Michel and Angele/Chapter 7

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VII

A fortnight later, of a Sunday morning, the Lord Chamberlain of England was disturbed out of his usual equanimity. As he was treading the rushes in the presence-chamber of the Royal Palace at Greenwich, his eye busy in inspection—for the Queen would soon pass on her way to chapel—-his head nodding right and left to Archbishop, Bishop, Councillors of State, courtiers, and officers of the Crown, he heard a rude noise at the door leading into the Antechapel, where the Queen received petitions from the people. Hurrying thither in shocked anxiety, he found a curled gentleman of the guard, resplendent in red velvet and gold chains, in peevish argument with a boisterous Seigneur of a bronzed good-humored face, who urged his entrance to the presence-chamber.

The Lord Chamberlain swept down upon the pair like a flamingo with wings outspread. "God's death, what means this turmoil? Her Majesty comes hither!" he cried, and scowled upon the intruder, who now stepped back a little, treading on the toes of a huge sailor with a small head and bushy red hair and Beard.

"’Tis because her Majesty comes that I want my place within!" he quickly interposed.

"What is your name and quality?"

"Yours first, and I shall know how to answer."

"I am the Lord Chamberlain of England."

"And I, my Lord, am Lemprière, Seigneur of Rozel—and butler to the Queen!"

"Where is Rozel?" asked my Lord Chamberlain.

The face of the Seigneur of Rozel suddenly flushed, his mouth swelled, and then burst.

"Where is Rozel!" he said in a voice of rage. "Where is Rozel! Have you heard of Hugh Pawlett?" he asked, with a huge contempt—"of Governor Hugh Pawlett?" The Lord Chamberlain nodded. "Then ask his Excellency when next you see him where is Rozel. But take good counsel and keep your ignorance from the Queen," he added. "She has no love for stupids."

"You say you are the Queen's butler?" said the Lord Chamberlain, smiling now, for Lemprière's words and ways were of some simple world where odd folk lived, and his boyish vanity disarmed anger.

"By royal warrant and heritage. And of all the Jersey Isle, I only may have dove-cotes, which is the everlasting thorn in the side of de Carteret of St. Ouen's. Now will you let me in, my Lord?" he said, all in a breath.

At a stir behind him the Lord Chamberlain suddenly turned, and with a horrified exclamation hurried away without a further word, for the procession from the Queen's apartments had already entered the presence-chamber: gentlemen, Barons, Earls, Knights of the Garter, in brave attire, with bare heads and sumptuous calves. The Lord Chamberlain had scarce got to his place when the Chancellor, bearing the seals in a red silk purse, entered, flanked by two gorgeous folk with the royal sceptre and the sword of state in a red scabbard, all flourished with fleurs-de-lis.

It was an event of which the Seigneur of Rozel told to his dying day: that he entered the presence-chamber of the Royal Palace of Greenwich at the same instant as the Queen—"Rozel at one end, Elizabeth at the other, and all the world at gaze!" he was wont to say with loud guffaws. But what he spoke of afterwards with preposterous ease and pride was neither pride nor ease at the moment; for the Queen's eyes fell on him as he shoved past the gentlemen who kept the door. For an instant she stood still, regarding him intently, then turned quickly to the Lord Chamberlain in inquiry, and with sharp reproof too in her look. The Lord Chamberlain fell on his knee, and with low uncertain voice explained the incident to the Queen.

Elizabeth again cast her eyes towards Lemprière, and all the court, following her example, scrutinized the Seigneur in varied styles of insolence or curiosity. Lemprière drew himself up with a slashing attempt at composure, but ended by flaming from head to foot, his face shining like a cock's comb, the perspiration standing out like beads upon his forehead, his eyes gone blind with confusion. That was but for a moment, however, and then, Elizabeth's look being slowly withdrawn from him, a curious smile came to her lips, and she said to the Lord Chamberlain. "Let the gentleman remain."

Thereupon Rozel's self-importance and pride returned, the blood came back to his heart, and he threw out his chest grandly; he even turned to Buonespoir, whose great figure might be seen beyond the door, and winked at him. For a moment he had time to note the doings of the Queen and her courtiers with wide-eyed curiosity. He saw the Earl of Essex, proud, exquisite, haughty, gallant, fall upon his knee, and Elizabeth slowly pull off her glove and with a none too gracious look give him her hand to kiss, the only favor of the kind granted that day. He saw Lord Burleigh, her Minister, introduce a foreign noble, who presented his letters. He heard the Queen speak in a half-dozen different languages, to people of various lands, and was smitten with due amazement.

But as Elizabeth came slowly down the hall, her white silk gown fronted with great pearls flashing back the light, a Marchioness bearing the train, the crown on her head glittering as she turned from right to left, her wonderful collar of jewels sparkling on her uncovered bosom, suddenly the mantle of black, silver-shotted silk upon her shoulders became to Lemprière's agitated senses a judge's robe, and Elizabeth the august judge of the world. His eyes blinded again, for it seemed to him that she was hurrying towards him. Certainly she was looking at him now, scarcely recognizing her courtiers who fell to their knees on either side as she came on. The red doublets of the fifty Gentlemen Pensioners with battle-axes, on either side of the Queen, seemed to Lemprière on the instant like an army with banners bearing down on him alone. From the Antechapel behind him came the cry of the faithful subjects who, as the gentlemen-at-arms fell back from the doorway, had but just caught a glimpse of her Majesty—"Long live Queen Elizabeth!" To Lemprière's disturbed mind it was as if the populace were exulting over his coming doom.

It seemed to him that the Gentlemen Pensioners must beat him down as they passed, yet he stood riveted to the spot. And indeed it was true that he was almost in the path of her Majesty. He was aware that two gentlemen touched him on the shoulder and bade him stand back; but the Queen motioned to them to desist, and so, with the eyes of the whole court again on him, and Elizabeth's calm curious gaze fixed, as it were, on his forehead, he stood still till the flaming Gentlemen Pensioners were within a few feet of him, and the battle-axes were almost over his head.

The great braggart was no better now than a wisp of grass in the wind, and it was more than homage that bent him to his knees as the Queen looked him full in the eyes. There was a moment's absolute silence, and then the Queen said, with cold condescension,

"By what privilege was it you found your way into our presence?"

"I am Raoul Lemprière, Seigneur of Rozel, your High Majesty," said the choking voice of the Jerseyman.

The Queen raised her eyebrows. "The man seems French. You come from France?"

Lemprière flushed to his hair—the Queen did not know him, then! "From Jersey Isle, your Sacred Majesty."

"The isle of Jersey is dear to us. And what was your privilege to our presence?"

"I am butler to your Majesty, by your Gracious Majesty's patent, and I alone may have dove-cotes in the isle; and I only may have the perquage—on your Majesty's patent. It is not even given to de Carteret of St. Ouen's!"

The Queen smiled as she had not smiled since she entered the presence-chamber. "God preserve us," she said, "that I should not have recognized you! It is, of course, our faithful Lemprière of Rozel!"

The blood came back to the Seigneur's heart, but he did not dare look up yet, and he did not see that Elizabeth was in rare mirth at his words; and though she had no memory of him, she read his nature and was mindful to humor him. She turned, and beckoning Essex to her side, said a few words in an undertone, to which he replied with a smile more sour than sweet.

"Rise, Monsieur of Rozel," she said.

The Seigneur stood up, and met her gaze faintly.

"And so, proud Seigneur, you must needs flout even our Lord Chamberlain, in the name of our butler with three dove-cotes and the perquage. In sooth thy office must not be set at naught lightly—not when it is flanked by the perquage. By my father's doublet, but that frieze jerkin is well cut; it suits thy figure well—I would that my Lord Essex here had such a tailor! But this perquage—I doubt not there are those here at court who are most ignorant of its force and moment. My Lord Chamberlain, my Lord Essex, my Lord Brougham, confusion sits in their faces. The perquage, which my fathers patent approved, has served us well, I doubt not, and is a comfort to our realm, and a dignity befitting the wearer of that frieze jerkin. Speak to their better understanding. Monsieur of Rozel."

Lemprière had recovered his heart, and now was set full sail in the course he had charted for himself in Jersey, and in large words and larger manner explained in the most friendly way the sacred privilege of perquage.

"And how often have you used it, Monsieur of Rozel?" asked Elizabeth.

"But three times in twenty years, your noble Majesty."

"When last?"

"But yesterday a week, your Universal Majesty."

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows. "Who was the criminal, and what the occasion?"

"The criminal was one Buonespoir, the occasion our coming hither to wait upon the Queen of England and our Lady of Normandy, for such you are to your loyal Jersiais." And thereupon Lemprière plunged into an impeachment of de Carteret of St. Ouen's, and stumbled through a blunt broken story of the wrongs and the sorrows of Michel and Angèle.

Elizabeth frowned and interrupted him. "I have heard of this Buonespoir, monsieur, through others than the Seigneur of St. Ouen's. He is an unlikely squire of dames. There's a hill in my kingdom has long waited for his coming. Where is the rascal now?"

"In the Antechapel, your Majesty."

"By the rood!" said Elizabeth in sudden amazement—"in my Antechapel, forsooth!"

She looked beyond the doorway and saw the great red-topped figure of Buonespoir, his good-natured, fearless face, his shock of hair, his clear blue eye—he was not thirty feet away.

"He comes to ask pardon for his rank offences, your Benignant Majesty," said Lemprière.

The humor of the thing rushed upon the Queen. Never before were two such naïve folk at court. There was not a hair of duplicity in the heads of the two, and she judged them well in her mind.

"I will see you stand together—you and your henchman," she said to Rozel, and moved on to the Antechapel, the court following. Standing still just inside the doorway, she motioned Buonespoir to come nearer. The pirate, unconfused, undismayed, with his wide blue asking eyes, came forward and dropped on both knees. Elizabeth motioned Lempriere to stand a little apart from Buonespoir.

Thereupon she set a few questions to Buonespoir, whose replies, truthfully given, showed that he had no real estimate of his crimes, and was indifferent to what might be the consequences. He had no moral sense on one hand, and, on the other, no fear.

Suddenly she turned to Lemprière again. "You came, then, to speak for this Michel de la Forêt, the exile—?"

"And for the demoiselle Angèle Aubert, who loves him, your Majesty."

"I sent for this gentleman exile a fortnight ago—" she turned towards Essex.

"I have the papers here, Ma'am," said Essex, and handed a packet over.

"And where have you de la Eoret?" said Elizabeth.

"In durance, Ma'am."

"When did he arrive?"

"Three days gone," answered Essex, a little gloomily, for there was acerbity in Elizabeth's voice.

Elizabeth seemed about to speak, then dropped her eyes upon the papers, and glanced hastily at their contents.

"You will have this Michel de la Forêt brought to my presence as fast as horse can bring him, my Lord!" she said to Essex "This rascal of the sea—Buonespoir—you will see safely bestowed till I remember his existence again," she said to a captain of men-at-arms; "and you, Monsieur of Rozel, since you are my butler, will get you to my dining-room, and do your duty—the office is not all perquisites!" she added, smoothly. She was about to move on, when a thought seemed to strike her, and she added, "This lady and her father whom you brought hither, where are they?"

"They are even within the palace grounds, your Imperial Majesty," answered Lemprière.

"You will send for them when I bid you," she said to the Seigneur; "and you, that they have entertainment as befits their station, my Lord," she added to the Lord Chamberlain.

So did Elizabeth, out of a whimsical humor, set the highest in the land to attend upon unknown, unconsidered exiles.

Five minutes later, Lemprière of Rozel, as butler to the Queen, saw a sight of which he told to his dying day. When, after varied troubles, he went back to Jersey he made a speech before the Royal Court, in which he told what chanced while Elizabeth was at chapel.

"There stood I, butler to the Queen," he said, with a large gesture, "but what knew I of butler's duties at Greenwich Palace! Her Majesty had given me an office where all the work was done for me. Odds life, but when I saw the Gentleman of the Rod and his fellow get down on their knees to lay the cloth upon the table, as though it was an altar at Jerusalem, I thought it time to say my prayers. There was naught but kneeling and retiring. Now it was the salt cellar, the plate, and the bread; then it was a Duke's Daughter—a noble soul as ever lived—with a tasting-knife, as beautiful as a rose; then another lady enters who glares at me, and gets to her knees as does the other. Three times up and down, and then one rubs the plate with bread and salt, as solemn as de Carteret of St. Ouen's when he says prayers in the Royal Court. Gentles, that was a day for Jersey: for there stood I as master of all, the Queen's butler, and the greatest ladies of the land doing my will—though it was all Persian mystery to me, save when the kettle-drums began to beat and the trumpet to blow, and in walk bareheaded the Yeomen of the Guard, all scarlet, with a golden rose on their backs, bringing in a course of twenty-four gold dishes, and I, as Queen's butler, receiving them. Then it was that I opened my mouth in amazement at the endless dishes filled with the niceties of earth, and the Duke's Daughter pops onto my tongue a mouthful of the first dish brought, and then does the same to every Yeoman of the Guard that carried a dish—that her Notorious Majesty be safe against the hand of poisoners. There was I, fed by a Duke's Daughter, and thus was Jersey honored, and the Duke's Daughter whispers to me, as a dozen other unmarried ladies enter, 'The Queen liked not the cut of your frieze jerkin better than do I, Seigneur.' With that she joins the others, and they all kneel down and rise up again, and lifting the meat from the table, bear it into the Queen's private chamber. When they come back, and the Yeomen of the Guard go forth, I am left alone with these ladies, and there I stand with twelve pair of eyes upon me, little knowing what to do; for there was laughter in the faces of some, and other looks less agreeable upon the faces of others; for my Lord Essex was to have done the duty that I was set to do that day, and he is the greatest gallant of the kingdom, as all the world knows. What they said among themselves I know not, but I heard Earl Essex's name, and I guessed that they were mostly in the pay of his soft words. But the Duke's Daughter was on my side, as it proved afterwards when Earl Essex made trouble for us who went from Jersey to plead the cause of injured folk. Of the Earl's enmity to me—a foolish spite of a great English nobleman against a Jersey Norman gentleman—and of how it injured others for the moment, you all know; but we had him by the heels before the end of it, great Earl and Queen's favorite as he was."

In the same speech Lemprière told of his audience with the Queen, even as she sat at dinner, and of what she said to him; but since his words give but a partial picture of events, the relation must not be his.

When the Queen returned from chapel to her apartments, Lemprière was called by an attendant, and there in his frieze jerkin stood behind the Queen's chair until she summoned him to face her, and then, having finished her meal, and dipped her fingers in a bowl of rose-water, she took up the papers Earl Essex had given her—she had had the Duke's Daughter read them aloud as she ate—and said:

"Now, my good Seigneur of Rozel, answer me these few questions: First, what concern is it of yours whether this Michel de la Forêt be sent back to France, or die here in England?"

"I helped to save his life at sea—one good turn deserves another."

The Queen looked sharply at him, then burst out laughing.

"God's life, but here's a bull making epigrams!" she said. Then her humor changed. "See you, my butler of Rozel! you shall speak the truth, or I'll have you where that frieze jerkin will fit you not so well a month hence. Plain answers I will have to plain questions, or de Carteret of St. Oueu's shall have his will of you and your precious pirate. So bear yourself as you would save your head and your honors."

Lemprière of Rozel never had a better moment than when he met the Queen of England's threats with faultless intrepidity. "I am concerned about my head, but more about my honors, and most about my honor," he replied. "My head is my own, my honors are my family's, for which I would give my head when needed, and my honor defends both until both are naught; and all are in the service of my Queen."

With a smile, Elizabeth suddenly leaned forward, and with a glance of satisfaction towards the Duke's Daughter, who was present, said:

"I had not thought to find so much logic behind your rampant skull," she said. "You've spoken well. Rozel, and you shall speak by the book to the end, if you will save your friends. What concern is it of yours whether Michel de la Forêt live or die?"

"It is a concern of one whom I've sworn to befriend, and that is my concern, your Ineffable Majesty."

"Who is thy friend?"

"Mademoiselle Angèle Aubert."

"The betrothed of this Michel de la Forêt?"

"Yes, your Majesty. But I made sure de la Forêt was dead when I asked her to be my wife."

"Lord! Lord! Lord! hear this vast infant, this hulking baby of a Seigneur, this primeval innocence! Listen to him, cousin," said the Queen, turning again to the Duke's Daughter. "Was ever the like of it in any kingdom on earth? He chooses a penniless exile—he, a butler to the Queen, with three dove-cotes and the perquage—and a Huguenot withal. He is refused; then comes the absent lover over sea, to shipwreck; and our Seigneur rescues him, protects him; and when yon master exile is in peril, defies his Queen's commands"—she tapped the papers lying beside her on the table—"then comes to England with the lady to plead the case before his outraged sovereign, with an outlawed buccaneer for comrade and lieutenant. There is the case, is't not?"

"I swore to be her friend," answered Lemprière, stubbornly, "and I have done according to my word."

"There's not another nobleman in my kingdom who would not have thought twice about the matter, with the lady aboard his ship on the high seas—'tis a miraculous chivalry, cousin," she added to the Duke's Daughter, who bowed, and looked out of the corner of her eyes at Lemprière. "You opposed Sir Hugh Pawlett's officers who went to arrest this de la Forêt. Do you call that serving your Queen? Pawlett had our commands!"

"I opposed them only in form, that the matter might the more certainly be brought to your Majesty's knowledge."

"It might easily have brought you to the Tower, man."

"I had faith that your Majesty would do right in this, as in all other things. So I came hither to tell the whole story to your Judicial Majesty."

"I thank you for your certificate of character," said the Queen, with amused irony. "What is it you desire? Make your words few and plain."

"First, I desire before all that Michel de la Forêt shall not be returned to the Medicis."

"That's plain. But there are weighty matters between France and England, and de la Forêt may turn the scale one way or another. What next, beggar of Rozel?"

"That Mademoiselle Aubert and her father may live without let or hinderance in Jersey."

"That you may eat sour grapes ad eternam? Next?"

"That Buonespoir be pardoned all offences and let live in Jersey on condition that he sin no more, not even to raid St. Ouen's cellars of the Muscadella reserved for your Generous Majesty."

There was such a look of humor on Lemprière's face as he spoke of the Muscadella that the Queen questioned him closely upon Buonespoir's raid, and so infectious was the Seigneur's mirth, none too closely kept in hand as he told the tale, that Elizabeth, though she stamped her foot in assumed impatience, smiled also.

"You shall have your Buonespoir, Seigneur," she said; "but for his future sins you shall answer as well as he."

"For what he does in Jersey Isle, your Majesty?"

"For what he does elsewhere, if he is caught, he shall go straight to Tyburn, friend," answered the Queen. Then she hurriedly added: "You will go straight way and bring mademoiselle and her father to the palace. Instructions have been given for their disposal. And to-morrow at this hour you shall wait upon me in their company. I thank you for your services as butler this day, Monsieur of Rozel. You do your office gallantly."

 

As the Seigneur left the Queen's apartments he met the Earl of Essex hurrying thither, preceded by the Queen's messenger. The Earl stopped and said, with a slow malicious smile, "Farming is good, then—you have fine crops this year on your holding?"

Lemprière did not see the point at once, for the favorite's look was all innocence, and he replied: "You are mistook, my Lord Essex. You will remember I was in the presence-chamber an hour ago, my Lord. I am Lemprière, Seigneur of Rozel, butler to her Majesty."

"Are you, indeed? I thought you were a farmer and raised cabbages." And with another smile the Earl passed on.

For a moment the Seigneur stood still pondering on the Earl's words, and angrily wondering at his obtuseness. Then suddenly it came to him that he had been mocked, and he turned round and ran after his enemy, but Essex had vanished into the Queen's apartments.