How Mabel Lyndwood Was Taken To The Castle By Nicholas Clamp





THE storm which had fallen so heavily on the castle had likewise visited

the lake, and alarmed the inmates of the little dwelling on its banks.

Both the forester and his grand-daughter were roused from their beds,

and they sat together in the chief apartment of the cottage, listening

to the awful rolling of the thunder, and watching the blue flashing of

the lightning. The storm was of unusually long duration, and continued

for more than an hour with unintermitted violence. It then paused; the

thunder rolled off, and the flashes of lightning grew fainter and less

frequent. During the storm Mabel continued on her knees, addressing the

most earnest prayers to the Virgin for her preservation and that of

her grandfather; but the old forester, though evidently much alarmed,

uttered not a single supplication, but remained sitting in his chair

with a sullen, scared look. As the thunder died away, he recovered

his composure, and addressed himself to soothe the fears of his

granddaughter. In this he had partially succeeded, and was urging her

again to seek her couch, when the storm recommenced with fresh fury.

Mabel once more fell on her knees, and the old man resumed his sullen

posture. Another dreadful half-hour, marked by a succession of terrible

peals and vivid flashes, succeeded, when, amidst an awful pause, Mabel

ventured to address her old relative.



"Why do you not pray, grandfather?" she said, regarding him uneasily.

"Sister Anastasia and good Father Anselm always taught me to utter

an Ave and cross myself during a thunderstorm. Why do you not pray,

grandfather?"



"Do not trouble me. I have no fear."



"But your cheeks and lips are blanched," rejoined Mabel; "and I observed

you shudder during that last awful crash. Pray, grandfather, pray!"



"Peace, wench, and mind your own business!" returned the old man

angrily. "The storm will soon be over--it cannot last long in this way."



"The saints preserve us!" cried Mabel, as a tremendous concussion was

heard overhead, followed by a strong sulphureous smell. "The cottage is

struck!"



"It is--it is!" cried Tristram, springing to his feet and rushing forth.



For a few minutes Mabel continued in a state of stupefaction. She then

staggered to the door, and beheld her grandfather occupied with two dark

figures, whom she recognised as Valentine Hagthorne and Morgan Fenwolf,

in extinguishing the flames, which were bursting from the thatched roof

of the hut. Surprise and terror held her silent, and the others were so

busily engaged that they did not notice her.



At last, by their united efforts, the fire was got under without

material damage to the little building, and Mabel retired, expecting her

grandsire to return; but as he did not do so, and as almost instantly

afterwards the plash of oars was heard en the lake, she flew to the

window, and beheld him, by the gleam of the lightning, seated in the

skiff with Morgan Fenwolf, while Valentine Hagthorne had mounted a black

horse, and was galloping swiftly away. Mabel saw no more. Overcome by

fright, she sank on the ground insensible. When she recovered the storm

had entirely ceased. A heavy shower had fallen, but the sky was now

perfectly clear, and day had begun to dawn. Mabel went to the door of

the hut, and looked forth for her grandfather, but he was nowhere to

be seen. She remained gazing at the now peaceful lake till the sun had

fairly risen, when, feeling more composed, she retired to rest, and

sleep, which had been banished from them during the greater part of the

night, now fell upon her lovely eyelids.



When she awoke, the day was far advanced, but still old Tristram had not

returned; and with a heavy heart she set about her household concerns.

The thought, however, of her anticipated visit to the castle speedily

dispelled her anxiety, and she began to make preparations for setting

out, attiring herself with unusual care. Bouchier had not experienced

much difficulty in persuading her to obey the king's behest, and by his

artful representations he had likewise induced her grandfather to give

his consent to the visit--the old forester only stipulating that she

should be escorted there and back by a falconer, named Nicholas Clamp,

in whom he could put trust; to which proposition Bouchier readily

assented.



At length five o'clock, the appointed hour, arrived, and with it came

Nicholas Clamp. He was a tall, middle-aged man, with yellow hair,

clipped closely over his brows, and a beard and moustaches to match.

His attire resembled that of a keeper of the forest, and consisted of

a doublet and hose of green cloth; but he did not carry a bugle or

hunting-knife. His sole weapon was a stout quarter-staff. After some

little hesitation Mabel consented to accompany the falconer, and they

set forth together.



The evening was delightful, and their way through the woods was marked

by numberless points of beauty. Mabel said little, for her thoughts

were running upon her grandfather, and upon his prolonged and mysterious

absence; but the falconer talked of the damage done by the thunderstorm,

which he declared was the most awful he had ever witnessed; and he

pointed out to her several trees struck by the lightning. Proceeding in

this way, they gained a road leading from Blacknest, when, from behind

a large oak, the trunk of which had concealed him from view, Morgan

Fenwolf started forth, and planted himself in their path. The gear

of the proscribed keeper was wild and ragged, his locks matted and

disordered, his demeanour savage, and his whole appearance forbidding

and alarming.



"I have been waiting for you for some time, Mabel Lyndwood," he said.

"You must go with me to your grandfather."



"My grandfather would never send you for me," replied Mabel; "but if he

did, I will not trust myself with you."



"The saints preserve us!" cried Nicholas Clamp. "Can I believe my

eyes!--do I behold Morgan Fenwolf!"



"Come with me, Mabel," cried Fenwolf, disregarding him.



But she returned a peremptory refusal.



"She shall not stir an inch!" cried the falconer. "It is thou, Morgan

Fenwolf, who must go with me. Thou art a proscribed felon, and thy life

is forfeit to the king. Yield thee, dog, as my prisoner!"



"Thy prisoner!" echoed Fenwolf scornfully. "It would take three such as

thou art to make me captive! Mabel Lyndwood, in your grandfather's name,

I command you to come with me, and let Nick Clamp look to himself if he

dares to hinder you."



"Nick will do something more than hinder her," rejoined the falconer,

brandishing his staff, and rushing upon the other. "Felon hound! I

command thee to yield!"



Before the falconer could reach him, Morgan Fenwolf plucked a long

hunting-knife from his girdle, and made a desperate stab at his

assailant. But Clamp avoided the blow, and striking Fenwolf on the

shins, immediately afterwards closed with him.



The result was still doubtful, when the struggle was suddenly

interrupted by the trampling of horse approaching from the side of

Windsor; and at the sound Morgan Fenwolf disengaged himself from his

antagonist and plunged into the adjoining wood. The next moment Captain

Bouchier rode up, followed by a small band of halberdiers, and receiving

information from the falconer of what had occurred, darted with his

men into the wood in search of the fugitive. Nicholas Clamp and his

companion did not await the issue of the search, but proceeded on their

way.



As they walked at a brisk pace, they reached the long avenue in about

half-an-hour, and took their way down it. When within a mile of the

castle they were overtaken by Bouchier and his followers, and the

falconer was much disappointed to learn that they had failed in tracking

Morgan Fenwolf to his lair. After addressing a few complimentary words

to the maiden, Bouchier rode on.



Soon after this the pair quitted the great park, and passing through a

row of straggling houses, divided by gardens and closes, which skirted

the foot of Castle Hill, presently reached the lower gate. They were

admitted without difficulty; but just as they entered the lower ward

the falconer was hailed by Shoreditch and Paddington, who at the moment

issued from the doorway of the guard-room.



Clamp obeyed the call and went towards them, and it was evident, from

the gestures of the archers, that they were making inquiries about

Mabel, whose appearance seemed to interest them greatly. After a brief

conversation with the falconer they approached her, and, respectfully

addressing her, begged leave to attend her to the royal lodgings,

whither they understood she was going. No objection being made to the

proposal by Mabel, the party directed their course towards the middle

ward.



Passing through the gateway of the Norman Tower, they stopped before a

low portal in a picturesque Gothic wing of the castle, with projecting

walls and bay-windows, which had been erected in the preceding reign of

Henry the Seventh, and was consequently still in all its freshness and

beauty.





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