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The mountains ! O, the mountains ! how gloriously they stand;
THE BOULDER OF VAL DE PASSOS.
I had been riding all day through the wild glens of the Estrella mountain, the back-bone of Portugal. Evening was coming on, and our journey was drawing towards its close. We were winding along the side of the last ravine, and could already see the little white chapel crowning a steep peak, near which, in the pilgrims' house,
we were to pass the night. It was such a pastorah country and scene, as might almost make one believe what the poets tell us about Arcadia. There were goatherds, stretched on the top of mossy rocks and piping to their goats ; flocks of black sheep, their tails tipped with white, were hanging, as it were, on the edge of the mountain ravine ; girls were returning from the fountain with the pitcher balanced on their heads; shepherds were giving their flocks drink at the tank by the well
. So I went on, thinking of all those lovely sketches of such a life that we find in the Old Testament; of Jacob meeting Rachel, of Moses by the well of Midian, of Saul and his servant entering Mizpeh,“ about the time that women go forth to draw water."
My mule was sorely tired; so I dismounted, and left it to follow its own track, while I walked by the guide and asked the name of this peak and of that glen. To the right, the mountain, along whose side we were passing, towered up into the clouds; to the left it shelved abruptly down to a little hamlet that, half a mile below us, glimmered up through the evening light. The whole was covered with huge rocks and boulders of granite, in every curious variety of shape-I had almost said, of attitude. Some were like evil beasts, ready to spring out on the traveller; some like a decaying and tumble-down cottage; some like a ship in full sail that had suddenly by the wand of a magician, been turned into stone ; some had the likeness of a human face; and some, without any great stretch of fancy, bore a resemblance to those fiends which the old painters loved to represent in their pictures of the Last Doom. We presently passed one which might be about the size, as it was in the shape, of a barn ; and which was distinguished from the others by having been split into four fragments, and by a little wooden cross,
planted in the turf by its side. “ What blow could have shattered such a rock ?" I inquired of my guide.
"It is a long story, Senhor, and a sad story too,” he replied, “but I will tell it you, if you will; you will have time to hear it before we get to the S. da Atalaya.” So stopping a moment to arrange the baggage of the sump
ter mule, he told me then what I am going to tell you
And we may reckon it as another triumph of the Cross in a country in which I have not, I think, as yet,
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
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
; “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
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
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.
you come back."
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 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 pleasant.
“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. "I 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 : “that 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 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."
“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
“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
66 Let us go