“You see the dilemma, Sir Rowland,” exclaimed Bradshawe, with glee. “Here was a conflict of duties. Colonel L’Isle had to obey two commanders at one time, which Scripture tells us is difficult, if not impossible.”
“L’Isle seems to have achieved the impossible,” said Sir Rowland; “for I know you are too gallant a man, L’Isle, to neglect a lady’s order for mine.”
Sir Rowland’s manner, though not his words, were urgent for an explanation; and L’Isle being now fairly in for it, with an effort, gathered his wits together, and opened the narrative of his last night’s adventure. He recounted Lady Mabel’s successful efforts to amuse and occupy him into a forgetfulness of the flying hours; her artful delays before setting out; their slow but pleasant drive up hill to Elvas; the animated and well-sustained part she had played throughout the evening; her wit, her satire, and her singing, and his labors as interpreter, acknowledging many foolish things of his own, in his efforts to be witty and amusing according to contract. He described her well-feigned fear of returning home in the dark without an escort, the brilliantly lighted house and well-timed supper, at which, unconscious of the flight of time, he sat listening to her diverting talk, including her piquant sketch of Sir Rowland’s glorious dinners and tactical lectures, and the value his officers set on each. Here his auditors had each an opportunity of laughing at each other, and being laughed at in turn.
L’Isle strove to make Lady Mabel appear witty, amusing, and adroit; he gave edge to her satire—keenness to her wit; but carefully rounded off all the more salient points of her acting. He said nothing of her singing “Constant my heart,” at him. He did not hint at his taking her hand in the coach, or kissing it at the supper table; but dilated on her skillful libel on old Moodie’s sobriety, and her well acted dread of the house-breaking banditti, from whom he could best protect her, as they are no other than his own men.
Though L’Isle did not get through his narrative with the best possible grace, he was doubly successful in it; at once greatly amusing his auditors, yet exhibiting Lady Mabel only as a witty girl, who had merely played the part allotted to her with mischievous pleasure and consummate tact. But he attained this at the cost of showing himself an easy dupe to her arts, and getting well laughed at for his pains. It cost L’Isle no small effort to do this. It was, in fact, a heroic, self-sacrificing act; for he was not used to being laughed at, and there is something highly amusing in compelling a man to tell a story which makes him more and more ridiculous at every turn. But while showing so much consideration for Lady Mabel, so far was he from beginning to forgive her ill-usage of him, that the constraint he had put upon himself only embittered his feelings toward her.