She seemed so little disposed to think her father might be mistaken, that L’Isle did not venture to hint further the possibility of it. In that father, Lady Mabel had full faith, and also some of the faith of inexperience in the beautiful theory which teaches that the general knows best, that after him the second in command approaches nearest to infallibility, and so on through every gradation of rank, in all services, civil and military. Had she made an exception to the application of this rule, it would have been in her father’s case; for she inclined to the belief, that notwithstanding the reputation and higher rank of the military men who stood between him and the commander-in-chief, her father was, after Wellington, the strongest bulwark against the torrent of invading French.
“I dare say that many of these poor fellows,” observed Lady Mabel, “though they are but common soldiers, enjoy a stroll into the country as much as we do. In a rude way they admire picturesque beauty, and observe with interest, bird, beast and plant of a country so different from their own.”
“I suspect,” said Mrs. Shortridge, “they look chiefly for the picturesque spots frequented by the pigs and poultry of the peasants, and have a keen eye to detect where the fruits of the orchard are stored, and where the wine skins hang.”
Lady Mabel was indignant at this suggestion. “It is a libel on the British army in general, and on our brigade in particular. They are soldiers, not robbers; and the king’s troops are too well cared for to be driven to plunder for a living.”
“But they may rob from love of mischief, of excitement, of excess, from mere idleness, or old habits,” said L’Isle. “In recruiting we adopt a physical, and not a moral standard. A sound body, five feet some inches long, is all we look for, and we are glad to get it. A great many rogues fulfil these requisites, and get into the ranks; and though we charge ourselves with the moral as well as the physical training, we are not always successful. The sack of Badajoz, and of Ciudad Rodrigo bear witness to this.”
They reached Elvas without further incident, and this proved but the first of many excursions made from time to time to points around that place. Thus, altogether with a view to her profit and pleasure, L’Isle contrived to withdraw Lady Mabel frequently from the military throng at headquarters, and, with Mrs. Shortridge’s aid, appropriate her to himself.
By this adroit manoeuvre, L’Isle did not gain the good will of some of his brother officers, who found their share of her ladyship’s society much curtailed. What cared L’Isle for that? No more than colonels usually care for the inclinations of subalterns. Many were the pleasant morning rambles on horseback and on foot that he took with the two ladies; and this mode of life agreed with him wonderfully well. Before long he recovered strength and activity to achieve some tall climbing after rare