Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 65.

Behind the Arras.

It was quite true that Lady May was not at home. She was actually, with a little charming palpitation, driving to pay a very interesting visit to Grace Maubray. In affairs of the kind that now occupied her mind, she had no confidants but very young people.

Miss Maubray was at home — and instantly Lady May’s plump instep was seen on the carriage step. She disdained assistance, and descended with a heavy skip upon the flags, where she executed an involuntary frisk that carried her a little out of the line of advance.

As she ascended the stairs, she met her friend Lord Wynderbroke coming down. They stopped for a moment on the landing, under a picture of Cupid and Venus; Lady May, smiling, remarked, a little out of breath, what a charming day it was, and expressed her amazement at seeing him in town — a surprise which he agreeably reciprocated. He had been at Glenkiltie in the Highlands, where he had accidentally met Mr. David Arden. “Miss Maubray is in the drawing-room,” he said, observing that the eyes of the good lady glanced unconsciously upward at the door of that room. And then they parted affectionately, and turned their backs on each other with a sense of relief.

“Well, my dear,” she said to Grace Maubray as soon as they had kissed, “longing to have a few minutes with you, with ever so much to say. You have no idea what it is to be stopped on the stairs by that tiresome man — I’ll never quarrel with you again for calling him a bore. No matter, here I am; and really, my dear, it is such an odd affair — not quite that; such an odd scene, I don’t know where or how to begin.”

“I wish I could help you,” said Miss Maubray laughing.

“Oh, my dear, you’d never guess in a hundred years.”

“How do you know? Hasn’t a certain baronet something to do with it?”

“Well, well — dear me! That is very extraordinary. Did he tell you he was going to — to — Good gracious! My dear, it is the most extraordinary thing. I believe you hear everything; but — a — but listen. Not an hour ago he came — Richard Arden, of course, we mean — and, my dear Grace, he spoke so very nicely of his troubles, poor fellow, you know — debts I mean, of course — not the least his fault, and all that kind of thing, and — he went on — I really don’t know how to tell you. But he said — he said — he said he liked me, and no one else on earth; and he was on the very point of saying everything, when, just at that moment, who should come in but that gossiping old woman, Lady Botherton — and he whispered, as he was going, that he would return, after I had had my drive. The carriage was at the door, so, when I got rid of the old woman, I got into it, and came straight here to have a talk with you; and what do you think I ought to say? Do tell me, like a darling, do!”

“I wish you would tell me what one ought to say to that question,” said Grace Maubray with a slight disdain (that young lady was in the most unreasonable way piqued), “for I’m told he’s going to ask me precisely the same question.”

You, my dear?” said Lady May after a pause, during which she was staring at the smiling face of the young lady; “you can’t be serious!”

He can’t be serious, you mean,” answered the young lady, “and — who’s this?” she broke off, as she saw a cab drive up to the hall-door. “Dear me! is it? No. Yes, indeed, it is Sir Richard Arden. We must not be seen together. He’ll know you have been talking to me. Just go in here.”

She opened the door of the boudoir adjoining the room.

“I’ll send him away in a moment. You may hear every word I have to say. I should like it. I shall give him a lecture.”

As she thus spoke she heard his step on the stair, and motioned Lady May into the inner room, into which she hurried and closed the door, leaving it only a little way open.

These arrangements are hardly completed when Sir Richard is announced. Grace is positively angry. But never had she looked so beautiful; her eyes so tenderly lustrous under their long lashes; her colour so brilliant — an expression so maidenly and sad. If it was acting, it was very well done. You would have sworn that the melancholy and agitation of her looks, and the slightly quickened movement of her breathing, were those of a person who felt that the hour of her fate had come.

With what elation Richard Arden saw these beautiful signs!

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