'It was late, for I had been playing in the last piece; and, as it was a benefit night, the performances had been protracted to an unusual length. It was a dark, cold night, with a chill, damp wind, which blew the rain heavily against the windows and house- fronts. Pools of water had collected in the narrow and little- frequented streets, and as many of the thinly-scattered oil-lamps had been blown out by the violence of the wind, the walk was not only a comfortless, but most uncertain one. I had fortunately taken the right course, however, and succeeded, after a little difficulty, in finding the house to which I had been directed--a coal-shed, with one Storey above it, in the back room of which lay the object of my search.
'A wretched-looking woman, the man's wife, met me on the stairs, and, telling me that he had just fallen into a kind of doze, led me softly in, and placed a chair for me at the bedside. The sick man was lying with his face turned towards the wall; and as he took no heed of my presence, I had leisure to observe the place in which I found myself.
'He was lying on an old bedstead, which turned up during the day. The tattered remains of a checked curtain were drawn round the bed's head, to exclude the wind, which, however, made its way into the comfortless room through the numerous chinks in the door, and blew it to and fro every instant. There was a low cinder fire in a rusty, unfixed grate; and an old three-cornered stained table, with some medicine bottles, a broken glass, and a few other domestic articles, was drawn out before it. A little child was sleeping on a temporary bed which had been made for it on the floor, and the woman sat on a chair by its side. There were a couple of shelves, with a few plates and cups and saucers; and a pair of stage shoes and a couple of foils hung beneath them. With the exception of little heaps of rags and bundles which had been carelessly thrown into the corners of the room, these were the only things in the apartment.
'I had had time to note these little particulars, and to mark the heavy breathing and feverish startings of the sick man, before he was aware of my presence. In the restless attempts to procure some easy resting-place for his head, he tossed his hand out of the bed, and it fell on mine. He started up, and stared eagerly in my face.
'"Mr. Hutley, John," said his wife; "Mr. Hutley, that you sent for to-night, you know."
'"Ah!" said the invalid, passing his hand across his forehead; "Hutley--Hutley--let me see." He seemed endeavouring to collect his thoughts for a few seconds, and then grasping me tightly by the wrist said, "Don't leave me--don't leave me, old fellow. She'll murder me; I know she will."
'"Has he been long so?" said I, addressing his weeping wife.
'"Since yesterday night," she replied. "John, John, don't you know me?" '"Don't let her come near me," said the man, with a shudder, as she stooped over him. "Drive her away; I can't bear her near me." He stared wildly at her, with a look of deadly apprehension, and then whispered in my ear, "I beat her, Jem; I beat her yesterday, and many times before. I have starved her and the boy too; and now I am weak and helpless, Jem, she'll murder me for it; I know she will. If you'd seen her cry, as I have, you'd know it too. Keep her off." He relaxed his grasp, and sank back exhausted on the pillow. 'I knew but too well what all this meant. If I could have entertained any doubt of it, for an instant, one glance at the woman's pale face and wasted form would have sufficiently explained the real state of the case. "You had better stand aside," said I to the poor creature. "You can do him no good. Perhaps he will be calmer, if he does not see you." She retired out of the man's sight. He opened his eyes after a few seconds, and looked anxiously round.
'"Is she gone?" he eagerly inquired.
'"Yes--yes," said I; "she shall not hurt you."
'"I'll tell you what, Jem," said the man, in a low voice, "she does hurt me.