Michel and Angele/Chapter 10

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X

The next morning Lemprière of Rozel and the Earl of Essex met, and Lemprière was carried from the duelling-place sorely wounded. The Earl of Essex, one of the most accomplished swordsmen in England, had meant to kill him, and made to that end; but the Seigneur of Rozel had fought with a stubbornness and valor and with a steadiness which saved his life, for the thrust he at last received was meant to be mortal, and but for his bold quickness of eye would have done the work. His strength had worn out Lord Essex's patience and robbed him of precision.

As Lemprière was carried away by two merry gentlemen of the court, who had enjoyed the morning's gory diversion, he called back at the favorite: "The great Lord Essex is not so great a swordsman after all. Hang fast to your honors by the skin of your teeth, my Lord!"

These words rankled in Essex's mind all that day, and for many days, in which he saw the Queen but once, and then only in the presence of others. He came to know, however, that she had sent word to Michel and Angèle that they were not to meet on pain of her great displeasure, and also that she had sent other messages to de la Forêt. This much he knew, and he guessed much more. His guessing was encouraged by the Duke's Daughter, who, dropping hints and stopping suddenly in her speech when speaking of de la Forêt, suggested strange things to Essex's mind. The Duke's Daughter was no friend of the Earl of Essex, and in reporting to the Queen of the fighting which had laid Lemprière low, she had spoken well of the Seigneur. She did more than this, for she got permission from the Queen herself with Angèle to visit the wounded man, while Elizabeth herself sent a hasty note to Essex, which ran:

"What is this I hear? You have forced a quarrel with the Lord of Rozel, and have wellnigh ta'en his life. Is swording your dearest vice, then, that you must urge it on a stranger and a visitor at my court? Do you think you have a charter of freedom for your self-will? Have a care, have a care, Essex, or, by Heaven! you shall know another sword surer than your own."

The rage of Essex on receiving this knew no bounds; for though he had received from Elizabeth stormy letters before, none had had in it the cold irony of this missive. The cause of it?—desperation seized him. With a mad disloyalty he read in every word and every line of Elizabeth's letter, Michel de la Forêt, refugee. With a dark fury he determined to ruin de la Forêt forever, and Angèle with him, for had not Angèle thrice repulsed him—repulsed Essex, the favorite, when he had approached her during recent days? Had she not repulsed him with the most courteous sort of certainty and outward composure? Had he not hoped to bring ruin upon the two by showing the Queen that the girl was, like most of her sex, susceptible to flattery from high places, knowing that the Queen's anger would be roused?

The great Lord Essex was stooping low, and in his desperation he stooped lower still. The Queen had forbidden Angèle and de la Forêt to see each other under any circumstances until her royal will permitted; and Essex conceived that if the Queen had set her heart upon favoring de la Forêt after her own fashion, no matter how whimsical—and truly it was whimsical to compel de la Forêt to turn preacher to the court!—she would be furious at any disobedience of her commands.

Through M. Aubert, to whom he was diligently courteous, and whom he sought daily, discussing delicately the question of religion so dear to the old man's heart, he strove to convey to Angèle a suspicion that the Queen, through personal interest in him, was saving Michel's life to keep him in her own household. This idea he presented to M. Aubert, while at the same time expressing the most admirable religious sentiments. So well did he work on the old man's feelings that when he suggested his own protection to M. Aubert and his daughter, what ever the issue with M. de la Forêt, he was met with an almost tearful response of gratitude.

It was the moment to convey a distrust of de la Forêt into the mind of the old refugee, and it was subtly done.

Were it not better to leave the court where only danger surrounded them, and find protection on Essex's own estate, where no man living could molest them? Were it not well to leave Michel de la Forêt to his fate, whatever it would be? Thrice within a fortnight the Queen had sent for de la Forêt—what reason was there for that, unless the Queen had a personal interest in him? Did M. Aubert think that it was only a rare touch of humor which had turned de la Forêt into a preacher, and set his fate upon a sermon to be preached before all the court? He himself had held high office, had been near to her Majesty, and he could speak with more knowledge than he might use—it grieved him that Mademoiselle Aubert should be placed in so painful a position!

Sometimes as the two talked Angèle would join them, and then there was a sudden silence, which made her flush with embarrassment, anxiety, or anger. In vain did she put on a cold composure, in vain school herself to treat the great Earl with a precise courtesy, in vain her heart protested the goodness of de la Forêt and high uprightness of the Queen; the persistent suggestion of the dark Earl worked upon her mind. Why had the Queen forbidden her to meet Michel, or to write to him, or to receive letters from him?

She took to wandering to that part of the palace grounds where she could see the window of the room her lover inhabited. Her old habit of cheerful talk deserted her, and she brooded. It was days before she heard of the duel between the Seigneur and Lord Essex, and when, in her anxiety, she went to the house where Lemprière had been quartered, he had gone, none could tell her whither. Buonespoir was now in close confinement, by orders of Essex, and not allowed to walk abroad; and thus with no friend save her father, now much under the influence of Essex, she was bitterly solitary. She fought the growing anxiety and suspicion in her heart bravely, but she was being tried beyond her strength. Her father had urged her to go to the Queen and make an appeal to her, and at times she was on the verge of doing so. Yet what could she say? She could not go to the Queen of England and cry out, like a silly milkmaid, "You have taken my lover—give him back to me!" What proof had she that the Queen wanted her lover? And if she did, the impertinence of the suggestion might send back to the fierce Medicis that same lover, to lose his head.

Essex, who now was playing the game as though it were a hazard for states and kingdoms, read the trouble in her face, and waited hourly for the moment when in desperation she should go to the Queen.

But he did not reckon with the depth of the girl's nature and her true sense of life. Her brain told her that what she was tempted to do she should not do; that her only way was to wait, to be patient, to trust that the Queen of England was as much true woman as Queen, and as much Queen as true woman; and that the one was held in high equipose by the other.

As days went on, Essex saw that this plan would not work, and he deployed his mind upon another. If he could but get Angèle to seek de la Forêt in his apartment in the palace, and bring the matter to Elizabeth's knowledge afterwards with sure proof, de la Forêt's doom would be sealed. At great expense, however; for, in order to make the scheme effective, Angèle should visit de la Forêt at night. This, in the Queen's eyes, would mean the ruin of the girl as well. That, however, could be set right, because, once de la Forêt was sent to the Medicis, the girl's character could be cleared. He would even dare to confess his own action in the matter to the Queen, once she was again within his influence. She had forgiven him more than that in the past, when he had made his own mad devotion to herself the plea.

This second plan had greater responsibilities and more peril to a woman—which did not please my Lord Essex, whose name for chivalry and gallantry was well known—but it seemed the only present way; and to himself he said the pretty lady should be handsomely recompensed.

He waited his opportunity, and when the right day came he acted.

About ten o'clock at night, just a half-hour before the palace gates were closed, and no one could go in or go out save by direct permission of the Lord Chamberlain, Angèle received a messenger from a surgeon of the palace, bearing a note which read: "Your friend is very ill, and asks for you. Come alone now, if you would come at all."

Her father was confined to bed with some ailment of the hour, and asleep—it were no good to awaken him. Her mind was at once made up. There was no time to ask permission of the Queen. She knew the surgeon's messengers by sight, and this one was in the usual livery, and the surgeon's name was duly signed upon the paper. In haste she made herself ready and went forth into the night with the messenger, her heart beating hard, a pitiful anxiety shaking her. Her steps were fleet between the lodge and the palace. They were challenged nowhere, and the surgeon's servant, entering a side door of the palace, led her hastily through gloomy halls and passages where they met no one, though once in a dark corridor some one brushed against her. She wondered why there were no servants to show them the way, and why the messenger carried no torch nor candle; but haste and urgency seemed due excuse, and she thought only of Michel, and that she would soon see him—dying, dead perhaps before she touched his hand. At last they emerged into a lighter and larger hall way, where the messenger suddenly paused, and said to Angèle, motioning towards a door:

"Enter. He is there."

For a moment she stood still, scarce able to breathe, her heart hurt her so. It seemed to her as if life itself was for that moment suspended. As the messenger, without further words, turned and left her, she knocked, opened the door without awaiting a reply, and, stepping into semi-darkness, quickly said:

"Michel!—Michel!"