“Never,” replied Paslew; “the curse is irrevocable. But I would not recall it if I could. As I have said, thy child shall be a witch, and the mother of witches—but all shall be swept off—all!”
“Hell’s torments seize thee!” cried the wizard, furiously.
“Nay, thou hast done thy worst to me,” rejoined Paslew, meekly, “thou canst not harm me beyond the grave. Look to thyself, for even as thou speakest, thy child is taken from thee.”
And so it was. While Demdike knelt beside Paslew, a hand was put forth, and, before the man who had custody of the infant could prevent it, his little charge was snatched from him. Thus the abbot saw, though the wizard perceived it not. The latter instantly sprang to his feet.
“Where is the child?” he demanded of the fellow in the russet cloak.
“It was taken from me by yon tall man who is disappearing through the gateway,” replied the other, in great trepidation.
“Ha! he here!” exclaimed Demdike, regarding the dark figure with a look of despair. “It is gone from me for ever!”
“Ay, for ever!” echoed the abbot, solemnly.
“But revenge is still left me—revenge!” cried Demdike, with an infuriated gesture.
“Then glut thyself with it speedily,” replied the abbot; “for thy time here is short.”
“I care not if it be,” replied Demdike; “I shall live long enough if I survive thee.”
At this moment the blast of a trumpet resounded from the gateway, and the Earl of Derby, with the sheriff on his right hand, and Assheton on the left, and mounted on a richly caparisoned charger, rode forth. He was preceded by four javelin-men, and followed by two heralds in their tabards.
To doleful tolling of bells—to solemn music—to plaintive hymn chanted by monks—to roll of muffled drum at intervals—the sad cortege set forth. Loud cries from the bystanders marked its departure, and some of them followed it, but many turned away, unable to endure the sight of horror about to ensue. Amongst those who went on was Hal o’ Nabs, but he took care to keep out of the way of the guard, though he was little likely to be recognised, owing to his disguise.
Despite the miserable state of the weather, a great multitude was assembled at the place of execution, and they watched the approaching cavalcade with moody curiosity. To prevent disturbance, arquebussiers were stationed in parties here and there, and a clear course for the cortege was preserved by two lines of halberdiers with crossed pikes. But notwithstanding this, much difficulty was experienced in mounting the hill. Rendered slippery by the wet, and yet more so by the trampling of the crowd, the road was so bad in places that the horses could scarcely drag the hurdles up it, and more than one delay occurred. The stoppages were always denounced by groans, yells, and hootings from the mob, and these neither the menaces of the Earl of Derby, nor the active measures of the guard, could repress.