Samuel Crockett.

The White Plumes of Navarre: A Romance of the Wars of Religion



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CHAPTER XXIII.
THE THREE SONS OF MADAME AM?LIE

They went back, keeping step together, tall Claire with hand fearlessly placed on the shoulder of her Professor, who straightened his bowed student-back at the light touch.

As he went he meditated deeply, and Claire waited for him to speak. Treading lightly by his side, she smelled the honeysuckle scent of the sweet alison which she had carried idly away in her hand.

"If the Queen-Mother be dead," said the Professor, "that is one more stone out of the path of the Bearnais. The Valois loves a strong man to lean upon. For that reason he clings to D'Epernon, but some day he will find out that Epernon is only a man of cardboard. There is but one in France – or, at least, one with the gift of drawing other strong men about him."

"The Bearnais?" queried Claire, playing with the sweet alison; "I wonder where he has his camp now?"

She asked the question in a carelessly meditative way, and quite evidently without any reference to the fact that a certain John d'Albret (once called in jest the Abb? John) was the youngest full captain in that enthusiastic, though ill-paid array. But the Professor did not hear her question. His mind was set on great matters of policy, while Claire wondered whether the Abb? John looked handsome in his accoutrements of captain. Then she thought of the enemy trying to kill him, and it seemed bitterly wicked. That John d'Albret was at the same time earnestly endeavouring to kill as many as possible of the enemy did not seem to matter nearly so much.

"Yes," said the Professor, "Henry of Valois has nothing else for it. The Leaguers are worse than ever, buzzing like a cloud of hornets about his head. They hold Paris and half the cities of France. He must go to the King of Navarre, and that humbly withal!"

"It will be well for him then," said Claire, "if our Jean-aux-Choux has no more visions, with 'Remember Saint Bartholomew' for an over-word!"

"Ah," said the Professor, "make no mistake. A man may be brave and politic as well. 'I am excellent at taking advice, when it is to my own liking,' said the Bearnais, and he will teach Master Jean to see visions also to his liking!"

At which Claire laughed merrily.

"I am with him there!" she cried; "so as you hope for influence with me, good sir, advise me in the line of my desires. But, ah! yonder is your mother."

And clapping her hands, she picked up her skirts and ran as hard as she could up the path towards a trellised white house with a wide balcony, over which the vines clambered in summer. It was the house of La Masane, which looks down upon Collioure.

Madame Am?lie, or, more properly, the Se?ora, was a little, quick-moving, crisp-talking woman, with an eye that snapped, and a wealth of speech which left her son, the Professor of Eloquence, an infinite distance behind. She had with her in the house two other sons, the elder of whom was Alcalde of the little town of Collioure, and therefore intimately linked with the great house of the Llorients, whose turreted castle stood up grimly midway between St.

Elne and La Masane. The Alcalde of Collioure was a staid man of grave aspect, a grinder of much corn during his hours of work, the master of six windmills which creaked and groaned on the windy slopes above the sea-village. In his broad hat-brim and in the folds of his attire there was always more or less of the faint grey-white dust which hall-marks the maker of the bread of men.

The Alcalde of Collioure thought in epigrams, explaining his views in wise saws, Catalan, Castilian, and Proven?al. French also he had at call, though, as a good subject of King Philip, he thought, or affected to think, little of that language. His brother, the lawyer of Elne, attached to the bishopric by his position, was a politician, and never tired of foretelling that before long Roussillon would be, even as Bearn and Navarre, a part of a great and united France. The Bearnais would hold the Pyrenees from end to end.

These three old bachelors, each according to his ability, did their best to spoil Claire. And it was a nightly battle of words, to be settled only by the Se?ora, who should sit next her at supper. With a twinkle in his eye the Professor argued his seniority, the Mayor of Collioure his official position, while the notary brazenly declared that being the youngest and the best-looking, it was no less than right and just that he should be preferred.

Madame Am?lie miscalled them all for foolish old bachelors, who had wasted their time cosseting themselves, till now no fair young maid like Claire would look at any one of them.

"For me," she would say, "I was married at sixteen, and now my Anatole owns to more than fifty years and is growing bald. Jean-Marie there waxes stout and is a corn-miller, while as for you, Monsieur the Notary, you are a fox who rises too late in the morning to catch many roosting fowls!"

Claire had now been a month in the quiet of the Mas of La Masane, yet she only now began to understand that Roussillon was a detached part of the dominions of King Philip of Spain – though it was nevertheless tras los montes, and under a good governor at Perpignan enjoyed for the moment a comparative immunity.

But dark shadows loomed upon the favoured province.

The Demon of the South wanted money. Moreover, he wanted his land cleansed of heresy. Rich men in Roussillon were heretics or the children of heretics. Philip was fighting the Church's quarrel abroad in all lands, on all waters – against Elizabeth of England, against the bold burghers of the Low Countries, the Protestant princes of Germany, against the Bearnais, and (but this secretly) against the King of France.

Far away where the hills of the Gaudarrama look down upon Madrid, and where in the cold wind-drift from their snows the life of a man goes out while the flame of a candle burns steadily, sat a little wizened figure, bent and seared, spinning spiders' webs in a wilderness of stone, in the midst of a desert wherein no man dwelt. He spun them to an accompaniment of monks' chanting and the tolling of bells, but every hour horsemen went and came at full gallop across the wild.

The palace in the wilderness was the Escurial, and the man Philip II. of Spain, known all over Europe by the terrible name of "The Demon of the South."

For him there was no truce in this war. He moved slowly, as he himself boasted, with a foot of lead, but hitherto surely. Of his own land he was absolutely secure, save perhaps in that far corner of ever-turbulent Catalonia which is called Roussillon.

The inhabitants considered that province almost a part of France. The Demon of the South, however, thought otherwise – that little man at the desk whose was the League, who moved Guise and all the rest as concealed clockwork moves the puppets when the great Strasburg horologe strikes twelve – whose was the Armada and the army of Parma, camped out on the Flemish dunes. He held that Roussillon was for him a kind of gold mine. And his black tax-gatherers were the familiars of the Holy Office, that mystery of mysteries, the Inquisition itself.

Nevertheless, for the moment, there was peace – peace on Collioure, peace on the towered feudalism of the castle thereof, peace on the alternate fish-tailed sapphire and turquoise of its sleeping sea, and most of all peace on La Masane, over against the high-perched fortress of St. Elne.

The Se?ora's two maidens served the evening meal in the wide, seaward-looking room, the windows of which opened like doors upon the covered terrace. Though the spring was not yet far advanced the air was already sweet and scented with juniper and romarin, lavender, myrtle, and lentisque – growths which, like the bog-myrtle of Scotland, smell sweet all the year.

The three men saluted their house-guest sedately by kissing Claire on the forehead. To the Professor, as to an older friend with additional privileges, she presented also her cheek. From the head of the table, which was hers by right, Madame Am?lie surveyed tolerantly yet sharply this interchange of civilities.

"Have done, children," she said, "the soup waits."

And as of all things the soup of the Mas of Collioure must not be kept waiting, all made haste to bring themselves to their places. Then the Se?ora, glancing about to see that all were in a fit and reverent frame of mind, prepared to say grace. "Bene– Don Jordy!" she interrupted sharply, "you may be a good man of the law, and learned in Papal bulls and seals, but the Grace of God is scant in you. You are thinking more of that young maid than of your Maker! Cross yourself reverently, Don Jordy, or no spoonful of soup do you eat at my table to-night."

Don Jordy (which is, of course, to say George) did as his mother bade him. For the little black-eyed old lady was a strict disciplinarian, and none crossed her will in the Mas of Collioure. Yes, these three grey-headed men, each with a man's work in the world behind him, as soon as they crossed the threshold became again all of an age – the age their mother wished them to be, when she had them running like wild goats among the flocks and herds of La Masane. Happy that rare mother whose sons never quite grow up.

After the first deep breathings, and the sigh of satisfaction with which it was the custom to pay homage to the excellent pottage of Madame Am?lie, the second brother, Jean-Marie, Alcalde of Collioure, a quiet smile defining the flour dust in the wrinkles of his grave countenance (it was not his day for shaving), looked across at Claire Agnew and said, "I thought mayhap you might have come to see me to-day. I was down at the Fanal Mill, and – "

"There are finer things to be seen at Elne," interrupted the Bishop's notary, "to wit, cloisters, an organ, and fine pictured books on vellum."

"Pshaw!" cried his brother, "it is better in the mills – what with whirling sails, the sleepy clatter of the wheels, and the grinding stones, with the meal pouring down its funnel like a mine of gold."

"Ah," sighed the lawyer, "but I wearied to-day among my parchments. The sight of you has spoilt us. A day without you is as long as one of Count Ugolino's!"

"What was that?" demanded the miller, interested.

"A day without bread!" said the notary.

"Silence, Don Jordy," cried the Se?ora to her favourite son, "that tongue of yours may plead well in a court, or for aught I know speak the best of Latin before the wise of the earth, but that is no reason why here, in this my house, it should go like the hopper of the Fanal Mill!"

"Archit? crepitaculum!" said the notary, "you are right, mother mine – the truly eloquent man, like our Sir Professor, keeps his eloquence to practise on young maids by the sea-beach! But I have not observed him fill his mouth with pebbles like his master."

"You are indeed but young things," said Claire, smiling at the Se?ora; "I would not take any one of you from your mother – no, not at a gift."

"They are slow – slow, my sons," said the Se?ora, well pleased; "I fear me they will be buried ere they be wed."

"Then we shall have small chance," cried the ruddy Don Jordy, "for according to what I hear my betters say over yonder at the Bishop's palace, in the place whither we are bound there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage!"

"Good brother," said the Professor of Eloquence sententiously, "if you do not mend your ways, you may find yourself where you will have little time and less inclination for such like gauds!"

Meanwhile, without heeding their persiflage, the Se?ora pursued the even tenor of her meditation. "Slow – slow," she said, "good lads all, but slow."

"It was not our fault, but yours, that we are Long," declared that hardened humorist, Don Jordy; "you married our father of your own free will, as is the good custom of Roussillon. Blame us not then that we are like Lambin."

"Lambin," cried his mother, "who was he? Some monkish rascal runagate over there at the palace?"

"Nay, no runagate; he goes too slow ever to run," said Don Jordy. "Have you never heard of Lambin our barber episcopal?

 
'Lambin, the barber, that model of gravity,
Shaving the chins of myself and my brother;
Handles his blade with such reverend suavity,
That ere one side is smooth – lo, 'tis rough on the other!'"
 

"And I," said the Mayor of Collioure, "have been this day with one who goes fast enough, though perhaps he goes to the devil."

They looked at the miller in astonishment. It was but seldom that he served himself with words so strong.

"A cousin of yours, my little lady," he added, looking at Claire.

"Raphael Llorient!" cried the remaining two brothers; "is he then home again?"

"Aye, indeed he is!" said a voice from the doorway. The figure they saw there was that of a man clad in black velvet, fitting his slender, almost girlish figure like a glove. Only a single decoration, but that the order of the Golden Fleece, hung at his neck from a red ribbon. He was lithe and apparently young, but Claire could not see his face clearly. He remained obstinately against the light, but she could see the points of a slender moustache, and distinguish that the young man's eyebrows met in a thick black bar on his forehead.

"Don Raphael," said the Mayor of Collioure, "you are welcome to this your house. This is my brother Anatole, Professor of Eloquence at the Sorbonne – "

"Ah, the Parisian!" said the young man, bowing slightly; "so you have killed King Guise after crowning him? We in Madrid ever thought him a man of straw for all his strutting and cock-crowing. He would have none of our great King Philip's advice. And so – and so – they used him for firewood in the guard-room at Blois! Well, every dog has his day. And who may this be – I ask as lord of the manor and feudal superior, while warming myself by your fire as a friend – this pretty maid with the downcast eyes?"

"I believe," said the Professor gravely, "that the lady is your own cousin-german. Her name is Claire Agnew, and that of her mother was Colette Llorient of Collioure."

CHAPTER XXIV.
COUSIN RAPHAEL, LORD OF COLLIOURE

"Is this thing true?"

The young man in the velvet suit, with the order of the Golden Fleece on his breast, spoke hastily and haughtily, jerking his head back as if Doctor Anatole had made to strike him in the face.

"My friend Professor Anatole Long does not lie," said Claire firmly. "I am the daughter of Francis Agnew the Scot, and of his wife Colette Llorient."

"You are prepared to prove this?"

"I have neither wish nor need to prove it," said Claire. "I am content to be my father's daughter, and to have known him for an honest man. I trust not to shame his memory!"

The young man with the golden order at his throat stood biting his lip and frowning – with a frown so concentrated and deadly that Claire thought she had never seen the like.

"The daughter of Colette Llorient – to whom my grandfather – "

He broke off hastily, his sentence unachieved. Then all at once his mood appeared to alter. A smile broke upon his lips. Upon his forehead the bushy black brows disjoined, and he sat down near Claire, so that he could look in her face with the light of the sunset streaming upon it through the door, while his own was still in shadow.

"So you may be my cousin – my aunt Colette's daughter," he said meditatively. "Well, Don Jorge, you are a lawyer and learned, they say. I charge you to look at any papers the young lady may have, and report to your brother, this grinder of good meal and responsible civil authority of my town of Collioure. And pray tell me, little one," he continued, taking Claire's hand, as if he had been an old acquaintance, "how would you like me for a cousin? We have much need of one so young and fair in our dingy old castle. The stock of the Llorients of Collioure has worn itself away, till there remains only myself and – if there be no mistake – you, my kinswoman, fresh as the May morning! Why, you will redeem us all!"

It was then that the Se?ora found her tongue. Indeed, she had not lost it. But she did not approve of this too familiar and masterful young man, and she only waited an opportunity of telling him so.

"Raphael Llorient of Collioure, listen to me," she said. "I was your foster-mother – you and my Don Jordy there are of one age, and lay on my breast together. It is my right to speak to you, since, though they may owe you feudal obedience and service, I abide here in this house of La Masane for the term of my natural life. Let this maid stay with us. If I could bring up you and these children of my body, I am able to guide also this young maid, who has nor father nor mother."

"But we have gay company down yonder at the Castle," said Raphael Llorient, "ladies of the Court even – or rather, who would be of the Court if we had one, and not merely a monastery with a bureau attached for the Man-who-traffics-in-kingdoms!"

"I wish to stay here," said Claire, alarmed all at once by the strangeness of her kinsman's manner. "I am very happy, and Professor Anatole brought me from Paris!"

"Happy Professor," smiled the Lord of Collioure, somewhat sneeringly. "I presume he did not forget his office, but used his eloquence to some purpose by the way? But, all the same, though we will not compel you, sweet cousin, it would cheer us mightily if you would come. There are great ladies now doing the honours of my house – the Countess Livia, the Duchess of Err, and – Valentine la Ni?a."

"Raphael – little son," said the old lady, laying her withered hand on his lace wristband, "leave her with me. She is better and safer with old Mother Am?lie than with all your great folk down there!"

"That for the great folk," cried the young man, snapping his fingers; "they are no greater than any daughter of the house of the Llorients of Collioure. Besides, they have seen her already. The duchess passed her yesterday with the Countess Livia on her way to the rock-fishing. But I will not tell what she reported of you to the duke, or it might make you vain!"

Claire moved uneasily. The man's eyes affected her curiously. She would now very gladly have sat as close to the Abb? John as even that encroaching youth could have wished.

"Do you know, little cousin," the lord of the manor continued, after a pause in which no one spoke, "you are not very gracious to your kinsfolk? Perhaps you have more of them than I – in Scotland, maybe?"

Claire shook her head sadly enough.

"Save these good friends here, I am alone in the world," she answered steadily. "I do not know my father's family in Scotland. I think they know as little of me as you did before entering that door!"

"Perhaps," Raphael went on courteously, "that is more than you think. We are a poor little village, a poverty-stricken countryside, in which such a pearl as you cannot long be hidden. Somebody will surely be wanting it for their crown!"

"Pearls mean tears and of those I have shed enough," said Claire simply; "also I have seen and heard much of crowns and those who wear them. I would rather stay at the Mas and take the goats to the mountains, and – "

"The learned Professor to the beach!" added Raphael, with a curl of his lip.

"Indeed, yes!" cried Claire, reaching out her hand to the Professor. "I am always happy with him. He teaches me so many things. My father was a wise man, but he lacked the time to talk much with me."

"And I dare say the learned Professor of the Sorbonne gives his time willingly," said the Lord of Collioure; "his tastes are not singular. And pray, of your courtesy, what might he teach you in your t?te-?-t?tes?"

"I have everything to learn," Claire answered with intent, "except fencing with the small-sword and how to shoot straight with a pistol! These my father taught me!"

"Ah," cried Raphael Llorient, clapping his hands, "this is a dangerous damsel to offend. Why, you could call us all out, and kill us one by one, if duelling were not forbidden in Spain!"

"I stand for peace," said the Professor, interrupting unexpectedly, for even after many years filled with learned labours and crowned with success, the feudal reverence was strong on him; "I am a man of peace, but there are many who would not let Mistress Claire go without a defender. Even I – "

The feudal superior laughed unpleasantly.

"Oh, yes," he cried, "you would defend her with a syllogism, draw your major and minor premises upon the insulter, and vanquish the lady's foes before a full meeting of the Sorbonne!"

"Indeed," returned the Professor shortly, "we have had some meetings of that body lately which came near to losing kings their thrones!"

The keen, dark features of the Lord of Collioure took on a graver expression.

"Where I come from," he said, "we live too near to the rack and the water-torture to air our opinions concerning such things. Our Philip has taught us to guard our thoughts for times when we find ourselves some distance outside the frontiers of Spain."

He cast a significant look around, on the dusking purplish sea, on the great mass of Estelle and the Canigou, standing out black against a saffron sky. The glance conveyed to those who knew Raphael Llorient, that they dwelt at present too far within the dangerous bounds of Spain, and that if they had once to do with the Demon of the South, it would be worse for them than many Holy Leagues and Bearnais war-levyings.



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