Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter III. An Unnatural Son—An Outrageous Proposal—A Vengeful Resolve
Chapter III. An Unnatural Son—An Outrageous Proposal—A Vengeful Resolve.
At nine precisely Jacques presented himself at the library door, his audacity undiminished. His master, now quite collected, but pale and stern, bade him lock it and approach the table at which he sat.
‘You made a statement this morning as to your parentage,’ began he, in hard cold tones. ‘If you can produce any documents in substantiation of that statement. I shall be glad to examine them.’
His manner was repellent, and he did not bid his hireling sit, but the latter, nowise disconcerted, placed upon the table a roll of papers, and drawing up a chair, took possession of it, saying airily:
‘Monsieur will, I trust, pardon the liberty.’
He did not pause for acquiescence, but, unfastening the tape, spread the papers out on the table before him, arranging them, apparently, in due order for presentation.
Bending his keen eyes upon the first document handed to him, Mr Radcliffe read it silently, its effect being observable only by a slight tremulousness of the fingers.
‘The marriage certificate of Roger Howard Radcliffe and Juanita Pentalengro. What more, sir?’
Another document was laid before him.
‘Ah, the birth certificate of Roger Pentalengro Radcliffe, their son, at Granada, Southern Spain. Well?’
‘I have the honour, Mons., with your permission, to lay claim to this agreeable relationship.’
‘Some further evidence than these two certificates will be necessary to prove it.’
‘Sans doute. As Mons, can see, the evidence is voluminous, and I am here to be catechised.’
‘How came those documents into your possession?’
‘They came to me from my maternal grandmother, Esmeralda Pentalengro, who, spite the changes of years, recognised you when you visited Spain last year.’
‘Where were you at that time?’
‘I was in France with my adoptive father,’
‘Your adoptive father?’
‘Yes. When twenty years ago, you inquired for the child you had left in Granada, you were told it was dead, partly out of revenge, partly page 14 because I had already been disposed of, for my grandmother had accepted a sum of money to abandon her interest in me. Fearing your vengeance, and in accomplishment of her own, she represented me as dead, but the proofs of my legitimacy she had given my guardian, in case they should ever be required. You failed to gain the information you sought last year, but you have ever since been under surveillance with the view of ascertaining your position and circumstances. The information obtained was, however, meagre. My guardian was, therefore, communicated with, with the result that I entered your service, my good English, acquired during a two years' sojourn with my foster father in this land of ice and fog, atoning for my supposed French birth. I undertook the duties of a menial cheerfully, that I might discover how best to avenge the memory of my murdered mother.’
‘You allude to Juanita Pentalengro?’
‘Juanita Pentalengro was not murdered.’ A red spot had come into either cheek, and Roger Radcliffe's deep set eyes glowed as he spoke excitedly.
A sardonic chuckle was the sole response.
‘She was not murdered, I tell you,’ he reiterated, rising and striding about the room. ‘Perfidious though she was, false as hell, she had lain on my breast, and I had no thought of avenging myself on her.’
‘Yet you flung her down the deepest crevasse in the Tyrol.’
‘How know you that?’ queried the other, pausing suddenly and catching his breath.
‘There was a witness.’
‘A witness? And whom, pray?’
‘Pierre le Loup.’
‘It was he then? It was that thrice-perjured villain who adopted you, and brought you up to believe a lie?’
‘It is he to whom I am indebted for more than a father's care. For the rest he is prepared to swear on the evangel.’
‘Ha! A case of blackmail, I see. Lookee, sir! I tell you again Juanita Pentalengro was not murdered! Her death was the result of pure accident.’
‘Mons. is doubtless prepared to prove that before the courts.’
‘The courts! Zounds, sir! Mean you to say that you, claiming to be my son, would bring this matter before a public tribunal?’
‘Mons. having married a Gitana must know that with our people revenge is the highest virtue. I have been reared for vengeance,’
‘Reared for vengeance! Upon your own father?’
‘For the death of my mother; yes.’
‘This man, this Pierre le Loup, he has reared you for vengeance?’
‘Precisely. You, Mons., robbed him of his companion, me of my page 15 mother. He might have speedily avenged his own wrongs, but that sacred duty he reserved for me.’
The cynical tone in which the words were uttered perplexed Roger Radcliffe, whose temper, though inflammable, was essentially generous. With knitted brows and a baffled expression he sat with eyes fixed on the other's face, upon which, it seemed to him, a mocking smile was dawning.
‘You talk of vengeance,’ he said presently, ‘and of wrongs. Is your moral sense quite perverted? See you not that it was I who suffered robbery and wrong? Is the man who ran off with my wife entitled to vengeance upon me for the accident which deprived him of her? Plague on't! Methinks such reasoning somewhat Jesuitical15.’
‘I seek not vengeance on Pierre le Loup's account, but on my own.’ replied the young man, and as he spoke an evil glitter appeared in his eye.
‘And what is the vengeance you have proposed to yourself?’
‘My foster-father is already in England. We propose to accuse you of the crime he witnessed, and leave you to atone for it on the scaffold, in accordance with English law.’
‘God in Heaven! and you thus calmly speak of the possible disgrace and execution of your own father!’ exclaimed Mr Radcliffe, revolted by the cold malignity of his new-found son.
‘The accident of my birth demands no gratitude, Mons., and I pretend to none. To me you have ever been but the murderer of my mother, whose death I have sworn to avenge.’
Again Mr Radcliffe paced the apartment. Re-seating himself after awhile he demanded in studiously composed accents.
‘The alternative? Let me hear it.’
‘I have mentioned none, Mons.’
‘Nevertheless an alternative there must be. Think again, sir.’
Jacques flushed slightly, then appeared to reflect, and presently with bland audacity said:
‘On one condition only, Mons., could I take the liberty of breaking my oath.’
‘It is this. That you publicly acknowledge me as your son and heir, with permission to solicit the hand of your niece, Mdlle. Eleanor.’
A horrified cry broke from Roger Radcliffe, upon whose brow great beads of perspiration suddenly appeared.
‘You know not what you ask,’ he presently articulated.
‘I know something of English exclusiveness, Mons., but the relationship will in any case soon be made public. It is for you to say if the scaffold shall end it.’
‘It is not that. It is not that, God knows,’ groaned the nabob. ‘I page 16 will recognize the relationship, and settle an ample income on you, if you agree afterwards to go abroad. But my niece you cannot marry.’
‘And wherefore not?’ demanded the other, insolently.
‘Because—in the first place her affections are already engaged’—A sneering laugh interrupted him.
‘A woman's affections are always transferable, Mons., as your own experience should teach you.’
With difficulty Roger Radcliffe repressed the impulse to strike the speaker's mouth, and for a few moments speech was impossible. Then with a painful feeling that he had a mocking fiend and not a human son to deal with, he resumed:
‘There are other and weightier reasons against such a union. Abandon the thought. I beg you, for in good sooth it is impossible.’
‘There is nothing impossible under the sun,’ replied Jacques, determinedly. ‘I love Mdlle., and the liberty to wed with her is an unalterable part of the alternative we spoke of just now.’
Again Roger Radcliffe paced the floor. Pausing at length by the young man's side, he placed a trembling hand on his shoulder.
‘Ask me,’ said he, in a shaky voice, ‘ask me anything but this. You mistake your sentiments. It is impossible that you can really care for one you have known so recently, and when I tell you that there is an insuperable barrier, that ought to be sufficient. Ask me anything else anything else.’
The other looked at him curiously, wondering what could possibly be the nature of the barrier of which he spoke. Then all at once his smouldering passion, fanned into a flame by opposition, broke the bounds of his artificial clamness, and flushing hotly:
‘Pardieu!’ he cried. ‘I care not what the barrier. Eleanor Radcliffe shall be mine, though heaven and hell oppose. Refuse your sanction, and when the scaffold ends your opposition, I'll carry her off by force.’
He ceased suddenly, for Mr Radcliffe had sunk into a chair and sat with his face buried in his hands. When at length he looked up he seemed all at once to have grown aged.
‘Once more I beseech you to abandon the thought. There are many fair maids in this country, and with my name and fortune you may make your choice. But Eleanor can never be yours.’
‘And wherefore not? I ask you again in the fiend's name?’
‘Because,’ and the haggard face approached his own, ‘Because she is your mother's child and mine.’
For a moment the self-contained young man seemed to lose his head, and in a dazed kind of way-he repeated, ‘your mother's child and mine.’ Then, his wits suddenly returning, he said:
‘Mdlle. Eleanor, then, is not my cousin?’
‘But my sister?’
He reflected, then leaning back in his chair laughed, a low, amused laugh, which jarred painfully upon the strained nerves of the older man.
‘Pardieu! I never heard that I was so fortunate as to possess a sister.’
‘Probably not. Your mother abandoned her infant to the care of a hireling, and I, fearing my father's displeasure if I owned my secret marriage, bestowed the child with my rights of primogeniture16 upon my childless brother. He has brought her up as his own, but the ties of nature can never be dissolved, and you see now how impossible was your proposal. Eleanor is a beautiful girl, and you have mistaken your natural admiration for sentiments of a different nature.’
‘Pardieu! I swear to you I have made no mistake, Mons. It is truly an affair of the heart, and what you tell me makes no difference.’
‘How sir?’ cried the outraged father. ‘Mean you to say you still entertain the same feelings?’
‘Exactly. And wherefore not? We were strangers until a week ago, despite the accident of common parentage, and she need never know that I am other than her cousin.’
Unutterably shocked, Mr Radcliffe sat awhile as if stupefied. At length he cried:
‘Zounds, sir! This is monstrous. It is against nature. You must surely be jesting!’
‘I am perfectly serious, I swear. Diable! Why is it monstrous! What makes it against nature? The ancients raised no such objections, and even the Bible, which is such a fetish with you Gentiles, records similar instances without disapproval. Moreover, you must know that however we gipsies may adapt ourselves to modern and Gentile conventionalities, they never weigh against our inclinations.’
‘But you have not been brought up as a gipsy, nor has Eleanor. Gentile customs must therefore bind you.’
‘Not necessarily, sir. For myself, I glory in my Romany blood, and will never be bound by Gentile usages.’
‘In this case, however, you must be, for the law would prohibit such a union, even could I sanction it.’
‘But in that case, Mons., the law would know nothing. Mdlle. passes as your niece, and the world need never be wiser.’
‘Lookee, sir. Say no more. Not to escape the gallows would I permit such iniquity. God's curse would rest upon such an alliance.’
‘Bah! Talk you of God to a gipsy? Know you not that we worship no God save our own desires? Such childish bugbears we leave to the slaves of Gentile superstitions.’page 18
A long and oppressive silence ensued, to be broken by Mr Radcliffe, whose voice, though low, had a decided ring.
‘As I have already said that is out of the question. But if you desire it. I will recognize you as my son, and settle an ample income upon you, on condition that you go abroad. Or, if more agreeable to you, I will, on your undertaking to keep these painful matters secret, give you at once five, ten, twenty thousand pounds to be used at your discretion.’
Resting his elbows on the table, the young man covered his face with both hands, and for some moments appeared to deliberate. Then, sitting back in his chair, with face and voice alike composed, he said:
‘Since you are determined, Mons., I must bow to your decision. But, as I may not approach Mdlle., I no longer desire recognition as your son.’
‘Then you will accept my other offer?’ queried the Nabob, his voice, spite of himself, quivering a little.
‘Upon reflection—yes, Mons. It will necessitate the breaking of an oath, but what is the value of an oath, aprés tout, when one fears neither God nor devil. With our people, after the pleasure of revenge comes that of love; then follows the desire of gold. Since the two former are denied me, I perforce fall back on the third. Twenty thousand pounds I think you said, Mons.’
‘Twenty thousand. Swear to me to keep all these affairs secret, and to-morrow night I shall place bills to that amount in your hands.’
‘C'est bien, Mons.’
‘And now you are at liberty to retire—to bed, if you wish, as I shall not need your services again to-night.’
‘C'est bien, Mons. I wish you a very good-night,’ and with unabashed front, the suddenly enriched valet de chambre bowed himself out.
But when he found himself in the secrecy of his own apartment, the mask fell off. His easy exterior became ruffled. Black clouds chased each other over a countenance distorted by passion. Removing the bandages from his injured hand, his eyes shot fire as he muttered. ‘Give her up? Abandon my revenge? Never, pardieu! Never! Never!! Never!!!’