“Bless ye! bless ye! my children,” he cried; “repine not for me, for I bear my cross with resignation. It is for me to bewail your lot, much fearing that the flock I have so long and so zealously tended will fall into the hands of other and less heedful pastors, or, still worse, of devouring wolves. Bless ye, my children, and be comforted. Think of the end of Abbot Paslew, and for what he suffered.”
“Think that he was a traitor to the king, and took up arms in rebellion against him,” cried the sheriff, riding up, and speaking in a loud voice; “and that for his heinous offences he was justly condemned to death.”
Murmurs arose at this speech, but they were instantly checked by the escort.
“Think charitably of me, my children,” said the abbot; “and the blessed Virgin keep you steadfast in your faith. Benedicite!”
“Be silent, traitor, I command thee,” cried the sheriff, striking him with his gauntlet in the face.
The abbot’s pale check burnt crimson, and his eye flashed fire, but he controlled himself, and answered meekly,—
“Thou didst not speak in such wise, John Braddyll, when I saved thee from the flood.”
“Which flood thou thyself caused to burst forth by devilish arts,” rejoined the sheriff. “I owe thee little for the service. If for naught else, thou deservest death for thy evil doings on that night.”
The abbot made no reply, for Braddyll’s allusion conjured up a sombre train of thought within his breast, awakening apprehensions which he could neither account for, nor shake off. Meanwhile, the cavalcade slowly approached the north-east gateway of the abbey—passing through crowds of kneeling and sorrowing bystanders;—but so deeply was the abbot engrossed by the one dread idea that possessed him, that he saw them not, and scarce heard their woful lamentations. All at once the cavalcade stopped, and the sheriff rode on to the gate, in the opening of which some ceremony was observed. Then it was that Paslew raised his eyes, and beheld standing before him a tall man, with a woman beside him bearing an infant in her arms. The eyes of the pair were fixed upon him with vindictive exultation. He would have averted his gaze, but an irresistible fascination withheld him.
“Thou seest all is prepared,” said Demdike, coming close up the mule on which Paslew was mounted, and pointing to the gigantic gallows, looming above the abbey walls; “wilt them now accede to my request?” And then he added, significantly—“on the same terms as before.”
The abbot understood his meaning well. Life and freedom were offered him by a being, whose power to accomplish his promise he did not doubt. The struggle was hard; but he resisted the temptation, and answered firmly,—
“Then die the felon death thou meritest,” cried Bess, fiercely; “and I will glut mine eyes with the spectacle.”
Incensed beyond endurance, the abbot looked sternly at her, and raised his hand in denunciation. The action and the look were so appalling, that the affrighted woman would have fled if her husband had not restrained her.