Entering a door in the covered way at the head of the flight of steps communicating with the Norman Tower, they descended them in silence. Just as they reached the foot of this long staircase, the earl chanced to cast back his eyes, and,to his inexpressible astonishment, perceived on the landing at the head of the steps, and just before the piece of ordnance commanding the ascent, the figure of Herne the Hunter.
Before he could utter an exclamation, the figure retreated through the adjoining archway. Telling the officer what he had seen, Surrey would fain have gone in quest of the fiendish spy; but the other would not permit him; and affecting to treat the matter as a mere creation of fancy, he hurried the earl to his chamber in the Curfew Tower.
The next day, Surrey was removed betimes to the Round Tower, and the cause of the transfer was soon explained by the discharge of ordnance, the braying of trumpets and the rolling of drums, announcing the arrival of the king. From the mystery observed towards him, Surrey was led to the conclusion that the Fair Geraldine accompanied the royal party; but he in vain sought to satisfy himself of the truth of the surmise by examining, through the deep embrasure of his window, the cavalcade that soon afterwards entered the upper quadrangle. Amid the throng of beautiful dames surrounding Anne Boleyn he could not be certain that he detected the Fair Geraldine; but he readily distinguished the Duke of Richmond among the nobles, and the sight awakened a pang of bitter jealousy in his breast.
The day wore away slowly, for he could not fix his attention upon his books, neither was he allowed to go forth upon the battlements of the tower. In the evening, however, the officer informed him he might take exercise within the dry moat if he was so inclined, and he gladly availed himself of the permission.
After pacing to and fro along the walk for a short time, he entered the arbour, and was about to throw himself upon the bench, when he observed a slip of paper lying upon it. He took it up, and found a few lines traced upon it in hurried characters. They ran thus: -
"The Fair Geraldine arrived this morning in the castle. If the Earl of Surrey desires to meet her, he will find her within this arbour at midnight."
This billet was read and re-read by the young earl with feelings of indescribable transport; but a little reflection damped his ardour, and made him fear it might be a device to ensnare him. There was no certainty that the note proceeded in any way from the Fair Geraldine, nor could he even be sure that she was in the castle. Still, despite these misgivings, the attraction was too powerful to be resisted, and he turned over the means of getting out of his chamber, but the scheme seemed wholly impracticable. The window was at a considerable height above the ramparts of the keep, and even if he could reach them, and escape the notice of the sentinels, he should have to make a second descent into the fosse. And supposing all this accomplished how was he to return? The impossibility of answering this latter mental interrogation compelled him to give up all idea of the attempt.
On returning to his prison-chamber, he stationed himself at the embrasure overlooking the ramparts, and listened to the regular tread of the sentinel below, half resolved, be the consequences what they might, to descend. As the appointed time approached, his anxiety became almost intolerable, and quitting the window, he began to pace hurriedly to and fro within the chamber, which, as has been previously observed, partook of the circular form of the keep, and was supported in certain places by great wooden pillars and cross-beams. But instead of dissipating his agitation, his rapid movements seemed rather to increase it, and at last, wrought to a pitch of uncontrollable excitement, he cried aloud -
"If the fiend were to present himself now, and offer to lead me to her, I would follow him."
Scarcely were the words uttered than a hollow laugh broke from the farther end of the chamber, and a deep voice exclaimed -- "I am ready to take you to her." "I need not ask who addresses me," said Surrey, after a pause, and straining his eyes to distinguish the figure of the speaker in the gloom.
"I will tell you who I am," rejoined the other. "I am he who visited you once before -- who showed you a vision of the Fair Geraldine -- and carried off your vaunted relic -- ho! ho!"
"Avoid thee, false fiend!" rejoined Surrey, "thou temptest me now in vain."
"You have summoned me," returned Herne; "and I will not be dismissed. I am ready to convey you to your mistress, who awaits you in King James's bower, and marvels at your tardiness."
"And with what design dost thou offer me this service?" demanded Surrey.
"It will be time enough to put that question when I make any condition," replied Herne. "Enough, I am willing to aid you. Will you go?"
"Lead on! "replied Surrey, marching towards him.
Suddenly, Herne drew a lantern from beneath the cloak in which he was wrapped, and threw its light on a trap-door lying open at his feet.
Surrey hesitated a moment, and then plunged down the steps. In another instant the demon followed. Some hidden machinery was then set in motion, and the trap-door returned to its place. At length, Surrey arrived at a narrow passage, which appeared to correspond in form with the bulwarks of the keep. Here Herne passed him, and taking the lead, hurried along the gallery and descended another flight of steps, which brought them to a large vault, apparently built in the foundation of the tower. Before the earl had time to gaze round this chamber, the demon masked the lantern, and taking his hand, drew him through a narrow passage, terminated by a small iron door, which flew open at a touch, and they emerged among the bushes clothing the side of the mound.