“Be easy, father dear. I’d not have Luke Roy if he were made of gold. I never yet had anything to say to him, and I never will have. We can’t help our likes and dislikes.”
“Pshaw!” said Robin, with pardonable pride. “Pretty Rachel is not for a daft chap like Luke Roy, that’s a head and ears shorter nor other men. Be you, my dear one?”
Rachel laughed. Her conscience told her that she enjoyed a joke at Luke’s undersize. She took a shower of kisses from the little girl, put her down, and rose.
“I must go,” she said. “Mrs. Verner may be calling for me.”
“Don’t she know you be come out?” asked old Matthew.
“No. But do not fear that I came clandestinely—or, as our servants would say, on the sly,” added Rachel, with a smile. “Mrs. Verner has told me to run down to see you whenever I like, after she has gone in to dinner. Good-night, dear father.”
The old man pressed her to his heart: “Don’t thee get fretting again my blessing. I don’t care to see thee with red eyes.”
For answer, Rachel burst into tears then—a sudden, violent burst. She dashed them away again with a defiant, reckless sort of air, broke, into a laugh, and laid the blame on her headache. Robin said he would walk home with her.
“No, Robin, I would rather you did not to-night,” she replied. “I have two or three things to get at Mother Duff’s, and I shall stop there a bit, gossiping. After that, I shall be home in a trice. It’s not dark; and, if it were, who’d harm me?”
They laughed. To imagine harm of any sort occurring, through walking a mile or so alone at night, would never enter the head of honest country people. Rachel departed; and Robin, who was a domesticated man upon the whole, helped his wife to put the children to bed.
Scarcely an hour later, a strange commotion arose in the village. People ran about wildly, whispering dread words to one another. A woman had just been drowned in the Willow Pond.
The whole place flocked down to the Willow Pond. On its banks, the centre of an awe-struck crowd, which had been quickly gathering, lay a body, recently taken out of the water. It was all that remained of poor Rachel Frost—cold, and white, and dead!
The news brought home.
Seated in the dining-room at Verner’s Pride, comfortably asleep in an arm-chair, her face turned to the fire and her feet on a footstool, was Mrs. Verner. The dessert remained on the table, but nobody was there to partake of it. Mr. Verner had retired to his study upon the withdrawal of the cloth, according to his usual custom. Always a man of spare habits, shunning the pleasures of the table, he had scarcely taken sufficient to support nature since his health failed. Mrs. Verner would remonstrate; but his medical attendant, Dr. West, said