Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 56


Chapter 6

A CRY FOR HELP


The Paper Mill had stopped work for the night, and the paths and
roads in its neighbourhood were sprinkled with clusters of people
going home from their day's labour in it. There were men, women,
and children in the groups, and there was no want of lively colour
to flutter in the gentle evening wind. The mingling of various
voices and the sound of laughter made a cheerful impression upon
the ear, analogous to that of the fluttering colours upon the eye.
Into the sheet of water reflecting the flushed sky in the foreground
of the living picture, a knot of urchins were casting stones, and
watching the expansion of the rippling circles. So, in the rosy
evening, one might watch the ever-widening beauty of the
landscape--beyond the newly-released workers wending home--
beyond the silver river--beyond the deep green fields of corn, so
prospering, that the loiterers in their narrow threads of pathway
seemed to float immersed breast-high--beyond the hedgerows and
the clumps of trees--beyond the windmills on the ridge--away to
where the sky appeared to meet the earth, as if there were no
immensity of space between mankind and Heaven.

It was a Saturday evening, and at such a time the village dogs,
always much more interested in the doings of humanity than in the
affairs of their own species, were particularly active. At the
general shop, at the butcher's and at the public-house, they evinced
an inquiring spirit never to he satiated. Their especial interest in
the public-house would seem to imply some latent rakishness in
the canine character; for little was eaten there, and they, having no
taste for beer or tobacco (Mrs Hubbard's dog is said to have
smoked, but proof is wanting), could only have been attracted by
sympathy with loose convivial habits. Moreover, a most wretched
fiddle played within; a fiddle so unutterably vile, that one lean
long-bodied cur, with a better ear than the rest, found himself
under compulsion at intervals to go round the corner and howl.
Yet, even he returned to the public-house on each occasion with
the tenacity of a confirmed drunkard.

Fearful to relate, there was even a sort of little Fair in the village.
Some despairing gingerbread that had been vainly trying to dispose
of itself all over the country, and had cast a quantity of dust upon
its head in its mortification, again appealed to the public from an
infirm booth. So did a heap of nuts, long, long exiled from
Barcelona, and yet speaking English so indifferently as to call
fourteen of themselves a pint. A Peep-show which had originally
started with the Battle of Waterloo, and had since made it every
other battle of later date by altering the Duke of Wellington's nose,
tempted the student of illustrated history. A Fat Lady, perhaps in
part sustained upon postponed pork, her professional associate
being a Learned Pig, displayed her life-size picture in a low dress
as she appeared when presented at Court, several yards round.
All this was a vicious spectacle as any poor idea of amusement on
the part of the rougher hewers of wood and drawers of water in this
land of England ever is and shall be. They MUST NOT vary the
rheumatism with amusement. They may vary it with fever and
ague, or with as many rheumatic variations as they have joints; but
positively not with entertainment after their own manner.

The various sounds arising from this scene of depravity, and
floating away into the still evening air, made the evening, at any
point which they just reached fitfully, mellowed by the distance,
more still by contrast. Such was the stillness of the evening to
Eugene Wrayburn, as he walked by the river with his hands behind
him.

He walked slowly, and with the measured step and preoccupied air
of one who was waiting. He walked between the two points, an
osier-bed at this end and some floating lilies at that, and at each
point stopped and looked expectantly in one direction.

'It is very quiet,' said he.

It was very quiet. Some sheep were grazing on the grass by the
river-side, and it seemed to him that he had never before heard the
crisp tearing sound with which they cropped it. He stopped idly,
and looked at them.

'You are stupid enough, I suppose. But if you are clever enough to
get through life tolerably to your satisfaction, you have got the
better of me, Man as I am, and Mutton as you are!'

A rustle in a field beyond the hedge attracted his attention. 'What's
here to do?' he asked himself leisurely going towards the gate and
looking over. 'No jealous paper-miller? No pleasures of the chase
in this part of the country? Mostly fishing hereabouts!'

The field had been newly mown, and there were yet the marks of
the scythe on the yellow-green ground, and the track of wheels
where the hay had been carried. Following the tracks with his
eyes, the view closed with the new hayrick in a corner.

Now, if he had gone on to the hayrick, and gone round it? But, say
that the event was to be, as the event fell out, and how idle are such
suppositions! Besides, if he had gone; what is there of warning in
a Bargeman lying on his face?

'A bird flying to the hedge,' was all he thought about it; and came
back, and resumed his walk.

'If I had not a reliance on her being truthful,' said Eugene, after
taking some half-dozen turns, 'I should begin to think she had
given me the slip for the second time. But she promised, and she
is a girl of her word.'

Turning again at the water-lilies, he saw her coming, and advanced
to meet her.

'I was saying to myself, Lizzie, that you were sure to come, though
you were late.'

'I had to linger through the village as if I had no object before me,
and I had to speak to several people in passing along, Mr
Wrayburn.'

'Are the lads of the village--and the ladies--such scandal-mongers?'
he asked, as he took her hand and drew it through his arm.

She submitted to walk slowly on, with downcast eyes. He put her
hand to his lips, and she quietly drew it away.

'Will you walk beside me, Mr Wrayburn, and not touch me?' For,
his arm was already stealing round her waist.

She stopped again, and gave him an earnest supplicating look.
'Well, Lizzie, well!' said he, in an easy way though ill at ease with
himself 'don't be unhappy, don't be reproachful.'

'I cannot help being unhappy, but I do not mean to be reproachful.
Mr Wrayburn, I implore you to go away from this neighbourhood,
to-morrow morning.'

'Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie!' he remonstrated. 'As well be reproachful as
wholly unreasonable. I can't go away.'

'Why not?'

'Faith!' said Eugene in his airily candid manner. 'Because you
won't let me. Mind! I don't mean to be reproachful either. I don't
complain that you design to keep me here. But you do it, you do
it.'

'Will you walk beside me, and not touch me;' for, his arm was
coming about her again; 'while I speak to you very seriously, Mr
Wrayburn?'

'I will do anything within the limits of possibility, for you, Lizzie,'
he answered with pleasant gaiety as he folded his arms. 'See here!
Napoleon Buonaparte at St Helena.'

'When you spoke to me as I came from the Mill the night before
last,' said Lizzie, fixing her eyes upon him with the look of
supplication which troubled his better nature, 'you told me that you
were much surprised to see me, and that you were on a solitary
fishing excursion. Was it true?'

'It was not,' replied Eugene composedly, 'in the least true. I came
here, because I had information that I should find you here.'

'Can you imagine why I left London, Mr Wrayburn?'

'I am afraid, Lizzie,' he openly answered, 'that you left London to
get rid of me. It is not flattering to my self-love, but I am afraid
you did.'

'I did.'

'How could you be so cruel?'

'O Mr Wrayburn,' she answered, suddenly breaking into tears, 'is
the cruelty on my side! O Mr Wrayburn, Mr Wrayburn, is there no
cruelty in your being here to-night!'

'In the name of all that's good--and that is not conjuring you in my
own name, for Heaven knows I am not good'--said Eugene, 'don't
be distressed!'

'What else can I be, when I know the distance and the difference
between us? What else can I be, when to tell me why you came
here, is to put me to shame!' said Lizzie, covering her face.

He looked at her with a real sentiment of remorseful tenderness
and pity. It was not strong enough to impell him to sacrifice
himself and spare her, but it was a strong emotion.

'Lizzie! I never thought before, that there was a woman in the
world who could affect me so much by saying so little. But don't
be hard in your construction of me. You don't know what my state
of mind towards you is. You don't know how you haunt me and
bewilder me. You don't know how the cursed carelessness that is
over-officious in helping me at every other turning of my life,
WON'T help me here. You have struck it dead, I think, and I
sometimes almost wish you had struck me dead along with it.'

She had not been prepared for such passionate expressions, and
they awakened some natural sparks of feminine pride and joy in
her breast. To consider, wrong as he was, that he could care so
much for her, and that she had the power to move him so!

'It grieves you to see me distressed, Mr Wrayburn; it grieves me to
see you distressed. I don't reproach you. Indeed I don't reproach
you. You have not felt this as I feel it, being so different from me,
and beginning from another point of view. You have not thought.
But I entreat you to think now, think now!'

'What am I to think of?' asked Eugene, bitterly.

'Think of me.'

'Tell me how NOT to think of you, Lizzie, and you'll change me
altogether.'

'I don't mean in that way. Think of me, as belonging to another
station, and quite cut off from you in honour. Remember that I
have no protector near me, unless I have one in your noble heart.
Respect my good name. If you feel towards me, in one particular,
as you might if I was a lady, give me the full claims of a lady upon
your generous behaviour. I am removed from you and your family
by being a working girl. How true a gentleman to be as
considerate of me as if I was removed by being a Queen!'

He would have been base indeed to have stood untouched by her
appeal. His face expressed contrition and indecision as he asked:

'Have I injured you so much, Lizzie?'

'No, no. You may set me quite right. I don't speak of the past, Mr
Wrayburn, but of the present and the future. Are we not here now,
because through two days you have followed me so closely where
there are so many eyes to see you, that I consented to this
appointment as an escape?'

'Again, not very flattering to my self-love,' said Eugene, moodily;
'but yes. Yes. Yes.'

'Then I beseech you, Mr Wrayburn, I beg and pray you, leave this
neighbourhood. If you do not, consider to what you will drive me.'

He did consider within himself for a moment or two, and then
retorted, 'Drive you? To what shall I drive you, Lizzie?'

'You will drive me away. I live here peacefully and respected, and
I am well employed here. You will force me to quit this place as I
quitted London, and--by following me again--will force me to quit
the next place in which I may find refuge, as I quitted this.'

'Are you so determined, Lizzie--forgive the word I am going to use,
for its literal truth--to fly from a lover?'

'I am so determined,' she answered resolutely, though trembling, 'to
fly from such a lover. There was a poor woman died here but a
little while ago, scores of years older than I am, whom I found by
chance, lying on the wet earth. You may have heard some account
of her?'

'I think I have,' he answered, 'if her name was Higden.'

'Her name was Higden. Though she was so weak and old, she
kept true to one purpose to the very last. Even at the very last, she
made me promise that her purpose should be kept to, after she was
dead, so settled was her determination. What she did, I can do.
Mr Wrayburn, if I believed--but I do not believe--that you could be
so cruel to me as to drive me from place to place to wear me out,
you should drive me to death and not do it.'

He looked full at her handsome face, and in his own handsome
face there was a light of blended admiration, anger, and reproach,
which she--who loved him so in secret whose heart had long been
so full, and he the cause of its overflowing--drooped before. She
tried hard to retain her firmness, but he saw it melting away under
his eyes. In the moment of its dissolution, and of his first full
knowledge of his influence upon her, she dropped, and he caught
her on his arm.

'Lizzie! Rest so a moment. Answer what I ask you. If I had not
been what you call removed from you and cut off from you, would
you have made this appeal to me to leave you?'

'I don't know, I don't know. Don't ask me, Mr Wrayburn. Let me
go back.'

'I swear to you, Lizzie, you shall go directly. I swear to you, you
shall go alone. I'll not accompany you, I'll not follow you, if you
will reply.'

'How can I, Mr Wrayburn? How can I tell you what I should have
done, if you had not been what you are?'

'If I had not been what you make me out to be,' he struck in,
skilfully changing the form of words, 'would you still have hated
me?'

'O Mr Wrayburn,' she replied appealingly, and weeping, 'you
know me better than to think I do!'

'If I had not been what you make me out to be, Lizzie, would you
still have been indifferent to me?'

'O Mr Wrayburn,' she answered as before, 'you know me better
than that too!'

There was something in the attitude of her whole figure as he
supported it, and she hung her head, which besought him to be
merciful and not force her to disclose her heart. He was not
merciful with her, and he made her do it.

'If I know you better than quite to believe (unfortunate dog though I
am!) that you hate me, or even that you are wholly indifferent to
me, Lizzie, let me know so much more from yourself before we
separate. Let me know how you would have dealt with me if you
had regarded me as being what you would have considered on
equal terms with you.'

'It is impossible, Mr Wrayburn. How can I think of you as being
on equal terms with me? If my mind could put you on equal terms
with me, you could not be yourself. How could I remember, then,
the night when I first saw you, and when I went out of the room
because you looked at me so attentively? Or, the night that passed
into the morning when you broke to me that my father was dead?
Or, the nights when you used to come to see me at my next home?
Or, your having known how uninstructed I was, and having caused
me to be taught better? Or, my having so looked up to you and
wondered at you, and at first thought you so good to be at all
mindful of me?'

'Only "at first" thought me so good, Lizzie? What did you think
me after "at first"? So bad?'

'I don't say that. I don't mean that. But after the first wonder and
pleasure of being noticed by one so different from any one who had
ever spoken to me, I began to feel that it might have been better if I
had never seen you.'

'Why?'

'Because you WERE so different,' she answered in a lower voice.
'Because it was so endless, so hopeless. Spare me!'

'Did you think for me at all, Lizzie?' he asked, as if he were a little
stung.

'Not much, Mr Wrayburn. Not much until to-night.'

'Will you tell me why?'

'I never supposed until to-night that you needed to be thought for.
But if you do need to be; if you do truly feel at heart that you have
indeed been towards me what you have called yourself to-night,
and that there is nothing for us in this life but separation; then
Heaven help you, and Heaven bless you!'

The purity with which in these words she expressed something of
her own love and her own suffering, made a deep impression on
him for the passing time. He held her, almost as if she were
sanctified to him by death, and kissed her, once, almost as he
might have kissed the dead.

'I promised that I would not accompany you, nor follow you. Shall
I keep you in view? You have been agitated, and it's growing
dark.'

'I am used to be out alone at this hour, and I entreat you not to do
so.'

'I promise. I can bring myself to promise nothing more tonight,
Lizzie, except that I will try what I can do.'

'There is but one means, Mr Wrayburn, of sparing yourself and of
sparing me, every way. Leave this neighbourhood to-morrow
morning.'

'I will try.'

As he spoke the words in a grave voice, she put her hand in his,
removed it, and went away by the river-side.

'Now, could Mortimer believe this?' murmured Eugene, still
remaining, after a while, where she had left him. 'Can I even
believe it myself?'

He referred to the circumstance that there were tears upon his
hand, as he stood covering his eyes. 'A most ridiculous position
this, to be found out in!' was his next thought. And his next struck
its root in a little rising resentment against the cause of the tears.

'Yet I have gained a wonderful power over her, too, let her be as
much in earnest as she will!'

The reflection brought back the yielding of her face and form as
she had drooped under his gaze. Contemplating the reproduction,
he seemed to see, for the second time, in the appeal and in the
confession of weakness, a little fear.

'And she loves me. And so earnest a character must be very
earnest in that passion. She cannot choose for herself to be strong
in this fancy, wavering in that, and weak in the other. She must go
through with her nature, as I must go through with mine. If mine
exacts its pains and penalties all round, so must hers, I suppose.'

Pursuing the inquiry into his own nature, he thought, 'Now, if I
married her. If, outfacing the absurdity of the situation in
correspondence with M. R. F., I astonished M. R. F. to the utmost
extent of his respected powers, by informing him that I had
married her, how would M. R. F. reason with the legal mind?
"You wouldn't marry for some money and some station, because
you were frightfully likely to become bored. Are you less
frightfully likely to become bored, marrying for no money and no
station? Are you sure of yourself?" Legal mind, in spite of
forensic protestations, must secretly admit, "Good reasoning on
the part of M. R. F. NOT sure of myself."'

In the very act of calling this tone of levity to his aid, he felt it to be
profligate and worthless, and asserted her against it.

'And yet,' said Eugene, 'I should like to see the fellow (Mortimer
excepted) who would undertake to tell me that this was not a real
sentiment on my part, won out of me by her beauty and her worth,
in spite of myself, and that I would not be true to her. I should
particularly like to see the fellow to-night who would tell me so, or
who would tell me anything that could he construed to her
disadvantage; for I am wearily out of sorts with one Wrayburn who
cuts a sorry figure, and I would far rather be out of sorts with
somebody else. "Eugene, Eugene, Eugene, this is a bad business."
Ah! So go the Mortimer Lightwood bells, and they sound
melancholy to-night.'

Strolling on, he thought of something else to take himself to task
for. 'Where is the analogy, Brute Beast,' he said impatiently,
'between a woman whom your father coolly finds out for you and a
woman whom you have found out for yourself, and have ever
drifted after with more and more of constancy since you first set
eyes upon her? Ass! Can you reason no better than that?'

But, again he subsided into a reminiscence of his first full
knowledge of his power just now, and of her disclosure of her
heart. To try no more to go away, and to try her again, was the
reckless conclusion it turned uppermost. And yet again, 'Eugene,
Eugene, Eugene, this is a bad business!' And, 'I wish I could stop
the Lightwood peal, for it sounds like a knell.'

Looking above, he found that the young moon was up, and that the
stars were beginning to shine in the sky from which the tones of
red and yellow were flickering out, in favour of the calm blue of a
summer night. He was still by the river-side. Turning suddenly,
he met a man, so close upon him that Eugene, surprised, stepped
back, to avoid a collision. The man carried something over his
shoulder which might have been a broken oar, or spar, or bar, and
took no notice of him, but passed on.

'Halloa, friend!' said Eugene, calling after him, 'are you blind?'

The man made no reply, but went his way.

Eugene Wrayburn went the opposite way, with his hands behind
him and his purpose in his thoughts. He passed the sheep, and
passed the gate, and came within hearing of the village sounds,
and came to the bridge. The inn where he stayed, like the village
and the mill, was not across the river, but on that side of the stream
on which he walked. However, knowing the rushy bank and the
backwater on the other side to be a retired place, and feeling out of
humour for noise or company, he crossed the bridge, and sauntered
on: looking up at the stars as they seemed one by one to be kindled
in the sky, and looking down at the river as the same stars seemed
to be kindled deep in the water. A landing-place overshadowed by
a willow, and a pleasure-boat lying moored there among some
stakes, caught his eye as he passed along. The spot was in such
dark shadow, that he paused to make out what was there, and then
passed on again.

The rippling of the river seemed to cause a correspondent stir in his
uneasy reflections. He would have laid them asleep if he could,
but they were in movement, like the stream, and all tending one
way with a strong current. As the ripple under the moon broke
unexpectedly now and then, and palely flashed in a new shape and
with a new sound, so parts of his thoughts started, unbidden, from
the rest, and revealed their wickedness. 'Out of the question to
marry her,' said Eugene, 'and out of the question to leave her. The
crisis!'

He had sauntered far enough. Before turning to retrace his steps,
he stopped upon the margin, to look down at the reflected night. In
an instant, with a dreadful crash, the reflected night turned
crooked, flames shot jaggedly across the air, and the moon and
stars came bursting from the sky.

Was he struck by lightning? With some incoherent half-formed
thought to that effect, he turned under the blows that were blinding
him and mashing his life, and closed with a murderer, whom he
caught by a red neckerchief--unless the raining down of his own
blood gave it that hue.

Eugene was light, active, and expert; but his arms were broken, or
he was paralysed, and could do no more than hang on to the man,
with his head swung back, so that he could see nothing but the
heaving sky. After dragging at the assailant, he fell on the bank
with him, and then there was another great crash, and then a
splash, and all was done.

Lizzie Hexam, too, had avoided the noise, and the Saturday
movement of people in the straggling street, and chose to walk
alone by the water until her tears should be dry, and she could so
compose herself as to escape remark upon her looking ill or
unhappy on going home. The peaceful serenity of the hour and
place, having no reproaches or evil intentions within her breast to
contend against, sank healingly into its depths. She had meditated
and taken comfort. She, too, was turning homeward, when she
heard a strange sound.

It startled her, for it was like a sound of blows. She stood still, and
listened. It sickened her, for blows fell heavily and cruelly on the
quiet of the night. As she listened, undecided, all was silent. As
she yet listened, she heard a faint groan, and a fall into the river.

Her old bold life and habit instantly inspired her. Without vain
waste of breath in crying for help where there were none to hear,
she ran towards the spot from which the sounds had come. It lay
between her and the bridge, but it was more removed from her than
she had thought; the night being so very quiet, and sound
travelling far with the help of water.

At length, she reached a part of the green bank, much and newly
trodden, where there lay some broken splintered pieces of wood
and some torn fragments of clothes. Stooping, she saw that the
grass was bloody. Following the drops and smears, she saw that
the watery margin of the bank was bloody. Following the current
with her eyes, she saw a bloody face turned up towards the moon,
and drifting away.

Now, merciful Heaven be thanked for that old time, and grant, O
Blessed Lord, that through thy wonderful workings it may turn to
good at last! To whomsoever the drifting face belongs, be it man's
or woman's, help my humble hands, Lord God, to raise it from
death and restore it to some one to whom it must be dear!

It was thought, fervently thought, but not for a moment did the
prayer check her. She was away before it welled up in her mind,
away, swift and true, yet steady above all--for without steadiness it
could never be done--to the landing-place under the willow-tree,
where she also had seen the boat lying moored among the stakes.

A sure touch of her old practised hand, a sure step of her old
practised foot, a sure light balance of her body, and she was in the
boat. A quick glance of her practised eye showed her, even
through the deep dark shadow, the sculls in a rack against the red-
brick garden-wall. Another moment, and she had cast off (taking
the line with her), and the boat had shot out into the moonlight,
and she was rowing down the stream as never other woman rowed
on English water.

Intently over her shoulder, without slackening speed, she looked
ahead for the driving face. She passed the scene of the struggle--
yonder it was, on her left, well over the boat's stern--she passed on
her right, the end of the village street, a hilly street that almost
dipped into the river; its sounds were growing faint again, and she
slackened; looking as the boat drove, everywhere, everywhere, for
the floating face.

She merely kept the boat before the stream now, and rested on her
oars, knowing well that if the face were not soon visible, it had
gone down, and she would overshoot it. An untrained sight would
never have seen by the moonlight what she saw at the length of a
few strokes astern. She saw the drowning figure rise to the
surface, slightly struggle, and as if by instinct turn over on its back
to float. Just so had she first dimly seen the face which she now
dimly saw again.

Firm of look and firm of purpose, she intently watched its coming
on, until it was very near; then, with a touch unshipped her sculls,
and crept aft in the boat, between kneeling and crouching. Once,
she let the body evade her, not being sure of her grasp. Twice, and
she had seized it by its bloody hair.

It was insensible, if not virtually dead; it was mutilated, and
streaked the water all about it with dark red streaks. As it could
not help itself, it was impossible for her to get it on board. She
bent over the stern to secure it with the line, and then the river and
its shores rang to the terrible cry she uttered.

But, as if possessed by supernatural spirit and strength, she lashed
it safe, resumed her seat, and rowed in, desperately, for the nearest
shallow water where she might run the boat aground. Desperately,
but not wildly, for she knew that if she lost distinctness of
intention, all was lost and gone.

She ran the boat ashore, went into the water, released him from the
line, and by main strength lifted him in her arms and laid him in
the bottom of the boat. He had fearful wounds upon him, and she
bound them up with her dress torn into strips. Else, supposing him
to be still alive, she foresaw that he must bleed to death before he
could be landed at his inn, which was the nearest place for
succour.

This done very rapidly, she kissed his disfigured forehead, looked
up in anguish to the stars, and blessed him and forgave him, 'if
she had anything to forgive.' It was only in that instant that she
thought of herself, and then she thought of herself only for him.

Now, merciful Heaven be thanked for that old time, enabling me,
without a wasted moment, to have got the boat afloat again, and to
row back against the stream! And grant, O Blessed Lord God, that
through poor me he may be raised from death, and preserved to
some one else to whom he may be dear one day, though never
dearer than to me!

She rowed hard--rowed desperately, but never wildly--and seldom
removed her eyes from him in the bottom of the boat. She had so
laid him there, as that she might see his disfigured face; it was so
much disfigured that his mother might have covered it, but it was
above and beyond disfigurement in her eyes.

The boat touched the edge of the patch of inn lawn, sloping gently
to the water. There were lights in the windows, but there chanced
to be no one out of doors. She made the boat fast, and again by
main strength took him up, and never laid him down until she laid
him down in the house.

Surgeons were sent for, and she sat supporting his head. She had
oftentimes heard in days that were gone, how doctors would lift the
hand of an insensible wounded person, and would drop it if the
person were dead. She waited for the awful moment when the
doctors might lift this hand, all broken and bruised, and let it fall.

The first of the surgeons came, and asked, before proceeding to his
examination, 'Who brought him in?'

'I brought him in, sir,' answered Lizzie, at whom all present
looked.

'You, my dear? You could not lift, far less carry, this weight.'

'I think I could not, at another time, sir; but I am sure I did.'

The surgeon looked at her with great attention, and with some
compassion. Having with a grave face touched the wounds upon
the head, and the broken arms, he took the hand.

O! would he let it drop?

He appeared irresolute. He did not retain it, but laid it gently
down, took a candle, looked more closely at the injuries on the
head, and at the pupils of the eyes. That done, he replaced the
candle and took the hand again. Another surgeon then coming in,
the two exchanged a whisper, and the second took the hand.
Neither did he let it fall at once, but kept it for a while and laid it
gently down.

'Attend to the poor girl,' said the first surgeon then. 'She is quite
unconscious. She sees nothing and hears nothing. All the better
for her! Don't rouse her, if you can help it; only move her. Poor
girl, poor girl! She must be amazingly strong of heart, but it is
much to be feared that she has set her heart upon the dead. Be
gentle with her.'


Charles Dickens