Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 55.

Mr. Longcluse Sees a Friend.

Sir Reginald Arden, then, is actually dead and buried, and is quite done with the pomps and vanities, the business and the miseries of life — dead as King Duncan, and cannot come out of his grave to trouble any one with protest or interference; and his son, Sir Richard, is in possession of the title, and seized of the acres, and uses them, without caring to trouble himself with conjectures as to what his father would have liked or abhorred.

A week has passed since the funeral. Lady May has spent two days at Mortlake, and then gone down to Brighton. Alice does not leave Mortlake; her spirits do not rise. Kind Lady May has done her best to persuade her to come down with her to Brighton, but the perversity or the indolence of grief has prevailed, and Alice has grown more melancholy and self-upbraiding about her quarrel with her father, and will not be persuaded to leave Mortlake, the very worst place she could have chosen, as Lady May protests, for a residence during her mourning. Perhaps in a little while she may feel equal to the effort, but now she can’t. She has quite lost her energy, and the idea of a place like Brighton, or even the chance of meeting people, is odious to her.

“So, my dear, do what I may, there she will remain, in that triste place,” says Lady May Penrose; “and her brother, Sir Richard, has so much business just now on his hands, that he is often away two or three days at a time, and then she stays moping there quite alone; and only that she likes gardening and flowers, and that kind of thing, I really think she would go melancholy mad. But you know that kind of folly can’t go on always, and I am determined to take her away in a month or so. People at first are so morbid, and make recluses of themselves.”

Lady May stayed away at Brighton for about a week. On her return, Mr. Longcluse called to see her.

“It was so kind of you, Mr. Longcluse, to take all the trouble you did about that terrible business! and it was perfectly successful. There was not the slightest unpleasantness.”

“Yes, I knew I had made anything of that kind all but impossible, but you are not to thank me. It made me only too happy to have an opportunity of being of any use — of relieving any anxiety.”

Longcluse sighed.

“You have placed me, I know, under a great obligation, and if every one felt it as I do, you would have been thanked as you deserved before now.”

A little silence followed.

“How is Miss Arden?” asked he in a low tone, and hardly raising his eyes.

“Pretty well,” she answered, a little dryly. “She’s not very wise, I think, in planning to shut herself up so entirely in that melancholy place, Mortlake. You have seen it?”

“Yes, more than once,” he answered.

Lady May appeared more embarrassed as Mr. Longcluse grew less so. They became silent again. Mr. Longcluse was the first to speak, which he did a little hesitatingly.

“I was going to say that I hoped Miss Arden was not vexed at my having ventured to interfere as I did.”

“Oh! about that, of course there ought to be, as I said, but one opinion; but you know she is not herself just now, and I shall have, perhaps, something to tell by-and-by; and, to say truth — you won’t be vexed, but I’m sorry I undertook to speak to her, for on that point I really don’t quite understand her; and I am a little vexed — and — I’ll talk to you more another time. I’m obliged to keep an appointment just now, and the carriage,” she added, glancing at the pendule on the bracket close by, “will be at the door in two or three minutes; so I must do a very ungracious thing, and say good-bye; and you must come again very soon — come to luncheon tomorrow — you must, really; I won’t let you off, I assure you; there are two or three people coming to see me, whom I think you would like to meet.”

And, looking very good-natured, and a little flushed, and rather avoiding Mr. Longcluse’s dark eyes, she departed.

He had been thinking of paying Miss Maubray a visit, but he had not avowed, even to himself, how high his hopes had mounted; and here was, in Lady May’s ominous manner and determined evasion, matter to disturb and even shock him. Instead, therefore, of pursuing the route he had originally designed, he strolled into the park, and under the shade of green boughs he walked, amid the twitter of birds and the prattle of children and nursery-maids, with despair at his heart, and a brain in chaos.

As he sauntered, with downcast looks, under the trees, he came upon a humble Hebrew friend, Mr. Goldshed, a magnate in his own circle, but dwarfed into nothing beside the paragon of Mammon who walked on the grass, so unpretentiously, and with a face as anxious as that of the greengrocer who had just been supplicating the Jew for a renewal of his twenty-five pound bill.

Mr. Goldshed came to a full stop a little way in advance of Mr. Longcluse, anxious to attract his attention. Mr. Longcluse did see him, as he sauntered on; and the fat old Jew, with the seedy velvet waistcoat, crossed with gold chains, and with an old-fashioned gold eye-glass dangling at his breast, first smiled engagingly, then looked reverential and solemn, and then smiled again with his great moist lips, and raised his hat. Longcluse gave him a sharp, short nod, and intended to pass him.

“Will you shpare me one word, Mr. Lonclushe?”

“Not today, Sir.”

“But I’ve been to your chambers, Sir, and to your houshe, Mr. Lonclushe.”

“You’ve wasted time — waste no more.”

“I do assure you, Shir, it’sh very urgent.”

“I don’t care.”

“It’sh about that East Indian thing,” and he lowered his voice as he concluded the sentence.

“I don’t care a pin, Sir.”

The amiable Mr. Goldshed hesitated; Mr. Longcluse passed him as if he had been a post. He turned, however, and walked a few steps by Mr. Longcluse’s side.

“And everything elshe is going sho vell; and it would look fishy, don’t you think, to let thish thing go that way?”

“Let them go — and go you with them. I wish the earth would swallow you all — scrip, bonds, children, and beldames.” And if a stamp could have made the earth open at his bidding, it would have yawned wide enough at that instant. “If you follow me another step, by Heaven, I’ll make it unpleasant to you.”

Mr. Longcluse looked so angry, that the Jew made him an unctuous bow, and remained fixed for a while to the earth, gazing after his patron with his hands in his pockets; and, with a gloomy countenance, he took forth a big cigar from his case, lighted a vesuvian, and began to smoke, still looking after Mr. Longcluse.

That gentleman sauntered on, striking his stick now and then to the ground, or waving it over the grass in as many odd flourishes as a magician in a pantomime traces with his wand.

If men are prone to teaze themselves with imaginations, they are equally disposed to comfort themselves with the same shadowy influences.

“I’m so nervous about this thing, and so anxious, that I exaggerate everything that seems to tell against me. How did I ever come to love her so? And yet, would I kill that love if I could? Should I not kill myself first? I’ll go and see Miss Maubray — I may hear something from her. Lady May was embarrassed: what then? Were I a simple observer of such a scene in the case of another, I should say there was nothing in it more than this — that she had quite forgotten all about her promise. She never mentioned my name, and when the moment came, and I had come to ask for an account, she did not know what to say. It was well done, to see old Mrs. Tansey as I did. Lady May is so good-natured, and would feel her little neglect so much, and she will be sure to make it up. Fifty things may have prevented her. Yes, I’ll go and hear what Miss Maubray has to say, and I’ll lunch with Lady May tomorrow. I suspect that her visit today was to Mortlake.”

With these reflections, Mr. Longcluse’s pace became brisker, and his countenance brightened.

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