The ice once broken, accident seemed to throw them frequently into the same company. L’Isle doubtless needed relaxation from his historical labors; and a London season had at least the attraction of novelty for him. He was, too, just the man to win friends among the ladies; yet he still made it a point, whenever he met Lady Mabel, to bestow on her a few minutes cold attention and indifferent notice, for old acquaintance sake.
Lady Mabel stood in no need of these attentions. It was not her first season; and many a butterfly, that hovered about that garden which blooms in winter at the West-End, had hailed with delight the reappearance of this rare flower. And she liked to have them buzzing about her; it was her due, and yielded pleasant pastime. Yet while busiest dealing sentiment, jest, and repartee among them, she now had always an ear and a word for L’Isle, when he condescended to bestow a few minutes cold consideration on her.
Her gentlemen in waiting wondered at her having so much to say to L’Isle. She seemed to be under an obligation to be at leisure for him; and Sir Charles Moreton, who was argus-eyed where Lady Mabel was concerned, ventured to ask: “What pleasure can you find in talking to this austere soldier? His smile is a sneer; he warms only to grow caustic, and his cynical air betrays how little he cares even for you.”
“Were you ever clogged with sweet things?” asked Lady Mabel. “At times I tire of bonbons, and long for vinegar, salt and pepper. My austere friend deals in these articles.”
She seemed to have found a special use for him, treating him as a complete thinking machine, of high powers of observation, inflection, thought and reason, but not susceptible of aught that savored of feeling, sentiment or passion. She quietly threw the mantle of Mentor over his shoulders, deferred to his judgment, had recourse to him as a store-house of knowledge; and seemed so fully impressed with the fact that he had a head, as utterly to forget the probability of his having a heart. With a strange perversity, L’Isle was at once flattered and annoyed at the use she made of him. It was an unequal game he was playing, like a moth fluttering round a candle. His temper began to be worn threadbare, and oftener than ever he repeated to himself, “She is a heartless woman!”