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Meeting The Future
UNDER THE arched entrance
of the inn, a young man paced back and forth, his eyes fixed on the stone-flagged yard under his feet. Beyond him was
a cobbled street lined with pretty, tidy homes and shops. On
every building, window boxes spilled over with brilliant flowers. In
the distance, the spires of the city's tall cathedral rushed headlong
toward the sky. But Peter Schoeffer never noticed the beauty of the
scene. His thoughts were turned inward.
"How can I face such a colorless future," he asked himself over and
over. "I must do some sort of useful work. And my uncle's a
good-humored man. But to spend the rest of my life buying and
selling cloth? Just to make money? To exist, rather than to live for
something greater than myself? That's not enough!"
At the doorway of the inn, he turned on his heel and began striding back
the way he had come. "But I have to do it! I promised Father that if
he'd let me study in France, I'd go to work for Uncle when I came home.
And he's been really patient, letting me stay in Paris for two extra
years and work as a copyist . . . "
By now, Peter had reached the archway again. Here he stopped, staring
moodily into the street. "I'm a fool," he told himself. "But . . . why
can't I do something I really believe in? Something wonderful!
Something that will change the world!"
Just then, a group of excited-looking young men came hurrying out of the
building that stood opposite the inn. Peter watched as they crossed the
street, entered the innyard, and sat down at one of the tables that was
set up for the noon meal. As the others talked eagerly among
themselves, the youngest-looking called out, "Gerta, come out here! We
need some schnitzel."
"And noodles," cried one of his companions.
"And something to drink," called another.
A pretty woman appeared at the doorway, hands on hips. "All right,
things are cooking, be patient! Why are you always in such a rush?"
"We're in a hurry to become famous, of course," answered the same young
fellow with a grin. "Some day you'll tell your grandchildren that you
served the great Ulrich Zell when he was young!"
"And the other remarkable assistants of the celebrated Mr. Gutenberg,"
added the dark-haired fellow next to him.
"Maybe you'll be famous yourself just because you knew us," Zell
The woman gave them a look of amused disbelief as she headed back into
the kitchen. "Oh, yes, that I don't believe!"
Even in his present black mood, Peter couldn't help smiling at all this,
and he looked at these young men with something almost like envy. Were
they really destined for fame, he wondered. Who was this Gutenberg they
talked about? And if he was really so important, why hadn't he, Peter,
ever heard of him?
The one who had called himself Ulrich Zell looked up and met Peter's
eyes. He evidently liked what he saw: a tall, fair-haired young
stranger with an intelligent, open face. A young man who had obviously
been listening to what they were saying.
"I'm not joking, you know," Zell said, giving Peter a friendly nod, "Our
boss, Johann Gutenberg, will be remembered long after kings and generals
Peter couldn't resist asking, "But what will he remembered for?"
An older member of the group spoke up."Gutenberg is the greatest
inventor in Germany perhaps in the whole world."
As Gerta came bustling out of the inn again, carrying a tray loaded with
glasses and steaming platters of food, Ulrich Zell added with a grin,
"Come, my friend, sit down with us and we'll tell you more while we have
Fascinated out of his gloom, Peter drew a chair close to their table.
"Yes, tell me about this wonderful invention!"
"It's an entirely new way of printing," said the older man, putting down
his knife. "It's so quick and efficient that someday even ordinary
people will be able to own their own books!"
Peter frowned in disbelief. "That's a pretty dream, but it can't come
true, no matter how fast you learn to write. I'm an expert copyist, and
it takes me almost a year just to copy out a single book."
Wolfing down the last bite of his food, Zell got up, his face eager and
warm. "Give me half an hour, and I'll prove it to you! Our shop's just
across the street; come and see for yourself!"
Whether it was the youngster's enthusiasm or his own curiosity, Peter
couldn't resist that offer. He got up, saying, "Your boss won't mind?"
"Of course not," Zell cried, leading the way to a gray stone building
that stood across the street from the inn. "He's a wonderful person.
And after all, he's getting ready to share his knowledge with the whole
Indoors, Peter found himself in a large, vaulted room, well-lit by tall
windows set with bottle-glass. The place was crowded with heavy
furniture and curious machinery and at first glance the whole room
looked as if it was festooned with hanging laundry!
A large brick fireplace dominated one side of the room. Its
stone-topped hearth was littered with a variety of wooden and metal
objects, the like of which Peter had never seen before. The hearth was
evidently designed to produce much more heat than was needed to warm the
room, because the exhaust tent above it was stained black with smoke,
and a bellows hung on the wall, ready to pump air into the blaze.
Directly under the windows stood a large table. Its top was tilted at a
sharp angle, and within its recessed surface lay a rectangular frame,
packed with hundreds of small blocks of metal that were locked together
into smaller wooden frames. Across the half-dozen other tables, hundreds more
of these same metal blocks were scattered.
As they crossed the room, Peter discovered that the white squares he had
taken for laundry were really sheets of paper, hung up like wash to dry.
Each page was covered with regular rows of fine print, and (Peter
stepped closer, so that he could read what was written on one of the
pages) the work was flawless. Not a mark was out of place. And they
were all absolutely identical!
From beyond the veil of hanging pages came a grinding sound, then a
thump, followed by a long sigh. A thrilling shiver went down Peter's
spine. Surrounded by these strange tools and the magically perfect
written pages, he had the eerie feeling that he had come face-to-face
with his own destiny.
"What is this place," he cried aloud.
"It's the birthplace of a new idea." Zell's voice answered softly from
behind him. "We're creating a new life for mankind!"
The grinding and sighing sounds were repeated, and after a moment a new
voice demanded, "Yes? Are you the one from Fust? Did you bring me the
Johann Gutenberg followed his words through the curtain of drying pages.
He was no longer young. His long beard was gray, and his drab tunic was
stained with ink. He looked weary and intent, and his eyes seemed to be
gazing beyond Peter, into the far distance. Yet to Peter, he seemed
uncanny like some wise magician from ancient times. And Peter knew
instantly that he was in the presence of greatness.
"N-no Sir," he stammered. "My name is Peter Schoeffer and I'm only .
Zell came to his rescue. "We met this gentleman at the Inn, across the
street," he explained. "He's an educated man, Boss, a copyist from
Paris. I'm showing him around, telling him about your invention."
Gutenberg's face fell. "I thought you were a messenger from my banker.
He promised me . . ." Then he broke off in mid-sentence to give Peter
a keen look. "A copyist, are you? Come look at this!"
He turned, pulled down one of the pages that had been hung up to dry,
and thrust it into Peter's hands. "What do you think of this work? Are
the lines even? Are the characters finely written? Take a good look:
Could you do better?"
Peter ran an experienced eye over the printed sheet. "A fine page of
Latin Grammar, Sir. It's the one by Donnatus, I think. And it's written in
as fair a hand as I ever saw. Is this your work?"
"My work? Yes my thoughts, and my creation. But not my hand."
"Then who did write it?"
A smile softened Gutenberg's tired face. "It was done by mankind's new
and finest servant. Come and see!"
The old man vanished again among the rows of drying pages. As Peter and
Zell ducked their heads and followed him, Zell chuckled softly to
himself, "I think he's going to join us. Yes, the minute I saw him, I
knew he wouldn't be able to resist!"
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