“Go up there,” cried Nance to the squire, “and when ye get to th’ top, yo’n find another stoan, wi’ a nob in it. Yo canna miss it. Go on.”
“But you!” cried the squire. “Will you not come with us?”
“Ey’n come presently,” replied Nance, with a strange smile. “Ey ha summat to do first. That cunning fox Demdike has set a trap fo’ himsel an aw his followers,—and it’s fo’ me to ketch ’em. Wait fo’ me about a hundert yorts fro’ th’ tower. Nah nearer—yo onderstand?”
Nicholas did not very clearly understand, but concluding Nance had some hidden meaning in what she said, he resolved unhesitatingly to obey her. Having got clear of the tower, as directed, with Mistress Nutter, he ran on with her to some distance, when what was his surprise to find Crouch and Grip keeping watch over the prostrate robber chief. A few words from the huntsman sufficed to explain how this had come about, but they were scarcely uttered when Nance rushed up in breathless haste, crying out—“Off! further off! as yo value your lives!”
Seeing from her manner that delay would be dangerous, Nicholas and Crouch laid hold of the prisoner and bore him away between them, while Nance assisted Mistress Nutter along.
They had not gone far when a rumbling sound like that preceding an earthquake was heard.
All looked back towards Malkin Tower. The structure was seen to rock—flames burst from the earth—and with a tremendous explosion heard for miles ground, and which shook the ground even where Nicholas and the others stood, the whole of the unhallowed fabric, from base to summit, was blown into the air, some of the stones being projected to an extraordinary distance.
A mine charged with gunpowder, it appeared, had been laid beneath its vaults by Demdike, with a view to its destruction at some future period, and this circumstance being known to Nance, she had fired the train.
Not one of the robbers within the tower escaped. The bodies of all were found next day, crushed, burned, or frightfully mutilated.
CHAPTER VI.—HOGHTON TOWER.
About a month after the occurrence last described, and early on a fine morning in August, Nicholas Assheton and Richard Sherborne rode forth together from the proud town of Preston. Both were gaily attired in doublets and hose of yellow velvet, slashed with white silk, with mantles to match, the latter being somewhat conspicuously embroidered on the shoulder with a wild bull worked in gold, and underneath it the motto, “Malgre le Tort.” Followed at a respectful distance by four mounted attendants, the two gentlemen had crossed the bridge over the Ribble, and were wending their way along the banks of a tributary stream, the Darwen, within a short distance of the charming village of Walton-le-Dale, when they perceived a horseman advancing slowly towards them, whom they instantly hailed as Richard Assheton, and pushing forward, were soon beside him. Both were much shocked by the young man’s haggard looks, and inquired anxiously as to his health, but Richard bade them, with a melancholy smile, not be uneasy, for all would be well with him erelong.