Henry's attentions to Jane Seymour at the masqued fete were so marked, that the whole court was made aware of his passion. But it was not anticipated that any serious and extraordinary consequences would result from the intoxication -- far less that the queen herself would be removed to make way for her successful rival. It was afterwards, however, remembered that at this time Henry held frequent, long, and grave conferences with the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, and appeared to be engrossed in the meditation of some project.
After the scene at the revel, Anne did not make another exhibition of jealousy; but it was not that she was reconciled to her situation, or in any way free from uneasiness. On the contrary, the unhappy Catherine of Arragon did not suffer more in secret; but she knew, from experience, that with her royal consort all reproaches would be unavailing.
One morning, when she was alone within her chamber, her father, who was now Earl of Wiltshire, obtained admittance to her
"You have a troubled look, my dear lord," she said, as she motioned him to a seat.
"And with good reason," he replied. "Oh, Anne! words cannot express my anxiety at the present state of things."
"It will speedily pass by, my lord," she replied; "the king will soon be tired of his new idol."
"Not before he has overthrown the old one, I fear," rejoined the earl. "Jane Seymour's charms have usurped entire sovereignty over him. With all her air of ingenuousness and simplicity, the minion is artful and dangerous She has a high mark, I am persuaded -- no less than the throne."
"But Henry cannot wed her -- he cannot divorce me," said Anne.
"So thought Catherine of Arragon," replied her father; "and yet she was divorced. Anne, I am convinced a plot is hatching against you."
"You do not fear for my life, father? "she cried, trembling.
"I trust there are no grounds for charges against you by which it might be brought in jeopardy," replied the earl gravely.
"None, father -- none!" she exclaimed.
"I am glad of it," rejoined the earl; "for I have heard that the king said to one who suggested another divorce to him, ' No, if the queen comes within the scope of the divorce, she also comes within the pale of the scaffold.'"
"A pledge was extorted from him to that effect," said Anne, in a hollow voice.
"That an attempt will be made against you, I firmly believe," replied the earl; "but if you are wholly innocent you have nothing. to fear."
"Oh, father! I know not that," cried Anne. "Innocence avails little with the stony-hearted Henry."
"It will prove your best safeguard," said the earl. "And now farewell, daughter! Heaven guard you! Keep the strictest watch upon yourself."
So saying, he quitted the apartment, and as soon as she was left alone, the unhappy Anne burst into an agony of tears.
From this state of affliction she was roused by hearing her own name pronounced in low accents, and looking up, she beheld Sir Henry Norris.
"Oh, Norris!" she said, in a tone of reproach, " you have come hither to destroy me."
"No one knows of my coming," he said; "at least, no one who will betray me. I was brought hither by one who will take care we are not observed."
"By Herne?" demanded Anne.
Norris answered in the affirmative.
". Would you had never leagued yourself with him! " she cried; "I fear the rash act will bring destruction upon us both."
" It is too late. to retract now," he replied; "besides, there was no help for it. I sacrificed myself to preserve you."
"But will the sacrifice preserve me?" she cried. "I fear not. I have just been told that the king is preparing some terrible measure against me -- that he meditates removing me, to make way for Jane Seymour."
"You have heard the truth, madam," replied Norris.;he will try to bring you to the block."
"And with him, to try is to achieve," said Anne. "Oh, Norris! it is a fearful thing to contemplate such a death!"
"But why contemplate it, madam?" said Norris; "why, if you are satisfied that the king has such designs against you - why, if you feel that he will succeed, tarry for the fatal blow? Fly with me -- fly with one who loves you, and will devote his whole life to you -- who regards you, not as the queen, but as Anne Boleyn. Relinquish this false and hollow grandeur, and fly with me to happiness and peace."
"And relinquish my throne to Jane Seymour?" rejoined Anne "Never! I feel that all you assert is true -- that my present position is hazardous -- that Jane Seymour is in the ascendant, while I am on the decline, if not wholly sunk -- that you love me entirely, and would devote your life to me -- still, with all these motives for dread, I cannot prevail upon myself voluntarily to give up my title, and to abandon my post to a rival."
"You do not love me, then, as I love you, Anne," said Norris. "If I were a king,I would abandon my throne for you."
"You think so now, Norris, because you are not king," she replied. "But I am queen, and will remain so, till I am forced to abandon my dignity."
"I understand, madam," rejoined Norris gloomily. "But oh I bethink you to what risks you expose yourself. You know the king's terrible determination -- his vindictiveness, his ferocity."
"Full well," she replied -- " full well; but I will rather die a queen than live disgrace and ruined. In wedding Henry the Eighth, I laid my account to certain risks, and those I must brave."
Before Norris could urge anything further, the door was suddenly opened, and a tall dark figure entered the chamber, and said hastily - "The king is at hand."
"One word more, and it is my last," said Norris to Anne." Will you fly with me to-night? -- all shall be ready."
"I cannot," replied Anne.
"Away!" cried Herne, dragging Norris forcibly behind the tapestry.
Scarcely had they disappeared when Henry entered the chamber. He was in a gayer mood than had been usual with him of late.
"I am come to tell you, madam," he said, "that I am about to hold jousts in the castle on the first of May, at which your good brother and mine, the Lord Rochford, will be the challenger, while I myself shall be the defendant. You will adjudge the prize."
"Why not make Jane Seymour queen of the jousts?" said Anne, unable to resist the remark.
"She will be present at them," said Henry, "but I have my own reasons," he added significantly, "for not wishing her to appear as queen on this occasion."
"Whatever may be your reasons, the wish is sufficient for me," said Anne. "Nay, will you tarry a moment with me? It is long since we have had any converse in private together."
"I am busy at this moment," replied Henry bluffly; "but what is it you would say to me?"
"I would only reproach you for some lack of tenderness, and much neglect," said Anne. "Oh, Henry! do you remember how you swore by your life -- your crown -- your faith -- all that you held sacred or dear -- that you would love me ever?"
"And so I would, if I could," replied the king; "but unfortunately the heart is not entirely under control. Have you yourself, for instance, experienced no change in your affections?"
"No," replied Anne. "I have certainly suffered severely from your too evident regard for Jane Seymour; but, though deeply mortified and distressed, I have never for a moment been shaken in my love for your majesty."
"A loyal and loving reply," said Henry. "I thought I had perceived some slight diminution in your regard."
"You did yourself grievous injustice by the supposition," replied Anne.
"I would fain believe so," said the king; "but there are some persons who would persuade me that you have not only lost your affection for me, but have even cast eyes of regard on another."
"Those who told you so lied!" cried Anne passionately. "Never woman was freer from such imputation than myself."
"Never woman was more consummate hypocrite," muttered Henry.
"You do not credit me, I see," cried Anne.
"If I did not, I should know how to act," replied the king. "You remember my pledge?"
"Full well," replied Anne; "and if love and duty would not restrain me, fear would."
"So I felt," rejoined the king; "but there are some of your sex upon whom nothing will operate as a warning -- so faithless and inconstant are they by nature. It has been hinted to me that you are one of these; but I cannot think it. I can never believe that a woman for whom I have placed my very throne in jeopardy -- for whom I have divorced my queen- whose family I have elevated and ennobled -- and whom I have placed upon the throne would play me false. It is monstrous- incredible!"
It is -- it is! " replied Anne.
"And now farewell," said Henry. "I have stayed longer than I intended, and I should not have mentioned these accusations, which I regard as wholly groundless, unless you had reproached me."
And he quitted the chamber, leaving Anne in a strange state of perplexity and terror.