Ruth and Langton, staring down on this portent, did not witness the end; for a dense cloud of dust, on this upper side dun-coloured against the sunlight, interposed itself between them and the city, over which it made a total darkness. Into that darkness the great wave passed and broke; and almost in the moment of its breaking a second tremor shook the hillside. Then, indeed, wave and earthquake together made universal roar, drowning the last cry of thousands; for before it died away earthquake and wave together had turned the harbour quay of Lisbon bottom up, and engulfed it. Of all the population huddled there to escape from death in the falling streets, not a corpse ever rose to the surface of Tagus.
But Ruth saw nothing of this. She clung to Langton, and his arm was about her. She believed, with so much of her mind as was not paralysed, that the end of the world was come.
As the infernal hubbub died away on the dropping wind, she glanced back over her shoulder at the house. The poor little criada-moga was no longer there, peering over the edge she dared not leap. Nay, the house was no longer there—only three gaunt walls, and between them a heap where rooms, floors, roof had collapsed together.
Of a sudden complete silence fell about them. As her eyes travelled along the edge of the terrace where the balustrade had run, but ran no longer, she had a sensation of standing on the last brink of the world, high over nothingness. Langton’s arm still supported her.
“As safe here as anywhere,” she heard him saying. “For the chance that led you here, thank whatever Gods may be.”
“But I must find him!” she cried.
“Eh? Noll?—find Noll? Dear lady, small chance of that!”
“I must find him.”
“He was to attend High Mass in the Cathedral—”
“Yes . . . with that woman. What help could such an one bring to him if—if—Oh, I must find him, I say!”
“The Cathedral,” he repeated. “You are brave; let your own eyes look for it.” He had withdrawn his arm.
“Yet I must search, and you shall search with me. You were his friend, I think?”
“Indeed, I even believed so. . . . I was thinking of you. . . . It is almost certain death. Do you say that he is worth it?”
“Do you fear death?” she asked.
“Moderately,” he answered. “Yet if you command me, I come; if you go, I go with you.”
They set out hand in hand. The small dog ran with them.
Even the beginning of the descent was far from easy, for the high walls that had protected the villa-gardens of Buenos Ayres lay in heaps, cumbering the roadway, and in places obliterating it.
About a hundred and fifty yards down the road, by what had been the walled entrance to the Hakes’ garden, they sighted two forlorn small figures—the six and five year old Hake children, Sophie and Miriam, who recognised Ruth and, running, clung to her skirts.