My plans were laid, and I asked him to let me have one of the flagons of mercury at the current price, and took it to my room. The Greek went out to attend to his business, reminding me that he expected me to dinner. I went out likewise, and bought two pounds and a half of lead and an equal quantity of bismuth; the druggist had no more. I came back to the inn, asked for some large empty bottles, and made the amalgam.
We dined very pleasantly, and the Greek was delighted because I pronounced his Cerigo excellent. In the course of conversation he inquired laughingly why I had bought one of his flagons of mercury.
"You can find out if you come to my room," I said.
After dinner we repaired to my room, and he found his mercury divided in two vessels. I asked for a piece of chamois, strained the liquid through it, filled his own flagon, and the Greek stood astonished at the sight of the fine mercury, about one-fourth of a flagon, which remained over, with an equal quantity of a powder unknown to him; it was the bismuth. My merry laugh kept company with his astonishment, and calling one of the servants of the inn I sent him to the druggist to sell the mercury that was left. He returned in a few minutes and handed me fifteen carlini.
The Greek, whose surprise was complete, asked me to give him back his own flagon, which was there quite full, and worth sixty carlini. I handed it to him with a smile, thanking him for the opportunity he had afforded me of earning fifteen carlini, and took care to add that I should leave for Salerno early the next morning.
"Then we must have supper together this evening," he said.
During the afternoon we took a walk towards Mount Vesuvius. Our conversation went from one subject to another, but no allusion was made to the mercury, though I could see that the Greek had something on his mind. At supper he told me, jestingly, that I ought to stop in Portici the next day to make forty-five carlini out of the three other flagons of mercury. I answered gravely that I did not want the money, and that I had augmented the first flagon only for the sake of procuring him an agreeable surprise.
"But," said he, "you must be very wealthy."
"No, I am not, because I am in search of the secret of the augmentation of gold, and it is a very expensive study for us."
"How many are there in your company?"
"Only my uncle and myself."
"What do you want to augment gold for? The augmentation of mercury ought to be enough for you. Pray, tell me whether the mercury augmented by you to-day is again susceptible of a similar increase."
"No, if it were so, it would be an immense source of wealth for us."
"I am much pleased with your sincerity."
Supper over I paid my bill, and asked the landlord to get me a carriage and pair of horses to take me to Salerno early the next morning. I thanked the Greek for his delicious muscatel wine, and, requesting his address in Naples, I assured him that he would see me within a fortnight, as I was determined to secure a cask of his Cerigo.
We embraced each other, and I retired to bed well pleased with my day's work, and in no way astonished at the Greek's not offering to purchase my secret, for I was certain that he would not sleep for anxiety, and that I should see him early in the morning. At all events, I had enough money to reach the Tour-du-Grec, and there Providence would take care of me. Yet it seemed to me very difficult to travel as far as Martorano, begging like a mendicant-friar, because my outward appearance did not excite pity; people would feel interested in me only from a conviction that I needed nothing--a very unfortunate conviction, when the object of it is truly poor.
As I had forseen, the Greek was in my room at daybreak. I received him in a friendly way, saying that we could take coffee together.
"Willingly; but tell me, reverend abbe, whether you would feel disposed to sell me your secret?"
"Why not? When we meet in Naples--"
"But why not now?"
"I am expected in Salerno; besides, I would only sell the secret for a large sum of money, and I am not acquainted with you."
"That does not matter, as I am sufficiently known here to pay you in cash. How much would you want?"
"Two thousand ounces."
"I agree to pay you that sum provided that I succeed in making the augmentation myself with such matter as you name to me, which I will purchase."
"It is impossible, because the necessary ingredients cannot be got here; but they are common enough in Naples."
"If it is any sort of metal, we can get it at the Tourdu-Grec. We could go there together. Can you tell me what is the expense of the augmentation?"
"One and a half per cent. but are you likewise known at the Tour-du- Grec, for I should not like to lose my time?"
"Your doubts grieve me."
Saying which, he took a pen, wrote a few words, and handed to me this order:
"At sight, pay to bearer the sum of fifty gold ounces, on account of Panagiotti."