BY RAFAEL SABATINI
I. THE AFFAIR AT TAVORA
II. THE ULTIMATUM
III. LADY O’MOY
IV. COUNT SAMOVAL
V. THE FUGITIVE
VI. MISS ARMYTAGE’S PEARLS
VII. THE ALLY
VIII. THE INTELLIGENCE OFFICER
IX. THE GENERAL ORDER
X. THE STIFLED QUARREL
XI. THE CHALLENGE
XII. THE DUEL
XIV. THE CHAMPION
XV. THE WALLET
XVI. THE EVIDENCE
XVII. BITTER WATER
XVIII. FOOL’S MATE
XIX. THE TRUTH
XX. THE RESIGNATION
THE AFFAIR AT TAVORA
It is established beyond doubt that Mr. Butler was drunk at the time. This rests upon the evidence of Sergeant Flanagan and the troopers who accompanied him, and it rests upon Mr. Butler’s own word, as we shall see. And let me add here and now that however wild and irresponsible a rascal he may have been, yet by his own lights he was a man of honour, incapable of falsehood, even though it were calculated to save his skin. I do not deny that Sir Thomas Picton has described him as a “thieving blackguard.” But I am sure that this was merely the downright, rather extravagant manner, of censure peculiar to that distinguished general, and that those who have taken the expression at its purely literal value have been lacking at once in charity and in knowledge of the caustic, uncompromising terms of speech of General Picton whom Lord Wellington, you will remember, called a rough, foulmouthed devil.
In further extenuation it may truthfully be urged that the whole hideous and odious affair was the result of a misapprehension; although I cannot go so far as one of Lieutenant Butler’s apologists and accept the view that he was the victim of a deliberate plot on the part of his too-genial host at Regoa. That is a misconception easily explained. This host’s name happened to be Souza, and the apologist in question has very rashly leapt at the conclusion that he was a member of that notoriously intriguing family, of which the chief members were the Principal Souza, of the Council of Regency at Lisbon, and the Chevalier Souza, Portuguese minister to the Court of St. James’s. Unacquainted with Portugal, our apologist was evidently in ignorance of the fact that the name of Souza is almost as common in that country as the name of Smith in this. He may also have been misled by the fact that Principal Souza did not neglect to make the utmost capital out of the affair, thereby increasing the difficulties with which Lord Wellington was already contending as a result of incompetence and deliberate malice on the part both of the ministry at home and of the administration in Lisbon.
Indeed, but for these factors it is unlikely that the affair could ever have taken place at all. If there had been more energy on the part of Mr. Perceval and the members of the Cabinet, if there had been less bad faith and self-seeking on the part of the Opposition, Lord Wellington’s campaign would not have been starved as it was; and if there had been less bad faith and self-seeking of an even more stupid and flagrant kind on the part of the Portuguese Council of Regency, the British Expeditionary Force would not have been left without the stipulated supplies and otherwise hindered at every step.
Lord Wellington might have experienced the mental agony of Sir John Moore under similar circumstances fifteen months earlier. That he did suffer, and was to suffer yet more, his correspondence shows. But his iron will prevented that suffering from disturbing the equanimity of his mind. The Council of Regency, in its concern to court popularity with the aristocracy of Portugal, might balk his measures by its deliberate supineness; echoes might reach him of the voices at St. Stephen’s that loudly dubbed his dispositions rash, presumptuous and silly; catch-halfpenny journalists at home and men of the stamp of Lord Grey might exploit their abysmal military ignorance in reckless criticism and censure of his operations; he knew what a passionate storm of anger and denunciation had arisen from the Opposition when he had been raised to the peerage some months earlier, after the glorious victory of Talavera, and how, that victory notwithstanding, it had been proclaimed that his conduct of the campaign was so incompetent as to deserve, not reward, but punishment; and he was aware of the growing unpopularity of the war in England, knew that the Government – ignorant of what he was so laboriously preparing – was chafing at his inactivity of the past few months, so that a member of the Cabinet wrote to him exasperatedly, incredibly and fatuously — “for God’s sake do something — anything so that blood be spilt.”
A heart less stout might have been broken, a genius less mighty stifled in this evil tangle of stupidity, incompetence and malignity that sprang up and flourished about him can every hand. A man less single-minded must have succumbed to exasperation, thrown up his command and taken ship for home, inviting some of his innumerable critics to take his place at the head of the troops, and give free rein to the military genius that inspired their critical dissertations. Wellington, however, has been rightly termed of iron, and never did he show himself more of iron than in those trying days of 1810. Stern, but with a passionless sternness, he pursued his way towards the goal he had set himself, allowing no criticism, no censure, no invective so much as to give him pause in his majestic progress.
Unfortunately the lofty calm of the Commander-in-Chief was not shared by his lieutenants. The Light Division was quartered along the River Agueda, watching the Spanish frontier, beyond which Marshal Ney was demonstrating against Ciudad Rodrigo, and for lack of funds its fiery-tempered commander, Sir Robert Craufurd, found himself at last unable to feed his troops. Exasperated by these circumstances, Sir Robert was betrayed into an act of rashness. He seized some church plate at Pinhel that he might convert it into rations. It was an act which, considering the general state of public feeling in the country at the time, might have had the gravest consequences, and Sir Robert was subsequently forced to do penance and afford redress. That, however, is another story. I but mention the incident here because the affair of Tavora with which I am concerned may be taken to have arisen directly out of it, and Sir Robert’s behaviour may be construed as setting an example and thus as affording yet another extenuation of Lieutenant Butler’s offence.
Our lieutenant was sent upon a foraging expedition into the valley of the Upper Douro, at the head of a half-troop of the 8th Dragoons, two squadrons of which were attached at the time to the Light Division. To be more precise, he was to purchase and bring into Pinhel a hundred head of cattle, intended some for slaughter and some for draught. His instructions were to proceed as far as Regoa and there report himself to one Bartholomew Bearsley, a prosperous and influential English wine-grower, whose father had acquired considerable vineyards in the Douro. He was reminded of the almost hostile disposition of the peasantry in certain districts; warned to handle them with tact and to suffer no straggling on the part of his troopers; and advised to place himself in the hands of Mr. Bearsley for all that related to the purchase of the cattle. Let it be admitted at once that had Sir Robert Craufurd been acquainted with Mr. Butler’s feather-brained, irresponsible nature, he would have selected any officer rather than our lieutenant to command that expedition. But the Irish Dragoons had only lately come to Pinhel, and the general himself was not immediately concerned.
Lieutenant Butler set out on a blustering day of March at the head of his troopers, accompanied by Cornet O.’Rourke and two sergeants, and at Pesqueira he was further reinforced by a Portuguese guide. They found quarters that night at Ervedoza, and early on the morrow they were in the saddle again, riding along the heights above the Cachao da Valleria, through which the yellow, swollen river swirled and foamed along its rocky way. The prospect, formidable even in the full bloom of fruitful and luxuriant summer, was forbidding and menacing now as some imagined gorge of the nether regions. The towering granite heights across the turgid stream were shrouded in mist and sweeping rain, and from the leaden heavens overhead the downpour was of a sullen and merciless steadiness, starting at every step a miniature torrent to go swell the roaring waters in the gorge, and drenching the troop alike in body and in spirit. Ahead, swathed to the chin in his blue cavalry cloak, the water streaming from his leather helmet, rode Lieutenant Butler, cursing the weather, the country; the Light Division, and everything else that occurred to him as contributing to his present discomfort. Beside him, astride of a mule, rode the Portuguese guide in a caped cloak of thatched straw, which made him look for all the world like a bottle of his native wine in its straw sheath. Conversation between the two was out of the question, for the guide spoke no English and the lieutenant’s knowledge of Portuguese was very far from conversational.
Presently the ground sloped, and the troop descended from the heights by a road flanked with dripping pinewoods, black and melancholy, that for a while screened them off from the remainder of the sodden world. Thence they emerged near the head of the bridge that spanned the swollen river and led them directly into the town of Regoa. Through the mud and clay of the deserted, narrow, unpaved streets the dragoons squelched their way, under a super-deluge, for the rain was now reinforced by steady and overwhelming sheets of water descending on either side from the gutter-shaped tiles that roofed the houses.
Inquisitive faces showed here and there behind blurred windows; odd doors were opened that a peasant family might stare in questioning wonder – and perhaps in some concern – at the sodden pageant that was passing. But in the streets themselves the troopers met no living thing, all the world having scurried to shelter from the pitiless downpour.
Beyond the town they were brought by their guide to a walled garden, and halted at a gateway. Beyond this could be seen a fair white house set in the foreground of the vineyards that rose in terraces up the hillside until they were lost from sight in the lowering veils of mist. Carved on the granite lintel of that gateway, the lieutenant beheld the inscription, “BARTHOLOMEU BEARSLEY, 1744,” and knew himself at his destination, at the gates of the son or grandson – he knew not which, nor cared – of the original tenant of that wine farm.
Mr. Bearsley, however, was from home. The lieutenant was informed of this by Mr. Bearsley’s steward, a portly, genial, rather priestly gentleman in smooth black broadcloth, whose name was Souza – a name which, as I have said, has given rise to some misconceptions. Mr. Bearsley himself had lately left for England, there to wait until the disturbed state of Portugal should be happily repaired. He had been a considerable sufferer from the French invasion under Soult, and none may blame him for wishing to avoid a repetition of what already he had undergone, especially now that it was rumoured that the Emperor in person would lead the army gathering for conquest on the frontiers.
But had Mr. Bearsley been at home the dragoons could have received no warmer welcome than that which was extended to them by Fernando Souza. Greeting the lieutenant in intelligible English, he implored him, in the florid manner of the Peninsula, to count the house and all within it his own property, and to command whatever he might desire.
The troopers found accommodation in the kitchen and in the spacious hall, where great fires of pine logs were piled up for their comfort; and for the remainder of the day they abode there in various states of nakedness, relieved by blankets and straw capotes, what time the house was filled with the steam and stench of their drying garments. Rations had been short of late on the Agueda, and, in addition, their weary ride through the rain had made the men sharp-set. Abundance of food was placed before them by the solicitude of Fernando Souza, and they feasted, as they had not feasted for many months, upon roast kid, boiled rice and golden maize bread, washed down by a copious supply of a rough and not too heady wine that the discreet and discriminating steward judged appropriate to their palates and capable of supporting some abuse.
Akin to the treatment of the troopers in hall and kitchen, but on a nobler scale, was the treatment of Lieutenant Butler and Cornet O’Rourke in the dining-room. For them a well-roasted turkey took the place of kid, and Souza went down himself to explore the cellars for a well-sunned, time-ripened Douro table wine which he vowed – and our dragoons agreed with him – would put the noblest Burgundy to shame; and then with the dessert there was a Port the like of which Mr. Butler – who was always of a nice taste in wine, and who was coming into some knowledge of Port from his residence in the country – had never dreamed existed.
For four and twenty hours the dragoons abode at Mr. Bearsley’s quinta, thanking God for the discomforts that had brought them to such comfort, feasting in this land of plenty as only those can feast who have kept a rigid Lent. Nor was this all. The benign Souza was determined that the sojourn there of these representatives of his country’s deliverers should be a complete rest and holiday. Not for Mr. Butler to journey to the uplands in this matter of a herd of bullocks. Fernando Souza had at command a regiment of labourers, who were idle at this time of year, and whom his good nature would engage on behalf of his English guests. Let the lieutenant do no more than provide the necessary money for the cattle, and the rest should happen as by enchantment – and Souza himself would see to it that the price was fair and proper.
The lieutenant asked no better. He had no great opinion of himself either as cattle dealer or cattle drover, nor did his ambitions beget in him any desire to excel as one or the other. So he was well content that his host should have the bullocks fetched to Regoa for him. The herd was driven in on the following afternoon, by when the rain had ceased, and our lieutenant had every reason to be pleased when he beheld the solid beasts procured. Having disbursed the amount demanded – an amount more reasonable far than he had been prepared to pay – Mr. Butler would have set out forthwith to return to Pinhel, knowing how urgent was the need of the division and with what impatience the choleric General Craufurd would be awaiting him.
“Why, so you shall, so you shall,” said the priestly, soothing Souza. “But first you’ll dine. There is good dinner – ah, but what good dinner! – that I have order. And there is a wine – ah, but you shall give me news of that wine.”
Lieutenant Butler hesitated. Cornet O’Rourke watched him anxiously, praying that he might succumb to the temptation, and attempted suasion in the form of a murmured blessing upon Souza’s hospitality.
“Sir Robert will be impatient,” demurred the lieutenant.
“But half-hour,” protested Souza. “What is half-hour? And in half-hour you will have dine.”
“True,” ventured the cornet; “and it’s the devil himself knows when we may dine again.”
“And the dinner is ready. It can be serve this instant. It shall,” said Souza with finality, and pulled the bell-rope.
Mr. Butler, never dreaming – as indeed how could he? – that Fate was taking a hand in this business, gave way, and they sat down to dinner. Henceforth you see him the sport of pitiless circumstance.
They dined within the half-hour, as Souza had promised, and they dined exceedingly well. If yesterday the steward had been able without warning of their coming to spread at short notice so excellent a feast, conceive what had been accomplished now by preparation. Emptying his fourth and final bumper of rich red Douro, Mr. Butler paid his host the compliment of a sigh and pushed back his chair.
But Souza detained him, waving a hand that trembled with anxiety, and with anxiety stamped upon his benignly rotund and shaven countenance.
“An instant yet,” he implored. “Mr. Bearsley would never pardon me did I let you go without what he call a stirrup-cup to keep you from the ills that lurk in the wind of the Serra. A glass – but one – of that Port you tasted yesterday. I say but a glass, yet I hope you will do honour to the bottle. But a glass at least, at least!” He implored it almost with tears. Mr. Butler had reached that state of delicious torpor in which to take the road is the last agony; but duty was duty, and Sir Robert Craufurd had the fiend’s own temper. Torn thus between consciousness of duty and the weakness of the flesh, he looked at O’Rourke. O’Rourke, a cherubic fellow, who had for his years a very pretty taste in wine, returned the glance with a moist eye, and licked his lips.
“In your place I should let myself be tempted,” says he. “It’s an elegant wine, and ten minutes more or less is no great matter.”
The lieutenant discovered a middle way which permitted him to take a prompt decision creditable to his military instincts, but revealing a disgraceful though quite characteristic selfishness.
“Very well,” he said. “Leave Sergeant Flanagan and ten men to wait for me, O’Rourke, and do you set out at once with the rest of the troop. And take the cattle with you. I shall overtake you before you have gone very far.”
O’Rourke’s crestfallen air stirred the sympathetic Souza’s pity.
“But, Captain,” he besought, “will you not allow the lieutenant – “
Mr. Butler cut him short. “Duty,” said he sententiously, “is duty. Be off, O’Rourke.”
And O’Rourke, clicking his heels viciously, saluted and departed.
Came presently the bottles in a basket – not one, as Souza had said, but three; and when the first was done Butler reflected that since O’Rourke and the cattle were already well upon the road there need no longer be any hurry about his own departure. A herd of bullocks does not travel very quickly, and even with a few hours’ start in a forty-mile journey is easily over-taken by a troop of horse travelling without encumbrance.
You understand, then, how easily our lieutenant yielded himself to the luxurious circumstances, and disposed himself to savour the second bottle of that nectar distilled from the very sunshine of the Douro — the phrase is his own. The steward produced a box of very choice cigars, and although the lieutenant was not an habitual smoker, he permitted himself on this exceptional occasion to be further tempted. Stretched in a deep chair beside the roaring fire of pine logs, he sipped and smoked and drowsed away the greater par of that wintry afternoon. Soon the third bottle had gone the way of the second, and Mr. Bearsley’s steward being a man of extremely temperate habit, it follow: that most of the wine had found its way down the lieutenant’s thirsty gullet.
It was perhaps a more potent vintage than he had at first suspected, and as the torpor produced by the dinner and the earlier, fuller wine was wearing off, it was succeeded by an exhilaration that played havoc with the few wits that Mr. Butler could call his own.
The steward was deeply learned in wines and wine growing and in very little besides; consequently the talk was almost confined to that subject in its many branches, and he could be interesting enough, like all enthusiasts. To a fresh burst of praise from Butler of the ruby vintage to which he had been introduced, the steward presently responded with a sigh:
“Indeed, as you say, Captain, a great wine. But we had a greater.”
“Impossible, by God,” swore Butler, with a hiccup.
“You may say so; but it is the truth. We had a greater; a wonderful, clear vintage it was, of the year 1798 – a famous year on the Douro, the quite most famous year that we have ever known. Mr. Bearsley sell some pipes to the monks at Tavora, who have bottle it and keep it. I beg him at the time not to sell, knowing the value it must come to have one day. But he sell all the same. Ah, meu Deus!” The steward clasped his hands and raised rather prominent eyes to the ceiling, protesting to his Maker against his master’s folly. “He say we have plenty, and now” – he spread fat hands in a gesture of despair – “and now we have none. Some sons of dogs of French who came with Marshal Soult happen this way on a forage they discover the wine and they guzzle it like pigs.” He swore, and his benignity was eclipsed by wrathful memory. He heaved himself up in a passion.
“Think of that so priceless vintage drink like hogwash, as Mr. Bearsley say, by those god-dammed French swine. “not a drop – not a spoonful remain. But the monks at Tavora still have much of what they buy, I am told. They treasure it for they know good wine. All priests know good wine. Ah yes! Goddam!” He fell into deep reflection.
Lieutenant Butler stirred, and became sympathetic.
“‘San infern’l shame,” said he indignantly. “I’ll no forgerrit when I . . . meet the French.” Then he too fell into reflection.
He was a good Catholic, and, moreover, a Catholic who did not take things for granted. The sloth and self-indulgence of the clergy in Portugal, being his first glimpse of conventuals in Latin countries, had deeply shocked him. The vows of a monastic poverty that was kept carefully beyond the walls of the monastery offended his sense of propriety. That men who had vowed themselves to pauperism, who wore coarse garments and went barefoot, should batten upon rich food and store up wines that gold could not purchase, struck him as a hideous incongruity.
“And the monks drink this nectar?” he said aloud, and laughed sneeringly. ” I know the breed – the fair found belly wi’ fat capon lined. Tha’s your poverty stricken Capuchin.”
Souza looked at him in sudden alarm, bethinking himself that all Englishmen were heretics, and knowing nothing of subtle distinctions between English and Irish. In silence Butler finished the third and last bottle, and his thoughts fixed themselves with increasing insistence upon a wine reputed better than this of which there was great store in the cellars of the convent of Tavora.
Abruptly he asked: “Where’s Tavora?” He was thinking perhaps of the comfort that such wine would bring to a company of war-worn soldiers in the valley of the Agueda.
“Some ten leagues from here,” answered Souza, and pointed to a map that hung upon the wall.
The lieutenant rose, and rolled a thought unsteadily across the room. He was a tall, loose-limbed fellow, blue-eyed, fair-complexioned, with a thatch of fiery red hair excellently suited to his temperament. He halted before the map, and with legs wide apart, to afford him the steadying support of a broad basis, he traced with his finger the course of the Douro, fumbled about the district of Regoa, and finally hit upon the place he sought.
“Why,” he said, “seems to me ‘sif we should ha’ come that way. I’s shorrer road to Pesqueira than by the river.”
“As the bird fly,” said Souza. “But the roads be bad – just mule tracks, while by the river the road is tolerable good.”
“Yet,” said the lieutenant, “I think I shall go back tha’ way.”
The fumes of the wine were mounting steadily to addle his indifferent brains. Every moment he was seeing things in proportions more and more false. His resentment against priests who, sworn to self-abnegation, hoarded good wine, whilst soldiers sent to keep harm from priests’ fat carcasses were left to suffer cold and even hunger, was increasing with every moment. He would sample that wine at Tavora; and he would bear some of it away that his brother officers at Pinhel might sample it. He would buy it. Oh yes! There should be no plundering, no irregularity, no disregard of general orders. He would buy the wine and pay for it – but himself he would fix the price, and see that the monks of Tavora made no profit out of their defenders.
Thus he thought as he considered the map. Presently, when having taken leave of Fernando Souza – that prince of hosts – Mr. Butler was riding down through the town with Sergeant Flanagan and ten troopers at his heels, his purpose deepened and became more fierce. I think the change of temperature must have been to blame. It was a chill, bleak evening. Overhead, across a background of faded blue, scudded ragged banks of clouds, the lingering flotsam of the shattered rainstorm of yesterday: and a cavalry cloak afforded but indifferent protection against the wind that blew hard and sharp from the Atlantic.
Coming from the genial warmth of Mr. Souza’s parlour into this, the evaporation of the wine within him was quickened, its fumes mounted now overwhelmingly to his brain, and from comfortably intoxicated that he had been hitherto, the lieutenant now became furiously drunk; and the transition was a very rapid one. It was now that he looked upon the business he had in hand in the light of a crusade; a sort of religious fanaticism began to actuate him.
The souls of these wretched monks must be saved; the temptation to self-indulgence, which spelt perdition for them, must be removed from their midst. It was a Christian duty. He no longer though of buying the wine and paying for it. His one aim ow was to obtain possession of it not merely a part of it, but all of it – and carry it off, thereby accomplishing two equally praiseworthy ends: to rescue a conventful of monks from damnation, and to regale the much-enduring, half-starved campaigners of the Agueda.
Thus reasoned Mr. Butler with admirable, if drunken, logic. And reasoning thus he led the way over the bridge, and kept straight on when he had crossed it, much to the dismay of Sergeant Flanagan, who, perceiving the lieutenant’s condition, conceived that he was missing his way. This the sergeant ventured to point out, reminding his officer that they had come by the road along the river.
“So we did,” said Butler shortly. “Bu’ we go back by way of Tavora.”
They had no guide. The one who had conducted them to Regoa had returned with O’Rourke, and although Souza had urged upon the lieutenant at parting that he should take one of the men from the quinta, Butler, with wit enough to see that this was not desirable under the circumstances, had preferred to find his way alone.
His confused mind strove now to revisualise the map which he had consulted in Souza’s parlour. He discovered, naturally enough, that the task was altogether beyond his powers. Meanwhile night was descending. They were, however, upon the mule track, which went up and round the shoulder of a hill, and by this they came at dark upon a hamlet.
Sergeant Flanagan was a shrewd fellow and perhaps the most sober man in the troop – for the wine had run very freely in Souza’s kitchen, too, and the men, whilst awaiting their commander’s pleasure, had taken the fullest advantage of an opportunity that was all too rare upon that campaign. Now Sergeant Flanagan began to grow anxious. He knew the Peninsula from the days of Sir John Moore, and he knew as much of the ways of the peasantry of Portugal as any man. He knew of the brutal ferocity of which that peasantry was capable. He had seen evidence more than once of the unspeakable fate of French stragglers from the retreating army of Marshal Soult. He knew of crucifixions, mutilations and hideous abominations practised upon them in these remote hill districts by the merciless men into whose hands they happened to fall, and he knew that it was not upon French soldiers alone – that these abominations had been practised. Some of those fierce peasants had been unable to discriminate between invader and deliverer; to them a foreigner was a foreigner and no more. Others, who were capable of discriminating, were in the position of having come to look upon French and English with almost equal execration.
It is true that whilst the Emperor’s troops made war on the maxim that an army must support itself upon the country it traverses, thereby achieving a greater mobility, since it was thus permitted to travel comparatively light, the British law was that all things requisitioned must be paid for. Wellington maintained this law in spite of all difficulties at all times with an unrelaxing rigidity, and punished with the utmost vigour those who offended against it. Nevertheless breaches were continual; men broke out here and there, often, be it said, under stress of circumstances for which the Portuguese were themselves responsible; plunder and outrage took place and provoked indiscriminating rancour with consequences at times as terrible to stragglers from the British army of deliverance as to those from the French army of oppressors. Then, too, there was the Portuguese Militia Act recently enforced by Wellington – acting through the Portuguese Government – deeply resented by the peasantry upon whom it bore, and rendering them disposed to avenge it upon such stray British soldiers as might fall into their hands.
Knowing all this, Sergeant Flanagan did not at all relish this night excursion into the hill fastnesses, where at any moment, as it seemed to him, they might miss their way. After all, they were but twelve men all told, and he accounted it a stupid thing to attempt to take a short cut across the hills for the purpose of overtaking an encumbered troop that must of necessity be moving at a very much slower pace. This was the way not to overtake but to outdistance. Yet since it was not for him to remonstrate with the lieutenant, he kept his peace and hoped anxiously for the best.
At the mean wine-shop of that hamlet Mr. Butler inquired his way by the simple expedient of shouting “Tavora?” with a strong interrogative inflection. The vintner made it plain by gestures – accompanied by a rattling musketry of incomprehensible speech that their way lay straight ahead. And straight ahead they went, following that mule track for some five or six miles until it began to slope gently towards the plain again. Below them they presently beheld a cluster of twinkling lights to advertise a township. They dropped swiftly down, and in the outskirts overtook a belated bullock-cart, whose ungreased axle was arousing the hillside echoes with its plangent wail.
Of the vigorous young woman who marched barefoot beside it, shouldering her goad as if it were a pikestaff, Mr. Butler inquired – by his usual method – if this were Tavora, to receive an answer which, though voluble, was unmistakably affirmative.
“Covento Dominicano? was his next inquiry, made after they had gone some little way.
The woman pointed with her goad to a massive, dark building, flanked by a little church, which stood just across the square they were entering.
A moment later the sergeant, by Mr. Butler’s orders, was knocking upon the iron-studded main door. They waited awhile in vain. None came to answer the knock; no light showed anywhere upon the dark face of the convent. The sergeant knocked again, more vigorously than before. Presently came timid, shuffling steps; a shutter opened in the door, and the grille thus disclosed was pierced by a shaft of feeble yellow light. A quavering, aged voice demanded to know who knocked.
“English soldiers,” answered the lieutenant in Portuguese. “Open!”
A faint exclamation suggestive of dismay was the answer, the shutter closed again with a snap, the shuffling steps retreated and unbroken silence followed.
“Now wharra devil may this mean?” growled Mr. Butler. Drugged wits, like stupid ones, are readily suspicious. “Wharra they hatching in here that they :are afraid of lerring Bri’ish soldiers see? Knock again, Flanagan. Louder, man!”
The sergeant beat the door with the butt of his carbine. The blows gave out a hollow echo, but evoked no more answer than if they had fallen upon the door of a mausoleum. Mr. Butler completely lost his temper. “Seems to me that we’ve stumbled upon a hotbed o’ treason. Hotbed o’ treason!” he repeated, as if pleased with the phrase. “That’s wharrit is.” And he added peremptorily: “Break down the door.”
“But, sir,” began the sergeant in protest, greatly daring.
“Break down the door,” repeated Mr. Butler. Lerrus be after seeing wha’ these monks are afraid of showing us. I’ve a notion they’re hiding more’n their wine.”
Some of the troopers carried axes precisely against such an emergency as this. Dismounting, they fell upon the door with a will. But the oak was stout, fortified by bands of iron and great iron studs; and it resisted long. The thud of the axes and the crash of rending timbers could be heard from one end of Tavora to the other, yet from the convent it evoked no slightest response. But presently, as the door began to yield to the onslaught, there came another sound to arouse the town. From the belfry of the little church a bell suddenly gave tongue upon a frantic, hurried note that spoke unmistakably of alarm. Ding-ding-ding-ding it went, a tocsin summoning the assistance of all true sons of Mother Church.
Mr. Butler, however, paid little heed to it. The door was down at last, and followed by his troopers he rode under the massive gateway into the spacious close. Dismounting there, and leaving the woefully anxious sergeant and a couple of men to guard the horses, the lieutenant led the way along the cloisters, faintly revealed by a new-risen moon, towards a gaping doorway whence a feeble light was gleaming. He stumbled over the step into a hall dimly lighted by a lantern swinging from the ceiling. He found a chair, mounted it, and cut the lantern down, then led the way again along an endless corridor, stone-flagged and flanked on either side by rows of cells. Many of the doors stood open, as if in silent token of the tenants’ hurried flight, showing what a panic had been spread by the sudden advent of this troop.
Mr. Butler became more and more deeply intrigued, more and more deeply suspicious that here all was not well. Why should a community of loyal monks take flight in this fashion from British soldiers?
“Bad luck to them!” he growled, as he stumbled on. “They may hide as they will, but it’s myself ‘ll run the shavelings to earth.”
They were brought up short at the end of that long, chill gallery by closed double doors. Beyond these an organ was pealing, and overhead the clapper of the alarm bell was beating more furiously than ever. All realised that they stood upon the threshold of the chapel and that the conventuals had taken refuge there.
Mr. Butler checked upon a sudden suspicion. “Maybe, after all, they’ve taken us for French,” said he.
A trooper ventured to answer him. “Best let them see we’re not before we have the whole village about our ears.”
“Damn that bell,” said the lieutenant, and added: “Put your shoulders to the door.”
Its fastenings were but crazy ones, and it yielded almost instantly to their pressure – yielded so suddenly that Mr. Butler, who himself had been foremost in straining against it, shot forward half-a-dozen yards into the chapel and measured his length upon its cold flags.
Simultaneously from the chancel came a great cry: “Libera nos, Domine! followed by a shuddering murmur of prayer.
The lieutenant picked himself up, recovered the lantern that had rolled from his grasp, and lurched forward round the angle that hid the chancel from his view. There, huddled before the main altar like a flock of scared and stupid sheep, he beheld the conventuals – some two score of them perhaps and in the dim light of the heavy altar lamp above them he could make out the black and white habit of the order of St. Dominic.
He came to a halt, raised his lantern aloft, and called to them peremptorily:
The organ ceased abruptly, but the bell overhead went clattering on.
Mr. Butler addressed them in the best French he could command: “What do you fear? Why do you flee? We are friends – English soldiers, seeking quarters for the night.”
A vague alarm was stirring in him. It began to penetrate his obfuscated mind that perhaps he had been rash, that this forcible rape of a convent was a serious matter. Therefore he attempted this peaceful explanation.
>From that huddled group a figure rose, and advanced with a solemn, stately grace. There was a faint swish of robes, the faint rattle of rosary beads. Something about that figure caught the lieutenant’s attention sharply. He craned forward, half sobered by the sudden fear that clutched him, his eyes bulging in his face.
“I had thought,” said a gentle, melancholy woman’s voice, “that the seals of a nunnery were sacred to British soldiers “
For a moment Mr. Butler seemed to be labouring for breath. Fully sobered now, understanding of his ghastly error reached him at the gallop.
“My God!” he gasped, and incontinently turned to flee.
But as he fled in horror of his sacrilege, he still kept his head turned, staring over his shoulder at the stately figure of the abbess, either in fascination or with some lingering doubt of what he had seen and heard. Running thus, he crashed headlong into a pillar, and, stunned by the blow, he reeled and sank unconscious to the ground.
This the troopers had not seen, for they had not lingered. Understanding on their own part the horrible blunder, they had turned even as their leader turned, and they had raced madly back the way they had come, conceiving that he followed. And there was reason for their haste other than their anxiety to set a term to the sacrilege of their presence. From the cloistered garden of the convent uproar reached them, and the metallic voice of Sergeant Flanagan calling loudly for help.
The alarm bell of the convent had done its work. The villagers were up, enraged by the outrage, and armed with sticks and scythes and bill-hooks, an army of them was charging to avenge this infamy. The troopers reached the close no more than in time. Sergeant Flanagan, only half understanding the reason for so much anger, but understanding that this anger was very real and very dangerous, was desperately defending the horses with his two companions against the vanguard of the assailants. There was a swift rush of the dragoons and in an instant they were in the saddle, all but the lieutenant, of whose absence they were suddenly made conscious. Flanagan would have gone back for him, and he had in fact begun to issue an order with that object when a sudden surge of the swelling, roaring crowd cut off the dragoons from the door through which they had emerged. Sitting their horses, the little troop came together, their sabres drawn, solid as a rock in that angry human sea that surged about them. The moon riding now clear overhead irradiated that scene of impending strife.
Flanagan, standing in his stirrups, attempted to harangue the mob. But he was at a loss what to say that would appease them, nor able to speak a language they could understand. An angry peasant made a slash at him with a billhook. He parried the blow on his sabre, and with the flat of it knocked his assailant senseless.
Then the storm burst, and the mob flung itself upon the dragoons.
“Bad cess to you!” cried Flanagan. “Will ye listen to me, ye murthering villains” Then in despair “Char-r-r-ge!” he roared, and headed for the gateway.
The troopers attempted in vain to reach it. The mob hemmed them about too closely, and then a horrid hand-to-hand fight began, under the cold light of the moon, in that garden consecrated to peace and piety. Two saddles had been emptied, and the exasperated troopers were slashing now at their assailants with the edge, intent upon cutting a way out of that murderous press. It is doubtful if a man of them would have survived, for the odds were fully ten to one against them. To their aid came now the abbess. She stood on a balcony above, and called upon the people to desist, and hear her. Thence she harangued them for some moments, commanding them to allow the soldiers to depart. They obeyed with obvious reluctance, and at last a lane was opened in that solid, seething mass of angry clods.
But Flanagan hesitated to pass down this lane and so depart. Three of his troopers were down by now, and his lieutenant was missing. He was exercised to resolve where his duty lay. Behind him the mob was solid, cutting off the dragoons from their fallen comrades. An attempt to go back might be misunderstood and resisted, leading to a renewal of the combat, and surely in vain, for he could not doubt but that the fallen troopers had been finished outright.
Similarly the mob stood as solid between him and the door that led to the interior of the convent, where Mr. Butler was lingering alive or dead. A number of peasants had already invaded the actual building, so that in that connection too the sergeant concluded that there was little reason to hope that the lieutenant should have escaped the fate his own rashness had invoked. He had his remaining seven men to think of, and he concluded that it was his duty under all the circumstances to bring these off alive, and not procure their massacre by attempting fruitless quixotries.
So “Forward!” roared the voice of Sergeant Flanagan, and forward went the seven through the passage that had opened out before them in that hooting, angry mob.
Beyond the convent walls they found fresh assailants awaiting them, enemies these, who had not been soothed by the gentle, reassuring voice of the abbess. But here there was more room to manoeuvre.
“Trot!” the sergeant commanded, and soon that trot became a gallop. A shower of stones followed them as they thundered out of Tavora, and the sergeant himself had a lump as large as a duck-egg on the middle of his head when next day he reported himself at Pesqueira to Cornet O’Rourke, whom he overtook there.
When eventually Sir Robert Craufurd heard the story of the affair, he was as angry as only Sir Robert could be. To have lost four dragoons and to have set a match to a train that might end in a conflagration was reason and to spare.
“How came such a mistake to be made?” he inquired, a scowl upon his full red countenance.
Mr. O’Rourke had been investigating and was primed with knowledge.
“It appears, sir, that at Tavora there is a convent of Dominican nuns as well as a monastery of Dominican friars. Mr. Butler will have used the word ‘convento,’ which more particularly applies to the nunnery, and so he was directed to the wrong house.”
“And you say the sergeant has reason to believe that Mr. Butler did not survive his folly?”
“I am afraid there can be no hope, sir.”
“It’s perhaps just as well,” said Sir Robert. “For Lord Wellington would certainly have had him shot.”
And there you have the true account of the stupid affair of Tavora, which was to produce, as we shall see, such far-reaching effects upon persons nowise concerned in it.
News of the affair at Tavora reached Sir Terence O’Moy, the Adjutant-General at Lisbon, about a week later in dispatches from headquarters. These informed him that in the course of the humble apology and explanation of the regrettable occurrence offered by the Colonel of the 8th Dragoons in person to the Mother Abbess, it had transpired that Lieutenant Butler had left the convent alive, but that nevertheless he continued absent from his regiment.
Those dispatches contained other unpleasant matters of a totally different nature, with which Sir Terence must proceed to deal at once; but their gravity was completely outweighed in the adjutant’s mind by this deplorable affair of Lieutenant Butler’s. Without wishing to convey an impression that the blunt and downright O’Moy was gifted with any undue measure of shrewdness, it must nevertheless be said that he was quick to perceive what fresh thorns the occurrence was likely to throw in a path that was already thorny enough in all conscience, what a semblance of justification it must give to the hostility of the intriguers on the Council of Regency, what a formidable weapon it must place in the hands of Principal Souza and his partisans. In itself this was enough to trouble a man in O’Moy’s position. But there was more. Lieutenant Butler happened to be his brother-in-law, own brother to O’Moy’s lovely, frivolous wife. Irresponsibility ran strongly in that branch of the Butler family.
For the sake of the young wife whom he loved with a passionate and fearful jealousy such as is not uncommon in a man of O’Moy’s temperament when at his age – he was approaching his forty-sixth birthday – he marries a girl of half his years, the adjutant had pulled his brother-in-law out of many a difficulty; shielded him on many an occasion from the proper consequences of his incurable rashness.
This affair of the convent, however, transcended anything that had gone before and proved altogether too much for O’Moy. It angered him as much as it afflicted him. Yet when he took his head in his hands and groaned, it was only his sorrow that he was expressing, and it was a sorrow entirely concerned with his wife.
The groan attracted the attention of his military secretary, Captain Tremayne, of Fletcher’s Engineers, who sat at work at a littered writing-table placed in the window recess. He looked up sharply, sudden concern in the strong young face and the steady grey eyes he bent upon his chief. The sight of O’Moy’s hunched attitude brought him instantly to his feet.
“Whatever is the matter, sir?”
“It’s that damned fool Richard,” growled O’Moy. “He’s broken out again.”
The captain looked relieved. “And is that all?”
O’Moy looked at him, white-faced, and in his blue eyes a blaze of that swift passion that had made his name a byword in the army.
“All?” he roared. “You’ll say it’s enough, by God, when you hear what the fool’s been at this time. Violation of a nunnery, no less.” And he brought his massive fist down with a crash upon the document that had conveyed the information. “With a detachment of dragoons he broke into the convent of the Dominican nuns at Tavora one night a week ago. The alarm bell was sounded, and the village turned out to avenge the outrage. Consequences: three troopers killed, five peasants sabred to death and seven other casualties, Dick himself missing and reported to have escaped from the convent, but understood to remain in hiding – so that he adds desertion to the other crime, as if that in itself were not enough to hang him. That’s all, as you say, and I hope you consider it enough even for Dick Butler – bad luck to him.”
“My God!” said Captain Tremayne.
“I’m glad that you agree with me.”
Captain Tremayne stared at his chief, the utmost dismay upon his fine young face. “But surely, sir, surely – I mean, sir, if this report is correct some explanation -” He broke down, utterly at fault.
“To be sure, there’s an explanation. You may always depend upon a most elegant explanation for anything that Dick Butler does. His life is made up of mistakes and explanations.” He spoke bitterly, “He broke into the nunnery under a misapprehension, according to the account of the sergeant who accompanied him,” and Sir Terence read out that part of the report. “But how is that to help him, and at such a time as this, with public feeling as it is, and Wellington in his present temper about it? The provost’s men are beating the country for the blackguard. When they find him it’s a firing party he’ll have to face.”
Tremayne turned slowly to the window and looked down the fair prospect of the hillside over a forest of cork oaks alive with fresh green shoots to the silver sheen of the river a mile away. The storms of the preceding week had spent their fury – the travail that had attended the birth of Spring – and the day was as fair as a day of June in England. Weaned forth by the generous sunshine, the burgeoning of vine and fig, of olive and cork went on apace, and the skeletons of trees which a fortnight since had stood gaunt and bare were already fleshed in tender green.
>From the window of this fine conventual house on the heights of Monsanto, above the suburb of Alcantara, where the Adjutant-General had taken up his quarters, Captain Tremayne stood a moment considering the panorama spread to his gaze, from the red-brown roofs of Lisbon on his left – that city which boasted with Rome that it was built upon a cluster of seven hills – to the lines of embarkation that were building about the fort of St. Julian on his left. Then he turned, facing again the spacious, handsome room with its heavy, semi-ecclesiastical furniture, and Sir Terence, who, hunched in his chair at the ponderously carved black writing-table, scowled fiercely at nothing.
“What are you going to do, sir?” he inquired.
Sir Terence shrugged impatiently and heaved himself up in his chair.
“Nothing,” he growled.
The interrogation, which seemed almost to cover a reproach, irritated the adjutant.
“And what the devil can I do?” he rapped.
“You’ve pulled Dick out of scrapes before now.”
“I have. That seems to, have been my principal occupation ever since I married his sister. But this time he’s gone too far. What can I do?”
“Lord Wellington is fond of you,” suggested Captain Tremayne. He was your imperturbable young man, and he remained as calm now as O’Moy was excited. Although by some twenty years the adjutant’s junior, there was between O’Moy and himself, as well as between Tremayne and the Butler family, with which he was remotely connected, a strong friendship, which was largely responsible for the captain’s present appointment as Sir Terence’s military secretary.
O’Moy looked at him, and looked away. “Yes,” he agreed. “But he’s still fonder of law and order and military discipline, and I should only be imperilling our friendship by pleading with him for this young blackguard.”
“The young blackguard is your brother-in-law,” Tremayne reminded him.
“Bad luck to you, Tremayne, don’t I know it? Besides, what is there I can do?” he asked again, and ended testily: ” Faith, man, I don’t know what you’re thinking of.”
“I’m thinking of Una,” said Captain Tremayne in that composed way of his, and the words fell like cold water upon the hot iron of O’Moy’s anger.
The man who can receive with patience a reproach, implicit or explicit, of being wanting in consideration towards his wife is comparatively rare, and never a man of O’Moy’s temperament and circumstances. Tremayne’s reminder stung him sharply, and the more sharply because of the strong friendship that existed between Tremayne and Lady O’Moy. That friendship had in the past been a thorn in O’Moy’s flesh. In the days of his courtship he had known a fierce jealousy of Tremayne, beholding in him for a time a rival who, with the strong advantage of youth, must in the end prevail. But when O’Moy, putting his fortunes to the test, had declared himself and been accepted by Una Butler, there had been an end to the jealousy, and the old relations of cordial friendship between the men had been resumed.
O’Moy had conceived that jealousy of his to have been slain. But there had been times when from its faint, uneasy stirrings he should have taken warning that it did no more than slumber. Like most warm hearted, generous, big-natured men, O’Moy was of a singular humility where women were concerned, and this humility of his would often breathe a doubt lest in choosing between himself and Tremayne Una might have been guided by her head rather than her heart, by ambition rather than affection, and that in taking himself she had taken the man who could give her by far the more assured and affluent position.
He had crushed down such thoughts as disloyal to his young wife, as ungrateful and unworthy; and at such times he would fall into self-contempt for having entertained them. Then Una herself had revived those doubts three months ago, when she had suggested that Ned Tremayne, who was then at Torres Vedras with Colonel Fletcher, was the very man to fill the vacant place of military secretary to the adjutant, if he would accept it. In the reaction of self-contempt, and in a curious surge of pride almost as perverse s his humility, O’Moy had adopted her suggestion, and thereafter – in the past-three months, that is to say – the unreasonable devil of O’Moy’s jealousy had slept, almost forgotten. Now, by a chance remark whose indiscretion Tremayne could not realise, since he did not so much as suspect the existence of that devil, he had suddenly prodded him into wakefulness. That Tremayne should show himself tender of Lady O’Moy’s feelings in a matter in which O’Moy himself must seem neglectful of them was gall and wormwood to the adjutant. He dissembled it, however, out of a natural disinclination to appear in the ridiculous role of the jealous husband.
“That,” he said, “is a matter that you may safely leave to me,” and his lips closed tightly upon the words when they were uttered.
“Oh, quite so,” said Tremayne, no whit abashed. He persisted nevertheless. “You know Una’s feelings for Dick.”
“When I married Una,” the adjutant cut in sharply, “I did not marry the entire Butler family.” It hardened him unreasonably against Dick to have the family cause pleaded in this way. “It’s sick to death I am of Master Richard and his escapades. He can get himself out of this mess, or he can stay in it.”
“You mean that you’ll not lift a hand to help him.”
“Devil a finger,” said O’Moy.
And Tremayne, looking straight into the adjutant’s faintly smouldering blue eyes, beheld there a fierce and rancorous determination which he was at a loss to understand, but which he attributed to something outside his own knowledge that must lie between O’Moy and his brother-in-law.
“I am sorry,” he said gravely. “Since that is how you feel, it is to be hoped that Dick Butler may not survive to be taken. The alternative would weigh so cruelly upon Una that I do not care to contemplate it.”
“And who the devil asks you to contemplate it?” snapped O’Moy. “I am not aware that it is any concern of yours at all.”
“My dear O’Moy!” It was an exclamation of protest, something between pain and indignation, under the stress of which Tremayne stepped entirely outside of the official relations that prevailed between himself and the adjutant. And the exclamation was accompanied by such a look of dismay and wounded sensibilities that O’Moy, meeting this, and noting the honest manliness of Tremayne’s bearing and countenance; was there and then the victim of reaction. His warm-hearted and impulsive nature made him at once profoundly ashamed of himself. He stood up, a tall, martial figure, and his ruggedly handsome, shaven countenance reddened under its tan. He held out a hand to Tremayne.
“My dear boy, I beg your pardon. It’s so utterly annoyed I am that the savage in me will be breaking out. Sure, it isn’t as if it were only this affair of Dick’s. That is almost the least part of the unpleasantness contained in this dispatch. Here! In God’s name, read it for yourself, and judge for yourself whether it’s in human nature to be patient under so much.”
With a shrug and a smile to show that he was entirely mollified, Captain Tremayne took the papers to his desk and sat down to con them. As he did so his face grew more and more grave. Before he had reached the end there was a tap at the door. An orderly entered with the announcement that Dom Miguel Forjas had just driven up to Monsanto to wait upon the adjutant-general.
“Ha!” said O’Moy shortly, and exchanged a glance with his secretary. “Show the gentleman up.”
As the orderly withdrew, Tremayne came over and placed the dispatch on the adjutant’s desk. “He arrives very opportunely,” he said.
“So opportunely as to be suspicious, bedad!” said O’Moy. He had brightened suddenly, his Irish blood quickening at the immediate prospect of strife which this visit boded. “May the devil admire me, but there’s a warm morning in store for Mr. Forjas, Ned.”
“Shall I leave you?”
“By no means.”
The door opened, and the orderly admitted Miguel Forjas, the Portuguese Secretary of State. He was a slight, dapper gentleman, all in black, from his silk stockings and steel-buckled shoes to his satin stock. His keen aquiline face was swarthy, and the razor had left his chin and cheeks blue-black. His sleek hair was iron-grey. A portentous gravity invested him this morning as he bowed with profound deference first to the adjutant and then to the secretary.
“Your Excellencies,” he said – he spoke an English that was smooth and fluent for all its foreign accent “Your Excellencies, this is a terrible affair.”
“To what affair will your Excellency be alluding?” wondered O’Moy.
“Have you not received news of what has happened at Tavora? Of the violation of a convent by a party of British soldiers? Of the fight that took place between these soldiers and the peasants who went to succour the nuns?”
“Oh, and is that all?” said O’Moy. “For a moment I imagined your Excellency referred to other matters. I have news of more terrible affairs than the convent business with which to entertain you this morning.”
“That, if you will pardon me, Sir Terence, is quite impossible.”
“You may think so. But you shall judge, bedad. A chair, Dom Miguel.”
The Secretary of State sat down, crossed his knees and placed his hat in his lap. The other two resumed their seats, O’Moy leaning forward, his elbows on the writing-table, immediately facing Senhor Forjas.
“First, however,” he said, “to deal with this affair of Tavora. The Council of Regency will, no doubt, have been informed of all the circumstances. You will be aware, therefore, that this very deplorable business was the result of a misapprehension, and that the nuns of Tavora might very well have avoided all this trouble had they behaved in a sensible, reasonable manner. If instead of shutting themselves up in the chapel and ringing the alarm bell the Mother-Abbess or one of the sisters had gone to the wicket and answered the demand of admittance from the officer commanding the detachment, he would instantly have realised his mistake and withdrawn.”
“What does your Excellency suggest was this mistake?” inquired the Secretary.
“You have had your report, sir, and surely it was complete. You must know that he conceived himself to be knocking at the gates of the monastery of the Dominican fathers.”
“Can your Excellency tell me what was this officer’s business at the monastery of the Dominican fathers?” quoth the Secretary, his manner frostily hostile.
“I am without information on that point,” O’Moy admitted; “no doubt because the officer in question is missing, as you will also have been informed. But I have no reason to doubt that, whatever his business may have been, it was concerned with the interests which are common alike to the British and the Portuguese nation.”
“That is a charitable assumption, Sir Terence.”
“Perhaps you will inform me, Dom Miguel, of the uncharitable assumption which the Principal Souza prefers,” snapped O’Moy, whose temper began to simmer.
A faint colour kindled in the cheeks of the Portuguese minister, but is manner remained unruffled.
“I speak, sir, not with the voice of Principal Souza, but with that of the entire Council of Regency; and the Council has formed the opinion, which your own words confirm, that his Excellency Lord Wellington is skilled in finding excuses for the misdemeanours of the troops under his command.”
“That,” said O’Moy, who would never have kept his temper in control but for the pleasant consciousness that he held a hand of trumps with which he would’ presently overwhelm this representative of the Portuguese Government, “that is an opinion for which the Council may presently like to apologise, admitting its entire falsehood.”
Senhor Forjas started as if he had been stung. He uncrossed his black silk legs and made as if to rise.
“Falsehood, sir?” he cried in a scandalised voice.
“It is as well that we should be plain, so as to be avoiding all misconceptions,” said O’Moy. “You must know, sir, and your Council must know, that wherever armies move there must be reason for complaint. The British army does not claim in this respect to be superior to others – although I don’t say, mark me, that it might not claim it with perfect justice. But we do claim for ourselves that our laws against plunder and outrage are as strict as they well can be, and that where these things take place punishment inevitably follows. Out of your own knowledge, sir, you must admit that what I say is true.”
“True, certainly, where the offenders are men from the ranks. But in this case, where the offender is an officer, it does not transpire that justice has been administered with the same impartial hand.” “That, sir,” answered O’Moy sharply, testily, “is because he is
The Secretary’s thin lips permitted themselves to curve into the faintest ghost of a smile. “Precisely,” he said.
For answer O’Moy, red in the face, thrust forward the dispatch he had received relating to the affair.
“Read, sir – read for yourself, that you may report exactly to the Council of Regency the terms of the report that has just reached me from headquarters. You will be able to announce that diligent search is being made for the offender.”
Forjas perused the document carefully, and returned it.
“That is very good,” he said, “and the Council will be glad to hear of it. It will enable us to appease the popular resentment in some degree. But it does not say here that when taken this officer will not be excused upon the grounds which yourself you have urged to me.”
“It does not. But considering that he has since been guilty of desertion, there can be no doubt – all else apart – that the finding of a court martial will result in his being shot.”
“Very well,” said Forjas. “I will accept your assurance, and the Council will be relieved to hear of it.” He rose to take his leave. “I am desired by the Council to express to Lord Wellington the hope that he will take measures to preserve better order among his troops and to avoid the recurrence of such extremely painful incidents.”
“A moment,” said O’Moy, and rising waved his guest back into his chair, then resumed his own seat. Under a more or less calm exterior he was a seething cauldron of passion. “The matter is not quite at an end, as your Excellency supposes. From your last observation, and from a variety of other evidence, I infer that the Council is far from satisfied with Lord Wellington’s conduct of the campaign.”
“That is an inference which I cannot venture to contradict. You will understand, General, that I do not speak for myself, but for the Council, when I say that many of his measures seem to us not merely unnecessary, but detrimental. The power having been placed in the hands of Lord Wellington, the Council hardly feels itself able to interfere with his dispositions. But it nevertheless deplores the destruction of the mills and the devastation of the country recommended and insisted upon by his lordship. It feels that this is not warfare as the Council understands warfare, and the people share the feelings of the Council. It is felt that it would be worthier and more commendable if Lord Wellington were to measure himself in battle with the French, making a definite attempt to stem the tide of invasion on the frontiers.”
“Quite so,” said O’Moy, his hand clenching and unclenching, and Tremayne, who watched him, wondered how long it would be before the storm burst. “Quite so. And because the Council disapproves of the very measures which at Lord Wellington’s instigation it has publicly recommended, it does not trouble to see that those measures are carried out. As you say, it does not feel itself able to interfere with his dispositions. But it does not scruple to mark its disapproval by passively hindering him at every turn. Magistrates are left to neglect these enactments, and because,” he added with bitter sarcasm, “Portuguese valour is so red-hot and so devilish set on battle the Militia Acts calling all men to the colours are forgotten as soon as published. There is no one either to compel the recalcitrant to take up arms, or to punish the desertions of those who have been driven into taking them up. Yet you want battles, you want your frontiers defended. A moment, sir! there is no need for heat, no need for any words. The matter may be said to be at an end.” He smiled – a thought viciously, be it confessed – and then played his trump card, hurled his bombshell. “Since the views of your Council are in such utter opposition to the views of the Commander-in-Chief, you will no doubt welcome Lord Wellington’s proposal to withdraw from this country and to advise his Majesty’s Government to withdraw the assistance which it is affording you.”
There followed a long spell of silence, O’Moy sitting back in his chair, his chin in his hand, to observe the result of his words. Nor was he in the least disappointed. Dom Miguel’s mouth fell open; the colour slowly ebbed from his cheeks, leaving them an ivory-yellow; his eyes dilated and protruded. He was consternation incarnate.
“My God!” he contrived to gasp at last, and his shaking hands clutched at the carved arms of his chair.
“Ye don’t seem as pleased as I expected,” ventured O’Moy.
“But, General, surely . . . surely his Excellency cannot mean to take so . . . so terrible a step?”
“Terrible to whom, sir?” wondered O’Moy.
“Terrible to us all.” Forjas rose in his agitation. He came to lean upon O’Moy’s writing-table, facing the adjutant. “Surely, sir, our interests – England’s interests and Portugal’s – are one in this.”
“To be sure. But England’s interests can be defended elsewhere than in Portugal, and it is Lord Wellington’s view that they shall be. He has already warned the Council of Regency that, since his Majesty and the Prince Regent have entrusted him with the command of the British and Portuguese armies, he will not suffer the Council or any of its members to interfere with his conduct of the military operations, or suffer any criticism or suggestion of theirs to alter system formed upon mature consideration. But when, finding their criticisms fail, the members of the Council, in their wrongheadedness, in their anxiety to allow private interest to triumph over public duty, go the length of thwarting the measures of which they do not approve, the end of Lord Wellington’s patience has been reached. I am giving your Excellency his own words. He feels that it is futile to remain in a country whose Government is determined to undermine his every endeavour to bring this campaign to a successful issue.
“Yourself, sir, you appear to be distressed. But the Council of Regency will no doubt take a different view. It will rejoice in the departure of a man whose military operations it finds so detestable. You will no doubt discover this when you come to lay Lord Wellington’s decision before the Council, as I now invite you to do.”
Bewildered and undecided, Forjas stood there for a moment, vainly seeking words. Finally:
“Is this really Lord Wellington’s last word?” he asked in tones of profoundest consternation.
“There is one alternative – one only,” said O’Moy slowly.
“And that?” Instantly Forjas was all eagerness.
O’Moy considered him. “Faith, I hesitate to state it.”
“No, no. Please, please.”
“I feel that it is idle.”
“Let the Council judge. I implore you, General, let the Council judge.”
“Very well.” O’Moy shrugged, and took up a sheet of the dispatch which lay before him. “You will admit, sir, I think, that the beginning of these troubles coincided with the advent of the Principal Souza upon the Council of Regency.” He waited in vain for a reply. Forjas, the diplomat, preserved an uncompromising silence, in which presently O’Moy proceeded: “From this, and from other evidence, of which indeed there is no lack, Lord Wellington has come to the conclusion that all the resistance, passive and active, which he has encountered, results from the Principal Souza’s influence upon the Council. You will not, I think, trouble to deny it, sir.”
Forjas spread his hands. “You will remember, General,” he answered, in tones of conciliatory regret, “that the Principal Souza represents a class upon whom Lord Wellington’s measures bear in a manner peculiarly hard.”
“You mean that he represents the Portuguese nobility and landed gentry, who, putting their own interests above those of the State, have determined to oppose and resist the devastation of the country which Lord Wellington recommends.”
“You put it very bluntly,” Forjas admitted.
“You will find Lord Wellington’s own words even more blunt,” said O’Moy, with a grim smile, and turned to the dispatch he held. “Let me read you exactly what he writes:
“‘As for Principal Souza, I beg you to tell him from me that as I have had no satisfaction in transacting the business of this country since he has become a member of the Government, no power on earth shall induce me to remain in the Peninsula if he is either to remain a member of the Government or to continue in Lisbon. Either he must quit the country, or I will do so, and this immediately after I have obtained his Majesty’s permission to resign my charge.'”
The adjutant put down the letter and looked expectantly at the Secretary of State, who returned the look with one of utter dismay. Never in all his career had the diplomat been so completely dumbfounded as he was now by the simple directness of the man of action. In himself Dom Miguel Forjas was both shrewd and honest. He was shrewd enough to apprehend to the full the military genius of the British Commander-in-Chief, fruits of which he had already witnessed. He knew that the withdrawal of Junot’s army from Lisbon two years ago resulted mainly from the operations of Sir Arthur Wellesley – as he was then – before his supersession in the supreme command of that first expedition, and he more than suspected that but for that supersession the defeat of the first French army of invasion might have been even more signal. He had witnessed the masterly campaign of 1809, the battle of the Douro and the relentless operations which had culminated in hurling the shattered fragments of Soult’s magnificent army over the Portuguese frontier, thus liberating that country for the second time from the thrall of the mighty French invader. And he knew that unless this man and the troops under his command remained in Portugal and enjoyed complete liberty of action there could be no hope of stemming the third invasion for which Massena – the ablest of all the Emperor’s marshals was now gathering his divisions in the north. If Wellington were to execute his threat and withdraw with his army, Forjas beheld nothing but ruin for his country. The irresistible French would sweep forward in devastating conquest, and Portuguese independence would be ground to dust under the heel of the terrible Emperor.
All this the clear-sighted Dom Miguel Forjas now perceived. To do him full justice, he had feared for some time that the unreasonable conduct of his Government might ultimately bring about some such desperate situation. But it was not for him to voice those fears. He was the servant of that Government, the “mere instrument and mouthpiece of the Council of Regency.
“This,” he said at length in a voice that was awed, “is an ultimatum.”
“It is that,” O’Moy admitted readily.
Forjas sighed, shook his dark head and drew himself up like a man who has chosen his part. Being shrewd, he saw the immediate necessity of choosing, and, being honest, he chose honestly.
“Perhaps it is as well,” he said.
“That Lord Wellington should go?” cried O’Moy.
“That Lord Wellington should announce intentions of going,” Forjas explained. And having admitted so much, he now stripped off the official mask completely. He spoke with his own voice and not with that of the Council whose mouthpiece he was. “Of course it will never be permitted. Lord Wellington has been entrusted with the defence of the country by the Prince Regent; consequently it is the duty of every Portuguese to ensure that at all costs he shall continue in that office.”
O’Moy was mystified. Only a knowledge of the minister’s inmost thoughts could have explained this oddly sudden change of manner.
“But your Excellency understands the terms – the only terms upon which his lordship will so continue?”
“Perfectly. I shall hasten to convey those terms to the Council. It is also quite clear – is it not? – that I may convey to my Government and indeed publish your complete assurance that the officer responsible for the raid on the convent at Tavora will be shot when taken?
Looking intently into O’Moy’s face, Dom Miguel saw the clear blue eyes flicker under his gaze, he beheld a grey shadow slowly overspreading the adjutant’s ,ruddy cheek. Knowing nothing of the relationship between O’Moy and the offender, unable to guess the sources of the hesitation of which he now beheld such unmistakable signs, the minister naturally misunderstood it.
“There must be no flinching in this, General,” he cried. “Let me speak to you for a moment quite frankly and in confidence, not as the Secretary of State of the Council of Regency, but as a Portuguese patriot who places his country and his country’s welfare above every other consideration. You have issued your ultimatum. It may be harsh, it may be arbitrary; with that I have no concern. The interests, the feelings of Principal Souza or of any other individual, however high-placed, are without weight when the interests of the nation hang against them in the balance. Better that an injustice be done to one man than that the whole country should suffer. Therefore I do not argue with you upon the rights and wrongs of Lord Wellington’s ultimatum. That is a matter apart. Lord Wellington demands the removal of Principal Souza from the Government, or, in the alternative, proposes himself to withdraw from Portugal. In the national interest the Government can come to only one decision. I am frank with you, General. Myself I shall stand ranged on the side of the national interest, and what my influence in the Council can do it shall do. But if you know Principal Souza at all, you must know that he will not relinquish his position without a fight. He has friends and influence – the Patriarch of Lisbon and many of the nobility will be on his side. I warn you solemnly against leaving any weapon in his hands.”
He paused impressively. But O’Moy, grey-faced now and haggard, waited in silence for him to continue.
“From the message I brought you,” Forjas resumed, “you will have perceived how Principal Souza has fastened upon this business at Tavora to support his general censure of Lord Wellington’s conduct of the campaign. That is the weapon to which my warning refers. You must – if we who place the national interest supreme are to prevail – you must disarm him by the assurance that I ask for. You will perceive that I am disloyal to a member of my Council so that I may be loyal to my country. But I repeat, I speak to you in confidence. This officer has committed a gross outrage, which must bring the British army into odium with the people, unless we have your assurance that the British army is the first to censure and to punish the offender with the utmost rigour. Give me now, that I may publish everywhere, your official assurance that this man will be shot, and on my side I assure you that Principal Souza, thus deprived of his stoutest weapon, must succumb in the struggle that awaits us.”
“I hope,” said O’Moy slowly, his head bowed, his voice dull and even unsteady, “I hope that I am not behind you in placing public duty above private consideration. You may publish my official assurance that the officer in question will be . . . shot when taken.”
“General, I thank you. My country thanks you. You may be confident of this issue.” He bowed gravely to O’Moy and then to Tremayne. “Your Excellencies, I have the honour to wish you good-day.” He was shown out by the orderly who had admitted him, and he departed well satisfied in his patriotic heart that the crisis which he had always known to be inevitable should have been reached at last. Yet, as he went, he wondered why the Adjutant-General had looked so downcast, why his voice had broken when he pledged his word that justice should be done upon the offending British officer. That, however, was no concern of Dom Miguel’s, and there was more than enough to engage his thoughts when he came to consider the ultimatum to his Government with which he was charged.
Across the frontier in the northwest was gathering the third army of invasion, some sixty thousand strong, commanded by Marshal Massena, Prince of Esslingen, the most skilful and fortunate of all Napoleon’s generals, a leader who, because he had never known defeat, had come to be surnamed by his Emperor “the dear child of Victory.”
Wellington, at the head of a British force of little more than one third of the French host, watched and waited, maturing his stupendous strategic plan, which those in whose interests it had been conceived had done so much to thwart. That plan was inspired by and based upon the Emperor’s maxim that war should support itself; that an army on the march must not be hampered and immobilised by its commissariat, but that it must draw its supplies from the country it is invading; that it must, in short, live upon that country.
Behind the British army and immediately to the north of Lisbon, in an arc some thirty miles long, following the inflection of the hills from the sea at the mouth of the Zizandre to the broad waters of the Tagus at Alhandra, the lines of Torres Vedras were being constructed under the direction of Colonel Fletcher and this so secretly and with such careful measures as to remain unknown to British and Portuguese alike. Even those employed upon the works knew of nothing save the section upon which they happened to be engaged, and had no conception of the stupendous and impregnable whole that was preparing.
To these lines it was the British commander’s plan to effect a slow retreat before the French flood when it should sweep forward, thus luring the enemy onward into a country which he had commanded should be laid relentlessly waste, that there that enemy might fast be starved and afterwards destroyed. To this end had his proclamations gone forth, commanding that all the land lying between the rivers Tagus and Mondego, in short, the whole of the country between Beira and Torres Vedras, should be stripped naked, converted into a desert as stark and empty as the Sahara. Not a head of cattle, not a grain of corn, not a skin of vine, not a flask of oil, not a crumb of anything affording nourishment should be left behind. The very mills were to be rendered useless, bridges were to be broken down, the houses emptied of all property, which the refugees were to carry away with them from the line of invasion.
Such was his terrible demand upon the country for its own salvation. But such, as we have seen, was not war as Principal Souza and some of his adherents understood it. They had not the foresight to perceive the inevitable result of this strategic plan if effectively and thoroughly executed. They did not even realise that the devastation had better be effected by the British in this defensive – and in its results at the same time overwhelmingly offensive – manner than by the French in the course of a conquering onslaught. They did not realise these things partly because they did not enjoy Wellington’s full confidence, and in a greater measure because they were blinded by self-interest, because, as O’Moy told Forjas, they placed private considerations above public duty. The northern nobles whose lands must suffer opposed the measure violently; they even opposed the withdrawal of labour from those lands which the Militia Act had rendered necessary. And Antonio de Souza made himself their champion until he was broken by Wellington’s ultimatum to the Council. For broken he was. The nation had come to a parting of the ways. It had been brought to the necessity of choosing, and however much the Principal, voicing the outcry of his party, might argue that the British plan was as detestable and ruinous as a French invasion, the nation preferred to place its confidence in the conqueror of Vimeiro and the Douro.
Souza quitted the Government and the capital as had been demanded. But if Wellington hoped that he would quit intriguing, he misjudged his man. He was a fellow of monstrous vanity, pride and self-sufficiency, of the sort than which there is none more dangerous to offend. His wounded pride demanded a salve to be procured at any cost. The wound had been administered by Wellington, and must be returned with interest. So that he ruined Wellington it mattered nothing to Antonio de Souza that he should ruin himself and his own country at the same time. He was like some blinded, ferocious and unreasoning beast, ready, even eager, to sacrifice its own life so that in dying it can destroy its enemy and slake its blood-thirst.
In that mood he passes out of the councils of the Portuguese Government into a brooding and secretly active retirement, of which the fruits shall presently be shown. With his departure the Council of Regency, rudely shaken by the ultimatum which had driven him forth, became more docile and active, and for a season the measures enjoined by the Commander-in-Chief were pursued with some show of earnestness.
As a result of all this life at Monsanto became easier, ,and O’Moy was able to breathe more freely, and to devote more of his time to matters concerning the fortifications which Wellington had left largely in his charge. Then, too, as the weeks passed, the shadow overhanging him with regard to Richard Butler gradually lifted. No further word had there been of the missing lieutenant, and by the end of May both O’Moy and Tremayne had come to the conclusion that he must have fallen into the hands of some of the ferocious mountaineers to whom a soldier – whether his uniform were British or French – was a thing to be done to death.
For his wife’s sake O’Moy came thankfully to that conclusion. Under the circumstances it was the best possible termination to the episode. She must be told of her brother’s death presently, when evidence of it was forthcoming; she would mourn him passionately, no doubt, for her attachment to him was deep – extraordinarily deep for so shallow a woman – but at least she would be spared the pain and shame she must inevitably have felt had he been taken and, shot.
Meanwhile, however, the lack of news from him, in another sense, would have to be explained to Una sooner or later for a fitful correspondence was maintained between brother and sister – and O’Moy dreaded the moment when this explanation must be made. Lacking invention, he applied to Tremayne for assistance, and Tremayne glumly supplied him with the necessary lie that should meet Lady O’Moy’s inquiries when they came.
In the end, however, he was spared the necessity of falsehood. For the truth itself reached Lady O’Moy in an unexpected manner. It came about a month after that day when O’Moy had first received news of the escapade at Tavora. It was a resplendent morning of early June, and the adjutant was detained a few moments from breakfast by the arrival of a mail-bag from headquarters, now established at Vizeu. Leaving Captain Tremayne to deal with it, Sir Terence went down to breakfast, bearing with him only a few letters of a personal character which had reached him from friends on the frontier.
The architecture of the house at Monsanto was of a semiclaustral character; three sides of it enclosed a sheltered luxuriant garden, whilst on the fourth side a connecting corridor, completing the quadrangle, spanned bridgewise the spacious archway through which admittance was gained directly from the parklands that sloped gently to Alcantara. This archway, closed at night by enormous wooden doors, opened wide during the day upon a grassy terrace bounded by a baluster of white marble that gleamed now in the brilliant sunshine. It was O’Moy’s practice to breakfast out-of-doors in that genial climate, and during April, before the sun had reached its present intensity, the table had been spread out there upon the terrace. Now, however, it was wiser, even in the early morning, to seek the shade, and breakfast was served within the quadrangle, under a trellis of vine supported in the Portuguese manner by rough-hewn granite columns. It was a delicious spot, cool and fragrant, secluded without being enclosed, since through the broad archway it commanded a view of the Tagus and the hills of Alemtejo.
Here O’Moy found himself impatiently awaited that morning by his wife and her cousin, Sylvia Armytage, more recently arrived from England.
“You are very late,” Lady O’Moy greeted him petulantly. Since she spent her life in keeping other people waiting, it naturally fretted her to discover unpunctuality in others.
Her portrait, by Raeburn, which now adorns the National Gallery, had been painted in the previous year. You will have seen it, or at least you will have seen one of its numerous replicas, and you will have remarked its singular, delicate, rose-petal loveliness – the gleaming golden head, the flawless outline of face and feature, the immaculate skin, the dark blue eyes with their look of innocence awakening.
Thus was she now in her artfully simple gown of flowered muslin with its white fichu folded across her neck that was but a shade less white; thus was she, just as Raeburn had painted her, saving, of course, that her expression, matching her words, was petulant.
“I was detained by the arrival of a mail-bag from Vizeu,” Sir Terence excused himself, as he took the chair which Mullins, the elderly, pontifical butler, drew out for him. “Ned is attending to it, and will be kept for a few moments yet.”
Lady O’Moy’s expression quickened. “Are there no letters for me?”
“None, my dear, I believe.”
“No word from Dick?” Again there was that note of ever ready petulance. “It is too provoking. He should know that he must make me anxious by his silence. Dick is so thoughtless – so careless of other people’s feelings. I shall write to him severely.”
The adjutant paused in the act of unfolding his napkin. The prepared explanation trembled on his lips; but its falsehood, repellent to him, was not uttered.
“I should certainly do so, my dear,” was all he said, and addressed himself to his breakfast.
“What news from headquarters?” Miss Armytage asked him. “Are things going well?”
“Much better now that Principal Souza’s influence is at an end. Cotton reports that the destruction of the mills in the Mondego valley is being carried out systematically.”
Miss Armytage’s dark, thoughtful eyes became wistful.
“Do you know, Terence,” she said, “that I am not without some sympathy for the Portuguese resistance to Lord Wellington’s decrees. They must bear so terribly hard upon the people. To be compelled with their own hands to destroy their homes and lay waste the lands upon which they have laboured – what could be more cruel?”
“War can never be anything but cruel,” he answered gravely. “God help the people over whose lands it sweeps. Devastation is often the least of the horrors marching in its train.”
“Why must war be?” she asked him, in intelligent rebellion against that most monstrous and infamous of all human madnesses.
O’Moy proceeded to do his best to explain the unexplainable, and since, himself a professional soldier, he could not take the sane view of his sane young questioner, hot argument ensued between them, to the infinite weariness of Lady O’Moy, who out of self-protection gave herself to the study of the latest fashion plates from London and the consideration of a gown for the ball which the Count of Redondo was giving in the following week.
It was thus in all things, for these cousins represented the two poles of womanhood. Miss Armytage without any of Lady O’Moy’s insistent and excessive femininity, was nevertheless feminine to the core. But hers was the Diana type of womanliness. She was tall and of a clean-limbed, supple grace, now emphasised by the riding-habit which she was wearing – for she had been in the saddle during the hour which Lady, O’Moy had consecrated to the rites of toilet and devotions done before her mirror. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, vivacity and intelligence lent her countenance an attraction very different from the allurement of her cousin’s delicate loveliness. And because her countenance was a true mirror of her mind, she argued shrewdly now, so shrewdly that she drove O’Moy to entrench himself behind generalisations.
“My dear Sylvia, war is most merciful where it is most merciless,” he assured her with the Irish gift for paradox. “At home in the Government itself there are plenty who argue as you argue, and who are wondering when we shall embark for England. That is because they are intellectuals, and war is a thing beyond the understanding of intellectuals. It is not intellect but brute instinct and brute force that will help humanity in such a crisis as the present. Therefore, let me tell you, my child, that a government of intellectual men is the worst possible government for a nation engaged in a war.”
This was far from satisfying Miss Armytage. Lord Wellington himself was an intellectual, she objected. Nobody could deny it. There was the work he had done as Irish Secretary, and there was the calculating genius he had displayed at Vimeiro, at Oporto, at Talavera.
And then, observing her husband to be in distress, Lady O’Moy put down her fashion plate and brought up her heavy artillery to relieve him.
“Sylvia, dear,” she interpolated, “I wonder that you will for ever be arguing about things you don’t understand.”
Miss Armytage laughed good-humouredly. She was not easily put out of countenance. “What woman doesn’t?” she asked.
“I don’t, and I am a woman, surely.”
“Ah, but an exceptional woman,” her cousin rallied her affectionately, tapping the shapely white arm that protruded from a foam of lace. And Lady O’Moy, to whom words never had any but a literal meaning, set herself to purr precisely as one would have expected. Complacently she discoursed upon the perfection of her own endowments, appealing ever and anon to her husband for confirmation, and O’Moy, who loved her with all the passionate reverence which Nature working inscrutably to her ends so often inspires in just such strong, essentially masculine men for just such fragile and excessively feminine women, afforded this confirmation with all the enthusiasm of sincere conviction.
Thus until Mullins broke in upon them with the announcement of a visit from Count Samoval, an announcement more welcome to Lady O’Moy than to either of her companions.
The Portuguese nobleman was introduced. He had attained to a degree of familiarity in the adjutant’s household that permitted of his being received without ceremony there at that breakfast-table spread in the open. He was a slender, handsome, swarthy man of thirty, scrupulously dressed, as graceful and elegant in his movements as a fencing master, which indeed he might have been; for his skill with the foils was, a matter of pride to himself and notoriety to all the world. Nor was it by any means the only skill he might have boasted, for Jeronymo de Samoval was in many things,, a very subtle, supple gentleman. His friendship with the O’Moys, now some three months old, had been considerably strengthened of late by the fact that he had unexpectedly become one of the most hostile critics of the Council of Regency as lately constituted, and one of the most ardent supporters of the Wellingtonian policy.
He bowed with supremest grace to the ladies, ventured to kiss the fair, smooth hand of his hostess, undeterred by the frosty stare of O’Moy’s blue eyes whose approval of all men was in inverse proportion to their approval of his wife – and finally proffered her the armful of early roses that he brought.
“These poor roses of Portugal to their sister from England,” said his softly caressing tenor voice.
Ye’re a poet,” said O’Moy tartly.
“Having found Castalia here,” said, the Count, “shall I not drink its limpid waters?”
“Not, I hope, while there’s an agreeable vintage of Port on the table. A morning whet, Samoval?” O’Moy invited him, taking up the decanter.
“Two fingers, then – no more. It is not my custom in the morning. But here – to drink your lady’s health, and yours, Miss Armytage.” With a graceful flourish of his glass he pledged them both and sipped delicately, then took the chair that O’Moy was proffering.
“Good news, I hear, General. Antonio de Souza’s removal from the Government is already bearing fruit. The mills in the valley of the Mondego are being effectively destroyed at last.”
“Ye’re very well informed,” grunted O’Moy, who himself had but received the news. “As well informed, indeed, as I am myself.” There was a note almost of suspicion in the words, and he was vexed that matters which it was desirable be kept screened as much as possible from general knowledge should so soon be put abroad.
“Naturally, and with reason,” was the answer, delivered with a rueful smile. “Am I not interested? Is not some of my property in question?” Samoval sighed. “But I bow to the necessities of war. At least it cannot be said of me, as was said of those whose interests Souza represented, that I put private considerations above public duty – that is the phrase, I think. The individual must suffer that the nation may triumph. A Roman maxim, my dear General.”
“And a British one,” said O’Moy, to whom Britain was a second Rome.
“Oh, admitted,” replied the amiable Samoval. “You proved it by your uncompromising firmness in the affair of Tavora.”
“What was that?” inquired Miss Armytage.
“Have you not heard?” cried Samoval in astonishment.
“Of course not,” snapped O’Moy, who had broken into a cold perspiration. “Hardly a subject for the ladies, Count.”
Rebuked for his intention, Samoval submitted instantly.
“Perhaps not; perhaps not,” he agreed, as if dismissing it, whereupon O’Moy recovered from his momentary breathlessness. “But in your own interests, my dear General, I trust there will be no weakening when this Lieutenant Butler is caught, and – “
Sharp and stridently came that single word from her ladyship.
Desperately O’Moy sought to defend the breach.
“Nothing to do with Dick, my dear. A fellow named Philip Butler, who – “
But the too-well-informed Samoval corrected him. “Not Philip, General – Richard Butler. I had the name but yesterday from Forjas.”
In the scared hush that followed the Count perceived that he had stumbled headlong into a mystery. He saw Lady O’Moy’s face turn whiter and whiter, saw her sapphire eyes dilating as they regarded him.
“Richard Butler!” she echoed. “What of Richard Butler? Tell me. Tell me at once.”
Hesitating before such signs of distress, Samoval looked at O’Moy, to meet a dejected scowl.
Lady O’Moy turned to her husband. “What is it?” she demanded. “You know something about Dick and you are keeping it from me. Dick is in trouble?”
“He is,” O’Moy admitted. “In great trouble.”
“What has he done? You spoke of an affair at Evora or Tavora, which is not to be mentioned before ladies. I demand to know.” Her affection and anxiety for her brother invested her for a moment with a certain dignity, lent her a force that was but rarely displayed by her.
Seeing the men stricken speechless, Samoval from bewildered astonishment, O’Moy from distress, she jumped to the conclusion, after what had been said, that motives of modesty accounted for their silence.
“Leave us, Sylvia, please,” she said. “Forgive me, dear. But you see they will not mention these things while you are present.” She made a piteous little figure as she stood trembling there, her fingers tearing in agitation at one of Samoval’s roses.
She waited until the obedient and discreet Miss Armytage had passed from view into the wing that contained the adjutant’s private quarters, then sinking limp and nerveless to her chair:
“Now,” she bade them, “please tell me.”
And O’Moy, with a sigh of regret for the lie so laboriously concocted which would never now be uttered, delivered himself huskily of the hideous truth.
Miss Armytage’s own notions of what might be fit and proper for her virginal ears were by no means coincident with Lady O’Moy’s. Thus, although you have seen her pass into the private quarters of the adjutant’s establishment, and although, in fact, she did withdraw to her own room, she found it impossible to abide there a prey to doubt and misgivings as to what Dick Butler might have done – doubt and misgivings, be it understood, entertained purely on Una’s account and not at all on Dick’s.
By the corridor spanning the archway on the southern side of the quadrangle, and serving as a connecting bridge between the adjutant’s private and official quarters, Miss Armytage took her way to Sir Terence’s work-room, knowing that she would find Captain Tremayne there, and assuming that he would be alone.