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Her companion was the Lady Mary Howard, the sister of the Earl of Surrey, a nymph about her own age, and possessed of great personal attractions, having nobly-formed features, radiant blue eyes, light tresses, and a complexion of dazzling clearness. Lady Mary Howard nourished a passion for the Duke of Richmond, whom she saw with secret chagrin captivated by the superior charms of the Fair Geraldine. Her uneasiness, however, was in some degree abated by the knowledge, which as confidante of the latter she had obtained, that her brother was master of her heart. Lady Mary was dressed in blue velvet, cut and lined with cloth of gold, and wore a headgear of white velvet, ornamented with pearls.
Just as the cavalcade came in sight of Datchet Bridge, the Duke of Richmond turned his horse's head, and rode up to the side of the chariot on which the Fair Geraldine was sitting.
"I am come to tell you of a marvellous adventure that befell Surrey in the Home Park at Windsor last night," he said. "He declares he has seen the demon hunter, Herne."
"Then pray let the Earl of Surrey relate the adventure to us himself," replied the Fair Geraldine. "No one can tell a story so well as the hero of it."
The duke signed to the youthful earl, who was glancing rather wistfully at them, and he immediately joined them, while Richmond passed over to the Lady Mary Howard. Surrey then proceeded to relate what had happened to him in the park, and the fair Geraldine listened to his recital with breathless interest.
"Heaven shield us from evil spirits!" she exclaimed, crossing herself. "But what is the history of this wicked hunter, my lord? and why did he incur such a dreadful doom?"
"I know nothing more than that he was a keeper in the forest, who, having committed some heinous crime, hanged himself from a branch of the oak beneath which I found the keeper, Morgan Fenwolf, and which still bears his name," replied the earl. "For this unrighteous act he cannot obtain rest, but is condemned to wander through the forest at midnight, where he wreaks his vengeance in blasting the trees."
"The legend I have heard differs from yours," observed the Duke of Richmond: "it runs that the spirit by which the forest is haunted is a wood-demon, who assumes the shape of the ghostly hunter, and seeks to tempt or terrify the keepers to sell their souls to him."
"Your grace's legend is the better of the two," said Lady Mary Howard, "or rather, I should say, the more probable. I trust the evil spirit did not make you any such offer, brother of Surrey?"
The earl gravely shook his head.
"If I were to meet him, and he offered me my heart's dearest wish, I fear he would prevail with me," observed the duke, glancing tenderly at the Fair Geraldine.
"Tush!--the subject is too serious for jesting, Richmond," said Surrey almost sternly.
"His grace, as is usual in compacts with the fiend, might have reason to rue his bargain," observed Lady Mary Howard peevishly.
"If the Earl of Surrey were my brother," remarked the Fair Geraldine to the Lady Mary, "I would interdict him from roaming in the park after nightfall."
"He is very wilful," said Lady Mary, smiling, "and holds my commands but lightly."
"Let the Fair Geraldine lay hers upon me, and she shall not have to reproach me with disobedience," rejoined the earl.
I must interpose to prevent their utterance," cried Richmond, with a somewhat jealous look at his friend, "for I have determined to know more of this mystery, and shall require the earl's assistance to unravel it. I think I remember Morgan Fenwolf, the keeper, and will send for him to the castle, and question him. But in any case, I and Surrey will visit Herne's Oak to-night."
The remonstrances of both ladies were interrupted by the sudden appearance of Will Sommers.
"What ho! my lords--to your places! to your places!" cried the jester, in a shrill angry voice. "See ye not we are close upon Datchet Bridge? Ye can converse with these fair dames at a more fitting season; but it is the king's pleasure that the cavalcade should make a goodly show. To your places, I say!"
Laughing at the jester's peremptory injunction, the two young nobles nevertheless obeyed it, and, bending almost to the saddle-bow to the ladies, resumed their posts.
The concourse assembled on Datchet Bridge welcomed Anne Boleyn's arrival with loud acclamations, while joyous strains proceeded from sackbut and psaltery, and echoing blasts from the trumpets. Caps were flung into the air, and a piece of ordnance was fired from the barge, which was presently afterwards answered by the castle guns. Having paid his homage to Anne Boleyn, the mayor rejoined the company of bailiffs and burgesses, and the whole cavalcade crossed the bridge, winding their way slowly along the banks of the river, the barge, with the minstrels playing in it, accompanying them the while. In this way they reached Windsor; and as Anne Boleyn gazed up at the lordly castle above which the royal standard now floated, proud and aspiring thoughts swelled her heart, and she longed for the hour when she should approach it as its mistress. Just then her eye chanced on Sir Thomas Wyat, who was riding behind her amongst the knights, and she felt, though it might cost her a struggle, that love would yield to ambition.
Leaving the barge and its occupants to await the king's arrival, the cavalcade ascended Thames Street, and were welcomed everywhere with acclamations and rejoicing. Bryan Bowntance, who had stationed himself on the right of the arch in front of his house, attempted to address Anne Boleyn, but could not bring forth a word. His failure, how ever, was more successful than his speech might have been, inasmuch as it excited abundance of merriment.
Arrived at the area in front of the lower gateway, Anne Boleyn's litter was drawn up in the midst of it, and the whole of the cavalcade grouping around her, presented a magnificent sight to the archers and arquebusiers stationed on the towers and walls.
Just at this moment a signal gun was heard from Datchet Bridge, announcing that the king had reached it, and the Dukes of Suffolk, Norfolk, and Richmond, together with the Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat, and a few of their gentle men, rode back to meet him. They had scarcely, however, reached the foot of the hill when the royal party appeared in view, for the king with his characteristic impatience, on drawing near the castle, had urged his attendants quickly forward.
First came half a dozen trumpeters, with silken bandrols fluttering in the breeze, blowing loud flourishes. Then a party of halberdiers, whose leaders had pennons streaming from the tops of their tall pikes. Next came two gentlemen ushers bareheaded, but mounted and richly habited, belonging to the Cardinal of York, who cried out as they pressed forward, "On before, my masters, on before!--make way for my lord's grace."
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Windsor Castle -by- William Harrison Ainsworth