January was gone, and the earlier of the two springs that mark this climate was opening beautifully. L’Isle displayed temptingly before Lady Mabel’s eyes the wild flowers he had collected during a laborious morning spent on hill and plain, in wood and field, and urged her to lose no time in taking the field too, and making collections for the hortus siccus of which she talked so much, but toward which she had yet done nothing; while at the same time, she might, without trouble, indoctrinate him in the mysteries of this beautiful branch of natural history. Most of these flowers were new to her as living specimens. Her botanical enthusiasm was roused at the sight of them, and the offer of a pupil added to her zeal. When we know a little of any thing, it is very pleasant to be applied to for instruction by the ignorant, as it enables us to flatter ourselves that we know a great deal. And it is only the more gratifying when our voluntary pupil is otherwise well informed.
It was at once arranged that the party should take the field to-morrow. Mrs. Shortridge, it is true, had no particular taste for botany. If the flowers in her bouquet were beautiful, or fragrant, or both, she did not trouble herself about their history, names, class, order, or alliances; but pleasant company, fresh air, exercise, and new scenes were inducements enough for her.
For thee my borders nurse the fragrant
My fountain murmurs and my zephyrs breathe;
Slow glides the painted snail, the gilded fly
Smooths his fine down to charm thy curious eye;
On twinkling fins my scaly nations play,
Or wind, with sinuous train, their trackless way.
My plumy pairs, in gay embroidery dressed,
Form with ingenious skill the pensile nest;
To Love’s sweet notes attune the listening dell,
And Echo sounds her soft symphonious shell.
The Botanic Garden.
Betimes the next morning the botanical party were in the saddle. Mrs. Shortridge rode a mule, the especial favorite of the commissary, for her sure foot and easy gaits, and Lady Mabel was mounted on her Andalusian, on whose education Lieut. Goring had bestowed such pains: but on this occasion she ungratefully omitted to summon her equerry to attend her.
Descending the granite hill of Elvas, they rode westward across the fertile valley, their road shut in on either hand by luxuriant evergreen hedges; for here the dark clay soil was all under cultivation, and carefully laid out into garden, orchard, or field. They passed under the arches of the great aqueduct that stretched its tortuous length across the undulating vale; they paused to admire its peculiarity of style and structure, and the greatness of the work; to wonder at the crooked course it ran, and yet more at the little use the people of Elvas made of its waters for cleaning purposes. Then, hastening on, they found themselves, at the end of some five miles, in an open and elevated country. Dismounting here, they left the horses to the care of their servants. The riding skirts fell to the ground, the ladies stepped forth in walking costume, and the party commenced their ramble after flowers, plants, and scenery, directing their steps toward the high grounds to the northwest of Elvas.