Dirk Renswoude laid down the pen and pushed aside the parchment, and lifted heavy eyes with a sigh of weariness.
It was midday and very hot; the witch’s red roses were beginning to shed their petals and disclose their yellow hearts, and the leaves of the great trees that shaded the house were curling and yellowing in the fierce sun.
From his place at the table Dirk could mark these signs of autumn without; yet by the look in his eyes it seemed that he saw neither trees nor flowers, but only some image evoked by his thoughts; presently he picked up the quill, bit the end of it, frowned and laid it down.
Then he started and looked round with some eagerness, for a light sound broke the sleepy stillness, the door opened, and before his expectant gaze Theirry appeared.
Dirk flushed and smiled.
“Well met,” he said. “I have much to say to you.” He rose and held out his hand. Theirry merely touched it with his fingers.
“And I am come because I also have much to say.” Dirk’s manner changed, the warmth died from his face, and he gave the other a keen glance.
“Speak, then.” He returned to his seat, took his face between his two delicate hands, and rested his elbows on the table. “I was writing my lecture for to-night, certes, I shall be glad of a diversion.”
“You will not be pleased with mine,” answered Theirry his expression was grave and cold, his dress plain and careless; he frowned, lifted his eyebrows continually, and played with the buttons on his doublet.
“Be seated,” said Dirk.
Theirry took the chair he proffered.
“There is no need to make an ado,” he began, obviously with an effort. “I am not going on with you..”
“You are not going on?” repeated Dirk. “Well, your reasons?”
“May God forgive me what I have done,” cried Theirry in great agitation; “but I will sin no more —— I have resolved it — and ye cannot tempt me.”
“And all you swore — to me?” demanded Dirk; his eyes narrowed, but he remained composed. Theirry clasped his restless fingers.
“No man is bound to bargains with the Devil . . . I have been weak and wicked — but I mingle no more in your fiendish councils —”
“This is for Jacobea of Martzburg’s sake.”
“It is for her sake — because of her that I am here now to tell you I have done with it — done with you!”
Dirk dropped his hands on to the table.
“Theirry! Theirry!” he cried wildly and sorrowfully.
“I have measured the temptation,” said Theirry; “I have thought of the gain — the loss — I have put it aside, with God’s help and hers — I will not aid you in the way you asked me — nor will I see it done.”
“And ye call that virtue!” cried Dirk. “Poor fool — all it amounts to is that you, alas! — love the chatelaine.”
“Nay,” he answered hotly. “It is that, having seen her, I would not be vile. You meditate a dastard thing — the Emperor is a noble knight.”
“Ambrose of Menthon was a holy monk,” retorted Dirk. “Who choked the pious words in his throat? Joris of Thuringia was an innocent youth — who sent him to a hideous death?”
“I!” cried Theirry fiercely; “but always with you to goad me on! Before the Devil sent you across my way I had never touched sin save in dim thoughts but you, with talk of friendship, lured me from an honest man’s company to poison me with forbidden knowledge, to tempt me into hideous blasphemies —— and I will have no more of it!”
“Yet you vowed comradeship with me,” said Dirk. “Is your loyalty of such quality?” Theirry sprang violently from his chair and paced heavily up and down the room.
“You blinded me . . . I knew not what I did . . . but now I know; when I— I— heard her speak, and heard that you had dared to try to trap her to destruction —”
Dirk interrupted with a low laugh.
“So she told you that! But I warrant that she was dumb about the nature of her temptation!” “That is no matter,” answered Theirry; “now she is free of you, as I shall be-”
“As you vowed to her you would be,” added Dirk. “Well, go your way — I thought you loved me a little — but the first woman’s face!”
Theirry stood still to front him.
“I cannot love that which — I fear.”
Dirk went swiftly very pale.
“Do you — fear me, Theirry?” he asked wistfully.
“Ay, ye know too much of Satan’s lore — more than you ever taught me,” he shuddered uncontrollably; “there are things in this very house —”
“What do you mean — what do you mean?” Dirk rose in his place.
“Who is the woman?” whispered Theirry fearfully; “there is a woman here —”
“In this house there are none save Nathalie and me,” answered Dirk on the defensive, his eyes dark and glowing.
“There you lie to me; the last time I was here, I turned back swiftly on leaving, but found the door bolted, the lights out, all save one — in the little chamber next to this — I watched at the window and saw a gorgeous room and a woman, a winged woman.”
“You dream,” answered Dirk in a low voice. “Do you think I have enough power to raise such shapes?”
“I think ’twas some love of yours from Hell —— whence you came —”
“My love is not in Hell, but on the earth,” answered Dirk quietly — “yet shall we go together into the pit — as for the woman, it was a dream — there is no gorgeous chamber there.” He crossed the room and flung open a little door in the wall.
“See — old Nathalie’s closet — full of herbs and charms —”
Theirry peered into an ill-lit apartment fitted with shelves containing jars and bottles.
“The enchantment that could bring the woman could change the room,” he muttered, unconvinced.
Dirk gave a slow, strange look.
“Was she beautiful?”
“Yea — but —”
“More beautiful than Jacobea of Martzburg?”
“I cannot compare Satan’s handmaiden with a lily from Paradise.”
Dirk closed the closet door.
“Theirry,” he said falteringly, “do not leave me — you are the only thing in all the universe can move me to joy or pain — I love you, utterly.”
“Out on such affection that would steal my soul —”
He was turning away when Dirk laid a timid hand upon his sleeve.
“I will make you great, ay, very great . . . do not hate me —”
But Theirry gazed fearfully at the youth’s curious pale face.
“I will have none of you.”
“You do not know how dear I hold you,” insisted Dirk in a trembling voice; “come back to me, and I will let your lady be-”
“She can scorn ye . . . defy ye . . . as I do now!”
And he flung off the slim hand from his arm and strode away down the long room. Dirk drew himself together and crouched against the wall.
“Will she? certes, I wonder, will she?” he cried. “You will have none of me, you say, you reject me; but for how long?”
“For ever,” answered Theirry hoarsely.
“Or until Jacobea of Martzburg falls.”
Theirry swung round.
“That leaves it still for ever.”
“Maybe, however, only for a few poor weeks — your lily is very fragile, Theirry, so look to see it broken in the mud —”
“If you harm her,” cried Theirry fiercely, “if you blast her with your hellish spells —” “Nay — I will not; of herself she shall come to ruin.”
“When that is, I will return to you, so — farewell for ever —”
He made a passionate gesture with his hand as if he swept aside Dirk and all thoughts of him, and turned quickly towards the door.
“Wait!” Dirk called to him. “What of this that you know of me?”
“So much I owe you — that I should be silent.”
“Since, if you speak, you bring to light your own history,” smiled Dirk. “But — about the Emperor?”
“God helping me I will prevent that.”
“How will you prevent it?” Dirk asked quietly; “would you betray me as a first offering to your outraged God?”
Theirry pressed his hand to his brow in a bewildered, troubled manner.
“No, no, not that; but I will take occasion to warn him — to warn some one of the Empress.” Dirk hunched his shoulders scornfully.
“Ah, begone, ye are a foolish creature — go and put them on their guard.”
“Ay, I will,” he answered hotly. “I know one honest man about the Court — Hugh of Rooselaare.”
A quick change came over Dirk’s face.
“The Lord of Rooselaare?” he said. “I should remember him, certes; his daughter was Balthasar’s wife — Ursula.”
“She was, and he is the Emperor’s friend, and opposed to the schemes of Ysabeau.”
Dirk returned to the table and took up one of the books lying there; mechanically he turned the pages, and his eyes were bright on Theirry’s pallid face.
“Warn whom you will, say what you will; save, if ye can, Melchoir of Brabant; begone, see, I seek not to detain you. One day you shall come back to me, when yon soft saint fails, and I shall be waiting for you; till then, farewell.”
“For ever farewell,” answered Theirry. “I take up your challenge; I go to save the Emperor.” Their eyes met; Theirry’s were the first to falter; he muttered something like a malediction on himself, lifted the latch and strode away.
Dirk sank into his chair; he looked very young and slight in his plain brown silk; his brow was drawn with pain, his eyes large and grieved; he turned the books and parchments over as though he did not see them.
He had not been long alone when the door was pushed open and Nathalie crept in. “He has gone?” she whispered, “and in enmity?”
“Ay” answered Dirk slowly. “Renouncing me.”
The witch came to the table, took up the youth’s passive hand and fawned over it. “Let him go,” she said in an insinuating voice. “He is a fool.”
“Why, I have put no strain on him to stay,” Dirk smiled faintly. “But he will return.” “Nay,” pleaded Nathialie, “forget him.”
“Forget him!” repeated Dirk mournfully. “But I love him.”
Nathalie stroked the still, slim fingers anxiously.
“This affection will be your ruin,” she moaned.
Dirk gazed past her at the autumn sky and the overblown red roses.
“Well, if it be so,” he said pantingly, “it will be his ruin also; he must go with me when I leave the world — the world! after all, Nathalie”— he turned his strange gaze on the witch —“it does not matter if she hold him here, so long as he is mine through eternity.”
His cheeks flushed and quivered, the long lashes drooped over his eyes; then suddenly he smiled.
“Nathalie, he has good intentions; he hopes to save the Emperor.”
The witch blinked up at him.
“But it is too late?
“Certes; I conveyed the potion to Ysabeau this morning.” And Dirk’s smile deepened.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51