He was at length fully aroused by the sound of loud and cheerful singing.
“My heart’s a nun within my breast
So cold is she, so cloistered cold” . . .
Theirry sat up, conscious of a burning, aching head and a room flooded with sunshine.
“To her my sins are all confest —
So wise is she, so wise and old —
So I blow off my loves like the thistledown”
A burst of laughter interrupted the song; Theirry knew now that it was Balthasar’s voice, and he rose from the couch with a sense of haste and discomfiture.
What hour was it?
The day was of a drowsing heat; the glare of the sun had taken all colour out of the walls opposite, the grass and vines; they all blazed together, a shimmer of gold.
“So I blow off my loves like the thistledown
And ride from the gates of Courtrai town” . . .
He found Balthasar in the workshop; there were the remains of a meal on the table, and the Knight, red and fresh as a rose, was polishing up his sword handle, singing the while, as if in pleased expression of his own thoughts.
In the corner sat Dirk, drawn into himself and gilding the devil.
Theirry was conscious of a great dislike to Balthasar; ghosts nor devils, nor the thought of them had troubled his repose; there was annoyance in the fact that he had slept well, eaten well, and was now singing in sheer careless gaiety of heart; yet what other side of life should a mere animal like Balthasar know?
Dirk looked up, then quickly down again; Theirry sank on a stool by the table.
Balthasar turned to him.
“Are you sick?” he asked, wide-eyed.
The scholar’s dishevelled appearance, haggard eyes, tumbled locks and peevish gathering of the brows, justified his comment, but Theirry turned an angry eye on him.
“Something sick,” he answered curtly. Balthasar glanced from him to Dirk’s back, bending over his work.
“There is much companionship to be got from learned men, truly!” he remarked; his blue eyes and white teeth flashed in a half amusement; he put one foot on a chair and balanced his glittering sword across his knee; Theirry averted a bitter gaze from his young splendour, but Balthasar laughed and broke into his song again.
“My heart’s a nun within my breast,
So proud is she, so hard and proud,
Absolving me, she gives me rest” . . .
“We part ways here,” said Theirry.
“So soon?” asked the Knight, then sang indifferently —
“So I blow off my loves like the thistledown.
And ride through the gates of Courtrai town.” . . .
Theirry glanced now at his bright face, smooth yellow hair and gorgeous vestments. “Ay,” he said. “I go to Basle.”
“And I to Frankfort; still, we might have kept company a little longer.”
“I have other plans,” said Theirry shortly.
Balthasar smiled good-humouredly.
“You are not wont to be so evil-tempered,” he remarked.
Then he looked from one to the other; silent both and unresponsive.
“I will even take my leave;” he laid the great glittering sword across the table.
Dirk turned on his stool with the roll of gilding in his hand.
At his cold gaze, that seemed to hold something of enmity and an unfriendly knowledge, Balthasar’s dazzlingly fresh face flushed deeper in the cheeks.
“Since I have been so manifestly unwelcome,” he said, “I will pay for what I have had of you.” Dirk rose.
“You mistake,” he answered. “I have been pleased to see you for many reasons, Balthasar of Courtrai.”
The young Knight thrust his hands into his linked belt and eyed the speaker.
“You condemn me,” he said defiantly. “Well, Theirry is more to your mind —”
He opened his purse of curiously cut and coloured leather, and taking from it four gold coins laid them on the corner of the table.
“So you may buy masses for the soul of Ursula of Rooselaare.” He indicated the money with a swaggering gesture.
“Think you her soul is lost?” queried Dirk.
“A choired saint is glad of prayers,” returned Balthasar. “But you are in an ill mood, master, so good-bye to you and God send you sweeter manners when next we meet.”
He moved to the door, vivid blue and gold and purple; without looking back he flung on his orange hat.
Theirry roused himself and turned with a reluctant interest.
“You are going to Frankfort?” he asked.
“Ay,” Balthasar nodded pleasantly. “I shall see in the town to the hire of a horse and man —— mine own beast being lamed, as you know, Theirry.”
The scholar rose.
“Why do you go to Frankfort?” he asked. He spoke with no object, in a half-sick envy of the Knight’s gaiety and light-heartedness, but Balthasar coloured for the second time.
“All men go to Frankfort,” he answered. “Is not the Emperor there?”
Theirry lifted his shoulders.
“’Tis no matter of mine.”
“Nay,” said Balthasar, who appeared to have been both disturbed and confused by the question, “no more than it is my affair to ask you — why go you to Basle?”
The scholar’s eyes gleamed behind his thick lashes.
“It is very clear why I go to Basle. To study medicine and philosophy.”
They quitted the room, leaving Dirk looking covertly after them, and were proceeding through the dusty, neglected rooms.
“I do not like the place,” said Balthasar. “Nor yet the youth. But he has served my purpose.” And now they were in the hall.
“We shall meet again,” said Theirry, opening the door.
The Knight turned his bright face.
“Like enough,” he answered easily. “Farewell.” With that and a smile he was swinging off across the cobbles, tightening his sword straps.
Against the sun-dried, decayed houses, across the grass-grown square his vivid garments flashed and his voice came over his shoulder through the hot blue air —
“So I blew off my loves like the thistledown And rode through the gates of Courtrai town.”
Theirry watched him disappear round the angle of the houses, then bolted the door and returned to the workroom.
Dirk was standing very much as he had left him, half resting against the table with the roll of gilding in his white fingers.
“What do you know of that man?” he asked as Theirry entered. “Where did you meet him?” “Balthasar?”
“At his father’s house. I taught his sister music. There was, in a manner, some friendship between us . . . we both wearied of Courtrai . . . so it came we were together. I never loved him.” Dirk returned quietly to the now completely gilded devil.
“Know you anything of the woman he spoke of?” he asked.
“Did he speak of one?”
Dirk looked over his shoulder.
“Yea,” he said; ‘besides, I was thinking of another woman.’ “They were his words.” Theirry sat down; he felt faint and weak.
“I know not. There were so many. As we travelled together he made his prayers to one Ysabeau, but he was secret about her — never his way.”
“Ysabeau,” repeated Dirk. “A common name.”
“Ay,” said Theirry indifferently.
Dirk suddenly raised his hand, and pointed out of the window at the daisies and the broken fountain.
“What had he done if she had been living?” he asked, then without waiting for a reply he began swiftly on another subject.
“I have finished my work. I wished to leave it complete — it was for the church of St. Bavon, but I shall not give it them. Now, we can start when you will.”
Theirry looked up.
“What of your house and goods?” he asked.
“I have thought of that. There are some valuables, some money; these we can take — I shall lock up the house.”
“It will fall into decay.”
“I care not.” With a clear flame of eagerness alight in his eyes he flashed a full glance at Theirry, and, seeing the young scholar pale and drooping, disappointment clouded his face. “Do you commence so slackly?” he demanded. “Are you not eager to be abroad?” “Yea,” answered Theirry. “But —”
Dirk stamped his foot.
“We do not begin with ‘buts’!” he cried passionately. “If you have no heart for the enterprise —”
Theirry half smiled.
“Give me some food, I pray you,” he said. “For I ate but little yesterday.”
Dirk glanced at him.
“I forgot,” he answered, and set about rearranging the remains of the meal he and Balthasar had shared in silence.
Theirry sat very still; the door into the next room was open as he had left it on his return, and he could see the line of the trap-door; he felt a great desire to raise it, to descend into the vault and gaze at the cracked mirror, the brazier of dead coals and the mystic circles on the floor. Looking up, his eyes met Dirk’s, and without words his thought was understood.
“Leave it alone now,” said the sculptor softly. “Let us not speak of it before we reach Basle.”
At these words Theirry felt a great relief; the idea of discussing, even with the youth who so fascinated him, the horrible, alluring thing that was an intimate of his thoughts but a stranger to his lips, had filled him with uneasiness and dread. While he ate the food put before him, Dirk picked up the four gold coins Balthasar had left and looked at them curiously.
“Masses for her soul!” he cried. “Did he think that I would enter a church and bargain with a priest for that!”
He laughed, and flung the money out of the window at the nodding daisies.
Theirry gave him a startled glance.
“Why, till now I had thought that you felt tenderly towards the maid.”
“Not I. I have never cared for women.”
“Nor I,” said Theirry simply; he leant back in his chair and his dreamy eyes were grave. “When young they are ornaments, it is true, but pleasant only if you flatter them, when they are overlooked they become dangerous — and a woman who is not young is absorbed in little concerns that are no matter to any but herself.”
The smile, still lingering on Dirk’s face, deepened derisively, it seemed.
“Oh, my fine philosopher!” he mocked. “Are you well fed now, and preaching again?”
He leant against the wall by the window, and the intense sunlight made his dull brown hair glitter here and there; he folded his arms and looked at Theirry narrowly.
“I warrant your mother was a fair woman,” he said. “I do not remember her. They say she had the loveliest face in Flanders, though she was only a clerk’s wife,” answered the young man. “I can believe it,” said Dirk.
Theirry glanced at him, a little bewildered; the youth had such abrupt changes of manner, such voice and eyes unfathomable, such a pale, fragile appearance, yet such a spirit of tempered courage.
“I marvel at you,” he said. “You will not always be unknown.”
“No,” answered Dirk. “I have never meant that I should be soon forgotten.”
Then he was beside Theirry, with a strip of parchment in his hand.
“I have made a list of what we have in the place of value — but I care not to sell them here.” “Why?” questioned Theirry.
“I want no one over the threshold. I have a reputation — not one for holiness,” his strange face relaxed into a smile.
Theirry glanced at the list.
“Certes! How might one carry that even to the next town? Without a horse it were impossible.” Silver ware, glass, pictures, raiment, were marked on the strip of parchment.
Dirk bit his finger.
“We will not sell these things Master Lukas left to me,” he said suddenly. “Only a few. Such as the silver and the red copper wrought in Italy.”
Theirry lifted his grave eyes.
“I will carry those into the town if you give me a merchant’s name.”
Dirk mentioned one instantly, and where his house might be found.
“A Jew, but a secretive and wealthy man,” he added. “I carved a staircase in his mansion.” Theirry rose; the ache in his head and the horror in his heart had ceased together; the sense of coming excitement crept through his veins.
“There is much here that is worthless,” said Dirk, “and many things dangerous to reveal, yet a few of those that are neither might bring a fair sum — come, and I will show you.”
Theirry followed him through the dusty, sunny chambers to the store-rooms on the upper floor. Here Dirk brought treasures from a press in the wall; candlesticks, girdles with enamel links, carved cups, crystal goblets.
Selecting the finest of these he put them in a coffer, locked it and gave the key to Theirry. “There should be the worth of some gulden there,” he said, red in the face from stooping, and essayed to lift the coffer but failed.
Theirry, something amazed, raised it at once.
“’Tis not heavy,” he said.
“Nay,” answered Dirk, “but I am not strong,” and his eyes were angry.
Theirry was brought by this to give him some closer personal scrutiny than as yet he had. “How old are you” he asked.
“Twenty-five,” Dirk answered curly.
“Certes!” Theirry’s hazel eyes flew wide. “I had said eighteen.”
Dirk swung on his heel.
“Oh, get you gone,” he said roughly, “and be not over long — for I would be away from this place at once — do you hear? — at once.”
They left the room together.
“You have endured this for years,” said Theirry curiously. “And suddenly you count the hours to your departure.”
Dirk ran lightly ahead down the stairs, and his laugh came low and pleasant.
“Untouched, the wood will lie for ever,” he answered, “but set it alight and it will flame to the end.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06