So, without any new light gathered from this apparition, we went on our way, and made our little sketch of the ruined bridge. We found the gate locked as before; and, as Milly could not persuade me to climb it, we got round the paling by the river’s bank.
While at our drawing, we saw the swarthy face, sooty locks, and old weather-stained red coat of Zamiel, who was glowering malignly at us from among the trunks of the forest trees, and standing motionless as a monumental figure in the side aisle of a cathedral. When we looked again he was gone.
Although it was a fine mild day for the wintry season, we yet, cloaked as we were, could not pursue so still an occupation as sketching for more than ten or fifteen minutes. As we returned, in passing a clump of trees, we heard a sudden outbreak of voices, angry and expostulatory; and saw, under the trees, the savage old Zamiel strike his daughter with his stick two great blows, one of which was across the head. ‘Beauty’ ran only a short distance away, while the swart old wood-demon stumped lustily after her, cursing and brandishing his cudgel.
My blood boiled. I was so shocked that for a moment I could not speak; but in a moment more I screamed—
‘You brute! How dare you strike the poor girl?’
She had only run a few steps, and turned about confronting him and us, her eyes gleaming fire, her features pale and quivering to suppress a burst of weeping. Two little rivulets of blood were trickling over her temple.
‘I say, fayther, look at that,’ she said, with a strange tremulous smile, lifting her hand, which was smeared with blood.
Perhaps he was ashamed, and the more enraged on that account, for he growled another curse, and started afresh to reach her, whirling his stick in the air. Our voices, however, arrested him.
‘My uncle shall hear of your brutality. The poor girl!’
’Strike him, Meg, if he does it again; and pitch his leg into the river to-night, when he’s asleep.’
‘I’d serve you the same;’ and out came an oath. ’You’d have her lick her fayther, would ye? Look out!’
And he wagged his head with a scowl at Milly, and a flourish of his cudgel.
‘Be quiet, Milly,’ I whispered, for Milly was preparing for battle; and I again addressed him with the assurance that, on reaching home, I would tell my uncle how he had treated the poor girl.
‘’Tis you she may thank for’t, a wheedling o’ her to open that gate,’ he snarled.
‘That’s a lie; we went round by the brook,’ cried Milly.
I did not think proper to discuss the matter with him; and looking very angry, and, I thought, a little put out, he jerked and swayed himself out of sight. I merely repeated my promise of informing my uncle as he went, to which, over his shoulder, he bawled—
‘Silas won’t mind ye that;’ snapping his horny finger and thumb.