“You had better go up at once,” was Jan’s reply.
Master Cheese was taken aback. “I go up!” he repeated, pulling a face as long as his arm. “All that way! I had to go to Baker’s and to Flint’s between dinner and tea.”
“And to how many Bakers and Flints do I have to go between dinner and tea?” retorted Jan. “You know what to give Mrs. Bitterworth. So start.”
Master Cheese felt aggrieved beyond everything. For one thing, it might be dangerous to leave those cherished plums in the leech basin, Bob being within arm’s length of them; for another, Master Cheese liked his ease better than walking. He cast some imploring glances at Jan, but they produced no effect, so he had to get his hat. Vacillating between the toll that might be taken of the plums if he left them, and the damage to his hair if he took them, he finally decided on the latter course. Emptying the plums into his hat, he put it on his head. Jan was looking over what they termed the call-book.
“Miss Deb says you were called out at tea-time,” observed Jan, as Master Cheese was departing. “Who was it?”
“Nobody but old Hook. The girl was worse.”
“What! Alice? Why have you not got it down here?” pointing to the book.
“Oh, they are nobody,” grumbled Master Cheese. “I wonder the paupers are not ashamed to come here to our faces, asking for attendance and physic! I They know they’ll never pay.”
“That’s my business,” said Jan, “Did he say she was very ill?”
“‘Took dangerous,’ he said,” returned Master Cheese. “Thought she’d not live the night out.”
Indefatigable Jan put on his hat, and went out with Master Cheese. Master Cheese turned leisurely towards Mr. Bitterworth’s; Jan cut across the road at a strapping pace, and took the nearest way to Hook’s cottage. It led him past the retired spot where he and the Reverend Mr. Bourne had found Alice lying that former night.
Barely had Jan gained it when some tall, dark form came pushing through the trees at right angles, and was striding off to the distance. One single moment’s indecision—for Jan was not sure at first in the uncertain light—and then he put his long legs to their utmost speed, bore down, and pinned the intruder.
“Now, then!” said Jan, “ghost or no ghost, who are you?”
He was answered by a laugh, and some joking words—
“Don’t throttle me quite, Jan. Even a ghost can’t stand that.”
The tone of the laugh, the tone of the voice, fell upon Jan Verner’s ears with the most intense astonishment. He peered into the speaker’s face with his keen eyes, and gave vent to an exclamation. In spite of the whiskerless cheeks, the elaborate black mark, in spite of the strange likeness to his brother, Jan recognised the features, not of Frederick, but of John Massingbird.