The Fate of Fenella/Chapter 11

CHAPTER XI.

BY FLORENCE MARRYAT.

MME. DE VIGNY'S REVENGE.

Revenge is sweet—especially to women.—Byron.

Perhaps of all the visitors who were in the Prospect Hotel on the night of De Mürger's murder the one to be most perplexed was Lucille de Vigny. To her Lord Francis Onslow's mysterious disappearance was (at first) inexplicable. Yesterday he had been her lover, full of protestations of affection, and ready, as she believed, to fly with her anywhere. To-day he had flown by himself, and without leaving a word of explanation behind him. But, as the whole of the circumstances came to light, when Lady Francis was dragged away from the hotel in custody, on the charge of the count's murder, Mme. de Vigny thought she had solved the riddle. She had no belief in Fenella's account of the defense of her honor. She sneered at the idea with an incredulous smile. But she did think that Lord Francis had found his wife and Count de Mürger together and had killed his rival before her eyes, or perhaps injured him so much with his muscular English fists that he had died from the effects. And then the wife, preferring to stand her trial for manslaughter sooner than confess her infidelity, had taken the crime, or the accident, or whatever you may like to call it, on her own shoulders, but for no love of the absent husband, who would probably refuse ever to see her again.

So far Mme. de Vigny's intelligence, which had not ripened in an entirely moral atmosphere, had led her pretty near the truth. But her conclusion was like a broken watch, useless because the main-spring was missing. For she did not stop there. She completed the story for herself. Lord Francis had flown, not for his wife's sake nor his own—but in order not to drag her (whom he loved) into the miserable tangle of his married life. He would remain away until everything was concluded, and then he would seek her out again, and they would be happy. Such a terrible scandle would surely be followed by a divorce, after which he would be free to put her in the place left vacant by his wife's infidelity. But the trial of Lady Francis Onslow took place, as has been related, and yet no intelligence came of her missing husband. When she had left Harrogate, and the child had been taken away, Mme. de Vigny became tired of being left behind. She returned to London, and went down to Haslemere, thinking Lord Francis might be lying perdu in his country home. But all she found there was a large board stating that The Grange was to be let, furnished, and that applications were to be addressed to Mr. Abraham Hewett, of Chancery Lane. Quick as thought she resolved (if possible) to take it.

She had no love for the country, nor for a secluded life, but to settle in his very home must be, she argued, the best way by which to come in contact with Lord Francis Onslow. Even if he did not come there he must, sooner or later, learn the name of his tenant, and be drawn into the circle of her love again. She found no difficulty in the matter. Her references were the best of all—ready cash—and Mr. Hewett had been instructed to let The Grange as soon as possible. Her foreign accent somewhat puzzled him, and he had mentioned her to his client (as Onslow told Lord Castleton) simply as a foreigner.

Perhaps she had tried to increase his mystification by speaking as incoherently and writing as illegibly as she could. Anyway, she secured The Grange, and took possession of it.

How much she reveled at first in the thought that she was living in the house which Lord Francis called his own, using the same furniture, and walking in the same garden that he had been used to walk in. Before long she hoped that he would be there too, watching the moon rise above the summits of the fine old trees. She searched the house for some memento of him—a cast-off glove, a faded flower. But the housemaid's broom had been too busy, and the Grange was inviolate from attic to basement. Only in a little drawer in his looking-glass stand she had found a few of his visiting cards, evidently forgotten or overlooked.

"Lord Francis Onslow, The Grange, Chiddingford," and on the other side, "The Corinthians, Pall Mall." How sweet the words looked! The enraptured woman raised them to her lips as she thought that some day she might own a corresponding passport to society. Meantime Mme. de Vigny did not enjoy her solitude long. While the man she dreamed of was hiding himself in Paris, and on the Seamew, others of her acquaintance tracked her to The Grange, and intruded their presence upon her. Lucille de Vigny was too beautiful, and, unfortunately, too notorious, to conceal herself successfully. She had had many admirers besides Lord Francis Onslow, and before she had been many weeks at Chiddingford they commenced to run down from London to call upon her. And she was pleased to see them. She had not been used to the company of her own thoughts.

They proved ugly company to her on occasions—she had not always the courage to look back—and she earnestly hoped to make for herself a future on which the past should have no power to obtrude. So, pending the return of Lord Francis, she was glad to welcome the various friends who considered it worth their while to travel down to see her. Among them was Colonel Uriah B. Clutterbuck, a Senator from the United States, who had made a large fortune over railway iron, and was trying to spend it in the old country. He had been an ardent admirer of Mme. de Vigny from the first day of their acquaintance, and would have proposed to her long before, had not Lord Francis Onslow's claims stood in his way.

But now the colonel thought he saw his opportunity. The first evening he dined with Lucille, and she took him after dinner into the garden, his heart overflowed, and he was able to contain himself no longer.

"Mrs. der Vin-yay," he commenced, "Loo-cill—if I may call you so—there is no man in the United States that can boast of a bigger pile than your obedient servant. I am not a lord, ma'am; I would disdain to be one. Neither am I, perhaps, an Apoller; but, in point of dollars, Mrs. der Vin-yay, you will not find my superior, and they and I are at your service, to-day, and forever, if you will only say the word."

Mme. de Vigny looked at him with surprise, mingled with a degree of contempt. She was a magnificent woman, towering several inches above the New York Senator, with a finely-molded figure, large dark eyes, chiseled features, and a voluptuous mouth. She looked like a Juno regarding a human rat.

"Colonel Clutterbuck," she replied, "you astonish me. Surely I have never encouraged you to address me in such an extraordinary manner. I have not the slightest intention of marrying again, and I must beg you never to refer to the subject."

"Very well, Mrs. der Vin-yay," replied the discomfited suitor, "say no more about it. I thought you might have liked the pile, ma'am, if you didn't admire the man; but it won't go begging, Mrs. der Vin-yay, you may bet your bottom dollar upon that."

"I do not wish to bet anything, Colonel Clutterbuck," said Lucille grandly, "nor should I take money into consideration on a question of marriage. But I am quite content with my life as it is, and have no desire to alter it."

"Ah! You're waiting for a title, Mrs. der Vin-yay," replied the Senator, "that's where it is. You'll never tell me that a fine woman like yourself means to remain single for the rest of her life. But you're gone on these English aristocrats, like the gals in my country, and nothing will satisfy you but to be a duchess or a countess."

"Colonel Clutterbuck, your remarks are positively offensive, and I must entreat you to turn your conversation to something else. I thank you for your offer, but I can never accept it. Come indoors and let me give you a song. I had a parcel of new ones down from London last week." She drew her lace wrap about her as she spoke, and turned to re-enter the house. Her handsome face looked proud and cold under the moonlight, but her heart was throbbing warmly against Lord Francis Onslow's card, which she carried in her bosom. She was not really faithful, or affectionate, but she had set her mind upon capturing and holding this man (as a woman sometimes sets her mind upon a spaniel or a bonnet), and would not rest until she had achieved her purpose. In like manner the American Senator had set his mind upon her, but he would not break his heart over her refusal. He had thought she would make a splendid picture at the head of his New York table, and an enviable wife to present to his friends, but if she couldn't accept his pile of dollars, he concluded that some other lady would. So they parted on their usual terms, and Lucille even asked him to repeat his visit on the first opportunity. The next morning, when her maid brought her letters into her room with her coffee, she was struck by the appearance among them of a pale buff letter, stamped on the top "On H. M. Service," and on the bottom, "Dead Letter Office."

"What is that, Rose?" she cried.

"I do not know, madame, but it was left here with the other letters, so I thought I had better bring it up to you."

Lucille had by this time seized the envelope and read the superscription:

"Frank Doggie, Esq., The Grange, Chiddingford, Haslemere."

"How strange," she laughed. "Who is Mr. Frank Doggie, and why do they send his letters here?"

"Shall I return it to the postman, madame?"

"No! It would be useless. I will keep it a little while. It may be inquired for." So the maid retired, leaving the letter behind her. It seemed to fascinate Lucille; though she had the morning papers and several letters of her own to peruse, her eyes kept turning toward the buff envelope with marked curiosity, until she took it up again and examined it carefully. What right had Mr. Doggie to have the name of Frank?—that name above all others so dear to her. The fact alone seemed to make the letter her property. It had come from the Dead Letter Office. That showed that all reasonable inquiries had been made for the owner without avail. There could be no harm, then, in her reading it, for the more she regarded it, the more curious she became to learn its contents, so without further ado, she tore it open. It contained an envelope addressed to "Mrs. Right, Prospect Hotel, Harrogate," and scribbled all over, both in red and black ink, and in various signatures, with the words, "Not known here," "Gone away," "No such person," etc. This was the letter (as may be remembered) that Lord Francis wrote with such a beating heart to his wife on the night of De Mürger's murder, and left, in his subsequent horror and confusion, on the table in his bedroom. When he had gone, the servants carried it to the landlord, who, knowing no one of the name of "Right," had delivered it over to the Post-office. And so it had gone the round of Harrogate, being repudiated everywhere, and finally found its way to London, and was opened and returned to the address engraved on the note-paper. "Mrs. Right and Mr. Doggie." Mme. de Vigny laughed at the strange conjunction of names, as she prepared to find out what Doggie and Right had to say to each other. But she did not laugh long. The first words her eyes lit upon made the color fade from her cheek, while her hand clenched savagely over the unoffending paper. They were the words Frank had poured forth in the anguish of his soul at Fenella's feet:

"My darling—my own, own darling (for that you must ever be to me, let who will come between us), why will you make us both so unhappy? I know you are not happy, Fenella! I can read it in your face; hear it in each tone of your voice. Those were not the looks and tones that made the first years of our married life one long dream of bliss. And I am supremely miserable, more so than yourself, for I have sinned more against you than you have against me. I confess it, dear love. I prostrate myself before you, and I cry for forgiveness. Can you not forgive me? Will you not take me to your heart again, and let me try to atone for all the past? My life is so barren without you and my darling child. Do you suppose that anything can compensate me for your loss? As for Mme. de V., she is nothing to me—less than nothing; a toy to pass away the time that goes so slowly without you; an opiate that for a moment makes me forget my pain, and sometimes, even while I seem to yield to her witcheries, I loathe her because she has come between us. But it shall never be again, dear love, if you but say the word. Come back to me, Fenella, and I will swear to wipe her (and all like her) out of my life, as surely as I would kill the viper that lay across your path. Oh, when I think of all that she has cost me, how bitterly I hate her!"

There was much more in the same strain, but this was sufficient for Lucille, who lay back on her pillow with the paper crushed in her hand, and jealousy and revenge gleaming from her eyes. This was how he thought of her, then. This was how he wrote and spoke of her to his wife—his faithless, flirting wife—the murderess, by her own account, of Count de Mürger, the unworthy mother of his child—the creature to whom he might, after all, return—so contemptible and despicable and mean-spirited were men. How could she be revenged on them both? On him for so deceiving herself; and on her for retaining her power over him?

Mme. de Vigny did not weep. Her temperament was not of the weeping order, but she gnashed her teeth with impotent fury as she lay with her face buried in her pillow, and thought out her best means of revenge. Her maid was surprised to find how long a time elapsed before her usual services were required, but after the lapse of two hours she was summoned to her mistress's side.

Lucille was up, and engaged in writing.

"Tell George to take this telegram into Chiddingford at once," she exclaimed, handing it to her.

It was addressed to Colonel Clutterbuck, and ran as follows: "If not engaged, dine with me this evening."

When Mme. de Vigny had arrived at this decision, she tried to calm herself, but it was a difficult task. All day she raved against Providence and the treachery of the man she had trusted in, but, when the evening came, she arrayed herself in her most becoming costume to meet the Senator. She had made up her mind by that time She had refused him simply on account of her fatal passion for Lord Francis Onslow, but that was over now—quenched as effectually as though it had never been—and she was determined not to let the colonel's dollars slip through her fingers a second time. For many reasons, too, America would suit her better than England. How could she have been such a fool as to think of giving it up for a foolish love dream?

She looked more than handsome—she looked bewitchingly seductive as she advanced with a soft, luminous gaze to meet Clutterbuck, and asked his pardon for the trouble she had given him.

"But something has occurred since last night, my dear friend," she said, " that makes it necessary for me to take a short sea voyage. My doctor is rather alarmed about my health, and insists on my obedience. So, as I have always had a supreme longing to visit your delightful country, I have decided to go to America for the autumn, and want you to tell me the best means of getting there. You must know so much," she concluded, as she slipped her arm confidingly through his.

"Ah! Mrs. der Vin-yay!" exclaimed the colonel, patting her little hand, "why can't you make up your mind to let me take you there? You should travel like a queen, Loo-cill, and there's a house waiting for you in New York City that might satisfy an empress. Say the word, Mrs. der Vin-yay, say the word, and you'll make me the happiest man in the United States."

"But there is an obstacle to our marriage," she whispered, "perhaps an insuperable one. Had it not been so, I should have said 'yes,' last night."

"Dollars can overcome all obstacles," replied the colonel. "What is it? I guess it'll make no difference between us."

"I have a little nephew, the orphan child of an only sister, now deceased, and I will marry no man who asks me to leave him behind."

"That man won't be myself, Mrs. der Vin-yay. Bring him along, by all means. There's room in the States for another boy or two, and I'll do by him as if he were my own."

"Oh! you are too good, too good," exclaimed Lucille fervently, as she pressed his hand.

The Senator was not young, and in no mind to wait, besides which he was anxious to get back to his own country, so, as the lady's wishes appeared to coincide with his own, they arranged matters to their mutual satisfaction that evening, and in a fortnight were married at a registrar's office in London, without anyone but themselves being the wiser for the transaction. Lucille had pleaded for secrecy, lest her friends should interfere to prevent her leaving England, and the colonel had arrived at that age when a man detests all publicity and fuss. So Mme. de Vigny was transformed into Mrs. Colonel Clutterbuck as if by magic, and went home to the Langham Hotel with her husband, as if they had been married for twenty years. Four days after a well-known steamer was to start from Liverpool for New York, and their cabins were already secured on board of her.

"And now!" said Lucille, with a winning smile, the day before they started, "you must let me run down into Suffolk, colonel, and fetch my little nephew."

"Suffolk? That's a long way," said Colonel Clutterbuck. "Hadn't I better go for you?"

"Oh, no! no! I couldn't hear of it. The little fellow would be frightened out of his senses at the sight of a stranger. He is terribly sensitive. I can never coax him away, but by pretending we are going to meet his poor, dear mother."

"Very well, Mrs. Clutterbuck, have it your own way," replied the colonel, who was beaming with pride in the possession of so handsome a wife.

So Lucille, armed with Lord Francis Onslow's card, traveled down on the following day to Felixstowe, where Jacynth's sister, Mrs. Grandison, was staying with her own son and little Ronny.

This was the Frenchwoman's revenge. She had heard while at Harrogate of Ronny's destination, and knew that in so small a place she would experience little difficulty in finding out which house was occupied by Mrs. Grandison.

She disliked children (as most women of her stamp do), but she felt she could wreak no bitterer vengeance on Lord Francis Onslow and his wife than by depriving them of their son and heir, so dearly loved by both of them.

Her marriage had been conducted so secretly that she was most unlikely to be recognized as Mrs. Clutterbuck, and once she had got the boy to America she believed that (virtually) he would be lost. What was to follow after that, or whether the game would be worth the candle to her, she never stayed to consider.

Mrs. Grandison, while engaged over her mid-day meal with the children, was much surprised to hear that a lady wished to speak to her. Still more so when, on entering the drawing room, she saw the fashionably attired Mrs. Clutterbuck.

"You are doubtless surprised to receive a call from a perfect stranger, madam," commenced Lucille, with her charming accent; "but time did not permit me to prepare you for my appearance. I come as a messenger from Lord Francis Onslow. I am an intimate friend of his, and of his poor dear wife!"

"Indeed," said Mrs. Grandison gravely.

Her first opinion of Fenella's conduct had been intensified to horror when the news of the murder and the trial were made public, and she had only taken charge of Ronny under protest—at the urgent request of her brother—and because she had felt it to be a Christian duty to keep the poor child, as far as possible, from hearing the terrible things that were said of his mother. But her dislike of the subject was so great that when Lucille said she was an intimate friend of the Onslows, she shrunk from her with ill-concealed aversion.

"Indeed!" she reiterated slowly.

"Yes, and have been so for years. This has been a terribly sad affair for them both, but let us hope the worst is over. Lord Francis feels naturally that it is best they should spend the next few years, at least, out of England; therefore, they start for the Brazils to-morrow, and wish naturally to take Ronny with them."

"Lord Francis is, then, reconciled to his wife?"

"Oh, yes! Why should he not be? The unfortunate affair of Count de Mürger's death really redounds to her credit, and what preceded it was only a foolish misunderstanding!"

"Of course if Lord Francis is satisfied, no one has a right to demur at his decision. You come from him, you say?"

"Yes. He asked me to fetch Ronny home for him. He would have come himself, but he had no time. Here is his card, which he begged me to present to you, with a thousand thanks for your kindness to his child."

Mrs. Grandison hardly knew what to do. She disliked delivering Ronny into the charge of a stranger, and yet she felt she had no right to keep the boy against his parents' wishes. She kept turning the card over and over in her hands as she considered the matter.

"Did you say they sailed to-morrow?" she asked, presently.

"Yes, to-morrow, at four in the afternoon."

"It is a very sudden resolution."

"Not at all. They have contemplated it for weeks past, but Lady Francis' health has prevented them carrying it out. Now they have a sudden opportunity of which they wish to avail themselves. How long will it take to get Ronny ready to go back with me?"

"Oh, that can be done in half an hour. But I wish my brother, who put him in my charge, had written me word that his parents wished to resume their guardianship."

"I know nothing of that," snapped Lucille. "All Lord Francis told me was to come down to Felixstowe, and take back his boy to him at all costs; and I should think a parent's wish was imperative."

"Certainly," replied Mrs. Grandison, "and I should not dream of disputing it. If you will kindly wait here for a few minutes I will bring Ronny to you."

She left the room as she spoke, and Lucille felt that she bad triumphed and her revenge would be complete. She remembered how Fenella had gloated over this boy, how Lord Francis had written of him as his "darling child" and smiled to herself as she thought what they would both say and do, when they found he had gone beyond recall. In a short time the door opened again, and Mrs. Grandison appeared with Ronny. He recognized Lucille at once as the lady he had seen at the table d'hôte at Harrogate.

"I know you!" he said, coming forward with a shy, outstretched hand, "you were with my papa at Harrogate."

"And with your mamma, Ronny, of course. We were all there together. But mamma wants you sadly. She has been fretting terribly for her boy. We are going back to her together."

"Going back to mummy? Oh, I am glad! I have wanted her so," said Ronny, trying hard to keep back his tears. "It's been very jolly with Harold, of course, and Mrs. Grandison's been ever so good to me—but I've missed mummy every day. Shall we go at once? I'm all ready, and my box is packed. And shall I see her to-day? Oh! do let us make haste and go."

He thrust his hand in that of Lucille as he spoke, who rose smiling, and addressed Helen Grandison:

"You see, madame, the ties of nature surmount those of friendship. Please to accept the best thanks of the parents of this boy, for your care of him at a very trying moment, to which I must add my own, and wish you farewell."

"Good-afternoon," said Mrs. Grandison stiffly, as she watched them get into the fly which was in waiting, and drive away to the station.

And before she had time to acquaint Jacynth with the circumstance, Ronny (still with the expectation of meeting his mother) was far away on the broad Atlantic!