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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Snare - Chapter 4. Count Samoval
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The Snare - Chapter 4. Count Samoval Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :1338

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The Snare - Chapter 4. Count Samoval

CHAPTER IV. COUNT SAMOVAL

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.

"May I come in?" she asked him from the doorway.

He sprang to his feet. "Why, certainly, Miss Armytage." For so imperturbable a young man he seemed oddly breathless in his eagerness to welcome her. "Are you looking for O'Moy? He left me nearly half-an-hour ago to go to breakfast, and I was just about to follow."

"I scarcely dare detain you, then."

"On the contrary. I mean... not at all. But... were you wanting me?"

She closed the door, and came forward into the room, moving with that supple grace peculiarly her own.

"I want you to tell me something, Captain Tremayne, and I want you to be frank with me."

"I hope I could never be anything else."

"I want you to treat me as you would treat a man, a friend of your own sex."

Tremayne sighed. He had recovered from the surprise of her coming and was again his imperturbable self.

"I assure you that is the last way in which I desire to treat you. But if you insist--"

"I do." She had frowned slightly at the earlier part of his speech, with its subtle, half-jesting gallantry, and she spoke sharply now.

"I bow to your will," said Captain Tremayne.

"What has Dick Butler been doing?"

He looked into her face with sharply questioning eyes.

"What was it that happened at Tavora?"

He continued to look at her. "What have you heard?" he asked at last.

"Only that he has done something at Tavora for which the consequences, I gather, may be grave. I am anxious for Una's sake to know what it is."

"Does Una know?"

"She is being told now. Count Samoval let slip just what I have outlined. And she has insisted upon being told everything."

"Then why did you not remain to hear?"

"Because they sent me away on the plea that--oh, on the silly plea of my youth and innocence, which were not to be offended."

"But which you expect me to offend?"

"No. Because I can trust you to tell me without offending."

"Sylvia!" It was a curious exclamation of satisfaction and of gratitude for the implied confidence. We must admit that it betrayed a selfish forgetfulness of Dick Butler and his troubles, but it is by no means clear that it was upon such grounds that it offended her.

She stiffened perceptibly. "Really, Captain Tremayne!"

"I beg your pardon," said he. "But you seemed to imply--" He checked, at a loss.

Her colour rose. "Well, sir? What do you suggest that I implied or seemed to imply?" But as suddenly her manner changed. "I think we are too concerned with trifles where the matter on which I have sought you is a serious one."

"It is of the utmost seriousness," he admitted gravely.

"Won't you tell me what it is?"

He told her quite simply the whole story, not forgetting to give prominence to the circumstances extenuating it in Butler's favour. She listened with a deepening frown, rather pale, her head bowed.

"And when he is taken," she asked, "what--what will happen to him?"

"Let us hope that he will not be taken."

"But if he is--if he is?" she insisted almost impatiently.

Captain Tremayne turned aside and looked out of the window. "I should welcome the news that he is dead," he said softly. "For if he is taken he will find no mercy at the hands of his own people."

"You mean that he will be shot?" Horror charged her voice, dilated her eyes.

"Inevitably."

A shudder ran through her, and she covered her face with her halls. When she withdrew then Tremayne beheld the lovely countenance transformed. It was white and drawn.

"But surely Terence can save him!" she cried piteously.

He shook his head, his lips tight pressed. "'There is no man less able to do so."

"What do you mean? Why do you say that?"

He looked at her, hesitating for a moment, then answered her: "'O'Moy has pledged his word to the Portuguese Government that Dick Butler shall be shot when taken."

"Terence did that?"

"He was compelled to it. Honour and duty demanded no less of him. I alone, who was present and witnessed the undertaking, know what it cost him and what he suffered. But he was forced to sink all private considerations. It was a sacrifice rendered necessary, inevitable for the success of this campaign." And he proceeded to explain to her all the circumstances that were interwoven with Lieutenant Butler's ill-timed offence. "Thus you see that from Terence you can hope for nothing. His honour will not admit of his wavering in this matter."

"Honour?" She uttered the word almost with contempt. "And what of Una?"

"I was thinking of Una when I said I should welcome the news of Dick's death somewhere in the hills. It is the best that can be hoped for."

"I thought you were Dick's friend, Captain Tremayne."

"Why, so I have been; so I am. Perhaps that is another reason why I should hope that he is dead."

"Is it no reason why you should do what you to save him?"

He looked at her steadily for an instant, calm under the reproach of her eyes.

"Believe me, Miss Armytage, if I saw a way to save him, to do anything to help him, I should seize it, both for the sake of my friendship for himself and because of my affection for Una. Since you yourself are interested in him, that is an added reason for me. But it is one thing to admit willingness to help and another thing actually to afford help. What is there that I can do? I assure you that I have thought of the matter. Indeed for days I have thought of little else. But I can see no light. I await events. Perhaps a chance may come."

Her expression had softened. "I see." She put out a hand generously to ask forgiveness. "I was presumptuous, and I had no right to speak as I did."

He took the hand. "I should never question your right to speak to me in any way that seemed good to you," he assured her.

"I had better go to Una. She will be needing me, poor child. I am grateful to you, Captain Tremayne, for your confidence and for telling me." And thus she left him very thoughtful, as concerned for Una as she was herself.

Now Una O'Moy was the natural product of such treatment. There had ever been something so appealing in her lovely helplessness and fragility that all her life others had been concerned to shelter her from every wind that blew. Because it was so she was what she was; and because she was what she was it would continue to be so.

But Lady O'Moy at the moment did not stand in such urgent need of Miss Armytage as Miss Armytage imagined. She had heard the appalling story of her brother's escapade, but she had been unable to perceive in what it was so terrible as it was declared. He had made a mistake. He had invaded the convent under a misapprehension, for which it was ridiculous to blame him. It was a mistake which any man might have made in a foreign country. Lives had been lost, it is true; but that was owing to the stupidity of other people--of the nuns who had run for shelter when no danger threatened save in their own silly imaginations, and of the peasants who had come blundering to their assistance where no assistance was required; the latter were the people responsible for the bloodshed, since they had attacked the dragoons. Could it be expected of the dragoons that they should tamely suffer themselves to be massacred?

Thus Lady O'Moy upon the affair of Tavora. The whole thing appeared to her to be rather silly, and she refused seriously to consider that it could have any rave consequences for Dick. His continued absence made her anxious. But if he should come to be taken, surely his punishment would be merely a formal matter; at the worst he might be sent home, which would a very good thing, for after all the climate of the Peninsula had never quite suited him.

In this fashion she nimbly pursued a train of vitiated logic, passing from inconsequence to inconsequence. And O'Moy, thankful that she should take such a view this--mercifully hopeful that the last had been heard of his peccant and vexatious brother-in-law--content, more than content, to leave her comforted such illusions.

And then, while she was still discussing the matter terms of comparative calm, came an orderly to summon him away, so that he left her in the company of Samoval.

The Count had been deeply shocked by the discover that Dick Butler was Lady O'Moy's brother, and a little confused that he himself in his ignorance should have been the means of bringing to her knowledge a painful matter that touched her so closely and that hitherto had been so carefully concealed from her by her husband. He was thankful that she should take so op optimistic a view, and quick to perceive O'Moy's charitable desire to leave her optimism undispelled. But he was no less quick to perceive the opportunities which the circumstances afforded him to further a certain deep intrigue upon which he was engaged.

Therefore he did not take his leave just yet. He sauntered with Lady O'Moy on the terrace above the wooded slopes that screened the village of Alcantara, and there discovered her mind to be even more frivolous and unstable than his perspicuity had hitherto suspected. Under stress Lady O'Moy could convey the sense that she felt deeply. She could be almost theatrical in her displays of emotion. But these were as transient as they were intense. Nothing that was not immediately present to her senses was ever capable of a deep impression upon her spirit, and she had the facility characteristic of the self-loving and self-indulgent of putting aside any matter that was unpleasant. Thus, easily self-persuaded, as we have seen, that this escapade of Richard's was not to be regarded too seriously, and that its consequences were not likely to be gave, she chattered with gay inconsequence of other things--of the dinner-party last week at the house of the Marquis of Minas, that prominent member of the council of Regency, of the forthcoming ball to be given by the Count of Redondo, of the latest news from home, the latest fashion and the latest scandal, the amours of the Duke of York and the shortcomings of Mr. Perceval.

Samoval, however, did not intend that the matter of her brother should be so entirely forgotten, so lightly treated. Deliberately at last he revived it.

Considering her as she leant upon the granite balustrade, her pink sunshade aslant over her shoulder, her flimsy lace shawl festooned from the crook of either arm and floating behind her, a wisp of cloudy vapour, Samoval permitted himself a sigh.

She flashed him a sidelong glance, arch and rallying.

"You are melancholy, sir--a poor compliment," she told him.

But do not misunderstand her. Hers was an almost childish coquetry, inevitable fruit of her intense femininity, craving ever the worship of the sterner sex and the incense of its flattery. And Samoval, after all, young, noble, handsome, with a half-sinister reputation, was something of a figure of romance, as a good many women had discovered to their cost.

He fingered his snowy stock, and bent upon her eyes of glowing adoration. "Dear Lady O'Moy," his tenor voice was soft and soothing as a caress, "I sigh to think that one so adorable, so entirely made for life's sunshine and gladness, should have cause for a moment's uneasiness, perhaps for secret grief, at the thought of the peril of her brother."

Her glance clouded under this reminder. Then she pouted and made a little gesture of impatience. "Dick is not in peril," she answered. "He is foolish to remain so long in hiding, and of course he will have to face unpleasantness when he is found. But to say that he is in peril is... just nonsense. Terence said nothing of peril. He agreed with me that Dick will probably be sent home. Surely you don't think--"

"No, no." He looked down, studying his hessians for a moment, then his dark eyes returned to meet her own. "I shall see to it that he is in no danger. You may depend upon me, who ask but the happy chance to serve you. Should there be any trouble, let me know at once, and I will see to it that all is well. Your brother must not suffer, since he is your brother. He is very blessed and enviable in that."

She stared at him, her brows knitting. "But I don't understand."

"Is it not plain? Whatever happens, you must not suffer, Lady O'Moy. No man of feeling, and I least of any, could endure it. And since if your brother were to suffer that must bring suffering to you, you may count upon me to shield him."

"You are very good, Count. But shield him from what?"

"From whatever may threaten. The Portuguese Government may demand in self-protection, to appease the clamour of the people stupidly outraged by this affair, that an example shall be made of the offender."

"Oh, but how could they? With what reason?" She displayed a vague alarm, and a less vague impatience of such hypotheses.

He shrugged. "The people are like that--a fierce, vengeful god to whom appeasing sacrifices must be offered from time to time. If the people demand a scapegoat, governments usually provide one. But be comforted." In his eagerness of reassurance he caught her delicate mittened hand in his own, and her anxiety rendering her heedless, she allowed it to lie there gently imprisoned. "Be comforted. I shall be here to guard him. There is much that I can do and you may depend upon me to do it--for your sake, dear lady. The Government will listen to me. I would not have you imagine me capable of boasting. I have influence with the Government, that is all; and I give you my word that so far as the Portuguese Government is concerned your brother shall take no harm."

She looked at him for a long moment with moist eyes, moved and flattered by his earnestness and intensity of homage. "I take this very kindly in you, sir. I have no thanks that are worthy," she said, her voice trembling a little. "I have no means of repaying you. You have made me very happy, Count."

He bent low over the frail hand he was holding.

"Your assurance that I have made you happy repays me very fully, since your happiness is my tenderest concern. Believe me, dear lady, you may ever count Jeronymo de Samoval your most devoted and obedient slave."

He bore the hand to his lips and held it to them for a long moment, whilst with heightened colour and eyes that sparkled, more, be it confessed, from excitement than from gratitude, she stood passively considering his bowed dark head.

As he came erect again a movement under the archway caught his eye, and turning he found himself confronting Sir Terence and Miss Armytage, who were approaching. If it vexed him to have been caught by a husband notoriously jealous in an attitude not altogether uncompromising, Samoval betrayed no sign of it.

With smooth self-possession he hailed O'Moy:

"General, you come in time to enable me to take my leave of you. I was on the point of going."

"So I perceived," said O'Moy tartly. He had almost said: "So I had hoped."

His frosty manner would have imposed constraint upon any man less master of himself than Samoval. But the Count ignored it, and ignoring it delayed a moment to exchange amiabilities politely with Miss Armytage, before taking at last an unhurried and unperturbed departure.

But no sooner was he gone than O'Moy expressed himself full frankly to his wife.

"I think Samoval is becoming too attentive and too assiduous."

"He is a dear," said Lady O'Moy.

"That is what I mean," replied Sir Terence grimly.

"He has undertaken that if there should be any trouble with the Portuguese Government about Dick's silly affair he will put it right."

"Oh!" said O'Moy, "that was it?" And out of his tender consideration for her said no more.

But Sylvia Armytage, knowing what she knew from Captain Tremayne, was not content to leave the matter there. She reverted to it presently as she was going indoors alone with her cousin.

"Una," she said gently, "I should not place too much faith in Count Samoval and his promises."

"What do you mean?" Lady O'Moy was never very tolerant of advice, especially from an inexperienced young girl.

"I do not altogether trust him. Nor does Terence."

"Pooh! Terence mistrusts every man who looks at me. My dear, never marry a jealous man," she added with her inevitable inconsequence.

"He is the last man--the Count, I mean--to whom, in your place, I should go for assistance if there is trouble about Dick." She was thinking of what Tremayne had told her of the attitude of the Portuguese Government, and her clear-sighted mind perceived an obvious peril in permitting Count Samoval to become aware of Dick's whereabouts should they ever be discovered.

"What nonsense, Sylvia! You conceive the oddest and most foolish notions sometimes. But of course you have no experience of the world." And beyond that she refused to discuss the matter, nor did the wise Sylvia insist.

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