The Two Men in Black

The person who entered wore a black gown and a morose air. What at the first glance struck our friend Jehan (who, as may be supposed, so placed himself in his retreat as to be able to see and hear all at his ease) was the utter dejection manifest both in the garments and the countenance of the new-comer. There was, however, a certain meekness diffused over that face; but it was the meekness of a cat or of a judge— a hypocritical gentleness. He was very gray and wrinkled, about sixty, with blinking eye-lids, white eye-brows, a pendulous lip, and large hands. When Jehan saw that it was nothing more— that is to say, merely some physician or magistrate, and that the man’s nose was a long way from his mouth, a sure sign of stupidity— he ensconced himself deeper in his hole, desperate at being forced to pass an indefinite time in such an uncomfortable posture and such dull company.

The Archdeacon had not even risen to greet this person. He motioned him to a stool near the door, and after a few moments’ silence, during which he seemed to be pursuing some previous meditation, he remarked in a patronizing tone:

“Good-day to you, Maître Jacques.”

“And to you greeting, Maître,” responded the man in black.

There was between these two greetings— the offhand Maître Jacques of the one, and the obsequious Maître of the other— the difference between “Sir” and “Your Lordship,” of domne and domine. It was evidently the meeting between master and disciple.

“Well,” said the Archdeacon, after another interval of silence which Maître Jacques took care not to break, “will you succeed?”

“Alas, master,” replied the other with a mournful smile, “I use the bellows assiduously— cinders and to spare— but not a spark of gold.”

Dom Claude made a gesture of impatience. “That is not what I allude to, Maître Jacques Charmolue, but to the charge against your sorcerer— Marc Cenaine, you call him, I think — butler to the Court of Accounts. Did he confess his wizardry when you put him to the question?”

“Alas, no,” replied Maître Jacques, with his deprecating smile. “We have not that consolation. The man is a perfect stone. We might boil him in the pig-market, and we should get no word out of him. However, we spare no pains to arrive at the truth. Every joint is already dislocated on the rack; we have put all our irons in the fire, as the old comic writer Plautus has it:

’Advorsum stimulos, laminas, crucesque, compedesque, Nervos, catenas, carceres, numellas, pedicas, boias.’

But all to no purpose. That man is terrible. ’Tis love’s labour lost!”

“You have found nothing fresh in his house?”

“Oh, yes,” said Maître Jacques, fumbling in his pouch, “this parchment. There are words on it that we do not understand. And yet, monsieur, the criminal advocate, Philippe Lheulier, knows a little Hebrew, which he learned in an affair with the Jews of the Rue Kantersten, at Brussels.” So saying, Maître Jacques unrolled a parchment.

“Give it to me,” said the Archdeacon. “Magic pure and simple, Maître Jacques!” he cried, as he cast his eyes over the scroll. “’Emen-Hétan!’ that is the cry of the ghouls when they arrive at the witches’ Sabbath. ’Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso!’ that is the conjuration which rebinds the devil in hell. ’Hax, pax, max!’ that refers to medicine— a spell against the bite of a mad dog. Maître Jacques, you are King’s attorney in the Ecclesiastical Court; this parchment is an abomination.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.