“I say, you fellow——” he was beginning, and there he stopped dead.
He stopped dead, both in step and tongue. The figure, never moving, never giving the faintest indication that it was alive, stood there like a statue. Master Cheese looked in its face, and saw the face of the late Frederick Massingbird.
It is not pleasant to come across a dead man at moonlight—a man whose body has been safely reposing in the ground ever so long ago. Master Cheese did not howl as Dan Duff had done. He set off down the road—he was too fat to propel himself over or through the hedge, though that was the nearest way—he took to his heels down the road, and arrived in an incredibly short space of time at home, bursting into the surgery and astonishing Jan and the surgery boy.
“I say, Jan, though, haven’t I had a fright?”
Jan, at the moment, was searching in the prescription-book. He raised his eyes, and looked over the counter. Master Cheese’s face had turned white, and drops of wet were pouring off it—in spite of his bravery.
“What have you been at?” asked Jan.
“I saw the thing they are talking about, Jan. It is Fred Massingbird’s.”
Jan grinned. That Master Cheese’s fright was genuine, there could be no mistaking, and it amused Jan excessively.
“What had you been taking?” asked he, in his incredulity.
“I had taken nothing,” retorted Master Cheese, who did not like the ridicule. “I had not had the opportunity of taking anything—unless it was your medicine. Catch me tapping that! Look here, Jan. I was coming by Crow Corner, when I saw a something standing back in the hedge. I thought it was some poaching fellow hiding there, and went up to dislodge him. Didn’t I wish myself up in the skies? It was the face of Fred Massingbird.”
“The face of your fancy,” slightingly returned Jan.
“I swear it was, then! There! There’s no mistaking him. The hedgehog on his cheek looked larger and blacker than ever.”
Master Cheese did not fail to talk of this abroad; the surgery boy, Bob, who had listened with open ears, did not fail to talk of it, and it spread throughout Deerham; additional testimony to that already accumulated. In a few days’ time, the commotion was at its height; nearly the only persons who remained in ignorance of the reported facts being the master and mistress of Verner’s Pride, and those connected with them, relatives on either side.
That some great internal storm of superstition was shaking Deerham, Lionel knew. In his happy ignorance, he attributed it to the rumour which had first been circulated, touching Rachel’s ghost. He was an ear-witness to an angry colloquy at home. Some indispensable trifle for his wife’s toilette was required suddenly from Deerham one evening, and Mademoiselle Benoite ordered that it should be sent for. But not one of the maids would go. The Frenchwoman insisted, and there ensued a stormy war. The girls, one and all, declared they’d rather give up their service, than go abroad after nightfall.