I leaned on my manure shovel and wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my habit so that I could better see the gleaming spider making its way down the street with the Mogul slouching behind on his too-short horse. He parted the pedestrians, carts, and horses on Brünn’s streets as if he were Our Lord, entering Jerusalem on an ass. I was so in love with his spider that it was some time before I realized that Father Gregor Mendel, leaning on his shovel, was in love with the Mogul’s horse.
An ornate carriage crossed the spider’s path, obscuring our view. As the carriage passed the spider, the horses spooked, dancing sideways. The carriage balanced on two wheels for an impossibly long time. Father Gregor nervously said, “Ach, du leiber."
I exhaled as the carriage’s wheels clanked back down onto the street. But then the rigging yanked the horses backward and they screamed in surprise. The terrified horses twisted the carriage the other way. A policeman on horseback shied away from the careening carriage. The Mogul, who continued to ride toward us, looked back over his shoulder at the chaos and adjusted his turban. All the while, the brass bodied spider clicked and buzzed toward us, leading the Mogul horseman along by a rope.
The carriage fell on its side, crashing down onto the policeman’s horse’s legs, knocking the policeman off the horse and into the shop nearest to our abbey. Pedestrians stepped back from the accident, staring dumbly. The horses screamed as they struggled.
The shoulder-high spider stopped just before it reached us. The Mogul said in clipped, accented English. “This is very bad.”
On the edge of frightened immobility, I stared at the last of autumn’s dead brown leaves that the spider’s legs had skewered as it walked. When I looked up, workmen in their filthy clothes, students in uniform, and even a banker in his suit and top hat rushed by our open stable door, toward the accident.
Father Gregor, who did not speak English, urged in German, “Once those in the street recover from the shock, they might harm this man. He is a foreigner and cannot defend himself from an enraged crowd.”
A policeman on foot stopped suddenly in front of the Mogul’s spider, glanced at us, then hurried toward the chaos. I opened my mouth and tried to speak. Finally I motioned to the Mogul and found my voice. “Come quickly. You will be safe with us.”
Someone in the crowd screamed, “Dame Gelderhaus!” I could hear a woman and some children crying. I feared that the crowd would rush our way at any moment. The Mogul, horse, and spider, entered the stable; I closed and barred the doors.
Gregor spoke calmly. “We must act quickly. There is nothing to fear, Brother Vincent.”
Nonetheless, I feared. Horses backed in their stalls as the brass spider’s buzzing and clacking hulk ponderously crept forward. I rushed to open the door to the abbey yard. The spider’s wondrous brass body gleamed in the morning light, the initials “J. C.” calling Our Lord, Jesus Christ, to my mind. Confused and frightened, I teetered at the door, on the verge of one of my episodes of emotional incapacitation.
As I stood, rooted, the Mogul loosened the leather straps that held the tarp that covered the spider’s head. An ornate wooden cage sat on top of a conglomeration of boxes and sacks, bound by a system of straps. The dark haired man waggled a finger between the bars of the cage and two grey-white muzzles appeared and nuzzled him. He murmured to them in his language, detached the cage, and reattached the straps.
Because I was not responding, Gregor put an arm around my shoulder and said, “Vincent, I need you. You must hold your composure. Take him into the abbey and feed him. I will see if the accident caused serious injuries, then I will inform the abbot. We can inform the police later.”
Gregor had seen my mental paralysis before. He gave me a gentle shove to move my feet out the door. The shove set me in motion, perhaps because the danger was out of sight and because I had not fully frozen.
I led the Mogul into the abbey as Father Gregor went out into the streets. Holding back tears of embarrassment at my inadequacy, I set a table in the refectory with bread, cheese, pickled shallots, and wine and left him there to eat. I brought a tub to my own cell and heated water for his bath with Brother Wojciech’s help. When I returned to the Mogul, he was sleeping at the table, leaned back in his chair with one hand dangling down so that his fingers curled into the little cage.