In a small room of Count Redondo’s palace, a room that had been set apart for cards, sat three men about a card-table. They were Count Samoval, the elderly Marquis of Minas, lean, bald and vulturine of aspect, with a deep-set eye that glared fiercely through a single eyeglass rimmed in tortoise-shell, and a gentleman still on the fair side of middle age, with a clear-cut face and iron-grey hair, who wore the dark green uniform of a major of Cacadores.

Considering his Portuguese uniform, it is odd that the low-toned, earnest conversation amongst them should have been conducted in French.

There were cards on the table; but there was no pretence of play. You might have conceived them a group of players who, wearied of their game, had relinquished it for conversation. They were the only tenants of the room, which was small, cedar-panelled and lighted by a girandole of sparkling crystal. Through the closed door came faintly from the distant ballroom the strains of the dance music.

With perhaps the single exception of the Principal Souza, the British policy had no more bitter opponent in Portugal than the Marquis of Minas. Once a member of the Council of Regency—before Souza had been elected to that body—he had quitted it in disgust at the British measures. His chief ground of umbrage had been the appointment of British officers to the command of the Portuguese regiments which formed the division under Marshal Beresford. In this he saw a deliberate insult and slight to his country and his countrymen. He was a man of burning and blinded patriotism, to whom Portugal was the most glorious nation in the world. He lived in his country’s splendid past, refusing to recognise that the days of Henry the Navigator, of Vasco da Gama, of Manuel the Fortunate—days in which Portugal had been great indeed among the nations of the Old World were gone and done with. He respected Britons as great merchants and industrious traders; but, after all, merchants and traders are not the peers of fighters on land and sea, of navigators, conquerors and civilisers, such as his countrymen had been, such as he believed them still to be. That the descendants of Gamas, Cunhas, Magalhaes and Albuquerques—men whose names were indelibly written upon the very face of the world—should be passed over, whilst alien officers lead been brought in to train and command the Portuguese legions, was an affront to Portugal which Minas could never forgive.

It was thus that he had become a rebel, withdrawing from a government whose supineness he could not condone. For a while his rebellion had been passive, until the Principal Souza had heated him in the fire of his own rage and fashioned him into an intriguing instrument of the first power. He was listening intently now to the soft, rapid speech of the gentleman in the major’s uniform.

“Of course, rumours had reached the Prince of this policy of devastation,” he was saying, “but his Highness has been disposed to treat these rumours lightly, unable to see, as indeed are we all, what useful purpose such a policy could finally serve. He does not underrate the talents of milord Wellington as a commander. He does not imagine that he would pursue such operations out of pure wantonness; yet if such operations are indeed being pursued, what can they be but wanton? A moment, Count,” he stayed Samoval, who was about to interrupt. His mind and manner were authoritative. “We know most positively from the Emperor’s London agents that the war is unpopular in England; we know that public opinion is being prepared for a British retreat, for the driving of the British into the sea, as must inevitably happen once Monsieur le Prince decides to launch his bolt. Here in the Tagus the British fleet lies ready to embark the troops, and the British Cabinet itself” (he spoke more slowly and emphatically) “expects that embarkation to take place at latest in September, which is just about the time that the French offensive should be at its height and the French troops under the very walls of Lisbon. I admit that by this policy of devastation if, indeed, it be true—added to a stubborn contesting of every foot of ground, the French advance may be retarded. But the process will be costly to Britain in lives and money.”

“And more costly still to Portugal,” croaked the Marquis of Minas.

“And, as you, say, Monsieur le Marquis, more costly still to Portugal. Let me for a moment show you another side of the picture. The French administration, so sane, so cherishing, animated purely by ideas of progress, enforcing wise and beneficial laws, making ever for the prosperity and well-being of conquered nations, knows how to render itself popular wherever it is established. This Portugal knows already—or at least some part of it. There was the administration of Soult in Oporto, so entirely satisfactory to the people that it was no inconsiderable party was prepared, subject to the Emperor’s consent, to offer him the crown and settle down peacefully under his rule. There was the administration of Junot in Lisbon. I ask you: when was Lisbon better governed?

“Contrast, for a moment, with these the present British administration—for it amounts to an administration. Consider the burning grievances that must be left behind by this policy of laying the country waste, of pauperising a million people of all degrees, driving them homeless from the lands on which they were born, after compelling them to lend a hand in the destruction of all that their labour has built up through long years. If any policy could better serve the purposes of France, I know it not. The people from here to Beira should be ready to receive the French with open arms, and to welcome their deliverance from this most costly and bitter British protection.

“Do you, Messieurs, detect a flaw in these arguments?”

Both shook their heads.

“Bien!” said the major of Portuguese Cacadores. “Then we reach one or two only possible conclusions: either these rumours of a policy of devastation which have reached the Prince of Esslingen are as utterly false as he believes them to be, or—”

“To my cost I know them to be true, as I have already told you,” Samoval interrupted bitterly.

“Or,” the major persisted, raising a hand to restrain the Count, “or there is something further that has not been yet discovered—a mystery the enucleation of which will shed light upon all the rest. Since you assure me, Monsieur le Comte, that milord Wellington’s policy is beyond doubt, as reported to Monsieur, le Marechal, it but remains to address ourselves to the discovery of the mystery underlying it. What conclusions have you reached? You, Monsieur de Samoval, have had exceptional opportunities of observation, I understand.”

“I am afraid my opportunities have been none so exceptional as you suppose,” replied Samoval, with a dubious shake of his sleek, dark head. “At one time I founded great hopes in Lady O’Moy. But Lady O’Moy is a fool, and does not enjoy her husband’s confidence in official matters. What she knows I know. Unfortunately it does not amount to very much. One conclusion, however, I have reached: Wellington is preparing in Portugal a snare for Massena’s army.”

“A snare? Hum!” The major pursed his full lips into a smile of scorn. “There cannot be a trap with two exits, my friend. Massena enters Portugal at Almeida and marches to Lisbon and the open sea. He may be inconvenienced or hampered in his march; but its goal is certain. Where, then, can lie the snare? Your theory presupposes an impassable barrier to arrest the French when they are deep in the country and an overwhelming force to cut off their retreat when that barrier is reached. The overwhelming force does not exist and cannot be manufactured; as for the barrier, no barrier that it lies within human power to construct lies beyond French power to over-stride.”

“I should not make too sure of that,” Samoval warned him. “And you have overlooked something.”

The major glanced at the Count sharply and without satisfaction. He accounted himself—trained as he had been under the very eye of the great Emperor—of some force in strategy and tactics, a player too well versed in the game to overlook the possible moves of an opponent.

“Ha!” he said, with the ghost of a sneer. “For instance, Monsieur le Comte?”

“The overwhelming force exists,” said Samoval.

“Where is it then? Whence has it been created? If you refer to the united British and Portuguese troops, you will be good enough to bear in mind that they will be retreating before the Prince. They cannot at once be before and behind him.”

The man’s cool assurance and cooler contempt of Samoval’s views stung the Count into some sharpness.

“Are you seeking information, sir, or are you bestowing it?” he inquired.

“Ah! Your pardon, Monsieur le Comte. I inquire of course. I put forward arguments to anticipate conditions that may possibly be erroneous.”

Samoval waived the point. “There is another force besides the British and Portuguese troops that you have left out of your calculations.”

“And that?” The major was still faintly incredulous.

“You should remember what Wellington obviously remembers: that a French army depends for its sustenance upon the country it is invading. That is why Wellington is stripping the French line of penetration as bare of sustenance as this card-table. If we assume the existence of the barrier—an impassable line of fortifications encountered within many marches of the frontier—we may also assume that starvation will be the overwhelming force that will cut off the French retreat.”

The other’s keen eyes flickered. For a moment his face lost its assurance, and it was Samoval’s turn to smile. But the major made a sharp recovery. He slowly shook his iron-grey head.

“You have no right to assume an impassable barrier. That is an inadmissible hypothesis. There is no such thing as a line of fortifications impassable to the French.”

“You will pardon me, Major, but it is yourself have no right to your own assumptions. Again you overlook something. I will grant that technically what you say is true. No fortifications can be built that cannot be destroyed—given adequate power, with which it is yet to prove that Massena not knowing what may await him, will be equipped.

“But let us for a moment take so much for granted, and now consider this: fortifications are unquestionably building in the region of Torres Vedras, and Wellington guards the secret so jealously that not even the British—either here or in England—are aware of their nature. That is why the Cabinet in London takes for granted an embarkation in September. Wellington has not even taken his Government into his confidence. That is the sort of man he is. Now these fortifications have been building since last October. Best part of eight months have already gone in their construction. It may be another two or three months before the French army reaches them. I do not say that the French cannot pass them, given time. But how long will it take the French to pull down what it will have taken ten or eleven months to construct? And if they are unable to draw sustenance from a desolate, wasted country, what time will they have at their disposal? It will be with them a matter of life or death. Having come so far they must reach Lisbon or perish; and if the fortifications can delay them by a single month, then, granted that all Lord Wellington’s other dispositions have been duly carried out, perish they must. It remains, Monsieur le Major, for you to determine whether, with all their energy, with all their genius and all their valour, the French can—in an ill-nourished condition—destroy in a few weeks the considered labour of nearly a year.”

The major was aghast. He had changed colour, and through his eyes, wide and staring, his stupefaction glared forth at them.

Minas uttered a dry cough under cover of his hand, and screwed up his eyeglass to regard the major more attentively. “You do not appear to have considered all that,” he said.

“But, my dear Marquis,” was the half-indignant answer, “why was I not told all this to begin with? You represented yourself as but indifferently informed, Monsieur de Samoval. Whereas—”

“So I am, my dear Major, as far as information goes. If I did not use these arguments before, it was because it seemed to me an impertinence to offer what, after all, are no more than the conclusions of my own constructive and deductive reasoning to one so well versed in strategy as yourself.”

The major was silenced for a moment. “I congratulate you, Count,” he said. “Monsieur le Marechal shall have your views without delay. Tell me,” he begged. “You say these fortifications lie in the region of Torres Vedras. Can you be more precise?”

“I think so. But again I warn you that I can tell you only what I infer. I judge they will run from the sea, somewhere near the mouth of the Zizandre, in a semicircle to the Tagus, somewhere to the south of Santarem. I know that they do not reach as far north as San, because the roads there are open, whereas all roads to the south, where I am assuming that the fortifications lie, are closed and closely guarded.”

“Why do you suggest a semicircle?”

“Because that is the formation of the hills, and presumably the line of heights would be followed.”

“Yes,” the major approved slowly. “And the distance, then, would be some thirty or forty miles?”


The major’s face relaxed its gravity. He even smiled. “You will agree, Count, that in a line of that extent a uniform strength is out of the question. It must perforce present many weak, many vulnerable, places.”

“Oh, undoubtedly.”

“Plans of these lines must be in existence.”

“Again undoubtedly. Sir Terence O’Moy will have plans in his possession showing their projected extent. Colonel Fletcher, who is in charge of the construction, is in constant communication with the adjutant, himself an engineer; and—as I partly imagine, partly infer from odd phrases that I have overheard—especially entrusted by Lord Wellington with the supervision of the works.”

“Two things, then, are necessary,” said the major promptly. “The first is, that the devastation of the country should be retarded, and as far as possible hindered altogether.”

“That,” said Minas, “you may safely leave to myself and Souza’s other friends, the northern noblemen who have no intention of becoming the victims of British disinclination to pitched battles.”

“The second—and this is more difficult—is that we should obtain by hook or by crook a plan of the fortifications.” And he looked directly at Samoval.

The Count nodded slowly, but his face expressed doubt.

“I am quite alive to the necessity. I always have been. But—”

“To a man of your resource and intelligence—an intelligence of which you have just given such very signal proof—the matter should be possible.” He paused a moment. Then: “If I understand you correctly, Monsieur de Samoval, your fortunes have suffered deeply, and you are almost ruined by this policy of Wellington’s. You are offered the opportunity of making a magnificent recovery. The Emperor is the most generous paymaster in the world, and he is beyond measure impatient at the manner in which the campaign in the Peninsula is dragging on. He has spoken of it as an ulcer that is draining the Empire of its resources. For the man who could render him the service of disclosing the weak spot in this armour, the Achilles heel of the British, there would be a reward beyond all your possible dreams. Obtain the plans, then, and—”

He checked abruptly. The door had opened, and in a Venetian mirror facing him upon the wall the major caught the reflection of a British uniform, the stiff gold collar surmounted by a bronzed hawk face with which he was acquainted.

“I beg your pardon, gentlemen,” said the officer in Portuguese, “I was looking for—”

His voice became indistinct, so that they never knew who it was that he had been seeking when he intruded upon their privacy. The door had closed again and the reflection had vanished from the mirror. But there were beads of perspiration on the major’s brow.

“It is fortunate,” he muttered breathlessly, “that my back was towards him. I would as soon meet the devil face to face. I didn’t dream he was in Lisbon.”

“Who is he?” asked Minas.

“Colonel Grant, the British Intelligence officer. Phew! Name of a Name! What an escape!” The major mopped his brow with a silk handkerchief. “Beware of him, Monsieur de Samoval.”

He rose. He was obviously shaken by the meeting.

“If one of you will kindly make quite sure that he is not about I think that I had better go. If we should meet everything might be ruined.” Then with a change of manner he stayed Samoval, who was already on his way to the door. “We understand each other, then?” he questioned them. “I have my papers, and at dawn I leave Lisbon. I shall report your conclusions to the Prince, and in anticipation I may already offer you the expression of his profoundest gratitude. Meanwhile, you know what is to do. Opposition to the policy, and the plans of the fortifications—above all the plans.”

He shook hands with them, and having waited until Samoval assured him that the corridor outside was clear, he took his departure, and was soon afterwards driving home, congratulating himself upon his most fortunate escape from the hawk eye of Colquhoun Grant.

But when in the dead of that night he was awakened to find a British sergeant with a halbert and six redcoats with fixed bayonets surrounding his bed it occurred to him belatedly that what one man can see in a mirror is also visible to another, and that Marshal Massena, Prince of Esslingen, waiting for information beyond Ciudad Rodrigo, would never enjoy the advantages of a report of Count Samoval’s masterly constructive and deductive reasoning.

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