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despoiled.

A sad, sad change hath come over Whalley Abbey. The libraries, well
stored with reverend tomes, have been pillaged, and their contents cast
to the flames; and thus long laboured manuscript, the fruit of years of
patient industry, with gloriously illuminated missal, are irrecoverably
lost. The large infirmary no longer receiveth the sick; in the locutory
sitteth no more the guest. No longer in the mighty kitchens are prepared
the prodigious supply of meats destined for the support of the poor or
the entertainment of the traveller. No kindly porter stands at the gate,
to bid the stranger enter and partake of the munificent abbot's
hospitality, but a churlish guard bids him hie away, and menaces him if
he tarries with his halbert. Closed are the buttery-hatches and the
pantries; and the daily dole of bread hath ceased. Closed, also, to the
brethren is the refectory. The cellarer's office is ended. The strong
ale which he brewed in October, is tapped in March by roystering
troopers. The rich muscadel and malmsey, and the wines of Gascoigne and
the Rhine, are no longer quaffed by the abbot and his more honoured
guests, but drunk to his destruction by his foes. The great gallery, a
hundred and fifty feet in length, the pride of the abbot's lodging, and
a model of architecture, is filled not with white-robed ecclesiastics,
but with an armed earl and his retainers. Neglected is the little
oratory dedicated to Our Lady of Whalley, where night and morn the abbot
used to pray. All the old religious and hospitable uses of the abbey are
foregone. The reverend stillness of the cloisters, scarce broken by the
quiet tread of the monks, is now disturbed by armed heel and clank of
sword; while in its saintly courts are heard the ribald song, the
profane jest, and the angry brawl. Of the brethren, only those tenanting
the cemetery are left. All else are gone, driven forth, as vagabonds,
with stripes and curses, to seek refuge where they may.

A sad, sad change has come over Whalley Abbey. In the plenitude of its
pride and power has it been cast down, desecrated, despoiled. Its
treasures are carried off, its ornaments sold, its granaries emptied,
its possessions wasted, its storehouses sacked, its cattle slaughtered
and sold. But, though stripped of its wealth and splendour; though
deprived of all the religious graces that, like rich incense, lent an
odour to the fane, its external beauty is yet unimpaired, and its vast
proportions undiminished.

A stately pile was Whalley - one of the loveliest as well as the largest
in the realm. Carefully had it been preserved by its reverend rulers,
and where reparations or additions were needed they were judiciously
made. Thus age had lent it beauty, by mellowing its freshness and toning
its hues, while no decay was perceptible. Without a struggle had it
yielded to the captor, so that no part of its wide belt of walls or
towers, though so strongly constructed as to have offered effectual
resistance, were injured.

Never had Whalley Abbey looked more beautiful than on a bright clear
morning in March, when this sad change had been wrought, and when, from
a peaceful monastic establishment, it had been converted into a menacing
fortress. The sunlight sparkled upon its grey walls, and filled its
three great quadrangular courts with light and life, piercing the
exquisite carving of its cloisters, and revealing all the intricate
beauty and combinations of the arches. Stains of painted glass fell upon
the floor of the magnificent conventual church, and dyed with rainbow
hues the marble tombs of the Lacies, the founders of the establishment,
brought thither when the monastery was removed from Stanlaw in Cheshire,
and upon the brass-covered gravestones of the abbots in the presbytery.
There lay Gregory de Northbury, eighth abbot of Stanlaw and first of
Whalley, and William Rede, the last abbot; but there was never to lie
John Paslew. The slumber of the ancient prelates was soon to be
disturbed, and the sacred structure within which they had so often
worshipped, up-reared by sacrilegious hands. But all was bright and
beauteous now, and if no solemn strains were heard in the holy pile, its
stillness was scarcely less reverential and awe-inspiring. The old abbey
wreathed itself in all its attractions, as if to welcome back its former
ruler, whereas it was only to receive him as a captive doomed to a
felon's death.

But this was outward show. Within all was terrible preparation. Such
was the discontented state of the country, that fearing some new revolt,
the Earl of Derby had taken measures for the defence of the abbey, and
along the wide-circling walls of the close were placed ordnance and men,
and within the grange stores of ammunition. A strong guard was set at
each of the gates, and the courts were filled with troops. The bray of
the trumpet echoed within the close, where rounds were set for the
archers, and martial music resounded within the area of the cloisters.
Over the great north-eastern gateway, which formed the chief entrance to
the abbot's lodging, floated the royal banner. Despite these warlike
proceedings the fair abbey smiled beneath the sun, in all, or more than
all, its pristine beauty, its green hills sloping gently down towards
it, and the clear and sparkling Calder dashing merrily over the stones
at its base.

But upon the bridge, and by the river side, and within the little
village, many persons were assembled, conversing gravely and anxiously
together, and looking out towards the hills, where other groups were
gathered, as if in expectation of some afflicting event. Most of these
were herdsmen and farming men, but some among them were poor monks in
the white habits of the Cistertian brotherhood, but which were now
stained and threadbare, while their countenances bore traces of severest
privation and suffering. All the herdsmen and farmers had been retainers
of the abbot. The poor monks looked wistfully at their former
habitation, but replied not except by a gentle bowing of the head to the
cruel scoffs and taunts with which they were greeted by the passing
soldiers; but the sturdy rustics did not bear these outrages so tamely,
and more than one brawl ensued, in which blood flowed, while a ruffianly
arquebussier would have been drowned in the Calder but for the exertions
to save him of a monk whom he had attacked.

This took place on the eleventh of March, 1537 - more than three months
after the date of the watching by the beacon before recorded - and the
event anticipated by the concourse without the abbey, as well as by
those within its walls, was the arrival of Abbot Paslew and Fathers
Eastgate and Haydocke, who were to be brought on that day from
Lancaster, and executed on the following morning before the abbey,
according to sentence passed upon them.

The gloomiest object in the picture remains to be described, but yet it
is necessary to its completion. This was a gallows of unusual form and
height, erected on the summit of a gentle hill, rising immediately in
front of the abbot's lodgings, called the Holehouses, whose rounded,
bosomy beauty it completely destroyed. This terrible apparatus of
condign punishment was regarded with abhorrence by the rustics, and it
required a strong guard to be kept constantly round it to preserve it
from demolition.

Amongst a group of rustics collected on the road leading to the
north-east gateway, was Cuthbert Ashbead, who having been deprived of
his forester's office, was now habited in a frieze doublet and hose with
a short camlet cloak on his shoulder, and a fox-skin cap, embellished
with the grinning jaws of the beast on his head.

"Eigh, Ruchot o' Roaph's," he observed to a bystander, "that's a fearfo
sect that gallas. Yoan been up to t' Holehouses to tey a look at it,
beloike?"

"Naw, naw, ey dunna loike such sects," replied Ruchot o' Roaph's;
"besoide there wor a great rabblement at t' geate, an one o' them lunjus
archer chaps knockt meh o' t' nob wi' his poike, an towd me he'd hong me
wi' t' abbut, if ey didna keep owt ot wey."

"An sarve te reet too, theaw craddinly carl!" cried Ashbead, doubling
his horny fists. "Odds flesh! whey didna yo ha' a tussle wi' him? Mey
honts are itchen for a bowt wi' t' heretic robbers. Walladey! walladey!
that we should live to see t' oly feythers driven loike hummobees owt o'
t' owd neest. Whey they sayn ot King Harry hon decreet ot we're to ha'
naw more monks or friars i' aw Englondshiar. Ony think o' that. An dunna
yo knoa that t' Abbuts o' Jervaux an Salley wor hongt o' Tizeday at
Loncaster Castle?"

"Good lorjus bless us!" exclaimed a sturdy hind, "we'n a protty king.
Furst he chops off his woife's heaod, an then hongs aw t' priests.
Whot'll t' warlt cum 'to?

"Eigh by t' mess, whot _win_ it cum to?" cried Ruchot o' Roaph's. "But
we darrna oppen owr mows fo' fear o' a gog."

"Naw, beleady! boh eyst oppen moine woide enuff," cried Ashbead; "an' if
a dozen o' yo chaps win join me, eyn try to set t' poor abbut free whon
they brinks him here."

"Ey'd as leef boide till to-morrow," said Ruchot o'Roaph's, uneasily.

"Eigh, thou'rt a timmersome teyke, os ey towd te efore," replied
Ashbead. "But whot dust theaw say, Hal o' Nabs?" he added, to the sturdy
hind who had recently spoken.

"Ey'n spill t' last drop o' meh blood i' t' owd abbut's keawse," replied
Hal o' Nabs. "We winna stond by, an see him hongt loike a dog. Abbut
Paslew to t' reskew, lads!"

"Eigh, Abbut Paslew to t' reskew!" responded all the others, except
Ruchot o' Roaph's.

"This must be prevented," muttered a voice near them. And immediately
afterwards a tall man quitted the group.

"Whoa wor it spoake?" cried Hal o' Nabs. "Oh, ey seen, that he-witch,
Nick Demdike."

"Nick Demdike here!" cried Ashbead, looking round in alarm. "Has he
owerheert us?"

"Loike enow," replied Hal o' Nabs. "But ey didna moind him efore."

"Naw ey noather," cried Ruchot o' Roaph's, crossing himself, and
spitting on the ground. "Owr Leady o' Whalley shielt us fro' t'
warlock!"

"Tawkin o' Nick Demdike," cried Hal o' Nabs, "yo'd a strawnge odventer
wi' him t' neet o' t' great brast o' Pendle Hill, hadna yo, Cuthbert?"

"Yeigh, t' firrups tak' him, ey hadn," replied Ashbead. "Theawst hear aw
abowt it if t' will. Ey wur sent be t' abbut down t' hill to Owen o'
Gab's, o' Perkin's, o' Dannel's, o' Noll's, o' Oamfrey's orchert i'
Warston lone, to luk efter him. Weel, whon ey gets ower t' stoan wa',
whot dun yo think ey sees! twanty or throtty poikemen stonding behint
it, an they deshes at meh os thick os leet, an efore ey con roor oot,
they blintfowlt meh, an clap an iron gog i' meh mouth. Weel, I con
noather speak nor see, boh ey con use meh feet, soh ey punses at 'em
reet an' laft; an be mah troath, lads, yood'n a leawght t' hear how they
roart, an ey should a roart too, if I couldn, whon they began to thwack
me wi' their raddling pows, and ding'd meh so abowt t' heoad, that ey
fell i' a swownd. Whon ey cum to, ey wur loyin o' meh back i' Rimington
Moor. Every booan i' meh hoide wratcht, an meh hewr war clottert wi'
gore, boh t' eebond an t' gog wur gone, soh ey gets o' meh feet, and
daddles along os weel os ey con, whon aw ot wunce ey spies a leet
glenting efore meh, an dawncing abowt loike an awf or a wull-o'-whisp.
Thinks ey, that's Friar Rush an' his lantern, an he'll lead me into a
quagmire, soh ey stops a bit, to consider where ey'd getten, for ey
didna knoa t' reet road exactly; boh whon ey stood still, t' leet stood
still too, on then ey meyd owt that it cum fro an owd ruint tower, an
whot ey'd fancied wur one lantern proved twanty, fo' whon ey reacht t'
tower an peept in thro' a brok'n winda, ey beheld a seet ey'st neer
forgit - apack o' witches - eigh, witches! - sittin' in a ring, wi' their
broomsticks an lanterns abowt em!"

"Good lorjus deys!" cried Hal o' Nabs. "An whot else didsta see, mon?"

"Whoy," replied Ashbead, "t'owd hags had a little figure i' t' midst on
'em, mowded i' cley, representing t' abbut o' Whalley, - ey knoad it be't
moitre and crosier, - an efter each o' t' varment had stickt a pin i' its
'eart, a tall black mon stepped for'ard, an teed a cord rownd its
throttle, an hongt it up."

"An' t' black mon," cried Hal o' Nabs, breathlessly, - "t' black mon wur
Nick Demdike?"

"Yoan guest it," replied Ashbead, "'t wur he! Ey wur so glopp'nt, ey
couldna speak, an' meh blud fruz i' meh veins, when ey heerd a fearfo
voice ask Nick wheere his woife an' chilt were. 'The infant is
unbaptised,' roart t' voice, 'at the next meeting it must be sacrificed.
See that thou bring it.' Demdike then bowed to Summat I couldna see; an
axt when t' next meeting wur to be held. 'On the night of Abbot
Paslew's execution,' awnsert t' voice. On hearing this, ey could bear
nah lunger, boh shouted out, 'Witches! devils! Lort deliver us fro' ye!'
An' os ey spoke, ey tried t' barst thro' t' winda. In a trice, aw t'
leets went out; thar wur a great rash to t' dooer; a whirrin sound i'
th' air loike a covey o' partriches fleeing off; and then ey heerd nowt
more; for a great stoan fell o' meh scoance, an' knockt me down
senseless. When I cum' to, I wur i' Nick Demdike's cottage, wi' his
woife watching ower me, and th' unbapteesed chilt i' her arms."

All exclamations of wonder on the part of the rustics, and inquiries as
to the issue of the adventure, were checked by the approach of a monk,
who, joining the assemblage, called their attention to a priestly train
slowly advancing along the road.

"It is headed," he said, "by Fathers Chatburne and Chester, late bursers
of the abbey. Alack! alack! they now need the charity themselves which
they once so lavishly bestowed on others."

"Waes me!" ejaculated Ashbead. "Monry a broad merk han ey getten fro
'em."

"They'n been koind to us aw," added the others.

"Next come Father Burnley, granger, and Father Haworth, cellarer,"
pursued the monk; "and after them Father Dinkley, sacristan, and Father
Moore, porter."

"Yo remember Feyther Moore, lads," cried Ashbead.

"Yeigh, to be sure we done," replied the others; "a good mon, a reet
good mon! He never sent away t' poor - naw he!"

"After Father Moore," said the monk, pleased with their warmth, "comes
Father Forrest, the procurator, with Fathers Rede, Clough, and Bancroft,
and the procession is closed by Father Smith, the late prior."

"Down o' yer whirlybooans, lads, as t' oly feythers pass," cried
Ashbead, "and crave their blessing."

And as the priestly train slowly approached, with heads bowed down, and
looks fixed sadly upon the ground, the rustic assemblage fell upon their
knees, and implored their benediction. The foremost in the procession
passed on in silence, but the prior stopped, and extending his hands
over the kneeling group, cried in a solemn voice,

"Heaven bless ye, my children! Ye are about to witness a sad spectacle.
You will see him who hath clothed you, fed you, and taught you the way
to heaven, brought hither a prisoner, to suffer a shameful death."

"Boh we'st set him free, oly prior," cried Ashbead. "We'n meayed up our
moinds to 't. Yo just wait till he cums."

"Nay, I command you to desist from the attempt, if any such you
meditate," rejoined the prior; "it will avail nothing, and you will
only sacrifice your own lives. Our enemies are too strong. The abbot
himself would give you like counsel."

Scarcely were the words uttered than from the great gate of the abbey
there issued a dozen arquebussiers with an officer at their head, who
marched directly towards the kneeling hinds, evidently with the
intention of dispersing them. Behind them strode Nicholas Demdike. In an
instant the alarmed rustics were on their feet, and Ruchot o' Roaph's,
and some few among them, took to their heels, but Ashbead, Hal o' Nabs,
with half a dozen others, stood their ground manfully. The monks
remained in the hope of preventing any violence. Presently the
halberdiers came up.

"That is the ringleader," cried the officer, who proved to be Richard
Assheton, pointing out Ashbead; "seize him!"

"Naw mon shall lay honts o' meh," cried Cuthbert.

And as the guard pushed past the monks to execute their leader's order,
he sprang forward, and, wresting a halbert from the foremost of them,
stood upon his defence.

"Seize him, I say!" shouted Assheton, irritated at the resistance
offered.

"Keep off," cried Ashbead; "yo'd best. Loike a stag at bey ey'm
dawngerous. Waar horns! waar horns! ey sey."

The arquebussiers looked irresolute. It was evident Ashbead would only
be taken with life, and they were not sure that it was their leader's
purpose to destroy him.

"Put down thy weapon, Cuthbert," interposed the prior; "it will avail
thee nothing against odds like these."

"Mey be, 'oly prior," rejoined Ashbead, flourishing the pike: "boh ey'st
ony yield wi' loife."

"I will disarm him," cried Demdike, stepping forward.

"Theaw!" retorted Ashbead, with a scornful laugh, "Cum on, then. Hadsta
aw t' fiends i' hell at te back, ey shouldna fear thee."

"Yield!" cried Demdike in a voice of thunder, and fixing a terrible
glance upon him.

"Cum on, wizard," rejoined Ashbead undauntedly. But, observing that his
opponent was wholly unarmed, he gave the pike to Hal o' Nabs, who was
close beside him, observing, "It shall never be said that Cuthbert
Ashbead feawt t' dule himsel unfairly. Nah, touch me if theaw dar'st."

Demdike required no further provocation. With almost supernatural force
and quickness he sprung upon the forester, and seized him by the throat.
But the active young man freed himself from the gripe, and closed with
his assailant. But though of Herculean build, it soon became evident
that Ashbead would have the worst of it; when Hal o' Nabs, who had
watched the struggle with intense interest, could not help coming to his
friend's assistance, and made a push at Demdike with the halbert.

Could it be that the wrestlers shifted their position, or that the
wizard was indeed aided by the powers of darkness? None could tell, but
so it was that the pike pierced the side of Ashbead, who instantly fell
to the ground, with his adversary upon him. The next instant his hold
relaxed, and the wizard sprang to his feet unharmed, but deluged in
blood. Hal o' Nabs uttered a cry of keenest anguish, and, flinging
himself upon the body of the forester, tried to staunch the wound; but
he was quickly seized by the arquebussiers, and his hands tied behind
his back with a thong, while Ashbead was lifted up and borne towards the
abbey, the monks and rustics following slowly after; but the latter were
not permitted to enter the gate.

As the unfortunate keeper, who by this time had become insensible from
loss of blood, was carried along the walled enclosure leading to the
abbot's lodging, a female with a child in her arms was seen advancing
from the opposite side. She was tall, finely formed, with features of
remarkable beauty, though of a masculine and somewhat savage character,
and with magnificent but fierce black eyes. Her skin was dark, and her
hair raven black, contrasting strongly with the red band wound around
it. Her kirtle was of murrey-coloured serge; simply, but becomingly
fashioned. A glance sufficed to show her how matters stood with poor
Ashbead, and, uttering a sharp angry cry, she rushed towards him.

"What have you done?" she cried, fixing a keen reproachful look on
Demdike, who walked beside the wounded man.

"Nothing," replied Demdike with a bitter laugh; "the fool has been hurt
with a pike. Stand out of the way, Bess, and let the men pass. They are
about to carry him to the cell under the chapter-house."

"You shall not take him there," cried Bess Demdike, fiercely. "He may
recover if his wound be dressed. Let him go to the infirmary - ha, I
forgot - there is no one there now."

"Father Bancroft is at the gate," observed one of the arquebussiers; "he
used to act as chirurgeon in the abbey."

"No monk must enter the gate except the prisoners when they arrive,"
observed Assheton; "such are the positive orders of the Earl of Derby."

"It is not needed," observed Demdike, "no human aid can save the man."

"But can other aid save him?" said Bess, breathing the words in her
husband's ears.

"Go to!" cried Demdike, pushing her roughly aside; "wouldst have me save
thy lover?"

"Take heed," said Bess, in a deep whisper; "if thou save him not, by the
devil thou servest! thou shalt lose me and thy child."

Demdike did not think proper to contest the point, but, approaching
Assheton, requested that the wounded man might be conveyed to an arched
recess, which he pointed out. Assent being given, Ashbead was taken
there, and placed upon the ground, after which the arquebussiers and
their leader marched off; while Bess, kneeling down, supported the head
of the wounded man upon her knee, and Demdike, taking a small phial from
his doublet, poured some of its contents clown his throat. The wizard
then took a fold of linen, with which he was likewise provided, and,
dipping it in the elixir, applied it to the wound.

In a few moments Ashbead opened his eyes, and looking round wildly,
fixed his gaze upon Bess, who placed her finger upon her lips to enjoin
silence, but he could not, or would not, understand the sign.

"Aw's o'er wi' meh, Bess," he groaned; "but ey'd reyther dee thus, wi'
thee besoide meh, than i' ony other wey."

"Hush!" exclaimed Bess, "Nicholas is here."

"Oh! ey see," replied the wounded man, looking round; "but whot matters
it? Ey'st be gone soon. Ah, Bess, dear lass, if theawdst promise to
break thy compact wi' Satan - to repent and save thy precious sowl - ey
should dee content."

"Oh, do not talk thus!" cried Bess. "You will soon be well again."

"Listen to me," continued Ashbead, earnestly; "dust na knoa that if thy
babe be na bapteesed efore to-morrow neet, it'll be sacrificed to t'
Prince o' Darkness. Go to some o' t' oly feythers - confess thy sins an'
implore heaven's forgiveness - an' mayhap they'll save thee an' thy
infant."

"And be burned as a witch," rejoined Bess, fiercely. "It is useless,
Cuthbert; I have tried them all. I have knelt to them, implored them,
but their hearts are hard as flints. They will not heed me. They will
not disobey the abbot's cruel injunctions, though he be their superior
no longer. But I shall be avenged upon him - terribly avenged."

"Leave meh, theaw wicked woman." cried Ashbead; "ey dunna wish to ha'
thee near meh. Let meh dee i' peace."

"Thou wilt not die, I tell thee, Cuthbert," cried Bess; "Nicholas hath
staunched thy wound."

"He stawncht it, seyst to?" cried Ashbead, raising. "Ey'st never owe meh
loife to him."

And before he could be prevented he tore off the bandage, and the blood
burst forth anew.

"It is not my fault if he perishes now," observed Demdike, moodily.

"Help him - help him!" implored Bess.

"He shanna touch meh," cried Ashbead, struggling and increasing the
effusion. "Keep him off, ey adjure thee. Farewell, Bess," he added,
sinking back utterly exhausted by the effort.

"Cuthbert!" screamed Bess, terrified by his looks, "Cuthbert! art thou
really dying? Look at me, speak to me! Ha!" she cried, as if seized by a
sudden idea, "they say the blessing of a dying man will avail. Bless my
child, Cuthbert, bless it!"

"Give it me!" groaned the forester.

Bess held the infant towards him; but before he could place his hands
upon it all power forsook him, and he fell back and expired.

"Lost! lost! for ever lost!" cried Bess, with a wild shriek.

At this moment a loud blast was blown from the gate-tower, and a
trumpeter called out,

"The abbot and the two other prisoners are coming."

"To thy feet, wench!" cried Demdike, imperiously, and seizing the
bewildered woman by the arm; "to thy feet, and come with me to meet
him!"




CHAPTER IV. - THE MALEDICTION.


The captive ecclesiastics, together with the strong escort by which they
were attended, under the command of John Braddyll, the high sheriff of
the county, had passed the previous night at Whitewell, in Bowland
Forest; and the abbot, before setting out on his final journey, was
permitted to spend an hour in prayer in a little chapel on an adjoining
hill, overlooking a most picturesque portion of the forest, the beauties
of which were enhanced by the windings of the Hodder, one of the
loveliest streams in Lancashire. His devotions performed, Paslew,
attended by a guard, slowly descended the hill, and gazed his last on
scenes familiar to him almost from infancy. Noble trees, which now
looked like old friends, to whom he was bidding an eternal adieu, stood



Online LibraryWilliam Harrison AinsworthThe Lancashire Witches A Romance of Pendle Forest → online text (page 3 of 55)