The Rivals





At the very moment when the king was pronouncing, in a voice almost

exultant, Anne Askew's sentence of death, one of the king's cavaliers

appeared on the threshold of the royal chamber and advanced toward the

king.



He was a young man of noble and imposing appearance, whose lofty bearing

contrasted strangely with the humble and submissive attitude of the

rest of the courtiers. His tall, slim form was clad in a coat of mail

glittering with gold; over his shoulders hung a velvet mantle decorated

with a princely crown; and his head, covered with dark ringlets, was

adorned with a cap embroidered with gold, from which a long white

ostrich-feather drooped to his shoulder. His oval face presented

the full type of aristocratic beauty; his cheeks were of a clear,

transparent paleness; about his slightly pouting mouth played a smile,

half contemptuous and half languid; the high, arched brow and delicately

chiselled aquiline nose gave to his face an expression at once bold and

thoughtful. The eyes alone were not in harmony with his face; they were

neither languid like the mouth, nor pensive like the brow. All the

fire and all the bold and wanton passion of youth shot from those dark,

flashing eyes. When he looked down, he might have been taken for a

completely worn-out, misanthropic aristocrat; but when he raised those

ever-flashing and sparkling eyes, then was seen the young man full

of dashing courage and ambitious desires, of passionate warmth and

measureless pride.



He approached the king, as already stated, and as he bent his knee

before him, he said in a full, pleasant voice:



"Mercy, sire, mercy!"



The king stepped back in astonishment, and turned upon the bold speaker

a look almost of amazement.



"Thomas Seymour!" said he. "Thomas, you have returned, then, and your

first act is again an indiscretion and a piece of foolhardy rashness?"



The young man smiled. "I have returned," said he, "that is to say, I

have had a sea-fight with the Scots and taken from them four men-of-war.

With these I hastened hither to present them to you, my king and lord,

as a wedding-gift, and just as I entered the anteroom I heard your voice

pronouncing a sentence of death. Was it not natural, then, that I, who

bring you tidings of a victory, should have the heart to utter a

prayer for mercy, for which, as it seems, none of these noble and proud

cavaliers could summon up courage?"



"Ah!" said the king, evidently relieved and fetching a deep breath,

"then you knew not at all for whom and for what you were imploring

pardon?"



"Yet!" said the young man, and his bold glance ran with an expression of

contempt over the whole assembly--"yet, I saw at once who the condemned

must be, for I saw this young maiden forsaken by all as if stricken

by the plague, standing alone in the midst of this exalted and brave

company. And you well know, my noble king, that at court one recognizes

the condemned and those fallen into disgrace by this, that every one

flies from them, and nobody has the courage to touch such a leper even

with the tip of his finger!"



King Henry smiled. "Thomas Seymour, Earl of Sudley, you are now, as

ever, imprudent and hasty," said he. "You beg for mercy without once

knowing whether she for whom you beg it is worthy of mercy."



"But I see that she is a woman," said the intrepid young earl. "And a

woman is always worthy of mercy, and it becomes every knight to come

forward as her defender, were it but to pay homage to her sex, so fair

and so frail, and yet so noble and mighty. Therefore I beg mercy for

this young maiden!"



Catharine had listened to the young earl with throbbing heart and

flushed cheeks. It was the first time that she had seen him, and yet she

felt for him a warm sympathy, an almost tender anxiety.



"He will plunge himself into ruin," murmured she; "he will not save

Anne, but will make himself unhappy. My God, my God, have a little

compassion and pity on my anguish!"



She now fixed her anxious gaze on the king, firmly resolved to rush

to the help of the earl, who had so nobly and magnanimously interested

himself in an innocent woman, should the wrath of her husband threaten

him also. But, to her surprise, Henry's face was perfectly serene and

contented.



Like the wild beast, that, following its instinct, seeks its bloody prey

only so long as it is hungry, so King Henry felt satiated for the day.

Yonder glared the fires about the stake, at which four heretics were

burned; there stood the scaffold on which the Countess of Somerset had

just been executed; and now, within this hour, he had already found

another new victim for death. Moreover, Thomas Seymour had always been

his favorite. His audacity, his liveliness, his energy, had always

inspired the king with respect; and then, again, he so much resembled

his sister, the beautiful Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife.



"I cannot grant you this favor, Thomas," said the king. "Justice must

not be hindered in her course, and where she has passed sentence, mercy

must not give her the lie; and it was the justice of your king which

pronounced sentence at that moment. You were guilty, therefore, of a

double wrong, for you not only besought mercy, but you also brought an

accusation against my cavaliers. Do you really believe that, were this

maiden's cause a just one, no knight would have been found for her?"



"Yes, I really believe it," cried the earl, with a laugh. "The sun of

your favor had turned away from this poor girl, and in such a case your

courtiers no longer see the figure wrapped in darkness."



"You are mistaken, my lord; I have seen it," suddenly said another

voice, and a second cavalier advanced from the anteroom into the

chamber. He approached the king, and, as he bent his knee before him, he

said, in a loud, steady voice: "Sire, I also beg mercy for Anne Askew!"



At this moment was heard from that side of the room where the ladies

stood, a low cry, and the pale, affrighted face of Lady Jane Douglas was

for a moment raised above the heads of the other ladies. No one noticed

it. All eyes were directed toward the group in the middle of the room:

all looked with eager attention upon the king and these two young men,

who dared protect one whom he had sentenced.



"Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey!" exclaimed the king; and now an

expression of wrath passed over his countenance. "How! you, too,

dare intercede for this girl? You, then, grudge Thomas Seymour the

pre-eminence of being the most discreet man at my court?"



"I will not allow him, sire, to think that he is the bravest," replied

the young man, as he fixed on Thomas Seymour a look of haughty defiance,

which the other answered by a cold, disdainful smile.



"Oh," said he, with a shrug of his shoulders, "I willingly allow you, my

dear Earl of Surrey, to tread behind me, at your convenience, the path,

the safety of which I first tested at the peril of my life. You saw that

I had not, as yet, lost either my head or my life in this reckless under

taking, and that has given you courage to follow my example. That is a

new proof of your prudent valor, my Honorable Earl of Surrey, and I must

praise you for it."



A hot flush suffused the noble face of the earl, his eyes shot

lightning, and, trembling with rage, he laid his hand on his sword.

"Praise from Thomas Seymour is--"



"Silence!" interposed the king, imperatively. "It must not be said that

two of the noblest cavaliers of my court have turned the day, which

should be one of festivity to all of you, into a day of contention. I

command you, therefore, to be reconciled. Shake hands, my lords, and let

your reconciliation be sincere. I, the king command it!"



The young men gazed at each other with looks of hatred and smothered

rage, and their eyes spoke the insulting and defiant words which their

lips durst no longer utter. The king had ordered, and, however great

and powerful they might be, the king was to be obeyed. They,

therefore, extended their hands to each other, and muttered a few low,

unintelligible words, which might be, perhaps, a mutual apology, but

which neither of them understood.



"And now, sire," said the Earl of Surrey, "now I venture to reiterate my

prayer. Mercy, your majesty, mercy for Anne Askew!"



"And you, Thomas Seymour, do you also renew your petition?"



"No, I withdraw it. Earl Surrey protects her; I, therefore, retire, for

without doubt she is a criminal; your majesty says so, and, therefore,

it is so. It would ill become a Seymour to protect a person who sinned

against the king."



This new indirect attack on Earl Surrey seemed to make on all present a

deep but very varied impression. Here, faces were seen to turn pale,

and there, to light up with a malicious smile; here, compressed

lips muttered words of threatening, there, a mouth opened to express

approbation and agreement.



The king's brow was clouded and troubled; the arrow which Earl Sudley

had shot with so skilful a hand had hit. The king, ever suspicious and

distrustful, felt so much the more disquieted as he saw that the greater

part of his cavaliers evidently reckoned themselves friends of Henry

Howard, and that the number of Seymour's adherents was but trifling.



"These Howards are dangerous, and I will watch them carefully," said the

king to himself; and for the first time his eye rested with a dark and

hostile look on Henry Howard's noble countenance.



But Thomas Seymour, who wished only to make a thrust at his old enemy,

had at the same time decided the fate of poor Anne Askew. It was now

almost an impossibility to speak in her behalf, and to implore pardon

for her was to become a partaker of her crime. Thomas Seymour had

abandoned her, because, as traitress to her king, she had rendered

herself unworthy of his protection. Who now would be so presumptuous as

to still protect the traitress?



Henry Howard did it; he reiterated his supplication for Anne Askew's

pardon. But the king's countenance grew darker and darker, and the

courtiers watched with dread the coming of the moment when his wrath

would dash in pieces the poor Earl of Surrey.



In the row of ladies also, here and there, a pale face was visible, and

many a beautiful and beaming eye was dimmed with tears at the sight of

this gallant and handsome cavalier, who was hazarding even his life for

a woman.



"He is lost!" murmured Lady Jane Douglas; and, completely crushed

and lifeless, she leaned for a moment against the wall. But she soon

recovered herself, and her eye beamed with bold resolution. "I will try

and save him!" she said to herself; and, with firm step, she advanced

from the ladies' ranks, and approached the king.



A murmur of applause ran through the company, and all fares brightened

and all eyes were bent approvingly on Lady Jane. They knew that she

was the queen's friend, and an adherent of the new doctrine; it was,

therefore, very marked and significant when she supported the Earl of

Surrey in his magnanimous effort.



Lady Jane bowed her beautiful and haughty head before the king, and

said, in her clear, silvery voice: "Sire, in the name of all the women,

I also beseech you to pardon Anne Askew, because she is a woman. Lord

Surrey has done so because a true knight can never be false to himself

and his ever high and sacred obligation: to be the protector of those

who are helpless and in peril is enough for him. A real gentleman asks

not whether a woman is worthy of his protection; he grants it to

her, simply because she is a woman, and needs his help. And while I,

therefore, in the name of all the women, thank the Earl of Surrey for

the assistance that he has been desirous to render to a woman, I unite

my prayer with his, because it shall not be said that we women are

always cowardly and timid, and never venture to hasten to the help of

the distressed. I, therefore, ask mercy, sire, mercy for Anne Askew!"



"And I," said the queen, as she again approached the king, "I add my

prayers to hers, sire. To-day is the feast of love, my festival, sire!

To-day, then, let love and mercy prevail."



She looked at the king with so charming a smile, her eyes had an

expression so radiant and happy, that the king could not withstand her.



He was, therefore, in the depths of his heart, ready to let the royal

clemency prevail for this time; but he wanted a pretext for this, some

way of bringing it about. He had solemnly vowed to pardon no heretic,

and he might not break his word merely because the queen prayed for

mercy.



"Well, then," said he, after a pause, "I will comply with your request.

I will pardon Anne Askew, provided she will retract, and solemnly abjure

all that she has said. Are you satisfied with that, Catharine?"



"I am satisfied," said she, sadly.



"And you, Lady Jane Douglas, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey?"



"We are satisfied."



All eyes were now turned again upon Anne Askew, who, although every

one was occupied by her concerns, had been entirely overlooked and left

unnoticed.



Nor had she taken any more notice of the company than they of her. She

had scarcely observed what was going on about her. She stood leaning

against the open door leading to the balcony, and gazed at the flaming

horizon. Her soul was with those pious martyrs, for whom she was

sending up her heart-felt prayers to God, and whom she, in her feverish

exaltation, envied their death of torture. Entirely borne away from the

present, she had heard neither the petitions of those who protected her,

nor the king's reply.



A hand laid upon her shoulder roused her from her reverie.



It was Catharine, the young queen, who stood near her.



"Anne Askew," said she, in a hurried whisper, "if your life is dear to

you, comply with the king's demand."



She seized the young girl's hand, and led her to the king.



"Sire," said she, in a full voice, "forgive the exalted and impassioned

agony of a poor girl, who has now, for the first time, been witness of

an execution, and whose mind has been so much impressed by it that she

is scarcely conscious of the mad and criminal words that she has

uttered before you! Pardon her, then, your majesty, for she is prepared

cheerfully to retract."



A cry of amazement burst from Anne's lips, and her eyes flashed with

anger, as she dashed the queen's hand away from her.



"I retract!" exclaimed she, with a contemptuous smile. "Never, my lady,

never! No! as sure as I hope for God to be gracious to me in my last

hour, I retract not! It is true, it was agony and horror that made me

speak; but what I have spoken is yet, nevertheless, the truth. Horror

caused me to speak, and forced me to show my soul undisguised. No, I

retract not! I tell you, they who have been executed over yonder are

holy martyrs, who have ascended to God, there to enter an accusation

against their royal hangman. Ay, they are holy, for eternal truth had

illumined their souls, and it beamed about their faces bright as the

flames of the fagots into which the murderous hand of an unrighteous

judge had cast them. Ah, I must retract! I, forsooth, am to do as did

Shaxton, the miserable and unfaithful servant of his God, who, from

fear of earthly death, denied the eternal truth, and in blaspheming

pusillanimity perjured himself concerning the holy doctrine. [Footnote:

Burnet, vol. i, p. 341] King Henry, I say unto you, beware of

dissemblers and perjurers; beware of your own haughty and arrogant

thoughts. The blood of martyrs cries to Heaven against you, and the time

will come when God will be as merciless to you as you have been to the

noblest of your subjects! You deliver them over to the murderous flames,

because they will not believe what the priests of Baal preach; because

they will not believe in the real transubstantiation of the chalice;

because they deny that the natural body of Christ is, after the

sacrament, contained in the sacrament, no matter whether the priest be

a good or a bad man. [Footnote: Ibid.] You give them over to the

executioner, because they serve the truth, and are faithful followers of

the Lord their God!"



"And you share the views of these people whom you call martyrs?" asked

the king, as Anne Askew now paused for a moment and struggled for

breath.



"Yes, I share them!"



"You deny, then, the truth of the six articles?"



"I deny them!"



"You do not see in me the head of the Church?"



"God only is Head and Lord of the Church!"



A pause followed--a fearful, awful pause.



Every one felt that for this poor young girl there was no hope, no

possible escape; that her doom was irrevocably sealed.



There was a smile on the king's countenance.



The courtiers knew that smile, and feared it yet more than the king's

raging wrath.



When the king thus smiled, he had taken his resolve. Then there was with

him no possible vacillation or hesitation, but the sentence of death was

resolved on, and his bloodthirsty soul rejoiced over a new victim.



"My Lord Bishop of Winchester," said the king, at length, "come hither."



Gardiner drew near and placed himself by Anne Askew, who gazed at him

with angry, contemptuous looks.



"In the name of the law I command you to arrest this heretic, and hand

her over to the spiritual court," continued the king. "She is damned and

lost. She shall be punished as she deserves!"



Gardiner laid his hand on Anne Askew's shoulder. "In the name of the law

of God, I arrest you!" said he, solemnly.



Not a word more was spoken. The lord chief justice had silently followed

a sign from Gardiner, and touching Anne Askew with his staff, ordered

the soldiers to conduct her thence.



With a smile, Anne Askew offered them her hand, and surrounded by the

soldiers and followed by the Bishop of Winchester and the lord chief

justice, walked erect and proudly out of the room.



The courtiers had divided and opened a passage for Anne and her

attendants. Now their ranks closed again, as the sea closes and flows

calmly on when it has just received a corpse. To them all Anne Askew was

already a corpse, as one buried. The waves had swept over her and all

was again serene and bright.



The king extended his hand to his young wife, and, bending down,

whispered in her ear a few words, which nobody understood, but which

made the young queen tremble and blush.



The king, who observed this, laughed and impressed a kiss on her

forehead. Then he turned to his court; "Now, good-night, my lords and

gentlemen," said he, with a gracious inclination of the head. "The feast

is at an end, and we need rest."



"Forget not the Princess Elizabeth," whispered Archbishop Cranmer, as he

took leave of Catharine, and pressed to his lips her proffered hand.



"I will not forget her," murmured Catharine, and, with throbbing heart

and trembling with inward dread, she saw them all retire, and leave her

alone with the king.





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