Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter X. After Marriage—Unlooked-for Disclosures—A Nice Husband
Chapter X. After Marriage—Unlooked-for Disclosures—A Nice Husband.
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.
Perplexity, deepening into horror, blanched Eleanor's face as she rapidly scanned the lines, while, with a sneering smile, her husband took in every shade in her gamut of expression. Raising her eyes she encountered his look, and her bloodless face crimsoned, while haughtily erecting herself she asked:
‘How long have you had this letter, sir?’
‘It arrived yesterday, Madame, as the postmark will show you,’ and he handed her the envelope covered with the imprints of foreign travel. ‘It has come by a roundabout route, probably owing to our change of plans. Permit me, ma chere, to hand you the other.’
She forced herself to read it with outward calmness, while he watched her as before.
‘Since my hasty note,’ it ran, ‘written in the first hour of your marriage. I have seen Mr Radcliffe, and also Miss Tabitha. I now take the liberty of writing again, partly to withdraw any expressions in my former note which may have pained you, partly in vindication of my own honour. It is due to myself that I prove my own steadfastness, and this I cannot do better than by returning to you all the letters purporting to come from you, which I received while in Ireland. That you did not write those letters, nor receive my replies, is beside the main point. They came to me ostensibly from you, and in good faith I received and responded to them, knowing your handwriting too well—as I thought—ever to dream of foul play. With those who thus impersonated you in pursuance of a vile conspiracy to separate us, it is for you to deal, supposing you think the matter of sufficient moment. I now know that you received but one letter from me, and that one I never penned, and I therefore page 48 make all allowance for your natural indignation at my seeming negligence. But that you could believe me faithless, without absolute proof, argues little for your insight into character, and that you could in a moment of pique throw yourself so hastily into the arms of another, proves your own heart a slighter thing than I had supposed. But I write not to reproach you, merely to clear myself with you. The past is past. For all time we are strangers. May you find in your chosen lot the happiness which under other conditions would have been my care.
Silently staring at the signature, Eleanor sat for some terrible moments as if stunned by this new source of misery. Then letting fall the letter, she buried her face in her hands and tried to realise all its import, while grimly smiling, her husband watched her. At length she raised her head, demanding—
‘The letters! The enclosure! Where are they?’
‘Ma foi!’ he answered, chuckling. ‘Afraid, ma belle, that they might distress you, I took the liberty of destroying them.’
‘Liar! You feared they might be used against you. I see it all—the whole vile plot. You wrote them, perjured villain, fiend incarnate!’
‘Fie, Madame! Such language is not pretty on lips so fair.’
‘Oh, my God, give me patience! If you can speak truth, Monsieur, tell me what this letter means.’
‘Perdien! It appears moderately explicit. In love as in war, Madame, all tactics are fair, and as Miss Radcliffe was not to be won by ordinary methods, her fortunate present possessor had to use extraordinary.’
‘Which means, that fair methods failing, you used foul?’
He shrugged his shoulders, grimacing.
‘And are you not ashamed? Can you unblushingly own to this perfidy?’
‘Ma foi! I am rather proud of my achievement, Madame.’
‘Monster! Have you no moral sense?’
‘None whatever, Madame,’ and again he grimaced, but looked withal so dangerous that his wife involuntarily shuddered.
‘What?’ she cried, in despairing accents, ‘What was your motive?’
‘Love!, ma belle—and—also—revenge.’
‘Love!’ she repeated, scornfully. ‘You know not what it means. And revenge—upon whom?’
‘Upon several people. But you mistake, Madame. I have had some experience in love, and should know its meaning and worth. It is, however, poor stuff at the best, and lacks the flavour one never misses in revenge. It palls with possession, but revenge—ma foi! it sometimes lingers in the mouth forever,’ and the Comte smacked his lips as if tasting it. ‘You, ma chère,’ he continued, ‘proved too unresponsive to keep up the fire of my passion; no doubt your heart was still with le page 49 capitaine; I am proud of my conquest, nevertheless—and shall keep you for my vengeance.’
‘Perjured wretch! I shall not stay. This very day shall I take steps to have the bond annulled.’
He chuckled. ‘Reflect, Madame. A bond must exist before it can be annulled. Here you have no status, for our English marriage would not count, since my parents' consent was withheld.’
‘Your parents?’ she cried wildly. ‘You said they were dead.’
‘Ha! ha! The credulity of English maids, and the carelessness of English guardians is proverbial. They never suspect a titled personage, ma foi! But be reasonable, ma chèr, In England we are man and wife.’
‘Then take me back? I demand it. Nay—’ she went on with a change of manner, as the full degradation of her position forced itself upon her. ‘I implore you, it you ever loved me, take me back to England.’
He smiled. ‘You would be nearer Monsieur le Capitaine. Is it not so? Well, Madame, I am desolated to deny you, but truly I have not the wherewithal.’
‘Not the wherewithal? What mean you?’
‘Pardieu! What I say, Madame. I have been unfortunate lately, and at this moment am penniless.’
‘But you have possessions. You can raise money?’
‘Diable! Think you I should plead poverty if I had a stone or stock unpledged?’
‘Where then is the money I brought you?’
‘Bah! A bagatelle! I have staked more on the cast of die.’
‘You had forty thousand pounds. Surely it is not all gone?’
‘Every son, I had to raise on stocks, and lost on the transaction.’
Some silent minutes passed, then, with outward calmness, Eleanor asked:
‘Is there no way then to leave this odious place?’
‘There is but one, Madame. You have settlements.’
‘Settlements? Yes, you wish to lay hands on them?’
‘If it should be convenient, Madame, to transfer them, I see a way out of our present difficulties.’
‘Ah! You are considerate, Monsieur. What are my settlements?’
‘You have, I believe, the Hall Radcliffe, the town house, and twenty thousand in stocks.’
‘Radcliffe Hall is entailed. If I transfer the rest, will you swear to send me back to England at once?’
‘Pardieu! In that case, Madame, I will myself escort you.’
‘If I give you this money I go to England alone. It shall be the price of our separation.’page 50
‘So, Madame? Then you must permit me to decline it. I have business in England, and we return together, or not at all. You are necessary to my comfort, ma belle, and, moreover,’ he added, breathing hard, ‘you shall swear to me upon the evangel to keep all these matters inviolably secret. If you disclose an iota to any human being, par Dieu! I shall murder you,’ and seizing her two shoulders in an iron grasp, he glared into her eyes until she trembled.
48 We can only assume Bullock means the town in the South-East of France called Menton. Situated on the French Riviera Menton is known as ‘the pearl of France’.
[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]