Frédéric Boutet: A Playboy’s Scandal (complete)
A Few Blackmails
A Playboy’s Scandal
It was on a spring evening at a casino, in a spa of the Midi with thermal baths, very chic. In the shadows that favored the garden in winter, the Chevalier Hector Montelli leaned his black moustache to advantage towards the gentle face of blonde Bella Campbell.
“You will come? You swear? Tomorrow, at four o’clock, the Hermitage.”
She reddened; she pulled herself back, but her voice with its singsong accent just perceptible, seemed to caress him in response, a murmur nearly lost to the measures and slow waltzes surrounding them amid the scent of flowers.
“Yes, yes, I will come…but leave me now, my dear friend, I beg you. You will compromise me, and if my husband ever learns…”
She shuddered all over. He seized a small, trembling hand, laid it on his heart, then on his lips, passionate, and controlling a rising ardor, said:
“I love you! I love you! I love you!”
“I love you,” she sighed.
She fled to the room where the orchestra played, and the company of ladies was suitable. He went out, his heart in triumph, towards the game room.
A fortnight earlier, they had not known each other in the least, but from their first meeting, among a typical crowd…it had been in this same casino…there was for both love at first sight, what seemed the coming of a storm. They held themselves contained at first, but desire grew, favored by the friendly intimacy of a spa town.
The Chevalier was in other ways well made for inspiring love. He was handsome, pale, and melancholy. His voice was intoxicating, and his elegance understated. He carried a great name; he was said to be an Italian officer, powerfully rich. Romantic stories were put about on his account, representing him as the tragic hero of a star-crossed love affair. Then there’d been a terrible duel, a disloyal adversary put to death, himself grievously wounded…
It was to complete his convalescence and forget his past he’d come here.
And Bella Campbell had agreed to serve him as his Lethe, though at that point she’d in no way admitted him to her bed. She was the exquisite young wife, resigned and neurasthenic, of a millionaire London banker more jealous than a tiger. Her husband had stayed behind in England, kept there by his business; but far and near, he terrorized her, and she did not speak of him without blanching. Though making difficulties, he’d allowed her to go alone for the care of her nervous illness…but she felt herself enveloped here in occult surveillance, surrounded by spies, she was certain. Bad luck for her if the least suspicion were reported to the redoubtable Campbell, who would join her at the end of the month. This wild-tempered spouse was, for timid Bella, like a sword suspended over her head, as a charged mine under her feet…
Despite which, she listened to the amorous speeches of her handsome knight; she had agreed to the intimate and perilous rendezvous, for love is stronger than the fear of death.
The Hermitage, chosen by the judicious Hector for the sweet first tête-à-tête, lent itself especially to this sort of diversion. It consisted of picturesque ruins at the top of a hill, and the clean air of the place could not be frightening to virtue, or susceptible youth. It was far enough from the town, more than an hour by car, that one could hope to meet no other person. Many roads led to this place, and a number of paths climbed the already greening slopes. The inevitable inn was found far from the ruins. Shelter was offered by a sort of rotunda at center, half-fallen, open on all sides, but isolated in its mystery, and furnished with great moss-grown benches, comfortable enough for sitting.
The chevalier came on horseback by the western route, the longest, and rode up by the paths. He tied his mount in a clearing, making his way ahead to the ruins. They were perfectly deserted, which pleased him; outside, he sat himself on a stone block to dream as a poet dreams, and wait for his love—for he was early and she was late, befittingly.
The blonde Bella arrived by car from the route over the plain that led to the east of the hill. She stopped at the inn, situated at mid-height, and was directed to the foot of the ruins. Her purpose was ostensibly to sketch in her album, a subterfuge made for the coachman and the innkeeper, neither of whom cared, being engaged from the first in a furious game of piquet.
“Thanks be, thanks be,” cried the chevalier when she appeared, having just looked at his watch, and come to feel annoyed, his lover twenty-five minutes late. He sprang to take the hands of the beautiful Englishwoman, covered them with kisses, and led her inside the ruins.
“This is madness. Don’t make me regret it,” she murmured, with laudable banality, for she knew her classics.
“I love you, I love you,” he sighed, and, intimately: “I love you.” It was as the day before, but with more passion, because the place invited it.
“By grace, sweet friend, leave me,” she sighed in return.
But he did not leave her, not for the world, bade her on the contrary to seat herself near him on the most comfortable bench, the better to cover her with burning kisses…against which she scarcely defended herself, due no doubt to lack of experience.
After a few minutes of this charming exercise, it was the wish of the chevalier, all animation, to push onwards in the characteristic way. She resisted. He insisted. She resisted less, an agreeable blush stole over her; her lips murmuring vain protestations were stilled under his ardent kisses. She closed her eyes, falling weak in a final confusion, and the passion of the knight was nearly crowned, when a sudden incident produced itself, brief and extraordinary.
The head of a man, topped by a vaguely military kepi, appeared on the right, framed by one of the openings of the circular wall. At the same time, another head, equally capped, appeared to the left, in the opening opposite.
“I take you, there!” cried the first head to the surprised lovers.
“Public outrage!” cried the second head, at the same instant.
The two heads together heard and saw each other. Mutually they exchanged a look of astonishment and shock, then turning about-face, fled precipitately, each on his own side, without further worrying the chevalier and his love.
They stood, in disorder, distancing themselves.
“In the name of God,” the chevalier murmured between his teeth, powerful emotion removing the Italian from his accent.
The young woman jumped. For a minute she stared at her companion: distraught, disheveled, bewildered, his face no longer holding the dreamy expression, the pride of the illustrious Montelli de Nageuri—
And all at once a fit of irresistible laughter convulsed her.
“Tell, me, knight,” she said, out of breath. “Are you sure you are Montelli? Ah, ah, ah! It was your own village constable, wasn’t it, who popped up on the right?”
“Eh?” he said.
“Yes…and it was mine on the left! Don’t take on the airs of an idiot! You know.”
“Not at all,” he swore, for his intelligence was naturally somewhat slow.
“Oh, well, the season is spoiled for us both. That’s all. And I don’t mind, for it’s really too droll. We are in the soup, my lad. We have mired ourselves together in a playboy’s scandal!”
“A playboy’s scandal…” stammered Montelli, stupefied. “Then you are not…?”
“English and rich? But no, old chum. I’ll kill you myself if you tell. You make your moves on married women, and I make mine on succulent young fools. It is the same game. Love, the open-air meeting, the passionate, intoxicating caresses. The accomplice as bobby, the flagrante delicto, the threat of scandal…the blackmail. The confederate or protector on the left…it’s well known. But here, this time, we’ve run ourselves afoul. You caught me, and I caught you. And our two policemen, seizing the moment to make the pinch, have taken each other for the real thing… You’re with me?”
The illustrious Montelli seemed to have regained his presence of mind.
“I am…and since we’ve come to it, why not make the most?” Making this gallant proposal, he reached for her.
But the blonde Bella took herself off briskly.
“Oh, no, dearie! I don’t do this for fun!”
A Playboy’s Scandal
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster)