“What!” exclaimed the earl, “is this a new trick? Bring the fellow forward, that I may examine him.”
But Hal was gone. Instantly divining Demdike’s purpose, and seeing his chance lost, he mingled with the lookers-on, who covered his retreat. Nor could he be found when sought for by the guard.
“See you provide a substitute quickly, sir,” cried the earl, angrily, to the officer.
“It is needless to take further trouble, my lord,” replied Demdike “I am come to offer myself as executioner.”
“Thou!” exclaimed the earl.
“Ay,” replied the other. “When I heard that the men from Lancaster were fled, I instantly knew that some scheme to frustrate the ends of justice was on foot, and I at once resolved to undertake the office myself rather than delay or risk should occur. What this man’s aim was, who hath just offered himself, I partly guess, but it hath failed; and if your lordship will intrust the matter to me, I will answer that no further impediment shall arise, but that the sentence shall be fully carried out, and the law satisfied. Your lordship can trust me.”
“I know it,” replied the earl. “Be it as you will. It is now on the stroke of nine. At ten, let all be in readiness to set out for Wiswall Hall. The rain may have ceased by that time, but no weather must stay you. Go forth with the new executioner, sir,” he added to the officer, “and see all necessary preparations made.”
And as Demdike bowed, and departed with the officer, the earl sat down with his retainers to break his fast.
CHAPTER IX.—WISWALL HALL.
Shortly before ten o’clock a numerous cortege, consisting of a troop of horse in their full equipments, a band of archers with their bows over their shoulders, and a long train of barefoot monks, who had been permitted to attend, set out from the abbey. Behind them came a varlet with a paper mitre on his head, and a lathen crosier in his hand, covered with a surcoat, on which was emblazoned, but torn and reversed, the arms of Paslew; argent, a fess between three mullets, sable, pierced of the field, a crescent for difference. After him came another varlet bearing a banner, on which was painted a grotesque figure in a half-military, half-monastic garb, representing the “Earl of Poverty,” with this distich beneath it:—
and warrior—rich and poor,
He shall be hanged at his own door.
Next followed a tumbrel, drawn by two horses, in which sat the abbot alone, the two other prisoners being kept back for the present. Then came Demdike, in a leathern jerkin and blood-red hose, fitting closely to his sinewy limbs, and wrapped in a houppeland of the same colour as the hose, with a coil of rope round his neck. He walked between two ill-favoured personages habited in black, whom he had chosen as assistants. A band of halberdiers brought up the rear. The procession moved slowly along,—the passing-bell tolling each minute, and a muffled drum sounding hollowly at intervals.