On the guard's recovery, information of what had occurred was immediately conveyed to the king, who had not yet retired to rest, but was sitting in his private chamber with the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk. The intelligence threw him into a great fury: he buffeted the guard, and ordered him to be locked up in the dungeon whence the prisoner had escaped; reprimanded the canon; directed the Duke of Suffolk, with a patrol, to make search in the neighbourhood of the castle for the fugitive and the friar; and bade the Duke of Norfolk get together a band of arquebusiers; and as soon as the latter were assembled, he put himself at their head and again rode into the forest.
The cavalcade had proceeded about a mile along the great avenue, when one of the arquebusiers rode up and said that he heard some distant sounds on the right. Commanding a halt, Henry listened for a moment, and, satisfied that the man was right, quitted the course he was pursuing, and dashed across the broad glade now traversed by the avenue called Queen Anne's Ride. As he advanced the rapid trampling of horses was heard, accompanied by shouts, and presently afterwards a troop of wild-looking horsemen in fantastic garbs was seen galloping down the hill, pursued by Bouchier and his followers. The king immediately shaped his course so as to intercept the flying party, and, being in some measure screened by the trees, he burst unexpectedly upon them at a turn of the road.
Henry called to the fugitives to surrender, but they refused, and, brandishing their long knives and spears, made a desperate resistance. But they were speedily surrounded and overpowered. Bouchier inquired from the king what should be done with the prisoners.
"Hang them all upon yon trees! " cried Henry, pointing to two sister oaks which stood near the scene of strife.
The terrible sentence was immediately carried into execution. Cords were produced, and in less than half-an-hour twenty breathless bodies were swinging from the branches of the two trees indicated by the king.
"This will serve to deter others from like offences," observed Henry, who had watched the whole proceedings with savage satisfaction. "And now, Bouchier, how came you to let the leader of these villains escape?"
"I did not know he had escaped, my liege," replied Bouchier, in astonishment.
"Yea, marry, but he has escaped," rejoined Henry; "and he has had the audacity to show himself in the castle within this hour, and the cunning, moreover, to set the prisoner free."
And he proceeded to relate what had occurred.
"This is strange indeed, my liege," replied Bouchier, at the close of the king's recital, "and to my thinking, is proof convincing that we have to do with a supernatural being."
"Supernatura! -- pshaw!- banish the idle notion," rejoined Henry sternly. "We are all the dupes of some jugglery. The caitiff will doubtless return to the forest. Continue your search, therefore, for him throughout the night. If you catch him, I promise you a royal reward."
So saying, he rode back to the castle, somewhat appeased by the wholesale vengeance he had taken upon the offenders.
In obedience to the orders he had received, Bouchier, with his followers, continued riding about the forest during the whole night, but without finding anything to reward his search, until about dawn it occurred to him to return to the trees on which the bodies were suspended. As he approached them he fancied he beheld a horse standing beneath the nearest tree, and immediately ordered his followers to proceed as noiselessly as possible, and to keep under the cover of the wood. A nearer advance convinced him that his eyes had not deceived him. It was a swart, wild-looking horse that he beheld, with eyes that flamed like carbuncles, while a couple of bodies, evidently snatched from the branches, were laid across his back. A glance at the trees, too, showed Bouchier that they had been considerably lightened of their hideous spoil.
Seeing this, Bouchier dashed forward. Alarmed by the noise, the wild horse neighed loudly, and a dark figure instantly dropped from the tree upon its back, and proceeded to disencumber it of its load. But before this could be accomplished, a bolt from a cross-bow, shot by one of Bouchier's followers, pierced the animal's brain. Rearing aloft, it fell backwards in such manner as would have crushed an ordinary rider, but Herne slipped off uninjured, and with incredible swiftness darted among the trees. The others started in pursuit, and a chase commenced in which the demon huntsman had to sustain the part of the deer -- nor could any deer have afforded better sport.
Away flew the pursued and pursuers over broad glade and through tangled glen, the woods resounding with their cries. Bouchier did not lose sight of the fugitive for a moment, and urged his men to push on; but, despite his alternate proffers and menaces, they gained but little on Herne, who, speeding towards the home park, cleared its high palings with a single bound.
Over went Bouchier and his followers, and they then descried him making his way to a large oak standing almost alone in the centre of a wide glade. An instant afterwards he reached the tree, shook his arm menacingly at his pursuers, and vanished.
The next moment Bouchier came up, flung himself from his panting steed, and, with his drawn sword in hand, forced himself through a rift in its side into the tree. There was a hollow within it large enough to allow a man to stand upright, and two funnel-like holes ran upwards into the branches. Finding nothing, Bouchier called for a hunting-spear, and thrust it as far as he could into the holes above. The point encountered no obstruction except such as was offered by the wood itself. He stamped upon the ground, and sounded it on all sides with the spear, but with no better success.
Issuing forth he next directed his attention to the upper part of the tree, which, while he was occupied inside, had been very carefully watched by his followers, and not content with viewing it from below, he clambered into the branches. But they had nothing to show except their own leafy covering.