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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter II. An Audacious Menial—Juanita Pentalengro—The Nabob's Appointment

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Chapter II. An Audacious Menial—Juanita Pentalengro—The Nabob's Appointment.

In less than a fortnight Radcliffe Hall was gay with visitors, and Eleanor Radcliffe's time so fully and pleasantly occupied that she had scarce leisure to remember, much less inclination to coquette with, her uncle's smooth-tongued valet. But it is easier to commit an indiscretion than to evade its consequences, and Mons. Jacques, whose audacious admiration her thoughtless fascinations had developed into a burning passion, had no intention of accepting his congé11, and slinking back into obscurity without the prize he coveted. True he had no actual claim upon the heiress, whose indiscretions consisted but of a too easy tolerance of his meaning looks, and the pleased acceptance of acts of service he was ever alert to render for the sake of the opportunities for chit-chat and insinuating compliment they afforded. All chances of this kind were now at an end. No longer was the young lady to be found lounging in garden seats, loitering by running streams, or striving in any way to kill time, which all at once seemed to fly only too fast, since every day brought nearer the end of Maurice O'Halleran's leave. No need now to get her uncle's valet to carry camp-stool or easel, or to gather for her the fruit she could not reach, for the handsome Irishman was ever at her side ready to anticipate her lightest wish, and in his agreeable society past flirtations and former admirers were alike forgotten.

A riding party had been arranged for the day preceding his departure, and by common consent he was left, as the others filed out of the court yard, to attend Mistress Eleanor. Upon the steps of an old-fashioned porch stood such of the seniors as felt disinclined for horse-exercise. About the spacious court still loitered the grooms and others who had been attending to the horses. Among them, with lowering brow, stood Jacques, his eyes fixed upon the heiress, whose perfect form showed to advantage as she sat like a queen upon a spirited bay, sleek and glossy, and eager for the road. In her pleasant preoccupation she was unconscious of his proximity, as he noted with internal bitterness.

‘Jacques, thou art a fool!’ said a voice in his brain, ‘else thou, too, would'st have bestridden a steed in this gay company. Diable!12 Where are the wits on which thou pridest thyself? Come, man, rouse thee, “faint heart never won fair lady.”’ A sardonic smile broke over his face, and sauntering through the yard he placed himself a little aside in the broad avenue.

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‘Pardon, Mdlle.,’ he said, saluting, as the lovers were about to pass him. ‘May I supplicate the honour of a word with you?’

Captain O'Halleran stared, and Eleanor seemed for a moment embarrassed. Then somewhat haughtily she replied: ‘Say on, Mons. Jacques.’

The valet cast a peculiar glance at the officer, who, reddening said,

‘I will await you a few paces further on, Miss Radcliffe,’ and wondering what the man could have to say to her in private, he went forward.

‘Hold, Capt. O'Halleran!’ called she, recovering presence of mind. ‘My uncle's valet can have naught to say to me that you may not hear.’ But the Captain had got beyond earshot, and chagrined excessively, she exclaimed.

‘Saucy knave! Thy request is ill-timed.’

A smart cut sent her horse bounding onward, but Jacques, stung into imprudence by her contemptuous words held to the rein so firmly that the animal swerved violently, and the heiress of Radcliffe was within an ace of being unseated.

Capt. O'Halleran, turning at the moment, caught sight of the valet's action, and for an instant his brain reeled at the peril of his enchantress. Then, his Irish blood taking fire, he spurred to the spot, and, without an instant's reflection, brought his whip down with stinging force upon the minion's detaining hand. Paralyzed by the blow, the limp fingers unclosed, and before the owner had time to recover, both horses were cantering down the avenue.

So quickly had the incident passed that it was only partially observed by the bystanders, and not at all understood save by Mr Roger Radcliffe, who, beside himself with fury, strode to the spot and confronted his henchman, just as, muttering maledictions, that functionary turned to re-enter the court.

‘How dared you, sir?’ roared the excited nabob, belabouring him with his cane. ‘How dared you touch my niece's bridle? Zounds! You might have killed her. What—what means this insolence, sirrah?’ His latter words were hoarse with passion, for his servant had dexterous caught the descending cane, and twisting it out of his grasp, sent it flying into the shrubbery.

‘What means it?’ hissed the valet, fiercely. ‘It means this, Mons. Radcliffe, that you have blood enough on your hands without shedding mine.’

The purple face blanched suddenly, the anger-swollen muscles contracted, and the small restless eyes turned sharply upon those of the audacious menial.

‘How dare you, sir?’ he said again, this time in lower accents. ‘How dare you use such words to me? Of what speak you?’

Murder!’ replied the other, incisively.

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A spasm passed over the rigid features, but with a strong effort at self-command, for his servant was insolently calm, Mr Radcliffe exclaimed, sneeringly:

‘In good sooth! And whose, pray?’

The valet brought his face to close quarters, and looking steadily into his master's eyes, replied quietly,

Juanita Pentalengro's.’

The white face became ashen, the nabob caught his breath and reeled, but recovering by a strong effort, he whispered, hoarsely

‘Who speaks of Juanita Pentalengro?’

‘Her son,’ replied the valet, without moving a muscle.

All that human lineaments could express of horrified amazement, mingled with incredulity, was pourtrayed in the nabob's livid countenance. The valet, however, stood as before, coolly self-possessed, with glittering eyes, and face set in hard lines. At length the elder man found voice.

‘Liar! Juanita Pentalengro had but one son, and he is dead.’

His articulation was husky, but clearly enough came the reply.

‘You were misled. I am he, as my papers will prove.’

‘Produce those papers.’

‘Pardon, Mons. This is scarcely a suitable place.’

‘Ha! Come to the library at nine this evening. Meanwhile, silence is golden, remember.’

And wheeling about, the old gentleman recrossed the yard with a step all at once become uncertain, and scarce noticing the various figures grouped around, sought his own apartment, and throwing himself into an easy chair, sat staring straight before him, seeing naught but the visions conjured up by the unexpected assertions of his valet de chambre.

Meanwhile, that self-contained young man lounged down the avenue, not caring at that moment to encounter the jibes of such of his fellow-servants as had seen his chastisement.

‘Ay, silence is golden, mon ami,’ he muttered, ‘et pardieu! speech also shall be golden, or I deceive myself.’

Then raising his right hand—a particularly well-formed one—across the back of which extended the broad imprint of Captain O'Halleran's whip in a livid wale, he ground his teeth, hissing:

Sacre! Thy heart's blood, my fine Irelandais, shall wipe out this insult.’

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Brought his whip down with stinging force on the minion's detaining hand.

Brought his whip down with stinging force on the minion's detaining hand.

11 Unceremonious dismissal.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

12 Devil.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]