To say that Deerham was rudely disturbed from its equanimity; that petty animosities, whether concerning Mr. Roy and the Dawsons or other contending spirits, were lost sight of, hushed to rest in the absorbing calamity which had overtaken Rachel; to say that occupations were partially suspended, that there ensued a glorious interim of idleness, for the female portion of it—of conferences in gutters and collectings in houses; to say that Rachel was sincerely mourned, old Frost sympathised with, and the supposed assailant vigorously sought after, would be sufficient to indicate that public curiosity was excited to a high pitch; but all this was as nothing compared to the excitement that was to ensue upon the evidence given at the coroner’s inquest.
In the absence of any certain data to go upon, Deerham had been content to take uncertain data, and to come to its own conclusions. Deerham assumed that Rachel, from some reasons which they could not fathom, had taken the lonely road home that night, had met with somebody or other with whom had ensued a quarrel and scuffle, and that, accidentally or by intent, she had been pushed into the pond, the coward decamping.
“Villainy enough! even if ’twas but an accident!” cried wrathful Deerham.
Villainy enough, beyond all doubt, had this been the extent. But, Deerham had to learn that the villainy had had a beginning previous to that.
The inquest had been summoned in due course. It sat two days after the accident. No evidence, tending to further elucidate the matter, was given, than had been elicited that first night before Mr. Verner; except the medical evidence. Dr. West and a surgeon from a neighbouring town, who had jointly made the post-mortem examination, testified that there was a cause for Rachel Frost’s unevenness of spirits, spoken to by her father and by Mrs. Verner. She might possibly, they now thought, have thrown herself into the pool; induced to it by self-condemnation.
It electrified Deerham. It electrified Mr. Verner. It worse than electrified Matthew Frost and Robin. In the first impulse of the news, Mr. Verner declared that it could not be. But the medical men, with their impassive faces, calmly said that it was.
But, so far as the inquiry went, the medical testimony did not carry the matter any further. For, if the evidence tended to induce a suspicion that Rachel might have found life a burden, and so wished to end it, it only rendered stronger the suspicion against another. This supplied the very motive for that other’s conduct which had been wanting, supposing he had indeed got rid of her by violence. It gave the clue to much which had before been dark. People could understand now why Rachel should hasten to keep a stealthy appointment; why quarrelling should be heard; in short, why poor Rachel should have been found in the pond. The jury returned an open verdict—“Found drowned; but how she got into the water, there is no precise evidence to show.”