"Nearly a century and a half ago," commenced Cutbeard, about the middle of the reign of Richard the Second, there was among the keepers of the forest a young man named Herne. He was expert beyond his fellows in all matters of woodcraft, and consequently in great favour with the king, who was himself devoted to the chase. Whenever he stayed at the castle, King Richard, like our own royal Harry, would pass his time in hunting, hawking, or shooting with the long-bow; and on all these occasions the young keeper was his constant attendant. If a hart was to be chased, Herne and his two black hounds of Saint Hubert's breed would hunt him down with marvellous speed; if a wild boar was to be reared, a badger digged out, a fox unkennelled, a marten bayed, or an otter vented, Herne was chosen for the task. No one could fly a falcon so well as Herne -- no one could break up a deer so quickly or so skilfully as him. But in proportion as he grew in favour with the king, the young keeper was hated by his comrades, and they concerted together how to ruin him. All their efforts, however, were ineffectual, and rather tended to his advantage than injury.
"One day it chanced that the king hunted in the forest with his favourite, the Earl of Oxford, when a great deer of head was unharboured, and a tremendous chase ensued, the hart leading his pursuers within a few miles of Hungerford, whither the borders of the forest then extended. All the followers of the king, even the Earl of Oxford, had by this time dropped off, and the royal huntsman was only attended by Herne, who kept close behind him. At last the hart, driven to desperation, stood at bay, and gored the king's horse as he came up in such a manner that it reared and threw its rider. Another instant, and the horns of the infuriated animal would have been plunged into the body of the king, if Herne had not flung himself between the prostrate monarch and his assailant, and received the stroke intended for him. Though desperately wounded, the young hunter contrived slightly to raise himself, and plunged his knife into the hart's throat, while the king regained his feet.
"Gazing with the utmost concern at his unfortunate deliverer, King Richard demanded what he could do for him.
"'Nothing, sire -- nothing,' replied Herne, with a groan. I shall require nothing but a grave from you, for I have received a wound that will speedily bring me to it.'
"'Not so, I trust, good fellow,' replied the king, in a tone meant to be encouraging, though his looks showed that his heart misgave him; 'my best leech shall attend you.'
"'No skill will avail me now,' replied Herne sadly. 'A hurt from hart's horn bringeth to the bier.'
"'I hope the proverb will not be justified in thy case,' rejoined the king; 'and I promise thee, if thou dost recover, thou shalt have the post of head keeper of the forest, with twenty nobles a year for wages. If, unhappily, thy forebodings are realised, I will give the same sum to be laid out in masses for thy soul.'
"'I humbly thank your highness,' replied the young man, 'and I accept the latter offer, seeing it is the only one likely to profit me.'
"With this he put his horn to his lips, and winding the dead mot feebly, fell back senseless. Much moved, the king rode off for succour; and blowing a lusty call on his bugle, was presently joined by the Earl of Oxford and some of his followers, among whom were the keepers. The latter were secretly rejoiced on hearing what had befallen Herne, but they feigned the greatest affliction, and hastened with the king to the spot where the body was lying stretched out beside that of the hart.
"'It is almost a pity his soul cannot pass away thus,' said King Richard, gazing compassionately at him, "for he will only revive to anguish and speedy death.'
"'Your highness is right,' replied the chief keeper, a grim old man named Osmond Crooke, kneeling beside him, and half drawing his hunting- knife; 'it were better to put him out of his misery.'
"'What! slay the man who has just saved my own life!' cried the king. 'I will consent to no such infamous deed. I would give a large reward to any one who could cure him.'
" As the words were uttered, a tall dark man, in a strange garb, and mounted on a black wild-looking steed, whom no one had hitherto observed, sprang to the ground and advanced towards the king.
"'I take your offer, sire,' said this personage, in a harsh voice. I will cure him.'
"'Who art thou, fellow?' demanded King Richard doubtfully.
"'I am a forester,' replied the tall man, 'but I understand somewhat of chirurgery and leechcraft.'
"'And woodcraft, too, I'll be sworn, fellow,' said the king 'Thou hast, or I am mistaken, made free with some of my venison.'
"'He looks marvellously like Arnold Sheafe, who was outlawed for deer- stealing,' said Osmond Crooke, regarding him steadfastly
"'I am no outlaw, neither am I called Arnold Sheafe,' replied the other. 'My name is Philip Urswick, and I can render a good account of myself when it shall please the king's highness to interrogate me. I dwell on the heath near Bagshot, which you passed today in the chase, and where I joined you.'
"'I noted you not,' said Osmond.
"'Nor I -- nor I!' cried the other keepers.
"'That may be; but I saw you,' rejoined Urswick contemptuously; 'and I tell you there is not one among you to be compared with the brave hunter who lies there. You have all pronounced his case hopeless. I repeat I can cure him if the king will make it worth my while.'
"'Make good thy words, fellow,' replied the king; 'and thou shalt not only be amply rewarded, but shalt have a free pardon for any offence thou mayest have committed.'
"'Enough,' replied Urswick. And taking a large, keen-edged hunting- knife from his girdle, he cut off the head of the hart close to the point where the neck joins the skull, and then laid it open from the extremity of the under-lip to the nuke. 'This must be bound on the head of the wounded man,' he said.