The revelation at the inquest had affected Mr. Verner in no measured degree, greatly increasing, for the time, his bodily ailments. He gave orders to be denied to all callers; he could not bear the comments that would be made. An angry, feverish desire to find out who had played the traitor grew strong within him. Innocent, pretty, child-like Rachel! who was it that had set himself, in his wickedness, deliberately to destroy her? Mr. Verner now deemed it more than likely that she had been the author of her own death. It was of course impossible to tell: but he dwelt on that part of the tragedy less than on the other. The one injury was uncertain; the other was a fact.
What rendered it all the more obscure was the absence of any previous grounds of suspicion. Rachel had never been observed to be on terms of intimacy with any one. Luke Roy had been anxious to court her, as Verner’s Pride knew; but Rachel had utterly repudiated the wish. Luke it was not. And who else was there?
The suspicions of Mr. Verner veered, almost against his will, towards those of his own household. Not to Lionel; he honestly believed Lionel to be too high-principled: but towards his step-sons. He had no particular cause to suspect either of them, unless the testimony of Mrs. Duff’s son about the tall gentleman could furnish it; and it may be said that his suspicion strayed to them only from the total absence of any other quarter to fix it upon. Of the two, he could rather fix upon John, than Frederick. No scandal, touching Frederick, had ever reached his ears: plenty of it touching John. In fact, Mr. Verner was rather glad to help in shipping John off to some faraway place, for he considered him no credit to Verner’s Pride, or benefit to the neighbourhood. Venial sins sat lightly on the conscience of John Massingbird.
But this was no venial sin, no case of passing scandal; and Mr. Verner declared to that gentleman that if he found him guilty, he would discard him from Verner’s Pride without a shilling of help. John Massingbird protested, in the strongest terms, that he was innocent as Mr. Verner himself.
A trifling addition was destined to be brought to the suspicion already directed by Mr. Verner towards Verner’s Pride. On the night of the inquest Mr. Verner had his dinner served in his study—the wing of a fowl, of which he ate about a fourth part. Mrs. Tynn attended on him: he liked her to do so when he was worse than usual. He was used to her, and he would talk to her when he would not to others. He spoke about what had happened, saying that he felt as if it would shorten his life. He would give anything, he added, half in self-soliloquy, to have the point cleared up of who it was young Duff had seen in the lane. Mrs. Tynn answered this, lowering her voice.
“It was one of our young gentlemen, sir; there’s, no doubt of it. Dolly saw one of them come in.”