Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 64.

From Flower to Flower.

Mr. Blount was intelligent: he was an effective though not an artful diplomatist. He promptly undertook to sound Mr. Longcluse without betraying Sir Richard.

Richard Arden did not allude to his losses. He took good care to appear pretty nearly as usual. When he confessed his tendresse for Miss Maubray, the grave gentleman smiled brightly, and took him by the hand.

“If you should marry the young lady, mark you, she will have sixty thousand pounds down, and sixty thousand more after Mr. David Arden’s death. That is splendid, Sir, and I think it will please him very much.”

“I have suffered a great deal, Mr. Blount, by neglecting his advice hitherto. It shall be my chief object, henceforward, to reform, and to live as he wishes. I believe people can’t learn wisdom without suffering.”

“Will you take a biscuit and a glass of sherry, Sir Richard?” asked Mr. Blount.

“Nothing, thanks,” said Sir Richard. “You know, I’m not as rich as I might have been, and marriage is a very serious step; and you are one of the oldest and most sensible friends I have, and you’ll understand that it is only right I should be very sure before taking such a step, involving not myself only, but another who ought to be dearer still, that there should be no mistake about the means on which we may reckon. Are you quite sure that my uncle’s intentions are still exactly what you mentioned?”

“Perfectly; he authorised me to say so two months ago, and on the eve of his departure on Friday last he repeated his instructions.”

Sir Richard, in silence, shook the old man very cordially by the hand, and was gone.

As he drove to his house in May Fair, Sir Richard’s thoughts, among other things, turned again upon the question, “Who could his mysterious benefactor be?”

Once or twice had dimly visited his mind a theory which, ever since his recent conversation with Mr. Levi, had been growing more solid and vivid. An illegitimate brother of his father’s, Edwin Raikes, had gone out to Australia early in life, with a purse to which three brothers, the late Sir Reginald, Harry, and David, had contributed. He had not maintained any correspondence with English friends and kindred; but rumours from time to time reached home that he had amassed a fortune. His feelings to the family of Arden had always been kindly. He was older than Uncle David, and had well earned a retirement from the life of exertion and exile which had consumed all the vigorous years of his manhood. Was this the “old party” for whom Mr. Levi was acting?

With this thought opened a new and splendid hope upon the mind of Sir Richard. Here was a fortune, if rumour spoke truly, which, combined with David Arden’s, would be amply sufficient to establish the old baronetage upon a basis of solid magnificence such as it had never rested on before.

It would not do, however, to wait for this. The urgency of the situation demanded immediate action. Sir Richard made an elaborate toilet, after which, in a hansom, he drove to Lady May Penrose’s.

If our hero had had fewer things to think about he would have gone first, I fancy, to Miss Grace Maubray. It could do no great harm, however, to feel his way a little with Lady May, he thought, as he chatted with that plump alternative of his tender dilemma. But in this wooing there was a difficulty of a whimsical kind. Poor Lady May was so easily won, and made so many openings for his advances, that he was at his wits’ end to find evasions by which to postpone the happy crisis which she palpably expected. He did succeed, however; and with a promise of calling again, with the lady’s permission, that evening, he took his leave.

Before making his call at his uncle’s house, in the hope of seeing Grace Maubray, he had to return to Mr. Blount, in Manchester Buildings, where he hoped to receive from that gentleman a report of his interview with Mr. Longcluse.

I shall tell you here what that report related. Mr. Longcluse was fortunately still at his house when Mr. Blount called, and immediately admitted him. Mr. Longcluse’s horse and groom were at the door; he was on the point of taking his ride. His gloves and whip were beside him on the table as Mr. Blount entered.

Mr. Blount made his apologies, and was graciously received. His visit was, in truth, by no means unwelcome.

“Mr. David Arden very well, I hope?”

“Quite well, thanks. He has left town.”

“Indeed! And where has he gone — the moors?”

“To Scotland, but not to shoot, I think. And he’s going abroad then — going to travel.”

“On the Continent? How nice that is! What part?”

“Switzerland and Italy, I think,” said Mr. Blount, omitting all mention of Paris, where Mr. Arden was going first to make a visit to the Baron Vanboeren.

“He’s going over ground that I know very well,” said Mr. Longcluse. “Happy man! He can’t quite break away from his business, though, I daresay.”

“He never tells us where a letter will find him, and the consequence is his holidays are never spoiled.”

“Not a bad plan, Mr. Blount. Won’t he visit the Paris Exhibition?”

“I rather think not.”

“Can I do anything for you, Mr. Blount?”

“Well, Mr. Longcluse, I just called to ask you a question. I have been invited to take part in arranging a little matter which I take an interest in, because it affects the Arden estates.”

“Is Sir Richard Arden interested in it?” inquired Mr. Longcluse, gently and coldly.

“Yes, I rather fancy he would be benefited.”

“I have had a good deal of unpleasantness, and, I might add, a great deal of ingratitude from that quarter, and I have made up my mind never again to have anything to do with him or his affairs. I have no unpleasant feeling, you understand; no resentment; there is nothing, of course, he could say or do that could in the least affect me. It is simply that, having coolly reviewed his conduct, I have quite made up my mind to aid in nothing in which he has act, part, or interest.”

“It was not directly, but simply as a surety ——”

“All the same, so far as I’m concerned,” said Mr. Longcluse sharply.

“And only, I fancied, it might be, as Mr. David Arden is absent, and you should be protected by satisfactory joint security ——”

“I won’t do it,” said Mr. Longcluse, a little brusquely; and he took out his watch and glanced at it impatiently.

“Sir Richard, I think, will be in funds immediately,” said Mr. Blount.

“How so?” asked Mr. Longcluse. “You’ll excuse me, as you press the subject, for saying that will be something new.”

“Well,” said Mr. Blount, who saw that his last words had made an impression, “Sir Richard is likely to be married, very advantageously, immediately.”

“Are settlements agreed on?” inquired Mr. Longcluse, with real interest.

“No, not yet; but I know all about them.”

“He is accepted then?”

“He has not proposed yet; but there can be, I fancy, no doubt that the lady likes him, and all will go right.”

“Oh! and who is the lady?”

“I’m not at liberty to tell.”

“Quite right; I ought not to have asked,” says Mr. Longcluse; and looks down, slapping at intervals the side of his trousers lightly with his whip. He raises his eyes to Mr. Blount’s face, and looks on the point of asking another question, but he does not.

“It is my opinion,” said Mr. Blount, “the kindness would involve absolutely no risk whatever.”

There was a little pause. Mr. Longcluse looks rather dark and anxious; perhaps his mind has wandered quite from the business before them. But it returns, and he says —

“Risk or no risk, Mr. Blount, I don’t mean to do him that kindness; and for how long will Mr. David Arden be absent?”

“Unless he should take a sudden thought to return, he’ll be away at least two months.”

“Where is he? — in Scotland?”

“I really don’t know.”

“Couldn’t one see him for a few minutes before he starts? Where does he take the steamer?”

“Southampton.”

“And on what day?”

“You really want a word with him?” asked Blount, whose hopes revived.

“I may.”

“Well, the only person who will know that is Mr. Humphries, of Pendle Castle, near that town; for he has to transact some trust-business with that gentleman as he passes through.”

“Humphries, of Pendle Castle. Very good; thanks.”

Mr. Longcluse looks again at his watch.

“And perhaps you will reconsider the matter I spoke of?”

“No use, Mr. Blount — not the least. I have quite made up my mind. Anything more? I am afraid I must be off.”

“Nothing, thanks,” said Mr. Blount.

And so the interview ended.

When he was gone, Mr. Longcluse thought darkly for a minute.

“That’s a straightforward fellow, they say. I suppose the facts are so. It can’t be, though, that Miss Maubray, that handsome creature with so much money, is thinking of marrying that insolent coxcomb. It may be Lady May, but the other is more likely. We must not allow that, Sir Richard. That would never do.”

There was a fixed frown on his face, and he was smiling in his dream. Out he went. His pale face looked as if he meditated a wicked joke, and, frowning still in utter abstraction, he took the bridle from his groom, mounted, looked about him as if just wakened, and set off at a canter, followed by his servant, for David Arden’s house.

Smiling, gay, as if no care had ever crossed him, Longcluse enters the drawing-room, where he finds the handsome young lady writing a note at that moment.

“Mr. Longcluse, I’m so glad you’ve come!” she says, with a brilliant smile. “I was writing to poor Lady Ethel, who is mourning, you know, in the country. The death of her father in the house was so awfully sudden, and I’m telling her all the news I can think of to amuse her. And is it really true that old Sir Thomas Giggles has grown so cross with his pretty young wife, and objects to her allowing Lord Knocknea to make love to her?”

“Quite true. It is a very bad quarrel, and I’m afraid it can’t be made up,” said Mr. Longcluse.

“It must be very bad, indeed, if Sir Thomas can’t make it up; for he allowed his first wife, I am told, to do anything she pleased. Is it to be a separation?”

“At least. And you heard, I suppose, of poor old Lady Glare?”

“No!”

“She has been rolling ever so long, you know, in a sea of troubles, and now, at last, she has fairly foundered.”

“How do you mean?”

“They have sold her diamonds,” said Mr. Longcluse. “Didn’t you hear?”

“No! Really? Sold her diamonds? Good Heaven! Then there’s nothing left of her but her teeth. I hope they won’t sell them.”

“It is an awful misfortune,” said Mr. Longcluse.

“Misfortune! She’s utterly ruined. It was her diamonds that people asked. I am really sorry. She was such fun; she was so fat, and such a fool, and said such delicious things, and dressed herself so like a macaw. Alas! I shall never see her more; and people thought her only use on earth was to carry about her diamonds. No one seemed to perceive what a delightful creature she was. What about Lady May Penrose? I have not seen her since I came back from Cowes, the day before yesterday, and we leave London together on Tuesday.”

“Lady May! Oh! she is to receive a very interesting communication, I believe. She is one name on a pretty long and very distinguished list, which Sir Richard Arden, I am told, has made out, and carries about with him in his pocket-book.”

“You’re talking riddles; pray speak plainly.”

“Well, Lady May is one of several ladies who are to be honoured with a proposal.”

“And would you have me believe that Sir Richard Arden has really made such a fool of himself as to make out a list of eligible ladies whom he is about to ask to marry him, and that he has had the excellent good sense and taste to read this list to his acquaintance?”

“I mean to say this — I’ll tell the whole story — Sir Richard has ruined himself at play; take that as a fact to start with. He is literally ruined. His uncle is away; but I don’t think any man in his senses would think of paying his losses for him. He turns, therefore, naturally, to the more amiable and less arithmetical sex, and means to invite, in turn, a series of fair and affluent admirers to undertake, by means of suitable settlements, that interesting office for him.”

“I don’t think you like him, Mr. Longcluse; is not that a story a little too like ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor?’”

“It is quite certain I don’t like him, and it is quite certain,” added Mr. Longcluse, with one of his cold little laughs, “that if I did like him, I should not tell the story; but it is also certain that the story is, in all its parts, strictly fact. If you permit me the pleasure of a call in two or three days, you will tell me you no longer doubt it.”

Mr. Longcluse was looking down as he said that with a gentle and smiling significance. The young lady blushed a little, and then more intensely, as he spoke, and looking through the window, asked with a laugh —

“But how shall we know whether he really speaks to Lady May?”

“Possibly by his marrying her,” laughed Mr. Longcluse. “He certainly will if he can, unless he is caught and married on the way to her house.”

“He was a little unfortunate in showing you his list, wasn’t he?” said Grace Maubray.

“I did not say that. If there had been any, the least, confidence, nothing on earth could have induced me to divulge it. We are not even, at present, on speaking terms. He had the coolness to send a Mr. Blount, who transacts all Mr. David Arden’s affairs, to ask me to become his security, Mr. Arden being away; and by way of inducing me to do so, he disclosed, with the coarseness which is the essence of business, the matrimonial schemes which are to recoup, within a few days, the losses of the roulette, the whist-table, or the dice-box.”

“Oh! Mr. Blount, I’m told, is a very honest man.”

“Quite so; particularly accurate, and I don’t think anything on earth would induce him to tell an untruth,” testifies Mr. Longcluse.

After a little pause, Miss Maubray laughs.

“One certainly does learn,” she said, “something new every day. Could any one have fancied a gentleman descending to so gross a meanness?”

“Everybody is a gentleman now-a-days,” remarked Mr. Longcluse with a smile; “but every one is not a hero — they give way, more or less, under temptation. Those who stand the test of the crucible and the furnace are seldom met with.”

At this moment the door opened, and Lord Wynderbroke was announced. A little start, a lighting of the eyes, as Grace rose, and a fluttered advance, with a very pretty little hand extended, to meet him, testified, perhaps, rather more surprise than one would have quite expected. For Mr. Longcluse, who did not know him so well as Miss Maubray, recognised his voice, which was peculiar, and resembling the caw of a jay, as he put a question to the servant on his way up.

Mr. Longcluse took his leave. He was not sorry that Lord Wynderbroke had called. He wished no success to Sir Richard’s wooing. He thought he had pretty well settled the question in Miss Maubray’s mind, and smiling, he rode at a pleasant canter to Lady May’s. It was as well, perhaps, that she should hear the same story. Lady May, however, unfortunately, had just gone out for a drive.

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