"The court," said the judge-advocate, "is entitled at any time before the finding to call or recall any witnesses, provided that the prisoner is afforded an opportunity of answering anything further that may be elicited in re-examination of these witnesses."
"That is the rule," said Sir Terence, "and rightly so, for, as in the present instance, the prisoner's own statement may make it necessary."
The president gave way, thereby renewing Miss Armytage's terrors and shaking at last even the prisoner's calm.
Sergeant Flynn was the first of the witnesses recalled at Sir Terence's request, and it was Sir Terence who took up his re-examination.
"You said, I think, that you were standing in the guardroom doorway when Captain Tremayne passed you at twenty minutes to twelve on the night of the 28th?"
"Yes, sir. I had turned out upon hearing the curricle draw up. I had come to see who it was."
"Naturally. Well, now, did you observe which way Captain Tremayne went?—whether he went along the passage leading to the garden or up the stairs to the offices?"
The sergeant considered for a moment, an Captain Tremayne became conscious for the first time that morning that his pulses were throbbing. At last his dreadful suspense came to an end.
"No, sir. Captain Tremayne turned the corner, and was out of my sight, seeing that I didn't go beyond the guardroom doorway."
Sir Terence's lips parted with a snap of impatience. "But you must have heard," he insisted. "You must have heard his steps—whether they went upstairs or straight on."
"I am afraid I didn't take notice, sir."
"But even without taking notice it seems impossible that you should not have heard the direction of his steps. Steps going up stairs sound quite differently from steps walking along the level. Try to think."
The sergeant considered again. But the president interposed. The testiness which Sir Terence had been at no pains to conceal annoyed Sir Harry, and this insistence offended his sense of fair play.
"The witness has already said that the didn't take notice. I am afraid it can serve no good purpose to compel him to strain his memory. The court could hardly rely upon his answer after what he has said already."
"Very well," said Sir Terence curtly. "We will pass on. After the body of Count Samoval had been removed from the courtyard, did Mullins, my butler, come to you?"
"Yes, Sir Terence."
"What was his message? Please tell the court."
"He brought me a letter with instructions that it was to be forwarded first thing in the morning to the Commissary-General's office."
"Did he make any statement beyond that when he delivered that letter?"
The sergeant pondered a moment. "Only that he had been bringing it when he found Count Samoval's body."
"That is all I wish to ask, Sir Harry," O'Moy intimated, and looked round at his fellow-members of that court as if to inquire whether they had drawn any inference from the sergeant's statements.
"Have you any questions to ask the witness, Captain Tremayne?" the president inquired.
"None, sir," replied the prisoner.
Came Private Bates next, and Sir Terence proceeded to question him..
"You said in your evidence that Captain Tremayne arrived at Monsanto between half-past eleven and twenty minutes to twelve?"
"You told us, I think, that you determined this by the fact that you came on duty at eleven o'clock, and that it would be half-an-hour or a little more after that when Captain Tremayne arrived?"
"That is quite in agreement with the evidence of your sergeant. Now tell the court where you were during the half-hour that followed—until you heard the guard being turned out by the sergeant."
"Pacing in front of quarters, sir."
"Did you notice the windows of the building at all during that time?"
"I can't say that I did, sir."
"Why not?" echoed the private.
"Yes—why not? Don't repeat my words. How did it happen that you didn't notice the windows?"
"Because they were in darkness, sir."
O'Moy's eyes gleamed. "All of them?"
"Certainly, sir, all of them."
"You are quite certain of that?"
"Oh, quite certain, sir. If a light had shown from one of them I couldn't have failed to notice it."
"That will do."
"Captain Tremayne—" began the president.
"I have no questions for the witness, sir," Tremayne announced.
Sir Harry's face expressed surprise. "After the statement he has just made?" he exclaimed, and thereupon he again invited the prisoner, in a voice that was as grave as his countenance, to cross-examine he witness; he did more than invite—he seemed almost to plead. But Tremayne, preserving by a miracle his outward calm, for all that inwardly he was filled with despair and chagrin to see what a pit he had dug for himself by his falsehood, declined to ask any questions.
Private Bates retired, and Mullins was recalled. A gloom seemed to have settled now upon the court. A moment ago their way had seemed fairly clear to its members, and they had been inwardly congratulating themselves that they were relieved from the grim necessity of passing sentence upon a brother officer esteemed by all who knew him. But now a subtle change had crept in. The statement drawn by Sir Terence from the sentry appeared flatly to contradict Captain Tremayne's own account of his movements on the night in question.
"You told the court," O'Moy addressed the witness Mullins, consulting his notes as he did so, "that on the night on which Count Samoval met his death, I sent you at ten minutes past twelve to take a letter to the sergeant of the guard, an urgent letter which was to be forwarded to its destination first thing on the following morning. And it was in fact in the course of going upon this errand that you discovered the prisoner kneeling beside the body of Count Samoval. This is correct, is it not?"
"It is, sir."
"Will you now inform the court to whom that letter was addressed?"
"It was addressed to the Commissary-General."
"You read the superscription?"
"I am not sure whether I did that, but I clearly remember, sir, that you told me at the time that it was for the Commissary-General."
Sir Terence signified that he had no more to ask, and again the president invited the prisoner to question the witness, to receive again the prisoner's unvarying refusal.
And now O'Moy rose in his place to announce that he had himself a further statement to, make to the court, a statement which he had not conceived necessary until he had heard the prisoner's account of his movements during the half-hour he had spent at Monsanto on the night of the duel.
"You have heard from Sergeant Flynn and my butler Mullins that the letter carried from me by the latter to the former on the night of the 28th was a letter for the Commissary-General of an urgent character, to be forwarded first thing in the morning. If the prisoner insists upon it, the Commissary-General himself may be brought before this court to confirm my assertion that that communication concerned a complaint from headquarters on the subject of the tents supplied to the third division Sir Thomas Picton's—at Celorico. The documents concerning that complaint—that is to say, the documents upon which we are to presume that the prisoner was at work during tine half-hour in question—were at the time in my possession in my own private study and in another wing of the building altogether."
Sir Terence sat down amid a rustling stir that ran through the court, but was instantly summoned to his feet again by the president.
"A moment, Sir Terence. The prisoner will no doubt desire to question you on that statement." And he looked with serious eyes at Captain Tremayne.
"I have no questions for Sir Terence, sir," was his answer.
Indeed, what question could he have asked? The falsehoods he had uttered had woven themselves into a rope about his neck, and he stood before his brother officers now in an agony of shame, a man discredited, as he believed.
"But no doubt you will desire the presence of the Commissary-General?" This was from Colonel Fletcher his own colonel and a man who esteemed him—and it was asked in accents that were pleadingly insistent.
"What purpose could it serve, sir? Sir Terence's words are partly confirmed by the evidence he has just elicited from Sergeant Flynn and his butler Mullins. Since he spent the night writing a letter to the Commissary, it is not to be doubted that the subject would be such as he states, since from my own knowledge it was the most urgent matter in our hands. And, naturally, he would not have written without having the documents at his side. To summon the Commissary-General would be unnecessarily to waste the time of the court. It follows that I must have been mistaken, and this I admit."
"But how could you be mistaken?" broke from the president.
"I realise your difficulty in crediting, it. But there it is. Mistaken I was."
"Very well, sir." Sir Harry paused and then added "The court will be glad to hear you in answer to the further evidence adduced to refute your statement in your own defence."
"I have nothing further to say, sir," was Tremayne's answer.
"Nothing further?" The president seemed aghast. "Nothing, sir."
And now Colonel Fletcher leaned forward to exhort him. "Captain Tremayne," he said, "let me beg you to realise the serious position in which you are placed."
"I assure you, sir, that I realise it fully."
"Do you realise that the statements you have made to account for your movements during the half-hour that you were at Monsanto have been disproved? You have heard Private Bates's evidence to the effect that at the time when you say you were at work in the offices, those offices remained in darkness. And you have heard Sir Terence's statement that the documents upon which you claim to have been at work were at the time in his own hands. Do you realise what inference the court will be compelled to draw from this?"
"The court must draw whatever inference it pleases," answered the captain without heat.
Sir Terence stirred. "Captain Tremayne," said he, "I wish to add my own exhortation to that of your colonel! Your position has become extremely perilous. If you are concealing anything that may extricate you from it, let me enjoin you to take the court frankly and fully into your confidence."
The words in themselves were kindly, but through them ran a note of bitterness, of cruel derision, that was faintly perceptible to Tremayne and to one or two others.
Lord Wellington's piercing eyes looked a moment at O'Moy, then turned upon the prisoner. Suddenly he spoke, his voice as calm and level as his glance.
"Captain Tremayne—if the president will permit me to address you in the interests of truth and justice—you bear, to my knowledge, the reputation of an upright, honourable man. You are a man so unaccustomed to falsehood that when you adventure upon it, as you have obviously just done, your performance is a clumsy one, its faults easily distinguished. That you are concealing something the court must have perceived. If you are not concealing something other than that Count Samoval fell by your hand, let me enjoin you to speak out. If you are shielding any one—perhaps the real perpetrator of this deed—let me assure you that your honour as a soldier demands, in the interests of truth and justice, that you should not continue silent."
Tremayne looked into the stern face of the great soldier, and his glance fell away. He made a little gesture of helplessness, then drew himself stiffly up.
"I have nothing more to say."
"Then, Captain Tremayne," said the president, "the court will pass to the consideration of its finding. And if you cannot account for the half-hour that you spent at Monsanto while Count Samoval was meeting his death, I am afraid that, in view of all the other evidences against you, your position is likely to be one of extremest gravity.
"For the last time, sir, before I order your removal, let me add my own to the exhortations already addressed to you, that you should speak. If still you elect to remain silent, the court, I fear, will be unable to draw any conclusion but one from your attitude."
For a long moment Captain Tremayne stood there in tense, expectant silence. Yet he was not considering; he was waiting. Lady O'Moy he knew to be in court, behind him. She had heard, even as he had heard, that his fate hung perhaps upon whether Richard Butler's presence were to be betrayed or not. Not for him to break faith with her. Let her decide. And, awaiting that decision, he stood there, silent, like a man considering. And then, because no woman's voice broke the silence to proclaim at once his innocence, and the alibi that must ensure his acquittal, he spoke at last.
"I thank you, sir. Indeed, I am very grateful to the court for the consideration it has shown me. I appreciate it deeply, but I have nothing more to say."
And then, when all seemed lost, a woman's voice rang out at last:
"But I have!"
Its sharp, almost strident note acted like an electric discharge upon the court; but no member of the assembly was more deeply stricken than Captain Tremayne. For though the voice was a woman's, yet it was not the voice for which he had been waiting.
In his excitement he turned, to see Miss Armytage standing there, straight and stiff, her white face stamped with purpose; and beside her, still seated, clutching her arm in an agony of fear, Lady O'Moy, murmuring for all to hear her:
"No, no, Sylvia. Be silent, for God's sake!"
But Sylvia had risen to speak, and speak she did, and though the words she uttered were such as a virgin might wish to whisper with veiled countenance and averted glance, yet her utterance of them was bold to the point of defiance.
"I can tell you why Captain Tremayne is silent. I can tell you whom he shields."
"Oh God!" gasped Lady O'Moy, wondering through her anguish how Sylvia could have become possessed of her secret.
"Miss Armytage—I implore you!" cried Tremayne, forgetting where he stood, his voice shaking at last, his hand flung out to silence her.
And then the heavy voice of O'Moy crashed in:
"Let her speak. Let us have the truth—the truth!" And he smote the table with his clenched fist.
"And you shall have it," answered Miss Armytage. "Captain Tremayne keeps silent to shield a woman—his mistress."
Sir Terence sucked in his breath with a whistling sound. Lady O'Moy desisted from her attempts to check the speaker and fell to staring at her in stony astonishment, whilst Tremayne was too overcome by the same emotion to think of interrupting. The others preserved a watchful, unbroken silence.
"Captain Tremayne spent that half-hour at Monsanto in her room. He was with her when he heard the cry that took him to the window. Thence he saw the body in the courtyard, and in alarm went down at once—without considering the consequences to the woman. But because he has considered them since, he now keeps silent."
"Sir, sir," Captain Tremayne turned in wild appeal to the president, "this is not true." He conceived at once the terrible mistake that Miss Armytage had made. She must have seen him climb down from Lady O'Moy's balcony, and she had come to the only possible, horrible conclusion. "This lady is mistaken, I am ready to—"
"A moment, sir. You are interrupting," the president rebuked.
And then the voice of O'Moy on the note of terrible triumph sounded again like a trumpet through the long room.
"Ah, but it is the truth at last. We have it now. Her name! Her name!" he shouted. "Who was this wanton?"
Miss Armytage's answer was as a bludgeon-stroke to his ferocious exultation.
"Myself. Captain Tremayne was with me."
CHAPTER XVIII FOOL'S MATE
Writing years afterwards of this event—in the rather tedious volume of reminiscences which he has left us—Major Carruthers ventures the opinion that the court should never have been deceived; that it should have perceived at once that Miss Armytage was lying. He argues this opinion upon psychological grounds, contending that the lady's deportment in that moment of self-accusation was the very last that in the circumstances she alleged would have been natural to such a character as her own.
"Had she indeed," he writes, "been Tremayne's mistress, as she represented herself, it was not in her nature to have announced it after the manner in which she did so. She bore herself before us with all the effrontery of a harlot; and it was well known to most of us that a more pure, chaste, and modest lady did not live. There was here a contradiction so flagrant that it should have rendered her falsehood immediately apparent."
Major Carruthers, of course, is writing in the light of later knowledge, and even, setting that aside, I am very far from agreeing with his psychological deduction. Just as a shy man will so overreach himself in his efforts to dissemble his shyness as to assume an air of positive arrogance, so might a pure lady who had succumbed as Miss Armytage pretended, upon finding herself forced to such self-accusation, bear herself with a boldness which was no more than a mask upon the shame and anguish of her mind.
And this, I think, was the view that was taken by those present. The court it was—being composed of honest gentlemen—that felt the shame which she dissembled. There were the eyes that fell away before the spurious effrontery of her own glance. They were disconcerted one and all by this turn of events, without precedent in the experience of any, and none more disconcerted—though not in the same sense—than Sir Terence. To him this was checkmate—fool's mate indeed. An unexpected yet ridiculously simple move had utterly routed him at the very outset of the deadly game that he was playing. He had sat there determined to have either Tremayne's life or the truth, publicly avowed, of Tremayne's dastardly betrayal. He could not have told you which he preferred. But one or the other he was fiercely determined to have, and now the springs of the snare in which he had so cunningly taken Tremayne had been forced apart by utterly unexpected hands.
"It's a lie!" he bellowed angrily. But he bellowed, it seemed, upon deaf ears. The court just sat and stared, utterly and hopelessly at a loss how to proceed. And then the dry voice of Wellington followed Sir Terence, cutting sharply upon the dismayed silence.
"How can you know that?" he asked the adjutant. "The matter is one upon which few would be qualified to contradict Miss Armytage. You will observe, Sir Harry, that even Captain Tremayne has not thought it worth his while to do so."
Those words pulled the captain from the spell of sheer horrified amazement in which he had stood, stricken dumb, ever since Miss Armytage had spoken.
"I—I—am so overwhelmed by the amazing falsehood with which Miss Armytage has attempted to save me from the predicament in which I stand. For it is that, gentlemen. On my oath as a soldier and a gentleman, there is not a word of truth in what Miss Armytage has said."
"But if there were," said Lord Wellington, who seemed the only person present to retain a cool command of his wits, "your honour as a soldier and a gentleman—and this lady's honour—must still demand of you the perjury."
"But, my lord, I protest—"
"You are interrupting me, I think," Lord Wellington rebuked him coldly, and under the habit of obedience and the magnetic eye of his lordship the captain lapsed into anguished silence.
"I am of opinion, gentlemen," his lordship addressed the court, "that this affair has gone quite far enough. Miss Armytage's testimony has saved a deal of trouble. It has shed light upon much that was obscure, and it has provided Captain Tremayne with an unanswerable alibi. In my view—and without wishing unduly to influence the court in its decision—it but remains to pronounce Captain Tremayne's acquittal, thereby enabling him to fulfil towards this lady a duty which the circumstances would seem to have rendered somewhat urgent."
They were words that lifted an intolerable burden from Sir Harry's shoulders.
In immense relief, eager now to make an end, he looked to right and left. Everywhere he met nodding heads and murmurs of "Yes, Yes." Everywhere with one exception. Sir Terence, white to the lips, gave no sign of assent, and yet dared give none of dissent. The eye of Lord Wellington was upon him, compelling him by its eagle glance.
"We are clearly agreed," the president began, but Captain Tremayne interrupted him.
"But you are wrongly agreed."
"You shall listen. It is infamous that I should owe my acquittal to the sacrifice of this lady's good name."
"Damme! That is a matter that any parson can put right," said his lordship.
"Your lordship is mistaken," Captain Tremayne insisted, greatly daring. "The honour of this lady is more dear to me than my life."
"So we perceive," was the dry rejoinder. "These outbursts do you a certain credit, Captain Tremayne. But they waste the time of the court."
And then the president made his announcement
"Captain Tremayne, you are acquitted of the charge of killing Count Samoval, and you are at liberty to depart and to resume your usual duties. The court congratulates you and congratulates itself upon having reached this conclusion in the case of an officer so estimable as yourself."
"Ah, but, gentlemen, hear me yet a moment. You, my lord—"
"The court has pronounced. The matter is at an end," said Wellington, with a shrug, and immediately upon the words he rose, and the court rose with him. Immediately, with rattle of sabres and sabretaches, the officers who had composed the board fell into groups and broke into conversation out of a spirit of consideration for Tremayne, and definitely to mark the conclusion of the proceedings.
Tremayne, white and trembling, turned in time to see Miss Armytage leaving the hall and assisting Colonel Grant to support Lady O'Moy, who was in a half-swooning condition.
He stood irresolute, prey to a torturing agony of mind, cursing himself now for his silence, for not having spoken the truth and taken the consequences together with Dick Butler. What was Dick Butler to him, what was his own life to him—if they should they should demand it for the grave breach of duty he had committed by his readiness to assist a proscribed offender to escape—compared with the honour of Sylvia Armytage? And she, why had she done this for him? Could it be possible that she cared, that she was concerned so much for his life as to immolate her honour to deliver him from peril? The event would seem to prove it. Yet the overmastering joy that at any other time, and in any other circumstances, such a revelation must have procured him, was stifled now by his agonised concern for the injustice to which she had submitted herself.
And then, as he stood there, a suffering, bewildered man, came Carruthers to grasp his hand and in terms of warm friendship to express satisfaction at his acquittal.
"Sooner than have such a price as that paid—" he said bitterly, and with a shrug left his sentence unfinished.
O'Moy came stalking past him, pale-faced, with eyes that looked neither to right nor left.
"O'Moy!" he cried.
Sir Terence checked, and stood stiffly as if to attention, his handsome blue eyes blazing into the captain's own. Thus a moment. Then:
"We will talk of this again, you and I," he said grimly, and passed on and out with clanking step, leaving Tremayne to reflect that the appearances certainly justified Sir Terence's resentment.
"My God, Carruthers! What must he think of me?" he ejaculated.
"If you ask me, I think that he has suspected this from the very beginning. Only that could account for the hostility of his attitude towards you, for the persistence with which he has sought either to convict or wring the truth from you."
Tremayne looked askance at the major. In such a tangle as this it was impossible to keep the attention fixed upon any single thread.
"His mind must be disabused at once," he answered. "I must go to him."
O'Moy had already vanished.
There were one or two others would have checked the adjutant's departure, but he had heeded none. In the quadrangle he nodded curtly to Colonel Grant, who would have detained him. But he passed on and went to shut himself up in his study with his mental anguish that was compounded of so many and so diverse emotions. He needed above all things to be alone and to think, if thought were possible to a mind so distraught as his own. There were now so many things to be faced, considered, and dealt with. First and foremost—and this was perhaps the product of inevitable reaction—was the consideration of his own duplicity, his villainous betrayal of trust undertaken deliberately, but with an aim very different from that which would appear. He perceived how men must assume now, when the truth of Samoval's death became known as become known it must—that he had deliberately fastened upon another his own crime. The fine edifice of vengeance he had been so skilfully erecting had toppled about his ears in obscene ruin, and he was a man not only broken, but dishonoured. Let him proclaim the truth now and none would believe it. Sylvia Armytage's mad and inexplicable self-accusation was a final bar to that. Men of honour would scorn him, his friends would turn from him in disgust, and Wellington, that great soldier whom he worshipped, and whose esteem he valued above all possessions, would be the first to cast him out. He would appear as a vulgar murderer who, having failed by falsehood to fasten the guilt upon an innocent man, sought now by falsehood still more damnable, at the cost of his wife's honour, to offer some mitigation of his unspeakable offence.
Conceive this terrible position in which his justifiable jealousy—his naturally vindictive rage—had so irretrievably ensnared him. He had been so intent upon the administration of poetic justice, so intent upon condignly punishing the false friend who had dishonoured him, upon finding a balm for his lacerated soul in the spectacle of Tremayne's own ignominy, that he had never paused to see whither all this might lead him.
He had been a fool to have adopted these subtle, tortuous ways; a fool not to have obeyed the earlier and honest impulse which had led him to take that case of pistols from the drawer. And he was served as a fool deserves to be served. His folly had recoiled upon him to destroy him. Fool's mate had checked his perfidious vengeance at a blow.
Why had Sylvia Armytage discarded her honour to make of it a cloak for the protection of Tremayne? Did she love Tremayne and take that desperate way to save a life she accounted lost, or was it that she knew the truth, and out of affection for Una had chosen to immolate herself?
Sir Terence was no psychologist. But he found it difficult to believe in so much of self-sacrifice from a woman for a woman's sake, however dear. Therefore he held to the first alternative. To confirm it came the memory of Sylvia's words to him on the night of Tremayne's arrest. And it was to such a man that she gave the priceless treasure of her love; for such a man, and in such a sordid cause, that she sacrificed the inestimable jewel of her honour? He laughed through clenched teeth at a situation so bitterly ironical. Presently he would talk to her. She should realise what she had done, and he would wish her joy of it. First, however, there was something else to do. He flung himself wearily into the chair at his writing-table, took up a pen and began to write.
CHAPTER XIX. THE TRUTH
To Captain Tremayne, fretted with impatience in the diningroom, came, at the end of a long hour of waiting, Sylvia Armytage. She entered unannounced, at a moment when for the third time he was on the point of ringing for Mullins, and for a moment they stood considering each other mutually ill at ease. Then Miss Armytage closed the door and came forward, moving with that grace peculiar to her, and carrying her head erect, facing Captain Tremayne now with some lingering signs of the defiance she had shown the members of the court-martial.
"Mullins tells me that you wish to see me," she said the merest conventionality to break the disconcerting, uneasy silence.
"After what has happened that should not surprise you," said Tremayne. His agitation was clear to behold, his usual imperturbability all departed. "Why," he burst out suddenly, "why did you do it?"
She looked at him with the faintest ghost of a smile on her lips, as if she found the question amusing. But before she could frame any answer he was speaking again, quickly and nervously.
"Could you suppose that I should wish to purchase my life at such a price? Could you suppose that your honour was not more precious to me than my life? It was infamous that you should have sacrificed yourself in this manner."
"Infamous of whom?" she asked him coolly.
The question gave him pause. "I don't know!" he cried desperately. "Infamous of the circumstances, I suppose."
She shrugged. "The circumstances were there, and they had to be met. I could think of no other way of meeting them."
Hastily he answered her out of his anger for her sake: "It should not have been your affair to meet them at all."
He saw the scarlet flush sweep over her face and leave it deathly white, and instantly he perceived how horribly he had blundered.
"I'm sorry to have been interfering," she answered stiffly, "but, after all, it is not a matter that need trouble you." And on the words she turned to depart again. "Good-day, Captain Tremayne."
"Ah, wait!" He flung himself between her and the door. "We must understand each other, Miss Armytage."
"I think we do, Captain Tremayne," she answered, fire dancing in her eyes. And she added: "You are detaining me."
"Intentionally." He was calm again; and he was masterful for the first time in all his dealings with her. "We are very far from any understanding. Indeed, we are overhead in a misunderstanding already. You misconstrue my words. I am very angry with you. I do not think that in all my life I have ever been so angry with anybody. But you are not to mistake the source of my anger. I am angry with you for the great wrong you have done yourself."
"That should not be your affair," she answered him, thus flinging back the offending phrase.
"But it is. I make it mine," he insisted.
"Then I do not give you the right. Please let me pass." She looked him steadily in the face, and her voice was calm to coldness. Only the heave of her bosom betrayed the agitation under which she was labouring.
"Whether you give me the right or not, I intend to take it," he insisted.
"You are very rude," she reproved him.
He laughed. "Even at the risk of being rude, then. I must make myself clear to you. I would suffer anything sooner than leave you under any misapprehension of the grounds upon which I should have preferred to face a firing party rather than have been rescued at the sacrifice of your good name."
"I hope," she said, with faint but cutting irony, "you do not intend to offer me the reparation of marriage."
It took his breath away for a moment. It was a solution that in his confused and irate state of mind he had never even paused to consider. Yet now that it was put to him in this scornfully reproachful manner he perceived not only that it was the only possible course, but also that on that very account it might be considered by her impossible.
Her testiness was suddenly plain to him. She feared that he was come to her with an offer of marriage out of a sense of duty, as an amende, to correct the false position into which, for his sake, she had placed herself. And he himself by his blundering phrase had given colour to that hideous fear of hers.
He considered a moment whilst he stood there meeting her defiant glance. Never had she been more desirable in his eyes; and hopeless as his love for her had always seemed, never had it been in such danger of hopelessness as at this present moment, unless he proceeded here with the utmost care. And so Ned Tremayne became subtle for the first time in his honest, straightforward, soldierly life. "No," he answered boldly, "I do not intend it."
"I am glad that you spare me that," she answered him, yet her pallor seemed to deepen under his glance.
"And that," he continued, "is the source of all my anger, against you, against myself, and against circumstances. If I had deemed myself remotely worthy of you," he continued, "I should have asked you weeks ago to be my wife. Oh, wait, and hear me out. I have more than once been upon the point of doing so—the last time was that night on the balcony at Count Redondo's. I would have spoken then; I would have taken my courage in my hands, confessed my unworthiness and my love. But I was restrained because, although I might confess, there was nothing I could ask. I am a poor man, Sylvia, you are the daughter of a wealthy one; men speak of you as an heiress. To ask you to marry me—" He broke off. "You realise that I could not; that I should have been deemed a fortune-hunter, not only by the world, which matters nothing, but perhaps by yourself, who matter everything. I—I—" he faltered, fumbling for words to express thoughts of an overwhelming intricacy. "It was not perhaps that so much as the thought that, if my suit should come to prosper, men would say you had thrown yourself away on a fortune-hunter. To myself I should have accounted the reproach well earned, but it seemed to me that it must contain something slighting to you, and to shield you from all slights must be the first concern of my deep worship for you. That," he ended fiercely, "is why I am so angry, so desperate at the slight you have put upon yourself for my sake—for me, who would have sacrificed life and honour and everything I hold of any account, to keep you up there, enthroned not only in my own eyes, but in the eyes of every man."
He paused, and looked at her and she at him. She was still very white, and one of her long, slender hands was pressed to her bosom as if to contain and repress tumult. But her eyes were smiling, and yet it was a smile he could not read; it was compassionate, wistful, and yet tinged, it seemed to him, with mockery.
"I suppose," he said, "it would be expected of me in the circumstances to seek words in which to thank you for what you have done. But I have no such words. I am not grateful. How could I be grateful? You have destroyed the thing that I most valued in this world."
"What have I destroyed?" she asked him.
"Your own good name; the respect that was your due from all men."
"Yet if I retain your own?"
"What is that worth?" he asked almost resentfully.
"Perhaps more than all the rest." She took a step forward and set her hand upon his arm. There was no mistaking now her smile. It was all tenderness, and her eyes were shining. "Ned, there is only one thing to be done."
He looked down at her who was only a little less tall than himself, and the colour faded from his own face now.
"You haven't understood me after all," he said. "I was afraid you would not. I have no clear gift of words, and if I had, I am trying to say something that would overtax any gift."
"On the contrary, Ned, I understand you perfectly. I don't think I have ever understood you until now. Certainly never until now could I be sure of what I hoped."
"Of what you hoped?" His voice sank as if in awe. "What?" he asked.
She looked away, and her persisting, yet ever-changing smile grew slightly arch.
"You do not then intend to ask me to marry you?" she said.
"How could I?" It was an explosion almost of anger. "You yourself suggested that it would be an insult; and so it would. It is to take advantage of the position into which your foolish generosity has betrayed you. Oh!" he clenched his fists and shook them a moment at his sides.
"Very well," she said. "In that case I must ask you to marry me."
"You?" He was thunderstruck.
"What alternative do you leave me? You say that I have destroyed my good name. You must provide me with a new one. At all costs I must become an honest woman. Isn't that the phrase?"
"Don't!" he cried, and pain quivered in his voice. "Don't jest upon it."
"My dear," she said, and now she held out both hands to him, "why trouble yourself with things of no account, when the only thing that matters to us is within our grasp? We love each other, and—"
Her glance fell away, her lip trembled, and her smile at last took flight. He caught her hands, holding them in a grip that hurt her; he bent his head, and his eyes sought her own, but sought in vain.
"Have you considered—" he was beginning, when she interrupted him. Her face flushed upward, surrendering to that questing glance of his, and its expression was now between tears and laughter.
"You will be for ever considering, Ned. You consider too much, where the issues are plain and simple. For the last time—will you marry me?"
The subtlety he had employed had been greater than he knew, and it had achieved something beyond his utmost hopes.
He murmured incoherently and took her to his arms. I really do not see that he could have done anything else. It was a plain and simple issue, and she herself had protested that the issue was plain and simple.
And then the door opened abruptly and Sir Terence came in. Nor did he discreetly withdraw as a man of feeling should have done before the intimate and touching spectacle that met his eyes. On the contrary, he remained like the infernal marplot that he intended to be.
"Very proper," he sneered. "Very fit and proper that he should put right in the eyes of the world the reputation you have damaged for his sake, Sylvia. I suppose you're to be married."
They moved apart, and each stared at O'Moy Sylvia in cold anger, Tremayne in chagrin.
"You see, Sylvia," the captain cried, at this voicing of the world's opinion he feared so much on her behalf.
"Does she?" said Sir Terence, misunderstanding. "I wonder? Unless you've made all plain."
The captain frowned.
"Made what plain?" he asked. "There is something here I don't understand, O'Moy. Your attitude towards me ever since you ordered me under arrest has been entirely extraordinary. It has troubled me more than anything else in all this deplorable affair."
"I believe you," snorted O'Moy, as with his hands behind his back he strode forward into the room. He was pale, and there was a set, malignant sneer upon his lip, a malignant look in the blue eyes that were habitually so clear and honest.
"There have been moments," said Tremayne, "when I have almost felt you to be vindictive."
"D'ye wonder?" growled O'Moy. "Has no suspicion crossed your mind that I may know the whole truth?"
Tremayne was taken aback. "That startles you, eh?" cried O'Moy, and pointed a mocking finger at the captain's face, whose whole expression had changed to one of apprehension.
"What is it?" cried Sylvia. Instinctively she felt that under this troubled surface some evil thing was stirring, that the issues perhaps were not quite as simple as she had deemed them.
There was a pause. O'Moy, with his back to the window now, his hands still clasped behind him, looked mockingly at Tremayne and waited.
"Why don't you answer her?" he said at last. "You were confidential enough when I came in. Can it be that you are keeping something back, that you have secrets from the lady who has no doubt promised by now to become your wife as the shortest way to mending her recent folly?"
Tremayne was bewildered. His answer, apparently an irrelevance, was the mere enunciation of the thoughts O'Moy's announcement had provoked.
"Do you mean to say that you have known throughout that I did not kill Samoval?" he asked.
"Of course. How could I have supposed you killed him when I killed him myself?"
"You? You killed him!" cried Tremayne, more and more intrigued. And—
"You killed Count Samoval?" exclaimed Miss Armytage.
"To be sure I did," was the answer, cynically delivered, accompanied by a short, sharp laugh. "When I have settled other accounts, and put all my affairs in order, I shall save the provost-marshal the trouble of further seeking the slayer. And you didn't know then, Sylvia, when you lied so glibly to the court, that your future husband was innocent of that?"
"I was always sure of it," she answered, and looked at Tremayne for explanation.
O'Moy laughed again. "But he had not told you so. He preferred that you should think him guilty of bloodshed, of murder even, rather than tell you the real truth. Oh, I can understand. He is the very soul of honour, as you remarked yourself, I think, the other night. He knows how much to tell and how much to withhold. He is master of the art of discreet suppression. He will carry it to any lengths. You had an instance of that before the court this morning. You may come to regret, my dear, that you did not allow him to have his own obstinate way; that you should have dragged your own spotless purity in the mud to provide him with an alibi. But he had an alibi all the time, my child; an unanswerable alibi which he preferred to withhold. I wonder would you have been so ready to make a shield of your honour could you have known what you were really shielding?"
"Ned!" she cried. "Why don't you speak? Is he to go on in this fashion? Of what is he accusing you? If you were not with Samoval that night, where were you?"
"In a lady's room, as you correctly informed the court," came O'Moy's bitter mockery. "Your only mistake was in the identity of the lady. You imagined that the lady was yourself. A delusion purely. But you and I may comfort each other, for we are fellow-sufferers at the hands of this man of honour. My wife was the lady who entertained this gallant in her room that night."
"My God, O'Moy!" It was a strangled cry from Tremayne. At last he saw light; he understood, and, understanding, there entered his heart a great compassion for O'Moy, a conception that he must have suffered all the agonies of the damned in these last few days. "My God, you don't believe that I—"
"Do you deny it?"
"The imputation? Utterly."
"And if I tell you that myself with these eyes I saw you at the window of her room with her; if I tell you that I saw the rope ladder dangling from her balcony; if I tell you that crouching there after I had killed Samoval—killed him, mark me, for saying that you and my wife betrayed me; killed him for telling me the filthy truth—if I tell you that I heard her attempting to restrain you from going down to see what had happened—if I tell you all this, will you still deny it, will you still lie?"
"I will still say that all that you imply is false as hell and your own senseless jealousy can make it.
"All that I imply? But what I state—the facts themselves, are they true?"
"They are true. But—"
"True!" cried Miss Armytage in horror.
"Ah, wait," O'Moy bade her with his heavy sneer. "You interrupt him. He is about to construe those facts so that they shall wear an innocent appearance. He is about to prove himself worthy of the great sacrifice you made to save his life. Well?" And he looked expectantly at Tremayne.
Miss Armytage looked at him too, with eyes from which the dread passed almost at once. The captain was smiling, wistfully, tolerantly, confidently, almost scornfully. Had he been guilty of the thing imputed he could not have stood so in her presence.
"O'Moy," he said slowly, "I should tell you that you have played the knave in this were it not clear to me that you have played the fool." He spoke entirely without passion. He saw his way quite clearly. Things had reached a pass in which for the sake of all concerned, and perhaps for the sake of Miss Armytage more than any one, the whole truth must be spoken without regard to its consequences to Richard Butler.
"You dare to take that tone?" began O'Moy in a voice of thunder.
"Yourself shall be the first to justify it presently. I should be angry with you, O'Moy, for what you have done. But I find my anger vanishing in regret. I should scorn you for the lie you have acted, for your scant regard to your oath in the court-martial, for your attempt to combat an imagined villainy by a real villainy. But I realise what you have suffered, and in that suffering lies the punishment you fully deserve for not having taken the straight course, for not having taxed me there and then with the thing that you suspected."
"The gentleman is about to lecture me upon morals, Sylvia." But Tremayne let pass the interruption.
"It is quite true that I was in Una's room while you were killing Samoval. But I was not alone with her, as you have so rashly assumed. Her brother Richard was there, and it was on his behalf that I was present. She had been hiding him for a fortnight. She begged me, as Dick's friend and her own, to save him; and I undertook to do so. I climbed to her room to assist him to descend by the rope ladder you saw, because he was wounded and could not climb without assistance. At the gates I had the curricle waiting in which I had driven up. In this I was to have taken him on board a ship that was leaving that night for England, having made arrangements with her captain. You should have seen, had you reflected, that—as I told the court—had I been coming to a clandestine meeting, I should hardly have driven up in so open a fashion, and left the curricle to wait for me at the gates.
"The death of Samoval and my own arrest thwarted our plans and prevented Dick's escape. That is the truth. Now that you have it I hope you like it, and I hope that you thoroughly relish your own behaviour in the matter."
There was a fluttering sigh of relief from Miss Armytage. Then silence followed, in which O'Moy stared at Tremayne, emotion after emotion sweeping across his mobile face.
"Dick Butler?" he said at last, and cried out: "I don't believe a word of it! Ye're lying, Tremayne."
"You have cause enough to hope so."
The captain was faintly scornful.
"If it were true, Una would not have kept it from me. It was to me she would have come."
"The trouble with you, O'Moy, is that jealousy seems to have robbed you of the power of coherent thought, or else you would remember that you were the last man to whom Una could confide Dick's presence here. I warned her against doing so. I told her of the promise you had been compelled to give the secretary, Forjas, and I was even at pains to justify you to her when she was indignant with you for that. It would perhaps be better," he concluded, "if you were to send for Una."
"It's what I intend," said Sir Terence in a voice that made a threat of the statement. He strode stiffly across the room and pulled open the door. There was no need to go farther. Lady O'Moy, white and tearful, was discovered on the threshold. Sir Terence stood aside, holding the door for her, his face very grim.
She came in slowly, looking from one to another with her troubled glance, and finally accepting the chair that Captain Tremayne made haste to offer her. She had so much to say to each person present that it was impossible to know where to begin. It remained for Sir Terence to give her the lead she needed, and this he did so soon as he had closed the door again. Planted before it like a sentry, he looked at her between anger and suspicion.
"How much did you overhear?" he asked her.
"All that you said about Dick," she answered without hesitation.
"Then you stood listening?"
"Of course. I wanted to know what you were saying."
"There are other ways of ascertaining that without stooping to keyholes," said her husband.
"I didn't stoop," she said, taking him literally. "I could hear what was said without that—especially what you said, Terence. You will raise your voice so on the slightest provocation."
"And the provocation in this instance was, of course, of the slightest. Since you have heard Captain Tremayne's story of course you'll have no difficulty in confirming it."
"If you still can doubt, O'Moy," said Tremayne, "it must be because you wish to doubt; because you are afraid to face the truth now that it has been placed before you. I think, Una, it will spare a deal of trouble, and save your husband from a great many expressions that he may afterwards regret, if you go and fetch Dick. God knows, Terence has enough to overwhelm him already."
At the suggestion of producing Dick, O'Moy's anger, which had begun to simmer again, was stilled. He looked at his wife almost in alarm, and she met his look with one of utter blankness.
"I can't," she said plaintively. "Dick's gone."
"Gone?" cried Tremayne.
"Gone?" said O'Moy, and then he began to laugh. "Are you quite sure that he was ever here?"
"But—" She was a little bewildered, and a frown puckered her perfect brow. "Hasn't Ned told you, then?"
"Oh, Ned has told me. Ned has told!" His face was terrible.
"And don't you believe him? Don't you believe me?" She was more plaintive than ever. It was almost as if she called heaven to witness what manner of husband she was forced to endure. "Then you had better call Mullins and ask him. He saw Dick leave."
"And no doubt," said Miss Armytage mercilessly, "Sir Terence will believe his butler where he can believe neither his wife nor his friend."
He looked at her in a sort of amazement. "Do you believe them, Sylvia?" he cried.
"I hope I am not a fool," said she impatiently.
"Meaning—" he began, but broke off. "How long do you say it is since Dick left the house?"
"Ten minutes at most," replied her ladyship.
He turned and pulled the door open again. "Mullins?" he called. "Mullins!"
"What a man to live with!" sighed her ladyship, appealing to Miss Armytage. "What a man!" And she applied a vinaigrette delicately to her nostrils.
Tremayne smiled, and sauntered to the window. And then at last came Mullins.
"Has any one left the house within the last ten minutes, Mullins?" asked Sir Terence.
Mullins looked ill at ease.
"Sure, sir, you'll not be after—"
"Will you answer my question, man?" roared Sir Terence.
"Sure, then, there's nobody left the house at all but Mr. Butler, sir."
"How long had he been here?" asked O'Moy, after a brief pause.
"'Tis what I can't tell ye, sir. I never set eyes on him until I saw him coming downstairs from her ladyship's room as it might be."
"You can go, Mullins."
"I hope, sir—"
"You can go." And Sir Terence slammed the door upon the amazed servant, who realised that some unhappy mystery was perturbing the adjutant's household.
Sir Terence stood facing them again. He was a changed man. The fire had all gone out of him. His head was bowed and his face looked haggard and suddenly old. His lip curled into a sneer.
"Pantaloon in the comedy," he said, remembering in that moment the bitter gibe that had cost Samoval his life.
"What did you say?" her ladyship asked him.
"I pronounced my own name," he answered lugubriously.
"It didn't sound like it, Terence."
"It's the name I ought to bear," he said. "And I killed that liar for it—the only truth he spoke."
He came forward to the table. The full sense of his position suddenly overwhelmed him, as Tremayne had said it would. A groan broke from him and he collapsed into a chair, a stricken, broken man.
CHAPTER XX. THE RESIGNATION
At once, as he sat there, his elbows on the table, his head in his hands, he found himself surrounded by those three, against each of whom he had sinned under the spell of the jealousy that had blinded him and led him by the nose.
His wife put an arm about his neck in mute comfort of a grief of which she only understood the half—for of the heavier and more desperate part of his guilt she was still in ignorance. Sylvia spoke to him kindly words of encouragement where no encouragement could avail. But what moved him most was the touch of Tremayne's hand upon his shoulder, and Tremayne's voice bidding him brace himself to face the situation and count upon them to stand by him to the end.
He looked up at his friend and secretary in an amazement that overcame his shame.
"You can forgive me, Ned?"
Ned looked across at Sylvia Armytage. "You have been the means of bringing me to such happiness as I should never have reached without these happenings," he said. "What resentment can I bear you, O'Moy? Besides, I understand, and who understands can never do anything but forgive. I realise how sorely you have been tried. No evidence more conclusive that you were being wronged could have been placed before you."
"But the court-martial," said O'Moy in horror. He covered his face with his hand. "Oh, my God! I am dishonoured. I—I—" He rose, shaking off the arm of his wife and the hand of the friend he had wronged so terribly. He broke away from them and strode to the window, his face set and white. "I think I was mad;" he said. "I know I was mad. But to have done what I did—" He shuddered in very horror of himself now that he was bereft of the support of that evil jealousy that had fortified him against conscience itself and the very voice of honour. Lady O'Moy turned to them, pleading for explanation.
"What does he mean? What has he done?"
Himself he answered her: "I killed Samoval. It was I who fought that duel. And then believing what I did, I fastened the guilt upon Ned, and went the lengths of perjury in my blind effort to avenge myself. That is what I have done. Tell me, one of you, of your charity, what is there left for me to do?"
"Oh!" It was an outcry of horror and indignation from Una, instantly repressed by the tightening grip of Sylvia's hand upon her arm. Miss Armytage saw and understood, and sorrowed for Sir Terence. She must restrain his wife from adding to his present anguish. Yet, "How could you, Terence! Oh, how could you!" cried her ladyship, and so gave way to tears, easier than words to express such natures.
"Because I loved you, I suppose," he answered on a note of bitter self-mockery. "That was the justification I should have given had I been asked; that was the justification I accounted sufficient."
"But then," she cried, a new horror breaking on her mind—"if this is discovered—Terence, what will become of you?"
He turned and came slowly back until he stood beside her. Facing now the inevitable, he recovered some of his calm.
"It must be discovered," he said quietly. "For the sake of everybody concerned it must—"
"Oh, no, no!" She sprang up and clutched his arm in terror. "They may fail to discover the truth."
"They must not, my dear," he answered her; stroking the fair head that lay against his breast. "They must not fail. I must see to that."
"You? You?" Her eyes dilated as she looked at him. She caught her breath on a gasping sob. "Ah no, Terence," she cried wildly. "You must not; you must not. You must say nothing—for my sake, Terence, if you love me, oh, for my sake, Terence!"
"For honour's sake, I must," he answered her. "And for the sake of Sylvia and of Tremayne, whom I have wronged, and—"
"Not for my sake, Terence," Sylvia interrupted him.
He looked at her, and then at Tremayne.
"And you, Ned—what do you say?" he asked.
"Ned could not wish—" began her ladyship.
"Please let him speak for himself, my dear," her husband interrupted her.
"What can I say?" cried Tremayne, with a gesture that was almost of anger. "How can I advise? I scarcely know. You realise what you must face if you confess?"
"Fully, and the only part of it I shrink from is the shame and scorn I have deserved. Yet it is inevitable. You agree, Ned?"
"I am not sure. None who understands as I understand can feel anything but regret. Oh, I don't know. The evidence of what you suspected was overwhelming, and it betrayed you into this mistake. The punishment you would have to face is surely too heavy, and you have suffered far more already than you can ever be called upon to suffer again, no matter what is done to you. Oh, I don't know! The problem is too deep for me. There is Una to be considered, too. You owe a duty to her, and if you keep silent it may be best for all. You can depend upon us to stand by you in this."
"Indeed, indeed," said Sylvia.
He looked at them and smiled very tenderly.
"Never was a man blessed with nobler friends who deserved so little of them," he said slowly. "You heap coals of fire upon my head. You shame me through and through. But have you considered, Ned, that all may not depend upon my silence? What if the provost-marshal, investigating now, were to come upon the real facts?"
"It is impossible that sufficient should be discovered to convict you."
"How can you be sure of that? And if it were possible, if it came to pass, what then would be my position? You see, Ned! I must accept the punishment I have incurred lest a worse overtake me—to put it at its lowest. I must voluntarily go forward and denounce myself before another denounces me. It is the only way to save some rag of honour."
There was a tap at the door, and Mullins came to announce that Lord Wellington was asking to see Sir Terence.
"He is waiting in the study, Sir Terence."
"Tell his lordship I will be with him at once."
Mullins departed, and Sir Terence prepared to follow. Gently he disengaged himself from the arms her ladyship now flung about him.
"Courage, my dear," he said. "Wellington may show me more mercy than I deserve."
"You are going to tell him?" she questioned brokenly.
"Of course, sweetheart. What else can I do? And since you and Tremayne find it in your hearts to forgive me, nothing else matters very much." He kissed her tenderly and put her from him. He looked at Sylvia standing beside her and at Tremayne beyond the table. "Comfort her," he implored them, and, turning, went out quickly.
Awaiting him in the study he found not only Lord Wellington, but Colonel Grant, and by the cold gravity of both their faces he had an inspiration that in some mysterious way the whole hideous truth was already known to them.
The slight figure of his lordship in its grey frock was stiff and erect, his booted leg firmly planted, his hands behind him clutching his riding-crop and cocked hat. His face was set and his voice as he greeted O'Moy sharp and staccato.
"Ah, O'Moy, there are one or two matters to be discussed before I leave Lisbon."
"I had written to you, sir," replied O'Moy. "Perhaps you will first read my letter." And he went to fetch it from the writing-table, where he had left it when completed an hour earlier.
His lordship took the letter in silence, and after one piercing glance at O'Moy broke the seal. In the background, near the window, the tall figure of Colquhoun Grant stood stiffly erect, his hawk face inscrutable.
"Ah! Your resignation, O'Moy. But you give no reasons." Again his keen glance stabbed into the adjutant's face. "Why this?" he asked sharply.
"Because," said Sir Terence, "I prefer to tender it before it is asked of me." He was very white, yet by an effort those deep blue eyes of his met the terrible gaze of his chief without flinching.
"Perhaps you'll explain," said his lordship coldly.
"In the first place," said O'Moy, "it was myself killed Samoval, and since your lordship was a witness of what followed, you will realise that that was the least part of my offence."
The great soldier jerked his head sharply backward, tilting forward his chin. "So!" he said. "Ha! I beg your pardon, Grant, for having disbelieved you." Then, turning to O'Moy again: "Well," he demanded, his voice hard, "have you nothing to add?"
"Nothing that can matter," said O'Moy, with a shrug, and they stood facing each other in silence for a long moment.
At last when Wellington spoke his voice had assumed a gentler note.
"O'Moy," he said, "I have known you these fifteen years, and we have been friends. Once you carried your friendship, appreciation, and understanding of me so far as nearly to ruin yourself on my behalf. You'll not have forgotten the affair of Sir Harry Burrard. In all these years I have known you for a man of shining honour, an honest, upright gentleman, whom I would have trusted when I should have distrusted every other living man. Yet you stand there and confess to me the basest, the most dishonest villainy that I have ever known a British officer to commit, and you tell me that you have no explanation to offer for your conduct. Either I have never known you, O'Moy, or I do not know you now. Which is it?"
O'Moy raised his arms, only to let them fall heavily to his sides again.
"What explanation can there be?" he asked. "How can a man who has been—as I hope I have—a man of honour in the past explain such an act of madness? It arose out of your order against duelling," he went on. "Samoval offended me mortally. He said such things to me of my wife's honour that no man could suffer, and I least of any man. My temper betrayed me. I consented to a clandestine meeting without seconds. It took place here, and I killed him. And then I had, as I imagined—quite wrongly, as I know now—overwhelming evidence that what he had told me was true, and I went mad." Briefly he told the story of Tremayne's descent from Lady O'Moy's balcony and the rest.
"I scarcely know," he resumed, "what it was I hoped to accomplish in the end. I do not know—for I never stopped to consider—whether I should have allowed Captain Tremayne to have been shot if it had come to that. All that I was concerned to do was to submit him to the ordeal which I conceived he must undergo when he saw himself confronted with the choice of keeping silence and submitting to his fate, or saving himself by an avowal that could scarcely be less bitter than death itself."
"You fool, O'Moy-you damned, infernal fool!" his lordship swore at him. "Grant overheard more than you imagined that night outside the gates. His conclusions ran the truth very close indeed. But I could not believe him, could not believe this of you."'
"Of course not," said O'Moy gloomily. "I can't believe it of myself."
"When Miss Armytage intervened to afford Tremayne an alibi, I believed her, in view of what Grant had told me; I concluded that hers was the window from which Tremayne had climbed down. Because of what I knew I was there to see that the case did not go to extremes against Tremayne. If necessary Grant must have given full evidence of all he knew, and there and then left you to your fate. Miss Armytage saved us from that, and left me convinced, but still not understanding your own attitude. And now comes Richard Butler to surrender to me and cast himself upon my mercy with another tale which completely gives the lie to Miss Armytage's, but confirms your own."
"Richard Butler!" cried O'Moy. "He has surrendered to you?"
Sir Terence turned aside with a weary shrug. A little laugh that was more a sob broke from him. "Poor Una!" he muttered.
"The tangle is a shocking one—lies, lies everywhere, and in the places where they were least to be expected." Wellington's anger flashed out. "Do you realise what awaits you as a result of all this damned insanity?"
"I do, sir. That is why I place my resignation in your hands. The disregard of a general order punishable in any officer is beyond pardon in your adjutant-general."
"But that is the least of it, you fool."
"Sure, don't I know? I assure you that I realise it all."
"And you are prepared to face it?" Wellington was almost savage in an anger proceeding from the conflict that went on within him. There was his duty as commander-in-chief, and there was his friendship for O'Moy and his memory of the past in which O'Moy's loyalty had almost been the ruin of him.
"What choice have I?"
His lordship turned away, and strode the length of the room, his head bent, his lips twitching. Suddenly he stopped and faced the silent intelligence officer.
"What is to be done, Grant?"
"That is a matter for your lordship. But if I might venture—"
"Venture and be damned," snapped Wellington.
"The signal service rendered the cause of the allies by the death of Samoval might perhaps be permitted to weigh against the offence committed by O'Moy."
"How could it?" snapped his lordship. "You don't know, O'Moy, that upon Samoval's body were found certain documents intended for Massena. Had they reached him, or had Samoval carried out the full intentions that dictated his quarrel with you, and no doubt sent him here depending upon his swordsmanship to kill you, all my plans for the undoing of the French would have been ruined. Ay, you may stare. That is another matter in which you have lacked discretion. You may be a fine engineer, O'Moy, but I don't think I could have found a less judicious adjutant-general if I had raked the ranks of the army on purpose to find an idiot. Samoval was a spy—the cleverest spy that we have ever had to deal with. Only his death revealed how dangerous he was. For killing him when you did you deserve the thanks of his Majesty's Government, as Grant suggests. But before you can receive those you will have to stand a court-martial for the manner in which you killed him, and you will probably be shot. I can't help you. I hope you don't expect it of me."
"The thought had not so much as occurred to me. Yet what you tell me, sir, lifts something of the load from my mind."
"Does it? Well, it lifts no load from mine," was the angry retort. He stood considering. Then with an impatient gesture he seemed to dismiss his thoughts. "I can do nothing," he said, "nothing without being false to my duty and becoming as bad as you have been, O'Moy, and without any of the sentimental justification that existed in your case. I can't allow the matter to be dropped, stifled. I have never been guilty of such a thing, and I refuse to become guilty of it now. I refuse—do you understand? O'Moy, you have acted; and you must take the consequences, and be damned to you."
"Faith, I've never asked you to help me, sir," Sir Terence protested.
"And you don't intend to, I suppose?"
"I do not."
"I am glad of that." He was in one of those rages which were as terrible as they were rare with him. "I wouldn't have you suppose that I make laws for the sake of rescuing people from the consequences of disobeying them. Here is this brother-in-law of yours, this fellow Butler, who has made enough mischief in the country to imperil our relations with our allies. And I am half pledged to condone his adventure at Tavora. There's nothing for it, O'Moy. As your friend, I am infernally angry with you for placing yourself in this position; as your commanding officer I can only order you under arrest and convene a court-martial to deal with you."
Sir Terence bowed his head. He was a little surprised by all this heat. "I never expected anything else," he said. "And it's altogether at a loss I am to understand why your lordship should be vexing yourself in this manner."
"Because I've a friendship for you, O'Moy. Because I remember that you've been a loyal friend to me. And because I must forget all this and remember only that my duty is absolutely rigid and inflexible. If I condoned your offence, if I suppressed inquiry, I should be in duty and honour bound to offer my own resignation to his Majesty's Government. And I have to think of other things besides my personal feelings, when at any moment now the French may be over the Agueda and into Portugal."
Sir Terence's face flushed, and his glance brightened.
"From my heart I thank you that you can even think of such things at such a time and after what I have done."
"Oh, as to what you have done—I understand that you are a fool, O'Moy. There's no more to be said. You are to consider yourself under arrest. I must do it if you were my own brother, which, thank God, you're not. Come, Grant. Good-bye, O'Moy." And he held out his hand to him.
Sir Terence hesitated, staring.
"It's the hand of your friend, Arthur Wellesley, I'm offering you, not the hand of your commanding officer," said his lordship savagely.
Sir Terence took it, and wrung it in silence, perhaps more deeply moved than he had yet been by anything that had happened to him that morning.
There was a knock at the door, and Mullins opened it to admit the adjutant's orderly, who came stiffly to attention.
"Major Carruthers's compliments, sir," he said to O'Moy, "and his Excellency the Secretary of the Council of Regency wishes to see you very urgently."
There was a pause. O'Moy shrugged and spread his hands. This message was for the adjutant-general and he no longer filled the office.
"Pray tell Major Carruthers that I—" he was beginning, when Lord Wellington intervened.
"Desire his Excellency to step across here. I will see him myself."
CHAPTER XXI. SANCTUARY
"I will withdraw, sir," said Terence.
But Wellington detained him. "Since Dom Miguel asked for you, you had better remain, perhaps."
"It is the adjutant-general Dom Miguel desires to see, and I am adjutant-general no longer."
"Still, the matter may concern you. I have a notion that it may be concerned with the death of Count Samoval, since I have acquainted the Council of Regency with the treason practised by the Count. You had better remain."
Gloomy and downcast, Sir Terence remained as he was bidden.
The sleek and supple Secretary of State was ushered in. He came forward quickly, clicked his heels together and bowed to the three men present.
"Sirs, your obedient servant," he announced himself, with a courtliness almost out of fashion, speaking in his extraordinarily fluent English. His sallow countenance was extremely grave. He seemed even a little ill at ease.
"I am fortunate to find you here, my lord. The matter upon which I seek your adjutant-general is of considerable gravity—so much that of himself he might be unable to resolve it. I feared you might already have departed for the north."
"Since you suggest that my presence may be of service to you, I am happy that circumstances should have delayed my departure," was his lordship's courteous answer. "A chair, Dom Miguel."
Dom Miguel Forjas accepted the proffered chair, whilst Wellington seated himself at Sir Terence's desk. Sir Terence himself remained standing with his shoulders to the overmantel, whence he faced them both as well as Grant, who, according to his self-effacing habit, remained in the background by the window.
"I have sought you," began Dom Miguel, stroking his square chin, "on a matter concerned with the late Count Samoval, immediately upon hearing that the court-martial pronounced the acquittal of Captain Tremayne."
His lordship frowned, and his eagle glance fastened upon the Secretary's face.
"I trust, sir, you have not come to question the finding of the court-martial."
"Oh, on the contrary—on the contrary!" Dom Miguel was emphatic. "I represent not only the Council, but the Samoval family as well. Both realise that it is perhaps fortunate for all concerned that in arresting Captain Tremayne the military authorities arrested the wrong man, and both have reason to dread the arrest of the right one."
He paused, and the frown deepened between Wellington's brows.
"I am afraid," he said slowly, "that I do not quite perceive their concern in this matter."
"But is it not clear?" cried Dom Miguel.
"If it were I should perceive it," said his lordship dryly.
"Ah, but let me explain, then. A further investigation of the manner in which Count Samoval met his death can hardly fail to bring to light the deplorable practices in which he was engaged; for no doubt Colonel Grant, here, would consider it his duty in the interests of justice to place before the court the documents found upon the Count's dead body. If I may permit myself an observation," he continued, looking round at Colonel Grant, "it is that I do not quite understand how this has not already happened."
There was a pause in which Grant looked at Wellington as if for direction. But his lordship himself assumed the burden of the answer.
"It was not considered expedient in the public interest to do so at present," he said. "And the circumstances did not place us under the necessity of divulging the matter."
"There, my lord, if you will allow me to say so, you acted with a delicacy and wisdom which the circumstances may not again permit. Indeed any further investigation must almost inevitably bring these matters to light, and the effect of such revelation would be deplorable."
"Deplorable to whom?" asked his lordship.
"To the Count's family and to the Council of Regency."
"I can sympathise with the Count's family, but not with the Council."
"Surely, my lord, the Council as a body deserves your sympathy in that it is in danger of being utterly discredited by the treason of one or two of its members."
Wellington manifested impatience. "The Council has been warned time and again. I am weary of warning, and even of threatening, the Council with the consequences of resisting my policy. I think that exposure is not only what it deserves, but the surest means of providing a healthier government in the future. I am weary of picking my way through the web of intrigue with which the Council entangles my movements and my dispositions. Public sympathy has enabled it to hamper me in this fashion. That sympathy will be lost to it by the disclosures which you fear."
"My lord, I must confess that there is much reason in what you say." He was smoothly conciliatory. "I understand your exasperation. But may I be permitted to assure you that it is not the Council as a body that has withstood you, but certain self-seeking members, one or two friends of Principal Souza, in whose interests the unfortunate and misguided Count Samoval was acting. Your lordship will perceive that the moment is not one in which to stir up public indignation against the Portuguese Government. Once the passions of the mob are inflamed, who can say to what lengths they may not go, who can say what disastrous consequences may not follow? It is desirable to apply the cautery, but not to burn up the whole body."
Lord Wellington considered a moment, fingering an ivory paper-knife. He was partly convinced.
"When I last suggested the cautery, to use your own very apt figure, the Council did not keep faith with me."
"It did not, sir. It removed Antonio de Souza, but it did not take the trouble to go further and remove his friends at the same time. They remained to carry on his subversive treacherous intrigues. What guarantees have I that the Council will behave better on this occasion?"
"You have our solemn assurances, my lord, that all those members suspected of complicity in this business or of attachment to the Souza faction, shall be compelled to resign, and you may depend upon the reconstituted Council loyally to support your measures."
"You give me assurances, sir, and I ask for guarantees."
"Your lordship is in possession of the documents found upon Count Samoval. The Council knows this, and this knowledge will compel it to guard against further intrigues on the part of any of its members which might naturally exasperate you into publishing those documents. Is not that some guarantee?"
His lordship considered, and nodded slowly. "I admit that it is. Yet I do not see how this publicity is to be avoided in the course of the further investigations into the manner in which Count Samoval came by his death."
"My lord, that is the pivot of the whole matter. All further investigation must be suspended."
Sir Terence trembled, and his eyes turned in eager anxiety upon the inscrutable, stern face of Lord Wellington.
"Must!" cried his lordship sharply.
"What else, my lord, in all our interests?" exclaimed the Secretary, and he rose in his agitation.
"And what of British justice, sir?" demanded his lordship in a forbidding tone.
"British justice has reason to consider itself satisfied. British justice may assume that Count Samoval met his death in the pursuit of his treachery. He was a spy caught in the act, and there and then destroyed—a very proper fate. Had he been taken, British justice would have demanded no less. It has been anticipated. Cannot British justice, for the sake of British interests as well as Portuguese interests, be content to leave the matter there?"
"An argument of expediency, eh?" said Wellington. "Why not, my lord! Does not expediency govern politicians?"
"I am not a politician."
"But a wise soldier, my lord, does not lose sight of the political consequences of his acts." And he sat down again.
"Your Excellency may be right," said his lordship. "Let us be quite clear, then. You suggest, speaking in the name of the Council of Regency, that I should suppress all further investigations into the manner in which Count Samoval met his death, so as to save his family the shame and the Council of Regency the discredit which must overtake one and the other if the facts are disclosed—as disclosed they would be that Samoval was a traitor and a spy in the pay of the French. That is what you ask me to do. In return your Council undertakes that there shall be no further opposition to my plans for the military defence of Portugal, and that all my measures however harsh and however heavily they may weigh upon the landowners, shall be punctually and faithfully carried out. That is your Excellency's proposal, is it not?"
"Not so much my proposal, my lord, as my most earnest intercession. We desire to spare the innocent the consequences of the sins of a man who is dead, and well dead." He turned to O'Moy, standing there tense and anxious. It was not for Dom Miguel to know that it was the adjutant's fate that was being decided. "Sir Terence," he cried, "you have been here for a year, and all matters connected with the Council have been treated through you. You cannot fail to see the wisdom of my recommendation."
His lordship's eyes flashed round upon O'Moy. "Ah yes!" he said. "What is your feeling in this matter, 'O'Moy?" he inquired, his tone and manner void of all expression.
Sir Terence faltered; then stiffened. "I—The matter is one that only your lordship can decide. I have no wish to influence your decision."
"I see. Ha! And you, Grant? No doubt you agree with Dom Miguel?"
"Most emphatically—upon every count, sir," replied the intelligence officer without hesitation. "I think Dom Miguel offers an excellent bargain. And, as he says, we hold a guarantee of its fulfilment."
"The bargain might be improved," said Wellington slowly.
"If your lordship will tell me how, the Council, I am sure, will be ready to do all that lies in its power to satisfy you."
Wellington shifted his chair round a little, and crossed his legs. He brought his finger-tips together, and over the top of them his eyes considered the Secretary of State.
"Your Excellency has spoken of expediency—political expediency. Sometimes political expediency can overreach itself and perpetrate the most grave injustices. Individuals at times are unnecessarily called upon to suffer in the interests of a cause. Your Excellency will remember a certain affair at Tavora some two months ago—the invasion of a convent by a British officer with rather disastrous consequences and the loss of some lives."
"I remember it perfectly, my lord. I had the honour of entertaining Sir Terence upon that subject on the occasion of my last visit here."
"Quite so," said his lordship. "And on the grounds of political expediency you made a bargain then with Sir Terence, I understand, a bargain which entailed the perpetration of an injustice."
"I am not aware of it, my lord."
"Then let me refresh your Excellency's memory upon the facts. To appease the Council of Regency, or rather to enable me to have my way with the Council and remove the Principal Souza, you stipulated for the assurance—so that you might lay it before your Council—that the offending officer should be shot when taken."
"I could not help myself in the matter, and—"
"A moment, sir. That is not the way of British justice, and Sir Terence was wrong to have permitted himself to consent; though I profoundly appreciate the loyalty to me, the earnest desire to assist me, which led him into an act the cost of which to himself your Excellency can hardly appreciate. But the wrong lay in that by virtue of this bargain a British officer was prejudged. He was to be made a scapegoat. He was to be sent to his death when taken, as a peace-offering to the people, demanded by the Council of Regency.
"Since all this happened I have had the facts of the case placed before me. I will go so far as to tell you, sir, that the officer in question has been in my hands for the past hour, that I have closely questioned him, and that I am satisfied that whilst he has been guilty of conduct which might compel me to deprive him of his Majesty's commission and dismiss him from the army, yet that conduct is not such as to merit death. He has chiefly sinned in folly and want of judgment. I reprove it in the sternest terms, and I deplore the consequences it had. But for those consequences the nuns of Tavora are almost as much to blame as he is himself. His invasion of their convent was a pure error, committed in the belief that it was a monastery and as a result of the porter's foolish conduct.
"Now, Sir Terence's word, given in response to your absolute demands, has committed us to an unjust course, which I have no intention of following. I will stipulate, sir, that your Council, in addition to the matters undertaken, shall relieve us of all obligation in this matter, leaving it to our discretion to punish Mr. Butler in such manner as we may consider condign. In return, your Excellency, I will undertake that there shall be no further investigation into the manner in which Count Samoval came by his death, and consequently, no disclosures of the shameful trade in which he was engaged. If your Excellency will give yourself the trouble of taking the sense of your Council upon this, we may then reach a settlement."
The grave anxiety of Dom Miguel's countenance was instantly dispelled. In his relief he permitted himself a smile.
"My lord, there is not the need to take the sense of the Council. The Council has given me carte blanche to obtain your consent to a suppression of the Samoval affair. And without hesitation I accept the further condition that you make. Sir Terence may consider himself relieved of his parole in the matter of Lieutenant Butler."
"Then we may look upon the matter as concluded."
"As happily concluded, my lord." Dom Miguel rose to make his valedictory oration. "It remains for me only to thank your lordship in the name of the Council for the courtesy and consideration with which you have received my proposal and granted our petition. Acquainted as I am with the crystalline course of British justice, knowing as I do how it seeks ever to act in the full light of day, I am profoundly sensible of the cost to your lordship of the concession you make to the feelings of the Samoval family and the Portuguese Government, and I can assure you that they will be accordingly grateful."
"That is very gracefully said, Dom Miguel," replied his lordship, rising also.
The Secretary placed a hand upon his heart, bowing. "It is but the poor expression of what I think and feel." And so he took his leave of them, escorted by Colonel Grant, who discreetly volunteered for the office.
Left alone with Wellington, Sir Terence heaved a great sigh of supreme relief.
"In my wife's name, sir, I should like to thank you. But she shall thank you herself for what you have done for me."
"What I have done for you, O'Moy?" Wellington's slight figure stiffened perceptibly, his face and glance were cold and haughty. "You mistake, I think, or else you did not hear. What I have done, I have done solely upon grounds of political expediency. I had no choice in the matter, and it was not to favour you, or out of disregard for my duty, as you seem to imagine, that I acted as I did."
O'Moy bowed his head, crushed under that rebuff. He clasped and unclasped his hands a moment in his desperate anguish.
"I understand," he muttered in a broken voice, "I—I beg your pardon, sir."
And then Wellington's slender, firm fingers took him by the arm.
"But I am glad, O'Moy, that I had no choice," he added more gently. "As a man, I suppose I may be glad that my duty as Commander-in-Chief placed me under the necessity of acting as I have done."
Sir Terence clutched the hand in both his own and wrung it fiercely, obeying an overmastering impulse.
"Thank you," he cried. "Thank you for that!"
"Tush!" said Wellington, and then abruptly: "What are you going to do, O'Moy?" he asked.
"Do?" said O'Moy, and his blue eyes looked pleadingly down into the sternly handsome face of his chief, "I am in your hands, sir."
"Your resignation is, and there it must remain, O'Moy. You understand?"
"Of course, sir. Naturally you could not after this—" He shrugged and broke off. "But must I go home?" he pleaded.
"What else? And, by God, sir, you should be thankful, I think."
"Very well," was the dull answer, and then he flared out. "Faith, it's your own fault for giving me a job of this kind. You knew me. You know that I am just a blunt, simple soldier—that my place is at the head of a regiment, not at the head of an administration. You should have known that by putting me out of my proper element I was bound to get into trouble sooner or later."
"Perhaps I do," said Wellington. "But what am I to do with you now?" He shrugged, and strode towards the window. "You had better go home, O'Moy. Your health has suffered out here, and you are not equal to the heat of summer that is now increasing. That is the reason of this resignation. You understand?"
"I shall be shamed for ever," said O'Moy. "To go home when the army is about to take the field!"
But Wellington did not hear him, or did not seem to hear him. He had reached the window and his eye was caught by something that he saw in the courtyard.
"What the devil's this now?" he rapped out. "That is one of Sir Robert Craufurd's aides."
He turned and went quickly to the door. He opened it as rapid steps approached along the passage, accompanied by the jingle of spurs and the clatter of sabretache and trailing sabre. Colonel Grant appeared, followed by a young officer of Light Dragoons who was powdered from head to foot with dust. The youth—he was little more—lurched forward wearily, yet at sight of Wellington he braced himself to attention and saluted.
"You appear to have ridden hard, sir," the Commander greeted him.
"From Almeida in forty-seven hours, my lord," was the answer. "With these from Sir Robert." And he proffered a sealed letter.
"What is your name?" Wellington inquired, as he took the package.
"Hamilton, my lord," was the answer; "Hamilton of the Sixteenth, aide-de-camp to Sir Robert Craufurd."
Wellington nodded. "That was great horsemanship, Mr. Hamilton," he commended him; and a faint tinge in the lad's haggard cheeks responded to that rare praise.
"The urgency was great, my lord," replied Mr. Hamilton.
"The French columns are in movement. Ney and Junot advanced to the investment of Ciudad Rodrigo on the first of the month."
"Already!" exclaimed Wellington, and his countenance set.
"The commander, General Herrasti, has sent an urgent appeal to Sir Robert for assistance."
"And Sir Robert?" The question came on a sharp note of apprehension, for his lordship was fully aware that valour was the better part of Sir Robert Craufurd's discretion.
"Sir Robert asks for orders in this dispatch, and refuses to stir from Almeida without instructions from your lordship."
"Ah!!" It was a sigh of relief. He broke the seal and spread the dispatch. He read swiftly. "Very well," was all he said, when he had reached the end of Sir Robert's letter. "I shall reply to this in person and at, once. You will be in need of rest, Mr. Hamilton. You had best take a day to recuperate, then follow me to Almeida. Sir Terence no doubt will see to your immediate needs."
"With pleasure, Mr. Hamilton," replied Sir Terence mechanically—for his own concerns weighed upon him at this moment more heavily than the French advance. He pulled the bell-rope, and into the fatherly hands of Mullins, who came in response to the summons, the young officer was delivered.
Lord Wellington took up his hat and riding-crop from Sir Terence's desk. "I shall leave for the frontier at once," he announced. "Sir Robert will need the encouragement of my presence to keep him within the prudent bounds I have imposed. And I do not know how long Ciudad Rodrigo may be able to hold out. At any moment we may have the French upon the Agueda, and the invasion may begin. As for you, O'Moy, this has changed everything. The French and the needs of the case have decided. For the present no change is possible in the administration here in Lisbon. You hold the threads of your office and the moment is not one in which to appoint another adjutant to take them over. Such a thing might be fatal to the success of the British arms. You must withdraw this resignation." And he proffered the document.
Sir Terence recoiled. He went deathly white.
"I cannot," he stammered. "After what has happened, I—"
Lord Wellington's face became set and stern. His eyes blazed upon the adjutant.
"O'Moy," he said, and the concentrated anger of his voice was terrifying, "if you suggest that any considerations but those of this campaign have the least weight with me in what I now do, you insult me. I yield to no man in my sense of duty, and I allow no private considerations to override it. You are saved from going home in disgrace by the urgency of the circumstances, as I have told you. By that and by nothing else. Be thankful, then; and in loyally remaining at your post efface what is past. You know what is doing at Torres Vedras. The works have been under your direction from the commencement. See that they are vigorously pushed forward and that the lines are ready to receive the army in a month's time from now if necessary. I depend upon you—the army and England's honour depend upon you. I bow to the inevitable and so shall you." Then his sternness relaxed. "So much as your commanding officer. Now as your friend," and he held out his hand, "I congratulate you upon your luck. After this morning's manifestations of it, it should pass into a proverb. Goodbye, O'Moy. I trust you, remember."
"And I shall not fail you," gulped O'Moy, who, strong man that he was, found himself almost on the verge of tears. He clutched the extended hand.
"I shall fix my headquarters for the present at Celorico. Communicate with me there. And now one other matter: the Council of Regency will no doubt pester you with representations that I should—if time still remains—advance to the relief of Ciudad Rodrigo. Understand, that is no part of my plan of campaign. I do not stir across the frontier of Portugal. Here let the French come and find me, and I shall be ready to receive them. Let the Portuguese Government have no illusions on that point, and stimulate the Council into doing all possible to carry out the destruction of mills and the laying waste of the country in the valley of the Mondego and wherever else I have required.
"Oh, and by the way, you will find your brother-in-law, Mr. Butler, in the guard-room yonder, awaiting my orders. Provide him with a uniform and bid him rejoin his regiment at once. Recommend him to be more prudent in future if he wishes me to forget his escapade at Tavora. And in future, O'Moy, trust your wife. Again, good-bye. Come, Grant!—I have instructions for you too. But you must take them as we ride."
And thus Sir Terence O'Moy found sanctuary at the altar of his country's need. They left him incredulously to marvel at the luck which had so enlisted circumstances to save him where all had seemed so surely lost an hour ago.
He sent a servant to fetch Mr. Butler, the prime cause of all this pother—for all of it can be traced to Mr. Butler's invasion of the Tavora nunnery—and with him went to bear the incredible tidings of their joint absolution to the three who waited so anxiously in the dining-room.
The particular story which I have set myself to relate, of how Sir Terence O'Moy was taken in the snare of his own jealousy, may very properly be concluded here. But the greater story in which it is enshrined and with which it is interwoven, the story of that other snare in which my Lord Viscount Wellington took the French, goes on. This story is the history of the war in the Peninsula. There you may pursue it to its very end and realise the iron will and inflexibility of purpose which caused men ultimately to bestow upon him who guided that campaign the singularly felicitous and fitting sobriquet of the Iron Duke.
Ciudad Rodrigo's Spanish garrison capitulated on the 10th of July of that year 1810, and a wave of indignation such as must have overwhelmed any but a man of almost superhuman mettle swept up against Lord Wellington for having stood inactive within the frontiers of Portugal and never stirred a hand to aid the Spaniards. It was not only from Spain that bitter invective was hurled upon him; British journalism poured scorn and rage upon his incompetence, French journalism held his pusillanimity up to the ridicule of the world. His own officers took shame in their general, and expressed it. Parliament demanded to know how long British honour was to be imperilled by such a man. And finally the Emperor's great marshal, Massena, gathering his hosts to overwhelm the kingdom of Portugal, availed himself of all this to appeal to the Portuguese nation in terms which the facts would seem to corroborate.
He issued his proclamation denouncing the British for the disturbers and mischief-makers of Europe, warning the Portuguese that they were the cat's-paw of a perfidious nation that was concerned solely with the serving of its own interests and the gratification of its predatory ambitions, and finally summoning them to receive the French as their true friends and saviours.
The nation stirred uneasily. So far no good had come to them of their alliance with the British. Indeed Wellington's policy of devastation had seemed to those upon whom it fell more horrible than any French invasion could have been.
But Wellington held the reins, and his grip never relaxed or slackened. And here let it be recorded that he was nobly and stoutly served in Lisbon by Sir Terence O'Moy. Pressure upon the Council resulted in the measures demanded being carried out. But much time had been lost through the intrigues of the Souza faction, with the result that those measures, although prosecuted now more vigorously, never reached the full extent which Wellington had desired. Treachery, too, stepped in to shorten the time still further. Almeida, garrisoned by Portuguese and commanded by Colonel Cox and a British staff, should have held a month. But no sooner had the French appeared before it, on the 26th August, than a powder magazine traitorously fired exploded and breached the wall, rendering the place untenable.
To Wellington this was perhaps the most vexatious of all things in that vexatious time. He had hoped to detain Massena before Almeida until the rains should have set in, when the French would have found themselves struggling through a sodden, water-logged country, through bridgeless floods and a land bereft of all that could sustain the troops. Still, what could be done Wellington did, and did it nobly. Fighting a rearguard action, he fell back upon the grim and naked ridges of Busaco, where at the end of September he delivered battle and a murderous detaining wound upon the advancing hosts of France. That done, he continued the retreat through Coimbra. And now as he went he saw to it that the devastation was completed along the line of march. What corn and provisions could not be carried off were burnt or buried, and the people forced to quit their dwellings and march with the army—a pathetic, southward exodus of men and women, old and young, flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle, creaking bullock-carts laden with provender and household goods, leaving behind them a country bare as the Sahara, where hunger before long should grip the French army too far committed now to pause. In advancing and overtaking must lie Massena's hope. Eventually in Lisbon he must bring the British to bay, and, breaking them, open out at last his way into a land of plenty.