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Of The Compact Between Sir Thomas Wyat And Herne The Hunter








On the day after his secret interview with Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas Wyat
received despatches from the king for the court of France.

"His majesty bade me tell you to make your preparations quickly, Sir
Thomas," said the messenger who delivered the despatches; "he cares not
how soon you set forth."

"The king's pleasure shall be obeyed," rejoined Wyat.

And the messenger retired.

Left alone, Wyat remained for some time in profound and melancholy
thought. Heaving a deep sigh, he then arose, and paced the chamber with
rapid strides.

"Yes, it is better thus," he ejaculated. "If I remain near her, I shall
do some desperate deed. Better--far better--I should go. And yet to
leave her with Henry--to know that he is ever near her--that he drinks
in the music of her voice, and basks in the sunshine of her smile--while
I am driven forth to darkness and despair--the thought is madness! I
will not obey the hateful mandate! I will stay and defy him!"

As he uttered aloud this wild and unguarded speech, the arras screening
the door was drawn aside, and gave admittance to Wolsey.

Wyat's gaze sunk before the penetrating glance fixed upon him by the
Cardinal.

"I did not come to play the eavesdropper, Sir Thomas," said Wolsey; "but
I have heard enough to place your life in my power. So you refuse to
obey the king's injunctions. You refuse to proceed to Paris. You refuse
to assist in bringing about the divorce, and prefer remaining here to
brave your sovereign, and avenge yourself upon a fickle mistress. Ha?"

Wyat returned no answer.

"If such be your purpose," pursued Wolsey, after a pause, during which
he intently scrutinised the knight's countenance, "I will assist you in
it. Be ruled by me, and you shall have a deep and full revenge."

"Say on," rejoined Wyat, his eyes blazing with infernal fire, and his
hand involuntarily clutching the handle of his dagger.

"If I read you aright," continued the cardinal, "you are arrived at that
pitch of desperation when life itself becomes indifferent, and when but
one object remains to be gained--"

"And that is vengeance!" interrupted Wyat fiercely. "Right,
cardinal--right. I will have vengeance--terrible vengeance!"

"You shall. But I will not deceive you. You will purchase what you seek
at the price of your own head."

"I care not," replied Wyat. "All sentiments of love and loyalty are
swallowed up by jealousy and burning hate. Nothing but blood can allay
the fever that consumes me. Show me how to slay him!"

"Him!" echoed the cardinal, in alarm and horror. "Wretch! would you kill
your king? God forbid that I should counsel the injury of a hair of
his head! I do not want you to play the assassin, Wyat," he added more
calmly, "but the just avenger. Liberate the king from the thraldom of
the capricious siren who enslaves him, and you will do a service to the
whole country. A word from you--a letter--a token--will cast her from
the king, and place her on the block. And what matter? The gory scaffold
were better than Henry's bed."

"I cannot harm her," cried Wyat distractedly. "I love her still,
devotedly as ever. She was in my power yesterday, and without your aid,
cardinal, I could have wreaked my vengeance upon her, if I had been so
minded."

"You were then in her chamber, as the king suspected?" cried Wolsey,
with a look of exultation. "Trouble yourself no more, Sir Thomas. I will
take the part of vengeance off your hands."

"My indiscretion will avail you little, cardinal," replied Wyat sternly.
"A hasty word proves nothing. I will perish on the rack sooner than
accuse Anne Boleyn. I am a desperate man, but not so desperate as you
suppose me. A moment ago I might have been led on, by the murderous and
traitorous impulse that prompted me, to lift my hand against the king,
but I never could have injured her."

"You are a madman!" cried Wolsey impatiently, "and it is a waste of time
to argue with you. I wish you good speed on your journey. On your return
you will find Anne Boleyn Queen of England."

"And you disgraced," rejoined Wyat, as, with a malignant and vindictive
look, the cardinal quitted the chamber.

Again left alone, Wyat fell into another fit of despondency from which
he roused himself with difficulty, and went forth to visit the Earl of
Surrey in the Round Tower.

Some delay occurred before he could obtain access to the earl. The
halberdier stationed at the entrance to the keep near the Norman Tower
refused to admit him without the order of the officer in command of the
tower, and as the latter was not in the way at the moment, Wyat had to
remain without till he made his appearance.

While thus detained, he beheld Anne Boleyn and her royal lover mount
their steeds in the upper ward, and ride forth, with their attendants,
on a hawking expedition. Anne Boleyn bore a beautiful falcon on her
wrist--Wyat's own gift to her in happier days--and looked full of
coquetry, animation, and delight--without the vestige of a cloud upon
her brow, or a care on her countenance. With increased bitterness
of heart, he turned from the sight, and shrouded himself beneath the
gateway of the Norman Tower.

Soon after this, the officer appeared, and at once according Wyat
permission to see the earl, preceded him up the long flight of stone
steps communicating with the upper part of the keep, and screened by
an embattled and turreted structure, constituting a covered way to the
Round Tower.

Arrived at the landing, the officer unlocked a door on the left, and
ushered his companion into the prisoner's chamber.

Influenced by the circular shape of the structure in which it was
situated, and of which it formed a segment, the farther part of this
chamber was almost lost to view, and a number of cross-beams and wooden
pillars added to its sombre and mysterious appearance. The walls were of
enormous thickness, and a narrow loophole, terminating a deep embrasure,
afforded but scanty light. Opposite the embrasure sat Surrey, at a small
table covered with books and writing materials. A lute lay beside him on
the floor, and there were several astrological and alchemical implements
within reach.

So immersed was the youthful prisoner in study, that he was not aware,
until a slight exclamation was uttered by Wyat, of the entrance of the
latter. He then arose, and gave him welcome.

Nothing material passed between them as long as the officer remained
in the chamber, but on his departure Surrey observed laughingly to his
friend, "And how doth my fair cousin, the Lady Anne Boleyn?"

"She has just ridden forth with the king, to hawk in the park," replied
Wyat moodily. "For myself, l am ordered on a mission to France, but I
could not depart without entreating your forgiveness for the jeopardy in
which I have placed you. Would I could take your place."

"Do not heed me," replied Surrey; "I am well content with what has
happened. Virgil and Homer, Dante and Petrarch, are the companions of
my confinement; and in good sooth, I am glad to be alone. Amid the
distractions of the court I could find little leisure for the muse."

"Your situation is, in many respects, enviable, Surrey," replied Wyat.
"Disturbed by no jealous doubts and fears, you can beguile the tedious
hours in the cultivation of your poetical tastes, or in study. Still, I
must needs reproach myself with being the cause of your imprisonment."

"I repeat, you have done me a service," rejoined the earl, "I would lay
down my life for my fair cousin, Anne Boleyn, and I am glad to be able
to prove the sincerity of my regard for you, Wyat. I applaud the king's
judgment in sending you to France, and if you will be counselled by me,
you will stay there long enough to forget her who now occasions you so
much uneasiness."

"Will the Fair Geraldine be forgotten when the term of your imprisonment
shall expire, my lord?" asked Wyat.

"Of a surety not," replied the earl.

"And yet, in less than two months I shall return from France," rejoined
Wyat.

"Our cases are not alike," said Surrey. "The Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald
has plighted her troth to me."

"Anne Boleyn vowed eternal constancy to me," cried Wyat bitterly; "and
you see how she kept her oath. The absent are always in danger; and few
women are proof against ambition. Vanity--vanity is the rock they
split upon. May you never experience from Richmond the wrong I have
experienced from his father."

"I have no fear," replied Surrey.

As he spoke, there was a slight noise in that part of the chamber which
was buried in darkness.

"Have we a listener here?" cried Wyat, grasping his sword.

"Not unless it be a four-legged one from the dungeons beneath," replied
Surrey. "But you were speaking of Richmond. He visited me this morning,
and came to relate the particulars of a mysterious adventure that
occurred to him last night."

And the earl proceeded to detail what had befallen the duke in the
forest.

"A marvellous story, truly!" said Wyat, pondering upon the relation. "I
will seek out the demon huntsman myself."

Again a noise similar to that heard a moment before resounded from the
lower part of the room. Wyat immediately flew thither, and drawing his
sword, searched about with its point, but ineffectually.

"It could not be fancy," he said; "and yet nothing is to be found."

"I do not like jesting about Herne the Hunter," remarked Surrey, "after
what I myself have seen. In your present frame of mind I advise you not
to hazard an interview with the fiend. He has power over the desperate."

Wyat returned no answer. He seemed lost in gloomy thought, and soon
afterwards took his leave.

On returning to his lodgings, he summoned his attendants, and ordered
them to proceed to Kingston, adding that he would join them there
early the next morning. One of them, an old serving-man, noticing the
exceeding haggardness of his looks, endeavoured to persuade him to
go with them; but Wyat, with a harshness totally unlike his customary
manner, which was gracious and kindly in the extreme, peremptorily
refused.

"You look very ill, Sir Thomas," said the old servant; "worse than I
ever remember seeing you. Listen to my counsel, I beseech you. Plead ill
health with the king in excuse of your mission to France, and retire for
some months to recruit your strength and spirits at Allington."

"Tush, Adam Twisden! I am well enough," exclaimed Wyat impatiently. "Go
and prepare my mails."

"My dear, dear master," cried old Adam, bending the knee before him, and
pressing his hand to his lips; "something tells me that if I leave you
now I shall never see you again. There is a paleness in your cheek, and
a fire in your eye, such as I never before observed in you, or in mortal
man. I tremble to say it, but you look like one possessed by the
fiend. Forgive my boldness, sir. I speak from affection and duty. I was
serving-man to your father, good Sir Henry Wyat, before you, and I love
you as a son, while I honour you as a master. I have heard that there
are evil beings in the forest--nay, even within the castle--who lure men
to perdition by promising to accomplish their wicked desires. I trust no
such being has crossed your path."

"Make yourself easy, good Adam," replied Wyat; "no fiend has tempted
me."

"Swear it, sir," cried the old man eagerly--"swear it by the Holy
Trinity."

"By the Holy Trinity, I swear it," replied Wyat.

As the words were uttered, the door behind the arras was suddenly shut
with violence.

"Curses on you, villain! you have left the door open," cried Wyat
fiercely. "Our conversation has been overheard."

"I will soon see by whom," cried Adam, springing to his feet, and
rushing towards the door, which opened upon a long corridor.

"Well!" cried Wyat, as Adam returned the next moment, with cheeks almost
as white as his own--"was it the cardinal?"

"It was the devil, I believe!" replied the old man. "I could see no
one."

"It would not require supernatural power to retreat into an adjoining
chamber!" replied Wyat, affecting an incredulity he was far from
feeling.

"Your worship's adjuration was strangely interrupted," cried the old
man, crossing himself devoutly. "Saint Dunstan and Saint Christopher
shield us from evil spirits!"

"A truce to your idle terrors, Adam," said Wyat. "Take these packets,"
he added, giving him Henry's despatches, "and guard them as you would
your life. I am going on an expedition of some peril to-night, and
do not choose to keep them about me. Bid the grooms have my steed in
readiness an hour before midnight."

"I hope your worship is not about to ride into the forest at that hour?"
said Adam, trembling. "I was told by the stout archer, whom the king
dubbed Duke of Shoreditch, that he and the Duke of Richmond ventured
thither last night, and that they saw a legion of demons mounted on
coal-black horses, and amongst them Mark Fytton, the butcher, who was
hanged a few days ago from the Curfew Tower by the king's order, and
whose body so strangely disappeared. Do not go into the forest, dear Sir
Thomas!"

"No more of this!" cried Wyat fiercely. "Do as I bid you, and if I join
you not before noon to-morrow, proceed to Rochester, and there await my
coming."

"I never expect to see you again, sir!" groaned the old man, as he took
his leave.

The anxious concern evinced in his behalf by his old and trusty servant
was not without effect on Sir Thomas Wyat, and made him hesitate in
his design; but by-and-by another access of jealous rage came on, and
overwhelmed all his better resolutions. He remained within his chamber
to a late hour, and then issuing forth, proceeded to the terrace at
the north of the castle, where he was challenged by a sentinel, but was
suffered to pass on, on giving the watch-word.

The night was profoundly dark, and the whole of the glorious prospect
commanded by the terrace shrouded from view. But Wyat's object in coming
thither was to gaze, for the last time, at that part of the castle which
enclosed Anne Boleyn, and knowing well the situation of her apartments,
he fixed his eyes upon the windows; but although numerous lights
streamed from the adjoining corridor, all here was buried in obscurity.

Suddenly, however, the chamber was illumined, and he beheld Henry and
Anne Boleyn enter it, preceded by a band of attendants bearing tapers.
It needed not Wyat's jealousy-sharpened gaze to read, even at that
distance, the king's enamoured looks, or Anne Boleyn's responsive
glances. He saw that one of Henry's arms encircled her waist, while the
other caressed her yielding hand. They paused. Henry bent forward, and
Anne half averted her head, but not so much so as to prevent the king
from imprinting a long and fervid kiss upon her lips.

Terrible was its effect upon Wyat. An adder's bite would have been less
painful. His hands convulsively clutched together; his hair stood erect
upon his head; a shiver ran through his frame; and he tottered back
several paces. When he recovered, Henry had bidden good-night to the
object of his love, and, having nearly gained the door, turned and waved
a tender valediction to her. As soon as he was gone, Anne looked round
with a smile of ineffable pride and pleasure at her attendants, but a
cloud of curtains dropping over the window shrouded her from the sight
of her wretched lover.

In a state of agitation wholly indescribable, Wyat staggered towards
the edge of the terrace--it might be with the design of flinging himself
from it--but when within a few yards of the low parapet wall defending
its precipitous side, he perceived a tall dark figure standing directly
in his path, and halted. Whether the object he beheld was human or not
he could not determine, but it seemed of more than mortal stature. It
was wrapped in a long black cloak, and wore a high conical cap on its
head. Before Wyat could speak the figure addressed him.

"You desire to see Herne the Hunter," said the figure, in a deep,
sepulchral tone. "Ride hence to the haunted beechtree near the marsh, at
the farther side of the forest, and you will find him."

"You are Herne--I feel it," cried Wyat. "Why go into the forest? Speak
now."

And he stepped forward with the intention of grasping the figure, but it
eluded him, and, with a mocking laugh, melted into the darkness.

Wyat advanced to the edge of the terrace and looked over the parapet,
but he could see nothing except the tops of the tall trees springing
from the side of the moat. Flying to the sentinel, he inquired whether
any one had passed him, but the man returned an angry denial.

Awestricken and agitated, Wyat quitted the terrace, and, seeking his
steed, mounted him, and galloped into the forest.

"If he I have seen be not indeed the fiend, he will scarcely outstrip me
in the race," he cried, as his steed bore him at a furious pace up the
long avenue.

The gloom was here profound, being increased by the dense masses of
foliage beneath which he was riding. By the time, however, that he
reached the summit of Snow Hill the moon struggled through the clouds,
and threw a wan glimmer over the leafy wilderness around. The deep
slumber of the woods was unbroken by any sound save that of the frenzied
rider bursting through them.

Well acquainted with the forest, Wyat held on a direct course. His
brain was on fire, and the fury of his career increased his fearful
excitement. Heedless of all impediments, he pressed forward--now dashing
beneath overhanging boughs at the risk of his neck--now skirting the
edge of a glen where a false step might have proved fatal.

On--on he went, his frenzy increasing each moment.

At length he reached the woody height overlooking the marshy tract
that formed the limit of his ride. Once more the moon had withdrawn her
lustre, and a huge indistinct black mass alone pointed out the
position of the haunted tree. Around it wheeled a large white owl,
distinguishable by its ghostly plumage through the gloom, like a
sea-bird in a storm, and hooting bodingly as it winged its mystic
flight. No other sound was heard, nor living object seen.

While gazing into the dreary expanse beneath him, Wyat for the first
time since starting experienced a sensation of doubt and dread; and the
warning of his old and faithful attendant rushed upon his mind. He tried
to recite a prayer, but the words died away on his lips--neither would
his fingers fashion the symbol of a cross.

But even these admonitions did not restrain him. Springing from his
foaming and panting steed, and taking the bridle in his hand, he
descended the side of the acclivity. Ever and anon a rustling among the
grass told him that a snake, with which description of reptile the spot
abounded, was gliding away from him. His horse, which had hitherto
been all fire and impetuosity, now began to manifest symptoms of alarm,
quivered in every limb, snorted, and required to be dragged along
forcibly.

When within a few paces of the tree, its enormous rifted trunk became
fully revealed to him; but no one was beside it. Wyat then stood still,
and cried in a loud, commanding tone, "Spirit, I summon thee!--appear!"

At these words a sound like a peal of thunder rolled over head,
accompanied by screeches of discordant laughter. Other strange and
unearthly noises were heard, and amidst the din a blue phosphoric light
issued from the yawning crevice in the tree, while a tall, gaunt figure,
crested with an antlered helm, sprang from it. At the same moment a
swarm of horribly grotesque, swart objects, looking like imps, appeared
amid the branches of the tree, and grinned and gesticulated at Wyat,
whose courage remained unshaken during the fearful ordeal. Not so his
steed. After rearing and plunging violently, the affrighted animal broke
its hold and darted off into the swamp, where it floundered and was
lost.

"You have called me, Sir Thomas Wyat," said the demon, in a sepulchral
tone. "I am here. What would you?"

"My name being known to you, spirit of darkness, my errand should be
also," replied Wyat boldly.

"Your errand is known to me," replied the demon. "You have lost a
mistress, and would regain her?"

"I would give my soul to win her back from my kingly rival," cried Wyat.

"I accept your offer," rejoined the spirit. "Anne Boleyn shall be yours.
Your hand upon the compact."

Wyat stretched forth his hand, and grasped that of the demon.

His fingers were compressed as if by a vice, and he felt himself dragged
towards the tree, while a stifling and sulphurous vapour rose around
him. A black veil fell over his head, and was rapidly twined around his
brow in thick folds.

Amid yells of fiendish laughter he was then lifted from the ground,
thrust into the hollow of the tree, and thence, as it seemed to him,
conveyed into a deep subterranean cave.





Next: In What Manner Wolsey Put His Scheme Into Operation

Previous: Of The Mysterious Disappearance Of Herne The Hunter In The Lake



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