a novel by L. Stewart Marsden
Émil splashed his way along the cobbled roadbed, keeping close to the tightly-knit houses in the village. The spring shower would not last long, he knew, but its suddenness and light spray mixed with dust and dirt on the stones to form a slick coating. One slip and all attention would be upon him, and he was wary of drawing any attention to himself – especially that of the draggonades. Twenty riders had entered Charenton and were going door to door. Their horses were tethered at various houses up and along the street, while their riders worked their way afoot from house to house, pounding on doors and calling loudly, “Au nom du Roi Louis, ouvert votre porte! In the name of King Louis, open the door!” Doors would slowly creak open, whereupon the confronting soldier barged into the house. It was the newest wave of oppression and terror begat by Louis XIV in his long-suffered series of tactics to rid France of the Huguenots. Draggonades were to be billeted in the homes of known or suspected Huguenots throughout France, with the order to root out all such heretics. News of their tactics were hard to believe, but throughout France Louis’ strong arm was bent on forcing Huguenots to recant their faith and return to the Roman Catholic Church. It was inevitable they should come to Charenton with its Huguenot temple so close to Paris. The soldiers had arrived on horse and on foot a short while earlier, before the rain shower. No longer would Charenton enjoy its place out of the attention of the Sun King.
Émil wrapped his dampening coat around him, and pulled his leather hat low, hiding most of his face. He was on an important errand for Pastor Tourelliard, and he wanted to avoid any contact with the king’s soldiers. He knew that anyone suspected of consorting with the reformers would be questioned, tortured, and even killed – despite their age. A fifteen year old girl had gone resolutely to the stake in front of Notre Dame, refusing to recant her faith or to give up the names of anyone she knew to be part of the movement. She was burned alive, surrounded by Catholic scorners. At thirteen, Émil knew himself to be on that cusp of danger, and hoped he would be found to be so brave if he were ever caught.
He came to the end of a block and turned down a small alleyway. The cobblestone came to an end abruptly and fed into a wider dirt road that was just beginning to glisten with the rain. At that moment the rain stopped and the clouds broke. A thin shaft of orange-hued afternoon light beamed down and illumined the front of a two-story stone house: The White Horse Inn. Émil skipped off the road and into the grass, leaving a silver trail of moistened footprints as he began to run full stride. Instead of the front door, he dodged around to the rear of the house, scattering chickens in his haste. Without knocking, he tried the latch which gave, and he pushed open the thick wooden door and entered.
The kitchen was aglow with activity for the evening meal: the oven belched sparks and traces of smoke from the split oak logs, while the stone oven above it emitted the sweet smells of rich breads and herbs. Steam billowed from the top of a large black cauldron hung over the hearth fire as Madelaine Horry dropped a handful of cracked garlic bulbs into its yawing mouth. On the counter were quartered onions and scallions along with mounds of chopped basil.
“ Émil! Que faites-vous ici ?”
“I have come because,” he halted, catching his breath, “because Pastor Tourelliard has given me an important message for Monsieur Horry!” As he spoke, Émil eyed a crust of bread on the table near him.
“Go ahead, take it!” smiled Madelain Horry, “he’s in the cellar choosing a wine for communion.” Émil dashed across the kitchen to the narrow opening that led to the stone stairway. It wound down into the dank foundation of the inn. Globed candles lit the staircase and were scattered on the walls among the stacked wine barrels that ran in rows down the length of the basement. They gave an eerie, flickering illumination to the room.
“Qui se trouve présent?” boomed a voice from the wine racks.
“C’est moi, Émil!
Jean Horry emerged from an opening, holding onto a silver cup. “Émil, my friend! How do you come to bring me the pleasure of your company?” Horry was dressed in nearly all white, with loose-fitted breeches and large top that hung to his thighs. His bright eyes were hedged in thick, wiry brown-gray eyebrows. His rosy cheeks popped out like plums from his big round face. His teeth, in want of repair, grinned unevenly between his pulpy lips.
“Before you answer, look at this,” and he patted the end of a dusty barrel on the bottom layer of a large stack. A date was etched into the flat wooden end: 2 Jul, 1605. “It is my finest! The best of the best! More than eighty years aging in this cask!” Émil shrugged his shoulders, confused by this revelation.
Horry turned the spigot of the barrel with one hand and carefully caught a flow of deep purple wine with the silver goblet held in the other. Carefully he swirled the cup in a circular motion, then breathed in slowly, his nose just above the rim of the cup. “Ahhh!” he smiled with satisfaction.
“Eh, Émil! You tell me: what was the first miracle of The Christ, eh? I tell you! It was at the wedding at Cana, when Christ changed the water into wine. What do you think?”
Again Émil shrugged.
“I tell you! It was the symbol of transformation of common water into uncommon wine that was fit for a king! Why? I tell you! Because the Christ was pointing to his death and resurrection. Huh, what do you think about that?”
Émil was dumbstruck.
“Well, I tell you! One of the wedding party asked the host, ‘Why do you save the best for the last?’ What do you think, Émil? I tell you! Because the best is the Christ – He who is the Alpha and the Omega! And that is why I provide the best for communion tonight!”
Horry picked up a smaller wooden keg and positioned the large end-hole below the spigot and turned it again. Wine flowed into the smaller keg he held.
“That’s why I came, Monsieur Horry.”
“Oh! Because you like wine, yes?”
“No! Well, yes, of course. But no, that is not why I came. Pastor Tourelliard sent me.”
“Ah, well, you can tell the good pastor for me that everything is ready – the bread and the wine and – ”
“Monsieur! No! I came with a message. A most important message!”
“Calm down, my friend. Let’s go upstairs and get you a baguette and some cream and you can tell me all about it.”
Horry recorked the small barrel and hefted it to his shoulder. The two climbed back up the stairs after Horry had extinguished the candles in the cellar. As they passed a lighted globe along the way up, he put those out also.
“Now, my friend,” setting the barrel down and pulling out a chair and sitting at the preparation table, “what is so important?” Horry pulled a baguette from a plate on the table and broke it, handing it to the boy. Then he poured Émil a tinful of cream from a clay pitcher.
“Pastor Tourelliard told me the following, which I have tried to remember. The news comes from a trusted person at court in Paris. The King is about to do something very bad, that will, as Pastor Tourelliard says, ‘flood the kingdom.’” Émil dunked his bread into the tin of cream and chewed off a bit of the moistened baguette.
“What else can Louis do that he has not already done? How and when will this happen?”
“Part is happening as we speak. The draggonades – ”
“Yes! I know the draggonades are here. We knew it was a matter of time. Charenton cannot escape those dogs. What else?” Horry sounded irritated.
“The temple is sure to be destroyed. Tourelliard himself is to be imprisoned for one of his messages, and even Mons. Claude is not safe. Claude has ordered Tourelliard to leave Charenton and escape to safety. Tourelliard has refused to go.”
Jean Horry held his response. His face drew into a worried scowl, and he massaged his bearded chin with his large hand.
“Pastor Tourelliard is going to be taken to Paris to the Bastille and accused of heresy. He will more than likely be banished and lose all his property. He told me to tell you that you are in danger as well. They are destroying everything — the draggonades — and you and your family and the inn are targets.”
“WHAT!!! NEVER!” Horry erupted as he stood. He slammed his clenched fist on the table as Émil shrank back in fear.
“Jean! The boy!” his wife interrupted loudly.
“Ah. Pardonne-moi, Émil. I did not mean to frighten you. When will this happen? Do you know that?”
Émil shook his head no. “He just said that you need to leave – the sooner the better.”
“But what about communion tonight? And why did he not come to me himself?”
“He said he did not want to draw attention to you. The others will not come tonight. The bell in the square will sound at dusk to warn them.”
“But attention is already drawn to me! I do not and have not and will not hide my devotion.”
“Oui! But he said it is better not to hasten things. That way you and your family perhaps can escape. He thinks he will be taken soon, and that there will be some time – maybe months perhaps – before anything else happens.”
Jean Horry paced the kitchen, the eyes of his wife and Émil following him. He grunted and murmured under his beard, wringing his hands. The only sound in the kitchen was the crackling fire in the oven. Finally he stopped and looked at them both. His expression was grave. Never before had his wife seen him this way.
“For generations we take this abuse and persecution. It is like the tide, returning again and again and again. It beats against us mercilessly – through three hundred years! My father and his father and his father all bore it with faith and with silence. ”Turn your cheek,’ Christ said. But, I tell you, David cried out ‘How long, O Lord?’ When does it stop? When we have all been silenced? When we all recant? When we are all burned at the stake or drawn and quartered? When we all leave France? When? WHEN? Why should I have to escape? Tell me, WHY?”
The kitchen door opened and Elias entered with a stack of split wood in his arms. All eyes turned and watched quietly as he laid out the wood in a stack beside the oven pit. He stood dusted himself, then looked around at his father, his mother, and finally at Émil.
“I won’t ask if something’s the matter,” he finally ventured. “It’s obvious that would be an ignorant question.”
His father walked over and put his hands on his son’s shoulders.
“I tell you, Elye, even Balaam’s ass could not keep still at the hand of his master’s abuse. It is time,” and he turned back to the others, “it is time for this ass to bray. I will not stand by silent any longer. It is time for a plan.”