John Massingbird, his costume not improved in elegance, or his clay pipe in length, was lounging at his ease on one of the amber damask satin couches of the drawing-room, his feet on the back of a proximate chair, and his slippers fallen off on the carpet. A copious tumbler of rum-and-water—his favourite beverage since his return—was on a table, handy; and there he lay enjoying his ease.
“Hollo, old fellow! How are you?” was his greeting to Lionel, given without changing his position in the least.
“Massingbird, I want to speak to you,” rejoined Lionel. “I have been to see old Matthew Frost, and he has said something which surprises me—”
“The old man’s about to make a start of it, I hear,” was the interruption of Mr. Massingbird.
“He cannot last long. He has been speaking—naturally—of that unhappy business of his daughter’s. He lays it to the door of Frederick; and Robin tells me he had the information from you.”
“I was obliged to give it him, in self-defence,” said John Massingbird. “The fellow had got it into his head, in some unaccountable manner, that I was the black sheep, and was prowling about with a gun, ready capped and loaded, to put a bullet into me. I don’t set so much store by my life as some fidgets do, but it’s not pleasant to be shot off in that summary fashion. So I sent for Mr. Robin and satisfied him that he was making the same blunder that Deerham just then was making—mistaking one brother for the other.”
“Was it Frederick?”
“Did you know it at the time?”
“No. Never suspected him at all.”
“Then how did you learn it afterwards?”
John Massingbird took his legs from the chair. He rose, and brought himself to an anchor on a seat facing Lionel, puffing still at his incessant pipe.
“I don’t mind trusting you, old chap, being one of us, and I couldn’t help trusting Robin Frost. Roy, he knew it before—at least, his wife did; which amounts to something of the same; and she spoke of it to me. I have ordered them to keep a close tongue, under pain of unheard-of penalties—which I should never inflict; but it’s as well to let poor Fred’s memory rest in quiet and good odour. I believe honestly it’s the only scrape of the sort he ever got into. He was cold and cautious.”
“But how did you learn it?” reiterated Lionel.
“I’ll tell you. I learned it from Luke Roy.”
“From Luke Roy!” repeated Lionel, more at sea than before.
“Do you remember that I had sent Luke on to London a few days before this happened? He was to get things forward for our voyage. He was fou—as the French say—after Rachel; and what did he do but come back again in secret, to get a last look at her, perhaps a word. It happened to be this very night, and Luke was a partial witness to the scene at the Willow Pond. He saw and heard her meeting with Frederick; heard