Far More than Rubies
Author's Note: Hello everyone, and thank you for reading this story! This is a companion piece to The Heir and the Spared, but you don't have to read it first; it will just be easier to follow if you do. Until I have the time to commit to a full-length sequel, please enjoy a few vignette-style drabbles about Bess.
PS: Cover image is "A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day refusing to shield himself from danger by wearing a Roman Catholic badge" by Sir John Everett Millais, from victorianweb . org.
"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies."
- Proverbs 31:10
The first time she saw him was at the docks in Calais.
Bess was disembarking from a ship, following close at the heels of Philip and Sarah, her dearest friends and traveling companions. Only a week ago, she had delivered Sarah's first child - and now life was utterly different.
They were walking down the gangway - if that was what it was called; she did not know - and there were people everywhere. She could not help but feel intimidated by the burly sailors hurrying about, and by the important looking travelers hurrying around them. Philip was shielding Sarah and the baby from anyone who might bump into them, and Bess was doing her best not to be separated from them by the people milling about. She caught sight of a handsome young man, but in a moment, he was gone in the crowd.
Neither she, Philip, or Sarah had any idea of where to go or what to do. The only important thing had been to get out of England as soon as possible to avoid the wrath of the queen and king; there had been no time to make any arrangements. There had certainly not been any time to learn French.
"English? Anyone speak English here? Please," Philip was calling out.
Given that Calais was just on the edge of the English channel, and about as close to England as anyone in France could be, she hoped that someone would speak English, especially those who might necessarily be involved with trade in England. Yet no one stopped. Scarcely anyone even looked at them except to glare at them for being in the way.
Feeling defeated, Bess stopped to rest with Philip and Sarah beside a building that looked like it could be selling tickets for voyages. They had set down their luggage for a moment, and Philip was keeping a close eye on it, one foot resting on his trunk. Bess knew that Sarah and Philip had been carefully saving money, and if that trunk was stolen, all of it would be gone. Then they would be penniless foreigners, and that was far worse than being foreigners.
She was surprised when the man she had glimpsed a few moments earlier shuffled toward them through the crowd.
"English?" he repeated, his eyebrows lifted, giving them a gentle smile.
"Yes, English, thank you," Philip said with a sigh of relief.
"You need help?" the man asked.
Bess looked at him, amazed that in the bustle of the docks, he had stopped to offer assistance. She wondered what he was doing here; with his smooth, pale features, thin frame, and dark hair, he looked out of place among the large, angry-looking sailors and dock-workers, and the harried travelers. She supposed that he could ask the same question about them; they clearly did not belong.
For a few seconds, Bess was at a loss, trying to think of how to phrase things in the simplest terms so that they would be easy to understand.
"I don't know where to start," Philip said finally. He was distracted by the baby, who had started to fuss; Sarah was trying to calm her.
"We've just come from England," Bess said, though she supposed that was abundantly obvious. "We would like to rent a carriage and a hotel."
The man nodded. "I can help."
Bess felt herself sag with relief; she had been carrying herself tense and taut through the entire journey. "Thank you," she murmured.
With another small smile, the man added, "I am called Henri. You can put your faith in me." He spoke slowly and deliberately, choosing each word with care; though his voice was heavily accented, it was clear. "Come."
Glancing toward Philip and Sarah, Bess waited for some sign of approval from them. There were undoubtedly some unsavory types about, and this 'Henri,' if that was his name, could be leading them to trouble. Still, what choice did they have? Besides, the man was quite slight; between the three of them, they could stop him from doing harm if needed.
"What are you doing at the docks?" Bess asked as they walked.
Henri looked at her questioningly, and she glanced back, gesturing at the ships behind them.
"Why were you there?" she repeated.
"Ah. I am a… I am a Huguenot. How do you say…? Rev-e-rend?"
"Oh," Bess said softly.
This was just as much an answer as she could have hoped for to the question that she had not spoken: How do we know we can trust you? It was not the fact alone that this man was a reverend; there were good reverends and bad reverends, Bess supposed; those who were truly faithful to God and followed Him well, and those who were not and did not. Yet this man, Henri, was a Hugenot.
Truthfully, she had been very sheltered when she had worked at St. James' Palace, and knew very little about what was happening in the world outside of it. Before she had gone there though, her mother had told her stories of the brave Huguenots in France who were persecuted for their faith. While the Catholic monarchy insisted that saints and Mary must be worshiped, and that works were the way to Heaven, the Hugeunots persisted that faith alone could secure one's place in Heaven: men did not need to go through priests on Earth, but could speak directly to God through Jesus Christ, and could even read the Bible for themselves! For their faithfulness, many Huguenots were killed. Bess knew this because her mother had sometimes delivered the babies of these Protestant women who had fled France.
"Were you going to leave?" Bess conjectured, after a moment of silence.
Henri waved his hand slightly. "It is of no importance," he insisted quickly. "Come this way, please."
Quickly, Bess lifted her little valise, and Philip picked up his family's luggage. Though Henri was leading them slightly away from the docks, the streets were still crowded and noisy; Sarah's baby wailed more insistently. Reverend Henri hailed a coach for them. With dizzied amazement, Bess listened to Henri speak to the driver in rapid French.
"He will go where you wish," Henri said, turning back to them.
"Someplace safe and quiet," Philip requested, with a nervous glance to Sarah and the baby. He shifted the luggage in his arms. "Where should we go?"
For a minute, Henri looked perplexed, as if puzzling out what Philip had first said; perhaps the English words were unfamiliar, or perhaps baby Elizabeth's screams had been too loud.
"Would you wish me to go?" Henri said at last. "The English are not liked here."
And neither was Henri, apparently; the coach, halted in the road to wait for them, had drawn the ire of other drivers and passengers waiting behind them, who had started to yell. The driver of their coach yelled back.
Bess hesitated, glancing with some anxiety at the line of carriages behind them. She considered before them the prospect of trying to speak a fragmented conversation with an inn-keeper who did not like foreigners.
"Please," she said.
Henri nodded in agreement, and Bess saw relief on his face, as well as on Sarah's. He ushered them into the carriage, and Philip quickly secured the luggage.
"Let us go," Henri said, and the carriage started off.