Utu: A Story of Love, Hate and Revenge
Chapter IX. A Mere Bagatelle—for Weal or Woe—The Bridal Tour
Chapter IX. A Mere Bagatelle—for Weal or Woe—The Bridal Tour.
‘My niece's happiness is with me the first consideration, Count. She is, I may tell you, her own mistress absolutely. But, were the case different. I should not seek to control her in a matter of such moment.’
The speaker was Mr Radcliffe, with whom, on the morrow after Lady Teazle's drum the Comte de Pignerolles was closeted in the library.
‘You are doubtless aware,’ he went on, ‘that a kind of engagement has subsisted betwixt her and the son of an old friend of my brother. If my niece finds your fascinations superior to his, I can only be thankful that she met you before her fate was irrevocably fixed. Her referring you to me is a mere matter of form, as she is well aware that whatever preferences I may have I could never seek to bar her way to happiness. If, therefore, you have her consent. I shall certainly not withhold mine.’
‘A thousand thanks, Monsieur. Language fails me in which to express my obligation, for I do assure you on the faith of a gentleman such is my devotion to your lovely niece that your refusal would have made me miserable for life; and she half feared your disapproval, which, so great is her affection for you, would have made our union impossible. As for the semi-engagement you have named that is a mere bagatelle44. Mdlle, was, I understand, allowed to contract it before she had seen the world, or learned rightly to estimate her own transcendant charms. You will permit me to say, Monsieur, that the idea of her splendid beauty being interred in some obscure Irish bog, her lovely form at the mercy of a barbarous what you call—Paddy, is truly revolting. Ma foi! It gives me the horrors to think of it.’ And with an exaggerated grimace, the oily-tongued foreigner shrugged his shoulders, and helping himself to an expostulatory pinch of snuff, daintily dusted his fingers in air, while an indefinable mistrust stole over the mind of Mr. Horace.
* * * * * * * * *
Within a fortnight all was bustle and preparation at Radcliffe Hall, for both the bride to be and her uncle wished the marriage to be solemnized in the parish church, and the family had come page 42 home for the ceremony. In a few days the petted beauty, lately become tryingly variable in her humours, would have vowed obedience to a man whom, spite of his obsequious attentions and honeyed phraseology, she in her heart detested. She had accepted him merely as a stop gap, a shield from the malice of spiteful tongues, and though when with him she tried feebly to keep up the mimicry of love, in his absence she execrated him and her false knight together. Since her return she had spent much of her time in the gipsy's dwelling, from which, on her wedding eve, she, at the close of a long interview, returned to the hall with a decided step, and inscrutable aspect.
‘Recollect. miri due,’ she had said at parting, ‘No violence must be used. Follow him wherever he goes, but leave the rest to me.’
A brave wedding was that for which the bells rang out merrily on the ensuing day. But there were those amongst the crowded congregation who discounted knowingly the expression of the bridegroom's dark, handsome face.
‘Miss Radcliffe has found her master, if I'm any judge of physiognomy45,’ whispered Dame Blessington to her neighbour, behind shelter of her fan.
‘Let us hope so,’ responded the other. ‘Her pride needs humbling, Heaven witness.’
‘Happen Miss Eleanor knows best,’ wheezeed an old granny among the more humble spectators, ‘nathless I like not that furriner's jowl. He be a masterful man, he be.’
Eleanor had never looked more proudly beautiful than on this, the last day of her maiden freedom, and alas! the last also of her peace of mind. She had herself a vague but obtrusive consciousness that she was bidding adieu to happiness, but her resolution never wavered, and reckless of her fate, she went steadily on to it. Sleep had not visited her eyes during that last night, and she rose pale as a statue, and not unlike one in her chill unresponsiveness. In silent hauteur she submitted to Miss Tabitha's effusive embraces, and quite unmoved turned a cold cheek to her troubled uncle's affectionate salute. In church, however, she showed no signs of unrest. He manner might have been a trifle automatic, but her eyes were never brighter, her bloom never richer, than when in a clear cold voice—sounding in her own ears strangely distant, like a far off knell—she spoke the fateful words, which, for weal or woe, linked her lot to that of the man by her side.
The service ended, the congratulations over, her new-made husband—into whose close-set eyes had crept a gleam of sinister rejoicing—led her from the sacred edifice. Proudly Eleanor faced the large congregation, for the old church was literally crammed with gentle and simple folk, drawn together by a common interest in what was to page 43 them a very uncommon wedding. The sea of faces before her blended together, she saw not one clearly. But suddenly, as they moved slowly down the aisle, a figure at the further end, standing in the warm light of a stained window, attracted her eyes as by some subtle power. He was closely surrounded, but to her vision he appeared limned out distinct from the rest. Travel worn and dusty he stood, apparently unconscious of the bedizened46 crowd about him, his eyes fixed upon her. A tightening of the heartstrings, and a momentary rigidity followed her perception of him. but she gave no other sign, and a few seconds later had passed out of sight, as out of the life of Maurice O'Halleran, for it was her late affianced who with stern, sad eyes had caught her glance as she left the altar where he and she had once thought to stand together.
* * * * * * * * *
Some two hours later a handsome travelling coach dashed along the high road to London, from whence the wedded pair were to take ship for Calais, their carefully-arranged tour including a month's Parisian gaiety, a few weeks' sojourn in the Comte's family chateau, and a saunter through the rest of Europe. Even as she sat in the speeding coach, a newly-made bride. Eleanor mentally counted with feverish eagerness upon the gay distractions awaiting her in the French metropolis as a refuge from the company of the man who, hitherto tolerated, had all at once become positively odious to her. They had not exchanged words since the ceremony, for, quite conscious of her repugnance, the Comte had so far forborne any self-obtrusion.
With closed eyes the bride, enveloped in furs, for the weather was still cold, reclined in a weary attitude as far from her liege as the limited space permitted, striving hard to drown in dreams of coming revels the recollections which besieged her brain. The bloom had again left her cheeks, and not the faintest hint of any soft emotion appeared on her chiselled face; yet, as she reclined in her cushions, she was beautiful enough to make any man triumph in her possession. So thought the Comte de Pignerolles, at least, as he devoured her with eyes openly exultant and boldly desirous.
As if disturbed by the intensity of his gloating gaze, the heavy eyelids at last uplifted, and the dark orbs flashed out upon him. while a quick flush spread over cheek and brow. Moved by a sudden access of passion, and for a moment oblivious of all else but her entrancing beauty, he threw an arm around and sought to caress her. So unexpected was his movement that his lips were upon hers ere she knew his intention, but the next instant a gasp of disgust and a decided repulse chilled his ardour, and sent him back to his corner with a terribly evil look upon his livid countenance. He spoke no audible word, but in his heart he said, ‘C'est bien, Madame, mais par Dieu! Tu me le revaudra!47’page break
45 The facial features, especially when revealing qualities of mind or character.
[Note added by Vicki Hughes as annotator]