Samuel Crockett.

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



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He was also constantly asked who the lady in the hood might be, whom he was convoying away so secretly. He had but one reply to gentle and simple.

"Give me a sword, come down hither, and I will afford any three men of you satisfaction on the spot!"

For, in spite of the Abb? John's peaceful cognomen, his credit as a pusher of the unbuttoned foil was too good for any to accept his proposition. They laughed instead.

One of the Duke Guise's "mud-porters" called the pair an ugly name. But it was (happily) in the Latin quarter, and a score of eager hands propelled him down into the gutter, where, after having his nose rubbed in the mire, he was permitted (and even assisted) to retire to the rear. He rubbed himself as he went and regretted mournfully that these things had not happened near the street of Saint Antoine.

Altogether they escaped well. The Sorbonne, a difficult place to get into, is easy to get out of – for those who know how. And so the three, guided by the Abb? John, slipped into the great Rue St. Jacques by the little port St. Benoit, which the students and even the professors found so necessary, whenever their errands were of such a private nature as to disqualify them from crossing the square of the Sorbonne, with its rows on rows of enfilading windows.

It was up the narrow stair of the Abb? John's lodgings that they found a temporary shelter while the final arrangements were being made. Horses and a serving-man (provided for in the passports) were the most pressing of these.

It was in connection with the serving-man that Claire Agnew first found a tongue.

"I know a lad," she said, "a Scot, seemingly stupid, but cunning as a fox, who may be of service to us. His apparent simplicity will be a protection. For it will be evident that none bent on escaping would burden themselves with such a 'Cabbage Jock.' He is of my father's country and they were ofttimes in close places together. His name is – "

"No matter for his name – we will call him Cabbage Jock," cried the Abb? John. "Where is this marvel to be found?"

"Not far away, as I judge," said the girl, taking a silver whistle, such as ladies wore at that time to call their waiting-maids, from about her neck. She blew lightly upon it, first two long and then two short notes. And from the street corner, prompt as if he had been watching (which, indeed, he had been), came running the strangest object ever seen in a civilised land. He gave one glance at the window at which Claire's head appeared. Then, diving under the low door like a rat making for a hole, he easily evaded the shouting concierge, and in a moment more stood before them.

CHAPTER V.
THE SPROUTING OF CABBAGE JOCK

Cabbage Jock was immensely broad at the shoulders. He stooped slightly, so that his long arms fell below his knees when he stood erect. His mouth was slightly open, but so large in itself that a banana could easily have been inserted sideways without touching the wicks.

There was a look of droll simplicity on the lad's face (he was apparently about twenty) which reminded one of the pictures of Lob-Lie-by-the-Fire, or the Brownie of Scottish fireside tales.

Yet for one so simple he had answered with strange readiness. There was a quick flash of the eye as he took in the two men before him.

"What may you be?" demanded the Professor of Eloquence.

"A he-goat upon the mountains, comely in the going!" said the lout, in very good French. The learned man of the Sorbonne noted at once that he quoted (and mixed) words of the Genevan Version common among the Huguenots.

"He speaks French, this good lad?" he asked, turning to Claire.

"Yes, when it pleases him, which is not always – though indeed he always obeys me. Is it not so, Jock?"

"My name is not Jock! Nowise – as you well do know. I am called Blastus of the Zamzummims! Against all Armenians, Hussites, Papishers, Anabaptists, Leaguers, and followers of the high, the low, and the middle way, I lift up my heel. I am a bird of fair plumage on the mountains of Zepher. I fly – I mount – I soar – "

"Go and find four horses," said his mistress; "two of them good and strong, one Spanish jennet for me, one Flanders mare for yourself and the saddle-bags."

The Bird of Fair Plumage scratched his long reddish locks in a sort of comic perplexity.

"Am I to steal them or pay for them?" he said.

"Pay, of course," said his mistress, scandalised.

"That will leave our purse very light – the purse that was your father's. It were easier these days, and also more just to spoil the Egyptians. The lion-like man of Moab, which is the Duke of Guise, walketh about like the devil roaring (as sayeth Peter), and because of the barricades there are many good horses tied by their bridles at the gates of the city – masterless, all of them."

"Pay for them, do you hear?" said Claire; "do not stand arguing with your master's daughter. I thought you had learned that long ago."

Blastus of the Zamzummims went out grumbling to himself.

"At least she said nothing about cheating – or clipped money, or bad money – or money from the Pope's mint. I will buy, and I will pay for all. Yes – yes – but – "

It was obvious that Jock of the Cabbage's hope of spoiling Egypt had not been properly rooted out of his mind even by his mistress's commands.

A strange soul dwelt in this Jock of the Cabbage. He was the son of a reputable Scottish refugee at Geneva, from whom he had sucked in, as a frog does the autumn rains, the strongest and purest Calvinistic doctrine. He had, however, early perceived that his ludicrous personal appearance prevented him from obtaining eminence as a preacher.

He had therefore chosen another way of being useful.

John Stirling had deliberately made himself Cabbage Jock – which is to say, "Jean-aux-Choux," and by that name was famous alike in the camps of Henri of Navarre, and in making sport for the "mignons" of the King of France. But it was not known to many alive that a mind clear and logical, a heart full of the highest determinations, were hidden away under the fool's motley and the tattered cloak of the gangrel man.

Only to Francis Agnew had the Fool talked equally and with unbound heart. Even Claire did not guess what lay beneath this folly of misapplied texts and mirth-provoking preachments. There can be no better mask for real fanaticism than the pretence of it. And whereas Francis Agnew had been a gentleman and a diplomat always, his henchman, Jock the Fool, was a fanatic of the purest strain, adding thereto a sense of humour and probably a strain of real madness as well.

"Come up hither, Jean-aux-Choux!" cried the lads on the barricades. "Turn a somersault for us, Cabbage Jock!" shouted a fellow-countryman, on his way to preferment in the Scots Guard, who in the meanwhile was filling up his time by fighting manfully against the King's troops.

"Lick the tip of your nose, Jock!" roared yet a third; "waggle your ears! Ah, well done! Now jest for us, and we will give you a good drink – Macon of the fourth year – as much as you can take down at a draught. This Guisarding is dry work."

The streets were full of excited men, cheering for Holy Faith and the Duke of Guise. They cried that they were going to kill the King, and make that most Catholic Prince, the Head of the League, King in his stead.

The Protestants in Paris had fled or hidden. There were great fears of a second St. Bartholomew. But those who remembered the first, said that if that had been intended, there would be a deal less noise and a deal more private whetting of daggers and sword-blades.

Once the Professor of Eloquence left them for a moment in order to run upstairs to tell his housekeeper and her husband that they were to hold his house against all authority save that of the King, and not yield too soon even to that. He might be away some time, he said.

The Abb? John, whose housekeeping was of a desultory sort – consisting chiefly in going to see his uncle, the Cardinal d'Albret, when he was in need of money or of the ghostly counsel of a prince of the Church – made no preparations for flight, save to feel in his breeches pocket to make sure that he had his gold safely there.

"My creditors can wait, or importune my uncle, who will have them thrown in the Seine for their pains," said the young student of the Sorbonne easily; "and as for my dear gossips, they will easily enough console themselves. Women are like cats. As often as they fall, they fall upon their feet!"

It was a strange Paris which they passed through that day – these four. The Professor of Eloquence went first, wearing the great green cloak of his learned faculty, with its official golden collar and cuffs of dark fur.

That day Paris was not only making the history of the present, but was unconsciously prophesying the future – her own future. Whenever, after that, the executive grew weak and the people strong, up came the paving-stones, and down in a heap went the barrels, charettes, scaffoldings, street-doors. It was not only the Day of the Barricades, but the first day of many barricades. Indeed, Paris learned the lesson of power so well, that it became her settled conviction that what she did to-day France would homologate to-morrow. It was only the victory of the "rurals" in the late May of 1871 which taught Paris her due place, as indeed the capital of France, but not France itself.

Dr. Anatole's cloak was certainly a protection to them as they went. Caps were doffed as to one of the Sixteen – that great council of nine from each of the sixteen districts of Paris, whose power over the people made the real Catholic League.

Dr. Anatole explained matters to Claire as they went.

"They have long wanted a figure-head, these shop-keepers and booth-hucksters," he said bitterly. "The Cardinal leads them cunningly, and between guile and noise they have so intoxicated Guise that he will put his head in the noose, jump off, and hang himself. This King Henry of Valois is a contemptible dog enough, as all the world knows. But he is a dog which bites without barking, and that is a dangerous breed. If I were Guise, instead of promenading Paris between the Queen-Mother's chamber and the King's palace of the Louvre, I would get me to my castle of Soissons with all speed, and there arm and drill all the gentlemen-varlets and varlet-gentlemen that ever came out of Lorraine. There would I wait, with twenty eyes looking out every way across the meadows, and a hundred at least in the direction of Paris. I would have cannons primed and matches burning. I would lay in provisions to serve a year in case of siege. That is what I should do, were I Duke of Guise and Henry of Valois' enemy!"

At the Orleans gate Jean-aux-Choux, in waiting with the horses (bought, stolen, or strayed), heard the conclusion of the Professor's exposition.

"Let Wolf Guise eat Wolf Valois, or Wolf Valois dine off Wolf Guise – so much the better for the Sheep of the Fold," he commented freely, as became his cap-and-bells, which in these days had more liberty of prophecy than the wisdom of the wisest.

CHAPTER VI.
THE ARCHER'S CLOAK

As they left Paris behind and rode down the Orleans road, it soon became evident that they had changed their surroundings. Men-at-arms, Scots Guards, with great white crosses on their blue tabards, glared at the four suspiciously. Cavaliers glanced suspiciously as they galloped past. Some halted, as if only prevented from investigating the circumstances by the haste of their mission. Gay young men, on passaging horses, half drew their swords and growled unintelligible remarks, desisting only at the sight of Claire Agnew's pale face underneath her hood.

"What can be the matter?" they asked each other. "Why do we, who passed through swarming Paris in the flood-tide of rebellion, who scrambled on barricades and were given drink by the King's enemies – why should we now be looked askance at, riding peaceably Orleans-ward on our own hired beasts?"

None found an answer, but deep in every heart there was the conviction, universal in such a case, that somehow it was the other fellow's fault. It was Cabbage Jock who solved the mystery.

"In Rome you must do as the Romans," he said; "in Babylon's cursed city, though an abomination to do obeisance to the great whore (as sayeth the Scripture), I have found it of remarkable service to don her uniform occasionally – even as Paul did when he took shelter behind his Roman citizenship. It is that green furred gown of yours, Sir Professor! These be King's men, hasting after the Master of the Mignons. I'll wager the nest is empty and the bird flown from under the pents of the Louvre."

"And what shall I do?" said the Professor of the Sorbonne, looking regretfully at the fine Spanish cloth and rich fur. "Am I to cast away a matter of twenty good golden Henries?"

"By no means," said Cabbage Jock; "I came away somewhat hastily, to do you service. I have no saddle saving these two millers' bags. I will fold the good gown beneath the two, and so sit comfortable as on an ale-house couch, while you will ride safe – "

"And plumeless as a docked parrot," said the Abb? John, who was now sufficiently far from Paris to begin to laugh at his master – at least a little, and in an affectionate way.

The Professor looked disconsolate enough as he suffered his fine cloak to be stripped from his back.

"Ne'er mind," quoth Jean-aux-Choux, "we will soon right that. I know these King's men, and 'tis the Pope's own purgatory of a warm day. There are inns by the wayside, and wherever one is held by a well-made hostess, who lets poor puss come to the cream without so much 'Hist-a-cat-ing,' I'll wager they will leave their cloaks in the hall. So we will come by a coat of the King's colours, all scallops and Breton ermines in memory of poor Queen Anne."

"I will not have you steal a cloak, sirrah," said the Professor; "indeed, I am nowise satisfied in my mind concerning these horses we are riding."

"Steal – not I," cried the Fool; "not likely, and the Montfa?on gibbet at one's elbow yonder, with the crows a-swirling and pecking about it as in the time of naughty Clerk Francis. Nay, I thank you. I have money here to pay for a gross of cloaks!"

And Cabbage Jock slapped his pocket as he spoke – which indeed, thus interrogated, gave back a most satisfactory jingle of coin.

The Professor had first of all meant to point out to Jean-aux-Choux that to have the money in his pocket, and to pay it out, were two things entirely different, when it came to borrowing other men's cloaks, but something else leaped up in his mind, sudden as a trout in a pool. He turned upon Jean-aux-Choux.

"How do you know about Clerk Francis and the gallows at Montfa?on?" he demanded. For at first, with the ear of a man accustomed to talk only to men who pick up allusions as pigeons do scattered grain, he had accepted the words without question.

"How am I to know?" retorted Jean-aux-Choux. "One hears so many things. I do not know."

"But," said the Professor of Eloquence, pursuing his idea, "there are not many even at the Sorbonne, which is the grave of wisdom whence is no resurrection (I am of the Sadducean faction), who have heard tell of one Clerk Fran?ois Villon, Master of Arts, and once an ornament of our University. How came you to know of him? Come now, out with it! You are hiding something!"

"Sir," said the Fool, "I have made sport for Kings of the Louvre and Kings of Bedlam; for Henry of yesterday, who is Henry of Valois; for Henry of to-day, who is Henry of Guise; and for Henry of to-morrow, who is – "

But the Professor of the Sorbonne was a man of sense, and he knew that the place for discussing such things was by no means on the Orleans highway.

So he commanded Jean-aux-Choux to trouble no more about royal Henries past, present, and especially Henries to come, but to be off and find him a cloak.

Then Cabbage Jock, in no haste, simply glanced at the ale-house doors as they came near Bourg-la-Reine, and at last with a wave of his hand signalled his three companions to ride on.

When he overtook them an hour afterwards, Bourg-la-Reine was hidden far behind among the wayside trees. Jean-aux-Choux saluted, and asked in a quiet man-servant's voice if the honourable Doctor would be pleased to put on his coat.

"Then, you gallows' rascal," said the Professor of the Sorbonne, "it was true, after all. You have stolen the cloak, and you would have me, a respectable citizen, reset the theft!"

Jean-aux-Choux held up his hand.

"Sir," he said, "I have often heard from my masters that it is the special function of a cook to make ready the soup, and of the Sorbonne to resolve cases of conscience?"

"Well, then," he went on, as Doctor Anatole did not answer, "here is one."

"In an ale-house were certain sons of Belial, whose very jesting was inconvenient, and their words not once to be named among us, as sayeth the apostle. Well, there came a certain braggart out of this foul poison-box. He had seen an honest man pass by, fleeing from Paris, with all his goods laden on a mule. Now this knave would have taken all and slain the honest merchant as well, had I not passed by, and so belaboured him that he will not rise from his bed for a fortnight. Then the good merchant (he was a Jew from the Quartier Saint Jacques) bade me choose what I would for my recompense. And so from his packages I chose this fine cloak, fit for the Provost of the Merchants himself, and with that he thanked me and went his way."

"And what," cried the Abb? John, hugely interested, "became of that rascal's companions? It is strange that, hearing the racket, they did not hive out to his assistance! Yesterday they hamstrung a man for less – an archer of the King's!"

"It would indeed have been somewhat strange," agreed Cabbage Jock, "if, before our little interview, I had not taken the liberty of locking both the outer and inner doors of the inn. But they have nothing to complain about, these good lads. They have a kindly hostess and a full cellar. E'en let them be content!"

And with no more words he took out of his pouch two keys, one large and rusty, the other small and glittering. These he tossed carefully, one after the other, into the Orge. They were just upon the famous bridge across which the postillion of Longjumeau so often took his way. The keys flashed a moment on the water as the drops rose and fell. Then Cabbage Jock turned on his companions and smiled his broad simpleton's smile as he waved his hand in the direction of the inn.

"Let there be peace," he said solemnly – "peace between Jew and Gentile. Will it please you to put on your coat now, Sir Professor?"

And as the air bit shrewdly, it pleased the Professor well enough.

CHAPTER VII.
THE GREAT NAME OF GUISE

Claire had indeed seen little of her father. All her life she had been accustomed to be left in the charge of strangers while Francis Agnew went about his business of hole-and-corner diplomacy. Claire was therefore no whit astonished to find herself with two men, almost strangers to her, alone upon the crowded road to Orleans.

She mourned sincerely for her father, but after all she was hardly more than a child, and for years she had seen little of Francis Agnew. He had, it is true, always managed to take care of her, always in his way loved her. But it was most often from a distance, and as yet she did not realise the difference.

She might therefore be thought more cheerful than most maids of a quieter day in the expression of her grief. Then, indeed, was a man's life on his lip, and girls of twenty had often seen more killing than modern generals of three-score and ten. It was not that Claire felt less, but that an adventurous present so filled her life with things to do, that she had no time for thought.

Also, was there not Jean-aux-Choux, otherwise Cabbage Jock, but with an excellent right to the name of John Stirling, armiger, jester to three kings, and licentiate in theology in the Reformed (and only true) Church of Geneva? Jean-aux-Choux was a fatalist and a Calvinist. Things which were ordained to happen would happen, and if any insulted his master's daughter, it was obviously ordained that he, Jean-aux-Choux, should set a dagger between the shoulder-blades of the insulter. This in itself was no slight protection. For the fool's sinews were reputed so strong that he could take two vigorous men of the King's Guard, pin them with his arms like trussed fowls, and, if so it pleased him, knock their heads together.

So through the press the four made their way into Orleans, where they found the bearing of the people again changed, and that for the worse.

"It behoves your learned and professional shoulders to be decorated once more with the green cloth and fur trimmings of the Sorbonne," said Jean-aux-Choux. "I can smell a Leaguer a mile off, and this city is full of them. Our Scots Guards have turned off on the road to Blois. There are too many bishops and clergy here for honest men. Besides which, the King has a ch?teau at Blois. We had better change my saddle-cloth – though 'twill be to my disadvantage – inasmuch as an archer's tabard, all gold embroidering, makes noways so easy sitting as fox fur and Angoul?me green."



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