"I should indeed rejoice at this," said Richard, "were it not that—"
And he stopped, gazing anxiously at her.
"Were not what?" cried Alizon, alarmed by his looks. "What do you mean?"
"Do not press me further," he rejoined; "I cannot answer you. Indeed I have said too much already."
"You have said too much or too little," cried Alizon. "Speak, I implore you. What mean these dark hints which you throw out, and which like shadows elude all attempts to grasp them! Do not keep me in this state of suspense and agitation. Your looks speak more than your words. Oh, give your thoughts utterance!"
"I cannot," replied Richard. "I do not believe what I have heard, and therefore will not repeat it. It would only increase the mischief. But oh! tell me this! Was it, indeed, to remove you from the baneful influence of Elizabeth Device that Mistress Nutter adopted you?"
"Other motives may have swayed her, and I have said they did so," replied Alizon; "but that wish, no doubt, had great weight with her. Nay, notwithstanding her abhorrence of the family, she has kindly consented to use her best endeavours to preserve little Jennet from further ill, as well as to reclaim poor misguided Elizabeth herself."
"Oh! what a weight you have taken from my heart," cried Richard, joyfully. "I will tell Dorothy what you say, and it will at once remove all her doubts and suspicions. She will now be the same to you as ever, and to Mistress Nutter."
"I will not ask you what those doubts and suspicions were, since you so confidently promise me this, which is all I desire," replied Alizon, smiling; "but any unfavourable opinions entertained of Mistress Nutter are wholly undeserved. Poor lady! she has endured many severe trials and sufferings, and whenever you learn the whole of her history, she will, I am sure, have your sincere sympathy."
"You have certainly produced a complete revolution in my feelings towards her," said Richard, "and I shall not be easy till I have made a like convert of Dorothy."
At this moment a loud clapping of hands was heard, and Nicholas was seen marching towards the centre of the hall, preceded by the minstrels, who had descended for the purpose from the gallery, and bearing in his arms a large red velvet cushion. As soon as the dancers had formed a wide circle round him, a very lively tune called "Joan Sanderson," from which the dance about to be executed sometimes received its name, was struck up, and the squire, after a few preliminary flourishes, set down the cushion, and gave chase to Dame Tetlow, who, threading her way rapidly through the ring, contrived to elude him. This chase, accompanied by music, excited shouts of laughter on all hands, and no one knew which most to admire, the eagerness of the squire, or the dexterity of the lissom dame in avoiding him.
Exhausted at length, and baffled in his quest, Nicholas came to a halt before Tom the Piper, and, taking up the cushion, thus preferred his complaint:—"This dance it can no further go—no further go."
Whereupon the piper chanted in reply,—"I pray you, good sir, why say you so—why say you so?"
Amidst general laughter, the squire tenderly and touchingly responded—"Because Dame Tetlow will not come to—will not come to."
Whereupon Tom the Piper, waxing furious, blew a shrill whistle, accompanied by an encouraging rattle of the tambarine, and enforcing the mandate by two or three energetic stamps on the floor, delivered himself in this fashion:—"She must come to, and she SHALL come to. And she must come, whether she will or no."
Upon this two of the prettiest female morris-dancers, taking each a hand of the blushing and overheated Dame Tetlow, for she had found the chase rather warm work, led her forward; while the squire advancing very gallantly placed the cushion upon the ground before her, and as she knelt down upon it, bestowed a smacking kiss upon her lips. This ceremony being performed amidst much tittering and flustering, accompanied by many knowing looks and some expressed wishes among the swains, who hoped that their turn might come next, Dame Tetlow arose, and the squire seizing her hand, they began to whisk round in a sort of jig, singing merrily as they danced—
"Prinkum prankum is a fine dance, And we shall go dance it once again! Once again, And we shall go dance it once again!"
And they made good the words too; for on coming to a stop, Dame Tetlow snatched up the cushion, and ran in search of the squire, who retreating among the surrounding damsels, made sad havoc among them, scarcely leaving a pretty pair of lips unvisited. Oh Nicholas! Nicholas! I am thoroughly ashamed of you, and regret becoming your historian. You get me into an infinitude of scrapes. But there is a rod in pickle for you, sir, which shall be used with good effect presently. Tired of such an unprofitable quest, Dame Tetlow came to a sudden halt, addressed the piper as Nicholas had addressed him, and receiving a like answer, summoned the delinquent to come forward; but as he knelt down on the cushion, instead of receiving the anticipated salute, he got a sound box on the ears, the dame, actuated probably by some feeling of jealousy, taking advantage of the favourable opportunity afforded her of avenging herself. No one could refrain from laughing at this unexpected turn in affairs, and Nicholas, to do him justice, took it in excellent part, and laughed louder than the rest. Springing to his feet, he snatched the kiss denied him by the spirited dame, and led her to obtain some refreshment at the lower table, of which they both stood in need, while the cushion being appropriated by other couples, other boxes on the ear and kisses were interchanged, leading to an infinitude of merriment.
Long before this Master Potts had found his way to Jennet, and as he drew near, affecting to notice her for the first time, he made some remarks upon her not looking very well.
"'Deed, an ey'm nah varry weel," replied the little girl, "boh ey knoa who ey han to thonk fo' my ailment."
"Your sister, most probably," suggested the attorney. "It must be very vexatious to see her so much noticed, and be yourself so much neglected—very vexatious, indeed—I quite feel for you."
"By dunna want your feelin'," replied Jennet, nettled by the remark; "boh it wasna my sister os made me ill."
"Who was it then, my little dear," said Potts.
"Dunna 'dear' me," retorted Jennet; "yo're too ceevil by half, os the lamb said to the wolf. Boh sin ye mun knoa, it wur Mistress Nutter."
"Aha! very good—I mean—very bad," cried Potts. "What did Mistress Nutter do to you, my little dear? Don't be afraid of telling me. If I can do any thing for you I shall be very happy. Speak out—and don't be afraid."
"Nay fo' shure, ey'm nah afeerd," returned Jennet. "Boh whot mays ye so inqueesitive? Ye want to get summat out'n me, ey con see that plain enough, an os ye stand there glenting at me wi' your sly little een, ye look loike an owd fox ready to snap up a chicken o' th' furst opportunity."
"Your comparison is not very flattering, Jennet," replied Potts; "but I pass it by for the sake of its cleverness. You are a sharp child, Jennet—a very sharp child. I remarked that from the first moment I saw you. But in regard to Mistress Nutter, she seems a very nice lady—and must be a very kind lady, since she has made up her mind to adopt your sister. Not that I am surprised at her determination, for really Alizon is so superior—so unlike—"
"Me, ye wad say," interrupted Jennet. "Dunna be efeerd to speak out, sir."
"No, no," replied Potts, "on the contrary, there's a very great likeness between you. I saw you were sisters at once. I don't know which is the cleverest or prettiest—but perhaps you are the sharpest. Yes, you are the sharpest, undoubtedly, Jennet. If I wished to adopt any one, which unfortunately I'm not in a condition to do, having only bachelor's chambers in Chancery Lane, it should be you. But I can put you in a way of making your fortune, Jennet, and that's the next best thing to adopting you. Indeed, it's much better in my case."
"May my fortune!" cried the little girl, pricking up her ears, "ey should loike to knoa how ye wad contrive that."
"I'll show you how directly, Jennet," returned Potts. "Pay particular attention to what I say, and think it over carefully, when you are by yourself. You are quite aware that there is a great talk about witches in these parts; and, I may speak it without offence to you, your own family come under the charge. There is your grandmother Demdike, for instance, a notorious witch—your mother, Dame Device, suspected—your brother James suspected."
"Weel, sir," cried Jennet, eyeing him sharply, "what does all this suspicion tend to?"
"You shall hear, my little dear," returned Potts. "It would not surprise me, if every one of your family, including yourself, should be arrested, shut up in Lancaster Castle, and burnt for witches!"
"Alack a day! an this ye ca' makin my fortin," cried Jennet, derisively. "Much obleeged to ye, sir, boh ey'd leefer be without the luck."
"Listen to me," pursued Potts, chuckling, "and I will point out to you a way of escaping the general fate of your family—not merely of escaping it—but of acquiring a large reward. And that is by giving evidence against them—by telling all you know—you understand—eh!"
"Yeigh, ey think ey do onderstond," replied Jennet, sullenly. "An so this is your grand scheme, eh, sir?"
"This is my scheme, Jennet," said Potts, "and a notable scheme it is, my little lass. Think it over. You're an admissible and indeed a desirable witness; for our sagacious sovereign has expressly observed that 'bairns,' (I believe you call children 'bairns' in Lancashire, Jennet; your uncouth dialect very much resembles the Scottish language, in which our learned monarch writes as well as speaks)—'bairns,' says he, 'or wives, or never so defamed persons, may of our law serve for sufficient witnesses and proofs; for who but witches can be proofs, and so witnesses of the doings of witches.'"
"Boh, ey am neaw witch, ey tell ye, mon," cried Jennet, angrily.
"But you're a witch's bairn, my little lassy," replied Potts, "and that's just as bad, and you'll grow up to be a witch in due time—that is, if your career be not cut short. I'm sure you must have witnessed some strange things when you visited your grandmother at Malkin Tower—that, if I mistake not, is the name of her abode?—and a fearful and witch-like name it is;—you must have heard frequent mutterings and curses, spells, charms, and diabolical incantations—beheld strange and monstrous visions—listened to threats uttered against people who have afterwards perished unaccountably."
"Ey've heerd an seen nowt o't sort," replied Jennet; "boh ey' han heerd my mother threaten yo."
"Ah, indeed," cried Potts, forcing a laugh, but looking rather blank afterwards; "and how did she threaten me, Jennet, eh?—But no matter. Let that pass for the moment. As I was saying, you must have seen mysterious proceedings both at Malkin Tower and your own house. A black gentleman with a club foot must visit you occasionally, and your mother must, now and then—say once a week—take a fancy to riding on a broomstick. Are you quite sure you have never ridden on one yourself, Jennet, and got whisked up the chimney without being aware of it? It's the common witch conveyance, and said to be very expeditious and agreeable—but I can't vouch for it myself—ha! ha! Possibly—though you are rather young—but possibly, I say, you may have attended a witch's Sabbath, and seen a huge He-Goat, with four horns on his head, and a large tail, seated in the midst of a large circle of devoted admirers. If you have seen this, and can recollect the names and faces of the assembly, it would be highly important."
"When ey see it, ey shanna forget it," replied Jennet. "Boh ey am nah quite so familiar wi' Owd Scrat os yo seem to suppose."
"Has it ever occurred to you that Alizon might be addicted to these practices?" pursued Potts, "and that she obtained her extraordinary and otherwise unaccountable beauty by some magical process—some charm—some diabolical unguent prepared, as the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seals, the singularly learned Lord Bacon, declares, from fat of unbaptised babes, compounded with henbane, hemlock, mandrake, moonshade, and other terrible ingredients. She could not be so beautiful without some such aid."
"That shows how little yo knoaw about it," replied Jennet. "Alizon is os good as she's protty, and dunna yo think to wheedle me into sayin' out agen her, fo' yo winna do it. Ey'd dee rayther than harm a hure o' her heaod."
"Very praiseworthy, indeed, my little dear," replied Potts, ironically. "I honour you for your sisterly affection; but, notwithstanding all this, I cannot help thinking she has bewitched Mistress Nutter."
"Licker, Mistress Nutter has bewitched her," replied Jennet.
"Then you think Mistress Nutter is a witch, eh?" cried Potts, eagerly.
"Ey'st neaw tell ye what ey think, mon," rejoined Jennet, doggedly.
"But hear me," cried Potts, "I have my own suspicions, also, nay, more than suspicions."
"If ye're shure, yo dunna want me," said Jennet.
"But I want a witness," pursued Potts, "and if you'll serve as one—"
"Whot'll ye gi' me?" said Jennet.
"Whatever you like," rejoined Potts. "Only name the sum. So you can prove the practice of witchcraft against Mistress Nutter—eh?"
Jennet nodded. "Wad ye loike to knoa why brother Jem is gone to Pendle to-neet?" she said.
"Very much, indeed," replied Potts, drawing still nearer to her. "Very much, indeed."
The little girl was about to speak, but on a sudden a sharp convulsion agitated her frame; her utterance totally failed her; and she fell back in the seat insensible.
Very much startled, Potts flew in search of some restorative, and on doing so, he perceived Mistress Nutter moving away from this part of the hall.
"She has done it," he cried. "A piece of witchcraft before my very eyes. Has she killed the child? No; she breathes, and her pulse beats, though faintly. She is only in a swoon, but a deep and deathlike one. It would be useless to attempt to revive her; she must come to in her own way, or at the pleasure of the wicked woman who has thrown her into this condition. I have now an assured witness in this girl. But I must keep watch upon Mistress Nutter's further movements."
And he walked cautiously after her.
As Richard had anticipated, his explanation was perfectly satisfactory to Dorothy; and the young lady, who had suffered greatly from the restraint she had imposed upon herself, flew to Alizon, and poured forth excuses, which were as readily accepted as they were freely made. They were instantly as great friends as before, and their brief estrangement only seemed to make them dearer to each other. Dorothy could not forgive herself, and Alizon assured her there was nothing to be forgiven, and so they took hands upon it, and promised to forget all that had passed. Richard stood by, delighted with the change, and wrapped in the contemplation of the object of his love, who, thus engaged, seemed to him more beautiful than he had ever beheld her.
Towards the close of the evening, while all three were still together. Nicholas came up and took Richard aside. The squire looked flushed; and there was an undefined expression of alarm in his countenance.
"What is the matter?" inquired Richard, dreading to hear of some new calamity.
"Have you not noticed it, Dick?" said Nicholas, in a hollow tone. "The portrait is gone."
"What portrait?" exclaimed Richard, forgetting the previous circumstances.
"The portrait of Isole de Heton," returned Nicholas, becoming more sepulchral in his accents as he proceeded; "it has vanished from the wall. See and believe."
"Who has taken it down?" cried Richard, remarking that the picture had certainly disappeared.
"No mortal hand," replied Nicholas. "It has come down of itself. I knew what would happen, Dick. I told you the fair votaress gave me the clin d'oeil—the wink. You would not believe me then—and now you see your mistake."
"I see nothing but the bare wall," said Richard.
"But you will see something anon, Dick," rejoined Nicholas, with a hollow laugh, and in a dismally deep tone. "You will see Isole herself. I was foolhardy enough to invite her to dance the brawl with me. She smiled her assent, and winked at me thus—very significantly, I protest to you—and she will be as good as her word."
"Absurd!" exclaimed Richard.
"Absurd, sayest thou—thou art an infidel, and believest nothing, Dick," cried Nicholas. "Dost thou not see that the picture is gone? She will be here presently. Ha! the brawl is called for—the very dance I invited her to. She must be in the room now. I will go in search of her. Look out, Dick. Thou wilt behold a sight presently shall make thine hair stand on end."
And he moved away with a rapid but uncertain step.
"The potent wine has confused his brain," said Richard. "I must see that no mischance befalls him."
And, waving his hand to his sister, he followed the squire, who moved on, staring inquisitively into the countenance of every pretty damsel he encountered.
Time had flown fleetly with Dorothy and Alizon, who, occupied with each other, had taken little note of its progress, and were surprised to find how quickly the hours had gone by. Meanwhile several dances had been performed; a Morisco, in which all the May-day revellers took part, with the exception of the queen herself, who, notwithstanding the united entreaties of Robin Hood and her gentleman-usher, could not be prevailed upon to join it: a trenchmore, a sort of long country-dance, extending from top to bottom of the hall, and in which the whole of the rustics stood up: a galliard, confined to the more important guests, and in which both Alizon and Dorothy were included, the former dancing, of course, with Richard, and the latter with one of her cousins, young Joseph Robinson: and a jig, quite promiscuous and unexclusive, and not the less merry on that account. In this way, what with the dances, which were of some duration—the trenchmore alone occupying more than an hour—and the necessary breathing-time between them, it was on the stroke of ten without any body being aware of it. Now this, though a very early hour for a modern party, being about the time when the first guest would arrive, was a very late one even in fashionable assemblages at the period in question, and the guests began to think of retiring, when the brawl, intended to wind up the entertainment, was called. The highest animation still prevailed throughout the company, for the generous host had taken care that the intervals between the dances should be well filled up with refreshments, and large bowls of spiced wines, with burnt oranges and crabs floating in them, were placed on the side-table, and liberally dispensed to all applicants. Thus all seemed destined to be brought to a happy conclusion.
Throughout the evening Alizon had been closely watched by Mistress Nutter, who remarked, with feelings akin to jealousy and distrust, the marked predilection exhibited by her for Richard and Dorothy Assheton, as well as her inattention to her own expressed injunctions in remaining constantly near them. Though secretly displeased by this, she put a calm face upon it, and neither remonstrated by word or look. Thus Alizon, feeling encouraged in the course she had adopted, and prompted by her inclinations, soon forgot the interdiction she had received. Mistress Nutter even went so far in her duplicity as to promise Dorothy, that Alizon should pay her an early visit at Middleton—though inwardly resolving no such visit should ever take place. However, she now received the proposal very graciously, and made Alizon quite happy in acceding to it.
"I would fain have her go back with me to Middleton when I return," said Dorothy, "but I fear you would not like to part with your newly-adopted daughter so soon; neither would it be quite fair to rob you of her. But I shall hold you to your promise of an early visit."
Mistress Nutter replied by a bland smile, and then observed to Alizon that it was time for them to retire, and that she had stayed on her account far later than she intended—a mark of consideration duly appreciated by Alizon. Farewells for the night were then exchanged between the two girls, and Alizon looked round to bid adieu to Richard, but unfortunately, at this very juncture, he was engaged in pursuit of Nicholas. Before quitting the hall she made inquiries after Jennet, and receiving for answer that she was still in the hall, but had fallen asleep in a chair at one corner of the side-table, and could not be wakened, she instantly flew thither and tried to rouse her, but in vain; when Mistress Nutter, coming up the next moment, merely touched her brow, and the little girl opened her eyes and gazed about her with a bewildered look.
"She is unused to these late hours, poor child," said Alizon. "Some one must be found to take her home."
"You need not go far in search of a convoy," said Potts, who had been hovering about, and now stepped up; "I am going to the Dragon myself, and shall be happy to take charge of her."
"You are over-officious, sir," rejoined Mistress Nutter, coldly; "when we need your assistance we will ask it. My own servant, Simon Blackadder, will see her safely home."
And at a sign from her, a tall fellow with a dark, scowling countenance, came from among the other serving-men, and, receiving his instructions from his mistress, seized Jennet's hand, and strode off with her. During all this time, Mistress Nutter kept her eyes steadily fixed on the little girl, who spoke not a word, nor replied even by a gesture to Alizon's affectionate good-night, retaining her dazed look to the moment of quitting the hall.
"I never saw her thus before," said Alizon. "What can be the matter with her?"
"I think I could tell you," rejoined Potts, glancing maliciously and significantly at Mistress Nutter.
The lady darted an ireful and piercing look at him, which seemed to produce much the same consequences as those experienced by Jennet, for his visage instantly elongated, and he sank back in a chair.
"Oh dear!" he cried, putting his hand to his head; "I'm struck all of a heap. I feel a sudden qualm—a giddiness—a sort of don't-know- howishness. Ho, there! some aquavitae—or imperial water—or cinnamon water—or whatever reviving cordial may be at hand. I feel very ill—very ill, indeed—oh dear!"
While his requirements were attended to, Mistress Nutter moved away with her daughter; but they had not proceeded far when they encountered Richard, who, having fortunately descried them, came up to say good-night.
The brawl, meanwhile, had commenced, and the dancers were whirling round giddily in every direction, somewhat like the couples in a grand polka, danced after a very boisterous, romping, and extravagant fashion.
"Who is Nicholas dancing with?" asked Mistress Nutter suddenly.
"Is he dancing with any one?" rejoined Richard, looking amidst the crowd.
"Do you not see her?" said Mistress Nutter; "a very beautiful woman with flashing eyes: they move so quickly, that I can scarce discern her features; but she is habited like a nun."
"Like a nun!" cried Richard, his blood growing chill in his veins. "'Tis she indeed, then! Where is he?"
"Yonder, yonder, whirling madly round," replied Mistress Nutter.
"I see him now," said Richard, "but he is alone. He has lost his wits to dance in that strange manner by himself. How wild, too, is his gaze!"
"I tell you he is dancing with a very beautiful woman in the habit of a nun," said Mistress Nutter. "Strange I should never have remarked her before. No one in the room is to be compared with her in loveliness—not even Alizon. Her eyes seem to flash fire, and she bounds like the wild roe."
"Does she resemble the portrait of Isole de Heton?" asked Richard, shuddering.
"She does—she does," replied Mistress Nutter. "See! she whirls past us now."
"I can see no one but Nicholas," cried Richard.
"Nor I," added Alizon, who shared in the young man's alarm.
"Are you sure you behold that figure?" said Richard, drawing Mistress Nutter aside, and breathing the words in her ear. "If so, it is a phantom—or he is in the power of the fiend. He was rash enough to invite that wicked votaress, Isole de Heton, condemned, it is said, to penal fires for her earthly enormities, to dance with him, and she has come."
"Ha!" exclaimed Mistress Nutter.
"She will whirl him round till he expires," cried Richard; "I must free him at all hazards."
"Stay," said Mistress Nutter; "it is I who have been deceived. Now I look again, I see that Nicholas is alone."
"But the nun's dress—the wondrous beauty—the flashing eyes!" cried Richard. "You described Isole exactly."
"It was mere fancy," said Mistress Nutter. "I had just been looking at her portrait, and it dwelt on my mind, and created the image."
"The portrait is gone," cried Richard, pointing to the empty wall.
Mistress Nutter looked confounded.
And without a word more, she took Alizon, who was full of alarm and astonishment, by the arm, and hurried her out of the hall.
As they disappeared, the young man flew towards Nicholas, whose extraordinary proceedings had excited general amazement. The other dancers had moved out of the way, so that free space was left for his mad gyrations. Greatly scandalised by the exhibition, which he looked upon as the effect of intoxication, Sir Ralph called loudly to him to stop, but he paid no attention to the summons, but whirled on with momently-increasing velocity, oversetting old Adam Whitworth, Gregory, and Dickon, who severally ventured to place themselves in his path, to enforce their master's injunctions, until at last, just as Richard reached him, he uttered a loud cry, and fell to the ground insensible. By Sir Ralph's command he was instantly lifted up and transported to his own chamber.
This unexpected and extraordinary incident put an end to the ball, and the whole of the guests, after taking a respectful and grateful leave of the host, departed—not in "most admired" disorder, but full of wonder. By most persons the squire's "fantastical vagaries," as they were termed, were traced to the vast quantity of wine he had drunk, but a few others shook their heads, and said he was evidently bewitched, and that Mother Chattox and Nance Redferne were at the bottom of it. As to the portrait of Isole de Heton, it was found under the table, and it was said that Nicholas himself had pulled it down; but this he obstinately denied, when afterwards taken to task for his indecorous behaviour; and to his dying day he asserted, and believed, that he had danced the brawl with Isole de Heton. "And never," he would say, "had mortal man such a partner."
From that night the two portraits in the banqueting-hall were regarded with great awe by the inmates of the Abbey.
CHAPTER X.—THE NOCTURNAL MEETING.
On gaining the head of the staircase leading to the corridor, Mistress Nutter, whose movements had hitherto been extremely rapid, paused with her daughter to listen to the sounds arising from below. Suddenly was heard a loud cry, and the music, which had waxed fast and furious in order to keep pace with the frenzied boundings of the squire, ceased at once, showing some interruption had occurred, while from the confused noise that ensued, it was evident the sudden stoppage had been the result of accident. With blanched cheek Alizon listened, scarcely daring to look at her mother, whose expression of countenance, revealed by the lamp she held in her hand, almost frightened her; and it was a great relief to hear the voices and laughter of the serving-men as they came forth with Nicholas, and bore him towards another part of the mansion; and though much shocked, she was glad when one of them, who appeared to be Nicholas's own servant, assured the others "that it was only a drunken fit and that the squire would wake up next morning as if nothing had happened."
Apparently satisfied with this explanation, Mistress Nutter moved on; but a new feeling of uneasiness came over Alizon as she followed her down the long dusky corridor, in the direction of the mysterious chamber, where they were to pass the night. The fitful flame of the lamp fell upon many a grim painting depicting the sufferings of the early martyrs; and these ghastly representations did not serve to re-assure her. The grotesque carvings on the panels and ribs of the vaulted roof, likewise impressed her with vague terror, and there was one large piece of sculpture—Saint Theodora subjected to diabolical temptation, as described in the Golden Legend—that absolutely scared her. Their footsteps echoed hollowly overhead, and more than once, deceived by the sound, Alizon turned to see if any one was behind them. At the end of the corridor lay the room once occupied by the superior of the religious establishment, and still known from that circumstance as the "Abbot's Chamber." Connected with this apartment was the beautiful oratory built by Paslew, wherein he had kept his last vigils; and though now no longer applied to purposes of worship, still wearing from the character of its architecture, its sculptured ornaments, and the painted glass in its casements, a dim religious air. The abbot's room was allotted to Dorothy Assheton; and from its sombre magnificence, as well as the ghostly tales connected with it, had impressed her with so much superstitious misgiving, that she besought Alizon to share her couch with her, but the young girl did not dare to assent. Just, however, as Mistress Nutter was about to enter her own room, Dorothy appeared on the corridor, and, calling to Alizon to stay a moment, flew quickly towards her, and renewed the proposition. Alizon looked at her mother, but the latter decidedly, and somewhat sternly, negatived it.
The young girls then said good-night, kissing each other affectionately, after which Alizon entered the room with Mistress Nutter, and the door was closed. Two tapers were burning on the dressing-table, and their light fell upon the carved figures of the wardrobe, which still exercised the same weird influence over her. Mistress Nutter neither seemed disposed to retire to rest immediately, nor willing to talk, but sat down, and was soon lost in thought. After awhile, an impulse of curiosity which she could not resist, prompted Alizon to peep into the closet, and pushing aside the tapestry, partly drawn over the entrance, she held the lamp forward so as to throw its light into the little chamber. A mere glance was all she was allowed, but it sufficed to show her the large oak chest, though the monkish robe lately suspended above it, and which had particularly attracted her attention, was gone. Mistress Nutter had noticed the movement, and instantly and somewhat sharply recalled her.
As Alizon obeyed, a slight tap was heard at the door. The young girl turned pale, for in her present frame of mind any little matter affected her. Nor were her apprehensions materially allayed by the entrance of Dorothy, who, looking white as a sheet, said she did not dare to remain in her own room, having been terribly frightened, by seeing a monkish figure in mouldering white garments, exactly resembling one of the carved images on the wardrobe, issue from behind the hangings on the wall, and glide into the oratory, and she entreated Mistress Nutter to let Alizon go back with her. The request was peremptorily refused, and the lady, ridiculing Dorothy for her fears, bade her return; but she still lingered. This relation filled Alizon with inexpressible alarm, for though she did not dare to allude to the disappearance of the monkish gown, she could not help connecting the circumstance with the ghostly figure seen by Dorothy.
Unable otherwise to get rid of the terrified intruder, whose presence was an evident restraint to her, Mistress Nutter, at length, consented to accompany her to her room, and convince her of the folly of her fears, by an examination of the oratory. Alizon went with them, her mother not choosing to leave her behind, and indeed she herself was most anxious to go.
The abbot's chamber was large and gloomy, nearly twice the size of the room occupied by Mistress Nutter, but resembling it in many respects, as well as in the No interdusky hue of its hangings and furniture, most of which had been undisturbed since the days of Paslew. The very bed, of carved oak, was that in which he had slept, and his arms were still displayed upon it, and on the painted glass of the windows. As Alizon entered she looked round with apprehension, but nothing occurred to justify her uneasiness. Having raised the arras, from behind which Dorothy averred the figure had issued, and discovering nothing but a panel of oak; with a smile of incredulity, Mistress Nutter walked boldly towards the oratory, the two girls, hand in hand, following tremblingly after her; but no fearful object met their view. A dressing-table, with a large mirror upon it, occupied the spot where the altar had formerly stood; but, in spite of this, and of other furniture, the little place of prayer, as has previously been observed, retained much of its original character, and seemed more calculated to inspire sentiments of devotional awe than any other.
After remaining for a short time in the oratory, during which she pointed out the impossibility of any one being concealed there, Mistress Nutter assured Dorothy she might rest quite easy that nothing further would occur to alarm her, and recommending her to lose the sense of her fears as speedily as she could in sleep, took her departure with Alizon.
But the recommendation was of little avail. The poor girl's heart died within her, and all her former terrors returned, and with additional force. Sitting down, she looked fixedly at the hangings till her eyes ached, and then covering her face with her hands, and scarcely daring to breathe, she listened intently for the slightest sound. A rustle would have made her scream—but all was still as death, so profoundly quiet, that the very hush and silence became a new cause of disquietude, and longing for some cheerful sound to break it, she would have spoken aloud but from a fear of hearing her own voice. A book lay before her, and she essayed to read it, but in vain. She was ever glancing fearfully round—ever listening intently. This state could not endure for ever, and feeling a drowsiness steal over her she yielded to it, and at length dropped asleep in her chair. Her dreams, however, were influenced by her mental condition, and slumber was no refuge, as promised by Mistress Nutter, from the hauntings of terror.
At last a jarring sound aroused her, and she found she had been awakened by the clock striking twelve. Her lamp required trimming and burnt dimly, but by its imperfect light she saw the arras move. This could be no fancy, for the next moment the hangings were raised, and a figure looked from behind them; and this time it was not the monk, but a female robed in white. A glimpse of the figure was all Dorothy caught, for it instantly retreated, and the tapestry fell back to its place against the wall. Scared by this apparition, Dorothy rushed out of the room so hurriedly that she forgot to take her lamp, and made her way, she scarcely knew how, to the adjoining chamber. She did not tap at the door, but trying it, and finding it unfastened, opened it softly, and closed it after her, resolved if the occupants of the room were asleep not to disturb them, but to pass the night in a chair, the presence of some living beings beside her sufficing, in some degree, to dispel her terrors. The room was buried in darkness, the tapers being extinguished.
Advancing on tiptoe she soon discovered a seat, when what was her surprise to find Alizon asleep within it. She was sure it was Alizon—for she had touched her hair and face, and she felt surprised that the contact had not awakened her. Still more surprised did she feel that the young girl had not retired to rest. Again she stepped forward in search of another chair, when a gleam of light suddenly shot from one side of the bed, and the tapestry, masking the entrance to the closet, was slowly drawn aside. From behind it, the next moment, appeared the same female figure, robed in white, that she had previously beheld in the abbot's chamber. The figure held a lamp in one hand, and a small box in the other, and, to her unspeakable horror, disclosed the livid and contorted countenance of Mistress Nutter.
Dreadful though undefined suspicions crossed her mind, and she feared, if discovered, she should be sacrificed to the fury of this strange and terrible woman. Luckily, where she stood, though Mistress Nutter was revealed to her, she herself was screened from view by the hangings of the bed, and looking around for a hiding-place, she observed that the mysterious wardrobe, close behind her, was open, and without a moment's hesitation, she slipped into the covert and drew the door to, noiselessly. But her curiosity overmastered her fear, and, firmly believing some magical rite was about to be performed, she sought for means of beholding it; nor was she long in discovering a small eyelet-hole in the carving which commanded the room.
Unconscious of any other presence than that of Alizon, whose stupor appeared to occasion her no uneasiness, Mistress Nutter, placed the lamp upon the table, made fast the door, and, muttering some unintelligible words, unlocked the box. It contained two singularly-shaped glass vessels, the one filled with a bright sparkling liquid, and the other with a greenish-coloured unguent. Pouring forth a few drops of the liquid into a glass near her, Mistress Nutter swallowed them, and then taking some of the unguent upon her hands, proceeded to anoint her face and neck with it, exclaiming as she did so, "Emen hetan! Emen hetan!"—words that fixed themselves upon the listener's memory.
Wondering what would follow, Dorothy gazed on, when she suddenly lost sight of Mistress Nutter, and after looking for her as far as her range of vision, limited by the aperture, would extend, she became convinced that she had left the room. All remaining quiet, she ventured, after awhile, to quit her hiding-place, and flying to Alizon, tried to waken her, but in vain. The poor girl retained the same moveless attitude, and appeared plunged in a deathly stupor.
Much frightened, Dorothy resolved to alarm the house, but some fears of Mistress Nutter restrained her, and she crept towards the closet to see whether that dread lady could be there. All was perfectly still; and somewhat emboldened, she returned to the table, where the box, which was left open and its contents unguarded, attracted her attention.
What was the liquid in the phial? What could it do? These were questions she asked herself, and longing to try the effect, she ventured at last to pour forth a few drops and taste it. It was like a potent distillation, and she became instantly sensible of a strange bewildering excitement. Presently her brain reeled, and she laughed wildly. Never before had she felt so light and buoyant, and wings seemed scarcely wanting to enable her to fly. An idea occurred to her. The wondrous liquid might arouse Alizon. The experiment should be tried at once, and, dipping her finger in the phial, she touched the lips of the sleeper, who sighed deeply and opened her eyes. Another drop, and Alizon was on her feet, gazing at her in astonishment, and laughing wildly as herself.
Poor girls! how wild and strange they looked—and how unlike themselves!
"Whither are you going?" cried Alizon.
"To the moon! to the stars!—any where!" rejoined Dorothy, with a laugh of frantic glee.
"I will go with you," cried Alizon, echoing the laugh.
"Here and there!—here and there!" exclaimed Dorothy, taking her hand. "Emen hetan! Emen hetan!"
As the mystic words were uttered they started away. It seemed as if no impediments could stop them; how they crossed the closet, passed through a sliding panel into the abbot's room, entered the oratory, and from it descended, by a secret staircase, to the garden, they knew not—but there they were, gliding swiftly along in the moonlight, like winged spirits. What took them towards the conventual church they could not say. But they were drawn thither, as the ship was irresistibly dragged towards the loadstone rock described in the Eastern legend. Nothing surprised them then, or they might have been struck by the dense vapour, enveloping the monastic ruins, and shrouding them from view; nor was it until they entered the desecrated fabric, that any consciousness of what was passing around returned to them.
Their ears were then assailed by a wild hubbub of discordant sounds, hootings and croakings as of owls and ravens, shrieks and jarring cries as of night-birds, bellowings as of cattle, groans and dismal sounds, mixed with unearthly laughter. Undefined and extraordinary shapes, whether men or women, beings of this world or of another they could not tell, though they judged them the latter, flew past with wild whoops and piercing cries, flapping the air as if with great leathern bat-like wings, or bestriding black, monstrous, misshapen steeds. Fantastical and grotesque were these objects, yet hideous and appalling. Now and then a red and fiery star would whiz crackling through the air, and then exploding break into numerous pale phosphoric lights, that danced awhile overhead, and then flitted away among the ruins. The ground seemed to heave and tremble beneath the footsteps, as if the graves were opening to give forth their dead, while toads and hissing reptiles crept forth.
Appalled, yet partly restored to herself by this confused and horrible din, Alizon stood still and kept fast hold of Dorothy, who, seemingly under a stronger influence than herself, was drawn towards the eastern end of the fane, where a fire appeared to be blazing, a strong ruddy glare being cast upon the broken roof of the choir, and the mouldering arches around it. The noises around them suddenly ceased, and all the uproar seemed concentrated near the spot where the fire was burning. Dorothy besought her friend so earnestly to let her see what was going forward, that Alizon reluctantly and tremblingly assented, and they moved slowly towards the transept, taking care to keep under the shelter of the columns.
On reaching the last pillar, behind which they remained, an extraordinary and fearful spectacle burst upon them. As they had supposed, a large fire was burning in the midst of the choir, the smoke of which, ascending in eddying wreaths, formed a dark canopy overhead, where it was mixed with the steam issuing from a large black bubbling caldron set on the blazing embers. Around the fire were ranged, in a wide circle, an assemblage of men and women, but chiefly the latter, and of these almost all old, hideous, and of malignant aspect, their grim and sinister features looking ghastly in the lurid light. Above them, amid the smoke and steam, wheeled bat and flitter-mouse, horned owl and screech-owl, in mazy circles. The weird assemblage chattered together in some wild jargon, mumbling and muttering spells and incantations, chanting fearfully with hoarse, cracked voices a wild chorus, and anon breaking into a loud and long-continued peal of laughter. Then there was more mumbling, chattering, and singing, and one of the troop producing a wallet, hobbled forward.
She was a fearful old crone; hunchbacked, toothless, blear-eyed, bearded, halt, with huge gouty feet swathed in flannel. As she cast in the ingredients one by one, she chanted thus:—
"Head of monkey, brain of cat, Eye of weasel, tail of rat, Juice of mugwort, mastic, myrrh— All within the pot I stir."
"Well sung, Mother Mould-heels," cried a little old man, whose doublet and hose were of rusty black, with a short cloak, of the same hue, over his shoulders. "Well sung, Mother Mould-heels," he cried, advancing as the old witch retired, amidst a roar of laughter from the others, and chanting as he filled the caldron:
"Here is foam from a mad dog's lips, Gather'd beneath the moon's eclipse, Ashes of a shroud consumed, And with deadly vapour fumed. These within the mess I cast— Stir the caldron—stir it fast!"
A red-haired witch then took his place, singing,
"Here are snakes from out the river, Bones of toad and sea-calf's liver; Swine's flesh fatten'd on her brood, Wolf's tooth, hare's foot, weasel's blood. Skull of ape and fierce baboon, And panther spotted like the moon; Feathers of the horned owl, Daw, pie, and other fatal fowl. Fruit from fig-tree never sown, Seed from cypress never grown. All within the mess I cast, Stir the caldron—stir it fast!"
Nance Redferne then advanced, and, taking from her wallet a small clay image, tricked out in attire intended to resemble that of James Device, plunged several pins deeply into its breast, singing as she did so, thus,—
"In his likeness it is moulded, In his vestments 'tis enfolded. Ye may know it, as I show it! In its breast sharp pins I stick, And I drive them to the quick. They are in—they are in— And the wretch's pangs begin. Now his heart, Feels the smart; Through his marrow, Sharp as arrow, Torments quiver He shall shiver, He shall burn, He shall toss, and he shall turn. Unavailingly. Aches shall rack him, Cramps attack him, He shall wail, Strength shall fail, Till he die Miserably!"
As Nance retired, another witch advanced, and sung thus:
"Over mountain, over valley, over woodland, over waste, On our gallant broomsticks riding we have come with frantic haste, And the reason of our coming, as ye wot well, is to see Who this night, as new-made witch, to our ranks shall added be."
A wild burst of laughter followed this address, and another wizard succeeded, chanting thus:
"Beat the water, Demdike's daughter! Till the tempest gather o'er us; Till the thunder strike with wonder And the lightnings flash before us! Beat the water, Demdike's daughter! Ruin seize our foes and slaughter!"
As the words were uttered, a woman stepped from out the circle, and throwing back the grey-hooded cloak in which she was enveloped, disclosed the features of Elizabeth Device. Her presence in that fearful assemblage occasioned no surprise to Alizon, though it increased her horror. A pail of water was next set before the witch, and a broom being placed in her hand, she struck the lymph with it, sprinkling it aloft, and uttering this spell:
"Mount, water, to the skies! Bid the sudden storm arise. Bid the pitchy clouds advance, Bid the forked lightnings glance, Bid the angry thunder growl, Bid the wild wind fiercely howl! Bid the tempest come amain, Thunder, lightning, wind, and rain!"
As she concluded, clouds gathered thickly overhead, obscuring the stars that had hitherto shone down from the heavens. The wind suddenly arose, but in lieu of dispersing the vapours it seemed only to condense them. A flash of forked lightning cut through the air, and a loud peal of thunder rolled overhead.
Then the whole troop sang together—
"Beat the water, Demdike's daughter! See the tempests gathers o'er us, Lightning flashes—thunder crashes, Wild winds sing in lusty chorus!"
For a brief space the storm raged fearfully, and recalled the terror of that previously witnessed by Alizon, which she now began to think might have originated in a similar manner. The wind raved around the ruined pile, but its breath was not felt within it, and the rain was heard descending in deluging showers without, though no drop came through the open roof. The thunder shook the walls and pillars of the old fabric, and threatened to topple them down from their foundations, but they resisted the shocks. The lightning played around the tall spire springing from this part of the fane, and ran down from its shattered summit to its base, without doing any damage. The red bolts struck the ground innocuously, though they fell at the very feet of the weird assemblage, who laughed wildly at the awful tumult.
Whilst the storm was at its worst, while the lightning was flashing fiercely, and the thunder rattling loudly, Mother Chattox, with a chafing-dish in her hand, advanced towards the fire, and placing the pan upon it, threw certain herbs and roots into it, chanting thus:—
"Here is juice of poppy bruised, With black hellebore infused; Here is mandrake's bleeding root, Mixed with moonshade's deadly fruit; Viper's bag with venom fill'd, Taken ere the beast was kill'd; Adder's skin and raven's feather, With shell of beetle blent together; Dragonwort and barbatus, Hemlock black and poisonous; Horn of hart, and storax red, Lapwing's blood, at midnight shed. In the heated pan they burn, And to pungent vapours turn. By this strong suffumigation, By this potent invocation, Spirits! I compel you here! All who list may call appear!"
After a moment's pause, she resumed as follows:—
"White-robed brethren, who of old, Nightly paced yon cloisters cold, Sleeping now beneath the mould! I bid ye rise.
"Abbots! by the weakling fear'd, By the credulous revered, Who this mighty fabric rear'd! I bid ye rise!
"And thou last and guilty one! By thy lust of power undone, Whom in death thy fellows shun! I bid thee come!
"And thou fair one, who disdain'd To keep the vows thy lips had feign'd; And thy snowy garments stain'd! I bid thee come!"
During this invocation, the glee of the assemblage ceased, and they looked around in hushed expectation of the result. Slowly then did a long procession of monkish forms, robed in white, glide along the aisles, and gather round the altar. The brass-covered stones within the presbytery were lifted up, as if they moved on hinges, and from the yawning graves beneath them arose solemn shapes, sixteen in number, each with mitre on head and crosier in hand, which likewise proceeded to the altar. Then a loud cry was heard, and from a side chapel burst the monkish form, in mouldering garments, which Dorothy had seen enter the oratory, and which would have mingled with its brethren at the altar, but they waved it off menacingly. Another piercing shriek followed, and a female shape, habited like a nun, and of surpassing loveliness, issued from the opposite chapel, and hovered near the fire. Content with this proof of her power, Mother Chattox waved her hand, and the long shadowy train glided off as they came. The ghostly abbots returned to their tombs, and the stones closed over them. But the shades of Paslew and Isole de Heton still lingered.
The storm had wellnigh ceased, the thunder rolled hollowly at intervals, and a flash of lightning now and then licked the walls. The weird crew had resumed their rites, when the door of the Lacy chapel flew open, and a tall female figure came forward.
Alizon doubted if she beheld aright. Could that terrific woman in the strangely-fashioned robe of white, girt by a brazen zone graven with mystic characters, with a long glittering blade in her hand, infernal fury in her wildly-rolling orbs, the livid hue of death on her cheeks, and the red brand upon her brow—could that fearful woman, with the black dishevelled tresses floating over her bare shoulders, and whose gestures were so imperious, be Mistress Nutter? Mother no longer, if it indeed were she! How came she there amid that weird assemblage? Why did they so humbly salute her, and fall prostrate before her, kissing the hem of her garment? Why did she stand proudly in the midst of them, and extend her hand, armed with the knife, over them? Was she their sovereign mistress, that they bent so lowly at her coming, and rose so reverentially at her bidding? Was this terrible woman, now seated oh a dilapidated tomb, and regarding the dark conclave with the eye of a queen who held their lives in her hands—was she her mother? Oh, no!—no!—it could not be! It must be some fiend that usurped her likeness.
Still, though Alizon thus strove to discredit the evidence of her senses, and to hold all she saw to be delusion, and the work of darkness, she could not entirely convince herself, but imperfectly recalling the fearful vision she had witnessed during her former stupor, began to connect it with the scene now passing before her. The storm had wholly ceased, and the stars again twinkled down through the shattered roof. Deep silence prevailed, broken only by the hissing and bubbling of the caldron.
Alizon's gaze was riveted upon her mother, whose slightest gestures she watched. After numbering the assemblage thrice, Mistress Nutter majestically arose, and motioning Mother Chattox towards her, the old witch tremblingly advanced, and some words passed between them, the import of which did not reach the listener's ear. In conclusion, however, Mistress Nutter exclaimed aloud, in accents of command—"Go, bring it at once, the sacrifice must be made."—And on this, Mother Chattox hobbled off to one of the side chapels.
A mortal terror seized Alizon, and she could scarcely draw breath. Dark tales had been told her that unbaptised infants were sometimes sacrificed by witches, and their flesh boiled and devoured at their impious banquets, and dreading lest some such atrocity was now about to be practised, she mustered all her resolution, determined, at any risk, to interfere, and, if possible, prevent its accomplishment.
In another moment, Mother Chattox returned bearing some living thing, wrapped in a white cloth, which struggled feebly for liberation, apparently confirming Alizon's suspicions, and she was about to rush forward, when Mistress Nutter, snatching the bundle from the old witch, opened it, and disclosed a beautiful bird, with plumage white as driven snow, whose legs were tied together, so that it could not escape. Conjecturing what was to follow, Alizon averted her eyes, and when she looked round again the bird had been slain, while Mother Chattox was in the act of throwing its body into the caldron, muttering a charm as she did so. Mistress Nutter held the ensanguined knife aloft, and casting some ruddy drops upon the glowing embers, pronounced, as they hissed and smoked, the following adjuration:—
"Thy aid I seek, infernal Power! Be thy word sent to Malkin Tower, That the beldame old may know Where I will, thou'dst have her go— What I will, thou'dst have her do!"
An immediate response was made by an awful voice issuing apparently from the bowels of the earth.
"Thou who seek'st the Demon's aid, Know'st the price that must be paid."
The queen witch rejoined—
"I do. But grant the aid I crave, And that thou wishest thou shalt have. Another worshipper is won, Thine to be, when all is done."
Again the deep voice spake, with something of mockery in its accents:—
"Enough proud witch, I am content. To Malkin Tower the word is sent, Forth to her task the beldame goes, And where she points the streamlet flows; Its customary bed forsaking, Another distant channel making. Round about like elfets tripping, Stock and stone, and tree are skipping; Halting where she plants her staff, With a wild exulting laugh. Ho! ho! 'tis a merry sight, Thou hast given the hag to-night.
Lo! the sheepfold, and the herd, To another site are stirr'd! And the rugged limestone quarry, Where 'twas digg'd may no more tarry; While the goblin haunted dingle, With another dell must mingle. Pendle Moor is in commotion, Like the billows of the ocean, When the winds are o'er it ranging, Heaving, falling, bursting, changing. Ho! ho! 'tis a merry sight Thou hast given the hag to-night.
Lo! the moss-pool sudden flies, In another spot to rise; And the scanty-grown plantation, Finds another situation, And a more congenial soil, Without needing woodman's toil. Now the warren moves—and see! How the burrowing rabbits flee, Hither, thither till they find it, With another brake behind it. Ho! ho! 'tis a merry sight Thou hast given the hag to-night.
Lo! new lines the witch is tracing, Every well-known mark effacing, Elsewhere, other bounds erecting, So the old there's no detecting. Ho! ho! 'tis a pastime quite, Thou hast given the hag to-night!
The hind at eve, who wander'd o'er The dreary waste of Pendle Moor, Shall wake at dawn, and in surprise, Doubt the strange sight that meets his eyes. The pathway leading to his hut Winds differently,—the gate is shut. The ruin on the right that stood. Lies on the left, and nigh the wood; The paddock fenced with wall of stone, Wcll-stock'd with kine, a mile hath flown, The sheepfold and the herd are gone. Through channels new the brooklet rushes, Its ancient course conceal'd by bushes. Where the hollow was, a mound Rises from the upheaved ground. Doubting, shouting with surprise, How the fool stares, and rubs his eyes! All's so changed, the simple elf Fancies he is changed himself! Ho! ho! 'tis a merry sight The hag shall have when dawns the light. But see! she halts and waves her hand. All is done as thou hast plann'd."
After a moment's pause the voice added,
"I have done as thou hast will'd— Now be thy path straight fulfill'd."
"It shall be," replied Mistress Nutter, whose features gleamed with fierce exultation. "Bring forth the proselyte!" she shouted.
And at the words, her swarthy serving-man, Blackadder, came forth from the Lacy chapel, leading Jennet by the hand. They were followed by Tib, who, dilated to twice his former size, walked with tail erect, and eyes glowing like carbuncles.
At sight of her daughter a loud cry of rage and astonishment burst from Elizabeth Device, and, rushing forward, she would have seized her, if Tib had not kept her off by a formidable display of teeth and talons. Jennet made no effort to join her mother, but regarded her with a malicious and triumphant grin.
"This is my chilt," screamed Elizabeth. "She canna be baptised without my consent, an ey refuse it. Ey dunna want her to be a witch—at least not yet awhile. What mays yo here, yo little plague?"
"Ey wur brought here, mother," replied Jennet, with affected simplicity.
"Then get whoam at once, and keep there," rejoined Elizabeth, furiously.
"Nay, eyst nah go just yet," replied Jennet. "Ey'd fain be a witch as weel as yo."
"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed the voice from below.
"Nah, nah—ey forbid it," shrieked Elizabeth, "ye shanna be bapteesed. Whoy ha ye brought her here, madam?" she added to Mistress Nutter. "Yo ha' stolen her fro' me. Boh ey protest agen it."
"Your consent is not required," replied Mistress Nutter, waving her off. "Your daughter is anxious to become a witch. That is enough."
"She is not owd enough to act for herself," said Elizabeth.
"Age matters not," replied Mistress Nutter.
"What mun ey do to become a witch?" asked Jennet.
"You must renounce all hopes of heaven," replied Mistress Nutter, "and devote yourself to Satan. You will then be baptised in his name, and become one of his worshippers. You will have power to afflict all persons with bodily ailments—to destroy cattle—blight corn—burn dwellings—and, if you be so minded, kill those you hate, or who molest you. Do you desire to do all this?"
"Eigh, that ey do," replied Jennet. "Ey ha' more pleasure in evil than in good, an wad rayther see folk weep than laugh; an if ey had the power, ey wad so punish them os jeer at me, that they should rue it to their deein' day."
"All this you shall do, and more," rejoined Mistress Nutter. "You renounce all hopes of salvation, then, and devote yourself, soul and body, to the Powers of Darkness."
Elizabeth, who was still kept at bay by Tib, shaking her arms, and gnashing her teeth, in impotent rage, now groaned aloud; but ere Jennet could answer, a piercing cry was heard, which thrilled through Mistress Nutter's bosom, and Alizon, rushing from her place of concealment, passed through the weird circle, and stood beside the group in the midst of it.
"Forbear, Jennet," she cried; "forbear! Pronounce not those impious words, or you are lost for ever. Come with me, and I will save you."
"Sister Alizon," cried Jennet, staring at her in surprise, "what makes you here?"
"Do not ask—but come," cried Alizon, trying to take her hand.
"Oh! what is this?" cried Mistress Nutter, now partly recovered from the consternation and astonishment into which she had been thrown by Alizon's unexpected appearance. "Why are you here? How have you broken the chains of slumber in which I bound you? Fly—fly—at once, this girl is past your help. You cannot save her. She is already devoted. Fly. I am powerless to protect you here."
"Ho! ho! ho!" laughed the voice.
"Do you not hear that laughter?" cried Mistress Nutter, with a haggard look. "Go!"
"Never, without Jennet," replied Alizon, firmly.
"My child—my child—on my knees I implore you to depart," cried Mistress Nutter, throwing herself before her—"You know not your danger—oh, fly—fly!"
But Alizon continued inflexible.
"Yo are caught i' your own snare, madam," cried Elizabeth Device, with a taunting laugh. "Sin Jennet mun be a witch, Alizon con be bapteesed os weel. Your consent is not required—and age matters not—ha! ha!"
"Curses upon thy malice," cried Mistress Nutter, rising. "What can be done in this extremity?"
"Nothing," replied the voice. "Jennet is mine already. If not brought hither by thee, or by her mother, she would have come of her own accord. I have watched her, and marked her for my own. Besides, she is fated. The curse of Paslew clings to her."
As the words were uttered, the shade of the abbot glided forwards, and, touching the shuddering child upon the brow with its finger, vanished with a lamentable cry.
"Kneel, Jennet," cried Alizon; "kneel, and pray!"
"To me," rejoined the voice; "she can bend to no other power. Alice Nutter, thou hast sought to deceive me, but in vain. I bade thee bring thy daughter here, and in place of her thou offerest me the child of another, who is mine already. I am not to be thus trifled with. Thou knowest my will. Sprinkle water over her head, and devote her to me."
Alizon would fain have thrown herself on her knees, but extremity of horror, or some overmastering influence, held her fast; and she remained with her gaze fixed upon her mother, who seemed torn by conflicting emotions.
"Is there no way to avoid this?" cried Mistress Nutter.
"No way but one," replied the voice. "I have been offered a new devotee, and I claim fulfilment of the promise. Thy daughter or another, it matters not—but not Jennet."
"I embrace the alternative," cried Mistress Nutter.
"It must be done upon the instant," said the voice.
"It shall be," replied Mistress Nutter. And, stretching her arm in the direction of the mansion, she called in a loud imperious voice, "Dorothy Assheton, come hither!"
A minute elapsed, but no one appeared, and, with a look of disappointment, Mistress Nutter repeated the gesture and the words.
Still no one came.
"Baffled!" she exclaimed, "what can it mean?"
"There is a maiden within the south transept, who is not one of my servants," cried the voice. "Call her."
"'Tis she!" cried Mistress Nutter, stretching her arm towards the transept. "This time I am answered," she added, as with a wild laugh Dorothy obeyed the summons.
"I have anointed myself with the unguent, and drank of the potion, ha! ha! ha!" cried Dorothy, with a wild gesture, and wilder laughter.
"Ha! this accounts for her presence here," muttered Mistress Nutter. "But it could not be better. She is in no mood to offer resistance. Dorothy, thou shalt be a witch."
"A witch!" exclaimed the bewildered maiden. "Is Alizon a witch?"
"We are all witches here," replied Mistress Nutter.
Alizon had no power to contradict her.
"A merry company!" exclaimed Dorothy, laughing loudly.
"You will say so anon," replied Mistress Nutter, waving her hand over her, and muttering a spell; "but you see them not in their true forms, Dorothy. Look again—what do you behold now?"
"In place of a troop of old wrinkled crones in wretched habiliments," replied Dorothy, "I behold a band of lovely nymphs in light gauzy attire, wreathed with flowers, and holding myrtle and olive branches in their hands. See they rise, and prepare for the dance. Strains of ravishing music salute the ear. I never heard sounds so sweet and stirring. The round is formed. The dance begins. How gracefully—how lightly they move—ha! ha!"
Alizon could not check her—could not undeceive her—for power of speech as of movement was denied her, but she comprehended the strange delusion under which the poor girl laboured. The figures Dorothy described as young and lovely, were still to her the same loathsome and abhorrent witches; the ravishing music jarred discordantly on her ear, as if produced by a shrill cornemuse; and the lightsome dance was a fantastic round, performed with shouts and laughter by the whole unhallowed crew.
Jennet laughed immoderately, and seemed delighted by the antics of the troop.
"Ey never wished to dance efore," she cried, "boh ey should like to try now."
"Join them, then," said Mistress Nutter.
And to the little girl's infinite delight a place was made for her in the round, and, taking hands with Mother Mould-heels and the red-haired witch, she footed it as merrily as the rest.
"Who is she in the nunlike habit?" inquired Dorothy, pointing to the shade of Isole de Heton, which still hovered near the weird assemblage. "She seems more beautiful than all the others. Will she not dance with me?"
"Heed her not," said Mistress Nutter.
Dorothy, however, would not be gainsaid, but, spite of the caution, beckoned the figure towards her. It came at once, and in another instant its arms were enlaced around her. The same frenzy that had seized Nicholas now took possession of Dorothy, and her dance with Isole might have come to a similar conclusion, if it had not been abruptly checked by Mistress Nutter, who, waving her hand, and pronouncing a spell, the figure instantly quitted Dorothy, and, with a wild shriek, fled.
"How like you these diversions?" said Mistress Nutter to the panting and almost breathless maiden.
"Marvellously," replied Dorothy; "but why have you scared my partner away?"
"Because she would have done you a mischief," rejoined Mistress Nutter. "But now let me put a question to you. Are you willing to renounce your baptism, and enter into a covenant with the Prince of Darkness?"
Dorothy did not seem in the least to comprehend what was said to her; but she nevertheless replied, "I am."
"Bring water and salt," said Mistress Nutter to Mother Chattox. "By these drops I baptise you," she added, dipping her fingers in the liquid, and preparing to sprinkle it over the brow of the proselyte.
Then it was that Alizon, by an almost superhuman effort, burst the spell that bound her, and clasped Dorothy in her arms.
"You know not what you do, dear Dorothy," she cried. "I answer for you. You will not yield to the snares and temptations of Satan, however subtly devised. You defy him and all his works. You will make no covenant with him. Though surrounded by his bond-slaves, you fear him not. Is it not so? Speak!"
But Dorothy could only answer with an insane laugh—"I will be a witch."
"It is too late," interposed Mistress Nutter. "You cannot save her. And, remember! she stands in your place. Or you or she must be devoted."
"I will never desert her," cried Alizon, twining her arms round her. "Dorothy—dear Dorothy—address yourself to Heaven."
An angry growl of thunder was heard.
"Beware!" cried Mistress Nutter.
"I am not to be discouraged," rejoined Alizon, firmly. "You cannot gain a victory over a soul in this condition, and I shall effect her deliverance. Heaven will aid us, Dorothy."
A louder roll of thunder was heard, followed by a forked flash of lightning.
"Provoke not the vengeance of the Prince of Darkness," said Mistress Nutter.
"I have no fear," replied Alizon. "Cling to me, Dorothy. No harm shall befall you."
"Be speedy!" cried the voice.
"Let her go," cried Mistress Nutter to Alizon, "or you will rue this disobedience. Why should you interfere with my projects, and bring ruin on yourself! I would save you. What, still obstinate? Nay, then, I will no longer show forbearance. Help me, sisters. Force the new witch from her. But beware how you harm my child."
At these words the troop gathered round the two girls. But Alizon only clasped her hands more tightly round Dorothy; while the latter, on whose brain the maddening potion still worked, laughed frantically at them. It was at this moment that Elizabeth Device, who had conceived a project of revenge, put it into execution. While near Dorothy, she stamped, spat on the ground, and then cast a little mould over her, breathing in her ear, "Thou art bewitched—bewitched by Alizon Device."
Dorothy instantly struggled to free herself from Alizon.
"Oh! do not you strive against me, dear Dorothy," cried Alizon. "Remain with me, or you are lost."
"Hence! off! set me free!" shrieked Dorothy; "you have bewitched me. I heard it this moment."
"Do not believe the false suggestion," cried Alizon.
"It is true," exclaimed all the other witches together. "Alizon has bewitched you, and will kill you. Shake her off—shake her off!"
"Away!" cried Dorothy, mustering all her force. "Away!"
But Alizon was still too strong for her, and, in spite of her efforts at liberation, detained her.
"My patience is wellnigh exhausted," exclaimed the voice.
"Alizon!" cried Mistress Nutter, imploringly.
And again the witches gathered furiously round the two girls.
"Kneel, Dorothy, kneel!" whispered Alizon. And forcing her down, she fell on her knees beside her, exclaiming, with uplifted hands, "Gracious heaven! deliver us."
As the words were uttered, a fearful cry was heard, and the weird troop fled away screaming, like ill-omened birds. The caldron sank into the ground; the dense mist arose like a curtain; and the moon and stars shone brightly down upon the ruined pile.
Alizon prayed long and fervently, with clasped hands and closed eyes, for deliverance from evil. When she looked round again, all was so calm, so beautiful, so holy in its rest, that she could scarcely believe in the recent fearful occurrences. Her hair and garments were damp with the dews of night; and at her feet lay Dorothy, insensible.
She tried to raise her—to revive her, but in vain; when at this moment footsteps were heard approaching, and the next moment Mistress Nutter, accompanied by Adam Whitworth and some other serving-men, entered the choir.
"I see them—they are here!" cried the lady, rushing forward.
"Heaven be praised you have found them, madam!" exclaimed the old steward, coming quickly after her.
"Oh! what an alarm you have given me, Alizon," said Mistress Nutter. "What could induce you to go forth secretly at night in this way with Dorothy! I dreamed you were here, and missing you when I awoke, roused the house and came in search of you. What is the matter with Dorothy? She has been frightened, I suppose. I will give her to breathe at this phial. It will revive her. See, she opens her eyes."
Dorothy looked round wildly for a moment, and then pointing her finger at Alizon, said—
"She has bewitched me."
"Poor thing! she rambles," observed Mistress Nutter to Adam Whitworth, who, with the other serving-men, stared aghast at the accusation; "she has been scared out of her senses by some fearful sight. Let her be conveyed quickly to my chamber, and I will see her cared for."
The orders were obeyed. Dorothy was raised gently by the serving-men, but she still kept pointing to Alizon, and repeatedly exclaimed—
"She has bewitched me!"
The serving-men shook their heads, and looked significantly at each other, while Mistress Nutter lingered to speak to her daughter.
"You look greatly disturbed, Alizon, as if you had been visited by a nightmare in your sleep, and were still under its influence."
Alizon made no reply.
"A few hours' tranquil sleep will restore you," pursued Mistress Nutter, "and you will forget your fears. You must not indulge in these nocturnal rambles again, or they may be attended with dangerous consequences. I may not have a second warning dream. Come to the house."
And, as Alizon followed her along the garden path, she could not help asking herself, though with little hope in the question, if all she had witnessed was indeed nothing more than a troubled dream.
END OF THE FIRST BOOK.
THE LANCASHIRE WITCHES.
BOOK THE SECOND.
A lovely morning succeeded the strange and terrible night. Brightly shone the sun upon the fair Calder as it winded along the green meads above the bridge, as it rushed rejoicingly over the weir, and pursued its rapid course through the broad plain below the Abbey. A few white vapours hung upon the summit of Whalley Nab, but the warm rays tinging them with gold, and tipping with fire the tree-tops that pierced through them, augured their speedy dispersion. So beautiful, so tranquil, looked the old monastic fane, that none would have deemed its midnight rest had been broken by the impious rites of a foul troop. The choir, where the unearthly scream and the demon laughter had resounded, was now vocal with the melodies of the blackbird, the thrush, and other songsters of the grove. Bells of dew glittered upon the bushes rooted in the walls, and upon the ivy-grown pillars; and gemming the countless spiders' webs stretched from bough to bough, showed they were all unbroken. No traces were visible on the sod where the unhallowed crew had danced their round; nor were any ashes left where the fire had burnt and the caldron had bubbled. The brass-covered tombs of the abbots in the presbytery looked as if a century had passed over them without disturbance; while the graves in the cloister cemetery, obliterated, and only to be detected when a broken coffin or a mouldering bone was turned up by the tiller of the ground, preserved their wonted appearance. The face of nature had received neither impress nor injury from the fantastic freaks and necromantic exhibitions of the witches. Every thing looked as it was left overnight; and the only footprints to be detected were those of the two girls, and of the party who came in quest of them. All else had passed by like a vision or a dream. The rooks cawed loudly in the neighbouring trees, as if discussing the question of breakfast, and the jackdaws wheeled merrily round the tall spire, which sprang from the eastern end of the fane.
Brightly shone the sun upon the noble timber embowering the mansion of the Asshetons; upon the ancient gateway, in the upper chamber of which Ned Huddlestone, the porter, and the burly representative of Friar Tuck, was rubbing his sleepy eyes, preparatory to habiting himself in his ordinary attire; and upon the wide court-yard, across which Nicholas was walking in the direction of the stables. Notwithstanding his excesses overnight, the squire was astir, as he had declared he should be, before daybreak; and a plunge into the Calder had cooled his feverish limbs and cured his racking headache, while a draught of ale set his stomach right. Still, in modern parlance, he looked rather "seedy," and his recollection of the events of the previous night was somewhat confused. Aware he had committed many fooleries, he did not desire to investigate matters too closely, and only hoped he should not be reminded of them by Sir Ralph, or worse still, by Parson Dewhurst. As to his poor, dear, uncomplaining wife, he never once troubled his head about her, feeling quite sure she would not upbraid him. On his appearance in the court-yard, the two noble blood-hounds and several lesser dogs came forward to greet him, and, attended by this noisy pack, he marched up to a groom, who was rubbing down his horse at the stable-door.
"Poor Robin," he cried to the steed, who neighed at his approach. "Poor Robin," he said, patting his neck affectionately, "there is not thy match for speed or endurance, for fence or ditch, for beck or stone wall, in the country. Half an hour on thy back will make all right with me; but I would rather take thee to Bowland Forest, and hunt the stag there, than go and perambulate the boundaries of the Rough Lee estates with a rascally attorney. I wonder how the fellow will be mounted."
"If yo be speering about Mester Potts, squoire," observed the groom, "ey con tell ye. He's to ha' little Flint, the Welsh pony."
"Why, zounds, you don't say, Peter!" exclaimed Nicholas, laughing; "he'll never be able to manage him. Flint's the wickedest and most wilful little brute I ever knew. We shall have Master Potts run away with, or thrown into a moss-pit. Better give him something quieter."
"It's Sir Roaph's orders," replied Peter, "an ey darna disobey 'em. Boh Flint's far steadier than when yo seed him last, squoire. Ey dar say he'll carry Mester Potts weel enough, if he dusna mislest him."
"You think nothing of the sort, Peter," said Nicholas. "You expect to see the little gentleman fly over the pony's head, and perhaps break his own at starting. But if Sir Ralph has ordered it, he must abide by the consequences. I sha'n't interfere further. How goes on the young colt you were breaking in? You should take care to show him the saddle in the manger, let him smell it, and jingle the stirrups in his ears, before you put it on his back. Better ground for his first lessons could not be desired than the field below the grange, near the Calder. Sir Ralph was saying yesterday, that the roan mare had pricked her foot. You must wash the sore well with white wine and salt, rub it with the ointment the farriers call aegyptiacum, and then put upon it a hot plaster compounded of flax hards, turpentine, oil and wax, bathing the top of the hoof with bole armeniac and vinegar. This is the best and quickest remedy. And recollect, Peter, that for a new strain, vinegar, bole armeniac, whites of eggs, and bean-flour, make the best salve. How goes on Sir Ralph's black charger, Dragon? A brave horse that, Peter, and the only one in your master's whole stud to compare with my Robin! But Dragon, though of high courage and great swiftness, has not the strength and endurance of Robin—neither can he leap so well. Why, Robin would almost clear the Calder, Peter, and makes nothing of Smithies Brook, near Downham, and you know how wide that stream is. I once tried him at the Ribble, at a narrow point, and if horse could have done it, he would—but it was too much to expect."
"A great deal, ey should say, squoire," replied the groom, opening his eyes to their widest extent. "Whoy, th' Ribble, where yo speak on, mun be twenty yards across, if it be an inch; and no nag os ever wur bred could clear that, onless a witch wur on his back."
"Don't allude to witches, Peter," said Nicholas. "I've had enough of them. But to come back to our steeds. Colour is matter of taste, and a man must please his own eye with bay or grey, chestnut, sorrel, or black; but dun is my fancy. A good horse, Peter, should be clean-limbed, short-jointed, strong-hoofed, out-ribbed, broad-chested, deep-necked, loose-throttled, thin-crested, lean-headed, full-eyed, with wide nostrils. A horse with half these points would not be wrong, and Robin has them all."
"So he has, sure enough, squoire," replied Peter, regarding the animal with an approving eye, as Nicholas enumerated his merits. "Boh, if ey might choose betwixt him an yunk Mester Ruchot Assheton's grey gelding, Merlin, ey knoas which ey'd tak."
"Robin, of course," said Nicholas.
"Nah, squoire, it should be t'other," replied the groom.
"You're no judge of a horse, Peter," rejoined Nicholas, shrugging his shoulders.
"May be not," said the groom, "boh ey'm bound to speak truth. An see! Tum Lomax is bringin' out Merlin. We con put th' two nags soide by soide, if yo choose."
"They shall be put side by side in the field, Peter—that's the way to test their respective merit," returned Nicholas, "and they won't remain long together, I'll warrant you. I offered to make a match for twenty pieces with Master Richard, but he declined the offer. Harkee, Peter, break an egg in Robin's mouth before you put on his bridle. It strengthens the wind, and adds to a horse's power of endurance. You understand?"
"Parfitly, squoire," replied the groom. "By th' mess! that's a secret worth knoain'. Onny more orders?"
"No," replied Nicholas. "We shall set out in an hour—or it may be sooner."
"Aw shan be ready," said Peter. And he added to himself, as Nicholas moved away, "Ey'st tak care Tum Lomax gies an egg to Merlin, an that'll may aw fair, if they chance to try their osses' mettle."
As Nicholas returned to the house, he perceived to his dismay Sir Ralph and Parson Dewhurst standing upon the steps; and convinced, from their grave looks, that they were prepared to lecture him, he endeavoured to nerve himself for the infliction.
"Two to one are awkward odds," said the squire to himself, "especially when they have the 'vantage ground. But I must face them, and make the best fight circumstances will allow. I shall never be able to explain that mad dance with Isole de Heton. No one but Dick will believe me, and the chances are he will not support my story. But I must put on an air of penitence, and sooth to say, in my present state, it is not very difficult to assume."
Thus pondering, with slow step, affectedly humble demeanour, and surprisingly-lengthened visage, he approached the pair who were waiting for him, and regarding him with severe looks.
Thinking it the best plan to open the fire himself, Nicholas saluted them, and said—
"Give you good-day, Sir Ralph, and you too, worthy Master Dewhurst. I scarcely expected to see you so early astir, good sirs; but the morning is too beautiful to allow us to be sluggards. For my own part I have been awake for hours, and have passed the time wholly in self-reproaches for my folly and sinfulness last night, as well as in forming resolutions for self-amendment, and better governance in future."