“Your Excellency, it would be a thousand pities!”
“There has not been a finer burning these two years, they tell me. And that old blasphemer’s beard, when they set a light to it! . . . I am a poor Gallego, your Excellency, and at home get so few chances of enjoyment. Also I have dropped my whip, and it is trodden on, broken. In the crowd at the Terreiro de Paco I may perchance borrow another.”
Ruth alighted in a blaze of wrath.
“Wretched man,” she commanded, “climb down!”
“Climb down! You shall go, as your betters have gone, to feed your eyes with these abominations. . . . Nay, how shall I scold you, who do what your betters teach? But climb down. I will drive the mules myself.”
“His Excellency will murder me when he hears of it. But, indeed, was ever such a thing heard of?” Nevertheless the man was plainly in two minds.
“It is not for you to argue, but to obey my orders.”
He descended, still protesting. She mounted to his seat, and took the reins and whip.
“The brutes are spirited, your Excellency. For the love of God have a care of them!”
For answer she flicked them with the whip—he had lied about the broken whip—and left him staring.
The streets were deserted. All Lisbon had trooped to the auto-da-fe. If any saw and wondered at the sight of a lady driving like a mere bolhero, she heeded not. The mules trotted briskly, and she kept them to it.
She had ceased to be amused, even scornfully. As she drove up the slope of Buenos Ayres—the favourite English suburb, where his villa stood overlooking Tagus—a deep disgust possessed her. It darkened the sunshine. It befouled, it tarnished, the broad and noble mirror of water spread far below.
“Were all men beasts, then?”
They would dine at four o’clock. On Sundays Sir Oliver chose to dine informally with a few favoured guests; and these to-day would make nine, not counting Mr. Langton, who might be reckoned one of the household.
By four o’clock all had arrived—the British envoy, Mr. Castres, with his lady; Lord Charles Douglas, about to leave Lisbon after a visit of pleasure; Mrs. Hake, a sister of Governor Hardy of New York—she, with an invalid husband and two children, occupied a villa somewhat lower down the slope of Buenos Ayres; white-haired old Colonel Arbuthnot, doyen of the English residents; Mr. Hay, British Consul, and Mr. Raymond, one of the chiefs of the English factory, with their wives. . . . Ruth looked at the clock. All were here save only their host, Sir Oliver.
Mr. Langton, with Lord Charles Douglas, had returned from the auto-da-fe. Like his friend George Selwyn—friend these many years by correspondence only—Mr. Langton was a dilettante in executions and like horrors, and had taken Lord Charles to the show, to initiate him. He reported that they had left Sir Oliver in a press of the crowd, themselves hurrying away on foot. He would doubtless arrive in a few minutes. Mr. Langton said nothing of the executions.