Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 22.

Mr. Longcluse Makes an Odd Confidence.

David Arden looked at Mr. Longcluse with a sudden glance, that was, for a moment, shrinking and sharp. This confidence connected with such a scene chimed in, with a harmony that was full of pain, with the utterly vague suspicions that had somehow got into his imagination.

“Yes, and I have been a little puzzled,” continued Longcluse. “They say the man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client; but there are other things besides law to which the spirit of the canon more strongly still applies. I think you could give me just the kind of advice I need, if you were not to think my asking it too great a liberty. I should not dream of doing so if the matter were simply a private one, and began and ended in myself; but you will see in a moment that public interests of some value are involved, and I am a little doubtful whether the course I am taking is in all respects the right one. I have had two threatening letters; would you mind glancing at them? The moon is so brilliant, one has no difficulty in reading. This is the first. And may I ask you, kindly, until I shall have determined, I hope, with your aid, upon a course, to treat the matter as quite between ourselves? I have mentioned it to but one other person.”

“Certainly,” said David, “you have a right to your own terms.”

He took the letter and stopped short where he was, unfolding it. The light was quite sufficient, and he read the odd and menacing letter which Mr. Longcluse had received a few evenings before, as we know, at Lady May’s. It was to the following effect:

“SIR — The unfortunate situation in which you stand, the proof being so, as you must suppose, makes it necessary for you to act considerately, and no nonsense can be permitted by your well wishers. The poor man has his conscience all one as as the rich, and must be cautious as well as him. I can not put myself in no dainger for you, Sir, nor won’t hold back the truth, so welp me. I have heerd tell of your boote bin took away. I would be happy to lend an and, Sir, to recover that property. How all will end otherwise I regrett. Knowing well who it will be that takes so mutch consern for your safety, you cannot doubt who I am, and if you wishes to meat me quiet to consult, you need only to name the place and time in the times newspaper, which I sees it every day. It must be put part in one days times, for the daite, saying a friend will show on sich a night, and in next days times for the place, saying the dogs will meet at sich and sich a place, and it shall hev the attenshen of your

FAST FREND.”

“That’s a cool letter, upon my word,” said David Arden. “Have you an idea who wrote it?”

“Yes, a very good guess. I’ll tell you all that if you allow me, just now. I should say, indeed, an absolute certainty, for I have had another this afternoon with the name of the writer signed, and he turns out to be the very man whom I suspected. Here it is.”

David Arden’s curiosity was piqued. He took the last note and read as follows:—

“SIR — My last Letter must have came to Hand, and you been in reseet of it since the 11th instant, has took no Notice thereoff, I have No wish for justice, as you may Suppose, and has no Fealing against you Mr. Longcluse Persanelly and to shew you plainly that Such is the case, I will meet you for an intervue if such is your Wishes in your Own house, if you should Rayther than name another place. I do not objeck To one frend been Present providing such Be not a lawyer. The subjek been Dellicat, I will Attend any hour and Place you appoint. If you should faile I must put my Proofs in the hands of the police, for I will take it for a sure sine of guilt if you fail after this to appoint for a meating.

“I remain, Sir, Your obedient servent,

“PAUL DAVIES.

“Well, that’s pretty frank,” said Longcluse, observing that he had read to the end.

“Extremely. What do you suppose his object to be-to extort money?”

“Possibly; but he may have another object. In any case, he wants to make money by this move.”

“Very audacious, then. He must know, if he is fit for his trade, how much risk there is in it; and his signing his name and address to his letter, and seeking an interview with a witness by seems to me utterly infatuated,” said David Arden, with his eye upon Mr. Longcluse.

“So it does, except upon one supposition; I mean that the man believes his story,” said Mr. Longcluse, walking beside him, for they had resumed their march towards the gate.

“Really! believes that you committed the murder?” said Uncle David, again coming to a halt and looking full at him.

“I can’t quite account for it otherwise,” said Longcluse; “and I think the right course is for me to meet him. But I have no intimacies in London, and that is my difficulty.”

“How? Why don’t you arrest him?” said David Arden.

David Arden had seldom felt so oddly. A quarter-of-an-hour since, he expected to have been seated in his carriage with his ward and Vivian Darnley, driving into town in quiet humdrum fashion, by this time. How like a dream was the actual scene! Here he was, standing on the grass among the noble timber, under the moonlight, with the pale face beside him which had begun to haunt him so oddly. The strange smile of his mysterious companion, the cold tone that jarred sweetly, somehow, on his ear, lending a sinister eccentricity to the extraordinary confession he was making.

In this situation, which had come about almost unaccountably, there was a strange feeling of unreality. Was this man, from whom he had felt an indescribable repulsion, now by his side, and drawing him, in this solitude, into a mysterious confidence? and had not this confidence an unaccountable though distant relation to the vague suspicions that had touched his mind? With a little effort he resumed —

“I beg pardon, but if the case were mine I should put the letters at once into the hands of the police and prosecute him.”

“Precisely my own first impulse. But the letters are more cautiously framed than you might at first sight suppose. I should be placed in an awkward position were my prosecution to fail. I am obliged to think of this because, although I am nothing to the public, I am a good deal to myself. But I’ve resolved to take a course not less bold, though less public. I am determined to meet him face to face with an unexceptionable witness present, and to discover distinctly whether he acts from fraud or delusion, and then to proceed accordingly. I have communicated with him.”

“Oh, really!”

“Yes, I was clear I ought to meet him, but I would consent to nothing with an air of concealment.”

“I think you were right, Sir.”

“He wanted our meeting by night on board a Thames boat; then in a dilapidated house in Southwark; then in a deserted house that is to be let in Thames Street; but I named my own house, in Bolton Street, at half-past twelve to-night.”

“Then you really wish to see him. I suppose you have thought it well over; but I am always for taking such miscreants promptly by the throat. However, as you say, cases differ, and I daresay you are well advised.”

“And now may I venture a request, which, were it not for two facts within my knowledge, I should not presume to make? But I venture it to you, who take so special an interest in this case, because you have already taken trouble and, like myself, contributed money to aid the chances of discovery; and because only this evening you said you would bestow more labour, more time, and more money with pleasure to procure the least chance of an additional light upon it: now it strikes me as just possible that the writer of those letters may be, to some extent, honest. Though utterly mistaken about me, still he may have evidence to give, be it worth much or little; and so, Mr. Arden, having the pleasure of being known to some members of your family, although till to-night by name only to you, I beg as a great kindness to a man in a difficulty, and possibly in the interests of the public, that you will be so good as to accompany me, and be present at the interview, that cannot be so well conducted before any other witness whom I can take with me.”

David Arden paused for a moment, but independently quite of his interest in this case: he felt a strange curiosity about this pale man, whose eyes from under their oblique brows gleamed back the cold moonlight; while a smile, the character of which a little puzzled him, curled his nostril and his thin lip, and showed the glittering edge of his teeth. Did it look like treachery? or was it defiance, or derision? It was a face, thus seen, so cadaverous and Mephistophelian, that an artist would have given something for a minute to fix a note of it in white and black.

David Arden was not to be disturbed in a practical matter by a pictorial effect, however, and in another moment he said —

“Yes, Mr. Longcluse, as you desire it I will accompany you, and see this fellow, and hear what he has to say. Certainly.

“That’s very kind — only what I should have expected, also, from your public spirit. I’m extremely obliged.”

They resumed their walk towards the gate.

“I shall get into my brougham and call at home, to tell them not to expect me for an hour or so. And what is the number of your house?”

He told him; and David Arden having offered to take him, in his carriage, to the place where his own awaited him, which however he declined, they parted for a little time, and Mr. Arden’s brougham quickly disappeared under the shadow of the tall trees that lined the curving road.

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