Windsor Castle

Author: William Harrison Ainsworth

V. What Befell Sir Thomas Wyat in the Sandstone Cave—And How He Drank a Maddening Potion.

THE cave in which Sir Thomas Wyat found himself, on the removal of the bandage from his eyes, was apparently—for it was only lighted by a single torch—of considerable width and extent, and hewn out of a bed of soft sandstone. The roof, which might be about ten feet high, was supported by the trunks of three large trees rudely fashioned into pillars. There were several narrow lateral passages within it, apparently communicating with other caverns; and at the farther end, which was almost buried in obscurity, there was a gleam seemingly occasioned by the reflection of the torchlight upon water. On the right hand stood a pile of huge stones, disposed somewhat in the form of a Druidical altar, on the top of which, as on a throne, sat the demon hunter, surrounded by his satellites—one of whom, horned and bearded like a satyr, had clambered the roughened sides of the central pillar, and held a torch over the captive’s head.

Half-stifled by the noxious vapour he had inhaled, and blinded by the tightness of the bandage, it was some time before Wyat fully recovered his powers of sight and utterance.

"Why am I brought hither, false fiend?" he demanded at length.

"To join my band," replied the demon harshly and imperiously.

"Never!" rejoined Wyat. "I will have nought to do with you, except as regards our compact."

" What I require from you is part of our compact," rejoined the demon. "He who has once closed hands with Herne the Hunter cannot retreat. But I mean you fairly, and will not delude you with false expectation. What you seek cannot he accomplished on the instant. Ere three days Anne Boleyn shall be yours."

"Give me some proof that you are not deceiving me, spirit," said Wyat.

"Come, then! " replied Herne. So saying, he sprang from the stone, and, taking Wyat’s hand, led him towards the lower end of the cave, which gradually declined till it reached the edge of a small but apparently deep pool of water, the level of which rose above the rock that formed its boundary.

"Remove the torch!" thundered the demon to those behind. "Now summon your false love, Sir Thomas Wyat," he added, as his orders were obeyed, and the light was taken into one of the side passages, so that its gleam no longer fell upon the water.

"Appear, Anne Boleyn!" cried Wyat.

Upon this a shadowy resemblance of her he had invoked flitted over the surface of the water, with hands outstretched towards him. So moved was Wyat by the vision, that he would have flung himself into the pool to grasp it if he had not been forcibly detained by the demon. During the struggle the figure vanished, and all was buried in darkness.

"I have said she shall be yours," cried Herne; "but time is required for the accomplishment of my purpose. I have only power over her when evil is predominant in her heart. But such moments are not unfrequent," he added, with a bitter laugh. "And now to the chase. I promise you it will be a wilder and more exciting ride than you ever enjoyed in the king’s company. To the chase!—to the chase, I say!"

Sounding a call upon his horn, the light instantly reappeared. All was stir and confusion amid the impish troop—and presently afterwards a number of coal-black horses, and hounds of the same hue, leashed in couples, were brought out of one of the side passages. Among the latter were two large sable hounds of Saint Hubert’s breed, whom Herne summoned to his side by the names of Saturn and Dragon.

A slight noise, as of a blow dealt against a tree, was now heard overhead, and Herne, imposing silence on the group by a hasty gesture, assumed an attitude of fixed attention. The stroke was repeated a second time.

"It is our brother, Morgan Fenwolf," cried the demon.

Catching hold of a chain hanging from the roof, which Wyat had not hitherto noticed, he swung himself into a crevice above, and disappeared from view. During the absence of their leader the troop remained motionless and silent.

A few minutes afterwards Herne reappeared at the upper end of the cave. He was accompanied by Fenwolf, between whom and Wyat a slight glance of recognition passed.

The order being given by the demon to mount, Wyat, after an instant’s hesitation, seized the flowing mane of the horse nearest him—for it was furnished neither with saddle nor bridle-and vaulted upon its back. At the same moment Herne uttered a wild cry, and plunging into the pool, sunk within. it. Wyat’s steed followed, and swam swiftly forward beneath the water.

When Wyat rose to the surface, he found himself in the open lake, which was gleaming in the moonlight. Before him he beheld Herne clambering the bank, accompanied by his two favourite hounds, while a large white owl wheeled round his head, hooting loudly. Behind came the grisly cavalcade, with their hounds, swimming from beneath a bank covered by thick overhanging trees, which completely screened the secret entrance to the cave. Having no control over his steed, Wyat was obliged to surrender himself to its guidance, and was soon placed by the side of the demon hunter.

"Pledge me, Sir Thomas Wyat," said Herne, unslinging a gourd-shaped flask from his girdle, and offering it to him. "’Tis a rare wine, and will prevent you from suffering from your bath, as well as give you spirits for the chase."

Chilled to the bone by the immersion he had undergone, Wyat did not refuse the offer, but placing the flask to his lips took a deep draught from it. The demon uttered a low bitter laugh as he received back the flask, and he slung it to his girdle without tasting it.

The effect of the potion upon Wyat was extraordinary. The whole scene seemed to dance around him;-the impish figures in the lake, or upon its bank, assumed forms yet more fantastic; the horses looked like monsters of the deep; the hounds like wolves and ferocious beasts; the branches of the trees writhed and shot forward like hissing serpents;—and though this effect speedily passed off, it left behind it a wild and maddening feeling of excitement.

"A noble hart is lying in yon glen," said Morgan Fenwolf, advancing towards his leader; "I tracked his slot thither this evening."

"Haste, and unharbour him," replied Herne, "and as soon as you rouse him, give the halloa." Fenwolf obeyed; and shortly afterwards a cry was heard from the glen.

"List halloa! list halloa! "cried Herne, " that’s he! that’s he! hyke! Saturn! hyke, Dragon—Away!—away, my merry men all."


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Chicago: William Harrison Ainsworth, "V. What Befell Sir Thomas Wyat in the Sandstone Cave— And How He Drank a Maddening Potion.," Windsor Castle, trans. Evans, Sebastian in Windsor Castle Original Sources, accessed June 6, 2023,

MLA: Ainsworth, William Harrison. "V. What Befell Sir Thomas Wyat in the Sandstone Cave— And How He Drank a Maddening Potion." Windsor Castle, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in Windsor Castle, Original Sources. 6 Jun. 2023.

Harvard: Ainsworth, WH, 'V. What Befell Sir Thomas Wyat in the Sandstone Cave— And How He Drank a Maddening Potion.' in Windsor Castle, trans. . cited in , Windsor Castle. Original Sources, retrieved 6 June 2023, from