“Stop what?” asked Lionel.
“I’d build ’em better dwellings,” composedly went on Jan. “They might be brought up to decency then.”
“It’s true that decency can’t put its head into such dwellings as that of the Hooks’,” observed the vicar. “People have accused me of showing leniency to Alice Hook, since the scandal has been known; but I cannot show harshness to her when I think of the home the girl was reared in.”
The words pricked Lionel. None could think worse of the homes than he did. He spoke in a cross tone; we are all apt to do so, when vexed with ourselves. “What possesses Deerham to show itself so absurd just now? Ghosts! They only affect fear, it is my belief.”
“Alice Hook did not affect it, for one,” said Jan. “She may have been frightened to some purpose. We found her lying on the ground, insensible. They are stupid, though, all the lot of them.”
“Stupid is not the name for it,” remarked Lionel. “A little superstition, following on Rachel’s peculiar death, may have been excusable, considering the ignorance of the people here, and the tendency to superstition inherent in human nature. But why it should have been revived now, I cannot imagine.”
Mr. Bitterworth and Jan had walked on. The vicar touched Lionel on the arm, not immediately to follow them.
“Mr. Verner, I do not hold good with the policy which seems to prevail, of keeping this matter from you,” he said, in a confidential tone. “I cannot see the expediency of it in any way. It is not Rachel’s Frost’s ghost that is said to be terrifying people.”
“Whose then?” asked Lionel.
Lionel paused, as if his ears deceived him.
“Whose?” he repeated.
“How perfectly absurd!” he presently exclaimed.
“True,” said Mr. Bourne. “So absurd that, were it not for a circumstance which has happened to-night, I scarcely think I should have brought myself to repeat it. My conviction is, that some person bearing an extraordinary resemblance to Frederick Massingbird is walking about to terrify the neighbourhood.”
“I should think there’s not another face living, that bears a resemblance to Fred Massingbird’s,” observed Lionel. “How have you heard this?”
“The first to tell me of it was old Matthew Frost. He saw him plainly, believing it to be Frederick Massingbird’s spirit—although he had never believed in spirits before. Dan Duff holds to it that he saw it; and now Alice Hook; besides others. I turned a deaf ear to all, Mr. Verner; but to-night I met one so like Frederick Massingbird that, were Massingbird not dead, I could have sworn it was himself. It was wondrously like him, even to the mark on the cheek.”
“I never heard such a tale!” uttered Lionel.
“That is precisely what I said—until to-night. I assure you the resemblance is so great, that if we have all female Deerham in fits, I shall not wonder. It strikes me—it is the only solution I can come to—that some one is personating Frederick Massingbird for the purpose of a mischievous joke—though how they get up the resemblance is another thing. Let me advise you to see into it, Mr. Verner.”