"It is Herne! it is Herne!" burst from every lip. And they all started in pursuit, urging the horses to their utmost speed. Sir Thomas Wyat had instantly remounted his steed, and he came up with the others.
Herne's triumphant and demoniacal laugh was heard as he scoured with the swiftness of the wind down the long glade. But the fiercest determination animated his pursuers, who, being all admirably mounted, managed to keep him fully in view.
Away! away! he speeded in the direction of the lake; and after him they thundered, straining every sinew in the desperate chase. It was a wild and extraordinary sight, and partook of the fantastical character of a dream.
At length Herne reached the acclivity, at the foot of which lay the waters of the lake glimmering in the starlight; and by the time he had descended to its foot, his pursuers had gained its brow.
The exertions made by Sir Thomas Wyat had brought him a little in advance of the others. Furiously goading his horse, he dashed down the hillside at a terrific pace.
All at once, as he kept his eye on the flying figure of the demon, he was startled by a sudden burst of flame in the valley. A wide circle of light was rapidly described, a rumbling sound was heard like that preceding an earth-quake, and a tremendous explosion followed, hurling trees and fragments of rock into the air.
Astounded at the extraordinary occurrence, and not knowing what might ensue, the pursuers reined in their steeds. But the terror of the scene was not yet over. The whole of the brushwood had caught fire, and blazed up with the fury and swiftness of lighted flax. The flames caught the parched branches of the trees, and in a few seconds the whole grove was on fire.
The sight was awfully grand, for the wind, which was blowing strongly, swept the flames forward, so that they devoured all before them.
When the first flash was seen the demon had checked his steed and backed him, so that he had escaped without injury, and he stood at the edge of the flaming circle watching the progress of the devastating element; but at last, finding that his pursuers had taken heart and were approaching him, he bestirred himself, and rode round the blazing zone.
Having by this time recovered from their surprise, Wyat and Surrey dashed after him, and got so near him that they made sure of his capture. But at the very moment they expected to reach him, he turned his horse's head, and forced him to leap over the blazing boundary.
In vain the pursuers attempted to follow. Their horses refused to encounter the flames; while Wyat's steed, urged on by its frantic master, reared bolt upright, and dislodged him.
But the demon held on his way, apparently unscathed in the midst of the flames, casting a look of grim defiance at his pursuers. As he passed a tree, from which volumes of fire were bursting, the most appalling shrieks reached his ear, and he beheld Morgan Fenwolf emerging from a hole in the trunk. But without bestowing more than a glance upon his unfortunate follower, he dashed forward, and becoming involved in the wreaths of flame and smoke, was lost to sight.
Attracted by Fenwolf's cries, the beholders perceived him crawl out of the hole, and clamber into the upper part of the tree, where he roared to them most piteously for aid. But even if they had been disposed to render it, it was impossible to do so now; and after terrible and protracted suffering, the poor wretch, half stifled with smoke, and unable longer to maintain his hold of the branch to which he crept, fell into the flames beneath, and perished.
Attributing its outbreak to supernatural agency, the party gazed on in wonder at the fire, and rode round it as closely as their steeds would allow them. But though they tarried till the flames had abated, and little was left of the noble grove but a collection of charred and smoking stumps, nothing was seen of the fiend or of the hapless girl he had carried off. It served to confirm the notion of the supernatural origin of the fire, in that it was confined within the mystic circle, and did not extend farther into the woods.
At the time that the flames first burst forth, and revealed the countenances of the lookers -- on, it was discovered that the self-styled Dacre and Cryspyn were no other than the king and the Duke of Suffolk.
"If this mysterious being is mortal, he must have perished now," observed Henry; "and if he is not, it is useless to seek for him further."
Day had begun to break as the party quitted the scene of devastation. The king and Suffolk, with the archers, returned to the castle; but Wyat, Surrey, and Richmond rode towards the lake, and proceeded along its banks in the direction of the forester's hut.
Their progress was suddenly arrested by the sound of lamentation, and they perceived, in a little bay overhung by trees, which screened it from the path, an old man kneeling beside the body of a female, which he had partly dragged out of the lake. It was Tristram Lyndwood, and the body was that of Mabel. Her tresses were dishevelled, and dripping with wet, as were her garments; and her features white as marble. The old man was weeping bitterly.
With Wyat, to dismount and grasp the cold hand of the hapless maiden was the work of a moment.
"She is dead!" he cried, in a despairing voice, removing the dank tresses from her brow, and imprinting a reverent kiss upon it. "Dead ! -- lost to me for ever!"
"I found her entangled among those water-weeds," said Tristram, in tones broken by emotion," and had just dragged her to shore when you came up. As you hope to prosper, now and hereafter, give her a decent burial. For me all is over."
And, with a lamentable cry, he plunged into the lake, struck out to a short distance, and then sank to rise no more.