Made aware by the clangour of the lock, and Fenwolf's exulting laughter, of the snare in which he had been caught, Sir Thomas Wyat instantly sprang from his hiding-place, and rushed to the door; but being framed of the stoutest oak, and strengthened with plates of iron, it defied all his efforts, nerved as they were by rage and despair, to burst it open. Mabel's shrieks, as she was dragged away, reached his ears, and increased his anguish; and he called out loudly to her companions to return, but his vociferations were only treated with derision.
Finding it useless to struggle further, Wyat threw himself upon the bench, and endeavoured to discover some means of deliverance from his present hazardous position. He glanced round the cell to see whether there was any other outlet than the doorway, but he could discern none, except a narrow grated loophole opening upon the passage, and contrived, doubtless, for the admission of air to the chamber. No dungeon could be more secure.
Raising the lamp, he examined every crevice, but all seemed solid stone. The recess in which he had taken shelter proved to be a mere hollow in the wall. In one corner lay a small straw pallet, which, no doubt, had formed the couch of Mabel; and this, together with the stone bench and rude table of the same material, constituted the sole furniture of the place.
Having taken this careful survey of the cell, Wyat again sat down upon the bench with the conviction that escape was out of the question; and he therefore endeavoured to prepare himself for the worst, for it was more than probable he would be allowed to perish of starvation. To a fiery nature like his, the dreadful uncertainty in which he was placed was more difficult of endurance than bodily torture. And he was destined to endure it long. Many hours flew by, during which nothing occurred to relieve the terrible monotony of his situation. At length, in spite of his anxiety, slumber stole upon him unawares; but it was filled with frightful visions.
How long he slept he knew not, but when he awoke, he found that the cell must have been visited in the interval, for there was a manchet of bread, part of a cold neck of venison, and a flask of wine on the table. It was evident, therefore, that his captors did not mean to starve him, and yielding to the promptings of appetite, he attacked the provisions, determined to keep strict watch when his gaoler should next visit him.
The repast finished, he again examined the cell, but with no better success than before; and he felt almost certain, from the position in which the bench was placed, that the visitor had not found entrance through the door.
After another long and dreary interval, finding that sleep was stealing upon him fast, he placed the bench near the door, and leaned his back against the latter, certain that in this position he should be awakened if any one attempted to gain admittance in that way. His slumber was again disturbed by fearful dreams; and he was at length aroused by a touch upon the shoulder, while a deep voice shouted his own name in her ears.
Starting to his feet, and scarcely able to separate the reality from the hideous phantasms that had troubled him, he found that the door was still fastened, and the bench unremoved, while before him stood Herne the Hunter.
"Welcome again to my cave, Sir Thomas Wyat I" cried the demon, with a mocking laugh. "I told you, on the night of the attempt upon the king, that though you escaped him, you would not escape me. And so it has come to pass. You are now wholly in my power, body and soul -- ha! ha!"
"I defy you, false fiend," replied Wyat. "I was mad enough to proffer you my soul on certain conditions; but they have never been fulfilled."
"They may yet be so," rejoined Herne.
"No," replied Wyat, " I have purged my heart from the fierce and unhallowed passion that swayed it. I desire no assistance from you."
If you have changed your mind, that is nought to me, " rejoined the demon derisively -- " I shall hold you to your compact."
"Again I say I renounce you, infernal spirit!" cried Wyat; "you may destroy my body -- but you can work no mischief to my soul."
"You alarm yourself without reason, good Sir Thomas," replied Herne, in a slightly sneering tone. "I am not the malignant being you suppose me; neither am I bent upon fighting the battles of the enemy of mankind against Heaven. I may be leagued with the powers of darkness, but I have no wish to aid them; and I therefore leave you to take care of your soul in your own way. What I desire from you is your service while living. Now listen to the conditions I have to propose. You must bind yourself by a terrible oath, the slightest infraction of which shall involve the perdition of the soul you are so solicitous to preserve, not to disclose aught you may see, or that may be imparted to you here. You must also swear implicit obedience to me in all things -- to execute any secret commissions, of whatever nature, I may give you -- to bring associates to my band -- and to join me in any enterprise I may propose. This oath taken, you are free. Refuse it, and I leave you to perish."
"I do refuse it," replied Wyat boldly. "I would die a thousand deaths rather than so bind myself. Neither do I fear being left to perish here. You shall not quit this cell without me."
"You are a stout soldier, Sir Thomas Wyat," rejoined the demon, with a scornful laugh; "but you are scarcely a match for Herne the Hunter, as you will find, if you are rash enough to make the experiment. Beware! "he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, observing the knight lay his hand upon his sword," I am invulnerable, and you will, therefore, vainly strike at me. Do not compel me to use the dread means, which I could instantly employ, to subject you to my will. I mean you well, and would rather serve than injure you. But I will not let you go, unless you league yourself with me. Swear, therefore, obedience to me, and depart hence to your friends, Surrey and Richmond, and tell them you have failed to find me."
"You know, then, of our meeting?" exclaimed Wyat.
"Perfectly well," laughed Herne. "It is now eventide, and at midnight the meeting will take place in the forester's hut. If you attend it not, I will. They will be my prisoners as well as you. To preserve yourself and save them, you must join me."
"Before I return an answer," said Wyat, "I must know what has become of Mabel Lyndwood."
Mabel Lyndwood is nought to you, Sir Thomas," rejoined Herne coldly.
"She is so much to me that I will run a risk for her which I would not run for myself," replied Wyat. "If I promise obedience to you, will you liberate her? will you let her depart with me?"
"No," said Herne peremptorily. "Banish all thoughts of her from your breast. You will never behold her again. I will give you time for reflection on my proposal. An hour before midnight I shall return, and if I find you in the same mind, I abandon you to your fate."
And with these words he stepped back towards the lower end of the cell. Wyat instantly sprang after him, but before he could reach him a flash of fire caused him to recoil, and to his horror and amazement, he beheld the rock open, and yield a passage to the retreating figure.
When the sulphureous smoke, with which the little cell was filled, had in some degree cleared off, Wyat examined the sides of the rock, but could not find the slightest trace of a secret outlet, and therefore concluded that the disappearance of the demon had been effected by magic.