The brigade had been for some weeks living in clover in their modern Capua, when Lady Mabel Stewart joined her father. A Portuguese provincial town, with its filthy streets and squalid populace, could be no agreeable place of residence to a British lady. Lord Strathern felt this, and, looking about him, found a large building in the midst of an orchard without the walls of Elvas, and more than half-way down the hill. It had been erected by one of the monastic societies of the city, as a place of occasional retirement for pleasure, or devotion, or both. The French had summarily turned them out of it five years before, and so thoroughly plundered them, at the same time, that they had not since found heart or means to repair and refurnish it. Accordingly, it was a good deal dilapidated. But the refectory and the kitchen took his lordship’s eye. The former could dine half the officers of the brigade at a time, and the latter allowed abundant elbow-room to cooks and scullions, while preparing the feast. So, here he established the headquarters of his brigade, and here Lady Mabel Stewart made her appearance in the new dignity of womanhood, to preside over his household.
Oh sovereign beauty, you whose charms
All other charms surpass;
Whose lustre nought can imitate,
Except your looking-glass.
Southey, from the Spanish.
The arrival of Lady Mabel Stewart was a god-send to the young officers of the brigade. Already the sources of interest afforded by the country around, began to fail them. Few men can long make a business of mere eating and drinking; red-legged partridges were getting scarce in that neighborhood, and boar hunting in the mountain forests was distant, laborious, and too often, fruitless of game. The scenery of the country, the costume and habits of the people, now familiar to their eyes, palled upon their tastes. They wanted something new to interest them, and were particularly delighted when this novelty came from home. But, above all, the black-haired, dark-eyed daughters of this sunny region grew many shades browner in their eyes. We look not at the daffodils when the lily rears its head. A new and higher order of beauty, rare even at home, now demanded homage, and it was freely paid.
Lord Strathern, a social and jovial man, had always been a favorite with his subalterns, but now his popularity attained its acme. His open house became headquarters, even more in a social than a military sense. It was a little court, and Lady Mabel played the queen regnant there.