After Jan Verner had departed, saying he should be back by and by, and giving Mrs. Duff strict orders to keep the boy quiet, to allow nobody near him but herself, and, above all, no questioning, Mrs. Duff quitted him, “that he might get a bit o’ sleep,” she said. In point of fact, Mrs. Duff was burning to exercise her gossiping powers with those other gossipers below. To them she descended; and found Susan Peckaby holding forth upon the subject of the white cow.
“You be wrong, Susan Peckaby,” said Mrs. Duff, “It warn’t the white cow at all; Dan warn’t a-nigh the pound. He told Mr. Jan so.”
“Then what was it?” returned Susan Peckaby.
One of the present auditors was Roy the bailiff. He had only recently pushed in, and had stood listening in silence, taking note of the various comments and opinions. As silently, he moved behind the group, and was stealing up the stairs. Mrs. Duff placed herself before him.
“Where be you a-going, Mr. Roy? Mr. Jan said as not a soul was to go a-nigh him to disturb him with talk. A nice thing, it ’ud be, for it to settle on his brain!”
“I ain’t a-going to disturb him,” returned Roy. “I have seen something myself to-night that is not over-kind. I’d like to get a inkling if it’s the same that has frightened him.”
“Was it in the pound?” eagerly asked Mrs. Peckaby.
“The pound be smoked!” was the polite answer vouchsafed by Roy. “Thee’ll go mad with th’ white donkey one of these days.”
“There can’t be any outlet to it, but one,” observed Mrs. Chuff, the blacksmith’s wife, giving her opinion in a loud key. “He must ha’ seen Rachel Frost’s ghost.”
“Have you been and seen that to-night, Mr. Roy?” cried Susan Peckaby.
“Maybe I have, and maybe I haven’t,” was Roy’s satisfactory reply, “All I say is, I’ve seen something that I’d rather not have seen; something that ’ud have sent all you women into fits. ’Twarn’t unlike Rachel, and ’twere clothed in white. I’ll just go and take a look at Dan, Mother Duff. No fear o’ my disturbing him.”
Mother Duff, absorbed with her visitors, allowed him to go on without further impediment. The first thing Roy did upon getting upstairs, was to shut the chamber door; the next, to arouse and question the suffering Dan. Roy succeeded in getting from him the particulars already related, and a little more; insomuch that Dan mentioned the name which the dead man had borne in life.
Roy sat and stared at him after the revelation, keeping silence. It may have been that he was digesting the wonder; it may have been that he was deliberating upon his answer.
“Look you here, Dan Duff,” said he, by and by, holding the shaking boy by the shoulder. “You just breathe that name again to living mortal, and see if you don’t get hung up by the neck for it. ’Twas nothing but Rachel’s ghost. Them ghosts takes the form of anything that it pleases, ’em to take; whether it’s a dead man’s, or whether it’s a woman’s, what do they care? There’s no ghost but Rachel’s ’ud be a-hovering over that pond. Where be your senses gone, not to know that?”