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  • 1917
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threads of your office and the moment is not one in which to appoint another adjutant to take them over. Such a thing might be fatal to the success of the British arms. You must withdraw this resignation.” And he proffered the document.

Sir Terence recoiled. He went deathly white.

“I cannot,” he stammered. “After what has happened, I – “

Lord Wellington’s face became set and stern. His eyes blazed upon the adjutant.

“O’Moy,” he said, and the concentrated anger of his voice was terrifying, “if you suggest that any considerations but those of this campaign have the least weight with me in what I now do, you insult me. I yield to no man in my sense of duty, and I allow no private considerations to override it. You are saved from going home in disgrace by the urgency of the circumstances, as I have told you. By that and by nothing else. Be thankful, then; and in loyally remaining at your post efface what is past. You know what is doing at Torres Vedras. The works have been under your direction from the commencement. See that they are vigorously pushed forward and that the lines are ready to receive the army in a month’s time from now if necessary. I depend upon you – the army and England’s honour depend upon you. I bow to the inevitable and so shall you.” Then his sternness relaxed. “So much as your commanding officer. Now as your friend,” and he held out his hand, “I congratulate you upon your luck. After this morning’s manifestations of it, it should pass into a proverb. Goodbye, O’Moy. I trust you, remember.”

“And I shall not fail you,” gulped O’Moy, who, strong man that he was, found himself almost on the verge of tears. He clutched the extended hand.

“I shall fix my headquarters for the present at Celorico. Communicate with me there. And now one other matter: the Council of Regency will no doubt pester you with representations that I should – if time still remains – advance to the relief of Ciudad Rodrigo. Understand, that is no part of my plan of campaign. I do not stir across the frontier of Portugal. Here let the French come and find me, and I shall be ready to receive them. Let the Portuguese Government have no illusions on that point, and stimulate the Council into doing all possible to carry out the destruction of mills and the laying waste of the country in the valley of the Mondego and wherever else I have required.

“Oh, and by the way, you will find your brother-in-law, Mr. Butler, in the guard-room yonder, awaiting my orders. Provide him with a uniform and bid him rejoin his regiment at once. Recommend him to be more prudent in future if he wishes me to forget his escapade at Tavora. And in future, O’Moy, trust your wife. Again, good-bye. Come, Grant! – I have instructions for you too. But you must take them as we ride.”

And thus Sir Terence O’Moy found sanctuary at the altar of his country’s need. They left him incredulously to marvel at the luck which had so enlisted circumstances to save him where all had seemed so surely lost an hour ago.

He sent a servant to fetch Mr. Butler, the prime cause of all this pother – for all of it can be traced to Mr. Butler’s invasion of the Tavora nunnery – and with him went to bear the incredible tidings of their joint absolution to the three who waited so anxiously in the dining-room.

POSTSCRIPTUM

The particular story which I have set myself to relate, of how Sir Terence O’Moy was taken in the snare of his own jealousy, may very properly be concluded here. But the greater story in which it is enshrined and with which it is interwoven, the story of that other snare in which my Lord Viscount Wellington took the French, goes on. This story is the history of the war in the Peninsula. There you may pursue it to its very end and realise the iron will and inflexibility of purpose which caused men ultimately to bestow upon him who guided that campaign the singularly felicitous and fitting sobriquet of the Iron Duke.

Ciudad Rodrigo’s Spanish garrison capitulated on the 10th of July of that year 1810, and a wave of indignation such as must have overwhelmed any but a man of almost superhuman mettle swept up against Lord Wellington for having stood inactive within the frontiers of Portugal and never stirred a hand to aid the Spaniards. It was not only from Spain that bitter invective was hurled upon him; British journalism poured scorn and rage upon his incompetence, French journalism held his pusillanimity up to the ridicule of the world. His own officers took shame in their general, and expressed it. Parliament demanded to know how long British honour was to be imperilled by such a man. And finally the Emperor’s great marshal, Massena, gathering his hosts to overwhelm the kingdom of Portugal, availed himself of all this to appeal to the Portuguese nation in terms which the facts would seem to corroborate.

He issued his proclamation denouncing the British for the disturbers and mischief-makers of Europe, warning the Portuguese that they were the cat’s-paw of a perfidious nation that was concerned solely with the serving of its own interests and the gratification of its predatory ambitions, and finally summoning them to receive the French as their true friends and saviours.

The nation stirred uneasily. So far no good had come to them of their alliance with the British. Indeed Wellington’s policy of devastation had seemed to those upon whom it fell more horrible than any French invasion could have been.

But Wellington held the reins, and his grip never relaxed or slackened. And here let it be recorded that he was nobly and stoutly served in Lisbon by Sir Terence O’Moy. Pressure upon the Council resulted in the measures demanded being carried out. But much time had been lost through the intrigues of the Souza faction, with the result that those measures, although prosecuted now more vigorously, never reached the full extent which Wellington had desired. Treachery, too, stepped in to shorten the time still further. Almeida, garrisoned by Portuguese and commanded by Colonel Cox and a British staff, should have held a month. But no sooner had the French appeared before it, on the 26th August, than a powder magazine traitorously fired exploded and breached the wall, rendering the place untenable.

To Wellington this was perhaps the most vexatious of all things in that vexatious time. He had hoped to detain Massena before Almeida until the rains should have set in, when the French would have found themselves struggling through a sodden, water-logged country, through bridgeless floods and a land bereft of all that could sustain the troops. Still, what could be done Wellington did, and did it nobly. Fighting a rearguard action, he fell back upon the grim and naked ridges of Busaco, where at the end of September he delivered battle and a murderous detaining wound upon the advancing hosts of France. That done, he continued the retreat through Coimbra. And now as he went he saw to it that the devastation was completed along the line of march. What corn and provisions could not be carried off were burnt or buried, and the people forced to quit their dwellings and march with the army – a pathetic, southward exodus of men and women, old and young, flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle, creaking bullock-carts laden with provender and household goods, leaving behind them a country bare as the Sahara, where hunger before long should grip the French army too far committed now to pause. In advancing and overtaking must lie Massena’s hope. Eventually in Lisbon he must bring the British to bay, and, breaking them, open out at last his way into a land of plenty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They are firing on us, sir!” cried O’Moy on a note of sharp alarm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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