Wanderlust affects people who are in questionable trades more often than it affects those who engaged in honorable professions. An alchemist who had been forced out of a town that no longer exists found himself in a small rural town. The town was picturesque. Pastoral farmlands surrounded the tiny village, the main tributary of a great river ran along the west end. Local children could be seen tending animals and helping their parents in the field.
The town was small and not wealthy in the traditional sense. The church stood in the center of town, most of the villagers attended church religiously because in those days religion meant something and religion stood for something. Villeins gave generously when the collection plate was passed. Money from the church coffers went to support families that had fallen on hard times. People knew this and the harsh reality of life is that the future is uncertain.
War and the recent smallpox epidemic had devastated the town’s population. The parson made an effort to visit women whose menfolk were gone. Often a purse containing some small change was found after he had left. The women of the town kept the parson fed to the best of their ability. It was a quiet town where people were content to live a simple life. Villager dreams consisted of a full stock-pot although it must be confessed that the maidens of the town longed for someone young and handsome.
Marriage prospects were slim in the dying town. Since the church was in the center of the town the alchemist stopped there first. He pulled a massive door open and before he could address the parson his eyes fell on the crucifix. It hung over the altar, suspended on a cross formed from rough branches. The crucifix was a small leaden figure, no more than two feet tall but exquisitely crafted. The parson, mistaking the alchemist’s silence, shared the history of the crucifix with the unscrupulous man.
The crucifix had been the gift of the local silversmith. His dead brother had fashioned the image, before the war the famous silver statue had been the town's main attraction. It was rumored that the statue had remarkable healing powers. People journeyed from far and wide in hopes that their illnesses and injuries might be cured.
The alchemist nodded as he listened to the parson’s tale. A silver crucifix would be worth a princely sum. He strode down the center aisle, the better to view the image. Leaden eyes gazed at the young man who was tall and well-formed. A plot formed in the mind of the alchemist. The parson went on to explain that the original silver crucifix had been stolen during a recent enemy occupation.
Lead was in abundant supply, the brother of the silversmith who had formed the first image agreed to fashion another that the empty space above the altar might once again be filled with the image of Christ. People acquainted with both statues agreed, the second statue had a sensitivity the first one lacked.
While rumors about the healing power of the silver statue were unsubstantiated a small boy placed at the foot of the leaden statue regained consciousness. A miller whose foot had been crushed was able to walk after kneeling beneath the statue and a babe born blue cried after her parents laid their infant beneath the feet of the leaden statue. The parson never spoke of the tears he had seen falling on that occasion.
Everyone else had been watching the child, he alone had seen the tears the crucifix had shed. The alchemist took careful note of all the parson said. He asked for directions to the nearest lodging place. The parson pointed him in a westward direction, halfway between the river and the cemetery was the local inn. Good food and jovial conversation could be had there along with some of Germany’s finest beer.
As the alchemist walked through the town he plotted. Flower boxes stood in the windows of the buildings he passed. The town was not rich but the townspeople took pride in keeping things neat and clean. Upon reaching the inn the alchemist opened the worn wooden door. His plan was not to reveal himself as an alchemist but to curry favor among the locals. He planned to pass himself off as a student passing through on his way to the University.
The simple people of the town accepted his explanation. The alchemist had a brother who had been sent to school. He pulled tales from his brother’s experiences and passed them off as his own. In order to win the townspeople over the alchemist helped where he could. He participated in barn raisings, he went to the local gathering places and when he attended church his eyes were drawn to the magnificent leaden crucifix.
As time passed the alchemist became obsessed with the crucifix. He spoke with the people whose lives had been transformed by the leaden object. The parson allowed him to sketch the image as the alchemist had a talent for art and drawing. His dream was to be an artist with a patron. Since his parents were poor they could not afford to send two sons to the University. The older one had been sent because it was his birthright. The younger son was apprenticed to an alchemist but unfortunately the old man had died before he could impart the secret of turning things from lead into gold.
By ingratiating himself with the townspeople the alchemist was able to live a comfortable life. Because of his obsession with the lead crucifix he was one of the first people to hear the news that the crucifix had fallen during a storm. He rushed to the church to see the extent of the damages. The parson informed him that the hand of the image of Christ had been dented in the fall. The silversmith had been commissioned to repair it. A pang went through the alchemist upon hearing this. He was sure he could do a better job but when he presented his credentials the parson smiled sadly. As long as the silversmith was alive he would maintain the statue.
Heartbroken and sick over the fate of the statue the lonely alchemist walked to the edge of town. When he came to the graveyard he stared bitterly at the churning river. Regardless of where he traveled there was no place for him. No one appreciated him or his work. People in town accepted him but he was not a respected member of the community. Hatred filled his heart. That night Satan visited him while he slumbered beneath the folded wings of a stone angel. When he awoke the alchemist started plotting anew.
The alchemist went on a skilful selling campaign. Slowly and patiently he explained that he was an alchemist. If the townspeople truly believed in God and their religion they would pool the money needed to turn the crucifix into gold. Surprisingly it was the silversmith who went about collecting funds for the transformation. He had never liked the leaden crucifix. He felt the image mocked him every time he went to the House of the Lord.
Months passed before the money was collected. During that time the alchemist befriended the silversmith. He learned as much as he could about his craft. The two men became fast friends with the older silversmith agreeing to apprentice the young alchemist. The alchemist worked well with his hands. The tedious work was as satisfying as the after hours ale was thirst-quenching. He began to regret his decision to leave with the townspeople’s money.
Slowly, without realizing it the alchemist settled into the town. He became good friends with the parson who introduced him to the brewer's daughter. Her eyes sparkled, her backside beckoned, the creamy expanse of bosom beneath her modesty scarf begged for hands, lips and praise. Often she and the alchemist would go walking. Together they strolled around the town, talking, laughing and making plans for the future.
The simple brewer and his unassuming wife accepted the alchemist. Frequently the alchemist was invited to dine at their home. The brewer listened carefully when the alchemist spoke. The brewer's wife informed him that their daughter had confessed her love for the alchemist. Upon hearing this the brewer stroked his beard thoughtfully. A hard-working young man would be a good person to take over the brewery when he grew old.
It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. One night while kissing his girl in the cemetery the alchemist went too far. The brewer's daughter pushed his eager hands away, she ran away crying leaving the alchemist tormented and needy. After spending some time in the arms of a woman who was more clever than pretty the alchemist spilled his secrets. He was going to reform. His apprenticeship had given him the respect that he had needed. The alchemist had made up his mind to cast aside his evil plots.
A new, fresh start was what he sought. The good people of the town handed the reluctant alchemist a handsome purse of money after a special Ascension service. The troubled alchemist made his weary way back to his friend the silversmith. He confessed that he had no idea how to turn anything into gold. The silversmith nodded gravely. He spoke harshly to the youth about deceit and deception. He demanded the purse of money and tucked it in a cupboard stating that it would be returned to the parson at daybreak.
During the night the money vanished. Although the silversmith questioned the alchemist carefully they searched the cottage in vain. At noon the silversmith told the alchemist that if the money could not be found he would have to alert the townspeople. The alchemist swore he would return with the money before the end of the day and if he could not find it he should be hung by the neck until dead.
His steps were sure and swift as he traveled back to the inn and requested the company of the woman he had made his confession to. The madam behind the desk smiled. That woman was entertaining another. She couldn’t be bothered now. The alchemist nodded. He went outside and entered through the window. The purse of money had been sewn into a sleeve of the harlot’s extra dress. Impatiently the alchemist tore the sleeve, clutching the purse in his hand.
The harlot entered her room to find the alchemist holding the money she had stolen. The poker for her fireplace was near, she picked it up and swung with all her might. The body of the alchemist was hastily buried behind an untended barn and a story was spread that he had been seen fleeing town. Despite his harsh speech the night before the silversmith's concern for his friend grew. He had heard the ring of truth in the alchemist’s impassioned speech.
The silversmith spoke privately to the parson who agreed to help him. The search for the alchemist continued with many of the townspeople helping. He had been liked and accepted by the villagers. Stories were traded of him helping harvest the crops. Many spoke of his fascination with the crucifix and how he had wanted it to be worked from the brightest, finest, purest of metals.
After the death of the young alchemist customers of the silversmith found themselves paying more than they had in the past. Night-time found the silversmith working by lamplight, most mornings he woke before the cock crowed. Late in October the alchemist’s body was discovered by hunting dogs. He was given a proper burial in the cemetery. A beautifully engraved stone was placed lovingly at his head. His funeral was well attended with many people mourning the untimely passage of a man blessed with creativity, kindness and an empathetic ear.
People who travel through the town today stop at three places of historical interest. The first place they visit is the church. The angelic visage of the young alchemist can be seen on the silver statue hanging above the altar. The second place tourists stop at is the shop of the silversmith who created the crucifix in the image of his friend. The third stop tourists frequent is the grave of the alchemist. His grave is easy to find. He was buried next to the silversmith. The grave of the alchemist bears a crucifix of lead that cries healing tears whenever a victim of some dreadful calamity is placed upon the old marble stone.