Mr. Verner glanced at Mr. Bitterworth and Dr. West, then at the three young men before him.
“We are amongst friends,” he observed, addressing the latter. “I would ask you, individually, whether it was one of you that the boy, Duff, spoke of as being in the lane?”
They positively disclaimed it, each one for himself. Each one mentioned that he had been elsewhere at the time, and where he had been.
“You see,” said Mr. Verner, “the lane leads only to Verner’s Pride.”
“But by leaping a fence anywhere, or a gate, or breaking through a hedge, it may lead all over the country,” observed Frederick Massingbird. “You forget that, sir.”
“No, Frederick, I do not forget it. But unless a man had business at Verner’s Pride, what should he go into the lane for? On emerging from the field on this side the Willow Pond, any one, not bound for Verner’s Pride, would take the common path to the right hand, open to all; only in case of wanting to come here would he take the lane. You cannot suppose for a moment that I suspect any one of you has had a hand in this unhappy event; but it was right that I should be assured, from your own lips, that you were not the person spoken of by young Duff.”
“It may have been a stranger to the neighbourhood, sir. In that case he would not know that the lane led only to Verner’s Pride.”
“True—so far. But what stranger would be likely to quarrel with Rachel?”
“Egad, if you come to that, sir, a stranger’s more likely to pick a quarrel with her than one of us,” rejoined John Massingbird.
“It was no stranger,” said Mr. Verner, shaking his head. “We do not quarrel with strangers. Had any stranger accosted Rachel at night, in that lonely spot, with rude words, she would naturally have called out for help; which it is certain she did not do, or young Broom and Mrs. Roy must have heard her. Rely upon it, that man in the lane is the one we must look for.”
“But where to look?” debated Frederick Massingbird.
“There it is! The inference would be that he was coming to Verner’s Pride; being on its direct way and nearly close upon it. But, the only tall men (as the boy describes) at Verner’s Pride, are you three and Bennet. Bennet was at home, therefore he is exempt; and you were scattered in different directions—Lionel at Mr. Bitterworth’s, John at the Royal Oak—I wonder you like to make yourself familiar with those tap-rooms, John!—and Frederick coming in from Poynton’s to his dinner.”
“I don’t think I had been in ten minutes when the alarm came,” remarked Frederick.
“Well, it is involved in mystery at present,” cried Mr. Bitterworth, shaking hands with them. “Let us hope that to-morrow will open more light upon it. Are you on the wing too, doctor? Then we’ll go out together.”
THE REVELATION AT THE INQUEST.