Of The Ghostly Chase Beheld By The Earl Of Surrey And The Duke Of Richmond In Windsor Forest





On that same night, and just as the castle clock was on the stroke of

twelve, the Earl of Surrey and the Duke of Richmond issued from the

upper gate, and took their way towards Herne's Oak. The moon was shining

brightly, and its beams silvered the foliage of the noble trees with

which the park was studded. The youthful friends soon reached the

blasted tree; but nothing was to be seen near it, and all looked so

tranquil, so free from malignant influence, that the Duke of Richmond

could not help laughing at his companion, telling him that the supposed

vision must have been the offspring of his over-excited fancy. Angry at

being thus doubted, the earl walked off, and plunged into the haunted

dell. The duke followed, but though they paused for some time beneath

the gnarled oak-tree, the spirit did not appear.



"And thus ends the adventure of Herne the Hunter!" laughed the duke,

as they emerged from the brake. "By my halidom, Surrey, I am grievously

disappointed. You must have mistaken some large stag, caught by its

antlers in the branches of the oak-tree, for the demon."



"I have told you precisely what occurred," replied Surrey angrily. "Ha!

there he is--look! look!"



And he pointed to a weird figure, mounted on a steed as weird-looking as

itself, galloping through the trees with extraordinary swiftness, at a

little distance from them. This ghostly rider wore the antlered helmet

described by Surrey, and seemed to be habited in a garb of deer-skins.

Before him flew a large owl, and a couple of great black dogs ran beside

him. Staring in speechless wonder at the sight, the two youths watched

the mysterious being scour a glade brightly illumined by the moon,

until, reaching the pales marking the confines of the Home Park, he

leaped them and disappeared.



"What think you of that?" cried Surrey, as soon as he had recovered from

his surprise, glancing triumphantly at the duke. "Was that the offspring

of my fancy?"



"It was a marvellous sight, truly!" exclaimed Richmond. "Would we had

our steeds to follow him."



"We can follow him on foot," replied the earl--"he is evidently gone

into the forest."



And they set off at a quick pace in the direction taken by the ghostly

rider. Clambering the park pales, they crossed the road leading to

Old Windsor, and entered that part of the forest which, in more recent

times, has been enclosed and allotted to the grounds of Frogmore.

Tracking a long vista, they came to a thick dell, overgrown with

large oaks, at the bottom of which lay a small pool. Fleeter than his

companion, and therefore somewhat in advance of him, the Earl of Surrey,

as he approached this dell, perceived the spectral huntsman and his dogs

standing at the edge of the water. The earl instantly shouted to him,

and the horseman turning his head, shook his hand menacingly, while the

hounds glared fiercely at the intruder, and displayed their fangs, but

did not bark. As Surrey, however, despite this caution, continued to

advance, the huntsman took a strangely shaped horn that hung by his

side, and placing it to his lips, flames and thick smoke presently

issued from it, and before the vapour had cleared off, he and his dogs

had disappeared.. The witnesses of this marvellous spectacle crossed

themselves reverently, and descended to the brink of the pool; but the

numerous footprints of deer, that came there to drink, prevented them

from distinguishing any marks of the steed of the ghostly hunter.



"Shall we return, Surrey?" asked the duke.



"No," replied the earl. "I am persuaded we shall see the mysterious

huntsman again. You can return, if you think proper. I will go on."



"Nay, I will not leave you," rejoined Richmond.



And they set off again at the same quick pace as before. Mounting a hill

covered with noble beeches and elms, a magnificent view of the castle

burst upon them, towering over the groves they had tracked, and looking

almost like the work of enchantment. Charmed with the view, the young

men continued to contemplate it for some time. They then struck off on

the right, and ascended still higher, until they came to a beautiful

grove of beeches cresting the hill where the equestrian statue of George

the Third is now placed. Skirting this grove, they disturbed a herd of

deer, which started up, and darted into the valley below.



At the foot of two fine beech-trees lay another small pool, and Surrey

almost expected to see the spectral huntsman beside it.



From this spot they could discern the whole of the valley beyond, and

they scanned it in the hope of perceiving the object of their search.

Though not comparable to the view on the nearer side, the prospect was

nevertheless exceedingly beautiful. Long vistas and glades stretched out

before them, while in the far distance might be seen glittering in the

moonbeams the lake or mere which in later days has received the name of

Virginia Water.



While they were gazing at this scene, a figure habited like a keeper of

the forest suddenly emerged from the trees at the lower end of one of

the glades. Persuaded that this person had some mysterious connection

with the ghostly huntsman, the earl determined to follow him, and

hastily mentioning his suspicions and design to Richmond, he hurried

down the hill. But before he accomplished the descent, the keeper was

gone.



At length, however, on looking about, they perceived him mounting the

rising ground on the left, and immediately started after him, taking

care to keep out of sight. The policy of this course was soon apparent.

Supposing himself no longer pursued, the keeper relaxed his pace, and

the others got nearer to him.



In this way both parties went on, the keeper still hurrying forward,

every now and then turning his head to see whether any one was on his

track, until he came to a road cut through the trees that brought him to

the edge of a descent leading to the lake. Just at this moment a

cloud passed over the moon, burying all in comparative obscurity.

The watchers, however, could perceive the keeper approach an ancient

beech-tree of enormous growth, and strike it thrice with the short

hunting-spear which he held in his grasp.



The signal remaining unanswered, he quitted the tree, and shaped his

course along the side of a hill on the right. Keeping under the

shelter of the thicket on the top of the same hill, Surrey and Richmond

followed, and saw him direct his steps towards another beech-tree of

almost double the girth of that he had just visited. Arrived at this

mighty tree, he struck it with his spear, while a large owl, seated on

a leafless branch, began to hoot; a bat circled the tree; and two large

snakes, glistening in the moonlight, glided from its roots. As the tree

was stricken for the third time, the same weird figure that the watchers

had seen ride along the Home Park burst from its riften trunk, and

addressed its summoner in tones apparently menacing and imperious, but

whose import was lost upon the listeners. The curiosity of the beholders

was roused to the highest pitch, but an undefinable awe prevented them

from rushing forward.



Suddenly the demon hunter waved a pike with which he was armed, and

uttered a peculiar cry, resembling the hooting of an owl. At this sound,

and as if by magic, a couple of steeds, accompanied by the two hounds,

started from the brake. In an instant the demon huntsman vaulted upon

the hack of the horse nearest to him, and the keeper almost as quickly

mounted the other. The pair then galloped off through the glen, the owl

flying before them, and the hounds coursing by their side.



The two friends gazed at each other, for some time, in speechless

wonder. Taking heart, they then descended to the haunted tree, but could

perceive no traces of the strange being by whom it had been recently

tenanted. After a while they retraced their course towards the castle,

hoping they might once more encounter the wild huntsman. Nor were they

disappointed. As they crossed a glen, a noble stag darted by. Close at

its heels came the two black hounds, and after them the riders hurrying

forward at a furious pace, their steeds appearing to breathe forth flame

and smoke.



In an instant the huntsmen and hounds were gone, and the trampling of

the horses died away in the distance. Soon afterwards a low sound, like

the winding of a horn, broke upon the ear, and the listeners had no

doubt that the buck was brought down. They hurried in the direction

of the sound, but though the view was wholly unobstructed for a

considerable distance, they could see nothing either of horsemen,

hounds, or deer.





Of The Earl Of Surrey's Solitary Ramble In The Home Park Of The Interview Between Henry And Catherine Of Arragon In The Urswick Chapel facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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