Of the Visit of the Two Guildford Merchants to the Forester's Hut.
Tristam Lyndwood did not return home till late in the evening; and when informed of the cardinal's visit, he shook his head gravely.
"I am sorry we went to the hunting party," he observed. "Valentine Hagthorne said mischief would come of it, and I wish I had attended to his advice."
I see no mischief in the matter, grandsire," cried Mabel. "On the contrary, I think I have met with excellent fortune. The good cardinal promises me a high destiny, and says the king himself noticed me."
"Would his regards had fallen anywhere than on you," rejoined Tristram. "But I warrant me you told the cardinal your history--all you know of it, at least."
"I did so," she replied; "nor did I know I was doing any harm."
"Answer no such inquiries in future," said Tristram angrily.
"But, grandfather, I could not refuse to answer the cardinal," she replied, in a deprecating voice.
"No more excuses, but attend to my injunctions," said Tristram. "Have you seen Morgan Fenwolf to-day?"
"No; and I care not if I never see him again," she replied pettishly.
"You dislike him strangely, Mab," rejoined her grandfather; "he is the best keeper in the forest, and makes no secret of his love for you."
"The very reason why I dislike him," she returned.
"By the same rule, if what the cardinal stated be true--though, trust me, he was but jesting--you ought to dislike the king. But get my supper. I have need of it, for I have fasted long."
Mabel hastened to obey, and set a mess of hot pottage and other viands before him. Little more conversation passed between them, for the old man was weary, and sought his couch early.
That night Mabel did nothing but dream of the king--of stately chambers, rich apparel, and countless attendants. She awoke, and finding herself in a lowly cottage, and without a single attendant, was, like other dreamers of imaginary splendour, greatly discontented.
The next morning her grandsire went again to Bray Wood, and she was left to muse upon the event of the previous day. While busied about some trifling occupation, the door suddenly opened, and Morgan Fenwolf entered the cottage. He was followed by a tall man, with a countenance of extreme paleness, but a noble and commanding figure. There was something so striking in the appearance of the latter person, that it riveted the attention of Mabel. But no corresponding effect was produced on the stranger, for he scarcely bestowed a look upon her.
Morgan Fenwolf hastily asked whether her grandsire was at home, or near at hand, and being answered in the negative, appeared much disappointed. He then said that he must borrow the skiff for a short while, as he wished to visit some nets on the lake. Mabel readily assented, and the stranger quitted the house, while Fenwolf lingered to offer some attention to Mabel, which was so ill received that he was fain to hurry forth to the boathouse, where he embarked with his companion. As soon as the plash of oars announced their departure, Mabel went forth to watch them. The stranger, who was seated in the stern of the boat, for the first time fixed his large melancholy eyes full upon her, and did not withdraw his gaze till an angle of the lake hid him from view.
Marvelling who he could be, and reproaching herself for not questioning Fenwolf on the subject, Mabel resolved to repair the error when the skiff was brought back. But the opportunity did not speedily occur. Hours flew by, the shades of evening drew on, but neither Fenwolf nor the stranger returned.
Soon after dusk her grandfather came home. He did not express the least astonishment at Fenwolf's prolonged absence, but said that he was sure to be back in the course of the evening, and the skiff was not wanted.
"He will bring us a fine jack or a carp for dinner to-morrow, I'll warrant me," he said. "If he had returned in time we might have had fish for supper. No matter. I must make shift with the mutton pie and a rasher of bacon. Morgan did not mention the name of his companion, you say?"
"He did not," replied Mabel; "but I hope he will bring him with him. He is the goodliest gentleman I ever beheld."
"What! a goodlier gentleman than the king!" cried Tristram.
"Nay, they should not be compared," replied Mabel: "the one is stout and burly; the other slight, long-visaged, and pale, but handsome withal--very handsome."
Well, I daresay I shall see him anon," said Tristram. "And now for supper, for I am as sharp-set as a wolf; and so is old Hubert," he added, glancing affectionately at the hound by which he was attended.
Mabel placed the better part of a huge pie before him, which the old forester attacked with great zeal. He then fell to work upon some slices of bacon toasted over the embers by his granddaughter, and having washed them down with a jug of mead, declared he had supped famously. While taking care of himself, he did not forget his hound. From time to time he threw him morsels of the pie, and when he had done he gave him a large platterful of bones.
"Old Hubert has served me faithfully nigh twenty years," he said, patting the hound's shaggy neck, "and must not be neglected."
Throwing a log of wood on the fire, he drew his chair into the ingle-nook, and disposed himself to slumber. Meanwhile, Mabel busied herself about her household concern, and was singing a lulling melody to her grandfather, in a voice of exquisite sweetness, when a loud tap was heard at the door. Tristram roused himself from his doze, and old Hubert growled menacingly.
"Quiet, Hubert--quiet!" cried Tristram. "It cannot be Morgan Fenwolf," he added. "He would never knock thus. Come in, friend, whoever thou art."
At this invitation two persons darkened the doorway. The foremost was a man of bulky frame and burly demeanour. He was attired in a buff jerkin, over which he wore a loose great surcoat; had a flat velvet cap on his head; and carried a stout staff in his hand. His face was broad and handsome, though his features could scarcely be discerned in the doubtful light to which they were submitted. A reddish-coloured beard clothed his chin. His companion, who appeared a trifle the taller of the two, and equally robust, was wrapped in a cloak of dark green camlet.
"Give you good e'en, friend," said the foremost stranger to the forester. "We are belated travellers, on our way from Guildford to Windsor, and, seeing your cottage, have called to obtain some refreshment before we cross the great park. We do not ask you to bestow a meal upon us, but will gladly pay for the best your larder affords."
You shall have it, and welcome, my masters," replied Tristram,"but I am afraid my humble fare will scarcely suit you."
"Fear nothing," replied the other; "we have good appetites, and are not over dainty. Beshrew me, friend," he added, regarding Mabel, "you have a comely daughter."
Windsor Castle -by- William Harrison Ainsworth