To Captain Tremayne, fretted with impatience in the diningroom, came, at the end of a long hour of waiting, Sylvia Armytage. She entered unannounced, at a moment when for the third time he was on the point of ringing for Mullins, and for a moment they stood considering each other mutually ill at ease. Then Miss Armytage closed the door and came forward, moving with that grace peculiar to her, and carrying her head erect, facing Captain Tremayne now with some lingering signs of the defiance she had shown the members of the court-martial.

“Mullins tells me that you wish to see me,” she said the merest conventionality to break the disconcerting, uneasy silence.

“After what has happened that should not surprise you,” said Tremayne. His agitation was clear to behold, his usual imperturbability all departed. “Why,” he burst out suddenly, “why did you do it?”

She looked at him with the faintest ghost of a smile on her lips, as if she found the question amusing. But before she could frame any answer he was speaking again, quickly and nervously.

“Could you suppose that I should wish to purchase my life at such a price? Could you suppose that your honour was not more precious to me than my life? It was infamous that you should have sacrificed yourself in this manner.”

“Infamous of whom?” she asked him coolly.

The question gave him pause. “I don’t know!” he cried desperately. “Infamous of the circumstances, I suppose.”

She shrugged. “The circumstances were there, and they had to be met. I could think of no other way of meeting them.”

Hastily he answered her out of his anger for her sake: “It should not have been your affair to meet them at all.”

He saw the scarlet flush sweep over her face and leave it deathly white, and instantly he perceived how horribly he had blundered.

“I’m sorry to have been interfering,” she answered stiffly, “but, after all, it is not a matter that need trouble you.” And on the words she turned to depart again. “Good-day, Captain Tremayne.”

“Ah, wait!” He flung himself between her and the door. “We must understand each other, Miss Armytage.”

“I think we do, Captain Tremayne,” she answered, fire dancing in her eyes. And she added: “You are detaining me.”

“Intentionally.” He was calm again; and he was masterful for the first time in all his dealings with her. “We are very far from any understanding. Indeed, we are overhead in a misunderstanding already. You misconstrue my words. I am very angry with you. I do not think that in all my life I have ever been so angry with anybody. But you are not to mistake the source of my anger. I am angry with you for the great wrong you have done yourself.”

“That should not be your affair,” she answered him, thus flinging back the offending phrase.

“But it is. I make it mine,” he insisted.

“Then I do not give you the right. Please let me pass.” She looked him steadily in the face, and her voice was calm to coldness. Only the heave of her bosom betrayed the agitation under which she was labouring.

“Whether you give me the right or not, I intend to take it,” he insisted.

“You are very rude,” she reproved him.

He laughed. “Even at the risk of being rude, then. I must make myself clear to you. I would suffer anything sooner than leave you under any misapprehension of the grounds upon which I should have preferred to face a firing party rather than have been rescued at the sacrifice of your good name.”

“I hope,” she said, with faint but cutting irony, “you do not intend to offer me the reparation of marriage.”

It took his breath away for a moment. It was a solution that in his confused and irate state of mind he had never even paused to consider. Yet now that it was put to him in this scornfully reproachful manner he perceived not only that it was the only possible course, but also that on that very account it might be considered by her impossible.

Her testiness was suddenly plain to him. She feared that he was come to her with an offer of marriage out of a sense of duty, as an amende, to correct the false position into which, for his sake, she had placed herself. And he himself by his blundering phrase had given colour to that hideous fear of hers.

He considered a moment whilst he stood there meeting her defiant glance. Never had she been more desirable in his eyes; and hopeless as his love for her had always seemed, never had it been in such danger of hopelessness as at this present moment, unless he proceeded here with the utmost care. And so Ned Tremayne became subtle for the first time in his honest, straightforward, soldierly life. “No,” he answered boldly, “I do not intend it.”

“I am glad that you spare me that,” she answered him, yet her pallor seemed to deepen under his glance.

“And that,” he continued, “is the source of all my anger, against you, against myself, and against circumstances. If I had deemed myself remotely worthy of you,” he continued, “I should have asked you weeks ago to be my wife. Oh, wait, and hear me out. I have more than once been upon the point of doing so—the last time was that night on the balcony at Count Redondo’s. I would have spoken then; I would have taken my courage in my hands, confessed my unworthiness and my love. But I was restrained because, although I might confess, there was nothing I could ask. I am a poor man, Sylvia, you are the daughter of a wealthy one; men speak of you as an heiress. To ask you to marry me—” He broke off. “You realise that I could not; that I should have been deemed a fortune-hunter, not only by the world, which matters nothing, but perhaps by yourself, who matter everything. I—I—” he faltered, fumbling for words to express thoughts of an overwhelming intricacy. “It was not perhaps that so much as the thought that, if my suit should come to prosper, men would say you had thrown yourself away on a fortune-hunter. To myself I should have accounted the reproach well earned, but it seemed to me that it must contain something slighting to you, and to shield you from all slights must be the first concern of my deep worship for you. That,” he ended fiercely, “is why I am so angry, so desperate at the slight you have put upon yourself for my sake—for me, who would have sacrificed life and honour and everything I hold of any account, to keep you up there, enthroned not only in my own eyes, but in the eyes of every man.”

He paused, and looked at her and she at him. She was still very white, and one of her long, slender hands was pressed to her bosom as if to contain and repress tumult. But her eyes were smiling, and yet it was a smile he could not read; it was compassionate, wistful, and yet tinged, it seemed to him, with mockery.

“I suppose,” he said, “it would be expected of me in the circumstances to seek words in which to thank you for what you have done. But I have no such words. I am not grateful. How could I be grateful? You have destroyed the thing that I most valued in this world.”

“What have I destroyed?” she asked him.

“Your own good name; the respect that was your due from all men.”

“Yet if I retain your own?”

“What is that worth?” he asked almost resentfully.

“Perhaps more than all the rest.” She took a step forward and set her hand upon his arm. There was no mistaking now her smile. It was all tenderness, and her eyes were shining. “Ned, there is only one thing to be done.”

He looked down at her who was only a little less tall than himself, and the colour faded from his own face now.

“You haven’t understood me after all,” he said. “I was afraid you would not. I have no clear gift of words, and if I had, I am trying to say something that would overtax any gift.”

“On the contrary, Ned, I understand you perfectly. I don’t think I have ever understood you until now. Certainly never until now could I be sure of what I hoped.”

“Of what you hoped?” His voice sank as if in awe. “What?” he asked.

She looked away, and her persisting, yet ever-changing smile grew slightly arch.

“You do not then intend to ask me to marry you?” she said.

“How could I?” It was an explosion almost of anger. “You yourself suggested that it would be an insult; and so it would. It is to take advantage of the position into which your foolish generosity has betrayed you. Oh!” he clenched his fists and shook them a moment at his sides.

“Very well,” she said. “In that case I must ask you to marry me.”

“You?” He was thunderstruck.

“What alternative do you leave me? You say that I have destroyed my good name. You must provide me with a new one. At all costs I must become an honest woman. Isn’t that the phrase?”

“Don’t!” he cried, and pain quivered in his voice. “Don’t jest upon it.”

“My dear,” she said, and now she held out both hands to him, “why trouble yourself with things of no account, when the only thing that matters to us is within our grasp? We love each other, and—”

Her glance fell away, her lip trembled, and her smile at last took flight. He caught her hands, holding them in a grip that hurt her; he bent his head, and his eyes sought her own, but sought in vain.

“Have you considered—” he was beginning, when she interrupted him. Her face flushed upward, surrendering to that questing glance of his, and its expression was now between tears and laughter.

“You will be for ever considering, Ned. You consider too much, where the issues are plain and simple. For the last time—will you marry me?”

The subtlety he had employed had been greater than he knew, and it had achieved something beyond his utmost hopes.

He murmured incoherently and took her to his arms. I really do not see that he could have done anything else. It was a plain and simple issue, and she herself had protested that the issue was plain and simple.

And then the door opened abruptly and Sir Terence came in. Nor did he discreetly withdraw as a man of feeling should have done before the intimate and touching spectacle that met his eyes. On the contrary, he remained like the infernal marplot that he intended to be.

“Very proper,” he sneered. “Very fit and proper that he should put right in the eyes of the world the reputation you have damaged for his sake, Sylvia. I suppose you’re to be married.”

They moved apart, and each stared at O’Moy--Sylvia in cold anger, Tremayne in chagrin.

“You see, Sylvia,” the captain cried, at this voicing of the world’s opinion he feared so much on her behalf.

“Does she?” said Sir Terence, misunderstanding. “I wonder? Unless you’ve made all plain.”

The captain frowned.

“Made what plain?” he asked. “There is something here I don’t understand, O’Moy. Your attitude towards me ever since you ordered me under arrest has been entirely extraordinary. It has troubled me more than anything else in all this deplorable affair.”

“I believe you,” snorted O’Moy, as with his hands behind his back he strode forward into the room. He was pale, and there was a set, malignant sneer upon his lip, a malignant look in the blue eyes that were habitually so clear and honest.

“There have been moments,” said Tremayne, “when I have almost felt you to be vindictive.”

“D’ye wonder?” growled O’Moy. “Has no suspicion crossed your mind that I may know the whole truth?”

Tremayne was taken aback. “That startles you, eh?” cried O’Moy, and pointed a mocking finger at the captain’s face, whose whole expression had changed to one of apprehension.

“What is it?” cried Sylvia. Instinctively she felt that under this troubled surface some evil thing was stirring, that the issues perhaps were not quite as simple as she had deemed them.

There was a pause. O’Moy, with his back to the window now, his hands still clasped behind him, looked mockingly at Tremayne and waited.

“Why don’t you answer her?” he said at last. “You were confidential enough when I came in. Can it be that you are keeping something back, that you have secrets from the lady who has no doubt promised by now to become your wife as the shortest way to mending her recent folly?”

Tremayne was bewildered. His answer, apparently an irrelevance, was the mere enunciation of the thoughts O’Moy’s announcement had provoked.

“Do you mean to say that you have known throughout that I did not kill Samoval?” he asked.

“Of course. How could I have supposed you killed him when I killed him myself?”

“You? You killed him!” cried Tremayne, more and more intrigued. And—

“You killed Count Samoval?” exclaimed Miss Armytage.

“To be sure I did,” was the answer, cynically delivered, accompanied by a short, sharp laugh. “When I have settled other accounts, and put all my affairs in order, I shall save the provost-marshal the trouble of further seeking the slayer. And you didn’t know then, Sylvia, when you lied so glibly to the court, that your future husband was innocent of that?”

“I was always sure of it,” she answered, and looked at Tremayne for explanation.

O’Moy laughed again. “But he had not told you so. He preferred that you should think him guilty of bloodshed, of murder even, rather than tell you the real truth. Oh, I can understand. He is the very soul of honour, as you remarked yourself, I think, the other night. He knows how much to tell and how much to withhold. He is master of the art of discreet suppression. He will carry it to any lengths. You had an instance of that before the court this morning. You may come to regret, my dear, that you did not allow him to have his own obstinate way; that you should have dragged your own spotless purity in the mud to provide him with an alibi. But he had an alibi all the time, my child; an unanswerable alibi which he preferred to withhold. I wonder would you have been so ready to make a shield of your honour could you have known what you were really shielding?”

“Ned!” she cried. “Why don’t you speak? Is he to go on in this fashion? Of what is he accusing you? If you were not with Samoval that night, where were you?”

“In a lady’s room, as you correctly informed the court,” came O’Moy’s bitter mockery. “Your only mistake was in the identity of the lady. You imagined that the lady was yourself. A delusion purely. But you and I may comfort each other, for we are fellow-sufferers at the hands of this man of honour. My wife was the lady who entertained this gallant in her room that night.”

“My God, O’Moy!” It was a strangled cry from Tremayne. At last he saw light; he understood, and, understanding, there entered his heart a great compassion for O’Moy, a conception that he must have suffered all the agonies of the damned in these last few days. “My God, you don’t believe that I—”

“Do you deny it?”

“The imputation? Utterly.”

“And if I tell you that myself with these eyes I saw you at the window of her room with her; if I tell you that I saw the rope ladder dangling from her balcony; if I tell you that crouching there after I had killed Samoval—killed him, mark me, for saying that you and my wife betrayed me; killed him for telling me the filthy truth—if I tell you that I heard her attempting to restrain you from going down to see what had happened—if I tell you all this, will you still deny it, will you still lie?”

“I will still say that all that you imply is false as hell and your own senseless jealousy can make it.

“All that I imply? But what I state—the facts themselves, are they true?”

“They are true. But—”

“True!” cried Miss Armytage in horror.

“Ah, wait,” O’Moy bade her with his heavy sneer. “You interrupt him. He is about to construe those facts so that they shall wear an innocent appearance. He is about to prove himself worthy of the great sacrifice you made to save his life. Well?” And he looked expectantly at Tremayne.

Miss Armytage looked at him too, with eyes from which the dread passed almost at once. The captain was smiling, wistfully, tolerantly, confidently, almost scornfully. Had he been guilty of the thing imputed he could not have stood so in her presence.

“O’Moy,” he said slowly, “I should tell you that you have played the knave in this were it not clear to me that you have played the fool.” He spoke entirely without passion. He saw his way quite clearly. Things had reached a pass in which for the sake of all concerned, and perhaps for the sake of Miss Armytage more than any one, the whole truth must be spoken without regard to its consequences to Richard Butler.

“You dare to take that tone?” began O’Moy in a voice of thunder.

“Yourself shall be the first to justify it presently. I should be angry with you, O’Moy, for what you have done. But I find my anger vanishing in regret. I should scorn you for the lie you have acted, for your scant regard to your oath in the court-martial, for your attempt to combat an imagined villainy by a real villainy. But I realise what you have suffered, and in that suffering lies the punishment you fully deserve for not having taken the straight course, for not having taxed me there and then with the thing that you suspected.”

“The gentleman is about to lecture me upon morals, Sylvia.” But Tremayne let pass the interruption.

“It is quite true that I was in Una’s room while you were killing Samoval. But I was not alone with her, as you have so rashly assumed. Her brother Richard was there, and it was on his behalf that I was present. She had been hiding him for a fortnight. She begged me, as Dick’s friend and her own, to save him; and I undertook to do so. I climbed to her room to assist him to descend by the rope ladder you saw, because he was wounded and could not climb without assistance. At the gates I had the curricle waiting in which I had driven up. In this I was to have taken him on board a ship that was leaving that night for England, having made arrangements with her captain. You should have seen, had you reflected, that—as I told the court—had I been coming to a clandestine meeting, I should hardly have driven up in so open a fashion, and left the curricle to wait for me at the gates.

“The death of Samoval and my own arrest thwarted our plans and prevented Dick’s escape. That is the truth. Now that you have it I hope you like it, and I hope that you thoroughly relish your own behaviour in the matter.”

There was a fluttering sigh of relief from Miss Armytage. Then silence followed, in which O’Moy stared at Tremayne, emotion after emotion sweeping across his mobile face.

“Dick Butler?” he said at last, and cried out: “I don’t believe a word of it! Ye’re lying, Tremayne.”

“You have cause enough to hope so.”

The captain was faintly scornful.

“If it were true, Una would not have kept it from me. It was to me she would have come.”

“The trouble with you, O’Moy, is that jealousy seems to have robbed you of the power of coherent thought, or else you would remember that you were the last man to whom Una could confide Dick’s presence here. I warned her against doing so. I told her of the promise you had been compelled to give the secretary, Forjas, and I was even at pains to justify you to her when she was indignant with you for that. It would perhaps be better,” he concluded, “if you were to send for Una.”

“It’s what I intend,” said Sir Terence in a voice that made a threat of the statement. He strode stiffly across the room and pulled open the door. There was no need to go farther. Lady O’Moy, white and tearful, was discovered on the threshold. Sir Terence stood aside, holding the door for her, his face very grim.

She came in slowly, looking from one to another with her troubled glance, and finally accepting the chair that Captain Tremayne made haste to offer her. She had so much to say to each person present that it was impossible to know where to begin. It remained for Sir Terence to give her the lead she needed, and this he did so soon as he had closed the door again. Planted before it like a sentry, he looked at her between anger and suspicion.

“How much did you overhear?” he asked her.

“All that you said about Dick,” she answered without hesitation.

“Then you stood listening?”

“Of course. I wanted to know what you were saying.”

“There are other ways of ascertaining that without stooping to keyholes,” said her husband.

“I didn’t stoop,” she said, taking him literally. “I could hear what was said without that—especially what you said, Terence. You will raise your voice so on the slightest provocation.”

“And the provocation in this instance was, of course, of the slightest. Since you have heard Captain Tremayne’s story of course you’ll have no difficulty in confirming it.”

“If you still can doubt, O’Moy,” said Tremayne, “it must be because you wish to doubt; because you are afraid to face the truth now that it has been placed before you. I think, Una, it will spare a deal of trouble, and save your husband from a great many expressions that he may afterwards regret, if you go and fetch Dick. God knows, Terence has enough to overwhelm him already.”

At the suggestion of producing Dick, O’Moy’s anger, which had begun to simmer again, was stilled. He looked at his wife almost in alarm, and she met his look with one of utter blankness.

“I can’t,” she said plaintively. “Dick’s gone.”

“Gone?” cried Tremayne.

“Gone?” said O’Moy, and then he began to laugh. “Are you quite sure that he was ever here?”

“But—” She was a little bewildered, and a frown puckered her perfect brow. “Hasn’t Ned told you, then?”

“Oh, Ned has told me. Ned has told!” His face was terrible.

“And don’t you believe him? Don’t you believe me?” She was more plaintive than ever. It was almost as if she called heaven to witness what manner of husband she was forced to endure. “Then you had better call Mullins and ask him. He saw Dick leave.”

“And no doubt,” said Miss Armytage mercilessly, “Sir Terence will believe his butler where he can believe neither his wife nor his friend.”

He looked at her in a sort of amazement. “Do you believe them, Sylvia?” he cried.

“I hope I am not a fool,” said she impatiently.

“Meaning—” he began, but broke off. “How long do you say it is since Dick left the house?”

“Ten minutes at most,” replied her ladyship.

He turned and pulled the door open again. “Mullins?” he called. “Mullins!”

“What a man to live with!” sighed her ladyship, appealing to Miss Armytage. “What a man!” And she applied a vinaigrette delicately to her nostrils.

Tremayne smiled, and sauntered to the window. And then at last came Mullins.

“Has any one left the house within the last ten minutes, Mullins?” asked Sir Terence.

Mullins looked ill at ease.

“Sure, sir, you’ll not be after—”

“Will you answer my question, man?” roared Sir Terence.

“Sure, then, there’s nobody left the house at all but Mr. Butler, sir.”

“How long had he been here?” asked O’Moy, after a brief pause.

“‘Tis what I can’t tell ye, sir. I never set eyes on him until I saw him coming downstairs from her ladyship’s room as it might be.”

“You can go, Mullins.”

“I hope, sir—”

“You can go.” And Sir Terence slammed the door upon the amazed servant, who realised that some unhappy mystery was perturbing the adjutant’s household.

Sir Terence stood facing them again. He was a changed man. The fire had all gone out of him. His head was bowed and his face looked haggard and suddenly old. His lip curled into a sneer.

“Pantaloon in the comedy,” he said, remembering in that moment the bitter gibe that had cost Samoval his life.

“What did you say?” her ladyship asked him.

“I pronounced my own name,” he answered lugubriously.

“It didn’t sound like it, Terence.”

“It’s the name I ought to bear,” he said. “And I killed that liar for it—the only truth he spoke.”

He came forward to the table. The full sense of his position suddenly overwhelmed him, as Tremayne had said it would. A groan broke from him and he collapsed into a chair, a stricken, broken man.

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