“Whose is it, then?” asked Miss Deb, struck with his manner.
“I’ll tell you if you won’t tell Jan. It’s—don’t start, Miss Deb—it’s Fred Massingbird’s.”
Miss Deb did not start. She looked keenly at Master Cheese, believing he might be playing a joke upon her. But there were no signs of joking in his countenance. It looked, on the contrary, singularly serious, not to say awe-struck, as he leaned forward to bring it nearer Miss Deborah’s.
“It is a fact that Fred Massingbird’s ghost is walking,” he continued. “Lots have seen it. I have seen it. You’d have heard of it, as everybody else has, if you had not been Mrs. Verner’s sister. It’s an unpleasantly queer thing for her, you know, Miss Deb.”
“What utter absurdity!” cried Deborah.
“Wait till you see it, before you say it’s absurdity,” replied Master Cheese. “If it’s not Fred Massingbird’s ghost, it is somebody’s that’s the exact image of him.”
Miss Deborah sat down on a stone jar, and got Master Cheese to tell her the whole story. That he should put in a few exaggerations, and so increase the marvel, was only natural. But Deborah West heard sufficient to send her mind into a state of uneasy perplexity.
“You say Mr. Jan knows of this?” she asked.
“There’s nobody about that doesn’t know of it except you and the folks at Verner’s Pride,” responded Master Cheese. “I say, don’t you go and tell Jan that you made me betray it to you, Miss Deb! You’ll get me into a row if you do.”
But this was the very thing that Miss Deb resolved to do. Not to get Master Cheese into a “row,” but that she saw no other way of allaying her uncertainty. Ghosts were utterly excluded from Deborah West’s creed; and why so many people should be suddenly testifying that Frederick Massingbird’s was to be seen, she could not understand. That there must be something in it more than the common absurdity of such tales, the state of Alice Hook appeared to testify.
“Can Bob be spared to go over to Broom’s in the morning?” she asked, after a long pause of silence, given apparently to the contemplation of Master Cheese’s intense enjoyment of his walnuts; in reality, to deep thought.
“Well, I don’t know,” answered the young gentleman, who never was ready to accord the services of Bob indoors, lest it might involve any little extra amount of exertion for himself. “There’s a sight of medicine to be taken out just now. Jan’s got a great deal to do, and I am nearly worked off my legs.”
“It looks like it,” retorted Miss Deborah. “Your legs will never be much the worse for the amount of work you do. Where’s Mr. Jan?”
“He went out to go to Hook’s,” replied Master Cheese, a desperately hard walnut proving nearly too much for his teeth. “He’ll take a round, I dare say, before he comes in.”
Deborah returned indoors. Though not much inclined to reticence in general, she observed it now, saying nothing to Amilly. The storm came on, and they sat and watched it. Supper time approached, and Master Cheese was punctual. He found some pickled herrings on the table, of which he was uncommonly fond, and ate them as long as Miss West would supply his plate. The meal was over when Jan came in.