A fascinating, lovable child had Rachel Frost ever been: she was a fascinating, lovable girl. Modest, affectionate, generous, everybody liked Rachel; she had not an enemy, so far as was known, in all Deerham. Her father was nothing but a labourer on the Verner estate; but in mind and conduct he was superior to his station; an upright, conscientious, and, in some degree, a proud man: her mother had been dead several years. Rachel was proud too, in her way; proud and sensitive.
Rachel, dressed in her bonnet and shawl, passed out of the house by the front entrance. She would not have presumed to do so by daylight; but it was dusk now, the family not about, and it cut off a few yards of the road to the village. The terrace—which you have heard of as running along the front of the house—sloped gradually down at either end to the level ground, so as to admit the approach of carriages.
Riding up swiftly to the door, as Rachel appeared at it, was a gentleman of some five or six and twenty years. Horse and man both looked thoroughbred. Tall, strong, and slender, with a keen, dark blue eye, and regular features of a clear, healthy paleness, he—the man—would draw a second glance to himself wherever he might be met. His face was not inordinately handsome; nothing of the sort; but it wore an air of candour, of noble truth. A somewhat impassive face in repose, somewhat cold; but, in speaking, it grew expressive to animation, and the frank smile that would light it up made its greatest charm. The smile stole over it now, as he checked his horse and bent towards Rachel.
“Have they thought me lost? I suppose dinner is begun?”
“Dinner has been in this half-hour, sir.”
“All right. I feared they might wait. What’s the matter, Rachel? You’ve been making your eyes red.”
“The matter! There’s nothing the matter with me, Mr. Lionel,” was Rachel’s reply, her tone betraying a touch of annoyance. And she turned and walked swiftly along the terrace, beyond reach of the glare of the gas-lamp.
Up stole a man at this moment, who must have been hidden amid the pillars of the portico, watching the transient meeting, watching for an opportunity to speak. It was Roy, the bailiff; and he accosted the gentleman with the same complaint, touching the ill-doings of the Dawsons and the village in general, that had previously been carried to Mr. Verner by Frederick Massingbird.
“I was told to wait and take my orders from you, sir,” he wound up with. “The master don’t like to be troubled, and he wouldn’t give none.”
“Neither shall I give any,” was the answer, “until I know more about it.”
“They ought to be got out to-night, Mr. Lionel!” exclaimed the man, striking his hand fiercely against the air. “They sow all manner of incendiarisms in the place, with their bad example.”