“There,” he muttered, “that will do for the present, and last until I reach the cottage garden.”
He was proceeding along at a slow and steady pace, bestowing all his care and attention to the manner of holding the picture, when he was suddenly paralysed by the sound of a great shout of such a peculiar character, that he involuntarily stopped, and the next moment, something heavy came against him with great force, just as if a man had jumped from the wall on to him.
This was the truth, for, in another moment, and before he could recover himself, he found that there was an attempt to deprive him of the picture.
This at once aroused him, and he made an instant and a vigorous defence; but he was compelled to let go his hold of the picture, and turn to resist the infuriated attack that was now commenced upon himself.
For some moments it was doubtful who would be the victor; but the wind and strength of the doctor were not enough to resist the powerful adversary against whom he had to contend, and the heavy blows that were showered down upon him.
At first he was enabled to bear up against this attack; and then he returned many of the blows with interest; but the stunning effect of the blows he received himself, was such that he could not help himself, and felt his senses gradually failing, his strength becoming less and less.
In a short time, he received such a blow, that he was laid senseless on the earth in an instant.
How long he remained thus he could not say; but it could not have been long, for all around him seemed just as it was before he was attacked.
The moon had scarcely moved, and the shadows, such as they were, were falling in the same direction as before.
“I have not been long here,” he muttered, after a few moments’ reflection; “but—but—”
He stopped short; for, on looking around him, he saw the object of his solicitude was gone. The picture was nowhere to be seen. It had been carried off the instant he had been vanquished.
“Gone!” he said, in a low, disconsolate tone; “and after all I have done!”
He wiped his hand across his brow, and finding it cut, he looked at the back of his hand, and saw by the deep colour that it was blood, indeed, he could now feel it trickle down his face.
What to do he hardly knew; he could stand, and after having got upon his feet, he staggered hack against the wall, against which he leaned for support, and afterwards he crept along with the aid of its support, until he came to the door.
He was observed from the window, where Henry and Charles Holland, seeing him come up with such an unsteady gait, rushed to the door to ascertain what was the matter.
“What, doctor!” exclaimed Henry Bannerworth; “what is the matter?”
“I am almost dead, I think,” said Chillingworth. “Lend me your arm, Henry.”
Henry and Charles Holland immediately stepped out, and took him between them into the parlour, and placed him upon a couch.