Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 42.

Diplomacy.

Mr. Vandeleur and Mr. Longcluse were now seated, and the former gentleman said —

“Yes, I am a friend of Mr. Arden’s — so much so, that I have ventured what I hope you won’t think a very impertinent liberty. I was so very sorry to hear that a misunderstanding had occurred — I did not ask him about what — and he has been so unlucky about the Derby, you know — I ought to say that I am, upon my honour, a mere volunteer, so perhaps you will think I have no right to ask you to listen to me.”

“I shall be happy to continue this conversation, Mr. Vandeleur, upon one condition.”

“Pray name it.”

“That you report it fully to the gentleman for whom you are so kind as to interest yourself.”

“Yes, I’ll certainly do that.”

Mr. Longcluse looked by no means so jolly as Van remembered him, and he thought he detected, at mention of Richard Arden’s name, for a moment, a look of positive malevolence — I can’t say absolutely, it may have been fancy — as he turned quickly, and the light played suddenly on his face.

Mr. Longcluse could, perhaps, dissemble as well as other men; but there were cases in which he would not be at the trouble to dissemble. And here his expression was so unpleasant, upon features so strangely marked and so white, that Van thought the effect ugly, and even ghastly.

“I shall be happy, then, to hear anything you have to say,” said Longcluse gently.

“You are very kind. I was just going to say that he has been so unlucky — he has lost so much money ——”

“I had better say, I think, at once, Mr. Vandeleur, that nothing shall tempt me to take any part in Mr. Arden’s affairs.”

Van’s mild blue eyes looked on him wonderingly.

“You could be of so much use, Mr. Longcluse!”

“I don’t desire to be of any.”

“But — but that may be, I think it must, in consequence of the unhappy estrangement.”

He had been conning over phrases on his way, and thought that a pretty one.

“A very happy estrangement, on the contrary, for the man who is straight and true, and who is by it relieved of a great — mistake.”

“I should be so extremely happy,” said Van lingeringly, “if I were instrumental in inducing both parties to shake hands.”

“I don’t desire it.”

“But, surely, if Richard Arden were the first to offer ——”

“I should decline.”

Van rose; he fiddled with his hat a little; he hesitated. He had staked too much on this — for had he not promised to report the whole thing to Richard Arden, who was not likely to be pleased? — to give up without one last effort.

“I hope I am not very impertinent,” he said, “but I can hardly think, Mr. Longcluse, that you are quite indifferent to a reconciliation.”

“I’m not indifferent — I’m averse to it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Will you take some tea?”

“No, thanks; I do so hope that I don’t quite understand.”

“That’s hardly my fault; I have spoken very distinctly.”

“Then what you wish to convey is ——” said Van, with his hand now at the door.

“Is this,” said Longcluse, “that I decline Mr. Arden’s acquaintance, that I won’t consider his affairs, and that I peremptorily refuse to be of the slightest use to him in his difficulties. I hope I am now sufficiently distinct.”

“Oh, perfectly — I——”

“Pray take some tea.”

“And my visit is a failure. I’m awfully sorry I can’t be of any use!”

“None here, Sir, to Mr. Arden — none, no more than I.”

“Then I have only to beg of you to accept my apologies for having given you a great deal of trouble, and to beg pardon for having disturbed you, and to say good-night.”

“No trouble — none. I am glad everything is clear now. Good-night.”

And Mr. Longcluse saw him politely to the door, and said again, in a clear, stern tone, but with a smile and another bow, “Good-night,” as he parted at the door.

About an hour later a servant arrived with a letter for Mr. Longcluse. That gentleman recognised the hand, and suspended his business to read it. He did so with a smile. It was thus expressed:—

“SIR,

“I beg to inform you, in the distinctest terms, that neither Mr. Vandeleur, nor any other gentleman, had any authority from me to enter into any discussion with you, or to make the slightest allusion to subjects upon which Mr. Vandeleur, at your desire, tells me he, this evening, thought fit to converse with you. And I beg, in the most pointed manner, to disavow all connection with, or previous knowledge of, that gentleman’s visit and conversation. And I do so lest Mr. Vandeleur’s assertion to the same effect should appear imperfect without mine. — I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,

“RICHARD ARDEN.

“To Walter Longcluse, Esq.”

“Does any one wait for an answer?” he asked, still smiling.

“Yes, Sir: Mr. Thompson, please, Sir.”

“Very well; ask him to wait a moment,” said he, and he wrote as follows:—

“Mr. Longcluse takes the liberty of returning Mr. Arden’s letter, and begs to decline any correspondence with him.”

And this note, with Richard Arden’s letter, he enclosed in an envelope, and addressed to that gentleman.

While this correspondence, by no means friendly, was proceeding, other letters were interesting, very profoundly, other persons in this drama.

Old David Arden had returned early from a ponderous dinner of the magnates of that world which interested him more than the world of fashion, or even of politics, and he was sitting in his study at half-past ten, about a quarter of a mile westward of Mr. Longcluse’s house in Bolton Street.

Not many letters had come for him by the late post. There were two which he chose to read forthwith. The rest would, in Swift’s phrase, keep cool, and he could read them before his breakfast in the morning. The first was a note posted at Islington. He knew his niece’s pretty hand. This was an “advice” from Mortlake. The second which he picked up from the little pack was a foreign letter, of more than usual bulk.

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