“Why are you looking at me like that?” she said.
I stammered: “What do you mean by freedom?”
“Do you know what I shall do to-night?” she answered. “Get out of my window by the apple-tree, and go to the woods, and play!”
We were going down a steep lane, along the side of a wood, where there’s always a smell of sappy leaves, and the breath of the cows that come close to the hedge to get the shade.
There was a cottage in the bottom, and a small boy sat outside playing with a heap of dust.
“Hallo, Johnny!” said Pasiance. “Hold your leg out and show this man your bad place!” The small boy undid a bandage round his bare and dirty little leg, and proudly revealed a sore.
“Isn’t it nasty?” cried Pasiance ruefully, tying up the bandage again; “poor little feller! Johnny, see what I’ve brought you!” She produced from her pocket a stick of chocolate, the semblance of a soldier made of sealing-wax and worsted, and a crooked sixpence.
It was a new glimpse of her. All the way home she was telling me the story of little Johnny’s family; when she came to his mother’s death, she burst out: “A beastly shame, wasn’t it, and they’re so poor; it might just as well have been somebody else. I like poor people, but I hate rich ones—stuck-up beasts.”
Mrs. Hopgood was looking over the gate, with her cap on one side, and one of Pasiance’s cats rubbing itself against her skirts. At the sight of us she hugged herself.
“Where’s grandfather?” asked Pasiance. The old lady shook her head.
“Is it a row?” Mrs. Hopgood wriggled, and wriggled, and out came:
“Did you get yure tay, my pretty? No? Well, that’s a pity; yu’ll be falin’ low-like.”
Pasiance tossed her head, snatched up the cat, and ran indoors. I remained staring at Mrs. Hopgood.
“Dear-dear,” she clucked, “poor lamb. So to spake it’s—” and she blurted out suddenly, “chuckin’ full of wra-ath, he is. Well, there!”
My courage failed that evening. I spent it at the coastguard station, where they gave me bread and cheese and some awful cider. I passed the kitchen as I came back. A fire was still burning there, and two figures, misty in the darkness, flitted about with stealthy laughter like spirits afraid of being detected in a carnal-meal. They were Pasiance and Mrs. Hopgood; and so charming was the smell of eggs and bacon, and they had such an air of tender enjoyment of this dark revel, that I stifled many pangs, as I crept hungry up to bed.
In the middle of the night I woke and heard what I thought was screaming; then it sounded like wind in trees, then like the distant shaking of a tambourine, with the high singing of a human voice. Suddenly it stopped—two long notes came wailing out like sobs—then utter stillness; and though I listened for an hour or more there was no other sound ....