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Comprising The Fourth Epoch In The History Of The Castle

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The Legend Of Herne The Hunter








"Nearly a century and a half ago," commenced Cutbeard, about the middle
of the reign of Richard the Second, there was among the keepers of the
forest a young man named Herne. He was expert beyond his fellows in all
matters of woodcraft, and consequently in great favour with the king,
who was himself devoted to the chase. Whenever he stayed at the castle,
King Richard, like our own royal Harry, would pass his time in hunting,
hawking, or shooting with the long-bow; and on all these occasions the
young keeper was his constant attendant. If a hart was to be chased,
Herne and his two black hounds of Saint Hubert's breed would hunt him
down with marvellous speed; if a wild boar was to be reared, a badger
digged out, a fox unkennelled, a marten bayed, or an otter vented, Herne
was chosen for the task. No one could fly a falcon so well as Herne--no
one could break up a deer so quickly or so skilfully as him. But in
proportion as he grew in favour with the king, the young keeper was
hated by his comrades, and they concerted together how to ruin him.
All their efforts, however, were ineffectual, and rather tended to his
advantage than injury.

"One day it chanced that the king hunted in the forest with his
favourite, the Earl of Oxford, when a great deer of head was
unharboured, and a tremendous chase ensued, the hart leading his
pursuers within a few miles of Hungerford, whither the borders of the
forest then extended. All the followers of the king, even the Earl of
Oxford, had by this time dropped off, and the royal huntsman was only
attended by Herne, who kept close behind him. At last the hart, driven
to desperation, stood at bay, and gored the king's horse as he came up
in such a manner that it reared and threw its rider. Another instant,
and the horns of the infuriated animal would have been plunged into the
body of the king, if Herne had not flung himself between the prostrate
monarch and his assailant, and received the stroke intended for him.
Though desperately wounded, the young hunter contrived slightly to raise
himself, and plunged his knife into the hart's throat, while the king
regained his feet.

"Gazing with the utmost concern at his unfortunate deliverer, King
Richard demanded what he could do for him.

"'Nothing, sire--nothing,' replied Herne, with a groan. I shall require
nothing but a grave from you, for I have received a wound that will
speedily bring me to it.'

"'Not so, I trust, good fellow,' replied the king, in a tone meant to
be encouraging, though his looks showed that his heart misgave him; 'my
best leech shall attend you.'

"'No skill will avail me now,' replied Herne sadly. 'A hurt from hart's
horn bringeth to the bier.'

"'I hope the proverb will not be justified in thy case,' rejoined the
king; 'and I promise thee, if thou dost recover, thou shalt have the
post of head keeper of the forest, with twenty nobles a year for wages.
If, unhappily, thy forebodings are realised, I will give the same sum to
be laid out in masses for thy soul.'

"'I humbly thank your highness,' replied the young man, 'and I accept
the latter offer, seeing it is the only one likely to profit me.'

"With this he put his horn to his lips, and winding the dead mot feebly,
fell back senseless. Much moved, the king rode off for succour; and
blowing a lusty call on his bugle, was presently joined by the Earl
of Oxford and some of his followers, among whom were the keepers. The
latter were secretly rejoiced on hearing what had befallen Herne, but
they feigned the greatest affliction, and hastened with the king to the
spot where the body was lying stretched out beside that of the hart.

"'It is almost a pity his soul cannot pass away thus,' said King
Richard, gazing compassionately at him, 'for he will only revive to
anguish and speedy death.'"

"'Your highness is right,' replied the chief keeper, a grim old
man named Osmond Crooke, kneeling beside him, and half drawing his
hunting-knife; 'it were better to put him out of his misery.'

"'What! slay the man who has just saved my own life!' cried the king.
'I will consent to no such infamous deed. I would give a large reward to
any one who could cure him.'

"As the words were uttered, a tall dark man, in a strange garb,
and mounted on a black wild-looking steed, whom no one had hitherto
observed, sprang to the ground and advanced towards the king.

"'I take your offer, sire,' said this personage, in a harsh voice. I
will cure him.'

"'Who art thou, fellow?' demanded King Richard doubtfully.

"'I am a forester,' replied the tall man, 'but I understand somewhat of
chirurgery and leechcraft.'

"'And woodcraft, too, I'll be sworn, fellow,' said the king 'Thou hast,
or I am mistaken, made free with some of my venison.'

"'He looks marvellously like Arnold Sheafe, who was outlawed for
deer-stealing,' said Osmond Crooke, regarding him steadfastly.

"'I am no outlaw, neither am I called Arnold Sheafe,' replied the other.
'My name is Philip Urswick, and I can render a good account of myself
when it shall please the king's highness to interrogate me. I dwell on
the heath near Bagshot, which you passed today in the chase, and where I
joined you.'

"'I noted you not,' said Osmond.

"'Nor I--nor I!' cried the other keepers.

"'That may be; but I saw you,' rejoined Urswick contemptuously; 'and I
tell you there is not one among you to be compared with the brave hunter
who lies there. You have all pronounced his case hopeless. I repeat I
can cure him if the king will make it worth my while.'

"'Make good thy words, fellow,' replied the king; 'and thou shalt not
only be amply rewarded, but shalt have a free pardon for any offence
thou mayest have committed.'

"'Enough,' replied Urswick. And taking a large, keen-edged hunting-knife
from his girdle, he cut off the head of the hart close to the point
where the neck joins the skull, and then laid it open from the extremity
of the under-lip to the nuke. 'This must be bound on the head of the
wounded man,' he said.

"The keepers stared in astonishment. But the king commanded that the
strange order should be obeyed. Upon which the bleeding skull was
fastened upon the head of the keeper with leathern thongs.

"'I will now answer for his perfect cure in a month's time,' said
Urswick to the king; 'but I shall require to watch over him myself till
all danger is at an end. I pray your highness to command these keepers
to transport him to my hut.'

"'You hear what he says, knaves?' cried the king; 'do his bidding, and
carefully, or ye shall answer to me with your lives.'

"Accordingly a litter was formed with branches of trees, and on this the
body of Herne, with the hart's head still bound to it, was conveyed by
the keepers to Urswick's hut, a small dwelling, situated in the wildest
part of Bagshot Heath. After placing the body upon a bed of dried fern,
the keepers were about to depart, when Osmond Crooke observed to the
forester, 'I am now certain thou art Arnold Sheafe.'

"'It matters not who I am, since I have the king's pardon,' replied the
other, laughing disdainfully.

"'Thou hast yet to earn it,' said Osmond.

"'Leave that to me,' replied Urswick. 'There is more fear that thou wilt
lose thy post as chief keeper, which the king has promised to Herne,
than that I shall fail.'

"'Would the deer had killed him outright!' growled Osmond.

"And the savage wish was echoed by the other keepers. "'I see you all
hate him bitterly,' said Urswick. 'What will you give me for revenge?'

"'We have little to give, save a fat buck on occasions,'replied Osmond;
'and, in all likelihood, thou canst help thyself to venison.'

"'Will you swear to grant the first request I may make of you--provided
it shall be in your power?' demanded Urswick.

"'Readily' they replied.

"'Enough' said Urswick. 'I must keep faith with the king. Herne will
recover, but he will lose all his skill as an archer, all his craft as a
hunter.'

"'If thou canst accomplish this thou art the fiend himself' cried
Osmond, trembling.

"'Fiend or not,' replied Urswick, with a triumphant laugh, 'ye have made
a compact with me, and must fulfil it. Now begone. I must attend to the
wounded man.'

"And the keepers, full of secret misgiving, departed.

"At the precise time promised, Herne, attended by Urswick, presented
himself to the king. He looked thin and pale, but all danger was past.
King Richard gave the forester a purse full of nobles, and added a
silver bugle to the gift. He then appointed Herne his chief keeper,
hung a chain of gold round his neck, and ordered him to be lodged in the
castle.

"About a week after this, Herne, having entirely regained his strength,
accompanied the king on a hunting expedition to the forest, and they
had scarcely entered it when his horse started and threw him. Up to
that moment such an accident had never happened to him, for he was an
excellent horseman, and he arose greatly discomfited, while the keepers
eyed each other askance. Soon after this a buck was started, and though
Herne was bravely mounted on a black steed bestowed on him on account of
its swiftness by the king, he was the last in the chase.

"'Thou art out of practice,' said the king, laughing, as he came up.

"'I know not what ails me,' replied Herne gloomily.

"'It cannot be thy steed's fault,' said the king, 'for he is usually as
fleet as the wind. But I will give thee an opportunity of gaining credit
in another way. Thou seest yon buck. He cannot be seventy yards off, and
I have seen thee hit the mark at twice the distance. Bring him down.'

"Herne raised his crossbow, and let fly the bolt; but it missed its
mark, and the buck, startled by the noise, dashed down the brake wholly
uninjured.

"King Richard's brow grew dark, and Herne uttered an exclamation of rage
and despair.

"'Thou shalt have a third and yet easier trial,' said the king. Old
Osmond Crooke shall lend thee his bow, and thy quarry shall be yon
magot-pie.'

"As he spoke, the arrow sped. But it quivered in the trunk of the tree,
some yards from the bird. The unfortunate shooter looked distracted;
but King Richard made no remark, until, towards the close of the day,
he said to him, 'Thou must regain thy craft, friend Herne, or I cannot
continue thee as my chief keeper.'

"The keepers congratulated each other in secret, for they felt that
their malice was about to be gratified.

"The next day Herne went forth, as he thought, alone, but he was watched
by his enemies. Not a shaft would go true, and he found that he had
completely lost his mastery over hound and horse. The day after that he
again rode forth to hunt with the king, and his failures made him the
laughing-stock of the party. Richard at length dismissed him with these
words, 'Take repose for a week, and then thou shalt have a further
trial. If thou dost not then succeed, I must perforce discharge thee
from thy post.'

"Instead of returning to the castle, Herne rode off wildly into the
forest, where he remained till eventide. He then returned with ghastly
looks and a strange appearance, having the links of a rusty chain which
he had plucked from a gibbet hanging from his left arm, and the hart's
antlered skull, which he had procured from Urswick, fixed like a helm
upon his head. His whole demeanour showed that he was crazed; and his
condition, which might have moved the compassion of his foes, only
provoked their laughter. After committing the wildest extravagances, he
burst from all restraint, and disappeared among the trees of the home
park.

"An hour after this a pedlar, who was crossing the park from Datchet,
found him suspended by a rope from a branch of the oak-tree which you
have all seen, and which bears his name. Despair had driven him to the
dreadful deed. Instead of cutting him down, the pedlar ran to the castle
to relate what he had witnessed; and the keepers, satisfied that their
revenge was now fully accomplished, hastened with him to the tree. But
the body was gone; and all that proclaimed it had been there, was the
rope hanging from the branch. Search was everywhere made for the missing
body, but without effect. When the matter was related to the king he was
much troubled, and would fain have had masses said for the repose of the
soul of the unfortunate keeper, but the priests refused to perform them,
alleging that he had 'committed self-destruction, and was therefore out
of the pale of the Church.

"On that night, a terrible thunderstorm occurred--as terrible, it may
be, as that of last night--and during its continuance, the oak on which
Herne had hanged himself was blasted by the lightning.

"Old Osmond was immediately reinstated in his post of chief keeper; but
he had little time for rejoicing, for he found that the same spell that
had bound Herne had fallen upon him. His bolts and arrows went wide of
their mark, his hounds lost their scent, and his falcon would not be
lured back. Half frantic, and afraid of exposing himself to the taunts
of his companions, he feigned illness, and left his comrade, Roger
Barfoot, to take his place. But the same ill-luck befell Barfoot, and
he returned in woeful plight, without a single head of game. Four others
were equally unfortunate, and it was now clear that the whole party were
bewitched.

"Luckily, the king had quitted the castle, but they felt certain they
should be dismissed on his return, if not more severely punished. At
last, after taking counsel together, they resolved to consult Urswick,
who they doubted not could remove the spell. Accordingly, they went to
Bagshot Heath, and related their story to him. When they had done, he
said, 'The curse of Herne's blood is upon you, and can only be removed
in one way. As you return to the castle, go to the tree on which he
destroyed himself, and you may learn how to act.'

"The keepers would have questioned him further, but he refused to
answer, and dismissed them.

"The shades of evening had fallen as they quitted Bagshot; and it was
midnight as they entered the home park, and proceeded towards the fatal
oak. It was pitchy dark, and they could only distinguish the tree by
its white, scathed trunk. All at once, a blue flame, like a
will-o'-the-wisp, appeared, flitted thrice round the tree, and then
remained stationary, its light falling upon a figure in a wild garb,
with a rusty chain hanging from its left arm, and an antlered helm upon
its head. They knew it to be Herne, and instantly fell down before him,
while a burst of terrible laughter sounded in their ears.

"Without heeding them further, the spirit darted round the tree,
rattling its chain, and uttering appalling imprecations. It then
stopped, and turning to the terrified beholders, bade them, in a hollow
voice, bring hounds and horses as for the chase on the following night
and vanished.

"Filled with dread, the keepers returned home, and the next day Old
Osmond again sought the forester, and told him what had occurred.

"'You must obey the spirit's injunctions, or worse mischief will befall
you,' said Urswick. 'Go to the tree, mounted as for a hunting-party,
and take the black steed given to Herne by the king, and the two black
hounds with you. You will see what will ensue.' And without another word
he dismissed him.

"Osmond told his comrades what the forester had said, and though they
were filled with alarm, they resolved upon compliance. At midnight,
therefore, they rode towards the tree with the black hounds in leash,
and leading Herne's favourite horse, saddled and bridled. As they drew
near, they again saw the terrible shape stalking round the tree, and
heard the fearful imprecations.

"His spells ended, Herne called to Osmond to bring him his steed; and
the old man tremblingly obeyed. In an instant the mysterious being
vaulted on its back, and in a voice of resistless authority cried, 'To
the forest!--to the forest!' With this, he dashed forward, and the whole
party, hounds and men, hurried after him.

"They rode at a furious pace for five or six miles over the great park,
the keepers wondering where their unearthly leader was taking them, and
almost fancying they were hurrying to perdition, when they descended
a hillside leading to the marsh, and halted before a huge beech-tree,
where Herne dismounted and pronounced certain mystic words, accompanying
them with strange gestures.

"Presently, he became silent and motionless. A flash of fire then burst
from the roots of the tree, and the forester Urswick stood before him.
But his aspect was more terrible and commanding than it had seemed
heretofore to the keepers.

"'Welcome, Herne,' he cried; 'welcome, lord of the forest. And you his
comrades, and soon to be his followers, welcome too. The time is come
for the fulfilment of your promise to me. I require you to form a band
for Herne the Hunter, and to serve him as leader. Swear to obey him, and
the spell that hangs over you shall be broken. If not, I leave you to
the king's justice.'

"Not daring to refuse compliance, the keepers took the oath
proposed--and a fearful one it was! As soon as it was Urswick vanished,
as he came, in a flash of fire. Herne, then commanded the others to
dismount, and made them prostrate themselves before him, and pay him
homage.

"This done, he blew a strike on his horn, rode swiftly up the hillside,
and a stag being unharboured, the chase commenced. Many a fat buck was
hunted and slaughtered that night; and an hour before daybreak, Herne
commanded them to lay the four finest and fattest at the foot of the
beech-tree, and then dismissed them, bidding them meet him at midnight
at the scathed oak in the home park.

"They came as they were commanded; but fearful of detection, they
adopted strange disguises, not unlike those worn by the caitiffs who
were put to death, a few weeks ago, by the king in the great park.
Night after night they thus went forth, thinning the herds of deer,
and committing other outrages and depredations. Nor were their dark
proceedings altogether unnoticed. Belated travellers crossing the forest
beheld them, and related what they had seen; others watched for them,
but they were so effectually disguised that they escaped detection.

"At last, however, the king returned to the castle, and accounts of the
strange doings in the forest were instantly brought to him. Astonished
at what he heard, and determined to ascertain the truth of the
statement, he ordered the keepers to attend him that night in an
expedition to the forest, when he hoped to encounter the demon huntsman
and his hand. Much alarmed, Osmond Crooke, who acted as spokesman,
endeavoured, by representing the risk he would incur, to dissuade the
king from the enterprise; but he would not be deterred, and they now
gave themselves up for lost.

"As the castle clock tolled forth the hour of midnight, Richard,
accompanied by a numerous guard, and attended by the keepers, issued
from the gates, and rode towards the scathed oak. As they drew near the
tree, the figure of Herne, mounted on his black steed, was discerned
beneath it. Deep fear fell upon all the beholders, but chiefly upon the
guilty keepers, at the sight. The king, however, pressed forward, and
cried, 'Why does thou disturb the quietude of night, accursed spirit?'

"Because I desire vengeance!' replied Herne, in a hollow voice. 'I
was brought to my present woeful condition by Osmond Crooke and his
comrades.'

"'But you died by your own hand,--did you not?' demanded King Richard.

"'Yea,' replied Herne; 'but I was driven to the deed by an infernal
spell laid upon me by the malice of the wretches I have denounced. Hang
them upon this tree, and I will trouble these woods no longer whilst
thou reignest!'

"The king looked round at the keepers. They all remained obdurate,
except Roger Barfoot, who, falling on his knees, confessed his guilt,
and accused the others.

"It is enough,' cried the king to Herne; 'they shall all suffer for
their offence.'

"Upon this a flash of fire enveloped the spirit and his horse, and he
vanished.

"The king kept his word. Osmond and his comrades were all hanged upon
the scathed tree, nor was Herne seen again in the forest while
Richard sat upon the throne. But he reappeared with a new band at the
commencement of the rule of Henry the Fourth, and again hunted the deer
at night. His band was destroyed, but he defied all attempts at capture;
and so it has continued to our own time, for not one of the seven
monarchs who have held the castle since Richard's day have been able to
drive him from the forest."

"Nor will the present monarch be able to drive him thence," said a deep
voice. "As long as Windsor Forest endures, Herne the Hunter will haunt
it."

All turned at the exclamation and saw that it proceeded from a tall dark
man, in an archer's garb, standing behind Simon Quanden's chair.

"Thou hast told thy legend fairly enough, good clerk of the kitchen,"
continued this personage; "but thou art wrong on many material points."

"I have related the story as it was related to me," said Cutbeard
somewhat nettled at the remark; "but perhaps you will set me right where
I have erred."

"It is true that Herne was a keeper in the reign of Richard the Second,"
replied the tall archer. "It is true also that he was expert in all
matters of woodcraft, and that he was in high favour with the king; but
he was bewitched by a lovely damsel, and not by a weird forester. He
carried off a nun and dwelt with her in a cave in the forest where he
assembled his brother keepers, and treated them to the king's venison
and the king's wine.

"A sacreligious villain and a reprobate!" exclaimed Launcelot Rutter.

"His mistress was fair enough, I will warrant her," said Kit Coo.

"She was the very image of this damsel," rejoined the tall archer,
pointing to Mabel, "and fair enough to work his ruin, for it was through
her that the fiend tempted him. The charms that proved his undoing were
fatal to her also, for in a fit of jealousy he slew her. The remorse
occasioned by this deed made him destroy himself."

"Well, your version of the legend may be the correct one, for aught I
know, worthy sir," said Cutbeard; "but I see not that it accounts for
Herne's antlers so well as mine, unless he were wedded to the nun, who
you say played him false. But how came you to know she resembled Mabel
Lyndwood?"

"Ay, I was thinking of that myself," said Simon Quanden. "How do you
know that, master?"

"Because I have seen her picture," replied the tall archer.

"Painted by Satan's chief limner, I suppose?" rejoined Cutbeard.

"He who painted it had seen her," replied the tall archer sternly. "But,
as I have said, it was the very image of this damsel."

And as he uttered the words, he quitted the kitchen.

"Who is that archer?" demanded Cutbeard, looking after him. But no one
could answer the question, nor could any one tell when he had entered
the kitchen.

"Strange!" exclaimed Simon Quanden, crossing himself. "Have you ever
seen him before, Mabel?"

"I almost think I have," she replied, with a slight shudder.

"I half suspect he is Herne himself," whispered the Duke of Shoreditch
to Paddington.

"It may be," responded the other; "his glance made my blood run cold."

"You look somewhat fatigued, sweetheart," said Deborah, observing
Mabel's uneasiness. "Come with me and I will show you to a chamber."

Glad to escape Mabel followed the good dame out of the kitchen, and they
ascended a winding staircase which brought them to a commodious chamber
in the upper part of Henry the Seventh's buildings, where Deborah sat
down with her young charge and volunteered a great deal of good advice
to her, which the other listened to with becoming attention, and
promised to profit by it.





Next: Of The Mysterious Noise Heard In The Curfew Tower

Previous: Of The Combat Between Will Sommers And Patch



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