Black Magic, by Marjorie Bowen

Chapter 2

The Confession

“‘In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spinitus Sancti,’ I give you greeting,” said the Cardinal in a low grave voice; he crossed to the ivory chair and seated himself.

Theirry lifted his head and looked eagerly at the man who he hoped would be his saviour.

The Cardinal was young, of the middle height, of a full but elegant person and conveying an impression of slightness and delicacy, though he was in reality neither small nor fragile. His face was pale, by this light only dimly to be seen; he wore a robe of vivid pink and violet silk that spread about the step on which his chair was placed; his hands were very beautiful, and ornamented with a variety of costly rings; on his head was a black skull-cap, and outside it his hair showed, thick, curling and of a chestnut-red colour; his foot, very small and well shaped, encased in a gold slipper, showed beneath his gown.

He caught hold of the ivory arms of his seat and looked straight at Theirry with intense, dark eyes.

“On what matters did you wish to speak with me?” he asked.

Theirry could not find words, a choking sense of horror, of something dreadful and blasphemous beyond all words clutched at his heart . . . he stared at the young Cardinal . . . he must be going mad . . .

“The air — the incense makes me giddy, holy father,” he murmured.

The Cardinal touched a bell that stood by the sand clock, and motioned to Theirry to rise. A beautiful boy in a white tunic answered the summons.

“Extinguish the incense,” said the Cardinal, “and open the window, Gian . . . it is very hot, a storm gathers, does it not?”

The youth drew apart the painted curtains and unlatched the window; as the cooler air was wafted into the close chamber Theirry breathed more freely.

“The stars are all hidden, your Eminence,” said Gian, looking at the night. “Certainly, it is a storm.”

He raised the brazier, shook out the incense, leaving it smouldening greyly, went on one knee to the Cardinal, then withdrew backwards.

As the door closed behind him Luigi Caprarola turned to the man standing humbly before him. “Now can you speak?” he said gravely.

Theirry flushed.

“Scarcely have I the heart . . . your Eminence abashes me, I have a sickening tale to relate . . . hearing of you I thought, this holy man can give me peace, and I came half across the world to lay my troubles at your feet; but now, sir, now — I fear to speak, indeed, am scarce able, unreal and hideous it seems in this place.”

“In brief, sir,” said the Cardinal, “ye have changed your mind — I think ye were ever of a changeful disposition, Theirry of Dendermonde.”

“How does your Eminence know that of me is, alas! true.”

“I see it in your face,” answered the Cardinal, “and something else I see — you are, and long have been, unhappy.”

“It is my great unhappiness that has brought me before your Eminence.”

Luigi Caprarola rested his elbow on the ivory chair arm and his cheek on his palm; the pale, dim light was full on his face; because of something powerful and intense that shone in his eyes Theirry did not care to look at him.

“Weary of sin and afraid of Heaven ye have come to seek absolution of me,” said the Cardinal. “Yea, if it might be granted me, if by any penitence I might obtain pardon.”

Then Theirry, whose gaze was fixed on the ground as he spoke, had an extraordinary vivid impression that the Cardinal was laughing; he looked up quickly, only to behold Luigi Caprarola calm and grave.

A peal of thunder sounded, and the echoes hovered in the chamber.

“The confession must come before the absolution,” said the Cardinal. “Tell me, my son, what troubles you.”

Theirry shuddered.

“It involves others than myself . . . ”

“The seal of the confession is sacred, and I will ask for no names. Theirry of Dendermonde, kneel here and confess.”

He pointed to the ivory footstool close to his raised seat; Theirry came and humbly knelt.

The curtains fluttered in the hot wind, a flash of lightning darted in between them and mingled with the luminous colour cast by the faint lamps.

The Cardinal took up the gold book and laid it on his knee, his pink silk sleeve almost touched Theirry’s lips . . . his garments gave out a strange and beautiful perfume. “Tell me of these sins of thine,” he said, half under his breath.

“I must go far back,” answered the penitent in a trembling voice, “for your Eminence to understand my sins — they had small beginnings.”

He paused and fixed his gaze on the Cardinal’s long fair fingers resting across the gold cover of the breviary.

“I was born in Dendermonde,” he said at length. “My father was a clerk who taught me his learning. When he died I came to Courtrai. I was eighteen, ambitious and clever beyond other scholars of my age. I wished above everything to go to one of the colleges . . . ”

He gave a hot sigh, as if he could still recall the passionate throb of that early desire.

“To gain a living I taught the arts I was acquainted with, among others I gave lessons in music to the daughter of a great lord in Courtrai . . . in this manner I came to know her brother, who was a young knight of lusty desires.”

The Cardinal was listening intently; his breathing seemed hardly to stir his robe; the hand on the gilt and turkis cover was very still.

Theirry wiped his damp forehead, and continued —

“He was, as I, restless and impatient with Courtrai . . . but, unlike me, he was innocent, for I,”— he moistened his lips —“I about this time began to practise — black magic.”

The thunder rolled sombrely yet triumphantly round the seven hills, and the first rain dashed against the window.

“Black magic,” repeated the Cardinal, “go on.”

“I read forbidden books that I found in an old library in the house of a Jew whose son I taught — I tried to work spells, to raise spirits; I was very desperate to better myself, I wished to become as Alcuin, as Saint Jerome — nay, as Zerdusht himself, but I was not skilful enough. I could do little or nothing . . . ”

The Cardinal moved slightly; Theirry, in an agony of old bitter memories, torn between horror and ease at uttering these things at last, continued in a low desperate voice —

“The young knight I have spoken of was in love with a mighty lady who came through Courtrai, he wished to follow her to Frankfort, she had given him hopes that she would find him service there — he asked me to bear him company, and I was glad to go. On the journey he told me of his marriage to the daughter of a neighbouring lord — and — though that is no matter here —— he knew not if she were alive or dead, but he knew of the place where she had last been known of, and we went thither — it was in the old, half-deserted town of Antwerp . . . ”

“And the young knight hoped to find she was dead,” interrupted the Cardinal. “Was she, I wonder?”

“All the world thought so. It is a strange story, not for my telling; we found the house, and there we met a youth, who told us of the maid’s death and showed us her grave . . . ”

The thunder, coming nearer, shook the palace, and Theirry hid his face in his hands. “What of this youth?” asked the Cardinal softly, “tell me of him.”

“He ruined me — by night he came to me and told of his studies — black magic! black magic! . . . cast spells and raised a devil . . . in a mirror he showed me visions, I swore with him faithful friendship . . . he ruined my soul — he sold some of the goods in the house, and we went together to Basle College.”

“Ye make him out your evil angel,” said the Cardinal. “Who was he?”

“I know not; he was high-born, I think, dainty in ways and pleasant to look upon; my faltering soul was caught by his wiles, for he spoke of great rewards; I know not who he was, man or demon . . . I think he loved me.”

There was a little silence in the chamber, then the Cardinal spoke.

“Loved you? — what makes you think he loved you?”

“Certes, he said so, and acted so . . . we went to Basle College — then, I also thought I loved him . . . he was the only thing in the world I had ever spoken to of my hopes, my desires . . . we continued our experiments . . . our researches were blasphemous, horrible, he was ever more skilful than I . . . then one day I met a lady, and then I knew myself hideous, but that very night I was drawn into the toils again . . . we cast a spell over another student — we were discovered and fled the college.”

A flash of lightning pierced the blue gloom like a sword rending silk; Theirry winced and shuddered as the thunder crashed overhead.

“Does your tale end here?” demanded the Cardinal. “Alas! alas! no; I fell from worse sin to worse sin — we were poor, we met a monk, robbed him of God His moneys, and left him for dead . . . we came to Frankfort and lived in the house of an Egyptian hag, and I began to loathe the youth because the lady was ever in my thoughts, and he hated the lady bitterly because of this; he tempted me to do murder for gain, and I refused for her sake.” Theirry’s voice became hot and passionate. “Then I found that he was tempting her — my saint! but I had no fear that she would fall, and while she spurned him I thought I could also, ay, and I did . . . but she proved no stronger — she loved her steward, and bid him slay his wife: ‘You staked on her virtue,’ the Devil cried to me, ‘and you’ve lost! lost!’”

The sobs thickened his voice, and the bitter tears gathered in his beautiful eyes.

“I was the youth’s prey again, but now I hated him for his victory . . . we came back to Frankfort, and he was sweet and soft to me, while I was thinking how I might injure him as he had injured me . . . I dwelt on that picture of — her — dishonoured and undone, and I hated him, so waited my chance, and the night we reached the city I betrayed him for what he was, betrayed him to whom I had sworn friendship . . . well, half the town came howling through the snow to seize him, but we were too late, we found a flaming house . . . it burnt to ashes, he with it . . . I had had my revenge, but it brought me no peace. I left the West and went to the East, to India, Persia, to Greece, I avoided both God and the Devil, I dreaded Hell and dared not hope for Heaven, I tried to forget but could not, I tried to repent but could not. Good and evil strove for me, until the Lord had pity . . . I heard of you, and I have come to Rome to cast myself at your feet, to ask your aid to help throw myself on God His mercy.”

He rose with his hands clasped on his breast and his wild eyes fixed on the white face of Luigi Caprarola; thunder and lightning together were rending the hot air; Theirry’s gorgeous dress glimmered in gold and purple, his face was flushed and exalted.

“God wins, I think, this time,” he said in an unsteady voice. “I have confessed my sins, I will do penance for them, and die at least in peace — God and the angels win!”

The Cardinal rose; with one hand he held to the back of the ivory chair, with the other he clasped the golden book to his breast; the light shining on his red hair showed it in filmy brightness against the wall of ebony and mother-of-pearl; his face and lips were very pale above the vivid hue of his robe, his eyes, large and dark, stared at Theirry.

Again the lightning flashed between the two, and seemed to sink into the floor at the Cardinal’s feet.

He lifted his head proudly and listened to the following mighty roll; when the echoes had quivered again into hot stillness he spoke.

“The Devil and his legions win, I think,” he said. “At least they have served Dirk Renswoude well.”

Theirry fell back, and back, until he crouched against the gleaming wall.

“Cardinal Caprarola!” he cried fearfully. “Cardinal Caprarola, speak to me! even here I hear the fiends jibe!”

The Cardinal stepped from the ebony dais, his stiff robes making a rustling as he walked; he laughed.

“Have I learned a mien so holy my old comrade knows me not? Have I changed so, I who was dainty and pleasant to look upon, your friend and your bane?”

He paused in the centre of the room; the open window, the dark beyond it, the waving curtains, the fierce lightning made a terrific background for his haughty figure.

But Theirry moaned and whispered in his throat. “Look at me,” commanded the Cardinal, “look at me well, you who betrayed me, am I not he who gilded a devil one August afternoon in a certain town in Flanders?”

Theirry drew himself up and pressed his clenched hands to his temples.

“Betrayed!” he shrieked. “It is I who am betrayed. I sought God, and have been delivered unto the Devil!”

The thunder crashed so that his words were lost in the great noise of it, the blue and forked lightning darted between them.

“You know me now?” asked the Cardinal.

Theirry slipped to his knees, crying like a child.

“Where is God? where is God?”

The Cardinal smiled.

“He is not here,” he answered, “nor in any place where I have been.”

An awful stillness fell after the crash of thunder; Theirry hid his face, cowering like a man who feels his back bared to the lash.

“Cannot you look at me?” asked the Cardinal in a half-mournful scorn; “after all these years am I to meet you — thus? At my feet!”

Theirry sprang up, his features mask-like in their unnatural distortion and lifeless hue.

“You do well to taunt me,” he answered, “for I am an accursed fool, I have been seeking for what does not exist — God! — ay, now I know that there is no God and no Heaven, therefore what matter for my soul . . . what matter for any of it since the Devil owns us all!”

The storm was renewed with the ending of his speech, and he saw through the open window the vineyards and gardens of the Janiculum Hill blue for many seconds beneath the black sky.

“Your soul!” cried the Cardinal, as before. “Always have you thought too much, and not enough, of that; you served too many masters and not one faithfully; had you been a stronger man you had stayed with your fallen saint, not spurned her, and then avenged her by my betrayal.”

He crossed to the window and closed it, the while the lightning picked him out in a fierce flash, and waited until the after-crash had rocked to silence, his eyes all the while not leaving the shrinking, horror-stricken figure of Theirry.

“Well, it is all a long while ago,” he said. “And I and you have changed.”

“How did you escape that night?” asked Theirry hoarsely; hardly could he believe that this man was Dirk Renswoude, yet his straining eyes traced in the altered older face the once familiar features.

As the Cardinal moved slowly across the gleaming chamber Theirry marked with a horrible fascination the likeness of the haughty priest to the poor student in black magic.

The straight dark hair was now curled, bleached and stained a deep red colour, after the manner of the women of the East; eyes and brows were the same as they had ever been, the first as bright and keen, the last as straight and heavy; his clear skin showed less pallor, his mouth seemed fuller and more firmly set, the upper lip heavily shaded with a dark down, the chin less prominent, but the line of the jaw was as strong and clear as ever; a handsomer face than it had been, a remarkable face, with an expression composed and imperious, with eyes to tremble before.

“I thought you burnt,” faltered Theirry.

“The master I serve is powerful,” smiled the Cardinal. “He saved me then and set me where I am now, the greatest man in Rome — so great a man that did you wish a second time to betray me you might shout the truth in the streets and find no one to believe you.”

The lightning darted in vain at the closed window, and the thunder rolled more faintly in the distance.

“Betray you!” cried Theirry, wild-eyed. “No, I bow the knee to the greatest thing I have met, and kiss your hand, your Eminence!”

The Cardinal turned and looked at him over his shoulder.

“I never broke my vows,” he said softly, “the vows of comradeship I made to you; just now you said you thought I loved you, then, I mean, in the old days . . . ”— he paused and his delicate hand crept over his heart —“well, I . . . loved you . . . and it ruined me, as the devils promised. Last night I was warned that you would come today and that you would be my bane . . . well, I do not care since you are come, for, sir, I love you still.”

“Dirk!” cried Theirry.

The Cardinal gazed on him with ardent eyes.

“Do you suppose it matters to me that you are weak, foolish, or that you betrayed me? You are the one thing in all the world I care for . . . Love! what was your love when you left her at Sebastian’s feet? — had she been my lady I had stayed and laughed at all of it . . . ”

“It is not the Devil who has taught you to be so faithful,” said Theirry.

For the first time a look of trouble, almost of despair, came into the Cardinal’s eyes; he turned his head away.

“You shame me,” continued Theirry; “I have no constancy in me; thinking of my own soul, almost have I forgotten Jacobea of Martzburg — and yet —”

“And yet you loved her.”

“Maybe I did — it is long ago.”

A bitter little smile curved the Cardinal’s lips.

“Is that the way men care for women?” he said. “Certes, not in that manner had I wooed and remembered, had I been a — a — lover.”

“Strange that we, meeting here like this, should talk of love!” cried Theirry, his heart heaving, his eyes dilating, “strange that I, driven round the world by fear of God, that I, coming here to one of God’s own saints, should find myself in the Devil’s net again; come, he has done much for you, what will he do for me?”

The Cardinal smiled sadly.

“Neither God nor Devil will do anything for you, for you are not single-hearted, neither constant to good nor evil; but I— will risk everything to serve your desires.”

Theirry laughed.

“Heaven has cast the world away and we are mad! You, you famous as a holy man — did you murder the young Blaise? I will back to India, to the East, and die an idol-worshipper. See yonder crucifix, it hangs upon your walls, but the Christ does not rise to smite you; you handle the Holy Mysteries in the Church and no angel slays you on the altar steps —— let me away from Rome!”

He turned to the gilt door, but the Cardinal caught his sleeve.

“Stay,” he said, “stay, and all I promised you in the old days shall come true — do you doubt me? Look about you, see what I have won for myself . . . ”

Theirry’s beautiful face was flushed and wild. “Nay, let me go . . . ”

The last rumble of the thunder crossed their speech.

“Stay, and I will make you Emperor.”

“Oh devil!” cried Theirry, “can you do that?”

“We will rule the world between us; yea, I will make you Emperor, if you will stay in Rome and serve me; I will snatch the diadem from Balthasar’s head and cast his Empress out as I ever meant to do, and you shall bear the sceptre of the Cæsars, oh, my friend, my friend!”

He held out his right hand as he spoke; Theirry caught it, crushed the fingers in his hot grasp and kissed the brilliant rings; the Cardinal flushed and dropped his lids over sparkling eyes.

“You will stay?” he breathed.

“Yea, my sweet fiend, I am yours, and wholly yours; lo! were not rewards such as these better worth crossing the world for than a pardon from God?”

He laughed and staggered back against the wall, his look dazed and reckless; the Cardinal withdrew his hand and crossed to the ivory seat.

“Now, farewell,” he said, “the audience has been over-long; I know where to find you, and in a while I shall send for you; farewell, oh Theirry of Dendermonde!”

He spoke the name with a great tenderness, and his eyes grew soft and misty.

Theirry drew himself together.

“Farewell, oh disciple of Sathanas! I, your humble follower, shall look for fulfilment of your promises.”

The Cardinal touched the bell; when the fair youth appeared, he bade him see Theirry from the palace.

Without another word they parted, Theirry with the look of madness on him . . .

When Luigi Caprarola was alone he put his hand over his eyes and swayed backwards as if about to fall, while his breath came in tearing pants . . . with an effort he steadied himself, and, clenching his hands now over his heart, paced up and down the room, his Cardinal’s robe trailing after him, his golden rosary glittering against his knee.

As he struggled for control the gilt door was opened and Paolo Orsini bowed himself into his presence.

“Your Eminence will forgive me,” he began.

The Cardinal pressed his handkerchief to his lips.

“Well, Orsini?”

“A messenger has just come from the Vatican, my lord —”

“Ah! — his Holiness?”

“Was found dead in his sleep an hour ago, your Eminence.”

The Cardinal paled and fixed his burning eyes on the secretary.

“Thank you, Orsini; I thought he would not last the spring; well, we must watch the Conclave.” He moved his handkerchief from his mouth and twisted it in his fingers.

The secretary was taking his dismissal, when the Cardinal recalled him.

“Orsini, it is desirable we should have an audience with the Empress, she has many creatures in the Church who must be brought to heel; write to her, Orsini.”

“I will, my lord.”

The young man withdrew, and Luigi Caprarola stood very still, staring at the gleaming walls of his gorgeous cabinet.

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