Samuel Crockett.

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





He pondered a while, with the deep niche of thought running downward from mid-brow to the bridge of his nose, which they called "the King's council of war."

"The girl is to be left in Blois," he muttered, as if to sum up the situation, "with this Professor of the Sorbonne an old man, I suppose, and a priest. Very proper, very proper! My cousin, John Jackanapes, the young ex-Leaguer, goes to Court. They will make a Politique of him, a Valois-divine-right man good again, for after this Valois-by-right-divine (save the mark!) comes not Master John d'Albret, but the Bearnais! Yet I do not know perhaps, after all, he had better come with me. Then I shall hold one hostage the more! Let me see let me see!"

Here Jean-aux-Choux, who had at that time no great love for the Abb? John, but was an honest man, protested.

"The time for crowning and seeking crowns is not yet," he said; "but the lad they call the Abb? John, though he fought a little on the Barricades, as young dogs do in a fray general, means no harm to Your Majesty, and will fight for you better than many who protest more!"

"I believe you I believe you!" said Henry. "If there is aught but eyes-making and laying-on of blows in him, I shall soon find it out, and he shall not trail a pike for long. He shall have his company, and that of the choicest of my army."

Suddenly the pastor sprang up. He had a message to deliver, and being of the prevailing school of the mystics, he put it in the shape of a vision, as, indeed, it had appeared to him.

"I see the earth dissolved," he cried, "the elements going up in a flaming fire, the inhabitants tormented and destroyed "

"Thank God! Thank God!" responded the deep, dominating voice of Jean-aux-Choux.

The King requested to know the meaning of this unexpected thankfulness for universal destruction.

"Anything to settle the League!" said Jean-aux-Choux.

CHAPTER XII.
THE WAKING OF THE BEARNAIS

Jean-aux-Choux's deflection from his course created little remark and no sensation in the brilliant company which entered Blois in the wake of the royal favourite. D'Epernon had dismissed him from his mind. The Abb? John and oh, shame! the doctor of the Sorbonne were both thinking of Claire. So it came to pass, in revenge, that only Claire of all that almost royal cavalcade spared a thought to poor Jean-aux-Choux.

As, however, Claire was the only one concerning whom Jean cared an apple-pip, he would have been perfectly content had he known.

As it was, he waited till the Bearnais had betaken himself to his slumbers in Anthony Arpajon's best green-tapestried chamber, and then sailed out, hooded and robed like a Benedictine friar, to make his observations. In the town of Blois, as almost anywhere else in central and southern France, the ex-student of Geneva knew his way blindfold. He skirted the bare rocky side of the castle, whereon now stands the huge pavilion of Gaston of Orleans.

"They will not come and go by the great door," he said, "but there is the small postern, by which it is the custom to make exits and entrances when Court secrets are in the wind."

Accordingly, Jean placed himself behind a great hedge which marked the limits of the royal domain.

The city hummed beneath him like a hive of bees aroused untimeously. He could hear now and then the voice of some Leaguer raised in curses of the Valois King and all his favourites. The voice was usually a little indistinct because of the owner's having too frequently considered the redness of the Blesois wine.

Anon the curses would arrive home to roost, and that promptly. For some good royalist, crying "Vive D'Epernon," would bear down upon the Guisard. Then dull smitings of combat would alternate with war-cries and over-words of faction songs. Once came a single deadly scream, way for which had evidently been opened by a knife, and then, after that, only the dull pad-pad of running feet and silence!

In the palace wall the postern door opened and someone looked out. It was closed again immediately.

Jean's eyes strove in vain to see more clearly. But the windows above, being brilliantly lighted, threw the postern into the darkest shadow.

A moment after, however, four persons came out first two men, then a slender figure wrapped in a cloak, which Jean knew in a moment for that of his mistress.

"He is keeping his word, after all," muttered Jean; "it may be just as well!"

He who stepped out last was tall and dark, and turned the key in the lock of the low door with the air of a man shutting up his own mansion for the night.

They went closely past Jean's hiding-place and, to his amazement, took the very way by the water-side, down the Street of the Butchery, by which he had come. More wonderful still, they turned aside without hesitation or rather, their leader did into the yard of Anthony Arpajon. Silently Jean-aux-Choux stalked them. How could they know? Was it treachery? Was it an ambush? At any rate, it was his duty to warn the Bearnais that was evident.

But how? The blue-bloused carters and teamsters, wearing the silken sashes fringed so quaintly with silver bells, were asleep all about. But Jean-aux-Choux darted from sack to sack, dived beneath waggons, ran up stairways of rough wood. And presently, before the leader of the four had done parleying with the white-capped man behind the bar, the intruders were surrounded by thirty veterans of Henry of Navarre's most trusted guards. The chain mail showed under the trussed blouses of the wine-carriers. And D'Epernon, looking round, saw himself the centre of a ring of armed men.

"Ah," he said, with superb and even insolent coolness, "is it thus you keep your watch, you of the old Huguenot phalanx, you who, from father to son, have made your famous family compact with death? Here I find you asleep in a hostile city, where Guise could rouse a thousand men in an hour! Or I myself, if so minded "

"I think, my Lord Duke," said D'Aubign?, putting his sword to the Duke's breast, "that long before your clarion sounded its first blast, one fine gentleman might chance to find himself in the Loire with as many holes in him as a nutmeg-grater!"

"It might indeed be so, sir," said the Duke, still haughtily, "but on this occasion I shall literally go scot-free. Wake your master, the King of Navarre. Tell him that the Duke of Epernon craves leave to speak with him immediately. He is alone, and has come far and risked much to meet His Majesty. Also, I bid you say that I come on the part of Francis Agnew the Scot, whom he knows!"

"You bid!" cried D'Aubign?, whose temper was not over long in the grain. "Learn, then, that none bids me save my master, and he is neither King's minister nor King's minion."

"Sir," said the Duke, "I do not need to prove my courage, any more than the gentlemen of my Lord of Navarre. At another time and in another place I am at your service. In the meantime, will you have the goodness to do as I request of you? I must see the King, and swiftly, lest I be missed up yonder!"

"The King is asleep!" said Anthony Arpajon "asleep in my best tapestried chamber. He must not be waked."

"Harry of Bearn will always wake to win a battle or a lady's favour," said D'Epernon. "I can help him to both, if he will!"

"Then I will go," said Anthony. "Come with me, Jean-aux-Choux. Take bare blade in hand, that there be no treachery. I have known you some time now, Jean. For these others there is no saying!"

So these two went up together to the King's sleeping-chamber. Anthony knocked softly, but there was no answer, though they could hear the soft, regular breathing of the sleeper. He opened the door a little. Jean-aux-Choux stood looking over his shoulder. A night-light burned on the table, shaded from the eyes of the sleeping man on the canopied couch. But a soft circle of illumination fell on the miniature of a lady, painted in delicate colours, set immediately beneath it.

"His mother the famous Jeanne d'Albret," whispered Anthony; "he loved her greatly. She was even as a saint!"

Queen Jeanne was certainly a most attractive person, but somehow Jean-aux-Choux remained a little incredulous. "How shall we wake him?" asked Anthony, under his breath.

"Sing a psalm," suggested Jean-aux-Choux.

"Alas, that I should say so concerning his mother's son, but from what I have seen in this my house, I judge that were more likely to send him into deeper sleep."

"Nay," said Jean, "I know him better he is an old acquaintance of mine. Only keep well behind the door when he wakes. For the Bearnais rises ever with his sword in his hand unless he is in his own house, where the servants are at pains to place all weapons out of his reach. Sing the Gloria, Anthony, and then he will rise very cross and angry, demanding to know if we have not sung enough for one night."

"Ay, the Gloria. It is well thought on," quoth Anthony; "I have heard them tell in our country how it was his mother's favourite. He will love the strains. As I have said, she was a woman sainted Jeanne the Queen!"

"Hum," said Jean-aux-Choux, "that's as may be. At all events, her son, the Bearnais, was born without any halo to speak of."

"The prayers of a good mother are never wholly lost," said Anthony sententiously.

"Then they are sometimes a long while mislaid," muttered Jean.

"Shame on you, that have known John Calvin in your youth," said Anthony, "to speak as the unbelieving. Have you forgotten that God works slowly, and that with Him one day is as a thousand years?"

"Aye," said the incorrigible Jean, arguing the matter with Scots persistency, "but the Bearnais takes a good deal out of himself. He is little likely to last so long as that. However, let us do the best we can sing!"

So they sang the famous Huguenot verses made in the desert by Louis-of-the-Hermitage.


"Or soit au P?re tout puissant,
Qui r?gne au ciel resplendissant,
Gloire et magnificence!"

The Bearnais turned in his sleep, muttering restlessly.

"Why cannot they sing their psalms at proper hours," he grumbled, "as before a battle or on Sunday, leaving me to sleep now when I am weary and must ride far on the morrow?"

The psalm went on. Sleepily, the King searched for a boot to throw in the direction of the disturbance, possibly under the impression that his sentinels were chanting at their posts a habit which, though laudable in itself, he had been compelled to forbid from a military point of view. The Bearnais discovered, by means of a spur which scratched him sharply, that his boots were on his feet. He muttered yet more loudly.

"His morning prayers," said Anthony in Jean's ear; "his mother, Jeanne the Queen, was ever like that. She waked with blessing on her lip so also her son."

"I doubt," said Jean-aux-Choux.

"Sing gabble less concerning the Anointed of God," commanded Anthony Arpajon.

And they sang the second time.


"In Sion's city God is known,
For her defence He holds Him ready,
Though banded kings attack at dawn,
God's rock-bound fortress standeth steady."

This time the Bearnais stood up on his feet, broadly awake. He did not, as Jean-aux-Choux had foretold, thrust a sword behind the arras. Instead, he picked up the painted miniature on which the little circle of light was falling. He pressed it a moment to his lips, and then, with the click of a small chain clasping, it was about his neck and over his heart, hidden by his mailed shirt.

"His mother's picture even from here methinks I recognise the features," asserted the faithful Anthony.

"Most touching!" interjected Jean-aux-Choux.

"It astonishes you," said Anthony Arpajon, "but that is because you are a stranger "

"And ye would take me in," muttered Jean under his breath.

"But in our country of Bearn we all worship our mothers with us it is a cult."

"I have noticed it," said Jean-aux-Choux. "In my country we have it also, with this difference in Scotland it is for our children's mothers, chiefly before marriage."

But at this moment they heard the voice of the King within.

"Where is D'Aubign?? Why does he not insure quiet in the house? I have ridden far and would sleep! Surely even a king may sleep sometimes?"

"Your Majesty, it is I Anthony Arpajon, the Calvinist, and with me is John Stirling, the Scot, called Jean-aux-Choux, the Fool of the Three Henries."

"And what does he want with this Henry does he jest by day and sing psalms by night?"

"I have to inform Your Majesty," said Jean-aux-Choux, "that the Duke d'Epernon is below, and would see the King of Navarre."

Now there was neither blessing nor cursing. The Bearnais did not kiss the picture of his mother. A scabbard clattered on the stone floor, was caught deftly, and snapped into its place on his belt.

"Where is my other pistol? Ah, I remember D'Aubign? took it to clean. Lend me one of yours, Jean-aux-Choux. Is it primed and loaded?"

"He is with my lady mistress, the daughter of Francis the Scot, and with him are only the Sorbonne doctor and your cousin D'Albret for all retinue."

"Oh, ho," said Henry of Navarre, "a lady more dangerous still. Hold the candle there, Jean-aux-Choux. I must look less like a hodman and more like a king."

And he drew from his inner pocket a little glass that fitted a frame, and a pocket-comb, with which he arranged his locks and the curls of his beard with a care at which the stout Calvinist, Anthony Arpajon, chafed and fumed.

"It is for the sake of his mother," whispered Jean in his ear, to comfort him, after the King had finished at last and signified that he was ready to descend. "She taught him that cleanliness is next to godliness," said Jean, "and now, when he is a man, the habit clings to him still."

"If he were somewhat less of a man," said the Calvinist, in the same whisper, "he would be the better king."

"Ah, wait," said Jean-aux-Choux "wait till you have seen him on a battle-front, and you will be sure that, for all his faults, there never was a more manly man or a kinglier king!"

CHAPTER XIII.
A MIDNIGHT COUNCIL

The Bearnais met D'Epernon in the inner dining-room of Master Anthony's house. His servants had hastily lighted a few wax candles. In the waggon-littered courtyard without, a torch or two flamed murkily. With a quick burst of anger, Henry leaned from a window and bade them be extinguished. So, with a jetting of sparks on the hard-beaten earth of the courtyard, the darkness suddenly re-established itself.

There was, on the side of the Duke, some attempt at a battle of eyes. But, after all, he had only been the little scion of a Languedocean squire when the Bearnais was already the Bearnais.

The Duke bowed himself as if to set knee to the ground, but Henry caught him up.

"Caumont," he said, using the old boyish name by which they had known each other in their wild Paris youth, "you have never liked me. You have never been truly my friend. Why do you come to seek me now?"

The busy scheming brain behind the Valois favourite's brow was working. He had a bluff subject to deal with, therefore he would be bluff.

"Your Majesty," he said, "there is no one in all France who wishes better to your cause, or more ill to the League than I. When you are King, you shall have no more faithful or obedient subject. But friendship, like love, is born of friendship; it comes not by command. When the King of Navarre makes me his friend, I shall be his!"

"Spoken like a man, and no courtier," cried the Bearnais, slapping his strong hand into the white palm of D'Epernon with a report like a pistol; "I swear I shall be your friend till the day I die!"

And the Bearnais kept his word, and gave his friendship all his life to the dark, scheming, handsome man, who had served many masters in his time, but had never loved any man save himself, any woman except his wife, and any interest outside of his own pocket.

The soldiers of the Guard Royal made a rhyme which went not ill in the patois of the camp, but which goes lamely enough translated into English. Somewhat thus it ran:


"Duke Epernon and his wife,
Jean Caumont and his wife,
Cadet Valette and his Cadette,
Louis Nogaret and his wife
If ever I wagered I would bet
My pipe, my lass, and eke my life,
That this brave world was made and set
For Duke Epernon and his wife
Jean Caumont and his wife,
Louis Nogaret and his wife,
Cadet Valette and his Cadette!"

And so Da Capoto any tune which happened to occur to them in their semi-regal license of King's free guardsmen.

Which was only the barrack and guard-room way of saying that Jean Louis de Nogaret, Cadet de la Valette, Duc d'Epernon and royal favourite, looked after the interests of a certain important numeral with some care.

"Caumont," said the King of Navarre, "how came you to know I was in this town? I arrived but an hour ago, and in disguise."

"Our spies are better than Your Majesty's," smiled the Duke. "Your true Calvinist is something too stiff in the backbone to make a capable informer. You ought to employ a few supple Politiques, accustomed to palace backstairs. But, on this occasion, I acknowledge I was favoured by circumstances. For I have with me the daughter of Francis the Scot, called Francis d'Agneau, born, I believe, of a Norman house long established in Scotland near to the Gulf of Solway. Among the saddle-bags of the damsel's pony, hastily concealed by other hands than her own (I suspect a certain red-haired fool), there was found a series of letters written by Your Majesty, which, in case they might fall into worse hands, I have the honour of returning to you. Also we found an appointment for this very night, to meet with Francis the Scot at the town of Blois in the house of Anthony Arpajon! Your Majesty has, as the Leaguers know, a habit of uncomfortable punctuality in the keeping of your trysts. So I have availed me of that to confide the letters and the maid to you, together with a good Doctor of the Sorbonne, one who has done you no mean service to the honest cause in that wasps' nest so good, indeed, that if he went back, the Leaguers of his own hive would sting him to death. Therefore I commit them all to you! Only the young man I would gladly keep by me. But that shall be as Your Majesty judges."

"No, no," cried the King. "I must have my cousin, if only to look after. If the Leaguers get hold of him, he might gain a throne, indeed, but assuredly he would lose his head. He is a fine lad, and will do very well in the fighting line when Rosny has licked him a little into shape! But I am truly grateful to you, D'Epernon. And in the good times to come, I shall have better ways of proving my gratitude than here, in the house of Anthony Arpajon and in the guise of a carter."

This was all that D'Epernon had been waiting for, and he promptly bowed himself out. The instant the Duke was through the door, the Bearnais turned to the little circle of his immediate followers.

"Who of you knows the town and Ch?teau of Blois? It might be worth while following the fellow, just to see if any treachery be in the wind. It may be I do him wrong. If so, I shall do him the greater right hereafter. No, not you, D'Aubign?. I could not risk you. You are my father-confessor, and task me soundly with my faults. Indeed, I might as well be a Leaguer they say the Cardinal sets more easy penances. Brother Guise is the true Churchman he and the King of Spain!"

The King looked about from one to another doubtfully, seeking a fit envoy.

"No, nor you, Rosny; you can fight all day, and figure all night. But for spying we want a lad of another build. Let me see let me see!"

As the King was speaking, Jean-aux-Choux put on his brown Capuchin robe, and covered his red furze brush with the hood.

"I tracked my Lord of Epernon this night once before," he said, "and by the grace of God I can do as much again. I know his trail, and will be at the orchard gate of the Ch?teau before he has time to blow the dust out of his key!"

"How do you come to know so much?" demanded the Bearnais.

"By this token," said Jean carelessly; "that I saw my lady here and the three men come out of the Ch?teau, I followed them hither, and had your men roused and ready, so that if there had been any treachery, his Dukeship, at least, would have been the first to fall!"

The King looked about him inquiringly.

"Rosny and D'Aubign?," he said, "what do you know of this does the man speak true?"

"A pupil of John Calvin speaks no lie," said Jean bravely. The King laughed, whereupon Jean added, "If I do act a lie, it is to save Your Majesty the hope of the Faith!"

"That is rather like the old heresy of doing evil that good may come," said Henry; "but off with you! If I can accommodate my conscience to a waggoner's blouse, I do not see why you should not reconcile yours to a monk's hood!"

Jean-aux-Choux departed, muttering to himself that the Bearnais was becoming as learned as a pupil of Beza or a Sorbonne Doctor, but consoling himself for his dialectical defeat by the thought that, at least, in the Capuchin's robe he was fairly safe. For even if caught, after all, it was only another trick of the Fool of the Three Henries.





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