Part the Two Hundred Forty First: From Lead to Gold
“But you obviously lived,” Hope said as William Jukes took a breather from relating his tale. “Unless you’re not actually Jukes but some creation of Starkey’s that was animated to walk the earth.”
“Oh, I very much lived,” said Jukes with a smile. “Thrived, even. Maybe my boldly asking Master Starkey about his equipment and its purpose convinced him that I might be of some value to him in his examinations of the mysteries of the universe, or at the very least I assured him that I could be both amusing and of no danger to his experiments.
“Whatever his mind that night, I found myself after that assisting him in his examinations. I proved to be a quick study, adept at handling mercury and producing aqua vitae with only minimal tutelage required. I was quite skilled in using the instruments and practiced in concocting formulae as requested.”
“So what kind of potions did you brew?”
“The simpler ones, mostly. Digestives, analgesics, and of course gunpowder.”
“That’s supposed to be simple?” Hope asked.
“Oh yes, very. Compared with distilling essences that would aid in divination, these were fairly straightforward. I mean, Master Starkey and I once tried to call forth Sendivogius’ Elixir of Life to see if we could fill a bladder, and we nearly burned the lab down.”
“And you were trying to do this for what reason?”
“Well,” said Jukes, “I had this notion that such important vapors as those, were they to be captured and contained, if enough were so gathered, might make their container rise above the ground.”
“And the reason for wanting to do that is?”
“Imagine, if you will, a set of contained vapors so willing to stay aloft that anything tethered, or indeed anyone tethered, would be above the birds themselves in the air.”
Hope felt herself blink hard during her efforts to conceptualize this notion, but found her wits lacking in trying to imagine people flying above the birds…
“So you served your master well as an apprentice?” she asked.
“Yes, both of them.”
“You studied under a second alchemist?”
“A few years later,” said Jukes. “Master Starkey never explained to me why he did what he did, passing me off like that. I don’t think I did anything to make him angry with me, and I thought I was offering what I believed were valuable insights, but there it was: I was told to pack up and carry on with Master Boyle, going with him to set up in Oxford.
“Mind you, Robert Boyle was as good a master as anyone, and his laboratory was as productive as Master Starkey’s. Both men were learned and laboring, and their craft was very engaging. I even think Master Boyle might have been willing to serious consider closely the bladder of vapors idea and refine it, had he not been busy trying to work out the whole question of being.”
“You mean the bigger questions of life?”
“No, whether to be called an ‘alchemist’ or a ‘chymist’ thereafter. By then the whole question of ‘atoms’ was taking up most of his waking moments, and I wasn’t of much help with that thanks to my troubles with the Under Sheriff of Oxfordshire.”
Hope wondered where this was going next…
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