For two or three hours they got on famously. There was much that was new, curious, and beautiful, to be gazed on and admired, wondered at, and collected. Lady Mabel, with the enthusiasm of a young botanist and a younger traveler, found treasures at every step. The gentle morning breeze came refreshingly down from the hills before them, laden with the perfumes of opening spring; the rich aroma of the gum-cistus, the fragrance of the wild rosemary, and many another sweet-scented plant, pervading the air, yet not oppressing the breath. Mrs. Shortridge expressed, rather strongly, perhaps, her delight at the contrast between the sweet-smelling country and the unsavory towns of the Portuguese. She quoted, with no little unction, the proverb: “God made the country, man made the town,” as if she had never fully felt its force till now.
“We may say more broadly,” observed L’Isle, “that God makes nature and man defiles it.”
“I am truly glad,” said Mrs. Shortridge, “that these filthy people have not been able to defile their whole land.”
Gradually the sunbeams grew hotter, the mountain breeze became a sultry breath, the ground steeper and more rugged, and their accumulating floral treasures more and more cumbrous. Lady Mabel seemed to take delight in adding every moment to the load L’Isle carried. “You must know,” she said, “that the pupil is always the packhorse on these occasions,” and she insisted on Mrs. Shortridge bearing her share of the burden. This lady at first had talked incessantly, but had gradually less and less to say, and at length was reduced to silence from sheer want of breath. She had frequently to rest for a few minutes, and was coming fast to the conviction that rural excursions on a hot day, and flower-hunting over rough ground, were less pleasant than she thought at first. The hills, bare of trees, exposed them to the full power of the sun, yet were covered with a growth of tall heaths, mingled with patches of the cistus ladaniferus, which covers so much of the surface of the slaty hills of this region. The close growth and gummy exudations of this plant often made the thickets impenetrable, and forced the party to many a long circuit, in their efforts to reach the ridge of the high grounds. Mrs. Shortridge at length sat, or rather sunk, down upon a fragment of rock, and L’Isle came promptly to her aid.
“Colonel L’Isle,” said she, panting, “I could not take another step up hill for all the flowers in Portugal.”
“I am only astonished at your getting so far up. You are not used to climbing mountains.”
“When Lady Mabel is at home in Scotland,” said Mrs. Shortridge, “I suppose she walks up a mountain every morning, to get an appetite for breakfast. So it is in vain to attempt to follow her. But here she comes.”
Lady Mabel now joined them; and L’Isle, pointing out a belt of low woods that wound along the hollow ground at no great distance below them, offered Mrs. Shortridge his arm, and induced her to make an effort to reach its shelter.