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   Chapter 4 No.4

A Ladder of Swords By Gilbert Parker Characters: 7924

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


THUS began the friendship of the bragging Seigneur of Rozel for the three Huguenots, all because he had seen tears in a girl's eyes and misunderstood them, and because the same girl had kissed him. His pride was flattered that they should receive protection from him, and the flattery became almost a canonizing when De Carteret of St. Ouen's brought him to task for harboring and comforting the despised Huguenots; for when De Carteret railed he was envious. So henceforth Lemprière played lord protector with still more boisterous unction. His pride knew no bounds when, three days after the rescue, Sir Hugh Pawlett, the governor, answering De la Forêt's letter requesting permission to visit the Comtesse de Montgomery, sent him word to fetch De la Forêt to Mont Orgueil Castle. Clanking and blowing, he was shown into the great hall with De la Forêt, where waited Sir Hugh and the widow of the renowned Camisard. Clanking and purring like an enormous cat, he turned his head away to the window when De la Forêt dropped on his knees and kissed the hand of the comtesse, whose eyes were full of tears. Clanking and gurgling, he sat at a mighty meal of turbot, eels, lobsters, ormers, capons, boar's head, brawn and mustard, swan, curlew, and spiced meats. This he washed down with bastard, malmsey, and good ale, topped with almonds, comfits, perfumed cherries with "ipocras," then sprinkled himself with rose-water and dabbled his face and hands in it. Filled to the turret, he lurched to his feet, and, drinking to Sir Hugh's toast, "Her sacred Majesty!" he clanked and roared "Elizabeth!" as though upon the field of battle. He felt the star of De Carteret declining and Rozel's glory ascending like a comet. Once set in a course, nothing could change him. Other men might err, but, once right, the Seigneur of Rozel was everlasting.

Of late he had made the cause of Michel de la Forêt and Angèle Aubert his own. For this he had been raked upon the coals by De Carteret of St. Ouen's and his following, who taunted him with the saying, "Save a thief from hanging and he'll cut your throat." Not that there was ill feeling against De la Forêt in person. He had won most hearts by a frank yet still manner, and his story and love for Angèle had touched the women folk where their hearts were softest. But the island was not true to itself or its history if it did not divide itself into factions, headed by the seigneurs, and there had been no ground for good division for five years till De la Forêt came.

Short of actual battle, this new strife was the keenest ever known, for Sir Hugh Pawlett was ranged on the side of the Seigneur of Rozel. Kinsman of the Comtesse de Montgomery, of Queen Elizabeth's own Protestant religion, and admiring De la Forêt, he had given every countenance to the Camisard refugee. He had even besought the royal court of Jersey to grant a pardon to Buonespoir the pirate, on condition that he should never commit a depredation upon an inhabitant of the island-this he was to swear to by the little finger of St. Peter. Should he break his word he was to be banished the island for ten years, under penalty of death if he returned. When the hour had come for Buonespoir to take the oath he failed to appear, and the next morning the Seigneur of St. Ouen's discovered that during the night his cellar had been raided of two kegs of canary, many flagons of muscadella, pots of anchovies and boxes of candied "eringo," kept solely for the visit which the Queen had promised the island. There was no doubt of the misdemeanant, for Buonespoir returned to De Carteret from St. Brieuc the gabardine of one of his retainers, in which he had carried off the stolen delicacies.

This aggravated the feud between the partisans of St. Ouen's and Rozel, for Lemprière of Rozel had laughed loudly when he heard of the robbery, and said: "'Tis like St. Ouen's to hoard for a queen and glut a pirate. We feed as we get at Rozel, and wil

l feed the court well, too, when it comes, or I'm no butler to Elizabeth!"

But trouble was at hand for Michel and for his protector. The spies of Catherine de Medici, mother of the King of France, were everywhere. These had sent word that De la Forêt was now attached to the meagre suite of the widow of the great Camisard Montgomery, near the Castle of Mont Orgueil. The Medici, having treacherously slain the chief, became mad with desire to slay the lieutenant. She was set to have the man, either through diplomacy with England, or to end him by assassination through her spies. Having determined upon his death, with relentless soul she pursued the cause as closely as though this exiled soldier were a powerful enemy at the head of an army in France.

Thus it was that she wrote to Queen Elizabeth, asking that "this arrant foe of France, this churl, conspirator, and reviler of the sacraments, be rendered unto our hands for well-deserved punishment as warning to all such evil-doers." She told Elizabeth of De la Forêt's arrival in Jersey, disguised as a priest of the Church of France, and set forth his doings since landing with the Seigneur of Rozel. Further she went on to say to "our sister of England" that "these dark figures of murder and revolt be a peril to the soft peace of this good realm."

To this Elizabeth, who had no knowledge of Michel, who desired peace with France at this time, who had favors to ask of Catherine, and who in her own realm had fresh reason to fear conspiracy through the Queen of the Scots and others, replied forthwith that, "If this De la Forêt falleth into our hands, and if it were found he had in truth conspired against France its throne, had he a million lives, not one should remain." Having despatched this letter, she straightway sent a messenger to Sir Hugh Pawlett in Jersey, making quest of De la Forêt, and commanding that he should be sent to her in England at once.

When the Queen's messenger arrived at Orgueil Castle, Lemprière chanced to be with Sir Hugh Pawlett, and the contents of Elizabeth's letter were made known to him.

At the moment Monsieur of Rozel was munching macaroons and washing them down with canary. The governor's announcement was such a shock that he choked and coughed, the crumbs flying in all directions, and another pint of canary must be taken to flush his throat. Thus cleared for action, he struck out.

"'Tis St. Ouen's work," he growled.

"'Tis the work of the Medici," said Sir Hugh. "Read," he added, holding out the paper.

Now Lemprière of Rozel had a poor eye for reading. He had wit enough to wind about the difficulty.

"If I see not the Queen's commands, I've no warrant but Sir Hugh Pawlett's words, and I'll to London and ask 'fore her Majesty's face if she wrote them, and why. I'll tell my tale and speak my mind, I pledge you, sir."

"You'll offend her Majesty. Her commands are here." Pawlett tapped the letter with his finger.

"I'm butler to the Queen, and she will list to me. I'll not smirk and caper like St. Ouen's; I'll bear me like a man not speaking for himself. I'll speak as Harry her father spoke-straight to the purpose.... No, no, no, I'm not to be wheedled, even by a Pawlett, and you shall not ask me. If you want Michel de la Forêt, come and take him. He is in my house. But ye must take him, for come he shall not!"

"You will not oppose the Queen's officers?"

"De la Forêt is under my roof. He must be taken. I will give him up to no one; and I'll tell my sovereign these things when I see her in her palace."

"I misdoubt you'll play the bear," said Pawlett, with a dry smile.

"The Queen's tongue is none so tame. I'll travel by my star, get sweet or sour."

"Well, well, 'give a man luck, and throw him into the sea,' is the old proverb. I'm coming for your friend to-night."

"I'll be waiting with my fingers on the door, sir," said Rozel, with a grim vanity and an outrageous pride in himself.

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