In consequence of the announcement that a grand hunting party would be held in the forest, all the verderers, rangers, and keepers assembled at an early hour on the fourth day after the king's arrival at Windsor in an open space on the west side of the great avenue, where a wooden stand was erected, canopied over with green boughs and festooned with garlands of flowers, for the accommodation of the Lady Anne Boleyn and her dames, who, it was understood, would be present at the chase.
At a little distance from the stand an extensive covert was fenced round with stout poles, to which nets were attached so as to form a haye or preserve, where the game intended for the royal sport was confined; and though many of the animals thus brought together were of hostile natures, they were all so terrified, and seemingly so conscious of the danger impending over them, that they did not molest each other. The foxes and martins, of which there were abundance, slunk into the brushwood with the hares and rabbits, but left their prey untouched. The harts made violent efforts to break forth, and, entangling their horns in the nets, were with difficulty extricated and driven back; while the timid does, not daring to follow them, stood warily watching the result of the struggle.
Amongst the antlered captives was a fine buck, which, having been once before hunted by the king, was styled a "hart royal," and this noble animal would certainly have effected his escape if he had not been attacked and driven back by Morgan Fenwolf, who throughout the morning's proceedings displayed great energy and skill. The compliments bestowed on Fenwolf for his address by the chief verderer excited the jealousy of some of his comrades, and more than one asserted that he had been assisted in his task by some evil being, and that Bawsey herself was no better than a familiar spirit in the form of a hound.
Morgan Fenwolf scouted these remarks; and he was supported by some others among the keepers, who declared that it required no supernatural aid to accomplish what he had done -- that he was nothing more than a good huntsman, who could ride fast and boldly -- that he was skilled in all the exercises of the chase, and possessed a stanch and well-trained hound.
The party then sat down to breakfast beneath the trees, and the talk fell upon Herne the Hunter, and his frequent appearance of late in the forest (for most of the keepers had heard of or encountered the spectral huntsman); and while they were discussing this topic, and a plentiful allowance of cold meat, bread, ale, and mead at the same time, two persons were seen approaching along a vista on the right, who specially attracted their attention and caused Morgan Fenwolf to drop the hunting-knife with which he was carving his viands, and start to his feet.
The new-comers were an old man and a comely young damsel. The former, though nearer seventy than sixty, was still hale and athletic, with fresh complexion, somewhat tanned by the sun, and a keen grey eye, which had lost nothing of its fire. He was habited in a stout leathern doublet, hose of the same material, and boots rudely fashioned out of untanned ox-hide, and drawn above the knee. In his girdle was thrust a large hunting-knife; a horn with a silver mouthpiece depended from his shoulder, and he wore a long bow and a quiver full of arrows at his back. A flat bonnet, made of fox-skin and ornamented with a raven's wing, covered his hair, which was as white as silver.
But it was not upon this old forester, for such his attire proclaimed him, that the attention of the beholders, and of Morgan Fenwolf in especial, was fixed, but upon his companion. Amongst the many lovely and high- born dames who had so recently graced the procession to the castle were few, if any, comparable to this lowly damsel. Her dress -- probably owing to the pride felt in her by her old relative was somewhat superior to her station. A tightly-laced green kirtle displayed to perfection her slight but exquisitely-formed figure A gown of orange-coloured cloth, sufficiently short to display her small ankles, and a pair of green buskins, embroidered with silver, together with a collar of the whitest and finest linen, though shamed by the neck it concealed, and fastened by a small clasp, completed her attire. Her girdle was embroidered with silver, and her sleeves were fastened by aiglets of the same metal.
"How proud old Tristram Lyndwood seems of his granddaughter," remarked one of the keepers.
"And with reason," replied another. "Mabel Lyndwood is the comeliest lass in Berkshire."
Ay, marry is she," rejoined the first speaker; "and, to my thinking, she is a fairer and sweeter flower than any that blooms in yon stately castle -- the flower that finds so much favour in the eyes of our royal Hal not excepted."
"Have a care, Gabriel Lapp," observed another keeper. "Recollect that Mark Fytton, the butcher, was hanged for speaking slightingly of the Lady Anne Boleyn; and you may share his fate if you disparage her beauty."
"Na I meant not to disparage the Lady Anne," replied Gabriel. "Hal may marry her when he will, and divorce her as soon afterwards as he pleases, for aught I care. If he marries fifty wives, I shall like him all the better. The more the merrier, say I. But if he sets eyes on Mab Lyndwood it may somewhat unsettle his love for the Lady Anne."
"Tush, Gabriel!" said Morgan Fenwolf, darting an angry look at him. "What business have you to insinuate that the king would heed other than the lady of his love?"
"You are jealous, Morgan Fenwolf," rejoined Gabriel, with a malignant grin. "We all know you are in love with Mabel yourself."
"And we all know, likewise, that Mabel will have nothing to say to you! "cried another keeper, while the others laughed in chorus. "Come and sit down beside us, Morgan, and finish your breakfast."
But the keeper turned moodily away, and hied towards Tristram Lyndwood and his granddaughter. The old forester shook him cordially by the hand, and after questioning him as to what had taken place, and hearing how he had managed to drive the hart royal into the haye, clapped him on the shoulder and said, "Thou art a brave huntsman, Morgan. I wish Mab could only think as well of thee as I do."