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 he 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."