“Have no fear,” cried several voices, “we will catch it in our palms and quaff it.”
“Hast thou thy knife, Mould-heels?” asked Mother Demdike.
“Ay,” replied the other, “it is long and sharp, and will do thy business well. Thy grandson, Jem Device, notched it by killing swine, and my goodman ground it only yesterday. Take it.”
“I will plunge it to her heart!” cried Mother Demdike, with an infernal laugh. “And now I will tell you why we have neither fire nor caldron. On questioning the ebon image in the vault as to the place where the sacrifice should be made, I received for answer that it must be here, and in darkness. No human eye but our own must behold it. We are safe on this score, for no one is likely to come hither at this hour. No fire must be kindled, or the sacrifice will result in destruction to us all. Ye have heard, and understand?”
“We do,” replied several husky voices.
“And so do I,” said Richard, taking hold of the dark lantern.
“And now for the girl,” cried Mother Demdike.
CHAPTER XVI.—ONE O’CLOCK!
Mistress Nutter and Mother Chattox were still at the hut, impatiently awaiting the return of Fancy. But nearly an hour elapsed before he appeared.
“What has detained thee so long?” demanded the hag, sharply, as he stood before them.
“You shall hear, mistress,” replied Fancy: “I have had a busy time of it, I assure you, and thought I should never accomplish my errand. On arriving at Rough Lee, I found the place invested by Sir Thomas Metcalfe and a host of armed men, who had been sent thither by Parson Holden, for the joint purpose of arresting you, madam,” addressing Mistress Nutter, “and liberating Nowell and Potts. The knight was in a great fume; for, in spite of the force brought against it, the house had been stoutly defended by Nicholas Assheton, who had worsted the besieging party, and captured two Alsatian captains, hangers on of Sir Thomas. Appearing in the character of an enemy, I was immediately surrounded by Metcalfe and his men, who swore they would cut my throat unless I undertook to procure the liberation of the two bravos in question, as well as that of Nowell and Potts. I told them I was come for the express purpose of setting free the two last-named gentlemen; but, with respect to the former, I had no instructions, and they must arrange the matter with Master Nicholas himself. Upon this Sir Thomas became exceedingly wroth and insolent, and proceeded to such lengths that I resolved to chastise him, and in so doing performed a feat which will tend greatly to exalt Richard’s character for courage and strength.”
“Let us hear it, my doughty champion,” cried Mother Chattox.