Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 48.

Sudden News.

What is luck? Is there such an influence? What type of mind rejects altogether, and consistently, this law or power? Call it by what name you will, fate or fortune, did not Napoleon, the man of death and of action, and did not Swedenborg, the man of quietude and visions, acknowledge it? Where is the successful gamester who does not “back his luck,” when once it has declared itself, and bow before the storms of fortune when they in turn have set in? I take Napoleon and Swedenborg — the man of this visible world, and the man of the invisible world — as the representatives of extreme types of mind. People who have looked into Swedenborg’s works will remember curious passages on the subject, and find more dogmatical, and less metaphysical admissions in Napoleon’s conversations everywhere.

In corroboration of this theory, that luck is an element, with its floods and ebbs, against which it is fatuity to contend, was the result of Richard Arden’s play.

Before half-past two, he had lost every guinea of his treasure. He had been drinking champagne. He was flushed, dismal, profoundly angry. Hot and headachy, he was ready to choke with gall. There was a big, red-headed, vulgar fellow beside him, with a broad-brimmed white hat, who was stuffing his pockets and piling the table before him, as though he had found the secret of an “open sesame,” and was helping himself from the sacks of the Forty Thieves.

When Richard had lost his last pound, he would have liked to smash the gas-lamps and windows, and the white hat and the red head in it, and roar the blasphemy that rose to his lips. But men can’t afford to make themselves ridiculous, and as he turned about to make his unnoticed exit, he saw the little Jew, munching a sandwich, with a glass of champagne beside him.

“I say,” said Richard Arden, walking up to the little man, whose big mouth was full of sandwich, and whose fierce black eyes encountered his instantaneously, “you don’t happen to have a little more, on the same terms, about you?”

Mr. Levi waited to bolt his sandwich, and then swallow down his champagne.

“Shave me!” exclaimed he, when this was done. “The thoushand gone! every rag! and” (glancing at his watch) “only two twenty-five! Won’t it be rayther young, though, backin’ such a run o’ bad luck, and throwin’ good money after bad, Mr. Harden?”

“That’s my affair, I fancy; what I want to know is whether you have got a few hundreds more, on the same terms — I mean, from the same lender. Hang it, say yes or no — can’t you?”

“Well, Mr. Harden, there’s five hundred more — but ‘twasn’t expected you’d a’ drew it so soon. How much do you say, Mr. Harden?”

“I’ll take it all,” said Richard Arden. “I wish I could have it without these blackguards seeing.”

“They don’t care, blesh ye! if you got it from the old boy himself. That is a rum un!” There were pen and ink on a small table beside the wall, at which Mr. Levi began rapidly to fill in the blanks of a bill of exchange. “Why, there’s not one o’ them, almost, but takes a hundred now and then from me, when they runs out a bit too fast. You’d better shay one month.”

“Say two, like the other, and don’t keep me waiting.”

“You’d better shay one — your friend will think you’re going a bit too quick to the devil. Remember, as your proverb shays, ‘taint the thing to kill the gooshe that laysh the golden eggs — shay one month.”

Levi’s large black eye was fixed on him, and he added, “If you want it pushed on a bit when it comes due, there won’t be no great trouble about it, I calculate.”

Richard Arden looked at the large fierce eyes that were silently fixed on him: one of those eyes winked solemnly and significantly.

“Well, what way you like, only be quick,” said Richard Arden.

His new sheaf of cheques were quickly turned into counters; and, after various fluctuations, these counters followed the rest, and in the grey morning he left that haunt jaded and savage, with just fifteen pounds in his pocket, the wreck of the large sum which he had borrowed to restore his fortunes.

It needs some little time to enable a man, who has sustained such a shock as Richard Arden had, to collect his thoughts and define the magnitude of his calamity. He let himself in by a latch-key: the grey light was streaming through the shutters, and turning the chintz pattern of his window-curtains here and there, in streaks, into transparencies. He went into his room and swallowed nearly a tumbler of brandy, then threw off his clothes, drank some more, and fell into a flushed stupor, rather than a sleep, and lay for hours as still as any dead man on the field of battle.

Some four hours of this lethargy, and he became conscious, at intervals, of a sound of footsteps in his room. The shutters were still closed. He thought he heard a voice say, “Master Richard!” but he was too drowsy, still, to rouse himself.

At length a hand was laid upon him, and a voice that was familiar to his ear repeated twice over, more urgently, “Master Richard! Master Richard!” He was now awake: very dimly, by his bedside, he saw a figure standing. Again he heard the same words, and wondered, for a few seconds, where he was.

“That’s Crozier talking,” said Richard.

“Yes, Sir,” said Crozier, in a low tone; “I’m here half-an-hour, Sir, waiting till you should wake.”

“Let in some light; I can’t see you.”

Crozier opened half the window-shutter, and drew the curtain.

“Are ye ailin’, Master Richard — are ye bad, Sir?”

“Ailing — yes, I’m bad enough, as you say — I’m miserable. I don’t know where to turn or what to do. Hold my coat while I count what’s in the pocket. If my father, the old scoundrel ——”

“Master Richard, don’t ye say the like o’ that no more; all’s over, this morning, wi’ the old master — Sir Reginald’s dead, Sir,” said the old follower, sternly.

“Good God!” cried Richard, starting up in his bed and staring at old Crozier with a frightened look.

“Ay, Sir,” said the old servant, in a low stern tone, “he’s gone at last: he was took just a quarter past five this mornin’, by the clock at Mortlake, about four minutes before St. Paul’s chimed the quarter. The wind being southerly, we heard the chimes. We thought he was all right, and I did not leave him until half-past twelve o’clock, having given him his drops, and waited till he went asleep. It was about three he rang his bell, and in I goes that minute, and finds him sitting up in his bed, talking quite silly-like about old Wainbridge, the groom, that’s dead and buried, away in Skarkwynd Churchyard, these thirty year.”

Crozier paused here. He had been crying hours ago, and his eyes and nose still showed evidences of that unbecoming weakness. Perhaps he expected Richard, now Sir Richard Arden, to say something, but nothing came.

“’Tis a change, Sir, and I feel a bit queer; and as I was sayin’, when I went in, ’twas in his head he saw Tom Wainbridge leadin’ a horse saddled and all into the room, and standin’ by the side of his bed, with the bridle in his hand, and holdin’ the stirrup for him to mount. ‘And what the devil brings Wainbridge here, when he has his business to mind in Yorkshire? and where could he find a horse like that beast? He’s waiting for me; I can hear the roarin’ brute, and I see Tom’s parchment face at the door —there,’ he’d say, ‘and there— where are your eyes, Crozier, can’t you see, man? Don’t be afraid — can’t you look — and don’t you hear him? Wainbridge’s old nonsense.’ And he’d laugh a bit to himself every now and again, and then he’d whimper to me, looking a bit frightened, ‘Get him away, Crozier, will you? He’s annoying me, he’ll have me out,’ and this sort o’ talk he went on wi’ for full twenty minutes. I rang the bell to Mrs. Tansey’s room, and when she was come we agreed to send in the brougham for the doctor. I think he was a bit wrong i’ the garrets, and we were both afraid to let it be no longer.”

Crozier paused for a moment, and shook his head.

“We thought he was goin’ asleep, but he wasn’t. His eyes was half shut, and his shoulders against the pillows, and Mrs. Tansey was drawin’ the eider-down coverlet over his feet, softly, when all on a sudden — I thought he was laughin’— a noise like a little flyrin’ laugh, and then a long, frightful yellock, that would make your heart tremble, and awa’ wi’ him into one o’ them fits, and so from one into another, until when the doctor came he said he was in an apoplexy; and so, at just a quarter past five the auld master departed. And I came in to tell you, Sir; and have you any orders to give me, Master Richard? and I’m going on, I take it you’d wish me, to your uncle, Mr. David, and little Miss Alice, that han’t heard nout o’ the matter yet.”

“Yes, Crozier — go,” said Richard Arden, staring on him as if his soul was in his eyes; and, after a pause, with an effort, he added —“I’ll call there as I go on to Mortlake; tell them I’ll see them on my way.”

When Crozier was gone, Richard Arden got up, threw his dressing-gown about him, and sat on the side of his bed, feeling very faint. A sudden gush of tears relieved the strange paroxysm. Then come other emotions less unselfish. He dressed hastily. He was too much excited to make a breakfast. He drank a cup of coffee, and drove to Uncle David’s house.

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