Samuel Crockett.

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



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The silence which followed Don Jordy's exposition was a solemn one – that is, to all except Claire, who only pouted a little with ostentatious discontent.

"I don't believe a word of it," she cried; "money or no money, will or no will, it is just as possible that he wants to marry me – because – because he wants to marry me! There!"

But the Se?ora knew better.

"True it is, my little lady," she said, nodding her head, "that any man might wisely and gladly crave your love and your hand – aye, any honest man, were he a king's son (here Claire thought of a certain son of Saint Louis, many times removed, now mending his shoes on the corner of a farrier's anvil in the camp of the Bearnais) – an honest man, I said. But not Raphael Llorient, your cousin, and my foster-son. He never had a thought but for himself since he was a babe, and even then he would thrust Don Jordy there aside, as if I had not been his mother. I was a strong woman in those days, and suckled twins – or what is harder, a foster-child and mine own, doing justice to both!"

And Claire, a little awed by the old lady's vehemence, jested no more.

There was little said till Donna Am?lie took Claire up with her to her chamber, and the three men were left alone. The Professor sighed deeply.

"Women are kittle handling," he said. "I brought you a little orphan maid. I knew, indeed, that she was Colette Llorient's daughter, and that there was some risk in that. But with her cousin Raphael, wistful to marry her for a rich heiress, whose property he has squandered – that is more than I reckoned with!"

"There is no going back when a woman leads the way," slowly enunciated the Alcalde.

"Who spoke of going back?" cried the Professor indignantly. "I have taken the risk of bringing the maid here, thinking to place her in safety with my mother. Neither she nor I will fail. We will keep her with our lives – aye, and so will you, brothers!"

"So we will!" said Jean-Marie and Don Jordy together, "of course!"

"Pity it is for another man!" said the lawyer grimly – "that is, if what Anatole says be true."

"It is too true!" said the Professor bravely – "true and natural and right, that the young should seek the young and love the young and cleave to the young!"

"That, at least, is comforting for those who (like myself) are still young!" said Don Jordy, with some mockery in his tone; "for you and the Alcalde there, the comfort is somewhat chilly!"

And neither of his seniors could find it in their hearts to contradict Don Jordy.

The brothers conferred long together, and at last found nothing better than that Claire should remain at La Masane with their mother, while she should be solemnly charged not to leave the house except in company with one of the three brothers. They would mount guard one by one, and even the master of the Castle of Collioure would hardly venture to violate the sanctuary of the Mas of La Masane.

Curiously enough, in their arrangements, none of them thought once of Jean-aux-Choux.

Yet, had they but looked out of the door, they would have seen Jean wrapped in his rough shepherd's cloak, leaning his chin on his five-foot staff, his great wolf-hound at attention, his flock clumped about his feet, but his eyes fixed on the lonely Mas where, in the twilight, these three brothers sat and discussed with knitted brows concerning the fate of Claire Agnew.

CHAPTER XXVII.
SECOND COUNCIL OF WAR

"You are late, Count Raphael," said a tall lady, presiding over a little gathering of men and women in the upper hall of the Castle of Collioure. The Duchess of Err was a Spanish lady who had dwelt some time at the Court of Paris in the time of Francis II. and Mary of Scotland. And ever since she had posed as one who could innovate if she would, so that the ancient customs of Spain would not know themselves again when she had done with them. As, however, she took good care to keep this carefully from King Philip's ears, nothing very remarkable came of it.

But, nevertheless, the Duchess of Err had a certain repute for originality and daring, which served her as well then as at any other period of the world's history. Her husband accompanied her, but as that diplomatist "abode in his breaches" and confined his intercourse with those around to asking the major-domo once a day what there was for dinner, his influence on his wife was not great. His trouble was spoken of, leniently, as "a touch of the sun."

"Our host comes from a rendezvous, doubtless," put in the Countess Livia, with a bitter intention, glancing, as she did so, at a fair-haired girl with wide-open eyes who sat listless and very quiet at the seaward window. A priest, playing chess with a robust, country-faced man, looked up quickly from his ivory pieces. But the girl said nothing, and Raphael Llorient was left to answer for himself.

This he did by turning towards her who had not spoken, or even looked in his direction.

"Mademoiselle Valentine," he said, "will you not defend a poor man who, having but one vineyard, must needs sometimes trim and graft with his own hands?"

Momentarily, the girl rested her great eyes, of the greenish amber of pressed clover honey, full upon him. Her face was faintly flushed like the blonde of meadow-sweet, but quite without pink in the cheeks. Her lips, however, were full, red, and more than a little scornful.

"The Lord of Collioure can surely please himself as to his comings and goings," she said; "for the rest, is not my ghostly uncle here to confess him, if such be his need?"

"Valentine la Ni?a," cried the Duchess, "is there nothing in the world that will make you curious? Only twenty-five, and reputed the fairest woman in Europe. Yet you have outlived the sin of Eve, your mother! It is an insult against the laws of your sex. What shall we do to her?"

"Make her confess to her uncle," said the Countess Livia, who also never could forgive in any woman the offence-capital of beauty.

"My niece Valentine has her own spiritual adviser," said the priest, looking up from his game, with a smile which had enough of curiosity in it to make up for his niece's lack of it. "A Pope may, if he will, confess his nephews, but a poor Brother of the Society had better confide the cure of his relatives' souls to the nearest village priest. Otherwise he might be suspect of conspiring against the good of the state. The regular clergy may steal horses, while a Jesuit may not even look over the wall!"

The ladies rose to say good-night. Like a careful host, Raphael took from the table a tall candelabra of two branches, in order to conduct them severally to the doors of their apartments. The Duchess of Err conveyed away her husband with her, holding up her long silken train with one hand and giving the ex-diplomat a push on before her with the other, as often as he needed it. The Duke had forgotten that he had once already partaken of supper, and craved another. He even shed a few tears. Yet he had his good points. His emotion showed a sympathetic nature, and besides, the ladies were there under his escort and protection. The Duchess said so, so it must be true. Meantime, however, she propelled him to bed.

The Countess Livia gave Raphael her hand to kiss, saying at the same time, "To-morrow I will find your village maid for you!"

On the way the Duchess divided her attention between making sure that her husband took the right turning in the long corridors of the castle of Collioure, and reproaching Raphael for not building a new and elegant ch?teau "after the manner of Chenancieux or Cour Chevernay – light, dainty, fit for a lady's jewel-case."

At this Raphael laughed, and, holding the candelabra high in his hand, begged them to look up and mark upon the lintels of the narrow windows the splintering of the cannon shots and the grooves made by the inrush of the arbalast bolts.

"My Lady Duchess," he answered, "I would be glad to do your bidding – first, if I had the security; second, if I had the river; third, if I had the money. But I have no money, alas, save what I gather hardly enough from my vines and the flocks on the hillside yonder (see that faithful man guarding my interests – I never had a herder like him). Besides, I am here between three fires, or it may be four – our good King Philip, the step-father of his people, the King of France, the Bearnais, and, may be before long, the Holy League also. Bullets may soon be whistling again at Collioure, as they have whistled before, and I would rather that they encountered these ten-foot walls, and mortar of excellent shell-lime, than the moulded sugar and plaster of these ladies' toys along the Loire!"

"Ah, you will not move with the times!" cried the Duchess, propelling her husband severely into his dressing-room to make sure that he, at least, moved with the times – a little faster even – "if you had been as long in France as I – well, but there – I forgive you. You are a good Catholic, and a subject of King Philip. Therefore you cannot help it, and our lord the King sees to it that you have something else to do with your money than to build castles wherein to entertain ladies. Sea-castles for the English robber dogs to batter with shot, and land-castles to hold down the Hollander frontier, are much more to his liking!"

At this point the Duke of Err created a diversion by turning in his tracks at the sight of the dark sleeping-chamber, through the open window of which came the light sap and clatter of the sea on the beach far below.

"My supper – my supper!" he muttered; "I want to go to the supper-room!"

The Duchess was not a lady of lengthy patience, and domestic manners were simple in those days. She merely gave the ex-diplomatist a sound box on the ear, and bade him get into bed at once.

"It takes all his family just like that before the age of fifty," she said; "I am a woman much to be pitied, with such a babe on my hands. Good-night, Don Raphael; you must build me that ch?teau to comfort me as soon as the wars are over – "

"When God wills, and the purse fills!" said the Lord of Collioure, bowing to the ground.

A little farther along the corridor they came to the chambers of the Countess Livia and the niece of the Jesuit doctor. The Countess, with her eyes on her companion, gave Raphael her fingers to kiss, but Valentine la Ni?a swept past both with the slightest bow.

"No man can serve two masters," said the Countess, smiling after her with meaning; "you must give up your shepherdess!"

"What do you mean?" Raphael demanded, in a low tone.

"My brother Paul will tell you to-morrow, when he comes back from Perpignan. He, too, was on the hillside to-day – near to the valley – "

She paused long enough to give him time to ask the question.

"What valley?" said Raphael, in complete apparent forgetfulness.

"The Valley of the Consolation! An excellent name!" answered the Countess Livia, with a low laugh of malice.

She turned and went within. She found Valentine la Ni?a standing by the open window looking out upon the sea. Her large, amber-coloured eyes were now black and mysterious. She did not show the least trace of emotion. She was as one walking in a dream, or perhaps, rather, like one upheld by a will not her own.

The Countess Livia looked at the girl awhile, and then, with a vexed stamp of her foot, she pulled Valentine round, so that the light of the lamp fell on her face.

"Oh!" she cried, "was there ever a woman like you? As the Duchess said, you care for nothing. You are the most beautiful girl in the world, and it is nothing to you. No wonder a dairy-maid can supplant you. Why, if I had a tenth of your beauty – I would have kings and emperors at my feet!"

Valentine la Ni?a looked at her without smiling, or the least show of feeling.

"It is likely," she said; "you are free, I am bound. When I receive my orders, I shall obey them."

"You are a strange creature," cried the Countess. "Orders – who is to command you? Bound – what chains are there that a suitable marriage will not break?"

"Those!" said Valentine la Ni?a, opening her robe at the throat, and showing to the astonished eyes of the Countess Livia the black crucifix and the hair shirt of discipline.

CHAPTER XXVIII.
THIRD COUNCIL OF WAR

Raphael had not been long in his bedroom when a light knock came to the door. He looked about him with a startled air, as if there might be something to be concealed on some table or in some alcove. All seemed in order to his eye. Reassured, he went on tiptoe and opened the door very gently, just so far that whoever stood without might enter.

"You?" he said, in a tone of surprise.

And the Jesuit father came into the room, softly smiling at the young man's surprise.

"Ah," he said, with the most delicate touch of rebuke in his tone, "you perhaps expected your major-domo, your steward. I forgot that you were a bachelor and must attend to the morrow's provender, otherwise we should all starve."

"Ah, no," said the Master of Collioure, "I have a good housekeeper, in addition to Sebastian Tet, my major-domo. I can sleep on both ears and know that my guests will not go dinnerless to-morrow. We are poor, but there is always soup in the cabbage-garden, fish in the sea, mutton on the hills, and wine everywhere at Collioure – good and strong, the wine of Roussillon!"

"Faith," said the Jesuit, "but for the Order, a man might do worse than abide here. 'Tis Egypt and its fleshpots! No wonder you are so fond of it. And" (here he paused a little to give weight to his words) "Paul Morella told me to-day that there is even a Cleopatra of the Heavy Locks up there among the flocks of Goshen! You make your land of bondage complete indeed!"

The dark face of Raphael grew livid and unlovely, as the eyes of the smiling priest rested shrewdly upon him.

"Paul Morella meddles with what does not concern him," he answered brusquely; "that is no safe business in Roussillon, as he will find – especially when one has a sister of an unguarded tongue. I have seen a knife-point look out at the other side of a man for less!"

Father Mariana raised his plump hands in deprecation.

"No, no," he said. "'Quoniam Deus mortem non fecit, nec laetatur in perditione vivorum!' Neither must you, my son, and a son of Holy Church. Besides, there are always other ways. I am writing a book to show how the Church can best be served with the guile of the serpent, yet with the harmlessness of the dove."

The mood of the young man changed as he listened, as it always did with Father Mariana of Toledo.

"I spoke in haste," he said. "I wish no ill to Paul Morella, nor to his sister, the Countess Livia – only I would their tongues were stiller!"

The Jesuit patted Raphael's arm gently and soothingly.

"Be content," he murmured; "the Countess Livia is neither your sister nor your wife. 'As the climbing up of a sandy way is to the feet of the aged – so is a wife full of words to a quiet man.' So it is written, and all marriage is but a commentary upon that text."

"Hum, it may be, my father," said Raphael, "and to tell the truth, I am tempted to try. In which matter I shall be glad to have your advice, my father Mariana, since you have come all the way from your hermitage at Toledo to visit your old pupil – "

"And also to serve the Order and Holy Church," added the Jesuit gravely, like a preceptor making a necessary correction in an exercise. "Is it as spiritual director or as friend that you desire my counsel?"

"As a man of the world, rather," said Raphael, sitting down on the edge of his bed and nursing his knee between his joined fingers. The Jesuit had already installed himself in the great tapestried armchair, and put his small, neatly-shod feet close together on the footstool.

"Alas, my son," said the priest, when at last he was comfortable, "I have long ago lost all title to that name. And yet, I do not know; I have been chased from most countries, and openly condemned by the General of my own Order. Yet I serve in faith – "

"Oh," said Raphael, smiling, "all the world knows that the Order approves your doings. The General only condemns your words for the benefit of the vulgar and anointed kings. If I make not too bold, it seems to me that there is a certain king in France – I say not of France – who may well be interested in your presence so near his territories! If I were he, I should say my prayers!"

"If you speak of the Bearnais, you are mistaken," said Mariana; "he, at least, is an open enemy, and, who knows, may one day be reconciled, being at heart a good, fightful, eat-drink-and-be-merry pagan – indeed, Raphael Llorient of Collioure, very much of your own religion, save that where he would wield a battle-axe you would drive a dagger, save that he makes love where you would make money, and he trolls a catch where you whisper a pass-word. But as to the advice – well, put your case. The night is young before us, and this wine of Burgundy, like myself – old, old, old!"

"My father," said Raphael, "just now you spoke of money. It is true I seek it – but to spend, not to hoard. Too often I hazard it on the turn of a dice-cube. I lose it. Money will not stay with me, neither the golden discs, nor the value of them. This trick of gaming I have inherited from my grandfather. Only he had the good sense to die before he had spent all his heritance. His sons, being given rather to sword-play and the war-game, died before him. To all appearance I was sole heir, and so for long I considered myself. But when my grandfather's will was found, half only was left to me – the other half to his only daughter Colette and to her children. The will is in the provincial archives at Perpignan. He had placed it there himself. A copy is in the registry of the bishop at Elne. Yet another copy was sent to the Huguenot whom my aunt Colette married."

"Ah," said the Jesuit, narrowing his eyes in deep thought, "and this heretic – has he never claimed the inheritance?"

"He is dead, they say – was killed in Paris, on the day of the Barricades. Yet he received the paper, and now his daughter has come to Collioure, and is abiding at the house of La Masane with the family there – emigrants from Provence – one of whom, by some trick of cunning or aptitude for flattery, has become a professor at the Sorbonne – Doctor Anatole Long, he styles himself."

"Ah," said the Jesuit, in a changed, caressing voice, "a learned man; he has written well upon the eloquence of Greece and Rome as applied to the purposes of the Church. I myself have ordered a translation of his books to be made for the use of our schools at Toledo. And yet – I heard something concerning him read from the Gazette of the Order at our last council meeting. Had he not to flee, because he alone of the Senatus withstood the Holy League?"

Raphael nodded slightly. The quarrels of philosophers were nothing to him.

"Aye, and brought my cousin Claire with him – Colette's daughter, as I suppose, to claim the property – the property which I have no longer – which is blown wantonly upon every wind, rattled in other men's pockets, paid out for laces and silks which I never wore – "

"You have been a foolish lad," said the Jesuit; "but one day, when you have spent all, you will make a very good prodigal son to the G?su. Perhaps the hour is not far distant. What, then, is your intention?"

"I see nothing for it but that I must marry the girl," said Raphael Llorient; "she is fair, and you – and the King – must help me to a dispensation. Then her portion shall be her dower, and there is only her husband to account to for it. I shall be that husband."

A subtle change passed over the Jesuit's face as his pupil was speaking. He smiled.

"Softly, softly," he murmured; "to eat an egg, it is not necessary to cook it in a silver vessel over a fire of sandalwood, and serve it upon a platter of gold. It tastes just as well boiled in an earthenware dish and eaten in the fingers."

"I have gone too far," said Raphael; "I cannot stand upon metaphors. My eggs are already sucked. I have deceived the King, paid neither duty to him nor tithes to the Church upon my cousin's portion. I must marry or burn!"

"That you have not paid your tithes to the Church is grave," said the Jesuit, "but the time is not too late. Perhaps you can pay in service. We of the Society need the willing hand, the far-seeing brain more than coined gold – though that, of course, we must have too."

"The King's arm is long," said Raphael, "and I fear he thinks I have not done enough for his Armada. This news would end me if it were to come to his ears."

"I judge that there will be no such need," purred the Jesuit; "is this cousin of yours by chance a heretic, even as was her father?"

Raphael started. His netted fingers let go his knee, which in its turn slowly relaxed and allowed the foot to sink to the ground, as through a dense medium.

"I do not understand you, my father," he said, breathing deeply, his eyes fixed on the priest's mild and smiling face.

"If your cousin be a Protestant, a heretic," continued the Jesuit, "I do not see that there is any difficulty – "



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