CHAPTER VII.—THE PERAMBULATION OF THE BOUNDARIES.
The lane along which Richard Assheton galloped in pursuit of Mother Chattox, made so many turns, and was, moreover, so completely hemmed in by high banks and hedges, that he could sec nothing on either side of him, and very little in advance; but, guided by the clatter of hoofs, he urged Merlin to his utmost speed, fancying he should soon come up with the fugitives. In this, however, he was deceived. The sound that had led him on became fainter and fainter, till at last it died away altogether; and on quitting the lane and gaining the moor, where the view was wholly uninterrupted, no traces either of witch or reeve could be discerned.
With a feeling of angry disappointment, Richard was about to turn back, when a large black greyhound came from out an adjoining clough, and made towards him. The singularity of the circumstance induced him to halt and regard the dog with attention. On nearing him, the animal looked wistfully in his face, and seemed to invite him to follow; and the young man was so struck by the dog’s manner, that he complied, and had not gone far when a hare of unusual size and grey with age bounded from beneath a gorse-bush and speeded away, the greyhound starting in pursuit.
Aware of the prevailing notion, that a witch most commonly assumed such a form when desirous of escaping, or performing some act of mischief, such as drying the milk of kine, Richard at once came to the conclusion that the hare could be no other than Mother Chattox; and without pausing to inquire what the hound could be, or why it should appear at such a singular and apparently fortunate juncture, he at once joined the run, and cheered on the dog with whoop and holloa.
Old as it was, apparently, the hare ran with extraordinary swiftness, clearing every stone wall and other impediment in the way, and more than once cunningly doubling upon its pursuers. But every feint and stratagem were defeated by the fleet and sagacious hound, and the hunted animal at length took to the open waste, where the run became so rapid, that Richard had enough to do to keep up with it, though Merlin, almost as furiously excited as his master, strained every sinew to the task.
In this way the chasers and the chased scoured the dark and heathy plain, skirting moss-pool and clearing dyke, till they almost reached the but-end of Pendle Hill, which rose like an impassable barrier before them. Hitherto the chances had seemed in favour of the hare; but they now began to turn, and as it seemed certain she must fall into the hound’s jaws, Richard expected every moment to find her resume her natural form. The run having brought him within, a quarter of a mile of Barley, the rude hovels composing which little booth were clearly discernible, the young man began to think the hag’s dwelling must he among them, and that she was hurrying thither