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.