Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 46.

An Unknown Friend.

As they drove into town, Uncle David was thinking how awkward it would be if Sir Reginald should have recovered his activity, and dispatched a messenger to recall Alice, and await their arrival at his door. Well, he did not want a quarrel; he hated a fracas; but he would not send Alice back till next morning, come what might; and then he would return with her, and see Lord Wynderbroke again, and take measures to compel an immediate renunciation of his suit. As for Reginald, he would find arguments to reconcile him to the disappointment. At all events, Alice had thrown herself upon his protection, and he would not surrender her except on terms.

Uncle David was silent, having all this matter to ruminate upon. He left a pencilled line for Sir Henry Margate, his brother’s physician, and then drove on towards home.

Turning into Saint James’s Street, Alice saw her brother standing at the side of a crossing, with a great-coat and a white muffler on, the air being sharp. A couple of carriages drawn up near the pavement, and the passing of two or three others on the outside, for a moment checked their progress, and Alice, had not the window been up, could have spoken to him as they passed. He did not see them, but the light of a lamp was on his face, and she was shocked to see how ill he looked.

“There is Dick,” she said, touching her uncle’s arm, “looking so miserable! Shall we speak to him!”

“No, dear, never mind him — he’s well enough.” David Arden peeped at his nephew as they passed. “He is beginning to take an interest in what really concerns him.”

She looked at her uncle, not understanding his meaning.

“We can talk of it another time, dear,” he added with a cautionary glance at the maid, who sat in the corner at the other side.

Richard Arden was on his way to the place where he meant to recover his losses. He had been playing deep at Colonel Marston’s lodgings, but not yet luckily. He thought he had used his credit there as far as he could successfully press it.

The polite young men who had their supper there that night, and played after he left till nearly five o’clock in the morning, knew perfectly what he had lost at the Derby; but they did not know how perilously, on the whole, he was already involved. Was Richard Arden, who had lost nearly seven hundred pounds at Colonel Marston’s little gathering, though he had not paid them yet, now quite desperate? By no means. It is true he had, while Vandeleur was out, made an excursion to the City, and, on rather hard terms, secured a loan of three hundred pounds — a trifle which, if luck favoured, might grow to a fortune; but which, if it proved contrary, half an hour would see out.

He had locked this up in his desk, as a reserve for a theatre quite different from Marston’s little party; and on his way to that more public and also more secret haunt, he had called at his lodgings for it. It was not that small deposit that cheered him, but a curious and unexpected little note which he found there. It presented by no means a gentlemanlike exterior. The hand was a round clerk’s-hand, with flourishing capitals, on an oblong blue envelope, with a vulgar little device. A dun, he took it to be; and he was not immediately relieved when he read at the foot of it, “Levi.” Then he glanced to the top, and read, “DEAR SIR.”

This easy form of address he read with proper disdain.

“I am instructed by a most respectable party who is desirous to assist you, to the figure of £1,000 or upwards, at nominal discounts, to meet you and ascertain your wishes thereupon, if possible to-night, lest you should suffer inconvenience.

“Yours truly,

“ISRAEL LEVI.

“P.S. — In furtherance of the above, I shall be at Dignum’s Divan, Strand, from 11 P.M. to-night to 1 A.M.”

Here then, at last, was a sail in sight!

With this note in his pocket, he walked direct to the place of rendezvous, in the Strand. It was on his way that, unseen by him, his sister and his uncle had observed him, on their drive to David Arden’s house.

There were two friends only whom he strongly suspected of this very well-timed interposition — there was Lady May Penrose, and there was Uncle David. Lady May was rich, and quite capable of a generous sacrifice for him. Uncle David, also rich, would like to show an intimidating front, as he had done, but would hardly like to see him go to the wall. There was, I must confess, a trifling bill due to Mr. Longcluse, who had kindly got or given him cash for it. It was something less than a hundred pounds — a mere nothing; but in their altered relations, it would not do to permit any miscarriage of this particular bill. He might have risked it in the frenzy of play. But to stoop to ask quarter from Longcluse was more than his pride could endure. No; nor would the humiliation avail to arrest the consequences of his neglect. In the general uneasiness and horror of his situation, this little point was itself a centre of torture, and now his unknown friend had come to the rescue, and in the golden sunshine of his promise it, like a hundred minor troubles, was dissolving.

In Pall Mall he jumped into a cab, feeling strangely like himself again. The lights, the clubs, the well-known perspectives, the stars above him, and the gliding vehicles and figures that still peopled the streets, had recovered their old cheery look; he was again in the upper world, and his dream of misery had broken up and melted. Under the great coloured lamp, yellow, crimson, and blue, that overhung the pavement, emblazoned on every side with transparent arabesques, and in gorgeous capitals proclaiming to all whom it might concern “DIGNUM’S DIVAN,” he dismissed his cab, took his counter in the cigar shop, and entered the great rooms beyond. The first of these, as many of my readers remember, was as large as a good-sized Methodist Chapel; and five billiard-tables, under a blaze of gas, kept the many-coloured balls rolling, and the marker busy, calling “Blue on brown, and pink your player,” and so forth; and gentlemen young and old, Christians and Hebrews, in their shirt-sleeves, picked up shillings when they took “lives,” or knocked the butts of their cues fiercely on the floor when they unexpectedly lost them.

Among a very motley crowd, Richard Arden slowly sauntering through the room found Mr. Levi, whose appearance he already knew, having once or twice had occasion to consult him financially. His play was over for the night. The slim little Jew, with black curly head, large fierce black eyes, and sullen mouth, stood with his hands in his pockets, gaping luridly over the table where he had just, he observed to his friend Isaac Blumer, who did not care if he was hanged, “losht sheven pound sheventeen, ash I’m a shinner!”

Mr. Levi saw Richard Arden approaching, and smiled on him with his wide show of white fangs. Richard Arden approached Mr. Levi with a grave and haughty face. Here, to be sure, was nothing but what Horace Walpole used to call “the mob.” Not a human being whom he knew was in the room; still he would have preferred seeing Mr. Levi at his office; and the audacity of his presuming to grin in that familiar fashion! He would have liked to fling one of the billiard-balls in his teeth. In a freezing tone, and with his head high, he said —

“I think you are Mr. Levi.”

“The shame,” responded Levi, still smiling; “and ‘ow ish Mr. Harden thish evening?”

“I had a note from you,” said Arden, passing by Mr. Levi’s polite inquiry, “and I should like to know if any of that money you spoke of may be made available to-night.”

“Every shtiver,” replied the Jew cheerfully.

“I can have it all? Well, this is rather a noisy place,” hesitated Richard Arden, looking around him.

“I can get into Mishter Dignum’s book-offish here, Mr. Harden, and it won’t take a moment. I haven’t notes, but I’ll give you our cheques, and there’sh no place in town they won’t go down as slick as gold. I’ll fetch you to where there’s pen and ink.”

“Do so,” said he.

In a very small room, where burned a single jet of gas, Mr. Arden signed a promissory note for, £1,012 10s., for which Mr. Levi handed him cheques of his firm for £1,000.

Having exchanged these securities, Richard Arden said —

“I wish to put one or two questions to you, Mr. Levi.” He glanced at a clerk who was making “tots” from a huge folio before him, on a slip of paper, and transferring them to a small book, with great industry.

Levi understood him and beckoned in silence, and when they both stood in the passage he said —

“If you want a word private with me, Mr. Harden, where there’sh no one can shee us, you’ll be as private as the deshert of Harabia if you walk round the corner of the shtreet.”

Arden nodded, and walked out into the Strand, accompanied by Mr. Levi. They turned to the left, and a few steps brought them to the corner of Cecil Street. The street widens a little after you pass its narrow entrance. It was still enough to justify Mr. Levi’s sublime comparison. The moon shone mistily on the river, which was dotted and streaked, at its further edge with occasional red lights from windows, relieved by the black reflected outline of the building which made their back-ground. At the foot of the street, at that time, stood a clumsy rail, and Richard Arden leaned his arm on this, as he talked to the Jew, who had pulled his short cloak about him; and in the faint light he could not discern his features, near as he stood, except, now and then, his white eye-balls, faintly, as he turned, or his teeth when he smiled.

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