“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.”