Under a Stern Reign, page 19
‘One of them travelled with us,’ Elise said. ‘He was there to see I completed my assignment without wavering.’
‘So, who is he?’ Genevieve asked.
‘He is the head of Rency’s revolutionary committee, and he doesn’t like you,’ Elise told her. ‘Assuming you loyal to the aristocrats’ cause, he wants you dead, but worse; given your youthful beauty, he wants to indulge in some of his deviant pastimes with you first.’
Genevieve’s eyes widened in horror and her breathing grew tight. ‘But why?’ she gasped. ‘I’ve done nothing to him. I don’t even know him.’
‘Because,’ Emelie said patiently, ‘you escaped from a family sentenced to death with an enemy of the revolution, Rodolfo de Agora.’
Genevieve fell silent, numbed by what she was hearing.
‘Madame Coubette is after your blood as well,’ Elise continued with further alarming news.
‘But why does she hate me?’ Genevieve gasped.
‘Because it was all part of her greater plan to marry my stepfather, until you inadvertently intervened. Once her husband died, by marrying my stepfather she would have added the capital of this estate to the huge capital her husband has already. And her plan might have succeeded, had he not set his mind on marrying you.’
Genevieve gazed at her in bewilderment, struggling to take it all in, struggling to absorb the fact that she had enemies who hated her so much they would kill her, yet she herself would not hurt a fly. ‘And you wanted me dead too...?’
Elise sipped her wine again. ‘For a while,’ she admitted frankly. ‘After all, I was jealous of you, jealous of the way he doted on you like a lovesick fawn, and angry that he was killed by your lover.’
‘He was not, and still is not, my lover,’ Genevieve said firmly.
‘Rodolfo,’ Elise hissed, apparently without hearing Genevieve’s lament, ‘who would take me as his whore but not as his wife!’
‘I didn’t mean to cause any ill feeling,’ Genevieve said sadly. ‘Rodolfo’s actions, and your stepfather’s attentions, had nothing to do with me. I did not encourage either man to behave or act as they did.’
‘I know that now,’ Elise said. ‘That’s why I no longer want any harm to come to you. But others do, and they might be coming any day now to see to it.’
Genevieve’s eyes glistened with tears. She did not want to cry but she struggled to contain her fear and sadness. ‘Why did you bring me back here?’ she asked. ‘You brought me back to a death sentence. You knew I’d die if I returned.’
‘I’m sorry, I had no other choice,’ Elise repeated.
The tears had begun trickling down Genevieve’s cheeks, and Emelie looked at her mournfully, her eyes filling with tears too.
‘I dreamed of both of you, while I was away,’ Genevieve said, as bravely as she could. ‘I dreamed of Emelie, and I dreamed of you, and I felt that despite your cruelty there was still something between us... there was love.’
A heavy silence draped over the three girls for some minutes, the food remaining untouched, and then Elise spoke again.
‘I’ve been reading your book,’ she said, the normality of her words seeming bizarre in the circumstances. ‘It’s beautiful. You know, there is so much about myself I have never really understood. And conversely, there is so much about you and Emelie I thought I did understand.’
Both Genevieve and Emelie looked at her.
‘But it’s as if the poet knew more about us then we do,’ she went on thoughtfully. ‘There’s something he sees which I haven’t been able to see. And reading his poems has been like a cloud clearing from my mind. I would give anything in the world to meet him... to know him.’
Elise looked at them. ‘Perhaps it would have been better to remain in Portugal after all,’ she reflected. ‘But it’s too late now. They’ll be coming soon, and there’s nowhere we can run to, nowhere we can hide.’
That night, and for the next few nights, Genevieve, Elise and Emelie shared Elise’s large bed, finding comfort in each other’s arms as they slept.
In the early hours of their third night together, a particularly warm night, Genevieve dreamt of Rodolfo, of his handsomely rugged face at the bedroom window, rising until she could see his broad shoulders too.
But then she leapt into a sitting position and clamped a hand to her mouth in shock. ‘It’s him!’ she hissed, desperately rocking the shoulders of the girls sleeping on each side of her. ‘It’s Rodolfo!’
Her hushed cries startled Elise and Emelie, hauling them from their sleep, making them sit up too.
Rodolfo continued lifting himself through the partly raised window, dropping a leather satchel into the room with a heavy thud. He gazed at them for a moment. They made an appealing sight, their breasts naked, their hair dishevelled, and in the middle was Genevieve; pale, delicate, with a face as beautiful and innocent as could be.
The three girls continued staring at him as he stared at them. His black hair was tussled and clung to his sweating forehead, and dark bristles shaded his lean jaw.
He turned after a few moments and reeled up a rope that was hooked to the windowsill, winding it quickly and quietly into a ball.
‘There’s no need to fear,’ he said, lowering to his haunches to stuff the rope into the satchel.
‘You left so abruptly,’ he said to Genevieve, ‘and without even saying goodbye. I have some business in France, so I thought I’d stop here first to see if I could get an explanation. I think you owe one to the man who is still awaiting an answer to his proposal of marriage.’
Genevieve gazed at him. He had returned for her, and deep down, she always knew he would. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but you would never love only me alone, Rodolfo. So how can you say you love me? You know I love you, but...’
Rodolfo frowned. Was he in danger of making the same mistakes his brothers had made when it came to the fairer sex? He had fallen for the girl, to the point where he was seriously risking his own life for her - again.
Genevieve rose elegantly and stood before him, enshrouded in shadows. ‘Trust me, Rodolfo,’ she whispered. ‘I understand you better than you understand yourself.’
Just then the sound of carriages approaching the chateau at pace disturbed the serenity of the scene. They drew to a halt, there was a general hubbub rising up to the open bedroom window from below, and then fists hammered on the front door, demanding entry.
‘It’s them,’ Elise whispered, with a look of sad resignation. ‘They’ve come for you, Genevieve.’
She rose and slipped on her nightdress. ‘I’ll go down alone. I might be able to change their minds.’
Elise was nervous and fearful as she left the room, a state in which neither Genevieve or Emelie had seen her before.
The front door was heard to open and instantly there were threatening demands, interspersed with the more subdued efforts of Elise to reason with the intruders.
Emelie and Genevieve looked anxiously at each other, slipping into their own nightdresses.
Elise returned, looking at them mournfully. ‘They want you to come down,’ she told Genevieve. ‘It’s Madame Coubette and the head of Rency’s revolutionary committee. And he’s brought his henchmen.’
Genevieve gazed at her in fear.
‘It will be better if you do what they want,’ Elise went on. ‘They may decide upon leniency. But I don’t know, they may not.
‘And if they find you here,’ she went on, turning to Rodolfo, ‘they will kill you for sure. There are four of them, and they’re all armed. There is nothing you can do. You should stay up here, or get away while you can. It is for the best. You will only make matters worse for poor Genevieve if you try something foolish.’
Genevieve looked sadly at him, nodded bravely, and left the room, Elise and Emelie following.
Madame Coubette stood at the foot of the staircase, re
‘At last,’ she gloated. ‘My beautiful young countess-to-be, as delicious a morsel as I could ever wish to have in my clutches!’
The evil, grey-haired man stood behind her, a sly leer on his face. He licked his sharp teeth avariciously as he watched the three beautiful girls, and particularly the one leading, descend towards them.
Three other brutes stood close by, their hands poised over weapons.
Genevieve stepped slowly down the stairs, as if taking her last walk - which might well be the case. But she held her chin proudly high and pulled her shoulders defiantly back.
Madame Coubette held a riding-crop in her hand. It was the deceased count’s. ‘Now, my spoilt little slut,’ she snarled. ‘It is at long last my turn to do with you as I please, without any interference.’ She turned slightly to her sinister associate. ‘We’ve been waiting so very patiently for you to return here...’ Her eyes narrowed threateningly. ‘Now come here, you troublesome little bitch!’
As Genevieve reached the bottom step the harridan grasped her hair and twisted her downwards, so that with a squeal of agony she was forced to her knees. She buckled before the villainous gang, but they merely sniggered scornfully at the delicious sight of her cowering before them.
Immediately Madame Coubette ripped back the riding-crop and lashed it across Genevieve’s unprotected bottom. She wailed pitifully, but the arm lifted again and came lashing down on the same punished spot. Genevieve fell forward on her hands, her head pulled up and back by the vicious fist entwined in her hair, tugging brutally on her roots, forcing her to look at the vile man who stood before her crying eyes as he watched the beating with evident relish. She begged for mercy, but the obsessed woman merely lashed her again, and again, and again.
The man put his hands on his hips and planted his feet firmly apart. ‘You’ve caused us a great deal of trouble,’ he eventually said. ‘And you’ll die for it. But on the other hand, I am a man of compassion, and I might decide to pardon you after all. It all depends on how much appreciation you would show for such a kind gesture.’ He rubbed his chin in mock concentration.
‘And how good a slave you’ll be when I get you home,’ Madame Coubette cackled.
The man gazed down upon Genevieve, on her hands and knees before him, her lovely face raised and vulnerable to his desires. Her nightdress was now a little torn, allowing him teasing glimpses of red welts striping the milky flesh of her buttocks.
Without further ado he casually unfastened his breeches, and Genevieve gasped, trying to slowly shake her head in denial of his obvious intentions. But the spiteful woman’s fist held her steady.
He gripped his growing erection, rubbing it pensively as it poked from his flapping breeches, and leered at her, licking his teeth again. ‘I’ve been waiting quite some time for this moment,’ he growled. ‘So now, let’s see how well you suck a real man’s cock...’
He took a step closer and Genevieve closed her eyes against the loathsome penis as its bulbous tip nudged against her lips, and she closed her ears to the vile abuse and insults being directed at her by his disgusting cohorts.
‘Come on, my pretty,’ he croaked. ‘Don’t play games with me. Don’t think you can deny me. Open your pretty mouth and show me what you can do with your clever tongue and lips. Don’t be shy?’
A deafening retort echoed through the hallway, like a peal of thunder. Genevieve flinched and instantly opened her eyes, and then began screaming. The evil man still leered, but his eyes were suddenly unseeing, as though he was not there. And then blood seeped down over his features, trickling around his eyes and down his nose. He staggered and tumbled, waved on his feet like a tree about to fall, and then slumped heavily to the floor with a loud thump.
Another clap of thunder resonated through the hall and one of the three henchmen was thrown backwards, hitting the closed door of the drawing room and bursting it open, disappearing out of sight as he clutched his chest, a look of shock and fear frozen on his face.
‘It’s him!’ Madame Coubette screamed. ‘On the stairs! Get him!’
The first of the remaining two henchmen lumbered towards Rodolfo, but he too lurched backwards as the third pistol shot burst forth. His body fell in a heap and Rodolfo was on the move, stepping over him with feline grace, a wild cat going for the kill. The silver handles of three pistols poked from the waist of his breeches.
The last of the three men looked terrified. All too late he seemed to realise he held a musket, but as he raised it Rodolfo struck with the speed of a snake. The man fell, instantly dead, and Rodolfo held his dagger, the lethal blade dripping red. Casually he bent to wipe it clean on the dead man’s tunic, and then slipped it back into his clothing.
‘You!’ Madame Coubette screamed, her features twisted insanely. ‘You murderous villain!’ She ran at him, raising the crop again, ready to lash at him, but he caught her wrist as it swept down and pulled the weapon from her grasp. She stared at him wildly, panting, glancing at the crop in his hand. He tossed it to the floor, and she broke down inconsolably, weeping like a baby.
For a few stunned minutes there was no other noise in the hallway, other than the woman’s pathetic sobbing. And then Elise spoke.
‘You are no longer welcome in this house, Madame Coubette,’ she said. ‘It is best that you leave, and don’t ever come back.’
‘You won’t get away with this,’ the harridan snarled defiantly. ‘The revolution won’t let you escape. Any of you. You will all pay dearly for what you have done!’
While Rodolfo checked that the four men were indeed dead and definitely posed no further threat, Elise went to Genevieve and helped the poor girl to her feet. Emelie went to help and console Genevieve too.
‘Get out of my house,’ Elise said to Madame Coubette, and Rodolfo strode to the front door and wrenched it open, staring expectantly back at the defeated woman.
The diaries kept by Elise and Genevieve came to an end shortly after their return to France.
I have tried to patch together what I believe may have happened to them, but ultimately the evidence is not there in their records and can only be left to speculation. As such, I have not included it within the material of this novel that is based on their writings.
The paintings of them made in Sintra leave me to assume that the quartet headed to Portugal at some point and lived together for a period. I imagine this was not long after Rodolfo killed the head of Rency’s revolutionary committee.
From Rodolfo’s military dress and decoration, I can only assume that he followed up on his father’s wishes and joined the army briefly, perhaps in search of his father and brother, perhaps simply to fulfil the wishes of his father.
From the painting I assume he returned safely. I have no idea if the same could be said of his father or brother.
I have written to Eduardo de Agora in Switzerland again, in search of further details. Unfortunately, he is unable to provide much more.
He noted that there was once a rare book of poetry in his family’s possession - an assortment of romantic and erotic poems written in French. He was sad to inform me it was not with him. It was currently in the hands of his cousin, Laurianne de Agora.
He wondered if it might have helped in some way to clarify the latter part of Genevieve and Elise’s lives. I told him that it might well have done so, and suddenly began thinking of Natalie.
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