“Ay, thy term is out—thy soul is forfeited like mine—ha! ha!” And she fell to the ground.
“Perhaps it may not be too late,” cried Mother Demdike, grasping the knife, and rushing towards Alizon.
But at this moment a bright flame shot up from the beacon.
Astonishment and terror seized the hag, and she uttered a loud cry, which was echoed by the rest of the crew.
The flame mounted higher and higher, and burnt each moment more brightly, illumining the whole summit of the hill. By its light could be seen a band of men, some of whom were on horseback, speeding towards the place of meeting.
Scared by the sight, the witches fled, but were turned by another band advancing from the opposite quarter. They then made towards the spot where their broomsticks were deposited, but ere they could reach it, a third party gained the summit of the hill at this precise point, and immediately started in pursuit of them.
Meanwhile, a young man issuing from behind the beacon, flew towards Mistress Nutter and her daughter. The moment the flame burst forth, the spell cast over them by Mother Demdike was broken, and motion and speech restored.
“Alizon!” exclaimed the young man, as he came up, “your trials are over. You are safe.”
“Oh, Richard!” she replied, falling into his arms, “have we been preserved by you?”
“I am a mere instrument in the hands of Heaven,” he replied.
Mother Demdike made no attempt at flight with the rest of the witches, but remained for a few moments absorbed in contemplation of the flaming beacon. Her hand still grasped the murderous weapon she had raised against Alizon, but it had dropped to her side when the fire burst forth. At length she turned fiercely to Richard, and demanded—
“Was it thou who kindled the beacon?”
“It was!” replied the young man.
“And who bade thee do it—who brought thee hither?” pursued the witch.
“An enemy of thine, old woman!” replied Richard, “His vengeance has been slow in coming, but it has arrived at last.”
“But who is he? I see him not!” rejoined Mother Demdike.
“You will see him before yon flame expires,” said Richard. “I should have come to your assistance sooner, Alizon,” he continued, turning to her, “but I was forbidden. And I knew I should best ensure your safety by compliance with the injunctions I had received.”
“Some guardian spirit must have interposed to preserve us,” replied Alizon; “for such only could have successfully combated with the evil beings from whom we have been delivered.”
“Thy spirit is unable to preserve thee now!” cried Mother Demdike, aiming a deadly blow at her with the knife. But, fortunately, the attempt was foreseen by Richard, who caught her arm, and wrested the weapon from her.