Black Magic, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 6

The Lady

Through the blunt-pointed arches that gave on to the sunny gardens a thin stream of students issued from the lecture-room.

Behind the castellated roof of the university the mountains appeared, snow cold against the sun-lit sky; at the bottom of the gently sloping garden lay the town of Basle with the broad blue Rhine flowing between the glittering houses.

The students came in twos and threes and little groups, laughing together over the doctor who had been lecturing them, over some point in their studies that had roused their amusement, or merely because it was a relief after being confined for hours in the dark hall.

The long straight robes, dark shades of purple, blue and violet, fluttered behind them in the summer wind as they gradually dispersed to right and left among the trees.

Theirry, walking with two others, looked about him for Dirk, who had not attended the lecture. “We are going up the river,” said one of his companions. “We have a fair sailing boat — it will be pleasant, by Ovid!”

“Will you come?” asked the other.

Theirry shook his head.

“Nay, I cannot.”

They both laughed.

“See how he is given to meditation! He will be a great man, certes!

“I have a matter that commands my time,” said Theirry.

“Dear lover of rhetoric! Hark to him — he will even sit in the shade and muse!”

“’Tis cooler,” smiled Theirry.

They came to a pathway bordered with laurels and dark glossy plants, and from a seat amid them Dirk rose at their approach.

He was distinguished from the others by the greater richness of his dress; his robe, very voluminous and heavy, was of brown silk; he wore a gold chain twisted round his flat black cap, and his shirt was of fine lawn, laced and embroidered.

The two students doffed their hats in half-mocking recognition of the exquisite air of aloofness that was his habitual manner.

He gave them a steady look out of half-closed eyes.

“Hast learnt much today?” he asked.

“Aristotle is not comprehended in an afternoon,” answered the student, smiling. “And I was at the back — Master Joris of Thuringia yawned and yawned, and fell off his stool asleep! The Doctor was bitter!”

“It was amusing,” said the other. “Yet he was not asleep, but swooned from the heat. Mass! but it was hot! Where were you?”

“Improving my Latin in the library. This after-noon I have put the story of Tereus and Philomena into the vulgar tongue.”

“Give you good even.” The two linked arms. “We know a joyful inn up the river.” As they disappeared Dirk turned sharply to Theirry.

“Did they ask your company?”

“Yea.”

Dirk frowned.

“You should have gone.

“I had no mind to it. They are foolish.”

“Ay, but we are beginning to be remarked for closeness in our habits. It would not be pleasant should they — suspect.”

“’Tis not possible,” said Theirry hastily.

“It must not be,” was the firm answer. “But be not churlish or over reserved.”

“I wish for no company but thine,” replied Theirry. “What have I in common with these idlers?”

Dirk gave him a bright tender look.

“We need not stay here over long,” he answered. “I do think we know all this school can teach us.”

Theirry put back the laurel bough that swung between them.

“Where would you go?” he asked; it was noticeable how in all things he had begun to defer to the younger man.

“Paris! Padua!” flashed Dirk. “Would you consider that? One might attain a reputation, and then — or one might lecture —— in any large town — Cologne, Strasbourg.”

“Meanwhile —?”

“Meanwhile I progress,” was the whispered answer. “I have essayed — some things. Will you come to my chamber to-night?”

“Ay — secretly?”

Dirk nodded; his grave young face under the student’s flat hat was slightly flushed; he laid his hand on Theirry’s arm.

“I have something to tell you. Here it is scarcely wise to speak. There is one who hates me —— Joris of Thuringia. Now, good-bye.”

His great eyes lit with a look of strong affection that was flashed back in Theirry’s glance; they clasped hands and parted.

Theirry looked after the brown, silk-clad figure, as it moved rapidly towards the university, then he took his own way, out of the gardens on to the hill-side, away from the town.

With his hands clasped behind his back, and his handsome head bent, he followed aimlessly a little path, and as he wound his way through the trees wild day-dreams stirred his blood.

He was on the eve of putting himself in possession of immense power; these evil spirits whom he would force to serve him could give him anything in the world — anything in the world!

The phantasmagoria of golden visions that arose to blind and intoxicate him, the horror of the means employed, dread of the unthinkable end to come, were not to be put into any words.

He sat down at length on a fallen tree trunk and gazed with rapt eyes down the silent forest path.

He did not know where he was; certainly he had come farther than ever before, or else taken a strange turn, for through the pine-stems he could perceive castle walls, the gates rising from the piled-up rocks, and it was unknown to him.

Presently he rose and walked on, because his galloping thoughts would not allow his body to rest, and still giving no heed to the way, he wandered out of the forest into a green valley shaded by thick trees.

Down the centre ran a stream, and the grass, of a deep green colour, was thickly sown with daisies white as the snow shining on the far-off mountains.

Here and there down the edge of the stream grew young poplar trees, and their flat gold leaves fluttered like a gipsy’s sequins, even in the breezeless air.

Theirry, absorbed and withdrawn into himself, walked by the side of the water; he was unconscious of the shadowed hush and quiet of the valley, of the voices of birds falling softly from the peace of the frees, and the marvellous sunlight on the mountains, the castle, rising beyond its circle of shade up into the crystal blue; before his eyes danced thrones and crowns, gold and painted silks, glimpses of princely dwellings and little winged, creeping fiends that offered him these things.

Presently a human sound forced itself on his senses, insistently, even through his abstraction. The sound of weeping, sobbing.

He started, gazed about him with dazed eyes, like a blind man recovering sight, and discerned a lady upon the other side of the stream, seated on the grass, her head bowed in her right hand. Theirry paused, frowned, and hesitated.

The lady, warned of something, glanced up and sprang to her feet; he saw now that she held a dead bird in her left hand; her face was flushed with weeping, her long yellow hair disordered about her brow; she gazed at him with wet grey eyes, and Theirry felt it imperative to speak.

“You are troubled?” he asked, then flushed, thinking she might term it insolence.

But she answered simply and at once.

“About him I am”— she held the little brown bird out on her palm; “he was on the small poplar tree — and singing — he held his head up so”— she lifted her long throat —“and I could see his heart beating behind the feathers — I listened to him, oh! with pleasure”— fresh tears started to the eyes that she turned on Theirry —“then my miserable cat that had followed me leapt on him — and slew him. Oh, I chased them, but when I got him back he was dead.”

Theirry was extraordinarily moved by this homely tragedy; it could not have occurred to him that there was matter for tears in such a common thing; but as the lady told the story, holding out, as if secure of his sympathy, the poor little ruffled body, he felt that it was both pitiful and monstrous. “You may chastise the cat,” he said, for he saw the elegant soft animal rubbing itself against the stem of the poplar.

“I have beaten her,” she confessed.

“You can hang her,” said Theirry, thinking to console still more.

But the lady flushed up.

“She is an agreeable cat,” she answered. “She cannot help her nature. Oh, it would be an odious cruelty to hang her! — see, she does not understand!”

Theirry, rebuked, was at a loss; he stood looking at the lady, feeling helpless and useless.

She wiped her eyes with a silk handkerchief, and stood in a piteous meek silence, holding her dead bird in a trembling hand.

“If you buried it —” suggested Theirry desperately. “I do think it would have wished to be buried here —”

To his joy she brightened a little.

“You think so?” she asked wistfully.

“Certes!” he reassured her eagerly. “See, I have a knife — I will make a pleasant grave.”

She stepped to the edge of the stream as near as she could to him, and because she came unconsciously, with no thought for anything save the bird in her hand, Theirry thrilled with a great pleasure, as should a wild deer come fearlessly.

“I cannot cross — the water is too wide,” she said. “But will you take him and make his grave?”

She went on one knee among the sorrel leaves and daisies. Theirry had a swift picture of her as she leant forward, stretching her arm towards him over the stream that divided them. He had seen fair women in Courtrai, he saw in her the most admired points of these, glass grey eyes, small features, an arched red mouth, white skin and yellow hair; she was no more beautiful than many ladies who had left him cold, but he found himself anxious to please her, and he had so far never tried to win a woman’s favour.

Her pale red dress rippled about her on the grass; her curls and her veil were blown back from her face; Theirry knelt and held out his hand.

Over mid-stream their fingers touched; he took the bird, and she drew back hastily.

As he, still on his knees, looked at her, he saw that she was no longer unconscious; she stood erect as if commanding herself not to fly, and (as she was very slender) he likened her to the pale crimson pistil of a lily which has yellow on the head — her hair, he told himself.

“I am vexed to trouble you”— she spoke haltingly. There were so many things he wished to say in answer to this that he said nothing, but took his knife from his belt and cut a little square of turf.

“You are a clerk from the college?” she asked.

“Ay,” he answered, and wished fiercely he could have given himself a finer name. “There are many learned men there,” she said courteously.

He would not have believed it possible to find in himself such care over a trivial thing as he now took over this little bird’s grave, for he knew she watched him with judgment in her eyes.

The unholy day-dreams that had vexed and enthralled him were completely forgotten in this new feeling.

The lines of a verse he had not noticed when he read it came back to him, beating in his head.

“Pleasant is she of a fair white favour,

Sweet her caress as the ripe grape’s flavour.

And her lips are like the rose in their savour.

Seeing her my pulses quicken.

I turn from common things and sicken.

For the quiet wood where the May buds thicken.

Hearing her my breath is taken,

My bold heart bowed and shaken,

And I from sloth at last awaken.”

He dug into the soft brown earth with the point of his knife, lined the grave with leaves, and picked up the little bird.

For a moment he held it in his hand as she had done.

And he dared not look at her.

Then he laid it in the ground and replaced the grass and daisies.

When he raised his head, his face flushed from stooping, he saw that she was no longer watching him, but she had turned sideways and was gazing at the distant woods.

He had leisure now to mark the details of her appearance.

Though slender she was of a full make and tall; her brows were very arched and darker than her hair, her mouth dipped at the corners and was firmly set; she seemed of a grave manner and very modest in her bearing.

Theirry rose from his knees; she turned. “I thank you,” she said; then, on a quick breath —“do you often come here?”

He answered foolishly.

“Nay — never before — I did not know the place.”

“That is my home yonder,” said the lady.

“Yours?” and he pointed to the castle walls.

“Yea. I am an orphan, and the Emperor’s ward.”

She looked at the point of her shoe showing beneath her pale crimson robe. “What town do you come from?” she asked.

“Courtrai.”

“I know no town save Frankfort.”

A silence fell between them; the wicked grey cat walked in a stately manner along the edge of the stream.

“I shall lose her,” said the lady. “Good even, gentle clerk. My name is Jacobea of Martzburg. Perhaps I shall see you again.”

He had never felt more desirous of speaking, never less capable; he murmured ——“I do hope it,” and coloured burningly at his awkwardness.

She gave him a half look, a flash from grave grey eyes, instantly veiled, and with an unsmiling mouth bade him again, “Good even.”

Then she was gone after the cat.

He saw her hasten down the side of the stream, her dress bending the grasses and leaves; he saw her stoop and snatch up the creature, and, holding it in her arms, take the path towards those lordly gates. He hoped she might look back and see that he gazed after her, but she did not turn her head, and when the last flutter of pale red had disappeared he moved reluctantly from the place.

The sky was gay with sunset; as he walked through the wood, bars of orange light fell athwart the straight pine trunks and made a glitter on his path; he thought neither of those things that had occupied him when he had passed through these trees before, nor of the lady he had left; in his mind reigned a golden confusion, in which everything was unformed and exquisite; he had no wish and no ability to reduce this to definite schemes, hopes or fears, but walked on, enwrapped with fancies.

On the slopes that adjoined the garden of the college Theirry came upon a little group of students lying on the grass.

Just beyond them the others were standing; Dirk noticeable by his rich dress and elegant bearing, and another youth whom Theirry knew for Joris of Thuringia.

A glance told him there were words between them; even from where he stood he could see Dirk was white and taut, Tons hot and flushed.

He crossed the grass swiftly; he knew that it was their policy to avoid quarrels in the college. “Sirs, what is this?” he asked.

The students looked at him; some seemed amused, some excited; his heart gave a sick throb as he saw that their glances were both unfriendly and doubtful.

One gave him half-scornful information.

“Thy friend was caught with an unholy forbidden book, though he denies it; he cast it into the river sooner than allow us a sight of it, and now he is bitter with Joris’ commentary thereon.” Dirk saw Theirry, and turned his pale face towards him.

“This churl insulted me,” he said; “yea, laid hands on me.”

A burst of half angry, half good-humoured laughter came from Joris.

“I cannot get the little youth to fight — by Christus his Mother! he is afraid because I could break his neck between my finger and thumb!”

Dirk flashed burning eyes over him.

“I am not afraid, never could I fear such as thee; but neither my profession nor my degree permit me to brawl — be silent and begone.”

The tone could not fail to rouse the other.

“Who art thou,” he shouted —“to speak as if thou wert a noble’s son? I did but touch thy arm to get the book —”

The rest joined in.

“Certes, he did no more, and what was the book?”

Dirk held himself very proudly.

“I will no more be questioned than I will be touched.”

“Fine words for a paltry Flemish knave!” jeered one of the students.

“Words I can make good,” flashed Dirk, and turned towards the college.

Joris was springing after him when Theirry caught his arm.

“’Tis but a peevish youth,” he said.

The other shook himself free and stared after the bright figure in silk.

“He called me ‘son of a Thuringian thief!’” he muttered.

A laugh rose from the group.

“How knew he that? — from the unholy book?”

Joris frowned heavily; his wrath flared in another direction.

“Ya! Silence! Son of a British swineherd, thou, red face!”

The group seethed into fisticuffs; Theirry followed Dirk across the gardens.

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