“Mamma! Where is mamma?”
“Dears, where did you leave her last?”
“She pushed us out through the gateway, here, and told us to stand in the middle of the road while she ran back to call daddy. She said no stones could fall on us here. But she has been gone ever so long, and we can’t hear her calling at all.”
While Ruth gathered them to her and attempted to console them, Mr. Langton stepped within the ruined gateway. In a minute or so he came back, and his face was grave.
She noted it. “What can we do with them?” she asked, and added with a haggard little smile, “I had actually begun to tell them to run up to our house and wait, forgetting—”
“They had best wait here, as their mother advised.”
“It is terrible!”
He lifted his shoulders slightly. “If once we begin—”
“No, you are right,” she said, with a shuddering glance down the road; and bade the little ones rest still as their mother had commanded. She was but going down to the city (she said) to see if the danger was as terrible down there. The two little ones cried and clung to her; but she put them aside firmly, promising to look for their mamma when she returned. Langton did not dare to glance at her face.
The dark cloud dust met them, a gunshot below, rolling up the hillside from the city. They passed within the fringe of it, and at once the noonday sun was darkened for them. In the unnatural light they picked their way with difficulty.
“She was lying close within the entrance,” said Langton. “The gateway arch must have fallen on her as she turned. . . . One side of her skull was broken. I pulled down some branches and covered her.”
“Your own face is bleeding.”
“Is it?” He put up a hand. “Yes—I remember, a brick struck me, on my way from the stables—no, a beam grazed me as I ran for the back-stairs, meaning to get you out that way. The stairs were choked. . . . I made sure you were in the house. The horses . . . have you ever heard a horse scream?”
She shivered. At a turn of the road they came full in view of the black pall stretching over the city. Flames shot up through it, here and there. Lisbon was on fire in half a dozen places at least; and now for the first time she became aware that the wind had sprung up again and was blowing violently. She could not remember when it first started: the morning had been still, the Tagus—she recalled it—unruffled.
At the very foot of the hill they came on the first of three fires— two houses blazing furiously, and a whole side-street doomed, if the wind should hold. Among the ruins of a house, right in the face of the fire, squatted a dozen persons, men and women, all dazed by terror. The women had opened their parasols—possibly to screen their faces from the heat—albeit they might have escaped this quite easily by shifting their positions a few paces. None of these folk betrayed the smallest interest in Ruth or in Langton. Indeed, they scarcely lifted their eyes.