“Rachel Frost’s a-drowned in the Willow Pond,” he reiterated. “I see’d her.”
A moment of pause, of startled suspense, and then they flew off, men and women, as with one accord, Frederick Massingbird leading the van. Social obligations were forgotten in the overwhelming excitement, and Mr. and Mrs. Verner were left to keep house for themselves. Tynn, indeed, recollected himself, and turned back.
“No,” said Mr. Verner. “Go with the rest, Tynn, and see what it is, and whether anything can be done.”
He might have crept thither himself in his feeble strength, but he had not stirred out of the house for two years.
The crowd in the moonlight.
The Willow Pond, so called from its being surrounded with weeping willows, was situated at the corner of a field, in a retired part of the road, about midway between Verner’s Pride and Deerham. There was a great deal of timber about that part; it was altogether as lonely as could be desired. When the runners from Verner’s Pride reached it, assistance had already arrived, and Rachel, rescued from the pond, was being laid upon the grass. All signs of life were gone.
Who had done it?—what had caused it?—was it an accident?—was it a self-committed act?—or was it a deed of violence? What brought her there at all? No young girl would be likely to take that way home (with all due deference to the opinion of Master Dan Duff) alone at night.
What was to be done? The crowd propounded these various questions in so many marvels of wonder, and hustled each other, and talked incessantly; but to be of use, to direct, nobody appeared capable. Frederick Massingbird stepped forward with authority.
“Carry her at once to Verner’s Pride—with all speed. And some of you”—turning to the servants of the house—“hasten on, and get water heated and blankets hot. Get hot bricks—get anything and everything likely to be required. How did she get in?”
He appeared to speak the words more in the light of a wailing regret, than as a question. It was a question that none present appeared able to answer. The crowd was increasing rapidly. One of them suggested that Broom the gamekeeper’s cottage was nearer than Verner’s Pride.
“But there will be neither hot water nor blankets there,” returned Frederick Massingbird.
“The house is the best. Make haste! don’t let grass grow under your feet.”
“A moment,” interposed a gentleman who now came hastily up, as they were raising the body. “Lay her down again.”
They obeyed him eagerly, and fell a little back that he might have space to bend over her. It was the doctor of the neighbourhood, resident at Deerham. He was a fine man in figure, dark and florid in face, but a more impassive countenance could not well be seen, and he had the peculiarity of rarely looking a person in the face. If a patient’s eyes were mixed on Dr. West’s, Dr. West’s were invariably fixed upon something else. A clever man in his profession, holding an Edinburgh degree, and practising as a general practitioner. He was brother to the present Mrs. Verner; consequently, uncle to the two young Massingbirds.