Writing years afterwards of this event—in the rather tedious volume of reminiscences which he has left us—Major Carruthers ventures the opinion that the court should never have been deceived; that it should have perceived at once that Miss Armytage was lying. He argues this opinion upon psychological grounds, contending that the lady’s deportment in that moment of self-accusation was the very last that in the circumstances she alleged would have been natural to such a character as her own.

“Had she indeed,” he writes, “been Tremayne’s mistress, as she represented herself, it was not in her nature to have announced it after the manner in which she did so. She bore herself before us with all the effrontery of a harlot; and it was well known to most of us that a more pure, chaste, and modest lady did not live. There was here a contradiction so flagrant that it should have rendered her falsehood immediately apparent.”

Major Carruthers, of course, is writing in the light of later knowledge, and even, setting that aside, I am very far from agreeing with his psychological deduction. Just as a shy man will so overreach himself in his efforts to dissemble his shyness as to assume an air of positive arrogance, so might a pure lady who had succumbed as Miss Armytage pretended, upon finding herself forced to such self-accusation, bear herself with a boldness which was no more than a mask upon the shame and anguish of her mind.

And this, I think, was the view that was taken by those present. The court it was—being composed of honest gentlemen—that felt the shame which she dissembled. There were the eyes that fell away before the spurious effrontery of her own glance. They were disconcerted one and all by this turn of events, without precedent in the experience of any, and none more disconcerted—though not in the same sense—than Sir Terence. To him this was checkmate—fool’s mate indeed. An unexpected yet ridiculously simple move had utterly routed him at the very outset of the deadly game that he was playing. He had sat there determined to have either Tremayne’s life or the truth, publicly avowed, of Tremayne’s dastardly betrayal. He could not have told you which he preferred. But one or the other he was fiercely determined to have, and now the springs of the snare in which he had so cunningly taken Tremayne had been forced apart by utterly unexpected hands.

“It’s a lie!” he bellowed angrily. But he bellowed, it seemed, upon deaf ears. The court just sat and stared, utterly and hopelessly at a loss how to proceed. And then the dry voice of Wellington followed Sir Terence, cutting sharply upon the dismayed silence.

“How can you know that?” he asked the adjutant. “The matter is one upon which few would be qualified to contradict Miss Armytage. You will observe, Sir Harry, that even Captain Tremayne has not thought it worth his while to do so.”

Those words pulled the captain from the spell of sheer horrified amazement in which he had stood, stricken dumb, ever since Miss Armytage had spoken.

“I—I—am so overwhelmed by the amazing falsehood with which Miss Armytage has attempted to save me from the predicament in which I stand. For it is that, gentlemen. On my oath as a soldier and a gentleman, there is not a word of truth in what Miss Armytage has said.”

“But if there were,” said Lord Wellington, who seemed the only person present to retain a cool command of his wits, “your honour as a soldier and a gentleman—and this lady’s honour—must still demand of you the perjury.”

“But, my lord, I protest—”

“You are interrupting me, I think,” Lord Wellington rebuked him coldly, and under the habit of obedience and the magnetic eye of his lordship the captain lapsed into anguished silence.

“I am of opinion, gentlemen,” his lordship addressed the court, “that this affair has gone quite far enough. Miss Armytage’s testimony has saved a deal of trouble. It has shed light upon much that was obscure, and it has provided Captain Tremayne with an unanswerable alibi. In my view—and without wishing unduly to influence the court in its decision—it but remains to pronounce Captain Tremayne’s acquittal, thereby enabling him to fulfil towards this lady a duty which the circumstances would seem to have rendered somewhat urgent.”

They were words that lifted an intolerable burden from Sir Harry’s shoulders.

In immense relief, eager now to make an end, he looked to right and left. Everywhere he met nodding heads and murmurs of “Yes, Yes.” Everywhere with one exception. Sir Terence, white to the lips, gave no sign of assent, and yet dared give none of dissent. The eye of Lord Wellington was upon him, compelling him by its eagle glance.

“We are clearly agreed,” the president began, but Captain Tremayne interrupted him.

“But you are wrongly agreed.”

“Sir, sir!”

“You shall listen. It is infamous that I should owe my acquittal to the sacrifice of this lady’s good name.”

“Damme! That is a matter that any parson can put right,” said his lordship.

“Your lordship is mistaken,” Captain Tremayne insisted, greatly daring. “The honour of this lady is more dear to me than my life.”

“So we perceive,” was the dry rejoinder. “These outbursts do you a certain credit, Captain Tremayne. But they waste the time of the court.”

And then the president made his announcement

“Captain Tremayne, you are acquitted of the charge of killing Count Samoval, and you are at liberty to depart and to resume your usual duties. The court congratulates you and congratulates itself upon having reached this conclusion in the case of an officer so estimable as yourself.”

“Ah, but, gentlemen, hear me yet a moment. You, my lord—”

“The court has pronounced. The matter is at an end,” said Wellington, with a shrug, and immediately upon the words he rose, and the court rose with him. Immediately, with rattle of sabres and sabretaches, the officers who had composed the board fell into groups and broke into conversation out of a spirit of consideration for Tremayne, and definitely to mark the conclusion of the proceedings.

Tremayne, white and trembling, turned in time to see Miss Armytage leaving the hall and assisting Colonel Grant to support Lady O’Moy, who was in a half-swooning condition.

He stood irresolute, prey to a torturing agony of mind, cursing himself now for his silence, for not having spoken the truth and taken the consequences together with Dick Butler. What was Dick Butler to him, what was his own life to him—if they should demand it for the grave breach of duty he had committed by his readiness to assist a proscribed offender to escape—compared with the honour of Sylvia Armytage? And she, why had she done this for him? Could it be possible that she cared, that she was concerned so much for his life as to immolate her honour to deliver him from peril? The event would seem to prove it. Yet the overmastering joy that at any other time, and in any other circumstances, such a revelation must have procured him, was stifled now by his agonised concern for the injustice to which she had submitted herself.

And then, as he stood there, a suffering, bewildered man, came Carruthers to grasp his hand and in terms of warm friendship to express satisfaction at his acquittal.

“Sooner than have such a price as that paid—” he said bitterly, and with a shrug left his sentence unfinished.

O’Moy came stalking past him, pale-faced, with eyes that looked neither to right nor left.

“O’Moy!” he cried.

Sir Terence checked, and stood stiffly as if to attention, his handsome blue eyes blazing into the captain’s own. Thus a moment. Then:

“We will talk of this again, you and I,” he said grimly, and passed on and out with clanking step, leaving Tremayne to reflect that the appearances certainly justified Sir Terence’s resentment.

“My God, Carruthers! What must he think of me?” he ejaculated.

“If you ask me, I think that he has suspected this from the very beginning. Only that could account for the hostility of his attitude towards you, for the persistence with which he has sought either to convict or wring the truth from you.”

Tremayne looked askance at the major. In such a tangle as this it was impossible to keep the attention fixed upon any single thread.

“His mind must be disabused at once,” he answered. “I must go to him.”

O’Moy had already vanished.

There were one or two others would have checked the adjutant’s departure, but he had heeded none. In the quadrangle he nodded curtly to Colonel Grant, who would have detained him. But he passed on and went to shut himself up in his study with his mental anguish that was compounded of so many and so diverse emotions. He needed above all things to be alone and to think, if thought were possible to a mind so distraught as his own. There were now so many things to be faced, considered, and dealt with. First and foremost—and this was perhaps the product of inevitable reaction—was the consideration of his own duplicity, his villainous betrayal of trust undertaken deliberately, but with an aim very different from that which would appear. He perceived how men must assume now, when the truth of Samoval’s death became known as become known it must—that he had deliberately fastened upon another his own crime. The fine edifice of vengeance he had been so skilfully erecting had toppled about his ears in obscene ruin, and he was a man not only broken, but dishonoured. Let him proclaim the truth now and none would believe it. Sylvia Armytage’s mad and inexplicable self-accusation was a final bar to that. Men of honour would scorn him, his friends would turn from him in disgust, and Wellington, that great soldier whom he worshipped, and whose esteem he valued above all possessions, would be the first to cast him out. He would appear as a vulgar murderer who, having failed by falsehood to fasten the guilt upon an innocent man, sought now by falsehood still more damnable, at the cost of his wife’s honour, to offer some mitigation of his unspeakable offence.

Conceive this terrible position in which his justifiable jealousy—his naturally vindictive rage—had so irretrievably ensnared him. He had been so intent upon the administration of poetic justice, so intent upon condignly punishing the false friend who had dishonoured him, upon finding a balm for his lacerated soul in the spectacle of Tremayne’s own ignominy, that he had never paused to see whither all this might lead him.

He had been a fool to have adopted these subtle, tortuous ways; a fool not to have obeyed the earlier and honest impulse which had led him to take that case of pistols from the drawer. And he was served as a fool deserves to be served. His folly had recoiled upon him to destroy him. Fool’s mate had checked his perfidious vengeance at a blow.

Why had Sylvia Armytage discarded her honour to make of it a cloak for the protection of Tremayne? Did she love Tremayne and take that desperate way to save a life she accounted lost, or was it that she knew the truth, and out of affection for Una had chosen to immolate herself?

Sir Terence was no psychologist. But he found it difficult to believe in so much of self-sacrifice from a woman for a woman’s sake, however dear. Therefore he held to the first alternative. To confirm it came the memory of Sylvia’s words to him on the night of Tremayne’s arrest. And it was to such a man that she gave the priceless treasure of her love; for such a man, and in such a sordid cause, that she sacrificed the inestimable jewel of her honour? He laughed through clenched teeth at a situation so bitterly ironical. Presently he would talk to her. She should realise what she had done, and he would wish her joy of it. First, however, there was something else to do. He flung himself wearily into the chair at his writing-table, took up a pen and began to write.

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