Under a Stern Reign, page 10
‘What the hell are you talking about?’ he demanded. ‘I have no wife, you stupid?!’
‘Your plan to go away to Portugal is one of pure folly,’ she interrupted again, unperturbed by his anger. ‘Think it through. You know that if you go you will lose your property and holdings here forever, and there will be no turning back. You will lead a life of emptiness and exile, dependent on the charity of foreigners.’
Madame Coubette smiled conspiratorially at Elise, and even had the temerity to cast her a surreptitious wink, unseen by the count. ‘But, if you were to marry me,’ she went on, looking confidently back at the man slouched on the divan, ‘it would be acknowledged that you are not a supporter of the nobility, and you would not be seen as being of any threat or concern to the revolution.’
He frowned, his aching head churning over her words.
‘You would keep your home, and land, and money,’ the woman went on relentlessly. ‘You would have me as your bed-mate and useful wife, and you would have her, this beautiful girl, who you secretly yearn for.’
He looked at her without speaking, his brow furrowing as he reflected on the woman’s words. She turned to Elise.
‘Look at her,’ Madame Coubette told him, passing a hand over one of the girl’s rosy cheeks. ‘I am your security in France, and this girl is your willing, hidden treasure.’
De Tranville looked at Elise’s beauty thoughtfully for several moments, and then at the woman. ‘Do you honestly think that a person of my standing could, in his right mind, marry a woman known to be a whore and an adulteress?’ he said viciously, his eyes cold. ‘What foolishness has taken hold of your brain to dream up such things? Elise is very beautiful, as was her mother. And she has always been wild of temperament, I know that. But it has been an honour for me to try and raise her in a way that would meet her mother’s approval, and to consider anything beyond that is utterly inconceivable.’
Madame Coubette frowned, sensing herself losing the initiative.
‘I have done much thinking today and I have reached a decision over the future which may hurt you, but which is inevitable,’ he continued. ‘Madame, our relationship is over. The fact that you are entertaining ideas of marriage only proves to me that my kindness toward you has not only made you forget your station, but has pushed you to near lunacy. You are already married, and do not forget that fact.
‘As for you, Elise, it is time for you to marry, too.’
‘Me, marry?’ Elise blurted. ‘Marry who?’
‘The suitor I have in mind is Rodolfo de Agora,’ he told her matter-of-factly. ‘He is a perfect match for you, given our circumstances. We will go to Portugal and you will marry him, or another man of his standing... he has three brothers. I, meanwhile, also have a mind to marry, but I am planning to marry Genevieve de Montvert.’
‘You are what?’ Madame Coubette shrieked.
‘I was a close friend of her father, and ultimately, we’re of the same stock. It seems like a logical move.’
Both Elise and Madame Coubette were stunned by the shock of his plan. A mere slip of a girl was taking away the man for whom the two of them vied. She had trumped them and they stared dumbly at the count, who now bore a triumphant smirk.
‘If, however, you do not wish to marry Rodolfo,’ he went on to Elise, ‘there are plenty of convents in Lisbon. Either way, it is clear that it is time for you to learn to fend for yourself.’
‘And what of me?’ Madame Coubette demanded shrilly.
‘What of you?’ he echoed. ‘That is the business of your husband.’
Madame Coubette’s mighty bosom began to heave with her indignation. The woman started sobbing, her bold face crumpled.
‘And now,’ he announced, somewhat pleased with himself, ‘it is late. We will talk further tomorrow. Now the both of you will get upstairs to your beds.’
The deflated pair turned, but Madame Coubette paused for a moment and then turned back, her eyes narrowed. ‘If you stick to this plan you will never leave France alive,’ she vowed vehemently.
‘I want you gone by the morning,’ the count responded indifferently. ‘And thereafter I do not want to see you again.’
Madame Coubette was beaten, but Elise had recovered her spirit, her eyes shining darkly. ‘Of all the women you could marry, Genevieve would be the worst choice,’ she started. ‘Have you forgotten how you recently found her with me? Do you not remember why you beat her?’
‘I did beat her,’ he acknowledged. ‘But it was a miscarriage of justice, I have little doubt. It was more than likely that her behaviour was engineered and inspired by you.’
‘That is where you couldn’t be more mistaken,’ Elise insisted. ‘Genevieve is unable to love men. She told me so. It was for that reason that you found her as you did, with me. I felt pity for her, and I let her take some pleasure?’
‘You lie,’ he interrupted.
‘It was the same with that pretty maid, remember? Emelie? She too had confessed that she knew only how to love women, and that’s why you found us as you did. You have mistaken my compassion for depravity.’
‘Do you really expect me to believe that?’ he challenged.
‘You should, for I believe Genevieve and Emelie have become friends. Why, only today Genevieve went to visit her, and she has still not returned. You can check her bedroom, if you so wish.’
‘What are you talking about?’ he said, but without conviction. ‘Emelie the kitchen maid was sent away from here two years ago.’
‘That’s right,’ Elise agreed. ‘But she lives in the old hunting lodge you lent to Jacques. The two of them have been meeting in secret, to enjoy their sexual pleasures, pleasures for which you have branded me as depraved. Why, Genevieve is the depraved one, yet you plan to marry her.’
‘This cannot be true!’ the count exclaimed.
‘So depraved, in fact,’ Elise continued unremittingly, ‘that she even made her passions known to Madame Coubette, who being your loyal mistress, naturally rejected them.’
A cunning smile simmered in Madame Coubette’s eyes. She had nothing but admiration for Elise’s wiliness. ‘It is true,’ she asserted, providing reinforcements to Elise. ‘The girl tried to force herself upon me in my very own carriage, taking advantage of my good nature after I had stopped to offer her a ride.’
‘If you marry the strumpet, you will be a wretched man,’ Elise declared. ‘Not only will you be poor and far from home, but you will also be a cuckold and a laughing stock. For I know Genevieve’s nature. And not a single pretty lady visitor or slip of a housemaid will escape her lewd attentions.’
Count de Tranville looked at his stepdaughter suspiciously. ‘Where is she now?’ he asked curtly.
‘As I said,’ Elise shrugged, ‘with her new friend in your hunting lodge.’
The man remained pensive and quiet, his head still pounding as his hangover intensified. ‘We will see about this tomorrow,’ he eventually said without looking at either of them. ‘Now go up to your rooms.’
Genevieve yawned as she woke up. She had slept through most of what had been a damp morning. It could have been nearly midday when she roused, and for a moment thought she could hear the rumble of an approaching horse and carriage. But the sound soon seemed to fade.
She opened her eyes slowly, and then started; the low rough ceiling above perplexed her at her first. Where was she? She heard a flapping sound and turning her head, saw a chicken strutting beside the small bed upon which she lay. Then she remembered where she was.
She got up and stretched, then wearing only the nightshift Emelie had lent her to sleep in, went to find her new friend.
Emelie was in the tiny kitchen, bent over the sink busily washing some clothes. Genevieve gazed at her quietly. She had tied her blonde hair up in a bun, and a few wisps had escaped and curled elegantly down by her ears.
Genevieve shook her long hair and passed a hand through it. How dishevelled it must be, she considered, and then tiptoed towards Emelie.
The girl was too lost in her work to hear her approach, but then as Genevieve paused just behind her Emelie realised someone was there and jumped and turned quickly.
‘I’m sorry,’ Genevieve giggled, ‘I didn’t mean to startle you.’
Emelie looked at her and laughed too. ‘It’s all right,’ she said brightly.
‘What are you doing?’ Genevieve asked.
‘I’m washing a dress for you,’ Emelie replied. ‘It’s one of mine, but we’re the same size and you’ll need something to wear other than that nightdress. You can’t go about like that forever.’
‘Why not?’ Genevieve sighed, gazing wistfully into the bright blue eyes of her friend. ‘I wish I could, and I wish I could stay here forever.’
‘I... I put the cloak to dry over the fire,’ Emelie said, somewhat bashfully. ‘It’ll be ready for you to wear soon, too.’
A sudden feeling of sadness filled Genevieve, for the words only reminded her that she still had plenty to resolve back at the chateau.
‘When I woke up this morning I started thinking,’ Emelie went on. ‘Count de Tranville will surely want to know what’s happened to you, so perhaps it’s best that you return soon.’
‘I know, but I don’t want to go back,’ Genevieve admitted. ‘Can’t I stay here with you?’
Emelie passed her hand over Genevieve’s cheek, and smiled affectionately. ‘No,’ she said honestly. ‘Life here is not a life for you.’
Tears began to fill Genevieve’s eyes. What was she to do now? What was the future to hold for her?
Count de Tranville had not believed Elise and Madame Coubette’s tale of Genevieve’s alleged depravity. The future had hovered before him too neatly to be so suddenly spoiled by their dubious revelations. But doubt had been sown in his mind, despite him trying to shake it off.
Rodolfo was due to arrive at any day. When he did they would set off together, and in Portugal the marriages would take place. Genevieve would be his young bride, and Rodolfo would be Elise’s husband. They would live on the funds he had withdrawn, and the Conde de Agora’s hospitality for the year or two it might take for the madness that had swept France to pass. Then he would return to his rightful home.
But the accusations Elise had made about Genevieve unsettled everything. What was left of the night was a restless time for him. He found himself recalling the vision of Genevieve, naked, her bottom curled before him and her innocent face buried between Elise’s legs, and he felt himself stirring yet again. And now Elise, his stepdaughter, had performed fellatio on him! It was as unbelievable to consider as it had been to find her kneeling there sucking his cock between her beautiful lips.
In the end he had consented, admittedly, but was it his fault?
Could there be a shred of truth in what Elise told of Genevieve, and Emelie? That it was they, and not her, who had engendered the Sapphic cravenness and debauchery that had possessed Elise?
The more he ruminated, however, the more sleepless he became. His cock throbbed beneath his nightshirt, and for a while he considered going to Madame Coubette to simply relieve the hardness of it. But he had officially ended their relationship.
And what of her proposal? He had rejected it flatly, but though scandalous it was completely logical. Could it be feasible for him? Could he not live quietly and pleasurably in a comfortable menage a trios like she had suggested?
For a moment he imagined being with Genevieve, enjoying her each night, and at the same time enjoying Elise’s beauty whenever he pleased. How incredible it would be if they could all be together, in the same bed. He reflected how for so long he had watched them both, yearning inside. And now Elise’s feelings for him had been declared and half his hidden fancy was now real...
Could he really cast Elise out of his life and into the arms of another man? Was this not the most stupid of stupidities, to reject what he knew he desired more than anything?
But how could he preserve his honour if he gave in to such lewd machinations, the plotting of a whore or procuress?
It was as well for Madame Coubette that he did not seek her out in the early hours, for she, too, had felt restless.
At first she thought of creeping to the count’s bedchamber, seeking to seduce him again and win his favours back, but her guile was outweighed by the concern that her actions might too easily arouse his wrath rather than his lust. Perhaps he would throw her out that very night.
And then she thought of Elise and her passions increased, so she crept to the girl’s bedchamber to find her broodingly awake and naked beneath the sheets.
Calculatingly she cooed praise for Elise’s cunning as well as her beauty, and after coddling the girl with tender words and caresses, she sought out the privacy between the girl’s thighs with her mouth.
Elise sleepily allowed her free passage nether-wards, but as the woman kissed and licked she failed to feel herself stirring, until at last she grew impatient and squirmed and panted, imitating passion, immersing her fingers in the red-brown sea of the woman’s hair.
After adoring the taste and fragrance of the succulent girl, Madame Coubette rose and told her that, no matter what the future held, she would always remember Elise as an accomplice and sister. But secretly she rejoiced at her victorious conquest of Count de Tranville’s stepdaughter.
Elise smiled drowsily and was ready to sleep again, but noting the wide spread of the woman’s thighs, the hand that teased the thick bush between them, and the woman’s expectant eyes, she realised that the vow of Madame Coubette’s friendship was awaiting a seal.
It was as well to clinch their association, she decided, and so with coolly disguised reluctance she drew upon her resolve and returned the homage she’d received, wincing as the animated woman clutched her raven hair and thrust her face between her splayed thighs.
Upon leaving the room Madame Coubette again made her promise of alliance to Elise, who smiled wryly, telling her new collaborator that her promise would be met with equal commitment.
At breakfast the count was distant but courteous to both females, reluctant to look into either’s eyes. He informed them curtly that he intended to travel to the old hunting lodge that morning to collect Genevieve, and in light of her tales, he wanted Elise to accompany him.
He then informed Madame Coubette that once he had the girl safely back in his charge, they would travel on together in his coach and see the woman safely home.
The coach ride passed in silence. Elise sat next to de Tranville, and Madame Coubette sat opposite them both, each of them spending the entire journey looking steadfastly out of a window. Nobody uttered a word let alone dare mention the previous night, the atmosphere uncomfortable as each of them brooded.
Eventually they reached the lodge, set back from the rutted road just to the left. They stepped down from the coach and the count instructed the driver to wait for them, then the threesome walked up the path, the only sound the gentle breeze rustling the leaves of the surrounding trees.
It was a grey morning, but although the rain had stopped a fresh downpour threatened.
They reached the front door, but the count noticed that the heavy window shutter to the side hung partly open. He moved closer and pulled it wider, peering in to see a room, a table and chairs, a blazing fire in a stone hearth, and there, standing together in front of the sink, were Genevieve and Emelie.
The count watched, his anger rising as he saw Emelie stroking Genevieve’s cheek with an evident affection that could only be proof of what his stepdaughter had told him about the shameful pair. They were talking together, although the lurking man could hear
Madame Coubette and Elise peered over the count’s shoulders, watching in silent awe, and each without the other knowing it silently celebrating an astonishing piece of good fortune. The fabrications created by Elise about Genevieve and Emelie for the count’s benefit were perhaps much closer to the truth than either the scheming stepdaughter or the jilted madame could possibly have hoped. Elise in particular felt utterly vindicated for the allegations she’d made, and actually rather proud of her judgement; the two unwitting girls were fully corroborating the tale she had concocted.
The more Count de Tranville watched the more a rage gripped him, fuelled by the quiet mockery of the two females standing behind him. Elise had told the truth, he had to acknowledge that now. Genevieve was a slattern and a lover of other women, and as such she was unfit to be his wife.
But, he argued with himself, if he abandoned her now to such depraved lusts, would he be guilty of shirking his responsibilities as the girl’s guardian? Perhaps he would be doing her a long-lasting and damaging disservice if he were to abandon her to her questionable lusts. Instead of accepting his misjudgement and discarding his plan of marriage, perhaps, for the sake of the girl, he should continue on his previous course of action.
He could still marry Genevieve, he asserted with a silent but fierce determination, he would just have to cleanse her of such dangerously frivolous behaviour. He looked back at the coach and eyed his driver, sitting straight-backed, waiting patiently, respectfully staring ahead at nothing in particular, his short whip gripped in one hand...
A lesson was sorely needed: and it had to be a harsh, lasting lesson.