This is the final installment of my "Thomas Hardy's A Group of Noble Dames" recap. I've already recapped the nine other short stories from this 1870s-1890s collection, and those posts can be found here: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth. Take a deep breath for one last plunge into insanity:
"Dame the Tenth: The Honourable Laura"
At an inn in the middle of a freezing winter, a handsome young Italian guy and a beautiful young girl named Laura show up. They say they're married and get a room. Bow-chicka-wow-wow.
About ten minutes later, a posse rides up to the inn, which is never a good sign. And when that posse includes irate family members, it's also a serious cock-block. The posse asks the landlord if people matching Laura and her boyfriend's description had been there (because, SURPRISE, they're not actually married, like they said they were. Yeah, shocker). He hems and haws and doesn't want to disturb his guests because, hey, they paid for a room, and if they get dragged off, he'll probably lose out on the bill. Eventually it comes out that, yes, they are upstairs, probably having filthy, filthy intercourse at this very second.
So the posse burst in on them and the chief posse member goes, "Hey, Laura, I'm your father and I demand you step away from the Italian gigolo! Italian gigolo, I demand that you marry my daughter this instant, because you have ruined her!" And the Italian guy goes, "Okay, you're sending some really mixed signals right now."
Laura says, "I can't marry the hot Italian guy because . . . I'm already married!" And her father goes, "*double-take*" She says, "It's true. A little while back I secretly married my cousin James, who is standing right next to you in the rescue party. We had to get married secretly because . . . reasons. Complicated family reasons, okay? But after we'd been married a couple of weeks, my
lust affections cooled, and I don't want to be his wife no mo'! And then I met my Continental debaucher and, knowing we could never be lawfully married, decided to just run off with him and be his concubine because morality is for SUCKERS."
And her father instantly becomes my hero and says, "1.) James, why in the HELL didn't you tell me all of this when . . . oh, I don't know . . . we were assembling the posse? 2.) I wash my hands of all of you. You're all idiots and should work it out amongst yourselves. Daddy–OUT!" and he leaves
, and I scream, "TAKE ME WITH YOU".
So James and the Italian guy have a little pow-wow away from Laura because, psshh, it's not like the stuff they are talking about could possibly interest her or anything. They decide that they must duel for the right to her, but they don't want to tell her because she might be upset. Gee, you think? Also, I think James completely missed the point where his wife LEFT HIM because she hates his boring ass. Somehow he takes it for granted that if he kills her boyfriend she will be overjoyed and return to his loving embrace.
What they ACTUALLY PLAN is that she should order dinner for two, they'll go duel, and whomever wins can come back and have a romantic meal with her. Honest to god. Like she would have zero opinion in the matter, regardless of who won, and would be all, "Mmmm, try some of my risotto! Let the romance ensue!"
So the Italian guy says, "Hey, darling, James and I just have to go . . . take care of something. Totally innocently. Why don't you order dinner to be ready in an hour and I'll be riiiiiiiiiight back, no need to look at these dueling pistols I'm stuffing in my pocket, nope. *whistles innocently, walks out the door*"
And she goes, "Seems legit," and proceeds to order dinner.
The men decide that they should fight in an isolated spot, because dueling is illegal and they don't want the winner to be arrested. They forgot that common sense math formula: large, angry, public posse + love triangle + dead body of someone in the love triangle + body found at an isolated spot within walking distance of confrontation = suspicion. (God, I wish we covered more stuff like this in math class.)
So they go over this bridge over a raging river in the woods. The Italian guy, because he's
smart a dirty European sneaks up behind James as soon as his back is turned and pushes him over the bridge so he can fall to his death/drown/freeze in the water, rather than duel. OH, YOOOOU.
He comes back to Laura and they have dinner and eventually she starts to put two-and-two together (I'm doing all kinds of math in this recap!) and figures out that her boyfriend miiiiight have been a shit and killed her husband. He's like, "Hey, baby, we should probably . . . go. NOW. Pack yo' stuff, because, uhhhh, we might want to keep a low profile."
So they jump in their Winter Wonderland sleigh and drive off into the night, only she figures out that, no, he definitely was a shit and killed her husband, and her
lust affections have cooled for her new boyfriend, too. When they get a little bit lost, she says, "Hey, darling, why don't you let the horses rest? You go walk up that huuuuuuge hill in the distance and see where we are headed, and I'll stay here, okay?" And he goes, "Sure!"
The second he gets far enough away, she decides to get the hell out of Dodge. Now, a reasonable person would drive away in the sleigh. Especially considering that she's dressed in Victorian women's clothing, which we all know is not the most robust, and she is lost in a freezing nightmare ice-hell (and the sleigh has all her luggage in it). But not the Honourable Laura! Nope! Instead she jumps out of the sleigh and goes and hides in some bushes in the distance. She watches her boyfriend come back and look really confused that she's no longer in the carriage. He looks around for her really half-heartedly, but gets bored or something and drives off.
Wow, I think she dodged a bullet with that guy.
She goes back to the inn where, despite all of their FOOLPROOF planning, someone has instantly found James. Only he's not dead! He survived Italian treachery! Laura decides that she doesn't have anything better to do, so she might as well be happy with the husband she left for another man literally six hours ago. She nurses James back to health as a "Hey, sorry I dumped you, you still love me?" gesture.
After he gets better, he says, "I appreciate all of the sponge-baths, but you realize that we are never getting back together, right? Taylor Swift and Adele teamed up to write an album about us, that's how 'not getting back together' we are, okay?" And Laura says, "Sigh. Okay." And he says, "In fact, we are so not getting back together, that I am going to sell all my stuff and go live in a different hemisphere from you." And she says, "Jesus, I get it! Not getting back together! Fine!"
And that's exactly what happens.
Twelve years later, James looks at his watch and says, "3, 2, 1! She has suffered enough! Time to go back to England and test her further, now that this phase of the experiment is over." So he goes back home, shows up at her house, and starts gossiping with all of the servants before Laura has any idea that he's in the country at all, because that's what real love is all about: mind games.
He asks the servants about Laura, and if she has any gigolos on the side (Italian or otherwise), and if she is sad or content, and he basically gets a big ole giant ego-stroke. All the servants say that Laura is always very sad and misses her husband who she hasn't seen for over a decade
who she thought was so damn boring that she left him for another man and she has never thought about remarrying because she's clearly seen that men in these stories are utterly reprehensible beings.
He says, "Ah. Excellent. When I left England, I decided that I loved her SO MUCH, I wanted her to suffer really, really badly so she could be redeemed, and then we could get back together, because Victorian morality RULES!" He rings her front bell and is like, "Hey, baby," and she says, "Hey, baby," and they live in sexy-times bliss, and a year later they have a little boy and everyone is happy, except, hopefully, for the Italian gigolo who, with any luck, is still driving his sleigh aimlessly around Narnia.
Moral of the story: Never turn your back on an Italian.
And thus ends our odd foray into Thomas Hardy-land! Ne'er to return!