“Dolly did!” echoed Mr. Verner.
Mrs. Tynn proceeded to explain. Dolly, the dairymaid at Verner’s Pride, was ill-conducted enough (as Mrs. Tynn would tell her, for the fact did not give that ruling matron pleasure) to have a sweetheart. Worse still, Dolly was in the habit of stealing out to meet him when he left work, which was at eight o’clock. On the evening of the accident, Dolly, abandoning her dairy, and braving the wrath of Mrs. Tynn, should she be discovered, stole out to a sheltered spot in the rear of the house, the usual meeting-place. Scarcely was she ensconced here when the swain arrived; who, it may be remarked, en passant, filled the important post of waggoner to Mr. Bitterworth. The spot was close to the small green gate which led to the lane already spoken of; it led to that only; and, while he and Dolly were talking and making love, after their own rustic fashion, they saw Dan Duff come from the direction of the house, and pass through the gate, whistling. A short while subsequently the gate was heard to open again. Dolly looked out, and saw what she took to be one of the gentlemen come in, from the lane, walking very fast. Dolly looked but casually, the moonlight was obscured there, and she did not particularly notice which of them it was; whether Mr. Lionel, or either of Mrs. Verner’s sons. But the impression received into her mind was that it was one of the three; and Dolly could not be persuaded out of that to this very day.
“Hush—sh—sh!” cried she to her sweetheart, “it’s one o’ the young masters.”
The quick steps passed on: but whether they turned into the yard, or took the side path which would conduct round to the front entrance, or bore right across, and so went out into the public road, Dolly did not notice. Very shortly after this—time passes swiftly when people are courting, of which fact the Italians have a proverb—Dan Duff came bursting back again, calling, and crying, and telling the tidings of Rachel Frost. This was the substance of what Mrs. Tynn told Mr. Verner.
“Dolly said nothing of this before!” he exclaimed.
“Not she, sir. She didn’t dare confess that she’d been off all that while from her dairy. She let drop a word, and I have got it out of her piecemeal. I have threatened her, sir, that if ever she mentions it again, I’ll get her turned off.”
“Why did you threaten her?” he hastily asked.
Mrs. Tynn dropped her voice. “I thought it might not be pleasant to have it talked of, sir. She thinks I’m only afraid of the neglect of work getting to the ears of Mrs. Verner.”