He looks up. Like an after-image, the form of the tears swims in his eyes; the picture blurs. He blinks. Someone is walking towards him. It is George Cavendish. His hands wash together, his face is a mask of concern.

— Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Does the bold sentence mean that he rubs and wrings his hands?


Yes, it seems that way. His hands would be making a gesture like washing. This is consistent with a look of "concern" on his face.

On the other hand (pun not intended!), the observer has blurred vision, so he could be seeing the hands as in a blurred painting, "washed" together as if painted in a blurred, indistinct manner.

But the "mask of concern" belies this interpretation, as he had to see clearly to even tell that it was George Cavendish, let alone to notice the "mask of concern" on his face.

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