“Was she already dead?”
“Well, sir, when you first get a person out of the water it’s hard to say whether they be dead or not. She seemed dead, but perhaps if there had been means right at hand, she might have been brought-to again.”
A moan of pain from old Matthew. Mr. Verner continued as it died out—
“Rachel Frost’s voice must have been one of those you heard in dispute?”
“Not a doubt of that, sir,” replied young Broom. “Any more than that there must have been foul play at work to get her into the pond, or that the other disputing voice must have belonged to the man who did it.”
“Softly, softly,” said Mr. Verner. “Did you see any man about?”
“I saw nobody at all, sir, saving Dan Duff and Mrs. Roy; and Rachel’s quarrel could not have been with either of them. Whoever the other was, he had made himself scarce.”
Robin Frost took a step forward respectfully.
“Did you mind, sir, that Mother Duffs Dan spoke to seeing some person in the lane?”
“I do,” replied Mr. Verner. “I should like to ask the boy another question or two upon that point. Call him in, one of you.”
John Massingbird went out and brought back the boy.
“Mind you have your wits sharp about you this time, Mr. Duff,” he remarked. Which piece of advice had the effect of scaring Mr. Duff’s wits more completely away than they had been scared before.
“You tell us that you saw a man pass up the lane when you were in the field after the cat,” began Mr. Verner. “Was the man walking fast?”
“Please, sir, yes. Afore I could get out o’ the gate he was near out o’ sight. He went a’most as fast as the cat did.”
“How long was it, after you saw him, before you met young Broom, and heard that somebody was in the pond?”
“Please, sir, ’twas a’most directly. I was running then, I was.”
As the boy’s answer fell upon the room, a conviction stole over most of those collected in it that this man must have been the one who had been heard in dispute with Rachel Frost.
“Were there no signs about him by which you could recognise him?” pursued Mr. Verner. “What did he look like? Was he tall or short?”
“Please, sir, he were very tall.”
“Could you see his dress? Was it like a gentleman’s or a labourer’s?”
“Please, sir, I think it looked like a gentleman’s—like one o’ the gentlemen’s at Verner’s Pride.”
“Whose? Like which of the gentlemen’s?” rang out Mr. Verner’s voice, sharply and sternly, after a moment’s pause of surprise, for he evidently had not expected the answer.