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THE COURT-MARTIAL. By MRS. EDWARD THOMAS .
THE LANCASHIRE WITCHES;
A Romance of Pendle forest.
MOTHER CHATTOX , As Richard and Nicholas Assheton issued into the churchyard, they found the principal arbours occupied by the morris-dancers, Robin Hood and his troop, Doctor Ormerod and Sir Ralph having retired to the vicarage-house.
Many merry groups were scattered about, talking, laughing, and singing; but two persons, seemingly objects of suspicion and alarm, and shunned by every one who crossed their path, were advancing slowly towards the three crosses of Paullinus, which stood in a line not far from the church-porch. They were females, one about five-and-twenty, very comely, and habited in smart holiday attire, put on with considerable rustic coquetry, so as to display a very neat foot and ankle, and with plenty of ribands in her fine chestnut hair. The other was a very different person, far advanced in years, bent almost double, palsy-stricken, her arms and limbs shaking, her head nodding, her chin wagging, her snowy locks hanging about her wrinkled visage, her brow and upper lip frore, and her eyes almost sightless, the pupils being cased with a thin white film. Her dress, of antiquated make and faded stuff, had been once deep red in colour, and her old black hat was high-crowned and broad-brimmed. She partly aided herself in walking with a crutchhandled stick, and partly leaned upon her younger companion for support.
“ Why, there is one of the old women we have just been speaking of - Mother Chattox,” said Richard, pointing them out, “and with her, her granddaughter, pretty Nan Redferne.”
“ So it is,” cried Nicholas ; “ what makes the old hag here, I marvel ! I will go question her.”
So saying, he strode quickly towards her.
“ How now, Mother Chattox !” he cried. " What mischief is afoot ? What makes the darkness-loving owl abroad in the glare of day? What brings the grisly she-wolf from her forest lair ? Back to thy den, old witch. Art crazed as well as blind and palsied, that thou knowest not that this is a merry-making, and not a devil's sabbath? Back to thy hut, I say! These sacred precincts are no place for thee."
“Who is it speaks to me?” demanded the old hag, halting, and fixing her glazed eyes upon him.
“One thou hast much injured," replied Nicholas. " One into whose house thou hast brought quick-wasting sickness and death by thy infernal arts. One thou hast good reason to fear, for, learn to thy confusion, thou damned and murtherous witch, it is Nicholas, brother to thy victim, Richard Assheton of Downham, who speaks to thee.”
“I know none I have reason to fear,” replied Mother Chattox ; especially thee, Nicholas Assheton. Thy brother was no victim of mine. Thou wert the gainer by his death, not I. Why should I slay him ?"
“ I will tell thee why, old hag,” cried Nicholas; " he was inflamed by the beauty of thy granddaughter Nancy here, and it was to please Tom Redferne, her sweetheart then, but her spouse since, that thou bewitchedst him to death."
“ That reason will not avail thee, Nicholas,” rejoined Mother Chattox, with a derisive laugh. “ If I had
hand in his death, it was to serve and pleasure thee, and that all men shall krow, if I am questioned on the subject—ha! ha! Take me to the crosses, Nance."
Thou shalt not 'scape thus, thou murtherous hag," cried Nicholas, furiously. Nay, let her
her way,” said Richard, who had drawn near during the colloquy. “ No good will come of meddling with her.”
“ Who's that ?” asked Mother Chattox, quickly. “ Master Richard Assheton, o' Middleton,” whispered Nan Redferne.
“Another of these accursed Asshetons,” cried Mother Chattox. “ A plague seize them!”
“ Boh he's weel-favourt ap kindly,” remarked her granddaughter.
“Well-favoured or not, kindly or cruel, I hate them all,” cried Mother Chattox. “ To the crosses, I say."
But Nicholas placed himself in their path.
“ Is it to pray to Beelzebub, thy master, that thou wouldst go to the crosses?" he asked.
“Out of my way, pestilent fool!" cried the hag.
“ Thou shalt not stir till I have had an answer," rejoined Nicholas. “ They say those are Runic obelisks, and not Christian crosses, and that the carvings upon them have a magical signification. The first, it is averred, is written o'er with deadly curses, and the forms in which they are traced, as serpentine, triangular, or round, indicate and rule their swift or slow effect. The second bears charms against diseases, storms, and lightning. And on the third is inscribed a verse which will render him who can read it rightly invisible to mortal view. Thou shouldst be learned in such lore, old Pythoness. Is it so ?”
The hag's chin wagged fearfully, and her frame trembled with passion, but she spoke not.
“ Have you been in the church, old woman ?” interposed Richard. “ Ay, wherefore?” she rejoined. “ Some one has placed a cypress wreath on Abbot Paslew's grave.
u ?" he asked. “ What! hast thou found it ?” cried the hag. “It shall bring thee rare luck, lad—rare luck. Now let me pass.”
“Not yet,” cried Nicholas, forcibly grasping her withered arm. The hag uttered a scream of rage. “Let me go, Nicholas Assheton," she sbrieked, " or thou shalt rue it.
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