Samuel Crockett.

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





So with his Papal Bull and an order from the chiefs of the Holy Office, assembled in council at the nearest accessible point, Mariana withdrew to his bed, and none in all the Street of the Money slept sounder than he that night, though when he opened the window to let in a breath of the cool, moist air off the Tet, the prayers of the prisoners could be heard coming up in moaning gusts from the dungeons beneath.

The machinery set in motion by the Jesuit Mariana revolved statedly, wheel within his wheel. The "young Dominican of Sens," delivering himself to a strange but not unusual mixture of fanaticism and debauch, misspent his days with the rabble of Paris, his evenings in listening to the fair speeches and yet fairer promises of Madame de Montpensier, the Duke of Guise's sister, while all night mysterious voices whispered in the darkness of his cell that he was the chosen of God, the approved, and that if he, Jacques Clement, would only kill the King, angels would immediately waft his body, safe and unseen, to the quiet of his convent.

Had he not heard the Bull of the Pope read by the Father Superior? Had the Holy Office not promised him immunity, nay, even canonisation had not Madame de Montpensier ? But enough, Jacques Clement, riotous monk of Sens, sat him down and made his dagger like a needle for sharpness, like a mirror for polish. This he did when he should have been reading his breviary in the monastery of the Dominicans in the Rue Saint-Jacques.

So it came to pass that on the evening of the third day of August, 1589, Jean-aux-Choux, still wearing his great shepherd's cloak, though all Perpignan city panted in the fervent heat, and the cool water of the Tet reeked against the sun-heated banks, stood again at the door of that gloomy house in the Street of the Money.

Above, the three men waited as before. But this time there was no hesitation about admittance, not even a question asked. The three men who had done a great thing far away, without lifting one of their little fingers, now waited, tense with anxiety not for themselves, for no one of them cared for his own safety, but to know that they had won the game for their Church and cause.

To them Jean-aux-Choux opened his mouth.

"He is dead!" he announced, solemnly "Henry of Valois is dead! The siege of Paris is raised. Epernon and the great lords have refused to serve a Huguenot king. They have gone home "

"And the Bearnais the Bearnais?" interrupted Mariana hoarsely, "what of him?"

"I saw him ride sadly away the White Scarves only following!"

Then for once, at the crowning moment of his life, Mariana, the smiling Jesuit, leaned face-forward on the table. His strength had gone from him.

"Enough," he said, "I have done the Society's will. But so great success even I had not hoped for!"

And he rocked himself to and fro in that terrible crisis of nervous emotion which comes only to the most self-restrained, while Teruel, the Surintendant of the Holy Inquisition, and Frey Tullio his second, were prodigal of their cares, lavishing restoratives, of which (in virtue of their office) they had great store in the Street of the Money.

None minded Jean-aux-Choux, or even thanked him.

But he, seeing a parchment with a familiar name written upon it, the ink scarcely dry, and as a paper-weight the seal of the Holy Office ready to append to it, coolly pocketed both seal and mandate.

It was a warrant to the familiars of the Holy Office in the city of Perpignan to seize the body of one Claire Agnew, a known and warrantable heretic, presently residing at the house of La Massane near Collioure, and to bring her within the prisons of the aforesaid Inquisition in the Street of the Money, in the city above mentioned, within ten days at most from that date upon peril of their several lives, and of the lives of all that should defend, aid, assist, or shelter the said Claire Agnew, heretic, daughter of Fran?ois of that name, plotter, spy, and Calvinist.

Followed the signs and signatures of the two inquisitors in charge to wit, Teruel and Tullio. The name of Mariana did not anywhere appear.

"Ten days," muttered Jean-aux-Choux, when he had read it over; "that gives us time. And there" he heaved the seal of the Holy Office into the Tet "they will have to get one made. That will be another length to our tether!"

CHAPTER XXXI.
THE WAY OF THE SALT MARSHES

The shore road from Perpignan to Collioure is a pass, dark and perilous, even on an August night. But Jean-aux-Choux trod it with the assured foot of one to whom the night is as the day. He had, as the people of Collioure asserted, been assuredly witch-born. Now to be "witch-born" may induce spiritual penalties hereafter, but, from all purely earthly points of view, it is a good thing. For then you have cat's eyes and can walk through black night as though it were noonday. Concerning this, however, Jean did not trouble himself. He considered himself well-born, well-baptised, one of the elect, and, therefore, perfectly prepared a great thing when it is your lot to walk in the midst of many sudden deaths for whatever the future might bring. He was turning over in his mind ways and means of getting Claire across the frontier not very greatly troubled, because, first of all, there was the ten days' grace, and though the Inquisition would doubtless have watchers posted about the house, he, Jean-aux-Choux, could easily outwit them.

So he traversed the desolate flats between Perpignan and Elne, across which wild bulls were then permitted to range. Indeed, they came at times right up to the verge of the vineyards, which cultivators were just beginning to hedge from their ravages with the strange spike-leaved plant called the Fig of the Moors. But Jean-aux-Choux had no fear of anything that walked upon four feet. He carried his long shepherd's staff with the steel point to it, trailing behind him like a pike. And though, rounding the salt marshes and ?tangs or "stanks," there came to his ears the crooning of the herds, muttering discontentedly in their sleep with bovine noises, the sharp click of horns that tossed and interlocked in their effort to dislodge the mosquitoes, the sludgy splash of broad hooves in the wallows, the crisp snap of the salt crust, like thin ice breaking for all which things Jean-aux-Choux cared nothing. Of course, his trained ear took in all these noises, registering, classifying, and drawing deductions from them. But he never once even raised his pointed staff, nor changed his direction. Perhaps the shepherd's cloak deceived the animals, or more likely the darkness of the night. For ordinarily it is death to venture there, save on horseback, and armed with the trident of Camargue. Once or twice he shouldered two or three bulls this way and that, pushing them over as one who grooms horses in their stalls after the labours of the day.

But all the time his thoughts were on the paths by which he would carry off his master's daughter, Claire Agnew, and set her in safety on the soil of free, if stormy, France, where the Inquisition had no power nor was likely to have so long as the Bearnais lived, and the old-time phalanx of the Calvinists, D'Aubign?, Rosny, Turenne, and the rest stood about him.

Once or twice he thought, with some exultation, of the dead Valois. For, if Guise had been the moving spirit and bloody executioner of Saint Bartholomew, this same Henry of Valois, who had died at St. Cloud, had been the chief plotter rather, say, the second for Catherine, his mother, the Medicean woman, had assuredly been the first. For all he had done personally, Jean had no care, no remorse. As to the deed of Jacques Clement, he himself would not have slain an ally of the Bearnais. But, after all, it was justice, that the priest should slay the priest-ridden, and that the fanatic monk should slay the founder of the Order of the Penitents.

Altogether, Jean-aux-Choux had a quiet mind as he went. Above him, and somewhat to his left hand, hung a black mass, which was the rock-set town of Elne on its look-out hill. Highest of all loomed the black, shadowy mass of its cathedral, with the towers cutting a fantastic pattern against the skies.

Then came again the cultivated fields, hedges, ditches, the spiked agav? dykes, over which he swung, using his long staff for a leaping-pole again the salt marshes, and lastly, the steep shingle and blown sand of the sea.

Here the waves fell with a soft and cooling sound. Twenty miles of heavy, grey-black salt water, the water of the Midland sea, statedly said "Hush" to the stars.

Jean stopped and listened. There was no need for haste. Ten days, and the task would need thinking over how to get her, by Salses, to Narbonne, where there was good French authority, and the protection of the great lords of his own party. But he would succeed. He knew it. He had never failed yet.

So Jean was at peace. The stars looked down, blinking sleepily through various coloured prisms. The sea said so. You heard the wavelet run along the shore, and the "Hush" dying out infinitesimally, as the world's clamour dies into the silence of space.

But Jean-aux-Choux would have been a little less at ease, and put a trifle more powder into his heels, had he known that the warrant of the Holy Office which he carried in his pocket was only a first draft, and that the actual document was already in the hands of the familiars, to be executed at their peril. Also, that in this there was no question of days, either of ten or any other number. The acolytes of the Black Robe had a free hand.

The morning was coming up, all peach and primrose, out of the East, reddening the port-waters of Collioure, and causing the white house of La Masane, up on its hill, to blush, when Jean-aux-Choux leaped the wall of his own sheepfold, and came suddenly upon a figure he knew well.

He saw a young man, bare of head, his steel cap, velvet-covered and white-plumed, resting on a low turf dyke. He had laid aside his weapons, all except his dagger, and with that he was cultivating and cherishing his finger-nails. His heel was over the knee of his other leg, in that pose which the young male sex can only attain with grace between the ages of twenty and twenty-five.

"Hallo, Jean-aux-Choux!" he cried. "Here have I been waiting you for hours and hours unnumbered. Is this the way you keep your master's sheep? If I were that most scowling nobleman of the castle down there, I would soon bid you travel. If it had not been for me, your sheep would have been sore put to it for a mouthful, and the nursing ewes certainly dead of thirst. Where have you been all these three days?"

"The Abb? John the little D'Albret!" cried Jean-aux-Choux, thoroughly surprised for once in his life; "how do you come here?"

"I have been on my master's business," answered the Abb? John carelessly, "and now I am waiting to do a little on my own account. But there have been so many suspicious gentry about, that I hesitated to go down till I had seen you. Now tell me all that has happened. That SHE is safe, I know; I have seen her every day from a distance!"

"She who?" asked Jean, though he knew very well.

"Who why Claire, of course," said the cousin of the Bearnais; "you do not suppose I came so far to see the little old woman in the blue pinafore, who walks nodding her head and rattling her keys? Or you, you great, thick-skulled oaf of Geneva, or the Sorbonnist with the bald head and the eyes that look and see nothing? What should a young man come so far for, and risk his life to see, if not a fair young girl? Answer me. What did John Calvin teach you as to that?"

"Only this," said Jean-aux-Choux solemnly; "'From the lust of the flesh, from the lust of the eye, from the pride of life, good Lord deliver me!'"

The young man looked up from his nail-polishing, sharply and keenly.

"Aye so," he said. "Well and did He?"

For a moment, but only for a moment, Jean-aux-Choux stood nonplussed. Then he found his answer, and this time it was John Stirling, armiger, scholar in divinity, who spoke.

"The God of John Calvin has delivered me from all thought of self in the matter of this maid, my master's daughter. What might have grown up in my heart, or even what may once have been in my heart, had I been aught but a battered masque of humanity, an offence to the beauty of God's creation that is not your business, nor that of any man!"

The young fellow dropped his knife, and rising, clasped Jean-aux-Choux frankly about the neck.

"Jean Jean old friend," he cried, "wherefore should I hurt you? Why should you think it of me? Not for the world you know that well. Forgive an idle word."

But Jean-aux-Choux was moved, and having the large heart, when once the waves tossed it, the calm returned but slowly.

"Sir," he said, "it is only a few months since you first saw Claire Agnew. Yet you have, as I judge from your light words, admired her after your kind. But I I have loved her as my own maid my sole thought, my only ever since her father gathered me up, a lame and bleeding boy, on the morning after the Bartholomew. And ever since that day I have loved much, showed little, and said nothing at all. Yet I have kept keen guard. Night and day I have gone about her house, like a faithful dog when the wolves are howling in the forests. Now, if you love this girl with any light love, take your way as you came for you shall have to reckon with me!"

The Abb? John dropped back on the round stone which served equally as seat and rubbing-post in the sheepfold. The oil off many woolly backs had long since rendered it black and glistening. He resumed the polishing of his nails with his dagger-edge.

Grave and stem, Jean-aux-Choux stood before him, his hand on the weapon which had slain the Guise. The Abb? John rubbed each finger-nail carefully on the velvet of his cap as he finished it, breathed on it, rubbed again, and then held it up to the light.

"Ah, Jean," he said at last, "I may not go about her house howling like a wolf, nor yet do any great thing for her. As you say, our acquaintance has not been long. But if you can love her more than I, or serve her better, or are willing to give your life more lightly for her sake than I why then, Jean, my friend, you are welcome to her!"

Jean-aux-Choux did not answer, but D'Albret took no heed. He went on:

"'By their deeds ye shall know them. They taught you that at Geneva, I warrant. Well, from what I have seen these past three days, Claire Agnew is far from safe down there. I have watched that black-browed master of yours conferring with certain other gentlemen of singularly evil physiognomy. There has been far too much dodging into coppices and popping heads round stone walls. And then, as often as the maid comes to the door with the little old woman in the stomacher of blue click they are all in their holes again, like a warren-full of rabbits when you look over the hedge and clap your hands! I do not like it, Jean-aux-Choux!"

Neither did Jean-aux-Choux so little, indeed, that he decided to take this light-minded young gentleman, of good family and few ambitions, into his confidence which, perhaps, was the wisest thing he could have done. From his blouse he drew the parchment he had lifted off the table of the Inquisition in the Street of the Money, and thrust it silently into the other's hand.

This was all Jean-aux-Choux's apology, but, for the Abb? John, it was perfectly sufficient.

CHAPTER XXXII.
IN THEIR CLUTCHES

It was the night of the grand coup which was to ease Master Raphael Llorient of all his troubles financial, and also to put an acknowledged heretic within the clutches of these two faithful servants of the Holy Office, Dom Ambrose Teruel and his second, Frey Tullio the Neapolitan.

The affair had been carried out with the utmost zeal, and though at first success had seemed more than doubtful, the familiars of the Office had pounced upon their victim walking calmly towards them down a little hollow among the sand-dunes.

At La Masane, it appeared to them that an alarm had been given, and that, as little Andr?s the ape expressed it, "the whole byre had broken halter and run for it."

The familiars were hard on the track, however, and the way from La Masane to the beach is no child's playground when the nights are dark as the inside of a wolf. Serra, Calbet, and Andr?s Font were three sturdy rascals, condemned to long terms of imprisonment, who had obtained freedom from their penalties on condition of faithfully serving the Holy Inquisition. They were all nearly, though vaguely, related to prominent ecclesiastics, the warmth of whose family feelings had obtained this favour for them.

They had, therefore, every reason for satisfying their masters. For pardon frequently followed zeal, and the ex-culprit and ex-familiar was permitted to return in the halo of a terrible sanctity to his native village. There were not a few, however, whom the craft ended by fascinating. And after in vain trying the cultivation of crops and the pruning of vines, lo! they would be back again at the door of the Holy Office, begging to be taken in, if it were only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for the auto de f? and the water-torture.

Of the present three, Serra, a Murcian from these half-depopulated villages where the Moors once dwelt, alone was of this type. A huge man with a low forehead, a great shapeless face like a clenched fist, with little twinkling pigs' eyes set deep under hairless brows, he did his work for the love of it. He it was who saw to it that no harm befel the prisoner on the long night-ride to Perpignan. It was a dainty capture, well carried out. Since the wholesale emigration of the Jews of Roussillon to Bayonne in the West, the auto de f? of the East was usually shamed for want of pretty young maids. These always attracted the crowd more than anything, and Serra the Murcian bared his teeth at the thought. In his way he admired Claire Agnew. From various hiding-places he had watched her many days ere his superiors judged that all was ready. Now he would do his best for her. She should have the highest, the middle pile, which is honour. Also, Serra the Murcian would see to it that her bonfire contained no sea-grass or juniper rootlets, which blazed indeed, but only scorched; neither any wet, sea-borne wood from wrecked ships, which smoked and sulked, but would not burn. No he, Serra, would do the thing for her in gentlemanly fashion as became a hidalgo of Murcia. The pretty heretic should have clear dry birch, one year old, with olive roots aged several hundreds, all mixed with shavings and pine cones, and a good top-dressing of oil like a salad to finish all. And then (the Murcian showed his teeth and gums in a vast semi-African grin, like a trench slashed out of a melon), well she would have reason to be proud of herself.

The pillar of clear flame would rise above Claire's head ten nay, twenty feet, wrapping her about like a garment. She would have no long time to suffer. He was a kind-hearted man, this Serra the Murcian that is, to those to whom he had taken a fancy, as was the case with Claire. If any torture was commanded, either the Lesser or the Greater Question, he would make it light. It would never do to spoil her beauty against the Great Day! What, after all, did they know, these two wise men in black who only sat on their chairs and watched? It was the familiars who made or marred in the House of Pain indeed, Serra himself, for he could destroy the others with a word. They had accepted bribes from relatives he never.

They mounted Claire on the notary's white mule, the sometime gift of the Bishop of Elne. Ah, Serra chuckled, Don Jordy would ride it no more. It would be his Serra's. He would sell the beast and send the money to his old mother who lived in a disused oven cut out of the rocks near the Castle of the Moors, three leagues or so from Murcia city. She was an affectionate old lady he the best of sons. It was a shame they should have miscalled her for a witch, when all she ever did was to provide those who desired a blank in their families, or in those of their neighbours, with a certain fine white powder.

Serra himself had been observed stirring a little in some soup at the mansion where he was employed as cook. So, only for that, they had sent him to work as a slave in the mines. But a certain powerful friend of his mother's, who lived in the lonely abbey out on the plain, near the great water-wheel (Serra remembered the dashing of the water in his babyhood before he could remember anything else), got him this good place with Dom Teruel, who had been his comrade of the seminary. And so now his mother was safe aye, if she sold her fine white meal openly like so much salt. For who in all Murcia would touch the mother of a First Familiar of the Holy Office. They reverenced her more much more than the village priest who held the keys of heaven and hell for, after all, these were far away things.





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