Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
"I would know your story. How came you and yours to this pass? Where were
you born? Of what degree are you? And this Michel de la Foret, when came
he to your feet--or you to his arms? I would know all. Begin where life
began; end where you sit here at the feet of Elizabeth. This other
cushion to your knees. There--now speak. We are alone."
Elizabeth pushed a velvet cushion towards Angele, where she half-knelt,
half-sat on the rush-strewn floor of the great chamber. The warm light of
the afternoon sun glowed through the thick-tinted glass high up, and, in
the gleam, the heavy tapestries sent by an archduke, once suitor for
Elizabeth's hand, emerged with dramatic distinctness, and peopled the
room with silent watchers of the great Queen and the nobly-born but poor
and fugitive Huguenot. A splendid piece of sculpture--Eleanor, wife of
Edward--given Elizabeth by another royal suitor, who had sought to be her
consort through many years, caught the warm bath of gold and crimson from
the clerestory and seemed alive and breathing. Against the pedestal the
Queen had placed her visitor, the red cushions making vivid contrast to
her white gown and black hair. In the half-kneeling, half-sitting
posture, with her hands clasped before her, so to steady herself to
composure, Angele looked a suppliant--and a saint. Her pure,
straightforward gaze, her smooth, urbane forehead, the guilelessness that
spoke in every feature, were not made worldly by the intelligence and
humour reposing in the brown depths of her eyes. Not a line vexed her
face or forehead. Her countenance was of a singular and almost polished
smoothness, and though her gown was severely simple by comparison with
silks and velvets, furs and ruffles of a gorgeous Court at its most
gorgeous period, yet in it here and there were touches of exquisite
fineness. The black velvet ribbon slashing her sleeves, the slight
cloud-like gathering of lace at the back of her head, gave a
distinguished softness to her appearance.
She was in curious contrast to the Queen, who sat upon heaped-up
cushions, her rich buff and black gown a blaze of jewels, her yellow
hair, now streaked with grey, roped with pearls, her hands heavy with
rings, her face past its youth, past its hopefulness, however noble and
impressive, past its vivid beauty. Her eyes wore ever a determined look,
were persistent and vigilant, with a lurking trouble, yet flooded, too,
by a quiet melancholy, like a low, insistent note that floats through an
opera of passion, romance, and tragedy; like a tone of pathos giving deep
character to some splendid pageant, which praises whilst it commemorates,
proclaiming conquest while the grass has not yet grown on quiet houses of
the children of the sword who no more wield the sword. Evasive, cautious,
secretive, creator of her own policy, she had sacrificed her womanhood to
the power she held and the State she served. Vain, passionate, and
faithful, her heart all England and Elizabeth, the hunger for glimpses of
what she had never known, and was never to know, thrust itself into her
famished life; and she was wont to indulge, as now, in fancies and follow
some emotional whim with a determination very like to eccentricity.
That, at this time, when great national events were forward, when
conspiracies abounded, when Parliament was grimly gathering strength to
compel her to marry; and her Council were as sternly pursuing their
policy for the destruction of Leicester; while that very day had come
news of a rising in the North and of fresh Popish plots hatched in
France--that in such case, this day she should set aside all business,
refuse ambassadors and envoys admission, and occupy herself with two
Huguenot refugees seemed incredible to the younger courtiers. To such as
Cecil, however, there was clear understanding. He knew that when she
seemed most inert, most impassive to turbulent occurrences, most careless
of consequences, she was but waiting till, in her own mind, her plans
were grown; so that she should see her end clearly ere she spoke or
moved. Now, as the great minister showed himself at the door of the
chamber and saw Elizabeth seated with Angele, he drew back instinctively,
expectant of the upraised hand which told him he must wait. And, in
truth, he was nothing loth to do so, for his news he cared little to
deliver, important though it was that she should have it promptly and act
upon it soon. He turned away with a feeling of relief, however, for this
gossip with the Huguenot maid would no doubt interest her, give new
direction to her warm sympathies, which if roused in one thing were ever
more easily roused in others. He knew that a crisis was nearing in the
royal relations with Leicester. In a life of devotion to her service he
had seen her before in this strange mood, and he could feel that she was
ready for an outburst. As he thought of De la Foret and the favour with
which she had looked at him he smiled grimly, for if it meant aught it
meant that it would drive Leicester to some act which would hasten his
own doom; though, indeed, it might also make another path more difficult
for himself, for the Parliament, for the people.
Little as Elizabeth could endure tales of love and news of marriage;
little as she believed in any vows, save those made to herself; little as
she was inclined to adjust the rough courses of true love, she was the
surgeon to this particular business, and she had the surgeon's love of
laying bare even to her own cynicism the hurt of the poor patient under
her knife. Indeed, so had Angele impressed her that for once she thought
she might hear the truth. Because she saw the awe in the other's face and
a worshipping admiration of the great protectress of Protestantism, who
had by large gifts of men and money in times past helped the Cause, she
looked upon her here with kindness.
"Speak now, mistress fugitive, and I will listen," she added, as Cecil
withdrew; and she made a motion to musicians in a distant gallery.
Angele's heart fluttered to her mouth, but the soft, simple music helped
her, and she began with eyes bent upon the ground, her linked fingers
clasping and unclasping slowly.
"I was born at Rouen, your high Majesty," she said. "My mother was a
cousin of the Prince of Passy, the great Protestant--"
"Of Passy--ah!" said Elizabeth amazed. "Then you are Protestants indeed;
and your face is no invention, but cometh honestly. No, no, 'tis no
accident--God rest his soul, great Passy!"
"She died--my mother--when I was a little child. I can but just remember
her--so brightly quiet, so quick, so beautiful. In Rouen life had little
motion; but now and then came stir and turmoil, for war sent its message
into the old streets, and our captains and our peasants poured forth to
fight for the King. Once came the King and Queen--Francis and Mary--"
Elizabeth drew herself upright with an exclamation. "Ah, you have seen
her--Mary of Scots," she said sharply. "You have seen her?"
"As near as I might touch her with my hand, as near as is your high
Majesty. She spoke to me--my mother's father was in her train;--as yet we
had not become Huguenots, nor did we know her Majesty as now the world
knows. They came, the King and Queen--and that was the beginning."
She paused, and looked shyly at Elizabeth, as though she found it hard to
tell her story.
"And the beginning, it was--?" said Elizabeth, impatient and intent.
"We went to Court. The Queen called my mother into her train. But it was
in no wise for our good. At Court my mother pined away--and so she died
"Wherefore in durance?"
"To what she saw she would not shut her eyes; to what she heard she would
not close her soul; what was required of her she would not do."
"She would not obey the Queen?"
"She could not obey those whom the Queen favoured. Then the tyranny that
broke her heart--"
The Queen interrupted her.
"In very truth, but 'tis not in France alone that Queen's favourites
grasp the sceptre and speak the word. Hath a Queen a thousand eyes--can
she know truth where most dissemble?"
"There was a man--he could not know there was one true woman there, who
for her daughter's sake, for her desired advancement, and because she was
cousin of Passy, who urged it, lived that starved life; this man, this
prince, drew round her feet snares, set pit-falls for her while my father
was sent upon a mission. Steadfast she kept her soul unspotted; but it
wore away her life. The Queen would not permit return to Rouen--who can
tell what tale was told her by one whom she foiled? And so she stayed. In
this slow, savage persecution, when she was like a bird that, thinking it
is free, flieth against the window-pane and falleth back beaten, so did
she stay, and none could save her. To cry out, to throw herself upon the
spears, would have been ruin of herself, her husband and her child; and
for these she lived."
Elizabeth's eyes had kindled. Perhaps never in her life had the life at
Court been so exposed to her. The simple words, meant but to convey the
story, and with no thought behind, had thrown a light on her own Court,
on her own position. Adept in weaving a sinuous course in her policy, in
making mazes for others to tread, the mazes which they in turn prepared
had never before been traced beneath her eyes to the same vivid and
"Help me, ye saints, but things are not at such a pass in this place!"
she said abruptly, but with weariness in her voice. "Yet sometimes I know
not. The Court is a city by itself, walled and moated, and hath a life
all its own. 'If there be found ten honest men within the city yet will I
save it,' saith the Lord. By my father's head, I would not risk a finger
on the hazard if this city, this Court of Elizabeth were set 'twixt the
fire from Heaven and eternal peace. In truth, child, I would lay me down
and die in black disgust were it not that one might come hereafter would
make a very Sodom or Gomorrah of this land: and out yonder--out in all my
counties, where the truth of England is among my poor burgesses, who die
for the great causes which my nobles profess but risk not their
lives--out yonder all that they have won, and for which I have striven,
would be lost. . . . Speak on. I have not heard so plain a tongue and so
little guile these twenty years."
Angele continued, more courage in her voice. "In the midst of it all came
the wave of the new faith upon my mother. And before ill could fall upon
her from her foes, she died and was at rest. Then we returned to Rouen,
my father and I, and there we lived in peril, but in great happiness of
soul until the day of massacre. That night in Paris we were given greatly
of the mercy of God."
"You were there--you were in the massacre at Paris?"
"In the house of the Duke of Langon, with whom was resting after a
hazardous enterprise, Michel de la Foret."
"And here beginneth the second lesson," said the Queen with a smile on
her lips; but there was a look of scrutiny in her eyes, and something
like irony in her tone. "And I will swear by all the stars of Heaven that
this Michel saved ye both. Is it not so?"
"It is even so. By his skill and bravery we found our way to safety, and
in a hiding-place near to our loved Rouen watched him return from the
gates of death."
"He was wounded then?"
"Seven times wounded, and with as little blood left in him as would fill
a cup. But it was summer, and we were in the hills, and they brought us,
our friends of Rouen, all that we had need of; and so God was with us.
"But did he save thy life, except by skill, by indirect and fortunate
wisdom? Was there deadly danger upon thee? Did he beat down the sword of
"He saved my life thrice directly. The wounds he carried were got by
interposing his own sword 'twixt death and me."
"And that hath need of recompense?"
"My life was little worth the wounds he suffered; but I waited not until
he saved it to owe it unto him. All that it is was his before he drew the
"And 'tis this ye would call love betwixt ye--sweet givings and takings
of looks, and soft sayings, and unchangeable and devouring faith. Is't
this--and is this all?"
The girl had spoken out of an innocent heart, but the challenge in the
Queen's voice worked upon her, and though she shrank a little, the
fulness of her soul welled up and strengthened her. She spoke again, and
now in her need and in her will to save the man she loved, by making this
majesty of England his protector, her words had eloquence.
"It is not all, noble Queen. Love is more than that. It is the waking in
the poorest minds, in the most barren souls, of something greater than
themselves--as a chemist should find a substance that would give all
other things by touching of them a new and higher value; as light and sun
draw from the earth the tendrils of the seed that else had lain
unproducing. 'Tis not alone soft words and touch of hand or lip. This
caring wholly for one outside one's self kills that self which else would
make the world blind and deaf and dumb. None hath loved greatly but hath
helped to love in others. Ah, most sweet Majesty, for great souls like
thine, souls born great, this medicine is not needful, for already hath
the love of a nation inspired and enlarged it; but for souls like mine
and of so many, none better and none worse than me, to love one other
soul deeply and abidingly lifts us higher than ourselves. Your Majesty
hath been loved by a whole people, by princes and great men in a
different sort--is it not the world's talk that none that ever reigned
hath drawn such slavery of princes, and of great nobles who have courted
death for hopeless love of one beyond their star? And is it not written
in the world's book also that the Queen of England hath loved no man, but
hath poured out her heart to a people; and hath served great causes in
all the earth because of that love which hath still enlarged her soul,
dowered at birth beyond reckoning?" Tears filled her eyes. "Ah, your
supreme Majesty, to you whose heart is universal, the love of one poor
mortal seemeth a small thing, but to those of little consequence it is
the cable by which they unsteadily hold over the chasm 'twixt life and
immortality. To thee, oh greatest monarch of the world, it is a staff on
which thou need'st not lean, which thou hast never grasped; to me it is
my all; without it I fail and fall and die."
She had spoken as she felt, yet, because she was a woman and guessed the
mind of another woman, she had touched Elizabeth where her armour was
weakest. She had suggested that the Queen had been the object of
adoration, but had never given her heart to any man; that hers was the
virgin heart and life; and that she had never stooped to conquer. Without
realising it, and only dimly moving with that end in view, she had
whetted Elizabeth's vanity. She had indeed soothed a pride wounded of
late beyond endurance, suspecting, as she did, that Leicester had played
his long part for his own sordid purposes, that his devotion was more
alloy than precious metal. No note of praise could be pitched too high
for Elizabeth, and if only policy did not intervene, if but no political
advantage was lost by saving De la Foret, that safety seemed now secure.
"You tell a tale and adorn it with good grace," she said, and held out
her hand. Angele kissed it. "And you have said to Elizabeth what none
else dared to say since I was Queen here. He who hath never seen the
lightning hath no dread of it. I had not thought there was in the world
so much artlessness, with all the power of perfect art. But we live to be
wiser. Thou shalt continue in thy tale. Thou hast seen Mary, once Queen
of France, now Queen of Scots--answer me fairly; without if, or though,
or any sort of doubt, the questions I shall put. Which of us twain, this
ruin-starred queen or I, is of higher stature?"
"She hath advantage in little of your Majesty," bravely answered Angele.
"Then," answered Elizabeth sourly, "she is too high, for I myself am
neither too high nor too low. . . . And of complexion, which is the
"Her complexion is the fairer, but your Majesty's countenance hath truer
beauty, and sweeter majesty." Elizabeth frowned slightly, then said:
"What exercises did she take when you were at the Court?"
"Sometimes she hunted, your Majesty, and sometimes she played upon the
"Did she play to effect?"
"Reasonably, your noble Majesty."
"You shall hear me play, and then speak truth upon us, for I have known
none with so true a tongue since my father died."
Thereon she called to a lady who waited near in a little room to bring an
instrument; but at that moment Cecil appeared again at the door, and his
face seeming to show anxiety, Elizabeth, with a sigh, beckoned him to
"Your face, Cecil, is as long as a Lenten collect. What raven croaks in
England on May Day eve?" Cecil knelt before her, and gave into her hand a
"What record runs here?" she asked querulously. "A prayer of your
faithful Lords and Commons that your Majesty will grant speech with their
chosen deputies to lay before your Majesty a cause they have at heart."
"Touching of--?" darkly asked the Queen.
"The deputies wait even now--will not your Majesty receive them? They
have come humbly, and will go hence as humbly on the instant, if the hour
is ill chosen."
Immediately Elizabeth's humour changed. A look of passion swept across
her face, but her eyes lighted, and her lips smiled proudly. She avoided
troubles by every means, fought off by subtleties the issues which she
must meet; but when the inevitable hour came none knew so well to meet it
as though it were a dearest friend, no matter what the danger, how great
"They are here at my door, these good servants of the State--shall they
be kept dangling?" she said loudly. "Though it were time for prayers and
God's mercy yet should they speak with me, have my counsel, or my hand
upon the sacred parchment of the State. Bring them hither, Cecil. Now we
shall see--Now you shall see, Angele of Rouen, now you shall see how
queens shall have no hearts to call their own, but be head and heart and
soul and body at the will of every churl who thinks he serves the State
and knows the will of Heaven. Stand here at my left hand. Mark the
players and the play."
Kneeling, the deputies presented a resolution from the Lords and Commons
that the Queen should, without more delay, in keeping with her
oft-expressed resolve and the promise of her Council, appoint one who
should succeed to the throne in case of her death "without posterity."
Her faithful people pleaded with her gracious Majesty to forego
unwillingness to marry and seek a consort worthy of her supreme
consideration, to be raised to a place beside her near that throne which
she had made the greatest in the world.
Gravely, solemnly, the chief members of the Lords and Commons spoke, and
with as weighty pauses and devoted protestations as though this were the
first time their plea had been urged, this obvious duty had been set out
before her. Long ago in the flush and pride of her extreme youth and the
full assurance of the fruits of marriage, they had spoken with the same
sober responsibility; and though her youth had gone and the old certainty
had for ever disappeared, they spoke of her marriage and its consequences
as though it were still that far-off yesterday. Well for them that they
did so, for though time had flown and royal suitors without number had
become figures dim in the people's mind, Elizabeth, fed upon adulation,
invoked, admired, besieged by young courtiers, flattered by maids who
praised her beauty, had never seen the hands of the clock pass high noon,
and still remained under the dearest and saddest illusion which can rest
in a woman's mind. Long after the hands of life's clock had moved into
afternoon, the ancient prayer was still gravely presented that she should
marry and give an heir to England's crown; and she as solemnly listened
and dropped her eyes, and strove to hide her virgin modesty behind a high
demeanour which must needs sink self in royal duty.
"These be the dear desires of your supreme Majesty's faithful Lords and
Commons and the people of the shires whose wills they represent. Your
Majesty's life, God grant it last beyond that of the youngest of your
people so greatly blessed in your rule! But accidents of time be many;
and while the world is full of guile, none can tell what peril may beset
the crown, if your Majesty's wisdom sets not apart, gives not to her
country, one whom the nation can surround with its care, encompass
lovingly by its duty."
The talk with Angele had had a curious influence upon the Queen. It was
plain that now she was moved by real feeling, and that, though she
deceived herself, or pretended so to do, shutting her eyes to sober
facts, and dreaming old dreams--as it were, in a world where never was a
mirror nor a timepiece--yet there was working in her a fresher spirit,
urging her to a fairer course than she had shaped for many a day.
"My lords and gentlemen and my beloved subjects," she answered presently,
and for an instant set her eyes upon Angele, then turned to them again,
"I pray you stand and hear me. . . . Ye have spoken fair words to my
face, and of my face, and of the person of this daughter of great Henry,
from whom I got whatever grace or manner or favour is to me; and by all
your reasoning you do flatter the heart of the Queen of England, whose
mind indeed sleeps not in deed or desire for this realm. Ye have drawn a
fair picture of this mortal me, and though from the grace of the picture
the colours may fade by time, may give by weather, may be spoiled by
chance, yet my loyal mind, nor time with her swift wings shall overtake,
nor the misty clouds may darken, nor chance with her slippery foot may
overthrow. It sets its course by the heart of England, and when it
passeth there shall be found that one shall be left behind who shall be
surety of all that hath been lying in the dim warehouse of fate for
England's high future. Be sure that in this thing I have entered into the
weigh-house, and I hold the balance, and ye shall be well satisfied. Ye
have been fruitful in counsel, ye have been long knitting a knot never
tied, ye shall have comfort soon. But know ye beyond peradventure that I
have bided my time with good reason. If our loom be framed with rotten
hurdles, when our web is well-ny done, our work is yet to begin. Against
mischance and dark discoveries my mind, with knowledge hidden from you,
hath been firmly arrayed. If it be in your thought that I am set against
a marriage which shall serve the nation, purge yourselves, friends, of
that sort of heresy, for the belief is awry. Though I think that to be
one and always one, neither mated nor mothering, be good for a private
woman, for a prince it is not meet. Therefore, say to my Lords and
Commons that I am more concerned for what shall chance to England when I
am gone than to linger out my living thread. I hope, my lords and
gentlemen, to die with a good Nunc Dimittis, which could not be if I did
not give surety for the nation after my graved bones. Ye shall hear
soon--ye shall hear and be satisfied, and so I give you to the care of
Once more they knelt, and then slowly withdrew, with faces downcast and
troubled. They had secret knowledge which she did not yet possess, but
which at any moment she must know, and her ambiguous speech carried no
conviction to their minds. Yet their conference with her was most
opportune, for the news she must presently receive, brought by a
messenger from Scotland who had outstripped all others, would no doubt
move her to action which should set the minds of the people at rest, and
go far to stem the tide of conspiracy flowing through the kingdom.
Elizabeth stood watching them, and remained gazing after they had
disappeared; then rousing herself, she turned to leave the room, and
beckoned to Angele to follow.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.