“Think not to escape us,” cried the familiar; “no penitence—no absolution can save thee. Thy name is written on the judgment scroll, and cannot be effaced. I would have aided thee, but, since my offer is rejected, I leave thee.”
“You will not let him go!” screamed Mother Chattox. “Oh that the chance were mine!”
“Be silent, or I will beat thy brains out!” said the familiar. “Once more, am I dismissed?”
“Ay, for ever!” replied Mistress Nutter.
And as the familiar disappeared, she flew to the spot where her child had been taken.
About twenty paces from the beacon, a circle had again been formed by the unhallowed crew, in the midst of which stood Mother Demdike, with the gory knife in her hand, muttering spells and incantations, and performing mystical ceremonials.
Every now and then her companions joined in these rites, and chanted a song couched in a wild, unintelligible jargon. Beside the witch knelt Alizon, with her hands tied behind her back, so that she could not raise them in supplication; her hair unbound, and cast loosely over her person, and a thick bandage fastened over her eyes and mouth.
The initiatory ceremonies over, the old hag approached her victim, when Mistress Nutter forced herself through the circle, and cast herself at her feet.
“Spare her!” she cried, clinging to her knees; “it shall be well for thee if thou dost so.”
“Again interrupted!” cried the witch, furiously. “This time I will show thee no mercy. Take thy fate, meddlesome woman!”
And she raised the knife, but ere the weapon could descend, it was seized by Mistress Nutter, and wrested from her grasp. In another instant, Alizon’s arms were liberated, and the bandage removed from her eyes.
“Now it is my turn to threaten. I have thee in my power, infernal hag!” cried Mistress Nutter, holding the knife to the witch’s throat, and clasping her daughter with the other arm. “Wilt let us go?”
“No!” replied Mother Demdike, springing nimbly backwards. “You shall both die. I will soon disarm thee.”
And making one or two passes with her hands, Mistress Nutter dropped the weapon, and instantly became fixed and motionless, with her daughter, equally rigid, in her arms. They looked as if suddenly turned to marble.
“Now to complete the ceremonial,” cried Mother Demdike, picking up the knife.
And then she began to mutter an impious address preparatory to the sacrifice, when a loud clangour was heard like the stroke of a hammer upon a bell.
“What was that?” exclaimed the witch, in alarm.
“Were there a clock here, I should say it had struck one,” replied Mould-heels.
“It must be our master’s timepiece,” said another witch.
“One o’clock!” exclaimed Mother Demdike, who appeared stupefied with fear, “and the sacrifice not made—then I am lost!”
A derisive laugh reached her ears. It proceeded from Mother Chattox, who had contrived to raise herself to her feet, and, tottering forward, now passed through the appalled circle.