“We shall perpend the point of receiving her,” replied the King, gravely. “But we are rarely mista’en, young man, and seldom change our opinion except upon gude grounds, and those you arena like to offer us. Belike ye hae been lang ill?”
“Oh! no, your Majesty, I was suddenly seized, about a month ago,” replied Richard.
“Suddenly seized—eh!” exclaimed James, winking cunningly at those near him; “and ye swarfit awa’ wi’ the pain? I guessed it. And whaur was Alizon the while?”
“At that time she was a guest at Middleton,” replied Richard; “but it is impossible my illness can in any way be attributed to her. I will answer with my life for her perfect innocence.”
“You may have to answer wi’ your life for your misplaced faith in her,” said the King; “but I tell you naething—naething wicked, at all events—is impossible to witches, and the haill case, even by your own showin’, is very suspicious. I have heard somewhat of the story of Alice Nutter, but not the haill truth—but there are folk here wha can enlighten us mair fully. Thus much I do ken—that she is a notorious witch, and a fugitive from justice; though siblins you, Maister Nicholas Assheton, could give an inkling of her hiding-place if you were so disposed. Nay, never look doited, man,” he added, laughing, “I bring nae charges against you. Ye arena on your trial noo. But this is a serious matter, and maun be seriously considered before we dismiss it. You say Alizon will be here to-day. Sae far weel. Canna you contrive to produce the mother, too, Maister Nicholas?”
“Sire!” exclaimed Nicholas.
“Nay, then, we maun gang our ain way to wark,” continued James. “We are tauld ye hae a petition to offer us, and our will and pleasure is that you present it afore we go forth to the chase, and after we have partaken of our matutinal refection, whilk we will nae langer delay; for, sooth to say, we are weel nigh famished. Look ye, sirs. Neither of you is to quit Hoghton Tower without our permission had and obtained. We do not place you under arrest, neither do we inhibit you from the chase, or from any other sports; but you are to remain here at our sovereign pleasure. Have we your word that you will not attempt to disobey the injunction?”
“You have mine, undoubtedly, sire,” replied Richard.
“And mine, too,” added Nicholas. “And I hope to justify myself before your Majesty.”
“We shall be weel pleased to hear ye do it, man,” rejoined the King, laughing, and shuffling on. “But we hae our doubts—we hae our doubts!”
“His Majesty talks of going to breakfast, and says he is famished,” observed Nicholas to Sherborne, as the King departed; “but he has completely taken away my appetite.”
“No wonder,” replied the other.