Afy's account of herself, as to past proceedings, was certainly not the most satisfactory in the world; but, altogether, taken in the present, it was so vast an improvement upon Joyce's conclusions, that she had not felt so elated for many a day. When Mr. Carlyle returned home Joyce sought him, and acquainted him with what had happened; that Afy was come; was maid to Lady Mount Severn; and, above all, that she had never been with Richard Hare.
"Ah! You remember what I said, Joyce," he remarked. "That I did not believe Afy was with Richard Hare."
"I have been telling her so, sir, to be sure, when I informed her what people had believed," continued Joyce. "She nearly went into one of her old passions."
"Does she seem steady, Joyce?"
"I think so, sir--steady for her. I was thinking, sir, that as she appears to have turned out so respectable, and is with Lady Mount Severn, you, perhaps, might see no objection to her sleeping here for to-night. It would be better than for her to go to the inn, as she talks of doing."
"None at all," replied Mr. Carlyle. "Let her remain."
Later in the evening, after Mr. Carlyle's dinner, a message came that Afy was to go to him. Accordingly she proceeded to his presence.
"So, Afy, you have returned to let West Lynne know that you are alive. Sit down."
"West Lynne may go a-walking for me in future, sir, for all the heed I shall take of it," retorted Afy. "A set of wicked-minded scandal-mongers, to take and say I had gone after Richard Hare!"
"You should not have gone off at all, Afy."
"Well, sir, that was my business, and I chose to go. I could not stop in the cottage after that night's work."
"There is a mystery attached to that night's work, Afy," observed Mr. Carlyle; "a mystery that I cannot fathom. Perhaps you can help me out."
"What mystery, sir?" returned Afy.
Mr. Carlyle leaned forward, his arms on the table. Afy had taken a chair at the other end of it. "Who was it that committed the murder?" he demanded, in a grave and somewhat imperative tone.
Afy stared some moments before she replied, astonished at the question. "Who committed the murder, sir?" she uttered at length. "Richard Hare committed it. Everybody knows that."
"Did you see it done?"
"No," replied Afy. "If I had seen it, the fright and horror would have killed me. Richard Hare quarreled with my father, and drew the gun upon him in passion."
"You assume this to have been the case, Afy, as others have assumed it. I do not think that it was Richard Hare who killed your father."
"Not Richard Hare!" exclaimed Afy, after a pause. "Then who do you think did it, sir--I?"
"I know he did it," proceeded Afy. "It is true that I did not see it done, but I know it for all that. I _know_ it, sir."
"You cannot know it, Afy."
"I do know it, sir; I would not assert it to you if I did not. If Richard Hare was here, present before us, and swore until he was black in the face that it was not him, I could convict him."
"By what means?"
"I had rather not say, sir. But you may believe me, for I am speaking truth."
"There was another friend of yours present that evening, Afy. Lieutenant Thorn."
Afy's face turned crimson; she was evidently surprised. But Mr. Carlyle's speech and manner were authoritative, and she saw it would be useless to attempt to trifle with him.
"I know he was, sir. A young chap who used to ride over some evenings to see me. He had nothing to do with what occurred."
"Where did he ride from?"
"He was stopping with some friends at Swainson. He was nobody, sir."
"What was his name?" questioned Mr. Carlyle.
"Thorn," said Afy.
"I mean his real name. Thorn was an assumed name."
"Oh, dear no," returned Afy. "Thorn was his name."
Mr. Carlyle paused and looked at her.
"Afy, I have reason to believe that Thorn was only an assumed name. Now, I have a motive for wishing to know his real one, and you would very much oblige me by confiding it to me. What was it?"
"I don't know that he had any other name, sir; I am sure he had no other," persisted Afy. "He was Lieutenant Thorn, then and he was Captain Thorn, afterward."
"You have seen him since?"
"Once in a way we have met."
"Where is he now?"
"Now! Oh, my goodness, I don't know anything about him now," muttered Afy. "I have not heard of him or seen him for a long while. I think I heard something about his going to India with his regiment."
"What regiment is he in?"
"I'm sure I don't know about that," said Afy. "Is not one regiment the same as another; they are all in the army, aren't they, sir?"
"Afy, I must find this Captain Thorn. Do you know anything of his family?"
Afy shook her head. "I don't think he had any. I never heard him mention as much as a brother or a sister."
"And you persist in saying his name was Thorn?"
"I persist in saying it because it was his name. I am positive it was his name."
"Afy, shall I tell you why I want to find him; I believe it was he who murdered your father, not Richard Hare."
Afy's mouth and eyes gradually opened, and her face turned hot and cold alternately. Then passion mastered her, and she burst forth.
"It's a lie! I beg your pardon, sir, but whoever told you that, told you a lie. Thorn had no more to do with it than I had; I'll swear it."
"I tell you, Afy, I believe Thorn to have been the man. You were not present; you cannot know who actually did it."
"Yes, I can, and do know," said Afy, bursting into sobs of hysterical passion. "Thorn was with me when it happened, so it could not have been Thorn. It was that wicked Richard Hare. Sir, have I not said that I'll swear it?"
"Thorn was with you--at the moment of the murder?" repeated Mr. Carlyle.
"Yes, he was," shrieked Afy, nearly beside herself with emotion. "Whoever has been trying to put it off Richard Hare, and on to him, is a wicked, false-hearted wretch. It was Richard Hare, and nobody else, and I hope he'll be hung for it yet."
"You are telling me the truth, Afy?" gravely spoke Mr. Carlyle.
"Truth!" echoed Afy, flinging up her hands. "Would I tell a lie over my father's death? If Thorn had done it, would I screen him, or shuffle it off to Richard Hare? Not so."
Mr. Carlyle felt uncertain and bewildered. That Afy was sincere in what she said, was but too apparent. He spoke again but Afy had risen from her chair to leave.
"Locksley was in the wood that evening. Otway Bethel was in it. Could either of them have been the culprit?"
"No, sir," firmly retorted Afy; "the culprit was Richard Hare; and I'd say it with my latest breath--I'd say it because I know it--though I don't choose to say how I know it; time enough when he gets taken."
She quitted the room, leaving Mr. Carlyle in a state of puzzled bewilderment. Was he to believe Afy, or was he to believe the bygone assertion of Richard Hare?