Leaving Sir John to confer with those doughty disputants, let us follow the king to supper. Space forbids that we describe the wonders of this feast, and the dainties that were provided—how the swans were roasted, and the herons eaten cold—how pies were baked of the red deer, and the wild boar, not a whit too small for the reception of any moderate-sized Christian subject of his Majesty's. There were turkeys, quails, poults, and plovers; but of pheasants only two, and one for the king. The greatest triumph, however, was reserved for the confections; an artificial hen was here served of puff-paste; her wings displayed, sitting upon eggs of the same materials. In each of these was enclosed a fat lark roasted, and seasoned with pepper and ambergris.
They sat down, but the master of the ceremonies was still absent; whereupon the king, much distempered thereby, called out to Sir George Goring—
"Our mummer and our dancer being departed—whilk thing, aforetime, we did maist righteously inhibit—thinkest thou, he may not henceforth eschew our service?"
"My liege, your Grace's commands were to seek him a full hour agone, but the scared deer hath taken to covert. He was, peradventure, afraid of the hunting, and liketh his own neck better than the sport. He careth not, methinks, to show his face that turns big back on his comrade's peril."
"May be," said Buckingham, "your Majesty's favour is not so winsome as a lady's cheek. I would wager my cap, Jack Finett hath found a smoother tongue, but a harder service, than your Majesty's."
"O' my saul,—if I thought so," said the monarch, as he threw down a spoonful of buttered pease, "I would send him to the Tower, and he should write a book on Hercules his distaff."
"Or Omphale's spindle," said a voice at the lower end of the hall, which, issuing from a mask, closely fitted, sounded wondrously hollow and portentous. A profound silence ensued—all eyes being turned towards the speaker, who was no less a personage than the first household god, attired in his proper suit. He approached the king's table, waving his hand in token of attention—
"The knight ye speak of, mark me well, I've just drawn from the castle-well!"
"Mercy on us," cried Sir Richard Hoghton. "The draw-well is more than eighty yards deep. Thou art a lying deity, and shalt be banished from this bright Olympus."
But the deity, nothing abashed, thus continued—
"How came he thus, I dare not tell; My brother may the mystery dispel."
He stooped down—rising again to the astonished eyes of the fair dames and nobles at the upper bench, in the forester's habit of Kendal green, with cloak and doublet of the same colour.
"What's now?" said James. "Witchery and fause negromancie, o' my troth. 'Tis treason, Sir Richard, to use glamour in the king's presence."
But the sylvan god continued in the doggerel of his predecessor—
"Sir John to be forgiven would hope; He had been drowned, but for the rope!"
"Ay," said the king, chuckling at this opportunity, purposely given, for a display of his wit—"he'll be hanged—na doot, na doot."
"Prythee, Sylvanus, or whatever thou be, bring Sir John hither, that he may dry his web in the hot sunshine of a lady's glance," said Villiers, with an ill-suppressed sneer.
Again this Proteus was transformed. Doffing his habit, Sir John Finett stood confessed before them. He knelt penitently before the king, humbly assuring his Majesty that he had been preparing this device, and many others, to please and surprise him; but that, through the bungling of some, and the bashfulness of others, he was obliged to enact the parts himself. This excuse the king was graciously pleased to accept, commending him for his great diligence and zeal.
The night now wore on with much outward show of mirth and revelry; but the king went early to rest, purposing to rise betimes.
On the following day he went out again with a great company, and killed a brace of stags, which mighty achievement, by authentic record, we find was accomplished before dinner—the king alone being able to bring down the venison.
We willingly pass over this day's banquet; nor do we care to chronicle the feats of Morris the head-cook, and his deputies of the ranges and the pastries. The boiling and roasting of poults and pullets, and the construction of comfits and confections, we consign to everlasting oblivion.
When the king rose from table, about four o'clock, as we find it in the private journal of one present, he purposed to view the alum-mines, about two miles distant from the Tower; but, being eager for the sport, he went forth again a-hunting. He shot at a stag and missed. The next bolt broke the thigh-bone, and the dog being long in coming, Lord Compton despatched the poor beast, whereby his capture was effected. We forbear to dwell on this, and much more of the like interest, returning with the king to supper, where the beauteous Grace Gerard was present, and Sir John Finett, her true knight and devoted slave. Dr Morton, then Bishop of Chester, was chaplain, doling out a long Latin grace with great unction.
The music had ceased, the second course being just served, when a signal was given for the king's pledge.
"Let each one pledge the fairest," cried the royal toast-master, moved to some unwonted gallantry by approximation with the fair and lusty dames about his person. For it hath been wittily if not wickedly said by a popular writer in another place that James was in all things like unto Solomon, save in the matter of women.
Now was there a brave stir throughout the assembly. Such pledging of mistresses and challenging of cups, that nothing could be like unto it.
"To the bright eyes and peerless grace of the lady Grace Gerard," said Sir John Finett, draining his goblet to the uttermost;—and the maiden's cheek glowed like a furnace.
"Said I not that he could win a lady's grace sooner than a monarch's disfavour? Nay, your Majesty, I but meant that Sir John conveys the fairest eyes and the warmest hearts into his own keeping, like an Ochus-Bochus," said Buckingham, looking envious at the distinction he had gained.
"I see plainly that Truth is hidden in a well," said Goring, drily.
Sir John Finett, courtier and dissembler as he was, could scarcely hide the truth of this sally. But he quickly recovered his self-possession ere the king's eye could detect a change. Yet did he not escape the vigilance of his two friends, who suspected the real cause of his absence on the preceding night.
"Thou shalt be her true knight to-morrow, and she shall be queen of our sports," said the king, graciously extending his hand to the blushing maiden.
But this speech pleased not some of the courtiers, and Buckingham, having his eye on this fair flower, secretly resolved that Sir John should not enjoy its fragrance unmolested.
On the following morning, being Sunday, there came a great company of peasants and handicraftsmen—notorious idlers about the parish—with a petition, wherein it was shown that the loyal and peaceable inhabitants of Lancashire had been long hindered of their usual diversions on Sundays and other holidays by the rigour of Puritans, Precisians, and such like folk, who, being enemies to all innocent and lawful mirth, did mightily begrudge and maliciously restrain their use. These petitioners, therefore, prayed his Majesty, "that he would not forbid their exercising of all honest and lawful recreation, such as dancing of men and women, archery, running, leaping, and vaulting; nor prohibit the use of May-games, May-poles, morris-dances, and other like lawful sports, so that the same should not impediment or cause neglect of divine service."
The ground of this complaint was laid in the time of Elizabeth, who, in order to reform the manners of the people, instituted a high commission in the year 1579. The commissioners were Henry Earl of Derby, Henry Earl of Huntingdon, William Lord Bishop of Chester, and others. At their sittings, which were held in Manchester, they issued orders throughout the county against "pipers and minstrels playing, making, and frequenting bear-baiting and bull-baiting on the Sabbath days, or upon any other days in time of divine service, and also against superstitious ringing of bells, wakes, and common feasts; drunkenness, gaming, and other vicious and unprofitable pursuits." These restrictions the royal pedant thought incompatible with the public weal, and graciously answered the petitioners in such-wise that he would have these over-righteous zealots rebuked; that it was a misuse of their authority; and that he would not only grant the humble request of his subjects, but, on that very evening he would have a masque and an allegory, with dancing and other like diversions, by the lords and other nobility there present.
Such was the origin of the famous Book of Sports. His Majesty, on returning to the capital, issued a proclamation, stating—
"That in his progress through Lancashire he found it necessary to rebuke some Puritans and precise people, and took order that the said unlawful carriage should not be used by any of them hereafter, in the prohibiting and unlawfully punishing his good people, for using their lawful recreations and honest exercises upon Sundays, after divine service." "His Majesty further saw that his loyal subjects in all other parts of the kingdom did suffer in the same kind, though not, perhaps, in the same degree as in Lancashire; and he did therefore, in his princely wisdom, publish a declaration to all his loving subjects concerning lawful sports to be used on Sundays and festivals."—Published by his royal command in the year 1618, under the title of the Book of Sports. The royal visit to Lancashire proved ultimately of more importance to the civil and ecclesiastical establishments of the kingdom than could have been anticipated either by the king or his subjects. This infamous Book of Sports formed the first link in that mysterious chain of events, ending in the downfall of the Stuarts, and their exile and expulsion from the throne.
The gladsome tidings having been communicated to the petitioners, with one accord they galloped off, shouting and huzzaing, to the great annoyance of all peaceable and sober-minded persons, and the great dishonour of that holy day.
The king attended divine service at the chapel, where Dr Morton preached, commanding and exhorting to an obedience well pleasing to their Maker; inasmuch as it was rendered to the vicegerent of heaven, the high and mighty and puissant James, defender of the Faith, and so forth. After this comfortable and gracious doctrine, there was a rush-bearing and a piping before the king in the great quadrangle. Robin Hood and Maid Marian, with the fool and hobby-horse, were, doubtless, enacted to the jingling of morris-dancers and other profanities.
These fooleries put the king into such good humour that he was more witty in his speech than ordinary. Some of these sayings have been recorded, and amongst the rest that well-known quibble which has been the origin of an absurd mistake, still current through the county, respecting the sirloin. It is said to have been knighted there by his Majesty, who found, such were his knight-making propensities, that other subjects were exhausted.
The occasion, as far as we have been able to gather, was thus:—Whilst he sat at meat, casting his eyes upon a noble surloin at the lower end of the table, he cried out—
"Bring hither that surloin, sirrah, for 'tis worthy of a more honourable post, being, as I may say, not surloin but sirloin, the noblest joint of all;" which ridiculous and desperate pun raised the wisdom and reputation of England's Solomon to the highest.
Great was the stir and preparation for the evening masque; a pageant containing many allegories and devices; dancing and merry games, with all other "lawful recreations and honest amusements." Little heed was given, we fear, to their Maker's service, these vain follies running in the heads and filling the thoughts of the few who chose to attend in the chapel; the greater portion were preparing for the entertainment, into which service they entered heartily, and without grudge.
Sir George Goring and Sir John Finett were verily indefatigable on the occasion, drilling and marshalling men, women, and children; conning their lessons, and correcting the awkward and ridiculous movements and mistakes of their pupils. Hobbe and the house steward were the foremost in their parts, having important functions allotted to them; one to grunt and howl in the similitude of a huge bear, and the other to roar in lieu of a lion, before the "Bower of Beautie" for such was the title or motto of the pageant. Nor was Sir John lacking in due homage to his mistress; she was appointed to enact "The Queen of Beautie." It was after much solicitation that she consented, receiving with great gravity and attention the instructions of her accomplished preceptor.
The day was nigh spent and the sun fast sinking on the ocean, now waiting with a chariot of flame to conduct him to other skies.
Grace was just finishing her toilet, and her maid adjusting the last plait in her head-dress, when a low and guarded knock announced a visitor. The door was slightly opened, when a messenger threw in a gay billet and departed. It was superscribed thus:—"To the Fairest, These."
With a quickened pulse and a tremulous hand, she glanced over the page, elaborately penned as follows:—
"The Bower of Beautie hath a snake; beware that he come not nigh thee, for his tooth has venom, and his tail a sting.
"From the mask with the black visard and silver mantle.
She had barely finished the perusal, when there came tripping in the page of Sir John Finett, carrying a sealed billet redolent with the most costly perfume. The superscription was precisely similar, and nearly in the same hand:—"To the Fairest, These."
She hastily broke open the packet.
"Beauteous and most matchless queen! jealous of thy coming, the orb of day hasteneth to hide himself in Thetis's lap. He leaveth thee our luminary in his stead, whose twin stars shall so outmimic day that his brightness shall not be remembered. Truly am I in great heaviness and sorrow, seeing that I cannot be with you in the opening of the pageant, by reason of mine office, and my duty to the king. Yet will I not leave you without a protector. My trusty friend Weldon will enact your faithful knighte. He weareth a black visard and mantle of spotted silver, and will accompany you to the bower, from whence he delivereth the queene and her distressed damsels out of durance. When the dancing begins, expect me.
Little space was left for deliberation. The bell rang out its signal for the actors to arrange themselves; hearing which, she thrust the billets behind her stomacher, and hastened to the great court, where, on a platform supported by four wheels, was builded a sort of hut, decorated in a tawdry and fanciful style, and yeleped "The Bower of Beautie."
Into this bower the queen was to be conducted, but the uproar and confusion was indescribable; strange and antic figures hurrying to and fro, seeking their companions, and crying lustily for their places. Sir John Finett and Sir George Goring fulfilled the office of whippers-in, attempting to establish order out of these undisciplined elements. Grace drew back; but suddenly there came forth an armed knight from the bower towards her, wearing a black visor and a mantle of spotted silver, courteously beseeching her that she would accompany him to her station. A great curtain of figured arras hung in front, concealing the interior, where the queen and her maidens were supposed to be held captive. Grace stepped into this temporary confinement, in which were four other ladies masked, who graciously saluted their queen. The black-faced visor having seated himself, the arras was again let down; when several men, bedizened with ribands and nosegays, wheeled off the vehicle to its destination on the green.
The bower was garnished with roses, gilliflowers, pinks, and odoriferous herbs. Garlands of artificial flowers were interspersed; likewise imitations in satin, silk, and gold, of various trees, herbs, and fruits, not to be found in those parts. All this had been accomplished with great pains by the ladies of the queen's mimic court, Sir John Finett superintending "The Bower of Beautie," as his peculiar province. To Sir George Goring were allotted the bears, satyrs, imps, angels, gods, and other like rabble, who were taught with much labour and difficulty, in so short a space, their several parts.
Sir John Finett had received a mandate to be near the king during the acts, that he might be instructed in their several uses and designs, Buckingham having signified his wish to sport a mask on the occasion; Sir John, therefore, much to his regret, was completely debarred from approaching his mistress.
The king's coming was announced by a flourish of trumpets, and a loud bray from the delighted multitude, who sent up a shout that shook the very foundations.
Under a pavilion of crimson cloth, decked with fringes and valences of gold, walked forth the monarch. He leaned familiarly on the arm of his host, who, together with Sir John Finett, was in immediate attendance. After the king's train had passed, came a troop of morris-dancers, and the hobby-horse, who frolicked in a most ungainly fashion round the Bower of Beautie, kissing hands, and making many salutations towards their enthralled queen. Next came out a bear and a lion, accompanied by a thing intended to represent an ape, whose office it was to torment these grave animals with his tricks. But so encumbered were they in their disguise,—a heavy covering of bucks' skins and long wool,—that they had much ado to keep on their clothes, while attempting to resent the indignities they endured.
"Hang thee, Will—keep thy paws off my tail," said lion: "Dost not see I shall be uncovered before the king?"
"I'll baste thine hide," said bear, "if thou meddlest any more with mine."
The ape had settled himself on the back of this august-looking animal, from whence he was suddenly dislodged, much to the delight and entertainment of the king, who laughed heartily at his disaster. The ravenous animals were on their way to the bower, there to watch for the captives, making great demonstrations all the while of their bloodthirsty intent.
Bear and lion accordingly squatted down before it, making as though they would gladly have been at supper on the fair carcases of those within. Anon comes a mighty magician, with a long beard, and a wand of some ells in extent, purposing to effect the deliverance of the captives; but the beasts rushed upon him, and in a trice brought him to the ground. At this juncture the Silver Knight—showing thereby the superiority of true valour over false gramarye—should have issued from the bower, rescued the magician, and slain the beasts, opening a way for the escape of these imprisoned damsels, who were to come forth dancing, and representing a fair masque before the king;—but the magician remained unrescued, while bear and lion lay growling for a long space, not knowing what else to do. They looked about wistfully, not choosing to feast on their prostrate victim. At last, finding no change in the posture of affairs, they fairly stood erect, much to the marvel and amusement of the spectators, running off on their hind legs amid the shouts and derision of the assembly.
Sir John, apprehending some mistake, left the king for a moment to see how matters stood; but Goring had lifted up the arras, and, lo! the knight with the black visor and mantle of silver was not there, neither was the Queen of Beauty in her bower. The four disconsolate maidens still sat waiting for their cue, and expecting release. This was an unlooked-for disaster. The pageant was at a stand. On inquiry, the maidens told how that the gallant knight and the peerless queen had departed before the king's arrival, saying they would return anon.
Sir John was bewildered and alarmed. The Silver Knight was trusty, and no suspicion crossed him from that source; yet was their absence wholly unaccountable. The king, seeing some mistake in the unravelling or conception of the plot, good-naturedly commanded the minstrels to strike up a favourite tune; at the hearing of which a number of masks immediately mustered to begin dancing in the soft and dewy twilight. Amongst the rest came in Buckingham, negligently attired, and without his visor.
"I thought thee hidden amongst the maskers," said the king.
"Ay, my liege, a short space;—but the night is hot, and I am something distempered and weary in this turmoil."
Buckingham looked flushed and agitated, strangely differing from his usual manner. It was not unobserved by the king, who attributed the change to illness.
"Thou shalt continue about our person," said the monarch. "Jack, see to the sports:—the pageant hath suffered greatly from thine absence. I do think the Queen of Beauty hath played thee false."
Buckingham took his usual station by the king; and Sir John Finett, in great dolour, went forth in search of his mistress. He questioned the guests diligently, but could gain no further tidings, save that she had been seen by many in company with the Silver Knight. Every minute added to his uneasiness: thoughts of a wild and terrible import haunted him. In vain he tried to shake off these intruders—they came like shadows, horrible and indistinct. His naturally sensitive and sanguine temperament, as prone to the anticipation of evil as of delight, was a curse, and not a blessing. Departed hopes may fling a deeper shadow even on the brow of Despair!—and rayless was the night which visited his spirit. It was now too evident—for he was no novice in the science—that his admiration had awakened one dormant but hallowed affection, long lulled in the soft lap of pleasure. The maiden, with whom it was his sole aim to pass a few hours of pleasantry and amusement, had enthralled him by so sudden a spell, that he was more than half inclined to believe in the boasted skill and exploits of the sex, which has rendered Lancashire so famous. Her unaccountable absence impressed itself strangely upon his thoughts. He was in love!—and he writhed at the discovery; but he would have given worlds just then to have proclaimed it at his mistress's feet.
Scarcely conscious how the night wore on, he was obliged to act his part. Supper was announced; and he took his station where he could see the guests unmask as they entered to the banquet.
The tables were nearly filled, but the Silver Knight and his fair lady were still absent. Grace Gerard is doubtless in her own chamber, was the host's reply to some inquiry from Sir John:—she had craved excuse from some slight indisposition. But this did not satisfy him to whom it was addressed: he suspected her chamber would be found unoccupied;—his heart felt wasted and desolate;—it was as if the whole fair face of nature were blotted out,—the light being gone which rendered it visible.
"What ho!" said the king, "bring my Sienna knight a cup of hot sack and a merry-thought, for he seems melancholic and watchful—a wary eye, but a silent tongue. Sir John, are your wits a wool-gathering with your queen?"
"I am in my widowhood, most gracious prince,—my queen having departed."
"More fool thou, to fling thy heart after thy wits. Come, honest Jack, we'll have some minstrelsy after the feast,—a merry troll and a short one."
Sir John was well skilled in handling the lute and rebeck. He had been early trained to their use; and many a kind glance and tender word he had won thereby.
The feast was over, and those hushed halls thrilled to the following ditty:—
"They bade me sing, they bade me smile, They bade my heart be gay; They called my spirit forth, to while The laughing hours away. I've sung, I've smiled: where'er my path Mirth's dazzling meteors shine: All hearts have owned its magic power, And all are glad but mine.
"I've soothed the darkest surge of woe, And many a bosom blessed; Forbade the sufferer's tear to flow, And brought the weary rest: I've poured upon the bleeding heart The balm of Hope,—the shrine Where holier, happier thoughts shall dwell;— But who shall gladden mine?
"Forgive; 'tis but one short complaint, One pang I would reveal: The wretch upon the torturing rack Is not forbid to feel! Then laugh,—let merry hearts to-night Their brightest wreaths entwine: The flowers that bloom on every breast Will, withering, fade on mine!"
Many were the bright eyes glittering on him through their long silken lashes; but Sir John looked downward,—diligently noting something extraordinary in the disposition of his shoe-roses, or in the tie of his garter.
"One raven will set another croaking," said Sir George.
"That we may escape a concert so detestable," cried out Buckingham, "let Sir John Finett follow me, and we will reel with our fair dames, until cares whirl off like sling-stones."
"And may he that tires first fiddle the witches' jig," said the sapient king.
A burst of harsh music followed, and Sir John's feebly tinkling strings were thrown aside. Never had he wished so anxiously for one short hour of quietness; and right fain he was when the king retired to his chamber. His duties for that day were over, and he strolled out from the hot and oppressive atmosphere into a calm quiet moonlight. The cool breeze came like a healing balm upon his spirit, the soft dew fell upon his cheek,—but the fire in his veins burnt fiercely. His mistress's form, her face, the sweet influence of her smile, were fixed indelibly on his heart. Away from the bustle and cares of office,—which, like waves on the surface, for a while effaced their image,—the whole beauteous impression was revealed before him in all its loveliness and truth. His heart bounded at the thought:—it was but for a moment. Again he stood, hopeless and desolate, gazing upon the soft mist-wreath in the valley, as though expecting it would render up the form of his beloved.
Suddenly the short swift steps of a steed were heard hurrying up the avenue. A horseman approached the gateway: it was his friend, the soi-disant knight of the silver mantle!
"How now, Weldon!—whither have thy unlucky familiars carried thee? Hast thou bestridden the enchanted horse, or wert thou bidden to a witch-feast?"
"I have been to Myerscough with your message,—and the pains I have had for my labour."
"My message!" said Sir John, with amazement: "I sent thee on no other errand than to guard the lady, whom thou hast either made away with or she hath slipped from thine hold."
"You are pleasant, Sir John. Your tricks are well enough in court-hours. Come, be serious, and tell me thou hast had a fool's errand out of me."
"I never was more serious in my life, Weldon, I do vouch, as my head shall swing safely on its pivot. But who gave thee a message—and to whom?"
"To our fair hostess at Myerscough. Thy page thrust a scrap of writing into my hand after prayers. The request was, that I should see the accompanying billet safely delivered, and with mine own hand, without loss of time. It was one of your curiously-folded fantastic love-billets, as I thought. Knowing I could well be spared hence, I immediately took horse, and came in a bath of foam to the lady; but when she opened her pretty token, she drew herself erect with great majesty. 'Tell Sir John Finett,' said she, 'that when he next sends thee forth on his fooleries, to choose another butt; to shoot his arrows where they will stick, or his goose-feathers may fly back again.'"
Horror almost deprived Sir John of utterance. That some foul play had been meditated, and in all probability accomplished, was but too plain; but how, or by whom, was inscrutable as ever.
The page was straitly questioned; but he merely said that his message was given him by some person he did not recognise in the crowd at the chapel-doors, who said he was to seek Weldon forthwith, and deliver him the papers from his master. What course to adopt, or where to begin their search, were questions alike embarrassing and impossible to answer. In the end they determined to lay the matter before the king on the morrow.
It may be needful to go back a short space to "The Bower of Beautie," wherein the knight of the silver mantle, having safely ensconced himself, as the reader may remember, the arras was let down; after which, being wheeled away to their destination, they were to await for the commencement of the masque. But the Silver Knight, lifting up the curtain, observed they were much too early for the performance, and courteously entreated the lady that she would alight. The evening was hot, and the bower close and oppressive. An hour might, in all probability, elapse ere their presence would be required. Grace, trusting to her companion, quitted the car, strolling out amongst the masks. Gradually they left the main crowd, unconsciously approaching the steep brow of the hill, where, looking towards the east, they beheld the broad red moon swinging out from the blue horizon. The loud hum of the revellers came softly and pleasantly on the ear. It was an hour of quietness and delight—a few hasty, happy moments snatched from these gaudy hours—the pomp and circumstance of life. Would that Sir John had been here in lieu of his friend! thought Grace. No, she did not think so, but she felt as though such a thought might have been nursed into being with little effort. They were now stealing down the hill, and the dark waters of the Orr were leaping and bubbling at their feet.
"We must return," said the maiden, looking up, alarmed at seeing, for the first time, that they were cut off from all connection and intercourse with their companions. Her attendant was a perfect stranger, except in name, and though counselled to rely implicity on his care by the master of the ceremonies himself, she felt her situation embarrassing and unpleasant.
"And why must we return?" said the mask. The tone startled her; its expression was now soft and beseeching, as though he had before spoken in a masked voice.
"Why!" said she, looking as though she would have pierced through his disguise.
"Nay, whet not thy glance so keenly. I am not what I seem, and yet am not unseemly."
"Your jests had been better timed had they taken a fitter season. I must hence."
"Go not, my beauteous queen," said the stranger, taking her hand, which she dashed from her with indignation and alarm. She was darting up the crag, but was again detained.
"I will worship thee:—thou shall be my star—the axle of my thoughts. All"——
"Unhand me, sir, or I'll call those who have the power to punish as well as to humble thy presumption!"
"Whom wilt thou call, my pretty lamb? The wolf? The snake is scotched in the bower, and I but beseech thy gratitude. How that look of scorn becomes thee! Pout not so, my queen, or thou wilt indeed make an excuse for my rudeness."
"How? Again this insult! Begone, or thou shalt rue that ever thy thought escaped thy tongue. I'll report thee to thy betters."
"My betters! and who be they, maiden? Thou knowest me not, perdie. Hath not Sir John Finett shorn his love-locks and eschewed thy service after leaving thy bower the other night?"
This taunt raised her indignation to a blaze—her bosom swelled at the rebuke.
Still he retained her hand—with the other she clung to a withered tree, whose roots held insecurely by the rock. Making another effort, she sprang from his grasp; but the tree was rent from its hold, and she fell with it to the edge of the precipice. Ere the Silver Knight could interpose, a faint shriek announced her descent: a swift crash was heard amongst the boughs and underwood—a groan and a rebound. He saw her disappear behind a crag. Then came one thrilling moment of terror, one brief pause in that death-like stillness, and a heavy plunge was heard in the gulf below! He listened—his perceptions grew more acute—eye and ear so painfully susceptible, and their sensibility so keen, that the mind scarcely distinguished its own reactions from realities—from outward impressions on the sense. He thought he heard the gurgle and the death-throe. Then the pale face of the maiden seemed to spring out from the abyss. He rushed down the precipice. Entangled in the copsewood and bushes, some time elapsed ere he gained the narrow path below. He soon found, as in most other situations, the shortest road the longest—that the beaten track would have brought him quicker to his destination; but these nice calculations were forgotten. All pranked out and bedizened as he was, the puissant knight plunged into the gulf; but his exertions were fruitless, and he gave up the search. His love for the maiden living and breathing did not prompt him to drown himself for her corpse. With hasty steps he regained the Tower, where he doffed his dripping garments unobserved.
Sir John Finett, by advice from his friend Weldon, determined on acquainting their host with the lady's disappearance. They had a shrewd suspicion that Buckingham was the contriver of this daring outrage; though from his great power, influence, and audacity, they had everything to fear and but little to hope from the result. Yet no time should be lost in the attempt.
As they entered the hall, Sir Gilbert Hoghton and several of the guests were still making merry after the feast. Calling him aside, they communicated the dismal tidings.
"Grace Gerard amissing, say ye?"
"'Tis even so," said Sir John; "we have yet no clue to the search; but this night shall not pass without the attempt, at any rate. In the morning we will to the king with our complaint."
"Boy," said the baronet to his little henchman, "go to the woman's suite, and rouse Grace Gerard's maid."
"The woman was in the kitchen some half hour agone, conveying her mistress a warm draught, or some such puling diet," said the page.
"Haste," cried Sir John impatiently, marvelling at this unexpected intelligence,—"the lad is blinded by some misapprehension. I'll forfeit my best jewel she is not in her chamber. This interlude works i' the plot—part of the trickery now enacting."
But the page made a quick return.
"What news?" said Finett.
"The lady is gone to rest; something discomposed, though, and out of spirits. So says her maiden, whom I would have questioned more straitly, but she rebuked me sharply for my impertinence."
"Pray you send and question her," said Sir John.
"Nay," returned Sir Gilbert, smiling, "I'll be bound the lady is safe; and her maiden has other guess-matters to look to than letting out the secrets of her mistress's chamber."
They were obliged to rest satisfied, or rather unsatisfied, with this answer. But the mystery was more and more inexplicable. Either some laughable mistake or some deep-laid villany was intended. Sir John dared not pursue the subject to this extremity. He felt assured of her purity and honour. Her manners, so confiding and unsuspicious, showed a heart unacquainted with guile.
After a sleepless night Sir John arose, feverish and unrefreshed. He threw open the window of his chamber, which looked into the courtyard. Near a side postern stood a grey palfrey, caparisoned for a lady's use, and impatiently awaiting its burden. The hour was too early for morning rambles, but the beast was evidently equipped for a journey. Two other steeds were now led forth, as if for the attendants. He caught a glimpse of Grace Gerard's maid, who seemed, by her dress, to be of the party whose movements he was so anxious to ascertain. He suspected this sudden departure was for the purpose of escaping without his observance. He hurried towards the stairs: just entering the corridor, he met Grace Gerard. She was evidently confused at his appearance. It was but for a moment; her spirit grappled with the occasion; and she replied firmly, and with becoming dignity, to his questions.
"Whither away, our beauteous queen?" said he, bowing almost to the ground. "Are you bound for some isle of the Western Ind, getting the start of Phoebus in his nightly race to those gem-bearing climes? Methinks the sun is departing from us, though but just risen."
"'Tis my purpose to depart, Sir John. This clime is too bright, and its beams too fervid, for a lady's eye."
"One word in sober speech:—Wherefore?"
"I know your question, Sir John. Time hastens, and I reply. Your knight of the silver mantle I proclaim a recreant, as treacherous as he is base. Sir John, for my—no, for your own sake"——
"Another stole into his place," said he, interrupting her with great eagerness. "A base-born changeling!—some villain, who, under this disguise, abused our honourable intent; but say, peerless princess, to whose prowess we owe your rescue."
"'Tis my first venture into the unhallowed limits of your licentious court; and through the grace that hath preserved me harmless, I here resolve it shall be my last. By your instructions, Sir John, I relied implicitly on the protection of your friend. He would fain have abused his trust, but I escaped from the offered insult. Struggling to free my hand from his grasp, by yonder hill-side, I lost my footing. I fell down the steep unhurt. Fear lent me unwonted strength, and I escaped unseen, round the narrow pathway. My discourteous knight thought, doubtless, I had tumbled into the roaring abyss; for the night mist hung below, and I heard a huge fragment of rock, loosened in my descent, plunge into the dimly-rolling waters. Now, hear me: my resolve is taken, and no earthly influence or persuasion shall stay me. 1 was bewildered, yet flattered by your follies: foolish and thoughtless enough to frolic and flutter on the very brink of a precipice. I was dazzled by the glittering but dangerous excitement. Conscience spoke, but I durst not listen. My course of life hitherto has been through scenes of gentleness and peace, and I could not look on your bustle and dissipation without alarm. Yet was I persuaded to mingle in your sports yesterday—that day hallowed by the last fiat of its Creator, wherein the soul, freed awhile from the cares of earth, may prostrate itself in homage before Him who said, 'It is mine!' Justly punished for trifling with my better thoughts, my escape shall not be without its acknowledgment."
Sir John was silent. She stood before him like some purer, brighter thing than could be deemed akin to this polluted earth.
"Those siren waves were bearing me on to the gulf where"—She paused a moment, shuddering at the dark retrospect of the past. "Where all your pomp and pageantry will be overwhelmed, and yourselves, for ever, in the same irretrievable ruin!"
Sir John looked uneasy, and his eye wandered, as if in search of some object wherewith to throw off these gloomy anticipations. The maiden again spoke:—
"It seemed as though a veil, invisible heretofore, were suddenly undrawn. The glory and the baseness, the splendour and the pollution, were at once revealed. The hand unseen had drawn it aside. I would now shun—I hope for ever—- these paths of folly; and I bid farewell to your pleasures without a murmur or a regret."
Sir John, courtier though he was, ardently and willingly rendering homage at the shrine of pleasure and dissipation, was awe-struck. Conscience echoed a fearful response; and he shrank before the reproof he could not shun.
"Without regret!" said he, faltering and abashed. "I had hoped—perhaps wished—but it was too presumptuous. My purest thoughts would have sullied so pure a shrine."
"Stay, Sir John; though the confession be humbling to a maiden's pride, yet my heart tells me 'tis the last time we meet; and it is the only acknowledgment,—I render it to your honesty and good faith." Her voice grew hesitating and tremulous. "There was a tendril twining about my heart; but it is wrung off, and I am again—alone!"
Her heart was full, and her whole frame convulsed by some overpowering emotion. An adieu died upon her lips; but she resolutely refused any further communication. Hastening to the courtyard, she mounted her little white palfry, and quitted for ever those fascinating and dangerous allurements, which, having once felt, few have had the power to withstand.
We need scarcely add, that, amid the gaieties and splendours by which the lover was enthralled, the recollection of Grace Gerard sometimes mingled in the revelries of this votary of pleasure. It often came as a warning and a rebuke. By degrees the impression grew less powerful. Each succeeding wave from the ever-tossing ocean left the traces less distinct, until they were overwhelmed in the dull tide of oblivion.
NOTE ON THE BALLAD, p. 269.
The music to these words is traditionary, if we may be allowed the expression. It is one of the many wild and characteristic melodies floating about, perhaps unappropriated, on the popular breath, varied indefinitely according to the humour of the performer. The author has listened to several of these ditties; some of them he thinks peculiar to this and the neighbouring counties. They are generally sung by the labouring classes, and would, in many cases, defy any attempt to commit them to writing, being apparently founded upon a ratio of tones and semitones at variance with our diatonic scale. From this we might almost be led to imagine some truth in the theory that the ancients had different scales peculiar to their different moods: a theory which, however impossible it may be considered, is not without its advocates, who will perhaps not be displeased to find here some slight confirmation of their opinions. Yet in these songs the prevailing character of the minor key may generally be detected, which, from its being imperfect, and probably vitiated by the mistakes of these rustic melodists, may give a colour to the notion of a change in the scale.
The great antiquity of these melodies is unquestionable, and it would be an interesting inquiry to trace them back through remote ages, perhaps to the Jewish temple and the tent of the patriarchs. The author has found in them a strong resemblance to the Hebrew music, sounds which, since the captivity of the Jews in Babylon, and the destruction of their temple, 606 B.C., and in consequence of musical instruments being afterwards forbidden, they have clung to with increased tenacity, preserving their ancient melodies, and bequeathing them by memory from one generation to another with the same jealous care that a miser would his treasure, and as the last melancholy relics of a "kingdom passed away."
Algarotti says, "Those airs alone remain for ever engraven on the memory of the public, that paint images to the mind, or express the passions, and are for that reason called the speaking airs, because more congenial to nature, which can never be justly imitated but by a beautiful simplicity, that will always bear away the palm from the most laboured refinement of art."
The author has ventured to give the following air, which he fancies would almost suggest the words of the song to which Sir John Finett is supposed to have appropriated it. As we have before mentioned, the tune is traditionary, possessing some of the peculiar characteristics we have described. It bears a considerable resemblance to the ancient Jewish music, and likewise to the airs generally given to the little snatches of old ballads in Shakespeare's plays, which are supposed to have been handed down successively from the performers in his time; being then probably "household" music more ancient than the ballads themselves. This opinion seems warranted by the poet himself in that beautiful allusion, with which he introduces one of the songs of the Clown, in Twelfth Night—
"Mark it, Cesario; it is old and plain: The spinsters and the knitters in the sun, And the free maids that weave their thread with bones, Do use to chant it; it is silly sooth, And dallies with the innocence of love Like the old age."
They bade me sing, they bade my smile, They bade my heart be gay; They called my spirit forth to while The laughing hours away. I've sung, I've smiled: where'er my path Mirth's dazzling meteors shine; All hearts have owned its magic power, And all are glad but mine.
 "Sir George Goring, of Hurst Pierrepoint, in Sussex, representative of a junior line of the respectable family of Goring, which maintains its importance in that county, was bred at Court, under the care of his father, one of Elizabeth's Gentlemen Pensioners; was knighted May 29, 1608; in 1610, occurs as Gentleman in Ordinary of the Bedchamber to Prince Henry; and now accompanied the king to Scotland as Lieutenant of his Gentlemen Pensioners. He was recommended to James equally by his sagacity and a peculiar jocularity of humour, and became the king's familiar companion."—Nichols's Royal Progresses, vol. iii. p. 256.
 Sir John Finett, says Anthony a Wood (Fasti by Bliss, vol. i. col, 492), was son of Sir Robert Finett, of Soulton, near Dover, in Kent, son and heir of Sir Thomas, son and heir of John Finett, of Sienna, in Italy (where his name is ancient), who came into England in quality of servant to Cardinal Campegius, and married a maid of honour to Queen Katharine. "Sir John was always bred in the Court, where by his wit, innocent mirth, and great skill in composing songs, he pleased James the First very much. He was sent into France in 1614, about matters of public concern, and in the year after received the honour of knighthood at Whitehall; about which time (or rather about 1612) he was made assistant to the master of the ceremonies, with the reversion of that place."—Nichols's Progresses, vol. iii. p. 133.
 This stone, the author has been told, was in existence less than a century ago, though not in the precise situation above alluded to. He has heard the disappointment of the curious passers-by told with considerable humour; they, however, generally took care to replace the stone with its word of promise before the eye, that the next comer might bestow the same labour for the like result.
 Some say this petition was presented at Myerscough, but we incline to the opinion here given.
 Royal proclamation, May 21, 1618.
 This ceremony was formerly used for the conveyance of rushes intended to be strewed in the church upon the clay floors between the benches. It is now generally known but as an unmeaning pageant still practised in the northern and eastern parts of Lancashire, for the purpose of levying contributions on the inhabitants. An immense banner, of silk adorned with tinsel and gay devices, precedes the rush-cart, wherein the rushes, neatly woven and smooth cut, are piled up and decorated with flowers and ribands, in rustic taste. The cart, thus laden, is drawn round to the dwellings of the principal inhabitants, by morris-dancers, who perform an uncouth dance, attended by a man in motley attire, a sort of nondescript, made up of the ancient fool and Maid Marian. This personage jingles a horse-collar hung with bells, which forms not an unsuitable accompaniment to the ceremony.
 See Note at the end.
 This person is supposed to be the writer of a curious satire (Harl. MSS. 5191), called a Description of Scotland. Welden's name is not attached to it in the MS., but it is duly ascribed to him by Sir Walter Scott, in his description of Holyrood Chapel, in the Antiquities of Scotland. Sir Anthony Weldon accompanied the king into Scotland; but that he returned with him is not so certain, one of his letters saying he should return by sea. By this, however, may be understood his return to the court at Edinburgh, having had leave of absence to visit his friends in London.
THE LANCASHIRE WITCHES.
"More swift than lightning can I flye About this aery welkin soone; And, in a minute's space, descrye Each thing that's done below the moone."
"When I consider whether there are such persons as witches, my mind is divided: I believe, in general, that there is such a thing as witchcraft, but can give no credit to any particular instance of it."—ADDISON.
The term witchcraft, says the historian of Whalley, is now "transferred to a gentler species of fascination, which my fair countrywomen still continue to exert in full force, without any apprehension of the county magistrates, or even of the king in council."
Far different was the application in days of old. The common parish witch is thus described by a contemporary writer, as an old woman "with a wrinkled face, a furred brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue; having a rugged coat on her back, a skull-cap on her head, a spindle in her hand, and a dog or cat by her side." Such was the witch of real life when this superstition was so prevalent in our own neighbourhood, and even throughout England. From the beginning of the reign of James the First to the concluding part of the reign of James the Second, it may be considered as having attained the zenith of its popularity. "Witchcraft and kingcraft both came in with the Stuarts and went out with them." It was as if his infernal majesty had taken a lesson from his sacred majesty, and issued a book of sports for his loyal subjects. "The Revolution put to rights the faith of the country as well as its constitution." "The laws were more liberally interpreted and rationally administered. The trade of witch-finding ceased to be reputable or profitable;" and that silly compilation, the "Demonology" of James, which, with the severe laws enacted against witchcraft by Henry the Eighth and Elizabeth, had conjured up more witches and familiars than they could quell, was consigned to the book-worm and the dust. It is said in the Arabian tales, that Solomon sent out of his kingdom all the demons that he could lay his hands on, packed them up in a brazen vessel, and cast them into the sea. But James, "our English Solomon," "imported by his book all that were flying about Europe, to plague the country, which was sufficiently plagued already in such a sovereign." This sapient ruler, who, it is said, "taught divinity like a king, and made laws like a priest," in the first year of his reign made it felony to suckle imps, &c. This statute, which was repealed March 24th, 1736, describes offences declared felonious, thus:—
"One that shall use, practise, or exercise any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit, or consult, covenant with, entertain or employ, feed or reward, any evil or wicked spirit, to or for any intent or purpose; or take up any dead man, woman, or child, out of his, her, or their grave, or any other place where the dead body resteth; or the skin, bone, or other part of any dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment; or shall practise or exercise any witchcraft, &c., whereby any person shall be killed, destroyed, wasted, consumed, pined, or lamed in his or her body, or any part thereof: such offenders, duly and lawfully convicted and attainted, shall suffer death."
As might be expected, witchcraft so increased in consequence of these denunciations, that, "in the course of fifty years following the passing of this act, besides a great number of single indictments and executions, fifteen were brought to trial at Lancaster in 1612, and twelve condemned; in 1622, six were tried at York; 1634, seventeen condemned at Lancaster; 1644, sixteen were executed at Yarmouth; 1645, fifteen condemned at Chelmsford, and hanged; in the same and following year, about forty at Bury in Suffolk; twenty more in the county, and many in Huntingdon; and (according to the estimate of Ady) some thousands were burned in Scotland."
Popular hatred rendered the existence of a reputed witch so miserable, that persons bearing that stigma often courted death in despair, confessing to crimes which they had never committed, for the purpose of ridding themselves of persecution.
"One of the latest convictions was that of Amy Duny and Rose Cullender, before Sir Matthew Hale at Bury, in 1664. They were executed, and died maintaining their innocence." Their execution was a foul blot upon his name, as it is scarcely to be doubted but that they were the victims of imposture. It was clearly ascertained by experiments in the judge's presence, that the children who pretended to be bewitched, when their eyes were covered, played off their fits and contortions at the touch of some other person, mistaking it for that of the accused, yet "he charged the jury without summing up the evidence, dwelling only upon the certainty of the fact that there were witches, for which he appealed to the Scriptures, and, as he said, to 'the wisdom of all nations;' and the jury having convicted, the next morning left them for execution."
But we proceed with a few explanatory notices respecting that portion of the history of this superstition, which will be found interwoven with the traditionary matter in our text.
A number of persons, inhabitants of Pendle Forest, were apprehended in the year 1633, upon the evidence of Edmund Robinson, a boy about eleven years old, who deposed before two of his Majesty's justices at Padiham, that on All-Saints'-day he was getting "bulloes," when he saw two greyhounds—a black one and a brown one—come running over the field towards him. When they came nigh they fawned on him, and he supposed they belonged to some of the neighbours. He expected presently that some one would follow; but seeing no one, he took them by a string which they had tied to their collars, and thought he would hunt with them. Presently a hare sprang up near to him, and he cried "Loo, loo," but the dogs would not run. Whereupon he grew angry, and tied them to a bush for the purpose of chastising them, but instead of the black greyhound he now beheld a woman, the wife of one Dickisson, a neighbour; the other was transformed into a little boy. At this sight he was much afraid, and would have fled; but the woman stayed him and offered him a piece of silver like a shilling if he would hold his peace. But he refused the bribe; whereupon she pulled out a bridle and threw it over the little boy's head, who was her familiar, and immediately he became a white horse. The witch then took the deponent before her, and away they galloped to a place called Malkin Tower, by the Hoarstones at Pendle. He there beheld many persons appear in like fashion; and a great feast was prepared, which he saw, and was invited to partake, but he refused. Spying an opportunity, he stole away, and ran towards home. But some of the company pursued him until he came to a narrow place called "the Boggard-hole," where he met two horsemen; seeing which, his tormentors left off following him. He further said, that on a certain day he saw a neighbour's wife, of the name of Loynd, sitting upon a cross piece of wood within the chimney of his father's dwelling-house. He called to her, saying, "Come down, thou Loynd wife," and immediately she went up out of sight. Likewise upon the evening of All-Saints before-named, his father sent him to seal up the kine, when, coming through a certain field, he met a boy who began to quarrel with him, and they fought until his face and ears were bloody. Looking down, he saw the boy had cloven feet, and away he ran. It was now nearly dark; but he descried at a distance a light like a lantern. Thinking this was carried by some of his friends, he made all haste towards it, and saw a woman standing on a bridge, whom he knew to be Loynd's wife; turning from her he again met with the boy, who gave him a heavy blow on the back, after which he escaped. On being asked the names of the women he saw at the feast, he mentioned seventeen persons, all of whom were committed to Lancaster for trial. They were found guilty, and sentenced to be executed. The judge, however, respited them, and reported the case to the king in council.
The celebrated John Webster, author of The Discovery of Pretended Witchcraft, afterwards took this young witch-finder in hand. He says:—
"This said boy was brought into the church at Kildwick (in Craven), a large parish church, where I, being curate there, was preaching in the afternoon, and was set upon a stall to look about him, which moved some little disturbance in the congregation for a while. After prayers, I, inquiring what the matter was, the people told me it was the boy that discovered witches; upon which I went to the house where he was to stay all night, where I found him, and two very unlikely persons that did conduct him, and manage the business.
"I desired to have some discourse with the boy in private; but that they utterly refused. Then, in the presence of a great many people, I took the boy near me, and said, 'Good boy, tell me truly and in earnest, didst thou see and hear such strange things of the meeting of witches as is reported by many that thou didst relate?'—But the two men, not giving the boy leave to answer, did pluck him from me, and said he had been examined by two able justices of the peace, and they did never ask him such a question. To whom I replied, the persons accused had the more wrong. As the laws of England, and the opinions of mankind then stood, a mad dog in the midst of a congregation would not have been more dangerous than this wicked and mischievous boy, who, looking around him, could, according to his own caprice, put any one or more of the people in peril of tortures or of death."
Four of the accused only were sent to London, and examined by the king in person. In the end they were set at liberty, but not from the sagacity of the examiners,—the boy Robinson having confessed that he was suborned to give false evidence against them. One of these poor creatures, strange to say, had confessed the crime with which she was charged. In the Bodl. Lib. Dods. MSS. v.61, p.47, is the confession itself, wherein she gives a circumstantial and minute account of the transactions which took place between her and a familiar whom she calls Mamilian, describing the meetings, feasts, and all the usual routine of witchery and possession.—(See Whitaker's Whalley.)
* * * * *
The mill went merrily round, and Giles the miller sang and whistled from morning to noon, and from noon till evening, save when the mulcting-dish was about to be embowelled in the best sack; a business too serious for such levity, requiring careful and deliberate thought.
Goody Dickisson, the miller's wife, was a fat, round, pursy dame, of some forty years' travel through this wilderness of sorrow, and a decent, honest, sober, and well-conditioned housewife she was; cleanly, thrifty, and had an excellent cheesepress, which the whole neighbourhood could testify.
But the days of man's happiness are numbered, and woman's too, as the following narrative will set forth.
The mill had stood, for ages it may be, at the foot of a wild and steep cliff, forming the eastern extremity of the dreary range of Cliviger; an elevated mountainous pass, from whence the waters descend both to the eastern and western seas. Upon those almost inaccessible crags the rock-eagle and falcon built their nests, unscared by the herdsmen, who in vain attempted their destruction. Through this pass, the very gorge of the English Apennines, the Calder, a rapid and narrow torrent, brought an unfailing supply of grist to the ever-going hopper of Giles Dickisson.
Not far from this happy abode, in the innermost part of the gorge, where the rocks of Lancashire and Yorkshire frown in close but harmless proximity, at an immense height,—the road and this narrow cleft only separating their barriers,—rises a crag of a singular shape, jutting far out from the almost perpendicular strata beneath. Its form is precisely that of a gigantic helmet, hammered out by the fanciful artist into the likeness of an eagle, its wings partly outstretched, and its beak—the point of the crag—overshadowing the grim head of some gaunt warrior. With but little aid from the imagination, the whole features may be discerned; hence it was denominated, "The Eagle Crag." But another appellation, more awful and mysterious, might be attached to it—a reminiscence of those "deeds without a name," which have rendered this district of Lancashire so fearfully notorious—"The witches' horse-block."
The narrow pass we have described opens out into a succession of picturesque valleys, abounding in waterfalls of considerable depth and beauty, and expanding towards the north in tracts of fertile pasture-ground to the base of Pendle, well known as the reputed scene of those mysteries in which "the witches of Pendle" acted so conspicuous a part.
Towards the close of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, the fame, or rather the infamy, of witchcraft, infested this once peaceful and sequestered district. The crag we have just noticed was, no doubt, to the apprehensions of the simple-hearted peasant, oft visited by the unhallowed feet of weirds and witches pluming themselves for flight to the great rendezvous at Malkin Tower, by the side of "the mighty Pendle."
Little did our country deserve, in those days, the name of "Merry England." Plague or the most noisome pestilence would have been a visitation of mercy compared to the miseries caused by so dark a superstition. "Even he who lived remote from the scene of this spiritual warfare, though few such there could be, so rapidly was it transferred from county to county to the remotest districts;—he, in whose vicinity no one was suspected of dealing with the foul fiend, whose children, cattle, or neighbours, showed no symptoms of being marks for those fiery darts which often struck from a distance, yet would he not escape a sort of epidemic gloom, a vague apprehension of the mischief which might be. The atmosphere he breathed would come to him thick with foul fancies; he would ever be hearing or telling some wild and melancholy tale of crime and punishment. His best feelings and enjoyments would be dashed with bitterness, suspicion, and terror, as he reflected that, though uninvaded, yet these were at the mercy of malignant fellow-mortals, leagued with more malignant spirits, the laws and limits of whose operations were wholly undefinable.
"What must have been his feelings on whom the evil eye had glared,—against whom the spell had been pronounced; on whom misfortunes came thick and fast, by flood and field, at home and abroad, in business and in pleasure; whose cattle died, whose crops were blighted, and about whose bed and board, invisible, unwelcome, and mischievous guests held their revels; who saw not in his calamities the results of ignorance and error, to be averted by caution, nor the inflictions of Heaven to be borne with resignation, but was the victim of a compact, in which his disasters were part of the price paid by the powers of darkness for an immortal soul! He who pined in consumption supposed that his own waxen effigy was revolving and melting at the charmed fire; the changes of his sensations told him when wanton cruelty damped the flame, to waste it lingeringly, or roused it in the impatience of revenge: and when came those sharp and shooting pains, the hags were thrusting in their bodkins, and their laugh rang in his ears: they sat upon his breast asleep,—he awoke gasping, and, as he started up, he saw them melting into air. Yet more miserable was the wight whom the fiends were commissioned bodily to possess;—with whose breathing frame an infernal substance was incorporate and almost identified;—whose thoughts were sufferings, and his words involuntary blasphemies. Can we wonder that all this was not borne passively;—that its authors were hunted out, even, if needful, by their own charms;—that suspicion grew into conviction, and conviction demanded vengeance;—that it was deemed a duty to hold them up to public hatred, and drag them to the bar of public justice;—and that their blood was eagerly thirsted after, of which the shedding was often believed not merely a righteous retribution, but the only efficient relief for the sufferers?
"The notion of witchcraft was no innocent and romantic superstition, no scion of an elegant mythology, but was altogether vulgar, repulsive, bloody, and loathsome. It was a foul ulcer on the face of humanity. Other vagaries of the mind have been associated with lofty or with gentle feelings;—they have belonged more to sportiveness than to criminality;—they are the poetry interspersed on the pages of the history of opinions;—they seem to be dreams of sleeping reason, and not the putrescence of its mouldering carcase; but this has no bright side, no redeeming quality whatever."
The human body is not more liable to contagion than is that faculty of the mind which is called imagination. That many of the accused believed in their crime, we have sufficient evidence in their own voluntary confessions, as well as in the traditions handed down to us on this subject. Both knavery and delusion were at work, as the following incidents will abundantly manifest. They have been selected from a wide range of materials on this important topic, as illustrating the varied operations of the same delusion on different orders and grades of mind,—the temptations warily suited to each disposition, all tending to the same crime, and ultimately to the same punishment.
Our lusty miller had no children: it was a secret source of grief and anxiety to his dame, and many an hour of repining and discontent was the consequence. Yet Giles Dickisson's song was none the heavier; and if his wheel went merrily round, his spirits whirled with it, and danced and frolicked in the sunshine of good humour, like the spray and sparkle from his own mill-race. But a change was gathering on his wife's countenance: her grief grew sullen; her aspect stern and forbidding:—some hidden purpose was maturing: she seldom spoke to her husband. When addressed, she seemed to arouse from a sort of stupor, unwillingly forcing a reply. "She is bewitched," thought Giles. He had his suspicions; but he could not confidently point out the source of the mischief.
One evening, as Goody Dickisson was sitting alone, pondering and discontented, there came in one Mal Spencer, a dark and scowling hag, to whom Giles bore no good-will. He had beforetime forbidden his wife to hold any intercourse with this witch-woman, who was an object generally of suspicion and mistrust. If the "evil eye" can be supposed to inhabit a human frame, this old woman had an undisputed claim to its possession. This night, however, old Molly came hobbling in without further ceremony than a "Good e'en, thou Dickisson wife," and took her seat opposite the dame in the miller's own chair. "Aroynt thee, witch," should have been returned to such an ill-omened salute; but the miller's wife was either unwilling or unable to utter this well-known preservative against the malice of the Evil Ones.
The horse-shoe had been taken down from the door, and the blessed herb, moly, was incautiously thrown aside; neither had Goody Dickisson offered up the usual petition that evening, to be defended from the snares of the devil. Her discontent was too great, and she was in a fitter mood for murmuring than prayer.
Leaning her long thin chin upon a little crutch, and throwing her bleared eyes full upon the dame, old Molly abruptly exclaimed, in a voice like the croaking of a raven—
"Thou hast asked for children, but they are denied thee. What said I to thee, Goody Dickisson, in the clough yonder, by the hollow trunk of the oak? Rememberest thou, when thou saidest thou wouldst pawn thy body for the wish of thy soul?"
Dame Dickisson waxed pale, and her knees shook; but the hag went on.
"Worship the master I serve, and thou shalt have thy desire—ay and more!"
"More!—What meanest thou?"
"Come to the feast, as I have bidden thee. If thou likest not the savour of our company, thou shalt depart, and without harm."
"But who shall give me a safe conduct that I come back, and harmless as I went? Once in your possession, methinks"——
"What!" shouted the beldame, with a look of dark and devilish malignity:—"the word of a prince! Shall Goody Dickisson, the miller's wife, hold it in distrust? Go, poor fool, and chew thy bitterness, and bake thy bannocks, and fret thy old husband until thy writhen flesh rot from thy bones, and thou gnawest them for malice and vexation. Is it not glorious to ride on the wind—to mount the stars—to kiss the moon through the dark rolling clouds, when the blast scatters them in its might? To ride unharmed on their huge peaks tipped with thunder? To be for ever young in desire and enjoyment, though old and haggard, and bent double with age and infirmities? To have our wish and our revenge—ay, and the bodies of our enemies wasting before our spells, like wax to the flame? But go, sneak and drivel, and mind thy meal and barley-cakes, and go childless to thy grave."
She rose as if to depart; but Goody Dickisson's evil destiny prevailed, and she promised to attend the feast, with this condition only, that no harm should befall her, nor force nor entreaty should be used to win her consent to join their confederacy. But she returned not from that unhallowed assembly until body and soul were for ever under the dominion of the destroyer.
The mill went merrily on no more, and the miller's song was still. He looked a heavy and a doomed man. Strange suspicions haunted him. His wife's ill-humour he could have borne; but her very laugh now made him tremble: it was as if the functions of mind and body were animated by a being distinct from herself. Her countenance showed not that her thoughts mingled in either mirth or misery, except at times, when terrible convulsions seemed to pass over like the sudden roll of the sea, tossed by some unseen and subterraneous tempest. The neighbours began to shun his dwelling. His presence was the signal for stolen looks and portentous whispers. To church his wife never came; but the bench, her usual sitting-place, was deserted. At the church-doors, after sermon, when the price of grain, the weather, and other marketable commodities were discussed and settled, Giles was evidently an object of avoidance, and left to trudge home alone to his own cheerless and gloomy hearth.
Dick Hargreave's only cow was bewitched. The most effectual and approved method of ascertaining under whose spell she laboured was as follows:—
The next Friday, a pair of breeches was thrown over the cow's horns; she was then driven from the shippen with a stout cudgel. The place to which she directed her flight was carefully watched, for there assuredly must dwell the witch. To the great horror and dismay of Giles Dickisson, the cow came bellowing down the lane, tail up, in great terror—telling, as plain as beast could speak, of her distress, until she came to a full pause, middle deep in his own mill-dam. This was a direct confirmation to his suspicions; but the following was a more undeniable proof, if need were, of his wife's dishonest confederacy with the powers of darkness.
One morning, ere his servant-man Robin had taken the grey mare from the stable, Giles awoke early, and found his wife had not lain by his side. He had beforetime felt half roused in the night from a deep but uneasy slumber; but he was too heavy and bewildered to recollect himself, and sleep again overcame him ere he could satisfy his doubts. He had either dreamt, or fancied he had dreamt, that his wife was, at some seasons, away for a whole night together, and he was rendered insensible by her spells. This morning, however, he awoke before the usual time, probably from some failure in the charm, and he met her as she was ascending the stairs. Something like alarm or confusion was manifest. She had been to look after the cattle, she stammered out, scolding Robin for an idle lout to lie a-bed so long. The stable-door was open. With an aching heart, he went in. The grey mare was in a bath of foam, panting and distressed as though from some recent journey. Whilst pondering on this strange occurrence, Robin came in. His master taxed him with dishonesty. After much ado, he confessed that his mistress had many times of late borrowed the mare for a night, always returning before the good man awoke. Giles was too full of trouble to rate Robin as he deserved, contenting himself with many admonitions and instructions how to act in the next emergency.
Not many nights after, as Robin was late in the stable, his mistress came with the usual request, and her magic bridle in her hand.
"Now, good Robin, the cream is in the bowl, and the beer behind the spigot, and my good man is in bed."
"Whither away, mistress?" said Robin, diligently whisping down and soothing the mare, who trembled from head to foot when she heard her mistress's voice.
"For a journey, Robin. I have business at Colne; but I will not fail to come back again before sunrise."
"Ay, mistress, this is always your tale; but measter catched her in a woundy heat last time, and will not let her go."
"But, Robin, she shall be in the stable and dry two hours before my old churl gets up."
"But measter says she maunna go."
"Thou hast told him, then,—and a murrain light on thee!"
With eyes glistening like witch-fires, did the dame bestow her malison. Robin half-repented his refusal; but he was stubborn, and his courage not easily shaken. Besides, he had bragged at the last Michaelmas feast that he cared not a rush for never a witch in the parish. He had an Agnus Dei in his bosom, and a leaf from the holy herb in his clogs; and what recked he of spells and incantations? Furthermore, he had a waistcoat of proof given to him by his grandmother.
"Since thou hast denied me the mare, I'll take thee in her place."
Robin felt in his bosom for the Agnus Dei cake, but it was gone!—He had thrown of his waistcoat, too, for the work, and his clogs were lying under the rack. Before he could furnish himself with these counter-charms, Goody Dickisson threw the bridle upon him, using these portentous words:—
"Horse, horse, see thou be; And where I point thee carry me."
Swift as the rush of the wind, Robin felt their power. His nature changed: he grew more agile and capacious; and without further ado, found Goody upon his back, and his own shanks at an ambling gallop on the high-road to Pendle. He panted and grew weary, but she urged him on with an unsparing hand, lashing and spurring with all her might, until at last poor Robin, unused to such expedition, flagged and could scarcely crawl. But needs must when the witches drive. Rest and despite were denied, until, almost dead with toil and terror, he halted in one of the steep gullies of Pendle near to Malkin Tower.
It was an old grey-headed ruin, solitary and uninhabited. The cold October wind whistled through its joints and crannies;—the walls were studded with bright patches of moss and lichen;—darkness and desolation brooded over it, unbroken by aught but the cry of the moor-fowl and the stealthy prowl of the weasel and wild cat.
But this lonesome and time-hallowed ruin was now lit up as for some gay festival; lights were flickering through the crevices, and the coming of the guests, each mounted on her enchanted steed, was accompanied by loud and fiend-like acclamations. Shrieks and howlings were borne from afar upon the blast. Unhallowed words and unutterable curses came on the hollow wind. Forms of indescribable and abominable shape flitted through the troubled elements. Robin, trembling all over with fright and fatigue, was told by his mistress to graze where he could, while she went into the feast:—"Make good use of thy time, for in two hours I shall mount thee back again."
This was poor sustenance for Robin's stomach,—furze and heath were not at all to his mind, and he peeped about for a quiet resting-place. Here he was kicked and bitten by others of the herd; several of them were in the like pitiable condition with himself; but some were really of the brute kind, and these fared the best and were better mannered than most of their human companions. Often did our unfortunate hero wish himself in their place. Having little else to do, he was prompted by curiosity to approach the building, from whence the loud din of mirth and revelry grated harshly on his ears. A long chink disclosed to him some part of the mysteries within. There sat on the floor a great company of witches, feasting and cramming with all their might. An elderly gentleman of a grave and respectable deportment, clad in black doublet and hosen, sat on a stone-heap at the head, from whence he dealt out the delicacies with due care and attention. This was a mortifying sight to a hungry stomach, and Robin's humanity yearned at the display. After the first emotions had a little subsided, he found himself at leisure to examine the faces of the opposite guests, and he recognised several dames of his acquaintance, feasting right merrily at the witches' board. Either his fears and "thick-coming fancies" deceived him, or, as he afterwards declared, he saw nearly the whole of the neighbourhood at the assembly.
Presently it seemed as if the first course were ended, and the floor cleared by invisible hands in a twinkling.
"Now pull," said the grave personage in black.
Many ropes hung from the roof. These the women began to pull furiously, when down came pies, puddings, milk, cream, and rare wines, which they caught in wooden bowls; likewise sweet-meats and all manner of dainties, which made Robin's mouth to water so at the sight that he could bear it no longer. Intending to groan, he involuntarily uttered a loud neigh, which so alarmed the company that the lights were extinguished, and the guests sallied out, each immediately bestriding her steed, and setting forth at full gallop, save Goody Dickisson, who, in attempting to mount Robin, met with a sore mishap. Recollecting the charm which operated upon him, he gave his head a sudden fling: as good luck would have it, the bridle became entangled about her neck. His speech now came again, and he cried out—
"Mare, mare, see thou be; And where I point thee carry me."
Suddenly she was metamorphosed, and Robin in his turn bestrode the witch. He spared her not, as will readily be imagined, until he had her safe in her own stable before break of day. Leaving her there with the bridle about her neck, he entered the house, hungry and jaded. Soon he heard Giles coming down-stairs in a great hurry—
"How now, sirrah!" cried the incensed miller; "did I not tell thee to forbid thy mistress the mare?"
"Why, master," replied Robin, scratching his head, "and so I have—the beast hasna' been ridden sin' ye backed her on Friday."
"Thou art a lying hound to look me in the face and say so. Thy mistress hath been out again last night upon her old errands—I found it out when I awaked."
"And what's the matter of that?" said Robin, with great alacrity. "Ye may go see, master, an' ye liken—the mare's as dry as our meal-tub, and as brisk as bottled ale."
Giles turned angrily away from him towards the stable, tightening a tough cudgel in his grasp, with which he intended to belabour the unfortunate hind on his return. Nor was he long absent—Robin had scarcely swallowed a mouthful of hot porridge when his master thus accosted him—
"Why, thou hob thrust, no good can come where thy fingers are a-meddling; there is another jade besides mine own tied to the rack, not worth a groat. Dost let thy neighbours lift my oats and provender? Better turn my mill into a spital for horses, and nourish all the worn-out kibboes i' the parish!"
"Nay, measter, the beast is yours; and ye ha' foun' her bed and provender these twenty years."
"I'll cudgel that lying spirit out o' thee," said Giles, wetting his hands for a firm grasp at the stick.
"Hold, master!" said Robin, stepping aside; "she has cost you more currying than all the combs in the stable are worth. Step in and take off the bridle, and then say whose beast she is, and who hath most right to her, you or your neighbours. But mind, when the bridle is off her neck, she slip it not on to yours; for if she do you are a gone man."
Giles stayed not, but ran with great haste into the stable. The tired beast could scarcely stand; but he pulled off the bridle, and—as Robin told the tale—his own spouse immediately stood confessed before him!
Here we pause. In the next part we shall rapidly sketch another of the traditions current on this strange subject. It will but be a brief and shadowy outline: space forbids us to dilate: the whole volume would not contain the stories that tradition attributes to the prevalence of this unnatural and revolting, though, it may be, imaginary crime.
* * * * *
 , or the rocky district.
 Col-dwr, or narrow water. See Whitaker's etymology of the word (Hist. of Manchester).
 See an able article on this subject in the Retrospective Review, vol. v. part i.
 "On Christmas daie at night, a threed must be sponne of flax, by a little virgine girl, in the name of the divell; and it must be by her woven, and also wrought with the needle. On the breste or fore part thereof must be made, with needlework, two heads; on the head of the right side must be a hat, and a long beard,—the left head must have on a crown, and it must be so horrible that it maie resemble Belzebub; and on each side of the wastcote must be made a crosse."—Discoverie of Witchcraft, by Reginald Scott, 1584.
On the verge of the Castle Clough, a deep and winding dingle, once shaded with venerable oaks, are the small remains of the Castle of Hapton, the seat of its ancient lords, and, till the erection of Hapton Tower, the occasional residence of the De la Leghs and Townleys. Hapton Tower is now destroyed to its foundation. It was a large square building, and about a hundred years ago presented the remains of three cylindrical towers with conical basements. It also appears to have had two principal entrances opposite to each other, with a thorough lobby between, and seems not to have been built in the usual form,—that of a quadrangle. It was erected about the year 1510, and was inhabited until 1667. The family-name of the nobleman—for such he appears to have been—of whom the following story is told, we have no means of ascertaining. That he was an occasional resident or visitor at the Tower is but surmise. During the period of these dark transactions we find that the mansion was inhabited by Jane Assheton, relict of Richard Townley, who died in the year 1637. Whoever he might be, the following horrible event, arising out of this superstition, attaches to his memory. Whether it can be attributed to the operations of a mind just bordering on insanity, and highly wrought upon by existing delusions,—or must be classed amongst the proofs, so abundantly furnished by all believers in the reality of witchcraft and demoniacal possession, our readers must determine as we unfold the tale.
Lord William had seen, and had openly vowed to win, the proud maiden of Bernshaw Tower. He did win her, but he did not woo her. A dark and appalling secret was connected with their union, which we shall briefly develop.
Lady Sibyl, "the proud maiden of Bernshaw," was from her youth the creature of impulse and imagination—a child of nature and romance. She roved unchecked through the green valleys and among the glens and moorlands of her native hills; every nook and streamlet was associated with some hidden thought "too deep for tears," until Nature became her god,—the hills and fastnesses, the trackless wilds and mountains, her companions. With them alone she held communion; and as she watched the soft shadows and the white clouds take their quiet path upon the hills, she beheld in them the symbols of her own ideas,—the images and reflections,—the hidden world within her made visible. She felt no sympathy with the realities—the commonplaces of life; her thoughts were too aspiring for earth, yet found not their resting-place in heaven! It was no grovelling, degrading superstition which actuated her: she sighed for powers above her species,—she aspired to hold intercourse with beings of a superior nature. She would gaze for hours in wild delirium on the blue sky and starry vault, and wish she were freed from the base encumbrances of earth, that she might shine out among those glorious intelligences in regions without a shadow or a cloud. Imagination was her solace and her curse; she flew to it for relief as the drunkard to his cup, sparkling and intoxicating for a while, but its dregs were bitterness and despair. Soon her world of imagination began to quicken; and, as the wind came sighing through her dark ringlets, or rustling over the dry grass and heather bushes at her side, she thought a spirit spoke, or a celestial messenger crossed her path. The unholy rites of the witches were familiar to her ear, but she spurned their vulgar and low ambition; she panted for communion with beings more exalted—demigods and immortals, of whom she had heard as having been translated to those happier skies, forming the glorious constellations she beheld. Sometimes fancies wild and horrible assaulted her; she then shut herself for days in her own chamber, and was heard as though in converse with invisible things. When freed from this hallucination, agony was marked on her brow, and her cheek was more than usually pale and collapsed. She would then wander forth again:—the mountain-breeze reanimated her spirits, and imagination again became pleasant unto her. She heard the wild swans winging their way above her, and she thought of the wild hunters and the spectre-horseman: the short wail of the curlew, the call of the moor-cock and plover, was the voice of her beloved. To her all nature wore a charmed life: earth and sky were but creatures formed for her use, and the ministers of her pleasure.
The Tower of Bernshaw was a small fortified house in the pass over the hills from Burnley to Todmorden. It stood within a short distance from the Eagle Crag; and the Lady Sibyl would often climb to the utmost verge of that overhanging peak, looking from its dizzy height until her soul expanded, and her thoughts took their flight through those dim regions where the eye could not penetrate.
One evening she had lingered longer than usual: she felt unwilling to depart—to meet again the dull and wearisome realities of life—the petty cares that interest and animate mankind. She loathed her own form and her own species:—earth was too narrow for her desire, and she almost longed to burst its barriers. In the deep agony of her spirit she cried aloud—
"Would that my path, like yon clouds, were on the wind, and my dwelling-place in their bosom!"
A soft breeze came suddenly towards her, rustling the dry heath as it swept along. The grass bent beneath its footsteps, and it seemed to die away in articulate murmurs at her feet. Terror crept upon her, her bosom thrilled, and her whole frame was pervaded by some subtle and mysterious influence.
"Who art thou?" she whispered, as though to some invisible agent. She listened, but there was no reply; the same soft wind suddenly arose, and crept to her bosom.
"Who art thou?" she inquired again, but in a louder tone. The breeze again flapped its wings, mantling upwards from where it lay, as if nestled on her breast. It mounted lightly to her cheek, but it felt hot—almost scorching—when the maiden cried out as before. It fluttered on her ear, and she thought there came a whisper—
"I am thy good spirit."
"Oh, tell me," she cried with vehemence: "show me who thou art!"—a mist curled round her, and a lambent flame, like the soft lightning of a summer's night, shot from it. She saw a form, glorious but indistinct, and the flashes grew paler every moment.
"Leave me not," she cried; "I will be thine!"
Then the cloud passed away, and a being stood before her, mightier and more stately than the sons of men. A burning fillet was on his brow, and his eyes glowed with an ever-restless flame.
"Maiden, I come at thy wish. Speak!—what is thy desire."
"Let thought be motion;—let my will only be the boundary of my power," said she, nothing daunted; for her mind had become too familiar with invisible fancies, and her ambition too boundless to feel either awe or alarm. Immediately she felt as though she were sweeping through the trackless air,—she heard the rush of mighty wings cleaving the sky,—she thought the whole world lay at her feet, and the kingdoms of the earth moved on like a mighty pageant. Then did the vision change. Objects began to waver and grow dim, as if passing through a mist; and she found herself again upon that lonely crag, and her conductor at her side. He grasped her hand: she felt his burning touch, and a sudden smart as though she were stung—a drop of blood hung on her finger. He unbound the burning fillet, and she saw as though it were a glimpse of that unquenchable, unconsuming flame that devoured him. He took the blood and wrote upon her brow. The agony was intense, and a faint shriek escaped her. He spoke, but the sound rang in her ears like the knell of hopes for ever departed.
For words of such presumptuous blasphemy, tradition must be voiceless. The demon looked upwards; but, as if blasted by some withering sight, his eyes were suddenly withdrawn.
* * * * *
What homage was exacted, let no one seek to know.
After a pause, the deceiver again addressed her; and his form changed as he spoke.
"One day in the year alone thou shalt be subject to mischance. It is the feast of All-Hallows, when the witches meet to renew their vows. On this night thou must be as they, and must join their company. Still thou mayest hide thyself under any form thou shalt choose; but it shall abide upon thee until midnight. Till then thy spells are powerless. On no other day shall harm befall thee."
The maiden felt her pride dilate:—her weak and common nature she thought was no longer a degradation; she seemed as though she could bound through infinite space. Already was she invested with the attributes of immateriality, when she awoke!—and in her own chamber, whither the servants had conveyed her from the crag an hour before, having found her asleep, or in a swoon, upon the verge of the precipice. She looked at her hand; the sharp wound was there, and she felt her brow tingle as if to remind her of that irrevocable pledge.
Lord William sued in vain to the maid of Bernshaw Tower. She repulsed him with scorn and contumely. He vowed that he would win her, though the powers of darkness withstood the attempt. To accomplish this impious purpose, he sought Mause, the witch's dwelling. It was a dreary hut, built in a rocky cleft, shunned by all as the abode of wicked and malignant spirits, which the dame kept and nursed as familiars, for the fulfilment of her malicious will.
The night was dark and heavy when Lord William tied his steed to a rude gate that guarded the entrance to the witch's den. He raised the latch, but there was no light within.
"Holloa!" cried the courageous intruder; but all was dark and silent as before. Just as he was about to depart he thought he heard a rustling near him, and presently the croaking voice of the hag close at his ear.
"Lord William," said she, "thou art a bold man to come hither after nightfall."
He felt something startled, but he swerved not from his purpose.
"Can'st help me to a bride, Mother Helston?" cried he, in a firm voice; "for I feel mightily constrained to wed!"
"Is the doomed maiden of Bernshaw a bride fit for Lord William's bosom?" said the invisible sorceress.
"Give me some charm to win her consent,—I care not for the rest."
"Charm!" replied the beldame, with a screech that made Lord William start back. "Spells have I none that can bind her. I would she were in my power; but she hath spell for spell. Nought would avail thee, for she is beyond my reach; her power would baffle mine?"
"Is she too tainted with the iniquity that is abroad?"
"I tell thee yea; and my spirit must bow to hers. Wouldst wed her now—fond, feeble-hearted mortal?"
Lord William was silent; but the beautiful form of the maiden seemed to pass before him, and he loved her with such overmastering vehemence that if Satan himself had stood in the gap he would not have shrunk from his purpose.
"Mause Helston," said the lover, "if thou wilt help me at this bout, I will not draw back. I dare wed her though she were twice the thing thou fearest. Tell me how her spell works,—I will countervail it,—- I will break that accursed charm, and she shall be my bride!"
For a while there was no reply; but he heard a muttering as though some consultation were going on.
"Listen, Lord William," she spoke aloud. "Ay, thou wilt listen to thine own jeopardy! Once in the year—'tis on the night of All-Hallows—she may be overcome. But it is a perilous attempt!"
"I care not. Point out the way, and I will ride it rough-shod!"
The beldame arose from her couch, and struck a light. Ere they separated the morning dawned high above the grey hills. Many rites and incantations were performed, of which we forbear the disgusting recital. The instructions he received were never divulged; the secrets of that night were never known; but an altered man was Lord William when he came back to Hapton Tower.
On All-Hallows' day, with a numerous train, he went forth a-hunting. His hounds were the fleetest from Calder to Calder; and his horns the shrillest through the wide forests of Accrington and Rossendale. But on that morning a strange hound joined the pack that outstripped them all.
"Blow," cried Lord William, "till the loud echoes ring, and the fleet hounds o'ertake yon grizzled mongrel."
Both horses and dogs were driven to their utmost speed, but the strange hound still kept ahead. Over moor and fell they still rushed on, the hounds in full cry, though as yet guided only by the scent, the object of their pursuit not being visible. Suddenly a white doe was seen, distant a few yards only, and bounding away from them at full speed. She might have risen out of the ground, so immediate was her appearance. On they went in full view, but the deer was swift, and she seemed to wind and double with great dexterity. Her bearing was evidently towards the steep crags on the east. They passed the Tower of Bernshaw, and were fast approaching the verge of that tremendous precipice, the "Eagle Crag." Horse and rider must inevitably perish if they follow. But Lord William slackened not in the pursuit; and the deer flew straight as an arrow to its mark,—the very point where the crag jutted out over the gulf below. The huntsmen drew back in terror; the dogs were still in chase, though at some distance behind;—Lord William only and the strange hound were close upon her track. Beyond the crag nothing was visible but cloud and sky, showing the fearful height and abruptness of the descent. One moment, and the gulf must be shot:—his brain felt dizzy, but his heart was resolute.
"Mause, my wench," said he, "my neck or thine!—Hie thee; if she's over, we are lost!"
Lord William's steed followed in the hound's footsteps to a hair. The deer was almost within her last spring, when the hound, with a loud yell, doubled her, scarcely a yard's breadth from the long bare neb of that fearful peak, and she turned with inconceivable speed so near the verge that Lord William, in wheeling round, heard a fragment of rock, loosened by the stroke from his horse's hoof, roll down the precipice with a frightful crash. The sudden whirl had nearly brought him to the ground, but he recovered his position with great adroitness. A loud shriek announced the capture. The cruel hound held the deer by the throat, and they were struggling together on the green earth. With threats and curses he lashed away the ferocious beast, who growled fiercely at being driven from her prey. With looks of sullenness and menace, she scampered off, leaving Lord William to secure the victim. He drew a silken noose from his saddle-bow, and threw it over the panting deer, who followed quietly on to his dwelling at Hapton Tower.
At midnight there was heard a wild and unearthly shriek from the high turret, so pitiful and shrill that the inmates awoke in great alarm. The loud roar of the wind came on like a thunder-clap. The tempest flapped its wings, and its giant arms rocked the turret like a cradle. At this hour Lord William, with a wild and haggard eye, left his chamber. The last stroke of the midnight bell trembled on his ear as he entered the western tower. A maiden sat there, a silken noose was about her head, and she sobbed loud and heavily. She wrung her white hands at his approach.
"Thy spells have been o'ermastered. Henceforth I renounce these unholy rites; I would not pass nights of horror and days of dread any longer. Maiden, thou art in my power. Unless thou wilt be mine,—renouncing thine impious vows,—for ever shunning thy detested arts,—breaking that accursed chain the enemy has wound about thee,—I will deliver thee up to thy tormentors, and those that seek thy destruction. This done, and thou art free."
The maiden threw her snake-like glance upon him.
"Alas!" she cried, "I am not free. This magic noose! remove it, and my promise shall be without constraint."
"Nay, thou arch-deceiver,—deceiver of thine own self, and plotter of thine own ruin,—I would save thee from thy doom. Promise, renounce, and for ever forswear thy vows. The priest will absolve thee; it must be done ere I unbind that chain."