Meanwhile, Herne had passed into one of the large embrasures, and opened, by means of a spring, an entrance to a secret staircase in the wall. He then beckoned Tristram towards him, and whispered some instructions in his ear.
"I understand," replied the old man.
"Proceed to the cave," cried Herne, "and remain there till I join you."
Tristram nodded assent.
"Come, Mabel!" he cried, advancing towards her, and seizing her hand.
"Away!"cried Herne in a menacing tone.
Terrified by the formidable looks and gestures of the demon, the poor girl offered no resistance, and her grandfather drew her into the opening, which was immediately closed after her.
About an hour after this, and when it was near upon the stroke of midnight, the arquebusier who had admitted the tall stranger to the dungeon, and who had momentarily expected his coming forth, opened the door to see what was going forward. Great was his astonishment to find the cell empty! After looking around in bewilderment, he rushed to the chamber above, to tell his comrades what had happened.
"This is clearly the work of the fiend," said Shoreditch; "it is useless to strive against him."
"That tall black man was doubtless Herne himself." said Paddington. "I am glad he did us no injury. I hope the king will not provoke his malice further."
"Well, we must inform Captain Bouchier of the mischance," said Shoreditch. "I would not be in thy skin, Mat Bee, for a trifle. The king will be here presently, and then--"
"It is impossible to penetrate through the devices of the evil one," interrupted Mat. "I could have sworn it was the royal signet, for I saw it on the king's finger as he delivered the order. I wish such another chance of capturing the fiend would occur to me."
As the words were uttered, the door of a recess was thrown suddenly open, and Herne, in his wild garb, with his antlered helm upon his brow, and the rusty chain depending from his left arm, stood before them. His appearance was so terrific and unearthly that they all shrank aghast, and Mat Bee fell with his face on the floor.
"I am here!" cried the demon. "Now, braggart, wilt dare to seize me?"
But not a hand was moved against him. The whole party seemed transfixed with terror.
"You dare not brave my power, and you are right," cried Herne--" a wave of my hand would bring this old tower about your ears--a word would summon a legion of fiends to torment you."
"But do not utter it, I pray you, good Herne--excellent Herne," cried Mat Bee. "And, above all things, do not wave your hand, for we have no desire to be buried alive,-- have we, comrades? I should never have said what I did if I had thought your fiendship within hearing."
"Your royal master will as vainly seek to contend with me as he did to bury me beneath the oak-tree," cried Herne. "If you want me further, seek me in the upper chamber."
And with these words he darted up the ladder-like flight of steps and disappeared.
As soon as they recovered from the fright that had enchained them, Shoreditch and Paddington rushed forth into the area in front of the turret, and shouting to those on the roof told them that Herne was in the upper room--a piece of information which was altogether superfluous, as the hammering had recommenced, and continued till the clock struck twelve, when it stopped. Just then, it occurred to Mat Bee to ring the alarm-bell, and he seized the rope, and began to pull it; but the bell had scarcely sounded, when the cord, severed from above, fell upon his head.
At this juncture, the king and the Duke of Suffolk arrived. When told what had happened, though prepared for it, Henry burst into a terrible passion, and bestowed a buffet on Mat Bee, that well nigh broke his jaw, and sent him reeling to the farther side of the chamber. He had not at first understood that Herne was supposed to be in the upper room; but as soon as he was made aware of the circumstance, he cried out--"Ah, dastards! have you let him brave you thus? But I am glad of it. His capture is reserved for my own hand."
"Do not expose yourself to this risk, my gracious liege," said Suffolk.
"What! are you too a sharer in their womanish fears, Suffolk?" cried Henry. "I thought you had been made of stouter stuff. If there is danger, I shall be the first to encounter it. Come," he added, snatching a torch from an arquebusier. And, drawing his dag, he hurried up the steep steps, while Suffolk followed his example, and three or four arquebusiers ventured after them.
Meanwhile Shoreditch and Paddington ran out, and informed Bouchier that the king had arrived, and was mounting in search of Herne, upon which the captain, shaking off his fears, ordered his men to follow him, and opening the little door at the top of the stairs, began cautiously to descend, feeling his way with his sword. He had got about half-way down, when Henry sprang upon the platform. The light of the torch fell upon the ghostly figure of Herne, with his arms folded upon his breast, standing near the pile of wood, lying between the two staircases. So appalling was the appearance of the demon, that Henry stood still to gaze at him, while Bouchier and his men remained irresolute on the stairs. In another moment, the Duke of Suffolk had gained the platform, and the arquebusiers were seen near the head of the stairs.
"At last, thou art in my power, accursed being!" cried Henry. "Thou art hemmed in on all sides, and canst not escape!"
"Ho! ho! ho! "laughed Herne.
This shall prove whether thou art human or not," cried Henry, taking deliberate aim at him with the dag.
"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed Herne. And as the report rang through the room, he sank through the floor, and disappeared from view.
"Gone!" exclaimed Henry, as the smoke cleared off; "gone! Holy Mary! then it must indeed be the fiend. I made the middle of his skull my aim, and if he had not been invulnerable, the bullet must have pierced his brain.
"I heard it rebound from his horned helmet, and drop to the floor," said Bouchier.
"What is that chest?" cried Henry, pointing to a strange coffin-shaped box, lying, as it seemed, on the exact spot where the demon had disappeared.
No one had seen it before, though all called to mind the mysterious hammering; and they had no doubt that the coffin was the work of the demon.
"Break it open," cried Henry; "for aught we know, Herne may be concealed within it."
The order was reluctantly obeyed by the arquebusiers. But no force was required, for the lid was not nailed down; and when it was removed, a human body in the last stage of decay was discovered.
"Pah! close it up," cried Henry, turning away in disgust. "How came it there?"
"It must have been brought by the powers of darkness," said Bouchier; "no such coffin was here when I searched the chamber two hours ago. But see," he suddenly added, stooping down, and picking up a piece of paper which had fallen from the coffin, "here is a scroll."
"Give it me!" cried Henry; and holding it to the light, he read the words, "The body of Mark Fytton, the butcher, the victim of a tyrant's cruelty."
Uttering a terrible imprecation, Henry flung the paper from him; and bidding the arquebusiers burn the body at the foot of the gallows without the town, he quitted the tower without further search.
Windsor Castle -by- William Harrison AinsworthBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.