“Are we on the road to Evora?” L’Isle asked, by way of opening a parley; but the man merely waved his hand gently toward the hill and path before them. Resolved to make him speak, L’Isle asked, “What game have you killed to-day?”—for he saw some animal lying in the moss at the foot of the tree. The hunter silently held up a lynx and an otter, which he had lately snared, and seemed to forget the presence of strangers in contemplating his game. Despairing of extracting a word, the travelers rode on.
“What a silent, unsocial wretch!” Mrs. Shortridge exclaimed. “He seems to prefer the company of a savage hound, and his dead game, to that of living Christians.”
“He thinks a heretic no Christian, if he thinks at all,” said L’Isle; and he called to the guide, to ask what this wild man was.
“He is a swine-herd.”
“Indeed!” said Lady Mabel. “I took him for a bandit, or a bold hunter, at least.”
“But he is the swine-herd of the great monastery of the Paulists, who own half the lands on the southern slope of Serra d’Ossa. He is a matchless hunter too, spending fewer nights under a roof than on the mountain-side, where all the game is as much his, as the swine he keeps is the property of the good fathers. They have the best bacon in all Portugal, and plenty of it, as many a poor man can tell; and they know this man’s value, for he were a bold thief that pinched the ear of his smallest pig.”
“As soon as I get back to Elvas,” said Lady Mabel, “I will send Major Warren to make his acquaintance. The major will be charmed with him. For his ambition is to take all sorts of game, in every possible way; and though I have, or might have had, the history of all his hunts by heart, neither lynx or otter has yet figured in the scene. You remember, Colonel L’Isle, how much satisfaction he expressed when you lately hinted at the probability of our brigade finding itself in the north of Portugal early in the coming campaign. I at first thought that the soldier saw some military advantage in the movement, but found it was only the sportsman’s delight at the hope of visiting Truzos Montes, and killing one of the few Caucasian goats that yet linger on the most inaccessible heights there.”
“No gamester,” said L’Isle, “is more a slave to the dice. That at this time a soldier should be so little ‘lost in the world’s debate’ as to be eager, above all things, to kill a goat!”
They had now reached a point which gave them a fine view of the southern side of Serra d’Ossa, so different from the northern, being fertile, and showing many a cultivated spot upon its lower slopes, while the light, fleecy clouds, gathering before the gentle western wind, now veiled and then revealed the overhanging dark blue ridge that crowned the scene. The guide pointed out the broad possessions of the great monastery of the Paulists. At a distance, on the right, rose Evora Monte, built like a watch-tower on a lofty hill; and, to the south, the monastic towers and Gothic spires of Evora, the city of monks, raised high above the plain, could be seen from afar.