It was noon of the next day before Colonel Grant came to the house at Monsanto from whose balcony floated the British flag, and before whose portals stood a sentry in the tall bearskin of the grenadiers.

He found the adjutant alone in his room, and apologised for the delay in responding to his invitation, pleading the urgency of other matters that he had in hand.

“A wise enactment this of Lord Wellington’s,” was his next comment. “I mean this prohibition of duelling. It may be resented by some of our young bloods as an unwarrantable interference with their privileges, but it will do a deal of good, and no one can deny that there is ample cause for the measure.”

“It is on the subject of the cause that I’m wanting to consult you,” said Sir Terence, offering his visitor a chair. “Have you been informed of the details? No? Let me give you them.” And he related how the dispatch bore signs of having been tampered with, and how the only document of any real importance came to be missing from it.

Colonel Grant, sitting with his sabre across his knees, listened gravely and thoughtfully. In the end he shrugged his shoulders, the keen hawk face unmoved.

“The harm is done, and cannot very well be repaired. The information obtained, no doubt on behalf of Massena, will by now be on its way to him. Let us be thankful that the matter is not more grave, and thankful, too, that you were able to supply a copy of Lord Liverpool’s figures. What do you want me to do?”

“Take steps to discover the spy whose existence is disclosed by this event.”

Colquhoun Grant smiled. “That is precisely the matter which has brought me to Lisbon.”

“How?” Sir Terence was amazed. “You knew?”

“Oh, not that this had happened. But that the spy—or rather a network of espionage—existed. We move here in a web of intrigue wrought by ill-will, self-interest, vindictiveness and every form of malice. Whilst the great bulk of the Portuguese people and their leaders are loyally co-operating with us, there is a strong party opposing us which would prefer even to see the French prevail. Of course you are aware of this. The heart and brain of all this is—as I gather the Principal Souza. Wellington has compelled his retirement from the Government. But if by doing so he has restricted the man’s power for evil, he has certainly increased his will for evil and his activities.

“You tell me that Garfield was cared for by the parish priest at Penalva. There you are. Half the priesthood of the country are on Souza’s side, since the Patriarch of Lisbon himself is little more than a tool of Souza’s. What happens? This priest discovers that the British officer whom he has so charitably put to bed in his house is the bearer of dispatches. A loyal man would instantly have communicated with Marshal Beresford at Thomar. This fellow, instead, advises the intriguers in Lisbon. The captain’s dispatches are examined and the only document of real value is abstracted. Of course it would be difficult to establish a case against the priest, and it is always vexatious and troublesome to have dealings with that class, as it generally means trouble with the peasantry. But the case is as clear as crystal.”

“But the intriguers here? Can you not deal with them?”

“I have them under observation,” replied the colonel. “I already knew the leaders, Souza’s lieutenants in Lisbon, and I can put my hand upon them at any moment. If I have not already done so it is because I find it more profitable to leave them at large; it is possible, indeed, that I may never proceed to extremes against them. Conceive that they have enabled me to seize La Fleche, the most dangerous, insidious and skilful of all Napoleon’s agents. I found him at Redondo’s ball last week in the uniform of a Portuguese major, and through him I was able to track down Souza’s chief instrument—I discovered them closeted with him in one of the card-rooms.”

“And you didn’t arrest them?”

“Arrest them! I apologised for my intrusion, and withdrew. La Fleche took his leave of them. He was to have left Lisbon at dawn equipped with a passport countersigned by yourself, my dear adjutant.”

“What’s that?”

“A passport for Major Vieira of the Portuguese Cacadores. Do you remember it?”

“Major Vieira!” Sir Terence frowned thoughtfully. Suddenly he recollected. “But that was countersigned by me at the request of Count Samoval, who represented himself a personal friend of the major’s.”

“So indeed he is. But the major in question was La Fleche nevertheless.”

“And Samoval knew this?”

Sir Terence was incredulous.

Colonel Grant did not immediately answer the question. He preferred to continue his narrative. “That night I had the false major arrested very quietly. I have caused him to disappear for the present. His Lisbon friends believe him to be on his way to Massena with the information they no doubt supplied him. Massena awaits his return at Salamanca, and will continue to wait. Thus when he fails to be seen or heard of there will be a good deal of mystification on all sides, which is the proper state of mind in which to place your opponents. Lord Liverpool’s figures, let me add, were not among the interesting notes found upon him—possibly because at that date they had not yet been obtained.”

“And you say that Samoval was aware of the man’s real identity?” insisted Sir Terence, still incredulous. “Aware of it?” Colonel Grant laughed shortly. “Samoval is Souza’s principal agent—the most dangerous man in Lisbon and the most subtle. His sympathies are French through and through.”

Sir Terence stared at him in frank amazement, in utter unbelief. “Oh, impossible!” he ejaculated at last.

“I saw Samoval for the first time,” said Colonel Grant by way of answer, “in Oporto at the time of Soult’s occupation. He did not call himself Samoval just then, any more than I called myself Colquhoun Grant. He was very active there in the French interest; I should indeed be more precise and say in Bonaparte’s interest, for he was the man instrumental in disclosing to Soult the Bourbon conspiracy which was undermining the marshal’s army. You do not know, perhaps, that French sympathy runs in Samoval’s family. You may not be aware that the Portuguese Marquis of Alorna, who holds a command in the Emperor’s army, and is at present with Massena at Salamanca, is Samoval’s cousin.”

“But,” faltered Sir Terence, “Count Samoval has been a regular visitor here for the past three months.”

“So I understand,” said Grant coolly. “If I had known of it before I should have warned you. But, as you are aware, I have been in Spain on other business. You realise the danger of having such a man about the place. Scraps of information—”

“Oh, as to that,” Sir Terence interrupted, “I can assure you that none have fallen from my official table.”

“Never be too sure, Sir Terence. Matters here must ever be under discussion. There are your secretaries and the ladies—and Samoval has a great way with the women. What they know you may wager that he knows.”

“They know nothing.”

“That is a great deal to say. Little odds and ends now; a hint at one time; a word dropped at another; these things picked up naturally by feminine curiosity and retailed thoughtlessly under Samoval’s charming suasion and display of Britannic sympathies. And Samoval has the devil’s own talent for bringing together the pieces of a puzzle. Take the lines now: you may have parted with no details. But mention of them will surely have been made in this household. However,” he broke off abruptly, “that is all past and done with. I am as sure as you are that any real indiscretions in this household are unimaginable, and so we may be confident that no harm has yet been done. But you will gather from what I have now told you that Samoval’s visits here are not a mere social waste of time. That he comes, acquires familiarity and makes himself the friend of the family with a very definite aim in view.”

“He does not come again,” said Sir Terence, rising.

“That is more than I should have ventured to suggest. But it is a very wise resolve. It will need tact to carry it out, for Samoval is a man to be handled carefully.”

“I’ll handle him carefully, devil a fear,” said Sir Terence. “You can depend upon my tact.”

Colonel Grant rose. “In this matter of Penalva, I will consider further. But I do not think there is anything to be done now. The main thing is to stop up the outlets through which information reaches the French, and that is my chief concern. How is the stripping of the country proceeding now?”

“It was more active immediately after Souza left the Government. But the last reports announce a slackening again.”

“They are at work in that, too, you see. Souza will not slumber while there’s vengeance and self-interest to keep him awake.” And he held out his hand to take his leave.

“You’ll stay to luncheon?” said Sir Terence. “It is about to be served.”

“You are very kind, Sir Terence.”

They descended, to find luncheon served already in the open under the trellis vine, and the party consisted of Lady O’Moy, Miss Armytage, Captain Tremayne, Major Carruthers, and Count Samoval, of whose presence this was the adjutant’s first intimation.

As a matter of fact the Count had been at Monsanto for the past hour, the first half of which he had spent most agreeably on the terrace with the ladies. He had spoken so eulogistically of the genius of Lord Wellington and the valour of the British soldier, and, particularly-of the Irish soldier, that even Sylvia’s instinctive distrust and dislike of him had been lulled a little for the moment.

“And they must prevail,” he had exclaimed in a glow of enthusiasm, his dark eyes flashing. “It is inconceivable that they should ever yield to the French, although the odds of numbers may lie so heavily against them.”

“Are the odds of numbers so heavy?” said Lady O’Moy in surprise, opening wide those almost childish eyes of hers.

“Alas! anything from three to five to one. Ah, but why should we despond on that account?” And his voice vibrated with renewed confidence. “The country is a difficult one, easy to defend, and Lord Wellington’s genius will have made the best of it. There are, for example, the fortifications at Torres Vedras.”

“Ah yes! I have heard of them. Tell me about them, Count.”

“Tell you about them, dear lady? Shall I carry perfumes to the rose? What can I tell you that you do not know so much better than myself?”

“Indeed, I know nothing. Sir Terence is ridiculously secretive,” she assured him, with a little frown of petulance. She realised that her husband did not treat her as an intelligent being to be consulted upon these matters. She was his wife, and he had no right to keep secrets from her. In fact she said so.

“Indeed no,” Samoval agreed. “And I find it hard to credit that it should be so.”

“Then you forget,” said Sylvia, “that these secrets are not Sir Terence’s own. They are the secrets of his office.”

“Perhaps so,” said the unabashed Samoval. “But if I were Sir Terence I should desire above all to allay my wife’s natural anxiety. For I am sure you must be anxious, dear Lady O’Moy.”’

“Naturally,” she agreed, whose anxieties never transcended the fit of her gowns or the suitability of a coiffure. “But Terence is like that.”

“Incredible!” the Count protested, and raised his dark eyes to heaven as if invoking its punishment upon so unnatural a husband. “Do you tell me that you have never so much as seen the plans of these fortifications?”

“The plans, Count!” She almost laughed.

“Ah!” he said. “I dare swear then that you do not even know of their existence.” He was jocular now.

“I am sure that she does not,” said Sylvia, who instinctively felt that the conversation was following an undesirable course.

“Then you are wrong,” she was assured. “I saw them once, a week ago, in Sir Terence’s room.”

“Why, how would you know them if you saw them?” quoth Sylvia, seeking to cover what might be an indiscretion.

“Because they bore the name: ‘Lines of Torres Vedras.’ I remember.”

“And this unsympathetic Sir Terence did not explain them to you?” laughed Samoval.

“Indeed, he did not.”

“In fact, I could swear that he locked them away from you at once?” the Count continued on a jocular note.

“Not at once. But he certainly locked them away soon after, and whilst I was still there.”

“In your place, then,” said Samoval, ever on the same note of banter, “I should have been tempted to steal the key.”

“Not so easily done,” she assured him. “It never leaves his person. He wears it on a gold chain round his neck.”

“What, always?”

“Always, I assure you.”

“Too bad,” protested Samoval. “Too bad, indeed. What, then, should you have done, Miss Armytage?”

It was difficult to imagine that he was drawing information from them, so bantering and frivolous was his manner; more difficult still to conceive that he had obtained any. Yet you will observe that he had been placed in possession of two facts: that the plans of the lines of Torres Vedras were kept locked up in Sir Terence’s own room—in the strong-box, no doubt—and that Sir Terence always carried the key on a gold chain worn round his neck.

Miss Armytage laughed. “Whatever I might do, I should not be guilty of prying into matters that my husband kept hidden.”

“Then you admit a husband’s right to keep matters hidden from his wife?”

“Why not?”

“Madam,” Samoval bowed to her, “your future husband is to be envied on yet another count.”

And thus the conversation drifted, Samoval conceiving that he had obtained all the information of which Lady O’Moy was possessed, and satisfied that he had obtained all that for the moment he required. How to proceed now was a more difficult matter, to be very seriously considered—how to obtain from Sir Terence the key in question, and reach the plans so essential to Marshal Massena.

He was at table with them, as you know, when Sir Terence and Colonel Grant arrived. He and the colonel were presented to each other, and bowed with a gravity quite cordial on the part of Samoval, who was by far the more subtle dissembler of the two. Each knew the other perfectly for what he was; yet each was in complete ignorance of the extent of the other’s knowledge of himself; and certainly neither betrayed anything by his manner.

At table the conversation was led naturally enough by Tremayne to Wellington’s general order against duelling. This was inevitable when you consider that it was a topic of conversation that morning at every table to which British officers sat down. Tremayne spoke of the measure in terms of warm commendation, thereby provoking a sharp disagreement from Samoval. The deep and almost instinctive hostility between these two men, which had often been revealed in momentary flashes, was such that it must invariably lead them to take opposing sides in any matter admitting of contention.

“In my opinion it is a most arbitrary and degrading enactment,” said Samoval. “I say so without hesitation, notwithstanding my profound admiration and respect for Lord Wellington and all his measures.”

“Degrading?” echoed Grant, looking across at him. “In what can it be degrading, Count?”

“In that it reduces a gentleman to the level of the clod,” was the prompt answer. “A gentleman must have his quarrels, however sweet his disposition, and a means must be afforded him of settling them.”

“Ye can always thrash an impudent fellow,” opined the adjutant.

“Thrash?” echoed Samoval. His sensitive lip curled in disdain. “To use your hands upon a man!” He shuddered in sheer disgust. “To one of my temperament it would be impossible, and men of my temperament are plentiful, I think.”

“But if you were thrashed yourself?” Tremayne asked him, and the light in his grey eyes almost hinted at a dark desire to be himself the executioner.

Samoval’s dark, handsome eyes considered the captain steadily. “To be thrashed myself?” he questioned. “My dear Captain, the idea of having hands laid upon me, soiling me, brutalising me, is so nauseating, so repugnant, that I assure you I should not hesitate to shoot the man who did it just as I should shoot any other wild beast that attacked me. Indeed the two instances are exactly parallel, and my country’s courts would uphold in such a case the justice of my conduct.”

“Then you may thank God,” said O’Moy, “that you are not under British jurisdiction.”

“I do,” snapped Samoval, to make an instant recovery: “at least so far as the matter is concerned.” And he elaborated: “I assure you, sirs, it will be an evil day for the nobility of any country when its Government enacts against the satisfaction that one gentleman has the right to demand from another who offends him.”

“Isn’t the conversation rather too bloodthirsty for a luncheon-table?” wondered Lady O’Moy. And tactlessly she added, thinking with flattery to mollify Samoval and cool his obvious heat: “You are yourself such a famous swordsman, Count.”

And then Tremayne’s dislike of the man betrayed him into his deplorable phrase.

“At the present time Portugal is in urgent need of her famous swordsmen to go against the French and not to increase the disorders at home.”

A silence complete and ominous followed the rash words, and Samoval, white to the lips, pondered the imperturbable captain with a baleful eye.

“I think,” he said at last, speaking slowly and softly, and picking his words with care, “I think that is innuendo. I should be relieved, Captain Tremayne, to hear you say that it is not.”

Tremayne was prompt to give him the assurance. “No innuendo at all. A plain statement of fact.”

“The innuendo I suggested lay in the application of the phrase. Do you make it personal to myself?”

“Of course not,” said Sir Terence, cutting in and speaking sharply. “What an assumption!”

“I am asking Captain Tremayne,” the Count insisted, with grim firmness, notwithstanding his deferential smile to Sir Terence.

“I spoke quite generally, sir,” Tremayne assured him, partly under the suasion of Sir Terence’s interposition, partly out of consideration for the ladies, who were looking scared. “Of course, if you choose to take it to yourself, sir, that is a matter for your own discretion. I think,” he added, also with a smile, “that the ladies find the topic tiresome.”

“Perhaps we may have the pleasure of continuing it when they are no longer present.”

“Oh, as you please,” was the indifferent answer. “Carruthers, may I trouble you to pass the salt? Lady O’Callaghan was complaining the other night of the abuse of salt in Portuguese cookery. It is an abuse I have never yet detected.”

“I can’t conceive Lady O’Callaghan complaining of too much salt in anything, begad,” quoth O’Moy, with a laugh. “If you had heard the story she told me about—”

“Terence, my dear!” his wife checked him, her fine brows raised, her stare frigid.

“Faith, we go from bad to worse,” said Carruthers. “Will you try to improve the tone of the conversation, Miss Armytage? It stands in urgent need of it.”

With a general laugh, breaking the ice of the restraint that was in danger of settling about the table, a semblance of ease was restored, and this was maintained until the end of the repast. At last the ladies rose, and, leaving the men at table, they sauntered off towards the terrace. But under the archway Sylvia checked her cousin.

“Una,” she said gravely, “you had better call Captain Tremayne and take him away for the present.”

Una’s eyes opened wide. “Why?” she inquired.

Miss Armytage was almost impatient with her. “Didn’t you see? Resentment is only slumbering between those men. It will break out again now that we have left them unless you can get Captain Tremayne away.”

Una continued to look at her cousin, and then, her mind fastening ever upon the trivial to the exclusion of the important, her glance became arch. “For whom is your concern? For Count Samoval or Ned?” she inquired, and added with a laugh: “You needn’t answer me. It is Ned you are afraid for.”

“I am certainly not afraid for him,” was the reply on a faint note of indignation. She had reddened slightly. “But I should not like to see Captain Tremayne or any other British officer embroiled in a duel. You forget Lord Wellington’s order which they were discussing, and the consequences of infringing it.”

Lady O’Moy became scared.

“You don’t imagine—”

Sylvia spoke quickly: “I am certain that unless you take Captain Tremayne away, and at once, there will! be serious trouble.”

And now behold Lady O’Moy thrown into a state of alarm that bordered upon terror. She had more reason than Sylvia could dream, more reason she conceived than Sylvia herself, to wish to keep Captain Tremayne out of trouble just at present. Instantly, agitatedly, she turned and called to him.

“Ned!” floated her silvery voice across the enclosed garden. And again: “Ned! I want you at once, please.”

Captain Tremayne rose. Grant was talking briskly at the time, his intention being to cover Tremayne’s retreat, which he himself desired. Count Samoval’s smouldering eyes were upon the captain, and full of menace. But he could not be guilty of the rudeness of interrupting Grant or of detaining Captain Tremayne when a lady called him.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook