He, Jan, was speeding off, when a fresh deputation arrived. Twenty anxious faces at the least, all in a commotion, their tongues going together. “Dan was frothing dreadful, and his legs was twitchin’ like one in the epilepsies.”
“What has caused it?” asked Jan. “I saw him well enough an hour or two ago.”
“He see a dead man, sir; as it’s said. We can’t come to the bottom of it, ’cause of his not answering no questions. He be too bad, he be.”
“He did see a dead man,” put in Polly Dawson, who made one of the deputation, and was proud of being able to add her testimony to the asserted fact. “Leastways, he said he did. I was a-buying some silk, sir, in at Mother Duff’s shop, and Susan Peckaby was in there too, she was, a-talking rubbish about her white donkey, when Dan flounders in upon us in a state not to be told, a-frightening of us dreadful, and a-smashing in the winder with his arm. And he said he’d seen a dead man.”
Jan could not make sense of the tale. There was nobody lying dead in Deerham, that he knew of. He pushed the crowd round the door right and left to get space to enter. The shop was pretty full already, but numbers pushed in after Jan. Dan had been carried into the kitchen at the back of the shop, and was laid upon the floor, a pillow under his head. The kitchen was more crowded than the shop; there was not breathing space; and room could hardly be found for Jan.
The shop was Mrs. Duff’s department. If she chose to pack it full of people to the ceiling, it was her affair: but Jan made the kitchen, where the boy lay, his.
“What’s the matter with him, sir?” was the eager question to Jan, the moment he had cast his eyes on the invalid.
“I may be able to ascertain as soon as I have elbow room,” replied Jan. “Suppose you give it me. Mrs. Duff may stop, but nobody else.”
Jan’s easy words carried authority in their tone, and the company turned tail and began to file out.
“Couldn’t you do with me in, as well as his mother, sir?” asked Susan Peckaby. “I was here when he came in, I was; and I knowed what it was a’most afore he spoke. He have been frightened by that thing in the pound. Only a few minutes afore, it had turned my inside almost out.”
“No, I can’t,” answered Jan. “I must have the room clear. Perhaps I shall send away his mother.”
“I should ha’ liked to know for sure,” meekly observed Susan Peckaby, preparing to resign herself to her fate. “I hope you’ll ask him, sir, when he comes to, whether it were not that thing in the pound as frightened him. I took it for some’at else, more’s the grief! but it looks, for all the world, like a ghost in the moonlight.”
“What is in the pound?” demanded Jan.
“It’s a white cow,” responded Susan Peckaby. “And it strikes me as it’s Farmer Blow’s. He have got a white cow, you know, sir, like he have got a white pony, and they be always a-giving me a turn, one or t’other of ’em. I’d like old Blow to be indicted for a pest, I would! a-keeping white animals to upset folks. It’s not a week ago that I met that cow in the road at dusk—strayed through a gap in the hedge. Tiresome beast, a-causing my heart to leap into my mouth!”