When the basin comes, she stands over him and works away, dabbing at his closed eye, working in small circles round and round at his hairline. Her breathing is ragged and her free hand rests on his shoulder. She swears under her breath, and sometimes she cries, and rubs the back of his neck, whispering, "There, hush, there," as if it were he who were crying, though he isnt. He feels as if he is floating, and she is weighting him to earth; he would like to put his arms around her and his face in her apron, and rest there listening to her heartbeat. But he doesnt want to mess her up, get blood all down the front of her.
When Morgan Williams comes in, he is wearing his good town coat. He looks Welsh and pugnacious; its clear hes heard the news. He stands by Kat, staring down, temporarily out of words; till he says, "See!" He makes a fist, and jerks it three times in the air. "That!" he says. "Thats what hed get. Walter. Thats what hed get. From me."
"Just stand back," Kat advises. "You dont want bits of Thomas on your London jacket."
No more does he. He backs off. "I wouldnt care, but look at you, boy. You could cripple the brute in a fair fight."
"It never is a fair fight," Kat says. "He comes up behind you, right, Thomas? With something in his hand."
"Looks like a glass bottle, in this case," Morgan Williams says. "Was it a bottle?"
He shakes his head. His nose bleeds again.
"Dont do that, brother," Kat says. Its all over her hand; she wipes the blood clots down herself. What a mess, on her apron; he might as well have put his head there after all.
"I dont suppose you saw?" Morgan says. "What he was wielding, exactly?"
"Thats the value," says Kat, "of an approach from behind you sorry loss to the magistrates bench. Listen, Morgan, shall I tell you about my father? Hell pick up whatevers to hand. Which is sometimes a bottle, true. Ive seen him do it to my mother. Even our little Bet, Ive seen him hit her over the head. Also Ive not seen him do it, which was worse, and that was because it was me about to be felled."
"I wonder what Ive married into," Morgan Williams says.
But really, this is just something Morgan says; some men have a habitual sniffle, some women have a headache, and Morgan has this wonder. The boy doesnt listen to him; he thinks, if my father did that to my mother, so long dead, then maybe he killed her? No, surely hed have been taken up for it; Putneys lawless, but you dont get away with murder. Kats what hes got for a mother: crying for him, rubbing the back of his neck.
He shuts his eyes, to make the left eye equal with the right; he tries to open both. "Kat," he says, "I have got an eye under there, have I? Because it cant see anything." Yes, yes, yes, she says, while Morgan Williams continues his interrogation of the facts; settles on a hard, moderately heavy, sharp object, but possibly not a broken bottle, otherwise Thomas would have seen its jagged edge, prior to Walter splitting his eyebrow open and aiming to blind him. He hears Morgan forming up this theory and would like to speak about the boot, the knot, the knot in the twine, but the effort of moving his mouth seems disproportionate to the reward. By and large he agrees with Morgans conclusion; he tries to shrug, but it hurts so much, and he feels so crushed and disjointed, that he wonders if his neck is broken.
"Anyway," Kat says, "what were you doing, Tom, to set him off? He usually wont start up till after dark, if its for no cause at all."
"Yes," Morgan Williams says, "was there a cause?"
"Yesterday. I was fighting."
"You were fighting yesterday? Who in the holy name were you fighting?"
"I dont know." The name, along with the reason, has dropped out of his head; but it feels as if, in exiting, it has removed a jagged splinter of bone from his skull. He touches his scalp, carefully. Bottle? Possible.
Excerpted from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Copyright © 2009 by Hilary Mantel. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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