Black Magic, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 9

Sebastian

He wore a flame-coloured mantle that hung about him in heavy folds, and under that a tight yellow doublet; his hair drooped smoothly, there was a bright colour in his face, and his eyes sparkled.

“Ye are merry,” he mocked, glancing round him. “Will you that I play or sing?” He looked, in his direct burning way at Jacobea, and she answered hastily —

“Certes, with all my heart — the air is hot — and thick — to-night.”

Dirk laughed, and Theirry stared at him bewildered, so utterly had his demeanour changed; he was gay now, radiant; he leant against the wall in the centre of them and glanced from one silent face to another.

“I can play rarely,” he smiled.

Jacobea took an instrument from among the cushions in the window-seat; it was red, with a heart-shaped body, a long neck and three strings.

“You can play this?” she asked in a half-frightened manner.

“Ay.” Dirk came forward and took it. “I will sing you a fine tune, surely.”

Theirry was something of a musician himself, but he had never heard that Dirk had any such skill; he said nothing, however; a sense of helplessness was upon him; the atmosphere of gloom and horror that he felt held him chained and gagged.

Dirk returned to his place against the wall; Sybilla had dropped the red lily on to her lap; they were all looking at him.

“I will sing you the tune of a foolish lady,” he smiled.

His shadow was heavy on the wall behind him; the dark purple hues of the tapestry threw into brilliant relief the flame hues of his robe and the clear pale colour of his strange face; he held the instrument across his knees and commenced playing on it with the long bow Jacobea had given him; an irregular quick melody arose, harsh and jeering.

After he had played a while he began to sing, but in a chant under his breath, so that the quality of his voice was not heard.

He sang strange meaningless words at first; the four listening sat very still; only Sybilla had picked up her sewing, and her fingers rose and fell steadily as the bodkin glittered over the red lily.

Theirry hid his face in his hands; he hated the place, the woman quietly sewing, the dark-faced man beside him; he even hated the image of Jacobea, that he saw, as clearly as if he looked at her, brightly before him.

Dirk broke into a little doggerel rhyme, every word of which was hard and clear.

“The turkis in my fine spun hair Was brought to me from Barbarie.

My pointed shield is rouge and vair, Where mullets three shine royallie.

Now if he guessed.

He need not wait in poor estate, But on his breast

Wear all my state and be my mate.

For sick for very love am I.

My heart is weak to kiss his cheek; But he is low, and I am high.

I cannot speak, for I am weak.”

Jacobea put the cat among the cushions and rose; she had a curious set smile on her lips. “Do you call that the rhyme of a foolish lady?” she asked.

“Ay, for if she had offered her love, surely it had not been refused,” answered Dirk, dragging the bow across the strings.

“You think so?” said Jacobea in a shrinking tone.

“Mark you, she was a rich lady,” smiled Dirk, “and fair enough, and young and gentle, and he was poor; so I think, if she had not been so foolish, she might have been his second wife.”

At these words Theirry looked up; he saw Jacobea standing in a bewildered fashion, as if she knew not whether to go or stay, and in her eyes an unmistakable look of amazement and horror.

“The rhyme said nothing of the first wife,” remarked Sybilla, without looking up from the red lily.

“The rhyme says very little,” answered Dirk. “It is an old story — the squire had a wife, but if the lady had told her love belike he had found himself a widower.”

Jacobea touched the steward’s wife on the shoulder.

“Dear heart,” she said, “I am weary — very weary with doing nought. And it is late — and the place strange — to-night — at least”— she gave a trembling smile —“I feel it — strange — so — good even.”

Sybilla rose, Jacobea’s lips touched her on the forehead.

The steward watched them; Jacobea, the taller of the two, stooping to kiss his wife. Theirry got to his feet; the chatelaine raised her head and looked towards him.

“To-morrow I will bid you God speed, sirs;” her blue eyes glanced aside at Dirk, who had moved to the door by the fire-placer and held it open for her; she looked back at Theirry, then round in silence and coloured swiftly.

Sybilla glanced at the sand clock against the wall.

“Yea, it is near midnight. I will come with you.” She put her arm round Jacobea’s waist, and smiled backwards over her shoulder at Theirry; so they went, the sound of their garments on the stairs making a faint soft noise; the little cat rose from her cushions, stretched herself, and followed them.

Sebastian picked up the red silk lily that his wife had flung down on the cushions; the candles were guttering to the iron sockets, making the light in the chamber still dimmer, the corners still more deeply obscured with waving shadows.

“You know your chamber,” said the steward to Dirk. “You will find me here in the morning. Good-night.”

He took a bunch of keys from his belt and swung them in his hand.

“Good-night,” said Theirry heavily.

Dirk smiled, and threw himself into the vacated window-seat.

The steward crossed the room to the door by which they had entered; he did not look back, though both were watching him; the door closed after him violently, and they were alone in the vast darkening hall.

“This is fine hospitality,” sneered Dirk. “Is there none to light us to our chamber?” Theirry walked to and fro with an irregular agitated step.

“What was that song of yours?” he asked. “What did you mean? What ails this place and these people? She never looked at me.”

Dirk pulled at the strings of the instrument he still held; they emitted little wailing sounds.

“She is pretty, your chatelaine,” he said. “I did not think to see her so soon. You love her — or you might love her.”

His bright eyes glanced across the shadowy space between them.

“Ye mock and sneer at me,” answered Theirry hotly, “because she is a great dame. I do not love her, and yet —”

“And yet —?” goaded Dirk.

“If our arts can do anything for us — could they not — if I wished it — some day — get this lady for me?”

He paused, his hand to his pale brow.

“You shall never have her,” said Dirk, biting his under lip.

Theirry turned on him violently.

“You cannot tell. Of what use to serve Evil for nought?”

“Ye have done with remorse belike?” mocked Dirk. “Ye have ceased to long for priests and holy water?”

“Ay,” said Theirry recklessly, “I shall not falter again — I will take these means — any means —”

“To attain — her?” Dirk got up from the window-seat and rose to his full height.

Theirry gave him a sick look.

“I will not bandy taunts with you. I must sleep a little.”

“They have given us the first chamber ye come to, ascending those stairs,” answered Dirk quietly. “There is a lamp, and the door is set open. Good-night.”

“You will not come?” asked Theirry sullenly.

“Nay. I will sleep here.”

“Why? You are strange to-night.”

Dirk smiled unpleasantly.

“There is a reason. A good reason. Get to bed.” Theirry left him without an answer, and closed the door upon him.

When he had gone, and there was no longer a sound of his footstep, a rustle of the arras to tell he had been, a great change swept over Dirk’s face; a look of agony, of distraction contorted his proud features, he paced softly here and there, twisting his hands together and lifting his eyes blindly to the painted ceiling.

Half the candles had flickered out; the others smoked and flared in the sockets; the rain dripping on the window-sill without made an insistent sound.

Dirk paused before the vast bare hearth.

“He shall never have her,” he said in a low, steady voice as if he saw and argued with some personage facing him. “No. You will prevent it. Have I not served you well? Ever since I left the convent? Did you not promise me great power — as the black letters of the forbidden books swam before my eyes; did I not hear you whispering, whispering?”

He turned about as though following a movement in the person he spoke to, and shivered.

“I will keep my comrade. Do you hear me? Did you send me here to prevent it? — they seemed to know you were at my elbow to-night — hush! — one comes!”

He fell back against the wall, his finger on his lips, his o her hand clutching the arras behind him.

“Hush!” he repeated.

The door at the far end of the chamber was slowly opened; a man stepped in and cautiously closed it; a little cry of triumph rose to Dirk’s lips, but he repressed it and gave a glance into the pulsating shadows as if he communicated with some mysterious companion.

It was Sebastian who had entered; he looked swiftly round, and seeing Dirk, came towards him.

In the steward’s hand was a little cresset lamp; the clear, heart-shaped flame illuminated his dark face and his pink habit; his eyes looked over this light in a burning way at Dirk. “So — you are not abed?” he said.

There was more than the aimless comment in his tone, an expectation, an excitement. “You came to find me,” answered Dirk. “Why?”

Sebastian set the lamp on a little bracket by the window he put his hand to his neck, loosening his doublet, and looked away.

“It is very hot,” he said in a low voice. “I cannot rest. I feel to-night as I have never felt — I think the cause is with you — what you said has distracted me.” he turned his head. “Who are you? What did you mean?” “You know,” answered Dirk, “what I am-a poor student from Basle college. And in your heart you know what I meant.”

Sebastian stared at him a moment.

“God! But how could you discern — even if it be true? — you, a stranger. But now I think of it, belike there is reason in it — certes, she has shown me favour.”

Dirk smiled.

“’Tis a rich lady, her husband would be a noble, think of it.”

“What ye put into me!” cried Sebastian in a distracted voice. “That I should talk thus to a prating boy! But the thought clings and burns — and surely ye are wise.”

Dirk, still leaning against the wall, smoothed the arras with delicate fingers.

“Surely I am wise. Well skilled in difficult sciences am I, and quick to see — and understand —— take this for your hospitality, sir steward — watch your mistress.”

Sebastian put his hand to his head.

“I have a wife.”

Dirk laughed.

“Will she live for ever?”

Sebastian looked at him and stammered, as if some sudden sight of terror seared his eyes. “There — there is witchcraft in this — your meaning —”

“Think of it!” flashed Dirk. “Remember it! Ye get no more from me.”

The steward stood quite still, gazing at him.

“I think that I have lost my wits to-night,” he said in a low voice. “I do not know what I came down to you for — nor whence come these strange thoughts.”

Dirk nodded his head; a small, slow smile trembled on the corners of his lips.

“Perchance I shall see you in Frankfort, sir steward.”

Sebastian caught at the words with eagerness.

“Yea — I go there with — my lady —” He stopped blankly.

“As yet,” said Dirk, “I know neither my dwelling there nor the name I shall assume. But you —— if I need to I shall find you at the Emperor’s court?”

“Yea,” answered Sebastian; then, reluctantly, “What should you want with me?”

“Will it not be you who may need me?” smiled Dirk. “I, who have to-night put thoughts into your brain that you will not forget?”

Sebastian turned about quickly, and caught up the cresset lamp.

“I will see you before you go,” he whispered, horror in his face. “Yea, on the morrow I shall desire more speech with you.”

Like a man afraid, in terror of himself, filled with a dread of his companion, Sebastian, the pure flame of the lamp quivering with the shaking of his hand, crossed the long chamber and left by the door through which he had entered.

Dirk gave a half-suppressed shiver of excitement; the candles had mostly burnt out; the hall seemed monstrous in the gusty, straggling light. He crept to the window; the rain had ceased, and he looked out on a hot starless darkness, disturbed by no sound.

He shivered again, closed the window and flung himself along the cushions in the niched seat. Lying there, where Jacobea had sat, he thought of her; she was more present to his mind than all the crowded incidents of the past day; his afternoon passed in the sunny library, his evening before the beautiful witch fire, the wild escape into the night, the flight through the wet forest, the sombre arrival at the castle, were but flitting backgrounds to the slim figure of the chatelaine.

Certainly she had a potent personality; she was exquisite, a thing shut away in sweet fragrancy. He thought of her as an ivory pyx filled with red flowers; there were her trembling passionate emotions, her modest secrets, that she guarded delicately.

It was his intention to tear open this tabernacle to wrench from her her treasures and scatter them among blood and ruin; he meant to bring her to utter destruction; not her body, perhaps, but her soul.

And this because she had interfered with the one being on earth he cared about — Theirry; not because he hated her for herself.

“How beautiful she is!” he said aloud, almost tenderly.

The last candle fluttered up and sank out; Dirk, lying luxuriously among the cushions, looked into the complete blackness with half-closed eyes.

“How beautiful!” he repeated; he felt he could have loved her himself; he thought of her now, lying in her white bed, her hair unbound; he wished himself kneeling beside her, caressing those yellow locks; a desire possessed him to touch her curls, her soft cheek, to have her hand in his and hear her laugh surely she was a sweet thing, made to be loved.

Yet the power that had brought him here to-night had made plain that if he did not take the chance of her destruction set in his way, she would win Theirry from him for ever.

He had made the first move; in the dark face of Sebastian the steward he had seen the beginning of —— the end.

But thinking of her he felt the tears come to his eyes; suddenly he fell into weary weeping, thinking of her, and sobbed sadly, face downwards, on the cushion.

Her yellow hair, mostly he thought of that, her long, fine, soft, yellow hair, and how, before the end, it would be trailing in the dust of despair and humiliation.

Presently he laughed at himself for his tears, and drying them, fell asleep; and awoke from blank dreamlessness to hear his name ringing in his ears. He sat up in the window-seat.

His eyes were hot with his late tears; the misty blue light of dawn that he found about him hurt them; he shrank from this light that came in a clear shaft through the arched window, and, crouching away from it, saw Theirry standing close to him, Theirry, fully dressed and pale, looking at him earnestly.

“Dirk, we must go now. I cannot stay any longer in this place.”

Dirk, leaning his head against the cushions, said nothing, impressed anew with his friend’s beauty. How fine and fair a thing Theirry’s face was in the colourless early light; in hue and line splendid, in expression wild and pained.

“I could not sleep much,” continued Theirry. “I do not want to see them — her — again — not like this — get up, Dirk — why did you not come to bed? I wanted your company — things were haunting me.”

“Mostly her face?” breathed Dirk.

“Ay,” said Theirry sombrely. “Mostly her face.”

Dirk was silent again; was not her loveliness the counterpart of his friend’s? — he imagined them together — close — touching hands, lips — and as he pictured this he grew paler.

“The castle is open, there are varlets abroad,” cried Theirry. “Let us go — supposing — oh, my heart! supposing one came from the college to look for us!”

Dirk considered; he reflected that he had no desire to meet Sebastian again; he had said all he wished to.

“Let us go,” he assented; his one regret was that he should not see again the delicate face crowned with the yellow hair.

He rose from the seat and shook out his borrowed flame-coloured mantle, then he closed his tired eyes as he stood, for a very exquisite sensation rushed over him; nothing had come between him and his friend; Theirry of his own choice had roused him — wanting him — they were to go forth together alone.

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