Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 63.


It was, of course, in vain looking for Mr. Levi there at such an hour. Sir Richard Arden fancied that he had, perhaps, a sleeping-room in the house, and on that chance tried what his protracted alarm might do.

Then he drove to his own house. He had a latch-key, and let himself in. Just as he is, he throws himself into a chair in his dressing-room. He knows there is no use in getting into his bed. In his fatigued state, sleep was quite out of the question. That proud young man was longing to open his heart to the mean, cruel little Jew.

Oh, madness! why had he broken with his masterly and powerful friend, Longcluse? Quite unavailing now, his repentance. They had spoken and passed like ships at sea, in this wide life, and now who could count the miles and billows between them! Never to cross or come in sight again!

Uncle David! Yes, he might go to him; he might spread out the broad evidences of his ruin before him, and adjure him, by the God of mercy, to save him from the great public disgrace that was now imminent; implore of him to give him any pittance he pleased, to subsist on in exile, and to deal with the estates as he himself thought best. But Uncle David was away, quite out of reach. After his whimsical and inflexible custom, lest business should track him in his holiday, he had left no address with his man of business, who only knew that his first destination was Scotland; none with Grace Maubray, who only knew that, attended by Vivian Darnley, she and Lady May were to meet him in about a fortnight on the Continent, where they were to plan together a little excursion in Switzerland or Italy.

Sir Richard quite forgot there was such a meal as breakfast. He ordered his horse to the door, took a furious two hours’ ride beyond Brompton, and returned and saw Levi at his office, at his usual hour, eleven o’clock. The Jew was alone. His large lowering eyes were cast on Sir Richard as he entered and approached.

“Look, now; listen,” says Sir Richard, who looks wofully wild and pale, and as he seats himself never takes his eyes off Mr. Levi. “I don’t care very much who knows it — I think I’m totally ruined.”

The Jew knows pretty well all about it, but he stares and gapes hypocritically in the face of his visitor as if he were thunderstruck, and he speaks never a word. I suppose he thought it as well, for the sake of brevity and clearness, to allow his client “to let off the shteam” first, a process which Sir Richard forthwith commenced, with both hands on the table — sometimes clenched, sometimes expanded, sometimes with a thump, by blowing off a cloud of oaths and curses, and incoherent expositions of the wrongs and perversities of fortune.

“I don’t think I can tell you how much it is. I don’t know,” says Sir Richard bleakly, in reply to a pertinent question of the Jew’s. “There was that rich fellow, what’s his name, that makes candles — he’s always winning. By Jove, what a thing luck is! He won — I know it is more than two thousand. I gave him I O U’s for it. He’d be very glad, of course, to know me, curse him! I don’t care, now, who does. And he’d let me owe him twice as much, for as long as I like. I daresay, only too glad — as smooth as one of his own filthy candles. And there were three fellows lending money there. I don’t know how much I got — I was stupid. I signed whatever they put before me. Those things can’t stand, by heavens; the Chancellor will set them all aside. The confounded villains! What’s the Government doing? What’s the Government about, I say? Why don’t Parliament interfere, to smash those cursed nests of robbers and swindlers? Here I am, utterly robbed — I know I’m robbed— and all by that cursed temptation; and — and — and I don’t know what cash I got, nor what I have put my name to!”

“I’ll make out that in an hour’s time. They’ll tell me at the houshe who the shentleman wazh.”

“And — upon my soul that’s true — I owe the people there something too; it can’t be much — it isn’t much. And, Levi, like a good fellow — by Heaven, I’ll never forget it to you, if you’ll think of something. You’ve pulled me through so often; I am sure there’s good-nature in you; you wouldn’t see a fellow you’ve known so long driven to the wall and made a beggar of, without — without thinking of something.”

Levi looked down, with his hands in his pockets, and whistled to himself, and Sir Richard gazed on his vulgar features as if his life or death depended upon every variation of their expression.

“You know,” says Levi, looking up and swaying his shoulders a little, “the old chap can’t do no more. He’s taken a share in that Austrian contract, and he’ll want his capital, every pig. I told you lasht time. Wouldn’t Lonclushe give you a lift?”

“Not he. He’d rather give me a shove under.”

“Well, they tell me you and him wazh very thick; and your uncle’sh man, Blount, knowshe him, and can just ashk him, from himself, mind, not from you.”

“For money?” exclaimed Richard.

“Not at a — all,” drawled the Jew impatiently. “Lishen — mind. The old fellow, your friend ——”

“He’s out of town,” interrupted Richard.

“No, he’sh not. I shaw him lasht night. You’re a — all wrong. He’sh not Mr. David Harden, if that’sh what you mean. He’sh a better friend, and he’ll leave you a lot of tin when he diesh — an old friend of the family — and if all goeshe shmooth he’ll come and have a talk with you fashe to fashe, and tell you all his plansh about you, before a week’sh over. But he’ll be at hish lasht pound for five or six weeksh to come, till the firsht half-million of the new shtock is in the market; and he shaid, ‘I can’t draw out a pound of my balanshe, but if he can get Lonclushe’s na — me, I’ll get him any shum he wantsh, and bear Lonclushe harmlesh.’”

“I don’t think I can,” said Sir Richard; “I can’t be quite sure, though. It is just possible he might.”

“Well, let Blount try,” said he.

There was another idea also in Mr. Levi’s head. He had been thinking whether the situation might not be turned to some more profitable account, for him, than the barren agency for the “friend of the family,” who “lent out money gratis,” like Antonio; and if he did not “bring down the rate of usance,” at all events, deprived the Shylocks of London, in one instance at least, of their fair game.

“If he won’t do that, there’sh but one chansh left.”

“What is that?” asked Sir Richard, with a secret flutter at his heart. It was awful to think of himself reduced to his last chance, with his recent experience of what a chance is.

“Well,” says Mr. Levi, scrawling florid capitals on the table with his office pen, and speaking with much deliberation, “I heard you were going to make a very rich match; and if the shettlementsh was agreed on, I don’t know but we might shee our way to advancing all you want.”

Sir Richard gets up, and walks slowly two or three times up and down the room.

“I’ll see about Blount,” said he; “I’ll talk to him. I think those things are payable in six or eight days; and that tallow-chandler won’t bother me tomorrow, I daresay. I’ll go today and talk to Blount, and suppose you come to me tomorrow evening at Mortlake. Will nine o’clock do for you? I sha’n’t keep you half-an-hour.”

“A— all right, Shir — nine, at Mortlake. If you want any diamondsh, I have a beoo — ootiful collar and pendantsh, in that shaafe — brilliantsh. I can give you the lot three thoushand under cosht prishe. You’ll wa — ant a preshent for the young la — ady.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Sir Richard, abstractedly. “To-morrow night — tomorrow evening at nine o’clock.”

He stopped at the door, looking silently down the stairs, and then without leave-taking or looking behind him, he ran down, and drove to Mr. Blount’s house, close by, in Manchester Buildings.

For more than a year the young gentleman whom we are following this morning had cherished vague aspirations, of which good Lady May had been the object. There was nothing to prevent their union, for the lady was very well disposed to listen. But Richard Arden did not like ridicule, and there was no need to hurry; and besides, within the last half-year had arisen another flame, less mercenary; also, perhaps, reciprocated.

Grace Maubray was handsome, animated; she had that combination of air, tact, cleverness, which enter into the idea of chic. With him it had been a financial, but notwithstanding rather agreeable, speculation. Hitherto there seemed ample time before him, and there was no need to define or decide.

Now, you will understand, the crisis had arrived, which admitted of neither hesitation nor delay. He was now at Blount’s hall-door. He was certain that he could trust Blount with anything, and he meant to learn from him what dot his Uncle David intended bestowing on the young lady.

Mr. Blount was at home. He smiled kindly, and took the young gentleman’s hand, and placed a chair for him.

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