“What’s that?” asked Lionel.
“Well,” said Jan, “it’s not a pleasant one.”
“You can tell it me, Jan, pleasant or unpleasant.”
“Not pleasant for you, I mean, Lionel. I’ll tell you if you like.”
Lionel looked at him.
“I think it must be Fred Massingbird himself.”
The answer appeared to take Lionel by surprise. Possibly he had not admitted the doubt.
“Fred Massingbird himself; I don’t understand you, Jan.”
“Fred himself, in life,” repeated Jan. “I fancy it will turn out that he did not die in Australia. He may have been very ill perhaps, and they fancied him dead; and now he is well, and has come over.”
Every vestige of colour forsook Lionel’s face.
“Jan!” he uttered, partly in terror, partly in anger. “Jan!” he repeated from between his bloodless lips. “Have you thought of the position in which your hint would place my wife?—the reflection it would cast upon her? How dare you?”
“You told me to speak,” was Jan’s composed answer. “I said you’d not like it. Speaking of it, or keeping silence, won’t make it any the better, Lionel.”
“What could possess you to think of such a thing?”
“There’s nothing else that I can think of. Look here! Is there such a thing as a ghost? Is that probable?”
“Nonsense! No,” said Lionel.
“Then what can it be, unless it’s Fred himself? Lionel, were I you, I’d look the matter full in the face. It is Fred Massingbird, or it is not. If not, the sooner the mystery is cleared up the better, and the fellow brought to book and punished. It’s not to be submitted to that he is to stride about for his own pastime, terrifying people to their injury. Is Alice Hook’s life nothing? Were Dan Duff’s senses nothing?—and, upon my word, I once thought there was good-bye to them.”
Lionel did not answer. Jan continued.
“If it is Fred himself, the fact can’t be long concealed. He’ll be sure to make himself known. Why he should not do it at once, I can’t imagine. Unless—”
“Unless what?” asked Lionel.
“Well, you are so touchy on all points relating to Sibylla, that one hesitates to speak,” continued Jan. “I was going to say, unless he fears the shock to Sibylla; and would let her be prepared for it by degrees.”
“Jan,” gasped Lionel, “it would kill her.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” dissented Jan. “She’s not one to be killed by emotion of any sort. Or much stirred by it, as I believe, if you care for my opinion. It would not be pleasant for you or for her, but she’d not die of it.”
Lionel wiped the moisture from his face. From the moment Jan had first spoken, a conviction seemed to arise within him that the suggestion would turn out to be only too true a one—that the ghost, in point of fact, was Frederick Massingbird in life.
“This is awful!” he murmured. “I would sacrifice my own life to save Sibylla from pain.”