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- Michel and Angele [A Ladder of Swords], Volume 1. - 1/9 -
MICHEL AND ANGELE
[A Ladder of Swords]
By Gilbert Parker
If it does not seem too childish a candour to say so, 'Michel and Angele' always seems to me like some old letter lifted out of an ancient cabinet with the faint perfume of bygone days upon it. Perhaps that is because the story itself had its origin in a true but brief record of some good Huguenots who fled from France and took refuge in England, to be found, as the book declares, at the Walloon Church, in Southampton.
The record in the first paragraphs of the first chapter of the book fascinated my imagination, and I wove round Michel de la Foret and Angele Aubert a soft, bright cloud of romance which would not leave my vision until I sat down and wrote out what, in the writing, seemed to me a true history. It was as though some telepathy between the days of Elizabeth and our own controlled me--self-hypnotism, I suppose; but still, there it was. The story, in its original form, was first published in 'Harper's Weekly' under the name of Michel and Angele, but the fear, I think, that many people would mispronounce the first word of the title, induced me to change it when, double in length, it became a volume called 'A Ladder of Swords'.
As it originally appeared, I wrote it in the Island of Jersey, out at the little Bay of Rozel in a house called La Chaire, a few yards away from the bay itself, and having a pretty garden with a seat at its highest point, from which, beyond the little bay, the English Channel ran away to the Atlantic. It was written in complete seclusion. I had no visitors; there was no one near, indeed, except the landlord of the little hotel in the bay, and his wife. All through the Island, however, were people whom I knew, like the Malet de Carterets, the Lemprieres, and old General Pipon, for whom the Jersey of three hundred years ago was as near as the Jersey of to-day, so do the Jersiais prize, cultivate, and conserve every hour of its recorded history.
As the sea opens out to a vessel making between the promontories to the main, so, while writing this tale which originally was short, the larger scheme of 'The Battle of the Strong' spread out before me, luring me, as though in the distance were the Fortunate Isles. Eight years after 'Michel and Angele' was written and first published in 'Harper's Weekly', I decided to give it the dignity of a full-grown romance. For years I had felt that it had the essentials for a larger canvas, and at the earnest solicitation of Messrs. Harper & Brothers I settled to do what had long been in my mind. The narrative grew as naturally from what it was to larger stature as anything that had been devised upon a greater scale at the beginning; and in London town I had the same joy in the company of Michel and Angele--and a vastly increased joy in the company of Lempriere, the hulking, joyous giant--as I had years before in Jersey itself when the story first stirred in my mind and reached my pen.
While adverse reviews of the book were few if any, it cannot be said that this romance is a companion in popularity with, for instance, 'The Right of Way'. It had its friends, but it has apparently appealed to smaller audiences--to those who watch the world go by; who are not searching for the exposure of life's grim realities; who do not seek the clinic of the soul's tragedies. There was tragedy here, but there was comedy too; there was also joy and faith, patience and courage. The book, taken by itself, could not make a permanent reputation for any man, but it has its place in the scheme of my work, and I would not have it otherwise than it is.
There will be found a few anachronisms in this tale, but none so important as to give a wrong impression of the events of Queen Elizabeth's reign.
MICHEL AND ANGELE
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 cj furent Recus la a Cene du 157_, comme passans, sans avoir Rendu Raison de la foj, mes sur la tesmognage de Mons. Forest, Ministre de Madame, quj certifia quj ne cognoisoit Rien en tout ceux la po' quoy Il ne leur deust administre la Cene s'il estoit en lieu po' a ferre."
There is another striking record, which says that in August of the same year Demoiselle Angele Claude Aubert, daughter of Monsieur de la Haie Aubert, Councillor of the Parliament of Rouen, was married to Michel de la Foret, 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 'denoument' 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 Angele Claude Aubert to Michel de la Foret 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 flavour or the idiom of the language:
Written on this May Day of the year 157_, at the place hight Rozel in the Manor called of the same of Jersey Isle, to Michel de la Foret, 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 mine 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 Ecrehos. 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 savour 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.
I doubt not we shall come to the heights where there is peace, though we climb thereto by a ladder of swords. A.
Some years before Angele's letter was written, Michel de la Foret 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, Angele's messenger--the "piratical knave with the most kind heart "presented himself, delivered her letter to De la Foret, 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
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