Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
The scene changes to Mentone48, where, in a pretty villa, hired for the nonce, a beautiful young woman, with a fierce light in her fine dark eyes, and a wholly diavolesque expression, sits before her mirror suffering her maid to robe her for the dejeuner49. Eleanor Radeliffe had been Comtesse de Pignerolles just six weeks, and already any illusions she might have cherished were at an end. She knew now the full worth of her husband's dulcet flatteries, of his profuse declarations of love. Had he really caied for her, the shrinking she experienced after taking the last irrevocable step migth perhaps have been succeeded by abiding trust, if not affection; but the nature of his passion, the slightness of his regard, the utter selfishness of his character, were not long in being revealed, and ere many days she had learnt that the courtly Comte was a person without heart or principle, and not only so, but that under a smiling mask he hid a tigerish nature, and a will which, for the time, held her own in subjection. But there was more to come. She thought she knew him thoroughly, but, in truth, she little dreamed of what dark deeds he was capable.
Her tour had been a bitter disappointment to her. Tour it was but in name, for after two days in Paris they had pushed on to Mentone, where, it appeared, her husband had friends—friends, however, whom he never brought to see her—and at Mentone they had been ever since, despite her remonstrances and bitter upbraidings. Parisian gaieties she had not even had a glimpse of. Taken straight to a humble pension in the Faubourg St. Antoine50, she had but time barely to recover from the fatigues of the voyage ere she was obliged again to travel, under pretext of important news from the South, where the Comte's presence was at once required. Here then they had remained, Eleanor practically a prisoner. Of the Comte's company she had but little, though more than she desired, and from some suggestive incidents she was beginning to suspect him a gamester of a reckless stamp.
While her toilet was leisurely proceeding, without even a show of interest on her part, her husband was engaged in successively sampling the various dishes of a tempting déjeuner, with the fastidious dissatisfaction which betrays a captious taste or cloyed appetite. His attire was négligé51, and a jaded look on the dark face spoke of midnight dissipations, yet withal he looked no less, perhaps a trifle more, page 46 distinguished than before his marriage. A certain laissez-aller52 expression, with a mocking smile sitting coldly on his lips, seemed to mark him one of that elevated class whose title to rank is in proportion to their insensibility to the ordinary emotions of plebeian clay. He appeared determined not to let his lady's unpunctuality spoil his breakfast, and had about completed that repast, ere the French waiter, his alert ears detecting the sweep of feminine garments, observed suavely:
‘Madame sapproche, Monsieur.’
As though the information was wholly devoid of interest for him, Monsieur airily shook and folded his serviette, and rising as Eleanor entered the room, made her a low obeisance; then, turning nonchalantly to the window, proceeded to roll a cigar, while the waiter attended to the needs of his spouse. Turning presently, he remarked, inclining towards her with mock deference:
‘If Madame is served, you, Antoine, may retire.’
An imperative gesture secured prompt obedience from the menial, and the Comte went on to say with insulting sweetness:
‘You are late again this morning, ma belle dame.’
‘I find but little inducement to be early,’ said Eleanor, disdainfully.
‘Nevertheless,’ he said between his puffs—for he was very deliberately enjoying his cigar, undeterred by her presence— ‘you will have the goodness to be punctual in future, Madame. I require your presence to flavour the dishes, for pardieu! without your sweet looks I find them insipid,’ and he smiled ironically.
Her eyes flashed. ‘You are facetious, sir, but I will not endure your insults much longer.’
‘Brava, Madame! A little fire enhances your loveliness. Yet withal, I must beg you to be calm, for I have exciting news for you this morning. You have been praying for English letters. Here at last is one. If you have breakfasted it is yours.’
A quick flush and eager movement betrayed Eleanor's longing for home news, but curbing herself, she replied, coldly:
‘I have no desire to read your letters, sir.’
‘C'est bien, Madame. I shall take care of that, ma foi! But this is for you. See!’ And he laid the missive before her.
A little cry, hastily suppressed, broke from her as her eye fell upon the superscription. Then taking it up she exclaimed indignantly:
‘This envelope has been opened. Have you dared again, sir, to take this liberty?’
A chuckle escaped him.
‘Must I again explain, Madame, that such a liberty is every husband's right.’
‘A truce to your explanations, sir! I desire them not. Take this letter. Since you have had the insolence to read it, take upon yourself page 47 also the right to reply,’ and angrily flinging the letter at his feet, she rose to leave the room.
‘You are impetuous, Madame,’ remarked the Count, softly, intercepting her ere she reached the door. ‘But reseat yourself, I beg, for I would see you read that letter ere handing you another which arrived by the same post, the first being probably delayed on the route. I assure you they are both extremely interesting,’ and locking the door, he led her back perforce, and placing her in a low chair in the full light of the French window, put before her the open letter, and stood back to note its effect upon her.
Spite of her burning indignation and acute sense of wrong, her eyes were riveted by characters well known and but lately familiar. The epistle, which bore the date of her wedding, was brief, and ran as follows:—
‘While false friends are toasting you in conventional phrases. 1. too, though uninvited to the banquet, would record a wish on your behalf. You have deliberately chosen to exchange a heart for a coronet, the love of an honest man for a sounding title. I thought you of nobler mould, but it seems I have misjudged you, and white I scoru the duplicity with which you have acted. I blame myself for being so easily misled. My dream is over, but may you, false beauty, have all the happiness of which such a shallow nature is capable.