Mr. Castres, too, ignored them. He knew, of course, that the auto-da-fe had taken place, and that the Court had witnessed it in state from a royal box. But his business, as tactful Envoy of a Protestant country, was to know nothing of this. He went on talking with Mrs. Hake, who—good soul—actually knew nothing of it. Her children absorbed all her care; and having heard Miriam, the younger, cough twice that morning, she was consulting the Envoy on the winter climate of Lisbon—was it, for instance, prophylactic against croup.
At five minutes past four Sir Oliver arrived. Before apologising he stood aside ceremoniously in the doorway to admit a companion—the Countess of Montalegre.
“I have told them,” said he as Donna Maria tripped forward demurely to shake hands, “to lay for the Countess. The business was long, by reason of an interminable sermon, and at the end there was a crush at the exit from the Terreiro de Paco and a twenty good minutes’ delay— impossible to extricate oneself. Had I not persuaded the Countess to drive me all the way home, my apologies had been a million instead of the thousand I offer.”
Had he brought the woman in defiance? Or was it merely to discover how much, if anything, Ruth suspected? If to discover, his design had no success. Ruth saw—it needed less than half a glance—Batty Langton bite his lip and turn to the window. Lord Charles wore a faintly amused smile. These two knew, at any rate. For the others she could not be sure. She greeted Donna Maria with a gentle courtesy.
“We will delay dinner with pleasure,” she said, “while my waiting-woman attends on you.”
During the few minutes before the Countess reappeared she conversed gaily with one and another of her guests. Her face had told him nothing, and her spirit rose on the assurance that, at least, she was puzzling him.
Yet all the while she asked herself the same questions. Had he done this to defy her? Or to sound her suspicions?
In part he was defying her; as he proved at table by talking freely of the auto-da-fe. Donna Maria sat at his right hand, and added a detail here and there to his description. The woman apparently had no pity in her for the unhappy creatures she had seen slowly and exquisitely murdered. Were they not heretics, serpents, enemies of the true Faith?
“But ah!” she cried once with pretty affectation. “You make me forget my manners! . . . Am I not, even now, talking of these things among Lutherans? Your good lady, for instance?”
At the far end of the table, Ruth—speaking across Mr. Castres and engaging Mrs. Hake’s ear, lest it should be attracted by this horrible conversation—discussed the coming war with France. She upheld that the key of it lay in America. He maintained that India held it—“Old England, you may trust her; money’s her blood, and the blood she scents in a fight. She’ll