Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 25.

A Tete-A-Tete.

Up to the drawing-room went Mr. Longcluse, and there he found Miss Arden finishing a drawing. He fancied a very slight flush on her cheek as he entered. Was there really a heightening of that beautiful tint as she smiled? How lovely her long lashes, and her even little teeth, and the lustrous darkness of her eyes, in that subdued light!

“I so wanted advice, Mr. Longcluse, and you have come in so fortunately! I am not satisfied with my sky and mountains, and the foreground where the light touches that withered branch is a horrible failure. In nature, it looked quite beautiful. I remember it so well. It looked on fire, almost. This is Saxteen Castle, near Golden Friars, and that is a bit of the lake and those are the fells. I sketched it in pencil, and trusted to memory for colouring. It was just at the most picturesque moment, when the sun was going down between the two mountains that overhang the little town on the west.”

“Sunset is very well expressed. You indicated all those long shadows, Miss Arden, in pencil, and I envy your perspective, and I think your colouring so extremely good! The distances are admirably marked. Try a little cadmium, burnt sienna, and lake for the intense touches of light in the foreground, on that barkless branch. Your own eye will best regulate the proportions. I am one of those vandals who prefer colour a little too bold and overdone to any timidity in that respect. Exuberance in a beginner is always, in my mind, an augury of excellence. It is so easy to moderate afterwards.”

“Yes, I daresay; I’m very glad you advise that, because I always thought so myself; but I was half afraid to act on it. I think that is about the tint — a little more yellow, perhaps. Yes; how does it look now? — what do you think?”

“Now judge yourself, Miss Arden. Do not those three sharp little touches of reflected fire light up the whole drawing? I say it is admirable. It is really quite a beautiful little drawing.”

“I’m growing so vain! you will quite spoil me, Mr. Longcluse.”

“Truth will never spoil any one. Praise is very delightful. I have not had much of it in my day, but I think it makes one better as well as happier; and to speak simple truth of you, Miss Arden, is inevitably to praise you.”

“Those are compliments, Mr. Longcluse, and they bewilder me — anything one does not know how to answer; so I would rather you pointed me out four or five faults in my drawing, and I should be very well content if you said no more. I believe you know the scenery of Golden Friars.”

“I do. Beautiful, and so romantic, and full of legends! the whole place with its belongings is a poem.”

“So I think. And the hotel — the inn I prefer calling it — the ‘George and Dragon,’ is so picturesque and delightfully old, and so comfortable! Our head-quarters were there for two or three weeks. And did you see Childe Waylin’s Leap?”

“Yes, an awful scene; what a terrible precipice! I saw it to great advantage from a boat, while a thunderstorm was glaring and pealing over its summit. You know the legend, of course?”

“No, I did not hear it.”

“Oh, it is a very striking one, and won’t take many words to tell. Shall I tell it?”

“Pray do,” said Alice, with her bright look of expectation.

He smiled sadly. Perhaps the story returned with an allegoric melancholy to his mind. With a sigh and a smile he continued —

“Childe Waylin fell in love with a phantom lady, and walked day and night along the fells — people thought in solitude, really lured on by the beautiful apparition, which, as his love increased, grew less frequent, more distant and fainter, until at last, in the despair of his wild pursuit, he threw himself over that terrible precipice, and so perished. I have faith in instinct — faith in passion, which is but a form of instinct. I am sure he did wisely.”

“I sha’n’t dispute it; it is not a case likely to happen often. These phantom ladies seem to have given up practice of late years, or else people have become proof against their wiles, and neither follow, nor adore, nor lament them.”

“I don’t think these phantom ladies are at all out of date,” said Mr. Longcluse.

“Well, men have grown wiser, at all events.”

“No wiser, no happier; in such a case there is no room for what the world calls wisdom. Passion is absolute, and as for happiness, that or despair hangs on the turn of a die.”

“I have made that shadow a little more purple — do you think it an improvement?”

“Yes, certainly. How well it throws out that bit of the ruin that catches the sunlight! You have made a very poetical sketch; you have given not merely the outlines, but the character of that singular place — the genus loci is there.”

Just as Mr. Longcluse had finished this complimentary criticism, the door opened, and rather unexpectedly Richard Arden entered the room. Very decidedly de trop at that moment, his friend thought Mr. Arden. Longcluse meant again to have turned the current of their talk into the channel he liked best, and here was interruption. But was not Richard Arden his sworn brother, and was he not sure to make an excuse of some sort, and take his leave, and thus restore him to his tête-à-tête.

But was there — or was it fancy — a change scarcely perceptible, but unpleasant, in the manner of this sworn brother? Was it not very provoking, and a little odd, that he did not go away, but stayed on and on, till at length a servant came in with a message from Sir Reginald to Mr. Longcluse, to say that he would be very happy to see him whenever he chose to come to his room? Mr. Longcluse was profoundly vexed. Richard Arden, however, had resumed his old manner pretty nearly. Was the interruption he had persisted in designed, or only accidental? Could he suppose Richard Arden so stupid? He took his leave smiling, but with an uncomfortable misgiving at his heart.

Richard Arden now proceeded in his own way, with some colouring and enormous suppression at discretion, to give his sister such an account as he thought would best answer of the interview he had just had with his father. Honestly related, what occurred between them was as follows:—

Richard Arden had come on summons from his father. Without a special call, he never appeared at Mortlake while his father was there, and never in his absence but with an understanding that Sir Reginald was to hear nothing of it. He sat for a considerable time in the apartment that opened from his father’s dressing-room. He heard the baronet’s peevish voice ordering Crozier about. Something was dropped and broken, and the same voice was heard in angrier alto. Richard Arden looked out of the window and waited uncomfortably. He hated his father’s pleadings with him, and he did not know for what purpose he had appointed this interview.

The door opened, and Sir Reginald entered, limping a little, for his gout had returned slightly. He was leaning on a stick. His thin, dark face and prominent eyes looked angry, and he turned about and poked his dressing-room door shut with the point of his stick, before taking any notice of his son.

“Sit down, if you please, in that chair,” he said, pointing to the particular seat he meant him to occupy with two vicious little pokes, as if he were running a small-sword through it. “I wrote to ask you to come, Sir, merely to say a word respecting your sister, for whom, if not for other members of your family, you still retain, I suppose, some consideration and natural affection.”

Here was a pause which Richard Arden did not very well know what to do with. However, as his father’s fierce eyes were interrogating him, he murmured —

“Certainly, Sir.”

“Yes, and under that impression I showed you Lord Wynderbroke’s letter. He is to dine here tomorrow at a quarter to eight — please to recollect — precisely. Do you hear?”

“I do, Sir, everything.”

“You must meet him. Let us not appear more divided than we are. You know Wynderbroke — he’s peculiar. Why the devil shouldn’t we appear united? I don’t say be united, for you won’t. But there is something owed to decency. I suppose you admit that? And before people, confound you, Sir, can’t we appear affectionate? He’s a quiet man, Wynderbroke, and makes a great deal of these domestic sentiments. So you’ll please to show some respect and affection while he’s present, and I mean to show some affection for you; and after that, Sir, you may go to the devil for me! I hope you understand?”

“Perfectly, Sir.”

“As to Wynderbroke, the thing is settled — it is there.” He pointed to his desk. “What I told you before, I tell you now — you must see that your sister doesn’t make a fool of herself. I have nothing more to say to you at present — unless you have something to say to me?”

This latter part of the sentence had something sharp and interrogative in it. There was just a chance, it seemed to imply, that his son might have something to say upon the one point that lay near the old man’s heart.

“Nothing, Sir,” said Richard, rising.

“No, no; so I supposed. You may go, Sir — nothing.”

Of this interview, one word of the real purport of which he could not tell to his sister, he gave her an account very slight indeed, but rather pleasant.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49