"Have no misgivings on the subject," said Richard, "but urge the matter strongly; and if you need support, I will give you all I can, for I feel we are best observing the divine mandate by making the Sabbath a day of rest, and observing it cheerfully. And this, I apprehend, is the substance of your petition?"
"The whole sum and substance," replied Nicholas; "and I have reason to believe his Majesty's wishes are in accordance with it."
"They are known to be so," said Sherborne.
"I am glad to hear it," cried Richard. "God save King James, the friend of the people!"
"Ay, God save King James!" echoed Nicholas; "and if he I grant this petition he will prove himself their friend, for he will I have all the clergy against him, and will be preached against from half the pulpits in the kingdom."
"Little harm will ensue if it should be so," replied Richard; "for he will be cheered and protected by the prayers of a grateful and happy people."
They then rode on for a few minutes in silence, after which; Richard inquired—
"You had brave doings at Myerscough Lodge, I suppose, Nicholas?"
"Ay, marry had we," answered the squire, "and the feasting must have cost Ned Tyldesley a pretty penny. Besides the King and his own particular attendants, there were some dozen noblemen and their followers, including the Duke of Buckingham, who moves about like a king himself, and I know not how many knights and gentlemen. Sherborne and I rode over from Dunnow, and reached the forest immediately after the King had entered it in his coach; so we took a short cut through the woods, and came up just in time to join Sir Richard Hoghton's train as he was riding up to his Majesty. Fancy a wide glade, down which a great gilded coach is slowly moving, drawn by eight horses, and followed by a host of noblemen and gentlemen in splendid apparel, their esquires and pages equally richly arrayed, and equally well mounted; and, after these, numerous falconers, huntsmen, prickers, foresters, and yeomen, with staghounds in leash, and hawk on fist, all ready for the sport. Fancy all this if you can, Dick, and then conceive what a brave sight it must have been. Well, as I said, we came up in the very nick of time, for presently the royal coach stopped, and Sir Richard Hoghton, calling all his gentlemen around him, and bidding us dismount, and we followed him, and drew up, bareheaded, before the King, while Sir Richard pointed out to his Majesty the boundaries of the royal forest, and told him he would find it as well stocked with deer as any in his kingdom. Before putting an end to the conference, the King complimented the worthy Knight on the gallant appearance of his train, and on learning we were all gentlemen, graciously signified his pleasure that some of us should be presented to him. Amongst others, I was brought forward by Sir Richard, and liking my looks, I suppose, the King was condescending enough to enter into conversation with me; and as his discourse chiefly turned on sporting matters, I was at home with him at once, and he presently grew so familiar with me, that I almost forgot the presence in which I stood. However, his Majesty seemed in no way offended by my freedom, but, on the contrary, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, 'Maister Assheton, for a country gentleman, you're weel-mannered and weel-informed, and I shall be glad to see more of you while I stay in these parts.' After this, the good-natured monarch mounted his horse, and the hunting began, and a famous day's work we made of it, his Majesty killing no fewer than five fine bucks with his own hand."
"You are clearly on the road to preferment, Nicholas," observed Richard, with a smile. "You will outstrip Buckingham himself, if you go on in this way."
"So I tell him," observed Sherborne, laughing; "and, by my faith! young Sir Gilbert Hoghton, who, owing to his connexion by marriage with Buckingham, is a greater man than his father, Sir Richard, looked quite jealous; for the King more than once called out to Nicholas in the chase, and took the wood-knife from him when he broke up the last deer, which is accounted a mark of especial favour."
"Well, gentlemen," said the squire, "I shall not stand in my own light, depend upon it; and, if I should bask in court-sunshine, you shall partake of the rays. If I do become master of the household, in lieu of the Duke of Richmond, or master of the horse and cupbearer to his Majesty, in place of his Grace of Buckingham, I will not forget you."
"We are greatly indebted to you, my Lord Marquess of Downham and Duke of Pendle Hill, that is to be," rejoined Sherborne, taking off his cap with mock reverence; "and perhaps, for the sake of your sweet sister and my spouse, Dorothy, you will make interest to have me appointed gentleman of the bedchamber?"
"Doubt it not—doubt it not," replied Nicholas, in a patronising tone.
"My ambition soars higher than yours, Sherborne," said Richard; "I must be lord-keeper of the privy seal, or nothing."
"Oh! what you will, gentlemen, what you will!" cried Nicholas; "you can ask me nothing I will not grant—always provided I have the means."
A turn in the road now showed them Hoghton Tower, crowning the summit of an isolated and conical hill, about two miles off. Rising proudly in the midst of a fair and fertile plain, watered by the Ribble and the Darwen, the stately edifice seemed to command the whole country. And so King James thought, as, from the window of his chamber, he looked down upon the magnificent prospect around him, comprehending on the one hand the vast forests of Myerscough and Bowland, stretching as far as the fells near Lancaster; and, on the other, an open but still undulating country, beautifully diversified with wood and water, well-peopled and well-cultivated, green with luxuriant pastures, yellow with golden grain, or embowered with orchards, boasting many villages and small towns, as well as two lovely rivers, which, combining their currents at Walton-le-Dale, gradually expanded till they neared the sea, which could be seen gleaming through openings in the distant hills. As the King surveyed this fair scene, and thought how strong was the position of the mansion, situated as it was upon high cliffs springing abruptly from the Darwen, and how favourably circumstanced, with its forests and park, for the enjoyment of the chase, of which he was passionately fond, how capable of defence, and how well adapted for a hunting-seat, he sighed to think it did not belong to the crown. Nor was he wrong in his estimate of its strength, for in after years, during the civil wars, it held out stoutly against the parliamentary forces, and was only reduced at last by treachery, when part of its gate-tower was blown up, destroying an officer and two hundred men, "in that blast most wofully."
Though the hour was so early, the road was already thronged, not only with horsemen and pedestrians of every degree from Preston, but with rude lumbering vehicles from the neighbouring villages of Plessington, Brockholes and Cuerden, driven by farmers, who, with their buxom dames and cherry-cheeked daughters, decked out in holiday finery, hoped to gain admittance to Hoghton Tower, or, at all events, obtain a peep of the King as he rode out to hunt. Most of these were saluted by Nicholas, who scrupled not to promise them admission to the outer court of the Tower, and even went so far as to offer some of the comelier damsels a presentation to the King. Occasionally, the road was enlivened by strains of music from a band of minstrels, by a song or a chorus from others, or by the gamesome tricks of a party of mummers. At one place, a couple of tumblers and a clown were performing their feats on a cloth stretched on the grass beneath a tree. Here the crowd collected for a few minutes, but presently gave way to loud shouts, attended by the cracking of whips, proceeding from two grooms in the yellow and white livery of Sir Richard Hoghton, who headed some half-dozen carts filled with provisions, carcases of sheep and oxen, turkeys and geese, pullets and capons, fish, bread, and vegetables, all bent for Hoghton Tower; for though Sir Richard had made vast preparations for his guests, he found his supplies, great as they were, wholly inadequate to their wants. Cracking their whips in answer to the shouts with which they were greeted, the purveyors galloped on, many a hungry wight looking wistfully after them.
Nicholas and his companions were now at the entrance to Hoghton Park, through which the Darwen coursed, after washing the base of the rocky heights on which the mansion was situated. Here four yeomen of the guard, armed with halberts, and an officer, were stationed, and no one was admitted without an order from Sir Richard Hoghton. Possessing a pass, the squire and his companions with their attendants were, of course, allowed to enter; but the throng accompanying them were sent over the bridge, and along a devious road skirting the park, which, though it went more than a mile round, eventually brought them to their destination.
Hoghton Park, though not very extensive, boasted a great deal of magnificent timber, and in some places was so thickly wooded, that, according to Dr. Kuerden, "a man passing through it could scarcely have seen the sun shine at middle of day." Into one of these tenebrous groves the horsemen now plunged, and for some moments were buried in the gloom produced by matted and overhanging boughs. Issuing once more into the warm sunshine, they traversed a long and beautiful silvan glade, skirted by ancient oaks, with mighty arms and gnarled limbs—the patriarchs of the forest. In the open ground on the left were scattered a few ash-trees, and beneath them browsed a herd of fallow deer; while crossing the lower end of the glade was a large herd of red deer, for which the park was famous, the hinds tripping nimbly and timidly away, but the lordly stags, with their branching antlers, standing for a moment at gaze, and disdainfully regarding the intruders on their domain. Little did they think how soon and severely their courage would be tried, or how soon the mort would be sounded for their pryse by the huntsman. But if, happily for themselves, the poor leathern-coated fools could not foresee their doom, it was not equally hidden from Nicholas, who predicted what would ensue, and pointed out one noble hart which he thought worthy to die by the King's own hand. As if he understood him, the stately beast tossed his antlered head aloft, and plunged into the adjoining thicket; but the squire noted the spot where he had disappeared.
The glade led them into the chase, a glorious hunting-ground of about two miles in circumference, surrounded by an amphitheatre of wood, and studded by noble forest trees. Variety and beauty were lent to it by an occasional knoll crowned with timber, or by numerous ferny dells and dingles. As the horsemen entered upon the chase, they observed at a short distance from them a herd of the beautiful, but fierce wild cattle, originally from Bowland Forest, and still preserved in the park. White and spangled in colour, with short sharp horns, fine eyes, and small shapely limbs, these animals were of untameable fierceness, possessed of great cunning, and ever ready to assault any one who approached them. They would often attack a solitary individual, gore him, and trample him to death. Consequently, they were far more dreaded than the wild-boars, with which, as with every other sort of game, the neighbouring woods were plentifully stocked. Well aware of the danger they ran, the party watched the herd narrowly and distrustfully, and would have galloped on; but this would only have provoked pursuit, and the wild cattle were swifter than any horses. Suddenly, a milkwhite bull trotted out from the rest of the herd, bellowing fiercely, lashing his sides with his tail, and lowering his head to the ground, as if meditating an attack. His example was speedily followed by the others, and the whole herd began to beat ground and roar loudly. Much alarmed by these hostile manifestations, the party were debating whether to stand the onset, or trust to the fleetness of their steeds for safety; when just as the whole herd, with tails erect and dilated nostrils, were galloping towards them, assistance appeared in the persons of some ten or a dozen mounted prickers, who, armed with long poles pointed with iron, issued with loud shouts from an avenue opening upon the chase. At sight of them, the whole herd wheeled round and fled, but were pursued by the prickers till they were driven into the depths of the furthest thicket. Six of the prickers remained watching over them during the day, in order that the royal hunting-party might not be disturbed, and the woods echoed with the bellowing of the angry brutes.
While this was going forward, the squire and his companions, congratulating themselves on their narrow escape, galloped off, and entered the long avenue of sycamores, from which the prickers had emerged.
At the head of a steep ascent, partly hewn out of the rock, and partly skirted by venerable and majestic trees, forming a continuation of the avenue, rose the embattled gate-tower of the proud edifice they were approaching, and which now held the monarch of the land, and the highest and noblest of his court as guests within its halls. From the top of the central tower of the gateway floated the royal banner, while at the very moment the party reached the foot of the hill, they were saluted by a loud peal of ordnance discharged from the side-towers, proclaiming that the King had arisen; and, as the smoke from the culverins wreathed round the standard, a flourish of trumpets was blown from the walls, and martial music resounded from the court.
Roused by these stirring sounds, Nicholas spurred his horse up the rocky ascent; and followed closely by his companions, who were both nearly as much excited as himself, speedily gained the great gateway—a massive and majestic structure, occupying the centre of the western front of the mansion, and consisting of three towers of great strength and beauty, the mid-tower far overtopping the other two, as in the arms of Old Castile, and sustaining, as was its right, the royal standard. On the platform stood the trumpeters with their silk-fringed clarions, and the iron mouths of the culverins, which had been recently discharged, protruded through the battlements. The arms and motto of the Hoghtons, carved in stone, were placed upon the gateway, with the letters T.H., the initials of the founder of the tower. Immediately above the arched entrance was the sculptured figure of a knight slaying a dragon.
In front of the gateway a large crowd of persons were assembled, consisting of the inferior gentry of the neighbourhood, with their wives, daughters, and servants, clergymen, attorneys, chirurgeons, farmers, and tradesmen of all kind from the adjoining towns of Blackburn, Preston, Chorley, Haslingden, Garstang, and even Lancaster. Representatives in some sort or other of almost every town and village in the county might be found amongst the motley assemblage, which, early as it was, numbered several hundreds, many of those from the more distant places having quitted their homes soon after midnight. Admittance was naturally sought by all; but here the same rule was observed as at the park gate, and no one was allowed to enter, even the base court, without authority from the lord of the mansion. The great gates were closed, and two files of halberdiers were drawn up under the deep archway, to keep the passage clear, and quell disturbance in case any should occur; while a gigantic porter, stationed in front of the wicket, rigorously scrutinised the passes. These precautions naturally produced delay; and, though many of the better part of the crowd were entitled to admission, it was not without much pushing and squeezing, and considerable detriment to their gay apparel, that they were enabled to effect their object.
The comfort of those outside the walls had not, however, been altogether neglected by Sir Richard Hoghton, for sheds were reared under the trees, where stout March beer, together with cheese and bread, or oaten cakes and butter, were freely distributed to all applicants; so that, if some were disappointed, few were discontented, especially when told that the gates would be thrown open at noon, when, during the time the King and the nobles feasted in the great banquet-hall, they might partake of a wild bull from the park, slaughtered expressly for the occasion, which was now being roasted whole within the base court. That the latter was no idle promise they had the assurance of thick smoke rising above the walls, laden with the scent of roast meat, and, moreover, they could see through the wicket a great fire blazing and crackling on the green, with a huge carcass on an immense spit before it, and a couple of turn-broaches basting it.
As Nicholas and his companions forced their way through this crowd, which was momently receiving additions as fresh arrivals took place, the squire recognised many old acquaintances, and was nodding familiarly right and left, when he encountered a woman's eye fixed keenly upon him, and to his surprise beheld Nance Redferne. Nance, who had lost none of her good looks, was very gaily attired, with her fine chestnut hair knotted with ribbons, her stomacher similarly adorned, and her red petticoat looped up, so as to display an exceedingly trim ankle and small foot; and, under other circumstances, Nicholas might not have minded staying to chat with her, but just now it was out of the question, and he hastily turned his head another way. As ill luck, however, would have it, a stoppage occurred at the moment, during which Nance forced her way up to him, and, taking hold of his arm, said in a low tone—
"Yo mun tae me in wi' ye, squoire."
"Take you in with me—impossible!" cried Nicholas.
"Nah! it's neaw impossible," rejoined Nance, pertinaciously; "yo con do it, an yo shan. Yo owe me a good turn, and mun repay it now."
"But why the devil do you want to go in?" cried Nicholas, impatiently. "You know the King is the sworn enemy of all witches, and, amongst this concourse, some one is sure to recognise you and betray you. I cannot answer for your safety if I do take you in. In my opinion, you were extremely unwise to venture here at all."
"Ne'er heed my wisdom or my folly, boh do as ey bid yo, or yo'n repent it," said Nance.
"Why, you can get in without my aid," observed the squire, trying to laugh it off. "You can easily fly over the walls."
"Ey ha' left my broomstick a-whoam," replied Nance—"boh no more jesting. Win yo do it?"
"Well, well, I suppose I must," replied Nicholas, "but I wash my hands of the consequences. If ill comes of it, I am not to blame. You must go in as Doll Wango—that is, as a character in the masque to be enacted to-night—d'ye mark?"
Nance signified that she perfectly understood him.
The whole of this hurried discourse, conducted in an under-tone, passed unheard and unnoticed by the bystanders. Just then, an opening took place amid the crowd, and the squire pushed through it, hoping to get rid of his companion, but he hoped in vain, for, clinging to his saddle, she went on along with him.
They were soon under the deep groined and ribbed arch of the gate, and Nance would have been here turned back by the foremost halberdier, if Nicholas had not signified somewhat hastily that she belonged to his party. The man smiled, and offered no further opposition; and the gigantic porter next advancing, Nicholas exhibited his pass to him, which appearing sufficiently comprehensive to procure admission for Richard and Sherborne, they instantly availed themselves of the licence, while the squire fumbled in his doublet for a further order for Nance. At last he produced it, and after reading it, the gigantic warder exclaimed, with a smile illumining his broad features—
"Ah! I see;—this is an order from his worship, Sir Richard, to admit a certain woman, who is to enact Doll Wango in the masque. This is she, I suppose?" he added, looking at Nance.
"Ay, ay!" replied the squire.
"A comely wench, by the mass!" exclaimed the porter. "Open the gate."
"No—not yet—not yet, good porter, till my claim be adjusted," cried another woman, pushing forward, quite as young and comely as Nance, and equally gaily dressed. "I am the real Doll Wango, though I be generally known as Dame Tetlow. The squire engaged me to play the part before the King, and now this saucy hussy has taken my place. But I'll have my rights, that I will."
"Odd's heart! two Doll Wangos!" exclaimed the porter, opening his eyes.
"Two!—Nay, beleedy! boh there be three!" exclaimed an immensely tall, stoutly proportioned woman, stepping up, to the increased confusion of the squire, and the infinite merriment of the bystanders, whose laughter had been already excited by the previous part of the scene. "Didna yo tell me at Myerscough to come here, squire, an ey, Bess Baldwyn, should play Doll Wango to your Jem Tospot?"
"Play the devil! for that's what you all seem bent upon doing," exclaimed the squire, impatiently. "Away with you! I can have nothing to say to you!"
"You gave me the same promise at the Castle at Preston last night," said Dame Tetlow.
"I had been drinking, and knew not what I said," rejoined Nicholas, angrily.
"Boh yo promised me a few minutes ago, an yo're sober enough now," cried Nance.
"Ey dunna knoa that," rejoined Dame Baldwyn, looking reproachfully at him. "Boh what ey dun knoa is, that nother o' these squemous queans shan ge in efore me."
And she looked menacingly at them, as if determined to oppose their ingress, much to the alarm of the timorous Dame Tetlow, though Nance returned her angry glances unmoved.
"For Heaven's sake, my good fellow, let them all three in!" said Nicholas, in a low tone to the porter, at the same time slipping a gold piece into his hand, "or there's no saying what may be the consequence, for they're three infernal viragos. I'll take the responsibility of their admittance upon myself with Sir Richard."
"Well, as your worship says, I don't like to see quarrelling amongst women," returned the porter, in a bland tone, "so all three shall go in; and as to who is to play Doll Wango, the master of the ceremonies will settle that, so you need give yourself no more concern about it; but if I were called on to decide," he added, with an amorous leer at Dame Baldwyn, whose proportions so well matched his own, "I know where my choice would light. There, now!" he shouted, "Open wide the gate for Squire Nicholas Assheton of Downham, and the three Doll Wangos."
And, all obstacles being thus removed, Nicholas passed on with the three females amidst the renewed laughter of the bystanders. But he got rid of his plagues as soon as he could; for, dismounting and throwing his bridle to an attendant, he vouchsafed not a word to any of them, but stepped quickly after Richard and Sherborne, who had already reached the great fire with the bull roasting before it.
Appropriated chiefly to stables and other offices, the base court of Hoghton Tower consisted of buildings of various dates, the greater part belonging to Elizabeth's time, though some might be assigned to an earlier period, while many alterations and additions had been recently made, in anticipation of the king's visit. Dating back as far as Henry II., the family had originally fixed their residence at the foot of the hill, on the banks of the Darwen; but in process of time, swayed by prouder notions, they mounted the craggy heights above, and built a tower upon their crest. It is melancholy to think that so glorious a pile, teeming with so many historical recollections, and so magnificently situated, should be abandoned, and suffered to go to decay;—the family having, many years ago, quitted it for Walton Hall, near Walton-le-Dale, and consigned it to the occupation of a few gamekeepers. Bereft of its venerable timber, its courts grass-grown, its fine oak staircase rotting and dilapidated, its domestic chapel neglected, its marble chamber broken and ruinous, its wainscotings and ceilings cracked and mouldering, its paintings mildewed and half effaced, Hoghton Tower presents only the wreck of its former grandeur. Desolate indeed are its halls, and their glory for ever departed! However, this history has to do with it in the season of its greatest splendour; when it glistened with silks and velvets, and resounded with loud laughter and blithe music; when stately nobles and lovely dames were seen in the gallery, and a royal banquet was served in the great hall; when its countless chambers were filled to overflowing, and its passages echoed with hasty feet; when the base court was full of huntsmen and falconers, and enlivened by the neighing of steeds and the baying of hounds; when there was daily hunting in the park, and nightly dancing and diversion in the hall,—it is with Hoghton Tower at this season that the present tale has to do, and not with it as it is now—silent, solitary, squalid, saddening, but still whispering of the glories of the past, still telling of the kingly pageant that once graced it.
The base court was divided from the court of lodging by the great hall and domestic chapel. A narrow vaulted passage on either side led to the upper quadrangle, the facade of which was magnificent, and far superior in uniformity of design and style to the rest of the structure, the irregularity of which, however, was not unpleasing. The whole frontage of the upper court was richly moulded and filleted, with ranges of mullion and transom windows, capitals, and carved parapets crowned with stone balls. Marble pillars, in the Italian style, had been recently placed near the porch, with two rows of pilasters above them, supporting a heavy marble cornice, on which rested the carved escutcheon of the family. A flight of stone steps led up to the porch, and within was a wide oak staircase, so gentle of ascent that a man on horseback could easily mount it—a feat often practised in later days by one of the descendants of the house. In this part of the mansion all the principal apartments were situated, and here James was lodged. Here also was the green room, so called from its hangings, which he used for private conferences, and which was hung round with portraits of his unfortunate mother, Mary, Queen of Scots; of her implacable enemy, Queen Elizabeth; of his consort, Anne of Bohemia: and of Sir Thomas Hoghton, the founder of the tower. Adjoining it was the Star-Chamber, occupied by the Duke of Buckingham, with its napkin panelling, and ceiling "fretted with golden fires;" and in the same angle were rooms occupied by the Duke of Richmond, the Earls of Pembroke and Nottingham, and Lord Howard of Effingham. Below was the library, whither Doctor Thomas Moreton, Bishop of Chester, and his Majesty's chaplain, with the three puisne judges of the King's Bench, Sir John Doddridge, Sir John Crooke, and Sir Robert Hoghton, all of whom were guests of Sir Richard, resorted; and in the adjoining wing was the great gallery, where the whole of the nobles and courtiers passed such of their time—and that was not much—as was not occupied in feasting or out-of-doors' amusements.
Long corridors ran round the upper stories in this part of the mansion, and communicated with an endless series of rooms, which, numerous as they were, were all occupied, and, accommodation being found impossible for the whole of the guests, many were sent to the new erections in the base court, which had been planned to meet the emergency by the magnificent and provident host. The nobles and gentlemen were, however, far outnumbered by their servants, and the confusion occasioned by the running to and fro of the various grooms of the chambers, was indescribable. Doublets had to be brushed, ruffs plaited, hair curled, beards trimmed, and all with the greatest possible expedition; so that, as soon as day dawned upon Hoghton Tower, there was a prodigious racket from one end of it to the other. Many favoured servants slept in truckle-beds in their masters' rooms; but others, not so fortunate, and unable to find accommodation even in the garrets—for the smallest rooms, and those nearest the roof, were put in requisition—slept upon the benches in the hall, while several sat up all night carousing in the great kitchen, keeping company with the cooks and their assistants, who were busied all the time in preparations for the feasting of the morrow.
Such was the state of things inside Hoghton Tower early on the eventful morning in question, and out of doors, especially in the base court which Nicholas was traversing, the noise, bustle, and confusion were equally great. Wide as was the area, it was filled with various personages, some newly arrived, and seeking information as to their quarters—not very easily obtained, for it seemed every body's business to ask questions, and no one's to answer them—some gathered in groups round the falconers and huntsmen, who had suddenly risen into great importance; others, and these were for the most part smart young pages, in brilliant liveries, chattering, and making love to every pretty damsel they encountered, putting them out of countenance by their licence and strange oaths, and rousing the anger of their parents, and the jealousy of their rustic admirers; others, of a graver sort, with dress of formal cut, and puritanical expression of countenance, shrugging their shoulders, and looking sourly on the whole proceedings—luckily they were in the minority, for the generality of the groups were composed of lively and light-hearted people, bent apparently upon amusement, and tolerably certain of finding it. Through these various groups numerous lackeys were passing swiftly and continuously to and fro, bearing a cap, a mantle, or a sword, and pushing aside all who interfered with their progress, with a "by your leave, my masters—your pardon, fair mistress"—or, "out of my way, knave!" and, as the stables occupied one entire angle of the court, there were grooms without end dressing the horses at the doors, watering them at the troughs, or leading them about amid the admiring or criticising bystanders. The King's horses were, of course, objects of special attraction, and such as could obtain a glimpse of them and of the royal coach thought themselves especially favoured. Besides what was going forward below, the windows looking into the court were all full of curious observers, and much loud conversation took place between those placed at them and their friends underneath. From all this some idea will be formed of the tremendous din that prevailed; but though with much confusion there was no positive disorder, still less brawling, for yeomen of the guard being stationed at various points, perfect order was maintained. Several minstrels, mummers, and merry-makers, in various fantastic habits, swelled the throng, enlivening it with their strains or feats; and amongst other privileged characters admitted was a Tom o' Bedlam, a half-crazed licensed beggar, in a singular and picturesque garb, with a plate of tin engraved with his name attached to his left arm, and a great ox's horn, which he was continually blowing, suspended by a leathern baldric from his neck.
Scarcely had Nicholas joined his companions, than word was given that the king was about to attend morning prayers in the domestic chapel. Upon this, an immediate rush was made in that direction by the crowd; but the greater part were kept back by the guard, who crossed their halberts to prevent their ingress, and a few only were allowed to enter the antechamber leading to the chapel, amongst whom were the squire and his companions.
Here they were detained within it till service was over, and, as prayers were read by the Bishop of Chester, and the whole Court was present, this was a great disappointment to them. At the end of half an hour two very courtly personages came forth, each bearing a white wand, and, announcing that the King was coming forth, the assemblage immediately divided into two lines to allow a passage for the monarch. Nicholas Assheton informed Richard in a whisper that the foremost and stateliest of the two gentlemen was Lord Stanhope of Harrington, the vice-chamberlain, and the other, a handsome young man of slight figure and somewhat libertine expression of countenance, was the renowned Sir John Finett, master of the ceremonies. Notwithstanding his licentiousness, however, which was the vice of the age and the stain of the court, Sir John was a man of wit and address, and perfectly conversant with the duties of his office, of which he has left satisfactory evidence in an amusing tractate, "Finetti Philoxenis."
Some little time elapsed before the King made his appearance, during which the curiosity of such as had not seen him, as was the case with Richard, was greatly excited. The young man wondered whether the pedantic monarch, whose character perplexed the shrewdest, would answer his preconceived notions, and whether it would turn out that his portraits were like him. While these thoughts were passing through his mind, a shuffling noise was heard without, and King James appeared at the doorway. He paused there for a moment to place his plumed and jewelled cap upon his head, and to speak a word with Sir John Finett, and during this Richard had an opportunity of observing him. The portraits were like, but the artists had flattered him, though not much. There was great shrewdness of look, but there was also a vacant expression, which seemed to contradict the idea of profound wisdom generally ascribed to him. When in perfect repose, which they were not for more than a minute, the features were thoughtful, benevolent, and pleasing, and Richard began to think him quite handsome, when another change was wrought by some remark of Sir John Finett. As the Master of the Ceremonies told his tale, the King's fine dark eyes blazed with an unpleasant light, and he laughed so loudly and indecorously at the close of the narrative, with his great tongue hanging out of his mouth, and tears running down his cheeks, that the young man was quite sickened. The King's face was thin and long, the cheeks shaven, but the lips clothed with mustaches, and a scanty beard covered his chin. The hair was brushed away from the face, and the cap placed at the back of the head, so as to exhibit a high bald forehead, of which he was prodigiously vain. James was fully equipped for the chase, and wore a green silk doublet, quilted, as all his garments were, so as to be dagger-proof, enormous trunk-hose, likewise thickly stuffed, and buff boots, fitting closely to the leg, and turned slightly over at the knee, with the edges fringed with gold. This was almost the only appearance of finery about the dress, except a row of gold buttons down the jerkin. Attached to his girdle he wore a large pouch, with the mouth drawn together by silken cords, and a small silver bugle was suspended from his neck by a baldric of green silk. Stiffly-starched bands, edged with lace, and slightly turned down on either side of the face, completed his attire. There was nothing majestic, but the very reverse, in the King's deportment, and he seemed only kept upright by the exceeding stiffness of his cumbersome clothes. With the appearance of being corpulent, he was not so in reality, and his weak legs and bent knees were scarcely able to support his frame. He always used a stick, and generally sought the additional aid of a favourite's arm.
In this instance the person selected was Sir Gilbert Hoghton, the eldest son of Sir Richard, and subsequent owner of Hoghton Tower. Indebted for the high court favour he enjoyed partly to his graceful person and accomplishments, and partly to his marriage, having espoused a daughter of Sir John Aston of Cranford, who, as sister of the Duchess of Buckingham, and a descendant of the blood royal of the Stuarts, was a great help to his rapid rise, the handsome young knight was skilled in all manly exercises, and cited as a model of grace in the dance. Constant in attendance upon the court, he frequently took part in the masques performed before it. Like the King, he was fully equipped for hunting; but greater contrast could not have been found than between his tall fine form and the King's ungainly figure. Sir Gilbert had remained behind with the rest of the courtiers in the chapel; but, calling him, James seized his arm, and set forward at his usual shambling pace. As he went on, nodding his head in return to the profound salutations of the assemblage, his eye rolled round them until it alighted on Richard Assheton, and, nudging Sir Gilbert, he asked—
"Wha's that?—a bonnie lad, but waesome pale."
Sir Gilbert, however, was unable to answer the inquiry; but Nicholas, who stood beside the young man, was determined not to lose the opportunity of introducing him, and accordingly moved a step forward, and made a profound obeisance.
"This youth, may it please your Majesty," he said, "is my cousin, Richard Assheton, son and heir of Sir Richard Assheton of Middleton, one of your Majesty's most loyal and devoted servants, and who, I trust, will have the honour of being presented to you in the course of the day."
"We trust so, too, Maister Nicholas Assheton—for that, if we dinna forget, is your ain name," replied James; "and if the sire resembles the son, whilk is not always the case, as our gude freend, Sir Gilbert, is evidence, being as unlike his worthy father as a man weel can be; if, as we say, Sir Richard resembles this callant, he must be a weel-faur'd gentleman. But, God's santie, lad! how cam you in sic sad and sombre abulyiements? Hae ye nae braw claes to put on to grace our coming? Black isna the fashion at our court, as Sir Gilbert will tell ye, and, though a suit o' sables may become you, it's no pleasing in our sight. Let us see you in gayer apparel at dinner."
Richard, who was considerably embarrassed by the royal address, merely bowed, and Nicholas again took upon himself to answer for him.
"Your Majesty will be pleased to pardon him," he said; "but he is unaccustomed to court fashions, having passed all his time in a wild and uncivilized district, where, except on rare and happy occasions like the present, the refined graces of life seldom reach us."
"Weel, we wouldna be hard upon him," said the King, good-naturedly; "and mayhap the family has sustained some recent loss, and he is in mourning."
"I cannot offer that excuse for him, sire," replied Nicholas, who began to flatter himself he was making considerable progress in the monarch's good graces. "It is simply an affair of the heart."
"Puir chiel! we pity him," cried the King. "And sae it is a hopeless suit, young sir?" he added to Richard. "Canna we throw in a good word for ye? Do we ken the lassie, and is she to be here to-day?"
"I am quite at a loss how to answer your Majesty's questions," replied Richard, "and my cousin Nicholas has very unfairly betrayed my secret."
"Hoot, toot! na, lad," exclaimed James; "it wasna he wha betrayed your secret, but our ain discernment that revealed it to us. We kenned your ailment at a glance. Few things are hidden from the King's eye, and we could tell ye mair aboot yoursel', and the lassie you're deeing for, if we cared to speak it; but just now we have other fish to fry, and must awa' and break our fast, of the which, if truth maun be spoken, we stand greatly in need; for creature comforts maun be aye looked to as weel as spiritual wants, though the latter should be ever cared for first, as is our ain rule; and in so doing we offer an example to our subjects, which they will do weel to follow. Later in the day, we will talk further to you on the subject; but, meanwhile, gie us the name of your lassie loo."
"Oh! spare me, your Majesty," cried Richard.
"Her name is Alizon Nutter," interposed Nicholas.
"What! a daughter of Alice Nutter of Rough Lee?" exclaimed James.
"The same, sire," replied Nicholas, much surprised at the extent of information manifested by the King.
"Why, saul o' my body! man, she's a witch—a witch! d'ye ken that?" cried the King, with a look of abhorrence; "a mischievous and malignant vermin, with which this pairt of our realm is sair plagued, but which, with God's help, we will thoroughly extirpate. Sae the lass is a daughter of Alice Nutter, ha! That accounts for your grewsome looks, lad. Odd's life! I see it all now. I understand what is the matter with you. Look at him, Sir Gilbert—look at him, I say! Does naething strike you as strange about him?"
"Nothing more than that he is naturally embarrassed by your Majesty's mode of speech," replied the knight.
"You lack the penetration of the King, Sir Gilbert," cried James. "I will tell you what ails him. He is bewitchit—forespoken."
Exclamations were uttered by all the bystanders, and every eye was fixed on Richard, who felt ready to sink to the ground.
"I affirm he is bewitchit," continued the King; "and wha sae likely to do it as the glamouring hizzie that has ensnared him? She has ill bluid in her veins, and can chant deevil's cantrips as weel as the mither, or ony gyre-carline o' them a'."
"You are mistaken, sire," cried Richard, earnestly. "Alizon will be here to-day with my father and sister, and, if you deign to receive her, I am sure you will judge her differently."
"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.
CHAPTER VII.—THE ROYAL DECLARATION CONCERNING LAWFUL SPORTS ON THE SUNDAY.
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.
A large crowd now poured indiscriminately out of the chapel and amongst it Nicholas perceived many of his friends and neighbours, Mr. Townley of Townley Park, Mr. Parker of Browsholme, Mr. Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe, Sir Thomas Metcalfe, and Roger Nowell. With the latter was Master Potts, and Richard was then at no loss to understand against whom Sir Ralph had warned him. A fierce light blazed in Roger Nowell's keen eyes as he first remarked the two Asshetons, and a smile of gratified vengeance played about his lips; but he quelled the fire in a moment, and, compressing his hard mouth more closely, bowed coldly and ceremoniously to them. Metcalfe did the same. Not so Master Potts. Halting for a moment, he said, with a spiteful look, "Look to yourself, Master Nicholas; and you too, Master Richard. A day of reckoning is coming for both of you."
And with this he sprang nimbly after his client.
"What means the fellow?" cried Nicholas. "But that we are here, as it were, in the precincts of a palace, I would after him and cudgel him soundly for his insolence."
"And wha's that ye'd be after dinging, man?" cried a sharp voice behind him. "No that puir feckless body that has jist skippit aff. If sae, ye'll tak the wrang soo by the lugg, and I counsel you to let him bide, for he's high i' favour wi' the King."
Turning at this address, Nicholas recognised the king's jester, Archie Armstrong, a merry little knave, with light blue eyes, long yellow hair hanging about his ears, and a sandy beard. There was a great deal of mother wit about Archie, and quite as much shrewdness as folly. He wore no distinctive dress as jester—the bauble and coxcomb having been long discontinued—but was simply clad in the royal livery.
"And so Master Potts is in favour with his Majesty, eh, Archie?" asked the squire, hoping to obtain some information from him.
"And sae war you the day efore yesterday, when you hunted at Myerscough," replied the jester.
"But how have I forfeited the King's good opinion?" asked Nicholas. "Come, you are a good fellow, Archie, and will tell me."
"Dinna think to fleech me, man," replied the jester, cunningly.—"I ken what I ken, and that's mair than you'll get frae me wi' a' your speering. The King's secrets are safe wi' Archie—and for a good reason, that he is never tauld them. You're a gude huntsman, and sae is his Majesty; but there's ae kind o' game he likes better than anither, and that's to be found maistly i' these pairts—I mean witches, and sic like fearfu' carlines. We maun hae the country rid o' them, and that's what his Majesty intends, and if you're a wise man you'll lend him a helping hand. But I maun in to disjune."
And with this the jester capered off, leaving Nicholas like one stupefied. He was roused, however, by a smart slap on the shoulder from Sir John Finett.
"What! pondering over the masque, Master Nicholas, or thinking of the petition you have to present to his Majesty?" cried the master of the ceremonies, "Let neither trouble you. The one will be well played, I doubt not, and the other well received, I am sure, for I know the king's sentiments on the subject. But touching the dame, Master Nicholas—have you found one willing and able to take part in the masque?"
"I have found several willing, Sir John," replied Nicholas; "but as to their ability that is another question. However, one of them may do as a make-shift. They are all in the base court, and shall wait on you when you please, and then you can make your election."
"So far well," replied Finett; "it may be that we shall have Ben Jonson here to-day—rare Ben, the prince of poets and masque-writers. Sir Richard Hoghton expects him. Ben is preparing a masque for Christmas, to be called 'The Vision of Delight,' in which his highness the prince is to be a principal actor, and some verses which have been recited to me are amongst the daintiest ever indited by the bard."
"It will be a singular pleasure to me to see him," said Nicholas; "for I hold Ben Jonson in the highest esteem as a poet—ay, above them all, unless it be Will Shakspeare."
"Ay, you do well to except Shakspeare," rejoined Sir John Finett. "Great as Ben Jonson is, and for wit and learning no man surpasses him, he is not to be compared with Shakspeare, who for profound knowledge of nature, and of all the highest qualities of dramatic art, is unapproachable. But ours is a learned court, Master Nicholas, and therefore we have a learned poet; but a right good fellow is Ben Jonson, and a boon companion, though somewhat prone to sarcasm, as you will find if you drink with him. Over his cups he will rail at courts and courtiers in good set terms, I promise you, and I myself have come in for his gibes. However, I love him none the less for his quips, for I know it is his humour to utter them, and so overlook what in another and less deserving person I should assuredly resent. But is not that young man, who is now going forth, your cousin, Richard Assheton? I thought so. The King has had a strange tale whispered in his ear, that the youth has been bewitched by a maiden—Alizon Nutter, I think she is named—of whom he is enamoured. I know not what truth may be in the charge, but the youth himself seems to warrant it, for he looks ghastly ill. A letter was sent to his Majesty at Myerscough, communicating this and certain other particulars with which I am not acquainted; but I know they relate to some professors of the black art in your country, the soil of which seems favourable to the growth of such noxious weeds, and at first he was much disturbed by it, but in the end decided that both parties should be brought hither without being made aware of his design, that he might see and judge for himself in the matter. Accordingly a messenger was sent over to Middleton Hall as from Sir Richard Hoghton, inviting the whole family to the Tower, and giving Sir Richard Assheton to understand it was the King's pleasure he should bring with him a certain young damsel, named Alizon Nutter, of whom mention had been made to him. Sir Richard had no choice but to obey, and promised compliance with his Majesty's injunctions. An officer, however, was left on the watch, and this very morning reported to his Majesty that young Richard Assheton had already set out with the intention of going to Preston, but had passed the night at Walton-le-Dale, and that Sir Richard, his daughter Dorothy, and Alizon Nutter, would be here before noon."
"His Majesty has laid his plans carefully," replied Nicholas, "and I can easily conjecture from whom he received the information, which is as false as it is malicious. But are you aware, Sir John, upon what evidence the charge is supported—for mere suspicion is not enough?"
"In cases of witchcraft suspicion is enough," replied the knight, gravely. "Slender proofs are required. The girl is the daughter of a notorious witch—that is against her. The young man is ailing—that is against her, too. But a witness, I believe, will be produced, though who I cannot say."
"Gracious Heaven! what wickedness there must be in the world when such a charge can be brought against one so good and so unoffending," cried Nicholas. "A maiden more devout than Alizon never existed, nor one holding the crime she is charged with in greater abhorrence. She injure Richard! she would lay down her life for him—and would have been his wife, but for scruples the most delicate and disinterested on her part. But we will establish her innocence before his Majesty, and confound her enemies."
"It is with that hope that I have given you this information, sir, of which I am sure you will make no improper use," replied Sir John. "I have heard a similar character to that you have given of Alizon, and am unwilling she should fall a victim to art or malice. Be upon your guard, too, Master Nicholas; for other investigations will take place at the same time, and some matters may come forth in which you are concerned. The King's arms are long, and reach and strike far—and his eyes see clearly when not hoodwinked—or when other people see for him. And now, good sir, you must want breakfast. Here Faryngton," he added to an attendant, "show Master Nicholas Assheton to his lodging in the base court, and attend upon him as if he were your master. I will come for you, sir, when it is time to present the petition to the King."
So saying, he bowed and walked forth, turning into the upper quadrangle, while Nicholas followed Faryngton into the lower court, where he found his friends waiting for him.
Speedily ascertaining where their lodgings were situated, Faryngton led them to a building on the left, almost opposite to the great bonfire, and, ascending a flight of steps, ushered them into a commodious and well-furnished room, looking into the court. This done, he disappeared, but soon afterwards returned with two yeomen of the kitchen, one carrying a tray of provisions upon his head, and the other sustaining a basket of wine under his arm, and a snowy napkin being laid upon the table, trenchers viands, and flasks were soon arranged in very tempting order—so tempting, indeed, that the squire, notwithstanding his assertion, that his appetite had been taken away, fell to work with his customary vigour, and plied a flask of excellent Bordeaux so incessantly, that another had to be placed before him. Sherborne did equal justice to the good cheer, and Richard not only forced himself to eat, but to the squire's great surprise swallowed more than one deep draught of wine. Having thus administered to the wants of the guests, and seeing his presence was no longer either necessary or desired, Faryngton vanished, first promising to go and see that all was got ready for them in the sleeping apartments. Notwithstanding the man's civility, there was an over-officiousness about him that made Nicholas suspect he was placed over them by Sir John Finett to watch their movements, and he resolved to be upon his guard.
"I am glad to see you drink, lad," he observed to Richard, as soon as they were alone; "a cup of wine will do you good."
"Do you think so?" replied Richard, filling his goblet anew. "I want to get back my spirits and strength—to sustain myself no matter how—to look well—ha! ha! If I can only make this frail machine carry me stoutly through the King's visit, I care not how soon it falls to pieces afterwards."
"I see your motive, Dick," replied Nicholas. "You hope to turn away suspicion from Alizon by this device; but you must not go to excess, or you will defeat your scheme."
"I will do something to convince the King he is mistaken in me—that I am not bewitched," cried Richard, rising and striding across the room. "Bewitched! and by Alizon, too! I could laugh at the charge, but that it is too horrible. Had any other than the King breathed it, I would have slain him."
"His Majesty has been abused by the malice of that knavish attorney, Potts, who has always manifested the greatest hostility towards Alizon," said Nicholas; "but he will not prevail, for she has only to show herself to dispel all prejudice."
"You are right, Nicholas," cried Richard; "and yet the King seems already to have prejudged her, and his obstinacy may lead to her destruction."
"Speak not so loudly, Dick, in Heaven's name!" said the squire, in alarm; "these walls may have ears, and echoes may repeat every word you utter."
"Then let them tell the King that Alizon is innocent," cried Richard, stopping, and replenishing his goblet, "Here's to her health, and confusion to her enemies!"
"I'll drink that toast with pleasure, Dick," replied the squire; "but I must forbid you more wine. You are not used to it, and the fumes will mount to your brain."
"Come and sit down beside us, that we may talk," said Sherborne.
Richard obeyed, and, leaning over the table, asked in a low deep tone, "Where is Mistress Nutter, Nicholas?"
The squire looked towards the door before he answered, and then said—
"I will tell you. After the destruction of Malkin Tower and the band of robbers, she was taken to a solitary hut near Barley Booth, at the foot of Pendle Hill, and the next day was conveyed across Bowland Forest to Poulton in the Fyld, on the borders of Morecambe Bay, with the intention of getting her on board some vessel bound for the Isle of Man. Arrangements were made for this purpose; but when the time came, she refused to go, and was brought secretly back to the hut near Barley, where she has been ever since, though her place of concealment was hidden even from you and her daughter."
"The captain of the robbers, Fogg or Demdike, escaped—did he not?" said Richard.
"Ay, in the confusion occasioned by the blowing up of the Tower he managed to get away," replied Nicholas, "and we were unable to follow him, as our attentions had to be bestowed upon Mistress Nutter. This was the more unlucky, as through his instrumentality Jem and his mother Elizabeth were liberated from the dungeon in which they were placed in Whalley Abbey, prior to their removal to Lancaster Castle, and none of them have been heard of since."
"And I hope will never be heard of again," cried Richard. "But is Mistress Nutter's retreat secure, think you?—May it not be discovered by some of Nowell's emissaries?"
"I trust not," replied Nicholas; "but her voluntary surrender is more to be apprehended, for when I last saw her, on the night before starting for Myerscough, she told me she was determined to give herself up for trial; and her motives could scarce be combated, for she declares that, unless she submits herself to the justice of man, and expiates her offences, she cannot be saved. She now seems as resolute in good as she was heretofore resolute in evil."
"If she perishes thus, her self-sacrifice, for thus it becomes, will be Alizon's death-blow," cried Richard.
"So I told her," replied Nicholas—"but she continued inflexible. 'I am born to be the cause of misery to others, and most to those I love most,' she said; 'but I cannot fly from justice. There is no escape for me.'"
"She is right," cried Richard; "there is no escape but the grave, whither we are all three hurrying. A terrible fatality attaches to us."
"Nay, say not so, Dick," rejoined Nicholas; "you are young, and, though this shock may be severe, yet when it is passed, you will be recompensed, I hope, by many years of happiness."
"I am not to be deceived," said Richard. "Look me in the face, and say honestly if you think me long-lived. You cannot do it. I have been smitten by a mortal illness, and am wasting gradually away. I am dying—I feel it—know it; but though it may abridge my brief term of life, I will purchase present health and spirits at any cost, and save Alizon. Ah!" he exclaimed, putting his hand to his heart, with a fearful expression of anguish. "What is the matter?" cried the two gentlemen, greatly alarmed, and springing towards him.
But the young man could not reply. Another and another agonising spasm shook his frame, and cold damps broke out upon his pallid brow, showing the intensity of his suffering. Nicholas and Sherborne regarded each other anxiously, as if doubtful how to act.
"Shall I summon assistance?" said the latter in a low tone. But, softly as the words were uttered, they reached the ears of Richard. Rousing himself by a great effort, he said—
"On no account—the fit is over. I am glad it has seized me now, for I shall not be liable to a recurrence of it throughout the day. Lead me to the window. The air will presently revive me."
His friends complied with the request, and placed him at the open casement.
Great bustle was observable below, and the cause was soon manifest, as the chief huntsman, clad in green, with buff boots drawn high up on the thigh, a horn about his neck, and mounted on a strong black curtal, rode forth from the stables. He was attended by a noble bloodhound, and on gaining the middle of the court, put his bugle to his lips, and blew a loud blithe call that made the walls ring again. The summons was immediately answered by a number of grooms and pages, leading a multitude of richly-caparisoned horses towards the upper end of the court, where a gallant troop of dames, nobles, and gentlemen, all attired for the chase, awaited them; and where, amidst much mirth, and bandying of lively jest and compliment, a general mounting took place, the ladies, of course, being placed first on their steeds. While this was going forward, the hounds were brought from the kennel in couples—relays having been sent down into the park more than an hour before—and the yard resounded with their joyous baying, and the neighing of the impatient steeds. By this time, also, the chief huntsman had collected his forces, consisting of a dozen prickers, six habited like himself in green, and six in russet, and all mounted on stout curtals. Those in green were intended to hunt the hart, and those in russet the wild-boar, the former being provided with hunting-poles, and the latter with spears. Their girdles were well lined with beef and pudding, and each of them, acting upon the advice of worthy Master George Turbervile, had a stone bottle of good wine at the pummel of his saddle. Besides these, there were a whole host of varlets of the chase on foot. The chief falconer, with a long-winged hawk in her hood and jesses upon his wrist, was stationed somewhat near the gateway, and close to him were his attendants, each having on his fist a falcon gentle, a Barbary falcon, a merlin, a goshawk, or a sparrowhawk. Thus all was in readiness, and hound, hawk, and man seemed equally impatient for the sport.
At this juncture, the door was thrown open by Faryngton, who announced Sir John Finett.
"It is time, Master Nicholas Assheton," said the master of the ceremonies.
"I am ready to attend you, Sir John," replied Nicholas, taking a parchment from his doublet, and unfolding it, "the petition is well signed."
"So I see, sir," replied the knight, glancing at it. "Will not your friends come with you?"
"Most assuredly," replied Richard, who had risen on the knight's appearance. And he followed the others down the staircase.
By direction of the master of the ceremonies, nearly a hundred of the more important gentlemen of the county had been got together, and this train was subsequently swelled to thrice the amount, from the accessions it received from persons of inferior rank when its object became known. At the head of this large assemblage Nicholas was now placed, and, accompanied by Sir John Finett, who gave the word to the procession to follow them, he moved slowly up the court. Passing through the brilliant crowd of equestrians, the procession halted at a short distance from the doorway of the great hall, and James, who had been waiting for its approach within, now came forth, amid the cheers and plaudits of the spectators.
Sir John Finett then led Nicholas forward, and the latter, dropping on one knee, said—
"May it please your Majesty, I hold in my hand a petition, signed as, if you will deign to cast your eyes over it, you will perceive, by many hundreds of the lower orders of your loving subjects in this your county of Lancaster, representing that they are debarred from lawful recreations upon Sunday after afternoon service, and upon holidays, and praying that the restrictions imposed in 1579, by the Earls of Derby and Huntingdon, and by William, Bishop of Chester, commissioners to her late Highness, Elizabeth, of glorious memory, your Majesty's predecessor, may be withdrawn."
And with this he placed in the King's hands the petition, which Was very graciously received.
"The complaint of our loving subjects in Lancashire shall not pass unnoticed, sir," said James. "Sorry are we to say it, but this county of ours is sair infested wi' folk inclining to Puritanism and Papistry, baith of which sects are adverse to the cause of true religion. Honest mirth is not only tolerable but praiseworthy, and the prohibition of it is likely to breed discontent, and this our enemies ken fu' weel; for when," he continued, loudly and emphatically—"when shall the common people have leave to exercise if not upon Sundays and holidays, seeing they must labour and win their living on all other days?"
"Your Majesty speaks like King Solomon himself," observed Nicholas, amid the loud cheering.
"Our will and pleasure then is," pursued James, "that our good people be not deprived of any lawful recreation that shall not tend to a breach of the laws, or a violation of the Kirk; but that, after the end of divine service, they shall not be disturbed, letted, or discouraged from, any lawful recreation—as dancing and sic like, either of men or women, archery, leaping, vaulting, or ony ither harmless recreation; nor frae the having of May-games, Whitsun ales, or morris dancing; nor frae setting up of May-poles, and ither sports, therewith used, provided the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or neglect of divine service. And our will further is, that women shall have leave to carry rushes to the church, for the decoring of it, according to auld custom. But we prohibit all unlawful games on Sundays, as bear-baiting and bull-baiting, interludes, and, by the common folk—mark ye that, sir—playing at bowls."
The royal declaration was received with loud and reiterated cheers, amidst which James mounted his steed, a large black docile-looking charger, and rode out of the court, followed by the whole cavalcade.
Trumpets were sounded from the battlements as he passed through the gateway, and shouting crowds attended him all the way down the hill, until he entered the avenue leading to the park.
At the conclusion of the royal address, the procession headed by Nicholas immediately dispersed, and such as meant to join the chase set off in quest of steeds. Foremost amongst these was the squire himself, and on approaching the stables, he was glad to find Richard and Sherborne already mounted, the former holding his horse by the bridle, so that he had nothing to do but vault upon his back. There was an impatience about Richard, very different from his ordinary manner, that surprised and startled him, and the expression of the young man's countenance long afterwards haunted him. The face was deathly pale, except that on either cheek burned a red feverish spot, and the eyes blazed with unnatural light. So much was the squire struck by his cousin's looks, that he would have dissuaded him from going forth; but he saw from his manner that the attempt would fail, while a significant gesture from his brother-in-law told him he was equally uneasy.
Scarcely had the principal nobles passed through the gateway, than, in spite of all efforts to detain him, Richard struck spurs into his horse, and dashed amidst the cavalcade, creating great disorder, and rousing the ire of the Earl of Pembroke, to whom the marshalling of the train was entrusted. But Richard paid little heed to his wrath, and perhaps did not hear the angry expressions addressed to him; for no sooner was he outside the gate, than instead of pursuing the road down which the King was proceeding, and which has been described as hewn out of the rock, he struck into a thicket on the right, and, in defiance of all attempts to stop him, and at the imminent risk of breaking his neck, rode down the precipitous sides of the hill, and reaching the bottom in safety, long before the royal cavalcade had attained the same point, took the direction of the park.
His friends watched him commence this perilous descent in dismay; but, though much alarmed, they were unable to follow him.
"Poor lad! I am fearful he has lost his senses," said Sherborne.
"He is what the King would call 'fey,' and not long for this world," replied Nicholas, shaking his head.
CHAPTER VIII.—HOW KING JAMES HUNTED THE HART AND THE WILD-BOAR IN HOGHTON PARK.
Galloping on fast and furiously, Richard tracked a narrow path of greensward, lying between the tall trees composing the right line of the avenue and the adjoining wood. Within it grew many fine old thorns, diverting him now and then from his course, but he still held on until he came within a short distance of the chase, when his attention was caught by a very singular figure. It was an old man, clad in a robe of coarse brown serge, with a cowl drawn partly over his head, a rope girdle like that used by a cordelier, sandal shoon, and a venerable white beard descending to his waist. The features of the hermit, for such he seemed, were majestic and benevolent. Seated on a bank overgrown with wild thyme, beneath the shade of a broad-armed elm, he appeared so intently engaged in the perusal of a large open volume laid on his knee, that he did not notice Richard's approach. Deeply interested, however, by his appearance, the young man determined to address him, and, reining in his horse, said respectfully, "Save you, father!"
"Pass on, my son," replied the old man, without raising his eyes, "and hinder not my studies."
But Richard would not be thus dismissed.
"Perchance you are not aware, father," he said, "that the King is about to hunt within the park this morning. The royal cavalcade has already left Hoghton Tower, and will be here ere many minutes."
"The king and his retinue will pass along the broad avenue, as you should have done, and not through this retired road," replied the hermit. "They will not disturb me."
"I would fain know the subject of your studies, father?" inquired Richard.
"You are inquisitive, young man," returned the hermit, looking up and fixing a pair of keen grey eyes upon him. "But I will satisfy your curiosity, if by so doing I shall rid me of your presence. I am reading the Book of Fate."
Richard uttered an exclamation of astonishment.
"And in it your destiny is written," pursued the old man; "and a sad one it is. Consumed by a strange and incurable disease, which may at any moment prove fatal, you are scarcely likely to survive the next three days, in which case she you love better than existence will perish miserably, being adjudged to have destroyed you by witchcraft."
"It must indeed be the Book of Fate that tells you this," cried Richard, springing from his horse, and approaching close to the old man. "May I cast eyes upon it?"
"No, my son," replied the old man, closing the volume. "You would not comprehend the mystic characters—but no eye, except my own, must look upon them. What is written will be fulfilled. Again, I bid you pass on. I must speedily return to my hermit cell in the forest."
"May I attend you thither, father?" asked Richard.
"To what purpose?" rejoined the old man. "You have not many hours of life. Go, then, and pass them in the fierce excitement of the chase. Pull down the lordly stag—slaughter the savage boar; and, as you see the poor denizens of the forest perish, think that your own end is not far off. Hark! Do you hear that boding cry?"
"It is the croak of a raven newly alighted in the tree above us," replied Richard. "The sagacious bird will ever attend the huntsman in the chase, in the hope of obtaining a morsel when they break up deer."
"Such is the custom of the bird I wot well," said the old man; "but it is not in joyous expectation of the raven's-bone that he croaks now, but because his fell instinct informs him that the living-dead is beneath him."
And, as if in answer to the remark, the raven croaked exultingly; and, rising from the tree, wheeled in a circle above them.
"Is there no way of averting my terrible destiny, father?" cried Richard, despairingly.
"Ay, if you choose to adopt it," replied the old man. "When I said your ailment was incurable, I meant by ordinary remedies, but it will yield to such as I alone can employ. The malignant and fatal influence under which you labour may be removed, and then your instant restoration to health and vigour will follow."
"But how, father—how?" cried Richard, eagerly.
"You have simply to sign your name in this book," rejoined the hermit, "and what you desire shall be done. Here is a pen," he added, taking one from his girdle.
"But the ink?" cried Richard.
"Prick your arm with your dagger, and dip the pen in the blood," replied the old man. "That will suffice."
"And what follows if I sign?" demanded Richard, staring at him.
"Your instant cure. I will give you to drink of a wondrous elixir."
"But to what do I bind myself?" asked Richard.
"To serve me," replied the hermit, smiling; "but it is a light service, and only involves your appearance in this wood once a-year. Are you agreed?"
"I know not," replied the young man distractedly.
"You must make up your mind speedily," said the hermit; "for I hear the approach of the royal cavalcade."
And as he spoke, the mellow notes of a bugle, followed by the baying of hounds, the jingling of bridles, and the trampling of a large troop of horse, were heard at a short distance down the avenue.
"Tell me who you are?" cried Richard.
"I am the hermit of the wood," replied the old man. "Some people call me Hobthurst, and some by other names, but you will have no difficulty in finding me out. Look yonder!" he added, pointing through the trees.
And, glancing in the direction indicated, Richard beheld a small party on horseback advancing across the plain, consisting of his father, his sister, and Alizon, with their attendants.
"'Tis she!—'tis she!" he cried.
"Can you hesitate, when it is to save her?" demanded the old man.
"Heaven help me, or I am lost!" fervently ejaculated Richard, gazing on high while making the appeal.
When he looked down again the old man was gone, and he saw only a large black snake gliding off among the bushes. Muttering a few words of thankfulness for his deliverance, he sprang upon his horse.
"It may be the arch-tempter is right," he cried, "and that but few hours of life remain to me; but if so, they shall be employed in endeavours to vindicate Alizon, and defeat the snares by which she is beset."
With this resolve, he struck spurs into his horse, and set off in the direction of the little troop. Before, however, he could come up to them, their progress was arrested by a pursuivant, who, riding in advance of the royal cavalcade, motioned them to stay till it had passed, and the same person also perceiving Richard's purpose, called to him, authoritatively, to keep back. The young man might have disregarded the injunction, but at the same moment the King himself appeared at the head of the avenue, and remarking Richard, who was not more than fifty yards off on the right, instantly recognised him, and shouted out, "Come hither, young man—come hither!"
Thus, baffled in his design, Richard was forced to comply, and, uncovering his head, rode slowly towards the monarch. As he approached, James fixed on him a glance of sharpest scrutiny.
"Odds life! ye hae been ganging a fine gait, young sir," he cried. "Ye maun be demented to ride down a hill i' that fashion, and as if your craig war of nae account. It's weel ye hae come aff scaithless. Are ye tired o' life—or was it the muckle deil himsel' that drove ye on? Canna ye find an excuse, man? Nay, then, I'll gi'e ye ane. The loadstane will draw nails out of a door, and there be lassies wi' een strang as loadstanes, that drag men to their perdition. Stands the magnet yonder, eh?" he added, glancing towards the little group before them. "Gude faith! the lass maun be a potent witch to exercise sic influence, and we wad fain see the effect she has on you when near. Sir Richard Hoghton," he called out to the knight, who rode a few paces behind him, "we pray you present Sir Richard Assheton and his daughter to us."
Had he dared so to do, Richard would have thrown himself at the King's feet, but all he could venture upon was to say in a low earnest tone, "Do not prejudge Alizon, sire. On my soul she is innocent!"
"The King prejudges nae man," replied James, in a tone of rebuke; "and like the wise prince of Israel, whom it is his wish to resemble, he sees with his ain een, and hears with his ain ears, afore he forms conclusions."
"That is all I can desire, sire," replied Richard. "Far be it from me to doubt your majesty's discrimination or love of justice."
"Ye shall hae proofs of baith, man, afore we hae done," said James. "Ah! here comes our host, an the twa lassies wi' him. She wi' the lintwhite locks is your sister, we guess, and the ither is Alizon—and, by our troth, a weel-faur'd lass. But Satan is aye delusive. We maun resist his snares."
The party now came on, and were formally presented to the monarch by Sir Richard Hoghton. Sir Richard Assheton, a middle-aged gentleman, with handsome features, though somewhat haughty in expression, and stately deportment, was very graciously received, and James thought fit to pay a few compliments to Dorothy, covertly regarding Alizon the while, yet not neglecting Richard, being ready to intercept any signal that should pass between them. None, however, was attempted, for the young man felt he should only alarm and embarrass Alizon by any attempt to caution her, and he therefore endeavoured to assume an unconcerned aspect and demeanour.
"We hae heard the beauty of the Lancashire lassies highly commended," said the King; "but, faith! it passes expectation. Twa lovelier damsels than these we never beheld. Baith are rare specimens o' Nature's handiwark."
"Your Majesty is pleased to be complimentary," rejoined Sir Richard Assheton.
"Na, Sir Richard," returned James. "We arena gien to flichtering, though aften beflummed oursel'. Baith are bonnie lassies, we repeat. An sae this is Alizon Nutter—it wad be Ailsie in our ain Scottish tongue, to which your Lancashire vernacular closely approximates, Sir Richard. Aweel, fair Alizon," he added, eyeing her narrowly, "ye hae lost your mither, we understand?"
The young girl was not discomposed by this question, but answered in a firm, melancholy tone—"Your Majesty, I fear, is too well acquainted with my unfortunate mother's history."
"Aweel, we winna deny having heard somewhat to her disadvantage," replied the King—"but your ain looks gang far to contradict the reports, fair maid."
"Place no faith in them then, sire," replied Alizon, sadly.
"Eh! what!—then you admit your mother's guilt?" cried the King, sharply.
"I neither admit it nor deny it, sire," she replied. "It must be for your Majesty to judge her."
"Weel answered," muttered James,—"but I mustna forget, that the deil himsel' can quote Scripture to serve his purpose. But you hold in abhorrence the crime laid to your mother's charge—eh?" he added aloud.
"In utter abhorrence," replied Alizon.
"Gude—vera gude," rejoined the King. "But, entertaining this feeling, how conies it you screen so heinous an offender frae justice? Nae natural feeling should be allowed to weigh in sic a case."
"Nor should it, sire, with me," replied Alizon—"because I believe my poor mother's eternal welfare would be best consulted if she underwent temporal punishment. Neither is she herself anxious to avoid it."
"Then why does she keep out of the way—why does she not surrender herself?" cried the King.
"Because—" and Alizon stopped.
"Because what?" demanded James.
"Pardon me, sire, I must decline answering further questions on the subject," replied Alizon. "Whatever concerns myself or my mother alone, I will state freely, but I cannot compromise others."
"Aha! then there are others concerned in it?" cried James. "We thought as much. We will interrogate you further hereafter—but a word mair. We trust ye are devout, and constant in your religious exercises, damsel."
"I will answer for that, sire," interposed Sir Richard Assheton. "Alizon's whole time is spent in prayer for her unfortunate mother. If there be a fault it is that she goes too far, and injures her health by her zeal."
"A gude fault that, Sir Richard," observed the King, approvingly.
"It beseems me not to speak of myself, sire," said Alizon, "and I am loth to do so—but I beseech your majesty to believe, that if my life might be offered as an atonement for my mother, I would freely yield it."
"I' gude faith she staggers me in my opinion," muttered James, "and I maun look into the matter mair closely. The lass is far different frae what I imagined her. But the wiles o' Satan arena to be comprehended, and he will put on the semblance of righteousness when seeking to beguile the righteous. Aweel, damsel," he added aloud, "ye speak feelingly and properly, and as a daughter should speak, and we respect your feelings—provided they be sic as ye represent them. And now dispose yourselves for the chase."
"I must pray your Majesty to dismiss me," said Alizon. "It is a sight in which at any time I take small pleasure, and now it is especially distasteful to me. With your permission, I will proceed to Hoghton Tower."
"I also crave your Majesty's leave to go with her," said Dorothy.
"I will attend them," interposed Richard.
"Na, you maun stay wi' us, young sir," cried the King. "Your gude father will gang wi' 'em. Sir John Finett," he added, calling to the master of the ceremonies, and speaking in his ear, "see that they be followed, and that a special watch be kept over Alizon, and also over this youth,—d'ye mark me?—in fact, ower a' the Assheton clan. And now," he cried in a loud voice, "let them blaw the strake."
The chief huntsman having placed the bugle to his lips, and blown a strike with two winds, a short consultation was held between him and James, who loved to display his knowledge as a woodsman; and while this was going forward, Nicholas and Sherborne having come up, the squire dismounted, and committing Robin to his brother-in-law, approached the monarch.
"If I may be so bold as to put in a word, my liege," he said, "I can show you where a hart of ten is assuredly harboured. I viewed him as I rode through the park this morning, and cannot, therefore, be mistaken. His head is high and well palmed, great beamed and in good proportion, well burred and well pearled. He is stately in height, long, and well fed."
"Did you mark the slot, sir?" inquired James.
"I did, my liege," replied Nicholas. "And a long slot it was; the toes great, with round short joint-bones, large shin-bones, and the dew-claws close together. I will uphold him for a great old hart as ever proffered, and one that shall shew your Majesty rare sport."
"And we'll tak your word for the matter, sir," said James; "for ye're as gude a woodman as any we hae in our dominions. Bring us to him, then."
"Will it please your Majesty to ride towards yon glade?" said Nicholas, "and, before you reach it, the hart shall be roused."
James, assenting to the arrangement, Nicholas sprang upon his steed, and, calling to the chief huntsman, they galloped off together, accompanied by the bloodhound, the royal cavalcade following somewhat more slowly in the same direction. A fair sight it was to see that splendid company careering over the plain, their feathered caps and gay mantles glittering in the sun, which shone brightly upon them. The morning was lovely, giving promise that the day, when further advanced, would be intensely hot, but at present it was fresh and delightful, and the whole company, exhilarated by the exercise, and by animated conversation, were in high spirits; and perhaps amongst the huge party, which numbered nearly three hundred persons, one alone was a prey to despair. But though Richard Assheton suffered thus internally, he bore his anguish with Spartan firmness, resolved, if possible, to let no trace of it be visible in his features or deportment; and he so far succeeded in conquering himself, that the King, who kept a watchful eye upon him, remarked to Sir John Finett as they rode along, that a singular improvement had taken place in the young man's appearance.
The cavalcade was rapidly approaching the glade at the lower end of the chase, when the lively notes of a horn were heard from the adjoining wood, followed by the deep baying of a bloodhound.
"Aha! they have roused him," cried the King, joyfully placing his own bugle to his lips, and sounding an answer. Upon this the whole company halted in anxious expectation, the hounds baying loudly. The next moment, a noble hart burst from the wood, whence he had been driven by the shouts of Nicholas and the chief huntsman, both of whom appeared immediately afterwards.
"By my faith! a great hart as ever was hunted," exclaimed the King. "There boys, there! to him! to him!"
Dashing after the flying hart, the hounds made the welkin ring with their cries. Many lovely damsels were there, but none thought of the cruelty of the sport—none sympathised with the noble animal they were running to death. The cries of the hounds—now loud and ringing—now deep and doling, accompanied by the whooping of the huntsmen, formed a stirring concert, which found a response in many a gentle bosom. The whole cavalcade was spread widely about, for none were allowed to ride near the King. Over the plain they scoured, fleet as the wind, and the hart seemed making for a fell, forming part of the hill near the mansion. But ere he reached it, the relays stationed within a covert burst forth, and, turning him aside, he once more dashed fleetly across the broad expanse, as if about to return to his old lair. Now he was seen plunging into some bosky dell; and, after being lost to view for a moment, bounding up the opposite bank, and stretching across a tract thickly covered with fern. Here he gained upon the hounds, who were lost in the green wilderness, and their cries were hushed for a brief space—but anon they burst forth anew, and the pack were soon again in full cry, and speeding over the open ground.
At first the cavalcade had kept pretty well together, but on the return the case was very different; and many of the dames, being unable to keep up with the hounds, fell off, and, as a natural consequence, many of the gallants lingered behind, too. Thus only the keenest huntsmen held on. Amongst these, and about fifty yards behind the King, were Richard and Nicholas. The squire was right when he predicted that the hart would show them good sport. Plunging into the wood, the hard-pressed beast knocked up another stag, and took possession of his lair, but was speedily roused again by Nicholas and the chief huntsman. Once more he is crossing the wide plain, with hounds and huntsmen after him—once more he is turned by a new relay; but this time he shapes his course towards the woods skirting the Darwen. It is a piteous sight to see him now; his coat black and glistening with sweat, his mouth embossed with foam, his eyes dull, big tears coursing down his cheeks, and his noble head carried low. His end seems nigh—for the hounds, though weary too, redouble their energies, and the monarch cheers them on. Again the poor beast erects his head—if he can only reach yon coppice he is safe. Despair nerves him, and with gigantic bounds he clears the intervening space, and disappears beneath the branches. Quickly as the hounds come after him, they are at fault.
"He has taken to the soil, sire," cried Nicholas coming up. "To the river—to the river! You may see by the broken branches he has gone this way."
Forcing his way through the wood, James was soon on the banks of the Darwen, which here ran deep and slow. The hart was nowhere to be seen, nor was there any slot on the further side to denote that he had gone forth. It was evident, therefore, that he had swam down the stream. At this moment a shout was heard a hundred yards lower down, proceeding from Nicholas; and, riding in the direction of the sound, the King found the hart at bay on the further side of the stream, and nearly up to his haunches in the water. The King regarded him for a moment anxiously. The poor animal was now in his last extremity, but he seemed determined to sell his life dearly. He stood on a bank projecting into the stream, round which the water flowed deeply, and could not be approached without difficulty and danger. He had already gored several hounds, whose bleeding bodies were swept down the current; and, though the others bayed round him, they did not dare to approach him, and could not get behind him, as a high bank arose in his rear.
"Have I your Majesty's permission to despatch him?" asked Nicholas.
"Ay, marry, if you can, sir," replied James. "But 'ware the tynes!—'ware the tynes!—'If thou be hurt with hart it brings thee to thy bier,' as the auld ballad hath it, and the adage is true, as we oursel's have seen."
Nicholas, however, heeded not the caution, but, drawing his wood-knife, and disencumbering himself of his cloak, he plunged into the stream, and with one or two strokes reached the bank. The hart watched his approach, as if divining his purpose, with a look half menacing, half reproachful, and when he came near, dashed his antlered head at him. Nimbly eluding the blow, which, if it had taken effect, might have proved serious, Nicholas plunged his weapon into the poor brute's throat, who instantly fell with a heavy splash into the water.
"Weel stricken! weel stricken!" shouted James, who had witnessed the performance from the opposite bank. "But how shall we get the carcase here?"
"That is easily done, sire," replied Nicholas. And taking hold of the horns, he guided the body to a low bank, a little below where the King stood.
As soon as it was dragged ashore by the prickers, James put his bugle to his lips and blew a mort. A pryse was thrice sounded by Nicholas, and soon afterwards the whole company came flocking round the spot, whooping the death-note.
Meanwhile, the hounds had gathered round the fallen hart, and were allowed to wreak their fury on him by tearing his throat, happily after sensibility was gone; while Nicholas, again baring his knife, cut off the right fore-foot, and presented it to the King. While this ceremony was performed, the varlets of the kennel having cut down a great heap of green branches, and strewn them on the ground, laid the hart upon them, on his back, and then bore him to an open space in the wood, where he was broken up by the King, who prided himself upon his skill in all matters of woodcraft. While this office was in course of execution a bowl of wine was poured out for the monarch, which he took, adverting, as he did so, to the common superstition, that if a huntsman should break up a deer without drinking, the venison would putrefy. Having drained the cup, he caused it to be filled again, and gave it to Nicholas, saying the liquor was needful to him after the drenching he had undergone. James then proceeded with his task, and just before he completed it, he was reminded, by a loud croak above him, that a raven was at hand, and accordingly taking a piece of gristle from the spoon of the brisket, he cast it on the ground, and the bird immediately pounced down upon it and carried it off in his huge beak.
After a brief interval, the seek was again winded, another hart was roused, and after a short but swift chase, pulled down by the hounds, and dispatched with his own hand by James. Sir Richard Hoghton then besought the King to follow him, and led the way to a verdant hollow surrounded by trees, in which shady and delicious retreat preparations had been made for a slight silvan repast. Upon a mossy bank beneath a tree, a cushion was placed for the King, and before it on the sward was laid a cloth spread with many dainties, including