L’Isle, though much out of countenance, had kept his seat through the recitation, but now got up looking little pleased with it.
“Try me,” said Major Warren. “You may be more successful in finding a critic.”
“I never suspected you of any critical acumen,” said Lady Mabel; “and so could not be disappointed.”
“Do not overlook me,” said Bradshawe. “Poetry is the expression of natural feeling, in a state of exaltation. Now, I am always in an exalted state of feeling in your company, and may be just now a very capable judge.”
“No; one failure is enough for me,” said Lady Mabel. “I am not in the humor to repeat it.”
“Let me read it then,” said Bradshawe, offering to take the paper from her hand.
Lady Mabel declined, and L’Isle tried to divert his attention. But Bradshawe’s curiosity was strongly excited, and he made more than one playful attempt to get possession of the verses. Upon this, Lady Mabel went to the table near which L’Isle was standing, and pretended to hide them between the pages of one of the books there. L’Isle, anxious that they should be kept from every eye but hers, watched her closely. Could he believe his eyes? As she stooped over the table, she actually, unobserved, as she thought, slipped the verses into her bosom. Bradshawe pertinaciously began to search the volumes; on which, Lady Mabel took up the largest of them, and with a grave face carried it out of the room, leaving L’Isle so well satisfied with her care for his epistle, that, by the time she came back, he was ready to bear, without flinching, any severity of criticism.
The rest of the company below being gone, Lord Strathern now entered the room. “Ah, L’Isle, I am glad to find you here; I was just about to send after you. I have this moment received a dispatch from Sir Rowland. He needs you for a special service, and this letter contains his instructions.”
“Is it in verse, Papa?” asked Lady Mabel, coming close up beside her father.
“In verse, child? What are you dreaming of? Sir Rowland is a sane man, and never writes verses?”
“I thought it might be a growing custom to correspond in verse. The last letter I received was in regular stanzas.”
“Who from?” asked Lord Strathern.
“A Spaniard—a genuine Spaniard, of the purest water,” said Lady Mabel. “And, strange to tell, I never saw him but once in my life.”
“The impudent rascal!” exclaimed his lordship. “I will have him horsewhipped by way of answer, a stripe for every line.”
“Nay,” said Lady Mabel, “a stripe for every bad line will be cutting criticism enough.”
“Who is this fellow? Is it the Don Alonso Melendez you were telling me of?”
“Never mind his name, Papa. I am afraid you might have him flayed alive, while the poor fellow deserves nothing but laughter for his doggerel.” And while this doggerel was secretly pressed by her bosom, she stole a look at L’Isle, and was surprised to see how little galled he seemed to be by her ridicule.