“I baked it for you, Auntie Hester,” he said, in his shrill voice, his eyes on the offering. “It was my very own ’tato Abel gave me. And I baked it in the bonfire and kept it for you.”
Hester turned upon the child like some blinded, infuriated animal at bay, and thrust him violently from her. He fell shrieking. She rushed past him out of the room, and out of the house, his screams following her. “I’ve killed him,” she said.
The side gate was locked. Abel had just left for the night. She tore it off its hinges and ran into the back-yard.
The bonfire was out. A thread of smoke twisted up from the crater of gray ashes. She fell on her knees beside the dead fire, and thrust apart the hot embers with her bare hands.
A mass of thin black films that had once been paper met her eyes. The small writing on them was plainly visible as they fell to dust at the touch of her hands.
“It is dead,” she said in a loud voice, getting up. Her gown was burned through where she had knelt down.
In the still air a few flakes of snow were falling in a great compassion.
“Quite dead,” said Hester. “Regie and the book.”
And she set off running blindly across the darkening fields.
* * * * *
It was close on eleven o’clock. The Bishop was sitting alone in his study writing. The night was very still. The pen travelled, travelled. The fire had burned down to a red glow. Presently he got up, walked to the window, and drew aside the curtain.
“The first snow,” he said, half aloud.
It was coming down gently, through the darkness. He could just see the white rim on the stone sill outside.
“I can do no more to-night,” he said, and he bent to lock his despatch-box with the key on his watch-chain.
The door suddenly opened. He turned to see a little figure rush towards him, and fall at his feet, holding him convulsively by the knees.
“Hester!” he said, in amazement. “Hester!”
She was bareheaded. The snow was upon her hair and shoulders. She brought in the smell of fire with her.
He tried to raise her, but she held him tightly with her bleeding hands, looking up at him with a convulsed face. His own hands were red, as he vainly tried to loosen hers.
“They have killed my book,” she said. “They have killed my book. They burned it alive when I was away. And my head went. I don’t know what I did, but I think I killed Regie. I know I meant to.”
“Is it well with the child?”
“I am not really anxious,” said Mr. Gresley, looking out across the Vicarage laurels to the white fields and hedges. All was blurred and vague and very still. The only thing that had a distinct outline was the garden railing, with a solitary rook on it.