Eustace accordingly walked forth, attended by his yeoman, John Ingram; but all he could learn was, that Edward had sent a remonstrance to the King of Castile on the delay of the subsidy.
As Eustace was returning, his attention was caught by repeated groans, which proceeded from a wretched little hovel almost level with the earth. “Hark!” said he to Ingram, a tall stout man-at-arms from the Lynwood estate. “Didst thou not hear a groaning?”
“Some of the Castilians, Sir. To think that the brutes should be content to live in holes not fit for swine!”
“But methought it was an English tongue. Listen, John!”
And in truth English ejaculations mingled with the moans: “To St. Joseph of Glastonbury, a shrine of silver! Blessed Lady of Taunton, a silver candlestick! Oh! St. Dunstan!”
Eustace doubted no longer; and stooping down and entering the hut, he beheld, as well as the darkness would allow him, Leonard Ashton himself, stretched on some mouldy rushes, and so much altered, that he could scarcely have been recognized as the sturdy, ruddy youth who had quitted the Lances of Lynwood but five weeks before.
“Eustace! Eustace!” he exclaimed, as the face of his late companion appeared. “Can it be you? Have the saints sent you to my succour?”
“It is I, myself, Leonard,” replied Eustace; “and I hope to aid you. How is it—”
“Let me feel your hand, that I may be sure you are flesh and blood,” cried Ashton, raising himself and grasping Eustace’s hand between his own, which burnt like fire; then, lowering his voice to a whisper of horror, “She is a witch!”
“Who?” asked Eustace, making the sign of the cross.
Leonard pointed to a kind of partition which crossed the hut, beyond which Eustace could perceive an old hag-like woman, bending over a cauldron which was placed on the fire. Having made this effort, he sank back, hiding his face with his cloak, and trembling in every limb. A thrill of dismay passed over the Knight, and the giant, John Ingram, stood shaking like an aspen, pale as death, and crossing himself perpetually. “Oh, take me from this place, Eustace,” repeated Leonard, “or I am a dead man, both body and soul!”
“But how came you here, Leonard?”
“I fell sick some three days since, and—and, fearing infection, Sir William Felton bade me be carried from his lodgings; the robbers, his men-at-arms, stripped me of all I possessed, and brought me to this dog-hole, to the care of this old hag. Oh, Eustace, I have heard her mutter prayers backwards; and last night—oh! last night! at the dead hour, there came in a procession—of that I would take my oath—seven black cats, each holding a torch with a blue flame, and danced around me, till one laid his paw upon my breast, and grew and grew, with its flaming eyes fixed on me, till