"The keepers stared in astonishment. But the king commanded that the strange order should be obeyed. Upon which the bleeding skull was fastened upon the head of the keeper with leathern thongs.

"'I will now answer for his perfect cure in a month's time,' said Urswick to the king; 'but I shall require to watch over him myself till all danger is at an end. I pray your highness to command these keepers to transport him to my hut.'

"'You hear what he says, knaves?' cried the king; 'do his bidding, and carefully, or ye shall answer to me with your lives.'

"Accordingly a litter was formed with branches of trees, and on this the body of Herne, with the hart's head still bound to it, was conveyed by the keepers to Urswick's hut, a small dwelling, situated in the wildest part of Bagshot Heath. After placing the body upon a bed of dried fern, the keepers were about to depart, when Osmond Crooke observed to the forester, 'I am now certain thou art Arnold Sheafe.'

"'It matters not who I am, since I have the king's pardon,' replied the other, laughing disdainfully.

"'Thou hast yet to earn it,' said Osmond.

"'Leave that to me,' replied Urswick. 'There is more fear that thou wilt lose thy post as chief keeper, which the king has promised to Herne, than that I shall fail.'

"'Would the deer had killed him outright!' growled Osmond.

"And the savage wish was echoed by the other keepers. "'I see you all hate him bitterly,' said Urswick. 'What will you give me for revenge?'

"'We have little to give, save a fat buck on occasions,'replied Osmond; 'and, in all likelihood, thou canst help thyself to venison.'

"'Will you swear to grant the first request I may make of you -- provided it shall be in your power?' demanded Urswick.

"'Readily' they replied.

"'Enough' said Urswick. 'I must keep faith with the king. Herne will recover, but he will lose all his skill as an archer, all his craft as a hunter.'

"'If thou canst accomplish this thou art the fiend himself' cried Osmond, trembling.

"'Fiend or not,' replied Urswick, with a triumphant laugh, 'ye have made a compact with me, and must fulfil it. Now begone. I must attend to the wounded man.'

"And the keepers, full of secret misgiving, departed.

"At the precise time promised, Herne, attended by Urswick, presented himself to the king. He looked thin and pale, but all danger was past. King Richard gave the forester a purse full of nobles, and added a silver bugle to the gift. He then appointed Herne his chief keeper, hung a chain of gold round his neck, and ordered him to be lodged in the castle.

"About a week after this, Herne, having entirely regained his strength, accompanied the king on a hunting expedition to the forest, and they had scarcely entered it when his horse started and threw him. Up to that moment such an accident had never happened to him, for he was an excellent horseman, and he arose greatly discomfited, while the keepers eyed each other askance. Soon after this a buck was started, and though Herne was bravely mounted on a black steed bestowed on him on account of its swiftness by the king, he was the last in the chase.

"'Thou art out of practice,' said the king, laughing, as he came up.

"'I know not what ails me,' replied Herne gloomily.

"'It cannot be thy steed's fault,' said the king, 'for he is usually as fleet as the wind. But I will give thee an opportunity of gaining credit in another way. Thou seest yon buck. He cannot be seventy yards off, and I have seen thee hit the mark at twice the distance. Bring him down.'

"Herne raised his crossbow, and let fly the bolt; but it missed its mark, and the buck, startled by the noise, dashed down the brake wholly uninjured.

"King Richard's brow grew dark, and Herne uttered an exclamation of rage and despair.

"'Thou shalt have a third and yet easier trial,' said the king. Old Osmond Crooke shall lend thee his bow, and thy quarry shall be yon magot-pie.'

"As he spoke, the arrow sped. But it quivered in the trunk of the tree, some yards from the bird. The unfortunate shooter looked distracted; but King Richard made no remark, until, towards the close of the day, he said to him, 'Thou must regain thy craft, friend Herne, or I cannot continue thee as my chief keeper.'

"The keepers congratulated each other in secret, for they felt that their malice was about to be gratified.

"The next day Herne went forth, as he thought, alone, but he was watched by his enemies. Not a shaft would go true, and he found that he had completely lost his mastery over hound and horse. The day after that he again rode forth to hunt with the king, and his failures made him the laughing-stock of the party. Richard at length dismissed him with these words, ' Take repose for a week, and then thou shalt have a further trial. If thou dost not then succeed, I must perforce discharge thee from thy post.'

"Instead of returning to the castle, Herne rode off wildly into the forest, where he remained till eventide. He then returned with ghastly looks and a strange appearance, having the links of a rusty chain which he had plucked from a gibbet hanging from his left arm, and the hart's antlered skull, which he had procured from Urswick, fixed like a helm upon his head. His whole demeanour showed that he was crazed; and his condition, which might have moved the compassion of his foes, only provoked their laughter. After committing the wildest extravagances, he burst from all restraint, and disappeared among the trees of the home park.

"An hour after this a pedlar, who was crossing the park from Datchet, found him suspended by a rope from a branch of the oak-tree which you have all seen, and which bears his name. Despair had driven him to the dreadful deed. Instead of cutting him down, the pedlar ran to the castle to relate what he had witnessed; and the keepers, satisfied that their revenge was now fully accomplished, hastened with him to the tree. But the body was gone; and all that proclaimed it had been there, was the rope hanging from the branch. Search was everywhere made for the missing body, but without effect. When the matter was related to the king he was much troubled, and would fain have had masses said for the repose of the soul of the unfortunate keeper, but the priests refused to perform them, alleging that he had 'committed self- destruction, and was therefore out of the pale of the Church.