THE peasants are very hard-working, particularly in the north, where they are a finer race
altogether than in the south, not only better-looking, manlier, and more resolute in
character, but thriftier and more industrious.
In a previous chapter I told you about the dancing and singing that they are so fond of;
but they are not always light-hearted, for there is another and darker side to their
The wages are much lower than in England, and the working hours much longer; sunrise to
sunset is the measure of labour, and the summer days are long and the sun is cruelly hot.
By the time work is over, the tired peasants can often have but little heart left for fun
THE END OF A LONG DAY.
Very few agricultural machines are used in Portugal, all the sowing and reaping being done
by hand. The grain, too, is threshed out with flails. The workers stand round a heap of
maize and swing their flails rhythmically up and down with a dull, thudding sound, till
all the grain is threshed out.
 There is an old folk-song about this which I must quote for you. The feeling that runs all
through the verses reveals pathetically the dull monotony of the long hours spent in weary
toil. The singer begins by reproaching his flail; then his conscience smites him as he
remembers that it is by the aid of this trusty friend that he earns his bread, and that
to-morrow will be as to-day—an endless to-morrow of toil and labour.
Wheat is separated from the husk in a very odd way. It is trodden out by oxen, and beans
are worked out of their pods in the same manner. The women toil in the fields just as hard
as the men—if anything harder, and one may often see a woman carrying a huge load on
her head with a man strolling idle and empty-handed beside her. Even the children have to
make themselves useful, starting work at a very early age. A solemn little boy or girl
carrying a goad twice their own height will walk barefooted in front of ox-cart or plough,
guiding the great docile beasts in the way they should go. The children, too, are sent out
to herd the cattle and to look after the flocks.
The above is a well-known Portuguese folk-song. As is always the case with folk. songs
which are traditional, there are slight differences in the versions in use in different
places. The above is the version as sung by students at Coimbra. All present should clap
their hands on the first three beats of every bar. The author is indebted for the English
translation to Mr. Morton Latham.
I knew a little boy who seemed to spend his whole life shepherding his father's flock of
sheep and goats, which are always mixed in Portugal. Early in the morning he would leave
the farm and wander off over the moors. In cold weather he would wear
 a sack over his head to protect himself from the piercing wind; in summer he would try to
find a cool spot beneath some high rock or shady tree, and there he would contentedly eat
his midday meal of black bread, olives, and goat's-milk cheese, always, however, keeping
an eye on his charges, lest any should stray.
HERD BOY AND HIS FLOCK.
Quite different is the work of the shepherds in the mountainous country of the north and
in the great Estrella range, where the lofty crags and deep gorges of the mountains
stretch away as far as the eye can see. Here it is men's work, and in the summer, when the
flocks are taken to the high upland pastures, the shepherds live in roughly-built stone
huts. At night they often sleep in the midst of their flocks, while their dogs, big
long-haired mastiffs, keep guard on the outskirts to give warning at the approach of
Very real danger it is at times, for in the narrow, precipitous ravines of these wild
hills are still to be found—though of late years much more rarely—the large
brown wolves, which steal down at dead of night to carry off their prey. The struggle is
fierce between the faithful watch-dogs and their savage enemies. The shepherds in the
darkness lay about them lustily with their staves, the growling and snarling of the wolves
and mastiffs mingle with the bleating of the sheep and goats and the shouts
 of the men, till at last the wolves are beaten off, slinking away as noiselessly as they
The cottages of the poor are often only small, one-storied houses, built of loose stones
without cement, and just plastered roughly over to keep out the wind. Inside they are dark
and dreary, and very scantily furnished. Although they work so hard, the peasants in many
parts are wretchedly poor, and their food none too plentiful. It is different from that of
an English labourer, being mainly black bread, made from a mixture of maize and rye-flour.
They also eat olives, rice, oil, vegetables, and a considerable quantity of dried and
salted cod-fish—bacalhau, as it is called. It smells and tastes very strong,
and before it is cooked is as hard as a board. Nevertheless, it is very nutritious. The
whole population is particularly fond of it, so much so that it is by no means unusual to
see people eating it uncooked, though to us it would not seem at all a tempting delicacy.
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