Chapter 17




At Angle'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 Angle started back amazed.

"You, Monsieur--you!" she gasped. "It was you that sent for me?"

"Send? Not I--I have not lost my manners yet. Rozel at Court is no
greater fool than Lempriere in Jersey."

Angle wrung her hands. "I thought it De la Foret who was ill. The surgeon
said to come quickly." Lempriere braced himself against the wall, for he
was weak, and his fever still high. "Ill?--not he. As sound in body and
soul as any man in England. That is a friend, that De la Foret 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."

Angel 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 foul device. 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 Foret?" she asked quickly. "Yonder, asleep," said the
Seigneur, pointing to a curtain which divided the room from one
adjoining. Angel 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 opening into the hallway. With her hand upon the latch she
stopped short again; for she realised 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 Foret--De la
Foret!" Before Angele could decide upon her course, the curtain of the
other room was thrust aside, and De la Foret entered. He was scarce
awake, and he yawned contentedly. He did not see Angele, but turned
towards Lempriere. For once the Seigneur had a burst of inspiration. He
saw that Angele was in the shadow, and that De la Foret had not observed
her. He determined that the lovers should meet alone.

"Your arm, De la Foret," he grunted.

"I'll get me to the bed in yonder room--'tis easier than this couch."

"Two hours ago you could not bear the bed, and must get you to the
couch--and now! Seigneur, do you know the weight you are?" he added,
laughing, as he stooped, and helping Lempriere gently to his feet,
raised him slowly in his arms and went heavily with him to the bedroom.
Angele 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.

De la Foret had helped Lempriere to the bed again as he heard his name
called, and he stood suddenly still, looking straight before him into
space. Angele's voice seemed ghostly and unreal.

"Michel!" he heard again, and he came forward into the room where she
was. Yet once again she said the word 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
murmured, and stretched out her hands. With a cry of joy he took her in
his arms and pressed her to his heart. Then a realisation of danger 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, verily," he said; "but it is still a trick, for
the sick man here is Rozel. I see it all. You and I forbidden to meet--it
was a trick to bring you here."

"Oh, let me go!" she cried. "Michel, Michel, take me hence." She turned
towards the door.

"The gates are closed," he said, as a cannon boomed on the evening air.

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

"Be patient, sweet, and let me think," he answered. At that moment there
came a knocking at the door, then it was thrown open, and there stepped
inside the Earl of Leicester, preceded by a page bearing a torch.

"Is Michel de la Foret within?" he called; then stopped short, as though
astonished, seeing Angele. "So! so!" he said, with a contemptuous laugh.
Michel de la Foret's fingers twitched. He quickly stepped in front of
Angele, and answered: "What is your business here, my lord?"

Leicester 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, going upon duty in the North; for I fear
that if you stay here the Queen Mother of France will have her way. But I
fear I am too late. A man who has sworn himself into service d'amour has
no time for service de la guerre."

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

Leicester flushed, but answered coolly: "I can understand your chagrin.
You should have locked your door. It is the safer custom." He bowed
lightly towards Angele. "You have not learned our English habits of
discretion, Monsieur de la Foret. 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 realise the flight of time,--and I will take Mademoiselle to her
lodgings. You may rely on my discretion. I am wholly at your
service--tout a vous, as who should say in your charming language."

The insolence was so veiled in perfect outward courtesy that it must have
seemed impossible for De la Foret to reply in terms equal to the moment.
He had, however, no need to reply, for the door of the room suddenly
opened, and two pages stepped inside with torches.

They were followed by a gentleman in scarlet and gold, who said, "The
Queen!" and stepped aside.

An instant afterwards Elizabeth, with the Duke's Daughter, entered.

The three dropped upon their knees, and Elizabeth waved without the pages
and the gentleman-in-waiting. When the doors closed, the Queen eyed the
three kneeling figures, and as her glance fell on Leicester 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 Leicester:

"What brings the Earl of Leicester 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 clear.

"And brought an eloquent pleader with you?" She made a scornful gesture
towards Angele.

"Nay, your Majesty; the lady's zeal outran my own, and crossed the
threshold first."

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

"You found the lady here, then?"

"With Monsieur alone. Seeing she was placed unfortunately, I offered to
escort her hence to her father. But your Majesty came upon the moment."

There was a ring of triumph in Leicester's voice. No doubt, by some
chance, the Queen had become aware of Angele's presence, he thought. Fate
had forestalled the letter he had already written on this matter and
meant to send her within the hour. Chance had played into his hands with
perfect suavity. The Queen, less woman now than Queen, enraged by the
information got he knew not how, had come at once to punish the gross
breach of her orders and a dark misconduct-so he thought.

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

"So it is thus you spend the hours of night? God's faith, but you are
young to be so wanton!" she cried in a sharp voice. "Get you from my
sight and out of my kingdom as fast as horse and ship may carry you--as
feet may bear you." Leicester's face lighted to hear. "Your high
Majesty," pleaded 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?" Leicester laughed at the words.

"Your Majesty, oh, your gracious Majesty, hear me. We were not alone--not
alone--"

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

"Not alone, your high and sacred Majesty, I am here--I have been here
through all. I was here when Mademoiselle came, brought hither by trick
of some knave not fit to be your immortal Majesty's subject. I speak the
truth, for I am butler to your Majesty and no liar. I am Lempriere of
Rozel."

No man's self-control could meet such a surprise without wavering.
Leicester was confounded, for he had not known that Lempriere was housed
with De la Foret. For a moment he could do naught but gaze at Lempriere.
Then, as the Seigneur suddenly swayed and would have fallen, the instinct
of effective courtesy, strong in him, sent him with arms outstretched to
lift him up. Together, without a word, he and De la Foret carried him to
the couch and laid him down. That single act saved Leicester's life.
There was something so naturally (though, in truth, it was so
hypocritically) 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 Lempriere and
Leicester had turned again towards her, she said: "Did you think I had no
loyal and true gentlemen at my Court, my lord? Did you think my leech
would not serve me as fair as he would serve the Earl of Leicester? You
have not bought us all, Robert Dudley, who have bought and sold so long.
The good leech did your bidding and sent your note to the lady; but there
your bad play ended and Fate's began. A rabbit's brains, Leicester--and a
rabbit's end. Fate has the brains you need."

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

With a little gasp of rage Elizabeth leaned over and slapped his face
with her long glove. "Death of my life, but I who made you do unmake
you!" she cried.

He dropped his hand on his sword. "If you were but a man, and not--" 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 trespass. Pray you, remember."

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

Her glance fell on De la Foret. Her look softened. "I will hear you
preach next Sunday, sir."

There was an instant's pause, and then she said to Angele, with gracious
look and in a low voice: "You have heard from me that calumny which the
innocent never escape. To try you I neglected you these many days; to see
your nature even more truly than I knew it, I accused you but now. You
might have been challenged first by 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 Elizabeth is your loving
friend. You have had trials--I have kept you in suspense--there has been
trouble for us all; but we are better now; our minds are more content; so
all may be well, please God! You will rest this night with our lady-dove
here, and to-morrow early you shall return in peace to your father. You
have a good friend in our cousin." She made a gentle motion towards the
Duke's Daughter. "She has proved it so. In my leech she has a slave. To
her you owe this help in time of need. She hath wisdom, too, and we must
listen to her, even as I have done this day."

She inclined her head towards the door. Leicester opened it, and as she
passed out she gave him one look which told him that his game was lost,
if not for ever, yet for time uncertain and remote. "You must not blame
the leech, my lord," she said, suddenly turning back. "The Queen of
England has first claim on the duty of her subjects. They serve me for
love; you they help at need as time-servers."

She stepped on, then paused again and looked back. "Also I forbid
fighting betwixt you," she said, in a loud voice, looking at De la Foret
and Leicester.

Without further sign or look, she moved on. Close behind came Angele and
the Duke's Daughter, and Leicester followed at some distance.




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