Black Magic/Part 2/Chapter 6
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.
"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."
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!"
"He is a poor knight who tells his lady of his difficulties," he said. "I cannot come crying to you like a child."
"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."
"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."
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. 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 Prince tossed his yellow curls. "I want my father."
Jacobea, in pity of the Empress's distracted bearing, tried to pacify him.
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 heartbroken 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.
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.… A strong sense that the newcomer 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.
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.
"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."
"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.
"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.
As she moved towards the door he came beside her. 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.
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.