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CHAPTER XVII.
 Who cannot be crushed with a plot? 
 ??  ??  ?? All is Well that Ends Well.
Sir Rowland Hill had sent L'Isle off to the southward, to ascertain the strength and condition of the reserve of Spanish troops moving up from Andalusia. One might think that these things could be better learned from the official reports of the Conde d'Abispal and the officers under him. But from the Prince of Parma's day to this, Spanish officers in reporting the number and condition of their commands, have made it a rule to state what they ought to be, not what they are, leaving all deficiencies to be found out on the day of battle. Sir Rowland, knowing this, now made use of L'Isle, whose knowledge of the Spanish language and character, and his acquaintance with many officers of rank, enabled him to ascertain the truth without betraying the object of his mission, or giving offence to these proud and jealous allies. Ten days had gone by when he again rode into Elvas, and in spite of the secrecy aimed at in military councils, many symptoms indicated that the campaign was about to open.
 
It was high time for the brigade to leave this part of the country. The soldiers were disgusted with the sluggish people around them, keen and active only in their efforts to make money out of their protectors. The Portuguese were exasperated at the insolence of their allies, their frequent depredations and occasional acts of violence, many of which went unpunished; for the English officers, always professing the utmost readiness to punish the offences of their men, were singularly scrupulous and exacting as to the conclusiveness of the proofs of guilt.
 
Lord Strathern's lax discipline may have aggravated, but had not caused the evil, which was felt throughout Portugal. The Regency, while proving itself unable to govern the country, or reform a single abuse, had shown its ability to harass their allies and embarrass the general charged with the conduct of the war. "A narrow jealousy had long ruled their conduct, and the spirit of captious discontent had now reached the inferior magistracy, who endeavored to excite the people against the military generally. Complaints came in from all quarters, of outrages on the part of the troops, some too true, but many of them false or frivolous; and when Wellington ordered courts-martial for the trial of the accused, the magistrates refused to attend as witnesses, because Portuguese custom rendered such attendance degrading, and by Portuguese law a magistrate's written testimony was efficient in courts-martial. Wellington in vain assured them that English law would not suffer him to punish men on such testimony; in vain he pointed out the mischief which must infallibly overwhelm the country, if the soldiers discovered that they might thus do evil with impunity. He offered to send, in each case, lists of Portuguese witnesses required, that they might be summoned by the native authorities; but nothing could overcome the obstinacy of the magistrates; they answered that his method was insolent; and with sullen malignity continued to accumulate charges against the troops, to refuse attendance in the courts, and to call the soldiers, their own as well as the British, 'licensed spoliators of the community.'"
 
"For a time the generous nature of the poor people resisted all these combined causes of discontent, * * * * * yet by degrees the affection for the British cooled, and Wellington expressed his fears that a civil war would commence between the Portuguese people on the one hand, and the troops of both nations on the other. Wherefore his activity to draw all military strength to a head, and make such an irruption into Spain, as would establish a new base of operations beyond the power of such fatal dissensions."
 
Throughout the war this great captain's hardest tasks had been to conciliate the jealous, vain-glorious Spaniard, to stimulate the laggard suspicious Portuguese, to enlighten the invincible ignorance of Regency and Juntas, in order to draw out and combine the resources of both countries with the scanty means afforded him by his own blundering government. He was required to do great things with small means, without offending one tittle against the laws, customs and prejudices of three dissimilar nations. He might toil, fret and fume, wearing himself to the bone, but could never get rid of this task of making ropes out of sea-sand. So much as to the state of the country. Let us return to our story.
 
L'Isle reached Elvas early in the day, and resolved to reward himself for his labors, by paying a visit to Lady Mabel; then after a conference with Lord Strathern, to sit down and write his report to Sir Rowland, on the state of the Andalusian reserve. He knew that Sir Rowland looked for a precise and pithy statement, and L'Isle mean this to be a model for all such communications. But fate may mar the wisest plan.
 
He found Lady Mabel and Mrs. Shortridge together, and soon perceived that the latter lady's head was full of an entertainment she was about to give.
 
"The commissary has warned me," she said "that from henceforth he will be ever on the move—that he must break up his household here, and send off his heavy baggage to Lisbon. In this he very politely includes his wife."
 
"I am truly sorry to hear it," said L'Isle, "but confess that first among a soldier's impedimenta must be reckoned his wife."
 
"I did not look for so blunt an assent to the commissary's opinion from you," said Mrs. Shortridge, somewhat nettled; "however, I am to go, and as many of the good folks of Elvas have been as polite to me as they know how, I wish to show my sense of it in parting. I have invited all my Portuguese friends, with a good sprinkling of red coats to meet them. I have put myself to infinite trouble and no little expense, meaning to have a grand evening, combining turtulia, concert and ball. I would show these people something of society and life, then vanish from Elvas in a blaze of glory. Now, as the rarest treat that I could offer, I had promised my guests that they should hear Lady Mabel in all her glorious richness of voice; and now she is seized with a sudden fit of modesty, and protests against being exhibited before a motly crowd like an opera singer."
 
Lady Mabel's reluctance was not feigned; and when Mrs. Shortridge called on L'Isle for assistance in overcoming it, he felt some scruples at lending his aid. But her companion and friend was about to leave her; it was painful to refuse her a favor on which she plainly laid great stress. Friendship and flattery at length prevailed, and Lady Mabel promised to do her utmost to charm the ears of the natives, on condition that L'Isle should be at hand as her interpreter, and say to them for her a dozen polite and half as many witty things for every song she sang, in order that these foreigners might not mistake her for a mere singer.
 
L'Isle pledged himself to be at her beck throughout the evening, and to furnish wit and politeness without stint. This obstacle overcome, Mrs. Shortridge was delighted, and talked gaily of her arrangements and anticipations for the appointed night. L'Isle entering into her humor, busied himself in drawing out a programme for Lady Mabel's performance, and after turning over all the music at hand, made a list of songs long enough to have cracked her voice forever. It was late when he suddenly remembered that he had occasion to see Lord Strathern, and he tore himself away to seek him.
 
L'Isle found his lordship in the business room of his quarters, and quite at leisure, although seated by a table on which lay sundry papers in no business like order. Most of them were despatches, returns and other military documents. But among them was a goodly pile of communications from the Juiz de fora of more than one neighboring comarca, written in eloquent but denunciatory Portuguese, being, in truth, philippics aimed at sundry individuals or parties, belonging to his command.
 
The old soldier had not treated them with absolute neglect. After having the first two or three duly translated to him, and making himself familiar with the tenor of this kind of document, he had prepared a concise form of reply: regretting that any of his Majesty's soldiers should be guilty of any act of violence, depredation or impropriety in the country of their friends and allies, and proposing that the accusers should come forward and prove the charges before a court-martial, according to British laws. A copy of this stereotyped answer, turned into good Portuguese, was always at hand to be dispatched in reply to each new complaint, as soon as it reached headquarters. Thus the correspondence cost little trouble there, for Lord Strathern had an easy-going philosophy, which, like an ambling pad, carried him smoothly over the rough and intricate path of diplomacy, policy, and military exigencies. He knew it was impossible to give perfect satisfaction to the Portuguese, and unlike his commander, he eschewed all such attempts to make ropes out of sea-sand.
 
L'Isle's entrance roused Lord Strathern from a pleasant reverie over his cigar.
 
"Why, L'Isle! are you back again? You certainly have the gift of appearing just when you are wanted. Is not that the case with a character called Mephistophiles?"
 
"Yes, my lord; but he is a devil," said L'Isle, drily.
 
"I beg your pardon. I did not mean to make an unsavory comparison. But here is another billetdoux from Sir Rowland awaiting you."
 
L'Isle, taking the dispatch handed to him, broke the seal and read it deliberately, then said: "Does Sir Rowland think I keep an extra stud of horses, to do the riding that properly belongs to his own staff?"
 
"Why, where is he sending you now?"
 
"To Badajoz, on an errand similar to that on which I went into Andalusia."
 
"To Badajoz? That is no distance at all; at least nothing to grumble at," said Lord Strathern. "You are growing lazy, L'Isle. Why Mabel would ride that far after a rare flower. Just think you are chasing a fox, who takes the high road, and never doubles once between this and Badajoz."
 
"That would be a fox of a new breed," suggested L'Isle.
 
"I confess," said his lordship, "I never started one of the kind. But Sir Rowland's staff have their hands full just now. To lighten their labors, I have had to furnish more than one officer for special duties. You surely would not have Sir Rowland send an aid all the way from Coria, merely to see if those Spanish fellows in Badajoz are in a state to march without disbanding, or without plundering the country as they move through it!"
 
"Talking of marauding, my lord," said L'Isle; "I wish the taste for that diversion was confined to our Spanish friends. It is becoming every day more necessary to check the excesses of our own people. We cannot send out a party into the country around, but on their return they are dogged at the heels by complaints and accusations. When we march hence, we shall leave a villainous name behind us."
 
"Oh, we will never come back here again," said Lord Strathern, carelessly. "Moreover, two-thirds of these complaints are groundless, and the rest grossly exaggerated."
 
"The sacking of the farmer's house on the border needed no exaggeration," said L'Isle.
 
"I tell you that was done by the Spaniards," exclaimed Lord Strathern.
 
"Yet worse cases than that have occurred, and gone unpunished," urged L'Isle.
 
"Because they never could prove the charge, and point out the culprits," replied his lordship. "The country is full of rateros. They commit the crimes and our fellows bear the blame."
 
"That is often true; but I have met with one little case in which the offenders can be pointed out."
 
"Well, let me hear it," said Lord Strathern, leaning back in his chair, as if compelled to listen, but anxious to be rid of the subject.
 
"I stopped for a while on my way back," said L'Isle, "at a little venda on this side of Juramenha. The people of the house were shy and sullen. I had to ask many questions before I could induce them to speak freely, but at length out came a charge against some of our people. Three nights ago five of our men had come to the house, and, calling for wine, sat down to drink. They soon became riotous, and their conduct so insulting to the man's wife and daughters, that they ran away to hide themselves. When he required them to pay the reckoning and quit the house, they promised most liberal payment, and seizing, bound him to a post in his own stable, where they gave him fifty lashes with a leathern strap, valuing the stripes at a vintem apiece."
 
"The witty rascals," said Lord Strathern; "I would like to repay them in their own coin."
 
"Moreover," continued L'Isle, "on the man's son making some resistance to their treatment of his father, they bound the boy, too, and gave him a dozen vintems' worth of the strap for pocket money."
 
"The liberal rascals!" said Lord Strathern; "they deserve a handsome profit on their outlay. But how do you know, L'Isle, that this story is true?"
 
"There is no mistake about the flogging," exclaimed L'Isle. "They used the buckle end of the strap, and, I myself saw the marks, some not yet scarred over."
 
"That silent witness may prove a good deal; I cannot call it tongueless," said his lordship, "for I suppose the buckle had a tongue."
 
"I can vouch for that by the mark it left behind," said L'Isle. "Both father and son swore that they would know the fellows among a thousand. But the man dare not come to Elvas to search them out, as the scamps promised faithfully to make sausage meat of him should he venture near the town."
 
"If the cowardly rascal will not come forward and lodge a complaint," said Lord Strathern, "what the devil can we do?"
 
"We can bring him here and protect him," said L'Isle, "while he hunts out the culprits. If necessary, I will take him before my regiment, and let him look every man in the face, to see if he can identify the offenders in the ranks; and so with other regiments."
 
"What! muster the whole brigade for such a poltroon to inspect them!" exclaimed Lord Strathern. "What are you dreaming of, L'Isle? It would be offering a bounty for accusations against the men. Half these rascals would swear away a man's life for a crusado."
 
"Perhaps so, my lord. But by cross-questions and examining them apart, the truth may be wrung from even lying witnesses."
 
"Impossible, with these people; the truth is not in them. Come, L'Isle, no one knows better than you, who are so much in Sir Rowland's councils, that we are on the point of moving from this part of the country. The little disorders that have occurred here, can be followed by no ill consequences."
 
"We carry the worse consequences with us," said L'Isle, pertinaciously. "Little disorders, my lord! The peasantry round Elvas do not talk of them so. They say that their property is plundered, their women insulted, and themselves at constant risk in life and limb."
 
"What! do the rascals talk of us in that way? even while we are protecting them," exclaimed Lord Strathern, springing from his chair. "We have spent more money among them than their beggarly country is worth in fee simple; and they are no more thankful than if we had occupied it as enemies. I wish they had among them again, for a few weeks, that one-handed Loison with his cut-throat bands, or pious Junot, who loved church plate so well."
 
"It is bad enough to be robbed by their enemies, they say," suggested L'Isle, "but they did not expect it from their friends."
 
"Pooh," said Lord Strathern, "the Portuguese, of all people, ought to know what real military license is. The French taught them that. As for our fellows, what if they do at times drink a little more wine than they pay for, or even take a lamb or kid from the flocks they protect, or kiss a wench before she has consented; is that any thing to make a hubbub about? The lads should be paid for drinking their muddy vinho verde, and as for the girls, all the trouble comes of their ignorance of our tongue, so that they have to be talked to by signs."
 
"You must be jesting, my lord. To overlook small offences is to license greater."
 
"I license none; I punish whatever is clearly proved, but will not play grand Inquisitor, and hunt out every little peccadillo. With your notions, L'Isle, you would bring the men to confession every morning and make the service worse than purgatory. Must I answer for it if a girl squeaks out, half in jest, and half in earnest?"
 
L'Isle was provoked to see that Lord Strathern was laughing at him, and said, earnestly, "You cannot have forgotten, my lord, the state of the army at the end of the campaign. Little has yet been done to bring this brigade up to the mark, and little will be achieved by it in the coming campaign in its present state. Now is the time to check the licentious spirit by making some severe examples."
 
"I will do no such thing," said Lord Strathern, coolly. "The occasion does not call for it. We will be in the field shortly, and want all the bayonets we can muster. The brigade is too weak to spare men from the ranks to put into irons."
 
"I did not suppose," said L'Isle, "that the warning my Lord Wellington gave us not long since, would be so soon forgotten."
 
L'Isle alluded to the circular letter Wellington had addressed to his subordinates, at the end of the campaign, in which he had politely dubbed half of his officers idlers, whose habitual neglect of duty suffered their commands to run into ruffianism. Perhaps their commander was suffering under a fit of indigestion when he wrote it. It certainly caused a general heartburning among his officers. Lord Strathern, among others, had found it hard to digest, and now angrily denounced it unjust.
 
"Well, my lord," said L'Isle, with more zeal than discretion, "by the end of the campaign our men may be in a state to be improved by a touch of discipline from Julian Sanchez or Carlos d'Espana, unless they reject them as too much like banditti!"
 
"And I am captain of the banditti!" exclaimed Lord Strathern, in a sudden rage. "As you do not yet command the brigade, let me beg you, sir, to go and look after your own people, and keep them up to the mark, lest they become banditti!"
 
"I always obey orders, my lord," said L'Isle, with suddenly assumed composure; "I will go and look after my own regiment, and let the rest of the brigade march"—
 
"Where, sir?" thundered Lord Strathern.
 
"Their own road," L'Isle answered, and bowed himself out of the room. He walked sedately through the long corridor that led to the entrance of this monastic house, then, yielding to some violent impulse, sprang into his saddle, and plunging his spurs into his horse's flanks, dashed out of the court and through the olive grounds at a killing pace. His astonished groom stared at him for a moment, then followed with emulous speed. As L'Isle turned suddenly into the high road, a voice called out: "Don't ride me down; I'm no Frenchman!" and he saw Colonel Bradshawe quickly but coolly press his ambling cob close to the hedge, to avoid his charge.
 
"You seem to be in a hurry, L'Isle. Hallo! here is another!" said the colonel, giving his horse another dexterous turn, to shun the onset of the groom. "What news has come? Or have you joined the dragoons? Or are you merely running a race with your man here?"
 
"Neither, sir," said L'Isle, who had pulled up and turned to speak to his comrade. His flashing eye and excited manner, his thoroughbred steed, chafing on the bit and pawing the ground, were in striking contrast with the unruffled Bradshawe on his sleek cob, whose temper was as smooth as his coat.
 
"The fact is," said L'Isle, in what was meant for an explanatory tone, "I have just had a serious conversation with Lord Strathern—"
 
"Which grew quite animated before it came to an end," interjected Bradshawe, coolly.
 
"In which I took the liberty of expressing my opinion," continued L'Isle—
 
"Rather strongly on the subject of discipline, military license, and the articles of war," interjected Bradshawe again.
 
"You are happy in your surmises, sir," said L'Isle, stiffly; for Bradshawe's imperturbable manner chafed him much in his present mood.
 
"Surmises! my dear fellow. Do I not know your opinions and my lord's? You believe the rules and regulations were made to be enforced ad literam, and he thinks they are to be hung up in terrorem. My lord," added Bradshawe, in a calm, judicial tone, "is the more mistaken of the two."
 
"Since you so far agree with me," said L'Isle, "would it not be well for you to remind his lordship that it is time to enforce some of the rules and regulations for the government of his Majesty's troops, if he would have his brigade consist of soldiers, and not of robbers."
 
"It is very desirable to keep up the distinction between the two professions," said Bradshawe. "One has a strong tendency to slide into the other. Pray, tell me what arguments you have been using with my lord."
 
L'Isle, with an effort at calmness, repeated the substance of the late conversation, much to Bradshawe's amusement; for in him a genuine love of mischief rivaled his epicurean tastes.
 
"On one point, my lord had the advantage of you," said Bradshawe. "It is his privilege to bid you look after your regiment; not yours to bid him look after his brigade."
 
"True," said L'Isle, bitterly. "But as you, though my senior, are not my commander, I trust there is no insubordination in my telling you that the brigade is left to look after itself, and is going to the devil as fast as it can."
 
"As individuals," said Bradshawe, "that is the probable destination of most of us."
 
"We will have to get Julian Sanchez, or the Empecinado, or some other guerilla chief, to undertake its reformation," continued L'Isle, in great heat. "I forgot to suggest to my lord, that before we march away, we ought to levy a contribution, as a bounty for the blessings we bestow on the neighborhood in leaving it."
 
"A capital idea," said Bradshawe, "but by no means original. The French always do so when they change their cantonments; that is, if there be any thing left in the country around. If our hands were not tied, we might yet learn some clever arts from Monsieur. Junot's system was to drive up all the farm cattle of the neighborhood just before he marched off; then allow them to be redeemed at a low cash price. He found it a capital way to extract the last hidden crusado."
 
"You have mastered the enemy's system thoroughly," said L'Isle, with a sneer. "But as our hands are tied, we cannot imitate them. Perhaps it would better become your position in the brigade, for you to try and rouse his lordship to the necessity of checking the license that is growing daily."
 
"I would gladly do so," said Bradshawe; "but being no Oxford logician, have not your irresistible power of convincing him. You have handled the matter so fully and ably, that I need only repeat faithfully every word you have said. You may depend upon me for that." And, turning his horse, he rode gently off toward headquarters, while L'Isle galloped up the hill to Elvas.
 
Bradshawe found Lord Strathern in as great a rage as the comrade he had just parted with; so he amused himself with drawing out from his lordship a recital of their late conversation, which he repaid with a sketch of L'Isle's roadside conference with himself. The old soldier was only the more provoked on finding that, freely as L'Isle had spoken, he could hardly charge him with insubordination, or twist his hot arguments into a personal insult. Soothing and chafing him by turns, Bradshawe did not permit the subject to drop until they were interrupted by a courier with despatches.
 
"What is all this! Post upon post! There must be some thing in the wind!" said my lord, as he broke the seal, which was Sir Rowland Hill's.
 
"Our pleasant winter here is over," said Bradshawe, with a sigh. "We will be moving shortly, and then hot marches and cold meals, sour wine and bad quarters, or no quarters at all, will be the order of the day. I trust we shall move through a more plentiful country than we did last year."
 
"It has not quite come to that yet," said Lord Strathern. "Here is an order for me to meet Sir Rowland at Alcantara, at ten, the day after to-morrow. I am to take you and Conway with me, for he has special instructions for you both. And here is an order for that modest fellow L'Isle to attend and report the state of the Andalusian reserve. I expect Conway to dinner. You had better stay and meet him."
 
In due time Major Conway appeared, and dinner was announced. Mrs. Shortridge had gone home, so that only two guests sat down with Lady Mabel and her father. No man made himself more agreeable in his own house and at his own table than Lord Strathern usually did, for hospitality was with him an article of religion. But to-day my lord was not in a religious frame of mind. He was moody and silent, or growled at his servants, and gave short answers to his guests; so that Major Conway, after sundry attempts to engage him in conversation, gave it up, and joined Bradshawe in his efforts to entertain Lady Mabel. At length the cloth was removed, the servants withdrew, and the gentlemen sat over their wine; yet Lady Mabel, not trained to a nice observance of little conventionalities, lingered there, watching her father's moody brow.
 
"So L'Isle has got back," said Major Conway.
 
"The impudent coxcomb!" exclaimed Lord Strathern.
 
Conway started. But Lady Mabel started as if a snake had bitten her. She said nothing, however; perhaps she could not had she tried. But Conway exclaimed: "My lord, perhaps I did not hear you rightly."
 
"You did Major Conway. I say that L'Isle is an impudent coxcomb. The most presumptuous fellow I know. I will find or make an occasion to give him a lesson he much needs."
 
"Why, my lord, what has L'Isle done?" asked the Major.
 
"Done!" said Lord Strathern angrily. "He has said a great deal more than I will tolerate." And, having broached the subject, he told the story of L'Isle's interview with himself, and his remarks to Bradshawe, pronouncing his whole conduct presumptuous and impertinent. Losing his temper more and more, he exclaimed: "Sir Rowland's absurd partiality has spoiled the fellow utterly!"
 
"Sir Rowland must not bear all the blame," said Bradshawe, interposing; then added slyly: "No wonder L'Isle's head is turned, considering who all have helped to spoil him."
 
"So they have; and you have spoiled him more than any one else," exclaimed Lord Strathern turning suddenly on Lady Mabel. "I hear of nobody but Colonel L'Isle. This Colonel of yours has been growing more and more intolerable—
 
"My Colonel, papa? I assure you I lay no claim to him," said Lady Mabel, hastily disclaiming all interest in poor L'Isle.
 
"Why do you have him so much about you, then, and quote him so often?"
 
"Why, my lord," said Bradshawe, again interposing, "Lady Mabel cannot but see and hear much of L'Isle, while she sees so much of Mrs. Shortridge, their mutual friend."
 
Lady Mabel was truly thankful for this diversion. It gave her one moment to think, and that was enough. In her father's present mood, L'Isle could not escape gross insult at their next meeting. She felt that the best way to molify his anger was to take up his quarrel vigorously herself. So, warming herself into a fit of indignation becoming the occasion, she exclaimed: "It is no fault of mine that I see so much of Colonel L'Isle. Why do you make him so often your guest? As Colonel Bradshawe says, I have no fit companion here but Mrs. Shortridge, and he is often with her. As to his presumption, it is not so new to me as you suppose. I have often laughed at him for his vanity in thinking that nobody can do anything as well as himself. I have had to check him before this for presuming to find fault with your management of the brigade; but did not imagine he would have the impertinence to insinuate to your face that he could command it better than you do."
 
"By Jove!" exclaimed Lord Strathern, "indirectly, he as good as told me so."
 
"So it seems," said Lady Mabel indignantly. "I am your daughter, and resent such boyish impertinence more even than you do. I will take the earliest opportunity to express to him my opinion on that point most emphatically."
 
Bradshawe was discreetly silent, drinking in every word. He did not actually hate L'Isle; he liked Lady Mabel well; but he loved the mischief a-brewing, and watched her game, for he saw plainly that she was playing one. Conway sat wondering what all this would lead to, anxious, yet afraid, to say a word in extenuation of poor L'Isle's offences.
 
"By the bye," exclaimed Lady Mabel, "I have promised Mrs. Shortridge my utmost aid in entertaining her guests to-morrow night; and the better to enable me to give it, Colonel L'Isle is pledged to be in constant attendance as my interpreter. I must write at once, and let him know that I shall dispense with his services."
 
"Write to the fellow at once," growled Lord Strathern, "and do not let him misunderstand the tenor of your note."
 
"But he has gone to Badajoz," said Bradshawe. "Still, if he has an appointment with you, Lady Mabel, he will assuredly be back in time."
 
"But, my lord," said Major Conway, "you have an order for him to attend Sir Rowland, at Alcantara the morning after, so that he would have to give up the pleasure of waiting on Lady Mabel at Mrs. Shortridge's, even though she did not discard him in this summary manner."
 
"Then Mabel shall summon him to attend her, according to promise, in spite of Sir Rowland's order!" thundered Lord Strathern, with all the perverseness of an angry man.
 
"But suppose he pleads Sir Rowland's order in excuse," urged Conway.
 
"It shall not serve him. Mabel shall treat it as a fresh piece of impertinence, and cut him forever."
 
"Suppose he attends Lady Mabel, and neglects Sir Rowland?"
 
"Then Sir Rowland shall know how lightly he holds his orders."
 
"That is being very hard upon L'Isle," said Conway.
 
"Not as hard as he deserves," said Lord Strathern with a bitter laugh.
 
"It is probably very important," urged Conway, "that Sir Rowland should know at once the real state of this Andalusian reserve. Much may depend upon it."
 
"Tut," said Lord Strathern contemptuously. "What matters L'Isle's being able to tell him whether or not they look like soldiers? If you had been long in Spain, you would have known that the fighting has to be done by us."
 
"O yes," said Bradshawe. "Whatever they may do on parade, the fighting always falls to our lot."
 
Lady Mabel had listened to this dialogue with intense interest, and no little confusion of mind. She was very angry with L'Isle, and that perhaps made her feel how important he had become to her. She was not quite prepared to cut his acquaintance, and turn her back on him forever, and now thought she saw her way through the difficulty.
 
"You are driving my friend L'Isle to the wall," said Major Conway. "I know him to be a gallant man; but however painful the sacrifice may be to him, I think he will feel compelled to waive his engagement with Lady Mabel, and wait on Sir Rowland Hill."
 
"Let him, if he dare," said Lady Mabel, with an emphatic stamp of her foot.
 
"I applaud your spirit, Lady Mabel," said Bradshawe mischievously. "It is lucky for L'Isle that the Stewarts of Strathern are not now represented by a son. As it is, L'Isle will have to make his submission with the best grace he can."
 
"I trust Lady Mabel will accept it in some other shape than slighting Sir Rowland's order," said Conway. "L'Isle will not do that."
 
"That, and nothing else," said Lady Mabel resolutely—almost angrily. "I hold myself to be quite as good as Sir Rowland, and the first appointment was with me."
 
"Sir Rowland will have to yield precedence to you, Lady Mabel," said Bradshawe. "If L'Isle knows the penalty, he will have to attend on you."
 
"Begging Lady Mabel's pardon," said Conway, "L'Isle will do no such thing."
 
"Conway," said Lord Strathern, with a sneer, "this punctilious friend of yours is very exacting—toward other people. But I will bet you fifty guineas that he keeps Sir Rowland waiting for news of a batch of ragamuffins not worth hearing about."
 
"My funds are rather low just now," said Conway, "to hazard fifty guineas on a bet."
 
"I thought you would not back him but in words," said Lord Strathern, in a contemptuous tone.
 
"Nay," said Conway, stung by his manner, "I know that where duty is concerned, L'Isle is a punctilious man. To obey every order to the letter and the second, is a point of honor with him, and I will risk my money upon him."
 
"Done," said Lord Strathern; "and now, Mabel, use your wits to keep the fellow here, and make a fool of him; and I will expose and laugh at him, as he deserves, at Alcantara."
 
"But this is a regular plot against poor L'Isle," objected Conway.
 
"Plot or no plot, it is understood that you give him no hint," said Lord Strathern.
 
"Certainly not," exclaimed Bradshawe, rubbing his hands together. "Conway, you must not blab."
 
"I suppose I must not," said Conway, with a very grave face, chiefly for L'Isle, but partly for his fifty guineas. "But this is a serious matter. It may be of vital importance for Sir Rowland to know at once if the Andalusian reserve"—
 
"The Andalusian reserve," said Lord Strathern, interrupting him, "will never let themselves be food for powder."
 
Lady Mabel now slipped out of the room, to hide her confusion and anxiety; and Major Conway, finding my lord not in a mood to please or be pleased, soon took leave, followed by Bradshawe in high glee, though he suppressed the outward signs of it until he had turned his back upon the hospitable mansion.


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