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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Snare - Chapter 14. The Champion
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The Snare - Chapter 14. The Champion Post by :rogerjones Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1201

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The Snare - Chapter 14. The Champion

CHAPTER XIV. THE CHAMPION

With the possible exception of her ladyship, I do not think that there was much sleep that night at Monsanto for any of the four chief actors in this tragicomedy. Each had his own preoccupations. Sylvia's we know. Mr. Butler found his leg troubling him again, and the pain of the reopened wound must have prevented him from sleeping even had his anxieties about his immediate future not sufficed to do so. As for Sir Terence, his was the most deplorable case of all. This man who had lived a life of simple and downright honesty in great things and in small, a man who had never stooped to the slightest prevarication, found himself suddenly launched upon the most horrible and infamous course of duplicity to encompass the ruin of another. The offence of that other against himself might be of the most foul and hideous, a piece of treachery that only treachery could adequately avenge; yet this consideration was not enough to appease the clamours of Sir Terence's self-respect.

In the end, however, the primary desire for vengeance and vengeance of the bitterest kind proved master of his mind. Captain Tremayne had been led by his villainy into a coil that should presently crush him, and Sir Terence promised himself an infinite balm for his outraged honour in the entertainment which the futile struggles of the victim should provide. With Captain Tremayne lay the cruel choice of submitting in tortured silence to his fate, or of turning craven and saving his miserable life by proclaiming himself a seducer and a betrayer. It should be interesting to observe how the captain would decide, and his punishment was certain whatever the decision that he took.

Sir Terence came to breakfast in the open, grey-faced and haggard, but miraculously composed for a man who had so little studied the art of concealing his emotions. Voice and glance were calm as he gave a good-morning to his wife and to Miss Armytage.

"What are you going to do about Ned?" was one of his wife's first questions.

It took him aback. He looked askance at her, marvelling at the steadiness with which she bore his glance, until it occurred to him that effrontery was an essential part of the equipment of all harlots.

"What am I going to do?" he echoed. "Why, nothing. The matter is out of my hands. I may be asked to give evidence; I may even be called to sit upon the court-martial that will try him. My evidence can hardly assist him. My conclusions will naturally be based upon the evidence that is laid before the court."

Her teaspoon rattled in her saucer. "I don't understand you, Terence. Ned has always been your best friend."

"He has certainly shared everything that was mine."

"And you know," she went on, "that he did not kill Samoval."

"Indeed?" His glance quickened a little. "How should I know that?"

"Well... I know it, anyway."

He seemed moved by that statement. He leaned forward with an odd eagerness, behind which there was something terrible that went unperceived by her.

"Why did you not say so before? How do you know? What do you know?"

"I am sure that he did not."

"Yes, yes. But what makes you so sure? Do you possess some knowledge that you have not revealed?"

He saw the colour slowly shrinking from her cheeks under his burning gaze. So she was not quite shameless then, after all. There were limits to her effrontery.

"What knowledge should I possess?" she filtered.

"That is what I am asking."

She made a good recovery. "I possess the knowledge that you should possess yourself," she told him. "I know Ned for a man incapable of such a thing. I am ready to swear that he could not have done it."

"I see: evidence as to character." He sack back into his chair and thoughtfully stirred his chocolate. "It may weigh with the court. But I am not the court, and my mere opinions can do nothing for Ned Tremayne."

Her ladyship looked at him wildly. "The court?" she cried. "Do you mean that I shall have to give evidence?"

"Naturally," he answered. "You will have to say what you saw."

"But--but I saw nothing."

"Something, I think."

"Yes; but nothing that can matter."

"Still the court will wish to hear it and perhaps to examine you upon it."

"Oh no, no!" In her alarm shy half rose, then sank again to her chair. "You must keep me out of this, Terence. I couldn't--I really couldn't."

He laughed with an affectation of indulgence, masking something else.

"Why," he said, "you would not deprive Tremayne of any of the advantages to be derived from your testimony? Are you not ready to bear witness as to his character? To swear that from your knowledge of the man you are sure he could not have done such a thing? That he is the very soul of honour, a man incapable of anything base or treacherous or sly?"

And then at last Sylvia, who had been watching them, and seeking to apply to what she heard the wild expressions that Sir Terence had used to herself last night, broke into the conversation.

"Why do you apply these words to Captain Tremayne?" she asked.

He turned sharply to meet the opposition he detected in her. "I don't apply them. On the contrary, I say that, as Una knows, they are not applicable."

"Then you make an unnecessary statement, a statement that has nothing to do with the case. Captain Tremayne has been arrested for killing Count Samoval in a duel. A duel may be a violation of the law as recently enacted by Lord Wellington, but it is not an offence against honour; and to say that a man cannot have fought a duel because a man is incapable of anything base or treacherous or sly is just to say a very foolish and meaningless thing."

"Oh, quite so," the adjutant, admitted. "But if Tremayne denies having fought, if he shelters himself behind a falsehood, and says that he has not killed Samoval, then I think the statement assumes some meaning."

"Does Captain Tremayne say that?" she asked him sharply.

"It is what I understood him to say last night when I ordered him under arrest."

"Then," said Sylvia, with full conviction, "Captain Tremayne did not do it."

"Perhaps he didn't," Sir Terence admitted. "The court will no doubt discover the truth. The truth, you know, must prevail," and he looked at his wife again, marking the fresh signs of agitation she betrayed.

Mullins coming to set fresh covers, the conversation was allowed to lapse. Nor was it ever resumed, for at that moment, with no other announcement save such as was afforded by his quick step and the click-click of his spurs, a short, slight man entered the quadrangle from the doorway of the official wing.

The adjutant, turning to look, caught his breath suddenly in an exclamation of astonishment.

"Lord Wellington!" he cried, and was immediately on his feet.

At the exclamation the new-comer checked and turned. He wore a plain grey undress frock and white stock, buckskin breeches and lacquered boots, and he carried a riding-crop tucked under his left arm. His features were bold and sternly handsome; his fine eyes singularly piercing and keen in their glance; and the sweep of those eyes now took in not merely the adjutant, but the spread table and the ladies seated before it. He halted a moment, then advanced quickly, swept his cocked hat from a brown head that was but very slightly touched with grey, and bowed with a mixture of stiffness and courtliness to the ladies.

"Since I have intruded so unwittingly, I had best remain to make my apologies," he said. "I was on my way to your residential quarters, O'Moy, not imagining that I should break in upon your privacy in this fashion."

O'Moy with a great deference made haste to reassure him on the score of the intrusion, whilst the ladies themselves rose to greet him. He bore her ladyship's hand to his lips with perfunctory courtesy, then insisted upon her resuming her chair. Then he bowed--ever with that mixture of stiffness and deference--to Miss Armytage upon her being presented to him by the adjutant.

"Do not suffer me to disturb you," he begged them. "Sit down, O'Moy. I am not pressed, and I shall be monstrous glad of a few moments' rest. You are very pleasant here," and he looked about the luxuriant garden with approving eyes.

Sir Terence placed the hospitality of his table at his lordship's disposal. But the latter declined graciously.

"A glass of wine and water, if you will. No more. I breakfasted at Torres Vedras with Fletcher." Then to the look of astonishment on the faces of the ladies he smiled. "Oh yes," he assured them, "I was early astir, for time is very precious just at present, which is why I drop unannounced upon you from the skies, O'Moy." He took the glass that Mullins proffered on a salver, sipped from it, and set it down. "There is so much vexation, so much hindrance from these pestilential intriguers here in Lisbon, that I have thought it as well to come in person and speak plainly to the gentlemen of the Council of Regency." He was peeling off his stout riding-gloves as he spoke. "If this campaign is to go forward at all, it will go forward as I dispose. Then, too, I wanted to see Fletcher and the works. By gad, O'Moy, he has performed miracles, and I am very pleased with him--oh, and with you too. He told me how ably you have seconded him and counselled him where necessary. You must have worked night and day, O'Moy." He sighed. "I wish that I were as well served in every direction." And then he broke off abruptly. "But this is monstrous tedious for your ladyship, and for you, Miss Armytage. Forgive me."

Her ladyship protested the contrary, professing a deep interest in military matters, and inviting his lordship to continue. Lord Wellington, however, ignoring the invitation, turned the conversation upon life in Lisbon, inquiring hopefully whether they found the place afforded them adequate entertainment.

"Indeed yes," Lady O'Moy assured him. "We are very gay at times. There are private theatricals and dances, occasionally an official ball, and we are promised picnics and water-parties now that the summer is here."

"And in the autumn, ma'am, we may find you a little hunting," his lordship promised them. "Plenty of foxes; a rough country, though; but what's that to an Irishwoman?" He caught the quickening of Miss Armytage's eye. "The prospect interests you, I see."

Miss Armytage admitted it, and thus they made conversation for a while, what time the great soldier sipped his wine and water to wash the dust of his morning ride from his throat. When at last he set down an empty glass Sir Terence took this as the intimation of his readiness to deal with official matters, and, rising, he announced himself entirely at his lordship's service.

Lord Wellington claimed his attention for a full hour with the details of several matters that are not immediately concerned with this narrative. Having done, he rose at last from Sir Terence's desk, at which he had been sitting, and took up his riding-crop and cocked hat from the chair where he had placed them.

"And now," he said, "I think I will ride into Lisbon and endeavour to come to an understanding with Count Redondo and Don Miguel Forjas."

Sir Terence advanced to open the door. But Wellington checked him with a sudden sharp inquiry.

"You published my order against duelling, did you not?"

"Immediately upon receiving it, sir."

"Ha! It doesn't seem to have taken long for the order to be infringed, then." His manner was severe, his eyes stern. Sir Terence was conscious of a quickening of his pulses. Nevertheless his answer was calmly regretful:

"I am afraid not."

The great man nodded. "Disgraceful! I heard of it from Fletcher this morning. Captain What's-his-name had just reported himself under arrest, I understand, and Fletcher had received a note from you giving the grounds for this. The deplorable part of these things is that they always happen in the most troublesome manner conceivable. In Berkeley's case the victim was a nephew of the Patriarch's. Samoval, now, was a person of even greater consequence, a close friend of several members of the Council. His death will be deeply resented, and may set up fresh difficulties. It is monstrous vexatious." And abruptly he asked "What did they quarrel about?"

O'Moy trembled, and his glance avoided the other's gimlet eye. "The only quarrel that I am aware of between them," he said, "was concerned with this very enactment of your lordship's. Samoval proclaimed it infamous, and Tremayne resented the term. Hot words passed between them, but the altercation was allowed to go no further at the time by myself and others who were present."

His lordship had raised his brows. "By gad, sir," he ejaculated, "there almost appears to be some justification for the captain. He was one of your military secretaries, was he not?"

"He was."

"Ha! Pity! Pity!" His lordship was thoughtful for a moment. Then he dismissed the matter. "But then orders are orders, and soldiers must learn to obey implicitly. British soldiers of all degrees seem to find the lesson difficult. We must inculcate it more sternly, that is all."

O'Moy's honest soul was in torturing revolt against the falsehoods he had implied--and to this man of all men, to this man whom he reverenced above all others, who stood to him for the very fount of military honour and lofty principle! He was in such a mood that one more question on the subject from Wellington and the whole ghastly truth must have come pouring from his lips. But no other question came. Instead his lordship turned on the threshold and held out his hand.

"Not a step farther, O'Moy. I've left you a mass of work, and you are short of a secretary. So don't waste any of your time on courtesies. I shall hope still to find the ladies in the garden so that I may take my leave without inconveniencing them."

And he was gone, stepping briskly with clicking spurs, leaving O'Moy hunched now in his chair, his body the very expression of the dejection that filled his soul.

In the garden his lordship came upon Miss Armytage alone, still seated by the table under the trellis, from which the cloth had by now been removed. She rose at his approach and in spite of gesture to her to remain seated.

"I was seeking Lady O'Moy," said he, "to take my leave of her. I may not have the pleasure of coming to Monsanto again."

"She is on the terrace, I think," said Miss Armytage. "I will find her for your lordship."

"Let us find her together," he said amiably, and so turned and went with her towards the archway. "You said your name is Armytage, I think?" he commented.

"Sir Terence said so."

His eyes twinkled. "You possess an exceptional virtue," said he. "To be truthful is common; to be accurate rare. Well, then, Sir Terence said so. Once I had a great friend of the name of Armytage. I have lost sight of him these many years. We were at school together in Brussels."

"At Monsieur Goubert's," she surprised him by saying. "That would be John Armytage, my uncle."

"God bless my soul, ma'am!" he ejaculated. "But I gathered you were Irish, and Jack Armytage came from Yorkshire."

"My mother is Irish, and we live in Ireland now. I was born there. But father, none the less, was John Armytage's brother."

He looked at her with increased interest, marking the straight, supple lines of her, and the handsome, high-bred face. His lordship, remember, never lacked an appreciative eye for a fine woman. "So you're Jack Armytage's niece. Give me news of him, my dear."

She did so. Jack Armytage was well and prospering, had made a rich marriage and retired from the Blues many years ago to live at Northampton. He listened with interest, and thus out of his boyhood friendship for her uncle, which of late years he had had no opportunity to express, sprang there and then a kindness for the niece. Her own personal charms may have contributed to it, for the great soldier was intensely responsive to the appeal of beauty.


They reached the terrace. Lady O'Moy was nowhere in sight. But Lord Wellington was too much engrossed in his discovery to be troubled.

"My dear," he said, "if I can serve you at any timer both for Jack's sake and your own, I hope that you will let me know of it."

She looked at him a moment, and he saw her colour come and go, arguing a sudden agitation.

"You tempt me, sir," she said, with a wistful smile.

"Then yield to the temptation, child," he urged her kindly, those keen, penetrating eyes of his perceiving trouble here.

"It isn't for myself," she responded. "Yet there is something I would ask you if I dare--something I had intended to ask you in any case if I could find the opportunity. To be frank, that is why I was waiting there in the garden just now. It was to waylay you. I hoped for a word with you."

"Well, well," he encouraged her. "It should be the easier now, since in a sense we find that we are old friends."

He was so kind, so gentle, despite that stern, strong face of his, that she melted at once to his persuasion.

"It is about Lieutenant Richard Butler," she began.

"Ah," said he lightly, "I feared as much when you said it was not for yourself you had a favour to ask."

But, looking at him, she instantly perceived how he had misunderstood her.

"Mr. Butler," she said, "is the officer who was guilty of the affair at Tavora."

He knit his brow in thought. "Butler-Tavora?" he muttered questioningly. Suddenly his memory found what it was seeking. "Oh yes, the violated nunnery." His thin lips tightened; the sternness of his ace increased. "Yes?" he inquired, but the tone was now forbidding.

Nevertheless she was not deterred. "Mr. Butler is Lady O'Moy's brother," she said.

He stared a moment, taken aback. "Good God! Ye don't say so, child! Her brother! O'Moy's brother-in-law! And O'Moy never said a word to me about it.

"What should he say? Sir Terence himself pledged his word to the Council of Regency that Mr. Butler would be shot when taken."

"Did he, egad!" He was still further surprised out of his sternness. "Something of a Roman this O'Moy in his conception of duty! Hum! The Council no doubt demanded this?"

"So I understand, my lord. Lady O'Moy, realising her brother's grave danger, is very deeply troubled."

"Naturally," he agreed. "But what can I do, Miss Armytage? What were the actual facts, do you happen to know?"

She recited them, putting the case bravely for the scapegrace Mr. Butler, dwelling particularly upon the error under which he was labouring, that he had imagined himself to be knocking at the gates of a monastery of Dominican friars, that he had broken into the convent because denied admittance, and because he suspected some treacherous reason for that denial.

He heard her out, watching her with those keen eyes of his the while.

"Hum! You make out so good a case for him that one might almost believe you instructed by the gentleman himself. Yet I gather that nothing has since been heard of him?"

"Nothing, sir, since he vanished from Tavora, nearly, two months ago. And I have only repeated to your lordship the tale that was told by the sergeant and the troopers who reported the matter to Sir Robert Craufurd on their return."

He was very thoughtful. Leaning on the balustrade, he looked out across the sunlit valley, turning his boldly chiselled profile to his companion. At last he spoke slowly, reflectively: "But if this were really so--a mere blunder--I see no sufficient grounds to threaten him with capital punishment. His subsequent desertion, if he has deserted--I mean if nothing has happened to him--is really the graver matter of the two."

"I gathered, sir, that he was to be sacrificed to the Council of Regency--a sort of scapegoat."

He swung round sharply, and the sudden blaze of his eyes almost terrified her. Instantly he was cold again and inscrutable. "Ah! You are oddly well informed throughout. But of course you would be," he added, with an appraising look into that intelligent face in which he now caught a faint likeness of Jack Armytage. "Well, well, my dear, I am very glad you have told me of this. If Mr. Butler is ever taken and in danger--there will be a court-martial, of course--send me word of it, and I will see what I can do, both for your sake and for the sake of strict justice."

"Oh, not for my sake," she protested, reddening slightly at the gentle imputation. "Mr. Butler is nothing to me--that is to say, he is just my cousin. It is for Una's sake that I am asking this."

"Why, then, for Lady O'Moy's sake, since you ask it," he replied readily. "But," he warned her, "say nothing of it until Mr. Butler is found." It is possible he believed that Butler never would be found. "And remember, I promise only to give the matter my attention. If it is as you represent it, I think you may be sure that the worst that will befall Mr. Butler will be dismissal from the service. He deserves that. But I hope I should be the last man to permit a British officer to be used as a scapegoat or a burnt-offering to the mob or to any Council of Regency. By the way, who told you this about a scapegoat?"

"Captain Tremayne."

"Captain Tremayne? Oh, the man who killed Samoval?"

"He didn't," she cried.

On that almost fierce denial his lordship looked at her, raising his eyebrows in astonishment.

"But I am told that he did, and he is under arrest for it this moment--for that, and for breaking my order against duelling."

"You were not told the truth, my lord. Captain Tremayne says that he didn't, and if he says so it is so."

"Oh, of course, Miss Armytage!" He was a man of unparalleled valour and boldness, yet so fierce was she in that moment that for the life of him he dared not have contradicted her.

"Captain Tremayne is the most honourable man I know," she continued, "and if he had killed Samoval he would never have denied it; he would have proclaimed it to all the world."

"There is no need for all this heat, my dear," he reassured her. "The point is not one that can remain in doubt. The seconds of the duel will be forthcoming; and they will tell us who were the principals."

"There were no seconds," she informed him.

"No seconds!" he cried in horror. "D' ye mean they just fought a rough and tumble fight?"

"I mean they never fought at all. As for this tale of a duel, I ask your lordship: Had Captain Tremayne desired a secret meeting with Count Samoval, would he have chosen this of all places in which to hold it?"

"This?"

"This. The fight--whoever fought it--took place in the quadrangle there at midnight."

He was overcome with astonishment, and he showed it.

"Upon my soul," he said, "I do not appear to have been told any of the facts. Strange that O'Moy should never have mentioned that," he muttered, and then inquired suddenly: "Where was Tremayne arrested?"

"Here," she informed him.

"Here? He was here, then, at midnight? What was he doing here?"

"I don't know. But whatever he was doing, can your lordship believe that he would have come here to fight a secret duel?"

"It certainly puts a monstrous strain upon belief," said he. "But what can he have been doing here?"

"I don't know," she repeated. She wanted to add a warning of O'Moy. She was tempted to tell his lordship of the odd words that O'Moy had used to her last night concerning Tremayne. But she hesitated, and her courage failed her. Lord Wellington was so great a man, bearing the destinies of nations on his shoulders, and already he had wasted upon her so much of the time that belonged to the world and history, that she feared to trespass further; and whilst she hesitated came Colquhoun Grant clanking across the quadrangle looking for his lordship. He had come up, he announced, standing straight and stiff before them, to see O'Moy, but hearing of Lord Wellington's presence, had preferred to see his lordship in the first instance.

"And indeed you arrive very opportunely, Grant," his lordship confessed.

He turned to take his leave of Jack Armytage's niece.

"I'll not forget either Mr. Butler or Captain Tremayne," he promised her, and his stern face softened into a gentle, friendly smile. "They are very fortunate in their champion."

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CHAPTER XV. THE WALLET"A queer, mysterious business this death of Samoval," said Colonel Grant. "So I was beginning to perceive," Wellington agreed, his brow dark. They were alone together in the quadrangle under the trellis, through which the sun, already high, was dappling the table at which his lordship sat. "It would be easier to read if it were not for the duelling swords. Those and the nature of Samoval's wound certainly point unanswerably to a duel. Otherwise there would be considerable evidence that Samoval was a spy caught in the act and dealt with out of hand as he deserved."
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CHAPTER XIII. POLICHINELLE"Why, Ned," he asked gravely, "what has happened?" "It is Samoval," was Tremayne's quiet answer. "He is quite dead." He stood up as he spoke, and Sir Terence observed with terrible inward mirth that his tone had the frank and honest ring, his bearing the imperturbable ease which more than once before had imposed upon him as the outward signs of an easy conscience. This secretary of his was a cool scoundrel. "Samoval, is it?" said Sir Terence, and went down on one knee beside the body to make a perfunctory examination. Then he looked up at the captain.
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