Samuel Crockett.

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



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CHAPTER II.
CLAIRE AGNEW

A long moment they stood gazing at each other, the girl and the Abb? John. They might have been sister and brother. There was the same dark clustering hair, close-gripped in love-locks to the head. The same large, dark, wide-pupilled eyes looked each into each as they stood and gazed across the dead man.

For a moment nothing was said, but the Abb? John recovered himself first.

"He knows you are here?" he questioned, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

"Who?" The girl flung the question back.

"Our Professor of Eloquence, the Doctor Anatole Long?"

"Aye, surely," said the girl; "he it was brought us hither."

He pointed to the dead man.

"Your father?"

The girl put her hand to her breast and sighed a strange piteous affirmative, yet with a certain reserve in it also.

"What was he, and how came you here?"

She looked at him. He wore the semi-churchly dress of a scholar of the University. But youth and truth vouched for him, shining from his eyes. So, at least, she thought. Besides, the girl was in a great perplexity.

"I am Claire," she said, "the daughter of him who was Francis Agnew, secret agent from the King of Scots to his brother of Navarre!"

"A heretic, then!" He fell back a step. "An agent of the Bearnais!"

The girl said nothing. She had not even heard him. She was bending over her father and sobbing quietly.

"A Huguenot," muttered the young Leaguer, "an agent of the Accursed!"

He kept on watching her. There was a soft delicate turn of the chin, childish, almost babyish, which made the heart within him like water.

"Chut!" he said, "what I have now to do is to get rid of that ramping steer of a Launay out there. He and his blanket-vending father must not hear of this!"

He went out quietly, sinking noiselessly to the ground behind the arras of the door, and emerging again, as into another world, amid the hum and mutter of professorial argument.

"All this," remarked Doctor Anatole, flapping his little green-covered pulpit with his left hand, "is temporary, passing. The clouds in the sky are not more fleeting than – "

"Guise! Guise! The good Guise! Our prince has come, and all will now be well!"

The street below spoke, and from afar, mingling with scattered shots which told the fate of some doomed Swiss, he heard the chorus of the Leaguers' song:

 
"The Cardinal, and Henry, and Mayenne, Mayenne!
We will fight till all be grey —
Put Valois 'neath our feet to-day,
Deep in his grave the Bearnais —
Our chief has come – the Balafr?!"
 

Abb? John recovered his place, unseen by the Professor. He was pale, his cloak dusty with the wriggling he had done under the benches. He was different also. He had been a furious Leaguer. He had shouted for Guise. He had come up the stairs to seek for weapons wherewith to fight for that Sole Pillar of Holy Church.

"Well?" said Guy Launay, looking sideways at him.

"Well, what?" growled the Abb? John, most unclerically.

He had indeed no right to the title, save that his uncle was a cardinal, and he looked to be one himself some day – that is, if the influence of his family held. But in these times credit was such a brittle article.

"Did you get the weapons?" snapped his friend – "the pistol, the sword-cane? You have been long enough about it. I have worn my pencil to a stub!"

The Abb? John had intended to lie. But somehow, when he thought of the clear dark eyes wet with tears, and the dead Huguenot, within there – somehow he could not.

Instead he blurted out the truth.

"I forgot all about them!" he said.

The son of the ex-provost of the merchants looked at him once, furiously.

"I think you are mad!" he said.

"So do I!" said the Abb? John, nodding blandly.

"Well, what is the reason of it?" grumbled the other. "What has Old Blessings-of-Peace got in there – a hidden treasure or a pretty wench? By the milk-pails o' Mary, I will go and see for myself!"

"Stop," said the Abb? John, with sudden heat, "no more spying! I am sick of it. Let us go and get weapons at the Hotel of the Duke of Guise, if you like – but respect the privacy of our master – our good and kind master!"

Guy Launay eyed his companion a moment murkily.

He gritted his teeth viciously, as if he could gladly have bitten a piece out of his arm. He showed large flat teeth when angry, for all the world like a bad-tempered horse.

"Stop and take notes on the comforts of philosophy by yourself," he said; "I am off to do my duty like a man. You have turned soft at the moment of action, like all Spaniards – all the breed are alike, you and your master, the Demon of the South!"

"You lie!"

"And you! But wait till to-morrow!"

"Ah," cried the Abb? John, "like all Frenchmen, you would put off a fight till to-morrow. Come out now, and I will break your head with a quarter-staff!"

"Pshaw!" quoth Guy Launay, "quarter-staffs indeed, on the Day of Barricades. I am off to kill a King's man, or to help spit a Huguenot!"

And the next moment the Professor of Eloquence had but one auditor.

CHAPTER III.
THE PROFESSOR OF ELOQUENCE

"My name," she said, "is Claire Agnew. But since we lived long in Provence and Spanish Roussillon, my father, being learned in that speech, called me most often Euphrasia or Euphra, being, as he said, 'the light of his eyes'"!

"Then you are English, and a heretic?" said the young man, while the Professor, having discharged his papers into the drawer of a cabinet, already full and running over, bent his ear to the breast of the old man.

"I am Scottish, and you are the heretic!" said the girl, with spirit.

"I am no heretic – I am of the Faith!" said the young man.

"The Faith of treaty-breakers and murderers!"

She knit her fingers and looked at him defiantly – perhaps, if the truth must be told, more in anger than in sorrow.

The voice of the Professor of Eloquence broke in upon them.

"Young man," he said, "you have surprised a secret which is not mine – much less yours. Be off at once to your uncle, the Cardinal d'Albret, and to your friend's father Launay, the ex-provost of the merchants. Get three passports – for me, for my daughter Claire, and – for my nephew – "

"What nephew?" said the youth, rubbing the ear which the Professor had pulled.

"One I have adopted recently!" said the Professor gravely, "a certain worthless loon, who came up hither seeking what was not his – a sword-cane and a pistol, and who found that which, God knows, belongs to neither of us – an uncomfortable possession in these days, a Huguenot maiden with eyes like a flame of fire!"

"They are more like pansies!" said the young man doggedly.

"How do you know? How dare you? Is she not my daughter?"

"Aye, master, she is, of course, your daughter if you say so" – the voice of the Abb? John was uncertain. He did not like the Professor claiming so much – and he beginning to be bald too. What have bald pates to do with pretty young girls? Even thus he growled low to himself.

"Eh, what's that?" the Professor caught him up. "Be off – it is to save her life, and you are a young blade who should never refuse an adventure, specially when at last it gives you a chance to be taken for the relative of a respectable man – "

"And the cousin of this fair maid, your – daughter?"

"Well, and have I not a good right to a daughter of my own? Once on a day I was married, bonds and bands, parchments and paperings. For ten years I endured my pain. Well might I have had a daughter, and of her age too, had it not been my hard lot to wed a woman without bowels – flint-heart – double-tongue – "

"I wager it was these ten years that taught him his eloquence!" said the young man under his breath. But aloud he answered otherwise, for the young girl had withdrawn into the small adjacent piece, leaving the men to talk.

"And this?" said the Abb? John, indicating the dead man – "what are we to do with this?"

The face of the Professor of Eloquence cleared.

"Luckily we are in a place where such accidents can easily be accounted for. In a twinkle I will summon the servitors. They will find League emblems and holy crosses all about him, candles burning at his head and feet. The fight still rumbles without. It is but one more good Guisard gone to his account, whom I brought hither out of my love for the Cause, and that the Sorbonne might not be compromised."

Almost for the first time the student looked at his master with admiration.

"Your love for the Cause – " he said. "Why, all the world knows that you alone voted against the resolution of the assembled Sorbonne that it was lawful to depose a king who refused to do his duty in persecuting heretics!"

"I have repented," said the Professor of Eloquence – "deeply and sorely repented. Surely, even in the theology of the Sorbonne, there is place for repentance?"

"Place indeed," answered the young man boldly, "but the time is, perhaps, a little ill-chosen."

However the Professor of Eloquence went on without heeding him.

"And in so far as this girl's goodwill is concerned, let that be your part of the work. Her father, though a heretic, must be interred as a son of the Church. It is the only course which will explain a dead man among the themes in my robing-room. He has been in rebellion against the King – but there is none to say against which king! It does not need great wisdom to know that in Paris to-day, and especially in the Sorbonne, to die fighting against the Lord's Anointed, and for the Duke of Guise, is to receive the saint's aureole without ever a devil's advocate to say you nay!"

"It is well known," commented the youth, "that you were ever of the King's party – a Politique! It was even spoken of in the Council of the Sixteen."

"Do you go seek your cousin, sirrah," said the Professor of Eloquence, "and with her be very politic indeed!"

The Abb? John accepted the duty indicated with brisk alertness.

"Mind you, no love-making," said Dr. Anatole. "That would be not only misplaced, but also exceedingly ill-suited to your ecclesiastical pretensions."

"Hear me before we go farther," cried the Abb? John; "I am a good Leaguer and a good Catholic, but I will not have it said that I am a churchman just because my uncle is!"

The Professor paid no heed. Instead, he went to a corner cupboard of ornate Spanish mahogany carved into dragons and gargoyles, and from it he took the medal of the League, the portraits of the Duke of Guise and of the King of Spain. Then, tying a white armlet of Alen?on lace about the dead man's wrist, he bade the Abb? John summon the servants.

The Abb? John stood opened-mouthed watching the preparations.

"I had always thought – " he began.

"Of course you had – of course you did. You all do, you half-baked babies! You always take your instructors for ancient innocents, purblind, adder-deaf mumblers of platitudes. But you are wrong – you and Guy Launay, and all your like. A good professor is a man who has been a good student, who remembers the tricks of the animal, and is all ready fixed for them before the whisper has run along Bench One! I will conduct this necessary funeral in person. Please do you, since you can be of no other use, make it your business to explain matters to your cousin!"

The servants of the Sorbonne, Leaguers to a man, at last appeared, trickling upstairs half reluctantly. The Professor of Eloquence met them at the door with a grave face.

"This man has been slain – accidentally," he began, "I believe by the King's Swiss. I have brought him here myself. It will be as well for the Sorbonne that these matters go no further – good for you, as well as for myself, and for all the college of the Doctors, after the resolution of which we know. Let Father Gontier be called, and the dead man interred with all due ceremony in the private sepulchre of the faculty."

When the servitors of the Sorbonne had seen the half-hidden wristlet of the good Leaguer, the medals of the two great chiefs, they understood. After all, the King might win – and then – men might stay or flee, Guises rise and set, but it was clearly the destiny of the Sorbonne to go on for ever, if only to afford them a means of livelihood.

They were men with families, and the advantage of keeping a still tongue in each several head had often been pointed out to them. It was, indeed, a condition of their service at Sorbonne.

So the funeral of Francis the Scot took place in the strictest secrecy. As a mourner, close beside the bier, knelt the niece of good Dr. Anatole, the Professor of Eloquence. It was not thought unusual, either that Doctors of the Sorbonne should have nieces, or that they should be overcome at the sight of war and dead men. Grave doctors' nieces were almost proverbially tender-hearted. The Abb? John, a cousin by the mother's side, and near relative of the great Leaguer Cardinal, ordered, explained, and comforted, according as he had to do with Sorbonne servitors, Jesuit fathers, or weeping girls.

He found himself in his element, this Abb? John.

CHAPTER IV.
LITTLE COLETTE OF COLLIOURE

While the Abb? John was gone to seek the passports from his uncle, and from what remained of royal authority in a city now wholly given over to the League, Anatole Long, college professor, explained matters to his new charge.

"You saw but little of your father, I take it?" he began gently. The Sorbonnist was a large-framed, upstanding man, with an easy-going face, and manners which could be velvet soft or trampling, according to circumstances. They were generally the former.

"There is no use in wasting good anger," he would say, "at least, on a pack of cublings."

He was referring to the young men of his class, who thought themselves Platos for wisdom and Kings of Navarre in experience. For though they cursed "the Bearnais" in their songs and causeway-side shoutings, in their hearts they thought that there was none like him in the world – at once soldier, lover, and man.

"My father," said Claire Agnew, looking the Professor in the face, "was a brave gentleman. He owed that to his race. But he had long been in this service of politics, which makes a man's life like a precious glass in the hands of a paralytic. One day or another, as he takes his medicine, it will drop, and there is an end."

"You speak bitterly?"

The Professor's voice was very soft. It was a wonder that he had never married again, for all knew that his youth had been severely accidented.

"Bitterly," said the girl; "indeed, I may speak truly and yet without honey under my tongue. For my father made himself a hunted hare for the cause that was dear to him. Yet the King he served left him often without a penny or a crust. When he asked for his own, he was put off with fair words. He spent his own estate, which was all my portion, like water. Yet neither from King James of Scots, nor from Elizabeth of the English, did he get so much as a 'thank you' for the travail of years!"

"And from Henry of Navarre?" said the Professor of the Sorbonne.

"Why," said Claire Agnew, "I am shamed to own it. But though never a man needed money more than the King of Navarre, it is on his bounty that we have been living these four years. He is great and generous!"

"I have heard something less than that said of the Bearnais," answered the Professor; "yet he is a true Frenchman of the Gascon breed, great to men, generous to women, hail-fellow-well-met with all the world. But he loves the world to know it! And now, little lady," said Professor Anatole, "I must conduct you elsewhere. It is not seemly that a pretty one like you should be found in this dingy parchment den, counting the sparrows under the dome of the Sorbonne. Have you any friends in Paris to whose care I can commit you for the time being?"

"Not one!" cried the girl fiercely; "it is a city of murderers – Leaguers – our enemies!"

"Gently – fairly, little one," the Professor spoke soothingly; "there are good men and bad in Paris, as elsewhere; but since you have no friends here, I must conduct you to Havre de Grace, where we will surely find a captain biding for a fair wind to take him through Queen Bess's Sleeve into the North Sea, far on the way for Scotland."

The girl began to cry bitterly, for the first time.

"I have no friends in Scotland, not any more than in France," she said. "My father was a true man, but of a quick high temper, and such friends as he had he quarrelled with long ago. It began about his marrying my mother, who was a little maid out of Roussillon, come to Paris in the suite of the wife of some Governor of Catalonia who had been made Spanish ambassador. It was in the Emperor's time, when men were men – not fighting machines – and priests. My father, Francis Agnew, was stiff-necked and not given to pardon-asking, save of his Maker. And though little Colette Llorient softened him to all the world else, she died too soon to soften him towards his kinsfolk."

The Professor meditated gravely, like one solving a difficult problem.

"What?" he said – "no, it cannot be. Your mother was never little Colette of the Llorients of Collioure?"

"I have indeed always believed so," said the girl; "but doubtless in my father's papers – "

"But they are Catholics of the biggest grain, those Llorients of Collioure, deep-dyed Leaguers, as fierce as if Collioure were in the heart of Lorraine!"

Claire bent her head and nodded sadly.

"Yes," she said, "for my father's sake my mother embroiled herself with her relatives. She became a Huguenot, a Calvinist like him. Then they had a family meeting about her. All the black brothers, mailed and gauntleted, they say, sat round a table and swore that my poor mother should be no more of their family!"

"Yes, I can fancy it – I see them; there was huge Bernard, weasel-faced Giles, subtle Philippe – "

"How," cried the girl, surprised in her turn; "you know them – my mother's people?"

"Well, I ought," said the Professor of the Sorbonne, with a young look flushing back into his face, "seeing that my mother has held a 'mas' from the family of Llorient of Collioure for more years than I can remember. When I was a lad going to the collegiate school at Elne, I remember your mother, Mademoiselle Colette, as a little maid, playing by herself among the sand-dunes. I looked up from my Greek grammar to watch her, till the nurse in the flat Limousin cap shook her fist at me, stopping her nursing to do it."

Here the Professor seemed to rouse himself as from a dream.

"That rascal John should be getting back by now," he said, "unless he has elbowed a way into the crowd to fight or fall for his great Duke!"

"You do not love the Duke of Guise?" said the girl.

"I have not your reasons for hating him," the Professor of Eloquence answered. "I am no Huguenot, by family or feeling. But I think it is a poor day for France when the valet chases the master out of house and home. The King is the King, and all the Guises in the world cannot alter that. Also, since the King has departed, and I have been left, alone loyal of all the faculty of the Sorbonne, it is time that I too made my way to see my mother among the sand-hills of Collioure. Ah, John, you rascal, what has kept you so long?"

"The porter at my uncle's would give me no satisfaction – swore I had come again to borrow money. A manifest falsehood! As, indeed, I proved on the spot by pulling him out of his lodge and thumping him well. A varlet – to dare to suppose, because a gentleman comes twice to borrow money from a rich and loving relative, that he has returned a third time upon the same errand! But I got the passports, and they are countersigned and stamped by Merlan at the Secretary's office, which will do no harm if we come across King's men!"

"As for the Bearnais and his folk," said the Professor to Claire, "I suppose you have your father's papers safe enough?"

The girl blushed and murmured something indefinite. As a matter of fact, she had made sure of these while he yet lay on the ground, and the Royal Swiss were firing over her head. It was the instinct of her hunted life.

They left the Sorbonne together, all cloaked and hooded "like three carrion crows," said the Abb? John. None who saw them would have supposed that a young maid's face lurked beneath the sombre muffling. Indeed, beneath that of the Abb? John, curls of the same hue clustered just as tightly and almost as abundantly.

The street were silent all about the quarter of the University. But every hundred yards great barricades of barrels and paving-stones, earth and iron chains, had to be passed. Narrow alleys, the breadth of a man and no more, were generally left, zig-zagging among the defences. But almost as often the barricades had to be surmounted, after discovery of identity, by the aid of friendly pushes and hauls. In all cases, however, the examination was strict.

At every barricade they were stopped and called upon to declare their mission. However, the Doctor Anatole was generally recognised by some scapegrace runaway student, at scrambling horse-play among the pavement cobbles. At any rate, the Abb? John, who had been conspicuous at the meetings of the Elect Leaguers as the nephew of the great Cardinal d'Albret, was universally hailed with favour.



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