Herbert bent forward to look at me more nearly, as if my reply had been rather more hurried or more eager than he could quite account for. `Your head is cool?' he said, touching it.
`Quite,' said I. `Tell me what Provis said, my dear Herbert.'
`It seems,' said Herbert, ` - there's a bandage off most charmingly, and now comes the cool one - makes you shrink at first, my poor dear fellow, don't it? but it will be comfortable presently - it seems that the woman was a young woman, and a jealous woman, and a revengeful woman; revengeful, Handel, to the last degree.'
`To what last degree?'
`Murder. - Does it strike too cold on that sensitive place?'
`I don't feel it. How did she murder? Whom did she murder?' `Why, the deed may not have merited quite so terrible a name,' said Herbert, `but, she was tried for it, and Mr Jaggers defended her, and the reputation of that defence first made his name known to Provis. It was another and a stronger woman who was the victim, and there had been a struggle - in a barn. Who began it, or how fair it was, or how unfair, may be doubtful; but how it ended, is certainly not doubtful, for the victim was found throttled.'
`Was the woman brought in guilty?'
`No; she was acquitted. - My poor Handel, I hurt you!'
`It is impossible to be gentler, Herbert. Yes? What else?'
`This acquitted young woman and Provis had a little child: a little child of whom Provis was exceedingly fond. On the evening of the very night when the object of her jealousy was strangled as I tell you, the young woman presented herself before Provis for one moment, and swore that she would destroy the child (which was in her possession), and he should never see it again; then, she vanished. - There's the worst arm comfortably in the sling once more, and now there remains but the right hand, which is a far easier job. I can do it better by this light than by a stronger, for my hand is steadiest when I don't see the poor blistered patches too distinctly. - You don't think your breathing is affected, my dear boy? You seem to breathe quickly.'
`Perhaps I do, Herbert. Did the woman keep her oath?'
`There comes the darkest part of Provis's life. She did.'
`That is, he says she did.'
`Why, of course, my dear boy,' returned Herbert, in a tone of surprise, and again bending forward to get a nearer look at me. `He says it all. I have no other information.'
`No, to be sure.'
`Now, whether,' pursued Herbert, `he had used the child's mother ill, or whether he had used the child's mother well, Provis doesn't say; but, she had shared some four or five years of the wretched life he described to us at this fireside, and he seems to have felt pity for her, and forbearance towards her. Therefore, fearing he should be called upon to depose about this destroyed child, and so be the cause of her death, he hid himself (much as he grieved for the child), kept himself dark, as he says, out of the way and out of the trial, and was only vaguely talked of as a certain man called Abel, out of whom the jealousy arose. After the acquittal she disappeared, and thus he lost the child and the child's mother.'
`I want to ask--'
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