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The Snare by Rafael Sabatini

Part 6 out of 6

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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


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.

Thus thought Massena, knowing nothing of the lines of Torres Vedras;
and thus, too, thought the British Government at home, itself
declaring that Wellington was ruining the country to no purpose,
since in the end the British must be driven out with terrible loss
and infamy that must make their name an opprobrium in the world.

But Wellington went his relentless way, and at tire end of the
first week of October brought his army and the multitude of refugees
safely within the amazing lines. The French, pressing hard upon
their heels and confident that the end was near, were brought up
sharply before those stupendous, unsuspected, impregnable

After spending best part of a month in vain reconnoitering, Massena
took up his quarters at Santarem, and thence the country was
scoured for what scraps of victuals had been left to relieve the
dire straits of the famished host of France. How the great marshal
contrived to hold out so long in Santarem against the onslaught of
famine and concomitant disease remains something of a mystery. An
appeal to the Emperor for succour eventually brought Drouet with
provisions, but these were no more than would keep his men alive on a
retreat into Spain, and that retreat he commenced early in the
following March, by when no less than ten thousand of his army had
fallen sick.

Instantly Wellington was up and after him. The French retreat
became a flight. They threw away baggage and ammunition that they
might travel the lighter. Thus they fled towards Spain, harassed
by the British cavalry and scarcely less by the resentful peasantry
of Portugal, their line of march defined by an unbroken trail of
carcasses, until the tattered remnants of that once splendid army
found shelter across the Coira. Beyond this Wellington could not
continue the pursuit for lack of means to cross the swollen river
and also because provisions were running short.

But there for the moment he might rest content, his immediate
object achieved and his stern strategy supremely vindicated.

On the heights above the yellow, turgid flood rode Wellington
with a glittering staff that included O'Moy and Murray, the
quartermaster-general. Through his telescope he surveyed with
silent satisfaction the straggling columns of the French that
were being absorbed by the evening mists from the sodden ground.

O'Moy, at his side, looked on without satisfaction. To him the
close of this phase of the campaign which had justified his
remaining in office meant the reopening of that painful matter
that had been left in suspense by circumstances since that June
day of last year at Monsanto. The resignation then refused from
motives of expediency must again be tendered and must now be

Abruptly upon the general stillness came a sharply humming sound.
Within a yard of the spot where Wellington sat his horse a
handful of soil heaved itself up and fell in a tiny scattered shower.
Immediately elsewhere in a dozen places was the phenomenon
repeated. There was too much glitter about the staff uniforms and
vindictive French sharpshooters were finding them an attractive mark.

"They are firing on us, sir!" cried O'Moy on a note of sharp alarm.

"So I perceive," Lord Wellington answered calmly, and leisurely he
closed his glass, so leisurely that O'Moy, in impatient fear of his
chief, spurred forward and placed himself as a screen between him
and the line of fire.

Lord Wellington looked at him with a faint smile. He was about to
speak when O'Moy pitched forward and rolled headlong from the saddle.

They picked him up unconscious but alive, and for once Lord
Wellington was seen to blench as he flung down from his horse to
inquire the nature of O'Moy's hurt. It was not fatal, but, as it
afterwards proved, it was grave enough. He had been shot through
the body, the right lung had been grazed and one of his ribs broken.

Two days later, after the bullet had been extracted, Lord
Wellington went to visit him in the house where he was quartered.
Bending over him and speaking quietly, his lordship said that which
brought a moisture to the eyes of Sir Terence and a smile to his
pale lips. What actually were his lordship's words may be gathered
from the answer he received.

"Ye're entirely wrong, then, and it's mighty glad I am. For now
I need no longer hand you my resignation. I can be invalided home."

So he was; and thus it happens that not until now - when this
chronicle makes the matter public - does the knowledge of Sir
Terence's single but grievous departure from the path of honour go
beyond the few who were immediately concerned with it. They kept
faith with him because they loved him; and because they had
understood all that went to the making of his sin, they condoned it.

If I have done my duty as a faithful chronicler, you who read,
understanding too, will take satisfaction in that it was so.

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