Dirk and the witch kept company until they reached the gates of Frankfort.
There the young man took his own way through the busy town, and Nathalie slipped aside into the more retired streets; many of the passers-by saluted Dirk, some halted to speak with him; the brilliant young doctor of rhetoric, with a reputation made fascinating by an air of mystery, was a desired acquaintance among the people of Frankfort. He returned their greetings pleasantly yet absently; he was thinking of Jacobea of Martzburg, whom he had left behind in the great forest, and considering what chances there might be, either for Theirry or Sybilla the steward’s wife.
He passed the tall red front of the college, where the quiet trees tapped their leaves against the arched windows, turned over the narrow curved bridge that spanned the steadily flowing waters of the Main, and came to the thick walls surrounding the Emperor’s castle.
There for a moment he paused and looked thoughtfully up at the Imperial flag that fluttered softly against the evening sky.
When he passed on it was with a cheerful step and whistling a little tune under his breath; a few moments brought him to the long street where the witch lived, a few more to her gate, and then his face lit and changed wonderfully, for ahead of him was Theirry.
Flushed and panting, he ran to his friend’s side and touched him on the arm.
Theirry turned, his hand on the latch; his greeting was hurried, half shamefaced.
“My master and most of the Court were at the tourney today,” he said. “I thought it safe to come.”
Dirk withdrew his hand, and his eyes narrowed.
“Ah! — ye are beginning to be circumspect how ye visit here.”
“You word it unkindly,” answered Theirry hastily. “Let us enter the house, where we can talk at ease.”
They passed into the witch’s dwelling, and to the room at the back that looked into the garden of red roses.
The windows were set wide, and the scented softness of the evening filled the half-darkened chamber; Dirk lit a little lamp that had a green glass, and by the faint flame of it gazed long and lingeringly at Theirry.
He found his friend richly dressed in black and crimson, wearing an enamel chain round his bonnet, and a laced shirt showing at his bosom; he found the glowing, bright charm of his face disturbed by some embarrassment or confusion, the beautiful mouth uneasily set, the level brows slightly frowning.
“Oh, Theirry!” he cried in a half-mournful yearning. “Come back to me — come back.”
“I am very well at Court,” was the quick answer. “My master is gentle and my tasks easy.”
Dirk seated himself at the table; he watched the other intently and rested his pale cheek on his hand.
“Very clearly can I see ye are well, and very well at Court — seldom do ye leave it.” “I find it difficult to get here often,” said Theirry.
He crossed to the window and looked out, as if the room oppressed him, and he thought the prospect of the roses pleasanter than the shadows and lamplight within.
“Ye find it difficult,” said Dirk, “because your desires chain you to the Court. I think ye are a faithless friend.”
“That am not I— ye know more of me than any man — I care more for ye than for any man —” “Or woman?” added Dirk dryly.
An impatient colour came into Theirry’s cheeks; he looked resolutely at the red roses.
“That is unworthy in you, Dirk — is it disloyal to you to know a lady — to — to — admire a lady, to strive to serve and please a lady?”
He turned his charming face, and, in his effort to conciliate, his voice was gentle and winning.
“Truly she is the sweetest of her kind, Dirk; if you knew her — evil is abashed before her —”
“Then it is as well I do not know her,” Dirk retorted grimly. “Strangely ye talk — you and I know we are not saints — but belike ye would reform — belike a second time ye have repented.” Theirry seemed in some agitation.
“No, no — have I not gone too far? Do I not still hope to gain something — perhaps everything?” He paused, then added in a low voice, “But I wish I had never laid hands on the monk. I wish I had not touched God His money — and when I see her I cannot prevent my heart from smarting at the thought of what I am.”
“How often do you see her?” asked Dirk quietly.
“But seldom,” answered Theirry sadly. “And it is better — what could I ever be to her?” Dirk smiled sombrely.
“That is true. Yet you would waste your life dallying round the places where you may sometimes see her face.”
Theirry bit his lip.
“Oh, you think me a fool — to falter, to regret —— but what have my sins ever done for me? There are many honest men better placed than I— and without the prospect of hell to blast their souls.”
Dirk looked at him with lowering eyes.
“You had been content had you not met this lady.”
“Enough of her,” answered Theirry wearily. “You make too much of it. I do not think I love her; but one who is fallen must view such sweetness, such gentle purity with sorrow — yea, with yearning.”
Dirk clasped his hand on the edge of the table.
“Maybe she is neither so pure nor so gentle as you think. Certes! she is but as other women, as one day ye may see.”
Theirry turned from the window half in protest, half in excuse.
“Cannot you understand how one may hold a fair thing dear — how one might worship —— even — love?”
“Yes,” answered Dirk, and his great eyes were bright and misty. “But if I— loved”— he spoke the word beautifully, and rose as he uttered it —“I would so grapple his — her soul to mine that we should be together to all eternity; nor devil nor angel should divide us. But — but there is no need to talk of that — there are other matters to deal with.”
“Would I had never seen the evil books or never seen her face,” said Theirry restlessly. “So at least I had been undivided in my thoughts.”
He came to the table and looked at Dirk across the sickly, struggling flame of the lamp; in his hazel eyes was an expression of appeal, the call of the weak to the strong, and the other held out his hands impulsively.
“Ah, I am a fool to trouble with ye, my friend,” he said, and his voice broke with tenderness. “For ye are headstrong and unstable, and care not for me one jot, I warrant me — yet — yet you may do what you will with this silly heart of mine.”
There was a grace, a wistful affection in his face, in his words, in his gesture of outstretched hands that instantly moved Theirry, ever quick to respond. He took the young doctor’s slender fingers in a warm clasp; they were very quickly withdrawn. Dirk had a notable dislike to a touch, but his deep eyes smiled.
“I have somewhat to tell you,” he said, “at which your impatience will be pleased.”
He went lightly to a press in the wall and brought forth a mighty candlestick of red copper, branched and engraved three half-burnt candles remained in the sockets; he lit these, and the room was filled with a brighter and pleasanter light.
Setting the candlestick on the table, where it glowed over Theirry’s splendid presence, he returned to the cupboard and took out a tall bottle of yellow wine and two glasses with milk-white lines about the rims.
Theirry seated himself at the table, pulled off his gloves and smoothed his hair back from his face.
“Have you seen the Empress?” asked Dirk, pouring out the wine.
“Yea,” answered Theirry, without interest.
“She is very beautiful?”
“Certes! —— but of a cloying sweetness — there is no touch of nobility in her.”
Dirk held the wine out across the table and seated himself.
“I have heard she is ambitious,” he said.
“Ay, she gives the Emperor no rest; for ever urging him to Rome, to be crowned by the Pope as Emperor of the West — but he better loves the North, and has no spirit to rule in Italy.” “The nobles chafe at his inaction?” asked Dirk. “’Tis not idle questioning.”
“Mostly, I think — do we not all have golden dreams of Rome? Balthasar — ye mind him, he is Margrave of East Flanders now, since his father was killed at the boar hunt — and powerful, he is mad to cross the Alps — he has great influence with the Emperor. Indeed, I think he loves him.”
Dirk set down the untasted wine.
“Balthasar loves the Emperor!” he cried.
“Certes! yes — why not? The Margrave was always affectionate, and the Emperor is lovable.” A second time Dirk raised the glass, and now drained it.
“Here is good matter for plots,” he said, elegantly wiping his lips. “Here is occasion for you and me to make our profit. Said ye the Devil was a bad master? — listen to this.”
Theirry moved the candlestick; the gold light dazzled in his eyes.
“What can Emperor or Empress be to us?” he asked, a half-bewildered fear darkening his brows.
“She has been here,” said Dirk. “The Lady Ysabeau.”
Theirry stared intently; a quick breath stirred his parted lips; his cheeks glowed with excited colour.
“She knows,” continued Dirk, “that I, Doctor Constantine of Frankfort College, and you, meek secretary to her Chamberlain, are the two students chased from Basle University.”
Theirry gave a little sound of pain, and drew back in the huge carved chair.
“So,” said Dirk slowly, “she has it in her power to ruin us — at least in Frankfort.” “How can I hold up my head at Court again!” exclaimed Theirry bitterly.
Dirk noted the utterly selfish thought; he did not mention how he had shielded Theirry from suspicion.
“There is more in it than that,” he answered quietly. “Did she choose she might have us burnt in the market place — Joris of Thuringia died of his illness that night.”
“Oh!” cried Theirry, blenching.
“But she will not choose,” said Dirk calmly. “She needs me — us — that threat is but her means of forcing obedience; she came secretly to my lectures — she had heard somewhat — she discovered more.”
Theirry filled his glass.
“She needs us?” he repeated falteringly.
“Cannot ye guess in what way?”
Theirry drank, set down the half-emptied glass, and looked at the floor with troubled eyes that evaded the other’s bright eyes.
“How can I tell?” he asked, as if reluctant to speak at all.
Dirk repressed a movement of impatience.
“Come, you know. Shall I speak plainly?”
“Certes! — yes,” answered Theirry, still with averted face.
“There is a man in her way.”
Theirry looked up now; his eyes showed pale in his flushed face.
“Who must die as Joris of Thuringia died?” he asked.
Theirry moistened his lips.
“Am I to help you?”
“Are we not one — inseparable? The reward will be magnificent.”
Theirry put his hand to a damp brow.
“Who is the man?”
“Hush!” whispered Dirk, peering through the halo of the candle-flame. “It is the Emperor.” With a violent movement, Theirry pushed back his chair and rose.
“Her husband! I will not do it, Dirk!”
“I do not think ye have a choice,” was the cold answer. “Ye gave yourself unto the Devil and unto me — and you shall serve us both.”
“I will not do it,” repeated Theirry in a shuddering voice.
Dirk’s eyes glimmered wrathfully.
“Take care how you say that. There are two already — what of the monk? I do not think you can turn back.”
Theirry showed a desperate face.
“Why have ye drawn me into this? Ye are deeper in devils’ arts than I.”
“That is a strange thing to say,” answered Dirk, very pale, his lips quivering. “You swore comradeship with me — together we were to pursue success — fame — power — you knew the means — ay, you knew by whose aid we were to rise, you shared with me the labours, the disgrace that fell on both of us. Together we worked the spells that slew Joris of Thuringia —— together we stole God His gold from the monk; now —— ay, and now when I tell you our chance has come — this is your manner of thanking me!”
“A chance! — to help a woman in a secret murder?”
Theirry spoke sullenly.
“Ye never thought our way would be the way of saintship — ye were not so nice that time ye bound Ambrose of Menthon to the tree.”
“How often must you remind me of that?” cried Theirry fiercely. “I had not done it but for you.”
“Well, say the same of this; if you be weak, I am strong enough for two.”
Theirry pulled at the crimson tassels on his slashed sleeves.
“It is not that I am afraid,” he said, flushing.
“Certes! you are afraid,” mocked Dirk. “Afraid of God, of justice, maybe of man — but I tell you that these things are nought to us.” He paused, lifted his eyes and lowered them again. “Our destiny is not of our shaping — we take the weapons laid to our hands and use them as we are bid. Life and death shall both serve us to our appointed end.”
Theirry came to the other side of the table and gazed, fearfully, across at him.
“Who are you?” he questioned softly.
Dirk did not answer; an expression of dread and despair withered all the life in his features; the extraordinary look in his suddenly dimmed eyes sent a chill to Theirry’s heart.
“Ah!” he cried, stepping back with manifest loathing.
Dirk put his hand over his eyes and moaned.
“Do you hate me, Theirry? Do you hate me?”
“I— I do not know.” He could not explain his own sudden revulsion as he saw the change in Dirk’s face; he paced to and fro in a tumult.
Dark had closed in upon them and now blackness lay beyond the window and the half-open door; shadows obscured the corners of the long chamber; all the light, the red gleam of the candles, the green glow of the lamp, shone over the table and the slight figure of Dirk.
As Theirry stopped to gaze at him anew, Dirk suddenly lowered his white hand, and his eyes, blinking above his long fingers, held Theirry in a keen glance.
“This will make us more powerful than the Empress or the Emperor,” he said. “Leave your thoughts of me and ponder on that.”
He withdrew his hand and revealed lips as pale as his cheeks.
“What does that mean?” cried Theirry. “I am distracted.”
“We shall go to Rome,” replied Dirk; there was a lulling quality of temptation in his tone. “And you shall have your desires.”
“My desires!” echoed Theirry wildly. “I have trod an unholy path, pursuing the phantom of —— my desires! Do you still promise me I shall one day grasp it?”
“Surely — money — and power and pleasure, these things wait you in Rome when Ysabeau shall have placed the imperial diadem on Balthasar’s brow. These things — and”— it seemed as if Dirk’s voice broke —“even Jacobea of Martzburg,” he added slowly.
“Can one win a saint by means of devilry?” cried Theirry.
“She is only a woman,” said Dirk wearily. “But, since you hesitate, and falter, I will absolve you from this league with me — go your way, serve your saint, renounce your sins — and see what God will give you.”
Theirry crossed the room with unequal steps.
“No — I cannot — I will not forego even the hope of what you offer me.” His great eyes glittered with excitement; the hot blood darkened his cheek. “And I pledged myself to you and your master. Do not think me cowardly because I paused — who is the Emperor?” He spoke hoarsely. “Nothing to you or to me . . . As you say, Joris of Thuringia died.”
“Now you speak like my comrade at Basle,” cried Dirk joyfully. “Now I see again the spirit that roused me to swear friendship with you the night we first met. Now I— ah, Theirry, we will be very faithful to one another, will we not?”
“I have no choice.”
“Swear it,” cried Dirk.
“I swear it,” said Theirry.
He went to the window, pushed it wider open and gazed out into the moonless night. Dirk clasped and unclasped his hands on the table, murmuring —
“I have won him back — won him back!”
Theirry spoke, without turning his head.
“What do you mean to do next?”
“I shall see the Empress again,” answered Dirk.
“At present — be very secret — that is all — there is no need to speak of it.”
Now it was he that was anxious to evade the subject; his eyes, bright under the drooping lids, marked the vehement, desperate eagerness of Theirry’s flushing face, and he smiled to see it.
“Your absence may be noticed at the palace,” he said softly. “You must return. How you can help me I will let you know.”
But Theirry stood irresolute.
“It seems I have no will when you command me,” he said, half in protest. “I come and go as you bid me — you stir my cold blood, and then will not give me satisfaction.”
“You know all that I do,” returned Dirk. He rose and raised the copper candlestick in both hands. “I am very weary. I will light you to the door.”
“Where have you been today?” asked Theirry.
“Did you see the Court returning from the tourney?”
The candle-flames, flaring with the movement, cast a rich glow over Dirk’s pallid face. “No — why do you ask?” he said.
“I know not.” Theirry’s crimson doublet sparkled in its silk threads as his breast rose with the irregular breaths; he walked heavily to the door, gathering up his black mantle over his arm. “When may I come again?” he asked.
“When you will,” answered Dirk. He entered the passage and held up the heavy candlestick, so that a great circle of light was cast on the darkness. “Ye are pledged to me whether ye come or no — are ye not?”
“Certes! I do think so,” said Theirry. He hesitated.
“Good-night,” whispered Dirk.
Theirry went down the passage.
He found the door and unlatched it; a soft but powerful breath of air fluttered the candle-flames almost on to Dirk’s face; he turned back into the room and shut himself in, leaving darkness behind him. Theirry stepped into the street and drew the latch; a few stars were out, but the night was cloudy. He leant against the side of the house; he felt excited, confused, impatient; Dirk’s abrupt dismissal rankled, he was half ashamed of the power exercised over him by his frail comrade, half bewildered by the allurement of the reward that promised to be so near now.
Rome — splendour, power — Jacobea of Martzburg — and only one stranger between him and this consummation; he wondered why he had ever hesitated, ever been horrified; his anticipations became so brilliant that they mounted like winged spirits to the clouds, catching him up with them; he could scarcely breathe in the close atmosphere of excitement; a thousand questions to which he might have demanded answer of Dirk occurred to him and stung with impatience his elated heart.
On a quick impulse he turned to the door and tried the handle.
To his surprise he found it bolted from within; he wondered both at Dirk’s caution and his softness of tread, for he had heard no sound.
It was not yet late, but he did not desire to attract attention by knocking.
Full of his resolution to speak further with Dirk, he passed round the house and entered the garden with the object of gaining admittance by the low windows of the room where they had been conversing.
But the light had gone from the chamber, and the windows were closed.
With an exclamation of impatience Theirry stepped back among the rose bushes and looked up.
Dirk’s bedchamber was also in darkness; black and silent the witch’s dwelling showed against the still but stormy sky. Theirry felt a chill run to his heart — where had the youth gone so instantly, so silently? Who had noiselessly bolted door and windows?
Then suddenly a light flashed across his vision; it appeared in the window of a room built out from the house at the side — a room that Theirry had always imagined was used only as a store-place for Nathalie’s drugs and herbs; he did not remember that he had ever entered it or ever seen a light there before.
His curiosity was stirred; Dirk had spoken of weariness — perhaps this was the witch herself. He waited for the light to disappear, but it continued to glow, like a steady star across the darkness of the rose garden.
The heavy scent of the half-seen blooms filled the gusty wind that began to arise; great fragments of cloud sped above the dark roof-line of the house; Theirry crept nearer the light.
It had crossed his mind many times that Dirk and Nathalie held secrets they kept from him, and the doubt had often set him raging inwardly, as well he knew the witch despised him as a useless novice in the black arts; old suspicions returned to him as, advancing warily, he drew near the light and crouched against the wall of the house. A light curtain was pulled across the window, but carelessly, and drawn slightly awry to avoid the light set in the window-seat.
Theirry, holding his breath, looked in.
He saw an oval room hung with Syrian tapestries of scarlet and yellow, and paved with black and white marble; the air was thick with the blue vapour of some perfume burning in a copper brazier, and lit by lamps suspended from the wall, their light glowing from behind screens of a pure pink silk. The end of the apartment was hidden by a violet velvet curtain embroidered with grapes and swans; near this a low couch covered with scarlet draperies and purple cushions was placed, and close to this a table, set with a white cloth bearing moons and stars worked in blue.
Across this cloth a thick chain of amber beads was flung; a single tall glass edged with gold and a silver dish of apples stood together in the centre of the table.
As there was no one in the room to attract his attention, Theirry had leisure to remark these details.
He noticed, also, that the light close to him in the window-seat was the copper candlestick he had seen, not long since, in Dirk’s hands.
With a certain angry jealousy at being, as he considered, duped, he waited for his friend’s appearance.
Mystery and horror both had he seen at the witch’s house, yet nothing ever disclosed to him helped him now to read the meaning of this room he peered into.
As he gazed, his brows contracted in wonderment; he saw the violet curtain gently shaken, then drawn slightly apart in the middle.
Theirry almost betrayed himself by a cry of surprise. A long, slender woman’s hand and arm slipped between the folds of the velvet; a delicate foot appeared; the curtain trembled, the aperture widened, and the figure of a girl was revealed in dusky shadow.
She was tall, and wore a long robe of yellow sendal that she held up over her bosom with her left hand. She might have just come forth from the bath, for her shoulders, arms and feet were bare, and the lines of her limbs noticeable through the thin silk.
Her head and face were wrapped in a silver gauze. She stood quite still, half withdrawn behind the curtain, only the finely shaped white arm that held it back fully revealed.
Her appearance impressed Theirry with unnameable dread and terror; he remained rigid at the window gazing at her, not able, if he would, to fly. Through the veil that concealed her face he could see restless dark eyes and the line of dark hair; he thought that she must see him, that she looked at him even as he looked at her, but he could not stir.
Slowly she came forward into the room; her feet were noiseless on the stone floor, but as she moved Theirry heard a curious dragging sound he could not explain.
She took up the amber beads from the table and put them down again; on her left hand was a silver ring set with a flat red stone; supporting her drapery with her other hand, she looked at this ornament, moved her finger so that the crimson jewel flashed, then shook her hand, angrily it seemed.
As the ring was large it fell and rolled across the floor. Theirry saw it sparkling under the edge of one of the hangings.
The woman looked after it, then straight at the window, and the pale watcher could have shrieked in horror.
Again she moved, and again Theirry heard that noise as of something being trailed across the floor.
She was drawing nearer the window; as she approached she half turned, and Theirry saw flat green and dull wings of wrinkled skin folded on her back; the tips of them touched the floor —— these had made the dragging sound he had heard.
With a tortured cry wrung from him he flung up his hand to shut out the dreadful thing. She heard him, stopped and gave a shriek of dread and anguish; the lights were instantly extinguished, the room was in absolute darkness.
Theirry turned and rushed across the garden. He thought the rose bushes catching on his garments were hands seeking to detain him; he thought that he heard a window open and a flapping of wings in the air above him.
He cried out to the God on whom he had turned his back —
“Christus have mercy!” And so he stumbled to the gate and out into the quiet street of Frankfort.
Last updated Friday, March 6, 2015 at 23:11