Henry again sat down to his despatches, and employed himself upon them to a late hour. At length, feeling heated and oppressed, he arose, and opened a window. As he did so, he was almost blinded by a vivid flash of forked lightning. Ever ready to court danger, and convinced, from the intense gloom without, that a fearful storm was coming on, Henry resolved to go forth to witness it. With this view he quitted the closet, and passed through a small door opening on the northern terrace. The castle clock tolled the hour of midnight as he issued forth, and the darkness was so profound that he could scarcely see a foot before him. But he went on.
"Who goes there?" cried a voice, as he advanced, and a partisan was placed at his breast.
"The king! " replied Henry, in tones that would have left no doubt of the truth of the assertion, even if a gleam of lightning had not at the moment revealed his figure and countenance to the sentinel.
"I did not look for your majesty at such a time," replied the man, lowering his pike. "Has your majesty no apprehension of the storm? I have watched it gathering in the valley, and it will be a dreadful one. If I might make bold to counsel you, I would advise you to seek instant shelter in the castle."
"I have no fear, good fellow," laughed the king. " Get thee in yon porch, and leave the terrace to me. I will warn thee when I leave it."
As he spoke a tremendous peal of thunder broke overhead, and seemed to shake the strong pile to its foundations. Again the lightning rent the black canopy of heaven in various places, and shot down in forked flashes of the most dazzling brightness. A rack of clouds, heavily charged with electric fluid, hung right over the castle, and poured down all their fires upon it.
Henry paced slowly to and fro, utterly indifferent to the peril he ran -- now watching the lightning as it shivered some oak in the home park, or lighted up the wide expanse of country around him -- now listening to the roar of heaven's artillery; and he had just quitted the western extremity of the terrace, when the most terrific crash he had yet heard burst over him. The next instant a dozen forked flashes shot from the sky, while fiery coruscations blazed athwart it; and at the same moment a bolt struck the Wykeham Tower, beside which he had been recently standing. Startled by the appalling sound, he turned and beheld upon the battlemented parapet on his left a tall ghostly figure, whose antlered helm told him it was Herne the Hunter. Dilated against the flaming sky, the proportions of the demon seemed gigantic. His right hand was stretched forth towards the king, and in his left he held a rusty chain. Henry grasped the handle of his sword, and partly drew it, keeping his gaze fixed upon the figure.
"You thought you had got rid of me, Harry of England," cried Herne, "but were you to lay the weight of this vast fabric upon me, I would break from under it -- ho! ho!"
"What wouldst thou, infernal spirit?" cried Henry.
"I am come to keep company with you, Harry," replied the demon; "this is a night when only you and I should be abroad. We know how to enjoy it. We like the music of the loud thunder, and the dance of the blithe lightning."
"Avaunt, fiend!" cried Henry. "I will hold no converse with thee. Back to thy native hell!"
"You have no power over me, Harry," rejoined the demon, his words mingling with the rolling of the thunder, "for your thoughts are evil, and you are about to do an accursed deed. You cannot dismiss me. Before the commission of every great crime -- and many great crimes you will commit -- I will always appear to you. And my last appearance shall he three days before your end -- ha! ha!"
"Darest thou say this to me!" cried Henry furiously.
"I laugh at thy menaces," rejoined Herne, amid another peal of thunder -- " but I have not yet done. Harry of England! your career shall be stained in blood. Your wrath shall descend upon the heads of those who love you, and your love shall be fatal. Better Anne Boleyn fled this castle, and sought shelter in the lowliest hovel in the land, than become your spouse. For you will slay her -- and not her alone. Another shall fall by your hand; and so, if you had your own will, would all!"
"What meanest thou by all?" demanded the king.
"You will learn in due season," laughed the fiend. "But now mark me, Harry of England, thou fierce and bloody kin -- thou shalt be drunken with the blood of thy wives; and thy end shall be a fearful one. Thou shalt linger out a living death -- a mass of breathing corruption shalt thou become -- and when dead the very hounds with which thou huntedst me shall lick thy blood!"
These awful words, involving a fearful prophecy, which was afterwards, as will be shown, strangely fulfilled, were so mixed up with the rolling of the thunder that Henry could scarcely distinguish one sound from the other. At the close of the latter speech a flash of lightning of such dazzling brilliancy shot down past him, that he remained for some moments almost blinded; and when he recovered his powers of vision the demon had vanished.