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   Chapter 6 No.6

A Ladder of Swords By Gilbert Parker Characters: 19999

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

MICHEL DE LA FORêT was gone, a prisoner. From the dusk of the trees by the little chapel of Rozel, Angèle had watched his exit in charge of the governor's men. She had not sought to show her presence; she had seen him-that was comfort to her heart; and she would not mar the memory of that last night's farewell by another before these strangers. She saw with what quiet Michel bore his arrest, and she said to herself, as the last halberdier vanished:

"If the Queen do but speak with him, if she but look upon his face and hear his voice, she must needs deal kindly by him. My Michel-ah, it is a face for all men to trust and all women-"

But she sighed and averted her head as though before prying eyes.

The bell of Rozel chapel broke gently on the evening air; the sound, softened by the leaves and mellowed by the wood of the great elm-trees, billowed away till it was lost in faint reverberation in the sea beneath the cliffs of the Couperon, where a little craft was coming to anchor in the dead water.

At first the sound of the bell soothed her, softening the thought of the danger to Michel. She moved with it towards the sea, the tones of her grief chiming with it. Presently, as she went, a priest in cassock and robes and stole crossed the path in front of her, an acolyte before him swinging a censer, his voice chanting Latin verses from the service for the sick, in his hands the sacred elements of the communion for the dying. The priest was fat and heavy, his voice was lazy, his eyes expressionless, and his robes were dirty. The plaintive, peaceful sense which the sound of the vesper-bell had thrown over Angèle's sad reflections passed away, and the thought smote her that, were it not for such as this black-toothed priest, Michel would not now be on his way to England, a prisoner. To her this vesper-bell was the symbol of tyranny and hate. It was fighting, it was martyrdom, it was exile, it was the Medici. All that she had borne, all that her father had borne, the thought of the home lost, the mother dead before her time, the name ruined, the heritage dispossessed, the red war of the Camisards, the rivulets of blood in the streets of Paris and of her loved Rouen, smote upon her mind and drove her to her knees in the forest glade, her hands upon her ears to shut out the sound of the bell. It came upon her that the bell had said "Peace! Peace!" to her mind when there should be no peace; that it had said "Be patient!" when she should be up and doing; that it had whispered "Stay!" when she should tread the path her lover trod, her feet following in his footsteps as his feet had trod in hers.

She pressed her hands tight upon her ears and prayed with a passion and a fervor she had never known before. A revelation seemed to come upon her, and, for the first time, she was a Huguenot to the core. Hitherto she had suffered for her religion because it was her mother's broken life, her father's faith, and because they had suffered and her lover had suffered. Her mind had been convinced, her loyalty had been unwavering, her words for the great cause had measured well with her deeds. But new senses were suddenly born in her, new eyes were given to her mind, new powers for endurance to her soul. She saw now as the martyrs of Meaux had seen; a passionate faith descended on her as it had descended on them; no longer only patient, she was fain for action. Tears rained from her eyes. Her heart burst itself in entreaty and confession.

"Thy light shall be my light, and Thy will my will, O Lord," she cried at the last. "Teach me Thy way, create a right spirit within me. Give me boldness without rashness, and hope without vain thinking. Bear up my arms, O Lord, and save me when falling. A poor Samaritan am I. Give me the water that shall be a well of water springing up to everlasting life, that I thirst not in the fever of doing. Give me the manna of life to eat that I faint not nor cry out in plague, pestilence, or famine. Give me Thy grace, O God, as Thou has given it to Michel de la Forêt, and guide my feet as I follow him in life and in death, for Christ's sake. Amen."

As she rose from her knees she heard the evening gun from the Castle of Mont Orgueil, whither Michel was being borne by the Queen's men. The vesper-bell had stopped. Through the wood came the salt savor of the sea on the cool sunset air. She threw back her head and walked swiftly towards it, her heart beating hard, her eyes shining with the light of purpose, her step elastic with the vigor of youth and health. A quarter-hour's walking brought her to the cliff of the Couperon.

As she gazed out over the sea, however, a voice in the bay below caught her ear. She looked down. On the deck of the little craft which had entered the harbor when the vesper-bell was ringing stood a man who waved a hand up towards her, then gave a peculiar call. She stared with amazement: it was Buonespoir the pirate. What did this mean? Had God sent this man to her, by his presence to suggest what she should do in this crisis in her life? For even as she ran down the shore towards him, it came to her mind that Buonespoir should take her in his craft to England.

What to do in England? Who could tell? She only knew that a voice called her to England to follow the footsteps of Michel de la Forêt, who even this night would be setting forth in the governor's brigantine for London.

Buonespoir met her upon the shore, grinning like a boy.

"God save you, lady!" he said.

"What brings you hither, friend?" she asked.

If he had said that a voice had called him hither as one called her to England, it had not sounded strange; for she was not thinking that this was one who superstitiously swore by the little finger of St. Peter, but only that he was the man who had brought her Michel from France, who had been a faithful friend to her and to her father.

"What brings me hither?" Buonespoir laughed low in his chest. "Even to fetch to the Seigneur of Rozel, a friend of mine by every token of remembrance, a dozen flagons of golden muscadella."

To Angèle no suggestion flashed that these flagons of muscadella had come from the cellar of the Seigneur of St. Ouen's, where they had been reserved for a certain royal visit. Nothing was in her mind save the one thought-that she must follow Michel.

"Will you take me to England?" she asked, putting a hand quickly on his arm.

He had been laughing hard, picturing to himself what Lemprière of Rozel would say when he sniffed the flagon of St. Ouen's best wine, and for an instant he did not take in the question; but he stared at her now as the laugh slowly subsided through notes of abstraction, and her words worked their way into his brain.

"Will you take me, Buonespoir?" she urged.

"Take you-?" he questioned.

"To England."

"And myself to Tyburn?"

"Nay, to the Queen."

"'Tis the same thing. Head of Abel! Elizabeth hath heard of me. The Seigneur of St. Ouen's and others have writ me down a pirate to her. She would not pardon the muscadella," he added, with another laugh, looking down where the flagons lay.

"She must pardon more than that," exclaimed Angèle, and hastily she told him of what had happened to Michel de la Forêt and why she would go.

"Thy father, then?" he asked, scowling hard in his attempt to think it out.

"He must go with me-I will seek him now."

"It must be at once, i' faith, for how long, think you, can I stay here unharmed? I was sighted off St. Ouen's shore a few hours agone."

"To-night?" she asked.

"By twelve, when we shall have the moon and the tide," he answered. "But hold!" he hastily added. "What, think you, could you and your father do alone in England? And with me it were worse than alone. These be dark times, when strangers have spies at their heels and all travellers be suspect."

"We will trust in God," she answered.

"Have you money?" he questioned-"for London, not for me," he added, hastily.

"Enough," she replied.

"The trust with the money is a weighty matter," he added; "but they suffice not. You must have 'fending."

"There is no one," she answered, sadly, "no one save-"

"Save the Seigneur of Rozel!" Buonespoir finished the sentence. "Good. You to your father and I to the seigneur. If you can fetch your father by your pot-of-honey tongue, I'll fetch the great Lemprière with muscadella. Is't a bargain?"

"In which I gain all," she answered, and again touched his arm with her finger-tips.

"You shall be aboard here at ten, and I will join you on the stroke of twelve," he said, and gave a low whistle.

At the signal three men sprang up like magic out of the bowels of the boat beneath them, and scurried over the side; three as ripe knaves as ever cheated stocks and gallows, but simple knaves, unlike their master. Two of them had served with Francis Drake in that good ship of his lying even now not far from Elizabeth's palace at Greenwich. The third was a rogue who had been banished from Jersey for an habitual drunkenness which only attacked him on land-at sea he was sacredly sober. His name was Jean Nicolle. The names of the other two were Hervé Robin and Rouge le Riche, but their master called them by other names.

"Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego," said Buonespoir, in ceremony, and waved a hand of homage between them and Angèle. "Kiss dirt, and know where duty lies. The lady's word on my ship is law till we anchor at the Queen's Stairs at Greenwich. So, Heaven help you, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!" said Buonespoir.

A wave of humor passed over Angèle's grave face, for a stranger quartet never sailed high seas together: one blind of an eye, one game of a leg, one bald as a bottle and bereft of two front teeth; but Buonespoir was sound of wind and limb, his small face with the big eyes lost in the masses of his red hair, and a body like Hercules. It flashed through Angèle's mind even as she answered the gurgling salutations of the triumvirate

that they had been got together for no gentle summer sailing in the Channel. Her conscience smote her that she should use such churls; but she gave it comfort by the thought that while serving her they could do naught worse; and her cause was good. Yet they presented so bizarre an aspect, their ugliness was so varied and particular, that she almost laughed. Buonespoir understood her thoughts, for with a look of mocking innocence in his great blue eyes he waved a hand again towards the graceless trio, and said, "For deep-sea fishing," then solemnly winked at the three.

* * *

A moment later Angèle was speeding along the shore towards her home on the farther hill-side up the little glen; and within an hour Buonespoir rolled from the dusk of the trees by the manor-house of Rozel and knocked at the door. He carried on his head, as a fishwife carries a tray of ormers, a basket full of flagons of muscadella; and he did not lower the basket when he was shown into the room where the Seigneur of Rozel was sitting before a trencher of spiced veal and a great pot of ale. Lemprière roared a hearty greeting to the pirate, for he was in a sour humor because of the taking-off of Michel de la Forêt; and of all men this pirate-fellow, who had quips and cranks, and had played tricks on his cousin of St. Ouen's, was most welcome.

"What's that on your teacup of a head?" he roared again, as Buonespoir grinned pleasure at the greeting.

"Muscadella," said Buonespoir, and lowered the basket to the table.

Lemprière seized a flagon, drew it forth, looked closely at it, then burst into laughter, and spluttered, "St. Ouen's muscadella, by the hand of Rufus!"

Seizing Buonespoir by the shoulders, he forced him down upon a bench at the table, and pushed the trencher of spiced meat against his chest. "Eat, my noble lord of the sea and master of the cellar!" he gurgled out, and, tipping the flagon of muscadella, took a long draught. "God-a-mercy-but it has saved my life," he gasped in satisfaction as he lay back in his great chair and put his feet on the bench whereon Buonespoir sat.

They raised their flagons and toasted each other, and Lemprière burst forth into song, in the refrain of which Buonespoir joined boisterously:

"King Rufus he did hunt the deer,

With a hey ho, come and kiss me, Dolly!

It was the spring-time of the year,

Hey ho, Dolly shut her eyes!

King Rufus was a bully boy,

He hunted all the day for joy,

Sweet Dolly she was ever coy:

And who would e'er be wise

That looked in Dolly's eyes?

"King Rufus he did have his day,

With a hey ho, come and kiss me, Dolly!

So get ye forth where dun deer play-

Hey ho, Dolly comes again!

The greenwood is the place for me,

For that is where the dun deer be,

'Tis where my Dolly comes to me:

And who would stay at home,

That might with Dolly roam?

Sing hey ho, come and kiss me, Dolly!"

Lemprière, perspiring with the exertion, mopped his forehead, then lapsed into a plaintive mood.

"I've had naught but trouble of late," he wheezed. "Trouble! trouble! trouble! like gnats on a filly's flank!" and in spluttering words, twice bracketed in muscadella, he told of Michel de la Forêt's arrest, and of his purpose to go to England if he could get a boat to take him.

"'Tis that same business brings me here," said Buonespoir, and forthwith told of his meeting with Angèle and what was then agreed upon.

"You to go to England!" cried Lemprière, amazed. "They want you for Tyburn there."

"They want me for the gallows here," said Buonespoir. Rolling a piece of spiced meat in his hand, he stuffed it into his mouth and chewed till the grease came out of his eyes, and took eagerly from a servant a flagon of malmsey and a dish of ormers.

"Hush! chew thy tongue a minute," said the seigneur, suddenly starting and laying a finger beside his nose. "Hush!" he said, again, and looked into the flicker of the candle by him with half-shut eyes.

"May I have no rushes for a bed, and die like a rat in a moat, if I don't get thy pardon, too, of the Queen, and bring thee back to Jersey, a thorn in the side of De Carteret forever! He'll look upon thee assoilzied by the Queen, spitting fire in his rage, and no canary or muscadella in his cellar."

It came not to the mind of either that this expedition would be made at cost to themselves. They had not heard of Don Quixote, and their gifts were not imitative. They were of a day when men held their lives as lightly as many men hold their honor now, when championship was as the breath of life to men's nostrils, and to adventure for what was worth having or doing in life the only road of reputation.

Buonespoir was as much a champion in his ways as Lemprière of Rozel. They were of like kidney, though so far apart in rank. Had Lemprière been born as low and as poor as Buonespoir, he would have been a pirate, too, no doubt; and had Buonespoir been born as high as the seigneur, he would have carried himself with the same rough sense of honor, with as ripe a vanity, have been as na?ve, as sincere, as true to the real heart of man untaught in the dissimulation of modesty or reserve. When they shook hands across the trencher of spiced veal, it was as man shakes hand with man, not man with master.

They were about to start upon their journey when there came a knocking at the door. On its being opened the bald and toothless Abednego stumbled in with the word that immediately after Angèle and her father came aboard the Honeyflower some fifty halberdiers suddenly appeared upon the Couperon. They had at once set sail, and got away even before the sailors had reached the shore. As they had rounded the point, where they were hid from view, Abednego dropped overboard and swam ashore on the rising tide, making his way to the manor to warn Buonespoir. On his way hither, stealing through the trees, he had passed a half-score of halberdiers making for the manor, and he had seen others going towards the shore.

Buonespoir looked to the priming of his pistols, and, buckling his belt tightly about him, turned to the seigneur and said: "I will take my chances with Abednego. Where does she lie-the Honeyflower, Abednego?"

"Off the point called Verclut," answered the little man, who had travelled with Francis Drake.

"Good; we will make a run for it, flying dot-and-carry-one as we go."

While they had been speaking the seigneur had been thinking; and now, even as several figures appeared at a little distance in the trees, making towards the manor, he said, with a loud laugh:


"No. 'Tis the way of a fool to put his head between the door and the jamb. 'Tis but a hundred yards to safety. Follow me-to the sea-Abednego last. This way, bullies!"

Without a word all three left the house and walked on in the order indicated, as De Carteret's halberdiers ran forward threatening.

"Stand!" shouted the sergeant of the halberdiers. "Stand, or we fire!"

But the three walked straight on unheeding. When the sergeant of the men-at-arms recognized the seigneur he ordered down the blunderbusses.

"We come for Buonespoir the pirate," said the sergeant.

"Whose warrant?" said the seigneur, fronting the halberdiers, Buonespoir and Abednego behind him.

"The Seigneur of St. Ouen's," was the reply.

"My compliments to the Seigneur of St. Ouen's, and tell him that Buonespoir is my guest," he bellowed, and strode on, the halberdiers following. Suddenly the seigneur swerved towards the chapel and quickened his footsteps, the others but a step behind. The sergeant of the halberdiers was in a quandary. He longed to shoot, but dared not, and while he was making up his mind what to do the seigneur had reached the chapel door. Opening it, he quickly pushed Buonespoir and Abednego inside, whispering to them, then slammed the door and put his back against it.

There was another moment's hesitation on the sergeant's part, then a door at the other end of the chapel was heard to open and shut, and the seigneur laughed loudly. The halberdiers ran round the chapel. There stood Buonespoir and Abednego in a narrow road-way, motionless and unconcerned. The halberdiers rushed forward.

"Perquage! Perquage! Perquage!" shouted Buonespoir, and the bright moonlight showed him grinning.

For an instant there was deadly stillness, in which the approaching footsteps of the seigneur sounded loud.

"Perquage!" Buonespoir repeated.

"Perquage! Fall back!" said the seigneur, and waved off the pikes of the halberdiers. "He has sanctuary to the sea."

This narrow road in which the pirates stood was the last of three in the Isle of Jersey, running from churches to the sea, in which a criminal was safe from arrest by virtue of an old statute. The other perquages had been taken away, but this one of Rozel remained, a concession made by Henry VIII. to the father of this Raoul Lemprière. The privilege had been used but once in the present seigneur's day, because the criminal must be put upon the road from the chapel by the seigneur himself, and he had used his privilege modestly.

No man in Jersey but knew the sacredness of this perquage, though it was ten years since it had been used; and no man, not even the governor himself, dare lift his hand to one upon that road.

So it was that Buonespoir and Abednego, two fugitives from justice, walked quietly to the sea down the perquage, halberdiers, balked of their prey, prowling on their steps and cursing the Seigneur of Rozel for his gift of sanctuary-for the Seigneur of St. Ouen's and the royal court had promised each halberdier three shillings and all the ale he could drink at a sitting if Buonespoir was brought in alive or dead.

In peace and safety the three boarded the Honeyflower off the point called Verclut, and set sail for England, just seven hours after Michel de la Forêt had gone his way upon the Channel, a prisoner.

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