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ter mule, he told me then what I am going to tell you now. And we may reckon it as another triumph of the Cross in a country in which I have not, I think, as yet, related any.
Down in that little hamlet-they call it Val' de Passos-a group of peasant women were standing round the door of a cottage. Their own loads of grass, balanced on the handkerchief folded neatly over their heads; the five or six mules, laden with sacks of maize; the two ponies, each carrying a crate with its four jars of wine; the wiry-haired terriers that went bounding and barking about, all showed that they were starting for market. They were, indeed, going to S. Romão, about a league and a half off: turn round and you may see the white tower of its Church just peeping above that wood of chesnuts, by the old mill in the valley.
"You will take care of little Dolores for me then," said a young mother, as she gave her baby into the arms of a girl, who, with her distaff in her hand, was standing by and bidding farewell to the party.
"That I will, Antonia," she replied; "I can spin here as well as at home; and I will not leave your cottage till you come back."
"Thank you. Remain," she continued in the usual Portuguese fashion, "with GOD and our Lady."
The mule bells rang out merrily; the women bade a cheerful adieu to their children; the dogs yelped and barked louder than ever; and the little party set off along the steep, rocky road that leads down to S. Romão.
"Stay you with me, Francisca," said Maria Pinheiros, for that was the name of the young nurse. "Sit down in the shade of the vine arbour: and I will come and spin with you as soon as I have hushed the child off to sleep."
Accordingly, calling Vasco the shepherd's dog to her, she went into the cottage. In the meantime, Pedro, the oldest man in the village, (people said that he could remember the great earthquake) crawled out for his morning's walk; and sat himself down just outside the rough pile of stones that formed the fence of Antonia's garden, and close to the arbour in which Francisca was at work.
Presently Maria came from the cottage, and saying, "She is asleep now; we shall hear her if she wakes,” sat down by her friend. For some time the spinning went on merrily; and, sheltered as they were by the vine leaves, they hardly noticed what a change had come over the face of the sky. It had been a bright blue morning, with a pleasant southerly wind which had stopped so long to play among out-of-the-way valleys, and curious little nooks among the green hills, as to come loaded with the perfume of the cistus and the may. But it had gradually died away. A haze began to spread over the sky; first, scarcely to be noticed; then, gradually thickening and deepening in colour, till not a trace of blue was to be seen in the heaven. The sun, now almost at his noonday height, looked like a red ball; the insects had left off humming; there was not a single bee at work in the lavender beds of the little garden; and the goats in a ravine just below, were playing such curious antics, and leaping about in so extraordinary a manner, that it only seemed wonderful how they escaped being dashed to pieces.
“This is strange weather, too," cried Francisca. Strange," replied Pedro, looking up from where he was lying. Yes, and a great deal more strange than
"How do you mean ?" cried both the girls at once. "I never saw this kind of haze before, without its having an earthquake at the end," said the old man. can remember three or four, and this is the way they always began."
Pray don't say so," cried Maria.
My saying it, or not saying it, will make no difference as to its coming to pass," answered Pedro:
is in GOD's hands and not in mine.
As for me, I shall be getting home; somehow I feel safer there than anywhere else. And yet, it is a foolish thought too; as if God's care were not here as well as in the village.' "What had I better do ?" said Maria. "I cannot leave the baby here; and it is a long way to carry it down to my mother's house." As she spoke, Vasco came trotting up from the cottage, and pulling Maria by
her dress, seemed as if he were urging her to go thither with him.
Why, what is the matter with the dog ?" she said. "I never saw him so before."
"It is my belief," returned old Pedro, " that he knows what is coming on; for GOD sometimes gives those dumb beasts wisdom enough to put men to shame. I have no doubt now, that he wants you to bring the baby out; and if I were you I would go at once."
Maria started up and followed the dog. Vasco bounded into the cottage, took hold of the cradle with his teeth, and tried to pull it towards the door.
No, no, Vasco, this is a better way," said Maria. She took the baby up and returned with it to the arbour. "That is right," said the old man. Look, that grass will make it as good a cradle as you can want.' And, accordingly, she laid it down in some that had been cut that morning for the supply of the mules.
Well, as I said, I shall go," continued old Pedro; "but you can hardly be safer than you are here, whatever may happen." "Let us go
"I will stay with you," said Francisca. with Pedro as far as the turn of the lane-it is not out of hearing of this, and we shall see better how the mountains look."
"Now, Senhor," said the guide, "look down yonder just across that water-mill, where I point: what do you see ?"
"It is so far off," I answered, "that I can hardly make it out; but it seems to me like a Cross." And unslinging the little telescope that I was carrying, I saw plainly that it was so.
"So it is," said the guide; "and just on that green brow was where they went and stood. You see, that place commands a view of the whole mountain up to the very top." And he swept round his hand as if to give effect to his words.
-That was the place, then, where Maria and Francisca were standing together after old Pedro had gone on by himself towards the other end of Val'de Passos. Though there was such a thick haze over the sky, yet every ob
ject in the distant horizon was perfectly and unnaturally clear. The rocks at the top of the mountain ridge seemed as distinct as if they had been twenty yards, instead of a mile and a half off; the stunted bushes that grew amongst them seemed pencilled out against the sky. There was such an intense stillness, that the little river Deste in the plain far below could be heard murmuring over its rocks.
They were looking up to the ridge of the mountain. Now, crowning a little brow which formed its very highest point, there was a huge boulder, in shape something like an uncouth square, and leaning a little forward over the valley. Every child in the village knew it well; and it went by the name of "Dom Sebastian's dining table," because, men said, that unfortunate king had taken his dinner on the turf by its side, not long before his last fatal expedition to Africa.
Now, you are to understand that the ground for perhaps half-a-dozen yards immediately in front of this rock, sloped down very gently and gradually; but, after that, the mountain side broke steeply away, craggy and precipitous, and sometimes almost perpendicular, right down to Antonia's cottage.
Both the friends happened to have their eyes fixed on this rock. "Look," said Francisca, "it is moving!" "What is moving ?" inquired Maria.
Why, Dom Sebastian's table. I am sure it is not
Moving! nonsense," returned Maria. And as they again looked steadily at it, it seemed quite stationary.
"It is moving indeed," shrieked out Francisca, after the lapse of another minute. "What shall we do? It will come straight down upon us here!"
As she spoke, the rock lost its balance, and turned fairly over. O, the baby!" cried Maria; "I promised its mother not to leave it." And she was darting off towards the cottage, when her friend caught her.
"You shall not go, Maria," she said. "It is running into certain destruction.'
"But I will go," cried Maria, tearing herself away. "I will either save the baby, or lose my own life."
"Then go by yourself," said Francisca. "S. Mary preserve us-do but look!" She herself turned, and ran towards the village, still watching the rock. For all this, which it takes me so long to tell, did not take five seconds to happen. The rock turned over three or four times, each more swiftly than the other. Then, coming to the edge of the level ground, it leapt sheer down on to that boulder which I had seen shattered in pieces. They who heard the sound say, that it was more fearful than any, even than mountain, thunder. It was not a bellowing noise like that, but a kind of tremendous hum, which seemed to vibrate through everything, as if the mountain itself must be shaken to pieces. At the same time, a fearful wind sprang up, and, just as the boulder finished its first leap, Maria appeared with the infant at the door of the arbour. In less time than it takes to think it, arbour, cottage, garden, and road leading to it were swept away under the fall of the rock. Swept away is too faint a word; they were positively annihilated. There was an immense oak-tree which stood right in the way of the leap, with great, massy timber, and branches forty yards in diameter. That oak tree was so completely destroyed, that nothing but the smallest splinters could here and there afterwards be found. That was the second leap of the rock. At the third, it cleared the whole village of Val' de Passos, and buried itself in a down far below.
And what became of Maria and the baby?
At first Francisca stood, as if spell-bound, on the spot where she was. Then, without giving another glance at the wreck behind her, she rushed into the village. Every one was in the little narrow street. Scarcely anybody knew what had happened; some thought that the end of the world was come; most believed that it was an earthquake. Father Manoel, the parish priest, was the first to point out what had really occurred.
"But, what is it, my child ?" he inquired of Francisca, who was far too much agitated to be able to speak, and from whom it took some time to obtain an intelligible account of what she had seen.
"Let us go up," said the good priest, sadly, when he