They had been a week on the road and now were nearing the borders of Flanders. The company of the other had become precious to each; though Theirry was grave and undemonstrative, Dirk, changeable, and quick of temper; today, however, the silence of mutual discontent was upon them.
Open disagreement had happened once before, at the beginning of their enterprise, when the young sculptor resolutely refused, foolishly it seemed to Theirry, to sell his house and furniture, or even to deliver at the church of St. Bavon the figures of St. Michael and the Devil, though the piece was finished.
Instead, he had turned the key on his possessions, leaving them the prey of dust, spiders and rats, and often Theirry would think uneasily of the shut-up house in the deserted square, and how the merciless sunlight must be streaming over the empty workroom and the daisies growing upon the grave of Balthasar’s wife.
Nevertheless, he was in thrall to the attraction of Dirk Renswoude; never in his life had he been so at ease with any one, never before felt his aims and ambitions understood and shared by another.
He knew nothing of his companion’s history nor did he care to question it; he fancied that Dirk was of noble birth; it seemed in his blood to live gently and softly; at the hostel where they rested, it was he who always insisted upon the best of accommodation, a chamber to himself, fine food and humble service.
This nicety of his it was that caused the coolness between them now.
At the little town they had just left a fair was in holding, and the few inns were full; lodging had been offered them in a barn with some merchants’ clerks, and this Theirry would have accepted gladly, but Dirk had refused peremptorily, to the accompaniment of much jeering from those who found this daintiness amusing in a poor traveller on foot.
After an altercation between the landlord and Theirry, a haughty silence of flashing eyes and red cheeks from Dirk, they had turned away through the gay fair, wound across the town and out on to the high road.
This led up a steep, mountainous incline; they were carrying their possessions in bundles on their backs, and when they reached the top of the hill they turned off from the road on to the meadows that bordered it, and sank on the grass exhausted.
Theirry, though coldly angry with the whim that had brought them here to sleep under the trees, could not but admit it was an exquisite place.
The evening sun overspread it all with a soft yet sparkling veil of light; the fields of long grass that spread to right and left were more golden than green; close by was a grove of pine-trees, whose tall red trunks shone delicately; above them, piled up rocks starred with white flowers mounted against the pale blue sky, beneath them the hillside sloped to the valley where lay the little town.
The streets of it were built up and down the slopes of the hill, and Theirry could see the white line of them and the irregular shapes and colours of the roofs; the church spire sprang from the midst like a spear head, strong and delicate, and here and there pennons fluttered; they could see the Emperor’s flag stirring slowly above the round tourelles of the city gate.
Theirry found the prospect very pleasant; he delighted in the long flowering grass that, as he lay stretched out, with his face resting in his hand, brushed against his cheek; in the clear-cut grey rocks and the hardy yet frail-looking white flowers growing on the face of them; in the up-springing lines of the pine-trees and the deep green of their heavy foliage, intensified by the fading blue beyond. Then, as his weariness was eased, he glanced over his shoulder at Dirk; not being passionate by nature, and controlled by habit, his tempers showed themselves in a mere coldness, not sullenness, the resort of the fretful.
Dirk sat apart, resting his back against the foremost of the pine-trees; he was wrapped in a dark red cloak, his pale profile turned towards the town lying below; the evening air just stirred the heavy, smooth locks on his uncovered head; he was sitting very still.
The cause of the quarrel had ceased to be any matter to Theirry; indeed he could not but admit it preferable to lie here than to herd with noisy beer-drinking clerks in a close barn, but recollection of the haughty spirit Dirk had discovered held him estranged still.
Yet his companion occupied his thoughts; his wonderful skill in those matters he himself was most desirous of fathoming, the strange way in which they had met, and the pleasure of having a companion — so different from Balthasar — of a kindred mind, however whimsical his manner.
At this point in his reflections Dirk turned his head.
“You are angry with me,” he said.
Theirry answered calmly.
“You were foolish.”
Dirk frowned and flushed.
“Certes! — a fine comrade!” his voice was vehement.
“Did you not swear fellowship with me? How do you fulfil that compact by being wrathful the first time our wills clash?”
Theirry turned on his elbow and gazed across the flowering grass.
“I am not wrathful,” he smiled. “And you have had many whims . . . none of them have I opposed.”
Dirk answered angrily.
“You make me out a fantastical fellow — it is not true.”
Theirry sat up and gazed at the lazy sunset slowly enveloping the distant town and the hills beyond in crimson light.
“It is true you are as nice as a girl,” he answered. “Many a time I would have slept by the kitchen hearth — ay, and have done, but you must always lie soft as a prince.”
Dirk was scarlet from brow to chin.
“Well, if I choose,” he said defiantly. “If I choose, as long as I have money in my pocket, to live gently . . . ”
“Have I interfered?” interrupted Theirry. “You are of a lordly birth, belike.”
“Yea, I am of a great family,” flashed Dirk. “Ill did they treat me. No more of them . . . are you still angry with me?”
He rose; the red cloak slipped from his shoulders to the ground; he stood with his hand on his hip, looking down at Theirry.
“Come,” he said gravely. “We must not quarrel, my comrade, my one friend . . . when shall we find another with such aims as ours . . . we are bound to each other, are we not? Certes! you swore it.”
Theirry lifted his beautiful face.
“I do like you greatly,” he answered. “And in no wise blame you because you are weakly and used to luxury. Others have found me over gentle.”
Dirk looked at him out of the corners of his eyes.
“Then I am pardoned?”
“Nay, I do regret my evil humour. The sun was fierce and the bundles heavy to drag up the hill.”
Dirk sank down upon the grass beside him. “Truly I am wearied to death!”
Theirry considered him; panting a little, Dirk stretched himself his full length on the blowing grass. The young scholar, used and indifferent to his own great beauty, was deadened to the effect of it in others, and to any eye Dirk could be no more than well-looking; but Theirry was conscious of the charm of his slender make, his feet and hands of feminine delicacy, his fair, full throat, and pale, curved mouth, even the prominent jaw and square chin that marred the symmetry of the face were potent to attract in their suggestion of strength and the power to command.
His near presence, too, was fragrant; he breathed a faint atmosphere of essences and was exquisite in his clothes.
As Theirry studied him, he spoke.
“My heart! it is sweet here — oh, sweet!”
Faint airs wafted from the pine, and the wild flowers hidden in the woods below them stole through the grass; a glowing purple haze began to obscure the valley, and where it melted into the sky the first stars shone, pale as the moon. Overhead the dome of heaven was still blue, and in the tops of the pines was a continuous whispering of the perfumed boughs one to another. “Now wish yourself back in the town among their drinking and swearing,” said Dirk. “Nay,” smiled Theirry. “I am content.” The faint purple colour slowly spread over everything; the towers of the town became dark, and little sharp lights twinkled in them.
Dirk drew a great breath.
“What will you do with your life?” he asked.
“In what manner?”
“Why, if we succeed — in any way — if we obtain great power . . . what would you do with it?” Theirry felt his brain spin at the question; he gazed across the world that was softly receding into darkness and his blood tingled.
“I would be great,” he whispered. “Like Flaccus Alcuin, like Abelard — like St. Bernard.”
“And I would be greater than any of these — as great as the Master we serve can make his followers.”
“These I speak of were great, serving God.”
Dirk looked up quickly.
“How know you that? Many of these holy men owe their position to strange means. I, at least, would not be content to live and die in woollens when I could command the means to clothe me in golden silks.”
The beautiful darkness now encompassed them; below them the lights of the town, above them the stars, and here, in the meadow land, the night breeze in the long grass and in the deep boughs of pine.
“I am but a neophyte,” said Theirry after a pause. “Very little have I practised of these things. I had a book of necromancy and learnt a little there . . . but . . . ”
“Why do you pause?” demanded Dirk.
“One may not do these things,” answered Theirry slowly, “without — great blasphemy —” Dirk laughed.
“I care nothing for all the angels and all the saints . . . ”
“Ah, peace!” cried Theirry, and he put his hand to his brow growing damp with terror.
The other was silent a while, but Theirry could hear his quick breathing rising from the grass. At length he spoke in a quiet voice.
“I desire vast wealth, huge power. I would see nations at my footstool . . . ah! . . . but I have a boundless ambition . . . ” He sat up, suddenly and softly, and laid his hand on Theirr’s arm. “If they . . . the evil ones . . . offered you that, would you not take it?”
“You would! you would!” cried Dirk. “And pay your soul for it — gladly.”
The scholar made no answer, but reclined motionless, gazing over the human lights in the valley to the stars beyond them; Dirk continued —
“See what a liking I have for you that I tell you this — that I give you the secret of my power to come . . . ”
“’Tis my secret also,” answered Theirry hastily. “I have done enough to bring the everlasting wrath of the Church upon me.”
“The Church,” repeated Dirk musingly; he was of a daring that knew not the word fear, and at this moment his thoughts put into words would have made his companion shudder indeed.
Gradually, by ones and twos, the lights in the town were extinguished and the valley was in darkness.
Theirry folded up his cloak as a pillow for his head and lay down in the scented grass; as he fell into a half sleep the great sweetness of the place was present to his mind, torturing him.
He knew by the pictures he had seen that Paradise was like this, remote and infinitely peaceful. Meadows and valleys spreading beneath a tranquil sky . . . he knew it was desirable and that he longed for it, yet he must meddle with matters that repelled him, even as they drew him, with their horror.
He fell into heavy dreams, moaning in his sleep.
Dirk rose from beside him and walked up and down in the dark; the dew was falling, his head uncovered; he stooped, felt for his mantle, found it and wrapped it about him, pacing to and fro with calm eyes defying the dark.
Then finally he lay down under the pines and slept, to awake suddenly and find himself in a sitting posture.
The dawn was breaking, the landscape lay in mists of purple under a green sky, pellucid and pale as water; the pines shot up against it black, clear cut, and whispering still in their upper branches.
Dirk rose and tiptoed across the wet grass to Theirry, looking at him asleep for the second time.
The scholar lay motionless, with his head flung hack on his violet cloak; Dirk looked down at the beautiful sleeping face with a wild and terrible expression on his own.
Like wine poured into a cup, light began to fill the valley and the hollows in the hills; faint mystic clouds gathered and spread over the horizon. Dirk shudderingly drew his mantle closer; Theirry sighed and woke.
Dirk gave him a distracted glance and turned away so rapidly and softly that Theirry, with the ugly shapes of dreams still riding his brain, cried out —“Is that you, Dirk?” and sprang to his feet. Dirk stayed his steps half-way to the pines. “What is the matter?” he asked in an odd voice. Theirry pushed the hair away from his forehead. “I know not — nothing.”
The air seemed suddenly to become colder; the hills that on all sides bounded their vision rose up stark from grey mists; an indescribable tension made itself felt, like a pause in stillness.
Dirk stepped back to Theirry and caught his arm; they stood motionless, in an attitude of expectancy.
A roll of thunder pealed from the brightening sky and faded slowly into silence; they were looking along the hills with straining eyes.
On the furthest peak appeared a gigantic black horseman outlined against the ghostly light; he carried a banner in his hand; it was the colour of blood and the colour of night; for a moment he sat his horse, motionless, facing towards the east; then the low thunder pealed again; he raised the banner, shook it above his head, and galloped down the hillside.
Before he reached the valley he had disappeared, and at that instant the sun rose above the horizon and sparkled across the country.
Theirry hid his face in his sleeve and trembled terribly; but Dirk gazed over his bent head with undaunted eyes.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06