Theirry spoke angrily through the dark.
“Little fool, we are safe enough. They think the Devil has carried us off. Be silent.” Dirk gasped from where he lay.
“Am not afraid. But spent . . . they have gone?”
“Ay,” said Theirry, peering about him; there was no trace of light anywhere in the murky dark nor any sound; he put his hand out and touched the wet trunk of a tree, resting his shoulder against this (for he also was exhausted) he considered, angrily, the situation.
“Have you any money?” he asked.
“Not one white piece.”
Theirry felt in his own pockets. Nothing.
Their plight was pitiable; their belongings were in the college, Probably by now being burnt with a sprinkling of holy water — they were still close to those who would kill them upon sight, with no means of escape; daylight must discover them if they lingered, and how to be gone before daylight?
If they tried to wander in this dark likely enough they would but find themselves at the college gates; Theirry cursed softly.
“Little avail our enchantments now,” he commented bitterly.
It was raining heavily, drumming on the leaves above them, splashing from the boughs and dripping on the grass; Dirk raised himself feebly.
“Cannot we get shelter?” he asked peevishly. “I am all bruised, shaken and wet — wet —” “Likely enough,” responded Theirry grimly. “But unless the charms you know, Zerdusht’s incantations and Magian spells, can avail to spirit us away we must even stay where we are.” “Ah, my manuscripts, my phials and bottles!” cried Dirk. “I left them all!” “They will burn them,” said Theirry. “Plague blast and blight the thieving, spying knaves!” answered Dirk fiercely.
He got on to his feet and supported himself the other side of the tree.
“Certes, curse them all!” said Theirry, “if it anything helps.”
He felt anger and hate towards the priest and his followers who had hounded him from the college; no remorse stung him now, their action had swung him violently back into his old mood of defiance and hard-heartedness; his one thought was neither repentance nor shame, but a hot desire to triumph over his enemies and outwit their pursuit.
“My ankle,” moaned Dirk. “Ah! I cannot stand . . . ”
Theirry turned to where the voice came out of the blackness.
“Deafen me not with thy complaints, weakling,” he said fiercely. “Hast behaved in a cowardly fashion to-night.”
Dirk was silent before a new phase of Theirry’s character; he saw that his hold on his companion had been weakened by his display of fear, his easy surrender of the key. “Moans make neither comfort nor aid,” added Theirry.
Dirk’s voice came softly.
“Had you been sick I had not been so harsh, and surely I am sick . . . when I breathe my heart hurts and my foot is full of pain.”
“Because I love you, Dirk, I will, if you complain no more, say nought of your ill behaviour.” He put out his hand round the tree and touched the wet silk mantle; despite the heat Dirk was shivering.
“What shall we do?” he asked, and strove to keep his teeth from chattering. “If we might journey to Frankfort —”
“Certes, I know an old witch there who was friendly to Master Lukas, and she would receive us, surely.”
“We cannot reach Frankfort or any place without money . . . how dark it is!”
“Ugh! How it rains! I am wet to the skin . . . and my ankle . . . ”
Theirry set his teeth.
“We will get there in spite of them. Are we so easily daunted?”
“A light!” whispered Dirk. “A light!”
Theirry stared about him and saw in one part of the universal darkness a small light with a misty halo about it, slowly coming nearer.
“A traveller,” said Theirry. “Now shall he see us or no?”
“Belike he would show us on our way,” whispered Dirk.
“If he be not from the college.”
“Nay, he rides.”
They could hear now, through the monotonous noise of the rain, the sound of a horse slowly, cautiously advancing; the light swung and flickered in a changing oval that revealed faintly a man holding it and a horseman whose bridle he caught with the other hand.
They came at a walking pace, for the path was unequal and slippery, and the illumination afforded by the lantern feeble at best.
“I will accost him,” said Theirry.
“If he demand who we are?”
“Half the truth then — we have left the college because of a fight.”
The horseman and his attendant were now quite close; the light showed the overgrown path they came upon, the wet foliage either side and the slanting silver rain; Theirry stepped out before them.
“Sir,” he said, “know you of any habitation other than the town of Basle?”
The rider was wrapped in a mantle to his chin and wore a pointed felt hat; he looked sharply under this at his questioner.
“My own,” he said, and halted his horse. “A third of a league from here.”
At first he had seemed fearful of robbers, for his hand had sought the knife in his belt; but now he took it away and stared curiously, attracted by the student’s dress and the obvious beauty of the young man who was looking straight at him with dark, challenging eyes.
“We should be indebted for your hospitality — even the shelter of your barns,” said Theirry. The horseman’s glance travelled to Dirk, shivering in his silk.
“Clerks from the college?” he questioned.
“Yea,” answered Theirry. “We were. But I sorely wounded one in a fight and fled. My comrade chose to follow me.”
The stranger touched up his horse.
“Certes, you may come with me. I wot there is room enow.”
Theirry caught Dirk by the arm.
“Sir, we are thankful,” he answered.
The light held by the servant showed a muddy, twisting path, the shining wet trunks, the glistening leaves either side, the great brown horse, steaming and passive, with his bright scarlet trappings and his rider muffled in a mantle to the chin; Dirk looked at man and horse quickly in silence; Theirry spoke.
“It is an ill night to be abroad.”
“I have been in the town,” answered the stranger, “buying silks for my lady. And you — so you killed a man?”
“He is not dead,” answered Theirry. “But we shall never return to the college.”
The horseman had a soft and curiously pleasing voice; he spoke as if he cared nothing what he said or how he was answered.
“Where will you go?” he asked.
“To Frankfort,” said Theirry.
“The Emperor is there now, though he leaves for Rome within the year, they say,” remarked the horseman, “and the Empress. Have you seen the Empress?”
Theirry put back the boughs that trailed across the path.
“No,” he said.
“Of what town are you?”
“The Empress was there a year ago and you did not see her? One of the wonders of the world, they say, the Empress.”
“I have heard of her,” said Dirk, speaking for the first time. “But, sir, we go not to Frankfort to see the Empress.”
“Likely ye do not,” answered the horseman, and was silent.
They cleared the wood and were crossing a sloping space of grass, the rain full in their faces; then they again struck a well-worn path, now leading upwards among scattered rocks.
As they must wait for the horse to get a foothold on the slippery stones, for the servant to go ahead and cast the lantern light across the blackness, their progress was slow, but neither of the three spoke until they halted before a gate in a high wall that appeared to rise up, suddenly before them, out of the night.
The servant handed the lantern to his master and clanged the bell that hung beside the gate. Theirry could see by the massive size of the buttresses that flanked the entrance that it was a large castle the night concealed from him; the dwelling, certainly, of some great noble. The gates were opened by two men carrying lights. The horseman rode through, the two students at his heels.
“Tell my lady,” said he to one of the men, “that I bring two who desire her hospitality;” he turned and spoke over his shoulder to Theirry, “I am the steward here, my lady is very gentle-hearted.”
They crossed a courtyard and found themselves before the square door of the donjon.
Dirk looked at Theirry, but he kept his eyes lowered and was markedly silent; their guide dismounted, gave the reins to one of the varlets who hung about the door, and commanded them to follow him.
The door opened straight on to a large chamber the entire size of the donjon; it was lit by torches stuck into the wall and fastened by iron clamps; a number of men stood or sat about, some in a livery of bright golden-coloured and blue cloth, others in armour or hunting attire; one or two were pilgrims with the cockle-shells round their hats.
The steward passed through this company, who saluted him with but little attention to his companions, and ascended a flight of stairs set in the wall at the far end; these were steep, damp and gloomy, ill lit by a lamp placed in the niche of the one narrow deep-set window; Dirk shuddered in his soaked clothes; the steward was unfastening his mantle; it left trails of wet on the cold stone steps; Theirry marked it, he knew not why.
At the top of the stairs they paused on a small stone landing.
“Who is your lady?” asked Theirry.
“Jacobea of Martzburg, the Emperor’s ward,” answered the steward. He had taken off his mantle and his hat, and showed himself to be young and dark, plainly dressed in a suit of deep rose colour, with high boots, spurred, and a short sword in his belt.
As he opened the door Dirk whispered to Theirry, “It is the lady — ye met today?” “To-day!” breathed Theirry. “Yea, it is the lady.”
They entered by a little door and stepped into an immense chamber; the great size of the place was emphasised by the bareness of it and the dim shifting light that fell from the circles of candles hanging from the roof; facing them, in the opposite wall, was a high arched window, faintly seen in the shadows, to the left a huge fire-place with a domed top meeting the wooden supports of the lofty beamed roof, beside this a small door stood open on a flight of steps and beyond were two windows, deep set and furnished with stone seats.
The brick walls were hung with tapestries of a dull purple and gold colour, the beams of the ceiling painted; at the far end was a table, and in the centre of the hearth lay a slender white boarhound, asleep.
So vast was the chamber and so filled with shadows that it seemed as if empty save for the dog; but Theirry, after a second discerned the figures of two ladies in the furthest window-seat. The steward crossed to them and the students followed.
One lady sat back in the niched seat, her feet on the stone ledge, her arm along the window-sill; she wore a brown dress shot with gold thread, and behind her and along the seat hung and lay draperies of blue and purple; on her lap rested a small grey cat, asleep.
The other lady sat along the floor on cushions of crimson and yellow; her green dress was twisted tight about her feet and she stitched a scarlet lily on a piece of red samite.
“This is the chatelaine,” said the steward; the lady in the window-seat turned her head; it was Jacobea of Martzburg, as Theirry had known since his eyes first rested on her. “And this is my wife, Sybilla.”
Both women looked at the strangers.
“These are your guests until tomorrow, my lady,” said the steward.
Jacobea leant forward.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, and flushed faintly. “Why, you are welcome.”
Theirry found it hard to speak; he cursed the chance that had made him beholden to her hospitality.
“We are leaving the college,” he answered, not looking at her. “And for to-night could find no shelter.”
“Meeting them I brought them here,” added the steward.
“You did well, Sebastian, surely,” answered Jacobea. “Will it please you sit, sirs?”
It seemed that she would leave it at that, with neither question nor comment, but Sybilla, the steward’s wife, looked up smiling from her embroidery.
“Now wherefore left you the college, on foot on a wet night?” she said.
“I killed a man — or nearly,” answered Theirry curtly.
Jacobea looked at her steward.
“Are they not wet, Sebastian?”
“I am well enough,” said Theirry quickly; he unclasped his mantle. “Certes, under this I am dry.”
“That am not I!” cried Dirk.
At the sound of his voice both women looked at him; he stood apart from the others and his great eyes were fixed on Jacobea.
“The rain has cut me to the skin,” he said, and Theirry crimsoned for shame at his complaining tone.
“It is true,” answered Jacobea courteously. “Sebastian, will you not take the gentle clerk to a chamber — we have enough empty, I wot — and give him another habit?”
“Mine are too large,” said the steward in his indifferent voice.
“The youth will fall with an ague,” remarked his wife. “Give him something, Sebastian, I warrant he will not quarrel about the fit.”
Sebastian turned to the open door beside the fireplace.
“Follow him, fair sir,” said Jacobea gently; Dirk bent his head and ascended the stairs after the steward.
The chatelaine pulled a red bell-rope that hung close to her, and a page in the gold and blue livery came after a while; she gave him instructions in a low voice; he picked up Theirry’s wet mantle, set him a carved chair and left.
Theirry seated himself; he was alone with the two women and they were silent, not looking at him; a sense of distraction, of uneasiness was over him — he wished that he was anywhere but here, sitting a dumb suppliant in this woman’s presence.
Furtively he observed her — her clinging gown, her little velvet shoes beneath the hem of it, her long white hands resting on the soft grey fur of the cat on her knee, her yellow hair, knotted on her neck, and her lovely, meek face.
Then he noticed the steward’s wife, Sybilla; she was pale, of a type not greatly admired or belauded, but gorgeous, perhaps, to the taste of some; her russet red hair was splendid in its gleam through the gold net that confined it; her mouth was a beautiful shape and colour, but her brows were too thick, her skin too pale and her blue eyes over bright and hard.
Theirry’s glance came back to Jacobea; his pride rose that she did not speak to him, but sat there idle as if she had forgotten him; words rose to his lips, but he checked them and was mute, flushing now and then as she moved in her place and still did not speak.
Presently the steward returned and took his place on a chair between Theirry and his wife, for no reason save that it happened to be there, it seemed.
He played with the tagged laces on his sleeves and said nothing.
The mysterious atmosphere of the place stole over Theirry with a sense of the portentous; he felt that something was brooding over these quiet people who did not speak to each other, something intangible yet horrible; he clasped his hands together and stared at Jacobea.
Sebastian spoke at last.
“You go to Frankfort?”
“Yea,” answered Theirry.
“We also, soon, do we not, Sebastian?” said Jacobea.
“You will go to the court,” said Theirry.
“I am the Emperor’s ward,” she answered.
Again there was silence; only the sound of the silk drawn through the samite as Sybilla stitched the red lily; her husband was watching her; Theirry glancing at him saw his face fully for the first time, and was half startled.
It was a passionate face, in marked contrast with his voice; a dark face with a high arched nose and long black eyes; a strange face.
“How quiet the castle is to-night,” said Jacobea; her voice seemed to faint beneath the weight of the stillness.
“There is noise enough below,” answered Sebastian, “but we cannot hear it.”
The page returned, carrying a salver bearing tall glasses of wine, which he offered to Theirry, then to the steward.
Theirry felt the green glass cold to his fingers and shuddered; was that sense of something awful impending only matter of his own mind, stored of late with terrible images?
What was the matter with these people . . . Jacobea had seemed so different this afternoon . . . he tasted the wine; it burnt and stung his lips, his tongue, and sent the blood to his face.
“It still rains,” said Jacobea; she put her hand out of the open window and brought it back wet. “But it is hot,” said Sybilla.
Once more the heavy silence; the page took back the glasses and left the room.
Then the door beside the fire-place was pushed open and Dirk entered softly into the mute company.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48