Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 49.

Vows for the Future.

As he drove to his uncle’s house, he was tumbling over facts and figures, in the endeavour to arrive at some conclusion as to how he stood in the balance-sheet that must now be worked out. What a thing that post-obit had turned out! Those cursed Jews who had dealt with him must have known ever so much more about his poor father’s health than he did. They are such fellows to worm out the secrets of a family — all through one’s own servants, and doctors, and apothecaries. The spies! They stick at nothing — such liars! How they pretended to wish to be off! What torture they kept him in! How they talked of the old man’s nervous fibre, and pretended to think he would live for twenty years to come!

“And the deed was not six weeks signed when I found out he had those epileptic fits, and they knew it, the wretches! — and so I’ve been hit for that huge sum of money. And there is interest, two years’ nearly, on that other charge, and that swindle that half ruined me on the Derby. And there are those bills that Levi has got, but that is only fifteen hundred, and I can manage that any time, and a few other trifles.”

And he thought what yeoman’s service Longcluse might and would have rendered him in this situation. How translucent the whole opaque complexity would have become in a hour or two, and at what easy interest he would have procured him funds to adjust these complications! But here, too, fortune had dealt maliciously. What a piece of cross-grained luck that Longcluse should have chosen to fall in love with Alice! And now they two had exchanged, not shots, but insults, harder to forgive. And that officious fool, Vandeleur, had laid him open to a more direct and humiliating affront than had before befallen him. Henceforward, between him and Longcluse no reconciliation was possible. Fiery and proud by nature was this Richard Arden, and resentful. In Yorkshire the family had been accounted a vindictive race. I don’t know. I have only to do with those inheritors of the name who figure in this story.

There remained an able accountant and influential man on ‘Change, on whose services he might implicitly reckon — his uncle, David Arden. But he was separated from him by the undefinable chasm of years — the want of sympathy, the sense of authority. He would take not only the management of this financial adjustment, but the carriage of the future of this young, handsome, full-blooded fellow, who had certainly no wish to take unto himself a Mentor.

Here have been projected on this page, as in the disk of an oxy-hydrogen microscope, some of the small and active thoughts that swarmed almost unsuspected in Richard Arden’s mind. But it would be injustice to Sir Richard Arden (we may as well let him enjoy at once the title which stately Death has just presented him with — it seems to me a mocking obeisance) to pretend that higher and kinder feelings had no place in his heart.

Suddenly redeemed from ruin, suddenly shocked by an awful spectacle, a disturbance of old associations where there had once been kindness, where estrangements and enmity had succeeded: there was in all this something moving and agitating, that stirred his affections strangely when he saw his sister.

David Arden had left his house an hour before the news reached its inmates. Sir Richard was shown to the drawing-room, where there was no one to receive him; and in a minute Alice, looking very pale and miserable, entered, and running up to him, without saying a word threw her arms about his neck, and sobbed piteously.

Her brother was moved. He folded her to his heart. Broken and hurried words of tenderness and affection he spoke, as he kissed her again and again. Henceforward he would live a better and wiser life. He had tasted the dangers and miseries that attend on play. He swore he would give it up. He had done with the follies of his youth. But for years he had not had a home. He was thrown into the thick of temptation. A fellow who had no home was so likely to amuse himself with play; and he had suffered enough to make him hate it, and she should see what a brother he would be, henceforward, to her.

Alice’s heart was bursting with self-reproach; she told Richard the whole story of her trouble of the day before, and the circumstances of her departure from Mortlake, all in an agony of tears; and declared, as young ladies often have done before, that she never could be happy again.

He was disappointed, but generous and gentle feelings had been stirred within him.

“Don’t reproach yourself, darling; that is mere folly. The entire responsibility of your leaving Mortlake belongs to my uncle; and about Wynderbroke, you must not torment yourself; you had a right to a voice in the matter, surely, and I daresay you would not be happier now if you had been less decided, and found yourself at this moment committed to marry him. I have more reason to upbraid myself, but I’m sure I was right, though I sometimes lost my temper; I know my Uncle David thinks I was right; but there is no use now in thinking more about it; right or wrong, it is all over, and I won’t distract myself uselessly. I’ll try to be a better brother to you than I ever have been; and I’ll make Mortlake our head-quarters: or we’ll live, if you like it better, at Arden Manor, or I’ll go abroad with you. I’ll lay myself out to make you happy. One thing I’m resolved on, and that is to give up play, and find some manly and useful pursuit; and you’ll see I’ll do you some credit yet, or at least, as a country squire, do some little good, and be not quite useless in my generation; and I’ll do my best, dear Alice, to make you a happy home, and to be all that I ought to be to you, my darling.”

Very affectionately he both spoke and felt, and left Alice with some of her anxieties lightened, and already more interest in the future than she had thought possible an hour before.

Richard Arden had a good deal upon his hands that morning. He had money liabilities that were urgent. He had to catch his friend Mardykes at his lodgings, and get him to see the people in whose betting-books he stood for large figures, to represent to them what had happened, and assure them that a few days should see all settled. Then he had to go to the office of his father’s attorney, and learn whether a will was forthcoming; then to consult with his own attorney, and finally to follow his uncle, David Arden, from place to place, and find him at last at home, and talk over details, and advise with him generally about many things, but particularly about the further dispositions respecting the funeral; for a little note from his Uncle David had offered to relieve him of the direction of those hateful details transacted with the undertaker, which every one is glad to depute.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57