The Cost of a Rose; or, The Ordeal of Blood: Chapter 25

“I beg the gods to disappoint my crime;
Yet almost wish them deaf to my desire:
I long, repent; repent, and long again;
And every moment differs from the last.
I must no longer parley with destruction:
Auletes, seize me, force me to my chamber,
There chain me down and guard me from myself.
Hell rises in each thought; ’tis time to fly.”

I said that weeks had passed since my ordeal of innocence. I did not realize how much time had passed, however, until I awoke the next morning and felt the chill air that had crept somehow past the window-glass into my chamber overnight. I rose from bed, pulling my robe about me, and gazed, shuddering, out the mist-shrouded window. The Judge’s manor boasted extensive grounds: a garden shadowed the brook that ran down the valley at its feet and the forest skirted and encompassed the edge of the grounds like the guarding walls of some dark bastillion. No longer were the leaves of the forest trees a vibrant green; they had turned to burnished gold. A season had passed since I had been dragged, untouched, through thorns.

After washing my face at a table basin, I returned to the warmth of the bedclothes and began to amuse myself again with the Judge’s volumes. That he took an especial interest in the cruel histories of antiquity, the degrading pleasures of the Roman tyrant and the purifying flames of the Italian inquisitor, surprised me not in the slightest – but the variety of dry works of theology, many of which contained doctrines and answered arguments that were several decades outmoded, struck me as peculiar. Was there a peculiar delight that he took in applying himself to these metaphysical mysteries, in torturing himself with the casuist labors of an Augustine or an Archbishop Laud? I had heard accounts of certain holy men who would mortify their flesh with ice water, whips, purgings, and hair-shirts and yet who would find a voluptuous relief in their agonies. It would not surprise me to learn that my Adversary belonged to this class of willing martyrs.

I had neither the education nor inclination to apply myself long to these dry texts, many of which quoted long Latin passages and French theologians whom I could not understand, and so I returned to reading of lions and Christians. It was an hour after dawn when I heard a key turn in the lock and saw Gottfried enter. Setting a silver tray at the foot of my bed, he turned to depart.

“Bread and water?” I exclaimed. “Have I been tormented so thoroughly that there is no room left for anything but the tritest of tortures?”

“Perhaps,” the Hessian replied. “Consider that the man who possesses you could seal you up within this room and let you wither away and that no one would ever think or care to find you in your chamber-grave.” He paused and added, “Moreover, he has not left you with bread and water.”

As he left, consciously leaving the door to my chamber slightly ajar, I lifted the glass to my nose. Rather than the clean smell of water, I smelled the headiness of claret. With the book of torments open upon my knee, I raised the claret and whispered a toast to my absent Adversary before downing its contents in a single swallow – and I own that its refreshing heat caused the dry crust of bread to go down my throat more easily.

I did not see Lord Complin all that morning. I dressed myself quickly in the clothes that I had been given the evening before and left my chamber. The mansion, I realized, had been carefully locked and shuttered in such a way that I could roam at liberty within its walls, but could not find any egress to escape. Every lower window was barred fast with impenetrable shutters of iron only certain doors were left unlocked. Only the higher windows were unfastened, allowing a grey autumnal light to illumine and shadow the rafters, and the doors that I was allowed to pass through opened upon parlors and libraries that admitted no exit to the mansion’s grounds.

So it was that I passed the great majority of the day in gazing upon portraits of unknown men in ancient livery, their paintings framed in moldering gold, and perusing the greater extent of the Judge’s library. His reading habits, I saw, were extensive and pedantic as befit a lord and magistrate of England and Scotland’s higher courts: volumes of law and history stood shoulder to shoulder with poetry and antiquated punitive codes. There were touches of beauty too: tall armless statues, voluptuously entwined in the coils of marble serpents; timepieces made of such delicate material that they issued not a sound as their handpieces moved in pendulous rhythm; dead roses captured in glass.

Several hours later, Gottfried found me in my wanderings, and served me a peculiar lunch of raisins, nuts, and claret. The effect that this strange diet had upon me is difficult to describe: my hunger pangs were staved, but I felt light-headed and frail. I begged him for a glass of milk or a portion of meat, but he denied me with a smile.

As the afternoon turned to evening, the wine and idleness of the day left me in a languorous and dissipated state, which I supposed was the intention of my Adversary. I was given a dinner, this time of light partridge and claret, enough to satisfy but not to strengthen me. Yet as twilight darkened the interior of the mansion, I found myself drawn to one particular painting that hung within an adjoining hallway by the parlor. It was curiously placed, as though meant to be kept out of sight and yet not altogether hidden, but what primarily drew my attention was the striking likeness that its subject bore to Judge Complin himself. There was the same Roman nose, the voluptuary’s cruel, discerning lips, the high, patrician forehead – I would have thought them brothers, were the man in the painting not garbed in clothing that had not been in fashion since Queen Elizabeth’s time.

“Did you rest well, Alan, after so valiantly defending your virtue last night?”

I turned from the painting to see its living reflection in the face of Complin. He acknowledged my astonishment with a grave smile. “My ancestor – I take it that you have noticed the resemblance?”

“Resemblance? I confess that I find it hard to believe that this is not a portrait of you merely costumed in the garb of Shakespeare’s time. Who is he to you?”

“A grandfather nine generations removed. And yet his destiny hangs closely by mine.”

He was lighting the candles attached to iron cressets nailed into the wall of the hallway. “My lord, I could not help but notice that there are a great many books of divinity in your library. I did not take you for so devout a man.”

“How curious. Why should I not be devout to the Power that has given me such power? Do you not believe that if Heaven wished you free, that Heaven would then free you?”

“A peculiar logic, my lord. If one follows such a line of reasoning, then one would be forced to conclude that Heaven delighted in the saints whom Nero consigned to burn and illumine Rome!”

“And when you have presented me with evidence to the contrary, then I shall happily concede to your superior logic. Are not the burning martyrs as incense to Heaven’s throne?” Finished with the candles, he gestured for me to follow him – and I, bewitched, I confess, by the peculiar awfulness of his words, pursued him. He continued: “My father, William Complin, was the Archbishop of Lichfield. I was encouraged from an early age to study metaphysics and divinity, for it was his wish that I either follow in his footsteps or become as I am now. I confess that I had less of an aptitude for priestcraft and a greater fondness for the Law, and so I am as you see me.”

“Little wonder – the very idea of you as an Archbishop confounds me.”

“And yet in an earlier century, I would not have hesitated at the opportunity. The power wielded by an Archbishop in this time is a dull echo of what it was before. Think, Alan, if you were a Dissenter and I an Archbishop in King Charles’s time. Or you a heretic and I a priest of Spain. I can see by your eyes that you would have no laughter for me then.”

“I would do as I have done with you now – pray that my conduct should bear so shining a witness to you of my faultlessness that you would have no choice but to set me at liberty.”

“What – no prayer for my destruction? Archbishops have their enemies, you know.”

I looked at him, wishing to summon a retort, but when I met the grave questioning in his eyes, I faltered. The mystery of my silence caused him to hold my gaze all the more steadily; and in that moment, I felt the secret of my soul drawn out. Bewildered by my own speechlessness, I said at last, too late: “Of course, I would wish for it, my lord.”

“Wish for what, Alan? My destruction?”

“What reason should I have not to?”

“You have every reason, which is what makes your silence so precious to me.”

We withdrew into one of the locked rooms that I had been barricaded from all the day; when I saw the roaring fireplace, twice as large as an ordinary hearth, and the shelves of ancient volumes that reached to the rafters, I recognized it as the library that I had spoken to the Judge in so many months ago when he had taken me to his home and confronted me about my interfering with Glanville’s trial. He gestured for me to sit wherever I willed, himself reclining on a long sedan of crimson cloth and dark oak, lighting his customary cigarillo by the light of a candle. I seated myself in an armchair closer by the fire, so that I faced my Adversary but at a slight remove.

Though his posture was relaxed, there was a languid strength rather than dissipation in his bearing: it was present even the slightest of his motions, such as the way in which he propped his high leathern boots upon the arm of the couch, his head resting against a firm pillow adorned with golden, Turkish tasseling. I wondered if he slept as the beasts of the jungle are said to do, their bodies ever alive, even when dreaming, to fly upon their prey or escape their enemies. He seemed an eternal fire: there never seemed even the shadow of ordinary, mortal exhaustion to temper his awful, immortal vibrance.

“If you had your choice of curses, which would you choose for me, Alan? I do not want you to answer straightaway, but only after I have told you a peculiar tale. You, my rebellious victim, know me well – perhaps far better than those who have served me for years. Well, I am not a superstitious man, but the particulars of this tale have caught in the throat of my conscience – and there is nothing with which I can wash it down. Perhaps when you hear it, you will understand me still more fully – aye, and the nature of my passions, which it is your fate to satisfy.”

“If I so choose,” I interrupted. “You will recall that last night, I was in no humor to satisfy your demands.”

“I cannot force you to troth yourself to me, it is true. But all else I can, and will. Is your pride worth so much?”

“It is, which is why the fact that you cannot dispossess me of it torments you so, my lord,” I replied.

There was some fire that my words kindled in him – its awful flames seemed to leap from his heart to his eyes and straight to my soul. “Oh, but I will, Alan,” he said softly. “Do not forget that your knowledge of me is surpassed by my deeper knowledge of you. I have seen into your heart; I read your inmost thoughts. You wish to be ruled by me.”

The glorying confidence with which he spoke was terrible to hear; he spoke as though it had been his own soul rather than some shadowy vision that had visited me every night in dreams. I did not reply to his last remark, though his words inflamed me; I did not trust myself to deliver a retort that would not in some way gratify him. My Adversary contemplated me in silence for a long moment and then, seeing that I intended no further interruption, began to relate to me his history.


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