Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 41.

Van Appoints Himself to a Diplomatic Post.

Mr. Vandeleur had availed himself very freely of Richard Arden’s invitation, to amuse himself during his absence with his cheroots and manillas, as the clouded state of the atmosphere of his drawing-room testified to that luckless gentleman — if indeed he was in a condition to observe anything, on returning from his dreadful interview with his uncle.

Richard’s countenance was full of thunder and disaster. Vandeleur looked in his face, with his cigar in his fingers, and said in a faint and hollow tone —

“Well?”

To which inappropriate form of inquiry, Richard Arden deigned no reply; but in silence stalked to the box of cigars on the table, threw himself into a chair, and smoked violently for awhile.

Some minutes passed. Vandeleur’s eyes were fixed, through the smoke, on Richard’s, who had fixed his on the chimney-piece. Van respected his ruminations. With a delicate and noiseless attention, indeed, he ventured to slide gently to his side the water carafe, and the brandy, and a tumbler.

Still silence prevailed. After a time, Richard Arden poured brandy and water suddenly into his glass.

“Think of that fellow, that uncle of mine — pretty uncle! Kind relation — rolling in money! He sends for me simply to tell me that he won’t give me a guinea. He might have waited till he was asked. If he had nothing better to say, he need not have given me the trouble of going to his odious, bleak study, to hear all his vulgar advice and arithmetic, ending in-what do you think? He says that I’m to be had up in the bankrupt court, and when all that is over he’ll get me appointed a ticket-taker on a railway, or a clerk in a pawn-office, or something. By Heaven! when I think of it, I wonder how I kept my temper. I’m not quite driven to those curious expedients, that he seems to think so natural. I’ve some cards still left in my hand, and I’ll play them first, if it is the same to him; and, hang it! my luck can’t always run the same way. I’ll give it another chance before I give up, and tomorrow morning things may be very different with me.”

“It’s an awful pity you quarrelled with Longcluse!” exclaimed Vandeleur.

“That’s done, and can’t be undone,” said Richard Arden, resuming his cigar.

“I wonder why you quarrelled with him. Why, good heavens! that man is made of money, and he got you safe out of that fellow’s clutches — I forget his name — about that bet with Mr. Slanter, don’t you remember — and he was so very kind about it; and I’m sure he’d shake hands if you’d only ask him, and one way or another he’d pull you through.”

“I can’t ask him, and I won’t; he may ask me if he likes. I’m very sure there is nothing he would like better, for fifty reasons, than to be on good terms with me again, and I have no wish to quarrel any more than he has. But if there is to be a reconciliation, I can’t begin it. He must make the overtures, and that’s all.”

“He seemed such an awfully jolly fellow that time. And it is such a frightful state we are both in. I never came such a mucker before in my life. I know him pretty well. I met him at Lady May Penrose’s, and at the Playfairs’, and one night I walked home with him from the opera. It is an awful pity you are not on terms with him, and — by Jove! I must go and have something to eat; it is near eight o’clock.”

Away went Van, and out of the wreck of his fortune contrived a modest dinner at Verey’s; and pondering, after dinner, upon the awful plight of himself and his comrade, he came at last to the heroic resolution of braving the dangers of a visit to Mr. Longcluse, on behalf of his friend; and as it was now past nine, he hastily paid the waiter, took his hat, and set out upon his adventure. It was a mere chance, he knew, and a very unlikely one, his finding Mr. Longcluse at home at that hour. He knew that he was doing a very odd thing in calling at past nine o’clock; but the occasion was anomalous, and Mr. Longcluse would understand. He knocked at the door, and learned from the servant that his master was engaged with a gentleman in the study, on business. From this room he heard a voice, faintly discoursing in a deep metallic drawl.

“Who shall I say, Sir?” asked the servant.

If his mission had been less monotonous, and he less excited and sanguine as to his diplomatic success, he would have, as he said, “funked it altogether,” and gone away. He hesitated for a moment, and determined upon the form most likely to procure an interview.

“Say Mr. Vandeleur — a friend of Mr. Richard Arden’s; you’ll remember, please — a friend of Mr. Richard Arden’s.”

In a moment the man returned.

“Will you please to walk up-stairs?” and he showed him into the drawing-room.

In little more than a minute, Mr. Longcluse himself entered. His eyes were fixed on the visitor with a rather stern curiosity. Perhaps he had interpreted the term “friend” a little too technically. He made him a ceremonious bow, in French fashion, and placed a chair for him.

“I had the pleasure of being introduced to you, Mr. Longcluse, at Lady May Penrose’s. My name is Vandeleur.”

“I have had that honour, Mr. Vandeleur, I remember perfectly. The servant mentioned that you announced yourself as Mr. Arden’s friend, if I don’t mistake.”

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