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
For French of Paris was to her unknow”—
longed to see her self-appointed dragoman enter the room.