Michel and Angele/Chapter 11

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XI

At Angèle's entrance a form slowly raised itself on a couch, and a voice, not Michel's, said: "Mademoiselle—by our Lady, 'tis she!"

It was the voice of the Seigneur of Rozel, and Angèle started back amazed. "You, monsieur—you!" she gasped. "It was you that sent for me!I"

"Send? Not I—I have not lost my manners yet. Rozel at court is no greater fool than Lemprière in Jersey."

Angèle wrung her hands. "I thought it was de la Forêt who was ill. The surgeon said to come quickly."

Lemprière braced himself against the wall, for he was weak, and his fever was still high. "Ill?—not he! As sound in body and soul as any man in England. That is a friend, that de la Forêt lover of yours, or I'm no butler to the Queen! He gets leave and brings me here and coaxes me back to life again—with not a wink of sleep for him these five days past till now."

Angèle had drawn nearer, and now stood beside the couch, trembling and fearful, for it came to her mind that she had been made the victim of some device to bring her here. The letter had read: "Your friend is ill." True, the Seigneur was her friend, but he had not sent for her.

"Where is de la Forêt?" she asked, quickly.

"Yonder, asleep!" said the Seigneur, pointing to a curtain which divided the room from an adjoining one.

Angèle ran quickly towards the door, then stopped short. No, she would not waken him. She would go back at once. She would leave the palace by the way she came. Without a word she turned and went towards the door that opened into the hallway. With her hand upon the latch she stopped short again, for she realized that she did not know her way through the passages and corridors, and that she must make herself known to the servants of the palace to obtain guidance and exit. As she stood helpless and confused, the Seigneur called hoarsely:

"De la Forêt!—de la Forêt!"

Before Angèle had time to decide what to do, the curtain of the other room was thrust aside and de la Forêt entered. He was but hardly awakened out of sleep, and he did not see Angèle, but turned towards Lemprière. For once the Seigneur had a burst of inspiration. He saw that Angèle was in the shadow, and that de la Forêt had not seen her. He determined to give the lovers a chance to meet alone.

"Your arm, de la Forêt," he grunted. "I'll get me to the other room, to the bed—'tis easier than this couch!"

"Two hours ago you could not bear the bed, and must get you to the couch. Seigneur, do you know the weight you are?" de la Forêt added, laughing, as he stooped, and helping Lemprière gently to his feet, suddenly raised him in his arms and went heavily with him to the bed room, the body of the Seigneur between him and Angèle. Angèle watched him with a strange thrill of timid admiration and delight. Surely it could not be that Michel—her Michel—could be bought from his allegiance by any influence on earth. There was the same old simple laugh on his lips, as, with chaffing words, he carried the huge Seigneur to the other room. Her heart acquitted him then and there of all blame, past or to come.

"Michel!" she said aloud involuntarily—the call of her spirit which spoke on her lips against her will.

He was entering the room again as he heard his name called, and he stood suddenly still, looking straight before him into space. It seemed to him that the sound was ghostly and unreal.

"Michel!" she said again, scarcely above a whisper, for the look of rapt wonder and apprehension in his manner overcame her. Now he turned towards her, where she stood in the shadow by the door. He saw her, but even yet he did not stir, for she seemed to him still an apparition.

With a little cry she came forward to him. "Michel—help me!" she said, and stretched out her hands.

With a cry of joy he took her in his arms and pressed her to his heart. Then a realization of the danger of the situation came to him.

"Why did you come?" he asked.

She told him hastily. He heard with astonishment, and then said: "There is some foul trick here. Have you the message?" She handed it to him. "It is the surgeon's writing, surely," he said; "but it is still a trick, for the sick man here is the Seigneur. I see it all. We were forbidden to meet. It was a device to bring you here!"

"Oh, let me go at once." she said; "Michel, Michel, take me hence." She turned towards the door.

"It is useless, the gates are closed," he said, as a cannon boomed on the night air.

Angèle trembled violently. "Oh, what will come of this?" she cried, in tearful despair.

"Be patient, and let me think, Angèle," he answered.

At that moment there was a knock at the door, then it was thrown open, and there stopped inside the Earl of Essex, preceded by a page bearing a torch.

"Is Michel de la Forêt within?" he said; then stopped short, as though in astonishment, seeing Angèle.

"So! so!" he said, with a contemptuous laugh.

Michel de la Forêt's fingers twitched. He quickly stepped in front of Angèle, and answered: "What is your business, my Lord?"

Essex languorously took off a glove, and seemed to stifle a yawn in it; then said: "I came to take you into my service, to urge upon you for your own sake to join my troops, which are going upon duty in the North. But I fear I am too late. A man who has sworn himself into the service d'amour has no time for the service de la guerre."

"I will gladly give an hour from any service I may follow to teach the Earl of Essex that he is less a swordsman than a trickster."

Essex flushed, but answered coolly: "I can understand your chagrin. You should have locked your door. It is the safer custom." He bowed slightly towards Angèle. "You have not learned our English habits of discretion, Monsieur de la Forêt. I would only do you service. I appreciate your choler. I should be no less indignant. So, in the circumstances, I will see that the gates are opened—of course you did not realize the passage of time—and I will take mademoiselle to her lodgings. You may rely on my discretion. I am wholly at your service—tout à vous, as who should say in your charming language."

The insolence was so veiled in a perfect outward courtesy that it must have been impossible for de la Forêt to reply in terms equal to the moment. He had, however, no chance to make answer, for at that moment the door of the room was again thrown open, and two pages stepped inside with torches, and were followed by a gentleman in scarlet and gold, who said, in a low voice, "The Queen!" and stepped aside. An instant afterwards Elizabeth, accompanied by the Duke's Daughter, entered.

The three dropped upon their knees, and Elizabeth waved away the pages and the gentleman-in-waiting.

When the doors closed, the Queen eyed the three kneeling figures, and as her glance fell on Essex a strange glitter came into her eyes. She motioned all to rise, and with a hand upon the arm of the Duke's Daughter, said to Essex:

"What brings my Lord Essex here?"

"I came to urge upon monsieur the wisdom of holding to the Sword and leaving the Book to the butter-fingered religious. Your Majesty needs good soldiers."

He bowed, but not low, and it was clear he was bent upon a struggle. He was confounded by the Queen's presence, he could not guess why she should have come, and that she was prepared for what she saw was evident.

"And brought an eloquent pleader with you?" She made a motion of the hand towards Angèle.

"Not so, your Majesty; the lady's zeal outran my own, and crossed the threshold first."

The Queen's face wore a look that Essex had never seen upon it before, and he had seen it in many moods.

"You found the lady here, then?"

"I found the lady with monsieur alone. Realizing the strangeness of her position, I offered to take her from the palace to her father. Just then the Queen entered unexpectedly."

There was a ring of triumph in Essex's voice. The Queen had, no doubt, by some chance become aware of Angèle's presence. Chance had forestalled the letter he had already written and had meant to send her on this matter within the hour. Chance had played into his hands with perfect suavity. The Queen, less woman now than Queen, enraged at the information she had received, had come at once to punish the disobedience of her orders, so he thought.

The Queen's look as she turned it on Angèle had in it what must have struck terror to even a braver soul than that of the helpless Huguenot girl.

"And it is thus you spend the hours of night?—God's blood, but you are young to be so wanton! Get you from my sight and out of my kingdom as fast as horse may carry you, as feet may bear you."

"Your High Majesty," said the girl, dropping on her knees, "I am innocent. As God lives, I am innocent."

"The man, then, only is guilty!" the Queen rejoined with scorn. "Is it innocent to be here at night, my palace gates shut, with your lover—alone!"

"Your Majesty, oh, your Gracious Majesty, hear me. We were not alone—not alone—"

There was a rustle of curtains, a heavy footstep, and Lemprière of Rozel staggered into the room. De la Forêt ran to help him, and throwing an arm around him, almost carried him towards the couch. Lemprière, however, slipped from de la Forêt's grasp to his knees on the floor beside the Queen.

"Not alone, your Majesty, I am here—I have been here all the time. I was here when mademoiselle arrived, brought hither by some trick of some knave not fit to be your Majesty's subject. I speak the truth, for I am butler to your Majesty and no liar. I am Lemprière of Rozel."

No man's self-control could meet such a surprise without wavering, and Essex was confounded. He could not for a moment do aught but gaze at Lemprière. Then, as the Seigneur suddenly swayed, and would have fallen, the instinct of natural courtesy, strong in him, sent him with arms outstretched to lift him up, and together, without a word, he and de la Forêt carried him to the couch and laid him down.

It is possible that that single act saved Essex's life, if it did not save his career, now drawing to a close. There was something so naturally kind in the way he sprang to his enemy's assistance that an old spirit of fondness stirred in the Queen's breast, and she looked strangely at him. When, however, they had disposed of Lemprière, and Essex had turned back towards her, she said:

"Did you think I had no loyal and honorable gentlemen at my court, my Lord? Did you think my leech would not serve me as well as he would serve my Lord Essex? The good leech did your bidding and sent your note; but there your good play ended, and Fate's began."

Essex's anger burst forth now under the lash of ridicule. "I cannot hope to win when your Majesty plays the part of Fate in caricature."

With a little exclamation of rage, Elizabeth leaned over and slapped his face with her long glove. "God's death, but I who made you will unmake you, Essex!" she said.

He dropped his hand on his sword. "If you were but a man and not a Queen—" he said, then stopped short, for there was that in the Queen's face which changed his purpose. Anger was shaking her, but there were tears in her eyes. The woman in her was stronger than the Queen. It was nothing to her at this moment that she might have his life as easily as she had struck his face with her glove; this man had once shown the better part of himself to her, and the memory of it shamed her for his own sake now. She made a step towards the door, then turned and spoke:

"My Lord, I have no palace and no ground wherein your footstep will not be a trespass. Pray you, remember that."

She turned towards Lemprière, who lay on his couch, faint and panting. "For you, my Lord of Rozel, I wish better health, though you have lost yours in a good cause."

Her glance fell on de la Forêt. Her look softened. "I will hear you preach on Whit-Sunday in my chapel, monsieur."

There was an instant's pause, and then she said to Angèle, with gracious look and in a low voice: "You have heard from me that calumny that the innocent never escape. To see your nature, I accused you. You might have heard it first from one who could do you more harm than Elizabeth of England, whose office is to do good, not evil. Nets are spread for those whose hearts are simple, and your feet have been caught. Be thankful that we understand, and know that when occasion may prove, Elizabeth is your friend. You will rest this night with our lady-in-waiting, and to-morrow early you shall return in peace to your father. You have a good friend in our cousin here." She made a motion towards the Duke's Daughter. "She has proved it so. In my leech she has a slave."

She inclined her head towards the door. Essex opened it, and as she passed out she gave him one look which told him that his game was lost forever. "You must not blame the leech, my Lord," she said, suddenly turning back. "You were overheard. . . . And I forbid any fighting betwixt you," she added, in a louder voice, and speaking to both de la Forêt and Essex.

Then, without further sign or look, she moved on. Not far behind were Angèle and the Duke's Daughter, and Essex followed at some distance.

In another twenty-four hours Essex had left the court, but not without seeing the Queen again, for he appeared next morning among the courtiers in the presence-chamber, and there before all the world provoked Elizabeth into an anger which gave the open cue for his retirement with low disgrace.