Besides the unerased marks of a fall, L’Isle’s clothes were travel-stained, and his face was pale, less, perhaps, from fatigue and loss of sleep, than from the violent excitement and revulsion of feelings he had lately undergone. But he soon withdrew Sir Rowland’s attention from himself to his full and precise account of the state of the Andalusian reserve, and the garrison of Badajoz.
“I am glad to find that this body of Spanish troops are not, like too many Spanish armies, men of straw, an army on paper,” said Sir Rowland. “The French are trying to occupy so extended a position here in Estremadura, that our Andalusian friends may do capital service in harassing their out-posts, and cutting off their convoys.”
“If they can be kept out of the plains, and induced not to fight,” said L’Isle, smiling. “But the Spaniard is always seeking to surround the enemy, and force him to battle.”
“At all events,” said Sir Rowland, “I can now give Lord Wellington a definite and reliable account of their condition;” and, making a sign to L’Isle to accompany him, he walked across the room and seated himself at the larger table. Here he held a somewhat prolonged conference with Lord Strathern, in which the other gentlemen were, at times, called upon to take part. When compelled to speak, L’Isle distinguished himself by giving admirable specimens of the lapidary style, not one spare word. Sir Rowland had many questions to ask and instructions to give; but, these over, he gave a less professional turn to the conversation, and then said: “I hope, my lord, you and these gentlemen will share my poor dinner to-day; but remember, I am not at home in Alcantara, and cannot feast you, as you do your friends at Elvas; neither can we sit long and drink deep, as I must return to-night to Coria.”
“We will dine with you with pleasure,” said Lord Strathern. “Pray, Bradshawe, who could have told Sir Rowland that we sit long and drink deep at Elvas?”
“Some thirsty fellow,” said Bradshawe, “who had drained the last drop from his last bottle.”
“Oh, my lord,” said Sir Rowland, laughing, “I meant no insinuation. But I must finish my despatch,” and he returned to his secretary.
While Lord Strathern and his companions awaited Sir Rowland’s leisure, L’Isle sat moodily apart, turning an unsocial shoulder toward his lordship, giving him a glimpse of his back.
Lord Strathern smiled; he saw the earth stains, and saw, moreover, evident marks of anger and chagrin in L’Isle’s demeanor. His curiosity was strongly excited, and he resolved to make the silent man find his tongue.
“Pray, L’Isle how came you to let your horse slip from under you, and measure your length in the road?”
“You are mistaken, my lord,” said L’Isle, formally; “my horse did not throw me.”
“You are so used to success that you will acknowledge no failure, not even a fall from your horse, or your hobby-horse. Perhaps you got tired, and took a nap by the roadside, which accounts for your getting here no sooner.”