“Well!” cried Richard, breathlessly.
“That Mistress Nutter is a witch, and in league with witches,” continued Nicholas.
“Ha!” exclaimed Richard, turning deathly pale.
“I suspect the rascal has invented the charge,” said Nicholas; “but he is quite unscrupulous enough to make it; and, if made, it will be fatal to our relative’s reputation, if not to her life.”
“It is false, I am sure of it,” cried Richard, torn by conflicting emotions.
“Would I could think so!” cried Dorothy, suddenly recollecting Mistress Nutter’s strange demeanour in the little chapel, and the unaccountable influence she seemed to exercise over the old crone. “But something has occurred to-day that leads me to a contrary conviction.”
“What is it? Speak!” cried Richard.
“Not now—not now,” replied Dorothy.
“Whatever suspicions you may entertain, keep silence, or you will destroy Mistress Nutter,” said Nicholas.
“Fear me not,” rejoined Dorothy. “Oh, Alizon!” she murmured, “that this unhappy question should arise at such a moment.”
“Do you indeed believe the charge, Dorothy?” asked Richard, in a low voice.
“I do,” she answered in the same tone. “If Alizon be her daughter, she can never be your wife.”
“How?” cried Richard.
“Never—never!” repeated Dorothy, emphatically. “The daughter of a witch, be that witch named Elizabeth Device or Alice Nutter, is no mate for you.”
“You prejudge Mistress Nutter, Dorothy,” he cried.
“Alas! Richard. I have too good reason for what I say,” she answered, sadly.
Richard uttered an exclamation of despair. And on the instant the lively sounds of tabor and pipe, mixed with the jingling of bells, arose from the court-yard, and presently afterwards an attendant entered to announce that the May-day revellers were without, and directions were given by Sir Ralph that they should be shown into the great banqueting-hall below the gallery, which had been prepared for their reception.
On quitting the long gallery, Mistress Nutter and Alizon ascended a wide staircase, and, traversing a corridor, came to an antique, tapestried chamber, richly but cumbrously furnished, having a carved oak bedstead with sombre hangings, a few high-backed chairs of the same material, and a massive wardrobe, with shrine-work atop, and two finely sculptured figures, of the size of life, in the habits of Cistertian monks, placed as supporters at either extremity. At one side of the bed the tapestry was drawn aside, showing the entrance to a closet or inner room, and opposite it there was a great yawning fireplace, with a lofty mantelpiece and chimney projecting beyond the walls. The windows were narrow, and darkened by heavy transom bars and small diamond panes while the view without, looking upon Whalley Nab, was obstructed