Jennet laughed louder and more spitefully than before, and looked so like a little fury that Alizon’s blood ran cold at the sight of it.
“Ey knoa it aw, sister Alizon,” she cried, “an that is why ey ha cum’d here. Brother Jem is a pris’ner i’ Whalley Abbey. Mother is a pris’ner theere, too. An ey should ha kept em company, if Tib hadna brought me off. Now, listen to me, Alizon, fo’ this is my bus’ness wi’ yo. Yo mun get mother an Jem out to-neet—eigh, to-neet. Yo con do it, if yo win. An onless yo do—boh ey winna threaten till ey get yer answer.”
“How am I to set them free?” asked Alizon, greatly alarmed.
“Yo need only say the word to young Ruchot Assheton, an the job’s done,” replied Jennet.
“I refuse—positively refuse to do so!” rejoined Alizon, indignantly.
“Varry weel,” cried Jennet, with a look of concentrated malice and fury; “then tak the consequences. They win be ta’en to Lonkester Castle, an lose their lives theere. Bo ye shan go, too—ay, an be brunt os a witch—a witch—d’ye mark, wench? eh!”
“I defy your malice!” cried Alizon.
“Defy me!” screamed Jennet. “What, ho! Tib!”
And at the call the huge black cat sprang from out the shrubbery.
“Tear her flesh from her bones!” cried the little girl, pointing to Alizon, and stamping furiously on the ground.
Tib erected his back, and glared like a tiger, but he seemed unwilling or unable to obey the order.
Alizon, who had completely recovered her courage, regarded him fixedly, and apparently without terror.
“Whoy dusna seize her, an tear her i’ pieces?” cried the infuriated child.
“He dares not—he has no power over me,” said Alizon. “Oh, Jennet! cast him off. Your wicked agent appears to befriend you now, but he will lead you to certain destruction. Come with me, and I will save you.”
“Off!” cried Jennet, repelling her with furious gestures. “Off! ey winna ge wi’ ye. Ey winna be saved, os yo term it. Ey hate yo more than ever, an wad strike yo dead at my feet, if ey could. Boh as ey conna do it, ey win find some other means o’ injurin’ ye. Soh look to yersel, proud ledy—look to yersel? Ey ha already smitten you in a place where ye win feel it sore, an ey win repeat the blow. Ey now leave yo, boh we shan meet again. Come along, Tib!”
So saying, she sprang into the shrubbery, followed by the cat, leaving Alizon appalled by her frightful malignity.
[Illustration: ALIZON DEFIES JENNET.]
The sun had already set as Nicholas Assheton reached Todmorden, then a very small village indeed, and alighting at a little inn near the church, found the ale so good, and so many boon companions assembled to discuss it, that he would fain have tarried with them for an hour or so; but prudence, for once, getting the better of inclination, and suggesting that he had fifteen or sixteen miles still to ride, over a rough and lonely road, part of which lay through the gorge of Cliviger, a long and solitary pass among the English Apennines, and, moreover, had a large sum of money about him, he tore himself away by a great effort.