“Ah! I would like the jaunt very much. But I did not know that the commissary was going thither.”
“He is going, and you might accompany him,” said L’Isle. “You could not indeed make the journey in your coach if you had one, for off this high road, from Lisbon to Madrid, there is scarcely a carriage-road in the country. But you are now quite at home, on the back of your sure-footed mule.”
The truth was, L’Isle had himself suggested to the commissary that the country south of Evora was rich and productive, and that prices had not been raised there by the vicinity of the troops, and the demands of their market. At the same time he gave Shortridge to understand that he wished to get up a party to visit Evora, and Lady Mabel must be included in it.
“I will ask the commissary to-night when he is going,” said Mrs. Shortridge; “and to take me with him, if he can.”
Lady Mabel had listened with silent interest so far; but here she broke in upon their conference, just as L’Isle desired.
“Why, Mrs. Shortridge,” she exclaimed, with a well-feigned air of one deeply wronged, “do you mean to desert me? After partaking of my pleasant excursions and botanical instructions (but I find you a very dull scholar), do you mean to go traveling about, in search of adventures and rare sights, without even asking me to be of the party?—I, who am afflicted with a mania for traveling which can only be cured by being gratified? But such is woman’s friendship.”
“My dear Lady Mabel, how do you know that my lord would trust you so far under my care?
“So far!” said Lady Mabel, scornfully. “Did I not come from Scotland hither, braving the perils of the sea and of the wilderness, the stormy Bay of Biscay, and the desert of Alemtejo, teeming with robbers and wild beasts? With no guardian but old Moodie, whose chief merit is that of being a suspicious old Scot, with the fidelity and snappishness of a terrier.”
“I am surprised now that I sent for you,” said Lord Strathern, “considering the difficulties in the way of your coming. But you are here, and I thank God for it. But you would find it a long, rough ride to Evora, and the weather grows hotter every day.”
“Rough roads are nothing to us who travel on horseback,” Lady Mabel said, with the air of a cavalier; “and as for the distance, it is not much over a morning’s ride. Colonel L’Isle, could not you ride there in a morning?”
“With relays of good horses, and good luck to my neck,” said L’Isle, with a laugh. “It is about fifty miles; but one need not go the whole way in one day.”
“Of course not,” she answered. “We will not ride post, but take our ease, and see the country at our leisure.”