While she was yet speaking, a snake glided slowly across her path. Starting back in terror, she uttered a little scream, and begged L’Isle to kill it without delay.
“How shall I kill it,” he said, laughing at her alarm. “Shall I bruise the serpent’s head with my heel, or shall I draw my sword on a reptile?”
“In any way you please, so you do kill it,” she exclaimed, seeing the snake stop and raise its head to look at them.
But the farmer now interfered: “Spare his life, this is one of my best friends. You see that he shows not the least fear. While providing for himself, he works too for me, destroying the frogs and lizards that make sad havoc among my bees.”
Returning to the house, they found in front of it the mules laden and the horses saddled for the journey. Observing that Moodie looked particularly rueful this morning, Lady Mabel asked him what was the matter, and he admitted that he was very unwell. “But with bad food and worse water, loss of sleep and worry of mind, a man soon gets worn out in this unhappy country; You, my lady, look jaded enough, too.”
“Oh, never mind my looks,” she answered. “I feel perfectly well, and can travel on until I get tanned as brown as these Moorish girls. But I am afraid Moodie, you are paying the penalty for last night’s insult to the patron saint of the house. Some saints are at times a little revengeful, and your troubled mind and aching body you may owe to him. Pray take the earliest opportunity to make amends.”
“Who is the offended saint?” asked Mrs. Shortridge.
“I suppose,” said Lady Mabel, “it is St. Meliboeus, the patron saint of bees and honey.”
“Take care,” said L’Isle, laughing. “You are usurping the Pope’s function, and adding a new name to the calender.”
“But what shall we do for Moodie?” she asked. “Whether stricken by the saint or not, something must be done to relieve him.”
“Your saint had nothing to do with my sickness,” said Moodie, angrily. “I was unwell yesterday, though I did not complain. I am sure I was poisoned by that rascally innkeeper at Evora, with some trash he called wine, which was nothing but drugged vinegar.”
“If bad wine has poisoned you, good wine is the only antidote,” said L’Isle, and bidding his servant bring a cup and bottle from the hamper, he persuaded Moodie to try the remedy.
Moodie tasted it with some hesitation, but the wine was excellent, and in truth, just what he stood in need of. On being urged, he took a good draught, and at L’Isle’s suggestion, stowed away the bottle in his valise for future reference.
Their host would receive but a small remuneration for the well timed hospitality he had afforded the travelers. But the ladies had selected sundry spare articles from their wardrobe, and delighted his daughters with the gift of finery, such as they had never possessed before. As L’Isle was turning to ride off, the farmer said, with a courteous air: “When you or any friend of yours come this way, pray remember, sir, you have a poor house here, always at your command.”