“They have arrived,” she said, drawing off her mittens. Her eyes travelled round the room to assure her that no weapon lay handy, though for her own sake she had no wish to live.
“Come here,” he commanded thickly.
“Yes, dear: what is it?”
“Where have you been?”
“Why, to Johnson’s Court, as you know.”
“Conspiring against me, eh?” He pushed his face close to hers: his reeking breath sickened her: but she smiled on, expecting him to strike.
“Come here!”—though she was close already. “Stand up. I’ll teach you to gossip about me. You and your gentry, my fine madam. I’ll teach you—I’ll teach you!”
He struck now, blow after blow. She turned her quivering shoulders to it, shielding the unborn child.
He beat her to her knees. Still she curved her back, holding her arms stiffly before her, leaving her head and neck exposed. Would the next blow kill her? She waited.
The table went over with a crash, the light with it. He must have fallen across it: for, an instant later, she heard the thud of his head against the floor.
It seemed to her that she crouched there for an endless while, waiting for him to stir. He lay close beside her foot.
Her heel touched him as she rose. She groped for the tinder-box, found the candle, lit it, held it over him.
A trickle of blood ran from his right temple, where it had struck against the bed-post. His eyes were closed. She loosened his collar, put forth all her strength—her old maiden strength for a moment restored to her—and lifted him on to the bed.
By and by his lips parted in a sigh. He began to breathe heavily—to sleep, as she thought. Still the blood trickled slowly from his temple and on to the pillow. She stepped to the water-jug, dipped her handkerchief in it, and drawing a chair to the bedside, seated herself and began to bathe the wound.
When the bleeding stopped, as the touch of cold water appeared to soothe him, she fetched a towel and pressed it gently about his neck and behind his ears. He was sleeping now: for he smiled and muttered something. Almost she thought it was her own name.
Still she sat beside him, her body aching, her heart cold; and watched him, hour after hour.
“And my brothers visit her?”
Twilight with invisible veils closed around Epworth, its parsonage, and the high-walled garden where Molly, staff in hand, limped to and fro beside Johnny Whitelamb—promoted now to be the Reverend John Whitelamb, B.A. He had arrived that afternoon, having walked all the way from Oxford.
—“Whenever they visit London,” he answered.
“Charles, you know, upheld her from the first; and John has come to admit that her sufferings have lifted her above man’s judgment. They talk with her as with their equal in wit—”