"You have no regard, then, for their innocence?" said Richard, who felt as if a weight of calamity was crushing him down.
"Their innocence must be proved at the proper tribunal," rejoined Nowell. "It is not for me to judge them."
"But you do judge them," cried Richard, sharply. "In making the charge, you know that you pronounce the sentence of condemnation as well. This is why the humane man—why the just—would hesitate to bring an accusation even where he suspected guilt—but where suspicion could not possibly attach, he would never suffer himself, however urged on by feelings of animosity, to injure the innocent."
"You ascribe most unworthy motives to me, young sir," rejoined Nowell, sternly. "I am influenced only by a desire to see justice administered, and I shall not swerve from my duty, because my humanity may be called in question by a love-sick boy. I understand why you plead thus warmly for these infamous persons. You are enthralled by the beauty of the young witch, Alizon Device. I noted how you were struck by her yesterday—and I heard what Sir Thomas Metcalfe said on the subject. But take heed what you do. You may jeopardise both soul and body in the indulgence of this fatal passion. Witchcraft is exercised in many ways. Its professors have not only power to maim and to kill, and to do other active mischief, but to ensnare the affections and endanger the souls of their victims, by enticing them to unhallowed love. Alizon Device is comely to view, no doubt, but who shall say whence her beauty is derived? Hell may have arrayed her in its fatal charms. Sin is beautiful, but all-destructive. And the time will come when you may thank me for delivering you from the snares of this seductive siren." Richard uttered an angry exclamation.
"Not now—I do not expect it—you are too much besotted by her," pursued Nowell; "but I conjure you to cast off this wicked and senseless passion, which, unless checked, will lead you to perdition. You have heard what abominable rites are practised at those unholy meetings called Devil's Sabbaths, and how can you say that some demon may not be your rival in Alizon's love?"
"You pass all licence, sir," cried Richard, infuriated past endurance; "and, if you do not instantly retract the infamous accusation you have made, neither your age nor your office shall protect you."
"I can fortunately protect myself, young man," replied Nowell, coldly; "and if aught were wanting to confirm my suspicions that you were under some evil influence, it would be supplied by your present conduct. You are bewitched by this girl."
"It is false!" cried Richard.
And he raised his hand against the magistrate, when Nicholas quickly interposed.
"Nay, cousin Dick," cried the squire, "this must not be. You must take other means of defending the poor girl, whose innocence I will maintain as stoutly as yourself. But, since Master Roger Nowell is resolved to proceed to extremities, I shall likewise take leave to retire."
"Your pardon, sir," rejoined Nowell; "you will not withdraw till I think fit. Master Richard Assheton, forgetful alike of the respect due to age and constituted authority, has ventured to raise his hand against me, for which, if I chose, I could place him in immediate arrest. But I have no such intention. On the contrary, I am willing to overlook the insult, attributing it to the frenzy by which he is possessed. But both he and you, Master Nicholas, are mistaken if you suppose I will permit you to retire. As a magistrate in the exercise of my office, I call upon you both to aid me in the capture of the two notorious witches, Mothers Demdike and Chattox, and not to desist or depart from me till such capture be effected. You know the penalty of refusal."
"Heavy fine or imprisonment, at the option of the magistrate," remarked Potts.
"My cousin Nicholas will do as he pleases," observed Richard; "but, for my part, I will not stir a step further."
"Nor will I," added Nicholas, "unless I have Master Nowell's solemn pledge that he will take no proceedings against Alizon Device."
"You can give no such assurance, sir," whispered Potts, seeing that the magistrate wavered in his resolution.
"You must go, then," said Nowell, "and take the consequences of your refusal to act with me. Your relationship to Mistress Nutter will not tell in your favour."
"I understand the implied threat," said Nicholas, "and laugh at it. Richard, lad, I am with you. Let him catch the witches himself, if he can. I will not budge an inch further with him."
"Farewell, then, gentlemen," replied Roger Nowell; "I am sorry to part company with you thus, but when next we meet—" and he paused.
"We meet as enemies, I presume" supplied Nicholas.
"We meet no longer as friends," rejoined the magistrate, coldly.
With this he moved forward with the rest of the troop, while the two Asshetons, after a moment's consultation, passed through a gate and made their way to the back of the mansion, where they found one or two men on the look-out, from whom they received intelligence, which induced them immediately to spring from their horses and hurry into the house.
Arrived at the principal entrance of the mansion, which was formed by large gates of open iron-work, admitting a view of the garden and front of the house, Roger Nowell again called a halt, and Master Potts, at his request, addressed the porter and two other serving-men who were standing in the garden, in this fashion—
"Pay attention to what I say to you, my men," he cried in a loud and authoritative voice—"a warrant will this day be issued for the arrest of Alice Nutter of Rough Lee, in whose service you have hitherto dwelt, and who is charged with the dreadful crime of witchcraft, and with invoking, consulting, and covenanting with, entertaining, employing, feeding, and rewarding evil spirits, contrary to the laws of God and man, and in express violation of his Majesty's statute. Now take notice, that if the said Alice Nutter shall at any time hereafter return to this her former abode, or take refuge within it, you are hereby bound to deliver her up forthwith to the nearest constable, to be by him brought before the worshipful Master Roger Nowell of Read, in this county, so that she may be examined by him on these charges. You hear what I have said?"
The men exchanged significant glances, but made no reply.
Potts was about to address them, but to his surprise he saw the central door of the house thrown open, and Mistress Nutter issue from it. She marched slowly and majestically down the broad gravel walk towards the gate. The attorney could scarcely believe his eyes, and he exclaimed to the magistrate with a chuckle—
"Who would have thought of this! We have her safe enough now. Ha! ha!"
But no corresponding smile played upon Nowell's hard lips. His gaze was fixed inquiringly upon the lady.
Another surprise. From the same door issued Alizon Device, escorted by Nicholas and Richard Assheton, who walked on either side of her, and the three followed Mistress Nutter slowly down the broad walk. Such a display seemed to argue no want of confidence. Alizon did not look towards the group outside the gates, but seemed listening eagerly to what Richard was saying to her.
"So, Master Nowell," cried Mistress Nutter, boldly, "since you find yourself defeated in the claims you have made against my property, you are seeking to revenge yourself, I understand, by bringing charges against me as false as they are calumnious. But I defy your malice, and can defend myself against your violence."
"If I could be astonished at any thing in you, madam, I should be at your audacity," rejoined Nowell, "but I am glad that you have presented yourself before me; for it was my fixed intention, on my return to Whalley, to cause your arrest, and your unexpected appearance here enables me to put my design into execution somewhat sooner than I anticipated."
Mistress Nutter laughed scornfully.
"Sparshot," vociferated Nowell, "enter those gates, and arrest the lady in the King's name."
The beadle looked irresolute. He did not like the task.
"The gates are fastened," cried Mistress Nutter.
"Force them open, then," roared Nowell, dismounting and shaking them furiously. "Bring me a heavy stone. By heaven I I will not be baulked of my prey."
"My servants are armed," cried Mistress Nutter, "and the first man who enters shall pay the penalty of has rashness with life. Bring me a petronel, Blackadder."
The order was promptly obeyed by the ill-favoured attendant, who was stationed near the gate.
"I am in earnest," said Mistress Nutter, aiming the petronel, "and seldom miss my mark."
"Give attention to me, my men," cried Roger Nowell. "I charge you in the King's name to throw open the gate."
"And I charge you in mine to keep it fast," rejoined Mistress Nutter. "We shall see who will be obeyed."
One of the grooms now advanced with a large stone taken from an adjoining wall, which he threw with great force against the gates, but though it shook them violently the fastenings continued firm. Blackadder and the two other serving-men, all of whom were armed with halberts, now advanced to the gates, and, thrusting the points of their weapons through the bars, drove back those who were near them.
A short consultation now took place between Nowell and Potts, after which the latter, taking care to keep out of the reach of the halberts, thus delivered himself in a loud voice:—
"Alice Nutter, in order to avoid the serious consequences which might ensue were the necessary measures taken to effect a forcible entrance into your habitation, the worshipful Master Nowell has thought fit to grant you an hour's respite for reflection; at the expiration of which time he trusts that you, seeing the futility of resisting the law, will quietly yield yourself a prisoner. Otherwise, no further leniency will be shown you and those who may uphold you in your contumacy."
Mistress Nutter laughed loudly and contemptuously.
"At the same time," pursued Potts, on a suggestion from the magistrate, "Master Roger Nowell demands that Alizon Device, daughter of Elizabeth Device, whom he beholds in your company, and who is likewise suspected of witchcraft, be likewised delivered up to him."
"Aught more?" inquired Mistress Nutter.
"Only this," replied Potts, in a taunting tone, "the worshipful magistrate would offer a friendly counsel to Master Nicholas Assheton, and Master Richard Assheton, whom, to his infinite surprise, he perceives in a hostile position before him, that they in nowise interfere with his injunctions, but, on the contrary, lend their aid in furtherance of them, otherwise he may be compelled to adopt measures towards them, which must be a source of regret to him. I have furthermore to state, on the part of his worship, that strict watch will be kept at all the approaches of your house, and that no one, on any pretence whatever, during the appointed time of respite, will be suffered to enter it, or depart from it. In an hour his worship will return."
"And in an hour he shall have my answer," replied Mistress Nutter, turning away.
CHAPTER IX.—HOW ROUGH LEE WAS DEFENDED BY NICHOLAS.
When skies are darkest, and storms are gathering thickest overhead, the star of love will oft shine out with greatest brilliancy; and so, while Mistress Nutter was hurling defiance against her foes at the gate, and laughing their menaces to scorn—while those very foes were threatening Alizon's liberty and life—she had become wholly insensible to the peril environing her, and almost unconscious of any other presence save that of Richard, now her avowed lover; for, impelled by the irresistible violence of his feelings, the young man had chosen that moment, apparently so unpropitious, and so fraught with danger and alarm, for the declaration of his passion, and the offer of his life in her service. A few low-murmured words were all Alizon could utter in reply, but they were enough. They told Richard his passion was requited, and his devotion fully appreciated. Sweet were those moments to both—sweet, though sad. Like Alizon, her lover had become insensible to all around him. Engrossed by one thought and one object, he was lost to aught else, and was only at last aroused to what was passing by the squire, who, having good-naturedly removed to a little distance from the pair, now gave utterance to a low whistle, to let them know that Mistress Nutter was coming towards them. The lady, however, did not stop, but motioning them to follow, entered the house.
"You have heard what has passed," she said. "In an hour Master Nowell threatens to return and arrest me and Alizon."
"That shall never be," cried Richard, with a passionate look at the young girl. "We will defend you with our lives."
"Much may be done in an hour," observed Nicholas to Mistress Nutter, "and my advice to you is to use the time allowed you in making good your retreat, so that, when the hawks come back, they may find the doves flown."
"I have no intention of quitting my dovecot," replied Mistress Nutter, with a bitter smile.
"Unless you are forcibly taken from it, I suppose," said the squire; "a contingency not impossible if you await Roger Nowell's return. This time, be assured, he will not go away empty-handed."
"He may not go away at all," rejoined Mistress Nutter, sternly.
"Then you mean to make a determined resistance?" said Nicholas. "Recollect that you are resisting the law. I wish I could induce you to resort to the safer expedient of flight. This affair is already dark and perplexed enough, and does not require further complication. Find any place of concealment, no matter where, till some arrangement can be made with Roger Nowell."
"I should rather urge you to fly, Nicholas," rejoined the lady; "for it is evident you have strong misgivings as to the justice of my cause, and would not willingly compromise yourself. I will not surrender to this magistrate, because, by so doing, my life would assuredly be forfeited, for my innocence could never be established before the iniquitous and bloody tribunal to which I should be brought. Neither, for the same reason, will I surrender Alizon, who, with a refinement of malignity, has been similarly accused. I shall now proceed to make preparations for my defence. Go, if you think fitting—or stay—but if you do stay, I shall calculate upon your active services."
"You may," replied the squire. "Whatever I may think, I admire your spirit, and will stand by you. But time is passing, and the foe will return and find us engaged in deliberation when we ought to be prepared. You have a dozen men on the premises on whom you can rely. Half of these must be placed at the back of the house to prevent any entrance from being effected in that quarter. The rest can remain within the entrance hall, and be ready to rush forth when summoned by us; but we will not so summon them unless we are hardly put to it, and their aid is indispensable. All should be well armed, but I trust they will not have to use their weapons. Are you agreed to this, madam?"
"I am," replied Mistress Nutter, "and I will give instant directions that your wishes are complied with. All approaches to the back of the house shall be strictly guarded as you direct, and my trusty man, Blackadder, on whose fidelity and courage I can entirely rely, shall take the command of the party in the hall, and act under your orders. Your prowess will not be unobserved, for Alizon and I shall be in the upper room commanding the garden, whence we can see all that takes place."
A slight smile was exchanged between the lovers; but it was evident, from her anxious looks, that Alizon did not share in Richard's confidence. An opportunity, however, was presently afforded him of again endeavouring to reassure her, for Mistress Nutter went forth to give Blackadder his orders, and Nicholas betook himself to the back of the house to ascertain, from personal inspection, its chance of security.
"You are still uneasy, dear Alizon," said Richard, taking her hand; "but do not be cast down. No harm shall befall you."
"It is not for myself I am apprehensive," she replied, "but for you, who are about to expose yourself to needless risk in this encounter; and, if any thing should happen to you, I shall be for ever wretched. I would far rather you left me to my fate."
"And can you think I would allow you to be borne away a captive to ignominy and certain destruction?" cried Richard. "No, I will shed my heart's best blood before such a calamity shall occur."
"Alas!" said Alizon, "I have no means of requiting your devotion. All I can offer you in return is my love, and that, I fear, will prove fatal to you."
"Oh! do not say so," cried Richard. "Why should this sad presentiment still haunt you? I strove to chase it away just now, and hoped I had succeeded. You are dearer to me than life. Why, therefore, should I not risk it in your defence? And why should your love prove fatal to me?"
"I know not," replied Alizon, in a tone of deepest anguish, "but I feel as if my destiny were evil; and that, against my will, I shall drag those I most love on earth into the same dark gulf with myself. I have the greatest affection for your sister Dorothy, and yet I have been the unconscious instrument of injury to her. And you too, Richard, who are yet dearer to me, are now put in peril on my account. I fear, too, when you know my whole history, you will think of me as a thing of evil, and shun me."
"What mean you, Alizon?" he cried.
"Richard, I can have no secrets from you," she replied; "and though I was forbidden to tell you what I am now about to disclose, I will not withhold it. I was born in this house, and am the daughter of its mistress."
"You tell me only what I guessed, Alizon," rejoined the young man; "but I see nothing in this why I should shun you."
Alizon hid her face for a moment in her hands; and then looking up, said wildly and hurriedly, "Would I had never known the secret of my birth; or, knowing it, had never seen what I beheld last night!"
"What did you behold?" asked Richard, greatly agitated.
"Enough to convince me, that in gaining a mother I was lost myself," replied Alizon; "for oh! how can I survive the shock of telling you I am bound, by ties that can never be dissevered, to one abandoned alike of God and man—who has devoted herself to the Fiend! Pity me, Richard—pity me, and shun me!"
There was a moment's dreadful pause, which the young man was unable to break.
"Was I not right in saying my love would be fatal to you?" continued Alizon. "Fly from me while you can, Richard. Fly from this house, or you are lost for ever!"
"Never, never! I will not stir without you," cried Richard. "Come with me, and escape all the dangers by which you are menaced, and leave your sinning parent to the doom she so richly merits."
"No, no; sinful though she be, she is still my mother. I cannot leave her," cried Alizon.
"If you stay, I stay, be the consequences what they may," replied the young man; "but you have rendered my arm powerless by what you have told me. How can I defend one whom I know to be guilty?"
"Therefore I urge you to fly," she rejoined.
"I can reconcile myself to it thus," said Richard—"in defending you, whom I know to be innocent, I cannot avoid defending her. The plea is not a good one, but it will suffice to allay my scruples of conscience."
At this moment Mistress Nutter entered the hall, followed by Blackadder and three other men, armed with calivers.
"All is ready, Richard," she said, "and it wants but a few minutes of the appointed time. Perhaps you shrink from the task you have undertaken?" she added, regarding him sharply; "if so, say so at once, and I will adopt my own line of defence."
"Nay, I shall be ready to go forth in a moment," rejoined the young man, glancing at Alizon. "Where is Nicholas?"
"Here," replied the squire, clapping him on the shoulder. "All is secure at the back of the house, and the horses are coming round. We must mount at once."
Richard arose without a word.
"Blackadder will attend to your orders," said Mistress Nutter; "he only waits a sign from you to issue forth with his three companions, or to fire through the windows upon the aggressors, if you see occasion for it."
"I trust it will not come to such a pass," rejoined the squire; "a few blows from these weapons will convince them we are in earnest, and will, I hope, save further trouble."
And as he spoke he took down a couple of stout staves, and gave one of them to Richard.
"Farewell, then, preux chevaliers" cried Mistress Nutter, with affected gaiety; "demean yourselves valiantly, and remember that bright eyes will be upon you. Now, Alizon, to our chamber."
Richard did not hazard a look at the young girl as she quitted the hall with her mother, but followed the squire mechanically into the garden, where they found the horses. Scarcely were they mounted than a loud hubbub, arising from the little village, proclaimed that their opponents had arrived, and presently after a large company of horse and foot appeared at the gate.
At sight of the large force brought against them, the countenance of the squire lost its confident and jovial expression. Pie counted nearly forty men, each of whom was armed in some way or other, and began to fear the affair would terminate awkwardly, and entail unpleasant consequences upon himself and his cousin. He was, therefore, by no means at his ease. As to Richard, he did not dare to ask himself how things would end, neither did he know how to act. His mind was in utter confusion, and his breast oppressed as if by a nightmare. He cast one look towards the upper window, and beheld at it the white face of Mistress Nutter, intently gazing at what was going forward, but Alizon was not to be seen.
Within the last half hour the sky had darkened, and a heavy cloud hung over the house, threatening a storm. Richard hoped it would come on fiercely and fast.
Meanwhile, Roger Newell had dismounted and advanced to the gate.
"Gentlemen," he cried, addressing the two Asshetons, "I expected to find free access given to me and my followers; but as these gates are still barred against me, I call upon you, as loyal subjects of the King, not to resist or impede the course of law, but to throw them instantly open."
"You must unbar them yourself, Master Nowell," replied Nicholas. "We shall give you no help."
"Nor offer any opposition, I hope, sir?" said the magistrate, sternly.
"You are twenty to one, or thereabout," returned the squire, with a laugh; "we shall stand a poor chance with you."
"But other defensive and offensive preparations have been made, I doubt not," said Nowell; "nay, I descry some armed men through the windows of the hall. Before coming to extremities, I will make a last appeal to you and your kinsman. I have granted Mistress Nutter and the girl with her an hour's delay, in the hope that, seeing the futility of resistance, they would quietly surrender. But I find my clemency thrown away, and undue advantage taken of the time allowed for respite; therefore, I shall show them no further consideration. But to you, my friends, I would offer a last warning. Forget not that you are acting in direct opposition to the law; that we are here armed with full authority and power to carry out our intentions; and that all opposition on your part will be fruitless, and will be visited upon you hereafter with severe pains and penalties. Forget not, also, that your characters will be irrecoverably damaged from your connexion with parties charged with the heinous offence of witchcraft. Meddle not, therefore, in the matter, but go your ways, or, if you would act as best becomes you, aid me in the arrest of the offenders."
"Master Roger Nowell," replied Nicholas, walking his horse slowly towards the gate, "as you have given me a caution, I will give you one in return; and that is, to put a bridle on your tongue when you address gentlemen, or, by my fay, you are likely to get answers little to your taste. You have said that our characters are likely to suffer in this transaction, but, in my humble opinion, they will not suffer so much as your own. The magistrate who uses the arm of the law for purposes of private vengeance, and who brings a false and foul charge against his enemy, knowing that it cannot be repelled, is not entitled to any particular respect or honour. Thus have you acted towards Mistress Nutter. Defeated by her in the boundary question, without leaving its decision to those to whom you had referred it, you instantly accuse her of witchcraft, and seek to destroy her, as well as an innocent and unoffending girl, by whom she is attended. Is such conduct worthy of you, or likely to redound to your credit? I think not. But this is not all. Aided by your crafty and unscrupulous ally, Master Potts, you get together a number of Mistress Nutter's tenants, and, by threats and misrepresentations, induce them to become instruments of your vengeance. But when these misguided men come to know the truth of the case—when they learn that you have no proofs whatever against Mistress Nutter, and that you are influenced solely by animosity to her, they are quite as likely to desert you as to stand by you. At all events, we are determined to resist this unjust arrest, and, at the hazard of our lives, to oppose your entrance into the house."
Nowell and Potts were greatly exasperated by this speech, but they were little prepared for its consequences. Many of those who had been induced to accompany them, as has been shown, wavered in their resolution of acting against Mistress Nutter, but they now began to declare in her favour. In vain Potts repeated all his former arguments. They were no longer of any avail. Of the troop assembled at the gate more than half marched off, and shaped their course towards the rear of the house—with what intention it was easy to surmise—while of those who remained it was very doubtful whether the whole of them would act.
The result of his oration was quite as surprising to Nicholas as to his opponents, and, enchanted by the effect of his eloquence, he could not help glancing up at the window, where he perceived Mistress Nutter, whose smiles showed that she was equally well pleased.
Seeing that, if any further desertions took place, his chances would be at an end, with a menacing gesture at the squire, Roger Nowell ordered the attack to commence immediately.
While some of his men, amongst whom were Baldwyn and old Mitton, battered against the gate with stones, another party, headed by Potts, scaled the walls, which, though of considerable height, presented no very serious obstacles in the way of active assailants. Elevated on the shoulders of Sparshot, Potts was soon on the summit of the wall, and was about to drop into the garden, when he heard a sound that caused him to suspend his intention.
"What are you about to do, cousin Nicholas?" inquired Richard, as the word of assault was given by the magistrate.
"Let loose Mistress Nutter's stag-hounds upon them," replied the squire. "They are kept in leash by a varlet stationed behind yon yew-tree hedge, who only awaits my signal to let them slip; and by my faith it is time he had it."
As he spoke, he applied a dog-whistle to his lips, and, blowing a loud call, it was immediately answered by a savage barking, and half a dozen hounds, rough-haired, of prodigious size and power, resembling in make, colour, and ferocity, the Irish wolf-hound bounded towards him.
"Aha!" exclaimed Nicholas, clapping his hands to encourage them: "we could have dispersed the whole rout with these assistants. Hyke, Tristam!—hyke, Hubert! Upon them!—upon them!"
It was the savage barking of the hounds that had caught the ears of the alarmed attorney, and made him desirous to scramble back again. But this was no such easy matter. Sparshot's broad shoulders were wanting to place his feet upon, and while he was bruising his knees against the roughened sides of the wall in vain attempts to raise himself to the top of it unaided, Hubert's sharp teeth met in the calf of his leg, while those of Tristam were fixed in the skirts of his doublet, and penetrated deeply into the flesh that filled it. A terrific yell proclaimed the attorney's anguish and alarm, and he redoubled his efforts to escape. But, if before it was difficult to get up, the feat was now impossible. All he could do was to cling with desperate tenacity to the coping of the wall, for he made no doubt, if dragged down, he should be torn in pieces. Roaring lustily for help, he besought Nicholas to have compassion upon him; but the squire appeared little moved by his distress, and laughed heartily at his yells and vociferations.
"You will not come again on a like errand, in a hurry, I fancy Master Potts," he said.
"I will not, good Master Nicholas," rejoined Potts; "for pity's sake call off these infernal hounds. They will rend me asunder as they would a fox."
"You were a cunning fox, in good sooth, to come hither," rejoined Nicholas, in a taunting tone; "but will you go hence if I liberate you?"
"I will—indeed I will!" replied Potts.
"And will no more molest Mistress Nutter?" thundered Nicholas.
"Take heed what you promise," roared Nowell from the other side of the wall.
"If you do not promise it, the hounds shall pull you down, and make a meal of you!" cried Nicholas.
"I do—I swear—whatever you desire!" cried the terrified attorney.
The hounds were then called off by the squire, and, nerved by fright, Potts sprang upon the wall, and tumbled over it upon the other side, alighting upon the head of his respected and singular good client, whom he brought to the ground.
Meanwhile, all those unlucky persons who had succeeded in scaling the wall were attacked by the hounds, and, unable to stand against them, were chased round the garden, to the infinite amusement of the squire. Frightened to death, and unable otherwise to escape, for the gate allowed them no means of exit, the poor wretches fled towards the terrace overlooking Pendle Water, and, leaping into the stream, gained the opposite bank. There they were safe, for the hounds were not allowed to follow them further. In this way the garden was completely cleared of the enemy, and Nicholas and Richard were left masters of the field.
Leaning out of the window, Mistress Nutter laughingly congratulated them on their success, and, as no further disposition was manifested on the part of Nowell and such of his troop that remained to renew the attack, the contest, for the present at least, was supposed to be at an end.
By this time, also, intimation had been conveyed by the deserters from Nowell's troop, who, it will be remembered, had made their way to the back of the premises, that they were anxious to offer their services to Mistress Nutter; and, as soon as this was told her, she ordered them to be admitted, and descended to give them welcome. Thus things wore a promising aspect for the besieged, while the assailing party were proportionately disheartened.
Long ere this, Baldwyn and old Mitton had desisted from their attempts to break open the gate, and, indeed, rejoiced that such a barrier was interposed between them and the hounds, whose furious onslaughts they witnessed. A bolt was launched against these four-footed guardians of the premises by the bearer of the crossbow, but the man proved but an indifferent marksman, for, instead of hitting the hound, he disabled one of his companions who was battling with him. Finding things in this state, and that neither Nowell nor Potts returned to their charge, while their followers were withdrawn from before the gate, Nicholas thought he might fairly infer that a victory had been obtained. But, like a prudent leader, he did not choose to expose himself till the enemy had absolutely yielded, and he therefore signed to Blackadder and his men to come forth from the hall. The order was obeyed, not only by them, but by the seceders from the hostile troop, and some thirty men issued from the principal door, and, ranging themselves upon the lawn, set up a deafening and triumphant shout, very different from that raised by the same individuals when under the command of Nowell. At the same moment Mistress Nutter and Alizon appeared at the door, and at the sight of them the shouting was renewed.
The unexpected turn in affairs had not been without its effect upon Richard and Alizon, and tended to revive the spirits of both. The immediate danger by which they were threatened had vanished, and time was given for the consideration of new plans. Richard had been firmly resolved to take no further part in the affray than should be required for the protection of Alizon, and, consequently, it was no little satisfaction to him to reflect that the victory had been accomplished without him, and by means which could not afterwards be questioned.
Meanwhile, Mistress Nutter had joined Nicholas, and the gates being unbarred by Blackadder, they passed through them. At a little distance stood Roger Nowell, now altogether abandoned, except by his own immediate followers, with Baldwyn and old Mitton. Poor Potts was lying on the ground, piteously bemoaning the lacerations his skin had undergone.
"Well, you have got the worst of it, Master Nowell," said Nicholas, as he and Mistress Nutter approached the discomfited magistrate, "and must own yourself fairly defeated."
"Defeated as I am, I would rather be in my place than in yours, sir," retorted Nowell, sourly.
"You have had a wholesome lesson read you, Master Nowell," said Mistress Nutter; "but I do not come hither to taunt you. I am quite satisfied with the victory I have obtained, and am anxious to put an end to the misunderstanding between us."
"I have no misunderstanding with you, madam," replied Nowell; "I do not quarrel with persons like you. But be assured, though you may escape now, a day of reckoning will come."
"Your chief cause of grievance against me, I am aware," replied Mistress Nutter, calmly, "is, that I have beaten you in the matter of the land. Now, I have a proposal to make to you respecting it."
"I cannot listen to it," rejoined Nowell, sternly; "I can have no dealings with a witch."
At this moment his cloak was plucked behind by Potts, who looked at him as much as to say, "Do not exasperate her. Hear what she has got to offer."
"I shall be happy to act as mediator between you, if possible," observed Nicholas; "but in that case I must request you, Master Nowell, to abstain from any offensive language."
"What is it you have to propose to me, then, madam!" demanded the magistrate, gruffly.
"Come with me into the house, and you shall hear," replied Mistress Nutter.
Nowell was about to refuse peremptorily, when his cloak was again plucked by Potts, who whispered him to go.
"This is not a snare laid to entrap me, madam?" he said, regarding the lady suspiciously.
"I will answer for her good faith," interposed Nicholas.
Nowell still hesitated, but the counsel of his legal adviser was enforced by a heavy shower of rain, which just then began to descend upon them.
"You can take shelter beneath my roof," said Mistress Nutter; "and before the shower is over we can settle the matter."
"And my wounds can be dressed at the same time," said Potts, with a groan, "for they pain me sorely."
"Blackadder has a sovereign balsam, which, with a patch or two of diachylon, will make all right," replied Nicholas, unable to repress a laugh. "Here, lift him up between you," he added to the grooms, "and convey him into the house."
The orders were obeyed, and Mistress Nutter led the way through the now wide-opened gates; her slow and majestic march by no means accelerated by the drenching shower. What Roger Nowell's sensations were at following her in such a way, after his previous threats and boastings, may be easily conceived.
CHAPTER X.—ROGER NOWELL AND HIS DOUBLE.
The magistrate was ushered by the lady into a small chamber, opening out of the entrance-hall, which, in consequence of having only one small narrow window, with a clipped yew-tree before it, was extremely dark and gloomy. The walls were covered with sombre tapestry, and on entering, Mistress Nutter not only carefully closed the door, but drew the arras before it, so as to prevent the possibility of their conversation being heard outside. These precautions taken, she motioned the magistrate to a chair, and seated herself opposite him.
"We can now deal unreservedly with each other, Master Nowell," she said, fixing her eyes steadily upon him; "and, as our discourse cannot be overheard and repeated, may use perfect freedom of speech."
"I am glad of it," replied Nowell, "because it will save circumlocution, which I dislike; and therefore, before proceeding further, I must tell you, directly and distinctly, that if there be aught of witchcraft in what you are about to propose to me, I will have nought to do with it, and our conference may as well never begin."
"Then you really believe me to be a witch?" said the lady.
"I do," replied Nowell, unflinchingly.
"Since you believe this, you must also believe that I have absolute power over you," rejoined Mistress Nutter, "and might strike you with sickness, cripple you, or kill you if I thought fit."
"I know not that," returned Nowell. "There are limits even to the power of evil beings; and your charms and enchantments, however strong and baneful, may be wholly inoperative against a magistrate in the discharge of his duty. If it were not so, you would scarcely think it worth while to treat with me."
"Humph!" exclaimed the lady. "Now, tell me frankly, what you will do when you depart hence?"
"Ride off with the utmost speed to Whalley," replied Nowell, "and, acquainting Sir Ralph with all that has occurred, claim his assistance; and then, with all the force we can jointly muster, return hither, and finish the work I have left undone."
"You will forego this intention," said Mistress Nutter, with a bitter smile.
The magistrate shook his head.
"I am not easily turned from my purpose," he remarked.
"But you have not yet quitted Rough Lee," said the lady, "and after such an announcement I shall scarce think of parting with you."
"You dare not detain me," replied Nowell. "I have Nicholas Assheton's word for my security, and I know he will not break it. Besides, you will gain nothing by my detention. My absence will soon be discovered, and if living I shall be set free; if dead, avenged."
"That may, or may not be," replied Mistress Nutter; "and in any case I can, if I choose, wreak my vengeance upon you. I am glad to have ascertained your intentions, for I now know how to treat with you. You shall not go hence, except on certain conditions. You have said you will proclaim me a witch, and will come back with sufficient force to accomplish my arrest. Instead of doing this, I advise you to return to Sir Ralph Assheton, and admit to him that you find yourself in error in respect to the boundaries of the land—"
"Never," interrupted Nowell.
"I advise you to do this," pursued the lady, calmly, "and I advise you, also, on quitting this room, to retract all you have uttered to my prejudice, in the presence of Nicholas Assheton and other credible witnesses; in which case I will not only lay aside all feelings of animosity towards you, but will make over to you the whole of the land under dispute, and that without purchase money on your part."
Roger Nowell was of an avaricious nature, and caught at the bait.
"How, madam!" he cried, "the whole of the land mine without payment?"
"The whole," she replied.
"If she should be arraigned and convicted it will be forfeited to the crown," thought Nowell; "the offer is tempting."
"Your attorney is here, and can prepare the conveyance at once," pursued Mistress Nutter; "a sum can be stated to lend a colour to the proceeding, and I will give you a private memorandum that I will not claim it. All I require is, that you clear me completely from the dark aspersions cast upon my character, and you abandon your projects against my adopted daughter, Alizon, as well as against those two poor old women, Mothers Demdike and Chattox."
"How can I be sure that I shall not be deluded in the matter?" asked Nowell; "the writing may disappear from the parchment you give me, or the parchment itself may turn to ashes. Such things have occurred in transactions with witches. Or it be that, by consenting to the compact, I may imperil my own soul."
"Tush!" exclaimed Mistress Nutter; "these are idle fears. But it is no idle threat on my part, when I tell you you shall not go forth unless you consent."
"You cannot hinder me, woman," cried Nowell, rising.
"You shall see," rejoined the lady, making two or three rapid passes before him, which instantly stiffened his limbs, and deprived him of the power of motion. "Now, stir if you can," she added with a laugh.
Nowell essayed to cry out, but his tongue refused its office. Hearing and sight, however, were left him, and he saw Mistress Nutter take a large volume, bound in black, from the shelf, and open it at a page covered with cabalistic characters, after which she pronounced some words that sounded like an invocation.
As she concluded, the tapestry against the wall was raised, and from behind it appeared a figure in all respects resembling the magistrate: it had the same sharp features, the same keen eyes and bushy eyebrows, the same stoop in the shoulders, the same habiliments. It was, in short, his double.
Mistress Nutter regarded him with a look of triumph.
"Since you refuse, with my injunctions," she said, "your double will prove more tractable. He will go forth and do all I would have you do, while I have but to stamp upon the floor and a dungeon will yawn beneath your feet, where you will lie immured till doomsday. The same fate will attend your crafty associate, Master Potts—so that neither of you will be missed—ha! ha!"
The unfortunate magistrate fully comprehended his danger, but he could now neither offer remonstrance nor entreaty. What was passing in his breast seemed known to Mistress Nutter; for she motioned the double to stay, and, touching the brow of Nowell with the point of her forefinger, instantly restored his power of speech.
"I will give you a last chance," she said. "Will you obey me now?"
"I must, perforce," replied Nowell: "the contest is too unequal."
"You may retire, then," she cried to the double. And stepping backwards, the figure lifted up the tapestry, and disappeared behind it.
"I can breathe, now that infernal being is gone," cried Nowell, sinking into the chair. "Oh! madam, you have indeed terrible power."
"You will do well not to brave it again," she rejoined. "Shall I summon Master Potts to prepare the conveyance?"
"Oh! no—no!" cried Nowell. "I do not desire the land. I will not have it. I shall pay too dearly for it. Only let me get out of this horrible place?"
"Not so quickly, sir," rejoined Mistress Nutter. "Before you go hence, I must bind you to the performance of my injunctions. Pronounce these words after me,—'May I become subject to the Fiend if I fail in my promise.'"
"I will never utter them!" cried Nowell, shuddering.
"Then I shall recall your double," said the lady.
"Hold, hold!" exclaimed Nowell. "Let me know what you require of me."
"I require absolute silence on your part, as to all you have seen and heard here, and cessation of hostility towards me and the persons I have already named," replied Mistress Nutter; "and I require a declaration from you, in the presence of the two Asshetons, that you are fully satisfied of the justice of my claims in respect to the land; and that, mortified by your defeat, you have brought a false charge against me, which you now sincerely regret. This I require from you; and you must ratify the promise by the abjuration I have proposed. 'May I become subject to the Fiend if I fail in my promise.'"
The magistrate repeated the words after her. As he finished, mocking laughter, apparently resounding from below, smote his ears.
"Enough!" cried Mistress Nutter, triumphantly; "and now take good heed that you swerve not in the slightest degree from your word, or you are for ever lost."
Again the mocking laughter was heard, and Nowell would have rushed forth, if Mistress Nutter had not withheld him.
"Stay!" she cried, "I have not done with you yet! My witnesses must hear your declaration. Remember!"
And placing her finger upon her lips, in token of silence, she stepped backwards, drew aside the tapestry, and, opening the door, called to the two Asshetons, both of whom instantly came to her, and were not a little surprised to learn that all differences had been adjusted, and that Roger Nowell acknowledged himself entirely in error, retracting all the charges he had brought against her; while, on her part, she was fully satisfied with his explanations and apologies, and promised not to entertain any feelings of resentment towards him.
"You have made up the matter, indeed," cried Nicholas, "and, as Master Roger Nowell is a widower, perhaps a match may come of it. Such an arrangement"—
"This is no occasion for jesting, Nicholas," interrupted the lady, sharply.
"Nay, I but threw out a hint," rejoined the squire. "It would set the question of the land for ever at rest."
"It is set at rest—for ever!" replied the lady, with a side look at the magistrate.
"'May I become subject to the Fiend if I fail in my promise,'" repeated Nowell to himself. "Those words bind me like a chain of iron. I must get out of this accursed house as fast as I can."
As if his thoughts had been divined by Mistress Nutter, she here observed to him, "To make our reconciliation complete, Master Nowell, I must entreat you to pass the day with me. I will give you the best entertainment my house affords—nay, I will take no denial; and you too, Nicholas, and you, Richard, you will stay and keep the worthy magistrate company."
The two Asshetons willingly assented, but Roger Nowell would fain have been excused. A look, however, from his hostess enforced compliance.
"The proposal will be highly agreeable, I am sure, to Master Potts," remarked Nicholas, with a laugh; "for though much better, in consequence of the balsam applied by Blackadder, he is scarcely in condition for the saddle."
"I will warrant him well to-morrow morning," said Mistress Nutter.
"Where is he?" inquired Nowell.
"In the library with Parson Holden," replied Nicholas; "making himself as comfortable as circumstances will permit, with a flask of Rhenish before him."
"I will go to him, then," said Nowell.
"Take care what you say to him," observed Mistress Nutter, in a low tone, and raising her finger to her lips.
Heaving a deep sigh, the magistrate then repaired to the library, a small room panelled with black oak, and furnished with a few cases of ancient tomes. The attorney and the divine were seated at a table, with a big square-built bottle and long-stemmed glasses before them, and Master Potts, with a wry grimace, excused himself from rising on his respected and singular good client's approach.
"Do not disturb yourself," said Nowell, gruffly; "we shall not leave Rough Lee to-day."
"I am glad to hear it," replied Potts, moving the cushions on his chair and eyeing the square-built bottle affectionately.
"Nor to-morrow, it may be—nor the day after—nor at all, possibly," said Nowell.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Potts, starting, and wincing with pain. "What is the meaning of all this, worthy sir?"
"'May I become the subject of the Fiend if I fail in my promise,'" rejoined Nowell, with a groan.
"What promise, worshipful sir?" cried Potts, staring with surprise.
The magistrate got out the words, "My promise to—" and then he stopped suddenly.
"To Mistress Nutter?" suggested Potts.
"Don't ask me," exclaimed Nowell, fiercely. "Don't draw any erroneous conclusions, man. I mean nothing—I say nothing!"
"He is certainly bewitched," observed Parson Holden in an under-tone to the attorney.
"It was by your advice I entered this house," thundered Nowell, "and may all the ill arising from it alight upon your head!"
"My respected client!" implored Potts.
"I am no longer your client!" shrieked the infuriated magistrate. "I dismiss you. I will have nought to do with you more. I wish I had never seen your ugly little face!"
"You were quite right, reverend sir," observed Potts aside to the divine; "he is certainly bewitched, or he never would behave in this way to his best friend. My excellent sir," he added to Nowell, "I beseech you to calm yourself, and listen to me. My motive for wishing you to comply with Mistress Nutter's request was this: We were in a dilemma from which there was no escape, my wounded condition preventing me from flight, and all your followers being dispersed. Knowing your discretion, I apprehended that, finding the tables turned against you, you would not desire to play a losing game, and I therefore counselled apparent submission as the best means of disarming your antagonist. Whatever arrangement you have made with Mistress Nutter is neither morally nor legally binding upon you."
"You think not!" cried Nowell. "'May I become subject to the Fiend if I violate my promise!'"
"What promise have you made, sir?" inquired Potts and Holden together.
"Do not question me," cried Nowell; "it is sufficient that I am tied and bound by it."
The attorney reflected a little, and then observed to Holden, "It is evident some unfair practices have been resorted to with our respected friend, to extort a promise from him which he cannot violate. It is also possible, from what he let fall at first, that an attempt may be made to detain us prisoners within this house, and, for aught I know, Master Nowell may have given his word not to go forth without Mistress Nutter's permission. Under these circumstances, I would beg of you, reverend sir, as an especial favour to us both, to ride over to Whalley, and acquaint Sir Ralph Assheton with our situation."
As this suggestion was made, Nowell's countenance brightened up. The expression was not lost upon the attorney, who perceived he was on the right tack.
"Tell the worthy baronet," continued Potts, "that his old and esteemed friend, Master Roger Nowell, is in great jeopardy—am I not right, sir?"
The magistrate nodded.
"Tell him he is forcibly detained a prisoner, and requires sufficient force to effect his immediate liberation. Tell him, also, that Master Nowell charges Mistress Nutter with robbing him of his land by witchcraft."
"No, no!" interrupted Nowell; "do not tell him that. I no longer charge her with it."
"Then, tell him that I do," cried Potts; "and that Master Nowell has strangely, very strangely, altered his mind."
"'May I become subject to the Fiend if I violate my promise!'" said the magistrate.
"Ay, tell him that," cried the attorney—"tell him the worthy gentleman is constantly repeating that sentence. It will explain all. And now, reverend sir, let me entreat you to set out without delay, or your departure may be prevented."
"I will go at once," said Holden.
As he was about to quit the apartment, Mistress Nutter appeared at the door. Confusion was painted on the countenances of all three.
"Whither go you, sir?" demanded the lady, sharply.
"On a mission which cannot be delayed, madam," replied Holden.
"You cannot quit my house at present," she rejoined, peremptorily. "These gentlemen stay to dine with me, and I cannot dispense with your company."
"My duty calls me hence," returned the divine. "With all thanks for your proffered hospitality, I must perforce decline it."
"Not when I command you to stay," she rejoined, raising her hand; "I am absolute mistress here."
"Not over the servants of heaven, madam," replied the divine, taking a Bible from his pocket, and placing it before him. "By this sacred volume I shield myself against your spells, and command you to let me pass."
And as he went forth, Mistress Nutter, unable to oppose him, shrank back.
CHAPTER XI.—MOTHER DEMDIKE.
The heavy rain, which began to fall as Roger Nowell entered Rough Lee, had now ceased, and the sun shone forth again brilliantly, making the garden look so fresh and beautiful that Richard proposed a stroll within it to Alizon. The young girl seemed doubtful at first whether to comply with the invitation; but she finally assented, and they went forth together alone, for Nicholas, fancying they could dispense with his company, only attended them as far as the door, where he remained looking after them, laughing to himself, and wondering how matters would end. "No good will come of it, I fear," mused the worthy squire, shaking his head, "and I am scarcely doing right in allowing Dick to entangle himself in this fashion. But where is the use of giving advice to a young man who is over head and ears in love? He will never listen to it, and will only resent interference. Dick must take his chance. I have already pointed out the danger to him, and if he chooses to run headlong into the pit, why, I cannot hinder him. After all, I am not much surprised. Alizon's beauty is quite irresistible, and, were all smooth and straightforward in her history, there could be no reason why—pshaw! I am as foolish as the lad himself. Sir Richard Assheton, the proudest man in the shire, would disown his son if he married against his inclinations. No, my pretty youthful pair, since nothing but misery awaits you, I advise you to make the most of your brief season of happiness. I should certainly do so were the case my own."
Meanwhile, the objects of these ruminations had reached the terrace overlooking Pendle Water, and were pacing slowly backwards and forwards along it.
"One might be very happy in this sequestered spot, Alizon," observed Richard. "To some persons it might appear dull, but to me, if blessed with you, it would be little short of Paradise."
"Alas! Richard," she replied, forcing a smile, "why conjure up visions of happiness which never can be realised? But even with you I do not think I could be happy here. There is something about the house which, when I first beheld it, filled me with unaccountable terror. Never since I was a mere infant have I been within it till to-day, and yet it was quite familiar to me—horribly familiar. I knew the hall in which we stood together, with its huge arched fireplace, and the armorial bearings upon it, and could point out the stone on which were carved my father's initials 'R.N.,' with the date '1572.' I knew the tapestry on the walls, and the painted glass in the long range windows. I knew the old oak staircase, and the gallery beyond it, and the room to which my mother led me. I knew the portraits painted on the panels, and at once recognised my father. I knew the great carved oak bedstead in this room, and the high chimney-piece, and the raised hearthstone, and shuddered as I gazed at it. You will ask me how these things could be familiar to me? I will tell you. I had seen them repeatedly in my dreams. They have haunted me for years, but I only to-day knew they had an actual existence, or were in any way connected with my own history. The sight of that house inspired me with a horror I have not been able to overcome; and I have a presentiment that some ill will befall me within it. I would never willingly dwell there."
"The warning voice within you, which should never be despised, prompts you to quit it," cried Richard; "and I also urge you in like manner."
"In vain," sighed Alizon. "This terrace is beautiful," she added, as they resumed their walk, "and I shall often come hither, if I am permitted. At sunset, this river, and the woody heights above it, must be enchanting; and I do not dislike the savage character of the surrounding scenery. It enhances, by contrast, the beauty of this solitude. I only wish the spot commanded a view of Pendle Hill."
"You are like my cousin Nicholas, who thinks no prospect complete unless that hill forms part of it," said Richard; "but since I find that you will often come hither at sunset, I shall not despair of seeing and conversing with you again, even if I am forbidden the house by Mistress Nutter. That thicket is an excellent hiding-place, and this stream is easily crossed."
"We can have no secret interviews, Richard," replied Alizon; "I shall come hither to think of you, but not to meet you. You must never return to Rough Lee again—that is, not unless some change takes place, which I dare not anticipate—but, hist! I am called. I must go back to the house."
"The voice came from the other side of the river," said Richard—"and, hark! it calls again. Who can it be?"
"It is Jennet," replied Alizon; "I see her now."
And she pointed out the little girl standing beside an alder on the opposite bank.
"Yo didna notice me efore, Alizon," cried Jennet in her sharp tone, and with her customary provoking laugh, "boh ey seed yo plain enuff, an heer'd yo too; and ey heer'd Mester Ruchot say he wad hide i' this thicket, an cross the river to meet ye at sunset. Little pigs, they say, ha' lang ears, an mine werena gi'en me fo' nowt."
"They have somewhat misinformed you in this instance," replied Alizon; "but how, in the name of wonder, did you come here?"
"Varry easily," replied Jennet, "boh ey hanna time to tell ye now. Granny Demdike has sent me hither wi' a message to ye and Mistress Nutter. Boh may be ye winna loike Mester Ruchot to hear what ey ha' getten to tell ye."
"I will leave you," said Richard, about to depart.
"Oh! no, no!" cried Alizon, "she can have nothing to say which you may not hear."
"Shan ey go back to Granny Demdike, an tell her yo're too proud to receive her message?" asked the child.
"On no account," whispered Richard. "Do not let her anger the old hag."
"Speak, Jennet," said Alizon, in a tone of kind persuasion.
"Ey shanna speak onless ye cum ower t' wetur to me," replied the little girl; "an whot ey ha to tell consarns ye mitch."
"I can easily cross," observed Alizon to Richard. "Those stones seem placed on purpose."
Upon this, descending from the terrace to the river's brink, and springing lightly upon the first stone which reared its head above the foaming tide, she bounded to another, and so in an instant was across the stream. Richard saw her ascend the opposite bank, and approach Jennet, who withdrew behind the alder; and then he fancied he perceived an old beldame, partly concealed by the intervening branches of the tree, advance and seize hold of her. Then there was a scream; and the sound had scarcely reached the young man's ears before he was down the bank and across the river, but when he reached the alder, neither Alizon, nor Jennet, nor the old beldame were to be seen.
The terrible conviction that she had been carried off by Mother Demdike then smote him, and though he continued his search for her among the adjoining bushes, it was with fearful misgivings. No answer was returned to his shouts, nor could he discover any trace of the means by which Alizon had been spirited away.
After some time spent in ineffectual search, uncertain what course to pursue, and with a heart full of despair, Richard crossed the river, and proceeded towards the house, in front of which he found Mistress Nutter and Nicholas, both of whom seemed surprised when they perceived he was unaccompanied by Alizon. The lady immediately, and somewhat sharply, questioned him as to what had become of her adopted daughter, and appeared at first to doubt his answer; but at length, unable to question his sincerity, she became violently agitated.
"The poor girl has been conveyed away by Mother Demdike," she cried, "though for what purpose I am at a loss to conceive. The old hag could not cross the running water, and therefore resorted to that stratagem."
"Alizon must not be left in her hands, madam," said Richard.
"She must not," replied the lady. "If Blackadder, whom I have sent after Parson Holden, were here, I would despatch him instantly to Malkin Tower."
"I will go instead," said Richard.
"You had better accept his offer," interposed Nicholas; "he will serve you as well as Blackadder."
"Go I shall, madam," cried Richard; "if not on your account, on my own."
"Come, then, with me," said the lady, entering the house, "and I will furnish you with that which shall be your safeguard in the enterprise."
With this, she proceeded to the closet where her interview with Roger Nowell had been held; and, unlocking an ebony cabinet, took from a drawer within it a small flat piece of gold, graven with mystic characters, and having a slender chain of the same metal attached to it. Throwing the chain over Richard's neck, she said, "Place this talisman, which is of sovereign virtue, near your heart, and no witchcraft shall have power over you. But be careful that you are not by any artifice deprived of it, for the old hag will soon discover that you possess some charm to protect you against her spells. You are impatient to be gone, but I have not yet done," she continued, taking down a small silver bugle from a hook, and giving it him. "On reaching Malkin Tower, wind this horn thrice, and the old witch will appear at the upper window. Demand admittance in my name, and she will not dare to refuse you; or, if she does, tell her you know the secret entrance to her stronghold, and will have recourse to it. And in case this should be needful, I will now disclose it to you, but you must not use it till other means fail. When opposite the door, which you will find is high up in the building, take ten paces to the left, and if you examine the masonry at the foot of the tower, you will perceive one stone somewhat darker than the rest. At the bottom of this stone, and concealed by a patch of heath, you will discover a knob of iron. Touch it, and it will give you an opening to a vaulted chamber, whence you can mount to the upper room. Even then you may experience some difficulty, but with resolution you will surmount all obstacles."
"I have no fear of success, madam," replied Richard, confidently.
And quitting her, he proceeded to the stables, and calling for his horse, vaulted into the saddle, and galloped off towards the bridge.
Fast as Richard rode up the steep hill-side, still faster did the black clouds gather over his head. No natural cause could have produced so instantaneous a change in the aspect of the sky, and the young man viewed it with uneasiness, and wished to get out of the thicket in which he was now involved, before the threatened thunder-storm commenced. But the hill was steep and the road bad, being full of loose stones, and crossed in many places by bare roots of trees. Though ordinarily surefooted, Merlin stumbled frequently, and Richard was obliged to slacken his pace. It grew darker and darker, and the storm seemed ready to burst upon him. The smaller birds ceased singing, and screened themselves under the thickest foliage; the pie chattered incessantly; the jay screamed; the bittern flew past, booming heavily in the air; the raven croaked; the heron arose from the river, and speeded off with his long neck stretched out; and the falcon, who had been hovering over him, sweeped sidelong down and sought shelter beneath an impending rock; the rabbit scudded off to his burrow in the brake; and the hare, erecting himself for a moment, as if to listen to the note of danger, crept timorously off into the long dry grass.
It grew so dark at last that the road was difficult to discern, and the dense rows of trees on either side assumed a fantastic appearance in the deep gloom. Richard was now more than half-way up the hill, and the thicket had become more tangled and intricate, and the road narrower and more rugged. All at once Merlin stopped, quivering in every limb, as if in extremity of terror.
Before the rider, and right in his path, glared a pair of red fiery orbs, with something dusky and obscure linked to them; but whether of man or beast he could not distinguish.
Richard called to it. No answer. He struck spurs into the reeking flanks of his horse. The animal refused to stir. Just then there was a moaning sound in the wood, as of some one in pain. He turned in the direction, shouted, but received no answer. When he looked back the red eyes were gone.
Then Merlin moved forward of his own accord, but ere he had gone far, the eyes were visible again, glaring at the rider from the wood. This time they approached, dilating, and increasing in glowing intensity, till they scorched him like burning-glasses. Bethinking him of the talisman, Richard drew it forth. The light was instantly extinguished, and the indistinct figure accompanying it melted into darkness.
Once more Merlin resumed his toilsome way, and Richard was marvelling that the storm so long suspended its fury, when the sky was riven by a sudden blaze, and a crackling bolt shot down and struck the earth at his feet. The affrighted steed reared aloft, and was with difficulty prevented from falling backwards upon his rider. Almost before he could be brought to his feet, an awful peal of thunder burst overhead, and it required Richard's utmost efforts to prevent him from rushing madly down the hill.
The storm had now fairly commenced. Flash followed flash, and peal succeeded peal, without intermission. The rain descended hissing and spouting, and presently ran down the hill in a torrent, adding to the horseman's other difficulties and dangers. To heighten the terror of the scene, strange shapes, revealed by the lightning, were seen flitting among the trees, and strange sounds were heard, though overpowered by the dreadful rolling of the thunder.
But Richard's resolution continued unshaken, and he forced Merlin on. He had not proceeded far, however, when the animal uttered a cry of fright, and began beating the air with his fore hoofs. The lightning enabled Richard to discern the cause of this new distress. Coiled round the poor beast's legs, all whose efforts to disengage himself from the terrible assailant were ineffectual, was a large black snake, seemingly about to plunge its poisonous fangs into the flesh. Again having recourse to the talisman, and bending down, Richard stretched it towards the snake, upon which the reptile instantly darted its arrow-shaped head against him, but instead of wounding him, its forked teeth encountered the piece of gold, and, as if stricken a violent blow, it swiftly untwined itself, and fled, hissing, into the thicket.
Richard was now obliged to dismount and lead his horse. In this way he toiled slowly up the hill. The storm continued with unabated fury: the red lightning played around him, the brattling thunder stunned him, and the pelting rain poured down upon his head. But he was no more molested. Save for the vivid flashes, it had become dark as night, but they served to guide him on his way.
At length he got out of the thicket, and trod upon the turf, but it was rendered so slippery by moisture, that he could scarcely keep his feet, while the lightning no longer aided him. Fearing he had taken a wrong course, he stood still, and while debating with himself a blaze of light illumined the wide heath, and showed him the object of his search, Malkin Tower, standing alone, like a beacon, at about a quarter of a mile's distance, on the further side of the hill. Was it disturbed fancy, or did he really behold on the summit of the structure a grisly shape resembling—if it resembled any thing human—a gigantic black cat, with roughened staring skin, and flaming eyeballs?
Nerved by the sight of the tower, Richard was on his steed's back in an instant, and the animal, having in some degree recovered his spirits, galloped off with him, and kept his feet in spite of the slippery state of the road. Erelong, another flash showed the young man that he was drawing rapidly near the tower, and dismounting, he tied Merlin to a tree, and hurried towards the unhallowed pile. When within twenty paces of it, mindful of Mistress Nutter's injunctions, he placed the bugle to his lips, and winded it thrice. The summons, though clear and loud, sounded strangely in the portentous silence.
Scarcely had the last notes died away, when a light shone through the dark red curtains hanging before a casement in the upper part of the tower. The next moment these were drawn aside, and a face appeared, so frightful, so charged with infernal wickedness and malice, that Richard's blood grew chill at the sight. Was it man or woman? The white beard, and the large, broad, masculine character of the countenance, seemed to denote the, former, but the garb was that of a female. The face was at once hideous and fantastic—the eyes set across—the mouth awry—the right cheek marked by a mole shining with black hair, and horrible from its contrast to the rest of the visage, and the brow branded as if by a streak of blood. A black thrum cap constituted the old witch's head-gear, and from beneath it her hoary hair escaped in long elf-locks. The lower part of her person was hidden from view, but she appeared to be as broad-shouldered as a man, and her bulky person was wrapped in a tawny-coloured robe. Throwing open the window, she looked forth, and demanded in harsh imperious tones—
"Who dares to summon Mother Demdike?"
"A messenger from Mistress Nutter," replied Richard. "I am come in her name to demand the restitution of Alizon Device, whom thou hast forcibly and wrongfully taken from her."
"Alizon Device is my grand-daughter, and, as such, belongs to me, and not to Mistress Nutter," rejoined Mother Demdike.
"Thou knowest thou speakest false, foul hag!" cried Richard. "Alizon is no blood of thine. Open the door and cast down the ladder, or I will find other means of entrance."
"Try them, then," rejoined Mother Demdike. And she closed the casement sharply, and drew the curtains over it.
After reconnoitring the building for a moment, Richard moved quickly to the left, and counting ten paces, as directed by Mistress Nutter, began to search among the thick grass growing near the base of the tower for the concealed entrance. It was too dark to distinguish any difference in the colour of the masonry, but he was sure he could not be far wrong, and presently his hand came in contact with a knob of iron. He pressed it, but it did not yield to the touch. Again more forcibly, but with like ill success. Could he be mistaken? He tried the next stone, and discovered another knob upon it, but this was as immovable as the first. He went on, and then found that each stone was alike, and that if amongst the number he had chanced upon the one worked by the secret spring, it had refused to act. On examining the structure so far as he was able to do in the gloom, he found he had described the whole circle of the tower, and was about to commence the search anew, when a creaking sound was heard above, and a light streamed suddenly down upon him. The door had been opened by the old witch, and she stood there with a lamp in her hand, its yellow flame illumining her hideous visage, and short, square, powerfully built frame. Her throat was like that of a bull; her hands of extraordinary size; and her arms, which were bare to the shoulder, brawny and muscular.
"What, still outside?" she cried in a jeering tone, and with a wild discordant laugh. "Methought thou affirmedst thou couldst find a way into my dwelling."
"I do not yet despair of finding it," replied Richard.
"Fool!" screamed the hag. "I tell thee it is in vain to attempt it without my consent. With a word, I could make these walls one solid mass, without window or outlet from base to summit. With a word, I could shower stones upon thy head, and crush thee to dust. With a word, I could make the earth swallow thee up. With a word, I could whisk thee hence to the top of Pendle Hill. Ha! ha! Dost fear me now?"
"No," replied Richard, undauntedly. "And the word thou menacest me with shall never be uttered."
"Why not?" asked Mother Demdike, derisively.
"Because thou wouldst not brave the resentment of one whose power is equal to thine own—if not greater," replied the young man.
"Greater it is not—neither equal," rejoined the old hag, haughtily; "but I do not desire a quarrel with Alice Nutter. Only let her not meddle with me."
"Once more, art thou willing to admit me?" demanded Richard.
"Ay, upon one condition," replied Mother Demdike. "Thou shalt learn it anon. Stand aside while I let down the ladder."
Richard obeyed, and a pair of narrow wooden steps dropped to the ground.
"Now mount, if thou hast the courage," cried the hag.
The young man was instantly beside her, but she stood in the doorway, and barred his further progress with her extended staff. Now that he was face to face with her, he wondered at his own temerity. There was nothing human in her countenance, and infernal light gleamed in her strangely-set eyes. Her personal strength, evidently unimpaired by age, or preserved by magical art, seemed equal to her malice; and she appeared as capable of executing any atrocity, as of conceiving it. She saw the effect produced upon him, and chuckled with malicious satisfaction.
"Saw'st thou ever face like mine?" she cried. "No, I wot not. But I would rather inspire aversion and terror than love. Love!—foh! I would rather see men shrink from me, and shudder at my approach, than smile upon me and court me. I would rather freeze the blood in their veins, than set it boiling with passion. Ho! ho!"
"Thou art a fearful being, indeed!" exclaimed Richard, appalled.
"Fearful, am I?" ejaculated the old witch, with renewed laughter. "At last thou own'st it. Why, ay, I am fearful. It is my wish to be so. I live to plague mankind—to blight and blast them—to scare them with my looks—to work them mischief. Ho! ho! And now, let us look at thee," she continued, holding the lamp over him. "Why, soh?—a comely youth! And the young maids doat upon thee, I doubt not, and praise thy blooming cheeks, thy bright eyes, thy flowing locks, and thy fine limbs. I hate thy beauty, boy, and would mar it!—would canker thy wholesome flesh, dim thy lustrous eyes, and strike thy vigorous limbs with palsy, till they should shake like mine! I am half-minded to do it," she added, raising her staff, and glaring at him with inconceivable malignity.
"Hold!" exclaimed Richard, taking the talisman from his breast, and displaying it to her. "I am armed against thy malice!"
Mother Demdike's staff fell from her grasp.
"I knew thou wert in some way protected," she cried furiously. "And so it is a piece of gold—with magic characters upon it, eh?" she added, suddenly changing her tone; "Let me look at it."
"Thou seest it plain enough," rejoined Richard. "Now, stand aside and let me pass, for thou perceivest I have power to force an entrance."
"I see it—I see it," replied Mother Demdike, with affected humility. "I see it is in vain to struggle with thee, or rather with the potent lady who sent thee. Tarry where thou art, and i will bring Alizon to thee."
"I almost mistrust thee," said Richard—"but be speedy."
"I will be scarce a moment," said the witch; "but I must warn thee that she is—"
"What—what hast thou done to her, thou wicked hag?" cried Richard, in alarm.
"She is distraught," said Mother Demdike.
"Distraught!" echoed Richard.
"But thou canst easily cure her," said the old hag, significantly.
"Ay, so I can," cried Richard with sudden joy—"the talisman! Bring her to me at once."
Mother Demdike departed, leaving him in a state of indescribable agitation. The walls of the tower were of immense thickness, and the entrance to the chamber towards which the arched doorway led was covered by a curtain of old arras, behind which the hag had disappeared. Scarcely had she entered the room when a scream was heard, and Richard heard his own name pronounced by a voice which, in spite of its agonised tones, he at once recognised. The cries were repeated, and he then heard Mother Demdike call out, "Come hither! come hither!"
Instantly rushing forward and dashing aside the tapestry, he found himself in a mysterious-looking circular chamber, with a massive oak table in the midst of it. There were many strange objects in the room, but he saw only Alizon, who was struggling with the old witch, and clinging desperately to the table. He called to her by name as he advanced, but her bewildered looks proved that she did not know him.
"Alizon—dear Alizon! I am come to free you," he exclaimed.
But in place of answering him she uttered a piercing scream.
"The talisman, the talisman?" cried the hag. "I cannot undo my own work. Place the chain round her neck, and the gold near her heart, that she may experience its full virtue."
Richard unsuspectingly complied with the suggestion of the temptress; but the moment he had parted with the piece of gold the figure of Alizon vanished, the chamber was buried in gloom, and, amidst a hubbub of wild laughter, he was dragged by the powerful arm of the witch through the arched doorway, and flung from it to the ground, the shock of the fall producing immediate insensibility.
CHAPTER XII.—THE MYSTERIES OF MALKIN TOWER.
It was a subterranean chamber; gloomy, and of vast extent; the roof low, and supported by nine ponderous stone columns, to which rings and rusty chains were attached, still retaining the mouldering bones of those they had held captive in life. Amongst others was a gigantic skeleton, quite entire, with an iron girdle round the middle. Fragments of mortality were elsewhere scattered about, showing the numbers who had perished in the place. On either side were cells closed by massive doors, secured by bolts and locks. At one end were three immense coffers made of oak, hooped with iron, and fastened by large padlocks. Near them stood a large armoury, likewise of oak, and sculptured with the ensigns of Whalley Abbey, proving it had once belonged to that establishment. Probably it had been carried off by some robber band. At the opposite end of the vault were two niches, each occupied by a rough-hewn statue—the one representing a warlike figure, with a visage of extraordinary ferocity, and the other an anchoress, in her hood and wimple, with a rosary in her hand. On the ground beneath lay a plain flag, covering the mortal remains of the wicked pair, and proclaiming them to be Isole de Heton and Blackburn, the freebooter. The pillars were ranged in three lines, so as to form, with the arches above them, a series of short passages, in the midst of which stood an altar, and near it a large caldron. In front, elevated on a block of granite, was a marvellous piece of sculpture, wrought in jet, and representing a demon seated on a throne. The visage was human, but the beard that of a goat, while the feet and lower limbs were like those of the same animal. Two curled horns grew behind the ears, and a third, shaped like a conch, sprang from the centre of the forehead, from which burst a blue flame, throwing a ghastly light on the objects surrounding it.
The only discernible approach to the vault was a steep narrow stone staircase, closed at the top by a heavy trapdoor. Other outlet apparently there was none. Some little air was admitted to this foul abode through flues contrived in the walls, the entrances to which were grated, but the light of day never came there. The flame, however, issuing from the brow of the demon image, like the lamps in the sepulchres of the disciples of the Rosy Cross, was ever-burning. Behind the sable statue was a deep well, with water as black as ink, wherein swarmed snakes, and toads, and other noxious reptiles; and as the lurid light fell upon its surface it glittered like a dusky mirror, unless when broken by the horrible things that lurked beneath, or crawled about upon its slimy brim. But snakes and toads were not the only tenants of the vault. At the head of the steps squatted a monstrous and misshapen animal, bearing some resemblance to a cat, but as big as a tiger. Its skin was black and shaggy; its eyes glowed like those of the hyaena; and its cry was like that of the same treacherous beast. Among the gloomy colonnades other swart and bestial shapes could be indistinctly seen moving to and fro.
In this abode of horror were two human beings—one, a young maiden of exquisite beauty; and the other, almost a child, and strangely deformed. The elder, overpowered by terror, was clinging to a pillar for support, while the younger, who might naturally be expected to exhibit the greatest alarm, appeared wholly unconcerned, and derided her companion's fears.
"Oh, Jennet!" exclaimed the elder of the two, "is there no means of escape?"
"None whatever," replied the other. "Yo mun stay here till Granny Demdike cums fo ye."
"Oh! that the earth would open and snatch me from these horrors," cried Alizon. "My reason is forsaking me. Would I could kneel and pray for deliverance! But something prevents me."
"Reet!" replied Jennet. "It's os mitch os yer loife's worth to kneel an pray here, onless yo choose to ge an throw yersel at th' feet o' yon black image."
"Kneel to that idol—never!" exclaimed Alizon. And while striving to call upon heaven for aid, a sharp convulsion seized her, and deprived her of the power of utterance.
"Ey towd yo how it wad be," remarked Jennet, who watched her narrowly. "Yo 're neaw i' a church here, an if yo want to warship, it mun be at yon altar. Dunna yo hear how angry the cats are—how they growl an spit? An see how their een gliss'n! They'll tare yo i' pieces, loike so many tigers, if yo offend em."
"Tell me why I am brought here, Jennet?" inquired Alizon, after a brief pause.
"Granny Demdike will tell yo that," replied the little girl; "boh to my belief," she added, with a mocking laugh, "hoo means to may a witch o' ye, loike aw the rest on us."
"She cannot do that without my consent," cried Alizon, "and I would die a thousand deaths rather than yield it."
"That remains to be seen," replied Jennet, tauntingly. "Yo 're obstinate enuff, nah doubt. Boh Granny Demdike is used to deal wi' sich folk."
"Oh! why was I born?" cried Alizon, bitterly.
"Yo may weel ask that," responded Jennet, with a loud unfeeling laugh; "fo ey see neaw great use yo're on, wi' yer protty feace an bright een, onless it be to may one hate ye."
"Is it possible you can say this to me, Jennet?" cried Alizon. "What have I done to incur your hatred? I have ever loved you, and striven to please and serve you. I have always taken your part against others, even when you were in the wrong. Oh! Jennet, you cannot hate me."
"Boh ey do," replied the little girl, spitefully. "Ey hate yo now warser than onny wan else. Ey hate yo because yo are neaw lunger my sister—becose yo 're a grand ledy's dowter, an a grand ledy yersel. Ey hate yo becose yung Ruchot Assheton loves yo—an becose yo ha better luck i' aw things than ey have, or con expect to have. That's why I hate yo, Alizon. When yo are a witch ey shan love yo, for then we shan be equals once more."
"That will never be, Jennet," said Alizon, sadly, but firmly. "Your grandmother may immure me in this dungeon, and scare away my senses; but she will never rob me of my hopes of salvation."
As the words were uttered, a clang like that produced by a stricken gong shook the vault; the beasts roared fiercely; the black waters of the fountain bubbled up, and were lashed into foam by the angry reptiles; and a larger jet of flame than before burst from the brow of the demon statue.
"Ey ha' warned ye, Alizon," said Jennet, alarmed by these demonstrations; "boh since ye pay no heed to owt ey say, ey'st leave yo to yer fate."
"Oh! stay with me, stay with me, Jennet!" shrieked Alizon, "By our past sisterly affection I implore you to remain! You are some protection to me from these dreadful beings."
"Ey dunna want to protect yo onless yo do os yo're bidd'n," replied Jennet! "Whoy should yo be better than me?"
"Ah! why, indeed?" cried Alizon. "Would I had the power to turn your heart—to open your eyes to evil—to save you, Jennet."
These words were followed by another clang, louder and more brattling than the first. The solid walls of the dungeon were shaken, and the heavy columns rocked; while, to Alizon's affrighted gaze, it seemed as if the sable statue arose upon its ebon throne, and stretched out its arm menacingly towards her. The poor girl was saved from further terror by insensibility.
How long she remained in this condition she could not tell, nor did it appear that any efforts were made to restore her; but when she recovered, she found herself stretched upon a rude pallet within an arched recess, the entrance to which was screened by a piece of tapestry. On lifting it aside she perceived she was no longer in the vault, but in an upper chamber, as she judged, and not incorrectly, of the tower. The room was lofty and circular, and the walls of enormous thickness, as shown by the deep embrasures of the windows; in one of which, the outlet having been built up, the pallet was placed. A massive oak table, two or three chairs of antique shape, and a wooden stool, constituted the furniture of the room. The stool was set near the fireplace, and beside it stood a strangely-fashioned spinning-wheel, which had apparently been recently used; but neither the old hag nor her grand-daughter were visible. Alizon could not tell whether it was night or day; but a lamp was burning upon the table, its feeble light only imperfectly illumining the chamber, and scarcely revealing several strange objects dangling from the huge beams that supported the roof. Faded arras were hung against the walls, representing in one compartment the last banquet of Isole de Heton and her lover, Blackburn; in another, the Saxon Ughtred hanging from the summit of Malkin Tower; and in a third, the execution of Abbot Paslew. The subjects were as large as life, admirably depicted, and evidently worked at wondrous looms. As they swayed to and fro in the gusts, that found entrance into the chamber through some unprotected loopholes, the figures had a grim and ghostly air.
Weak, trembling, bewildered, Alizon stepped forth, and staggering towards the table sank upon a chair beside it. A fearful storm was raging without—thunder, lightning, deluging rain. Stunned and blinded, she covered her eyes, and remained thus till the fury of the tempest had in some degree abated. She was roused at length by a creaking sound not far from her, and found it proceeded from a trapdoor rising slowly on its hinges.
A thrum cap first appeared above the level of the floor; then a broad, bloated face, the mouth and chin fringed with a white beard like the whiskers of a cat; then a thick, bull throat; then a pair of brawny shoulders; then a square, thick-set frame; and Mother Demdike stood before her. A malignant smile played upon her hideous countenance, and gleamed from her eyes—those eyes so strangely placed by nature, as if to intimate her doom, and that of her fated race, to whom the horrible blemish was transmitted. As the old witch leaped heavily upon the ground, the trapdoor closed behind her.
"Soh, you are better, Alizon, and have quitted your couch, I find," she cried, striking her staff upon the floor. "But you look faint and feeble still. I will give you something to revive you. I have a wondrous cordial in yon closet—a rare restorative—ha! ha! It will make you well the moment it has passed your lips. I will fetch it at once."
"I will have none of it," replied Alizon; "I would rather die."
"Rather die!" echoed Mother Demdike, sarcastically, "because, forsooth, you are crossed in love. But you shall have the man of your heart yet, if you will only follow my counsel, and do as I bid you. Richard Assheton shall be yours, and with your mother's consent, provided—"
"I understand the condition you annex to the promise," interrupted Alizon, "and the terms upon which you would fulfil it: but you seek in vain to tempt me, old woman. I now comprehend why I am brought hither."
"Ay, indeed!" exclaimed the old witch. "And why is it, then, since you are so quick-witted?"
"You desire to make an offering to the evil being you serve," cried Alizon, with sudden energy. "You have entered into some dark compact, which compels you to deliver up a victim in each year to the Fiend, or your own soul becomes forfeit. Thus you have hitherto lengthened out your wretched life, and you hope to extend the term yet farther through me. I have heard this tale before, but I would not believe it. Now I do. This is why you have stolen me from my mother—have braved her anger—and brought me to this impious tower."
The old hag laughed hoarsely.
"The tale thou hast heard respecting me is true," she said. "I have a compact which requires me to make a proselyte to the power I serve within each year, and if I fail in doing so, I must pay the penalty thou hast mentioned. A like compact exists between Mistress Nutter and the Fiend."
She paused for a moment, to watch the effect of her words on Alizon, and then resumed.
"Thy mother would have sacrificed thee if thou hadst been left with her; but I have carried thee off, because I conceive I am best entitled to thee. Thou wert brought up as my grand-daughter, and therefore I claim thee as my own."
"And you think to deal with me as if I were a puppet in your hands?" cried Alizon.
"Ay, marry, do I," rejoined Mother Demdike, with a scream of laughter, "Thou art nothing more than a puppet—a puppet—ho! ho."
"And you deem you can dispose of my soul without my consent?" said Alizon.
"Thy full consent will be obtained," rejoined the old hag.
"Think it not! think it not!" exclaimed Alizon. "Oh! I shall yet be delivered from this infernal bondage."
At this moment the notes of a bugle were heard.
"Saved! saved!" cried the poor girl, starting. "It is Richard come to my rescue!"
"How know'st thou that?" cried Mother Demdike, with a spiteful look.
"By an instinct that never deceives," replied Alizon, as the blast was again heard.
"This must be stopped," said the hag, waving her staff over the maiden, and transfixing her where she sat; after which she took up the lamp, and strode towards the window.
The few words that passed between her and Richard have been already recounted. Having closed the casement and drawn the curtain before it, Mother Demdike traced a circle on the floor, muttered a spell, and then, waving her staff over Alizon, restored her power of speech and motion.
"'Twas he!" exclaimed the young girl, as soon as she could find utterance. "I heard his voice."
"Why, ay, 'twas he, sure enough," rejoined the beldame. "He has come on a fool's errand, but he shall never return from it. Does Mistress Nutter think I will give up my prize the moment I have obtained it, for the mere asking? Does she imagine she can frighten me as she frightens others? Does she know whom she has to deal with? If not, I will tell her. I am the oldest, the boldest, and the strongest of the witches. No mystery of the black art but is known to me. I can do what mischief I will, and my desolating hand has been felt throughout this district. You may trace it like a pestilence. No one has offended me but I have terribly repaid him. I rule over the land like a queen. I exact tributes, and, if they are not rendered, I smite with a sharper edge than the sword. My worship is paid to the Prince of Darkness. This tower is his temple, and yon subterranean chamber the place where the mystical rites, which thou wouldst call impious and damnable, are performed. Countless sabbaths have I attended within it; or upon Rumbles Moor, or on the summit of Pendle Hill, or within the ruins of Whalley Abbey. Many proselytes have I made; many unbaptised babes offered up in sacrifice. I am high-priestess to the Demon, and thy mother would usurp mine office."
"Oh! spare me this horrible recital!" exclaimed Alizon, vainly trying to shut out the hag's piercing voice.
"I will spare thee nothing," pursued Mother Demdike. "Thy mother, I say, would be high-priestess in my stead. There are degrees among witches, as among other sects, and mine is the first. Mistress Nutter would deprive me of mine office; but not till her hair is as white as mine, her knowledge equal to mine, and her hatred of mankind as intense as mine—not till then shall she have it."
"No more of this, in pity!" cried Alizon.
"Often have I aided thy mother in her dark schemes," pursued the implacable hag; "nay, no later than last night I obliterated the old boundaries of her land, and erected new marks to serve her. It was a strong exercise of power; but the command came to me, and I obeyed it. No other witch could have achieved so much, not even the accursed Chattox, and she is next to myself. And how does thy mother purpose to requite me? By thrusting me aside, and stepping into my throne."
"You must be in error," cried Alizon, scarcely knowing what to say.
"My information never fails me," replied the hag, with a disdainful laugh. "Her plans are made known to me as soon as formed. I have those about her who keep strict watch upon her actions, and report them faithfully. I know why she brought thee so suddenly to Rough Lee, though thou know'st it not."
"She brought me there for safety," remarked the young girl, hoping to allay the beldame's fury, "and because she herself desired to know how the survey of the boundaries would end."
"She brought thee there to sacrifice thee to the Fiend!" cried the hag, infernal rage and malice blazing in her eyes. "She failed in propitiating him at the meeting in the ruined church of Whalley last night, when thou thyself wert present, and deliveredst Dorothy Assheton from the snare in which she was taken. And since then all has gone wrong with her. Having demanded from her familiar the cause why all things ran counter, she was told she had failed in the fulfilment of her promise—that a proselyte was required—and that thou alone wouldst be accepted."
"I!" exclaimed Alizon, horror-stricken.
"Ay, thou!" cried the hag. "No choice was allowed her, and the offering must be made to-night. After a long and painful struggle, thy mother consented."
"Oh! no—impossible! you deceive me," cried the wretched girl.
"I tell thee she consented," rejoined Mother Demdike, coldly; "and on this she made instant arrangements to return home, and in spite—as thou know'st—of Sir Ralph and Lady Assheton's efforts to detain her, set forth with thee."
"All this I know," observed Alizon, sadly—"and intelligence of our departure from the Abbey was conveyed to you, I conclude, by Jennet, to whom I bade adieu."
"Thou art right—it was," returned the hag; "but I have yet more to tell thee, for I will lay the secrets of thy mother's dark breast fully before thee. Her time is wellnigh run. Thou wert made the price of its extension. If she fails in offering thee up to-night, and thou art here in my keeping, the Fiend, her master, will abandon her, and she will be delivered up to the justice of man."
Alizon covered her face with horror.
After awhile she looked up, and exclaimed, with unutterable anguish—
"And I cannot help her!"
The unpitying hag laughed derisively.
"She cannot be utterly lost," continued the young girl. "Were I near her, I would show her that heaven is merciful to the greatest sinner who repents; and teach her how to regain the lost path to salvation."
"Peace!" thundered the witch, shaking her huge hand at her, and stamping her heavy foot upon the ground. "Such words must not be uttered here. They are an offence to me. Thy mother has renounced all hopes of heaven. She has been baptised in the baptism of hell, and branded on the brow by the red finger of its ruler, and cannot be wrested from him. It is too late."