“Your father’s doing!” exclaimed L’Isle, with well-feigned astonishment. “Then Lady Mabel is an automaton,” he added scornfully, “and I, blockhead that I am, never found it out till now! But I am thankful for wisdom even that comes too late. I now know Lady Mabel and myself.”
Was not Lady Mabel now disarmed and defenceless? Completely at his mercy? By no means! In this extremity she sheltered herself behind her strongest defences. She covered her face with her hands, and burst into tears.
Was ever man more embarrassed than L’Isle? His proud, scornful air, vanished like a snow-flake in the fire—and forgetting all that had passed, he was seizing her hands to draw them away from her face, when old Moodie abruptly entered the room, and called out, “Colonel L’Isle, you are wanted in Elvas?”
“What the devil are you doing here?” said L’Isle, turning round quickly, and placing himself so as to hide Lady Mabel’s face.
“My duty,” said the old man sternly, “and they have sent for you to attend to yours!” for he saw that something had gone wrong; and he longed to get L’Isle out of the house.
Looking into the passage, L’Isle now saw an orderly, whom Moodie had officiously brought up-stairs from the door, and he hurried out to receive the man’s message, and send him off. This done, he hastily re-entered the room to speak to Lady Mabel. But he was too late! The bird had flown, and her old Scotch terrier was covering her retreat, shutting the door of the next room behind her, and spitefully locking it in L’Isle’s face.
At sunrise, the next morning, L’Isle marched his regiment out of Elvas. Setting his face sternly northward, he never once looked back on the serried ranks which followed him, until the embattled heights of La Lippe had hidden Elvas and its surroundings. Turning his back upon the past, he strove to look but to the future; but at the very moment of this resolve, memory cheated him, and he caught himself repeating a line of Lady Mabel’s song:
“All else forgotten, War is now my theme.”
and the thrilling music of her intonation seemed to swell upon his ear. He hastily exchanged his quotation for a greater poet’s words:
“He that is truly dedicate to war,
Hath no self-love.”
If it be possible to forget, he will have ample opportunity, amidst the crash of armies and the crumbling of an empire, to erase from his memory Elvas, and its “episode in winter quarters.” From the heights of Traz os Montes, Wellington was now to make an eagle’s swoop upon the north of Spain, and a lion’s spring upon the herd, driven into the basin of Vittoria. The march now begun was to lead thence to the blood-stained passes of the Pyrennees, to Bayonne, Orthes, and Toulouse, and later, to Paris, from the field of Waterloo. But who shall measure, step by step, over conquered enemies and fallen friends, this long eventful road?