Samuel Crockett.

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



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To this Jean-aux-Choux at first objected. It were best to hasten. All who were under the ban of the Holy Office must get out of Roussillon altogether. It was no place for them. For him it was different, of course. None suspected him. He had his sheep to attend to. For the present his comrade did what was necessary, believing him employed on his master's business. Also, if he were to succour and protect the abandoned bestial and poultry-yard, dear to the Se?ora, he must return as swiftly as possible.

Finally, however, he also was brought to see reason.

Indeed, the growing weakness of the old lady seriously disquieted every one. So much so, indeed, that Don Jordy went on ahead as soon as the black mass of Elne hunched itself up against the faint pearl-grey sheet which was hung behind the sand-dunes of Argel?s, on the way of the sea.

Grey, pallid day was beginning to break when he returned, having seen and heard great things.

At first the night-watchman of the little palace had hesitated to intrude upon the Bishop, who, he said, had company – no other than the learned Doctor Ange de Pas, so learned that he scrupled not to enter into dispute with the Vatican itself, so holy that Sixtus V., at first angered by his stubbornness, finally made a saint of him before his time, because he was the only man who dared to withstand him face to face. "Also," said the watchman, "there was another, who had come from the south with a retinue, now lodged in the cells of the ancient monastery of the Cordeliers."

"His name?" Don Jordy demanded, fearing lest it should be some great missioner of the Inquisition on his rounds, in which case he was lost indeed – and most likely all those who were with him.

"He gave no name," said Leucate the watchman, "and his face was covered. But he knew this place well, and spoke of Fernand Doria, where certain of his chief men could put up, and also of the way to the ancient Convent of the Cordeliers."

This news somewhat reassured Don Jordy, and he bade Leucate carry up his message. He was immediately bidden to enter into the Bishop's private apartments. The good Onuphre de R?art, last Bishop of Elne, was a little smiling man, with a sweet obstinacy in his expression which was not belied by the good fight he had fought with the Inquisition for the privileges of the Church in Roussillon and in the diocese of Elne.

Doctor Ange de Pas was, of course, known to Don Jordy, and rose to give him greeting. But even the holy monk, his hand crisped, as about the quill with which he wrote his many books, showed certain signs of nervousness. The Bishop of Elne held up his hand as if to halt Don Jordy in what he was about to say. Then, going to the purple velvet curtain which divided his audience-chamber from the bedrooms, he announced in a clear, unmistakable voice, "My Lord Cardinal Archbishop!"

Upon which, with smiling dignity, there entered the famous Jean T?res Doria, now Archbishop of Tarragona and Viceroy of all Catalonia, whom the Infanta of Spain had caused to be thus advanced only four years ago, because of his treatment of her as Bishop of Elne when her ship was wrecked on the rocks of Collioure.

"Ah, Don Jorge!" said the great prelate, holding out his hand for the notary to kiss, "you serve early and late, as of yore.

Though I think I never saw you in my house quite so belated as this."

Then all suddenly, finding himself in the company of three such good and holy men, all looking so kindly upon him, Don Jordy burst into tears.

The Archbishop Doria stepped quickly up to him, saying, "Don Jordy, friend of mine, you knew me and I knew you, when I was only your neighbour and fellow-student, Jean T?res Doria of Elne. Tell me your sorrow as you would have done, when we fought with burrs and pine-cones in the groves – I for Elne, and you for the honour of Collioure."

"My mother," said Don Jordy, controlling himself with an effort – "she is chased from her house by the familiars of the Holy Office. She and all of us! Only she is old, feeble, pushed beyond her strength. She cannot go farther, and must lie down and die, if the Bishop will not consent to receive her into his palace."

And he went on to tell all the story of the Professor's coming, Don Raphael's suit, and Claire's refusal – lastly, of the warning that had been given concerning the action of the Inquisition.

It could easily be observed how, at that dread name, even the Archbishop grew grave. There was no power comparable to that of the Holy Office in Spain – because the Holy Office was only the King working secretly, doing lawless things under cover of the ample robe of Mother Church.

But the quiet little Cordelier, the Doctor Ange, with his white skin and tremulous bird-like hands, only smiled the sweeter as he listened.

"I fear me," he said, "that the Bishop's palace is too public a place for your mother. Now, what think you? You have with her also your brother, that learned professor of the Sorbonne, with whom it would please me much to ravel out many a tangled web of high doctrine, according to the last interpretation of Paris – why, there is in our new House of the Cordeliers ample room and space for your mother – as well as for your brother, who can don our robe for once in a way. My friends here will doubtless make the matter easier for those of your party continuing their way to the north. Nay, do not thank me. I shall expect much joy from the acquaintance of so learned a man as your brother, though (as I have heard) he mingles too much earthly learning with the pure doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas!"

The Archbishop Doria and his successor in the see of Elne, Bishop Onuphre, looked at each other, one taking the other's mind.

"It is perhaps as good a solution as any," said the former meditatively; "however, I judge that you, Don Jorge, had better remain at your post. I see not wherein even the Holy Office can find matter against you. It is a pity that I have no control over its working. The King thinks little of the regular clergy" (at this the little Cordelier laughed). "So that My Lord Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, Primate of all Spain, is in the power of the meanest familiar of the Inquisition who may choose to lodge an information against him. Nevertheless, I possess something of the Secular Arm in this province, being for the moment Viceroy of the King. So that, I judge it will be as well – nay, more, it will look well – that you should go about your ordinary business, sending on your party with all speed to the frontier. I will give them a protection under my own hand and seal."

So by this fortunate intervention of the great Doria, Viceroy and Archbishop, our Claire's path was smoothed France-wards, and Madame Am?lie rested securely in the newly-built annex of the Convent of the Cordeliers. As to the Professor, her son, he battled daily with Doctor Ange concerning the opinions of the Angelical Doctor – grace free and grace conditional, Arianism and Supra-lapsarianism, till Ange de Pas, who had friends all over the world, produced as a peace-offering the leaves of a certain curious plant, newly brought from the Western Indies, the smoke of which, being drunk through a tube and slowly expelled with the breath, proved a famous composer of quarrels. The plant was called, he said, nicotiana, but was so rare and expensive that, had he not had a friend Commander-in-chief of the forces in New Spain, their philosophic differences might have gone on for ever.

As for the Abb? John, no one knew what had become of him – except, that is, the Miller-Alcalde Jean-Marie, and he answered nothing to Claire's question. Because him also the devil tempted.

CHAPTER XXXV.
THE PLACE OF EYES

Two systems were in force in the Street of the Money to convince, to convert, and to change the stubborn will.

One, the A B C of all inquisitors, consisted of the indispensable rack, the attractive pulley with the weights for the feet, the useful hooks, the thumbkins, the red-hot pincers, the oil-bath, and the water-torture. Dom Teruel and Frey Tullio, with the aid of Serra the Murcian, used these as a carpenter uses his tools, coldly, and with method.

But the finer mind of Mariana, working for political ends rather than controverting heresy by mere physical methods, had evolved a more purely moral torture. A chamber had been set apart, to which no least noise, either from the street or from the other guests of the Holy Office, could possibly penetrate. The walls had been specially doubled. Iron door after iron door had to be unlocked before even a familiar could enter. In the space between the walls in every side were spy-holes. Painted eyes looked down from the ceiling, up from the floor. The whole chamber was flooded day and night with the light of lamps set deep in niches, so that the prisoner could not reach them. All that he could ever see was the placing of another light as often as the old burned low.

"There is," Mariana explained the matter to his associates, "a compulsion working in the minds of the well-bred and well-born, of those who have always experienced only pleasantness and happy society, breathed the airs of wood and mountain, known the comradeship of street and class-room and salle-d'armes. Such cannot long be without someone to whom to tell their thoughts. For this unclipped gallant, two or three weeks will suffice. He has the gloss still on his wings. Wait a little. I have my own way with such. He will speak. He will tell us both who he is and all he knows! I will turn him inside out like a glove."

"I am not sure," said Teruel, shaking his head; "after the third fainting on the rack, when they see Serra oiling the great wheel – that is what few of them can stand. There is virtue in it. It has a persuasive force – yes, that is the word, a blessed persuasive force, to make the most stubborn abjure heresy and receive the truth!"

The Jesuit smiled, and waved a plump, womanish hand.

"I have a better means, and a surer!" he said, in gentle reproof.

They looked him in the face. But as often as it came to the tug of wills, this smooth, soft-spoken, smiling priest, with his caressing voice, was master. And well they knew it. He also.

"I have a niece," Mariana murmured, "one altogether devoted to the service of the Church and the society. I am, for the present, her nearest parent as well as her spiritual director – "

"Valentine la Ni?a?" questioned Teruel. And Frey Tullio said nothing, only Mariana, ever on the watch, caught the oily southern glitter of his eyes, wicked little black pools, with scum on each, like cooling gravy.

"Ay, indeed, Valentine la Ni?a, even as you say," responded the Jesuit of Toledo calmly; "it is not fair that only men should labour for the good of Holy Church. Did not Mary, the wife of Herod's steward, and that other Mary, minister to the Son of the Holy Virgin? It is so written. If, then, sainted women followed Him in life, watched by His cross, and prepared His body for burial, surely in these evil times, when the Church of Peter trembles on its rock, we, who fight for the faith, have not the right to refuse the ministry of Valentine la Ni?a or another?"

And so, since Mariana was of Toledo and high in favour with Philip the King, and with the Archbishop Primate of all Spain, besides being more powerful than the General of his own Order, Dom Teruel and Frey Tullio bowed their heads and did as they were commanded.

"Give you the order," said Teruel to Mariana, with a faint, hateful smile, for he would have preferred Serra, a newly-wetted rope, and a slow fire.

But this was by no means Mariana's way.

"I but advise," he said. "How can I do otherwise, a poor Jesuit wanderer, dependent on your bounty for hospitality – I and my niece. I fear I must claim also a place for her here, when she leaves the house and protection of the Countess of Livia."

So into the chamber of light and silence went the Abb? John, after his first examination. He saw around him and above walls and ceilings painted all over with gigantic human eyes – the pupil of each being hollow – and watchers were set continually without, or, at least, the Abb? John thought they were. Within twelve hours he was raging madly about his cell, striving to reach and shiver those watching eyes everywhere about him. He kicked at the inlaid pavements. He tried to tear away from his bed-head and from the foot, those huge, open eyes with the dark, watchful pupils. But his riding-boots had been removed, and with his hempen alpargatas he could do nothing. No one took the least notice of his cries. Even the walls seemed echoless and dead, save for the watching eyes, which, after the first day, followed him about the room as he paced from end to end, restless as a wild creature newly caged.

He saw them in his sleep. He dreamed of eyes. They chased him across great smoking cities, over plains without mark or bound, save the brown circle of the horizon, through the thick coverts of virgin forests. He could not shut them out. He could not escape them. He covered his face with his hand, and they looked in between his fingers, parting them that they might look. He drew his cloak's hood about his brow, he heaped coverings on his head. It was all in vain. He began to babble to the walls, till he realised that these had ears as well as eyes. On the fourth day he wept aloud. He had long refused to eat, though he drank much. He began to go mad, and kept repeating the words to himself, "I am going mad! I am going mad!"

On the fifth night he tried to dash his head against the wall. He fainted, and lay a long time motionless on the cold floor, till suddenly, becoming aware that there was a painted eye underneath he sprang to his feet in that terrible place beset with eyes behind and before.

There came to him a noise of unbarring doors, the yellow lamp-light went out in niche after niche.

"Oh, the blessed dark!" cried the Abb? John, "they are going to leave me in the dark. I shall escape from the eyes."

But no; his tormentors had other purposes with him. A yet greater noise of rollers and the clang of iron machinery, and lo! on high the whole roof of the Place of Eyes fell into two parts (like huge eyelids, thought the Abb? John with a shudder). The sunshine flooded all the upper part of his cell, midway down the walls. The sweet morning air of Spain breathed about him. He felt a cool moisture on his lips, the scent of early flowers. A bee blundered in, boomed round, and went out again as he had come.

The Abb? John clutched his throat as if at the point of death. He thought he saw a vision, and prayed for deliverance, but no more eyes – for judgment, but no more eyes – for damnation even, but no more eyes!

Then he turned about, and close by the great iron door a woman was standing, the fairest he had ever seen – yes, fairer even than Claire Agnew, as fair as they make the pictured angels above the church altars – Valentine la Ni?a!

CHAPTER XXXVI.
VALENTINE LA NI?A

The girl stood smiling upon the young man, a spray of the great scarlet blossom of the pomegranate freshly plucked and held easily in her hand. She had broken it from the tree in the courtyard as she came in. The flowers showed like handfuls of blood splashed upon the bosom and neck of her white clinging robe.

"You are very beautiful," said the Abb? John, his voice no more than a hoarse gasp; "what are you doing here in this place? Tell me your name. I seem to have seen you long ago, in dreams. But I have forgotten – I forget everything!"

Then, without taking her eyes, mystically amber and gold, softly caressing as the sea and as changeful, from the young man's face, she beckoned him forward.

"We shall speak more at ease in another place," she said. And held out her hand to him, carelessly, palm downwards, as if he had been her brother, and they were playing some lightheart game, or taking positions for an old-time dance of woven hands and measured paces.

Valentine la Ni?a led John d'Albret into a summer parlour, equally secure from escape, being surrounded by the high fortress walls of the Hotel of the Inquisition, but full of rich twilight, of flowers, of broidery, and of faint wafted perfumes from forgotten shawl or dropped kerchief, which told of a woman's abiding there.

"Now," said Valentine la Ni?a, throwing herself back luxuriously on a wide divan of Seville, her hands clasped behind her head, "tell me all there is to tell – keep back nothing. Then we will take counsel what is best to be done! I have not forgotten, if you have!"

And John d'Albret, exhausted by the ceaseless searching of the Eyes into his soul, and the need of the dark which would not come, told her all. To which Valentine la Ni?a listened, and saw the fear fade out and the reasonable man return. But as John d'Albret spoke, something moved strangely in the depths of her own heart. Her face flushed; her temples throbbed; her hands grew chill.

"And you have done this for the sake of a woman – of a girl?" she said.

"For Claire Agnew's sake," the Abb? John answered, still uncertainly; "so would any one – any one who loved her!"

Valentine la Ni?a smiled, stirring uneasily on her divan, and as she smiled she sighed also, leaning forward, her great eyes on the youth.

"Any one?" she repeated, "any one who loved her! Aye, it may be so. She is a happy girl. I have found none such. I am fair – I should be loved. Yet I have only served and served and served all my life – ah!"

Suddenly, with a quick under-sob and an outward drive of the palm, as if to thrust away some hateful thing, she rose to her feet and caught John d'Albret by the wrist. So lithe was her body that it seemed one single gesture.

"If I had met you before she did," she whispered fiercely, "would you have loved me like that? Answer me! Answer me! I command you! It is life or death, I tell you!"

But the Abb? John, not yet himself, could only stare at her blindly. The girl's eyes, large and mystic, held him in that dim place, and some of his pain returned. He covered his face with both hands.

She shook him fiercely.

"Look at me – you are a man," she cried, "say – am I not beautiful? You have said it already. If you had not met this Huguenot – this daughter of Geneva, would you have loved me – not as men, ordinary men love, but as you have loved, with a love strong enough to brave prison, torture, and death for me – for me?"

The Abb? John, too greatly astonished to answer in words, gazed at the strange girl. Suddenly the anger dropped, the fierce curves faded from the lips that had been so haughty. Her eyes were soft and moist with unshed tears.

Valentine la Ni?a was pleading with him.

"Say it," she said, "oh, even if it be not true – say it! It would be such a good lie. It would comfort a torn heart, made ever to do the thing it hates. If I had been a fisher-girl spreading nets on the sands, a shepherdess on the hills, some brown sailor-lad or a bearded shepherd would have loved me for myself. Children would have played about my door. Like other women, I would have had the sweet bitterness of life on my lips. I would have sorrowed as others, rejoiced as others. And, when all was done, turned my face to the wall and died as others, my children about me, my man's hand in mine. But now – now – I am only poor Valentine la Ni?a, the tool of the League, the plaything of politics, the lure of the Jesuits, a thing to be used when bright, thrown away when rusted, but loved – never! No, not even by those who use me, and, in using, kill me!"

And the Abb? John, moved at sight of the pain, answered as best he might.

"A man can only love as the love comes to him," he murmured. "What might have been, I do not know. I have thought I loved many, but I never knew that I loved till I saw little Claire Agnew."

"But if you had not – tell me," she sobbed; "I will be content, if you will only tell me."

"I do not know," said John d'Albret, driven into a corner; "perhaps I might – if I had seen you first."

To the young man it seemed an easy thing to say – a necessary thing, indeed. For, coming fresh from the fear and the place of torment, he was glad to say anything not to be sent thither again.

"But say it," she cried, coming nearer and clasping his arm hard, "say it all – not that you might, but that you would – with the same love that goes easily to death, that I – I – I might escape. Oh, for me, I would go to a thousand deaths if only I knew – surely – surely, that one man in the world would do as much for me!"

But the Abb? John had reached his limit. Not even to escape the Place of the Eyes could he deny his love, or affirm that he could ever have loved to the death any but his little Claire.

"I saw her, and I loved!" he said simply – "that is all I know. Had I seen you, I might have loved – that also I do not know. More I cannot say. But be assured that, if I had loved you, not knowing the other, I should have counted, for your sake, my poor life but as a leaf, wind-blown, a petal fallen in the way."

Valentine la Ni?a nervously crumpled the glorious red and fleshy blossoms of the pomegranate clusters in her fingers, till they fell in blood-drops on the floor.



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