Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 72.

Measures.

About twelve o’clock next day Richard Arden showed himself at Mortlake. It was a beautiful autumnal day, and the mellow sun fell upon a foliage that was fading into russet and yellow. Alice was looking out from the open window, on the noble old timber whose wide-spread boughs and thinning leaves caught the sunbeams pleasantly. She had heard her brother and his companion go down the stairs, and saw them, from the window, walk quickly down the avenue, till the trees hid them from view. She thought that some of the servants were up, and that the door was secured on their departure; and the effect of the shock she had received gradually subsiding, she looked to her next interview with her brother for an explanation of the occurrence which had so startled her.

That interview was approaching; the cab drove up to the steps, and her brother got out. Anxiously she looked, but no one followed him, and the driver shut the cab-door. Sir Richard kissed his hand to her, as she stood in the window.

From the hall the house opens to the right and left, in two suites of rooms. The room in which Alice stood was called the sage-room, from its being hung in sage-green leather, stamped in gold. It is a small room to the left, and would answer very prettily for a card party or a tête-à-tête. Alice had her work, her books, and her music there; she liked it because the room was small and cheery.

The door opened, and her brother comes in.

“Good Dick, to come so early! welcome, darling,” she said, putting her arms about his neck, as he stooped and kissed her, smiling.

He looked very ill, and his smile was painful.

“That was an odd little visit I paid last night,” said he, with his dark eyes fixed on her, inquiringly she thought —“very late — quite unexpected. You are quite well today? — you look flourishing.”

“I wish I could say as much for you, Dick; I’m afraid you are tiring yourself to death.”

“I had some one with me last night,” said Sir Richard, with his eye still upon her; “I— I don’t know whether you perceived that.”

Alice looked away, and then said carelessly, but very gravely —

“I did — I saw Mr. Longcluse. I could not believe my eyes, Dick. You must promise me one thing.”

“What is that?”

“That he sha’n’t come into this house any more — while I am here, I mean.”

“That is easily promised,” said he.

“And what did he come about, Dick?”

“Oh! he came — he came — I thought I told you; he came about papers. I did not tell you; but he has, after all, turned out very friendly. He is going to do me a very important service.”

She looked very much surprised.

The young man glanced through the window, to which he walked; he seemed embarrassed, and then turning to her, he said peevishly —

“You seem to think, Alice, that one can never make a mistake, or change an opinion.”

“But I did not say so; only, Dick, I must tell you that I have such a horror of that man — a terror of him — as nothing can ever get over.”

“I’m to blame for that.”

“No, I can’t say you are. I don’t mind stories so much as ——”

“As what?”

“As looks.”

“Looks! Why, you used to think him a gentlemanly-looking fellow, and so he is.”

“Looks and language,” said Alice.

“I thought he was a very civil fellow.”

“I sha’n’t dispute anything. I suppose you have found him a good friend after all, as you say.”

“As good a friend as most men,” said Sir Richard, growing pale; “they all act from interest: where interests are the same, men are friends. But he has saved me from a great deal, and he may do more; and I believe I was too hasty about those stories, and I think you were right when you refused to believe them without proof.”

“I daresay — I don’t know — I believe my senses — and all I say is this, if Mr. Longcluse is to come here any more, I must go. He is no gentleman, I think — that is, I can’t describe how I dislike him — how I hate him! I’m afraid of him! Dick, you look ill and unhappy: what’s the matter?”

“I’m well enough — I’m better; we shall be better — all better by-and-by. I wish the next five weeks were over! We must leave this, we must go to Arden Court; I will send some of the servants there first. I am going to tell them now, they must get the house ready. You shall keep your maid here with you; and when all is ready in Yorkshire, we shall be off — Alice, Alice, don’t mind me — I’m miserable — mad!” he says suddenly, and covers his face with his hands, and, for the first time for years, he is crying bitter tears.

Alice was by his side, alarmed, curious, grieved; and with all these emotions mingling in her dark eyes and beautiful features, as she drew his hand gently away, with a rush of affectionate entreaties and inquiries.

“It is all very fine, Alice,” he exclaims, with a sudden bitterness; “but I don’t believe, to save me from destruction, you would sacrifice one of your least caprices, or reconcile one of your narrowest prejudices.”

“What can you mean, dear Richard? only tell me how I can be of any use. You can’t mean, of course ——”

She stops with a startled look at him. “You know, dear Dick, that was always out of the question: and surely you have heard that Lord Wynderbroke is to be married to Grace Maubray? It is all settled.”

Quite another thought had been in Richard’s mind, but he was glad to accept Alice’s conjecture.

“Yes, so it is — so, at least, it is said to be-but I am so worried and distracted, I half forget things. Girls are such jolly fools; they throw good men away, and lose themselves. What is to become of you, Alice, if things go wrong with me! I think the old times were best, when the old people settled who was to marry whom, and there was no disputing their decision, and marriages were just as happy, and courtships a great deal simpler; and I am very sure there were fewer secret repinings, and broken hearts, and — threadbare old maids. Don’t you be a fool, Alice; mind what I say.”

He is leaving the room, but pauses at the door, and returns and places his hand on her arm, looking in her face, and says —

“Yes, mind what I say, for God’s sake, and we may all be a great deal happier.”

He kisses her, and is gone. Her eyes follow him, as she thinks with a sigh —

“How strange Dick is growing! I’m afraid he has been playing again, and losing. It must have been something very urgent that induced him to make it up again with that low malignant man; and this break-up, and journey to Arden Court! I think I should prefer being there. There is something ominous about this place, picturesque as it is, and much as I like it. But the journey to Yorkshire is only another of the imaginary excursions Dick has been proposing every fortnight; and next year, and the year after, will find us, I suppose, just where we are.”

But this conjecture, for once, was mistaken. It was, this time, a veritable break-up and migration; for Martha Tansey came in, with the importance of a person who has a matter of moment to talk over.

“Here’s something sudden, Miss Alice; I suppose you’ve heard. Off to Arden Court in the mornin’. Crozier and me; the footman discharged, and you to follow with Master Richard in a week.”

“Oh, then, it is settled. Well, Martha, I am not sorry, and I daresay you and Crozier won’t be sorry to see old Yorkshire faces again, and the Court, and the rookery, and the orchard.”

“I don’t mind; glad enough to see a’ad faces, but I’m a bit o’er a’ad myself for such sudden flittins, and Manx and Darwent, and the rest, is to go by night train tomorrow, and not a housemaid left in Mortlake. But Master Richard says a’s provided, and ’twill be but a few days after a’s done; and ye’ll be down, then, at Arden by the middle o’ next week, and I’m no sa sure the change mayn’t serve ye; and as your uncle, Master David, and Lady May Penrose, and Miss Maubray — a strackle-brained lass she is, I doubt — and to think o’ that a’ad fule, Lord Wynderbroke, takin’ sich a young, bonny hizzy to wife! La bless ye, she’ll play the hangment wi’ that a’ad gowk of a lord, and all his goold guineas won’t do. His kist o’ money won’t hod na time, I warrant ye, when once that lassie gets her pretty fingers under the lid. There’ll be gaains on in that house, I warrant, not but he’s a gude man, and a fine gentleman as need be,” she added, remembering her own strenuous counsel in his favour, when he was supposed to be paying his court to Alice; “and if he was mated wi’ a gude lassie, wi’ gude blude in her veins, would doubtless keep as honourable a house, and hod his head as high as any lord o’ them a’. But as I was saying, Miss Alice, now that Master David, and Lady May, and Miss Maubray, has left Lunnon, there’s no one here to pay ye a visit, and ye’d be fairly buried alive here in Mortlake, and ye’ll be better, and sa will we a’, down at Arden, for a bit; and there’s gentle folk down there as gude as ever rode in Lunnon streets, mayhap, and better; and mony a squire, that ony leddy in the land might be proud to marry, and not one but would be glad to match wi’ an Arden.”

“That is a happy thought,” said Alice, laughing.

“And so it is, and no laughing matter,” said Martha, a little offended, as she stalked out of the room, and closed the door, grandly, after her.

“And God bless you, dear old Martha,” said the young lady, looking towards the door through which she had just passed; “the truest and kindest soul on earth.”

Sir Richard did not come back. She saw him no more that evening.

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