“You may do as you please in that matter,” said L’Isle, throwing on the table half the sum demanded, and leaving their host to swallow his anger, and take it up, if he pleased.
The muleteer, having come in for the baggage, on finding out the nature of the controversy, now poured out a flood of vociferous eloquence on the extortioner, denouncing him as a disgrace to the nation, and no true Portuguese, but a New Christian, as might be seen in his face; and he was urgent with Shortridge to let him show him the way to the house of the Juiz de Fora without loss of time.
L’Isle’s commanding air and contemptuous indifference overawed the innkeeper quite as much as Shortridge’s threats. So, sweeping the money into his pocket, he went out hastily to find a safe and secret hiding place for his mules.
“Pray,” said Lady Mabel to L’Isle, while they were waiting for their horses, “what is a New Christian?”
“The explanation of the term does not tell well in the history of the country,” said he. “When Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, many of them took refuge here, where John II. gave them shelter, on condition that they should quit the kingdom in a limited time. This king endeavored to keep faith with them. Nevertheless, in his and the following reign, they were subjected to unceasing persecutions, being required to become Christians, or leave the country; at the very time every obstacle was put in the way of their escape. At length their children were taken from them to be reared in the Christian faith, and numbers abjured Judaism in order to recover possession of their own offspring. But such a conversion failed not to furnish for many a generation a crowd of hapless inmates for the ‘Tremendous House of the Inquisition’ in every town. Even in the last century, no diversion delighted the Lisbon mob like the burning of a relapsed Jew. The usage of them of old still influences the condition of the country and the term New Christian is yet a by-word common in the mouths of people.”
“We certainly see a great many Jewish faces among the Portuguese Christians,” said Mrs. Shortridge.
“So the great Marquis de Pombul thought,” L’Isle answered; “for when a great crowd had assembled to see him open a fountain he had erected in Lisbon, on a courtier’s saying, ’See, my Lord, like Moses, you make water flow from the rock!’ ‘Yes,’ replied the marquis, ’and here are the Jews looking at me.’”
“And our host,” said Mrs. Shortridge, “is doubtless one of these New Christians.”
“But has the commissary,” Lady Mabel asked, “a right to make the requisition with which he threatens him?”
“Not on his own authority,” said L’Isle, laughing. “But these people would well deserve that we should sweep off every mule and yoke of oxen around Evora. Last year when we were collecting materials for the siege of Badajoz, the ungrateful rascals would not send a single cart to help us.”