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CHAPTER XVIII
THE PURSUIT OF JACOBEA

The chatelaine of Martzburg sat in the best guest-chamber of a wayside hostel that lay a few hours' journeying from her home. So swiftly had she fled from Frankfort that its last scenes were still before her eyes like a gorgeous and disjointed pageant; the Emperor stricken down at the feast, the brief, flashing turmoil, Ysabeau's peerless face, that her own horrid thoughts coloured with a sinister expression, Balthasar of Courtrai bringing the city to his feet—Hugh of Rooselaare snatched away to a dungeon—and over it all the leaping red light of a hundred flambeaux. Presently she passed into the little bed-chamber and took up a mirror into which she gazed long and earnestly.

"Is it a wicked face?"

She answered herself—"No, no."

"Is it a weak face?"

"Alas!"

The wind rose higher, fluttered the lamp-flame and stirred the arras on the wall; and laying the mirror down she returned to the outer chamber. Up and down walked Jacobea of Martzburg, clasping and unclasping her soft young hands, her grey eyes turning from right to left. She wished she had asked for a fire and that she had kept one of the women to sleep with her—it was so lonely, and the sound of the rain reminded her of that night at Martzburg when the two scholars had been given shelter. She wanted to go to the door and call some one, but a curious heaviness in her limbs began to make movement irksome; she could no longer drag her steps, and with a sigh she sank into the frayed velvet chair by the fireplace. She tried to tell herself that she was free, that she was on her way to escape, but could not form the words on her lips, hardly the thought; her head throbbed, and a Cold sensation gripped her heart; she moved in the chair, only to feel as if held down in it; she struggled in vain to rise. "Barbara!" she whispered, and thought she was calling aloud.

Her brain whirled with memories, with anticipations and vague expectations, tinged with fear like the sensations of a dream; she felt that she was sinking into soft infolding darkness; the lamp-flame changed into a fire-pointed star that rested on a knight's helm, the sound of wind and rain became faint human cries. She whispered, as the dying Emperor had done—"I am bewitched." Then the Knight, with the star glittering above his brow, came towards her and offered her a goblet.

"Sebastian!" she cried, and sat up with a face of horror; the chamber was spinning about her; she saw the Knight's long painted shield and his bare hand holding out the wine; his visor was down. She shrieked and laughed together, and put the goblet aside.

Some one spoke out of the mystery.

"The Empress found happiness—why not you?—may not a woman die as easily as a man?"

She tried to remember her prayers, to find her crucifix; but the cold edge of the gold touched her lips, and she drank. The hot wine scorched her throat and filled her with strength; as she sprang up the Knight's star quivered back into the lamp-flame, the vapours cleared from the room; she found herself staring at Dirk Renswoude, who stood in the centre of the room and smiled at her.

"Oh!" she cried in a bewildered way, and put her hands to her forehead.

"Well," said Dirk; he held a rich gold goblet, empty, and his was the voice she had already heard. "Why did you leave Frankfort?"

Jacobea shuddered. "I do not know;" her eyes were blank and dull. "I think I was afraid——"

"Lest you might do as Ysabeau did?" asked Dirk.

"What has happened to me?" was all her answer.

"What of your steward?" whispered Dirk.

She responded mechanically as if she spoke by rote. "I have no steward. I am going alone to Martzburg."

Dirk set the goblet beside the lamp the while he watched her intently with frowning eyes. "What of Sebastian?" he repeated. "Ye fled from him, but have ye ceased to think of him?"

"No," said the chatelaine of Martzburg; "no, day and night—what is God, that He lets a man's face to come between me and Him?"

"The Emperor is dead," said Dirk.

"Is dead," she repeated.

"Ysabeau knows how."

"Ah!" she whispered. "I think I knew it."

"Shall the Empress be happy and you starve your heart to death?"

Jacobea sighed. "Sebastian! Sebastian!" She had the look of one walking in sleep.

"What is Sybilla to you?"

"His wife," answered Jacobea in the same tone; "his wife."

"The dead do not bind the living."

Jacobea laughed.

"No, no—how cold it is here; do you not feel the wind across the floor?" Her fingers wandered aimless over her bosom. "Sybilla is dead, you say?"

"Nay—Sybilla might die—so easily."

Jacobea laughed again.

"Ysabeau did it—she is young and fair," she said. "And she could do it—why not I? But I cannot bear to look on death." Her expressionless eyes turned on Dirk still in sightless fashion.

"A word," said Dirk—"that is all your part; send him ahead to Martzburg."

Jacobea nodded aimlessly.

"Why not?—why not?—Sybilla would be in bed, lying awake, listening to the wind as I have done—so often—and he would come up the steep, dark stairs. Oh, and she would raise her head——"

Dirk put in: "'Has the chatelaine spoken?' she would say, and he would make an end of it."

"Perhaps she would be glad to die," said Jacobea dreamily. "I have thought that I should be glad to die."

"And Sebastian?" said Dirk.

Her strangely altered face lit and changed. "Does he care for me?" she asked piteously.

"Enough to make life and death of little moment," answered Dirk. "Has he not followed you from Frankfort?"

"Followed me?" murmured Jacobea. "I thought he had forsaken me."

"Sebastian," said Dirk softly. He waved his little hand, and the steward appeared in the dark doorway of the inner room; he looked from one to the other swiftly, and his face was flushed and dangerous.

"Sebastian," said Jacobea; there was no change in voice nor countenance; he came across the room to her, speaking as he came, but a sudden fresh gust of wind without scattered his words.

"Have you followed me?" she asked.

"Yea," he answered hoarsely, staring at her; he had not dreamed a living face could look so white as hers, no, nor dead face either. He dropped to one knee before her, and took her limp hand.

She bent forward, and with her other hand touched his tumbled hair. "Lord of Martzburg and my lord," she said, and smiled sweetly. "Do you know how much I love you, Sebastian? why, you must ask the image of the Virgin—I have told her so often, and no one else; nay, no one else."

Sebastian sprang to his feet. "Oh God!" he cried. "I am ashamed—ye have bewitched her—she knows not what she says."

Dirk turned on him fiercely. "Did ye not curse me when ye thought she had escaped? did I not swear to recover her for you? is she not yours? Saint Gabriel cannot save her now."

"If she had not said that," muttered Sebastian; he turned distracted eyes upon her standing with no change in her expression, the tips of her fingers resting on the table; her wide grey eyes gazing before her.

"Fool," answered Dirk; "an' she did not love you, what chance had you? I left my fortunes to help you to this prize, and I will not see you palter now—lady, speak to him."

"Ay, speak to me," cried Sebastian earnestly; "tell me if it be your wish that I, at all costs, should become your husband, tell me if it is your will that the woman in our way should go."

A slow passion stirred the calm of her face; her eyes glittered. "Yes," she said; "yes."

"Jacobea!"—he took her arm and drew her close to him—"look me in the face and repeat that to me; think if it is worth—Hell—to you and me."

She gazed up at him, then hid her face on his sleeve. "Ay, Hell," she answered heavily; "go to Martzburg to-night; she cannot claim you when she is dead; how I have striven not to hate her—my lord, my husband."

He put her from him into the worn old chair. "I will come back to you—to-morrow."

The wind rushed between them and made the lamp-flame leap wildly. "Make haste!" cried Dirk; "away—the horse is below."

Sebastian opened the door on to the dark stairway and went softly out.

"Now, it is done," repeated Dirk in a swelling whisper, "and she is lost." He snatched up the lamp, and, holding it aloft, looked down at the drooping figure in the chair; Jacobea's head sank back against the tarnished velvet; there was a smile on her white lips, and her hands rested in her lap; even with Dirk's intent face bending over her and the full light pouring down on her, she did not look up. "Gold hair and grey eyes—and her little feet," murmured Dirk; "one of God's own flowers—what are you now?"

Jacobea moved in her seat. "Is he gone?" she asked fearfully.

"Certes, he has gone," smiled Dirk. "Would you have him dally on such an errand?"

Jacobea rose swiftly and stood a moment listening to the unhappy wind. "I thought he was here," she said under her breath. "I thought that he had come at last."

"He came," said Dirk.

The chatelaine looked swiftly round at him; there was a dawning knowledge in her eyes.

"Who are you?" she demanded, and her voice had lost its calm; "what has happened?"

"Do you not remember me?" smiled Dirk.

Jacobea staggered back. "Why," she stammered, "he was here, down at my feet, and we spoke—about Sybilla."

"And now," said Dirk, "he has gone to free you of Sybilla—as you bid him."

The Pursuit of Jacobea

"As I bid him?"

Dirk clasped his cloak across his breast.

"At this moment he rides to Martzburg on this service of yours, and I must begone to Frankfort where my fortunes wait. For you, these words: should you meet again one Theirry, a pretty scholar, do not prate to him of God and Judgment, nor try to act the saint. Let him alone, he is no matter of yours, and maybe some woman cares for him as ye care for Sebastian, ay, and will hold him, though she have not yellow hair."

"You are the Devil!" she shrieked. "I have delivered myself unto the Devil!"

She beat her hands together, and fell towards his feet.

Dirk stepped close and peered curiously into her unconscious face.

"Why, she is not so fair," he murmured, "and grief will spoil her bloom, and 'twas only her face he loved." He extinguished the lamp and smiled into the darkness.

He drew the curtain away from the deep-set window, and the moon, riding the storm clouds like a silver armoured Amazon, cast a ghastly light over the huddled figure of Jacobea of Martzburg, and threw her shadow dark and trailing across the cold floor. Dirk left the chamber and the hostel unseen and unheard. The wind made too great a clamour for stray sounds to tell. Out in the wild, wet night he paused a moment to get his bearings; then turned towards the shed where he and Sebastian had left their horses.

There were the chatelaine's horses asleep in their stalls, here was his own; but the place beside it where Sebastian's steed had waited was empty.

Dirk, shivering a little in the tempest, unfastened his horse, and was preparing to depart, when a near sound arrested him. Some one was moving in the straw at the back of the shed. Dirk listened, his hand on the bridle, till a moonbeam striking across his shoulder revealed a cloaked figure rising from the ground.

The stranger got to his feet. "I have but taken shelter here, sir," he said, "deeming it too late to rouse the hostel——"

"Theirry!" cried Dirk, and laughed excitedly. "Now, this is strange——"

The figure came forward.

"Theirry—yes; have you followed me?" he exclaimed wildly, and his face showed drawn and wan in the silver light. "I left Frankfort to escape you; what fiend's trick has brought you here?" Dirk softly stroked his horse's neck.

"Are you afraid of me, Theirry?" he asked mournfully. "Certes, there is no need."

But Theirry cried out at him with the fierceness of one at bay: "Begone, I want none of you nor of your kind; I know how the Emperor died, and I fled from a city where such as you come to power, ay, even as Jacobea of Martzburg did—I am come after her."

"And where think you to find her?" asked Dirk.

"By now she is at Basle."

"Are ye not afraid to go to Basle?"

Theirry trembled, and stepped back into the shadows of the shed. "I want to save my soul; no, I am not afraid; if need be, I will confess."

Dirk laughed. "At the shrine of Jacobea of Martzburg? Look to it she be not trampled in the mire by then."

"You lie, you malign her!" cried the other in strong agitation.

But Dirk turned on him with imperious sternness.

"I did not leave Frankfort on a fool's errand—I was triumphant, at the high tide of my fortunes, my foot on Ysabeau's neck. I had good reason to have left this alone. Come with me to Martzburg and see my work, and know the saint you worship."

"Is the chatelaine there?"

"If not yet, she will be soon; take one of these horses," he added.

"I know not your meaning," answered fearfully; "but my road was to Martzburg. I mean to pray Jacobea, who left without a word to me, to give me some small place in her service."

"Belike she will," mocked Dirk.

Impatiently and feverishly Theirry unfastened and prepared himself a mount. "If ye have evil designs on her," he cried, "be very sure ye will be defeated, for her strength is as the strength of angels."

Dirk delicately guided his steed out of the shod; the moon had at last conquered the cloud battalions, and a clear cold light revealed the square dark shape of the hostel, the flapping sign, the bare pine-trees and the long glimmer of the road; Dirk's eyes turned to the blank window of the room where Jacobea lay, and he smiled wickedly.

"The night has cleared," he said, as Theirry, leading one of the chatelaine's horses, came out of the stable; "and we should reach Martzburg before the dawn."