“More may come out prior to the inquest; there’s no knowing,” observed Mr. Bitterworth, as the gentlemen stood in a group, before separating. “It is a very dreadful thing, demanding the most searching investigation. It is not likely she would throw herself in.”
“A well-conducted girl like Rachel Frost throw herself wilfully into a pond to be drowned!” indignantly repeated Mr. Verner. “She would be one of the last to do it.”
“And equally one of the last to be thrown in,” said Dr. West. “Young women are not thrown into ponds without some cause; and I should think few ever gave less cause for maltreatment of any kind than she. It appears most strange to me with whom she could have been quarrelling—if indeed it was Rachel that was quarrelling.”
“It is all strange together,” cried Lionel Verner. “What took Rachel that way at all, by night time?”
“What indeed!” echoed Mr. Bitterworth. “Unless—”
“Unless what?” asked Mr. Verner; for Mr. Bitterworth had brought his words to a sudden standstill.
“Well, I was going to say, unless she had an appointment there. But that does not appear probable for Rachel Frost.”
“It is barely possible, let alone probable,” was the retort of Mr. Verner.
“But still, in a case like this, every circumstance must be looked at, every trifle weighed,” resumed Mr. Bitterworth. “Does Rachel’s own conduct appear to you to have been perfectly open? She has been indulging, it would seem, in some secret grief latterly; has been ‘strange,’ as one or two have expressed it. Then, again, she stated to her brother that she was going to stay at Duffs for a gossip, whereas the woman says she had evidently no intention of gossiping, and barely gave herself time to order the articles spoken of. Other witnesses observed her leave Duff’s, and walk with a hasty step direct to the field road, and turn down it. All this does not sound quite clear to me.”
“There was one thing that did not sound clear to me,” broke in Lionel abruptly, “and that was Dinah Roy’s evidence. The woman’s half a fool; otherwise I should think she was purposely deceiving us.”
“A pity but she could see a real ghost!” cried John Massingbird, looking inclined to laugh, “It might cure her for fancy ones. She’s right in one thing, however; poor Luke might have got this clapped on his shoulders had he been here.”
“Scarcely,” dissented Dr. West. “Luke Roy is too inoffensive to harm any one, least of all a woman, and Rachel; and that the whole parish knows.”
“There’s no need to discuss Luke’s name in the business,” said Mr. Verner; “he is far enough away. Whoever the man may have been, it was not Luke,” he emphatically added. “Luke would have been the one to succour Rachel, not to hurt her.”
Not a soul present but felt that Mr. Verner spoke in strict accordance with the facts, known and presumptive. They must look in another quarter than Luke for Rachel’s assailant.