It was Mr. Trask who found the way out. Mr. Trask, his malevolent eye fixed on the Collector, opined that after all an hour or two in the stocks would be a salutary lesson for hot blood and pampered flesh. He suggested that, without insisting on a trial, the Captain might be obliged, and his legs given that lesson. He cited precedents. More than once a friend or relative had, by mercy of the Court, been allowed to sit beside a culprit under punishment. If, a like leave being granted him, Captain Vyell preferred to have his ankles confined—why, truly, Mr. Trask saw no reason for denying him the experience. But the Captain, it was understood, must give his word of honour, first, to accept this as a free concession from the Bench, and, secondly, not to repent or demand release before the expiry of the five hours.
“With all my heart,” promised Captain Vyell; and the Chief Magistrate reluctantly gave way.
Ruth Josselin sat in the stocks. She had come so far out of her swoon that her pulse beat, her breath came and went, she felt the sun warm on her face, and was aware of some pain where the edge of the wood pressed into her flesh, a little above the ankle-bones—of discomfort, rather, in comparison with the anguish throbbing and biting across her shoulder-blades. Some one—it may have been in unthinking mercy—had drawn down the sackcloth over her stripes, and the coarse stuff, irritating the raw, was as a shirt of fire.
She had come back to a sense of this torture, but not yet to complete consciousness. She sat with eyes half closed, filmed with suffering. As they had closed in the moment of swooning, so and with the same look of horror they awoke as the lids parted. But they saw nothing; neither the sunlight dappling the maple shadows nor the curious faces of the crowd. She felt the sunlight; the crowd’s presence she felt not at all.
But misery she felt; a blank of misery through which her reviving soul— like the shoot of a plant trodden into mire—pushed feebly towards the sunlight that coaxed her eyes to open. Something it sought there . . . a face . . . yes, a face. . . .
—Yes, of course, a face; lifted high above other faces that were hateful, hostile, mocking her misery—God knew why; a strong face, not very pitiful—but so strong!—and yet it must be pitiful too, for it condescended to help. It was moving down, bending, to help. . . .
—What had become of it? . . . Ah, now (shame at length reawakening) she remembered! She was hiding from him. He was strong, he was kind, but above all he must not see her shame. Let the earth cover her and hide it! . . . and either the merciful earth had opened or a merciful darkness had descended. She remembered sinking into it—sinking—her hands held aloft, as by ropes. Then the ropes had parted. . . . She had fallen, plumb. . . .