“He does, indeed,” said she; “and has always thought it an excellent country—to come from; so he marched off at eighteen, and has seldom been back there since.”
“So we are on the borders of Africa!” exclaimed Moodie, speaking to himself aloud.
“Why, do you not see Moodie, that the people grow darker, each day, as we travel on?”
“The innkeeper at Evora is dark enough,” said he, that truth flashing on him; “but the farmer and his girls are browner still by many a shade.”
“You will think them fair,” said Lady Mabel, “when you have traveled far enough onward,” and, leaving him confused and alarmed, she cantered on to join Mrs. Shortridge.
Now Moodie was a shrewd man, perhaps a little too shrewd, with an eye open to human depravity; he was learned, too, in his way; many a heavy tome of Scotch controversial divinity had been thumbed by him as carefully as his Bible; but he never dwelt on any thing he found there not sustaining his preconceived notions. He involuntarily slighted those parts even of Scripture that he could not wrest to his purpose. Many an historical and traditionary fact, too, floated loosely on his mind; but his geographical education had been sadly neglected. A topographical knowledge of half a dozen shires, a general notion of the shape of old Scotland, and a hazy outline of the sister kingdom, made up all he had attained to. Had you laid before him a chart of the sea coast of Bohemia, first discovered by our great dramatist, it would not have startled him in the least, and he was ready to look for Africa at any point of the compass.
He now saw clearly that this journey was part of a plot. L’Isle had first won the confidence of father and daughter; then availing himself of her love for botany, had habituated her to his presence and protection on short excursions around Elvas; he had used the commissary and his wife to beguile Lady Mabel from her father’s protection, under pretence of a short journey to a neighboring town. Having now rid himself of the innocent commissary, he was leading her by devious paths far beyond pursuit. Lady Mabel seemed bewitched, and no longer saw with her own eyes. Was Mrs. Shortridge a simple gull or something worse? “Perhaps,” thought Moodie, “Colonel Bradshawe is right;” for an eaves-dropping valet had given his scandal wings.
Moodie was not deeply read in romance; but he remembered the traditionary tale of the young Scotch heiress, who, while a party of her retainers were escorting her to the house of her guardian, was set upon by a neighboring chieftain at the head of his clan. Her followers, concealing the girl under a huge caldron, stood round it for her defence, and when the last man had fallen the victorious suitor carried off the girl, and married her for her lands. This, too, was a plain case of abducting an heiress, not indeed by violence, but with consummate art. Setting aside the rare attractions of the lady, in Moodie’s estimation the prize was immense. L’Isle, with all his lofty airs, was but a commoner, with perhaps no fortune but his sword, a mere adventurer, and Lord Strathern’s broad acres were an irresistible temptation; though, in truth, this coveted domain counted thousands of acres of sheep-walk to the hundreds of plough land.