Intelligence of the queen's return was instantly conveyed to Anne Boleyn, and filled her with indescribable alarm. All her visions of power and splendour seemed to melt away at once. She sent for her father, Lord Rochford, who hurried to her in a state of the utmost anxiety, and closely questioned her whether the extraordinary change had not been occasioned by some imprudence of her own. But she positively denied the charge, alleging that she had parted with the king scarcely an hour before on terms of the most perfect amity, and with the full conviction that she had accomplished the cardinal's ruin.
"You should not have put forth your hand against him till you were sure of striking the blow," said Rochford. "There is no telling what secret influence he has over the king; and there may yet be a hard battle to fight. But not a moment must be lost in counteracting his operations. Luckily, Suffolk is here, and his enmity to the cardinal will make him a sure friend to us. Pray Heaven you have not given the king fresh occasion for jealousy! That is all I fear."
And quitting his daughter, he sought out Suffolk, who, alarmed at what appeared like a restoration of Wolsey to favour, promised heartily to co- operate with him in the struggle; and that no time might be lost, the duke proceeded at once to the royal closet, where he found the king pacing moodily to and fro.
"Your majesty seems disturbed," said the duke.
"Disturbed! -- ay!" exclaimed the king. "I have enough to disturb me. I will never love again. I will forswear the whole sex. Harkee, Suffolk, you are my brother, my second self, and know all the secrets of my heart. After the passionate devotion I have displayed for Anne Boleyn -- after all I have done for her -- all I have risked for her -- I have been deceived."
"Impossible, my liege?" exclaimed Suffolk.
"Why, so I thought," cried Henry, "and I turned a deaf ear to all insinuations thrown out against her, till proof was afforded which I could no longer doubt."
"And what was the amount of the proof, my liege?" asked Suffolk.
"These letters," said Henry, handing them to him, "found on the person of Sir Thomas Wyat."
"But these only prove, my liege, the existence of a former passion -- nothing more," remarked Suffolk, after he had scanned them.
"But she vows eternal constancy to him!" cried Henry; "says she shall ever love him -- says so at the time she professes devoted love for me! How can I trust her after that? Suffolk, I feel she does not love me exclusively; and my passion is so deep and devouring, that it demands entire return. I must have her heart as well as her person; and I feel I have only won her in my quality of king."
"I am persuaded your majesty is mistaken," said the duke. "Would I could think so!" sighed Henry. "But no -- no, I cannot be deceived. I will conquer this fatal passion. Oh, Suffolk! it is frightful to be the bondslave of a woman -- a fickle, inconstant woman. But between the depths of love and hate is but a step; and I can pass from one to the other."
"Do nothing rashly, my dear liege," said Suffolk; "nothing that may bring with it after-repentance. Do not be swayed by those who have inflamed your jealousy, and who could practise upon it. Think the matter calmly over, and then act. And till you have decided, see neither Catherine nor Anne; and, above all, do not admit Wolsey to your secret counsels."
"You are his enemy, Suffolk," said the king sternly.
"I am your majesty's friend," replied the duke. " I beseech you, yield to me on this occasion, and I am sure of your thanks hereafter."
"Well, I believe you are right, my good friend and brother," said Henry, "and I will curb my impulses of rage and jealousy. To-morrow, before I see either the queen or Anne, we will ride forth into the forest, and talk the matter further over."
"Your highness has come to a wise determination," said the duke.
"Oh,Suffolk!" sighed Henry, "would I had never seen this siren! She exercises a fearful control over me, and enslaves my very soul."
"I cannot say whether it is for good or ill that you have met, my dear liege," replied Suffolk, "but I fancy I can discern the way in which your ultimate decision will be taken. But it is now near midnight. I wish your majesty sound and untroubled repose."
"Stay!" cried Henry, "I am about to visit the Curfew Tower, and must take you with me. I will explain my errand as we go. I had some thought of sending you there in my stead. Ha!" he exclaimed, glancing at his finger, "By Saint Paul, it is gone!"
"What is gone, my liege?" asked Suffolk.
My signet," replied Henry," I missed it not till now. It has been wrested from me by the fiend, during my walk from the Curfew Tower. Let us not lose a moment, or the prisoners will be set free by him, -- if they have not been liberated already."
So saying, he took a couple of dags -- a species of short gun -- from a rest on the wall, and giving one to Suffolk, thrust the other into his girdle. Thus armed, they quitted the royal lodgings, and hurried in the direction of the Curfew Tower. Just as they reached the Horseshoe Cloisters, the alarm-bell began to ring.
"Did I not tell you so?" cried Henry furiously; "they have escaped. Ha! it ceases! -- what has happened?"
About a quarter of an hour after the king had quitted the Curfew Tower, a tall man, enveloped in a cloak, and wearing a high conical cap, presented himself to the arquebusier stationed at the entrance to the dungeon, and desired to be admitted to the prisoners.
"I have the king's signet," he said, holding forth the ring. On seeing this, the arquebusier, who recognised the ring, unlocked the door, and admitted him. Mabel was kneeling on the ground beside her grandsire, with her hands raised as in prayer, but as the tall man entered the vault, she started to her feet, and uttered a slight scream.