He returned from his contrived hunting engagement—
to find his betrothed sitting in the drawing room, quite unafraid, piecing together a puzzle. She produced her key without hesitation and when he saw its surface bore no bloodstain, he knew he had found a wife.
He had not expected such a turn of events, not at all. This left him slightly off-balance. She took it for bashfulness and eagerly accepted his proposal.
Of course, he watched with a hunter’s eye for any sign of suspicion. She sent for her trousseau and rearranged the house to her liking. She talked at length of domestic matters, of sending for more servants, furniture, and possibly expanding the stable, but the closest she came to suspicion was when she suggested they expand the upper floors(“we can even enlarge your private room, my darling!”)
After a week of this he realized that his new bride had not passed his test through heavenly virtue, but by an inhuman lack of curiosity. Lord knows that women had no talent for deception. He had only to look at his previous prospective bride’s faces to see immediately their guilt.
He could not overcome a sudden bilious surge whenever he rounded a corner and found his living bride. It puzzled him: had she not fulfilled his qualifications to the letter? Had he been guilty of pricing his life too low?
No, he concluded. What he had truly fallen in love with was the chase. The stream of ever-young, ever-demure young women flowing through his life, his tests of mettle, the final judgment. He had come to depend on disappointment so that he did not know what to do now that the divine creature before him wanted every ounce of his attention.
Bless her obsequious little heart, she even spoke to the servants, though he had removed their tongues long ago as measure against betrayal. They were, thankfully, as illiterate as any of the peasant classes as well, so he held no worry that they would burst her sphere of blissful ignorance.
She changed the drapery to something gossamer. The furniture was, of course, too masculine, she would have to send for more. Their dinners were no longer rich local fare but such nonsense that had been popular in the capital, presumably where all were tasteless as she.
He could not be cross with her. He could never be cross with her, for the second clouds threatened to dim the sunlight pouring into her empty head, she would burst into tears. Then he would spend the day consoling her, assuring her that his love would never wane as he grimaced up at the walls.
He began fantasizing about luring her into the private room on some pretense, merely to do away with her. When presented again with the key, she merely laughed and asked for more fitting jewelry. He fumed to himself as she held fabric swatches against the settee. Truly, she was too ignorant to be tricked. His intellect, in comparison, was that of a wolf ploughing into the unmoving backside of an elephant.
He imagined being married to this, introducing her to other aristocrats and hearing her glassine titter as she trampled over good manners. His reputation distilling down to this.
A gloom haunted his steps until he hit upon his ultimate piece of brilliance.
He suggested that, as newlyweds, they take holiday on the continent. Of course the blithe creature was ecstatic, but nowhere in comparison to he. For he had decided that he would dispose of her in some convenient early stop, and then continue the tour in recently-widowed grief. Not only would he rid himself of a problem, he would find new hunting grounds as well.
What little tack he needed was packed in one bag. He would eat the cost of her extensive attempts at redecoration, as well as the wardrobe she rushed to cram into one set of luggage. The carriage was summoned and the servants dismissed.
And, as he watched them lope away from the grounds, he had another bolt of inspiration.
She was wittering over a collection of lightweight silk dresses, unable or unwilling to part with even a few. He called her to come. She came readily, as obedient as a wife should.
He had something to show her.
Oh, but the carriage was due, would they not miss their boat? She tread reluctant on the stairs, looking behind them.
He had not been a good husband, for were they not expected to share everything? He would be remiss if he did not show her one last thing before they began their lives together.
Oh yes, whatever he wanted, if course. Her attention was over her shoulder, no doubt at those silly dresses.
He guided them to the secret room. Did she remember when he forbid her from entering? It had merely been a test of character, and now that he had proof of her love, all rooms in the house were open to her.
He fiddled with the lock, waiting until the last possible moment to open the door, unless the wafting stench would give it away.
He began, “I would have you be completely sure of my character before our marriage—”
A short, sharp shove in the small of his back, and he fell forward into the darkness. The door closed behind him.
“That I am, sweetheart,” she called through the keyhole, “through and through.”
A click as she turned her immaculate key in its lock.