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Windsor Castle
by William Harrison Ainsworth
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"Lady Anne, I pray you retire," said Henry. But Anne stood her ground resolutely.

"Nay, let her stay, then," said the queen; "and I promise you she shall repent her rashness. And do you stay too, Henry, and regard well her whom you are about to make your spouse. Question your sister Mary, somewhile consort to Louis the Twelfth and now Duchess of Suffolk—question her as to the character and conduct of Anne Boleyn when she was her attendant at the court of France—ask whether she had never to reprove her for levity—question the Lord Percy as to her love for him—question Sir Thomas Wyat, and a host of others."

"All these charges are false and calumnious!" cried Anne Boleyn.

"Let the king inquire and judge for himself," rejoined Catherine; "and if he weds you, let him look well to you, or you will make him a scoff to all honourable men. And now, as you have come between him and me—as you have divided husband and wife—for the intent, whether successful or not, I denounce you before Heaven, and invoke its wrath upon your head. Night and day I will pray that you may be brought to shame; and when I shall be called hence, as I maybe soon, I will appear before the throne of the Most High, and summon you to judgment."

"Take me from her, Henry!" cried Anne faintly; "her violence affrights me."

"No, you shall stay," said Catherine, grasping her arm and detaining her; "you shall hear your doom. You imagine your career will be a brilliant one, and that you will be able to wield the sceptre you wrongfully wrest from me; but it will moulder into dust in your hand—the crown unjustly placed upon your brow will fall to the ground, and it will bring the head with it."

"Take me away, Henry, I implore you!" cried Anne.

"You shall hear me out," pursued Catherine, exerting all her strength, and maintaining her grasp, "or I will follow you down yon aisles, and pour forth my malediction against you in the hearing of all your attendants. You have braved me, and shall feel my power. Look at her, Henry—see how she shrinks before the gaze of an injured woman. Look me in the face, minion—you cannot!—you dare not!"

"Oh, Henry!" sobbed Anne.

"You have brought it upon yourself," said the king.

"She has," replied Catherine; "and, unless she pauses and repents, she will bring yet more upon her head. You suffer now, minion, but how will you feel when, in your turn, you are despised, neglected, and supplanted by a rival—when the false glitter of your charms having passed away, Henry will see only your faults, and will open his eyes to all I now tell him?"

A sob was all the answer Anne could return.

"You will feel as I feel towards you," pursued the queen—"hatred towards her; but you will not have the consolations I enjoy. You will have merited your fate, and you will then think upon me and my woes, and will bitterly, but unavailingly, repent your conduct. And now, Henry," she exclaimed, turning solemnly to him, "you have pledged your royal word to me, and given me your hand upon it, that if you find this woman false to you she shall expiate her offence on the block. I call upon you to ratify the pledge in her presence."

"I do so, Catherine," replied the king. "The mere suspicion of her guilt shall be enough."

"Henry!" exclaimed Anne.

"I have said it," replied the king.

"Tremble, then, Anne Boleyn!" cried Catherine, "tremble! and when you are adjudged to die the death of an adulteress, bethink you of the prediction of the queen you have injured. I may not live to witness your fate, but we shall meet before the throne of an eternal Judge."

"Oh, Henry, this is too much!" gasped Anne, and she sank fainting into his arms.

"Begone!" cried the king furiously. "You have killed her!"

"It were well for us both if I had done so," replied Catherine. "But she will recover to work my misery and her own. To your hands I commit her punishment. May God bless you, Henry!"

With this she replaced her mask, and quitted the chapel.

Henry, meanwhile, anxious to avoid the comments of his attendants, exerted himself to restore Anne Boleyn to sensibility, and his efforts were speedily successful.

"Is it then reality?" gasped Anne, as she gazed around. "I hoped it was a hideous dream. Oh, Henry, this has been frightful! But you will not kill me, as she predicted? Swear to me you will not!"

"Why should you be alarmed?" rejoined the king. "If you are faithful, you have nothing to fear."

"But you said suspicion, Henry—you said suspicion!" cried Anne.

"You must put the greater guard upon your conduct," rejoined the king moodily. "I begin to think there is some truth in Catherine's insinuations."

"Oh no, I swear to you there is not," said Anne—"I have trifled with the gallants of Francis's court, and have listened, perhaps too complacently, to the love-vows of Percy and Wyat, but when your majesty deigned to cast eyes upon me, all others vanished as the stars of night before the rising of the god of day. Henry, I love you deeply, devotedly—but Catherine's terrible imprecations make me feel more keenly than I have ever done before the extent of the wrong I am about to inflict upon her—and I fear that retributive punishment will follow it."

"You will do her no wrong," replied Henry. "I am satisfied of the justice of the divorce, and of its necessity; and if my purposed union with you were out of the question, I should demand it. Be the fault on my head."

"Your words restore me in some measure, my liege," said Anne. "I love you too well not to risk body and soul for you. I am yours for ever—ah!" she exclaimed, with a fearful look.

"What ails you, sweetheart?" exclaimed the king.

"I thought I saw a face at the window," she replied—"a black and hideous face like that of a fiend."

"It was mere fancy," replied the king. "Your mind is disturbed by what has occurred. You had better join your attendants, and retire to your own apartments."

"Oh, Henry!" cried Anne—"do not judge me unheard—do not believe what any false tongue may utter against me. I love only you and can love only you. I would not wrong you, even in thought, for worlds."

"I believe you, sweetheart," replied the king tenderly.

So saying, he led her down the aisle to her attendants. They then proceeded together to the royal lodgings, where Anne retired to her own apartments, and Henry withdrew to his private chamber.



II.

How Herne the Hunter appeared to Henry on the Terrace.

Henry again sat down to his despatches, and employed himself upon them to a late hour. At length, feeling heated and oppressed, he arose, and opened a window. As he did so, he was almost blinded by a vivid flash of forked lightning. Ever ready to court danger, and convinced, from the intense gloom without, that a fearful storm was coming on, Henry resolved to go forth to witness it. With this view he quitted the closet, and passed through a small door opening on the northern terrace. The castle clock tolled the hour of midnight as he issued forth, and the darkness was so profound that he could scarcely see a foot before him. But he went on.

"Who goes there?" cried a voice, as he advanced, and a partisan was placed at his breast.

"The king!" replied Henry, in tones that would have left no doubt of the truth of the assertion, even if a gleam of lightning had not at the moment revealed his figure and countenance to the sentinel.

"I did not look for your majesty at such a time," replied the man, lowering his pike. "Has your majesty no apprehension of the storm? I have watched it gathering in the valley, and it will be a dreadful one. If I might make bold to counsel you, I would advise you to seek instant shelter in the castle."

"I have no fear, good fellow," laughed the king. "Get thee in yon porch, and leave the terrace to me. I will warn thee when I leave it."

As he spoke a tremendous peal of thunder broke overhead, and seemed to shake the strong pile to its foundations. Again the lightning rent the black canopy of heaven in various places, and shot down in forked flashes of the most dazzling brightness. A rack of clouds, heavily charged with electric fluid, hung right over the castle, and poured down all their fires upon it.

Henry paced slowly to and fro, utterly indifferent to the peril he ran—now watching the lightning as it shivered some oak in the home park, or lighted up the wide expanse of country around him—now listening to the roar of heaven's artillery; and he had just quitted the western extremity of the terrace, when the most terrific crash he had yet heard burst over him. The next instant a dozen forked flashes shot from the sky, while fiery coruscations blazed athwart it; and at the same moment a bolt struck the Wykeham Tower, beside which he had been recently standing. Startled by the appalling sound, he turned and beheld upon the battlemented parapet on his left a tall ghostly figure, whose antlered helm told him it was Herne the Hunter. Dilated against the flaming sky, the proportions of the demon seemed gigantic. His right hand was stretched forth towards the king, and in his left he held a rusty chain. Henry grasped the handle of his sword, and partly drew it, keeping his gaze fixed upon the figure.

"You thought you had got rid of me, Harry of England," cried Herne, "but were you to lay the weight of this vast fabric upon me, I would break from under it—ho! ho!"

"What wouldst thou, infernal spirit?" cried Henry.

"I am come to keep company with you, Harry," replied the demon; "this is a night when only you and I should be abroad. We know how to enjoy it. We like the music of the loud thunder, and the dance of the blithe lightning."

"Avaunt, fiend!" cried Henry. "I will hold no converse with thee. Back to thy native hell!"

"You have no power over me, Harry," rejoined the demon, his words mingling with the rolling of the thunder, "for your thoughts are evil, and you are about to do an accursed deed. You cannot dismiss me. Before the commission of every great crime—and many great crimes you will commit—I will always appear to you. And my last appearance shall he three days before your end—ha! ha!"

"Darest thou say this to me!" cried Henry furiously.

"I laugh at thy menaces," rejoined Herne, amid another peal of thunder—"but I have not yet done. Harry of England! your career shall be stained in blood. Your wrath shall descend upon the heads of those who love you, and your love shall be fatal. Better Anne Boleyn fled this castle, and sought shelter in the lowliest hovel in the land, than become your spouse. For you will slay her—and not her alone. Another shall fall by your hand; and so, if you had your own will, would all!"

"What meanest thou by all?" demanded the king.

"You will learn in due season," laughed the fiend. "But now mark me, Harry of England, thou fierce and bloody kin—thou shalt be drunken with the blood of thy wives; and thy end shall be a fearful one. Thou shalt linger out a living death—a mass of breathing corruption shalt thou become—and when dead the very hounds with which thou huntedst me shall lick thy blood!"

These awful words, involving a fearful prophecy, which was afterwards, as will be shown, strangely fulfilled, were so mixed up with the rolling of the thunder that Henry could scarcely distinguish one sound from the other. At the close of the latter speech a flash of lightning of such dazzling brilliancy shot down past him, that he remained for some moments almost blinded; and when he recovered his powers of vision the demon had vanished.



III.

How Mabel Lyndwood was taken to the Castle by Nicholas Clamp—And how they encountered Morgan Fenwolf by the way.

THE storm which had fallen so heavily on the castle had likewise visited the lake, and alarmed the inmates of the little dwelling on its banks. Both the forester and his grand-daughter were roused from their beds, and they sat together in the chief apartment of the cottage, listening to the awful rolling of the thunder, and watching the blue flashing of the lightning. The storm was of unusually long duration, and continued for more than an hour with unintermitted violence. It then paused; the thunder rolled off, and the flashes of lightning grew fainter and less frequent. During the storm Mabel continued on her knees, addressing the most earnest prayers to the Virgin for her preservation and that of her grandfather; but the old forester, though evidently much alarmed, uttered not a single supplication, but remained sitting in his chair with a sullen, scared look. As the thunder died away, he recovered his composure, and addressed himself to soothe the fears of his granddaughter. In this he had partially succeeded, and was urging her again to seek her couch, when the storm recommenced with fresh fury. Mabel once more fell on her knees, and the old man resumed his sullen posture. Another dreadful half-hour, marked by a succession of terrible peals and vivid flashes, succeeded, when, amidst an awful pause, Mabel ventured to address her old relative.

"Why do you not pray, grandfather?" she said, regarding him uneasily. "Sister Anastasia and good Father Anselm always taught me to utter an Ave and cross myself during a thunderstorm. Why do you not pray, grandfather?"

"Do not trouble me. I have no fear."

"But your cheeks and lips are blanched," rejoined Mabel; "and I observed you shudder during that last awful crash. Pray, grandfather, pray!"

"Peace, wench, and mind your own business!" returned the old man angrily. "The storm will soon be over—it cannot last long in this way."

"The saints preserve us!" cried Mabel, as a tremendous concussion was heard overhead, followed by a strong sulphureous smell. "The cottage is struck!"

"It is—it is!" cried Tristram, springing to his feet and rushing forth.

For a few minutes Mabel continued in a state of stupefaction. She then staggered to the door, and beheld her grandfather occupied with two dark figures, whom she recognised as Valentine Hagthorne and Morgan Fenwolf, in extinguishing the flames, which were bursting from the thatched roof of the hut. Surprise and terror held her silent, and the others were so busily engaged that they did not notice her.

At last, by their united efforts, the fire was got under without material damage to the little building, and Mabel retired, expecting her grandsire to return; but as he did not do so, and as almost instantly afterwards the plash of oars was heard en the lake, she flew to the window, and beheld him, by the gleam of the lightning, seated in the skiff with Morgan Fenwolf, while Valentine Hagthorne had mounted a black horse, and was galloping swiftly away. Mabel saw no more. Overcome by fright, she sank on the ground insensible. When she recovered the storm had entirely ceased. A heavy shower had fallen, but the sky was now perfectly clear, and day had begun to dawn. Mabel went to the door of the hut, and looked forth for her grandfather, but he was nowhere to be seen. She remained gazing at the now peaceful lake till the sun had fairly risen, when, feeling more composed, she retired to rest, and sleep, which had been banished from them during the greater part of the night, now fell upon her lovely eyelids.

When she awoke, the day was far advanced, but still old Tristram had not returned; and with a heavy heart she set about her household concerns. The thought, however, of her anticipated visit to the castle speedily dispelled her anxiety, and she began to make preparations for setting out, attiring herself with unusual care. Bouchier had not experienced much difficulty in persuading her to obey the king's behest, and by his artful representations he had likewise induced her grandfather to give his consent to the visit—the old forester only stipulating that she should be escorted there and back by a falconer, named Nicholas Clamp, in whom he could put trust; to which proposition Bouchier readily assented.

At length five o'clock, the appointed hour, arrived, and with it came Nicholas Clamp. He was a tall, middle-aged man, with yellow hair, clipped closely over his brows, and a beard and moustaches to match. His attire resembled that of a keeper of the forest, and consisted of a doublet and hose of green cloth; but he did not carry a bugle or hunting-knife. His sole weapon was a stout quarter-staff. After some little hesitation Mabel consented to accompany the falconer, and they set forth together.

The evening was delightful, and their way through the woods was marked by numberless points of beauty. Mabel said little, for her thoughts were running upon her grandfather, and upon his prolonged and mysterious absence; but the falconer talked of the damage done by the thunderstorm, which he declared was the most awful he had ever witnessed; and he pointed out to her several trees struck by the lightning. Proceeding in this way, they gained a road leading from Blacknest, when, from behind a large oak, the trunk of which had concealed him from view, Morgan Fenwolf started forth, and planted himself in their path. The gear of the proscribed keeper was wild and ragged, his locks matted and disordered, his demeanour savage, and his whole appearance forbidding and alarming.

"I have been waiting for you for some time, Mabel Lyndwood," he said. "You must go with me to your grandfather."

"My grandfather would never send you for me," replied Mabel; "but if he did, I will not trust myself with you."

"The saints preserve us!" cried Nicholas Clamp. "Can I believe my eyes!—do I behold Morgan Fenwolf!"

"Come with me, Mabel," cried Fenwolf, disregarding him.

But she returned a peremptory refusal.

"She shall not stir an inch!" cried the falconer. "It is thou, Morgan Fenwolf, who must go with me. Thou art a proscribed felon, and thy life is forfeit to the king. Yield thee, dog, as my prisoner!"

"Thy prisoner!" echoed Fenwolf scornfully. "It would take three such as thou art to make me captive! Mabel Lyndwood, in your grandfather's name, I command you to come with me, and let Nick Clamp look to himself if he dares to hinder you."

"Nick will do something more than hinder her," rejoined the falconer, brandishing his staff, and rushing upon the other. "Felon hound! I command thee to yield!"

Before the falconer could reach him, Morgan Fenwolf plucked a long hunting-knife from his girdle, and made a desperate stab at his assailant. But Clamp avoided the blow, and striking Fenwolf on the shins, immediately afterwards closed with him.

The result was still doubtful, when the struggle was suddenly interrupted by the trampling of horse approaching from the side of Windsor; and at the sound Morgan Fenwolf disengaged himself from his antagonist and plunged into the adjoining wood. The next moment Captain Bouchier rode up, followed by a small band of halberdiers, and receiving information from the falconer of what had occurred, darted with his men into the wood in search of the fugitive. Nicholas Clamp and his companion did not await the issue of the search, but proceeded on their way.

As they walked at a brisk pace, they reached the long avenue in about half-an-hour, and took their way down it. When within a mile of the castle they were overtaken by Bouchier and his followers, and the falconer was much disappointed to learn that they had failed in tracking Morgan Fenwolf to his lair. After addressing a few complimentary words to the maiden, Bouchier rode on.

Soon after this the pair quitted the great park, and passing through a row of straggling houses, divided by gardens and closes, which skirted the foot of Castle Hill, presently reached the lower gate. They were admitted without difficulty; but just as they entered the lower ward the falconer was hailed by Shoreditch and Paddington, who at the moment issued from the doorway of the guard-room.

Clamp obeyed the call and went towards them, and it was evident, from the gestures of the archers, that they were making inquiries about Mabel, whose appearance seemed to interest them greatly. After a brief conversation with the falconer they approached her, and, respectfully addressing her, begged leave to attend her to the royal lodgings, whither they understood she was going. No objection being made to the proposal by Mabel, the party directed their course towards the middle ward.

Passing through the gateway of the Norman Tower, they stopped before a low portal in a picturesque Gothic wing of the castle, with projecting walls and bay-windows, which had been erected in the preceding reign of Henry the Seventh, and was consequently still in all its freshness and beauty.



IV.

How Mabel was received by the Party in the Kitchen—And of the Quarrel between the two Jesters.

Addressing himself to a stout-built yeoman of the guard, who was standing within the doorway, Nicholas Clamp demanded admittance to the kitchen, and the man having detained them for a few moments, during which he regarded Mabel with a very offensive stare, ushered them into a small hall, and from thence into a narrow passage connected with it. Lighted by narrow loopholes pierced through the walls, which were of immense thickness, this passage described the outer side of the whole upper quadrangle, and communicated with many other lateral passages and winding stairs leading to the chambers allotted to the household or to the state apartments. Tracking it for some time, Nicholas Clamp at length turned off on the right, and, crossing a sort of ante-room, led the way into a large chamber with stone walls and a coved and groined roof, lighted by a great window at the lower end. This was the royal kitchen, and in it yawned no fewer than seven huge arched fireplaces, in which fires were burning, and before which various goodly joints were being roasted, while a number of cooks and scullions were congregated round them. At a large table in the centre of the kitchen were seated some half-dozen yeomen of the guard, together with the clerk of the kitchen, the chief bargeman, and the royal cutler, or bladesmith, as he was termed.

These worthies were doing ample justice to a chine of beef, a wild-boar pie, a couple of fat capons, a peacock pasty, a mess of pickled lobsters, and other excellent and inviting dishes with which the board was loaded. Neither did they neglect to wash down the viands with copious draughts of ale and mead from great pots and flagons placed beside them. Behind this party stood Giovanni Joungevello, an Italian minstrel, much in favour with Anne Boleyn, and Domingo Lamellino, or Lamelyn—as he was familiarly termed—a Lombard, who pretended to some knowledge of chirurgery, astrology, and alchemy, and who was a constant attendant on Henry. At the head of the bench, on the right of the table, sat Will Sommers. The jester was not partaking of the repast, but was chatting with Simon Quanden, the chief cook, a good-humoured personage, round-bellied as a tun, and blessed with a spouse, yclept Deborah, as fond of good cheer, as fat, and as good-humoured as himself. Behind the cook stood the cellarman, known by the appellation of Jack of the Bottles, and at his feet were two playful little turnspits, with long backs, and short forelegs, as crooked almost as sickles.

On seeing Mabel, Will Sommers immediately arose, and advancing towards her with a mincing step, bowed with an air of mock ceremony, and said in an affected tone, "Welcome, fair mistress, to the king's kitchen. We are all right glad to see you; are we not, mates?"

"Ay, that we are!" replied a chorus of voices.

"By my troth, the wench is wondrously beautiful!" said Kit Coo, one of the yeomen of the guard.

"No wonder the king is smitten with her," said Launcelot Rutter, the bladesmith; "her eyes shine like a dagger's point."

"And she carries herself like a wafter on the river," said the bargeman.

"Her complexion is as good as if I had given her some of my sovereign balsam of beauty," said Domingo Lamelyn.

"Much better," observed Joungevello, the minstrel; "I shall write a canzonet in her praise, and sing it before the king."

"And get flouted for thy pains by the Lady Anne," said Kit Coo.

"The damsel is not so comely as I expected to find her," observed Amice Lovekyn, one of the serving-women, to Hector Cutbeard, the clerk of the kitchen.

"Why, if you come to that, she is not to be compared to you, pretty Amice," said Cutbeard, who was a red-nosed, red-faced fellow, with a twinkling merry eye.

"Nay, I meant not that," replied Amice, retreating.

"Excuse my getting up to receive you, fair mistress," cried Simon Quanden, who seemed fixed to his chair; "I have been bustling about all day, and am sore fatigued—sore fatigued. But will you not take something? A sugared cate, and a glass of hypocras jelly, or a slice of capon? Go to the damsel, dame, and prevail on her to eat."

"That will I," replied Deborah. "What shall it be, sweetheart? We have a well-stored larder here. You have only to ask and have."

"I thank you, but I am in want of nothing," replied Mabel.

"Nay, that is against all rule, sweetheart," said Deborah; "no one enters the king's kitchen without tasting his royal cheer."

"I am sorry I must prove an exception, then," returned Mabel, smiling; "for I have no appetite."

"Well, well, I will not force you to eat against your will," replied the good dame "But a cup of wine will do you good after your walk."

"I will wait upon her," said the Duke of Shoreditch.' who vied with Paddington and Nick Clamp in attention to the damsel.

"Let me pray you to cast your eyes upon these two dogs, fair Mabel," said Will Sommers, pointing to the two turn-spits, "they are special favourites of the king's highness. They are much attached to the cook, their master; but their chief love is towards each other, and nothing can keep them apart."

"Will Sommers speaks the truth," rejoined Simon Quanden. "Hob and Nob, for so they are named, are fast friends. When Hob gets into the box to turn the spit, Nob will watch beside it till his brother is tired, and then he will take his place. They always eat out of the same platter, and drink out of the same cup. I once separated them for a few hours to see what would happen, but they howled so piteously, that I was forced to bring them together again. It would have done your heart good to witness their meeting, and to see how they leaped and rolled with delight. Here, Hob," he added, taking a cake from his apron pocket, "divide this with thy brother."

Placing his paws upon his master's knees, the nearest turnspit took the cake in his mouth, and proceeding towards Nob, broke it into two pieces, and pushed the larger portion towards him.

While Mabel was admiring this display of sagacity and affection a bustling step was heard behind her, and turning, she beheld a strange figure in a parti-coloured gown and hose, with a fool's cap and bells on his head, whom she immediately recognised as the cardinal's jester, Patch. The new-comer recognised her too, stared in astonishment, and gave a leering look at Will Sommers.

"What brings you here, gossip Patch?" cried Will Sommers. "I thought you were in attendance upon your master, at the court at Blackfriars."

"So I have been," replied Patch, "and I am only just arrived with his grace."

"What! is the decision pronounced?" cried Will Sommers eagerly. "Is the queen divorced? Is the king single again? Let us hear the sentence."

"Ay, the sentence!—the sentence!" resounded on all hands.

Stimulated by curiosity, the whole of the party rose from the table; Simon Quanden got out of his chair; the other cooks left their joints to scorch at the fire; the scullions suspended their work; and Hob and Nob fixed their large inquiring black eyes upon the jester.

"I never talk thirsting," said Patch, marching to the table, and filling himself a flagon of mead. "Here's to you, fair maiden," he added, kissing the cup to Mabel, and swallowing its contents at a draught. "And now be seated, my masters, and you shall hear all I have to relate, and it will be told in a few words. The court is adjourned for three days, Queen Catherine having demanded that time to prepare her allegations, and the delay has been granted her."

"Pest on it!—the delay is some trick of your crafty and double-dealing master," cried Will Sommers. "Were I the king, I know how I would deal with him."

"What wouldst thou do, thou scurril knave?" cried Patch angrily.

"I would strip him of his ill-gotten wealth, and leave him only thee—a fitting attendant—of all his thousand servitors," replied Will.

"This shall to his grace's ears," screamed Patch, amid the laughter of the company—"and see whether your back does not smart for it."

"I fear him not," replied Will Sommers. "I have not yet told the king my master of the rare wine we found in his cellar."

"What wine was that, Will?" cried Jack of the Bottles.

"You shall hear," replied Will Sommers, enjoying the disconcerted look of the other jester. "I was at the palace at Hampton, when this scant-witted knave invited me to taste some of his master's wine, and accordingly to the cellar we went. 'This wine will surprise you,' quoth he, as we broached the first hogshead. And truly it did surprise me, for no wine followed the gimlet. So we went on to another, and another, and another, till we tried half a score of them, and all with the same result. Upon this I seized a hammer which was lying by and sounded the casks, but none of them seeming empty, I at last broke the lid of one—and what do you think it contained?"

A variety of responses were returned by the laughing assemblage, during which Patch sought to impose silence upon his opponent. But Will Sommers was not to be checked.

"It contained neither vinegar, nor oil, nor lead," he said, "but gold; ay, solid bars of gold-ingots. Every hogshead was worth ten thousand pounds, and more."

"Credit him not, my masters," cried Patch, amid the roars of the company; "the whole is a mere fable—an invention. His grace has no such treasure. The truth is, Will Sommers got drunk upon some choice Malmsey, and then dreamed he had been broaching casks of gold."

"It is no fable, as you and your master will find when the king comes to sift the matter," replied Will. "This will be a richer result to him than was ever produced by your alchemical experiments, good Signor Domingo Lamelyn."

"It is false!—I say false!" screamed Patch, "let the cellars be searched, and I will stake my head nothing is found."

"Stake thy cap, and there may be some meaning in it," said Will, plucking Patch's cap from his head and elevating it on his truncheon. "Here is an emblem of the Cardinal of York," he cried, pointing to it.

A roar of laughter from the company followed this sally, and Hob and Nob looked up in placid wonderment.

"I shall die with laughing," cried Simon Quanden, holding his fat sides, and addressing his spouse, who was leaning upon his shoulder.

In the meantime Patch sprang to his feet, and, gesticulating with rage and fury, cried, "Thou hast done well to steal my cap and bells, for they belong of right to thee. Add my folly to thy own, and thou wilt be a fitting servant to thy master; or e'en give him the cap, and then there will be a pair of ye."

"Who is the fool now, I should like to know?" rejoined Will Sommers gravely. "I call you all to witness that he has spoken treason."

While this was passing Shoreditch had advanced with a flagon of Malmsey to Mabel, but she was so interested in the quarrel between the two jesters that she heeded him not; neither did she attend to Nicholas Clamp, who was trying to explain to her what was going forward. But just as Patch's indiscreet speech was uttered an usher entered the kitchen and announced the approach of the king.



V.

Of the Combat between Will Sommers and Patch—And how it terminated.

Mabel's heart fluttered violently at the usher's announcement, and for a moment the colour deserted her cheek, while the next instant she was covered with blushes. As to poor Patch, feeling that his indiscretion might place him in great jeopardy and seriously affect his master, to whom he was devotedly attached, he cast a piteous and imploring look at his antagonist, but was answered only by a derisive laugh, coupled with an expressive gesture to intimate that a halter would be his fate. Fearful that mischief might ensue, the good-natured Simon Quanden got out of his chair and earnestly besought Will not to carry matters too far; but the jester remained implacable.

It was not unusual with Henry to visit the different offices of the castle and converse freely and familiarly with the members of his household, but it was by no means safe to trust to the continuance of his good humour, or in the slightest degree to presume upon it. It is well known that his taste for variety of character often led him, like the renowned Caliph Haroun Al Raschid, to mix with the lower classes of his subjects in disguise, at which times many extraordinary adventures are said to have befallen him. His present visit to the kitchen, therefore, would have occasioned no surprise to its occupants if it had not occurred so soon after the cardinal's arrival. But it was this circumstance, in fact, that sent him thither. The intelligence brought by Wolsey of the adjournment of the court for three days, under the plea of giving the queen time for her allegations, was so unlooked for by Henry that he quitted the cardinal in high displeasure, and was about to repair to Anne Boleyn, when he encountered Bouchier, who told him that Mabel Lyndwood had been brought to the castle, and her grandsire arrested. The information changed Henry's intentions at once, and he proceeded with Bouchier and some other attendants to the kitchen, where he was given to understand he should find the damsel.

Many a furtive glance was thrown at the king, for no one dared openly to regard him as he approached the forester's fair granddaughter. But he tarried only a moment beside her, chucked her under the chin, and, whispering a word or two in her ear that heightened her blushes, passed on to the spot where the two jesters were standing.

"What dost thou here, knave?" he said to Will Sommers.

"I might rather ask that question of your majesty," replied Will; "and I would do so but that I require not to be told."

"I have come to see what passeth in my household," replied the king, throwing himself into the chair lately occupied by the chief cook. "Ah, Hob and Nob, my merry rascals," he cried, patting the turnspits, who ran towards him and thrust their noses against his hand, "ye are as gamesome and loving as ever, I see. Give me a manchet for them, Master Cook, and let not the proceedings in the kitchen be stayed for my presence. I would not have my supper delayed, or the roasts spoiled, for any false ceremony. And now, Will, what hast thou to say that thou lookest so hard at me?"

"I have a heavy charge to bring against this knave, an' please your majesty," replied Will Sommers, pointing to Patch.

"What! hath he retorted upon thee too sharply?" replied the king, laughing. "If so, challenge him to the combat, and settle the grievance with thy lathen dagger. But refer not the matter to me. I am no judge in fools' quarrels."

"Your own excepted," muttered Will. "This is not a quarrel that can be so adjusted," he added aloud. "I charge this rascal Patch with speaking disrespectfully of your highness in the hearing of the whole kitchen. And I also charge his master the cardinal with having secreted in his cellars at Hampton a vast amount of treasure, obtained by extortion, privy dealings with foreign powers, and other iniquitous practices, and which ought of right to find its way to your royal exchequer."

"'And which shall find its way thither, if thou dost not avouch a fable," replied the king.

"Your majesty shall judge," rejoined Will. And he repeated the story which he had just before related.

"Can this be true?" exclaimed Henry at its close.

"It is false, your highness, every word of it," cried Patch, throwing himself at the king's feet, "except so far as relates to our visits to the cellar, where, I shame to speak it, we drank so much that our senses clean forsook us. As to my indiscreet speech touching your majesty, neither disrespect nor disloyalty were intended by it. I was goaded to the rejoinder by the sharp sting of this hornet."

"The matter of the treasure shall be inquired into without delay," said Henry. "As to the quarrel, it shall be settled thus. Get both of you upon that table. A flour-bag shall be given to each; and he who is first knocked off shall be held vanquished."

The king's judgment was received with as much applause as dared be exhibited by the hearers; and in an instant the board was cleared, and a couple of flour-bags partly filled delivered to the combatants by Simon Quanden, who bestirred himself with unwonted activity on the occasion.

Leaping upon the table, amid the smothered mirth of the assemblage, the two jesters placed themselves opposite each other, and grinned such comical defiance that the king roared with laughter. After a variety of odd movements and feints on either side, Patch tried to bring down his adversary by a tremendous two-handed blow; but in dealing it, the weight of the hag dragged him forward, and well-nigh pitched him head foremost upon the floor. As it was, he fell on his face upon the table, and in this position received several heavy blows upon the prominent part of his back from Will Sommers. Ere long, however, he managed to regain his legs, and, smarting with pain, attacked his opponent furiously in his turn. For a short space fortune seemed to favour him. His bag had slightly burst, and the flour, showering from it with every blow, well-nigh blinded his adversary, whom he drove to the very edge of the table. At this critical juncture Will managed to bring down his bag full upon his opponent's sconce, and the force of the blow bursting it, Patch was covered from crown to foot with flour, and blinded in his turn. The appearance of the combatants was now so exquisitely ridiculous, that the king leaned back in his chair to indulge his laughter, and the mirth of the spectators could no longer be kept within decorous limits. The very turnspits barked in laughing concert.

"Well fought on both sides!" cried Henry; "it were hard to say which will prove the victor. Now, knaves, to it again—ha! ha!—to it again!"

Once more the bags were wielded, descended, and the blows were so well directed on either side, that both combatants fell backwards. Again the king's laughter rose loud and long. Again the merriment of the other beholders was redoubled. Again Hob and Nob barked joyously, and tried to spring on to the table to take part in the conflict. Amid the general glee, the combatants rose and renewed the fight, dealing blows thick and fast—for the bags were now considerably lightened of their contents—until they were completely hidden from view by a cloud of white dust.

"We cannot see the fray," remarked Henry; "but we can hear the din of battle. Which will prove the victor, I marvel?"

"I am for Will Sommers," cried Bouchier.

"And I for Patch," said Simon Quanden. "Latterly he hath seemed to me to have the advantage."

"It is decided!" cried the king, rising, as one of the combatants was knocked off the table, and fell to the floor with a great noise. "Who is it?"

"Patch," replied a faint voice. And through the cloud of dust struggled forth the forlorn figure of the cardinal's jester, while Will Sommers leaped triumphantly to the ground.

"Get thee to a wash-tub, knave, and cleanse thyself," said Henry, laughing. "In consideration of the punishment thou hast undergone, I pardon thee thy treasonable speech."

So saying, he rose, and walked towards Mabel, who had been quite as much alarmed as amused by the scene which had just taken place.

"I hope you have been as well cared for, damsel," he said, "since your arrival at the castle, as you cared for the Duke of Suffolk and myself when we visited your cottage?

"I have had everything I require, my liege," replied Mabel timidly.

"Dame Quanden will take charge of you till to-morrow," rejoined the king, "when you will enter upon the service of one of our dames."

"Your majesty is very considerate," said Mabel, "but I would rather go back at early dawn to my grandsire."

"That is needless," rejoined the king sternly. "Your grandsire is in the castle."

"I am glad to hear it!" exclaimed Mabel. And then, altering her tone, for she did not like the expression of the king's countenance, she added, "I hope he has not incurred your majesty's displeasure."

"I trust he will be able to clear himself, Mabel," said Henry, "but he labours under the grave suspicion of leaguing with lawless men."

Mabel shuddered, for the thought of what she had witnessed on the previous night during the storm rushed forcibly to her recollection. The king noticed her uneasiness, and added, in a gentler tone, "If he makes such confession as will bring the others to justice, he has nothing to fear. Dame Quanden, I commit this maiden to your charge. To-morrow she will take her place as attendant to the Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald."

So saying, he moved off with Bouchier and the rest of his attendants, leaving Mabel to the care of the cook's good humoured spouse, who seeing her eyes filled with tears, strove to cheer her, and led her towards a small side-table, where she pressed wine and cates upon her.

"Be of good cheer, sweetheart," she said, in a soothing tone; "no harm will befall your grandfather. You are much too high in favour with the king for that."

"I liked the king much better as I saw him at our cottage, good dame," replied Mabel, smiling through her tears, "in the guise of a Guildford merchant. He seemed scarcely to notice me just now."

"That was because so many eyes were upon you, sweet-heart," replied Deborah; "but sooth to say, I should be better pleased if he did not notice you at all."

Mabel blushed, and hung her head.

"I am glad you are to be an attendant on the Lady Fitzgerald," pursued Deborah, "for she is the fairest young lady at court, and as good and gentle as she is fair, and I am sure you will find her a kind mistress. I will tell you something about her. She is beloved by the king's son, the Duke of Richmond, but she requites not his passion, for her heart is fixed on the youthful Earl of Surrey. Alack-a-day! the noble rivals quarrelled and crossed swords about her; but as luck would have it, they were separated before any mischief was done. The king was very wroth with Lord Surrey, and ordered him to be imprisoned for two months in the Round Tower, in this castle, where he is now, though his term has very nearly expired."

"How I pity him, to be thus harshly treated!" remarked Mabel, her eyes swimming with tears, "and the Lady Elizabeth too! I shall delight to serve her."

"I am told the earl passes the whole of his time in poring over books and writing love-verses and sonnets," said Deborah. "It seems strange that one so young should be a poet; but I suppose he caught the art from his friend Sir Thomas Wyat."

"Is he a friend of Sir Thomas Wyat?" asked Mabel quickly.

"His close friend," replied Deborah; "except the Duke of Richmond, now his rival, he had none closer. Have you ever seen Sir Thomas, sweetheart?"

"Yes, for a few moments," replied Mabel confusedly.

"I heard that he lingered for a short time in the forest before his departure for Paris," said Dame Quanden. "There was a strange rumour that he had joined the band of Herne the Hunter. But that must have been untrue."

"Is he returned from France?" inquired Mabel, without heeding the remark.

"I fancy not," replied the good dame. "At all events, he is not come to the castle. Know you not," she added, in a low confidential tone, "that the king is jealous of him? He was a former suitor to the Lady Anne Boleyn, and desperately in love with her; and it is supposed that his mission to France was only a pretext to get him out of the way."

"I suspected as much," replied Mabel. "Alas! for Sir Thomas; and alas! for the Earl of Surrey."

"And alas! for Mabel Lyndwood, if she allows her heart to be fixed upon the king," said Deborah.

While this was passing the business of the kitchen, which had been interrupted by the various incidents above related, and especially by the conflict between the two jesters, was hurried forward, and for some time all was bustle and confusion.

But as soon as the supper was served, and all his duties were fully discharged, Simon Quanden, who had been bustling about, sat down in his easy-chair, and recruited himself with a toast and a sack posset. Hob and Nob had their supper at the same time, and the party at the table, which had been increased by the two archers and Nicholas Clamp, attacked with renewed vigour a fresh supply of mead and ale, which had been provided for them by Jack of the Bottles.

The conversation then turned upon Herne the Hunter; and as all had heard more or less about him, and some had seen him, while few knew the legend connected with him, Hector Cutbeard volunteered to relate it; upon which all the party gathered closer together, and Mabel and Deborah left off talking, and drew near to listen.



VI.

The Legend of Herne the Hunter.

"Nearly a century and a half ago," commenced Cutbeard, about the middle of the reign of Richard the Second, there was among the keepers of the forest a young man named Herne. He was expert beyond his fellows in all matters of woodcraft, and consequently in great favour with the king, who was himself devoted to the chase. Whenever he stayed at the castle, King Richard, like our own royal Harry, would pass his time in hunting, hawking, or shooting with the long-bow; and on all these occasions the young keeper was his constant attendant. If a hart was to be chased, Herne and his two black hounds of Saint Hubert's breed would hunt him down with marvellous speed; if a wild boar was to be reared, a badger digged out, a fox unkennelled, a marten bayed, or an otter vented, Herne was chosen for the task. No one could fly a falcon so well as Herne—no one could break up a deer so quickly or so skilfully as him. But in proportion as he grew in favour with the king, the young keeper was hated by his comrades, and they concerted together how to ruin him. All their efforts, however, were ineffectual, and rather tended to his advantage than injury.

"One day it chanced that the king hunted in the forest with his favourite, the Earl of Oxford, when a great deer of head was unharboured, and a tremendous chase ensued, the hart leading his pursuers within a few miles of Hungerford, whither the borders of the forest then extended. All the followers of the king, even the Earl of Oxford, had by this time dropped off, and the royal huntsman was only attended by Herne, who kept close behind him. At last the hart, driven to desperation, stood at bay, and gored the king's horse as he came up in such a manner that it reared and threw its rider. Another instant, and the horns of the infuriated animal would have been plunged into the body of the king, if Herne had not flung himself between the prostrate monarch and his assailant, and received the stroke intended for him. Though desperately wounded, the young hunter contrived slightly to raise himself, and plunged his knife into the hart's throat, while the king regained his feet.

"Gazing with the utmost concern at his unfortunate deliverer, King Richard demanded what he could do for him.

"'Nothing, sire—nothing,' replied Herne, with a groan. I shall require nothing but a grave from you, for I have received a wound that will speedily bring me to it.'

"'Not so, I trust, good fellow,' replied the king, in a tone meant to be encouraging, though his looks showed that his heart misgave him; 'my best leech shall attend you.'

"'No skill will avail me now,' replied Herne sadly. 'A hurt from hart's horn bringeth to the bier.'

"'I hope the proverb will not be justified in thy case,' rejoined the king; 'and I promise thee, if thou dost recover, thou shalt have the post of head keeper of the forest, with twenty nobles a year for wages. If, unhappily, thy forebodings are realised, I will give the same sum to be laid out in masses for thy soul.'

"'I humbly thank your highness,' replied the young man, 'and I accept the latter offer, seeing it is the only one likely to profit me.'

"With this he put his horn to his lips, and winding the dead mot feebly, fell back senseless. Much moved, the king rode off for succour; and blowing a lusty call on his bugle, was presently joined by the Earl of Oxford and some of his followers, among whom were the keepers. The latter were secretly rejoiced on hearing what had befallen Herne, but they feigned the greatest affliction, and hastened with the king to the spot where the body was lying stretched out beside that of the hart.

"'It is almost a pity his soul cannot pass away thus,' said King Richard, gazing compassionately at him, 'for he will only revive to anguish and speedy death.'"

"'Your highness is right,' replied the chief keeper, a grim old man named Osmond Crooke, kneeling beside him, and half drawing his hunting-knife; 'it were better to put him out of his misery.'

"'What! slay the man who has just saved my own life!' cried the king. 'I will consent to no such infamous deed. I would give a large reward to any one who could cure him.'

"As the words were uttered, a tall dark man, in a strange garb, and mounted on a black wild-looking steed, whom no one had hitherto observed, sprang to the ground and advanced towards the king.

"'I take your offer, sire,' said this personage, in a harsh voice. I will cure him.'

"'Who art thou, fellow?' demanded King Richard doubtfully.

"'I am a forester,' replied the tall man, 'but I understand somewhat of chirurgery and leechcraft.'

"'And woodcraft, too, I'll be sworn, fellow,' said the king 'Thou hast, or I am mistaken, made free with some of my venison.'

"'He looks marvellously like Arnold Sheafe, who was outlawed for deer-stealing,' said Osmond Crooke, regarding him steadfastly.

"'I am no outlaw, neither am I called Arnold Sheafe,' replied the other. 'My name is Philip Urswick, and I can render a good account of myself when it shall please the king's highness to interrogate me. I dwell on the heath near Bagshot, which you passed today in the chase, and where I joined you.'

"'I noted you not,' said Osmond.

"'Nor I—nor I!' cried the other keepers.

"'That may be; but I saw you,' rejoined Urswick contemptuously; 'and I tell you there is not one among you to be compared with the brave hunter who lies there. You have all pronounced his case hopeless. I repeat I can cure him if the king will make it worth my while.'

"'Make good thy words, fellow,' replied the king; 'and thou shalt not only be amply rewarded, but shalt have a free pardon for any offence thou mayest have committed.'

"'Enough,' replied Urswick. And taking a large, keen-edged hunting-knife from his girdle, he cut off the head of the hart close to the point where the neck joins the skull, and then laid it open from the extremity of the under-lip to the nuke. 'This must be bound on the head of the wounded man,' he said.

"The keepers stared in astonishment. But the king commanded that the strange order should be obeyed. Upon which the bleeding skull was fastened upon the head of the keeper with leathern thongs.

"'I will now answer for his perfect cure in a month's time,' said Urswick to the king; 'but I shall require to watch over him myself till all danger is at an end. I pray your highness to command these keepers to transport him to my hut.'

"'You hear what he says, knaves?' cried the king; 'do his bidding, and carefully, or ye shall answer to me with your lives.'

"Accordingly a litter was formed with branches of trees, and on this the body of Herne, with the hart's head still bound to it, was conveyed by the keepers to Urswick's hut, a small dwelling, situated in the wildest part of Bagshot Heath. After placing the body upon a bed of dried fern, the keepers were about to depart, when Osmond Crooke observed to the forester, 'I am now certain thou art Arnold Sheafe.'

"'It matters not who I am, since I have the king's pardon,' replied the other, laughing disdainfully.

"'Thou hast yet to earn it,' said Osmond.

"'Leave that to me,' replied Urswick. 'There is more fear that thou wilt lose thy post as chief keeper, which the king has promised to Herne, than that I shall fail.'

"'Would the deer had killed him outright!' growled Osmond.

"And the savage wish was echoed by the other keepers. "'I see you all hate him bitterly,' said Urswick. 'What will you give me for revenge?'

"'We have little to give, save a fat buck on occasions,'replied Osmond; 'and, in all likelihood, thou canst help thyself to venison.'

"'Will you swear to grant the first request I may make of you—provided it shall be in your power?' demanded Urswick.

"'Readily' they replied.

"'Enough' said Urswick. 'I must keep faith with the king. Herne will recover, but he will lose all his skill as an archer, all his craft as a hunter.'

"'If thou canst accomplish this thou art the fiend himself' cried Osmond, trembling.

"'Fiend or not,' replied Urswick, with a triumphant laugh, 'ye have made a compact with me, and must fulfil it. Now begone. I must attend to the wounded man.'

"And the keepers, full of secret misgiving, departed.

"At the precise time promised, Herne, attended by Urswick, presented himself to the king. He looked thin and pale, but all danger was past. King Richard gave the forester a purse full of nobles, and added a silver bugle to the gift. He then appointed Herne his chief keeper, hung a chain of gold round his neck, and ordered him to be lodged in the castle.

"About a week after this, Herne, having entirely regained his strength, accompanied the king on a hunting expedition to the forest, and they had scarcely entered it when his horse started and threw him. Up to that moment such an accident had never happened to him, for he was an excellent horseman, and he arose greatly discomfited, while the keepers eyed each other askance. Soon after this a buck was started, and though Herne was bravely mounted on a black steed bestowed on him on account of its swiftness by the king, he was the last in the chase.

"'Thou art out of practice,' said the king, laughing, as he came up.

"'I know not what ails me,' replied Herne gloomily.

"'It cannot be thy steed's fault,' said the king, 'for he is usually as fleet as the wind. But I will give thee an opportunity of gaining credit in another way. Thou seest yon buck. He cannot be seventy yards off, and I have seen thee hit the mark at twice the distance. Bring him down.'

"Herne raised his crossbow, and let fly the bolt; but it missed its mark, and the buck, startled by the noise, dashed down the brake wholly uninjured.

"King Richard's brow grew dark, and Herne uttered an exclamation of rage and despair.

"'Thou shalt have a third and yet easier trial,' said the king. Old Osmond Crooke shall lend thee his bow, and thy quarry shall be yon magot-pie.'

"As he spoke, the arrow sped. But it quivered in the trunk of the tree, some yards from the bird. The unfortunate shooter looked distracted; but King Richard made no remark, until, towards the close of the day, he said to him, 'Thou must regain thy craft, friend Herne, or I cannot continue thee as my chief keeper.'

"The keepers congratulated each other in secret, for they felt that their malice was about to be gratified.

"The next day Herne went forth, as he thought, alone, but he was watched by his enemies. Not a shaft would go true, and he found that he had completely lost his mastery over hound and horse. The day after that he again rode forth to hunt with the king, and his failures made him the laughing-stock of the party. Richard at length dismissed him with these words, 'Take repose for a week, and then thou shalt have a further trial. If thou dost not then succeed, I must perforce discharge thee from thy post.'

"Instead of returning to the castle, Herne rode off wildly into the forest, where he remained till eventide. He then returned with ghastly looks and a strange appearance, having the links of a rusty chain which he had plucked from a gibbet hanging from his left arm, and the hart's antlered skull, which he had procured from Urswick, fixed like a helm upon his head. His whole demeanour showed that he was crazed; and his condition, which might have moved the compassion of his foes, only provoked their laughter. After committing the wildest extravagances, he burst from all restraint, and disappeared among the trees of the home park.

"An hour after this a pedlar, who was crossing the park from Datchet, found him suspended by a rope from a branch of the oak-tree which you have all seen, and which bears his name. Despair had driven him to the dreadful deed. Instead of cutting him down, the pedlar ran to the castle to relate what he had witnessed; and the keepers, satisfied that their revenge was now fully accomplished, hastened with him to the tree. But the body was gone; and all that proclaimed it had been there, was the rope hanging from the branch. Search was everywhere made for the missing body, but without effect. When the matter was related to the king he was much troubled, and would fain have had masses said for the repose of the soul of the unfortunate keeper, but the priests refused to perform them, alleging that he had 'committed self-destruction, and was therefore out of the pale of the Church.

"On that night, a terrible thunderstorm occurred—as terrible, it may be, as that of last night—and during its continuance, the oak on which Herne had hanged himself was blasted by the lightning.

"Old Osmond was immediately reinstated in his post of chief keeper; but he had little time for rejoicing, for he found that the same spell that had bound Herne had fallen upon him. His bolts and arrows went wide of their mark, his hounds lost their scent, and his falcon would not be lured back. Half frantic, and afraid of exposing himself to the taunts of his companions, he feigned illness, and left his comrade, Roger Barfoot, to take his place. But the same ill-luck befell Barfoot, and he returned in woeful plight, without a single head of game. Four others were equally unfortunate, and it was now clear that the whole party were bewitched.

"Luckily, the king had quitted the castle, but they felt certain they should be dismissed on his return, if not more severely punished. At last, after taking counsel together, they resolved to consult Urswick, who they doubted not could remove the spell. Accordingly, they went to Bagshot Heath, and related their story to him. When they had done, he said, 'The curse of Herne's blood is upon you, and can only be removed in one way. As you return to the castle, go to the tree on which he destroyed himself, and you may learn how to act.'

"The keepers would have questioned him further, but he refused to answer, and dismissed them.

"The shades of evening had fallen as they quitted Bagshot; and it was midnight as they entered the home park, and proceeded towards the fatal oak. It was pitchy dark, and they could only distinguish the tree by its white, scathed trunk. All at once, a blue flame, like a will-o'-the-wisp, appeared, flitted thrice round the tree, and then remained stationary, its light falling upon a figure in a wild garb, with a rusty chain hanging from its left arm, and an antlered helm upon its head. They knew it to be Herne, and instantly fell down before him, while a burst of terrible laughter sounded in their ears.

"Without heeding them further, the spirit darted round the tree, rattling its chain, and uttering appalling imprecations. It then stopped, and turning to the terrified beholders, bade them, in a hollow voice, bring hounds and horses as for the chase on the following night and vanished.

"Filled with dread, the keepers returned home, and the next day Old Osmond again sought the forester, and told him what had occurred.

"'You must obey the spirit's injunctions, or worse mischief will befall you,' said Urswick. 'Go to the tree, mounted as for a hunting-party, and take the black steed given to Herne by the king, and the two black hounds with you. You will see what will ensue.' And without another word he dismissed him.

"Osmond told his comrades what the forester had said, and though they were filled with alarm, they resolved upon compliance. At midnight, therefore, they rode towards the tree with the black hounds in leash, and leading Herne's favourite horse, saddled and bridled. As they drew near, they again saw the terrible shape stalking round the tree, and heard the fearful imprecations.

"His spells ended, Herne called to Osmond to bring him his steed; and the old man tremblingly obeyed. In an instant the mysterious being vaulted on its back, and in a voice of resistless authority cried, 'To the forest!—to the forest!' With this, he dashed forward, and the whole party, hounds and men, hurried after him.

"They rode at a furious pace for five or six miles over the great park, the keepers wondering where their unearthly leader was taking them, and almost fancying they were hurrying to perdition, when they descended a hillside leading to the marsh, and halted before a huge beech-tree, where Herne dismounted and pronounced certain mystic words, accompanying them with strange gestures.

"Presently, he became silent and motionless. A flash of fire then burst from the roots of the tree, and the forester Urswick stood before him. But his aspect was more terrible and commanding than it had seemed heretofore to the keepers.

"'Welcome, Herne,' he cried; 'welcome, lord of the forest. And you his comrades, and soon to be his followers, welcome too. The time is come for the fulfilment of your promise to me. I require you to form a band for Herne the Hunter, and to serve him as leader. Swear to obey him, and the spell that hangs over you shall be broken. If not, I leave you to the king's justice.'

"Not daring to refuse compliance, the keepers took the oath proposed—and a fearful one it was! As soon as it was Urswick vanished, as he came, in a flash of fire. Herne, then commanded the others to dismount, and made them prostrate themselves before him, and pay him homage.

"This done, he blew a strike on his horn, rode swiftly up the hillside, and a stag being unharboured, the chase commenced. Many a fat buck was hunted and slaughtered that night; and an hour before daybreak, Herne commanded them to lay the four finest and fattest at the foot of the beech-tree, and then dismissed them, bidding them meet him at midnight at the scathed oak in the home park.

"They came as they were commanded; but fearful of detection, they adopted strange disguises, not unlike those worn by the caitiffs who were put to death, a few weeks ago, by the king in the great park. Night after night they thus went forth, thinning the herds of deer, and committing other outrages and depredations. Nor were their dark proceedings altogether unnoticed. Belated travellers crossing the forest beheld them, and related what they had seen; others watched for them, but they were so effectually disguised that they escaped detection.

"At last, however, the king returned to the castle, and accounts of the strange doings in the forest were instantly brought to him. Astonished at what he heard, and determined to ascertain the truth of the statement, he ordered the keepers to attend him that night in an expedition to the forest, when he hoped to encounter the demon huntsman and his hand. Much alarmed, Osmond Crooke, who acted as spokesman, endeavoured, by representing the risk he would incur, to dissuade the king from the enterprise; but he would not be deterred, and they now gave themselves up for lost.

"As the castle clock tolled forth the hour of midnight, Richard, accompanied by a numerous guard, and attended by the keepers, issued from the gates, and rode towards the scathed oak. As they drew near the tree, the figure of Herne, mounted on his black steed, was discerned beneath it. Deep fear fell upon all the beholders, but chiefly upon the guilty keepers, at the sight. The king, however, pressed forward, and cried, 'Why does thou disturb the quietude of night, accursed spirit?'

"Because I desire vengeance!' replied Herne, in a hollow voice. 'I was brought to my present woeful condition by Osmond Crooke and his comrades.'

"'But you died by your own hand,—did you not?' demanded King Richard.

"'Yea,' replied Herne; 'but I was driven to the deed by an infernal spell laid upon me by the malice of the wretches I have denounced. Hang them upon this tree, and I will trouble these woods no longer whilst thou reignest!'

"The king looked round at the keepers. They all remained obdurate, except Roger Barfoot, who, falling on his knees, confessed his guilt, and accused the others.

"It is enough,' cried the king to Herne; 'they shall all suffer for their offence.'

"Upon this a flash of fire enveloped the spirit and his horse, and he vanished.

"The king kept his word. Osmond and his comrades were all hanged upon the scathed tree, nor was Herne seen again in the forest while Richard sat upon the throne. But he reappeared with a new band at the commencement of the rule of Henry the Fourth, and again hunted the deer at night. His band was destroyed, but he defied all attempts at capture; and so it has continued to our own time, for not one of the seven monarchs who have held the castle since Richard's day have been able to drive him from the forest."

"Nor will the present monarch be able to drive him thence," said a deep voice. "As long as Windsor Forest endures, Herne the Hunter will haunt it."

All turned at the exclamation and saw that it proceeded from a tall dark man, in an archer's garb, standing behind Simon Quanden's chair.

"Thou hast told thy legend fairly enough, good clerk of the kitchen," continued this personage; "but thou art wrong on many material points."

"I have related the story as it was related to me," said Cutbeard somewhat nettled at the remark; "but perhaps you will set me right where I have erred."

"It is true that Herne was a keeper in the reign of Richard the Second," replied the tall archer. "It is true also that he was expert in all matters of woodcraft, and that he was in high favour with the king; but he was bewitched by a lovely damsel, and not by a weird forester. He carried off a nun and dwelt with her in a cave in the forest where he assembled his brother keepers, and treated them to the king's venison and the king's wine.

"A sacreligious villain and a reprobate!" exclaimed Launcelot Rutter.

"His mistress was fair enough, I will warrant her," said Kit Coo.

"She was the very image of this damsel," rejoined the tall archer, pointing to Mabel, "and fair enough to work his ruin, for it was through her that the fiend tempted him. The charms that proved his undoing were fatal to her also, for in a fit of jealousy he slew her. The remorse occasioned by this deed made him destroy himself."

"Well, your version of the legend may be the correct one, for aught I know, worthy sir," said Cutbeard; "but I see not that it accounts for Herne's antlers so well as mine, unless he were wedded to the nun, who you say played him false. But how came you to know she resembled Mabel Lyndwood?"

"Ay, I was thinking of that myself," said Simon Quanden. "How do you know that, master?"

"Because I have seen her picture," replied the tall archer.

"Painted by Satan's chief limner, I suppose?" rejoined Cutbeard.

"He who painted it had seen her," replied the tall archer sternly. "But, as I have said, it was the very image of this damsel."

And as he uttered the words, he quitted the kitchen.

"Who is that archer?" demanded Cutbeard, looking after him. But no one could answer the question, nor could any one tell when he had entered the kitchen.

"Strange!" exclaimed Simon Quanden, crossing himself. "Have you ever seen him before, Mabel?"

"I almost think I have," she replied, with a slight shudder.

"I half suspect he is Herne himself," whispered the Duke of Shoreditch to Paddington.

"It may be," responded the other; "his glance made my blood run cold."

"You look somewhat fatigued, sweetheart," said Deborah, observing Mabel's uneasiness. "Come with me and I will show you to a chamber."

Glad to escape Mabel followed the good dame out of the kitchen, and they ascended a winding staircase which brought them to a commodious chamber in the upper part of Henry the Seventh's buildings, where Deborah sat down with her young charge and volunteered a great deal of good advice to her, which the other listened to with becoming attention, and promised to profit by it.



VII.

Of the Mysterious Noise heard in the Curfew Tower.

On quitting the kitchen, Henry, having been informed by Bouchier that Tristram Lyndwood was lodged in the prison-chamber in the lower gateway, proceeded thither to question him. He found the old man seated on a bench, with his hands tied behind him; but though evidently much alarmed at his situation, he could not be brought either by threats or proffers to make any confession.

Out of patience, at length, the king ordered him to be conveyed to the dungeon beneath the Curfew Tower, and personally superintended his removal.

"I will find a means of shaking his obstinacy," said Henry, as he quitted the vault with Bouchier. "If I cannot move him by other means, I may through his granddaughter I will interrogate him in her presence to-night."

"To-night, sire!" exclaimed Bouchier.

"Ay, to-night," repeated the king. "I am resolved, even if it should cost the life of this maiden, whose charms have moved me so, to break the infernal machinery woven around me. And now as I think it not unlikely the miscreant Herne may attempt the prisoner's deliverance, let the strictest watch be kept over the tower. Station an arquebusier throughout the night at the door of the dungeon, and another at the entrance to the chamber on the ground floor. Your own post must be on the roof of the fortification, that you may watch if any attempt is made to scale it from the town side, or to get in through the loopholes. Keep a sharp lookout Bouchier, for I shall hold you responsible if any mischance occurs."

"I will do my best, my liege," replied Bouchier; "and were it with a mortal foe I had to contend, I should have no fear. But what vigilance can avail against a fiend?"

"You have heard my injunctions, and will attend to them," rejoined the king harshly. "I shall return anon to the examination."

So saying, he departed.

Brave as a lion on ordinary occasions, Bouchier entered upon his present duty with reluctance and misgiving; and he found the arquebusiers by whom he was attended, albeit stout soldiers, equally uneasy. Herne had now become an object of general dread throughout the castle; and the possibility of an encounter with him was enough to daunt the boldest breast. Disguising his alarm, Bouchier issued his directions in an authoritative tone, and then mounted with three arquebusiers to the summit of the tower. It was now dark, but the moon soon arose, and her beams rendered every object as distinguishable as daylight would have done, so that watch was easily kept. But nothing occurred to occasion alarm, until all at once, a noise like that of a hammer stricken against a board, was heard in the chamber below.

Drawing his sword, Bouchier hurried down the steps leading into this chamber, which was buried in darkness, and advanced so precipitately and incautiously into the gloom, that he struck his head against a crossbeam. The violence of the blow stunned him for a moment, but as soon as he recovered, he called to the guard in the lower chamber to bring up a torch. The order was promptly obeyed; but, meanwhile, the sound had ceased, and, though they searched about, they could not discover the occasion of it.

This, however, was not so wonderful for the singular construction of the chamber, with its numerous crossbeams, its deep embrasures and recesses, its insecure and uneven floor, its steep ladder-like staircases, was highly favourable to concealment, it being utterly impossible, owing to the intersections of the beams, for the searchers to see far before them, or to move about quickly. In the midst of the chamber was a large wooden compartment enclosing the cumbrous and uncouth machinery of the castle clock, and through the box ran the cord communicating with the belfry above. At that time, pieces of ordnance were mounted in all the embrasures, but there is now only one gun, placed in a porthole commanding Thames Street, and the long thoroughfare leading to Eton. The view from this porthole of the groves of Eton, and of the lovely plains on the north-west, watered by the river, is enchanting beyond description.

Viewed from a recess which has been partly closed, the appearance of this chamber is equally picturesque and singular; and it is scarcely possible to pass beneath its huge beams or to gaze at the fantastic yet striking combinations they form in connection with the deep embrasures, the steep staircases and trap-doors, and not feel that the whole place belongs to romance, and that a multitude of strange and startling stories must be connected with it. The old architects were indeed great romancers, and built for the painter and the poet.

Bouchier and his companion crept about under the great meshwork of beams-peered into all the embrasures, and beneath the carriages of the culverins. There was a heap of planks and beams lying on the floor between the two staircases, but no one was near it.

The result of their investigations did not tend to decrease their alarm. Bouchier would fain have had the man keep watch in the chamber, but neither threats nor entreaties could induce him to remain there. He was therefore sent below, and the captain returned to the roof. He had scarcely emerged upon the leads when the hammering recommenced more violently than before. In vain Bouchier ordered his men to go down. No one would stir; and superstitious fear had by this time obtained such mastery over the captain, that he hesitated to descend alone. To add to his vexation, the arquebusier had taken the torch with him, so that he should have to proceed in darkness.

At length he mustered up courage to make the attempt; but he paused between each step, peering through the gloom, and half fancying he could discern the figure of Herne near the spot where the pile of wood lay. Certain it was that the sound of diabolical laughter, mingled with the rattling of the chain and the sharp blows of the hammer, smote his ears. The laughter became yet louder as Bouchier advanced, the hammering ceased, and the clanking of the chain showed that its mysterious wearer was approaching the foot of the steps to meet him. But the captain had not nerve enough for the encounter. Invoking the protection of the saints, he beat a precipitate retreat, and closed the little door at the head of the steps after him.

The demon was apparently satisfied with the alarm he had occasioned, for the hammering was not renewed at that time.



VIII.

Showing the Vacillations of the King between Wolsey and Anne Boleyn.

Before returning to the state apartments, Henry took a turn on the ramparts on the north side of the castle, between the Curfew Tower and the Winchester Tower, and lingered for a short time on the bastion commanding that part of the acclivity where the approach, called the Hundred Steps, is now contrived. Here he cautioned the sentinels to be doubly vigilant throughout the night, and having gazed for a moment at the placid stream flowing at the foot of the castle, and tinged with the last rays of the setting sun, he proceeded to the royal lodgings, and entered the banquet chamber, where supper was already served.

Wolsey sat on his right hand, but he did not vouchsafe him a single word, addressing the whole of his discourse to the Duke of Suffolk, who was placed on his left. As soon as the repast was over, he retired to his closet. But the cardinal would not be so repulsed, and sent one of his gentlemen to crave a moment's audience of the king, which with some reluctance was accorded.

"Well, cardinal," cried Henry, as Wolsey presented himself, and the usher withdrew. "You are playing a deep game with me, as you think; but take heed, for I see through it." "I pray you dismiss these suspicions from your mind, my liege," said Wolsey. "No servant was ever more faithful to his master than I have been to you."

"No servant ever took better care of himself," cried the king fiercely. "Not alone have you wronged me to enrich yourself, but you are ever intriguing with my enemies. I have nourished in my breast a viper; but I will cast you off—will crush you as I would the noxious reptile."

And he stamped upon the floor, as if he could have trampled the cardinal beneath his foot.

"Beseech you calm yourself, my liege," replied Wolsey, in the soft and deprecatory tone which he had seldom known to fail with the king. "I have never thought of my own aggrandisement, but as it was likely to advance your power. For the countless benefits I have received at your hands, my soul overflows with gratitude. You have raised me from the meanest condition to the highest. You have made me your confidant, your adviser, your treasurer, and with no improper boldness I say it, your friend. But I defy the enemies who have poisoned your ears against me, to prove that I have ever abused the trust placed in me. The sole fault that can be imputed to me is, that I have meddled more with temporal matters than with spiritual, and it is a crime for which I must answer before Heaven. But I have so acted because I felt that I might thereby best serve your highness. If I have aspired to the papal throne—which you well know I have—it has been that I might be yet a more powerful friend to your majesty, and render you what you are entitled to be, the first prince in Christendom."

"Tut, tut!" exclaimed the king, who was, nevertheless, moved by the artful appeal.

"The gifts I have received from foreign princes," pursued Wolsey, seeing the effect he had produced, "the wealth I have amassed, have all been with a view of benefiting your majesty." "Humph!" exclaimed the king.

"To prove that I speak the truth, sire," continued the wily cardinal, "the palace at Hampton Court, which I have just completed—"

"And at a cost more lavish than I myself should have expended on it," interrupted the king angrily.

"If I had destined it for myself, I should not have spent a tithe of what I have done," rejoined Wolsey. "Your highness's unjust accusations force me to declare my intentions somewhat prematurely. Deign," he cried, throwing at the king's feet, "deign to accept that palace and all within it. You were pleased, during your late residence there, to express your approval of it. And I trust it will find equal favour in your eyes, now that it is your own."

"By holy Mary, a royal gift!" cried Henry. "Rise, You are not the grasping, selfish person you have been represented."

"Declare as much to my enemies, sire, and I shall be more content. You will find the palace better worth acceptance than at first sight might appear."

"How so?" cried the king.

"Your highness will be pleased to take this key," said the cardinal; "it is the key of the cellar."

"You have some choice wine there," cried Henry significantly; "given you by some religious house, or sent you by some foreign potentate, ha!"

"It is wine that a king might prize," replied the cardinal. "Your majesty will find a hundred hogsheads in that cellar, and each hogshead filled with gold."

"You amaze me!" cried the king, feigning astonishment. "And all this you freely give me?"

"Freely and fully, sire," replied Wolsey. "Nay, I have saved it for you. Men think I have cared for myself, whereas I have cared only for your majesty. Oh! my dear liege, by the devotion I have just approved to you, and which I would also approve, if needful, with my life, I beseech you to consider well before you raise Anne Boleyn to the throne. In giving you this counsel, I know I hazard the favour I have just regained. But even at that hazard, I must offer it. Your infatuation blinds you to the terrible consequences of the step. The union is odious to all your subjects, but most of all to those not tainted with the new heresies and opinions. It will never be forgiven by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, who will seek to avenge the indignity offered to his illustrious relative; while Francis will gladly make it a pretext for breaking his truce with you. Add to this the displeasure of the Apostolic See, and it must be apparent that, powerful as you are, your position will be one of infinite peril."

"Thus far advanced, I cannot honourably abandon the divorce," said Henry.

"Nor do I advise its abandonment, sire," replied Wolsey; "but do not let it be a means of injuring you with all men. Do not let a mal-alliance place your very throne in jeopardy; as, with your own subjects and all foreign powers against you, must necessarily be the case."

"You speak warmly, cardinal," said Henry.

"My zeal prompts me to do so," replied Wolsey. "Anne Boleyn is in no respect worthy of the honour you propose her."

"And whom do you think more worthy?" demanded Henry.

"Those whom I have already recommended to your majesty, the Duchess d'Alencon, or the Princess Renee," replied Wolsey; "by a union with either of whom you would secure the cordial co-operation of Francis, and the interests of the see of Rome, which, in the event of a war with Spain, you may need."

"No, Wolsey," replied Henry, taking a hasty turn across the chamber; "no considerations of interests or security shall induce me to give up Anne. I love her too well for that. Let the lion Charles roar, the fox Francis snarl, and the hydra-headed Clement launch forth his flames, I will remain firm to my purpose. I will not play the hypocrite with you, whatever I may do with others. I cast off Catherine that I may wed Anne, because I cannot otherwise obtain her. And shall I now, when I have dared so much, and when the prize is within my grasp, abandon it?—Never! Threats, expostulations, entreaties are alike unavailing."

"I grieve to hear it, my liege," replied Wolsey, heaving a deep sigh. "It is an ill-omened union, and will bring woe to you, woe to your realm, and woe to the Catholic Church."

"And woe to you also, false cardinal," cried Anne Boleyn, throwing aside the arras, and stepping forward. "I have overheard what has passed; and from my heart of hearts I thank you, Henry, for the love you have displayed for me. But I here solemnly vow never to give my hand to you till Wolsey is dismissed from your counsels."

"Anne!" exclaimed the king.

"My own enmity I could forego," pursued Anne vehemently, "but I cannot forgive him his duplicity and perfidy towards you. He has just proffered you his splendid palace of Hampton, and his treasures; and wherefore?—I will tell you: because he feared they would be wrested from him. His jester had acquainted him with the discovery just made of the secret hoard, and he was therefore compelled to have recourse to this desperate move. But I was apprized of his intentions by Will Sommers, and have come in time to foil him."

"By my faith, I believe you are right, sweetheart," said the king.

"Go, tell your allies, Francis and Clement, that the king's love for me outweighs his fear of them," cried Anne, laughing spitefully. "As for you, I regard you as nothing."

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