Michel and Angele/Chapter 8

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VIII

The next day at noon, as her Majesty had advised the Seigneur, de la Forêt was ushered into the presence. The Queen's eye quickened as she saw him, and she remarked with secret admiration the figure and bearing of this young follower of Montgomery, Coligny, and Conde. She loved physical beauty and prowess with a full heart. It was these things, added to his military skill, that had held her infatuation for Essex for so long. But the day had almost passed when she would measure all men against Essex in his favor, and he, recognizing the fact, saw with a haughty and peevish anxiety the gradual passing of his power, and clutched futilely at the vanishing substance. Thus it was that he now spent his strength in getting his way with his sovereign in little things. He could let nothing pass. She had been so long used to take his counsel—in some part wise and skilful—that when she at length did without it, or followed her own mind, it became a fever with him to let no chance pass for getting his own way, by persuading her out of hers. This was why he had spent an hour the day before in reproaching her for the slight she put upon him in the presence-chamber by her frown, and another hour in persuading her to grant the will of the Medicis in this small matter, since she had set her revengeful heart upon it, that larger matters might be settled to the advantage of England. It was not so much that he had any reason to destroy de la Forêt, as that he saw that the Queen was disposed to deal gently by him and protect him. He did not see the danger of rousing in the Queen the same unreasoning tenaciousness of will upon just such small matters as might safely be left to her advisers. In spite of this he almost succeeded, this very day, in regaining, for a time at least, the ground he had lost with her. He had never been so adroit, so brilliant, so witty, so insinuating, and when he left her it was with the feeling that if he had his way concerning de la Forêt—a mere stubborn whim, with no fair reason behind it—his influence would be again securely established.

When Michel de la Forêt entered the presence the Queen's attention became fixed on him. Here was a man, she thought, who might well be in her house hold, or leading a regiment of her troops. The clear fresh face, curling hair, direct look, quiet energy, and air of nobility—this sort of man could only be begotten of a great cause; he were not possible in idle or prosperous times.

The Queen looked him up and down, then affected surprise. "Monsieur de la Forêt," she said, "I do not recognize you in this attire"—nodding towards his dress.

De la Forêt bowed, and Elizabeth continued, looking at a paper in her hand: "You landed on our shores of Jersey in the robes of a priest of France. The passport for a priest of France was found upon your person when our officers in Jersey, after their custom, made examination of you. Which is yourself—Michel de la Forêt, soldier, or a priest of France?"

De la Forêt replied gravely that he was a soldier, and that the priestly dress had been but a disguise.

"In which papist attire, methinks, Michel de la Forêt, soldier and Calvinist, must have been ill at ease—the eagle with the vulture's wing. What say you, monsieur?"

"That vulture's wing hath carried me to a safe dove-cote, your Gracious Majesty," answered de la Forêt, with a bow.

"I'm none so sure of that, monsieur," was Elizabeth's answer, and she glanced at Essex, who made a gesture of annoyance. "Our cousin France makes you to us a dark intriguer and conspirator, a dangerous weed in our good garden of England, a 'troublous, treacherous violence'—such are you called, monsieur!"

"I am in your High Majesty's power," answered do la Forêt, "to do with me as it seemeth best. If your Majesty wills it that I be returned to France, I pray you set me upon its coast as I came from it, a fugitive and alone. Thence will I try to find my way to the army and the poor stricken people of whom I was. I pray for that alone, and not to be handed over to the red hand of the Medicis!"

"Red hand—by my faith but you are bold, monsieur!"

Essex tapped his foot upon the floor impatiently, then caught the Queen's eye, and gave her a meaning look. De la Forêt saw the look and knew his enemy, hut he did not quail. "Bold only by your High Majesty's faith, indeed," he answered the Queen, with harmless guile.

Flizaheth smiled. She loved such flattering speech from a strong man. It touched a chord in her stronger than that under the Medicis's finger. Essex's impatience only made her more self-willed on the instant. "You speak with the trumpet note, monsieur," she said. "We will prove you. You shall have a company in my Lord Essex's regiment here, and we will send you upon some service to find your mettle."

"I crave your Majesty's pardon, but I cannot do it," was de la Forêt's instant reply. "I have sworn that I will lift my sword in one cause only, and to that I must stand. And more—the widow of my dead chief, Gabriel de Montgomery, is set down in your Majesty's land penniless, unprotected, and alone. I have sworn to one who loves her, and for my dead chief's sake, that I will serve her and be near her until better days be come and she may return in quietness to France. In exile we few stricken folk must stand together, your most Gracious Majesty."

Elizabeth's eye flashed up. She was impatient of refusal of her favor. She was also a woman, and that de la Forêt should flaunt his devotion to another woman to her was little to her liking. The woman in her, which had never been blessed with a noble love, was roused to demonstration. The sourness of a childless, uncompanionable life was stronger for the moment than her strong mind and sense.

"Monsieur has sworn this, and monsieur has sworn that," she said, petulantly—"and to one who loveth a lady, and for a cause—tut! tut! tut!—"

Suddenly a kind of quizzical laugh leaped into her eye, and she turned to Essex and whispered in his ear. My Lord Essex frowned, then smiled, and glanced up and down de la Forêt's figure impertinently.

"See, Monsieur de la Forêt," she added; "since you will not fight, you shall preach. A priest you came into my kingdom, and a priest you shall remain; but you shall preach good English doctrine and no popish folly!"

De la Forêt started, then composed himself, and before he had time to reply, Elizabeth continued: "Partly for your own sake am I thus gracious, for as a preacher of the Word I am not required to give you up, according to my treaty with our cousin of France. As a rebel and conspirator I were bound to do so, unless you were an officer of my army. The Seigneur of Rozel has spoken for you, and the Comtesse de Montgomery has written a pleading letter. Also I have from another source a tearful pleading—the ink is not dry upon it yet—which has been of some service to you. But I myself have chosen this way of escape for you. Prove yourself worthy and all may be well—but prove yourself you shall. Thou hast prepared thine own brine, monsieur; in it thou shalt pickle!"

Elizabeth smiled a sour smile, for she was piqued, and she added: "Do you think I will allow you to go squiring of distressed dames, save as a priest? You shall go to Madame of Montgomery as her faithful chaplain, once I have heard you preach and know your doctrines."

Essex almost laughed outright in the young man's face now, for he had no thought that Forêt would accept, and felt that refusal would be the exile's doom.

It seemed fantastic that this noble gentleman, this very type of the perfect soldier, with the brown face of a Romany and an athletic suppleness of body, should become a preacher under compulsion.

Elizabeth, seeing de la Forêt's dumb amazement and anxiety, spoke up sharply: "You shall do this or be returned to the Medicis, and Madame of Montgomery shall mourn her protector, and mademoiselle your mistress, of the vermilion cheek, shall have one lover the less; which, methinks, my good Lemprière, Seigneur of Rozel, would thank me for!"

De la Forêt started, and his lips pressed firmly together in the effort to restrain himself. There seemed to be nothing the Queen did not know concerning him and his life; and the reference to Angèle roused him to extraordinary alertness.

"Well, well?" asked Elizabeth, impatiently, then made a motion to Essex, and he, going to the door, bade some one to enter.

There stepped inside the Seigneur of Rozel, who made a lumbering obeisance to the Queen.

"You have brought the young lady safely—with her father?" she asked.

Lemprière, puzzled, looked inquiringly at the Queen, then replied, "Both are safe without, your Gracious Majesty."

De la Forêt's face grew pale with excitement. He knew now for the first time that Angèle and her father had been brought hither also, and he looked Lempriere suspiciously in the eyes; but the swaggering Seigneur met his look frankly, and bowed with ponderous gravity.

Now de la Forêt spoke. "Your High Majesty," said he, "if I may ask mademoiselle one question in your presence—"

"Your answer first, the mademoiselle afterwards," interposed the Queen.

"She was betrothed to a soldier, she may resent a priest," said de la Forêt, with a touch of humor, for he saw the better way was to take the matter with some outward ease.

Elizabeth smiled. "It is the custom of her sex to have a fondness for both," she answered, with an acid smile. "But your answer first!"

De la Forêt's face became grave. Bowing his head, he said: "My sword has spoken freely for the cause; God forbid that my tongue should not speak also. I will do your Majesty's behest."

The jesting word that was upon the royal lips came not forth, for de la Foret's face was that of a man who had determined a great thing, and Elizabeth was one who had a heart for high deeds. "The man is brave indeed," she said under her breath, and turning to the dumfounded Seigneur, bade him bring in mademoiselle.

A moment later Angèle entered, came a few steps forward, made an obeisance to the Queen, and stood still. She showed no trepidation, but looked before her steadily. She knew not what was to be required of her, she was a stranger in a strange land, but persecution and exile bad gone far to strengthen her spirit and greaten her composure.

Elizabeth sat and looked at the girl coldly and quizzically. To women she was not over-amiable; but as she looked at the young Huguenot maid, of this calm bearing, warm of color, clear of eye, and purposeful of face, something kindled in her. Most like it was that love for a cause, which was much more to be encouraged by her than any woman's love for a man.

"I have your letter, and I have read its protests and pleadings. There were fine words and adjurations—are you so religious, then?" she added, suddenly.

"I am a Calvinist, your Noble Majesty," answered the girl, as though that answered all.

"How is it, then, you betroth yourself to a roistering soldier?" asked the Queen.

"Some must pray for Christ's sake, and some must fight, your Most Christian Majesty," answered the girl.

"Some must do both," rejoined the Queen, in a kind voice, for the face of Angèle conquered her. "I am told that Monsieur de la Forêt fights fairly. If he can pray as well, he shall have safety in our kingdom, and ye shall all have safety. On Whit-Sunday you shall preach in my chapel, Monsieur de la Forêt, and there after you shall know your fate!"

She rose. "My Lord," she said to Essex, on whose face gloom had settled, "you will tell the Lord Chamberlain that Monsieur de la Forêt's durance must be made comfortable in the west wing of the palace till chapel-going on Whit-Sunday. I will send him some of Latimer's sermons—or Knox's."

She came down from the dais. "You will come with me for the moment," she said to Angèle, and reached out her hand.

Angèle fell on her knees and kissed it, tears raining down her cheek. The Queen gently raised her, and laying a hand upon her arm, moved towards the door. Angèle longed to look round, but some good angel bade her not; she realized that to offend the Queen at this moment might ruin all, and Elizabeth herself was little likely to offer her chance to say good-by to her lover.

So it was that, without a farewell to her lover, Angèle left the room with the Queen of England, leaving Lemprière and de la Forêt gazing at each other, the one bewildered, the other deeply thoughtful, and the Earl of Essex laughing contemptuously at them both.