When her guardian had left the room Kate asked Mrs. Jorrocks for a sheet of paper. The crone shook her head and wagged her pendulous lip in derision.
“Mister Girdlestone thought as you would be after that,” she said.
“There ain’t no paper here, nor pens neither, nor ink neither.”
“What, none! Dear Mrs. Jorrocks, do have pity on me, and get me a sheet, however old and soiled. See, here is some silver! You are very welcome to it if you will give me the materials for writing one letter.”
Mrs. Jorrocks looked longingly with her bleared eyes at the few shillings which the girl held out to her, but she shook her head. “I dursn’t do it,” she said. “It’s as much as my place is worth.”
“Then I shall walk down to Bedsworth myself,” said Kate angrily. “I have no doubt that the people in the post office will let me sit there and write it.”
The old hag laughed hoarsely to herself until the scraggy sinews of her withered neck stood out like whipcord. She was still chuckling and coughing when the merchant came back into the room.
“What then?” he asked sternly, looking from one to the other. He was himself constitutionally averse to merriment, and he was irritated by it in others. “Why are you laughing, Mrs. Jorrocks?”
“I was a-laughing at her,” the woman wheezed, pointing with tremulous fingers. “She was askin’ me for paper, and sayin’ as she would go and write a letter at the Bedsworth Post Office.”
“You must understand once for all,” Girdlestone roared, turning savagely upon the girl, “that you are cut off entirely from the outer world. I shall give you no loophole which you may utilize to continue your intimacy with undesirable people. I have given orders that you should not be provided with either paper or ink.”
Poor Kate’s last hope seemed to be fading away. Her heart sank within her, but she kept a brave face, for she did not wish him to see how his words had stricken her. She had a desperate plan in her head, which would be more likely to be successful could she but put him off his guard.
She spent the morning in her own little room. She had been provided with a ponderous brown Bible, out of which the fly leaves had been carefully cut, and this she read, though her thoughts often wandered away from the sacred pages. About one o’clock she heard the clatter of hoofs and the sound of wheels on the drive. Going down, she found that it was a cart which had come from Bedsworth with furniture. There were carpets, a chest of drawers, tables, and several other articles, which the driver proceeded to carry upstairs, helped by John Girdlestone. The old woman was in the upper room. It seemed to Kate that she might never again have such an opportunity of carrying out the resolve which she had formed. She put on her bonnet, and began to stroll listlessly about in front of the door, picking a few straggling leaves from the neglected lawn. Gradually she sauntered away in this manner to the head of the avenue, and then, taking one swift timid glance around, she slipped in among the trees, and made the best of her way, half walking, half running, down the dark winding drive.
Oh, the joy of the moment when the great white house which had already become so hateful to her was obscured among the trees behind her! She had some idea of the road which she had traversed the night before. Behind her were all her troubles. In front the avenue gate, Bedsworth, and freedom. She would send both a telegram and a letter to Dr. Dimsdale, and explain to him her exact situation. If the kind-hearted and energetic physician once knew of it, he would take care that no harm befell her. She could return then, and face with a light heart the worst which her guardian could do to her. Here was the avenue entrance now, the high lichen-eaten stone pillars, with the battered device upon the top. The iron gate between was open. With a glad cry she quickened her pace, and in another moment would have been in the high-road, when—
“Now then, where are you a-comin’ to?” cried a gruff voice from among the bushes which flanked the gate.
The girl stopped, all in a tremble. In the shadow of the trees there was a camp-stool, and on the camp-stool sat a savage-looking man, dressed in a dark corduroy suit, with a blackened clay pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth. His weather-beaten mahogany face was plentifully covered with small-pox marks, and one of his eyes was sightless and white from the effects of the same disease. He rose now, and interposed himself between her and the gate.
“Sink me, if it ain’t her,” he said slowly, surveying her from head to foot. “I were given to understand that she was a spanker, an’ a spanker she be.” With this oracular remark he took a step back and surveyed Kate again with his one eye.
“My good man,” she said, in a trembling voice, for his appearance was far from reassuring, “I wish to go past and to get to Bedsworth. Here is a shilling, and I beg that you will not detain me.”
Her companion stretched out a very dirty hand, took the coin, spun it up in the air, caught it, bit it, and finally plunged it into the depths of his trouser pockets. “No road this way, missy,” he said; “I’ve given my word to the guv’nor, and I can’t go back from it.”
“You have no right to detain me,” Kate cried angrily. “I have good friends in London who will make you suffer for this.”
“She’s a-goin’ to flare up,” said the one-eyed man; “knock me helpless, if she ain’t!”
“I shall come through!” the girl cried in desperation. She was only a dozen yards from the lane which led to freedom, so she made a quick little feminine rush in the hope of avoiding this dreadful sentinel who barred her passage. He caught her round the waist, however, and hurled her back with such violence that she staggered across the path, and would have fallen had she not struck violently against a tree. As it was, she was badly bruised and the breath shaken out of her body.