Lord Strathern returned the next day to Elvas, and found his daughter very desolate, and full of more than filial anxiety to see him. She was alone, for the Commissary had, the day before, sent off his heavy baggage toward Lisbon. Lady Mabel would, at any time, have grieved at parting with a true-hearted friend like Mrs. Shortridge; but now other troubles weighed heavy on her, and so aggravated her obvious grief, while the chief cause was hidden, that her kind friend was deeply moved and greatly flattered at perceiving it. Had she staid longer in Elvas, Lady Mabel would have confided her troubles to her, knowing that, though she might not think wisely, she could feel rightly, and give both advice and sympathy. But after a struggle of hesitation, she let Mrs. Shortridge depart in ignorance, receiving from her many kind messages and adieus for L’Isle.
Perhaps it was best that it should be so; for, had the good lady learned the usage her favorite had met with, she might, for once in her life, have boiled over with indignation.
“Well, Ma Belle,” said Lord Strathern, as soon as he was alone with his daughter, “so that fellow, L’Isle, beat us, after all, at our own game. I did expect that your woman’s wit would have carried it through successfully.”
“Would to Heavens, papa, my woman’s wit, as you call it, had been sufficient to keep me out of it altogether. How could you think of putting such a part upon me? I never would have dreamed of it, if you had not urged—insisted on my detaining him here. What is Colonel L’Isle to me, that I should manoeuvre to keep him in Elvas, when Sir Rowland Hill expects him in Alcantara? And as for my resenting your quarrels with him, there is an impropriety in it, and yet more in the mode you made me adopt. I am ashamed of myself—I am ashamed of you, papa, for conceiving it.”
“And to fail, after all,” said Lord Strathern. “And yet, by L’Isle’s own account, you played your part well.”
“His account!” exclaimed Lady Mabel. “To whom?”
“To us all—Sir Rowland, Bradshawe, Conway, and myself. He was disposed to be sulky and silent, at first; but, with Sir Rowland’s help, we drew it all out of him.”
“Drew it all out of him!” said Lady Mabel, in a faltering tone. She gasped for breath, and her cheek grew pale. But the next moment the blood rushed into her face, and she exclaimed: “What! Did Colonel L’Isle give you a full account of the party—of all that occurred that evening?”
“Full and minute. He was very reluctant to tell, as we were all laughing at him; but Sir Rowland is a good inquisitor, and made him speak out, and at length. I did not know he had so good a memory, or you so much wit.”
“For Heaven’s sake, papa, what did he tell you?” Lady Mabel sat watching her father with eager eyes, her hands firmly clasped, and her heel impatiently tapping the floor, while she strove to master her almost uncontrollable confusion and anxiety.