Michel and Angele/Chapter 1

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I

IF you go to Southampton and search in the Register of the Walloon Church there, you will find that on the 3d April, 1575, "Madame Vefue de Montgomery with all her family and servants were admitted to the Communion;" "tous ceux cj furent Reçus à la Cène du 1575, comme passans, sans avoir Rendu Raison de la foi, mes sur la tesmognage de Mons. Forest, Ministre de Madame, quj certifia quj ne cognoisoit Rien en tout ceux la porquoy Il ne leur deust administré la Cène s'il estoit en lieu por la ferre."

One year later there is another record, which says that on this date—May 8, 1576—Demoiselle Angèle Claude Aubert, daughter of Monsieur de la Haie Aubert, Councillor of the Parliament of Rouen, was married to Michel de la Forêt, 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 I began to make their records piece by piece in imagination, and I had reached a romantic dénoûement satisfactory to myself and in sympathy with history, when the Angel of Accident stepped forward with a "human document" in his hand, and I found that my tale, which was woven back from the two obscure records I have given, was the real story of two most unhappy yet most happy people. From the note which had been 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.

The later-discovered record, the "human document," was a letter, tear-stained, faded, beautifully written in old French, from Demoiselle Angèle Claude Aubert to Michel de la Forêt at Anvers in May of the year 1574. 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 quite impossible to adequately carry over either the flavor or the idiom of the language:

 
"Written on this May Day of the year 1574, at the place hight Rozel in the Manor called of the same of Jersey Isle, to Michel de la Forêt, 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. To Him goeth up hourly my thanksgiving for that He hath put it into thy heart to come over to us in our cause.

"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 and seek me. 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 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, the same high cause, and sadly I confess it is for my own happiness that I ask of 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 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 Ecréhos. 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 in France and of England the south, a most heinous sin) will wait for thy answer, or will bring thee thither, 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 savor that might warrant short seasoning. Yet, because thou mayst still be given to such dear fantasies of truth, I tell thee now that I do love thee, and shall so love- when, as my heart in spires me, the cloud shall fall that will hide us from each other forever.

Angèle."

 

A year before Angèle's letter was written, Michel de la Forêt 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 his wife to England, to be safe from the oppression and misery sure to follow any mishap to the brave leader of the Camisards.

At the very moment of departure of the refugees from Domfront with the Comtesse, Angèle's messenger, the "piratical knave with the most kind heart," presented himself, delivered her letter to de la Forêt, 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 English frigate. After much persuasion the Captain of the frigate agreed to land the Comtesse upon the island of Jersey, but forced de la Forêt to return to the coast of France, and Buonespoir elected to return with him.