“Why, were we not fighting their battles?” Lady Mabel exclaimed. “Would they not assist in their own defence?”
“Badajoz is not within sight of Evora, and that was enough for these short-sighted patriots.”
“Has such blind selfishness a parallel?” asked Lady Mabel.
“Many,” said L’Isle. “We may at times find one at home, in the wisdom of a whig ministry, which consists in taking a microscopic view of the wrong side of things just under their noses.”
They now mounted their horses, and leaving the praca, had entered on a narrow and somewhat crooked street, where they suddenly met a funeral procession, with its priests, crucifix and tapers, the dead being carried by several persons on a bier, and followed by a few peasants. The travelers drew up their horses close to the adjacent wall, to leave room for the procession. The face of the dead was uncovered as usual, and the friar’s dress which clothed the body, with the rosaries and other paraphernalia displayed about his person, led Lady Mabel to say, “I see that one of the good fathers is gone to his account.”
“He will now find out,” said Moodie, “the worth of his beads, crucifix and holy water.”
“I am surprised,” said Lady Mabel, “at so unpretending a funeral, in the case of a member of the great order of St. Francis.”
L’Isle asked a question of a Portuguese standing near, and then said, “The cowl does not make the monk, nor must you infer from his dress that this man was a friar. He lived all his life a peasant in a neighboring village.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Lady Mabel.
“Almost every one,” said L’Isle, as they turned to ride on their way, “here and throughout the Peninsula, is buried in a religious habit—the men in the uniform of friars, the women dressed like pilgrims, and the girls like nuns. They are loaded with a freight of rosaries, agni dei, and other saintly jewelry, fastened to the neck, hands and feet, and stuffed into the clothes. Convents have often a warehouse appropriated to this posthumous wardrobe, in the sale of which they drive a profitable trade. It was a most natural mistake made by a stranger, who, after being a few weeks at Madrid, and seeing so many Franciscans interred, expressed his astonishment at the prodigious number of them in the city, and asked if their order was not entirely carried off by this violent epidemic.”
“I suppose,” said Lady Mabel, “the custom originated in the propensity so strong in us all, to live sinners and die saints.”
“Exactly so,” L’Isle answered; “it is a fraudulent custom, old as the fifth century, and common in popish countries. It is nothing less than an attempt to cheat St. Peter, who, you know, keeps the keys of heaven, by knocking at the gate in the disguise of a monk or a friar.”
“I have too much faith in St. Peter’s vigilance and penetration,” said Mrs. Shortridge, “to think he has ever been so taken in.”