All this was in a second. As the smoke cleared, leaving an awful stillness, it passed out on the air, like the soul of the furious woman whose body lay lifeless on the ground.
In the first fright and horror of her situation, Miss Pross passed the body as far from it as she could, and ran down the stairs to call for fruitless help. Happily, she bethought herself of the consequences of what she did, in time to check herself and go back. It was dreadful to go in at the door again; but, she did go in, and even went near it, to get the bonnet and other things that she must wear. These she put on, out on the staircase, first shutting and locking the door and taking away the key. She then sat down on the stairs a few moments to breathe and to cry, and then got up and hurried away.
By good fortune she had a veil on her bonnet, or she could hardly have gone along the streets without being stopped. By good fortune, too, she was naturally so peculiar in appearance as not to show disfigurement like any other woman. She needed both advantages, for the marks of gripping fingers were deep in her face, and her hair was torn, and her dress (hastily composed with unsteady hands) was clutched and dragged a hundred ways.
In crossing the bridge, she dropped the door key in the river. Arriving at the cathedral some few minutes before her escort, and waiting there, she thought, what if the key were already taken in a net, what if it were identified, what if the door were opened and the remains discovered, what if she were stopped at the gate, sent to prison, and charged with murder! In the midst of these fluttering thoughts, the escort appeared, took her in, and took her away.
"Is there any noise in the streets?"she asked him.
"The usual noises,"Mr. Cruncher replied; and looked surprised by the question and by her aspect.
"I don't hear you,"said Miss Pross. "What do you say?"
It was in vain for Mr. Cruncher to repeat what he said; Miss Pross could not hear him. "So I'll nod my head,"thought Mr. Cruncher, amazed, "at all events she'll see that."And she did.
"Is there any noise in the streets now?"asked Miss Pross again, presently.
Again Mr. Cruncher nodded his head.
"I don't hear it."
"Gone deaf in an hour?"said Mr. Cruncher, ruminating, with his mind much disturbed; "wot's come to her?"
"I feel,"said Miss Pross, "as if there had been a flash and a crash, and that crash was the last thing I should ever hear in this life."
"Blest if she ain't in a queer condition!"said Mr. Cruncher, more and more disturbed. "Wot can she have been a takin', to keep her courage up? Hark! There's the roll of them dreadful carts! You can hear that, miss?"
"I can hear,"said Miss Pross, seeing that he spoke to her, "nothing. O, my good man, there was first a great crash, and then a great stillness, and that stillness seems to be fixed and unchangeable, never to be broken any more as long as my life lasts."
"If she don't hear the roll of those dreadful carts, now very nigh their journey's end,"said Mr. Cruncher, glancing over his shoulder, "it's my opinion that indeed she never will hear anything else in this world."
And indeed she never did.