Rachel burst into tears.
“What now!” cried Mrs. Verner. “Not a word can anybody say to you lately, Rachel, but you must begin to cry as if you were heart-broken. What has come to you, child? Is anything the matter with you?”
The tears deepened into long sobs of agony, as though her heart were indeed broken. She held her handkerchief up to her face, and went sobbing from the room.
Mrs. Verner gazed after her in very astonishment. “What has taken her? What can it possibly be?” she uttered. “John, you must know.”
“I, mother! I declare to you that I know no more about it than Adam. Rachel must be going a little crazed.”
The Willow pond.
Before the sun had well set, the family at Verner’s Pride were assembling for dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Verner, and John Massingbird: neither Lionel Verner nor Frederick Massingbird was present. The usual custom appeared somewhat reversed on this evening: while roving John would be just as likely to absent himself from dinner as not, his brother and Lionel Verner nearly always appeared at it. Mr. Verner looked surprised.
“Where are they?” he cried, as he waited to say grace.
“Mr. Lionel has not come in, sir,” replied the butler, Tynn, who was husband to the housekeeper.
“And Fred has gone out to keep some engagement with Sibylla West,” spoke up Mrs. Verner. “She is going to spend the evening at the Bitterworths, and Fred promised, I believe, to see her safely thither. He will take his dinner when he comes in.”
Mr. Verner bent his head, said the grace, and the dinner began.
Later—but not much later, for it was scarcely dark yet—Rachel Frost was leaving the house to pay a visit in the adjoining village, Deerham. Her position may be at once explained. It was mentioned in the last chapter that Mr. Verner had had one daughter, who died young. The mother of Rachel Frost had been this child’s nurse, Rachel being an infant at the same time, so that the child, Rachel Verner, and Rachel Frost—named after her—had been what is called foster-sisters. It had caused Mr. Verner, and his wife also while she lived, to take an interest in Rachel Frost; it is very probable that their own child’s death only made this interest greater. They were sufficiently wise not to lift the girl palpably out of her proper sphere; but they paid for a decent education for her at a day-school, and were personally kind to her. Rachel—I was going to say fortunately, but it may be as just to say unfortunately—was one of those who seem to make the best of every trifling advantage: she had grown, without much effort of her own, into what might be termed a lady, in appearance, in manners, and in speech. The second Mrs. Verner also took an interest in her; and nearly a year before this period, on Rachel’s eighteenth birthday, she took her to Verner’s Pride as her own attendant.