"I hold it my duty to tell you, prisoner," said Suffolk, "that there is no hope of your life. The king's highness is determined to make a fearful example of you and all your companions in crime; but he does not seek to destroy your soul, and has therefore sent this holy man to you, with the desire that you may open your heart to him, and by confession and repentance save yourself from eternal perdition."
"Confession will profit me nothing," said Fenwolf moodily. "I cannot pray if I would."
"You cannot be so utterly lost, my son," rejoined the canon. "Hell may have woven her dark chains round you, but not so firmly but that the hand of Heaven can burst them."
"You waste time in seeking to persuade me," returned Fenwolf.
"You are not ignorant of the punishment inflicted upon those condemned for sorcery, my son? "demanded the canon.
"It is the stake, is it not? " replied Fenwolf
"Ay," replied the canon; "but even that fiery trial will fail to purge out your offences without penitence. My lord of Suffolk, this wretched man's condition demands special attention. It will profit the Church much to win his soul from the fiend. Let him, I pray you, be removed to the dungeon beneath the Garter Tower, where a priest shall visit him, and pray by his side till daybreak."
"It will be useless, father," said Fenwolf.
"I do not despair, my son," replied the canon; "and when I see you again in the morning I trust to find you in a better frame of mind."
The duke then gave directions to the guard to remove the prisoner, and after some further conference with the canon, returned to the royal apartments.
Meanwhile, the canon shaped his course towards the Horseshoe Cloisters, a range of buildings so designated from their form, and situated at the west end of St. George's Chapel, and he had scarcely entered them when he heard footsteps behind him, and turning at the sound, beheld a Franciscan friar, for so his habit of the coarsest grey cloth, tied with a cord round the waist, proclaimed him. The friar was very tall and gaunt, and his cowl was drawn over his face so as to conceal his features.
"What would you, brother? " inquired the canon, halting. "I have a request to make of you, reverend sir," replied the friar, with a lowly inclination of the head. "I have just arrived from Chertsey Abbey, whither I have been tarrying for the last three days, and while conversing with the guard at the gate, I saw a prisoner brought into the castle charged with heinous offences, and amongst others, with dealings with the fiend."
"You have been rightly informed, brother," rejoined the canon.
"And have I also been rightly informed that you desire a priest to pass the night with him, reverend sir?" returned the friar. " If so, I would crave permission to undertake the office. Two souls, as deeply laden as that of this poor wretch, have been snatched from the jaws of Satan by my efforts,and I do not despair of success now."
"Since you are so confident, brother," said the canon, "I commit him readily to your hands. I was about to seek other aid, but your offer comes opportunely. With Heaven's help I doubt not you will achieve a victory over the evil one."
As the latter words were uttered a sudden pain seemed to seize the friar. Staggering slightly, he caught at the railing of the cloisters for support, but he instantly recovered himself.
"It is nothing, reverend sir," he said, seeing that the good canon regarded him anxiously. "Long vigils and fasting have made me liable to frequent attacks of giddiness, but they pass as quickly as they come. Will it please you to go with me, and direct the guard to admit me to the prisoner?"
The canon assented; and crossing the quadrangle, they returned to the gateway.
Meanwhile, the prisoner had been removed to the lower chamber of the Garter Tower. This fortification, one of the oldest in the castle, being coeval with the Curfew Tower, is now in a state of grievous neglect and ruin. Unroofed, unfloored, filled with rubbish, masked by the yard walls of the adjoining habitations, with one side entirely pulled down, and a great breach in front, it is solely owing to the solid and rock-like construction of its masonry that it is indebted for partial preservation. Still, notwithstanding its dilapidated condition, and that it is the mere shell of its former self, its appearance is highly picturesque. The walls are of prodigious thickness, and the deep embrasures within them are almost perfect; while a secret staircase may still be tracked partly round the building. Amid the rubbish choking up its lower chamber grows a young tree, green and flourishing-a type, it is to be hoped, of the restoration of the structure.
Conducted to a low vaulted chamber in this tower, the prisoner was cast upon its floor-for he was still hound hand and foot-and left alone and in darkness. But he was not destined to continue in this state long. The door of the dungeon opened, and the guard ushered in the tall Franciscan friar.
"What ho! dog of a prisoner," he cried, "here is a holy man come to pass the night with you in prayer."
"He may take his Ave Maries and Paternosters elsewhere-I want them not," replied Fenwolf moodily.
"You would prefer my bringing Herne the Hunter, no doubt," rejoined the guard, laughing at his own jest; "but this is a physician for your soul. The saints help you in your good work, father; you will have no easy task."
"Set down the light, my son," cried the friar harshly, "and leave us; my task will be easily accomplished."
Placing the lamp on the stone floor of the dungeon, the guard withdrew, and locked the door after him.
"Do you repent, my son?" demanded the friar, as soon as they were alone.
"Certes, I repent having put faith in a treacherous fiend, who has deserted me-but that is all," replied Fenwolf, with his face turned to the ground.
"Will you put faith in me, if I promise you deliverance?" demanded the friar.
"You promise more than you can perform, as most of your brethren do," rejoined the other.
"You will not say so if you look up," said the friar.
Fenwolf started at the words, which were pronounced in a different tone from that previously adopted by the speaker, and raised himself as far as his bonds would permit him. The friar had thrown hack his cowl, and disclosed features of appalling hideousness, lighted up by a diabolical grin.
"You here!" cried Fenwolf.
"You doubted me," rejoined Herne, " but I never desert a follower. Besides, I wish to show the royal Harry that my power is equal to his own."
"But how are we to get out of this dungeon?" asked Fenwolf, gazing round apprehensively.
My way out will he easy enough," replied Herne; "but your escape is attended with more difficulty. You remember how we went to the vaulted chamber in the Curfew Tower on the night when Mark Fytton, the butcher, was confined within it?"
I do," replied Fenwolf; "but I can think of nothing while I am tied thus."
Heme instantly drew forth a hunting-knife, and cutting Fenwolf's bonds asunder, the latter started to his feet.
"If that bull-headed butcher would have joined me, I would have liberated him as I am about to liberate you," pursued Herne. "But to return to the matter in hand. You recollect the secret passage we then tracked? There is just such another staircase in this tower."
And stepping to the farther side of the chamber, he touched a small knob in the wall, and a stone flew hack, disclosing an aperture just large enough to allow a man to pass through it.
"There is your road to freedom," he said, pointing to the hole. "Creep along that narrow passage, and it will bring you to a small loophole in the wall, not many feet from the ground. The loophole is guarded by a bar of iron, but it is moved by a spring in the upper part of the stone in which it appears to be mortised. This impediment removed, you will easily force your way through the loophole. Drop cautiously, for fear of the sentinels on the walls; then make your way to the forest, and if you 'scape the arquebusiers who are scouring it, conceal yourself in the sandstone cave below the beech-tree."
"And what of you?" asked Fenwoif.
"I have more to do here," replied Herne impatiently-"away!"
Thus dismissed, Fenwolf entered the aperture, which was instantly closed after him by Herne. Carefully following the instructions of his leader, the keeper passed through the loophole, let himself drop softly down, and keeping close to the walls of the tower till he heard the sentinels move off, darted swiftly across the street and made good his escape.
Meanwhile Herne drew the cowl over his head, and stepping to the door, knocked loudly against it.
"What would you, father? "cried the guard from without.
"Enter, my son, and you shall know," replied Herne.
The next moment the door was unlocked, and the guard advanced into the dungeon.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, snatching up the lamp and looking around, "where is the prisoner?"
"Gone," replied Herne.
"What! has the fiend flown away with him?" cried the man, in mixed astonishment and alarm.
"He has been set free by Herne the Hunter!" cried the demon. "Tell all who question thee so, and relate what thou now seest."
At the words a bright blue flame illumined the chamber, in the midst of which was seen the tall dark figure of Herne. His Franciscan's gown had dropped to his feet, and he appeared habited in his wild deer-skin garb. With a loud cry, the guard fell senseless on the ground.
A few minutes after this, as was subsequently ascertained, a tall Franciscan friar threaded the cloisters behind Saint George's Chapel, and giving the word to the sentinels, passed through the outer door communicating with the steep descent leading to the town.