The little party passed up the great staircase of the keep and presently halted before the inscribed wooden door by which Laurence had entered the Temple of Evil.
As Gilles de Sille opened it for the maids to precede him, the skirt of Maud Lindesay’s robe, blown back by the draught of the chamber, fluttered against the cheek of Laurence MacKim as he lay on his face in the niche of the wall. At the light touch he came to himself, and looked about with a strange and instant change in all the affections and movements of his heart.
With the coming in of the maidens, fear seemed utterly to forsake him. A clarity of purpose, an alertness of brain, a strength of heart unknown before, took the place of the trembling bath of horror in which he had swooned away.
It was like the sudden appearance of two white angels walking fearless and unscathed through the grim dominions of the Lords of Hell.
Incarnate Good had somehow entered the house of the Demon, though it was in the slender periphery of two maidens’ bodies, and evil, strong and resistless before, seemed in the moment to lose half its power.
[Illustration: IT WAS LIKE THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF TWO WHITE ANGELS WALKING FEARLESS AND UNSCATHED THROUGH THE GRIM DOMINIONS OF THE LORDS OF HELL.]
THE LAST SACRIFICE TO BARRAN-SATHANAS
And as Laurence MacKim, crouched in the dim obscurity of the curtained doorway, looked forth, this is what he saw.
Maud Lindesay and Margaret Douglas advanced into the centre of the temple where was a slab of white marble let into the floor. As if by instinct the two maids stopped upon it, standing hand in hand before the iron altar and the vast shadowy image which gloomed above and appeared to reach forward in act to clutch them. After the first check in his hideous incantations, Gilles de Retz had returned to his own chamber, in which, after his entrance, the light gleamed brighter and more fiercely red than ever. As the maidens stood on the marble square La Meffraye went to the door and called certain words within, conveying some message which Laurence could not hear.
Then with an assured carriage and haughty stride came forth the marshal, his grey hair and blue-black beard in strong contrast with his haggard corpse-pale face, from which the momentary glow of youth half-restored had already faded, as fades a footprint upon wet sand.
Gilles de Sille and Poitou bowed silently before him as men who have done their commission, and who retire to await further orders. But La Meffraye, once more apparent, stood her ground.
“Here are the dainty maids from the far land; no beggars’ brats are they. No strays and pickings from the streets. No, nor yet silly village innocents who follow La Meffraye from the play-fields through the woodlands to the Paradise of our Lord Gilles! Hasten not the joy! Let these pearls of youth and beauteousness die indeed, but let them die slowly and deliciously. And in the last blood of an ancient race let our master bathe and find the new life he seeks. Hear us, O Barran-Sathanas, and grant our prayer!”