“She is dead, sir.”
“Yes, sir, drowned.”
He stood like one confounded. He had heard the news in the village, but this decided confirmation of it was as startling as if he now heard it for the first time. A hasty word of feeling, and then he looked again at Tynn.
“Was it the result of accident?”
Tynn shook his head.
“It’s to be feared it was not, sir. There was a dreadful quarrel heard, it seems, near to the pond, just before it happened. My master is inquiring into it now, sir, in his study. Mr. Bitterworth and some more are there.”
Giving his hat to the butler, Lionel Verner opened the study door, and entered. It was at that precise moment when John Massingbird had gone out for Mrs. Roy; so that, as may be said, there was a lull in the proceedings.
Mr. Verner looked glad when Lionel appeared. The ageing man, enfeebled with sickness, had grown to lean on the strong young intellect. As much as it was in Mr. Verner’s nature to love anything, he loved Lionel. He beckoned him to a chair beside himself.
“Yes, sir, in an instant,” nodded Lionel. “Matthew,” he whispered, laying his hand kindly on the old man’s shoulder as he passed, and bending down to him with his sympathising eyes, his pleasant voice, “I am grieved for this as if it had been my own sister. Believe me.”
“I know it; I know you, Mr. Lionel,” was the faint answer. “Don’t unman me, sir, afore ’em here; leave me to myself.”
With a pressure of his hand on the shoulder ere he quitted it, Lionel turned to Frederick Massingbird, asking of him particulars in an undertone.
“I don’t know them myself,” replied Frederick, his accent a haughty one. “There seems to be nothing but uncertainty and mystery. Mr. Verner ought not to have inquired into it in this semi-public way. Very disagreeable things have been said, I assure you. There was not the least necessity for allowing such absurdities to go forth, as suspicions, to the public. You have not been running from the Willow Pond at a strapping pace, I suppose, to-night?”.
“That I certainly have not,” replied Lionel.
“Neither has John, I am sure,” returned Frederick resentfully. “It is not likely. And yet that boy of Mother Duff’s—”
The words were interrupted. The door had opened, and John Massingbird appeared, marshalling in Dinah Roy. Dinah looked fit to die, with her ashy face and her trembling frame.
“Why, what is the matter?” exclaimed Mr. Verner.
The woman burst into tears.
“Oh, sir, I don’t know nothing of it; I protest I don’t,” she uttered. “I declare that I never set eyes on Rachel Frost this blessed night.”
“But you were near the spot at the time?”
“Oh, bad luck to me, I was!” she answered, wringing her hands. “But I know no more how she got into the water nor a child unborn.”