A miraculous story that took place in Venice – the Italian city wearable for legends.
Winter was in decline. Her more fortunate rival – Spring- was approaching, and this was felt both in the gentle gusts of wind, strengthening the smell of the Grand Canal waters; and in the first heat of sunlight; and in the excited cooing of pigeons; and in the slightly lighter clothes and in a slightly more relaxed pace of the walking of the street passers-by.
Merchants occupying Piazza Rialto, rejoiced at clear weather, promising good demand, and discussed the latest things of their households and neighbors. They were looking forward to the imminent arrival of the next boat with foreigners eager for Venetian beauties and trinkets.
The flow of people was moving between the market stalls, throwing out from time to time the next buyer – a connoisseur or a collector, or an idle onlooker, stopping at one or another stand that had goods.
A young girl, dressed safe but tasteful, who could be mistaken for a student in later times, slowed down hesitantly to stop near the stand with carnival masks. The girl started looking at the leather products in confusion, so embarrassed of her interest, as if choosing accessories to emphasize the shape of her female body. The blush of embarrassment made the young Venetian even more beautiful, and the owner of the goods could not help but admire her slender figure, glancing over it with pleasure.
The perky merchant started praising his goods in his usual manner, picking up one mask or another and turning it in different ways before the eyes of the girl. He tapped the mask with his fingers, demonstrating the wonderful properties of the leather treated with a special composition, and telling some special story. Repeating the masks were made in the best workshop of Venice according to the secrets of the old masters, the owner of this excellent product invited the seignorite to try on a particular model.
The girl whose name was Lucia listened to him, smiling absent-mindedly at her thoughts.
Every year, starting from the exciting time of growing up, she waited with special trembling for the beginning of the carnival week. The same thing was repeated this spring, although this particular year had some peculiarities.
It happened that dramatic changes occurred in the life of Lucia over the last year: Lucia found her love. That is why, from now on, everything her glance falls on reminds her of Marco and is connected to him through invisible threads. Everything that Lucia sees before herself should serve for her love for Marco. When meeting with Marco, Lucia tells him all the most interesting things she learned or saw, and his smile and approval serves as a reward for her. Lucia belongs to the kind of women who want to feel on a par with men in everything. Marco is pretty well-educated, and therefore she has to make a lot of efforts to keep him interested. Most in the world Lucia is afraid of boring him. Truth be told, she would like to share every minute of her life with him. She would like him to be always with her, but this is not yet possible. However, that is precisely the kind of changes occurred to Marco recently that make Lucia particularly sad…
At the carnival, Lucia will charm Marco, she only needs to choose the right mask for this. Lucia looked from the graceful feminine masks of Columbine to grotesque masks with hooked noses. And she averted her eyes in a fright from the huge beak on the Plague Doctor mask.
Perhaps she should choose something extravagant since only these kinds of things Marco might like. Wearing such as a mask and costume, Lucia will be emboldened and will forget happily about all the conventions. Lucia thought longingly about those ancient times when the Venetians put on masks whenever they did not want to be recognized.
Suddenly Lucia remembered her friend Bianca’s words. She told she saw masks with special holes in order to ensure possibility for kissing. So maybe Lucia should make love with Marco right in the mask… These thoughts made Lucia blush with shame. She immediately felt the secret longing in her lower abdomen, and this was not surprising since Lucia was extremely sensual, that was unmistakably felt by some men, making her even more embarrassed.
“Hey, Senorita! Are you going to buy anything? ” Although it was nice for a merchant to stare at a pretty girl, but trade is trade. In addition, he understood that such a girl was too tough for him.
“Thank you, senior. I will definitely buy a mask from you, but I will do it another time”.
“You should hurry up, because soon I will have nothing left! ”
Lucia started walking along the promenade.
Recently, Marco has become distant, cut himself off from Lucia. In earlier times, he had always met her with joyful excitement, but now it seemed to her that her visits only annoyed him. He had acquired the habit of locking himself for a long time in his cabinet, where she was not allowed to enter. Lucia feels strange smells coming from the cabinet, and uneducated people would call theese strange smells devilish. Sometimes Lucia finds incomprehensible allegorical drawings in his house, that look most like medieval miniatures. These drawings depict female and male figures in magnificent ancient clothes, standing in unnatural poses with obscure objects in their hands.
Whenever Lucia tells Marco he has changed, he replies he has always been like this, but she just did not want to notice it. Sometimes it occurred to Lucia she had caused only a temporary flash of feelings in Marco, one moment of madness, and now his life is returning to normal, and there is no place for her – Lucia – in his life anymore.
“Do you have another woman?” One day Lucia could not stand it and asked a straight question.
Marco was off his face in response. He throwed an absent-minded sight on her and went into his head. Some conflicting feelings seemed to catch up with him. Lucia already regretted asking this question since she was too afraid to hear the truth. Her temples throbbed anxiously, and the time seemed to stop. The girl wanted to run away, just not to hear the insulting truth.
After all, if the word is spoken, it means that there is no return back to ignorance.
Having hardly found the strength to look up at Marco, Lucia was amazed: he was twisting into convulsions of laughter now.
“Oh, yes … I really have a woman. This is such a special woman … “
Lucia was supposed to be upset, but Marco laughed so contagiously that she barely kept from smiling. Therefore, the girl only frowned dramatically, getting the severe look on her face – in her opinion, that was the proper way to listen to such a confession. – “Lucia, don”t be jealous … I assure you she is terribly old…”
The smile disappeared from Marco’s face, and watching him, Lucia even went cold with fear – strong passions appeared on his face too sharply. It turns out that she does not know him – her lover – at all! Marco stood up abruptly from his chair and began pacing around the room, with his hands in the pockets of his silk robe.
“Do you know what they usually say about her? She has deceived and deprived the strength and life of all those who were fascinated by her. And she has left nothing in return, although she was given everything.”
Lucia got angry. Yet he can tell her about some promiscuous woman. Which, moreover, is much older than him. Of course, she – young and inexperienced Lucia – cannot compete with such a rival. Not for nothing that Bianca told her that men are used to chase after frivolous women being not squeamish about middle-aged harlots.
And then Lucia had a sudden shock of recognition. “Tell me one thing: is she rich?”
Her thoughts were mixed up. She almost asked: is she the one who givies you expensive old manuscripts?
Marco, who was drinking wine from a glass at that time, started coughing, as if having choked on something.
“You guessed it: she really can make me incredibly rich. And even more…she really can do my life gold”, and Marco laughed a strange laugh, again turning into a cough.
Overwhelmed by strong feelings, Marco looked at Lucia, and his passion changed direction: he wanted to take possession of the girl. But Lucia, too excited about everything that happened, did not find anything better than to run out of the apartment…
At first, Lucia could not understand why her eyes rested on an unremarkable market stall. The table was littered with various books in covers with big names. A good half of the books were devoted to Casanova”s adventures, and the second – to the description of incredible stories that happened to Marco Polo. When looking at the word “Marco” repeated on the covers of books, Lucia experienced a mixture of sweet pain and delight – this was another thread invisibly connecting her with her lover.
Of course, it was no wonder to meet such a name in the city, which is patronized by St. Mark. However, Lucia did not look at the book cover about the Venetian traveler. Instead, she looked at the colored miniature that she had previously seen at Marco’s house: two horsemen were fighting each other hiding behind shields. A knight with a sun instead of a head sat on a white lion, and his rival was a naked woman with a head in the form of a moon disk.
“Сan I get you anything?” the unpleasant croaking voice of the old merchant came on. and Lucia looked up at him.
Later she tried to remember what she felt at that moment. An incredible force coming from the merchant was so palpable that there was no way to resist it. Lucia recalled that gypsies have a similar strength of attraction. Mindful of the stories about this kind of people, she got scared. She was afraid she would be forced to buy something irrelevant or might have lost the contents of her wallet.
Meanwhile, leaning towards her, the merchant whispered in her ear, “I know what you need: you were interested in this funny picture, and you could not pass by”.
In response, Lucia could not bring herself to say anything.
In the meantime, the old man continued, “You come with me, and I will show you a lot of the stuff like this”.
Having appeared like that out of the ground, an enigmatic tall man in a leather vest came up near them.
“Thanks for replacing me, Giacomo. Now I’m already back”, he said addressing the old man, casually glancing at the girl and coming to the stand with books. “I see you are not wasting your time here”, he grinned good-naturedly and then added something else in foreign tongue that was unfamiliar to Lucia. The two men laughed.
If Lucia were not affected by a kind of Giacomo magnetism, then she would immediately blush, and perhaps she even would have tried to run away. But a certain magnetic force held her near Giacomo. She had no reason to fear him; and at the same time, the old man could shed some light on Marco’s strange passions, she reasoned.
“Let’s go soon to my place, otherwise the my liquid gold will wear off and you will change your mind,” Giacomo muttered with anxiety.
Lucia was amazed and decided to remember the unusual phrase.
After taking a few steps, the old man stopped near a column crowned with a bronze statue of a winged lion.
“You should look here, and then your beautiful legs will not get tired of the long journey”, he pointed to the statue of a strong animal, resting on an open book with his paw … Looking at the sculpture, Lucia felt that her legs gave way. And the next second, she was already looking at a completely different lion – this time it was a wooden lion covered in cracked paint. This lion adorned one of the huge gondolas that was standing by the pier.
The girl looked around and gasped: they turned out to be near the Arsenal on the very edge of the city. Giacomo led her straight to an abandoned house.
Upon hearing the noise, a sleepy owner of the house in a nightcap walked out to them.
“You are hanging around again, as you always do”, he grumbled and wandered back to one of the unlit rooms. One could hear him flopping onto the bed and sniffling right away.
“One day I tried my liquid gold on him in a hurry. Most likely, I made a mistake in the proportions. As a result the poor man doesn’t know the difference between night and day, but he no longer requires me to pay for housing”, Giacomo explained smugly as they climbed up the stairs eaten of worms.
They ended up in the cabinet. Lucia seemed to find herself in a time a few centuries ago. The cabinet was filled with utensils for chemical reactions, scales, globes, hourglass, littered with ancient books.
On the wall, Lucia saw portraits of pundits against still the same globes, compasses and books. Lucia imagined their faces looked a lot like Giacomo’s face.
In one of the paintings, three figures were depicted. Dressed in clothes of the last century, these gentlemen heated chemical vessels on fire, carefully observing the result. Lucia knew the artist’s brush – it was her beloved Pietro Longa.
“Why am I here?” Lucia thought in a flash from time to time. “I came here for Marco’s benefit”, she answered herself.
Giacomo sat the girl down in an easy chair and brought her a cup filled with some kind of liquid. Forged out of the precautions, hungry and extremely excited, Lucia immediately tasted the drink. She immediately felt calm.
Meanwhile, Giacomo took off his raincoat, put on a bathrobe and sat opposite the girl in such a way as to be able to sneak a look at her. He filled the tube with some kind of powder and took a puff. Lucia felt a pinching in her eyes due to acrid smoke.
“One more girl who was traded away for such a picture,” the old man breathed a sigh sadly, nodding at a miniature with a picture of a snake devouring its own tail.
“How is that possible? What do you mean?” Lucia almost got violent. Most of all she was offended by the words that she was not the only one girl who found herself in such a situation.
“Be patient, and I’ll explain everything to you,” said Giacomo, blowing smoke puffs. “By the way, here you are, if you want, they are almost as old as me, but over time they do not dry up, but only become tastier. And the local worm doesn”t eat them”, he picked up a plate of pine nuts from somewhere off the floor and put it on the table in front of Lucia.
“I have been living in the world for a long time – usually people don”t live for such a long time. Therefore, I am reasoning about high matters rational and cynically. In addition, liquid gold also helps me in this – it gives clarity to the mind and… hardness to my members, – with these last words Giacomo grinned and moved a little closer to Lucia.
“Tell me, finally, about all these pictures and about liquid gold”, Lucia asked almost plaintively. It was high time for her to think about whether it was too late already and how she would get home, but at first she certainly wanted to know about the mysterious life of her lover.
Soon her curiosity was rewarded. She learned, for example, that the figures she had seen in miniature in Marco”s apartment meant mercury and sulfur – masculine and feminine. These substances are entering into marriage, while creating a cherished alchemical elixir.
Giacomo brought Lucia towards the retort and explained that the healing of metals occurs there and as a result, the metals are cured of spoilage and turning into gold.
Lucia seemed to doze off, and when she woke up, she found herself lying in bed.
” I’ve covered you with a rug because you were trembling”, she heard Giacomo’s voice from the next room.
From that day on, Lucia’s life changed. Now, coming to Marco, she was knowledgeably interested in his successes in alchemy. Marco was surprised by the awareness of his passionate girlfriend in an enjoyable way. They had a pretty heated discussion about his last steps in mixing and evaporating substances. Usually after these alchemical conversations, Marco became so excited that the lovers ended up in bed. Lucia was overjoyed about this.
But at the same time, Lucia could not do without Giacomo: she needed to come up with some new topics for conversations with Marco. She has already realized her lover appreciates her precisely for her deep knowledge in alchemy.
Each time she wanted to visit old Giacomo, she stopped near one of the city”s many winged lions, narrowed her eyes and soon she found herself near the abandoned house.
Lucia was so full of love these days that she was ready to caress even the old Giacomo. And he invariably poured some sort of drink for her and told her his tales about red and green lions and the black dragon. After drinking, Lucia forgot herself, and then she found herself under a rug in a warm bed.
Having learned a little to disassemble the alchemical allegories in engravings and miniatures, Lucia experienced disappointment and emptiness. The alchemical structure of the world could not be understood with the help of conventional logic. These pictures with an abundance of characters, colored by the perverted imagination of artists, frightened the girl. For that matter, she was much more attracted to grimaces and elaborate mask poses in the carnival crowd.
On the first day of the carnival, Lucia went to a coffee shop to have a chat with Bianca.
“So did you managed to persuade Marco to go with you to the carnival?” Bianca asked her.
Lucia did not know what to answer. In truth, Marco flatly refused to leave the house, especially on such an insignificant occasion as the carnival.
“I hope he will come … He is so extravagant and loves to surprise me”, Lucia said with a slightly fake intonation. ” Perhaps he will come to make a surprise for me.”
In response, Bianca just shook her head thoughtfully.
At that very moment, the girls heard the sounds of a passing carnival procession and ran out into the street. Wearing masks of colombines, they merged with the crowd in the dance of spring and love. Soon Lucia was carried away by a gentleman dressed as a Harlequin.He was about the size of Marco, and Lucia perked up.
Having heard the cry of Bianca, Lucia turned around and immediately lost sight of her Harlequin. “Where is he now and with whom?” – she thought longingly. Her mood darkened so much that she barely got out of the crowd and wandered house.
The day came when Lucia realized a kind of new life was growing inside her.
This day began unusually since the carrier pigeon came in through the window of her room.
Lucia immediately remembered the paper dove Colombine,that has been launched from the bell tower every year at the beginning of the carnival. All the previous years, Lucia always was standing in the main square of the city. in a crowd of onlookers and was watching passionately the rain of confetti scattering. But this year she missed the show. After thinking about it, she got upset.
On the foot of the carrier pigeon, Lucia found a note from Giacomo. He asked her to come earlier today, as he would be very busy in the evening and would not be able to tell her about alchemy.
Having cleaned herself up and having breakfast, Lucia was magically transported to Giacomo in the usual manner.
She found him standing facing the window. Without even turning to her, he said, “Today you will know important news. Very important news … The divine spirit has generated the novel substance”.
He put on his hat and left the room without even glancing at Lucia.
In amazement, Lucia remained standing in the middle of the cabinet, frozen. When she came to her senses, she looked around and took mechanically several sheets of paper from Giacomo’s table, intending to show it to Marco.
However, it was still too early to go to Marco since he did not like her bothering him during the day time, therefore Lucia wandered the streets of the city, thinking about the matter common to every woman. She wondered if it was time for her period to come. The number of days while her underwear was spotless suddenly seemed incredibly large to her. She counted again, but there could be no mistake. The girl immediately recalled with concern all the cases of her recent feeling sick, and realized a new life was born inside her.
Lucia could not understand whether to laugh or cry. She was overwhelmed with сomplex feelings. Of course, it had to happen sooner or later since although Marco was an amazing lover in her inexperienced view, and he always took responsibility for preservation, but sometimes he could be misfiring.
At the same time, she could not imagine what would happen to her next and how her life would change. Her heart was sinking anxiously at the thought of this uncertainty.
This important conversation with Marco Lucia decided to start obliquely. To begin with, she handed him coquettishly the sheets of paper from Giacomo’s desk. Marco grabbed them greedily, but soon, to her surprise, he became furious: “What are you giving me? What is it? ”
“But do you not see? These are formulas and notes”, Lucia answered in confusion. –
“Thank God, I know German and I can always tell it’s great Paracelsus by the manner he writes. And here, on this lousy little piece of paper, the words of Paracelsus are copied. By the way, I have already read them once before. He writes about growing homunculus. You should read this: he suggests placing sperm in horse dung… Rest assured, I can find a better application for my semen”, he said between gritted teeth.
Lucia tried to approach him, but he seemed not to notice this, continuing his speeches.
“Why do I need a homunculus? If you must know, I do not share these crazy ideas. I only need to learn how to get gold. I have a very mundane nature, as you might understand”.
“But listen to me, it’s not my fault… I don”t even know what this homunculus is”, Lucia babbled helplessly.
“This is a being born in a test tube … Think about it: why would I need him? What can I do with him? Unless I can sell him to the carnival jesters … ”
“But a new life is something so amazing anyway! ”
“Remember: I only need gold. And… you know what … Don”t come to me anymore”, Marco said , trying not to look at her.
The cabinet door was shut.
Lucia wanted to share her pain only with Giacomo. Bianca was not fit to be a listener, since having being talking to Bianca, Lucia was always eager to show Marco is loving her madly. Therefore, now she did not want to look like a loser in the eyes of her friend.
Finding herself in front of Giacomo”s house, she first took notice on the door sign. It said “Giacomo Girolamo Casanova”. “That’s amazing”, – she had an idea, as she was sure this door sign was not there before.
Lucia knocked for a long time for someone to open the door. Finally the sleepy owner of the house appeared.
“The gentleman from upstairs has left and will never return,” he mumbled and bolted the door.
Being stunned, Lucia thought about the vicissitudes of fate.
Now a child lives inside her. Lucia did not know for sure whose child this was.
Giacomo loved her as she was. And Marco loved only alchemy. Therefore, his child could only be a homunculus – an artificial being from a test tube.
On reflection, Lucia decided that the baby might be from Giacomo.
“Only carnival voluptuousness is able to cure melancholy”, Lucia thought.
Having thrown off fatigue, she ran toward the carnival crowd. Lucia was sure
Harlequin would appear near her very soon. Harlequin, indeed, was not slow to come. This time, Lucia saw her companion was not like Marco at all.
He took Lucia’s hand ceremoniously and began to drag her somewhere through the crowd. Everyone stepped aside to let them pass. They ended up in a space with seats – Lucia did not even think earlier that such seats were provided for someone at the carnival. Lucia was seated in the most central box, and Harlequin sat next to her. All the eyes were fixed on them. Everyone Lucia saw now looked not like the diverse crowd of carnival, but like people in the court suite clothes.
Wonderful music sounded, and Lucia realized it is here and now that the most important event in the entire history of the world is taking place. A whole procession, moving slowly in a trance, brought a huge picture depicting a golden baby to the stage. All those present except Harlequin servilely prostrated themselves, muttering phrases in an incomprehensible language.
Taking his bows, a man in a page robe approached Lucia and handed the precious crown to her servilely, lying on the velvet pillow. Lucia acted on a hunch. Under the encouraging smile of Harlequin, she put on this unusual headdress. The pair crown was handed to Harlequin.
Harlequin again took Lucia’s hand with respectful trepidation, and they went to the center of the platform. The solemn music started, and Lucia was amazed to see a certain glow around her and Harlequin.
Several perky artists, having made their way to the stage with the help of elbows, hastily painted everything they saw to sell such drawings for big money after that. The images depicted in these drawings looked exactly like the Alchemical wedding. Lucia realized she had become the Queen and Harlequin had become the King.
… However, Lucia could not say for sure whether it all really happened or all these pictures just flashed before her mind when she stumbled during a carnival dance and lost consciousness for a while.