On the day after the solemnisation of the Grand Feast of the Order of the Garter, a masqued fete of great splendour and magnificence was held within the castle. The whole of the state apartments were thrown open to the distinguished guests, and universal gaiety prevailed. No restraint was offered to the festivity by the king, for though he was known to be present, he did not choose to declare himself.
The queen sat apart on a fauteuil in the deep embrasure of a window; and as various companies of fantastic characters advanced towards her, she more than once fancied she detected amongst them the king, but the voices convinced her of her mistake. As the evening was wearing, a mask in a blue domino drew near her, and whispered in a devoted and familiar tone, "My queen!"
"Is it you, Norris?" demanded Anne, under her breath.
"It is," he replied. "Oh, madam! I have been gazing at you the whole evening, but have not dared to approach you till now."
"I am sorry you have addressed me at all, Norris," she rejoined. "Your regard for me has been noticed by others, and may reach the king's ears. You must promise never to address me in the language of passion again."
"If I may not utter my love I shall go mad," replied Norris. "After raising me to the verge of Paradise, do not thrust me to the depths of Tartarus."
"I have neither raised you nor do I cast you down," rejoined Anne. "That I am sensible of your devotion, and grateful for it, I admit, but nothing more. My love and allegiance are due to the king."
"True," replied Norris bitterly; "they are so, but he is wholly insensible to your merits. At this very moment he is pouring his love-vows in the ear of Jane Seymour."
"Ah! is he so? "cried Anne. " Let me have proof of his perfidy, and I may incline a more favourable ear to you."
"I will instantly obtain you the proof, madam," replied Norris, bowing and departing.
Scarcely had he quitted the queen, and mixed with the throng of dancers, than he felt a pressure upon his arm, and turning at the touch, beheld a tall monk, the lower part of whose face was muffled up, leaving only a pair of fierce black eyes and a large aquiline nose visible.
"I know what you want, Sir Henry Norris," said the tall monk in a low deep voice; "you wish to give the queen proof of her royal lord's inconstancy. It is easily done. Come with me."
." Who are you?" demanded Norris doubtfully.
" What matters it who I am?" rejoined the other; "I am one of the masquers, and chance to know what is passing around me. I do not inquire into your motives, and therefore you have no right to inquire into mine."
"It is not for my own satisfaction that I desire this proof," said Norris, "because I would rather shield the king's indiscretions than betray them. But the queen has conceived suspicions which she is determined to verify"
"Think not to impose upon me," replied the monk with a sneer. "Bring the queen this way, and she shall be fully satisfied."
"I can run no risk in trusting you," said Norris, "and therefore I accept your offer."
"Say no more," cried the monk disdainfully, "I will await you here."
And Norris returned to the queen.
"Have you discovered anything? " she cried.
"Come with me, madam," said Norris, bowing and taking her hand.
Proceeding thus they glided through the throng of dancers, who respectfully cleared a passage for them as they walked along until they approached the spot where the tall monk was standing. As they drew near him he moved on, and Norris and the queen followed in silence. Passing from the great hall in which the crowd of dancers were assembled, they descended a short flight of steps, at the foot of which the monk paused, and pointed with his right hand to a chamber, partly screened by the folds of a curtain.
At this intimation the queen and her companion stepped quickly on, and as she advanced, Anne Boleyn perceived Jane Seymour and the king seated on a couch within the apartment. Henry was habited like a pilgrim, but he had thrown down his hat, ornamented with the scallop- shell, his vizard, and his staff, and had just forced his fair companion to unmask.
At the sight, Anne was tranfixed with jealous rage, and was for the moment almost unconscious of the presence of Norris, or of the monk, who remained behind the curtain, pointing to what was taking place.
"Your majesty is determined to expose my blushes," said Jane Seymour, slightly struggling with her royal lover.
"Nay, I only want to be satisfied that it is really yourself, sweetheart," cried Henry passionately. "It was in mercy to me, I suppose, that you insisted upon shrouding those beauteous features from my view.
"Hear you that, madam?" whispered Norris to Anne.
The queen answered by a convulsive clasp of the hand.
"Your majesty but jests with me," said Jane Seymour. "Jests!" cried Henry passionately. "By my faith! I never understood the power of beauty till now. No charms ever moved my heart like yours; nor shall I know a moment's peace till you become mine."
"I am grieved to hear it, my liege," replied Jane Seymour, "for I never can be yours, unless as your queen."
Again Norris hazarded a whisper to Anne Boleyn, which was answered by another nervous grasp of the hand.
"That is as much as to say," pursued Jane, seeing the gloomy reverie into which her royal lover was thrown, "I can give your majesty no hopes at all"
"You have been schooled by Anne Boleyn, sweetheart," said Henry.
"How so, my liege? "demanded Jane Seymour.
"Those are the very words she used to me when I wooed her, and which induced me to divorce Catherine of Arragon," replied Henry.
"Now they may bring about her own removal"
"Just Heaven!" murmured Anne.
I dare not listen to your majesty," said Jane Seymour, in a tremulous tone; "and yet, if I dared speak -
"Speak on, fearlessly, sweetheart," said Henry.
"Then I am well assured," said Jane,." that the queen no longer loves you; nay, that she loves another."
"It is false, minion! "cried Anne Boleyn, rushing forward, while Norris hastily retreated, " it is false! It is you who would deceive the king for your own purposes. But I have fortunately been brought hither to prevent the injury you would do me. Oh, Henry! have I deserved this of you?"
"You have chanced to overhear part of a scene in a masquerade, madam -- that is all," said the king.
"I have chanced to arrive most opportunely for myself," said Anne. "As for this slanderous and deceitful minion, I shall dismiss her from my service. If your majesty is determined to prove faithless to me, it shall not be with one of my own dames."
"Catherine of Arragon should have made that speech," retorted Jane Seymour bitterly. "She had reason to complain that she was supplanted by one much beneath her. And she never played the king falsely."
"Nor have I!" cried Anne fiercely. "If I had my will, I should strike thee dead for the insinuation. Henry, my lord - my love -- if you have any regard for me, instantly dismiss Jane Seymour."
"It may not be, madam," replied Henry in a freezing tone; "she has done nothing to deserve dismissal. If any one is to blame in the matter, it is myself."
"And will you allow her to make these accusations against me without punishment?" cried Anne.
"Peace, madam!" cried the king sternly; "and thank my good-nature that I go no further into the matter. If you are weary of the masque, I pray you retire to your own apartments. For myself, I shall lead Jane Seymour to the bransle."
"And if your majesty should need a partner," said Jane, walking up to Anne and speaking in a low tone, "you will doubtless find Sir Henry Norris disengaged."
The queen looked as if stricken by a thunderbolt. She heard the triumphant laugh of her rival; she saw her led forth, all smiles and beauty and triumph, by the king to the dance, and she covered her face in agony. While she was in this state, a deep voice breathed in her ears, "The vengeance of Catherine of Arragon begins to work!"
Looking up, she beheld the tall figure of the monk retreating from the chamber.