They accordingly closely watched the cooking, of the rabbits particularly. Each was spitted on a little spit, which had four legs at the handle, the other end resting on a piece of the fuel. When one side was roasted, the other was turned to the fire. To know when they were done, the woman cracked the joints; laying them by until cool, she then tore them to pieces with her fingers; and afterward fried the already over-roasted meat with onions, garlic, red pepper, and oil, which is always rancid in Portugal, from the custom of never pressing the olives until they are stale.
The commissary knew too much about Portuguese cookery to trust to it. He had provided himself before leaving Elvas with the commissary’s cut, which is always the best steak from the best bullock. He now produced from among his baggage that implement so truly indicative of the march of English civilization—the gridiron; and not until the large table, at the other side of the room, had been spread, and supper was ready, did his man proceed to dress it skillfully and quickly, under the vigilant superintendance of the commissary himself.
They were sitting down to supper when L’Isle, seeing that the young friar remained by the fire, pointed out a vacant seat, and asked him to join them. But he shook his head.
“You are eating flesh. I must fast to-day.”
“Because the Scriptures bid you?” L’Isle inquired.
“Because the Church commands me.”
“You are aware, then, that there is no absolute injunction in Scripture to fast on particular days.”
“Yet the Church may have authority—it doubtless has authority to appoint such days,” the young friar answered, seeming at once to stifle a doubt and his appetite.
Cookery must be judged of by the palate, and not by the eye. So Lady Mabel made a strong effort to try the rabbits by the latter test—having had ocular proof that they were not cats in disguise. But, after persevering through two or three mouthfuls, the garlic, red pepper, and rancid oil, and the fact of having witnessed the whole process of cooking and fingering the fricassee, proved too much for her; and she was fain to be indebted to the commissary for a small piece of his steak, reeking hot, and dripping with its natural juices.
The woman of the house now placed on a bench before the friar, some broa, or maize bread, and a piece of bacalhao, fried in oil. From the size of the morsel, the stock in the larder seemed to have run low, even in this article, which is nothing but codfish salted by British heretics for the benefit of the souls and bodies of the true sons of the Church. The friar eat alone and in silence, less intent on his meal than in watching and listening to the party at the table.
“They are, every one of them, eating flesh, and this day is a fast,” said the elder woman to the friar, in a tone of affected horror.
“And they eat it almost raw,” answered the friar, as Shortridge thrust an ounce of red beef into his mouth. “But I know not that the Church has prohibited that.”