Not many paces after the King marched the Duke of Buckingham, then in the zenith of his power, and in the full perfection of his unequalled beauty, eclipsing all the rest of the nobles in splendour of apparel, as he did in stateliness of deportment. Haughtily returning the salutations made him, which were scarcely less reverential than those addressed to the monarch himself, the prime favourite moved on, all eyes following his majestic figure to the door. Buckingham walked alone, as if he had been a prince of the blood; but after him came a throng of nobles, consisting of the Earl of Pembroke, high chamberlain; the Duke of Richmond, master of the household; the Earl of Nottingham, lord high admiral; Viscount Brackley, Lord Howard of Effingham, Lord Zouche, president of Wales; with the Lords Knollys, Mordaunt, Conipton, and Grey of Groby. One or two of the noblemen seemed inclined to question Richard as to what had passed between him and the King; but the young man’s reserved and somewhat stern manner deterred them. Next came the three judges, Doddridge, Crooke, and Hoghton, whose countenances wore an enforced gravity; for if any faith could be placed in rubicund cheeks and portly persons, they were not indisposed to self-indulgence and conviviality. After the judges came the Bishop of Chester, the King’s chaplain, who had officiated on the present occasion, and who was in his full pontifical robes. He was accompanied by the lord of the mansion, Sir Richard Hoghton, a hale handsome man between fifty and sixty, with silvery hair and beard, a robust but commanding person, a fresh complexion, and features, by no means warranting, from any marked dissimilarity to those of his son, the King’s scandalous jest.
A crowd of baronets and knights succeeded, including Sir Arthur Capel, Sir Thomas Brudenell, Sir Edward Montague, Sir Edmund Trafford, sheriff of the county, Sir Edward Mosley, and Sir Ralph Assheton. The latter looked grave and anxious, and, as he passed his relatives, said in a low tone to Richard—
“I am told Alizon is to be here to-day. Is it so?”
“She is,” replied the young man; “but why do you ask? Is she in danger? If so, let her be warned against coming.”
“On no account,” replied Sir Ralph; “that would only increase the suspicion already attaching to her. No; she must face the danger, and I hope will be able to avert it.”
“But what is the danger?” asked Richard. “In Heaven’s name, speak more plainly.”
“I cannot do so now,” replied Sir Ralph. “We will take counsel together anon. Her enemies are at work; and, if you tarry here a few minutes longer, you will understand whom I mean.”
And he passed on.