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IT is wild weather overhead. All day the wind has been growing more and more boisterous, blowing up great mountains of grey cloud out of the East, chasing them helter-skelter across the sky, tearing them into long ribbons and thrashing them all together into one whirling tangle, through which the harassed moon can scarcely find her way. The late traveller has many an airy buffet to withstand ere he can top the last ascent and see the hamlet outlined in a sudden glint of watery moonlight at his feet. Those who lie abed are roused by the moaning in the eaves, to mutter fearfully, "The witches are abroad tonight!"
The witch lives by herself in a dingle, a hundred yards beyond the last cottage of the hamlet. The dingle is a wilderness of brushwood, through which a twisted pathway leads to the witch's door. Matted branches overhang her roof-tree, and even when the moon, breaking for a moment from its net of cloud, sends down a brighter ray than ordinary, it does but emphasise the secretiveness of the ancient moss-grown thatch and the ill-omened plants, henbane, purple nightshade, or white bryony, that cluster round the walls. He were a bold villager who dared venture anywhere within the Witch's dingle on such a night as this. The very wind wails among the clashing branches in a subdued key, very different from its boisterous carelessness on the open downs beyond.
There is but one room — and that of the barest — in the witch's cottage. The village children, who whisper of hoarded wealth as old Mother Hackett passes them in the gloaming, little know how scant is the fare and small the grace they must look for who have sold themselves to such a master. She sleeps upon the earthen floor, with garnered pine-needles for mattress. She has a broken stool to sit on, and a great iron pot hangs above the slumbering embers on the clay hearth.
It wants still an hour to midnight, this eve of May Day, when there comes a stirring among these same embers. They are thrust aside, and up from beneath them Something heaves its way into the room. It is the size of a fox, black and hairy, shapeless and with many feet. From somewhere in its middle two green eyes shed a baleful light that horribly illuminates the room. It moves across the floor, after the manner of a great caterpillar, and as it nears her the witch casts a skinny arm abroad and mutters in her sleep. It reaches the bed, lifts itself upon it, and mumbles something in her ear. She awakes, rises upon her elbow, and replies peevishly. She has no fear of the Thing — it is a familiar visitant. She is angry, and scolds it in a shrill old voice for disturbing her too soon. Has she not the Devil's marks upon her — breast and thigh — round, blue marks that are impervious to all pain from without, but itch and throb when it is time for her to go about her devilish business? The Thing takes her scoldings lightly, twitting her with having overslept herself at the last Sabbath — which she denies. They fall a-jesting; she calls it Tom — Vinegar Tom; and they laugh together over old exploits and present purposes.
A moonbeam glints through a hole in the thatch. Where the witch has lain now sits a black cat, larger than any of natural generation — as large, almost, as a donkey. It talks still with the witch's voice, and lingers awhile, the two pairs of green eyes watching each other through the darkness. At last, with a careless greeting, it bounds across the floor, leaps up the wall to the chimney opening, and is gone. The shapeless Thing remains upon the bed. Its sides quiver, it chuckles beneath its breath in a way half-human, yet altogether inhuman and obscene.
The black cat is hastening towards the hamlet under the shadow of the brushwood. When she comes within sight of the end house, she leaves the path and strikes out into the gorse-clad waste beyond the pasture, keeping to it until she is opposite the cottage of Dickon the waggoner. A child has been born, three days back, to Dickon and Meg his wife. It is not yet baptised, for the priest lives four miles away, beyond the downs, and Dickon has been too pressed with work to go for him. To-morrow will be time enough, for it is the healthiest child, not to say the most beautiful, the gossips have ever set eyes upon. Perhaps, if Meg had not forgotten in her newfound happiness how, just after her wedding, when old Mother Hackett passed her door, she made the sign of the cross and cried out upon the old dame for a foul witch, she might not be sleeping so easily now with her first-born on her bosom.
The black cat creeps on under the shadow of a hedge. Old Trusty, the shepherd's dog, left to guard the flock during the night, sees where she goes, and, taking her for a lurking fox, charges fiercely towards the hedge, too eager to give tongue. But at the first flash of the green eyes as she turns her head, he knows with what he has to deal, and flies whimpering for shelter in the gorse, his tail between his legs. For a dog can tell a witch more readily than can his master — and fears her as greatly.
The black cat being come to Dickon's cottage, waits for a moment to be sure that all is quiet, then leaps upon the low roof, gains the summit, and so descends by way of the chimney to the room where lie the sleeping family. Again it waits, listening to their regular breathing, its tail whipping to and fro in suppressed excitement. It rises upon its hinder legs and makes certain passes in the air, North and South and East and West. It approaches the bed, and softly, softly draws the child from its sleeping mother's arms. It makes again for the chimney, and in two bounds is in the open air, carrying the child nestled against its warm black fur. Scarcely has it gained the shadow of the hedge when the mother, her sleep disturbed, it may be, by some vague presentiment of danger, opens her eyes. But the warm weight is still upon her breast, and she drops off to sleep again in security. Did you peep into the witch's cottage now, you would find that the black shapeless Thing is gone. For the Devil's imps can take what shape they will in their master's service.
The black cat, with its sleeping charge, hastens back towards the dingle. Reaching the cottage, it places the child upon the bed, turns twice, and in that moment the witch, clad only in her shift, stands where the cat has been. She is awaiting something, and grows anxious and uneasy, hobbling hither and thither about the room, mumbling below her breath, and once, when the child wakes and wails, taking it in her arms and hushing it, almost as might a woman. It is close upon midnight, yet the sign has not come. For the Evil One, being above all things inconstant, never lets his servants know time or place until the last moment, and that in some unlooked-for way.
At last, when she is quite tormented with anxiety lest she have unwittingly angered her master, comes a stealthy clattering of wings upon the thatch, and down through the hole that serves for chimney rustles a black raven with fiery eyes. It flutters straight for the witch's shoulder and there settles, whispering hoarsely in her ear, while the light from its eyes throws her lean features, with their twitching muscles, into pale relief against the darkness. Nodding eager assent to the message, Mother Hackett hobbles to her bed, and, from a safe hiding-place among the rustling pine-needles, draws out a phial. Next she makes for the corner beside the hearth, and picks up the broomstick leaning against the wall. The raven quits her shoulder for the pillow, thence to watch her with its head at an approving angle. She opens the phial and smears the contents on the broomstick, head and handle. It is an ointment, and it shines with the phosphorescent light that is born of corruption. Well it may, for it is compounded of black millet and the dried powdered liver of an unbaptised child, just such a one as now lies upon the witch's bed, with the grim raven gazing down on it. The witch — deluded wretch — believes the ointment to have magic powers; that, smeared upon her broomstick, it gives the senseless wood volition and the power to carry her sky-high; or, if she swallow it, that it will render her insensible to pain, so that the worst efforts of the torturer and the executioner shall force her to confess nothing. The Devil, her master, knows — none better — that no such potency is in any ointment, but that his own hellish magic supports his minions in the air and comes, an he so will, to their aid in time of trial. But this he hides from them, so that in their folly they may be led to murder babes — the sacrifice he loves above all other.
The witch takes a broken eggshell and smears it also with the ointment. She goes to the bed and picks up the child, the broomstick hopping after her across the floor. Being now ready to set out, she steps astride the broom-handle, that holds itself aslant for her easier mounting. She waves her hand to the attendant raven, and with a rush that sends a spirtle of bright sparks up from the embers, she is away — up the chimney, through the overhanging branches, through the ragged clouds, and far on her journey under the stars. Yet, if any should enter the witch's hut then or thereafter till the dawn, they would find her sleeping peacefully upon the bed. The raven, having carried their master's message, has this further duty: to take upon himself the witch's shape until her return, lest any, finding her from home, should scent out her errand.
The wind is from the East. The witch must steer across it, for the Sabbath-General, as the corvine messenger has told her, is to be held on a lonely peak of the Cevennes, in mid-France. Her task is not of the easiest, for the gusts come fierce and sudden, and the broomstick dips and leaps before them like a cockle-boat on a rough sea. The witch's scanty locks and scantier clothing stream out almost at a right angle, and once the baby in her arms raises its voice in a tiny wail that would soften the heart of any but a servant of the Devil. Up here the moonlight wells down unchecked, turning the clouds below into the shifting semblance of snow mountains and lakes of silver. They open out now and again at the wind's bidding to allow glimpses of the dark, silent earth far down beneath.
So for a time — a little time, for Devil's messengers fly fast — the witch drives onward in midair. At last the broomstick slackens speed, seems to hesitate; circles twice or thrice, and then dives earthwards. The hag alights upon the seashore, upon a pebbly beach whereon the waves fling themselves in white fury at the lashings of the wind, now grown so high that Mother Hackett can scarcely stand against it. Whether because he foresees some chance of evil-doing, or from mere inconstancy, for he works without method and against reason, the Devil has ordered that she shall not cross the Channel on her broomstick. She seizes the interval between two waves to launch the eggshell she has brought with her, steps into it, raises the broomstick aloft as sail or ensign, and puts out to sea in the teeth of the gale. The great waves roar far above her head, in foaming whirlpools that might sink a war-fleet, but the eggshell rides triumphantly among them, dancing upon their crests and shipping never a drop of water on its passage. Nor can the best efforts of the wind stay its speed. Only once does it deviate from its course, when a straining ship, its spars and sails all splintered and riven, drives through the mist to leeward. As she nears it, the witch rises to her feet, throws out one skinny hand towards it, and shrieks an incantation down the wind. A flicker of lightning shows itself in the East, and a cloud drives over the face of the moon. When its shadow is past, there is no more sign of the ship or its toiling crew upon the lonely face of the waters. Mother Hackett mews gleefully as she speeds Francewards.
Coming to where the low grey coast rises from the waves, she once more sets herself astride the broomstick. As she speeds on, sky-high, towards the meeting-place, she falls in with company bent on the same errand. From all sides they come, converging to the goal, old, lean hags like herself, women in the prime of life, young girls not yet out of their teens. Some bear with them unweaned babes, others children of a larger growth, yet others youths or grown men, as offerings to Satan. These they carry pillion-wise before them, for in the Devil's kingdom all is awry, imperfect, contrariwise to the ways of Christian folk. Some of them are mounted on goats, some upon great toads, or flying snakes, or reptiles of uncertain shape, or simple broomsticks, as fancy has directed their imperious despot. One — a man — rides side-seated upon a great fiery dragon, that in the distance glows like a newly-risen star. He is a mighty sorcerer, one who commands Satan instead of serving him, coming to the Sabbath for some reason of his own, and mounted on a steed of his own providing.
The meeting-place of the Sabbath-General, as Satan, in mockery of Christian ritual, chooses to call this foregathering of his servants, is a bare peak in the loneliest part of the Cevennes. It stands a little removed from the centre of a great mountain amphitheatre, and just below the summit is a mountain tarn, crystal-pure and casting back the starlight as peacefully as though there were no such things as witch or warlock beneath God's Heaven. Yet it is not the first time the same meeting-place has been chosen, for not a blade of grass, not the humblest creeping plant, grows upon the sterile rocks. Every growing thing withered away, root and branch, when last the forces of Hell gathered here. So must the place remain, desert and bare, mute witness of its desecration, until the Judgment Day.
The witches come skirling down from the sky like a flight of unclean birds, circling above the crags, hovering to choose a settling-place where no sharp-pointed rock shall gash their naked feet, chattering shrilly the while. Those already arrived are seated in a wide circle on a flat rock-ledge jutting from the mountain side. They are mostly witches of the neighbourhood, who have come afoot and have set out betimes lest they be detained upon the way. As more and more join the circle you may find proof that they lie who declare the Devil's servants mostly women. It is true that woman, by reason of the frailty of her nature, seeks more often to pry into forbidden things, to her own destruction, and thus there are many more witches than warlocks or magicians. Yet of those gathered for this Sabbath-General, for every witch there is one mortal man, to say nothing of demons; for while some, as Mother Hackett, have come alone, others, being the younger and fairer of the witches, have brought with them two or even three youths or young men, ready to take service with the Evil One and cast away their hope of salvation, as did our Father Adam, at the bidding of these Delilahs. Thus it is that, in the unholy dances which are to follow, every witch will have a man for her partner, save the most favoured who dance with the superior demons, for thus the Devil will have it.
Mother Hackett, when she dismounts from her broomstick, takes her place beside one Luckie, a gossip of former Sabbaths, ill-favoured as herself, who comes from the kingdom of Fife, where she is much feared for the sudden tempests she raises when the fishing-fleets are sailing homeward with full catches. Next to her is a younger witch, fair and well-born, Sidonia by name, of a noble house in Mecklenburg. She is a tall, pale girl, with hair the colour of ripe wheat, and grey-blue eyes. She is held in high esteem by Satan, both for her beauty and for the number of well-born youths she has delivered into his hands. Next to her is a witch of Spain, beautiful also, though brown and with black, beady eyes. Between these two there is little love lost, seeing that they are women no less than witches, and either would do the other a mischief could she compass it.
Though all those bidden have joined the circle, there is yet no sign of the Devil's coming. The witches cease their clacking and scan the sky impatiently, muttering curses against their master. Can it be that he means to play them false, having bidden them merely for a jest and to make a mock of them? It would not be for the first time — for his mind is so crafty and so uncertain, his purpose so errant, that not the most favoured of his ministers has any inkling of it.
Suddenly there is an eager rustling around the expectant circle. A figure has appeared in the centre. But their relief fades into angry disappointment. It is not the Devil himself. It is a small, mean, inconsiderable devil, so inferior in the infernal hierarchy that he has not even horns upon his head. The circle grows smaller as the witches press towards him, buzzing with angry questions. They have no fear, no respect for him; he is a servant like themselves. If he have been deputed to represent his master, he must expect to pay dearly for the honour. He scans the lowering faces anxiously and mutters apologies. No doubt their Master is upon the way and will soon arrive. He himself is but a poor devil, a little devil; they may be sure that he would not think of putting a slight on witches of such eminence. But fair words will not placate them. Already hands are raised to strike him, already some of them are preparing to scratch him with the nails of their little fingers, always worn long and sharp by witches, such being one of the signs you may know them by. Already he has been tweaked and buffeted as earnest of what he is to look for. But now another, more dreadful shape looms up in the very centre of the circle, and the angry witches fall back before it in grovelling terror. At first, seen in the dim light of the waning moon, it is shapeless, inchoate. Slowly it takes form before their eyes into the trunk of a great tree, with tangled limbs stretching out from it. It has about it the suggestion of a face, leering and horrible, with set features that half emerge and half conceal themselves in the gnarling of the bark — such a face as a man may see peering after him out of the darkness when he passes, tip-toe, through the depths of an ancient forest at midnight. Before it the witches make obeisance, turning their backs upon it and bowing to the ground, in mockery of Christian reverence. When they turn again the tree has changed into a goat, its eyes aflame with obscene passion, and, even as they look, the goat fades into a lion with bloody jaws. The lion fades in turn into a man, a comely man in all but his expression, and his eyes, which, whatever his shape, are always those of a goat, bestial and foul. He is dressed all in black, but his face and hands are dull red — for his vitals are consuming in the flames of Hell — and when he raises his hand, his wrist and forearm glow within his cuff as though they were made of molten iron. On his left hand the fingers are all grown together into one misshapen claw, for however fair the human seeming into which the Devil moulds himself, you may always know him for what he is, in that some part of him, an ear, a foot, or a hand, is horribly misshapen.
Now at last, all being prepared, attendant imps pass round the circle, checking the numbers of those present and who bears the Devil's mark and who must still receive it, and who has carried out her appointed task and who has failed. Returning, they whisper the tale into their master's ear, who gibbers with delight and leaps into the air and cracks his heels together, for there is nothing noble or of dignity about him, being in all things mean and petty, a thing of low vices rather than of heroic crimes. Thereafter he sits upon a throne, seemingly of gold, that rises from the earth to receive him, while his attendants hold aloft candles made of the fat of drowned mariners, burning with a pale blue light. One by one he calls the witches before him, calling them by nicknames, as "Old Toothless," or "Wag-in-the-wind," or "Cozling," but never by the names given them in Holy Baptism. And they, making obscene obeisance before his throne, speak to him thuswise also, calling him "Monsieur," or "Grizzleguts," or other fouler names. Next, standing with her back towards the throne, each in turn makes recital of her foul deeds since their last meeting: how many of God's children she has ruined and undone, what evil spells she has cast upon crops and bestial, what tempests she has raised, how she has fared in furthering her master's kingdom. Those who have done well Satan fondles and caresses, promising them great reward, but the others he hands over to his imps for present punishment. Thus there is one, plump and well-favoured, being a witch of Sweden, who, having been given for her task that she shall bring a neighbour's son — a rich young farmer — to her master's allegiance, has failed therein, and that although granted extension of time for the emprise. Her the Devil, losing all further patience, of which he has but little at the best of times, marks out for punishment, and his demons, casting her straightway to the ground, beat her with whips of living snakes and scorpions, and bite and otherwise torment her with tooth and claw, so that the blood runs from her in streams. And while she yells and screams for mercy, flapping here and there upon the ground like a fish upon a line, the whole assembly shakes with hideous laughter at the grotesqueness of her agony.
Mother Hackett, her turn being come, rises eagerly, knowing that she has done evil full measure since the last Sabbath. The waggoner's child she hands to Gossip Luckie, the time for its presentation being not yet come, and hobbles her fastest to her place before the throne, puckering her old eyes beneath the glare from the surrounding corpse-candles. It is for this that she has borne the hardships, the hatred and persecution of her Christian neighbours, the starvation of hunger and cold during the long winter months since the last Sabbath. Her tale is of murrains cast upon a rich farmer's cattle, of a crop of barley that has withered away beneath her spell, of a tempest raised by her to unroof the priest's tithe-barn three parishes away, of the digging up of bodies from the churchyard to grace the Sabbath banquet, of three boys who, having stoned her, have ever since gone cross-eyed, vomiting needles incessantly, and of the ship sunk in mid-Channel upon her late crossing. Also there is the unbaptised child she has brought with her, to be devoted to the Devil's service for all time. When her tale is told she waits yet a long moment, expectant of praise and reward. Praise indeed her master lavishes upon her, though he chides her also for having brought him but a waggoner's brat in place of a child well-born, for in them he delights most — and of future reward great promise. But he speaks as one whose thoughts are elsewhere, and his eyes — which are always the eyes of a lustful goat — wander to where the beauteous Sidonia waits smiling for her turn. So Mother Hackett must hobble back to her place in the circle, her heart full of bitterness and disappointment, feeling that she has been tricked out of her deserts, knowing that she must labour in ill-doing yet another year before she can hope for the rich rewards promised her so many weary years ago, yet still to look for. And she curses under her breath as Sidonia passes in all the pride of her unholy beauty, going to where the Evil One leans forward in his chair, his eyes glowing like hot coals, and motions to her to come yet nearer as she tells with trills of silvery laughter, that yet is altogether horrible, of three youths she has bewitched, and how one has hanged himself, cursing the name of God, and how another has murdered his own brother, and now lies in durance awaiting death, and the third she has brought with her to the Sabbath, to enter himself among the Devil's servants, abandoning his hope of Heaven for her sake. Of her tale Satan loses no word, and when she is done he clips her in his arms and fondles her and keeps her beside him throughout what follows.
When all the witches have rendered account, it is the turn of the victims they have brought with them, the unbaptised children first and they of tender years. They are led or carried before the Devil's throne, and stand there, curious and open-eyed, understanding nothing of what is going forward, clustering together in a group, the elder girls holding the infants in their arms and hushing them awkwardly when they cry. The Evil One speaks to them, suiting his words to their condition, his voice purring like a cat. He draws bright pictures of the reward they may expect for absolute obedience — if they renounce their kindred and, those of them who are baptised, their godfathers and godmothers, and with them God and the Child Jesus. Some of the elder among them demur at this, whereupon he reasons with them, his voice still soft and cruel as a cat's, telling them that what they have learned of Holy Writ is but an old wife's tale, and that there is no God but he who speaks, being master of both worlds. Then his eyes blaze brighter and his voice grows fierce and menacing, and he leads them to the side of the mountain and shows them, far below, a dreadful chasm with fierce flames leaping about it and grim fire-monsters lifting up their open jaws from its centre. It is but a lying vision, conjured up by his hellish arts; but how should such poor babes know false from true? The witches gather round them and cozen and threaten, telling them that if they refuse they will be surely cast into the flames, but if they obey they shall have all that a child best loves, full measure. So at last they do as they are bidden, and swear away their young souls and their hope of salvation for ever and ever, and make obeisance to Satan with obscene ceremonies of which they understand nothing, doing all for fear of the witches who instruct them. When all, even to the unweaned babes, are bound for ever to Satan's allegiance, they are led away to the shore of the mountain tarn, whither come great toads swimming up from its clear depths and clambering to the shore. These the children are set to mind, being given little white switches for that end — Satan promising that next year, if they have deserved well, they shall be granted the full privileges of servants of Hell. Childlike, when they have overcome their first horror of the hideous toads, they make playthings of them, seeking to make them gallop with the white switches, and, especially the boys, forgetting all that has passed in the gleefulness of the moment.
Meanwhile the more mature recruits to Satan's army are called in turn before him, to be examined in their love of evil, to make obeisance and to receive his mark — invented by him in impious mockery of our Saviour's wounds and the stigmata borne on their bodies by many of His saints. All this to the accompaniment of rites so foul and bestial that they may not be written down. And next, the present business being disposed of, the whole crew falls a-dancing, men, women, and imps: together. Back to back the couples dance, for the most part stark-naked and some with black cats hanging from their necks or waists, spitting and scratching, and some with hideous toads and serpents pressed to their bosoms, and all capering and gesturing with such lewd and obscene antics that the mind of man can scarcely follow them. The imps who are of the number hold aloft their corpse-candles, to light their paces, and in the middle of all sits the Devil blowing upon a bagpipe, sometimes in one form and sometimes in another, as the whim takes him. Higher and higher they leap, and faster and faster grow their steps, whirling hither and thither under the blue light of the candles, spurred on by the droning of the infernal pipes, until they fall a-gasping. When the last couple has ceased its pirouettings, the Devil — being now again in the form of a man — lays aside his instrument and leads them to where a banquet is prepared for them. The tables are heaped high with all the delicacies of the earth, the rarest fruits, the choicest meats, and the most costly wines, heaped upon golden dishes that might ransom all the kings of Christendom. For attendants there are demons of inferior rank, who have tricked themselves out into the strangest shapes they can devise. Thus, one has a monstrous nose, shaped like a flute, upon which he plays with his hands. Another has sparks shooting from horns and tail, the which, as they fall upon the table, turn into great beetles. Another, having neither arms nor legs nor head, rolls like a wheel upon his belly, in the centre of which blazes one great eye. Another is nought but a huge mouth, and hops underneath the tables biting the ankles of the witches. While yet another takes the shape of a beaker, whence pours sparkling wine into the goblets of the guests. If they seek to drink, it turns to burning pitch. Thus it is indeed with all the viands, for though they seem all that the heart or belly of man can desire and of all things plenty — saving only salt, for that Satan cannot abide, as recalling the Last Supper upon earth of the Lord Christ — yet being tested they are proved a mockery. For when the guests stretch out their hands for what they most covet it vanishes from their eyes, and in its place is corruption and rottenness, the reeking flesh of murderers and heretics or of cattle that have died of a murrain, the entrails of reptiles or the scrapings of middens, with, for drink, water in which drowned suicides have rotted, and such-like. Some of those but newly entered draw back in horror from such fare, whereat the more hardened mock at them, falling upon it themselves with horrid zest.
Grown merry after such feasting, they fall a-rioting, jesting, and playing after such wise as may not be told, until the time is come for their next enterprise, what time the Devil toys with the most well-favoured wantons among them. When at last the signal is given, the whole hellish crew rise into the air again, their master leading them, shrilling and squawking like a flight of wild geese across the darkling sky. The Devil leads them to an old cathedral town, a place of ancient towers and crumbling walls and tall, high-shouldered houses that lean out over narrow lanes as if a-gossiping. Before the great cathedral is a wide market-place, very busy in the day, but silent now as a graveyard, with only now and then the creaking of some wind-harried sign to tell of human energies. Four roads meet in the centre of the market-place, and there the Evil One alights, his ministers behind him, and there his throne is set up facing the portal of the cathedral — for it is thus that Satan loves best to carry on his mockery of Christian ritual. First is gone through a blasphemous parody of Holy Baptism, toads taking the place of children. Each is tricked out in a velvet suit of black or scarlet, with a bell tied to each paw and one hung round its neck. An unfrocked priest, who has been a miracle of shamelessness and is now sold to Satan, performs the blasphemy, and the oldest and foulest witches stand as sponsors, vying with each other in the lewdness of their responses. While this is going forward a brace of night-rovers, intent upon a deed of sacrilege, come creeping through the shadows round the cathedral walls, seeking to force an entrance into the holy place. Their eyes and ears are at their keenest, lest they be apprehended, but though they look right through the crowd of demons and witches thronging the open market-place, they yet see nothing of them — for, evil-doers though they be, they have not yet lost their chance of salvation, and none but those irrevocably sworn of Satan's following can see what befalls upon a Witches' Sabbath.
The christening of the toads being gone through, follows the yet more blasphemous celebration of the Black Mass. The foresworn priest again officiates, the imps, witches, and demons acting as deacons, acolytes, or worshippers, all impiously mimicking the servants of God. In place of the Host is exalted a black wafer, cut in the form of a triangle, and the whole service of the Mass is gone through backwards from end to beginning. The onlookers also make their obeisances backwards, with lewd gesture not forgotten, towards where the father of all evil sits grinning and mowing upon his throne over against the cathedral door. Yet are they not permitted to finish their blasphemies, for even as the false priest makes to administer the wafer to an imp, who receives it, for the greater mockery, standing upon his head, the first pale shadow of the dawn creeps up the eastern sky. Seeing it, a lusty cock, roosting in some farmyard beyond the city walls, welcomes it with shrill crowings. The Devil's brood break off and listen fearfully, for Chanticleer is a servant of God, and held in awe by all demons, witches, and sorcerers as the herald of God's daylight. A rival bird takes up the challenge, and it is echoed far and wide over the countryside. The Evil One waits no longer, but sinks at once, with his throne, downwards through the cobble-stones to his abiding-place, followed by his attendant demons. The witches and sorcerers of the company tarry not, but cast themselves afloat upon the air, wasting no time or breath upon their farewells lest daylight surprise them ere they can reach their homes and all their wickedness be made clear.
Mother Hackett, among the rest, throws herself astride her broom-handle and sails off down the wind. On this her return she wastes no time at the sea-coast, but shoots onward high in the air, through the increasing pallor of the morning. Over sea and down she flies, and, dropping like a stone into the dingle, enters her cottage by the chimney, unseen even by the earliest ploughman. At her coming the expectant demon in her shape rises from the bed and takes again the semblance of a raven. A few words of greeting and inquiry, and it makes its exit by the road it came, flying off heavily across the fields, regardless of the daylight, for who, seeing a raven fly towards the sea, would think of sorcery or witchcraft? Who, again, entering her humble cot and seeing there a poor old woman sleeping on a bed of poverty would recognise in her a foul witch, forward in all wickedness and a most potent agent of her master Satan. For so cunningly do these devilish hags, aided by their master's arts, conceal their exits and their entrances, their spells and incantations, that there be many ignorant men who, openly flouting Holy Writ, declare, even in these enlightened days, that there is no such thing as witchcraft or sorcery, and that they who seek out witches and slay them are no better than cruel murderers of poor helpless old women. Such are the craft and malice of Satan and the folly of mankind.