Being men of leisure, they were still busy discussing their master’s affairs, and had begun to wonder if he had forgotten that it was time to go to dinner, when L’Isle called for his man; but it was only to bid him send the groom up to him.
With an obedient start, Tom hastened up stairs. In a few minutes, he came down with an exceedingly neatly folded despatch in his hand. He seemed to have gained in that short interval no little accession of importance. He had quite sunk the groom, and strode into the room with the air of an ambassador.
“Now, my lads, without even stopping to wet my whistle,” said he, “I will but sharpen my spurs, saddle my horse, and then—”
“What then?” asked his comrades.
“I will ride off on my important mission.”
“Were you right?” asked L’Isle’s gentleman. “Is that for Sir Rowland Hill?”
“Sir Rowland,” answered Tom, carelessly, “is not the most considerable personage with whom master may correspond. And as the army post goes every day to Coria, he would hardly send me thither.”
“Can it be for the commander-in-chief?” suggested the footman. “That is farther off still.”
“You are but half-right,” said Tom, contemptuously; “for it is not so far,” and, holding up the letter, he pretended to read the direction: “’To his excellency, Lieutenant-General Sir Mabel Stewart, commander-in-chief of his majesty’s forces in these parts.’ If you had not been blockheads, you might have known it, from the extraordinary neatness of the rose-colored envelope, with its figured green border.”
“I wonder where he got it?” said the footman.
“He brought them out with him from home,” said Tom, as if he were in all his master’s secrets, “for his love-letters to the Portuguese ladies—but never met with any worth writing love-letters to. And, now, my lads, hinder me no longer, I must ride and run till this be delivered to my lady, and your mistress, that is to be.” He was soon in the saddle, and when there, rode as if carrying the news, that a French division, having surprised the dreamy Spaniards in Badajoz, was already fording the Cayo, without meeting even Goring’s handful of dragoons, to check its advance.
L’Isle now hastened to the regimental mess, and, after dining, loitered there longer than usual, with a convivial set, until it was late enough to visit Lady Mabel.
He found her alone, in her drawing-room; her father being still at table, with some companions, the murmur of whose voices and laughter now and then reached L’Isle’s ears.
“Lieutenant Goring, who is down stairs,” said Lady Mabel, “has been amusing us at dinner with his version of our adventure at the ford of the Cayo; and a very good story he makes of it, giving some rich samples of Captain Hatton’s polyglot eloquence. He, alone, seems not to have been in the dark; and saw all, and more than all, that occurred—nor does he forget you in the picture. But, papa cannot see the wit of it at all.”