Samuel Crockett.

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



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So it chanced that when they rode up to the low door of the Hostelry of the Golden Lark, in the market-place of Orleans, the Professor of Eloquence was again clad in his official attire, and led the way as became a Doctor of the Sorbonne in a Leaguer town.

It was a pretty pink-and-white woman who welcomed them with many courtesies and smiles to the Golden Lark – that is, so far as the men were concerned, while preserving a severe and doubtful demeanour towards the niece of the learned Professor of the Sorbonne. Madame Gillifleur loved single men, unaccompanied men, at her hostelry. She found that thus there was much less careful examination of accounts when it came to the hour of departure.

Still, all the same, it was a great thing to have in her house so learned a man, and in an hour, as was the custom of the town, she had sent his name and style to the Bishop's palace. Within two hours the Bishop's secretary, a smart young cleric dressed in the Italian fashion, with many frills to his soutane, was bearing the invitation of his master to the gentlemen to visit him in his study. This, of course, involved leaving Claire behind, for Anatole Long ordered the Abb? John to accompany him, while the girl declared that, with Jean-aux-Choux to keep her company, she had fear of nothing and nobody.

She had not, however, taken her account with the curiosity of Madame Celeste Gillifleur, who, as soon as the men were gone to the episcopal palace, entered the room where Claire was seated at her knitting, while Jean-aux-Choux read aloud the French Genevan Bible.

Cabbage Jock deftly covered the small quarto volume with a collection of songs published (as usual) at the Hague.

"The fairer the hostess the fouler the soup!" muttered Jean, as he retired into a corner, humming the refrain of a Leaguer song.

Madame Gillifleur saluted her enemy with the duck of a hen which has finished drinking. To her Claire bowed the slightest of acknowledgments.

"To what do I owe this honour?" she inquired, with dryness.

"I thought my lady, the Professor's niece, might be in need of some service – a tiring-maid perhaps?" began the landlady. "My own you would be heartily welcome to, but she is a fresh, foolish wench from the Sologne, and would sooner groom a nag of Beauce than pin aright a lady's stomacher! But I can obtain one from the town – not too respectable, I fear. But for my lady, and for one night, I suppose that does not matter."

"Ha, from the town!" grumbled Jean-aux-Choux out of his window-seat. Then he hummed, nodding his head and wagging his finger as if he had just found the words in his song-book:

 
"Eyes and ears, ears and eyes —
Who hires maids, lacks never spies!"
 

The landlady darted a furious look at the interrupter.

"Who may this rude fellow be, that is not afraid to give his tongue such liberty in my house?"

Jean-aux-Choux answered for himself, as indeed he was well able to do.

"I am philosopher-in-chief to the League; and as for that, when I am at home with his Grace of Guise, he and I wear motley day about!"

The face of the landlady changed.

Remembering the learned Professor of the Sorbonne, who had gone to visit the bishop, she turned quickly to Claire and asked, "Does the fellow speak truth? Is he really the jester to the great Duke, the good Prince, the glory of the League?"

"I have reason to believe it," said Claire calmly; "but, for your complete satisfaction, you can ask my uncle the Professor upon his return."

"I trust they will not be long gone," grumbled Jean-aux-Choux. "I have an infallible clock here under the third button of my tunic, which tells me it is long past dinner-time. And if it be not a good worthy meal, I shall by no means advise His Grace to dismount at the Golden Lark when next he passes through Orleans!"

"Holy Saint Marthe!" cried the landlady; "I will go this minute, and see what they are doing in the kitchen. I will warm their scullion backs – "

"I think I smell burned meat!" continued Jean-aux-Choux.

"Faith, but is it true that the Duke of Guise is indeed coming this way?" Madame Celeste Gillifleur asked anxiously.

"True, indeed," affirmed Jean, with his nose in the air, "and before the year is out, too. But, Madame, my good hostess, there is nothing he dislikes so much as the smell of good meat spoiled in the basting."

"I will attend to the basting myself, and that forthwith!" cried the lady of the Golden Lark, darting kitchen-wards at full speed, and forgetting all the questions she had come up to ask of Claire in the absence of her legitimate protectors.

Jean-aux-Choux laughed as she went out, and inclined his ear. Sounds which indicated the basting of not yet inanimate flesh, arrived from the kitchen.

"Mistress, mistress," cried a voice, "I am dead, bruised, scalded – have pity on me!"

"Pity is it, you rascal?" – the sharp tones of Madame Celeste rose high – "have you not wasted my good dripping, burnt my meat, offended these gentlemen, spoiled their dinner, so that they will report ill things of the Golden Lark to his most noble Grace of Guise?"

"Pity – oh, pity!"

Followed a rapid rushing of feet to and fro in the kitchen. Furniture was overturned. Something of the nature of a basting-ladle struck sonorously on tables and scattered patty-pans on the floor. A door slammed, shaking the house, and a blue-clad kitchen boy fled down the narrow street, while Madame Celeste, basting-ladle in hand, fumed and gesticulated in his wake.

CHAPTER VIII.
THE GOLDEN LARK IN ORLEANS TOWN

"Now," said Jean-aux-Choux, "unless I go down and help at the turning-spit myself, we are further off dinner than ever. I will also pump the lady dry of information in a quarter of an hour, which, in such a Leaguer town, is always a useful thing. But stay where you are, my lady Claire, and keep the door open. You will smell burnt fat, but the Fool of the Three Henries will be with you in as many jumps of a grasshopper whenever you want him. You have only to call, and lo, you have me!"

When Jean had disappeared to do double duty as spy and kitchen-drudge beneath, Claire went to the window which looked out upon the market-place. From beneath in the kitchen she could hear shouts of laughter climb up and die away. She knew that Jean-aux-Choux was at his tricks, and that, with five minutes' grace, he could get to windward of any landlady that ever lived, let alone such a merry plump one as Madame Celeste.

That dame indeed disliked all pretty women on principle. But she was never quite sure whether she preferred an ugly witty man who made her laugh, or a handsome dull man who only treated her as a gentleman ought. But women – young women and pretty women – pah, she could not abide them! And by this we can guess her age, for not so long ago she had been young and even pretty herself.

The tide that comes in the affairs of men is not nearly so marked as the ebb which comes in the affairs of women.

Claire stood a long while meditating, her eyes following the movement of the market-place vaguely, but without any real care for what was happening. She truly mourned her father, but she possessed much of that almost exclusively masculine temperament which says after any catastrophe, "Well, what is the next thing to be done?"

"I care nothing about my mother's people," she meditated to herself, "but I would see her home, her land, her country."

She had never seen her father's. But when he had spoken to her of the fresh winds, lashing rains, and driving snows, with nevertheless the rose blooming in the sheltered corners about the old house on Christmas Day, she had somehow known it all. But Collioure and its sand-dunes, the deep sapphire of the southern sea, cut across by the paler blue line of the sky – she could not imagine that, even when the Professor and the Abb? John, with tears glittering in their eyes, spoke together in the strange pathetic speech of la petite patrie.

But she would like to see it – the strand where the little Colette had played, the dunes down which she had slidden, and the gold and rose of the towers of Ch?teau Collioure, within which her mother was born.

A noise without attracted her attention. A procession was entering the square. In the midst was a huge coach with six mules, imported, equipage and all, from Spain. An outrider in the episcopal livery was mounted on each mule, while running footmen scattered the market-stalls and salad-barrows like the passage of a sudden strong wind.

There was also great excitement down below in the Golden Lark. The kitchen emptied itself, and Madame Celeste stopped hastily to pin a bow of ribbons to her cap, unconscious that a long smear of sooty grease decorated one side of her nose. The Bishop's carriage was coming in state to the Golden Lark! There could not be the least doubt of it. And the Bishop himself was within, that holy man who so much more willingly handled the sword-hilt than the crozier – Bishop Pierrefonds of Orleans, certain archbishop and possible cardinal, a stoop of the League in all the centre of France.

Yes, he was conveying home his guests in state. He stepped out and stood on the pavement in front of the house, a right proper prelate, giving them in turn his hand as they stooped to kiss his amethyst ring. Then, seeing over the Abb? John's bowed head the lady of the house, he called out heartily to her (for he was too great to be haughty with any), "Mistress Celeste, mind you treat these gentlemen well. It is not every day that our good town of Orleans holds at once the light of the Sorbonne, its mirror of eloquence, and also the nephew of my Lord Cardinal of the Holy League, John d'Albret, claimant at only twenty removes to the crown of France."

"Pshaw," muttered the Abb? John wearily, "I wish the old fool would go away and let us get to dinner!"

For, indeed, at the Palace he had listened to much of this.

The hostess of the Golden Lark conducted her two guests upstairs as if to the sound of trumpets. She gathered her skirts and rustled like the poplar leaves of an entire winter whisking about the little Place Royale of Orleans. The Professor of the Sorbonne had suddenly sunk into the background. Even the almighty Duke of Guise was no better than a bird in the bush. While here – well in hand, and hungry for an honest Golden Lark dinner – was a real, hall-marked, royal personage, vouched for by a bishop, and still more by the bishop's carriage and outriders! It was enough to turn the head of a wiser woman than Madame Celeste Gillifleur.

"And is it really true?" demanded Claire Agnew.

"Is what true, my dear lady?" said the Abb? John, very ungraciously for him. For he thought he would have to explain it all over again.

"That you are a near heir to the throne of France?"

The Abb? John clapped his hands together with a gesture of despair.

"Just as much as I am the Abb? John and a holy man," he cried; "it pleases them to call me so. Thank God, I am no priest, nor ever will be. And as for the crown of France – Henry of Valois is not dead, that ever I heard of. And if he were, I warrant his next heir and my valiant cousin, Henry of Navarre, would have a word to say before he were passed over!"

"But," said the Professor of Eloquence, smiling, "the Pope and our wise Sorbonne have loosed all French subjects from paying any allegiance to a heretic!"

"By your favour, sir," said the young man, "I think both made a mistake for which they will be sorry. Also I heard of a certain professor who voted boldly for the Bearnais in that Leaguer assembly, and who found it convenient to go see his mother next day, lest he should find himself one fine morning shortened by a head, all for the glory of God and the Holy League!"

Doctor Anatole laughed at his pupil's boldness.

"You are out of disciplinary bounds now," he said, "and as you are too old to birch, I must e'en let you chatter. But what is the meaning of the Bishop's sudden cordiality?"

"Oh," said the Abb? John, with a sigh of resignation, "these Leaguers are always getting maggots in their brains. If my mother had been my father – if I had been a Bourbon instead of a d'Albret – if Henry the Bearnais had been in my shoes and I in his – if – if – any number of 'ifs' – then there might be something in this heir-to-the-crown business. But the truth is, they are at their wits' end (which is no long distance to travel). The Demon of the South, our good, steady-going King of Spain, drives them hard. They dare not have him to rule over them, with his inquisitors, his blazing heretic fires, and the rest of it. Yet it is a choice between him and the Huguenot, unless they can find a true Catholic king. The Cardinal Bourbon is manifestly too old, though one day even he may serve to stop a gap. The Duke of Guise may be descended from the Merovingians or from Adam, but in either case his family-tree is not convincing. It has too many branches – too few roots! So the plotters – my good uncle among them – are looking about for some one – any one – that is, not a Guise nor yet a Huguenot, who may serve their turn. His Grace of Orleans thinks I may do as well as another. That is all – only one Leaguer maggot the more."

"And must we, then, always say 'Your Royal Highness' or 'Your Serenity' when we kiss your hand – which shall it be?" Claire asked the question gravely.

"I had much rather kiss yours," said the heir to a throne, bowing with equal gravity; "and as for a name – why, I am plain John d'Albret, at your service!"

He doffed his cap as he spoke, and the Professor noted for the first time, with a touch of jealousy, that he was a comely lad enough – that is, if he had not been so ludicrously young. The Professor (who was not a philosopher for nothing) noted the passing twinge of jealousy as a sign that he was growing old. Twenty years ago he might have been tempted to break his pupil's head for a presumptuous jackanapes, or challenge him to a bout at the small swords, but jealousy – pah, Anatole Long thought himself as good as any man – always excepting the Bearnais – where the sex was concerned.

It was a good and substantial supper to which they sat down. The cookery did credit to the handicraft of Madame Celeste, especially the salmon steaks done in parsley sauce, and the roast capon stuffed with butter, mint, and bread-crumbs. The wine, a white C?te Rotie, went admirably with the viands. The Professor and Claire had but little appetite, but the eyes of the landlady were now upon the Abb? John alone. His plate was scarce empty before it was mysteriously refilled. His wine-glass found itself regularly replenished by the fair plump hands of Madame Celeste herself. All went merry as a marriage-bell, and Jean-aux-Choux, seated a little way below the salt, and using his dagger as an entire table equipment, worked his way steadily through everything within his reach. For though the Fool of the Three Henries held nothing in heaven or earth sacred from his bitter tongue when in the exercise of his profession, he equally let nothing in heaven or earth (or even under the earth) interfere with his appetite. He explained the matter thus:

"I have heard of men living from hand to mouth," he told Claire; "for twenty years I have lived from table to mouth – always the same mouth, seldom twice the same table. There was you, my little lady, to be served first. And a hundred times your father and I went hungry that you might eat your milk-sop hot-a-nights. While, if I could, I would cheat my master as to what remained, his being the greater need."

"Good Jean!" said Claire, gently reaching out to pat his shaggy head. The long-armed jester shook a little and went pale under her touch, which was the stranger, seeing that with a twist of his shoulders he could throw off the clutch of a strong man.

Such were the three with whom Claire travelled southward, in an exceeding safety, considering the disturbed time. For any of them would have given his life to shield her from harm, though as yet Jean-aux-Choux was the only one of the three who knew it. And with him it was a matter of course.

CHAPTER IX.
THE REBELLION OF HERODIAS' DAUGHTER

"And I suppose I am to bait the trap, as usual?"

"You forget, Valentine, that I am your uncle and a grandee of Spain."

It was the usual beginning of their quarrels, of which they had had many as they posted along the Bordeaux road Pariswards. The Marquis Osorio was travelling on a secret mission to Paris, a mission which had nothing to do with the crowned and anointed King of France, now in uncertain refuge at Blois.

King Philip had sent for him, and the Demon of the South had been in good humour when he gave the stout Leonese gentleman his instructions. He had just heard of the Day of the Barricades, and the success of the Duke of Guise.

The Marquis had stood up before the master of two worlds, bronzed, hale and bearded: not too clever, but just shrewd enough to please the King, and certainly indomitable in doing what he was told. He had very much the air of a free man and good subject, with his flat travelling cap in one hand and the fingers of the other gripped staunchly about his sword-hilt.

"The iron is hot on the anvil," said the King, "strike, Osorio! It is a good job that the Duke of Err is out of the way. The pressure of the times was too much for him. His poor old brain rocked. His Duchess has taken him off somewhere to feed with spoon-meat. Olivarez, whom I have sent to follow him, will give you no trouble. He will occupy himself with King Henri and the Medici woman. The League and Guise – these are your game – especially Guise. I suspect him to be a wind-bag, but put him under your arm, and the wind in him will bravely play our music, like a pair of Savoyard bagpipes. And hark ye, Osorio, listen to the Jesuit fathers, especially Mariana – a very subtle man, Mariana, after mine own heart. And also (here he sank his voice to something mysterious), above all take with you your – your niece – Valentine?"

"Valentine la Ni?a!" ejaculated the King's representative, with a quick, startled look at his master.

"Even so," said Philip, casting his eyes through the slit behind the high altar of the Escorial to see what the priests were doing; "even so; our Holy Mother Church is in danger, and if any love father or mother, son or daughter more than her, he is not worthy of her!"

So by royal command Valentine la Ni?a rode northward with her uncle, and though these two loved one another, they wrangled much by the way.

Claire and her cavalcade were reaching Blois, when the uncle and niece entered Angers by the Long Bridges of C?.

The cause of the girl's outbreak of petulance had been a harangue of the envoy, in which he had explained, amongst other things, the reasons for keeping their mission a secret. The King of France must not hear of it, because their Philip did not want to show his hand. Henry of Navarre must not hear of it, or he might send men to harry the Cerdagne and Aran. Besides, what was the use of making a show in Paris, when the very shop-tenders and scullions there played King Philip's game? Was not the Sorbonne packed with wise doctors all arguing for Spain? Wild monks and fanatic priests proclaimed her as the only possible saviour of the Faith. At the back of Guise stood King Philip. Remained therefore (according to the envoy) to push Guise forward, to use him, to empty him, and then – let the Valois and the Medici have their will of him. There was no reason for Spain to appear in the matter at all. Guise must be induced to go to Blois, and – his enemies would do the rest.

It was then that Valentine la Ni?a burst forth in indignation.

She would not be the lure, she said, even for a king – a bait dangled before an honest man's eyes – no, not even for her uncle!

"I am an Osorio," the envoy answered her sternly, "the head of the family, you can surely trust me that nothing shall be asked of you which might cast a stain on the name – "

"Not more than was asked of my mother!" she retorted scornfully, "only to sacrifice herself and her children – a little thing for so good a king – his people's father!"

"And for the Faith!" said the Marquis, hastily, as if to escape discussion. "Listen, Valentine! The famous Father of the Ges?, Mariana, will be in Paris before us. He has been reporting to the King, and he it is who has asked for your presence. None can serve the Church so well as you."

"I know – I know," cried the girl, "fear not, I have been well drilled. My mother taught me that the whims of men were to be called either high policy or holy necessity. It little matters which; women have to be sacrificed in either case. Let us ride on to Paris, Uncle Osorio, and say no more about it!"

They lighted down in the empty courtyard of the Spanish ambassador's house, which was next to the hotel of the Duke of Guise. A shouting crowd had pursued them to their lodging. For the Spaniards were popular in the city, and the arrival of so fine a cavalcade had rightly enough been interpreted to mean the adherence of Philip of Spain to the new order of things.



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