“Yet the Romans,” L’Isle remarked, “had once netted over the whole Peninsula with roads.”
“When they went away,” said the commissary, “the first thing the people of the country did, I suppose, was to let them go to ruin in true Portuguese fashion.”
Shortridge now said that he must spend some days in the neighborhood of Evora, and that the party would have to return to Elvas without him. This being agreed to, Lady Mabel suggested that they should find their way back by a different route, and, on consulting the muleteer, they found that it could be done without much lengthening their journey.
Led with delight they thus beguile
* * * *
When weening to return whence they did stray,
They cannot find that path, which first was showne,
But wander to and fro in ways unknown,
Furthest from end then, when they nearest weene,
That makes them doubt their wits be not their own,
So many paths, so many turning seene,
That which of them to take in diverse doubt they been.
The party mustered early the next morning to continue their journey, and after breakfast L’Isle called for the innkeeper to pay him his bill. This worthy, acting on the natural supposition that the English had come into the country to indemnify the Portuguese for their losses at the hands of the French, at once named the round sum of sixty crusados. On L’Isle looking surprised, he began to run over so long a list of articles furnished, and items of trouble given, that L’Isle, who was annoyed at the interruption of an agreeable conversation with Lady Mabel, was about to pay him in full to get rid of him, when Shortridge peremptorily interfered. The demand was extortionate and aroused his indignation. Perhaps he looked upon the fellow as usurping a privilege belonging peculiarly to the commissary’s own brotherhood. He abused the man roundly in very bad Portuguese, and insisted that L’Isle should pay him but half the sum.
The innkeeper, a dark, sallow man, with a vindictive countenance, glared on him as if fear alone withheld him from replying with his knife. When he found his tongue, he began to answer with a bitterness that was fast changing into uncontrollable rage; but the commissary, who was a master in the art of bullying, cut him short.
“This fellow,” said he, addressing L’Isle, but still speaking Portuguese, “has three fine mules in his stable. I shall need a great many beasts to carry corn to Elvas, and will apply to the Juiz de Fora to embargo them among the first.”
The innkeeper turned as pale as his golden skin permitted at the bare suggestion. The French had made a similar requisition on him four years ago, and when he followed his cattle to reclaim them after the required service, he got only sore bones and a broken head for his pains.