Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 51.

The Silhouette.

“He’s lookin’ very nice and like himself,” mumbled the old woman, as she led the way.

At the open door of Sir Reginald’s room stood Mr. Plumes, in professional black with a pensive and solemn countenance, intending politely to do the honours.

“Thank you, Sir,” said the old woman graciously, taking the lead in the proceedings. “This is the young master, and he won’t mind troublin’ you, Mr. Plumes. If you please to go to my room, Sir, the third door on the right, you’ll find tea made, Sir; and Mr. Crozier, I think, will be there.”

And having thus disposed of the stranger, they entered the room, in which candles were burning.

Sir Reginald had, as it were, already made dispositions for his final journey. He had left his bed, and lay instead, in the handsomely upholstered coffin which stood on tressels beside it. Thin and fixed were the cold, earthly features that looked upward from their white trimmings. Sir Richard Arden checked his step and held his breath as he came in sight of these stern lineaments. The pale light that surrounds the dead face of the martyr was wanting here: in its stead, upon selfish lines and contracted features, a shadow stood.

Mrs. Tansey, with a feather-brush placed near, drove away a fly that was trying to alight on the still face.

“I mind him when he was a boy,” she said, with a groan and a shake of the head. “There was but six years between us, and the life that’s ended is but a dream, all like yesterday — nothing to look back on; and, I’m sure, if there’s rest for them that has been troubled on earth, he’s happy now: a blessed change ’twill be.”

“Yes, Martha, we all have our troubles.”

“Ay, it’s well to know that in time: the young seldom does,” she answered sardonically.

“I’ll go, Martha. I’ll return to the oak-room. I wish my uncle were come.”

“Well, you have took your last look, and that’s but decent, and —— Dear me, Master Richard, you do look bad!”

“I feel a little faint, Martha. I’ll go there; and will you give me a glass of sherry?”

He waited at the room door, while Martha nimbly ran to her room, and returned with some sherry and a wine-glass. He had hardly taken a glass, and begun to feel himself better, when David Arden’s step was heard approaching from the hall. He greeted his nephew and Martha in a hushed undertone, as he might in church; and then, as people will enter such rooms, he passed in and crossed with a very soft tread, and said a word or two in whispers. You would have thought that Sir Reginald was tasting the sweet slumber of precarious convalescence, so tremendously does death simulate sleep.

When Uncle David followed his nephew to the oak-room, where the servants had now placed candles, he appeared a little paler, as a man might who had just witnessed an operation. He looked through the unclosed shutters on the dark scene; then he turned, and placed his hand kindly on his nephew’s arm, and said he, with a sigh —

“Well, Dick, you’re the head of the house now; don’t run the old ship on the rocks. Remember, it is an old name, and, above all, remember, that Alice is thrown upon your protection. Be a good brother, Dick. She is a true-hearted, affectionate creature: be you the same to her. You can’t do your duty by her unless you do it also by yourself. For the first time in your life, a momentous responsibility devolves upon you. In God’s name, Dick, give up play and do your duty!”

“I have learned a lesson, uncle; I have not suffered in vain. I’ll never take a dice-box in my hand again; I’d as soon take a burning coal. I shall never back a horse again while I live. I am quite cured, thank God, of that madness. I sha’n’t talk about it; let time declare how I am changed.”

“I am glad to hear you speak so. You are right, that is the true test. Spoken like a man!” said Uncle David, and he took his hand very kindly.

The entrance of Martha Tansey at this moment gave the talk a new turn.

“By-the-bye, Martha,” said he, “has Mr. Plumes come? He said he would be here at eight o’clock.”

“He’s waitin’, Sir; and ’twas to tell you so I came in. Shall I tell him to come here?”

“I asked him to come, Dick; I knew you would allow me. He has some information to give me respecting the wretch who murdered your poor Uncle Harry.”

“May I remain?” asked Richard.

“Do; certainly.”

“Then, Martha, will you tell him to come here?” said Richard, and in another minute the sable garments and melancholy visage of Mr. Plumes entered the room slowly.

When Mr. Plumes was seated, he said, with much deliberation, in reply to Uncle David’s question —

“Yes, Sir, I have brought it with me. You said, I think, you wished me to fetch it, and as my sister was at home, she hobleeged me with a loan of it. It belonged, you may remember, to her deceased daughter — my niece. I have got it in my breast-pocket; perhaps you would wish me now to take it hout?”

“I’m most anxious to look at it,” said Uncle David, approaching with extended hand. “You said you had seen him; was this a good likeness?”

These questions and the answers to them occupied the time during which Mr. Plumes, whose proceedings were slow as a funeral, disengaged the square parcel in question from his pocket, and then went on to loosen the knots in the tape which tied it up, and afterwards to unfold the wrappings of paper which enveloped it.

“I don’t remember him well enough, only that he was good-looking. And this was took by machinery, and it must be like. The ball and socket they called it. It must be hexact, Sir.”

So saying, he produced a square black leather case, which being opened displayed a black profile, the hair and whiskers being indicated by a sort of gilding which, laid upon sable, reminded one of the decorations of a coffin, and harmonised cheerfully with Mr. Plumes’ profession.

“Oh!” exclaimed Uncle David with considerable disappointment, “I thought it was a miniature; this is only a silhouette; but you are sure it is the profile of Yelland Mace?”

“That is certain, Sir. His name is on the back of it, and she kept it, poor young woman! with a lock of his ‘air and some hother relics in her work-box.”

By this time Uncle David was examining it with deep interest. The outline demolished all his fancies about Mr. Longcluse. The nose, though delicately formed, was decidedly the ruling feature of the face. It was rather a parrot face, but with a good forehead. David Arden was disappointed. He handed it to his nephew.

“That is a kind of face one would easily remember,” he observed to Richard as he looked. “It is not like any one that I know, or ever knew.”

“No,” said Richard; “I don’t recollect any one the least like it.” And he replaced it in his uncle’s hand.

“We are very much obliged to you, Mr. Plumes; it was your mention of it this morning, and my great anxiety to discover all I can respecting that man, Yelland Mace, that induced me to make the request. Thank you very much,” said old Mr. Arden, placing the profile in the fat fingers of Mr. Plumes. “You must take a glass of sherry before you leave. And have you got a cab to return in?”

“The men are waiting for me, I thank you, and I have just ‘ad my tea, Sir, much obleeged, and I think I had best return to town, gentlemen, as I have some few words to say to-night to our Mr. Trimmer; so, with your leave, gentlemen, I’ll wish you good-night.”

And with a solemn bow, first to Mr. Arden, then to the young scion of the house, and lastly a general bow to both, that grave gentleman withdrew.

“I could see no likeness in that thing to any one,” repeated old Mr. Arden. “Mr. Longcluse is a friend of yours?” he added a little abruptly.

“I can’t say he was a friend; he was an acquaintance, but even that is quite ended.”

“What! you don’t know him any longer?”

“No.”

“You’re quite sure!”

“Perfectly.”

“Then I may say I’m very glad. I don’t like him, and I can’t say why; but I can’t help connecting him with your poor uncle’s death. I must have dreamed about him and forgot the dream, while the impression continues; for I cannot discover in any fact within my knowledge the slightest justification for the unpleasant persuasion that constantly returns to my mind. I could not trace a likeness to him in that silhouette.”

He looked at his nephew, who returned his steady look with one of utter surprise.

“Oh, dear! no. There is not a vestige of a resemblance,” said Richard. “I know his features very well.”

“No,” said Uncle David, lowering his eyes to the table, on which he was tapping gently with his fingers; “no, there certainly is not — not any. But I can’t dismiss the suspicion. I can’t get it out of my head, Richard, and yet I can’t account for it,” he said, raising his eyes to his nephew’s. “There is something in it; I could not else be so haunted.”

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