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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Actress in High Life » CHAPTER XII.
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 First, for thy bees a quiet station find, 
And lodge them under covert from the wind; 
For winds, when homeward they return, will drive 
The loaded carriers from their evening hive; 
Far from the cows' and goats' insulting crew, 
That trample down the flowers and brush the dew, 
The painted lizard and the bird of prey, 
Foes to the frugal kind, be far away— 
The titmouse and the pecker's hungry brood, 
And Procne with her bosom stained with blood: 
These rob the trading citizens, and bear 
The trembling captives through the liquid air, 
And for their callow young a cruel feast prepare. 
Wild thyme and savory set around their cell, 
Sweet to the taste and fragrant to the smell: 
Set rows of rosemary with flowering stem, 
And let the purple violet drink the stream. 
???????? ???????? ???????? Dryden's Virgil.
The building before them had low, thick walls, of undressed stones, and a heavy roof over it covered with tiles. The door was shut, and the travelers could see nothing of the household; but the sharp, angry challenge of the canine sentinels within, who did not pause to listen for an answer, proved that the place was not without a garrison. Some premonitory drops began to fall from the cloud, which now overhung them. Tired of waiting, L'Isle was about to complete the investment by sending the muleteer round to the other side of the house, when he perceived two young round faces peeping out at a square hole in the wall that served for a window; a man's voice was heard quieting the dogs, and a pair of sharp eyes were detected peering over the door, made too short for the doorway, perhaps for that purpose. The governor was evidently reconnoitering carefully the party outside. The result seemed, at length, to prove satisfactory, the presence of the ladies probably removing any fears of violence.
The door was thrown open, and one, who seemed to be the master of the house, stepped out with an air of frank hospitality to receive their request for shelter. Begging them to alight, he called out for "Manoel! Manoel!" who soon showed himself in the shape of a young clown, crawling out from behind a heap of straw in a neighboring shed, and who was ordered to assist in unloading the mules and taking care of the horses.
Tired and thirsty, and glad to find shelter, the ladies entered the house, where they were met by two young women, unmistakably the daughters of the host. Their sparkling eyes and coal-black hair, their round faces and regular features, were like his; and they were only less swarthy, from being less exposed to the sun. Their dress was in fashion, but commonly worn by the peasant women—the jacket and petticoat—but smarter, and of more costly stuffs than usual. Their feet, too, were bare, but small and well-formed, betraying little indurating familiarity with the rough paths around them.
Had they preserved their pedigree, this family would have found many an ancestor among the Lusitanian Moors, and afforded the most striking among the many proofs the travelers had met with, that many a Mohammedan, when the crescent waned before the cross, had preferred his country to his faith. The girls were for a while abashed at the presence of the strangers; but, with a hospitality spurred on by curiosity, soon recovered themselves, and encumbered the ladies with their attentions. Strangers they seldom saw, and these outlandish ladies were as strange to them as if they had dropped from the moon. Under pretence of assisting the travelers to rid themselves of their outer garment of dust, they examined the texture and fashion of their dresses, veils and gloves, spread out Lady Mabel's shawl to admire the pattern, and asked more questions than she could answer or understand. They were closely inspecting the rings on her fingers, and wondering at the whiteness of her hand, when their father coming in, rebuked their obtrusiveness. He made them gather up the pile of flax, with the spindles and distaffs now lying idle on the floor, and invited the ladies to take possession of the cushions, which, after a Moorish custom still lingering here, the girls had used as seats.
L'Isle coming in and finding father and daughters bestirring themselves to make their guests comfortable, suggested that their most urgent want was water. One of the girls at once brought a cup, and one from among several jars, and, while the ladies were drinking, L'Isle called their attention to the peculiarities of the vessel, of so porous a nature, that the water, always oozing through it, kept the outside wet, the constant evaporation of a part cooling what remained within. He pointed out, too, the peculiar fashion of the jar—its beautiful and classic mould indicating that, amidst the corruption of taste and the loss of arts, in pottery at least, the antique type of form had been faithfully handed down from the time of the Roman. But the ladies were too busy with the water to bestow much thought on the jar, and L'Isle's lesson in vertu was pretty much lost on them.
The house consisted of several small rooms, besides the larger apartment, in which, after a while, the whole party was collected, including the servants and muleteer. The girls called in an old woman to assist them in their household duties, and she employed herself at the smoky fire-place in cooking some sausages, which, by the perfume they soon diffused through the room, proved that in stuffing them the genus allium had not been forgotten. To give a classic flavor to the fumes, L'Isle found himself quoting the lines:
"Thestylis et rapido fessis messoribus aestu 
Allia serpyllumque herbas contundit olentes."
But, if this sweetened the smell to him, it was lost on the ladies, and Thestylis was still to them a smoky old woman, frying, marvelously, ill-odored sausages. Their host disappeared for a few minutes, and then returned, no longer in dishabille, but in full dress, as if going to the next town on some high festival. This was evidently in honor of his guests. It was growing dark, and he now lit a lantern hanging against the wall. Within the lantern, and behind the lamp, a little image of some saint was seen shedding his benignant influence over the household. The hastily prepared meal was now ready. This was no time or place for nice distinctions of rank, and, urged by their host, the whole party sat down together. Besides the overpowering sausages, preserved fruits, honey, and black and white bread covered the table, with a pile of oranges just gathered from the boughs. These last vanished rapidly before the thirsty travelers. Their host seemed to think his more substantial fare neglected; and L'Isle took care to attribute it to their having dined too lately and heartily, to have yet recovered their appetites.
Lady Mabel, seeing Moodie at the end of the table, with his back to the dim light, eating almost in the dark, urged him to change his seat, and take one opposite to and close under the lamp. Moodie looked askance at the saint, who was bestowing a benediction on those before him, and grumbled out, "Better to eat in the dark, than by the light of Satan's lantern."
"You are over scrupulous," said Mrs. Shortridge: "if these illuminated saints be one of Satan's devices, I think it meritorious to turn them to a useful purpose, as was successfully done by a friend of mine residing in Lisbon. Finding the lamp he had put before his door repeatedly broken—for the Lisbon rabble love darkness better than light—he bought a little image of St. Antony, and put it up behind it, and the saint's presence seemed to paralyze the arms of the evil doers."
"There is an inward and an outward light," said Moodie, sententiously: "your friend, wanting that inward light, chose, for a little personal convenience, to countenance a shining idolatry." Their host, gathering from their looks and gestures that they wanted more light, now brought in another lamp, which the ladies soon used to light them to the chamber allotted to them. The girls went with them; and Lady Mabel, finding them loiter there, full of curiosity, and examining every article of dress and baggage with prying eyes, deliberately unpacked every thing she had with her, and induced Mrs. Shortridge, sleepy as she was, to do so too; then, giving them to understand that there was nothing more to be seen, politely turned them out of the room, that she might make more profitable use of the remaining hours of the night. A chamber and bed were found for L'Isle, but Moodie and the servants had no better accommodations than mats spread on the floor of the larger room. They had no sooner lain down than the rats overhead commenced their gambols, racing each other over the reeds which laid on the joists, formed the only ceiling to the room. Their gymnastic sports brought down showers of dust and soot on the would-be sleepers below, who were already beset by certain rejoicing tribes, which seized the occasion to hold their carnival.
The whole household were afoot early next morning and, while waiting for breakfast, Lady Mabel took the opportunity to survey the premises. Cleanliness is not essential to Portuguese comfort; but, within the house, there was not the squalor and poverty which here usually characterises the peasant's home. Without, a small orchard, and one narrow field, a few goats, and two or three stout asses, seemed to comprise the farmer's possessions.
On sitting down to an abundant breakfast, she expressed to L'Isle her wonder, how these people lived in such plenty, without flocks, or herds, or fields.
"You are mistaken," said L'Isle. "Our host has flocks so numerous, that it would startle you to hear their numbers told. The whole country for miles around is pastured by them. He is a farmer, or rather grazier, on a grand scale. Not to puzzle you longer, he is a bee-farmer, having many hundred hives. This land of flowers yields him two harvests a year. His income is derived from wax and honey, and his rustic talk is not of bullocks, but of bees. After breakfast, we will get him to show us something of the economic arrangements of his farm."
During this meal, the two girls seemed anxious to make the most of their guests, who were so soon to leave them. They had this morning put on their best clothes, and all their trinkets. Their animated and inquisitive conversation, addressed chiefly to L'Isle as spokesman and interpreter, scarcely allowed him time to eat. Their restless, sparkling black eyes, excited the admiration of the ladies. "Do you think black eyes the most expressive?" said Lady Mabel to L'Isle; and, with a natural coquetry, she turned her own blue orbs full upon him. How else could he judge, but by a comparison?
"There is a liquid lustre in the full black eye," L'Isle answered, looking into those of the girl who was sitting, very sociably, close beside him, "which powerfully expresses languishing tenderness. It is capable, too, of an angry and fierce expression. But from its dark hues you cannot distinguish the pupil from the surrounding part, and lose all the varying beauty of its dilation and contraction. There are eyes of lighter and more heavenly hues," here he looked full in Lady Mabel's, while describing them, "which have an unlimited range of expression, embracing every shade of feeling, every variety of sentiment. They are tell-tale eyes, that would betray the owner in any attempt to play the hypocrite."
Lady Mabel, laughing and blushing, expressed great doubts whether any eyes exercised that controlling guardianship over the integrity of their owner.
As soon as the meal was over, the farmer, at their request, gladly undertook to show them some thing of his peculiar husbandry. A hive or two may be found any where—but a thousand hives! This was a great proprietor. Going out of the enclosure, he led them to a neighboring hill, on the south-eastern side of which, well sheltered from the northern blasts, many lanes, five or six feet wide, had been cut through the thickets, all leading to a central point, where, well sheltered by the natural hedge, he had formed one of his numerous colonies. Last night's shower had refreshed the thirsty vegetation, washing the dust from the leaves and deepening their green; some diamond drops still hung sparkling on the foliage; and numberless blossoms were opening to the early beams of the sun. The citizens of this thriving commonwealth were literally as busy as bees, and the region was vocal with their buzz. The ladies shrunk from the well armed but laborious crowd which surrounded them, going forth light or returning laden to their homes; but the farmer assured them that the busy multitude were perfectly tame, and as harmless as sheep, unless maliciously disturbed.
Though this was but one of several colonies, the hives were too numerous to be easily counted. They were all cylindrical in shape, being made of the bark of the cork-tree, which is an excellent non-conductor of heat, and were each covered with an inverted pan of earthenware, the edge of which overhung the hive like a cornice. Each hive was fastened together with pegs of hard wood, so that it could be easily taken to pieces, and the joints were stopped with peat.
Full of the economy of the industrious tribes, whose habits he had studied so profitably, the farmer talked long and well on the subject. From him they learned that the bees would range a league and more from the hive, if they could not gather honey nearer home. That he gathered two harvests a year, spring and autumn each yielding one, while the cold winter and the parched and blossomless summer equally suspended the profitable labor of his winged workmen. He pointed out the plants whose blossoms were preferred by the bees, and professed to be able to distinguish the honey gathered in each month, varying as it did in qualities according to the succession of flowers which bloomed through the seasons, and he gave a preference to the product of the rosemary over all other plants.
Lady Mabel was delighted with the method and the scale of this branch of rural industry. "We have Moors enough in Scotland. Indeed, I wish so much of them had not fallen to papa's lot. But when I go home, I will endeavor to turn these wastes to better account, and rival our friend here, by establishing a bee farm on a grand scale."
"You must not forget to carry the rosemary and other choice plants with you," said Mrs. Shortridge, "and some beams of the Portuguese sun, to secure two seasons of flowers in the year."
While she was yet speaking, a snake glided slowly across her path. Starting back in terror, she uttered a little scream, and begged L'Isle to kill it without delay.
"How shall I kill it," he said, laughing at her alarm. "Shall I bruise the serpent's head with my heel, or shall I draw my sword on a reptile?"
"In any way you please, so you do kill it," she exclaimed, seeing the snake stop and raise its head to look at them.
But the farmer now interfered: "Spare his life, this is one of my best friends. You see that he shows not the least fear. While providing for himself, he works too for me, destroying the frogs and lizards that make sad havoc among my bees."
Returning to the house, they found in front of it the mules laden and the horses saddled for the journey. Observing that Moodie looked particularly rueful this morning, Lady Mabel asked him what was the matter, and he admitted that he was very unwell. "But with bad food and worse water, loss of sleep and worry of mind, a man soon gets worn out in this unhappy country; You, my lady, look jaded enough, too."
"Oh, never mind my looks," she answered. "I feel perfectly well, and can travel on until I get tanned as brown as these Moorish girls. But I am afraid Moodie, you are paying the penalty for last night's insult to the patron saint of the house. Some saints are at times a little revengeful, and your troubled mind and aching body you may owe to him. Pray take the earliest opportunity to make amends."
"Who is the offended saint?" asked Mrs. Shortridge.
"I suppose," said Lady Mabel, "it is St. Meliboeus, the patron saint of bees and honey."
"Take care," said L'Isle, laughing. "You are usurping the Pope's function, and adding a new name to the calender."
"But what shall we do for Moodie?" she asked. "Whether stricken by the saint or not, something must be done to relieve him."
"Your saint had nothing to do with my sickness," said Moodie, angrily. "I was unwell yesterday, though I did not complain. I am sure I was poisoned by that rascally innkeeper at Evora, with some trash he called wine, which was nothing but drugged vinegar."
"If bad wine has poisoned you, good wine is the only antidote," said L'Isle, and bidding his servant bring a cup and bottle from the hamper, he persuaded Moodie to try the remedy.
Moodie tasted it with some hesitation, but the wine was excellent, and in truth, just what he stood in need of. On being urged, he took a good draught, and at L'Isle's suggestion, stowed away the bottle in his valise for future reference.
Their host would receive but a small remuneration for the well timed hospitality he had afforded the travelers. But the ladies had selected sundry spare articles from their wardrobe, and delighted his daughters with the gift of finery, such as they had never possessed before. As L'Isle was turning to ride off, the farmer said, with a courteous air: "When you or any friend of yours come this way, pray remember, sir, you have a poor house here, always at your command."


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