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ACT OF FAITH.
"How is it possible for people beholding that glorious Body to worship any Being but Him who created it!"
Upon the stroke of nine the procession filed forth into the Square. It was headed by about a hundred Dominican friars, bearing the banner of their founder. The banner displayed a Cross betwixt an olive tree and a sword, with the motto Justitia et Misericordia.
After the Dominicans walked five penitents; each with a sergeant, or Familiar, attending. Two of the five wore black mitres, three were bareheaded. All walked barefoot, clad in black sleeveless coats, and each carried a long wax candle. These had escaped the extreme sentence; and after them came one, a woman, who had escaped it also, but narrowly and as by fire. In token of this her black robe was painted over with flames, having their points turned downward. Close behind followed three men on whose san-benitos the flames pointed upward. These were being led to execution, and two of them who carried boards on their breasts, painted with dogs and serpents, were to die by fire for having professed doctrines contrary to the Faith; the third, who carried no board, was a "Relapsed," and might look forward to the privilege of being strangled before being cast to the flame. To each of these three was assigned, in addition to the Familiar, a couple of Jesuit priests, to walk beside him and exhort him.
The man who was to be strangled came through the gateway of the Inquisition Office with his gaze bent to the ground, apparently insensible to the mob of sightseers gathered in the Square. The doomed man who followed--a mere youth, and, by his face, a Jew--stared about him fiercely and eagerly. The third was an old man, with ragged hair and beard, and a complexion bleached by long imprisonment in the dark. He halted, blinking, uncertain how to plant his steps. Then, feeling rather than seeing the sun, he stretched up both arms to it, dropping his taper, calling aloud as might a preacher, "How is it possible for people, beholding that glorious Body, to worship any Being but Him who created it!"
A Jesuit at his side flung an arm across the old man's mouth; and as quickly the Familiar whipped out a cloth, pulled his head back, and gagged him. The young Jew had turned and was staring, still with his fierce, eager look. He was wheeled about and plucked forward.
Next through the gateway issued a troupe of Familiars on horseback, some of them nobles of the first families in Portugal; after them the Inquisitors and other Officers of the Court upon mules; last of all, amid a train of nobles, the Inquisitor-General himself on a white horse led by two grooms: his delicate hands resting on the reins, his face a pale green by reason of the sunlight falling on it through a silken scarf of that colour pendant over the brim of his immense black hat.
All this passed before Ruth's eyes, and close, as she sat in the mule-chaise beside Sir Oliver. She would have drawn the leathern curtains, but he had put out a hand forbidding this.
She could not at any rate have escaped hearing the old man's exclamation; for their chaise was jammed in the crowd beside the gateway. Her ears still kept the echo of his vibrant voice; almost she was persuaded that his eyes had singled her out from the crowd.
--And why not? Had not she, also, cause to know what cruelties men will commit in the name of religion?
Her heart was wrathful as well as pitiful. Her lord had given her no warning of the auto-da-fe, and she now suspected that in suggesting this Sunday morning drive he had purposely decoyed her to it. Presently, as the crowd began to clear, he confirmed the suspicion.
"Since we are here, we may as well see the sp--" He was going to say "sport," but, warned by a sudden stiffening of her body, he corrected the word to "spectacle." "They erect a grand stand on these occasions; or, if you prefer, we can bribe them to give room for the chaise."
He bent forward and called to the coachman, "Turn the mules' heads, and follow!"
"Indeed I will not," she said firmly. "Do you go--if such crimes amuse you. . . . For me, I shall walk home."
He shrugged his shoulders. "It is the custom of the country. . . . But, as for your walking, I cannot allow it for a moment. Juan shall drive you home."
She glanced at him. His eyes were fixed on the opposite side of the square, and she surprised in them a look of recognition not intended for her. Following the look, she saw a chaise much like their own, moving slowly with the throng, and in it a woman seated.
Ruth knew her. She was Donna Maria, Countess of Montalagre; and of late Sir Oliver's name had been much coupled with hers.
This Ruth did not know; but she had guessed for some time that he was unfaithful. She had felt no curiosity at all to learn the woman's name. Now an accident had opened her eyes, and she saw.
Her first feeling was of slightly contemptuous amusement. Donna Maria, youthful wife of an aged and enfeebled lord, passed for one of the extremely devout. She had considerable beauty, but of an order Ruth could easily afford to scorn. It was the bizarrerie of the affair that tickled her, almost to laughter--Donna Maria's down-dropt gaze, the long lashes veiling eyes too holy-innocent for aught but the breviary; and he--he of all men!--playing the lover to this little dunce, with her empty brain, her narrow religiosity!
But on afterthought, she found it somewhat disgusting too.
"I thank you," she said. "Juan shall drive me home, then. It will not, I hope, inconvenience you very much, since I see the Countess of Montalagre's carriage across the way. No doubt she will offer you a seat."
He glanced at her, but her face was cheerfully impassive.
"That's an idea!" he said. "I will run and make interest with her."
He alighted, and gave Juan the order to drive home. He lifted his hat, and left her. She saw Donna Maria's start of simulated surprise. Also she detected, or thought she detected, the sly triumph of a woman who steals a man.
All this she had leisure to observe; for Juan, a Gallician, was by no means in a hurry to turn the mules' heads for home. He had slewed his body about, and was gazing wistfully after the throng.
"Your Excellency, it would be a thousand pities!"
"There has not been a finer burning these two years, they tell me. And that old blasphemer's beard, when they set a light to it! . . . I am a poor Gallego, your Excellency, and at home get so few chances of enjoyment. Also I have dropped my whip, and it is trodden on, broken. In the crowd at the Terreiro de Paco I may perchance borrow another."
Ruth alighted in a blaze of wrath.
"Wretched man," she commanded, "climb down!"
"Climb down! You shall go, as your betters have gone, to feed your eyes with these abominations. . . . Nay, how shall I scold you, who do what your betters teach? But climb down. I will drive the mules myself."
"His Excellency will murder me when he hears of it. But, indeed, was ever such a thing heard of?" Nevertheless the man was plainly in two minds.
"It is not for you to argue, but to obey my orders."
He descended, still protesting. She mounted to his seat, and took the reins and whip.
"The brutes are spirited, your Excellency. For the love of God have a care of them!"
For answer she flicked them with the whip--he had lied about the broken whip--and left him staring.
The streets were deserted. All Lisbon had trooped to the auto-da-fe. If any saw and wondered at the sight of a lady driving like a mere bolhero, she heeded not. The mules trotted briskly, and she kept them to it.
She had ceased to be amused, even scornfully. As she drove up the slope of Buenos Ayres--the favourite English suburb, where his villa stood overlooking Tagus--a deep disgust possessed her. It darkened the sunshine. It befouled, it tarnished, the broad and noble mirror of water spread far below.
"Were all men beasts, then?"
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