Apart from the horror of the affair, it was altogether attended with so much mystery that that of itself would have kept the excitement alive. What could have taken Rachel Frost near the pond at all? Allowing that she had chosen that lonely road for her way home—which appeared unlikely in the extreme—she must still have gone out of it to approach the pond, must have walked partly across a field to gain it. Had her path led close by it, it would have been a different matter: it might have been supposed (unlikely still, though) that she had missed her footing and fallen in. But unpleasant rumours were beginning to circulate in the crowd. It was whispered that sounds of a contest, the voices being those of a man and a woman, had been heard in that direction at the time of the accident, or about the time; and these rumours reached the ear of Mr. Verner.
For the family to think of bed, in the present state of affairs, or the crowd to think of dispersing, would have been in the highest degree improbable. Mr. Verner set himself to get some sort of solution first. One told one tale; one, another: one asserted something else; another, the exact opposite. Mr. Verner—and in saying Mr. Verner, we must include all—was fairly puzzled. A notion had sprung up that Dinah Roy, the bailiffs wife, could tell something about it if she would. Certain it was, that she had stood amid the crowd, cowering and trembling, shrinking from observation as much as possible, and recoiling visibly if addressed.
A word of this suspicion at last reached her husband. It angered him. He was accustomed to keep his wife in due submission. She was a little body, with a pinched face and a sharp red nose, given to weeping upon every possible occasion, and as indulgently fond of her son Luke as she was afraid of her husband. Since Luke’s departure she had passed the better part of her time in tears.
“Now,” said Roy, going up to her with authority, and drawing her apart, “what’s this as is up with you?”
She looked round her, and shuddered.
“Oh, law!” cried she, with a moan. “Don’t you begin to ask, Giles, or I shall be fit to die.”
“Do you know anything about this matter, or don’t you?” cried he savagely. “Did you see anything?”
“What should I be likely to see of it?” quaked Mrs. Roy.
“Did you see Rachel fall into the pond? Or see her a-nigh the pond?”
“No, I didn’t,” moaned Mrs. Roy. “I never set eyes on Rachel this blessed night at all. I’d take a text o’ scripture to it.”
“Then what is the matter with you?” he demanded, giving her a slight shake.
“Hush, Giles!” responded she, in a tone of unmistakable terror. “I saw a ghost!”
“Saw a—what?” thundered Giles Roy.
“A ghost!” she repeated. “And it have made me shiver ever since.”
Giles Roy knew that his wife was rather prone to flights of fancy. He was in the habit of administering one sovereign remedy, which he believed to be an infallible panacea for wives’ ailments whenever it was applied—a hearty good shaking. He gave her a slight instalment as he turned away.