HotFreeBooks.com
Windsor Castle
by William Harrison Ainsworth
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
Home - Random Browse

By the time Norris had placed his lance in the rest, the trumpet sounded. The next moment the word was given, and the champions started. Henry rode with great impetuosity, and struck Norris in the gorget with such good will that both he and his steed were shaken.

But Norris was more fortunate. Following the advice of the monk, he made the upper part of the king's helmet his mark, and the blow was so well dealt, that, though he did not dislodge the royal horseman, it drove back his steed on its haunches.

The success was so unequivocal that Norris was at once declared the victor by the judge. No applause, however, followed the decision, from a fear of giving offence to the king.

Norris dismounted, and committing his steed to the care of an esquire, and his lance to a page, took off his helmet and advanced towards the royal gallery, near which the Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyat were standing talking with the other dames. As Norris drew near, Anne leaned over the edge of the gallery, and smiled at him tenderly, and, whether by design or accident, let fall her embroidered handkerchief.

Norris stooped to pick it up, regarding her as he did so with a glance of the most passionate devotion. A terrible gaze, however, was fixed on the unfortunate pair at that moment. It was that of the king. While Henry was careering in front of the gallery to display himself before Jane Seymour, a tall monk approached him, and said, "Look at Sir Henry Norris!"

Thus addressed, Henry raised his beaver, that he might see more distinctly, and beheld Norris take up the embroidered handkerchief, which he recognised as one that he had given, in the early days of his affection, to the queen.

The sight stung him almost to madness, and he had great difficulty in repressing his choler. But if this slight action, heightened to importance, as it was, by the looks of the parties, roused his ire, it was nothing to what followed. Instead of restoring it to the queen, Norris, unconscious of the danger in which he stood, pressed the handkerchief fervently to his lips.

"I am hitherto the victor of the jousts," he said; "may I keep this as the prize?"

Anne smiled assent.

"It is the proudest I ever obtained," pursued Norris. And he placed it within his helmet.

"Does your majesty see that?" cried the tall monk, who still remained standing near the king.

"Death of my life!" exclaimed Henry, "it is the very handkerchief I gave her before our union! I can contain myself no longer, and must perforce precipitate matters. What ho!" he cried, riding up to that part of the gallery where the Duke of Suffolk was seated—"let the jousts be stopped!"

"Wherefore, my dear liege?" said Suffolk. "The Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyat are about to run a course."

"Let them he stopped I say!" roared Henry, in a tone that admitted of no dispute. And wheeling round his charger, he dashed into the middle of the barriers, shouting in loud, authoritative accents, "The jousts are at an end! Disperse!"

The utmost consternation was occasioned by the announcement. The Duke of Suffolk instantly quitted his seat, and pressed through the crowd to the king, who whispered a few hasty words in his ear. Henry then called to the Earl of Surrey, the Marquis of Dorset, the Lord Clifford, Wyat, and some others, and bidding them attend him, prepared to quit the court. As he passed the royal gallery, Anne called to him in an agonised voice—"Oh, Henry! what is the matter?—what have I done?"

But without paying the slightest attention to her, he dashed through the Norman Gate, galloped down the lower quadrangle, and quitted the castle.

The confusion that ensued may be imagined. All saw that something extraordinary and terrible had taken place, though few knew precisely what it was. Dismay sat in every countenance, and the general anxiety was heightened by the agitation of the queen, who, uttering a piercing scream, fell back, and was borne off in a state of insensibility by her attendants.

Unable to control himself at the sight, Norris burst through the guard, and rushing up the great staircase, soon gained the apartment to which the queen had been conveyed. Owing to the timely aid afforded her, she was speedily restored, and the first person her eyes fell upon was her lover. At the sight of him a glance of affection illumined her features, but it was instantly changed into an expression of alarm.

At this juncture the Duke of Suffolk, who, with Bouchier and a party of halberdiers, had entered the room, stepped up to the queen, and said-"Will it please you, madam, to retire to an inner apartment? I grieve to say you are under arrest."

"Arrest!" exclaimed Anne; "for what crime, your grace?"

"You are charged with incontinency towards the king's highness," replied Suffolk sternly.

"But I am innocent!" cried Anne—"as Heaven shall judge me, I am innocent!"

"I trust you will be able to prove yourself so, madam," said Suffolk. "Sir Henry Norris, your person is likewise attached."

"Then I am lost indeed!" exclaimed Anne distractedly.

"Do not let these false and malignant accusations alarm you, madam," said Norri. "You have nothing to fear. I will die protesting your innocence."

"Sir Henry Norris," said the duke coldly, "your own imprudence has brought about this sad result."

"I feel it," replied Norris; "and I deserve the worst punishment that can be inflicted upon me for it. But I declare to you as I will declare upon the rack, if I am placed upon it—that the queen is wholly innocent. Let her not suffer for my fault."

"You hear what Sir Henry says," cried Anne; "and I call upon you to recollect the testimony he has borne."

"I shall not fail to do so, madam," replied Suffolk. "Your majesty will have strict justice."

"Justice!" echoed Anne, with a laugh of bitter incredulity. "Justice from Henry the Eighth?"

"Beseech you, madam, do not destroy yourself," said Norris, prostrating himself before her. "Recollect by whom you are surrounded. My folly and madness have brought you into this strait, and I sincerely implore your pardon for it."

"You are not to blame, Norris," said Anne; "it is fate, not you, that has destroyed me. The hand that has dealt this blow is that of a queen within the tomb."

"Captain Bouchier," said the Duke of Suffolk, addressing that officer, who stood near him, "you will convey Sir Henry Norris to the strong-room in the lower gateway, whence he will be removed to the Tower."

"Farewell for ever, Norris!" cried Anne. "We shall meet no more on earth. In what has fallen on me I recognise the hand of retribution. But the same measure which has been meted to me shall be dealt to others. I denounce Jane Seymour before Heaven! She shall not long retain the crown she is about to snatch from me!"

"That imprecation had better have been spared, madam," said the duke.

"Be advised, my gracious mistress," cried Norris, "and do not let your grief and distraction place you in the power of your enemies. All may yet go well."

"I denounce her!" persisted Anne, wholly disregarding the caution; "and I also denounce the king. No union of his shall be happy, and other blood than mine shall flow."

At a sign from the duke she was here borne, half suffocated with emotion, to an inner apartment, while Norris was conveyed by Bouchier and a company of halberdiers to the lower gateway, and placed within the prison chamber.



VI.

What passed between Anne Boleyn and the Duke of Suffolk, and how Herne the Hunter appeared to her in the Oratory.

For some hours Anne Boleyn's attendants were alarmed for her reason, and there seemed good grounds for the apprehension, so wildly and incoherently did she talk, and so violently comport herself—she who was usually so gentle now weeping as if her soul would pass away in tears—now breaking into fearful hysterical laughter. It was a piteous sight, and deeply moved all who witnessed it. But towards evening she became calmer, and desired to be left by herself. Her wish being complied with, she fell upon her knees, and besought Heaven's forgiveness for her manifold offences.

"May my earthly sufferings," she cried, "avail me here—after, and may my blood wash out my guilt. I feel the enormity of my offence, and acknowledge the justice of my punishment. Pardon me, O injured Catherine—pardon me, I implore thee! Thou seest in me the most abject pitiable woman in the whole realm! Overthrown, neglected, despised—about to die a shameful death—what worse can befall me? Thine anguish was great, but it was never sharpened by remorse like mine. Oh! that I could live my life over again. I would resist all the dazzling temptations I have yielded to—above all, I would not injure thee. Oh! that I had resisted Henry's love—his false vows—his fatal lures! But it is useless to repine. I have acted wrongfully and must pay the penalty of my crime. May my tears, my penitence, my blood operate as an atonement, and procure me pardon from the merciful Judge before whom I shall shortly appear."

In such prayers and lamentations she passed more than an hour, when her attendants entered to inform her that the Duke of Suffolk and the Lords Audley and Cromwell were without, and desired to see her. She immediately went forth to them.

"We are come to acquaint you, madam," said Suffolk, "that you will be removed at an early hour tomorrow morning, to the Tower, there to abide during the king's pleasure."

"If the king will have it so, my lords," she replied, "I must needs go; but I protest my innocence, and will protest it to the last. I have ever been a faithful and loyal consort to his highness, and though I may not have demeaned myself to him so humbly and gratefully as I ought to have done—seeing how much I owe him—yet I have lacked nothing in affection and duty. I have had jealous fancies and suspicions of him, especially of late, and have troubled him with them; but I pray his forgiveness for my folly, which proceeded from too much regard, and if I am acquitted of my present charge, I will offend him so no more."

"We will report what you say to the king," rejoined Suffolk gravely; "but we are bound to add that his highness does not act on mere suspicion, the proofs of your guilt being strong against you."

"There can be no such proofs," cried Anne quickly. "Who are my accusers? and what do they state?"

"You are charged with conspiring against the king's life, and dishonouring his bed," replied Suffolk sternly. "Your accusers will appear in due season."

"They are base creatures suborned for the purpose!" cried Anne. "No loyal person would so forswear himself."

"Time will show you who they are, madam," said Suffolk.

"But having now answered all your questions, I pray you permit us to retire."

"Shall I not see the king before I am taken to the Tower?" said Anne, upon whom the terror of her situation rushed with new force.

"His highness has quitted the castle," replied Suffolk, "and there is no likelihood of his return to-night."

"You tell me so to deceive me," cried Anne. "Let me see him—let me throw myself at his feet! I can convince him of my innocence and move him to compassion! Let me see him, I implore of you—I charge you!"

"I swear to you, madam, that the king has departed for Hampton Court," replied Suffolk.

"Then take me to him there, under strong guard, or as secretly as you please," she cried passionately; "I will return with you instantly, if I am unsuccessful."

"Were I to comply with your request it would be fruitless, madam," replied Suffolk; "the king would not see you."

"Oh, Suffolk!" cried Anne, prostrating herself before him, "I have shown you many kindnesses in my season of power, and have always stood your friend with the king. Do me this favour now; I will never forget it. Introduce me to the king. I am sure I can move his heart, if I can only see him."

"It would cost me my head, madam," said the duke in an inexorable tone. "Rise, I pray you."

"You are more cruel than the king," said Anne, obeying. "And now, my lords," she continued with more composure and dignity, "since you refuse my last request, and plainly prove to me the sort of justice I may expect, I will not detain you longer. I shall be ready to attend you to the Tower tomorrow."

"The barge will proceed an hour before dawn," said Suffolk.

"Must I, then, go by water?" asked Anne.

"Such are the king's commands," replied Suffolk.

"It is no matter," she rejoined; "I shall be ready when you will, for I shall not retire to rest during the night."

Upon this Suffolk and the others slowly withdrew, and Anne again retired to the oratory.

She remained alone, brooding, in a state of indescribable anguish, upon the probable fate awaiting her, when all at once, raising her eyes, she beheld a tall dark figure near the arras.

Even in the gloom she recognised Herne the Hunter, and with difficulty repressed a scream.

"Be silent!" cried Herne, with an emphatic gesture. "I am come to deliver you."

Anne could not repress a joyful cry.

"Not so loud," rejoined Herne, "or you will alarm your attendants. I will set you free on certain conditions."

"Ah! conditions!" exclaimed Anne, recoiling; "if they are such as will affect my eternal welfare, I cannot accept them."

"You will repent it when it is too late," replied Herne. "Once removed to the Tower I can no longer aid you. My power extends only to the forest and the castle."

"Will you take me to the king at Hampton Court?" said Anne.

"It would be useless," replied Herne. "I will only do what I have stated. If you fly with me, you can never appear again as Anne Boleyn. Sir Henry Norris shall be set free at the same time, and you shall both dwell with me in the forest. Come!"

"I cannot go," said Anne, holding back; "it were to fly to a worse danger. I may save my soul now; but if I embrace your offer I am lost for ever."

Herne laughed derisively.

"You need have no fear on that score," he said.

"I will not trust you," replied Anne. "I have yielded to temptation already, and am now paying the penalty of it."

"You are clinging to the crown," said Herne, "because you know that by this step you will irrecoverably lose it. And you fancy that some change may yet operate to your advantage with the king. It is a vain delusive hope. If you leave this castle for the Tower, you will perish ignominiously on the block."

"What will be, must be!" replied Anne. "I will not save myself in the way you propose."

"Norris will say, and with reason, that you love him not," cried Herne.

"Then he will wrong me," replied Anne; "for I do love him. But of what account were a few years of fevered happiness compared with endless torture?"

"I will befriend you in spite of yourself," vociferated Herne, seizing her arm; "you shall go with me!"

"I will not," said Anne, falling on her knees. "Oh, Father of Mercy!" she cried energetically, "deliver me from this fiend!"

"Take your fate, then!" rejoined Herne, dashing her furiously backwards.

And when her attendants, alarmed by the sound, rushed into the chamber, they found her stretched on the floor in a state of insensibility.



VII.

How Herne appeared to Henry In the Home Park.

On that same night, at a late hour, a horseman, mounted on a powerful steed, entered the eastern side of the home park, and stationed himself beneath the trees. He had not been there long, when the castle clock tolled forth the hour of midnight, and ere the deep strokes died away, a second horseman was seen galloping across the moonlit glade towards him.

"Has all been done as I directed, Suffolk?" he demanded, as the newcomer approached him.

"It has, my liege," replied the duke. "The queen is imprisoned within her chamber, and will be removed, at early dawn, to the Tower."

"You had better start in an hour from this time," said the king. "It is a long passage by water, and I am anxious to avoid all chance of attempt at rescue."

"Your wishes shall be obeyed," replied the duke. "Poor soul! her grief was most agonizing, and I had much ado to maintain my composure. She implored, in the most passionate manner, to be allowed to see your highness before her removal. I told her it was impossible; and that even if you were at the castle, you would not listen to her supplications."

"You did right," rejoined Henry; "I will never see her more—not that I fear being moved by her prayers, but that, knowing how deceitful and faithless she is, I loathe to look upon her. What is expressed upon the matter by the household? Speak frankly."

"Frankly then," replied the duke, "your highness's proceedings are regarded as harsh and unjustifiable. The general opinion is, that you only desire to remove Anne to make way for Mistress Jane Seymour."

"Ha! they talk thus, do they?" cried the king. "I will silence their saucy prating ere long. Tell all who venture to speak to you on the subject that I have long suspected the queen of a secret liking for Norris, but that I determined to conceal my suspicions till I found I had good warrant for them. That occurred, as you know, some weeks ago. However, I awaited a pretext for proceeding against them, and it was furnished by their own imprudence to-day. Convinced that something would occur, I had made my preparations; nor was I deceived. You may add, also, that not until my marriage is invalidated, Anne's offspring illegitimatised, and herself beheaded, shall I consider the foul blot upon my name removed."

"Has your majesty any further commands?" said Suffolk. "I saw Norris in his prison before I rode forth to you."

"Let him be taken to the Tower, under a strong escort, at once," said Henry. "Lord Rochford, I suppose, has already been removed there?"

"He has," replied the duke. "Shall I attend your majesty to your followers?"

"It is needless," replied the king. "They are waiting for me, close at hand, at the foot of Datchet Bridge. Fare well, my good brother; look well to your prisoners. I shall feel more easy when Anne is safely lodged within the Tower."

So saying he wheeled round, and striking spurs into his steed, dashed through the trees, while the duke rode back to the castle.

Henry had not proceeded far, when a horseman, mounted on a sable steed, emerged from the thicket, and galloped up to him. The wild attire and antlered helm of this personage proclaimed the forest fiend.

"Ah! thou here, demon!" cried the king, his lion nature overmastered by superstitious fear for a moment. "What wouldst thou?"

"You are on the eve of committing a great crime," replied Herne; "and I told you that at such times I would always appear to you."

"To administer justice is not to commit crime," rejoined the king. "Anne Boleyn deserves her fate."

"Think not to impose on me as you have imposed on Suffolk!" cried Herne, with a derisive laugh. "I know your motives better; I know you have no proof of her guilt, and that in your heart of hearts you believe her innocent. But you destroy her because you would wed Jane Seymour! We shall meet again ere long—ho! ho! ho!"

And giving the rein to his steed, he disappeared among the trees.



VIII.

The Signal Gun.

Anne Boleyn's arraignment took place in the great hall of the White Tower, on the 16th of May, before the Duke of Norfolk, who was created lord high steward for the occasion, and twenty-six peers. The duke had his seat under a canopy of state, and beneath him sat the Earl of Surrey as deputy earl-marshal.

Notwithstanding an eloquent and impassioned defence, Anne was found guilty; and having been required to lay aside her crown and the other insignia of royalty, was condemned to be burned or beheaded at the king's pleasure.

On the following day, she was summoned to the archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth, whither she was privately conveyed; and her marriage with the king was declared by Cranmer to be null and void, and to have always been so. Death by the axe was the doom awarded to her by the king, and the day appointed for the execution was Friday the 19th of May, at the hour of noon.

Leaving the conduct of the fatal ceremony to the Duke of Suffolk, who had orders to have a signal gun fired from the summit of the White Tower, which was to be answered from various points, when all was over, Henry repaired to Windsor Castle on the evening of Thursday. Before this, he had formally offered his hand to Jane Seymour; and while the unfortunate queen was languishing within the Tower, he was basking in the smiles of his new mistress, and counting the hours till he could make her his own. On the Tuesday before the execution, Jane Seymour retired to her father's mansion, Wolff Hall, in Wiltshire, where preparations were made for the marriage, which it was arranged should take place there in private on the Saturday.

On arriving at the castle, Henry gave out that he should hunt on the following morning in the great park, and retired to his closet. But he did not long remain there, and putting on the garb of a yeoman of the guard, descended by the narrow flight of steps (already mentioned as occupying the same situation as the existing Hundred Steps) to the town, and proceeded to the Garter, where he found several guests assembled, discussing the affairs of the day, and Bryan Bowntance's strong ale at the same time. Amongst the number were the Duke of Shoreditch, Paddington, Hector Cutbeard, and Kit Coo. At the moment of the king's entrance, they were talking of the approaching execution.

"Oh, the vanity of worldly greatness!" exclaimed Bryan, lifting up his hands. "Only seven years ago, last Saint George's Day, this lovely queen first entered the castle with the king, amid pomp and splendour and power, and with a long life—apparently—of happiness before her. And now she is condemned to die."

"But if she has played the king false she deserves her doom," replied Shoreditch. "I would behead my own wife if she served me the same trick—that is, if I could."

"You do right to say 'if you could,'" rejoined Paddington. "The beheading of a wife is a royal privilege, and cannot be enjoyed by a subject."

"Marry, I wonder how the king could prefer Mistress Jane Seymour, for my part!" said Hector Cutbeard. "To my thinking she is not to be compared with Queen Anne."

"She has a lovely blue eye, and a figure as straight as an arrow," returned Shoreditch. "How say you, master?" he added, turning to the king; "what think you of Mistress Jane Seymour?"

"That she is passably fair, friend," replied Henry.

"But how as compared with the late—that is, the present queen, for, poor soul! she has yet some hours to live," rejoined Shoreditch. "How, as compared with her?"

"Why, I think Jane Seymour the more lovely, Undoubtedly," replied Henry. "But I may be prejudiced."

"Not in the least, friend," said Cutbeard. "You but partake of your royal master's humour. Jane Seymour is beautiful, no doubt, and so was Anne Boleyn. Marry! we shall see many fair queens on the throne. The royal Henry has good taste and good management. He sets his subjects a rare example, and shows them how to get rid of troublesome wives. We shall all divorce or hang our spouses when we get tired of them. I almost wish I was married myself, that I might try the experiment-ha! ha!"

"Well, here's the king's health!" cried Shoreditch, "and wishing him as many wives as he may desire. What say you, friend?" he added, turning to Henry. "Will you not drink that toast?"

"That will I," replied Henry; "but I fancy the king will be content for the present with Mistress Jane Seymour."

"For the present, no doubt," said Hector Cutbeard; "but the time will come—and ere long—when Jane will be as irksome to him as Anne is now."

"Ah, God's death, knave! darest thou say so?" cried Henry furiously.

"Why, I have said nothing treasonable, I hope?" rejoined Cutbeard, turning pale; "I only wish the king to be happy in his own way. And as he seems to delight in change of wives, I pray that he may have it to his heart's content."

"A fair explanation," replied Henry, laughing.

"Let me give a health, my masters!" cried a tall archer, whom no one had hitherto noticed, rising in one corner of the room. "It is—The headsman of Calais, and may he do his work featly tomorrow!"

"Ha! ha! ha! a good toast!" cried Hector Cutbeard.

"Seize him who has proposed it!" cried the king, rising; "it is Herne the Hunter!"

"I laugh at your threats here as elsewhere, Harry," cried Herne. "We shall meet tomorrow."

And flinging the horn cup in the face of the man nearest him, he sprang through an open window at the back, and disappeared.

Both Cutbeard and Shoreditch were much alarmed lest the freedom of their expressions should be taken in umbrage by the king; but he calmed their fears by bestowing a good humoured buffet on the cheek of the latter of them, and quitting the hostel, returned to the castle by the same way he had left it.

On the following morning, about ten o'clock, he rode into the great park, attended by a numerous train. His demeanour was moody and stern, and a general gloom pervaded the company. Keeping on the western side of the park, the party crossed Cranbourne chase; but though they encountered several fine herds of deer, the king gave no orders to uncouple the hounds.

At last they arrived at that part of the park where Sandpit Gate is now situated, and pursuing a path bordered by noble trees, a fine buck was suddenly unharboured, upon which Henry gave orders to the huntsmen and others to follow him, adding that he himself should proceed to Snow Hill, where they would find him an hour hence.

All understood why the king wished to be alone, and for what purpose he was about to repair to the eminence in question, and therefore, without a word, the whole company started off in the chase.

Meanwhile, the king rode slowly through the woods, often pausing to listen to the distant sounds of the hunters, and noticing the shadows on the greensward as they grew shorter, and proclaimed the approach of noon. At length he arrived at Snow Hill, and stationed himself beneath the trees on its summit.

From this point a magnificent view of the castle, towering over its pomp of woods, now covered with foliage of the most vivid green, was commanded. The morning was bright and beautiful, the sky cloudless, and a gentle rain had fallen over night, which had tempered the air and freshened the leaves and the greensward. The birds were singing blithely in the trees, and at the foot of the hill crouched a herd of deer. All was genial and delightful, breathing of tenderness and peace, calculated to soften the most obdurate heart.

The scene was not without its effect upon Henry; but a fierce tumult raged within his breast. He fixed his eyes on the Round Tower, which was distinctly visible, and from which he expected the signal, and then tried to peer into the far horizon. But he could discern nothing. A cloud passed over the sun, and cast a momentary gloom over the smiling landscape. At the same time Henry's fancy was so powerfully excited, that he fancied he could behold the terrible tragedy enacting at the Tower.

"She is now issuing forth into the green in front of Saint Peter's Chapel," said Henry to himself. "I can see her as distinctly as if I were there. Ah, how beautiful she looks! and how she moves all hearts to pity! Suffolk, Richmond, Cromwell, and the Lord Mayor are there to meet her. She takes leave of her weeping attendants—she mounts the steps of the scaffold firmly—she looks round, and addresses the spectators. How silent they are, and how clearly and musically her voice sounds! She blesses me.—I hear It!—I feel it here! Now she disrobes herself, and prepares for the fatal axe. It is wielded by the skilful executioner of Calais, and he is now feeling its edge. Now she takes leave of her dames, and bestows a parting gift on each. Again she kneels and prays. She rises. The fatal moment is at hand. Even now she retains her courage—she approaches the block, and places her head upon it. The axe is raised—ha!"

The exclamation was occasioned by a flash of fire from the battlements of the Round Tower, followed by a volume of smoke, and in another second the deep boom of a gun was heard.

At the very moment that the flash was seen, a wild figure, mounted on a coal-black steed, galloped from out the wood, and dashed towards Henry, whose horse reared and plunged as he passed.

"There spoke the knell of Anne Boleyn!" cried Herne, regarding Henry sternly, and pointing to the Round Tower. "The bloody deed is done, and thou art free to wed once more. Away to Wolff Hall, and bring thy new consort to Windsor Castle!"

THUS ENDS THE SIXTH AND LAST BOOK OF THE CHRONICLE OF WINDSOR CASTLE

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8
Home - Random Browse