Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 56.

A Hope Expires.

Mr. Longcluse knocked at Mr. David Arden’s door. Yes, Miss Maubray was at home. He mounted the stairs, and was duly announced at the drawing-room door, and saw the brilliant young lady, who received him very graciously. She was alone.

Mr. Longcluse began by saying that the weather was cooler, and the sun much less intolerable.

“I wish we could say as much for the people, though, indeed, they are cool enough. There are some people called Tramways: he’s a baronet — a very new one. Do you know anything of them? Are they people one can know?”

“I only know that Lady Tramway chaperoned a very charming young lady, whom everybody is very glad to know, to Lady May’s garden-party the other day, at Richmond.”

“Yes, very true; I’m that young lady, and that is the very reason I want to know. My uncle placed me in their hands.”

“Oh, he knows everybody.”

“Yes, and every one, which is quite another thing; and the woman has never given me an hour’s quiet since. She presents me with bouquets, and fruit, and every imaginable thing I don’t want, herself included, at least once a day; and I assure you I live in hourly terror of her getting into the drawing-room. You don’t know anything about them?”

“I only know that her husband made a great deal of money by a contract.”

“That sounds very badly, and she is such a vulgar woman?”

“I know no more of them; but Lady May had her to Raleigh Hall, and surely she can satisfy your scruples.”

“No, it was my guardian who asked for their card, so that goes for nothing. It is really too bad.”

“My heart bleeds for you.”

“By-the-bye, talking of Lady May, I had a visit from her not a quarter-of-an-hour ago. What a fuss our friends at Mortlake do make about the death of that disagreeable old man! — Alice, I mean. Richard Arden bears it wonderfully. When did you see either?” she asked, innocently.

“You forget he has not been dead three weeks, and Alice Arden is not likely to see any one but very intimate friends for a long time; and — and I daresay you have heard that Sir Richard Arden and I are not on very pleasant terms.”

“‘Oh! Pity such difference should be ——.’”

“Thanks, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee are not likely to make it up. I’m afraid people aren’t always reasonable, you know, and expect, often, things that are not quite fair.”

“He ought to marry some one with money, and give up play.”

“What! give up play, and commence husband? I’m afraid he’d think that a rather dull life.”

“Well, I’m sure I’m no judge of that, although I give an opinion. Whatever he may be, you have a very staunch friend in Lady May.”

“I’m glad of that; she’s always so kind.” And he looked rather oddly at the young lady.

Perhaps she seemed conscious of a knowledge more than she had yet divulged.

This young lady was, I need not tell you, a little coarse. She had, when she liked, the frankness that can come pretty boldly to the point; but I think she could be sly enough when she pleased; and was she just a little mischievous?

“Lady May has been talking to me a great deal about Alice Arden. She has been to see her very often since that poor old man died, and she says — she says, Mr. Longcluse — will you be upon honour not to repeat this?”

“Certainly, upon my honour.”

“Well, she says ——”

Miss Maubray gets up quickly, and settles some flowers over the chimney-piece.

“She says that there is a coolness in that quarter also.”

“I don’t quite see,” says Mr. Longcluse.

“Well, I must tell you she has taken me into council, and told me a great deal; and she spoke to Alice, and wrote to her. Did she say she would show you the answer? I have got it; she left it with me, and asked me — she’s so good-natured — to use my influence — she said my influence! She ought to know I’ve no influence.”

Longcluse felt very oddly indeed during this speech; he had still presence of mind not to add anything to the knowledge the young lady might actually possess.

“You have not said a great deal, you know; but Lady May certainly did promise to show me an answer which she expected to a note she wrote about three weeks ago, or less, to Miss Arden.”

“I really don’t know of what use I can be in the matter. I have no excuse for speaking to Alice on the subject of her note — none in the world. I think I may as well let you see it; but you will promise — you have promised — not to tell any one?”

“I have — I do — I promise. Lady May herself said she would show me that letter.”

“Well, I can’t, I suppose, be very wrong. It is only a note: it does not say much, but quite enough, I’m afraid, to make it useless, and almost impertinent, for me, or any one else, to say a word more on the subject to Alice Arden.”

All this time she is opening a very pretty marqueterie writing-desk, on spiral legs, which Longcluse has been listlessly admiring, little thinking what it contains. She now produced a little note, which, disengaging from its envelope, she places in the hand that Mr. Longcluse extended to receive it.

“I do so hope,” she said, as she gave it to him, “that I am doing what Lady May would wish. I think she shrank a little from showing it to you herself, but I am certain she wished you to know what is in it.”

He opened it quickly. It ran thus (“Merry,” I must remark, was a pet name, originating, perhaps, in Shakespeare’s song that speaks of “the merry month of May”):—

“DEAREST MERRY,

“I hope you will come to see me tomorrow. I cannot yet bear the idea of going into town. I feel as if I never should, and I think I grow more and more miserable every day. You are one of the very few friends whom I can see. You can’t think what a pleasure a call from you is — if, indeed, in my miserable state, I can call anything a pleasure. I have read your letter about Mr. Longcluse, and parts of it a little puzzle me. I can’t say that I have anything to forgive, and I am sure he has acted just as kindly as you say. But our acquaintance has ended, and nothing shall ever induce me to renew it. I can give you fifty reasons, when I see you, for my not choosing to know him. Darling Merry, I have quite made up my mind upon this point. I don’t know Mr. Longcluse, and I won’t know Mr. Longcluse; and I’ll tell you all my reasons, if you wish to hear them, when we meet. Some of them, which seem to me more than sufficient, you do know. The only condition I make is that you don’t discuss them with me. I have grown so stupid that I really cannot. I only know that I am right, and that nothing can change me. Come, darling, and see me very soon. You have no idea how very wretched I am. But I do not complain: it has drawn me, I hope, to higher and better thoughts. The world is not what it was to me, and I pray it never may be. Come and see me soon, darling; you cannot think how I long to see you. — Your affectionate,

“ALICE ARDEN.”

“What mountains of molehills!” said Mr. Longcluse, very gently, smiling with a little shrug, as he placed the letter again in Miss Maubray’s hand.

“Making such a fuss about that poor old man’s death! It certainly does look a little like a pretty affectation. Isn’t that what you mean? He was so insupportable!”

“No, I know nothing about that. I mean such a ridiculous fuss about nothing. Why, people cease to be acquainted every day for much less reason. Sir Reginald chose to talk over his money matters with me, and I think he expected me to do things which no stranger could be reasonably invited to do. And I suppose, now that he is gone, Miss Arden resents my insensibility to his hints; and I daresay Sir Richard, who, I may say, on precisely similar grounds, chooses to quarrel with me, does not spare invective, and has, of course, a friendly listener in his sister. But how absurdly provoking that Lady May should have made such a diplomacy, and given herself so much trouble! And — I’m afraid I appear so foolish — I merely assented to Lady May’s kind proposal to mediate, and I could not, of course, appear to think it a less important mission than she did; and — where are you going — Scotland? Italy?”

“My guardian, Mr. Arden, has not yet settled anything,” she answered; and upon this, Mr. Longcluse begins to recommend, and with much animation to describe, several Continental routes, and then he tells her all his gossip, and takes his leave, apparently in very happy spirits.

I doubt very much whether the face can ever be taught to lie as impudently as the tongue. Its muscles, of course, can be trained; but the young lady thought that Mr. Longcluse’s pallor, as he smiled and returned the note, was more intense, and his dark eyes strangely fierce.

“He was more vexed than he cared to say,” thought the young lady. “Lady May has not told me the whole story yet. There has been a great deal of fibbing, but I shall know it all.”

Mr. Longcluse had to dine out. He drove home to dress. On arriving, he first sat down and wrote a note to Lady May.

“DEAR LADY MAY,

“I am so grateful. Miss Maubray told me today all the trouble you have been taking for me. Pray think no more of that little vexation. I never took so serious a view of so commonplace an unpleasantness, as to dream of tasking your kindness so severely. I am quite ashamed of having given you so much trouble. — Yours, dear Lady May, sincerely,

“WALTER LONGCLUSE.”

“P.S. — I don’t forget your kind invitation to lunch tomorrow.”

Longcluse dispatched this note, and then wrote a few words of apology to the giver of the City dinner, to which he had intended to go. He could not go. He was very much agitated: he knew that he could not endure the long constraint of that banquet. He was unfit, for the present, to bear the company of any one. Gloomy and melancholy was the pale face of this man, as if he were going to the funeral of his beloved, when he stepped from his door in the dark. Was he going to walk out to Mortlake, and shoot himself on the steps?

As Mr. Longcluse walked into town, he caught a passing sight of a handsome young face that jarred upon him. It was that of Richard Arden, who was walking, also alone, not under any wild impulse, but to keep an appointment. This handsome face appeared for a moment gliding by, and was lost. Melancholy and thoughtful he looked, and quite unconscious of the near vicinity of his pale adversary. We shall follow him to his place of rendezvous.

He walked quickly by Pall Mall, and down Parliament Street, into the ancient quarter of Westminster, turned into a street near the Abbey, and from it into another that ran toward the river. Here were tall and dingy mansions, some of which were let out as chambers. In one of these, in a room over the front drawing-room, Mr. Levi received his West-end clients; and here, by appointment, he awaited Sir Richard Arden.

The young baronet, a little paler, and with the tired look of a man who was made acquainted with care, enters this room, hot with the dry atmosphere of gas-light. With his back towards the door, and his feet on the fender, smoking, sits Mr. Levi. Sir Richard does not remove his hat, and he stands by the table, which he slaps once or twice sharply with his stick. Mr. Levi turns about, looking, in his own phrase, unusually “down in the mouth,” and his big black eyes are glowing angrily.

“Ho! Shir Richard Harden,” he says, rising, “I did not think we was sho near the time. Izh it a bit too soon?”

“A little later than the time I named.”

“Crikey! sho it izh.”

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