“Ay,” replied the squire, as the young woman came quickly down the steps,—“and I refused her aid in the conflict because I felt certain of mastering thee, and because I would not take odds even against such a treacherous villain as thou art.”
“Better dispatch him, squire,” said Nance; “he may do yo a mischief yet.”
“No—no,” replied Nicholas, “he is unworthy of a gentleman’s sword. Besides, I have sworn to hang him, and I will keep my word. Go down into the vaults and liberate Mistress Nutter, while I bind him, for we must take him with us. To-morrow, he shall lie in Lancaster Castle with his kinsfolk.”
“That remains to be seen,” muttered Demdike.
“Be on your guard, squire,” cried Nance, as she lifted a small lamp, and raised the trapdoor.
With this caution, she descended to the vaults, while Nicholas looked about for a thong, and perceiving a rope dangling down the wall near him, he seized it, drawing it with some force towards him.
A sudden sound reached his ears—clang! clang! He had rung the alarm-bell violently.
Clang! clang! clang! Would it never stop?
Taking advantage of his surprise and consternation, Demdike got from under him, sprang to his feet, and rushing to the doorway, instantly let fall the steps, roaring out,—
“Treason! to the rescue, my men! to the rescue!”
His cries were immediately answered from without, and it was evident from the tumult that the whole of the band were hurrying to his assistance.
Not a moment was to be lost by the squire. Plunging through the trapdoor, he closed it after him, and bolted it underneath at the very moment the robbers entered the chamber. Demdike’s rage at finding him gone was increased, when all the combined efforts of his men failed in forcing open the trapdoor.
“Take hatchets and hew it open!” he cried; “we must have them. I have heard there is a secret outlet below, and though I have never been able to discover it, it may be known to Nance. I will go outside, and watch. If you hear me whistle, come forth instantly.”
And, rushing forth, he was making the circuit, of the tower, and examining some bushes at its base, when his throat was suddenly seized by a dog, and before he could even utter an exclamation, much less sound his whistle, or use his arms, he was grappled by the old huntsman, and dragged off to a considerable distance, the dog still clinging to his throat.
Meanwhile, Nicholas had hurried down into the vaults, where he found Nance sustaining Mistress Nutter, who was half fainting, and hastily explaining what had occurred, she consigned the lady to him, and then led the way through the central range of pillars, and past the ebon image, until she approached the wall, when, holding up the lamp, she revealed a black marble slab between the statues of Blackburn and Isole. Pressing against it, the slab moved on one side, and disclosed a flight of steps.