It does a man good sometimes to get in his blow. It did Oliver Vyell good, riding in, to slash twice crosswise on the brute’s bandaged face; to feel the whalebone bite and then, as he swung out of saddle, to ram fist and whip-butt together on the ugly mouth, driving in its fore-teeth.
“Stop the horse, some one!” he commanded, as the Beadle reeled back. “She has fainted.” He added, “The first man that interferes, I shoot.”
The crowd growled. He turned on the nearest mutterer—“Your knife!” The fellow handed it; so promptly, he might have been holding it ready to proffer. The Collector stooped and cut the thongs. This done, he stood up and saw the Beadle advancing again, snarling through the bloody gap in his mouth.
“You had best take that man away,” said the Collector quietly, pulling out his small pistol. “If you don’t, I am going to kill him.” They heard and saw that he meant it. He added in the same tone, “I am going to take all responsibility for this. Will you make way, please?”
His first intention was to lift the body lying unconscious in the roadway, carry it to the coach and drive out of Port Nassau with it, defying the law to interfere. For the moment he “saw red,” as we say nowadays, and was quite capable of shooting down, or bidding his servants shoot down, any man who offered to hinder. It is even possible that had he acted straightway upon the impulse, he might, with his momentary mastery of the mob, have won clean away; possible, but by no means likely, for already a couple of constables were pushing forward to support the Beadle, and half a dozen broad-shouldered fellows—haters of “prerogative”—had recovered themselves and were ranging up to support the law. Had he noted this, it would not have daunted him. What he noted, and what gave him pause, was the girl’s white back at his feet, upturning its hideous weals. He stooped to lift her, and drew back, shivering delicately at the thought of hurting the torn flesh in his arms—a vain scruple, since she had passed for the moment beyond pain. He picked up the scourge, and stood erect again, crushing it into his pocket.
“Will you make way, please,” he ordered, “while I fetch a cover to hide your blasted handiwork?”
He strode through them, and they fell back to give him passage. He walked straight to the coach, pulled the door open, and, in the act of dragging forth a rug, caught sight of Dicky’s small, scared face.
“Oh papa, what has happened?”
“An accident, child. Jump inside; I will explain by-and-by.”
“Begging your Honour’s pardon”—a heavy-featured fellow, who had followed the Collector to the coach, put out a hand and touched the child’s shoulder—“I don’t hold in whipping maidens, and if it’s a fight I’m with you. But you can’t carry her out of it, the way you’re meaning. They’ve seen blood, same as yourself. This child of yours—he stands as much chance to be hurt as any, if you push it. Your Honour’ll have to find some other way.”