Black Magic, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 7

Spells

Theirry found Dirk as he was passing under the arched colonnade.

“Prudence!” he quoted. “Where is your prudence now?”

Dirk turned quickly.

“I had to put on a bold front. Certes, I hate that knave. But let him go now. Come with me.” Theirry followed him through the college, up the dark stairway into his chamber.

It was a low arched room, looking on to the garden, barely furnished, and containing only the bed, a chair and some books on a shelf.

Dirk opened the window on the sun-flushed twilight.

“The students are jealous of me because of my reputation with the doctors,” he said, smiling. “One told me today I was the most learned youth in the college. And how long have we been here? But ten months.”

Theirry was silent; the triumph in his companion’s voice could find no echo in his heart; neither in his legitimate studies nor in his secret experiments had he been as successful as Dirk, who in ancient and modern lore, in languages, algebra, theology, oratory had far outshone all competitors, and who had progressed dangerously in forbidden things.

Theirry shook off the feeling of jealousy that possessed him, and spoke on another subject. “Dirk, I saw a lady today — such a lady!”

In their constant, close and tender companionship neither had ever failed in sympathy, therefore it was with surprise that Theirry saw Dirk perceptibly harden.

“A lady!” he repeated, and turned from the window so that the shadows of the room were over his face.

Theirry must have a listener, must loosen his tongue on the subject of his delicate adventure, so he proceeded.

“Ay —’twas in the valley — a valley, I mean — which I had never seen before. Oh, Dirk!” he was leaning against the end of the bed, gazing across the dusk. “’Twas a lady so sweet — she had —”

Dirk interrupted him.

“Certes!” he cried angrily; “she had grey eyes belike, and yellow hair — have they not always yellow hair? — and a mincing mouth and a manner of glancing sideways, and cunning words, I’ll warrant me —”

“Why, she had all this,” answered Theirry, bewildered. “But she was pleasant, had you but seen her, Dirk.”

The youth sneered.

“Who is she — thy lady?”

“Jacobea of Martzburg.” He took obvious pleasure in saying her name. “She is a great lady and gracious.”

“Out on ye!” exclaimed Dirk passionately. “What is she to us? Have we not other matters to think of? I did not think ye so weak as to come chanting the praises of the first thing that smiles on ye!”

Theirry was angered.

“’Tis not the first time — and what have I said of her?”

“Oh enough — ye have lost your heart to her, I doubt not — and what use will ye be-a love-sick knave!”

“Nay,” answered Theirry hotly. “You have no warrant for this speech. How should I love the lady, seeing her once? I did but say she was fair and gentle.”

“’Tis the first woman you have spoken of to me — in that voice — did ye not say —‘such a lady’?”

Theirry felt the blood stinging his cheeks.

“Could you have seen her,” he repeated.

“Ay, had I seen her I could tell you how much paint she wore, how tight her lace was —” Theirry interrupted.

“I’ll hear no more — art a peevish youth, knowing nothing of women; she was one of God’s roses, pink and white, and we not fit to kiss her little shoes — ay, that’s pure truth.” Dirk stamped his foot passionately.

“Little shoes! If you come home to me to rave of her little shoes, and her pink and white, you may bide alone for me. Speak no more of her.”

Theirry was silent a while; he could not afford to lose Dirk’s companionship or to have him in an ill temper, nor did he in any way wish to jeopardise the good understanding between them, so he quelled the anger that rose in him at the youth’s unreasonabloness, and answered quietly ——“On what matter did you wish to see me?”

Dirk struggled for a moment with a heaving breast and closed his teeth over a rebellious lip, then he crossed the room and opened the door of an inner chamber.

He had obtained permission to use this apartment for his studies; the key of it he carried always with him, and only he and Theirry had ever entered it.

In silence, lighting a lamp, and placing it on the windowsill, he beckoned Theirry to follow him.

It was a dismal room; piled against the walls were the books Dirk had brought with him, and on the open hearth some dead charred sticks lay scattered.

“See,” said Dirk; he drew from a dark corner a roughly carved wooden figure some few inches high. “I wrought this today — and if I know the spells aright there is one will pay for his insolence.”

Theirry took the figure in his hand.

“’Tis Joris of Thuringia.”

Dirk nodded sombrely.

The room was thick with unhealthy odours, and a close stagnant smoke seemed to hang round the roof; the lamp cast a pulsating yellow light over the dreariness and threw strange shaped shadows from the jars and bottles standing about the floor.

“What is this Joris to you?” asked Theirry curiously.

Dirk was unrolling a manuscript inscribed in Persian.

“Nothing. I would see what skill I have.”

The old evil excitement seized Theirry; they had tried spells before, on cattle and dogs, but without success; his blood tingled at the thought of an enchantment potent to confound enemies. “Light the fire,” commanded Dirk.

Theirry set the image by the lamp, and poured a thick yellow fluid from one of the bottles over the dead sticks.

Then he flung on a handful of grey powder.

A close dun-coloured vapour rose, and a sickly smell filled the room; then the sticks burst suddenly into a tall and beautiful flame that sprang noiselessly up the chimney and cast a clear and unnatural glow round the chamber.

Theirry drew three circles round the fire, and marked the outer one with characters taken from the manuscripts Dirk held.

Dirk was looking at him as he knelt in the splendid glow of the flames, and his own heavy brows were frowning.

“Was she beautiful?” he asked abruptly.

Theirry took this as an atonement for the late ill temper, and answered pleasantly ——“Why, she was beautiful, Dirk.”

“And fair?”

“Certes, yellow hair.”

“No more of her,” said the youth in a kind of fierce mournfulness. “The legend is finished?” “Yea.” Theirry rose from his knees. “And now?”

Dirk was anointing the little image of the student on the breast, the eyes and mouth with a liquid poured from a purple phial; then he set it within the circle round the flame.

“’Tis carved of ash plucked from a churchyard,” he said. “And the ingredients of the fire are correct. Now if this fails, Zerdusht lies.”

He stepped up to the fire and addressed an invocation in Persian to the soaring flame, then retreated to Theirry’s side.

The whole room was glowing in the clear red light cast by the unholy fire; the cobweb-hung rafters, the gaunt walls, the books and jars on the bare floor were all distinctly visible, and the two could see each other, red, from head to foot.

“Look,” said Dirk, with a slow smile.

The image lying in the magic circle and almost touching the flames (though not burnt or even scorched), was beginning to writhe and twist on its back like a creature in pain.

“Ah!” Dirk showed his teeth. “The Magian spell has worked.”

A sensation of giddiness seized Theirry; he heard something beating loud and fast in his ear, it seemed, but he knew it was his heart that thumped so, up and down.

The figure, horribly like Joris with its flat hat and student’s robe, was struggling to its feet and emitting little moans of agony.

“It cannot get out,” breathed Theirry.

“Nay,” whispered Dirk, “wherefore did ye draw the circle?”

The flame was a column of pure fire, and it cast a glow of gold on the thing imprisoned in the ring Theirry had made; Dirk watched in an eager way, with neither fear nor compunction, but Theirry felt a wave of sickness mount to his brain.

The creature was making useless endeavours to escape from the fiery glare; it groaned and fell on its face, twisted on its back and made frantic attempts to cross the line that imprisoned it. “Let it out,” whispered Theirry faintly.

But Dirk was elate with success.

“Ye are mad,” he retorted. “The spell works bravely.”

On the end of his words came a sound that caused both to wince; even in the lurid light Dirk saw his companion pale.

It was the bell of the college chapel ringing the students to the vespers.

“I had forgotten,” muttered Dirk. “We must go — it would be noticed.”

“We cannot put the fire out,” cried Theirry.

“Nay, we must leave it — it must burn out,” answered Dirk hurriedly.

The creature, after rushing round the circle in an attempt to escape had fallen, as if exhausted with its agony, and lay quivering.

“We will leave him, too,” said Dirk unpleasantly.

But Theirry had a tearing memory of a lady kneeling among green grasses and bending towards him with a dead bird in her hand — tears for it on her cheeks — a dead bird, and this —

He stooped and snatched up the creature; it shrieked dismally as he touched it, and he felt the quick flame burn his fingers.

Instantly the fire had sunk into ashes, and he held in his hand a mere morsel of charred wood. With a sound of disgust he flung this on the ground.

“Should have let it burn,” said Dirk, with the lamp held aloft to show him the way across the now dark chamber. “Perchance we cannot relight it, and I have not finished with the ugly knave.”

They stepped into the outer chamber and Dirk locked the door; Theirry gasped to feel the fresher air in his nostrils, and a sense of terror clouded his brain; but Dirk was in high spirits; his eyes narrowed with excitement, his pale lips set in a hard fashion.

They descended into the hall.

It was a close and sultry evening; through the blunt arches of the window, dark purple clouds could be seen, lying heavily across the horizon; the clang of the vesper bell came persistently and with a jarring note; though the sun had set it was still light, which had a curious effect of strangeness after the dark chambers upstairs.

Without a word to each other, but side by side, the two students passed into the ante-chamber that led into the chapel.

And there they stopped.

The pale rays of a candle dispersed the gathering dark and revealed a group of men standing together and conversing in whispers.

“Why do they not enter the church?” breathed Theirry, with a curious sensation at his heart. “Something has happened.”

Some of the students turned and saw them; they were forced to come forward; Dirk was silent and smiling.

“Have you heard?” asked one; all were sober and subdued.

“A horrible thing,” said another. “Joris of Thuringia is struck with a strange illness. Certes! he fell down amongst us as if in the grip of hell fire.”

The speaker crossed himself; Theirry could not answer, he felt that they were all looking at him suspiciously, accusingly, and he trembled.

“We carried him up to his chamber,” said another. “He shrieked and tore at his flesh, imploring us to keep the flames off. The priest is with him now — God guard us from unholy things.” “Why do you say that?” demanded Theirry fiercely. “Belike his disease was but natural.” A look passed round the students. “I know not,” one muttered. “It was strange.”

Dirk, still smiling and silent, turned into the chapel; Theirry and the others, hushing their surmises, followed.

There were candles on the altar, six feet high, and a confusion of the senses came over Theirry, in which he saw them as white angels with flaming haloes coming grievingly for his destruction. A wave of fear and sorrow rushed over him; he sank on his knees on the stone floor and fixed his eyes on the priest, whose chasuble was gleaming gold through the dimness of the incense-filled chapel. The blasphemy and mortal sin of what he had done sickened and frightened him; was not his being here the most horrible blasphemy of all? — he had no right; he had made false confessions to the priest, he had received absolution on lies; daily he had come here worshipping God with his lips and Satan with his heart. A groan broke from him, he bowed his beautiful face in his hands and his shoulders shook. He thought of Joris of Thuringia writhing in the agony caused by their unhallowed spells, of the eager devils crowding to their service — and far away, in a blinding white mist, he seemed to see the arc of the saints and angels looking down on him while he fell away further, further, into unfathomable depths of darkness. With an uncontrollable movement of agony he looked up, and his starting eyes fell on the figure of Dirk kneeling in front of him. The youth’s calm both horrified and soothed him; there he knelt, who had but a little while before been playing with devils, with a face as unmoved as a sculptured saint, with a placid brow, quiet eyes and hands folded on his breviary.

He seemed to feel Theirry’s intense gaze, for he looked swiftly round and a look of caution, of warning shot under his white lids.

Theirry’s glance fell; his companions were singing with uplifted faces, but he could not join them; the pillars with their foliated capitals oppressed him by their shadow, the saints glowing in mosaic on the drums of the arches frightened him with the unforgiving look in their long eyes.

“Laudate, pueri Dominum.

Laudate nomen Domini.

Sit nomen Domini benedictum, Ex hoc nunc et usque in saecuium.

A Solis ortu usque ad occasum Laudabile nomen Domini.”

The fresh young voices rose lustily.; the church was full of incense and music; Theirry rose with the hymn ringing in his head and left the chapel.

The singers cast curious glances at him as he passed, and when he reached the door he heard a patter of feet behind him and turned to see Dirk at his elbow.

“I have done with it,” he said hoarsely.

Dirk’s eyes were flaming.

“Do you want to make public confession?” he demanded, breathing hard. “Remember, it is our lives to pay, if they discover.”

Theirry shuddered.

“I cannot pray. I cannot stay in the church. For days I have felt the blessing scorch me.” “Come upstairs,” said Dirk.

As they went down the long hall they met one who was a friend of Joris of Thuringia. Dirk stopped.

“Hast come from the sick man?”

“Yea.”

“He is mending?”

Theirry stared with wild eyes, waiting the answer.

“I know not,” said the youth. “He lies in a swoon and pants for breath.”

He passed on, something abruptly.

“Did ye hear that?” whispered Theirry. “If he should die!”

They went up to Dirk’s bare little chamber; the clouds had completely overspread the sky, and neither moon nor stars were visible.

Dirk lit the lamp, and Theirry sank on to the bed with his hands clasped between his knees. “I cannot go on,” he said. “It is too horrible.”

“Art afraid?” asked Dirk quietly.

“Yea, I am afraid.”

“So am not I,” answered Dirk composedly.

“I cannot stay here,” breathed Theirry, with agonised brows.

Dirk bit hisforefinger.

“Nay, for we have but little money and know all these pedants can teach us. ’Tis time we began to lay the corner-stones of our fortune.”

Theirry rose, twisting his fingers together.

“Talk not to me of fortunes. I have set my soul in deadly peril. I cannot pray, I cannot take the names of holy things upon my lips.”

“Is this your courage?” said Dirk softly. “Is this your ambition, your loyalty to me? Would you run whining to a priest with a secret that is mine as well as yours? Is this, O noble youth, what all your dreams have faded to?”

Theirry groaned.

“I know not. I know not.”

Dirk came slowly nearer.

“Is this to be the end of comradeship — our league?”

He took the other’s slack hand in his, and as he seldom offered or suffered a touch, Theirry thrilled at it as a great mark of affection, and at the feel of the smooth, cool fingers, the fascination, the temptation that this youth stood for stirred his pulses; still he could not forget the stern angel he thought he had seep upon the altar, and the way his tongue had refused to move when he had striven to pray.

“Belike, I have gone too far to turn back,” he panted, with questioning eyes.

Dirk dropped his hand.

“Be of me or not with me,” he said coldly. “Surely I can stand alone.”

“Nay,” answered Theirry. “Certes, I love thee, Dirk, as I have never cared for any do I care for thee . . . ”

Dirk stepped back and looked at him out of half-closed eyes.

“Well, do not stop to palter with talk of priests. Certainly I will be faithful to you unto death and damnation, and be you true to me.”

Theirry made a movement to answer, but a sudden and violent knock on the door checked him. They looked at each other, and the same swift thoughts came to each; the students had suspected, had come to take them by surprise — and the consequences —

For a second Dirk shook with suppressed wrath.

“Curse the Magian spell!” he muttered. “Curse Zerdusht and his foul brews, for we are trapped and undone!”

Theirry sprang up and tried the inner door.

“’Tis secure,” he said; he was now quite calm. “I have the key.” Dirk laid his hand on his breast, then snatched a couple of volumes from the shelf and flung them on the table. The knock was repeated.

“Unbolt the door,” said Theirry; he seated himself at the table and opened one of the volumes.

Dirk slipped the bolt, the door sprang back and a number of students, headed by a monk bearing a crucifix, surged into the room.

“What do you want?” demanded Dirk, fronting them quietly. “You interrupt our studies.” The priest answered sternly —

“There are strange and horrible accusations against you, my son, that you must disprove.”

Theirry slowly closed his book and slowly rose; all the terror and remorse of a few moments ago had changed into wrath and defiance, and the glow his animal courage sent through his body at the prospect of an encounter; he saw the eager, excited faces of his fellow-students, crowding in the doorway, the hard and unforgiving countenance of the monk, and he felt unaccountably justified in his own eyes; he did not see his antagonists standing for Good, and himself for Evil, he saw mere men whose evident enmity roused his own.

“What accusations?” asked Dirk; his demeanour appeared to have changed as completely as Theirry’s had done; he had lost his assured calm; his defiant bearing was maintained by an obvious effort, and his lips twitched with agitation.

The students murmured and forced further into the room; the monk answered ——“Ye are suspected of procuring the dire illness of Joris of Thuringia by spells.”

“It is a lie,” said Dirk faintly, and without conviction, but Theirry replied boldly ——“Upon what do you base this charge, father?”

The monk was ready.

“Upon your strange and close behaviour — the two of you, upon our ignorance of whence you came — upon the suddenness of the youth’s illness after words passed between him and Master Dirk.”

“Ay,” put in one of the students eagerly. “And he lapped water like a dog.”

“I have seen a light here well into the night,” said another.

“And why left they before the vespers were finished?” demanded a third.

Theirry smiled; he felt that they were discovered, but fear was far from him.

“These are childish accusations,” he answered. “Get you gone to find a better.”

Dirk, who had retreated behind the table, spoke now. “Ye smirch us with wanton words,” he said pantingly. “It is a lie.”

“Will you swear to that?” asked the monk quickly.

Theirry interposed.

“Search the chamber, my father — I warrant you have already been peering through mine.” “Yea.”

“And you found —?”

“Nothing.”

“Then are you not content?” cried Dirk.

The murmur of the students swelled into an angry cry.

“Nay — can ye not spirit away your implements if ye be wizards?”

“Great skill do you credit us with,” smiled Theirry. “But on nothing you can prove nothing.” Although he knew that he could never allay their suspicions, it occurred to him that it might be possible to prevent the discovery of what the locked room held, and in that case, though they might have to leave the college, their lives would be safe; he snatched up the lantern and held it aloft.

“See you anything here?”

They stared round the bare walls with eager, straining eyes; one came to the table and turned over the volumes there.

“Seneca!” he flung them down with disappointment; the priest advanced and gazed about him; Dirk stood silent and scornful, Theirry was bold to defy them all.

“I see no holy thing,” said the monk. “Neither Virgin, nor saint, nor prie-Dieu, nor holy water.” Dirk’s eyes flashed fiercely.

“Here is my breviary;” he pointed to it on the table.

One of the students cried —

“Where is the key? To the inner chamber!”

There were three or four of them about the door; Dirk, turning to see them striving with the handle, went ghastly pale and could not speak, but Theirry broke out into great wrath. “The room is disused. No affair of mine or Dirk. We know nothing of it.”

“Will you swear?” asked the priest.

“Certes — I will swear.”

But the student struggling with the door cried out —

“Dirk Renswoude asked for this room for his studies! I do know it, and he had the key.” Dirk gave a great start.

“Nay, nay,” he said hurriedly, “I have no key.”

“Search, my sons,” said the priest.

Their blood was up; some ten or twelve had crowded into the chamber; they hurled the books off the shelf, scattered the garments out of the coffer, pulled the quilt off the bed and turned up the mattress.

Finding nothing they turned on Dirk.

“He has the key about him!”

All eyes were fixed now on the youth, who stood a little in front of Theirry, he continuing to hold the lamp scornfully aloft to aid them in their search.

The light rested on Dirk’s shoulders, causing the bright silk to glitter, and flickered in his short waving hair; there was no trace of colour in his face, his brows were raised and gathered into a hard frown.

“Have you the key of that chamber?” demanded the priest.

Dirk tried to speak, but could not find his voice; he moved his head stiffly in denial. “But answer,” insisted the monk.

“What should it avail me if I swore?” The words seemed wrenched from him. “Would ye believe me?” His eyes were bright with hate of all of them.

“Swear on this.” The monk proffered the crucifix.

Dirk did not touch it.

“I have no key,” he said.

“There is your answer,” flashed Theirry, and set the lamp on the table.

The foremost student laughed.

“Search him,” he cried. “His garments — belike he has the key in his breast.”

Again Dirk gave a great start; the table was between him and his enemies, it was the only protection he had; Theirry, knowing that he must have the key upon him, saw the end and was prepared to fight it finely.

“What are ye going to do now?” he challenged.

For answer one of them leant across the table and seized Dirk by the arm, swinging him easily into the centre of the room, another caught his mantle.

A yell of “Search him!” rose from the others.

Dirk bent his head in a curious manner, snatched the key from inside his shirt and flung it on the floor; instantly they let go of him to pick it up, and he staggered back beside Theirry. “Do not let them touch me,” he said. “Do not let them touch me.”

“Art a coward?” answered Theirry angrily. “Now we are utterly lost. . . . ”

He thrust Dirk away as if he would abandon him; but that youth caught hold of him in desperation.

“Do not leave me — they will tear me to pieces.” The students were rushing through the unlocked door shouting for lights; the priest caught up the lamp and followed them; the two were left in darkness.

“Ye are a fool,” said Theirry. “With some cunning the key might have been saved . . . ”

A horrid shout arose from those in the inner room as they discovered the remains of the incantations . . .

Theirry sprang to the window, Dirk after him. “Theirry, gentle Theirry, take me also — can see I am helpless! A— ah! I am small and pitiful, Theirry!”

Theirry had one leg over the window-sill.

“Come, then, in the fiend’s name,” he answered. A hoarse shout told them the students had found the little image of Joris; those still on the stair-way saw them at the window. “The warlocks escape!”

Theirry helped Dirk on to the window-ledge; the night air blew hot on their faces and they felt warm rain falling on them; there was no light anywhere.

The students were yelling in a thick fury as they discovered the unholy unguents and implements. They turned suddenly and dashed to the window. Theirry swung himself by his hands, then let go.

With a shock that jarred every nerve in his body he landed on the balcony of the room beneath. “Jump!” he called up to Dirk, who still crouched on the window-sill.

“Ah, soul of mine! Ah, I cannot!” Dirk stared through the darkness in a wild endeavour to discern Theirry.

“I am holding out my arms! Jump!”

The students had knocked over the lamp and it had checked them for the moment; but Dirk, looking back, saw the room flaring with fresh lights and seething figures pushing up to the window.

He closed his eyes and leapt in the darkness; the distance was not great; Theirry half caught him; he half staggered against the balcony.

A torch was thrust out of the window above them; frenzied faces looked down.

Theirry pushed Dirk roughly through the window before them, which opened on to the library, and followed.

“Now — for our lives,” he said.

They ran down the dark length of the chamber and gained the stairs; the students, having guessed their design, were after them — they could hear the clatter of feet on the upper landing. How many stairs, how many before they reach the hall!

Dirk tripped and fell, Theirry dragged him up; a breathless youth overtook them; Theirry, panting, turned and struck him backwards sprawling. So they reached the hall, fled along it and out into the dark garden.

A minute after, the pursuers bearing lights, and half delirious with wrath and terror, surged out of the college doors.

Theirry caught Dirk’s arm and they ran; across the thick grass, crashing through the bushes, trampling down the roses, blindly through the dark till the shouts and the lights grew fainter behind them and they could feel the trunks of trees impeding them and so knew that they must have reached the forest.

Then Theirry let go of Dirk, who sank down by his side and lay sobbing in the grass.

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