Maggiormente laughed and clapped the young poet on the shoulder. "In love? Why, that's wonderful. It should lend wings to your inspiration."
Gustave sighed noisily, eyes closed. "No, no, it is terrible!"
"Terrible! But why?"
The poet downed the rest of his wine and filled his glass again. "Because it has rendered me mute!"
"I don't understand," the alchemist said. "Love is a wonderful thing, surely?"
"Not when it's unrequited!" Gustave raised his hands skyward as if to summon an angelic witness. "Then it is purgatory."
"Ah, my poor friend," Maggiormente said, a hand over his own heart protectively. "Tell me everything!"
"Where to begin?"
The alchemist smiled. "The beginning usually serves best. Where did you meet her?"
Gustave sighed, slugged down more wine and then sighed again. "I met her at Nancy in the Place Stanislas."
"Where is that?"
"East of here, in Lorraine. I passed through on my return from the family estate."
Maggiormente raised an eyebrow. "So this just happened, eh?"
"Just happened!" Gustave shook his head. "I have spent an eternity in agony."
"But since when?"
"Thursday," the poet admitted.
Maggiormente threw back his head and laughed.
"A lifetime! I burn in hell every hour."
The alchemist tried to smother his mirth. "Tell me how you met her."
The poet closed his eyes, presumably the better to visualize the moment. "I was walking along the square in the dazzling midday sun—not a propitious time, you understand."
"Of course not." Maggiormente had no idea why not, but thought better of asking for an explanation at this point.
"But there she was! Sketching the statue in that glaring light. The morning's rain had left puddles on the stones that shone like crazy diamonds."
"Poetry," Maggiormente muttered.
"Love," the poet corrected him.
"I meant your description."
Gustave waved his hand, dismissing him. "Her hair was abundant and a golden fiery red, warm as a winter fire, bright as persimmons. Her eyes large and green—emeralds! And her lips—"
"Her lips as rich as plums!" Maggiormente suggested.
Gustave glared at him. "Plums?! Don't be ridiculous. Barberries!"
"What is a barberry?"
"Crimson berries that grow on thorny bushes, difficult to harvest but sublime in flavour."
The alchemist sipped his wine. "I'm getting hungry now."
"Forget your stomach!" the poet admonished. "I'm trying to tell you about love!"
"Well, what did you say to her?"
"Say to her?"
"When you met, what did you say to her?"
The poet cried aloud, standing on his feet and gesturing once more skyward. "Are you insane, monsieur? A vision like that? I could not decide if she were woman or goddess. I was speechless before her beauty and grateful I had been granted such a glance at perfection."
"So, you didn't speak to her?"
"No." The poet collapsed in his chair once more and poured out the last of the wine. The alchemist sighed.