The people of the house, an old man and two women, sat staring at them without making any hospitable demonstrations. So L’Isle made the first advances, and, addressing them with a studied courtesy that seemed ironical to the ladies, awakened them somewhat to a sense of their duty to the wayfarers. Seats were got for the ladies on one side of the huge fire-place, in which some embers were smouldering, and L’Isle placed two cork stools to raise their feet above the damp pavement of flat stone. On the young friar’s now coming forward (for with a modesty rare in his order he had hitherto kept in the background), L’Isle resumed his sociable conversation with him, and accepted the proffered pinch of snuff, that olive-branch of the Portuguese. This evidently had a good effect on their hosts; while Shortridge was surprised to see the colonel, whose hauteur he had himself felt, demean himself by familiarity with these low people. He did not know that a proud man, if his be generous pride, is apt to keep it for those who assume superiority, or at least equality, with himself.
That was not the commissary’s way. So he began to question abruptly, in very bad Portuguese, as to the state of her larder, the elder woman, who, ugly and blear-eyed, with ragged, scanty dress, and bare feet, yet wore a necklace of beads and earrings of gold. She answered tartly, that it being a fast-day, there was no flesh in the house. They had bacalhao and sardinhas, and garlic, and pepper, and onions, and oil; and everything that Christians wanted on a fast-day. She forgot to say that the house was without flesh many more days than the church commands. L’Isle, with more address, applied to the younger woman with better success, inquiring after accommodations for the ladies. He so moved her that she snatched up the only lamp in the room, and, leaving the rest of the party in the growing darkness, ushered the ladies up the ladder, like stairs, to the only two chambers where they could be private.
Shortridge, meanwhile, finding out the desolate state of the larder, let the woman know that they had not come unprovided with a stock of edibles of their own. He urged her to make preparations for cooking it; so rousing the old man from his chimney corner, she carried him out with her, and they soon returned with no small part of a cork-tree; and when Lady Mabel and Mrs. Shortridge came down, a cheerful blaze had brought out more fully the desolation of the room in dispelling half its gloom.
“I trust you have found a habitable chamber over head,” said L’Isle to Lady Mabel.