“Had I been flurried or terrified by it, sir, so as to lose my presence of mind, or if I was one of those timid folks that see signs in dreams, or take every white post to be a ghost, that they come to on a dark night, you might laugh at and disbelieve me. But I tell it to you, sir, as you say, deliberately; just as it happened. I can’t have much longer time to live, sir; but I’d stake it all on the truth that it was the spirit of Mr. Frederick Massingbird. When you have once known a man, there are a hundred points by which you may recognise him, beyond possibility of being mistaken. They have got a story in the place, sir, to-day—as you may have heard—that my poor child’s ghost appeared to Dan Duff last night, and that the boy has been senseless ever since. It has struck me, sir, that perhaps he also saw what I did.”
Mr. Bourne paused. “Did you say anything of this to Mr. Verner?”
“Not I, sir. As I tell you, I felt like a guilty man in his presence, one with something to hide. He married Mr. Fred’s widow, pretty creature, and it don’t seem a nice thing to tell him. If it had been the other gentleman’s spirit, Mr. John’s, I should have told him at once.”
Mr. Bourne rose. To argue with old Matthew in his present frame of mind, appeared to be about as useless a waste of time as to argue with Susan Peckaby on the subject of the white donkey. He told him he would see him again in a day or two, and took his departure.
But he did not dismiss the subject from his thoughts. No, he could not do that. He was puzzled. Such a tale from one like old Matthew—calm, pious, sensible, and verging on the grave, made more impression on Mr. Bourne than all Deerham could have made. Had Deerham come to him with the story, he would have flung it to the winds.
He began to think that some person, from evil design or love of mischief, must be personating Frederick Massingbird. It was a natural conclusion. And Matthew’s surmise, that the same thing might have alarmed Dan Duff, was perfectly probable. Mr. Bourne determined to ascertain the latter fact, as soon as Dan should be in a state of sufficient convalescence, bodily and mentally, to give an account. He had already paid one visit to Mrs. Duff’s—as that lady informed Lionel.
Two or three more visits he paid there during the day, but not until night did he find Dan revived. In point of fact, the clergyman penetrated to the kitchen just after that startling communication had been made by Dan. The women were standing in consternation when the vicar entered, one of them strongly recommending that the copper furnace should be heated, and Dan plunged into it to “bring him round.”
“How is he now?” began Mr. Bourne. “Oh! I see; he is sensible.”
“Well, sir, I don’t know,” said Mrs Duff. “I’m afraid as his head’s a-going right off. He persists in saying now that it wasn’t the ghost of Rachel at all—but somebody else’s.”