of this
    brain--this!"--and again the big man tapped his forehead with tragic
    earnestness--"and whom you could as much move to side with us as you
    could move yonder peak of the Jura from its base--do you think he will
    deem better of our part for this?"

    "Well, no."

    "No! No, a thousand times!"

    "But I count drunk the same as sober for that!" Grio cried, plucking up
    spirit and speaking with a gleam of defiance in his eye. "For it is my
    opinion that you have no more chance of moving him than I have! And so
    to be plain you have it, Messer Basterga. For how are you going to move
    him? With what? Tell me that!"

    "Ah!"

    "With money?" Grio continued with a fluency which showed he spoke on a
    subject to which he had given much thought. "He is rich and ten thousand
    crowns would not buy him. And the Grand Duke, much as he craves Geneva,
    will not spend over boldly."

    "No, I shall not move him with money."

    "With power and rank, then? Will the Grand Duke make him Governor of
    Geneva? No, for he dare not trust him. And less than that, what is it to
    Syndic Blondel, whose word to-day is all but law in Geneva?"

    "No, nor with power," Basterga answered quietly.

    "Is it with revenge, then? There are men I know who love revenge. But he
    is not of the south, and at such a risk revenge were dearly bought."

    "No, nor with revenge," Basterga replied.

    "A woman, then? For that is all that is left," Grio rejoined in triumph.
    Once he had spoken out, he had put himself on a level with his master;
    he had worsted him, or he was much mistaken. "Perhaps, from the way you
    have played with the little prude below, it is a woman. But they are
    plenty, even in Geneva, and he is rich and old."

    "No, nor with a woman."

    "Then with what?"

    "With this!" Basterga replied. And for the third time, drawing himself
    up to his full height, he tapped his brow. "Do you doubt its power?"

    For answer Grio shrugged his shoulders, his manner sullen and
    contemptuous.

    "You do?"

    "I don't see how it works, Messer Basterga," the veteran muttered. "I
    say not you have not good wits. You have, I grant it. But the best of
    wits must have their means and method. It is not by wishing and
    willing----"

    "How know you that?"

    "Eh?"

    "How know you that?" Basterga repeated with sudden energy, and he shook
    a massive finger before the other's eyes. "But how know you anything,"
    he continued with disdain, as he dropped the hand again, and turned on
    his heel, "dolt, imbecile, rudiment that you are? Ay, and blind to boot,
    for it was but the other day I worked a miracle before you, and you
    learned nothing from it."

    "It is no question of miracles," the other muttered doggedly. "But of
    how you will persuade the Syndic Blondel to betray Geneva to Savoy!"

    "Is it so? Then tell me this: the girl below who smacked your face a
    month back because you laid a hand upon her wrist, and who would have
    had you put to the door the same day--how did I tame her? Can you answer
    me that?"

    Grio's face fell remarkably. "No, master," he said, nodding
    thoughtfully. "I grant it. I cannot. A wilder filly was never handled."

    "So! And yet I tamed her. And she suffers you! She's sport for us within
    bounds. Yet do you think she likes it when you paw her hand or lay your
    dirty arm about her waist, or steal a kiss? Think you the blood mounts
    and ebbs for nothing? Or the tears rise and the lip trembles and the
    limbs shake for sheer pleasure. I tell you, if eyes could slay, you had
    breathed your last some weeks ago."

    "I know," Grio answered, nodding thoughtfully. "I have wondered and
    wondered, ay, many a time, how you did it."

    "Yet I did it? You grant that?"

    "Yes."

    "And you do not understand--with what?"

    Grio shook his head.

    "Then why mistrust me now, blockhead," the other retorted, "when I say
    that as I charmed her, I can charm Blondel? Ay, and more easily. You
    know not how I did the one, nor how I shall do the other," the big man
    continued. "But what of that?" And in a louder voice, and with a gusto
    which showed how genuine was his delight in the metre,

    "Pauci quos æquus amavit
    Jupiter aut ardens evexit ad æthera virtus
    Dis geniti potuere,"

    he mouthed. "But that," he added, looking scornfully at his confederate,
    "is Greek to you!"

    Grio's altered aspect, his crestfallen air owned the virtue of the
    argument if not of the citation; which he did not understand. He drew a
    deep breath. "Per Bacco," he said, "if you succeed in doing it, Messer
    Basterga----"

    "I shall do it," Basterga retorted, "if you do not spoil all with your
    drunken tricks!"

    Grio was silent a moment, sunk plainly in reflection. Presently his
    bloodshot eyes began to travel respectfully and even timidly over the
    objects about him. In truth the room in which he found himself was
    worthy of inspection, for it was no common room, either in aspect or
    furnishing. It boasted, it is true, none of the weird properties, the
    skulls and corpse-lights, dead hands, and waxen masks with which the
    necromancer of that day sought to impress the vulgar mind. But in place
    of these a multitude of objects, quaint, curious, or valuable, filled
    that half of the room which was farther from the fire-hearth. On the
    wall, flanked by a lute and some odd-looking rubrical calendars, were
    three or four silver discs, engraved with the signs of the Zodiac; these
    were hung in such a position as to catch the light which entered through
    the heavily leaded casement. On the window-seat below them, a pile of
    Plantins and Elzevirs threatened to bury a steel casket. On the table,
    several rolls of vellum and papyrus, peeping from metal cylinders, leant
    against a row of brass-bound folios. A handsome fur covering masked the
    truckle-bed, but this, too, bore its share of books, as did two or three
    long trunks covered with stamped and gilded leather which stood against
    the wall and were so long that the ladies of the day had the credit of
    hiding their gallants in them. On stools lay more books, and yet more
    books, with a medley of other things: a silver flagon, and some weapons,
    a chess-board, an enamelled triptych and the like.

    In a word, this half of the room wore the aspect of a library,
    low-roofed, dark and richly furnished. The other half, partly divided
    from it by a curtain, struck the eye differently. A stove of peculiar
    fashion, equipped with a powerful bellows, cumbered the hearth; before
    this on a long table were ranged a profusion of phials and retorts,
    glass vessels of odd shapes, and earthen pots. Crucibles and alembics
    stood in the ashes before the stove, and on a sideboard placed under the
    window were scattered a set of silver scales, a chemist's mask, and a
    number of similar objects. Cards bearing abstruse calculations hung
    everywhere on the walls; and over the fireplace, inscribed in gold and
    black letters, the Greek word "EUREKA" was conspicuous.

    The existence of such a room in the quiet house in the Corraterie was
    little suspected by the neighbours, and if known would have struck them
    with amazement. To Grio its aspect was familiar: but in this case
    familiarity had not removed his awe of the unknown and the magical. He
    looked about him now, and after a pause:--

    "I suppose you do it--with these," he murmured, and with an almost
    imperceptible shiver he pointed to the crucibles.

    "With those?" Basterga exclaimed, and had the other ascribed
    supernatural virtues to the cinders or the bellows he could not have
    thrown greater scorn into his words. "Do you think I ply this base
    mechanic art for aught but to profit by the ignorance of the vulgar? Or
    think by pots and pans and mixing vile substances to make this, which by
    nature is this, into that which by nature it is not! I, a scholar? A
    scholar? No, I tell you, there was never alchemist yet could transmute
    but one thing--poor into rich, rich into poor!"

    "But," Grio murmured with a look and in a voice of disappointment, "is
    not that the true transmutation which a thousand have died seeking, and
    one here and there, it is rumoured, has found? From lead to gold, Messer
    Basterga?"

    "Ay, but the lead is the poor alchemist, who gets gold from his patron
    by his trick. And the gold is the poor fool who finds him in his living,
    and being sucked, turns to lead! There you have your transmutation."

    "Yet----"

    "There is no yet!"

    "But Agrippa," Grio persisted, "Cornelius Agrippa, who sojourned here in
    Geneva and of whom, master, you speak daily--was he not a learned man?"

    "Ay, even as I am!" Cæsar Basterga answered, swelling visibly with
    pride. "But constrained, even as I am, to ply the baser trade and stoop
    to that we see and touch and smell! Faugh! What lot more cursed than to
    quit the pure ether of Latinity for the lower region of matter? And in
    place of cultivating the _literæ humaniores_, which is the true
    cultivation of the mind, and sets a man, mark you, on a level with
    princes, to stoop to handle virgin milk and dragon's blood, as they
    style their vile mixtures; or else grope in dead men's bodies for the
    thing which killed them. Which is a pure handicraft and cheirergon,
    unworthy a scholar, who stoops of right to naught but the goose-quill!"

    "And yet, master, by these same things----"

    "Men grow rich," Basterga continued with a sneer, "and get power? Ay,
    and the bastard sits in the chair of the legitimate; and pure learning
    goes bare while the seekers after the Stone and the Elixir (who, in
    these days are descending to invent even lesser things and smaller
    advantages that in the learned tongues have not so much as names) grow
    in princes' favour and draw on their treasuries! But what says Seneca?
    'It is not the office of Philosophy to teach men to use their hands. The
    object of her lessons is to form the soul and the taste.' And Aldus
    Manucius, vir doctissimus, magister noster," here he raised his hand to
    his head as if he would uncover, "says also the same, but in a Latinity
    more pure and translucent, as is his custom."

    Grio scratched his head. The other's vehemence, whether he sneered or
    praised, flew high above his dull understanding. He had his share of the
    reverence for learning which marked the ignorant of that age: but to
    what better end, he pondered stupidly, could learning be directed than
    to the discovery of that which must make its owner the most enviable of
    mortals, the master of wealth and youth and pleasure! It was not to
    this, however, that he directed his objection: the _argumentum ad
    hominem_ came more easily to him. "But you do this?" he said, pointing
    to the paraphernalia about the stove.

    "Ay," Basterga rejoined with vehemence. "And why, my friend? Because the
    noble rewards and the consideration which former times bestowed on
    learning are to-day diverted to baser pursuits! Erasmus was the friend
    of princes, and the correspondent of kings. Della Scala was the
    companion of an emperor; Morus, the Englishman, was the right arm of a
    king. And I, Cæsar Basterga of Padua, bred in the pure Latinity of our
    Master Manucius, yield to none of these. Yet am I, if I would live,
    forced to stoop 'ad vulgus captandum!' I must kneel that I may rise! I
    must wade through the mire of this base pursuit that I may reach the
    firm ground of wealth and learned ease. But think you that I am the dupe
    of the art wherewith I dupe others? Or, that once I have my foot on firm
    ground I will stoop again to the things of matter and sense? No, by
    Hercules!" the big man continued, his eye kindling, his form dilating.
    "This scheme once successful, this feat that should supply me for life,
    once performed, Cæsar Basterga of Padua will know how to add, to those
    laurels which he has already gained,

    The bays of Scala and the wreath of More,
    Erasmus' palm and that which Lipsius wore."

    And in a kind of frenzy of enthusiasm the scholar fell to pacing the
    floor, now mouthing hexameters, now spurning with his foot a pot or an
    alembic which had the ill-luck to lie in his path. Grio watched him, and
    watching him, grew only more puzzled--and more puzzled. He could have
    understood a moral shrinking from the enterprise on which they were both
    embarked--the betrayal of the city that gave them shelter. He could have
    understood--he had superstition enough--a moral distaste for alchemy and
    those practices of the black art which his mind connected with it. But
    this superiority of the scholar, this aloofness, not from the treachery,
    but from the handicraft, was beyond him. For that reason it imposed on
    him the more.

    Not the less, however, was he importunate to know wherein Basterga
    trusted. To rave of Scholarship and Scaliger was one thing, to bring
    Blondel into the plot which was to transfer Geneva to Savoy and strike
    the heaviest blow at the Reformed that had been struck in that
    generation, was another thing and one remote. The Syndic was a trifle
    discontented and inclined to intrigue; that was true, Grio knew it. But
    to parley with the Grand Duke's emissaries, and strive to get and give
    not, that was one thing; while to betray the town and deliver it tied
    and bound into the hands of its arch-enemy, was another and a far more
    weighty matter. One, too, to which in Grio's judgment--and in the dark
    lanes of life he had seen and weighed many men--the magistrate would
    never be brought.

    "Shall you need my aid with him?" he asked after a while, seeing the
    scholar still wrapt in thought. The question was not lacking in craft.

    "Your aid? With whom?"

    "With Messer Blondel."

    "Pshaw, man," Basterga answered, rousing himself from his reverie. "I
    had forgotten him and was thinking of that villain Scioppius and his
    tract against Joseph Justus. Do you know," he continued with a snort of
    indignation, "that in his _Hyperbolimæus_, not content with the
    statement that Joseph Justus left his laundress's bill at Louvain
    unpaid, he alleges that I--I, Cæsar Basterga of Padua--was broken on the
    wheel at Munster a year ago for the murder of a gentleman!"

    Grio turned a shade paler. "If this business miscarry," he said, "the
    statement may prove within a year of the mark. Or nearer, at any rate,
    than may please us."

    Basterga smiled disdainfully. "Think it not!" he answered, extending his
    arms and yawning with unaffected sincerity. "There was never scholar yet
    died on the wheel."

    "No?"

    "No, friend, no. Nor will, unless it be Scioppius, and he is unworthy of
    the name of scholar. No, we have our disease, and die of it, but it is
    not that. Nevertheless," he continued with magnanimity, "I will not deny
    that when Master Pert-Tongue downstairs put our names together so pat,
    it scared me. It scared me. For how many chances were there against such
    an accident? Or what room to think it an accident, when he spoke clearly
    with the _animus pugnandi_? No, I'll not deny he touched me home."

    Grio nodded grimly. "I would we were rid of him!" he growled. "The young
    viper! I foresee danger from him."

    "Possibly," Basterga replied. "Possibly. In that case measures must be
    taken. But I hope there may be no necessity. And now, I expect Messer
    Blondel in an hour, and have need, my friend, of thought and solitude
    before he comes. Knock at my door at eight this evening and I may have
    news for you."

    "You don't think to resolve him to-night?" Grio muttered with a look of
    incredulity.

    "It may be. I do not know. In the meantime silence, and keep sober!"

    "Ay, ay!"

    "But it is more than ay, ay!" Basterga retorted with irritation; with
    something of the temper, indeed, which he had betrayed at the beginning
    of the interview. "Scholars die otherwise, but many a broken soldier has
    come to the wheel! So do you have a care of it! If you do not----"

    "I have said I will!" Grio cried sharply. "Enough scolding, master. I've
    a notion you'll find your own task a little beyond your hand. See if I
    am not right!" he added. And with this show of temper on his side, he
    went out and shut the door loudly behind him.

    Basterga stood a few moments in thought. At length,

    "Dimidium facti, qui bene c[oe]pit, habet!"

    he muttered. And shrugging his shoulders he looked about him, judging
    with an artistic eye the effect which the room would have on a stranger.
    Apparently he was not perfectly content with it, for, stepping to one of
    the long trunks, he drew from it a gold chain, some medals and a
    jewelled dagger, and flung these carelessly on a box in a corner. He set
    up the alembics and pipkins which he had overturned, and here and there
    he opened a black-lettered folio, discovered an inch or two of crabbed
    Hebrew, or the corner of an illuminated script. A cameo dropped in one
    place, a clay figure of Minerva set up in another, completed the
    picture.

    His next proceeding was less intelligible. He unearthed from the pile of
    duo-decimos on the window-seat the steel casket which has been
    mentioned. It was about twelve inches long and as many wide; and as deep
    as it was broad. Wrought in high relief on the front appeared an
    elaborate representation of Christ healing the sick; on each end, below
    a massive ring, appeared a similar design. The box had an appearance of
    strength out of proportion to its size; and was furnished with two
    locks, protected and partly hidden by tiny shields.

    Basterga handling it gently polished it awhile with a cloth, then
    bearing it to the inner end of the room he set it on a bracket beside
    the hearth. This place was evidently made for it, for on either side of
    the bracket hung a steel chain and padlock; with which, and the rings,
    the scholar proceeded to secure the casket to the wall. This done, he
    stepped back and contemplated the arrangement with a smile of
    contemptuous amusement.

    "It is neither so large as the Horse of Troy," he murmured complacently,
    "nor so small as the Wafer that purchased Paris. It is neither so deep
    as hell, nor so high as heaven, nor so craftily fastened a wise man may
    not open it, nor so strong a fool may not smash it. But it may suffice.
    Messer Blondel is no Solomon, and may swallow this as well as another
    thing. In which event, Ave atque vale, Geneva! But here he comes. And
    now to cast the bait!"
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    Chapter 4
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