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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Snare - Chapter 6. Miss Armytage's Pearls
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The Snare - Chapter 6. Miss Armytage's Pearls Post by :David_Gassaway Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :3095

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The Snare - Chapter 6. Miss Armytage's Pearls

CHAPTER VI. MISS ARMYTAGE'S PEARLS

Lady O'Moy and Miss Armytage drove alone together into Lisbon. The adjutant, still occupied, would follow as soon as he possibly could, whilst Captain Tremayne would go on directly from the lodgings which he shared in Alcantara with Major Carruthers--also of the adjutant's staff--whither he had ridden to dress some twenty minutes earlier.

"Are you ill, Una?" had been Sylvia's concerned greeting of her cousin when she came within the range of the carriage lamps. "You are pale as a ghost." To this her ladyship had replied mechanically that a slight headache troubled her.

But now that they sat side by side in the well upholstered carriage Miss Armytage became aware hat her companion was trembling.

"Una, dear, whatever is the matter?"

Had it not been for the dominant fear that the shedding of tears would render her countenance unsightly, Lady O'Moy would have yielded to her feelings and wept. Heroically in the cause of her own flawless beauty she conquered the almost overmastering inclination.

"I--I have been so troubled about Richard," she faltered. "It is preying upon my mind."

"Poor dear!" In sheer motherliness Miss Armytage put an arm about her cousin and drew her close. "We must hope for the best."

Now if you have understood anything of the character of Lady O'Moy you will have understood that the burden of a secret was the last burden that such a nature was capable of carrying. It was because Dick was fully aware of this that he had so emphatically and repeatedly impressed upon her the necessity for saying not a word to any one of his presence. She realised in her vague way--or rather she believed it since he had assured her--that there would be grave danger to him if he were discovered. But discovery was one thing, and the sharing of a confidence as to his presence another. That confidence must certainly be shared.

Lady O'Moy was in an emotional maelstrom that swept her towards a cataract. The cataract might inspire her with dread, standing as it did for death and disaster, but the maelstrom was not to be resisted. She was helpless in it, unequal to breasting such strong waters, she who in all her futile, charming life had been borne snugly in safe crafts that were steered by others.

Remained but to choose her confidant. Nature suggested Terence. But it was against Terence in particular that she had been warned. Circumstance now offered Sylvia Armytage. But pride, or vanity if you prefer it, denied her here. Sylvia was an inexperienced young girl, as she herself had so often found occasion to remind her cousin. Moreover, she fostered the fond illusion that Sylvia looked to her for precept, that upon Sylvia's life she exercised a precious guiding influence. How, then, should the supporting lean upon the supported? Yet since she must, there and then, lean upon something or succumb instantly and completely, she chose a middle course, a sort of temporary assistance.

"I have been imagining things," she said. "It may be a premonition, I don't know. Do you believe in premonitions, Sylvia?"

"Sometimes," Sylvia humoured her.

"I have been imagining that if Dick is hiding, a fugitive, he might naturally come to me for help. I am fanciful, perhaps," she added hastily, lest she should have said too much. "But there it is. All day the notion has clung to me, and I have been asking myself desperately what I should do in such a case."

"Time enough to consider it when it happens, Una. After all--"

"I know," her ladyship interrupted on that ever-ready note of petulance of hers. "I know, of course. But I think I should be easier in my mind if I could find an answer to my doubt. If I knew what to do, to whom to appeal for assistance, for I am afraid that I should be very helpless myself. There is Terence, of course. But I am a little afraid of Terence. He has got Dick out of so many scrapes, and he is so impatient of poor Dick. I am afraid he doesn't understand him, and so I should be a little frightened of appealing to Terence again."

"No," said Sylvia gravely, "I shouldn't go to Terence. Indeed he is the last man to whom I should go."

"You say that too!" exclaimed her ladyship.

"Why?" quoth Sylvia sharply. "Who else has said it?"

There was a brief pause in which Lady O'Moy shuddered. She had been so near to betraying herself. How very quick and shrewd Sylvia was! She made, however, a good recovery.

"Myself, of course. It is what I have thought myself. There is Count Samoval. He promised that if ever any such thing happened he would help me. And he assured me I could count upon him. I think it may have been his offer that made me fanciful."

"I should go to Sir Terence before I went to Count Samoval. By which I mean that I should not go to Count Samoval at all under any circumstances. I do not trust him."

"You said so once before, dear," said Lady O'Moy.

"And you assured me that I spoke out of the fullness of my ignorance and inexperience."

"Ah, forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive. No doubt you were right. But remember that instinct is most alive in the ignorant and inexperienced, and that instinct is often a surer guide than reason. Yet if you want reason, I can supply that too. Count Samoval is the intimate friend of the Marquis of Minas, who remains a member of the Government, and who next to the Principal Souza was, and no doubt is, the most bitter opponent of the British policy in Portugal. Yet Count Samoval, one of the largest landowners in the north, and the nobleman who has perhaps suffered most severely from that policy, represents himself as its most vigorous supporter."

Lady O'Moy listened in growing amazement. Also she was a little shocked. It seemed to her almost indecent that a young girl should know so much about politics--so much of which she herself, a married woman, and the wife of the adjutant-general, was completely in ignorance.

"Save us, child!" she ejaculated. "You are so extraordinarily informed."

"I have talked to Captain Tremayne," said Sylvia. "He has explained all this."

"Extraordinary conversation for a young man to hold with a young girl," pronounced her ladyship. "Terence never talked of such things to me."

"Terence was too busy making love to you," said Sylvia, and there was the least suspicion of regret in her almost boyish voice.

"That may account for it," her ladyship confessed, and fell for a moment into consideration of that delicious and rather amusing past, when O'Moy's ferocious hesitancy and flaming jealousy had delighted her with the full perception of her beauty's power. With a rush, however, the present forced itself back upon her notice. "But I still don't see why Count Samoval should have offered me assistance if he did not intend to grant it when the time came."

Sylvia explained that it was from the Portuguese Government that the demand for justice upon the violator of the nunnery at Tavora emanated, and that Samoval's offer might be calculated to obtain him information of Butler's whereabouts when they became known, so that he might surrender him to the Government.

"My dear!" Lady O'Moy was shocked almost beyond expression. "How you must dislike the man to suggest that he could be such a--such a Judas."

"I do not suggest that he could be. I warn you never to run the risk of testing him. He maybe as honest in this matter as he pretends. But if ever Dick were to come to you for help, you must take no risk."

The phrase was a happier one than Sylvia could suppose. It was almost the very phrase that Dick himself had used; and its reiteration by another bore conviction to her ladyship.

"To whom then should I go?" she demanded plaintively. And Sylvia, speaking with knowledge, remembering the promise that Tremayne had given her, answered readily: "There is but one man whose assistance you could safely seek. Indeed I wonder you should not have thought of him in the first instance, since he is your own, as well as Dick's lifelong friend."

"Ned Tremayne?" Her ladyship fell into thought. "Do you know, I am a little afraid of Ned. He is so very sober and cold. You do mean Ned--don't you?"

"Whom else should I mean?"

"But what could he do?"

"My dear, how should I know? But at least I know--for I think I can be sure of this--that he will not lack the will to help you; and to have the will, in a man like Captain Tremayne, is to find a way."

The confident, almost respectful, tone in which she spoke arrested her ladyship's attention. It promptly sent her off at a tangent:

"You like Ned, don't you, dear?"

"I think everybody likes him." Sylvia's voice was now studiously cold.

"Yes; but I don't mean quite in that way." And then before the subject could be further pursued the carriage rolled to a standstill in a flood of light from gaping portals, scattering a mob of curious sight-seers intersprinkled with chairmen, footmen, linkmen and all the valetaille that hovers about the functions of the great world.

The carriage door was flung open and the steps let down. A brace of footmen, plump as capons, in gorgeous liveries, bowed powdered heads and proffered scarlet arms to assist the ladies to alight.

Above in the crowded, spacious, colonnaded vestibule at the foot of the great staircase they were met-by Captain Tremayne, who had just arrived with Major Carruthers, both resplendent in full dress, and Captain Marcus Glennie of the Telemachus in blue and gold. Together they ascended the great staircase, lined with chatting groups, and ablaze with uniforms, military, naval and diplomatic, British and Portuguese, to be welcomed above by the Count and Countess of Redondo.

Lady O'Moy's entrance of the ballroom produced the effect to which custom had by now inured her. Soon she found herself the centre of assiduous attentions. Cavalrymen in blue, riflemen in green, scarlet officers of the line regiments, winged light-infantrymen, rakishly pelissed, gold-braided hussars and all the smaller fry of court and camp fluttered insistently about her. It was no novelty to her who had been the recipient of such homage since her first ball five years ago at Dublin Castle, and yet the wine of it had gone ever to her head a little. But to-night she was rather pale and listless, her rose-petal loveliness emphasised thereby perhaps. An unusual air of indifference hung about her as she stood there amid this throng of martial jostlers who craved the honour of a dance and at whom she smiled a thought mechanically over the top of her slowly moving fan.

The first quadrille impended, and the senior service had carried off the prize from under the noses of the landsmen. As she was swept away by Captain Glennie, she came face to face with Tremayne, who was passing with Sylvia on his arm. She stopped and tapped his arm with her fan.

"You haven't asked to dance, Ned," she reproached him.

"With reluctance I abstained."

"But I don't intend that you shall. I have something to say to you." He met her glance, and found it oddly serious--most oddly serious for her. Responding to its entreaty, he murmured a promise in courteous terms of delight at so much honour.

But either he forgot the promise or did not conceive its redemption to be an urgent matter, for the quadrille being done he sauntered through one of the crowded ante-rooms with Miss Armytage and brought her to the cool of a deserted balcony above the garden. Beyond this was the river, agleam with the lights of the British fleet that rode at anchor on its placid bosom.

"Una will be waiting for you," Miss Armytage reminded him. She was leaning on the sill of the balcony. Standing erect beside her, he considered the graceful profile sharply outlined against a background of gloom by the light from the windows behind them. A heavy curl of her dark hair lay upon a neck as flawlessly white as the rope of pearls that swung from it, with which her fingers were now idly toying. It were difficult to say which most engaged his thoughts: the profile; the lovely line of neck; or the rope of pearls. These latter were of price, such things as it might seldom--and then only by sacrifice--lie within the means of Captain Tremayne to offer to the woman whom he took to wife.

He so lost himself upon that train of thought that she was forced to repeat her reminder.

"Una will be waiting for you, Captain Tremayne."

"Scarcely as eagerly," he answered, "as others will be waiting for you."

She laughed amusedly, a frank, boyish laugh. "I thank you for not saying as eagerly as I am waiting for others."

"Miss Armytage, I have ever cultivated truth."

"But we are dealing with surmise."

"Oh, no surmise at all. I speak of what I know."

"And so do I." And yet again she repeated: "Una will be waiting for you."

He sighed, and stiffened slightly. "Of course if you insist," said he, and made ready to reconduct her.

She swung round as if to go, but checked, and looked him frankly in the eyes.

"Why will you for ever be misunderstanding me?" she challenged him.

"Perhaps it is the inevitable result of my overanxiety to understand."

"Then begin by taking me more literally, and do not read into my words more meaning than I intend to give them. When I say Una is waiting for you, I state a simple fact, not a command that you shall go to her. Indeed I want first to talk to you."

"If I might take you literally now--"

"Should I have suffered you to bring me here if I did not?"

"I beg your pardon," he said, contrite, and something shaken out of his imperturbability. "Sylvia," he ventured very boldly, and there checked, so terrified as to be a shame to his brave scarlet, gold-laced uniform.

"Yes?" she said. She was leaning upon the balcony again, and in such a way now that he could no longer see her profile. But her fingers were busy at the pearls once more, and this he saw, and seeing, recovered himself.

"You have something to say to me?" he questioned in his smooth, level voice.

Had he not looked away as he spoke he might have observed that her fingers tightened their grip of the pearls almost convulsively, as if to break the rope. It was a gesture slight and trivial, yet arguing perhaps vexation. But Tremayne did not see it, and had he seen it, it is odds it would have conveyed no message to him.

There fell a long pause, which he did not venture to break. At last she spoke, her voice quiet and level as his own had been.

"It is about Una."

"I had hoped," he spoke very softly, "that it was about yourself."

She flashed round upon him almost angrily. "Why do you utter these set speeches to me?" she demanded. And then before he could recover from his astonishment to make any answer she had resumed a normal manner, and was talking quickly.

She told him of Una's premonitions about Dick. Told him, in short, what it was that Una desired to talk to him about.


"You bade her come to me?" he said.

"Of course. After your promise to me."

He was silent and very thoughtful for a moment. "I wonder that Una needed to be told that she had in me a friend," he said slowly.

"I wonder to whom she would have gone on her own impulse?"

"To Count Samoval," Miss Armytage informed him.

"Samoval!" he rapped the name out sharply. He was clearly angry. "That man! I can't understand why O'Moy should suffer him about the house so much."

"Terence, like everybody else, will suffer anything that Una wishes."


"Then Terence is more of a fool than I ever suspected."

There was a brief pause. "If you were to fail Una in this," said Miss Armytage presently, "I mean that unless you yourself give her the assurance that you are ready to do what you can for Dick, should the occasion arise, I am afraid that in her present foolish mood she may still avail herself of Count Samoval. That would be to give Samoval a hold upon her; and I tremble to think what the consequences might be. That man is a snake--a horror."

The frankness with which she spoke was to Tremayne full evidence of her anxiety. He was prompt to allay it.

"She shall have that assurance this very evening," he promised.

"I at least have not pledged my word to anything or to any one. Even so," he added slowly, "the chances of my services being ever required grow more slender every day. Una may be full of premonitions about Dick. But between premonition and event there is something of a gap."

Again a pause, and then: "I am glad," said Miss Armytage, "to think that Una has a friend, a trustworthy friend, upon whom she can depend. She is so incapable of depending upon herself. All her life there has been some one at hand to guide her and screen her from unpleasantness until she has remained just a sweet, dear child to be taken by the hand in every dark lane of life."

"But she has you, Miss Armytage."

"Me?" Miss Armytage spoke deprecatingly. "I don't think I am a very able or experienced guide. Besides, even such as I am, she may not have me very long now. I had letters from home this morning. Father is not very well, and mother writes that he misses me. I am thinking of returning soon."

"But--but you have only just come!"

She brightened and laughed at the dismay in his voice. "Indeed, I have been here six weeks." She looked out over the shimmering moonlit waters of the Tagus and the shadowy, ghostly ships of the British fleet that rode at anchor there, and her eyes were wistful. Her fingers, with that little gesture peculiar to her in moments of constraint, were again entwining themselves in her rope of pearls. "Yes," she said almost musingly, "I think I must be going soon."

He was dismayed. He realised that the moment for action had come. His heart was sounding the charge within him. And then that cursed rope of pearls, emblem of the wealth and luxury in which she had been nurtured, stood like an impassable abattis across his path.

"You--you will be glad to go, of course?" he suggested.

"Hardly that. It has been very pleasant here." She sighed.

"We shall miss you very much," he said gloomily. "The house at Monsanto will not be the same when you are gone. Una will be lost and desolate without you."

"It occurs to me sometimes," she said slowly, "that the people about Una think too much of Una and too little of themselves."

It was a cryptic speech. In another it might have signified a spitefulness unthinkable in Sylvia Armytage; therefore it puzzled him very deeply. He stood silent, wondering what precisely she might mean, and thus in silence they continued for a spell. Then slowly she turned and the blaze of light from the windows fell about her irradiantly. She was rather pale, and her eyes were of a suspiciously excessive brightness. And again she made use of the phrase:

"Una will be waiting for you."

Yet, as before, he stood silent and immovable, considering her, questioning himself, searching her face and his own soul. All he saw was that rope of shimmering pearls.

"And after all, as yourself suggested, it is possible that others may be waiting for me," she added presently.

Instantly he was crestfallen and contrite. "I sincerely beg your pardon, Miss Armytage," and with a pang of which his imperturbable exterior gave no hint he proffered her his arm.

She took it, barely touching it with her finger-tips, and they re-entered the ante-room.

"When do you think that you will be leaving?" he asked her gently.

There was a note of harshness in the voice that answered him.

"I don't know yet. But very soon. The sooner the better, I think."

And then the sleek and courtly Samoval, detaching from, seeming to materialise out of, the glittering throng they had entered, was bowing low before her, claiming her attention. Knowing her feelings, Tremayne would not have relinquished her, but to his infinite amazement she herself slipped her fingers from his scarlet sleeve, to place them upon the black one that Samoval was gracefully proffering, and greeted Samoval with a gay raillery as oddly in contrast with her grave demeanour towards the captain as with her recent avowal of detestation for the Count.

Stricken and half angry, Tremayne stood looking after them as they receded towards the ballroom. To increase his chagrin came a laugh from Miss Armytage, sharp and rather strident, floating towards him, and Miss Armytage's laugh was wont to be low and restrained. Samoval, no doubt, had resources to amuse a woman--even a woman who instinctively, disliked him--resources of which Captain Tremayne himself knew nothing.

And then some one tapped him on the shoulder. A very tall, hawk-faced man in a scarlet coat and tightly strapped blue trousers stood beside him. It was Colquhoun Grant, the ablest intelligence officer in Wellington's service.

"Why, Colonel!" cried Tremayne, holding out his hand. "I didn't know you were in Lisbon."

"I arrived only this afternoon." The keen eyes flashed after the disappearing figures of Sylvia and her cavalier. "Tell me, what is the name of the irresistible gallant who has so lightly ravished you of your quite delicious companion?"

"Count Samoval," said Tremayne shortly.

Grant's face remained inscrutable. "Really!" he said softly. "So that is Jeronymo de Samoval, eh? How very interesting. A great supporter of the British policy; therefore an altruist, since himself he is a sufferer by it; and I hear that he has become a great friend of O'Moy's."

"He is at Monsanto a good deal certainly," Tremayne admitted.

"Most interesting." Grant was slowly nodding, and a faint smile curled his thin, sensitive lips. "But I'm keeping you, Tremayne, and no doubt you would be dancing. I shall perhaps see you to-morrow. I shall be coming up to Monsanto."

And with a wave of the hand he passed on and was gone.

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