The White Plumes of Navarre: A Romance of the Wars of Religion
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"Had Spain been for the King, this envoy would have hied him to Blois," said De Launay, the old provost of the merchants. "But since Philip sends his ambassador direct to the good city of Paris, why, then, it follows that he is of the mind to put down Valois, to set aside Navarre, and to help us to crown our only true king, the King of Paris and of France, the King of the Faith, and of his people's hearts – Guise, the good Guise!"
Because, even thus early, the habit of municipal eloquence had been formed and its pattern set for all the ages. De Launay was considered a good practitioner.
The windows of Valentine Osorio's chambers looked on the garden of the Hotel of Guise – a shady orchard close where in the evening the Duke often walked with his gentlemen, and specially with his handsome young brother, the Duke of Bar.
On an evening of mackerel cloud, pearl-grey and flaky gold vaulting so high overhead that the sky above the small smokeless Paris of 1588 seemed infinite, Valentine sat gossiping with her maid Salome.
To them, with the slightest preface of knocking, light as a bird, entered a priestly figure in the sombre robes of the Society of Jesus – a little rosy-cheeked man, plump and dimpled with good living, and, as it seemed, good nature.
But at the sight of him a nervous shudder passed through the body of the young girl. So in a school, when the master returns before his time, playing scholars draw unwillingly with downcast, discontented eyes to sterner tasks. Yet the Jesuit was kindly and tolerant in manner, prodigal of smile and compliment. There was nothing of the Inquisitor about the famous father Mariana, historian and secret politician.
"Fairer than ever, Mistress Valentine," he murmured, after he had exchanged a glance with the maid Salome, "ah, the blessed thing which is beauty when used for sanctified ends! Seldom is it thus used in this world of foolish women! But you are wise. The Ges? are under deep obligations, and the King – the King – ah, he will not forget. He has sent you hither, and has commissioned me to speak with you. Your good, your excellent uncle, Osorio, knows some part of King Philip's plans, but not all – no, not all. He is too blunt an instrument for such fine work. But you can understand, and shall!"
The girl struck her hands together angrily and turned upon him.
"Again – again!" she said, "is it to be treachery again?"
"Not treachery, dear lady," cooed the father; "but when you go to tickle trout, you do not stand on the bank and throw in great stones. You work softly underneath, and so guide the fish to a place from which they cannot escape."
"Is it Guise?" demanded the girl, breaking fiercely through these dulcet explanations.
"As you say," smiled the Jesuit; "himself and no other."
"And what is to be my particular infamy?"
"Child, beware of your speech," said the Jesuit; "there is no infamy in the service of Holy Church, of the Society, and of your King."
"To a well-known air!" said the girl, sneeringly; "well, I will sing the song.I know the music."
And she went and placed herself by the window which overlooked the pleasaunce of the Duke of Guise.
"Salome," she said, "come hither and comb out my tresses!"
And with the graceful ease of strong young arms, she pulled out a tortoise-shell pin here and a mother-of-pearl fastening there till a flood of hair escaped, falling down her back, with dark, coppery lights striking out of the duskier coils, and the lingering sunset illuminating the ripples of fine-spun gold.
"Thus goes the exercise," she said with a cold anger, "the Holy Society trains us well. But for this, and all else, God will enter into judgment with you and your like!"
But, heedless of her words, the priest was already stooping and peering behind the curtain.
"There they go," he whispered eagerly, "Guise and Mayenne together, Bar and the Cardinal behind – ah, there, it takes! Gripped – netted – what did I tell the King? He has his kerchief out. Quick, Valentine, yours! What, you have left it behind? Here is mine. Twice – I tell you, twice – and your hand upon your heart. Ah, he salutes! He will soon call upon the envoy of the King of Spain now. I wager we shall have him here in the morning before breakfast! Ah, what news this will be to send by the courier to-night to your – to King Philip! He will sleep sound, I warrant. And remember, to-morrow, speak him fair when he comes. All depends on that. I shall not be far away. I shall know and report to the King. It shall not be well with you otherwise. Guise must go to Blois – to the King of France. He must take his gentlemen with him. No sulking in his own territories. To Blois, and face it out – like a man."
The girl rose from the window and came back into the chamber. She opened the door, and with a gesture of proud weariness indicated the dark corridor without.
"Your turn is served," she said, "now go!"
But Mariana, a cunning smile on his face, held out his hand.
"Give me first my kerchief!" he said.
The girl crushed the embroidered linen into a ball in her hand, holding it at her side and slightly behind. Then she threw it out of the window with a gesture of contempt. The next moment the door slammed unceremoniously in Father Mariana's face. But the church historian was not in the least put out. He laid his finger slowly to the side of his nose and smiled stilly.
He descended the stairs to the entresol, and there from a window which overhung the court he looked forth in time to see the Duke of Guise stooping to pick up something white from the ground.
He saw him kiss it and thrust it into the breast of his black velvet doublet.
And the worthy Jesuit chuckled softly, saying to himself, "There are things in this world which are cheap even at the loss of my best broidered kerchief!"
As Mariana had foretold, the Duke of Guise and his brother the young De Bar called upon the Marquis Osorio the following day. That morning the Duke had made the life of his valet a burden to him while dressing, and he now appeared gorgeous in a suit of dark blue velvet trimmed with gold lace. A cape of silk was over one arm, and he carried Mariana's embroidered kerchief carefully in his hand.
In his most stately fashion the Marquis Osorio received the head of the League. He presented his credentials as to a reigning monarch, and began to talk of revolutions of Holy Church, concerning the culpable laxness of the Pope in his own interests, and the fidelity of the King of Spain to his ideals and to his allies. It was evident, however, that Guise paid but scant heed. His ears were elsewhere. As for De Bar, he stared insolently about him, now at the ambassador, now at the tapestry on the walls, and again and most often out at the window. But his brother listened, almost without disguise, to a slight noise, which came occasionally into the room from without. There was, for instance, the rustling of a woman's silken robe in the passage. Voices also, that sounded faint, pleading, expostulatory, cut into the even rise and fall of Castilian diplomacy.
"For these reasons my royal master judged it expedient to send me as his representative, charged with – "
Guise twisted impatiently this way and that in his black oaken chair, in vain efforts to catch what was going on outside. De Bar observed his brother's uneasiness, and as the Lorraine princes went at that time in constant fear of assassination, it did not cost him two thoughts, even in the house of the Spanish ambassador, to rise and throw the door wide open.
Then through the wide Romanesque arch of the audience chamber Valentine Osorio entered, as a queen comes into a throne room.
At sight of her the envoy stayed his speech to make the presentation in form. Guise instantly dropped all interest in the goodwill of King Philip and his views upon state policy. He crossed over to the window-seat, where Valentine had seated herself.
Mariana had followed, and the next moment the Marquis resumed his interrupted speech, addressing himself to the Jesuit and De Bar, whose ears were rigid with listening to what was going on in the window, but who feared his brother so much that he dared not follow his movements with a single lift of his eyelids.
"My lady," said Guise, as he stood before Valentine, "I judge that I have the privilege of restoring to you a kerchief which you dropped by accident last night into my garden – we are neighbours, you know."
Valentine la Ni?a did not flush in the least. She said only, "It is none of mine. If you will throw it behind the curtain there, my maid Salome will see that it goes to the wash."
Guise stood staring at her, internally fuming at his own stupidity in thus attempting to force the situation.
Valentine la Ni?a was dressed in a vaporous greenish lawn, which added value to the clearness of her skin, the coiled wealth of her fair hair, and the honey-coloured eyes which looked past the great Duke as if he were no more than a pillar between her and the landscape.
Manifestly Guise was piqued. He was a man of good fortunes, and of late the Parisians had spoiled him. He was quite unaccustomed to be treated in this fashion.
"Countess," he said at last, after long searching for a topic, "I am from the north and you from the south. Yet to look at us, it is I who am the Spaniard and you the Frank!"
"My father was a Flamand!" said Valentine la Ni?a calmly.
"And, may I ask, of what degree?"
"Of a degree higher than your own!" said Valentine, turning her great eyes indolently upon him.
Guise looked staggered. He had not supposed that the world held any such.
"Then he must have been a reigning prince!" he stammered.
"Well?" said Valentine, looking at him with direct inquiry.
"I had not understood that even so ancient a house as the Osorios – "
"I never said that my father was an Osorio!"
"Ah!" said the Duke, "then I ask your pardon. I was indeed ignorant."
He scented mystery, and being a plain, hard-hearted, cruel man of the time, thrust into a commanding position by circumstances, he resented being puzzled, like a very justice of the peace.
"If you do not believe me – " Valentine began.
"Most noble princess," he protested, bending nearer to her as she sat on the low seat looking straight up at him; "not once have I dreamed – "
"Go to my native country of Leon and ask the first gentleman you meet whether Valentine la Ni?a be not the honest daughter of a king. Only do not, if you value your life, express such disbelief as you did just now, or the chances are that you will never again see fair Lorraine!"
She looked about her. What she had expected all along had happened. They were alone. By some art of the Jesuit father, subtly piloting the course of events, Osorio had gone to the private parlour to find certain papers. Mariana and De Bar had followed him.
Instantly the girl's demeanour changed. Half rising, she reached out her hand and clutched the astonished Guise by the cuff of his black velvet sleeve.
"Do not trust the King of France," she whispered, "do not put yourself in the power of the King of Spain. Do not listen to my uncle, Osorio, who does his bidding. Keep away from Blois. Make yourself strong in your own territories – I, who speak, warn you. There is but a hair's breadth between you and death. Above all, do not listen to Mariana the Jesuit. Do not believe him on his sworn oath. His Order seeks your death now that you have served their turn, and – I do not wish harm to come to a brave man."
Had Valentine's eyes been upon the door she would have seen it open slightly as if a breeze were pushing it.
"And pray, princess," said Guise, smiling, well content, "would it be the act of a brave man thus to shun danger?"
"The lion is not the braver for leaping into the prepared pit with his eyes open. He is only foolish!"
Guise laughed easily.
"If I were to take you at your word, princess," he said, "I should hear no more of you in my dull Lorraine. I could not carry you off to cheer me at Soissons. But here in Paris I may at least see you daily – hear your voice, or if no better, see you at the window as I walk in my garden – "
"Ah," cried Valentine, thrusting out her hand hastily, palm outward, "do not think of me. I am but the snare set, the trap baited. I am not my own. I can love no man – choose no man. I belong to Those Unseen – "
She cast her hand backward towards Spain, as if to indicate infinite malign forces at work there. "But I warn you – get hence quickly, avoid Blois. Do not trust the King, nor any king. Do not listen to my uncle Osorio, and, above all, do not listen to Mariana the Jesuit."
And with a rapid rustle of light garments she was gone. Guise attempted to take her hand in passing, but it easily evaded him. Valentine vanished behind the arras, where was a door which led directly to the women's apartments.
A moment Guise stood pulling at his moustache sourly enough, ruminating on the warning he had received and, in the sudden disappointment, half inclined to profit by it. To him entered the Jesuit, smiling and dimpled as ever.
"My Lord Duke, I find you alone," he began courteously, "this is ill treatment for an honoured guest. Permit me – "
"That lady," demanded Guise, brusquely, "who is she?"
"The niece of the Marquis Osorio," murmured the Jesuit, "my old scholar, dear to me as the apple of mine eye, almost a daughter."
"Is she of royal blood?" said Guise, who, though he had to be upon his manners with Valentine herself, saw no reason for mincing matters with a mere Jesuit scribbler.
"As to that it were well to consult her uncle," said Mariana, very softly, "we of the Society do not concern ourselves with matters purely secular. In any case, be assured that the family honour is quite safe in the Marquis's hands!"
"I did not doubt it," said Guise, tossing his silken cape over his arm and evidently about to take flight. Mariana accompanied him to the foot of the stairs, murmuring commonplaces, how that there would likely be a thunderstorm which would clear the air, and that he would take it upon him to make the adieux of his Grace of Guise to the Marquis Osorio, his good friend and kinsman.
But just at the last he glided in his dart.
"And by the way, we may not see you again, unless you too are going south. We start to-morrow for the Blois, where the Queen Mother holds her court. She has written most graciously to the Countess Valentine offering her hospitality, and the gaiety which young folk love, among her maids of honour!"
And as he tucked up his soutane in order to remount the stairs, the Jesuit chuckled to himself. "And that, I think, will do – if so be I know the blood of the breed of Guise!"