Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 24.

Mr. Longcluse Follows a Shadow.

The exdetective cleared his voice, shook his head, and smirked.

“A hinterview, gentlemen,” said he, “is worth much in the hands of a persuasive party. I have hanged several obnoxious characters, and let others in for penal for life, by means of a hinterview. You remember Spikes, gentlemen, as got into difficulties for breaking Mr. Winterbotham’s desk? Spikes would have frusterated justice, if it wasn’t for me. It was done in one hinterview. Says I, ‘Mr. Spikes, you have a wife and five children.’”

The recollection of Mr. Paul Davies’ diplomacy was so gratifying to that smiling gentleman, that he could not forbear winking at his auditors as he proceeded.

“‘And my belief is, Mr. Spikes, Sir,’” he continued, “‘that it was all the hinfluence of Tom Sprowles. It was Sprowles persuaded yer — it was him as got the whole thing up. That’s my belief; and you did not want to do it, no-wise, and only consented to force the henges in the belief that Sprowles wanted to read the papers, and no more. I have a bad opinion of Sprowles,’ says I, ‘for deceiving you, I may say innocently;’ and talking this way, you conceive, I got it all out of him, and he’s under penal for life. Whenever you want to get round a man, and to turn him inside out, your way is to sympathise with him. If I had but an hinterview with that man, I know enough to draw it out of him, every bit. It’s all done by sympathising.”

“But do you think you can discover the man?” asked Mr. Arden.

“I’m sure to make him out, if you please, Sir; I’ll find out all about him. I’d a found out the facks long ago, but for the mistake, which it occurred most unlucky. I saw him twice sence, and I know well where to look for him; and I’ll have it all right before long, I’m thinkin’.”

“That will do, then, for the present,” said Mr. Longcluse. “You have said all you have to say, and you see into what a serious mistake you have blundered; but I sha’n’t give you any trouble about it — it is too ridiculous. Good-night, Mr. Davies.”

“No mistake of mine, Sir, please. Misinformed, Sir, you will kindly remark — misinformed, if you please — misinformed, as may occur to the sharpest party going. Good-night, gentlemen; I takes my leave without no unpleasant feelin’, and good wishes for your ‘ealth and ‘appiness, both, gentlemen.” And blandly, and with a sly sleepy smile, this insinuating person withdrew.

“It is the reward he is thinking of,” said Longcluse.

“Yes, he won’t spare himself; you mentioned that your own suspicions respecting him were but vague,” said David Arden.

“I merely stated what I saw to the coroner, and it was answered that he was watching the Frenchman Lebas, because the detective police, before Paul Davies’ dismissal, had received orders to keep an eye on all foreigners; and he hoped to conciliate the authorities, and get a pension, by collecting and furnishing information. The police did not seem to think his dogging and watching the unfortunate little fellow really meant more than this.”

“Very likely. It is a very odd affair. I wonder who that fellow is whom he described. He did not give a hint as to the circumstances which excited his suspicions.”

“It is strange. But that man, Paul Davies, kept his eye upon Lebas from the motive I mentioned, and this circumstance may have led to his seeing more of the matter than, with the reward in his mind, he cares to make known at present. I think I did right in meeting him face to face.”

“Quite right, Sir.”

“It has been always a rule with me to go straight at everything. I think the best diplomacy is directness, and that the truest caution lies in courage.”

“Precisely my opinion, Mr. Longcluse,” said Uncle David, looking on him with eyes of approbation. He was near adding something hearty in the spirit of our ancestors’ saying, “I hope you and I, Sir, may be better acquainted;” but something in the look and peculiar face of this unknown Mr. Longcluse chilled him, and he only said —

“As you say, Mr. Longcluse, courage is safety, and honesty the best policy. Good-night, Sir.”

“A thousand thanks, Mr. Arden. Might I ask one more favour, that you will endorse on each of these threatening letters a memorandum of the facts of this strange interview? — I mean a sentence or two, which may at any time confound this fellow, should he turn out to be a villain.”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Arden thoughtfully, and he sat down again, and wrote a few lines on the back of each, which, having signed, he handed them to Mr. Longcluse, with the question, “Will that answer?”

“Perfectly, thank you very much; it is indeed impossible for me to thank you as I ought and wish to,” said Mr. Longcluse with effusion, extending his hand at the same time; but Mr. Arden took it without much warmth, and said, in comparison a little drily —

“No need to thank me, Mr. Longcluse; as you said at first, there are motives quite sufficient, of a kind for which you can owe me, personally, no thanks whatever, to induce the very slight trouble of coming here.”

“Well, Mr. Arden, I am very much obliged to you, notwithstanding;” and so he gratefully saw him to the door, and smiled and bowed him off, and stood for a moment as his carriage whirled down the short street.

“He does not like me — nor I, perhaps, him. Ha! ha! ha!” he laughed, very softly and reservedly, looking down on the flags. “What an odd thing it is! Those instincts and antipathies, they are very odd.” All this, except the faint laughter, was in thought.

Mr. Longcluse stepped back. He was negatively happy — he was rid of an anxiety. He was positively happy — he had been better received by Miss Arden, this evening, than he had ever been before. So he went to his bed with a light heart, and a head full of dreams.

All the next day, one beautiful image haunted Longcluse’s imagination. He was delayed in town; he had to consult about operations in foreign stocks; he had many words to say, directions to modify, and calls to make on this man and that. He had hoped to be at Mortlake Hall at three o’clock. But it was past six before he could disentangle himself from the tenacious meshes of his business. Never had he thought it so irksome. Was he not rich enough — too rich? Why should he longer submit to a servitude so wearisome? It was high time he should begin to enjoy his days in the sunshine of his gold and the companionship of his beautiful idol. But “man proposes,” says the ancient saw, “and God disposes.”

It was just seven o’clock when Mr. Longcluse descended at the steps of old Mortlake Hall.

Sir Reginald, who is writhing under a letter from the attorney of the millionaire mortgagee of his Yorkshire estate, making an alternative offer, either to call in the principal sum or to allow it to stand out on larger interest, had begged of Mr. Longcluse, last night, to give him a few words of counsel some day. He had, in a quiet talk the evening before, taken the man of huge investments rather into his confidence.

“I don’t know, Mr. — a — Mr. Longcluse, whether you are aware how cruelly my property is tied up,” he said, as he talked in a low tone with him, in a corner of the drawing-room. “A life estate, and my son, who declines bearing any part of the burden of his own extravagance, will do nothing to facilitate my efforts to pay his debts for him; and I declare solemnly, if they raise the interest on this very oppressive mortgage, I don’t know how on earth I can pay my insurances. I don’t see how I am to do it. I should be so extremely obliged to you, Mr. Longcluse, if you would, with your vast experience and knowledge in all — all financial matters, give me any advice that strikes you — if you could, with perfect convenience, afford so much time. I don’t really know what rate of interest is usual. I only know this, that interest, as a rule, has been steadily declining ever since I can remember — perpetually declining; I mean, of course, upon perfect security like this; and now this confounded harpy wants, after ten years, to raise it! I believe they want to drive me out of the world, among them! and they well know the cruelty of it, for I have never been able to pay them a single half-year punctually. Will you take some tea?”

So Longcluse had promised his advice very gladly next day; and now he asked for Sir Reginald. Sir Reginald was very particularly engaged at this moment on business; Mr. Arden was with him at present; but if Mr. Longcluse would wait for a few minutes, Sir Reginald would be most happy to see him. So there was to be a little wait. How could he better pass the interval than in Miss Arden’s company?

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