At length, however, the cavalcade reached its destination. Then the crowd struggled forward, and settled into a dense compact ring, round the circular railing enclosing the place of execution, within which were drawn up the Earl of Derby, the sheriff, Assheton, and the principal gentlemen, together with Demdike and his assistants; the guard forming a circle three deep round them.
Paslew was first unloosed, and when he stood up, he found Father Smith, the late prior, beside him, and tenderly embraced him.
“Be of good courage, Father Abbot,” said the prior; “a few moments, and you will be numbered with the just.”
“My hope is in the infinite mercy of Heaven, father,” replied Paslew, sighing deeply. “Pray for me at the last.”
“Doubt it not,” returned the prior, fervently. “I will pray for you now and ever.”
Meanwhile, the bonds of the two other captives were unfastened, but they were found wholly unable to stand without support. A lofty ladder had been placed against the central scaffold, and up this Demdike, having cast off his houppeland, mounted and adjusted the rope. His tall gaunt figure, fully displayed in his tight-fitting red garb, made him look like a hideous scarecrow. His appearance was greeted by the mob with a perfect hurricane of indignant outcries and yells. But he heeded them not, but calmly pursued his task. Above him wheeled the two ravens, who had never quitted the place since daybreak, uttering their discordant cries. When all was done, he descended a few steps, and, taking a black hood from his girdle to place over the head of his victim, called out in a voice which had little human in its tone, “I wait for you, John Paslew.”
“Are you ready, Paslew?” demanded the Earl of Derby.
“I am, my lord,” replied the abbot. And embracing the prior for the last time, he added, “Vale, carissime frater, in aeternum vale! et Dominus tecum sit in ultionem inimicorum nostrorum!”
“It is the king’s pleasure that you say not a word in your justification to the mob, Paslew,” observed the earl.
“I had no such intention, my lord,” replied the abbot.
“Then tarry no longer,” said the earl; “if you need aid you shall have it.”
“I require none,” replied Paslew, resolutely.
With this he mounted the ladder, with as much firmness and dignity as if ascending the steps of a tribune.
Hitherto nothing but yells and angry outcries had stunned the ears of the lookers-on, and several missiles had been hurled at Demdike, some of which took effect, though without occasioning discomfiture; but when the abbot appeared above the heads of the guard, the tumult instantly subsided, and profound silence ensued. Not a breath was drawn by the spectators. The ravens alone continued their ominous croaking.
Hal o’ Nabs, who stood on the outskirts of the ring, saw thus far but he could bear it no longer, and rushed down the hill. Just as he reached the level ground, a culverin was fired from the gateway, and the next moment a loud wailing cry bursting from the mob told that the abbot was launched into eternity.