“Why,” asked Mrs. Shortridge, “do these people always build their towns on hills?”
“That is a true English question,” answered L’Isle. “At home, in our bleak northern climate, we naturally seek sheltered situations. These people as naturally select an airy site, above the parching heat and poisoned air of the valleys. In founding colonies in tropical countries we English, and the Dutch, have constantly blundered, acting as if still at home; and choosing low and pestilential spots, establish only hospitals and graveyards where we meant to build towns; while the Spaniards and Portuguese, from the instinct of habit, select the most salubrious situations within their reach. Moreover, high points are safer from attack, and stronger to resist an enemy; and the Christians of the peninsula were taught by seven centuries of conflict with the Moors, that the safety of a man’s house is the first point, its convenience the second. Now, we islanders have long been but a half military people. Content with incuring the guilt of war abroad, we have carefully abstained from bringing it home to our own doors.”
“But we never wage any but just wars,” said Lady Mabel.
“We, at least,” said L’Isle, “always find some plausible grounds on which to justify our wars—to ourselves.”
They were now on the outskirts of the undulating plain, on which a rich soil overlying the granite rocks extends from Evora southward to the city of Beja. The signs of cultivation and population multiplied as they went on. The fields became larger and more frequent; detached farm houses were seen on either hand, and they fell in on the road with many peasants riding large and spirited asses, or driving oxen all light bays with enormous horns, and so sleek and well grown, that the commissary gazed on them with admiring eye and watering mouth, and pronounced them equally fit for the yoke or the shambles.
It was a relief to find themselves once more in a cultivated country, and Lady Mabel gazed round, admiring the prospect. “There is,” she observed, “one drawback to the landscape. At home, one of the most enlivening features in our rural scenes, are the white sheep scattered on the hills, but here they are almost black.”
“But the goats you see are generally white,” answered L’Isle. “It is, too, the more picturesque animal, and well supplies what is wanting in the sheep.”
Evora was at hand. L’Isle launched out into an erudite discourse on the aqueduct of Sertorius, which, stretching its long line of arches from the neighboring hills, was converging with their road to the city. As they entered it he was giving Lady Mabel all the pros and cons, as to whether it was really the work of that redoubtable Roman. The commissary was luxuriously anticipating the shade and rest before him, when to his surprise and regret, L’Isle led the party another way, and halted them before a small but striking building, which here crowned the aqueduct at its termination in the city.