“Ye did right to arrest the miscreants, sir,” said James. “But hae ye heard what has happened?”
“No, my liege,” replied Nicholas, alarmed by the King’s manner; “what is it?”
“Come nearer, and ye shall learn,” replied James; “for we wadna hae it bruited abroad, though if true, as we canna doubt, it will be known soon enough.”
And as the squire bent forward, he imparted some intelligence to him, which instantly changed the expression of the latter to one of mingled horror and rage.
“It is false, sire!” he cried. “I will answer for her innocence with my life. She could not do it. Your Majesty’s patience is abused. It is Jennet who has done it—not she. But I will unravel the terrible mystery. You have the other two wretches prisoners, and can enforce the truth from them.”
“We will essay to do so,” replied James; “but we have also another prisoner.”
“Christopher Demdike?” said Nicholas.
“Ay, Christopher Demdike,” rejoined James. “But another besides him—Mistress Nutter. You stare, sir; but it is true. She is in yonder pavilion. We ken fu’ weel wha assisted her flight, and wha concealed her. Maister Potts has told us a’. It is weel for you that your puir kinsman, Richard Assheton, did us sic gude service at the boar-hunt to-day. We shall not now be unmindful of it, even though he cannot send us the ring we gave him.”
“It is here, sire,” replied Nicholas. “It was stolen from him by the villain, Jem Device. The poor youth meant to use it for Alizon. I now deliver it to your Majesty as coming from him in her behalf.”
“And we sae receive it,” replied the monarch, brushing away the moisture that gathered thickly in his eyes.
At this moment a tall personage, wrapped in a cloak, who appeared to be an officer of the guard, approached the railing.
“I am come to inform your Majesty that Christopher Demdike has just died of his wounds,” said this personage.
“And sae he has had a strae death, after a’!” rejoined James. “Weel, we are sorry for it.”
“His portion will be eternal bale,” observed the officer.
“How know you that, sir?” demanded the King, sharply. “You are not his judge.”
“I witnessed his end, sire,” replied the officer; “and no man who died as he died can be saved. The Fiend was beside him at the death-throes.”
“Save us!” exclaimed James. “Ye dinna say so? God’s santie! man, but this is grewsome, and gars the flesh creep on one’s banes. Let his foul carcase be taen awa’, and hangit on a gibbet on the hill where Malkin Tower aince stood, as a warning to a’ sic heinous offenders.”
As the King ceased speaking, Master Potts appeared out of breath, and greatly excited.
“She has escaped, sire!” he cried.
“Wha! Jennet!” exclaimed James. “If sae, we will tang you in her stead.”
“No, sire—Alizon,” replied Potts. “I can nowhere find her; nor—” and he hesitated.