“Ay, ay,” said Nowell, “the matter shall be looked into—and speedily.”
“And the witches brought to justice,” said Potts; “comfort yourself with that, good Humphrey Etcetera.”
“Ay, comfort yourself with that,” observed Nicholas.
Soon after this they entered a wide dreary waste forming the bottom of the valley, lying between the heights of Padiham and Pendle Hill, and while wending their way across it, they heard a shout from the hill-side, and presently afterwards perceived a man, mounted on a powerful black horse, galloping swiftly towards them. The party awaited his approach, and the stranger speedily came up. He was a small man habited in a suit of rusty black, and bore a most extraordinary and marked resemblance to Master Potts. He had the same perky features, the same parchment complexion, the same yellow forehead, as the little attorney. So surprising was the likeness, that Nicholas unconsciously looked round for Potts, and beheld him staring at the new-comer in angry wonder.
CHAPTER IV.—THE REEVE OF THE FOREST.
The surprise of the party was by no means diminished when the stranger spoke. His voice exactly resembled the sharp cracked tones of the attorney.
“I crave pardon for the freedom I have taken in stopping you, good masters,” he said, doffing his cap, and saluting them respectfully; “but, being aware of your errand, I am come to attend you on it.”
“And who are you, fellow, who thus volunteer your services?” demanded Roger Nowell, sharply.
“I am one of the reeves of the forest of Blackburnshire, worshipful sir,” replied the stranger, “and as such my presence, at the intended perambulation of the boundaries of her property, has been deemed necessary by Mrs. Nutter, as I shall have to make a representation of the matter at the next court of swainmote.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Nowell, “but how knew you we were coming?”
“Mistress Nutter sent me word last night,” replied the reeve, “that Master Nicholas Assheton and certain other gentlemen, would come to Rough Lee for the purpose of ascertaining the marks, meres, and boundaries of her property, early this morning, and desired my attendance on the occasion. Accordingly I stationed myself on yon high ground to look out for you, and have been on the watch for more than an hour.”
“Humph!” exclaimed Roger Nowell, “and you live in the forest?”
“I live at Barrowford, worshipful sir,” replied the reeve, “but I have only lately come there, having succeeded Maurice Mottisfont, the other reeve, who has been removed by the master forester to Rossendale, where I formerly dwelt.”
“That may account for my not having seen you before,” rejoined Nowell. “You are well mounted, sirrah. I did not know the master forester allowed his men such horses as the one you ride.”
“This horse does not belong to me, sir,” replied the reeve; “it has been lent me by Mistress Nutter.”