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A Ladder of Swords By Gilbert Parker Characters: 6009

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

IF you go to Southampton and search the register of the Walloon church there, you will find that in the summer of 157- "Madame Vefue de Montgomery with all her family and servants were admitted to the Communion"-"Tous ceux ci furent Re?us là à Cêne du 157-, comme passans, sans avoir Rendu Raison de la foi, mes sur la tesmognage de Mons. Forest, Ministre de Madame, qui certifia qui ne cognoisoit Rien en tout ceux la pó quoy Il ne leur deust administré la Cêne s'il estoit en lieu pó la ferre."

There is another striking record, which says that in August of the same year Demoiselle Angèle Claude Aubert, daughter of Monsieur de la Haie Aubert, Councillor of the Parliament of Rouen, was married to Michel de la Forêt, of the most noble Flemish family of that name.

* * *

When I first saw these records, now grown dim with time, I fell to wondering what was the real life-history of these two people. Forthwith, in imagination, I began to make their story piece by piece; and I had reached a romantic déno?ment satisfactory to myself and in sympathy with fact, when the Angel of Accident stepped forward with some "human documents." Then I found that my tale, woven back from the two obscure records I have given, was the true story of two most unhappy yet most happy people. From the note struck in my mind, when my finger touched that sorrowful page in the register of the Church of the Refugees at Southampton, had spread out the whole melody and the very book of the song.

One of the later-discovered records was a letter, tear-stained, faded, beautifully written in old French, from Demoiselle Angèle Claude Aubert to Michel de la Forêt at Anvers in March of the year 157-. The letter lies beside me as I write, and I can scarcely believe that three and a quarter centuries have passed since it was written, and that she who wrote it was but eighteen years old at the time. I translate it into English, though it is impossible adequately to carry over either the flavor or the idiom of the language:

"Written on this May Day of the year 157-, at the place hight Rozel in the Minor called of the same of Jersey Isle, to Michel de la Forêt, at Anvers in Flanders.

"Michel,-Thy good letter by safe carriage cometh to my hand, bringing to my heart a lightness it hath not known since that day when I was hastily carried to the port of St. Malo, and thou towards the King his prison. In what great fear have I lived, having no news of thee and fearing all manner of mischance! But our God hath benignly saved thee from death, and me He hath set safely here in this isle of the sea.

"Thou hast ever been a brave soldier, enduring and not fearing; thou shalt find enow to keep thy blood stirring in these days of trial and peril to us who are so opprobriously called Les Huguenots. If thou wouldst know more of my mind thereupon, come hither. Safety is here, and work for thee-smugglers and pirates do abound on these coasts, and Popish wolves do harry the flock even in this island

province of England. Michel, I plead for the cause which thou hast nobly espoused, but-alas! my selfish heart, where thou art lie work and fighting, and the same high cause, and sadly, I confess, it is for my own happiness that I ask thee to come. I wot well that escape from France hath peril, that the way hither from that point upon yonder coast called Carteret is hazardous, but yet-but yet all ways to happiness are set with hazard.

"If thou dost come to Carteret thou wilt see two lights turning this-wards: one upon a headland called Tour de Rozel, and one upon the great rock called of the Ecréhos. These will be in line with thy sight by the sands of Hatainville. Near by the Tour de Rozel shall I be watching and awaiting thee. By day and night doth my prayer ascend for thee.

"The messenger who bears this to thee (a piratical knave with a most kind heart, having, I am told, a wife in every port of France and of England the south, a most heinous sin!) will wait for thy answer, or will bring thee hither, which is still better. He is worthy of trust if thou makest him swear by the little finger of St. Peter. By all other swearings he doth deceive freely.

"The Lord make thee true, Michel. If thou art faithful to me, I shall know how faithful thou art in all; for thy vows to me were most frequent and pronounced, with a full savor that might warrant short seasoning. Yet, because thou mayst still be given to such dear fantasies of truth as were on thy lips in those dark days wherein thy sword saved my life 'twixt Paris and Rouen, I tell thee now that I do love thee, and shall so love when, as my heart inspires me, the cloud shall fall that will hide us from each other forever.


"An Afterword:

"I doubt not we shall come to the heights where there is peace, though we climb thereto by a ladder of swords.


Some years before Angèle's letter was written, Michel de la Forêt had become an officer in the army of Comte Gabriel de Montgomery, and fought with him until what time the great chief was besieged in the castle of Domfront in Normandy. When the siege grew desperate, Montgomery besought the intrepid young Huguenot soldier to escort Madame de Montgomery to England, to be safe from the oppression and misery sure to follow any mishap to this noble leader of the Camisards.

At the very moment of departure of the refugees from Domfront with the Comtesse, Angèle's messenger-the "piratical knave with a most kind heart"-presented himself, delivered her letter to De la Forêt, and proceeded with the party to the coast of Normandy by St. Brieuc. Embarking there in a lugger which Buonespoir the pirate secured for them, they made for England.

Having come but half-way of the Channel, the lugger was stopped by an English frigate. After much persuasion the captain of the frigate agreed to land Madame de Montgomery upon the island of Jersey, but forced De la Forêt to return to the coast of France; and Buonespoir elected to return with him.

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