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- Michel and Angele [A Ladder of Swords], Volume 2. - 1/10 -
MICHEL AND ANGELE
[A Ladder of Swords]
By Gilbert Parker
Five minutes later, Lempriere of Rozel, as butler to the Queen, saw a sight of which he told to his dying day. When, after varied troubles hereafter set down, 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 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 I opened my mouth amazed at the endless dishes filled with 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 honoured; 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 return, and the Yeomen of the Guard go forth, I am left alone with these ladies, and there stand with twelve pair of eyes upon me, little knowing what to do. There was laughter in the faces of some, and looks less taking in the eyes of others; for my Lord Leicester was to have done the duty I was set to do that day, and he the greatest gallant of the kingdom, as all the world knows. What they said among themselves I know not, but I heard Leicester'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 was proved betimes when Leicester 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 nobleman against a Norman-Jersey 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 favourite as he was."
In the same speech Lempriere 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, Lempriere was called by an attendant, and he stood behind the Queen's chair until she summoned him to face her. Then, having finished her meal, and dipped her fingers in a bowl of rose-water, she took up the papers Leicester had given her--the Duke's Daughter had 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 Foret be sent back to France, or die here in England?"
"I helped to save his life at sea--one good turn deserves another, your high-born Majesty."
The Queen looked sharply at him, then burst out laughing.
"God's life, but here's a bull making epigrams!" she said. Then her humour changed. "See you, my butler of Rozel, you shall speak the truth, or I'll have you where that jerkin will fit you not so well a month hence. Plain answers I will have to plain questions, or De Carteret of St. Ouen's shall have his will of you and your precious pirate. So bear yourself as you would save your head and your honours."
Lempriere 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 honours, and most about my honour," he replied. "My head is my own, my honours are my family's, for which I would give my head when needed; and my honour defends both until both are naught--and all are in the service of my Queen."
Smiling, 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 Foret 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 the friend?"
"The betrothed of this Michel de la Foret?"
"Even so, your exalted Majesty. But I made sure De la Foret 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 of this 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, 'fends 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 Lempriere 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, settled herself again on her velvet cushion, and looked out of the corner of her eyes at Lempriere.
"You opposed Sir Hugh Pawlett's officers who went to arrest this De la Foret," continued Elizabeth. "Call you that serving your Queen? Pawlett had our commands."
"I opposed them but in form, that the matter might the more surely 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 else. So I came hither to tell the whole story to your judicial Majesty."
"Our thanks for your certificate of character," said the Queen, with amused irony. "What is your wish? Make your words few and plain."
"I desire before all that Michel de la Foret shall not be returned to the Medici, most radiant Majesty."
"That's plain. But there are weighty matters 'twixt France and England, and De la Foret may turn the scale one way or another. What follows, beggar of Rozel?"
"That Mademoiselle Aubert and her father may live without let or hindrance in Jersey."
"That you may eat sour grapes ad eternam? Next?"
"That Buonespoir be pardoned all offences and let live in Jersey on pledge that he sin no more, not even to raid St. Ouen's cellars of the muscadella reserved for your generous Majesty."
There was such humour in Lempriere's look as he spoke of the muscadella that the Queen questioned him closely upon Buonespoir's raid; and so infectious was his mirth, 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 you shall answer as well as he."
"For what he does in Jersey Isle, your commiserate Majesty?"
"For crime elsewhere, if he be caught, he shall march to Tyburn, friend," she answered. Then she hurriedly added: "Straightway go and bring Mademoiselle and her father hither. Orders are 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 rarely."
As the Seigneur left Elizabeth's apartments, he met the Earl of Leicester hurrying thither, preceded by the Queen's messenger. Leicester stopped and said, with a slow malicious smile: "Farming is good, then--you have fine crops this year on your holding?"
The point escaped Lempriere at first, for the favourite's look was all innocence, and he replied: "You are mistook, my lord. You will remember I was in the presence-chamber an hour ago, my lord. I am Lempriere, Seigneur of Rozel, butler to her Majesty."
"But are you, then? I thought you were a farmer and raised cabbages." Smiling, Leicester passed on.
For a moment the Seigneur stood pondering the Earl's words and angrily wondering at his obtuseness. Then suddenly he knew he had been mocked,
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