Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Doctor Ealing had backhanded me across the cheek, his wedding ring cutting into the skin. As the stinging started to set in, I felt a small trickle of blood work its way from the cut and down my face, dripping off my chin on and onto the top of my dress. The room was silent. In front of me, Doctor Ealing was breathing heavily, his arm still raised as though he was going to take another swing. He didn't. His arm dropped to his side, but he didn't say anything. No one did. Everyone was still in shock at what had just happened. Even Mr Warrington looked surprised by what had just happened.

The blood continued the trickle from the cut as I waited for someone to say something or at least react. With everyone still sitting in complete silence, I retrieved a small handkerchief from my pocket and wiped it across my face, cleaning up as much blood as possible. When I pulled the handkerchief away from my face, the entire swatch of cloth was deep red, and the cut was still bleeding. Even with the handkerchief stained completely, I pressed it up to the cut on my face, something we had always done at the factory. That was something I never thought I would have to use again.

"Albert," Mrs Ealing said. Her hands were clenched around the edge of the table, her knuckles turning white.

"You can leave, Rosie," Doctor Ealing said, drawing in a breath.

"Father you can't just-"

"Be quiet, Robert. Esther will finish up."

"Very well," I said, glancing up and looked Doctor Ealing in the eye.

Whether he hit me to show off to Mr Warrington, or whether he meant it, I didn't know. What I did know was that I wasn't going to show Doctor Ealing or Mr Warrington that a slap to the face and a cut across my cheek wasn't going to do anything. Keeping the handkerchief pressed to my cheek, I pulled my eyes away from Doctor Ealing and left the room, listening out for what anyone had to say on the matter, but no one spoke. I hung around in the hallway outside the dining room for several minutes, waiting for someone to say something, to question Doctor Ealing's actions, but they never did.

I knew I had to return to the kitchen, but I couldn't do it. Although I hadn't done anything wrong, I knew how Miss Jenkins would react. The idea of me upsetting her again, turning up in the middle of luncheon service with blood on my face would destroy her, she worked so hard to help me and I failed. Instead, I walked in the opposite direction. Heading down the hallway, I left through the front door and took off at a sprint into the trees, dropping the handkerchief on the grass in the process. At that moment I didn't care about the handkerchief, the blood that was staining my dress or the dark clouds in the sky. I just wanted to be alone.

Stumbling into the trees, I continued for a little while longer. Once the house had disappeared amongst a tangle of branches and leaves, I collapsed against a tree trunk and sank to the ground. The damp grass soaked into the bottom of my dress as I pulled my knees into my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I pressed my face into my knees, not caring about the blood that would transfer. Tears trickled down my cheeks, stinging the cut and pooling into my skirt. If Miss Jenkins wasn't going to kill me for disrupting luncheon, she was going to kill me for the state of my clothing, but I didn't care.

When Doctor Ealing had said he would take me in and allow me to work in his household, I was glad. Glad someone hadn't ignored me and was willing to help even if they didn't know who I was. I thought, or hoped, that I had found safety. Found a place of refuge away from the torment of the past seven years, but Doctor Ealing had just proved me wrong. He might have slapped me to shut Mr Warrington up, but there were other ways of dealing with him without physical violence. If he could backhand me across the face with his dominant hand, he could do anything and that scared me.

"Rosie? Are you alright?" Samuel's voice broke through the thoughts swirling through my head. I hadn't even heard him approach me. Slowly, I lifted my head off my dress, blinking tears from my eyes as I looked at him. "Come, you can't stay here."

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