The Actress in High Life An Episode in Winter Quarters

Publisher: DigiLibraries.com
ISBN: N/A
Language: English
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CHAPTER I.

I was a traveler, then, upon the moor,
 I saw the hare that raced about with joy,
I heard the woods and distant waters roar,
 Or heard them not, as happy as a boy;
 The pleasant season did my heart employ.
My old remembrances went from me wholly,
And all the ways of men so vain and melancholy.
Wordsworth.

Gentle Reader: Wherever you may be, in bodily presence, when you cast your eyes on this page, let it for a few hours transport your complying spirit to a remote region and a bygone day. We may alter names without injury to our story; but every real character, or event, has its own time, place, and accidents; to tear it from them is like transplanting a tree from its native spot; it must be trimmed and pruned, and robbed of its due proportions and its natural grace.

Here, then, on this lovely day, near the end of the year 1812, you are in Alemtejo—the largest, poorest, and, in every sense, worst peopled province of Portugal. As its name implies, you are, as to Lisbon, beyond the Tagus. Hasten eastward over this sandy, arid plain, covered with a forest of stunted sea-pines, through whose tops the west wind glides with monotonous and melancholy moans, fit music for the wilderness around you. Nor need you loiter on this desolate moor, scantily carpeted with heaths of different kinds and varying hues. The drowsy tinkling of the cowbell amidst yonder brushwood, the goats sportively clambering over that ledge of rocks, and those distant dusky spots upon the downs, which may be sheep, tell you that all life has not left the land. You may, perchance, on your journey, see a goatherd or a shepherd here or there; by rarer chance may meet some wayfarer like yourself, but as likely a robber as an honest man; and may find shelter, at least, in one of the few and comfortless vendas, the wretched inns the route affords.

You need not pause to gaze on many a wild scene, some beautiful, and even here and there a fertile spot; nor loiter in this provincial town—rich, perhaps, in Moorish ruins, but in nothing else—but hasten onward till you reach that elevated point, where the road, one hundred miles from Lisbon, winds over the ridge of yonder hill. The chilly night winds of the peninsula have gone to sleep. Here, even in midwinter, the sun at this hour shoots down scorching rays upon your head. Seat yourself by the road-side, on this ledge of slate-rock, at the foot of the cork-oak, which so invitingly spreads out its sheltering arms. Here while you take breath, cast your eyes around you.

You are no longer in the midst of broken, desolate wastes. To the south-west rises the Serra d'Ossa—its sides clothed with evergreen oaks, and a dense growth of underbrush sheltering the wolf and the wild boar, while the northern slope of its rocky ridge is thatched with snow. Before you is spread out the valley of the Guadiana. Sloping downward toward the mighty stream, lie pasture, grove and field, gaily mingled together....