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Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge

Chapter VI. The Heiress at Home—Floral Tributes—Miss Tabitha's Romance—the Lovers

Chapter VI. The Heiress at Home—Floral Tributes—Miss Tabitha's Romance—the Lovers.

In a handsomely-furnished morning-room within a sumptuous mansion in Soho Square, two ladies sat before their embroidery-frames, their attitudes sufficiently betokening their diverse dispositions. The elder—lean visaged, thin-lipped, with long-drawn limbs, and bright, dark, yet cold small eyes—sat bolt upright in a low-seated, high-backed chair, industriously plying her needle, every now and again pausing to inhale the fragrance emitted by an elegant nosegay placed on an antique stand beside her. The younger—in the full glow of warm, voluptuous beauty—lounged indolently in a chair of easier form, her dainty slippered feet extended well in front, and her well-poised head resting negligently against her hands clasped behind it, the pose displaying to the elbow her lovely arms. Her embroidery frame was quite beyond page 29 her reach as she sat, and she seemed to have no immediate intention of bringing it and herself into closer proximity.

‘How extremely polite of the Comte to send these delicious exotics this morning,’ remarked the elder lady in somewhat high-pitched tones, sniffing for the hundredth time at the flowers beside her. ‘Such a delicate way of showing attention.’

‘Good sooth, then, Mistress Tabitha,’ replied Eleanor Radcliffe, ‘to me the act savoureth somewhat freedom on the part of Mons, le Comte, seeing that we only made his acquaintanee yester-eve.’

‘My dear cousin,’ said Miss Tabitha, who invariably thus addressed her charge, despite the latter's persistently formal treatment of herself, ‘it is that very fact which gives the act its value. One expects little attentions from one's friends—although, alack! often in vain. Had Captain O'Halleran sent you those flowers, for instance,’ and she glanced at another exquisite bouquet set on an oaken cabinet at the further end of the apartment, ‘twould have been naught surprising, but as the offering of one hitherto a stranger it is a delicate, and indeed I may say, a very significant compliment.’

Eleanor flushed to the temples as her companion named her lover, but without other indication of disturbance, answered haughtily:

‘Captain O'Halleran is, I ween, too familiar with my uncle's conservatory to imagine I need floral gifts. As for this French count, I dare be sworn he thinks us as accessible to flattery as his own country-women.’

‘My dear cousin, when you have had more experience of the world you will judge less hastily. 'Twas my good fortune yesternight to enjoy a long and most agreeable conversation with Monsieur, whom I found as superior in mind as polished in manners; in fact, all that a true courtier should be, and I am not without experience, my dear, for as you are aware, I mingled in Court society before the sad event which clouded my young life.’

Mistress Tabitha here applied a broidered kerchief to her small eyes, and her needlework was temporarily suspended. Finding, however, that her emotion produced no effect upon the young girl, she resumed operations, and with a touch of spite in her voice, continued:

‘Mayhap, my dear cousin, it was scarce reasonable to hint that these refined attentions should come from Captain O'Halleran, for, albeit he is your betrothed, yet in good sooth he comes of a barbarous race.’

Eleanor laughed. ‘Your antipathy, Mistress Tabitha, must needs come out. How have the sons or daughters of Green Erin offended you, that you thus detest them? Come, I am curious to know. Prithee, beguile with the story the tedium of this dreary morning. I am expiring of ennui.’

‘Nay, then, my sweet coz,’ answered the elder lady, whose im- page 30 pecuniosity did not allow her to take offence at any speech of her wilful charge. ‘If you are thus fatigued after a week's junketing how are you to support a whole season?’

‘Good sooth. I am less weary than bored, Mistress Tabitha. But to the story. Have I not heard you say your youth held a romance? That it was in some way connected with Ireland, I doubt not. Prithee tell it me.’

‘Alackaday! you are right, my dear cousin. All the deprivations of my life, all the afflictions of a too sensitive heart, I owe to that detestable land and uncivilized people.’

‘Uncivilized! Fie. Mistress Tabitha! I have heard say Ireland was a seat of learning and civilization when England was a country of barbarians.’

‘Chut! child. It has always been savage. Have not its wretched inhabitants perpetually obliged England to shed her best blood and treasure to keep them in subjection ever since the conquest—of Strongbow and de Lacy25 I mean—instead of submitting quietly and obeying their masters?’

‘Marry, then, I honour them for it. They would have been craven indeed had they meekly submitted to pillage and oppression.’

‘Methinks, my dear cousin, such language is treasonable, and scarce becoming in an English gentlewoman. Let not, I pray you, your fealty to your lover impair that which you owe His Majesty.’

‘Fear not, Mistress Tabitha, but the story, the story. In what way is the Green Isle responsible for your afflictions?’

‘My dear cousin, that I am still Miss Tabitha; that I am forced to feed my grief on the memory of brighter days; that I am dependent for social pleasures on the kindness of friends, I owe to the savages of that lawless land. I should now be a titled personage, a leader of ton, a dispenser, not a receiver of favours, had not my cousin, to whom I was betrothed, been sent with his regiment to keep the ever rebellious Irish in order. For his services to his king and country he was rewarded with an Irish estate forfeited by an arch traitor with an outlandish name; and—it will appear incredible, my dear—but this evicted wretch, this degraded outcast assembled a multitude of his savage adherents, and—God is my witness—they attacked my brave Rupert on his own property, the free gift of his grateful sovereign, and plunging their gory pikes into his innocent breast, left him weltering in his blood. Oh, the vile wretches! the wolves! the Mohocks24!’ and Mistress Tabitha with a tragic little scream buried her acidulated countenance in the folds of her perfumed kerchief.

‘Now, my dear cousin,’ she added, after waiting in vain for some token of sympathy from her young companion, who seemed lost in unusual reverie, ‘now you know why can never hear an Irish name page 31 without a shudder, nor see one of that murderous race—I allude, of course, to the native Irish—without a feeling of repulsion.’

Before Eleanor could resolve upon her reply, the door opened, and the waiting wench announced, ‘Captain O'Halleran.’

At his appearance Eleanor uttered a joyous cry, while her companion, stiffening as under the influence of some affront, bestowed upon him a profound but icy bow, and gathering herself up, begged with frigid politeness to be excused, then turning as on a pivot, talked out of the room.

‘Arrah, thin, Nelly, asthore26! Is it cutting poor Tabby's claws you've been this fine morning, that she looks so cutting at me?’

‘Whisha27! Maurice, mavourneen28,’ laughed Eleanor, falling into his mood, and imitating the brogue which he assumed at pleasure, ‘or I'll have to cut them, for she likes you not, and should she overhear, might talon you in good earnest.’

‘Faith, thin, I believe if she did I'd shew the white feather, for sure the very sight of her nigh turns me blood to wather. I wonder, now, was she ever young and good-looking at all.’

‘Sooth, then, she may have been, Maurice, for if her story be not, wholly a myth, she once had a lover.’

‘A lover! Had she e'er a lover? Faith, thin, he was a bold man that stood up to Miss Tabby, the crathur29! Holy Mother! I'd as soon be embraced by a snake meself.’

And with a shrug and grimace at the door by which the severe spinster had departed, the captain turned, and as if to solace himself for a thought which made him shudder, lifted Eleanor's dimpled arms and placing them about his neck held the owner for some minutes in a fervid embrace, which, truth to say, she did not struggle much to a avoid. But as lover's anties are not invariably entertaining to outsiders, we here drop the curtain and leave the pair for a while to their dalliance, returning, however, in time to hear some concluding remarks.

The young people are seated on a low couch, by no means as far asunder as the poles, and the damsel is speaking.

‘You have no alternative, then, Maurice?’

‘No, Nelly, mavourneen. I must return for a few months, until Fitz is ready to step into my shoes. Then, be sure. I'll fly back on the wings of the wind.’

‘And then we go abroad?’

‘Directly we're married, mavourneen. You won't keep me waiting when the time comes?’

‘I've half a mind to,’ she answered with a rippling laugh, her fan tapping his cheek gently. ‘This running away is scurvy treatment, just at the beginning of the season too.’

‘Faith, it's hard upon myself too, Nelly, asthore, for indeed every page 32 hour I spend away from you is like a week. But sure you can't know what is in a man's heart for the colleen30 he loves.’

‘Oh, that I could see into your heart, Maurice. Are you sure you love me truly. Look into my eyes and tell me what I am to you.’

Tenderly complying, his lips quivered slightly as he murmured, ‘Acushla agus asthore machree.’*

The girl trembled. Her eyelids drooped until her long silken lashes rested on her glowing cheek, and sighing happily she sank upon his breast.

‘Mavourneen,’ she whispered, ‘how I love your sweet language! And you will always, always be true?’

‘Always, mavourneen. Think you I could be false to you?’

‘I know not, Maurice. Men are so inconstant.’

‘Nay, then, mavourneen, it isn't always the men. And sure, I never think you could be false.’

His voice had a pained tone which touched her with self reproach. Winding her arms about his neck she pulled down his face and kissing him voluntarily, murmured:

‘There, there, Maurice, asthore, 'tis only my love that speaks. I couldn't be false to you, but I fear, oh I fear to lose you. Maurice!’ And she started up with white face and dilated eyes. ‘If I were to lose you, I believe I should go mad. If you should be false to me I would kill you. But what am I saying?’ for Maurice looked both astonished and troubled. ‘You will not be false, and—I could not hurt you, my own, my beloved.’

25 The event being referred to is regarding a deposed Irish king, Dermot MacMurrough, who went to England to ask Henry II for permission to raise troops from among his subjects. In return for serving with MacMurrough the troops would be rewarded with land and bounty. One of MacMurrough’s first allies was Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow. MacMurrough gave Strongbow his daughter Aoife to be his wife. The alliance was successful and MacMurrough gained back his former power. After MacMurrough’s death, and after battles to contest Strongbow’s claim for the throne, which Strongbow successfully won, he became the most powerful man in Ireland. Hugh de Lacy was sent to Ireland by Henry II to assert British royal power and perhaps more importantly to keep Strongbow under control (Cronin 2001).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

24 Referring to a class of aristocratic ruffians infesting London streets at night in the 18th century.

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

26 Darling, my dear, my love (Dolan 10).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

27 Indeed; well (Dolan 255).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

28 My dear one (Dolan 151).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

29 Creature (Dolan 65).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

30 Girl, maiden (Dolan 41).

[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]

* The very pulse and delight of my heart.