The Autumn of Ambrosius

Ambrosius trembled as he held the small vial close to the candle.
His eyesight wasn't very good, but he thought the liquid had the right colour and consistency.

In the corner behind him the old, copper alembic continued to make gurgling noises. Ambrosius placed the vial on a little stand, smoothed his tattered, velvet coat, and sighed.
'Who knows?' he shrugged.

For many years the old mole had been trying to obtain the right potion, the magic elixir that could change base metals into gold. Gold! That fabulous treasure of the Earth, that divine secret of Nature!

Ambrosius was an alchemist mole. The last of an ancient lineage.
His grandfather, Bartholomew Talpa, had dabbled in the 'Hermetic Art' and had left Ambrosius his secret notes, rules and recipes, as well as all his strange equipment and his famous library.

But Ambrosius dug much deeper into the art and science than his grandfather ever did. For hours he would bury himself in the old books, straining his eyes in the dim, candle-lit basement, under the old beech tree.

It seemed that the old mole rarely left his home, but he often needed more materials for his experiments, twigs for the fire, and naturally more food from the earth, and water from the nearby stream.

Some evenings, when Ambosius was feeling a bit low, he would sit on his doorstep and dreamily gaze at nothing.
'Worms can move the Earth, but they can only go where they can pass', he would sadly muse to himself.
His friend Horace, who lived much higher in the same tree, would fly down to try to cheer him up.

'Ambrosius, if you could see as far as I can, you would discover an infinity of stars glittering like diamonds in the sky, moons of silver, golden myriads of galaxies all of which far outshine our earthly ambitions...'
And Ambrosius would smile wearily and nod his head again. Horace was a wise old bird, but too much of a poet to understand everything. It was the Secret, and the Secret was the essence, an earthly Truth as vast as the infinite universe itself!

Their discussions would often last long into the night, and the owl would only leave Ambrosius when he was sure that the mole was his old self again.

Ambrosius' universe was his library, his chemicals, secret ingredients, melting pots and stills, under the old tree.
He shuffled over to the fire, poked it and added more twigs and segments of pine cone. Then he placed a pot of what looked like lead, on an iron stand above the fire.

His old head was full of muddled figures and theories, but he always remembered his chemistry spells-

'Brimstone bees' wax
Gummi arabicum
Moonshine candle-grease
Pinch of arsenicum'

He ambled back to table, took the little vial and again held it to the candle-light.

'Molecules vermicules
Limatura ferri
Saltpetre turpentine
Juice of whortle-berry'

He nodded then grunted a little tune as he return to the fire carefully carrying the vial of orange liquid. He sat before the fire and slowly leaned over to gaze into the pot.

'Rule of three
Argentum vivum
Fireflies aeriform
Aqua mineraltum'

The grey metal was beginning to soften.
He pulled off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. It was most important not to allow the molten metal to bubble more than three times before adding the potion.

Ambrosius replaced his spectacles then suddenly groped for something in his pocket. 'Almost forgot again,' he thought to himself as he opened a little jar and rolled three drops of mercury into the melting pot.

All was ready. Ambosius stirred the molten metal then took a deep breath. He carefully lifted the little vial from his lap, uncorked it, sniffed, then just after the mixture had bubbled the third time, he added the precious contents to the pot.

Almost immediately the mixture crackled and spattered in such a way that had never occured before. His heart surged with a great boost of joy. "Eureka!" he cried uncontrollably.

His red nose twitched as he stirred the golden mixture and he softly repeated "Oh my goodness," while his heart thumped with excitement.

It appeared to be true. After endless attempts Ambrosius believed he had at last succeeded.
From base metal and his own brand of magic, science and blind-faith, it really looked as though he had made pure gold! At last he, Ambrosius Elymas Talpa, had achieved his greatest ambition. He had
arrived at the highest summit, the ultimate goal of his science!

He poured the yellow, molten metal into a mould and sat down breathing hard, watching it set. Suddenly he jumped up, did a curious little dance, then sat down again. He sighed deeply and contentedly.

'Old Horace will never believe it', he thought as he chuckled. Then he leant back and suddenly nodded off into a deep, snoring sleep.

Very early the next morning he awoke with a start. 'Was his old friend hooting again?' Then he remembered, and fear suddenly shook him. 'Was it all just another dream?'
He fumbled for his spectacles then grumbled and groped about for a candle to light.

There, still in its mould was the wonderful yellow metal. The mole 
sighed with enormous relief,  mopped his brow, then sat back in his chair smiling wistfully.
He suddenly felt old, tired and strangely sad. He shook his head slowly then snorted with self derision.

Outside the day was breaking.
The sun's first rays shone dustily through one of the tiny windows above.

Ambrosius struggled to his feet, put his hat on and made his way wearily up the steps to the window.

The windowpane, thicker that that of his spectacles, was covered with dust and grimy soot.
He tried to open the window but it was stuck fast.
Ambrosius decided he would go outside and take some morning air.

It was autumn. The rays of the rising sun cut across the fields and lit the trees.

The old mole sat on his doorstep. He felt very small, but he also felt a little wiser. 'Perhaps Horace was right after all', he thought smiling to himself, his eyes twinkling behind his spectacles like two tiny stars.
And all about him, richly gilt in the glorious morning light, lay a deep, golden splendour of the most beautiful beech leaves.

Ambrosius the alchemist
Lived beneath the wold
Where, many years he vainly spent
Trying to make gold.

He had an old alembic
And earthen crucibles,
Secret books and strange jars
Of herbs and chemicals.

Burying himself in old books
He passed his endless nights
Muttering incantations,
Shuffling through ancient rites.

Brimstone, bees' wax
Gummi arabicum
Moonshine, sunbeam
Pinch of arsenicum

Molecules, vermicules
Limatura ferri
Saltpetre turpentine
Juice of whortle-berry

Rule of three
Argentum vivum
Fireflies, aeriform
Aqua sublimatum

The years pass
As candles burn,
Time takes its toll;
And so came the autumn
Of Ambrosius the mole

One night in October
When the mole was quite old,
With blind faith and magic
At last he made his gold!

Slowly he climbed the steps
Leading to his door,
Which, with weary shoves he opened
To peer out on the moor.

The autumn sun was rising.
All was bathed in golden light.
The old mole couldn't see much
But his eyes were shining bright.

The Autumn of Ambrosius was written for children, which really means for all ages, because as a rule, one should never write or illustrate down to children.
It's a simple, philosophical tale written more than twenty years ago, but it was never completed. Even though there is only one finished illustration, two colour sketches and a few rough drawings, perhaps some readers of Viewfinder might find it interesting.
Maybe in one of the next posts there will be more information about this, with a personal view of children's book publishing in general.
Text and images © Mirino (PW) April, 2011


Mirino said...

L'histoire d'Ambrosius est assez simple, mais si on aimerait que j'ajoute une traduction en français, faite il y a assez longtemps, je l'ajouterai avec plaisir.

Bugs (in the Mojave) said...

Utterly lovely.
Fascinating sketches~
and the incantations appear authentic~ I'm convinced you found them in a dusty book and built your story around them.

Mirino said...

Thank you Bugs! The dusty book I found was my own. It was almost published at one time way back when, but finally H-C seemed to lack the courage, hence my not finishing the illustrations. But as such perhaps it's just as interesting, also in other ways.