Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title: Black Magic
Author: Marjorie Bowen
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0605181.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

This eBook was produced by: Richard Scott

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html


To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au


Black Magic
A Tale of the Rise and Fall of the Antichrist





PART I

THE NUN



CHAPTER 1 SUNSHINE



In the large room of a house in a certain quiet city in Flanders, a
man was gilding a devil.

The chamber looked on to the quadrangle round which the house was
built; and the sun, just overhead, blazed on the vine leaves clinging
to the brick and sent a reflected glow into the sombre spaces of the
room.

The devil, rudely cut out of wood, rested by his three tails and his
curled-back horns against the wall, and the man sat before him on a
low stool.

On the table in front of the open window stood a row of knights in
fantastic armour, roughly modelled in clay; beside them was a pile of
vellum sheets covered with drawings in brown and green.

By the door a figure of St. Michael leant against a chair, and round
his feet were painted glasses of every colour and form.

On the white-washed wall hung a winged picture representing a
martyrdom; its vivid hues were the most brilliant thing in the room.

The man was dressed in brown; he had a long dark face and straight
dull hair; from the roll of gold leaf on his knee he carefully and
slowly gilded the devil.

The place was utterly silent, the perfect stillness enhanced by the
dazzle of the blinding sun without; presently the man rose and,
crossing to the window, looked out.

He could see the sparse plants bordering the neglected grass-grown
paths, the house opposite with its double row of empty windows and the
yellowing vine-leaves climbing up the tiled roof that cut the polished
blue of the August sky.

In between these windows, that were all closed and glittering in their
golden squares, busts of old and weary philosophers were set; they
peered out blindly into the unfathomable sunshine, and the dry
tendrils of the vine curled across their leanness.

In the centre square of grass was an ancient and broken fountain; some
tall white daisies grew there, and the pure gold of their hearts was
as bright as the gilding on the devil within. The silence and the
blaze of the sun were one and indescribable.

The man at the window rested his elbows on the sill; it was so hot
that he felt it burning through his sleeve; he had the air of one
habitually alone, the unquestioning calm that comes of long silences;
he was young and, in a quiet fashion, well-looking, wide in the brows
and long in the jaw, with a smooth pale skin and cloudy dark eyes, his
hair hung very straightly, his throat was full and beautiful.

In expression he was reserved and sombre; his lips, well shaped but
pale, were resolutely set, and there was a fine curve of strength to
his prominent chin.

After a time of expressionless gazing at the sun-filled garden, he
turned back into the room, and stood in the centre of the floor, with
his teeth set in his forefinger looking ponderingly at the half-gilded
devil.

Then he took a bunch of beautifully wrought keys from his belt, and
swinging them softly in his hand left the chamber.

The house was built without corridors or passages, each room opened
into another and the upper ones were reached by short dark stairways
against the walls; there were many apartments, each of a lordly design
with the windows in the side facing the quadrangle.

As the man moved lightly from one chamber to the next his footfall
displaced dust and his gaze fell on cobwebs and the new nets of
spiders, that hung in some places across the very doorways.

Many curious and gorgeous objects were in those deserted rooms; carved
presses full of tarnished silver, paintings of holy subjects,
furniture covered with rich-hued tapestry, other pieces of arras on
the walls, and in one chamber purple silk hangings worked with ladies'
hair in shades of brown and gold.

One room was full of books, piled up on the floor, and in the midst of
them stood a table bearing strange goblets of shells set in silver and
electrum.

Passing these things without a glance the young man mounted to the
upper storey and unlocked a door whose rusty lock took his utmost
strength to turn. It was a store-room he entered--lit by low long
windows looking on the street and carefully shrouded by linen drawn
across them; the chamber was chokingly full of dust and a sickly musty
smell.

About the floor lay bales of stuff, scarlet, blue and green, painted
tiles, old lanterns, clothes, priests' garments, wonderfully worked,
glasses and little rusty iron coffers.

Before one of these the young man went on his knees and unlocked it.

It contained a number of bits of glass cut to represent gems; he
selected two of an equal size and a clear green colour, then, with the
same gravity and silence with which he had come, he returned to the
workshop. When he saw the devil, half bright gold, half bald wood, he
frowned, then set the green glass in the thing's hollow eye-sockets.

At the twinkling effect of light and life produced by this his frown
relaxed; he stood for a while contemplating his handiwork, then washed
his brushes and put away his paints and gold leaf.

By now the sun had changed and was shining full into the room casting
hot shadows of the vine leaves over the little clay knights, and
dazzling in St. Michael's wet red robe.

For the second time the young man left the room, now to go into the
hall and open the door that gave upon the street.

He looked on to an empty market-place surrounded by small houses
falling into decay, beyond them the double towers of the Cathedral
flying upwards across the gold and blue.

Not long ago the town had been besieged and this part of it
devastated; now new quarters had been built and this left neglected.

Grass grew between the cobbles, and there was no soul in sight.

The young man shaded his eyes and gazed across the dazzling
dreariness; the shadow of his slack, slim figure was cast into the
square of sun thrown across the hall through the open door.

Under the iron bell that hung against the lintel stood a basket of
bread, a can of milk and some meat wrapped in a linen cloth; the youth
took these in and closed the door.

He traversed a large dining-room, finely furnished, a small ante-
chamber, came out into the arcaded end of the courtyard, entered the
house by a low door next the pump and so into his workshop again.

There he proceeded to prepare his food; on the wide tiled hearth stood
a tripod and an iron pot; he lit a fire under this, filled the pot
with water and put the meat in; then he took a great book down off a
shelf and bent over it, huddled up on a stool in the corner where the
shade still lingered.

It was a book filled with drawings of strange and horrible things, and
close writing embellished with blood-red capitals. As the young man
read, his face grew hot and flushed where it rested on his hand, and
the heavy volume fell cumbrous either side his knee; not Once did he
look up or change his twisted position, but with parted lips and
absorbed eyes pored over the black lettering.

The sun sank the other side of the house, so that the garden and room
were alike in shadow, and the air became cooler; still the young man
made no movement.

The flames leapt on the hearth and the meat seethed in the pot
unheeded.

Outside the vine leaves curled against the brick, and the stone faces
looked down at the broken fountain, the struggling grass and the tall
white daisies; still the young man, bending lower, his heated cheek
pressed into his palm, his hair touching the page, bent over the great
tome on his knee.

Not the devil with his green eyes staring before him, not St. Michael
in his red robe by the door, not the martyr in the bright winged
picture were more still than he, crouched upon his wooden stool.

Then, without prelude or warning, the heavy clang of a bell woke the
silence into trembling echoes.

The young man dropped the book and sprang to his feet; red and white
chased across his face, he stood panting, bewildered, with one hand on
his heart, and dazed eyes.

Again the bell sounded.

It could only be that which hung at the front door; not for years had
one rung it; he picked up the book, put it back on the shelf, and
stood irresolute.

For a third time the iron clang, insistent, impatient, rang through
the quiet.

The young man frowned, pushed back the hair from his hot forehead and
went, with a light and cautious step, across the courtyard, through
the dark dining-chamber into the hall.

Here for a second he hesitated, then drew back the bolt and opened the
door.

Two men stood without.

One was most gorgeously attired, the other wore a dark cloak and
carried his hat in his hand. "You cannot want me," said the youth,
surveying them. "And there is no one else here." His voice fell full
and low, of a soft quality, but the tone was sombre and cold.

The splendidly-dressed stranger answered--"If you are Master Dirk
Renswoude, we are most desirous to see and speak with you."

The young man opened the door a little wider. "I am Dirk Renswoude,
but I know neither of you!"

"I did not think so," the other answered. "Still, we have a matter to
ask you of. I am Balthasar of Courtrai and this is my friend, whom you
may call Theirry, born of Dendermonde." "Balthasar of Courtrai!"
repeated the youth softly; he stood aside and motioned them to enter.
When they had passed into the hall he carefully bolted the door; then
turned to them with a grave absorbed manner.

"Will you follow me?" he said, and went before them to his workroom.

The sun had left chamber and garden now, but the air was golden warm
with it, and a sense of great heat still lay over the grass and vines
seen through the open window.

Dirk Renswoude moved St. Michael from the chair and tossed a pile of
parchments off a stool. He offered these seats to his guests, who
accepted them in silence.

"You must needs wait till the supper is prepared," he said, and with
that placed himself on the stool by the pot, and, while he stirred it
with an iron spoon, openly studied the two men.

Balthasar of Courtrai was gorgeous; his age might be perhaps twenty-
six or seven; he was of a large make, florid in the face with a high
red colour and blunt features; his brows were straight and over fair,
his eyes deep blue and expressionless; his heavy yellow hair was cut
low on his forehead and fell straightly on to his neck.

He wore a flat orange hat, slashed and cut, fastened by purple cords
to the shoulder of a gold doublet that opened on a shirt of fine lawn;
his sleeves were enormous, fantastic, puffed and gathered; round his
waist was a linked belt into which were thrust numerous daggers and a
short sword.

His breeches, of a most vivid blue, were beruffled with knots and
tassels, his riding-boots, that came to his knees, stained with the
summer dust, showed a small foot decorated with gilt spurs. He sat
with one hand on his hip, and in the other held his leathern gloves.

Such the picture, Master Dirk Renswoude, considering him coldly,
formed of Balthasar of Courtrai.

His companion was younger; dressed sombrely in black and violet, but
as well-looking as a man may be; he was neither dark nor fair, but of
a clear brown hue, and his eyes were hazel, swift and brilliant; his
mouth was set smilingly, yet the whole face expressed reserve and some
disdain; he had laid his hat on the floor beside him, and with an
interested glance was observing the room.

But Balthasar of Courtrai returned Master Dirk Renswoude's steady
gaze.

"You have heard of me?" he said suddenly.

"Yes," was the instant answer.

"Then, belike, you know what I am here for?"

"No," said Master Dirk, frowning.

Balthasar glanced at his companion, who gave no heed to either of
them, but stared at the half-gilded devil with interest and some
wonder; seeing this, Balthasar answered for himself, in a manner half
defiant and wholly arrogant.

"My father is Margrave of East Flanders, and the Emperor knighted me
when I was fifteen. Now I am tired of Courtrai, of the castle, of my
father. I have taken the road."

Master Dirk lifted the iron pot from the fire to the hearth.

"The road to--where?" he asked.

Balthasar made a large gesture with his right hand.

"To Cologne, perhaps to Rome, to Constantinople...to Turkey or
Hungary."

"Knight errant," said Master Dirk.

Balthasar tossed his fine head.

"By the Rood, no. I have ambitions."

Master Dirk laughed.

"And your friend?" he asked.

"A wandering scholar," smiled Balthasar. "Also weary of the town of
Courtrai. He dreams of fame."

Theirry looked round at this.

"I am going to the Universities," he said quietly. "To Paris, Basle,
Padua--you have heard of them?"

The youth's cloudy eyes gleamed.

"Ah, I have heard of them," he replied upon a quick breath.

"I have a great desire for learning," said Theirry.

Balthasar made an impatient movement that shook the tassels and
ribbons on his sleeves. "God help us, yes! And I for other things."

Master Dirk was moving about setting the supper. He placed the little
clay knights on the window-sill, and flung, without any ado, drawings,
paints and brushes on to the floor.

Silence fell on them; the young host's bearing did not encourage
comment, and the atmosphere of the room was languid and remote, not
conducive to talk.

Master Dirk, composed and aloof, opened a press in the wall, and took
thence a fine cloth that he laid smoothly on the rough table; then he
set on it earthenware dishes and plates, drinking-glasses painted in
bright colours, and forks with agate handles.

They were well served for food, even though it might not be the
princely fare the Margrave's son was used to; honey in a silver jar,
shining apples lying among their leaves, wheaten cakes in a plaited
basket, grapes on a gold salver, lettuces and radishes fragrantly wet;
these Master Dirk brought from the press and set on the table. Then he
helped his guests to meat, and Balthasar spoke.

"You live strangely here--so much alone."

"I have no desire for company. I work and take pleasure in it. They
buy my work, pictures, carvings, sculptures for churches--very
readily."

"You are a good craftsman," said Theirry. "Who taught you?"

"Old Master Lukas, born of Ghent, and taught in Italy. When he died he
left me this house and all it holds."

Again their speech sank into silence; Balthasar ate heavily, but with
elegance; Dirk, seated next the window, rested his chin on his palm
and stared out at the bright yet fading blue of the sky, at the row of
closed windows opposite, and the daisies waving round the broken
fountain; he ate very little. Theirry, placed opposite, was of the
same mind and, paying little heed to Balthasar, who seemed not to
interest him in the least, kept curious eyes on Dirk's strange, grave
face.

After a while the Margrave's son asked shamelessly for wine, and the
youth rose languidly and brought it; tall bottles, white, red and
yellow in wicker cases, and an amber-hued beer such as the peasants
drank.

The placing of these before Balthasar seemed to rouse him from his
apathy.

"Why have you come here?" he demanded.

Balthasar laughed easily.

"I am married," he said as a prelude, and lifted his glass in a large,
well-made hand. At that Master Dirk frowned.

"So are many men."

Balthasar surveyed the tilting wine through half-closed eyes.

"It is about my wife, Master, that I am here now."

Dirk Renswoude leant forward in his chair.

"I know of your wife."

"Tell me of her," said Balthasar of Courtrai. "I have come here for
that."

Dirk slightly smiled.

"Should I know more than you?"

The Margrave's son flushed.

"What you do know?--tell me."

Dirk's smile deepened.

"She was one Ursula, daughter of the Lord of Rooselaare, she was sent
to the convent of the White Sisters in this town."

"So you know it all," said Balthasar. "Well, what else?"

"What else? I must tell you a familiar tale."

"Certes, more so to you than to me."

"Then, since you wish it, here is your story, sir."

Dirk spoke in an indifferent voice well suited to the peace of the
chamber; he looked at neither of his listeners, but always out of the
window.

"She was educated for a nun and, I think, desired to become one of the
Order of the White Sisters. But when she was fifteen her brother died
and she became her father's heiress. So many entered the lists for her
hand--they contracted her to you."

Balthasar pulled at the orange tassels on his sleeve.

"Without my wish or consent," he said.

The young man took no heed.

"They sent a guard to bring her back to Rooselaare, but because they
were fearful of the danger of journey, and that she might be captured
by one of the pretenders to her fortunes, they married her fast and
securely, by proxy, to you. At this the maid, who wished most
heartily, I take it, to become a nun, fell ill of grief, and in her
despair she confided her misery to the Abbess."

Balthasar's eyes flickered and hardened behind their fair lashes.

"I tell you a tale," said Dirk, "that I believe you know, but since
you have come to hear me speak on this matter, I relate what has come
to me--of it. This Ursula was heiress to great wealth, and in her love
to the Sisters, and her dislike to this marriage, she promised them
all her worldly goods, when she should come into possession of them,
if they would connive at saving her from her father and her husband.
So the nuns, tempted by greed, spread the report that she had died in
her illness, and, being clever women, they blinded all. There was a
false funeral, and Ursula was kept secret in the convent among the
novices. All this matter was put into writing and attested by the
nuns, that there might be no doubt of the truth of it when the maid
came into her heritage. And the news went to her home that she was
dead."

"And I was glad of it," said Balthasar. "For then I loved another
woman and was in no need for money."

"Peace, shameless," said Theirry, but Dirk Renswoude laughed softly.

"She took the final, the irrevocable vows, and lived for three years
among the nuns. And the life became bitter and utterly unendurable to
her, and she dared not make herself known to her father because of the
deeds the nuns held, promising them her lands. So, as the life became
more and more horrible to her, she wrote, in her extremity, and found
means to send, a letter to her husband."

"I have it here." Balthasar touched his breast. "She said she had
sworn herself to me before she had vowed herself to God--told me of
her deceit," he laughed, "and asked me to come and rescue her."

Dirk crossed his hands, that were long and beautiful, upon the table.

"You did not come and you did not answer."

The Margrave's son glanced at Theirry, as he had a habit of doing, as
if he reluctantly desired his assistance or encouragement; but again
he obtained nothing and answered for himself, after the slightest
pause.

"No, I did not come. Her father had taken another wife and had a son
to inherit. And I," he lowered his eyes moodily, "I was thinking of
another woman. She had lied, my wife, to God, I think. Well, let her
take her punishment, I said."

"She did not wait beyond some months for your answer," said Master
Dirk. "Master Lukas, born of Ghent, was employed in the chapel of the
convent, and she, who had to wait on him, told him her story. And when
he had finished the chapel she fled with him here--to this house. And
again she wrote to her husband, speaking of the old man who had
befriended her and telling him of her abode. And again he did not
answer. That was five years ago."

"And the nuns made no search for her?" asked Theirry.

"They knew now that the girl was no heiress, and they were afraid that
the tale might get blown abroad. Then there was war."

"Ay, had it not been for that I might have come," said Balthasar. "But
I was much occupied with fighting."

"The convent was burnt and the sisters fled," continued Dirk. "And the
maid lived here, learning many crafts from Master Lukas. He had no
apprentices but us."

Balthasar leant back in his chair.

"That much I learnt. And that the old man, dying, left his place to
you, and--what more of this Ursula?"

The young man gave him a slow, full glance.

"Strangely late you inquire after her, Balthasar of Courtrai."

The Knight turned his head away, half sullenly.

"A man must know how he is encumbered. No one save I is aware of her
existence...yet she is my wife."

Dusk, hot and golden, had fallen on the chamber. The half-gilded devil
gleamed dully; above his violet vestment Theirry's handsome face
showed with a half smile on the curved lips; the Knight was a little
ill at ease, a little sullen, but glowingly massive, gorgeous and
finely coloured.

The young sculptor rested his smooth pale face on his palm; cloudy
eyes and cloudy hair were hardly discernible in the twilight, but the
line of the resolute chin was clear cut.

"She died four years ago," he said. "And her grave is in the
garden...where those white daisies grow."



CHAPTER II THE STUDENTS



"Dead," repeated Balthasar; he pushed back his chair and then laughed.
"Why--so is my difficulty solved--I am free of that, Theirry."

His companion frowned.

"Do you take it so? I think it is pitiful--the fool was so young." He
turned to Dirk. "Of what did she die?"

The sculptor sighed, as if weary of the subject.

"I know not. She was happy here, yet she died."

Balthasar rose.

"Why did you bury her within the house?" he asked half uneasily.

"It was in time of war," answered Dirk. "We did what we could--and
she, I think, had wished it."

The young Knight leant a little way from the open window and looked at
the daisies; they gleamed hard and white through the deepening
twilight, and he could imagine that they were growing from the heart,
from the eyes and lips of the wife whom he had never seen.

He wished her grave was not there; he wished she had not appealed to
him; he was angry with her that she had died and shamed him; yet this
same death was a vast relief to him. Dirk got softly to his feet and
laid his hand on Balthasar's fantastic sleeve.

"We buried her deep enough," he said. "She does not rise."

The Knight turned with a little start and crossed himself.

"God grant that she sleep in peace," he cried.

"Amen," said Theirry gravely.

Dirk took a lantern from the wall and lit it from the coals still
smouldering on the hearth.

"Now you know all I know of this matter," he remarked. "I thought that
some day you might come. I have kept for you her ring--your ring--"

Balthasar interrupted.

"I want none of it," he said hastily.

Dirk lifted the lantern; its fluttering flame flushed the twilight
with gold.

"Will you please to sleep here to-night?" he asked. The Knight, with
his back to the window, assented, in defiance of a secret dislike to
the place.

"Follow me," commanded Dirk, then to the other, "I shall be back
anon."

"Good rest," nodded Balthasar. "To-morrow we will get horses in the
town and start for Cologne."

"Good even," said Theirry.

The Knight went after his host through the silent rooms, up a twisting
staircase into a low chamber looking on to the quadrangle.

It contained a wooden bedstead covered with a scarlet quilt, a table,
and some richly carved chairs; Dirk lit the candles standing on the
table, bade his guest a curt good-night and returned to the workroom.

He opened the door of this softly and looked in before he entered.

By the window stood Theirry striving to catch the last light on the
pages of a little book he held.

His tall, graceful figure was shadowed by his sombre garments, but the
fine oval of his face was just discernible above the white pages of
the volume.

Dirk pushed the door wide and stepped in softly.

"You love reading?" he said, and his eyes shone. Theirry started, and
thrust the book into the bosom of his doublet.

"Ay--and you?" he asked tentatively.

Dirk set the lantern among the disordered supper things.

"Master Lukas left me his manuscripts among his other goods," he
answered. "Being much alone--I have--read them."

In the lantern light, that the air breathed from the garden fanned
into a flickering glow, the two young men looked at each other.

An extraordinary expression, like a guilty excitement, came into the
eyes of each.

"Ah!" said Dirk, and drew back a little. "Being much alone," whispered
Theirry, "with--a dead maid in the house--how have you spent your
time?"

Dirk crouched away against the wall; his hair hung lankly over his
pallid face. "You--you--pitied her?" he breathed.

Theirry shuddered.

"Balthasar sickens me--yea, though he be my friend."

"You would have come?" questioned Dirk. "When she sent to you?"

"I should have seen no other thing to do," answered Theirry. "What
manner of a maid was she?"

"I did think her fair," said Dirk slowly. "She had yellow hair--you
may see her likeness in that picture on the wall. But now it is too
dark."

Theirry came round the table.

"You also follow knowledge?" he inquired eagerly.

But Dirk answered almost roughly.

"Why should I confide in you? I know nothing of you."

"There is a tie in kindred pursuits," replied the scholar more
quietly.

Dirk caught up the lantern.

"You are not aware of the nature of my studies," he cried, and his
eyes shone wrathfully. "Come to bed. I am weary of talking."

Theirry bent his head.

"This is a fair place for silences," he said.

As if gloomily angry, yet disdaining the expression of it, Dirk
conducted him to a chamber close to that where Balthasar lay, and left
him, without speech, nor did Theirry solicit any word of him.

Dirk did not return to the workroom, but went into the garden and
paced to and fro under the stars that burnt fiercely and seemed to
hang very low over the dark line of the house.

His walk was hasty, his steps uneven, he bit, with an air of absorbed
distraction, his lip, his finger, the ends of his straight hair, and
now and then he looked with tumultuous eyes up at the heavens, down at
the ground and wildly about him.

It was well into the night when he at last returned into the house,
and, taking a candle in his hand, went stealthily up to Balthasar's
chamber.

With a delicate touch he unfastened the door, and very lightly
entered.

Shielding the candle flame with his hand he went up to the bed.

The young Knight lay heavily asleep; his yellow hair was tumbled over
his flushed face and about the pillow; his arms hung slackly outside
the red coverlet; on the floor were his brilliant clothes, his sword,
his belt, his purse.

Where his shirt fell open at the throat a narrow blue cord showed a
charm attached.

Dirk stood still, leaning forward a little, looking at the sleeper,
and expressions of contempt, of startled anger, of confusion, of
reflection passed across his haggard features.

Balthasar did not stir in his deep sleep; neither the light held above
him nor the intense gaze of the young man's dark eyes served to wake
him, and after a while Dirk left him and passed to the chamber
opposite.

There lay Theirry, fully dressed, on his low couch. Dirk set the
candle on the table and came on tiptoe to his side.

The scholar's fair face was resting on his hand, his chin up-tilted,
his full lips a little apart; his lashes lay so lightly on his cheek
it seemed he must be glancing from under them; his hair, dark, yet
shining, was heaped round his temples.

Dirk, staring down at him, breathed furiously, and the colour flooded
his face, receded, and sprang up again.

Then retreating to the table he sank on to the rush-bottomed chair,
and put his hands over his eyes; the candle flame leapt in unison with
his uneven breaths.

Looking round, after a while, with a wild glance, he gave a long,
distraught sigh, and Theirry moved in his sleep.

At this the watcher sat expectant.

Theirry stirred again, turned, and rose on his elbow with a start.

Seeing the light and the young man sitting by it, staring at him with
brilliant eyes, he set his feet to the ground.

Before he could speak Dirk put his finger on his lips.

"Hush," he whispered, "Balthasar is asleep." Theirry, startled,
frowned.

"What do you want with me?"

For answer the young sculptor moaned, and dropped his head into the
curve of his arm. "You are strange," said Theirry.

Dirk glanced up.

"Will you take me with you to Padua--to Basle?" he said. "I have money
and some learning." "You are free to go as I," answered Theirry, but
awakened interest shone in his eyes. "I would go with you," insisted
Dirk intensely. "Will you take me?"

Theirry rose from the bed uneasily.

"I have had no companion all my life." He said. "The man whom I would
take into must be of rare quality--"

He came to the other side of the table and across the frail gleam of
the candle looked at Dirk. Their eyes met and instantly sank, as if
each were afraid of what the other might reveal. "I have studied
somewhat," said Dirk hoarsely. "You also--I think, in the same
science--" The silent awe of comprehension fell upon them, then
Theirry spoke.

"So few understand--can it be possible---that you--?"

Dirk rose.

"I have done something."

Theirry paled, but his hazel eyes were bright as flame.

"How much?" then he broke off--"God help us--"

"Ah!--do you use that name?" cried Dirk, and showed his teeth

The other, with cold fingers, clutched at the back of the rush-
bottomed chair.

"So I is true--you deal with--you--ah, you--"

"What was that book you were reading?" asked Dirk sharply.

Theirry suddenly laughed.

"What is your study, that you desire to perfect at Basle, at Padua?"
he counter-questioned There was a pause; then Dirk crushed the candle
out with his open palm, and answered on a half sob of excitement--

"Black magic--black magic!"



CHAPTER III



THE EXPERIMENT

"I guessed it," said Theirry under his breath, "when I entered the
house."

"And you?" came Dirk's voice.

"I--I also."

There was silence; then Dirk groped his way to the door.

"Come after me," he whispered. "There is a light downstairs."

Theirry had no words to answer; his throat was hot, his lips dry with
excitement, he felt his temples pulsating and his brow damp.

Cautiously they crept down the stairs and into the workroom, where the
lantern cast long pale rays of light across the hot dark.

Dirk set the window as wide as it would go and crouched into the chair
under it; his face was flushed, his hair tumbled, his brown clothes
dishevelled.

"Tell me about yourself," he said.

Theirry leant against the wall, for he felt his limbs trembling.

"What do you want to know?" he asked, half desperately; "I can do very
little."

Dirk set his elbows on the table and his chin in his hand; his half-
veiled gleaming eyes held Theirry's fascinated, reluctant gaze.

"I have had no chance to learn," he whispered. "Master Lukas had some
books--not enough---but what one might do--!"

"I came upon old writings," said Theirry slowly. "I thought one might
be great--that way, so I fled from Courtrai."

Dirk rose and beckoned.

"I will work a spell to-night. You shall see."

He took up the lantern and Theirry followed him; they traversed the
chamber and entered another; in the centre of that Dirk stopped, and
gave the light into the cold hand of his companion.

"Here we shall be secret," he murmured, and raised, with some
difficulty, a trap-door in the floor. Theirry peered into the
blackness revealed below.

"Have you done this before?" he asked fearfully.

"This spell? No."

Dirk was descending the stairs into the dark.

"God will never forgive," muttered Theirry, hanging back.

"Are you afraid?" asked Dirk wildly.

Theirry set his lips.

"No. No."

He stepped on to the ladder, and holding the light above his head,
followed.

They found themselves in a large vault entirely below the surface of
the ground, so that air was attained only from the trap-door that they
had left open behind them.

Floor and walls were paved with smooth stones, the air was thick and
intolerably hot; the roof only a few inches above Theirry's head.

In one corner stood a tall dark mirror, resting against the wall;
beside it were a pile of books and an iron brazier full of ashes.

Dirk took the lantern from Theirry and hung it to a nail on the wall.

"I have been studying," he whispered, "how to raise spirits and see
into the future--I think I begin to feel my way;" his great eyes
suddenly unclosed and flashed over his companion. "Have you the
courage?"

"Yes," said Theirry hoarsely. "For what else have I left my home if
not for this?" "It is strange we should have met," shuddered Dirk.

Their guilty eyes glanced away from each other; Dirk took a piece of
white chalk from his pocket and began drawing circles, one within the
other on the centre of the floor.

He marked them with strange signs and figures that he drew carefully
and exactly.

Theirry stayed by the lantern, his handsome face drawn and pale, his
eyes intent on the other's movements.

The upper part of the vault was in darkness; shadows like a bat's
wings swept either side of the lantern that cast a sickly yellow light
on the floor, and the slender figure of Dirk on one knee amid his
chalk circles.

When he had completed them he rose, took one of the books from the
corner and opened it. "Do you know this?" With a delicate forefinger
he beckoned Theirry, who came and read over his shoulder.

"I have tried it. It has never succeeded."

"To-night it may," whispered Dirk.

He shook the ashes out of the brazier and filled it with charcoal that
he took from a pile near. This he lit and placed before the mirror.

"The future--we must know the future," he said, as if to himself.

"They will not come," said Theirry, wiping his damp forehead. "I--
heard them once--but they never came."

"Did you tempt them enough?" breathed Dirk. "If you have Mandrake they
will do anything." "I had none."

"Nor I--still one can force them against their will--though it is--
terrible."

The thin blue smoke from the charcoal was filling the vault; they felt
their heads throbbing, their nostrils dry.

Dirk stepped into the chalk circles holding the book.

In a slow, unsteady voice he commenced to read.

As Theirry caught the words of the blasphemous and horrible invocation
he shook and shuddered, biting his tongue to keep back the instinctive
prayer that rose to his lips.

But Dirk gained courage as he read; he drew himself erect; his eyes
flashed, his cheeks burnt crimson; the smoke had cleared from the
brazier, the charcoal glowed red and clear; the air grew hotter; it
seemed as if a cloak of lead had been flung over their heads.

At last Dirk stopped.

"Put out the lantern," he muttered.

Theirry opened it and stifled the flame.

There was now only the light of the burning charcoal that threw a
ghastly hue over the dark surface of the mirror.

Theirry drew a long sighing breath; Dirk, swaying on his feet, began
speaking again in a strange and heavy tongue.

Then he was silent.

Faint muttering noises grew out of the darkness, indistinct sounds of
howling, sobbing. "They come," breathed Theirry.

Dirk repeated the invocation.

The air shuddered with moanings.

"A--ah!" cried Dirk.

Into the dim glow of the brazier a creature was crawling, the size of
a dog, the shape of a man, of a hideous colour of mottled black; it
made a wretched crying noise, and moved slowly as if in pain.

Theirry gave a great sob, and pressed his face against the wall.

But Dirk snarled at it across the dark.

"So you have come. Show us the future. I have the power over you. You
know that."

The thin flames leapt suddenly high, a sound of broken wailings came
through the air; something ran round the brazier; the surface of the
mirror was troubled as if dark water ran over it; then suddenly was
flashed on it a faint yet bright image of a woman, crowned, and with
yellow hair; as she faded, a semblance of one wearing a tiara appeared
but blurred and faint. "More," cried Dirk passionately. "Show us
more--"

The mirror brightened, revealing depths of cloudy sky; against them
rose the dark line of a gallows tree.

Theirry stepped forward.

"Ah, God!" he shrieked, and crossed himself. With a sharp sound the
mirror cracked and fell asunder; a howl of terror arose, and dark
shapes leapt into the air to be absorbed in it and disappear.

Dirk staggered out of the circle and caught hold of Theirry.

"You have broken the spell!" he gibbered. "You have broken the spell!"

An icy stillness had suddenly fallen; the brazier flickered rapidly
out, and even the coals were soon black and dead; the two stood in
absolute darkness.

"They have gone!" whispered Theirry; he wrenched himself free from
Dirk's clutch and fumbled his way to the ladder.

Finding this by reason of the faint patch of light overhead, he
climbed up through the trapdoor, his body heaving with long-drawn
breaths.

Dirk, light-footed and lithe, followed him, and dropped the flap.

"The charm was not strong enough," he said through his teeth. "And
you--"

Theirry broke in.

"I could not help myself--I--I--saw them."

He sank on a chair by the open window and dropped his brow into his
hand.

The room was full of a soft starlight, far away and infinitely sweet;
the vines and grasses made a quivering sound in the night wind and
tapped against the lattice.

Dirk moved into the workshop and came back with the candle and a great
green glass of wine. He held up the light so that he could see the
scholar's beautiful agonised face, and with his other hand gave him
the goblet.

Theirry looked up and drank silently.

When he had finished, the colour was back in his cheeks.

Dirk took the glass from him and set it beside the candle on the
window-sill.

"What did you see--in the mirror?" he asked.

"I do not know," answered Theirry wildly. "A woman's face--"

"Ay," broke in Dirk. "Now, what was she to us? And a figure like--the
Pope?"

He smiled derisively.

"I saw that," said Theirry. "But what should they do with holy
things?--and then I saw--" Dirk swung round on him; each white despite
the candle-light.

"Nay--there, was no more after that!"

"There was," insisted Theirry. "A stormy sky and a gallows tree--" His
voice fell hollowly. Dirk strode across the room into the trailing
shadows.

"The foul little imps!" he said passionately. "They deceived us!"

Theirry rose in his place.

"Will you continue these studies?" he questioned.

The other gave him a quick look over his shoulder.

"Do you think of turning aside?"

"Nay, nay," answered Theirry. "But one may keep knowledge this side of
things blasphemous and unholy."

Dirk laughed hoarsely.

"I have no fear of God!" he said in a thick voice. "But you--you are
afraid of Sathanas. Well, go your way. Each man to his master. Mine
will give me many things--look to it yours does the like by you--"

He opened the door, and was leaving, when Theirry came after him and
caught him by the robe.

"Listen to me. I am not afraid. Nay, why did I leave Courtrai?"

With resolute starry eyes Dirk gazed up at Theirry (who was near a
head taller), and his proud mouth curled a little.

"I may not disregard the fate that sent me here," continued Theirry.
"Will you come with me? I can be loyal."

His words were earnest, his face eager; still Dirk vas mute.

"I have hated men, not loved them, all my life--most wonderfully am I
drawn to thee--" "Oh!" cried Dirk, and gave a little quivering laugh.

"Together might we do much, and it is ill work studying alone."

The younger man put out his hand.

"If I come, will you swear a pact with me of friendship?"

"We will be as brothers," said Theirry gravely. "Sharing good and
ill."

"Keeping our secret?" whispered Dirk--"allowing none to come between
us?"

"Yea."

"You are a-tune to me," said Dirk. "So be it. I will come with you to
Basle."

He raised his strange face; in the hollowed eyes, in the full
colourless lips, were a resolution and a strength that held and
commanded the other.

"We may be great," he said.

Theirry took his hand; the red candle-light was being subdued and
vanquished by a glimmering grey that overspread the stars; the dawn
was peering in at the window.

"Can you sleep?" asked Theirry.

Dirk withdrew his hand.

"At least I can feign it--Balthasar must not guess--get you to bed--
never forget to-night and what you swore."

With a soft gliding step he gained the door, opened it noiselessly,
and departed.

Theirry stood for a while, listening to the slight sound of the
retreating footfall, then he pressed his hands to his forehead and
turned to the window.

A pale pure flush of saffron stained the sky above the roof-line;
there were no clouds, and the breeze had dropped again.

In the vast and awful stillness, Theirry, feeling marked, set apart
and defiled with blasphemy, yet elated also, in a wild and wicked
manner, tiptoed up to his chamber.

Each creaking board he stepped on, each shadow that seemed to change
as he passed it, caused his blood to tingle guiltily; when he had
gained his room he bolted the door and flung himself along his tumbled
couch, holding his fingers to his lips, and with strained eyes gazing
at the window. So he lay through long hours of sunshine in a half-
swoon of sleep.



CHAPTER V



THE DEPARTURE

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"...

Theirry descended.

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?"

"Yea."

Theirry frowned.

"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 re-arranging 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."

Dirk laughed.

"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.

Dirk frowned.

"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."



CHAPTER V COMRADES



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; to-day, 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?"

Theirry smiled.

"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.

Theirry started.

"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."

Theirry shuddered.

"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?"

Theirry shuddered.

"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.



CHAPTER VI



THE LADY

Through the blunt-pointed arches that gave on to the sunny gardens a
thin stream of students issued from the lecture-room.

Behind the castellated roof of the university the mountains appeared,
snow cold against the sun-lit sky; at the bottom of the gently sloping
garden lay the town of Basle with the broad blue Rhine flowing between
the glittering houses.

The students came in twos and threes and little groups, laughing
together over the doctor who had been lecturing them, over some point
in their studies that had roused their amusement, or merely because it
was a relief after being confined for hours in the dark hall.

The long straight robes, dark shades of purple, blue and violet,
fluttered behind them in the summer wind as they gradually dispersed
to right and left among the trees.

Theirry, walking with two others, looked about him for Dirk, who had
not attended the lecture. "We are going up the river," said one of his
companions. "We have a fair sailing boat--it will be pleasant, by
Ovid!"

"Will you come?" asked the other.

Theirry shook his head.

"Nay, I cannot."

They both laughed.

"See how he is given to meditation! He will be a great man, certes!

"I have a matter that commands my time," said Theirry.

"Dear lover of rhetoric! Hark to him--he will even sit in the shade
and muse!"

"'Tis cooler," smiled Theirry.

They came to a pathway bordered with laurels and dark glossy plants,
and from a seat amid them Dirk rose at their approach.

He was distinguished from the others by the greater richness of his
dress; his robe, very voluminous and heavy, was of brown silk; he wore
a gold chain twisted round his flat black cap, and his shirt was of
fine lawn, laced and embroidered.

The two students doffed their hats in half-mocking recognition of the
exquisite air of aloofness that was his habitual manner.

He gave them a steady look out of half-closed eyes.

"Hast learnt much to-day?" he asked.

"Aristotle is not comprehended in an afternoon," answered the student,
smiling. "And I was at the back--Master Joris of Thuringia yawned and
yawned, and fell off his stool asleep! The Doctor was bitter!"

"It was amusing," said the other. "Yet he was not asleep, but swooned
from the heat. Mass! but it was hot! Where were you?"

"Improving my Latin in the library. This after-noon I have put the
story of Tereus and Philomena into the vulgar tongue."

"Give you good even." The two linked arms. "We know a joyful inn up
the river." As they disappeared Dirk turned sharply to Theirry.

"Did they ask your company?"

"Yea."

Dirk frowned.

"You should have gone.

"I had no mind to it. They are foolish."

"Ay, but we are beginning to be remarked for closeness in our habits.
It would not be pleasant should they--suspect."

"'Tis not possible," said Theirry hastily.

"It must not be," was the firm answer. "But be not churlish or over
reserved."

"I wish for no company but thine," replied Theirry. "What have I in
common with these idlers?"

Dirk gave him a bright tender look.

"We need not stay here over long," he answered. "I do think we know
all this school can teach us."

Theirry put back the laurel bough that swung between them.

"Where would you go?" he asked; it was noticeable how in all things he
had begun to defer to the younger man.

"Paris! Padua!" flashed Dirk. "Would you consider that? One might
attain a reputation, and then--or one might lecture---in any large
town--Cologne, Strasbourg."

"Meanwhile--?"

"Meanwhile I progress," was the whispered answer. "I have essayed--
some things. Will you come to my chamber to-night?"

"Ay--secretly?"

Dirk nodded; his grave young face under the student's flat hat was
slightly flushed; he laid his hand on Theirry's arm.

"I have something to tell you. Here it is scarcely wise to speak.
There is one who hates me---Joris of Thuringia. Now, good-bye."

"

His great eyes lit with a look of strong affection that was flashed
back in Theirry's glance; they clasped hands and parted.

Theirry looked after the brown, silk-clad figure, as it moved rapidly
towards the university, then he took his own way, out of the gardens
on to the hill-side, away from the town.

With his hands clasped behind his back, and his handsome head bent, he
followed aimlessly a little path, and as he wound his way through the
trees wild day-dreams stirred his blood.

He was on the eve of putting himself in possession of immense power;
these evil spirits whom he would force to serve him could give him
anything in the world--anything in the world!

The phantasmagoria of golden visions that arose to blind and
intoxicate him, the horror of the means employed, dread of the
unthinkable end to come, were not to be put into any words.

He sat down at length on a fallen tree trunk and gazed with rapt eyes
down the silent forest path.

He did not know where he was; certainly he had come farther than ever
before, or else taken a strange turn, for through the pine-stems he
could perceive castle walls, the gates rising from the piled-up rocks,
and it was unknown to him.

Presently he rose and walked on, because his galloping thoughts would
not allow his body to rest, and still giving no heed to the way, he
wandered out of the forest into a green valley shaded by thick trees.

Down the centre ran a stream, and the grass, of a deep green colour,
was thickly sown with daisies white as the snow shining on the far-off
mountains.

Here and there down the edge of the stream grew young poplar trees,
and their flat gold leaves fluttered like a gipsy's sequins, even in
the breezeless air.

Theirry, absorbed and withdrawn into himself, walked by the side of
the water; he was unconscious of the shadowed hush and quiet of the
valley, of the voices of birds falling softly from the peace of the
frees, and the marvellous sunlight on the mountains, the castle,
rising beyond its circle of shade up into the crystal blue; before his
eyes danced thrones and crowns, gold and painted silks, glimpses of
princely dwellings and little winged, creeping fiends that offered him
these things.

Presently a human sound forced itself on his senses, insistently, even
through his abstraction. The sound of weeping, sobbing.

He started, gazed about him with dazed eyes, like a blind man
recovering sight, and discerned a lady upon the other side of the
stream, seated on the grass, her head bowed in her right hand. Theirry
paused, frowned, and hesitated.

The lady, warned of something, glanced up and sprang to her feet; he
saw now that she held a dead bird in her left hand; her face was
flushed with weeping, her long yellow hair disordered about her brow;
she gazed at him with wet grey eyes, and Theirry felt it imperative to
speak.

"You are troubled?" he asked, then flushed, thinking she might term it
insolence.

But she answered simply and at once.

"About him I am"--she held the little brown bird out on her palm; "he
was on the small poplar tree--and singing--he held his head up so"--
she lifted her long throat--"and I could see his heart beating behind
the feathers--I listened to him, oh! with pleasure"--fresh tears
started to the eyes that she turned on Theirry--"then my miserable cat
that had followed me leapt on him--and slew him. Oh, I chased them,
but when I got him back he was dead."

Theirry was extraordinarily moved by this homely tragedy; it could not
have occurred to him that there was matter for tears in such a common
thing; but as the lady told the story, holding out, as if secure of
his sympathy, the poor little ruffled body, he felt that it was both
pitiful and monstrous. "You may chastise the cat," he said, for he saw
the elegant soft animal rubbing itself against the stem of the poplar.

"I have beaten her," she confessed.

"You can hang her," said Theirry, thinking to console still more.

But the lady flushed up.

"She is an agreeable cat," she answered. "She cannot help her nature.
Oh, it would be an odious cruelty to hang her!--see, she does not
understand!"

Theirry, rebuked, was at a loss; he stood looking at the lady, feeling
helpless and useless.

She wiped her eyes with a silk handkerchief, and stood in a piteous
meek silence, holding her dead bird in a trembling hand.

"If you buried it--" suggested Theirry desperately. "I do think it
would have wished to be buried here--"

To his joy she brightened a little.

"You think so?" she asked wistfully.

"Certes!" he reassured her eagerly. "See, I have a knife--I will make
a pleasant grave."

She stepped to the edge of the stream as near as she could to him, and
because she came unconsciously, with no thought for anything save the
bird in her hand, Theirry thrilled with a great pleasure, as should a
wild deer come fearlessly.

"I cannot cross--the water is too wide," she said. "But will you take
him and make his grave?"

She went on one knee among the sorrel leaves and daisies. Theirry had
a swift picture of her as she leant forward, stretching her arm
towards him over the stream that divided them. He had seen fair women
in Courtrai, he saw in her the most admired points of these, glass
grey eyes, small features, an arched red mouth, white skin and yellow
hair; she was no more beautiful than many ladies who had left him
cold, but he found himself anxious to please her, and he had so far
never tried to win a woman's favour.

Her pale red dress rippled about her on the grass; her curls and her
veil were blown back from her face; Theirry knelt and held out his
hand.

Over mid-stream their fingers touched; he took the bird, and she drew
back hastily.

As he, still on his knees, looked at her, he saw that she was no
longer unconscious; she stood erect as if commanding herself not to
fly, and (as she was very slender) he likened her to the pale crimson
pistil of a lily which has yellow on the head--her hair, he told
himself.

"I am vexed to trouble you"--she spoke haltingly. There were so many
things he wished to say in answer to this that he said nothing, but
took his knife from his belt and cut a little square of turf.

"You are a clerk from the college?" she asked.

"Ay," he answered, and wished fiercely he could have given himself a
finer name. "There are many learned men there," she said courteously.

He would not have believed it possible to find in himself such care
over a trivial thing as he now took over this little bird's grave, for
he knew she watched him with judgment in her eyes.

The unholy day-dreams that had vexed and enthralled him were
completely forgotten in this new feeling.

The lines of a verse he had not noticed when he read it came back to
him, beating in his head.

"Pleasant is she of a fair white favour,

Sweet her caress as the ripe grape's flavour.

And her lips are like the rose in their savour.

Seeing her my pulses quicken.

I turn from common things and sicken.

For the quiet wood where the May buds thicken.

Hearing her my breath is taken,

My bold heart bowed and shaken,

And I from sloth at last awaken."

He dug into the soft brown earth with the point of his knife, lined
the grave with leaves, and picked up the little bird.

For a moment he held it in his hand as she had done.

And he dared not look at her.

Then he laid it in the ground and replaced the grass and daisies.

When he raised his head, his face flushed from stooping, he saw that
she was no longer watching him, but she had turned sideways and was
gazing at the distant woods.

He had leisure now to mark the details of her appearance.

Though slender she was of a full make and tall; her brows were very
arched and darker than her hair, her mouth dipped at the corners and
was firmly set; she seemed of a grave manner and very modest in her
bearing.

Theirry rose from his knees; she turned. "I thank you," she said;
then, on a quick breath--"do you often come here?"

He answered foolishly.

"Nay--never before--I did not know the place."

"That is my home yonder," said the lady.

"Yours?" and he pointed to the castle walls.

"Yea. I am an orphan, and the Emperor's ward."

She looked at the point of her shoe showing beneath her pale crimson
robe. "What town do you come from?" she asked.

"Courtrai."

"I know no town save Frankfort."

A silence fell between them; the wicked grey cat walked in a stately
manner along the edge of the stream.

"I shall lose her," said the lady. "Good even, gentle clerk. My name
is Jacobea of Martzburg. Perhaps I shall see you again."

He had never felt more desirous of speaking, never less capable; he
murmured---"I do hope it," and coloured burningly at his awkwardness.

She gave him a half look, a flash from grave grey eyes, instantly
veiled, and with an unsmiling mouth bade him again, "Good even."

Then she was gone after the cat.

He saw her hasten down the side of the stream, her dress bending the
grasses and leaves; he saw her stoop and snatch up the creature, and,
holding it in her arms, take the path towards those lordly gates. He
hoped she might look back and see that he gazed after her, but she did
not turn her head, and when the last flutter of pale red had
disappeared he moved reluctantly from the place.

The sky was gay with sunset; as he walked through the wood, bars of
orange light fell athwart the straight pine trunks and made a glitter
on his path; he thought neither of those things that had occupied him
when he had passed through these trees before, nor of the lady he had
left; in his mind reigned a golden confusion, in which everything was
unformed and exquisite; he had no wish and no ability to reduce this
to definite schemes, hopes or fears, but walked on, enwrapped with
fancies.

On the slopes that adjoined the garden of the college Theirry came
upon a little group of students lying on the grass.

Just beyond them the others were standing; Dirk noticeable by his rich
dress and elegant bearing, and another youth whom Theirry knew for
Joris of Thuringia.

A glance told him there were words between them; even from where he
stood he could see Dirk was white and taut, Tons hot and flushed.

He crossed the grass swiftly; he knew that it was their policy to
avoid quarrels in the college. "Sirs, what is this?" he asked.

The students looked at him; some seemed amused, some excited; his
heart gave a sick throb as he saw that their glances were both
unfriendly and doubtful.

One gave him half-scornful information.

"Thy friend was caught with an unholy forbidden book, though he denies
it; he cast it into the river sooner than allow us a sight of it, and
now he is bitter with Joris' commentary thereon." Dirk saw Theirry,
and turned his pale face towards him.

"This churl insulted me," he said; "yea, laid hands on me."

A burst of half angry, half good-humoured laughter came from Joris.

"I cannot get the little youth to fight--by Christus his Mother! he is
afraid because I could break his neck between my finger and thumb!"

Dirk flashed burning eyes over him.

"I am not afraid, never could I fear such as thee; but neither my
profession nor my degree permit me to brawl--be silent and begone."

The tone could not fail to rouse the other.

"Who art thou," he shouted--"to speak as if thou wert a noble's son? I
did but touch thy arm to get the book--"

The rest joined in.

"Certes, he did no more, and what was the book?"

Dirk held himself very proudly.

"I will no more be questioned than I will be touched."

"Fine words for a paltry Flemish knave!" jeered one of the students.

"Words I can make good," flashed Dirk, and turned towards the college.

Joris was springing after him when Theirry caught his arm.

"'Tis but a peevish youth," he said.

The other shook himself free and stared after the bright figure in
silk.

"He called me 'son of a Thuringian thief!'" he muttered.

A laugh rose from the group.

"How knew he that?--from the unholy book?"

Joris frowned heavily; his wrath flared in another direction.

"Ya! Silence! Son of a British swineherd, thou, red face!"

The group seethed into fisticuffs; Theirry followed Dirk across the
gardens.



CHAPTER VII



SPELLS

Theirry found Dirk as he was passing under the arched colonnade.

"Prudence!" he quoted. "Where is your prudence now?"

Dirk turned quickly.

"I had to put on a bold front. Certes, I hate that knave. But let him
go now. Come with me." Theirry followed him through the college, up
the dark stairway into his chamber.

It was a low arched room, looking on to the garden, barely furnished,
and containing only the bed, a chair and some books on a shelf.

Dirk opened the window on the sun-flushed twilight.

"The students are jealous of me because of my reputation with the
doctors," he said, smiling. "One told me to-day I was the most learned
youth in the college. And how long have we been here? But ten months."

Theirry was silent; the triumph in his companion's voice could find no
echo in his heart; neither in his legitimate studies nor in his secret
experiments had he been as successful as Dirk, who in ancient and
modern lore, in languages, algebra, theology, oratory had far outshone
all competitors, and who had progressed dangerously in forbidden
things.

Theirry shook off the feeling of jealousy that possessed him, and
spoke on another subject. "Dirk, I saw a lady to-day--such a lady!"

In their constant, close and tender companionship neither had ever
failed in sympathy, therefore it was with surprise that Theirry saw
Dirk perceptibly harden.

"A lady!" he repeated, and turned from the window so that the shadows
of the room were over his face.

Theirry must have a listener, must loosen his tongue on the subject of
his delicate adventure, so he proceeded.

"Ay--'twas in the valley--a valley, I mean--which I had never seen
before. Oh, Dirk!" he was leaning against the end of the bed, gazing
across the dusk. "'Twas a lady so sweet--she had--"

Dirk interrupted him.

"Certes!" he cried angrily; "she had grey eyes belike, and yellow
hair--have they not always yellow hair?--and a mincing mouth and a
manner of glancing sideways, and cunning words, I'll warrant me--"

"Why, she had all this," answered Theirry, bewildered. "But she was
pleasant, had you but seen her, Dirk."

The youth sneered.

"Who is she--thy lady?"

"Jacobea of Martzburg." He took obvious pleasure in saying her name.
"She is a great lady and gracious."

"Out on ye!" exclaimed Dirk passionately. "What is she to us? Have we
not other matters to think of? I did not think ye so weak as to come
chanting the praises of the first thing that smiles on ye!"

Theirry was angered.

"'Tis not the first time--and what have I said of her?"

"Oh enough--ye have lost your heart to her, I doubt not--and what use
will ye be--a love-sick knave!"

"Nay," answered Theirry hotly. "You have no warrant for this speech.
How should I love the lady, seeing her once? I did but say she was
fair and gentle."

"'Tis the first woman you have spoken of to me--in that voice--did ye
not say--'such a lady'?"

Theirry felt the blood stinging his cheeks.

"Could you have seen her," he repeated.

"Ay, had I seen her I could tell you how much paint she wore, how
tight her lace was--" Theirry interrupted.

"I'll hear no more--art a peevish youth, knowing nothing of women; she
was one of God's roses, pink and white, and we not fit to kiss her
little shoes--ay, that's pure truth." Dirk stamped his foot
passionately.

"Little shoes! If you come home to me to rave of her little shoes, and
her pink and white, you may bide alone for me. Speak no more of her."

Theirry was silent a while; he could not afford to lose Dirk's
companionship or to have him in an ill temper, nor did he in any way
wish to jeopardise the good understanding between them, so he quelled
the anger that rose in him at the youth's unreasonabloness, and
answered quietly---"On what matter did you wish to see me?"

Dirk struggled for a moment with a heaving breast and closed his teeth
over a rebellious lip, then he crossed the room and opened the door of
an inner chamber.

He had obtained permission to use this apartment for his studies; the
key of it he carried always with him, and only he and Theirry had ever
entered it.

In silence, lighting a lamp, and placing it on the windowsill, he
beckoned Theirry to follow him.

It was a dismal room; piled against the walls were the books Dirk had
brought with him, and on the open hearth some dead charred sticks lay
scattered.

"See," said Dirk; he drew from a dark corner a roughly carved wooden
figure some few inches high. "I wrought this to-day--and if I know the
spells aright there is one will pay for his insolence."

Theirry took the figure in his hand.

"'Tis Joris of Thuringia."

Dirk nodded sombrely.

The room was thick with unhealthy odours, and a close stagnant smoke
seemed to hang round the roof; the lamp cast a pulsating yellow light
over the dreariness and threw strange shaped shadows from the jars and
bottles standing about the floor.

"What is this Joris to you?" asked Theirry curiously.

Dirk was unrolling a manuscript inscribed in Persian.

"Nothing. I would see what skill I have."

The old evil excitement seized Theirry; they had tried spells before,
on cattle and dogs, but without success; his blood tingled at the
thought of an enchantment potent to confound enemies. "Light the
fire," commanded Dirk.

Theirry set the image by the lamp, and poured a thick yellow fluid
from one of the bottles over the dead sticks.

Then he flung on a handful of grey powder.

A close dun-coloured vapour rose, and a sickly smell filled the room;
then the sticks burst suddenly into a tall and beautiful flame that
sprang noiselessly up the chimney and cast a clear and unnatural glow
round the chamber.

Theirry drew three circles round the fire, and marked the outer one
with characters taken from the manuscripts Dirk held.

Dirk was looking at him as he knelt in the splendid glow of the
flames, and his own heavy brows were frowning.

"Was she beautiful?" he asked abruptly.

Theirry took this as an atonement for the late ill temper, and
answered pleasantly---"Why, she was beautiful, Dirk."

"And fair?"

"Certes, yellow hair."

"No more of her," said the youth in a kind of fierce mournfulness.
"The legend is finished?" "Yea." Theirry rose from his knees. "And
now?"

Dirk was anointing the little image of the student on the breast, the
eyes and mouth with a liquid poured from a purple phial; then he set
it within the circle round the flame.

"'Tis carved of ash plucked from a churchyard," he said. "And the
ingredients of the fire are correct. Now if this fails, Zerdusht
lies."

He stepped up to the fire and addressed an invocation in Persian to
the soaring flame, then retreated to Theirry's side.

The whole room was glowing in the clear red light cast by the unholy
fire; the cobweb-hung rafters, the gaunt walls, the books and jars on
the bare floor were all distinctly visible, and the two could see each
other, red, from head to foot.

"Look," said Dirk, with a slow smile.

The image lying in the magic circle and almost touching the flames
(though not burnt or even scorched), was beginning to writhe and twist
on its back like a creature in pain.

"Ah!" Dirk showed his teeth. "The Magian spell has worked."

A sensation of giddiness seized Theirry; he heard something beating
loud and fast in his ear, it seemed, but he knew it was his heart that
thumped so, up and down.

The figure, horribly like Joris with its flat hat and student's robe,
was struggling to its feet and emitting little moans of agony.

"It cannot get out," breathed Theirry.

"Nay," whispered Dirk, "wherefore did ye draw the circle?"

The flame was a column of pure fire, and it cast a glow of gold on the
thing imprisoned in the ring Theirry had made; Dirk watched in an
eager way, with neither fear nor compunction, but Theirry felt a wave
of sickness mount to his brain.

The creature was making useless endeavours to escape from the fiery
glare; it groaned and fell on its face, twisted on its back and made
frantic attempts to cross the line that imprisoned it. "Let it out,"
whispered Theirry faintly.

But Dirk was elate with success.

"Ye are mad," he retorted. "The spell works bravely."

On the end of his words came a sound that caused both to wince; even
in the lurid light Dirk saw his companion pale.

It was the bell of the college chapel ringing the students to the
vespers.

"I had forgotten," muttered Dirk. "We must go--it would be noticed."

"We cannot put the fire out," cried Theirry.

"Nay, we must leave it--it must burn out," answered Dirk hurriedly.

The creature, after rushing round the circle in an attempt to escape
had fallen, as if exhausted with its agony, and lay quivering.

"We will leave him, too," said Dirk unpleasantly.

But Theirry had a tearing memory of a lady kneeling among green
grasses and bending towards him with a dead bird in her hand--tears
for it on her cheeks--a dead bird, and this--

He stooped and snatched up the creature; it shrieked dismally as he
touched it, and he felt the quick flame burn his fingers.

Instantly the fire had sunk into ashes, and he held in his hand a mere
morsel of charred wood. With a sound of disgust he flung this on the
ground.

"Should have let it burn," said Dirk, with the lamp held aloft to show
him the way across the now dark chamber. "Perchance we cannot relight
it, and I have not finished with the ugly knave."

They stepped into the outer chamber and Dirk locked the door; Theirry
gasped to feel the fresher air in his nostrils, and a sense of terror
clouded his brain; but Dirk was in high spirits; his eyes narrowed
with excitement, his pale lips set in a hard fashion.

They descended into the hall.

It was a close and sultry evening; through the blunt arches of the
window, dark purple clouds could be seen, lying heavily across the
horizon; the clang of the vesper bell came persistently and with a
jarring note; though the sun had set it was still light, which had a
curious effect of strangeness after the dark chambers upstairs.

Without a word to each other, but side by side, the two students
passed into the ante-chamber that led into the chapel.

And there they stopped.

The pale rays of a candle dispersed the gathering dark and revealed a
group of men standing together and conversing in whispers.

"Why do they not enter the church?" breathed Theirry, with a curious
sensation at his heart. "Something has happened."

Some of the students turned and saw them; they were forced to come
forward; Dirk was silent and smiling.

"Have you heard?" asked one; all were sober and subdued.

"A horrible thing," said another. "Joris of Thuringia is struck with a
strange illness. Certes! he fell down amongst us as if in the grip of
hell fire."

The speaker crossed himself; Theirry could not answer, he felt that
they were all looking at him suspiciously, accusingly, and he
trembled.

"We carried him up to his chamber," said another. "He shrieked and
tore at his flesh, imploring us to keep the flames off. The priest is
with him now--God guard us from unholy things." "Why do you say that?"
demanded Theirry fiercely. "Belike his disease was but natural." A
look passed round the students. "I know not," one muttered. "It was
strange."

Dirk, still smiling and silent, turned into the chapel; Theirry and
the others, hushing their surmises, followed.

There were candles on the altar, six feet high, and a confusion of the
senses came over Theirry, in which he saw them as white angels with
flaming haloes coming grievingly for his destruction. A wave of fear
and sorrow rushed over him; he sank on his knees on the stone floor
and fixed his eyes on the priest, whose chasuble was gleaming gold
through the dimness of the incense-filled chapel. The blasphemy and
mortal sin of what he had done sickened and frightened him; was not
his being here the most horrible blasphemy of all?--he had no right;
he had made false confessions to the priest, he had received
absolution on lies; daily he had come here worshipping God with his
lips and Satan with his heart. A groan broke from him, he bowed his
beautiful face in his hands and his shoulders shook. He thought of
Joris of Thuringia writhing in the agony caused by their unhallowed
spells, of the eager devils crowding to their service--and far away,
in a blinding white mist, he seemed to see the arc of the saints and
angels looking down on him while he fell away further, further, into
unfathomable depths of darkness. With an uncontrollable movement of
agony he looked up, and his starting eyes fell on the figure of Dirk
kneeling in front of him. The youth's calm both horrified and soothed
him; there he knelt, who had but a little while before been playing
with devils, with a face as unmoved as a sculptured saint, with a
placid brow, quiet eyes and hands folded on his breviary.

He seemed to feel Theirry's intense gaze, for he looked swiftly round
and a look of caution, of warning shot under his white lids.

Theirry's glance fell; his companions were singing with uplifted
faces, but he could not join them; the pillars with their foliated
capitals oppressed him by their shadow, the saints glowing in mosaic
on the drums of the arches frightened him with the unforgiving look in
their long eyes.

"Laudate, pueri Dominum.

Laudate nomen Domini.

Sit nomen Domini benedictum, Ex hoc nunc et usque in saecuium.

A Solis ortu usque ad occasum Laudabile nomen Domini."

The fresh young voices rose lustily.; the church was full of incense
and music; Theirry rose with the hymn ringing in his head and left the
chapel.

The singers cast curious glances at him as he passed, and when he
reached the door he heard a patter of feet behind him and turned to
see Dirk at his elbow.

"I have done with it," he said hoarsely.

Dirk's eyes were flaming.

"Do you want to make public confession?" he demanded, breathing hard.
"Remember, it is our lives to pay, if they discover."

Theirry shuddered.

"I cannot pray. I cannot stay in the church. For days I have felt the
blessing scorch me." "Come upstairs," said Dirk.

As they went down the long hall they met one who was a friend of Joris
of Thuringia. Dirk stopped.

"Hast come from the sick man?"

"Yea."

"He is mending?"

Theirry stared with wild eyes, waiting the answer.

"I know not," said the youth. "He lies in a swoon and pants for
breath."

He passed on, something abruptly.

"Did ye hear that?" whispered Theirry. "If he should die!"

They went up to Dirk's bare little chamber; the clouds had completely
overspread the sky, and neither moon nor stars were visible.

Dirk lit the lamp, and Theirry sank on to the bed with his hands
clasped between his knees. "I cannot go on," he said. "It is too
horrible."

"Art afraid?" asked Dirk quietly.

"Yea, I am afraid."

"So am not I," answered Dirk composedly.

"I cannot stay here," breathed Theirry, with agonised brows.

Dirk bit hisforefinger.

"Nay, for we have but little money and know all these pedants can
teach us. 'Tis time we began to lay the corner-stones of our fortune."

Theirry rose, twisting his fingers together.

"Talk not to me of fortunes. I have set my soul in deadly peril. I
cannot pray, I cannot take the names of holy things upon my lips."

"Is this your courage?" said Dirk softly. "Is this your ambition, your
loyalty to me? Would you run whining to a priest with a secret that is
mine as well as yours? Is this, O noble youth, what all your dreams
have faded to?"

Theirry groaned.

"I know not. I know not."

Dirk came slowly nearer.

"Is this to be the end of comradeship--our league?"

He took the other's slack hand in his, and as he seldom offered or
suffered a touch, Theirry thrilled at it as a great mark of affection,
and at the feel of the smooth, cool fingers, the fascination, the
temptation that this youth stood for stirred his pulses; still he
could not forget the stern angel he thought he had seep upon the
altar, and the way his tongue had refused to move when he had striven
to pray.

"Belike, I have gone too far to turn back," he panted, with
questioning eyes.

Dirk dropped his hand.

"Be of me or not with me," he said coldly. "Surely I can stand alone."

"Nay," answered Theirry. "Certes, I love thee, Dirk, as I have never
cared for any do I care for thee..."

Dirk stepped back and looked at him out of half-closed eyes.

"Well, do not stop to palter with talk of priests. Certainly I will be
faithful to you unto death and damnation, and be you true to me."

Theirry made a movement to answer, but a sudden and violent knock on
the door checked him. They looked at each other, and the same swift
thoughts came to each; the students had suspected, had come to take
them by surprise--and the consequences--

For a second Dirk shook with suppressed wrath.

"Curse the Magian spell!" he muttered. "Curse Zerdusht and his foul
brews, for we are trapped and undone!"

Theirry sprang up and tried the inner door.

"'Tis secure," he said; he was now quite calm. "I have the key." Dirk
laid his hand on his breast, then snatched a couple of volumes from
the shelf and flung them on the table. The knock was repeated.

"Unbolt the door," said Theirry; he seated himself at the table and
opened one of the volumes.

Dirk slipped the bolt, the door sprang back and a number of students,
headed by a monk bearing a crucifix, surged into the room.

"What do you want?" demanded Dirk, fronting them quietly. "You
interrupt our studies." The priest answered sternly--

"There are strange and horrible accusations against you, my son, that
you must disprove."

Theirry slowly closed his book and slowly rose; all the terror and
remorse of a few moments ago had changed into wrath and defiance, and
the glow his animal courage sent through his body at the prospect of
an encounter; he saw the eager, excited faces of his fellow-students,
crowding in the doorway, the hard and unforgiving countenance of the
monk, and he felt unaccountably justified in his own eyes; he did not
see his antagonists standing for Good, and himself for Evil, he saw
mere men whose evident enmity roused his own.

"What accusations?" asked Dirk; his demeanour appeared to have changed
as completely as Theirry's had done; he had lost his assured calm; his
defiant bearing was maintained by an obvious effort, and his lips
twitched with agitation.

The students murmured and forced further into the room; the monk
answered---"Ye are suspected of procuring the dire illness of Joris of
Thuringia by spells."

"It is a lie," said Dirk faintly, and without conviction, but Theirry
replied boldly---"Upon what do you base this charge, father?"

The monk was ready.

"Upon your strange and close behaviour--the two of you, upon our
ignorance of whence you came--upon the suddenness of the youth's
illness after words passed between him and Master Dirk."

"Ay," put in one of the students eagerly. "And he lapped water like a
dog."

"I have seen a light here well into the night," said another.

"And why left they before the vespers were finished?" demanded a
third.

Theirry smiled; he felt that they were discovered, but fear was far
from him.

"These are childish accusations," he answered. "Get you gone to find a
better."

Dirk, who had retreated behind the table, spoke now. "Ye smirch us
with wanton words," he said pantingly. "It is a lie."

"Will you swear to that?" asked the monk quickly.

Theirry interposed.

"Search the chamber, my father--I warrant you have already been
peering through mine." "Yea."

"And you found--?"

"Nothing."

"Then are you not content?" cried Dirk.

The murmur of the students swelled into an angry cry.

"Nay--can ye not spirit away your implements if ye be wizards?"

"Great skill do you credit us with," smiled Theirry. "But on nothing
you can prove nothing." Although he knew that he could never allay
their suspicions, it occurred to him that it might be possible to
prevent the discovery of what the locked room held, and in that case,
though they might have to leave the college, their lives would be
safe; he snatched up the lantern and held it aloft.

"See you anything here?"

They stared round the bare walls with eager, straining eyes; one came
to the table and turned over the volumes there.

"Seneca!" he flung them down with disappointment; the priest advanced
and gazed about him; Dirk stood silent and scornful, Theirry was bold
to defy them all.

"I see no holy thing," said the monk. "Neither Virgin, nor saint, nor
prie-Dieu, nor holy water." Dirk's eyes flashed fiercely.

"Here is my breviary;" he pointed to it on the table.

One of the students cried--

"Where is the key? To the inner chamber!"

There were three or four of them about the door; Dirk, turning to see
them striving with the handle, went ghastly pale and could not speak,
but Theirry broke out into great wrath. "The room is disused. No
affair of mine or Dirk. We know nothing of it."

"Will you swear?" asked the priest.

"Certes--I will swear."

But the student struggling with the door cried out--

"Dirk Renswoude asked for this room for his studies! I do know it, and
he had the key." Dirk gave a great start.

"Nay, nay," he said hurriedly, "I have no key."

"Search, my sons," said the priest.

Their blood was up; some ten or twelve had crowded into the chamber;
they hurled the books off the shelf, scattered the garments out of the
coffer, pulled the quilt off the bed and turned up the mattress.

Finding nothing they turned on Dirk.

"He has the key about him!"

All eyes were fixed now on the youth, who stood a little in front of
Theirry, he continuing to hold the lamp scornfully aloft to aid them
in their search.

The light rested on Dirk's shoulders, causing the bright silk to
glitter, and flickered in his short waving hair; there was no trace of
colour in his face, his brows were raised and gathered into a hard
frown.

"Have you the key of that chamber?" demanded the priest.

Dirk tried to speak, but could not find his voice; he moved his head
stiffly in denial. "But answer," insisted the monk.

"What should it avail me if I swore?" The words seemed wrenched from
him. "Would ye believe me?" His eyes were bright with hate of all of
them.

"Swear on this." The monk proffered the crucifix.

Dirk did not touch it.

"I have no key," he said.

"There is your answer," flashed Theirry, and set the lamp on the
table.

The foremost student laughed.

"Search him," he cried. "His garments--belike he has the key in his
breast."

Again Dirk gave a great start; the table was between him and his
enemies, it was the only protection he had; Theirry, knowing that he
must have the key upon him, saw the end and was prepared to fight it
finely.

"What are ye going to do now?" he challenged.

For answer one of them leant across the table and seized Dirk by the
arm, swinging him easily into the centre of the room, another caught
his mantle.

A yell of "Search him!" rose from the others.

Dirk bent his head in a curious manner, snatched the key from inside
his shirt and flung it on the floor; instantly they let go of him to
pick it up, and he staggered back beside Theirry. "Do not let them
touch me," he said. "Do not let them touch me."

"Art a coward?" answered Theirry angrily. "Now we are utterly lost...
."

He thrust Dirk away as if he would abandon him; but that youth caught
hold of him in desperation.

"Do not leave me--they will tear me to pieces." The students were
rushing through the unlocked door shouting for lights; the priest
caught up the lamp and followed them; the two were left in darkness.

"Ye are a fool," said Theirry. "With some cunning the key might have
been saved..."

A horrid shout arose from those in the inner room as they discovered
the remains of the incantations...

Theirry sprang to the window, Dirk after him. "Theirry, gentle
Theirry, take me also--can see I am helpless! A--ah! I am small and
pitiful, Theirry!"

Theirry had one leg over the window-sill.

"Come, then, in the fiend's name," he answered. A hoarse shout told
them the students had found the little image of Joris; those still on
the stair-way saw them at the window. "The warlocks escape!"

Theirry helped Dirk on to the window-ledge; the night air blew hot on
their faces and they felt warm rain falling on them; there was no
light anywhere.

The students were yelling in a thick fury as they discovered the
unholy unguents and implements. They turned suddenly and dashed to the
window. Theirry swung himself by his hands, then let go.

With a shock that jarred every nerve in his body he landed on the
balcony of the room beneath. "Jump!" he called up to Dirk, who still
crouched on the window-sill.

"Ah, soul of mine! Ah, I cannot!" Dirk stared through the darkness in
a wild endeavour to discern Theirry.

"I am holding out my arms! Jump!"

The students had knocked over the lamp and it had checked them for the
moment; but Dirk, looking back, saw the room flaring with fresh lights
and seething figures pushing up to the window.

He closed his eyes and leapt in the darkness; the distance was not
great; Theirry half caught him; he half staggered against the balcony.

A torch was thrust out of the window above them; frenzied faces looked
down.

Theirry pushed Dirk roughly through the window before them, which
opened on to the library, and followed.

"Now--for our lives," he said.

They ran down the dark length of the chamber and gained the stairs;
the students, having guessed their design, were after them--they could
hear the clatter of feet on the upper landing. How many stairs, how
many before they reach the hall!

Dirk tripped and fell, Theirry dragged him up; a breathless youth
overtook them; Theirry, panting, turned and struck him backwards
sprawling. So they reached the hall, fled along it and out into the
dark garden.

A minute after, the pursuers bearing lights, and half delirious with
wrath and terror, surged out of the college doors.

Theirry caught Dirk's arm and they ran; across the thick grass,
crashing through the bushes, trampling down the roses, blindly through
the dark till the shouts and the lights grew fainter behind them and
they could feel the trunks of trees impeding them and so knew that
they must have reached the forest.

Then Theirry let go of Dirk, who sank down by his side and lay sobbing
in the grass.



CHAPTER VIII THE CASTLE



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."

Theirry softened.

"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--"

"Why 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?"

"Courtrai."

"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 to-day?" "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 to-morrow, 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.



CHAPTER IX SEBASTIAN



He wore a flame-coloured mantle that hung about him in heavy folds,
and under that a tight yellow doublet; his hair drooped smoothly,
there was a bright colour in his face, and his eyes sparkled.

"Ye are merry," he mocked, glancing round him. "Will you that I play
or sing?" He looked, in his direct burning way at Jacobea, and she
answered hastily--

"Certes, with all my heart--the air is hot--and thick--to-night."

Dirk laughed, and Theirry stared at him bewildered, so utterly had his
demeanour changed; he was gay now, radiant; he leant against the wall
in the centre of them and glanced from one silent face to another.

"I can play rarely," he smiled.

Jacobea took an instrument from among the cushions in the window-seat;
it was red, with a heart-shaped body, a long neck and three strings.

"You can play this?" she asked in a half-frightened manner.

"Ay." Dirk came forward and took it. "I will sing you a fine tune,
surely."

Theirry was something of a musician himself, but he had never heard
that Dirk had any such skill; he said nothing, however; a sense of
helplessness was upon him; the atmosphere of gloom and horror that he
felt held him chained and gagged.

Dirk returned to his place against the wall; Sybilla had dropped the
red lily on to her lap; they were all looking at him.

"I will sing you the tune of a foolish lady," he smiled.

His shadow was heavy on the wall behind him; the dark purple hues of
the tapestry threw into brilliant relief the flame hues of his robe
and the clear pale colour of his strange face; he held the instrument
across his knees and commenced playing on it with the long bow Jacobea
had given him; an irregular quick melody arose, harsh and jeering.

After he had played a while he began to sing, but in a chant under his
breath, so that the quality of his voice was not heard.

He sang strange meaningless words at first; the four listening sat
very still; only Sybilla had picked up her sewing, and her fingers
rose and fell steadily as the bodkin glittered over the red lily.

Theirry hid his face in his hands; he hated the place, the woman
quietly sewing, the dark-faced man beside him; he even hated the image
of Jacobea, that he saw, as clearly as if he looked at her, brightly
before him.

Dirk broke into a little doggerel rhyme, every word of which was hard
and clear.

"The turkis in my fine spun hair Was brought to me from Barbarie.

My pointed shield is rouge and vair, Where mullets three shine
royallie.

Now if he guessed.

He need not wait in poor estate, But on his breast

Wear all my state and be my mate.

For sick for very love am I.

My heart is weak to kiss his cheek; But he is low, and I am high.

I cannot speak, for I am weak."

Jacobea put the cat among the cushions and rose; she had a curious set
smile on her lips. "Do you call that the rhyme of a foolish lady?" she
asked.

"Ay, for if she had offered her love, surely it had not been refused,"
answered Dirk, dragging the bow across the strings.

"You think so?" said Jacobea in a shrinking tone.

"Mark you, she was a rich lady," smiled Dirk, "and fair enough, and
young and gentle, and he was poor; so I think, if she had not been so
foolish, she might have been his second wife."

At these words Theirry looked up; he saw Jacobea standing in a
bewildered fashion, as if she knew not whether to go or stay, and in
her eyes an unmistakable look of amazement and horror.

"The rhyme said nothing of the first wife," remarked Sybilla, without
looking up from the red lily.

"The rhyme says very little," answered Dirk. "It is an old story--the
squire had a wife, but if the lady had told her love belike he had
found himself a widower."

Jacobea touched the steward's wife on the shoulder.

"Dear heart," she said, "I am weary--very weary with doing nought. And
it is late--and the place strange--to-night--at least"--she gave a
trembling smile--"I feel it--strange--so--good even."

Sybilla rose, Jacobea's lips touched her on the forehead.

The steward watched them; Jacobea, the taller of the two, stooping to
kiss his wife. Theirry got to his feet; the chatelaine raised her head
and looked towards him.

"To-morrow I will bid you God speed, sirs;" her blue eyes glanced
aside at Dirk, who had moved to the door by the fire-placer and held
it open for her; she looked back at Theirry, then round in silence and
coloured swiftly.

Sybilla glanced at the sand clock against the wall.

"Yea, it is near midnight. I will come with you." She put her arm
round Jacobea's waist, and smiled backwards over her shoulder at
Theirry; so they went, the sound of their garments on the stairs
making a faint soft noise; the little cat rose from her cushions,
stretched herself, and followed them.

Sebastian picked up the red silk lily that his wife had flung down on
the cushions; the candles were guttering to the iron sockets, making
the light in the chamber still dimmer, the corners still more deeply
obscured with waving shadows.

"You know your chamber," said the steward to Dirk. "You will find me
here in the morning. Good-night."

He took a bunch of keys from his belt and swung them in his hand.

"Good-night," said Theirry heavily.

Dirk smiled, and threw himself into the vacated window-seat.

The steward crossed the room to the door by which they had entered; he
did not look back, though both were watching him; the door closed
after him violently, and they were alone in the vast darkening hall.

"This is fine hospitality," sneered Dirk. "Is there none to light us
to our chamber?" Theirry walked to and fro with an irregular agitated
step.

"What was that song of yours?" he asked. "What did you mean? What ails
this place and these people? She never looked at me."

Dirk pulled at the strings of the instrument he still held; they
emitted little wailing sounds.

"She is pretty, your chatelaine," he said. "I did not think to see her
so soon. You love her--or you might love her."

His bright eyes glanced across the shadowy space between them.

"Ye mock and sneer at me," answered Theirry hotly, "because she is a
great dame. I do not love her, and yet--"

"And yet--?" goaded Dirk.

"If our arts can do anything for us--could they not--if I wished it--
some day--get this lady for me?"

He paused, his hand to his pale brow.

"You shall never have her," said Dirk, biting his under lip.

Theirry turned on him violently.

"You cannot tell. Of what use to serve Evil for nought?"

"Ye have done with remorse belike?" mocked Dirk. "Ye have ceased to
long for priests and holy water?"

"Ay," said Theirry recklessly, "I shall not falter again--I will take
these means--any means--"

"To attain--her?" Dirk got up from the window-seat and rose to his
full height.

Theirry gave him a sick look.

"I will not bandy taunts with you. I must sleep a little."

"They have given us the first chamber ye come to, ascending those
stairs," answered Dirk quietly. "There is a lamp, and the door is set
open. Good-night."

"You will not come?" asked Theirry sullenly.

"Nay. I will sleep here."

"Why? You are strange to-night."

Dirk smiled unpleasantly.

"There is a reason. A good reason. Get to bed." Theirry left him
without an answer, and closed the door upon him.

When he had gone, and there was no longer a sound of his footstep, a
rustle of the arras to tell he had been, a great change swept over
Dirk's face; a look of agony, of distraction contorted his proud
features, he paced softly here and there, twisting his hands together
and lifting his eyes blindly to the painted ceiling.

Half the candles had flickered out; the others smoked and flared in
the sockets; the rain dripping on the window-sill without made an
insistent sound.

Dirk paused before the vast bare hearth.

"He shall never have her," he said in a low, steady voice as if he saw
and argued with some personage facing him. "No. You will prevent it.
Have I not served you well? Ever since I left the convent? Did you not
promise me great power--as the black letters of the forbidden books
swam before my eyes; did I not hear you whispering, whispering?"

He turned about as though following a movement in the person he spoke
to, and shivered.

"I will keep my comrade. Do you hear me? Did you send me here to
prevent it?--they seemed to know you were at my elbow to-night--
hush!--one comes!"

He fell back against the wall, his finger on his lips, his o her hand
clutching the arras behind him.

"Hush!" he repeated.

The door at the far end of the chamber was slowly opened; a man
stepped in and cautiously closed it; a little cry of triumph rose to
Dirk's lips, but he repressed it and gave a glance into the pulsating
shadows as if he communicated with some mysterious companion.

It was Sebastian who had entered; he looked swiftly round, and seeing
Dirk, came towards him.

In the steward's hand was a little cresset lamp; the clear, heart-
shaped flame illuminated his dark face and his pink habit; his eyes
looked over this light in a burning way at Dirk. "So--you are not
abed?" he said.

There was more than the aimless comment in his tone, an expectation,
an excitement. "You came to find me," answered Dirk. "Why?"

Sebastian set the lamp on a little bracket by the window he put his
hand to his neck, loosening his doublet, and looked away.

"It is very hot," he said in a low voice. "I cannot rest. I feel to-
night as I have never felt--I think the cause is with you--what you
said has distracted me." he turned his head. "Who are you? What did
you mean?" "You know," answered Dirk, "what I am--a poor student from
Basle college. And in your heart you know what I meant."

Sebastian stared at him a moment.

"God! But how could you discern--even if it be true?--you, a stranger.
But now I think of it, belike there is reason in it--certes, she has
shown me favour."

Dirk smiled.

"'Tis a rich lady, her husband would be a noble, think of it."

"What ye put into me!" cried Sebastian in a distracted voice. "That I
should talk thus to a prating boy! But the thought clings and burns--
and surely ye are wise."

Dirk, still leaning against the wall, smoothed the arras with delicate
fingers.

"Surely I am wise. Well skilled in difficult sciences am I, and quick
to see--and understand---take this for your hospitality, sir steward--
watch your mistress."

Sebastian put his hand to his head.

"I have a wife."

Dirk laughed.

"Will she live for ever?"

Sebastian looked at him and stammered, as if some sudden sight of
terror seared his eyes. "There--there is witchcraft in this--your
meaning--"

"Think of it!" flashed Dirk. "Remember it! Ye get no more from me."

The steward stood quite still, gazing at him.

"I think that I have lost my wits to-night," he said in a low voice.
"I do not know what I came down to you for--nor whence come these
strange thoughts."

Dirk nodded his head; a small, slow smile trembled on the corners of
his lips.

"Perchance I shall see you in Frankfort, sir steward."

Sebastian caught at the words with eagerness.

"Yea--I go there with--my lady--" He stopped blankly.

"As yet," said Dirk, "I know neither my dwelling there nor the name I
shall assume. But you---if I need to I shall find you at the Emperor's
court?"

"Yea," answered Sebastian; then, reluctantly, "What should you want
with me?"

"Will it not be you who may need me?" smiled Dirk. "I, who have to-
night put thoughts into your brain that you will not forget?"

Sebastian turned about quickly, and caught up the cresset lamp.

"I will see you before you go," he whispered, horror in his face.
"Yea, on the morrow I shall desire more speech with you."

Like a man afraid, in terror of himself, filled with a dread of his
companion, Sebastian, the pure flame of the lamp quivering with the
shaking of his hand, crossed the long chamber and left by the door
through which he had entered.

Dirk gave a half-suppressed shiver of excitement; the candles had
mostly burnt out; the hall seemed monstrous in the gusty, straggling
light. He crept to the window; the rain had ceased, and he looked out
on a hot starless darkness, disturbed by no sound.

He shivered again, closed the window and flung himself along the
cushions in the niched seat. Lying there, where Jacobea had sat, he
thought of her; she was more present to his mind than all the crowded
incidents of the past day; his afternoon passed in the sunny library,
his evening before the beautiful witch fire, the wild escape into the
night, the flight through the wet forest, the sombre arrival at the
castle, were but flitting backgrounds to the slim figure of the
chatelaine.

Certainly she had a potent personality; she was exquisite, a thing
shut away in sweet fragrancy. He thought of her as an ivory pyx filled
with red flowers; there were her trembling passionate emotions, her
modest secrets, that she guarded delicately.

It was his intention to tear open this tabernacle to wrench from her
her treasures and scatter them among blood and ruin; he meant to bring
her to utter destruction; not her body, perhaps, but her soul.

And this because she had interfered with the one being on earth he
cared about--Theirry; not because he hated her for herself.

"How beautiful she is!" he said aloud, almost tenderly.

The last candle fluttered up and sank out; Dirk, lying luxuriously
among the cushions, looked into the complete blackness with half-
closed eyes.

"How beautiful!" he repeated; he felt he could have loved her himself;
he thought of her now, lying in her white bed, her hair unbound; he
wished himself kneeling beside her, caressing those yellow locks; a
desire possessed him to touch her curls, her soft cheek, to have her
hand in his and hear her laugh surely she was a sweet thing, made to
be loved.

Yet the power that had brought him here to-night had made plain that
if he did not take the chance of her destruction set in his way, she
would win Theirry from him for ever.

He had made the first move; in the dark face of Sebastian the steward
he had seen the beginning of---the end.

But thinking of her he felt the tears come to his eyes; suddenly he
fell into weary weeping, thinking of her, and sobbed sadly, face
downwards, on the cushion.

Her yellow hair, mostly he thought of that, her long, fine, soft,
yellow hair, and how, before the end, it would be trailing in the dust
of despair and humiliation.

Presently he laughed at himself for his tears, and drying them, fell
asleep; and awoke from blank dreamlessness to hear his name ringing in
his ears. He sat up in the window-seat.

His eyes were hot with his late tears; the misty blue light of dawn
that he found about him hurt them; he shrank from this light that came
in a clear shaft through the arched window, and, crouching away from
it, saw Theirry standing close to him, Theirry, fully dressed and
pale, looking at him earnestly.

"Dirk, we must go now. I cannot stay any longer in this place."

Dirk, leaning his head against the cushions, said nothing, impressed
anew with his friend's beauty. How fine and fair a thing Theirry's
face was in the colourless early light; in hue and line splendid, in
expression wild and pained.

"I could not sleep much," continued Theirry. "I do not want to see
them--her--again--not like this--get up, Dirk--why did you not come to
bed? I wanted your company--things were haunting me."

"Mostly her face?" breathed Dirk.

"Ay," said Theirry sombrely. "Mostly her face."

Dirk was silent again; was not her loveliness the counterpart of his
friend's?--he imagined them together--close--touching hands, lips--and
as he pictured this he grew paler.

"The castle is open, there are varlets abroad," cried Theirry. "Let us
go--supposing--oh, my heart! supposing one came from the college to
look for us!"

Dirk considered; he reflected that he had no desire to meet Sebastian
again; he had said all he wished to.

"Let us go," he assented; his one regret was that he should not see
again the delicate face crowned with the yellow hair.

He rose from the seat and shook out his borrowed flame-coloured
mantle, then he closed his tired eyes as he stood, for a very
exquisite sensation rushed over him; nothing had come between him and
his friend; Theirry of his own choice had roused him--wanting him--
they were to go forth together alone.



CHAPTER X THE SAINT



They were wandering through the forest in an endeavour to find the
high road; the sun, nearly at its full strength, dazzled through the
pines and traced figures of gold on the path they followed.

Theirry was silent; they were hungry, without money or any hope of
procuring any, fatigued with the rough walking through the heat, and
also, it seemed, lost; these facts were ever present to his mind;
also, every step was taking him further away from Jacobea of
Martzburg, and he longed to see her again, to make her notice him,
speak to him; yet of his own desire he had left her castle
ungraciously; these things held him bitterly silent.

But Dirk, though he was pale and weary, kept a light joyous heart; he
had trust in the master he was serving.

"We shall be helped yet," he said. "Were we not hopeless last night
when one came and gave us shelter?"

Theirry did not answer.

The forest grew up the base of the mountain chain, and after a while,
walking steadily, they came out upon a gorge some landslip had torn,
uprooting trees and hurling aside rocks; over this bare space harshly
cleared, water rippled and dripped, finding its way through fern-grown
rocks and boulders until it fell into a little stream that ran across
the open space of grass and was lost in the shadow of the trees.

By the side of it, on the pleasant stretch of grass, a small white
horse was browsing, and a man sat near, on one of the uprooted pines.

The two students paused and contemplated him; he was a monk in a blue-
grey habit; his face was infinitely sweet; with his hands clasped in
his lap and his head a little raised he gazed with large, peaceful
eyes through the shifting fir boughs to the blue sky beyond them.

"Of what use he!" said Theirry bitterly; since the Church had hurled
him out the Devil was gaining such sure possession of his soul that he
loathed all things holy.

"Nay," said Dirk, with a little smile. "We will speak to him."

The monk, hearing their voices, looked round and fixed on them a calm
smiling gaze. "Dominus det nobis suam pacem," he said.

Dirk replied instantly.

"Et vitam aeternam. Amen."

"We have missed our way," said Theirry curtly.

The monk rose and stood in a courteous, humble position.

"Can you put us on the high road, my father?" asked Dirk.

"Surely!" The monk glanced at the weary face of his questioner. "I am
myself travelling from town to town, my son. And know this country
well. Will you not rest a while?"

"Ay." Dirk came down the slope and flung himself along the grass;
Theirry, half sullen, followed.

"Ye are both weary and in lack of food," said the monk gently. "Praise
be to the angels that I have wherewithal to aid ye."

He opened one of the leather bags resting against the fallen tree,
took out a loaf, a knife and a cup, cut the bread and gave them a
portion each, then filled the cup from the clear dripping water.

They disdained thanks for such miserable fare and ate in silence.

Theirry, when he had finished, asked for the remainder of the loaf and
devoured that; Dirk was satisfied with his allowance, but he drank
greedily of the beautiful water.

"Ye have come from Basle?" asked the monk.

Dirk nodded.

"And we go to Frankfort."

"A long way," said the monk cheerfully. "And on foot, but a pleasant
journey, certes." "Who are you, my father?" asked Theirry abruptly. "I
saw you in Courtrai, surely."

"I am Ambrose of Menthon," answered the monk. "And I have preached in
Courtrai. To the glory of God."

Both students knew the name of Saint Ambrose.

Theirry flushed uneasily.

"What do you here, father?" he asked. "I thought you were in Rome."

"I have returned," replied the saint humbly. "It came to me that I
could serve Christus"--he crossed himself--"better here. If God His
angel will it I desire to build a monastery up yonder---above the
snow."

He pointed through the trees towards the mountains; his eyes, that
were blue-grey, the colour of his habit, sparkled softly.

"A house to God His glory," he murmured. "In the whiteness of the
snows. That is my intent." "How will you attain it, holy sir?"
questioned Theirry.

Saint Ambrose did not seem to notice the mocking tone.

"I have," he said, "already considerable moneys. I beg in the great
castles, and they are generous to God His poor servant. We, my
brethren and I, have sold some land. I return to them now with much
gold. Deo gratias."

As he spoke there was such a pure sweetness in his fair face that
Theirry turned away abashed, but Dirk, lying on his side and pulling
up the grass, answered--

"Are you not afraid of robbers, my father?"

The saint smiled.

"Nay; God His money is sacred even unto the evildoer. Surely I fear
nothing."

"There is much wickedness in the heart of man," said Dirk. And he also
smiled.

"Judge with charity," answered Ambrose of Menthon. "There is also much
goodness. You speak, my son, with seeming bitterness which showeth a
soul not yet at peace. The wages of the world are worthless, but God
giveth immortality."

He rose and began fastening the saddle bags on the pony; as his back
was turned Theirry and Dirk exchanged a quick look.

Dirk rose from the grass and spoke.

"May we, my father, come with you, as we know not the way?"

"Surely!" The saint looked at them, his eyes fixed half yearningly on
Theirry's beautiful face. "Ye are most welcome to my poor company."

The little procession started through the pine forest; Ambrose of
Menthon, erect, spare, walking lightly with untroubled face and
leading the white pony, burdened with the saddle bags containing the
gold; Theirry, sombre, silent, striding beside him, and Dirk, a little
behind, in his flame-coloured mantle, his eyes bright in a weary face.

Saint Ambrose spoke, beautifully, on common things; he spoke of birds,
of St. Hieronymus and his writings, of Jovinian and his enemy Ambrose
of Milan, of Rufinus and Pelagius the Briton, of Vigilantius and
violets, with which flowers, he said, the first court of Paradise was
paved.

Dirk answered with a learning, both sacred and profane, that surprised
the monk; he knew all these writers, all the fathers of the Church and
many others, he quoted from them in different tongues; he knew Pagan
philosophies and the history of the old world; he argued theology like
a priest and touched on geometry, mathematics, astrology.

"Ye have a vast knowledge," said Saint Ambrose, amazed; and in his
heart Theirry was jealous.

And so they came, towards evening, on to the road and saw in a valley
beneath them a little town.

All three halted.

The Angelus was ringing, the sound came sweetly up the valley.

Saint Ambrose sank on his knees and bowed his head; the students fell
back among the trees. "Well?" whispered Dirk.

"It is our chance," frowned Theirry in the same tone. "I have been
thinking of it all day--" "I also; there is much money..."

"We could get it without...blood?"

"Surely, but if need be even that."

Their eyes met; in the pleasant green shade they saw each other's
excited faces.

"It is God His money," murmured Theirry.

"What matter for that, if the Devil be stronger?"

"Hush! the Angelus ends."

"Now--we join him."

They sank on their knees, to rise as the saint got to his feet and
glanced about him; at the edge of the wood they joined him and looked
down at the town below.

"Now we can find our way," said Dirk in a firm, suddenly changed
voice.

Ambrose of Menthon considered him over the little white pony.

"Will you not bear me company into the town?" he asked wistfully; he
did not notice that Theirry had slipped behind him.

Dirk's eyes flashed a signal to his companion. "We will into the
town," he said, "but without thy company, Sir Saint, now!"

Theirry flung his mantle from behind and twisted it tightly over the
monk's head and face, causing him to stagger backwards; Dirk rushed,
seized his thin hands, and strapped them together with the leather
belt he had just loosened from his waist, and between them they
dragged him into the trees.

"My ears are weary of thy tedious talk," said Theirry viciously, "my
eyes of thy sickly face." They took the straps from the pony and bound
their victim to a tree; it was an easy matter, for he made no
resistance and no sound came from under the mantle twisted over his
face.

"There is much evil in the heart of man," mocked Dirk. "And much
folly, oh, guileless, in the hearts of saints!"

Having seen to it that he was securely fastened the two returned to
the pony and examined their plunder.

In one bag there were parchments, books, and a knotted rope, in the
other numerous little linen sacks of varying sizes.

These they turned out upon the grass and swiftly unfastened the
strings.

Gold--each one filled with gold, fine, shining coins with the head of
the Emperor glittering on them.

Dirk retied the sacks and replaced them in the saddle bags; neither of
them had seen so much gold together before; because of it they were
silent and a little trembling.

Theirry, as he heard the good yellow money chink together, felt his
last qualms go; for the first time since he had entered into league
with the spirits of evil he had plain evidence it was a fine thing to
have the Devil on his side. A stupefying pleasure and exaltation came
over him, he did not doubt that Satan had sent this saintly man their
way, and he was grateful; to find himself possessed of this amount of
money was a greater delight than any he had known, even a more
delightful thing than seeing Jacobea of Martzburg lean across the
stream towards him.

As they reloaded the pony, managing as best they might without the
straps, Dirk fell to laughing.

"I will get my mantle," said Theirry; he went up to Ambrose of
Menthon, telling himself he was not afraid of meeting the saint's
eyes, and unwound the heavy mantle from his head. The saint sank
together like the dead.

Dirk still laughed, mounted on the white pony, flourishing a stick.

"The fellow has swooned," said Theirry, bewildered.

"Well," answered Dirk over his shoulder, "you can bring the straps,
which we need, surely." Theirry unfastened the monk and laid his slack
body on the grass; as he did so he saw that the grey habit was stained
with blood, there was wet blood, too, on the straps.

"Now what is this?" he cried, and bent over the unconscious man to see
where he was wounded.

His searching hand came upon cold iron under the rough robe; Ambrose
of Menthon wore a girdle lined with sharp points, that at every
movement must have been torture, and that, at their brutal binding of
him, had entered his flesh with an agony unbearable.

"Make haste!" cried Dirk.

Theirry straightened his back and looked down at the sweet face of
Saint Ambrose; he wished that their victim had cried out or moaned,
his silence being a hard thing to think of--and he must have been in a
pain.

"Be quick!" urged Dirk.

Theirry joined him.

"What shall we do with--that man?" he said awkwardly; his blood was
burning, leaping.

"'Tis a case for the angels, not for us," answered Dirk. "But if ye
feel tenderly (and certainly he was pleasant to us) we can tell, in
the town, that we found him. 'Deo gratias,'" he mocked the saintly,
low calm voice, but Theirry did not laugh.

A splendid yellow sunset was shimmering in their eyes as they came
slowly down into the valley and passed through the white street of the
little town.

They visited the hostel, fed the white pony there and recounted how
they had seen a monk in the wood they had just traversed, whether
unconscious in prayer or for want of breath they had not the leisure
to examine.

Then they went on their way, eschewing, by common consent this time,
the accommodation of the homely inn, and taking with them a basket of
the best food the town afforded.

Clearing the scattered cottages they gained the heights again and
paused on the grassy borders of a mighty wood that spread either side
the high road.

There they spread a banquet very different from the saint's poor
repast; they had yellow wine, red wine, baked meats, cakes, jellies, a
heron and a basket of grapes, all bought with the gold Ambrose of
Menthon had toiled to collect to build God's house amid the snows.

Arranging these things on the soft grass they sat in the pleasant
shade, luxuriously, and laughed at each other over their food.

The heavens were perfectly clear, there was no cloud in all the great
dome of sky, and, reflecting on the night before, and how they had
stood shivering in the wet, they laughed the more.

Then were they penniless, with neither hope nor prospect and in danger
of pursuit. Now they were on the high road with more gold in their
possession than they had ever seen before, with a horse to carry their
burdens, and good food and delicate wine before them.

Their master had proved worth serving. They toasted him in the wine
bought with God His money and made merry over it; they did not mention
Ambrose of Menthon.

Dirk was supremely happy; everything about him was a keen delight, the
fragrant perfume of the pine woods, the dark purple depths of them,
the bright green grass, the sky changing into a richer colour as the
sun faded, the mountain peaks tinged with pearly rose, the whole
beautiful, silent prospect and his comrade looking at him with a smile
on his fair face. A troop of white mountain goats driven by a shepherd
boy went past, they were the only living things they saw.

Dirk watched them going towards the town, then he said--

"The chatelaine...Jacobea of Martzburg--" he broke off. "Do you
remember, the first night we met, what we saw in the mirror? A woman,
was it not? Her face--have you forgotten it?" "Nay," answered Theirry,
suddenly sombre.

Dirk turned to look at him closely.

"It was not Jacobea, was it?"

"It was utterly different," said Theirry. "No, she was not Jacobea."

He propped a musing face on his hand and stared down at the grass.

Dirk did not speak again, and after a while of silence Theirry slept.

With a start he woke, but lay without moving, his eyes closed; some
one was singing, and it was so beautiful that he feared to move lest
it should be in his dreams only that he heard it. A woman's voice, and
she sang loud and clearly, in a passion of joyous gaiety; her notes
mounted like birds flying up a mountain, then sank like snowflakes
softly descending.

After a while the wordless song died away and Theirry sat up,
quivering, in a maze of joy. "Who is that?" he called, his eager eyes
searching the twilight.

No one...nothing but the insignificant figure of Dirk, who sat at the
edge of the wood gazing at the stars.

"I dreamt it," said Theirry bitterly, and cursed his waking.



CHAPTER XI THE WITCH



In a back street of the city of Frankfort stood an old one-storied
house, placed a little apart from the others, and surrounded by a
beautiful garden.

Here lived Nathalie, a woman more than suspected of being a witch, but
of such outward quiet and secretive ways that there never had been the
slightest excuse for even those most convinced of her real character
to interfere with her.

She was from the East--Syria, Egypt or Persia; no one could remember
her first coming to Frankfort, nor how she had become possessed of the
house where she dwelt; her means of livelihood were also a mystery. It
was guessed that she made complexion washes and dyes supplied secretly
to the great court ladies; it was believed that she sold love potions,
perhaps worse; it was known that in some way she made money, for
though generally clothed in rags, she had been seen wearing very
splendid garments and rich jewels.

Also, it was rumoured by those living near that strange sounds of
revelry had on occasion arisen from her high-walled garden, as if a
great banquet were given, and dark-robed guests had been seen to enter
her narrow door.

That garden was empty now and a great stillness lay over the witch's
house; the hot midsummer sun glowed in the rose bushes that surrounded
it; red roses all of them, and large and beautiful.

The windows of the great room at the back of the house had their
shutters closed so that only a few squares of light fell through the
lattice-work, and the room was in shadow.

It was a barely furnished chamber, with an open tiled hearth on which
stood a number of bronze and copper bowls and drinking vessels. In the
low window-seat were cushions of rich Eastern embroidery, hanging on
the walls, hideous distorted masks made of wood and painted
fantastically, some short curved swords, and a parchment calendar.

Before this stood Dirk, marking with a red pencil a day in the row of
dates.

This done he stepped back, stared at the calendar and frowned, sucking
the red pencil.

He was attired in a grave suit of black, and wearing a sober cap that
almost concealed his hair; he held himself very erect, and the firm
set of his mouth emphasised the prominent jaw and chin.

As he stood there, deep in thought, Theirry entered, nodded at him and
crossed to the window; he also was dressed in dull straight garments,
but they could not obscure the glowing brown beauty of his face.

Dirk looked at him with eyes that sparkled affection.

"I am making a name in Frankfort," he said.

"Ay," answered Theirry, not returning his glance. "I have heard you
spoken of by those who have attended your lectures--they said your
doctrines touched infidelity."

"Nevertheless they come," smiled Dirk. "I do not play for a safe
reputation...otherwise should I be here?--living in a place of evil
name?"

"I do not think," replied Theirry, "that any go so far as to guess the
real nature of your studies, nor what it is you pursue." And he also
smiled, but grimly.

"Every man in Frankfort is not priest-beridden," said Dirk quickly.
"They would not meddle with me just because I do not preach the laws
of the Church. I teach my scholars rhetoric, logic and
philosophy...they are well pleased."

"I have heard it," answered Theirry, looking out of the window at the
red roses dazzling in the sunshine; Dirk could not guess how it
rankled with his friend that he obtained no pupils, that no one cared
to listen to his teaching; that while Dirk was becoming famous as the
professor of rhetoric at Frankfort college, he remained utterly
unknown.

"To-day I disclosed to them Procopius," said Dirk, "and propounded a
hundred proposition out of Priscianus--should improve their Latin--
there were some nobles from the Court. One submitted that my teaching
was heretical--asked if I was a Gnostic or an Arian--aaid I should be
condemned by the Council of Saragossa--as Avila was, and for as good
reasons..."

"Meanwhile..."

Dirk interrupted.

"Meanwhile--we know almost all the wise woman can teach us, and are on
the eve of great power..."

Theirry pushed wider the shutters so that the strong sunlight fell
over the knee of his dark gown.

"You perhaps," he said heavily. "Not I--the spirits will not listen to
me...only with great difficulty can I compel them...well I wot that I
am bound to evil, but I wot also that it doth little for me."

At this complaint a look of apprehension came into Dirk's eyes.

"My fortune is your fortune," he said.

"Nay," answered Theirry, half fiercely, "it is not...you have been
successful...so have not I...old Nathalie loves you--she cares nothing
for me--you have already a name in Frankfort--I have none, nor money
either...Saint Ambrose's gold is gone, and I live on your charity."

While he was speaking Dirk gazed at him with a strengthening
expression of trouble and dismay; with large distracted eyes full of
tenderness, while his cheeks paled and his mouth quivered.

"No--no." He spoke in protest, but his distress was too deep and too
genuine to allow of much speech.

"I am going away from here," said Theirry firmly.

Dirk gasped as if he had been wounded.

"From Frankfort?" he ejaculated.

"Nay...from this place."

There was a little silence while the last traces of light and colour
seemed to be drained from Dirk's face.

"You do not mean that," he said at length. "After we have been...Oh,
after all of it--you cannot mean..."

Theirry turned and faced the room.

"You need not fear that I shall break the bond that unites us," he
cried. "I have gone too far yea, and still I hope to attain by the
Devil's aid my desires. But I will not stay here." "Where will you
go?"

Theirry's hazel eyes again sought the crimson roses in the witch's
garden.

"To-day as I wandered outside the walls I met a hawking party. Jacobea
of Martzburg was among them."

"They had been in Frankfort many weeks, and so had she, yet this was
the first time that he had mentioned her name."

"Oh!" cried Dirk.

"She knew me," continued Theirry; "and spoke to me. She asked, out of
her graciousness, if I had aught to do in Frankfort...thinking, I wot,
I looked not like it." He blushed and smiled. "Then she offered me a
post at Court. Her cousin is Chamberlain to the Queen--nay, Empress, I
should say--and he will take me as his secretary. I shall accept."

Dirk was miserably, hopelessly silent; all the radiance, the triumph
that had adorned him when Theirry eutered were utterly quenched; he
stood like one under the lash, with agonised eyes. "Are you not glad?"
asked Theirry, with a swell in his voice. "I shall be near her. . ."
"Is that a vast consideration?" said Dirk faintly. "That you should be
near her?"

"Did you think that I had forgotten her because I spoke not?" answered
Theirry. "Also there are chances that by your arts I may strengthen--"

Through the heavy golden shadows of the room Dirk moved slowly towards
the window where Theirry stood.

"I shall lose you," he said.

Theirry was half startled by the note in his voice.

"Nay...shall I not come here...often? Are you not my comrade?"

"So you speak," answered Dirk, his brow drawn, his lips pale even for
one of his pallor. "But you leave me...You choose another path from
mine." He wrung his frail hands together. "I had not thought of this."

"It need not grieve you that I go," answered Theirry, half sullen,
half wondering. "I wot I am pledged deeply enough to thy Master." His
eyes flashed wildly. "Is there not sin on my soul?---Have I not
awakened in the night to see Saint Ambrose smile at me? Am I not
outside the Church and in league with Hell?"

"Hush! hush!" warned Dirk.

Theirry flung himself into the window-seat, his elbows on his knees,
his palms pressed into his cheeks; the sunlight fell through the open
window behind him and shone richly in his dark brown hair.

Dirk leant against the wall and stared down at him; in his poor pale
face were yearning and tenderness beyond expression.

At last Theirry rose and turned to the door.

"Are you going?" questioned Dirk fearfully.

"Yea."

Dirk braced himself.

"Do not go," he said. "There is everything before us if we stay
together...if you..." His words choked him, and he was silent.

"All your reasoning cannot stay me," answered Theirry, his hand on the
door. "She smiled at me and I saw her yellow hair...and I am stifled
here and useless."

He opened the door and went out.

Dirk sank on the brilliant gold cushions and twisted his fingers
together; through the half-closed shutters he could see that
marvellous blaze of red roses and their sharp green leaves, the garden
wall and the blue August sky; he could hear a bird singing, far away
and pleasantly, and after a while he heard Theirry sing, too, as he
moved about in an upper chamber. Dirk had not known him sing before,
and now, as the little wordless song fell on his cars, he winced and
writhed.

"He sings because he is going away."

He sprang up and crossed to the calendar; a year ago to-day he and
Theirry had first met; he had marked the day with red--and now--

Presently Theirry entered again; he was no longer singing, and he had
his things in a bundle on his back.

"I will come to-morrow and take leave of Nathalie," he said; "or
perhaps this evening. But I must see the Chamberlain now."

Dirk nodded; he was still standing by the calendar, and for the second
time Theirry passed out. "Oh! oh!" whispered Dirk. "He is gone--
gone---gone--gone."

He remained motionless, picturing the Court Theirry would join,
picturing Jacobea of Martzburg; the other influences that would be
brought to bear on his companion--

Then he crept to the window and pushed the shutter wide, so that half
the dark room was flooded with gold.

The great burning roses nodded in unison, heavy bees humming among
them. Dirk leant from the window and flung out his arms with sudden
passion.

"Satan! Satan!" he shrieked. "Give him back to me! Everything else you
have promised me for that! Do you hear me! Satan! Satan!"

His voice died away in a great sob; he rested his throbbing head
against the hot mullions and put his hand over his eyes; red of the
roses and gold of the sunshine of the Eastern cushions blended in one
before him; he sank back into the window-seat, and beard some one
speak his name.

Lifting his sick gaze, he saw the witch standing in the centre of the
floor, looking at him.

Dirk gave a great sigh, hunched up his shoulders, and smoothed his
cuffs; then he said, very quietly, looking sideways at the witch--

"Theirry has gone."

Nathalie, the witch, seated herself on a little stool that was all
inlaid with mother-o'-pearl, folded her hands in her lap and smiled.

She was not an old nor an ugly woman, but of a pale, insignificant
appearance, with shining, blank-looking eyes set in wrinkles, a narrow
face and dull black hair, threaded now with flat gold coins; she
stooped a little, and had marvellously delicate hands.

"I knew he would go," she answered in a small voice.

"With scant farewell, with little excuse, with small preparation, with
no regret, he has gone," said Dirk. "To the Court--at the bidding of a
lady. You know her, for I have spoken of our meeting with her when we
were driven forth from Basle." He closed his eyes, as if he made a
great effort at control. "I think he is on the verge of loving her."
He unclosed his eyes, full, blazing. "This must be prevented."

The witch shook her head.

"If you are wise, let him go." She fixed her glimmering glance on
Dirk's smooth pale face. "He is neither good nor evil; his heart
sayeth one thing, his passions another--let him go. His courage is not
equal to his desires. He would be great--by any means;--yet he is
afraid--let him go. He thinks to serve the Devil while it lurks still
in his heart: 'At last I will repent--in time I will repent!'--let him
go. He will never be great, or even successful, for he is confused in
his aims, hesitating, passionate and changeable; therefore, you who
can have the world---let him go."

"All this I know," answered Dirk, his fingers clutching the gold
cushions. "But I want him back."

"He will come. He has gone too far to stay away."

"I want him to return for ever," cried Dirk. "He is my comrade--he
must be with me always---he must have none in his thoughts save me."

Nathalie frowned.

"This is folly. The day you came here to me with words of Master
Lukas, I saw that you were to be everything--he nothing; I saw that
the world would ring with your name, and that he would die unknown."
She rose vehemently. "I say, let him go! He will be but a clog, a drag
on your progress. He is jealous of you; he is not over skilful...what
can you say for him save that he is pleasant to gaze upon?"

Dirk slipped from the cushions and walked slowly up and down the room;
a slow, beautiful smile rested on his lips, and his eyes were gentle.

"What can I say for him? 'Tis said in three words--I love him."

He folded his arms on his breast, and lifted his head.

"How little you know of me, Nathalie! Though you have taught me all
your wisdom, what do you know of me save that I was Master Lukas's
apprentice boy?"

"Ye came from mystery--as you should come," smiled the witch.

And now Dirk seemed to smile through agony.

"It is a mystery--methinks to tell it would be to be blasted as I
stand; it seems so long ago--so strange--so horrible...well, well!"--
he put his hand to his forehead and took a turn about the room--"as I
sat in Master Lukas's empty house, painting, carving, reading
forbidden books, I was not afraid; it seemed to me I had no soul...so
why fear for that which was lost before I was born? 'The Devil has put
me here,' said I, 'and I will serve him...he shall make me his
archetype on earth...and I waited for his signal to bid me forth. Men
talked of Antichrist! What if I am he?'...so I thought."

"And so you shall be," breathed the witch.

Dirk's great eyes glowed above his smiling lips.

"Could any but a demon have such thoughts?...then Theirry came, and I
saw in his face that he did what I did--knew what I knew; and--and"--
his voice faltered--"I mind me how I went and watched him as he
slept--and then I thought after all I was no demon, for I was aware
that I loved him. I had terrible thoughts--if I love, I have a soul,
and if I have a soul it is damned;--but he shall go with me---if I
came from hell I shall return to hell, and he shall go with me;--if I
am damned, he shall be damned and go hand in hand with me into the
pit!"

The smile faded from his face, and an intense, ardent expression took
its place; he seemed almost in an ecstasy.

"She may make fight with me for his soul--if he love her she might
draw him to heaven--with her yellow hair! Did I not long for yellow
locks when I saw my bridal?...I have forgotten what I spoke of--I
would say that she does not love him..."

"Yet she may," said the witch; "for he is gay and beautiful."

Dirk slowly turned his darkening eyes on Nathalie.

"She must not."

The witch fondled her fingers.

"We can control many things--not love nor hate."

Dirk pressed a swelling bosom.

"Her heart is in the hand of another man--and that man is her steward,
ambitious, poor and married."

He came up to the witch, and, slight as he was, beside the withered
Eastern woman, he appeared marvellously fresh, glowing, and even
splendid.

"Do you understand me?" he said.

The witch blinked her shining eyes. "I understand that there is little
need of witchcraft or of black magic here."

"No," said Dirk. "Her own love shall be her poison...she herself shall
give him back to me."

Nathalie moved, the little coins shaking in her hair. "Dirk, Dirk, why
do you make such a point of this man's return?" she said, between
reproach and yearning. She fondled the cold, passive and smiling youth
with her tiny hands. "You are going to be great;" she mouthed the
words greedily. "I may never have done much, but you have the key to
many things. You will have the world for your footstool yet--let him
go."

Dirk still smiled.

"No," he answered quietly.

The witch shrugged her shoulders and turned away.

"After all," she said in a half whine, "I am only the servant now. You
know words that can compel me and all my kind to obey you. So let it
be; bring your Theirry back."

Dirk's smile deepened.

"I shall not ask your aid. Alone I can manage this matter. Ay, even if
it jeopardise my chance of greatness, I will have my comrade back."

"It will not be difficult," nodded the witch. "A silly maid's
influence against thine!" she laughed.

"There is another will seek to detain him at the Court," said Dirk
reflectively. "His old-time friend, the Margrave's son, Balthasar of
Courtrai, who shines about the Emperor. I saw him not long ago--he
also is my enemy."

"Well, the Devil will play them all into thy hands," smiled the witch.

Dirk turned an absent look on her and she crept away.

It grew to the hour of sunset; the red light of it trembled
marvellously in the red roses and filled the low, dark chamber with a
sombre crimson glow.

Dirk stood by the window biting his forefinger, revolving schemes in
which Jacobea, her steward, Sybilla and Theirry were to be entangled
as flies in a web; desperate devilry and despairing human love mingled
grotesquely, giving rise to thoughts dark and hideous.

The clear peal of a bell roused him, and he started with remembrances
of when last this sound through an empty house had broken on his
thoughts--of how he had gone and found Theirry without his door.

Then he left the room and sought the witch; she had disappeared; he
did not doubt that the summons was for her; not infrequently did she
have hasty and secret visitors, but as she came not he crossed the
dark passage and himself opened the door on to the slip of garden that
divided the house from the cobbled street--opened it on a woman in a
green hood and mantle, who stood well within the shadow of the porch.

"Whom would you see?" he asked cautiously.

The stranger answered in a low voice.

"You. Are you not the young doctor who lectures publicly on--many
things? Constantine they call you.

"Yea," said Dirk; "I am he."

"I heard you to-day. I would speak to you."

She wore a mask that as completely concealed her face as her cloak
concealed her figure. Dirk's keen eyes could discover nothing of her
person.

"Let me in," she said in an insistent, yet anxious voice.

Dirk held the door wide, and she stepped into the passage, breathing
quickly.

"Follow after me," smiled Dirk; he decided that the lady was Jacobea
of Martzburg.



CHAPTER XII



YSABEAU

Dirk and the lady entered the room he had just quitted; he set a chair
for her near the window and waited for her to speak, but kept his eyes
the while on her shrouded figure.

She wore a mask such as he had often seen on ladies; fantastic Italian
taste had fashioned them in the likeness of a plague-stricken
countenance, flecked green and yellow, and more lively fancy had
nicknamed them "melons" from their similarity to an unripe melon skin;
these masks, oval-shaped, with a slit for the mouth and eyes, and
extending from the brow to the chin, were an effective concealment of
every feature, and high favourites among ladies.

For the rest, the stranger's hood was pulled well forward so that not
a lock of hair was visible, and her mantle was gathered close at her
throat; it was of fine green cloth edged with miniver; she wore thick
gauntlets so that not an inch of her skin was visible.

"You are well disguised," said Dirk at last, as she made no sign of
speaking. "What is your business with me?"

He began to think that she could not be Jacobea since she gave no
indication of revealing herself; also, he fancied that she was too
short.

"Is there any one to overhear us or interrupt?" the lady spoke at
last, her voice muffled a little by the mask.

"None," answered Dirk half impatiently. "I beg that you tell me who
you are."

"Certes, that can wait;" her eyes sparkled through their holes in
contrast with the ghastly painted wood that made her face immovable.
"But I will tell you who you are, sir." "You know?" said Dirk coldly.

It seemed as if she smiled.

"The student named Dirk Renswoude who was driven forth from Basle
University for practising the black arts."

For the first time in his life Dirk was taken aback, and hopelessly
disconcerted; he had not believed it possible for any to discover the
past life of the learned doctor Constantine; he went red and white,
and could say nothing in either defence or denial.

"It was only about three months ago," continued the lady. "And both
students and many other in the town of Basle would still know you,
certes."

A rush of anger against his unknown accuser nerved Dirk.

"By what means have you discovered this?" he demanded. "Basle is far
enough from Frankfort, I wot...and how many know...and what is the
price of your silence, dame?"

The lady lifted her head.

"I like you," she said quietly. "You take it well. No one knows save
I. I have made cautious inquiries about you, and pieced together your
story with my own wit."

"My story!" flashed Dirk. "Certes! Ye know nought of me beyond Basle."

"No," she assented. "But it is enough. Joris of Thuringia died."

"Ah!" ejaculated Dirk.

The lady sat very still, observing him.

"So I hold your life, sir," she said.

Dirk, goaded, turned on her impetuously.

"Ye are Jacobea of Martzburg--"

"No"--she started at the name. "But I know her--"

"She told you this tale--"

Again the lady answered--

"No."

"She is from Basle," cried Dirk.

"Believe me," replied the stranger earnestly, "she knows nothing of
you--I alone in Frankfort hold your secret, and I can help you to keep
it...it were easy to spread a report of Dirk Renswoude's death."

Dirk bit his finger, his lip, glared out at the profusion of roses, at
the darkening sky, then at the quiet figure in the hideous speckled
mask; if she chose to speak he would have, at the best of it, to fly
Frankfort, and that did not suit his schemes.

"Another youth lives here," said the lady. "I think he also fled from
Basle."

Dirk's face grew pale and cunning; he was quick to see that she did
not know Theirry was compromised.

"He was here--now he has gone to Court--he was at Basle, but innocent,
he came with me out of friendship. He is silly and fond."

"I have to do with you," answered the lady. "Ye have a great, a
terrible skill, evil spirits league with you...your spells killed a
man--" She stopped.

"Poor fool," said Dirk sombrely.

The stranger rose; her calm and self-possession had suddenly given way
to fierce only half-repressed passion; she clasped her hands and
trembled as she stood.

"Well," she cried thickly. "You could do that again--a softer, more
subtle way?" "For you?" he whispered.

"For me," she answered, and sank into the window-seat, pulling at her
gloves mechanically.

A silence, while the dying red sunlight fell over the Eastern cushions
and over her dark mantle and outside the red roses shook and whispered
in the witch's garden.

"I cannot help you if you tell me nothing," said Dirk at length in a
grim manner.

"I will tell you this," answered she passionately. "There is a man I
hate, a man in my way--I do not talk wildly; that man must go, and if
you will be the means--"

"You will be in my power as I am now in yours," thought Dirk,
completing the broken sentence.

The lady looked out at the roses.

"I cannot convey to you what nights of horror and days of bitterness,
what resolutions formed and resolutions broken--what hate, and what--
love have gone to form the impulse that brought me here to-day--nor
does it concern ye; certes enough I am resolved, and if your spells
can aid me--" She turned her head sharply. "I will pay you very well."

"You have told me nothing," repeated Dirk. "And though I can discover
what you are and who is your enemy, it were better that you told me
with your own lips."

She seemed, now, in an ill-concealed agitation.

"Not to-day will I speak. I will come again. I know this
place...meanwhile, certes, your secret is safe with me--think over
what I have said."

She rose as if to take a hasty departure; but Dirk was in her way.

"Nay," he said firmly. "At least show your face---how shall I know you
again? And what confidence have you in me if you will not take off
your mask? I say you shall."

She trembled between a sigh and a laugh.

"Perhaps my face is not worth gazing at," she answered on a breath.

"I wot ye are a fair woman," replied Dirk, who heard the consciousness
of it in her alluring voice.

Still she hesitated.

"Know ye many about the Court?" she asked.

"Nay. I have not concerned myself with the Court."

"Well, then--and since I must trust you--and like you"--her voice rose
and fell--"look at me and remember me."

She loosened her cloak, flung back the hood and quickly unfastening
the mask, snatched it off. The disguise flung aside, she was revealed
to the shoulders, clearly in the warm twilight.

Dirk's first impression was, that this was beauty that swept from his
mind all other beauty he had ever beheld; his second, that it was the
same face he and Theirry had seen in the mirror. "Oh!" he cried.
"Well?" said the lady, the hideous mask in her band.

Now she was disclosed, it was as if another presence had entered the
dusky chamber, so difficult was it to associate this brilliance with
the cloaked figure of a few moments since.

Certainly she was of a great beauty, smiting into breathlessness, a
beauty not to be realised until beheld; Dirk would not have believed
that a woman could be so fair.

If Jacobea's hair was yellow, this lady's locks were pale, pure
glittering gold, and her eyes a deep, soft, violet hue; the throwing
back of her cloak revealed her round slender throat, and the glimmer
of a rich bodice.

The smile faded from her lips, and her gorgeous loveliness became
grave, almost tragic. "You do not know me?" she asked.

"No," answered Dirk; he could not tell her that he had seen her before
in his devil's mirror. "But you will recognise me again?"

Dirk laughed quietly.

"You were not made to be forgotten. Strange with such a face ye should
have need of witchcraft!"

The lady replaced the mottled mask, that looked the more horrible
after that glimpse of gleaming beauty, and drew her mantle over her
shoulders.

"I shall come to you or send to you, sir. Think on what I have said,
and on what I know."

She was obscured again, hidden in her green cloak. Dirk proffered no
question, made no comment, but preceded her down the dark passage and
opened the door; she passed out; her footstep was light on the path;
Dirk watched her walk rapidly down the street then closed the door and
bolted it. After a pause of breathless confusion and heart-heating
excitement, he ran to the back of the house and out into the garden.

It was just light enough for the huge dusky roses to be visible as
they nodded on their trailing bushes; Dirk ran between them until he
reached a gaunt stone statue half concealed by laurels; in front of
this were flags irregularly placed; in the centre of one was an iron
ring; Dirk, pulling at this, disclosed a trap door that opened at his
effort, and revealed a flight of steps; he descended from the soft
pure evening and the red roses into the witch's kitchen, closing the
stone above him.

The underground chamber was large and lit by lamps hanging from the
roof, revealing smooth stone walls and damp floor; in one side a
gaping blackness showed where a passage twisted to the outer air; on
another was a huge alchemist's fireplace; before this sat the witch,
about her a quantity of glass vessels, retorts and pots of various
shapes.

Either side this fireplace hung a human body, black and withered,
swinging from rusted ropes and crowned with wreaths of green and
purple blotched leaves.

On a table set against the wall was a brass head that glimmered in the
feeble light. Dirk crossed the floor with his youthful step and
touched Nathalie on the shoulder. "One came to see me," he said
breathlessly. "A marvellous lady."

"I know," murmured the witch. "And was it to play into thy hands?"

The air was thick and tainted with unwholesome smells; Dirk leant
against the wall and stared down the chamber, his hand to his brow.

"She threatened me," he said, "and for a moment I was afraid; for,
certes, I do not wish to leave Frankfort...but she wished me to serve
her--which I will do--for a price." "Who is she?" blinked the witch.

"That I am come to discover," frowned Dirk. "And who it is she spoke
of--also somewhat of Jacobea of Martzburg"--he coughed, for the foul
atmosphere had entered his nostrils. "Give me the globe."

The witch handed him a ball of a dark muddy colour, which he placed on
the floor, flinging himself beside it; Nathalie drew a pentagon round
the globe and pronounced some words in a low tone; a slight tremor
shook the ground, though it was solid earth they stood on, and the
globe turned a pale, luminous, blue tint.

Dirk pushed back the damp hair from his eyes, and, resting his face in
his hands, his elbows on the ground, he stared into the depths of the
crystal, the colour of which brightened until it glowed a ball of
azure fire.

"I see nothing," he said angrily.

The witch repeated her incantations; she leant forward, the yellow
coins glistening on her pale forehead.

Rays of light began to sparkle from the globe. "Show me something of
the lady who came here to-day," commanded Dirk.

They waited.

"Do ye see anything?" breathed the witch.

"Yea--very faintly."

He gazed for a while in silence.

"I see a man," he said at last. "The spells are wrong...I see nothing
of the lady--" "Watch, though," cried the witch. "What is he like?"

"I cannot see distinctly...he is on horseback...he wears armour...now
I can see his face--he is young, dark--he has black hair--"

"Do ye know him?"

"Nay--I have never seen him before." Dirk did not lift his eyes from
the globe. "He is evidently a knight . .. he is magnificent but
cold...ah!"

His exclamation was at the change in the ball; slowly it faded into a
faint blue, then became again dark and muddy.

He flung it angrily out of the pentagon.

"What has that told me?" he cried. "What is this man?"

"Question Zerdusht," said the witch, pointing to the brass head.
"Maybe he will speak tonight."

She flung a handful of spices on to the slow-burning fire, and a faint
smoke rose, filling the chamber.

Dirk crossed to the brass head and surveyed it with eager hollow eyes.

"The dead men dance," smiled the witch. "Certes, he will speak to-
night."

Dirk turned his wild gaze to where the corpses hung. Their shrivelled
limbs twisted and jerked at the end of their chain, and the horrid
lurid colour of their poisonous wreaths gleamed through the smoke and
shook with the nodding of their faceless heads.

"Zerdusht, Zerdusht," murmured Dirk. "In the name of Satan, his
legions, speak to thy servant, show or tell him something of the woman
who came here to-day on an evil errand."

A heavy stillness fell with the ending of the words; the smoke became
thick and dense, then suddenly cleared.

At that instant the lamps were extinguished and the fire fell into
ashes.

"Something comes," whispered the witch.

Through the dark could be heard the dance of the dead men and the
grind of their bones against the ropes.

Dirk stood motionless, his straining eyes fixed before him.

Presently a pale light spread over the end of the chamber, and in it
appeared the figure of a young knight; his black hair fell from under
his helmet, his face was composed and somewhat haughty, his dark eyes
fearless and cold.

"'Tis he I saw in the crystal!" cried Dirk, and as be spoke the light
and the figure disappeared. Dirk beat his breast.

"Zerdusht! ye mock me! I asked ye of this woman! I know not the man."

The brass head suddenly glowed out of the darkness as if a light shone
behind it; the lids twitched, opened, and glittering red eyeballs
stared at Dirk, who shouted in triumph. He fell on his knees.

"A year ago to-day I saw a woman in the mirror; to-day she came to
me...who is she?...Zerdusht--her name?"

The brass lips moved and spoke.

"Ysabeau."

What did this tell him?

"Who was the knight ye have shown me?" he cried.

"Her husband," answered the head.

"Who is the man she seeks my aid to...to...who is it of whom she spoke
to me?" The flaming eyeballs rolled.

"Her husband."

Dirk gave a start.

"Make haste," came the witch's voice through the swimming blackness.
"The light fades." "Who is she?"

"The Empress of the West," said the brass head. A cry broke from Dirk
and the witch; Dirk shrieked another question.

"She wishes to put another in the Emperor's place?"

"Yea;" the light was growing fainter; the eyelids flickered over the
red eyes.

"Whom?" cried Dirk. Faint, yet distinct came the answer--

"The Lord of Ursula of Rooselaare, Balthasar of Courtrai ."

The lids fell and the jaws clicked, the light sank into nothingness,
and the lamps sprang again into dismal flame that disclosed the black
bodies of the dead men, hanging slackly with their wreaths touching
their chests, the witch crouching by the hearth--

And in the centre of the floor Dirk, smiling horribly.



CHAPTER XIII



THE SNARING OF JACOBEA

The great forest was so silent, so lonely, the aisles of a vast church
could have been no more sanctified by holy stillness.

Even the summer wind that trembled in the upper boughs of the huge
trees had not penetrated their thick branches and intertwined leaves,
so that the grass and flowers were standing erect, untroubled by a
breath of air, and the sun, that dazzled without on the town of
Frankfort did not touch the glowing green gloom of the forest.

Seated low on the grass by a wayside shrine that held a little figure
of the Madonna, Nathalie the witch, hunched together in a brown cloak,
looked keenly into the depths of cool shade between the tree trunks.

She was watching the distant figure of a lady tremble into sight among
the leaves of the undergrowth.

A lady who walked hesitatingly and fearfully; as she drew near, the
witch could see that the long yellow dress she held up was torn and
soiled, and that her hair hung disarranged on her shoulders; breathing
in a quick, fatigued manner she came towards the shrine, but seeing
the witch she stopped abruptly and her grey eyes darkened with
apprehension.

"'What is amiss with Jacobea of Martzburg," asked the witch in her
expressionless way, "that she walks the forest disarrayed and alone?"

"I am lost," answered Jacobea, shrinking. "How do you know me?

"By your face," said Nathalie. "How is it you are lost?

"Will you tell me the way to Frankfort?" asked Jacobea wearily. "I
have walked since noon. I was accompanying the Empress from the
tournament and my horse broke away with me--I slipped from the saddle.
Now I have lost him."

Nathalie smiled faintly.

"I know not where I am," said Jacobea, still with that look of
apprehension in her sweet eyes. "Will you set me on my path?"

She glanced at the shrine, then at the witch, and put her hand to her
forehead; dazed, she seemed, and bewildered.

"Of what are you afraid?" asked Nathalie.

"Oh, why should I be afraid!" answered Jacobea, with a start. "But--
why, it is very lonely here and I must get home."

"Let me tell your fortune," said the witch, slowly rising. "You have a
curious fortune, and I will reveal it without gold or silver."

"No!" Jacobea's voice was agitated. "I have no credence in those
things. I will pay you to show me the way out of the forest."

But the witch had crossed softly to her side, and, to her manifest
shrinking terror, caught hold of her hand.

"What do you imagine you hold in your palm?" she smiled.

Jacobea endeavoured to draw her hand away, the near presence of the
woman quickened her unnamed terror.

"Lands and castles," said the witch, while her fingers tightened on
the striving wrist. "Gold and loneliness--"

"You know me," answered Jacobea, in anger. "There is no magic in
this...let me go!" The witch dropped the lady's hand and smoothed her
own together.

"I do not need the lines in your palm to tell me your fortune," she
said sharply. "I know more of you than you would care to hear, Jacobea
of Martzburg."

The lady turned away and stepped quickly but aimlessly down the shaded
glade.

Nathalie, dragging her brown cloak, came lightly after.

"You cannot escape," she said. "You may walk in and out the trees
until you die of weariness, yet never find your way to Frankfort."

She laid her small thin fingers on the soft velvet of Jacobea's yellow
sleeve and blinked up into her startled eyes.

"Who are you?" cried the lady, with a touch of desperation in her
faint voice. "And what do you want with me?"

The witch licked her pale lips.

"Come with me and I will show you."

Jacobea shuddered.

"No, I will not."

"You cannot find your way alone," nodded the witch.

The lady hesitated; she looked around her at the motionless aisles of
trees, the silent glades, she looked up at the arching boughs and
clustering leaves concealing the sky.

"Indeed I will nay you well if you will guide me out of this," she
entreated.

"Come with me now," answered Nathalie, "and afterwards I will set you
on your way."

"To what end should I go with you?" exclaimed Jacobea. "I know you
not, and, God help me, I mistrust you."

The witch shot a scornful glance over the lady's tall figure, supple
with the strength of youth. "What evil could I do you?" she asked.

Jacobea considered her intently; indeed she was small, seemed frail
also; Jacobea's white fingers could have crushed the life out of her
lean throat.

Still she was reluctant.

"To what end?" she repeated.

Nathalie did not answer, but turned into a grass-grown path that
twisted through the trees, and Jacobea, afraid of the loneliness,
followed her slowly.

As they went through the forest, the green, still forest, with no
flower to vary the clinging creepers and great blossomless plants,
with no sound of bird or insect to mingle with their light tread and
the sweep of their garments on the ground, Jacobea was aware that her
senses were being dulled and drugged with the silence and the
strangeness; she felt no longer afraid or curious. After a while they
came upon a pool lying in a hollow and grown about with thick, dark
ferns; the sunless waters were black and dull, on the surface of them
floated some dead leaves and the vivid unwholesome green of a tangled
weed.

A young man in a plain dark dress was seated on the opposite bank.

On his knees was an open book, and his long straight hair hung either
side of his face and brushed the yellow page.

Behind him stood the shattered trunk of a blasted tree, grown with
fan-shaped fungi of brilliant scarlet and blotched purple and orange
that glowed gorgeously in the universal cold soft greenness.

"Oh me!" murmured Jacobea.

The young man lifted his eyes from the book and looked at her across
the black water.

Jacobea would have fled, would have flung herself into the forest with
no thought but that of escape from those eyes gazing at her over the
pages of that ancient volume; but the witch's loathsome little hands
closed on hers with a marvellous strength and drew her, shuddering,
round the edge of the pond.

The youth shut the book, stretched his slender limbs, and, half
turning on his side, lay and watched.

Jacobea's noble and lovely figure, clothed in a thick soft velvet of a
luminous yellow hue; her blonde hair, straying on her shoulders and
mingling with the glowing tint of her gown; her grave and sweet face,
lit and guarded by grey eyes, soft and frightened, made a fair picture
against the sombre background of the dark wood.

A picture marred only by the insignificant and drab-coloured figure of
the little witch who held her hand and dragged her through the dank
grass.

"Do you remember me?" asked the youth.

Jacobea turned her head away.

"Let go of her, Nathalie," continued the youth impatiently; he rested
his elbow on the closed book and propped his chin on his hand; his
eyes rested eagerly and admiringly on the lady's shuddering fairness.

"She will run," said Nathalie, but she loosened her hold.

Jacobea did not stir; she shook the hand Nathalie had held and
caressed it with the other. The young man put back his heavy hair.

"Do you know me?"

She slowly turned her face, pearl pale above the glowing colour of her
dress.

"Yes, you came to my castle for shelter once."

Dirk did not lower his intense, ardent gaze.

"Well, how did I reward your courtesy? I told you something."

She would not answer.

"I told you something," repeated Dirk. "And you have not forgotten
it."

"Let me go," she said. "I do not know who you are nor what you mean.
Let me go."

She turned as if to move away, but sank instead on to one of the moss-
covered boulders that edged the pond and clasped her fingers over the
shining locks straying across her bosom. "You have never been the same
since that time you sheltered me," said Dirk.

She stiffened with dread and pride.

"Ye are some evil thing," she said; her glance was fierce for the
passive witch. "Why was I brought here?"

"Because it was my wish," answered Dirk gravely. "Your horse does not
often carry you away, Jacobea of Martzburg, and leave you in a
trackless forest."

The lady started at his knowledge.

"That also was my will," said Dirk.

"Your will!" she echoed.

Dirk smiled, with an ugly show of his teeth.

"Belike the horse was bewitched--have ye not heard of such a thing?"

"Santa Maria!" she cried.

Dirk sat up and clasped his long fingers round his knees.

"You have given a youth I know a post at Court," he said. "Why?"

Jacobea shivered and could not move; she looked drearily at the black
water and the damp masses of fern, then with a slow horror at the
figure of the young man seated under the blasted tree.

"I do not know," she answered weakly, "I never disliked him."

"As ye did me," added Dirk.

"Maybe I had no cause to love you," she returned, goaded. "Why did you
ever come to my castle? why did I ever see you?"

She put her cold hand over her eyes.

"No matter for that," mocked Dirk. "So ye liked my comrade Theirry?"

She answered as if forced against her will. "Well enough I liked him.
Was he not pleasured to encounter me again, and since he was doing
nought--I--but why do you question me? Can it be that you are
jealous?"

The young man pulled his heavy brows together.

"Am I a silly maid to be jealous? Meddle not with things ye cannot
measure, it had been better for you had you never seen my comrade's
fair face--ay, and for me also," and he frowned "Surely he is free to
do as he may list," returned Jacobea. "If he choose to come to Court."
"If ye choose to tempt him," answered Dirk. "But enough of that."

He rose and leant against the tree; above his slender shoulder rose
the jagged tongue of grey wood and the smooth colour of the clustering
fungi, and beyond that the forest sank into immense depths of still
gloom.

Jacobea strove desperately with her dull dread and terror, but it
seemed to her as if a sickly vapour was rising from the black pool
that chilled her blood to horror; she could not escape Dirk's steady
eyes that were like bright stones in his smooth face.

"Come here," he said.

Jacobea made no movement to obey until the witch clutched her arm,
when she shook off the clinging fingers and approached the spot where
Dirk waited.

"I think you have bewitched me," she said drearily.

"Not I, another has done that," he answered. "Certes, ye are slow in
mating, Jacobea of Martzburg."

A little shuddering breath stirred her parted lips; she looked to
right and left, saw nothing but the enclosing forest, and turned her
frightened eyes on Dirk.

"I know some little magic," he continued. "Shall I show you the man
you would wish to make Lord of Martzburg?"

"There is no one," she said feebly.

"You lie," he answered. "As I could prove."

"As you cannot prove," she returned, clasping her hands together.

Dirk smiled.

"Why, you are a fair thing and a gentle, but you have rebellious
thoughts, thoughts ye would blush to whisper at the confessional
grate."

She moved her lips, but did not speak.

"Why did your steward come with ye to Frankfort?" asked Dirk. "And his
wife stay as chatelaine of Martzburg? It had been more fitting had he
remained. What reward will he receive for his services as your
henchman at the Court?"

Jacobea drew her handkerchief from her girdle and pressed it to her
lips.

"What reward do you imagine I should offer?" she answered very slowly.

"I cannot tell," said Dirk, with a hot force behind every word. "For I
do not know if you are a fool or no, but this I know, the man waits a
word from you--"

"Stop!" said Jacobea.

But Dirk continued ruthlessly--

"He waits, I tell you--"

"Oh God, for what?" she cried.

"For you to say--'you think me fair, Sebastian, you know me rich and
all my life shall prove me loving, and only a red-browed woman in
Martzburg Castle prevents you coming from my footstool to my side'--
said you that, he would take horse to-morrow for Martzburg and return
a free man."

The handkerchief fell from Jacobea's fingers and fluttered on the dark
ferns.

"You are a fiend," she said in a sick voice. "You cannot be human to
so touch my heart, and you are wrong, I dare to tell you in the name
of God that you are wrong--those evil thoughts have never come to me."

"In the name of the Devil I am right," smiled Dirk.

"The Devil! Ye are one of his agents!" she cried in a trembling
defiance. "Or how could you guess what I scarcely knew until ye came
that baleful night?--what he never knew till then--ah, I swear it, be
never dreamt that I--never dreamt what my favour meant, but now--his--
eyes--I cannot mistake them."

"He is a dutiful servant," said Dirk, "he waits for his mistress to
speak."

Jacobea sank to her knees on the grass.

"I entreat you to forbear," she whispered. "Whoever you are, whatever
your object I ask your mercy. I am very unhappy--do not goad me--drive
me further."

Dirk stepped forward and caught her drooping shoulders in his firm
hands.

"Pious fool!" he cried. "How long do you think you can endure this?
how long do you think he will remain the servant when he knows he
might be the master?"

She averted her agonised face.

"Then it was from you he learned it, you--"

Dirk interrupted hotly--

"He knows, remember that! he knows and he waits. Already he hates the
woman who keeps him dumb; it were very easily done--one look, some few
words--ye would not find him slow of understanding." He loosened his
grasp on her and Jacobea fell forward and clasped his feet.

"I implore you take back this wickedness, I am weak; since my first
sight of you I have been striving against your influence that is
killing me; man or demon, I beseech you, let me be!"

She raised her face, the slow, bitter tears forced out of her sweet,
worn eyes; her hair fell like golden embroidery over the yellow gown,
and her fingers fluttered on her unhappy bosom. Dirk considered her
curiously and coldly.

"I am neither man nor demon," he said. "But this I tell you, as surely
as he is more to you than your own soul, so surely are you lost."

"Lost! lost!" she repeated, and half raised herself.

"Certes, therefore get the price of your soul," he mocked. "What is
the woman to you? A coldhearted jade, as good dead now as fifty years
hence--what is one sin the more? I tell you while you set that man's
image up in your heart before that of God ye are lost already."

"I am so lonely," she whispered piteously. "Had I one friend--" She
paused, as though some one came into her mind with the words, and
Dirk, intently watching her, suddenly flushed and glowed with anger.

He stepped back and clapped his hands.

"I promised you a sight of your lover," he said. "Now let him speak
for himself." Jacobea turned her head sharply.

A few feet away from her stood Sebastian, holding back the heavy
boughs and looking at her.

She gave a shriek and swiftly rose; Dirk and the witch had
disappeared; if they had slipped into the undergrowth and were yet
near they gave no answer when she wildly called to them; the vast
forest seemed utterly empty save for the silent figure of Sebastian.

Not doubting now that Dirk was some evil being whom her own wicked
thoughts had evoked, believing that the appearance of her steward was
some phantom sent for her undoing, she, unfortunate, distracted with
misery and terror, turned with a shuddering relief to the oblivion of
the still pool.

Hastening with trembling feet through the clinging weeds and ferns,
she climbed down the damp bank and would have cast herself into the
dull water, when she heard his voice calling her--a human voice.

She paused, lending a fearful ear to the sound while the water rippled
from her foot. "It is I," he called. "My lady, it is I."

This was Sebastian himself, no delusion nor ghost but her living
steward, as she had seen him this morning in his brown riding-habit,
wearing her gold and blue colours round his hat. She mastered her
terror and confusion.

"Indeed, you frightened me,"--a lie rose to save her. "I thought it
some robber--I did not know you."

Fear of his personal aid gave her strength to move away from the water
and gain the level ground.

"I have been searching for you," said Sebastian. "We came upon your
horse on the high road and then upon your gloves in the grass, so, as
no rider could come among these trees, on foot I sought for you. I am
glad that you are safe."

This calm and carefully ordered speech gave her time to gather
courage; she fumbled at her bosom, drew forth a crucifix and clutched
it to her lips with a murmur of passionate prayers.

He could not but notice this; he must perceive her soiled torn dress,
her wild face, her white exhaustion, but he gave no sign of it.

"It was a fortunate chance that sent me here," he said gravely. "The
wood is so vast--" "Ay, so vast," she answered. "Know you the way out,
Sebastian?"

She tried to nerve herself to look at him, but her glance was lifted
only to fall instantly again.

"You must forgive me," she said, struggling with a fainting voice. "I
have walked very far, I am so weary--I must rest a while."

But she did not sit, nor did he urge that she should.

"Have you met no one?" he asked.

She hesitated; if he had encountered neither the woman nor the young
man, then they were indeed wizards or of some unearthly race--she
could not bring herself to speak of them.

"No," she answered at length.

"We have a long way to walk," said the steward.

Jacobea felt his look upon her, and grasped her crucifix until the
sharp edges of it cut her palm. "Do you know the way?" she repeated
dully.

"Ay," he answered now. "But it is far."

She gathered up her long skirt and shook off the withered leaves that
clung to it. "Will you lead the way?" she said.

He turned and moved ahead of her down the narrow path by which he had
come; as she followed him she heard his foot fall soft on the thick
grass and the swishing sound of the straying boughs as he held them
back for her to pass, till she found the silence so unendurable that
she nerved herself to break it; but several times she gathered her
strength in vain for the effort, and when at last some foolish words
had come to her lips, he suddenly looked back over his shoulder and
checked her speech.

"'Tis strange that your horse should have gone mad in such a manner,"
he said.

"But ye found him?" she faltered.

"Ay, a man found him, exhausted and trembling like a thing bewitched."

Her heart gave a great leap--had he used that word by chance--

She could not answer.

"Ye were not hurt, my lady, when ye were thrown?" said the steward.

"No," said Jacobea, "no."

Silence again; no bird nor butterfly disturbed the sombre stillness of
the wood, no breeze stirred the thick leaves that surrounded them;
gradually the path widened until it brought them into a great space
grown with ferns and overarched with trees.

Then Sebastian paused.

"It is a long way yet," he said. "Will you rest a while?"

"No," she replied vehemently. "Let us get on---where are the others?
surely we must meet some one soon!"

"I do not know that any came this way," he answered, and cast his
brooding glance over the "trembling weariness of her figure.

"Ye must rest, certes, it is folly to persist," he added, with some
authority.

She seated herself, lifting the hand that held the crucifix to her
bosom.

"How full of shadows it is here," she said. "It is difficult to fancy
the shining of the sun on the tops of these darkened trees."

"I do not love forests," answered Sebastian. As he stood his profile
was towards her; and she must mark again the face that she knew so
bitterly well, his thin dark cheek, his heavy-lidded eyes, his
contained mouth.

Gazing down into the clusters of ferns at his feet, he spoke--

"I think I must return to Martzburg," he said.

She braced herself, making a gesture with her hand as if she would
ward off his words. "You know that you are free to do what you will,
Sebastian."

He took off his right glove slowly and looked at his hand.

"Is it not better that I should go?"

He challenged her with a full sideways glance.

"I do not know," she said desperately, "why you put this to me, here
and now."

"I do not often see you alone."

He was not a man of winning manners or of easy speech; his words came
stiffly, yet with a purpose in them that chilled her with a deeper
sense of dread.

She opened her hand to stare down at the crucifix in her palm.

"You can leave Frankfort when you wish--why not?" she said.

He faced her quickly.

"But I may come back?"

It seemed to Jacobea that he echoed Dirk's words; the crucifix slipped
through her trembling fingers on to the grass.

"What do you mean? Oh, Sebastian, what do you mean?" The words were
forced from her, but uttered under her breath; she added instantly, in
a more courageous voice, "Go and come as you list, are you not free?"

He saw the crucifix at her feet and picked it up, but she drew back as
he came near and held out her hand.

He put the crucifix into it, frowning, his eyes dark and bright with
excitement.

"Do you recall the two students who were housed that night in
Martzburg?" he asked. "Yes," she said. "Is not one now at Court?"

"I would mean the other--the boy," answered Sebastian.

She averted her face and drooped until the ends of her hair touched
her knees.

"I met him again to-day," continued the steward, with a curious lift
in his voice, "here, in this forest, while searching for you. He spoke
to me."

Certainly the Devil was enmeshing her, surely he had brought her to
this pass, sent Sebastian, of all men, to find her in her weariness
and loneliness.

And Sebastian knew--knew also that she knew--outspoken words between
them could be hardly more intolerable shame than this.

"He is cunning beyond most," said the steward.

Jacobea lifted her head.

"He is an enchanter--a wizard, do not listen to him, do not speak to
him--as you value your soul, Sebastian, do not think of him."

"As I value some other things," he answered grimly, "I must both
listen to him and consider what he says."

She rose.

"We will go on our way. I cannot talk with you now, Sebastian."

But he stood in her path.

"Let me journey to Martzburg," he said thickly; "one word--I shall
understand you."

She glanced and saw him extraordinarily keen and moved; he was lord of
Martzburg could he but get her to pledge herself; in his eagerness,
however, he forgot advice. "Tell her," said Dirk, "you have adored her
for years in secret." This escaped his keenness, for though his wife
was nothing to him compared with his ambition, he had no tenderness
for Jacobea. Had he remembered to feign it he might have triumphed and
now; but though her gentle heart believed he held her dear, that he
did not say so made firmness possible for her.

"You shall stay in Frankfort," she said, with sudden strength.

"Sybilla asks my return," he said, gazing at her passionately. "Do we
not understand each other without words?"

"The fiend has bewitched you also," she answered fearfully. "You know
too much---you guess too much--and yet I tell you nothing, and I, I
also am bewitched, for I cannot reply to you as I should."

"I have been silent long," he said. "But I have dared to think--had I
been free--as I can be free--"

The crucifix was forgotten in her hand.

"We do evil to talk like this," she said, half fainting.

"You will bid me go to Martzburg," he insisted, and took her long cold
fingers.

She raised her eyes to the boughs above her.

"No, no!" then, "God have compassion on me!" she said.

The thick foliage stirred--Jacobea felt as if the bars of a cage were
being broken about her---she turned her head and a little colour
flushed her cheek.

Through the silvery stems of the larches came some knights and a page
boy, members of the party left to search for her.

She moved towards them; she hailed them almost gaily; none, save
Sebastian, saw her as they turned towards Frankfort raise the crucifix
and press her lips to it.



CHAPTER XIV



THE SNARING OF THEIRRY

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 to-day," 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.

"Yes."

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 to-day?" 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.

"Good-night."

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.



CHAPTER XV



MELCHOIR OF BRABANT

The last chant of the monks died away.

The Sabbath service was ended and the Court rose from its place in the
Emperor's chapel, but Jacobea remained on her knees and tried to pray.

The Empress, very fair and childishly sweet, drooping under the weight
of her jewelled garments even with three pages to lift her train,
raised her brows to see her lady remaining and gave her a little smile
as she passed.

The Emperor, dark, reserved, devout and plainly habited, followed with
his eyes still on his breviary; he was leaning on the arm of Balthasar
of Courtrai; the sun falling slantwise through the high coloured
windows made the fair locks and golden clothes of the Margrave one
glitter in a dazzling brightness.

Jacobea could not bring her thoughts to dwell on holy things; her
hands were clasped on her prie-Dieu, her open book was before her, but
her eyes wandered from the altar to the crowd passing down the aisle.

Among the faces that went by she could not but mark the beautiful
countenance of Theirry the secretary to the Queen's Chamberlain; she
noticed him, as she always did, for his obvious calm handsomeness, to-
day she noticed further that he looked grieved, distraught and pale.
Wondering at this she observed him so intently that his long hazel
eyes glanced aside and met hers in an intense gaze, grave and sad.

She thought there was a question or an appeal--some meaning in his
look, and she turned her slender neck and stared after him, so that
two ladies following smiled at each other.

Theirry kept his eyes fixed on her until he left the C chapel, and a
slow colour crept into his cheek.

When the last courtier had glittered away out of the low arched door,
Jacobea bent her head and rested her cheek against the top of the high
prie-Dieu; her yellow hair, falling from under her close linen cap,
hung in a shimmering line over her tight blue velvet gown, her hands
were interlaced beside her cheek, and her long skirt rippled over her
feet on to the stone pavement.

Could her prayers have been shaped into words they would have been
such as these--

"Oh Mary, Empress of Heaven, oh saints and angels, defend me from the
Devil and my own wicked heart, shelter me in my weakness and arm me to
victory!"

Incense still lingered in the air; it stole pleasantly to her
nostrils; she raised her eyes timidly to the red light on the altar,
then rose from her knees clasping her breviary to her bosom, and
turning she saw Theirry standing inside the door watching her.

She knew that he was waiting to speak to her, and, she knew not why,
it gave her a sense of comfort and pleasure.

Slowly she came down the aisle towards him, and as she approached,
smiled. He took a step into the church; there was no answering smile
on his face.

"Teach me to pray, I beseech you," he said ardently. "Let me kneel
beside you--" She looked at him in a troubled way.

"I?--alas!" she answered. "You do not know me."

"I know that if any one could lead a soul upwards it would be you."

Jacobea shook her head sadly.

"Scarcely can I pray for myself," she answered. "I am weak, unhappy
and alone. Sir, whatever your trouble you must not come to me for
aid."

His dark eyes flashed softly.

"You--unhappy? I have ever thought of you as gay and careless as the
roses."

She gazed on him wistfully.

"Once I was. That day I saw you first--do you remember, sir? I often
recall it because it seemed--that after that I changed--" She
shuddered, and her grey eyes grew wet and mournful. "It was your
friend."

Theirry's face hardened.

"My friend?"

She leant against the chapel wall and gazed passionately at the
Chamberlain's secretary. "Who is he? Surely you must know somewhat of
him."

"My friend--" repeated Theirry.

"The young scholar," she said quickly and fearfully, "he--he is in
Frankfort now." "You have seen him?"

She bowed her head. "What does he want with me? He will not let me be
in peace--he pursues me with horrible thoughts--he hates me, he will
undo my soul--"

She stopped, catching close to her the ivory-covered book and
shivering.

"I think," she said after a second, "he is an evil thing."

"When did you meet him?" asked Theirry in a low fearful voice.

Jacobea told him of the encounter in the forest; he marked that it was
the day of the great tourney, the day when he had last seen Dirk; he
remembered certain matters he had uttered concerning Jacobea.

"If he has been tampering with you," he cried wrathfully, "if he
dares--"

"Then you know somewhat of him?" she interrupted in a half horror.

"Ay, to my shame I do," he answered. "I know him for what he is; if
you value your peace, your soul--do not heed him."

She drew away.

"But you--you--Are you in league with him?"

Theirry groaned and set his teeth.

"He holds me in a mesh of temptation--he lures me into great
wickedness."

Jacobea moved still further back; shrinking from him into the gloom of
the chapel. "Oh!" she said. "Who--who is he?"

Theirry lowered his eyes and frowned.

"You must not ask me." He fingered the base of the pilaster against
the door.

"But he troubles me," she answered intensely. "The thought of him is
like some on clinging to my garments to drag me down."

Theirry lifted his head sharply to gaze at her tall slender figure;
but lifted his eyes no higher than her clasped hands that lay over the
breviary below her heart.

"How can he or such as he disturb you? What temptation can you be
beguiled with?"

And as he saw the delicate fingers tremble on the ivory cover, his
soul was hot and sore against Dirk.

"I will not speak of what might beguile me," said Jacobea in a low
Voice. "I dare not speak of it--let it go--it is great sin."

"There is sin for me also," murmured Theirry, "but the prize seems
almost worth it."

He bit his finger and stared on the ground; he felt that she shuddered
and heard the shiver of her silks against the chapel wall.

"Worth it, you say?" she whispered, "worth it?"

Her tone made him wince; he could fancy Dirk at her shoulder prompting
her, and he lifted his head and answered strongly--

"You cannot care to know, and I dare not tell, what has put me in the
power of this young scholar, nor what are the temptations with which
he enmeshes me--but this you must hear"--his hand was outspread on his
bosom, pressing on his heart, his hazel eyes were dilated and
intense--"this--I should be his, utterly, wholly his, one with him in
evil, if it were not for you and the thought of you."

She leant her whole weight against the stone wall and stared at him; a
shaft of dusty sunlight played on the smooth ivory book and her long
fingers; fell, too, glowingly across the blue velvet bosom of her
dress; but her throat and face were in shadow.

"You are the chatelaine of Martzburg," continued Theirry in a less
steady voice, "and you do not know me--it is not fit that you should--
but twice you have been gentle with me, and if--and if you could so
care, for your sake I would shake the clinging devils off--I would
live good and humble, and scorn the tempting youth."

"What must I do to help you?" answered Jacobea. "Alas! why do you rate
me so high?" Theirry came a step nearer; he touched the border of her
long sleeve.

"Be what you are--that is all. Be noble, pure--ah, sweet I--that
seeing you I can still believe in heaven and strive for it."

She looked at him earnestly.

"Why--you are the only one to care, that I should be noble and sweet.
And it would make a difference to you?" Her questioning voice fell
wistfully. "Ah, sir--were you to hear a wicked thing of me and know it
true--did I become a vile, a hideous creature--would it make a
difference?"

"It would--for me--make the difference between hell and paradise."

She flushed and trembled.

"Certes, you have heartened me--nay, you must not set me in a shrine--
but, but---Oh, sir, honour me and I will be worthy of it."

She raised an appealing face.

"On my knees," answered Theirry earnestly, "I will do you worship. I
am no knight to wear your colours boldly--but you shall win a fairer
triumph than ever graced the jousts, for I will come back to God
through you and live my days a repentant man--because of you."

"Nay--each through the other," said Jacobea. "I think I too--had...ah,
Jesu! fallen--if some one had not cared."

He paled with pain.

"What did he--that youth--tempt you with?"

"No matter," she said faintly. "It is over now--I will be equal to
your thoughts of me, sir. I have no knight, nor have wished for one--
but I will often think of you who have encouraged me in this my
loneliness."

"Please God," he said. "We both are free of devilry--will you make
that a pact with me? that I may think of you as far above it all as is
the moon above the mire--will you give me leave to think you always as
innocent as I would have my Saint?"

"Your worship, sir, shall make me so," she answered gravely. "Think no
ill of me and I will do no ill."

He went on his knee and kissed the hem of her soft gown.

"You have saved me," he whispered, "from everlasting doom."

As he rose, Jacobea held out her hand and touched him gently on the
sleeve.

"God be thanked," she said.

He bent his head and left her; she drew from her bosom the crucifix
that had been her companion in the forest and kissed it reverently,
her heart more at ease than since the day when first she met Dirk
Renswoude.

Returning to the great hall of the palace with quick resolve to return
to Martzburg or to send for Sybilla forming in her mind, she
encountered the Empress walking up and down the long chamber
discontentedly.

Ysabeau, who affected a fondness for Jacobea, smiled on her
indolently, but Jacobea, always a little overawed by her great
loveliness, and, in her soul, disliking her, would have passed on. The
Empress raised her hand.

"Nay, stay and talk to your poor deserted lady," she said in her
babyish voice. "The Emperor is in his chamber writing Latin prayers--
on a day like this!" She kissed her hand to tile sunshine and the
flowers seen through the window. "My dames are all abroad with their
gallants--and I Hazard what I have been doing?"

She held her left hand behind her and laughed in Jacobea's face; seen
thus in her over-gorgeous clothes, her childlike appearance and beauty
giving her an air of fresh innocence, She was not unlike the little
image of the Virgin often set above her altars.

"Guess!" she cried again; then, without waiting for an answer--
"Catching butterflies in the garden."

She showed her hand now, and held delicately before Jacobea's eyes a
white net drawn tightly together full of van-coloured butterflies.

"What is the use of them, poor souls?" asked Jacobea.

The Empress looked at her prisoners.

"Their wings are very lovely," she said greedily. "If I pulled them
off would they last? Sewn on silk how they would shimmer!"

"Nay, they would fade," answered Jacobea hastily.

"Ye have tried it?" demanded the Empress.

"Nay, I could not be so cruel...I love such little gay creatures."

Reflection darkened Ysabeau's gorgeous eyes.

"Well, I will take the wings off and see if they lose their
brightness." She surveyed the fluttering victims. "Some are purple...a
rare shade!"

Jacobea's smooth brow gathered in a frown of distress.

"They are alive," she said, "and it is agreeable to them to live; will
you not let them free?" Ysabeau laughed; not at all babyishly now.

"You need not watch me, dame."

"Your Grace does not consider how gentle and helpless they are,
indeed"--Jacobea flushed in her eagerness--"they have faces and little
velvet jackets on their bodies."

Ysabeau frowned and turned away.

"It amuses you to thwart my pleasures," she answered. She suddenly
flung the net at Jacobea. "Take them and begone."

The chatelaine of Martzburg, knowing something of the Empress, was
surprised at this sudden yielding; looking round, however, she learnt
the cause of it. The Margrave of East Flanders had entered the hall.

She caught up the rescued butterflies and left the chamber, while the
Empress sank into the window-seat among the crimson cushions patterned
with sprawling lions, pulled a white rose out of her belt and set her
teeth in the stem of it.

"Where is Melchoir?" asked the Margrave, coming towards her; his
immense size augmented by his full rich clothes gave him the air of a
golden giant.

"Writing Latin prayers," she mocked. "Were you Emperor of the West,
Lord Balthasar, would you do that?"

He frowned.

"I am not such a holy man as Melchoir." Ysabeau laughed.

"Were you my husband would you do that?" His fresh fair face flushed
rose colour. "This is among the things I may not even fancy."

She looked out of the window; her dress was low and loosened about the
shoulders, by cause of the heat, she said, but she loved to make a
pageant of her beauty; red, bronze and purple silks clung about her
fastened with a thick belt; her pale gold hair was woven into a great
diadem of curls above her brow, and round her throat was a string of
emeralds, a gift from Byzantium, her home.

Purposely she was silent, hoping Balthasar would speak; but he stood,
without a word, leaning against the tapestry.

"Oh God!" she said at last, without turning her head, "I loathe
Frankfort!"

His eyes glittered, but he made no answer.

"Were I a man I would not be so tame."

Now he spoke.

"Princess, you know that I am sick for Rome, but what may we do when
the Emperor makes delays?"

"Melchoir should be a monk," his wife returned bitterly, "since a
German township serves him when he might rule half the world." Now she
gave Balthasar her lovely face, and fixed on him her violet eyes. "We
of the East do not understand this diffidence. My father was an Aegean
groom who took the throne by strangling the life out of his master--he
ruled strongly in Ravenna, I was born in the purple, nursed in the
gold--I do not fathom your northern tardiness.

"The Emperor will go to Rome," said the Margrave in a troubled voice.
"He will cross the Alps this year, I think."

Her white lids drooped.

"You love Melchoir--therefore you bear with him."

He lifted his head.

"You, too, must bear with him, since he is your lord, Princess," he
answered.

And the Empress repressed the words she longed to utter, and forced a
smile.

"How stern you are, Margrave; if I but turn a breath against
Melchoir--and, sometimes, you wrong me, forgetting that I also am your
friend."

Her eyes were quick to flash over him, to mark how stiffly and
awkwardly he stood and could not look at her.

"My duty to the Emperor," she said softly, "and my love, cannot blind
me to his weakness now; come, Lord Balthasar, to you also it is
weakness--even your loyalty must admit we lose the time. The Pope
says--Come--the King of the Lombards will acknowledge my lord his
suzerain--and here we stay in Frankfort waiting for the winter to cut
off the Alps."

"Certes he is wrong," frowned the Margrave. "Wrong...if I were he--I
would be Emperor in good sooth and all the world should know that I
ruled in Rome..."

She drew a long breath.

"Strange that we, his friend and his wife, cannot persuade him; the
nobles are on our side also." "Save Hugh of Rooselaare, who is ever at
his ear," answered Balthasar. "He brings him to stay in Germany."

"The Lord of Rooselaare!" echoed the Empress. "His daughter was your
wife?"

"I never saw her," he interrupted quickly. "And she died. Her father
seems, therefore, to hate me."

"And me also, I think, though why I do not know," she smiled. "His
daughter's dead, dead...oh, we are very sure that she is dead."

"Certes, she was as good as another;" the Margrave spoke gloomily.
"Now I must wed again." The Empress stared at him.

"I did not think you considered that."

"I must. I am the Margrave now."

Ysabeau turned her head and fixed her eyes on the palace garden.

"There is no lady worthy of your rank and at the same time free," she
said.

"You have an heiress in your train, Princess---Jacobea of Martzburg--I
have thought of her." The rich colours in the Empress's gown shimmered
together with her hidden trembling.

"Can you think of her? She is near as tall as you, Margrave, and not
fair--oh, a gentle fool enough--but--but"--she looked over her
shoulder--"am I not your lady?"

"Ay, and ever will be," he answered, lifting his bright blue eyes. "I
wear your favour, I do battle for you, in the jousts you are my Queen
of Love---I make my prayers in your name and am your servant,
Princess."

"Well--you need not a wife." She bit her lips to keep them still.

"Certes," answered Balthasar wonderingly. "A knight must have a wife
besides a lady--since his lady is ofttimes the spouse of another, and
his highest thought is to touch her gown--but a wife is to keep his
castle and do his service."

The Empress twisted her fingers in and out her girdle.

"I had rather," she cried passionately, "be wife than lady."

"Ye are both," he answered, flushing. "The Emperor's wife and my
lady."

She gave him a curious glance.

"Sometimes I think you are a fool, yet maybe it is only that I am not
used to the North. How you would show in Byzantium, my cold Margrave!"
And she leant across the gold and red cushions towards him. "Certes,
you shall have your long straight maiden. I think her heart is as
chill as yours."

He moved away from her.

"Ye shall not mock me, Princess," he said fiercely. "My heart is hot
enough, let me be." She laughed at him.

"

"Are you afraid of me? Why do you move away? Come back, and I will
recount you the praises of Jacobea of Martzburg."

He gave her a sullen look.

"No more of her."

"And yet your heart is hot enough--"

"Not with the thought of her--God knows."

But the Empress pressed her hands together and slowly rose, looking
past Balthasar at the door.

"Melchoir, we speak of you," she said.

The Margrave turned; the Emperor, velvet shod, was softly entering; he
glanced gravely at his wife and smilingly at Balthasar.

"We speak of you," repeated Ysabeau, dark-eyed and flushed, "of
you...and Rome."

Melchoir of Brabant, third of his name, austere, reserved, proud and
cold, looked more like a knight h of the Church than King of Germany
and Emperor of the West; he was plainly habited, his dark hair cut
close, his handsome, slightly haughty face composed and stern; too
earnest was he to be showily attractive yet many men adored him, among
them Balthasar of Courtrai, for in himself the Emperor was both brave
and lovable.

"Cannot you have done with Rome?" he asked sadly, while his large
intelligent eyes rested affectionately on the Margrave. "Is Frankfort
grown so distasteful?"

"Certes, no, Lord Melchoir--it is the chance! the chance!"

The Emperor sank in a weary manner on to a seat.

"Hugh of Rooselaare and I have spoken together and we have agreed,
Balthasar, not to go to Rome."

The Empress stiffened and drooped her lids; the Margrave turned
swiftly to face his master, and all the colour was dashed out of his
fresh face.

Melchoir smiled gently.

"My friend, ye are an adventurer, and think of the glory to be
gained--but I must think of my people who need me here--the land is
not fit to leave. It will need many men to hold Rome; we must drain
the land of knights, wring money from the poor, tax the churches--
leave Germany defenceless, a prey to the Franks, and this for the
empty title of Emperor."

Balthasar's breast heaved.

"Is this your decision?"

The Emperor answered gravely--

"I do not think it God His wish that I should go to Rome."

The Margrave bent his head and was silent, but Ysabeau flung her clear
voice into the pause.

"In Constantinople a man such as you would not long fill a throne; ere
now you had been a blinded monk and I free to choose another husband!"

The Emperor rose from his seat.

"The woman raves," he said to the pale Margrave. "Begone, Balthasar."

The German left them; when his heavy footfall had died into silence,
Melchoir looked at his wife and his eyes flashed.

"God forgive my father," he said bitterly, "for tying me to this
Eastern she-cat!"

The Empress crouched in the window-seat and clutched the cushions.

"I was meant for a man's mate," she cried fiercely, "for a Csar's
wife. I would they had flung me to a foot-boy sooner than given me to
thee--thou trembling woman's soul!"

"Thou hast repaid the injury," answered the Emperor sternly, "by the
great unhappiness I have in thee. My life is not sweet with thee nor
easy. I would thou hadst less beauty and more gentleness."

"I am gentle enough when I choose," she mocked. "Balthasar and the
Court think me a loving wife."

He took a step towards her; his cheek showed pale.

"It is most true none save I know you for the thing you are--
heartless, cruel, fierce and hard--"

"Leave that!" she cried passionately. "You drive me mad. I hate you,
yea, you thwart me every turn--"

She came swiftly across the floor to him.

"Have you any courage--any blood in you--will you go to Rome?"

"To please your wanton ambition I will do nothing, nor will I for any
reason go to Rome." Ysabeau quivered like an infuriated animal.

"I will talk no more of it," said Melchoir coldly and wearily. "Too
often do we waste ourselves in such words as these."

The Greek could scarcely speak for passion; her nostrils were dilated,
her lips pale and compressed.

"I am ashamed to call you lord," she said hoarsely; "humbled before
every woman in the kingdom who sees her husband brave at least--while
I--know you coward--"

Melchoir clenched his hands to keep them off her.

"Hark to me, my wife. I am your master and the master of this land--I
will not be insulted, nay, nor flouted, by your stinging tongue. Hold
me in what contempt ye will, you shall not voice it--by St. George,
no!--not if I have to take the whip to hold you dumb!"

"Ho! a Christian knight!" she jeered. "I loathe your Church as I
loathe you. I am not Ysabeau, but still Marozia Porphyrogentris."

"Do not remind me thy father was a stableman and a murderer," said
Melchoir. "Nor that I caused thee to change a name the women of thy
line had made accursed. Would I could send thee back to Ravenna!--for
thou hast brought to me nought but bitterness!"

"Be careful," breathed Ysabeau. "Be careful."

"Stand out of my way," he commanded.

For answer she loosened the heavy girdle round her waist; he saw her
purpose and caught her hands.

"You shall not strike me." The links of gold hung from her helpless
fingers while she gazed at him with brilliant eyes. "Would you have
struck me?"

"Yea--across your mouth," she answered. "Now were you a man, you would
kill me."

He took the belt from her arm, releasing her. "That you should trouble
me!" he said wearily.

At this she stood aside to let him pass; he turned to the door, and as
he lifted the tapestry flung down her belt.

The Empress crept along the floor, snatched it up and stood still,
panting.

Before the passion had left her face the hangings were stirred again.

One of her Chamberlains.

"Princess, there is a young doctor below desires to see you.
Constantine, his name, of Frankfort College."

"Oh!" said Ysabeau; a guilty colour touched her whitened cheek. "I
know nothing of him," she added quickly.

"Pardon, Princess, he says 'tis to decipher an old writing you have
sent to him; his words are, when you see him you will remember."

The blood burnt more brightly still under the exquisite skin.

"Bring him here," she said.

But even as the Chamberlain moved aside, the slender figure of Dirk
appeared in the doorway. He looked at her, smiling calmly, his
scholar's cap in his hand.

"You do remember me?" he asked.

The Empress moved her head in assent.



CHAPTER XVI THE QUARREL



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?"

Theirry laughed.

"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?"

Theirry paused.

"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."

Theirry flushed.

"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.



CHAPTER XVII THE MURDER



"Balthasar," said the Emperor, in pity of his friend's sullen face, "I
will send ye to Rome to make treaty with the Pope since it goes so
heavily with you to stay in Frankfort."

The Margrave bit the ends of his yellow hair and made no answer.

The Empress half hay along the seat against the wall. She wore a white
and silver gown; on the cushion, where her elbow rested to support her
head, lay a great cluster of crimson roses.

On low stools near her sat her maidens sewing, three of them
embroidering between them a strip of scarlet silk.

It was the dining hall, the table laid already with rudely magnificent
covers; through the low windows, from which the tapestry was looped
back, was to be seen a red sunset sky flaming over Frankfort.

"Nay, be pleasant with me," smiled the Emperor; he laid his arm
affectionately round the Margrave's huge shoulders. "Certes, since I
took this resolution not to go to Rome, I have nought but sour looks
from all, save Hugh."

Balthasar's good-humoured face cleared.

"Ye are wrong, my Prince; but God wot, I am not angered--we can manage
without Rome"---he heroically stifled his sigh--"and who knows that ye
may not change yet?" he added cheerfully. Ysabeau looked at them as
they paced up and down, their arms about each other, the golden locks
and the black almost touching, the gorgeous purple and red habit of
the Margrave against the quiet black garments of the Emperor.

She yawned as she looked, but her eyes were very bright; slowly she
rose and stretched her slender body while the red roses fell softly to
the ground, but she took no heed of them, fixing her gaze on the two
men; her husband seemed not to know of her presence, but the Margrave
was hotly conscious of her eyes upon him, and though he would not turn
his upon her, nevertheless, she marked it and, in a half-smiling way,
came and leant on the table that divided them.

The sunset flashed final beams that fell in flushing rosy lines on the
gold and silver goblets and dishes, struck the Empress's embroideries
into points of vivid light, and shone marvellously through Balthasar's
brilliant locks.

"Surely we are late to-night," said the Emperor.

"Yea," answered Balthasar; "I do not love to wait."

He stopped to pour himself a tankard of amber wine and drank it at a
draught.

Ysabeau watched him, then snatched up the fallen roses and laid them
on the cloth.

"Will not my lord also drink?" she asked; the fingers of her right
hand were hidden in the red flowers, with her left she raised a chased
flagon in which the sunlight burnt and sparkled. "As you please,
Princess," answered Melchoir, and gazed towards the light
indifferently. "Ye might have poured for me," murmured the Margrave in
a half voice.

Her hand came from the roses and touched a horn glass bound with
silver, it lingered there a moment, then rose to her bosom; Balthasar,
absorbing her face, did not notice the gesture.

"Another time," she answered, "I will serve you, Balthasar of
Courtrai." She filled the glass until the wine bubbled at the brim.
"Give it to my lord," she said.

Balthasar laughed uneasily; their fingers touched upon the glass, and
a few drops were spilled. "Take care!" cried the Empress.

Melchoir turned and took the goblet.

"Why did you say--take care?" he asked.

"Between us we upset the wine," said Ysabeau.

Melchoir drank.

"It has an ugly taste," he said.

She laughed.

"Is it the cupbearer, perchance?"

"The wine is good enough," put in Balthasar.

The Emperor drank again, then set it down.

"I say it is strange--taste it, Balthasar."

In an instant the Empress intervened.

"Nay"--she caught up the glass with a movement swifter than the
Margrave's--"since I poured, the fault--if fault there be--is mine."

"Give it to me!" cried Balthasar.

But she made a quick motion aside, the glass slipped from her fingers
and the wine was lost on the floor.

As Balthasar stooped to pick up the goblet, the Emperor smiled.

"I warn you of that flagon, Margrave."

The pages and varlets entered with the meats and set them on the
table; they who sat at the Emperor's board came to take their places;
Theirry followed his master and fixed quick eyes on the Emperor.

He knew that Melchoir had been abroad all day at the hunt and could
not have long returned, hardly could their designs upon him be put in
practice tonight; after the supper he meant to speak to Hugh of
Rooselaare, this as an earnest of his final severance with Dirk.

As the beautiful shining crowd settled to their seats, the young
secretary, whose place was behind his master's chair, took occasion to
note carefully the lord who was to receive his warning.

The candles, hanging in their copper circlets, were lit, and the ruddy
light shone over the company, while bright pages drew the curtains
over the last sunset glow.

Theirry marked the Empress, sitting languorously and stripping a red
rose of its petals; Melchoir, austere, composed, as always; Balthasar,
gay and noisy; then he turned his gaze on Hugh of Rooselaare.

That noble sat close to the Emperor. Theirry had not, so far, studied
his personal appearance though acquainted with his reputation;
observing him intently he saw a tall, well-made man dressed with
sombre elegance, a man with a strong, rather curious face framed in
straight, dull brown hair.

There was something in the turn of the features, the prominent chin,
dark, clear eyes, pale complexion and resolute set of the mouth that
gradually teased Theirry as he gazed; the whole expression reminded
him of another face, seen under different circumstances, whose he
could not determine.

Suddenly the Lord of Rooselaare, becoming aware of this scrutiny,
turned his singularly intent eyes in the direction of the young
scholar.

At once Theirry had it, he placed the likeness. In this manner had
Dirk Renswoude often looked at him.

The resemblance was unmistakable if elusive; this man's face was of
necessity sterner, darker, older and more set; he was of larger make,
moreover, than Dirk could ever be, his nose was heavier, his jaw more
square, yet the likeness, once noticed, could not be again overlooked.

It strangely discomposed Theirry, he felt he could not take his
warning to one who had Dirk's trick of the intense gaze and
inscrutable set of the lips; he considered if there were not some one
else--let him go straightway, he thought, to the Emperor himself.

His reflections were interrupted by a little movement near the table,
a pause in the converse. All eyes were turned to Melchoir of Brabant.

He leant back in his seat and stared before him as if he saw a sight
of horror at the other end of the table; he was quite pale, his mouth
open, his lips strained and purplish.

The Empress sprang up from beside him and caught his arm.

"Melchoir!" she shrieked. "Jesu, he does not bear me!"

Bahthasar rose in his place.

"My lord," he said hoarsely, "Melchoir."

The Emperor moved faintly like one struggling hopelessly under water.

"Melchoir!"--the Margrave pushed back his chair and seized his
friend's cold hand--"do you not hear us...will you not speak?"

"Balthasar"--the Emperor's voice came as if from depths of distance--
"I am bewitched!" Ysabeau shrieked and beat her hands together.

Melchoir sank forward, while his face glistened with drops of agony;
he gave a low crying sound and fell across the table.

With an instantaneous movement of fright and horror, the company rose
from their seats and pressed towards the Emperor.

But the Margrave shouted at them--

"Stand back--would you stifle him?--he is not dead, nor, God be
thanked, dying."

He lifted up the unconscious man and gazed eagerly into his face, as
he did so his own blanched despite his brave words; Melchoir's eyes
and cheeks had fallen hollow, a ghastly hue overspread his features,
his jaw dropped and his lips were cracked, as if his breath burnt the
blood.

The Empress shrieked again and again and wrung her hands; no one took
any heed of her, she was that manner of woman.

Attendants, with torches and snatched-up candles, white, breathless
ladies and eager men, pressed close about the Emperor's seat.

"We must take him hence," said Hugh of Rooselaare, with authority.
"Help me, Margrave." He forced his way to Balthasar's side.

The Empress had fallen to her husband's feet, a gleam of white and
silver against the dark trappings of the throne.

"What shall I do!" she moaned. "What shall I do!"

The Lord of Rooselaare glanced at her fiercely.

"Cease to whine and bring hither a physician and a priest," he
commanded.

Ysabeau crouched away from him and her purple eyes blazed.

The Margrave and Hugh lifted the Emperor between them; there was a
swaying confusion as chair and seats were pulled out, lights swung
higher, and a passage forced through the bewildered crowd for the two
nobles and their burden.

Some flung open the door of the winding stairway that ascended to the
Emperor's bedchamber, and slowly, with difficulty, Melchoir of Brabant
was borne up the narrow steps.

Ysabeau rose to her feet and watched it; Balthasar's gorgeous attire
flashing in the torchlight, Hugh of Rooselaare's stern pale face, her
husband's slack body and trailing white hands, the eager group that
pressed about the foot of the stairs.

She put her hands on her bosom and considered a moment, then ran
across the room and followed swiftly after the cumbrous procession.

It was now a quarter of an hour since the Emperor had fainted, and the
hall was left--empty. Only Theirry remained, staring about him with
sick eyes.

A flaring flambeau stuck against the wall cast a strong light over the
disarranged table, the disordered seats, scattered cushions and the
rich array of gold vessels; from without came sounds of hurrying to
and fro, shouted commands, voices rising and falling, the clink of
arms, the closing of doors.

Theirry crossed to the Emperor's seat where the gorgeous cushions were
thrown to right and left; in Ysabeau's place lay a single red rose,
half stripped of its leaves, a great cluster of red roses on the floor
beside it.

This was confirmation; he did not think there was any other place in
Frankfort where grew such blooms; so he was too late, Dirk might well
defy him, knowing that he would be too late.

His resolution was very quickly taken: he would be utterly silent, not
by a word or a look would he betray what he knew, since it would be
useless. What could save the Emperor now? It was one thing to give
warning of evil projected, another to reveal evil performed; besides,
he told himself, the Empress and her faction would be at once in
power--Dirk a high favourite.

He backed fearfully from the red roses, glowing sombrely by the empty
throne.

He would be very silent, because he was afraid; softly he crept to the
window-seat and stood there, motionless, his beautiful face
overclouded; in an agitated manner he bit his lip and reflected
eagerly on his own hopes and dangers...on how this affected him--and
Jacobea of Martzburg.

To the man, dying miserably above, he gave no thought at all; the
woman, who waited impatiently for her husband's death to put his
friend in his place, he did not consider, nor did the fate of the
kingship trouble him; he pictured Dirk as triumphant, potent, the
close ally of the wicked Empress, and he shivered for his own
treasured soul that he had just snatched from perdition; he knew he
could not fight nor face Dirk triumphant, armed with success, and his
outlook narrowed to the one idea--"let me get away."

"But where? Martzburg!"--would the chatelaine let him follow her? It
was too near Basle; he clasped his hands over his hot brow, calling on
Jacobea.

As he dallied and trembled with his fears and terrors, one entered the
hall from the little door leading to the Emperor's chamber.

Hugh of Rooselaare holding a lamp.

A feverish feeling of guilt made Theirry draw back, as if what he knew
might be written on his face for this man to read, this man whom he
had meant to warn of a disaster already befallen.

The Lord of Rooselaare advanced to the table; he was frowning
fiercely, about his mouth a dreadful look of Dirk that fascinated
Theirry's gaze.

Hugh held up the lamp, glanced down and along the empty seats, then
noticed the crimson flowers by Ysabeau's chair and picked them up.

As he raised his head his grey eyes caught Theirry's glance.

"Ah! the Queen's Chamberlain's scrivener," he said. "Do you chance to
know how these roses came here?"

"Nay," answered Theirry hastily. "I could not know."

"They do not grow in the palace garden," remarked Hugh; he laid them
on the throne and walked the length of the table, scrutinising the
dishes and goblets.

In the flare of flambeaux and candles there was no need for his lamp,
but he continued to hold it aloft as if he hoped it held some special
power.

Suddenly he stopped, and called to Theirry in his quiet, commanding
way.

The young man obeyed, unwillingly.

"Look at that," said Hugh of Rooselaare grimly.

He pointed to two small marks in the table, black holes in the wood.

"Burns," said Theirry, with pale lips, "from the candles, lord."

"Candles do not burn in such fashion." As he spoke Hugh came round the
table and cast the lamp-light over the shadowed floor.

"What is that?" He bent down before the window.

Theirry saw that he motioned to a great scar in the board, as if fire
had been flung and had bitten into the wood before extinguished.

The Lord of Rooselaare lifted a grim face.

"I tell you the flames that made that mark are now burning the heart
and blood out of Melchoir of Brabant."

"Do not say that--do not speak so loud!" cried Theirry desperately,
"it cannot be true." Hugh set his lamp upon the table.

"I am not afraid of the Eastern witch," he said sternly; "the man was
my friend and she has bewitched and poisoned him; now, God hear me,
and you, scrivener, mark my vow, if I do not publish this before the
land."

A new hope rose in Theirry's heart; if this lord would denounce the
Empress before power was hers, if her guilt could be brought home
before all men--yet through no means of his own--why, she and Dirk
might be defeated yet!

"Well," he said hoarsely, "make haste, lord, for when the breath is
out of the Emperor it is too late...she will have means to silence
you, and even now be careful...she has many champions."

Hugh of Rooselaare smiled slowly.

"You speak wisely, scrivener, and know, I think, something, hereafter
I shall question you." Theirry made a gesture for silence; a heavy
step sounded on the stair, and Balthasar, pallid but still
magnificent, swept into the room.

A great war-sword clattered after him, he wore a gorget and carried
his helmet; his blue eyes were wild in his colourless face; he gave
Hugh a look of some defiance.

"Melchoir is dying," he said, his tone rough with emotion, "and I must
go look after the soldiery or some adventurer will seize the town."

"Dying!" repeated Hugh. "Who is with him?"

"The Empress; they have sent for the bishop until he come none is to
enter the chamber." "By whose command?"

"By order of the Empress."

"Yet I will go."

The soldier paused at the doorway.

"Well, ye were his friend, belike she will let you in."

He swung away with a chink of steel.

"Belike she will not," said Hugh. "But I can make the endeavour."

With no further glance at the shuddering young man, who held himself
rigid against the wall, Hugh of Rooselaare ascended to the Emperor's
chamber.

He found the ante-room crowded with courtiers and monks; the Emperor's
door was closed, and before it stood two black mutes brought by the
Empress from Greece.

Hugh touched a black-robed brother on the arm. "By what authority are
we excluded from the Emperor's death-bed?"

Several answered him--

"The Queen! she claims to know as much of medicine as any of the
physicians."

"She is in possession."

Hugh shouldered his way through them.

"Certes, I must see him--and her."

But not one stepped forward to aid or encourage; Melchoir was beyond
protecting his adherents, he was no longer Emperor, but a man who
might be reckoned with the dead, the Empress and Balthasar of Courtrai
had already seized the governance, and who dared interfere; the great
nobles even held themselves in reserve and were silent.

But Hugh of Rooselaare's blood was up, he had always held Ysabeau
vile, nor had he any love for the Margrave, whose masterful hand he
saw in this.

"Since none of you will stand by me," he cried, speaking aloud to the
throng, "I will by myself enter, and by myself take the consequences!"

Some one answered--

"II think it is but folly, lord."

"Shall a woman hold us all at bay?" he cried. "What title has she to
rule in Frankfort?"

He advanced to the door with his sword drawn and ready, and the crowd
drew back neither supporting nor preventing; the slaves closed
together, and made a gesture warning him to retire. He seized one by
his gilt collar and swung him violently against the wall, then, while
the other crouched in fear, he opened the door and strode into the
Emperor's bed-chamber.

It was a low room, hung with gold and brown tapestry; the windows were
shut and the air faint; the bed stood against the wall, and the heavy,
dark curtains, looped back, revealed Melchoir of Brabant, lying in his
clothes on the coverlet with his throat bare and his eyes staring
across the room.

A silver lamp stood on a table by the window, and its faint radiance
was the only light.

On the steps of the bed stood Ysabeau; over her white dress she had
flung a long scarlet cloak, and her pale, bright hair had fallen on to
her shoulders.

At the sight of Hugh she caught hold of the bed-hangings and gazed at
him fiercely. He sheathed his sword as he came across the room.

"Princess, I must see the Emperor," he said sternly.

"He will see no man--he knows none nor can he speak," she answered,
her bearing prouder and more assured than he had ever known it. "Get
you gone, sir; I know not how ye forced an entry."

"You have no power to keep the nobles from their lord," he replied.
"Nor will I take your bidding."

She held herself in front of her husband so that her shadow obscured
his face.

"I will have you put without the doors if you so disturb the dying."

But Hugh of Rooselaare advanced to the bed. "Let me see him," he
demanded, "he speaks to me!"

Indeed, he thought that he heard from the depths of the great bed a
voice saying faintly---"Hugh, Hugh!"

The Empress drew the curtain, further concealing the dying man.

"He speaks to none. Begone!"

The Lord of Rooselaare came still nearer.

"Why is there no priest here?"

"Insolent! the bishop comes."

"Meanwhile he dies, and there are monks enow without."

As he spoke Hugh sprang lightly and suddenly on to the steps, pushed
aside the slight figure of the Empress and caught back the curtains.

"Melchoir!" he cried, and snatched up the Emperor by the shoulders.

"He is dead," breathed the Empress.

But Hugh continued to gaze into the distorted, hollow face, while with
eager fingers he pushed back the long, damp hair.

"He is dead," repeated Ysabeau, fearing nothing now.

With a slow step she went to the table and seated herself before the
silver lamp, while she uttered sigh on sigh and clasped her hands over
her eyes.

Then the hot stillness began to quiver with the distant sound of
numerous bells; they were holding services for the dying in every
church in Frankfort.

The Emperor stirred in Hugh's arms; without opening his eyes he
spoke--

"Pray for me...Balthasar. They did not slay me honourably--"

He raised his hands to his heart, to his lips, moaned and sank from
Hugh's arm on to the pillow.

"Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum," he murmured.

"Eum redemptio," finished Hugh.

"Amen," moaned Melchoir of Brabant, and so died. For a moment the
chamber was silent save for the insistent bells, then Hugh turned his
white face from the dead, and Ysabeau shivered to her feet.

"Call in the others," murmured the Empress, "since he is dead."

The Lord of Rooselaare descended from the bed. "Ay, I will call in the
others, thou Eastern witch, and show them the man thou hast murdered."

She stared at him a moment, her face like a mask of ivory set in the
glittering hair. "Murdered?" she said at last.

"Murdered!" He fingered his sword fiercely. "And it shall be my duty
to see you brought to the stake for this night's work."

She gave a shriek and ran towards the door. Before she reached it, it
was flung open, and Balthasar of Courtrai sprang into the room.

"You called?" he panted, his eyes blazing on Hugh of Rooselaare.

"Yes; he is dead--Melchoir is dead, and this lord says I slew him--
Balthasar, answer for me!" "Certes!" cried Hugh. "A fitting one to
speak for you--your accomplice!"

With a short sound of rage the Margrave dragged out his sword and
struck the speaker a blow across the breast with the flat of it.

"So ho!" he shouted, "it pleases you to lie!" He yelled to his men
without, and the death-chamber was filled with a clatter of arms that
drowned the mournful pealing of the bells. "Take away this lord, on my
authority."

Hugh drew his sword, only to have it wrenched away. The soldiers
closed round him and swept their prisoner from the chamber, while
Balthasar, flushed and furious, watched him dragged off. "I always
hated him," he said.

Ysabeau fell on her knees and kissed his mailed feet.

"Melchoir is dead, and I have no champion save you."

The Margrave stooped and raised her, his face burning with blushes
till it was like a great rose. "Ysabeau, Ysabeau!" he stammered.

She struggled out of his arms.

"Nay, not now," she whispered in a stifled voice, "not now can I speak
to you, but afterwards--my lord! my lord!"

She went to the bed and flung herself across the steps, her face
hidden in her hands. Balthasar took off his helmet, crossed himself
and humbly bent his great head.

Melchoir IV lay stiffly on the lily-sewn coverlet, and without the
great bells tolled and the monks' chant rose.

"De Profundis..."



CHAPTER XVIII



THE PURSUIT OF JACOBEA

The chatelaine of Martzburg sat in the best guest-chamber of a wayside
hostel that lay a few hours' journeying from her home. Outside the
rain dripped in the trees and a cold mountain wind shook the
signboard. Jacobea trimmed the lamp, drew the curtains, and began
walking up and down the room; the inner silence broken only by the
sound of her footfall and an occasional sharp patter as the rain fell
on to the bare hearth.

So swiftly had she fled from Frankfort that its last scenes were still
before her eyes like a gorgeous and disjointed pageant; the Emperor
stricken down at the feast, the brief, flashing turmoil, Ysabeau's
peerless face, that her own horrid thoughts coloured with a sinister
expression, Balthasar of Courtrai bringing the city to his feet--Hugh
of Rooselaare snatched away to a dungeon--and over it all the leaping
red light of a hundred flambeaux.

She herself was free here of everything save the sound of the rain,
yet she must needs think of and brood on the tumult she had left.

The quiet about her now, the distance she had put between herself and
Frankfort, gave her no sense of peace or safety; she strove, indeed,
with a feeling of horror, as if they from whom she had fled were about
her still, menacing her in this lonely room.

Presently she passed into the little bed-chamber and took up a mirror
into which she gazed long and earnestly.

"Is it a wicked face?"

She answered herself--

"No, no."

"Is it a weak face?"

"Alas!"

The wind rose higher, fluttered the lamp-flame and stirred the arras
on the wall; and laying the mirror down she returned to the outer
chamber. Her long hair that hung down her back was the only bright
thing in the gloomy apartment where the tapestry was old and dusty,
the furniture worn and faded; she wore a dark dress of embroidered
purple, contrasting with her colourless face; only her yellow locks
glittered as the lamplight fell on them.

The wind rose yet higher, struggled at the casement, seized and shook
the curtains and whistled in the chimney.

Up and down walked Jacobea of Martzburg, clasping and unclasping her
soft young hands, her grey eyes turning from right to left.

It was very cold, blowing straight from the great mountains the dark
hid; she wished she had asked for a fire and that she had kept one of
the women to sleep with her--it was so lonely, and the sound of the
rain reminded her of that night at Martzburg when the two scholars had
been given shelter. She wanted to go to the door and call some one,
but a curious heaviness in her limbs began to make movement irksome;
she could no longer drag her steps, and with a sigh she sank into the
frayed velvet chair by the fireplace.

She tried to tell herself that she was free, that she was on her way
to escape, but could not form the words on her lips, hardly the
thought; her head throbbed, and a Cold sensation gripped her heart;
she moved in the chair, only to feel as if held down in it; she
struggled in vain to rise. "Barbara!" she whispered, and thought she
was calling aloud.

A gathering duskiness seemed to overspread the chamber, and the
tongue-shaped flame of the lamp showed through it distinct yet very
far away; the noise of the wind and rain made one long insistent
murmur and moaning.

Jacobea laughed drearily, and lifted her hands to her bosom to try to
find the crucifix that hung there, but her fingers were like lead, and
fell uselessly into her lap again.

Her brain whirled with memories, with anticipations and vague
expectations, tinged with fear like the sensations of a dream; she
felt that she was sinking into soft infolding darkness; the lamp-flame
changed into a fire-pointed star that rested on a knight's helm, the
sound of wind and rain became faint human cries.

She whispered, as the dying Emperor had done---"I am bewitched."

Then the Knight, with the star glittering above his brow, came towards
her and offered her a goblet.

"Sebastian!" she cried, and sat up with a face of horror; the chamber
was spinning about her; she saw the Knight's long painted shield and
his bare hand holding out the wine; his visor was down.

She shrieked and laughed together, and put the goblet aside.

Some one spoke out of the mystery.

"The Empress found happiness--why not you?--may not a woman die as
easily as a man?"

She tried to remember her prayers, to find her crucifix; but the cold
edge of the gold touched her lips, and she drank.

The hot wine scorched her throat and filled her with strength; as she
sprang up the Knight's star quivered back into the lamp-flame, the
vapours cleared from the room; she found herself staring at Dirk
Renswoude, who stood in the centre of the room and smiled at her.

"Oh!" she cried in a bewildered way, and put her hands to her
forehead.

"Well," said Dirk; he held a rich gold goblet, empty, and his was the
voice she had already heard. "Why did you leave Frankfort?"

Jacobea shuddered.

"I do not know;" her eyes were blank and dull. "I think I was afraid

"Lest you might do as Ysabeau did?" asked Dirk.

"What has happened to me?" was all her answer. All sound without had
ceased; the light burnt clear and steadily, casting its faint radiance
over the slim outlines of the young man and the shuddering figure of
the lady.

"What of your steward?" whispered Dirk.

She responded mechanically as if she spoke by rote. "I have no
steward. I am going alone to Martzburg."

"What of Sebastian?" urged the youth.

Jacobea was silent; she came slowly down the chamber, guiding herself
with one hand along the wall, as though she could not see; the wind
stirred the arras under her fingers and ruffled her gown about her
feet.

Dirk set the goblet beside the lamp the while he watched her intently
with frowning eyes. "What of Sebastian?" he repeated. "Ye fled from
him, but have ye ceased to think of him?" "No," said the chatelaine of
Martzburg; "no, day and night--what is God, that He lets a man's face
to come between me and Him?"

"The Emperor is dead," said Dirk.

"Is dead," she repeated.

"Ysabeau knows how."

"Ah!" she whispered. "I think I knew it."

"Shall the Empress be happy and you starve your heart to death?"

Jacobea sighed. "Sebastian! Sebastian!" She had the look of one
walking in sleep. "What is Sybilla to you?"

"His wife," answered Jacobea in the same tone; "his wife."

"The dead do not bind the living." Jacobea laughed.

"No, no--how cold it is here; do you not feel the wind across the
floor?" Her fingers wandered aimless over her bosom. "Sybilla is dead,
you say?"

"Nay--Sybilla might die--so easily."

Jacobea laughed again.

"Ysabeau did it--she is young and fair," she said. "And she could do
it--why not I? But I cannot bear to look on death."

Her expressionless eyes turned on Dirk still in sightless fashion.

"A word," said Dirk--"that is all your part; send him ahead to
Martzburg."

Jacobea nodded aimlessly.

"Why not?--why not?--Sybilla would be in bed, lying awake, listening
to the wind as I have done---so often--and he would come up the steep,
dark stairs. Oh, and she would raise her head--"

Dirk put in--

"Has the chatelaine spoken?' she would say, and he would make an end
of it."

"Perhaps she would be glad to die," said Jacobea dreamily. "I have
thought that I should be glad to die."

"And Sebastian?" said Dirk.

Her strangely altered face lit and changed.

"Does he care for me?" she asked piteously.

"Enough to make life and death of little moment," answered Dirk. "Has
he not followed you from Frankfort?"

"Followed me?" murmured Jacobea. "I thought he had forsaken me."

"He is here."

"Here--here?" She turned, her movements still curiously blind, and the
long strand of her hair shone on her dark gown as she stood with her
back to the light.

"Sebastian," said Dirk softly.

He waved his little hand, and the steward appeared in the dark doorway
of the inner room; he looked from one to the other swiftly, and his
face was flushed and dangerous.

"Sebastian," said Jacobea; there was no change in voice nor
countenance; she was erect and facing him, yet it might well be she
did not see him, for there seemed no life in her eyes.

He came across the room to her, speaking as he came, but a sudden
fresh gust of wind without scattered his words.

"Have you followed me?" she asked.

"Yea," he answered hoarsely, staring at her; he had not dreamed a
living face could look so white as hers, no, nor dead face either. He
dropped to one knee before her, and took her limp hand.

"Shall we be free to-night?" she asked gently.

"You have but to speak," he said. "So much will I do for you."

She bent forward, and with her other hand touched his tumbled hair.

"Lord of Martzburg and my lord," she said, and smiled sweetly. "Do you
know how much I love you, Sebastian? why, you must ask the image of
the Virgin--I have told her so often, and no one else; nay, no one
else."

Sebastian sprang to his feet.

"Oh God!" he cried. "I am ashamed--ye have bewitched her--she knows
not what she says." Dirk turned on him fiercely.

"Did ye not curse me when ye thought she had escaped? did I not swear
to recover her for you? is she not yours? Saint Gabriel cannot save
her now."

"If she had not said that," muttered Sebastian; he turned distracted
eyes upon her standing with no change in her expression, the tips of
her fingers resting on the table; her wide grey eyes gazing before
her.

"Fool," answered Dirk; "an' she did not love you, what chance had you?
I left my fortunes to help you to this prize, and I will not see you
palter now--lady, speak to him."

"Ay, speak to me," cried Sebastian earnestly; "tell me if it be your
wish that I, at all costs, should become your husband, tell me if it
is your will that the woman in our way should go." A slow passion
stirred the calm of her face; her eyes glittered.

"Yes," she said; "yes."

"Jacobea!"--he took her arm and drew her close to him--"look me in the
face and repeat that to me; think if it is worth--Hell--to you and
me."

She gazed up at him, then hid her face on his sleeve.

"Ay, Hell," she answered heavily; "go to Martzburg to-night; she
cannot claim you when she is dead; how I have striven not to hate
her--my lord, my husband." She clung to him like a sleepy child that
feels itself falling into oblivion. "Now it is all over, is it not?--
the unrest, the striving. Sebastian beware of the storm--it blows so
loud."

He put her from him into the worn old chair. "I will come back to
you--to-morrow." "To-morrow," she repeated--"when the sun is up."

The wind rushed between them and made the lamp-flame leap wildly.

"Make haste!" cried Dirk; "away--the horse is below."

But Sebastian still gazed at Jacobea.

"It is done," said Dirk impatiently, "begone."

The steward turned away.

"They are all asleep below?" he questioned.

"Nor will they wake."

Sebastian opened the door on to the dark stairway and went softly out.

"Now, it is done," repeated Dirk in a swelling whisper, "and she is
lost."

He snatched up the lamp, and, holding it aloft, looked down at the
drooping figure in the chair; Jacobea's head sank back against the
tarnished velvet; there was a smile on her white lips, and her hands
rested in her lap; even with Dirk's intent face bending over her and
the full light pouring down on her, she did not look up.

"Gold hair and grey eyes--and her little feet," murmured Dirk; "one of
God's own flowers---what are you now?"

He laughed to himself and reset the lamp on the table; the lull in the
storm was over, wind and rain strove together in the bare trees, and
the howlings of the tempest shook the long bare room. Jacobea moved in
her seat.

"Is he gone?" she asked fearfully.

"Certes, he has gone," smiled Dirk. "Would you have him daily on such
an errand?" Jacobea rose swiftly and stood a moment listening to the
unhappy wind.

"I thought he was here," she said under her breath. "I thought that he
had come at last." "He came," said Dirk.

The chatelaine looked swiftly round at him; there was a dawning
knowledge in her eyes. "Who are you?" she demanded, and her voice had
lost its calm; "what has happened?" "Do you not remember me?" smiled
Dirk.

Jacobea staggered back.

"Why," she stammered, "he was here, down at my feet, and we spoke--
about Sybilla." "And now," said Dirk, "he has gone to free you of
Sybilla--as you bid him."

The Pursuit of Jacobea

"As I bid him?"

Dirk clasped his cloak across his breast.

"At this moment he rides to Martzburg on this service of yours, and I
must begone to Frankfort where my fortunes wait. For you, these words:
should you meet again one Theirry, a pretty scholar, do not prate to
him of God and Judgment, nor try to act the saint. Let him alone, he
is no matter of yours, and maybe some woman cares for him as ye care
for Sebastian, ay, and will hold him, though she have not yellow
hair."

Jacobea uttered a moan of anguish.

"I bid him go," she whispered. "Did God utterly forsake me and I bid
him go?"

She gave Dirk a wild look over her shoulders, huddling them to her
ears, as she crouched upon the floor.

"You are the Devil!" she shrieked. "I have delivered myself unto the
Devil!"

She beat her hands together, and fell towards his feet.

Dirk stepped close and peered curiously into her unconscious face.

"Why, she is not so fair," he murmured, "and grief will spoil her
bloom, and 'twas only her face he loved."

He extinguished the lamp and smiled into the darkness.

"I do think God is very weak."

He drew the curtain away from the deep-set window, and the moon,
riding the storm clouds like a silver armoured Amazon, cast a ghastly
light over the huddled figure of Jacobea of Martzburg, and threw her
shadow dark and trailing across the cold floor. Dirk left the chamber
and the hostel unseen and unheard. The wind made too great a clamour
for stray sounds to tell. Out in the wild, wet night he paused a
moment to get his bearings; then turned towards the shed where he and
Sebastian had left their horses.

The trees and the sign-board creaked and swung together; the long
lances of the rain struck his face and the wind dashed his hair into
his eyes, but he sang to himself under his breath with a joyous note.

The angry triumphant moon, casting her beams down the clouds, served
to light the hittle wooden shed--the inn-stable--built against the
rocks.

There were the chatelaine's horses asleep in their stalls, here was
his own; but the place beside it where Sebastian's steed had waited
was empty.

Dirk, shivering a little in the tempest, unfastened his horse, and was
preparing to depart, when a near sound arrested him.

Some one was moving in the straw at the back of the shed.

Dirk listened, his hand on the bridle, till a moonbeam striking across
his shoulder revealed a cloaked figure rising from the ground.

"Ah," said Dirk softly, "who is this?"

The stranger got to his feet.

"I have but taken shelter here, sir," he said, "deeming it too late to
rouse the hostel--" "Theirry!" cried Dirk, and laughed excitedly.
"Now, this is strange--"

The figure came forward.

"Theirry--yes; have you followed me?" he exclaimed wildly, and his
face showed drawn and wan in the silver light. "I left Frankfort to
escape you; what fiend's trick has brought you here?" Dirk softly
stroked his horse's neck.

"Are you afraid of me, Theirry?" he asked mournfully. "Certes, there
is no need." But Theirry cried out at him with the fierceness of one
at bay--

"Begone, I want none of you nor of your kind; I know how the Emperor
died, and I fled from a city where such as you come to power, ay, even
as Jacobea of Martzburg did--I am come after her."

"And where think you to find her?" asked Dirk.

"By now she is at Basle."

"Are ye not afraid to go to Basle?"

Theirry trembled, and stepped back into the shadows of the shed.

"I want to save my soul; no, I am not afraid; if need be, I will
confess."

Dirk laughed.

"At the shrine of Jacobea of Martzburg? Look to it she be not trampled
in the mire by then." "You lie, you malign her!" cried the other in
strong agitation.

But Dirk turned on him with imperious sternness. "I did not leave
Frankfort on a fool's errand--I was triumphant, at the high tide of my
fortunes, my foot on Ysabeau's neck. I had good reason to have left
this alone. Come with me to Martzburg and see my work, and know the
saint you worship."

"To Martzburg?" Theirry's voice had terror in it.

"Certes--to Martzburg." Dirk began to lead hi horse into the open.

"Is the chatelaine there?"

"If not yet, she will be soon; take one of these horses," he added.

"I know not your meaning," answered fearfully; "but my road was to
Martzburg. I mean to pray Jacobea, who left without a word to me, to
give me some small place in her service." "Belike she will," mocked
Dirk.

"You shall not go alone," cried Theirry, becoming more distracted,
"for no good purpose can you be pursuing her."

"I asked your company."

Impatiently and feverishly Theirry unfastened and prepared himself a
mount.

"If ye have evil designs on her," he cried, "be very sure ye will be
defeated, for her strength is as the strength of angels."

Dirk delicately guided his steed out of the shod; the moon had at last
conquered the cloud battalions, and a clear cold light revealed the
square dark shape of the hostel, the flapping sign, the bare pine-
trees and the long glimmer of the road; Dirk's eyes turned to the
blank window of the room where Jacobea lay, and he smiled wickedly.

"The night has cleared," he said, as Theirry, leading one of the
chatelaine's horses, came out of the stable; "and we should reach
Martzburg before the dawn."



CHAPTER XIX



SYBILLA

Sebastian paused on the steep, dark stairs and listened.

Castle Martzburg was utterly silent; he knew that there were one or
two servants only within the walls, and that they slept at a distance;
he knew that his cautious entry by the donjon door had made no sound,
yet on every other step or so he stood still and listened.

He had procured a light; it fluttered in danger of extinction in the
draughty stairway, and he had to shield it with his hand.

Once, when he stopped, he took from his belt the keys that had gained
him admission and slipped them into the bosom of his doublet; hanging
at his waist, they made a little jingling sound as he moved.

When he gained the great hall he opened the door as softly and slowly
as if he did not know emptiness alone awaited him the other side.

He entered, and his little light only served to show the expanses of
gloom.

It was very cold; he could hear the rain falling in a thin stream from
the lips of the gargoyles without; he remembered that same sound on
the night the two students took shelter; the night when the deed he
was about to do had by a devil, in a whisper, been first put into his
head.

He crossed to the hearth and set the lamp in the niche by the chimney-
piece; he wished there was a fire--certainly it was cold.

The dim rays of the lamp showed the ashes on the hearth, the cushions
in the window-seat, and something that, even in that dullness, shone
with fiery hue.

Sebastian looked at it in a half horror: it was Sybilla's red lily,
finished and glowing from a samite cushion; by the side of it slept
Jacobea's little grey cat.

The steward gazing in curiously intent fashion recalled the fact that
he had never conversed with his wife and never liked her; he could not
tell of one sharp word between them, yet had she said she hated him he
would have felt no surprise; he wondered, in case he had ever loved
her, would he have been here to-night on this errand.

Lord of Martzburg!--lord of as fine a domain as any in the empire,
with a chance of the imperial crown itself--nay, had he loved his wife
it would have made no difference; what sorry fool even would let a
woman interfere with a great destiny--Lord of Martzburg.

With little reflection on the inevitable for his wife, he fell to
considering Jacobea; until to-night she had been a cipher to him--that
she favoured him a mere voucher for his crime; for the procuring of
this or that for him--a fact to be accepted and used; but that she
should pray about him--speak as she had--that was another matter, and
for the first time in his cold life he was both moved and ashamed. His
thin, dark face flushed; he looked askance at the red lily and took
the light from its niche.

The shadows seemed to gather and throng out of the silence, bearing
down on him and urging him forward; he found the little door by the
fireplace open, and ascended the steep stone stairs to his wife's
room.

Here there was not even the drip of the rain or the wail of the wind
to disturb the stillness; he had taken off his boots, and his silk-
clad feet made no sound, but he could not hush the catch of his breath
and the steady thump of his heart.

When he reached her room he paused again, and again listened.

Nothing--how could there be? Had he not come so softly even the little
cat had slept on undisturbed?

He opened the door and stepped in.

It was a small, low chamber; the windows were unshrouded, and fitful
moonlight played upon the floor; Sebastian looked at once towards the
bed, that stood to his left; it was hung with dark arras, now drawn
back from the pillows.

Sybilla was asleep; her thick, heavy hair lay outspread under her
cheek; her flesh and the bedclothes were turned to one dazzling
whiteness by the moon.

Worked into the coverlet, that had slipped half to the polished floor,
were great wreaths of purple roses, showing dim yet gorgeous.

Her shoes stood on the bed steps; her clothes were flung over a chair;
near by a crucifix hung against the wall, with her breviary on a shelf
beneath.

The passing storm clouds cast luminous shadows across the chamber; but
they were becoming fainter, the tempest was dying away. Sebastian put
the lamp on a low coffer inside the door and advanced to the bed.

A large dusky mirror hung beside the window, and in it he could see
his wife again, reflected dimly in her ivory whiteness with the dark
lines of her hair and brows.

He came to the bedside so that his shadow was flung across her
sleeping face.

"Sybilla," he said.

Her regular breathing did not change.

"Sybilla."

A swift cloud obscured the moon; the sickly rays of the lamp struggled
with darkness. "Sybilla."

Now she stirred; he heard her fetch a sigh as one who wakens
reluctantly from soft dreams. "Do you not hear me speak, Sybilla?"

From the bewildering glooms of the bed he heard her silk bed-clothes
rustle and slip; the moon came forth again and revealed her sitting
up, wide awake now and staring at him.

"So you have come home, Sebastian?" she said. "Why did you rouse me?"

He looked at her in silence; she shook back her hair from her eyes.

"What is it?" she asked softly.

"The Emperor died," said Sebastian.

"I know--what is that to me? Bring the light, Sebastian; I cannot see
your face."

"There is no need; the Emperor had not time to pray, I would not deal
so with you, therefore I woke you."

"Sebastian!"

"By my mistress's commands you must die tonight, and by my desire; I
shall be Lord of Martzburg, and there is no other way--"

She moved her head, and, peering forward, tried to see his face.

"Make your peace with Heaven," he said hoarsely; "for to-morrow I must
go to her a free man."

She put her hand to her long throat.

"I wondered if you would ever say this to me--I did not think so, for
it did not enter my mind that she could give commands."

"Then you knew?"

Sybilla smiled.

"Before ever you did, Sebastian, and I have so thought of it, in these
long days when I have been alone, it seemed that I must sew it even
into my embroideries--'Jacobea loves Sebastian.'" He gripped the bed-
post.

"It is the strangest thing," said his wife, "that she should love
you--you--and send you here to-night; she was a gracious maiden."

"I am not here to talk of that," answered Sebastian; "nor have we
long--the dawn is not far off."

Sybilla rose, setting her long feet on the bed step.

"So I must die," she said--"must die. Certes! I have not lived so ill
that I should fear to die, nor so pleasantly that I should yearn to
live; it will be a poor thing in you to kill me, but no shame to me to
be slain, my lord."

As she stood now against the shadowed curtains her hair caught the
lamplight and flashed into red gold about her colourless face;
Sebastian looked at her with hatred and some terror, but she smiled
strangely at him.

"You never knew me, Sebastian, but I am very well acquainted with you,
and I do scorn you so utterly that I am sorry for the chatelaine."

"She and I will manage that," answered Sebastian fiercely; "and if you
seek to divert or delay me by this talk it is useless, for I am
resolved, nor will I be moved."

"I do not seek to move you, nor do I ask you for my life. I have ever
been dutiful, have I not?" "Do not smile at me!" he cried. "You should
hate me."

She shook her head.

"Certes! I hate you not."

She moved from the bed, in the long linen garment that she wore, slim
and childish to see. She took a wrap of gold-coloured silk from a
chair and put it about her. The man gazed at her the while with sullen
eyes.

She glanced at the crucifix.

"I have nothing to say; God knows it all. I am ready."

"I do not want your soul," he cried.

Sybilla smiled.

"I made confession yesterday. How cold it is for this time of the
year!--I do not shiver for fear, my lord."

She put on her shoes, and as she stooped her brilliant hair fell and
touched the patch of fading moonshine.

"Make haste," breathed Sebastian.

His wife raised her face.

"How long have we been wed?" she asked.

"Let that be."

He paled and bit his lip.

"Three years--nay, not three years. When I am dead give my
embroideries to Jacobea, they are in these coffers; I have finished
the red lily--I was sewing it when the two scholars came, that night
she first knew--and you first knew--but I had known a long while."

Sebastian caught up the lamp.

"Be silent or speak to God," he said.

She came gently across the floor, holding the yellow silk at her
breast.

"What are you going to do with me?" she whispered. "Strangle me?--nay,
they would see that---afterwards."

Sebastian went to a little door that opened beside the bed and pulled
aside the arras. "That leads to the battlements," she said.

He pointed to the dark steps.

"Go up, Sybilla."

He held the lamp above his haggard face, and the light of it fell over
the narrow winding stone steps; she looked at them and ascended.
Sebastian followed, closing the door after him. In a few moments they
were out on the donjon roof.

The vast stretch of sky was clear now and paling for the dawn; faint
pale clouds clustered round the dying moon, and the scattered stars
pulsed wearily.

Below them lay the dark masses of the other portions of the castle,
and beside them rose the straining pole and wind-tattered banner of
Jacobea of Martzburg.

Sybilla leant against the battlements, her hair fluttering over her
face.

"How cold it is!" she said in a trembling voice. "Make haste, my
lord."

He was shuddering, too, in the keen, insistent wind.

"Will you not pray?" he asked again.

"No," she answered, and looked at him vacantly. "If I shriek would any
one hear me?--Will it be more horrible than I thought? Make haste--
make haste,--or I shall be afraid."

She crouched against the stone, shivering violently. Sebastian put the
lamp upon the ground. "Take care it does not go out," she said, and
laughed. "You would not like to find your way back in the dark--the
little cat will be sorry for me."

She broke off to watch what he was doing.

A portion of the tower projected; here the wall was of a man's height,
and pierced with arblast holes; through there Sybilla had often looked
and seen the country below framed in the stone like a picture in a
letter of an hore, so small it seemed, and yet clear and brightly
coloured.

Beneath the wall was a paving-stone, raised at will by an iron ring;
when lifted it revealed a sheer open drop the entire height of the
donjon, through which stones and fire could be hurled in time of siege
upon the assailants in the courtyard below; but Jacobea had always
shuddered at it, nor had there been occasion to open it for many
years.

Sybilla saw her husband strain at the ring and bend over the hole, and
stepped forward. "Must it be that way?--O Jesu! Jesu! shall I not be
afraid?"

She clasped her hands and fixed her eyes on the figure of Sebastian as
he raised the slab and revealed the black aperture; quickly he stepped
back as stone rang on stone.

"So," he said; "I shall not touch you, and it will be swiftly over--
walk across, Sybilla." She closed her eyes and drew a long breath.

"Have you not the courage?" he cried violently. "Then I must hurl you
from the battlements...it shall not look like murder. . ."

She turned her face to the beautiful brightening sky.

"My soul is not afraid, but...how my body shrinks!--I do not think I
can do it. . ."

He made a movement towards her; at that she gathered herself.

"No--you shall not touch me."

Across the donjon roof she walked with a firm step.

"Farewell, Sebastian; may God assoil me and thee."

She put her hands to her face and moaned as her foot touched the edge
of the hole...no shriek nor cry disturbed the serenity of the night,
she made no last effort to save herself; but disappeared silently to
the blackness of her death.

Sebastian listened to the strange indefinite sound of it, and drops of
terror gathered on his brow; then all was silent again save for the
monotonous flap of the banner.

"Lord of Martzburg," he muttered to steady himself; "Lord of
Martzburg."

He dropped the stone into place, picked up the lantern and returned
down the close, cold stairs. Her room...on the pillow the mark where
her head had lain, her clothes over the coffer; well, he hated her, no
less than he had ever done; to the last she had shamed him; why had he
been so long?--too long--soon some one would be stirring, and he must
be far from Martzburg before they found Sybilla.

He crept from the chamber with the same unnecessary stealth he had
observed in entering, and in a cautious manner descended the stairs to
the great hall.

To reach the little door that had admitted him he must traverse nearly
half the castle; he cursed the distance, and the grey light that crept
in through every window he passed and revealed to him his own shaking
hand holding the useless lamp. Martzburg, his castle soon to be, had
become hateful to him; always had he found it too vast, too empty; but
now he would fill it as Jacobea had never done; the knights and her
kinsfolk who had ever overlooked him should be his guests and his
companions.

The thoughts that chased through his brain took curious turns; Jacobea
was the Emperor's ward...but the Emperor was dead, should he wed her
secretly and how long need he wait?...Sybilla was often on the donjon
keep, let it seem that she had fallen ... none had seen him come, none
would see him go...and Jacobea, strangest thing of all (he seemed to
hear Sybilla saying it) that she should love him...

The pale glow of a dreary dawn filled the great hall as he entered it;
the grey cat was still asleep, and the shining silks of the red lily
shone like the hair of the strange woman who had worked it patiently
into the samite. He tiptoed across the hall, descended the wider
stairs and made his way to the first chamber of the donjon.

Carefully he returned the lamp to the niche where he had found it;
wondering, as he extinguished it, if any would note that it had been
burnt that night; carefully he drew on his great muddy boots and crept
out by the little postern door into the court.

So sheltered was the castle, and situated in so peaceful a place, that
when the chatelaine was not within the walls the huge outer gates that
required many men to close them stood open on to the hillside; beyond
them Sebastian saw his patient horse, fastened to the ring of the bell
chain, and beyond him the clear grey-blue hills and trees.

His road lay open; yet he closed the door slowly behind him and
hesitated. He strove with a desire to go and look at her; he knew just
how she had fallen...when he had first come to Martzburg, the hideous
hole in the battlements exercised a great fascination over him; he had
often flung down stones, clods of grass, even once a book, that he
might hear the hollow whistling sound and imagine a furious enemy
below.

Afterwards he had noticed these things and how they struck the bottom
of the shaft,--lying where she would be now; he desired to see her,
yet loathed the thought of it; there was his horse, there the open
road, and Jacobea waiting a few miles away, yet he must linger while
the accusing daylight gathered about him, while the rising sun
discovered him; he must dally with the precious moments, bite the ends
of his black hair, frown and stare at the round tower of the donjon
the other side of which she lay.

At last he crossed the rough cobbles; skirted the keep and stood
still, looking at her.

Yes--he had pictured her; yet he saw her more distinctly than he had
imagined he would in this grey light. Her hair and her cloak seemed to
be wrapped close about her; one hand still clung to her face; her feet
showed bare and beautiful.

Sebastian crept nearer; he wanted to see her face and if her eyes were
open; to be certain, also, if that dark red that lay spread on the
ground was all her scattered locks...the light was treacherous.

He was stooping to touch her when the quick sound of an approaching
horseman made him draw back and glance round.

But before he could even tell himself it were well to fly they were
upon him; two horsemen, finely mounted, the foremost Dirk Renswoude,
bare-headed, a rich colour in his cheek and a sparkle in his eyes; he
reined up the slim brown horse.

"So--it is done?" he cried, leaning from the saddle towards Sebastian.

The steward stepped back.

"Whom have you with you?" he asked in a shaking voice.

"A friend of mine and a suitor to the chatelaine---f which folly you
and I shall cure him." Theirry pressed forward, the hoofs of his
striving horse making musical clatter on the cobbles. "The steward!"
he cried; "and..."

His voice sank; he turned burning eyes on Dirk.

"--the steward's wife that was," smiled the youth. "But, certes! you
must do him worship now, he will be Lord of Martzburg."

Sebastian was staring at Sybilla.

"You tell too much," he muttered.

"Nay, my friend is one with me, and I can answer for his silence."
Dirk patted the horse's neck and laughed again; laughter with a high
triumphant note in it.

Theirry swung round on him in a desperate, bitter fierceness.

"Why have you brought me here? Where is the chatelaine?--by God His
saints that woman has been murdered. . ."

Dirk turned in the saddle and faced him.

"Ay, and by Jacobea of Martzburg's commands."

Theirry laughed aloud.

"The lie is dead as you give it being," he answered--"nor can all your
devilry make it live." "Sebastian," said Dirk, "has not this woman
come to her death by the chatelaine's commands?" He pointed to
Sybilla.

"You know it, since in your presence she bade me hither," answered
Sebastian heavily. Dirk's voice rose clear and musical.

"You see your piece of uprightness thought highly of her steward, and
that she might endow him with her hand his wife must die--"

"Peace! peace!" cried Sebastian fiercely, and Theirry rose in his
saddle.

"It is a lie!" he repeated wildly. "If 'tis not a lie God has turned
His face from me, and I am lost indeed!

"If 'tis no lie," cried Dirk exultingly, "you are mine--did ye not
swear it?"

"An' she be this thing you name her," answered Theirry passionately--
"then the Devil is cunning indeed, and I his servant; but if you speak
false I will kill you at her feet."

"And by that will I abide," smiled Dirk. "Sebastian, you shall return
with us to give this news to your mistress."

"Is she not here?" cried Theirry.

Dirk pointed to the silver-plated harness.

"You ride her horse. See her arms upon his breast. Sweet fool, we left
her behind in the hostel, waiting the steward's return..."

"All ways ye trap and deceive me," exclaimed Theirry hotly.

"Let us begone," said Sebastian; he looked at Dirk as if at his
master. "Is it not time for us to begone?"

It was full daylight now, though the sun had not yet risen above the
hills; the lofty walls and high towers of the huge grey castle blocked
up the sky and threw into the gloom the three in their shadow.

"Hark!" said Dirk, and lifted his finger delicately. Again the sound
of a horse approaching on the long white road, the rise and fall of
the quick trot bitterly distinct in the hard stillness.

"Who is this?" whispered Sebastian; he caught Dirk's bridle as if he
found protection in the youth's near presence, and stared towards the
blank open gates.

A white horse appeared against the cold misty background of grey
Country; a woman was in the saddle: Jacobea of Martzburg.

She paused, peered up at the high little windows in the donjon, then
turned her gaze on the silent three.

"Now can the chatelaine speak for herself," breathed Dirk.

Theirry gave a great sigh, his eyes fixed with a painful intensity on
the approaching lady, but she did not seem to see either of them.

"Sebastian," she cried, and drew rein gazing at him, "where is your
wife?"

Her words rang on the cold, clear air like strokes on a bell.

"Sybilla died last night," answered the steward, "but I did nought.
And you should not have come."

Jacobea shaded her brows with her gloved hand and stared past the
speaker.

Theirry broke out in a trembling passion.

"In the name of the angels in whose company I ever placed you, what do
you know of this that has been done?"

"What is that on the ground?" cried Jacobea. "Sybilla--he has slain
Sybilla--but, sirs,"--she--looked round her distractedly--"ye must not
blame him--he saw my wish..." "From your own lips!" cried Theirry.

"Who are you who speak?" she demanded haughtily. "I sent him to slay
Sybilla..." She interrupted herself with a hideous shriek. "Sebastian,
ye are stepping in her blood!"

And, letting go of the reins, she sank from the saddle; the steward
caught her, and as she slipped from his hold to her knees her
unconscious head came near to the stiff white feet of the dead.

"Her yellow hair!" cried Dirk. "Let us leave her to her steward--you
and I have another way!" "May God curse her as He has me," said
Theirry in an agony,--"for she has slain my hope of heaven!"

"You will not leave me?" called Sebastian. "What shall I say?--what
shall I do?"

"Lie and lie again!" answered Dirk with a wild air; "wed the dame and
damn her people--let fly your authority and break her heart as quickly
as you may--"

"Amen to that!" added Theirry.

"And now to Frankfort!" cried Dirk, exultant. They set their horses to
a furious pace and galloped out of Castle Martzburg.



CHAPTER XX



HUGH OF ROOSELAARE

Dirk took off his riding-coat and listened with a smile to the quick
step of Theirry overhead; he was again in the long low chamber looking
out on the witch's garden, and nothing was changed save that the roses
bloomed no longer on the bare thorny bushes.

"So you have brought him back," said Nathalie, caressing the youth's
soft sleeve; "pulled his saint out of her shrine and given her over to
the demons."

Dirk turned his head; a beautiful look was in his eyes.

"Yea, I have brought him back," he said musingly.

"You have done a foolish thing," grumbled the witch, "he will ruin you
yet; beware, for even now you hold him against his will; I marked his
face as he went into his old chamber." Dirk seated himself with a
sigh.

"In this matter I am not to be moved, and now some food, for I am so
weary that I can scarcely think. Nathalie, the toil it has been, the
rough roads, the delays, the long hours in the saddle--but it was
worth it!"

The witch set the table with a rich service of ivory and silver.

"Worth leaving your fortunes at the crisis? Ye left Frankfort the day
after the Emperor died, and have been away two months. Ysabeau thinks
you dead."

Dirk frowned.

"No matter, to-morrow she shall know me living. Martzburg is far away
and the weather delayed us, but it had to be; now I am free to work my
own advancement."

He drank eagerly of the wine put before him, and began to eat.

"Ye have heard," asked Nathalie, "that Balthasar of Courtrai has been
elected Emperor?" "Yea," smiled Dirk, "and is to marry Ysabeau within
the year; we knew it, did we not?" "Next spring they go to Rome to
receive the Imperial crown."

"I shall be with them," said Dirk. "Well, it is good to rest. What a
thick fool Balthasar is!" He smiled, and his eyes sparkled.

"The Empress is a clever woman," answered the witch, "she came here
once to know whither you had gone. I told her, for the jest, that you
were dead. At that she must think her secret dead with you, yet she
gave no sign of joy nor relief, nor any hint of what her business
was."

Dirk elegantly poured out more wine

"She is never betrayed by her puppet's face--an iron-hearted fiend,
the Empress." "They say, though, that she is a fool for Balthasar, a
dog at his heels."

"Until she change."

"Belike you will be her next fancy," said Nathalie; "the crystals
always foretell a throne for you."

Dirk laughed.

"I do not mean to share my honours with any--woman," he answered;
"pile up the fire, Nathalie, certes, it is cold."

He pushed back his chair with a half sigh on his lips, and turned
contented eyes on the glowing hearth Nathalie replenished.

"And none has thought evil of Melchoir's death?" he asked curiously.

The witch returned to her little stool and rubbed her hands together;
the leaping firelight cast a false colour over her face.

"Ay, there was Hugh of Rooselaare."

Dirk sat up.

"The Lord of Rooselaare?"

"Certes, the night Melchoir died he flung 'Murderess!' in the
Empress's face."

Dirk showed a grave, alert face.

"I never heard of that."

"Nay," answered the witch with some malice, "ye were too well engaged
in parting that boy from his love--it is a pretty jest--certainly, she
is a clever woman, she enlists Balthasar as her champion--he becomes
enraged, furious, and Hugh is cast into the dungeons for his pains."
The witch laughed softly. "He would not retract, his case swayed to
and fro, but Balthasar and the Empress always hated him, he had never
a chance."

Dirk rose and pressed his clasped hand to his temple.

"What do you say? never a chance?"

Nathalie stared at him.

"Why, you seem moved."

"Tell me of Hugh of Rooselaare," Dirk in an intense voice.

"He is to die to-night at sunset."

Dirk uttered a hoarse exclamation.

"Old witch!" he cried bitterly, "why tell me this before? I lose time,
time."

He snatched his cloak from the wall and flung on his hat.

"What is Hugh of Rooselaare to you?" asked Nathalie, and she crept
across the room and clung to the young man's garments.

He shook her off fiercely.

"He must not die--he, on the scaffold! I, as you say, I was following
that boy and his love while this was happening!"

The witch fell back against the wall, while overhead the restless
tread of Theirry sounded. Dirk dashed from the room and out into the
quiet street.

For a second he paused; it was late afternoon, he had perhaps an hour
or an hour and a half. Clenching his hands, he drew a deep breath, and
turned in the direction of the palace at a steady run.

By reason of the snow clouds and the bitter cold there were few abroad
to notice the slim figure running swiftly and lightly; those who were
about made their way in the direction of the market-place, where the
Lord of Rooselaare was presently to meet his death.

Dirk arrived at the palace one hand over his heart, stinging him with
the pain of his great speed; he demanded the Empress.

None among the guards knew either him or his name, but, at his
imperious insistence, 'they sent word by a page to Ysabeau that the
young doctor Constantine had a desire to see her.

The boy returned, and Dirk was admitted instantly, smiling gloomily to
think with what feelings Ysabeau would look on him.

So far all had been swiftly accomplished; he was conducted to her
private chamber and brought face to face with her while he still
panted from his running.

She stood against a high arched window that showed the heavy
threatening winter clouds without; her purple, green and gold
draperies shone warmly in the glitter of the fire; a tray of incense
stood on the hearth after the manner of the East, and the hazy clouds
of it rose before her.

Until the page had gone neither spoke, then Dirk said quickly---"I
returned to Frankfort to--day."

Ysabeau was agitated to fear by his sudden appearance.

"Where have you been?" she asked. "I thought you dead."

Dirk, pale and grave, gave her a penetrating glance.

"I have no time for speech with you now--you owe me something, do you
not? Well, I am here to ask part payment."

The Empress winced.

"Well--what? I had no wish to be ungrateful, 'twas you avoided me."

She crossed to the hearth and fixed her superb eyes intently on the
youth.

"Hugh of Rooselaare is to die this evening," he said.

"Yea," answered Ysabeau, and her childish loveliness darkened.

For a while Dirk was silent; he showed suddenly frail and ill; on his
face was an expression of emotion, mastered and held back.

"He must not die," he said at last and lifted his eyes, shadowed with
fatigue. "That is what I demand of you, his pardon, now, and at once--
we have but little time."

Ysabeau surveyed him curiously and fearfully.

"You ask too much," she replied in a low voice; "do you know why this
man is to die?" "For speaking the truth," he said, with a sudden
sneer.

The Empress flushed, and clutched the embroidery on her bodice.

"You of all men should know why he must be silenced," she retorted
bitterly. "What is your reason for asking his life?"

Dirk's mouth took on an ugly curl

"My reason is no matter--it is my will."

Ysabeau beat her foot on the edge of the Carpet.

"Have I made you so much my master?" she muttered.

The young man answered impatiently.

"You will give me his pardon, and make haste, for I must ride with it
to the market-place." She answered with a lowering glance.

"I think I will not; I am not so afraid of you, and I hate this man--
my secret is your secret after all."

Dirk gave a wan smile.

"I can blast you as I blasted Melchoir of Brabant, Ysabeau, and do you
think I have any fear of what you can say? But"--he leaned towards
her--"suppose I go with what I know to Balthasar?" The name humbled
the Empress like a whip held over her.

"So, I am helpless," she muttered, loathing him.

"The pardon," insisted Dirk; "sound the bell and write me a pardon."

Still she hesitated; it was a hard thing to lose her vengeance against
a dangerous enemy. "Choose another reward," she pleaded. "Of what
value can this man's life be to you?"

"You seek to put me off until it be too late," cried Dirk hoarsely--he
stepped forward and seized the hand-bell on the table--"now an' you
show yourself obstinate, I go straight from here to Balthasar and tell
him of the poisoning of Melchoir."

Instinct and desire rose in Ysabeau to defy him with everything in her
possession, from her guards to her nails; she shuddered with
suppressed wrath, and pressed her little clenched hands against the
wall.

Her Chamberlain entered.

"Write out a pardon for the Lord of Rooselaare," commanded Dirk, "and
haste, as you love your place."

When the man had gone, Ysabeau turned with an ill-concealed savagery.

"What will they think! What will Balthasar think!"

"That must be your business," said Dirk wearily.

"And Hugh himself!" flashed the Empress. The youth coloured painfully.

"Let him be sent to his castle in Flanders," he said, with averted
face. "He must not remain here."

"So much you give in!" cried Ysabeau. "I do not understand you."

He responded with a wild look.

"No one will ever understand me, Ysabeau."

The Chamberlain returned, and in a shaking hand the Empress took the
parchment and the reed pen, while Dirk waved the man's dismissal.

"Sign," he cried to her.

Ysabeau set the parchment on the table and looked out at the gathering
clouds; the Lord of Rooselaare must have already left the prison.

She dallied with the pen; then took a little dagger from her hair and
sharpened it; Dirk read her purpose in her lovely evil eyes, and
snatched the lingering right hand into his own long fingers.

The Empress drew together and looked up at him bitterly and darkly,
but Dirk's breath stirred the ringlets that touched her cheek, his
cool grip guided her reluctant pen; she shivered with fear and
defiance; she wrote her name.

Dirk flung her hand aside with a great sigh of relief.

"Do not try to foil me again, Marozia Porphyrogentris," he cried, and
caught up the parchment, his hat and cloak.

She watched him leave the room; heard the heavy door close behind him,
and she writhed with rage, thrusting, with an uncontrollable gesture
of passion, the dagger into the table; it quivered in the wood, then
broke under her hand.

With an ugly cry she ran to the window, flung it open and cast the
handle out.

When it rattled on the cobbled yard Dirk was already there; he marked
it fall, knew the gold and red flash, and smiled.

Showing the parchment signed by the Empress, he had commanded the
swiftest horse in the stables. He cursed and shivered, waiting while
the seconds fled; his slight figure and fierce face awed into silence
the youngest in the courtyard as he paced up and down. At last--the
horse; one of the grooms gave him a whip; he put it under his left arm
and leapt to his seat; they opened the gate and watched him take the
wind-swept street.

The market-place lay at the other end of the town; and the hour for
the execution was close at hand--but the white horse he rode was fresh
and strong.

The thick grey clouds had obscured the sunset and covered the sky; a
few trembling flakes of snow fell, a bitter wind blew between the high
narrow houses; here and there a light sparkling in a window emphasized
the colourless cold without.

Dirk urged the steed till he rocked in the saddle; curtains were
pulled aside and doors opened to see who rode by so furiously; the
streets were empty---but there would be people enough in the
marketplace.

He passed the high walls of the college, galloped over the bridge that
crossed the sullen waters of the Main, swept by the open doors of St.
Wolfram, then had to draw rein, for the narrow Street began to be
choked with people.

He pulled his hat over his eyes and flung his cloak across the lower
half of his face; with one hand he dragged on the bridle, with the
other waved the parchment.

"A pardon!" he cried. "A pardon! Make way!" They drew aside before the
plunging steed; some answered him--

"It is no pardon--he wears not the Empress's livery."

One seized his bridle; Dirk leant from the saddle and dashed the
parchment into the fellow's face, the horse snorted, and plunging
cleared a way and gained the market-place.

Here the press was enormous; men, women and children were gathered
close round the mounted soldiers who guarded the scaffold; the armour,
yellow and blue uniforms and bright feathers of the horsemen showed
vividly against the grey houses and greyer sky.

On the scaffold were two dark, graceful figures; a man kneeling, with
his long throat bare, and a man standing with a double-edged sword in
his hands.

"A pardon!" shrieked Dirk. "In the name of the Emperor!"

He was wedged in the crowd, who made bewildered movements but could
not give place to him; the soldiers did not or would not hear.

Dirk rose desperately in his stirrups; as he did so the hat and cloak
fell back and his head and shoulders were revealed clearly above the
swaying mass.

Hugh of Rooselaare heard the cry; he looked across the crowd and his
eyes met the eyes of Dirk Renswoude.

"A pardon!" cried Dirk hoarsely; he saw the condemned man's lips move.

The sword fell...

"A woman screamed," said the monk on the scaffold, "and proclaimed a
pardon."

And he pointed to the commotion gathered about Dirk, while the
executioner displayed to the crowd the serene head of Hugh of
Rooselaare.

"Nay, it was not a woman," one of the soldiers answered the monk,
"'twas this youth." Dirk forced to the foot of the scaffold.

"Let me through," he said in a terrible voice; the guard parted; and
seeing the parchment in his hand, let him mount the steps.

"You bring a pardon?" whispered the monk.

"I am too late," said Dirk; he stood among the hurrying blood that
stained the platform, and his face was hard.

"Dogs! was this an end for a lord of Rooselaare!" he cried, and
clasped his hand on a straining breast. "Could you not have waited a
little--but a few moments more?"

The snow was falling fast; it lay on Dirk's shoulders and on his
smooth hair; the monk drew the parchment from his passive hand and
read it in a whisper to the officer; they both looked askance at the
young man.

"Give me his head," said Dirk.

The executioner had placed it at a corner of the scaffold; he left off
wiping his sword and brought it forward.

Dirk watched without fear or repulsion, and took Hugh's head in his
slim fair hands. "How heavy it is," he whispered.

The quick distortion of death had left the proud features; Dirk held
the face close to his own, with no heed to the blood that trickled
down his doublet.

Priest and captain standing apart, noticed a horrible likeness between
the dead and the living, but would not speak of it.

"Churl," said Dirk, gazing into the half-closed grey eyes that
resembled so his own. "He spoke--as he saw me; what did he say?"

The headsman polished the mighty blade.

"Nought to do with you, or with any," he answered, "the words had no
meaning, certes." "What were they?" whispered the youth.

"Have you come for me, Ursula?' then he said again, 'Ursula.'"

A quiver ran through Dirk's frame.

"She shall repent this, the Eastern witch!" he said wildly. "May the
Devil snatch you all to bitter judgment!"

He turned to the captain, with the head held against his breast.

"What are you going to do with this?"

"His wife has asked for his head and his body that he may be buried
befitting his estate." "His wife!" echoed Dirk; then slowly, "Ay, he
had a wife--and a son, sir?"

"The child is dead."

Dirk set the head down gently by the body.

"And his lands?" he asked.

"They go, sir, by favour of the Empress, to Balthasar of Courtrai, who
married, as you may know, this lord's heiress, Ursula, dead now many
years."

The snow had scattered the crowd; the soldiers were impatient to
begone; the blood stiffened and froze about their feet; Dirk looked
down at the dead man with an anguished and hopeless expression.

"Sir," said the officer, "will you return with me to the palace, and
we will tell the Empress how this mischance arose, how you came too
late."

"Nay," replied Dirk fiercely. "Take that good news alone."

He turned and descended the scaffold steps in a proud, gloomy manner.

One of the soldiers held his horse; he mounted in silence and rode
away; they who watched saw the thick snowflakes blot out the solitary
figure, and shuddered with no cause they understood.



CHAPTER XXI



BETRAYED

Nathalie stood at the door with a lantern in her hand.

Dirk was returning; the witch held up the light to catch a glimpse of
his face, then, whispering and crying under her breath, followed into
the house.

"There is blood on your shoes and on your breast," she whispered, when
they reached the long chamber at the back.

Dirk flung himself on a chair and moaned; the snow lay still on his
hair and his shoulders; he buried his face in the bend of his arm.

"Zerdusht and his master have forsaken us," whimpered the witch. "I
could work no spells tonight, and the mirror was blank."

Dirk spoke in a muffled voice, without raising his head.

"Of what use magic to me? I should have stayed in Frankfort."

Nathalie drew his wet cloak from his shoulders. "Have I not warned
you? has not the brass head warned you that the young scholar will be
your ruin, bringing you to woe and misery and shame?"

Dirk rose with a sob, and turned to the fire; the one dim lamp alone
dispelled the cold darkness of the room, and the thin flames on the
hearth fell into ashes before their eyes.

"Look at his blood on me!" cried Dirk, "his blood! Balthasar and
Ysabeau make merry with his lands, but my hate shall mean something to
them yet--I should not have left Frankfort."

He rested his head against one of the supports of the chimney-piece,
and Nathalie, peering into his face, saw that his eyes were wet.

"Alas! who was this man?"

"I did all I could," whispered Dirk..."the Empress shall burn in
hell."

The sickly creeping flames illuminated his pallid face and his small
hand, hanging clenched by his side.

"This is an evil day for us," moaned the witch, "the spirits will not
answer, the flames will not burn...some horrible misfortune
threatens."

Dirk turned his gaze into the half-dark room.

"Where is Theirry?"

"Gone." Nathalie rocked to and fro on her stool.

"Gone!" shivered Dirk, "gone where?"

"Soon after you left he crept from his chamber, and his face was
evil--he went into the street." Dirk paced up and down with uneven
steps.

"He will come back, he must come back! Ah, my heart! You say Zerdusht
will not speak tonight?"

The witch moaned and trembled over the fire.

"Nay, nor will the spirits come."

Dirk shook his clenched fist in the air.

"They shall answer me."

He went to the window, opened it and looked out into blackness.

"Bring the lamp."

Nathalie obeyed; the faint light showed the hastening snowflakes, no
more.

"Maybe they will listen to me, nay, as I say, they shall."

The witch followed with the swinging lamp in her hand, while they made
their way in silence through the darkness and the snow, in between the
bare rose bushes, over the wet, cold earth until they reached the
trap-door at the end of the garden that led to the witch's kitchen.
Here she paused while Dirk raised the stone.

"Surely the earth shook then," he said. "I felt it tremble beneath my
feet--hush, there is a light below!"

The witch peered over his shoulder and saw a faint glow rising from
the open trap, while at that moment her own lamp went suddenly out.

They stood in outer darkness.

"Will you dare descend?" muttered Nathalie. "What should I fear?" came
the low, wild answer, and Dirk put his foot on the ladder...the witch
followed...they found themselves in the chamber, and saw that it was
lit by an immense fire, seated before which was an enormous man, with
his back towards them; he was dressed in black, and at his feet lay
stretched a huge black hound.

The snow dripped from the garments of the newcomers as it melted in
the hot air; they stood very still.

"Good even," said Dirk in a low voice.

The stranger turned a face as black as his garments; round his neck he
wore a collar of most brilliant red and purple stones.

"A cold night," he said, and again it seemed as if the earth rumbled
and shook.

"You find our fire welcome," answered Dirk, but the witch crouched
against the wall, muttering to herself.

"A good heat, a good heat," said the Blackamoor.

Dirk crossed the room, his arms folded on his breast, his head erect.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"Warming myself, warming myself."

"What have you to say to me?"

The Blackamoor drew closer to the fire.

"Ugh! how cold it is!" he said, and stuck out his leg and thrust it
deep into the seething flames. Dirk drew still nearer.

"If you be what I think you, you have some reason coming here."

The black man put his other leg into the fire, and flames curled to
his knees.

"I have been to the palace, I have been to the palace. I sat under the
Empress's chair while she talked to a pretty youth whose name is
Theirry--a-ah! it was cold in the palace, there was snow on the
youth's garments, as there is blood on yours, and the Emperor was
there..." All this while he looked into the fire, not at Dirk.

"Theirry has betrayed me," said the youth.

The Blackamoor took his legs from the fire unscorched and untouched,
and the hell-hound rose and howled.

"He has betrayed you, and Ysabeau accuses you to save herself; but the
devils are on your side since there is other work for you to do; flee
from Frankfort, and I will see that you fulfil your destiny."

And now he glanced over his shoulder.

"The witch comes home to-night, to-night, the work here is done, take
the road through Frankfort."

He stood up, and his head touched the roof; the gems on his throat
gave out long rays of light ... the fire grew dim; the Blackamoor
changed into a thick column of smoke...that spread..."Hell will not
forsake you, Ursula of Rooselaare."

Dirk fell back against the wall, thick vapours encompassing him; he
put his hands over his face...When he looked up again the room was
clear and lit by the beams of the dying fire; he gazed round for the
witch, but Nathalie had gone.

With a thick sob in his throat he sprang up the ladder into the outer
air, and rushed towards the desolate house.

Desolate indeed; empty, dark and cold it stood, the snow drifting in
through the open windows, the fires extinguished on the hearths, a
dead place never more to be inhabited.

Dirk leant against the door, breathing hard.

Here was a crisis of his fate; betrayed by the one whom he loved,
deserted, too, it seemed, since Nathalie had disappeared...the
Blackamoor...he remembered him as a vision...a delusion perhaps.

Oh, how cold it was! Would his accusers come for him to-night? He
crept to the gate that gave on to the street and listened.

"Nathalie!" he cried forlornly.

Out of the further darkness came a distant hurry and confusion of
sound.

Horses, shouting, eager feet; a populace roused, on the heels of the
dealer in black magic, armed with fire and sword for the witches.

Dirk opened the gate, for the last time stepped from the witch's
garden; he wondered if Theirry was with the oncoming crowd, yet he did
not think so, probably he was in the palace, probably he had repented
already of what he had done; but the Empress had found her chance; her
accusation falling first, who would take his word against her?

He wore neither cloak nor hat, and as he waited against the open gate
the thick snow covered him from head to foot; his spirit had never
been afraid, was not afraid now, but his frail body shivered and
shrank back as when the angry students fronted him at Basle.

He listened to the noises of the approaching people, till through
these another sound, nearer and stranger, made him turn his head.

It came from the witch's house.

"Nathalie!" called Dirk in a half hope.

But the blackness rippled into fire, swift flames sprang up, a column
of gold and scarlet enveloped house and garden in a curling embrace.

Dirk ran out into the road, where the glare of the fire lit the
swirling snow for a trembling circle, and shading his eyes he stared
at the flames that consumed his books, his magic herbs and potions,
the strange things, rich and beautiful, that Nathalie had gathered in
her long evil life; then he turned and ran down the street as the
crowd surged in at the other end, to fall back upon one another aghast
before the mighty flames that gave them mocking welcome.

Their dismayed and angry shouts came to Dirk's ears as he ran through
the snow; he fled the faster, towards the eastern gate.

It was not yet shut; light of foot and swift he darted through before
they could challenge him, perhaps even before the careless guards saw
him.

He was a fine runner, not easily fatigued, but he had already strained
his endurance to the utmost, and, after he had well cleared the city
gates, his limbs failed him and he fell to a walk.

The intense darkness produced a feeling of bewilderment, almost of
light-headedness; he kept looking back over his shoulder, at the
distant lights of Frankfort, to assure himself that he was not
unwittingly stumbling back to the gates.

Finally he stood still and listened; he must be near the river; and
after a while he could distinguish the sound of its sullen flow coming
faintly out of the silent dark.

Well, of what use was the river to him, or aught else; he was cold,
weary, pursued and betrayed; all he had with him were some few pieces
of white money and a little phial of swift and keen poison that he
never failed to carry in his breast; if his master failed him he would
not go alive into the flames.

But, hopeless as his case might seem, he was far from resorting to
this last refuge; he remembered the Blackamoor's words, and dragged
his numbed and aching limbs along. After a while he saw, glimmering
ahead of him, a light.

It was neither in a house nor carried in the hand, for it shone low on
the ground, lower, it seemed to Dirk, than his own feet.

He paused, listened, and proceeded cautiously for fear of the river,
that must lie, he thought, very close to his left.

As he neared the light he saw it to be a lantern, that cast long rays
across the clearing snowstorm; a glittering, trembling reflection
beneath it told him it belonged to a boat roped to the bank.

Dirk crept towards it, went on his knees in the snow and mud, and
beheld a small, empty craft, the lantern hanging at the prow.

He paused; the waters, rushing by steadily and angrily, must be
flowing towards the Rhine and the town of Cologne.

He stepped into the boat that rocked while the water splashed beneath
him; but with cold hands he undid the knotted rope.

The boat trembled a moment, then sped on with the current as if glad
to be freed.

An oar lay in the bottom, with which for a while Dirk helped himself
along, fearful lest the owners of the boat should pursue, then he let
himself float down stream as he might. The water lapped about him, and
the snow fell on his unprotected and already soaked figure; he
stretched himself along the bottom of the boat and hid his face in the
cushioned seat.

"Hugh of Rooselaare is dead and Theirry has betrayed me," he whispered
into the darkness. Then he began sobbing, very bitterly.

His anguished tears, the cruel cold, the steady sound of the unseen
water exhausted and numbed him till he fell into a sleep that was half
a swoon, while the boat drifted towards the town.

When he awoke he was still in the open country. The snow had ceased,
but lay on the ground thick and untouched to the horizon.

Dirk dragged his cramped limbs to a sitting posture and stared about
him; the river was narrow, the banks flat; the boat had been caught by
a clump of stiff withered reeds and the prow driven into the snowy
earth.

On either side the prospect was wintry and dreary; a grey sky brooded
over a white land, a pine forest showed sadly in dark mournfulness,
while near by a few bare isolated trees bent under their weight of
snow; the very stillness was horribly ominous.

Dirk found it ill to move, for his limbs were frozen, his clothes wet
and clinging to his wincing flesh, while his eyes smarted with his
late weeping, and his head was racked with giddy pains.

For a while he sat, remembering yesterday till his face hardened and
darkened, and he set his pale lips and crawled painfully out of the
boat.

Before him was a sweep of snow leading to the forest, and as he gazed
at this with dimmed, hopeless eyes, a figure in a white monk's habit
emerged from the trees.

He carried a rude wooden spade in his hand, and walked with a slow
step; he was coming towards the river, and Dirk waited.

As the stranger neared he lifted his eyes, that had hitherto been cast
on the ground, and Dirk recognised Saint Ambrose of Menthon.

Nevertheless Dirk did not despair; before the saint bad recognised him
his part was resolved upon...

Ambrose of Menthon gazed with pity and horror at the forlorn little
figure shivering by the reeds. It was not strange that he did not at
once know him; Dirk's face was of a ghastly hue, his eyes shadowed
underneath, red and swollen, his lank hair clinging close to his small
head, his clothes muddy, wet and soiled, his figure bent.

"Sir," he said, and his voice was weak and sweet, "have pity on an
evil thing."

He fell on his knees and clasped his hands on his breast.

"Rise up," answered the saint. "What God has given me is yours; poor
soul, ye are very miserable."

"More miserable than ye wot of," said Dirk, through chattering teeth,
still on his knees. "Do you not know me?"

Ambrose of Menthon looked at him closely.

"Alas!" he murmured slowly, "I know you."

Dirk beat his breast.

"Mea culpa!" he moaned. "Mea culpa!"

"Rise. Come with me," said the saint. "I will attend your wants."

The youth did not move.

"Will you solace my soul, sir?" he cried. "God must have sent you here
to save my soul--for long days I have sought you."

Saint Ambrose's face glowed

"Have ye, then, repented?"

Dirk rose slowly to his feet and stood with bent head.

"May one repent of such offences?"

"God is very merciful," breathed the saint tenderly.

"Remorse and sorrow fill my heart," murmured Dirk. "I have cast off my
evil comrades, renounced my vile gains and journeyed into the
loneliness to find God His pardon...and it seemed He would not hear
me..."

"He hears all who come in grief and penitence," said the saint
joyously. "And He has heard you, for has He not sent me to find you,
even in this most desolate place?"

"You feed me with hope," answered Dirk in a quivering voice, "and
revive me with glad tidings...may I dare, I, poor lost wretch, to be
uplifted and exalted?"

"Poor youth," was the tender murmur. "Come with me."

He led the way across the thick snow, Dirk following with downcast
eyes and white cheeks. They skirted the forest and came upon a little
hut, set back and sheltered among the scattered trees.

Saint Ambrose opened the rude door.

"I am alone now," he said softly, as he entered. "I had with me a
frail holy youth, who was travelling to Paris; last night he died, I
have just laid his body in the earth, his soul rests on the bosom of
the Lord."

Dirk stepped into the hut and stood meekly on the threshold, and Saint
Ambrose glanced at him wistfully.

"Maybe God has sent me this soul to tend and succour in place of that
He has called home." Dirk whispered humbly--

"If I might think so."

The saint opened an inner door.

"Your garments are wet and soiled."

A sudden colour stained Dirk's face.

"I have no others."

Ambrose of Menthon pointed to the inner chamber. "There Blaise died
yester-eve; there are his clothes, enter and put them on."

"It will be the habit of a novice?" asked Dirk softly.

"Yea."

Dirk bent and kissed the saint's fingers with ice-cold lips.

"I have dared," he whispered, "to hope that I might die wearing the
garb of God His servants, and now I dare even to hope that He shall
grant my prayer."

He stepped into the inner chamber and closed the door.



CHAPTER XXII



BLAISE

Ambrose of Menthon and his meek and humble follower rested at Chlons,
on their way to Paris.

For many weeks they had begged from door to door, sleeping in some
hermit's cell or by the roadside when the severity of the bitter
nights permitted, occasionally finding shelter in a wayside convent.

So patient, so courageous before hardship, so truly sad and
remorseful, so grateful for the distant chance of ultimate pardon was
Dirk, that the saint grew to love the penitent vagabond.

No one eager to look for it could have found any fault with his
behaviour; he was gentle as a girl, obedient as a servant, rigid in
his prayers (and he had a strangely complete knowledge of the offices
and penances of the Church), silent and sorrowful often, taking no
pleasure in anything save the saint's talk of Paradise and holy
things.

Particularly he loved to hear of the dead youth Blaise, of his saintly
life, of his desire to join the stern Brotherhood of the Sacred Heart,
in Paris, of his fame as one beloved of God, of the convent's wish to
receive him, of his great learning, of his beautiful death in the
snowy evening.

To all this Dirk listened with still attention, and from Saint
Ambrose's rapt and loving recital he gathered little earthly details
of the subject of their speech.

Such as that he was from Flanders, of a noble family, that his
immediate relatives were dead, that his years were no more than
twenty, and that he was dark and pale.

For himself Dirk had little to say; he described simply his shame and
remorse after he had stolen the holy gold, his gradual sickening of
his companions, the long torture of his awakening soul, his attempts
to find the saint, and how, finally, after he had resolved to flee his
evil life and enter a convent, he had run out of Frankfort, found a
boat waiting--and so drifted to Saint Ambrose's feet.

The saint, rejoicing in his penitence, suggested that he should enter
the convent whither they journeyed with the tidings of the holy
youth's death, and Dirk consented with humble gratitude. And so they
passed through Chlons, and rested in a deserted hut overlooking the
waters of the Maine.

Having finished their scanty meal they were seated together under the
rough shelter; the luxury of a fire was denied their austerity; a cold
wind blew in and out of the ill-built doors, and a colourless light
filled the mean bare place. Dirk sat on a broken stool, reading aloud
the writings of Saint Jerome.

He wore a coarse brown robe, very different from his usual attire,
fastened round the waist with a rope into which was twisted a wooden
rosary; his feet were encased in rude leather boots, his hands
reddened with the cold, his face hollow and of a bluish pallor in
which his eyes shone feverishly large and dark.

His smooth hair hung on to his shoulders; he stooped, in contrast with
his usual erect carriage. Pausing on his low and gentle reading he
looked across at the saint.

Ambrose of Menthon sat on a rough-hewn bench against the rougher wall;
weariness, exposure, and sheer weakness of body had done their work at
last; Dirk knew that for three nights he had not slept...he was asleep
now or had swooned; his fair head fell forward on his breast, his
hands hung by his side.

As Dunk became assured that his companion was unconscious, he slowly
rose and set down the holy volume. He was himself half starved, cold
to the heart and shuddering; he looked round the plaster walls and the
meek expression of his face changed to one of scorn, derision and
wicked disdain; he darted a bitter glance at the wan man, and crept
towards the door.

Opening it softly, he gazed out; the scene was fair and lonely--the
distant tourelles of Chlons rose clear and pointed against the winter
clouds; near by the grey river flowed between its high banks, where
the bare willows grew and the snow-wreaths still lay.

Dunk took shivering steps into the open and turned towards the Maine;
the keen wind penetrated his poor garments and lifted the heavy hair
from his thin cheeks; he beat his breast, chafed his hands and walked
rapidly.

Reaching the bank he looked up and down the river; there was no one in
sight, neither boat nor animal nor house to break the monotony of
land, sky and water, only those distant towers of the town.

Dirk walked among the twisted willows, then came to a pause.

A little ahead of him were a black man and a black dog, both seated on
the bank and gazing towards Chlons.

The youth came a little nearer.

"Good even," he said. "It is very cold."

The Blackamoor looked round.

"Are you pleased with the way you travel?" he asked, nodding his head.
"And your companion?"

Dunk's face lowered.

"How much longer am I to endure it?"

"You must have patience," said the black man, "and endurance."

"I have both," answered Dirk. "Look at my hands--they are no longer
soft, but red and hard; my feet are galled and wounded in rough
boots--I must walk till I am sick, then pray instead of sleeping; I
see no fire, and scarcely do I touch food."

The hell-hound stirred and whined among the osiers, the jewels in the
Blackamoor's collar flashed richly, though there was no light to
strike them.

"You will be rewarded," he said, "and revenged too--o--ho--o! it is
very cold, as you say, very cold."

"What must I do?" asked Dirk.

The black man rubbed his hands together.

"You know--you know."

Dirk's pinched wan face grew intent, and eager.

"Am I to use...this?" He touched the breast of his rough habit.

"Yea."

"Then shall I be left defenceless." Dirk's voice shook a little. "If
anything should happen--I would not, I could not--oh, Sathanas!--I
could not be revealed!"

The Blackamoor rose from among the willows.

"Do you trust yourself and me?" he asked.

Dirk put his thin hand over his eyes.

"Yea, master."

"Then you know what to do. You will not see me for many years--when
you have triumphed I shall come."

He turned swiftly and ran down the bank, the hound at his heels; one
after another they leaped into the waters of the Maine and disappeared
with an inner sound.

Dunk straightened himself and set his lips. He reentered the hut to
find Ambrose of Menthon still against the wall, now indeed wearily
asleep; Dirk came softly forward; slowly and cautiously he put his
hand into his bosom and drew out a small green-coloured phial.

With his eyes keenly on the saint he broke the seal, then crept close.

By Saint Ambrose's side hung his rosary, every bead smooth with the
constant pressure of his lips; Dunk raised the heavy crucifix
attached, and poured on to it the precious drop contained in the
phial.

Saint Ambrose did not wake nor move; Dunk drew away and crouched
against the wall, cursing the bitter wind with fierce eyes...

When the saint awoke, Dirk was on the broken stool reading aloud the
writings of Saint Jerome.

"Is it still light?" asked Ambrose of Menthon amazedly.

"It is the dawn," answered Dunk.

"And I have slept the night through." The saint dragged his stiff
limbs from the seat and fell on his knees in a misery of prayer.

Dunk closed the book and watched him; watched his long fingers twining
in the beads of his rosary, watched him kiss the crucifix, again and
again; then he, too, knelt, his face hidden in his hands.

He was the first to rise.

"Master, shall we press on to Paris?" he asked humbly.

The saint lifted dazed eyes from his devotions.

"Yea," he said. "Yea."

Dunk began putting together in a bundle their few books, and the
wooden platter in which they collected their broken food; this being
their all.

"I dreamt last night of Paradise," said Saint Ambrose faintly, "the
floor was so thick-strewn with close little flowers, red, white, and
purple...and it was warm as Italy in May..." Dunk swung the bundle on
to his shoulder and opened the door of the hut.

"There is no sun to-day," he remarked.

"How long it is since we have seen the sun!" said Saint Ambrose
wistfully.

They passed out into the dreary landscape and took their slow way
along the banks of the Maine.

Until midday they did not pause, scarcely spoke; then they passed
through a little village, and the charitable gave them food.

That night they slept in the open, under shelter of a hedge, and
Ambrose of Menthon complained of weakness; Dunk, waking in the dark,
heard him praying...heard, too, the rattle of the wooden rosary.

When the light came and they once more recommenced their journey the
saint was so feeble he was fain to lean on Dunk's shoulder.

"I think I am dying," he said; his face was flushed, his eyes burning,
he smiled continuously. "Let me reach Paris," he added, "that I may
tell the Brethren of Blaise..."

The youth supporting him wept bitterly.

Towards noon they met a woodman's cart that helped them on their way;
that night they spent in the stable of an inn; the next day they
descended into the valley of the Seine, and by the evening reached the
gates of Paris.

As the bells over all the beautiful city were ringing to vespers they
arrived at their destination, an old and magnificent convent
surrounded with great gardens set near the river bank.

The winter sky had broken at last, and wreathed and motionless clouds
curled back from a clear expanse of gold and scarlet, against which
the houses, churches and palaces rose from out the blue mist of
evening.

The straight roof of the convent, the little tower with its slow-
moving bell, the bare bent fruit trees, the beds of herbs, sweet-
smelling even now, the red lamp glowing in the dark doorway, showed
themselves to Dirk as he entered the gate,--he looked at them all
intently, and bitter distant memories darkened his hollow face.

The monks were singing the Magnificat; their thin voices came clearly
on the frosty air.

"Fecit potentiam in brachio suo: dispersit superbos mente cordis sui."

Ambrose of Menthon took his feeble hand from Dunk's arm and sank on
his knees.

"Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles."

But Dirk's pale lips curled, and as he gazed at the sunset flaming
beyond the convent walls, there was a haughty challenge in his
brooding eyes.

"Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit manes.

Suscepit Israel puerum suum, recordatus misercordiae suae."

The saint murmured the chanted words and clasped his hands on his
breast, while the sky brightened vividly above the wide waters of the
Seine.

"Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros Abraham et semini ejus in
saecula."

The chant faded away on the still evening, but the saint remained
kneeling.

"Master," whispered Dirk, "shall we not go in to them?"

Ambrose of Menthon raised his fair face.

"I am dying," he smiled. "A keen flame licks up my blood and burns my
heart to ashes--' Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus. '" His voice
failed, he sank forward and his head fell against the grey beds of rue
and fennel.

"Alas! alas!" cried Dirk; he made no attempt to bring assistance nor
called aloud, but stood still, gazing with intent eyes at the
unconscious man.

But when the monks came out of the chapel and turned two by two
towards the convent, Dirk pulled off his worn cap.

"Divinum auxilium maneat semper nobiscum."

"Amen," said Dirk, then he ran lightly forward and flung himself
before the procession. "My father!" he cried, with a sob in his voice.

The priests stopped, the "amens" still trembling on their lips.

"Ambrose of Menthon lies within your gates a dying man," said Dirk
meekly and sadly.

With little exclamations of awe and grief the grey-clad figures
followed him to where the saint lay.

"Ah me!" murmured Dirk. "The way has been so long, so rough, so cold."

Reverently they raised Saint Ambrose.

"He has done with his body," said an old monk, holding up the dying
man.

The flushed sky faded behind them; the saint stirred and half opened
his eyes.

"Blaise," he whispered. "Blaise"--he tried to point to Dirk who knelt
at his feet--"he will tell you." His eyes closed again, he strove to
pray; the "De profundis" trembled on his lips, he made a sudden upward
gesture with his hands, smiled and died.

For a while there was silence among them, broken only by a short sob
from Dunk, then the monks turned to the ragged, emaciated youth who
crouched at the dead feet.

"Blaise, he said," one murmured, "it is the holy youth."

Dirk roused himself as from a silent prayer, made the sign of the
cross and rose.

"Who art thou?" they asked reverently.

Dunk raised a tear-stained, weary face.

"The youth Blaise, my fathers," he answered humbly.

PART II

THE POPE



CHAPTER I



CARDINAL LUIGI CAPRAROLA

The evening service in the Basilica of St. Peter was over; pilgrims,
peasants and monks had departed; the last chant of the officiating
Cardinal's train still trembled on the incense-filled air and the slim
novices were putting out the lights, when a man, richly and
fantastically dressed, entered the bronze doors and advanced a little
way down the centre aisle.

He bent his head to the altar, then paused and looked about him with
the air of a stranger. He was well used to magnificence, but this
first sight of the chapel of the Vatican caused him to catch his
breath. Surrounding him were near a hundred pillars, each of a
different marble and carving; they supported a roof that glittered
with the manifold colours of mosaic; the rich walls were broken by
numerous chapels, from which issued soft gleams of purple and violet
light; mysterious shrines of porphyry and cipolin, jasper and silver
showed here and there be--hind red lamps. A steady glow of candles
shone on a mosaic and silver arch, beyond which the high altar
sparkled like one great jewel; the gold lamps on it were still alight,
and it was heaped with white lilies, whose strong perfume was
noticeable even through the incense.

To one side of the high altar stood a purple chair, and a purple
footstool, the seat of the Cardinal, some-times of the Pontiff. This
splendid and holy beauty abashed, yet inspired the stranger; he leant
against one of the smooth columns and gazed at the altar.

The five aisles were crossed by various shafts of delicate trembling
light that only half dispersed the lovely gloom; some of the columns
were slender, some massive--the spoils from ancient palaces and
temples, no two of them were alike; those in the distance took on a
sea-green hue, luminous and exquisite; one or two were of deep rose
red, others black or dark green, others again pure ghostly white, and
all alike enveloped in soft shadows and quivering lights, violet, blue
and red.

The novices were putting out the candles and preparing to close the
church; their swift feet made no sound; silently the little stars
about the high altar disappeared and deeper shadows fell over the
aisles.

The stranger watched the white figures moving to and fro until no
light remained, save the purple and scarlet lamps that cast rich rays
over the gold and stained the pure lilies into colour, then he left
his place and went slowly towards the door.

Already the bronze gates had been closed; only the entrance to the
Vatican and one leading into a side street remained open.

Several monks issued from the chapels and left by this last; the
stranger still lingered.

Down from the altar came the two novices, prostrated themselves, then
proceeded along the body of the church.

They extinguished the candles in the candelabra set down the aisles,
and a bejewelled darkness fell on the Basilica.

The stranger stood under a malachite and platinum shrine that blinded
with the glimmer and sparkle of golden mosaic; before it burnt
graduated tapers; one of the novices came towards it, and the man
waiting there moved towards him.

"Sir," he said in a low voice, "may I speak to you?"

He spoke in Latin, with the accent of a scholar, and his tone was deep
and pleasant.

The novice paused and looked at him, gazed intently and beheld a very
splendid person, a man in the prime of life, tall above the ordinary,
and, above the ordinary, gorgeous to the eyes; his face was sunburnt
to a hue nearly as dark as his light bronze hair, and his Western eyes
showed clearly bright and pale in contrast; in his ears hung long
pearl and gold ornaments that touched his shoulders: his dress was
half Eastern, of fine violet silk and embroidered leather; he carried
in his belt a curved scimitar inset with turkis, by his side a short
gold sword, and against his hip he held a purple cap ornamented with a
plume of peacocks' feathers, and wore long gloves fretted in the palm
with the use of rein and sword.

But more than these details did the stranger's face strike the novice;
a face almost as perfect as the masks of the gods found in the
temples; the rounded and curved features were over-full for a man, and
the expression was too indifferent, troubled, almost weak, to be
attractive, but taken in itself the face was noticeably beautiful.

Noting the novice's intent gaze, a flush crept into the man's dark
cheek.

"I am a stranger," he said. "I want to ask you of Cardinal Caprarola.
He officiated here to--day?"

"Yea," answered the novice. "What can I tell you of him? He is the
greatest man in Rome---now his Holiness is dying," he added.

"Why, I have heard of him--even in Constantinople. I think I saw him--
many years ago, before I went to the East."

The novice began to extinguish the candles round the shrine.

"It may be, sir," he said. "His Eminence was a poor youth as I might
be; he came from Flanders."

"It was in Courtrai I thought I saw him."

"I know not if he was ever there; he became a disciple of Saint
Ambrose of Menthon when very young, and after the saint's death he
joined the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Paris--you have heard that,
sir?"

The stranger lowered his magnificent eyes.

"I have heard nothing--I have been away--many years; this man,
Cardinal Caprarola--he is a saint also--is he not?...tell me more of
him."

The youth paused in his task, leaving half the candles alight to cast
a trembling glow over the man's gold and purple splendour; he smiled.

"Born of Dendermonde he was, sir, Louis his name, in our tongue Luigi,
Blaise the name he took in the convent--he came to Rome, seven, nay,
it must be eight years ago. His Holiness created him Bishop of Ostia,
then of Caprarola, which last name he retains now he is Cardinal---he
is the greatest man in Rome," repeated the novice.

"And a saint?" asked the other with a wistful eagerness.

"Certes, when he was a youth he was famous for his holy austere life,
now he lives in magnificence as befits a prince of the Church...he is
very holy."

The novice put out the remaining candles, leaving only the flickering
red lamp.

"There was a great service here to-day?" the stranger asked.

"Yea, very many pilgrims were here."

"I grieve that I was too late--think you Cardinal Caprarola would see
one unknown to him?" "If the errand warranted it, sir."

From the rich shadows came a sigh.

"I seek peace--if it be anywhere it is in the hands of this servant of
God--my soul is sick, will he help me heal it?"

"Yea, I do think so."

The youth turned, as he spoke, towards the little side door.

"I must close the Basilica, sir," he added.

The stranger seemed to rouse himself from depths of unhappy thoughts,
and followed through the quivering gloom.

"Where should I find the Cardinal?" he asked.

"His palace lies in the Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, any will tell
you the way, sir." The novice opened the door. "God be with you."

"And with you;" the stranger stepped into the open and the church door
was locked behind him.

The purple after-glow still lingered over Rome; it was May and sweetly
warm; as the stranger crossed the Piazza of St. Peter the breeze was
like the touch of silk on his face; he walked slowly and presently
hesitated, looking round the ruined temples, broken palaces and walls;
there were people about, not many, mostly monks; the man glanced back
at the Vatican, where the lights had begun to sparkle in the windows,
then made his way, as rapidly as his scant knowledge served, across
the superb and despoiled city.

He reached the Via Sacra; it was filled with a gay and splendid crowd,
in chariots, on foot, and on horse, that mingled unheeding with the
long processions of penitents winding in and out the throng, both here
and in the Appian Way. He turned towards the Arch of Titus; the ladies
laughed and stared as he passed; one took a flower from her hair and
threw it after him, at which he frowned, blushed, and hastened on; he
had never been equal to the admiration he roused in women, though he
disliked neither them nor their admiration; he carried still on his
wrist the mark of a knife left there by a Byzantine Princess who had
found his face fair and his wooing cold; the laughter of the Roman
ladies gave him the same feeling of hot inadequacy as when he felt
that angry stab.

Passing the fountain of Meta Sudans and the remains of the Flavian
Amphitheatre, he gained the Via di San Giovanni in Laterano leading to
the Climontana Gate.

Here he drew a little apart from the crowd and looked about him; in
the distance the Vatican and Castel San Angelo showed faintly against
the remote Apennines; he could distinguish the banner of the Emperor
hanging slackly in the warm air, the little lights in St. Peter's.

Behind him rose the Janiculum Hill set with magnificent palaces and
immense gardens, beneath the city lay dark in the twilight, and the
trees rising from the silent temples made a fair murmur as they shook
in their tipper branches.

The stranger sighed and stepped again into the crowd, composed now of
all ranks and all nationalities; he touched a young German on the
shoulder.

"Which is Cardinal Caprarola's palace?"

"Sir, the first." He pointed to a gorgeous building on the slope of
the hill.

The stranger caught a glimpse of marble porticoes half obscured by
soft foliage.

With a "Thank you" he turned in the direction of the Palatine.

A few moments brought him to the magnificent gates of the Villa
Caprarola; they stood open upon a garden of flowers just gleamingly
visible in the dusk; the stranger hesitated in the entrance, fixing
his gaze on the luminous white walls of the palace that showed between
the boughs of citron and cypress.

This Cardinal, this Prince, who was the greatest man in Rome, which
was to say in Christendom, had strangely captured his imagination; he
liked to think of him as an obscure and saintly youth devoting his
life to the service of God, rising by no arts or intrigues but by the
pure will of his Master solely until he dominated the great Empire of
the West; the stranger now at his beautiful gates had been searching
for peace for many years, in many lands, and always in vain.

In Constantinople he had heard of the holy Frankish priest who was
already a greater power than the old and slowly dying Pope, and it had
comforted his tired heart to think that there was one man in a high
place set there by God alone--one, too, of a pure life and a noble
soul; if any could give him promise of salvation, if any could help
him to redeem his wasted, weak life, it would be he--this Cardinal who
could not know evil save as a name.

With this object he came to Rome; he wished to lay his sins and
penitence at the feet of him who had been a meek and poor novice, and
now by his virtues was Luigi Caprarola as mighty as the Emperor and as
innocent as the angels.

Shame and awe for a while held him irresolute, how could he dare
relate his miserable and horrible story to this saint? ... but God had
bidden him, and the holy were always the merciful.

He walked slowly between the dim flowers and bushes to the stately
columned portico; with a thickly beating heart and a humble carriage
he mounted the low wide steps and stood at the Cardinal's door, which
stood open on a marble vestibule dimly lit with a soft roseate violet
colour; the sound of a fountain came to his ears, and pungent aromas
mingled with the perfume of the blossoms.

Two huge negroes, wearing silver collars and tiger-skins, were on
guard at each column of the door, and as the new-comer set foot within
the portals one of them struck the silver bell attached to his wrist.

Instantly appeared a slim and gorgeous youth, habited in black, a
purple flower fastened at his throat.

The stranger took off his cap.

"This is the residence of his Eminence, Cardinal Caprarola?" he asked,
and the hint of hesitation always in his manner was accentuated.

"Yea," the youth bowed gracefully; "I am his Eminence's secretary,
Messer Paolo Orsini." "I do desire to see the Cardinal."

The young Roman's dark eyes flashed over the person of the speaker.

"What is your purpose, sir?"

"One neither political nor worldly;" he paused, flushed, then added,
"I would confess to his Eminence; I have come from Constantinople for
that--for that alone."

Paolo Orsini answered courteously.

"The Cardinal hears confession in the Basilica."

"Certes, I know, yet I would crave to see him privately, I have
matters relating to my soul to put before him, surely he will not
refuse me." The stranger's voice was unequal, his bearing troubled, as
the secretary curiously observed; penitents anxious for their souls
did not often trouble the Cardinal, but Orsini's aristocratic manner
showed no surprise.

"His Eminence," he said, "is ever loath to refuse himself to the
faithful; I will ask him if he will give you audience; what, sir, is
your quality and your name?"

"I am unknown here," answered the other humbly; "lately have I come
from Constantinople, where I held an office at the court of Basil, but
by birth I am a Frank, of the Cardinal's own country."

"Sir, your name?" repeated the elegant secretary.

The stranger's beautiful face clouded.

"I have been known by many...but let his Eminence have the truth--I am
Theirry, born of Dendermonde."

Paolo Orsini bowed again.

"I will acquaint the Cardinal," he said. "Will you await me here?"

He was gone as swiftly and silently as he had come; Theirry put his
hand to a hot brow and gazed about him.

The vestibule was composed of Numidian marble toned by time to a deep
orange hue; the capitals of the Byzantine columns were encrusted with
gold and supported a ceiling that glittered with violet glass mosaic;
gilt lamps, screened with purple or crimson silk, cast a coloured glow
down the sloping walls; a double staircase sprang from the serpentine
and malachite floor, and where the gold hand-rails ended a silver lion
stood on a cipolin pillar, holding between his paws a dish on which
burnt aromatic incense; in the space between the staircases was an
alabaster fountain--the basin, raised on the backs of other silver
lions, and filled with iridescent sea shells, over which the water
splashed and fell, changed by the lamplight to a glimmering rose
purple.

Either side the fountain were placed great bronze bowls of roses, pink
and white, and their petals were scattered over the marble pavement.
Against the walls ran low seats, cushioned with dark rich tapestries,
and above them, at intervals, marvellous antique statues showed white
in deep niches.

Theirry had seen nothing more lavishly splendid; Cardinal Caprarola
was no ascetic whatever the youth Blaise may have been, and for a
moment Theirry was bewildered and disappointed---could a saint live
thus?

Then he reflected; good it was to consider that God, and not the
Devil, who so often used beauty and wealth for his lures, had given a
man this.

He walked up and down, none to watch him but the four silent and
motionless negroes; the exquisite lights, the melody of the fountain,
the sweet odours that rose from the slow-curling blue vapours, the
gorgeous surroundings, lulled and soothed; he felt that at last, after
his changeful wanderings, his restless unhappiness, he had found his
goal and his haven.

In this man's hands was redemption, this man was housed as befitted an
Ambassador of the Lord of Heaven.

Paolo Orsini, in person as rare and splendid as the palace, returned.

"The Cardinal will receive you, sir," he said; if the message
astonished him he did not show it; he bowed before Theirry, and
preceded him up the magnificent stairs.

The first landing was entirely hung with scarlet embroidery worked
with peacocks' feathers, and lit by pendent crystal lamps; at either
end a silver archway led into a chamber.

The secretary, slim and black against the vivid colours, turned to the
left; Theirry followed him into a long hall illuminated by bronze
statues placed at intervals and holding scented flambeaux; between
them were set huge porphyry bowls containing orange trees and
oleanders; the walls and ceiling were of rose-hued marble inlaid with
basalt, the floor of a rich mosaic.

Theirry caught his breath; the Cardinal must possess the fabled wealth
of India. . .

Paolo Orsini opened a gilt door and held it wide while Theirry
entered, then he bowed himself away, saying--

"His Eminence will be with you presently."

Theirry found himself in a fair-sized chamber, walls, floor and
ceiling composed of ebony and mother-of-pearl.

Door and window were curtained by hangings of pale colours, on which
were stitched in glittering silks stories from Ovid.

In the centre of the floor was a Persian carpet of a faint hue of
mauve and pink; three jasper and silver lamps hung by silken cords
from the ceiling and gave the pale glow of moonlight; an ivory chair
and table raised on an ebony step stood in one corner; on the table
was a sand clock, a blood-red glass filled with lilies and a gold book
with lumps of turkis set in the covers; on the chair was a purple
velvet cushion.

Opposite this hung a crucifix, a scarlet light burning beneath it; to
this, the first holy thing Theirry had seen in the palace, he bent the
knee.

Incense burnt in a gold brazier, the rich scent of it growing almost
insupportable in the close confined space.

A silver footstool and a low ebony chair completed the furniture;
against the wall facing the door was a gilt and painted shrine, of
which the glittering wings were closed, but Theirry, turning from the
crucifix, bent his head to that.

A great excitement crept into his blood, he could not feel that he was
in a holy or sacred place, awaiting the coming of the saint who was to
ease the burden of his sin, yet what but this feeling of relief, of
righteous joy should be heating his blood now. . .

The dim blue light, the strong perfumes were confusing to the senses;
his pulses throbbed, his heart leapt; it did not seem as if he could
speak to the Cardinal...then it seemed as if he could tell him
everything and leave--absolved.

Yet--and yet--what was there in the place reviving memories that had
been thrust deep into his heart for years...a certain room in an old
house in Antwerp with the August sunlight over the figure of a young
man gilding a devil...a chamber in the college at Basle and two youths
bending over a witch's fire...a dark wet night, and the sound of a
weak voice coming to him...Frankfort and a garden blazing with crimson
roses, other scenes, crowded, horrible...why did he think of them
here...in this remote land, among strangers...here where he had come
to purge his soul?

He began to murmur a prayer; giddiness touched him, and the blue light
seemed to ripple and dim before his eyes.

He walked up and down the soft carpet clasping his hands.

All at once he paused and turned.

There was a shiver of silks, and the Cardinal stepped into the
chamber.

Theirry sank on his knees and bowed his throbbing head.

The Cardinal slowly closed the door; a low rumble of thunder sounded;
a great storm was gathering over the Tyrrhenian Sea.



CHAPTER II



THE CONFESSION

"'In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spinitus Sancti,' I give you
greeting," said the Cardinal in a low grave voice; he crossed to the
ivory chair and seated himself.

Theirry lifted his head and looked eagerly at the man who he hoped
would be his saviour.

The Cardinal was young, of the middle height, of a full but elegant
person and conveying an impression of slightness and delicacy, though
he was in reality neither small nor fragile. His face was pale, by
this light only dimly to be seen; he wore a robe of vivid pink and
violet silk that spread about the step on which his chair was placed;
his hands were very beautiful, and ornamented with a variety of costly
rings; on his head was a black skull-cap, and outside it his hair
showed, thick, curling and of a chestnut-red colour; his foot, very
small and well shaped, encased in a gold slipper, showed beneath his
gown.

He caught hold of the ivory arms of his seat and looked straight at
Theirry with intense, dark eyes.

"On what matters did you wish to speak with me?" he asked.

Theirry could not find words, a choking sense of horror, of something
dreadful and blasphemous beyond all words clutched at his heart...he
stared at the young Cardinal...he must be going mad...

"The air--the incense makes me giddy, holy father," he murmured.

The Cardinal touched a bell that stood by the sand clock, and motioned
to Theirry to rise. A beautiful boy in a white tunic answered the
summons.

"Extinguish the incense," said the Cardinal, "and open the window,
Gian...it is very hot, a storm gathers, does it not?"

The youth drew apart the painted curtains and unlatched the window; as
the cooler air was wafted into the close chamber Theirry breathed more
freely.

"The stars are all hidden, your Eminence," said Gian, looking at the
night. "Certainly, it is a storm."

He raised the brazier, shook out the incense, leaving it smouldening
greyly, went on one knee to the Cardinal, then withdrew backwards.

As the door closed behind him Luigi Caprarola turned to the man
standing humbly before him. "Now can you speak?" he said gravely.

Theirry flushed.

"Scarcely have I the heart...your Eminence abashes me, I have a
sickening tale to relate...hearing of you I thought, this holy man can
give me peace, and I came half across the world to lay my troubles at
your feet; but now, sir, now--I fear to speak, indeed, am scarce able,
unreal and hideous it seems in this place."

"In brief, sir," said the Cardinal, "ye have changed your mind--I
think ye were ever of a changeful disposition, Theirry of
Dendermonde."

"How does your Eminence know that of me is, alas! true."

"I see it in your face," answered the Cardinal, "and something else I
see--you are, and long have been, unhappy."

"It is my great unhappiness that has brought me before your Eminence."

Luigi Caprarola rested his elbow on the ivory chair arm and his cheek
on his palm; the pale, dim light was full on his face; because of
something powerful and intense that shone in his eyes Theirry did not
care to look at him.

"Weary of sin and afraid of Heaven ye have come to seek absolution of
me," said the Cardinal. "Yea, if it might be granted me, if by any
penitence I might obtain pardon."

Then Theirry, whose gaze was fixed on the ground as he spoke, had an
extraordinary vivid impression that the Cardinal was laughing; he
looked up quickly, only to behold Luigi Caprarola calm and grave.

A peal of thunder sounded, and the echoes hovered in the chamber.

"The confession must come before the absolution," said the Cardinal.
"Tell me, my son, what troubles you."

Theirry shuddered.

"It involves others than myself..."

"The seal of the confession is sacred, and I will ask for no names.
Theirry of Dendermonde, kneel here and confess."

He pointed to the ivory footstool close to his raised seat; Theirry
came and humbly knelt.

The curtains fluttered in the hot wind, a flash of lightning darted in
between them and mingled with the luminous colour cast by the faint
lamps.

The Cardinal took up the gold book and laid it on his knee, his pink
silk sleeve almost touched Theirry's lips...his garments gave out a
strange and beautiful perfume. "Tell me of these sins of thine," he
said, half under his breath.

"I must go far back," answered the penitent in a trembling voice, "for
your Eminence to understand my sins--they had small beginnings."

He paused and fixed his gaze on the Cardinal's long fair fingers
resting across the gold cover of the breviary.

"I was born in Dendermonde," he said at length. "My father was a clerk
who taught me his learning. When he died I came to Courtrai. I was
eighteen, ambitious and clever beyond other scholars of my age. I
wished above everything to go to one of the colleges..."

He gave a hot sigh, as if he could still recall the passionate throb
of that early desire.

"To gain a living I taught the arts I was acquainted with, among
others I gave lessons in music to the daughter of a great lord in
Courtrai...in this manner I came to know her brother, who was a young
knight of lusty desires."

The Cardinal was listening intently; his breathing seemed hardly to
stir his robe; the hand on the gilt and turkis cover was very still.

Theirry wiped his damp forehead, and continued--

"He was, as I, restless and impatient with Courtrai...but, unlike me,
he was innocent, for I,"--he moistened his lips--"I about this time
began to practise--black magic."

The thunder rolled sombrely yet triumphantly round the seven hills,
and the first rain dashed against the window.

"Black magic," repeated the Cardinal, "go on."

"I read forbidden books that I found in an old library in the house of
a Jew whose son I taught--I tried to work spells, to raise spirits; I
was very desperate to better myself, I wished to become as Alcuin, as
Saint Jerome--nay, as Zerdusht himself, but I was not skilful enough.
I could do little or nothing..."

The Cardinal moved slightly; Theirry, in an agony of old bitter
memories, torn between horror and ease at uttering these things at
last, continued in a low desperate voice--

"The young knight I have spoken of was in love with a mighty lady who
came through Courtrai, he wished to follow her to Frankfort, she had
given him hopes that she would find him service there--he asked me to
bear him company, and I was glad to go. On the journey he told me of
his marriage to the daughter of a neighbouring lord--and--though that
is no matter here---he knew not if she were alive or dead, but he knew
of the place where she had last been known of, and we went thither--it
was in the old, half-deserted town of Antwerp..."

"And the young knight hoped to find she was dead," interrupted the
Cardinal. "Was she, I wonder?"

"All the world thought so. It is a strange story, not for my telling;
we found the house, and there we met a youth, who told us of the
maid's death and showed us her grave. . ."

The thunder, coming nearer, shook the palace, and Theirry hid his face
in his hands. "What of this youth?" asked the Cardinal softly, "tell
me of him."

"He ruined me--by night he came to me and told of his studies--black
magic! black magic!...cast spells and raised a devil...in a mirror he
showed me visions, I swore with him faithful friendship...he ruined my
soul--he sold some of the goods in the house, and we went together to
Basle College."

"Ye make him out your evil angel," said the Cardinal. "Who was he?"

"I know not; he was high-born, I think, dainty in ways and pleasant to
look upon; my faltering soul was caught by his wiles, for he spoke of
great rewards; I know not who he was, man or demon...I think he loved
me."

There was a little silence in the chamber, then the Cardinal spoke.

"Loved you?--what makes you think he loved you?"

"Certes, he said so, and acted so...we went to Basle College--then, I
also thought I loved him...he was the only thing in the world I had
ever spoken to of my hopes, my desires...we continued our
experiments...our researches were blasphemous, horrible, he was ever
more skilful than I...then one day I met a lady, and then I knew
myself hideous, but that very night I was drawn into the toils
again...we cast a spell over another student--we were discovered and
fled the college."

A flash of lightning pierced the blue gloom like a sword rending silk;
Theirry winced and shuddered as the thunder crashed overhead.

"Does your tale end here?" demanded the Cardinal. "Alas! alas! no; I
fell from worse sin to worse sin--we were poor, we met a monk, robbed
him of God His moneys, and left him for dead...we came to Frankfort
and lived in the house of an Egyptian hag, and I began to loathe the
youth because the lady was ever in my thoughts, and he hated the lady
bitterly because of this; he tempted me to do murder for gain, and I
refused for her sake." Theirry's voice became hot and passionate.
"Then I found that he was tempting her--my saint! but I had no fear
that she would fall, and while she spurned him I thought I could also,
ay, and I did...but she proved no stronger--she loved her steward, and
bid him slay his wife: 'You staked on her virtue,' the Devil cried to
me, 'and you've lost! lost!'"

The sobs thickened his voice, and the bitter tears gathered in his
beautiful eyes.

"I was the youth's prey again, but now I hated him for his
victory...we came back to Frankfort, and he was sweet and soft to me,
while I was thinking how I might injure him as he had injured me...I
dwelt on that picture of--her--dishonoured and undone, and I hated
him, so waited my chance, and the night we reached the city I betrayed
him for what he was, betrayed him to whom I had sworn
friendship...well, half the town came howling through the snow to
seize him, but we were too late, we found a flaming house...it burnt
to ashes, he with it...I had had my revenge, but it brought me no
peace. I left the West and went to the East, to India, Persia, to
Greece, I avoided both God and the Devil, I dreaded Hell and dared not
hope for Heaven, I tried to forget but could not, I tried to repent
but could not. Good and evil strove for me, until the Lord had
pity...I heard of you, and I have come to Rome to cast myself at your
feet, to ask your aid to help throw myself on God His mercy."

He rose with his hands clasped on his breast and his wild eyes fixed
on the white face of Luigi Caprarola; thunder and lightning together
were rending the hot air; Theirry's gorgeous dress glimmered in gold
and purple, his face was flushed and exalted.

"God wins, I think, this time," he said in an unsteady voice. "I have
confessed my sins, I will do penance for them, and die at least in
peace--God and the angels win!"

The Cardinal rose; with one hand he held to the back of the ivory
chair, with the other he clasped the golden book to his breast; the
light shining on his red hair showed it in filmy brightness against
the wall of ebony and mother-of-pearl; his face and lips were very
pale above the vivid hue of his robe, his eyes, large and dark, stared
at Theirry.

Again the lightning flashed between the two, and seemed to sink into
the floor at the Cardinal's feet.

He lifted his head proudly and listened to the following mighty roll;
when the echoes had quivered again into hot stillness he spoke.

"The Devil and his legions win, I think," he said. "At least they have
served Dirk Renswoude well."

Theirry fell back, and back, until he crouched against the gleaming
wall.

"Cardinal Caprarola!" he cried fearfully. "Cardinal Caprarola, speak
to me! even here I hear the fiends jibe!"

The Cardinal stepped from the ebony dais, his stiff robes making a
rustling as he walked; he laughed.

"Have I learned a mien so holy my old comrade knows me not? Have I
changed so, I who was dainty and pleasant to look upon, your friend
and your bane?"

He paused in the centre of the room; the open window, the dark beyond
it, the waving curtains, the fierce lightning made a terrific
background for his haughty figure.

But Theirry moaned and whispered in his throat. "Look at me,"
commanded the Cardinal, "look at me well, you who betrayed me, am I
not he who gilded a devil one August afternoon in a certain town in
Flanders?"

Theirry drew himself up and pressed his clenched hands to his temples.

"Betrayed!" he shrieked. "It is I who am betrayed. I sought God, and
have been delivered unto the Devil!"

The thunder crashed so that his words were lost in the great noise of
it, the blue and forked lightning darted between them.

"You know me now?" asked the Cardinal.

Theirry slipped to his knees, crying like a child.

"Where is God? where is God?"

The Cardinal smiled.

"He is not here," he answered, "nor in any place where I have been."

An awful stillness fell after the crash of thunder; Theirry hid his
face, cowering like a man who feels his back bared to the lash.

"Cannot you look at me?" asked the Cardinal in a half-mournful scorn;
"after all these years am I to meet you--thus? At my feet!"

Theirry sprang up, his features mask-like in their unnatural
distortion and lifeless hue.

"You do well to taunt me," he answered, "for I am an accursed fool, I
have been seeking for what does not exist--God!--ay, now I know that
there is no God and no Heaven, therefore what matter for my
soul...what matter for any of it since the Devil owns us all!"

The storm was renewed with the ending of his speech, and he saw
through the open window the vineyards and gardens of the Janiculum
Hill blue for many seconds beneath the black sky.

"Your soul!" cried the Cardinal, as before. "Always have you thought
too much, and not enough, of that; you served too many masters and not
one faithfully; had you been a stronger man you had stayed with your
fallen saint, not spurned her, and then avenged her by my betrayal."

He crossed to the window and closed it, the while the lightning picked
him out in a fierce flash, and waited until the after-crash had rocked
to silence, his eyes all the while not leaving the shrinking, horror-
stricken figure of Theirry.

"Well, it is all a long while ago," he said. "And I and you have
changed."

"How did you escape that night?" asked Theirry hoarsely; hardly could
he believe that this man was Dirk Renswoude, yet his straining eyes
traced in the altered older face the once familiar features.

As the Cardinal moved slowly across the gleaming chamber Theirry
marked with a horrible fascination the likeness of the haughty priest
to the poor student in black magic.

The straight dark hair was now curled, bleached and stained a deep red
colour, after the manner of the women of the East; eyes and brows were
the same as they had ever been, the first as bright and keen, the last
as straight and heavy; his clear skin showed less pallor, his mouth
seemed fuller and more firmly set, the upper lip heavily shaded with a
dark down, the chin less prominent, but the line of the jaw was as
strong and clear as ever; a handsomer face than it had been, a
remarkable face, with an expression composed and imperious, with eyes
to tremble before.

"I thought you burnt," faltered Theirry.

"The master I serve is powerful," smiled the Cardinal. "He saved me
then and set me where I am now, the greatest man in Rome--so great a
man that did you wish a second time to betray me you might shout the
truth in the streets and find no one to believe you."

The lightning darted in vain at the closed window, and the thunder
rolled more faintly in the distance.

"Betray you!" cried Theirry, wild-eyed. "No, I bow the knee to the
greatest thing I have met, and kiss your hand, your Eminence!"

The Cardinal turned and looked at him over his shoulder.

"I never broke my vows," he said softly, "the vows of comradeship I
made to you; just now you said you thought I loved you, then, I mean,
in the old days..."--he paused and his delicate hand crept over his
heart--"well, I...loved you...and it ruined me, as the devils
promised. Last night I was warned that you would come to-day and that
you would be my bane...well, I do not care since you are come, for,
sir, I love you still."

"Dirk!" cried Theirry.

The Cardinal gazed on him with ardent eyes.

"Do you suppose it matters to me that you are weak, foolish, or that
you betrayed me? You are the one thing in all the world I care for...
Love! what was your love when you left her at Sebastian's feet?--had
she been my lady I had stayed and laughed at all of it..."

"It is not the Devil who has taught you to be so faithful," said
Theirry.

For the first time a look of trouble, almost of despair, came into the
Cardinal's eyes; he turned his head away.

"You shame me," continued Theirry; "I have no constancy in me;
thinking of my own soul, almost have I forgotten Jacobea of
Martzburg--and yet--"

"And yet you loved her."

"Maybe I did--it is long ago."

A bitter little smile curved the Cardinal's lips.

"Is that the way men care for women?" he said. "Certes, not in that
manner had I wooed and remembered, had I been a--a--lover."

"Strange that we, meeting here like this, should talk of love!" cried
Theirry, his heart heaving, his eyes dilating, "strange that I, driven
round the world by fear of God, that I, coming here to one of God's
own saints, should find myself in the Devil's net again; come, he has
done much for you, what will he do for me?"

The Cardinal smiled sadly.

"Neither God nor Devil will do anything for you, for you are not
single-hearted, neither constant to good nor evil; but I--will risk
everything to serve your desires."

Theirry laughed.

"Heaven has cast the world away and we are mad! You, you famous as a
holy man--did you murder the young Blaise? I will back to India, to
the East, and die an idol-worshipper. See yonder crucifix, it hangs
upon your walls, but the Christ does not rise to smite you; you handle
the Holy Mysteries in the Church and no angel slays you on the altar
steps---let me away from Rome!"

He turned to the gilt door, but the Cardinal caught his sleeve.

"Stay," he said, "stay, and all I promised you in the old days shall
come true--do you doubt me? Look about you, see what I have won for
myself..."

Theirry's beautiful face was flushed and wild. "Nay, let me go..."

The last rumble of the thunder crossed their speech.

"Stay, and I will make you Emperor."

"Oh devil!" cried Theirry, "can you do that?"

"We will rule the world between us; yea, I will make you Emperor, if
you will stay in Rome and serve me; I will snatch the diadem from
Balthasar's head and cast his Empress out as I ever meant to do, and
you shall bear the sceptre of the Csars, oh, my friend, my friend!"

He held out his right hand as he spoke; Theirry caught it, crushed the
fingers in his hot grasp and kissed the brilliant rings; the Cardinal
flushed and dropped his lids over sparkling eyes.

"You will stay?" he breathed.

"Yea, my sweet fiend, I am yours, and wholly yours; lo! were not
rewards such as these better worth crossing the world for than a
pardon from God?"

He laughed and staggered back against the wall, his look dazed and
reckless; the Cardinal withdrew his hand and crossed to the ivory
seat.

"Now, farewell," he said, "the audience has been over-long; I know
where to find you, and in a while I shall send for you; farewell, oh
Theirry of Dendermonde!"

He spoke the name with a great tenderness, and his eyes grew soft and
misty.

Theirry drew himself together.

"Farewell, oh disciple of Sathanas! I, your humble follower, shall
look for fulfilment of your promises."

The Cardinal touched the bell; when the fair youth appeared, he bade
him see Theirry from the palace.

Without another word they parted, Theirry with the look of madness on
him. . .

When Luigi Caprarola was alone he put his hand over his eyes and
swayed backwards as if about to fall, while his breath came in tearing
pants...with an effort he steadied himself, and, clenching his hands
now over his heart, paced up and down the room, his Cardinal's robe
trailing after him, his golden rosary glittering against his knee.

As he struggled for control the gilt door was opened and Paolo Orsini
bowed himself into his presence.

"Your Eminence will forgive me," he began.

The Cardinal pressed his handkerchief to his lips.

"Well, Orsini?"

"A messenger has just come from the Vatican, my lord--"

"Ah!--his Holiness?"

"Was found dead in his sleep an hour ago, your Eminence."

The Cardinal paled and fixed his burning eyes on the secretary.

"Thank you, Orsini; I thought he would not last the spring; well, we
must watch the Conclave." He moved his handkerchief from his mouth and
twisted it in his fingers.

The secretary was taking his dismissal, when the Cardinal recalled
him.

"Orsini, it is desirable we should have an audience with the Empress,
she has many creatures in the Church who must be brought to heel;
write to her, Orsini."

"I will, my lord."

The young man withdrew, and Luigi Caprarola stood very still, staring
at the gleaming walls of his gorgeous cabinet.



CHAPTER III



THE EMPRESS

Ysabeau, wife of Balthasar of Courtrai and Empress of the West, waited
in the porphyry cabinet of Cardinal Caprarola.

It was but little after midday, and the sun streaming through the
scarlet and violet colours of the arched window, threw a rich and
burning glow over the gilt furniture and the beautiful figure of the
woman; she wore a dress of an orange hue; her hair was bound round the
temples with a chaplet of linked plates of gold and hung below it in
fantastic loops; wrapped about her was a purple mantle embroidered
with ornaments in green glass; she sat on a low chair by the window
and rested her chin on her hand. Her superb eyes were grave and
thoughtful; she did not move from her reflective attitude during the
time the haughty priest kept her waiting.

When at last he entered with a shimmer and ripple of purple silks, she
rose and bent her head. "It pleases you to make me attendant on your
pleasure, my lord," she said.

Cardinal Caprarola gave her calm greeting.

"My time is not my own," he added. "God His service comes first,
lady."

The Empress returned to her seat.

"Have I come here to discuss God with your Eminence?" she asked, and
her fair mouth was scornful. "This text was stolen from someone who
worked hard to get it to you."

The Cardinal crossed to the far end of the cabinet and slowly took his
place in his carved gold chair.

"It is of ourselves we will speak," he said, smiling. "Certes, your
Grace will have expected that."

"Nay," she answered. "What is there we have in common, Cardinal
Caprarola?"

"Ambition," said his Eminence, "which is known alike to saint and
sinner."

Ysabeau looked at him swiftly; he was smiling with lips and eyes,
sitting back with an air of ease and power that discomposed her; she
had never liked him.

"If your talk be of policy, my lord, it is to the Emperor you should
go."

"I think you have as much influence in Rome as your husband, my
daughter."

There was a dazzling glitter of coloured light as the Empress moved
her jewelled hands. "It is our influence you wish, my lord--certes, a
matter for the Emperor."

His large keen eyes never left her face.

"Yea, you understand me."

"Your Eminence desires our support in the Conclave now sitting," she
continued haughtily.

"But have you ever shown so much duty to us, that we should wish to
see you in St. Peter's seat?" She thought herself justified in
speaking thus to a man whose greatness had always galled her, for she
saw in this appeal for her help an amazing confession of weakness on
his part. But Luigi Caprarola remained entirely composed.

"You have your creatures in the Church," he said, "and you intend one
of them to wear the Tiara--there are sixteen Cardinals in the
Conclave, and I, perhaps, have half of them. Your Grace, you must see
that your faction does not interfere with what these priests desire--
my election namely."

"Must?" she repeated, her violet eyes dilating. "Your Eminence has
some reputation as a holy man--and you suggest the corruption of the
Conclave."

The Cardinal leant forward in his chair.

"I do not play for a saintly fame," he said, "and as for a corrupted
Conclave--your Grace should know corruption, seeing that your art, and
your art alone, achieved the election of Balthasar to the German
throne."

Ysabeau stared at him mutely; he gave a soft laugh.

"You are a clever woman," he continued. "Your husband is the first
King of the Germans to hold the Empery of the West for ten years and
keep his heel on the home lands as well; but even your wits will
scarcely suffice now; Bohemia revolts, and Basil stretches greedy
fingers from Ravenna, and to keep the throne secure you desire a man
in the Vatican who is Balthasar's creature."

The Empress rose and placed her hand on the gilded ribbing of the
window-frame.

"Your Eminence shows some understanding," she flashed, pale beneath
her paint; "we gained the West, and we will keep the West, so you see,
my lord, why my influence will be against you, not with you, in the
Conclave."

The Cardinal laid his hand lightly over his heart.

"Your Grace speaks boldly--you think me your enemy?"

"You declare yourself hostile, my lord."

"Nay, I may be a good friend to you--in St. Peter's."

She smiled.

"The Conclave have not declared their decision yet, your Eminence; you
are a great prince, but the Imperial party have some power."

The Cardinal sat erect, and his intense eyes quelled her despite
herself.

"Some power--which I ask you to exert in my behalf."

She looked away, though angry with herself that his gaze overawed her.

"You have declared your ambition, my lord; your talents and your
wealth we know--you are too powerful already for us to tolerate you as
master in Rome."

"Again you speak boldly," smiled the Cardinal. "Perhaps too boldly--I
think you will yet help me to the Tiara."

Ysabeau gave a quick glance at his pale, handsome face framed in the
red hair.

"Do you seek to bribe me, my lord?" She remembered the vast riches of
this man and their own empty treasury.

"Nay," said Luigi Caprarola, still smiling. "I threaten."

"Threaten!" At once she was tempestuous, panting, furious; the jewels
on her breast sparkled with her hastened breathing.

"I threaten that I will make you an outcast in the streets unless you
serve mc well."

She was the tiger-cat now, ready to turn at bay, Marozia
Porphyrogentris of Byzantium.

"I know that of you," said the Cardinal, "that once revealed, would
make the Emperor hurl you from his side."

She sucked in her breath and waited. "Melchoir of Brabant died by
poison and by witchcraft." "All the world knows that"--her eyes were
long and evil; "he was bewitched by a young doctor of Frankfort
College who perished for the deed."

The Cardinal looked down at the hand on his lap.

"Yea, that young doctor brewed the potion--you administered it."

Ysabeau took a step forward into the room. "You lie...I am not afraid
of you--you lie most utterly..."

Luigi Caprarola sprang to his feet.

"Silence, woman! speak not so to me! It is the truth, and I can prove
it!"

She bent and crouched; the plates of gold on her hair shook with her
trembling.

"You cannot prove it"--the words were forced from her quivering
throat; "who are you that you should dare this--should know this?"

The Cardinal still stood and dominated her.

"Do you recall a youth who was scrivener to your Chamberlain and
friend of the young doctor of rhetoric--Theirry his name, born of
Dendermonde?"

"Yea, he is now dead or in the East..."

"He is alive, and in Rome. He served you well once, Empress, when he
came to betray his friend, and you were quick to seize the chance--it
suited him then to truckle to you...I think he was afraid of you...he
is not now; he knows, and if I bid him he will speak."

"And what is his bare word against my oath and the Emperor's love?"

"I am behind his word--I and all the power of the Church."

Ysabeau answered swiftly.

"I am not of a nation easily cowed, my lord, nor are the people of our
blood readily trapped--I can tear your reputed saintship to rags by
spreading abroad this tale of how you tried to bargain with me for the
Popedom."

The Cardinal smiled in a way she did not care to see.

"But first I say to the Emperor--your wife slew your friend that she
might be your wife, your friend Melchoir of Brabant--you loved him
better than you loved the woman--will you not avenge him now?"

The Empress pressed her clenched hands against her heart and, with an
effort, raised her eyes to her accuser's masterful face.

"My lord's love against it all," she said hoarsely. "He knows
Melchoir's murderer perished in Frank-fort in the flames, he knows
that I am innocent, and he will laugh at you--weave what tissue of
falsehoods you will, sir, I do defy you, and will do no bargaining to
set you in the Vatican."

The Cardinal rested his finger-tips on the arm of the chair, and
looked down at them with a deepening smile.

"You speak," he answered, "as one whom I can admire--it requires great
courage to put the front you do on guilt--but I have certain knowledge
of what I say; come, I will prove to you that you cannot deceive me--
you came first to the house of a certain witch in Frankfort on a day
in August, a youth opened the door and took you into a room at the
back that looked on to a garden growing dark red roses; you wore, that
day, a speckled green mask and a green gown edged with fur."

He raised his eyes and looked at her; she moved back against the wall,
and outspread her hands either side her on the gleaming porphyry.

"You threatened the youth as I threaten you now--you knew that he had
been driven from Basle College for witchcraft, even as I know you
compassed the death of your first husband, and you asked him to help
you, even as I ask you to help me now."

"Oh!" cried the Empress; she brought her hands to her lips. "How can
you know this?"

The Cardinal reseated himself in his gold chair and marked with
brilliant, merciless eyes the woman struggling to make a stand against
him.

"Hugh of Rooselaare died," he said with sudden venom--"died basely for
justly accusing you, and so shall you die--basely--unless you aid me
in the Conclave."

He watched her very curiously; he wondered how soon he would utterly
break her courage, what new turn her defiance would take; he almost
expected to see her at his feet.

For a few seconds she was silent; then she came a step nearer; the
veins stood out on her forehead and neck; she held her hands by her
side--they were very tightly clenched, but her beautiful eyes were
undaunted.

"Cardinal Caprarola," she said, "you ask me to use my influence to
bring about your election to the Popedom--knowing you as I know you
now I cannot fail to see you are a man who would stop at nought...if I
help you I shall help my husband's enemy--once you are in the Vatican,
how long will you tolerate him in Rome? You will be no man's creature,
and, I think, no man's ally--what chance shall we have in Rome once
you are master? Sylvester was old and meek, he let Balthasar hold the
reins--will you do that?"

"Nay," smiled the Cardinal. "I shall be no puppet Pope."

"I knew it," answered the Empress with a deep breath; "will you swear
to keep my husband in his place?"

"That will not I," said Luigi Caprarola. "If it please me I will hurl
him down and set one of my own followers up. I have no love for
Balthasar of Courtrai."

Ysabeau's face hardened with hate.

"But you think he can help you to the Tiara--"

"Through you, lady--you can tell him I am his friend, his ally, what
you will--or you may directly influence the Cardinals, I care not, so
the thing be done; what I shall do if it be not done, I have said."

The Empress twisted her fingers together and suddenly laughed.

"You wish me to deceive my lord to his ruin, you wish me to place his
enemy over him--now, when we are harassed, here and in Germany, you
wish me to do a thing that may bring his fortunes to the dust---why,
you are not so cunning, my lord, if you think you can make me the
instrument of Balthasar's down-fall!"

The Cardinal looked at her with curiosity.

"Nevertheless your Grace will do it--sooner than let me say what I can
say."

She held up her head and smiled in his face. "Then you are wrong;
neither threats nor bribery can make me do this thing--say what you
will to the Emperor, I am secure in his good affections; blight my
fame and turn him against me if you can, I am not so mean a woman that
fear can make me betray the fortunes of my husband and my son."

The Cardinal lowered his eyes; he was very pale.

"You dare death," he said, "a shameful death--if my accusation be
proved--as proved it shall be."

The Empress looked at him over her shoulder. "Dare death!" she cried.
"You say I have dared Hell for--him!--shall I be afraid, then, of
paltry death?"

Luigi Caprarola's breast heaved beneath the vivid silk of his robe.

"Of what are you afraid?" he asked.

"Of nothing save evil to my lord."

The Cardinal's lids drooped; he moistened his lips.

"This is your answer?"

"Yea, your Eminence; all the power I possess shall go to prevent you
mounting the throne you covet so--and now, seeing you have that answer
I will leave, my courtiers grow weary in your halls."

She moved to the door, her limbs trembling beneath her, her brow cold,
her hands chilled and moist, and her heart shivering in her body, yet
with a regal demeanour curbing and controlling her fear.

As she opened it the Cardinal turned his head. "Give me a little
longer, your Grace," he said softly. "I have yet something to say."

She reclosed the door and stood with her back against it.

"Well, my lord?"

"You boast you are afraid of nothing--certes, I wonder--you defy me
boldly and something foolishly in this matter of your guilt; will you
be so bold in the matter of your innocence?"

He leant forward in his chair to gaze at her; she waited silently,
with challenging eyes.

"You are very loyal to your husband, you will not endanger your son's
possible heritage; these things, you tell me, are more to you than
shame or death; your lord is Emperor of the West, your son King of the
Romans--well, well--you are too proud--"

"Nay," she flashed, "I am not too proud for the wife of Balthasar of
Courtrai and the mother of a line of Emperors--we are the founders of
our house, and it shall be great to rule the world."

The Cardinal was pale and scornful, his narrowed eyes and curving
mouth expressed bitterness--and passion.

"Here is the weapon shall bring you to your knees," he said, "and make
your boasting die upon your lips--you are not the wife of Balthasar,
and the only heritage your son will ever have is the shame and
weariness of the outcast."

She gathered her strength to meet this wild enormity. "Not his
wife...why, you rave...we were married before all Frankfort...not
Balthasar's wife!"

The Cardinal rose; his head was held very erect; he looked down on her
with an intense gaze. "Your lord was wed before."

"Yea, I know...what of it?"

"This--Ursula of Rooselaare lives!"

Ysabeau gave a miserable little cry and turned about as if she would
fall; she steadied herself with a great effort and faced the Cardinal
desperately.

"She died in a convent at Flanders--this is not the truth--"

"Did I not speak truth before?" he demanded. "In the matter of
Melchoir."

A cry was wrung from the Empress.

"Ursula of Rooselaare died in Antwerp," she repeated wildly--"in the
convent of the White Sisters."

"She did not, and Balthasar knows she did not--he thinks she died
thereafter, he thinks he saw her grave, but he would find it empty--
she lives, she is in Rome, and she is his wife, his Empress, before
God and man."

"How do you know this?" She made a last pitiful attempt to brave him,
but the terrible Cardinal had broken her strength; the horror of the
thing he said had chilled her blood and choked her heart-beats.

"The youth who helped you once, the doctor Constantine...from him
Balthasar obtained the news of his wife's death, for Ursula and he
were apprenticed to the same old master--ask Balthasar if this be not
so--well, the youth lied, for purposes of his own; the maid lived
then, and is living now, and if I choose it she will speak."

"It is not possible," shuddered the Empress; "no--you wish to drive me
mad, and so you torture me--why did not this woman speak before?"

The Cardinal smiled.

"She did not love her husband as you do, lady, and so preferred her
liberty; you should be grateful."

"Alive, you say," whispered Ysabeau, unheeding, "and in Rome? But none
would know her, she could not prove she was--his--Ursula of
Rooselaare."

"She has his ring," answered Luigi Caprarola, "and her wedding deeds,
signed by him and by the priest--there are those at Rooselaare who
know her, albeit it is near twenty years since she was there; also she
hath the deposition of old Master Lukas that she was a supposed nun
when she came to him, and in reality the wife of Balthasar of
Courtrai; she can prove no one lies buried in the garden of Master
Lukas's house, and she can bring forward sisters of the Order to which
she belonged to show she did not die on her wedding day--this and
further proof can she show."

The Empress bowed her head on her breast and put her hand over her
eyes.

"She came to you--sir, with...this tale?"

"That is for me to say or not as I will."

"She must be silenced! By Christus His Mother she must be silent!"

"Secure me the casting vote in the Conclave and she will never speak."

"I have said. I...cannot, for his sake, for my son's sake--"

"Then I will bring forth Ursula of Rooselaare, and she shall prove
herself the Emperor's wife--then instantly must you leave him, or both
of you will be excommunicated--your alternative will be to stay and be
his ruin or go to obscurity, never seeing his face again; your son
will no longer be King of the Romans, but a nameless wanderer--spurned
and pitied by those who should be his subjects--and another woman will
sit by Balthasar's side on the throne of the West!"

The Empress set her shoulders against the door.

"And if my lord be loyal to me as I to him--to me and to my son--"

"Then will he be hounded from his throne, cast out by the Church and
avoided by men; will not Lombardy be glad to turn against him and
Bohemia?"

For a little while she was silent, and the Cardinal also as he looked
at her, then she raised her eyes to meet his; steadily now she kept
them at the level of his gaze, and her base, bold blood served her
well in the manner of her speech.

"Lord Cardinal," she said, "you have won; before you, as before the
world, I stand Balthasar's wife, nor can you fright me from that proud
station by telling of--this impostor; yet, I am afraid of you; I dare
not come to an issue with you, Luigi Caprarola, and to buy your
silence on these matters I will secure your election--and afterwards
you and my lord shall see who is the stronger."

She opened the door, motioning him to silence.

"My lord, no more," she cried. "Believe me, I can be faithful to my
word when I am afraid to break it...and be you silent about this woman
Ursula." The Cardinal came from his seat towards her.

"We part as enemies," he answered, "but I kiss the hem of your gown,
Empress, for you are brave as you are beautiful."

He gracefully lifted the purple robe to his lips.

"And above all things do I admire a constant woman;" his voice was
strangely soft. Her face, cold, imperial beneath the shining gold and
glittering hair, did not change. "But, alas, you hate me!" he suddenly
laughed, raising his eyes to her.

"To-day I cannot speak further with you, sir."

She moved away, steadying her steps with difficulty; the two
chamberlains in the ante-chamber rose as she stepped out of the
cabinet.

"Benedictus, my daughter," smiled the Cardinal, and closed the door.

His face was flushed and bright with triumph; there was a curious
expression in his eyes; he went to the window and looked out on purple
Rome.

"How she loves him still!" he said aloud; "yet---why do I wonder?--is
he not as fair a man as--"

He broke off, then added reflectively, "Also, she is beautiful."

His long fingers felt among his silk robes; he drew forth a little
mirror and gazed at his handsome face with the darkened upper lip and
tonsured head.

As he looked he smiled, then presently laughed.



CHAPTER IV



THE DANCER IN ORANGE

Theirry walked slowly through the gorgeous ruins of Imperial Rome; it
was something after noon and glowingly hot; the Tiber curled in and
about the stone houses and broken palaces like a bronze and golden
serpent, so smooth and glittering it was.

He followed the river until it wound round the base of Mount Aventine;
and there he paused and looked up at the Emperor's palace, set
splendidly on the hill.

Above the dazzling marble floated the German standard, vivid against
the vivid sky, and Frankish guards were gathered thick about the
magnificent portals.

The noble summit of Soract dominated the distance and the city; over
the far-off Campagna quivered a dancing vapour of heat; the little
boats on the Tiber rested lazily in their clear reflections, and their
coloured sails drooped languidly.

Theirry marked with a vacant gaze the few passersby; the mongrel crowd
of Rome--Slav, Frank, Jew or Greek, with here and there a Roman noble
in a chariot, or a German knight on horseback.

He was not considering them, but Cardinal Caprarola.

Several days now he had been in the city, but there had come no
message from the Cardinal; a dozen times he had gone over every word,
every little incident of his strange interview in the palace on the
Palatine with a wild desire to assure himself of its truth; had he not
been promised the Imperial crown?--impossible that seemed, yet no more
impossible than that Dirk Renswoude should have become a Prince of the
Church and the greatest man in Rome.

He could not think of those two as the same; different forms of the
same devil, but not actually the same man, the same flesh and
blood...black magic!...it was a terrible thing and a wonderful; if he
had served the fiend better what might it not have done for him, what
might not it still do? Neither could he understand Dirk's affection or
tenderness; even after the betrayal his one-time comrade was faithful
to those long-ago vows. .

He looked at the Golden Palace on the Aventine--Emperor of the West!

Balthasar reigned there now...well, why not he?...with the Devil as an
ally...and there was no God.

His beautiful face grew sombre with thought; he walked thoughtfully
round the base of the hill, remarked by those coming and going from
the palace for his splendid appearance and rich Eastern dress.

A little Byzantine chariot, gilt, with azure curtains and drawn by a
white horse, came towards him; the occupant was a lady in a green
dress; the grooms ran either side the horse's head to assist it up the
hill; the chariot passed Theirry at a walking pace.

"

The lady was unveiled, and the sun was full on her face.

It was Jacobea of Martzburg.

She did not see him; her car continued its slow way towards the
palace, and Theirry stood staring after it.

He had last seen her ten years, and more, ago, in her steward's arms
in the courtyard of Castle Martzburg; beyond them Sebastian's wife...

He wondered if she had married the steward, and smiled to think that
he had once considered her a saint; ten years ago, and he had not yet
learnt his lesson; many men had he met and none holy, many women and
none saintly, and yet he had been fool enough to come to Rome because
he believed God was triumphant in the person of Luigi Caprarola...

A fool's reward had been his; Heaven's envoy had proved the Devil
incarnate, and he had been mocked with the sight of the woman for
whose sake he had made pitiful attempts to be cleansouled; the woman
who had, for another man's love, defied the angels and taken her fate
into her own hands.

For another man's sake!--this the bitterest thought of all bitter
thoughts yet--and yet--he did not know if he had ever loved her, or
only the sweet purity she was a false symbol of--he was sure of
nothing. This way and that his mind went, ever hesitating, ever
restless--his heart was ready as water to take the colour of what
passed it, and his soul was as a straw before the breath of good and
evil.

The sound of cymbals and laughter roused him from his agitated
thoughts.

He looked along the road that wound by the Tiber and saw a little
crowd approaching, evidently following a troupe of jugglers or
mountebanks.

As they came nearer to where he loitered, Theirry, ever easily
attracted by any passing excitement or attraction, could not choose
but give them a half-sullen attention.

The centre of the group was a girl in an orange gown, they who
followed her the mere usual citizens of Rome, some courtiers of the
Emperor's, soldiers, merchants' clerks, and the rabble of children,
lazy mongrel foreigners and Franks.

The dancer stopped and spread a scarlet carpet on the roadway; the
crowd gathered about it in a circle, and Theirry drew up with the
rest, interested by what interested them--the two facts, namely, that
marked the girl as different from her kind.

Firstly, she affected the unusual modesty or coquetry of a black mask
that completely covered her face, and, secondly, she was attended only
by an enormous and hideous ape.

She wore a short robe in the antique style, girdled under her bosom,
and fastened on her shoulders with clasps of gold; gilt sandals,
closely laced, concealed her feet and ankles; round her bust and arms
was twisted a gauze scarf of the same hue as her gown, a deep, bright
orange, and her hair, which was a dark red gold, was gathered on the
top of her head in a cluster of curls, and bound with a violet fillet.

Although the mask concealed her charms of face, it was obvious that
she was young, and probably Greek; her figure was tall, full, and
splendidly graceful; she held a pair of brass cymbals and struck them
with a stormy joyousness above her proud head.

The ape, wearing a collar of bright red stones and a long blue jacket
trimmed with spangles, curled himself on the corner of the carpet and
went to sleep.

The girl began dancing; she had no music save her cymbals, and needed
none.

Her movements were quick, passionate, triumphant; she clashed the
brass high in the air and leapt to meet the fierce sound; her gold-
shod feet twinkled like jewels, the clinging skirt showed the
beautiful lines of her limbs, and the gauze floating back revealed her
fair white arms and shoulders. Suddenly she lowered the cymbals,
struck them together before her breast, and looked from right to left.
Theirry caught the gleam of her dark eyes through the holes in her
mask.

For a while she crouched together, panting, then drew herself erect,
and let her hands fall apart. The burning sun shone in her hair, in
the metal hems of her robe, in her sandals, and changed the cymbals
into discs of fire.

She began to sing; her voice was deep and glorious, though muffled by
the mask.

Slowly she moved round the red carpet, and the words of her song fell
clearly on the hot air.

"If Love were all!

His perfect servant I would be.

Kissing where his foot might fall, Doing him homage on a lowly knee.

If Love were all!

If Love were all!

And no such thing as Pride nor Empery, Nor, God, nor sins or great or
small, If Love were all!

She passed Theirry, so close, her fluttering robe touched his slack
hand; he looked at her curiously, for he thought he knew her voice; he
had heard many women sing, in streets and in palaces, and, somewhere,
this one.

"If Love were all!

But Love is weak.

And Hate oft giveth him a fall.

And Wisdom smites him on the cheek, If Love were all!

If Love were all!

I had lived glad and meek, Nor heard Ambition call And Valour speak.

If Love were all!

The song ended as it had begun on a clash of cymbals; the dancer swung
round, stamped her foot and called fiercely to the ape, who leapt up
and began running round the crowd, offering a shell and making an ugly
jabbering noise.

Theirry flung the hideous thing a silver bezant and moved away; he was
thinking, not of the dancer with the unknown memory in her voice, but
of the lady in the gilt chariot behind the azure curtains how little
she had changed!

A burst of laughter made him look round; he saw a quick picture: the
girl's orange dress flashing in the strong sunlight, the ape on her
shoulder hurling the contents of the shell in the air, which glittered
for a second with silver pieces, and the jesting crowd closing round
both.

He passed on moodily into the centre of the town; in the unrest and
agitation of his thoughts he had determined to seek Cardinal
Caprarola, since the Cardinal gave no sign of sending for him.

even of remembering him; but to-day it was useless to journey to the
Palace on the Palatine, for the Conclave sat in the Vatican, and the
Cardinal would be of their number.

The streets, the wine shops, the public squares were full of a mixed
and excited mob; the adherents of the Emperor, who wished to see a
German pontiff, and they who were ardent Romans or Churchmen came,
here and there, to open brawls; the endless processions that crossed
and re-crossed from the various monasteries and churches were
interrupted by the lawless jeers of the Frankish inhabitants, who,
under a strong Emperor and a weak Pope, had begun to assume the
bearing of conquerors.

Theirry left them all, too concerned, as always, in his own small
affairs to have any interest in larger issues; he turned into the Via
Sacra, and there, under the splendid but broken arch of Constantine,
he saw again the dancing girl and her ape.

She looked at him intently; of that he could have no doubt, despite
her mask, and, as he turned his hesitating steps towards the Palatine,
she rose and followed him.

As he ascended the narrow grey road that wound above the city, he kept
looking over his shoulder, and she was always there, following, with
the ape on her shoulder.

They passed scattered huts, monasteries, decaying temples and villas,
and came out on to the deserted stretches of the upper Palatine, where
the fragmentary glories of another world lay under the cypress and
olive trees.

Here Theirry paused, and again looked, half fearfully, for the bright
figure of the dancer.

She stood not far from him, leaning against a slender shaft of marble,
the sole remaining column of a temple to some heathen god; behind it a
blue-green grove of cypress arose, and behind them the city lay wrapt
in the sparkling mist of noonday, through which, at intervals, gleamed
the dusky waters of the Tiber.

The mighty walls showed brown and dark against the houses they
enclosed, and the dusty vineyards scorched in the sun that blazed on
the lantern of St. Peter and the angel on Castel del' Angelo.

The stillness of great heat was over city and ruins, noiseless
butterflies fluttered over the shattered marble, and pale narcissi
quivered in the deep grass; the sky, a bronze gold over the city and
about the mountainous horizon, was overhead a deep and burning blue; a
colour that seemed reflected in the clusters of violets that grew
about the fallen masonry.

Theirry flung himself on a low marble seat that stood in the shade of
a cypress, and his blood-red robe was vivid even in the shadow; he
looked at the veiled city at his feet, and at the dancing girl resting
against the time-stained, moss-grown column.

She loosened the cymbals from her hands and flung them on the ground;
the ape jumped from her shoulder and caught them up.

Again she sang her passionate little song.

"If Love were all!

His faithful servant I would be.

Kissing where his foot might fall, Doing him homage on a lowly knee.

If Love were all!"

As she sang, another and very different scene was suddenly brought to
Theirry's mind; he remembered a night when he had slept on the edge of
a pine forest, in Germany--many years ago--and had suddenly awoke--
nay, he had dreamt he heard singing, and a woman's singing...if it
were not so mad a thought he would have said--this woman's singing.

He turned bitter, dark eyes towards her--why had she followed him?

Swiftly and lightly she came across the grass, glittering from head to
foot in the sunlight, and paused before him.

"Certes, you should be in Rome to-day," she said. "The Conclave come
to their decision this afternoon; do you wish to hear it announced
from the Vatican?"

"Nay," smiled Theirry. "I would rather see you dance."

Her answer was mocking.

"You care nothing for my dancing--I would wager to stir any man in
Rome sooner than you!" Theirry flushed.

"Why did you follow me?" he asked in a half-indifferent dislike.

She seated herself on the other end of his marble bench.

"My reasons are better than my dancing, and would, could I speak them,
have more effect on you."

The light hot wind ruffled back the gauze from her beautiful arms and
shoulders; her bright hair and masked face were in shadow, but her
gold-sandalled foot, which rested lightly on the wild, sweet violets,
blazed in the sunshine.

Theirry looked at her foot as he answered--

"I am a stranger to Rome and know not its customs, but if you are what
you seem you can have no serious reason in following me."

The dancing girl laughed.

"A stranger! then that is why you are the only man in Rome not waiting
eagerly to know who the new Pope will be."

"It is curious for a wandering minstrel to have such interest in holy
matters," said Theirry.

She leant towards him across the length of the bench, and the perfume
of her orange garments mingled with the odour of the violets.

"Take me for something other than I appear," she replied, in a
mournful and passionate voice. "In being here I risk an unthinkable
fate--I stake the proudest hopes...the fairest fortune..." "Who are
you?" cried Theirry. "Why are you masked?"

She drew back instantly, and her tone changed to scorn again.

"When there are many pilgrims in Rome the monks bid us poor fools wear
masks, lest, with our silly faces, we lure souls away from God."

Theirry stared at the proud city beneath him. "Could I find God," he
said bitterly, "no fair face should beguile me away--but God is bound
and helpless, I think, at the Devil's chair." The dancer crushed her
bright foot down on the violets.

"I cannot imagine," she said intensely, "how a man can spend his life
looking for God and saving his own soul--is not the world beautiful
enough to outweigh heaven?"

Theirry was silent.

The dancing girl laughed softly.

"Are you thinking of--her?" she asked.

He turned with a start.

"Thinking of whom?" he demanded.

"The lady in the Byzantine chariot--Jacobea of Martzburg."

He sprang up.

"Who are you, and what do you know of me?"

"This, at least--that you have not forgotten her!---Yet you would be
Emperor, too, would you not?"

"

Theirry drew back from her stretched along the marble seat, until his
crimson robe touched the dark trunks of the cypress trees.

"Ye are some witch," he said.

"I come from Thessaly, where we have skill in magic," she answered.

And now she sat erect, her yellow dress casting a glowing reflection
into the marble.

"And I tell you this," she added passionately. "If you would be
Emperor, let that woman be--she will do nought for you--let her go!--
this is a warning, Theirry of Dendermonde!" His face flushed, his eyes
sparkled.

"Have I a chance of wearing the Imperial crown?" he cried. "May I--I,
rule the West?--Tell me that, witch!"

She whistled the ape to her side.

"I am no witch--but I can warn you to think no more of Jacobea of
Martzburg." He answered hotly.

"I love not to hear her name on your tongue; she is nothing to me; I
need not your warning." The dancer rose.

"For your own sake forget her, Theirry of Dendermonde, and you may be
indeed Emperor of the West and Csar of the Romans."

The gold gleaming on her robe, her sandals, in her hair, confused and
dazzled him, the hideous ape gave him a pang of terror.

"How came you by your knowledge?" he asked, and clutched the cypress
trunk.

"I read your fortune in your eyes," she answered. "We in Thessaly have
skill in these things, as I have said... Look at the city beneath us--
is it not worth much to reign in it?"

The gold vapour that lay about the distant hills seemed to be
resolving into heavy, menacing clouds.

Theirry, following the direction of her slender pointing finger, gazed
at the city and saw the clouds beyond.

"A storm gathers," he said, and knew not why he shivered suddenly
until his pearl earrings tinkled on the collar round his neck.

The dancer laughed, wildly and musically.

"Come with me to the Piazza of St. Peter," she said, "and you shall
hear strange words." With that she caught hold of his blood-red
garments and drew him towards the city.

The perfume from her dress and her hair stole into his nostrils; the
hem of her tunic made a delicate sound as it struck her sandals, the
violet ribbon in her fillet touched his face...he hated the black,
expressionless mask; he had strange thoughts under her touch, but he
came silently.

As they went down the road that wound through the glorious desolation
Theirry heard the sound of pattering feet, and looked over his
shoulder.

It was the ape who followed them; he walked on his hind legs...how
tall he was!--Theirry had not thought him so large, nor of such a
human semblance.

The dancer was silent, and Theirry could not speak; when they entered
the city gates the dun-coloured clouds had swallowed up the gold
vapour and half covered the sky; as they crossed the Tiber and neared
the Vatican the last beams of the sun disappeared under the shadow of
the oncoming storm.

Enormous crowds were gathered in the Piazza of St. Peter; it seemed as
if all Rome had assembled there; many faces were turned towards the
sky, and the sudden gloom that had overspread the city seemed to
infect the people, for they were mostly silent, even sombre.

The enormous and terrible ape cleared an easy way for himself through
the crowd, and Theirry and the dancing girl followed until they had
pushed through the press of people and found themselves under the
windows of the Vatican.

The heavy, ominous clouds gathered and deepened like a pall over the
city; black, threatening shapes rolled up from behind the Janiculum
Hill, and the air became fiery with the sense of impending tempest.

Suspense, excitement and the overawing aspect of the sky kept the
crowd in a whispering stillness.

Theirry heard the dancing girl laugh; she was thrust up close against
him in the press, and, although tall, was almost smothered by a number
of Frankish soldiers pressing together in front of her.

"I cannot see," she said--"not even the window--"

He, with an instinct to assist her, and an impulse to use his
strength, caught her round the waist and lifted her up.

For a second her breast touched his; he felt her heart beating
violently behind her thin robe, and an extraordinary sensation took
possession of him.

Occasioned by the touch of her, the sense of her in his arms, there
was communicated, as if from her heart to his, a high and rapturous
passion; it was the most terrible and the most splendid feeling he had
ever known, at once an agony and a delight such as he had never
dreamed of before; unconsciously he gave an exclamation and loosened
his hold. She slipped to the ground with a stifled and miserable cry.

"Let me alone," he said wildly. "Let me alone

"Who are you?" he whispered excitedly, and tried to catch hold of her
again; but the great ape came between them, and the seething crowd
roughly pushed him.

Cardinal Maria Orsini had stepped out on to one of the balconies of
the Vatican; he looked over the expectant crowd, then up at the black
and angry sky, and seemed for a moment to hesitate.

When he spoke his words fell into a great stillness.

"The Sacred College has elected a successor to St. Peter in the person
of Louis of Dendermonde, Abbot of the Brethren of the Sacred Heart in
Paris, Bishop of Ostia and Cardinal Caprarola, who will ascend the
Papal throne under the name of Michael II."

He finished; the cries of triumph from the Romans, the yells of rage
from the Franks were drowned in a sudden and awful peal of thunder;
the lightning darted across the black heavens and fell on the Vatican
and Castel San' Angelo. The clouds were rent in two behind the temple
of Mars the Avenger, and a thunderbolt fell with a hideous crash into
the Forum of Augustus.

Theirry, whipped with terror, turned with the frightened crowd to
flee...he heard the dancing girl laugh, and tried to snatch at her
orange garments, but she swept by him and was lost in the surge.

Rome quivered under the onslaught of the thunder, and the lightning
alone lit the murky, hot gloom.

"The reign of Antichrist has begun!" shrieked Theirry, and laughed
insanely.



CHAPTER V THE POPE



The chamber in the Vatican was so dimly, richly lit with jewelled and
deep-coloured lamps that at first Theirry thought himself alone.

He looked round and saw silver walls hung with tapestries of violet
and gold; pillars with columns of sea-green marble and capitals of
shining mosaic supported a roof encrusted with jasper and jade; the
floor, of Numidian marble, was spread with Indian silk carpets; here
and there stood crystal bowls of roses, white and crimson, fainting in
the close, sweet air.

At the far end of the room was a dais hung with brocade in which
flowers and animals shone in gold and silver on a purple ground; gilt
steps, carved and painted, led up to a throne on the dais, and
Theirry, as his eyes became used to the wine-coloured gloom, saw that
some one sat there; some one so splendidly robed and so still that it
seemed more like one of the images Theirry had seen worshipped in
Constantinople than a human being.

He shivered.

Presently he could discern intense eyes looking at him out of a dazzle
of dark gold and shimmering shadowed colours.

Michael II moved in his seat.

"Again do you not know me?" he asked in a low tone.

"You sent for me," said Theirry; to himself his voice sounded hoarse
and unnatural. "At last--"

"At last?"

"I have been waiting--you have been Pope thirty days, and never have
you given me a sign." "Is thirty days so long?"

Theirry came nearer the enthroned being.

"You have done nothing for me--you spoke of favours."

Silver, gold and purple shook together as Michael II turned in his
gorgeous chair.

"Favours!" he echoed. "You are the only man in Christendom who would
stand in my presence; the Emperor kneels to kiss my foot."

"The Emperor does not know," shuddered Theirry; "but I do--and
knowing, I cannot kneel to you...Ah, God!--how can you dare it?"

The Pope's soft voice came from the shadows. "Your moods change--first
this, then that; what humour are you in now, Theirry of Dendermonde;
would you still be Emperor?"

Theirry put his hand to his brow.

"Yea, you know it--why do you torture me with suspense, with waiting?
If Evil is to be my master, let me serve him...and be rewarded."

Michael II answered swiftly.

"I was not the one to be faithless to our friendship, nor shall I now
shrink from serving you, at any cost--be you but true."

"In what way can I be false?" asked Theirry bitterly. "I, a thing at
your mercy?"

The Pope held back the blossom-strewn brocade so that he could see the
other's face. "I ask of you to let Jacobea of Martzburg be."

Theirry flushed.

"How ye have always hated her!...since I came to Rome I have seen her
the once."

The Pope's smooth pale face showed a stain of red from the dim beams
of one of the splendid lamps; Theirry observed it as he leant forward.

"She did not marry her steward," he said.

The Pope's eyes narrowed.

"Ye have been at the pains to discover that?"

Theirry laughed mournfully.

"You have won! you, sitting where you sit now, can afford to mock at
me; at my love, at my hope--both of which I placed once at stake on--
her--and lost!...and lost! Ten years ago--but having again seen her,
sometimes I must think of her, and that she was not vile after all,
but only trapped by you, as I have been...Sebastian went to Palestine,
and she has gone unwed."

The Pope gave a quick sigh and bit his lip.

"I will make you Emperor," he said. "But that woman shall not be your
Empress." Again Theirry laughed.

"Did I love her even, which I do not--I would put her gladly aside to
sit on the Imperial throne!--Come, I have dallied long enough on the
brink of devilry--let me sin grandly now, and be grandly paid!"

Michael II gave so quick a breath the jewels on his breast scattered
coloured light.

"Come nearer to me," he commanded, "and take my hand--as you used to,
in Frankfort...I am always Dirk to you--you who never cared for me,
hated me, I think--oh, the traitors our hearts are, neither God nor
devil is so fierce to fight!"

Theirry approached the gold steps; the Pope leant down and gave him
his cool white hand, heavy with gemmed rings, and looked intently into
his eyes.

"When they announced your election--how the storm smote the city,"
whispered Theirry fearfully; "were you not daunted?"

The Pope withdrew his hand.

"I was not in the Conclave," he said in a strange tone. "I lay sick in
my villa--as for the storm--"

"It has not lifted since," breathed Theirry; "day and night have the
clouds hung over Rome--is not there, after all, a God?"

"Silence!" cried the Pope in a troubled voice.

"You would be Emperor of the West, would you not?--let us speak of
that."

Theirry leant against the arm of the throne and stared with an awful
fascination into the other's face.

"Ay, let us speak of that," he answered wildly; "can all your
devilries accomplish it? It is common talk in Rome that you secured
your election by Frankish influence because you vowed to league with
Balthasar--they say you are his ally--"

The dark intense eyes of Michael II glittered and glowed.

"Nevertheless I will cast him down and set you in his place--he comes
to-day to ask my aid against Lombardy and Bohemia; and therefore have
I sent for you that you may overhear this audience, and see how I mate
and checkmate an Emperor for your sake."

As he spoke, he pointed to the other end of the room where hung a
sombre and rich curtain. "Conceal yourself--behind that tapestry--and
listen carefully to what I say, and you will understand how I may
humble Balthasar and shake him from his throne."

Theirry, not joyous nor triumphant, but agitated and trembling with a
horrible excitement, crept across the room and passed silently behind
the arras.

As the long folds shook into place again the Pope touched a bell.

Paolo Orsini entered.

"Admit the Emperor."

The secretary withdrew; there was a soft sound in the ante-chamber,
the voices of priests.

Michael II put his hand to his heart and fetched two or three quick
panting breaths; his full lips curved to a strange smile, and a
stranger thought was behind it; a thought that, if expressed, would
not have been understood even by Theirry of Dendermonde, who of all
men knew most of his Holiness.

This it was--

"Did ever lady meet her lord like this before, or like this use him to
advance her love!"

A heavy tread sounded without, and the Emperor advanced into the
splendid glooms of the audience-chamber.

He was bare-headed, and at sight of the awe-inspiring figure, went on
his knees at the foot of the dais.

Michael II looked at him in silence; the silver door was closed, and
they were alone, save for the unseen listener behind the arras.

At last the Pope said slowly--

"Arise, my son."

The Emperor stood erect, showing his magnificent height and bearing;
he wore bronze-hued armour, scaled like a dragon's breast, the high
gold Imperial buskins, and an immense scarlet mantle that flowed
behind him; his thick yellow hair hung in heavy curls on to his
shoulders, and his enormous sword made a clatter against his armour as
he moved.

Theirry, cautiously drawing aside the curtain to observe, dug his
nails into his palms with bitter envy.

Behold the man who had once been his companion--little more than his
equal, and now--an Emperor!

"You desired an audience of us," said the Pope. "And some tedium may
be spared, for we can well guess what you have to say."

A look of relief came into Balthasar's great blue eyes; he was no
politician; the Empress, whose wits alone had kept him ten years on a
throne, had trembled for this audience.

"Your Holiness knows that it is my humble desire to form a firm
alliance between Rome and Germany. I have ruled both long enough to
prove myself neither weak nor false, I have ever been a faithful
servant of Holy Church--"

The Pope interrupted.

"And now you would ask her help against your rebellious subjects?"

"Yea, your Holiness."

Michael II smiled.

"On what right does your Grace presume when you ask us to aid you in
steadying a trembling throne?"

Balthasar flushed, and came clumsily to the point.

"I was assured, Holy Father, of your friendliness before the
election--the Empress--" Again the Pope cut him short.

"Cardinal Caprarola was not the Vicegerent of Christ, the High Priest
of Christendom, as we are now--and those whom Louis of Dendermonde
knew, become as nothing before the Pope of Rome, in whose estimate all
men are the same."

Balthasar's spirit rose at this haughty speech; his face turned
crimson, and he savagely caught at one of his yellow curls.

"Your Holiness can have no object in refusing my alliance," he
answered. "Sylvester crowned me with his own hands, and I always lived
in friendship with him--he aided me with troops when the Lombards
rebelled against their suzerain, and Suabia he placed under an
interdict--"

"We are not Sylvester," said the Pope haughtily---"nor accountable for
his doings; as you may show yourself the obedient son of the Church so
may we support you--otherwise!--we can denounce as we can uphold, pull
down as we can raise up, and it wants but little, Balthasar of
Courtrai, to shake your throne from under you."

The Emperor bit his lip, and the scales of his mail gleamed as they
rose with his heavy breathing; he knew that if the power of the
Vatican was placed on the side of his enemies he was ruined.

"In what way have I offended your Holiness?" he asked, with what
humility he could.

The fair young face of Michael II was flushed and proud in expression;
the red curls surrounding the tonsure fell across his smooth forehead;
his red lips were sternly set and his heavy brows frowned.

"Ye have offended Heaven, for whom we stand," he answered. "And until
by penitence ye assoil your soul we must hold you outcast from the
mercies of the Church."

"Tell me my sins," said Balthasar hoarsely. "And what I can do to blot
them out--masses, money, lands--"

The Pope made a scornful movement with his little hand.

"None of these can make your peace with God and us--one thing only can
avail there."

"Tell it me," cried the Emperor eagerly. "If it be a crusade, surely I
will go--after Lombardy is subdued."

The Pope flashed a quick glance over him. "We want no knight-errantry
in the East; we demand this--that you put away the woman whom you call
your wife."

Balthasar stared with dilating eyes.

"Saint Joris guard us!" he muttered; "the woman whom I call my wife!"

"Ysabeau, first wedded to the man whom you succeeded."

Balthasar's hand made an instinctive movement towards his sword.

"I do not understand your Holiness."

The Pope turned in his chair so that the lamplight made his robe one
bright purple sheen. "Come here, my lord."

The Emperor advanced to the gold steps; a slim fair hand was held out
to him, holding, between finger and thumb, a ring set with a deep red
stone.

"Do you know this, my lord?" The Pope's brilliant eyes were fixed on
him with an intent and terrible expression.

Balthasar of Courtrai looked at the ring; round the bezel two coats of
arms were delicately engraved in the soft red gold.

"Why," he said in a troubled way, "I know the ring--yea, it was made
many years ago" "And given to a woman.

"Certes--yea--"

"It is a wedding ring."

Again the Emperor assented, his blue eyes darkened and questioning.

"The woman to whom in your name it was given still lives."

"Ursula of Rooselaare!" cried Balthasar.

"Yea, Ursula of Rooselaare, your wife."

"My first wife who died before I had seen her, Holiness," stammered
the Emperor.

The Pope's strange handsome face was hard and merciless; he held the
wedding ring out on his open palm and looked from it to Balthasar.

"She did not die--neither in the convent, as to your shame you know,
nor in the house of Master Lukas."

Balthasar could not speak; he saw that this man knew what he had
considered was a close secret of his own heart alone.

"Who told you she was dead?" continued the Pope. "A certain youth,
who, for his own ends, I think, lied, a wicked youth he was, and he
died in Frankfort for compassing the death of the late Emperor--or
escaped that end by firing his house, the tale grows faint with years;
'twas he who told you Ursula of Rooselaare was dead; he even showed
you her grave--and you were content to take his word--and she was
content to be silent."

"Oh, Christus!" cried the Emperor. "Oh, Saint Joris!---but, holy
father--this thing is impossible!" He wrung his hands together and
beat his mailed breast. "From whom had you this tale?"

"From Ursula of Rooselaare."

"It cannot be...why was she silent all these years? why did she allow
me to take Ysabeau to wife?"

A wild expression crossed the Pope's face; he looked beyond the
Emperor with deep soft eyes. "Because she loved another man."

A pause fell for a second, then Michael II spoke again.

"I think, too, she something hated you who had failed her, and scorned
her--there was her father also, who died shamefully by Ysabeau's
command; she meant, I take it, to revenge that upon the Empress, and
now, perhaps, her chance has come."

Balthasar gave a dry sob.

"Where is this woman who has so influenced your Holiness against me?
An impostor! do not listen to her!"

"She speaks the truth, as God and devils know!" flashed the Pope. "And
we, with all the weight of Holy Church, will support her in the
maintenance of her just rights; we also have no love for this Eastern
woman who slew her lord."

"Nay, that is false"--Balthasar ground his teeth. "I know some said it
of her--but it is a lie." "This to me!" cried the Pope. "Beware how ye
anger God's Vicegerent."

The Emperor quivered, and put his hand to his brow.

"I bend my neck for your Holiness to step on--so you do not ask me to
listen to evil of the Empress."

The Pope rose with a gleam of silk and a sparkle of jewels.

"Ysabeau is not Empress, nor your wife; her son is not your heir, and
you must presently part with both of them or suffer the extremity of
our wrath--yea, the woman shall ye give into the hands of the
executioner to suffer for the death of Melchoir, and the child shall
ye turn away from you--and with pains and trouble shall ye search for
Ursula of Rooselaare, and finding her, cause her to be acknowledged
your wife and Empress of the West. That she lives I know, the rest is
for you."

The Emperor drew himself up and folded his arms on his breast.

"This is all I have to say," added the Pope. "And on those terms alone
will I secure to you the throne."

"I have but one answer," said Balthasar. "And it would be the same did
I deliver it in the face of God--that while I live and have breath to
speak, I shall proclaim Ysabeau and none other as my wife, and our son
as an Empress's son, and my heir and successor; kingdom and even life
may your Holiness despoil me of--but neither the armies of the earth
nor the angels of heaven shall take from me these two--this my answer
to your Holiness."

The Pope resumed his seat.

"Ye dare to defy me," he said. "Well--ye are a foolish man to set
yourself against Heaven; go back and live in sin and wait the
judgment."

Balthasar's flesh crept and quivered, but he held his head high, even
though the Pope's words opened the prospect of a sure hell.

"Your Holiness has spoken, so also have I," he answered. "I take my
leave."

Michael II gazed at him in silence as he bent his head and backed
towards the silver door.

No other word passed between Pope and Emperor; the gleaming portals
opened; the mail of Balthasar's retinue clinked without, and then soft
silence fell on the richly lit room as the door was delicately closed.

"Theirry."

The Pope rose and descended from the dais; the dark arras was lifted
cautiously, and Theirry crept into the room.

Michael II stood at the foot of the golden steps; despite his
magnificent and flowing draperies, he looked very young and slender.

"Well," he asked, and his eyes were triumphant. "Stand I not in a fair
way to cast down the Emperor?"

Theirry moistened his lips.

"Yea--how dared you!--to use the thunderbolts of heaven for such
ends!"

The Pope smiled.

"The thunders of heaven may be used to any ends by those who can wield
them." "What you said was false?" whispered Theirry, questioning.

The jewelled light flickered over the Pope's face.

"Nay, it was true, Ursula of Rooselaare lives."

"Ye never told me that--in the old days!"

"Maybe I did not know--she lives, and she is in Rome;" he caught hold
of the robe across his breast as he spoke, and both voice and eyes
were touched with weariness.

"This is a curious tale," answered Theirry in a confused manner. "She
must be a strange woman."

"She is a strange woman."

"I would like to see her--who is it that she loves?"

The Pope showed pale; he moved slowly across the room with his head
bent.

"A man for whose sake she puts her very life in jeopardy," he said in
a low passionate voice. "A man I think, who is unworthy of her."

"She is in Rome?" pondered Theirry.

The Pope lifted an arras that concealed an inner door.

"The first move is made," he said. "Farewell now--I will acquaint you
of the progress of your fortunes;" he gave a slight, queer smile; "as
for Ursula of Rooselaare, ye have seen her--" "Seen her?"

"Yea; she wears the disguise of a masked dancer in orange."

With that he pointed Theirry to the concealed doorway, and turning,
left him.



CHAPTER VI



SAN GIOVANNI IN LATERANO

In the palace on the Aventine, Balthasar stood at a window looking
over Rome.

The clouds that had hung for weeks above the city cast a dull yellow
glow over marble and stone; the air was hot and sultry, now and then
thunder rolled over the Vatican and a flash of lightning revealed the
Angel on Castel San Angelo poised above the muddy waters of the Tiber.

A furious, utter dread and terror gripped Balthasar's heart; days had
passed since his defiance of the Pope and he had heard no more of his
daring, but he was afraid, afraid of Michael II, of the Church, of
Heaven behind it--afraid of this woman who had risen from the dead...

He knew the number of his enemies and with what difficulty he held
Rome, he guessed that the Pope intended his downfall and to put
another in his place--but not this almost certain ruin disturbed him
day and night, no--the thought that the Church might throw him out and
consign his soul to smoky hell.

Bravely enough had he dared the Pope at the time when his heart was
hot within him, but in the days that followed his very soul had
fainted to think what he had done; he could not sleep nor rest while
waiting for outraged Heaven to strike; he darkly believed the
continual storm brooding over Rome to be omen of God's wrath with him.

His trouble was the greater because it was secret, the first that,
since they had been wedded, he had concealed from Ysabeau. As this
touched her, in an infamous and horrible manner, he could neither
breathe it to her nor any other, and the loneliness of his miserable
apprehension was an added torture.

This morning he had interviewed the envoys from Germany and his
chamberlain; tales of anarchy and turmoil in Rome, of rebellion in
Germany had further distracted him; now alone in his little marble
cabinet, he stared across the gorgeous, storm-wrapt city.

Not long alone; he heard some one quietly enter, and because he knew
who it was, he would not turn his head.

She came up to him and laid her hand on his plain brown doublet.

"Balthasar," she said, "will you never tell me what it is that sits so
heavily on your heart?" He commanded his voice to answer.

"Nothing, Ysabeau--nothing."

The Empress gave a long, quivering sigh.

"This is the first time you have not trusted me."

He turned his face; white and wan it was of late, with heavy circles
under the usually joyous eyes; she winced to see it.

"Oh, my lord!" she cried passionately. "No anguish is so bitter when
shared!"

He took her hand and pressed it warmly to his breast; he tried to
smile.

"Certes, you know my troubles, Ysabeau, the discontent, the factions--
matter enough to make any man grave."

"And the Pope," she said, raising her eyes to his; "most of all it is
the Pope."

"His Holiness is no friend to me," said the Emperor in a low voice.
"Oh, Ysabeau, we were deceived to aid him to the tiara."

She shuddered.

"I persuaded you...blame me...I was mad. I set your enemy in
authority."

"Nay!" he answered in a great tenderness. "You are to blame for
nothing, you, sweet Ysabeau."

He raised the hand he held to his lips; in the thought that he
suffered for her sake was a sweet recompense.

She coloured, then paled.

"What will he do?" she asked. "What will he do?"

"Nay--I know not." His fair face overclouded again.

She saw it and terror shook her.

"He said more to you that day than you will tell me!" she cried. "You
fear something that you will not reveal to me!"

The Emperor made an attempt at lightness of speech.

"He is a poor knight who tells his lady of his difficulties," he said.
"I cannot come crying to you like a child."

She turned to him the soft frail beauty of her face and took his great
sword hand between hers. "I am very jealous of you, Balthasar," she
said thickly, "jealous that you should shut me out---from anything."

"You will know soon enough," he answered in a hoarse voice. "But never
from me." The tears lay in her violet eyes as she fondled his band.

"Are we not as strong as this man, Balthasar!"

"Nay," he shivered, "for he has the Church behind him--to-morrow, we
shall see him again--I dread to-morrow."

"Why?" she asked quickly. "To-morrow is the Feast of the Assumption
and we go to the Basilica."

"Yea, and the Pope will be there in his power and I must kneel humbly
before him--yet not that alone--"

"Balthasar! what do you fear?"

He breathed heavily.

"Nothing--a folly, an ugly presentiment, of late I have slept so
little.--Why is he quiet?--He meditates something."

His blue eyes widened with fear, he put the Empress gently from him.

"Take no heed, sweet, I am only weary and your dear solicitude
unnerves me--I must go pray Saint Joris to remember me."

"The Saints!" she cried hotly. "A knife would serve us better could we
but thrust it into this Caprarola--who is he, this man who dares
menace us?"

The childishly fair face was drawn with anxious love and bitter fury;
the purple eyes were wet and brilliant, under her long robe of dull
yellow samite her bosom strove painfully with her breath.

The Emperor turned uneasily aside.

"The storm," he said, raising his voice above a whisper with an
effort. "I think that it oppresses me and makes me fearful--how many
days--how many days, Ysabeau, since we have seen a cloudless sky!"

He moved away from her hastily and left the room with an abrupt step.

The Empress crouched against the marble columns that supported the
window, and as her unseeing eyes gazed across the shadowed city a look
of cunning calculation, of fierce rage came into her face; it was many
years since that sinister expression had marred her loveliness, for,
since her second marriage she had met no man who threatened her or
menaced her path or the Emperor's as now did his Holiness, Michael II.

She half suspected him of having broken his vile bargain with her, she
rightly thought that nothing save the revelation of his first wife's
existence could have so subdued and troubled Balthasar's joyous
courage and hopeful heart; she cursed herself that she had been a
frightened fool to be startled into making a pact she might have known
the Cardinal would not keep; she was bitterly furious that she had
helped to set him in the position he now turned against her, it had
been better had she refused to buy his silence at such a price--better
that Cardinal Caprarola should have denounced her than that the Pope
should use this knowledge to unseat her husband.

She had never imagined that she had a friend in Michael II, but she
had not imagined him so callous, cruel and false as to take her bribe
and still betray her--even though the man had revealed himself to her
for what he was, as ambitious, unscrupulous and hard; she had not
thought he would so shamelessly be false to his word.

Angry scorn filled her heart when she considered the reputation this
man had won in his youth--that indeed he still bore with some--yet it
could not but stir her admiration to reflect what it must have cost a
man of the Pope's nature to play the ascetic saint for so many years.
But his piety had been well rewarded--the poor Flemish youth sat in
the Vatican now, lord of her husband's fortunes and her own honour.

Then she fell to pondering over the story of Ursula of Rooselaare,
wondering where she was, where she had been these years, and how she
had met Cardinal Caprarola... The Empress dwelt on these things till
her head ached; impatiently she thrust wider open the stained glass
casement and leant from the window.

But there was no breeze abroad to cool her burning brow, and on all
sides the sky was heavy with clouds over which the summer lightning
played.

Ysabeau turned her eyes from the threatening prospect, and with a
stifled groan began pacing up and down the tesselated floor of the
cabinet.

She was interrupted by the entry of a lady tall and fair, leading a
beautiful child by the hand. Jacobea of Martzburg and Ysabeau's son.

"We seek for his Grace," smiled the lady. "Wencelaus wishes to say his
Latin lesson, and to tell the tale of the three Dukes and the sack of
gold that he has lately learnt."

The Empress gave her son a quick glance.

"You shall tell it to me, Wencelaus--my lord is not here."

The boy, golden, large and glorious to look upon, scowled at her.

"Will not tell it you or any woman." Ysabeau answered in a kind of
bitter gentleness. "Be not too proud, Wencelaus," and the thought of
what his future might be made her eyes fierce.

The Prince tossed his yellow curls. "I want my father." Jacobea, in
pity of the Empress's distracted bearing, tried to pacify him.

"His Grace cannot see you now--but presently--" He shook his hand free
of hers. "Ye cannot put me off--my father said an hour before the
Angelus;" his blue eyes were angry and defiant, but his lips quivered.

The Empress crushed back the wild misery of her thoughts, and caught
the child's embroidered yellow sleeve.

"Certes, ye shall see him," she said quietly, "if he promised you--I
think he is in the oratory, we will wait at the door until he come
forth."

The boy kissed her hand, and, the shadow passed from his lovely face.

Jacobea saw the Empress look down on him with a desperate and heart-
broken expression; she wondered at the anguish revealed to her in that
second, but she was neither disturbed nor touched; her own heart had
been broken so long ago that all emotions were but names to her.

The Empress dismissed her with a glance.

Jacobea left the palace, mounted the little Byzantine chariot with the
blue curtains and drove to the church of San Giovanni in Laterano. She
went there every day to hear a mass sung for the soul of one who had
died long ago.

A large portion of her immense fortune had gone in paying for masses
and candles for the repose of Sybilla, one time wife of Sebastian her
steward; if gold could send the murdered woman there Jacobea had
opened to her the doors of Paradise.

In her quiet monotonous life in a strange land, caring for none, and
by none cared for, with a dead heart in her bosom and leaden feet
walking heavily the road to the grave, this Sybilla had come to be
with Jacobea the most potent thing she knew.

Neither Balthasar nor the Empress, nor any of their Court were so real
to her as the steward's dead wife.

She was as certain of her features, her bearing, the manner of her
dress, as if she saw her daily; there was no face so familiar to her
as the pale countenance of Sybilla with the wide brows and heavy red
hair; she saw no ghost, she was not frightened by dreams nor visions,
but the thought of Sybilla was continuous.

For ten years she had not spoken her name save in a whisper to the
priest, nor had she in any way referred to her; by the people among
whom she moved this woman was utterly forgotten, but in Jacobea's bed-
chamber stood a samite cushion exquisitely worked with a scarlet lily,
and Jacobea looked at it more often than at anything else in the
world.

She did not regard this image she had created with terror or dread,
with any shuddering remorse or aversion; it was to her a constant
companion whom she accepted almost as she accepted herself.

As she stepped from the chariot at the door of San Giovanni in
Laterano the gathering thunder rolled round the hills of Rome; she
pondered a moment on the ominous clouds that had hung so long over the
city that the people began to murmur that they were under God's
displeasure, and passed through the dark portals into the dimly
illuminated church.

She turned to a little side chapel and knelt on a purple cushion worn
by her knees.

Mechanically she listened as the priest murmured over the mass,
hurrying it a little that it might not interfere with the Angelus,
mechanically she made the responses and rose when it was over with a
calm face.

She had done this every day for nine years. There were a few people in
the church, kneeling for the Angelus; Jacobea joined them and fixed
her eyes on the altar, where a strong purple light glowed and
flickered, bringing out points of gold in the moulding of the ancient
arches.

A deep hush held the scented stillness; the scattered bent figures
were dark and motionless against the mystic clouds of incense and the
soft bright lights.

Monks in long brown habits came and stood in the chancel; the bell
struck the hour, and young novices entered singing--

"Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae, et concepit de Spiritu Sancto."

The monks knelt and folded their hands on their breasts; the response
that still seemed very sweet to Jacobea arose.

"Ave Maria, gratia plena--"

A side door near Jacobea opened' softly and a man stepped into the
church...Now the priest was speaking.

"Ecce ancilla Domini.

fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum."

A strong sense that the new-comer was observing her made Jacobea turn,
almost unconsciously, her head towards him as she repeated the "Ave
Maria."

A tall richly-dressed man was gazing at her intently; his face was in
shadow, but she could see long pearls softly gleam in his ears.

"Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis."

The deep voices of the monks and the subdued tones of the worshippers
again answered; Jacobea could distinguish the faltering words of the
man near her.

"Ora pro nobs, Sancta Del Genitrix."

Jacobea bent her head in her hands, as she replied--

"Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi."

Priests and novices left the church, the monks filed out and the bent
figures rose. The man stepped from the shadows as Jacobea rose to her
feet, and their eyes met. "Ah--you!" said Jacobea; she had her hands
on her breviary as he had seen them long ago.

She was so little moved by meeting him that she began to clasp the
ivory covers, bending her head to do so.

"You remember me?" asked Theirry faintly.

"I have forgotten nothing," she answered calmly. "Why do you seek to
recall yourself to me?" "I cannot see you and let you pass."

She looked at him; it was a different face from the one he had known,
though little changed in line or colour.

"You must hate me," he faltered.

The words did not touch her.

"Are you free of the devils?" she asked, and crossed herself.

Theirry winced; he remembered that she believed Dirk was dead, that
she thought of the Pope as a holy man. . .

"Forgive me," he murmured.

"For what?"

"Ah--that I did not understand you to be always a saintly woman."

Jacobea laughed sadly.

"You must not speak of the past, though you may think of nothing else,
even as I do--we might have been friends once, but the Devil was too
strong for us."

At that moment Thierry hated Dirk passionately; he felt he could have
been happy with this woman, and with her only in the whole world, and
he loathed Dirk for making it impossible. "Well," said Jacobea, in the
same unmoved tone, "I must go back--farewell, sir."

Theirry strove with speech in vain; as she moved towards the door he
came beside her, his beautiful face white and eager.

Then, by a common impulse, both stopped.

Round one of the dark glittering pillars a brilliant figure flashed
into the rich light. The masked dancer in orange.

She stepped up to Theirry and laid her fingers on his scarlet sleeve.

"How does Theirry of Dendermonde keep his word!" she mocked, and her
eyes gleamed from their holes; "is your heart of a feather's weight
that it flutters this way and that with every breath of air?"

"What does that mean?" asked Jacobea, as the man flushed and
shuddered. "And what does she here in this attire?"

The dancer turned to her swiftly

"What of one who drags his weary limbs beneath a Syrian sun in
penitence for a deed ye urged him to?" she said in the same tone.

Jacobea stepped back with a quick cry, and Theirry seized the dancer's
arm.

"Begone," he said threateningly. "I know you, or who you feign to be."

She answered between laughter and fear.

"Let me go--I have not hurt you; why are you angry, my brave knight?"

At the sound of her voice that she in no way lowered, a monk came
forward and sternly ordered her from the church.

"Why?" she asked. "I am masked, holy father, so cannot prove a
temptation to the faithful!" "Leave the church," he commanded, "and if
you would worship here come in a fitting spirit and a fitting dress."

The dancer laughed.

"So I am flung out of the house of God--well, sir and sweet lady, will
you come to the Mass at the Basilica to-morrow?--nay, do, it will be
worth beholding--the Basilica to-morrow! I shall be there."

With that she darted before them and slipped from the church.

Man and woman shuddered and knew not why.

A peal of thunder rolled, the walls of the church shook, and an image
of the Virgin was hurled to the marble pavement and shivered into
fragments.



CHAPTER VII



THE VENGEANCE OF MICHAEL II

From every church and convent in Rome the bells rang out; it was the
Feast of the Assumption and holiday in the city.

Strange, heavy clouds still obscured the sky, and intermittent thunder
echoed in the distance. The Basilica of St. Peter was crowded from end
to end; the bewildering splendour of walls, ceiling and columns was
lit by thousands of wax tapers and coloured lamps; part of the church
had been hung with azure and silver; the altar steps were covered in
cloth of gold, the altar itself almost hidden with lilies; the various
gleaming hues of the marble, orange, rose, pink, mauve, grey and
white, the jewel-like sparkle of the mosaic capitals, the ivory
carving on the rood screen, the silver arch before the high altar, the
silk and satin banners of the church resting here and there before the
walls, all combined into one soft yet burning magnificence.

The vast congregation all knelt upon the marble floor, save the
Emperor and his wife, who sat under a violet canopy placed opposite
the pulpit.

Balthasar wore the imperial purple and buskins; round his brows was
the circlet that meant dominion of the Latin world, but his comely
face was pale and anxious and his blue eyes troubled. Ysabeau, seated
close beside him, sparkled with gems from her throat to her feet; her
pale locks, twisted with pearls, hung over her bosom; she wore a high
crown of emeralds and her mantle was cloth of silver.

Between them, on a lower step of the dais, stood their little son,
gleaming in white satin and overawed by the glitter and the silence.

Surrounding the throne were ladies, courtiers, Frankish knights,
members of the Council, German Margraves, Italian nobles, envoys from
France, Spain, and resplendent Greeks from the Court of Basil.

Theirry, kneeling in the press, distinguished the calm face of Jacobea
of Martzburg among the dames of the Empress's retinue; but he sought
in vain through the immense and varied crowd for the dancer in orange.

A faint chant rose from the sacristy, jewelled crosses showed above
the heads of the multitude as the monks entered holding them aloft,
the fresh voices of the choristers came nearer, acolytes took their
places round the altar, and the blue clouds of incense floated over
the hushed multitude.

The bells ceased.

The rise and fall of singing filled the Basilica.

Cardinal Orsini, followed by a number of priests, went slowly down the
aisle towards the open bronze doors.

His brilliant dalmatica shivered into gleaming light as he moved.

At the door he paused.

The Pontifical train was arriving in a gorgeous dazzle of colour and
motion.

Michael II stepped from a gilt car drawn by four white oxen, whose
polished horns were wreathed with roses white and red.

Preceded by Cardinals, the vivid tints of whose silk robes burnt in
the golden brightness of the Basilica, the Pope passed down the aisle,
while the congregation crouched low on their knees and hid their
faces.

Emperor and Empress rose; he looked at his son, but she at the
Pontiff, who took no heed of either.

Monks, priests and novices moved away from the high altar, where the
rows upon rows of candles shone like stars against the sparkling,
incense-laden air.

He passed to his gold and ivory seat, and the Cardinals took their
places beside him.

Ysabeau, as she resumed her place beside her lord, gazed across the
silent, kneeling crowd at Michael II.

His chasuble was alive with the varying hues of jewels, the purple and
crimson train of his robes spread to right and left along the altar
steps, the triple crown gave forth showers of light from its rubies
and diamonds, while the red hair of the wearer caught the candle-glow
and shone like a halo round his pale calm face, so curiously delicate
of feature to be able to express such resolution, such pride.

His under-garment of white satin was so thickly sewn with pearls that
the stuff was hardly visible, his fingers so covered with huge and
brilliant rings that they looked of an unnatural slenderness by
contrast; he held a crozier encrusted with rubies that darted red
fire, and carbuncles flashed on his gold shoes.

The beautiful dark eyes that always held the expression of some
passion for ever surging up, for ever held in before reaching
expression, were fixed steadily on the bronze doors that now closed
the church.

A little tremor of thunder filled the stillness, then the fair, faint
chant of the boys arose.

"Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes

Sub honore Beatae

Mariae Virginis, ..."

Ysabeau murmured the words under her breath; none in the devout
multitude with more sincerity.

As the notes quivered into silence Cardinal Orsini murmured a prayer,
to which a thousand responses were whispered fervently.

And again the thunder made sombre echo. The Empress put her hand over
her eyes; her jewels seemed so heavy they must drag her from the
throne, the crown galled her brow; the little Wencelaus stood
motionless, a bright colour in his cheeks, his eyes brilliant with
excitement; now and then the Emperor looked at him in a secretive,
piteous manner.

There was an involuntary stir among the people as the rich voices of
the men took up the singing at the end of the epistle, a movement of
joy, of pleasure in the triumphant music.

"Alleluia, alleluia.

Assumpta est Maria in Coelum; Gaudet exercitus Angelorum. Alleluia."

Then the Pope moved, descended slowly from the dais and mounted the
steps of the high altar, his train upheld by two Archbishops.

Emperor and Empress knelt with the rest as he performed the office of
the mass; an intense stillness held the rapt assembly, but as he
turned and displayed the Host, before the vast multitude who hid their
eyes, as he held it like a captured star above the hushed splendour of
the altar, a crash of thunder shook the very foundations of the
church, and the walls shivered as if mighty forces beat on them
without.

Michael II, the only man erect in the crouching multitude smiled
slowly as he replaced the Eucharist; lightning' darted through the
high coloured windows and quivered a moment before it was absorbed in
the rich lights.

The voices of the choir rose with a melancholy beauty.

"Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison."

The Pope turned to the altar; again the thunder rolled, but his low,
steady voice was heard distinctly chanting the "Gloria in excelsis
Deo" with the choir.

At the finish Cardinal Orsini took up the prayers, and a half-muffled
response came from the crowd.

"Gloria tibi, Domine."

Every head was raised, every right hand made the sacred sign.

"Laus tibi, Christe."

The Pope blessed the multitude and returned to his seat.

Then as Emperor and Empress rose from their knees a soft, bright sound
of movement filled the Basilica; Ysabeau put out her hand and caught
hold of her husband's.

"Who is this?" she asked in a whisper.

He turned his eyes in the direction of her gaze.

Down the chancel came a tall monk in the robe of the Order of the
Black Penitents; his arms were folded, his hands hidden in his
sleeves, his deep cowl cast his face into utter shadow.

"I thought Cardinal Colonna preached," whispered Balthasar fearfully,
as the monk ascended the pulpit. "I know not this man."

Ysabeau looked at the Pope, who sat motionless in his splendour, his
hands resting on the arms of the gold chair, his gaze riveted on the
black figure of the monk in the glittering pulpit; a faint smile was
on his lips, a faint colour in his cheeks, and Ysabeau's hand
tightened on the fingers of her lord.

The monk stood for a moment motionless, evidently contemplating the
multitude from the depth of his hood; Balthasar thought he gazed at
him, and shivered.

A strange sense of suspense filled the church, even the priests and
Cardinals about the altar glanced curiously at the figure in the
pulpit; some women began to sob under the influence of nameless and
intense excitement.

The monk drew from his sleeve a parchment from which swung a mighty
seal, slowly he unfurled it; the Empress crouched closer to Balthasar.

The monk began to speak, and both to Ysabeau and her husband the voice
was familiar--a voice long silent in death.

"In the name of Michael II, servant of servants of God and Vicegerent
of Christ, I herewith pronounce the anathema over Balthasar of
Courtrai, Emperor of the West, over Ysabeau, born Marozia
Porphyrogentris, over their son, Wencelaus, over their followers,
servants and hosts! I herewith expel them from the pale of Holy
Church, and curse them as heretics!

"I forbid any to offer them shelter, food or help, I hurl on their
heads the wrath of God and the hatred of man, I forbid any to attend
their sick-bed, to receive their confession or to bury their bodies!

"I cut asunder the ties that bind the Latin people in obedience to
them, and I lay under an interdict any person, village, town or state
that succours or aids them against our wrath! May they and their
children and their children's children be blighted and cursed in life
and in death, may they taste misery and desolation on the earth before
they go to everlasting torment in hell!"

And now the cowled monk caught up one of the candles that lit the
pulpit, and held it aloft.

"May their race perish with them and their memories be swallowed in
oblivion--thus! As I extinguish this flame may the hand of God
extinguish them!"

He cast the candle on to the marble floor beneath the pulpit, the
flame was immediately dashed out, a slow smoke curled an instant and
vanished.

"For Balthasar of Courtrai cherishes a murderess on the throne, and
until he cast her forth and receive his true wife this anathema rests
upon his head!"

Emperor and Empress listened, holding each other's hands and staring
at the monk; as he ended, and while the awe of utter fear held the
assembly numb, Ysabeau rose...

But at that same instant the monk tossed back his cowl and revealed
the stern, pale features of Melchoir of Brabant, crowned with the
imperial diadem...

A frenzied shriek broke from the woman, and she fell across the steps
of the throne; her crown slipped from her fair head and dazzled on the
pavement.

Groaning in anguish Balthasar stooped to raise her up...when he again
looked at the pulpit it was empty.

Ysabeau's cry had loosened the souls of the multitude, they rose to
their feet and began to surge wildly towards the door.

But the Pontiff rose, approached the altar and began calmly to chant
the Gratias.

Balthasar gave him a wild and desperate look, staggered and fiercely
recovered himself, then took his child by the hand, and supporting
with the other the Empress, who struggled back to life, he swept down
the aisle, followed by a few of his German knights.

The people shuddered away to right and left to give him passage; the
bronze doors were opened and the excommunicated man stepped into the
thunder-wrapt streets of the city where he no longer reigned.



CHAPTER VIII



URSULA OF ROOSELAARE

"Say I have done well for you--it seems that I must ask your thanks."

The Pope sat at a little table near the window of his private room in
the Vatican and rested his face on his hand.

Leaning against the scarlet tapestries that covered the opposite wall
was Theirry, clothed in chain mail and heavily armed.

"You think I should be grateful?" he asked in a low voice, his
beautiful eyes fixed in a half-frightened, wholly fascinated way on
the slim figure of the other.

Michael II wore a straight robe of gold-coloured silk and a skull-cap
of crimson and blue; no jewels nor any suggestion of pomp concealed
the youthfulness, almost frailty of his appearance; the red hair made
his face the paler by contrast; his full lips were highly coloured
under the darkened upper lip.

"Grateful?" he repeated, and his voice was mournful. "I think you do
not know what I have done--I have dared to cast the Emperor from his
throne--lies he not even now without the walls, defying me with a
handful of Frankish knights? Is not the excommunication on him?"

"Yea," answered Theirry. "And is it for my sake ye have done this?"

"Must you question it?" returned Michael, with a quick breath. "Yea,
for your sake, to make you, as I promised, Emperor of the West--my
vengeance had else been more quietly satisfied--" He laughed. "I have
not forgot all my magic."

Theirry winced.

"The vision in the Basilica was proof of that--what are you who can
bring back the hallowed dead to aid your schemes?"

Michael II answered softly.

"And who are you who take my aid and my friendship, and all the while
fear and loathe me?"

He moved his hand from his face and leant forward, showing a deep red
mark on his cheek where the palm had pressed.

"Do you think I am not human, Theirry?" He gave a sigh. "If you would
believe in me, trust me, be faithful to me--why, our friendship would
be the lever to move the universe, and you and I would rule the world
between us."

Theirry fingered the arras beside him.

"In what way can I be false to you?"

"You betrayed me once. You are the only man in Rome who knows my
secret. But this is truth, if again you forsake me, you bring about
your own downfall--stand by me, and I will share with you the dominion
of the earth--this, I say, is truth."

Theirry laughed unhappily.

"Sweet devil, there is no God, and I have no soul!--there, do not
fear--I shall be very faithful to you--since what is there for man
save to glut his desires of pomp and wealth and power?" He moved from
the wall and took a quick turn about the room.

"And yet I know not!" he cried. "Can all your magic, all your
learning, all your riches, keep you where you are? The clouds hang
angrily over Rome, nor have they lifted since Orsini announced you
Pope--the people riot in the streets--all beautiful things are dead,
many see ghosts and devils walking at twilight across the Maremma...
Oh, horror!--they say Pan has left his ruined temple to enter
Christian churches and laugh in the face of the marble Christ---can
these things be?"

The Pope swept back the hair from his damp brow. "The powers that put
me here can keep me here--be you but true to me!"

"Ay, I will be Emperor"--Theirry grasped his sword hilt fiercely--
"though the world I rule rot about me, though ghouls and fiends make
my Imperial train--I will join hands with Antichrist and see if there
be a God or no!"

The Pope rose.

"You must go against Balthasar. You must defeat his hosts and bring to
me his Empress, then will I crown you in St. Peter's."

Theirry pressed his hand to his forehead.

"We start to-morrow with the dawn--beneath the banner of God His
Church; I, in this mail ye gave me, tempered and forged in Hell!"

"Ye need have no fear of failure; you shall go forth triumphantly and
return victoriously. You shall make your dwelling the Golden Palace on
the Aventine, and neither Heliogabalus nor Basil, nor Charlemagne
shall be more magnificently housed than you..."

Michael seemed to check his words suddenly; he turned his face away
and looked across the city which lay beneath the heavy pall of clouds.

"Be but true to me," he added in a low voice.

Theirry smiled wildly.

"A curious love have you for me, and but little faith in my strength
or constancy--well, you shall see, I go forth to-morrow, with many men
and banners, to rout the Emperor utterly."

"Until then, stay in the Vatican," said Michael II suddenly. "My
prelates and my nobles know you for their leader now."

"Nay,"--Theirry flushed as he answered--"I must go to my own abode in
the city." "Jacobea of Martzburg is still in Rome," said the other.
"Do you leave me to go to her?" "Nay--I know not even where she
lodges," replied Theirry hastily.

Michael smiled bitterly and was silent.

"What is Jacobea to me?" demanded Theirry desperately.

The other gave him a sinister glance.

"Why did you approach her after her devotions in San Giovanni in
Laterano--speak to her and recall yourself to her mind?"

Theirry went swiftly pale.

"You know that!--Ah, it was the dancer, your accomplice... What
mystery is this?" he asked in a distracted way. "Why does not Ursula
of Rooselaare come forth under her true name and confound the
Emperor?--why does she follow me, and in such a guise?"

Without looking at him Michael answered.

"Maybe because she is very wise--maybe because she is a very fool--let
her pass, she has served her turn. You say you do not go to palter
with Jacobea, then farewell until to-morrow; I have much to
do...farewell, Theirry."

He held out his hand with a stately gesture, and, as Theirry took it
in his, the curious thought came to him how seldom he had touched so
much as Dirk's fingers, even in the old days, so proud a reserve had
always encompassed the youth, and, now, the man.

Theirry left the rich-scented chamber and the vast halls of the
Vatican and passed into the riotous and lawless streets of Rome.

The storm that had hung so unnaturally long over the city had affected
the people; bravoes and assassins crept from their hiding-places in
the Catacombs, or the Palatine, and flaunted in the streets; the wine
shops were filled with mongrel soldiers of all nations, attracted by
the declaration of war from the surrounding towns; blasphemers mocked
openly at the processions of monks and pilgrims that traversed the
streets chanting the penitential psalms, or scourging themselves in an
attempt to avert the wrath of Heaven.

There was no law; crime went unpunished; virtue became a jest; many of
the convents were closed and deserted, while their late occupants
rejoined the world they suddenly longed for; the poor were despoiled,
the rich robbed; ghastly and blasphemous processions nightly paraded
the streets in honour of some heathen deity; the priests inspired no
respect, the name of God no fear; the plague marched among the people,
striking down hundreds; their bodies were flung into the Tiber, and
their spirits went to join the devils that nightly danced on the
Campagna to the accompaniment of rolling storms.

Witches gathered in the low marches of the Maremma and came at night
into the city, trailing grey, fever-laden vapour after them.

The bell-ropes began to rot in the churches, and the bells clattered
from the steeples; the gold rusted on the altars, and mice gnawed the
garments on the holy images of the Saints.

The people lived with reckless laughter and died with hopeless curses;
magicians, warlocks and vile things flourished exceedingly, and all
manner of strange and hideous creatures left their caves to prowl the
streets at nightfall.

And such under Pope Michael II was Rome, swiftly and in a moment.

Theirry, like all others, went heavily armed; his hand was constantly
on his sword hilt as he made his way through the city that was
forsaken by God.

With no faltering step or hesitating bearing he passed through the
crowds that gathered more thickly as the night came on, and turned
towards the Appian Gate.

Here it was gloomy, almost deserted; dark houses bordered the Appian
Way, and a few strange figures crept along in their shadow; in the
west a sullen glare of crimson showed that the sun was setting behind
the thick clouds. Dark began to fall rapidly.

Theirry walked long beyond the Gate and stopped at a low convent
building, above the portals of which hung a lamp, its gentle radiance
like a star in the heavy, noisome twilight.

The gate, that led into a courtyard, stood half open. Theirry softly
pushed it wider and entered. The pure perfume of flowers greeted him;
a sense of peace and security, grown strange of late in Rome, filled
the square grass court; in the centre was a fountain, almost hidden in
white roses; behind their leaves the water dripped pleasantly.

There were no lights in the convent windows, but it was not yet too
dark for Theirry to distinguish the slim figure of a lady seated on a
wooden bench, her hands passive in her lap. He latched the gate and
softly crossed the lawn.

"You said that I might come."

Jacobea turned her head, unsmiling, unsurprised.

"Ay, sir; this place is open to all."

He uncovered before her.

"I cannot hope ye are glad to see me."

"Glad?" She echoed the word as if it sounded in a foreign tongue;
then, after a pause, "Yes, I am glad that you have come."

He seated himself beside her, his splendid mail touching her straight
grey robe, his full, beautiful face turned towards her worn 'and
expressionless features.

"What do you do here?" he asked.

She answered in the same gentle tone; she had a white rose in her
hands, and turned it about as she spoke.

"So little--there are two sisters here, and I help them; one can do
nothing against the plague, but for the little forsaken children
something, rend something for the miserable sick."

"The wretched of Rome are not in your keeping," he said eagerly. "It
will mean your life---why did you not go with the Empress?"

She shook her head.

"I was not needed. I suppose what they said of her was true. I cannot
remember clearly, but I think that when Melchoir died I knew it was
her doing."

"We must not dwell on the past," cried Theirry. "Have you heard that I
lead the Pope's army against Balthasar?"

"Nay;" her eyes were on the white rose.

"Jacobea, I shall be the Emperor."

"The Emperor," she repeated dreamily.

"I shall rule the Latin world--Emperor of the West!"

In the now complete dark they could scarcely see each other; there
were no stars, and distant thunder rolled at intervals; Theirry
timidly put out his hand and touched the fold of her dress where it
lay along the seat.

"I wish you would not stay here--it is so lonely--"

"I think she would wish me to do this."

"She?" he questioned.

Jacobea seemed surprised he did not take her meaning.

"Sybilla."

"O Christus!" shuddered Theirry. "Ye still think of her?"

Jacobea smiled, as he felt rather than saw.

"Think of her?...is she not always with me?"

"She is dead."

He saw the blurred outline of the lady's figure stir.

"Yea, she died on a cold morning--it was so cold you could see your
breath before you as you rode along, and the road was hard as glass--
there was a yellow dawn that day, and the pine trees seemed frozen,
they stood so motionless--you would not think it was ten years ago--I
wonder how long it seems to her?"

A silence fell upon them for a while, then Theirry broke out
desperately--

"Jacobea---my heart is torn within me---to-day I said there was no
God--but when I sit by you..."

"Yea, there is a God," she answered quietly. "Be very sure of that."

"Then I am past His forgiveness," whispered Theirry.

Again he was mute; he saw before him the regal figure of Dirk--he
heard his words--"Be but true to me"--then he thought of Jacobea and
Paradise...agony ran through his veins.

"Oh, Jacobea!" he cried at last. "I am beyond all measure mean and
vile... I know not what to do... I can be Emperor, yet as I sit here
that seems to me as nothing."

"The Pope favours you, you tell me," she said. "He is a priest, and a
holy man, and yet--it is strange, what is this talk of Ursula of
Rooselaare?---and yet it is no matter."

His mail clinked in answer to his tremor.

"Tell me what I must do--see, I am in a great confusion; the world is
very dark, this way and that show little lights, and I strive to
follow hem--but they change and move and blind me--and if I grasp one
it is extinguished into greater darkness; I hear whispers, murmurs,
threats, I believe them, and believe them not, and all is confusion,
confusion!"

Jacobea rose slowly from the bench.

"Why do you come to me?"

"Because ye seem to me nearer heaven than anything I know..."

Jacobea pressed the white rose to her bosom. "It is dark now--the
flowers smell so sweet---come into the house."

He followed her dim-seen figure across the grass; she lifted the latch
of the convent door and went before him into the building.

For a while she left him in the passage, then returned with a pale
lamp in her hand and conducted him into a small, bare chamber, which
seemed mean in contrast with the glowing splendour of his appearance.

"The sisters are abroad," said Jacobea. "And I stay here in case any
ring the bell for succour." She set the lamp on the wooden table and
slowly turned her eyes on Theirry.

"Sir, I am very selfish." She spoke with difficulty, as if she
painfully forced expression. "I have thought of myself for so many
years--and somehow"--she lightly touched her breast--"I cannot feel,
for myself or for others; nothing seems real, save Sybilla; nothing
matters save her---sometimes I cry for little things I find dying
alone, for poor unnoticed miseries of animals and children--but for
the rest...you must not blame me if I do not sympathise; that has gone
from me. Nor can I help you; God is far away beyond the stars. I do
not think He can stoop to such as you and me--and--and--I do not feel
as if I should wake until I die--"

Theirry covered his eyes and moaned.

Jacobea was not looking at him, but at the one bright thing in the
room.

A samite cushion worked with a scarlet lily that rested on a chair by
the window.

"Each our own way to death," she said. "All we can do is so little
compared with that---death--see, I think of it as a great crystal
light, very cold, that will slowly encompass us, revealing everything,
making everything easy to understand--white lilies will not be more
beautiful, nor breeze at summer-time more sweet...so, sir, must you
wait patiently."

She took her gaze from the red flower and turned her tired grey eyes
on him.

The blood surged into his face; he clenched his hands and spoke
passionately.

"I will renounce the world, I will become a monk..."

The words choked in his throat; he looked fearfully round; the
lamplight struck his armour into a hundred points of light and cast
pale shadows over the whitewashed walls.

"What was that?" asked Jacobea.

One was singing without: Theirry's strained eyes glistened.

"If Love were all!

His perfect servant I would be.

Kissing where his foot might fall, Doing him homage on a lowly knee.

If Love were all!"

Theirry turned and went out into the dark, hot night.

He could see neither roses, nor fountain, nor even the line of the
convent wall against the sky; but the light above the gate revealed to
him the dancer in orange, who leant against the stone arch of the
entrance and sang to a strange long instrument that hung round her
neck by a gleaming chain.

At her feet the ape crouched, nodding himself to sleep.

"If Love were all I

But Love is weak.

And Hate oft giveth him a fall.

And Wisdom smites him on the cheek, If Love were all!

Behind Theirry came Jacobea, with the lantern in her hand.

"Who is this?" she asked.

The dancer laughed; the sound of it muffled behind her mask.

Theirry made his way across the dark to her.

"What do you do here?" he demanded fiercely. "The Pope's spy, you!"

"May I not come to worship here as well as another?" she answered.

"You know too much of me!" he cried distractedly. "But I also have
some knowledge of you, Ursula of Rooselaare!"

"How does that help you?" she asked, drawing back a little before him.

"I would discover why you follow me--watch me."

He caught her by the arms and held her against the stone gateway.

"Now tell me the meaning of your disguise," he breathed--"and of your
league with Michael II."

She said a strange little word underneath her breath; the ape jumped
up and tore away the man's hands while the girl bent to a run and sped
through the gate.

Theirry gave a cry of pain and rage, and glanced towards the convent;
the door was closed; lady and lamp had disappeared in the darkness.

"Shut out!" whispered Theirry. "Shut out!" He turned into the street
and saw, by the scattered lanterns along the Appian Way, the figure of
the dancer slipping fast towards the city gates. But he gained on her,
and at sound of his clattering step she looked round.

"Ah!" she said; "I thought you had stayed with the sweet-faced saint
yonder--"

"She wants none of me," he panted--"but I--I mean to see your face to-
night..." "I am not beautiful," answered the dancer; "and you have
seen my face--"

"Seen your face!"

"Certes! in the Basilica on the Fte."

"I knew you not in the press."

"Nevertheless I was there."

"I looked for you."

"I thought ye looked for Jacobea."

"Also I sought you," said Theirry. "Ye madden me."

The ever-gathering tempest was drawing near, with fitful flashes of
lightning playing over his jewel-like mail and her orange gown as they
made their way through the ruins.

"Do you wander here alone at night?" asked Theirry. "It is a vile
place; a man might be afraid." "I have the ape," she said.

"But the storm?"

"In Rome now-a-days we are well used to storms," she answered in a low
voice. "Yea."

He did not know what to say to her, but he could not leave her; a
strong, a supreme, fascination compelled him to walk beside her, a
half-delightful excitement stirred his blood.

"Where are we going?" asked Theirry. The wayside lanterns had ceased;
he could see her only by the lightning gleams.

"I know not--why do you follow me?"

"I am mad, I think--the earth rocks beneath me and heaven bends
overhead--you lure me and I follow in sheer confusion--Ursula of
Rooselaare, why have you lured me? What power is it that you have over
me? Wherefore are you disguised?"

She touched his mail in the dark as she answered--

"I am Balthasar's wife."

"Ay," he responded eagerly; "and I do hear ye loved another man--"

"What is that to you?" she asked.

"This--though I have not seen your face--perchance could I love you,
Ursula!"

"Ursula!" She laughed on the word.

"Is it not your name?" he cried wildly.

"Yea--but it is long since any used it--"

The hot darkness seemed to twist and writhe about Theirry; he seemed
to breathe a nameless and uncontrollable passion in with the storm-
laden air.

"Witch or demon," he said, "I have cast in my lot with the Devil and
Michael II his servant--I follow the same master as you, Ursula."

He put out his hand through the dark and grasped her arm.

"Who is the man for whose sake ye are silent?" he demanded.

There was no answer; he felt her arm quiver under his hand, and heard
the hems of her tunic tinkle against her buskins, as if she trembled.

The air was chokingly hot; Theirry's heart throbbed high.

At last she spoke, in a half-swooning voice.

"I have taken off my mask...bend your head and kiss me."

Invisible and potent powers drew him towards her unseen face; his lips
touched and kissed its softness...

The thunder sounded with such a terrific force and clash that Theirry
sprang back; a cry of agony went up from the darkness. He ran blindly
forward; her presence had gone from his side, nor could he see or feel
her as he moved.

A thousand light shapes danced across the night; witches and warlocks
carrying swinging lanterns, imps and fiends.

They gathered round Theirry, shrieking and howling to the
accompaniment of the storm.

He ran sobbing down the Appian Way, and his pace was very swift, for
all the mail he carried.



CHAPTER IX



POPE AND EMPRESS

The Pope walked in the garden of the Vatican, behind him Cardinal
Orsini and Cardinal Colonna; the first carried a cluster of daisies,
white and yellow, strong in colour and pungent of odour, the second
tossed up and down a little ball of gold and blue silk.

Both talked of the horrible state of Rome, of the unending storm
hanging over the capital, of the army that had gone forth three days
ago to crush the excommunicated Emperor. Michael II was silent.

They went along the marble walks and looked at the goldfish in the
basin under the overhanging branches of the yellow rose bushes; they
passed the trellis over which the jasmine clustered, and came out on
the long terrace, where the peacocks flashed their splendour across
the grass.

Oleanders grew here, and lilies; laurel trees rose against the murky
heavens that should have shown blue, and curious statues gleamed
beside the dark foliage.

Cardinal Colonna dropped his ball and let it roll away across the
close grass, and Michael slackened his pace. He wore a white robe, his
soft heavy red hair showing a brilliant colour above it; his dark eyes
were thoughtful, his pale mouth resolutely set. The Cardinals fell
further behind and conversed with the greater ease.

Suddenly the Pope paused and stood waiting, for Paolo Orsini, with a
sprig of pink flower at his chin, was coming across the lawn.

Michael II tapped his gold-shod foot on the marble path. "What is it,
Orsini?"

The secretary went on one knee.

"Your Holiness, a lady, who will neither unveil nor give her name, has
obtained entry to the Vatican and desires to see your Holiness."

The Pope's face darkened.

"I thought ye had brought me news of the return of Theirry of
Dendermonde! What can this woman want with us?"

"She says it is a matter of such import it may avert the war, and she
prays, for the love of God, not to be denied."

Michael II reflected a moment, his slim fingers pulling at the laurel
leaves beside him. "We will see her," he said at length. "Bring her
here, Orsini."

The yellow clouds broke over a brief spell of sunshine that fell
across the Vatican gardens, though the horizon was dark with a freshly
gathering storm; Michael II seated himself on a bench where the sun
gleamed.

"Sirs," he said to the two Cardinals, "stand by me and listen to what
this woman may say."

And picking a crimson rose from a thorny bush that brushed the seat,
he considered it curiously, and only took his eves from it when Paolo
Orsini had returned and led the lady almost to his feet.

Then he looked at her.

She wore a dark rough dress showing marks of ill usage, and over her
face a thick veil.

This she loosened as she knelt, and revealed the exceedingly fair, sad
face of Ysabeau the Empress.

Michael II went swiftly pale, he fixed large wide eyes on her.

"What do you here, defying us?" he demanded.

She rose.

"I am not here in defiance. I have come to give myself up to
punishment for the crime you denounced--the crime for which my lord
now suffers."

Michael crushed the rose in his hand and the Cardinals glanced at each
other, having never seen him show agitation.

"It did not occur to your Holiness," said Ysabeau, facing him
fearlessly, "that I should do this; you thought that he would never
give me up and you were right--crown, life, heaven he would forfeit
for love of me, but I will not take the sacrifice."

The fitful sunshine touched her great beauty, her fair, soft hair
lying loosely on her shoulders, her eyes shadowed and dark, her hollow
face.

"Mine was the sin," she continued. "And I who was strong enough to sin
alone can take the punishment alone."

At last Michael spoke.

"Ye slew Melchoir of Brabant--ye confess it!"

Her bosom heaved.

"I am here to confess it."

"For love of Balthasar you did it..."

"As for love of him I stand here now to take the consequences."

"We have fire on earth and fire in hell for those who do murder," said
Michael II; "flames for the body in the market-place, and flames in
the pit for the soul, and though the body will not burn long, the soul
will burn for eternity."

"I know--do what you will with me."

The Pope cast the crushed rose from him.

"Has Balthasar sent you here?"

She smiled proudly.

"I come without his knowledge." Her voice trembled a little. "I left a
writing telling him where I had gone and why--" Her hand crept to her
brow. "Enough of that."

Michael II rose.

"Why have you done this?" he cried angrily.

Ysabeau answered swiftly.

"That you may take the curse off him--for my sin you cast him forth,
well, if I leave him, if I accept my punishment, if he be free to find
the--woman--who can claim him, your Holiness must absolve him of the
excommunication."

Michael flushed.

"This comes late--too late;" he turned to the Cardinals. "My lords, is
not this love a mad thing?--that she should hope to cheat Heaven so!"

"My hope is not to cheat Heaven but to appease it," said Ysabeau; and
the sun, making a pale glimmer in her hair, cast her shadow faintly
before her to the Pontiff's feet. "If not for myself, for him."

"This foolish sacrifice," said Michael, "cannot avail Balthasar. Since
not of his free will ye are parted from him, how is his sin then
lessened?"

She trembled exceedingly.

"Now, perchance he shall loathe me..." she said.

"Had you told him to his face of your crime, would he have given you
over to our wrath?" "Nay," she flashed. "It would have been only noble
in him to refuse; but since of myself I am come, I pray you, Lord
Pope, to send me to death and take the curse off him."

Michael II looked at his hand; the stem of the red rose had scratched
his finger, and a tiny drop of blood showed on the white flesh.

"You are a wicked woman, by your own confession," he said, frowning.
"Why should I show you any pity?"

"I do not ask pity, but justice for the Emperor. I am the cause of the
quarrel, and now ye have me ye can have no bitterness against him."

He gave her a quick sidelong look.

"Do you repent, Ysabeau?"

She shook the clinging hood free of her yellow hair.

"No; the gain was worth the sin, nor am I afraid of you nor of Heaven.
I am not of a faltering race, nor of a name easily ashamed. In my own
eyes I am not abashed."

Michael raised his head and their eyes met.

"So you would die for him?"

Ysabeau smiled.

"I think I shall. I do not think your Holiness is merciful ."

He glanced again at the drop of blood on his finger.

"You show some courage, Ysabeau."

She smiled.

"When I was a child I was taught that they who live as kings and
queens must not look for age--the flame soon burns away, leaving the
ashes--and gorgeous years are like the flame; why should we taste the
dust that follows? I have lived my life."

He answered--

"This shall not save Balthasar, nor take our curse from off him;
Theirry of Dendermonde has gone forth with many men and banners, and
soon the Roman gates shall open to him and victory lead his charger
through the streets! And his reward shall be the Latin world, his
badge of triumph the Imperial crown. He is our choice to share with us
the dominion of the West, therefore no more of Balthasar--ye might
speak until the heavens fell and still our heart be as brass!"

He turned swiftly and caught the arm of Cardinal Orsini.

"Away, my lord, we have given this Greek time enough."

Ysabeau fell on her knees.

"My lord, take off the curse!"

"What shall we do with her?" asked Cardinal Colonna.

She clutched, in her desperation, at the priest's white garments.

"Show some pity; Balthasar dies beneath your wrath--"

Paolo Orsini drew her away, while Michael II stared at her with a
touch of fear.

"Cast her without the walls--since the excommunication is upon her we
do not need her life." "Oh, sirs!" shrieked Ysabeau, striving after
them, "my lord is innocent!"

"Take her away," said Michael. "Cast her from Rome,"--he glared at her
over his shoulder---"doubtless the Eastern she-cat will find it worse
so to die than as Hugh of Rooselaare perished; come on, my lords."

Leaning on the arm of Cardinal Orsini, he moved away across the
Vatican gardens. Paolo Orsini blew a little whistle.

"You must be turned from the city," he said.

Ysabeau rose from the grass.

"This your Christian priest!" she cried hoarsely, staring after the
white figure; then, as she saw the guards approaching, she fell into
an utter silence.

As Michael II entered the Vatican the sun was again obscured and the
thunder rolled; he passed up the silver stairs to his cabinet and
closed the door on all.

The storm grew and rioted angrily in the sky; in the height of it came
a messenger riding straight to the Vatican.

Blood and dust were smeared on his clothes, and he was weary with
swift travel; they brought him to the ebony cabinet and face to face
with the Pope.

"From Theirry of Dendermonde?" breathed Michael, his face white as his
robe.

"From Theirry of Dendermonde, your Holiness."

"What says he--victory?"

"Balthasar of Courtrai is defeated, his army lies dead, men and
horses, in the vale of Tivoli, and his conqueror marches home to-day."

A shaft of lightning showed the ghastly face of Michael II, and a peal
of thunder shook the messenger back against the wall.



CHAPTER X



THE EVENING BEFORE THE CORONATION

The orange marble pillars glowing in the light of a hundred lamps gave
the chamber a dazzling brightness; the windows were screened by
scarlet silk curtains, and crystal bowls of purple flowers stood on
the serpentine floor.

On a low gilt couch against the wall sat Theirry, his gold armour half
concealed by a violet and ermine mantle; round his close dark hair was
a wreath of red roses, and the long pearls in his ears glimmered with
his movements.

Opposite him on a throne supported by basalt lions was Michael II,
robed in gold and silver tissues under a dalmatica of orange and
crimson brocade.

"It is done," he said in a low eager voice, "and to-morrow I crown you
in St. Peter's church; Theirry, it is done."

"Truly our fortunes are marvellous," answered Theirry, "to-day--when I
heard the Princes elect me--an unknown adventurer!--when I heard the
mob of Rome shout for me--I thought I had gone mad!"

"It is I who have done this for you," said the Pope softly.

Theirry seemed to shudder in his gorgeous mail.

"Are you afraid of me?" the other asked. "Why do you so seldom look at
me?"

Theirry slowly turned his beautiful face.

"I am afraid of my own fortunes--I am not as bold as you," he said
fearfully. "You never hesitated to sin."

The Pope moved, and his garments sparkled against the gleaming marble
wall.

"I do not sin," he smiled. "I am Sin--I do no evil for I am Evil--but
you"--his face became grave, almost sad--"you are very human, better
had it been for me never to have met you!" He placed his little hands
either side of him on the smooth heads of the basalt lions. "Theirry--
for your sake I have risked everything, for your sake maybe I must
leave this strange fair life and go back whence I came--so much I care
for you, so dearly have I kept the

vows we made in Frankfort--cannot you meet with courage the destiny I
offer you?" Theirry hid his face in his hands.

The Pope flushed, and a wild light sparkled in his dark eyes.

"Was not your blood warmed by that charge at Tivoli? When knight and
horse fell before your spears and your host humbled an Emperor, when
Rome rose to greet you and I came to meet you with a kingdom for a
gift, did not some fire creep into your veins that might serve to heat
you now?"

"A kingdom!" cried Theirry, "the kingdom of Antichrist. The victory
was not mine--the cohorts of the Devil galloped beside us and urged us
to unholy triumph--Rome is a place of horror, full of witches, ghosts
and strange beasts!

"You said you would be Emperor," answered the Pope. "And I have
granted you your wish, if you fail me or betray me now...it is over--
for both of us."

Theirry rose and paced the chamber.

"Ay, I will be Emperor," he cried feverishly. "Theirry of Dendermonde
crowned by the Devil in St. Peter's church--why should I hesitate? I
am on the road to hell, to hell..." The Pope fixed ardent eyes on him.

"And if ye fail me ye shall go there instantly."

Theirry stopped in his pacing to and fro.

"Why do you say to me so often, 'do not fail me, do not betray me'?"

Michael II answered in a low voice.

"Because I fear it."

Theirry laughed desperately.

"To whom should I betray you! It seems that you have all the world!"

"There is Jacobea of Martzburg."

"Why do you sting me with that name!"

"Belike I thought ye might wish to make her your Empress," said the
Pope in sudden mockery. Theirry pressed his hand to his brow.

"She believes in God...what is such to me?" he cried.

"The other day you lied to me, saying you knew not where she was--and
straightway ye visited her."

"This is your spy's work, Ursula of Rooselaare."

"Maybe," answered the Pope.

Theirry paused before the basalt throne.

"Tell me of her. She follows me--I--I--know not what to think, she has
been much in my mind of late, since I--" He broke off, and looked
moodily at the ground. "Where has she been these years--what does she
mean to do now?"

"She will not trouble you again," answered Michael II, "let her go."

"I cannot--she said I had seen her face--"

"Well, if you have?--take it from me she is not fair."

"I do not think of her fairness," answered Theirry sullenly, "but of
the mystery there is behind all of it---why you never told me of her
before, and why she haunts me with witches in her train."

The Pope looked at him curiously.

"For one who has never been an ardent lover ye dwell much on women--I
had rather you thought on battles and kingdoms--had I been a--were I
you, dancer and nun alike would be nothing to me compared with my
coronation on the morrow."

Theirry replied hotly.

"Dancer and nun, as ye term them, are woven in with all I do, I
cannot, if I would, forget them. Ah, that I ever came to Rome--would I
were still a Chamberlain at Basil's Court or a merchant's clerk in
India!"

He covered his face with his trembling hands and turned away across
the golden room. The Pope rose in his seat and pressed his jewelled
fingers against his breast.

"Would ye had never come my way to be my ruin and your own--would you
were not such a sweet fair fool that I must love you!...and so, we
make ourselves the mock of destiny by these complaints. Oh, if you
have the desire to be king show the courage to dare a kingly fate."

Theirry leant against one of the orange marble pillars, the violet
mantle falling away from his golden armour, the fainting roses lying
slackly in his dark hair.

"You must think me a coward," he said, "and I have been very weak--but
that, I think, is passed; I have reached the summit of all the
greatness I ever dreamed and it confuses me, but when the Imperial
crown is mine you shall find me bold enough."

Michael II flushed and gave a dazzling smile.

"Then are we great indeed!--we shall join hands across the fairest
dominion men ever ruled, Suabia is ours, Bohemia and Lombardy, France
courts our alliance, Cyprus, the isle of Candy and Malta town, in
Rhodes they worship us, and Genoa town owns us master!"

He paused in his speech and stepped down from the throne.

"Do you remember that day in Antwerp, Theirry, when we looked in the
mirror?" he said, and his voice was tender and beautiful; "we hardly
dared then to think of this."

"We saw a gallows in that mirror," answered Theirry, "a gallows tree
beside the triple crown." "It was for our enemies!" cried Michael;
"our enemies whom we have triumphed over; Theirry, think of it, we
were very young then, and poor--now I have kings at my footstool, and
you will sleep tonight in the Golden Palace of the Aventine!" He
laughed joyously. Theirry's face grew gentle at the old memories.

"The house still stands, I wot," he mused, "though the dust be thick
over the deserted rooms and the vine chokes the windows--when I was in
the East, I have thought with great joy of Antwerp."

The Pope laid his delicate fragrant hand on the glittering vambrace.

"Theirry--do you not value me a little now?"

Theirry smiled, into the ardent eyes.

"You have done more for me than man or God, and above both I do you
worship," he answered wildly. "I am not fearful any more, and to-
morrow ye shall see me a king indeed."

"Until to-morrow then, farewell. I must attend a Conclave of the
Cardinals and show myself unto the multitude in St. Peter's church.
You to the palace, on the Aventine, there to sleep soft and dream of
gold."

They clasped hands, a hot colour was in the Pope's face.

"The Syrian guards wait below and the Lombard archers who stood beside
you at Tivoli--they will attend you to the Imperial Palace."

"What shall I do there?" asked Theirry. "It is early yet, and I do not
love to sit alone."

"Then, come to the service in the Basilica--come with a bold bearing
and a rich dress to overawe these mongrel crowds of Rome."

To that Theirry made no answer.

"Farewell," he said, and lifted the scarlet curtain that concealed the
door, "until to--morrow." The Pope came quickly to his side.

"Do not go to Jacobea to-night," he said earnestly. "Remember, if you
fail me now--" "I shall not fail you or myself, again--farewell."

His hand was on the latch when Michael spoke once more--

"I grieve to let you go," he murmured in an agitated tone. "I have not
before been fearful, but to-night Theirry smiled.

"You have no cause to dread anything, you with your foot on the neck
of the world." He opened the door on to the soft purple light of the
stairs and stepped from the room.

In a half-stifled voice the Pope called him. "Theirry!---be true to
me, for on your faith have I staked everything."

Theirry looked over his shoulder and laughed.

"Will you never let me begone?"

The other pressed his hand to his forehead.

"Ay, begone--why should I seek to keep you?"

Theirry descended the stairs and now and then looked up.

Always to see fixed on him the yearning, fierce gaze of the one who
stood by the gilded rails and stared down at his glittering figure.

Only when he had completely disappeared in the turn of the stairs did
Michael II slowly return to the golden chamber and close the gorgeous
doors.

Theirry, splendidly attended, flashed through the riotous streets of
Rome to the palace on the Aventine Hill.

There he dismissed the knights.

"I shall not go to the Basilica to-night," he said, "go thou there
without me."

He laid aside the golden armour, the purple cloak, and attired himself
in a dark habit and a steel corselet; he meant to be Emperor to-
morrow, he meant to be faithful to the Pope, but it was in his heart
to see Jacobea once more before he accepted the Devil's last gift and
sign.

Leaving the palace secretly, when they all thought him in his chamber,
he took his way towards the Appian Gate.

Once more, for the last time...he would suggest to her that she
returned to Martzburg. The plague was rampant in the city; more than
once he passed the death-cart attended by friars clanging harsh bells;
several houses were sealed and silent; but in the piazzas the people
danced and sang, and in the Via Sacra they held a carnival in honour
of the victory at Tivoli.

It was nearly dark, starless, and the air heavy with the sense of
storm; as he neared the less-frequented part of the city Theirry
looked continually behind him to see if the dancer in orange dogged
his footsteps--he saw no one.

Very lonely, very silent it was in the Appian Way, the only domestic
light he came to the little lamp above the convent gate.

The stillness and gloom of the place chilled his heart, she could not,
must not stay here. . He gently pushed the gate and entered.

The hot dusk just revealed to him the dim shapes of the white roses
and the dark figure of a lady standing beside them.

"Jacobea," he whispered.

She moved very slowly towards him.

"Ah! you."

"Jacobea--you must not remain in this place!---where are the nuns?"

She shook her head.

"They are dead of the plague days past, and I have buried them in the
garden."

He gave a start of horror.

"You shall go back to Martzburg--you are alone here?"

Her answer came calmly out of the twilight.

"I think there is no one living anywhere near. The plague has been
very fierce--you should not come here if you do not wish to die."

"But what of you?" His voice was full of horror.

"Why, what can it matter about me?"

He thought she smiled; he followed her into the house, the chamber
where they had sat before. A tall pale candle burnt on the bare table,
and by the light of it he saw her face.

"Ye are ill already," he shuddered.

Again she shook her head.

"Why do you come here?" she asked gently. "You are to be Emperor to-
morrow."

She crept with a slow sick movement to a bench that stood against the
wall and sank down on it; her features showed pinched and wan, her
eyes unnaturally blue in the pallor of her face.

"You must return to Martzburg," repeated Theirry distractedly; and
thought of her as he had first seen her, bright and gay, in a pale
crimson dress...

"Nay, I shall return to Martzburg no more," she answered. "He died to-
day."

"He?--who died, Jacobea?"

Very faintly she smiled.

"Sebastian--in Palestine. God let me see him then, because I had never
looked on him since that morning on which you saw us, sir...he has
been a holy man fighting the infidel; they wounded him, I think, and
he was sick with fever--he crept into the shade (for it is very hot
there, sir), and died."

Theirry stood dumb, and the mad hatred of the devil who had brought
about this misery anew possessed him.

Jacobea spoke again.

"Maybe they have met in Paradise--and as for me I hope God may think
me fit to die--of late it seemed to me that the fiends were again
troubling me"--she clasped her hands tightly on her knees and
shivered; "something evil is abroad...who is the dancer?...last night
I saw her crouching by my gate as I was making the grave of Sister
Angela, and it seemed, it seemed, that she bewitched me--as the young
scholar did, long ago."

Theirry leant heavily against the table.

"She is the Pope's spy and tool," he cried hoarsely, "Ursula of
Rooselaare!"

Jacobea's dim eyes were bewildered.

"Ah, Balthasar's wife," she faltered, "but the Pope's tool--how should
he meddle with an evil thing?"

Then he told her, in an outburst of wild, unnameable feeling.

"The Pope is Dirk Renswoude--the Pope is Antichrist--do you not
understand? And I am to help him rule the kingdom of the Devil!"

Jacobea gave a shuddering cry, half rose in her seat and sank back
against the wall. Theirry crossed the room and fell on his knees
beside her.

"It is true, true," he sobbed. "And I am damned for ever!"

The lightning darted in from the darkness and thunder crashed above
the convent; Theirry laid his head on her lap and her cold fingers
touched his hair.

"Since, knowing this, you are his ally," she whispered fearfully.

He answered through clenched teeth.

"Yea, I will be Emperor--and it is too late to turn back."

Jacobea stared across the candle-lit room.

"Dirk Renswoude," she muttered, "and Ursula of Rooselaare--why--was it
not to save Hugh of Rooselaare that he rode--that night?"

Theirry lifted his head and looked at her, her utterance was feeble
and confused, her eyes glazing in a livid face; he clasped his hands
tightly over hers.

"What was Lord Hugh to him?" she asked, "Ursula's father..."

"I do not understand," cried Theirry.

"But it is very clear to me--I am dying--she loved you, loves you
still--that such things should be..."

"Whom do you speak of--Jacobea?" he cried, distracted.

She drooped towards him and he caught her in his arms.

"The city is accursed," she gasped; "give me Christian burial, if ever
once you cared for me, and fly, fly!"

She strained and writhed in his frantic embrace. "And you never knew
it was a woman," she whispered, "Pope and dancer..."

"God!" shrieked Theirry; and staggered to his feet drawing her with
him.

She choked her life out against his shoulder, clinging with the
desperation of the dying, to him, while he tried to force her into
speech.

"Answer me, Jacobea! What authority have you for this hideous thing,
in the name of God, Jacobea!"

She slipped from him to the bench.

"Water, a crucifix... Oh, I have forgot my prayers." She stretched out
her hands towards a wooden crucifix that hung on the wall, caught hold
of it, pressed her lips to the feet. . "Sybilla," she said, and died
with that name struggling in her throat.

Theirry stepped back from her with a strangled shriek that seemed to
tear the breath from his body, and staggered against the table.

The lightning leapt in through the dark window, and appeared to plunge
like a sword into the breast of the dead woman.

Dead!--even as she uttered that horror--dead so suddenly. The plague
had slain her--he did not wish to die, so he must leave this place--
was he not to be Emperor to-morrow?

He fell to laughing.

The candle had burnt almost to the socket; the yellow flame struggling
against extinction cast a fantastic leaping light over Jacobea, lying
huddled along the bench with her yellow hair across the breast of her
rough garment; over Theirry, leaning with slack limbs against the
table; it showed his ghastly face, his staring eyes, his dropped jaw--
as his laughter died into silence.

Fly! Fly!

He must fly from this Thing that reigned in Rome--he could not face
to-morrow, he could not look again into the face of Antichrist...

He crawled across the room and stared at Jacobea.

She was not beautiful; he noticed that her hands were torn and stained
with earth from making the graves of the nuns ... she had asked for
Christian burial ... he could not stay to give it her...

He fiercely hated her for what she had told him, yet he took up the
ends of her yellow hair and kissed them.

Again the thunder and lightning and wild howlings reached him from
without, as ghosts and night-hags wandered past to hold court within
the accursed city.

The candle shot up a long tongue of flame--and went out.

Theirry staggered across the darkness.

A flash of lightning showed him the door. As the thunder crashed above
the city he fled from the convent and from Rome.



CHAPTER XI THE ANGELS



In a ruined villa, shattered by the barbarians and crumbled by time,
sat Ysabeau the Empress looking over the sunless Maremma.

A few olive trees were all that shaded the bare expanse of marshy
land, where great pools veiled with unhealthy vapours gleamed faintly
under the heavy clouds.

Here and there rose the straight roof of a forsaken convent, or the
stately pillars of a deserted palace.

There was no human being in sight.

A few birds flew low over the marshes; sometimes one screamed in
through the open roof or darted across the gaping broken doorway.

Then Ysabeau would rise from her sombre silence to spurn them from her
with fierce words and stones.

The stained marble was grown with reeds and wild flowers; a straggling
vine half twisted round two of the slender columns; and there the
Empress sat, huddled in her cloak and gazing over the forlorn marshes.

She had dwelt here for three days; at every sunrise a peasant girl,
daring the excommunication, had brought her food, then fled with a
frightened face.

Ysabeau saw nothing before her save death, but she did not mean to die
by the ignoble way of starvation.

She had not heard of the defeat of Balthasar at Tivoli, nor of the
election of Theirry to the crown; day and night she thought on her
husband, and pondered how she might still possibly serve him.

She did not hope to see him again; it never occurred to her to return
to him; when she had fled his camp she had left a confession behind
her--no Greek would have heeded it, but these Saxons, still, to her,
foreigners, were different.

And Balthasar had loved Melchoir of Brabant.

It was very hot, with a sullen, close heat; the dreary prospect became
hateful to her, and she rose and moved to the inner portion of the
villa, where the marigold roots thrust up through the inlaid stone
floor, and a remaining portion of the roof cast a shade.

Here she seated herself on the capital of a broken column, and a
languid weariness subdued her proud spirit; her head sank back against
the stained wall, and she slept.

When she woke the whole landscape was glowing with the soft red of
sunset.

She stretched herself, shivered, and looked about her.

Then she suddenly drew herself together and listened.

There were faint voices coming from the outer room, and the sound of a
man's tread. Ysabeau held her breath.

But so close a silence followed that she thought she must have been
deceived.

For a while she waited, then crept cautiously towards the shattered
doorway that led into the other chamber.

She gained it and gazed through.

Sitting where she had just now sat, under the vine-twisted columns,
was a huge knight in defaced armour; his back was towards her; by his
side his helmet stood, and the great glittering dragon that formed the
crest shone in the setting sun.

He was bending over a child that lay asleep on a crimson cloak.

"Balthasar," said Ysabeau.

He gave a little cry, and looked over his shoulder. "Tell me, my
lord," she asked in a trembling voice, "as you would tell a stranger,
if evil fortune brings you here."

He rose softly, his face flushed.

"I am a ruined man. They have elected another Emperor. Now, I think,
it does not matter." Her eyes travelled in a dazed way to the child.

"Is he sick?"

"Nay, only weary; we have been wandering since Tivoli--"

While he spoke he looked at her, as if the world held nothing else
worth gazing on. "I must go," said Ysabeau.

"Must go?"

"I am cast out--I may not share your misfortunes." Balthasar laughed.

"I have been searching for you madly, Ysabeau."

"Searching?"

And now he looked away from her.

"I thought my heart would have burst when I discovered ye had gone to
Rome."

"But you found the writing?" she cried.

"Yea--"

"You know--I slew him?"

"I know you went to give your life for me."

"I am accursed!

"You have been faithful to me."

"Oh, Balthasar!--does it make no difference?"

"It cannot," he said, half sadly. "You are my wife--part of me; I have
given you my heart to keep, and nothing can alter it."

"You do not mock me?" she questioned, shuddering. "It must be that you
mock me--I will go away--"

He stepped before her.

"You shall never leave me again, Ysabeau."

"I had not dared--you have forgiven--"

"I am not your judge--"

"It cannot be that God is so tender!"

"I do not speak for Him," said Balthasar hoarsely--"but for myself--"

She could not answer.

"Ysabeau," he cried jealously, "you--could you have lived apart from
me?"

"Nay," she whispered; "I meant to die."

"That I might be forgiven!"

"What else could I do! Would they had slain me and taken the curse
from you!"

He put his arm round her bowed shoulders. "There is no curse while we
are together, Ysabeau."

Her marvellous hair lay across his dinted mail.

"This is sweeter than our marriage day, Balthasar, for now you know
the worst of me--" "My wife!--my lady and my wife!"

He set her gently on the broken shaft by the door and kissed her hand.

"Wencelaus sleeps," she smiled through tears. "I could not have put
him to rest more surely--" "He slept not much last night," said
Balthasar, "for the owls and flitter mice--and it was very dark with
the moon hidden."

Her hand still lay in his great palm.

"Tell me of yourself," she whispered.

And he told her how they had been defeated at Tivoli, how the remnant
of his force had forsaken him, and how Theirry of Dendermonde had been
elected Emperor by the wishes of the Pope.

Her eyes grew fierce at that.

"I have ruined you," she said; "made you a beggar."

"If you knew"--he smiled half shyly--"how little I care, for myself--
certes, for you." "Do not shame me," she cried.

"Could I have held a throne without you, Ysabeau?"

Her fingers trembled in his.

"Would I had been a better woman, for your sake, Balthasar."

His swift bright flush dyed his fair face.

"All I grieve for, Ysabeau, is--God."

"God?" she asked, wondering.

"If He should not forgive?"--his blue eyes were troubled--"and we are
cursed and cast out---what think you?"

She drew closer to him.

"Through me!--you grieve, and this is--through me!"

"Nay, our destiny is one--always. Only, I think--of afterwards--yet,
if you are--damned, as the priest says, why, I will be so too--"

"Do not fear, Balthasar; if God will not receive me, the little images
at Constantinople will forgive me if I pray to them again as I did
when I was a child--"

They fell on silence again, while the red colour of the setting sun
deepened and cast a glow over their weary faces and the sleeping
figure of Wencelaus; the vine leaves fluttered from the ancient marble
and the wild-fowl screamed across the marshes.

"Who is this Pope that he should hate us so?" mused Ysabeau. "And who
Theirry of Dendermonde that he should be Emperor of the West?"

"He is to be crowned in the Basilica to-day," said Balthasar.

"While we sit here!"

"I do not understand it. Nor do I now, Ysabeau,"--Balthasar looked at
her--"greatly care--"

"But you shall care!" she cried. "If I be all to you, I will be that--
I must see you again upon the throne; we will to Basil's Court. That
this Theirry of Dendermonde should sleep to-night in the golden
palace!"

"We have found each other," said the Emperor simply.

She raised his hand, kissed it, and no more was said, while the mists
gathered and thickened over the Maremma and the rich hues faded from
the sky.

"Who is that?" cried Ysabeau, and pointed across the marsh-land.

A figure, dark against the mists, was running aimlessly, wildly to and
fro, winding his way in and out the pools, now and then flinging his
arms up in a frantic gesture towards the evening sky.

"A madman," said Balthasar; "see, he runs with no object, round and
round, yet always as if pursued--"

Ysabeau drew close to her husband, as they both watched, with a
curious fascination, the man being driven hither and thither as by an
invisible enemy.

"Is it a ghost?" whispered Ysabeau; "strangely chilled and horror-
stricken do I feel--" The Emperor made the sign of the Cross.

"Part of the curse, maybe," he muttered.

Suddenly, as if exhausted, the man stopped and stood still with
hanging head and arms; the sun burning to the horizon made a vivid
background to his tall dark figure till the heavy noisome vapours rose
to the level of the sunset, and the solitary, motionless stranger was
blotted from the view of the two watching in the ruined villa.

"Why should we wonder?" said Balthasar. "There must be many men
abroad, both Saxon and Roman--"

"Yet, he ran strangely," she murmured; "and I have been here three
days and seen no one." "We must get away," said Balthasar resolutely.
"This is a vile spot."

"At dawn a girl comes here with food, enough at least for Wencelaus.

"I have food with me, Ysabeau, given by one who did not know that we
were excommunicate."

The Empress looked about her fearfully.

"I heard a step."

Balthasar peered through the mist.

"The man," whispered Ysabeau.

Out of the dreary vapours, the forlorn and foul mists of the marshes,
he appeared, stumbling over the stones in his way...

He caught hold of the slender pillar by the entrance and stared at the
three with distraught eyes. His clothes were dark, wet and soiled, his
hair hung lank round a face hollow and pale but of obvious beauty.

"Theirry of Dendermonde!" exclaimed Balthasar. Ysabeau gave a cry that
woke the child and sent him frightened into her arms.

"The Emperor," said the new-comer in a feeble voice.

Balthasar answered fiercely---"Am I still Emperor to you?--you who to-
day were to receive my crown in St. Peter's church?"

Ysabeau clasped Wencelaus tightly to her breast, and her eyes shone
with a wrathful triumph. "They have cast him out; Rome rose against
such a king!"

Theirry shivered and crouched like one very cold.

"Of my own will I fled from Rome, that city of the Devil!"

Balthasar stared at him.

"Is this the man who broke our ranks at Tivoli?"

"Is this he who would be Emperor of the West?" cried Ysabeau.

"You are the Emperor," said Theirry faintly, "and I pretend no longer
to these wrongful honours, nor serve I any longer Antichrist--"

"He is mad!" cried Balthasar.

"Nay," Ysabeau spoke eagerly--"listen to him."

Theirry moaned.

"I have nothing to say--give me a place to rest in."

"Through you we have no place ourselves to rest in," answered
Balthasar grimly. "No shelter save these broken walls you see; but
since you have returned to your allegiance, we command that you tell
us of this Antichrist--"

Theirry straightened himself.

"He who reigns in Rome is Antichrist, Michael, who was Dirk
Renswoude---"

"He perished," said the Emperor, very pale; "and the Pope was Blaise
of Dendermonde."

"That was the Devil's work, black magic!" cried Theirry wildly; "the
youth Blaise died ten years ago, and Dirk Renswoude took his place."

"It is true!" cried the Empress; "by what he said to me I know it
true--now do I see it very clearly."

But Balthasar stared at Theirry in a confused manner.

"I do not understand."

The lightning darted through the broken wall, and a solitary winged
thing flapped over the roofless villa.

Theirry began to speak.

He told them, in a thick, expressionless voice, all he knew of Dirk
Renswoude.

He did not mention Ursula of Rooselaare. As his tale went on, the
storm gathered till all light had vanished from the sky, the lightning
rent a starless gloom, and the continual roar of the thunder quivered
in the stifling air.

In the pauses between the lightning they could not see each other;
Wencelaus sobbed on his mother's breast, and the owls hooted in the
crevices of the marble.

Theirry's voice suddenly strengthened.

"Now, turn against Rome, for all men will join you--a force of
Lombards marches up from Trastevere, and the Saxons gather without the
walls of the accursed city."

A blue flash showed them his face...they heard him fall...

After a while Balthasar made his way to him through the dark.

"He has fainted," he said fearfully; "is he, belike, mad?"

"He speaks the hideous truth," whispered Ysabeau.

Suddenly, at its very height the storm ceased, the air became cool and
fragrant, and a bright moon floated from the clouds.

The silver radiance of it, extraordinarily bright and vivid,
illuminated the Maremma, the pools, the tall reeds, the deserted
buildings, the ruins that sheltered them; the clouds rolled swiftly
from the sky, leaving it clear and blazing with stars.

The first moon and the first stars that had shone since Michael II's
reign in the Vatican. Theirry's dark dress and hair, and deathlike
face pressed against the marble pavement showed now plainly.

Balthasar looked at his wife; neither dared to speak, but Wencelaus
gave a panting sigh of relief at the lifting of the darkness.

"My lord," he said, striving out of his mother's arms, "a goodly
company comes across the marsh--"

A great awe and fear held them silent, and the wonderful silver shine
of the moon lay over them like a spell.

They saw, slowly approaching them, two knights and two ladies, who
seemed to advance without motion across the marsh-land.

The knights wore armour that shone like glass, and long mantles of
white samite; the dames were clad in silver tissue, and around their
brows were close-pressed wreaths of roses mingled red and white.

Very bright and fair they seemed; the knights came to the fore,
carrying silver trumpets; the ladies held each other's hands lovingly,
and their gleaming tresses of red and gold wove together as they
walked.

They reached the portals of the villa, and the air blew cold and pure.

The lady with the yellow hair who held white violets in her hand,
spoke to the other, and her voice was like the echo of the sea in a
wide-lipped shell.

They paused; Balthasar drew back before the great light they brought
with them, and Ysabeau hid her face, for some of them she knew.

On earth their names had been Melchoir, Sebastian, Jacobea and
Sybilla.

"Balthasar," said the foremost Knight, "we are come from the courts of
Paradise to bid you march against Rome. In that city reigns Evil,
permitted to punish a sinful people, but now her time is come. Go you
to Viterbo, there you will find the Cardinal of Narbonne, whom God has
ordained Pope, and with him an army; at the head of it storm Rome, and
all the people shall join you in destroying Antichrist."

Balthasar fell on his knees.

"And the curse!" he cried.

"'Tis not the curse of God upon you, therefore be comforted, Balthasar
of Courtrai, and at the dawn haste to Viterbo."

With that they moved away, and were absorbed into the silver light
that transfigured the Maremma.

Balthasar sprang to his feet, shouting--

"I am not excommunicate! I shall be Emperor again. The curse is
lifted!"

The moonlight faded, again the clouds rolled up...

Balthasar caught Theirry by the shoulder.

"Did you see the vision?--the angels?"

Theirry came shuddering from his swoon.

"I saw nothing--Ursula...Ursula..."



CHAPTER XII



IN THE VATICAN

In the ebony cabinet in the Vatican sat Michael II; an expression of
utter anguish marked his face.

On the gold table were spread books and parchments; the sullen light
of a stormy midday filtered through the painted curtains and showed
the rich splendours of the chamber, the glittering, closed wings of
the shrine, the carved gold arms of the Pope's chair, the threads of
silver tissue in his crimson robe.

He sat very still, his elbow resting on the table, his cheek propped
on his palm, now and then he looked at the little sand clock.

Presently Paolo Orsini entered; the Pope glanced at him without
moving.

"No news?" he asked.

"None of the Lord Theirry, your Holiness." Michael II moistened his
lips.

"They have searched--everywhere?"

"Throughout Rome, your Holiness, but--"

"Well?"

"Only this, my lord, a man might easily disappear--there is no law in
the city."

"He was armed, they said, when he left the palace; have you sent to
the convent I told you of---St. Angela, beyond the Appian Gate?"

"Yea, your Holiness," answered Orsini, "and they found nought but a
dead woman." The Pope averted his eyes.

"What did they with her?" Orsini lifted his brows.

"Cast her into the plague pit, Holiness,--that quarter is a charnel-
house."

The Pope drew a deep breath.

"Well, he is gone--I do not think him dead,"--he flung back his head--
"but the game is over, is it not, Orsini? We fling down our pieces and
say--good-night!"

His nostrils dilated, his eyes flashed, he brought his open hand
softly on to the table. "What does your Holiness mean?" asked Orsini.

"We mean that this puppet Emperor of ours has forsaken us, and that
our position becomes perilous," answered the Pope. "Cardinal Narbonne,
hurling defiance at us from Viterbo, grows stronger, and the mob--do
not seek to deceive me, Orsini, the mob clamours against us?"

"It is true, my lord."

The Pope gave a terrible smile, and his beautiful eyes widened.

"And the soldiers mutiny, the Saxons at Trastevere have joined
Balthasar and the Veronese have left me--we have not enough men to
hold Rome an hour; well, Orsini, you shall take a summons to the
Cardinals and we will hold a conclave, there to decide how we may meet
our fortune."

He rose and turned towards the window.

"Hark, do you hear how the factions howl below?--begone, Orsini."

The secretary departed in silence.

Mutterings, murmurings, howlings rose from the accursed city to the
Pontiff's chamber; lightning darted from the black heavens, and
thunder rolled round the hills of Rome. Michael II walked to and fro
in his gorgeous cabinet.

In the three days since Theirry had fled the city, his power had
crumbled like a handful of sand; Rome had turned against him, and
every hour men fell away from his cause.

The devils, too, had forsaken him; he could not raise the spirits, the
magic fires would not burn...all was blank darkness and silence.

Up and down he paced, listening to the mob surging in the Piazza of
St. Peter.

The day wore on and the storm grew in violence.

Paolo Orsini came again to him, his face pale.

"Half the Cardinals are fled to Viterbo and those remaining refuse to
acknowledge your Holiness."

The Pope smiled.

"I had expected it."

"News comes from a Greek runner that Theirry of Dendermonde is with
Balthasar's host--" "Also I expected that," said Michael II wildly.

"And they proclaim you," continued Orsini in an agitated manner, "an
impostor, one given to evil practices, and by these means incite the
people against you; Cardinal Orvieto has led a thousand men across the
marshes to the Emperor's army--"

"And Theirry of Dendermonde has denounced me!" said the Pope.

As he spoke one beat for admission on the gilt door. The secretary
opened and there entered an Eastern chamberlain.

"Holiness," he cried fearfully, "the people have set fire to your
palace on the Palatine Hill, and Cardinal Colonna, with his brother
Octavian, have seized Castel San Angelo for the Emperor, and hold it
in defiance of your Grace."

As he finished the lightning darted info the now darkening chamber,
and the thunder mingled with the howling of the mob that surged
beneath the Vatican walls.

"The captain of my guard and those faithful to me," answered the Pope,
"will know how to do what may be done--apprise me of the approach of
Balthasar's host, and now go."

They left him; he stood for a while listening to those ominous sounds
that filled the murky air, then he pressed a spring in one of the
mother-of-pearl panels and stepped into the secret chamber that was
revealed.

Cautiously he closed the panel by which he had entered, and looked
furtively about him.

The small windowless space was lit only by one blood-red lamp, locked
cupboards lined the walls, and a huge globe of faint gold, painted
with curious and mystic signs, hung from the ceiling.

The Pope's stiff garments made a soft rustling sound as he moved; his
quick desperate breathing disturbed the heavy confined air.

In his pallid face his eyes rolled and gleamed.

"Sathanas, Sathanas," he muttered, "is this the end?"

A throbbing shook the red-lit gloom, his last words were echoed
mournfully--

"The end."

He clutched his hands into the jewelled embroidery on his breast.

"Now you mock me--by my old allegiance, is this the end?"

Again the echo from the dark walls--

"The end."

The Pope glared in front of him.

"Must I die, Sathanas--must I swiftly die?"

A little confused laughter came before the echo "swiftly die."

He paced up and down the narrow space.

"I staked my fortunes on that man's faith and he has forsaken me, and
I have lost, lost!" "Lost! lost!"

The Pope laughed frantically.

"At least she died, Sathanas, her yellow hair rots in the plague pit
now; I had some skill left...but what was all my skill if I could not
keep him faithful to me--"

He clasped his jewelled hand over his eyes; utter silence followed his
words now; the globe of pallid gold trembled in the darkness of the
domed ceiling, and the mystic characters on it began to writhe and
move.

"Long had I lived with the earth beneath my feet had I not met that
fair sweet fool, and I go to ruin for his sake who has denounced me--"

The red lamp became dull as a dying coal.

"Ye warned me," breathed the Pope, "that this man would be my bane--
you promised on his truth to you and me to halve the world between us;
he was false, and you have utterly forsaken me?"

The echo answered--

"Utterly forsaken..."

The lamp went out.

The pale luminous globe expanded to a monstrous size, the circle of
dark little fiends round it danced and whirled madly. .

Then it burst and fell in a thousand fragments at the Pope's feet.

Out of the darkness came a wail as of some thing hurt or dying, then
long sighing shook the close air...

The Pope felt along the wall, touched the spring and stepped into the
ebony cabinet. He looked quite old and small and bowed.

Night had fallen; the chamber was lit by perfumed candles in curious
carved sticks of soapstone; faint veils of incense floated in the air.

Without the thunder rolled and threatened, and the factions of Rome
fought in the streets.

The Pope sank into a chair and folded his hands in his lap; his head
fell forward on his breast; his lips quivered and two tears rolled
down his cheeks.

The Angelus bells rang out over the city, there were not many to ring
now; as they quivered away a clock struck, quite near.

The Pope did not move.

Once again Paolo Orsini entered, and Michael II averted his face.

"Holiness, Balthasar marches on Rome," said the secretary, "the mob
rush forth to join him, and if the gates were brass, and five times
brass, the Vatican could not withstand them." The Pope spoke without
looking round.

"Will they storm the Vatican?"

"Ay, that they will, Holiness," answered Orsini.

Now the Pontiff turned his white face.

"What may I do?"

"The captain of the guard suggests that ye come to terms with the
Emperor, and by submission save your life."

"That I will not."

"Then it were well if your Holiness would flee; there is a secret way
out of the Vatican--" "And that I will not."

Orsini, too, was very pale.

"Then are you doomed to fall into the hands of Balthasar, and he and
his faction say--horrible things."

The Pope rose.

"You think they would lay hands on me?

"I do fear it!

"It would be a shameful death, Orsini?"

"Surely not that! I cannot think the Emperor would do more than
imprison your Holiness." "Well, you are very faithful, Orsini."

The young Roman shrugged his shoulders.

"Cardinal Narbonne is a Colonna, Holiness, and I have always found you
a generous master."

The Pope went to the window. "How they howl!" he said through his
teeth, "and Balthasar comes nearer, nearer--"

He checked himself abruptly.

"I will dine here to-night, Orsini, see that everything is done as
usual."

The secretary bowed himself out of the gilt door. Michael II went to
the table on the dais and took from it a scroll of parchment.

Standing in the centre of the room he unrolled it; some verses were
written in a scarlet ink on the smooth surface; in a low voice he read
aloud the two last.

"If Love were all!

I had lived glad and meek, Nor heard Ambition call And Valour speak.

If Love were all!"

He smiled bitterly. "But Love is weak.

And often leaves his throne, Among his scattered roses pale To weep
and moan.

And I, apostate to his whispered creed.

Shall miss his wings above my pall.

Nor find his face in this my bitter need.

When Love is all!"

"The metre halts," said Michael II, "the metre ... halts."

He tore the parchment into fragments and scattered them on the floor.
Again the gilt doors were opened, this time a chamberlain entered. A
herald had brought a fierce and grim message from Balthasar.

It spoke of the Pope as Antichrist, and called on him to submit if he
would keep his life.

The Pope read it with haughty eyes; when he had finished he rent it
across and cast the pieces down among the others.

"And ye shall hang the herald," he said. "We have so much authority."
The chamberlain handed him a second packet, sealed.

"This also the herald brought, Holiness." "From whom?"

"From Theirry of Dendermonde."

"Theirry of--of Dendermonde?"

"Yea, Holiness."

The Pope took the packet.

"Let the herald live," he said, "but cast him into the dungeons."

The chamberlain withdrew.

For a while Michael II stood staring at the packet, while the thunder
crashed over Rome. Then he slowly broke the seal.

"What curses have you for me?" he cried wildly. "What curses? You!"

He unfolded the long strip of vellum, and went nearer the candles to
read it.

Thus it ran--

"The Emperor's camp, marching on Rome, Theirry of Dendermonde to
Michael, Pope of Rome, thus--

"I am approaching madness, I cannot sleep or rest--after days of
torment I write to you whom I have twice betrayed. She died on my
breast, but I do not care; Balthasar says he saw her walking on the
Maremma, but I saw nothing...before she died she said something. I
think of you and of nothing else, though I have betrayed you, I have
never uttered what she said. No one guesses.

"The uncertainty, the horror, gnaw away my heart. So I write this to
you."

"This is my message--"

"If you are a devil, be satisfied, for your devil's work is done."

"If you are a man, you have befriended, wronged me, and I have avenged
myself."

"If you are that other thing you may be, then I know you love me, and
that I kissed you once."

"If this last be true, as I do think it true, have some pity on my
long ignorance and believe I have it in me to love even as you have
loved."

"Oh, Ursula, I know a city in India where we might live, and you
forget you ever ruled in Rome; yonder are other gods who are so old
they have forgot to punish, and they would smile on you and me there,
Ursula. Balthasar marches on the city, and you must be ruined and
discovered--brought to an end so horrible. You have showed me a secret
way out of the Vatican, use it now, this night. I am in advance of the
host--I shall be without the Appian Gate tonight, and I have means
whereby we may fly to the coast and there take ship to India; until we
meet, farewell! and in the name of all the passions you have roused in
me--come!"

As the Pope read, all the colour slowly left his face; when he had
finished he mechanically rolled up the parchment, then unrolled it
again.

Thunder shook the Vatican and the mob howled without.

Again he read the letter.

Then he thrust it into one of the candles and watched it blacken,
curl, burst into flame. He flung it on the marble floor and set his
gold heel on it, grinding it into ashes.

At the usual hour they served his sumptuous supper; when it was
finished and removed, Paolo Orsini came again.

"Will not your Holiness fly, before it is too late?" All traces of
anguish and woe had vanished from his master's features; he looked
proud and beautiful.

"I shall stay here; but let them who will, seek safety."

He dismissed Orsini and the attendants.

It was now late in the evening--and the thunder unceasing.

The Pope locked the door of the cabinet, then went to the gilt table,
and wrote a letter rapidly---this he folded, sealed with purple wax
and stamped with his great thumb ring.

He sat silent a little while after this and stared with great luminous
eyes before him, then roused himself and unlocked a drawer in the
table.

From this he took some documents, tied together with orange silk, and
a ring with a red stone in it.

One by one he burnt the parchments in the candle, and when they were
reduced to a little pile of ashes he cast the ring into the midst of
it and turned away.

He crossed to the window, drew the curtains and looked out over Rome.

In the black heavens, above the black hills, hung a huge meteor, a
blazing globe of fire with a trail of flame...

The Pope let the silk fall together again.

He took up one of the candles and went to the gold door that led to
his bed-chamber.

Before he opened it he paused a moment; the candle-flame lit his vivid
eyes, his haughty face, his glittering vestments. .

He turned the handle and entered the dark, spacious room

Through the high, undraped window could clearly be seen the star that
seemed to burn away the very sky.

The Pope set the candle on a shelf where it showed dim glimpses of
white and gold tapestries, walls of alabaster, a bed of purple and
gilt, mysterious, gorgeous luxury. .

He returned to the cabinet and took from the bosom of his gown a
little bottle of yellow jade; for the stopper a ruby served.

The thunder crashed deafeningly; the lightning seemed to split the
room in twain; the Pope stood still, listening.

Then he blew out the candles and returned to his bed-chamber.

Softly he passed into the scented, splendid chamber and closed the
door behind him.

In the little pause between two thunder-peals was the sound of a great
key turning in a lock.



CHAPTER XIII THE SECRET



The mob had stormed the Vatican; Octavian Colonna, with a handful of
fighting men, ascended the undefended marble staircase.

The papal guards lay slain in the courtyard and in the entrance hall;
chamberlains, secretary, pages, and priests, fled or surrendered.

With the Lord Colonna was Theirry of Dendermonde, who had entered Rome
that morning by the Appian Gate and headed a faction of the lawless
crowd in their wild attack on the Vatican. To himself he kept saying--

"I shall know, she did not come; I shall know, she did not come."

It was early morning; the terrific storm of last night still lingered
over Rome; flashes of blue light divided the murky clouds and the
thunder hung about the Aventine; the Colonna grew afraid; he waited
below in the gorgeous audience-chamber and sent up to the Pope's
apartments, demanding his submission and promising him safety.

The overawed crowd retired into the courtyard and the Piazza while
Paolo Orsini ascended the silver stairs.

He returned with this message--

"His Holiness's apartments were locked, nor could they make him hear."

"Break down the doors," said the Colonna, but he trembled.

It was a common thought among the knights that Michael II had escaped;
a monk offered to show them the secret passage where his Holiness
might be even now; many went; but Theirry followed the attendants to
the gilt door of the ebony cabinet.

They broke the lock and entered, fearfully.

On the floor torn fragments of parchments, a pile of ashes with a ruby
ring lying in the midst...

Nothing else.

"His Holiness is in his chamber--we dare not enter."

They had always been afraid of him; even now his name held terror.

"The Colonna waits our news!" cried Theirry wildly, "I--I dare enter."

They tiptoed to the other gilt door; it took them some time to remove
the lock.

When at last the door gave and swung open they shrunk away--but
Theirry passed into the chamber.

The sombre light of dawn filled it; heavy shadows obscured the rich
splendours of golden colours, of gleaming white walls; the men crept
after him--it seemed to Theirry as if the world had stopped about
them.

On the magnificent purple bed lay the Pope; on his brow the tiara
glittered, and on his breast the chasuble; the crozier lay by his side
on the samite coverlet, and his feet glittered in their golden shoes;
by the crozier was a letter and a jade bottle.

The attendants shrieked and fled.

Theirry crept to the bedside and took up the parchment; his name was
over the top; he broke the seal.

He read the fair writing.

"If I be a devil I go whence I came, if a man I lived as one and die
as one, if woman I have known Love, conquered it and by it have been
vanquished. Whatsoever I am, I perish on the heights, but I do not
descend from them. I have known things in their fulness and will not
stay to taste the dregs. So, to you greeting, and not for long
farewell."

The letter fell from Theirry's hand, fluttered and sank to the floor.

He raised his eyes and saw through the window the meteor, blazing over
Rome.

Dead...

He looked now at the proud smooth face on the pillow; the gems of the
papal crown gleaming above the red locks, the jewelled chasuble
sparkling in the strengthening dawn until he was nearly fooled into
thinking the bosom heaved beneath.

He was alone.

At least he could know.

The air was like incense sweet and stifling; his blood seemed to beat
in his brain with a little foolish sound of melody; a shaft of grey
light fell over the splendours of the bed, the roses and dragons,
hawks and hounds sewn on the curtains and coverlets; from the Pope's
garments rose a subtle and beautiful perfume.

"Ursula," said Theirry; he bent over the bed until the pearls in his
ears touched his cheeks. Without the thunder muttered.

To know--

He lifted the dead Pope's arm; there seemed to be neither weight nor
substance under the stiff silk. He dropped the sleeve; his cold
fingers unclasped the heavy chasuble, underneath lay perfumed samite,
white and soft.

An awful sensation crept through his veins; he thought that under
these gorgeous vestments was nothing--nothing--ashes.

He did not dare to uncover the bosom that lay, that must lie, under
the gleaming samite... But he must know.

He lifted up the fair crowned head to peer madly into the proud
features...

It came away in his hands, like crumbling wood that may preserve, till
touched, the semblance of the carving...so the Pope's head parted from
the trunk.

Theirry smiled with horror and stared at what he held.

Then it disappeared, fell into ashes before his eyes, and the tiara
rolled on to the floor. Gone--like an image of smoke.

He sank across the headless thing on the bed.

"Must I follow you to know, follow you to hell?" he whispered.

Now he could open the rich garments.

They were empty of all save dust.

The strange strong perfume was stinging and numbing his brain, his
heart; he thought he heard the fiends coming for his soul--at last.

He hid his face in the purple silk robes and felt his blood grow cold.

The room darkened about him, he knew he was being drawn downwards into
eternity, he sighed and slipped from the bed on to the floor.

As his last breath hovered on his lips the meteor vanished, the
thunder-clouds rolled away from a fair blue sky and a glorious sunrise
laughed over the city.

The reign of Antichrist was ended.

Through the Pope's chamber the notes of silver trumpets quivered.

Balthasar's trumpets as his hosts marched triumphantly into Rome.



THE END



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia