His villa being destroyed, they had carried Sir Oliver out to Belem, to one of the wooden hospitals hastily erected in the royal grounds. There the King’s surgeon dressed his wounds and set the broken left arm, Ruth attending with splints and bandages.
When all was done and the patient asleep, she crept forth. She would fain have stayed to watch by him; but this would have meant crowding the air for the sufferers, who already had much ado to breathe. She crept forth, therefore, and slept that night out on the naked ground, close under the lee of the canvas.
Early next morning she was up and doing. A dozen hospitals had been improvised and each was crying out for helpers. She chose that of her friend Mr. Castres, the British envoy. It stood within a high-walled garden, sheltered from the wind which, for some days after the earthquake, blew half a gale. At first the hospital consisted of two tents; but in the next three days these increased to a dozen, filling the enclosure. Then, just as doctors and nurses despaired of coping with it, the influx of wounded slackened and ceased, almost of a sudden. In the city nothing remained now but to bury the dead, and in haste, lest their corpses should breed pestilence. It was horribly practical; but every day, as she awoke, her first thought was for the set of the wind; her first fear that in the night it might have shifted, and might be blowing from the east across Lisbon. The wind, however, kept northerly, as though it had been nailed to that quarter. She heard that gangs were at work clearing the streets and collecting the dead; at first burying them laboriously after the third day, burning them in stacks. As the Penitent had said, in an earthquake one gets down to nakedness. During those next ten days Ruth lived hourly face to face with her kind, men and women, naked, bleeding, suffering.
She contrived too, all this while, to have the small motherless Hake children near her, inventing a hundred errands to keep them busy. Thus, to be sure, they saw many things too sad for their young eyes, yet Ruth perceived that in feeling helpful they escaped the worst broodings of bereavement, and, on the whole, watching them at times, as their small hands were busy tearing up bandages or washing out medicine bottles, she felt satisfied that their mother would have wished it so.
Sir Oliver’s arm healed well, and in general (it seemed) he was making a rapid recovery. It was remarkable, though, that he seldom smiled, and scarcely spoke at all save to answer a question. He would rest for hours at a time staring straight in front of him, much as he had lain and stared up at the ceiling of the fatal house. Something weighed on his mind; or maybe the brain had received a shock and must have time to recover. Ruth watched him anxiously, keeping a cheerful face.
But there came an evening when, as she returned, tired but cheerful, from the hospital, he called her to him.