THE storm which had fallen so heavily on the castle had likewise visited the lake, and alarmed the inmates of the little dwelling on its banks. Both the forester and his grand-daughter were roused from their beds, and they sat together in the chief apartment of the cottage, listening to the awful rolling of the thunder, and watching the blue flashing of the lightning. The storm was of unusually long duration, and continued for more than an hour with unintermitted violence. It then paused; the thunder rolled off, and the flashes of lightning grew fainter and less frequent. During the storm Mabel continued on her knees, addressing the most earnest prayers to the Virgin for her preservation and that of her grandfather; but the old forester, though evidently much alarmed, uttered not a single supplication, but remained sitting in his chair with a sullen, scared look. As the thunder died away, he recovered his composure, and addressed himself to soothe the fears of his granddaughter. In this he had partially succeeded, and was urging her again to seek her couch, when the storm recommenced with fresh fury. Mabel once more fell on her knees, and the old man resumed his sullen posture. Another dreadful half-hour, marked by a succession of terrible peals and vivid flashes, succeeded, when, amidst an awful pause, Mabel ventured to address her old relative.
"Why do you not pray, grandfather? "she said, regarding him uneasily. "Sister Anastasia and good Father Anselm always taught me to utter an Ave and cross myself during a thunderstorm. Why do you not pray, grandfather?"
"Do not trouble me. I have no fear."
"But your cheeks and lips are blanched," rejoined Mabel; "and I observed you shudder during that last awful crash. Pray, grandfather, pray!"
"Peace, wench, and mind your own business!" returned the old man angrily. "The storm will soon be over -- it cannot last long in this way."
"The saints preserve us! " cried Mabel, as a tremendous concussion was heard overhead, followed by a strong sulphureous smell. "The cottage is struck!"
"It is -- it is!" cried Tristram, springing to his feet and rushing forth.
For a few minutes Mabel continued in a state of stupefaction. She then staggered to the door, and beheld her grandfather occupied with two dark figures, whom she recognised as Valentine Hagthorne and Morgan Fenwolf, in extinguishing the flames, which were bursting from the thatched roof of the hut. Surprise and terror held her silent, and the others were so busily engaged that they did not notice her.
At last, by their united efforts, the fire was got under without material damage to the little building, and Mabel retired, expecting her grandsire to return; but as he did not do so, and as almost instantly afterwards the plash of oars was heard en the lake, she flew to the window, and beheld him, by the gleam of the lightning, seated in the skiff with Morgan Fenwolf, while Valentine Hagthorne had mounted a black horse, and was galloping swiftly away. Mabel saw no more. Overcome by fright, she sank on the ground insensible. When she recovered the storm had entirely ceased. A heavy shower had fallen, but the sky was now perfectly clear, and day had begun to dawn. Mabel went to the door of the hut, and looked forth for her grandfather, but he was nowhere to be seen. She remained gazing at the now peaceful lake till the sun had fairly risen, when, feeling more composed, she retired to rest, and sleep, which had been banished from them during the greater part of the night, now fell upon her lovely eyelids.
When she awoke, the day was far advanced, but still old Tristram had not returned; and with a heavy heart she set about her household concerns. The thought, however, of her anticipated visit to the castle speedily dispelled her anxiety, and she began to make preparations for setting out, attiring herself with unusual care. Bouchier had not experienced much difficulty in persuading her to obey the king's behest, and by his artful representations he had likewise induced her grandfather to give his consent to the visit -- the old forester only stipulating that she should be escorted there and back by a falconer, named Nicholas Clamp, in whom he could put trust; to which proposition Bouchier readily assented.
At length five o'clock, the appointed hour, arrived, and with it came Nicholas Clamp. He was a tall, middle-aged man, with yellow hair, clipped closely over his brows, and a beard and moustaches to match. His attire resembled that of a keeper of the forest, and consisted of a doublet and hose of green cloth; but he did not carry a bugle or hunting- knife. His sole weapon was a stout quarter-staff. After some little hesitation Mabel consented to accompany the falconer, and they set forth together.
The evening was delightful, and their way through the woods was marked by numberless points of beauty. Mabel said little, for her thoughts were running upon her grandfather, and upon his prolonged and mysterious absence; but the falconer talked of the damage done by the thunderstorm, which he declared was the most awful he had ever witnessed; and he pointed out to her several trees struck by the lightning. Proceeding in this way, they gained a road leading from Blacknest, when, from behind a large oak, the trunk of which had concealed him from view, Morgan Fenwolf started forth, and planted himself in their path. The gear of the proscribed keeper was wild and ragged, his locks matted and disordered, his demeanour savage, and his whole appearance forbidding and alarming.
"I have been waiting for you for some time, Mabel Lyndwood," he said. "You must go with me to your grandfather."
"My grandfather would never send you for me," replied Mabel; "but if he did, I will not trust myself with you."
"The saints preserve us!" cried Nicholas Clamp. "Can I believe my eyes! -- do I behold Morgan Fenwolf!"