Black Magic, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 2

The Students

“Dead,” repeated Balthasar; he pushed back his chair and then laughed. “Why — so is my difficulty solved — I am free of that, Theirry.”

His companion frowned.

“Do you take it so? I think it is pitiful — the fool was so young.” He turned to Dirk. “Of what did she die?”

The sculptor sighed, as if weary of the subject.

“I know not. She was happy here, yet she died.”

Balthasar rose.

“Why did you bury her within the house?” he asked half uneasily.

“It was in time of war,” answered Dirk. “We did what we could — and she, I think, had wished it.”

The young Knight leant a little way from the open window and looked at the daisies; they gleamed hard and white through the deepening twilight, and he could imagine that they were growing from the heart, from the eyes and lips of the wife whom he had never seen.

He wished her grave was not there; he wished she had not appealed to him; he was angry with her that she had died and shamed him; yet this same death was a vast relief to him. Dirk got softly to his feet and laid his hand on Balthasar’s fantastic sleeve.

“We buried her deep enough,” he said. “She does not rise.”

The Knight turned with a little start and crossed himself.

“God grant that she sleep in peace,” he cried.

“Amen,” said Theirry gravely.

Dirk took a lantern from the wall and lit it from the coals still smouldering on the hearth.

“Now you know all I know of this matter,” he remarked. “I thought that some day you might come. I have kept for you her ring — your ring —”

Balthasar interrupted.

“I want none of it,” he said hastily.

Dirk lifted the lantern; its fluttering flame flushed the twilight with gold.

“Will you please to sleep here to-night?” he asked. The Knight, with his back to the window, assented, in defiance of a secret dislike to the place.

“Follow me,” commanded Dirk, then to the other, “I shall be back anon.”

“Good rest,” nodded Balthasar. “To-morrow we will get horses in the town and start for Cologne.”

“Good even,” said Theirry.

The Knight went after his host through the silent rooms, up a twisting staircase into a low chamber looking on to the quadrangle.

It contained a wooden bedstead covered with a scarlet quilt, a table, and some richly carved chairs; Dirk lit the candles standing on the table, bade his guest a curt good-night and returned to the workroom.

He opened the door of this softly and looked in before he entered.

By the window stood Theirry striving to catch the last light on the pages of a little book he held.

His tall, graceful figure was shadowed by his sombre garments, but the fine oval of his face was just discernible above the white pages of the volume.

Dirk pushed the door wide and stepped in softly.

“You love reading?” he said, and his eyes shone. Theirry started, and thrust the book into the bosom of his doublet.

“Ay — and you?” he asked tentatively.

Dirk set the lantern among the disordered supper things.

“Master Lukas left me his manuscripts among his other goods,” he answered. “Being much alone — I have — read them.”

In the lantern light, that the air breathed from the garden fanned into a flickering glow, the two young men looked at each other.

An extraordinary expression, like a guilty excitement, came into the eyes of each.

“Ah!” said Dirk, and drew back a little. “Being much alone,” whispered Theirry, “with — a dead maid in the house — how have you spent your time?”

Dirk crouched away against the wall; his hair hung lankly over his pallid face. “You — you — pitied her?” he breathed.

Theirry shuddered.

“Balthasar sickens me — yea, though he be my friend.”

“You would have come?” questioned Dirk. “When she sent to you?”

“I should have seen no other thing to do,” answered Theirry. “What manner of a maid was she?”

“I did think her fair,” said Dirk slowly. “She had yellow hair — you may see her likeness in that picture on the wall. But now it is too dark.”

Theirry came round the table.

“You also follow knowledge?” he inquired eagerly.

But Dirk answered almost roughly.

“Why should I confide in you? I know nothing of you.”

“There is a tie in kindred pursuits,” replied the scholar more quietly.

Dirk caught up the lantern.

“You are not aware of the nature of my studies,” he cried, and his eyes shone wrathfully. “Come to bed. I am weary of talking.”

Theirry bent his head.

“This is a fair place for silences,” he said.

As if gloomily angry, yet disdaining the expression of it, Dirk conducted him to a chamber close to that where Balthasar lay, and left him, without speech, nor did Theirry solicit any word of him.

Dirk did not return to the workroom, but went into the garden and paced to and fro under the stars that burnt fiercely and seemed to hang very low over the dark line of the house.

His walk was hasty, his steps uneven, he bit, with an air of absorbed distraction, his lip, his finger, the ends of his straight hair, and now and then he looked with tumultuous eyes up at the heavens, down at the ground and wildly about him.

It was well into the night when he at last returned into the house, and, taking a candle in his hand, went stealthily up to Balthasar’s chamber.

With a delicate touch he unfastened the door, and very lightly entered.

Shielding the candle flame with his hand he went up to the bed.

The young Knight lay heavily asleep; his yellow hair was tumbled over his flushed face and about the pillow; his arms hung slackly outside the red coverlet; on the floor were his brilliant clothes, his sword, his belt, his purse.

Where his shirt fell open at the throat a narrow blue cord showed a charm attached.

Dirk stood still, leaning forward a little, looking at the sleeper, and expressions of contempt, of startled anger, of confusion, of reflection passed across his haggard features.

Balthasar did not stir in his deep sleep; neither the light held above him nor the intense gaze of the young man’s dark eyes served to wake him, and after a while Dirk left him and passed to the chamber opposite.

There lay Theirry, fully dressed, on his low couch. Dirk set the candle on the table and came on tiptoe to his side.

The scholar’s fair face was resting on his hand, his chin up-tilted, his full lips a little apart; his lashes lay so lightly on his cheek it seemed he must be glancing from under them; his hair, dark, yet shining, was heaped round his temples.

Dirk, staring down at him, breathed furiously, and the colour flooded his face, receded, and sprang up again.

Then retreating to the table he sank on to the rush-bottomed chair, and put his hands over his eyes; the candle flame leapt in unison with his uneven breaths.

Looking round, after a while, with a wild glance, he gave a long, distraught sigh, and Theirry moved in his sleep.

At this the watcher sat expectant.

Theirry stirred again, turned, and rose on his elbow with a start.

Seeing the light and the young man sitting by it, staring at him with brilliant eyes, he set his feet to the ground.

Before he could speak Dirk put his finger on his lips.

“Hush,” he whispered, “Balthasar is asleep.” Theirry, startled, frowned.

“What do you want with me?”

For answer the young sculptor moaned, and dropped his head into the curve of his arm. “You are strange,” said Theirry.

Dirk glanced up.

“Will you take me with you to Padua — to Basle?” he said. “I have money and some learning.” “You are free to go as I,” answered Theirry, but awakened interest shone in his eyes. “I would go with you,” insisted Dirk intensely. “Will you take me?”

Theirry rose from the bed uneasily.

“I have had no companion all my life.” He said. “The man whom I would take into must be of rare quality —”

He came to the other side of the table and across the frail gleam of the candle looked at Dirk. Their eyes met and instantly sank, as if each were afraid of what the other might reveal. “I have studied somewhat,” said Dirk hoarsely. “You also — I think, in the same science —” The silent awe of comprehension fell upon them, then Theirry spoke.

“So few understand — can it be possible —— that you —?”

Dirk rose.

“I have done something.”

Theirry paled, but his hazel eyes were bright as flame.

“How much?” then he broke off —“God help us —”

“Ah! — do you use that name?” cried Dirk, and showed his teeth

The other, with cold fingers, clutched at the back of the rush-bottomed chair.

“So I is true — you deal with — you — ah, you —”

“What was that book you were reading?” asked Dirk sharply.

Theirry suddenly laughed.

“What is your study, that you desire to perfect at Basle, at Padua?” he counter-questioned There was a pause; then Dirk crushed the candle out with his open palm, and answered on a half sob of excitement —

“Black magic — black magic!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32