In a Gothic hall, which looked as if it had not long since been visited by the Vandals, but which had of old been often thronged with members of the once chivalrous order of Alcantara, now as effete in knighthood as that of Malta; a military secretary was writing at a small table, at the dictation of Sir Rowland Hill, who stood near, perchance, as good a knight as ever trod that floor. Officers came in to him, and were sent out again on various missions. Lord Strathern was seated by a larger table at the other end of the room, conversing gaily with his fellow-travelers from Elvas, and waiting Sir Rowland’s leisure.
Sir Rowland presently looked at his watch, and raising his voice, inquired—“My Lord, has L’Isle come yet?”
“Not yet,” Lord Strathern answered with a smiling countenance, while Sir Rowland’s expressed disappointment. He knew that the commander-in-chief was about to order a combination of simultaneous movements. Every part of the allied force from Gallicia to Andalusia had its task allotted, and he was anxious to know how far the Conde di Abispal’s could be relied on.
“L’Isle is usually before his time,” said Sir Rowland. “Do you think he got my order yesterday?”
“I have little doubt of it,” said my lord.
“But I doubt his being here soon,” said Bradshawe, dipping in his oar to trouble the waters. “He had to go last night to a concert in Elvas.”
“A concert detain him! I do not understand that.”
“Nor I, Sir Rowland,” said Bradshawe coolly. “I only heard it without pretending to understand it.”
Sir Rowland looked puzzled, but his unfinished dispatch claimed his attention, and he turned again to his secretary.
Meanwhile Lord Strathern was in high spirits. “The hour has come, but not the man!” he said, and began to triumph over Conway, and laugh at L’Isle so merrily, that he would have soon found it in his heart to forgive the latter all his offensive strictures on him. But, suddenly, his merriment gave place to a look of surprise and disappointment. Conway, turning to ascertain the cause, saw L’Isle walk into the room as if he had come hither at his leisure; yet, something in his bearing, betrayed that his pride was in arms.
“I am glad to see you, L’Isle,” said Sir Rowland. “I were loath to close my dispatch without adding the intelligence you might bring me. By the bye, some of these gentlemen thought that you would not be here so soon.”
“They must have supposed that I had not received your order, sir,” said L’Isle, glancing haughtily round on Lord Strathern; “but, having got it, I am here.”
“It seems to have cost you hard riding though, and more fatigue than you are yet equal to,” said Sir Rowland, remembering his late wounds. “And you have had a fall,” he added, observing some marks on his clothes.
“Not from my horse,” said L’Isle, shortly and somewhat bitterly. “But it is of no consequence,” and he hastened to produce his notes and furnish Sir Rowland with the information expected from him.