The wind swept over their bent heads, carrying flakes of fire to start new conflagrations. The stream of these flakes became so steady that Ruth began to count on it to guide her. She began to think that amid all this dissolution to right and left, some charm must be protecting them both, when, as he stretched a hand to help her across a mound of rubble she saw him turn, cast a look up and fall back beneath a rush of masonry. A flying brick struck her on the shoulder, cutting the flesh. For the rest, she stood unscathed; but her companion lay at her feet, with legs buried deep, body buried to the ribs.
“Your hand!” she gasped.
He stretched it out feebly, but withdrew it in an agony; for the stones crushed his bowels.
“You are hurt?”
“Killed.” He contrived a smile. “Not so wide as a church door,” he quoted, looking up at her strangely through the wan light; “but ’twill serve.”
“My friend! and I cannot help you!” She plucked vainly at the mass of stones burying his legs.
He gasped on his anguish, and controlled it.
“Let be these silly bricks. . . . They belong to some grocer’s kitchen-chimney, belike—but they have killed me, and may as well serve for my tomb. Reach me your hand.”
He took it and thrust it gently within the breast of his waistcoat. There, guided by him, her fingers closed on the handle of a tiny stiletto.
“The sheath too . . . it is sewn by a few stitches only.” He looked up into her eyes. “You are too beautiful to be wandering these streets alone.”
“I understand,” she said gravely.
“Now go.” He pressed the back of her hand to his lips, and released it.
“Can I do nothing?” she asked, with a hard sob.
“Yes . . . ’tis unlucky, they say, to accept a knife without paying for it. One kiss. . . . You may tell Noll. Is it too high a price?”
She knelt and kissed him on the brow.
“Ah! . . .” He drew a long sigh. “I have held you to-day, and to-day you have kissed me. Go now.”
She went. The dog ran with her a little way, then turned and crept back to its master.
“Hola!” hailed a man, signalling by a brazier with his back to the wind. “For what are you seeking?”
Ruth halted, gripping her stiletto. This man might help her, perhaps. At any rate, he seemed a cool-headed fellow who made the best of things.
For two hours she had searched, and for the time her strength was nearly spent. Dust filled her hair and caked her long eyelashes. Her face, haggard with woe and weariness, was a mask of dust.
“For one,” she answered, “who was to have attended High Mass in the Cathedral.”