How Herne The Hunter Was Himself Hunted





On the guard's recovery, information of what had occurred was

immediately conveyed to the king, who had not yet retired to rest,

but was sitting in his private chamber with the Dukes of Suffolk and

Norfolk. The intelligence threw him into a great fury: he buffeted

the guard, and ordered him to be locked up in the dungeon whence the

prisoner had escaped; reprimanded the canon; directed the Duke of

Suffolk, with a patrol, to make search in the neighbourhood of the

castle for the fugitive and the friar; and bade the Duke of Norfolk

get together a band of arquebusiers; and as soon as the latter were

assembled, he put himself at their head and again rode into the forest.



The cavalcade had proceeded about a mile along the great avenue, when

one of the arquebusiers rode up and said that he heard some distant

sounds on the right. Commanding a halt, Henry listened for a moment,

and, satisfied that the man was right, quitted the course he was

pursuing, and dashed across the broad glade now traversed by the avenue

called Queen Anne's Ride. As he advanced the rapid trampling of horses

was heard, accompanied by shouts, and presently afterwards a troop of

wild-looking horsemen in fantastic garbs was seen galloping down the

hill, pursued by Bouchier and his followers. The king immediately shaped

his course so as to intercept the flying party, and, being in some

measure screened by the trees, he burst unexpectedly upon them at a turn

of the road.



Henry called to the fugitives to surrender, but they refused, and,

brandishing their long knives and spears, made a desperate resistance.

But they were speedily surrounded and overpowered. Bouchier inquired

from the king what should be done with the prisoners.



"Hang them all upon yon trees!" cried Henry, pointing to two sister oaks

which stood near the scene of strife.



The terrible sentence was immediately carried into execution. Cords were

produced, and in less than half-an-hour twenty breathless bodies were

swinging from the branches of the two trees indicated by the king.



"This will serve to deter others from like offences," observed Henry,

who had watched the whole proceedings with savage satisfaction. "And

now, Bouchier, how came you to let the leader of these villains escape?"



"I did not know he had escaped, my liege," replied Bouchier, in

astonishment.



"Yea, marry, but he has escaped," rejoined Henry; "and he has had

the audacity to show himself in the castle within this hour, and the

cunning, moreover, to set the prisoner free."



And he proceeded to relate what had occurred.



"This is strange indeed, my liege," replied Bouchier, at the close of

the king's recital, "and to my thinking, is proof convincing that we

have to do with a supernatural being."



"Supernatura!--pshaw!--banish the idle notion," rejoined Henry sternly.

"We are all the dupes of some jugglery. The caitiff will doubtless

return to the forest. Continue your search, therefore, for him

throughout the night. If you catch him, I promise you a royal reward."



So saying, he rode back to the castle, somewhat appeased by the

wholesale vengeance he had taken upon the offenders.



In obedience to the orders he had received, Bouchier, with his

followers, continued riding about the forest during the whole night,

but without finding anything to reward his search, until about dawn

it occurred to him to return to the trees on which the bodies were

suspended. As he approached them he fancied he beheld a horse standing

beneath the nearest tree, and immediately ordered his followers to

proceed as noiselessly as possible, and to keep under the cover of the

wood. A nearer advance convinced him that his eyes had not deceived him.

It was a swart, wild-looking horse that he beheld, with eyes that flamed

like carbuncles, while a couple of bodies, evidently snatched from the

branches, were laid across his back. A glance at the trees, too, showed

Bouchier that they had been considerably lightened of their hideous

spoil.



Seeing this, Bouchier dashed forward. Alarmed by the noise, the wild

horse neighed loudly, and a dark figure instantly dropped from the tree

upon its back, and proceeded to disencumber it of its load. But before

this could be accomplished, a bolt from a cross-bow, shot by one of

Bouchier's followers, pierced the animal's brain. Rearing aloft, it fell

backwards in such manner as would have crushed an ordinary rider, but

Herne slipped off uninjured, and with incredible swiftness darted among

the trees. The others started in pursuit, and a chase commenced in which

the demon huntsman had to sustain the part of the deer--nor could any

deer have afforded better sport.



Away flew the pursued and pursuers over broad glade and through tangled

glen, the woods resounding with their cries. Bouchier did not lose sight

of the fugitive for a moment, and urged his men to push on; but, despite

his alternate proffers and menaces, they gained but little on Herne,

who, speeding towards the home park, cleared its high palings with a

single bound.



Over went Bouchier and his followers, and they then descried him making

his way to a large oak standing almost alone in the centre of a

wide glade. An instant afterwards he reached the tree, shook his arm

menacingly at his pursuers, and vanished.



The next moment Bouchier came up, flung himself from his panting steed,

and, with his drawn sword in hand, forced himself through a rift in its

side into the tree. There was a hollow within it large enough to allow

a man to stand upright, and two funnel-like holes ran upwards into the

branches. Finding nothing, Bouchier called for a hunting-spear, and

thrust it as far as he could into the holes above. The point encountered

no obstruction except such as was offered by the wood itself. He stamped

upon the ground, and sounded it on all sides with the spear, but with no

better success.



Issuing forth he next directed his attention to the upper part of the

tree, which, while he was occupied inside, had been very carefully

watched by his followers, and not content with viewing it from below, he

clambered into the branches. But they had nothing to show except their

own leafy covering.



The careful examination of the ground about the tree at length led to

the discovery of a small hole among its roots, about half a dozen yards

from the trunk, and though this hole seemed scarcely large enough

to serve for an entrance to the burrow of a fox, Bouchier deemed it

expedient to keep a careful watch over it.



His investigation completed, he dispatched a sergeant of the guard to

the castle to acquaint the king with what had occurred.



Disturbed by the events of the night, Henry obtained little sleep, and

at an early hour summoned an attendant, and demanded whether there were

any tidings from the forest The attendant replied that a sergeant of

the guard was without, sent by Captain Bouchier with a message for his

majesty. The sergeant was immediately admitted to the royal presence,

and on the close of his marvellous story the king, who had worked

himself into a tremendous fury during its relation, roared out, "What!

foiled again? ha! But he shall not escape, if I have to root up half the

trees in the forest. Bouchier and his fellows must be bewitched. Harkye,

knaves: get together a dozen of the best woodmen and yeomen in the

castle--instantly, as you value your lives; bid them bring axe and saw,

pick and spade. D'ye mark me? ha! Stay, I have not done. I must have

fagots and straw, for I will burn this tree to the ground--burn it to

a char. Summon the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk--the rascal archer I

dubbed the Duke of Shoreditch and his mates--the keepers of the forest

and their hounds--summon them quickly, and bid a band of the yeomen of

the guard get ready." And he sprang from his couch.



The king's commands were executed with such alacrity, that by the time

he was fully attired the whole of the persons he had ordered to be

summoned were assembled. Putting himself at their head, he rode forth to

the home park, and found Bouchier and his followers grouped around the

tree.



"We are still at fault, my liege," said Bouchier.



"So I see, Sir," replied the king angrily. "Hew down the tree instantly,

knaves," he added to the woodmen. "Fall to--fall to."



Ropes were then fastened to the head of the tree, and the welkin

resounded with the rapid strokes of the hatchets. It was a task of some

difficulty, but such zeal and energy were displayed by the woodmen that

ere long the giant trunk lay prostrate on the ground. Its hollows were

now fully exposed to view, but they were empty.



"Set fire to the accursed piece of timber!" roared the king, "and burn

it to dust, and scatter it to the wind!"



At these orders two yeomen of the guard advanced, and throwing down a

heap of fagots, straw, and other combustibles on the roots of the tree,

soon kindled a fierce fire.



Meanwhile a couple of woodmen, stripped of their jerkins, and with their

brawny arms bared to the shoulder, mounted on the trunk, and strove to

split it asunder. Some of the keepers likewise got into the branches,

and peered into every crack and crevice, in the hope of making some

discovery. Amongst the latter was Will Sommers, who had posted himself

near a great arm of the tree, which he maintained when lopped off would

be found to contain the demon.



Nor were other expedients neglected. A fierce hound had been sent into

the hole near the roots of the tree by Gabriel Lapp, but after a short

absence he returned howling and terrified, nor could all the efforts of

Gabriel, seconded by a severe scourging with his heavy dog-whip, induce

him to enter it again.



When the hound had come forth, a couple of yeomen advanced to enlarge

the opening, while a third with a pick endeavoured to remove the root,

which formed an impediment to their efforts.



"They may dig, but they'll never catch him," observed Shoreditch, who

stood by, to his companions. "Hunting a spirit is not the same thing as

training and raising a wolf, or earthing and digging out a badger."



"Not so loud, duke," said Islington; "his majesty may think thy jest

irreverent."



"I have an arrow blessed by a priest," said Paddington, "which I shall

let fly at the spirit if he appears."



"Here he is--here he is!" cried Will Sommers, as a great white horned

owl, which had been concealed in some part of the tree, flew forth.



"It may be the demon in that form--shoot! shoot!" cried Shoreditch.



Paddington bent his bow. The arrow whistled through the air, and

in another moment the owl fell fluttering to the ground completely

transfixed; but it underwent no change, as was expected by the credulous

archer.



Meanwhile the fire, being kept constantly supplied with fresh fagots,

and stirred by the yeomen of the guard, burnt bravely. The lower part

of the tree was already consumed, and the flames, roaring through the

hollow within with a sound like that of a furnace, promised soon to

reduce it to charcoal.



The mouth of the hole having now been widened, another keeper, who had

brought forward a couple of lurchers, sent them into it; but in a few

moments they returned, as the hound had done, howling and with scared

looks. Without heeding their enraged master, they ran off, with their

tails between their legs, towards the castle.



"I see how it is, Rufus," said Gabriel, patting his hound, who looked

wistfully and half-reproachfully at him. "Thou wert not to blame, poor

fellow! The best dog that ever was whelped cannot be expected to face

the devil."



Though long ere this it had become the general opinion that it

was useless to persevere further in the search, the king, with his

characteristic obstinacy, would not give it up. In due time the whole of

the trunk of the enormous tree was consumed, and its branches cast

into the fire. The roots were rent from the ground, and a wide and deep

trench digged around the spot. The course of the hole was traced for

some distance, but it was never of any size, and was suddenly lost by

the falling in of the earth.



At length, after five hours' close watching, Henry's patience was

exhausted, and he ordered the pit to be filled up, and every crevice and

fissure in the ground about to be carefully stopped.



"If we cannot unkennel the fox," he said, "we will at least earth him

up.



"For all your care, gossip Henry," muttered Will Sommers, as he rode

after his royal master to the castle, "the fox will work his way out."





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