Upon an excuse she left him and went to her own sleeping tent. It stood a little within the royal garden of Belem and (the weather being chilly) the guard of the gate usually kept a small brazier alight for her. This evening for some reason he had neglected it, and the fire had sunk low. She stooped to rake its embers together, and, as she did so, at length her laughter escaped her; soft laughter, terrible to hear.
In the midst of it a voice—a high, jolly, schoolboy voice—called out from the gateway demanding, in execrable Portuguese, to be shown Lady Vyell’s tent. She dropped the raking-iron with a clatter and stood erect, listening.
“Dicky?” . . . she breathed.
Yes; the tent flap was lifted and Dicky stood there in the twilight; a Dicky incredibly grown.
“Motherkin!” He was folded in her arms.
“But what on earth brings you to this terrible Lisbon, of all places?”
“Well, motherkin,” said he with the finest air of importance, “a man would say that if a crew of British sailors could be useful anywhere—We’ll teach your Portuguese, anyhow. Oh, yes, the Pegasus was at Gibraltar—we felt the shock there pretty badly—and the Admiral sent us up the coast to give help where we could. A coaster found us off Lagos with word that Lisbon had suffered worst of all. So we hammered at it, wind almost dead foul all the way . . . and here we are. Captain Hanmer brought me ashore in his gig. My word, but the place is in a mess!”
“That is Captain Hanmer’s footstep I hear by the gate.”
“Yes, he has come to pay his respects. But come,” said the boy, astonished, “you don’t tell me you know Old Han’s footstep—begging his pardon—at all this distance.”
Yes she did. She could have distinguished that tread had it marched among a thousand. Her brain had held the note of it ever since the night she had heard it at Sabines, crushing the gravel of the drive. Dicky laughed, incredulous. She held the boy at arm’s length, lovingly as Captain Hanmer came and stood by the tent door.
So life might yet sound with honest laughter; ay, and at the back of laughter, with the firm tread of duty.
The story of Ruth Josselin and Oliver Vyell is told. They were married ten days later in the hospital at Belem by a priest of the Church of Rome; and afterwards, on their way to England in His Majesty’s frigate Calliope, which had brought out stores for the relief of the suffering city and was now returning with most of the English survivors, Sir Oliver insisted on having the union again ratified by the services of the ship’s chaplain. Ruth, whose sense of humour had survived the earthquake, could smile at this supererogation.
They landed at Plymouth and posting to Bath, were tenderly welcomed by Lady Jane, to whom her son’s conversion was hardly less a matter of rejoicing than his rescue from a living tomb. In Bath Ruth Lady Vyell might have reigned as a toast, a queen of society; but Sir Oliver had learnt a distaste for fashionable follies, nor did she greatly yearn for them.