Utterly disregarding her cries and entreaties, Fenwolf dragged Mabel into the great cavern, and forced her to take a seat on a bench near the spot where a heap of ashes showed that the fire was ordinarily lighted. All this while, her grandfather had averted his face from her, as if fearing to meet her regards, and he now busied himself in striking a light and setting fire to a pile of fagots and small logs of wood.
"I thought you told me Herne was here," said Mabel in a tone of bitter reproach, to Fenwolf, who seated himself beside her on the bench.
"He will be here ere long," he replied sullenly.
"Oh, do not detain Sir Thomas Wyat!" cried Mabel piteously; "do not deliver him to your dread master! Do what you will with me -- but let him go."
"I will tell you what I will do," replied Fenwolf, in a low tone; "I will set Sir Thomas at liberty, and run all risks of Herne's displeasure, if you will promise to be mine."
Mabel replied by a look of unutterable disgust.
"Then he will await Herne's coming where he is," rejoined Fenwolf.
Saying which he arose, and, pushing a table near the bench, took the remains of a huge venison pasty and a loaf from a hutch standing on one side of the cavern.
By this time Old Tristram, having succeeded in lighting the fire, placed himself at the farther end of the table, and fell to work upon the viands with Fenwolf. Mabel was pressed to partake of the repast, but she declined the offer. A large stone bottle was next produced and emptied of its contents by the pair, who seemed well contented with their regale.
Meanwhile Mabel was revolving the possibility of flight, and had more than once determined to make an attempt, but fear restrained her. Her grandsire, as has been stated, sedulously avoided her gaze, and turned a deaf ear to her complaints and entreaties. But once, when Fenwolf's back was turned, she caught him gazing at her with peculiar significance, and then comprehended the meaning of his strange conduct. He evidently only awaited an opportunity to assist her.
Satisfied of this, she became more tranquil, and about an hour having elapsed, during which nothing was said by the party, the low winding of a horn was heard, and Fenwolf started to his feet, exclaiming --
"It is Herne!"
The next moment the demon huntsman rode from one of the lateral passages into the cave. He was mounted on a wild-looking black horse, with flowing mane and tail, eyes glowing like carbuncles, and in all respects resembling the sable steed he had lost in the forest.
Springing to the ground, he exchanged a few words with Fenwolf in a low tone, and delivering his steed to him, with orders to take it to the stable, signed to Tristram to go with him, and approached Mabel.
"So you have seen Sir Thomas Wyat, I find," he said, in a stern tone.
Mabel made no answer, and did not even raise her eyes towards him.
"And he has told you he loves you, and has urged you to fly with him -- ha? "pursued Herne.
Mabel still did not dare to look up, but a deep blush overspread her cheek.
"He was mad to venture hither," continued Herne; "but having done so, he must take the consequences."
"You will not destroy him? "cried Mabel imploringly. "
"He will perish by a hand as terrible as mine," laughed Herne - " by that of famine. He will never quit the dungeon alive unless -- "
"Unless what?" gasped Mabel.
"Unless he is leagued with me," replied Herne. "And now let him pass, for I would speak of myself. I have already told you that I love you, and am resolved to make you mine. You shudder, but wherefore? It is a glorious destiny to be the' bride of the wild hunter -- the fiend who rules the forest, and who, in his broad domain, is more powerful than the king. The old forester, Robin Hood, had his maid Marian; and what was he compared to me? He had neither my skill nor my power. Be mine, and you shall accompany me on my midnight rides; shall watch the fleet stag dart over the moonlight glade, or down the lengthened vista. You shall feel all the unutterable excitement of the chase. You shall thread with me the tangled grove, swim the river and the lake, and enjoy a thousand pleasures hitherto unknown to you. Be mine, and I will make you mistress of all my secrets, and compel the band whom I will gather round me to pay you homage. Be mine, and you shall have power of life and death over them, as if you were absolute queen. And from me, whom all fear, and all obey, you shall have love and worship."
"And he would have taken her hand; but she recoiled from horror.
"Though I now inspire you with terror and aversion," pursued "the time will come when you will love me as passionately as I was beloved by one of whom you are the image."
And she is dead? "asked Mabel, with curiosity.
"Dead I" exclaimed Herne. "Thrice fifty years have flown since she dwelt upon earth. The acorn which was shed in the forest has grown into a lusty oak, while trees at that time in their pride have fallen and decayed away. Dead! -- yes, she has passed from all memory save mine, where she will ever dwell. Generations of men have gone down to the grave since her time -- a succession of kings have lodged within the castle but I am still a denizen of the forest. For crimes I then committed I am doomed to wander within it,and I shall haunt it, unless released, till the crack of doom."
"Liberate me!" cried Mabel; "liberate your other prisoner and we will pray for your release."
"No more of this!" cried Herne fiercely. "If you would not call down instant and terrible punishment on your head - punishment that I cannot avert, and must inflict -- you will mention nothing sacred in my hearing, and never allude to prayer, I am beyond the reach of salvation."
"Oh, say not so! "cried Mabel, in a tone of commiseration. "I will tell you how my doom was accomplished," rejoined Herne wildly. "To gain her of whom I have just spoken, and who was already vowed to Heaven, I invoked the powers of darkness. I proffered my soul to the Evil One if he would secure her to me, and the condition demanded by him was that I should become what I am -- the fiend of the forest, with power to terrify and to tempt, and with other more fearful and fatal powers besides."
"Oh! "exclaimed Mabel.
"I grasped at the offer," pursued Herne. "She I loved became mine. But she was speedily snatched from me by death, and since then I have known no human passion except hatred and revenge. I have dwelt in this forest, sometimes alone, sometimes at the head of a numerous band, but always exerting a baneful influence over mankind. At last, I saw the image of her I loved again appear before me, and the old passion was revived within my breast. Chance has thrown you in my way, and mine you shall be, Mabel."
"I will die rather," she replied, with a shudder.
"You cannot escape me," rejoined He me, with a triumphant laugh; "you cannot avoid your fate. But I want not to deal harshly with you. I love you, and would win you rather by persuasion than by force. Consent to be mine, then, and I give Wyat his life and liberty."
"I cannot -- I cannot!" she replied.
"Not only do I offer you Wyat's life as the price of your compliance," persevered Herne; "but you shall have what ever else you may seek -- jewels, ornaments, costly attire, treasure -- for of such I possess a goodly store."
"And of what use would they be to me here?" said Mabel.
"I will not always confine you to this cave," replied Herne."You shall go where you please, and live as you please, but you must come to me whenever I summon you."
"And what of my grandsire? "she demanded.
"Tristram Lyndwood is no relative of yours," replied Herne. "I will now clear up the mystery that hangs over your birth. You are the offspring of one who for years has exercised greater sway than the king within this realm, but who is now disgraced and ruined, and nigh his end. His priestly vows forbid him to own you, even if he desired to do so."
"Have I seen him?" demanded Mabel.
"You have," replied Herne; "and he has seen you -- and little did he know when he sought you out, that he was essaying to maintain his own power, and overturn that of another, by the dishonour of his daughter -- though if he had done so," he added, with a scoffing laugh," it might not have restrained him."
"I know whom you mean" said Mabel. "And is it possible he can be my father?"
"It is as I have told you," replied Herne. "You now know my resolve. To- morrow at midnight our nuptials shall take place."
"Nuptials!" echoed Mabel.
"Ay, at that altar," he cried, pointing to the Druid pile of stones; "there you shall vow yourself to me and I to you, before terrible witnesses. I shall have no fear that you will break your oath. Reflect upon what I have said."
With this he placed the bugle to his lips, blew a low call upon it, and Fenwolf and Tristram immediately answering the summons, he whispered some instructions to the former, and disappeared down one of the side passages.
Fenwolf's, deportment was now more sullen than before. In vain did Mabel inquire from him what Herne was about to do with Sir Thomas Wyat. He returned no answer, and at last, wearied by her importunity, desired her to hold her peace. Just then, Tristram quitted the cavern for a moment, when he instantly changed his manner, and 'said to her quickly, " I overheard what passed between you and Herne. Consent to be mine, and I will deliver you from him."
"That were to exchange one evil for another," she replied, "If you would serve me, deliver Sir Thomas Wyat."
"I will only deliver him on the terms I have mentioned" replied Fenwolf.
At this moment, Tristram returned, and the conversation ceased.
Fresh logs were then thrown on the fire by Fenwolf, and, at his request, Tristram proceeded to a hole in the rock, which served as a sort of larder, and brought from it some pieces of venison, which were broiled upon the embers.
At the close of the repast, of which she sparingly partook, Mabel was conducted by Morgan Fenwolf into a small chamber opening out of the great cavern, which was furnished like the cell she had lately occupied, with a small straw pallet. Leaving her a lamp, Fenwolf locked the door, and placed the key in his girdle.