小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Actress in High Life » CHAPTER XIV.
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
 It snowed in his house of meat and drink, 
Of all dainties that men could of think; 
After the sundry seasons of the year, 
So changed he his meat and soupere. 
Full many a fat patriarch had he in mew, 
And many a breme and many a luce in stew; 
Wo was his cook, but if his sauce were 
Poignant and sharp, and ready all his gere, 
His table dormant in his hall alway, 
Stood ready covered all the long day. 
???????? ???????? ???????? Prologue to Canterbury Tales.
Three days had gone by since the return of the party from Evora. The ladies had gotten over their fatigue, talked over their travels, and wondered at seeing nothing of L'Isle. He had merely sent to inquire after their health, instead of coming himself, as in duty bound. Lady Mabel had confidently looked for him the first day, asked about him the next, and on the third, feeling hurt at this continued neglect, concluded that she had had enough of his company of late, and it did not matter should she not see him for a month.
Meanwhile, what was L'Isle doing? He was busy reforming himself and his regiment. On his return to Elvas he had met with several little indications of relaxed discipline, and somewhat suddenly remembered that he had not come out to Portugal to ride about the country, escorting young ladies in search of botanical specimens, picturesque scenes, and fragments of antiquity. He, the most punctilious of martinets, had been sadly neglecting his duties, and had used the invalid's plea until it was worn threadbare long ago. He was dissatisfied with himself, and, of course, more dissatisfied with other people.
From the day he came back he was constantly in the midst of his regiment. He showed himself, too, at the head of the mess table at every meal, taking that, as well as other opportunities, to inculcate rigid precept and sound doctrine on military matters, and lecture his officers on the subject of discipline. Nor did he confine himself to generalities. He was exacting with his major, hard on his adjutant; he gave Captain A—— to understand that the days and nights spent in the mountains in pursuit of his game tended little to promote the King's service, and that leave would be refused in future, and he suggested to Captain B—— that the best way to ascertain the state of his company was not to send for his orderly sergeant, but to inspect it himself. He spoiled more than one party of pleasure for some of these gentlemen by finding very inopportunely something else for them to do than following the ladies of Elvas and other game of the vicinage.
Many of the officers grumbled, and voted the colonel a bore. They even talked of sending him to Coventry. But Adjutant Meynell excused him by whispering it about that the colonel had just met with a rude rebuff from a certain person at headquarters, and as the rank and sex of the offender hindered his showing his resentment in that direction, on whom could he vent his ill-humor but on those under his command? Meynell advised that they should all unite in sending a round robbin to Lady Mabel, begging her to smile upon their colonel, and put him in an amiable mood.
With the little festive skirmishes, of almost daily occurrences at headquarters, Lord Strathern loved to mingle occasionally more serious affairs, in the shape of grander feasts; and on the fourth day after Lady Mabel's return, the guests assembled in force. Among them were three ladies of Elvas, who had established a social intercourse with Lady Mabel, and a greater, though less ostensible intimacy with some gentlemen of the brigade. Dinner company is a phase of social life almost unknown in Portugal, and Lady Mabel, aware of this, was needlessly anxious to put her female guests at their ease. Her smattering of their tongue proved inadequate, and even her Spanish but poorly served the purposes of conversation. Dona Carlotta Sequiera, indeed, despising the peninsular tongues, would speak only French—but such French! She had picked up most of it along Kellerman's officers, when he held Elvas with a French garrison in 1808. This lady, like some other renegade Portuguese, at that time assiduously courted the Gaul; and she was anxious now to wipe out this blot, in the eyes of her countrymen, by making much of their British allies. Lady Mabel, tired of her efforts to converse with the other ladies, and sick of Dona Carlotta's French,
"After the school of Stratford at bow, 
For French of Paris was to her unknow"—
longed to see her self-appointed dragoman enter the room.
L'Isle had ridden out in the morning to a place on the borders, equi-distant between Elvas and Badajoz, the scene of a serious outrage by a party of marauders two nights before. A peasant, guilty of being richer than his neighbors, had been punished by having his house forced, his head broken, his premises sacked, and his family ill-treated. Though there had been but little blood shed, there had been much wine spilt, besides several plump goat-skins carried off with the rest of the plunder. The English in Elvas laid this achievement at the door of the irregular Spanish force at Badajoz. Tie Spanish officers were quite as sure that it was the exploit of volunteer foragers from the English cantonments. L'Isle, seeing nobody disposed to inquire into the matter, went and made an examination on the spot, which inclined him to believe that the Spanish version was the true history of this little military operation. After a hot ride he returned in time to make his bow to Lady Mabel among the latest of her guests.
Mrs. Shortridge was very glad to see him, but reproached him with his late neglect of his friends; and turned toward Lady Mabel, expecting her concurrence in this censure. But my lady said, with sublime indifference: "What matters Colonel L'Isle's absence hitherto, since he has now come in time to interpret between us and our Portuguese friends? I have exhausted my stock of Portuguese," she continued, addressing L'Isle; "and find that they do not always comprehend my Spanish. Major Warren, indeed, has been lending me his aid; but I think the interpreter the harder to be understood of the two. Is it not strange these ladies do not understand me better; for their language is but bad Spanish, and mine is surely bad enough."
"Do not say that to the Portuguese," said L'Isle. "They will be justly offended; for their tongue is rather the elder sister of the Spanish than a corruption of it."
"Pray, lend me your tongue, Colonel L'Isle," said Mrs. Shortridge. "Here Dona Carlotta Sequiera has been jabbering at me in what I now find out to be French, but I am ashamed to say, I do not know thirty words of the language."
"Better to be ignorant of it," said L'Isle with a sneer, "than learn it as Dona Carlotta did."
"I know not how she acquired it," said Mrs. Shortridge, "but I am told that here on the continent every educated person speaks French. We English are far behind them in that."
"Be proud rather than ashamed of that," said L'Isle. "Monsieur has taught all Europe his language except ourselves. Flagellation is a necessary part of schooling. As he has never been able to thrash us, we are the worst French scholars in Europe, and those he has thrashed oftenest, are the best. They should blush at their knowledge; we plume ourselves on our ignorance. Thank God you have an English tongue in your head, and never mar a better language with a Gallic phrase. There is in every country a class who are prone to denationalize themselves; at this day, they generally ape the Frenchman. Now, I can tolerate a genuine Frenchman, without having any great liking for him; but if there is any one whom I feel at liberty to despise and distrust, it is a German, Spaniard or Englishman, who is trying to Frenchify himself. Such people are much akin to the self-styled citizen of the world, who professes to have rid himself of all local and national prejudice. I have usually met no-prejudice and no-principle walking hand in hand together. The French," he continued, "have the impudence to call theirs the universal language; and in diplomacy and war, they have been long too much encouraged in this. My Lord Wellington here is much to blame in giving way to their pretensions on this point. Whenever I have an independent command," said L'Isle laughing, "I will not let a Frenchman capitulate but in good English, or for want of it, in some other language than his own. I have already put that in practice in a small way," said he, as he handed Mrs. Shortridge down to dinner. "I once waylaid a foraging, anglice, a plundering party, returning laden to Merida. They showed fight, but we soon tumbled them into a barranca, where we had them quite in our power. But I would not listen to a word of their French, or let them surrender, until they found a renegade Spaniard to act as interpreter. When I want anything of them, I may speak French; but when they want anything of me, they must ask it in another tongue."
The dinner went off as large dinners usually do. The wrong parties got seated together, and suitable companions were separated by half the length of the board. Lady Mabel had Colonel Bradshawe, whom she did not want, close at hand; and her dragoman was out of hearing, which she felt to be not only inconvenient, but a grievance; for without entertaining any definite designs upon him, habit had already given her a sort of property in him, and a right to his services. But the Elvas ladies had no such ground of complaint. Each had her favorite by her side, and Dona Carlotta one on either hand.
It was a relief to Lady Mabel when the time came to lead the ladies back to her drawing-room. There she labored to entertain them until some of the gentlemen found leisure to come to her aid. She expected to see L'Isle among the first; but one after another came in without him; the Portuguese ladies were taken off her hands by their more intimate male friends, and she had leisure to wonder what could keep L'Isle down stairs so long, and to get out of humor at his sticking to the bottle, and neglecting better company for it.
Meanwhile, a great controversy was waging below. The more the disputants drank, the more strenuously they discussed the point at issue; and the more they exhausted themselves in argument, the oftener they refreshed themselves by drinking; swallowing many a glass unconsciously in the heat of the debate.
The farmer talks of seasons and his crops; the merchant of traffic and his gains; and the soldier, though less narrow in his range of topics, often dwells on the incidents and characteristics of military life. In answer to some very loose notions on the subject of discipline, L'Isle mounted his hobby, and said that he had pretty much come into the mechanical theory on military matters. "An army is a machine; the men composing it, parts of that machine; and the more their personal and individual characters are obliterated, by assimilating them to the nature of precise and definite parts of one complicated organization, the better will they serve their purpose. Now, a machine should be kept always in perfect order and readiness for instant application to the purpose of its construction. An army is a machine contrived for fighting battles; and if at any time it is not in a condition to fight to the best advantage, it is in a state of deterioration and partial disorganization. Troops, therefore, should be kept, at all times and under all circumstances, under the same rigid discipline, and in the full exercise of their functions, equally ready at all seasons for action."
Lord Strathern took up the cudgels and maintained that though an army might be called a machine, its component parts were men, who necessarily had some perception of the contingencies and emergencies incident to military life, and that great as were sacrifices they might make, and the restrictions they might bear with when there was obvious necessity for them, should the same exacting course be pursued as a system, it would only break their spirits, freeze their zeal, and disgust them with the service. "We have seen enough of your mechanical armies, drilled and regulated to perfection, as soulless mechanism. We have seen how, on the dislocation of this machine, the parts became useless and helpless, without resource in themselves. In short, it is the Prussian and Austrian system which has given half Europe to the French. No; if the bow need unbending, still more does the soldier need relaxation, to give vigor and elasticity to body and mind. A little ease and pleasure chequering his career only beget desire and the motives for new adventure and fresh exertions. How is it with our horses," exclaimed his lordship, who was a jockey of the old school. "Do we not give them a run at grass, to refresh their constitutions and renew their youth?"
But L'Isle unshaken maintained his opinion, "With such materials as make up a large part of our army, for his majesty gets the services of many a fellow who can be put to no good use at home, your lordship's relaxation system would only tend to sap its moral and physical strength, and make it a curse to the country in which it is quartered, whether at home or abroad."
It would have been well had the discussion stopped here. In the heat of debate each pushed his argument beyond his own convictions. Colonel Bradshawe sat sipping his wine, listening with mock gravity and seeming to oscillate between the opinions of the disputants, but most of the company agreed with Lord Strathern; still L'Isle found several staunch backers for his mechanical theory. But when quoting facts in support of his views, he referred to the conduct of their own men on sundry late occasions, and stated the result of the inquiries he that morning had made into the last outrage, he brought the whole company down upon him. They were all sure that the English soldiers had nothing to do with it. His lordship professed to detect, not only in the act itself, but in the modus operandi, infallible marks that fathered it on the Spaniard. The quiet, stealthy manner, the place, just on the border, yet out of Spain. "Besides," he urged, "you yourself say, that the few words the marauders were heard to utter were all Spanish."
"But the same testimony proves them to have been bad Spanish, even to the ears of a Portuguese borderer, and evidently used by foreigners for the purpose of disguise, like the dresses they wore. Who ever heard of a Spaniard breaking a man's head, when he could give him the blade of his knife? The farmer's bloody crown was a plain piece of English handicraft. Spaniards would have rummaged the house for la plata, and have snatched the earrings from the women's ears; the robbers, a more thirsty race, thought chiefly of carrying off the liquor."
The number and loud voices of those opposed to him only made L'Isle more stubborn in maintaining his views. He seemed rather to like being in a minority of one. On the other hand, Lord Strathern construed his remarks into an undisguised censure of his lax discipline. Luckily he was a truly hospitable man: nowhere, but at his own board, could he have kept his temper under control. Between the fumes of wine and smoke of cigars, the matter only became more and more cloudy. It was late when L'Isle left the table and entered the drawing-room, with a brow still ruffled by the controversy.
Striving to resume his equanimity, he took a seat by Lady Mabel. But she, by no means pleased at the long absence of her interpreter, and his late neglect in attending on her, pushed her chair back, and said something about "falling into bad habits."
"Do you think so?" said L'Isle, looking surprised, then reflecting a moment. "Why, Lady Mabel, I am not aware of having committed any excess, at least of the kind you suspect."
"Why, then, do you come from below so much heated and excited?"
"I have been engaged in a hot argument with my Lord, and others."
"Coolness would be more appropriate to argument than heat. But this was plainly an after-dinner discussion. The subject should be handled a second time, in imitation of those wise barbarians, who resolved on nothing until they had twice taken counsel, once of their cups, and then of cool sobriety the morning after."
"I feel no need of appealing to the cool reflecting morning hours."
"Of course you do not feel it now; that, too, will come with the sober morning."
L'Isle, a good deal nettled, was about to reply, when she exclaimed, "Why, you have been smoking!"
"No, I have only been smoked."
"That is just as unpleasant," she said, pushing her chair farther off. "The Portuguese snuff-taking is offensive enough, but this Spanish habit of smoking perpetually is intolerable. Wherever our officers go they pick up the small vices of the country, without abandoning any of their own. Here they add smoking to their native wine-bibbing propensities. They spoil a man utterly."
"Not utterly," said L'Isle; "there is Warren now, a capital fellow, a delightful companion, and an inveterate smoker."
"For that I cannot abide him," said Lady Mabel, out of humor with everybody.
"There is your friend, Colonel Bradshawe, who sets no little store by his wine and cigar."
"He is intolerable with them, and would be a bore without them."
"But my Lord himself smokes. Will you not tolerate him?"
"He is an old man, a general officer, and my father," said Lady Mabel. "After a life of hard service in the worst climates in the world, he may need indulgences not necessary to younger men. Besides, he is obliged to see so much of his officers. If he could choose his companions, he would lead a very different life. When we happen to be alone here," continued Lady Mabel, "he never sits long after dinner, seldom touches a cigar, and it is evidently only his position, and the habits forced upon him in a long military career, which interfere with his quiet tastes and love of domestic life."
L'Isle looked at Lady Mabel to see if she was in earnest. She had only said what she willingly believed on rather slight foundations. In truth, the novelty of having his daughter with him on the few occasions on which they were here left alone together, had proved of quite sufficient interest to enable Lord Strathern to dispense with other society and excitements, and led him to look back and to speak much of his short married life, and far beyond that, the days of his boyhood. L'Isle found himself convicted of contributing, with others, to mar the comfort and spoil the habits of the most abstemious and domestic old gentleman in the king's service. This was plainly a point on which it was not safe to contradict Lady Mabel, if he would keep in her good graces—so he gladly waved the discussion.
Mrs. Shortridge, under the reviving influence of her love of sight-seeing, now asked L'Isle to suggest some excursion for them, on which they might see something new. But she begged that it might be within a reasonable distance, for she had been so thoroughly shaken on the rough paths to and from Evora, that she was not yet up to another long ride.
"Cranfield has just been talking of Fort la Lippe," said L'Isle, "which overlooks us from the North. Let us make up a party to visit it to-morrow. Cranfield can entertain and instruct us by discoursing on this masterpiece of the Count de Lippe, and unveil the mysteries of the engineer's art. In the intervals, we can, from that high point, survey the country around us."
Cranfield eagerly seconded the proposal. Anything that looked like diversion was welcome to the ladies and the idlers about them, and Lady Mabel, somewhat mollified, condescended to approve of it.
Accordingly, the next morning she met, by appointment, Mrs. Shortridge and the three Portuguese ladies at the foot of the long flight of steps that lead up to the cathedral of Elvas. They were accompanied by L'Isle, Cranfield, and half a dozen gentlemen more, including the young surgeon of the —— regiment, who was always imagining that Lady Mabel had a cold, headache, or some other little ailment, that he might have the pleasure of prescribing for it. Irreverently turning their backs on the old church, without one prayer to the saints within, or those depicted on its windows of stained glass, they walked out of town down into the narrow valley lying north of the city, and crossing the brook which runs at the bottom (the Portuguese, making a river of it, have christened it the Seto), on the few stepping-stones which well supply the place of a foot-bridge, they toiled up the opposite hill, the lower part of which is covered with a grove of prickly oaks.
On reaching the gate Captain Cranfield stepped forward to the head of the party, and entered zealously on his duties as cicerone. He led them through the spacious barracks, in which the scanty garrison seemed buried in monastic seclusion; through the huge store-houses and bomb-proof kitchens and bakeries; showed them the vast tank containing water for a full garrison for a year; and what was better, a natural spring, welling out mysteriously within the circuit of the works. From the ramparts of this huge coronet that crowned the head of this eminence, he pointed out the strength of the position, the efficiency of the works, and their importance to the safety of Elvas. From this stronghold, with the works of the city and Fort St. Lucia on the other side of it, lying before them, Cranfield discoursed at length on his art, dealing largely in its technical terms: bastions, and curtains, covered ways, scarps and counter scarps, with ravelins thrown out in front of them, until Mrs. Shortridge, who listened with open-mouthed admiration, got so confused that she imagined that a ravelin was some kind of missile to be hurled at the French. Dona Carlotta and the other Portuguese ladies were not so attentive, not understanding the language of the lecturer, and feeling less interest in the defence of their country than in the attentions of the foreign officers, who were devoting themselves to their special service. But Lady Mabel, who prided herself on being a soldier's daughter, lent a willing ear to Cranfield, asked many questions, and even contrived to understand much that he had to say.
L'Isle now thought that the engineer had held the first place in Lady Mabel's attention long enough; so he broke in upon his eulogy on this inland Gibraltar, the master-piece of "o gran Conde de Lippe."
"The whole thing is certainly grand and complete in itself," said he, looking around; "and is a monument to the engineering talents of the Count de Lippe. But, after all, constructing a great fortress in Portugal is like building a ducal palace on a dairy farm; the thing may be very fine in itself, but is altogether out of place. Half a dozen such strongholds as Elvas, with its forts, would swallow up the Portuguese army, yet be but half garrisoned, and leave not a man to take the field. See the extent of the works between this and St. Lucia, that other sentinel standing guard over Elvas on the south. It would need twelve thousand men to garrison the city and the forts. I never heard that this fortress was of use to any but the French, who got it without fighting; and the possession of it helped them to obtain the convention of Cintra; but for which we would have tumbled Junot and his fellows into the Tagus. The Count de Lippe was wonderfully successful in regenerating the army, and restoring the military character of Portugal in the last century; but his countryman, Schomberg, in the century before, showed how Portugal could be better defended, and we have now in the country one who understands it better than the Duke de Schomberg himself."
There was so much truth in what L'Isle said, that Cranfield was obliged to yield up his impregnable fortress as a very fine thing in itself, but quite out of place.
"I gather from your remarks," said Lady Mabel, "that Portugal has often had a foreigner at the head of its army."
"Very often, indeed," answered L'Isle. "This same kingdom, which, in spite of its narrow territory and small population, had, through the enterprise of its rulers and the energy of the people, extended its conquests in the East and the West; which, in the sixteenth century had thirty-two foreign kingdoms and four hundred and thirty garrisoned towns tributary to it—has now so much degenerated in its institutions, that for two centuries it has never been able to defend itself, or even make a decent showing in the field, but by foreign aid and under a foreign leader. The Duke of Schomberg, Archduke Charles, the Count de Lippe the Prince of Waldeck, and other Germans, have in turn led the army, and each had to reorganize it, and revive its discipline. Now, they rely on Beresford to train them for battle, and Wellington to lead them to victory. The Count de Lippe found the military character so sunk, that officers were often seen waiting at the tables of their colonels; and the sense of individual honor was so lost, that one of his first reforms was to insist on his officers fighting when insulted, if they would not be cashiered."
"The former greatness of Portugal," said Lady Mabel, "is even more wonderful than its present decay. Yet that is lamentable, indeed, when the government, without striking a blow, could run away from the country on the approach of the invader."
"That might have been called an act of deliberate wisdom," said L'Isle, "had it not been stamped with feebleness and cowardice in the execution. Resistance was hopeless against France united with Spain, its tool, and soon to be its victim. Yielding to the storm left the invaders without apology for the plunder and atrocities the French have since perpetrated on the people. Nor was it a sudden thought. As long ago as the beginning of the last century, a Portuguese Secretary of State, seeing the defenceless condition of his country, urged that the King should remove to Brazil, and fix his court at Rio Janeiro. He points out the dependent state of his country in Europe, and asks: 'What is Portugal?' A corner of land divided into three parts; one barren, one belonging to the church, and the other part not even producing grain enough for the inhabitants. Look now at Brazil, and see what is wanting! The soil is rich, the climate delightful, the territory boundless, and the city would soon become more flourishing than Lisbon. Here he might extend his commerce, make discoveries in the interior, and take the title of Emperor of the West.' In truth, the behavior of the house of Braganza in this migration, contrasts well with the infamous conduct of the Spanish Bourbons."
They had strolled on to the foot of a tower within the fort, and Cranfield led the party to the top to survey the panorama around them. The horizon was pretty equally divided between Portugal and Spain. On the North, close at hand, rose the rugged Serra de Portalegre, famous for its chesnut forests; to the west was the fertile plain of Eastern Alemtejo, crossed by the enormous pile of the aqueduct, and backed by the heights of Serra D'Ossa; to the south and east, the valley of the Guadiana lay before them, with few marks of culture on the Spanish side; and the eye could range over the sheep pastured plains of Estremadura to the misty sides and blue tops of the sierras that shut them in on either hand.
In the East, nine miles off, by the straight path the vulture makes, rose Badajoz, capped by its castle, and over-looked by fort San Christoval on a high hill across the river. The fame of its sieges during this war, its stubborn defence and bloody fall within the year, drew the eyes of the ladies on it. L'Isle pulled out a field glass to aid them in inspecting it. When the Portuguese ladies got hold of it, they were as much delighted as children with a new toy, snatching it out of each other's hands, without allowing time for its deliberate use, and protesting against their Spanish neighbors being brought so near to them.
"If they are so delighted at the powers of this little thing," said L'Isle, "what would they think of the glass Lord Wellington had put up in this tower during the siege of Badajoz?"
"Were its powers so great?" Mrs. Shortridge asked.
"Wonderful, according to rumor," answered L'Isle, "But I never had time to come from the trenches to prove them. It is said to have brought Badajoz so near, that you saw how the French soldiers made their soup, and even smell the garlic they put into it. Once, when my Lord saw Philipon leaning against the parapet of the castle, sneering at the besieger's clumsy approaches, he so far forgot himself, as to call for his holsters, that he might pistol the contemptuous Frenchmen on the spot."
"Did he, indeed?" exclaimed Mrs. Shortridge; then laughing at herself for being quizzed for the moment, begged L'Isle to tell this to the Portuguese ladies, and see if they would not believe it.
Meanwhile, Lady Mabel was gazing thoughtfully over the winding valley, which running toward them from the East, turned abruptly to the South, indicating the course of the Guadiana, and on the wide plains of Estremadura baja, or the lower, to the blue sierras that walled it round. "This, then, is Spain," said she; "the land I have read of, dreamed of, and for the last four years, thought of more even than of my own."
"And yet," said L'Isle, "you calling yourself a traveler, have been for months within sight of it, and have never set your foot on Spanish ground."
"I blush to own it. But you, my self-appointed guide, should blush, too, at never having led me thither. Come, Mrs. Shortridge: these soldiers are too slow for us; let us take horse to-morrow, and make an inroad into Spain."
"Willingly," said Mrs. Shortridge. "But let us take a strong party with us. We do not know how we might be received, should the Spaniards mistake us for Portuguese!"
"If a visit to Badajoz is your object," said Cranfield, "I offer myself as a guide. As I have been lately engaged in repairing its shattered walls, I may be useful in showing you how to get in. Knowing, too, some of the Spanish officers there, I may in a parley induce them to come to terms."
They now descended from the tower, and on leaving the fort, Lady Mabel led the party to head-quarters, to take their luncheon there, while they planned their measure for to-morrow's expedition to Badajoz.


©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533