“Only this,” replied Potts, in a taunting tone, “the worshipful magistrate would offer a friendly counsel to Master Nicholas Assheton, and Master Richard Assheton, whom, to his infinite surprise, he perceives in a hostile position before him, that they in nowise interfere with his injunctions, but, on the contrary, lend their aid in furtherance of them, otherwise he may be compelled to adopt measures towards them, which must be a source of regret to him. I have furthermore to state, on the part of his worship, that strict watch will be kept at all the approaches of your house, and that no one, on any pretence whatever, during the appointed time of respite, will be suffered to enter it, or depart from it. In an hour his worship will return.”
“And in an hour he shall have my answer,” replied Mistress Nutter, turning away.
When skies are darkest, and storms are gathering thickest overhead, the star of love will oft shine out with greatest brilliancy; and so, while Mistress Nutter was hurling defiance against her foes at the gate, and laughing their menaces to scorn—while those very foes were threatening Alizon’s liberty and life—she had become wholly insensible to the peril environing her, and almost unconscious of any other presence save that of Richard, now her avowed lover; for, impelled by the irresistible violence of his feelings, the young man had chosen that moment, apparently so unpropitious, and so fraught with danger and alarm, for the declaration of his passion, and the offer of his life in her service. A few low-murmured words were all Alizon could utter in reply, but they were enough. They told Richard his passion was requited, and his devotion fully appreciated. Sweet were those moments to both—sweet, though sad. Like Alizon, her lover had become insensible to all around him. Engrossed by one thought and one object, he was lost to aught else, and was only at last aroused to what was passing by the squire, who, having good-naturedly removed to a little distance from the pair, now gave utterance to a low whistle, to let them know that Mistress Nutter was coming towards them. The lady, however, did not stop, but motioning them to follow, entered the house.
“You have heard what has passed,” she said. “In an hour Master Nowell threatens to return and arrest me and Alizon.”
“That shall never be,” cried Richard, with a passionate look at the young girl. “We will defend you with our lives.”
“Much may be done in an hour,” observed Nicholas to Mistress Nutter, “and my advice to you is to use the time allowed you in making good your retreat, so that, when the hawks come back, they may find the doves flown.”
“I have no intention of quitting my dovecot,” replied Mistress Nutter, with a bitter smile.
“Unless you are forcibly taken from it, I suppose,” said the squire; “a contingency not impossible if you await Roger Nowell’s return. This time, be assured, he will not go away empty-handed.”