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Title: Under the Witches' Moon - A Romantic Tale of Mediaeval Rome
Author: Gallizier, Nathan, 1866-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Note: Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and
bold text by =equal signs=.



  Under the Witches' Moon

  THE ROMANCES
  OF
  NATHAN GALLIZIER

         *       *       *       *       *

  _Each, one volume, 12mo, cloth, illustrated.
  Net $1.35; carriage paid, $1.50_

  Castel del Monte
  The Sorceress of Rome
  The Court of Lucifer
  The Hill of Venus
  The Crimson Gondola

         *       *       *       *       *

  Under the Witches' Moon

  _12mo, cloth, illustrated. Net $1.50;
  carriage paid, $1.65_

         *       *       *       *       *

  THE PAGE COMPANY
  53 BEACON STREET, BOSTON, MASS.

[Illustration: "It was that of a man coming towards her" (_See page
143_)]



  Under the
  Witches' Moon

  A Romantic Tale
  _of_ Mediaeval Rome

  _BY
  Nathan Gallizier_

  Author of "The Crimson Gondola," "The Hill of Venus,"
  "The Court of Lucifer," "The Sorceress of Rome,"
  "Castel del Monte," Etc.

  [Illustration]

  THE PAGE COMPANY
  BOSTON      MDCCCCXVII


  _Copyright, 1917,_
  BY THE PAGE COMPANY

  _All rights reserved_

  First Impression, October, 1917

  THE COLONIAL PRESS
  C. H. SIMONDS CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.


  _"To some Love comes so splendid and so soon,
    With such wide wings and steps so royally,
  That they, like sleepers wakened suddenly,
    Expecting dawn, are blinded by his noon.

  "To some Love comes so silently and late,
    That all unheard he is, and passes by,
  Leaving no gift but a remembered sigh,
    While they stand watching at another gate.

  "But some know Love at the enchanted hour,
    They hear him singing like a bird afar,
  They see him coming like a falling star,
    They meet his eyes--and all their world's in flower."

                                      ETHEL CLIFFORD_



CONTENTS


  BOOK THE FIRST

  Chapter                              Page

     I. The Fires of St. John             3

    II. The Weaving of the Spell         13

   III. The Dream Lady of Avalon         20

    IV. The Way of the Cross             30

     V. On the Aventine                  38

    VI. The Coup                         46

   VII. Masks and Mummers                60

  VIII. The Shrine of Hekaté             67

    IX. The Game of Love                 79

     X. A Spirit Pageant                 90

    XI. The Denunciation                 97

   XII. The Confession                  102


  BOOK THE SECOND

     I. The Grand Chamberlain           115

    II. The Call of Eblis               128

   III. The Crystal Sphere              134

    IV. Persephoné                      146

     V. Magic Glooms                    152

    VI. The Lure of the Abyss           160

   VII. The Face in the Panel           167

  VIII. The Shadow of Asrael            173

    IX. The Feast of Theodora           187

     X. The Chalice of Oblivion         204


  BOOK THE THIRD

     I. Wolfsbane                       221

    II. Under the Saffron Scarf         230

   III. Dark Plottings                  240

    IV. Face to Face                    250

     V. The Cressets of Doom            259

    VI. A Meeting of Ghosts             269

   VII. A Bower of Eden                 279

  VIII. An Italian Night                289

    IX. The Net of the Fowler           299

     X. Devil Worship                   307

    XI. By Lethe's Shores               314

   XII. The Death Watch                 323

  XIII. The Convent in Trastevere       335

   XIV. The Phantom of the Lateran      341


  BOOK THE FOURTH

     I. The Return of the Moor          351

    II. The Escape from San Angelo      356

   III. The Lure                        367

    IV. A Lying Oracle                  377

     V. Bitter Waters                   384

    VI. From Dream to Dream             389

   VII. A Roman Medea                   402

  VIII. In Tenebris                     413

    IX. The Conspiracy                  419

     X. The Broken Spell                427

    XI. The Black Mass                  440

   XII. Sunrise                         453



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  Page

  "It was that of a man coming towards her." (_See page 143_)

                                                          _Frontispiece_

  "A strange look passed into Theodora's eyes"                      83

  "Pelting the dancing girls for idle diversion"                   192

  "Thrown her saffron scarf over the prostrate youth"              236

  BOOK THE FIRST



UNDER THE WITCHES' MOON



CHAPTER I

THE FIRES OF ST. JOHN


It was the eve of St. John in the year of our Lord Nine Hundred
Thirty-Five.

High on the cypress-clad hills of the Eternal City the evening sun had
flamed valediction, and the last lights of the dying day were fading
away on the waves of the Tiber whose changeless tide has rolled down
through centuries of victory and defeat, of pride and shame, of glory
and disgrace.

The purple dusk began to weave its phantom veil over the ancient
capital of the Cæsars and a round blood-red moon was climbing slowly
above the misty crests of the Alban Hills, draining the sky of its
crimson sunset hues.

The silvery chimes of the Angelus, pealing from churches and convents,
from Santa Maria in Trastevere to Santa Maria of the Aventine, began to
sing their message of peace into the heart of nature and of man.

As the hours of the night advanced and the moon rose higher in the
star-embroidered canopy of the heavens, a vast concourse of people
began to pour from shadowy lanes and thoroughfares, from sanctuaries
and hostelries, into the Piazza Navona. Romans and peasants from the
Campagna, folk from Tivoli, Velletri, Corneto and Terracina, pilgrims
from every land of the then known world, Africans and Greeks, Lombards
and Franks, Sicilians, Neapolitans, Syrians and Kopts, Spaniards and
Saxons, men from the frozen coast of Thulé and the burning sands of
Arabia, traders from the Levant, sorcerers from the banks of the Nile,
conjurers from the mythical shores of the Ganges, adventurers from the
Barbary coast, gypsies from the plains of Sarmatia, monks from the
Thebaide, Normans, Gascons and folk from Aquitaine.

In the Piazza Navona booths and stalls had been erected for the sale of
figs and honey, and the fragrant products of the Roman osterié.

Strings of colored lanterns danced and quivered in the air. The fitful
light from the torches, sending spiral columns of resinous smoke into
the night-blue ether, shed a lurid glow over the motley, fantastic
crowd that increased with every moment, recruited from fishermen,
flower girls, water-carriers and herdsmen from the Roman Campagna.

Ensconced in the shadow of a roofless portico, a relic of the ancient
Circus Agonalis, which at one time occupied the site of the Piazza
Navona, and regarding the bewildering spectacle which presented itself
to his gaze, with the air of one unaccustomed to such scenes, stood
a stranger whose countenance revealed little of the joy of life that
should be the heritage of early manhood.

His sombre and austere bearing, the abstracted mood and far-away look
of the eyes would have marked him a dreamer in a society of men who had
long been strangers to dreams. For stern reality ruled the world and
the lives of a race untouched alike by the glories of the past and the
dawn of the Pre-Renaissance.

He wore the customary pilgrim's habit, almost colorless from the
effects of wind and weather. Now and then a chance passer-by would
cast shy glances at the lone stranger, endeavoring to reconcile his age
and his garb, and wondering at the nature of the transgression that
weighed so heavily upon one apparently so young in years.

And well might his countenance give rise to speculation, were it but
for the determined and stolid air of aloofness which seemed to render
futile every endeavor to entice him into the seething maelstrom of
humanity on the part of those who took note of his dark and austere
form as they crossed the Piazza.

Tristan of Avalon was in his thirtieth year, though the hardships
of a long and tedious journey, consummated entirely afoot, made him
appear of maturer age. The face, long exposed to the relentless rays
of the sun, had taken on the darker tints of the Southland. The nose
was straight, the grey eyes tinged with melancholy, the hair was of
chestnut brown, the forehead high and lofty. The ensemble was that of
one who, unaccustomed to the pilgrim's garb, moves uneasily among his
kind. Yet the atmosphere of frivolity, while irritating and jarring
upon his senses, did not permit him to avert his gaze from the orgy of
color, the pandemonium of jollity, that whirled and piped and roared
about him as the flow of mighty waters.

One of many strange wayfarers bound upon business of one sort or
another to the ancient seat of empire, whose worldly sceptre had long
passed from her palsied grip to the distant shores of the Bosporus,
Tristan had arrived during the early hours of the day in the feudal and
turbulent witches' cauldron of the Rome of the Millennium.

And with him constituents of many peoples, from far and near, had
reached the Leonine quarter from the Tiburtine road, after months of
tedious travel, to worship at the holy shrines, to do penance and to
obtain absolution for real or imaginary transgressions.

From Bosnia, from Servia and Hungary, from Negropont and the islands
of the Greek Archipelago, from Trebizond and the Crimea it came
endlessly floating to the former capital of the Cæsars, a waste drift
of palaces and temples and antique civilizations, for the End of Time
was said to be nigh, and the dread of impending judgment lay heavily
upon the tottering world of the Millennium.

A grotesque and motley crowd it was, that sought and found a temporary
haven in the lowly taverns, erected for the accommodation of perennial
pilgrims, chiefly mean ill-favored dwellings of clay and timber,
divided into racial colonies, so that pilgrims of the same land and
creed might dwell together.

A very Babel of voices assailed Tristan's ear, for the ancient sonorous
tongue had long degenerated into the lingua Franca of bad Latin, though
there were some who could still, though in a broken and barbarous
fashion, make themselves understood, when all other modes of expression
failed them.

All about him throbbed the strange, weird music of zitherns and lutes
and the thrumming of the Egyptian Sistrum. The air of the summer night
was heavy with the odor of incense, garlic and roses. The higher
risen moon gleamed pale as an alabaster lamp in the dark azure of
the heavens, trembling luminously on the waters of a fountain which
occupied the centre of the Piazza Navona.

Here lolled some scattered groups of the populace, discussing the
events of the day, jesting, gesticulating, drinking or love-making.
Others roamed about, engaged in conversation or enjoying the antics of
two Smyrniote tumblers, whose contortions elicited storms of applause
from an appreciative audience.

A crowd of maskers had invaded the Piazza Navona, and the uncommon
spectacle at last drew Tristan from his point of vantage and caused
him to mingle with the crowds, which increased with every moment,
their shouts and gibes and the clatter of their tongues becoming
quite deafening to his ears. Richly decorated chariots, drawn by
spirited steeds, rolled past in a continuous procession. The cries of
the wine-venders and fruit-sellers mingled with the acclaim of the
multitudes. Now and then was heard the fanfare of a company of horsemen
who clattered past, bound upon some feudal adventure.

Weary of walking, distracted by the ever increasing clamor, oppressed
with a sense of loneliness amidst the surging crowds, whose festal
spirit he did not share, Tristan made his way towards the fountain and,
seating himself on the margin, regardless of the chattering groups,
which intermittently clustered about it, he felt his mood gradually
calm in the monotony of the gurgling flow of the water, which spurted
from the grotesque mouths of lions and dolphins.

The stars sparkled in subdued lustre above the dark, towering cypresses
which crowned the adjacent eminence of Monte Testaccio, and the
distant palaces and ruins stood forth in distinctness of splendor and
desolation beneath the luminous brightness of the moonlit heavens.
White shreds of mist, like sorrowing spirits, floated above the winding
course of the Tiber, and enveloped in a diaphanous haze the cloisters
upon St. Bartholomew's Island at the base of Mount Aventine.

For a time Tristan's eyes roamed over the kaleidoscopic confusion which
met his gaze on every turn. His ear was assailed by the droning sound
of many voices that filled the air about him, when he was startled by
the approach of two men, who, but for their halting gait, might have
passed unheeded in the rolling sea of humanity that ebbed and flowed
over the Piazza.

Basil, the Grand Chamberlain, was endowed with the elegance of the
effeminate Roman noble of his time. Supple as an eel, he nevertheless
suggested great physical strength. The skin was of a deep olive tinge.
The black, beady eyes were a marked feature of the countenance.
Inscrutable and steadfast in regard, with a hint of mockery and
cynicism, coupled with an abiding alertness, they seemed to penetrate
the very core of matter.

He wore a black mantle reaching almost to his feet. Of his features,
shaded by a hood, little was to be seen, save his glittering minx-eyes.
These he kept alternately fixed upon the crowds that surged around him
and on his companion, a hunchback garbed entirely in black, from the
Spanish hat, which he wore slouched over his face, to the black hose
and sandals that encased his feet. A large red scar across the low
forehead heightened the repulsiveness of his countenance. There was
something strangely sinister in his sunken, cadaverous cheeks, the low
brow, the inflamed eyelids, and his limping gait.

Without perceiving or heeding the presence of Tristan they paused as by
some preconcerted signal.

As the taller of the two pushed back the hood of his pilgrim garb, as
if to cool his brow in the night breeze, Tristan peered into a face not
lacking in sensuous refinement. Dark supercilious eyes roved from one
object to another, without dwelling long on any particular one. There
was somewhat of a cynical look in the downward curve of the eyebrows,
the thin straight lips and the slightly aquiline nose, which seemed to
imbue him with an air of recklessness and daring, that ill consorted
with his monkish garb.

Their discourse was at first almost unintelligible to Tristan. The
language of the common people had, at this period of the history of
Rome, not only lost its form, but almost the very echo of the Latin
tongue.

After a time, however, Tristan distinguished a name, and, upon
listening more attentively, the burden of the message began to unfold
itself.

"Why then have you ventured out of your hell-hole of iniquity, when
discovery means death or worse?" said Basil, the Grand Chamberlain. "Do
the keeps and dungeons of the Emperor's Tomb so allure you? Or do you
trust in some miraculous delivery from its vermin-haunted vaults?"

At these words Rome's most dreaded bravo, Il Gobbo of the Catacombs,
snarled contemptuously.

"You are needlessly alarmed, my lord. They will not look for Il Gobbo
in this company, though even a mole may walk in the shadow of a saint."

Basil regarded the speaker with mingled pity and contempt.

"There is room for all the world in Rome and the devil to boot."

Il Gobbo chuckled unpleasantly.

"Besides--folk about here show a great reverence for a holy garb--"

"Always with fitting reservations," interposed the Grand Chamberlain
sardonically. "I have had it in mind at some time or other to relieve
the Grand Penitentiary. The good man's lungs must be well nigh bursting
with the foul air down there by the Tomb of the Apostle. He will
welcome a rest!"

"Requiescat," chanted the bravo, imitating the nasal tone of the clergy.

Basil nodded approval.

"He at one time did me the honor of showing some concern in my
spiritual welfare. Know you what I replied?"--

The bravo gave a shrug.

"'Father,' I said, when he urged me to confess, 'pray shrive some one
worthier than myself. But--if you must needs have a confession--I shall
whisper into your holy ear so many interesting little episodes, so many
spicy peccadillos, and--to enhance their interest--mention some names
so high in the grace of God--'"

"And the reverend father?"

"Looked anathema and vanished"--

Basil paused for a moment, after which he continued with a sigh:

"It is too late! The Church is to be purified. Not even the pale shade
of Marozia will henceforth be permitted to haunt the crypts of Castel
San Angelo--merely for the sake of decorum. There is nothing less well
bred than memory!"

For a moment they relapsed into silence, watching the shifting crowds,
then Basil continued:

"Compared with this virtuous boredom the last days of Ugo of Tuscany
were a carnival. One could at least speed the travails of some one who
required swift absolution."

"Can you contrive to bring about this happy state?" queried Il Gobbo.

"It is always the unexpurgated that happens," Basil replied
sardonically.

"I hope to advance in your school," Il Gobbo interposed with a smile.

"I have long had you in mind. If you are in favor with yourself you
will become an apt pupil. Remember! He who is dead is dead and long
live the survivor."

"In very truth, my lord, breath is the first and last thing we draw--"
rejoined the bravo, evidently not relishing the thought that death
might be standing unseen at his elbow.

"Who would end one's days in odious immaculacy," Basil interposed
grandiloquently, "even though you will not incur that reproach from
those who know you from report, or who have visited your haunts? But
to the point. There are certain forces at work in Rome which make
breathing in this fetid air a rather cumbersome process."

"I doubt me if they could teach your lordship any new tricks," Il Gobbo
replied, somewhat dubiously.

The Grand Chamberlain smiled darkly.

"Good Il Gobbo, the darkest of my tricks you have not yet fathomed."

"Perchance then the gust of rumor blows true about my lord's palace on
the Pincian Hill?"

"What say they about my palatial abode?" Basil turned suavely to the
speaker.

There was something in the gleam of his interrogator's eyes that caused
Il Gobbo to hesitate. But his native insolence came to the rescue of
his failing courage.

"Ask rather, what do they not say of it, my lord! It would require less
time to recite--"

"Nevertheless, I am just now in a frame of mind to shudder soundly.
These Roman nights, with their garlic and incense, are apt to befuddle
the brain,--rob it of its power to plot. Perchance the recital of these
mysteries would bring to mind something I have omitted."

The bravo regarded the speaker with a look of awe.

"They whisper of torture chambers, where knife and screw and pulley
never rest--of horrors that make the blood freeze in the veins--of
phantoms of fair women that haunt the silent galleries--strange wails
of anguish that sound nightly from the subterranean vaults--"

"A goodly account that ought vastly to interest the Grand
Penitentiary--were it--with proper decorum--whispered in his ear. It
would make him forget--for the time at least--the dirty Roman gossip.
Deem you not, good Il Gobbo?"

"I am not versed in such matters, my lord," replied the bravo, ill at
ease. "Perhaps your lordship will now tell me why this fondness for my
society?"

"To confess truth, good Il Gobbo, I did not join you merely to meditate
upon the pleasant things of life. Rather to be inspired to some
extraordinary adventure such as my hungry soul yearns for. As for the
nature thereof, I shall leave that to the notoriously wicked fertility
of your imagination."

The lurid tone of the speaker startled the bravo.

"My lord, you would not lay hands on the Lord's anointed?"

Il Gobbo met a glance that made the blood freeze in his veins.

"Is it the thing you call your conscience that ails you, or some sudden
indigestion? Or is the bribe not large enough?"

The bravo doggedly shook his head.

"Courage lieth not always in bulk," he growled. "May my soul burn to
a crisp in the everlasting flames if I draw steel against the Lord's
anointed."

"Silence, fool! What you do in my service shall not burden your soul!
Have you forgotten our compact?"

"That I have not, my lord! But since the Senator of Rome has favored me
with his especial attention, I too have something to lose, which some
folk hereabout call their honor."

"Your honor!" sneered the Grand Chamberlain. "It is like the skin of an
onion. Peel off one, there's another beneath."

"My skin then--" the bravo growled doggedly. "However--if the lord
Basil will confide in me--"

"Pray lustily to your patron saint and frequent the chapel of the
Grand Penitentiary," replied Basil suavely, beckoning to Il Gobbo to
follow him. "But beware, lest in your zeal to confess you mistake my
peccadillos for your own."

With these words the two worthies slowly retraced their steps in the
direction of Mount Aventine and were soon lost to sight.



CHAPTER II

THE WEAVING OF THE SPELL


After they had disappeared Tristan stood at gaze,
puzzled where to turn, for the spectacle had suddenly changed.

New bands of revellers had invaded the Piazza Navona, and it seemed
indeed as if the Eve of St. John were assuming the character of the
ancient Lupercalia, for the endless variety of costumes displayed
by a multitude assembled from every corner of Italy, Spain, Greece,
Africa, and the countries of the North, was now exaggerated by a wild
fancifulness and grotesque variety of design.

Tristan himself did not escape the merry intruders. He was immediately
beset by importunate revellers, and not being able to make himself
understood, they questioned and lured him on, imploring his good
offices with the Enemy of Mankind.

Satyrs, fauns and other sylvan creatures accosted him, diverting
their antics, when they found themselves but ill repaid for their
efforts, and leaving the solitary stranger pondering the expediency of
remaining, or wending his steps toward the Inn of the Golden Shield,
where he had taken lodging upon his arrival.

These doubts were to be speedily dispelled by a spectacle which
attracted the crowds that thronged the Piazza, causing them to give
way before a splendid procession that had entered the Navona from the
region of Mount Aventine.

Down the Navona came a train of chariots, preceded by a throng of
persons, clad in rich and fantastic Oriental costumes, leaping, dancing
and making the air resound with tambourines, bells, cymbals and gongs.
They kept up an incessant jingle, which sounded weirdly above the
droning chant of distant processions of pilgrims, hermits and monks,
traversing the city from sanctuary to sanctuary.

The occupants of these chariots consisted of a number of young women in
the flower of youth and beauty, whose scant apparel left little to the
imagination either as regarded their person or the trade they plied.
The charioteers were youths, scarcely arrived at the age of puberty,
but skilled in their profession in the highest degree.

The first chariot, drawn by two milk-white steeds of the Berber breed,
was inlaid with mother-of-pearl, with gilded spokes and trappings that
glistened in the light of a thousand colored lanterns and torches, like
a vehicle from fairyland. The reins were in the hands of a youth hardly
over sixteen years of age, garbed in a snow white tunic, but the skill
with which he drove the shell-shaped car through the surging crowds
argued for uncommon dexterity.

Tristan, from his station by the fountain, was enabled to take in
every detail of the strange pageant which moved swiftly towards him, a
glittering, fantastic procession, as if drawn out of dreamland; and so
enthralled were his senses that he did not note the terrible silence
which had suddenly fallen upon the multitude.

As a half-slumbering man may note a sudden brilliant gleam of sunshine
flashing on the walls of his chamber, Tristan gazed in confused
bewilderment, when suddenly his stupefied senses were aroused to hot
life and pulsation, as he fixed his straining gaze on the supreme fair
form of the woman in the first car, standing erect like a queen,
surveying her subjects.

In the silence of a great multitude there is always something ominous.
But Tristan noted it not. Indeed he was deaf and blind to everything,
save the apparition in the shell-shaped car, as it bounded lightly over
the unevenly laid tufa of the Navona.

Was it a woman, or a goddess? A rainbow flame in mortal shape, a spirit
of earth, air, water or fire?

He saw before him a woman combining the charm of the girl with the
maturity of the thirties, dark-haired, exquisitely proportioned, with
clear-cut features and dark slumbrous eyes.

She wore a diaphanous robe of pale silk gauze. Her wonderful arms,
white as the fallen snow, were encircled by triple serpentine coils
of gold. Else, she was unadorned, save for a circlet of rubies which
crowned the dusky head.

Her sombre eyes rested drowsily on the swarming crowds, while a smile
of disdain curved the small red mouth, as her chariot proceeded through
the frozen silence.

Suddenly her eye caught the admiring gaze of Tristan, who had indeed
forgotten heaven and earth in the contemplation of this supremest
handiwork of the Creator. A word to the charioteer and the chariot came
to a stop.

Tristan and the woman faced each other in silence, the man with an
ill-concealed air of uneasiness, such as one may experience who finds
himself face to face with some unknown danger.

With utter disregard for the gaping crowds which had gathered around
the fountain she bent her gaze upon him, surveying him from head to
foot.

"Who are you?" she spoke at last, and he, confused, bewildered,
trembling, gazed into the woman's supremely fair face and stammered:

"A pilgrim!"

Her lips parted in a smile that revealed two rows of small white, even
teeth. There was something unutterable in that smile which brought the
color to Tristan's brow.

"A Roman?"

"From the North!"

"Why are you here?"

"For the salvation of my soul!"

He blushed as he spoke.

Again the strange smile curved the woman's lips, again the inscrutable
look shone in her eyes.

"For the salvation of your soul!" she repeated slowly after him. "And
you so young and fair. Ah! You have done some little wickedness, no
doubt?"

He started to reply, but she checked him with a wave of her hand.

"I do not wish to be told. Do you repent?"

Tristan's throat was dry. His lips refused utterance. He nodded
awkwardly.

"So much the worse! These little peccadillos are the spice of life!
What is your name?"

She repeated it lingeringly after him.

"From the North--you say--to do penance in Rome!"

She watched him with an expression of amusement. When he started back
from her, a strange fear in his heart, a wave of her hand checked him.

"Let me whisper a secret to you!" she said with a smile.

He felt her perfumed breath upon his cheek.

Inclining his ear he staggered away from her dizzy, bewildered.

Presently, with a dazzling smile, she extended one white hand and
Tristan, trembling as one under a spell, bent over and kissed it. He
felt the soft pressure of her fingers and his pulse throbbed with a
strange, insidious fire, as reluctantly he released it at last.

Raising his eyes, he now met her gaze, absorbing into his innermost
soul the mesmeric spell of her beauty, drinking in the warmth of those
dark, sleepy orbs that flashed on him half resentfully, half mockingly.
Then the charioteer jerked up the reins, the chariot began to move.
Like a dream the pageant vanished--and slowly, like far-away thunder,
the voice of the multitudes began to return, as they regarded the lone
pilgrim with mingled doubt, fear and disdain.

With a start Tristan looked about. He was as one bewitched. He felt he
must follow her at all risks, ascertain her name, her abode.

Dashing through the crowds that gave way before him, wondering and
commenting upon the unseemly haste of one wearing so austere a garb,
Tristan caught a last glimpse of the procession as it entered the
narrow gorge that lies between Mount Testaccio and Mount Aventine.

With a sense of great disappointment he slowly retraced his steps,
walking as in the thrall of a strange dream, and, after inquiring the
direction of his inn of some wayfarers he chanced to meet, he at last
reached the Inn of the Golden Shield, situated near the Flaminian Gate,
and entered the great guest-chamber.

The troubled light of a melancholy dusk was enhanced by the glimmer of
stone lamps suspended from the low and dirty ceiling.

Notwithstanding the late hour, the smoky precincts were crowded with
guests from many lands, who were discussing the events of the day. If
Tristan's wakeful ear had been alive to the gossip of the tavern he
might have heard the incident in the Navona, in which he played so
prominent a part, discussed in varied terms of wonder and condemnation.

Tristan took his seat near an alcove usually reserved for guests of
state. The unaccustomed scene began to exercise a singular fascination
upon him, stranger as he was among strangers from all the earth, their
faces dark against the darker background of the room. Brooding over
a tankard of Falernian of the hue of bronze, which his oily host had
placed before him, he continued to absorb every detail of the animated
picture, while the memory of his strange adventure dominated his mind.

Tristan's meagre fund of information was to be enriched by tidings of
an ominous nature. He learned that the Pontiff, John XI, was imprisoned
in the Lateran Palace, by his step-brother Alberic, the Senator of Rome.

While this information came to him, a loyal son of the Church, as a
distinct shock, Tristan felt, nevertheless, strangely impressed with
the atmosphere of the place. Even in the period of her greatest decay,
Rome seemed still the centre of the universe.

Thus he sat brooding for hours.

When, with a start, he roused himself at last, he found the vast
guest-chamber well-nigh deserted. The pilgrims had retired to their
respective quarters, small, dingy cells, teeming with evil odors, heat
and mosquitoes, and the oily Calabrian host was making ready for the
morrow.

The warmth of the Roman night and the fatigue engendered after many
leagues of tedious travel on a dusty road, under the scorching rays of
an Italian sky, at last asserted itself and, wishing a fair rest to his
host, who was far from displeased to see his guest-chamber cleared for
the night, Tristan climbed the crooked and creaking stairs leading to
the chamber assigned to him, which looked out upon the gate of Castello
and the Tiber, where it is spanned by the Bridge of San Angelo.

The window stood open to the night air, on which floated the perfumes
from oleander and almond groves. The roofs of the Eternal City formed a
dark, shadowy mass in the deep blue dusk, and the cylindrical masonry
of the Flavian Emperor's Tomb rose ominously against the deep turquoise
of the night sky.

Soon the events of the day and the scenes of the evening began to melt
into faint and indistinct memories.

Sleep, deep and tranquil, encompassed Tristan's weary limbs, but in his
dreams the events of the evening were obliterated before scenes of the
past.



CHAPTER III

THE DREAM LADY OF AVALON


Like a disk of glowing gold the sun had set upon hill
and dale. The gardens of Avalon lay wrapt in the mists of evening. Like
flowers seemed the fair women who thronged the winding paths. From
fragrant bosquets, borne on the wings of the night wind came the faint
sounds of zitherns and lutes.

He, too, was there, mingling joyous, carefree, with the rest, gathering
the white roses for the one he loved. Dimly he recalled his delight, as
he saw her approach in the waning light through the dim ilex avenue, an
apparition wondrous fair in the crimson haze of slowly departing day,
entering his garden of dreams. With strangely aching heart he saw them
throng about her in homage and admiration.

At last he knelt before her, kissing the white hand that lay passive
within his own.

How wonderful she was! Never had he seen anything like her, not even
in this land of flowers and of beautiful women. Her hair was warm
as if the sun had entered into it. Her skin had the tints of ivory.
The violet eyes with the long drooping lashes seemed to hold the
memories of a thousand love thoughts. And the small, crimson mouth, so
witch-like, so alluring, seemed to hold out promise of fulfilment of
dizzy hopes and desires.

"It is our golden hour," she smiled down at him, and the white fingers
twined the rose in her hair, wove a girdle of blossoms round her
exquisite, girlish form.

To Tristan she seemed an enchantment, an embodied rose. Never had he
seen her so fair, so beautiful. On her lips quivered a smile, yet there
was a strange light in her eyes, that gave him pause, a light he had
never seen therein before.

She beckoned him away from the throng. "Come where the moonlight
dreams."

Her smile and her wonderful eyes were his beacon light. He rose to his
feet and took her hand. And away they strayed from the rest of the
crowd, far away over green lawns, emerald in the moonlight, with, here
and there, the dark shadow of a cypress falling across the silvery
brightness of their path. Little by little the gardens were deserted.
Fainter and fainter came the sounds of lutes and harps. The shadows of
the grove now encompassed them, as silently they strode side by side.

"This is my Buen Retiro," she spoke at last. "Here we may rest--for
awhile--far from the world."

They entered the rose-bower, a wilderness, blossoming with roses and
hyacinths and fragrant shrubs--a very paradise for lovers.--

The bells of a remote convent began to chime. They smote the silence
with their silvery peals. The castle of Avalon lay dark in the
distance, shadowy against the deep azure of the night sky.

When the chimes of the Angelus had died away, she spoke.

"How wonderful is this peace!"

Her tone brought a sudden chill to his heart.

As she moved forward, he dropped his wealth of flowers and held out his
hands entreatingly.

"Dearest Hellayne," he said, "tarry but a little longer--"

She seemed to start at his words, and leaned over the back of the stone
bench, which was covered with climbing roses. And suddenly under this
new light, sad and silent, she seemed no longer his fair companion of
the afternoon, all youth, all beauty, all light. Motionless, as if
shadowed by some dire foreboding, she stood there and he dared not
approach. Once he raised his hand to take her own. But something in her
eyes caused the hand to fall as with its own weight.

He could not understand what stayed him, what stayed the one supreme
impulse of his heart. He did not understand what checked the words that
hovered on his lips. Was it the clear pure light of the eyes he loved
so well? Was it some dark power he wot not of?

At last he broke through his restraint.

"Hellayne--" he whispered low. "Hellayne--I love you!"

She did not move.

There was a deep silence.

Then she answered.

"Oh, why have you said the word!"

What did she mean? He cried, trembling, within himself. And now he was
no longer in the moonlit rose-bower in the gardens of Avalon, but in a
dense forest. The trees meeting overhead made a night so black, that he
saw nothing, not even their gnarled trunks.

Hellayne was standing beside him. A pale moonbeam flickered through the
interwoven branches.

She pointed to the castle of Avalon, dim in the distance. He made a
quick forward step to see her face. Her eyes were very calm.

"Let us go, Tristan!" she said.

"My answer first," he insisted, gazing longingly, wistfully into the
eyes that held a night of mystery.

"You have it," she said calmly.

"It was no answer," he pleaded, "from lover to lover--"

"Ah!" she replied, in her voice a great weariness which he had never
noted before. "But here are neither loves nor lovers.--Look!"

And he looked.

Before them lay a colorless and lifeless sea, under the arch of a
threatening sky. Across that sky dark clouds, with ever-changing
shapes, rolled slowly, and presently condensed into a vague shadowy
form, while the torpid waves droned a muffled and unearthly dirge.

He covered his eyes, overcome by a mastering fear of that dread shape
which he knew, yet knew not.

He knelt before her, took the hands he loved so well into his own and
pressed upon them his fevered lips.

"I do not understand--" he moaned.

She regarded him fixedly.

"I am another's wife--"

His head drooped.

"When my eyes first met yours they begged that my love for you might
find response in your heart," he said, still holding on to those
marvellous white hands. "Did you not accept my worship?"

She neither encouraged nor repulsed him by word or gesture. And he
covered her hands with burning kisses. After his passionate outburst
had died to silence she spoke quietly, tremulously.

"Tristan," she began, and paused as if she were summoning courage to do
that which she must. "Tristan, this may not be."

"I love you," he sobbed. "I love you! This is all I know! All I shall
ever know. How can I support life without you? heart of my heart--soul
of my soul?--What must I do, to win you for my own--to give you
happiness?"

A negative gesture came in response.

"Is sin ever happiness?"

"The priests say not! And yet--our love is not sinful--"

"The priests say truth." Hellayne interposed calmly.

He felt as if an immense darkness, the chaos of a thousand spheres,
suddenly encompassed him, threatening to plunge him into a bottomless
abyss of despair.

Then he made a quick forward step. Her face was close to his. Wide eyes
fastened upon him in a compelling gaze.

"Tell me!" he urged, his own eyes lost in those unfathomable
wells of dreams. "When love is with you--does aught matter? Does
sin--discovery--God himself--matter?"

With a frightened cry she drew back.

But those steady, questioning eyes, sombre, yet aflame, compelled the
shifting violet orbs.

"Tell me!" he urged again, his face very close to her face.

"Naught matters," she whispered faintly, as if under a spell.

Then her gaze relinquished his, as she looked dreamily out upon the
woods. There was absolute silence, lasting apace. It was the stillness
of a forest where no birds sing, no breezes stir. Then a twig snapped
beneath Hellayne's foot. He had taken her to his heart and, his strong
arms about her, kissed her eyes, her mouth, her hair. She suffered his
caresses dreamily, passively, her white arms encircling his neck.

Suddenly he stiffened. His form was as that of one turned to stone.

In the shadow of the forest beneath a great oak, hooded, motionless,
stood a man. His eyes seemed like glowing coals, as they stared at
them. Hellayne did not see them, but she felt the tremor that passed
through Tristan's frame. The mantle's hood was pulled far down over the
man's face. No features were visible.

And yet Tristan knew that cowled and muffled form. He knew the eyes
that had surprised their tryst.

It was Count Roger de Laval.

The muffled shadow was gone as quickly as it had come.

It was growing ever darker in the forest, and when he looked up again
he saw that Hellayne's white roses were scattered on the ground. Her
scarf of blue samite had fallen heedlessly beside them. He lifted it
and pressed it to his lips.

"Will you give it to me?" he said tremulously. "That it may be with me
always--"

There was no immediate response.

At last she said slowly:

"You shall have it--a parting gift--"

He seized her hands. They lay passively within his own.

There was a great fear in his eyes.

"I do not understand--"

She loosened the roses from her hair and garb before she made reply.
Silently, like dead leaves in autumn, the fragrant petals dropped one
by one to earth. Hellayne watched them with weary eyes as they drifted
to their sleep, then, as she held the last spray in her hand, gazing
upon it she said:

"When you gave them to me, Tristan, they were sweet and fresh, the
fairest you could find. Now they have faded, perished, died--"

He started to plead, to protest, to silence her, but she continued:

"Ah! Can you not see? Can you not understand? Perchance," she added
bitterly, "I was created to adorn the fleeting June afternoon of your
life, and when this scarf is torn and faded as these flowers, let the
wind carry it away,--like these dead petals at our feet--"

She let fall the withered spray, but he snatched it ere it touched the
ground.

"I love you," he stammered passionately. "I love you! Love you as no
woman was ever loved. You are my world--my fate-- Hellayne! Hellayne!
Know you what you say?"--

She gazed at him, with eyes from which all life had fled.

"I am another's," she said slowly. "I have sinned in loving you, in
giving to you my soul. And even as you stood there and held me in your
arms, it flashed upon me, like lightning in a dark stormy night--I saw
the abyss, at the brink of which we stand, both, you and I."--

"But we have done no wrong--we have not sinned," he protested wildly.

She silenced him with a gesture of her beautiful hands.

"Who may command the waters of the cataract, go here,--or go there?
Who may tell them to return to their lawful bed? I have neither power
nor strength, to resist your pleading. You have been life and love to
me, all,--all,--and all this you are to-day. And therefore must we
part,--part, ere it be too late--" she concluded with a wild cry of
anguish, "ere we are both engulfed in the darkness."--

And he fell at her feet as if stunned by a thunderbolt.

"Do not send me away--" he pleaded, his voice choked with anguish. "Do
not send me from you."

"You will go," she said softly, deaf to his prayers. "It is the supreme
test of your love, great as I know it is."

"But I cannot leave you, I cannot go, never to see you more--" and he
grasped the cool white hands of the woman as a drowning man will grasp
a straw.

She did not attempt, for the time, to take them from him. She looked
down upon him wistfully.

"Would you make me the mock of Avalon?" she said. "Once my lord
suspects we are lost. And, I fear, he does even now. For his gaze has
been dark and troubled. And I cannot, will not, expose you to his
cruelty. You know him not as I do--"

"Even therefore will I not leave you," he interposed, looking into
the sweet face. "He has not been kind to you. His pride was flattered
by your ready surrender, and your great beauty is but one of the many
dishes that go to satiate his varied appetites. Of the others you know
naught--"

She gave a shrug.

"If it be so," she said wearily, "so let it be. Nevertheless, I know
whereof I speak. This thing has stolen over us like a madness. And,
like a madness, it will hurl us to our doom."

Though he had seen the dark, glowering face among the branches, he
said nothing, not to alarm her, not to cause her fear and misgiving.
He loved her spotless purity as dearly as herself. To him they were
inseparable.

His head fell forward on her hands. Her fingers played in his soft
brown hair.

"What would you have me do?" he said, his voice choked by his anguish.

"Go on a pilgrimage to Rome, to obtain forgiveness, as I shall visit
the holy shrines of Mont Beliard and do likewise," she said, steadying
her voice with an effort. "Let us forget that we have ever met--that we
have ever loved,--or remember that we loved--a dream."--

"Can love forget so readily?" he said, bitter anguish and reproach in
his tones.

She shook her head.

"It is my fate,--for better--or worse--no matter what befall. As for
you--life lies before you. Love another, happier woman, one that is
free to give--and to receive. As for me--"

She paused and covered her face with her hands.

"What will you do?" he cried in his over-mastering anguish.

A faint, far-off voice made reply.

"I shall do that which I must!"

He staggered away from her. She should not see the scalding tears that
coursed down his cheeks. But, as he turned, he again saw the dark and
glowering face, the brow gloomy as a thunder-cloud, of the Count
de Laval. But again it was not he. It was the black-garbed, lithe
stranger, the companion of the hunchback, who was regarding Hellayne
with evil, leering eyes.

He wanted to cry out, warn her, entreat her to fly.--

But it was too late.

Like a bird that watches spellbound the approach of the snake, Hellayne
stood pale and trembling--her cheeks white as death--her eyes riveted
on the evil shape that seemed the fiend. But he, Tristan, also was
encompassed by the same spell. He could not move--he could not cry out.
With a bound, swift and noiseless as the panther's, he saw the sinewy
stranger hurl himself upon Hellayne, picking her up like a feather and
disappear in the gloom of the forest.

With a cry of horror, bathed from head to foot in perspiration, Tristan
started from his slumber.

The moonbeams flooded the chamber. The soft breeze of the summer night
stole through the open casement.

With a moan as of mortal pain he sat up and looked about.

Was he indeed in Rome?

Had it been but a dream, this echo of the past, this visualized parting
from the woman he had loved better than life?

Was he indeed in Rome, to do as she had bid him do, not in the misty,
flower-scented rose-gardens of Avalon in far Provence?--

And she--Hellayne--where was she at this hour?

Tristan stroked his clammy brow with a hot, dry hand. For a moment the
memories evoked by the magic wand of the God of Sleep seemed to banish
all consciousness of the present. He cast a fleeting, bewildered glance
at the dim, distant housetops, then fell back among his cushions,
his lips muttering the name of her who had filled his dream with her
never-to-be-forgotten presence, wondering and questioning if they
would ever meet again. Thus he tossed and tossed.

After a time he became still.

Once again consciousness was blotted out and the dream realm reigned
supreme.



CHAPTER IV

THE WAY OF THE CROSS


It was late on the following morning when Tristan
waked. The sun was high in the heavens and the perfumes from a thousand
gardens were wafted to his nostrils. He looked about bewildered. The
dream phantoms of the night still held his senses captive, and it was
some time ere he came to a realization of the present. In the dream of
the night he had lived over a scene in the past, conjuring back the
memory of one who had sent him on the Way of the Cross. The pitiless
rays of the Roman sun, which began to envelop the white houses and
walls, brought with them the realization of the present hour. He had
come to Rome to do penance, to start life anew and to forget. So she
had bade him do on that never-to-be forgotten eve of their parting. So
she had willed it, and he had obeyed.

How it all flooded back to him again in waves of anguish, the memory of
those days when the turrets of Avalon had faded from his aching sight,
when, together with a motley pilgrims' throng, he had tramped the dusty
sun-baked road, dead to all about him save the love that was cushioned
in his heart. How that parting from Hellayne still dominated all other
events, even though life and the world had fallen away from him and he
had only prayer for oblivion, for obliteration.

Yet even Hellayne's inexorable decree would not have availed to speed
him on a pilgrimage so fraught with hopelessness, that during all
that long journey Tristan hardly exchanged word or greeting with his
fellow pilgrims. It was her resolve, unfalteringly avowed, to leave the
world and enter a convent, if he refused to obey, which had eventually
compelled. Her own self-imposed penance should henceforth be to live,
lonely and heartbroken, by the side of an unbeloved consort, while
Tristan atoned far away, in the city of the popes, at the shrines of
the saints.

At night, when Tristan retired, at dawn, when he arose, Hellayne's
memory was with him, and every league that increased the distance
between them seemed to heighten his love and his anguish. But human
endurance has its limits, and at last he was seized by a great torpor,
a chill indifference that swept away and deadened every other feeling.
There was no longer a To-day, no longer a Yesterday, no longer a
To-morrow.

Such was Tristan's state of mind, when from the Tiburtine road he
first sighted the walls and towers of Rome, without definite purpose
or aim, drawn along, as it were, towards an uncertain goal by Fate's
invisible hand. Utterly indifferent as to what might befall among the
Seven Hills, he was at times dimly conscious of a presentiment that
ultimately he would end up his own days in one of those silent places
where all earthly hopes and desires are forever stilled. So much was
clear to him. Like the rest of the pilgrims who had wended their way to
St. Peter's seat, he would complete the circuit of the holy shrines,
kiss the feet of the Father of Christendom, do such penance as the
Pontiff should impose, and then attach himself to one party or another
in the pontifical city which held out hope for action, since the return
to his own native land was barred to him for evermore.

How he would bear up under the ordeal he did not know. How he would
support life away from Hellayne, without a word, a message, without
the assurance that all was well with her, whether now, his own fate
accomplished, others thronged about her in love and adulation,--he knew
not.

For the nonce he was resolved to let new scenes, new impressions sweep
away the great void of an aching heart, lighten the despair that filled
his soul.

In approaching the Eternal City he had felt scarcely any of the
elevation of spirit which has affected so many devout pilgrims. He
knew it was the seat of God's earthly Vice-regent, the capital of the
universal kingdom of the Church. He reminded himself of this and of the
priceless relics it contained, the tombs of the Apostles St. Peter and
St. Paul, the tombs of so many other martyrs, pontiffs and saints.

But in spite of all these memories he drew near the place with a
sinking dread, as if, by some instinct of premonition, he felt himself
dragged to the Cross on which at last he was to be crucified.

Many a pilgrim may have seen Rome for the first time with an
involuntary recollection of her past, with the hope that for him, too,
the future might hold the highest greatness.

Certainly no ambitious fancy cast a halo of romantic hope over the
great city as Tristan first saw her ancient walls. He felt safe enough
from any danger of greatness. He had nothing to recommend him. On the
contrary, something in his character would only serve to isolate him,
creating neither admiration nor sympathy.

All the weary road to Rome, the Rome he dreaded, had he prayed for
courage to cast himself at the feet of the Vicar of Christ. He did not
think then of the Pope, as of one of the great of the earth, but simply
as of one who stood in the world in God's place. So he would have
courage to seek him, confess to him and ask him what it was it behooved
him to do.

Thus he had walked on--with stammering steps, bruising his feet
against stones, tearing himself through briars--heeding nothing by the
way.

And now, the journey accomplished, he was here in supreme loneliness,
without guidance, human or divine, thrown upon himself, not knowing how
to still the pain, how to fill the void of an aching heart.

Would the light of Truth come to him out of the encompassing realms of
Doubt?

When Tristan descended into the great guest-chamber he found it almost
deserted. The pilgrims had set out early in the day to begin their
devotions before the shrines. The host of the Golden Shield placed
before his sombre and silent guest such viands as the latter found most
palatable, consisting of goat's milk, stewed lamb, barley bread and
figs, and Tristan did ample justice to the savory repast.

The heat of the day being intense, he resolved to wait until the sun
should be fairly on his downward course before he started out upon his
own business, a resolution which was strengthened by a suggestion from
the host, that few ventured abroad in Rome during the Siesta hours, the
Roman fever respecting neither rank nor garb.

Thus Tristan composed himself to patience, watching the host upon his
duties, and permitting his gaze to roam now and then through the narrow
windows upon the object he had first encountered upon his arrival: the
brown citadel, drowsing unresponsive in the noon-tide glow, a monument
of mystery and dark deeds, the Mausoleum of the Flavian Emperor--or, as
it was styled at the period of our story, the Castle of the Archangel.

From this stronghold, less than a decade ago, a woman had lorded it
over the city of Rome, as renowned for her evil beauty as for the
profligacy and licentiousness of her court. In time her regime had been
swept away, yet there were rumors, dark and sinister, of one who had
succeeded to her evil estate. None dared openly avow it, but Tristan
had surprised guarded whispers during his long journey. Some accounted
her a sorceress, some a thing wholly evil, some the precursor of the
Anti-Christ. And he had never ceased to wonder at the tales which
enlivened the camp-fires, the reports of her beauty, her daring, her
unscrupulous ambition.

On the whole, Tristan's prospects in Rome seemed barren enough. Service
might perchance be obtained with the Senator, who would doubtlessly
welcome a stout arm and a true heart. This alternative failing, Tristan
was utterly at sea as to what he would do, the prescribed rounds of
obediences before the shrines and the penances accomplished. He felt as
one who has lost his purpose in life, even before he had been conscious
of his goal.

The strange incidents of his first night in Rome had gradually faded
from Tristan's mind with the re-awakening memory of Hellayne, never
once forgotten, but for the moment drowned in the deluge of strange
events that had almost swept him off his feet.

As the sun was veering towards the west and the lengthening shadows,
presaging dusk, began to roll down from the hills it suffered Tristan
no longer in the Inn of the Golden Shield. He strode out and made for
the heart of Rome.

The desolate aspect of high-noon had changed materially. Tristan began
to note the evidences of life in the Pontifical City. Merchants,
beggars, monks, men-at-arms, condottieri, sbirri,--the followers of the
great feudal houses, hurried to and fro, bent upon their respective
pursuits, and above them, silent and fateful in the evening glow,
towered the Archangel's Castle, the tomb of a former Master of the
World. It reared its massive honey-colored bulk on the edge of the
yellow Tiber and beyond rose the dark green cypresses of the Pincian
Hill. Innumerable spires, domes, pinnacles and towers rose, red-litten
by the sunset, into the stilly evening air. Bells were softly tolling
and a distant hum like the bourdon note of a great organ, rose up from
the other side of the Tiber, where the multitudes of the Eternal City
trod the dust of the Cæsars into the churches of the Cross.

Interminable processions traversed the city amidst anthems and chants,
for, on this day, masses were being sung and services offered up in the
Lateran Basilica, the Mother Church of Rome, in honor of Him who cried
in the wilderness.

In silent awe and wonder Tristan pursued his way towards the heart of
the city. And, as he did so, the spectacle which had unfolded itself to
his gaze became more varied and manifold on every turn.

The lone pilgrim could not but admit that the shadows of worldly
empire, which had deserted her, still clung to Rome in her ruins, even
though to him the desolation which dominated all sides had but a vague
and dreamlike meaning.

Even at this period of deepest darkness and humiliation the world
still converged upon Rome, and in the very centre of the web sat the
successor of St. Peter, the appointed guardian of Heaven and Earth.

The chief pagan monuments still existed: the Pantheon of Agrippa and
the Septizonium of Alexander Severus; the mighty remains of the ancient
fanes about the Forum and the stupendous ruins of the Colosseum. But
among them rose the fortress towers of the Roman nobles. Right there,
before him, dominating the narrow thoroughfare, rose the great fortress
pile of the Frangipani, behind the Arch of the Seven Candles. Farther
on the Tomb of Cæcilia Metella presented an aspect at once sinister
and menacing, transformed as it now was into the stronghold of the
Cenci, while the Cætani castle on the opposite side attracted a sort of
wondering attention from him.

This then was the Rome of which he had heard such marvelous tales!
The city of palaces, basilicas and shrines had sunk to this! Her
magnificent thoroughfares had become squalid streets, her monuments
were crumbled and forgotten, or worse, they were abused by every
lawless wretch who cared to seize upon them and build thereon his
fortress or palace. A dismal fate indeed to have fallen to the former
mistress of the world! Far better, he thought, to be deserted and
forgotten utterly, like many a former seat of empire, far better to
be overgrown with grass and dock and nettle, to be left to dream and
oblivion than to survive in low estate as had this city on the banks of
the Tiber.

With these reflections, engendered no less by the air of desolation
than by the occasional appearance of armed bands of feudal soldiery who
hurled defiance at each other, Tristan found himself drawn deeper and
deeper into the heart of Rome, a hotbed of open and silent rebellion
against the rule of any one who dared to lord it over the degenerate
descendants of the former masters of the world. Here representatives
of the nations of all the earth jostled one another and the poor dregs
of Romulus; or peoples of wilder aspect from Persia or Egypt, within
whose mind floated mysterious Oriental wisdom, bequeathed from the dawn
of Time. And as the scope of Tristan's observation widened, the demon
of disillusion unfolded gloomy wings over the far horizon of his soul.
And the Tiber rolled calmly on below, catching in its turbid waves the
golden sunset glow.

Now and then he encountered the armed retinue of some feudal baron
clattering along the narrow ill-paved streets, chasing pedestrians into
adjacent doorways and porticoes and pursuing their precipitate retreat
with outbursts of banter and mirth.

Unfamiliar as Tristan was with the factions that usurped the dominion
of the Seven Hills, the escutcheons and coats-of-arms of these
marauding parties meant little to him. Now and then however it would
chance that two rival factions clashed, each disputing the other's
passage. Then, only, did he become alive to the dangers that beset the
unwary in the city of the Pontiff, and a sudden spirit of recklessness
and daring, born of the moment, prompted the desire to plunge into
this seething vortex, if but to purchase temporary oblivion and relief.

He faced the many dangers of the streets, loitering here and there and
curiously eyeing all things, and would eventually have lost himself,
when the mantle of night began to fall on the Seven Hills, had he not
instinctively remarked that the ascending road removed him from the
river.



CHAPTER V

ON THE AVENTINE


When Tristan at last regained his bearings, he found himself among the
convents and cloisters on Mount Aventine. His eyes rested wearily on
the eddying gleam of the Tiber as it wound its coils round the base
of the Mount of Cloisters, thence they roamed among the grass and
weed-grown ruins of ancient temples and crumbling porticoes, which rose
on all sides in the silent desolation.

Just then a last gleam of the disappearing sun touched the bronze
figure of the Archangel on the summit of Castel San Angelo, imbuing
it for an instant with a weird effect, as though the ghost of some
departed watchman were waving a lighted torch aloft in the heavens.
Then the glow faded before a dead grey twilight, which settled solemnly
over the melancholy landscape.

The full moon was rising slowly. Round and large she hung, like a
yellow shield, on the dark, dense wall of the heavens. In the distance
the faint outlines of the Alban Hills and the snow-capped summit of
Monte Soracté were faintly discernible in the night mists. In the
background the ill-famed ruins of the ancient temple of Isis rose into
the purple dusk. The Tiber, in the light of the higher rising moon,
gleamed like a golden ribbon. The gaunt masonry of the Septizonium of
Alexander Severus was dimly rimmed with light, and streaks of amber
radiance were wandering up and down the shadowy slopes of the Mount of
Cloisters, like sorrowing ghosts bound upon some sorrowful errand.

All sense of weariness had suddenly left Tristan. A compelling
influence, stronger than himself, seemed to urge him on as to the
fulfillment of some hidden purpose.

Once or twice he paused. As he did so, he became aware of the
extraordinary, almost terrible stillness, that encompassed him. He felt
it enclosing him like a thick wall on all sides. Earth and the air
seemed breathless, as if in the throes of some mysterious excitement.
The stars, flashing out with the brilliant lustre of the south, were
as so many living eyes eagerly gazing down on the solitary human being
whose steps led him into these deserted places. The moon herself seemed
to stare at him in open wonderment.

At last he found himself before the open portals of the great Church of
Santa Maria of the Aventine. From the gloom within floated the scent
of incense and the sound of chanting. He could see tapers gleaming on
the high altar in the choir. Women were passing in and out, and a blind
beggar sat at the gate.

Moved more by curiosity than the desire for worship, Tristan entered
and uncovered his head. The Byzantine cupola was painted in vermilion
and gold. The slender pillars of white marble were banded with silver
and inlaid with many colored stones. The basins for holy water were of
black marble, their dark pools gleaming with the colors of the vault.
Side chapels opened on either hand, dim sanctuaries steeped in mystery
of incense-saturated dusk.

The saints and martyrs in their stiff, golden Byzantine dalmaticas
seemed to endow each relic with an air of mystery. The beauty and the
mystery of the place touched Tristan's soul. As in a haze he seemed
again to see the pomp and splendor of the sanctuaries of far-away,
dream-lost Avalon.

Tristan took his stand by one of the great pillars, and, setting his
back to it, looked round the place. There were some women in the
sanctuary, engaged in prayer. Tristan watched them with vacant eyes.

Suddenly he became conscious that one of these worshippers was not
wholly absorbed in prayer under her hood. Two watchful eyes seemed to
consider him with a suggestiveness that no man could mistake, and her
thoughts seemed to be very far from heaven.

Once or twice Tristan started to leave the sanctuary, but some
invisible hand seemed to detain him as with a magic hold.

In due season the woman finished her devotions and stood with her
hood turned back, looking at Tristan across the church. Her women had
gathered about her and outside the gates Tristan saw the spear points
of her guard. Turning, with a glance cast at him over her shoulder, she
swept in state out of the church, her women following her, all save one
tall girl, who loitered at the door.

Suddenly it flashed upon Tristan, as he stood there with his back
leaning against the pillar. Was not this the woman he had met by the
fountain, the woman who had spoken strange words to him in the Navona?

Had she recognized him? Her eyes had challenged him unmistakably when
first they had met his own, and now again, as she left the church. They
puzzled Tristan, these same eyes. Far in their depths lurked secrets he
dreaded to fathom. Her scented garments perfumed the very aisles.

Tristan was roused from his reverie by a woman's hand plucking at his
sleeve. By his side stood a tall girl. She was very beautiful, but her
eyes were evil. She looked boldly at Tristan and gave her message.

"Follow my mistress," were her words.

Tristan looked at her, his face almost invisible in the gloom. Only the
moonlight touched his hair.

"Whom do you serve?" he replied.

"The Lady Theodora!" came the answer.

Tristan's heart froze within him. Theodora--the woman who had succeeded
to Marozia's dread estate!

In order to conceal his emotions he brought his face closer to the fair
messenger, forcing his voice to appear calm as he spoke.

"What would your mistress with me?"

The girl glanced up at him, as if she regarded the question strangely
superfluous.

"You are to come with me!" she persisted, touching his arm.

Tristan's mouth hardened as he considered the message, without
relinquishing his station by the pillar.

What was he to Theodora--Theodora to him? She was a woman, evil,
despite her ravishing beauty, so he had gathered during the days of
his journey. The spell she had cast over him on the previous evening
had vanished before the memory of Hellayne. Her sudden appearance, her
witch-like beauty had, for the time, unmanned him. The hardships and
privations of a long journey had, for the moment, caused his senses
to run rampant, and almost hurled him into the arms of perdition. Yet
he had not then known. And now he remembered how they all had fallen
away from him, as from one bearing on his person the germs of some
dread disease. The terrible silence in the Navona seemed visualized
once again in the silence which encompassed him here. Yet she was all
powerful, so he had heard. She ruled the men and the factions. In some
vague way, he thought, she might be of service to him.

Tossed between two conflicting impulses, Tristan slowly followed the
girl from the church and, crossing the great, moonlit court that lay
without, entered the gardens which seemed to divide the sanctuary from
some hidden palace. Mulberry trees towered above the lawns, studded
with thick, ripening fruit. Weeping ashes glittered in the moonlight.
Cedars and oaks cast their shade over broad beds of mint and thyme.

The girl watched Tristan closely, as she walked beside him, making no
effort to conceal her own charms before eyes which she deemed endowed
with the power of judgment in matters of this kind. Her mistress had
not put her trust in her in vain. She studied Tristan's race in order
to determine, whether or not he would waver in his resolve and--she
began to speak to him as they crossed the gardens with a simplicity, an
interest that was well assumed.

"A good beginning indeed!" she said. "You are in favor, my lord! To
have seen her fair face is no small boast, but to be summoned to her
presence--I cannot remember her so gracious to any one, since--" she
paused suddenly, deliberately.

Tristan regarded her slantwise over his shoulder, without making
response. At last, irritated, he knew not why, he asked curtly: "What
is your mistress?"

The girl's glance wandered over the great trees and flowers that
overshadowed the plaisaunce.

"She bears her mother's name," she replied with a shrug, "and, like her
mother, the blood that flows in her veins is mingled with the fire that
glitters in the stars in heaven, a fire affording neither light nor
heat, but serving to dazzle, to bewilder.--I am but a woman, but--had I
your chance of fortune, my lord, I should think twice, ere I bartered
it for a vow, an empty dream."

He gave her a swift glance, wondering at her woman's wit, yet resenting
her speech.

"You would prosper?" she queried tentatively at last, casting about in
her mind, how she might win his confidence.

"I have business of my own," he replied, evading her question.

She looked up at him, her eyes trembling into his.

"How tall and strong you are! I could almost find it in my heart to
love you myself!"

The flattery seemed so spontaneous that it would have puzzled one
possessed of greater guile than Tristan to have uncovered her cunning.
Nor was Tristan unwilling to seem strong to her; for the moment he was
almost tempted to continue questioning her regarding her mistress.

"You may make your fortune in Rome," the girl said with a meaning smile.

"How so?"

"Are you blind? Do you not know a woman's ways? My mistress loves a
strong arm. You may serve her."

"That is not possible!"

The girl stared at him and for the moment dropped the mask of innocence.

"What was possible once, is possible again," she said.

Then she added:

"Are you not ambitious?"

"I have a task to perform that may not permit of two masters! Why are
you so concerned?"

The question came almost abruptly.

"I serve my lady!" she said, edging towards him. "Is it so strange a
thing to serve a woman?"

They had left the garden and had arrived before a high stone wall that
skirted the precincts of Theodora's palace. Cypresses and bays raised
their tops above the stones. Great cedars cast deep shadows. In the
wall there was a door studded with heavy iron nails. The girl took a
key that dangled from her girdle, unlocked the door and beckoned to
Tristan to enter.

Tristan stood and gazed. In the light of the moon which drenched all
things he saw a garden in which emerald grass plots alternated with
beds of strange-tinted orchids, flowers purple and red. At the end
of the plaisaunce there opened an orange thicket and under the trees
stood a woman clad in crimson, her white arms bare. She wore sandals of
silver, and her dusky hair was confined in a net of gold.

As Tristan was about to yield to the overmastering temptation the
memory of Hellayne conquered all other emotions. He turned back from
the door and looked full into the girl's dark eyes.

"You will speak to your mistress for me," he said to her, casting a
swift glance into the moonlit garden.

The girl looked at him with a puzzled air, but did not stir.

"What am I to say to her?" she said.

"That I will not enter these gates!"

"You will not?"

"No!" He snapped curtly.

"Fool! How you will regret your speech!"

Her face changed suddenly like a fickle sky, and there was something in
her eyes too wicked for words.

Without vouchsafing a reply, Tristan turned and lost himself in the
desolation of Mount Aventine.

The night marched on majestically.

The moon and her sister planets passed through their appointed spheres
of harmonious light and law, and from all cloisters and convents
prayers went up to heaven for pity, pardon and blessing on sinful
humanity that had neither pity, pardon nor blessing for itself, till,
with magic suddenness, the dense purple skies changed to a pearly grey,
the moon sank pallidly beneath the earth's dark rim and the stars were
extinguished one by one.

Morning began to herald its approach in the freshening air.

Tristan still slept on his improvised couch, a marble slab he had
chosen when he discovered that he had lost his way in the wilderness
of the Aventine. His head on his arm he lay quite still among the
flowers, wrapt in a sort of dizzy delirium in which the forms of
Theodora and Hellayne strangely intermingled, until the riddles of life
were blotted out together with the riddles of Fate.



CHAPTER VI

THE COUP


Tristan spent the greater part of the day visiting the churches and
sanctuaries, offering up prayers for oblivion and peace. His heart
was heavy within him. Like the stray leaf that has been torn from
its native branch and flutters resistlessly, aimlessly hither and
thither, at the mercy of the chance breeze, nevermore to return to
its sheltering bough, so the lone wanderer felt himself tossed about
by the waves of destiny, a human derelict without a haven where he
might escape the storms of life. Guiltless in his own conscience of
an imputed sin, in that his love for Hellayne had been pure and holy,
Tristan could find little comfort in the enforced penance, while his
hungry heart cried out for her who had so willed it. And, as with weary
feet he dragged himself through the streets of the pontifical city, he
vaguely wondered, if his would ever be the peace of the goal. In the
darkness in which he walked, in the perturbation of his mind, he longed
more than ever to open his heart to some one who would understand and
counsel and guide his steps.

The Pontiff being a prisoner in the Lateran, Tristan's ardent wish to
confide in the successor of St. Peter had suffered a sudden and a keen
disappointment. There were but Odo of Cluny, Benedict of Soracté or
the Grand Penitentiary, holding forth in the subterranean chapel at
St. Peter's, to whom he might turn for ease of mind, and a natural
reluctance to lay bare the holiest thoughts man may give to woman,
restrained him for the nonce from seeking these channels.

Thus three days had sped, yet naught had happened to indicate that
events would shape the course so ardently desired by Tristan.

It was there, on one of the terraces crowning the splendid heights
of immortal Rome, with a view of the distant Sabine and Alban hills,
fading into the evening dusk, that the memory of the golden days of
Avalon returned to him in waves of anguish that almost mastered his
resolve to begin life anew under conditions that seemed insupportable.

Again Hellayne was by his side, as in dream-forgotten Avalon. Again
side by side they wandered where the shattered columns of old grey
temples, all that remained of a sunny Greek civilization of which they
knew nothing, crowned the heights above the lazy lapping waves of the
tideless Tyrrhenian sea. There, for whole hours would they sit, the air
full of the scent of orange and myrtle; under almond trees, covered
with blossoms that sprinkled the emerald ground like rosy snowflakes,
and watch the white sails of the far feluccas that trailed the waves
in monotonous rhythm to or from the sunlit shores of Africa. The
distant headlands looked faint and dreamy, and the sparkling sea broke,
gurgling, foaming among the rocks at their feet, as it had broken at
the feet of other lovers who had sat there centuries ago, when those
shattered columns had been white in their freshness and the temples had
been wreathed with the garlands of youth. And the eternal waves said to
them what they had said to the dead and forgotten; and the fickle winds
sang to them what they had sung to the fair and the nameless, and they
stretched forth their hands, and saw but the sea and the sun.

And they knew not the deity to whom those temple columns had been
raised, just as he knew not to whose worship those fallen columns had
been erected, nor guessed they who had knelt at the holy shrines.
And as they sat there, the man and the woman, their eyes probing the
depths of living sapphire, they would watch the restless sea-weed that
seemed to coil and uncoil like innumerable blue snakes upon a bed of
bright blue flames, and the luminous mosses that trembled like blue
stars ceaselessly towards the surface that they never, never reached.
And down there in the crystal palaces they would fancy that they saw
faces as of glancing mermen, even as the lovers of older days had seen
passing Tritons and the scaly children of Poseidon.

And again she would croon those sad melancholy songs that came from
her lips like faint echoes of Aeolian harps. Now she flung them upon
the air in bursts of weird music, to the accompaniment of a breaking
wave, songs so passionate and elemental that they seemed the cry of
these same radiant waters when churned by the storm into fury. Or they
might have been such wailings as spirits imprisoned in old sea caves
would utter to the hollow walls, or which the ghosts of ship-wrecked
crews might send forth from the rocks where they had perished. Or again
they might suggest some earthly passion, love, jealousy, the cry of a
longing heart, till the dirge seemed to wear itself out and the soul of
the listener seemed to sail out of the tempest into bright and peaceful
waters like those that skirted dream-lost Avalon, scarcely rippled by
the faint breeze of summer, breaking in long unfurling waves among the
rocks at their feet. Thus they used to sit long hours, heart listening
to heart, soul clinging to soul, while she bared her throat to the
scent-laden breezes that fanned her and looked out on the dazzling
horizon--till a lightning flash from the clear azure splintered the
dream and broke two lives.

For a long time Tristan gazed about, vainly trying to order his
thoughts. Could he but forget! Would but the present engulf the past!--

His adventure at the Church of Santa Maria of the Aventine and his
chance meeting with Theodora recurred to him at intervals throughout
the day, and he could not but admit that the reports of the woman's
beauty were far from exaggerated. Perchance, if the memory of Hellayne
had been less firmly rooted in his soul, he, too, might, like many
another, have sought solace at the forbidden fount. However, he was
resolved to avoid her, for he had seen something in the swift glance
she had bestowed upon him that discoursed of matters it behooved him to
beware of. And yet he wondered how she had received his denial, she,
whom no man had denied before. Then this memory also faded before the
exigencies of the hour.

The sun had sunk to rest in a sky of turquoise, crimson and gold, when
Tristan found himself standing on the eminence where seven decades
later Crescentius, the Senator of Rome, was to build the Church of
Santa Maria in Ara Coeli.

Leaning on a broken pillar, Tristan watched the evening light as it
spread a veil of ethereal splendor over the Seven Hills and there came
to him a strange feeling of remoteness as to one standing upon some
hill-set shrine.

Far beneath him lay the Forum. White columns shone roseate in the dying
light of day.

Wrapt in deep thoughts and meditations, Tristan descended the stairs
leading from the summit whence in after time the name of Santa Maria in
Ara Coeli--Holy Mother at the Altar of Heaven--was to ring in the ears
of thousands like a beautiful rhythmic chant, and after a time he found
himself in the Piazza fronting the Lateran.

Seized with a sudden impulse he entered the church.

Slowly the worshippers began to assemble. Their numbers increased to
almost a hundred, though they seemed but as so many shadows in the vast
nave. There was something in their faces, touched by the uncertain
glimmer of the tapers and lamps, that filled him with awe, as if he
were standing among the ghosts of the past.

At last the holy office commenced.

A very old priest, whose features Tristan could not distinguish, began
to chant the Introitus, in deep long drawn notes. Through the narrow
windows filtered the light of the rising moon. It did little more
than stain the dusk. Over the sombre high altar hung the white ivory
figure of the Christ, bowed, sagged, in the last agony. A few blood-red
poppies were the only flowers upon the altar. The fumes of incense rose
in spiral columns to the vaulted ceiling.

The Kyrie had been chanted, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Later the Host
was consecrated and the cup before the kneeling worshippers, and the
priest was turning to those near him who, as was still the custom in
those days, were present to communicate in both kinds.

To each came from his lips the solemn words:

"Corpus Domini Nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam ad Vitam
aeternam!"

He dipped his fingers in the cup, cleansing them with a little wine. He
consumed the cleansings and turned to read the antiphony with resonant
voice.

"I saw the heavens opened and Jesus at the right hand of God. Lord
Jesus receive their spirit and lay not this sin to their charge!"

Then, with hands folded over his breast, he moved towards the altar in
the centre, touched it with his lips, and, turning once more to the
people, said:

"Dominus Vobiscum!"

"Et cum spiritu tuo," was not answered.

For at that moment rough shouts were heard and through a side door,
near a chapel, a body of ruffians rushed into the Basilica, their faces
vizored and masked.

With shouts and oaths they made their way towards the altar. The
worshippers scattered, the mail-clad ruffians smiting their way
through their kneeling ranks up to the altar where stood the form of a
youth clad in pontifical vestments, pale but calm in the face of the
impending storm.

It was Pope John XI., held prisoner in the Lateran by Alberic, the
Senator of Rome. Tristan had not noted his presence during the
ceremony. Now, like a revelation, the import of the scene flashed upon
his mind.

Bearing Tristan down by the sheer weight of their numbers, they rushed
upon the Pontiff, stripped him of his pallium and chasuble, leaving him
but one sacred vestment, the white albe.

Unable to reach the Pontiff's side, unable to aid him, Tristan stood
rooted to the spot, an impotent witness of the most heinous sacrilege
his mind could picture, almost turned to stone.

Before Tristan's very eyes, before the eyes of the worshippers, who
outnumbered the ruffians ten to one, an outrage was being committed at
which the fiends themselves would shudder. Violence was being done to
the Father of Christendom in his own city, and the craven cowards had
but their own safety in mind.

Just what happened Tristan could not immediately remember. For, as he
rushed towards the spot where he saw the Pontiff struggling helplessly
against his assailants, he was violently thrust back and the ruffians
made their way towards a side chapel with their captive. Thus he found
himself helplessly borne along in the darkness, and thrust out into the
night. Tristan fell beneath their feet and was for a moment so utterly
stunned that he could not rise.

As in a dream he heard the leader of the band give a command to his
followers. They mounted their steeds which were tethered outside and
tramped away into the night.

The sudden appearance of an armed band in the sacred precincts of the
Lateran had so terrified and cowed the crowd of worshippers that even
when the doors of the Basilica were left unguarded, not one ventured to
give assistance. Like shadows they fled into the night.

When Tristan regained some sort of consciousness he looked about in
vain for aid.

Dimly he remembered that the ruffians were mounted, and by the time he
summoned succor they would have stowed their captive safely away in one
of their castellated fortresses, where one might search for him in vain
forever more.

The Piazza in front of the Lateran was deserted. Not a human being was
to be seen. Tristan pursued his way through waste spaces that offered
no clue. He rushed through narrow and deserted streets, abandoned of
the living. He felt like shouting at the top of his voice: "Romans
awake! They have abducted the Pontiff." But, stranger as he was, and
dreading lest he might share John's fate or worse, he withstood the
impulse and at last found himself upon the Bridge of San Angelo before
the fortress tomb of the former master of the world, dreaming in the
surrounding desolation. Before the massive bronze gate cowered a
man-at-arms, drowsing over his pike.

Without a moment's hesitation, Tristan shook the drowsy guardian of the
Angel's Castle into blaspheming alertness.

"They have abducted the Pontiff!" he shouted, without releasing his
clutch on the gaping Burgundian. "Sound the alarums! Even now it may be
too late!"

The man in the brown leather jerkin and steel casque stared
open-mouthed at the speaker.

"The Lord Alberic is within--" he stammered at last, with an effort to
shake off the drowsiness that held his senses captive.

"Then rouse him in the devil's name," shouted Tristan.

The last words had their effect upon the stolid Northman. After the
elapse of some precious moments Alberic himself emerged from the
Emperor's Tomb and Tristan repeated his account of the outrage, little
guessing the rank of him with whom he was standing face to face.

But now they were confronted with a dilemma which it seemed would put
all Tristan's efforts to naught.

Who were the leaders of the party that had abducted the Pontiff? For
thereon hinged their success of intercepting the outlaws.

Tristan's description of the leader did not seem to make any marked
impression on the Senator of Rome.

He questioned Tristan with regard to their coat-of-arms or other
heraldic emblems. But the author of the outrage had shown sufficient
foresight to avoid a hazardous display. There seemed but one
alternative; to scour the city of Rome in the uncertain hope of
intercepting the outlaws, if they were still within the walls.

Tristan attached himself to the senatorial party, joining in the
pursuit. At first their task seemed hopeless indeed. Those they
met and questioned had seen no armed band, or, if they had, denied
all knowledge thereof. The frowning masonry of the Cenci, Savelli,
Frangipani, and Odescalchi, which they passed in turn, returned but an
inscrutable reply to their questioning glances.

For a time they continued their fruitless quest. But as if an outrage
so horrible had ignited the very air about them, they soon found people
stirring, shutters opening and shadowy figures issuing from dark
doorways, while folk were running and shouting to one another:

"The Pontiff has been abducted!"

Between cries of rage and shouts of command and indecision on the part
of the leader, who knew not in which direction to pursue, an hour had
elapsed, when they suddenly heard the clatter of hoofs. A company of
horsemen came galloping down the street. Alberic's suspicions that the
ruffians would prefer carrying their victim by devious byways to one
or the other of their Roman lairs, rather than attempt to leave the
city in the teeth of the Senator's guard, seemed realized. Oaths and
sharp orders broke the silence of the night.

It was amongst a gigantic pile of ruins, apart from all habitations
of the living, that they came to a halt. To a gaunt brick-built tower
they drew close, knocking against the iron-studded door, but ere those
within could open, they were surrounded, outnumbered ten to one.

Tristan was the first to bound in amongst them.

His eyes quivered upon the steel-clad form of the leader of the band.

At the next moment a blow from Tristan's fist struck him down and, ere
he could recover himself, he had been bound, hand and foot, and turned
over to the Senator's guards.

His followers, despairing of success, made a sudden dash through the
ranks of the people who had been attracted by the melee, riding down a
number, injuring and maiming many.

The Senator of Rome ranged his men, now re-inforced by the Prefect's
guard, round the drooping form of John, while a howling and shouting
mob, ready to wreak vengeance on the first object it encountered in its
path, followed in their wake as they made their way towards the Lateran.

An hour later, in a high vaulted, dimly lighted chamber of the
Archangel's Castle, Tristan, the pilgrim, and Alberic, the Senator of
Rome, faced each other for the second time.

In the course of the pursuit of the ruffians in which he participated,
Tristan had been casually informed of the rank of him who led the
Senatorial guard in person and when, their object accomplished, he
started to detach himself from the men-at-arms, Alberic had foiled his
intention by commanding him to accompany him to the fortress-tomb where
he himself held forth.

Seated opposite each other, each seemed to scan the other's
countenance before a word was spoken between them.

Alberic's regard of the man who seemed utterly unconscious of the
importance of the service he had rendered the Senator betokened
approval, and his eyes dwelt for some moments on the frank and open
countenance of this stranger, perchance contrasting it inwardly with
the complex nature of those about his person in whom he could trust but
so long as he could tempt them with earthly dross, and who would turn
against him should a higher bidder for their favor appear.

Tristan's first impression of the son of Marozia was that of one born
to command. Dark piercing eyes were set in a face, stern, haughty, yet
strangely beautiful. Alberic's tall, slender figure, dressed in black
velvet, relieved by slashes of red satin, added to the impressiveness
of his personality. Upon closer scrutiny Tristan could discover a
marked resemblance between the man before him and his half-brother, the
ill-fated Pontiff, whom, for political reasons, or considerations of
his personal safety, he kept prisoner in the pontifical palace.

But there was yet another present, who apparently took little heed
of the stranger, engaged as he seemed in the perusal of a parchment,
spread out upon a table before him,--Basil, the Grand Chamberlain.

A whispered conversation had taken place between the Senator and
his confidential adviser, for this was Basil's true station in the
senatorial household. In the evil days of Marozia's regime he had
occupied the same favored position at the Roman court, and, when
Alberic's revolt had swept the regime of Ugo of Tuscany and Marozia
from Roman soil, the son had attached to himself the man who had shown
a marked sagacity and ability in the days that had come to a close.

Basil's complex countenance proved somewhat more of an enigma to the
silent on-looker than did the Senator's stern, though frank face.

He was garbed in black, a color to which he seemed partial. A flat cap
of black velvet with a feather curled round the brim, above a doublet
of black velvet, close fitting, the sleeves slashed, to show the
crimson tunic underneath. The trunk hose round the muscular legs were
of black silk and gold thread, woven together and lined with sarsenet.
His feet were encased in black buskins with silver buckles, and puffed
silk inserted in the slashings of the leather.

The whole suggestion of the dark, sable figure was odd. It was exotic,
and the absence of a beard greatly intensified the impression.
The face, as Tristan saw it by the light of the taper, was
expressionless--a physical mask.

At last Alberic broke the silence, turning his eyes full upon the man
who met his gaze without flinching.

"You have--at your own risk--saved Rome and Holy Church from a calamity
the whole extent of which we may not even surmise, had the Pontiff
been carried away by the lawless band of Tebaldo Savello. We owe you
thanks--and we shall not shirk our duty. You are a stranger. Who are
you and why are you here?"

To the same questions that another had put to him on the memorable
eve of his arrival, in the Piazza Navona, Tristan replied with equal
frankness. His words bore the stamp of truth, and Alberic listened to a
tale passing strange to Roman ears.

And, unseen by Tristan, something began to stir in the dark,
unfathomable eyes of Basil, as some unknown thing stirs in deep waters,
and the hidden thing therein, to him who saw, was hidden no longer.
Some nameless being was looking out of these windows of the soul. One
looking at him now would have shrank away, cold fear gripping his heart.

For a moment, after Tristan had finished his tale, there was silence.
Alberic had risen and, seemingly unconscious of the presences in his
chamber, was perambulating its narrow confines until, of a sudden, he
stopped directly before Tristan.

"These penances completed, whereof you speak--do you intend returning
to the land of your birth?"

A blank dismay shone in Tristan's eyes. Not having referred to the
nature of the transgression, for which he was to do penance, and obtain
absolution, he found it somewhat difficult to answer Alberic's question.

"This is a matter I had not considered," he replied with some
hesitancy, which remained not unremarked by the Senator.

Alberic was a man of few words, and he possessed a discernment far
beyond his years. At the first glance at this stranger whom fate had
led across his path, he had known that here was one he might trust,
could he but induce him to become his man.

He held out his hand.

"I am going to be your friend and I mean to requite the service you
have done the Senator, ere the dawn of another day breaks in the sky.
There is a vacancy in the Senator's guard. I appoint you captain of
Castel San Angelo."

Ere Tristan could sufficiently recover from his surprise to make reply,
another voice was audible, a voice, soft and insinuating--the voice of
Basil, the Grand Chamberlain.

"My lord--the chain of evidence against Gamba is not completed. In
fact, later developments seem to point to an intrigue of which he is
but the unwitting victim--"

Alberic turned to the speaker.

"The proofs, my Lord Basil, are conclusive. Gamba is a traitor
convicted of having conspired with an emissary of Ugo of Tuscany, to
deliver the Archangel's Castle into his hands. He is sentenced--he
shall die--as soon as we discover his abode--"

Basil's face had turned to ashen hues.

"What mean you, my lord? Gamba is awaiting sentence in the dungeon
where he has been confined, ever since his trial--"

"The cage is still there," Alberic interposed sardonically. "The bird
has flown."

"Escaped?" stammered the Grand Chamberlain, rising from his seat
and raising his furtive eyes to those of the Senator. "Then he has
confederates in our very midst--"

"We shall know more of this anon," came the laconic reply. "Will you
accept the trust which the Senator of Rome offers you?" Alberic turned
from the Grand Chamberlain to Tristan.

The latter found his voice at last.

"How shall I thank you, my lord!" he said, grasping the Senator's hand.
"Grant me but a week, wherein to absolve the business upon which I
came--and I shall prove myself worthy of the lord Alberic's trust!"

"So be it," the son of Marozia replied. "A long deferred pilgrimage to
the shrines of the Archangel at Monte Gargano will take me from Rome
for the space of a month or more. I should like to be assured that this
keep is in the hands of one who will not fail me in the hour of need!
My Lord Basil--greet the new captain of Castel San Angelo--"

Approaching almost soundlessly over the tiled floor, the Grand
Chamberlain extended his hand to Tristan, offering his congratulations
upon his sudden advancement.

Whatever it was that flashed in Basil's eyes, it was gone as quickly as
it had come. His thin lips parted in an inscrutable smile as Tristan,
with a bend of the head, acknowledged the courtesy.

For a moment, following his acceptance, Tristan was startled at his own
decision. Another would have felt it to be an amazing streak of luck.
Tristan was frightened, though his misgivings vanished after a time.

Owing to the lateness of the hour and the insecurity of the streets
Alberic offered Tristan the hospitality of his future abode for the
night and the latter gladly accepted.

After Basil had departed, he remained closeted with the Senator for the
space of an hour or more. What transpired between these two remained
guarded from the outer world, and it was late ere the sentinel on the
ramparts saw the light in the Senator's chamber extinguished, wondering
at the nature of the business which detained the lord Alberic and the
tall stranger in the pilgrim's garb.



CHAPTER VII

MASKS AND MUMMERS


Amid the ruin of cities and the din of strife during the tenth century
darkness closed in upon the Romans, while the figures of strange
despots emerged from obscurity only to disappear as quickly into the
night of oblivion. Little of them is known, save that they ruled the
people and the pope with merciless severity, and that the first one of
them was a woman.

The beautiful Theodora the older was the wife of Theophylactus, Consul
and Patricius of Rome, but the permanence of her power seemed to have
been due entirely to her own charm and personality.

Her daughter Marozia, with even greater beauty, greater fascination
and greater gift of daring, played even a more conspicuous part in
the history of her time. She married Alberic, Count of Spoleto, whose
descendants, the Counts of Tusculum, gave popes and mighty citizens to
Rome. One of their palaces is said to have adjoined the Church of S. S.
Apostoli, and came later into the possession of the powerful house of
Colonna.

Alberic of Spoleto soon died and Marozia, as the chronicles tell
us, continued as the temporal ruler of the city and the arbitress
of pontifical elections. She held forth in Castel San Angelo, the
indomitable stronghold of mediaeval Rome.

In John X. who, in the year 914, had gained the tiara through Theodora,
she found a man of character, whose aim and ambition were the dominion
of Rome, the supremacy of the Church.

By the promise of an imperial crown, the pope gained Count Ugo of
Tuscany to his party, but Marozia outwitted him, by giving her hand to
his more powerful half-brother Guido, then Margrave of Tuscany.

John X., after trying for two years, in spite of his enemies, to
maintain his regime from the Lateran, at last fell into their hands and
was either strangled or starved to death in the dungeons of Castel San
Angelo.

After the death of Guido, Marozia married his half-brother Ugo. The
strange wedding took place in the Mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian,
where a bridal hall and nuptial chamber had been arranged and adorned
for them.

From the fortress tomb of the Flavian Emperor, Ugo lorded it over the
city of Rome, earning thereby the hatred of the people and especially
of young Alberic, his ambitious step-son, the son of Marozia and Count
Alberic of Spoleto.

The proud youth, forced one day to serve him as a page, with
intentional awkwardness, splashed some water over him and in return
received a blow. Mad with fury, Alberic rushed from Castel San Angelo
and summoned the people to arms. The clarions sounded and the fortress
tomb was surrounded by a blood-thirsty mob. In no time the actors
changed places. Ugo escaped by means of a rope from a window in the
castello and returned to Tuscany, leaving behind him his honor, his
wife and his imperial crown, while the youth Alberic became master of
Rome, cast Marozia into a prison in Castel San Angelo and kept his
half-brother, John XI., a close prisoner in the Lateran.

But the imprisonment of Marozia, and her mysterious disappearance from
the scenes of her former triumphs and baleful activity did not end the
story of the woman regime in Rome.

There lived in a palace, built upon the ruins of nameless temples
and sanctuaries, and embellished with all the barbarous splendor of
Byzantine and Moorish arts, in the remote wilderness of Mount Aventine,
a woman, who, in point of physical charms, ambition and daring had not
her equal in Rome since the death of Marozia. Theodora the younger, as
she is distinguished from her mother, the wife of Theophylactus, by
contemporary chroniclers, was the younger sister of Marozia.

The boundless ambition of the latter had left nothing to achieve for
the woman who had reached her thirtieth year when Alberic's revolution
consigned her sister to a nameless doom.

Strange rumors concerning her were afloat in Rome. Strange things were
whispered of her palace on Mount Aventine, where she assembled about
her the nobility of the city and the surrounding castelli, and soon
her court vied in point of sumptuousness and splendor with the most
splendid and profligate of her time.

Her admirers numbered by thousands, and her exotic beauty caused new
lovers to swell the ranks of the old with every day that passed down
the never returning tide of time.

Some came openly and some came under the cover of night, heavily
muffled and cloaked: spendthrifts, gamblers, gallants, men of fashion,
officers of the Senator's Court, poets, philosophers, and the feudal
lords of the Campagna.

Wealthy debauchees from the provinces, princes from the shores of
the Euxine, Lombard and Tuscan chiefs, Northmen from Scandinavia and
Iceland, wearing over their gnarled limbs the soft silken tunics of
Rome, Greeks, sleek, furtive-eyed, rulers from far-off Cathay, wearing
coats of crimson with strange embroidery from the scented East, men
from the isles of Venetia and the stormy plains of Thessaly, men with
narrow slanting eyes from the limitless steppes of Sarmatia, blond
warriors from the amber coasts of the Baltic, Persian princes who
worshipped the Sun, and Moors from the Spanish Caliphate of Cordova;
chieftains from the Lybian desert, as restive as their fiery steeds;
black despots from the hidden heart of Africa, with thick lips and
teeth like ivory, effete youths from Sicily and the Ionian isles,
possessed of the insidious beauty of the Lesbian women, adventurers
from Samarkand and Bokhara, trading in strange wares and steeped in
odor of musk and spices; Hyperboreans from the sea-skirt shores of an
ever frozen unimaginable ocean;--from every land under the sun they
came to Rome, for the sinister fame of Theodora's beauty, the baleful
mystery that surrounded her, and her dark repute proved powerful
incentives to curiosity, which soon gave way to overmastering passion,
once the senses had been steeped in the intoxicating atmosphere of the
woman's presence.

And, indeed, her physical charms were such as no mortal had yet
resisted whom she had willed to make her own. Her body, tall as a
column, was lustrous, incomparable. The arms and hands seemed to have
been chiselled of ivory by a master creator who might point with pride
to the perfection of his handiwork--the perfection of Aphrodité, Lais
and Phryné melted into one. The features were of such rare mould and
faultless type that even Marozia had to concede to her younger sister
the palm of beauty. The wonderful, deep set eyes, with their ever
changing lights, now emerald, now purple, now black; the straight,
pencilled brows, the broad smooth forehead and the tiny ears, hidden in
the wealth of her raven hair, tied into a Grecian knot and surmounted
by a circlet of emeralds, skillfully worked into the twining bodies of
snakes with ruby eyes; the satin sheen of the milk-white skin whose
ivory pallor was tinted with the faintest rose-light that never changed
either in heat or in cold, in anger or in joy: such was the woman
whose long slumbering, long suppressed ambition, coupled with a daring
that had not its equal, was to be fanned into a raging holocaust after
Marozia's untimely demise.

Concealing her most secret hopes and ambitions so utterly that even
Alberic became her dupe, Theodora threw herself into the whirl of life
with a keen appreciation of all its thrilling excitement. Vitally
alive with the pride of her sex and the sense of its power, she found
in her existence all the zest of some breathlessly fascinating game.
Men to her were mere pawns. She regarded them almost impersonally, as
creatures to taunt, to tempt, to excite, to play upon. Deliberately and
unstintingly she applied her arts. She delighted to see them at her
feet, but to repel them as the mood changed, with exasperating disdain.
Love to her was a word she knew but from report,--or, from what she had
read. She knew not its meaning, nor had she ever fathomed its depths.

To revel through delirious nights with some newly-chosen favorite
of the moment, who would soon thereafter mysteriously disappear, to
be tossed from the embrace of one into the arms of another; in the
restless, fruitless endeavor to kill the pain of life, the memory
of consciousness, to fill the void of a heart, that, alive to the
shallowness of existence, clutches at the saving hope of power, to
rule and to crush the universe beneath her feet, a dream, vague, vain,
unattainable: this desire filled Theodora's soul.

Her soul was burning itself to cinders in its own fires,--those baleful
fires that had proven the undoing of her equally beautiful sister.

Alone she would pace her gilded chambers, feverishly, unable to think,
driven hither and thither by the demons of unrest, by the disquietude
of her heart. Desperately she threw herself into whatever excitement
offered.

But it was always in vain.

She found no respite. Ever and ever a reiterant, restless craving
gnawed, like a worm, at her heart.

As she approached the thirtieth year of her life, Theodora had grown
more dazzling in beauty. Her body had assumed the wonderful plasticity
of marble. Her eyes had become more unfathomable, more wondrously
changeful in hues, like the iridescent waters of the sea.

Living as she did in an age where a morbid trend pervaded the world,
where the approach of the Millennium, though no one of the present
generation would see the day, was heralded as the End of Time; living
as she did in the darkest epoch of Roman history, Theodora felt the
utter inadequacy of her life, a hunger which nothing but power could
assuage.

Slowly this desire began to grow and expand. She wished to wield her
will, not only on men's emotions, but upon their lives as well. Perhaps
even the death of Marozia, with its paralyzing influence over her soul,
the captivity in the Lateran of her sister's son, and the hateful rule
of Alberic, would not have brought matters to a focus, had not the
appearance upon the stage of a woman, who, in point of beauty, spirit
and daring bade fair to constitute a terrible rival, roused all the
dormant passions in Theodora's soul and when Roxana openly boasted
that she would wrest the power from the hands of her rival and rule in
the Emperor's Tomb in spite of the Pontiff, of Alberic and Marozia's
blood-kin, the soul of Theodora leaped to the challenge of the other
woman and she craved for the conflict as she had never longed for
anything in her life, save perchance, a love of which she had but
possessed the base counterfeit.

No one knew whence Roxana had come, nor how long she had been in Rome,
when an incident at San Lorenzo in Lucina had brought the two women
face to face. Both, with their trains, had simultaneously arrived
before the portals of the sanctuary when Roxana barred Theodora's way.
Some mysterious instinct seemed to have informed each of the person
and ambition of the other. For a moment they faced each other white
to the lips. Then Roxana and her train had entered the church, and as
she passed the other woman, a deadly challenge had flashed from her
blue eyes into Theodora's dark orbs. The populace applauded Roxana's
daring, and, in order to taunt her rival, she had established her court
on desert Aventine, assembling about her the disgruntled lovers of
Theodora and others, whom her disdain had driven to seek oblivion and
revenge.

The land of Roxana's birth was shrouded in mystery. Some reported her
from the icy regions of the North, others credited her with being the
fugitive odalisque of some Eastern despot, a native of Kurdistan, the
beauty and fire of whose women she possessed to a high degree.

Such was Roxana, who had challenged Theodora for the possession of the
Emperor's Tomb.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SHRINE OF HEKATÉ


Athwart the gleaming balconies of the east the morning sun shone
golden and the shadows of the white marble cornices and capitals and
jutting friezes were blue with the reflection of the cloudless sky.
Far below Mount Aventine the soft mists of dawn still hovered over the
seven-hilled city, whence the distant cries of the water carriers and
fruit venders came echoing up from the waking streets.

A fugitive sunbeam stole through a carelessly closed lattice of a
chamber in the palace of Theodora, and danced now on the walls, bright
with many a painted scene, now on the marble inlaid mosaic of the
floor. Now and then a bright blade or the jewelled rim of a wine cup of
eastern design would flash back the wayward ray, until its shaft rested
on a curtained recess wherein lay a faintly outlined form. Tenderly
the sunbeams stole over the white limbs that veiled their chiselled
roundness under the blue shot webs of their wrappings, which, at the
capricious tossing of the sleeper, bared two arms, white as ivory and
wonderful in their statuesque moulding.

The face of the sleeper showed creamy white under a cloud of dark,
silken hair, held back in a net of gold from the broad smooth forehead.
Dark, exquisitely pencilled eyebrows arched over the closed,
transparent lids, fringed with lashes that now and then seemed to
flicker on the marble pallor of the cheeks, and the proudly poised head
lay back, half buried in the cushions, supported by the gleaming white
arms that were clasped beneath it.

Then, as if fearful of intruding on the charms that his ray had
revealed, the sunbeam turned and, kissing the bosom that swelled and
sank with the sleeper's gentle breathing, descended till it rested on
an overhanging foot, from which a carelessly fastened sandal hung by
one vermilion strap.

Of a sudden a light footfall was audible without and in an instant the
sleeper had heard and awakened, her dark eyes heavy with drowsiness,
the red lips parted, revealing two rows of small, pearly teeth, with
the first deep breath of returning consciousness.

At the sound one white hand drew the silken wrappings over the limbs,
that a troubled slumber and the warmth of the Roman summer night had
bared, while the other was endeavoring to adjust the disordered folds
of the saffron gossamer web that clung like a veil to her matchless
form.

"Ah! It is but you! Persephoné," she said with a little sigh, as a
curtain was drawn aside, revealing the form of a girl about twenty-two
years old, whose office as first attendant to Theodora had been firmly
established by her deep cunning, a thorough understanding of her
mistress' most hidden moods and desires, her utter fearlessness and a
native fierceness, that recoiled from no consideration of danger.

Persephoné was tall, straight as an arrow, lithe and sinuous as a
snake. Her face was beautiful, but there was something in the gleam
of those slightly slanting eyes that gave pause to him who chanced to
cross her path.

She claimed descent from some mythical eastern potentate and was a
native of Circassia, the land of beautiful women. No one knew how she
had found her way to Rome. The fame of Marozia's evil beauty and her
sinister repute had in time attracted Persephoné, and she had been
immediately received in Marozia's service, where she remained till the
revolt of Alberic swept her mistress into the dungeons of Castel San
Angelo. Thereupon she had attached herself to Theodora who loved the
wild and beautiful creature and confided in her utterly.

"Evil and troubled have been my dreams," Theodora continued, as the
morning light fell in through the parted curtains. "At the sound of
your footfall I started up--fearing--I knew not what--"

"For a long time have I held out against his pleadings and commands,"
Persephoné replied in a subdued voice, "knowing that my lady slept. But
he will not be denied,--and his insistence had begun to frighten me. So
at last I dared brave my lady's anger and disturb her--"

"Frighten you, Persephoné?" Theodora's musical laughter resounded
through the chamber. "You--who braved death at these white hands of
mine without flinching?"

She extended her hands as if to impress Persephoné with their beauty
and strength.

Whatever the circumstance referred to, Persephoné made no reply. Only
her face turned a shade more pale.

The draped figure had meanwhile arisen to her full height, as she
stretched the sleep from her limbs, then, her question remaining
unanswered, she continued:

"But--of whom do you speak? A new defiance from Roxana? A new insult
from the Senator of Rome? I would have it understood," this with a
slight lift of the voice, "that even were the end of the world at hand,
of which they prate so much of late, and heaven and earth to crumble
into chaos, I would not be disturbed to listen to shallow plaints and
mock heroics."

"It is neither the one nor the other," replied Persephoné with an
apprehensive glance of her slanting eyes over her shoulder, "but my
Lord Basil, the Grand Chamberlain. He waits without where the eunuchs
guard your slumber, and his eyes are aflame with something more than
impatience--"

At the mention of the name a subtle change passed over the listener's
face, and a sombre look crept into her eyes as she muttered:

"What can he be bringing now?"

Then, with a sudden flash, she added, tossing back her beautiful head:

"Let the Lord Basil wait! And now, Persephoné, remove from me the
traces of sleep and set the couches in better order."

Silently and quickly the Circassian sprang forward and rolled back the
curtains from the lattices, letting a stronger but still subdued light
enter the chamber, revealing, as it did, many a chased casket, and
mirrors of polished steel and bronze, and lighting up exquisite rainbow
hued fabrics, thrown carelessly over lion-armed chairs, with here and
there an onyx table wonderfully carved.

The chamber itself looked out upon a terrace and garden, a garden
filled with such a marvellous profusion of foliage and flowers, that,
looking at it from between the glistening marble columns surrounding
the palace, it seemed as though the very sky above rested edgewise on
towering pyramids of red and white bloom. Awnings of softest pale blue
stretched across the entire width of the spacious outer colonnade,
where a superb peacock strutted majestically to and fro, with
boastfully spreading tail and glittering crest, as brilliant as the
gleam of the hot sun on the silver fringe of the azure canopies, amidst
the gorgeousness of waving blossoms that seemed to surge up like a sea
to the very windows of the chamber.

Filling an embossed bowl with perfumed water, Persephoné bathed the
hands of her mistress, who had sunk down upon a low, tapestried
couch. Then, combing out her luxuriant hair, she bound it in a
jewelled netting that looked like a constellation of stars against the
dusky masses it confined. Taking a long, sleeveless robe of amber,
Persephoné flung it about her subtle form and bound it over breast and
shoulders with a jewelled band. But Theodora's glance informed her that
something was still wanting and, following the direction of her gaze,
Persephoné's eye rested on a life-size statue of Hekaté that stood with
deadly calm on its inexorable face and slightly raised hands, from one
of which hung something that glittered strangely in the subdued light
of the recess.

Obeying Theodora's silent gesture, Persephoné advanced to the image and
took from its raised arm a circlet fashioned of two golden snakes with
brightly enamelled scales, bearing in their mouths a single diamond,
brilliant as summer lightning. This she gently placed on her mistress'
head, so that the jewel flamed in the centre of the coronet, then,
kneeling down, she drew together the unlatched sandals.

Persephoné's touch roused her mistress from a day dream that had set
her features as rigid as ivory, as she surveyed herself for a moment
intently in a great bronze disk whose burnished surface gave back her
flawless beauty line for line.

In Persephoné's gaze she read her unstinted admiration, for, beautiful
as the Circassian was, she loved beauty in her own sex, wherever she
found it.

Theodora seemed to have utterly forgotten the presence of the Grand
Chamberlain in the anteroom, yet, in an impersonal way, her thoughts
occupied themselves with the impending tete-a-tete.

Her life had been one constant round of pleasure and amusement, yet she
was not happy, nor even contented.

Day by day she felt the want of some fresh interest, some fresh
excitement, and it was this craving probably, more than innate
depravity, which plunged her into those disgraceful and licentious
excesses that were nightly enacted in the sunken gardens behind her
palace. Lovers she had had by the scores. Yet each new face possessed
for her but the attraction of novelty. The favorite of the hour had
small cause to plume himself on his position. No sooner did he believe
himself to be secure in the possession of Theodora's love, than he
found himself hurled into the night of oblivion.

A strange pagan wave held Rome enthralled. Italy was in the throes of
a dark revulsion. A woman, beautiful as she was evil, had exercised
within the past decade her baleful influence from Castel San Angelo.
Theodora had taken up Marozia's tainted inheritance. Members of a
family of courtesans, they looked upon their trade as a hereditary
privilege and, like the ancient Aspasias, these Roman women of the
tenth century triumphed primarily by means of their feminine beauty
and charms over masculine barbarism and grossness. It was an age
of feudalism, when brutal force and murderous fury were the only
divinities whom the barbarian conqueror was compelled to respect.
Lombards and Huns, Franks and Ostrogoths, Greeks and Africans, the
savage giants issuing from the deep Teutonic forests, invading the
classic soil of Rome, became so many Herculeses sitting at the feet of
Omphalé, and the atmosphere of the city by the Tiber--the atmosphere
that had nourished the Messalinas of Imperial Rome--poured the flame of
ambition into the soul of a woman whose beauty released the strongest
passions in the hearts of those with whom she surrounded herself, in
order to attain her soul's desire. To rule Rome from the fortress
tomb of the Flavian emperor was the dream of Theodora's life. It had
happened once. It would happen again, as long as men were ready to
sacrifice at the shrines of Hekaté.

Unbridled in her passions as she was strong in her physical
organization, an unbending pride and an intensity of will came to
her aid when she had determined to win the object of her desire. In
Theodora's bosom beat a heart that could dare, endure and defy the
worst. She was a woman whom none but a very bold or ignorant suitor
would have taken to his heart. Perchance the right man, had he appeared
on the stage in time, might have made her gentle and quelled the
wild passions that tossed her resistlessly about, like a barque in a
hurricane.

Suddenly something seemed to tell her that she had found such a one.
Tristan's manly beauty had made a strong appeal upon her senses. The
anomaly of his position had captivated her imagination. There was
something strangely fascinating in the mystery that surrounded him,
there was even a wild thrill of pleasure in the seeming shame of loving
one whose garb stamped him as one claimed by the Church. He had braved
her anger in refusing to accompany Persephoné. He had closed his eyes
to Theodora's beauty, had sealed his ears to the song of the siren.

"A man at last!" she said half aloud, and Persephoné, looking up from
her occupation, gave her an inquisitive glance.

The splash of hidden fountains diffused a pleasant coolness in the
chamber. Spiral wreaths of incense curled from a bronze tripod into the
flower-scented ether. The throbbing of muted strings from harps and
lutes, mingling with the sombre chants of distant processions, vibrated
through the sun-kissed haze, producing a weird and almost startling
effect.

After a pause of some duration, apparently oblivious of the fact
that the announced caller was waiting without, Theodora turned to
Persephoné, brushing with one white hand a stray raven lock from the
alabaster forehead.

"Can it be the heat or the poison miasma that presages our Roman fever?
Never has my spirit been so oppressed as it is to-day, as if the gloomy
messengers from Lethé's shore were enfolding me in their shadowy
pinions. I saw his face in the dream of the night"--she spoke as if
soliloquizing--"it was as the face of one long dead--"

She paused with a shudder.

"Of whom does my lady speak?" Persephoné interposed with a swift glance
at her mistress.

"The pilgrim who crossed my path to his own or my undoing. Has he been
heard from again?"

A negative gesture came in response.

"His garb is responsible for much," replied the Circassian. "The city
fairly swarms with his kind--"

The intentional contemptuous sting met its immediate rebuke.

"Not his kind," Theodora flashed back. "He has nothing in common with
those others save the garb--and there is more beneath it than we wot
of--"

"The Lady Theodora's judgment is not to be gainsaid," the Circassian
replied, without meeting her mistress' gaze. "Do they not throng to her
bowers by the legion--"

"A pilgrimage of the animals to Circé's sty--each eager to be
transformed into his own native state," Theodora interposed
contemptuously.

"Perchance this holy man is in reality a prince from some mythical,
fabled land--come to Rome to resist temptation and be forthwith
canonized--"

Persephoné's mirth suffered a check by Theodora's reply.

"Stranger things have happened. All the world comes to Rome on one
business or another. This one, however, has not his mind set on the
Beatitudes--"

"Nevertheless he dared not enter the forbidden gates," the Circassian
ventured to object.

"It was not fear. On that I vouch. Perchance he has a vow. Whatever it
be--he shall tell me--face to face--and here!"

"But if the holy man refuse to come?"

Theodora's trained ear did not miss the note of irony in the
Circassian's question.

"He will come!" she replied laconically.

"A task worthy the Lady Theodora's renown."

"You deem it wonderful?"

"If I have read the pilgrim's eyes aright--"

"Perchance your own sweet eyes, my beautiful Persephoné, discoursed to
him something on that night that caused misgivings in his holy heart,
and made him doubt your errand?" Theodora purred, extending her white
arms and regarding the Circassian intently.

Persephoné flushed and paled in quick succession.

"On that matter I left no doubt in his mind," she said enigmatically.

There was a brief pause, during which an inscrutable gaze passed
between Theodora and the Circassian.

"Were you not as beautiful as you are evil, my Persephoné, I should
strangle you," Theodora at last said very quietly.

The Circassian's face turned very pale and there was a strange light
in her eyes. Her memory went back to an hour when, during one of the
periodical feuds between Marozia and her younger sister, the former
had imprisoned Theodora in one of the chambers of Castel San Angelo,
setting over her as companion and gaoler in one Persephoné, then in
Marozia's service.

The terrible encounter between Theodora and the Circassian in the
locked chamber, when only the timely appearance of the guard saved each
from destruction at the hands of the other, as Theodora tried to take
the keys of her prison from Persephoné, had never left the latter's
mind. Brave as she was, she had nevertheless, after Marozia's fall,
entered Theodora's service, and the latter, admiring the spirit of
fearlessness in the girl, had welcomed her in her household.

"I am ever at the Lady Theodora's service," Persephoné replied, with
drooping lids, but Theodora caught a gleam of tigerish ferocity
beneath those silken lashes that fired her own blood.

"Beware--lest in some evil hour I may be tempted to finish what I left
undone in the Emperor's Tomb!" she flashed with a sudden access of
passion.

"The Lady Theodora is very brave," Persephoné replied, as, stirred by
the memory, her eyes sank into those of her mistress.

For a moment they held each other's gaze, then, with a generosity
that was part of her complex nature, Theodora extended her hand to
Persephoné.

"Forgive the mood--I am strangely wrought up," she said. "Cannot you
help me in this dilemma, where I can trust in none?"

"There dwells in Rome one who can help my lady," Persephoné replied
with hesitation; "one deeply versed in the lore and mysteries of the
East."

"Who is this man?" Theodora queried eagerly.

"His name is Hormazd. By his spells he can change the natural event of
things, and make Fate subservient to his decrees."

"Why have you never told me of him before?"

"Because the Lady Theodora's will seemed to do as much for her as
could, to my belief, the sorcerer's art!"

The implied compliment pleased Theodora.

"Where does he abide?"

"In the Trastevere."

"What does he for those who seek him?"

"He reads the stars--foretells the future--and, with the aid of strange
spells of which he is master, can bring about that which otherwise
would be unattainable--"

"You rouse my curiosity! Tell me more of him."

An inscrutable expression passed over Persephoné's face.

"He was Marozia's trusted friend."

A frozen silence reigned apace.

"Did he foretell that which was to happen?" Theodora spoke at last.

"To the hour!"

"And yet--forewarned--"

"Marozia, grown desperate in the hatred of her lord, derided his
warnings."

"It was her Fate. Tell me more!"

"He has visited every land under the sun. From Thulé to Cathay his
fame is known. Strange tales are told of him. No one knows his age. He
seems to have lived always. As he appears now he hath ever been. They
say he has been seen in places thousand leagues apart at the same time.
Sometimes he disappears and is not heard of for months. But--whoever
he may be--whatever he may be engaged in--at the stroke of midnight
that he must suspend. Then his body turns rigid as a corpse, bereft of
animation, and his spirit is withdrawn into realms we dare not even
dream of. At the first hour of the morning life will slowly return. But
no one has yet dared to question him, where he has spent those dread
hours."

Theodora had listened to Persephoné's tale with a strange new interest.

"How long has this Hormazd--or whatever his name--resided in Rome?" she
turned to the Circassian.

"I met him first on the night on which the lady Marozia summoned him to
the summit of the Emperor's Tomb. There he abode with her for hours,
engaged in some unholy incantation and at last conjured up such a
tempest over the Seven Hills, as the city of Rome had not experienced
since it was founded by the man from Troy--"

Persephoné's historical deficiency went hand in hand with a
superstition characteristic of the age, and evoked no comment from one
perchance hardly better informed with regard to the past.

"I well remember the night," Theodora interposed.

"We crept down into the crypts, where the dog-headed Egyptian god keeps
watch over the dead Emperor," Persephoné continued. "The lady Marozia
alone remained on the summit with the wizard--amidst such lightnings
and crashing peals of thunder and a hurricane the like of which the
oldest inhabitants do not remember--"

"I shall test his skill," Theodora spoke after a pause. "Perchance he
may give me that which I have never known--"

"My lady would consult the wizard?" Persephoné interposed eagerly.

"Such is my intent."

"Shall I summon him to your presence?"

"I shall go to him!"

In Persephoné's countenance surprise and fear struggled for mastery.

"Then I shall accompany my lady--"

"I shall go alone and unattended--"

"It is an ill-favored region, where the sorcerer dwells--"

An inscrutable look passed into Theodora's eyes.

"Can he but give me that which I desire I shall brave the hazard, be it
ever so great."

The last words were uttered in an undertone. Then she added imperiously:

"Go and summon the lord Basil and bid two eunuchs attend him hither!
And do you wait with them within call behind those curtains."

Then, as Persephoné silently piled cushions behind her in the
lion-armed chair and withdrew bowing, Theodora murmured to herself:

"Hardly can I trust even him in an hour so fraught with darkness and
peril. Yet strive as he will, he may not break the chains his passion
has woven around his senses."



CHAPTER IX

THE GAME OF LOVE


The pattering of footsteps resounded on the marble floor of the
corridor and the hangings once more parted, revealing the form of a
man sombre even in the shadows which seemed part of the darkness that
framed his white face.

With eyes that never left the woman's graceful form the visitor slowly
advanced and, concealing his chagrin at having been kept waiting like a
slave in the anteroom, bent low over Theodora's hand and raised it to
his lips.

She had seated herself on a divan which somewhat shaded her face and
invited him with a mute gesture to take his seat beside her. Persephoné
and the eunuchs had left the chamber.

"Fain would I have departed, Lady Theodora, when the maid Persephoné,
who has the devil in her eyes, told me that the Lady Theodora slept,"
Basil spoke as, with the light of a fierce passion in his eyes, he sank
down beside the wondrous form, and his hot breath fanned her shoulder.
"But my tidings brook no delay. Closer, fairest lady, that your ear
alone may hear this new perplexity that does beset us, for it concerns
that which lies closest to our heart, and the time is brief--"

"I cannot even guess your tidings," replied Theodora, withdrawing
herself a little from his burning gaze. "For days mischance has emptied
all her quivers at me, leaving me not a dart wherewith to strike."

"It is as a bolt from the clear blue," interposed the Grand
Chamberlain. "Yet--how were we to reckon with that which did happen?
Every detail had been carefully planned. In the excitement and turmoil
which roared and surged over the Navona the task could not fail of its
accomplishment and he who was to speed the holy man to his doom had but
to plunge into that seething vortex of humanity to make his escape.
Surely the foul fiend was abroad on that night and stalked about
visibly to our undoing. For not a word have I been able to get out of
Il Gobbo who raves that at the very moment when he was about to strike,
St. John himself towered over him, paralyzed his efforts, and gave him
such a blow as sent him reeling upon the turf. Some say,"--the speaker
added meditatively, "it was a pilgrim--"

"A pilgrim?" Theodora interposed, a sudden gleam in her eyes. "A
pilgrim? What was he like?"

"To Il Gobbo he appeared no doubt of superhuman height, else had he not
affrighted him. For the bravo is no coward--"

"A pilgrim, you say," Theodora repeated, meditatively.

"Whosoever he is," Basil continued after a pause, "he seems to scent
ample entertainment in this godly city. For, no doubt it was the same
who thwarted by his timely appearance the abduction of the Pontiff by
certain ruffians, earning thereby much distinction in the eyes of the
Senator of Rome who has appointed him captain of Castel San Angelo--and
Gamba in whom we placed our trust has fled. If he is captured--if he
should confess--"

The color had died out of Theodora's cheeks and she sat bolt upright as
a statue of marble, gazing into the shadows with great wide eyes, as in
a low voice, hardly audible even to her visitor, she said:

"God! Will this uncertainty never cease? What is to be done?
Speak!--For I confess, I am not myself today."--

Basil hesitated, and a sudden flame leaped into his eyes as they
devoured the beauty of the woman beside him, and raising to his lips
the hand that lay inert on the saffron-hued cushion, he replied:

"The lady Theodora has many who do her bidding, yet is the heart of
none as true as his, who is even now sitting beside her. Therefore ask
of me whatever you will and, if a blade be needed, your slightest favor
will fire me to any deed,--however unnameable."--

Lower the man bent, until his hot breath scorched her pale cheeks. But
neither by word nor gesture did she betray that she was conscious of
his nearer approach as, in a calm voice, she replied:

"Full well do I know your zeal and devotion, my lord Basil. Yet there
hangs in the balance the keen and timely stroke that shall secure for
me the dominion of the Seven Hills and the Emperor's Tomb. For failure
would bring in its wake that which would be harder to endure than
death itself. Therefore," she added slowly, "I would choose one whose
devotion is only equalled by his blind indifference to that which I am
minded to bring about; not one only fired with a passion, which when
cooled might leave nothing but fear and hesitation behind."--

"Has all that has passed between us left you with so ill an opinion
of me?" Basil replied, drawing back somewhat ostentatiously. "There
are few that can be trusted with that which must be done--and trusted
blades are scarce."

"The more reason that we choose wisely and well," came the reply in
deliberate tones. "How much longer must I suffer the indignity which
this stripling dares to put upon his own flesh and blood,--upon myself,
who has striven for this dominion with all the fire of this restless
soul? How much longer must I sit idly by, pondering over the mystery
that enshrouds Marozia's untimely end? How much longer must I tremble
in abject fear of him whom the Tuscan's churlishness has set up in
yonder castello and who conspires with my rival to gain his sinister
ends?"

"By what sorcery she holds him captive, I cannot tell," Basil
interposed. "Yet, if we are not on our guard, we shall awaken one day
to the realization that even the faint chance which remains to us now
has passed from our hands. I doubt not but that Roxana will enlist the
services of the stranger who in the space of a week, during the lord
Alberic's absence, will lord it over the city of Rome!"

With a smothered cry of hate, that drove from Theodora's face every
trace of her former mood, she bounded upright.

"What demon of madness possesses you, my lord Basil, to taunt me with
your suspicions?" she flashed.

Basil had sped his shaft at random, but he had hit the mark.

In suave and insinuating tones, without relinquishing his gaze upon the
woman, he replied:

"I voice but my fears, Lady Theodora, and the urgency of assembling
your friends under the banners of your house. What is more natural," he
continued with slow and sinister emphasis, "than for a beautiful woman
to harbor the desire for conquest, and to profit from so auspicious a
throw of fate as the stranger's espousing her part against an equally
beautiful, hated rival? Is not the inference justified, that, ignorant
of the merits of the feud, which has been raging these many months, he
will take the part of the one whose beauty had compelled the Senator's
unwitting tribute--as it were?"

He paused for a moment, watching the woman before him from under
half-shut lids, then continued slowly:

"Roxana is consumed with the desire to stake soul and body upon
attaining her ends, humbling her rival in the dust and set her foot
upon her neck. Time and again has she defied you! At the banquet she
gave in honor of the Senator of Rome, when one of the guests lamented
the Lady Theodora's absence from the festal board, she openly boasted,
that in youth as well as in beauty, in strength as in love,
she would vanquish Marozia's sister utterly--and when one of the
guests, commenting upon her boast, suggested with a smile that in the
time of the Emperor Gallus women fought in the arena, she bared her
arms and replied: 'Are there no chambers in this demesne where a woman
may strangle her rival?'"

[Illustration: "A strange look passed into Theodora's eyes"]

Theodora had listened to Basil's recital, white to the lips. Her bosom
heaved and a strange fire burnt in her eyes as she replied:

"Dares she utter this boast, woman to woman?"--

Basil, checking himself, gave a shrug.

"Misinterpret not my words, dearest lady," he said solicitously. "It
is to warn you that I came. Alberic's attitude is no longer a secret.
Roxana is leaving no stone unturned to drive you from the city, to
encompass your death--and Alberic is swayed by strange moods. Roxana
is growing bolder each day and the woman who dares challenge the Lady
Theodora is no coward."

A strange look passed into Theodora's eyes.

"Three days hence," she said, "I mean to give a feast to my friends,
if," she continued with lurid mockery, "I can still number such among
those who flock to my bowers. I shall ask the Lady Roxana to grace the
feast with her presence--"

A puzzled look passed into Basil's eyes.

"Deem you she will come?"

Theodora's lips curved in a smile.

"You said but just now, my lord, the woman who dares challenge Theodora
is no coward--"

"Yet--as your guest--suspecting--knowing--"

"I doubt not, my lord, she is well informed," Theodora interposed
with the same inscrutable smile. "Yet--if she is as brave as she is
beautiful--she will come--doubt not, my lord--she will come--"

"Nevertheless, I question the wisdom," Basil ventured to interpose. "A
sudden spark--from nowhere--who will quench the holocaust?"

"When Roxana and Theodora meet,--woman to woman--ah, trust me, my lord,
it will be a festive occasion--one long to be remembered. Perchance
you, my lord, who boast of a large circle know young Fabio of the
Cavalli--a comely youth with the air and manners of a girl. Persephoné,
my Circassian, could strangle him."

"I know the youth, Lady Theodora," Basil interposed with a puzzled air.
"What of him?"

"He once did me the honor to imagine himself in love with me. Did he
not pursue me with amorous sighs and burning glances and oaths--my
lord--such oaths! Cerberus would wince in Tartarus could he hear but
one of them--"

Basil's lips straightened and his eyelids narrowed.

"Pardon, Lady Theodora, if I do not quite follow the trend of your
reminiscent mood--"

Theodora smiled.

"You will presently, my lord--believe me--you will presently. When
I became satiated with him I sent him on his way and straightway he
sought my beautiful rival. I am told she is very fond of him--"

A strange nervousness had seized Basil.

"I shall bid him to the feast," Theodora continued. "'Twere scant
courtesy to request the Lady Roxaná's presence without that of her
lover. And more, my lord. Since you boast your devotion to me in such
unequivocal terms--your task it shall be to bring as your honored
guest the valiant stranger who took so brave a part in aiding the Lord
Alberic to regain his prisoner, and who, within a week, is to be the
new captain of Castel San Angelo."--

Basil was twitching nervously.

"Lady Theodora, without attempting to fathom the mood which prompts
the request, am I to traverse the city in quest of a churl who has
hypnotized the Lord Alberic and has destroyed our fondest hopes?"--

"That it shall be for myself to decide, my Lord Basil," Theodora
replied with her inscrutable smile. "I do not desire you to fathom my
mood, but to bring to me this man. And believe me, my Lord Basil--as
you value my favor--you will find and bring him to me!"

Half turning she flung a light vesture from off her bosom and the faint
light showed not the set Medusa face that meditated unnameable things,
but eyes alight with desire and a mouth quivering for kisses.

As he gazed, Basil was suddenly caught in the throes of his passion.
He clutched at the ottoman's carved arms, striving to resist the tide
of emotion that tossed him like a helpless bark in its clutches and,
suddenly bearing down every restraint, his arms went round the supple
form as he crushed her to him with a wild uncontrolled passion, bending
her back, and his eyes blazed with a baleful fire into her own, while
his hot kisses scorched her lips.

She struggled violently, desperately in his embrace, and at last
succeeded, bruised and crushed, in releasing herself.

"Beast! Coward!" she flashed, "Can you not bridle the animal within
you? I have it in mind to kill you here and now."

Basil's face was ashen. His eyes were bloodshot. The touch of her lips,
of her hands, had maddened him. He groaned, and his arms fell limply by
his side. Presently he raised his head and, his eyes aflame with the
madness of jealousy, he snarled:

"So I did not go amiss, when I long suspected another in the bower of
roses. Who is he? Tell me quickly, that I may at least assuage this
hatred of mine, for its measure overflows."

His hand closed on his dagger's hilt that was hidden by his tunic, but
Theodora rose and her own eyes flashed like naked swords as with set
face she said:

"Have you not yet learned, my lord, how vain it is to probe the
clouds of my mind for the unseen wind that stirs behind its curtains?
Aye--crouch at my feet, you miserable slave, gone mad with the dream of
my favor possessed and wake to learn, that, as Theodora's enchantments
compel all living men, nevertheless she gives herself unto him she
pleases. I tell you, you jealous fool, that, although I serve the
goddess of night yonder, never till yesterday was my heart touched by
the divine enchantments of Venus, nor have the lips ever closed on
mine, that could kindle the spark to set my breast afire with longing."

"Ah me!" she continued, speaking as though she thought aloud. "Will
Hekaté ever grant me to find amongst these husks of passion and
plotting that great love whereof once I dreamed, that love which I am
seeking and which ever flits before me, disembodied and unattainable,
like a ghost in the purple twilight? Or, must I wander, ever loved yet
unloving, until I am gathered to the realms of shadows, robbed of my
desire by Death's cold hand?"

She paused, her lips a-quiver, the while Basil watched her with
half-closed eyes, filled with sudden and ominous brooding.

"Who is the favored one?" he queried darkly, "who came and saw and
conquered, while others of long-tried loyalty are starving at the
fount?"

She gave him an inscrutable glance, then answered quickly:

"A man willing to risk life and honor and all to serve me as I would be
served."

Basil gave her a baffled look.

"Can he achieve the impossible?"

Theodora gave a shrug.

"To him who truly loves nothing is impossible. You are the trusted
friend of the Senator who encompasses my undoing--need I say more?"

"Were I not, Lady Theodora, in seeming,--who knows, but that your blood
would long have dyed this Roman soil, or some dark crypt contained your
wonderful beauty? Bide but the time--"

An impatient wave of Theodora's hand interrupted the speaker.

"Time has me now! Will there ever be an end to this uncertainty?"

"You have not yet told me the name of him whose sudden advent on the
stage has brought about so marvellous a transformation," Basil said
with an air of baffled passion and rage.

"What matters the name, my lord?" Theodora interposed with a sardonic
smile.

"A nameless stranger then," he flashed with a swiftness that staggered
even the woman, astute as she was.

"I said not so--"

"A circumstance that should recommend him to our consideration," he
muttered darkly. "I shall find him--and bring him to the feast--"

There was something in his voice that roused the tigress in the woman.

"By the powers of hell," she turned on the man whose fatal guess had
betrayed her secret, "if you but dare touch one hair of his head--"

Basil raised his hand disdainfully.

"Be calm, Lady Theodora! The Grand Chamberlain soils not his steel with
such carrion," he said with a tone of contempt that struck home. "And
now I will be plain with you, Lady Theodora. All things have their
price. Will you grant to me what I most desire in return for that which
is ever closest to your heart?"

Theodora gave a tantalizing shrug.

"Like the Fata Morgana of the desert, I am all things to all men," she
said. "Remember, my lord, I must look for that which I desire wherever
I may find it, since life and the future are uncertain."

There was a silence during which each seemed intent upon fathoming the
secret thoughts of the other.

It was Basil who spoke.

"What of that other?"

Theodora had arisen.

"Bring him to me--three days hence--as my guest. Thrice has he crossed
my path.--Thrice has he defied me!--I have that in store for him at
which men shall marvel for all time to come!"

Basil bent over the white hand and kissed it. Then he took his leave.
Had he seen the expression in the woman's eyes as the heavy curtains
closed behind him, it would have made the Grand Chamberlain pause.

Theodora passed to where the bronze mirror hung and stood long before
it, with hands clasped behind her shapely head, wrapt in deepest
thought.

And while she gazed on her mirrored loveliness, an evil light sprang up
in her eyes and all her mouth's soft lines froze to a mould of dreaming
evil, as she turned to where the image of Hekaté gazed down upon her
with inhuman calm upon its face, and, holding out shimmering, imploring
arms, she cried:

"Help me now, dread goddess of darkness, if ever you looked with love
upon her whose prayers have been directed to you for good and for evil.
Fire the soul of him I desire, as he stands before me, that he lose
reason, honor, and manhood, as the price of my burning kisses--that he
become my utter slave."

She clapped her hands and Persephoné appeared from behind the curtains.

"For once Fate is my friend," she turned with flashing eyes to the
Circassian. "Before his departure to the shrines of the Archangel,
Alberic has appointed this nameless stranger captain of Castel San
Angelo. Go--find him and bring him to me! Now we shall see," she added,
"if all this beauty of mine shall prevail against his manhood. Your
eyes express doubt, my sweet Persephoné?"

Theodora had raised herself to her full height. She looked regal
indeed--a wonderful apparition. What man lived there to resist such
loveliness of face and form?

Persephoné, too, seemed to feel the woman's magic, for her tone was
less confident when she replied:

"Such beauty as the Lady Theodora's surely the world has never seen."

"I shall conquer--by dread Hekaté," Theodora flashed, flushed by
Persephoné's unwitting tribute. "He shall open for me the portals of
the Emperor's Tomb, he shall sue at my feet for my love--and obtain his
guerdon. Not a word of this to anyone, my Persephoné--least of all, the
Lord Basil. Bring the stranger to me by the postern--"

"But--if he refuse?"

There was something in Persephoné's tone that stung Theodora's soul to
the quick.

"He will not refuse."

Persephoné bowed and departed, and for some time Theodora's dark
inscrutable eyes brooded on the equally inscrutable face of the goddess
of the Underworld, which was just then touched by a fugitive beam of
sunlight and seemed to nod mysteriously.



CHAPTER X

A SPIRIT PAGEANT


When, on the day succeeding his appointment Tristan returned to the
Inn of the Golden Shield he felt as one in a trance. Like a puppet of
Fate he had been plunged into the seething maelstrom of feudal Rome.
He hardly realized the import of the scene in which he had played so
prominent a part. He had acted upon impulse, hardly knowing what it was
all about. Dimly at intervals it flashed through his consciousness,
dimly he remembered facing two youths, the one the Senator of Rome--the
other the High Priest of Christendom, even though a prisoner in the
Lateran. Vaguely he recalled the words that had been spoken between
them, vaguely he recalled the fact that the Senator of Rome had
commended him for having saved the city, offering him appointment,
holding out honor and preferment, if he would enter his service.
Vaguely he remembered bending his knee before the proud son of Marozia
and accepting his good offices.

In the guest-chamber Tristan found pilgrims from every land assembled
round the tables discoursing upon the wonders and perils hidden in the
strange and shifting corridors of Rome. Not a few had witnessed the
scene in which he had so conspicuously figured and, upon recognizing
him, regarded him with shy glances, while commenting upon the
prevailing state of unrest, the periodical seditions and outbreaks of
the Romans.

Tristan listened to the buzz and clamor of their voices, gleaning here
and there some scattered bits of knowledge regarding Roman affairs.

He could now review more calmly the events of the preceding day.
Fortune seemed to have favored him indeed, in that she had led him
across the path of the Senator of Rome.

Thus Tristan set out once again, to make the rounds of worship and
obedience. These absolved, he wandered aimlessly about the great city,
losing himself in her ruins and gardens, while he strove in vain to
take an interest in what he beheld, rather distracted than amused by
the Babel-like confusion which surrounded him on all sides.

Nevertheless, once more upon the piazzas and tortuous streets of Rome,
his pace quickened. His pulses beat faster. At times he did not feel
his feet upon those stony ways which Peter and Paul had trod, and many
another who, like himself, had come to Rome to be crucified. People
stared at his dark and sombre form as he passed. Now and then he was
retarded by chanting processions, that wound their interminable coils
through the tortuous streets, pilgrims from all the world, the various
orders of monks in the habits peculiar to their orders, wine-venders,
water-carriers, men-at-arms, sbirri, and men of doubtful calling.
Sacred banners floated in the sunlit air and incense curled its
graceful spiral wreaths into the cloudless Roman ether.

Surely Rome offered a wide field for ambition. A man might raise
himself to a certain degree by subservience to some powerful prince,
but he must continue to serve that prince, or he fell and would never
aspire to independent domination, where hereditary power was recognized
by the people and lay at the foundation of all acknowledged authority.
It was only in Central Italy, and especially in Romagna and the States
of the Church, where a principle antagonistic to all hereditary claims
existed in the very nature of the Papal power, so that any adventurer
might hope, either by his individual genius or courage, or by services
rendered to those in authority, to raise himself to independent rule or
to that station which was only attached to a superior by the thin and
worn-out thread of feudal tenure.

Rome was the field still open to the bold spirit, the keen and
clear-seeing mind. Rome was the table on which the boldest player was
sure to win the most. With every change of the papacy new combinations,
and, consequently, new opportunities must arise. Here a man may, as
elsewhere, be required to serve, in order at length to command. But, if
he did not obtain power at length, it was his fault or Fortune's, and
in either event he must abide the consequences.

Revolving in his mind these matters, and wondering what the days to
come would hold, Tristan permitted himself to wander aimlessly through
the desolation which arose on all sides about him.

Passing by the Forum and the Colosseum, ruins piled upon ruins, he
wandered past San Gregorio, where, in the garden, lie the remains of
the Servian Porta Capena, by which St. Paul first entered Rome. The Via
Appia, lined with vineyards and fruit-trees, shedding their blossoms
on many an ancient tomb, led the solitary pilgrim from the memories of
the present to the days, when the light of the early Christian Church
burned like a flickering taper hidden low in Roman soil.

The ground sweeping down on either side in gentle, but well-defined
curves, led the vision over the hills of Rome and into her valleys.
Beneath a cloudless, translucent sky the city was caught in bold shafts
of crystal light, revealing her in so strong a relief that it seemed
like a piece of exquisite sculpture.

Fronting the Coelian, crowned with the temple church of San Stefano
in Rotondo, fringed round with tall and graceful poplars, rose the
immeasurable ruins of Caracalla's Baths, seeming more than ever the
work of titans, as Tristan saw them, shrouded in deep shadows above
the old churches of San Nereo and San Basilio, shining like white
huts, a stone's throw from the mighty walls. Beyond, as a beacon of
the Christian world in ages to come, on the site of the ancient Circus
of Nero, arose the Basilica of Constantine, still in its pristine
simplicity, ere the genius of Michel Angelo, Bramanté and Sangallo
transformed it into the magnificence of the present St. Peter's.

For miles around stretched the Aurelian walls, here fallen in low
ruins, there still rising in their proud strength. Weathered to every
shade of red, orange, and palest lemon, they still showed much of
their ancient beauty near the closed Latin gate. High towers, arched
galleries and battlements cast a broad band of shade upon a line of
peach trees whose blossoms had opened out to the touch of the summer
breeze.

Beneath Tristan's feet, unknown to him, lay the sepulchral chambers of
pagan patricians, and the winding passage tombs of the Scipios. Out of
the sunshine of the vineyard Tristan's curiosity led him into the dusk
of the Columbaria of Pomponius Hylas, full of stucco altar tombs. He
descended into the lower chambers with arched corridors and vaulted
roofs where, in the loculi, stood terra-cotta jars holding the ashes
of the freedmen and musicians of Tiberius with their servants, even to
their cook.

Returning full of wonder to the golden light of day, Tristan retraced
his steps once again over the Appian Way. Passing the ruined Circus
of Maxentius, across smooth fields of grass, he saw the fortress tomb
of Cæcilia Metella, set grandly upon the hill. It appeared to break
through the sunshine, its marble surface of a soft cream color, looking
more like the shrine of some immortal goddess of the Campagna than the
tomb of a Roman matron.

And, as he wandered along the Appian Way, past the site of lava
pools from Mount Alba, remains of ancient monuments lay thicker
by the roadside. Prostrate statues appeared in a setting of wild
flowers. Sculptured heads gazed out from half-hidden tombs, while one
watch-tower after another rose out of the undulating expanse of the
Campagna.

To Tristan the memories of an ancient empire which clung to the place
held but little significance.

Here emperors had been carried by in their litters to Albano.
Victorious generals returning in their chariots from the south, drove
between these avenues of cypress-guarded tombs to Rome. The body of
the dead Augustus had been brought with great following from Bovilæ to
the Palatine, as before him Sulla had been borne along to Rome amid
the sound of trumpets and tramp of horsemen. Near the fourth milestone
stood Seneca's villa, where he received his death warrant from an
emissary of Nero, and nearby was that of his wife who, by her own
desire, bravely shared his fate.

And, last to haunt the Appian Way in the spirit pageant of the Golden
Age, a memory destined to lie dormant till the dawn of the Renaissance,
was Paul the Apostle, the tent-maker from Tarsus, who entered Rome
while Nero reigned in the white marble city of Augustus and suffered
martyrdom for the Faith.

It was verging towards evening when Tristan's feet again bore him past
the stupendous ruins of the Colosseum, through the roofless upper
galleries of which streamed the light of the sinking sun.

After reaching the Forum, almost deserted by this hour, save for a few
belated ramblers, he seated himself on a marble block and tried to
collect his thoughts, at the same time drinking in the picture which
unrolled itself before his gaze.

If Rome was indeed, as the chroniclers of the Middle Ages styled her,
"Caput Mundi," the Forum was the centre of Rome. From this centre
Rome threw out and informed her various feelers, farther and farther
radiating in all directions, as she swelled out with greatness, drawing
her sustenance first from her sacred hills and groves, then from the
very marbles and granites of the mountains of Asia and Africa, from the
lives of all sorts of peoples, races and nations. And like the Emperor
Constantine, as we are told by Ammianus Marcellinus, on beholding the
Forum from the Rostra of Domitian, stood wonder-stricken, so Tristan,
even at this period of decay, was amazed at the grandeur of the ruins
which bore witness to Rome's former greatness.

The sound of the Angelus, whose silvery chimes permeated the tomb-like
stillness, roused Tristan from his reveries.

He arose and continued upon his way, until he found himself in the
square fronting the ancient Basilica of Constantine.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was a Vigil of the Church, popular
exhibitions of all sorts were set upon the broad flagstones before
St. Peter's. Street dancing girls indulged on every available spot in
those gliding gyrations, so eloquently condemned by the worthy Ammianus
Marcellinus of orderly and historical memory. Booths crammed with
relics of doubtful authenticity, baskets filled with fruits or flowers,
pictorial representations of certain martyrs of the Church, basking
in haloes of celestial light, tempted in every direction the worldly
and unworldly spectators. Cooks perambulated, their shops upon their
backs, merchants shouted their wares, wine-sellers taught Bacchanalian
philosophy from the tops of their casks; poets recited spurious
compositions which they offered for sale; philosophers indulged in
argumentations destined to convert the wavering, or to perplex the
ignorant. Incessant motion and noise seemed to be the sole aim and
purpose of the crowd which thronged the square.

Nothing could be more picturesque than the distant view of the joyous
scene, this Carnival in Midsummer, as it were.

The deep red rays of the westering sun cast their radiance, partly
from behind the Basilica, over the vast multitude in the piazza. In
unrivalled splendor the crimson light tinted the water that purled from
the fountain of Bishop Symmachus. Its roof of gilded bronze, supported
by six porphyry columns, was enclosed by small marble screens on which
griffins were carved, its corners ornamented by gilded dolphins and
peacocks in bronze. The water flowed into a square basin from out
of a bronze pine cone which may have come from Hadrian's Mausoleum.
Bathed in the brilliant glow the smooth porphyry colonnades reflected,
chameleon-like, ethereal and varying hues. The white marble statues
became suffused with delicate rose, and the trees gleamed in the
innermost of their leafy depths as if steeped in the exhalations of a
golden mist.

Contrasting strangely with the wondrous radiance around it, the bronze
pine-tree in the centre of the piazza rose up in gloomy shadow,
indefinite and exaggerated. The wide facade of the Basilica cast its
great depth of shade into the midst of the light which dominated the
scene.

Tristan stood for a time gazing into the glowing sky, then he slowly
made his way towards the Basilica, the edifice which commemorated the
establishment of Christianity as the state religion of Rome, as in its
changes it has reflected every change wrought in the spirit of the new
worship up to the present hour.



CHAPTER XI

THE DENUNCIATION


The Basilica of Constantine no longer retained its pristine splendor,
its pristine purity as in the days, ere the revival of paganism by the
Emperor Julian the Apostate had put a sudden and impressive check upon
the meretricious defilement of the glory, for which it was built.

The exterior began to show signs of decay. The interior, too, had
changed with the inexorable trend of the times. The solemn recesses
were filled with precious relics. Many hued tapers surrounded the
glorious pillars, and eastern tapestries wreathed their fringes round
the massive altars.

As Tristan entered the incense-saturated dusk of St. Peter's, the first
part of the service had just been concluded. The last faint echoes from
the voices in the choir still hovered upon the air, and the silent
crowds of worshippers were still grouped in their listening attitudes
and absorbed in their devotions.

The only light was bestowed by the evening sun, duskily illuminating
the emblazoned windows, or by the glimmer of lamps in distant
shrines, hung with sable velvet and attended each by its own group of
ministering priests.

Struck with an indefinable awe Tristan looked about. At first he only
realized the great space, the four long rows of closely set columns,
and the great triumphal arch which framed the mosaics of the apse,
where Constantine stood in the clouds offering his Basilica to the
Saviour and St. Peter. Then he looked towards the sacred shrines
above the Apostle's grave, where lamps burned incessantly and cast a
dazzling halo above the high altar, reflected in the silver paving of
the presbytery and on the golden gates and images of the Confessio.
Immediately behind the altar was revealed a long panel of gold, studded
with gems and ornaments, with figures of Christ and the Apostles, a
native offering from the Emperor Valentinian III. The high altar and
its brilliant surroundings were seen from the nave between a double row
of twisted marble columns, white as snow. A beam covered with plates of
silver united them and supported great silver images of the Saviour,
the Virgin and the Apostles with lilies and candelabra.

To their shrines, to do homage, had in time come the Kings from all
the earth: Oswy, King of the Northumbrians, Cædwalla, King of the
West Saxons, Coenred, King of the Mercians, and with him his son
Sigher, King of the East Saxons. Even Macbeth is said to have made
the pilgrimage. Ethelwulf came in the middle of the ninth century,
and with him came his son Alfred. In the arcades beneath the columned
vestibule of the Basilica, tomb succeeded tomb. Here the popes were
buried, Leo I, the Great, being first in line, the Saxon Pilgrim Kings,
the Emperors Honorius III and Theodosius II, regarding whom St. John
Chrysostomus has written: "Emperors were proud to stand in the hall
keeping guard at the fisherman's door."

During the interval between the divisions of the service, Tristan,
like many of those present, found his interest directed towards the
relics, which were inclosed in a silver cabinet with crystal doors and
placed above the high altar. Although it was impossible to obtain a
satisfactory view of these ecclesiastical treasures, they nevertheless
occupied his attention till it was diverted by the appearance of a
monk in the habit of the Benedictines, who had mounted the richly
carved pulpit fixed between two pillars.

As far as Tristan was enabled to follow the trend of the sermon it
teemed with allusions to the state of society and religion as it
prevailed throughout the Christian world, and especially in the city
of the Pontiff. By degrees the monk's eloquence took on darker and
more terrible tints, as he seemed slowly to pass from generalities to
personal allusions, which increased the fear and mortification of the
great assembly with every moment.

From the shadows of the shrine, where he had chosen his station,
Tristan was enabled to mark every shade of the emotions which swayed
the multitudes and, as his eyes roamed inadvertently towards the chapel
of the Father Confessor, he saw a continuous stream of penitents enter
the dark passage leading towards the crypts, many of whom were masked.

Turning his head by chance, Tristan's glance fell upon two men who had
apparently just entered the Basilica and paused a few paces away, to
listen to the words which the monk hurled like thunderbolts across the
heads of his listeners. Despite their precaution to wear masks, Tristan
recognized the Grand Chamberlain in the one, while his companion, the
hunchback, appeared rather uncomfortable in the sanctified air of the
Basilica.

Hitherto Odo of Cluny's attacks on the existing state had been general.
Now he glanced over the crowd, as if in quest of some special object,
as with strident voice he declaimed:

"Repent! Death stands behind you! The flag of your glory shall cease
to wave on the towers of your strong citadel. Destruction clamors at
your palace gates, and the enemy that cometh upon you unaware is an
enemy that none shall vanquish or subdue, not even they who are the
mightiest among the mighty. Blood stains the earth and the sky. Its
red waves swallow up the land! The heavens grow pale and tremble! The
silver stars blacken and decay, and the winds of the desert make lament
for that which shall come to pass, ere ever the grapes be pressed or
the harvest gathered. It is a scarlet sea wherein, like a broken and
deserted ship, Rome flounders, never to rise again--"

He paused for a moment and caught his breath hard.

"The Scarlet Woman of Babylon is among us!" he cried. "Hence! accursed
tempter. Thou poisoner of peace, thou quivering sting in the flesh,
destroyer of the strength of manhood! Theodora!--thou abomination--thou
tyrannous treachery! What shall be done unto thee in the hour of
darkness? Put off the ornaments of gold, the jewels, wherewith thou
adornest thy beauty, and crown thyself with the crown of endless
affliction. For thou shalt be girdled about with flame and fire shall
be thy garment. Thy lips that have drunk sweet wine shall be steeped
in bitterness! Vainly shalt thou make thyself fair and call upon thy
legion of lovers. They shall be as dead men, deaf to thine entreaties,
and none shall respond to thy call! None shall hide thee from shame
and offer thee comfort! In the midst of thy lascivious delights shalt
thou suddenly perish, and my soul shall be avenged on thy sins,
queen-courtesan of the earth!"

Scarcely had the last word died to silence when a blinding flash of
lightning rent the gloom followed by a tremendous crash of thunder
that shook the great edifice to its foundation. The bronze portals
opened as of their own accord and a terrific gust of wind extinguished
every light in the thousand-jetted candelabrum. Impenetrable darkness
reigned--thick, suffocating darkness, as the thunder rolled away in
grand, sullen echoes.

There was a momentary lull, then, piercing the profound gloom, came
the cries and shrieks of frightened women, the horrible, selfish
scrambling, struggling and pushing of a bewildered multitude. A
veritable frenzy of fear seemed to possess every one. Groans and sobs,
entreaties and curses from those, who, intent on saving themselves,
were brutally trying to force a passage to the door, the heart-rending,
frantic appeals of the women--all these sounds increased the horror
of the situation, and Tristan, blind, giddy and confused, listened to
the uproar about him with somewhat of the affrighted, panic-stricken
compassion that a stranger in hell might feel, while hearkening to the
ceaseless plaints of the self-tortured damned.

Lost in a dim stupefaction of wonderment, Tristan remained where he
stood, while the crowds rushed from the Basilica. As he was about to
follow in their wake, his gaze was attracted towards the chapel of the
Grand Penitentiary, from which came a number of masked personages while
he, to whose keeping were confided crimes of a magnitude that seemed
beyond the extensive powers of absolution, was barely visible under the
cowl, which was drawn deeply over his forehead.

The thought occurred to Tristan to seek the ear of the Confessor, in as
much as the Pontiff to whom he had hoped to lay bare his heart could
not grant him an audience.

The lateness of the hour and the uncertainty of the fate of the Monk
of Cluny prevented him from following the prompting of the moment and,
staggering rather than walking, Tristan made for the portals of St.
Peter's and walked unseeing into the gathering dusk.



CHAPTER XII

THE CONFESSION


The storm had abated, but the sheen of white lightnings to southward
and the menacing growl of distant thunder that seemed to come from the
bowels of the earth held out promise of renewed upheavals of disturbed
nature.

The streets of Rome were comparatively deserted with the swiftly
approaching dusk, and it occurred to Tristan to seek the Monk of Cluny
in his abode on Mount Aventine whither he had doubtlessly betaken
himself after his sermon in the Basilica of St. Peter's. For ever and
ever the memory of lost Hellayne dominated his thoughts, and, while he
poured out prayers for peace at the shrines of the saints, with the
eyes of the soul he saw not the image of the Virgin, but of the woman
for the sake of whom he had come hither and, having come, knew not
where to find that which he sought.

From a passing friar Tristan learned the direction of Mount Aventine,
where, among the ruins near the newly erected Church of Santa Maria of
the Aventine, Odo of Cluny abode. Tristan could not but marvel at the
courage of the man whose life was in hourly jeopardy and who, in the
face of an ever present menace could put his trust so completely in
Heaven as to brave the danger without even a guard.--

Taking the road indicated by the friar, Tristan pursued his solitary
path. In seeking the Monk of Cluny his purpose was a twofold one,
certainty with regard to his own guilt, in having loved where love was
a crime, and counsel with regard to the woman who, he instinctively
felt, would not stop at her first innuendos.

As Tristan proceeded on his way his feelings and motives became more
and more perplexed, and so lost was he in thought that, without heeding
his way or noting the scattered arches and porticoes, he lost himself
in the wilderness of the Mount of Cloisters. The hush was intensified
rather than broken by the ever louder peals of thunder, which
reverberated through the valleys, and the Stygian darkness, broken at
intervals by vivid flashes of lightning, seemed to hem him in, as a
wall of basalt.

Gradually all traces of a road vanished. On both sides rose woody
acclivities, covered with ruins and melancholy cypresses, whose
spectral outlines seemed to stretch into gaunt immensity, in the sheen
of the lightnings which grew more and more frequent. The wind rose
sobbingly among the trees, and a few scattered rain-drops began to warn
Tristan that a shelter of any sort would be preferable to exposing
himself to the onslaught of the elements.

Entering the first group of ruins he came to, he penetrated through
a series of roofless corridors and chambers into what seemed a dark
cylindrical well at the farther extremity of which there gleamed an
infinitesimal light. Even through the clamor of the storm that raged
outside there came to him the sound of voices from the interior.

Impelled as much by curiosity as by the consideration of his own safety
Tristan crept slowly towards the aperture. As he did so, the light
vanished, but a crimson glow, as of smouldering embers, succeeded,
and heavy fumes of incense, wafted to his nostrils, informed him that
his fears regarding the character of the abode were but too well
founded. He cowered motionless in the gloom until the storm had abated,
determined to return at some time to discover what mysteries the place
concealed.

A fresher breeze had sprung up, driving the thunderclouds to northward,
and from a clear azure the stars shone in undimmed lustre upon the
dreaming world beneath.

For a moment Tristan stood gazing at the immense desolation, the
wilderness of arches, shattered columns and ivy-covered porticoes. The
hopelessness of finding among these relics of antiquity the monk's
hermitage impressed itself at once upon him. Pausing irresolutely,
he would probably have retraced his steps, had he not chanced to see
some one emerge from the adjacent ruins, apparently bound in the same
direction.

Whether it was a presentiment of evil, or whether the fear bred of
the region and the hour of the night prompted the precaution, Tristan
receded into the shadows and watched the approaching form, in whom he
recognized Basil, the Grand Chamberlain. He at once resolved to follow
him and the soft ground aided the execution of his design.

The way wound through a veritable labyrinth of ruins, nevertheless
he kept his eyes on the tall dark form, stalking through the night
before him. At times an owl or bat whirled over his head. With these
exceptions he encountered no living thing among the ruins to break the
hush of the sepulchral desolation.

The distance between them gradually diminished. Tristan saw the other
turn to the right into a wilderness of grottoes, the tortuous corridors
of which were at times almost choked up with weeds and wild flowers,
but when he reached the spot, there was no vestige of a human presence.
Basil had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed him.

Possessed by a sudden fear that some harm might be intended the monk
and remembering certain veiled threats he had overheard against his
life, he proceeded more slowly and cautiously by the dim light of the
stars.

Before long he found himself before a flight of grass grown steps that
led up to a series of desolate chambers which, although roofless
and choked with rank vegetation, still bore traces of their ancient
splendor. These corridors led to a clumsy door, standing half ajar,
from beyond which shone the faint glimmer of a light.

After having reached the threshold Tristan paused.

High, oval-shaped apertures admitted light and air at once, and the
dying embers of a charcoal fire revealed a chamber, singularly void of
all the comforts of existence. Almost in the centre of this chamber,
before a massive stone table, upon which was spread a huge tome, sat
the Monk of Cluny, shading his eyes with his right hand and reading
half aloud.

For a few moments Tristan regarded the recluse breathlessly, as if he
dreaded disturbing his meditations, when Odo suddenly raised his eyes
and saw the dark form standing in the frame of the door.

The look which he bestowed upon Tristan convinced the latter
immediately of the doubt which the monk harbored regarding the quality
of his belated caller, a doubt which he deemed well to disperse before
venturing into the monk's retreat.

Therefore, without abandoning his position, he addressed the inmate of
the chamber and, as he spoke, the tone of his voice seemed to carry
conviction, that the speaker was sincere.

"Your pardon, father," Tristan stammered, "for one who is seeking you
in an hour of grave doubt and misgiving."

The monk's ear had caught the accent of a foreign tongue. He beckoned
to Tristan to enter, rising from the bench on which he had been seated.

"You come at a strange hour," he said, not without a note of suspicion,
which did not escape Tristan. "Your business must be weighty indeed
to embolden one, a stranger on Roman soil, to penetrate the desolate
Aventine when the world sleeps and murder stalks abroad."

"I am here for a singular purpose, father,--having obeyed the impulse
of the moment, after listening to your sermon at St. Peter's."

"But that was hours ago," interposed the monk, resting his hand on the
stone table, as he faced his visitor.

"I lost my way--nor did I meet any one to point it," Tristan replied,
as he advanced and kissed the monk's hand reverently.

"What is your business, my son?" asked the monk.

Tristan hesitated a moment. At last he spoke.

"I came to Rome not of my own desire,--but obeying the will of another
that imposed the pilgrimage. I have sinned, father--and yet there are
moments, when I would almost glory in that which I have done. It was
my purpose, while at St. Peter's to confess to the Grand Penitentiary.
But--I know not why--I chose you instead, knowing that you would give
truth for truth."

The monk regarded his visitor, wondering what one so young and
possessed of so frank a countenance might have done amiss.

"You are a pilgrim?" he queried at last.

"For my sins--"

"Of French descent, yet not a Frenchman--"

Tristan started at the monk's penetration.

"From Provence, father," he stammered, "the land of songs and flowers--"

"And women--" the monk interposed gravely.

"There are women everywhere, father."

"There are women and women. Perchance I should say 'Woman.'"

Tristan bowed his head in silence.

The monk cast a penetrating glance at his visitor. He understood the
gesture and the silence with that quick comprehension that came to him
who was to reform Holy Catholic Church from the abuse of decades--as an
intuition.

"But now, my son, speak of yourself," said the monk after a pause.

"I lived at the court of Avalon, the home of Love and Troubadours."

"Of Troubadours?" the monk interposed dreamily. "A worldly lot--given
to extolling free love and what not--"

"They may sing of love and passion, father, but their lives are pure
and chaste," Tristan ventured to remonstrate.

"You are a Troubadour?" came the swift query.

"In my humble way." Tristan replied with bowed head.

The monk nodded.

"Go on--go on!"

"At the court of Avalon I met the consort of Count Roger de Laval. He
was much absent, on one business or another,--the chase--feuds with
neighboring barons.--He chose me to help the Lady Hellayne to while
away the long hours during his absence--"

"His wife! What folly!"

"The Count de Laval is one of those men who would tempt the heavens
themselves to fall upon him rather than to air himself beneath them.
That his fair young wife, doing his will among men given to the chase
and drinking bouts, and the society of tainted damsels, should long for
something higher, she, whom he regarded with the high air of the lord
of creation--that she should dare dream of some intangible something,
for which she hungered, and craved and starved--"

"If you are about to confess, as I conceive, to a wrong you have done
to this same lord," interposed the monk, "your sin is not less black if
you paint him you have wronged in odious tints."

"Nevertheless I am most sorry to do so, father," Tristan interposed,
"else could I not make you understand to its full extent his folly and
conceit by placing me, a creature of emotion, day by day beside so
fair a being as his young wife. Therefore I would explain."

"It needs some explanation truly!" the monk said sternly.

"The Count de Laval is a man whose conceit is so colossal, father, that
he would never think it possible that any one could fail in love and
admiration at the shrine which he built for himself. A man of supreme
arrogance and self-righteousness."

"Sad, indeed--" mused the monk.

"Our thoughts were pagan, drifting back to the days when the world was
peopled with sylvan creatures--with the deities of field and stream--"

"Mere heathen dreams," interposed the monk. "Go on! Go on!"

"I then felt within myself the impulse to throw forth a minstrelsy
prophetic of a new world resembling that old which had vanished. It was
not to be a mere chant of wrath or exultation--it was to sound the joy
of the earth, of the air, of the sun, of the moon and the stars,--the
song of the birds, the perfume of the flowers--"

"Words that have but little meaning left in this stern world wherein we
dwell--"

"They had meaning for me, father. Also for her. They were to both of
us a bright and mystical ideal, in the fumes of which we steeped our
souls,--our very selves, till our natures seemed to know no hurt,
seemed incapable of evil--"

"Alas--the greater the pity!"

"I was sure of myself. She was sure of me. I loved her. Her presence
was to me as some intoxication of the soul--some rare perfume that
captivates the senses, raising the spirit to heights too rarefied for
breath--"

"And you fell?"

The words came from the monk's lips, slowly, inexorably, as the knell
of fate.

"I--all, but fell!" stammered Tristan. "One day in a chamber far
removed from the inhabited part of the castle we sat and read. And
suddenly she laid her face close to mine and with eyes in whose mystic
depths lurked something more than I had ever seen in them before asked
why, through Fate's high necessity, two should forever wander side by
side, longing for each other--their longing unsatisfied--when the hour
was theirs--"

Again Tristan paused.

The monk regarded him in silence.

"You fell?" the question came again.

"In that moment, father, I was no more myself, no more the one whose
art is sacred and alone upon the mountain summit of his soul. Its
freedom and aspirations were no more. I was undone, a tumbled, wingless
thing. My pride had fled. Long, long I looked into her eyes, and when
she put her wonderful white arms about me, I, in a dizzy moment of
desire, dropped my face to hers. Then was love all uttered. Straightway
I arose. I clasped her in my arms. I kissed--I kissed her--"

The monk regarded him sternly, yet not unkindly.

"It was a sin. Yet--there is more?"

Tristan's hands were clasped.

"One evening in the rose garden--at dusk--the evening on which she sent
me from her--bade me go to Rome to obtain forgiveness for a sin of
which I could not repent."

The monk nodded. "Go on! Go on!"

"The world had fallen away from us. We stood in a grove, our arms about
each other. Suddenly I saw a face. I withdrew my arm, overwhelmed by
all the shame of guilt. The face vanished and, passion overmastering
once more, we touched our lips anew. It was the last time we were to
see each other. I left behind the wondrous silken hair my hands had
touched in our last mad caress. I left behind that tender face and
form. She made no attempt to follow, or to call me back. I hastened
to my chamber, and there I fought anew with all that evil impulse of
my youth, to face the shame, as long as joy endured. If I had sinned
in mind against my high ideal might I not some day recover it and be
purified?"

"What of God and Holy Church?" queried the monk.

"To them I gave no heed, but to my honor. This upheld me."

The monk gave a nod.

"I left Avalon. It seemed as if without her my life were ebbing away. I
joined a pilgrim party, and now my pilgrimage is ended. What must I do
to still this inward craving that will not leave my soul at peace?"

He ended in a sob.

The monk had relapsed into deep thought, and Tristan's eyes were
riveted on the ascetic form in silent dread, as to what would be the
verdict.

At last Odo broke the heavy silence.

"You have committed a grievous sin--adultery--nay, speak not!" he said,
as Tristan attempted to remonstrate against the dire accusation. "The
seed of every act slumbers in the mind ere its pernicious shoots are
manifest in deeds. He who looks upon a woman with the desire to possess
her has already committed adultery with her. Yet--not one in a thousand
would have done so nobly under such temptation!"

The monk's voice betrayed some feeling as he placed his hand on
Tristan's bowed head.

"I shall consider what penances are most fit for one who has
transgressed as you have, my son. It is for your future life--perchance
Holy Orders--"

Tristan raised his head imploringly.

"Not that, father,--not that! I am not fit!"

The monk regarded him quizzically.

"The lust of the eye is mighty and the fever of the world still burns
in your veins, my son, rebelling against the passion that chastens and
purifies. Nevertheless, the Church desires no enforced service. She
wishes to be served through love, not with aversion and fear. Continue
to do penance, implore His forgiveness, and that He may take from you
this worldly desire."

Kissing anew the hand which the monk extended, Tristan arose, after Odo
had made upon him the holy sign.

"I shall obey your behest," he said in a low, broken voice, then
withdrew, while the Monk of Cluny returned to his former pursuit,
unconscious that another had witnessed and overheard the strange
confession from a recess in the wall.

As one in a trance Tristan left the Monk of Cluny, his heart filled
with gratitude for the man who, in the midst of a world of strife and
unrest, had listened to his tale and had not dealt harshly with him,
but had received him sympathetically, even while rebuking the offence.
While the penances imposed upon him were not severe, Tristan chafed
nevertheless under the restraint they laid upon his soul.

What was his future life to be? What new vistas would open before him?
What new impressions would superimpose themselves upon the memories of
the past--the memory of Hellayne?

As he passed the church of Santa Maria of the Aventine, Tristan saw
the portals open. Puzzled over the problems he was face in the days to
come, he entered the dim shadows of the sanctuary.

All that night Tristan knelt in solitary prayer.

The great church was empty and silent, unlit save for the lamp upon the
altar. There Tristan kept his vigil, his tired, tearful eyes upon the
crucifixion, searching his own heart.

The night of silence brought him no vision and shed no light upon his
path. The pale dawn found him still upon his knees before the altar,
his eyes upon the drooping form of the crucified Christ.

Thus the monks found him when they entered for early Matins. At last he
arose, in his sombre eyes a touching resignation and infinite regret.

END OF BOOK THE FIRST



BOOK THE SECOND



CHAPTER I

THE GRAND CHAMBERLAIN


Castel San Angelo, the Tomb of the Flavian Emperor, seemed rather to
have been built for a great keep, a breakwater as it were to stem the
rush of barbarian seas which were wont to come storming down from
the frozen north, than for the resting-place of the former master
of the world. Its constructors had aimed at nothing less than its
everlastingness. So thick were its bastioned walls, so thick the
curtains which divided its inner and outer masonry, that no force of
nature seemed capable of honeycombing or weakening them.

Hidden within its screens and vaults, like the gnawings of a foul and
intricate cancer, ran dark passages which discharged themselves here
and there into dreadful dungeons, or secret places not guessed at in
the common tally of its rooms.

These oubliettes were hideous with blotched and spotted memories,
rotten with the dew of suffering, eloquent in their terror and
corruption and darkness of the cruelty which turned to these walls for
security. The hiss and purr of subterranean fires, the grinding of low,
grated jaws, the flop and echo of stagnant water that oozed from a
stagnant inner moat into vermin-swarming, human-haunted cellars: these
sounds spoke even less of grief than the hellish ferment in the souls
of those who had lorded it in this keep since the fall of the Western
Empire.

On this night there hung an air of menace about the Mausoleum of the
Flavian Emperor which seemed enhanced by the roar and clatter of
the tempest that raged over the seven-hilled city. Snaky twists of
lightning leaped athwart the driving darkness, and deafening peals of
thunder reverberated in deep, booming echoes through the inky vault of
the heavens.

In one of the upper chambers of the huge granite pile, which seemed to
defy the very elements, in a square room, dug out of the very rock,
containing but one window that appeared as a deep wedge in the wall,
piercing to the sheer flank of the tower, there sat, brooding over a
letter he held in his hand, Basil, the Grand Chamberlain.

The drowsy odor of incense, smouldering in the little purple shrine
lamp, robbed the air of its last freshness.

A tunic of dark velvet, fur bound and girt with a belt of finest
Moorish steel, was relieved by an undervest of deepest crimson. Woven
hose to match the tunic ended in crimson buskins of soft leather. The
mantle and the skull cap which he had discarded lay beside him on the
floor, guarded by a tawny hound of the ancient Molossian breed.

By the fitful light of the two waxen tapers, which flickered dismally
under the onslaught of the elements, the inmate of the chamber slowly
and laboriously deciphered the letter. Then he placed it in his
doublet, lapsing into deep rumination, as one who is vainly seeking to
solve a problem that defies solution.

Rising at last from his chair Basil paced the narrow confines of the
chamber, whose crimson walls seemed to form a fitting background for
the dark-robed occupant.

Outside, the storm howled furiously, flinging gusty dashes of rain and
hail against the stone masonry and clattering noisily with every blow
inflicted upon the solid rock.

When, spent by its own fury, the hurricane abated for a moment, the
faint sound of a bell tolling the Angelus could be heard whimpering
through the night.

When Basil had left Theodora after their meeting at the palace, there
had been a darker light in his eyes, a something more ominous of evil
in his manner. While his passion had utterly enslaved him, making
him a puppet in the hands of the woman whose boundless ambition must
inevitably lead her either to the heights of the empire whereof she
dreamed, or to the deepest abyss of hell, Basil was far from being
content to occupy a position which made him merely a creature of her
will and making. To mount the throne with the woman whose beauty had
set his senses aflame, to rule the city of Rome from the ramparts of
Castel San Angelo, as Ugo of Tuscany by the side of Marozia, this was
the dream of the man who would leave no stone unturned to accomplish
the ambition of his life.

In an age where certain dark personalities appeared terribly sane to
their contemporaries, their occult dealings with powers whose existence
none questioned must have seemed terribly real to themselves and to
those who gazed from afar. When the mad were above the sane in power,
and beyond the reach of observation, there was no limit to their
baleful activity.

Basil, from the early days of his youth, had lived in a world of evil
spirits, imaginary perhaps for us, but real enough for those who might
at any moment be at his mercy. Stimulating his mad desire with the
potent drug which the Saracens had brought with them from the scented
East, he pushed his hashish-born imaginings to the very throne of
Evil. His ambition, which was boundless, and centred in the longed for
achievement of a hope too stupendous even for thought, had intimately
connected him with those whose occult researches put them outside the
pale of the Church, and the power he wielded in the shadowy world of
demons was as unchallenged as that which he felt himself wielding in
the tangible world of men.

Among the people there was no end to the dark stories of magic and
poison, some of them real enough, that were whispered about him, and
many a belated rambler looked with a shudder up to the light that
burned in a chamber of his palace on the Pincian Hill till the wee,
small hours of the night. Had he been merely a practitioner of the
Black Arts he would probably long since have ended his career in the
dungeons of Castel San Angelo. But he was safe enough as one of the
great ones of the world, the confidant of the Senator of Rome; safe,
because he was feared and because none dared to oppose his baleful
influence.

Basil pondered, as if the solution of the problem in his mind had at
last presented itself, but had again left him, unsatisfied, in the
throes of doubt and fear.

Rising from his seat he again unfolded the letter and peered over its
contents.

"Can we regain the door by which we have entered?" he soliloquized.
"Can we conquer the phantom that haunts the silent chambers of the
brain? Were it an eye, or a hand, I could pluck it off. However, if I
cannot strangle it, I can conquer it! Shall it forever blot the light
of heaven from my path? Shall I forever suffer and tremble at this
impalpable something--this shade from the abyss--of hell--that is
there--yet not there?"

He paused for a moment in his perambulation, gazing through the narrow
unglazed window into the storm-tossed night without. Now and then a
flash of lightning shot athwart the inky darkness, lighting up dark
recesses and deep embrasures. The sullen roar of the thunder seemed to
come from the bowels of the earth.

And as the Grand Chamberlain walked, as if driven by some invisible
demon, the great Molossian hound followed him about with a stealthy,
noiseless gait, raising its head now and then as if silently inquiring
into its master's mood.

When at length he reseated himself, the huge hound cowered at his feet
and licked its huge paws.

The mood of the woman for whom his lust-bitten soul yearned as it had
never yearned for anything on earth, her words of disdain, which had
scorched his very brain, and, above all, the knowledge that she read
his inmost thoughts, had roused every atom of evil within his soul.
This state of mind was accentuated by the further consideration that
she, of all women whom he had sent to their shame and death, was not
afraid of him. She had even dared to hint at the existence of a rival
who might indeed, in time, supersede him, if he were not wary.

For some time Basil had been vaguely conscious of losing ground in the
favor of the woman whom no man might utterly trust save to his undoing.
The rivalry of Roxaná, who, like her tenth-century prototypes, was but
too eager to enter the arena for Marozia's fateful inheritance, had
poured oil on the flames when Theodora had learned that the Senator
of Rome himself was frequenting her bowers, and she was not slow to
perceive the agency that was at work to defeat and destroy her utterly.

By adding ever new fuel to the hatred of the two women for each other
Basil hoped to clear for himself a path that would carry him to the
height of his aspirations, by compelling Theodora to openly espouse
him her champion. Sooner or later he knew they would ignite under each
other's taunts, and upon the ruins of the conflagration he hoped to
build his own empire, with Theodora to share with him the throne.

Alberic had departed for the shrines of the Archangel at Monte Gargano.
Intent upon the purification of the Church and upon matters pertaining
to the empire, he was an element that needed hardly be reckoned with
seriously. A successful coup would hurl him into the dungeons of his
own keep, perchance, by some irony of fate, into the very cell where
Marozia had so mysteriously and ignominiously ended her career. Once
in possession of the Mausoleum, the Germans and Dalmatians bought and
bribed, he would be the master--unless--

Suddenly the huge beast at his feet raised its muzzle, sniffing the air
and uttering a low growl.

A moment later Maraglia, the Castellan of Castel San Angelo, entered
through a winding passage.

"What brings you here at this hour, with your damned butcher's face?"
Basil turned upon the newcomer who had paused when his gaze fell upon
the Molossian.

The brutal features of Maraglia looked ghastly enough in the flickering
light of the tapers and Basil's temper seemed to deepen their ashen
pallor.

"My lord--it is there again,--in the lower gallery--near the cell where
the Lady Marozia was strangled--"

"By all the furies of Hell! Since when are you in the secrets of the
devil?"

"Since I held the noose, my Lord Basil," replied the warden of the
Emperor's Tomb doggedly. "Though I knew not at the time whose breath
was being shortened. It was all too dark--a night just like this--"

"Perchance your memory, going back to that hour, has retained something
more than the mere surmise," Basil glowered from under the dark,
straight brows. "How many were there?"

"There were three--all masked, my lord. But their voices were their
own--"

"You possess a keen ear, my man, as one, accustomed to dark deeds and
passages, well should," Basil interposed sardonically. "Deem you, in
your undoubted wisdom, the lady has returned and is haunting her former
abode? Once upon a time she was not wont to abide in estate so lowly.
And, they say, she was beautiful--even to her death."

"And well they may," Maraglia interposed. "I saw her but twice. When
she came, and before she died."

"Before she died?"

"And the look she bent upon him who led the execution," Maraglia
continued thoughtfully. "She spoke not once. Dumb and silent she went
to the fishes. When the Lord Alberic arrived, it was all too late--"

"All too late!" Basil interposed sardonically. "The fishes too were
dumb. Profit by their example, Maraglia. Too much wisdom engenders
death."

"The death rattle of one sounds to my ears just like that of another,
my lord," Maraglia replied, quaking under the look that was upon him.
"And the voices of the few who still abide are growing weaker day by
day."

"They shall not much longer annoy your delicate ears," Basil replied.
"The Senator who has found this abode somewhat too draughty has
departed for the holy shrines, to do penance for the death of his
mother. He suspects all was not well. He would know more. Perchance the
Archangel may grant him a revelation. Meanwhile, we must to work. The
new captain appointed by the Senator enters his service on the morrow.
A holy man, much given to contemplation over the mysteries of love. His
attention must be diverted. Every trace of life must be extinct--this
very night. No proofs must be allowed to remain. Meanwhile, what of the
apparition whereof you rave?"

"It is there, my lord, as sure as my soul lives," replied the
castellan. "A shapeless something, preceded by a breath, cold as from a
newly dug grave."

"A shapeless something, say you? Whence comes it and where goes it? For
whose diversion does it perambulate?"

"The astrologer monk perchance who improvises prophecies."

"Then let his improvising damn himself," replied Basil sullenly. "To
call himself inspired and pretend to read the stars! How about his
prophecy now?"

"He holds to it!"

"What! That I have less than one month to live?"

"Just that--no more!"--

Basil gave the speaker a quick glance.

"What niggardly dispensation and presumption withal! This fellow to
claim kinship with the stars! To profess to be in their confidence, to
share the secrets of the heavens while he is smothered by darkness,
utter and everlasting. The heavens mind you, Maraglia! My star! It is a
star of darker red than Mars and crosses Hell--not Heaven! In thought I
watch it every night with sleepless eyes. Is it not well to cleanse the
earth of such lying prophets that truth may have standing room? Where
have you lodged him?"

"In the Hermit's cell--"

"Well done! Thereby he shall prove his asceticism. Let practised
abstinence save him in such a pass! He shall eat his words--an
everlasting banquet. A fat astrologer--by the token--as I hear, was he
not?"

"He was fat when he entered."

"Wretch! Would you starve him? Remember the worms and the fishes--your
friends. Would you cheat them? Hath he foretold his end?"

"Ay--by starvation."

"He lies! You shall take him in extremis and, with your knife in his
throat, give him the lie. An impostor proved. What of the night?"

"It rains and thunders."

"Why should we mind rain and thunder? Lead me to this madman, and,
incidentally, to this phantom that keeps him company. Why do you gape,
Maraglia? Move on! I follow!"

Maraglia was ill at ease, but he dared not disobey. Taking up one
of the candles, he led the way, trembling, his face ashen, his teeth
chattering, as if in the throes of a chill.

Through a panel door in the wall they descended a winding stairway,
leaving the dog behind. The flight conducted them to a private postern,
well secured and guarded inside and out. As they issued from this the
howl of blown rain met and staggered them. Looking up at the cupola of
basalt from the depths of that well of masonry, it seemed to crack and
split in a rush of fusing stars. Basil's mad soul leapt to the call
of the hour. He was one with this mighty demonstration of nature. His
brain danced and flickered with dark visions of power. He appeared to
himself as an angel, a destroying angel, commissioned from on high to
purge the world of lies.

"Take me to this monk!" he screamed through the thunder.

Deep in the foundation of the northeastern crypts the miserable
creature was embedded in a stone chamber as utterly void and empty as
despair. The walls, the floor, the roof were all chiselled as smooth as
glass. There was not a foothold anywhere even for a cat, neither door,
nor traps, nor egress, nor window of any kind save where, just under
the ceiling, the grated opening by which he had been lowered, admitted
by day a haggard ghost of light. And even that wretched solace was
withdrawn as night fell, became a phantom, a diluted whisp of memory,
sank like water into the blackness, and left the fancy suddenly naked
in the self-consciousness of hell. Then the monk screamed like a madman
and threw himself towards the flitting spectre. He fell on the smooth
surface of the polished rock and bruised his limbs horribly. Yet the
very pain was a saving occupation. He struck his skull and revelled in
the agonizing dance of lights the blow procured him. But one by one
they blew out; and in a moment dead negation had him by the throat
again, rolling him over and over, choking him under enormous slabs of
darkness. Gasping, he cursed his improvidence, in not having glued his
vision to the place of the light's going. It would have been something
gained from madness to hold and gloat upon it, to watch hour by hour
for its feeble redawn. Among all the spawning monstrosities of that
pit, with only the assured prospect of a lingering death before him,
the prodigy of eternal darkness quite overcrowded that other of thirst
or starvation.

Yet the black gloom broke, it would seem, before its due. Had he
annihilated time and was this death? He rose rapturously to his feet
and stood staring at the grating, the tears gushing down his sunken
cheeks. The bars were withdrawn, in their place a dim lamp was intruded
and a face looked down.

"Barnabo--are you hungry and a-thirst?"

The voice spoke to him of life. It was the name he had borne in the
world and he wondered who from that world could be addressing him.

He answered quaveringly.

"Of a truth, I am hungry and a-thirst."

"It is a beatitude," replied the voice suavely. "You shall have your
fill of justice."

"Justice!" screamed the prisoner. "I fear it is but an empty phrase."

"Comfort yourself," said the other. "I shall make a full measure of it!
It shall bubble and sparkle to the brim like a goblet of Cyprian. Know
you the wine, monk? A cool fragrant liquid, that gurgles down the arid
throat and brings visions of green meadows and sparkling brooks--"

"I ask no mercy," cried the monk, falling on his knees and stretching
out his lean arms. "Only make an end of it--of this hellish torment."

"Torment?" came the voice from above. "What torment is there in the
vision of the wine cup--or, for that matter, a feast on groaning tables
under the trees? Are you not rich in experiences, Barnabo,--both of
the board and of love? Remember the hours when she lay in your arms,
innocent, save of original sin? Ah! Could she see you now, Barnabo--how
you have changed! No more the elegant courtier that wooed Theodora ere
despair drove you to don the penitential garb and, like Balaam's ass,
to raise your voice and prophesy! Deem you--as fate has thrown her into
these arms of mine--memory will revive the forgotten joys of the days
of long ago?"

"Mercy--demon!" gasped the monk. His swollen throat could hardly shape
the words.

Basil laughed and bent lower.

"Answer me then--you who boast of being inspired from above--you
who listen to the music of the spheres in the dead watches of the
night--tell me then, you man of God--how long am I to live?"

"Monster, relieve me of your sight!" shrieked the unhappy wretch.

"It is the light," mocked Basil. "The light from above. Raise your
voice, monk, and prophesy. You who would hurl the anathema upon Basil,
the Grand Chamberlain, who arrogated to yourself the mission to
purge the universe and to summon me--me--before the tribunal of the
Church--tell me, you, who aspired to take to his bed the spouse of the
devil, till the white lightnings of her passion seared and blasted your
carcass,--tell me--how long am I to live?"

An inarticulate shriek came from within.

"By justice--till the dead rise from their graves."

"Live forever--on an empty phrase?" Basil mocked. "Are you, too,
provisioned for eternity?"

He held out his hand as if he were offering the starving wretch food.

The monk fell on his knees. His lips moved, but no sound was audible.

"Perchance he hath a vision," Basil turned to Maraglia who stood
sullenly by.

"Oh, dull this living agony."

"How long am I to live?"

"Now, hear me, God," screamed the monk. "Let not this man ever again
know surcease from torment in bed, at board, in body or in mind. Let
his lust devour him, let the worm burrow in his entrails, the maggot in
his brain! May death seize and damnation wither him at the moment when
he is nearest the achievement of his fondest hopes!"

Basil screamed him down.

An uncontrollable terror had seized him.

"Silence, beast, or I shall strangle you!"

"Libertine, traitor, assassin--may heaven's lightnings blast you--"

For a moment the two battled in a war of screeching blasphemy.

At the next moment the grate was flung into place, the light whisked
and vanished, a door slammed and the Stygian blackness of the cell
closed once more upon the moaning heap in its midst.

Basil's eyes gleamed like live coals as he turned to Maraglia, who,
quaking and ashen, was babbling a prayer between white lips.

"Make an end of him!" he snarled. "He has lived too long. And now, in
the devil's name, lead the way above!"

A flash of lightning that seemed to rend the very heavens illumined for
a moment the dark and tortuous passage, its sheen reflected through
the narrow port-holes on the blackness of the walls. It was followed
by a peal of thunder so terrific that it shook the vast pile of the
Emperor's Tomb to its foundations, clattering and roaring, as if a
thousand worlds had been rent in twain.

Maraglia, who had preceded the Grand Chamberlain with the taper,
uttered a wild shriek of terror, dropped the light, causing it to be
extinguished and his fleeting steps carried him down a night-wrapped
gallery as fast as his limbs would carry him, utterly indifferent to
Basil's fate in the Stygian gloom.

Paralyzed with terror, the Grand Chamberlain stared into the inky
blackness. For a moment it had seemed to him as if a breath from an
open grave had indeed been wafted to his nostrils.

But it was neither the thunder, nor the lightning, neither the swish of
the rain nor the roar of the hurricane, that had prompted Maraglia's
outcry and precipitate flight and his abject terror, as we shall see.



CHAPTER II

THE CALL OF EBLIS


In the lurid flash that had illumined the gallery, lighting up rows of
cells and deep recesses, Basil had seen, as if risen from the floor,
a black, indefinable shape, wrapped in a long black mantle, the hood
of which was drawn over its face. Through its slits gleamed two eyes,
like live coals. Of small stature and apparently great age, the bent
apparition supported itself by a crooked staff, the fleshless fingers
barely visible under the cover of the ample sleeve, and resembling the
claws of some bird of prey.

At last the terror which the uncanny apparition inspired changed to its
very counterpart, as, defiance in his tone, the Grand Chamberlain made
a forward step.

"Who goes there?--Friend or foe of the Lord Basil?"--

His voice sounded strange in his own ears.

A gibbering response quavered out of the gloom.

"What matters friend or foe as long as you grasp the tenure of power?"

Basil breathed a sigh of relief.

"I ought to know that voice. You are Bessarion?"

"I have waited long," came the drawling reply.

There was a pause brief as the intake of a breath.

"What do you demand?"--

"You shall know in time."

"In time comes death!"

"And more!"

"It is the hour that calls!"

"Are you prepared?"

"Show me what you can do!"

"For this I am here! Are you afraid?"

The air of mockery in the questioner's tone cut the speaker to the
quick.

In the intermittent flashes of lightning Basil saw the shapeless form
cowering before him in the dusk of the gallery, barring the way. But
again it mingled quickly with the darkness.

"Of whom?" Basil queried.

There was another pause.

"Of the Presence!"

"That craven hound Maraglia has upset the light," muttered Basil. "I
cannot see you."

"Can you not feel my presence?" came the gibbering reply.

"Even so!"

"Know you what high powers of night control your life--what dark-winged
messengers of evil fly about you?"

"Your words make my soul flash like a thunder cloud."

"And yet does your power stand firm?"

"It rests on deep dug dungeons, where the light of heaven does not
intrude. I spread such fear in men's white hearts as the craven have
never known."

A faint chuckle came in reply.

"Only last night I saw you in the magic crystal sphere in which I read
the dire secrets of Fate. Above your head flew evil angels. Beneath
your horse's hoofs a corpse-strewn path."

"The time is not yet ripe."

"Time does not wait for him who waits to dare."

An evil light flashed from Basil's eyes.

"What can you do?"

Response came as from the depths of a grave.

"I shall conjure such shapes from the black caves of fear as have not
ventured forth since madness first began to prowl among the human race,
when the torturing dusk drowns every helpless thing in livid waves of
shadow. It is the spirit of your sire that draws the evil legions to
you."

Basil straightened in surprise.

"What know you of him?" he exclaimed. "Dull prayers and fasts and
penances, not such freaks as this, were the only things he thought of."

From the cowled form came a hiss.

"Fool! Not that grunting and omnivorous swine who took the cowl, begat
you! Your veins run with fiery evil direct from its fountainhead. No,
no,--not he!"

"Not he?" shrieked the Grand Chamberlain. "If I am not his progeny,
then whose?"

"Some mighty lord's."

"The Duke of Beneventum?"

"One greater yet."

"King Berengar?"

"One adored by him as his liege."

"Ha! I guess it now! It was Otto the Great, he whose fury gored the
heart of the Romans."

"One greater still."

"Earth hath no greater lord."

"Is there not heaven above and hell below? Your sire rules the millions
who have donned fear's stole forever. He is lord of lords, where all
the lips implore and none reply."

A flash of lightning gleamed through the gallery.

A shadow passed over Basil's countenance, like a swift sailing cloud.

Darkness supervened, impenetrable, sepulchral.

"Well may you cower," gibbered the shape in its inexorable monotone.
"For you came into this life among the death-fed mushrooms that grow
where murder rots. The moon-struck wolves howled for three nights, and
ill-omened birds flapped for three days around the tower where she who
gave you life breathed her last."

A fitful muttering as of souls in pain seemed to pervade the
night-wrapped galleries, with sultry storm gusts breathing inarticulate
evil. No light save the white flash of the lightning revealed now and
then the uncanny form of the speaker. The smell of rotting weeds came
through the crevices of the wall.

When Basil, spell-bound, found no tongue, the dark shape continued:

"Wrapped in midnight's cloak, nine witches down in the castle moat sang
a baptismal hymn of horror as you saw the light. As mighty brazen wings
sounded the roaring of the tempest-churned seas. And above you stood
he who holds the keys to thought's dark chambers, he in whose ranks
the sullen angels serve, whose shadowy dewless wings cast evil on the
world. And I am he whose palace rings with the eternal Never!"

Frozen with terror Basil listened.

The thunder growled ever louder. A vampire's bark stabbed the darkness;
the shriek of witches rose above the tempest, there was a rattling of
bones as if skeletons were rising from their graves. All round the
Emperor's Tomb the ghouls were prowling, and the soulless corpses were
as restless as the fleshless souls that whimpered and moaned in the
night. Giant bats flew to and fro like evil spirits. The great peals
shook the huge pile from vault to summit. The running finger of the
storm scribbled fiery, cabalistical zigzags on the firmament's black
page. And in every peal, louder and louder as the echoes spread, Basil
seemed to hear his name shrieked by the weird powers of darkness, till,
half mad with terror, he cried:

"Away! Away! Your presence flings dark glare like glowing lava--"

"I come across the night," replied the voice, "ere death has made you
mine! Deserve the doom that is prepared for those who do my bidding.
You have shot into my heart a ray of blackest light--"

Basil held out his hands, as if to ward off some unseen assailant.

"Whirl back into the night--" he shrieked, but the voice resumed,
mocking and gibbering.

"Only a coward will shrink from the dreadful boundaries between things
of this earth and things beyond this earth. I have sought you by night
and by day--as fiercely as any of those athirst pant round hell's mock
springs! In the great vaults of wrath, in the sleepless caverns, whose
eternal darkness is only lighted by pools of molten stone that bathe
the lost, where, in the lurid light, the shadows dance--I sit and
watch the lakes of torment, taciturn and lone. I summon you to earthly
power--to the fulfillment of all your heart desires!"--

The voice ceased. All the elements of hell seemed to roar and shriek
around the battlemented walls.

There was a pause during which Basil regained his composure.

At last the dread shadow was looming across his path. An undefined awe
crept over him, such as dark chasms instill; an awe at his own self.
He would fain have been screened from his own substance. By degrees he
welcomed the tidings with a dark rapture. In himself lay the substance
of Evil. It was not the Angel of Light that ruled the reeling universe.
It was the shadow of Eblis looming dark and terrible over the lives of
men. Long before he had ever guessed what rills of flaming Phlegethon
ran riot in his veins, had he not felt his pulses swell with joy at
human pain, had he not played the fiend untaught? Could not the
Fiend, as well as God, live incarnate in human clay? Was not the earth
the meeting ground of Heaven and Hell? And why should not he, Basil,
defying Heaven, be Hell's incarnation?--

Ay--but the day of death and the day of reckoning! Would his parentage
entail eternal fire, or princely power and sway in the dark vaults of
nameless terror? Should he quail or thrill with awful exaltation?

"And--in return for that which I offer up--King of the dark red
glare--will you give to me what I crave--boundless power and the woman
for which my soul is on fire?"

"Have you the courage to snatch them from the talons of Fate?" came
back the gibbering reply.

A blinding flash of lightning was succeeded by an appalling crash of
thunder.

"From Hell itself!" shrieked Basil frenzied. "Give me Theodora and I
will fill the cup of torture that I have seized on your shadowy altars,
and quaff your health at the terrific banquet board of Evil in toasts
of torment--in wine of boundless pain!"

In the quickly succeeding flashes of lightning the dark form seemed to
rise and to expand.

"I knew you would not fail me! Come!"

For a moment Basil hesitated, fingering the hilt of his poniard.

"Where would you lead me?" he queried, his tone far from steady. "How
many of these twilights must I traverse before I see him whom you
serve?"

"That you shall know to-night!"

In the deep and frozen silence which succeeded the terrible peals of
thunder their retreating footsteps died to silence in the labyrinthine
galleries of the Emperor's Tomb.

Only the dog-headed Anubis seemed to stare and nod mysteriously.



CHAPTER III

THE CRYSTAL SPHERE


Outwardly and in daylight there was nothing noticeable about the sixth
house in the Lane of the Sclavonians in Trastevere beyond the fact that
it was a dwelling of a superior kind to those immediately surrounding
it, which were chiefly ill-favored cottages of fishermen and boatmen,
and had about it an air of almost sombre retirement.

It stood alone within a walled court, containing a few shrubs. The
windows were few, high and narrow, and the front bore a rather
forbidding appearance. One ascending to the flat roof would have found
it to command on the left a desolate view of a square devoted to
executions, and on the right a scarcely more cheerful prospect over the
premises belonging to the convent of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Had
the visitor been farther able to penetrate into the principal chamber
of the first floor, on the night of the scene about to be related, he
might indeed have found himself well repaid for his trouble.

This chamber, which was of considerable size and altogether devoid of
windows, being lighted during the daytime by a skylight, carefully
blinded from within, was now duskily illumined by a transparent device
inlaid into the end wall and representing the beams of the rising moon
gleaming from a sky of azure. The extremity of the room, which fronted
the symbol, was semi-circular and occupied by a narrow table, before
which moved a tall, shadowy form that paused now and then before a
fire of fragrant sandal wood, which burned in a brazen tripod, passing
his fingers mechanically, as it would seem, through the bluish flame.
In its unsteady flicker the strange figures on the walls, which had
defied the decree of Time, seemed to nod fantastically when touched by
a fitful ray.

This was Hormazd, the Persian, the former confidant and counsellor of
Marozia, in the heyday of her glory. In those days he had held forth
in a turret chamber on the summit of Castel San Angelo, where he would
read the stars and indulge his studies in the black arts to his heart's
content. Driven forth by Alberic, after Marozia's fall, the Persian had
taken up his abode in the Trastevere, where he continued to serve those
who came to him for advice, or on business that shunned the light of
day.

Now and then the Oriental bent his tall, spare form over a huge tome
which lay open upon the table, the inscrutable, ascetic countenance
with the deep, brilliant eyes seemingly plunged in deep, engrossing
thought, but in reality listening intently, as for the approach of some
belated caller.

The soft patter of hurried footsteps on the floor of the corridor
without soon rewarded his attention. The rustle of a woman's silken
garments caused him to give a start of surprise. A heavy curtain was
raised and she glided noiselessly into his presence.

The woman's face was covered with a silken vizor, but her coronet of
raven hair no less than the matchless figure, outlined against the
crimson glow, at once proclaimed her rank.

The first ceremony of silent greeting absolved, the Persian's visitor
permitted the black silken cloak which had enveloped her from head to
toe, to fall away, revealing a form exquisitely proportioned. The ivory
pallor of the throat, which rose like a marble column from matchless
shoulders, and the whiteness of the bare arms, seemed even enhanced by
the dusky background whose incense-laden pall seemed to oppress the
very walls.

"I am trusting you to-night with unreserved confidence," the woman
spoke in her rich, vibrant voice. "Many serve me from motives of
selfishness and fear. Do you serve me, because I trust you."

She laid her white hand frankly upon his arm and the Persian, isolated
above and below the strongest impulses of humanity, shivered under her
touch.

"What is it you desire?" he questioned after a pause.

"If you possess the knowledge with which the vulgar credit you," the
woman said slowly, not without an air of mockery in her tone, "I hardly
need reveal to you the motives which prompted this visit! You knew
them, ere I came, even as you knew of my coming!"

"You speak truly," said Hormazd slowly, now completely master of
himself. "For even to the hour it was revealed to me!"

The woman scanned him with a searching look.

"Yet I had confided in none!" she said musingly. "Tell me then who I
am!"

"You are Theodora!"

"When have we met before?"--

"Not in this life, but in a previous existence. Our souls touched then,
predestined to cross each other on a future plane."

She removed her silken vizor and faced him.

The dark eyes at once challenged and besought. No sculptor could have
chiselled those features on which a divinity had recklessly squandered
all it had to bestow for good or for evil. No painter could have
reproduced the face which had wrought such havoc in the hearts of men.

Like summer lightnings in a dark cloudbank, all the emotions of the
human soul seemed to have played therein and left it again, forging it
in the fires of passion, but leaving it more beautiful, more mysterious
than before.

The Oriental regarded her in silence, as she stood before him in the
flickering flame of the brazier.

"In some previous existence, you say?" she said with dreamy interest.
"Who was I then--and who were you?"

"Two driftless spirits on the driftless sea of eternity," he replied
calmly. "Foredoomed to continue our passage till our final destiny be
fulfilled."

"And this destiny is known to you?"

"Else I had watched in vain. But you--queen and sorceress--do you
believe in the message?"

She pondered.

"I believe," she said slowly, "that we make for ourselves the destiny
to which hereafter we must submit. I believe that some dark power can
foretell that destiny, and more--compel it!"--

Hormazd bowed ever so slightly. There was a dawning gleam of satire in
his brilliant eyes, a glimpse which was not lost on her.

Again the question came.

"What is it you desire?"

Theodora gave an inscrutable smile that imparted to her features a
singular softness and beauty, as a ray of sunlight falling on a dark
picture will brighten the tints with a momentary warmth of seeming life.

"I was told," she spoke slowly, as if trying to overcome an inward
dread, "that you are known in Rome chiefly as being the possessor of
some mysterious internal force which, though invisible, is manifest to
all who place themselves under your spell! Is it not so?"

The Persian bowed slightly.

"It may be that I have furnished the Romans with something to talk
about besides the weather; that I have made a few friends, and an
amazing number of enemies--"

"The latter argues in your favor," Theodora interposed. "They say,
furthermore, that by this same force you are enabled to disentangle the
knots of perplexity that burden the overtaxed brain."

Hormazd nodded again and the sinister gleam of his eyes did not escape
Theodora's watchful gaze.

"If this be so," the woman continued, "if you are not an impostor who
exhibits his tricks for the delectation of the rabble, or for sordid
gain--exert your powers upon me, for something, I know not what, has
frozen up the once overflowing fountain of life."

The Oriental regarded her intently.

"You have the wish to be deluded--even into an imaginary happiness?"

Theodora gave a start.

"You have expressed what I but vaguely hinted. It may be that I
am tired"--she passed her hand across her brow with a troubled
gesture--"or puzzled by some infinite distress of living things.
Perchance I am going mad--who knows? But, whatever the cause, you,
if report be true, possess the skill to ravish the mind away from
its trouble, to transport it to a radiant Elysium of illusions and
ecstasies. Do this for me, as you have done it for another, and,
whatever payment you demand, it shall be yours!"

She ceased.

Faintly through the silence came the chimes of convent bells from the
remote regions of the Aventine, pealing through the fragrant summer
night above the deep boom of distant thunder that seemed to come as
from the bowels of the earth.

Hormazd gave his interrogator a swift, searching glance, half of pity,
half of disdain.

"The great eastern drug should serve your turn," he replied
sardonically. "I know of no other means wherewith to stifle the voice
of conscience."

Theodora flushed darkly.

"Conscience?" she flashed in resentful accents.

The Persian nodded.

"There is such a thing. Do you profess to be without one?"

Theodora's eyes endeavored to pierce the inscrutable mask before her.
The ironical curtness of the question annoyed her.

"Your opinion of me does little honor to your wisdom," she said after a
pause.

"A foul wound festers equally beneath silk and sack-cloth," came the
dark reply.

"How know you that I desire relief from this imaginary malady?"

The Oriental gave a shrug.

"Why does Theodora come to the haunts of the Persian? Why does she ask
him to mock and delude her, as if it were his custom to make dupes of
those who appeal to him?"

"And are they not your dupes?" Theodora interposed, her face a deeper
pallor than before.

"Of that you shall judge after I have answered your questions," Hormazd
returned darkly. "There are but two things in life that will prompt a
woman like Theodora to seek aid of one like myself."--

"You arouse my curiosity!"

"Disappointment in power--or love!"

There was a silence.

"Will you help me?"

She was pleading now.

The Oriental sparred for time. It was not his purpose to commit himself
at once.

"I am but one who, long severed from the world, has long recognized
its vanities. My cures are for the body rather than the soul."

Theodora's face hardened into an expression of scorn.

"Am I to understand that you will do nothing for me?" she said in a
tone which convinced the Persian that the time for dallying was past.

The words came slowly from his lips.

"I can promise you neither self-oblivion nor visionary joys. I possess
an internal force, it is true, a force which, under proper control,
overpowers and subdues the material, and by exerting this I can, if
I think it well to do so, release your soul, that inner intelligence
which, deprived of its mundane matter, is yourself, from its house of
clay and allow it a brief interval of freedom. But--what in that state
its experience may be, whether joy or sorrow, I cannot foretell."

"Then you are not the master of the phantoms you evoke?"

"I am merely their interpreter!"

She looked at him steadfastly as if pondering his words.

"And you profess to be able to release the soul from its abode of clay?"

"I do not profess," he said quietly. "I can do so!"

"And with the success of this experiment your power ceases? You cannot
tell whether the imprisoned creature will take its course to the
netherworld of suffering, or a heaven of delight?"

"The liberated soul must shift for itself."

"Then begin your incantations," Theodora exclaimed recklessly. "Send
me, no matter where, so long as I escape from this den of the world,
this dungeon with one small window through which, with the death rattle
in our throats, we stare vacantly at the blank, unmeaning horror of
life. Prove to me that the soul you prattle of exists, and if mine can
find its way straight to the mainsprings of this revolving creation, it
shall cling to the accursed wheels and stop them, that they may grind
out the torture of life no more."

She stood there, dark, defiant, beautiful with the beauty of the fallen
angel. Her breath came and went quickly. She seemed to challenge some
invisible opponent.

The tall sinewy form by her side watched her as a physician might watch
in his patient the workings of a new disease, then Hormazd said in low
and tranquil tones:

"You are in the throes of your own overworked emotions. You are seeking
to obtain the impossible--"

"Why taunt me?" she flashed. "Cannot your art supply the secret in
whose quest I am?"

The Persian bowed, but kept silent.

Again, with the shifting mood, the rare, half-mournful smile shone in
Theodora's face.

"Though you may not be conscious of it," she said, laying her white
hand on his trembling arm, "something impels me to unburden my heart to
you. I have kept silence long."

Hormazd nodded.

"In the world one must always keep silence, veil one's grief and force
a smile with the rest. Is it not lamentable to think of all the pent-up
suffering, the inconceivably hideous agonies that remain forever
unrevealed? Youth and innocence--"

Theodora raised her arm.

"Was I ever--what they call--innocent?" she interposed musingly. "When
I was young--alas, how long it seems, though I am but thirty--the dream
of my life was love! Perchance I inherited it from my mother. She was a
Greek, and she possessed that subtle quality that can never die. What I
was--it matters not. What I am--you know!"

She raised herself to her full height.

"I long for power. Men are my puppets. And I long for love! I have
sought it in all shapes, in every guise. But I found it not. Only
disillusion--disappointment have been my share. Will my one desire be
ever fulfilled?"

"Some day you shall know," he said quietly, keeping his dark gaze upon
her.

"I doubt me not I shall! But--when and where? Tell me then, you who
know so much! When and where?"

Hormazd regarded her quizzically, but made no immediate reply.

After a time she continued.

"Some say you are the devil's servant! Show me then your power. Read
for me my fate!"

She looked at him with an air of challenge.

"It was not for this you came," the Persian said calmly, meeting the
gaze of those mysterious wells of light whose appeal none had yet
resisted whom she wished to bend to her desires.

The woman turned a shade more pale.

"Then call it a whim!"

"What will it avail?"

Her eyes flashed.

"My will against--that other."

A flash of lightning was reflected on the dark walls of the chamber.
The thunder rolled in grand sullen echoes down the heavens.

She heard it not.

"What are you waiting for?" she turned to Hormazd.

There was a note of impatience in her tone.

"You are of to-day--yet not of to-day! Not of yesterday, nor to-morrow.
To some in time comes love--"

"But to me?"

His voice sank to a frozen silence.

She stood, gazing at him steadily. She was very pale, but the smile of
challenge still lingered on her lips.

"But to me?" she repeated.

He regarded her darkly.

"To you? Who knows?--Some day--"

"Ah! When my fate has chanced! Are you a cheat then, like the rest?"

He was silent, as one in the throes of some great emotion. She took a
step towards him. He raised both hands as if to ward her off. His eyes
saw shapes and scenes not within the reach of other's ken.

"Tell me the truth," she said calmly. "You cannot deceive me!"

Hormazd sprinkled the cauldron with some white powder that seethed and
hissed as it came in contact with the glowing metal and began to emit a
dense smoke, which filled the interior of the chamber with a strange,
pungent odor.

Then he slowly raised one hand until it touched Theodora. Dauntless
in spirit, her body was taken by surprise, and as his clammy fingers
closed round her own she gave an involuntary start. With a compelling
glance, still in silence, he looked into her face.

A strange transformation seemed to take place.

She was no longer in the chamber, but in a grove dark with trees and
shrubbery. A dense pall seemed to obscure the skies. The atmosphere was
breathless. Even as she looked he was no longer there. Great clouds of
greenish vapor rolled in through the trees and enveloped her so utterly
as to shut out all vision. It was as if she were alone in some isolated
spot, far removed from the ken of man. She was conscious of nothing
save the insistent touch of his hand upon her arm.

Gradually, as she peered into the vapors, they seemed to condense
themselves into a definite shape. It was that of a man coming towards
her, but some invisible agency seemed ever to retard his approach. In
fact the distance seemed not to lessen, and suddenly she saw her own
self standing by, vainly straining her gaze into space, indescribable
longing in her eyes.

A flash of lightning that seemed to rend the vault of heaven was
followed by so terrific a peal of thunder that it seemed to shake the
very earth.

A shriek broke from Theodora's lips.

"It is he! It is he!" she cried pointing to the curtain. Hormazd
turned, hardly less amazed than the woman. He distinctly saw, in the
recurrent flash, a face, pale and brooding, framed by the darkness, of
which it seemed a part.

At the next moment it was gone, as if it had melted into air.

Theodora's whole body was numb, as if every nerve had been paralyzed.
The Persian was hardly less agitated.

"Is it enough?" she heard Hormazd's deep voice say beside her.

She turned, but, though straining her eyes, she could not see him. The
flame in the tripod had died down. She was trembling from head to foot.

But her invincible will was unshaken.

"Nay," she said, and her voice still mocked. "Having seen the man my
soul desires, I must know more. The end! I have not seen the end! Shall
I possess him? Speak!"

"Seek no more!" warned the voice by her side. "Seek not to know the
end!"

She raised herself defiantly.

"The end!"

He made no reply. She saw the white vapors forming into faces. The hour
and the place of the last vision were not clear. She saw but the man
and herself, standing together at some strange point, where time seemed
to count for naught.

Between them lay a scarf of blue samite.

After a protracted silence a moan broke from Theodora's lips.

The Persian took no heed thereof. He did not even seem to hear. But,
beneath those half-closed lids, not a movement of the woman escaped his
penetrating gaze. Though possessed with a vague assurance of his own
dark powers, controlled by his nerve and coolness, Hormazd could read
in that fair, inscrutable face far more than in the magic scrolls.

And as he scanned it now, from under half-shut lids, it was fixed and
rigid as marble, pale, too, with an unearthly whiteness. She seemed to
have forgotten his presence. She seemed to look into space, yet even as
he gazed, the expression of that wonderfully fair face changed.

Theodora's eyes were fierce, her countenance bore a rigid expression,
bright, cold, unearthly, like one who defies and subdues mortal pain.

The tools of love and ambition are sharp and double-edged, and Hormazd
knew it was safer to trust to wind and waves than to the whims of woman.

But already her mood had changed and her face had resumed its habitual
expression of inscrutable repose.

"Is it the gods or the devil who sway and torture us and mock at our
helplessness?" she turned to the Oriental, then, without waiting his
reply, she concluded with a searching glance that seemed to read his
very heart.

"Report speaks true of you. Unknowingly, unwittingly you have pointed
the way. Farewell!"

Long after she had disappeared Hormazd stared at the spot where her
swiftly retiring form had been engulfed by the darkness. Then, weighing
the purse, which she had left as an acknowledgment of his services, and
finding it sufficiently heavy to satisfy his avarice, the Persian stood
for a time wrapped in deep thoughts.

"That phantom at least I could not evoke!" he muttered to himself. "Who
dares to cross the path of Hormazd?"

The thunder seemed to answer, for a crash that seemed to split the
seven hills asunder caused the house to rock as with the force of an
earthquake.

With a shudder the Persian extinguished the fire in the brazier and
retreated to his chamber, while outside thunder and lightning and rain
lashed the summer night with the force of a tropical hurricane.



CHAPTER IV

PERSEPHONÉ


It was not Tristan's other self, conjured by the Persian from the
mystic realms of night which Theodora had seen outlined against the
dark curtain that screened the entrance into the Oriental's laboratory.
The object of her craving had, indeed, been present in the body,
seeking in the storm that suddenly lashed the city the shelter of an
apparently deserted abode. Thus he had unwittingly strayed into the
domain of the astrologer, finding the door of his abode standing ajar
after Theodora had entered.

A superstition which was part and parcel of the Persian's character,
caused the latter to regard the undesired presence in the same light
as did Theodora, the more so as, for the time, it served his purpose,
although, when the woman had departed, he was puzzled no little over
a phenomenon which his skill could not have conjured up. Tristan had
precipitately retreated, so soon as the woman's outcry had reached his
ear, convinced that he had witnessed some unholy incantation which must
counteract the effect of the penances he had just concluded and during
the return from which the tempest had overtaken him.

Thoroughly drenched he arrived at the Inn of the Golden Shield and
retired forthwith, wondering at the strange scene which he had
witnessed and its import.

Tristan arose early on the following day.

On the morrow he was to enter the service of the Senator of Rome, who
had departed on his pilgrimage to the shrines of Monte Gargano.

Tristan resolved to make the most of his time, visiting the sanctuaries
and fitly preparing himself to be worthy of the trust which Alberic had
reposed in him. Yet his thoughts were not altogether of the morrow.
Once again memory wandered back to the sunny days in Provence, to the
rose garden of Avalon, and to one who perchance was walking alone in
the garden, along the flower-bordered paths where he had found and lost
his greatest happiness.--

Persephoné meanwhile had not been idle. It pleased her for once to
propitiate her mistress, and through her own spies she had long been
informed of Tristan's movements, being not altogether averse to
starting an intrigue on her own account, if her mistress should fail
sufficiently to impress the predestined victim. Her own beauty could
achieve no less.

Drawing a veil about her head and shoulders so as effectually to
conceal her features, she proceeded to thread her way through the
intricate labyrinth of Roman thoroughfares. When she reached her
destination she concealed herself in a convenient lurking place from
which she took care not to emerge till she had learned all she wished
from one who had dogged Tristan's footsteps all these weary days.

"What do you want with me?" asked the latter somewhat disturbed by her
sudden appearance, as he came out of the little temple church of San
Stefano in Rotondo on the brow of the Cælian Hill.

Persephoné had raised her veil and in doing so had taken care to reveal
her beautiful white arms.

"I am unwelcome doubtless," she replied, after a swift glance had
convinced her that there was no one near to witness their meeting.
"Nevertheless you must come with me--whether you will or no. We Romans
take no denial. We are not like your pale, frozen women of the North."

Subscribing readily to this opinion, Tristan felt indignant,
nevertheless, at her self-assurance.

"I have neither time nor inclination to attend upon your fancies," he
said curtly, trying to pass her. But she barred his passage.

"As for your inclination to follow me," Persephoné laughed--"that is a
matter for you to decide, if you intend to prosper in your new station."

She paused a moment, with a swift side glance at the man. Persephoné
had not miscalculated the effect of her speech, for Tristan had started
visibly at her words and the knowledge they implied.

"As for your time," Persephoné continued sardonically, "that is another
matter. No doubt there are still a few sanctuaries to visit," she said
suggestively, with tantalizing slowness and a tinge of contempt in
her tones that was far from assumed. "Though I am puzzled to know why
one of your good looks and courage should creep like a criminal from
shrine to shrine, when hot life pulsates all about us. Are your sins so
grievous indeed?"

She could see that the thrust had pierced home.

"This is a matter you do not understand," he said, piqued at her
persistence. "Perchance my sins are grievous indeed."

"Ah! So much the better," Persephoné laughed, showing her white teeth
and approaching a step closer. "The world loves a sinner. What it
dislikes is the long-faced repentant transgressor. You are a man after
all--it is time enough to become a saint when you can no longer enjoy.
Come!"

And the white arm stole forth and a white hand took hold of his mantle.

Every word of the Circassian seemed to sting Tristan like a wasp. His
whole frame quivered with anger at her taunts, but he scorned to show
it, and putting a strong constraint upon his feelings he only asked
quietly:

"What would you with me? Surely it was not to tell me this that you
have tracked me hither."

Persephoné thought she had now brought the metal to a sufficiently
high temperature for fusion. She proceeded to mould it accordingly.
Nevertheless she was determined to gain some advantage for herself in
executing her mistress' behest.

"I tracked you here," she said slowly, "because I wanted you! I wanted
you, because it is in my power to render you a great service. Listen,
my lord,--you must come with me! It is not every man in Rome who would
require so much coaxing to follow a good-looking woman--"

She looked very tempting as she spoke, but her physical charms were
indeed sadly wasted on the pre-occupied man before her, and if she
expected to win from him any overt act of admiration or encouragement,
she was to be woefully disappointed.

"I cannot follow you," he said. "My way lies in another direction.
Besides--you have said it yourself--I am now in the service of another."

"That is the very reason," she interposed. "Have you ever stopped to
consider the thousand and one pitfalls which your unwary feet will
encounter when you--a stranger--unknown--hated perchance--attempt to
wield the authority entrusted to you? What do you know of Rome that you
should hope to succeed when he, who set you in this hazardous place,
cannot quell the disturbances that break out between the factions
periodically?"

"And why should you be disposed to confer upon me such a favor?"
Tristan asked with instinctive caution. "I am a stranger to you. What
have we in common?"

Persephoné laughed.

"Perchance I am in love with you myself--ever since that night when you
would not enter the forbidden gates. Perchance you may be able to serve
me in turn--some day. How cold you are! Like the frozen North! Come!
Waste no more time, if you would not regret it forevermore."--

There was something compelling in her words that upset Tristan's
resolution.

Still, he wavered.

"You have seen my mistress," Persephoné resumed, "the fairest woman
and the most powerful in Rome--a near kinswoman, too, of your new
master--the Senator."

The words startled Tristan.

"It needs but a word from her to make you what she pleases," she
continued, as they delved into the now darkening streets. "She is
headstrong and imperious and does not brook resistance to her will."

Tristan remembered certain words Alberic had spoken to him at their
final parting. It behooved him to be on his guard, yet without making
of Theodora an open enemy. "Be wary and circumspect," had been the
Senator's parting words.

"Did the Lady Theodora send you for me?" he asked, with some anxiety in
his tone. "And how did you know where to find me in a city like this?"

"I know a great many things--and so does my mistress," Persephoné made
smiling reply. "But she does not choose every one to be as wise as she
is. I will answer both your questions though, if you will answer one
of mine in return. The Lady Theodora did not mention you by name,"
Persephoné prevaricated, "yet I do not think there is another man in
Rome who would serve her as would you.--And now tell me in turn.--Deem
you not, she is very beautiful?"

"The Lady Theodora is very beautiful," Tristan replied with a
hesitation that remained not unremarked. "Yet, what is there in common
between two strangers from the farthest extremities of the earth?"

"What is there in common?" Persephoné smiled. "You will know ere an
hour has sped. But, if you would take counsel from one who knows, you
will do wisely to ponder twice before you choose--your master. Silence
now! Step softly, but follow close behind me! It is very dark under the
trees."

They had arrived on Mount Aventine. Before them, in the dusk, towered
the great palace of Theodora.

After cautioning him, Persephoné led Tristan through a narrow door in a
wall and they emerged in a garden. They were now in a fragrant almond
grove where the branches of the trees effectually excluded the rays of
the rising moon, making it hardly possible to distinguish Persephoné's
tall and lithe form.

Presently they emerged upon a smooth and level lawn, shut in by a
black group of cedars, through the lower branches of which peeped the
crescent moon and, turning the corner of a colonnade, they entered
another door which opened to Persephoné's touch and admitted them into
a long dark passage with a lamp at the farther end.

"Stay here, while I fetch a light," Persephoné whispered to Tristan
and, gliding away, she presently returned, to conduct him through a
dark corridor into another passage, where she stopped abruptly and,
raising some silken hangings, directed him to enter.

"Wait here. I will announce you."--



CHAPTER V

MAGIC GLOOMS


Floods of soft and mellow light dazzled Tristan's eyes at first, but
he soon realized the luxurious beauty of the retreat into which he had
been ushered. It was obvious that, despite a decadent age, all the
resources of wealth had been drawn upon for its decoration. The walls
were painted in frescoes of the richest colorings and represented the
most alluring scenes. Around the cornices, relics of imperial Rome,
nymphs and satyrs in bas-relief danced hand in hand, wild woodland
creatures, exultant in all the luxuriance of beauty and redundancy of
strength; and yonder, where the lamp cast its softest glow upon her,
stood a marble statue of Venus Anadyomené, her attitude expressive of
dormant passion lulled by the languid insolence of power and tinged
with an imperious coquetry, the most alluring of all her charms.

Tristan moved uneasily in his seat, wishing that he had not come,
wondering how he had allowed himself to be thus beguiled, wondering
what it was all about, when a rustling of the hangings caused him to
turn his head. There was no more attraction now in bounding nymph or
marble enchantress. The life-like statue of Venus was no longer the
masterpiece of the chamber for there, in the doorway, appeared Theodora
herself.

Tristan rose to his feet, and thus they stood, confronting each other
in the subdued light--the hostess and her guest--the assailant and the
assailed.

Theodora trembled in every limb, yet she should have remained the
calmer of the two, inasmuch as hers could scarcely have been the
agitation of surprise. Such a step indeed, as she had taken, she had
not ventured upon without careful calculation of its far reaching
effect. Determined to make this obstinate stranger pliable to her
desires, to instill a poison into his veins which must, in time, work
her will, she had deliberately commanded Persephoné to conduct him to
this bower, the seductive air of which no one had yet withstood.

Theodora was the first to speak, though for once she hardly knew how
to begin. For the man who stood before her was not to be moulded by a
glance and would match his will against her own. Such methods as she
would have employed under different circumstances would here and now
utterly fail in their intent. For once she must not appear the dominant
factor in Rome, rather a woman wronged by fate, mankind and report. Let
her beauty do the rest.

"I have sent for you," she said, "because something tells me that I
can rely implicitly on your secrecy. From what I have seen of you, I
believe you are incapable of betraying a trust."

Theodora's words had the intended effect. Tristan, expecting reproach
for his intentional slight of her advances, was thrown off his guard
by the appeal to his honor. His confusion at the sight of the woman's
beauty, enhanced by her gorgeous surroundings, was such that he did but
bow in acknowledgment of this tribute to his integrity.

Theodora watched him narrowly, never relinquishing his gaze, which
wandered unconsciously over her exquisite form, draped in a diaphanous
gown which left the snowy arms and hands, the shoulders and the round
white throat exposed.

"I have been told that you have accepted service with the Lord Alberic,
who has offered to you, a stranger, the most important trust in his
power to bestow."

Tristan bowed assent.

"The Lord Alberic has rewarded me, far beyond my deserts, for ever so
slight a service," he replied, without referring to the nature of the
service.

Theodora nodded.

"And you--a stranger in the city, without counsellor--without friend.
Great as the honor is, which the Senator has conferred upon you--great
are the pitfalls that lurk in the hidden places. Doubtlessly, the
Lord Alberic did not bestow his trust unworthily. And, in enjoining
above all things watchfulness--he has doubtlessly dropped a word of
warning regarding his kinswoman," here Theodora dropped her lids, as
if she were reluctantly touching upon a distasteful subject, "the Lady
Theodora?"

As suddenly as she had dropped her lids as suddenly her eyes sank into
the unwary eyes of Tristan. The scented atmosphere of the room and the
woman's nearness were slowly creeping into his brain.

"The Lord Alberic did refer to the Lady Theodora," he stammered, loth
to tell an untruth, and equally loth to wound this beautiful enigma
before him.

"I thought so!" Theodora interposed with a smile, without permitting
him to commit himself. "He has warned you against me. Admit it, my Lord
Tristan. He has put you on your guard. And yet--I fain would be your
friend--"

"The Lord Alberic seems to count you among his enemies," Tristan
replied. The mention of an accepted fact could not, to his mind, be
construed into betraying a confidence.

Theodora smiled sadly.

"The Lord Alberic has been beguiled into this sad attitude by one who
was ever my foe, perchance, even his. Time will tell. But it was not
to speak of him that I summoned you hither. It is because I would
appear lovable in your eyes. It is, because I am not indifferent to
your opinion, my Lord Tristan. Am I not rash, foolish, impulsive, in
thus placing myself in the power of one who may even now be planning
my undoing? One who on a previous occasion so grievously misjudged my
motives as to wound me so cruelly?"

The woman's appeal knocked at the portals of Tristan's heart. Would
she but state her true purpose, relieve this harrowing suspense. She
had propounded the question with a deepening color, and glances that
conveyed a tale. And it was a question somewhat difficult to answer.

At last he spoke, stammeringly, incoherently:

"I shall try to prove myself worthy of the Lady Theodora's confidence."

She seemed somewhat disappointed at the coldness of his answer,
nevertheless her quick perception showed her where she had scored a
point, in making an inroad upon his heart. And her critical eye could
not but approve of the proud attitude he assumed, the look that had
come into his face.

She edged a little closer to him and continued in a subdued tone.

"A woman is always lonely and helpless--no matter what may be her
station. How liable we are to be deceived or--misjudged. But I knew
from the first that I could trust you. Do you remember when we first
met in the Navona?"

Again the warm crimson of the cheek, again the speaking flash from
those luring eyes. Tristan's heart began to beat with a strange
sensation of excitement and surprise. To love this wonder of all
women--to be loved by her in return--life would indeed be one mad
delirium.

"How could I forget it?" he said, more warmly than he intended, meeting
her gaze. "It was on the day when I arrived in Rome."

Her eyes beamed on him more benevolently than ever.

"I saw you again at Santa Maria of the Aventine. I sent for you," she
said, with drooping lids, "because I so wanted some one to confide
in. I have no counsellor,--no champion--no friend. The object of
hatred to the rabble which stones those to-day before whom it cringed
yesterday--I am paying the penalty of the name I bear--kinship to one
no longer among the living. But you scorned my messenger. Why did you?"

She regarded Tristan with expectant, almost imploring eyes. She saw him
struggling for adequate utterance. Continuing, she held out to him her
beautiful hands. Her tone was all appeal.

"I want you to feel that Theodora is your friend. That you may turn to
her in any perplexity that may beset you, that you may call upon her
for counsel whenever you are in doubt and know not what to do. And oh!
I want you to know above all things how much you could be to me, did
you but trust--had not the drop of poison instilled by the Senator set
you against the one woman who would make you great, envied above all
men on earth!"

Tristan bent over Theodora's hands and kissed them. Cool and trusting,
yet with a firm grasp, they encircled his burning palms and their
whiteness caused his senses to reel.

"In what manner can I be of service to the Lady Theodora?" he spoke at
last, unable to let go of those wonderful hands that sent the hot blood
hurtling to his brain.

Theodora's face was very close to his.

As she spoke, her perfumed breath softly fanned his cheeks.

She spoke with well-studied hesitancy, like a child that, in preferring
an overbold request, fears denial in the very utterance.

"It is a small thing, I would ask," she said in her wonderfully
melodious voice. "I would once again visit the places where I have
spent the happy days of my childhood, the galleries and chambers of
the Emperor's Tomb. You start, my Lord Tristan! Perchance this speech
may sound strange to the ears of one who, though newly arrived in Rome,
has heard but vituperations showered upon the head of a defenceless
woman, who, if not better, is at least not worse than the rest of her
kind. Yes--" she continued, returning the pressure of his fingers
and noting, not without inward satisfaction, a soft gleam that had
dispelled the sterner look in his eyes, "those were days of innocence
and peace, broken only when the older sister, my equal in beauty,
began to regard me as a possible rival. Stung by her taunts I leaped
to her challenge and the fight for the dominion of Rome was waged
between us with all the hot passion of our blood, Marozia conquered,
but Death stood by unseen to crown her victory. The Mount of Cloisters
is my asylum. The gates of the Emperor's Tomb are sealed to me forever
more. Why should Alberic, disregarding the ties of blood, fear a
woman--unless he hath deeply wronged her, even as he has wronged
another who wears the crown of thorns upon earth?"

Theodora paused, her lids half-shut as if to repress a tear; in reality
to scan the face of him who found her tale most strange indeed.

And, verily, Tristan was beginning to feel that he could not depend
upon himself much longer. The subdued lights, the heavy perfume, the
room itself, the seductive beauty of this sorceress so near to him that
her breath fanned his cheeks, the touch of her hands, which had not
relinquished his own, were making wild havoc with his senses and reason.

Like many a gentle and inexperienced nature, Tristan shrank from
offending a woman's delicacy, by even appearing to question the truth
of her words, and he doubted not but that here was a woman who had
been sinned against much more than she had sinned, a woman capable
of gentler, nobler impulses than were credited to her in the common
reckoning. It required indeed a powerful constraint upon his feelings
not to give way to the starved impulse that drove him to forget past,
present and future in her embrace.

A sad smile played about the small crimson mouth as Theodora, with a
sigh, continued:

"I have quaffed the joys of life. There is nothing that has remained
untasted. And yet--I am not happy. The fires of unrest drive me hither
and thither. After years of fiercest conflict, with those of my own
sex and age, who consider Rome the lawful prey of any one that may
usurp Marozia's fateful inheritance, I have had a glimpse of Heaven--a
Heaven that perchance is not for me. Yet it aroused the desire for
peace--happiness--love! Yes, my Lord Tristan, love! For though I have
searched for it in every guise, I found it not. Will the hour every
toll--even for me? Deem you, my Lord Tristan, that even one so guilt
lost as Theodora might be loved?"

"How were it possible," he stammered, "for mortal eyes to resist such
loveliness?"

His words sounded stilted in his ears. Yet he knew if he permitted the
impulse to master him he would be swept away by the torrent.

The woman also knew, and woman-like she felt that the poison rankled in
his veins. She must give it time to work. She must not precipitate a
scene that might leave him sobered, when the fumes had cleared from his
brain.

Putting all the witchery of her beauty into her words she said, with a
tinge of sadness:

"I fear I am trespassing, my Lord Tristan. It is so long, since I have
unveiled the depths of my heart. Forget the request I have made. It may
conflict with your loyalty to my Lord Alberic. I shall try to foster
the memories of the place which I dare not enter--"

She had ventured all upon the last throw, and she had conquered.

"Nay, Lady Theodora," Tristan interposed, with a seriousness that
even staggered the woman. "There is no such clause or condition in the
agreement between the Lord Alberic and myself. It is true," he added in
a solemn tone, "he has warned me of you, as his enemy. Report speaks
ill of you. Nevertheless I believe you."

"I thank you, my Lord Tristan," she said, releasing his hands.
"Theodora never forgets a service. Three nights hence I am giving a
feast to my friends. You will not fail me?"

"I am happy to know," he said, "that the Lady Theodora thinks kindly
of me. I shall not fail her. And now"--he added, genuine regret in his
tone--"will the Lady Theodora permit me to depart? The hour waxes late
and there is much to be done ere the morrow's dawn."

Theodora clapped her hands and Persephoné appeared between the curtains.

"Farewell, my Lord Tristan. We shall speak of this again," she said,
beaming upon him with all the seductive fire of her dark eyes, and he,
bowing, took his leave.

When Persephoné returned, she was as much puzzled at the inscrutable
smile that played about her mistress' lips as she had been at Tristan's
abstracted state of mind, for, hardly noting her presence, he had
walked in silence beside her to the gate, and had there taken silent
leave.--



CHAPTER VI

THE LURE OF THE ABYSS


The sun had sunk to rest in fleecy clouds of crimson and gold.

The clear and brilliant moonlight of Italy enveloped hill and dale,
bathing in its effulgence the groves, palaces and ruins of the Eternal
City. The huge pile of the Colosseum was bathed in its rosy glow,
raising itself in serene majesty towards the beaming night sky.

A few hours later a great change had come over the heavens. The wind
had sprung up and had driven the little downy clouds of sunset into
a great, black mass, which it again tore into flying tatters that it
swept before it. The moon rose and raced through the dun and silver.
Below it, in the vast spaces of the deserted amphitheatre, from whose
vomitories pale ghosts seemed to flit, the big boulders and rain-left
pools looked dim and misty. Night had cast her leper's cloak on nature
and the moon seemed the leprous face.

Deepest silence reigned, broken only by the occasional hoot of an owl,
or the swishing of a bat that whirled its crazy flight in and out the
labyrinthine corridors.

By the largest of these boulders stood the dark cloaked form of a man.
As the moon-thrown shadows of the clouds swept over him and the rude
rock by which he stood looking up at the sky, his black mantle flapped
in the wind and clung to his limbs, making him look even taller than he
was.

At the feet of Basil cowered the huge Molossian hound. As the wind
grew stronger and the clouds above assumed more fantastic shapes, it
raised its head and gave voice to a low whine. On the distant hillocks
a myriad dusky flames seemed to writhe and hiss and dart through tinted
moon-gleams.

Three times he whistled--and in the misty, moonlit expanse countless
forms, as weird as himself, seemed to rise and form a great circle
about him.

Were they the creatures of his brain which had at last given way in the
excitement of the hour? Were they phantoms of mist and moon, wreathing
round him from the desolate marshes? Or were they real beings of flesh
and blood, congregations of crime and despair, mad with the misery of a
starving century, the horrors of serfdom and oppression that had united
in the great reel of a Witches' Sabbat?

Round him they circled, at first slowly,--like the curls of a marsh,
then faster and ever faster, till his eyes could scarcely follow them
as they rotated about him in their horrible dance of madness and sin.

Black clouds raced over the moon. The reddish gleam of a forked tongue
of fire illumined the dark heavens, and thunder went pealing down the
hills. Suddenly out of the underbrush arose a black form, about the
height and breadth of a man, but without the distinct outlines of
one. Basil's face grew white as death, and his gaze became fixed as
he clutched at the rock for support. But the next moment he seemed to
gain his reassurance from the knowledge that he had seen this phantom
before. The dog lay at his feet and continued its low tremulous whine.

"You have kept the tryst," gibbered the bent form as it slowly
approached, supporting itself upon a crooked staff of singular height.

"Else were I not the man to compel fate to do my bidding," responded
the Grand Chamberlain. "Fear can have no part in the compact which
binds us. I have live things under my feet that clog my steps and grow
more stubborn day by day."--

"Deem you, you can keep your footing in the black lobbies of hell?"
gibbered the cowled form. "For you will need all your courage, if you
would reach the goal!"

Basil, for a moment, faced his shadowy interlocutor in silence. There
was a darker light in his eyes when he spoke.

"Give me but that which my soul desires and I shall run the gauntlet
unflinchingly. I shall brace my courage to the dread experiment."

A fierce gust of wind shook the cypresses and holm oaks into shuddering
anxiety.

"You are about to embark upon an enterprise more perilous than any man
now living has ever ventured upon," spoke the cowled form. "Your soul
will travel through the channels, through which the red and fiery tide
rolls up when the volcano wakes. Each time it wakes the lava washes
over the lost souls, which, chained to rings in the black rock, glow
like living coals, but leaves them whole, to undergo their fate anew.
Do you persist?"

"Give me what I desire--"

"Ay--so say they all--but to grovel in the dust before the Unknown
Presence which they have defied."

"Who are you to taunt me with a fear my soul knows not?" Basil turned
to the black-robed form, stretching out his hand as if to touch his
mantle.

A magnetic current passed through his limbs that caused him to drop his
arm with a cry of pain.

Forked lightnings leaped from one cloud-bank to another.

Distant thunder growled and died among the hills.

"I have seen the fall of Nineveh and Babylon. I was present at the
destruction of the Holy City by the legions of Titus, I witnessed the
burning of Rome by Nero and the fall of the temple of Serapis. I stood
upon Mount Calvary under the shadow of the world's greatest tragedy."

The voice of the speaker died to silence.

Basil's hand went to his head, as if he wished to assure himself
whether he was awake or in the throes of some mad dream.

It is a narrow boundary line, that divides the two great realms of
sanity and madness. And the limits are as restless as those of two
countries divided from each other by a network of shifting rivers. What
belonged to the one overnight may belong to the other to-morrow.

An overmastering dread had seized upon Basil at the speech of the
uncanny apparition. Was not he, too, pushing his excursions now into
the one realm, now into the other? And who would know in which of the
two to seek for him?

"Have you indeed wandered upon earth ever since those days?" he
stammered, once more slave to his superstition.

The apparition nodded.

"I have drunk deep from the black wells of despair. I have raised the
shadowy altars of him who was cast out of the heavens, higher and
higher, till they almost touch the throne of the Father."

"Your master then is Lucifer--"

"Cannot the Fiend as well as God live incarnate in human clay? Is not
the earth the meeting ground of Heaven and Hell? Why should not Basil,
the Grand Chamberlain, be Hell's incarnation?"--

"What then must I do to deserve the crimson aureole?"

"Espouse the cause of him who rules the shadows. He will give to you
what your soul desires. One of the shadowy congregation that rules the
world through fear, make quick wings for Time, that crawls through
eternity like a monstrous snake, while with starved desire your eyes
glare at the fleeting things of life--dominion, power and love, that
you may snatch from fate! Only by becoming one of us can your soul
slake its thirst. Speak--for my time is brief--"

When Basil turned towards the bent form of the speaker his gaze fell
upon a gleaming knife which Bessarion had produced from under the loose
folds of his gown.

For a moment the two stood face to face. Neither spoke, each seemingly
intent upon fathoming the thoughts of the other. The wind hissed and
screamed through the corridors of the Colosseum.

It was Basil who broke the silence.

"What is it, you want?"

"Bare your left arm!"

There was a natural hollow in the rock, that the weather had scooped
out in the stone altar.

Basil obeyed.

The gibbering voice rose again above the silence.

"Hold it over the basin!"

The lightnings twisted and streamed like silvery adders through the
dark vaults of the heavens, and terrific peals of thunder shook the
shuddering world in its foundations.

The bent form raised the knife.

Three drops of blood dripped, one by one, into the hollow of the stone.

Bessarion chanted some words in an unintelligible jargon as, with a
claw-like hand, he bound up the wound in Basil's arm.

"At midnight--in the Catacombs of St. Calixtus--you will stand face to
face with the Presence," the apparition spoke once more.

The next moment, after a fantastic salutation, he had vanished, as if
the earth had swallowed him, behind a projecting rock.

Basil remained for a time in deep rumination. The Molossian hound
rose up from the ground as soon as the adept of the black arts had
disappeared, and, sitting on its haunches, gazed inquisitively into its
master's face.

Suddenly it uttered a growl.

At the next moment the misshapen form of an African Moor crouched at
the feet of the Grand Chamberlain. Noiselessly and swiftly as a panther
he had sped through the waste spaces of the amphitheatre, and even
Basil could not overcome a feeling of revulsion as he gazed into the
hairy, bestial features of Daoud, whom he employed when secrecy and
despatch were essential to the success of a venture.

Red inflamed eyelids gleamed from a face whose cadaverous tints seemed
enhanced by wiry black hair that hung in disordered strands from under
a broad Spanish hat. Daoud was undersized in stature, but possessed
prodigious strength, and the size of his hands argued little in favor
of him who had incurred the disfavor of his master or his own.

This monster in human guise Basil had acquired from a certain nobleman
in the suite of the Byzantine ambassador extraordinary to the Holy See.

Basil looked up at the moon which just then emerged from the shadow of
a cloud. Then he gave a nod of satisfaction.

"Your promptness argues well for your success," he turned to his runner
who was cowering at his feet, the ashen face with the blinking and
inflamed eyes raised to his master. "Know you the road to southward, my
good Daoud?"

The Moor gave a nod and Basil proceeded.

"You must depart this very night. Take the road that leads by Benevento
to the Shrines of the Archangel. You will overtake the Senator and
deliver into his hands this token. You will return forthwith and bring
to me--his answer. Do I make myself quite clear to your understanding,
my good Daoud?"

The Moor fell prostrate and touched Basil's buskin with his forehead.

"Up!" the latter spurned the kneeling brute. "To-morrow night must find
you in the Witches' City."

With these words he placed into the Moor's hand a small article,
carefully tied and sealed.

The twain exchanged a mute glance of mutual understanding, then Daoud
gave a bound, darted forward and shot away like an arrow from the bow.
Almost instantly he was out of sight.

The hound bounded after him but, obedient to his master's call,
instantly returned to the latter's feet.

For some time Basil remained near the rock where the weird ceremony had
taken place.

"The Rubicon is passed," he muttered. "The stars--or the abyss."

Then, slowly quitting the stupendous ruins of the Amphitheatre, he took
the direction of the Catacombs of St. Calixtus.



CHAPTER VII

THE FACE IN THE PANEL


On the following day Tristan entered upon his duties as captain of the
Senator's guard.

The first person upon whom he chanced on his rounds at the Lateran
was the Grand Chamberlain, who inquired affably how his penitences
were progressing and expressed the hope that he had received final
absolution, and that his sins would not weigh too heavily upon his
soul. Basil commended him for his zeal in the cause of the Senator,
hinting incidentally that his duties between the Lateran and Castel San
Angelo need not deprive him of the society of the fair Roman ladies,
who would welcome the stranger from Provence and would doubtlessly
enmesh his heart, if it were not well guarded. He then proceeded to
caution Tristan with respect to his exalted prisoner. Numerous attempts
at abduction had been made from time to time, Tristan having, by his
prowess and daring, prevented the last, emanating doubtlessly from the
Pontiff's nearest kith and kin. The men under him could be fully relied
upon. Nevertheless, it behooved him to be circumspect.

After a time Basil departed, and Tristan went about his business,
inspecting the guard and familiarizing himself with the place where he
was to keep his first watch.

The level beams of the evening sun filled the Basilica of St. John in
Laterano. There were pearl lights and lights of sapphire; falling
radiances of emerald and blood-red; vague translucent greens, that
seemed to tremble under spiral clouds of incense.

Now the sun was sinking behind Mount Janiculum. The clouds at the
zenith of the heavens were rose-hued, but it was growing dark in the
valleys, and the great church began to take on sombre hues. It seemed
to frown upon him, to warn him not to enter, an impression he was long
afterwards to remember, as he strode through the high-vaulted corridors.

He hesitated, till the sound of a distant chant reached his ear. With
a sort of fascination he could not account for, he watched the advance
of the slowly gathering gloom, as an increasing greyness stole into the
chapels.

Evening was about to take the veil of night.

The light left the stained-glass windows and the church grew darker and
darker. The altar steps lay now in purple shadows that were growing
deeper and denser each moment.

Shadowy forms seemed to be moving about in the sanctuaries. Soon a monk
entered with a taper, lighting the lights before some remote shrines.
Tristan could not distinguish his features, for the light was very dim.
Yet it enabled him to see that there were a few belated worshippers in
the church.

After a time the great nave was deserted. As the lone monk passed
quickly through a sphere of thin light, Tristan gave a start. It seemed
a ghost in a cassock that had vanished in the sacristy. He told himself
that the impression was absurd, but he could not throw it off. He
had caught a momentary glimpse of a face that had no human likeness,
and the way in which the cassock had flapped about the limbs of the
fleeting form seemed to suggest that it clothed a frame that had lost
its flesh.

Superstitious fear began to creep over him. He felt that he must
seek the open, escape the haunting incense-saturated pall, these dim
sepulchral chapels. Such light as there was, save what emanated from
the candles on the altar, came from a stone lamp which cast its glimmer
on the vanishing form.

In every corner of the vast nave now lay fast gathering darkness. The
figures of the saints seemed vague and formless. The altar loomed dim
in the shadows.

All these things Tristan noted.

The whole interior of the church was now steeped in the dense pall of
night, illumined only by the faint radiance of the lamp upon the altar,
which seemed rather to intensify than to lift the gloom.

A faint footfall was audible behind the carven screen, near the
entrance to the chapels. A figure, almost lost in the gloom, glided
into the nave, and shadows were falling about him like thin veils.

It was an unusual hour for monks to be abroad. None the less, he
seemed sure of himself, for he proceeded without hesitation to the
altar, shrouded as it was in utter darkness, but for the light of one
faint taper, which gleamed afar, like a star in the nocturnal heavens,
driving the gloom a few paces from the carven stone. There the shrouded
form seemed to melt into the very pall of night that weighed heavily
upon the time-stained walls of the Mother Church of Rome.

At first Tristan thought it was some belated penitent seeking
forgiveness for his sins, but when the dark-robed form did not return
he strode towards the altar to see if he might perchance be of
assistance to him.

When Tristan reached the altar steps he could discover no trace of a
human being, though he searched every nook and corner and peered into
every chapel, examined every shrine.

Seized with a strange restiveness he began to pace up and down before
the altar steps. He was far from feeling at ease. He remembered the
warning of the Grand Chamberlain. He remembered the strange tales he
had heard whispered of the Pontiff's prison house.

Tristan suddenly paused.

He thought he heard sibilant whispers and the low murmur of voices from
behind the screen at the eastern transept of the Capella, and at once
he began assembling the things in his mind which might beset him in the
hour of darkness.

The Chapel of the Most Holy Saviour of the Holy Stairs, the Scala
Santa of the present day, adjoins the Lateran Church. At the period
of which we write it was still the private chapel of the popes in the
Patriarchium, and was called the Sancta Sanctorum on account of the
great number of precious relics it enshrines.

To this chapel Tristan directed his steps, oppressed by some mysterious
sense of evil. By a judicious disposition of the men under his command
he had, after a careful survey of the premises, placed them in such a
manner that it would be impossible for any one to gain access to the
stairs leading to the Pontiff's chamber.

Had it been a hallucination of his senses conjured up by his sudden
fear?

Not a sound broke the stillness. Only the echoes of his own footsteps
reverberated uncannily from the worn mosaics of the floor. In the dim
distance of the corridors he saw a shadow moving to and fro. It was the
guard before the entrance to a side-chapel of the Basilica.

What caused Tristan to pause in the night gloom of the corridor leading
to the Pontifical Chapel he did not know. He seemed as under a strange
spell. At a distance from him of some five feet, in the decorated wall,
there was a dark panel some two feet in height and of corresponding
breadth, looking obliquely towards the Pontifical Chapel. The panel
contained a small round opening, a spy-hole which communicated with a
secret chamber in the thickness of the wall.

A slight rustling noise came from behind the masonry. Tristan heard it
quite distinctly. It suggested the passing of naked feet over marble.

Suddenly, noiselessly the panel parted.

A sudden gleam of white, blinding light shot into the chapel like a
spear of silver.

Tristan paused with a start, looking swiftly and inquiringly at the
black slit in the wall and as he did so the spear of light shifted a
little in its passing.

A face, white with the pallor of death, ghastly and hideous as a corpse
that has retained upon its set features the agony of dying, peered out
from blackness into blackness.

A tremor shook Tristan's frame from head to toe. He could not have
cried out, had he wished to. He felt as one grazed by a lightning bolt.
Then, in a flash that made his heart and soul shudder within him, he
knew.

He had seen looking at him a face--the clean shaven face of a man. But
it was not human. It bore the terrible stigmata of the unquenchable
fire; an abominable vision of the lust that cannot be satiated, the
utter, unconquerable, fiendish malevolence of Hell. A harsh, raven-like
croak broke the stillness, and at the sound of that cry the terrible
face vanished with the swiftness of a trick. Instead, a long arm,
clothed in a black sleeve, stole through the opening. A flash, keen
as that of the lightning, cut the air and a dagger struck the mosaic
floor at Tristan's feet with such force that its point snapped after
shattering the stone, drawing fire from the impact.

Bounding back, Tristan uttered a shrill cry of terror, but when he
looked in the direction of the panel only dim dun dusk met his eyes.

Rushing frantically from the corridor he now called with all his might.
His outcries brought the guards to the scene. Briefly, incoherently,
almost mad with terror, he told his tale. They listened with an air of
amazement in which surprise held no small share. Then they accompanied
him back to the chapel.

Arriving near the spot he was about to point to the dagger, to
corroborate his wild tale. But the dagger had disappeared. Only the
shattered marble of the floor lent testimony and credence to his words.

On the following morning an outcry of horror arose from all quarters of
Rome.

On the night which preceded it, the Holy Host had been taken from the
Pontifical Chapel in the Lateran.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SHADOW OF ASRAEL


It was ten in the morning.

Deep silence reigned in the strange walled garden on the Pincian Hill
that surrounded the marble villa of the Grand Chamberlain. Only the
murmur of the city below and the soft sounds of bells from tower and
campanile seemed to break the dreamlike stillness as they began to toll
for High Mass.

In a circular chamber lighted only by lamps, for there were no windows,
and daylight never penetrated there, before an onyx table covered with
strange globes and philtres, sat Basil.

The walls of the chamber were of wood stained purple. The far wall
was hidden by shelves on which were many rolls of vellum and papyrus,
spoils of pagan libraries of the past. There were the works of monks
from all the monasteries of Europe, illuminated by master hands, the
black letter pages glowing with red and gold, almost priceless even
then. In one corner of the room stood an iron chest, secured by locks.
What this contained no one even dared to guess.

As the chimes from churches and convents reached his ears, Basil's face
paled. Something began to stir in the dark unfathomable eyes as some
unknown thing stirs in deep water. Some nameless being was looking out
of those windows of the soul. Yet the rest of the face was unruffled
and expressionless, and the contrast was so horrible that a spectator
would have shrank away, cold fear gripping his heart, and perhaps a cry
upon his lips.

Basil had closed the heavy bronze doors behind him when he had entered
from the atrium. The floor of colored marbles was flooded with the
light from the bronze lamps. Before him was a short passage, hardly
more than an alcove, terminating in a door of cedarwood behind a purple
curtain.

In the dull yellow gleam of the lamps the chamber seemed cold, full of
chill and musty air.

In a moment however the lamps seemed to burn more brightly, as Basil's
eyes became adjusted to their lights.

There was the silence of the tomb. The lamps burnt without a flicker,
for there was not a breath of air to disturb their steady glow. The
plan of the room, its yellow lights, its silence, its entire lack of
correspondence with the outside world, was Basil's own. He had designed
it as a port, as it were, whence to put out to sea upon the tide of his
ever-changing moods in the black barque of sin.

For some time he remained alone in the silent room, dreaming and
brooding over greatness and power, that terrible megalomania that is
the last and rarest madness of all.

He had read of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, of Heliogabalus, whose
madness passed the bounds of the imaginable. Like gold and purple
clouds, bursting with sombre light and power, they had passed over Rome
and were gone.

Then thoughts of the popes came to him, those supreme rulers of the
temporal and spiritual world whose dominion had been so superb, since
they first began to crown the emperors, one hundred and thirty-five
years ago.

In a monstrous and swiftly moving panorama they passed through a brain
that worked as if it were packed in ice. And yet one and all had gone
into the dark. The power of none had been lasting and complete.

But into his reverie stole a secret glow, into his blood an intense,
ecstatic quickening. For them the hour had tolled. Each step in life
was but one nearer the grave. Not so was it to be with him.

A black fire began to burn round his heart, coiling there like a
serpent, as he thought of the illumination that was his, the promise
he had received--deep down in the crypts of the Emperor's Tomb and
again in the Catacombs of St. Calixtus. And he had fallen down and
worshipped, had given his soul to Darkness and abjured the Light.

Satan should rule again on earth. For this had been revealed to him
by the High Priest of Satan himself, then in a vision by the Lord of
Evil. To penetrate the mysteries of Hell with his whole heart and soul,
to strike chill terror into the hearts of those who worshipped at the
altars of Christ, had become Basil's ambition for which he would live
and die.

Basil sat dreaming and gloating over his coming glory; a glory in which
the woman whose beauty had stung him with maddening desire should
share, even if he had to drag her before the dark throne upon which sat
the Unspeakable Presence. The yellow light of the lamps fell upon his
unnatural and mask-like face as he sat rigid in his chair hypnotized by
Hell.

Christ had thrown his great Cross upon the feasts and banquets of the
gods. On his head was a crown of thorns and the Stigmata upon his hands
and feet. And the goblets of red gold had lost their brightness. The
pagan gods were stricken dumb. They had faded away in vapor and were
gone.

And with them the fierce joy of living had left the world. Christ
reigned upon earth, implanting conscience in the souls of men, that
robbed ecstasy of its fruition and infused the most delicious cup
touched with the Aliquid Amari of the poet.

Basil paced the narrow confines of the room, and from his lips came the
opening stanza of that dreadful parody of the Good Friday hymn sung by
the votaries of Satan: "Vexilla Regis Prodeunt Inferni."

Already the banners of the advancing hosts were in the sky. Soon--soon
would he appear himself--the Lord of Darkness!

The room suddenly grew very chill, as if the three dread winds of
Cocytus were blowing through the chamber.

There was a slim rod of copper suspended from the wall, close to the
couch of dull grey damask upon which he had been reclining. He pulled
it and somewhere away in the villa a gong sounded. A moment later a
drab man, lean as a skeleton and bald as an egg, with slanting eyes in
an ashen face and a stooping gait, came gliding noiselessly into the
lamplit room. He wore a long black cassock, which covered his fleshless
form from head to toe.

"Has no one called?" Basil turned to his factotum.

"A stranger," came the sepulchral reply. "He bade me give you this!"

Basil took the scroll which his famulus handed to him and cut the cord.

A fiendish smile passed over his face and lighted up the dark, sinister
eyes. But quickly as the mood had come it left. It fell from him as a
dropped cloak.

He stood upright, supporting himself on the onyx table, while Horus,
who only understood in a dull dim way his master's moods, assisting
him in all his villainies, but confessing his own share to a household
priest, stood impassively by.

"Give me some wine!" Basil turned to the sinister Major Domo, and the
latter disappeared and returned with a jug of Malvasian.

The Grand Chamberlain grasped the jug which Horus had brought him and
held it with shaking fingers to his mouth. When he had drank deep he
dismissed his famulus, struck a flint and burnt the scroll to pallid
ashes. Then he staggered out into the hall of colored marbles and
through it to the garden doors.

The bronze gates trembled as they swung back upon their hinges, and as
the full noon of the quiet garden burst upon Basil's eyes he fancied he
saw the fold of a dark robe disappear among the cypresses.

And now the hot air of high noon wrapped him round with its warm
southern life, flowing over the lithe body within the silken doublet,
drawing away the inward darkness and the vaulting flames within his
soul and reminding his sensuous nature that the future held gigantic
promise of love and power.

The great tenor and alto bells of St. John in Lateran were beating the
echoes to silver far away. The roofs and palaces, domes and towers of
Rome, were bathed in sunlight as he advanced to the embrasure in the
wall and once more surveyed the city.

The heat shimmered down and, through the quivering sunlit air, the
colors of the buildings shone like pebbles at the bottom of a pool and
the white ruins glowed like a mirage of the desert.

An hour later, regardless of the vertical sun rays that beat down
upon the tortuous streets of the city with unabated fervor, the Grand
Chamberlain rode through the streets of Rome, attended by a group of
men-at-arms with the crest of the Broken Spear in a Field of Azure
embroidered upon their doublets.

As the cavalcade swept through the crowded streets, with their
pilgrims from all parts of the world, the religious in their habits,
men-at-arms, flower-sellers, here and there the magnificent chariot of
a cardinal, many of the people lowered their eyes as Basil cantered
past on his black Neapolitan charger, trapped with crimson. More than
one made the sign of the horn, to avert the spell of the evil eye.

When Basil reached the Lateran he found a captain of the noble guard
with two halberdiers in their unsightly liveries guarding the doors.
They saluted and Basil inquired whether the new captain of the guard
was within.

"The Lord Tristan is within," came the reply, and Basil entered,
motioning to his escort to await his return outside.

The Grand Chamberlain traversed several anterooms, speaking to one
or the other of the senatorial guard, and on every face he read
consternation and fear. Little groups of priests stood together in
corners, whispering among each other; the whole of the Lateran was
aroused as by a secret dread. Such deeds, though they were known to
have occurred, were never spoken of, and the priests of the various
churches that had suffered desecration wisely kept their own counsel.

In this, the darkest age in the history of Rome, when crime and lust
and murder lurked in every corner, an outrage such as this struck every
soul with horror and awe. It was unthinkable, unspeakable almost,
suggesting dark mysteries and hidden infamies of Hell, which caused the
blood to run cold and the heart to freeze.

When Basil had made his way through the crowded corridors, receiving
homage, though men looked askance at him as he passed, he came to a
chamber usually reserved for a waiting room in times when the Pontiff
received foreign envoys or members of the priesthood and nobility; a
privilege from which the unfortunate prisoner in the Lateran was to be
forever debarred.

Basil entered this chamber, giving orders that he was to be in no wise
disturbed until he called and those outside heard him lock and bar the
door from within.

In the exact centre of the wall, reaching within two feet of the
ground, there was a large picture of St. Sebastian, barbarously painted
by some unknown artist.

Basil approached the picture and pressed upon the flat frame with all
his strength. There was a sudden click, a whirring, as of the wheels of
a clock. Then the picture swung inward, revealing a circular stairway
of stone, mounting upward. Without replacing the panel door, Basil
mounted the stairs for nearly a hundred steps, until he came to a door
upon which he beat with the hilt of his poniard.

An answering knock came from within, and the door opened. Basil entered
a small chamber, lighted from above by a window in a small dome.

A bat-like figure stood before a table covered with strange
manuscripts. As Basil entered, a thin black arm emerged from the
folds of the gown, which the inmate of the chamber wore. Then, with a
quick bird-like movement, an immensely thin hand twisted like a claw,
wrinkled, yellow and of incredible age, was stretched out toward the
newcomer.

On the second finger of this claw was a certain ring. Basil bent and
kissed the ring. There was another deft and almost imperceptible
movement. When the hand reappeared the ring was gone.

"It has been done?" Basil turned to the dark-robed form in bated
whispers.

The voice that answered seemed to come from a great distance. The lips
in the waxen face scarcely moved. They parted, that was all. Yet the
words were audible and distinct.

"It was done. Last night."

"You were not seen?"

"I wore the mask."

"Is it here?" Basil queried, his eyes flickering with a faint
reflection of that hate which had blazed in them earlier in the day.

"It is not here."

"Where is it?"

"You shall know to-night!"

The light faded out of Basil's eyes.

"What of the new captain?"

"His presence is a menace."

In Basil's eyes gleamed a sombre fire.

"I, too, owe him a grudge. In good time!"

"The time is Now!"

"Patience!" replied the Grand Chamberlain. "He will work his own
undoing. We dare not harm him yet."

"Only a miracle saved him last night."

"Are there not other churches in Rome?"--

"Ay!" mouthed the black form. "But the time of the great sacrifice
draws near--"

"I knew not it was so near at hand," interposed Basil with a start.

"The Becco Notturno demands a bride!"

"How am I to help you in these matters?"

"Am I to counsel the Lord Basil?" sneered the shape. "You drew the
crimson ball."

"When is it to be?"

"Three weeks from to-night. Mark you--a stainless dove!"

Basil nodded, an evil smile upon his lips.

"It shall be as you say! As for that other--I am minded to try his
mettle--"

"So be it!" said the shape. "Leave me now! You will hear from me. My
familiars are everywhere."

Without another word Basil arose and left the chamber. In the corridor
below he met Tristan.

"I know all," he cut short the speech of the new captain of the guard.
"All Rome is full of it. How did it happen? And where?"

"Attracted by a noise as of slippered feet passing over marble, I
entered the corridor of the Sacred Stairs, when one of the panels
parted. A devilish apparition stood within, throwing the beam of its
lantern into the chapel. When a chance ray of light disclosed my
presence the shape of darkness hurled a poniard. It missed me, thanks
be to Our Lady, struck the mosaic of the floor and broke in two."

"You have the pieces?" Basil queried affably and with much concern.

"I ran to the end of the gallery, shouting to my men," Tristan replied.
"When we returned the blade had disappeared."

"Where was it?" Basil queried with much concern and soon they faced the
shattered mosaic.

Basil examined the spot minutely.

"From yonder panel, you say?" he turned to Tristan.

"The third from the Capella," came the ready reply.

"Have you searched the premises?"

"From cellar to garret."--

"And discovered nothing?"

"Nothing."

"What of the panel?"

"It defies our combined efforts."

"Strange, indeed."

Basil strode to the wall and struck the spot indicated by Tristan with
the hilt of his poniard. Then he tested the wall on either side.

"Can your ear detect any difference in sound?"

A negative gesture came in response, and with it a puzzled look passed
into Tristan's eyes.

"Have you seen the Pontiff?"

"We reported the matter to His Holiness."

"And?"

"His Holiness raised his eyes to heaven and said: 'Even God's Vicar has
no jurisdiction in Hell!'"

"Was that all he said?"

"That was all!"

There was a silence during which Basil seemed to commune with himself.

"It is indeed a matter of grave concern," he said at last. "Treason
stalks everywhere. I will send for my Spanish Captain, Don Garcia. He
may be of assistance to you."

And Basil turned and walked down the corridor.

After a time Tristan walked out upon the terrace looking toward the
Coelian Hill.

A brilliant light beat upon domes and spires and pinnacles, and flooded
the august ruins of the Cæsars on the distant Palatine and the thousand
temples of the Holy Cross with scintillating radiance which poured down
from the intense blue of heaven.--

The long lights of the afternoon were shifting towards the eventide,
giving place to a limpid and colorless light that silvered the adjacent
olive groves.

Tristan roused himself with a start. The sense of moving like a ghost
among a world of ghosts had left him. He was once more awake and aware.
But even now his sorrow, his fears, his hopes of winning again to some
safe harbor in the storm tossed Odyssey of his life, were numbed. They
lay heavy within him, but without urgency or appeal.

What did it matter after all? Life was a little thing, a forlorn
minstrel that evoked melancholy strains from a pipe of oaten straw.
Life was a little thing, nor death a great one. For his part he would
not be loth to take his poppies and fall asleep.

At one time or another such moods must come to all of us and be
endured. We must enter into the middle country, that dull Sahara of the
soul, a broad belt of barren land where no angels seem to walk by our
side, nor can the false voices of demons lure us to our harm.

This is the land where we are imprisoned by the deeds of others and
never by our own. What we do ourselves will send us to Heaven or to
Hell; but not to the middle country where the plains of disillusion are.

At last the sunset came.

The ashen color of the olive-trees flashed out into silver, the
undulating peaks of the Sabine Mountains became faintly flushed and
phantom fair, as in a tempest of fire the sun sank to rest. The groves
of ilex and arbutus seemed to tremble with delight, as the long red
heralds touched their topmost boughs.

The whole landscape seemed to smile a farewell to departing day. The
chimes of the Angelus trembled on the purple dusk.

Night came on apace.

Tristan re-entered the Lateran Basilica, set the watch and arranged
with Don Garcia to spend the night in the sacristy, while Don Garcia
was to guard the approaches to the Pontifical Chapel to prevent a
recurrence of the horrible sacrilege of the preceding night.

One by one the worshippers left the vast nave of the church. After a
time the sacristans closed the heavy bronze doors and extinguished the
lights, all but the one upon the altar.

When they, too, had departed, and deepest silence filled the sacred
spaces, Tristan emerged from a side chapel and took his station near
the entrance to the sacristy, where, on the preceding night, he had
seen the shadow disappear.

How long he had been there in dread and wonder he did not know, when
two cloaked and hooded figures emerged slowly out of the gloom. He
could not tell whence they came or whether they had been there all the
time. They bent their steps towards the sacristy and, as they were
about to pass Tristan in his hiding-place, they paused as if conscious
of another presence.

"As we proceed in this matter," whispered the one voice, "I grow
fearful. You know my relations to the Senator--"

"Your anxiety moves me not," croaked the other voice. "Deem you to
attain your ends by mortal means?"

The voice caused Tristan to shudder as with an ague, though he saw not
him who spoke.

"What of yourself?" whispered the first speaker.

"Have you forgotten," came the hoarse reply, "that either I am
soulless, or else my spirit, damned from its beginning, will scarce be
saved by the grace of Him I dare not name! You are defiled in the very
conversing with me."

The tone in which these words were spoken, either defied answer, or, if
a response was made, it did not reach Tristan's ears as they slowly,
noiselessly, proceeded upon their way.

Tristan vaguely listened for the echo of their retreating footsteps
as, passing behind the altar, they disappeared, as if the earth had
swallowed them.

Now he was seized with a terrible fear. What, if they were to repeat
the sacrilege? He thought he recognized the voice of the first speaker;
but this no doubt was but a trick of his excited imagination.

Determined to prevent so terrible a crime, he crept cautiously down
the narrow passage through which they had disappeared. Six steps he
counted, then he found himself in a room which seemed to be part of
the sacristy, yet not a part, for a postern stood open through which
gleamed the misty moonlight.

There was little doubt in Tristan's mind that they had passed out
through this postern which had been left unguarded, and he found his
conjectures confirmed, when his eye, accustoming itself to the radiance
without, saw two misty figures passing along the road that leads past
the Coelian Hill through fields of ruins.

Taking care so they would not be attracted by the sound of his steps,
Tristan crept in the shadows of roofless columns, shattered porticoes
and dismantled temples, half hidden amid the dark foliage that sprang
up among the very fanes and palaces of old. At times he lost sight
of his quarry. Again they would rise up before him like evil spirits
wandering through space.

As Tristan continued in his pursuit, he began to be beset by dire
misgivings.

The twain had vanished as utterly as if the earth had swallowed them
and he paused in his pursuit to gain his bearings. Had he followed two
phantoms or two beings in the flesh? Had he abandoned his watch for two
penitents who had perchance been locked in the church?

What might not be happening at the Lateran at this very moment! How
would Don Garcia construe his absence?

A tremor passed through his limbs. He started to retrace his steps, but
some unknown agency compelled him onward.

Penetrating the gloomy foliage, Tristan found himself before a large
ruin, grey and roofless, from the interior of which came, muffled and
indistinct, the sound of voices.

Two men were stealthily creeping beneath the shadow of a wall that
extended for some distance from the ruin.

Both wore long monkish garbs and were muffled from head to toe. Over
their faces they wore vizors with slits for eyes and mouth. One of the
twain was spare, yet muscular. His companion walked with a stooping
gait and supported himself by a staff.

The light which had attracted Tristan, emanated from a lantern which
they had placed on the ground and which they could shade at will, but
which cast its fitful glimmer over the grass plot, revealing what
appeared to be a grave, from which the mould had been thrown up. At a
short distance there stood a black and stunted yew tree. Before this
they paused.

Now, from under his black cassock, the taller produced a strange
object, the nature of which Tristan was unable to discover by the
fitful light of the moon.

No sooner was it revealed to his companion, than the latter began to
chant a weird incantation, in which he who held the strange object
joined.

Louder and more strident grew their voices, and, notwithstanding the
warmth of the summer night, Tristan felt an icy shudder permeate his
whole being while, with a strange fascination, he watched the twain.

Now he who supported himself by a staff uttered a shrill inarticulate
outcry, and, producing a long, gleaming knife from under his cassock,
stabbed the thing viciously, while his voice rose in mad, strident
screams:

"Emen Hetan! Emen Hetan! Palu! Baalberi! Emen Hetan!"

The fit of madness seemed to have caught his companion. Producing a
knife similar to that of the other he, too, stabbed the object he held
in his hand, shrieking deliriously:

"Agora! Agora! Patrisa! Agora!"

An hour was to come when Tristan was to learn the terrible import
of the apparently meaningless jumble which struck his ear with mad
discordance.

Suddenly he felt upon himself the insane gleam of two eyes, peering
from the slits of the bent figure's mask.

There was a death-like stillness, as both looked towards the intruder.
Tristan would have fled, but his feet seemed rooted to the spot. His
energies were paralyzed as under the influence of a terrible spell.

The stooping form raised aloft a small phial. A bluish vapor floated
upward, in thin spiral curls.

The effect was instantaneous. Tristan was seized by a great drowsiness.
His limbs refused to support him. He no longer felt the ground under
his feet. His hand went to his head and, reeling like a drunken man,
he fell among the tall weeds that grew in riotous profusion around the
ancient masonry.

The setting moon shone out from behind a fleecy cloud, and in the
pallid crimson of her light the ill-famed ruins of the ancient temple
of Isis rose weird and ghostly in the summer night.



CHAPTER IX

THE FEAST OF THEODORA


A fairy-like radiance pervaded the great pavilion in the sunken gardens
of Theodora on Mount Aventine.

It was a vast circular hall, roofed in by a lofty dome of richest
malachite, from the centre of which was suspended a huge globe of
fire, flinging blood-red rays on the amber colored silken carpets and
tapestries that covered floors and walls. The dome was supported by
rows upon rows of tall tapering crystal columns, clear as translucent
water and green as the grass in spring, and between and beyond these
columns were large oval shaped casements set wide open to the summer
night, through which the gleam of a broad lake, laden with water
lilies, could be seen shimmering in the yellow radiance of the moon.

The centre of the hall was occupied by a long table in the form of a
horseshoe, upon which glittered vessels of gold, crystal and silver
in the sheen of the revolving globe of fire, heaped with all the
accessories of a sumptuous banquet, such as might have been spread
before the ancient gods of Olympus in the heyday of their legendary
prime.

Strange scents assailed the nostrils: pomegranate and frankincense,
myrrh, spikenard and saffron, cinnamon and calamus mingled their
perfume with the insidious distillations of the jasmine, and spiral
clouds of incense rose from tripods of bronze to the vaulted ceiling.

Inside the horseshoe, black African slaves, attired in fantastic
liveries of yellow and blue, crimson and white, orange and green,
carried aloft jewelled flagons and goblets, massive gold dishes and
great platters of painted earthenware.

There were wines from Cyprus and Malvasia, from Montepulciano and the
sunny slopes of Hymettus, Chianti and Lacrymae Christi.

The almost incredible brilliancy of the assembled company, contrasting
with the fantastic background, caught the eye as with a stab of pain,
held the gaze for a single instant of frozen incredulity, then gripped
the throat in a choking sensation by reason of its wonder.

Lounging on divans of velvet and embroidered satin from the looms of
fabled Cathay, set in the old Roman fashion round the table, eating,
drinking, gossiping and occasionally bursting into wild snatches of
song, were a company of distinguished looking personages, richly
and brilliantly attired, bent upon enjoying the pleasures offered
by the immediate hour. All who laid claim to any distinction in the
seven-hilled city were there, the lords of the Campagna and of the
adjacent fiefs of the Church. Strangers from all parts of the inhabited
globe were there, steeping their bewildered brain in the splendors
that assailed their eyes on every point; from Africa and Iceland, from
Portugal and India, from Burgundy and Aquitaine, from Granada and from
Greece, from Germania and Provence, from Persia and the Baltic shores.
Their fantastic and semi-barbaric costumes seemed to enhance the
grotesque splendor of the banquet hall.

The Romans were acquainting their guests with the exalted rank of
the woman who ruled the city as surely as ever had Marozia from the
Emperor's Tomb. And the strangers listened wide-eyed and with bated
breath.

Near the raised dais which Theodora was to occupy, at the head of
the table, there were three couches reserved for guests who, like the
hostess, had not yet arrived.

Below these, by the side of a martial stranger with the air of one
who would fain sweep the board clear of his neighbors on either
hand, devouring his food in fierce silence, sat the Prefect of Rome,
endeavoring to expound the qualities of his countrymen to the silent
guest, interspersing his encomiums now and then with a rapturous eulogy
of Theodora.

"Monstrous times have robbed us Romans of the power of the sword.
But they cannot rob us of the power of the spirit, which will endure
forever."

The stranger replied with a stony stare of contempt.

Beside the Lord Atenulf of Benevento sat a tall girl with heavy coils
of blue black hair, eyes that smouldered with a sombre light, curved
carnation lips set in a perfect, oval face, and seeming more scarlet
than they were, owing to her ivory pallor, the tint of the furled
magnolia bud which is, perhaps, only seen to perfection in Italy and
especially in Rome.

She looked at the grave-faced guest with quickened eyes.

Snatching some vine leaves from a pyramid of grapes, as purple as the
tapestries of Tyre, she arose and laying her hand on the stranger's
arm, said laughingly:

"Oh, what a brow! Dark as a thundercloud in June. Let me crown you with
the leaves of the vine! Perchance the hour will evoke the mood!"

She twisted the leaves into a wreath and dropped them lightly on his
head. The eyes of the silent guest, set in a face of sanguine color,
leered viciously, with the looks of one who believes himself, however
mistakenly, master of himself. There was a contemptuous curl about his
lips. They were thick lips and florid.

"Ah!" he turned to the girl in a barbarous jargon, "you are one of
those who go veiled in the streets."

And as he spoke his eyes leered with yet livelier malice.

The girl shrank back.

"Those who go veiled know more than ordinary folk," she replied, then
mingled with the other guests.

A young woman of great beauty, with light hair and blue eyes, sat
beside young Fabio of the Cavalli. Her bare arms, white as snow, and of
exquisite contour, encircled his neck, while he drank and drank. Now
and then she sipped of the wine, Lacrymae Christi from Viterbo, of the
greenish straw color of the chrysoberyl.

Some one had put red poppy leaves in Roxana's hair, and as she sat by
the side of the youth, she had the air and appearance of a Corybante.

Now and then she gave a glance at the purple curtain in the background,
and one who watched her closely might have seen a strange sparkle in
the depths of her clear blue eyes. With a look of disappointment she
turned away, as not a ripple of air stirred the curtain's heavy fold.
Then her arms stole anew round the youth, who drained one goblet after
another, as if each succeeding one yielded up a new secret to him.

Roxana marked it well.

Her eyes danced to his, whenever Fabio's gaze stole towards the purple
curtain which screened the mysterious garden beyond, in which the spray
of a fountain cast silvery showers into branch-shadowed thickets,
hidden retreats and silent, leafy alcoves, where flowers swooned in the
moonlight and gave up their perfume for love.

From the immobile sable hangings the youth's eyes wandered back to
Roxana's face, but there lurked something strange in their depths.

"Am I not more beautiful than Theodora?" whispered the woman by his
side, extending her marble arms before her lover.

"You are beautiful, my Roxana," he stammered. "But Theodora is the most
beautiful woman on earth."

Roxana turned very white at his words.

"She has challenged me to come to her feast," she said in a low tone,
audible only to Fabio. "Let her look to herself!"

And her eyes were alight with the desire of the meeting.

On an adjoining couch reclined the huge jelly of a man who looked like
Pan, enormously swollen and bloated. His paunch bellied out over the
table like a full blown sail. His face was stained with many a night
of wine. The mulberry eyes twinkled merrily. The swollen lips babbled
incessantly.

It was the Lord Boso of Caprara.

"They say that seven devils were cast out of Magdalene--" he turned to
Roxana--

The Lord of Norba interposed.

"De mortuis nil nisi bene! Natura abhorret vacuum! I drink to the
thirst to come!"

And he raised his goblet and tossed it off.

The Lord Atenulf rose to his feet, swaying and supporting himself with
one hand on the table. His great swollen face, big as a ham, creased
itself into merriment.

"Let the wine ferret out the thirst!" he shouted, and drained off his
tankard.

"Argus hath a hundred eyes! A butler ought to have a hundred hands!"
shouted the Lord of Camerino. "Wine,--slaves! Wine,--fill up in the
name of Lucifer!"

"My tongue is peeling!"

"Wine! Wine!"

The Africans filled up the empty tankards.

"Privatio praesupponit habitum!" opined the Prefect of Rome.

"We drink to Life and the fleeting Hour."

"Pereat Mors."

And the goblets clanged.

"Who speaks of Death?" shrieked young Fabio of the Cavalli, attempting
to rise. The wine was taking effect on his brain.

Roxana drew him back on the couch beside her.

"Fill the goblets! A brimmer of Chianti, red as blood--"

"Or the poppies in Roxana's hair!"

"Wine from Samos--sweetened with honey."

"A decoction of Nectar and Ambrosia."

The strangers who crowded the vast hall began to join in the mirth and
jollity of their Roman hosts, their Oriental apathy or frozen stolidity
melting slowly in the fumes of the wines.

A curtain had parted and a bevy of girls clad in diaphanous gowns of
finest silver gauze made their way into the banquet hall and took their
seats, as choice directed, beside the guests. Peals of laughter echoed
through the vaulted dome, and excited voices were raised in clamorous
disputations and contentious arguments. The wine began to flow more
lavishly. The assembled guests grew more and more careless of their
utterances. They flung themselves full length upon their luxurious
couches, now pulling out handfuls of flowers from the tall malachite
jars that stood near, and pelting the dancing girls for idle diversion,
now summoning the attendant slaves to refill their wine cups, while
they lay lounging at ease among the silken cushions.

There was a moment's silence, sudden, unexplained, like the presage of
some dark event.

The slow solemn boom of a bell sounded the hour of midnight.

The voices had ceased.

With one accord, as though drawn by some magnetic spell, all turned
their eyes towards the purple curtain through which Theodora had just
entered, and, rising from their seats, they broke into boisterous
welcome and acclaim. Young Fabio of the Cavalli whose flushed face
had all the wanton, effeminate beauty of a pictured Dionysos, reeled
forward, goblet in hand and, tossing the wine in the air, so that it
splashed down at his feet, staining his garments, he shouted:

"Vanish dull moon and be ashamed, for a fairer planet
rules the midnight sky! To Theodora--the Queen of Love!"

[Illustration: "Pelting the dancing girls for idle diversion"]

He staggered a few paces towards her, holding the empty goblet in
his hand. His hair tossed back from his brows and entangled in a
half-crushed wreath of vine-leaves, his garments disordered, his
demeanor that of one possessed of a delirium of the senses, he stared
at the wonderful apparition when, meeting Theodora's icy glance, he
started as if he had been suddenly stabbed. The goblet fell from his
hand and a shudder ran through his supple frame.

By the side of the Grand Chamberlain, who was garbed in black from head
to toe, Theodora descended the steps that led from the raised platform
into the brilliant hall.

Greeting her guests with her inscrutable smile, she moved as a queen
through a crowd of courtiers, the changing lights of crimson and green
playing about her like living flame, her head, wreathed with jewelled
serpents, rising proudly erect from her golden mantle, her eyes
scintillating with a gleam of mockery which made them look so lustrous,
yet so cold.

Thus she strode towards the dais, draped in carnation-colored silks and
surmounted by an arch of ebony.

For the space of a moment she paused, surveying her guests. A film
seemed to pass over her eyes as her gaze rested upon one who had slowly
arisen and was facing her in white silence.

With a slight bend of the head Roxana acknowledged Theodora's silent
greeting; then, amidst loud shouts of acclaim she sank languidly upon
her couch, trying to soothe young Fabio, who had raised his fallen
goblet and held it out to a passing slave. The latter refilled it with
wine, which he gulped down thirstily, though the purple liquid brought
no color to his drawn and ashen cheek.

Theodora paid no heed to the youth's discomfiture, but Roxana's face
was white as death, and her lips were set as the lips of a marble mask
as she gazed towards the ebony arch, upon which the eyes of all present
were riveted.

With a rustle as of falling leaves Theodora's gorgeous mantle had
released itself from its jewelled clasps, and had slowly fallen on the
perfumed carpet at her feet.

A sigh quivered audibly through the hall, whether of joy, hope, desire
or despair it was difficult to tell. The pride and peril of matchless
loveliness was revealed in all its fatal seductiveness and invincible
strength. In irresistible perfection she stood revealed before her
guests in a robe of diaphanous silver gauze, which clung like a pale
mist about the wonderful curves of her form and seemed to float about
her like a summer cloud. Her dazzling white arms were bare to the
shoulders. A silver serpent with a head of sapphires girdled her waist.

Sinking indolently among the silken cushions of the dais, where she
gleamed in her wonderful whiteness like a glistening pearl, set in
ebony, Theodora motioned to her guests to resume their places at the
board.

She was instantly obeyed.

The Grand Chamberlain took what appeared to be his accustomed seat
at her right, the seat at her left remaining vacant. For a moment
Theodora's gaze rested thereon with a puzzled air, then she seemed to
pay no farther heed.

But a close observer might have noted a shade of displeasure on the
brow of the Grand Chamberlain, which no attempt at dissimulation could
dispel.

A triumphant peal of music, the clash of mingled flutes, hautboys,
tubas and harps rushed through the dome like a wind sweeping in from
tropical seas.

Basil turned to Theodora with a searching glance.

"One couch still awaits its guest."

She nodded languidly.

"Tristan--the pilgrim. He is late. Know you aught of him, my lord?"

There was an air of mockery in her tone, not unmingled with concern.

Basil's thin lips straightened.

"Perchance the holy man hath other sheep in mind. What is he to you,
Lady Theodora? Your concern for him seems of the suddenest."

"What is it to you, my lord?" she flashed in return. "Am I accountable
to you for the moods that sway my soul?"

A mocking laugh startled both the Grand Chamberlain and Theodora.

Low as the words between them had been spoken, they had reached the ear
of Roxana. Watchful of every shade of expression in Theodora's face,
she was resolved to take up the gauntlet her hated rival had thrown to
her, to draw her out of her defences into open conflict, for which she
longed with all the fire of her soul. Determined to wrest the dominion
of Rome from Marozia's beautiful sister, she was resolved to stake her
all, counting upon the effect of her wonderful beauty and her physical
perfection, which was a match for Theodora's in every point.

This desire on Roxana's part was precipitated by the strange demeanor
of young Fabio of the Cavalli. From the moment Theodora had entered
the banquet hall his fevered gaze had devoured her wonderful beauty.
A feverish restlessness had taken possession of the youth and he had
rudely repelled Roxana when she tried to soothe his wine-besotten brain.

"Perchance," she turned to Theodora, "remembering how Circé of old
changed her lovers into swine, the sainted pilgrim no longer worships
at Santa Maria of the Aventine."

Theodora started at the sound of her rival's hated voice as if an asp
had stung her.

"Perchance the well-known blandishments of our fair Roxana might
accomplish as much, if report speaks true," she replied, returning the
smouldering challenge in the other woman's eyes.

"And why not?" came the purring response. "Am I not your match in body
and soul?"

Every vestige of color had faded from Theodora's cheeks. For a moment
the two women seemed to search each other's souls, their bosoms
heaving, their eyes alight with the desire for the conflict.

Roxana slowly arose and strode toward the vacant seat at Theodora's
left.

"When you circled the Rosary on yesternight, fairest Theodora," she
purred, "was he not there--waiting for you?"

Instead of Theodora, it was Basil who made reply.

"Of whom do you speak?"

Again the silvery ripple of Roxana's laughter floated above the din.

"Perchance, my Lord Basil, our fair Theodora should be able to
enlighten you on that point--"

"Of whom do you speak?" Basil turned to the woman.

There was something ominous in his eyes. His face was pale.

Theodora regarded him contemptuously, her dark slumbrous eyes turning
from him to the woman.

"Beware lest I be tempted to strangle you," she spoke in a low tone,
her white hands opening and closing convulsively.

"Like Persephoné, your Circassian,--in the Emperor's Tomb?" came the
taunting reply.

Theodora's face was white as lightning.

"I should not leave the work undone!"

"Neither should I," came the purring reply, as Roxana extended her
wonderful hands and arms. "Meanwhile--will you not inform your guests
of the story of the pilgrim, who wellnigh caused Marozia's sister to
enter a nunnery?"

A group of listeners had gathered about.

Basil was swaying to and fro in his seat with suppressed fury.

"One convent at least would be damned from gable to refectory," he
muttered, emptying the tankard which one of the Africans had just
replenished.

Theodora regarded him icily. Her inscrutable countenance gave no hint
of her thoughts. She did not even seem to hear the questions which fell
thick and fast about her, but there was something in the velvet depths
of her eyes that would have caused even the boldest to tremble in the
consciousness of having incurred her anger.

The Lord of Norba reeled towards the couch, where Roxana had taken her
seat, blinking out of small watery eyes and flirting with his lordly
buskins.

"How came it about?"

"What was he like?"

Theodora turned slowly from the one to the other. Then with a voice
vibrant with contempt she said:

"A man!"

"And you were counting your beads?" shouted the Lord Atenulf in so
amazed a tone, that the guests broke out into peals of laughter.

"It was then it happened," Roxana related, without relating.

"How mysterious," shivered some one.

"Will you not tell us?" Roxana challenged Theodora anew.

Their eyes met. Roxana turned to her auditors.

"Our fair Theodora had been suddenly touched by the spirit," she began
in her low musical voice. "Withdrawing from the eyes of man she gave
herself up to holy meditations. In this mood she nightly circled the
Penitent's Rosary at Santa Maria of the Aventine, praying that the
saint might take compassion upon her and deliver unto her keeping a
perfect, saintly man, pure and undefiled. And to add weight to her
own prayers, we, too, circled the Rosary; Gisla, Adelhita, Pamela and
myself. And we prayed very earnestly."

She paused for a moment and looked about, as if to gauge the impression
her tale was producing on the assembled guests. Her smiling eyes swept
the face of Theodora who was listening as intently as if the incident
about to be related had happened to another, her sphinx-like face
betraying not a sign of emotion.

"And then?"

It was Basil's voice, hoarse and constrained.

"Then," Roxana continued, "the miracle came to pass before our very
eyes. Behind one of the monolith pillars there stood one in a pilgrim's
garb, young and tall of stature. His gaze followed our rotations, and
each time we circled about him our fair Theodora offered thanks to the
saint for granting her prayer--"

She paused and again her gaze mockingly swept Theodora's sphinx-like
face.

"And then?" spoke the voice of Basil.

"When our devotions had come to a close," Roxana turned to the speaker,
"Theodora sent Persephoné to conduct the saintly stranger to her
bowers. And then the unlooked for happened. The saintly stranger fled,
like Joseph of old. He did not even leave his garb."

There was an outburst of uproarious mirth.

"But do these things ever happen?" fluted the Poet Bembo.

"In the realms of fable," shouted the Lord of Norba.

"Now men have become wiser."

"And women more circumspect."

Theodora turned to the speaker.

"Perchance traditions have been merely reversed."

"Some recent events do not seem to support the theory," drawled the
Grand Chamberlain.

Theodora regarded him with her strange inscrutable smile.

"Who knows,--if all were told?"

"The fact remains," Roxana persisted in her taunts, "that our fair
Theodora's power has its limits; that there is one man at least whom
she may not drug with the poison sweetness of her song."

In Theodora's eyes gleamed a smouldering fire, as she met the
insufferable taunts of the other woman.

"Why do you not try your own charms upon him, fairest Roxana?" she
turned to her tormentor. "Charms which, I grant you, are second not
even to mine."

Roxana's bosom heaved. A strange fire smouldered in her eyes.

"And deem you I could not take him from you, if I choose?" she replied,
the pupils of her eyes strangely dilated.

"Not if I choose to make him mine!" flashed Theodora.

Roxana's contemptuous mirth cut her to the quick.

"You have tried and failed!"

"I have neither tried nor have I failed."

"Then you mean to try again, fairest Theodora?" came the insidious,
purring reply.

"That is as I choose!"

"It shall be as I choose."

"What do you mean, fairest Roxana?"

"I mean to conquer him--to make him mine--to steep his senses in so
wild a delirium that he shall forget his God, his garb, his honor. And,
when I have done with him, I shall send him to the devil--or to you,
fairest Theodora--to finish, what I began. This to prove you a vain
boaster, who has failed to make good every claim you have put forth--"

Theodora was very pale. In her voice there was an unnatural calm as she
turned to the other woman.

"You have boasted, you will make this austere pilgrim your own, body
and soul--you will cast the tatters of his soiled virtue at my feet.
I did not desire him. But now"--her eyes sank into those of the other
woman, "I mean to have him,--and I shall--with you, fairest Roxana, and
all your power of seduction against me! I shall have him--and when I
have done with him, not even you shall desire him--nor that other, whom
you serve--"

Both women had risen to their feet and challenged each other with their
eyes.

"By the powers of darkness, you shall not!" Roxana returned, pale to
the lips.

"Take him from me--if you can!" Theodora flashed. "I shall conquer
you--and him!"

At this point the Grand Chamberlain interposed.

"Were it not wise," he drawled, looking from the one to the other, "to
acquaint this holy man with the perils that beset his soul, since the
two most beautiful and virtuous ladies in Rome seem resolved to guide
him on his Way of the Cross?"

There was a moment of silence, then he continued in the same drawl,
which veiled emotions he dared not reveal in this assembly.

"Deem you, the man who journeyed hundreds of leagues to obtain
absolution for having kissed a woman in wedlock has aught to fear from
such as you?"

Ere Theodora could make reply the tantalizing purring voice of Roxana
struck her ear.

"Surely this is no man--"

"A man he is, nevertheless," Basil retorted hotly. "One night I
wandered out upon the silent Aventine. Losing myself among the ruins,
I heard voices in the abode of the Monk of Cluny. Fearing, lest some
one should attempt to harm this holy friar," he continued, with a side
glance at Theodora, "I entered unseen. I overheard his confession."

There was profound silence.

It seemed too monstrously absurd. Absolution for a kiss!

Roxana spoke at last, and her veiled mockery strained her rival's
temper to the breaking point. Her words stung, as needles would the
naked flesh.

"Then," she said with deliberate slowness, "if our fair Theodora
persist in her unholy desire, what else is there for me to do but to
take him from her just to save the poor man's soul?"

Theodora's white hands yearned for the other woman's throat.

"Deem you, your charms would snare the good pilgrim, should I will to
make him mine?" she flashed.

"Why not?" Roxana purred. "Shall we try? Are you afraid?"--

"Of you?" Theodora shrilled.

A strange fire burnt in Roxana's eyes.

"Of the ordeal! Once upon a time you took from me the boy I loved. Now
I shall take from you the man you desire!"

"I challenge you!"

"To the death!" Roxana flashed, appraising her rival's charms against
her own. Her further utterance was checked by the sudden entrance of
one of the Africans, who prostrated himself before Theodora, muttering
some incoherent words at which both the woman and Basil gave a start.

"Have him thrown into the street," Basil turned to Theodora.

"Have him brought in," Theodora commanded.

For the space of a few moments intense silence reigned throughout the
pavilion. Then the curtains at the farther end parted, admitting two
huge Africans, who carried between them the seemingly lifeless form of
a man.

An imperious gesture of Theodora directed them to approach with their
burden, and a cry of surprise and dismay broke from her lips as she
gazed into the white, still features of Tristan.

He was unconscious, but faintly breathing, and upon his garb were
strange stains, that looked like blood. The Africans placed their
burden on the couch from which Roxana had arisen, and Theodora summoned
the Moorish physician Bahram from the lower end of the table, where he
had indulged in a learned dispute with a Persian sage. The other guests
thronged about, curious to see and to hear.

The Grand Chamberlain changed color when his gaze first lighted on
the prostrate form and he felt inclined to make light of the matter
hinting at the effect of Italian wines upon strangers unaccustomed
to the vintage. The ashen pallor of Tristan's cheeks had not remained
unremarked by Theodora, as she turned from the unconscious victim of a
villainy to the man beside her, whom in some way she connected with the
deed.

Basil's comment elicited but a glance of contempt as, approaching the
couch whereon he lay, Theodora eagerly watched the Moorish physician
in his efforts to revive the unconscious man. Tristan's teeth were so
tightly set that it required the insertion of a steel bar to pry them
apart.

Bahram poured some strong wine down the throat of the still unconscious
man, then placed him in a sitting position and continued his efforts
until, with a violent fit of coughing, Tristan opened his eyes.

It was some time, however, until he regained his faculties sufficiently
to manifest his emotions, and the bewilderment with which his gaze
wandered from one face to the other, would have been amusing had not
the mystery which encompassed his presence inspired a feeling of awe.
The Moorish physician, upon being questioned by Theodora, stated, some
powerful poison had caused the coma which bound Tristan's limbs and
added, in another hour he would have been beyond the pale of human
aid. More than this he would not reveal and, his task accomplished, he
withdrew among the guests.

From the Grand Chamberlain, whose stony gaze was riveted upon him,
Tristan turned to the woman who reclined by his side on the divan. His
vocal chords seemed paralyzed, but his other faculties were keenly
alive to the strangeness of his surroundings. Perceiving his inability
to reply to her questions, Theodora soothed him to silence.

Vainly endeavoring to speak, Tristan partook but sparingly of the
refreshments which she offered to him with her own hands. She was
now deliberately endeavoring to enmesh his senses, and her exotic,
wonderful beauty could not but accomplish with him what it had
accomplished with all who came under its fatal spell. An insidious,
sensuous perfume seemed to float about her, which caused Tristan's
brain to reel. Her bare arms and wonderful hands made him dizzy. Her
eyes held his own by their strange, subtle spell. Unfathomed mysteries
seemed to lurk in their hidden depths. Without endeavoring to engage
him in conversation, much as she longed to question him on certain
points, she tried to soothe him by passing her cool white hands over
his fevered brow. And all the time she was pondering on the nature of
his infliction and the author thereof, as her gaze pensively swept the
banquet hall.

The guests had, one by one, returned to their seats. Theodora also had
arisen, after having made Tristan comfortable on the couch assigned to
him.

Unseen, the heavy folds of the curtain behind her parted. A face peered
for a moment into her own, that seemed to possess no human attributes.
Theodora gave a hardly perceptible nod and the face disappeared.
The Grand Chamberlain took his seat by her side and Roxana flinging
Theodora a glittering challenge seated herself beside Tristan.



CHAPTER X

THE CHALICE OF OBLIVION


A delirium of the senses such as he had never experienced to this
hour began to steal over Tristan, as he found himself seated between
Theodora, the fairest sorceress that ever triumphed over the frail
spirit of man--and Roxana, who was whispering strange words into his
bewildered ears.

Across the board the gloomy form of the Grand Chamberlain in his sombre
attire loomed up like a shadow of evil in a garden of strangely tinted
orchids.

How the time passed on, he could not tell. Peals of laughter resounded
now and then through the vaulted dome and voices were raised in
clamorous disputations that just sheered off the boundary-line of
actual quarrel.

Theodora seemed to pay but little heed to Tristan. Roxana had coiled
her white arms about him and, whenever he raised his goblet, their
hands touched and a stream of fire coursed through his veins. Only now
and then Theodora's drowsy eyes shot forth a fiery gleam from under
their heavily fringed lids.

Roxana smiled into her rival's eyes and, raising a goblet of wine to
her lips, kissed the brim and gave it to Tristan with an indescribably
graceful swaying motion of her whole form that reminded one of a tall
white lily, bowing to the breeze.

Tristan seized the cup eagerly, drank from it and returned it and, as
their hands touched again, he could hardly restrain himself from giving
way to a transport of passion. He was no longer himself. His brain
seemed to reel. He felt as if he would plunge into the crater of a
seething volcano without heeding the flames.

Even Hellayne's pale image seemed forgotten for the time.

The guests waxed more and more noisy, their merriment more and more
boisterous. Many were now very much the worse for their frequent
libations, and young Fabio particularly seemed to display a desire to
break away from all bonds of prudent reserve.

He lay full length on his silken divan, singing little snatches of
song to himself and, pulling the vine-wreath from his tumbled locks,
as though he found it too cumbersome, he flung it on the ground amid
the other debris of the feast. Then, folding his arms lazily behind
his head, he stared straight and fixedly at Theodora, surveying every
curve of her body, every slight motion of her head, every faint
smile that played upon her lips. She was listening with an air of
ill-disguised annoyance to Basil, whose wine-inflamed countenance and
passion-distorted features left little to the surmise regarding his
state of mind.

On the couch adjoining the one of Fabio of the Cavalli reclined a
nobleman from Gades, who, having partaken less lavishly of the wine
than the rest of the guests, was engaged in a dispute with the burly
stranger from the North, whose temper seemed to have undergone little
change for the better for his having filled his paunch.

In the barbarous jargon of tenth century Latin they commented upon
Theodora, upon the banquet, upon the guests and upon Rome in general,
and the Spaniard expressed surprise that Marozia's sister had failed to
revenge Marozia's death, contenting herself to spend her life in the
desert wastes of Aventine, among hermits, libertines and fools.

Notwithstanding his besotten mood Fabio had heard and understood every
word the stranger uttered. Before he, to whom his words was addressed
could make reply, he shouted insolently:

"Ask Theodora why she is content to live in her enchanted groves
instead in the Emperor's Tomb, haunted by the spectre of strangled
Marozia!"

A terrible silence followed this utterance. The eyes of all present
wandered towards the speaker. The Grand Chamberlain ground his teeth.
Every vestige of color had faded from his face.

"Are you afraid?" shouted Fabio, raising himself upon his elbows and
nodding towards Theodora.

The woman turned her splendid, flashing orbs slowly upon him. A chill,
steely glitter leaped from their velvety depths.

"Pray, Fabio, be heedful of your speech," said she with a quiver in her
voice, curiously like the suppressed snarl of a tigress. "Most men are
fools, like yourself, and by their utterance shall they be judged!"

Fabio broke out into boisterous mirth.

"And Theodora rules with a rod of iron. Even the Lord Basil is but a
toy in her hands! Behold him,--yonder."

Basil had arisen, his hand on the hilt of his poniard. Theodora laid
her white hand upon his arm.

"Nay--" she said sweetly, "this is a matter for myself to settle."

"A very anchorite," the mocking voice of Fabio rose above the silence.

A young noble of the Cætani tried to quiet him, but in vain:

"The Lord Basil is no monk."

"Wherefore then his midnight meditations in the devil's own chapel
yonder, in which our fair Theodora officiates as Priestess of Love?"

"Midnight meditations?" interposed the Spaniard, not knowing that he
was treading on dangerous ground.

"Ask Theodora," shouted Fabio, "how many lovers are worshipping at her
midnight shrine!"

The silence of utter consternation prevailed. Glances of absolute
dismay went round the table, and the stillness was as ominous as the
hush before a thunderclap. Fabio, apparently struck by the sudden
silence, gazed lazily from out the tumbled cushions, a vacant, besotten
smile upon his lips.

"What fools you are!" he shouted thickly. "Did you not hear me? I
bade you ask Theodora," and suddenly he sat bolt upright, his face
crimsoning as with an access of passion, "why the Lord Basil creeps in
and out her palace at midnight like a skulking slave? Ask him why he
creeps in disguise through the underground passage. Ay--stranger," he
shouted to Tristan, "you are near enough to our lady of Witcheries. Ask
her how many lovers have tasted of the chalice of oblivion?"

Another death-like silence ensued.

Even the attendants seemed to move with awed tread among the guests.

Theodora and Roxana had risen almost at the same time, facing each
other in a white silence.

Roxana extended her snow-white arms towards Theodora.

"Why do you not reply to your discarded lover?" she taunted her rival.
"Shall I reply for him? You have challenged me, and I return your
challenge! I am your match in all things, Lady Theodora. In my veins
flows the blood of kings--in yours the blood of courtesans. There is
not room on earth for both of us. Does not your coward soul quail
before the issue?"

Theodora turned to Roxana a face, white as marble, her eyes
preternaturally brilliant. "You shall have your wish--even to the
death. But--before the dark-winged messenger enfolds you with his sable
wings you shall know Theodora as you have never known her--nor ever
shall again."

From the woman Theodora turned to the man.

"Fabio," she said in her sweet mock-caressing tone, "I fear you have
grown altogether too wise for this world. It were a pity you should
linger in so narrow and circumscribed a sphere."

She paused and beckoned to a giant Nubian who stood behind her chair.

"Refill the goblets!"

Her behest executed she clinked goblets with Roxana. An undying hate
shone in the eyes of the two women as they raised the crystal goblets
to their lips.

Theodora hardly tasted of the purple beverage. Roxana eagerly drained
her cup, then she kissed the brim and offered the fragrant goblet to
Tristan, as her eyes challenged Theodora anew.

Ere he could raise it to his lips, Theodora dashed the goblet from
Tristan's hands and the purple wine dyed the orange colored carpet like
dark stains of blood.

White as lightning, her eyes ablaze with hidden fires, her white hands
clenched, Roxana straightened herself to her full height, ready to
bound at Theodora's throat, to avenge the insult and to settle now and
here, woman to woman, the question of supremacy between them, when she
reeled as if struck by a thunderbolt. Her hands went to her heart and
without a moan she fell, a lifeless heap, upon the floor.

Ere Tristan and the other guests could recover from their
consternation, or fathom the import of the terrible scene, a savage
scream from the couch upon which Fabio reclined, turned the attention
of every one in that direction.

Fabio, suddenly sobered, had risen from his couch and drained his
goblet. It rolled upon the carpet from his nerveless grasp. For a
moment his arms wildly beat the air, then he reeled and fell prone upon
the floor. His staring eyes and his face, livid with purple spots,
proclaimed him dead, even ere the Moorish physician could come to his
aid.

Theodora clapped her hands, and at the signal four giant Nubians
appeared and, taking up the lifeless bodies, disappeared with them in
the moonlit garden outside.

The Grand Chamberlain, rising from his seat, informed the guests that
a sudden ailment had befallen the woman and the man. They were being
removed to receive care and attention.

Though a lingering doubt hovered in the minds of those who had
witnessed the scene, some kept silent through fear, others whose brains
were befuddled by the fumes of the wine gave utterance to inarticulate
sounds, from which the view they took of the matter, was not entirely
clear.

The shock had restored to Tristan the lost faculty of speech. For a
moment he stared horrified at Theodora. Her impassive calm roused in
him a feeling of madness. With an imprecation upon his lips he rushed
upon her, his gleaming dagger raised aloft.

But ere he could carry out his intent, Theodora's clear, cold voice
smote the silence.

"Disarm him!"

One of the Africans had glided stealthily to his side, and the steel
was wrenched from Tristan's grip.

"Be silent,--for your life!" some one whispered into his ear.

Suddenly he grew weak. Theodora's languid eyes met his own, utterly
paralyzing his efforts. A smile parted her lips as, without a trace of
anger, she kissed the ivory bud of a magnolia and threw it to him.

As one in a trance he caught the flower. Its fragrance seemed to creep
into his brain, rob his manhood of its strength. Sinking submissively
into his seat he gazed up at her in wondering wistfulness. Was there
ever woman so bewilderingly beautiful? A strange enervating ecstasy
took him captive, as he permitted his eyes to dwell on the fairness
of her face, the ivory pallor of her skin, the supple curves of her
form. As one imprisoned in a jungle exhaling poison miasmas loses all
control over his faculties, feeling a drowsy lassitude stealing over
him, so Tristan gave himself up to the spell that encompassed him,
heedless of the memories of the past.

Now Theodora touched a small bell and suddenly the marble floor yawned
asunder and the banquet table with all its accessories vanished
underground with incredible swiftness. Then the floor closed again. The
broad centre space of the hall was now clear of obstruction and the
guests roused themselves from their drowsy postures of half-inebriated
languor.

Tristan drank in the scene with eager, dazzled eyes and heavily beating
heart. Love and hate strangely mingled stole over him more strongly
than ever, in the sultry air of this strange summer night, this night
of sweet delirium in which all that was most dangerous and erring in
his nature waked into his life and mastered his better will.

Outside the water lilies nodded themselves to sleep among their
shrouding leaves. Like a sheet of molten gold spread the lake over the
spot where Roxana and Fabio had found a common grave.

Surrounding this lake spread a garden, golden with the sleepy radiance
of the late moon, and peacefully fair in the dreaminess of drooping
foliage, moss-covered turf and star-sprinkled violet sky. In full
view, and lighted by the reflected radiance flung out from within, a
miniature waterfall tumbled headlong into a rocky recess, covered and
overgrown with lotus-lilies and plumy ferns. Here and there golden
tents glimmered through the shadows cast by the great magnolia trees,
whose half-shut buds wafted balmy odors through the drowsy summer
night. The sounds of flutes, of citherns and cymbals floated from
distant bosquets, as though elfin shepherds were guarding their fairy
flocks in some hidden nook. By degrees the light grew warmer and more
mellow in tint till it resembled the deep hues of an autumn sunset,
flecked through the emerald haze, in the sunken gardens of Theodora.

Another clash of cymbals, stormily persistent, then the chimes of
bells, such as bring tears to the eyes of many a wayfarer, who hears
the silvery echoes when far away from home and straightway thinks of
his childhood days, those years of purest happiness.

A curious, stifling sensation began to oppress Tristan as he listened
to those bells. They reminded him of strange things, things to which he
could not give a name, odd suggestions of fair women who were wont to
pray for those they loved, and who believed that their prayers would be
heard in heaven and would be granted!

With straining eyes he gazed out into the languorous beauty of the
garden that spread its emerald glamour around him, and a sob broke from
his lips as the peals of the chiming bells, softened by degrees into
subdued and tremulous semitones, the clarion clearness of the cymbals
again smote the silent air.

Ere Tristan, in his state of bewilderment, could realize what was
happening, the great fire globe in the dome was suddenly extinguished
and a firm hand imperiously closed on his own, drawing him along, he
knew not whither.

He glanced about him. In the semi-darkness he was able to discern
the sheen of the lake with its white burden of water lilies, and the
dim, branch-shadowed outlines of the moonlit garden. Theodora walked
beside him, Theodora, whose lovely face was so perilously near his
own, Theodora, upon whose lips hovered a smile of unutterable meaning.
His heart beat faster; he strove in vain to imagine what fate was in
store for him. He drank in the beauty of the night that spread her
star-embroidered splendors about him, he was conscious of the vital
youth and passion that throbbed in his veins, endowing him with a keen
headstrong rapture which is said to come but once in a lifetime, and
which in the excess of its folly will bring endless remorse in its
wake.

Suddenly he found himself in an exquisitely adorned pavilion of painted
silk, lighted by a lamp of tenderest rose lustre and carpeted with
softest amber colored pile. It stood apart from the rest, concealed
as it were in a grove of its own, and surrounded by a thicket of
orange-trees in full bloom. The fragrance of the white waxen flowers
hung heavily upon the air, breathing forth delicate suggestions of
languor and sleep. The measured cadence of the waterfall alone broke
the deep stillness, and now and then the subdued and plaintive thrill
of a nightingale, soothing itself to sleep with its own song in some
deep-shadowed copse.

Here, on a couch, such as might have been prepared for Titania,
Theodora seated herself, while Tristan stood gazing at her in a sort
of mad, fascinated wonderment, and gradually increasing intensity of
passion.

The alluring smile and the quick brightening of the eyes, so rare a
thing with him who, since he had left Avalon, was used to wear so calm
and subdued a mask, changed his aspect in an extraordinary manner. In
an instant he seemed more alive, more intensely living, pulsing with
the joy of the hour. He felt as if he must let the natural youth in his
veins run riot, as Theodora's beauty and the magic of the night began
to sting his blood.

Theodora's eyes danced to his. She had marked the symptoms and knew.
Her eyes had lost their mocking glitter and swam in a soft languor,
that was strangely bewitching. Her lips parted in a faint sigh and a
glance like are shot from beneath her black silken lashes.

"Tristan!" she murmured tremulously and waited. Then again: "Tristan!"

He knelt before her, passion sweeping over him like a hurricane, and
took her unresisting hands in his.

"Theodora!" he said, bending over her, and his voice, even to his own
ears had a strange sound, as if some one else were speaking. "Theodora!
What would you have of me? Speak! For my heart aches with a burden of
dark memories conjured up by the wizard spell of your eyes!"

She gently drew him down beside her on the couch.

"Foolish dreamer!" she murmured, half mockingly, half tenderly. "Are
love and passion so strange a thing that you wonder--as you sit here
beside me?"

"Love!" he said. "Is it love indeed?"

He uttered the words as if he spoke to himself, in a hushed, awe-struck
tone. But she had heard, and a flash of triumph brightened her
beautiful face.

"Ah!" and she dropped her head lower and lower, till the dark perfumed
tresses touched his brow. "Then you do love me?"

He started. A dull pang struck his heart, a chill of vague uncertainty
and dread. He longed to take her in his arms, forget the past, the
present, the future, life and all it held. But suddenly a vague
thought oppressed him. There was the sense that he was dishonoring
that other love. However unholy it had been, it was yet for him a real
and passionate reality of his past life, and he shrank in shame from
suppressing it. Would it not have been far nobler to have fought it
down as the pilgrim he had meant to be than to drown its memory in a
delirium of the senses?

And--was this love indeed for the woman by his side? Was it not mere
passion and base desire?

As he remained silent the silken voice of the fairest woman he had ever
seen once more sent its thrill through his bewildered brain in the
fateful question:

"Do you love me, Tristan?"

Softly, insidiously, she entwined him with her wonderful white arms.
Her perfumed breath fanned his cheeks; her dark tresses touched his
brow. Her lips were thirstily ajar.

He put his arms about her. Hungrily, passionately, his gaze wandered
over her matchless form, from the small feet, encased in golden
sandals, to the crowning masses of her dusky hair. His heart beat with
loud, impatient thuds, like some wild thing struggling in its cage, but
though his lips moved, no utterance came.

Her arms tightened about him.

"You are of the North," she said, "though you have hotter blood in
your veins. Now under our yellow sun, and in our hot nights, when the
moon hangs like an alabaster lamp in the sky, a beaten shield of gold
trembling over our dreams--forget the ice in your blood. Gather the
roses while you may! A time will come when their soft petals will have
lost their fragrance! I love you--be mine!"

And, bending towards him, she kissed him with moist, hungry lips.

He fevered in her embrace. He kissed her eyes--her hair--her lips--and
a strange dizziness stole over him, a delirium in which he was no
longer master of himself.

"Can you not be happy, Tristan?" she whispered gently. "Happy as other
men when loved as I love you!"

With a cold sinking of the heart he looked into the woman's perfect
face. His upturned gaze rested on the glittering serpent heads that
crowned the dusky hair, and the words of Fabio of the Cavalli knocked
on the gates of his memory.

"Happy as other men when they love--and are deceived," he said, unable
to free himself of her entwining arms.

"You shall not be deceived," she returned quickly. "You shall
attain that which your heart desires. Your dearest hope shall be
fulfilled,--all shall be yours--all--if you will be mine--to-night."

Tristan met her burning gaze, and as he did so the strange dread
increased.

"What of the Grand Chamberlain?" he queried. "What of Basil, your
lover?"

Her answer came swift and fierce, as the hiss of a snake.

"He shall die--even as Roxana--even as Fabio, he who boasted of my
love! You shall be lord of Rome--and I--your wife--"

Her words leaped into his brain with the swift, fiery action of a
burning drug. A red mist swam before his eyes.

"Love!" he cried, as one seized with sudden delirium. "What have I to
do with love--what have you, Theodora, who make the lives of men your
sport, and their torments your mockery? I know no name for the fever
that consumes me, when I look upon you--no name for the ravishment that
draws me to you in mingled bliss and agony. I would perish, Theodora.
Kill me, and I shall pray for you! But love--love--it recalls to my
soul a glory I have lost. There can be no love between you and me!"

He spoke wildly, incoherently, scarcely knowing what he said. The
woman's arms had fallen from him. He staggered to his feet.

A low laugh broke from her lips, which curved in an evil smile.

"Poor fool!" she said in her low, musical tones, "to cast away that for
which hundreds would give their last life's blood. Madman! First to
desire, then to spurn. Go! And beware!"

She stood before him in all her white glory and loveliness, one white
arm stretched forth, her bosom heaving, her eyes aflame. And Tristan,
seized with a sudden fear, fled from the pavilion, down the moonlit
path as if pursued by an army of demons.

A man stepped from a thicket of roses, directly into his path. Heedless
of everything, of every one, Tristan endeavored to pass him, but the
other was equally determined to bar his way.

"So I have found you at last," said the voice, and Tristan, starting
as if the ground had opened before him, stared into the face of the
stranger at Theodora's board.

"You have found me, my Lord Roger," he said, after recovering from his
first surprise. "Here I may injure no one--you, my lord, least of all!
Leave me in peace!"

The stranger gave a sardonic laugh.

"That I may perchance, when you have told me the truth--the whole
truth!"

"Ask, my lord, and I will answer," Tristan replied.

"Where is the Lady Hellayne?"--

The questioning voice growled like far off thunder.

Tristan recoiled a step, staring into the questioner's face as if he
thought he had gone mad.

"The Lady Hellayne?" he stammered, white to the lips and with a dull
sinking of the heart. "How am I to know? I have not seen her since I
left Avalon--months ago. Is she not with you?"

The Lord Laval's brow was dark as a thunder cloud.

"If she were with me--would I be wasting my time asking you concerning
her?" he barked.

"Where is she, then?" Tristan gasped.

"That you shall tell me--or I have forgotten the use of this knife!"

And he laid his hand on the hilt of a long dagger that protruded from
his belt.

Tristan's eyes met those of the other.

"My lord, this is unworthy of you! I have never committed a deed I
dared not confess--and I despise your threat and your accusation as
would the Lady Hellayne, were she here."

Steps were heard approaching from the direction of the pavilion.

"I am a stranger in Rome. Doubtless you are familiar with its ways.
Some one is coming. Where shall we meet?"

Tristan pondered.

"At the Arch of the Seven Candles. Every child can point the way. When
shall it be?"

"To-morrow,--at the second hour of the night. And take care to speak
the truth!"

Ere Tristan could reply the speaker had vanished among the thickets.

For a moment he paused, amazed, bewildered. Roger de Laval in Rome! And
Hellayne--where was she? She had left Avalon--had left her consort. Had
she entered a convent? Hellayne--where was Hellayne?

Before this dreadful uncertainty all the events of the night vanished
as if they had never been.

For a long time Tristan remained where Roger de Laval had left him.
The cool air from the lake blew refreshingly on his heated brow. A
thousand odors from orange and jessamine floated caressingly about
him. The night was very still. There, in the soft sky-gloom, moved the
majestic procession of undiscovered worlds. There, low on the horizon,
the yellow moon swooned languidly down in a bed of fleecy clouds. The
drowsy chirp of a dreaming bird came softly now and again from branch
shadowed thickets, and the lilies on the surface of the lake nodded
mysteriously to each other, as if they were whispering a secret of
another world.

At last the moon sank out of sight and from afar, softened by the
distance, the chimes of convent bells from the remote regions of the
Aventine were wafted through the flower scented summer night.

END OF BOOK THE SECOND



BOOK THE THIRD



CHAPTER I

WOLFSBANE


The early summer dawn was creeping over the silent Campagna when
Tristan reached the Inn of The Golden Shield.

As one dazed he had traversed the deserted, echoing streets in the
mysterious half-light which flooded the Eternal City; a light in which
everything was sharply defined yet seemed oddly spectral and ghostlike.

Deep down in his heart two emotions were contending, appalling in their
intensity and appeal. One was an agonized fear for the woman he loved
with a love so unwavering that his love was actually himself, his whole
being, the sacrament that consecrated his life and ruled his destiny.

She had left Avalon; she had left him to whom she had plighted her
troth. Where was she and why was Roger de Laval in Rome?

An icy fear gripped his heart at the thought; a nameless dread and
horror of the terrible scene he had witnessed at the midnight feast of
Theodora.

For a time he was as one obsessed, hardly master of himself and his
actions. In an age where scenes such as those he had witnessed were
quickly forgotten the death of Roxana and young Fabio created but
little stir. Rome, just emerging from under the dark cloud of Marozia's
regime, in the throes of ever-recurring convulsions, without a helmsman
to guide the tottering ship of state, received the grim tidings with a
shrug of apathy; and the cowed burghers discussed in awed whispers the
dread power of one whose vengeance none dared to brave.

Tristan's unsophisticated mind could not so easily forget. He had
stood at the brink of the abyss, he had looked down into the murky
depths from which there was no escape once the fumes had conquered the
senses and vanquished resistance. With a shudder he called to mind,
how utterly and completely he had abandoned himself to the lure of the
sorceress, how little short of a miracle had saved him. She had led him
on step by step, and the struggle had but begun.

No one was astir at the inn.

He ascended the stairs leading to his chamber. The chill of the night
was still lingering in the dusky passages. He lighted the taper of a
tiny lamp that burnt before an image of the Mother of Sorrows in a
niche.

Then he sank upon his couch. His vitality seemed to be ebbing and his
mind clouding before the problems that began to crowd in upon him.

Nothing since he left Avalon, nothing external or merely human, had
stirred him as had his meeting with Theodora. It had roused in him
a dormant, embryonic faculty, active and vivid. What it called into
his senses was not a mere series of pictures. It created a visual
representation of the horrified creature, roused from the flattering
oblivion of death to memory and shame and dread, nothing really
forgotten, nothing past, the old lie that death ends all pitifully
unmasked.

He shuddered as he thought of the consequences of surrender from which
a silent voice out of the far off past had saved him--just in time.

His life lay open before him as a book, every fact recorded, nothing
extenuated.

A calm, relentless voice bade him search his own life, if he had done
aught amiss. He had never taken or desired that which was another's.
Yet his years had been a ceaseless perturbation. There had been endless
and desperate clutchings at bliss, followed by the swift discovery that
the exquisite light had faded, leaving a chill gloaming that threatened
a lonely night. And if the day had failed in its promise what would the
night do?

His soul cried out for rest, for peace from the enemy; peace, not this
endless striving. He was terrified. In the ignominious lament there
was desertion, as if he were too small for the fight. He was demanding
happiness, and that his own burden should rest on another's shoulders.
How silent was the universe around him! He stood in tremendous, eternal
isolation.

Pale and colorless as a moonstone at first the ghostly dawn had
quickened to the iridescence of the opal, flaming into a glory of gold
and purple in the awakening east.

And now the wall in the courtyard was no longer grey. A faint, clear,
golden light was beginning to flow and filter into it, dispelling, one
by one, the dark shadows that lurked in the corners. Somewhere in the
distance the dreamer heard the shrill silver of a lark, and a dull
monotonous sound, felt rather than heard, suggested that sleeping Rome
was about to wake.

And then came the sun. A long golden ray stabbed the mists and leaped
into his chamber like a living thing. The little sanctuary lamp before
the image of the Blessed Virgin glowed no more.

After a brief rest Tristan arose, noting for the first time with a
degree of chagrin that his dagger had not been restored to him.

It was day now. The sun was high and hot. The streets and thoroughfares
were thronged. A bright, fierce light beat down upon dome and spire
and pinnacle, flooding the august ruins of the Cæsars and the thousand
temples of the Holy Cross with brilliant radiance from the cloudless
azure of the heavens. Over the Tiber white wisps of mist were rising.
Beyond, the massive bulk of the Emperor's Tomb was revealed above the
roofs of the houses, and the olive groves of Mount Janiculum glistened
silvery in the rays of the morning sun.

It was only when, refreshed after a brief rest and frugal refreshments,
Tristan quitted the inn, taking the direction of Castel San Angelo,
that the incidents leading up to his arrival at the feast of Theodora
slowly filtered through his mind.

Withal there was a link missing in the chain of events. From the time
he had left the Lateran in pursuit of the two strangers everything
seemed an utter blank. What mysterious forces had been at work
conveying him to his destiny, he could not even fathom and, in a state
of perplexity, such as he had rarely experienced, he pursued his way,
paying little heed to the life and turmoil that seethed around him.

Upon entering Castel San Angelo he was informed that the Grand
Chamberlain had arrived but a few moments before and he immediately
sought the presence of the man whose sinister countenance held out
little promise of the solution of the mystery.

In an octagon chamber, the small windows of which, resembling
port-holes, looked out upon the Campagna, Basil was fretfully
perambulating as Tristan entered.

After a greeting which was frosty enough on both sides, Tristan briefly
stated the matter which weighed upon his mind.

The Grand Chamberlain watched him narrowly, nodding now and then by
way of affirmation, as Tristan related the experience at the Lateran,
referring especially to two mysterious strangers whom he had followed
to a distant part of the city, believing they might offer some clue to
the outrage committed at the Lateran on the previous night.

Basil regarded the new captain with a mixture of curiosity and gloom.
Perchance he was as much concerned in discovering what Tristan knew
as the latter was in finding a solution of the two-fold mystery.
After having questioned him on his experience, without offering any
suggestion that might clear up his visitor's mind, Basil touched upon
the precarious state of the city and its hidden dangers.

Tristan listened attentively to the sombre account, little guessing its
purpose.

"Much have I heard of the prevailing lawless state," he interposed at
last, "of dark deeds hidden in the silent bosom of the night, of feud
and rebellion against the Church which is powerless to defend herself
for the want of a master-hand that would evoke order out of chaos."

The dark-robed figure by his side gave a grim nod.

"Men are closely allied to beasts, giving rein to their desires and
appetites as the tigers and hyenas. It is only fear that will restrain
them, fear of some despotic invisible force that pervades the universe,
whose chiefest attribute is not so much creative as destructive. It is
only through fear you can rule the filthy rabble that reviles to-day
its idol of yesterday."

There was an undercurrent of scorn in Basil's voice and Tristan saw,
as it were, the lightning of an angry or disdainful thought flashing
through the sombre depths of his eyes.

"What of the Lady Theodora?" Tristan interposed bluntly.

Basil gave a nameless shrug.

"She bends men's hearts to her own desires, taking from them their
will and soul. The hot passion of love is to her a toy, clasped and
unclasped in the pink hollow of her hand."

And, as he spoke, Basil suited the gesture to the word, closing his
fingers in the air and again unclosing them.

"As long as she retains the magic of her beauty so long will her sway
over the Seven Hills endure," he added after a brief pause.

"What of the woman who paid the penalty of her daring?" Tristan
ventured to inquire.

Basil regarded the questioner quizzically.

"There have been many disturbances of late," he spoke after a pause.
"Roxana's lust for Theodora's power proved her undoing. Theodora will
suffer no rival to threaten her with Marozia's fate."

"I have heard it whispered she is assembling about her men who are
ready to go to any extreme," Tristan interposed tentatively, thrown off
his guard by Basil's affability of manner.

The latter gave a start, but recovered himself.

"Idle rumors. The Romans must have something to talk about. Odo of
Cluny is thundering his denunciations with such fervid eloquence that
they cannot but linger in the rabble's mind."

"The hermit of Mount Aventine?" Tristan queried.

"Even he! He has a strange craze, a doctrine of the End of Time, to
be accomplished when the cycle of the sæculum has run its course. A
doctrine he most furiously proclaims in language seemingly inspired,
and which he promulgates to farther his own dark ends."

"A theory most dark and strange," Tristan replied with a shudder, for
he was far from free of the superstition of the times.

Basil gave a shrug. His tone was lurid.

"What shall it matter to us, who shall hardly tread this earth when the
fateful moment comes?"

"If it were true nevertheless?" Tristan replied meditatively.

A sombre fire burnt in the eyes of the Grand Chamberlain.

"Then, indeed, should we not pluck the flowers in our path, defying
darkness and death and the fiery chariot of the All-destroyer that is
to sweep us to our doom?"

Tristan shuddered.

Some such words he had indeed heard among the pilgrim throngs without
clearly grasping their import. They had haunted his memory and had,
for the time at least, laid a restraining hand upon his impulses.

But the mystery of the Monk of Cluny weighed lightly against the
mystery of the woman who held in the hollow of her hand the destinies
of Rome.

Basil seemed to read Tristan's thoughts.

Reclining in his chair, he eyed him narrowly.

"You, too, but narrowly escaped the blandishments of the Sorceress,
blandishments to which many another would have succumbed. I marvel at
your self-restraint, not being bound by any vow."

The speaker paused and waited, his eyes lying in ambush under the dark
straight brows.

The memory still oppressed Tristan and the mood did not escape Basil,
who stored it up for future reckoning.

"Perchance I, too, might have succumbed to the Lady Theodora's beauty,
had not something interposed at the crucial moment."

"The memory of some earlier love, perchance?" Basil queried with a
smile.

Tristan gave a sigh. He thought of Hellayne and the impending meeting
with Roger de Laval.

His questioner abandoned the subject. Master in dissimulation he had
read the truth on Tristan's brow.

"Pray then to your guardian saint, if of such a one you boast," he
continued after a pause, "to intervene, should temptation in its most
alluring form face you again," he said with deliberate slowness. "You
witnessed the end of Fabio of the Cavalli?"--

Tristan shuddered.

"And yet there was a time when he called all these charms his own, and
his command was obeyed in Theodora's gilded halls."

"Can love so utterly vanish?" Tristan queried with an incredulous
glance at the speaker.

Basil gave a soundless laugh.

"Love!" he said. "Hearts are but pawns in Theodora's hands. Her
ambition is to rule, and he who can give to her what her heart desires
is the favorite of the hour. Beware of her! Once the poison of her
kisses rankles in your blood nothing can save you from your doom."

Basil watched the effect of his words upon his listener and for the
nonce he seemed content. Tristan would take heed.

When Tristan had taken his leave a panel in the wall opened noiselessly
and Il Gobbo peered into the chamber.

Basil locked and bolted the door which led into the corridor, and the
sinister, bat-like form stepped out of its dark frame and approached
the inmate of the chamber with a fawning gesture.

"If your lordship will believe me," he said in a husky undertone, "I am
at last on the trail."

"What now?"

"I may not tell your nobility as yet."

"Do you want another bezant, dog?"

"It is not that, my lord."

"Then, who does he consort with?"

"I have tracked him as a panther tracks its prey--he consorts with no
one."

"Then continue to follow him and see if he consorts with any--woman."

"A woman?"

"Why not, fool?"

"But had your nobility said there was a woman--"

"There always is."

"Your nobility let him go--and yet--one word--"

"I must know more, before I strike. I knew he would come. There is more
to this than we wot of. Theodora is infatuated with his austerity. He
has jilted her and she smarts under the blow. She will move heaven and
earth to bring him to her feet. Meanwhile there are weightier matters
to be considered. Perchance I shall pay you an early call in your noble
abode. Prepare fitly and bid the ghosts troop from their haunted caves.
And now be off! Your quarry has the start!"

Il Gobbo bowed grotesquely and receded backward towards the panel which
closed soundlessly behind him.

Basil remained alone in the octagon cabinet.

He strode slowly towards one of the windows that faced to southward and
gazed long and pensively out upon the undulating expanse of the Roman
Campagna.

"Three messengers, yet none has returned," he muttered darkly. "Can it
be that I have lost my clutch on destiny?"



CHAPTER II

UNDER THE SAFFRON SCARF


Once again the pale planets of night ruled the sky, when Tristan
emerged from his inn and took the direction of the Palatine.

All memories of his meeting with the Lord Basil had faded before the
import of the coming hour, when he was to stand face to face with him
who held in his hand the fate of two beings destined for each other
from the beginning of time and torn asunder by the ruthless hand of
Fate.

There was not a sound, save the echo of his own footsteps, as Tristan
wound his way through the narrow streets, high cliffs of ancient houses
on either side, down which the white disk of the moon penetrated but a
yard or two.

At the foot of the Palatine Hill, cutting into the moonlight, the
Colosseum rose before him, gaunt, vast, sinister, a silhouette of
enormous blackness, pierced as with innumerable empty eyes flooded
by greenish, ghostly moonlight. Necromancers and folk practising the
occult arts dwelled in ancient houses built with the honey-colored
Travertine, stolen from the Hill of the Cæsars. It was said that
strange sounds echoed from the arena at night; that the voices of those
who had died for the faith in the olden days could be heard screaming
in agony at certain periods of the moon.

Gigantic masses of gaunt masonry rose around him as, with fleet steps,
he traversed the deserted thoroughfares. In the greenish moonlight he
could discern the tumbled ruins of arches and temples scattered about
the dark waste. His gaze also encountered the frowning masonry of more
recent buildings. The castellated palace of one of the Frescobaldi had
been reared right across that ancient site, including in its massive
bulk more than one monument of imperial days.

As he approached the region of the Arch of the Seven Candles, as the
Arch of Titus with its carving of the Jewish Candelabrum borne in
triumph was then called, Tristan walked more warily.

The reputed dangers of the Campo Vaccino knocking at the gates of his
memory, he loosened the sword in his scabbard.

He had, by this time, arrived at the end of the street, that curves
towards the Arch of Titus, which commands the avenue of lone holm-oaks,
leading towards the Appian Way.

Suddenly a man emerged from the shadows. He was armed with sword and
buckler, his body was covered with hauberk of mail and he wore the
conical steel casque in vogue since Norman arms served as the military
model.

Roger and Tristan confronted each other, the former's face tense,
drawn, white; the latter with calm eyes in which there was the light
of a great regret. An expression not easy to read lay in Laval's eyes,
eyes that scanned Tristan from under half-shut lids.

"So you have come?" the stranger said brutally, after a brief and
painful pause.

"I have never broken my word," Tristan replied.

"Well spoken! I shall be plain and brief, if you will own the truth."

"I have nothing to conceal, my lord."

Roger's eyes gleamed with yet livelier malice.

"Where is the Lady Hellayne? Where is my wife?"

"As God lives, I know not. Yet--I would give my life, to know."

"Indeed! You may be given that chance. You are frank at least--"

"I may have wronged you in heart, my lord,--but never in deed--"
Tristan replied.

"What I have seen, I have seen," the other snarled viciously.
"Perchance this silent devotion accounts also for many other things."

"I do not understand, my lord."

"Soon after your flight the Lady Hellayne departed, without a word."

"So you were pleased to inform me."

"I was not pleased," spat out Laval. "How do you explain her flight?"

"I do not explain, my lord. I have not seen or heard from the Lady
Hellayne since I left Avalon."

"Then you still aver the lie?"

Tristan raised himself to his full height.

"I am speaking truth, my lord. Why, indeed, should she have left you
without even a word?"

Roger eyed the man before him as a cat eyes a captured bird at a foot's
distance of mock freedom.

"Why, indeed, save for love of you?"

Tristan raised his hands.

"Deep in my heart and soul I worship the Lady Hellayne," he said. "For
me she had but friendship. Else were I not here!"

"A sainted pilgrim," sneered the Count, "in the Groves of Enchantment.
And for such a one she left her liege lord."

His mocking laughter resounded through the ruins.

"You wrong the Lady Hellayne and myself. Of myself I will not speak. As
concerns her--"

"Of her you shall not speak! Save to tell me her abode."

"Of her I shall speak," Tristan flashed. "You are insulting your
wife--"

"Take care lest worse befall yourself," snarled Laval, advancing
towards the object of his wrath.

Tristan's look of contempt cut him to the quick.

"You think to bully me as you bully your menials," he said quietly. "I
do not fear you!"

"Why, then, did you leave Avalon, if it was not fear that drove you?"
drawled Laval, his eyes a mere slit in the face, drawn and white.

The utter baseness and conceit in the speaker's nature were so plainly
revealed in his utterance that Tristan replied contemptuously:

"It was not fear of you, my lord, but the Lady Hellayne's expressed
desire that brought me to Rome."

"The Lady Hellayne's desire? Then it was she who feared for you?"

"It was not fear for my body, but my soul."

"Your soul? Why your soul?"

"Because my love for her was a wrong to you, my lord,--even though I
loved her but in thought."--

"On that night in the garden--you embraced in thought?"

The leer had deepened on the speaker's face.

"A resistless something impelled--"

"And you a fair and pleasant-featured youth, beside Roger de Laval--her
husband. And now you are here doing penance at the shrines, at the Lady
Theodora's shrine?"

"What I am doing in Rome does not concern you, my lord," Tristan
interposed firmly. "I did not attend the Lady Theodora's feast of my
own choice--"

"Nor were you in her pavilion of your own choice. Yet a pinch more of
penance will set that right also."

"I take it, my lord, that I have satisfied your anxiety," Tristan
replied, as he started to pass the other.

Laval caught him roughly by the shoulder.

"Not so fast," he cried. "I shall inform you when I have done with
you--"

Tristan's face was white, as he peered into the mask of cunning that
leered from the other's countenance. Perchance he would not have heeded
the threat had it not been for his anxiety on Hellayne's account. He
suspected that Laval knew more than he cared to tell.

"For the last time I ask, where is the Lady Hellayne?"

The Count's form rose towering above him, as he threw the words in
Tristan's face.

"For the last time I tell you, my lord, I know not," Tristan replied,
eye in eye. "Though I would gladly give my life to know."

"Perchance you may. I have been told the Lady Hellayne is here in
Rome. Wherefore is she here? Can it be the spirit that prompted the
pilgrimage to her lost lover? Will you take oath, that you have not
seen her?"

The speaker's eyes blazed ominously.

Tristan raised his head.

"I will, my lord, upon the Cross!"

Roger's heavy hand smote his cheek.

"Liar!"--

A woman who at that moment crept in the shadows of the Arch of Titus
saw Tristan, sword in hand, defending himself against a man apparently
much more powerful than himself. For a moment or two she gazed,
bewildered, not knowing what to do. Tristan at first seemed to stand
entirely on the defensive, but soon his blood grew hot and, in answer
to his adversary's lunge, he lunged again. But the other held a dagger
in his left hand and with it easily parried the blade. The next pass
she saw Tristan reel. She could bear no more and rushed screaming
towards some footmen with torches who were standing outside a dark and
heavily shuttered building.

Tristan and Roger de Laval rushed at each other with redoubled fury.
Both had heard the cry and their blows rang out with echoing clatter,
filling the desolate spaces with a sound not seldom heard there in
those days. It was a struggle of sheer strength, in which the odds were
all against Tristan. He began to yield step by step. Soon a yet fiercer
blow of his antagonist must bring him down to his knees, and he fell
back farther, as a veritable rain of blows fell upon him.

Four men followed by a woman rushed to the scene.

"Haste! Haste!" she cried frantically. "There is murder abroad!"

She fancied she should behold the younger man already vanquished by his
more vigorous enemy. On the contrary, he seemed to have regained his
strength and was now pressing the other with an agility and vigor that
outweighed the strength of maturity on the part of his adversary.

All was clear in the bright moonlight, as if the sun had been blazing
down upon them, and, as the woman leaped forward, she beheld Tristan's
assailant gain some advantage. He was pressed back along the Arch
towards the spot where she stood.

What now followed she could not see. It was all the work of a moment.
But the next instant she saw the elder man raise his arm as if to
strike with his dagger. Tristan staggered and fell, and the other
was about to strike him through when, with a wild, frantic outcry of
terror, she rushed between them, arresting the blow ere it could fall.

"Hellayne!"

A cry in which Tristan's smothered feelings broke through every
restraint winged itself from the mouth of the fallen man.

"Tristan!" came the hysterical response.

Roger had hurled his wife aside, his eyes flaming like live coals under
their bushy brows.

Those whom Hellayne had summoned to Tristan's aid, when she first
arrived on the scene of the conflict, unacquainted with the cause of
the quarrel and doubtful which side to aid, stood idly by, since with
Tristan's fall there seemed to be no farther demand for their services,
nor did Roger's towering stature invite interference.

In the heat of the conflict with its attendant turmoil none of those
immediately concerned had remarked a procession approaching from the
distance which now emerged from the shadow of the great arch into the
moonlit thoroughfare.

It was headed by four giant Nubians, carrying a litter on silver poles,
from between the half-shut silken curtains of which peered the face of
a woman. In its wake marched a score of Ethiopians in fantastic livery,
their broad, naked scimitars glistening ominously in the moonlight.

The litter and its escort arrived but just in time. Ere Laval's blade
could pierce the heart of his prostrate victim, Theodora had leaped
from her litter and thrown her saffron scarf over the prostrate youth.

With all the outlines of her beautiful form revealed through the thin
robe of spangled gauze she faced the irate aggressor and her voice cut
like steel as she said:

"Dare to touch him beneath this scarf! This man is mine."

Laval drew back, but his glaring eyes, his parted lips and his labored
breath argued little in favor of the fallen man, even though the blow
was, for the moment, averted.

With foam-flecked lips he turned to Theodora.

"This man is mine! His life is forfeit. Stand back, that I may wipe
this blot from my escutcheon."

Theodora faced the speaker undauntedly.

Ere he could reply, a woman's voice shrieked.

"Save him! Save him! He is innocent! He has done naught amiss!"

Hellayne, whom the Count had hurled against the masonry of the arch,
bruising her until she was barely able to support herself, at this
moment threw herself between them.

[Illustration: "Thrown her saffron scarf over the prostrate youth"]

"Who is this woman?" Theodora turned to Tristan's assailant. "Who is
this woman?" Hellayne's eyes silently questioned Tristan.

Laval's sardonic laughter pealed through the silence.

"This lady is my wife, the Countess Hellayne de Laval, noble Theodora,
who has followed her perjured lover to Rome, so they may do penance in
company," he replied sardonically. "His life is forfeit. His offence
is two-fold. Within the hour he swore he knew naught of her abode.
But--since you claim him,--by ties this scarf proclaims--take him and
welcome! I shall not anticipate the fate you prepare for your noble
lovers!"

The two women faced each other in frozen silence, in the consciousness
of being rivals. Each knew instinctively it would be a fight between
them to the death.

Theodora surveyed Hellayne's wonderful beauty, appraising her charms
against her own, and Hellayne's gaze swept the face and form of the
Roman.

Tristan had scrambled to his feet, his face white with shame and rage.
From Theodora, in whose eyes he read that which caused him to tremble
in his inmost soul, he turned to Hellayne.

"Oh, why have you done this thing, Hellayne, why?--oh, why?"

Roger de Laval laughed viciously.

"It was indeed not to be expected that the Lady Hellayne would find her
recalcitrant lover in the arms of the Lady Theodora."

With an inarticulate outcry of rage Tristan was about to hurl himself
upon his opponent, had not Theodora placed a restraining hand upon him,
while her dark eyes challenged Hellayne.

All the revulsion of his nature against this man rose up in him and
rent him. All the love for Hellayne, which in these days had been
floating on the wings of longing, soared anew.

But his efforts at vindication in this strangest of all predicaments
were put to naught by the woman herself.

"Hear me, Hellayne--it is not true!" he cried, and paused with a
choking sensation.

Hellayne stood as if turned to stone.

Then her eyes swept Tristan with a look of such incredulous misery that
it froze the words that were about to tumble from his lips.

With a wail of anguish she turned and fled down the moonlit path like a
hunted deer.

"Up and after her!" Laval shouted to the men whom Hellayne had summoned
to the scene and these, eager to demonstrate their usefulness, started
in pursuit, Roger leading, ere Tristan could even make a move to
interfere.

Hellayne had fled into the open portals of a church at the end of the
street. She tottered and fell. Crawling through the semi-darkness she
gasped and leaned against a pillar. She saw a small side chapel, where,
before an image of the Virgin, guttered a brace of tapers. But ere she
reached the shrine her pursuers were upon her. As, with a shriek of
mortal fear she fell, she gazed into the brutal features of Roger de
Laval. His lips were foam-flecked, revealing his wolfish teeth.

It was then her strength forsook her. She fell fainting upon the hard
stone floor of the church.--

For a pace Tristan and Theodora faced each other in silence.

It was the woman who spoke.

Her voice was cold as steel.

"I have saved your life, Tristan! The weapon which my slaves have taken
from you awaits the call of its rightful claimant."

She reentered her litter while Tristan stood by, utterly dazed. But,
when the slaves raised the silver poles, she gave him a parting glance
from within the curtains that seemed to electrify his whole being.

After the litter-bearers and their retinue had trooped off, Tristan
remained for a time in the shadow of the Arch of the Seven Candles.

He knew not where to turn in his misery, nor what to do.

In the same hour he had found and lost his love anew.



CHAPTER III

DARK PLOTTINGS


It was past the hour of midnight.

In a dimly lighted turret chamber in the house of Hormazd the Persian
there sat two personages whose very presence seemed to enhance the
sinister gloom that brooded over the circular vault.

The countenance of the Grand Chamberlain was paler than usual and there
was a slight gathering of the eyebrows, not to say a frown, which in
an ordinary mortal might have signified little, but in one who had so
habitual a command of his emotions, would indicate to those who knew
him well an unusual degree of restlessness. His voice was calm however,
and now and then a bland smile belied the shadows on his brow.

At times his gaze stole towards a dimly lighted alcove wherein moved
a dark cowled figure, its grotesque shadow reflected in distorted
outlines upon the floor.

"The Moor tarries over long," Basil spoke at last.

"So do the ends of destiny," replied a voice that seemed to come from
the bowels of the earth.

"He is fleeter than a deer and more ferocious than a tiger," the Grand
Chamberlain interposed. "Nothing has ever daunted him, nor lives the
man who would thwart him and live. Can you tell me where he is now?"

"Patience!" came the sepulchral reply. "The magic disk reveals all
things! Anon you shall know."

Informed by daily gossip and the reports of his innumerable spies,
Basil was aware of a growing belief among the people that the power
he wielded was not altogether human, and he would have viewed it with
satisfaction even had he not shared it. Seeing in it an additional
force helpful to the realization of his ambition, he had thrown himself
blindly into the vortex of black magic which was to give to him that
which his soul desired.

In this chamber, filled with strange narcotic scents and the mysterious
rustling of unseen presences, by which he believed it to be peopled,
with the aid of one who seemed the personified Principle of Evil, Basil
assembled about him the forces that would ultimately launch him at the
goal of his ambition.

This devil's kitchen was the portal to the Unseen, the shrine of the
Unknown, the observatory of the Past and the Future, and the laboratory
of the Forbidden. There were dim and mysterious mirrors, before which
stood brazen tripods whose fumes, as they wreathed upward, gleamed with
dusky fires. It was in these mirrors that the wizard could summon the
dead and the distant to appear darkly, in scarcely definable glimpses.
But he could also produce apparitions more vivid, more startling and
more beautiful. Once, in the dark depths of the chamber, Basil had
seen a woman's phantom apparition suddenly become strangely luminous,
her garments glowing like flames of many colors, that shifted and
blent and alternated in ceaseless dance and play, waving and trembling
in unearthly glory, till she seemed to be of the very flame herself.
The reflection of the world of shadows was upon her; its splendors
were wrapping her round like a mantle. He watched her with bated
breath, not daring to speak. And brighter, ever brighter, dazzling,
ever more dazzling, had grown the flaming phantom, till the wondrous
transfiguration reached the height of its beauty and its terror. Then
the phantom of murdered Marozia, evoked at his expressed desire from
the land of shadows, had faded, dying slowly away in the mysterious
depths of the mirror, as the fires that produced it sank and died in
white ashes.

There could be no doubt. It was the emissary of Darkness himself who
held forth in this dim, demon-haunted chamber where he had so often
listened to the record of his awful visions. He had made him see in
his dreadful ravings the great vaults of wrath, where dwelt the dread
power of Evil. He had made him see the King of the Hopeless Throngs
on his black basaltic throne in the terrific glare-illumined caves,
where Michael had cast him and where Pain's roar rises eternally night
and day. He had made him see the great Lord of the Doomed Shadows,
receiving the homage of those dreadful slaves, those terror-spreading
angels of woe whose hand flings destruction over the earth and sea and
air, while flames were fawning and licking his feet with countless
tongues.

And then he had shown to him a spirit mightier and more subtle than
any of those great wild destroyers who rush blindly through nature,
a spirit who starts in silence on her errand, whom none behold as,
creeping through the gloom, she undermines, unties and loosens all the
pillars of creation, with no more sign nor sound than a black snake in
the tangled grass, till with a thunder that stuns the world the house
of God comes crashing down--dread Hekaté herself.

Was there any crime he had left undone?

His subterranean prisons in which limbs unlearned to bend and eyes to
see concealed things whose screams would make the flesh of a ghost
creep, if flesh one had.

But now there was a darker light in Basil's eyes, a something more
ominous of evil in his manner. The wizard's revelation had possessed
his soul and his whole terrible being seemed intensified. With the
patience of one conscious of a superhuman destiny he waited the
summons that was to come to him, even though his soul was consumed by
devouring flames.

For he had come yet upon another matter; an inner voice, whose appeal
he dared not ignore, had informed him long ago of his waning power with
Theodora. From the man wont to command he had fallen to the level of
the whimpering slave, content to pick up such morsels as the woman saw
fit to throw at his feet. Only on the morning of this day, which had
gone down the never returning tide of time, a terrible scene had passed
between them. And he knew he had lost.

Basil had been an unseen witness of Theodora's and Tristan's meeting
in the sunken gardens on the Aventine. Every moment he had hoped to
see the man succumb to charms which no mortal had yet withstood upon
whom she had chosen to exert them, and on the point of his poniard
sat Death, ready to step in and finish the game. From the fate he had
decreed him some unknown power had saved Tristan. But Basil, knowing
that Theodora, once she was jilted by the object of her desire, would
leave nothing undone to conquer and subdue, was resolved to remove from
his path one who must, sooner or later, become a successful rival. By
some miraculous interposition of Providence Tristan had escaped the
fate he had prepared for him on the night when he had tracked the two
strangers from the Lateran. He had had him conveyed for dead to the
porch of Theodora's palace. But Fate had made him her mock.

Never had Basil met Theodora in a mood so fierce and destructive as on
the morning after she had destroyed Roxana and her lover, and had, in
turn, been jilted by Tristan. And, verily, Basil could not have chosen
a more inopportune time to press his suit or to voice his resentment
and disapprobation. Theodora had driven every one from her presence and
the unwelcome suitor shared the fate of her menials. Her dark hints
had driven the former favorite to madness, for his passion-inflamed
brain could not bear the thought that the love he craved, the body
he had possessed, should be another's, while he was drifting into the
silent ranks of the discarded. He knew for a surety that Theodora was
not confiding in him as of old. Had she somehow guessed the dread
mystery of the crypts in the Emperor's Tomb, or had some demon of Hell
whispered it into her ear during the dark watches of the night?

A flash of lightning followed by a terrific peal of thunder roused him
from his reveries. The storm which had threatened during the early
hours of the evening now roared and shrieked round the tower and the
very elements seemed in accord with the dark plottings in Hormazd's
chamber.

"How much longer must I wait ere the fiends will reveal their secrets?"
Basil at last turned to the exponent of the black arts.

The wizard paused before the questioner.

"To what investigation shall we first proceed?"

"You must already have divined my thoughts."

"I knew the instant you arrived. But there is an incompleteness which
makes my perceptions less exact than usual."

"Where are my messengers? To the number of three have I sped. None has
returned."

The Oriental touched a knob and the lamps were suddenly extinguished,
leaving the room illumined by the red glow of the oven. Then he bade
his visitor fix his eyes on the surface of the disk.

"Upon this you will presently behold two scenes."

He poured a few drops of something resembling black oil upon the
disk, which at once spread in a mirror-like surface. Then he began to
mutter some words in an Oriental tongue, and lighted a few grains of a
chemical preparation which emitted an odor of bitter aloë. This, when
the flames had subsided, he threw upon the oil which at the contact
became iridescent.

Basil looked and waited in vain.

The conjurer exhausted all the selections which he thought
appropriate. The oil gradually lost the changing aspect it had acquired
from the burning substance, and returned to its dull murky tints, and
the interest which had appeared on Basil's features gave place to a
contemptuous sneer.

"Are you, after all, but a trickster who would impose his art upon the
unwary?"

The magician did not reply to this insult, nor did it seem to affect
him visibly.

"We must try a mightier spell," he said, "for hostile forces are in
conjunction against us."

By a small tongs he raised from the fire the metallic plate that had
been lying upon it. Its surface presented the appearance of oxidized
silver with a deep glow of heat.

Upon this he claimed to be able to produce the picture of past or
future events, and many scenes had been reflected upon the magic shield.

He now poured upon it a spoonful of liquid which spread simmering and
became quickly dissipated in light vapors. Then he busied himself with
scattering over the plate some grains that looked like salt which the
heated metal instantly consumed.

At the end of a few moments he experienced what resembled an electric
or magnetic shock. His frame quivered, his lips ceased to repeat the
muttered incantations, his hand firmly grasped the tongs by which he
raised the metal aloft, now made brighter by the drugs just consumed,
and upon which appeared a white spot, which enlarged till it filled the
lower half of the plate.

What it represented it was difficult to say. It might have been a sheet
or a snow drift. Basil felt an indefinable dread, as above it shimmered
forth the vague resemblance of a man on horseback, apparently riding at
breakneck speed.

Slowly his contour became more distinct. Now the horseman appeared to
have reached a ford. Spurring his steed, he plunged into the stream
whose waters seemed for a time to carry horse and rider along with the
swift current. But he gained the opposite shore, and the apparition
faded slowly from sight.

"It is the Moor!" cried Basil in a paroxysm of excitement. "He has
forded the rapids of the Garigliano. Now be kind to me O Fate--let this
thing come to pass!"

He gave a gasp of relief, wiping the beads from his brow.

The cowled figure now walked up to the central brazier, muttering words
in a language his visitor could not understand. Then he bade Basil walk
round and round it, fixing his eyes steadily upon the small blue flame
which danced on the surface of the burning charcoal.

When giddiness prevented his continuing his perambulation he made him
kneel beside the brazier with his eyes riveted upon it.

Its fumes enveloped him and dulled his brain.

The wizard crooned a slow, monotonous chant. Basil felt his senses keep
pace with it, and presently he felt himself going round and round in an
interminable descent. The glare of the brazier shrank and diminished,
invaded from outside by an overpowering blackness. Slowly it became
but a single point of fire, a dark star, which at length flamed into a
torch. Beside him, with white and leering face, stood the dark cowled
figure, and below him there seemed to stretch intricate galleries,
strangled, interminable caves.

"Where am I?" shrieked the Grand Chamberlain, overpowered by the fumes
and the fear that was upon him.

"Unless you reach the pit," came the dark reply, "farewell forever to
your schemes. You will never see a crown upon your head."

"What of Theodora?" Basil turned to his companion, choking and blinded.

"If the bat-winged fiends will carry you safely across the abyss you
shall see," came the reply.

A rush as of wings resounded through the room, as of monstrous bats.

"Gehenna's flame shall smoothe her brow," the wizard spoke again. "When
Death brings her here, she shall stand upon the highest steps, in her
dark magnificence she shall command--a shadow among shadows. Are you
content?"

There was a pause.

The storm howled with redoubled fury, flinging great hailstones against
the time-worn masonry of the wizard's tower.

"Then," Basil spoke at last, his hands gripping his throat with a
choking sensation, "give me back the love for which my soul thirsts and
wither the bones of him who dares to aspire to Theodora's hand."

The wizard regarded him with an inscrutable glance.

"The dark and silent angels, once divine, now lost, who do my errands,
shall ever circle round your path. Everlasting ties bind us, the
one to the other. Keep but the pact and that which seems but a wild
dream shall be fulfilled anon. They shall guide you through the dark
galleries of fear, till you reach the goal."

"Your words are dark as the decrees of Fate," Basil replied, as the
fumes of the brazier slowly cleared in his brain and he seemed to
emerge once more from the endless caverns of night, staring about him
with dazed senses.

"You heed but what your passion prompts," the cowled figure interposed
sternly, "oblivious of that greater destiny that awaits you! It is a
perilous love born in the depths of Hell. Will you wreck your life for
that which, at best, is but a fleeting passion--a one day's dream?"

"Well may you counsel who have never known the hell of love!" Basil
cried fiercely. "The fiery torrent that rushes through my veins defies
cold reason."

The cowled figure nodded.

"Many a ruler in whose shadow men have cowered, has obeyed a woman's
whim and tamely borne her yoke. Are you of those, my lord?"

"I have set my soul upon this thing and Fate shall give to me that
which I crave!" Basil cried fiercely.

The wizard nodded.

"Fate cannot long delay the last great throw."

"What would you counsel?" the Grand Chamberlain queried eagerly,
peering into the cowled and muffled face, from which two eyes sent
their insane gleam into his own.

"Send her soul into the dark caverns of fear--surround her with
unceasing dread--let the ghosts of those you have sent butchered to
their doom surround her nightly pillow, whispering strange tales into
her ears,--then, when fear grips the maddened brain and there seems no
rescue but the grave--then peals the hour."

Basil gazed thoughtfully into the wizard's cowled face.

"When may that be?"

"I will gaze into the silent pools of my forbidden knowledge with the
dark spirits that keep me company. I have mysterious rules for finding
day and hour."

"I cannot expel the passion that rankles in my blood," Basil interposed
darkly. "But I will tear out my heart strings ere I shirk the call. An
emperor's crown were worth a tenfold price, and ere I, too, descend to
the dread shadows, I mean to see it won."

"These thoughts are idle," said the wizard. "Only the weak plumb the
depths of their own soul. The strong man's bark sails lightly on
victorious tides. Your soul is pledged to the Powers of Darkness."

"And by the fiends that sit at Hell's dark gate, I mean to do their
bidding," Basil replied fiercely. "Else were I indeed the mock of
destiny. Tell me but this--how did you obtain a knowledge at which the
fiend himself would pale?"

The wizard regarded him for a moment in silence.

"You who have peered behind the curtain that screens the dreadful
boundaries--you who have seen the pale phantom of Marozia, whom you
have sent to her doom,--how dare you ask?"

Basil had raised both hands as if to ward off an evil spirit.

"This, too, then is known to you? Tell me! Was what I saw a dream?"

"What you have seen--you have seen," the cowled form replied
enigmatically. "The cocks are crowing--and the pale dawn glimmers in
the East."

Throwing his mantle about him, Basil left the turret chamber and, after
creeping down a narrow winding stair, he made for his villa on the
Pincian Hill.



CHAPTER IV

FACE TO FACE


Roger de Laval had chosen for his abode in Rome a sombre and frowning
building not far from the grim ways of the Campo Marzo, half palace
half fortalice, constructed about a huge square tower with massive
doors. Like all palace fortresses of the time which might at any
moment have to stand a siege, either at the hands of a city mob or at
those of some rapacious noble, it contained in its vaulted halls and
tower chambers all the requisites for protracted resistance as well
as aggression. On the walls between flaunting banners hung the many
quartered shields and the dark coats of chain, the tabards of the
heralds and the leathern jerkins of the bowmen. On the shelves between
the arches stood long rows of hauberks and shining steel caps. Dark
tapestries covered the walls and the bright light of the Roman day fell
muted through the narrow slits in the sombre masonry which served as
windows.

It was not to seek his wife that Roger had come to Rome, and his
meeting with Tristan in the gardens of Theodora had been purely
accidental. While his vanity and selfishness had received a severe
shock in Hellayne's departure, without even a farewell, he had not
allowed an incident in itself so trifling to disturb the even tenor of
his ways. He had loved to display her at his feasts as one displays
some exceeding handsome plaything that gives pleasure to the senses;
otherwise he and the countess had no common bond of interest. Hellayne
was the only child of one of the most powerful barons of Provence, and
had been given in marriage to the older man before she even realized
what the bonds implied. Only after meeting Tristan had the awakening
come, and youth sought youth.

That which brought every one to Rome in an age when Rome was still by
common consent the centre of the universe, such as the Saxon Chronicles
of the Millennium pronounce it, had also caused Roger de Laval to seek
the Holy Shrines, not in quest of spiritual benefit, but of temporal
aggrandizement, in the character of an investiture from the Vicar of
Christ himself. His disappointment at finding the head of Christendom a
prisoner in his own palace was perhaps only mitigated by the disclosure
that he should have to rely upon his own fertility of mind for the
realization of a long-fostered ambition.

On one of his visits to the Lateran, hoping to obtain an interview
with the Pontiff, he had met Basil as representative of the Roman
government, in the absence of Alberic, and a sinister attraction had
sprung up between them in the consciousness that each had something
to give the other lacked. This bond was even strengthened by Basil's
promise to aid the stranger in the attainment of his desires, and at
last Roger had confided in Basil the story of the shadow that had
spread its gloomy pinions over the castle of Avalon. Basil had listened
and suggested that the Lord Laval drown his sorrows at the board of
Theodora. Therein the latter had acquiesced, with the result that he
met Tristan on that night.

Hellayne was sitting alone by the window in a long silent gallery. She
could not take her eyes off the restless outline of the clouds where
head on head and face on face continued taking shape. In vain her
teased brain tried to see but clouds. Two nights ago had not a horrid
face grinned at her from out of these same clouds? The face of a wolf
it had seemed. And it had taken human shape and changed to the face of
the man who had brought her to this abode from the sanctuary where she
had fallen by the shrine.

And yet, as she looked at the sun, whose beams were fast dwindling on
the bar of the horizon, how she yearned to keep the light a little
longer, if only a few short minutes. She could have cried out to the
sun not to leave her so soon, again to wage her lonely war with the
Twilight and with Fear. For during the hours of day her lord was away.
Business of state he termed what took him from her side. With a leer he
left and with a leer he was wont to return. And with him the memory of
his meeting with Tristan!

She had found him again, the man she loved! Found him--but how? And
Hellayne covered her burning eyes with her white hands.

This other woman who had stepped in between her and Tristan, who had
laid a detaining hand upon his arm and had silently challenged her for
his possession--what was she to him?

For three days and three nights the thought had tormented her even to
the verge of madness. Had she sacrificed everything but to find him
she loved in the arms of another? Silently she had borne the taunts of
her lord, his insults, his vile insinuations. He did not understand.
He never understood. What of it? In the great balance what mattered it
after all?

She must see Tristan. She must hear the truth from his own lips. In
vain she puzzled her brain how to reach him. She remembered his last
outcry of protest. There was a mystery she must solve. Come what might,
she was once more the woman who loved. And she was going to claim the
payment of love!

As regarded that other, to whom she had bound herself, her conscience
had long absolved her of an obligation that had been forced upon her.
Had fate and fact not proved the thing impossible? Had fate not cast
them again and again into each other's arms and made mock of their
conscience? Nature had made them lovers, let it be the will of God or
the devil.

And lovers till death should they be henceforth. He belonged to her.
Away with faith--away with fear of this world, or the next. Away with
all but the dear present, in which the brutality of others had set her
free. For a moment her thoughts turned almost pagan.

Was she to return to the old, loveless life in that far corner of the
earth, while he whom she loved took up a new existence in the centre
of the world, loving another to whose ambition he might owe a great
career? She needed indeed to sit in silence, she who had done daring
things without a misgiving, as if impelled by a power not her own. She
had done them, marvelling at her own courage, at her own faith in him
she loved, and she had not faltered.

The torturing dusk was drowning every living thing in pallid waves of
shadow. One by one, through the wan gallery in which she was locked,
the motley spectres of night would pass in all their horrors, and begin
their crazy, soundless nods and becks.

Suddenly she cowered back, shuddering, with her eyes fixed on the
darkening depths of the gallery and her day dreams died, like pale
ashes crumbling on the hearth.

Roger de Laval had entered and was regarding her with a malignant leer
that almost froze the blood in her veins. She knew not what business
had taken him abroad. Nevertheless was assured that some dark deed was
slumbering in the depths of his soul.

"Are you thinking of your fine lover?" he said as he slowly advanced
towards her. "You are grieved to have your thoughts broken into by your
husband? No doubt you wish me dead--"

"Spare me this torture, my lord," she entreated. "I have answered a
thousand times--"

"Then answer again--"

"I swear before God and the Saints he is guiltless. He knew not I was
in Rome."

"Swear what you will! A woman's oath is but a wind upon one's cheek on
a warm summer day--gone ere you have felt it. The oath of a woman who
has followed her lover--"

"I have not done so!"

"You have done your best to make the world believe it."

"What of yourself?" There was a ring of scorn in her voice.

"You have brought me to shame!"

"What of the women you have shared with me?"

Hellayne's eyes met those of her tormentor.

"It is a man's part!"

"And you are a man!"

"One at least shall have cause to think so."

"Perchance you will have him murdered. Why not kill me, too? That, too,
is a man's part."

He gave a great roar.

"And who says that I shall not?"

An icy fear, not for herself, but for Tristan, gripped her heart. She
tried to hide it under a mantle of indifference.

"What have you ever done to make yourself beloved?"

"By Beelzebub--you--the runaway mistress of a fop--dares to question
me--her rightful lord?"

"Who made the laws that bound me to your keeping? They are man-made,
and God knows as little of them as he knows of you. It was your
measureless conceit, your boundless egotism, that whispered to you that
any woman should feel honored, should deem it the height of glory, to
be your wife."

"And is it not?"

She shuddered.

"You never dreamed there might be something in the depths of my soul
that cried out for more than the mere comforts and exigencies of
existence! Something that craved love, companionship, and, above all,
friendship. What have you done to waken this little slumbering voice
which died in the shadow of your tremendous egotism?"

He stared at her.

"He has taught you this speech, by God!"

"He has awakened my true self! What was I to you but part of your
magnificence, a thing to make your fellows envious--"

He roared. She continued:

"The one decent woman of your life--your world--"

His eyes glared.

"So then, this low-born churl is a better man than I?"

"At least he knew I had a soul of my own."

"Skillfully cultivated to his own sweet ends."

"His ends were innocent, else had he not fled."

"Knowing that you would follow him."

"He knew naught."

"That remains to be seen."

"It was you who brought us together!" she said with quiet scorn. "You
were so sure in your pride and your power and of my own timidity that
you thought it impossible that something might defy them. And you could
not understand that another might be so much closer to my nature, or
that I had a nature of my own. In those days I well remember, ere my
heart had strayed too far, I tried to waken you to the great danger.
I tried to speak of mine. But you would not be apprised of aught that
would seem a concession to your pride. So we are come to this!"

Her eyes filled with tears.

"Come to what?" he thundered.

"My ruin--and your disgrace!"

His breast heaved.

"Of you I know nothing. As for myself--I suffer no disgrace. I am too
much a man of sense for that. Not a soul but thinks that you are absent
with my consent. A pilgrimage to Rome! Many a woman has, for her soul's
good gone alone. Not a soul, I warrant, has thought of your connection
with that fellow's plight. Not a soul but thinks that this is the sole
cause of your disappearance. And when I, too, went I was careful to
leave the rumor behind."

He stepped closer, his breath fanning her pale cheeks. She looked
almost like a ghost in the grey twilight.

"And now--" he continued, licking his sensuous lips, "you are
found--you are found--my beautiful wife--you are found--and--to the
eyes of the world at least--unstained. One alone whose lips are sealed,
knows."

Hellayne's lips tightened.

"And a woman."

A strange expression came into his face.

"Have you spied upon me, too?"

"You forget the meeting at the Arch."

"No woman will spread the story of a rival's claims!"

There was a pause, then he continued, with deliberate slowness:

"You shall come back with me--my beautiful Hellayne--my wife in name,
if not in deed! And you shall submit to my caresses, knowing, as I
do, how loathsome they are. And you shall smile--smile--and appear
happy--my wife henceforth in name only. And you shall smile no less at
what henceforth your lord's pleasure may be with other women--fair as
yourself--and you shall grow old and grey, and the thing you call your
soul shall die and wither up your beauty--and never a word shall pass
your lips anent this chastisement. And at last you shall die--and be
laid by--and not a soul shall ever be the wiser for your shame."

Hellayne covered her face with her hands.

"And if I should refuse to accept this fate?"

"Then you shall be flung into a nunnery."

"And if I refuse to become a nun?"

"Then your lover shall pay the price--with his blood instead of yours.
Know you the woman he so madly loves?"

"It is a lie!" she shrieked.

There was a moment's silence.

"Her name is Theodora. Saw you ever fairer creature?"

"God!"

"I want your answer!" leered the man.

"I do not refuse!"

An evil smile curved his lips.

"I knew you would be reasonable--my fair Hellayne!"

His lips were parted in a fatuous smile. He pictured to himself the
pain at the parting and indeed his satisfaction was so great that he
decided to prolong it yet a little longer. How amusing it would be to
watch the face of him who had dared to love Hellayne. Knowing as now
he did all the motives for his actions, it gave him pleasure to think
that he could mar the astonishing good fortune of this adventurer who
had found employment in the service of Alberic by the intrusion of this
passion for another woman. It would be real joy to see this creature
of sentiment thus torn and tortured. And it was yet a greater joy to
force Hellayne to witness the struggle, forced to smile at the conquest
of her lover by another woman. And he would watch the pangs of their
suffering till the day of his departure.

With her own blue eyes Hellayne should witness the love of him she had
so madly followed, estranged by the beauty of Theodora, whose lure no
mortal might resist.

After he had entered his own chamber, Hellayne flew like a mad thing
down the gloom-haunted gallery. Could she but escape from this
humiliation--even through death's doors--she would not shrink. She
felt, if she remained, she would go mad.

It was true, then! Tristan loved another. The old love had been
forgotten and cast aside! All her fears and misgivings returned in one
mad whirl.

Frantically she tried to remove the heavy bolt when she was paralyzed
by a demoniacal laugh that issued behind her and swooning she fell at
the feet of the man whose name she bore.



CHAPTER V

THE CRESSETS OF DOOM


Never had Tristan's feelings been more hopelessly involved than since
that eventful night by the Arch of the Seven Candles when, like a ghost
of the past, Hellayne had once more crossed his path and had given
his solemn pledge the lie. And the more Tristan's thoughts reverted
to that fateful hour, when his oath seemed like so many words written
upon water, and the man who believed him guilty held his life in the
hollow of his hand, the greater grew his misery and unrest. Physically
exhausted, mentally startled at the vehemence of his own feelings,
he was suffering the relapse of a passion which he thought had burnt
itself out, letting his mind drift back to the memory of happier
days--days now gone forever.

Why had she followed him? What was she doing here? Was the old fight to
be renewed? And withal happiness mingled with the pain.

In the midst of these thoughts came others.

Had she accompanied the Count Laval to Rome and were his questionings
mere pretense, to surprise the unguarded confession of a wrong of which
he knew himself sinless? Had she been here all these days, seeking him
perchance, yet not daring to make her presence known?

And now where was she? Hardly found had he lost her? And see her he
must--whatever the hazard, even to death. How much he had to say to
her. How much he had to ask. Her presence had undone everything. Was
the old life to begin again, only with a change of scenes?

He had read her love for him in her eyes, and he could have almost
wished that moment to have been his last, ere the untimely arrival of
Theodora saved him from the death stroke of his enraged enemy. For he
had seen the light fade from Hellayne's blue eyes when she faced the
other woman, and Laval's taunts had found receptive ears. Everything
had conspired against him on that night, even to seeming the thing he
was not, and with a heart heavy to breaking Tristan scoured the city of
Rome for three days in quest of the woman, but to no avail.

His duties were not onerous and the city was quiet. No farther attempts
had been made to liberate the Pontiff and the feuds between the rival
factions seemed for the nonce suspended.

Nevertheless Tristan felt instinctively, that all was not well. Night
after night Basil descended into the crypts of the Emperor's Tomb,
sometimes alone, sometimes with one or two companions, men Tristan
had never seen. Ostensibly the Grand Chamberlain visited the cells of
certain prisoners of state, and one night Tristan ventured to follow
him. But he was seized with so great a terror that he resolved to
confide in Odo of Cluny, who possessed the entire confidence of the
Senator of Rome, and be guided by his counsel.

In the meantime, like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, the terrible
thing had happened again. From the churches of Santa Maria in
Trastevere and Santa Sabina of the Aventine, the Holy Host had been
taken, notwithstanding the increased number of guards keeping watch in
the sanctuaries.

Rome shivered in the throes of abject terror. People whispered in
groups along the thoroughfares, hardly daring to raise their voices,
and many asserted that the Antichrist had returned once more to earth
and that the End of Time was nigh. Like a dread foreboding of evil it
gripped Tristan's soul.

And day and night interminable processions of hermits and monks
traversed the city with crosses and banners and smouldering incense.
Their chants could be heard from the ancient Flaminian to the Appian
Gate.

Once more the shades of evening laid their cool touch upon the city's
fevered brow, and as the distant hills rose into a black mass against
the sunset two figures emerged on the battlements of the Emperor's Tomb
and gazed down on the dimmed outlines of the Pontifical City.

Before them lay a prospect fit to rouse in the hearts of all who knew
its history an indescribable emotion. There, before them, lay the broad
field of Rome, whereon the first ominous activities of the Old World's
conquerors had been enacted. There in the mellow light of eve, lay the
Latin land, once popular and rich beyond all quarters of the earth
since the plain of Babylon became a desert, and now no less deserted
and forlorn. And from the height from which these two looked down upon
it, its shallow hills and ridges were truly minimized to the aspect of
one mighty plain, increasing the vast sense of desolation. Rome--Rome
alone--denied the melancholy story of disaster, utter and complete, the
work of Goth and Hun and of malarial terror.

But now over all this solemn prospect was the luminous blue light of
evening, fading to violet and palest yellow in the farthest west, where
lay the Tyrrhene Sea.

Presently one of the two laid aside his cloak and, baring his arms
to the kiss of the wind that crept softly about them, said in weary
accents:

"Never in all my life, Father, have I known a day to pass as tardily
as this, for to me the coming hour is fraught with evil that may abide
with me forever, and my soul is eager to know its doom, yet shrinks
from the sentence that may be passed."

Odo of Cluny looked into Tristan's weary face.

"I, too, have a presentiment of Evil, as never before," the monk
replied, laying a gentle hand on his companion's shoulder. "There are
things abroad in Rome--one dares not even whisper. The Lord Alberic
chose an evil hour for his pilgrimage to Monte Gargano. Have you no
tidings?"

"No tidings," reechoed Tristan gloomily.

Odo of Cluny nodded pensively.

"It seems passing strange. I know not why--" his voice sank to a
whisper. "I mistrust the Grand Chamberlain. Whom can we trust? A poison
wind is blowing over these hills--withering--destroying. The awful
sacrilege at Santa Maria in Trastevere, following so closely upon
the one at the Lateran, is but another proof that dark powers are at
work--powers defying human ken--devils in human shape, doomed to burn
to a crisp in the eternal fires."

"Meanwhile--what can we do?"

"Have you seen the Lord Basil?"--

"He was much concerned, examined the place in person, but found no
clue."

"Are your men trustworthy?"

"I know not, Father! For a slight service I chanced to do the Lord
Alberic he made me captain of the guard in place of one who had
incurred his displeasure. My men are Swiss and Lombards, a Spaniard or
two--some Calabrians--no Romans."

"Therein lies your salvation," interposed the Benedictine. "How many
guard this tomb?"

"Some four score men--why do you ask?"

"I hardly know--save that there lurks some dark mystery behind the
curtain. Let no man--nor woman--relax your watchfulness. There are
tempests that destroy even the cedars of Lebanon," the monk continued
with meaning. "And such a one may burst one night."

"Your words are dark, Father, and fill me with misgivings."

"And well they should," Odo interposed with a penetrating glance at the
young captain. "For rumor hath it that another bird has strayed into
the Lady Theodora's bower--"

Tristan colored under the monk's scrutiny.

"I was present at her feast. Yet I know not how I got there!"

The monk looked puzzled.

"Now that you have crossed the dark path of Marozia's sister I fear the
ambushed gorge and the black arrow that sings from the hidden depths.
Why seek the dark waters of Satan, when the white walls of Christ rise
luminously before you?"

"What is the import of these strange words so strangely uttered?"
Tristan turned to the monk with a puzzled air.

"That shall be made known to you in time. Treason lurks everywhere.
Seal your ears against the Siren's song. Some say she is a vampire
returned to earth, doomed to live on, as long as men are base enough
to barter their soul for her kisses. And yet--how much longer? The
Millennium draws nigh. The End of Time is near."

There was a pause. Tristan tried to speak, but the words would not come
from his lips.

At last with an effort he stammered:

"At the risk of incurring your censure, Father--even to the palace of
Theodora must I wend my steps to recover that which is my own."

And he informed the Monk of Cluny how he had lost his poniard and his
scarf of blue Samite.

"Why not send one you trust to fetch them back?" protested the monk.
"It is not well to brave the peril twice."

"Myself must I go, Father. For once and all time I mean to break her
spell."

"Deem you to accomplish that which no man hath--and live?"

"There is that which shall keep my honor inviolate," Tristan replied.

The cloudless sky was shot with dreamy stars, and cooling breezes were
wafted over the Roman Campagna. Through the stillness came the muffled
challenges of the guard.

The twain crossed the ramparts of the Mausoleum in silence, holding
to their way which led towards a postern, when suddenly, out of
the battlements' embrazure, peered two gray, ghastly faces, which
disappeared as suddenly. But Tristan's quick eye had marked them and,
plucking at the monk's sleeve, he whispered:

"Look yonder, Father--where stand two forms that scan us eagerly. My
bewildered brain refuses me the knowledge I seek, yet I could vouch the
sight of them is somehow familiar to my eyes."

"That may well be," replied the monk. "For all this day long have
I been haunted by the consciousness that our movements are being
watched. Yet, I marvel not, for until Purgatory receive the soul of
this accursed wanton, there is neither peace nor security for us.
Her devilish hand may even now be informing all this dark plot, that
seethes about us," Odo of Cluny concluded in apprehensive tones.

Presently they drew near the great gateway, before which the flicker of
cressets showed a company of the guard, with breast plates and shields,
their faces hidden by the lowered visors of their Norman casks. Among
them they noted a wizened eunuch, who, after peering at them with his
ferret-like eyes, pointed to a door sunk in the wall, the while he
whispered something in Tristan's ear. Thereupon Odo and Tristan entered
the guard chamber.

It was deserted.

Beneath the cressets' uncertain gleam, as they emerged beyond, stood
the eunuch with the same ferret-like glance, pointing across the dim
passage, to, where could be made out the entrance to a gallery. The
group behind them stood immobile in the flickering light and the space
about them was naught but a shadowy void. Yet, as they went, their
ears caught the clink of unseen mail, the murmur of unseen voices, and
Tristan gripped the monk's arm and said in husky tones:

"By all the saints,--we are fairly in the midst of Basil's creatures.
An open foe I can face without shrinking, but I tell you this peril,
ambushed in impenetrable night, saps my courage as naught else would.
If but one battle-cry would shatter this numbing silence, one simple
sword would flash, as it leaps from its scabbard, I should be myself
again, ready to face any foe!"

They entered the half gloom of a painted gallery where dog-headed
deities held forth in grotesque representation beside the crucified
Christ. They stole along its whole deserted length until they reached
a door, hardly discernible in the pictured wall. The lamps burned low,
but in the centre of the marble floor a brazier sent up a brighter
flame, filling the air with a fragrance as of sandal wood.

Tristan's hand groped for a spring along the outer edge of the door.
At his touch a panel receded. Both he and the monk entered and the
door closed noiselessly behind them. Tristan produced a candle and
two flints from under his coat of mail. But ere he could light it by
striking the flints, the approach of a dim light from the farther end
of the tortuous gallery caused him to start, and both watched its
approach with dread and misgiving.

Soon a voice fell on their ear, answered by another, and Tristan
swiftly drew his companion into a shadowy recess which concealed them
while it yet enabled them to hear every word spoken by the two.

"Thus we administer justice in Rome," said the one speaker, in whom
Tristan recognized the voice of the Grand Chamberlain.

"Somewhat like in our own feudal chateaux," came back the surly reply.

Tristan started as the voice reached his ear. How came Roger de Laval
here in that company?

"You approve?" said the silken voice.

"There is nothing like night and thirst to make the flesh pliable."

"Then why not profit thereby?--But are you still resolved upon this
thing?"--

There was a pause. The voice barked reply:

"It is a fair exchange."

Their talk died to a vague murmur till presently the harsher voice rose
above the silence.

"Well, then, my Lord Basil, if these matters be as you say,--if you
will use your good offices with the Lady Theodora--"

"Can you doubt my sincerity--my desire to promote your interests--even
to the detriment of my own?"

His companion spat viciously.

"He who sups with the devil must needs have a long spoon. What is to be
your share?"

"Your meaning is not quite clear, my lord."

"Naught for naught!" Roger snarled viciously. "Shall we say--the price
of your services?"

"My lord," piped Basil with an injured air, "you wrong me deeply. It
is but my interest in you, my desire to see you reconciled to your
beautiful wife--"

"How know you she is beautiful?" came the snarling reply.

"I, too, was an unseen witness of your meeting at the Arch of the Seven
Candles," Basil replied suavely.

"Was all Rome abroad to gaze upon my shame?" growled Basil's companion.
"Though--in a manner--I am revenged," he continued, through his
clenched teeth. "Instead of giving her her freedom, I shall use her
shrinking body for my plaything--I shall use her so that no other lover
shall desire her. As for that low-born churl--"

With a low cry Tristan, sword in hand, made a forward lunge. The monk's
grip restrained him.

"Madman!" Odo whispered in his ear. "Would you court certain death?"

The words of the twain had died to a whisper. Thus they were lost
to Tristan's ear, though he strained every nerve, a deadly fear for
Hellayne weighting down his soul.

The two continued their walk, passing so near that Tristan could have
touched the hem of their garbs. Basil was importuning his companion on
some matter which the latter could not hear. Laval's reply seemed not
in accord with the Grand Chamberlain's plans, for his voice became more
insistent.

"But you will come--my lord--and you will bring your beautiful
Countess? Remember, her presence in Rome is no longer a secret.
And--whatever the cause which prompted her--pilgrimage, would you have
the Roman mob point sneering fingers at Roger de Laval?"--

"By God, they shall not!"

"Then the wisdom of my counsel speaks for itself," Basil interposed
soothingly. "It is the one reward I crave."

There was a pause. Whatever of evil brooded in that brief space of time
only these two knew.

"It shall be as you say," Roger replied at last, and from their chain
mail the gleam of the lantern they carried evoked intermittent answer.

When their steps had died to silence Tristan turned to the monk. His
voice was unsteady and there was a great fear in his eyes.

"Father, I need your help as have I never needed human help before.
There is some devil's stew simmering in the Lord Basil's cauldron. I
fear the worst for her--"

Odo shot a questioning glance at the speaker.

"The wife of the Count Laval?" he returned sharply.

"Father--you know why I am here--and how I have striven to tear this
love from my heart and soul. Would she had not come! Would I had never
seen her more--for where is it all to lead? For, after all, she is his
wife--and I am the transgressor. But now I fear for her life. You have
heard, Father. I must see her! I must have speech with her. I must warn
her. Father--I promise--that shall be all--if you will but consent and
find her--for I know not her abode."

"You promise--" interposed the monk. "Promise nothing. For if you meet,
it will not be all. All flesh is weak. Entrust your message to my care
and I shall try to do your bidding. But see her no more! Your souls are
in grave peril--and Death stands behind you, waiting the last throw."

"Even if our souls should be forever stamped with their dark errors I
must see her. I must know why she came hither--I must know the worst.
Else should I never find rest this side of the grave. Father, in mercy,
do my bidding, for gloom and misery hold my soul in their clutches, and
I must know, ere the twilight of Eternity engulfs us both."

"We will speak of this anon," the Monk of Cluny interposed, as together
they left the gallery, now sunk in the deepest gloom and, passing
through the vaulted corridors, emerged upon the ramparts. No sign of
life appeared in the twilight, cast by the towering walls, save where
in the shadowy passages the dimmed lights of cressets marked the
passing of armed men.

Below, the city of Rome began to take shape in the dim and ghostly
starlight, thrusting shadowy domes and towers out of her dark slumber.

In the distance the undulating crests of the Alban Hills mingled with
the night mists, and from the nearby Neronian Field came the croaking
of the ravens, intensifying rather than breaking the stillness.



CHAPTER VI

A MEETING OF GHOSTS


A voice whose prompting he could not resist, impelled Tristan, after
his parting from the Monk of Cluny, to follow the Grand Chamberlain,
who had taken the direction of the Pincian Hill. His retreating form
became more phantom-like in the misty moonlight, as viewed from the
ramparts of the Emperor's Tomb. Nevertheless, mindful of the parting
words of the monk, and filled with dire misgivings, Tristan set out
at once. True to his determination, he procured a small lantern and a
piece of coarse thick cloth, which he concealed under his cloak, then,
by a solitary pathway, he followed the direction he had seen Basil
take. The Bridge of San Angelo was deserted and not a human being was
abroad.

After a time he arrived at a small copse, where Basil's form had
disappeared from sight. Clearing away the underbrush, Tristan came to
what seemed a fissure in a wall, which cast a tremendous shadow over
the surrounding trees and bushes. Creeping in as far as he dared, he
paused, then, with mingled emotions of expectancy and apprehension
which affected him so powerfully that for a moment he was hardly master
of his actions, he slowly and carefully uncovered his lantern, struck
two flints and lighted the wick.

His first glance was intuitively directed to the cavity that opened
beneath him.

Of Basil he saw no trace, notwithstanding he had seen him enter
the cavity at the point where he himself had entered. Ere long
however, he heard a thin, long-drawn sound, now louder, now softer;
now approaching, now receding, now verging toward shrillness, now
returning to a faint, gentle swell. This strange, unearthly music was
interrupted by a succession of long, deep rolling sounds, which rose
grandly about the fissures above, like prisoned thunderbolts striving
to escape. Roused by the mystery of the place and the uncertainty of
his own purpose, Tristan was, for a moment, roused to a pitch of such
excitement that almost threatened to unsteady his reason. Conscious of
the danger attending his venture, and the fearful legends of invisible
beings and worlds, he was constrained to believe that demons were
hovering around him in viewless assemblies, calling to him in unearthly
voices, in an unknown tongue, to proceed upon his enterprise and take
the consequences of his daring.

Thus he remained for a time, fearful of advancing or retracing his
steps, looking fixedly into the trackless gloom and listening to the
strange sounds which, alternately rising and falling, still floated
around him. The fitful light of his lantern suddenly fell upon a
shape that seemed to creep through one of the stone galleries. In the
unsteady gleam it appeared from the distance like a gnome wandering
through the bowels of the earth, or a forsaken spirit from purgatory.

Had it been but a trick of his imagination, or had his mortal eyes
seen a denizen of the beyond? At last he aroused himself, trimmed with
careful hand his guiding wick and set forth to penetrate the great rift.

He moved on in an oblique direction for several feet, now creeping
over the tops of the foundation arches, now skirting the extremities
of the protrusions in the ruined brickwork, now descending into dark,
slimy, rubbish-choked chasms, until the rift suddenly diminished in all
directions.

For a moment Tristan paused and considered. He was almost tempted to
retrace his steps, abandoning the purpose upon which he had come.
Before him stretched interminable gloom, brooding, he knew not over
what caverns and caves, inhabited by denizens of night.

He moved onward, with less caution than he had formerly employed,
when suddenly and without warning a considerable portion of brickwork
fell with lightning suddenness from above. It missed him, else he
should never had known what happened. But some stray bricks hurled him
prostrate on the foundation arch, dislocating his right shoulder, and
shattering his lantern into atoms. A groan of anguish rose to his lips.
He was left in impenetrable darkness.

For a short time Tristan lay as one stunned in his dark solitude.
Then, trying to raise himself, he began to experience in all their
severity the fierce spasms, the dull gnawings that were the miserable
consequences of the injury he had sustained. His arm lay numbed by his
side, and for the space of some moments he had neither the strength nor
the will to even move the sound limbs of his body.

But gradually the anguish of his body awakened a wilder and strange
distemper in his mind, and then the two agonies, physical and mental,
rioted over him in fierce rivalry, divesting him of all thoughts, save
such as were aroused by their own agency. At length, however, the pangs
seemed to grow less frequent. He hardly knew now from what part of his
body they proceeded. Insensibly his faculties of thinking and feeling
grew blank; he remained for a time in a mysterious, unrefreshing repose
of body and mind, and at last his disordered senses, left unguided and
unrestrained, became the victims of a sudden and terrible illusion.

The black darkness about him appeared, after an interval, to be dawning
into a dull, misty light, like the reflection on clouds which threaten
a thunderstorm at the close of day. Soon this atmosphere seemed to be
crossed and streaked with a fantastic trellis work of white, seething
vapor. Then the mass of brickwork which had fallen in, grew visible,
enlarged to an enormous bulk and endowed with the power of locomotion,
by which it mysteriously swelled and shrank, raised and depressed
itself, without quitting for a moment its position near him. And then,
from its dark and toiling surface, there rose a long array of dusky
shapes, which twined themselves about the misty trellis work above and
took the palpable forms of human countenances.

There were infantile faces wreathed with grave worms that hung round
them like locks of slimy hair; aged faces dabbled with gore and slashed
with wounds; youthful faces, seamed with livid channels along which
ran unceasing tears; lovely faces distorted into the fixed coma of
despairing gloom. Not one of these countenances exactly resembled the
other. Each was stigmatized by a revolting character of its own. Yet,
however deformed their other features, the eyes of all were preserved
unimpaired. Speechless and bodiless they floated in unceasing myriads
up to the fantastic trellis work, which seemed to swell its wild
proportions to receive them. There they clustered in their goblin
amphitheatre, and fixedly and silently they glared down, without
exception, on the intruder's face.

Meanwhile the walls at the side began to gleam out with a light of
their own, making jaded boundaries to the midway scenes of phantom
faces. Then the rifts in their surface widened, and disgorged
misshapen figures of priests and idols of the olden time, which came
forth in every hideous deformity of aspect, mocking at the faces of
the trellis work, while behind and over the whole soared shapes of
gigantic darkness. From this ghastly assemblage there came not the
slightest sound. The stillness of a dead and ruined world was about
him, possessed of appalling mysteries, veiled in quivering vapors and
glooming shadows.

Days, years, centuries seemed to pass, as Tristan lay gazing up in a
trance of horror into this realm of peopled and ghostly darkness.

At last he staggered to his feet. He must find an egress or go mad.
Slowly raising himself upon his uninjured arm, he looked vainly about
for the faintest glimmer of light. Not a single object was discernible
about him. Darkness hemmed him in, in rayless and triumphant obscurity.

The first agony of the pain having resolved itself into a dull
changeless sensation, the vision that had possessed his senses was now,
in a vast and shadowy form, present only to his memory, filling the
darkness with fearful recollections and urging him on, in a restless,
headlong yearning, to effect his escape from this lonely and unhallowed
sepulchre.

"I must pass into light. I must breathe the air of the sky, or I shall
perish in this vault," he muttered in a hoarse voice, which the fitful
echoes mocked by throwing his words as it were, to each other, even to
the faintest whisper of its last recipient.

Gradually and painfully he commenced his meditated retreat.

Tristan's brain still whirled with the emotion that had so entirely
overwhelmed his mind, as, staggering through the interminable gloom, he
set forth on his toilsome, perilous journey.

Suddenly however he paused, bewildered, in the darkness. He had no
doubt mistaken the direction, and a gleam of light, streaming through
the fissure of the rock, informed him that there were others in this
abode of darkness, beside himself.

Had he come upon the object of his quest?

For a moment Tristan's heart stood still, then, with all the caution
which the darkness, the danger of secret pitfalls and the risk of
discovery suggested, he crept toward the crevice until the glow
gradually increased. From the bowels of the earth, as it were, voices
were now audible; they seemed to issue from the depths of a cavern
directly below where Tristan stood. Groping his way carefully along
the wall of rock, he at last reached the spot whence the light issued
and presently started at finding himself before an aperture just wide
enough to admit the body of a single man. A sort of perpendicular
ladder was formed in the wall of narrow juttings of stone, and below
these was the rock chamber from which the voices proceeded.

It was some time ere the confusion of his ideas and the darkness
allowed Tristan to form any notion of the character of the locality,
when it suddenly dawned upon him that he had strayed into a place
regarding which he had heard and wondered much: the Catacombs of St.
Calixtus.

This revelation was by no means reassuring, although the presence of
others held out hope that he would discover an exit from this shadowy
labyrinth.

For a moment Tristan remained as one transfixed, as he gazed from his
lofty pinnacle into the shadowy vault below.

He saw a stone table, lighted with a single taper, in the centre of
which lay an unsheathed dagger, and an object the exact character of
which he could not determine in the half gloom, also a brazen bowl.
About a dozen men in cloaks with black vizors stood around, and one,
taller than the rest, the gleam of whose eyes shone through the slits
of his mask, appeared to be concluding an address to his companions.

The words were indistinguishable to Tristan but, when the speaker had
concluded, a dark murmur arose which subsided anon. Then those present
crowded around the stone table. The taper was momentarily obscured by
the intervening throng, and Tristan could not see the ceremony, though
he could hear the muttered formula of an oath they seemed to be taking.
What he did see caused the chill of death to run through his veins.

The group again receding, the man bared his left arm, raised the dagger
on high and let it descend. Tristan saw the blood weltering slowly
from the self-inflicted wound, trickling drop by drop into the brazen
bowl, which another muffled figure was holding. Then each one present
repeated the ceremony, he who was presenting the bowl being the last to
mingle his blood with that of the rest.

Then another stepped forth and, raising the bloody knife on high,
stabbed the object that lay upon the table. Some mysterious signs
passed between them, meaningless words that struck Tristan's ear with
the vague memory of a dimly remembered dream. Then he who seemed to
be the speaker raised the object on high and, walking to a niche,
concealed in the shadows, placed it in, what seemed to Tristan, a
fissure in the rock.

Like ghosts returning to the bowels of the earth, they glided away,
silently, soundlessly, and soon the silence of death hovered once again
in the rock caverns of the Catacombs of St. Calixtus.

In breathless suspense, utterly oblivious of the injury he had
sustained, Tristan gazed into the deserted rock chamber where the dim
light of the taper still flickered in a faint breath of air wafted from
without.

Hardly did the hearts of the Magi when the vision of the Star in the
East first dawned upon their eyes experience a transport more vivid
than that which animated Tristan when he found his terrible stress
relieved.

But almost immediately a reaction set in and a dire misgiving
extinguished the quick ray of hope that had lighted his heart, luring
him on to escape from these caverns of Death.

By a strange mischance they had neglected to extinguish the taper.
They might return at any moment and, his presence discovered, the doom
in store for the intruder on their secret rites was not a matter of
surmise. Composing himself to patience, Tristan waited, glaring as a
caged tiger at the gates whose opening or closing might spell freedom
or doom. At last, after a considerable lapse of time, moments that
seemed eternity, he resolved to hazard the descent.

Slowly and painfully moving, with the pace and perseverance of a
turtle, he writhed downward upon his unguided course until he reached
the bottom of the cavern. Breathless with exhaustion after his
breakneck descent, he waited in the shadow of a projecting rock. When
the deep sepulchral silence remained undisturbed, he advanced toward
the fissure in the rock where one of the muffled company had placed the
mysterious object.

Tristan's quest was not at once rewarded. The shelving in the rock
cavern, being irregular and almost indistinguishable, offered no clue
to the mystery. A great fear was upon him, but he was determined, to
discover the meaning of it all.

Suddenly he paused. A small cabinet of sandal wood, concealed behind
the jutting stone, had caught his eye. It was painted to resemble the
rock and the untrained eye would not linger upon it. A small keyhole
was revealed, but the key had been taken away.

Tristan stood irresolute, with straining eyes and listening ear. Not
a sound was audible. Even the piping of the night wind in the rock
fissures seemed to have died to silence. With quick resolution he
inserted one of the sharp-edged flints and gave a wrench.

When the top receded he could not repress an outcry. A chill coursed
coldly through his veins. His breath came and went in sobs, as from one
half drowned.

He only glanced at what was before him for the fraction of a second.
But he knew what had made the very soul within him shudder and his
bones grind, as if in mortal agony.

It was as though Hell itself had opened the gates. He staggered back in
a paroxysm of horror.--

With a grim, set face Tristan closed the top of the cabinet and
replaced it on the rocky ledge. Thus he stood, his face buried in his
hands. Could the All-seeing God permit such an outrage and let the
perpetrators live?

But there was no time for reflection. At any moment one of the muffled
phantoms might return, and indeed he thought he heard steps approaching
through one of the rock galleries. He crouched in breathless, agonized
suspense, for it did not suffer him longer in these caverns of crime
and death.

He dimly remembered the direction in which the nocturnal company had
departed and, after some research, he discovered a narrow corridor
that seemed to slope upward through the gloom. His lantern having been
broken to atoms, the taper held out little promise of life beyond a
brief space of time during which he must find the entrance of the
cavern, if he did not wish to meet a fate even worse than death in the
event of discovery.

Grimly resolved Tristan raised the flickering taper and entered the
gallery on his left. The Stygian gloom almost extinguished the feeble
light, though he noted every object he passed, every turn in the
tortuous ascent.

After some time which seemed eternity he at last perceived a dim glow
at the extremity of the gallery, and soon found himself before the
outer cavity of the stone wall, in a region of the city that seemed
miles removed from the place where he had entered.

It was near daybreak. The moon shone faintly in the grey heavens and a
vaporous mist was sinking from shapeless clouds that hovered over the
course of the Tiber.

Tristan looked about his solitary lurking place, but beheld no human
being in its lonely recesses. Then his eyes fixed themselves with a
shudder upon the glooming vault from which he had made his escape.

He was on the track of a terrible mystery, a mystery which shunned the
light of day and of heaven. He must fathom it, whatever the risk. A
strange new energy possessed him. His life at last seemed to have a
purpose. He was no longer a rolling stone. There was work ahead. His
future course stood out clearly defined, as Tristan turned his back
upon the Catacombs of St. Calixtus and took the direction of the
Aventine. To Odo, the Monk of Cluny, he must confide the terrible
discovery he had made in the mephitic caverns of the Catacombs. To him
he must turn for counsel, of which he stood sorely in need. And in some
way which he could not account for to himself, Tristan felt as if the
fate of Hellayne was bound up in these dreadful mysteries. At first
the thought seemed absurd, but somehow it gained upon him and began to
add new weight to his burden. Could he but see her! Could he but have
speech with her. A great dread seized him at the thought of what might
be her fate at the present hour. What would she think of him who seemed
to have abandoned her in the hour of dire distress, when she needed him
above all men on earth?

Did her intuition, did her heart inform her that he had roamed the city
for days in the hope of finding her? Had her heart informed her that,
like a spirit judged and condemned, he found neither rest nor peace
in his vain endeavors to discover her abode? Was she sinking under
her loneliness, perishing from uncertainty of her fate, doubts of his
allegiance? To what perils and miseries had he exposed her, and to what
end? He groaned in despair, as his mind reverted from the dark present
to the happy past. A past, forever gone!--

A faint streak of light crept across the East, permeating the grey dawn
with roseate hues as Tristan re-entered the Emperor's Tomb to partake
of an hour or two of much needed rest, ere the business of the new-born
day claimed him its own.



CHAPTER VII

A BOWER OF EDEN


After some hours of much needed rest Tristan started out to find
the Monk of Cluny. The task he had set himself was not one easy of
execution, since the Benedictine friar was wont to visit the Roman
sanctuaries following the promptings of the spirit without adhering to
a definite routine. Thus the greater part of the day was consumed in a
futile quest of him of whose counsel he stood sorely in need.

At the hour of sunset Tristan set anew upon his quest. His feet carried
him to a remote region of the city, and when he regained his bearings
he found himself before the convent of Santa Maria del Priorata with
its environing groves of oleander and almond trees.

The moon was floating like a huge pearl of silver through vast seas of
blue. The sleeping flowers were closed, like half-extinguished censers,
breathing faint incense on the night's pale brow. From some dark bough
a nightingale was shaking down a flood of song. The fountains from
their stone basins leaped moonward in the passion of their love and
seemed to fall sobbing back to earth. The night air breathed hot and
languorous across the gardens of the Pincian Mount. Lutes tinkled here
and there. And the magic of the night thrilled Tristan's soul. As in a
trance his gaze followed the white figure that was moving noiselessly
down a moss grown path. A thick hedge of laurel concealed her now. Then
she paused as if she, too, were enraptured by the magic of the night.

The moon illumined the central lawn and the whispering fountains. Tall
cypresses seemed to intensify the shade. In the distance he could
faintly discern the white balustrade, crowning a terrace where green
alleys wound obscurely beneath the canopy of darkest oak, and moss and
violet made their softest bed. In the very centre of it was a small
domed temple, a shrine to Love.

Tristan's senses began to swoon. Was it a hallucination--was it
reality? A moon maiden she seemed, made mortal for a night, to teach
all comers love in the sacred grove.

"Hellayne! Hellayne!"

His voice sounded strange to his own ears.

As in a dream he saw her come towards him. She came so silent and so
pale in the spectral light that he feared lest it was the spectre
of his mind that came to meet him. And once more the voice cried
"Hellayne!" and then they lay in each other's arms. All her reluctance,
all her doubts seemed to have flown at the sound of her name from his
lips.

"Hellayne! Hellayne!" he whispered deliriously, kissing her eyes, her
hair, her sweet lips, and folding her so close to him, as if he would
never again part from her he loved better than life. "At last I have
found you! How came you here? Speak! Is it indeed yourself, or is it
some mocking spirit that has borrowed your form?"

And again he kissed her and their eyes held silent commune.

"It is I who have just refound you!" she whispered, as he looked
enraptured into the sweet girlish face, the face that had not changed
since he had left Avalon, though she seemed to have become more
womanly, and in her eyes lay a pathetic sorrow.

What a rapture there was in that clear tone. But she trembled as she
spoke. Would he understand? Would he believe?

"But--why--why--are you here?" he stammered.

"I have sought you long."

"You have followed me? You are not then a nun?"

"You see I am not."

"But why--oh why,--have you done this thing?"

She made no answer.

"You are here in Rome--and he is here. And you did not know?"

"I knew!" she replied with a little nod, like a questioned child.

"You knew! And he believes that I knew!"

"That is a small matter, dear. For he knows, that you knew not."

The endearment startled him. It seemed to cast her faith upon him.

"What are you doing here?" he said.

"I came because I had to come! I had no choice--!"

"No choice! Then why did you send me away?"

She gave a little shrug.

"I knew not how much I loved you."

"And yet, dearest, you cannot remain here. You know his moods better
than any one else--and you know if he finds us--for your own sake,
dearest, you cannot remain."

In the warmth of his entreaty he had used as endearing words as she.
They were precious to her ears.

"Let him come!" she said, nestling close to him. "Let him come and kill
me!"

She glanced about. He pointed to the castellated building that rose
darkly beyond the holm-oaks.

"Yonder--is yonder your abode?" he stammered.

Suddenly the woman in her gained the mastery.

"Oh no! No! No! Let us hide! Wretch that I am, to risk your life with
mine."

She had flung herself upon him. Around them rioted roses in wild
profusion. To him it seemed like a bosquet of Eden. Upon his breast she
sobbed. But no consideration of past or present could restrain his hand
from gently soothing her silken hair.

"Oh, why did you leave me?" she cried. "Why could we not have loved
without all this? Surely two souls can love--if love they must--without
doing wrong to any one."

His arms stole about her.

"Speak to me! Speak to me!" she whispered with upturned face.

"Had I known that this would happen, I should have known that I did
foolishly," he replied. "You should have known, dearest. You thought to
kill our love by cutting it to earth. You have but made its roots grow
deeper down into the present and the future!"

She nodded dreamily.

"Perchance you speak truth!" she said. "You see me here by your side,
having crossed leagues and leagues to seek your soul, my home--my only
home forever. And as surely as the bee goes back to its one hallowed
oak have I refound you. And as surely as the ocean knows that every
breath of vapor lifted from its face shall some day come back to its
breast, so surely did you know that your love must return to you."

"Unless," he said, "it sinks into the unseen springs that are so deep
that they are lost from sight forever."

"Lost--nothing is lost. The deepest water shall break out some day and
reach the lake--the river. Then, why not now? I am one who cannot wait
for eternity."

"And yet, eternity I fear, is waiting for us!"

There was a deep silence, lasting apace.

"Ah, I know," she said at last. "I know I ought to think as you do. I
should be conscience stricken now, as I was then. I should be glad that
you left me. But I am not--I am not. I am here, dearest, to ask you if
you love me still?"--

"Love you?" he replied in a transport, holding her close, while he
covered her eyes and her upturned face with kisses. "I love you as
never woman was loved--as the night loves the dew in the cups of the
upturned flowers--as the nightingale loves the dream that weaves its
phantom webs about her bowers. I love you above everything in heaven or
on earth. You knew the answer, dearest. Why did you ask?"

"I see it in your eyes. You love me still," she crooned, her beautiful
white arms about his neck, "notwithstanding--"

He started. And yet, after the scene she had witnessed on that night,
her doubts were but too well-founded. Yet she had not queried before.

"Strange fortunes crossed my path since I came here," he said.
"Ambition lured--I followed, as one who lost his way. Would you have
had me do otherwise?"

In his eyes she read the truth. Yet the shadow of that other woman had
come between them as a phantom.

"Oh, no,--although I never thought that you were made for statecraft."

"I am in the service of the Senator. And the Senator of Rome is her
foe."

"And you?"

"I am his servant."

She laughed nervously.

"I never thought you would come to this, my love."

"Nor ever should I have thought so. But fate is strange. The Holy
Father is imprisoned in the Lateran. To him I wended my way. But
the only service I did him was to prevent his escape--unwittingly.
I visited the sanctuaries. But though prayers hovered on my lips,
repentance was not in my heart. And then it came to pass. And I feel
like one borne in a bark that has neither sail nor rudder. And if,
instead of being far-floated to these Roman shores, I am headed for a
port where all is security and peace, can I prevent it? I am borne on!
I close my eyes and try to think that Fate has intended it for my good."

"For your good!" she said bitterly.

"For yours no less, perchance."

"How so, dearest? What good can come to me from your soul's security?
To me, who believe our love is rightful?"

"And yet you sent me from you--into darkness--loneliness--despair?"

She stroked his hair.

"It was fear as well as conscience that prompted. You once said that
all things are right, that may not be escaped. You said, that if God
was at the back of all things, all things were pure--"

"I know I said it! But, what I meant, I know not now. I saw things
strangely then."

"There were days when I, too, lost my vision," she said softly, "when I
said to myself: there is truth and truth--the higher and the lower. It
was the higher, if you like to call it so, Tristan, that prompted the
deed. Since then I have come down to earth, and the lower truth, more
fit for beings of clay, proclaims my presence here--"

"What will you do?" he queried anxiously.

"I know not--I know not! I came here to be with you--without ever a
thought of meeting him again whom I have wronged--if wronged indeed
I have. He has vowed to kill you! Oh, to what a pass have I brought
you--my love--my love! Let us fly from Rome! Let us leave this city. He
will never know. And as for me--he but loves me because I am fair to
look upon, and lovable in the eyes of another. What I have suffered in
the silence, in the darkness, you will never know. You shall take me
with you--anywhere will I go--so we shake the dust of this city from
our feet."

She leapt at him again and flung her arms about his neck, her face
upturned. He had neither will nor power to release himself. He scarcely
had the strength to speak the words which he knew would stab her to the
heart.

Even ere he spoke she fell away from him as if she had read his mind.

"So you persuaded him of your repentance," she cried. "You are friends
over the body of your murdered love! And I--who gave all--am left
alone,--the foe of either. It was nobly done."

He stared at her as if he thought she had gone mad.

"Listen, Hellayne," he urged, taking her hands in his, in the endeavor
to soothe her. "What spirit of evil has whispered this madness into
your ears? Even just now you said, he has sworn to kill me. How could
there be reconciliation between Roger de Laval and myself--who love his
wife?"

"Then what is it?" she queried, her eyes upon his lips as if she were
waiting sentence to be pronounced upon her.

"I am the Senator's man!"

The words fell upon her ears like the knell of doom.

"He will release you! I will go to him--if your pride is greater, than
your love."

She was all woman now, deaf to reason and entreaty, thinking of nothing
but her great love of him.

He drew her down beside him on the marble seat.

"Listen, Hellayne! You do not understand--you wrong me cruelly. Naught
is there in this world that I would not do to make you happy--you,
whose love and happiness are my one concern while life endures. But
this thing may not be. The Senator of Rome is away on a pilgrimage. He
has chosen me to watch over this city till his return. Danger lurks
about me in every guise. Its nature I know not. But I do know that
there is some dark power at work plotting evil. There is one I do not
trust--the Lord Basil."

Hellayne gave a start.

"The bosom friend, so it would seem, of the Count Laval."

The color had left Tristan's face.

"You have met?"

"He appears to have taken a great liking to my lord. Almost daily does
he call, and they seem to have some secret matter between them."

Tristan gripped Hellayne's hand so fiercely that she hardly suppressed
an outcry.

"Have you surprised any utterance?"

"Only a name. They thought I was out of earshot."

"What name?"

"Theodora!"

She watched him narrowly as she spoke the word.

He gave a start.

"Theodora," Hellayne repeated slowly. "She who saved your life when my
poor efforts failed."

There was a tinge of bitterness in her tone which did not escape
Tristan's ear. Ere he could make reply, she followed it up with the
question:

"What is there between you and her?"

"For aught I know it is some strange whim of the woman, call it
infatuation if you will," he replied, "which, though I have repelled
her, still maintains. It was at her feast I first met the Lord Roger
face to face."

"How came you there?" she questioned with pained voice.

Tristan recounted the circumstances, concealing nothing from the time
of his arrival in Rome to the present hour. Hellayne listened wearily,
but the account he gave seemed rather to irritate than to reconcile her
to him, who thus laid bare his heart before her.

"And so soon was I forgot?" she crooned.

"Never for a moment were you forgot, my Hellayne," he replied with all
the fervor of persuasion at his command. "At all times have I loved
you, at all times was your image enshrined in my heart. Theodora is
all-powerful in Rome, as was Marozia before her. The magistrates, the
officers of the Senator's court, are her creatures,--Basil no less than
the rest. Would that the Lord Alberic returned, for the burden he has
placed upon my shoulders is exceeding heavy. But you, my Hellayne, what
will you do? I cannot bear the thought of knowing you with him who has
wrecked your life, your happiness."

In Hellayne's blue eyes there was a great pain.

"Why mind such trifles since you but think of yourself?"

"You do not understand!" he protested. "Can I with honor abandon the
trust which the Senator has imposed? What if the dreadful thing should
happen? What if sudden sedition should sweep his power into the night
of oblivion? Could I stand face to face with him, should he ask: 'How
have you kept your trust?'"

Steps were approaching on the greensward.

Hellayne turned pale and Tristan's arm closed about her, determined to
defend her to the death against whosoever should dare intrude.

Then it was as if some impalpable barrier had arisen between the man
and the woman. It seemed the last hard malice of Fate to have brought
them so near to what was not to be.

Hardly had Tristan drawn her throbbing bosom to his embrace when a dark
shadow fell athwart their path and, looking up, he became aware of a
forbidding form that stood hard by, wrapped in a black mantle that
reached to his heels. From under a hood which was drawn over his face
two beady eyes gleamed with smouldering fire, while the hooked nose
gave the face the semblance of a bird of prey, which illusion the cruel
mouth did little to dispel.

Hellayne, too, had seen this phantom of ill omen and was about to
release herself from Tristan's arms, her face white as her robe, when
the speech of the intruder arrested her movement.

"A message from the Lady Theodora."

A hot flush passed over Tristan's face, giving way to a deadly
pallor as, hesitating to take the proffered tablet, he replied with
ill-concealed vexation:

"Whom does the Lady Theodora honor by sending so ill-favored a
messenger?"

The cowled figure fixed his piercing eyes first upon Tristan then upon
Hellayne.

"The Lord Tristan will do well to pay heed to the summons, if he values
that which lies nearest his heart."

But ere he, for whom the message was intended, could take it, Hellayne
had snatched it from the messenger, had broken the seal and devoured
its contents by the light of the moon which made the night as bright as
day.

Then, with a shrill laugh, she cast it at Tristan's feet and, ere the
latter could recover himself, both the woman and the messenger had gone
and he stood alone in the bosquet of roses, vainly calling the name of
her who had left him without a word to his misery and despair.



CHAPTER VIII

AN ITALIAN NIGHT


The palace of Theodora on Mount Aventine was aglow with life and
movement for the festivities of the evening. The lights of countless
cressets were reflected from the marble floor of the great reception
hall and shone on the rich panelling, and the many-hued tapestries
which decked the walls.

In the shadow of the little marble kiosk which rose, a relic of a
happier age, among oleander and myrtles, shadowed by tall cypresses,
silent guardians of the past, Theodora and Basil faced each other.
The white, livid face of the man gave testimony to the passions that
consumed him, as his burning gaze swept the woman before him.

"I have spoken, my Lord Basil! Should some unforeseen mischance befall
him I have summoned hither, look to it that I require not his blood at
your hands."

Theodora's tone silenced all further questioning. After a pause she
continued: "And if you desire farther proof that this man shall not
stand against my enchantments, pass into yonder kiosk and through its
carven windows shall you be able to witness all that passes between us."

She ceased with quivering lips, the while Basil regarded her from under
half-shut lids, filled with sudden brooding, and for a space there was
silence. At last he said in a low, unsteady voice:

"So I did not err when my hatred rose against this puppet of the
Senator's, who came to Rome to do penance for a kiss. You love him,
your foe, while I, your utter slave, must stand by and, with aching
heart, see your mad desire bring all our schemes to naught."

His hand closed on his dagger hilt, but Theodora's eyes flashed like
bared swords as with set face she said:

"Fool!--to see but that which lies in your path, not the intricate nets
which are spread in the darkness. I mean to make this man my very own!
His fevered lips shall close on mine, and in my embrace he shall climb
to the heaven of the Gods. He shall be mine! He shall do my bidding
utterly. He shall open for me the gates of the Emperor's Tomb. He shall
stand beside me when I am proclaimed mistress of Rome! For my love he
shall defy the world that is--and the world that is not."

"And what of the woman he loves?" Basil snarled venomously, and the
pallor of Theodora's face informed him that the arrow he had sped had
hit the mark.

She held out her wonderful statuesque arms, then, raising herself to
her full height, she said:

"Is the pale woman from his native land a match for me? What rare sport
it shall be to make of this Hellayne a mock, and of her name a memory,
and put Theodora's in its high place. Do you doubt my power to do as I
say?"

"Verily I do believe that you love this pilgrim," Basil said sullenly.
"And while I am preparing the quake that shall tumble Alberic's
dominion into dust and oblivion, you are making him the happiest of
mortals. And deem you I will stand by and see yon dotard reap the
fruits of my endeavors and revel where I, your slave, am starving for a
look?"

"Well have you chosen the word, my lord--my slave! For then were
Theodora indeed the puppet of a lust-bitten subject did she heed his
mad ravings and his idle plaints. Know, my lord, that my love is his to
whom I choose to give it, his who gives to me that in return which I
desire. And though I have drunk deep of the goblet of passion, never
has my heart beat one jot the faster, nor has the fire in my soul been
kindled until I met him whom this night I have summoned."

"And deem you, fairest Theodora, that the sainted pilgrim will come?"
Basil interposed with an evil leer.

An inscrutable smile curved Theodora's crimson lips.

"Let that be my affair, my lord, but--that everything may be clear
between us--know this: when I summoned him, after he had spurned me on
the night when I intended to make him the happiest of men, it was to
torture him, to make a mock of him, to arouse his passions till they
overmastered all else, till in very truth he forgot his God, his honor,
and the woman for whose kisses he does such noble penance--but now--"

"But now?" came the echo from Basil's lips.

"Who says I shall not?" Theodora replied with her inscrutable smile.
"Who shall gainsay me? You--my lord?"

There was a strange light in Basil's eyes, kindled by her mockery.

"And when he kneels at your feet, drunk with passion--laying bare
his soul in his mad infatuation--who shall prevent this dagger from
drinking his heart's blood, even as he peers into the portals of bliss?"

Theodora's eyes flashed lightnings.

"I shall kill you with my own hands, if you but dare but touch one hair
of his head," she said with a calm that was more terrible than any
outburst of rage would have been. "He is mine, to do with as I choose,
and look well to it, my lord, that your shadow darken not the path
between us.--Else I shall demand of you such a reckoning as none who
may hear of it in after days shall dare thwart Theodora--either in love
or in hate."

Basil's writhing form swayed to and fro; passion-tossed he tried in
vain to speak when she raised her hand.

With a gesture of baffled wrath and rage Basil bowed low. A sudden
light leaped into his eyes as he raised her hand to his lips. Then he
retreated into the shadow of the kiosk.

A moment later Tristan came within view, walking as one in a trance.
Mechanically he passed towards the banquet hall. Then he paused,
seeming to wait for some signal from within.

A hand stole into his and drew him resistlessly into the shadows.

"Why do you linger here? Behold where the moonlight calls."

"Where is your mistress?" Tristan turned to the Circassian.

A strange smile played on Persephoné's lips.

"She awaits you in yonder kiosk," she replied, edging close to him.
"Take care you do not thwart her though--for to-day she strikes to
kill."

"It is well," Tristan replied. "It must come, and will be no more
torture now than any other time."

Persephoné gave a strange smile, then she led him through a cypress
avenue, at the remote end of which the marble kiosk gleamed white in
the moonlight.

Pointing to it with white outstretched arm she gave him a mock bow and
returned to the palace.

His lips grimly set, Tristan, insensible to the beauty of the summer
night, strode down the flower-bordered path. Woven sheets of silvery
moonlight, insubstantial and unreal, lay upon the greensward. The
sounds of distant lutes and harps sank down through the hot air. The
sky was radiant with the magic lustre of a great white moon, suspended
like an alabaster lamp in the deep azure overhead. Her rays invaded the
sombre bosquets, lighted the trellised rose-walks and cast into bold
relief against the deep shadows of palm and ilex many feathery fountain
sprays, crowning flower-filled basins of alabaster with whispering
coolness.

The path was strewn with powdered sea shells and bordered on either
side with rare plants, filling the air with exquisite perfume. Between
thickets of yellow tufted mimosa and leafy bowers of acacia shimmered
the crystal surface of the marble cinctured lake, tinted with pale gold
and shrouded by pearl-hued vapors.--Pink and white myrtles, golden-hued
jonquils, rainbow tinted chrysanthema, purple rhododendrons, iris,
lilac and magnolia mingled their odors in an almost disconcerting orgy,
and rare orchids raised their glowing petals with tropical gorgeousness
from vases of verdigris bronze in the moonlight.

At the entrance of the marble kiosk, there stood the immobile form of a
woman, half hidden behind a cluster of blooming orchids.

The silver light of the moon fell upon the pale features of Theodora.
Her gaze was fixed upon the dark avenue of cypress trees, through which
Tristan was swiftly approaching.

She stood there waiting for him, clad in misty white, like the
moonbeams, yet the byssus of her garb was no whiter than was the throat
that rose from the faultless trunk of her body, no whiter than her
wonderful hands and arms.

Tristan's lips tightened. He had come to claim the scarf and dagger.
To-night should end it all. There was no place in his life for this
woman whose beauty would be the undoing of him who gave himself up to
its fatal spell.

As he stood before her, a gleam of moonlight on his broad shoulders,
Theodora felt the blood recede to her heart, the while she gazed on his
set, yet watchful face. His silence seemed to numb her faculties and
her voice sounded strange as, extending her hand, she said:

"Welcome, my Lord Tristan."

He bowed low, barely touching the soft white fingers.

"The Lady Theodora has been pleased to summon me and I have obeyed. I
am here to claim the dagger which was taken from me and the scarf of
blue samite."

Theodora glanced at him for a moment, the blood drumming in her ears
and driving a coherent answer from her mind, while Tristan met her gaze
without flinching, with the memory of Hellayne in his heart.

"Presently will I reveal this matter to you, my Lord Tristan," she said
at last. "Meanwhile sit you here beside me--for the night is hot, and I
have waited long for your coming."

For a moment Tristan hesitated, then he took his seat beside her on the
marble bench, his brain afire, as he mused on all the treachery her
soft bosom held.

"You look strangely at me, Tristan," she said in a low tone, dropping
all formality, "almost as if it gave you pain to sit beside me. Yet I
cannot think that a man like you has never rested beside a beautiful
woman in an hour of solitude and passion."

A laugh, soft as the music of the Castalian fountain, fell on Tristan's
ear, but as he sat without answer, she continued, her face very close
to his:

"Strange, indeed, my words may sound in your ears, Tristan--and
yet--can it be that you are blind as well as deaf to the call of the
Goddess of Love, who rules us all?"

She paused, her lips ajar, her eyes alight with a strange fire, such
as he had seen therein on the night in the sunken gardens, beyond the
glimmering lake.

"And what have I to give to you, Lady Theodora," he said at length.
"What can you expect from me, the giving of which would not turn my
honor to disgrace and my strength to water?"

At his words she rose up and, towering her glorious womanhood above
him, glided behind the marble bench and, leaning hot hands upon his
shoulders, bent low her head, till strands of perfumed hair rested on
his tense features.

"Do you love power, Tristan?" she said with low, yet vibrant voice.
"I tell you that, if you give yourself to me, there are no heights to
which the lover of Theodora may not climb. The way lies open from camp
to palace, from sword to sceptre, and, though the aim be high, at
least it is worth the risk. Steep is the path, but, though attainment
seems impossible, I tell you it is the wings of love that shall raise
you and bid you soar to flights of glory and rapture. I offer you
a kingdom, if you will but lay your sword at my feet and yet more
besides, for, Tristan, I offer you myself."

The perfumed head bent lower and the scented cloud fell more thickly
upon him as he sat there, dazed and enchanted out of all powers of
resistance by the misty sapphire eyes that gleamed amid it, and seemed
to drag his soul from out of him. Now his head was pillowed on her soft
bosom and her white arms were about him, while lingering kisses burnt
on his unresponsive lips, when suddenly she faced round with a cry,
for there, directly before them in the clearing, stood a woman, whose
gleaming white robe, untouched by any color, save that of the violet
band that bound it round her shoulders, seemed one with the sun-kissed
hair, tied into a simple knot.

Hellayne stood there as if deprived of motion, her blue eyes wide with
horror and pain, her curved lips parted, as if to speak, though no
sound came from them, until Tristan turned and, as their glances met,
he gave a strangled groan and buried his face in his hands.

Theodora stood immobile, with blazing eyes and terrible face, then
she clapped her hands twice and at the sound two eunuchs appeared and
stood motionless awaiting their mistress' behest. For apace there was
silence, while Theodora glanced from the one to the other, quivering
from head to foot with the violence of the passion that possessed her,
casting anon a glance at Tristan who stood silent, with bowed head.

At length she glided up to him and, as she laid her two white hands on
his broad shoulders, Tristan shuddered and felt a longing to make an
end of all her evil beauty and devilish cunning. Then, deliberately,
she took the scarf of blue samite, which lay beside her and put her
foot upon it.

"This is very precious to you, Tristan, is it not?" she said in her
sweet voice, while her witching eyes sank into his. "I was about to
tell you how you might serve me, and deserve all the happiness that
is in store for you when I was interrupted by the appearance of this
woman. Can you tell me, who she is, and why she is regarding you so
strangely?"

As she spoke she turned slowly towards Hellayne whose face was pale as
death.

A spasm of rage shook Tristan, at the sight of the woman who regarded
him out of wide, pitiful eyes, but even as he longed to pierce the
heart of her who was striving to wreck all he held dear, Odo of Cluny's
warning seemed to clear his brain of the rage and hate that was
clouding it, and in that instant he knew, if he played his part, he
held in his hand the last throw in the dread game, of which Rome was
the pawn.

"In all things will I do your bidding, Lady Theodora,--for who can
withstand your beauty and your enchantment?" said a voice that seemed
not part of himself.

Theodora turned to Hellayne.

"You have heard the words the Lord Tristan has spoken," she said in
veiled tone of mockery. "Tell me now, did you not know that I was
engaged upon matters of state when you intruded yourself into our
presence?"

For a moment the blue eyes of Hellayne flashed swords with the dark
orbs of Theodora. There was a silence and the two women read each
other's inmost thoughts, Hellayne meeting Theodora's contemptuous scorn
with the keen look of one who has seen her peril and has nerved herself
to meet it.

To Tristan she did not even vouchsafe a glance.

"I followed one, perjured and forsworn," she said in tones that cut
Tristan's very soul, while a look of immeasurable contempt flashed from
her blue eyes. "You are welcome to him, Lady Theodora. I do not even
envy you his memory."

Ere Theodora could reply, Hellayne, with a choking sob, turned and fled
down the moonlit path like some hunted thing, and ere either realized
what had happened she had vanished in the night.

Tristan, dreading the worst, his soul bruised in its innermost
depths, cursing himself for having permitted any consideration except
Hellayne's life to interfere with his preconceived plans, started to
follow, when Theodora, guessing his purpose, suddenly barred his way.

Ere he could prevent, she had thrown her arms about him and her
face upturned to his stormy brow she whispered deliriously, utterly
oblivious of two eyes that burnt from their sockets like live coals:

"I love you! I love you!" and her whole being seemed ablaze with the
fire of an all-devouring passion. "Tristan, I love you with a love
so idolatrous, that I could slay you with these hands rather than be
spurned, be denied by you. Love me Tristan--love me! And I shall give
you such love in return as mortals have never known. I am as one in a
trance--I cannot see--I cannot think! I, the woman born to command--am
begging--imploring--I care not what you do with me--what becomes of me.
Take me!--I am yours--body and soul!"

Her face was lighted up by the pale rays of the moon. But, though
his senses were steeped in a delirium that almost took from him his
manhood, the gloom but deepened on Tristan's brow, while with moist
hungry lips she kissed him, again and again.

At last, seemingly on the verge of merging his whole being into her
own, he succeeded in extricating himself from the steely coils of those
white arms.

"Lady Theodora," he said in cold and constrained tones, "I am too poor
to return even in part such priceless favors of the Lady Theodora's
love!"

Stung in her innermost soul by his words, trembling from head to foot
with the violence of her emotions, she panted in a passion of anger and
shame.

"You dare? This to me? Since then you will not love me--take this--"

Above him, in her hand, gleamed his own unsheathed dagger.

Tristan with a supple movement caught the white wrist and wrenched the
weapon from her.

"The Lady Theodora is always true to herself," he said with cutting
irony, retreating from her in the direction of the lake.

She threw out her arms.

"Tristan--Tristan--forgive me! Come back--I am not myself."

He paused.

"And were you Aphrodite, I should spurn your love,--I should refuse to
kiss the lips, which a slave, a churl has defiled."

"You spurn me," she laughed deliriously. "Perchance, you are right. And
yet," she added in a sadder tone, "how often does fate but grant us
the dream and destroy the reality. Go--ere I forget, and do what I may
repent of. Go! My brain is on fire. I know not what I am saying. Go!"

As Tristan turned without response, a gleam of deadly hatred shone from
her eyes. For a long time she stood motionless by the kiosk, staring
as one in a trance down the long cypress avenue, whose shadows had
swallowed up Tristan's retreating form.

The spectral rays of the moon broke here and there through the dense,
leafy canopy, and dream-like the distant sounds of harps and flutes
were wafted through the stillness of the starlit southern night.



CHAPTER IX

THE NET OF THE FOWLER


The appearance of Basil who had emerged from the kiosk and regarded
Theodora with a look in his pale, passion distorted features that
seemed to light up recesses in his own heart and soul which he himself
had never fathomed, caused the woman to turn. But she looked at the
man with an almost unknowing stare. Notwithstanding a self-control
which she rarely lost, she had not found herself. The incredible had
happened. When she seemed absolutely sure of the man, he had denied
her. Her ruse had been her undoing. For Hellayne's presence had
been neither accidental, nor had Hellayne herself brought it about.
The messenger who had summoned Tristan had skillfully absolved both
commissions. He was to have brought the woman to the tryst, that she
might, with her own eyes, witness her rival's triumph. In her flight
she had vanquished Theodora.

Stealthily as a snake moves in the grass, Basil came nearer and nearer.
When he had reached Theodora's side he took the white hand and raised
it, unresisting, to his lips. His eyes sought those of the woman, but a
moment or two elapsed ere she seemed even to note his presence.

He bent low. There was love, passion, adoration in his eyes and there
was more. Theodora had over-acted her part. He had seen the fire
in her eyes and he knew. It was more than the determination to make
Tristan pliable to her desires in the great hour when she was to enter
Castel San Angelo as mistress of Rome. He saw the abyss that yawned at
his own feet, and in that moment two resolves had shaped themselves in
Basil's mind, shadowy, but gaining definite shape with each passing
moment, and, while his fevered lips touched Theodora's hand, all the
evil passions in his nature leaped into his brain.

Suddenly Theodora, glancing down at him, as if she for the first time
noted his presence, spoke.

"Acknowledge, my lord, that I have attained my ends! For, had
it not been for the appearance of that woman, I should have
conquered--ay--conquered beyond a doubt."

But when she looked at him she hardly recognized in him the man she
knew, so terribly had rage and jealousy distorted his countenance.

"How can I gainsay that you have conquered, fairest Theodora," he said,
"when I heard the soft accents of your endearments and your panting
breath, as you drowned his soul in fiery kisses? 'Tis but another
poor fool swallowed up in the unsatisfied whirlpool of your desires,
another victim marked for the holocaust that is to be. But why did the
Lady Theodora cry out and bring the tender love scene to a close all
unfinished?"

"By pale Hekaté, I had almost forgot the woman! Why did I permit her
to go without strangling her on the spot?" she cried, the growing
anger which the man's speech had aroused, brought to white heat in the
reminder.

"The honor of being strangled by the fair hands of the Lady Theodora
may be great," sneered Basil. "Yet I question if the Lady Hellayne
would submit without a struggle even to so fair an opponent."

"Why do you taunt me?" Theodora flashed.

"Why?" he cried. "Because I witnessed another reaping the fruit of
the deeds I have sown--another stealing from me the love of the woman
I have possessed,--one, too, held in silken bondage by another's wife.
Rather would I plunge this knife into my own heart and--"

Theodora's bosom heaved convulsively.

"Put up your dagger, my lord," she said, with a wave of her hand. "For,
ere long, it shall drink its fill. Strange it is that I--the like of
whose beauty, as they tell me, is not on earth--should be conquered by
a woman from the North--that the fires of the South should be quenched
by Northern ice. I could almost wish that matters had run differently
between her and myself, for she is brave, else had she not faced me as
she did."

"What else can you look for, Lady Theodora, from one sprung from such a
race?" replied the man sullenly. "I tell you, Lady Theodora, if you do
not ward yourself against her, she will vanquish you utterly, body and
soul."

"The future shall decide between us. I am still Theodora, and it will
go hard with you, if you interpret my will according to your own
desires. I foresee that we shall have need of all our resources when
the hour tolls that shall see Theodora set upon the throne that is her
own, and then--let deeds speak, not words."

"Since when have you found occasion to doubt the sureness of my blade,
Lady Theodora?" answered Basil, a dark look in his furtive eyes.

"Peace, my lord!" interposed Theodora. "Why do you raise up the ghost
of that which has been between us? Bury the past, for the last throw
that is in the hands of destiny ends the game which has been played
round this city of Rome these many weary days."

"And had you, Theodora, of a truth won over this Tristan," came the
dark reply, "so that one hour's delight in your arms would have caused
him to forget the world about him--what of me who has given to you the
love, the devotion of a slave?"

At the words Theodora flung wide her shimmering arms and cried:

"I tell you, my lord, that as I hold you and every man captive on whom
my charms have fallen, so shall I hold in chains the soul of this
Tristan, even though he resist--to the last."

"Full well do I know the potency of your spell," answered Basil with
lowering eyes, "and, I doubt me, if such is the case. Nevertheless,
I warn you, Lady Theodora, not to place too great a share of this
desperate venture on the shoulders of one you have never proved."

A contemptuous smile curved Theodora's lips as she rose from her seat.
With a single sweep her draperies fell from her like mist from a
snow-clad peak, and for the space of a moment there was silence, broken
only by Basil's panting breath. At last Theodora spoke.

"Man's honor is so much chaff for the burning, when the darts of love
pierce his brain. With beauty's weapons I have fought before, and once
again the victory shall be mine!"

There was an ominous light in Basil's eyes.

"Beware, lest the victory be not purchased with the blood of one whom
your fickleness has chosen to sit in the empty seat of the discarded.
At the bidding of a mad passion have you been defeated."

A flood of words surged irresistibly to Basil's lips, but at the sight
of Theodora's set face the words froze in the utterance. But when the
woman stared into space, her face showing no sign that she had even
heard his speech, he continued:

"And when you are stretched out on a bed of torment and call for death
to ease your pain, let the bitterest pang be that, had you enlisted my
blade and cherished the devotion I bore you, this night's work would
have set the seal of victory on our perilous venture."

"Blinded I have been," said Theodora, a strange light leaping to her
eyes, "to all the devotion which now I begin to fathom more clearly.
Answer me then, my lord! Is it only to slake the pangs of mad jealousy
that you taunt me with words which no man has dared to speak--and live?"

The sheen of a drawn dagger flashed above his head. Basil faced the
death that lurked in Theodora's uplifted arm and he replied in an
unmoved voice:

"Lady Theodora, if you harbor one single doubt in your mind of him who
has worked your will on those you consigned to their doom and laid
their proud heads low in the dust of the grave, let your blade descend
and quit me according to what I have deserved. Nay--Lady Theodora," he
continued, as her white arm still hovered tense above him, "it is quite
evident your love I never had, your trust I have lost! Therefore send
my soul to the dim realms of the underworld, for I have no longer any
desire for life."

He was gazing up at her with eyes full of passionate devotion, when
of a sudden the blade dropped from her grasp, tinkling on the stone
beneath, and, burying her face in her hands, Theodora burst into an
agony of tears that shook her form with piteous sobbing.

"By all the saints, dear lady, weep not," Basil pleaded, placing gentle
hands upon her shoulders. "Rather let your dagger do its work and drink
my blood, than that grief should thus undo you."

"Truly had some evil spirit entered into me," she spoke at length in
broken accents, "else had I not so madly suspected one whose devotion
to me has never wavered. Can you forgive me, my lord, most trusted and
doubted of my friends?"

With a fierce outcry the man cast himself at her feet, and, bending
low, kissed her hands, while, in tones, hoarse with passion, he
stammered:

"Let me then prove my love, Lady Theodora, most beautiful of all women
on earth! Set the task! Show me how to win back that which I have
lost! Let me become your utter slave."

And, so saying, he swept the unresisting woman into his grasp, and as
her body lay motionless against his breast the sight of her lips so
close to his own sent the hot blood hurtling through his fevered brain.

Theodora shuddered in his embrace.

He kissed her, again and again, and her wet lips roused in him all the
demoniacal passions of his nature.

"Speak," he stammered, "what must I do to prove to you the love which
is in my heart--the passion that burns my soul to crisp, as the fires
of hell the souls of the damned?"

Theodora's eyes were closed, as if she hesitated to speak the words
that her lips had framed. He, Tristan, had brought her to this pass.
He had denied, insulted her, he had made a mock of her in the eyes of
this man, who was kneeling at her feet, bond slave of his passions. By
his side no task would have seemed too great of accomplishment. And
whatever the fruits of her plotting he was to have shared them. How
she hated him; and how she hated that woman who had come between them.
As for him whose stammering words of love tumbled from his drunken
lips, Theodora could have driven her poniard through his heart without
wincing in the act.

"If you love me then, as you say," she whispered at last, "revenge me
on him who has put this slight upon me!"

A baleful light shone in Basil's eyes.

"He dies this very night."

She raised her hands with a shudder.

"No--no! Not a quick death! He would die as another changes his
garment--with a smile.--No! Not a quick death! Let him live, but wish
he were dead a thousand times. Strike him through his honor. Strike him
through the woman he loves."

For a pace Basil was silent. Could Theodora have read his thoughts at
this moment the weapon would not have dropped from her nerveless grasp.

"Ah!" he said, and a film seemed to pass over his eyes in the
utterance. "There is nothing that shall be left undone--through his
honor--through the woman he loves."

She utterly abandoned herself to him now, suffering his endearments and
kisses like a thing of stone and thereby rousing his passions to their
highest pitch. She could have strangled him like a poisonous reptile
that defiled her body, but, after having suffered his embrace for a
time, she suddenly shook herself free of him.

"My lord--what of our plans? How much longer must I wait ere the
clarions announce to Rome that the Emperor's Tomb harbors a new
mistress? What of Alberic? What of Hassan Abdullah, the Saracen?"

Basil was regarding her with a mixture of savage passion, doubt,
incredulity and something like fear.

"The death-hounds are on Alberic's scent," he said at last, with
an effort to steady his voice, and hold in leash his feelings,
which threatened to master him, as his eyes devoured the woman's
beauty.--"Hassan Abdullah is even now in Rome."

"Can we rely upon him and his Saracens when the hour tolls that shall
see Theodora mistress of Rome?"

"Weighing a sack of gold against the infidel's treachery, it is safe to
predict that the scales will tip in favor of the bribe--so it be large
enough."

"Be lavish with him, and if his heart be set on other matters--"

She paused, regarding the man with an inscrutable look. Shrewd as he
was, he caught not its meaning.

"Why not entrust to his care the Lady Hellayne?"

The devilish suggestion seemed to find not as enthusiastic a reception
as she had anticipated.

"After having seen the Lady Theodora," Basil said, his eyes avoiding
those of the woman, "I fear the Lady Hellayne will appear poor in
Hassan Abdullah's eyes."

Theodora had grown pensive.

"I do not think so. To me she seemed like a snow-capped volcano. All
ice without, all fire within. Perchance I should bow to your better
judgment, my lord, and perchance to Hassan Abdullah's, whose good taste
in preferring the Lady Theodora cannot be gainsaid. But, our guests are
becoming impatient. Take me to the palace."

Basil barred the woman's way.

"And when you have reached the summit of your desire, will you remember
certain nuptials consummated in a certain chamber in the Emperor's
Tomb, between two placed as we are and mated as we?"

Theodora's lips curved in one of those rare smiles which brought him to
whom she gave it to her feet, her abject slave.

"I shall remember, my lord," she said, and, linking her arm in his,
they strode towards the palace.



CHAPTER X

DEVIL WORSHIP


The dawn of the following day brought in its wake consternation and
terror. From the churches of the two Egyptian Martyrs, Sts. Cosmas
and Damian, the Holy Host had been taken during the preceding night.
Frightened beyond measure, the ministering priests had suffered the
terrible secret to leak out, and this circumstance, coupled with the
unexplained absence of the Senator, the tardiness of the Prefect to
start his investigations, and the captivity of the Pontiff, threw the
Romans into a panic. It was impossible to guard every church in Rome
against a similar outrage, as the guards of the Senator were inadequate
in number, and, consisting chiefly of foreign elements, could not be
relied upon.

The early hours of the morning found Tristan in the hermitage of Odo of
Cluny. To him he confided the incidents of the night and his adventure
in the Catacombs. To him he also imparted the terrible discovery he had
made.

Odo of Cluny listened in silence, his face betraying no sign of the
emotion he felt. When Tristan had concluded his account he regarded him
long and earnestly.

"I, too, have long known that all is not well, that there is something
brewing in this witches' cauldron which may not stand the light of
day.--"

"But what is it?" cried Tristan. "Tell me, Father, for a great fear as
of some horrible danger is upon me; a fear I cannot define and which
yet will not leave me."

Odo's face was calm and grave. The Benedictine monk had been listening
intently, but with a detached interest, as to some tale which, even if
it concerned himself, could not in the least disturb his equanimity.
With his supernormal quickness of perception he knew at once the powers
with which he had to cope. Tristan had told him of the devilish face in
the panel during the night of his first watch at the Lateran.

"The powers of Evil at work are so great that only a miracle from
heaven can save us," he said at last. "Listen well, and lose not a word
of what I am about to say. Have you ever heard of one Mani, who lived
in Babylonia some seven hundred years ago and founded a religion in
which he professed to blend the teachings of Christ with the cult of
the old Persian Magi?"

A negative gesture came in response. Tristan's face was tense with
anxiety. Odo continued:

"According to his teachings there exist two kingdoms: the kingdom of
Light and the kingdom of Darkness. Light represents the beneficent
primal spirit: God. Darkness is likewise a spiritual kingdom: Satan and
his demons were born from the kingdom of Darkness. These two kingdoms
have stood opposed to each other from all eternity--touching each
other's boundaries, yet remaining unmingled. At last Satan began to
rage and made an incursion into the kingdom of Light. Now, the God of
Light begat the primal man and sent him, equipped with the five pure
elements, to fight against Satan. But the latter proved himself the
stronger, and the primal man was, for the time, vanquished. In time
the cult of the Manichæans spread. The seat of the Manichæan pope was
for centuries at Samarkand. From there, defying persecutions, the sect
spread, and obtained a foothold in northern Africa at the time of St.
Augustine. Thence it slowly invaded Italy."

Tristan listened with deep attention.

"The original creed had meanwhile been split up into numerous sects,"
Odo of Cluny continued. "The followers of Mani believed there were
two Gods,--the one of Light, the other of Darkness, both equally
powerful in their separate kingdoms. But lately one by the name of
Bogumil proclaims that God never created the world, that Christ had
not an actual body, that he neither could have been born, nor that he
died, that our bodies are evil, a foul excrescence, as it were, of the
evil principle. Maintaining that God had two sons--Satan the older
and Christ the younger--they refuse homage to the latter, Regent of
the Celestial World, and worship Lucifer. And they hold meetings and
perform diabolical ceremonies, in which they make wafers of ashes and
drink the blood of a goat, which their devil-priests administer to them
in communion."

Odo of Cluny paused and took a long breath, fixing Tristan with his
dark eyes. And when Tristan, stark with horror, dared not trust himself
to speak, Odo concluded:

"This is the peril that confronts us! And Holy Church is without a
head, and the cardinals cannot cope with the terrible scourge. It is
this you saw, my son, and, had your presence been discovered, you would
never again have greeted the light of day."

At last Tristan found his tongue.

"God forbid that there should be such a thing, that men should worship
the Fiend."

"Nevertheless they do," Odo replied, "and other things too awful for
mortal mind to credit."

The perspiration came out on Tristan's brow. Although he was prepared
for matters of infinite moment and knew that this interview might
well be one of the decisive moments of his life, he yet possessed the
detached attitude of mind which was curious of strange learning and
information, even in a crisis.

"And you have known this, Father?" he said at last, "and you have done
nothing to check the evil?"

"We are living in evil times, my son," Odo replied. "I have long known
of the existence of this black heresy, which has slowly spread its
baleful cult, until it has reached our very shores. But that they would
dare to establish themselves in the city of the Apostle, this I was not
prepared to accept, until the terrible crime at the Lateran removed the
last doubt. And now I know that the foul thing has obtained a footing
here, and more than that, I know that some high in power are affiliated
with this society of Satan, that would establish the reign of Lucifer
among the Seven Hills. Did you not tell me, my son, of one, terrible
of aspect, who peered through the panel in the Capella Palatina on the
night of that first and most horrible outrage?"

"One who looked as the Fiend might look, did he assume human guise,"
Tristan confirmed with a nod.

"The high priest of Satan," Odo returned, "a familiar of black
magic--the most terrible of all heinous crimes against Holy Church. A
wave of crime is rolling its crimson tide over the Eternal City such as
the annals of the Church have never recorded. It started in the reign
of Marozia, and Theodora is leagued with the fiend, as was her sister
before her."

Odo paused for a moment, breathing deep, while Tristan listened
spellbound.

"Have you ever pondered," he continued with slow emphasis, "why the
Lord Alberic entrusted to you, a stranger, so important a post as the
command of the Emperor's Tomb? That there may be one he does not trust
and who that one may be?"

Tristan gave a start.

"There is one I do not trust--one who seems to wrap himself in a poison
mist of evil--the Lord Basil."

"Be wary and circumspect. Has he of late come to the Tomb?"

"Three days ago--in company with a stranger from the North--one I may
not meet and again look upon heaven."

"The woman's husband?" Odo queried with a penetrating glance.

Tristan colored.

"How these two met I cannot fathom."

"Remember one thing, my son, their alliance portends evil to some one.
What did they in the crypts?"

"The Lord Basil seems to have taken a fancy to exploring the cells,"
Tristan replied. "Those who have followed him report that he holds
strange converse with the ghost of some mad monk whom he starved into
eternity."

"And this converse--what is its subject?" Odo queried with awakening
interest.

"A prophecy and a woman," Tristan replied. "Though those who heard them
were so terror stricken at their infectious madness that they fled--not
daring to tarry longer lest they would find themselves in the clutches
of the fiend."

"A prophecy and a woman," Odo repeated pensively. "The Lord Alberic has
confided much in me--his fears--his doubts! For even he knows not, how
his mother came to her untimely end."

"The Lady Marozia?"

"The tale is known to you?"

"Rumors--flimsy--intangible--"

"One night she was mysteriously strangled. The Lord Alberic was almost
beside himself. But the mystery remained unsolved."

After a pause Odo continued:

"I, too, have not been idle. We must lull them in security! We must
appear utterly paralyzed. Our terror will increase their boldness.
Their ultimate object is still hidden. We must be wary. The Lord
Alberic must be informed. We must spike the bait."

"I have despatched a trusty messenger in the guise of a peasant to the
shrine of the Archangel," Tristan interposed.

"God grant that he arrive not too late," Odo replied. "And now, my son,
listen to my words. A great soul and a stout heart must he have who
sets himself to such a task as is before you! We are surrounded by the
very fiends of Hell in human guise. Speak to no one of what you have
seen. If you are in need of counsel, come to me!"

Odo raised his hands, pronouncing a silent blessing over the kneeling
visitor and Tristan departed, dazed and trembling, wide-eyed and with
pallid lips.

As he passed Mount Aventine the dark-robed form of a hunchback suddenly
rose like a ghost from the ground beside him and, approaching Tristan,
muttered some words in an unintelligible jargon. Believing he was
dealing with a beggar, Tristan was about to dismiss the ill-favored
gnome with a gift, which the latter refused, motioning to Tristan to
incline his ear.

With an ill-concealed gesture of impatience Tristan complied, but his
strange interlocutor had hardly delivered himself of his message when
Tristan recoiled as if he had seen a snake in the grass before him,
every vestige of color fading from his face.

"At the Lateran?" he chokingly replied to the whispered confidence of
the hunchback.

The latter nodded.

"At the Lateran."

Ere Tristan could recover from his surprise, his informant had
disappeared among the ruins.

For some time he stood as if rooted to the spot.

It was too monstrous--too unbelievable and yet--what could prompt his
informant to invent so terrible a tale?

At midnight, two nights hence, the consecrated wafer was to be taken
from the tabernacle in the Lateran!

Perchance he had spoken even to one of the sect who had, at the last
moment, repented of his share in the contemplated outrage.

If it were granted to him to deliver Rome and the world from this
terror! A strange fire gleamed in his eyes as he returned to Castel San
Angelo.

Himself, he would keep the watch at the Lateran and foil the plot.



CHAPTER XI

BY LETHE'S SHORES


Basil the Grand Chamberlain was giving one of his renowned feasts in
his villa on the Pincian Mount. But on this evening he had limited the
number of his guests to two score. On his right sat Roger de Laval,
the guest of honor, on his left the Lady Hellayne. Over the company
stretched a canopy of cloth of gold. The chairs were of gilt bronze,
their arms were carved in elaborate arabesques. The dishes were of
gold; the cups inlaid with jewels. There was gayety and laughter. Far
into the night they caroused.

Hellayne's face was the only apprehensive one at the board. She was
pale and worn, and her countenance betrayed her reluctance to be
present at a feast into the spirit of which she could not enter. She
was dimly conscious of the fact that Basil devoured her with his eyes
and her lord seemed to find more suited entertainment with the other
women who were present than with his own wife. Only by threats and
coercion had he prevailed upon her to attend the Grand Chamberlain's
banquet. With a brutality that was part of his coarse nature he now
left her to shift for herself, and she tolerated Basil's unmistakable
insinuations only from a sense of utter helplessness.

Her beauty had indeed aroused the host's passion to a point where he
threw caution to the winds. The exquisite face, framed in a wealth
of golden hair, the deep blue eyes, the marble whiteness of the skin,
the faultless contours of her form--an ensemble utterly opposed to the
darker Roman type--had aroused in him desires which soon swept away
the thin veneer of dissimulation and filled Hellayne with a secret
dread which she endeavored to control. Her thoughts were with the man
by whom she believed herself betrayed, and while life seemed to hold
nothing that would repay her for enduring any longer the secret agonies
that overwhelmed her, it was to guard her honor that her wits were
sharpened and, believing in the adage that danger, when bravely faced,
disappears, she entered, though with a heavy heart, into the vagaries
of Basil, but, like a premonition of evil, her dread increased with
every moment.

And now the host announced to his guests his intention of leaving Rome
on the morrow for his estate in the Rocca, where an overpunctilious
overseer demanded his presence.

Raising his goblet he pledged the beautiful wife of the Count de Laval.
It was a toast that was eagerly received and responded to, and even
Hellayne was forced to appear joyous, for all that her heart was on the
point of breaking.

She raised her goblet, a beautiful chased cup of gold, in
acknowledgment. But she did not see the ill-omened smile that flitted
over the thin lips of Basil, and she wished for Tristan as she had
never wished for him before.

After a time the guests quitted the banquet hall for the moonlit
garden, and Basil's attentions became more and more insistent. It was
in vain Hellayne's eyes strained for her lord. He was not to be found.--

It was on the following morning when the horrible news aroused
the Romans that the young wife of the strange lord from Provence
had, during the night, suddenly died at the banquet of the Grand
Chamberlain. From a friar whom he chanced to pass on his way to the
Lateran Tristan received the first news.

Fra Geronimo's face was white as death, and his limbs shook as with a
palsy. He had been the confessor of the Lady Hellayne, the only visitor
allowed to come near her.

"Have you heard the tidings?" he cried in a quavering voice, on
beholding Tristan.

"What tidings?" Tristan returned, struck by the horror in the friar's
face.

"The Lady Hellayne is dead!" he said with a sob.

Tristan stared at him as if a thunderbolt had cleft the ground beside
him. For a moment he seemed bereft of understanding.

"Dead?" he gasped with a choking sensation. "What is it you say?"

"Well may you doubt your ears," the friar sobbed. "But Mater
Sanctissima, it is the truth! Madonna Hellayne is dead. They found her
dead--early this morning--in the vineyard of the Lord Basil."

"In the vineyard of the Lord Basil?" came back the echo from Tristan's
lips.

"There was a feast, lasting well into the night. The Lady Hellayne took
suddenly ill. They fetched a mediciner. When he arrived it was all
over."

"God of Heaven! Where is she now?"

"They conveyed her to the palace of the Lord Laval, to prepare her for
interment."

Without a word Tristan started to break away from the friar, his head
in a whirl, his senses benumbed. The latter caught him betime.

"What would you do?"

Tristan stared at him as one suddenly gone mad.

"I will see her."

"It is impossible!" the friar replied. "You cannot see her."

From Tristan's eyes came a glare that would have daunted many a one of
greater physical prowess than his informant.

"Cannot? Who is to prevent me?"

"The man whom fate gave her for mate," replied the friar.

"That dog--"

"A brawl in the presence of death? Would you thus dishonor her memory?
Would she wish it so?"

For a moment Tristan stared at the man before him as if he heard some
message from afar, the meaning of which he but faintly guessed.

Then a blinding rush of tears came to his eyes. He shook with the agony
of his grief regardless of those who passed and paused and wondered,
while the friar's words of comfort and solace fell on unmindful ears.

At last, heedless of his companion, heedless of his surroundings,
heedless of everything, he rushed away to seek solitude, where he would
not see a human face, not hear a human voice.

He must be alone with his grief, alone with his Maker. It seemed to
him he was going mad. It was all too monstrous, too terrible, too
unbelievable.

How was it possible that one so young, so strong, so beautiful, should
die?

Friar Geronimo knew not. But his gaze had caused Tristan to shiver as
in an ague.

He remembered the discourse of Basil and his companion in the galleries
of the Emperor's Tomb.

Twice was he on the point of warning Hellayne not to attend Basil's
banquet.

Each time something had intervened. The warning had remained unspoken.

Would she have heeded it?

He gave a groan of anguish.

Hellayne was dead! That was the one all absorbing fact which had taken
possession of him, blotting out every other thought, every other
consideration.

She was dead--dead--dead! The hideous phrase boomed again and
again through his distracted mind. Compared with that overwhelming
catastrophe what signified the Hour, the Why and the When. She was
dead--dead--dead!

For hours he sat alone in the solitudes of Mount Aventine, where no
prying eyes would witness his grief. And the storm which had arisen and
swept the Seven Hilled City with the vehemence of a tropical hurricane
seemed but a feeble echo of the tempest that raged within his soul.

She was dead--dead--dead. The waves of the Tiber seemed to shout it as
they leapt up and dashed their foam against the rocky declivities of
the Mount of Cloisters. The wind seemed now to moan it piteously, now
to shriek it fiercely, as it scudded by, wrapping its invisible coils
about him and seeming intent on tearing him from his resting place.

Towards evening he rose and, skirting the heights, descended into the
city, dishevelled and bedraggled, yet caring nothing what spectacle he
might afford. And presently a grim procession overtook the solitary
rambler, and at the sight of the black, cowled and visored forms that
advanced in the lurid light of the waxen tapers, Tristan knelt in the
street with head bowed till her body had been borne past. No one heeded
him. They carried her to the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, and
thither he followed presently, and, in the shadow of one of the pillars
of the aisle, he crouched, while the monks chanted the funeral psalms.

The singing ended the friars departed, and those who had formed the
cortege began to leave the church. In an hour he was alone, alone with
the beloved dead, and there on his knees he remained, and no one knew
whether, during that horrid hour, he prayed or blasphemed.

It may have been toward the third hour of the night when Tristan
staggered up, stiff and cramped, from the cold stone. Slowly, in a
half-dazed condition, he walked down the aisle and gained the door of
the church. He tried to open it, but it resisted his efforts, and he
realized it was locked for the night.

The appreciation of his position afforded him not the slightest dismay.
On the contrary, his feelings were rather of relief. At least there
was none other to share his grief! He had not known whither he should
repair, so distracted was his mind, and now chance or fate had settled
the matter for him by decreeing that he should remain.

Tristan turned and slowly paced back, until he stood beside the great,
black catafalque, at each corner of which a tall wax taper was burning.
His steps rang with a hollow sound through the vast, gloomy spaces of
the cold and empty church. But these were not matters to occupy his
mind in such a season, no more than the damp, chill air which permeated
every nook and corner. Of all of these he remained unconscious in the
absorbing anguish that possessed his soul.

Near the foot of the bier there was a bench, and there he took his seat
and, resting his elbows on his knees, took his dishevelled head between
his trembling hands. His thoughts were all of her whose poor, murdered
clay lay encased above him. In turn he reviewed each scene of his life
where it had touched upon her own. He evoked every word she had spoken
to him since they had again met on that memorable night.

Thus he sat, clenching his hands and torturing his dull inert brain
while the night wore slowly on. Later a still more frenzied mood
obsessed him, a burning desire to look once more upon the sweet face
he had loved so well. What was there to prevent him? Who was there to
gainsay him?

He arose and uttered aloud the challenge in his madness. His voice
echoed mournfully along the aisles and the sound of the echoes chilled
him, though his purpose gathered strength.

Tristan advanced, and, after a moment's pause, with the silver
embroidered hem of the pall in his hands, suddenly swept off that
mantle of black cloth, setting up such a gust of wind as all but
quenched the tapers. He caught up the bench upon which he had been
sitting and, dragging it forward, mounted it and stood, his chest on
a level with the coffin lid. His trembling hands fumbled along its
surface. He found it unfastened. Without thought or care how he went
about the thing, he raised it and let it crash to the ground. It fell
on the stone flags with a noise like thunder, booming and reverberating
through the gloomy vaults.

A form all in purest white lay there beneath his gaze, the face covered
by a white veil. With deepest reverence, and a prayer to her departed
soul to forgive the desecration of his loving hands, he tremblingly
drew the veil aside.

How beautiful she was in the calm peace of death! She lay there like
one gently sleeping, the faintest smile upon her lips, and, as he
gazed, it was hard to believe that she was truly dead. Her lips had
lost nothing of their natural color. They were as red as he had ever
seen them in life.

How could this be?

The lips of the dead are wont to assume a livid hue.

Tristan stared for a moment, his awe and grief almost effaced by the
intensity of his wonder. This face, so ivory pale, wore not the ashen
aspect of one that would never wake again. There was a warmth about
that pallor. And then he bit his nether lip until it bled, and it
seemed a miracle that he did not scream, seeing how overwrought were
his senses.

For it had seemed to him that the draperies on her bosom had slightly
moved, in a gentle, almost imperceptible heave, as if she breathed. He
looked--and there it came again!

God! What madness had seized upon him, that his eyes should so deceive
him! It was the draught that stirred the air about the church, and blew
great shrouds of wax down the taper's yellow sides. He manned himself
to a more sober mood and looked again.

And now his doubts were all dispelled. He knew that he had mastered
any errant fancy, and that his eyes were grown wise and discriminating,
and he knew, too, that she lived! Her bosom slowly rose and fell; the
color of her lips, the hue of her cheek, confirmed the assurance that
she breathed!

He paused a second to ponder. That morning her appearance had been such
that the mediciner had been deceived by it and had pronounced her dead.
Yet now there were signs of life! What could it portend, but that the
effects of a poison were passing off and that she was recovering?

In the first wild excess of joy, that sent the blood tingling and
beating through his brain, his first impulse was to run for help. Then
Tristan bethought himself of the closed doors and he realized that, no
matter how loudly he shouted, no one would hear him. He must succour
her himself as best he could, and meanwhile she must be protected from
the chill night air of the church, cold as the air of a tomb. He had
his cloak, a heavy serviceable garment, and, if more were needed, there
was the pall which he had removed, and which lay in a heap about the
legs of the bench.

Leaning forward Tristan slowly passed his hand under her head and
gently raised it. Then, slipping it downward, he thrust his arm after
it, until he had her round the waist in a firm grip. Thus he raised
her from the coffin, and the warmth of her body on his arms, the ready
bending of her limbs, were so many added proofs that she lived.

Gently and reverently Tristan raised the supple form in his arms, an
intoxication of almost divine joy pervading him as the prayers fell
faster from his lips than they had ever since he had recited them on
his mother's knee. He laid her on the bench, while he divested himself
of the cloak.

Suddenly he paused and stood listening with bated breath.

Steps were approaching from without.

Tristan's first impulse was to rush towards the door, shouting his
tidings and imploring assistance. Then, a sudden, almost instinctive
dread caught and chilled him. Who was it that came at such an hour?
What would any one seek in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin at
dead of night? Was the church indeed their goal, or were they but
chance passers-by?

That last question remained not long unanswered. The steps came nearer.
They paused before the door. Something heavy was hurled against it.
Then some one spoke.

"It is locked, Tebaldo! Get out your tools and force it!"

Tristan's wits were working at fever pace. It may have been that he was
swift of thought beyond any ordinary man, or it may have been a flash
of inspiration, or a conclusion to which he leapt by instinct. But in
that moment the whole problematical plot was revealed to him. Poisoned
forsooth she had been, but by a drug that but produced for a time the
outward appearance of death, so truly simulated as even to deceive the
most learned of doctors. Tristan had heard of such poisons, and here,
in very truth, was one of them at work. Some one, no doubt, intended
secretly to bear her off. And to-morrow, when men found a broken church
door and a violated bier, they would set the sacrilege down to some
wizard who had need of the body for his dark practices.

Tristan cursed himself in that dark hour. Had he but peered earlier
into her coffin while yet there might have been time to save her. And
now? The sweat stood out in beads upon his brow. At that door there
were, to judge by the sound of their footsteps and voices, some five
or six men. For a weapon he had only his dagger. What could he do to
defend her? Basil's plans would suffer no defeat through his discovery
when to-morrow the sacrilege was revealed. His own body, lying cold and
stark beside the desolated bier, would be but an incident in the work
of profanation they would find; an item that in no wise could modify
the conclusion at which they would naturally arrive.



CHAPTER XII

THE DEATH WATCH


A strange and mysterious thing is the working of terror on the human
mind. Some it renders incapable of thought or action, paralyzing their
limbs and stagnating the blood in their veins; such creatures die in
anticipating death. Others, under the stress of that grim emotion have
their wits preternaturally sharpened. The instinct of self-preservation
assumes command and urges them to swift and feverish action.

After a moment of terrible suspense Tristan's hands fell limply beside
him. At the next he was himself again. His cheeks were livid, his lips
bloodless. But his hands were steady and his wits under control.

Concealment--concealment for Hellayne and himself--was the thing that
now imported, and no sooner was the thought conceived than the means
were devised. Slender means they were, yet since they were the best
the place afforded, he must trust to them without demurring, and pray
to God that the intruders might lack the wit to search. And with that
fresh hope it came to him that he must find a way as to make them
believe that to search would be a waste of effort.

The odds against him lay in the little time at his disposal. Yet a
little time there was. The door was stout, and those outside might not
resort to violent means to break it open lest the noise arouse the
street.

With what tools the sbirri were at work he could not guess, but surely
they must be such as to leave him but a few moments. Already they had
begun. He could distinguish a crunching sound as of steel biting into
wood.

Swiftly and silently Tristan set to work. Like a ghost he glided round
the coffin's side, where the lid was lying. He raised it and, after he
had deposited Hellayne on the ground, mounted the bench and replaced
it. Next he gathered up the cumbrous pall and, mounting the bench once
more, spread it over the coffin. This way and that he pulled it, until
it appeared undisturbed as when he had entered.

What time he toiled, the half of his mind intent upon his task, the
other half was as intent upon the progress of the workers at the door.

At last it was done. Tristan replaced the bench at the foot of the
catafalque and, gathering up the woman in his arms, as though her
weight had been that of a feather, he bore her swiftly out of the
radius of the four tapers into the black, impenetrable gloom beyond. On
he sped towards the high altar, flying now as men fly in evil dreams,
with the sensation of an enemy upon them, and their progress a mere
stand still.

Thus he gained the chancel, stumbling against the railing as he passed,
and pausing for an instant, wondering whether those outside had heard.
But the grinding sound continued and he breathed more freely. He
mounted the altar stairs, the distant light behind him feebly guiding
him on, then he ran round to the right and heaved a great sigh of
relief upon finding his hopes realized. The altar stood a pace or so
from the wall, and behind it there was just such a concealment as he
had hoped to find.

Tristan paused at the mouth of that black well, and even as he paused
something that gave out a metallic sound, dropped at the far end of
the church. Intuition informed him that it was the lock which the
miscreants had cut from the door. He waited no longer, but like a deer
scudding to cover, plunged into the dark abyss.

Hellayne, wrapped in his cloak, as she was, he placed on the ground,
then crept forward on hands and knees and thrust out his head, trusting
to the darkness to conceal him.

He waited thus for a time, his heart beating almost audibly in the
intermittent silence, his head and face on fire with the fever of
sudden reaction.

From his point of vantage it was impossible for Tristan to see the door
that was hidden in the black gloom. Away in the centre of the church,
an island of light in that vast well of blackness, stood the catafalque
with its four waxen tapers. Something creaked, and almost immediately
he saw the flames of those tapers bend toward him, beaten over by the
gust that smote them from the door. Thus he surmised that Tebaldo and
his men had entered. Their soft foot-fall, for they were treading
lightly now, succeeded, and at last they took shape, shadowy at first,
then clearly defined, as they emerged within the circle of the light.

For a moment they stood in half whispered conversation, their voices
a mere boom of sound in which no words were to be distinguished. Then
Tristan saw Tebaldo step forward, and by his side another he knew by
his great height--Gamba, the deposed captain. Tebaldo dragged away,
even as Tristan had done, the pall that hid the coffin. Next he seized
the bench and gave a brisk order to his men.

"Spread a cloth!"

In obedience to his command, the four who were with him spread a cloak
among them, each holding one of its corners. Apparently they intended
to carry away the dead body in this manner.

The sbirro now mounted the bench and started to remove the coffin lid,
when a blasphemous cry of rage broke from his lips that defied utterly
the sanctity of the place.

"By the body of Christ! The coffin is empty!"--

It was the roar of an enraged beast and was succeeded by a heavy crash,
as he let fall the coffin lid. A second later a second crash waked the
midnight echoes of that silent place.

In a burst of maniacal fury he had hurled the coffin from its trestles.

Then he leaped down from the bench and flung all caution to the winds
in the rage that possessed him.

"It is a trick of the devil," he shouted. "They have laid a trap for
us, and you have never even informed yourselves."

There was foam about the corners of his mouth, the veins had swollen
on his forehead, and from the mad bulging of his eyes spoke fury and
abject terror. Bully as Tebaldo was, he could, on occasion, become a
coward.

"Away!" he shouted to his men. "Look to your weapons! Away!"

Gamba muttered something under his breath, words the listener's ear
could not catch. If it were a suggestion that the church should be
searched, ere they abandoned it! But Tebaldo's answer speedily relieved
his fears.

"I'll take no chances," he barked. "Let us go separately. Myself first
and do you follow and get clear of this quarter as best you may."

Scarcely had the echoes of his footsteps died away, ere the others
followed in a rush, fearful of being caught in some trap that was here
laid for them, and restrained from flying on the instant but by their
still greater fear of their master.

Thanking Heaven for this miraculous deliverance, and for his own
foresight in so arranging matters as to utterly mislead the ravishers,
Tristan now devoted his whole attention to Hellayne. Her breathing had
become deeper and more regular, so that in all respects she resembled
one sunk into healthful slumber. He hoped she would waken before the
elapse of many moments, for to try to bear her away in his arms would
have been sheer madness. And now it occurred to him that he should
have restoratives ready for the time of her regaining consciousness.
Inspiration suggested to him the wine that should be stored in the
sacristy for altar purposes. It was unconsecrated, and there could be
no sacrilege in using it.

He crept round to the front of the altar. At the angle a candle branch
protruded at the height of his head. It held some three or four tapers
and was so placed as to enable the priest to read his missal at early
Mass on dark winter mornings. Tristan plucked one of the candles from
its socket and, hastening down the church, lighted it from one of the
burning tapers of the bier. Screening it with his hand he retraced his
steps and regained the chancel. Then, turning to the left, he made for
a door which gave access to the sacristy. It yielded and he passed down
a short, stone flagged passage and entered a spacious chamber beyond.

An oak settle was placed against one wall, and above it hung an
enormous, rudely carved crucifix. On a bench in a corner stood a basin
and ewer of metal, while a few vestments, suspended beside these,
completed the appointments of the austere and white-washed chamber.
Placing his candle on a cupboard, he opened one of the drawers. It was
full of garments of different kinds, among which he noticed several
monks' habits. Tristan rummaged to the bottom, only to find therein
some odd pairs of sandals.

Disappointed, Tristan closed the drawer and tried another, with no
better fortune. Here were undervests of fine linen, newly washed and
fragrant with rosemary. He abandoned the chest and gave his attention
to the cupboard. It was locked, but the key was there. Tristan's candle
reflected a blaze of gold and silver vessels, consecrated chalices, and
several richly carved ciboria of solid gold, set with precious stones.
But in a corner he discovered a dark brown, gourd-shaped object. It was
a skin of wine and, with a half-suppressed cry of joy, he seized upon
it.

At that moment a piercing scream rang through the stillness of the
church and startled him so that for some moments he stood frozen with
terror, a hundred wild conjectures leaping into his brain.

Had the ruffians remained hidden in the church? Had they returned? Did
the screams imply that Hellayne had been awakened by their hands?

A second time it came, and now it seemed to break the hideous spell
that its first utterance had cast over him. Dropping the leathern
bottle he sped back, down the stone passage to the door that abutted on
the church.

There, by the high altar, Tristan saw a form that seemed at first but a
phantom, in which he presently recognized Hellayne, the dim rays of the
distant tapers searching out the white robe with which her limbs were
draped. She was alone, and he knew at once that it was but the natural
fear consequent upon awakening in such a place, that had evoked the cry
he had heard.

"Hellayne!" he called, advancing swiftly to reassure her. "Hellayne!"

There was a gasp, a moment's silence.

"Tristan?" she cried questioningly. "What has happened? Why am I here?"

He was beside her now and found her trembling like an aspen.

"Something horrible has happened, my Hellayne," he replied. "But it is
over now, and the evil is averted."

"What is it?" she insisted, pale as death. "Why am I here?"

"You shall learn presently."

He stooped, to gather up the cloak, which had slipped from her
shoulders.

"Do you wrap this about you," he urged, assisting her with his own
hands. "Are you faint, Hellayne?"

"I scarce know," she answered, in a frightened voice. "There is a black
horror upon me. Tell me," she implored again, "Why am I here? What does
it all mean?"

He drew her away now, promising to tell her everything once she were
out of these forbidding surroundings. He assisted her to the sacristy
and, seating her upon a settle, produced the wine skin. At first she
babbled like a child, of not being thirsty, but he insisted.

"It is not a matter of quenching your thirst, dearest Hellayne. The
wine will warm and revive you! Come, dearest--drink!"

She obeyed him now, and having got the first gulp down her throat, she
took a long draught, which soon produced a healthier color, driving the
ashen pallor from her cheeks.

"I am cold, Tristan," she shuddered.

He turned to the drawer in which he had espied the monks' habits and
pulling one out, held it for her to put on. She sat there now in that
garment of coarse black cloth, the cowl flung back upon her shoulder,
the fairest postulant that ever entered upon a novitiate.

"You are good to me, Tristan," she murmured plaintively, "and I have
used you very ill! You do not love that other woman?" She paused,
passing her hand across her brow.

"Only you, dearest--only you!"

"What is the hour?" she turned to him suddenly.

It was a matter he left unheeded. He bade her brace herself, and take
courage to listen to what he was about to tell. He assured her that the
horror of it all was passed and that she had naught to fear.

"But--how came I here?" she cried. "I must have lain in a swoon, for I
remember nothing."

And then her quick mind, leaping to a reasonable conclusion, and
assisted perhaps by the memory of the shattered catafalque which she
had seen, her eyes dilating with a curious affright as they were turned
upon his own, she asked of a sudden:

"Did you believe that I was dead?"

"Yes," he replied with an unnatural calm in his voice. "Every one
believed you were dead, Hellayne."

And with this he told her the entire story of what had befallen, saving
only his own part therein, nor did he try to explain his own opportune
presence in the church. When he spoke of the coming of Tebaldo and his
men she shuddered and closed her eyes. Only after he had concluded
his tale did she turn them full upon him. Their brightness seemed to
increase, and now he saw that she was weeping.

"And you were there to save me, Tristan?" she murmured brokenly. "Oh,
Tristan, it seems that you are ever at hand when I have need of you!
You are, indeed, my one true friend--the one true friend that never
fails me!"

"Are you feeling stronger, Hellayne?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes--I am stronger!"

She rose as if to test her strength.

"Indeed little ails me save the horror of this thing. The thought of it
seems to turn me sick and dizzy."

"Sit then and rest!" he enjoined. "Presently, when you feel equal to
it, we shall start out!"

"Whither shall we go?" she asked.

"Why--to the abode of your liege lord."

"Why--yes--" she answered at length, as though it had been the last
suggestion she had expected. "And when he returns," she added, after
a pause, "he will owe you no small thanks for your solicitude on my
behalf."

There was a pause. A hundred thoughts thronged Tristan's mind.

Presently she spoke again.

"Tristan," she inquired very gently, "what was it that brought you to
the church?"

"I came with the others, Hellayne," he replied, and, fearing such
questions as might follow--questions he had been dreading ever since he
brought her to the sacristy, he said:

"If you are recovered, we had better set out."

"I am not yet sufficiently recovered," she replied. "And, before we go,
there are a few points in this strange adventure that I would have you
make clear to me! Meanwhile we are very well here! If the good fathers
do come upon us, what shall it signify?"--

Tristan groaned inwardly and grew more afraid than when Basil's men had
broken into the church an hour ago.

"What detained you after all had gone?"

"I remained to pray," he answered, with a sense of irritation at her
persistence. "What else was there to do in a church?"

"To pray for me?"

"Assuredly."

"Dear, faithful heart," she murmured. "And I have used you so cruelly.
But you merited my cruelty--Tristan! Say that you did, else must I
perish of remorse."

"Perchance I deserved it," he replied. "But perchance not so much as
you bestowed, had you understood my motives," he said unguardedly.

"If I had understood your motives?" she mused. "Ay--there is much I do
not understand! Even in this night's business there are not wanting
things that remain mysterious, despite the elucidations you have
supplied. Tell me, Tristan--what was it that caused you to believe,
that I still lived?"

"I did not believe it," he blundered like a fool, never seeing whither
her question led.

"You did not?" she cried, with deep surprise, and now, when it was too
late, he understood. "What was it then that induced you, to lift the
coffin lid?"--

"You ask me more than I can tell you," he answered almost roughly, for
fear lest the monks would come at any moment.

She looked at him with eyes that were singularly luminous.

"But I must know," she insisted. "Have I not the right? Tell me now!
Was it that you wished to see my face once more before they gave me
over to the grave?"

"Perchance it was, Hellayne," he answered. Then he suggested their
going, but she never heeded his anxiety.

"Do you love me then so much, dearest Tristan?"

He swung round to her now, and he knew that his face was white, whiter
than the woman's had been when he had seen her in the coffin. His
eyes seemed to burn in their sockets. A madness seized upon him and
completely mastered him. He had undergone so much that day of grief,
and that night the victim of a hundred emotions, that he no longer
controlled himself. As it was, her words robbed him of the last
lingering restraint.

"Love you?" he replied, in a voice that was unlike his own. "You are
dearer to me than all I have, all I am, all I ever hope to be! You are
the guardian angel of my existence, the saint to whom I have turned
mornings and evenings in my prayers! I love you more than life!"

He paused, staggered by his own climax. The thought of what he had
said and what the consequences must be, rushed suddenly upon him. He
shivered as a man may shiver in waking from a trance. He dropped upon
his knees before her.

"Forgive," he entreated. "Forgive--and forget!"

"Neither forgive nor forget will I," came her voice, charged with an
ineffable sweetness, such as he had never before heard from her lips,
and her hands lay softly on his bowed head as if she would bless and
soothe him. "I am conscious of no offence that craves forgiveness, and
what you have said to me I would not forget if I could. Whence springs
this fear of yours, dear Tristan? Has not he to whom I once bound
myself in a thoughtless moment, he who never understood, or cared to
understand my nature, he whose cruelty and neglect have made me what I
am to-day, lost every right, human or divine? Am I more than a woman
and are you less than a man that you should tremble for the confession
which, in a wild moment, I have dragged from you? For that wild moment
I shall be thankful to my life's end, for your words have been the
sweetest that my poor ears have ever listened to. I count you the
truest friend and the noblest lover the world has ever known. Need it
surprise you then, that I love you, and that mine would be a happy life
if I might spend it in growing worthy of this noble love of yours?"

There was a choking sensation in his throat and tears in his eyes.
Transport the blackest soul from among the damned in Hell, wash it
white of its sins and seat it upon one of the glorious thrones of
Heaven,--such were the emotions that surged through his soul. At last
he found his tongue.

"Dearest," he said, "bethink yourself of what you say! You are still
his wife--and the Church grants no severance of the bonds that have
united two for better or worse."

"Then shall we see the Holy Father. He is just and he will be merciful.
Will you take me, Tristan, no matter to what odd shifts a cruel Fortune
may drive us? Will you take me?"

She held his face between her palms and forced his eyes to meet her
eyes.

"Will you take me, Tristan?" she said again.

"Hellayne--"

It was all he could say.

Then a great sadness overwhelmed him, a tide that swept the frail bark
of happiness high and dry upon the shores of black despair.

"To-morrow, Hellayne, you will be what you were yesterday."

"I have thought of that," she said, a slight flutter in her tone.
"But--Hellayne is dead.--We must so dispose that they will let her rest
in peace."--



CHAPTER XIII

THE CONVENT IN TRASTEVERE


He stared at her speechless, so taken was he with the immensity of the
thing she had suggested. Fear, wonder, joy seemed to contend for the
mastery.

"Why do you look at me so, Tristan?" she said at last. "What is it that
daunts you?"

"But how is this thing possible?" he stammered, still in a state of
bewilderment.

"What difficulty does it present?" she returned. "The Lord Basil
himself has rendered very possible what I suggest. We may look on him
to-morrow as our best friend--"

"But Tebaldo knows," he interposed.

"True! Deem you, he will dare to tell the world what he knows? He might
be asked to tell how he came by his knowledge. And that might prove a
difficult question to answer. Tell me, Tristan," she continued, "if he
had succeeded in carrying me away, what deem you would have been said
to-morrow in Rome when the coffin was found empty?"--

"They would naturally assume that your body had been stolen by some
wizard or some daring doctor of anatomy."

"Ah! And if we were quietly to quit the church and be clear of Rome
before morning--would not the same be said?"

He pondered a while, staggered by the immensity of the risk, when
suddenly a memory flashed through his mind that left his limbs numb as
if they had been paralyzed by a thunderbolt.

It was the night on which the terrible crime at the Lateran was to be
committed. Even now it could not be far from the midnight hour. Did he
dare, even for the consideration of the greatest happiness which the
world and life had to give, to forego his duty towards the Church and
the Senator of Rome?

Hellayne noted his hesitancy.

"Why do you waste precious moments, Tristan?" she queried. "Is it that
you do not love me enough?"

A negative gesture came in response, and his eyes told her more than
words could have expressed.

At last he spoke.

"If I hesitate," he said, trying to avoid the real issue, instead of
stating it without circumlocution, "it is because I would not have you
do now of what, hereafter, you might repent. I would not have you be
misled by the impulse of a moment into an act whose consequences must
endure while life endures."

"Is that the reasoning of love?" she said very quietly. "Is this cold
argument, this weighing of issues consistent with the hot passion you
professed so lately?"

"It is," he replied. "It is because I love you more than I love myself,
that I would have you ponder, ere you adventure your life upon a broken
raft such as mine. You are still the wife of another."

"No!" she replied, her eyes preternaturally brilliant in the intensity
of her emotion. "Hellayne, the wife of Roger de Laval, is dead--as
dead to him, as if she in reality were bedded in the coffin. Where is
he? Where is the man who should have been where you are, Tristan? I
venture to say his grief did not overburden him. He will find ready
consolation in the arms of another for the wife who was to him but
the plaything of his idle hours. He never loved me! He even threatened
to shut me up within convent walls for the rest of my days if I did
not return with him--his mistress,--his wife but in a name, a thing
to submit to his loathsome kisses and caresses, while her soul is
another's. He himself and death, which perchance he himself decreed,
have severed bonds no persuasion would have tempted me to break.
Tristan, I am yours--take me."

She held out her beautiful arms.

He was in mortal torment.

"Nevertheless, Hellayne, to-night of all nights it may not be--" he
stammered. "Listen, dearest--"

"Enough!" she silenced him, as she rose. She swept towards him and,
before he knew it, her hands were on his shoulders, her face upturned,
her blue eyes holding his own, depriving him of will and resistance.

"Tristan," she said, and there was an intensity almost fierce in her
tones, "moments are fleeting, and you stand there reasoning with me and
bidding me weigh what already is weighed for all time. Will you wait
until escape is rendered impossible, until we are discovered, before
you will decide to save me and to grasp with both hands the happiness
that is yours; this happiness that is not twice offered in a lifetime?"

She was so close to him that he could almost feel the beating of
her heart. He was now as wax in her hands. Forgotten were all
considerations of rank and station. They were just man and woman whose
fates were linked together irrevocably. Under the sway of an impulse he
could not resist, he kissed her upturned face, her lips, her eyes. Then
he broke from her clasp and, bracing himself for the task to which they
stood committed by that act, he said, the words tumbling from his lips:

"Hellayne, we know not who is abroad to-night. We know not what
dangers are lurking in the shadows. Tebaldo and his men may even now be
scouring the streets of Rome for a fugitive, and once in their power
all the saints could not save us from our doom. I know not the object
of this plot of which you were the victim, and even the Lord Roger
may be but the dupe of another. I will take you to the convent of the
Blessed Sisters of Santa Maria in Trastevere, that you may dwell there
in safety until I have ascertained that all danger is past. You shall
enter as my sister, trying to escape the attention of an unwelcome
suitor. But the thing that chiefly exercises my mind now is how to make
our escape unobserved."

Hellayne nodded dreamily.

"I have thought of it already."

"You have thought of it?" he replied. "And of what have you thought?"

For answer she stepped back a pace and drew the cowl of the monk's
habit over her head until her features were lost in the shadows. Her
meaning was clear to him at once. With a cry of relief he turned to
the drawer whence he had taken the habit in which she was arrayed and,
selecting another, he hastily donned it above the garments he wore.

No sooner was it done than he caught her by the arm.

There was no time to be lost. Moments were flying.

If he should be too late at the Lateran!

"Come!" he said in an urgent voice.

At the first step she stumbled. The habit was so long that it cumbered
her feet. But that was a difficulty soon overcome. Without regarding
the omen, he cut with his dagger a piece from the skirt, enough to
leave her freedom of movement and, this accomplished, they set out.

They crossed the church swiftly and silently, then entered the porch,
where he left her in order to peer out upon the street. All was quiet.
Rome was wrapt in sleep. From the moon he gleaned it wanted less than
an hour to midnight.

Drawing their cowls about their faces, they abandoned the main streets,
Tristan conducting his charge through narrow alleys, deserted of the
living. These lanes were dark and steep, the moonlight being unable to
penetrate the chasms formed between the tall, ill-favored houses. They
stumbled frequently, and in some places he carried her almost bodily,
to avoid the filth of the quarter they were traversing.

The night was solemn and beautiful. Myriads of stars paved the deep
vault of heaven. The moon, now in her zenith, hung like a silver lamp
in the midst of them; a stream of quivering, rosy light, issuing from
the north, traversed the sky like the tail of some stupendous comet,
sending forth, ever and anon, corruscations like flaming meteors.

At last they reached the Transtiberine region and the convent of
Santa Maria in Trastevere hove into sight. The range of habitations
around were in a ruinous state and the whole aspect of the region was
so dismal as to encourage but few ramblers to venture there after
nightfall.

Passing through the ill-famed quarter of the Sclavonians, where, in
after time, one of the blackest crimes in history was committed,
Tristan and Hellayne at last arrived before the gates of the convent.
They had spoken but little, dreading even the faintest echo of their
footsteps might bring a pursuer on their track. Their summons for
admission was, after a considerable wait, answered by the porter of
the gate, who, upon seeing two monks, relinquished his station by the
wicket and descended to inquire into their behest.

Hellayne shrank up to Tristan, as the latter stated their purpose and
the old monk, unable to understand the jargon of his belated caller,
withdrew, mumbling some equally unintelligible reply.

Hellayne's eyes were those of a frightened deer.

"What will he do, Tristan?" she whispered, "Oh, Tristan, do not leave
me! I feel I shall never see you again, Tristan--my love--take me
away--I am afraid--"

He held her close to him.

"There is nothing to fear, my Hellayne! To-morrow night I shall return
and place you safely where we may see each other till I have absolved
my duties to the Senator. Do not fear, sweetheart! Of all the abodes
in Rome the sanctity of the convent is inviolate! But I hear steps
approaching--some one is coming. Courage, dearest--remember how much is
at stake!"

Another moment and they stood before the Abbess of Santa Maria in
Trastevere.

Summoning all his presence of mind, Tristan told his tale and made
his request. Danger lurking in the infatuation of a Roman noble was
threatening his sister. She had fled from his innuendos and begged the
convent's asylum for a brief space of time, when he, Tristan, would
claim her. He explained Hellayne's attire, and the Abbess, raising the
woman's head, looked long and earnestly into her face.

What she saw seemed to confirm of the truth of Tristan's speech, and
she agreed readily to his request. Tristan kissed Hellayne on the brow,
then, after a brief and affectionate farewell and the assurance that he
would return on the following day, he left her in charge of the Blessed
Sisters. With a sob she followed the Abbess and the gates shut behind
them.

For a moment Tristan felt as if all the world about him was sinking
into a dark bottomless pit.

Then, suppressing an outcry of anguish, his winged feet bore him across
Rome towards the Basilica of St. John in Lateran.



CHAPTER XIV

THE PHANTOM OF THE LATERAN


It still lacked a few minutes of midnight when Tristan arrived at the
Lateran. The guard had been set in all the chapels, as on the night
when he had kept the watch before.

Without confiding his purpose to any one, he traversed the silent
corridors until he came to the chapel where he was to watch all night.

The men-at-arms were posted outside the door. A lamp was burning in the
corridor, and strict orders had been given that no person whatsoever
was to pass into the chapel.

After assuring himself that all was secure, Tristan seated himself in a
chair which stood in the centre of the chapel.

The place was dim and ghostly. A red lamp burnt before the Blessed
Sacrament, and from the roof of the chapel hung another lamp of bronze.
The light was turned low, but it threw a slight radiance upon portions
of the mosaic of the floor.

Tristan unbuckled his sword and placed it ready to hand. The whole of
the Basilica was hushed in sleep. There was a heaviness and oppression
in the air, and no sound broke the stillness in the courts of the
palace.

Memory flared up and down like the light of a lamp, as Tristan pondered
over the changes and vicissitudes of his life, with all its miseries
and heart-aches, as he thought of the future and of Hellayne. Danger
encompassed them on every side. But there had been even greater
terrors when he had plucked her from the very grip of Death, from the
midst of her foes.

And then he began to pray, pray for Hellayne's happiness and safety,
and his whispering voice sounded as if a dry leaf was being blown over
the marble floor, and when it ceased the silence fell over him like a
cloak, enveloping him in its heavy, stifling folds.

He had been on guard in the Lateran before, but the silence had never
seemed so deep as it was now. His mind, heated and filled with the
events of the past days, would not be tranquil. And yet there was a
deadly fascination in this profound silence, in which it seemed his own
mind and the riot of his thoughts were living and awake.

What, if even now some lurking danger were approaching through the
thousand corridors and anterooms of the palace! For on this night the
enemies of Christ were abroad, silently unfurling the sable banners of
Hell.

The thought was almost unbearable. It was not fear which Tristan felt,
rather a restlessness he was unable to control. Although the night was
no hotter than usual, perspiration began to break out upon his face,
and he felt athirst. The fumes of incense that permeated the chapel,
increased his drowsiness.

With something of an effort Tristan strode to the door and opened it.
In the corridor two men-at-arms were on guard, one standing against
the wall, the other walking slowly to and fro. The men reported that
all was well, and that no one had passed that way. Tristan closed the
door and returned inside. He walked up the chapel's length and then,
his drawn sword beside him on the marble, knelt in prayer before the
Blessed Sacrament which he had come to guard.

There, for a little, his confused and restless mind found peace.

But not for long.

A drowsiness more heavy and insistent than any he had ever known
began to assail him. It billowed into his brain, wave after wave. It
assailed him with an irresistible, physical assault. He fought against
it despairingly and hopelessly, knowing that he would be vanquished.
Once, twice, sword in hand, as though the long blade could help him in
the fight, he staggered up and down the chapel. Then, with a smothered
groan, he sank into the chair, the sword slipping from his grasp. He
felt as if deep waters were closing over him. There was a sound like
dim and distant drums in his ears, a sensation of sinking, lower, ever
lower,--then utter oblivion.

And now silence reigned, silence more intense than his mind had ever
known.

The red lamp burned before the Host. The lamp in the centre of the
chapel threw a dim radiance upon the bowed form of Tristan, whose sword
crossed the mosaics of the floor.

Silence there was in the whole circuit of the Lateran.

Even the Blessed Father, prisoner in his own chamber, was asleep. The
domestic prelates, the whole vast ecclesiastical court were wrapt in
deep repose.

In the chapel of St. Luke the silence was broken by the deep breathing
of Tristan. It was not the breathing of a man in healthy sleep. It
was a long-drawn catching at the breath, then once more a difficult
inhalation. The men-at-arms outside in the corridor heard nothing of
it. The sound was confined to the interior alone.

The ceiling of the chapel was painted, and the various panels were
divided by gilded oak beadings.

Almost in the centre, directly above where Tristan reposed in leaden
slumber, was a panel some two feet square, which represented in faint
and faded colors the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

Suddenly, without a sound, the panel parted.

If the sleeper had been awake he would have seen almost at his feet a
swaying ladder of silk rope, which for a moment or two hissed back and
forth over the tesselated floor.

Now the dark square in the painted ceiling became faintly illumined.
In its dim oblong a formless shape centred itself. The faint hiss from
the end of the silken rope ladder recommenced and down the ladder from
the roof of the chapel descended a formless spectre, with incredible
swiftness, with incredible silence.

The spider had dropped from the centre of its web. It had chosen the
time well. It was upon its business.

The trembling of the rope ladder ceased. Without a sound the black
figure emerged into the pale light thrown by the central lamp. The
figure was horrible. It was robed in deepest black, and as it made a
quick bird-like movement of the head, the face, plucked as from some
deadly nightmare, was so awful that it seemed well that Tristan was
unconscious.

The High Priest of Satan stood in the chapel of the Lateran. His quick,
dexterous fingers ran over Tristan's sleeping form. Then he nodded
approvingly.

There was a soft pattering of steps and now the black form passed out
of the circle of light and emerged into the red light of the lamp,
which burned before the altar.

Above, upon the embroidered frontal, were the curtains of white silk
edged with gold--the gates of the tabernacle.

A long, lean arm, hardly more than a bone, drew apart the curtains.
Mingling with the heavy breathing of the sleeping man there was a sharp
sound, most startling in the intense silence.

It was a bestial snarl of satisfaction. It was followed by abominable
chirpings of triumph, cold, inhuman, but real.

Tristan slept on. The men-at-arms kept their faithful watch. In the
whole of the Lateran Palace no one knew that the High Priest of Satan
was prowling through the precincts and had seized upon his awful prey.

He thrust the Holy Host into a silver box, and placed it next to his
bosom. Then he drew a wafer of the exact size and shape of the stolen
Host from the pocket of his robe. Gliding over to Tristan he thrust
this unconsecrated wafer into his doublet.

Then the black bat-like thing mounted to the ceiling. The lemon-colored
light reappeared for a moment. In its glare the dark phantom looked
terrific, like a fiend from Hell. The rope ladder moved silently
upwards, and the painted panel with the arrow-pierced Sebastian dropped
soundlessly into its place.

The red lamp burnt in front of the tabernacle. But the chapel was empty
now.

At dawn the unexpected happened.

The guards, expecting to be relieved, found themselves face to face
with a special commission, come to visit the Lateran. It consisted
of the Cardinal-Archbishop of Ravenna, the Cardinal of Orvieto, the
Prefect of the Camera and Basil the Grand Chamberlain.

After having made the rounds they at last arrived before the chapel of
St. Luke. They found the two men-at-arms stationed at the door, alert
at their post. The men were exhausted; their faces appeared grey and
drawn in the morning light, but they reported that no one had passed
into the chapel, nor had they seen anything of Tristan since midnight,
when he had questioned them.

The doors of the chapel were locked. Tristan held the keys. Repeated
knocks elicited no response.

The Archbishop of Ravenna looked anxiously at the Prefect of the Camera.

"I do not like this, Messer Salviati," he said in a low voice. "I fear
there is something wrong here."

"Beat upon the door more loudly," the Prefect turned to one of the
halberdiers, and the man struck the solid oak with the staff of his
axe, till the whole corridor, filled with the ghostly advance light of
dawn, rang and echoed with the noise.

The Prefect of the Camera turned to the Archbishop.

"It would seem the Capitano has fallen asleep. That is not a thing he
ought to have done--but as the chapel seems inviolate we need hardly
remain longer."

And he looked inquiringly at the Grand Chamberlain.

The latter shook his head dubiously.

"I fear the Capitano can hardly be asleep, since we have called him so
loudly," he said, looking from the one to the other. "I would suggest
that the door of the chapel be forced."

They were some time about it. The door was of massive oak, the lock
well made and true. A man-at-arms had been despatched to another part
of the Lateran to bring a locksmith who, for nearly half an hour,
toiled at his task.

It was accomplished at last and the four entered the chapel.

It stretched before them, long, narrow, almost fantastic in the grey
light of morning.

The painted ceiling above held no color now. The mosaics of the
floor were dead and lifeless. In the centre of the chapel, with face
unnaturally pale, sat Tristan, huddled up in the velvet chair. By his
side lay his naked sword.

The lamp which was suspended from the centre of the ceiling had almost
expired.

In front of the altar the wick, floating on the oil, in its bowl of red
glass, gave almost the only note of color against the grey.

As they entered the chapel, the four genuflected to the altar. And
while the Prefect and Basil went over to where Tristan was sleeping in
his chair, and stood about with alarmed eyes, the Cardinal of Orvieto
and the Archbishop of Ravenna approached the tabernacle with the proper
reverences, parted the curtains and staggered back, indescribable
horror in their faces.

The Holy Host had disappeared.

The priests stared at each other in terror. What did it mean? Again the
Body of Our Lord had been taken from His resting-place. The captain of
the guard was asleep in his chair. Verily the demons were at work once
more and Hell was loosed again.

The Archbishop of Ravenna began to weep. He covered his face with his
hands. As he knelt upon the altar steps, great tears trickled through
his trembling fingers, while he sent up prayers to the Almighty that
this sacrilege might be discovered and its perpetrators brought to
justice. On either side of him knelt the priests who had come into the
chapel after them. Their hearts were filled with fear and sorrow.

The Cardinal of Ravenna rose at last.

His old, lean face shone with holy anger and sorrow.

"An expiatory service will be held in this chapel before noon," he
addressed those present. "I shall myself say Mass here. Meanwhile the
whole of the palace must be aroused. Somewhere the emissaries of Satan
have in their possession the Blessed Sacrament. See that the secret
Judas does not escape us!"

Almost upon his words there came a loud wail of anguish from the centre
of the chapel where Tristan was still huddled in his chair.

Basil had opened the doublet at his neck, as if to give him air, and
the Prefect of the Camera, who was standing by, clapped his hands to
his temples, and groaned like a soul in torment.

The two ecclesiastics hurried down from the altar steps.

Upon the lining of Tristan's doublet there lay the large round wafer,
which every one present believed to be the consecrated Host.

The Cardinal-Archbishop reverently took the wafer from Tristan and held
it up in two hands.

The men-at-arms sank to their knees with a rattle and ring of
accoutrement.

Every one knelt.

Then in improvised procession, His Eminence restored the wafer to the
tabernacle.

Tristan was dragged out of the chapel.

In the corridor horror-stricken men-at-arms buffeted him into some
sort of consciousness. His bewildered ears caught the words: "To San
Angelo," as he staggered between the men-at-arms as one in the thrall
of an evil dream, leaving behind him a nameless fear and horror among
the monks, priests and attendants at the Lateran.

END OF BOOK THE THIRD

BOOK THE FOURTH



CHAPTER I

THE RETURN OF THE MOOR


In a domed chamber of the Emperor's Tomb there sat two personages
engaged in whispered conversation, Basil and a weird hooded phantom
that seemed part of the dread shadows which crowded in upon the room,
quenching the dying light of day. Deep silence reigned. Only the
monotonous tread of the sentries broke the stillness as they made the
rounds above them.

It was Basil who spoke.

"All is going well! We shall prevail! We shall set up the throne of
Ebony in the stead of the Cross. I bow to your wisdom, my master! The
promised reward shall not fail you!"

As he spoke, the thin, black arm of his vis-a-vis trembled for a moment
in the ample folds of his black gown. Then, with a quick, bird-like
movement, a thin hand, twisted like a claw, wrinkled and yellow, was
stretched out towards the Grand Chamberlain.

On the second finger of this claw there was a ring. Basil bent and
kissed it.

Basil began to speak in his ordinary, conversational tone, but there
was a strange gleam in his eyes.

"It has been accomplished," he said. "They tell me all Rome is astir!"

The voice that replied seemed to come from a great distance; the lips
of the waxen face hardly moved. They parted, that was all.

"It has been done! I took it myself! It was the Host which the Cardinal
of Ravenna had consecrated on that morning."

"And you were not seen?"

"I was not," came the whispered reply. "As a measure of precaution I
wore the mask which I use to go about the churches at night. I met no
one."

"Is it here?" Basil queried eagerly.

"It is not here," replied the voice. "It must be kept until the night
of the great consecration, when Lucifer himself shall sit upon the
ebony throne and demand his bride--his stainless dove. Where is she
now?"

The light had faded out of Basil's eyes, and his face was ashen.

"One has been found, worthy of even as fastidious a master as he, whom
we both serve. Well-nigh had she escaped us, had not one who never
fails me tracked her on that fatal night, when her body lay in her
coffin ready to be consecrated to the Nameless one."

From the eyeless sockets of the shadow-mask a phosphorescent gleam shot
towards the Grand Chamberlain.

"What of the man?"

"The wafer was discovered on a certain captain of the guard who hath
crossed my path to his undoing once too often. The Church herself shall
pronounce sentence upon him--through me!"

"And--that other?"

There was a pause.

"Her husband!--He deems her dead, nor grieves he overmuch, believing,
as he does, that her love was another's--even his whom I have marked
for certain doom. I have it in my mind to try what a jest will do for
him."

The lurid tone of the speaker seemed to impress even his shadowy
companion.

"A jest?"

"He shall attend the great ceremony," Basil explained. "And he shall
behold the stainless dove. When is it to be?" he added after a pause.

"When is it to be?"

"Six nights hence--on the night of the full moon."

"And then you shall give to me that which I crave, and the forfeit
shall be paid."

"The forfeit shall be paid," the voice re-echoed from the shadows, and
to Basil it seemed as if the damp, cold breath from an open grave had
been wafted to his cheeks.

Like a phantom that sinks back into the night of the grave, whence it
had emerged, Bessarion vanished from the chamber. In his place stood
Hormazd, who had noiselessly entered through a panel in the wall.

Basil greeted him with a silent nod.

"What of the messenger?" he turned to the Oriental.

"He returns within the hour," replied the voice.

"What are his tidings?" Basil queried eagerly. "Is Alberic in the land
of shadows, where she dwells who gave him birth?"

"Sent by the same relentless hand across the Styx," the cowled figure
spoke, yet Basil knew not whether it was a question or a statement.

He gave a start.

"Tell me, how are secrets known to you at which Hell itself would
pale?" he turned with unsteady tone to his companion.

"Those of the shadows commune with the shadows," came the enigmatical
reply. "Is everything prepared?"

"When the brazen tongue from the Capitol tolls the hour, the blow shall
fall," Basil replied. "Hassan Abdullah and his Saracens are anchored
off the port of Ostia. The Epirotes and Albanians in the Senator's
service are bribed to our cause. Rome is in the throes of mortal
terror. Even the Monk of Cluny is under the spell, and has ceased
to arraign the Scarlet Woman of Babylon. The dread of the impending
judgment day will succor our cause. And--once installed within these
walls as master of Rome--with Theodora by my side--you shall have full
sway, to do whatever your dark fancies may prompt. You shall have a
chamber and a laboratory and be at liberty to roam at will through your
devil's kitchen."

The cowled figure gave a silent nod, but, before he could speak, the
door leading into the chamber opened as from the effect of a violent
gust of wind, and a shapeless form, that seemed half human, half ape,
flew at Basil's feet, who recoiled as if a ghost had arisen before him
from the floor.

For a moment Basil stared from Daoud the Moor to his shadowy visitor,
then he bade the runner arise and commanded him in some Eastern tongue
to unburden himself.

With many protestations of his devotion the monster produced a bundle
which Basil had not noted, owing to the swiftness with which the
African had entered the chamber. Panting, with deft, though trembling
fingers, Daoud untied the cords and a bloody head, severed from its
trunk, rolled upon the floor of the chamber, and lay still at Basil's
feet. It had lost all human semblance and exhaled the putrid odor of
the grave.

Basil started to his feet, staring from the Moor to Hormazd.

"Dead--" his pale lips stammered. Then, turning to his dark companion,
he added by way of encouragement to himself:

"You gave me truth!"

Daoud was cowering on the floor, his eyes staring into the shadows,
where hovered the Persian's almost invisible form.

A nod from Basil caused him to rise.

"Away with it!" shrieked the Grand Chamberlain overcome with terror.
"See that no one sets eyes upon it!"

The Moor wrapped the severed head into the blood-stained cloth and
darted from the chamber.

Then Basil turned to his visitor.

"In six days Rome shall hail a new master! Let then the sable banners
of Hell be unfurled and the Nameless Presence rejoice upon his ebony
throne! And now do you come with me into the realms of doom that gape
below, that your eyes may be gladdened by that which is in store for
you!"

Taking up a torch, Basil lighted it with the aid of two flints and the
twain trooped out of the chamber into the shadowy corridor leading into
the crypts of the Emperor's Tomb.



CHAPTER II

THE ESCAPE FROM SAN ANGELO


Hidden away in some secret vault of the great honey-colored Mausoleum
Tristan found himself when the men-at-arms had departed, and he had
regained his full senses. Color had faded out of everything. The
rock walls were lifeless and grey. The immense silence of the tomb
surrounded him. The rayless gloom was without relief, save what sparse
light filtered through a narrow grated window so high in the wall that
nothing could be seen from below, save the sky.

The torture of it all he could have endured very well. There was
something greater. It was the thought of Hellayne. This dreadful
uncertainty swung like a bell in his brain, cut through the fibre
of his being. And when these thoughts came over him in his lone
confinement he beat his hands upon the stone and wept.

They had placed him in a cell, which seemed to have been hollowed out
of the Travertine rock. It was small, built in the thickness of the
mighty Roman walls. Tristan set his teeth hard, prepared to endure. He
knew well enough what it meant. He would be confined in this living
tomb till his enemies thought his spirit was broken, and then he would
be summoned before a tribunal of the Church.

Once a day, and once only, the door of his cell opened. By the smoky
light of a torch, his gaoler pushed a pitcher of water and a machet of
bread into his prison. Then the red light died and darkness and silence
supervened. Yet it was not the ordinary darkness which men know.
Through the haunted chambers of Tristan's mind fantastic forms began
to chase each other, evil things to uncoil themselves and raise their
heads. More and more drearily the burden of the days began to press
upon him. What availed heroic endurance?

But it was not only darkness, nor was it only despair. Nor was it
only silence. It was a strange impalpable something which haunted his
restless, enforced vigil; a dim inchoate nothingness, that drove him to
the verge of madness. Though day draped the sky with blue and golden
banners, to tell the sons of men that Night was past and they need not
longer fear, for Tristan darkness was not a transient thing, but an
awful negation of hope.

All of this Tristan could have endured, had not the thought of Hellayne
unnerved him utterly.

She was safe--so he hoped--in the Convent of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
But, as hour succeeded hour, his assurance began to pale. Everything
had been arranged with the Abbess. But--had she indeed eluded her
pursuers? The empty coffin had no doubt long been discovered. Did they
believe she was dead, or did the hand who had dealt the blow in the
dark, the vigilant eye that had pursued her every step, plot further
mischief?

He thought of Odo of Cluny. The monk was influential, but there was, at
this hour, in Rome, one even more powerful, and he doubted not but that
by his agency the wafer had been placed into his doublet, though the
events of that fateful night from the time he had entered the Lateran,
were like a black blot upon his memory.

Had Odo even sought admission to his cell? Did he, too, believe him
guilty? Had his ears, too, been poisoned by the monstrous lie? To him
he might indeed have turned; of him he might have received assurance
of Hellayne's fate; and in return he might have reassured her who was
pining at the Convent of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

But, was she ignorant indeed of what was happening in the seven-hilled
city of Rome? Would not the rumor of the terrible outrage committed at
the Lateran knock even at the silent walls of the convent? A captain of
the Senator's guard caught red-handed in the perpetration of a crime
too heinous for the human mind to conceive!

He reviewed his own life, the close of which seemed very near at hand.
Free from cunning and that secret conceit which is peculiarly alarming
to natures that know themselves to be, in all practical matters,
confounded and confused, he had, in a short time, found himself placed
upon the world's greatest stage, a world little fit for dreamers and
for dreams. He had been plunged into the inner circles of the mighty
struggle, impending between Powers of Light and the Powers of Darkness,
upon a sea he knew not how to navigate, and upon whose cliffs his ship
had stranded.

One evening, when the cold greyness of an early twilight had enveloped
the city, and from the darkening sky every now and then was heard a
sound of approaching thunder, Tristan, counting the weary hours of his
unbroken solitude, which he could but measure by the appearance and
departure of his gaoler, had been more restless than usual. He had
hoped to be summoned for early trial before those high in the Church,
when, in Odo of Cluny, he would find an advocate, who alone might save
him from his doom. But nothing had happened. Nothing had broken the
dreary, maddening monotony, save now and then the shriek and curses of
a maddened fellow-prisoner, or the moans of a wretch who was dying of
thirst or hunger.

Whoever the powers that dominated his life, they evidently had not
decreed his immediate death, as if they were rejoicing in the torture
of false hopes which each recurrent day waked in his breast, and which
each departing day extinguished. The food never varied, and the water
intended for the cleansing of his body was so sparse that he had to
husband it as a precious possession till the gaoler refilled the bronze
ewer on the succeeding day.

When waking from feverish, troubled slumbers, broken by the squeaking
of the rats that scurried over the filthy floor of his dungeon, and
other presences that caused him to pray for a speedy death from this
slow torture, he found himself nevertheless listening for the approach
of the gaoler who, after dispensing his bounty, departed as he had
come, silent as the tomb, without making reply to Tristan's queries.

Escape, to all appearances, seemed quite beyond the scope of
possibility. Yet, with failing hopes, the spirit of Tristan seemed to
rise. Had not his good fortune been with him ever since he arrived at
Rome? Had he not, by some miraculous decree of destiny, again met the
woman he loved better than all the world? And then, they had left him
his dagger. After all, not such wretched company in his present plight.

It was on the eve of the third day when the voices of men coming down
the night-wrapt passage struck his wakeful ear.

In one of the speakers he recognized Basil.

"And you are quite sure no one saw you enter?" he said to his companion.

"No one!" came the snarling reply. "Nevertheless--they are on my track.
I breathe the air of the gibbet which burns my throat."

"And you are positive no one recognized you?" spoke the silken voice.

"No one."

"Take courage, Hormazd. Then there is little danger, yet you should
take care that no one may see you. We are surrounded by spies."

"Do you not trust Maraglia?"

"I trust none! You will therefore remain a short time concealed in this
subterranean passage."

"Subterranean?"

There was a note of terror in the Oriental's voice.

"That is to say--the vaults! Here you will find honorable and pleasant
company, who will not betray you. You will find straw in abundance and
each day Maraglia will bring you something to eat. Go slowly. How do
you like the abode?"

"Not even the devil can find me here."

"No one will find you here!"

"No one knows where I am," Hormazd interposed dubiously.

"Nor ever shall."

"It is of no consequence. So I am safe."

"You are safe enough. Lower your head and take care not to stumble over
the threshold. Here--this side--enter."

"Enter," re-echoed the other. Then there was a pause.

"It is very evident, you are afraid--"

"Afraid? No--but I am thinking we always know when we enter such
places--never when we shall leave them."

"How? Did I not say to-morrow night?"

"But if you should not come for me?"

"What profit would your death be to me? Where shall I find another
wizard to bring to foretell the death of another Alberic?"

Tristan gave an audible gasp at these words. He felt his limbs grow
numb. Had his ears heard aright? Surely they had not. Some demon had
mocked him, to drive him mad. Ere he could regain his mental balance,
the voice of the Grand Chamberlain's companion again struck his ear.

"But if you should not come, my lord?"

"You could scream!"

"What would that avail?"

"Mind you--I might have to stay here myself for sheltering such a
patriarch as you."

"Nevertheless--to guard against all risks--leave the door open--"

He entered, but the door turned immediately upon its hinges.

"My Lord Basil--" shrieked Hormazd, "the door is shut--"

"I stumbled against it."

"Bring a light--open the door--" came a muffled voice from within.

"I shall soon return."

"Do not forget the light."

"Light!--Ay! You shall not want for light,--if what I say be not false:
Et lux perpetua luceat eis," chanted the Grand Chamberlain in Requiem
measure, as he strode away.

Silence, deep and sepulchral, succeeded. Tristan cowered on the floor,
his face covered with his hands. If what he had overheard was true,
he, too, was lost. What had happened? Who was the Grand Chamberlain's
companion?

Now Hormazd began to scream and rave in the darkness. Terrible
execrations broke from the Oriental's lips, as he hurled his body
against the iron bars of his prison cell. Demoniacal yells waked the
silent echoes. The other prisoners, alarmed and rendered restless, soon
joined in, and soon the dark vaults of the Emperor's Tomb resounded
with a veritable pandemonium, a chorus of the damned that caused
Tristan to put his fingers to his ears lest he, too, go mad.

At nine o'clock that night the last visit was to be paid the prisoners.
At nine o'clock Maraglia, the Castellan, came, attended by the
guard, which waited outside. The Castellan was in a state of nervous
excitement. As he entered Tristan's cell he looked about, as if he
dreaded a listener, then he approached his prisoner and whispered
something into his ear.

For a moment Tristan knew not what has happening to him. Was he alone
with a mad man and was Maraglia too possessed?--

The Castellan, to prove his assertion that he was a bat, began
forthwith to squeak, and waved his arms, as if they were wings.

Curious stories were told about Maraglia. No one knew, why he had
retained his post so long amidst ever recurring changes, and it was
whispered that he was subject to strange possessions of the mind. He
faced his prisoner nervously, fingering a poniard in his belt. Tristan
watched his every gesture.

A little foam came out of the corners of Maraglia's lips. He wrung his
hands and his voice rose into a sort of shriek. He jerked his head half
round towards the men-at arms outside in the gallery. The screams of
Hormazd continued.

"It is the Ape of Antichrist," he whispered to Tristan. "I have a mind
to try conclusions with him. Close the door."

Tristan's wits, preternaturally sharpened in his predicament put words
in his mouth which he seemed unable to account for. He had heard rumors
of the Castellan. Perchance he might turn his madness to account.

"I can tell you much," he said. "But not here! But one thing I
perceive. You are approaching one of your bad spells."

Maraglia shrank back against the door. His face was pale as death.

"Then you know?" he squeaked.

Tristan nodded. The torch which the Castellan had placed in an iron
holder that projected from the wall, was burning low and the resinous
fumes filled the cell.

"Something I know--but not all! Yet, I believe I can cure you--"

"I am about to turn into a bat! And when I go abroad I scream like
a bat--in a thin, high pitched tone. And I flap my arms--and fly
away--thus--"

Tristan nodded wisely.

"I know the symptoms--they are of Satan. Nevertheless, I can cure you."

"Without conference with the evil powers?"

Tristan pondered.

"You shall not imperil your soul! But--take heed! It is well that you
have spoken to me of these matters. For, from feeling that you are a
bat, a bat you will become."

Maraglia was pale as a ghost.

"Then I was just in the nick of time?"

"You are already half immersed," Tristan replied in a deep and menacing
tone. "Take heed lest you be utterly drowned."

The Castellan shivered as one in an ague.

"Every Friday at midnight the Black Mass is said by one Bessarion, that
is of unthinkable age--a hideous wizard and High Priest of Satan. It is
he who has cast the spell over me."

Hope mounted high in Tristan. The alert confidence of his companion
animated him and he felt almost as if the great ordeal was over. A
distant bell was tolling. Its tones came in muffled cadence into the
night wrapt corridors of the Emperor's Tomb.

Nevertheless he shivered at the Castellan's confession. Maraglia, then,
was under the spell of this Wizard of Hell.

"I have seen him stalking through these galleries," he turned to his
gaoler. "But I possess a spell which renders him harmless. He cannot
touch me--nor breathe his evil breath into my soul. I can compel him to
take away the spell he has cast over you--that is, if you so wish it."

The Castellan squeaked and waved his arms.

"You would do this for me?"

"If you will not betray me. For only a more powerful spell than that
which he possesses can take away the curse he has put upon you."

"Ah! If you would do this! It is coming upon me now. I am going mad. I
am a bat!"

And Maraglia squeaked like a whole company of dusky mice, and flapped
his arms as if he were about to fly away.

"This very night will I do it," Tristan replied. "But you must help me."

"What can I do?"

Tristan cast all upon one throw.

"Remove your guards from this corridor and leave me a light and a rope."

"It is but reasonable," Maraglia returned. "I will fetch them. When
appears the wizard?"

"At midnight! See that I am not disturbed."

Maraglia nodded. Fear had almost deprived him of his senses.

"Last time I saw him he came from yonder corridor," Tristan informed
the Castellan.

"That may not be!" the latter replied. "Unless he hath wings. This
passage leads to the ramparts."

"It is possible I have been confused by the darkness," Tristan replied
pensively. "Nevertheless, I will oblige you, Messer Maraglia."

The Castellan retired with many manifestations of his gratitude,
leaving Tristan in possession of a lantern, a candle and a coil of rope.

It was midnight.

The sharp click of a flint upon steel was repeated several times
before a spark fell upon the tinder and it caught with a blue, ghostly
flicker. There were strange reflections in Tristan's cell. Curious
steely lights played upon him.

Then the candle ignited. The glow widened out. Tristan peered about
cautiously. The door of his cell had been left unfastened by Maraglia.
He had no fear of his prisoner escaping. No one had ever escaped from
these vaults, except to certain death.

He crept out into the corridor. It was dark as in the realms of the
underworld. The silence of the tomb prevailed. After a time the passage
made a sharp turn at right angles. A cooler air blew upon his face,
wafted through an unbarred embrasure, beyond which showed a star-lit
night without a moon, but not wholly dark.

Drawing himself up into the embrasure he stood at last upon a broad
sill of stone. A cool breeze eddied around him. He was at an immense
height. A vast portion of Rome lay below. The Tiber seemed like a river
of lead. Far away to the left the dark cypresses of the Pincian Hill
cut into the night sky in sombre silhouette. He was above the tombs of
Hadrian and Caracalla.

Tristan shivered despite himself as he fastened the rope he had secured
from the unwary Castellan to the stone ledge. It was not fear; but that
actual, physical shrinking, which induces nausea, had him in its grip.

"There is Rome," he said to himself with a savage chuckle.

He made a stirrup loop and curved it round a boss of antique tile,
which stretched above the abyss like a gargoyle. Then, with infinite
precaution, he lowered the coil of rope.

Dawn was already heralded in the East. A faint grey light appeared in
the direction of the Alban Hills. From over the Esquiline came the
shrill trumpeting of a cock.

There was a horrible moment as Tristan's hands left the roof edge and
he fell a foot to grasp the rope. He curled his legs about it, got it
between his crossed feet and began to let himself down. The sinews of
his arms seemed to creak. Once he passed an open window and distinctly
heard the snores of the men-at-arms who were sleeping within. The
descent seemed interminable. As seen from above, had there been any one
to watch him, his form grew less and less. From a man it seemed to turn
into an ape; from an ape as a night bird groping down the Mausoleum's
side; from a bird it dwindled to a spider, spinning downward on a taut
thread. Up there, on the height, the rope groaned and creaked upon
the curved tile from which it hung. But tile and fibre held. Once his
feet rested upon a leaden water pipe and he clung and swayed, glad of
a momentary release from the frightful strain upon his arms. That was
almost the last conscious sensation. Clinging to the rope he came down
quick and more quickly. His arms rose and fell with the precision of a
machine. At last he felt his feet upon solid ground, where he reeled
and staggered like a drunken man.

He had traversed a hundred thirty-five feet of air.



CHAPTER III

THE LURE


For three whole days Hellayne consumed herself waiting for Tristan, and
she began to feel listless and dispirited. She had long acknowledged
to herself the necessity of his presence, and how much his love
had influenced her thoughts and actions ever since she had known
him--a period that now seemed of infinite length. She found herself
perpetually recalling the origin and growth of this love. She dwelt
with a strange pleasure on her terrible plight, when, believing she was
dead, he had remained with her body. As evening approached she strolled
down to the Tiber, with a strange persistency and the vague expectation
of Tristan's return. She now trusted him utterly, since that last and
most potent proof of his love for her.

On the first day this dreamy, imaginative existence was delightful.
The region of the Trastevere at the period of our story was but
sparsely populated, and the great convent, with its church of Santa
Maria, dominated the lowly fisher huts, scattered over its precincts.
Hellayne, during these quiet evening hours, when only the sounds of
far-off chimes from churches and convents smote the silence with their
silver tongues, and during which hours the Abbess of Santa Maria
permitted her to leave the silent walls of her asylum for a short walk
to the Tiber's edge, rarely ever saw a human being. Only at dusk, when
the fishermen and boatmen returned from their daily routine, she saw
them pass in the distance, like phantoms that come and go and vanish in
the evening glow.

On the second day there came a feeling of want; the consciousness that
there was a void which it would be a great happiness to fill. This
grew to a longing for those hours which had glided by so quickly and
sweetly. At intervals there came the startling thought: if she should
never see him again! Then her heart stopped beating, and her cheek
paled with the thought of the bare possibility.

Thus the third day sped, and when Hellayne still remained without
tidings from Tristan her anxiety slowly changed to a great fear.
She could hardly contain herself during the long hours of the day,
and though she spent hours and hours in prayer for his return, her
heart seemed to sink under the weight of her fear and sorrow. She
was alone--alone in Rome--exposed to dangers which her great beauty
rendered even more grave than those that beset an ordinary person.
She feared lest Basil was scouring the city for the woman who had
so mysteriously baffled his desires, and she dreaded the hatred of
Theodora, whose infatuation for her lover had rather increased than
diminished in the face of Tristan's resistance. How long would he be
able to withstand, if Theodora had decreed his undoing?

There were moments when a mad jealousy and despair surged up in
Hellayne's heart, yet she hesitated to confide her fears and anxiety
to the Abbess, voicing only her disquietude at Tristan's prolonged
absence. Then only the latter informed Hellayne of a strange rumor
which had found its way into the Trastevere. Three nights ago a
terrible sacrilege had been committed at the Lateran, during the small
hours of the night, and on the following morning, during an inspection
by some high prelates of the Church, the criminal had been discovered
in the person of a captain of the Senator's guard, who had but recently
arrived in Rome, and had been placed in high command by the Senator
himself, whom he had so cruelly betrayed.

Three nights ago! It was on the night of the terrible crime from whose
consequences she had been saved just in the nick of time. With painful
minuteness Hellayne recalled, or tried to recall, every incident,
every detail, every utterance of her lover. But there was nothing at
which she could clutch save--but it was sheer madness. Surely it was
some horrid nightmare. Again she sought the Abbess, later in the day,
questioning her regarding the name of him who had been taken in the
commission of so heinous an offence. It was some time ere the Abbess
could recall a name strange in her own land, and Hellayne, with the
persistency of desperation, withheld any aid, so as not to offer a clue
to the one she dreaded to hear. But the strain proved too great. Almost
with a shriek she demanded to know if, perchance, the name was Tristan.
The Abbess regarded her questioner strangely. "Tristan is the name. Do
you know this man, my child?"

Hellayne was on the point of fainting. Everything grew black before her
eyes, and she would have fallen, had not the Abbess supported her.

"A countryman of mine," she said, dreading lest by revealing their
connection she might herself be held in custody. "He came to Rome on
a pilgrimage. Surely there is some horrible mistake! He could not! He
could not!"

The Abbess placed an arm round the trembling girl.

"If he can prove that he is innocent, the Cardinal-Archbishop will
not suffer a hair of his head to be touched," she tried to console
Hellayne whose head rested on her shoulder. She seemed utterly crushed.
Surely--it was too monstrous--too unbelievable. Yet as the moments sped
on, an icy, sickening fear gripped her heart. She recalled an incident
of that last evening with Tristan which, but for what had happened or
was rumored to have happened, she would have utterly ignored. She had
noted her lover's restlessness, and his apparent haste in leaving her
at the convent gates. She recalled now that he repeatedly glanced at
the moon and did, at one time, comment upon the lateness of the hour.
He had not seemed anxious to prolong their tete-a-tete, and he had not
been heard from in three days. Surely, no matter where he was, he could
have sent a message, verbal or otherwise. And the crime had happened
during the small hours of the night--after he had left her! It was too
horrible to ponder upon!

That there was some dreadful mystery which surrounded this deed of
darkness and Tristan's share therein, Hellayne did not question. But
how was she, a woman, a stranger, alone in Rome, to aid in clearing it
up and reveal her lover's innocence? There was no doubt in her mind,
but that he was the victim of some devilish conspiracy--perchance a
thread of that same web which had entangled her to her undoing. But how
to convince the Cardinal-Archbishop of Tristan's innocence, when the
facts surrounding the terrible discovery were unknown to her?

"This man is, no doubt, very dear to you," said the Abbess at last.

Hellayne shrank before the questioner and averted her face. But the
Abbess was resolved to know more, once her suspicions were aroused.

"Could it perchance be he who brought you here three nights ago--your
brother?" she queried with a kind, though penetrating glance at the
woman who was trembling like an aspen, her face colorless, her eyes
dimmed with tears.

A silent nod convinced the Abbess of the truth of her surmise. She
stroked Hellayne's silken hair.

"It is a dreadful crime of which he stands accused, one for which there
is no remission--no pardon here or hereafter," she said sorrowfully.

"He is innocent," sobbed Hellayne. "He is as pure as the light, as the
flowers. There is some dreadful mistake. He must be saved before it is
too late! Oh--dear mother--could you not intercede for him with His
Eminence?"

The Abbess regarded her as if she thought her protege had suddenly
lost her reason. To intercede with the Cardinal-Archbishop for one who
stood committed of so heinous an offence, taken in the very act,--one
who, perchance, was implicated in all those other terrible outrages
committed in the various sanctuaries of Rome! Nevertheless she made
allowance for Hellayne's hysterical plea.

"Has he never mentioned these matters to you?" She queried kindly,
hoping to draw the girl out.

"What matters?" Hellayne queried, with wide eyes, and the question
convinced the Abbess that the woman knew nothing.

"These dark practices," replied the Abbess. "For this is not the first
offence. Even within this very moon cycle the Holy Host has been taken
from the Church of Our Blessed Lady yonder. And all efforts to discover
the guilty one have failed."

"I had not heard of it," said Hellayne. "I have not been long in Rome.
Nor has he. About a month, I should say."

"A month?"

"And he knew nothing of this. Nor knew he even one person in this whole
city."

"Wherefore then came he?"

Hellayne explained and the Abbess listened. Hellayne's account, which
was impersonal, impressed her protectress in so far as she knew she
spoke truth. For, if here was an impostor, it was the cleverest she had
ever faced and, while a stranger to the world and to worldly affairs,
the stamp of truth was too indelibly written upon Hellayne's brow to
even permit of the shadow of a doubt. Perhaps it was for this reason
the Abbess refrained from questioning her farther, for she had been
somehow curious of the relation between the woman and the man who had
brought her here.

Here was matter for thought indeed. For, if the man was guilty and,
notwithstanding Hellayne's protestations, the Abbess was in her own
mind convinced that the Cardinal-Archbishop of Ravenna could not be
deceived in matters of this kind, what was to become of the woman he
had placed in her charge? There were also other matters equally grave
which oppressed the Abbess' mind. Hellayne's connection with one
who had committed the unspeakable crime might militate against her
remaining at the convent. Yet she hesitated to send her out into the
world, unprotected and alone.

For a time there was silence. Hellayne, utterly exhausted from the
recital of a past, which had reopened every wound in her heart, causing
it to bleed anew, anxious, afraid, doubting and wondering how far her
protectress might go, stood before the woman who seemed to hold in her
hand both her own fate and that of her lover.

"I will retire to my cell and pray to the Blessed Virgin for light to
guide my steps," the Abbess said at last, laying her hand on Hellayne's
head. "Do not venture away too far," she enjoined, "and come to me
after the Ave Maria. Perchance I may then know what to counsel."

Hellayne bowed her head and kissed the hem of the Abbess' robe.

After she had left, Hellayne remained standing where she was,
transfixed with anxiety and grief.

What forces of gloom and evil encompassed her on all sides? The man to
whom she had given her youth and beauty, who had plucked the flower
which others had vainly desired, instead of cherishing the gift she
had bestowed upon him, had trampled the delicate blossom in the dust.
He, to whom her heart belonged ever since she had power to think,
was doomed for a deed too terrible to name. She had been ruthlessly
sacrificed by the one, and now the other had failed her, and a third
tried to encompass her ruin. And she was alone--utterly alone!

What was she to do? To request an audience of the Cardinal-Archbishop
was little short of madness. In her own heart Hellayne doubted
seriously that the Abbess would concern herself any further about her
or her distress. Nevertheless she felt that something must be done.
This inertia which was creeping over her would drive her mad. But first
of all she must know the nature of the charge placed against the man
she loved before she would determine what to do. In vain she taxed her
tired brain for a ray of hope in the encompassing gloom.

The long lights of the afternoon crossed and recrossed the sanctuary
of Santa Maria in Trastevere when Hellayne, after an hour of fervent
prayer, emerged from its portals and took the direction of the Tiber,
where she sat on her accustomed seat and brooded over her misery.

At last the sunset came. The ashen color of the olive trees flashed out
into silver. The mountain peaks of distant Alba became faintly flushed
and phantom fair as, in a tempest of fire, the sun sank to rest. The
forests of ilex and arbutus on the Janiculum Hill seemed to tremble
with delight as the long red heralds touched their topmost boughs. The
whole landscape seemed to smile farewell to departing day.

As she sat there, Hellayne's attention was attracted to a woman who had
paused near the river's edge. There was nothing remarkable either in
her carriage or apparel. It was a wrinkled hag, swart, snake-locked,
cowled, her dress jingling with sequins, her right hand clawed upon a
crooked staff. She appeared, in fact, just an old Levantine hoodie-crow
of the breed which was familiar enough in Rome in those cataclysmic
days, when all sorts of queer, tragic fowl were being driven northward
from over seas before the tidal wave of invading Islam. Her speech as
well as her manners and dress betrayed Oriental origin.

As she hobbled up to where Hellayne was seated she stopped and asked
some trifling question about her way, which Hellayne pointed with some
hesitation, explaining that she was herself a stranger in Rome, and
knew not the direction of the city.

The old crone seemed interested.

"In yonder cloister--yet not of it?" she queried, pointing with the
crooked staff to the convent walls that towered darkly behind them in
the evening dusk.

Her penetration startled Hellayne.

"How did you guess, old mother?" she queried with a look of awe, which
was not unremarked by the other.

"Ay--there is lore enough under these faded locks of mine to turn the
foulest cesspool in Rome as clear as crystal, or to change this staff
whereon I lean into a thing that creeps and hisses," she said with a
low laugh.

Hellayne shrank back from her with a gesture of dismay. Believing
implicitly in their power, she felt a deadly fear of those who
professed the black arts.

The old woman read her thoughts.

"My daughter," she said, "be not afraid of the old woman's secret
gifts. Mine is a harmless knowledge, gained by study of the scrolls of
wise men, in my own native land. Fear not, I say, for I, who have pored
over those mystic characters till me eyes grew dim, can read your sweet
pale face as plainly as the brazen tablets in the Forum, and I can see
in it sorrow and care and anxiety for one you love."

Hellayne gave a start.

It was true! But how had the old crone found it out! She glanced
wistfully at her companion, and the latter, satisfied she was on the
right track, proceeded to answer that questioning glance.--

"You think he is in danger, or in grief," she continued mysteriously,
"and you wonder why he does not come. What would you not give, my poor
child, to see him this very moment--to look into his face--his eyes.
And I can show him to you, if you will. I am not ungrateful, even for a
slight service."

The blood mounted to Hellayne's brow, and a strange light kindled in
her eyes, while a soft radiance swept over her face such as comes
into every countenance when the heart vibrates with an illusion to
its happiness, as though the silver cord thrilled to the touch of an
angel's wing. It was no clumsy guess of the wise woman to infer that
the woman before her loved.

"What mean you?" asked Hellayne eagerly. "How can you show him to me?
What do you know of him? Where is he? Is he safe?"

The wise woman smiled. Here was a bird flying blindly into the net.
Take her by her affections, there would be little difficulty in the
capture.

"He is in danger--in grave danger," she replied. "But you could save
him, if you only knew how. He might be happy, too, if he would.
But--with another!"

To do Hellayne justice, she heard only the first sentence.

"In grave danger," she repeated. "I knew it! And I could save him! Oh,
tell me where he is, and what I can do for him?"

The wise woman pulled a small mirror from her bosom.

"I cannot tell you," she replied. "But I can show him to you. Only not
here, where the shadow of any chance passer-by might destroy the charm.
Let us turn aside into yonder ruins. There is no one near, and you
shall gaze without interruption into the face of him you love--"

It was but a short way off, though the ruins which surrounded it
made the place lonely and secluded. Had it been twice the distance
however, Hellayne would have accompanied her new acquaintance for
Tristan's sake, in the eagerness to obtain tidings of his fate. As she
approached the ruins she could not repress a faint sigh, which was not
lost on her companion.

"It was here you parted," she said. "It is here you shall see him
again."

This was scarcely a random shaft, for it required little penetration
to discover that Hellayne had some tender association connected with a
spot, the solitude of which appealed to her in so great a degree.

Nevertheless the utterance convinced Hellayne of her companion's
supernatural power and, though it roused alarm, it excited curiosity to
a still greater degree.

"Take the mirror in your hand," whispered the wise woman, when they
reached the portico, casting a searching glance around. "Shut your eyes
while I speak the charm that calls him three times over, and then look
steadily on its surface till I have counted ten."

Hellayne obeyed these instructions implicitly. Standing in the centre
of the ruin with the mirror in her hand, she shut her eyes and listened
intently to the low solemn tones of the woman's chanting, while from
the deep shadows of the ruin there stole out a muffled form and at the
same time a half dozen sbirri rose from their different hiding places
among the ruins.

Ere the incantation had been twice repeated, the leader threw a scarf
over Hellayne's head, muffling her so completely that an outcry was
impossible.

Resistlessly she felt herself taken up and carried to a chariot, which
was waiting a short space away. A moment later the driver whipped the
horses into a gallop and the vehicle with its occupants and burden
disappeared in the gathering dusk.



CHAPTER IV

A LYING ORACLE


It was an eventful night in Rome and, although for that reason well
adapted to deeds of violence, the tumult and confusion exacted great
caution from those who wished to proceed without interruption along the
streets.

A storm had burst as out of a clear sky, and was sweeping in its fury
throughout a large portion of the city. Like all similar outbreaks, it
gathered force from many sources unconnected with its original course.

Rome was the theatre that night of a furious strife between the great
feudal houses which lorded it over the city.

The Leonine city with its protecting walls did not exist until some
decades later. Thus, not only hordes of marauding Saracens, but Franks
and Teutons used to make occasional inroads to the very gates of the
city. On this evening Pandulph of Benevento, having taken umbrage at
some decision of the Sacred Consistory regarding the lands he held as
fief of the Church, conferring upon him a title which was disputed by
Wido of Prænesté, had broken into the city and a bloody and obstinate
conflict was being waged between his forces and the soldiers of the
Church. The Roman nobles, ever restless and ready to revolt alike from
the authority of the Emperor or of the Church, would not let this
glorious opportunity pass without reminding those in power that they
had built upon a volcano. They joined in the fray, some taking the
part of the invader, others of the Church.

An hour or two before sunset an undisciplined horde of mercenaries,
armed cap-a-pie, and formidable chiefly for the wild fury with which
they seemed inspired, attacked the Mausoleum of the Flavian Emperor.
The assailants, having no engines of war either for protection or
assault, suffered severely from the missiles showered upon them by the
besieged. Being repulsed after repeated assaults, they threw flaming
torches into the houses that lined the river on the opposite shore and
withdrew. From another quarter of the city a large body of Epirotes,
who had hoisted the standard of the Lord Gisulph of Salerno and had
already suffered one defeat, which rather roused their animosity
than quelled their ardor, were advancing in good order. Before the
Lateran they met the forces of Pandulph of Benevento, and a terrible
hand-to-hand encounter ensued. Nor was man the only demon on the scene.
Unsexed women with bare bosoms, wild eyes and streaming hair, the very
outcast of the Roman scum, their feet stained with blood, flew to and
fro, stimulating each other to fresh atrocities with wine, caresses and
ribald mirth. It was a feast of Death and Sin. She had wreathed her
white arms about the spectral king and crowned his fleshless head with
her gaudy garlands, wrapped him in a mantle of flame and pressed the
blood-red goblet to his lips, maddening him with her shrieks of wild,
mocking mirth, the while mailed feet trampled out the lives of their
victims on the flagstones of Rome.

Through a town in such a state of turmoil and confusion Tebaldo took
it upon himself to conduct in safety the prize he had succeeded in
capturing, not, it must be confessed, without many hearty regrets that
he had ever embarked on the enterprise.

It was indeed a difficult and perilous task. He had been compelled to
dismiss his men long ago, in order not to attract attention. There
was but room for himself and one stout slave, beside the charioteer
and his captive. The latter had struggled violently and required to be
held down by sheer force, nor, in muffling her screams, was it easy to
observe the happy medium between silence and suffocation. Also, it was
indispensable in the present state of lawlessness to avoid observation,
and the spectacle of a golden chariot with a woman prisoner, gagged
and veiled, the whole drawn by four spirited black steeds, was
not calculated to avoid suspicion and comment. Stefano, Tebaldo's
underling, had indeed suggested a litter, but this had been overruled
by his comrade on the score of speed, and now the congestion of the
streets made speed impossible. To be sure, this enabled his escort to
keep up with them at a distance, but a fight at this present moment
was little to Tebaldo's taste. The darkness which should have favored
him was dispelled by the numerous conflagrations in the various parts
of the city, and when the chariot was stopped and forced to run into
a by-street, to avoid a crowd running toward the Campo Marzo, Tebaldo
felt his heart sink within him in an access of terror such as even he
had rarely felt before.

Up one street, down another, avoiding the main thoroughfares, now
rendered impassable by the throngs, the charioteer directed his steeds
towards Basil's palace on the Pincian Hill.

Hellayne seemed to have either fainted, or resigned herself to her
fate, for she had ceased to struggle and cowered on the floor of
the chariot, silent and motionless. Tebaldo hoped his difficulties
were over, and promised himself never again to be concerned in such
an affair. Already he imagined himself safe on his patron's porch,
claiming his reward, when his advance was stopped by a pageant, which
promised a protracted and hazardous delay.

Winding its slow way along, with all the pomp and splendor attending
it, a procession of chariots crossed in front of Tebaldo's steeds,
and not a man in Rome would have dared to break in upon the train of
Theodora, who was abroad to view the strife of the factions, utterly
indifferent to the perils of the venture.

It may be that something whispered to Hellayne that, of the two perils
confronting her, what she contemplated was the lesser, and no sooner
did the car stop to let the chariots pass, than, tearing away the
bandage, she uttered a piercing scream, which brought it to a halt at
once, while Tebaldo, trying to wear a bold front, quaked in every limb.

At a signal from the woman in the first chariot her giant Africans
seized the shaking Tebaldo and surrounded his chariot. Already a crowd
of curious spectators was gathering, and the glare of the bonfires,
kindled here and there, shed its light on their dark, eager faces,
contrasting strangely with the veiled form of a woman, cold and
immobile as marble.

Two of the Africans seized Tebaldo, and buffeted him unceremoniously
to within a few paces of the occupant of the chariot. Here he stood,
speechless and trembling, anger and fear contending for the mastery,
which changed to dismay as the woman raised her veil with a hand
gleaming white as ivory.

"Do you know me?"

Whatever he had intended to say, the words died on Tebaldo's lips.

"The Lady Theodora!"

"You still have your wits about you," replied the woman. "Whom have you
there?"

The cold sweat stood on the brow of Basil's henchman.

"The run-away mistress of my lord," he said, looking from right to left
for some one to prompt him, some escape from the dilemma.

"Who is your master?" Theodora queried curtly.

"The Lord Basil--"

"The Lord Basil!" shrilled Theodora. "Indeed I knew not he had lost a
mistress. Yet I saw him within the hour and had speech with him."--

Stefano had meanwhile come up, composed and sedate, little guessing
the quality of his companion's interlocutor, with the air of a man
confident in the justice of his case.

"Where are you taking this woman?" Theodora queried.

Tebaldo attempted to speak, but Stefano anticipated him.

"To the palace of my Lord Basil on the Pincian Hill, noble lady," he
said with many obese bows. "Suffer us to proceed, for the streets are
becoming more unsafe every moment and our lord will not be trifled with
in matters of this kind."

"Indeed," Theodora interposed. "Is his heart so much set upon this
prize? Ho there, Bahram--Yussuff--bring the woman here!"

Tebaldo tried to worm himself out of the clutch of the black giants, in
order to prevent them from obeying Theodora's order, but he found the
situation hopeless and was about to address Theodora when the latter
bade him be silent.--

"The woman shall speak for herself," she said in a tone that suffered
no contradiction and, in another moment, Hellayne, lifted by four
muscular arms from the chariot of her abductors, stood, released of her
bandages, before Theodora.

All color left the Roman's face as she gazed into the pallid and
anguished features of the woman whom of all women on earth she feared
and hated most, the woman who dared to enter the arena with her for the
love of the one man whom she was determined to possess, if the universe
should crumble to atoms. Hellayne's fear upon beholding Theodora gave
way to her pride as she met the dark eyes of the Roman in which there
might have been a gleam of pity or a flash of scorn.

But, ere Hellayne could speak, finding herself, caught like a poor
hunted bird, in one net, ere she had well escaped the other, Theodora
turned to Tebaldo.

"Tell the Lord Basil, the woman he craves is under Theodora's roof,
and--if so he be inclined--he may claim her at my hands--"

The gleaming white arm went out, and ere Hellayne knew what happened,
she found herself raised into the second chariot, where sat a tall girl
of great beauty, Persephoné, the Circassian.

A signal to the charioteer and the pageant moved with slightly
increased speed towards the Aventine, while Tebaldo and Stefano,
out-witted and non-plussed, stared after the vanishing procession as if
they were encompassed by a nightmare. Then, simultaneously, they broke
out into such a chorus of vituperation that the by-standers shrank back
from them in horror, and they soon found themselves, their chariot
and its driver, almost the only human beings in the now deserted
thoroughfare.

Hellayne meanwhile sat, utterly dazed, next to Persephoné. Terrified by
the danger she had escaped, and scarcely reassured by the manner of her
rescue she seemed as one in a stupor, unable to think, unable to speak.

Persephoné regarded her with a strange fascination, not unmingled with
curiosity. Hellayne's fair and wonderful beauty appealed strangely to
the Circassian, while, with her native intuition, she wondered whether
Theodora's act was prompted by kindness or revenge.

Hellayne seemed, for the first time, to note her companion. Looking
into Persephoné's eyes she shuddered.

"Where are we going?" she whispered, gazing about in a state of
bewilderment, as the procession slowly wound up the slopes of the Mount
of Cloisters, and the broad ribbon of the Tiber gleamed below in the
moonlight.

A strange smile curved Persephoné's lips.

"To the Groves of Enchantment," she replied. "You are the guest of the
Lady Theodora."

Hellayne brushed back the silken hair from her brow as if she were
waking from a troubled dream.

She gave a swift glance to her companion, another to the winding road
and, suddenly rising from her seat, started to leap from the chariot.

Ere she could carry out her intent, she was caught in the Circassian's
arms.

A silent, but terrible struggle ensued. Notwithstanding her harrowing
experiences of the past days, despair had given back to Hellayne the
strength of youth. But in the lithe Circassian she found her match
and, after a few moments, she sank back exhausted, Persephoné's arms
encircling her like coils of steel, while her smiling eyes sank into
her own.

The palace of Theodora rose phantom-like from among its environing
groves in the moonlight, and the chariots dashed through the portals of
the outer court, which closed upon the fantastic procession.



CHAPTER V

BITTER WATERS


The dawn was creeping over the Sabine mountains when Tristan, after
having made good his escape from the dungeons of Castel San Angelo,
reached the hermitage of Odo of Cluny on distant Aventine.

Fatigued almost to the point of death, bleeding and bruised, only his
unconquerable will had urged him on towards safety.

His first impulse, after crossing the bridge of San Angelo, was to go
to the Convent of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He abandoned this plan
upon saner reflection. Doubtlessly all Rome was instructed regarding
the crime of which he stood accused. Recognition meant arrest and a
fate he dared not think of. Tears forced themselves into Tristan's
eyes, tears of sheer despair and hopelessness. Now, that he was free,
he dared not follow the all-compelling impulse of his heart, assuage
the craving of his soul, to learn if Hellayne was safe.

After a few moments rest in the shadow of a doorway he set out to seek
the one man in all Rome to whom he dared reveal himself.

Not a soul seemed astir. Dim dusk hovered above the high houses beyond
the Tiber, between whose silent chasms Tristan, dreading the echo of
his own footsteps, made his way towards the Church of the Trespontine.
Thus, after a circuitous route through waste and desert spaces, he
reached the Benedictine's hermitage.

Odo stared at the early visitor as if a ghost had arisen from the floor
before him. He had just concluded his devotions and Tristan, fearing
lest the Monk of Cluny might believe in his guilt, lost no time in
stating his case, pouring forth a tale so fantastic and wild that his
host could not but listen in mingled horror and amaze.

Beginning with the moment when he had been informed of Hellayne's
sudden death, he omitted not a detail up to the time of his escape
from the dungeon, which to him meant nothing less than the antechamber
of death. Minutely he dwelt upon his watch in the Lateran, laying
particular stress upon the deadly drowsiness, which had gradually
overtaken him, binding his limbs as with cords of steel. Graphically he
depicted his awakening, when he found himself surrounded by the high
prelates of the Church who faced him with the supposed evidence of a
crime of which he knew nothing. And lastly he repeated almost word for
word the strange discourse he had overheard in his dungeon between
Basil and the Oriental.

A ghastly pallor flitted over the features of Odo of Cluny at the
latter intelligence.

"If this be true indeed--if Alberic is dead--woe be to Rome! It is too
monstrous for belief, and yet--I have suspected it long."

For a time Odo relapsed into silence, brooding over the tidings of
doom, and Tristan, though many questions struggled for utterance,
waited in anxious suspense.

At last the monk resumed.

"I see in this the hand of one who never strikes but to destroy. The
blow falls unseen, yet the aim is sure. I have not been idle, yet do I
not hold in my hand all the threads of the dark web that encompasses
us. Of the crime of which you stand accused I know you to be innocent.
Nevertheless--you dare not show yourself in Rome. Your escape from
your dungeon once discovered, not a nook or corner of Rome will remain
unsearched. They dare not let you live, for your existence spells their
doom. They will not look for you in this hermitage. It has many secret
winding passages, and it will be easy for you to elude them. Therefore,
my son, school your soul to patience, for here you must remain till
we have assembled around the banner of the Cross the forces of Light
against the legions of Hell."

"What of the woman, Father, who is awaiting my return at the Convent of
Santa Maria in Trastevere?" Tristan turned to the monk in a pleading,
stifled voice. "Doubtless the terrible rumor has reached her ear."

He covered his face with his hands, while convulsive sobs shook his
whole frame.

Odo tried to soothe him.

"This is hardly the spirit I expected of one who has hitherto shown
so brave a front, and whose aim it is not to anticipate the blows of
chance."

"Nevertheless, Father, it is more than I can bear. I have no lust for
life, and care not what fate has in store for me, for my heart is heavy
within me, and all the fountains of my hopes are dried up, until I know
the fate of the Lady Hellayne--and know from her own lips that she does
not believe this devilish calumny."

A troubled look passed into Odo's face.

"If she still is at the convent of the Blessed Sisters of Trastevere
she is undoubtedly safe," he said, but there was something in his tone
which struck Tristan's ear with dismay.

"You are keeping something from me, Father," he said falteringly. "Tell
me the worst! For this anxiety is worse than death. Where is the Lady
Hellayne? Is she--dead?"

"Would she were," replied the monk gloomily. "I wished to spare you the
tidings! She was taken from the convent on some pretext--the nature of
which I know not. At present she is at the palace of Theodora on Mount
Aventine."

Tristan sat up as if electrified.

"At the palace of Theodora?" he cried. "How is this known to you?"

"Little transpires in Rome which I do not know," Odo replied darkly.
"It seems that those whom the Lord Basil entrusted with the task of
abducting the woman were in turn outwitted by Theodora who, in rescuing
her from a fate worse than death at the hands of the Grand Chamberlain,
has perchance consigned her to one equally, if not more, cruel."

A moan broke from Tristan's lips. Then he was seized with a terrible
fit of rage.

"Then it is Theodora's hand that has sundered us in the flesh as her
witches' beauty had estranged our hearts. More merciless than a beast
of prey she did not strike Hellayne with death, so that I might have
sentinelled her hallowed tomb, and with her sweet memory for company
might have watched for the coming of my own hour to join her again! I
have lost my love--my honor--my manhood--at the hands of a wanton."

Odo tried for a time, though in vain, to calm him by reminding him that
Hellayne would rather suffer death than dishonor. As regarded himself,
he was convinced that Theodora would have moved heaven and earth to
have set him free, had not his supposed crime concerned the Church and
the Cardinal-Archbishop was adamant.

"Oft, in my visions," he concluded, speaking lower, as if his mind
strove with some vague elusive memory, "have I heard the voice of
Theodora's doom cried aloud. A cruel fate is yours indeed--and we can
but pray to the saints that the worst may be averted from the woman who
has suffered so much."

"Something must be done," Tristan interposed, his fierce mood gaining
the mastery over every other feeling. "I care not if the minions of
the devil take me back to the prison that leads to death, so I snatch
her prey from this arch-courtesan of the Aventine."

Odo laid a detaining hand upon his arm.

"Madman! You are but planning your own destruction. And, if you die,
wherein will it benefit the woman who is left to her fate? You are weak
from the night's work and your nerves are overwrought. Follow me into
the adjoining room even though the repast be meagre. We will devise
some means to rescue the Lady Hellayne from the powers of darkness and,
trusting in Him who died that we may live, we shall succeed."

Pointing to the drooping form of the crucified Christ on the opposite
wall of his improvised oratory, Odo beckoned to Tristan to follow him,
and the latter accompanied the Benedictine into the adjoining rock
chamber, where he did ample justice to the frugal repast which Odo
placed before him, and of which the monk himself partook but sparingly.



CHAPTER VI

FROM DREAM TO DREAM


Theodora's sleep had been broken and restless. She tossed and turned
upon her pillow. It was weary work to lie gazing with eyes wide open
at the fantastic shadows cast by the flickering night lamp. It was
still less productive of sleep to shut them tight and abandon herself
to the visions thus created which stood out in life-like colors and
refused to be dispelled. Do what she would to forget him, Tristan ever
and ever stood before her, towering like a demigod above the mean,
effeminate throng that surrounded her. She could no longer analyze her
feelings. She believed herself to be bewitched. She had not reached
the prime of womanhood without having sounded, as she thought, every
chord of the human heart. Descendant from a family of courtesans, such
as had ruled Rome during the tenth century, she had tasted every cup,
as she thought, that promised gratification and excitement. She had
been flattered, courted, loved, admired. Yet she had remained utterly
cold to all these experiences, and none of her lovers could boast that
her passion had endured beyond the hour. The terrible fascination she
exercised over all men made them slaves in her hands, blind instruments
of her will. But, as the years went by, the utter disgust she felt with
these hordes of beasts that thronged her bowers, was only equalled by
a mad desire for power, a struggle, which alone could bring to her
oblivion. To rule had become a passion with the woman, who had no heart
interest that made life worth living. The fleeting passion for Basil
had long ceased to kindle a responsive fire in her veins. Fit but to
be her tool, she was determined to rid herself of him as soon as her
ambition should have been realized.

Suddenly the unbelievable had come to pass. She had met a man. Not one
of those crawling, fawning reptiles who nightly desecrated her groves,
but a man who might have steered her life into different channels, who
might have directed the flight of her soul to regions of light, instead
of chaining it to the dark abyss among the shadows. It was a new
sensation altogether. This intense and passionate longing she had never
felt before. But in its novelty it was absolutely painful. For the man
whom she craved with all the fibres of her being, to whom her soul went
out as it had never gone out to mortal, had scorned her.

Her fame had proved more potent than her beauty.

Tristan's continued indifference had roused in her all the demons
in her nature. Her first impulse had been revenge at any price. Her
compact with Basil was the fruit of her first madness. Even now she
would have rescinded it had Tristan but shown a softer, kindlier
feeling towards her. Some incongruous whim had prompted her to choose
for her instrument the very man whom in her heart she loathed, whose
attentions were an insult to her. For, in her own heart, Theodora held
herself to be some God-decreed thing, like the Laides and Thaides and
Phrynes of old. She could not escape her destiny.

With all her self-command Theodora's feelings had almost overpowered
her. Ever since the tidings of Tristan's supposed crime and captivity
had reached her ear, she had taxed her brain, though in vain, to
bring about his rescue. For once her efforts were baffled and she met
a resistance which all the tigerish ferocity of her nature could
not overcome. Tristan was in the custody of the Church. In his guilt
Theodora did not believe, rather did she suspect foul play at the hands
of one of whom she would demand a terrible reckoning. She thought of
Tristan night and day, and she was determined to save him, whatever the
hazard,--save him for herself and her love. Her spies were at work, but
meanwhile she must sit idly by and wait--wait, though the blood coursed
like lava through her veins. She dared confide in none, nor could she
even have speech with the man she loved. She had managed to curb her
feelings and to preserve an outward calm, while Persephoné prepared her
for repose. The latter was much puzzled by her mistress's mood, but she
retired to her own couch carefree, while Theodora writhed in an agony
such as she had never known before.

Yet, fate had been kind to her,--kinder than she had dared to hope.
By some fatal throw of chance the woman Tristan loved--her rival--had
fallen into her hands. While this circumstance did not in itself take
the sting of Tristan's insult from the wound, she would, at least, be
revenged upon the cause of her suffering.

When, on that memorable evening at the Arch of the Seven Candles, she
had first met Hellayne face to face, when first the truth had flashed
upon her and she knew herself rejected for that white lily from the
North, a hatred such as she had never known had crept into her heart,
a hatred to which fresh fuel was added from the consciousness of her
rival's beauty, her strength, her youth. With all the fire of her
southern temperament she longed to meet this woman, to conquer her, to
take from her the man she loved.

Morning brought in its wake its unfailing accession of
clear-sightedness and practical resolve. Long before she rose she had
made up her mind where and how to strike. Nothing remained but to
choose the weapon and to put a keener edge upon the steel.

When Persephoné came to assist her mistress, she wondered how the mood
of the evening had passed. While attiring Theodora, the Circassian
could not but wonder at the marvellous beauty of this woman who had
bent the hearts of men to her desires like wind blown reeds, only
to break them and cast them at their feet. Only on the previous day
a new wooer had entered the lists; a man rude of speech and manner,
vain withal and self-satisfied, had laid gifts at Theodora's feet.
Roger de Laval was the great man's name. He came from some far away,
fabled land, and it was rumored that he had come to Rome to seek his
truant wife. Having surprised her in the arms of her lover, whom she
had followed, he had killed both. Such a temper was to the liking
of Persephoné, and, as her soft white fingers played around her
mistress' throat, in the endeavor to fasten her rose-colored tunic, she
could hardly restrain herself from encircling that white throat and
strangling the woman who had spurned the attentions of one for whose
love she would have sacrificed her soul.

"What of the Lady Hellayne?" Theodora broke the heavy silence.

"She remains in the chamber which the Lady Theodora has assigned to
her." Persephoné replied.

"Are the eunuchs at their post?"

"Before her door and beneath her windows."

Theodora gave a nod.

"Bring the Lady Hellayne here!"

"The Lady Theodora has not breakfasted."

"I know! Yet I would not delay this meeting longer."

Persephoné hesitated.

"The Lady Hellayne is in a perilous mood--"

"I should love nothing better than to find her so," Theodora replied,
extending her two snowy arms, whose steely strength Persephoné knew
so well. "I long for the conflict with this marble statue as I have
never longed for anything in my life. I could find it in my heart to
be happy if she destroyed me with those white hands that rival mine,
if she but stepped out of her reserve, her marble calm, if her soul
ignited from mine."

"If I know aught about her kind, the Lady Theodora will do well to be
wary," Persephoné replied demurely.

The covert taunt had its instantaneous effect.

"Deem you I fear this white siren from the North?" Theodora flashed,
regarding herself in the bronze mirror and brushing a stray lock of
hair from her white brow.

"What will you do with her, Lady Theodora?" Persephoné purred.

Theodora's face was very white.

"There are times when nothing but the physical touch will satisfy. And
now go and fetch hither the Lady Hellayne that I may hear from her own
lips how she fared under the roof of her rival."

Persephoné departed from the room, while Theodora arose and, stepping
to the casement, looked out into the blossoming gardens that encircled
her palace.

Her beauty was regal indeed, as she stood there brooding, her bare arms
dropping by her side. But for the expression of the eyes, in which
a turmoil of passion seemed to seethe, the wonderful face in repose
would have seemed that of an angel rather than a woman meditating the
destruction of another.

After a time Persephoné returned. By her side walked Hellayne.

Her beauty seemed even enhanced by the expression of suffering revealed
in the depths of her blue eyes. She wore a dark robe, almost severe in
its straight lines. The loose sleeves revealed her white arms. Her hair
was tied in a Grecian knot.

At a sign from Theodora Persephoné left the room.

For a moment the two women faced each other in silence, fixing each
other with their gaze, each trying to read the thoughts of the other.

It was Hellayne who spoke.

"The Lady Theodora has desired my presence."

"It was my anxiety for your welfare, Lady Hellayne," Theodora replied,
inviting her to a seat, while she seated herself opposite her visitor.
"After the trying experiences of yesterday I do not wonder at the
shadows that creep under your eyes. They but prove that my anxiety was
well founded. May I ask if you rested well?"

"I owe you thanks, Lady Theodora, for your timely aid," Hellayne
replied in cold, passionless accents. "They tell me I was in dire
straits, though I cannot conceive who should care to abduct one who
would so little repay the effort."

"Enough to infatuate him, whoever he was, with a beauty as rare as it
is wonderful," Theodora replied, forced to an expression of her own
admiration at the sight of the exquisite face, the white throat, the
wonderful arms and hands of her rival. "I but did what any woman would
do for another whose life she saw imperilled. Your wonderful youth
and strength will soon restore you to your former self. Deign then to
accept the hospitality of this abode until such a time."

There was a pause during which each seemed to search the soul of the
other.

It was Hellayne who spoke.

"I thank you, Lady Theodora. Nevertheless I intend to depart at the
earliest. I can picture to myself the anxiety of the Blessed Sisters of
Santa Maria in Trastevere at my mysterious disappearance."

"You intend taking holy orders?"

Theodora's question was pregnant with a strange wonder.

A negative gesture came in response.

"The convent proved a haven of refuge to me when I was sorely tried."

"Yet--you cannot return there," Theodora interposed. "You would not
be safe. Know you from whose minions my Africans rescued you on yester
eve?"

Hellayne's wide eyes were silent questioners.

"Then listen well and ponder. You were in the power of the Lord Basil.
And that which he desires he usually obtains."

Hellayne covered her face with her hands.

"The Lord Basil!"

"You know him, Lady Hellayne?"

"Slightly. He was wont to call upon the man I once called my husband."

"The man you deserted for another."

Hellayne's eyes glittered like steel.

"That is a matter which concerns only myself, Lady Theodora," she said
coldly. "You saved my honor--perchance my life. For this I thank you. I
shall depart at once."

She walked to the door, opened it and recoiled.

Before it stood two Africans with gleaming scimitars.

White to the lips, Hellayne closed the door and faced Theodora.

"Lady Theodora--why are these there?"

Theodora's smouldering gaze met the fire in the other woman's eyes.

"Those who come to the bowers of Theodora, remain," she said slowly.

"Am I to understand that you will detain me by force within these walls
of infamy?"

"Your language is a trifle harsh, fairest Lady Hellayne," Theodora
replied mockingly. "Your over-wrought nerves must bear the burden of
the blame. Yet, whatever it may please you to call the place where
Theodora dwells, always remember, I am Theodora. You have heard of me
before."

"Yes--I have heard of you before!"

The calm and cutting contempt which lingered in these words stung
Theodora like a whip-lash.

"You know then, Lady Hellayne, it is your will against mine! We have
met before!"

"You mean to detain me here, against my will?"

"Whether I detain you or no--shall depend upon yourself. We are two
women--young,--beautiful--passionate--determined to win that which we
deem our happiness. I will be plain with you. All the reverses and
heartaches of months and days are wiped out in this glorious moment
when I hold you here in my power. For once my guardian angel, if I can
still boast of one, has been kind to me. He has delivered you into my
hands--and I shall bend or break you!"

Hellayne listened to this outburst of passion with outward calm, though
her heart beat so wildly that she thought the other woman must hear it
through the deadly silence which prevailed for a space.

"You will bend or break me, Lady Theodora?" Hellayne replied with a
pathetic shrug. "There is nothing that you could do that would even
leave a memory. I have suffered that in life which makes you to me but
the nightmare of an evil dream."

"We shall see, Lady Hellayne," Theodora replied, her passion kindling
at the other woman's calm.

"What then is the ransom you desire, Lady Theodora?" Hellayne continued
sardonically. "A woman of your kind desires but one thing--and gold I
do not possess--"

Theodora's eyes scanned Hellayne's pale face.

"Lady Hellayne," she said slowly, "of all the things in heaven or on
earth there is but one I desire: Tristan,--the man you love--the man
who loves you with a passion so idolatrous that, did I possess but the
one thousandth atom of what he gives to your ice cold heart, I should
deem myself blessed above all women on earth. Give him to me--renounce
him--and you are free to go wherever your fancy may lead you."

Hellayne regarded the speaker as if she thought she had gone mad.

"Give him to you?" she said, hardly above a whisper, but her tone stung
Theodora to the quick.

"To me!" she said. "Look at me! Am I not beautiful? Am I not created
to make man happy? What woman may match herself with me? Even your
pale beauty, Lady Hellayne, is but as a disembodied wraith as compared
to mine. To me! To me! You are young, Lady Hellayne. What can the
sacrifice matter to you? To you it can mean little. There are other
men with whom you may be happy. For me it spells salvation--or eternal
doom! For I love him, I love him with my whole heart and soul, love
him as never I loved the thing called man before! He has shown to me
one glimpse of heaven, and now I mean to have him, to atone for a
past that was my evil inheritance, to taste life ere I too descend
to those shadowy regions whence there is no return. Lady Hellayne,"
she continued, hardly noting the expression of horror and loathing
that had crept into Hellayne's countenance. "You have heard of
me--you know who I am--and what! Those who went before me were the
same, generations, perchance. It rankles in our blood. But there is
salvation--even for such as myself. To few it comes, but I have seen
the star. It is the love of a man, pure and true. Where such a one
is found, even the darkness of the grave is dispelled. I have lived
and loved, Lady Hellayne! I have been loved as few women have. I have
hurled myself into this mad whirlpool to forget--but forget I could
not. Man, the beast, is ever ready to drag the woman who cries for life
and its true meaning back into the mire. He alone of all has spurned
me--he alone has resisted the deadly lure of my charms. Never have I
spoken to woman before as I am speaking to you, Lady Hellayne. Hear my
prayer!--Renounce him!"

Hellayne stared mute at the speaker, as if her tongue refused her
utterance. Was she going mad? Theodora, the courtesan queen of
Rome, trying to obtain salvation by taking from her her lover? She
could almost have found it in her heart to laugh aloud. A death-bed
repentance that made the devils laugh! In her virginal purity Hellayne
could not fathom what was going on in the soul of a woman who had
suddenly awakened to the terror of her life and was snatching at the
last straw to save herself from drowning in the cesspool of vice.

Theodora, with her woman's intuition, saw what was going on in the
other woman's soul. She noted the slow transformation from amazement to
horror, and from horror to defiance. She saw Hellayne slowly raising
herself to her full height, and approaching her, who had risen, until
her breath fanned her cheek.

"Give him to you, Lady Theodora? Surely you must be mad to even dream
of so monstrous a thing."

She was very white, and her hands were clenched as if she forcibly
restrained herself from flying at her opponent's throat.

Theodora's self-restraint was slowly waning. She knew she had pleaded
in vain. She knew Hellayne did not understand, or, if she understood,
did not believe.

She spoke calmly, yet there was something in her voice that warned
Hellayne of the impending storm.

"Listen, Lady Hellayne," she said. "You are alone in Rome! At the mercy
of any one who desires you! Your lover is accused of the most heinous
crime. He has taken the consecrated wafer from the chapel in the
Lateran and, who knows, from how many other churches in Rome."

Hellayne's eyes sank into those of the other woman.

"No one knows better than yourself, Lady Theodora, how utterly false
and infamous this accusation is. Tristan is a devout son of the Church.
His whole life bears testimony thereof."

"If the Consistory pronounce him guilty, who will believe him
innocent?" came the mocking reply.

"His God--his conscience--and I," Hellayne replied quietly.

"Will that save his life--which is forfeit?" Theodora interposed.

"Where is he? Oh, where is he?"

For a moment Hellayne gave way to her emotions.

"He lies in the vaults of Castel San Angelo," Theodora replied,
"awaiting his doom."

"Oh, God! Oh, God!" Hellayne moaned, covering her face with her hands
and sobbing convulsively.

"His rescue--though difficult of achievement--lies with you," Theodora
said, veiling her inmost feelings. She was staking all on the last
throw.

"With me?" Hellayne turned to her piteously.

"I will tell you," Theodora interposed, placing her white hands on
Hellayne's shoulders. "The Consistory has spoken--" she lied--"and no
power on earth can save your lover from his doom save--myself!"

"How may that be?"

"I know the ways of the Emperor's Tomb. Its denizens obey me! If you
love him as I do you will bring the sacrifice and save his life."

"Oh, save him if you can, Lady Theodora," Hellayne prayed, her hands
closing round Theodora's wrists. "Save him--save him."

"I shall, if you will do this thing, I ask," Theodora replied, sinking
her dark orbs into the blue depths of Hellayne's.

"What am I to do?"

"It is easy. Here are stylus and tablet. Write to the Lord Basil
to meet you at the Groves of Theodora. A hint of love, passion,
promise--fulfillment of his desires--then give it to me. It shall save
your lover."

For a moment Hellayne stared wild-eyed at the woman. It was as if she
had heard a voice, the meaning of which she no longer understood.

Then, in her unimpassioned voice, she turned to Theodora.

"Only the fiend himself and Theodora could ask as much!"

The blood was coursing like a stream of lava through Theodora's veins.

Would Hellayne but step out of her reserve! Would she but abandon her
icy calm!

"Then you refuse?" she flashed.

"I defy you," Hellayne replied. "Do your worst! Rather would I see him
dead than defiled by such as you!"

"Would you, indeed?" Theodora returned with a deadly calm.
"Nevertheless, when first we met, he, for the mere asking, gave to me
a scarf of blue samite, a chased dagger, tokens from the woman he had
loved."

Theodora paused, to watch the effect of the poison shaft she had sped.
She saw by Hellayne's agonized expression that it had struck home.

"For the last time, Lady Hellayne, do my bidding!"

Hellayne had regained her self-possession. With a supreme effort she
fought down the pain in her heart.

"Never!" came the firm reply.

"Then I shall take him from you!"

"Deem you, I have aught to fear from such as you?" Hellayne said
slowly, the blue fire of her eyes burning on the pale face of Theodora.
"Deem you, that Tristan would defile his manhood with the courtesan
queen of Rome?"

A gasp, a choking outcry, and Theodora's white hands closed round
Hellayne's throat. Though their touch burnt her like fire, Hellayne did
not even raise her hands.

Fearlessly she gazed into Theodora's face.

"I am waiting," she said with the same passionless voice, but there was
something in her eyes that gave the other woman pause.

Theodora's hands fell limply by her side. What she read in Hellayne's
eyes had caused her, perchance, for the first time, to blanch.

She clapped her hands.

The door opened and Persephoné stood on the threshold.

She had listened, and not a word of their discourse had escaped her
watchful ears.

"The Lady Hellayne desires to return to her chamber," Theodora turned
to the Circassian, and without another word Hellayne followed her guide.

Yet, as she did so, her head was turned towards Theodora and in her
eyes was an expression so inscrutable that Theodora turned away with a
shudder, as the door closed behind their retreating forms, leaving her
alone with her overmastering agony.



CHAPTER VII

A ROMAN MEDEA


It was a moonless night.--

Deep repose was upon the seven hilled city. The sky was intensely dark,
but the stars shone out full and lustrous. Venus was almost setting.
Mars glowed red and fiery towards the zenith; the constellations seemed
to stand out from the infinite spaces behind them. Orion glittered like
a giant in golden armour; Cassiopeia shone out in her own peculiar
radiance and the Pleiades in their misty brightness.

A litter, borne by four stalwart Nubians, and preceded by two torch
bearers, slowly emerged from the gates of Theodora's palace and took
the direction of the gorge which divides the Mount of Cloisters from
Mount Testaccio.

Owing to the prevailing darkness which made all objects, moving and
immobile, indistinguishable, the inmates of the litter had not drawn
the curtains, so as to admit the cooling night air. There was a
fixedness in Theodora's look and a recklessness in her manner that
showed anger and determination. It struck Persephoné, who was seated
by her side, with a sort of terror, and for once she did not dare to
accost her mistress with her usual banter and freedom.

Theodora had spent the early hours of the evening in a half obscured
room, whose sable hangings seemed to reflect the unrest of her
soul. She had forbidden the lamps to be lighted, brooding alone in
darkness and solitude. Then she had summoned Persephoné, ordered her
litter-bearers and commanded them to take her to the house of Sidonia,
a woman versed in all manner of lore that shunned the light of day.

"It must be done! It shall be done!" she muttered, her white face
tense, her white hands clenched.

Suddenly her hand closed round Persephoné's wrist.

"She defies me, knowing herself in my power," she said. "We shall see
who shall conquer."

"The Lady Hellayne is as fearless of death, as yourself, Lady
Theodora," Persephoné replied. "Indeed, she seemed rather to desire it,
for no woman ever faced you with such defiance as did she when you put
before her the fatal choice."

Theodora's face shone ghostly in the nocturnal gloom.

"We shall see! She shall desire death a thousand fold ere she quits the
abode I have assigned to her. God! Not even Roxana had dared to say to
me what this one did."

"Nor would her shafts have struck so deep a wound," Persephoné
interposed with studied insolence.

Theodora's grip tightened round the girl's wrist.

"You admire the Lady Hellayne?" she said softly, but there was a gleam
in her eyes like liquid fire.

"As one brave woman admires another!" Persephoné replied fearlessly,
turning her beautiful face to the speaker.

"You may require all your courage some day to face another task,"
Theodora replied. "Beware, lest you tempt me to do what I might regret."

Persephoné turned white. Her bosom heaved. Her eyes met Theodora's.

"I shall welcome the ordeal with all my heart!"

Theodora relapsed into silence, oppressed by dark thoughts, the memory
of unresisted temptations, a chaotic world where black unscalable
rocks, like circles of the Inferno, hemmed her in on every side, while
devils whispered into her ears the words that gave shape and substance
to her desire to destroy her rival in the love of the one man whom, in
all her changeable life, she had truly desired.

"Deem you, that I have aught to fear from such as you? Deem you, that
Tristan would defile his manhood with the courtesan queen of Rome?"

The words still boomed in her ears, the words and the tone in which
they had been hurled in her face.

Even to this moment she knew not what restrained her from strangling
Hellayne. It seemed to her that only in a physical encounter could
she quench the hatred she bore this white, beautiful statue who never
raised her voice while the fire of her blue eyes seared her very soul.

A thousand frightful forms of evil, stalking shapes of death, came
and went before her imagination, which caused her to clutch first at
one, then at another of the dire suggestions that came in crowds which
overwhelmed her powers of choice. Then, like an inspiration from the
very depths of Hell, a thought flashed into her mind, and, no sooner
conceived, than she determined upon its execution.

The laboratory of the woman whom Theodora was seeking on this night was
in an old house midway in the gorge. In a deep hollow, almost out of
sight, stood a square structure of stone, gloomy and forbidding, with
narrow windows and an uninviting door. Tall pines shadowed it on one
side, a small rivulet twisted itself, like a live snake, half round it
on the other. A plot of green grass, ill-kept and teeming with noxious
weeds, fennel, thistle and foul stramonium, was surrounded by a rough
wall of loose stone; and here lived the woman who supplied all those
who desired her wares, and plied her nocturnal trade.

Sidonia was tall and straight, of uncertain age, though she might have
been reckoned at forty. The whiteness of her skin was enhanced by her
blue black hair and lustrous black eyes. Far from forbidding, she
exercised a sinister charm upon those who called upon her, and who
vainly tried to reconcile her trade with the traces of a great beauty.
Yet her thin, cruel lips never smiled, unless she had an object to gain
by assuming a disguise as foreign to her as light is to an angel of
darkness.

Hardly any known poison there was, which was not obtainable at her
hands. In a sombre chest, carved with fantastic figures from Etruscan
designs, were concealed the subtle drugs, cabalistical formulas and
alchemic preparations which were so greatly in demand during those
years of darkness.

In the most secret place of all were deposited, ready for use, a few
phials of a crystal liquid, every single drop of which contained the
life of a man, and which, administered in due proportion of time and
measure, killed and left no trace.

Here was the sublimated dust of the deadly night-shade which kindles
the red fires of fever and rots the roots of the tongue. Here was the
fetid powder of stramonium that grips the lungs like an asthma, and
quinia that shakes its victims like the cold hand of the miasma in
the Pontine Marshes. The essence of poppies, ten times sublimated, a
few grains of which bring on the stupor of apoplexy, and the sardonic
plant that kills its victims with the frightful laughter of madness
upon their countenance, were here. The knowledge of these and many
other cursed herbs, once known to Medea in the Colchian land, and
transplanted to Greece and Rome with the enchantments of their use, had
been handed down by a long succession of sorcerers and poisoners to the
woman, who seemed endowed by nature as the legitimate inheritrix of
this lore of Hell.

At last the litter of Theodora was set down by its swarthy bearers
before the threshold of Sidonia's house. Theodora alighted and, after
commanding the Africans to await her return, ascended the narrow stone
steps alone and knocked at the door. After a brief wait, shuffling
steps were heard from within, and a bent, lynx-eyed individual of
Oriental origin opened the door, inviting the visitor to enter. She was
ushered into a dusky hallway, in which brooded strange odors, thence
into a dimly lighted room, the laboratory of Sidonia.

Hardly had she seated herself when the woman entered and stood face to
face with Theodora.

The eyes of the two women instantly met in a searching glance that took
in the whole ensemble, bearing, dress and almost the very thoughts of
each other. In that one glance each knew and understood; each knew that
she could trust the other, in evil, if not in good.

And there was trust between them. The evil spirits that possessed their
hearts clasped hands, and a silent league was formed in their souls ere
a word had been spoken.

Sidonia wore a long, purple robe, totally unadorned. The sleeves were
wide, and revealed her white, bare arms. Her finely cut features were
crossed with thin lines of cruelty and cunning. No mercy was in her
eyes, still less on her lips, and none in her heart, cold to every
human feeling.

"The Lady Theodora is fair to look upon," Sidonia broke the silence.
"All women admit it; all men confess it." And her gaze swept the other
woman, who was clad in an ample black mantle which ended in a hood.

"Can you guess why I am here?" Theodora replied. "You are wise and know
a woman's desire better than she dares avow."

"Can I guess?" replied Sidonia, returning Theodora's scrutiny. "You
have many lovers, Lady Theodora, but there is one who does not return
your passion. And, you have a rival. A woman, more potent than
yourself, has, notwithstanding your beauty, entangled the man you love,
and you are here to win him back and to triumph over your rival. Is it
not so, Lady Theodora?"

"More than that," replied the other, clenching her white hands and
gazing into the eyes that met her own with a look of merciless triumph
at what she saw reflected therein. "It is all that--and more--"

Sidonia met her eager gaze.

"You would kill your rival!" she said with a smile upon her lips.
"There is death in your eyes--in your voice--in your heart! You
would kill the woman. It is good in the eyes of a woman to kill her
rival--and women like you are rare!"

"Your reward shall be great," Theodora said with an inquisitive glance
at the woman who had read her inmost thoughts.

"To kill woman or man were a pleasure even without the profit," replied
Sidonia, darkly. "I come from a race, ancient and terrible as the
Cæsars, and I hate the puny rabble. I have my own joy in making my hand
felt in a world I hate and which hates me!"

She held out her hands, as if the ends of her fingers were trickling
poison.

"Death drops on whomsoever I send it," she continued, "subtly,
secretly. The very spirits of air cannot trace whence it comes."

"I know you are the possessor of terrible secrets," Theodora replied,
fascinated beyond all her experiences with the woman and her trade.

"Such secrets never die," said the poisoner. "Few men, still fewer
women, are there who would not listen at the door of Hell to learn
them. Let me see your hand!"

Theodora complied with her abrupt demand and laid her beautiful white
hand into the no less beautiful one of the woman before her.

Her touch, though the hand was cool, seemed to burn, but Theodora's
touch affected the other woman likewise for she said:

"There is evil enough in the palm of your hand to destroy the
world! We are well met, you and I. You are worthy of my confidence.
These fingers would pick the fruit off the forbidden tree, for men
to eat and die! Lady Theodora--I may some day teach you the great
secret--meanwhile I will show you that I possess it!"

With these words she walked to the chest, took from it an ebony casket
and laid it upon the table.

"There is death enough in this casket," she said, "to kill every man
and woman in Rome!"

Theodora fastened her gaze upon it, as if she would have drawn out the
secret of its contents by the very magnetism of her eyes. For, even
while Sidonia was speaking, a thought flashed through her visitor's
mind--a thought which almost made her forget the purpose on which she
had come. She laid her hands upon it caressingly, trembling, eager to
see its contents.

"Open it!" said Sidonia. "Touch the spring and look!"

Theodora touched the little spring. The lid flew back and there flashed
from it a light which for a moment dazzled her by its very brilliancy.
She thrust the cabinet from her in alarm, imagining she inhaled the
odor of some deadly perfume.

"Its glitter terrifies me!" she said. "Its odor sickens."

"Your conscience frightens you," sneered Sidonia.

Theodora rose to her feet, her face pale, her eyes alight with a
strange fire.

"This to me?" she flashed.

For a moment the two women faced each other in a white silence.

A strange smile played upon Sidonia's lips.

"The Aqua Tofana in the hands of a coward is a gift as fatal to its
possessor as to its victim!"

"You are brave to speak such words to Theodora!"

Sidonia gave her an inscrutable glance.

"Why should I fear you? Even without these,--woman to woman," she
replied, as she drew the casket to herself and took out a phial, gilt
and chased with strange symbols.

Sidonia took it up and immediately the liquid was filled with a million
sparks of fire. It was the Aqua Tofana, undiluted, instantaneous in its
effect, and not medicable by antidotes. Once administered there was
no more hope for its victim than for the souls of the damned who have
received the final judgment. One drop of the sparkling water upon the
tongue of a Titan would blast him like Jove's thunderbolt, shrivel him
up to a black, unsightly cinder.

This terrible water was rarely used alone by the poisoners, but it
formed the basis of a hundred slower potions which ambition, fear or
hypocrisy, mingled with the element of time, and colored with the
various hues and aspects of natural disease.

Theodora had again taken her seat and leaned towards Sidonia,
supporting her chin in the palm of her hands, as she bent eagerly over
the table, drinking in every word as the hot sand of the desert drinks
in the water that falls upon it.

"What is that?" she pointed to a phial, white as milk and seemingly
harmless, and while she questioned, her busy brain worked with feverish
activity. The Aqua Tofana she had used when she struck down Roxana and
her too talkative lover on the night of the feast in her garden. But
now she required a different concoction to complete the vengeance on
her rival.

"This is called Lac Misericordiae," replied Sidonia. "It brings on
painless consumption and decay! It eats the life out of man or woman,
while the moon empties and fills. The strong man becomes a skeleton.
Blooming maidens sink to their graves blighted and bloodless. Neither
saint or sacrament can arrest its doom. This phial"--and she took
another from the cabinet, replacing the first--"contains innumerable
griefs that wait upon the pillows of rejected and heartbroken lovers,
and the wisest mediciner is mocked by the lying appearances of disease
that defy his skill and make a mock of his wisdom."

There was a moment's silence. At last Theodora spoke.

"Have you nothing that will cause fear--dread--madness--ere it strikes
the victim dumb forever more? Something that produces in the brain
those dreadful visions--horrid shapes--peopling its chambers where
reason once held sway?"

For a moment Sidonia and Theodora held each other's gaze, as if each
were wondering at the wickedness of the other.

"This," Sidonia said at last, taking out a curiously twisted bottle,
containing a clear crimson liquid and sealed with the mystic Pentagon,
"contains the quintessence of mandrakes, distilled in the alembic, when
Scorpio rules the hour. It will produce what you desire."

"How much of it is required to do this thing?"

"Three drops. Within six hours the unfailing result will appear."

"Give it to me!"

"You possess rare ingenuity, Lady Theodora," said Sidonia, placing her
hand in that of her caller. "If Satan prompts you not, it is because he
can teach you nothing, either in love or stratagem."

She shut up her infernal casket, leaving the phial of distilled
mandrakes, shining like a ruby in the lamp light, upon the table. By
its side lay a bag of gold.

Theodora arose. The eyes of the two women flashed in lurid sympathy as
they parted, and Sidonia accompanied her visitor to the door.

As she did so a heavy curtain in the background parted and the white
face of Basil peered into the empty room.

After a brief interval Sidonia returned.

Her face had again assumed its forbidding aspect as, removing the
phials and seemingly addressing no one, she said:

"We are alone now!"

At the next moment Basil stood in the chamber. His eyes burned with a
feverish lustre, and there was a horror in his countenance which he
strove in vain to conceal.

"This must not be," he said hoarsely. "Why did you give her this
devil's brew?"

And staggering up to the table he gripped the soft white wrist of the
woman with fingers of steel.

Sidonia's eyes narrowed as she gazed into those of the man.

"Do you love that one, too?" she said, wrenching herself free. "Or have
you lied to her as you have lied to me?"

"Your voice sounds like the cry from a dark gallery that leads to
Hell," Basil replied. "You, alone, have I loved all these years, and
for your fell beauty have I risked all I have done and am about to do!"

"Fear speaks in your voice," Sidonia replied with a cruel smile upon
her lips. "You are in my power, else had you long ago consigned me to a
place whence there is no return. With me the secret of another's death
would go to the grave."

"Nay, you do not understand!" Basil interposed. "The woman who has
aroused Theodora's maddened jealousy is nothing to me. But I have other
plans concerning her--she must be saved!"

"Other plans?" replied Sidonia darkly. "What other plans? What sort of
woman is she who can arouse the jealousy of Theodora?"

"White and cold as the snows of the North."

"A stranger in Rome?"

"The wife of one whose days are numbered, if I rightly read the oracle."

"What is this plan?" Sidonia insisted.

"She is to be delivered to Hassan Abdullah, as reward for his aid in
the great stroke that is about to fall."

In the distance whimpered a bell.

"And, when the hour tolls--the hour of which you have so often
prated--when you sit in the high seat of the Senator of Rome--where
then will I be, who have watched your power grow and have aided it in
its upward flight?"

Basil's face lighted up with the fires within.

"Where else but by my side? Who dares defy us and the realms of the
Underworld?"

"Who, indeed?" Sidonia replied with a dark, inscrutable glance into
Basil's face. "Perchance I should not love you as I do were you not as
evil as you are good to look upon! I love you, even though I know your
lying lips have professed love to many others, even though I know that
Theodora has kindled in you all the evil passions of your soul. Beware
how you play with me!"

She threw back her wide sleeves and two dazzling white arms encircled
Basil's neck.

"Await me yonder," she then turned to her visitor, pointing to a
chamber situated beyond the curtain. "We will talk this matter over!"

Basil retired and Sidonia busied herself, replacing the different
phials in the ebony chest.

After having assured herself that everything was in its place, she
picked up the lamp and disappeared behind the curtain in the background.

Deep midnight silence reigned in the gorge of Mount Aventine.



CHAPTER VIII

IN TENEBRIS


Another day had gone down the never returning tide of time. The sun was
sinking in a rosy bed of quilted clouds. All day long Hellayne had sat
brooding in her chamber, unable to shake off the lethargy of despair
that bound and benumbed her limbs, rousing herself at long intervals
just sufficiently to wring her hands for very anguish, without even the
faintest ray of hope to pierce the black night of her misery.

Just as a white border of light had been visible on the edge of the
dark cloud that hung over her, just as she had refound the man whose
love was the very breath of her existence, her evil star had again
flamed in the ascendant and, losing him anew, she had utterly lost
herself. She struggled with her thoughts, as a drowning man amid
tossing waves, groping about in the dark for a plank to float upon,
when all else has sunk in the seas around him.

She had hardly touched the food which Persephoné herself had brought to
her. Yet it seemed to her the Circassian had regarded her strangely, as
she placed the viands before her. She had tried to frame a question,
but her lips seemed to refuse the utterance, and at last Persephoné had
departed, with the mocking promise to return later, to inquire how the
Lady Hellayne had spent the day.

Now it seemed to her as if a poison breath of evil was slowly
permeating the narrow confines of her chamber. Something she had never
before experienced was floating before her vision, was creeping into
her brain, was booming in her ears, was turning her blood to ice.

Was it the voiceless echo of an ill-omened incantation, handed down
through generations of poisoners and witches from the time of pagan
Rome?

    "Hecaten voco,
  Voco Tisiphonem,
    Spargens avernales aquas,
  Te morti devoveo; te diris ago."

Was she going mad?

Hellayne's hands went to her forehead.

"I think I am sane," she said to herself, "at least--as yet."

Would Heaven not come to her aid? She was but a weak woman who in
vain--too often in vain--had tried to snatch a few moments of happiness
from life. Ah! If Death knew what a service he would render her! But
no! She would brace her heart strings more than ever. She would renew
her fight with dusk and madness. She would face and challenge each mad
phantom--make it speak--reveal itself,--or she would break the silence
of that monstrous place at least with her own voice. Though flesh was
weak she would be strong to-night--but--ah God! here they came trooping
out of the night.

She cowered back, shuddering, her eyes fixed on the dusky depths of the
chamber.

It was the blue one--the one whose limbs and cheeks seemed made of pale
blue ice. She felt her limbs growing numb. But she would bar its way.

The finger of the freezing shape was on its lip. Did it mean that it
was dumb? Well, then, let it speak by signs. The dim blue rays that
draped its silence quaked like aspens.

"Who are you?" she forced herself to speak. "Are you Hate? You shake
your head? Are you Despair? No? Not that? Then you must be Fear!"

The figure nodded with a horrible grin.

"Fear of what?"

The phantom passed its finger slowly across its throat.

She held on to the panelling to keep from falling. Her woman's strength
had bounds. But she recovered herself and forced herself to speak.

"Ah!" she said, "it is this she contemplates? How soon? I needs must
know. How many twilights have I still to live, before they sink my body
in yonder lotus pond?"

The phantom held up three fingers.

"Only three," Hellayne babbled like a child, talking to herself.
"Well--pass upon your way, phantom.--You have given me all you had to
give--three dusks to rise to Heaven."

She raised her eyes in prayer and a strange rapture came into her face.
But it vanished suddenly--and once more she stared, shuddering, into
the gloom.

For craze and hell still prevailed.

Look, there it came!

What new and monstrous phantom was swaying and groping towards her? A
headless monk!--The air grew black with horror. Horror shrivelled her
skin, was raising the roots of her hair.

It was for her he was groping. Her wits were beginning to leave her.
She had to move this way and that to avoid him. She felt, if he only
touched her, madness would win the day. And he groped and groped, and
she seemed to feel him near to her.

"Away! Away!" she shrieked. But she was wasting her breath. He had
neither eyes to see nor ears to hear.

And he groped and groped, as if he felt her already under his vague,
white hands.

"Help--God!" she shrieked.

Nature could not cope with such shapes as these!

And Hellayne fell forward in a swoon.

It was late in the night when she regained consciousness. She opened
her eyes. The shapes of dusk had gone. She was alone--alone on the
stone floor of the chamber. Everything was still in the long dusky
gallery beyond. Perhaps it was all over for the night, and yet--what
was there upon the threshold?

"Oh, my God! my God!" she cried. "Let me die--only not this horror!"

There the phantom stood. Its scarlet mantle glimmered almost black. She
dared not turn her back. She dared not shut her eyes. He made neither
sign, nor beck, nor nod. But, like a crazy shadow, he circled round and
round her, soundlessly, as if he were treading on velvet.

"Keep off--keep off!" she shrieked. "Protect me, oh my God! Madness is
closing in upon me!"

And with a sudden, desperate movement she rushed at the phantom to tear
the crimson mask from its face.

Her arms penetrated empty air.

With a moan she sank upon the floor. Her arms spread out, she lay upon
her face.

The swoon held her captive once more.

But the dream was kinder to Hellayne than life.

She stood upon a rocky promontory in her own far-off land of Provence.

Before her spread the peace of the wide, glimmering sea.

What are these golden columns through which the water glistens?

A man stood within the ruins of a great temple, the sea before him,
violet hills behind. From the summit of an island mountain in the bay
the lilt of a tender song was drifting upwards.

And, as he sang, the great sea stirred. It heaved, it writhed, it rose.
With onward movement, as of a coiling serpent, the whole vast liquid
brilliance rushed upon the temple. Mighty billows of beryl curved and
broke in sheets of white foam.

"Fear nothing," said the man. "Your river has found the sea!"

It was Tristan's voice.

From the distance came the faint tolling of a bell, forlorn, as from a
forest chapel, infinitely sweet and tremulous. In a faint light, like a
mountain mist at dawn, the whole scene faded away, and Hellayne was in
a garden--a rose garden. She had been there before, but how different
it all was. She was being smothered in roses. Flame roses every
one--curled into fiery petal whorls, dancing in the garden dusk under a
red, red sky.

Ah! There it is again, the terrible face, leering from among the
branches, the face that froze the blood in her veins, that made her
heart turn cold as ice and filled her soul with horror.

It is the Count Laval. He is seeking her, seeking her everywhere. Horns
are peering out from under his scarlet cap, and he has long claws.

Now she is fleeing through the rose garden, faster, faster, ever
faster. But he is gaining upon her. From bosquet to bosquet, from
thicket to thicket; she hears his approaching steps. Now she can almost
feel his breath upon her neck.

At last he has overtaken her.

Now he is circling round her, nearer and nearer, extending his hands
towards her, while she follows his movement with horror-stricken eyes.

But her strength, her body, are paralyzed.

As his hands close round her throat, his eyes gloating with dull
malice, she covers her face with her hands and falls with a shriek.

And as she lies there before him, dead, he looks down upon her with a
strange smile upon his lips and casts his scarlet mantle over her.

Once more Hellayne is in the throes of a swoon.



CHAPTER IX

THE CONSPIRACY


It was a night, moonless and starless. Deep silence brooded over the
city. Not a ray of light was in the sky. A dense fog hung like a
funeral pall over the Seven Hills, and a ceaseless, changeless drizzle
was sinking from the heavy clouds whose contours were indistinguishable
in the nocturnal gloom. The Tiber hardly moaned within his banks. The
city fires hissed and smouldered away under the descending rain, soon
to be extinguished altogether.

It was about the second watch of the night when two men, wrapped in
dark mantles that covered them from head to foot, quitted the monastery
of San Lorenzo and were immediately swallowed up by the darkness.

The night by this time was more dismal than ever. The wind began to
rise, and its fitful gusts howled round the stern old walls of the
monastery, or rustled in the laurels and cypresses by which it was
surrounded. The great gates were shut and barred. Hardly a light was to
be seen along the entire range of buildings.

Suddenly a postern gate opened, and what appeared to be a monk, drawing
his black cowl completely over his head, came forth and hurried along
in the direction of the river.

Tristan and his companion, emerging from their hiding-place, followed
at the farthest possible distance which allowed them to retain sight of
their quarry. Through a succession of the worst and narrowest by-lanes
of the city they tracked him to the Tiber's edge.

Here, dark as it was, a boat was ready for launching. Five or six
persons were standing by, who seemed to recognize and address the monk.
Keeping in the shadows of the tall, ill-favored houses, the twain
contrived to approach near enough to hear somewhat that was said.

"The light over yonder has been burning this half hour," said one of
the men.

"I could not come before," said he in the monk's habit. "I was followed
by two men. I threw them out, however, before I reached the monastery
of San Lorenzo. But--by all the saints--lose no more time! We have lost
too much, as it is."

He entered the boat as he spoke. It was pushed out into the water, and
in another moment the measured sound of oars came to their ears.

Odo of Cluny turned to his companion.

"Tell me, did he who spoke first and mentioned the light yonder on St.
Bartholomew's Island--a light there is yonder, sure enough--did he
resemble, think you, one we know?"

"Both in voice and form," replied Tristan.

"My thoughts point the same way as yours!"

"I should know that voice wherever I heard it," Tristan muttered under
his breath. "But what of the light?"

Dimly through the mist the red glow was discernible.

"It beams from the deserted monastery," Odo replied after a pause.

"Can we put across?" Tristan queried.

"The question is not so much to find a boat as a landing-place, where
we shall not be seen."

"There is a boat lying yonder. If my eyes do not deceive me, the
boatman lies asleep on the poop."

"Know you aught of the men who rowed down the river?" Odo turned to the
boatman, after he had aroused him.

The latter stared uncomprehendingly into the speaker's face.

"I know of no men. I fell asleep for want of custom. It is a
God-forsaken spot," he added, rubbing his eyes. "Who would want a boat
on a night like this?"

"We require even such a commodity," Odo replied.

The boatman returned a dull, unresponsive glance and did not move from
his improvised couch.

"Take your oars and row us to the Tiber Island," Odo said sternly,
"unless you would bring upon yourself the curse of the Church. We have
a weighty matter that brooks no delay. And have a care to avoid that
other boat which has preceded yours. We must not be seen."

Something in Odo's voice seemed to compel, and soon they were afloat,
the boatman bending to his oars. They drifted through the dense mist
and soon a dilapidated flight of landing stairs hove in sight, leading
up to the deserted monastery.

"Had we chosen the usual landing-place, we should have found two boats
moored there--I saw them as we turned." Odo turned to his companion.
"Yet we dare not land here. We should be seen from the shore."

Directing their Charon to row his craft higher up, Odo soon discovered
the place of which he was in quest. It was a little cove. The rocks
which bordered it were slippery with seaweed, and in that misty
obscurity offered no very safe footing.

Here the boat was moored, and Odo and his companion clambered slowly,
but steadily, over the rocks and, in a few moments, had made good their
landing.

Having directed the boatman to await their call in the shadow of
the opposite bank, where he might remain unseen, they continued to
grope their way upward, till they reached the angles of a wall which
converged here, sheltered by a projecting pent house. Voices were
heard issuing from within.

"We must have ample security, my lord," said a speaker, whose voice Odo
recognized as the voice of Basil. "You require of us to do everything.
You exact ties and pledges and hostages, and you offer nothing."

"I am desirous of sparing, as much as may be, the blood of my men,"
replied the person addressed. "Rome must be my lord's without conflict."

"That may--or may not be," said the first speaker. "But so much you may
say to the Lord Ugo. If he expects to reconquer Rome, he will need all
the forces he can summon."

"A wiser man than you or I, my lord, has said: 'Never force a foe to
stand at bay,'" interposed a third. "Reject our offers, and we, whom
you might have for your friends, you will have for your most bitter
and determined foes. Accept our terms, and Rome, together with the
Emperor's Tomb, is yours!"

"What terms are contained in this paper?" queried Ugo's emissary.

"They are not very difficult to remember!" returned the Grand
Chamberlain. "But I might as well repeat them here. First--the revenues
of all the churches to flow to the Holy See."

"Proceed."

"Utmost security of life, person and property to those who are aiding
our enterprise."

"It is well," said the voice. "So much I can vouch for, my lord. Is
that all?"

"All--as far as conditions go," returned the third speaker.

"It is not all, by St. Demetrius," cried Basil. "I claim the office
I am holding with all its privileges and appurtenances, to give no
account to any one of the past or the future."

"What of the present?" interposed the voice.

"You never could imagine that I perilled my neck only to secure your
lord in his former possessions, which he so cowardly abandoned," said
Basil contemptuously. "I claim the hand of the Lady Theodora--"

"Theodora?" cried the envoy of Ugo of Tuscany, turning fiercely upon
the speaker. "Surely you are mad, my lord, to imagine that the Lord Ugo
would peril his reign with the presence of this woman within the same
walls that witnessed the regime of her sister--"

"Mind your own business, my lord," interposed Basil. "What the man
thinks who fled from Castel San Angelo at the first cry of revolt, the
man who slunk away like a thief in the night, is nothing to me. We make
the conditions. It is for him to accept or reject them, as he sees fit."

A rasping voice, speaking a villainous jargon, made itself heard at
this juncture.

"What of my Saracens, mighty lord?" Hassan Abdullah, for no lesser than
the great Mahometan chieftain was the speaker, turned to the Grand
Chamberlain. "I, too, am desirous of sparing the blood of my soldiers
and, insofar as lies within my power, that of the Nazarenes also. For
it is written in the book: Slavery for infidels--but death only for
apostates."

"Our compact is sealed beyond recall," Basil made reply.

"Then you will deliver the woman into my hands?"

There was a pause.

"She shall be delivered into the hands of Hassan Abdullah! And he
will sail away with his white-plumed bird--the fairest flower of the
North--and the ransom of a city."

"Yet I do not know the lady's name," said the Saracen. "This I should
know--else how may she heed my call?"

"Those who love her call her Hellayne."

At the name Tristan started so violently that the monk caught his arm
in a grip of steel.

"Silence--if you value your life," Odo enjoined.

"When and where is she to be delivered into my hands?" Hassan Abdullah
continued.

"The place will be made known to you, my lord," Basil replied, "when
the Emperor's Tomb hails its new master."

"Here is an infernal plot," Odo whispered into Tristan's ear, "spawned
up by the very Prince of Darkness."

"What can we do?" came back the almost soundless reply. "Hellayne to be
delivered over to this infidel dog! Nay, do not restrain me, Father--"

"There are six to two of us," Odo interposed. "Silence! Some one
speaks."

It was the voice of the envoy of Ugo of Tuscany.

"Although it seems like a taunt, to fling into the face of my lord the
sister of the woman who was the cause of his defeat--"

"His coward soul was the cause of the Lord Ugo's defeat," Basil
interposed hotly. "In the dark of night, by means of a rope he let
himself down from his lair, to escape the wrath of the fledgling he had
struck for an unintentional affront. Did the Lord Ugo even inquire into
the fate of the woman who perished miserably in the dungeons of the
Emperor's Tomb?"

"Let us not be hasty," interposed another. "The Lord Ugo will listen to
reason."

"The conditions are settled," Basil replied. "On the third night from
to-night!"

The conspirators rose and, emerging from the ruined refectory, made
their way down to their boat.

Soon the sound of oars, becoming fainter and fainter, informed the
listeners that the company had departed.

Tristan's face was very white.

"What is to be done?" he turned pathetically to the monk who stood
brooding by his side. "I almost wish I had let my fate overtake me--"

"Do not blaspheme," Odo interposed. "Sometimes divine aid is nearest
when it seems farthest removed. In three days the blow is to fall! In
three days Rome is to be turned over to the infidels who are ravaging
our southern coasts, and the Tuscan is once more to hold sway in the
Tomb of the former Master of the World. But not he--Basil will rule,
for Ugo has his hands full in Ivrea. With Basil Theodora will lord it
from yonder castello. He will let the Lord Ugo burn his hands and he
will snatch the golden fruit. I will pray that this feeble hand may
undo their dark plotting."

"What is Rome to me? What the universe?" Tristan interposed, "if she
whom I love better than life is lost to me?"

The monk turned to him laying his hand upon his shoulder.

"You have been miraculously delivered from the very jaws of death. You
will save the woman you love from dishonor and shame."

Odo pondered for a pace then he continued:

"There is one in Rome--who is encompassing your destruction. The foul
crime in the Lateran of which you were the victim is but another proof
of the schemes of the Godless, who have desecrated the churches of
Christ for their hellish purposes. We must find their devil's chapel,
hidden somewhere beneath the soil of Rome. None shall escape."

"How will you bring this about, Father?" Tristan queried despairingly.

"The soldiers of the Church have not been bribed," Odo replied.
"Listen, my son, and do you as I direct. On to-morrow's eve Theodora
gives one of her splendid feasts. Go you disguised. Watch--but speak
not. Listen--but answer not. Who knows but that you may receive tidings
of your lost one? As for myself, I shall seek one whose crimes lie
heavily upon him, one who trembles with the fear of death, at whose
door he lies--Il Gobbo--the bravo. His master has dealt him a mortal
wound to remove the last witness of his crimes. Come to me on the
second day at dusk."

Emerging from the shadows of the wall, Tristan hailed the boatman, and
a few moments later they were being rowed towards a solitary spot near
the base of the Aventine, where they paid and dismissed their Charon
and disappeared among the ruins.



CHAPTER X

THE BROKEN SPELL


Again there was feasting and high revels in the palace of Theodora
on Mount Aventine. Colored lanterns were suspended between the
interstices of orange and oleander trees; and incense rose in spiral
coils from bronze and copper vessels, concealed among leafy bowers.
The great banquet hall was thronged with a motley crowd of Romans,
Greeks, men from the coasts of Africa and Iceland, Spaniards, Persians,
Burgundians, Lombards, men from the steppes of Sarmatia, and the amber
coast of the Baltic. Here and there groups were discussing the wines or
the viands or the gossip of the day.

The guests marvelled at the splendor, wealth and the variegated
mosaics, the gilded walls, the profusion of beautiful marble columns
and the wonderfully groined ceiling. It was a veritable banquet of
the senses. The fairylike radiance of the hall with its truly eastern
splendor captivated the eye. From remote grottoes came the sounds of
flutes, citherns and harps, quivering through the dreaming summer night.

On ebony couches upon silver frames, covered with rare tapestries
and soft cushions, the guests reclined. Between two immense,
crescent-shaped tables, made of citron wood and inlaid with ivory, rose
a miniature bronze fountain, representing Neptune. From it spurted
jets of scented water, which cooled and perfumed the air.

Not in centuries had there been such a feast in Rome. Mountain, plain
and the sea had been relentlessly laid under tribute, to surrender
their choicest towards supplying the sumptuous board.

Nubian slaves in spotless white kept at the elbows of the guests and
filled the golden flagons as quickly as they were emptied. A powerful
Cyprian wine, highly spiced, was served. Under its stimulating
influence the revellers soon gave themselves up to the reckless
enjoyment of the hour.

As the feast proceeded the guests cried more loudly for flagons of the
fiery ecobalda. They quaffed large quantities of this wine and their
faces became flushed, their eyes sparkled and their tongues grew more
and more free. The temporary restraint they had imposed upon themselves
gradually vanished. In proportion as they partook of the fiery vintage
their conviviality increased.

The roll-call was complete. None was found missing. Here was the Lord
of Norba and Boso, Lord of Caprara. Here was the Lord Atenulf of
Benevento, the Lord Amgar, from the coasts of the Baltic; here was
Bembo the poet, Eugenius the philosopher and Alboin, Lord of Farfa.
Here was the Prefect of Rome and Roger de Laval. He, too, had joined
the throng of idolators at the shrine of Theodora. The Lord Guaimar of
Salerno was there, and Guido, Duke of Spoleto.

The curtain at the far end of the banquet hall slowly parted.

On the threshold stood Theodora.

Silent, rigid, she gazed into the hall.

Like a sudden snow on a summer meadow, a white silence fell from her
imagination across that glittering, gleaming tinselled atmosphere.
Everywhere the dead seemed to sit around her, watching, as in a trance,
strange antics of the grimacing dead.

A vision of beauty she appeared, radiantly attired, a jewelled diadem
upon her brow. By her side appeared Basil, the Grand Chamberlain.

When her gaze fell upon the motley crowd, a disgust, such as she had
never known, seized her.

She seated herself on the dais, reserved for her, and with queenly
dignity bade her guests welcome.

Basil occupied the seat of honor at her right, Roger de Laval at her
left.

Had any one watched the countenances of Theodora and of Basil he
would have surprised thereon an expression of ravening anxiety. To
themselves they appeared like two players, neither knowing the next
move of his opponent, yet filled with the dire assurance that upon this
move depended the fate of the house of cards each has built upon a
foundation of sand.

At last the Count de Laval arose and whirled his glass about his head.

"Twine a wreath about your cups," he shouted, "and drink to the glory
of the most beautiful woman in the world--the Lady Theodora."

They rose to their feet and shouted their endorsement till the very
arches seemed to ring with the echoes. His initiative was received
with such favor by the others that, fired with the desire to emulate
his example, they fell to singing and shouting the praise of the woman
whose beauty had not its equal in Rome.

Theodora viewed the scene of dissipation with serenity and composure,
and, by her attitude she seemed, in a strange way, even tacitly to
encourage them to drink still deeper. Faster, ever faster, the wine
coursed among the guests. Some of them became more and more boisterous,
others were rendered somnolent and fell forward in a stupor upon the
silken carpets.

Theodora, whose restlessness seemed to increase with every moment, and
who seemed to hold herself in leash by a strenuous effort of the will,
suddenly turned to Basil and whispered a question into his ear.

A silent nod came in response and the next moment a clash of cymbals,
stormily persistent, roused the revellers from their stupor. Then, like
a rainbow garmented Peri, floating easefully out of some far-off sphere
of sky-wonders, an aerial maiden shape glided into the full lustre of
the varying light, a dancer nude, save for the glistening veil that
carelessly enshrouded her limbs, her arms and hands being adorned with
circlets of tiny golden bells which kept up a melodious jingle as she
moved. And now began the strangest music, music that seemed to hover
capriciously between luscious melody and harsh discord, a wild and
curious medley of fantastic minor suggestions in which the imaginative
soul might discover hints of tears and folly, love and madness. To
this uncertain yet voluptuous measure the glittering girl dancer
leaped forward with a startling abruptness and, halting as it were on
the boundary line between the dome and the garden beyond, raised her
rounded arms in a snowy arch above her head.

Her pause was a mere breathing spell in duration. Dropping her arms
with a swift decision, she hurled herself into the giddy mazes of a
dance. Round and round she floated, like an opal-winged butterfly
in a net of sunbeams, now seemingly shaken by delicate tremors,
as aspen leaves are shaken by the faintest wind, now assuming the
most voluptuous eccentricities of posture, sometimes bending down
wistfully as though she were listening to the chanting of demon voices
underground, and again, with her waving white hands, appearing to
summon spirits to earth from their wanderings in the upper air. Her
figure was in perfect harmony with the seductive grace of her gestures;
not only her feet, but her whole body danced, her very features bespoke
abandonment to the frenzy of her rapid movement. Her large black eyes
flashed with something of fierceness as well as languor; and her raven
hair streamed behind her like a darkly spread wing.

Wild outbursts of applause resounded uproariously through the hall.

Count Roger had drawn nearer to Theodora. His arms encircled her body.

Theodora bent over him.

"Not to-night! Not to-night! There are many things to consider.
To-morrow I shall give you my answer."

He looked up into her eyes.

"Do you not love me?"

His hot breath fanned her cheeks.

Theodora gave a shrug and turned away, sick with disgust.

"Love--I hardly know what it means. I do not think I have ever loved."

Laval sucked in his breath between his teeth.

"Then you shall love me! You shall! Ever since I have come to Rome have
I desired you! And the woman lives not who may gainsay my appeal."

She smiled tauntingly.

He had seized her hand. The fierceness of his grip made her gasp with
pain.

"And whatever brought you to Rome?" she turned to him.

"I came in quest of one who had betrayed my honor."

"And you found her?"

"Both!" came the laconic reply.

"How interesting," purred Theodora, suffering his odious embrace,
although she shuddered at his touch.

"And, man-like, you were revenged?"

"She has met the fate I had decreed upon her who wantonly betrayed the
honor of her lord."

"Then she confessed?"

"She denied her guilt. What matter? I never loved her. It is you I
love! You, divine Theodora."

And, carried away by a gust of passion, he drew her to him, covering
her brow, her hair, her cheeks with kisses. But she turned away her
mouth.

She tried to release herself from his embrace.

Roger uttered an oath.

"I have tamed women before--ay--and I shall tame you," he sputtered,
utterly disregarding her protests.

She drew back as far as his encircling arms permitted.

"Release me, my lord!" she said, her dark eyes flashing fire. "You are
mad!"

"No heroics--fair Theodora-- Has the Wanton Queen of Rome turned into a
haloed saint?"

He laughed. His mouth was close to her lips.

Revulsion and fury seized her. Disengaging her hands she struck him
across the face.

There was foam on his lips. He caught her by the throat. Now he was
forcing her beneath his weight with the strength of one insane with
uncontrollable passion.

"Help!" she screamed with a choking sensation.

A shadow passed before her eyes. Everything seemed to swim around
her in eddying circles of red. Then a gurgling sound. The grip on
her throat relaxed. Laval rolled over upon the floor in a horrible
convulsion, gasped and expired.

Basil's dagger had struck him through, piercing his heart.

Slowly Theodora arose. She was pale as death. Her guests, too much
engaged with their beautiful partners, had been attracted to her plight
but by her sudden outcry.

They stared sullenly at the dead man and turned to their former
pursuits.

Theodora clapped her hands.

Two giant Nubians appeared. She pointed to the corpse at her feet. They
raised it up between them, carried it out and sank it in the Lotus
lake. Others wiped away the stains of blood.

Basil bent over Theodora's hands, and covered them with kisses,
muttering words of endearment which but increased the discord in her
heart.

She released herself, resuming her seat on the dais.

"It is the old fever," she turned to the man beside her. "You purchase
and I sell! Nay"--she added as his lips touched her own--"there is no
need for a lover's attitude when hucksters meet."

Though the guests had returned to their seats, a strange silence had
fallen upon the assembly. The rhythmical splashing of the water in the
fountain and the labored breathing of the distressed wine-Bibbie's
seemed the only sounds that were audible for a time.

"But I love you, Theodora," Basil spoke with strangely dilated eyes.
"I love you for what you are, for all the evil you have wrought! You,
alone! For you have I done this thing! For you Alberic lies dead in
some unknown glen. For you have I summoned about us those who shall
seat you in the high place that is yours by right of birth."

Theodora was herself again. With upraised hand, that shone marble white
in the ever-changing light, she enjoined silence.

"What of that other?" she said, while her eyes held those of the man
with their magic spell.

"What other?" he stammered, turning pale.

"That one!" she flashed.

At that moment the curtain parted again and into the changing light,
emitted by the great revolving globe, swayed a woman. At first
it seemed a statue of marble that had become animated and, ere
consciousness had resumed its sway, was slowly gaining life and motion,
still bound up in the dream existence into which some unknown power had
plunged her.

As one petrified, Basil stared at the swaying form of Hellayne. A white
transparent byssus veil enveloped the beautiful limbs. Her wonderful
bare arms were raised above her head, which was slightly inclined, as
in a listening attitude. She seemed to move unconsciously as under a
spell or as one who walks in her sleep. Her eyes were closed. The pale
face showed suffering, yet had not lost one whit of its marvellous
beauty.

The revellers stared spellbound at what, to their superstitious minds,
seemed the wraith of slain Roxana returned to earth to haunt her rival.

Suddenly, without warning, the dark-robed form of a man dashed from
behind a pillar. No one seemed to have noted his presence. Overthrowing
every impediment, he bounded straight for Hellayne, when he saw the
lithe form snatched up before his very eyes and her abductor disappear
with his burden, as if the ground had swallowed them.

It seemed to Tristan that he was rushing through an endless succession
of corridors and passages, crossing each other at every conceivable
angle, in his mad endeavor to snatch his precious prey from her
abductor when, in a rotunda in which these labyrinthine passages
converged, he found himself face to face with an apparition that seemed
to have risen from the floor.

Before him stood Theodora.

Her dark shadow was wavering across the moonlit network of light. The
red and blue robes of the painted figures on the wall glowed about her
like blood and azure, while the moonlight laid lemon colored splashes
upon the varied mosaics of the floor.

His pulses beating furiously, a sense of suffocation in his throat,
Tristan paused as the woman barred his way.

"Let me pass!" he said imperiously, trying to suit the action to the
word.

But he had not reckoned with the woman's mood.

"You shall not," Theodora said, a strange fire gleaming in her eyes.

"Where is Hellayne? What have you done with her?"

Theodora regarded him calmly from under drooping lashes.

"That I will tell you," she said with a mocking voice. "It was my good
fortune to rescue her from the claws of one who has again got her into
his power. Her mind is gone, my Lord Tristan! Be reconciled to your
fate!"

"Surely you cannot mean this?" Tristan gasped, his face under the
monk's cowl pale as death, while his eyes stared unbelievingly into
those of the woman.

"Is not what you have seen, proof that I speak truth?" Theodora
interposed, slightly veiled mockery in her tone.

"Then this is your deed," Tristan flashed.

Theodora gave a shrug.

"What if it were?"

"She is in Basil's power?"

"An experienced suitor."

"Woman, why have you done this thing to me?"

His hands went to his head and he reeled like a drunken man.

Theodora laid her hands on Tristan's shoulders.

"Because I want you--because I love you, Tristan," she said slowly, and
her wonderful face seemed to become illumined as it were, from within.
"Nay--do not shrink from me! I know what you would say! Theodora--the
courtesan queen of Rome! You deem I have no heart--no soul. You deem
that these lips, defiled by the kisses of beasts, cannot speak truth.
Yet, if I tell you, Tristan, that this is the first and only time in my
life that I have loved, that I love you with a love such as only those
know who have thirsted for it all their lives, yet have never known but
its base counterfeit; if I tell you--that upon your answer depends my
fate--my life--Tristan--will you believe--will you save the woman whom
nothing else on earth can save?"

"I do not believe you," Tristan replied.

Theodora's face had grown white to the lips.

"You shall stay--and you shall listen to me!" she said, without raising
her voice, as if she were discoursing upon some trifling matter, and
Tristan obeyed, compelled by the look in her eyes.

Theodora felt Tristan's melancholy gaze resting upon her, as it had
rested upon her at their first meeting. Was not he, too, like herself,
a lone wanderer in this strange country called the world! But his
manhood had remained unsullied. How she envied and how she hated that
other woman to whom his love belonged. Softly she spoke, as one speaks
in a dream.

She had gone forth in quest of happiness--happiness at any price. And
she had paid the forfeit with a poisoned life. The desire to conquer
had eclipsed every other. The lure of the senses was too mighty to be
withstood. Yet how short are youth and life! One should snatch its
pleasures while one may.

How fleet had been the golden empty days of joy. She had drained
the brimming goblet to the dregs. If he misjudged her motive, her
self-abasement, if he spurned the love she held out to him, the one
supreme sacrifice of her life had been in vain. She would fight for
it. Soul and body she would throw herself into the conflict. Her last
chance of happiness was at stake. The poison, rankling in her veins,
she knew could not be expelled by idle sophisms. Life, the despot,
claimed his dues. Had she lived utterly in vain? Not altogether! She
would atone, even though the bonds of her own forging, which bound her
to an ulcered past, could be broken but by the hand of that crowned
phantom: Death.

Now she was kneeling before him. She had grasped his hands.

"I love you!" she wailed. "Tristan, I love you and my love is killing
me! Be merciful. Have pity on me. Love me! Be mine--if but for an
hour! It is not much to ask! After, do with me what you will! Torture
me--curse me before Heaven--I care not--I am yours--body and soul.--I
love you!"

Her voice vibrated with mad idolatrous pleading.

He tried to release himself. She dragged herself yet closer to him.

"Tristan! Tristan!" she murmured. "Have you a heart? Can you reject me
when I pray thus to you? When I offer you all I have? All that I am, or
ever hope to be? Am I so repellent to you? Many men would give their
lives if I were to say to them what I say to you. They are nothing to
me--you alone are my world, the breath of my existence. You, alone, can
save me from myself!"

Tristan felt his senses swooning at the sight of her beauty. He tried
to speak, but the words froze on his lips. It was too impossible, too
unbelievable. Theodora, the most beautiful, the most powerful woman
in Rome was kneeling before him, imploring that which any man in Rome
would have deemed himself a thousand fold blessed to receive. And he
remained untouched.

She read his innermost thoughts and knew the supreme moment when she
must win or lose him forever was at hand.

"Tristan--Tristan," she sobbed--and in the distant grove sobbed flutes
and sistrum and citherns--"say what you will of me; it is true. I own
it. Yet I am not worse than other women who have sold their souls for
power or gold. Am I not fair to look upon? And is all this beauty of
my face and form worthless in your eyes, and you no more than man?
Kill me--destroy me--I care naught. But love me--as I love you!" and
in a perfect frenzy of self-abandonment she rose to her feet and stood
before him, a very bacchante of wild loveliness and passion. "Look upon
me! Am I not more beautiful than the Lady Hellayne? You shall not--dare
not--spurn such love as mine!"

Deep silence supervened. The expression of her countenance seemed quite
unearthly; her eyes seemed wells of fire and the tense white arms
seemed to seek a victim round which they might coil themselves to its
undoing.

The name she had uttered in her supreme outburst of passion had broken
the spell she had woven about him.

Hellayne--his white dove! What was her fate at this moment while he was
listening to the pleadings of the enchantress?

Theodora advanced towards him with outstretched arms.

He stayed her with a fierce gesture.

"Stand back!" he said. "Such love as yours--what is it? Shame to
whosoever shall accept it! I desire you not."

"You dare not!" she panted, pale as death.

"Dare not?"

But she was now fairly roused. All the savagery in her nature was
awakened and she stood before him like some beautiful wild animal at
bay, trembling from head to foot with the violence of her passion.

"You scorn me!" she said in fierce, panting accents, that scarcely
rose above an angry whisper. "You make a mockery of my anguish and
despair--holding yourself aloof with your prated virtue! But you shall
suffer for it! I am your match! You shall not spurn me a third time! I
have humbled myself in the dust before you, I, Theodora--and you have
spurned the love I have offered you--you have spurned Theodora--for
that white marble statue whom I should strangle before your very eyes
were she here! You shall not see her again, my Lord Tristan. Her
fate is sealed from this moment. On the altars of Satan is she to be
sacrificed on to-morrow night!"

Tristan listened like paralyzed to her words, unable to move.

She saw her opportunity. She sprang at him. Her arms coiled about him.
Her moist kisses seared his lips.

"Oh Tristan--Tristan," she pleaded, "forgive me, forgive! I know not
what I say! I hunger for the kisses of your lips, the clasp of your
arms! Do you know--do you ever think of your power? The cruel terrible
power of your eyes, the beauty that makes you more like an angel than
man? Have you no pity? I am well nigh mad with jealousy of that other
whom you keep enshrined in your heart! Could she love, like I? She was
not made for you--I am! Tristan--come with me--come--"

Tighter and tighter her arms encircled his neck. The moonbeams showed
him her eyes alight with rapture, her lips quivering with passion, her
bosom heaving. The blood surged up in his brain and a red mist swam
before his eyes.

With a supreme effort Tristan released himself. Flinging her from him,
he rushed out of the rotunda as if pursued by an army of demons. If he
remained another moment he knew he was lost.

A lightning bolt shot down from the dark sky vault close beside him as
he reached the gardens, and a peal of thunder crashed after in quick
succession.

It drowned the delirious outburst of laughter that shrilled from the
rotunda where Theodora, with eyes wide with misery and madness, stared
as transfixed down the path where Tristan had vanished in the night.



CHAPTER XI

THE BLACK MASS


The night was sultry and dismal.

Dense black clouds rolled over the Roman Campagna, burning blue in
the flashes of jagged lightnings and the low boom of distant thunder
reverberated ominously among the hills and valleys of Rome, when three
men, cloaked and wearing black velvet masks, skirted the huge mediæval
wall with which Pope Leo IV had girdled the gardens of the Vatican and,
passing along the fortified rampart which surrounded the Vatican Hill,
plunged into the trackless midnight gloom of deep, branch-shadowed
thickets.

Not a word was spoken between them. Silently they followed their
leader, whose tall, dark form was revealed to them only among the dense
network of trees and the fantastic shapes of the underbrush, when a
flash of white lightning flamed across the limitless depths of the
midnight horizon.

Not a sound broke the stillness, save the menacing growl of the
thunder, the intermittent soughing of the wind among the branches, or
the occasional drip-drip of dewy moisture trickling tearfully from the
leaves, mingling with the dreamy, gurgling sound of the fountains,
concealed among bosquets of orange and almond trees.

From time to time, as they proceeded upon their nocturnal errand, the
sounds of their footsteps being swallowed up by the soft carpet of
moss, they caught fleet glimpses of marble statues, gleaming white,
like ghosts, from among the tall dark cypresses, or the shimmering
surface of a marble-cinctured lake, mirrored in the sheen of the
lightnings.

The grove they traversed assumed by degrees the character of a tropical
forest. Untrodden by human feet, it seemed as though nature, grown
tired of the iridescent floral beauty of the environing gardens, had,
in a sudden malevolent mood, torn and blurred the fair green frondage
and twisted every bud awry, till the awkward, misshapen limbs resembled
the contorted branches of wind-blown trees. Great jagged leaves covered
with prickles and stained with blotches as of spilt poison, thick brown
stems, glistening with slimy moisture and coiled up like the sleeping
bodies of snakes, masses of blue and purple fungi, and blossoms
seemingly of the orchid-species, some like fleshly tongues, others like
the waxen yellow fingers of a dead hand, protruded spectrally through
the matted foliage, while all manner of strange overpowering odors
increased the swooning oppressiveness of the sultry, languorous air.

Arrived at a clearing they paused.

In the distance the Basilica of Constantine was sunk in deep repose.
All about them was the pagan world. Goat-footed Pan seemed to peer
through the interstices of the branches. The fountains crooned in their
marble basins. Centaurs and Bacchantes disported themselves among the
flowering shrubs and, dark against the darker background of the night,
the vast ramparts of Leo IV seemed to shut out light and life together.

The Prefect of the Camera turned to his companions, after peering
cautiously into the thickets.

"We must wait for the guards," he said in a whisper. "It were perilous
to proceed farther without them."

Tristan's hand tightened upon his sword-hilt. There were tears in
his eyes when he thought of Hellayne and all that was at stake, the
overthrow of the enemies of Christ. He had, in a manner, conquered the
terrible fear that had palsied heart and soul as they had started out
after nightfall. Now, taking his position as he found it, since he felt
that his fate was ruled by some unseen force which he might not resist,
he was upheld by a staunch resolution to do his part in the work
assigned to him and thereby to merit forgiveness and absolution.

Notwithstanding the enforced calm that filled his soul, there were
moments when, assailed by a terrible dread, lest he might be too late
to prevent the unspeakable crime, his energies were almost paralyzed.
Silent as a ghost he had traversed the grove by the side of his equally
silent companions, more intent upon his quarry than the patient,
velvet-footed puma that follows in the high branches of the trees the
unsuspecting traveller below.

Was it his imagination, was it the beating of his own heart in the
silence that preceded the breaking of the storm; or did he indeed hear
the dull throbbing of the drums that heralded the approach of the
crimson banners of Satan?

The wind increased with every moment. The thunder growled ever nearer.
The heavens were one sheet of flame. The trees began to bend their tops
to the voice of the hurricane. The air was hot as if blown from the
depths of the desert. As the uproar of the elements increased, strange
sounds seemed to mingle with the voices of the storm. Black shadows
as of dancing witches darkened the clearing, spread and wheeled,
interlaced and disentwined. In endless thousands they seemed to fly,
like the withered and perishing leaves of autumn.

Involuntarily Tristan grasped the arm of the Monk of Cluny.

"Are these real shapes--or do my eyes play me false?" he faltered, an
expression of terror on his countenance, such as no consideration of
earthly danger could have evoked.

"To-night, my son, we are invincible," replied the monk. "Trust in the
Crucified Christ!"

Across the plaisaunce, washed white by the sheen of the lightnings,
there was a stir as of an approaching forest. Tristan watched as in the
throes of a dream.

A few moments later the little band was joined by the newcomers,
masked, garbed in sombre black and heavily armed, three-score
Spaniards, trusted above their companions for their loyalty and
allegiance to Holy Church. Among them Tristan recognized the
Cardinal-Archbishop of Ravenna, the Bishop of Orvieto and the Prefect
of Rome.

Odo of Cluny noted Tristan's shrinking at the sight of the two men who
had been present when the terrible accusation had been hurled against
him on that fatal morning--the accusation in the Lateran, which had
launched him in the dungeons of Castel San Angelo.

He comforted the trembling youth.

"They know now that the charge was false," he said. "To-night we shall
conquer. We shall set our foot upon Satan's neck."

Withdrawing under the shelter of the trees, regardless of the
increasing fury of the storm, the leaders held whispered consultation.

Before them, set in the massive wall, appeared a door not more than
five feet high, studded with large nails.

The Prefect of Rome bent forward and inserted a gleaming piece of steel
in the keyhole. After a wrench or two, which convinced the onlookers
that the door had been long in disuse, it swung inward with a groan.
The Prefect, with a muttered imprecation, beckoned his followers to
enter, and when they were assembled in what appeared to be a courtyard,
he took pains to close the door himself, to avoid the least noise that
might reach the ear of those within the enclosure.

At the far end of this courtyard a shadowy pavilion arose, culled
from the Stygian gloom by the sheen of the lightnings. It seemed
to have been erected in remote antiquity. A circular structure of
considerable extent, its ruinous exterior revealed traces of Etruscan
architecture. No one dared set foot in it, for it was rumored to be
the abode of evil spirits. Its interior was reported to be a network
of intricate galleries, leading into subterranean chambers, secret and
secluded places into which human foot never strayed, for, not unlike
the catacombs, it was well-nigh impossible to find the exit from its
labyrinthine passages without the saving thread of Ariadné.

At a signal from the Prefect of the Camera all stopped. Heavy drops of
rain were falling. The hurricane increased in fury.

It was a weird scene and one the memory of which lingered long after
that eventful night with Tristan.

Black cypresses and holm-oaks formed a dense wall around the pavilion
on two sides. In the distance the white limbs of some pagan statues
could be seen gleaming through the dark foliage. And, as from a
subterranean cavern, a distant droning chant struck the ear now and
then with fateful import.

Now the Prefect of Rome threw off his cloak. The others did likewise.
Their masks they retained.

"There is a secret entrance, unknown even to these spawns of hell,
behind the pavilion," he addressed his companions in a subdued tone,
hardly audible in the shrieking of the storm. "It is concealed among
tall weeds and has long been in disuse. The door is almost invisible
and they think themselves safe in the performance of their iniquities
below."

"How can we reach this pit of hell?" Tristan, quivering with
ill-repressed excitement interposed at this juncture. He could hardly
restrain himself. On every moment hung the life of the being dearer
to him than all the world, and he chafed under the restraint like a
restive steed. If they should be too late, even now!

But the Prefect retained his calm demeanor knowing what was at stake.
It was not enough to locate the chapel of Satan. Those participating in
the unholy rites must not be given the chance to escape. They must be
taken, dead or alive, to the last man.

"We have with us one who is familiar with every nook in the city of
Rome," the Prefect turned to the Cardinal-Archbishop of Ravenna. "Long
have we suspected that all is not well in the deserted pavilion. But
though we watched by day and by night nothing seemed to reward our
efforts, until one stormy night a dreadful shape with the face of a
devil came forth, and the sight so paralyzed those who watched from
afar that they fled in dismay, believing it was the Evil One in person
who had come forth from the bowels of the earth. From yonder door a
dark corridor leads to a shaft whence it winds in a slight incline into
the devil's chapel below. The latter is so situated that we can watch
these outcasts at their devotions, unseen, our presence unguessed. This
way! Let silence be the password. Keep in touch with each other, for
the darkness is as that of the grave."

A flash of lightning that seemed to rend the very heavens enveloped
them for a moment in its sulphureous glare, followed by a crash of
thunder that shook the very earth. The hurricane shrieked, and the rain
came down in torrents.

They had advanced to the very edge of the underbrush, stumbling over
the heads and torsos of broken statues that lay among parasitic
herbage. Monstrous decaying leaves curled upward, leprous in the
lightnings. A poison mist seemed to hover over this lonely and deserted
pleasure-house of ancient Pelasgian days.

Skirting the haunted pavilion, unmindful of the onslaught of the
elements, they took a path so narrow that they could but advance in
single file. This path had been cut and beaten by the Prefect's guards,
for the weeds and underbrush luxuriated, until they mounted some ten
feet against the walls of the pavilion.

They had now reached the back wall and proceeded in utter darkness
broken only by the flashes of lightning. They passed through a
half-ruined archway and at last came to a halt, prompted by those in
front, whose progress had been stopped by, what the others guessed
to be, the door. They had to work warily, to keep it from falling
inward. At last the movement continued and they entered the night-wrapt
corridor.

Tristan had taken his station directly behind the Prefect of Rome. The
ecclesiastics, for their own protection, had been assigned the rear.

By the sheen of lightnings a pile of brushwood was revealed to the
sight, which the Prefect, in a low tone, ordered to be cleared away,
whereupon a circular opening appeared, like the entrance of a well.

The Prefect summoned the leaders around him.

For a moment they stood in silence and listened.

Between the peals of the thunder which rolled in terrifying echoes over
the Seven Hills, the trained ear could distinguish a strange, droning
sound that seemed to come from the bowels of the earth.

"Even now the Black Mass is commencing," he turned to Tristan. "We are
but just in time."

After a pause he continued:

"We must proceed in darkness. The faintest glimmer might betray our
presence. I shall lead the way. Let each follow warily. Let each be in
touch with the other. Let all stop when I stop. We shall arrive in a
circular gallery, whence we may all witness the abomination below. From
this gallery several flights of winding stairs lead into the devil's
chapel. Let us descend in silence. When you hear the signal--down the
quick descent and--upon them!"

One by one they disappeared in the dark aperture. Their feet touched
ground while they still supported themselves on their arms. They found
themselves in a subterranean chamber, in impenetrable darkness, whose
hot, damp murk almost suffocated the intruders.

Slowly, with infinite caution, in infinite silence, they proceeded.
Every man stretched his hand before him to touch a companion.

The passage began to slant, yet the incline was gradual. Their feet
touched soft earth which swallowed the sound of their steps. There was
neither echo nor vibration, only murky silence and the night of the
grave.

A low, droning sound, infinitely remote, a sound not unlike that of
swarming bees heard at a great distance, was now wafted to their ears.

A shudder ran through that long chain of living men, who were carrying
the Cross into the very abyss of Hell.

For they knew they were listening to the infernal choir, they were
approaching the hidden chapel of Satan. The chant began to swell. Still
they continued upon their descent.

The imprisoned air became hotter and murkier, almost suffocating in its
miasmatic waves that assailed the senses and seemed to weigh like lead
upon the brain.

Now the tunnel turned sharply at right angles and after proceeding
some twenty or thirty paces in Stygian darkness, a faint crimson glow
began suddenly to drive the nocturnal gloom before it, and they emerged
in a gallery, terminating in a number of dark archways, from which
narrow winding stairs led into the hall below. Small round apertures,
resembling port-holes, permitted a glimpse into the chapel of Satan,
and a weird, droning chant was rising rhythmically from the night-wrapt
depths of the pavilion.

Following the example of the leader, they stole on tiptoe to the
unglazed port-holes and gazed below, and eager, yet trembling, with the
anticipation of the dread mysteries they were about to witness.

At first they could not see anything distinctly, owing to the crimson
mist that seemed to come rolling into the chapel as from some furnace
and their eyes, after having been long in the darkness, refused to
focus themselves. But, by degrees, the scene became more distinct.

In the circular chapel below dim figures, robed in crimson, moved to
and fro, bearing aloft perfumed cressets on metal poles, and in its
flickering light an altar became visible, hung with crimson, the summit
of which was lost in the gloom overhead. Here and there indistinct
shapes were stretched in hideous contortions on the pavement, and as
others drew nigh, these rose and, throwing back their heads, made the
vault re-echo with deep-chested roaring.

Suddenly the metal bound gates of a low arched doorway, faintly
discernible in the uncertain light, seemed to be unclosing with a slow
and majestic movement, letting loose a flood of light in which the
ghostly faces of the worshippers leapt into sudden clearness, men and
women, all seemingly belonging to the highest ranks of society. The
crimson garbs of the officiating priests showed like huge stains of
blood against the dark-veined marble.

Tristan gazed with the rest, stark with terror. The blood seemed to
freeze in his veins as his eyes swept the circular vault and rested at
the shrine's farther end, where branching candlesticks flanked each the
foot of two short flights of stairs that led up to the summit of the
great altar, garnished at the corner with hideous masks, and sending up
from time to time eddies of smoke, through the reek of which some two
score of men watched the ceremony from above.

Dim shapes passed to and fro. The droning chant continued. At length
a shapeless form evolved itself from the crimson mist, approached the
altar and cast something upon it. Instantly a blaze of light flooded
the shrine, and in its radiance a weazened, bat-like creature was
revealed, garbed in the fantastic imitation of a priest's robes.

Approaching the infernal altar, upon which lay obscene symbols of
horror, he mounted the steps and his figure melted into the gloom.

With the cold sweat streaming from his brow, with a shudder that almost
turned him dizzy, Tristan recognized Bessarion. The High Priest of
Satan sat upon the Devil's altar. There was stir and movement in the
chapel. Then a deep silence supervened.

Petrifaction fell upon the assembly. All voices were hushed, all
movement arrested. From the black throne, surrounded by terror, where
sat the great Unknown, came a dull hoarse roar, like the roar of an
earthquake.

The words were unintelligible to the champions of the Cross. They were
answered by the Sorcerer's Confession, the hideous, terrible contortion
of the Credo, and then Tristan's ears were assailed by the sounds he
had heard on that fatal night, ere he lost consciousness, and again in
the Catacombs of St. Calixtus, sounds meaningless in themselves, but
fraught with terrible import to him now!

"Emen Hetan! Emen Hetan! Palu! Baalberi! Emen Hetan!"--

Pandemonium broke loose.

"Agora! Agora! Patrisa! Agora!"

There was screeching of pipes, made of dead men's bones. A drum
stretched with the skin of the hanged was beaten with the tail of a
wolf. Like leaves in a howling storm the fantastic red robed forms
whirled about, from left to right, from right to left. And in their
midst, immobile and terrible, sat the Hircus Nocturnus, enthroned upon
the shrine.

When at last they stopped, panting, exhausted, the same voice,
deafening as an earthquake, roared:

"Bring hither the bride--the stainless dove!"

A chorus of hideous laughter, a swelling, bleating cacophony of
execration, so furious and real that it froze the listeners' blood,
answered the summons.

Then, from an arch in the apse of the infernal chapel, came four
chanting figures, hideously masked and draped in crimson.

With slow, measured steps they approached. The arch was black again.
Deep silence supervened.

Now into the centre came two figures.

One was that of a man robed in doublet and hose of flaming scarlet. The
figure he supported was that of a woman, though she seemed a corpse
returned to earth.

A long white robe covered her from head to toe, like the winding sheet
of death. Her eyes were bound with a white cloth. She seemed unable to
walk, and was being urged forward, step by step, by the scarlet man at
her side.

Again pandemonium reigned, heightened by the crashing peals of the
thunder that rolled in the heavens overhead.

"Emen Hetan! Emen Hetan! Palu! Baalberi! Emen Hetan!"

The bleating of goats, the shrieks of the tortured damned, the howling
of devils in the nethermost pit of Hell, delirious laughter, gibes and
execrations mingled in a deafening chorus, which was followed by a dead
silence, as anew the voice of the Unseen roared through the vault:

"Bring hither the bride, the stainless dove!"

There was a tramp of mailed feet.

Like a human whirlwind it came roaring down the winding stairs, through
the vomitories into the vault. The rattling of weapons, shouts of rage,
horror and dismay mingled, resounding from the vaulted roof, beaten
back from the marble walls.

With drawn sword Tristan, well in advance of his companions, leaped
into the chapel of Satan. When the identity of the staggering white
form beside the scarlet man had been revealed to him, no power in
heaven or earth could have restrained him. Without awaiting the signal
he bounded with a choking outcry down the shaft.

But, when he reached the floor of the chapel, he recoiled as if the
Evil One had arisen from the floor before him, barring his advance.

Before him stood Theodora.

She wore a scarlet robe, fastened at the throat with a clasp of rubies,
representing the heads of serpents. Her wonderful white arms were bare,
her hands were clenched as if she were about to fly at the throat of a
hated rival and a preternatural lustre shone in her eyes.

"You!"

Tristan's words died in the utterance as he surveyed her for the space
of a moment with a glance so full of horror and disdain that she knew
she had lost.

"Yes--it is I," she replied, hardly above a whisper, hot flush and
deadly pallor alternating in her beautiful face, terrible in its set
calm. "And--though I may not possess you--that other shall not! See!"

Maddened beyond all human endurance at the sight that met his eyes
Tristan hurled Theodora aside as she attempted to bar his way, as if
she had been a toy. Rushing straight through the press towards the
spot, where the scarlet man, his arms still about the drooping form of
Hellayne, had stopped in dismay at the sudden inrush of the guards,
Tristan pierced the Grand Chamberlain through and through. Almost
dragging the woman with him he fell beside the devil's altar. His head
struck the flagstones and he lay still.

The Prefect himself dashed up the steps of the ebony shrine and hurled
the High Priest of Satan on the flagstones below. Bessarion's neck was
broken and, with the squeak of a bat, his black soul went out.

While the guards, giving no quarter, were mowing down all those of
the devil's congregation who did not seek salvation in flight or
concealment, Tristan caught the swooning form of Hellayne in his arms,
calling her name in despairing accents, as he stroked the silken hair
back from the white clammy brow. She was breathing, but her eyes were
closed.

Then he summoned two men-at-arms to his side, and between them they
carried her to the world of light above.



CHAPTER XII

SUNRISE


The thunder clouds had rolled away to eastward.

A rosy glow was creeping over the sky. The air was fresh with the
coming of dawn. Softly they laid Hellayne by the side of a marble
fountain and splashed the cooling drops upon her pale face. After a
time she opened her eyes.

The first object they encountered was Tristan who was bending over her,
fear and anxiety in his face.

Her colorless lips parted in a whisper, as her arms encircled his neck.

"You are with me!" she said, and the transparent lids drooped again.

Those who had not been slain of the congregation of Hell had been bound
in chains. Among the dead was Theodora. The contents of a phial she
carried on her person had done its work instantaneously.

Suddenly alarums resounded from the region of Castel San Angelo. There
was a great stir and buzz, as of an awakened bee hive. There were
shouts at the Flaminian gate, the martial tread of mailed feet and,
as the sun's first ray kissed the golden Archangel on the summit of
the Flavian Emperor's mausoleum, a horseman, followed by a glittering
retinue, dashed up the path, dismounted and raised his visor.

Before the astounded assembly stood Alberic, the Senator of Rome.

Just then they brought the body of Theodora from the subterranean
chapel and laid it silently on the greensward, beside that of Basil,
the Grand Chamberlain.

The Cardinal-Archbishop of Ravenna was the first to speak.

"My lord, we hardly trust our eyes. All Rome is mourning you for dead."

Alberic turned to the speaker.

"With the aid of the saint I have prevailed against the foulest treason
ever committed by a subject against his trusting lord. The bribed hosts
of Hassan Abdullah, which were to sack Rome, are scattered in flight.
The attempt upon my own life has been prevented by a miracle from
Heaven. But--what of these dead?"

Odo of Cluny approached the Senator of Rome.

"The awful horror which has gripped the city is passed. Christ rules
once more and Satan is vanquished. This is a matter for your private
ear, my lord."

Odo pointed to the kneeling form of Tristan, who was supporting
Hellayne in his arms, trying to soothe her troubled spirit, to dispel
the memory of the black horrors which held her trembling soul in thrall.

Approaching Tristan, Alberic laid his hand upon his head.

"We knew where to trust, and we shall know how to reward! My lords and
prelates of the Church! Matters of grave import await you. We meet
again in the Emperor's Tomb."

Beckoning to his retinue, Alberic remounted his steed, as company upon
company of men-at-arms filed past--a host, such as the city of Rome had
not beheld in decades, with drums and trumpets, pennants and banderols,
long lines of glittering spears, gorgeous surcoats, and splendid suits
of mail.

The forces of the Holy Roman Empire were passing into the Eternal City.

At their head the Senator of Rome was returning into his own.

At last they were alone, Tristan and Hellayne.

His companions had departed. With them they had taken their dead.

Hellayne opened her eyes. They were sombre, yet at peace.

"Tristan!"

He bent over her.

"My own Hellayne!"

"It is beautiful to be loved," she whispered. "I have never been loved
before."

"You shall be," he replied, "now and forever, before God and the world!"

The old shadow came again into her eyes.

"What of the Lord Roger?"

She read the answer in his silence.

A tear trickled from the violet pools of her eyes.

Then she raised herself in his arms.

"I thought I should go mad," she crooned. "But I knew you would come.
And you are here--here--with me,--Tristan."

He took her hands in his, his soul in his eyes.

The sun had risen higher through the gold bars of the east, dispelling
the grey chill of dawn.

She nestled closer to him.

"Take me back to Avalon, to my rose garden," she crooned. "Life is
before us--yonder--where first we loved."

He took her in his arms and kissed her eyes and the small sweet mouth.

A lark began to sing in the silence.

  THE END



  WHAT ALLAH WILLS

  _By Irwin L. Gordon_

  _Author of "The Log of The Ark"_

  _Illustrated, net, $1.35; carriage paid, $1.50_

Take Morocco for a background--that quaint and mysterious land of
mosques and minarets, where the _muezzin_ still calls to prayer at
sundown the faithful.

Imagine a story written with power and intensity and the thrill of
adventure in the midst of fanatical Moslems. Add to this a wealthy
young medical student, a red-blooded American, who gives up his life to
helping the lepers of Arzilla, and the presence of a beautiful American
girl who, despite her love for the hero, is induced to take up the
Mohammedan faith, and you have some idea of what this remarkable story
presents.

WHAT ALLAH WILLS is a big story of love and adventure. Mr. Gordon is
the author of two notable non-fiction successes, but he scores heavily
in this, his first work of fiction.



  UNDER THE WITCHES' MOON

  _By Nathan Gallizier_

  _Author of "The Sorceress of Rome," "The Court of
  Lucifer," "The Hill of Venus," etc._

  _Illustrated by The Kinneys, cloth 12mo, net, $1.50;
  carriage paid, $1.65_

This romantic tale of tenth-century Rome concerns itself with the
fortunes and adventures of Tristan of Avalon while in the Eternal City
on a pilgrimage to do penance for his love of Hellayne, the wife of his
liege lord, Count Roger de Laval.

Tristan's meeting with the Queen Courtesan of the Aventine; her
infatuation for the pilgrim; Tristan's rounds of obediences, cut short
by his appointment as Captain of Sant' Angelo by Alberic, Senator
of Rome; the intrigues of Basil, the Grand Chamberlain, who aspires
to the dominion of Rome and the love of Theodora; the trials of
Hellayne, who alternately falls into the power of Basil and Theodora;
the scene between the Grand Chamberlain and Bessarion in the ruins
of the Coliseum; the great feud between Roxana and Theodora and the
final overthrow of the latter's regime constitute some of the dramatic
episodes of the romance.

"This new book adds greater weight to the claim that Mr.
Gallizier is the greatest writer of historical novels in America
today."--_Cincinnati Times-Star._

"In many respects we consider Mr. Gallizier the most versatile and
interesting writer of the day."--_Saxby's Magazine._



  _A third CHEERFUL BOOK_
     Trade--------Mark

  SYLVIA ARDEN DECIDES

  By Margaret R. Piper

  _A Sequel to "Sylvia's Experiment: The Cheerful Book"_
                                     Trade--------Mark
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  _Illustrated, decorative jacket, net, $1.35; carriage paid,
  $1.50_

In the original CHEERFUL BOOK, with its rippling play of incident,
Sylvia proved herself a bringer of tidings of great joy to many people.
In the second book devoted to her adventures, she was a charming
heroine--urbane, resourceful and vivacious--with an added shade of
picturesqueness due to her environment. In this third story Sylvia
is a little older grown, deep in the problem of just-out-of-college
adjustment to the conditions of the "wide, wide world," and in the
process of learning, as she puts it, "to live as deep and quick as
I can." The scene of the new story is laid partly at Arden Hall and
partly in New York and, in her sincere effort to find herself, Sylvia
finds love in real fairy tale fashion.

"There is a world of human nature, and neighborhood contentment and
quaint, quiet humor in Margaret R. Piper's books of good cheer. Her
tales are well proportioned and subtly strong in their literary aspects
and quality."--_North American, Philadelphia._



  A PLACE IN THE SUN

  _By Mrs. Henry Backus_

  _Author of "The Career of Dr. Weaver," "The Rose
  of Roses," etc._

  _12mo, cloth, illustrated by Wm. Van Dresser, net, $1.35;
  carriage paid, $1.50_

Gunda Karoli is a very much alive young person with a zest for life and
looking-forward philosophy which helps her through every trial. She is
sustained in her struggles against the disadvantage of her birth by
a burning faith in the great American ideal--that here in the United
States every one has a chance to win for himself a place in the sun.

Gunda takes for her gospel the Declaration of Independence, only
to find that, although this democratic doctrine is embodied in the
constitution of the country, it does not manifest itself outwardly in
its social life. Nevertheless, she succeeds in mounting step by step
in the social scale, from the time she first appears at Skyland on the
Knobs as a near-governess, to her brief season in the metropolis as a
danseuse.

How she wins the interest of Justin Arnold, the fastidious descendant
of a fine old family, and brings into his self-centered existence a new
life and fresh charm, provides a double interest to the plot.



  VIRGINIA OF ELK CREEK
  VALLEY

  _By Mary Ellen Chase_

  _12mo, cloth decorative, illustrated by R. Farrington
  Elwell, net, $1.35; carriage paid, $1.50_

A sequel to last year's success, THE GIRL FROM THE BIG HORN COUNTRY
(sixth printing). This new story is more western in flavor than the
first book--since practically all of the action occurs back in the Big
Horn country, at Virginia's home, to which she invites her eastern
friends for a summer vacation. The vacation in the West proves "the
best ever" for the Easterners, and in recounting their pleasures they
tell of the hundreds of miles of horseback riding, how they climbed
mountains, trapped a bear, shot gophers, fished, camped, homesteaded,
and of the delightful hospitality of Virginia and her friends.


"The story is full of life and movement and presents a variety of
interesting characters."--_St. Paul Despatch._


"This is most gladsome reading to all who love healthfulness of mind,
heart and body."--_Boston Ideas._



  Selections from
  The Page Company's
  List of Fiction

  WORKS OF
  ELEANOR H. PORTER

  POLLYANNA: The GLAD Book (360,000)
  Trade Mark Trade----Mark

  Cloth decorative, illustrated by Stockton Mulford.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

Mr. Leigh Mitchell Hodges, The Optimist, in an editorial for the
_Philadelphia North American_, says: "And when, after Pollyanna has
gone away, you get her letter saying she is going to take 'eight steps'
to-morrow--well, I don't know just what you may do, but I know of one
person who buried his face in his hands and shook with the gladdest
sort of sadness and got down on his knees and thanked the Giver of all
gladness for Pollyanna."


  POLLYANNA GROWS UP: The Second GLAD Book
  Trade Mark    (180,000)    Trade----Mark

  Cloth decorative, illustrated by H. Weston Taylor.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

When the story of POLLYANNA told in The _Glad_ Book was ended a great
cry of regret for the vanishing "Glad Girl" went up all over the
country--and other countries, too. Now POLLYANNA appears again, just as
sweet and joyous-hearted, more grown up and more lovable.

"Take away frowns! Put down the worries! Stop fidgeting and
disagreeing and grumbling! Cheer up, everybody! POLLYANNA has come
back!"--_Christian Herald._


  _The GLAD Book Calendar_
  Trade----Mark

  THE POLLYANNA CALENDAR
      Trade Mark

(_This calendar is issued annually; the calendar for the new year being
ready about Sept. 1st of the preceding year. Note: in ordering please
specify what year you desire._)

Decorated and printed in colors. _Net_, $1.50; _carriage paid_, $1.65


"There is a message of cheer on every page, and the calendar is
beautifully illustrated."--_Kansas City Star._


MISS BILLY (18th printing)

 Cloth decorative, with a frontispiece in full color from a painting by
 G. Tyng . . _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"There is something altogether fascinating about 'Miss Billy,'
some inexplicable feminine characteristic that seems to demand the
individual attention of the reader from the moment we open the book
until we reluctantly turn the last page."--_Boston Transcript._


MISS BILLY'S DECISION (11th printing)

 Cloth decorative, with a frontispiece in full color from a painting by
 Henry W. Moore.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"The story is written in bright, clever style and has plenty of action
and humor. Miss Billy is nice to know and so are her friends."--_New
Haven Times Leader._


MISS BILLY--MARRIED (8th printing)

 Cloth decorative, with a frontispiece in full color from a painting by
 W. Haskell Coffin.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"Although Pollyanna is the only copyrighted glad girl, Miss Billy is
just as glad as the younger figure and radiates just as much gladness.
She disseminates joy so naturally that we wonder why all girls are not
like her."--_Boston Transcript._


SIX STAR RANCH (19th Printing)

 Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated by R. Farrington Elwell.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"'Six Star Ranch' bears all the charm of the author's genius and
is about a little girl down in Texas who practices the 'Pollyanna
Philosophy' with irresistible success. The book is one of the kindliest
things, if not the best, that the author of the Pollyanna books has
done. It is a welcome addition to the fast-growing family of _Glad_
Books."--_Howard Russell Bangs in the Boston Post._


CROSS CURRENTS

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"To one who enjoys a story of life as it is to-day, with its sorrows
as well as its triumphs, this volume is sure to appeal."--_Book News
Monthly._


THE TURN OF THE TIDE

 Cloth decorative, illustrated. _Net_, $1.25; _carriage paid_, $1.40

"A very beautiful book showing the influence that went to the
developing of the life of a dear little girl into a true and good
woman."--_Herald and Presbyter, Cincinnati, Ohio._



  WORKS OF
  L. M. MONTGOMERY
  THE FOUR ANNE BOOKS


ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (40th printing)

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  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"In 'Anne of Green Gables' you will find the dearest and most moving
and delightful child since the immortal Alice."--_Mark Twain in a
letter to Francis Wilson._


ANNE OF AVONLEA (24th printing)

 Cloth decorative, illustrated by George Gibbs.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"A book to lift the spirit and send the pessimist into
bankruptcy!"--_Meredith Nicholson._


CHRONICLES OF AVONLEA (6th printing)

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"A story of decidedly unusual conception and interest."--_Baltimore
Sun._


ANNE OF THE ISLAND (10th printing)

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 H. Weston Taylor.

  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"It has been well worth while to watch the growing up of Anne, and the
privilege of being on intimate terms with her throughout the process
has been properly valued."--_New York Herald._


THE STORY GIRL (9th printing)

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  _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"A book that holds one's interest and keeps a kindly smile upon one's
lips and in one's heart."--_Chicago Inter-Ocean._


KILMENY OF THE ORCHARD (10th printing)

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"A story born in the heart of Arcadia and brimful of the sweet life of
the primitive environment."--_Boston Herald._


THE GOLDEN ROAD (5th printing)

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"It is a simple, tender tale, touched to higher notes, now and then,
by delicate hints of romance, tragedy and pathos."--_Chicago Record
Herald._



  NOVELS BY
  MRS. HENRY BACKUS

THE CAREER OF DOCTOR WEAVER

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"High craftsmanship is the leading characteristic of this novel, which,
like all good novels, is a love story abounding in real palpitant human
interest. The most startling feature of the story is the way its author
has torn aside the curtain and revealed certain phases of the relation
between the medical profession and society."--_Dr. Charles Reed in the
Lancet Clinic._


THE ROSE OF ROSES

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The author has achieved a thing unusual in developing a love story
which adheres to conventions under unconventional circumstances.

"Mrs. Backus' novel is distinguished in the first place for its
workmanship."--_Buffalo Evening News._


  NOVELS BY
  MARGARET R. PIPER


  SYLVIA'S EXPERIMENT: The Cheerful Book
                       Trade------Mark

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 Z. P. Nikolaki. _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"An atmosphere of good spirits pervades the book; the humor that
now and then flashes across the page is entirely natural, and the
characters are well individualized."--_Boston Post._


  SYLVIA OF THE HILL TOP: The Second Cheerful
  Book                             Trade----Mark

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 by Gene Pressler. _Net_, $1.35; _carriage paid_, $1.50

"There is a world of human nature and neighborhood contentment
and quaint quiet humor in Margaret R. Piper's second book of good
cheer."--_Philadelphia North American._


MISS MADELYN MACK, DETECTIVE By HUGH C. WEIR.

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"Clever in plot and effective in style, the author has seized on some
of the most sensational features of modern life, and the result is
a detective novel that gets away from the beaten track of mystery
stories."--_New York Sun._



  WORKS OF
  CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS


HAUNTERS OF THE SILENCES

 Cloth decorative, with many drawings by Charles Livingston Bull, four
 of which are in full color . . . . $2.00

The stories in Mr. Roberts's new collection are the strongest and best
he has ever written.

He has largely taken for his subjects those animals rarely met with
in books, whose lives are spent "In the Silences," where they are the
supreme rulers.

"As a writer about animals, Mr. Roberts occupies an enviable place. He
is the most literary, as well as the most imaginative and vivid of all
the nature writers."--_Brooklyn Eagle._


RED FOX

 THE STORY OF HIS ADVENTUROUS CAREER IN THE RINGWAAK WILDS, AND OF HIS
 FINAL TRIUMPH OVER THE ENEMIES OF HIS KIND. With fifty illustrations,
 including frontispiece in color and cover design by Charles Livingston
 Bull.

Square quarto, cloth decorative . . . . . $2.00

"True in substance but fascinating as fiction. It will interest old and
young, city-bound and free-footed, those who know animals and those who
do not."--_Chicago Record Herald._


THE KINDRED OF THE WILD

 A BOOK OF ANIMAL LIFE. With fifty-one full-page plates and many
 decorations from drawings by Charles Livingston Bull.

Square quarto, cloth decorative . . . . . $2.00

"Is in many ways the most brilliant collection of animal stories that
has appeared; well named and well done."--_John Burroughs._


THE WATCHERS OF THE TRAILS

 A companion volume to "The Kindred of the Wild." With forty-eight
 full-page plates and many decorations from drawings by Charles
 Livingston Bull.

Square quarto, cloth decorative $2.00

"These stories are exquisite in their refinement, and yet robust in
their appreciation of some of the rougher phases of woodcraft. Among
the many writers about animals, Mr. Roberts occupies an enviable
place."--_The Outlook._



  WORKS OF
  GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO

Signor d'Annunzio is known throughout the world as a poet and a
dramatist, but above all as a novelist, for it is in his novels that he
is at his best. In poetic thought and graceful expression he has few
equals among the writers of the day.

He is engaged on a most ambitious work--nothing less than the writing
of nine novels which cover the whole field of human sentiment. This
work he has divided into three trilogies, and five of the nine books
have been published. It is to be regretted that other labors have
interrupted the completion of the series.

"This book is realistic. Some say that it is brutally so. But the
realism is that of Flaubert, and not of Zola. There is no plain
speaking for the sake of plain speaking. Every detail is justified
in the fact that it illuminates either the motives or the actions of
the man and woman who here stand revealed. It is deadly true. The
author holds the mirror up to nature, and the reader, as he sees his
own experiences duplicated in passage after passage, has something of
the same sensation as all of us know on the first reading of George
Meredith's 'Egoist.' Reading these pages is like being out in the
country on a dark night in a storm. Suddenly a flash of lightning comes
and every detail of your surroundings is revealed."--_Review of "The
Triumph of Death" in the New York Evening Sun._

The volumes published are as follows. Each 1 vol., library 12mo, cloth
. . . . . . . . $1.50


  _THE ROMANCES OF THE ROSE_

  =THE CHILD OF PLEASURE= (IL PIACERE).
  =THE INTRUDER= (L'INNOCENTE).
  =THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH= (IL TRIONFO DELLA
  MORTE).

  _THE ROMANCES OF THE LILY_

  =THE MAIDENS OF THE ROCKS= (LE VERGINI
  DELLE ROCCE).

  _THE ROMANCES OF THE POMEGRANATE_

  =THE FLAME OF LIFE= (IL FUOCO).


       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Note:

Some words appear in both hyphenated and non-hyphenated forms in
the original; these variations have been edited for the sake of
consistency.

Minor punctuation errors have been corrected.





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