“Eh?” The man swept a hand to the ruined shell of that building, at the end of the Square, and to a horrible pile of masonry covering many hundreds of bodies. “If he reached there, your Excellency had better go home and pray for his soul; that is, if your Excellency believes it efficacious. But first, will your Excellency sit here and rest?—no, not on the lee side, in the fumes of the charcoal, but to windward here, where the fire is bright, and where I have the honour to give room. . . . So your Excellency did not attend the Mass?—not approving of it, maybe?”
“It would seem that you know me?” said Ruth, answering something in his tone, not his words.
The question set him chuckling. “Not by that token—though ’faith ’tis an ill wind blows nobody good. This earthquake, considered philosophically, is a great opportunity for heretics. You and I, for example, may sit here in the very middle of the square and talk blasphemy to our heart’s content; whereas—” He broke off. “But I forget my manners. I ought to have started by saying that no one, having once set eyes on your Excellency’s face could ever forget it; and, by St. James, that is no more than the truth!”
“Where have you seen me before?”
“By the gateway of the Holy Office, in a carriage with your lord beside you. I marked his face, too. What it is to be young and rich and beautiful! . . . And yet you might have remembered me, seeing that I made part of the procession, though—praise be to fate!— A modest one.”
Ruth gazed at him. “I remember you,” she said slowly; “you were one of the Penitents.”
“They were gracious enough to call me so.
Yes, I can understand that
a san-benito makes some difference to a man’s personal appearance. . . . And old Gonsalvez—I saw your Excellency wince and your
Excellency’s beauty turn pale when he cast up his hands to the sun. . . . Hey? How is it possible—how went the words?”
Ruth had them well by heart. “How is it possible for people, beholding that glorious Body, to worship any Being but Him who created it?”
Right—word for word! Well, they made a lens for that glorious Body and fried old Gonsalvez with it. Were you looking on?”
“No,” said Ruth, and shivered.
“Well, I did—perforce. ’Twas part of my lesson; for you must know that I, too, had had my little difficulty over that same glorious Sun, touching his standing still over Gibeon at the command of ancient Joshua. ’Faith, I’ve no quarrel with a miracle or so, up and down; but that one! . . . Well, they convinced me I was a fool to have any doubt, and a worse fool to let it slip off the tongue. And yet,” said the Penitent, warming his hands and casting a look up at the sky, where the dust-cloud had given place to a rolling pall of smoke, “what a treat it is to let the tongue wag at times!”
Ruth, her strength refreshed by the few minutes’ rest, thanked him and arose to continue her search.