“Then let them blunder on as fast as possible, and make you a major-general, and a knight of the bath, too, if it please the king. Many of your family were knighted of old, and Sir Edward L’Isle will sound well enough until it be merged in the peerage. But mean while hasten to drive these French out of Spain, as the czar is driving them out of Russia; make Spain too hot, as Muscovy is too cold for them, that I may begin my travels at an early day.”
L’Isle, out of countenance, made no answer to this sally. He did not like being laughed at, especially by Lady Mabel.
The rays of the declining sun now touched the tops only of the luxuriant shrubbery, that overhung this fairy dell. The heat of the day was passed, and clambering up the steep path to the more level ground, the party found their servants at hand with the horses, and rode slowly back toward Elvas.
Near the foot of the range of hills, L’Isle suddenly caught sight of three red coats, and saying, “I wonder what those fellows are doing so far from their quarters,” he turned his horse out of the path, and rode toward them. They presently saw him approaching, and much to Lady Mabel’s surprise and amusement, in which last feeling, Mrs. Shortridge joined, instead of waiting for him to come up, they immediately ran off different ways, seeking concealment from the thickets and hollows. Selecting one of them for the chase, L’Isle pushed his horse boldly over the rough ground. But the soldier, finding the pursuit too hot, pulled off the coat which made him conspicuous, and folding it into small compass, pushed through an overgrown hedge and vanished. L’Isle was soon at fault, and had to give up the chase. He returned somewhat out of humor, with his horse somewhat blown.
“You are a bold rider,” said Lady Mabel, “but those red foxes are too cunning for you. What made you chase them? What harm were they doing?”
“None that I know of—and had they let me speak to them I would have suspected none. But a soldier is always at mischief when he avoids being seen and identified by his officer. The men are allowed too much liberty in rambling over the country. No wonder we have so many complaints lodged against them.”
“You had better speak to papa about it,” said Lady Mabel, in simple confidence that so doing would set all to right.
“So I have, more than once. But he does not agree with me, and is opposed to what he calls needless restraint.”
“Oh, if papa thinks so, you need not worry yourself about the matter. It is his business, and doubtless near forty year’s experience has taught him what amount and kinds of restraint are needed, and what is merely burthensome and oppressive. I have heard him discuss these matters more than once.”