That was his vulnerable point, and instinctively she knew it. He was afraid—as a wild animal is afraid—of the compulsion of her eyes. But he fought with her savagely, furiously, refusing to face her, struggling with inarticulate oaths to break away from her clinging arms.
And Anne was powerless against him, powerless as Nap had been earlier in the day, to make any impression against his frenzied strength. She was impotent as a child in that awful grip, and in a very few seconds she knew it.
He had already wrung his arm free and raised it to strike a second blow, while she shut her eyes in anguished expectation, still clinging blindly to his coat, when the door burst open with a crash and Dimsdale tore into the room.
Anne heard his coming, but she could not turn. She was waiting with every nerve stretched and quivering for the thong to fall. And when it did not, when Dimsdale, with a strength abnormal for his years, flung himself at the upraised arm and bore it downwards, she was conscious not of relief, but only of a sudden snapping of that awful tension that was like a rending asunder of her very being. She relaxed her hold and tottered back against the wall.
“He will kill you!” she heard herself saying to Dimsdale. “He will kill you!”
But Dimsdale clung like a limpet. Through the surging uproar of her reeling senses Anne heard his voice.
“Sir Giles! Sir Giles! This won’t do, sir. You’ve got a bit beyond yourself. Come along with me, Sir Giles. You are not well. You ought to be in bed. Now, now, Sir Giles! Give it up! Come! Here’s West to help you undress.”
But Sir Giles fought to be free, cursing hideously, writhing this way and that with Dimsdale hanging to him; and at sight of the footman hastening to the old man’s assistance he put forth a strength so terrific that he swung him completely off the ground.
“He’s too much for me!” shouted Dimsdale. “My lady, go—go, for the love of heaven! Quick, West! Quick! Trip him! It’s the only way! Ah!”
They went down in a fearful, struggling heap. Sir Giles underneath, but making so violent a fight that the whole room seemed to shake.
And Anne stood and looked upon the whole ghastly spectacle as one turned to stone.
So standing, propped against the wall, she saw the young under-footman come swiftly in, and had a glimpse of his horrified face as he leapt forward to join the swaying, heaving mass of figures upon the floor. His coming seemed to make a difference. Sir Giles’s struggles became less gigantic, became spasmodic, convulsive, futile, finally ceased altogether. He lay like a dead man, save that his features twitched horribly as if evil spirits were at work upon him.
The whole conflict had occupied but a few minutes, but to the rigid watcher it had been an eternity of fearful tumult. Yet the hard-breathing silence that followed was almost more terrible still.