Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 39.

Between Friends.

Van was looking ruefully out of the window, down upon the deserted pavement opposite. At length he said —

“And why don’t you give your luck a chance?”

“Whenever I give it a chance it hits me so devilish hard,” replied Richard Arden.

“But I mean at play to retrieve,” said Van.

“So do I. So I did, last night, and lost another thousand. It is utterly monstrous.”

“By Jove! that is really very extraordinary,” exclaimed little Van. “I tried it, too, last night. Tom Franklyn had some fellows to sup with him, and I went in, and they were playing loo; and I lost thirty-seven pounds more!”

“Thirty-seven confounded flea-bites! Why, don’t you see how you torture me with your nonsense? If you can’t talk like a man of sense, for Heaven’s sake, shut up, and don’t distract me in my misery.”

He emphasised the word with a Lilliputian thump with the side of his fist — that which presents the edge of the doubled-up little finger and palm — a sort of buffer, which I suppose he thought he might safely apply to the pane of glass on which he had been drumming. But he hit a little too hard, or there was a flaw in the glass, for the pane flew out, touching the window-sill, and alighted in the area with a musical jingle.

“There! see what you made me do. My luck! Now we can’t talk without those brutes at that open window, over the way, hearing every word we say. By Jove, it is later than I thought! I did not sleep last night.”

“Nor I, a moment,” said Van.

“It seems like a week since that accursed race, and I don’t know whether it is morning or evening, or day or night. It is past four, and I must dress and go to my uncle — he said five. Don’t leave me, Van, old fellow! I think I should cut my throat if I were alone.”

“Oh, no, I’ll stay with pleasure, although I don’t see what comfort there is in me, for I am about the most miserable dog in London.”

“Now don’t make a fool of yourself any more,” said Richard Arden. “You have only to tell your aunt, and say that you are a prodigal son, and that sort of thing, and it will be paid in a week. I look as if I was going to be hanged — or is it the colour of that glass? I hate it. I’ll leave these cursed lodgings. Did you ever see such a ghost?”

“Well, you do look a trifle seedy: you’ll look better when you’re dressed. It’s an awful world to live in,” said poor Van.

“I’ll not be five minutes; you must walk with me a bit of the way. I wish I had some fellow at my other side who had lost a hundred thousand. I daresay he’d think me a fool. They say Chiffington lost a hundred and forty thousand. Perhaps he’d think me as great an ass as I think you — who knows? I may be making too much of it — and my uncle is so very rich, and neither wife nor child; and, I give you my honour, I am sick of the whole thing. I’d never take a card or a dice-box in my hand, or back a horse, while I live, if I was once fairly out of it. He might try me, don’t you think? I’m the only near relation he has on earth — I don’t count my father, for he’s — it’s a different thing, you know — I and my sister, just. And, really, it would be nothing to him. And I think he suspected something about it last night; perhaps he heard a little of it. And he’s rather hot, but he’s a good-natured fellow, and he has commercial ideas about a man’s going into the insolvent court; and, by Jove, you know, I’m ruined, and I don’t think he’d like to see our name disgraced — eh, do you?”

“No, I’m quite sure,” said Van. “I thought so all along.”

“Peers and peeresses are very fine in their way, and people, whenever the peers do anything foolish, and throw out a bill, exclaim ‘Thank Heaven we have still a House of Lords!’ but you and I, Van, may thank Heaven for a better estate, the order of aunts and uncles. Do you remember the man you and I saw in the vaudeville, who exclaims every now and then, ‘Vive mon oncle! Vive ma tante!’?”

So, in better spirits, Arden prepared to visit his uncle.

“Let us get into a cab; people are staring at you,” said Richard Arden, when they had walked a little way towards his uncle’s house. “You look so utterly ruined, one would think you had swallowed poison, and were dying by inches, and expected to be in the other world before you reached your doctor’s door. Here’s a cab.”

They got in, and sitting side by side, said Vandeleur to him, after a minute’s silence —

“I’ve been thinking of a thing — why did not you take Mr. Longcluse into council? He gave you a lift before, don’t you remember? and he lost nothing by it, and made everything smooth. Why don’t you look him up?”

“I’ve been an awful fool, Van.”

“How so?”

“I’ve had a sort of row with Longcluse, and there are reasons — I could not, at all events, have asked him. It would have been next to impossible, and now it is quite impossible.”

“Why should it be? He seemed to like you; and I venture to say he’d be very glad to shake hands.”

“So he might, but I shouldn’t,” said Richard imperiously. “No, no, there’s nothing in that. It would take too long to tell; but I should rather go over the precipice than hold by that stay. I don’t know how long my uncle may keep me. Would you mind waiting for me at my lodgings? Thompson will give you cigars and brandy and water; and I’ll come back and tell you what my uncle intends.”

This appointment made, they parted, and he knocked at his uncle’s door. The sound seemed to echo threateningly at his heart, which sank with a sudden misgiving.

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