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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.





Next: Showing The Vacillations Of The King Between Wolsey And Anne Boleyn

Previous: The Legend Of Herne The Hunter



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