"Well, that was a surprise," Signor Maggiormente said, nonplussed.
Eduardo removed his paws from his ears. "Did you say something?"
"Indeed. I said 'that was a surprise.' Uffa!"
The lion sat up. "Ti sta bene! You go too far. You know the explosive properties of linseed oil. We saw it all too clearly with those painters."
The alchemist threw up his hands. "Where will progress come from if not through risk? We must press on." He poked in a desultory way at the charred spot on the table. "I need new beakers."
"You need a lot more than that," the lion added, raising itself once more to a dignified position.
"Oh yes, my evaporating dish is completely obliterated." Maggiormente shook his head with disappointment, as if the dish had somehow proved substandard. His rumblings about French alchemists in the last few days were doubtless to be doubled.
"No, no—I meant that you need to change your tactics!" The lion glared. If you have not seen a Venetian lion glare, you have not felt the full weight of scorn it casts upon the unsuspecting individual. Something about the amber lights in the eyes—which often seem to shoot out from the softer brown behind them—lend an extra weight of censure to just such a look.
The alchemist, however, accustomed to receiving such looks at a greater frequency than most human beings, did not quail. In fact, he did not actually notice it, as he was preoccupied with reliving the steps of the experiment in hopes that he could discover the flaw in sequence that had led to this latest explosion.
"Hmmm?" was all he managed to utter, turning to look at the big cat as it ruffled its wings in annoyance.
"I said you need to change your tactics. I think this linseed oil avenue is simply a diversion. You've been exploding or burning things for days now with no discoveries of any useful nature."
Maggiormente narrowed his eyes to look over at the lion. "In the process of discovery, one must hope for benefits that reveal themselves later. This is not the simple mechanics of mathematics!"
Eduardo yawned. "Mathematics have far greater subtlety than mucking around with oils and unguents."
"You are simply prejudiced."
"Math tends to be less lethal as well," Eduardo added, raising a censorious eyebrow toward the charred table.
"The price of research—" The alchemist's comments were cut short by a peremptory knock on the door. The two exchanged glances. An observer might have commented on the guilty look in those glances, but there was none to see but the nightingale asleep in its nest on the ledge outside the window.
At last Maggiormente sighed and walked over to the door to throw it open. Doing so revealed the grim figure of their concierge, Mme. Gabore. "Signora!" he cried, doing his best to sound pleased to see her.
"Monsieur, things cannot go on like this!" She fluttered into the room in a cloud of tobacco and cherry scent, her surprisingly trim figure as always a mismatch to her rather seedy appearance: overly kohled around her bloodshot eyes, too much rouge. "My other tenants, how they complain!"
"Pardon, signora. It is the nature of science…"
"But the noise, the smell! I cannot turn my other tenants away! What will I do? Enter the poor house? Surely a wise man like you can understand." She batted her ringed eyes at him.
"Ah…" Maggiormente found himself without further words as the concierge once again squeezed his arm with undue familiarity. The fascination she found with that part of his anatomy stumped him.
"They are all threatening to go. What am I to do, monsieur? If my house is empty, I will be bereft. You can understand." She leaned her rouged cheek upon on his arm, still held captive.
"Ah, oui…madame. But science—she has demands, too."
"Oh, perhaps, perhaps. She is a cruel mistress, is she not? How you suffer!" Actual tears appeared to well up in her eyes.
"I suppose," the alchemist responded, stuck for an answer.
"Well, perhaps you can persuade me to let you stay. I can be so easily persuaded by one like you," she added in a whisper.