“Here is Milord Vyell,” said the Penitent, picking up a broken lath and pointing with it.
He lay on his back, as he had lain for close upon three hours, deep in the shadow of the overhanging house. His eyes were wide open. They stared up at the cobwebs that dangled from the broken plaster. A pillar, in weight maybe half a ton, rested across his thighs; an oaken beam across his chest and his broken left arm. The two pinned him hopelessly.
Clutched to him in his right lay Donna Maria. She seemed to sleep, with her head turned from his breast and laid upon the upper arm. The weight of the pillar resting on her bowels had squeezed the life out of her. She was dead: her flesh by this time almost cold.
“Oliver!—Ah, look at me!—I am here—I have come to help!”
The lids twitched slightly over his wide eyes. In the dim light she could almost be sworn that the lips, too, moved as though to speak. But no words came, and the eyes did not see her.
He was alive. What else mattered?
She knelt and flung her arms about the pillar. Frantically, vainly, she tugged at it: not by an inch or the tenth part of an inch could she stir it.
“Speak to me, Oliver! . . . Look at least!”
“If your Excellency will but have patience!” The Penitent stepped out into the street and she heard him blowing a whistle. Clearly he was a man to be obeyed; for in less than ten minutes a dozen figures crowded about the entrance, shutting out the day. This darkness of their making was in truth their best commendation. For against any one of them coming singly Ruth had undoubtedly held her dagger ready. They grumbled, too, and some even cursed the Penitent for having dragged them away from their loot. The Penitent called them cheerfully his little sons of the devil, and adjured them to fall to work or it would be the worse for them.
For his part, he lifted no hand: but stood overseer as the ruffians lifted the pillar, Ruth straining her strength with theirs.
But when they came to lift Donna Maria, for a moment something hitched, and Ruth heard the sound of rending cloth. The poor wretch in her death-agony had bitten through Sir Oliver’s arm to the bone. The corpse yet clenched its jaws on the bite. They had to wrench the teeth open—delicate pretty teeth made for nibbling sweetmeats.
To his last day Oliver Vyell bore the mark of those pretty teeth, and took it to the grave with him.
Ruth drew out a purse. But the Penitent, though they grumbled, would suffer his scoundrels to take no fee. Nay, he commanded two, and from somewhere out of devastated Lisbon they fetched a sedan-chair for the broken man. “You may pay these if you will,” said he. “Honestly, they deserve it.”
On her way westward, following the chair, she called to them to stop and search whereabouts Mr. Langton had fallen. They found him with the small greyhound standing guard beside the body. His head was pillowed on his arm, and he lay as one quietly sleeping.