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A Ladder of Swords By Gilbert Parker Characters: 8054

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


FOLLOWED several happy years for Michel and Angèle. The protection of the Queen herself, the chaplaincy she had given De la Forêt, the friendship with the governor of the island, and the boisterous tales Lemprière had told of those days at Greenwich Palace quickened the sympathy and held the interest of the people at large, while the simple lives of the two won their way into the hearts of all, even, at last, to that of De Carteret of St. Ouen's. It was Angèle herself who brought the two seigneurs together at her own good table; and it needed all her tact on that occasion to prevent the ancient foes from drinking all the wine in her cellar.

There was no parish in Jersey that did not know their goodness, but mostly in the parishes of St. Martin's and Rozel were their faithful labors done. From all parts of the island people came to hear Michel speak, though that was but seldom; and when he spoke he always wore the sword the Queen had given him and used the Book he had studied in her palace. It was to their home that Buonespoir the pirate-faithful to his promise to the Queen that he would harry English ships no more-came wounded, after an engagement with a French boat sent to capture him, carried thither by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It was there he died, after having drunk a bottle of St. Ouen's muscadella, brought secretly to him by his unchanging friend Lemprière, so hastening the end.

The Comtesse de Montgomery, who lived in a cottage near by, came constantly to the little house on the hill-side by Rozel Bay. She had never loved her own children more than she did the brown-haired child with the deep-blue eyes which was the one pledge of the great happiness of Michel and Angèle.

Soon after this child was born M. Aubert had been put to rest in St. Martin's churchyard, and there his tombstone might be seen so late as a hundred years ago. So things went softly by for seven years, and then Madame de Montgomery journeyed to England, on invitation of the Queen and to better fortune, and Angèle and De la Forêt were left to their quiet life in Jersey. Sometimes this quiet was broken by bitter news from France of fresh persecution and fresh struggle on the part of the Huguenots. Thereafter for hours, sometimes for days, De la Forêt would be lost in sorrowful and restless meditation; and then he fretted against his peaceful calling and his uneventful life. But the gracious hand of his wife and the eyes of his child led him back to cheerful ways again.

Suddenly one day came the fearful news from England that the plague had broken out and that thousands were dying. The flight from London was like the flight of the children of Israel into the desert. The dead-carts, filled with decaying bodies, rattled through the foul streets, to drop their horrid burdens into the great pit at Aldgate; the bells of London tolled all day and all night for the passing of human souls. Hundreds of homes, isolated because of a victim of the plague found therein, became ghastly breeding-places of the disease, and then silent, disgusting graves. If a man shivered in fear or staggered from weakness, or for very hunger turned sick, he was marked as a victim, and despite his protests was huddled away with the real victims to die the awful death. From every church, where clergy were left to pray, went up the cry for salvation from "plague, pestilence, and famine." Scores of ships from Holland and from France lay in the Channel, not allowed to touch the shores of England nor permitted to return whence they came. On the very day that news of this reached Jersey came a messenger from the Queen of England for Michel de la Forêt to hasten to her court, for that she had need of him, and need which would bring him honor. Even as the young officer who brought the letter handed it to De la Forêt in the little house on the hill-side above Rozel Bay, he was taken suddenly ill and fell at the Camisard's feet.

De la Forêt straightway raised him in his arms. He called to his wife, but

, bidding her not come near, he bore the doomed man away to the lonely Ecréhos rocks lying within sight of their own doorway. Suffering no one to accompany him, he carried the sick man to the boat which had brought the Queen's messenger to Rozel Bay. The sailors of the vessel fled, and alone De la Forêt set sail for the Ecréhos.

There, upon the black rocks, the young man died, and Michel buried him in the shore-bed of the Ma?tre ?le. Then, after two days-for he could bear suspense no longer-he set sail for Jersey. Upon that journey there is no need to dwell. Any that hath ever loved a woman and a child must understand. A deep fear held him all the way, and when he stepped on shore at Rozel Bay he was as one who had come from the grave, haggard and old.

Hurrying up the hill-side to his doorway, he called aloud to his wife, to his child. Throwing open the door, he burst in. His dead child lay upon a couch, and near by, sitting in a chair, with the sweat of the dying on her brow, was Angèle. As he dropped on his knee beside her, she smiled and raised her hand as if to touch him, but the hand dropped and the head fell forward on his breast. She was gone into a greater peace.

Once more Michel made a journey-alone-to the Ecréhos, and there, under the ruins of the old Abbey of Val Richer, he buried the twain he had loved. Not once in all the terrible hours had he shed a tear; not once had his hand trembled; his face was like stone and his eyes burned with an unearthly light.

He did not pray beside the graves. But he knelt and kissed the earth again and again. He had doffed his robes of peace, and now wore the garb of a soldier, armed at all points fully. Rising from his knees, he turned his face towards Jersey.

"Only mine! Only mine!" he said, aloud, in a dry, bitter voice.

In the whole island, only his loved ones had died of the plague. The holiness and charity and love of Michel and Angèle had ended so!

When once more he set forth upon the Channel, he turned his back on Jersey and shaped his course towards France, having sent Elizabeth his last excuses for declining a service which would have given him honor, fame, and regard. He was bent upon a higher duty.

Not long did he wait for the death he craved. Next year, in a Huguenot sortie from Anvers, he was slain.

He died with these words on his lips:

"Maintenant, Angèle!"

* * *

In due time the island people forgot them both, but the Seigneur of Rozel caused a stone to be set up on the highest point of land that faces France, and on the stone were carved the names of Michel and Angèle. Having done much hard service for his country and for England's Queen, Lemprière at length hung up his sword and gave his years to peace. From the Manor of Rozel he was wont to repair constantly to the little white house, which remained as the two had left it-his own by order of the Queen-and there, as time went on, he spent most of his days. To the last he roared with laughter if ever the name of Buonespoir was mentioned in his presence; he swaggered ever before the royal court and De Carteret of St. Ouen's; and he spoke proudly of his friendship with the Duke's Daughter, who had admired the cut of his jerkin at the court of Elizabeth. But in the house where Angèle had lived he moved about as though in the presence of a beloved sleeper he would not awake.

* * *

Michel and Angèle had had their few years of exquisite life and love, and had gone; Lemprière had longer measure of life and little love, and who shall say which had more profit of breath and being? The generations have passed away, and the Angel of Equity hath a smiling pity as she scans the scales and the weighing of the past.

THE END

"Come hither, O come hither,

There's a bride upon her bed;

They have strewn her o'er with roses,

There are roses 'neath her head:

Life is love and tears and laughter,

But the laughter it is dead-

Sing the way to the valley, to the valley!

Hey, but the roses they are red!"

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