“I will withdraw, sir,” said Terence.

But Wellington detained him. “Since Dom Miguel asked for you, you had better remain, perhaps.”

“It is the adjutant-general Dom Miguel desires to see, and I am adjutant-general no longer.”

“Still, the matter may concern you. I have a notion that it may be concerned with the death of Count Samoval, since I have acquainted the Council of Regency with the treason practised by the Count. You had better remain.”

Gloomy and downcast, Sir Terence remained as he was bidden.

The sleek and supple Secretary of State was ushered in. He came forward quickly, clicked his heels together and bowed to the three men present.

“Sirs, your obedient servant,” he announced himself, with a courtliness almost out of fashion, speaking in his extraordinarily fluent English. His sallow countenance was extremely grave. He seemed even a little ill at ease.

“I am fortunate to find you here, my lord. The matter upon which I seek your adjutant-general is of considerable gravity—so much that of himself he might be unable to resolve it. I feared you might already have departed for the north.”

“Since you suggest that my presence may be of service to you, I am happy that circumstances should have delayed my departure,” was his lordship’s courteous answer. “A chair, Dom Miguel.”

Dom Miguel Forjas accepted the proffered chair, whilst Wellington seated himself at Sir Terence’s desk. Sir Terence himself remained standing with his shoulders to the overmantel, whence he faced them both as well as Grant, who, according to his self-effacing habit, remained in the background by the window.

“I have sought you,” began Dom Miguel, stroking his square chin, “on a matter concerned with the late Count Samoval, immediately upon hearing that the court-martial pronounced the acquittal of Captain Tremayne.”

His lordship frowned, and his eagle glance fastened upon the Secretary’s face.

“I trust, sir, you have not come to question the finding of the court-martial.”

“Oh, on the contrary—on the contrary!” Dom Miguel was emphatic. “I represent not only the Council, but the Samoval family as well. Both realise that it is perhaps fortunate for all concerned that in arresting Captain Tremayne the military authorities arrested the wrong man, and both have reason to dread the arrest of the right one.”

He paused, and the frown deepened between Wellington’s brows.

“I am afraid,” he said slowly, “that I do not quite perceive their concern in this matter.”

“But is it not clear?” cried Dom Miguel.

“If it were I should perceive it,” said his lordship dryly.

“Ah, but let me explain, then. A further investigation of the manner in which Count Samoval met his death can hardly fail to bring to light the deplorable practices in which he was engaged; for no doubt Colonel Grant, here, would consider it his duty in the interests of justice to place before the court the documents found upon the Count’s dead body. If I may permit myself an observation,” he continued, looking round at Colonel Grant, “it is that I do not quite understand how this has not already happened.”

There was a pause in which Grant looked at Wellington as if for direction. But his lordship himself assumed the burden of the answer.

“It was not considered expedient in the public interest to do so at present,” he said. “And the circumstances did not place us under the necessity of divulging the matter.”

“There, my lord, if you will allow me to say so, you acted with a delicacy and wisdom which the circumstances may not again permit. Indeed any further investigation must almost inevitably bring these matters to light, and the effect of such revelation would be deplorable.”

“Deplorable to whom?” asked his lordship.

“To the Count’s family and to the Council of Regency.”

“I can sympathise with the Count’s family, but not with the Council.”

“Surely, my lord, the Council as a body deserves your sympathy in that it is in danger of being utterly discredited by the treason of one or two of its members.”

Wellington manifested impatience. “The Council has been warned time and again. I am weary of warning, and even of threatening, the Council with the consequences of resisting my policy. I think that exposure is not only what it deserves, but the surest means of providing a healthier government in the future. I am weary of picking my way through the web of intrigue with which the Council entangles my movements and my dispositions. Public sympathy has enabled it to hamper me in this fashion. That sympathy will be lost to it by the disclosures which you fear.”

“My lord, I must confess that there is much reason in what you say.” He was smoothly conciliatory. “I understand your exasperation. But may I be permitted to assure you that it is not the Council as a body that has withstood you, but certain self-seeking members, one or two friends of Principal Souza, in whose interests the unfortunate and misguided Count Samoval was acting. Your lordship will perceive that the moment is not one in which to stir up public indignation against the Portuguese Government. Once the passions of the mob are inflamed, who can say to what lengths they may not go, who can say what disastrous consequences may not follow? It is desirable to apply the cautery, but not to burn up the whole body.”

Lord Wellington considered a moment, fingering an ivory paper-knife. He was partly convinced.

“When I last suggested the cautery, to use your own very apt figure, the Council did not keep faith with me.”

“My lord!”

“It did not, sir. It removed Antonio de Souza, but it did not take the trouble to go further and remove his friends at the same time. They remained to carry on his subversive treacherous intrigues. What guarantees have I that the Council will behave better on this occasion?”

“You have our solemn assurances, my lord, that all those members suspected of complicity in this business or of attachment to the Souza faction, shall be compelled to resign, and you may depend upon the reconstituted Council loyally to support your measures.”

“You give me assurances, sir, and I ask for guarantees.”

“Your lordship is in possession of the documents found upon Count Samoval. The Council knows this, and this knowledge will compel it to guard against further intrigues on the part of any of its members which might naturally exasperate you into publishing those documents. Is not that some guarantee?”

His lordship considered, and nodded slowly. “I admit that it is. Yet I do not see how this publicity is to be avoided in the course of the further investigations into the manner in which Count Samoval came by his death.”

“My lord, that is the pivot of the whole matter. All further investigation must be suspended.”

Sir Terence trembled, and his eyes turned in eager anxiety upon the inscrutable, stern face of Lord Wellington.

“Must!” cried his lordship sharply.

“What else, my lord, in all our interests?” exclaimed the Secretary, and he rose in his agitation.

“And what of British justice, sir?” demanded his lordship in a forbidding tone.

“British justice has reason to consider itself satisfied. British justice may assume that Count Samoval met his death in the pursuit of his treachery. He was a spy caught in the act, and there and then destroyed—a very proper fate. Had he been taken, British justice would have demanded no less. It has been anticipated. Cannot British justice, for the sake of British interests as well as Portuguese interests, be content to leave the matter there?”

“An argument of expediency, eh?” said Wellington. “Why not, my lord! Does not expediency govern politicians?”

“I am not a politician.”

“But a wise soldier, my lord, does not lose sight of the political consequences of his acts.” And he sat down again.

“Your Excellency may be right,” said his lordship. “Let us be quite clear, then. You suggest, speaking in the name of the Council of Regency, that I should suppress all further investigations into the manner in which Count Samoval met his death, so as to save his family the shame and the Council of Regency the discredit which must overtake one and the other if the facts are disclosed—as disclosed they would be that Samoval was a traitor and a spy in the pay of the French. That is what you ask me to do. In return your Council undertakes that there shall be no further opposition to my plans for the military defence of Portugal, and that all my measures however harsh and however heavily they may weigh upon the landowners, shall be punctually and faithfully carried out. That is your Excellency’s proposal, is it not?”

“Not so much my proposal, my lord, as my most earnest intercession. We desire to spare the innocent the consequences of the sins of a man who is dead, and well dead.” He turned to O’Moy, standing there tense and anxious. It was not for Dom Miguel to know that it was the adjutant’s fate that was being decided. “Sir Terence,” he cried, “you have been here for a year, and all matters connected with the Council have been treated through you. You cannot fail to see the wisdom of my recommendation.”

His lordship’s eyes flashed round upon O’Moy. “Ah yes!” he said. “What is your feeling in this matter, ‘O’Moy?” he inquired, his tone and manner void of all expression.

Sir Terence faltered; then stiffened. “I—The matter is one that only your lordship can decide. I have no wish to influence your decision.”

“I see. Ha! And you, Grant? No doubt you agree with Dom Miguel?”

“Most emphatically—upon every count, sir,” replied the intelligence officer without hesitation. “I think Dom Miguel offers an excellent bargain. And, as he says, we hold a guarantee of its fulfilment.”

“The bargain might be improved,” said Wellington slowly.

“If your lordship will tell me how, the Council, I am sure, will be ready to do all that lies in its power to satisfy you.”

Wellington shifted his chair round a little, and crossed his legs. He brought his finger-tips together, and over the top of them his eyes considered the Secretary of State.

“Your Excellency has spoken of expediency—political expediency. Sometimes political expediency can overreach itself and perpetrate the most grave injustices. Individuals at times are unnecessarily called upon to suffer in the interests of a cause. Your Excellency will remember a certain affair at Tavora some two months ago—the invasion of a convent by a British officer with rather disastrous consequences and the loss of some lives.”

“I remember it perfectly, my lord. I had the honour of entertaining Sir Terence upon that subject on the occasion of my last visit here.”

“Quite so,” said his lordship. “And on the grounds of political expediency you made a bargain then with Sir Terence, I understand, a bargain which entailed the perpetration of an injustice.”

“I am not aware of it, my lord.”

“Then let me refresh your Excellency’s memory upon the facts. To appease the Council of Regency, or rather to enable me to have my way with the Council and remove the Principal Souza, you stipulated for the assurance—so that you might lay it before your Council—that the offending officer should be shot when taken.”

“I could not help myself in the matter, and—”

“A moment, sir. That is not the way of British justice, and Sir Terence was wrong to have permitted himself to consent; though I profoundly appreciate the loyalty to me, the earnest desire to assist me, which led him into an act the cost of which to himself your Excellency can hardly appreciate. But the wrong lay in that by virtue of this bargain a British officer was prejudged. He was to be made a scapegoat. He was to be sent to his death when taken, as a peace-offering to the people, demanded by the Council of Regency.

“Since all this happened I have had the facts of the case placed before me. I will go so far as to tell you, sir, that the officer in question has been in my hands for the past hour, that I have closely questioned him, and that I am satisfied that whilst he has been guilty of conduct which might compel me to deprive him of his Majesty’s commission and dismiss him from the army, yet that conduct is not such as to merit death. He has chiefly sinned in folly and want of judgment. I reprove it in the sternest terms, and I deplore the consequences it had. But for those consequences the nuns of Tavora are almost as much to blame as he is himself. His invasion of their convent was a pure error, committed in the belief that it was a monastery and as a result of the porter’s foolish conduct.

“Now, Sir Terence’s word, given in response to your absolute demands, has committed us to an unjust course, which I have no intention of following. I will stipulate, sir, that your Council, in addition to the matters undertaken, shall relieve us of all obligation in this matter, leaving it to our discretion to punish Mr. Butler in such manner as we may consider condign. In return, your Excellency, I will undertake that there shall be no further investigation into the manner in which Count Samoval came by his death, and consequently, no disclosures of the shameful trade in which he was engaged. If your Excellency will give yourself the trouble of taking the sense of your Council upon this, we may then reach a settlement.”

The grave anxiety of Dom Miguel’s countenance was instantly dispelled. In his relief he permitted himself a smile.

“My lord, there is not the need to take the sense of the Council. The Council has given me carte blanche to obtain your consent to a suppression of the Samoval affair. And without hesitation I accept the further condition that you make. Sir Terence may consider himself relieved of his parole in the matter of Lieutenant Butler.”

“Then we may look upon the matter as concluded.”

“As happily concluded, my lord.” Dom Miguel rose to make his valedictory oration. “It remains for me only to thank your lordship in the name of the Council for the courtesy and consideration with which you have received my proposal and granted our petition. Acquainted as I am with the crystalline course of British justice, knowing as I do how it seeks ever to act in the full light of day, I am profoundly sensible of the cost to your lordship of the concession you make to the feelings of the Samoval family and the Portuguese Government, and I can assure you that they will be accordingly grateful.”

“That is very gracefully said, Dom Miguel,” replied his lordship, rising also.

The Secretary placed a hand upon his heart, bowing. “It is but the poor expression of what I think and feel.” And so he took his leave of them, escorted by Colonel Grant, who discreetly volunteered for the office.

Left alone with Wellington, Sir Terence heaved a great sigh of supreme relief.

“In my wife’s name, sir, I should like to thank you. But she shall thank you herself for what you have done for me.”

“What I have done for you, O’Moy?” Wellington’s slight figure stiffened perceptibly, his face and glance were cold and haughty. “You mistake, I think, or else you did not hear. What I have done, I have done solely upon grounds of political expediency. I had no choice in the matter, and it was not to favour you, or out of disregard for my duty, as you seem to imagine, that I acted as I did.”

O’Moy bowed his head, crushed under that rebuff. He clasped and unclasped his hands a moment in his desperate anguish.

“I understand,” he muttered in a broken voice, “I—I beg your pardon, sir.”

And then Wellington’s slender, firm fingers took him by the arm.

“But I am glad, O’Moy, that I had no choice,” he added more gently. “As a man, I suppose I may be glad that my duty as Commander-in-Chief placed me under the necessity of acting as I have done.”

Sir Terence clutched the hand in both his own and wrung it fiercely, obeying an overmastering impulse.

“Thank you,” he cried. “Thank you for that!”

“Tush!” said Wellington, and then abruptly: “What are you going to do, O’Moy?” he asked.

“Do?” said O’Moy, and his blue eyes looked pleadingly down into the sternly handsome face of his chief, “I am in your hands, sir.”

“Your resignation is, and there it must remain, O’Moy. You understand?”

“Of course, sir. Naturally you could not after this—” He shrugged and broke off. “But must I go home?” he pleaded.

“What else? And, by God, sir, you should be thankful, I think.”

“Very well,” was the dull answer, and then he flared out. “Faith, it’s your own fault for giving me a job of this kind. You knew me. You know that I am just a blunt, simple soldier—that my place is at the head of a regiment, not at the head of an administration. You should have known that by putting me out of my proper element I was bound to get into trouble sooner or later.”

“Perhaps I do,” said Wellington. “But what am I to do with you now?” He shrugged, and strode towards the window. “You had better go home, O’Moy. Your health has suffered out here, and you are not equal to the heat of summer that is now increasing. That is the reason of this resignation. You understand?”

“I shall be shamed for ever,” said O’Moy. “To go home when the army is about to take the field!”

But Wellington did not hear him, or did not seem to hear him. He had reached the window and his eye was caught by something that he saw in the courtyard.

“What the devil’s this now?” he rapped out. “That is one of Sir Robert Craufurd’s aides.”

He turned and went quickly to the door. He opened it as rapid steps approached along the passage, accompanied by the jingle of spurs and the clatter of sabretache and trailing sabre. Colonel Grant appeared, followed by a young officer of Light Dragoons who was powdered from head to foot with dust. The youth—he was little more—lurched forward wearily, yet at sight of Wellington he braced himself to attention and saluted.

“You appear to have ridden hard, sir,” the Commander greeted him.

“From Almeida in forty-seven hours, my lord,” was the answer. “With these from Sir Robert.” And he proffered a sealed letter.

“What is your name?” Wellington inquired, as he took the package.

“Hamilton, my lord,” was the answer; “Hamilton of the Sixteenth, aide-de-camp to Sir Robert Craufurd.”

Wellington nodded. “That was great horsemanship, Mr. Hamilton,” he commended him; and a faint tinge in the lad’s haggard cheeks responded to that rare praise.

“The urgency was great, my lord,” replied Mr. Hamilton.

“The French columns are in movement. Ney and Junot advanced to the investment of Ciudad Rodrigo on the first of the month.”

“Already!” exclaimed Wellington, and his countenance set.

“The commander, General Herrasti, has sent an urgent appeal to Sir Robert for assistance.”

“And Sir Robert?” The question came on a sharp note of apprehension, for his lordship was fully aware that valour was the better part of Sir Robert Craufurd’s discretion.

“Sir Robert asks for orders in this dispatch, and refuses to stir from Almeida without instructions from your lordship.”

“Ah!!” It was a sigh of relief. He broke the seal and spread the dispatch. He read swiftly. “Very well,” was all he said, when he had reached the end of Sir Robert’s letter. “I shall reply to this in person and at, once. You will be in need of rest, Mr. Hamilton. You had best take a day to recuperate, then follow me to Almeida. Sir Terence no doubt will see to your immediate needs.”

“With pleasure, Mr. Hamilton,” replied Sir Terence mechanically—for his own concerns weighed upon him at this moment more heavily than the French advance. He pulled the bell-rope, and into the fatherly hands of Mullins, who came in response to the summons, the young officer was delivered.

Lord Wellington took up his hat and riding-crop from Sir Terence’s desk. “I shall leave for the frontier at once,” he announced. “Sir Robert will need the encouragement of my presence to keep him within the prudent bounds I have imposed. And I do not know how long Ciudad Rodrigo may be able to hold out. At any moment we may have the French upon the Agueda, and the invasion may begin. As for you, O’Moy, this has changed everything. The French and the needs of the case have decided. For the present no change is possible in the administration here in Lisbon. You hold the threads of your office and the moment is not one in which to appoint another adjutant to take them over. Such a thing might be fatal to the success of the British arms. You must withdraw this resignation.” And he proffered the document.

Sir Terence recoiled. He went deathly white.

“I cannot,” he stammered. “After what has happened, I—”

Lord Wellington’s face became set and stern. His eyes blazed upon the adjutant.

“O’Moy,” he said, and the concentrated anger of his voice was terrifying, “if you suggest that any considerations but those of this campaign have the least weight with me in what I now do, you insult me. I yield to no man in my sense of duty, and I allow no private considerations to override it. You are saved from going home in disgrace by the urgency of the circumstances, as I have told you. By that and by nothing else. Be thankful, then; and in loyally remaining at your post efface what is past. You know what is doing at Torres Vedras. The works have been under your direction from the commencement. See that they are vigorously pushed forward and that the lines are ready to receive the army in a month’s time from now if necessary. I depend upon you—the army and England’s honour depend upon you. I bow to the inevitable and so shall you.” Then his sternness relaxed. “So much as your commanding officer. Now as your friend,” and he held out his hand, “I congratulate you upon your luck. After this morning’s manifestations of it, it should pass into a proverb. Goodbye, O’Moy. I trust you, remember.”

“And I shall not fail you,” gulped O’Moy, who, strong man that he was, found himself almost on the verge of tears. He clutched the extended hand.

“I shall fix my headquarters for the present at Celorico. Communicate with me there. And now one other matter: the Council of Regency will no doubt pester you with representations that I should—if time still remains—advance to the relief of Ciudad Rodrigo. Understand, that is no part of my plan of campaign. I do not stir across the frontier of Portugal. Here let the French come and find me, and I shall be ready to receive them. Let the Portuguese Government have no illusions on that point, and stimulate the Council into doing all possible to carry out the destruction of mills and the laying waste of the country in the valley of the Mondego and wherever else I have required.

“Oh, and by the way, you will find your brother-in-law, Mr. Butler, in the guard-room yonder, awaiting my orders. Provide him with a uniform and bid him rejoin his regiment at once. Recommend him to be more prudent in future if he wishes me to forget his escapade at Tavora. And in future, O’Moy, trust your wife. Again, good-bye. Come, Grant!—I have instructions for you too. But you must take them as we ride.”

And thus Sir Terence O’Moy found sanctuary at the altar of his country’s need. They left him incredulously to marvel at the luck which had so enlisted circumstances to save him where all had seemed so surely lost an hour ago.

He sent a servant to fetch Mr. Butler, the prime cause of all this pother—for all of it can be traced to Mr. Butler’s invasion of the Tavora nunnery—and with him went to bear the incredible tidings of their joint absolution to the three who waited so anxiously in the dining-room.

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