She now recollected herself enough to let go the handle of the door, and make room for him to enter, and, by a motion of the hand, invited him to take a seat.
Taking a chair near her, L’Isle ran his eye round the well-remembered room. Perhaps he was thinking of his last visit here—perhaps remarking its dismantled, comfortless condition. It was not more changed than he was. All his earnest frankness of manner was gone. He seemed to have borrowed a leaf from Colonel Bradshawe’s book; and his air of cool self-possession, his imperturbable manner, under the present trying circumstances, would have excited that gentleman’s admiration, but it added a chill to the discomfort of Lady Mabel’s position.
Had he been angry, indignant, haughty, or sullen, it would have been an infinite relief to her. She might have known how to deal with him, and perchance have soon brought him round to a very different mood. Now L’Isle evidently waited with cool politeness to hear some sound from her lips; and she at length stammered out, “I am very sorry that you are going—that is, that papa and all of you are going so soon.”
“Our pleasant sojourn in Elvas is over!” said L’Isle, carelessly, “and Elvas is a pleasant place. Your stay here, too, has been quite an episode in winter quarters. We cannot thank you too much for the enlivening influence of your presence among us. I, for one, will ever carry with me a vivid recollection of it.”
Lady Mabel bowed. How cold and formal did this sound in her ears.
“To do ourselves justice,” continued L’Isle, “some of us have not been remiss in our efforts to enable you to pass your time pleasantly. I dare say now, were I to hold myself to a strict account, I could reckon up many an hour stolen from the dull routine of duty to devote it to Lady Mabel’s service.”
“I am surely deeply indebted to you for the hours you so borrowed to bestow on me,” Lady Mabel answered, much at a loss what to say, and looking every way but at L’Isle. “When I look back, I cannot but be surprised at the amount of my gains, the knowledge and amusement I have crowded into three short months, and chiefly through you.”
“That time has passed, however,” said L’Isle; “I can no longer be at hand to afford you amusement. And as for knowledge, although older than you, and knowing more of life, the world, and perchance of books, I doubt whether you have been the greatest gainer in our intercourse. But feeling a deep interest in you, I sincerely hope that you may gain one precious lesson through me.”
“What is that?” asked Lady Mabel eagerly—for the first time looking fully at him.
“Never again heartlessly to throw away a friend!!” L’Isle said this more gravely than bitterly. Then rising, he bowed respectfully but formally, and was turning to go away.
Can she let him go without one word? But what can she say? She, at length, gasped out, “It was papa’s doing.”