Having thus, by fitting a few chance hints to each other, brought out a pretty piece of Spanish intrigue, that would have delighted Calderon or Lope de Vega, the colonel emptied the decanter by filling the glasses all round, and each man emptying his glass, the company dispersed.
I praise God for you, sir:
your reasons at dinner have been sharp
and sententious; pleasant without scurrility, witty without
affectation, audacious without impudence, learned without opinion,
and strange without heresy.—Love’s Labor Lost.
L’Isle, meanwhile, after spending an unwonted time at his toilet, drew himself up to the utmost of the five feet ten which nature had allotted to him, to shake off the stoop which he imagined himself to have contracted during his long hours of languor and suffering. He then inspected himself most critically in the glass, to see how far he had recovered his usual good looks. But that truthful counsellor presented to him cheeks still sunken and pallid, and sharpened features. The clear gray eye looked out from a cavern, and the rich nut-brown hair hung over a brow covered with parchment. His lean figure no longer filled the uniform which once fitted it so well. He stood before his glass in no peacock mood of self-admiration; but was compelled to own that he was not, just now at least, the man to fascinate a lady’s eye; so he resolved to take Lady Mabel by the ear, which is, in fact, the surest way to catch a woman.
Lord Strathern kept his promise: to have no noisy fellows at dinner to-day. Perhaps an occasional visitor, who hovered near, the gout, made him more readily dispense with his more jovial companions. The only guest, beside L’Isle, was Major Conway, of the light dragoons.
A party of four is an excellent number for conversation, especially if there be no rivalry among them. The major had served long in India, but had arrived in the Peninsula only toward the end of the last campaign. He wished to learn all he could of the country, the people and the war; and nearly five years of close observation, industrious inquiry, and active service had rendered L’Isle just the man to gratify his wishes. Lord Strathern, too, in a long and varied military career, had seen much, and the old soldier had not failed to lay in a stock of shrewd observation and amusing anecdote. So that, to a young listener like Lady Mabel, eager to learn and quick to appreciate, two or three hours glided away in striking and agreeable contrast with the more jovial and somewhat noisy festivities of yesterday and many a previous day. L’Isle made no attempt to engross her attention. Major Conway had left a wife in England, which shut out any feelings of rivalry with him. L’Isle was thus quite at his ease, and showed to much advantage; for it is surprising how agreeable some people can make themselves when they are bent upon it. He combined the qualities