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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Snare - Chapter 11. The Challenge
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The Snare - Chapter 11. The Challenge Post by :David_Gassaway Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1222

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The Snare - Chapter 11. The Challenge

CHAPTER XI. THE CHALLENGE

Rebuke awaited Captain Tremayne at the hands of Lady O'Moy, and it came as soon as they were alone together sauntering in the thicket of pine and cork-oak on the slope of the hill below the terrace.

"How thoughtless of you, Ned, to provoke Count Samoval at such a time as this!"

"Did I provoke him? I thought it was the Count himself who was provoking." Tremayne spoke lightly.

"But suppose anything were to happen to you? You know the man's dreadful reputation."

Tremayne looked at her kindly. This apparent concern for himself touched him. "My dear Una, I hope I can take care of myself, even against so formidable a fellow; and after all a man must take his chances a soldier especially."

"But what of Dick?" she cried. "Do you forget that he is depending entirely upon you--that if you should fail him he will be lost?" And there was something akin to indignation in the protesting eyes she turned upon him.

For a moment Tremayne was so amazed that he was at a loss for an answer. Then he smiled. Indeed his inclination was to laugh outright. The frank admission that her concern which he had fondly imagined to be for himself was all for Dick betrayed a state of mind that was entirely typical of Una. Never had she been able to command more than one point of view of any question, and that point of view invariably of her own interest. All her life she had been accustomed to sacrifices great and small made by others on heir own behalf, until she had come to look upon such sacrifices her absolute right.

"I am glad you reminded me," he said with an irony that never touched her. "You may depend upon me to be discreetness itself, at least until after Dick has been safely shipped."

"Thank you, Ned. You are very good to me." They sauntered a little way in silence. Then: "When does Captain Glennie sail?" she asked him. "Is it decided yet?"

"Yes. I have just heard from him that the Telemachus will put to sea on Sunday morning at two o'clock."

"At two o'clock in the morning! What an uncomfortable hour!"

"Tides, as King Canute discovered, are beyond mortal control. The Telemachus goes out with the ebb. And, after all, for our purposes surely no hour could be more suitable. If I come for Dick at midnight tomorrow that will just give us time to get him snugly aboard before she sails. I have made all arrangements with Glennie. He believes Dick to be what he has represented himself--one of Bearsley's overseers named Jenkinson, who is a friend of mine and who must be got out of the country quietly. Dick should thank his luck for a good deal. My chief anxiety was lest his presence here should be discovered by any one."

"Beyond Bridget not a soul knows that he is here not even Sylvia."

"You have been the soul of discreetness."

"Haven't I?" she purred, delighted to have him discover a virtue so unusual in her.

Thereafter they discussed details; or, rather, Tremayne discussed them. He would come up to Monsanto at twelve o'clock to-morrow night in a curricle in which he would drive Dick down to the river at a point where a boat would be waiting to take him out to the Telemachus. She must see that Dick was ready in time. The rest she could safely leave to him. He would come in through the official wing of the building. The guard would admit him without question, accustomed to seeing him come and go at all hours, nor would it be remarked that he was accompanied by a man in civilian dress when he departed. Dick was to be let down from her ladyship's balcony to the quadrangle by a rope ladder with which Tremayne would come equipped, having procured it for the purpose from the Telemachus.

She hung upon his arm, overwhelming him now with her gratitude, her parasol sheltering them both from the rays of the sun as they emerged from the thicket intro the meadowland in full view of the terrace where Count Samoval and Sir Terence were at that moment talking earnestly together.

You will remember that O'Moy had undertaken to provide that Count Samoval's visits to Monsanto should be discontinued. About this task he had gone with all the tact of which he had boasted himself master to Colquhoun Grant. You shall judge of the tact for yourself. No sooner had the colonel left for Lisbon, and Carruthers to return to his work, than, finding himself alone with the Count, Sir Terence considered the moment a choice one in which to broach the matter.

"I take it ye're fond of walking, Count," had been his singular opening move. They had left the table by now, and were sauntering together on the terrace.

"Walking?" said Samoval. "I detest it."

"And is that so? Well, well! Of course it's not so very far from your place at Bispo."

"Not more than half-a-league, I should say."

"Just so," said O'Moy. "Half-a-league there, and half-a-league back: a league. It's nothing at all, of course; yet for a gentleman who detests walking it's a devilish long tramp for nothing."

"For nothing?" Samoval checked and looked at his host in faint surprise. Then he smiled very affably. "But you must not say that, Sir Terence. I assure you that the pleasure of seeing yourself and Lady O'Moy cannot be spoken of as nothing."

"You are very good." Sir Terence was the very quintessence of courtliness, of concern for the other. "But if there were not that pleasure?"

"Then, of course, it would be different." Samoval was beginning to be slightly intrigued.

"That's it," said Sir Terence. "That's just what I'm meaning."

"Just what you're meaning? But, my dear General, you are assuming circumstances which fortunately do not exist."

"Not at present, perhaps. But they might."

Again Samoval stood still and looked at O'Moy. He found something in the bronzed, rugged face that was unusually sardonic. The blue eyes seemed to have become hard, and yet there were wrinkles about their corners suggestive of humour that might be mockery. The Count stiffened; but beyond that he preserved his outward calm whilst confessing that he did not understand Sir Terence's meaning.

"It's this way," said Sir Terence. "I've noticed that ye're not looking so very well lately, Count."

"Really? You think that?" The words were mechanical. The dark eyes continued to scrutinise that bronzed face suspiciously.

"I do, and it's sorry I am to see it. But I know what it is. It's this walking backwards and forwards between here and Bispo that's doing the mischief. Better give it up, Count. Better not come toiling up here any more. It's not good for your health. Why, man, ye're as white as a ghost this minute."

He was indeed, having perceived at last the insult intended. To be denied the house at such a time was to checkmate his designs, to set a term upon his crafty and subtle espionage, precisely in the season when he hoped to reap its harvest. But his chagrin sprang not at all from that. His cold anger was purely personal. He was a gentleman--of the fine flower, as he would have described himself--of the nobility of Portugal; and that a probably upstart Irish soldier--himself, from Samoval's point of view, a guest in that country--should deny him his house, and choose such terms of ill-considered jocularity in which to do it, was an affront beyond all endurance.

For a moment passion blinded him, and it was only by an effort that he recovered and kept his self-control. But keep it he did. You may trust your practised duellist for that when he comes face to face with the necessity to demand satisfaction. And soon the mist of passion clearing from his keen wits, he sought swiftly for a means to fasten the quarrel upon Sir Terence in Sir Terence's own coin of galling mockery. Instantly he found it. Indeed it was not very far to seek. O'Moy's jealousy, which was almost a byword, as we know, had been apparent more than once to Samoval. Remembering it now, it discovered to him at once Sir Terence's most vulnerable spot, and cunningly Samoval proceeded to gall him there.

A smile spread gradually over his white face--a smile of immeasurable malice.

"I am having a very interesting and instructive morning in this atmosphere of Irish boorishness," said he. "First Captain Tremayne--"

"Now don't be after blaming old Ireland for Tremayne's shortcomings. Tremayne's just a clumsy mannered Englishman."

"I am glad to know there is a distinction. Indeed I might have perceived it for myself. In motives, of course, that distinction is great indeed, and I hope that I am not slow to discover it, and in your case to excuse it. I quite understand and even sympathise with your feelings, General."

"I am glad of that now," said Sir Terence, who had understood nothing of all this.

"Naturally," the Count pursued on a smooth, level note of amiability, "when a man, himself no longer young, commits the folly of taking a young and charming wife, he is to be forgiven when a natural anxiety drives him to lengths which in another might be resented." He bowed before the empurpling Sir Terence.

"Ye're a damned coxcomb, it seems," was the answering roar.

"Of course you would assume it. It was to be expected. I condone it with the rest. And because I condone it, because I sympathise with what in a man of your age and temperament must amount to an affliction, I hasten to assure you upon my honour that so far as I am concerned there are no grounds for your anxiety."

"And who the devil asks for your assurances? It's stark mad ye are to suppose that I ever needed them."

"Of course you must say that," Samoval insisted, with a confident and superior smile. He shook his head, his expression one of amused sorrow. "Sir Terence, you have knocked at the wrong door. You are youthful at least in your impulsiveness, but you are surely as blind as old Pantaloon in the comedy or you would see where your industry would be better employed in shielding your wife's honour and your own."

Goaded to fury, his blue eyes aflame now with passion, Sir Terence considered the sleek and subtle gentleman before him, and it was in that moment that the Count's subtlety soared to its finest heights. In a flash of inspiration he perceived the advantages to be drawn by himself from conducting this quarrel to extremes.

This is not mere idle speculation. Knowledge of the real motives actuating him rests upon the evidence of a letter which Samoval was to write that same evening to La Fleche--afterwards to be discovered--wherein he related what had passed, how deliberately he had steered the matter, and what he meant to do. His object was no longer the punishing of an affront. That would happen as a mere incident, a thing done, as it were, in passing. His real aim now was to obtain the keys of the adjutant's strong-box, which never left Sir Terence's person, and so become possessed of the plans of the lines of Torres Vedras. When you consider in the light of this the manner in which Samoval proceeded now you will admire with me at once the opportunism and the subtlety of the man.

"You'll be after telling me exactly what you mean," Sir Terence had said.

It was in that moment that Tremayne and Lady O'Moy came arm in arm into the open on the hill-side, half-a-mile away--very close and confidential. They came most opportunely to the Count's need, and he flung out a hand to indicate them to Sir Terence, a smile of pity on his lips.

"You need but to look to take the answer for yourself," said he.

Sir Terence looked, and laughed. He knew the sect of Ned Tremayne's heart and could laugh now with relish at that which hitherto had left him darkly suspicious.

"And who shall blame Lady O'Moy?" Count Samoval pursued. "A lady so charming and so courted must seek her consolation for the almost unnatural union Fate has imposed upon her. Captain Tremayne is of her own age, convenient to her hand, and for an Englishman not ill-looking."

He smiled at O'Moy with insolent compassion, and O'Moy, losing all his self-control, struck him slapped him resoundingly upon the cheek.

"Ye're a dirty liar, Samoval, a muck-rake," said he.

Samoval stepped back, breathing hard, one cheek red, the other white. Yet by a miracle he still preserved his self-control.

"I have proved my courage too often," he said, "to be under the necessity of killing you for this blow. Since my honour is safe I will not take advantage of your overwrought condition."

"Ye'll take advantage of it whether ye like it or not," blazed Sir Terence at him. "I mean you to take advantage of it. D' ye think I'll suffer any man to cast a slur upon Lady O'Moy? I'll be sending my friends to wait on you to-day, Count; and--by God!--Tremayne himself shall be one of them."

Thus did the hot-headed fellow deliver himself into the hands of his enemy. Nor was he warned when he saw the sudden gleam in Samoval's dark eyes.

"Ha!" said the Count. It was a little exclamation of wicked satisfaction. "You are offering me a challenge, then?"

"If I may make so bold. And as I've a mind to shoot you dead--"

"Shoot, did you say?" Samoval interrupted gently.

"I said 'shoot'--and it shall be at ten paces, or across a handkerchief, or any damned distance you please."

The Count shook his head. He sneered. "I think not--not shoot." And he waved the notion aside with a hand white and slender as a woman's. "That is too English, or too Irish. The pistol, I mean--appropriately a fool's weapon." And he explained himself, explained at last his extraordinary forbearance under a blow. "If you think I have practised the small-sword every day of my life for ten years to suffer myself to be shot at like a rabbit in the end--ho, really!" He laughed aloud. "You have challenged me, I think, Sir Terence. Because I feared the predilection you have discovered, I was careful to wait until the challenge came from you. The choice of weapons lies, I think, with me. I shall instruct my friends to ask for swords."

"Sorry a difference will it make to me," said Sir Terence. "Anything from a horsewhip to a howitzer." And then recollection descending like a cold hand upon him chilled his hot rage, struck the fine Irish arrogance all out of him, and left him suddenly limp. "My God!" he said, and it was almost a groan. He detained Samoval, who had already turned to depart. "A moment, Count," he cried. "I--I had forgotten. There is the general order--Lord Wellington's enactment."

"Awkward, of course," said Samoval, who had never for a moment been oblivious of that enactment, and who had been carefully building upon it. "But you should have considered it before committing yourself so irrevocably."

Sir Terence steadied himself. He recovered his truculence. "Irrevocable or not, it will just have to be revocable. The meeting's impossible."

"I do not see the impossibility. I am not surprised you should shelter yourself behind an enactment; but you will remember this enactment does not apply to me, who am not a soldier."

"But it applies to me, who am not only a soldier, but the Adjutant-General here, the man chiefly responsible for seeing the order carried out. It would be a fine thing if I were the first to disregard it."

"I am afraid it is too late. You have disregarded it already, sir."

"How so?"

"The letter of the law is against sending or receiving a challenge, I think."

O'Moy was distracted. "Samoval," he said, drawing himself up, "I will admit that I have been a fool. I will apologise to you for the blow and for the word that accompanied it."

"The apology would imply that my statement was a true one and that you recognised it. If you mean that--"

"I mean nothing of the kind. Damme! I've a mind to horsewhip you, and leave it at that. D' ye think I want to face a firing party on your account?"

"I don't think there is the remotest likelihood of any such contingency," replied Samoval.

But O'Moy went headlong on. "And another thing. Where will I be finding a friend to meet your friends? Who will dare to act for me in view of that enactment?"

The Count considered. He was grave now. "Of course that is a difficulty," he admitted, as if he perceived it now for the first time. "Under the circumstances, Sir Terence, and entirely to accommodate you, I might consent to dispense with seconds."

"Dispense with seconds?" Sir Terence was horrified at the suggestion. "You know that that is irregular--that a charge of murder would lie against the survivor."

"Oh, quite so. But it is for your own convenience that I suggest it, though I appreciate your considerate concern on the score of what may happen to me afterwards should it come to be known that I was your opponent."

"Afterwards? After what?"

"After I have killed you."

"And is it like that?" cried O'Moy, his countenance inflaming again, his mind casting all prudence to the winds.

It followed, of course, that without further thought for anything but the satisfaction of his rage Sir Terence became as wax in the hands of Samoval's desires.

"Where do you suggest that we meet?" he asked.

"There is my place at Bispo. We should be private in the gardens there. As for time, the sooner the better, though for secrecy's sake we had better meet at night. Shall we say at midnight?"

But Sir Terence would agree to none of this.

"To-night is out of the question for me. I have an engagement that will keep me until late. To-morrow night, if you will, I shall be at your service." And because he did not trust Samoval he added, as Samoval himself had almost reckoned: "But I should prefer not to come to Bispo. I might be seen going or returning."

"Since there are no such scruples on my side, I am ready to come to you here if you prefer it."

"It would suit me better."

"Then expect me promptly at midnight to-morrow, provided that you can arrange to admit me without my being seen. You will perceive my reasons."

"Those gates will be closed," said O'Moy, indicating the now gaping massive doors that closed the archway at night. "But if you knock I shall be waiting for you, and I will admit you by the wicket."

"Excellent," said Samoval suavely. "Then--until to-morrow night, General." He bowed with almost extravagant submission, and turning walked sharply away, energy and suppleness in every line of his slight figure, leaving Sir Terence to the unpleasant, almost desperate, thoughts that reflection must usher in as his anger faded.

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