Samuel Crockett.

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



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But the Holy Office – ah, that was another matter. None spake of that either above or below their breaths, from one end of Spain to the other.

So Serra the Murcian communed with himself, and with only an occasional tug at the ropes that bound his captive to the white mule of Don Jordy, he continued his way, rejoiced in heart.

But the other two, ordinary criminals with but little influence, contented themselves with hoping for the freedom of the broad champaign, the arid treeless plains of old Castile, the far-running sweeps of golden corn, the crowded ventas with their gay Bohemian company, the shouted songs, and above all, the cool gurgle of wine running down thirsty, dust-caked throats – ah! it would be good. And it might come soon, if only they served the Holy Office well!

Both of them hated and despised Serra, because of his place, his zeal, and especially because of his favour with the Surintendant.

The senior of the two underlings, Felieu Calbet, from the Llogrebrat (Espluga the name of the town, where they are always fighting and every one lives on the charity of the fathers of Poblet), was ill at ease, and said as much to Andr?s Font, a little lithe creature with a monkey's hands and temper, treacherous and vile, as a snake that writhes and bites in the dust.

These two were trudging behind, their long Albacete knives in their hands, ready for any attempt to escape. But the tall young maid sat steady on the broad back of Don Jordy's white mule. She said no word. She uttered no plaint.

Said Felieu Calbet of Espluga, senior familiar, to little wizened Andr?s, third of the band, "Our brave Serra is content. Hear him! He is humming his Moorish charms – the accursed wizard that he is! But for me, I am not so sure that all goes well. They let that lass go somewhat too easily – eh, Andr?s?"

And the little ape-faced man, first sliding his dagger into its sheath as they emerged upon an open rocky bit of road with a few tall stone-pines all leaning back from the sea-winds, answered after his fashion, biting his words maliciously as he uttered them.

"Yea, belike," he muttered; "indeed, it was a strange thing that within five hundred yards of the sea, where they had their boat anchored ready, they should not turn and fight for the prisoner. How many were there of them, think you, Felieu?"

"Four I saw – and there might have been another. One cowered in the hood of a cloak, as if he feared that his face would be seen – "

"That makes five, and we but three! The thing smells of an ambush. Well, all we have to do is to be ready, and, if need be, fight like the Demon of the South himself. It is our prisoner or the stake for you and me, my lad!"

The little, ape-faced, bat-eared Andr?s, who had never told any what he had been sent there for, was arguing the matter out by himself.

"There is something behind this," he said; "they have a card somewhere we have not seen the front of."

They marched a while, the silence only broken by the fall of the mule's feet on the stones.

"I have it," cried Andr?s, suddenly elevating his thin voice above a whisper.

It was only a squeak at best, but it aroused the First Familiar from his dreams of honour at the mule's bridle.

"Silence there, you Andr?s," he commanded, "or by Saint Vincent I will wring your neck!"

"Wring my neck! He dares not," snarled the little wrinkled man, with an evil grin, in the darkness – "he dares not, big as he is, and he knows it. He would find a dozen inches of steel ensconced between his ribs. If I am no bigger than an ox-goad, I am burnt at the end, and can drive home a sharp point with any man."

"Do not mind the hog," said Felieu the Esplugan. "What was it you thought of?"

"That Don Raphael Llorient was out with a band of his lads from the Castle of Collioure. Doubtless he headed them off from the boat, and they had to save themselves as best they might. So they scattered among the sand-hills!"

"Hum, perhaps – we shall see," said Felieu the Esplugan. "At any rate, keep your eyes open and your knife ready to the five-finger grip. We must kill, rather than let her go. You know the rule."

Indeed, they all knew the rule. No relaxation of the Arm Spiritual till the culprit, arrayed in the flame-coloured robe of condemnation, was ready for the final relaxation to the Arm Secular.

All the same, there was no slightest attempt at rescue, and in the early hours of the morning the procession defiled into the city gates of Perpignan, which opened freely at all hours to the familiars of the Holy Office – the guard discreetly keeping their eyes on the ground. And so the four, in the same order as at first, turned sharply into the Street of the Money.

Serra, the huge, fist-faced Murcian, with the blood of Africa in him, carefully undid the bonds, and hoped, with a Spaniard's innate politeness, that they had not too greatly incommoded his guest. But the "guest" answered not a word.

"Sulky, eh?" muttered the Murcian, equally ready to take offence. "Very well, then, so much the worse!"

And he resolved to save the expense of the oil for Claire's funeral pyre. He had meant to go out of his way to do the thing in style. But with such a haughty dame – and she a Huguenot, one of the Accursed, no more a Christian than any Jew – why should she give herself airs? The thing was intolerable!

In this, Serra the Murcian, First Familiar of the Holy Inquisition, followed the Golden Rule. He did literally as he would be done by. If it had been his fate (and with a reliable witch for a mother it was no far-away conjecture) – if it had been his own fortune to die at the stake, he would have been grateful for the highest seat, the dryest wood, the tallest pillar of flame, the happiest despatch with all modern improvements. He resented it, therefore, when Claire Agnew showed herself ungrateful for the like.

Well, he had done his duty. The worse for her. Like Pilate, he washed his hands.

But such emotions as these he soon forgot. He had reason.

For above, in the accustomed bare room, with only the crucifix upon whitewashed walls, the same three men were waiting anxiously for the arrival of the prisoner.

The little band of familiars, having handed over the white mule to a trusty subordinate, came up the stairs, and after giving the customary knock, and being answered in the deep voice of Dom Teruel, they stood blinking in the glare of the lights, their prisoner in the midst.

There was silence in the room – a great fateful silence. Then the soft voice of Mariana the Jesuit broke the pause.

"And who, good Serra, may this be that you have brought us?"

"Why," said Serra, greatly astonished, "who but the lady I have been watching all these weeks, the Genevan heretic, the Se?orita from the house of La Masane above Collioure. We overtook her in flight, and captured her among the sand-dunes on the very edge of the sea!"

"Ah, the Se?orita?" purred the Jesuit; "then is the Se?orita fitted with a nascent but very tolerable pair of moustacios!"

Serra stared a moment, tore off the cloak with its heavy hood, clutched at the lighter summer mantilla of dark lace and silk. It ripped and tore vertically, and lo! as a butterfly issues from the chrysalis, forth stepped the Abb? John, clad in pale blue velvet from head to knee, as for a court reception.

He bowed gracefully to the company, twisted his moustache, folded his arms, and waited.

CHAPTER XXXIII.
AND ONE WAS NOT!

And this was how it chanced. All that was hidden from Serra, the fist-faced son of a Murcian witch, from Felieu, the querulous Esplugan, and from Andr?s, the little ape with the bat's ears, shall be made clear.

With one exception, the family of La Masane was resolved to go back to France, where, if the country was still disturbed, at least there was no Inquisition.

"I," said the Professor, "know not whether I shall ever teach in my class-room again – not, at least, while the Leaguers bear rule in Paris. But I have a little money laid aside in a safe place, which will at least buy us a vineyard – "

"And I," said the Miller-Alcalde, "have enough gold Henries, safe with Pereira, the Jew of Bayonne, to hire a mill or two. Good bread and well-ground wheat wherewith to make it, are the two things that man cannot do without. I can provide these, if no better."

"And what better can there be?" cried Don Jordy. "I – I am learned in canon law, which is the same all the world over. I grieve to leave my good Bishop Onuphre. But since he cannot protect me – nay, goes as much in fear of the Holy Office as I myself – Brother Anatole must e'en hire me by the day in his vigne, or Jean-Marie there make me as dusty as himself in his mills."

"And your mother, lads, have you forgotten her?" said Madame Am?lie.

"You are coming with us, mother," they cried, in chorus, "you and Claire. It is for you that we go!"

"And pray you, who will care for my rabbits, my poultry, and the pigeons? All the basse cour of La Masane?" cried the Se?ora.

"That also will be arranged, mother," said Don Jordy. "I will put in a man who will care for all, till the better days come – a servant and favourite of Don Raphael. This inquisitioning and denouncing cannot last for ever – any more than Raphael our landlord or Philip our king."

"Ah," said his mother, "but both of them are like to last beyond my time. And the fair white house to which your father brought me, a bride! And the sea – on which, being weary, I have so often looked out and been refreshed – the cattle and the vines and the goats I tended – am I to see them no more?"

"Mother," said the Professor, taking her hand and drawing it away from her face, "here are we your three sons. We can neither stay nor leave you. They of the Inquisition would revenge on you all that we have cheated them of – taken out of their hands."

"They are welcome to my old bones," said the Se?ora, with a gesture of discouragement.

"No," interrupted Don Jordy, "listen, mother. You are none so ill off. Here are we, three sons, hale, willing, and unwed, all ready to stand by you, and to work for you – with our hands if need be. Are there many mothers who can say as much?"

"Besides," added the Alcalde-Miller, "after all, it is not so far to the frontier, and, in case of need, I have charged certain good lads I know of – accustomed to circumvent the King's revenue – to make a clean house of La Masane. So if aught goes awry – well, I do not promise, but it is possible that the cattle, and your household gods, mother, with Don Jordy's books and the Professor's green gown, may find themselves at Narbonne ere many weeks are over!"

"And for yourself?" said Don Jordy, "your mills, your property?"

The miller laughed and patted his two brothers on the back.

"The good God, who made all, perhaps did not give me so clever a head-piece as He gave you two. But He taught me, at least, to send every gold 'Henry' over the frontier as soon as I had another to clink against it. For the rest, ever as I ground the corn, I took my pay. The mills and the machinery down there are not mine. I am worth no more this side of the frontier than the clothes I stand up in. My ancient friend Pereira, the Israelite of Bayonne, has the rest."

So that is the reason why, when the three familiars of the Holy Office appeared hot on the trail, they found at La Masane nothing more human than Don Jordy's white mule, that knew no better than to resist friendly hands, break a head-stall, and set off after her master, to her own present undoing.

But what happened when the family of La Masane started for the shore, where Jean-Marie, on his way home from the Fanal Mill, had anchored the boat? As he worked his heart was more than a little sore that he should no more hear that musical song, the tremulous rush of the sails overhead, or the blithe pour of the rich meal through the funnel into the sack. Best of all he loved the Fanal Mill, both because the sea-water lashed up blue-green beneath, and because from the door he could see Claire's white dress moving about the garden of La Masane.

This was their plan.

To place Claire in safety was no difficulty. The light land-breezes would carry them swiftly along the shore towards the Narbonne coast. It was in Madame Am?lie that the brothers found their stumbling-block. Not that the good old lady, so imperious upon her own ground of La Masane, meant in the least to be difficult. But she felt uprooted, degraded, fallen from her high estate, divorced from her own, and she trembled piteously as she tottered on stout Jean-Marie's arm down towards the beach.

Two days before Jean-aux-Choux had brought the Abb? John to La Masane. At first no one, certainly not Claire, appeared to make him particularly welcome. The Professor retrieved some of his old professorial authority. Don Jordy was frankly jealous. Old Madame Am?lie found him finicking and fine. Only the burly Miller-Alcalde drew to the lad, and tried in his gruff, semi-articulate way to make the young Gascon understand that, in spite of his Bourbon birth and Paris manners, he had a friend in the house of La Masane. And this the young man understood very well, and repaid accordingly. He understood many things, the Abb? John – all, indeed, except Claire Agnew's coldness. But even that he took philosophically.

"He who stands below the cherry-tree with his mouth open, expecting the wind to blow the cherries into his mouth, waits a long time hungry," he meditated sententiously; "I will shake the trees and gather."

All the same, the rough grip and kindly "Come-and-help," or "Stand-out-of-the-way" manner of the miller went to his heart. Indeed, he could hardly have kept his ground at La Masane without it, and he was grateful in proportion.

"They think little of me because I look young and my hair curls," he muttered, as he tried in vain to smooth it out with abundant water, "but wait – I will show them!"

And the time for showing them came when Jean-aux-Choux, carefully scouting ahead, thrust his head over a bank of gravel and reported several men in possession of the boat which Jean-Marie had so carefully anchored in the little Fanal Bay just round the point out of sight of the Castle. Worst of all, one of the captors was Don Raphael Llorient himself.

Almost at the same moment, the last individual rear-guard of the little party, a slim young lad called in this chronicle the Abb? John, discovered that they were being tracked from behind. They had indeed walked into the sack without a hole at the other end. They stood between two fires. For they had on their hands good old Madame Am?lie, ready at the first discouragement to sink down on the sand, and give up all for lost.

He dared not therefore speak openly. Cautiously the Abb? John called the miller to his side, and imparted his discovery.

"A quarter of an hour at the most, and they will have us!" he whispered.

"Umm!" said the Miller-Alcalde. "I suppose we could not – eh – you and I? What think you? I can strike a good buffet and you with your point! Are you ready?"

"Ready enough," said the Abb? John, "but they would call out at the first sight of us – indeed, either crack of pistol or clash of sword would bring up Don Raphael and his folk. We must think of something else. For men it might do, but there is your mother to consider – and Claire!"

"I wish it had been the bare steel – or else the cudgel," said the miller; "I am no hand at running and plotting!"

But the Abb? John was.

"Here," he said abruptly, stripping the silk-lined cloak from his shoulders, "take that. Get me Claire's lace mantilla and her wrapper with the capuchin hood. I have made a good enough maid before at the revels of carnival. They always chose me to act Joan of Domremy at the Sorbonne on Orleans Day. It is Claire they are after. Moreover, they are in a hurry. Be quick – bid her give them to you. But tell her nothing!"

And so the blunt Alcalde-Miller went up to Claire, who was busily supplying consolation to Madame Am?lie.

"Your lace mantilla," he said, "your cloak and hood! Quick – we have need of them!" he said abruptly. "Take this."

Now Claire had served too long an apprenticeship to dangers and strange unexplained demands during her father's wanderings to show any surprise. She put them on the miller's arm without a single question. It was only when he added, "Now – put this on," and threw the silken court-cloak belonging to the Abb? John over her shoulders, that she stammered something.

"This – why this – is – is – "

"Never mind what it is," growled the Miller-Alcalde; "at any rate, it will not bite you, and you may need it before the night is out!"

And so without a good-bye – only just settling the lace mantilla as becomingly as possible upon his head and drawing the waist-ribbon of the girl's cloak close round his middle, the Abb? John, with a wave of his hand and a low-spoken "Take good care of her" to the miller, sauntered carelessly back through the maze of sand-hills in the direction of these three good and faithful bloodhounds of the Holy Inquisition, Felieu the Esplugan, Andr?s the Ape, and the giant Serra of the African smile, who loved his work for his work's sake.

And between his teeth John d'Albret muttered these words, "I will show them."

Also once, just when he came within hearing of the stealthy creep of the pursuers, he added, "And I will show her!"

He did. For when next Claire Agnew looked back, the One for whom she looked was not.

CHAPTER XXXIV.
BISHOP, ARCHBISHOP, AND ANGELICAL DOCTOR

At sight of his master in the boat Jean-aux-Choux turned sharply to the left. Obviously they must try elsewhere. The way of the sea was shut to them in front; the enemy was clearly awake and waiting for them there. The net behind had not had time to be drawn tight, and if the Abb? John proved successful in deceiving the familiars of the Holy Office, it would not close. Still, there was every reason for haste. There was no disguising that fact.

Passing behind the town walls as swiftly as might be, with the burden of Madame Am?lie in their arms, Jean-aux-Choux halted the brothers for a while in lee of a sheepfold with walls high enough for a fort. Then, passing within, he appeared presently with two poles and a piece of sacking, out of which he extemporised a carrying hammock. He and his comrades used it for carrying down to their huts and shelters such wounded sheep or weakly lambs as they found high up among the mountains, that they might be tended back to health again.

The Se?ora was a little woman – a mere "rickle of bones," in Jean's Scottish phrase, and hardly heavier than a stout six months' lamb. Indeed, so much had the flesh faded under the strain of her constant activity, that the restless spirit within seemed to pulse and throb under the frail envelope like a new-taken bird.

Jean-aux-Choux took the head. The brothers relieved each other at the feet – that is to say, the Miller-Alcalde and Don Jordy. After one attempt, the Professor acknowledged that the chair of the Sorbonne had unfitted him for such exercise upon the mountains.

They crossed the Elne road only a few minutes before the familiars, with the false maid mounted on Don Jordy's white mule, went past peaceably, trekking their way towards Perpignan and the Street of the Money.

It was clearly unsafe to continue. Yet what else to do? They crouched behind a pillar-rock (what in Celtic lands of Ker and Pol and Tre would have been a menhir) and listened. There came the sound of hoofs, the jingle of a bridle. A white shape skirted with well-accustomed feet the phosphorescent glimmer of the path, wet with dew, and wimpling upwards towards the summit of the cape.

"My mule – the bishop's mule," muttered Don Jordy. "Oh, the villains! Food for the garrotte!"

Then he comforted himself with thoughts of vengeance.

"Monseigneur will make them deliver," he growled to himself, "for White Chiquita's pretty sake if not for that of his poor notary. He does not greatly love the Inquisition at any time. He believes, and with justice, that it is they and the Jesuits who are striving to take the see-episcopal from ancient Elne, the Illiberris of the ancients, and give it to Perpignan —champignon rather, the mushroom growth of a night."

But Don Jordy's very anathema had given him an idea.

"What if it were possible – that Monseigneur would – yes, he has great power in what is hidden from the Holy Office. He could keep my mother safe in his palace till we have the girl in safety. I believe he would do it for me, his notary and registrar, who have always served both him and the see with fidelity."

In a low voice he made his proposition to his companions. They should all go to Elne. He, Don Jordy, would make his way into the palace of my Lord Bishop. He had the key to a door in the base of the rock, giving upon stairs that turned and turned till one was almost giddy.

There they would leave Madame Am?lie till happier times. In a tablier of white, she might well and naturally bear rule in the episcopal kitchen, of which the waste and expense had long been a byword.



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