“What is there in them,” exclaimed one of the party, “that needs such close watching?”
The colonel seemed for a moment to debate in his own mind the propriety of making a revelation, then said: “We are all friends here; and, while it is desirable in our profession, and in all others, to know thoroughly the men we live among, still there are many little things that are not to be published on parade, like a general order.”
His discreet auditors assenting to this truth, he then gave a full detail of Adjutant Meynell’s morning conversation with his colonel, painting broadly and brightly L’Isle’s surprise and delight on hearing that Mrs. Shortridge was in Elvas. “What do you think of that, Fox?”
Captain Fox thought L’Isle very imprudent. “But he is young yet, and lacks secrecy and self-command.”
“I had not well digested what Meynell had told me,” continued Bradshawe, “when I met Shortridge, and lo! L’Isle had already found them out in their dirty lodgings,” and the colonel went on to repeat and embellish Shortridge’s narrative of L’Isle’s kind attention, and the origin of their intimacy. Various were the comments of the company on the affair. But they all agreed to the justness of their colonel’s criticism, when he remarked: “That scene in the Patriarchal Church must have been exceedingly well got up. I should like much to have been by. Have you ever remarked that a woman never faints out-and-out, when there is no man near enough, and ready enough, to catch her before she falls to the ground?”
This was a physiological fact, as to female fainting, that some of the company admitted was new to them.
“Now, you are all sharp fellows,” said Bradshawe, with a patronizing wave of the hand; “and some of you profess to be men of intrigue; yet I doubt whether any one of you can tell me why the house is not handed over to Shortridge until at the end of three days.”
One suggested one reason; another, another. But wine had failed to sharpen their wits, and he scornfully rejected their solutions.
“Three days may be needed,” said he, gravely, “to fit a double set of keys to every lock in the house. Shortridge will have one. L’Isle may keep the other, and with it the power of letting himself in and out at any minute of the twenty-four hours.”
How stupid did his companions think themselves. The thing was now patent to the dullest apprehension.
“It is curious,” continued the colonel, “that Shortridge, so keen a fellow in all business transactions (for both we and the government have found him too sharp for us before now), should be in these little delicate domestic relations such an egregious gull. You all know I do not view these little matters from the parson’s point of view; but still, there is a propriety to be observed. To think,” continued Bradshawe, with a countenance of comic horror, “of his proposing to make our friend Shortridge lie in a ditch, for his accommodation! Our punctilious comrade is getting to be a very bare-faced fellow. Just snatched from the brink of the grave, too,” added he, in a sudden fit of pious indignation. “What a deliberate, cold-blooded fellow!”