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110

SPANISH SHEEP.

CHAPTER VIII.

SPANISH SHEEP-SEGOVIA-AQUEDUCT-SCOURING THE

WOOL.

are

On leaving Salamanca, the young people were very much interested in observing the gaiety and elegance of the provincial costume; and they remarked that the inhabitants seemed to be distinguished by greater neatness and affluence, and superior vivacity.

"The Leonese,” said Mr. Delville, zealous Catholics : on the religious fête-days they illuminate the fronts of the churches, and dance there all the evening to the music of the castanets and the pandero.* The lower class run through the streets at night, and make an incessant noise with this instrument."

“A custom, I should think," said Mrs. Delville, more honoured in the breach than the observance; but the joy and sorrow of the lower orders is commonly noisy."

“ It is the case with all uncultivated minds,”

* An instrument similar to the Basque drum, but more piercing in sound.

INTERNAL CONSCIOUSNESS.

111

replied Mr. Delville, “ whatever be the rank of the individual. It is only education, and very early habit, that enables us to command our feelings of liking and disliking. A penetrating eye still discovers them as they flash forth, and faintly disappear. Something of this strong control over our feelings arises from distrust, and, perhaps, from pride. We are not sure that those around us will participate in our feelings, and we endeavour as much as possible to conceal them.”

“Dr. Curtis," said Ellen, "had great command of countenance. When the procession passed us in the street, and those images were displayed that looked so like dressed dolls, not a muscle of his countenance moved ; though I remarked that he stole a glance at you and mamma, to see what you felt.”

“ You are a nice observer, Ellen,” said her mother; “but I doubt whether the doctor had any merit in keeping his countenance composed during the procession. He is too much accustomed to see these things to feel either astonishment or disgust; but he is sufficiently a man of the world to know that English spectators feel very differently from the Spanish looker-on."

Yes,” said her father, “the Roman Catholic in the presence of a Protestant has a nervous sensibility to exhibitions which, at any other time, he would pass unnoticed.”

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“ Conscience," said Edward, “makes cowards of us all."

“It is not an evil conscience,” said Mr. Delville, “ for they commonly reverence and believe what we reject: but they know so well our opinion on the subject, that our presence on these occasions is disagreeable to them.”

“ Dr. Curtis,” said Edward, was a most entertaining companion. I wish, sir, you would tell us something of the curious system of pasturing the sheep, that he spoke of. It seems so singular that millions of sheep should be led about Spain. How much uncultivated land there must be !"

“ There is a vast proportion for so rich a country. This subject has engaged the attention of some very sensible men; and there seems now hardly a difference of opinion amongst the better informed, as to the bad results of this wandering custom.

“Its details are, however, highly interesting, and I will endeavour to make you clearly understand them. The name of merino, which with us marks a particular kind of sheep, signifies in the language of the country, wandering, ambulatory; and is highly descriptive of their habits. They do not always remain in the same farm, or the same province; but they travel from one to another. Those who patronize this system say, that besides materially improving the wool, the dearth

JOURNEYS MADE BY SPANISH SHEEP.

113

of green

food at certain seasons of the year, renders this plan indispensable. On the other hand, those who

oppose
it say,

that in France and Estremadura, where this wandering custom is not followed, the wool is as fine and as good as that found on the backs of the travellers. Towards the beginning of May, nearly five millions of sheep leave the plains of Estremadura, Andalusia, Old and New Castille, and Leon; and are conducted by the shepherds to the mountains of the two Castilles, those of Biscay, Navarre, and even Arragon. On these more elevated spots, they find a fresher herbage, less dried up by the burning sun; which in summer destroys all verdure in the plains. The high ground near Segovia is very much frequented by the sheep.”

“But how do they travel, papa ? Who conducts them ?”

“ The details of their march, Ellen, are very curious. The rich proprietors, that is to say, those who possess the greatest number of sheep, have formed themselves into a company called the Mesta: this association being necessarily a monopoly, it is difficult to alter any of its laws. It would have been impossible for a few proprietors with small flocks to have undertaken these yearly peregrinations :—this society was formed to do away this inconvenience; and under the superintendence of persons chosen for the purpose, the

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flocks are led to the uncultivated lands and mountains of Spain. The Mesta employ between forty, and fifty thousand shepherds, who lead a wandering and almost savage life, who never cultivate the ground and rarely marry; their knowledge being confined wholly to the sheep, and in that department they are very skilful. This society had its origin in the fourteenth century.

The plague, which at that period destroyed two-thirds of the inhabitants of Spain, left immense tracts of country without proprietors. Those who first took possession of them, being without hands to cultivate them, turned them into pasture.

“Some noblemen wishing to put in their claim to these lands, seized upon the sheep; and in 1350, an edict of Alfonso, king of Castille, declared all the cattle under his special protection. A counsel of shepherds was accordingly formed; whose privileges were confirmed by John II., under the regency of the dutchess of Lancaster, his mother. This board acquired such high consideration, that in 1499, Queen Eleanor sent ambassadors to it, to request that they would feed their flocks in Portugal, paying to the owners of the land a small sum of money by way of indemnity.

« The flocks of the Mesta are divided into smaller troops of ten-thousand sheep each; at the head of which is a mayoral, or chief-shepherd, to direct them, fifty inferior shepherds, and the same num

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