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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter XL. A Restless Sleeper—Arnaud's Transformation—Raising the Devil—Revenge And Retribution

Chapter XL. A Restless Sleeper—Arnaud's Transformation—Raising the Devil—Revenge And Retribution.

While the mysterious being so long familiar to us as Arnaud completes his toilet, let us go before and ferret out the lair, where, like a beaten hound, the object of his hate—now only known as Toto (blood)—slinks away from the sight of men.

In the midst of the scrub growing thickly in the outskirts of the pa, a portion of an abandoned hut of the meaner sort uprears its dilapidated thatch; the walls have vanished, but the centre post still supports the fragment of the roof, which, however, would afford but sorry protection in case of rain. But the season is summer, and the region warm; the miserable inmate, therefore, who lies coiled up in a corner, sunk in uneasy slumber, suffers little by reason of the elements; but if the restless movements of his half-naked limbs, his ceaseless mutterings, and occasional outcries are any guide, he does not lie on a bed of roses.

The moon is nearing the horizon, and through the ragged thatch and between the sprays of the surrounding scrub its light streams in almost level rays, while every stem and twig sends forward black elongated shadows, which, in the utter stillness and lonesomeness of the place are weird enough, but they trouble not the solitary dreamer, who, despite his restless ravings, slumbers heavily. His attitude is one of much discomfort, for his hands, labour roughened and terribly deformed, are tied behind him, and from a flaxen waist-belt depends a rope by which he is fastened to a log of wood. He is a refractory slave, and his new page 187 masters scarce think him worth the trouble he gives them. His hands are bound to prevent his carrying food to his mouth with them, and the log, though not so heavy as altogether to prevent movement, yet effectually debars his wandering far from the spot appropriated to him, he having been proved a rather troublesome vagrant.

All at once a moonray, darting aslant, lights up his weather beaten face, and he stirs as though it hurt him. He has changed indeed; the knitted brows frown heavily, the unkempt locks give him a savage aspect, a thick untrimmed moustache falls over sullen lips, and his whole expression, even in sleep, is one of brutal ferocity.

Just as the vagrant moonbeam reaches his eyes, a whistling, whispering, unearthly voice, sounding somewhere in the clouds, penetrate through the deep silence.

‘Jacques le Blanc!’ it cries, and at the word the sleeper starts, and a shiver passes through him.

‘Jacques le Blanc!’ The voice sounds nearer, but its tone is unaltered. He is wide awake now, but strives to hide his face, and keep eyelids down.

‘Jacques le Blanc. Murderer rise, thy victim awaits thee.’ Vain are his attempts at resistance. Trembling from head to foot, he sits up mechanically, with wide open eyes directed straight before him.

But instead of the apparition he dreads, there in the little clearing before the whare stands Arnaud, his late valet, attired, as usual for years past, in a soft falling Maori mat. His snowy peruke glistens in the moonlight, but a spray of manuka shadows his face.

Perplexed at his appearance, the half-crazed Toto eyes him wonderingly, and as he does so there bursts on his ears the sound of laughter, the shrill malignant laughter which has so often chilled his blood.

‘H—ha! Ha—ha—ha!’ Then plainly from the lips of the valet.

‘Well, Jacques le Blanc. You did not expect in me it seems.’

Puzzled, irritated, and still trembling, the wretched creature, blurting out a string of curses, bids his tormentor begone to a warmer locality, But, laughing bitterly, the latter jeers at his futile rage, and taunts him with his impotent debasement.

‘Your words are fierce. Monsieur Toto. Ha, ha! Burst your bonds then, and lead the way. You ought to know it. Break the bars of your cage, this pretty cage which I have brought you to, and seek the internal fires already lit for you. Maybe there you will find untroubled sleep. Ha, ha!’ then with a variation of tone: ‘Times have changed, Monsieur, and we also. I am not what I was, and you? Is it possible that you, foul, filthy creature, are the same person who once flaunted the borrowed plumes of French nobility, and afterwards paraded your ill-gotten gains as Monsieur d'Estrelles? Is it possible that you, leprous wretch, whose touch, is pollution, are the elegant trifler who wooed with page 188 a lie, and won by fraud the hapless woman you swore at God's altar to protect, and afterwards sought to murder. Ay, start, defeated monster! You sought to murder her, but Eleanor Radcliffe is not dead. Ha, ha! Vain fool! The gipsy mother tricked you! Your subtle poison was a harmless drug, and Eleanor Radcliffe recovered—to haunt your after life—to compass your ruin, to bring you to what you are! Ha, Ha! Infatuated simpleton! secure in your self conceit, you little dreamed the valet Arnaud was the woman you had so foully wronged. Impostor! Thief! Murderer! Your victim stands before you,’ and casting off mat and wig, the pseudo valet stood revealed none other than the heiress of Radcliffe, arrayed in flowing robes of white, with jetty hair tumbling over her shoulders, as in the hour of her attempted destruction.

‘Say now, Jacques le Blanc.’—and she bent over him like an avenging fury—‘say now if Maurice O'Halleran be not avenged?’

It was indeed Eleanor Radcliffe, but how changed. The roundness had for ever left her limbs, her beauty was hopelessly marred, her voice had lost its sweetness, the once alluring sparkle of her eyes had become a snaky glitter, and naught but her luxuriant hair and supple movement remained to prove her right to the gown she wore, the broidered robe brought by Roger Radcliffe from India.

But the man who had wronged her had changed no less, and still another change was passing over him as the woman he had thought dead, the woman whose wraith had haunted him, as he supposed, revealed her identity. Some portion of the mental faculty he once possessed, a brief flash of his nearly obliterated reason returned, and withal a slyness born of his developing lunacy—for during the last few days he had been hovering on the verge. He had been tricked all through, then. This woman he had thought to destroy—how unutterably he hated her—this woman had played the impostor in her turn. She had brought him to this pass, and now stood before him exulting in her hellish work. He did not doubt a word she had uttered. How it had all come about he never considered, enough that he had been done, beaten in his own line. He asked no questions, but sat looking at her, with his back turned to the down-sinking moon, and his face in deep shadow. Perhaps, could she have seen its expression—strangely compounded—fierce intelligence mingled with fiendish cunning and malignant resolve, she might have hesitated ere goading him further. But she saw only a tethered, half crazy slave, crouching low, as though cowering under her accusing words, and only regretted that his stolidity deprived them of half their sting; she would fain have made every one a red hot skewer wherewith to pierce his perjured soul. Why had she delayed so long? He seemed scarcely to comprehend. One more attempt to probe his brutish immobility, and then away for the dawn, was at hand. She caught up a pole lying near, and touched him with it.

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Do you hear me, devil! or are you become deaf and dumb as well as crippled? Ha, ha! Where are the shapely hands, Monsieur, of which you were so vain? Have you forgotten Pierre rouge and your swing together! ‘Twas, I, Jacques le Blanc, who planned it all. I. Eleanor Radcliffe, whose lover you slew. It was part of my Utu. Do you hear me, devil?’

Deceived by his silence and seeming stolidity she had gradually drawn nearer, and, as she uttered the last words, gave him a rather sharp prod in the ribs. But he had heard all her utterances, understood all they implied, and though he had kept quiet, fever burned in his blood, the fever of madness. He was nearly suffocating with the intensity of his pent-up passion; it shook him like a leaf, and grew with restraint. He felt within him the raging of a wild beast ready to devour. This woman who had haunted him like a curse—she had escaped him once—he would kill her now. Ay, kill, Kill, Kill, her! Some imp was screaming the words in his seething brain, but gnawing his nether lip, he held himself back till she approached and poked him in the ribs. Then with an instantaneous leap ere she could cast the pole from her, let alone turn and flee, he had sprung to his feet, and bursting his bonds as easily as did Samson the new ropes of the Philistines, launched himself upon her, and clasping his crooked fingers about her throat, held her at the point of strangulation, while hoarsely screaming ‘Utu! Utu!! Utu!!!’ he shook her with the savage joy of a sportive hyena. His attack was so sudden, so unexpected, that she had not a chance to escape, and as she caught the lurid lightning of his eye, and felt his rough knuckles pressing her slender throat, she knew herself lost. Yet in five short minutes the kaka cry would arouse the hapu. Even now the light was rosier, oh, that the sun would appear! She struggled wildly, for much as she courted death she had no wish to perish thus: but she struggled in vain. There was no escaping the clutch of the devil she had herself evoked. Her eyeballs were bursting, her little force exhausted; but all at once a thought flashed through the maniac's brain, and he laughed gleefully. Releasing her throat he caught the tresses of her hair as she sank to the earth, and twisting them into a coil set his foot upon it, while he freed himself from the log to which he was bound. Then with a succession of awful screeches he again seized her twisted locks, and with her limp form dragging at his in heels, sprang away through the manuka, just as the shrill notes of the kaka resounded from the neighbouring woods.

Drawn from their whares by the reverberating yells of the now furious maniac, the natives came trooping out to ascertain the cause, but their wondering eyes only saw, bounding through the scrub, a distant sun-bronzed figure with something white fluttering behind him, while on the soft morning breeze floated cries of utu! utu!! Utu!!! mingled with page 190 screams of diabolical laughter. Moved by uncontrollable curiosity the whole hapu streamed in pursuit, but the flying figure had already secured a good distance, and spite of the weight he dragged behind him, bade fair to outstrip his pursuers.

Straight across country, on and on, towards the lakelet Roto Kawau143, like a hunted antelope he bounded, jerking fiercely his hapless captive, who, more than half strangled, torn and scratched by the rough scrub, bruised from head to foot, and with her muslin raiment hanging in shreds, had fainted from pain and horror. Before him stretched a low ridge of fern-clad hills gently rounded, their summits gleaming in the now risen sun, and beyond them vaporous clouds rising softly lost themselves in upper air. At the foot of the ridge he paused, and looking back at the pursuing natives, beckoned to them wildly, at the same time emitting peal after peal of discordant laughter.

‘Come on, brown devils, and see the show. A glorious spectacle, ha, ha, ha! A witch's dance, a witch's doom. Ha, ha, ha! Come on, come on’

Then once more seizing the unconscious form lying at his feet, he swung it over his shoulder with ease, for it was no great weight, and he was nerved with insane energy. Up and up, the wondering natives gaining on him now, for they had recognized him and were wildly curious to know what he was after. At the top of the ridge he again stood still, and laying his burden down waved his arms and screamed with maniacal delight at the awful desolation of the valley beneath him. Then, as if he had received a fresh impetus, with a shrill-resounding whoop he dashed down and away with eager haste to the bottom, once more leaving his followers far in the rear. As by common instinct, they too paused on the top of the ridge, watching with horrified eyes his impetuous descent.

It was now broad day, and though the sun was not high enough to pour his direct rays into the vale below them, there was ample light to reveal its unique horrors. The surrounding scenery was fair as wooded hills and ferny hollows, sapphire skies and varied greenery could make it; but the hollow they looked down upon in wide-mouthed, silence might have been the very gate of hell, so truly appalling was its aspect. Black as the fabled Styx, from countless pools of boiling mud and inky water rolled up sulphurous clouds, which brooded, like a suffocating pall, over the entire valley; from which arose frightful sounds, hissing, seething, spluttering, roaring, as though legions of devils were engaged in hellish conflict. In the larger caldrons the noise and fury were terrific, the eddying waters lashed into foam, boiling up in central cones which shot out furious jets to descend in black rain, while between the raging pools the thin mud crust trembled with the violence of the surging horrors it concealed.

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At the base of the ridge the madman again set down his burden, and then it was apparent that the figure, whose identity had perplexed the awe-struck natives, was no longer inert. Sensibility was just returning, and with gasping sighs the self-constituted avenger of blood turned her bewildered eyes upon the wolf she had brought to bay. He laughed with immoderate glee at her revival, yelling: ‘Ha, ha, ha! lovely lady. You are just in time. This’—and, as fully aroused by his appalling tones she tottered to her feet, he indicated with a wave of his hand the black and blasted vale—‘This is the new Ranelagh144, designed by my friend Lucifer in honour of our nuptials. Permit me, sweet bride, to lead you out. What?—art coy, fair Eleanor?’—for recoiling, she tried to repulse his encircling arm. ‘Nay, then’—and he seized her with no gentle clasp—-‘'tis ours to-day to lead the revel. Come, trip it, sweet. Can you resist such music? Ha, ha, ha! 'Tis the song of the damned, a symphony of lost souls. It stirs my blood, and fires my brain! Hark! How lively they are, those swarming devils, how they hiss and splutter, like cats on the warpath! Ha, ha, ha! Come, beauty's queen, we shall be late, we are losing the revelry. Come.’

Futile were her struggles, as with tightening clasp he drew her onward; vain her hoarse agonized appeals to the petrified crowd on the rise of the hill, none of whom dared venture upon the treacherous soil over which the shouting madman whirled her in widening circles, yelling, whooping, shrieking with, mad laughter, in full career for the most awful of the horrible pits yawning around them. Its surface was obscured by sulphurous vapour, which, now and again lifted or blown aside, revealed brief glimpses of a swirling, whirling, raging maelstrom, whose black gurgling waters, swelling and foaming and lashing their encircling walls, seemed bent on breaking bounds, and filled every ordinary beholder with silent awe at their appalling fury. Straight for Huritini145, the most dreadful of the dismal springs of Tikitere146, the maniac flew, twirling his breathless, already half-dead partner in a wild waltz which threatened at every bound to break through the fragile crust beneath their feet. But no such accident occurred to give the victim a chance of avoiding or averting the final catastrophe. Panting for revenge, in his madness only dreaming of Utu, on to her doom he hurried her, and, arrived at the caldron's edge, with a demoniacal howl which drowned her agonized shriek, he plunged with her over the brink, while from the assembled hapu on the hill went up a united long-drawn sigh like the sough of the winter wind.

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143 A small lake approximately 3kms south of Lake Rotoiti.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

144 Ranelagh Gardens was a popular pleasure garden just outside London in the eighteenth century.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

145 One of the boiling hot pools of Rotorua. This pool is named for a Māori princess who threw herself in the pool after being mistreated by her husband.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

146 A thermal area near Rotorua, location of the Huritini hot pool.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]