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 XVIII.
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
 "Here on the clear, cold Ezla's breezy side, 
My hand amidst her ringlets wont to rove; 
She proffered now the lock, and now denied— 
With all the baby playfulness of love. 
"Here the false maid, with many an artful tear, 
Made me each rising thought of doubt discover; 
And vowed and wept till hope had ceased to fear— 
Ah me! beguiling, like a child, her lover." 
 ??  ??  ?? Southey, from the Spanish.
Lord Strathern's anger was not unlike a thunderstorm, violent and loud, but not very lasting. It had spent its worst fury last night; but Lady Mabel still heard the occasional rumbling of the thunder in the morning, while seated, with her father, at an unusually early breakfast; for he had before him no short day's journey over the rough country between Elvas and Alcantara. Sleep may have dulled the edge of his anger against L'Isle, but he had not yet forgotten or forgiven him. As he kissed his daughter before he mounted his horse—for she had followed him into the court—he said: "Do not forget that fellow L'Isle, Mabel; keep him here, and make a fool of him, and I will expose and laugh at him to-morrow in Alcantara."
Now, Lady Mabel had forgotten neither L'Isle, nor his offences. She was indignant at his presumptuous censure of her father, as unjust and disrespectful to him, and showing too little consideration for herself. In short, it was, as Colonel Bradshawe had insinuated, an indignity to the whole house of Stewart of Strathern. It must be resented. Yet she could not resolve to turn her back upon him, and discard him altogether, as she was pledged to do, as one alternative. She thought it a far fitter punishment to compel him to keep his appointment with her, and make Sir Rowland wait, fretting and fuming for the intelligence he longed for, and which L'Isle alone could give him. She reveled in the idea of making L'Isle turn his back on military duty to obey her behest:
"How she would make him fawn, and beg and seek, 
And wait the season and observe the times, 
And spend his prodigal wit in bootless rhymes."
But then L'Isle was so punctilious on points of duty, and Major Conway had been so confident that she could not detain him in Elvas, that she begun to doubt it herself, and resolved to spare no pains to gain her end. So she at once sat down and penned an artful note; then calling for her fine footman, dispatched him with it to L'Isle's quarters, after schooling him well that he was to give it to the colonel's own man, with strict injunctions to put it in his master's hand on his return—if possible—before his foot was out of the stirrup; certainly, before he got any other letter awaiting him.
Meanwhile, L'Isle was zealously fulfilling his mission at Badajoz. He had made such good speed the evening before, that though the sun had set on him in Elvas, some lingering rays of twilight still fell on the round Moorish tower of white marble, on either hand, as he entered the bridge-gate of Badajoz.
No sooner had he alighted at the posada, than he wrote a note, and sent it to the governor of the place, saying, that having just come back from Andalusia, whither he had been sent on an important mission by Sir Rowland Hill, and not doubting that the Spanish dignitary would be glad of news from that province, he would wait on him at breakfast next morning. This done, and learning that many of the Spanish officers were to be found at another posada, he hastened thither, soon meeting acquaintances—and making more—among them. He knew well how to approach the Spaniard, mingling the utmost consideration with his frank address, and taking pains to make himself agreeable, even to that puppy, Don Alonso Melendez, whom he found among them. Many of them were at cards, and the dice were not idle. L'Isle soon found a place among the gamesters, and took care to lose a few pieces to more than one of his new friends; a thing easily done, they being in high practice, and he little skilled in these arts. Having thus made himself one of them, he, like a true Englishman, set to drinking, contrived to get about him some of the graver and less busy of the gentlemen present, and, while discussing with them the best wine the house afforded, he adroitly turned the conversation to the topics on which he sought information. He did not go to bed, at a late hour, without having learned much as to the garrison of Badajoz, and of the few precautions taken for the safety of this important fortress.
Early in the morning, L'Isle called on the governor, and found him in his dressing-gown, just ready for his chocolate. The Don was well pleased to hear L'Isle's account of the force coming up from Andalusia, of his interviews with officers high in command in it, and his comments on the spirit, activity, and endurance of the Spanish soldier. This led to further conversation, in which L'Isle, while sipping chocolate with the Spaniard, took occasion to abuse the French roundly, which was agreeable enough to his host; but he quite won his heart by the unfeigned contempt and abhorrence he expressed for the Afrancesados.
L'Isle soon found that, in spite of his unsoldierly undress, the Don was a sturdy old fellow, who chafed at being shut up in a garrison, surrounded by defensive walls and moats. He longed to take the field and become the assailant.
"I trust we will all be in the field shortly," said L'Isle, echoing his sentiment. "But we have wily foes to deal with. All their great successes have been won by surprise, aided by traitors among us. They are now evidently anxious to anticipate us, and if we delay long, there is no knowing where the first blow may fall. I wonder," said he, with a puzzled look, "why they keep so large a force at Trujillo, and have such strong detachments foraging on this side the mountains of Toledo? A few marches may unite then near us."
"Do you suppose that they are thinking of Badajoz?" asked the Spaniard, looking as if L'Isle had seized him by the shoulders, and roughly waked him up.
"Marshal Soult has an eye this way, and would give more than his little finger to have it again," said L'Isle; "for nothing would cramp our movements more than the loss of it. They have now, indeed, little chance of success, we know," he added, bowing to the governor, "but may think it worth trying. Their leaders think nothing of risking the loss of a thousand men or so, on the slenderest chance of a great prize. The conscription fills up all these gaps."
"No doubt; no doubt. But we will watch the rascals closely," said the governor.
"I dare say," said L'Isle laughing, "you have a spy or two in Trujillo, besides the lynx-eyed, keen-eared scouts you keep on the roads, and in the villages around you."
"We get intelligence—we get intelligence," said the Spaniard evasively. "But as the French are now moving, it will be well to bestir ourselves, to find out what they are at."
These, and other hints, that L'Isle threw out—not as advice, but inquiries and chance suggestions, being mingled with deferential attention to all the Spaniard had to say—neither startled his vanity, nor chafed his pride. He was pleased with L'Isle, talked frankly to him, and presented him ceremoniously to his officers, who now began to wait upon him. When L'Isle was about to take his leave, he urged him to return to dinner, and charged a favorite officer to show L'Isle everything he wished to see in Badajos, that he might be enabled to report the condition of this stronghold to Sir Rowland Hill.
"I must communicate with Sir Rowland so speedily," said L'Isle, "that I must be content with the pleasure of having breakfasted with your Excellency;" and with marked respect he took leave of the governor and his suite, having been treated—in diplomatic phrase—with "distinguished consideration." Indeed, had Sir Rowland seen and heard him during his audience, he would have patted him on the back, and thanked his stars for giving him so able and adroit an ambassador. Were it possible to become wise by the wisdom of another, Badajos would have had a watchful governor. Prolonged watching is no easy task, but L'Isle knew that if the Spaniard could be roused to a week of vigilance, the urgent need of it would be over.
He spent an industrious morning, making himself agreeable to his companion, while inspecting the resources of the place, and the day was well worn away when his guide and escort took leave of him at the posada. His business here finished, he wished to leave Badajoz at once; and on looking for his groom, found him ensconced in the kitchen, providently dining on a rabbit, stuffed with olives, and draining a bottle of wine, baptized Valdepenas—addressing the landlord's tawny daughter with a flattering air, and smacking his lips approvingly, after each mouthful, whether solid or fluid, while he abused both food and wine in emphatic English, throwing in many back-handed compliments to the lady's beauty, and she stood simpering by, construing his words by his manner.
On seeing his master enter hastily, Tom, who had laid in all the wine, and most of the food set before him, got up respectfully to receive his orders; while with a full mouth he mumbled out: "Prayer and provender hinder no man's journey."
"You abridge the proverb in practice," said L'Isle, "leaving out the prayer to gain time to take care of the provender." Then sitting down at the table, he took out a paper and began to note down what he had observed in Badajoz. "There is nothing very tempting here," said he presently, glancing his eye over Tom's scanty leavings, "but a luncheon will not be amiss; so I will take what I can find, while you saddle the horses."
It was late in the day when L'Isle left Badajoz; but instead of posting back to Elvas, as he had come from it, he rode slowly on, sometimes lost in thought, at times gazing on the scene around him. Many objects along the road brought vividly back to him the incidents of that pleasant excursion, so lately taken in company with Lady Mabel. Here she had turned her horse aside for a moment, to pluck some blossoms from this carob-tree, which stands alone on the sandy plain around it; here, on the bank of the Cayo, was the spot where she had pressed so close up beside him for protection, in the dark, on the first alarm of danger before them; there stood the old watch-tower, which they had examined together with interest, speculating on its history, lost in by-gone ages; crossing the stream here, further on, were the prints of her horses hoofs on the steep, pebbly bank, as she had turned suddenly from the road, to ride up to the mysterious old ruin.
Were these pleasant days over? L'Isle knew that Lord Strathern had taken violent, perhaps lasting offence at his strictures; and he himself was too indignant at the summary way in which his commander had cut short his protest, and dismissed him and the subject, for him to make any conciliatory advances. Knowing, too, Lady Mabel's devotion to her father, and her tenacity where his character and dignity were concerned, there was no saying how much she might resent L'Isle's offence, when it came to her knowledge. He could hardly, just now at least, frequent headquarters on his former footing.
He was so much engrossed by these unpleasant thoughts, that it was in vain officious Tom several times rode up close upon him, making his own horse curvet and caper, hoping to attract his master's attention, and remind him that he was loitering on the road long after his dinner hour. L'Isle went on at a foot-pace up the hill of Elvas, until, from a neighboring hedge, a nightingale, for whose ditty the hours of darkness were too short, began his plaintive song. Many a time had L'Isle paused to listen to such minstrelsey; but now his ear, or something else, was out of tune:
"Except I be with Silvia in the night, 
There is no music in the nightingale."
Rousing himself, he cantered through the gate, and hastened to his quarters.
Now, it was some time since L'Isle's servants had picked up the notion, that in no way could they please him half so well as by obeying the slightest hint from Lady Mabel. So his man came promptly out, armed with her note, and thrust it into his hand before he had left the saddle. Entering his quarters hastily, he broke it open, and read it with infinite satisfaction.
(Lady Mabel Stewart sends her compliments to Col. L'Isle. She has a presentment that her pleasant sojourn in Elvas draws to its end. Like Mrs. Shortridge, she is ambitious to leave among her Portuguese friends, the most favorable recollection of herself. So to-night she will spare no pains, but will dress, look, sing and act her best, and be as agreeable as she can to the natives at Mrs. Shortridge's house. She relies, confidently, on Col. L'Isle's attending her as interpreter, and saying a thousand witty and pleasant things in her name. This, too, may be her last opportunity of thanking him for the many, many delightful excursions enjoyed under his guidance and protection. She may never repeat, but can never forget them!)
This note relieved L'Isle of a load of anxiety. It was plain that Lord Strathern had gotten over his anger, and meant to have no quarrel with him; or, more gratifying still, would not have the whole house of Strathern involved in it, and so had given no hint of it to his daughter. It was too the first note he had ever received from Lady Mabel, and sportive as its tone was in the beginning, there was something of feeling and even sadness in its close. L'Isle well knew, while Lady Mabel had only chosen to assume it, that the time for leaving Elvas was indeed at hand. Yet a few days, and a few things were more uncertain than his again meeting Lady Mabel on this side of the grave.
A few golden hours had yet to fleet by. Who would throw away a happiness because it is fleeting? L'Isle had sunk into a delightful reverie, anticipating the pleasures of the evening, when his man of method laid before him the despatch from his other correspondent, Sir Rowland Hill.
He read it hastily, and angrily threw it on the floor. He thought himself an ill-used man! "Be in Alcantara by ten to-morrow! I will do no such thing! I have been in the saddle for weeks. My horses are worn out," (he chose to forget a fresh horse in the stable.) "Up late last night and worried all day about affairs over which I have no control, and fellows who will fail us at need. Sir Rowland must wait till dinner time to-morrow for news of these dilatory Spaniards. If he has to deal much more with them, it will be a useful lesson to learn to wait."
He now went to his chamber to dress in order to attend Lady Mabel. When he returned to his parlor, seeing Sir Rowland's insulted despatch still lying on the floor, he condescended to pick it up and stow it away in his pocket with his notes on the state of the Andalusian reserve and the garrison of Badajoz, and then rode off in the happiest mood to head-quarters. But when he dismounted there, his conscience pricked him. An ambitious soldier, zealous in the cause for which he fought, he, not long since, would have felt one moment's forgetfulness, or the slightest neglect of the service, to be treason against his own nature. He now turned back from the door to bid the groom leave his own horse in Elvas, and take the fresh horse on to the little town of Albuquerque, and expect him at the posada there before the dawn of day. Having, by this provision for riding post, quieted the compunctious visitings of conscience, he entered the house.
Lady Mabel kept him waiting some time, purposely, for delay was now her policy. Soon, however, he heard her talking in the next room, and the abrupt and crabbed tones of the voice which answered her, betrayed Moodie in one of his objecting and protesting moods. Lady Mabel was giving sundry injunctions to an unwilling agent. At length the old Scotch grieve, like one of his own ill-conditioned steers, would neither lead nor drive; for when she bid him to put the clock back an hour, he flatly refused, calling it acting a lie, as the wily Gibeonites did to Joshua.
"Or as Jacob and Rebecca did to blind old Isaac," Lady Mabel suggested; but even the example of the patriarch could not move him, and Lady Mabel had to make time move backward with her own hand.
At length she entered the room radiant with beauty and with smiles, for Moodie's obstinacy had not ruffled her in the least. She was so sorry to have kept Colonel L'Isle waiting, and so much afraid he would have to wait a while longer, as the old Lisbon coach and the mules, with their harness, were not put together so speedily, as the London turn-out of a fashionable lady. "I am to blame," she continued, "for not having looked to it before, for Antonio Lobo, my impromptu postillion, is less skilled in the management of my vehicle, than of the olive trees among which he has lived until he has taken the color of their ripe fruit."
To fill up the time she now asked L'Isle's opinion of her dress, seeing him eye it with some surprise. Turning gracefully about and showing it off to him from different points of view, she told him that, as a last compliment to her Elvas friends, she had, for once, adopted their costume.
"Improved upon it, rather," said L'Isle, for she had not closely followed the local costume where it did not please her. Then running on, from one lively topic to another, she amused L'Isle so successfully that he felt it to be an interruption when the footman came in to say that the coach was ready. After depositing her guitar in state, on a pile of music, on the front seat, L'Isle at length found himself beside Lady Mabel in this venerable vehicle, long used to bear a noble burden, having belonged to a Portuguese Marquis, who on the first approach of Junot's invading horde, had run off to Brazil, leaving his coach, his estate, his country, and perhaps his honor behind him. Slow and dignified, as became its character, was its progress up the hill of Elvas; for one pair of the team of mules which had brought it from Lisbon, had returned to their duty in the quartermaster's department, and their comrades, left to their own unaided efforts, found the coach almost as hard to handle as a nine-pounder. But in the dove-like, billing and cooing humor in which L'Isle was, time flew on the wings of the carrier-pigeon, and they arrived at Mrs. Shortridge's house too soon for him, though all the guests, but themselves, were there already. Two or three score of Portuguese, most of them ladies, and nearly as many English officers filled the rooms.
Some of these gentlemen looked surprised at seeing L'Isle, thinking he had already left Elvas. Lieutenant Goring, who was showing off his tall lithe person and dragoon uniform to the best advantage, beside his short and sturdy friend, Captain Hatton, seemed annoyed at L'Isle's presence, and Hatton shared his feelings. L'Isle stood in the way of their paying court to Lady Mabel, and Goring, at least, had reckoned on his absence.
"I had hoped," said he, "that we were rid of the Colonel for once. He is an abominable monopolist."
"He is so," said Hatton, "for Lady Mabel's smiles belong to the brigade."
"And the light dragoons quartered with it," interjected Goring. "But here he is, basking in the sunshine, and keeping us shivering in the shade, when he ought to be on the road to Alcantara. Sir Rowland is expecting him. Major Conway seemed quite anxious that he should be there betimes in the morning, and, doubtless, had some good reason for it.
"Why do you not give him a hint?" asked Hatton, "perhaps he has forgotten it."
"He is your colonel, and the hint would come better from you."
"Thank you," said Hatton. "But in our regiment, it is contrary to the etiquette to hint to the colonel that he is neglecting his duty."
"But it seems," said Goring, "that the rule does not apply to the brigade. The major tells me that L'Isle has freely censured my lord's remissness, and urged him to enforce more stringent discipline."
"How did my lord take it?"
"Like a slap in the face," answered Goring. "At least he treated it as a great piece of presumption, and L'Isle was thoroughly angered at the rough answer he got. Indeed, Conway thinks that there is nothing but ill blood between them."
"That does not look much like it," said Hatton, glancing at Lady Mabel, with L'Isle at her elbow.
"Let us go and beat about the bushes; we may start some thing worth chasing!"
The two friends, looking like a greyhound and a bull-terrier coupled together, proceeded to hunt in couple, by thrusting themselves into the cluster of gentlemen around Lady Mabel. Hatton, with a little start of admiring surprise, praised the taste displayed in her dress, regretted her being so late in adopting it, it so became her. He looked round, appealing to the bystanders, all of whom assented to his opinion, except the discriminating Goring, who asserted that it was not the costume which became Lady Mabel, but Lady Mabel who set off the costume, and he carried the popular voice with him. "No head looks so well under a Turk's turban as a Christian's," he continued, "and no native could show off the national dress here like a genuine English beauty." Lady Mabel had learned to listen complacently to the broadest language of admiration.
There were handsome women present—for Elvas could boast its share of beauty—but none to rival hers; the more conspicuous, too, from being loveliness of a different type, and not likely to be overlooked among the dumpy Portuguese ladies, few indeed of whom equaled her in height. Lady Mabel would have been no woman had she not enjoyed the admiration she excited; but she remembered the business of the night, when Goring, bowing to L'Isle, spoke of the unexpected pleasure of seeing him here.
At once interrupting him, she exclaimed: "It is probably the last time we shall have the pleasure of meeting our friends of Elvas, so I at least have come to devote myself exclusively to them. Do, Colonel L'Isle, take pity on a dumb woman, and lend me a Portuguese tongue." And gliding off among a party of the natives present, she entered into conversation with them, calling continually on L'Isle to interlard her complimentary scraps with more copious and better turned periods.
Mrs. Shortridge, too, kept her interpreter, the commissary, close at her elbow, and the quantity of uncurrent Portuguese she made him utter to her guests, in the course of the night, amounted to a wholesale issue of the counterfeit coin of that tongue. From the assiduity of both ladies in courting the natives, one might have thought that they meant to settle at Elvas, or that they were rival candidates canvassing the borough for votes.
It was a young and gay party assembled here, and Mrs. Shortridge's floor was soon covered with dancers. In private houses the national dances are often executed in a modified and less demonstrative style, at least early in the evening, than elsewhere. Still the dancing in Elvas and Badajoz were near neighbors to each other. But a change had come over Mrs. Shortridge, and now she made no protest, and saw little impropriety in displays which she had denounced a few days ago. Fashion is the religion of half the world; the mode makes the morals, and what it sanctions cannot be wrong. The commissary, not so easy a convert, sneeringly remarked that the exhibition was very suitable to ballet dancers and such folk, plainly classing most of his guests in that category; while Lady Mabel, with bare-faced hypocrisy, glided about among her foreign friends, lamenting that her English clumsiness cut her off from taking her part in a diversion, and in the displays of grace and feeling, which, she said, with double meaning, were unbecoming any but women of the Latin races.
The night was hot, and dancing made it hotter. So Mrs. Shortridge called upon Lady Mabel to fill up the interval of rest, and gratify the expectations of their friends with some of her choicest songs.
But yesterday so large an audience would have abashed her; now she scarcely saw the throng around her in her eagerness to gain her end by prolonging the amusements of the night. She sent L'Isle for her guitar, made him turn over her music, never releasing him for a moment, while she sung no Italian, French or English songs, but some of those native and cherished requidillas, the airs and words of which find here so ready an access to all hearts; and she executed them with a skill, melody, and pathos, that flattered and charmed the Portuguese. The guitar, though the cherished friend of serenading lovers of the old Spanish school, was truly but a poor accompaniment to such a voice; but L'Isle saw that, like the harp, it had the merit of displaying to advantage, the roundest, fairest, and most beautifully turned arms he had ever gazed upon.
The dancers were again upon the floor; the night sped on, and Lady Mabel made free use of her interpreter in ingratiating herself with the Portuguese. L'Isle, true to his pledge, taxed his powers to the utmost to be witty and agreeable in her name; at times a little overdoing his part. Thus, at supper, when an elaborate compliment to Dona Carlotta Seguiera, drew a reply as if it had originated with himself, he stripped it of part of its merit by saying that he was merely the mouth-piece of Lady Mabel's sentiments. When Dona Carlotta expressed her surprise that Lady Mabel's short English sentence should make so long a speech in Portuguese, he explained it by Lady Mabel's peculiar faculty of uttering a volume in three words.
Supper and the dance that followed were over; Mrs. Shortridge's great night drew to a close; and many of the company asked for one more melody from the sweet songstress before they dispersed. While turning over her music, Lady Mabel seemed to hesitate in her choice, and L'Isle thought that her hand trembled as she selected a sheet.
As the fruit of his musical gleanings in the peninsula, Major Lumley had lately sent her a parcel of old Spanish songs, among which she had found a little piece, a mere fragment, but exquisitely touching in melody and sentiment. Her father had been much taken with it, but no one else had heard it from her lips. Like a volatile perfume, that escapes in the attempt to pour it from one vessel to another, such things defy translation. How, too, Lady Mabel gave it vocal life, may be imagined, not described. She sang it with a truthfulness of feeling that seemed to grow with each succeeding line. For the mere words, we can only find this slender version for the English ear:
In joyous hall, now thronged with young and fair, 
Your roving eye marks every beauty here; 
I harbor not one doubt or jealous fear; 
Constant your heart; it beats for me alone. 
In woodland glade, when armed for sylvan war, 
You mark the antlered monarch from afar, 
Your sportive toil cannot my pleasure mar; 
Constant your heart; it beats for me alone. 
In summer night, gazing on starry sky, 
And on yon radiant queen, who rides on high, 
Your fancy seems to roam, yet hovers nigh; 
Constant your heart; it beats for me alone. 
But hark! yon trump! you start as from a dream; 
From your bright eyes the warrior flashes gleam; 
All else forgotten. War is now your theme; 
Constant my heart; it beats for you alone. 
'Midst charging hosts, the foremost rank is thine; 
In saddened bower, the thrilling fear is mine; 
You glow with ardor, I in sorrow pine; 
Constant my heart; it beats for you alone.
Could L'Isle's vanity be beguiling him? The tremor of her voice, her saddened troubled look, the beaming glances of her eyes, which hovered about him, yet shunned to meet his gaze—they all betrayed her. She was, perhaps half consciously, identifying him with the object of the song. Her audience were delighted, but L'Isle was entranced, and no longer a responsible man.
The guests were now fast leaving the house, and Lady Mabel, having much to say to Mrs. Shortridge, was among the last. L'Isle attended her down stairs, and was about to hand her into the old coach, when she drew back timidly.
"How dark it is, with that cloud over the moon. I am afraid Antonio Lobo is scarce postillion enough to drive down that steep rough road without accident."
L'Isle instantly recollected, that having escorted Lady Mabel to the party, it was his privilege to see her safe home again. Bidding the footman keep the coach door open, he sprang into the house for his hat, and in a moment was again seated by her side. The lumbering vehicle rolled out of the pra?a and down the sloping street to the western gate of Elvas. As the guard there closed the gate behind them, and shut them out from the light of the lantern, they seemed to plunge into "outer darkness." Lady Mabel's nervous terrors came back upon her with redoubled violence.
The fosse under the drawbridge seemed a ravenous abyss, and the deep road cut through the glacis and overhung by the outworks appeared to be leading down into the bowels of the earth. The road, too, down into the valley was steep, winding and much cut up by use and the heavy winter rains.
"I have been so much on horseback lately," she said, apologizing for her fears, "and so seldom in a carriage, and this is such a rickety old thing, that you must excuse my alarm. Besides, I do not know that Antonio ever played the part of postillion before. Why, the coach will run over the mules," she exclaimed presently, as it glided down a steep spot; then springing up and leaning out of the window, she called out in plaintive Portuguese, "Antonio, my good Antonio, beware of that short turn in the road, or we will all go tumbling down the hill together! Excuse my terrors, Colonel L'Isle, but some late occurrences have shaken my nerves sadly."
Surprised at her unusual timidity, L'Isle tried to calm her fears, and taking her hand, endeavored to keep it, while he assured her that every Portuguese peasant was familiar with mules and mountain roads from boyhood. With a little laugh, she, struggling, rescued the captured member, saying, "I shall need both my hands to scramble out with when the coach breaks down or overturns, whichever happens first," and after this she was more chary of her demonstrations of terror, to escape his demonstrations of protection.
"If you doubt honest Lobo's ability to drive you safe home," said L'Isle, "though I do not, perhaps your own man may be more skilful."
"What! cut down my two yards of footman into a postillion?" exclaimed Lady Mabel; "on a mule, too! Why, he would rebel against such degradation!"
"It would be promotion," said L'Isle, laughing, "to put a footman into the saddle; and William would be of use for once in his life."
"Neither I nor nature demand usefulness of him. His whole capital consists in being a tall footman, who becomes his livery; and he fulfills his destiny when both he and it excite the admiration of the Elvas ladies."
The coach presently turned into the olive yard, and drew up before the old monastic pile without accident. L'Isle was surprised to see the inhabited part of the building brightly lighted up at this late hour. Old Moodie, looking graver and more sour than ever, was at the open door. L'Isle handed Lady Mabel out of the coach, and she coolly took his arm, showing that he was expected to hand her up stairs, before taking leave of her. Moodie followed them into the drawing-room, and said abruptly, "Well, my lady, will you have supper now?"
"Certainly, if it be ready. By-the-bye, Colonel L'Isle, I did not see you take the least refreshment at Mrs. Shortridge's—not even half a pound of sugarplums, like the Portuguese ladies."
"I followed your example; for you yourself fasted."
"I was too busy talking my best and my last to my Portuguese friends," said Lady Mabel. "But when and where did you dine?"
"Dine?" said L'Isle, hesitating, then recollecting his luncheon; "about two o'clock, in Badajoz."
"A Spanish dinner, I'll warrant, at a Spaniard's house!" she exclaimed, throwing up her hands.
"You must be faint with hunger. Why," she added, taking up a light, and holding it close to him, "you do look pale and famished; as if you had dined like a Portuguese beggar's brat,—on a crust, rubbed over with a sardinha, to give it a flavor. I cannot let you go away in this condition. If you starve yourself so, you will degenerate from a beef-eating red-coat, into a rationless Spanish soldier."
"There is no danger of that," L'Isle answered. "But how do you happen to have a supper ready at this hour?"
"It shows what a slave of habit Moodie is. Because he has a supper got for papa and his friends every night, he could not omit it; though papa is far away, and he knows that I never touch it. But here he comes to announce it. For once it is well timed, and you must do it justice, unless you would make both Moodie and myself your enemies for life."
"Supper is ready, my lady," said Moodie. Then grumbled aside to her, "If you wait awhile longer it will serve for breakfast."
"Pray send Jenny to me; and then, Moodie, I will not keep you up longer," said Lady Mabel, for she was anxious to get rid of the old marplot.
They went into the next room to supper, and she seated L'Isle sociably beside her. It was truly a tempting little supper party, without one too many at table. Lady Mabel had now been long enough in the army to feel at home there. Why should she not, like any of her comrades, bring home a friend to sup with her? Especially when that friend is the pleasantest fellow in the brigade? Having or affecting an appetite, she set the example to L'Isle, and urged him to make up for the meagre fare of the day. The table looked as if Lord Strathern and three or four of his friends had been expected to take their seats at it; and when she bid the footman hand wine to Colonel L'Isle, he promptly placed three decanters on the table.
"William mistakes me for Colonel Bradshawe," said L'Isle smiling, as he glanced at them.
"That is Moodie's doing," said she. "He provides liberally, one bottle for you, and two for himself, I suppose."
Jenny Aiken now came into the room, very neatly dressed, and, evidently not at all surprised at her mistress's summons. Upon this Lady Mabel bid William go, as he would not be wanted.
"I have not a doubt, Colonel L'Isle, that you prefer a Hebe to a Ganymede."
"Infinitely," said L'Isle; "and I only wonder how great Jove himself could differ with me."
"Then let Jenny refill your glass, that you may drink the health of the Portuguese ladies, to whom you said so many witty and pleasant things this evening."
"I only translated them," said L'Isle, bowing gaily to her.
"May I be ever blessed with such an interpreter," said Lady Mabel, "and I may, without fear, set up for a wit." And she repeated some of the best things he had said in her name, and seemed to enjoy them so much, that L'Isle, who, like some other people, had
 ??   "A heart 
Open as day to melting flattery,"
became almost as much charmed with himself as he was with his companion. Thus they amused themselves, recalling the little incidents of the evening; Lady Mabel turning satirist, at the cost of all her friends, not sparing even Mrs. Shortridge, in her attempts to play the Rome hostess, and ridiculing, without mercy, the commissary's awkward efforts at Portuguese eloquence and politeness. Then recalling and laughing at the extravagant compliments paid her after each song, she sung snatches of several of her favorite pieces, but had the grace not to allude to 'Constant my Heart;' while L'Isle longed for an occasion, yet hesitated to tell her how much better he liked it than all the others. In the midst of her extravagantly high spirits, checking herself suddenly, she said: "I see that you are surprised at me, but not more than I am at myself. Have you ever heard of our Scottish superstition of being fie—that is, possessed by a preternatural excess of vivacity? No? It is deemed the sure forerunner of evil at hand,—a sudden and violent death; some dire misfortune; perhaps a sad and final parting of—of the dearest friends. I own," she added, with a deep sigh, "I cannot free myself from this superstition of the country."
"I will not share it with you!" L'Isle exclaimed. "And you must shake it off. What were life without hope, and high hope too!" and seizing her hand he kissed it respectfully but with a fervor which indicated the direction his hopes had taken.
"For shame, Colonel L'Isle!" she exclaimed, laughing, while she snatched her hand away. "See how much shocked Jenny is at this liberty taken with her mistress!"
L'Isle had forgotten Jenny Aiken's presence. He turned to look at her, and the Scotch Hebe was plainly more amused than shocked at what she was witnessing. Had L'Isle forgotten also his appointment to-morrow morning at Alcantara? Perhaps not. But had Sir Rowland Hill now appeared and demanded his opinion of the Andalusian levies, L'Isle would have told him that he had no leisure to think of him or them.
But all sublunary pleasure has an end. Supper was over, and L'Isle could devise no excuse for lingering here, but the pleasure of listening to Lady Mabel, who seemed willing to amuse him as long as he staid. After a pause, divining that he was about to take leave of her, she said suddenly: "What an unreasonable fellow Sir Rowland Hill must be! Because he cannot find any one to execute his delicate commissions half so well as you do, he must be thrusting them all upon you! Does he take you for a Popish saint, endowed with pluripresence, and able to be in Andalusia, at Badajoz, Elvas, and Alcantara, all at one time?"
"Not exactly so," said L'Isle, a good deal flattered at this speech. "He has indeed tasked me well, at times doing other men's work; but it is all in a good cause, you know; and I never objected to these tasks till now—My Lord, I hear, set out for Alcantara early this morning, taking Bradshawe and Conway with him."
"Yes! they rode merrily off this morning," said Lady Mabel in a gay tone. "A summons to Alcantara breaks the monotony of their life here, and they were eager to meet Sir Rowland. I hear that these conferences with his officers always conclude with a capital dinner. That sallow Major Conway, with his fastidious appetite, and his Calcutta liver, will appreciate the excellence of the cuisine. I have heard Colonel Bradshawe dilate, with enthusiasm, on Sir Rowland's choice selection of wines. Papa, too, will meet some new people there, which will give him an opportunity of once more undergoing his three years of siege, famine, and bombardment in Gibraltar thirty years ago, and of uttering a new edition to the expedition to Egypt, in which he will again put Sir Ralph Abercromby to a glorious death in the arms of victory. They tell me, Sir Rowland, too, dearly loves these occasions for repeating his favorite lecture on strategy and grand tactics. But you must have heard it so often, that you can repeat it verbatim to me, if you have nothing more entertaining to say."
"I hope I could find topics more agreeable to us both," said L'Isle, laughing and blushing. "But unluckily I have in my pocket Sir Rowland's order to meet him there, and have intelligence he is waiting for. I am afraid he will have to wait."
"I am afraid, he will," said Lady Mabel, coolly, "for I do not see how you are to get out of the house now. By this time Moodie has bolted, barred, and locked every door and window below, hidden the keys, and gone to bed in his usual condition. He never can find them again, until his head gets clear in the morning."
"What!" exclaimed L'Isle, "that respectable old man drunk every night!"
"Not every night!" said Lady Mabel. "But have you forgotten in what condition he came back with us from Evora?"
"True. But I thought that an accident, and more the effect of sickness than drinking. He seemed quite sober when you came home, and a graver and more sedate man I do not know."
"O, he is a Presbyterian, you know, and the more liquor he swallows the graver and more sanctimonious he becomes."
"That may be. Still Lady Mabel, I must find some way of getting out of the house. Already I shall be too late at Alcantara."
"I am afraid Sir Rowland will not drink in your news at breakfast. But if it be good, it will come in capitally after dinner, by way of dessert."
"After dinner!" said L'Isle hurriedly. "I must be there many hours before that!"
"Then I am sorry to have kept you here so long. I suppose Jenny and I must keep watch by ourselves all night, for I cannot keep those heavy-headed fellows awake."
"Awake and watching!" exclaimed L'Isle.
"Yes—awake and watching," Lady Mabel answered. "If you could stay we would not insist on your sitting up with us. I could have Papa's room made ready for you; and if I knew that you were asleep in Papa's bed, with your drawn sword on one side, and a pair of his pistols, cocked, on the other, I would not be in the least afraid."
"Afraid of what?" asked L'Isle in astonishment.
"Of these robbers, who go plundering and murdering all over the country by night!" said Lady Mabel, her large blue eyes opening wide in well-feigned terror.
"Oh, don't talk of them, my lady!" said Jenny, with a stifled scream, and an affected shudder.
"Have you not heard of them?" Lady Mabel asked in a tone of surprise.
"I cannot say I have—at least of any depredations here at Elvas."
"But we are outside of Elvas—to our sorrow; and the monks, great engineers as they have elsewhere proved themselves, have constructed but a very weak fortress in this building. Our garrison is weaker still. Papa carried off his two most efficient servants. William is a simpleton, Tomkins a craven, and Moodie, though bold as a lion, is an old man, already bound hand and foot, and gagged by his strong enemy."
"But where is the Portuguese part of your household?" L'Isle asked.
"Being thieves in a small way," said Lady Mabel, "we always, at night, lock them out of this part of the building. While the robbers were cutting our throats up-stairs, they might be stealing our silver below. We have an anxious time here, I assure you. It is as much as I can do to keep poor Jenny from going off into hysterics; she will not go to bed lest she should be robbed and murdered in her sleep. It is lucky that I, being a soldier's daughter, have a little courage."
"Courage!" exclaimed L'Isle, "I am astonished at your sudden timidity. Why, there is a sentinel day and night here at headquarters."
"But out of sight and hearing at the other end of this old rambling monk's roost," said Lady Mabel, "mounting guard over papa's musty despatches."
"And the fellow now there," said Jenny, "told me he could not quit them—no, not if we were robbed and murdered twice over. I could scream now, only that I'm afraid the villains might hear me!"
While L'Isle looked suspiciously at the maid, not so good an actress as her mistress, Lady Mabel glanced her eye at the clock. Apparent time called it one, real time said it was two hours after midnight. She felt sure of her game, and need wear the mask no longer. She had been acting a long and trying part, and began to feel tired, and now showed it by letting her terror subside into one or two little yawns, which became her so well, that L'Isle never thought her more lovely than now when she was getting tired of his company.
It was high time to get rid of him. But now a real fear come over her, and she shrunk from his searching glance with unfeigned timidity. Still the thing had to be done; so nerving herself to the task, she stepped close up beside him, and looking confidingly in his face, said: "I am truly sorry to have kept you here so long, and hope you will not find Sir Rowland fretting and fuming at the delay of your news; but I was so anxious to have your protection, having just learned that these horrid ruffians are not guerilleros from the Spanish band at Badajoz, but some of your own regiment disguised as banditti."
L'Isle started back one step. In an instant, from the fairy land of hope and love, his Eden of delights, with every soothing and intoxicating influence around him, he found himself transported to a bleak common, stripped of his dreamy joys, exposed to the ridicule of the enchantress, and soon to be pelted with the pitiless jests of all who might hear of his adventure. He looked at Lady Mabel, almost expecting to see her undergo some magic transformation. But there she stood unchanged, except that there was a little sneer on her lip, a glance of triumph from her eye, an expression of intense but mischievous enjoyment in her whole air, and, what he had never observed before, a strong likeness to her father.
Striving quickly and proudly to recover himself, L'Isle said, with admirable gravity, "You have convinced me, Lady Mabel, that it is my especial duty to protect you from my own banditti. I will not leave you, not close an eye in sleep, while a shadow of danger hangs over you. But," he added, slowly drawing near to a window, and gently opening it, "I have observed that house-breakers always choose the darkest hours to hide their deeds of darkness. For to-night the danger is over. The moon is overhead, and not a cloud obscures the sky. We English may envy these Southern nations their nights, though not their days." Half a dozen nightingales were now pouring out their rival melodies in the grove. Looking out on the landscape before him, its features softened rather than concealed by the sober silvery light, he repeated:
"How sweet the moonlight sleeps on yonder bank, 
* * * * In such a night as this, 
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, 
And they did make no noise—in such a night 
Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls, 
And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents, 
Where Cressid lay that night."
While repeating these lines, he measured with his eye the distance to the ground. The comfort-loving monks had provided lofty ceilings and abundant air for their apartments under the scorching sun of Alemtejo. But in L'Isle's angry, defiant mood, he would have leapt from the top of Pompey's Pillar, rather than stay to be laughed at by Lady Mabel. Seating himself on the window-sill, he turned and threw his legs out of the window.
"For Heaven's sake, Colonel L'Isle, what are you dreaming of?"
"I am dreaming that, happy as Ulysses, I have listened to the Syren, and escaped her snares."
She had sprang forward as he spoke, and now threw out her arms to draw him back. He eluded her clasp, and dropped to the ground on his feet, but fell backward, and did not at once rise again. She shrieked, and then called out in a piteous tone: "Speak to me, Colonel L'Isle. For Heaven's sake, speak. Say you are not injured—not hurt."
"Console yourself, Lady Mabel," said he, rising slowly. "I have not broken my neck, and shall not break my appointment. And, now, I must bid you good-night; or shall I say good-morning?"
As L'Isle turned, he spied old Moodie standing in the open gateway of the court, with a light in his hand, and knitting his shaggy brows. He looked neither very drunk, nor much afraid of robbers, but trembled with rage on seeing L'Isle's mode of breaking out of the mansion. With a strong effort of self-control, L'Isle walked off without limping, and was soon lost in the gloomy shades of the olive and the orange grove.
Lady Mabel had played out the comedy, and now came—reflection. What had she done? How would it tell? Above all, what would L'Isle think of her? What were his feelings now? And what would they be when the exact truth-the whole plot—was known to him? Every faculty hitherto engrossed in the part she was playing, until this moment she had never looked on this side of the picture? Now, bitter self-reproach, womanly shame, and tears—vain, useless tears—filled up the remaining hours of the night. Jenny Aiken's feeble attempts at consolation were worse than futile, and she was sent off abruptly to her room for misconstruing the cause of her mistress' grief. Lady Mabel found little relief in remembering her father's injunction, to play her part well, and not fail of success. She was hardly soothed even by the resolution she took to rate that father soundly for the gross impropriety he had permitted, induced—nay, almost commanded—her to perpetrate.


©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