Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter XI. Back at Radcliffe Hall—Bent On Separation—The Indestructible Passion—Au Revoir, Ma Belle
Chapter XI. Back at Radcliffe Hall—Bent On Separation—The Indestructible Passion—Au Revoir, Ma Belle.
‘There is a mask, my lady, enquiring for you. He refuses his name, and insists on seeing your ladyship. He says he comes from town, and is expected.’
‘Forsooth, he is right, Belinda, Conduct him hither.’
‘La! your ladyship. Hither?’
‘Marry! Said I not hither, wench? He is my man of business, and ceremony is needless; and, Belinda, should Mr Horace ask for me, meanwhile. I am engaged. By the way, at what hour did Monsieur leave?’
‘About three o'clock, your ladyship.’
‘Said he aught of his return?’
‘He said, my lady, you were not to be alarmed if he prolonged his stay a week. I was not, however, to trouble you with the information unless you made enquiries. Rarely considerate is Monsieur.’
‘Considerate, indeed! Close that casement, Belinda, the scent from the garden oppresses me.’
‘La! my lady, and you so fond of roses?’
‘Pour me out a cup of wine, and now bring up the stranger.’
Belinda tripped away, and the Comtesse de Pignerolles drank the wine, and tried with indifferent success to settle herself in a composed attitude.
A month had elapsed since that terrible day at Mentone, when her husband, forcing her to her knees, had extracted—as the price of her return home a fearful oath never to reveal his evil deeds. They were now at Radcliffe Hall, where they had found Mr Horace suffering from indisposition, which since their return had become aggravated.
Ever since coming home Eleanor's sole thought had been how to evade her oath without betraying her intention. Her uncle's illness page 51 deprived her of her natural counsellor, and the fear of a fatal termination added to her torments, but the more obstacles uprose in her way the more determined was she to surmount them. Her marriage must be annulled. Revenge should come after. The Count, for whom a simple country life had no charms, spent most of his time in town, wherefore his wife, in her old home, felt comparatively free from surveiliance. He, however, was kept pretty well informed of her movements.
Her only confidante was the old gipsy, who had been to Southern Spain while Eleanor was abroad, and who now bitterly denounced the Count. He was ‘a villain,’ she said, ‘a cheat,’ Eleanor must get rid of him, and then—. She had paid one or two visits to town in Eleanor's interests, as the latter feared herself to excite suspicion by such a journey. It was in response to a communication conveyed by her that the mask had come down. Eleanor having appointed for the interview a time when her husband would be absent. The fear of discovery, however, the dreadful consequences of his possible return were enough—apart from other sensations—to try her nerves.
It was hard, indeed, to be calm and self-controlled as she knew her visitor expected her to be. She heard them at the door. Belinda threw it wide.
‘The stranger, my lady,’ she announced, and turning mechanically, her face set and colourless, Eleanor fixed on him her heavily shadowed eyes. She spoke no word of greeting, only stood and gazed, and Belinda, most reluctantly closing the door, would fain have put in practice her old keyhole trick had not the key itself frustrated her purpose, for Man of business, forsooth, ‘she said to herself, as if I could mistake that figure. No, no, my fine lady, I've seen it too often. but if my handsome Count gives me not twenty crowns for this news, I take no more of his busses, for though he's well favoured, good sooth. I like my gingerbread gilt.’
Belinda was a fairly good spy, though by no means an immaculate maid, but though in the Comte's confidence, she herself knew less of his movements than she imagined.
Meanwhile the two within stood for some slow-drawn moments silently contemplating each other. Then the visitor, removing his mask, which he cast from him with a gesture of disdain, displayed the familiar lineaments of Maurice O'Halleran, but the face Was pale and serious, the mouth firmly set, and the once kind eyes cold and grave. The sight of his uncovered face, as sadly but calmly he regarded her, restored Eleanor's self-possession, and advancing a step, she said in hard, even tones:
‘It is very good of you, Captain O'Halleran, to grant me this interview. You place me under great obligations. But be seated, I pray page 52 you,’ and she indicated a comfortable chair, which, however, he declined for one of stiffer make.
‘Pray speak not of obligation, madam, he said gravely. As a soldier and a gentleman I hope ever to be ready to assist the unfortunate.’
A flush mounted to her brow, but seeking to emulate his self-command, she replied.
‘Believe me. Captain O'Halleran, I would not have put you to this inconvenience, nor invited you into what may seem a false position, had I anyone else in whom to confide, any friend capable of assisting or advising me. As my letters would inform you my uncle is seriously ill, and while he remains so I am practically destitute. I have been so cruelly deceived that I know not where to turn or in whom to trust. From this application to yourself you may be well assured I have naturally shrunk, but my position becomes daily more unbearable, and I see no other way. You are too generous to triumph over me, and I know I can trust you to keep the affair secret until it is safe to take action.’
‘You wish your marriage annulled?’
‘It must be annulled if I am to retain my reason.’
‘I desire not to pry into your motives, but you have, of course sufficient grounds?’
‘Grounds enough, heaven knows, but no proofs, no witnesses. It is here you as a man of the world can aid me.’
‘You have not yet sought legal advice?’
‘I have not dared until sure of evidence lest the affair should get abroad. He has sworn to murder me in such an event; and besides.’ she added, I really have not the necessary funds. In this also you. I thought, could help me. You can understand. ‘she continued, with, a painful effort. how humiliating such an application must be to me, but I am fairly at bay. I have no other resource, and I cannot let slip my one chance t escape from any conventional notions of propriety, or even delicacy. I am appealing to you as any distressed female might to a generous-hearted man of the world, certain that what you would do for one unfortunate you cannot refuse to another.’
‘Pray do not pain yourself needlessly,’ he answered, moved by her evident distress. ‘I do not misjudge the motives of your application. Only let me know exactly in what I can serve you that no time may be lost in useless action.’
I commissioned my messenger to explain what evidence I thought would be regarded as sufficient grounds for a divorce, and also to mention my lack of funds. I thought you might perhaps borrow for me sufficient on the strength of my expectations from my uncle, but haste in the whole matter is imperative, because, should he die while this is pending—and his slate is critical—the Count will not leave me a page 53 farthing. He is utterly without conscience, and only waiting here in hope of my uncle's early decease. In that case he would realize what he could and leave the country, of that I am assured.
‘Have yon, then, no influence over him?’
‘None whatever. He has not a single generous quality, or even weakness to which I could appeal, and could only have married me for my money. He gets daily more impatient at my uncle's lingering, and if wishes could kill, would, I am sure, hasten the end. So you see how urgent is the need of haste, and will understand how I must have racked my brain in devising plans ere sending to you.’
‘If your fears have not exaggerated the danger, I regret you did not apply to me sooner. However, your letters were tolerably explicit, and your messenger more so, and between the two I think I have been enabled to secure what you require.’
‘Yes. Understanding that the need was urgent. I lost no time in getting to work.’
‘How can I ever thank you?’
‘Pray do not try. On your account it would be unwise to repeat this interview, and I wished to place in your own hands these documents. and as he spoke he drew from his breast a roll of papers. Here are details, easily substantiated, which can at once be placed in legal hands and also bank bills sufficient for the present. Should more be required your messenger knows where to find me. If I might advise, I should say, Go up to town to-morrow, and yourself instruct your attorney:’ and if you indeed fear bodily violence, remain there in quiet lodgings until the affair is decided. And now our interview has, I fear, already lasted too long. The need of secrecy makes circumspection necessary. ‘He stooped to lift his mask. This is a precaution peculiarly repugnant to me, but I suppose it is, as your letter suggested, an advisable one.’
‘I know how you must despise it—and me.’ she replied, her voice quivering, ‘but believe me. I would not have suggested it had I not I thought it desirable on your account as well as my own.’
‘Pray give yourself no uneasiness on my account,’ he replied, with just a tinge of bitterness. ‘My lot is not so happy that I should fear any risk to myself.’
They were standing vis-ú-vis, and near together, her troubled eyes—for all her height-upraised, for he was of grand proportions, The dark orbs had an appealing, timid look quite new to them, which touched his heart spite of his almost stoical self-control. He felt he should lose it if he looked at her long, so, hardening his voice:
‘Here are details, easily substantiated, which can at once be placed in legal hands, and also bank bill sufficient for the present.’
Her hands were clasped together, her white lips moved, her eyes were very wistful.
‘Say one kind word to me before you leave me—Maurice.’ she murmured, faintly.
He hesitated. She was naught to him now—naught. He had told himself so a thousand times. Faithless, if not fickle, she had passed out of his life. And yet, as he stood looking down upon her pleading, sorrow-stricken, yet still lovely face, he realized the truth of the wise man's declaration, ‘Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.’ Like a flood tender memories surged through his brain until his head reeled and his eyes swam.
‘Why could you not trust me?’
The words escaped his lips ere he knew. Hers parted in an anguished cry:
‘Oh, Maurice Maurice, my love, my darling, have I lost you for ever?’
‘Hush!’ he said, huskily. ‘Pray, pray, be calm. It was your own act.’
‘Yes, yes. I know,’ and she covered her face. ‘Yet, Maurice. I was deceived, imposed on.’
‘I thought you knew me better—Eleauor.’ His voice shook, and as he named her, took on, spite of himself, a tender tone:
‘Yearningly she looked up again. Maurice.’ His eyes alone replied.
‘We can never again be aught to each other, for I know you must despise me, but oh, my life. I love you more than ever! Will you, before we part, take me into your arms once again, and say one, just one, kind word?’
She was so near him, so wistful, so sad, and lately so dear. What could he do? His arms wound themselves about her. Close, close to his heart she was pressed; kisses rained upon her lips. For one or two delirious moments the world and anguish were forgotten, then from his sore heart came the cry, exceeding bitter:
‘Eleanor, my heart's darling, why, why could you not wait?’
The strain was too great to be prolonged. Asunder they must tear themselves, and for ever. Both felt that.
‘I must go, Eleanor.’
‘Yes,’ she replied faintly, his words sounding hollow in her ears and far away. ‘Yes; but, Maurice, I can bear it better now—bear all my trouble better now I know your heart is still mine,’
She reeled as the door closed, and caught at it for support, seeing nothing, hearing nothing for some moments of unutterable misery, during which the blackness of desolation overwhelmed her soul.
‘You are grievously afflicted, ma belle eponse, at the loss of your lover, or is it that he was not more eager, for. ma foi, a maid could not be coyer? My neighbour's wife should not woo me so warmly for naught, pardieu.’
She could not realise it at first, thought herself dreaming, but the mocking voice went on, the mocking tones she knew so well cutting their way to her already sufficiently wounded heart, and turning mechanically, she found herself face to face with her husband. He had been hidden away somewhere, in one of the oriel windows probably, behind the tapestry hangings, and had overheard everything. She felt he would kill her, felt also now that she did not care. All her spirit seemed to have fled, and her fear with it. Like one bent under a heavy weight she tottered to a chair, while her tormentor, with a wicked light in his eyes and a cruel smile, on his lips, watched without hindering her. He turned to the table on which Maurice had placed the papers.
'So, Madame, you would be divorced, and Monsieur le capitaine finds the evidence—and the money. C'est bieu. But I fear, ma belle dame, I must take the liberty of foiling your plans, since they interfere with my own. Von will permit me to glance at the documents. Ha! quite a collection, and one, two, five, ten. Ten bank bills of a hundred. One thousand pounds. Monsieur le Capitiane is generous, very, for a man without means. A nice little sum, and a true Godsend, for I am rather hard up at present. Lucky that for once I preferred my dear lady's chamber to a masquerade. I will take care of these papers. ma chere and spend this money for you, for as I cannot allow you to divorce me, and as you have probably not long to live, you certainly will not require, it. Meantime let me wish you good-night. You are fatigued. I see, and indisposed to conversation. An revoir ma belle. We shall resume the subject to-morrow.
Closing the door softly, he hastened downstairs and out through the main entrance. Then quickened his steps almost to a run until about half-way down the avenue he caught sight of a tall cloaked figure making with rapid strides for the gate.
Meantime. Eleanor sat as if paralyzed. She had spoken no word in response to his observations, uttered no objection to his taking the papers. Where he had gone now she knew not. cared not. Strange to say, it never once occurred to her that he would follow Maurice. If she thought of him at all it was as fingering the bank-notes, the money intended to purchase her freedom.