Samuel Crockett.

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



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He rose to take his leave, kissing the Se?ora, and palpably hesitating between Claire's cheek and her hand, till something in the girl's manner decided him on the latter.

"Au revoir, sweet cousin newly found!" he cried, lifting his black velvet bonnet to his head with grace; "I hope you will like me better the next time you see me. I warn you I shall come with credentials!"

"I sha'n't Ц I won't Ц I never could!" Claire was affirming to herself behind her shut lips, even as he was speaking.

"I hate that man!" she burst out, as soon as the lithe slender figure in the black velvet suit was sufficiently far out of ear-shot down the mountain side.

"You mean," said the Professor soothingly, "that you are a little afraid of Don Raphael. I do not wonder. Perhaps I did wrong to bring you here. But I never thought to see him cross this doorstep. He has not done so much for years and years. For how long, mother?"

"For sixteen years Ц not since his father's death," said the old woman; "he was angry that the farm of La Masane was left to me burden-free for my lifetime, when he had so great need of the money to spend in Madrid!"

"I hate him! I cannot tell why Ц no," added Claire, recurring to the former speech of Professor Anatole, "I do not fear him Ц why should I? In the end, I am stronger than he!"

"Ah," said the Professor, "but it is always such a long way to the end!"

CHAPTER XXV.
CLAIRE'S EMBARRASSMENT OF CHOICE

There could be no longer any doubt about it. Raphael Llorient, Lord of Collioure, was in love with his cousin. At least he made love to her, which, of course, is an entirely different thing. The Professor pointed this out. The grave Alcalde of Collioure showed the meal-dust in a new wrinkle, and said that, for a Doctor of a learned college which excluded women as unholy things, Anatole was strangely learned in matters which concerned them. Whereupon the Professor asked his brother who had placed a handful of early roses beside Claire's platter, in a tall green Venice glass, at the mid-day meal. He further remarked that these roses came from the castle gardens, and wished to be informed whether the miller of Collioure was grinding his own corn or another man's.

Don Jordy openly laughed at them both. One he declared to be bald and the other musty. He alone, owing to his handsome face and figure Ц considering also his semi-ecclesiastical prestige, a great thing with women in all ages Ц had a right to hope!

The Professor broke in more sharply than became his learned dignity.

"Tush Ц what is the use?" he said, not without a certain bitterness; "she is not for any of us. I have seen another. I have stood silently by, while she was thinking about him. I do as much every day. If we all died for her sake Ц "

Don Jordy clapped his elder brother on the shoulder with a more anxious face, crying, "What, man, surely this is not serious? Why, Anatole, I thought you had never looked on women Ц since Ц but that is better not spoken of.

I was only jesting, lad. You know me better than that!"

But Jean-Marie, the Alcalde of Collioure, gravely shook his head. He knew Raphael Llorient was not a man to stick at trifles, and that the fact that his young cousin loved an unseen captain warring for the Bearnais would only whet his desires. So it happened that once in a way the service of defence broke down. The Se?ora, a brave worker about her house, could not pass the bounds of her garden without laying herself up for days. The Alcalde was down at his mills, the Notary Ecclesiastical had ridden over to Elne on his white mule, by the path that zigzagged along the sea cliff, up among the rock-cystus and the romarin, twining and twisting like a dust-coloured snake striking from coil.

The Professor, called by a sudden summons to the castle to see a most learned man who had just arrived from Madrid, and was high in the favour of Philip of Spain, had betaken himself most unwillingly down to the town. It was a still day, and the sea without hardly moved on its fringe of pebbles, sucking a little with languid lip and sighing like an infant fallen asleep at the mother's breast. Claire Agnew wearied of the stillness of the house-place. In the base-court she could hear Madame Am?lie calling "Vi?nn-n?, vi?nn-n?!" to her goats. For there was no milk like Madame Am?lie's of the Mas of La Masane above Collioure, and no goats so well treated. Why, each day they had a great pot-au-feu of nettles, and carrots, and wild mustard leaves, just like Christians. So careless and wasteful are some people. As if goats were not made to find their own living among rocks and stone walls!

Such, at least, was the collated opinion of Collioure, jealous more than a little of the good hill-farm in free life-rent, the three well-doing sons, and smarting, too, after fifty years' experience of the Se?ora's tongue, which, when the mood was upon her, could crack like a wine-waggoner's whip about the ears of the forward or froward.

The house silence, broken only by the solemn pacing of the great seven-foot Proven?al clock, ventrose, aldermanic, profusely gilded as to its body and floreated as to its face, presently grew too much for Claire. She was nervous to-day, at any rate.

She regarded the dial of the big clock. Half-past three! In a little while the goats would be coming home to be milked. That would be something. They generally kicked her when they did not butt. Still, that also was interesting. "Patience," said Claire to herself, though it is hard to be patient with an active goat in an unfriendly mood.

Then, round the corner of the sea-road Notary Don Jorge would be arriving presently, the westering sun shining on the white mule which the bishop had given him for his easier transport. They believed greatly in Don Jordy over at Elne. He it was who had pled their case as against big, grasping, brand-new Perpignan, which wanted to take away their bishopric, their relics, their prestige, and its ancient glory from their hill-set cathedral. Yes, Don Jordy would be coming. He always had a new jest each evening Ц a merry man and a loyal, Don Jordy. Claire liked him, his rosy monk's face, and twinkling light-blue eyes.

Then, presently, the Alcalde Jean-Marie would come climbing up, the abundantly-vowelled Proven?al speech, sweet and slow, dropping like honey from his lips. It was fun to tease Jean-Marie. He took such a long time to get ready his retorts. He was like the big, blundering, good-natured humble-bees aforesaid Ц you could always be far away before he got ready to be angry. Then, like them, he would go muttering and grumbling away, large and dusty, and Ц not too clever.

The Professor also; he would not stay long, she knew, down at the castle with that very learned man from Madrid. Nor yet with the great ladies. He would rather be listening to his friend, little Claire Agnew, reading the Genevan Testament, while he compared Calvin's rendering with the original Greek, or perhaps merely sitting silent on their favourite knoll above the blue Mediterranean, watching the white town, the grey and gold castle walls, and the whirling sails of Jean-Marie's windmills.

Yes, they would all be coming back, some one of them at least; or, if not, there would at least be the Se?ora and the kicking goats. It was better to be kicked than to be bored, and ennuy?e, and sickened with the measured immeasurable "tick-tack" of time, as it was doled emptily out by the big-bellied Proven?al clock in the kitchen-corner.

At La Masane above Collioure, Claire suffered from the weariness of riches, the embarrassment of choice. In a little forsaken village, with her father busied about his affairs, she would have been well content all day with no more than her needlework and her Genevan Bible. There were maps in that, and a beautiful plan of the ark, so that she could discuss with herself where to put each of the animals. But at La Masane, with four people eager to do her pleasure, the maiden picked and chose as if culling flowers among the clover meadows.

So Claire went out, and stood a long minute. Her hand went up to her brow, and she looked abroad on her new world. She could hear where to find the Se?ora. She loved the Se?ora. But then the Se?ora and the goats she had always with her. On the whole, she preferred the men Ц any of the men Ц to amuse her, and, yes, of course, to instruct her also. Claire felt her need of instruction.

She looked down the steep zigzags of the path over the cliff to the towers of the Castle of Collioure. She saw no Professor, staff in hand, walking a little stiffly, his hat tilted on the back of his head, or carried in his hand, that he might the more easily look up at La Masane when he came in sight of his birthplace.

The Alcalde-miller's towers stood out dazzlingly white, the sails turning merrily as if at play. They made her giddy to look at long. But no sturdy Jean-Marie was to be seen, his bust thrown out, the stiff fuzz of his beard half a foot before him as he walked, every way a solid man, and worthy to be chief magistrate of a greater town than Collioure. Only, just at that moment, Claire could not see him.

The whip-lash path, running perilously along the cliff-edge towards Elne, was broken by no slowly-crawling white speck, the mule bestridden by Don Jordy, Notary Episcopal of the ancient See of the Bishops of Elne.

Remained for Claire Ц the Se?ora, the goats.

Now it chanced that the night before, the Alcalde Jean-Marie, grappling for small-talk in the dense medium of his brain, had thought to point out to Claire a little ravine far away to the left, beyond the pasture limits of La Masane. The Alcalde was strong on local topography. That, he said, was the famous sweet-water fountain and Chapel of the Consolation. You found your fate there. Young girls saw their husband that was to be, upon dropping a pin into its depths in the twilight. Good young women (imaginatively given) sometimes saw the Virgin, or thought they did. While bad men, stooping to drink, certainly saw the devil looking up at them Ц in the plain clear mirror of that sweet-water spring.

A most various spring Ц useful, too! She might see Ц but Claire did not anticipate even to herself what or whom she hoped to see. At any rate, pending the arrival of her three male servitors, she would go Ц there could be no harm in just going Ц to the Spring of the Consolation, hid deep in that bosky dell over which the willow and oleander cast so pleasant a shade.

Claire snatched a broad Navarrese bonnet and went.

"My sweet cousin, I bid you welcome," a voice spoke, mocking a little, but quiet and penetrating.

Hastily Claire let the laurel branch slip back, stood upright like a startled fawn, and Ц found herself in face of Raphael Llorient, who at the other side of the little brook which flowed from the Spring of Our Lady of the Consolation, leaned against a tree, tapping his knee with a switch and smiling triumphantly across at her.

"Ah, cousin," he said, "you did not give me any very pressing invitation to come again to see you at the Mas on the hillside yonder. All the more gracious of you, therefore, to have come so far to meet me at my favourite retreat!"

"But I Ц I did not know Ц I had no idea Ц " Claire stammered.

The Lord of Collioure waved his hand easily, as one who passed lightly from a childish indiscretion.

"Of course not Ц of course not," he agreed, as if humouring her mood, "how should you know? You had never even heard of the Spring of Our Lady of the Consolation, or of its magic properties. Well, we have time Ц I will explain them to you, sweet cousin Claire!"

"Oh, pray do not," cried Claire breathlessly; "I know Ц what they say Ц what Jean-Marie says, that is. He pointed out the nest of bushes on the hillside last night Ц I should not have come!"

"And he told you, I doubt not Ц he would not be a Collioure man if he did not, and a good Catholic of Roussillon (which is to say a good pagan) Ц that you had but to look in the well at the gloaming to see the Predestined. Well, look!"

In spite of herself Claire glanced downwards. She stood on the opposite side of it from her cousin Raphael, and it was with a thrill of anger and fear that she saw his slender figure mirrored in the black pool.

"It looks like a betrothal Ц eh, cousin?" said Raphael, "even by your friend Jean-Marie's telling?"

"No, no!" cried Claire desperately, "I do not believe it. It is only because I found you standing there. Of course, you can also see me from where you stand! It is nothing!"

"It is everything Ц a double proof of our fate, yours and mine, my cousin," said Raphael softly. "The Well of the Consolation has betrothed us. Sweet cousin Claire, there remains for me only to leap the slight obstacle and take possession! So fair a bride goes not long a-begging!"

"No, no!" cried Claire, more emphatically, and making sure of her retreat in case of need, "I do not want to marry. I could not marry you, at any rate Ц you are my cousin!"

Inwardly she was saying to herself, "I must speak him fair to get away. When once I am back at La Masane I shall never wander away again from the Se?ora. I shall milk goats all my life Ц even if they butt me. I wish it were now." Her cousin Llorient smiled with subtlety. There was a flash in his eyes in the dusk of the wood like that of a wild animal seen in a cave.

"Because I am your cousin Ц is it that I must not marry you? Pshaw!" he said, "what of that? Am I not a servant of King Philip, and of some favour with him? Also he with the Pope, who, though he hates him, dares not refuse all his asking to the Right Hand of Holy Church."

Claire glanced behind her. The little path among the bushes was narrow, but beyond the primrose sky of evening peeped through. Two steps, one wild rush, and she would be out on the open brae-face, the heath and juniper under foot, springy and close-matted Ц perfect running right to the door of La Masane.

She launched her ultimatum.

"I will not wed you, whether you speak in jest or earnest. I would rather marry Don Jordy, or his white mule, or one of Jean-Marie's windmills. No, not if you got fifty dispensations from as many popes. I am of the religion oppressed and persecuted Ц Huguenot, Calvinist, Protestant. As my father was Ц as he lived and died, so will I live and die!"

With a backward step she was gone, the bushes swishing about her. In a moment she was out on the open slope, flying towards La Masane. There was the Professor laboriously climbing up from the castle, his hat on the back of his head, his staff in his hand, just as she had foreseen. Good kind Professor, how she loved him!

There, at the door of the Fanal Mill, making signs to her with his arms, signals as clumsy as the whirling of the great sails, now disconnected and anchored for the night, was the Miller-Alcalde Jean-Marie, the flour-dust doubtless in his beard and mapping the wrinkles of his honest face. She loved him, too Ц she loved the flour-dust also, so glad was she to get away from the Well of the Consolation.

But nearer even than Don Jordy, whose white mule disengaged itself from the rocky wimples of the road to Elne (Claire loved Don Jordy and the mule also, even more than she had said to Raphael, her cousin), there appeared a lonely sentinel, motionless on a rock. A mere black figure it was, wrapped in a great cloak, on his head the slouched hat of the Roussillon shepherds, looped up at the side, and a huge dog couchant at his feet.

"Jean-aux-Choux! Jean Ц Jean Ц Jean!" cried Claire. And she never could explain how it came to pass that her arms were about Jean's neck, or why there was a tear on her cheek. She did not know she had been weeping.

By the Fountain of the Consolation, Raphael Llorient remained alone. He did not even trouble to follow Claire in her wild flight. He had the girl, as he thought, under his hand, whenever he chose to lift her. Her anger did not displease him Ц on the contrary.

He laughed a little, and the lifting of the lip gave a momentary glimpse of white teeth, which, taken together with the greenish sub-glitter (like shot silk) of his eyes, was distinctly unpleasant in the twilight of the wood.

"The little vixen," he said to himself, changing his pose against the great olive for one yet more graceful, "the small fury! A little more and she would have bitten her lip through. I saw the tremble of the under one where the teeth were biting into it, when she was holding herself in. But I like her none the worse for that. Women are the poorest sort of wild cattle Ц unless you have to tame them!"

The night darkened down. The primrose of the sky changed to the saffron red of a mountain-gipsy's handkerchief, crimsoned to a deep welter of incarnadine, the "flurry" of the dying day. Still Raphael stood there, by the black pool. A little bluish glimmer, which might have been Will-o'-the-wisp, danced across the marisma. The trees sighed. The water muttered to itself.

In that place and time, simple shepherd-folk who had often seen Raphael, Lord of Collioure, pass into the haunted coppice, were entirely sure of the explanation. The devil spoke with him Ц else, why was he not afraid? They were right.

For Raphael Llorient took counsel there with his own heart. And as that was evil, it amounted to the same thing.

The Kingdom of God is within you, saith the Word. The other kingdom also, according to your choice.

CHAPTER XXVI.
FIRST COUNCIL OF WAR

There was more than one council of war within the bounds of the circle of hills that closed in little Collioure that night.

First, that which was held within the kitchen-place of La Masane. The maids were busied with the cattle, but all three brothers were there. The Se?ora, sloe-eyed and vivid, continually interrupted, now by spoken word, now trotting to the steaming casseroles upon the fire, anon darting to the door to make sure that this time no unwelcome visitor should steal upon them at unawares.

When Claire had told her story, the three men sat grave and silent, each deep in his own thoughts. Only the Se?ora was voluble in her astonishment. She thought she knew her foster-child.

"He had, indeed, ever the grasping hand," she said, "therefore I had thought he would have married lands wide and rich with some dwarfish bride, or else a merchant's daughter of Barcelona, whose Peruvian dollars needed the gilding of his nobility. But Claire Ц and she is his cousin too Ц !"

"Also no Catholic Ц nor ever will be!" interrupted Claire hotly.

The old lady sighed. This was a sore subject with her. Had she not spent three reals every week in candles at the shrine of the Virgin in the Church of Collioure, sending down the money by one of her maidens, all to give effect to her prayers for the conversion of her guest? For Donna Am?lie believed, as every Spanish woman does in her heart believe, that out of the fold of the Church is no salvation.

"Ah, well," she murmured on this occasion, "that was your father's teaching Ц on him be the sin."

For dying unconfessed, as Francis Agnew had done, she thought a little more would not matter.

"I have been too long away to guess his meaning, maybe," said the Professor at last; "for me Ц I would give Ц well, no matter Ц he is not the man, as I read him, to fall honestly in love even with the fairest girl that lives Ц !"

"You are not polite," said Claire defiantly; "surely the man may like me for myself as well as another? Allow him that, at least!"

But the Professor only put out his hand as if to quiet a fretting child. It was a serious question, that which was before them to settle. They must work it out with slow masculine persistence.

"Wait a little, Claire," he said tenderly; "what say my brothers?" The Alcalde in turn shook his head more gravely than usual.

"No," he said, "there is something rascally at the back of Don Raphael's brain. I will wager that he knew of his cousin being here the first night he came to La Masane!"

"I have it," cried Don Jordy; "I remember there was something in his grandfather's will (yours, too, my pretty lady!) about a portion to be laid aside for his daughter Colette. I have seen a copy of the deed in the episcopal registry. It was very properly drawn by one of my predecessors. Now, old Don Emmanuel-Stephane Llorient lived so long that all his sons died or got themselves killed before him Ц it never was a hard matter to pick a quarrel with a Llorient of Collioure. So this grandson Raphael had his grandfather's estates to play ducks and drakes with Ц "

"More ducks than drakes," put in the sententious miller.

"Also," the lawyer continued, without heeding, "I would wager that to-day there is but little left of the patrimony of little Colette, your mother, and Ц "

"He would marry you to hide his misuse of your money!" cried the miller, slapping his thigh, as if he had discovered the whole plot single-handed.

"Exactly," said Don Jordy, "he would cover his misappropriation with the cloak of marriage. I warrant also he has lied to the King as to the amount of the legacy, perhaps denying that there was any benefice at all Ц saying that he had paid the amount to your father Ц or what not! And our most catholic Philip can forgive all sins except those which lose him money Ц so Master Raphael finds himself in a tight place!"



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