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   Chapter 2 No.2

A Ladder of Swords By Gilbert Parker Characters: 13475

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

MEANWHILE Angèle had gone through many phases of alternate hope and despair. She knew that Montgomery the Camisard was dead, and a rumor, carried by refugees, reached her that De la Forêt had been with him to the end. To this was presently added the word that De la Forêt had been beheaded. But one day she learned that the Comtesse de Montgomery was sheltered by the governor, Sir Hugh Pawlett, her kinsman, at Mont Orgueil Castle. Thither she went in fear from her refuge at Rozel, and was admitted to the Comtesse. There she learned the joyful truth that De la Forêt had not been slain, and was in hiding on the coast of Normandy.

The long waiting was a sore trial, yet laughter was often upon her lips henceforth. The peasants, the farmers and fishermen of Jersey, at first-as they have ever been-little inclined towards strangers, learned at last to look for her in the fields and upon the shore, and laughed in response, they knew not why, to the quick smiling of her eyes. She even learned to speak their unmusical but friendly Norman-Jersey French. There were at least a half-dozen fishermen who, for her, would have gone at night straight to the Witches' Rock in St. Clement's Bay-and this was bravery unmatched.

It came to be known along the coast that "ma'm'selle" was waiting for a lover fleeing from the French coast. This gave her fresh interest in the eyes of the serfs and sailors and their women folk, who at first were not inclined towards the Huguenot maiden, partly because she was French, and partly because she was not a Catholic. But even these, when they saw that she never talked religiously, that she was fast learning to speak their own homely patois, and that in the sickness of their children she was untiring in her kindness, forgave the austerity of the gloomy-browed old man her father, who spoke to them distantly, or never spoke at all; and her position was secure. Then, upon the other hand, the gentry of the manors, seeing the friendship grow between her and the Comtesse de Montgomery at Mont Orgueil Castle, made courteous advances towards her father, and towards herself through him.

She could scarce have counted the number of times she climbed the great hill like a fortress at the lift of the little Bay of Rozel, and from the Nez du Guet scanned the sea for a sail and the sky for fair weather. When her eyes were not thus busy, they were searching the lee of the hill-side round for yellow lilies, and the valley below for the campion, the daffodil, and the thousand pretty ferns growing in profusion there. Every night she looked out to see that her signal-fire was lit upon the Nez du Guet, and she never went to bed without taking one last look over the sea, in the restless, inveterate hope which at once sustained her and devoured her.

But the longest waiting must end. It came on the evening of the very day that the Seigneur of Rozel went to Angèle's father and bluntly told him he was ready to forego all Norman-Jersey prejudice against the French and the Huguenot religion, and take Angèle to wife without penny or estate.

In reply to the seigneur, Monsieur Aubert said that he was conscious of an honor, and referred monsieur to his daughter, who must answer for herself; but he must tell Monsieur of Rozel that monsieur's religion would, in his own sight, be a high bar to the union. To that the seigneur said that no religion that he had could be a bar to anything at all, and so long as the young lady could manage her household, drive a good bargain with the craftsmen and hucksters, and have the handsomest face and manners in the Channel Islands, he'd ask no more; and she might pray for him and his salvation without let or hindrance.

The seigneur found the young lady in a little retreat among the rocks, called by the natives La Chaire. Here she sat sewing upon some coarse linen for a poor fisherwoman's babe when the seigneur came near. She heard the scrunch of his heels upon the gravel, the clank of his sword upon the rocks, and looked up with a flush, her needle poised; for none should know of her presence in this place save her father. When she saw who was her visitor, she rose. After greeting and compliment, none too finely put, but more generous than fitted with Jersey parsimony, the gentleman of Rozel came at once to the point.

"My name is none too bad," said he-"Raoul Lemprière, of the Lemprières that have been here since Rollo ruled in Normandy. My estate is none worse than any in the whole islands; I have more horses and dogs than any gentleman of my acres; and I am more in favor at court than De Carteret of St. Ouen's. I am the Queen's butler, and I am the first that royal favor granted to set up three dove-cotes, one by St. Aubin's, one by St. Helier's, and one at Rozel; and-and," he added, with a lumbering attempt at humor-"and, on my oath, I'll set up another dove-cote without my sovereign's favor, with your leave alone. By Our Lady, I do love that color in yon cheek! Just such a color had my mother when she snatched from the head of my cousin of Carteret's milkmaid-wife the bonnet of a lady of quality and bade her get to her heifers. God's beauty! but 'tis a color of red primroses in thy cheeks and blue campions in thine eyes. Come, I warrant I can deepen that color"-he bowed low-"Madame of Rozel, if it be not too soon!"

The girl listened to this cheerful and loquacious proposal and courtship all in one, ending with the premature bestowal of a title, in mingled anger, amusement, disdain, and apprehension. Her heart fluttered, then stood still, then flew up in her throat, then grew terribly hot and hurt her, so that she pressed her hand to her bosom as though that might ease it. By the time he had finished, drawn himself up, and struck his foot upon the ground in burly emphasis of his devoted statements, the girl had sufficiently recovered to answer him composedly, and with a little glint of demure humor in her eyes. She loved another man; she did not care so much as a spark for this happy, swearing, swashbuckling gentleman; yet she saw he had meant to do her honor. He had treated her as courteously as was in him to do; he chose her out from all the ladies of his acquaintance to make her an honest offer of his hand-he had said nothing about his heart; he would, should she marry him, throw her scraps of good-humor, bearish tenderness, drink to her health among his fellows, and respect and admire her-even exalt her almost to the rank of a man in his own eyes; and he had the tolerance of the open-hearted and open-handed man. All these things were as much a compliment to her as though she were not a despised Huguenot, an exiled lady of no fortune. She looked at him a moment with an al

most solemn intensity, so that he shifted his ground uneasily, but at once smiled encouragingly, to relieve her embarrassment at the unexpected honor done her. She had remained standing; now, as he made a step towards her, she sank down upon the seat and waved him back courteously.

"A moment, Monsieur of Rozel," she ventured. "Did my father send you to me?"

He inclined his head and smiled again.

"Did you say to him what you have said to me?" she asked, not quite without a touch of malice.

"I left out about the color in the cheek," he answered, with a smirk at what he took to be the quickness of his wit.

"You kept your paint-pot for me," she replied, softly.

"And the dove-cote, too," he rejoined, bowing finely, and almost carried off his feet by his own brilliance.

She became serious at once-so quickly that he was ill prepared for it, and could do little but stare and pluck at the tassel of his sword, embarrassed before this maiden, who changed as quickly as the currents change under the brow of the Couperon Cliff, behind which lay his manor-house of Rozel.

"I have visited at your manor, Monsieur of Rozel. I have seen the state in which you live, your retainers, your men-at-arms, your farming-folk, and your sailor-men. I know how your Queen receives you; how your honor is as stable as your fief."

He drew himself up again proudly. He could understand this speech.

"Your horses and your hounds I have seen," she added, "your men-servants and your maid-servants, your fields of corn, your orchards, and your larder. I have sometimes broken the commandment and coveted them and envied you."

"Break the commandment again for the last time," he cried, delighted and boisterous. "Let us not waste words, lady. Let's kiss and have it over."

Her eyes flashed. "I coveted them and envied you; but, then, I am but a vain girl at times, and vanity is easier to me than humbleness."

"Blood of man, but I cannot understand so various a creature!" he broke in, again puzzled.

"There is a little chapel in the dell beside your manor, monsieur. If you will go there, and get upon your knees, and pray till the candles no more burn and the Popish images crumble in their places, you will yet never understand myself or any woman."

"There's no question of Popish images between us," he answered, vainly trying for foothold. "Pray as you please, and I'll see no harm comes to the Mistress of Rozel."

He was out of his bearings and impatient. Religion to him was a dull recreation invented chiefly for women.

She became plain enough now. "'Tis no images nor religion that stands between us," she answered, "though they might well do so. It is that I do not love you, Monsieur of Rozel."

His face, which had slowly clouded, suddenly cleared.

"Love! Love!" He laughed good-humoredly. "Love comes, I'm told, with marriage. But we can do well enough without fugling on that pipe. Come, come, dost think I'm not a proper man and a gentleman? Dost think I'll not use thee well and 'fend thee, Huguenot though thou art, 'gainst trouble or fret or any man's persecutions-be he my lord bishop, my lord chancellor, or King of France, or any other?"

She came a step closer to him, even as though she would lay a hand upon his arm. "I believe that you would do all that in you lay," she answered, steadily. "Yours is a rough wooing, but it is honest-"

"Rough! Rough!" he protested, for he thought he had behaved like some Adonis. Was it not ten years only since he had been at court?

"Be assured, monsieur, that I know how to prize the man who speaks after the light given him. I know that you are a brave and valorous gentleman. I must thank you most truly and heartily, but, monsieur, you and yours are not for me. Seek elsewhere, among your own people, in your own religion and language and position, the Mistress of Rozel."

He was dumfounded. Now he comprehended the plain fact that he had been declined.

"You send me packing!" he blurted out, getting red in the face.

"Ah, no! Say that is my misfortune that I cannot give myself the great honor," she said, in her tone a little disdainful dryness, a little pity, a little feeling that here was a good friend lost.

"It's not because of the French soldier that was with Montgomery at Domfront?-I've heard that story. But he's gone to heaven, and 'tis vain crying for last year's breath," he said, with proud philosophy.

"He is not dead. And if he were," she added, "do you think, monsieur, that we should find it easier to cross the gulf between us?"

"Tut! tut! that bugbear love!" he said, shortly. "And so you'd lose a good friend for a dead lover? I' faith, I'd befriend thee well if thou wert my wife, ma'm'selle."

"It is hard for those who need friends to lose them," she answered, sadly.

The sorrow of her position crept in upon her and filled her eyes with tears. She turned them to the sea-instinctively towards that point on the shore where she thought it likely Michel might be-as though by looking she might find comfort and support in this hard hour.

Even as she gazed into the soft afternoon light she could see, far over, a little sail standing out towards the Ecréhos. Not once in six months might the coast of France be seen so clearly. One might almost have noted people walking on the beach. This was no good token, for when that coast may be seen with great distinctness a storm follows hard after. The girl knew this, and, though she could not know that this was Michel de la Forêt's boat, the possibility fixed itself in her mind. She quickly scanned the horizon. Yes, there in the northwest was gathering a dark-blue haze, hanging like small, filmy curtains in the sky.

The Seigneur of Rozel presently broke the silence so awkward for him. He had seen the tears in her eyes, and, though he could not guess the cause, he vaguely thought it might be due to his announcement that she had lost a friend. He was magnanimous at once, and he meant what he said, and would stand by it through thick and thin.

"Well, well, I'll be thy everlasting friend if not thy husband," he said, with ornate generosity. "Cheer thy heart, lady."

With a sudden impulse she seized his hand and kissed it, and, turning, ran swiftly down the rocks towards her home.

He stood and looked after her, then, dumfounded, at the hand she had kissed.

"Blood of my heart!" he said, and shook his head in utter amazement.

Then he turned and looked out upon the Channel. He saw the little boat Angèle had descried making from France. Glancing at the sky, "What fools come there!" he said, anxiously.

They were Michel de la Forêt and Buonespoir the pirate, in a black-bellied cutter with red sails.

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