Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
The next morning early a numerous party issued from the eastern gate of Elvas. The descending road led them between groves of olives, whose sad colored foliage was relieved by the bright hues of the almond tree, clothed with pink blossoms, the scarlet flowering pomegranate, the dark, rich green of the orange-tree, already spangled over with small white blossoms, yet still laden with its golden fruit, and the prune trees of Elvas, favorites through the world, leafless as yet, but conspicuous by the clouds of white flowerets which covered them. The roofs of the suburban quintas showed themselves here and there above the orchards, and by the roadside the iris alata bloomed on every bank.
The air is balmy, the scene lovely, and all nature smiling with the sweet promises of Spring. Is this the goddess Flora leading down a joyous train to the fields below? It is only Lady Mabel cantering somewhat recklessly down hill. When she reached the more level ground, she so far out-rode the ladies of her party, who were mounted on mules, that, tired of loitering for them to come up, she proposed to L’Isle, who had kept by her side, to employ their leisure in ascending the bare hill on their left, to examine the old tower, that stood solitary and conspicuous on its top. From the clearness of the atmosphere it seemed nearer than it was, and the broken ground compelled them to make a circuit before they reached it. Hence they looked down upon their friends, crawling at a snail’s pace along the road to Badajoz. They rode round the weather-beaten, ruinous tower. It was square, with only one small entrance, many feet above the ground, and leading into a small room amidst the thick walls.
“What could this have been built for?” Lady Mabel asked.
“It is one of those watch-towers called atalaias,” answered L’Isle. “Many of them are scattered along the heights on the border. They are memorials of an age in which one of people’s chief occupations was watching against the approach of their neighbors.”
“Stirring times, those,” said Lady Mabel. “People could not then complain that their vigilance was lulled to sleep by too great security; but this is, perhaps, a more comfortable age.”
“To us in our island home,” said L’Isle. “The improvement is more doubtful here. There was a time when your forefathers and mine thus kept watch against each other; when our own border hills were crowned with similar watch-towers; but never did any country continue so long a debatable land, and need, for so many centuries, the watch-tower and the signal fire on its hills, as this peninsula during the slow process of its redemption from the crescent to the cross.”
“From this point,” said Lady Mabel, “Elvas and Badajoz look like two giant champions facing each other, in arms, each, for the defence of his own border, yet one does not see here any of those great natural barriers that should divide nations.”