"As the castle clock tolled forth the hour of midnight, Richard, accompanied by a numerous guard, and attended by the keepers, issued from the gates, and rode towards the scathed oak. As they drew near the tree, the figure of Herne, mounted on his black steed, was discerned beneath it. Deep fear fell upon all the beholders, but chiefly upon the guilty keepers, at the sight. The king, however, pressed forward, and cried, 'Why does thou disturb the quietude of night, accursed spirit?'
"Because I desire vengeance!' replied Herne, in a hollow voice. 'I was brought to my present woeful condition by Osmond Crooke and his comrades.'
"'But you died by your own hand, -- did you not?' demanded King Richard.
"'Yea,' replied Herne; 'but I was driven to the deed by an infernal spell laid upon me by the malice of the wretches I have denounced. Hang them upon this tree, and I will trouble these woods no longer whilst thou reignest!'
"The king looked round at the keepers. They all remained obdurate, except Roger Barfoot, who, falling on his knees, confessed his guilt, and accused the others.
"It is enough,' cried the king to Herne; 'they shall all suffer for their offence.'
"Upon this a flash of fire enveloped the spirit and his horse, and he vanished.
"The king kept his word. Osmond and his comrades were all hanged upon the scathed tree, nor was Herne seen again in the forest while Richard sat upon the throne. But he reappeared with a new band at the commencement of the rule of Henry the Fourth, and again hunted the deer at night. His band was destroyed, but he defied all attempts at capture; and so it has continued to our own time, for not one of the seven monarchs who have held the castle since Richard's day have been able to drive him from the forest."
"Nor will the present monarch be able to drive him thence," said a deep voice. "As long as Windsor Forest endures, Herne the Hunter will haunt it."
All turned at the exclamation and saw that it proceeded from a tall dark man, in an archer's garb, standing behind Simon Quanden's chair.
"Thou hast told thy legend fairly enough, good clerk of the kitchen continued this personage; "but thou art wrong on many material points."
"I have related the story as it was related to me," said Cutbeard somewhat nettled at the remark; but perhaps you will set me right where I have erred."
"It is true that Herne was a keeper in the reign of Richard the Second," replied the tall archer. "It is true also that he was expert in all matters of woodcraft, and that he was in high favour with the king; but he was bewitched by a lovely damsel, and not by a weird forester. He carried off a nun and dwelt with her in a cave in the forest where he assembled his brother keepers, and treated them to the king's venison and the king's wine.
"A sacreligious villain and a reprobate!" exclaimed Launcelot Rutter.
"His mistress was fair enough, I will warrant her," said Kit Coo.
"She was the very image of this damsel," rejoined the tall archer, pointing to Mabel, "and fair enough to work his ruin, for it was through her that the fiend tempted him. The charms that proved his undoing were fatal to her also, for in a fit of jealousy he slew her. The remorse occasioned by this deed made him destroy himself."
"Well, your version of the legend may be the correct one, for aught I know, worthy sir," said Cutbeard; "but I see not that it accounts for Herne's antlers so well as mine, unless he were wedded to the nun, who you say played him false. But how came you to know she resembled Mabel Lyndwood?"
"Ay, I was thinking of that myself," said Simon Quanden. "How do you know that, master?"
"Because I have seen her picture," replied the tall archer.
"Painted by Satan's chief limner, I suppose? " rejoined Cutbeard.
"He who painted it had seen her," replied the tall archer sternly. "But, as I have said, it was the very image of this damsel."
And as he uttered the words, he quitted the kitchen.
"Who is that archer?" demanded Cutbeard, looking after him. But no one could answer the question, nor could any one tell when he had entered the kitchen.
"Strange!" exclaimed Simon Quanden, crossing himself. "Have you ever seen him before, Mabel?"
"I almost think I have," she replied, with a slight shudder.
"I half suspect he is Herne himself," whispered the Duke of Shoreditch to Paddington.
"It may be," responded the other; "his glance made my blood run cold."
"You look somewhat fatigued, sweetheart," said Deborah, observing Mabel's uneasiness. "Come with me and I will show you to a chamber."
Glad to escape Mabel followed the good dame out of the kitchen, and they ascended a winding staircase which brought them to a commodious chamber in the upper part of Henry the Seventh's buildings, where Deborah sat down with her young charge and volunteered a great deal of good advice to her, which the other listened to with becoming attention, and promised to profit by it.