“I’ll take tea and dinner together,” was his answer.
“But you ought to have been in before,” she persisted; for, though an easy mistress and mother, Mrs. Verner did not like the order of meals to be displaced. “Where have you stayed, Fred? You have not been all this while taking Sibylla West to Bitterworth’s.”
“You must talk to Sibylla West about that,” answered Fred. “When young ladies keep you a good hour waiting, while they make themselves ready to start, you can’t get back precisely to your own time.”
“What did she keep you waiting for?” questioned Mrs. Verner.
“Some mystery of the toilette, I conclude. When I got there, Amilly said Sibylla was dressing; and a pretty prolonged dressing it appeared to be! Since I left her at Bitterworth’s, I have been to Poynton’s about my mare. She was as lame as ever to-day.”
“And there’s Rachel out now, just as I am wanting her!” went on Mrs. Verner, who, when she did lapse into a grumbling mood, was fond of calling up a catalogue of grievances.
“At any rate, that’s not my fault, mother,” observed Frederick. “I dare say she will soon be in. Rachel is not given to stay out, I fancy, if there’s a chance of her being wanted.”
Tynn came in with his tray, and Frederick Massingbird sat down to it. Tynn then waited for Mr. Verner’s tea, which he carried into the study. He carried a cup in every evening, but Mr. Verner scarcely ever touched it. Then Tynn returned to the room where the upper servants took their meals and otherwise congregated, and sat down to read a newspaper. He was a little man, very stout, his plain clothes always scrupulously neat.
A few minutes, and Nancy came in, the parcel left by Dan Duff in her hand. The housekeeper asked her what it was. She explained in her crusty way, and said something to the same effect that she had said in the laundry—that it was fine to be Rachel Frost. “She’s long enough making her way up here!” Nancy wound up with.
“Dan Duff says she left their shop to come home before he did. If Luke Roy was in Deerham one would know what to think!”
“Bah!” cried the housekeeper. “Rachel Frost has nothing to say to Luke Roy.”
Tynn laid down his paper, and rose. “I’ll just tell the mistress that Rachel’s on her way home,” said he. “She’s put up like anything at her being out—wants her for something particular, she says.”
Barely had he departed on his errand, when a loud commotion was heard in the passage. Mr. Dan Duff had burst in at the back door, uttering sounds of distress—of fright—his eyes starting, his hair standing on end, his words nearly unintelligible.
“Rachel Frost is in the Willow Pond—drownded!”
The women shrieked when they gathered in the sense. It was enough to make them shriek. Dan Duff howled in concert. The passages took up the sounds and echoed them; and Mrs. Verner, Frederick Massingbird, and Tynn came hastening forth. Mr. Verner followed, feeble, and leaning on his stick. Frederick Massingbird seized upon the boy, questioning sharply.