“When I came back, all this part of Lancashire resounded with praises of the beauty of Bess Blackburn, a rustic lass who dwelt in Barrowford. She was called the Flower of Pendle, and inflamed all the youths with love, and all the maidens with jealousy. But she favoured none except Cuthbert Ashbead, forester to the Abbot of Whalley. Her mother would fain have given her to the forester in marriage, but Bess would not be disposed of so easily. I saw her, and became at once enamoured. I thought my heart was seared; but it was not so. The savage beauty of Bess pleased me more than the most refined charms could have done, and her fierce character harmonised with my own. How I won her matters not, but she cast off all thoughts of Ashbead, and clung to me. My wild life suited her; and she roamed the wastes with me, scaled the hills in my company, and shrank not from the weird meetings I attended. Ill repute quickly attended her, and she became branded as a witch. Her aged mother closed her doors upon her, and those who would have gone miles to meet her, now avoided her. Bess heeded this little. She was of a nature to repay the world’s contumely with like scorn, but when her child was born the case became different. She wished to save it. Then it was,” pursued Demdike, vehemently, and regarding the abbot with flashing eyes—“then it was that I was again mortally injured by you. Then your ruthless decree to the clergy went forth. My child was denied baptism, and became subject to the fiend.”
“Alas! alas!” exclaimed Paslew.
“And as if this were not injury enough,” thundered Demdike, “you have called down a withering and lasting curse upon its innocent head, and through it transfixed its mother’s heart. If you had complied with that poor girl’s request, I would have forgiven you your wrong to me, and have saved you.”
There was a long, fearful silence. At last Demdike advanced to the abbot, and, seizing his arm, fixed his eyes upon him, as if to search into his soul.
“Answer me, John Paslew!” he cried; “answer me, as you shall speedily answer your Maker. Can that malediction be recalled? Dare not to trifle with me, or I will tear forth your black heart, and cast it in your face. Can that curse be recalled? Speak!”
“It cannot,” replied the abbot, half dead with terror.
“Away, then!” thundered Demdike, casting him from him. “To the gallows!—to the gallows!” And he rushed out of the room.
CHAPTER VII.—THE ABBEY MILL.
For a while the abbot remained shattered and stupefied by this terrible interview. At length he arose, and made his way, he scarce knew how, to the oratory. But it was long before the tumult of his thoughts could be at all allayed, and he had only just regained something like composure when he was disturbed by hearing a slight sound in the adjoining chamber. A mortal chill came over him, for he thought it might be Demdike returned. Presently, he distinguished a footstep stealthily approaching him, and almost hoped that the wizard would consummate his vengeance by taking his life. But he was quickly undeceived, for a hand was placed on his shoulder, and a friendly voice whispered in his ears, “Cum along wi’ meh, lort abbut. Get up, quick—quick!”