“Hold!” exclaimed Richard, stepping forward. “I will not suffer this abomination to be practised.”
“Who is it speaks to me?” cried the hag, turning round, and disclosing the hideous countenance of Mother Chattox. “The voice is that of Richard Assheton.”
“It is Richard Assheton who speaks,” cried the young man, “and I command you to desist from this wickedness. Give me that clay image,” he cried, snatching it from the sexton, and trampling it to dust beneath his feet. “Thus I destroy thy impious handiwork, and defeat thy evil intentions.”
“Ah! think’st thou so, lad,” rejoined Mother Chattox. “Thou wilt find thyself mistaken. My curse has already alighted upon thee, and it shall work. Thou lov’st Alizon.—I know it. But she shall never be thine. Now, go thy ways.”
“I will go,” replied Richard—“but you shall come with me, old woman.”
“Dare you lay hands on me?” screamed the hag.
“Nay, let her be, mester,” interposed the sexton, “yo had better.”
“You are as bad as she is,” said Richard, “and deserve equal punishment. You escaped yesterday at Whalley, old woman, but you shall not escape me now.”
“Be not too sure of that,” cried the hag, disabling him for the moment, by a severe blow on the arm from her staff. And shuffling off with an agility which could scarcely have been expected from her, she passed through a gate near her, and disappeared behind a high wall.
Richard would have followed, but he was detained by the sexton, who besought him, as he valued his life, not to interfere, and when at last he broke away from the old man, he could see nothing of her, and only heard the sound of horses’ feet in the distance. Either his eyes deceived him, or at a turn in the woody lane skirting the church he descried the reeve of the forest galloping off with the old woman behind him. This lane led towards Rough Lee, and, without a moment’s hesitation, Richard flew to the spot where he had left his horse, and, mounting him, rode swiftly along it.
CHAPTER VI.—THE TEMPTATION.
Shortly after Richard’s departure, a round, rosy-faced personage, whose rusty black cassock, hastily huddled over a dark riding-dress, proclaimed him a churchman, entered the hostel. This was the rector of Goldshaw, Parson Holden, a very worthy little man, though rather, perhaps, too fond of the sports of the field and the bottle. To Roger Nowell and Nicholas Assheton he was of course well known, and was much esteemed by the latter, often riding over to hunt and fish, or carouse, at Downham. Parson Holden had been sent for by Bess to administer spiritual consolation to poor Richard Baldwyn, who she thought stood in need of it, and having respectfully saluted the magistrate, of whom he stood somewhat in awe, and shaken hands cordially with Nicholas, who was delighted to see him, he repaired to the inner room, promising to come back speedily. And he kept his word; for in less than five minutes he reappeared with the satisfactory intelligence that the afflicted miller was considerably calmer, and had listened to his counsels with much edification.