Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 67.

Bond and Deed.

The summer span of days was gone; it was quite dark, and long troops of withered leaves drifted in rustling trains over the avenue, as Mr. Levi, observant of his appointment, drove up to the grand old front of Mortlake, which in the dark spread before him like a house of white mist.

“I shay,” exclaimed Mr. Levi, softly, arresting the progress of the cabman, who was about running up the steps, “I’ll knock myshelf — wait you there.”

Mr. Levi was smoking. Standing at the base of the steps, he looked up, and right and left with some curiosity. It was too dark; he could hardly see the cold glimmer of the windows that reflected the grey horizon. Vaguely, however, he could see that it was a grander place than he had supposed. He looked down the avenue, and between the great trees over the gate he saw the distant lights, and heard through the dim air the chimes, far off, from London steeples, succeeding one another, or mingling faintly, and telling all whom it might concern the solemn lesson of the flight of time.

Mr. Levi thought it might be worth while coming down in the day-time, and looking over the house and place to see what could be made of them; the thing was sure to go a dead bargain. At present he could see nothing but the wide, vague, grey front, and the faint glow through the hall windows, which showed their black outlines sharply enough.

“Well, he’sh come a mucker, anyhow,” murmured Mr. Levi, with one of his smiles that showed so wide his white sharp teeth.

He knocked at the door and rang the bell. It was not a footman, but Crozier who opened it. The old servant of the family did not like the greasy black curls, the fierce jet eyes, the sallow face and the large, moist, sullen mouth, that presented themselves under the brim of Mr. Levi’s hat, nor the tawdry glimmer of chains on his waistcoat, nor the cigar still burning in his fingers. Sir Richard had told Crozier, however, that a Mr. Levi, whom he described, was to call at a certain hour, on very particular business, and was to be instantly admitted.

Mr. Levi looks round him, and extinguishes his cigar before following Crozier, whose countenance betrays no small contempt and dislike, as he eyes the little man askance, as if he would like well to be uncivil to him.

Crozier leads him to the right, through a small apartment, to a vast square room, long disused, still called the library, though but few books remain on the shelves, and those in disorder. It is a chilly night, and a little fire burns in the grate, over which Sir Richard is cowering. Very haggard, the baronet starts up as the name of his visitor is announced.

“Come in,” cries Sir Richard, walking to meet him. “Here — here I am, Levi, utterly ruined. There isn’t a soul I dare tell how I am beset, or anything to, but you. Do, for God’s sake take pity on me, and think of something! my brain’s quite gone — you’re such a clever fellow” (he is dragging Levi by the arm all this time towards the candles): “do now, you’re sure to see some way out. It is a matter of honour; I only want time. If I could only find my Uncle David: think of his selfishness — good heaven! was there ever man so treated? and there’s the bank letter —there— on the table; you see it — dunning me, the ungrateful harpies, for the trifle — what is it? — three hundred and something, I overdrew; and that blackguard tallow-chandler has been three times to my house in town, for payment today, and it’s more than I thought — near four thousand, he says — the scoundrel! It’s just the same to him two months hence; he’s full of money, the beast — a fellow like that — it’s delight to him to get hold of a gentleman, and he won’t take a bill — the lying rascal! He is pressed for cash just now — a pug-faced villain with three hundred thousand pounds! Those scoundrels! I mean the people, whatever they are, that lent me the money; it turns out it was all but at sight, and they were with my attorney today, and they won’t wait. I wish I was shot; I envy the dead dogs rolling in the Thames! By heaven; Levi, I’ll say you’re the best friend man ever had on earth, I will, if you manage something! I’ll never forget it to you; I’ll have it in my power, yet! no one ever said I was ungrateful; I swear I’ll be the making of you! Do, Levi, think; you’re accustomed to — to emergency, and unless you will, I’m utterly ruined — ruined, by heaven, before I have time to think!”

The Jew listened to all this with his hands in his pockets, leaning back in his chair, with his big eyes staring on the wild face of the baronet, and his heavy mouth hanging. He was trying to reduce his countenance to vacancy.

“What about them shettlements, Sir Richard — a nishe young lady with a ha-a-tful o’ money?” insinuated Levi.

“I’ve been thinking over that, but it wouldn’t do, with my affairs in this state, it would not be honourable or straight. Put that quite aside.”

Mr. Levi gaped at him for a moment solemnly, and turned suddenly, and, brute as he was, spit on the Turkey carpet. He was not, as you perceive, ceremonious; but he could not allow the baronet to see the laughter that without notice caught him for a moment, and could think of no better way to account for his turning away his head.

“That’sh wery honourable indeed,” said the Jew, more solemn than ever; “and if you can’t play in that direction, I’m afraid you’re in queer shtreet.”

The baronet was standing before Levi, and at these words from that dirty little oracle, a terrible chill stole up from his feet to the crown of his head. Like a frozen man he stood there, and the Jew saw that his very lips were white. Sir Richard feels, for the first time, actually, that he is ruined.

The young man tries to speak, twice. The big eyes of the Jew are staring up at the contortion. Sir Richard can see nothing but those two big fiery eyes; he turns quickly away and walks to the end of the room.

“There’s just one fiddle-string left to play on,” muses the Jew.

“For God’s sake!” exclaims Sir Richard, turning about, in a voice you would not have known, and for fully a minute the room was so silent you could scarcely have believed that two men were breathing in it.

“Shir Richard, will you be so good as to come nearer a bit? There, that’sh the cheeshe. I brought thish ’ere thing.”

It is a square parchment with a good deal of printed matter, and blanks, written in, and a law stamp fixed with an awful regularity, at the corner.

“Casht your eye over it,” says Levi, coaxingly, as he pushes it over the table to the young gentleman, who is sitting now at the other side.

The young man looks at it, reads it, but just then, if it had been a page of “Robinson Crusoe,” he could not have understood it.

“I’m not quite myself, I can’t follow it; too much to think of. What is it?”

“A bond and warrant to confess judgment.”

“What is it for?”

“Ten thoushand poundsh.”

“Sign it, shall I? Can you do anything with it?”

“Don’t raishe your voishe, but lishten. Your friend”— and at the phrase Mr. Levi winked mysteriously —“has enough to do it twishe over; and upon my shoul, I’ll shwear on the book, azh I hope to be shaved, it will never shee the light; he’ll never raishe a pig on it, sho’ ‘elp me, nor let it out of hish ‘ands, till he givesh it back to you. He can’t ma-ake no ushe of it; I knowshe him well, and he’ll pay you the ten thoushand tomorrow morning, and he wantsh to shake handsh with you, and make himself known to you, and talk a bit.”

“But — but my signature wouldn’t satisfy him,” began Sir Richard bewildered.

“Oh! no— no, no?” murmured Mr. Levi, fiddling with the corner of the bank’s reminder which lay on the table.

“Mr. Longcluse won’t sign it,” said Sir Richard.

Mr. Levi threw himself back in his chair, and looked with a roguish expression still upon the table, and gave the corner of the note a little fillip.

“Well,” said Levi, after both had been some time silent, “it ain’t much, only to write his name on the penshil line, there, you see, and there— he shouldn’t make no bonesh about it. Why, it’s done every day. Do you think I’d help in a thing of the short if there was any danger? The Sheneral’s come to town, is he? What are you afraid of? Don’t you be a shild — ba-ah!”

All this Mr. Levi said so low that it was as if he were whispering to the table, and he kept looking down as he put the parchment over to Sir Richard, who took it in his hand, and the bond trembled so much that he set it down again.

“Leave it with me,” he said faintly.

Levi got up with an unusual hectic in each cheek, and his eyes very brilliant.

“I’ll meet you what time you shay to-night; you had besht take a little time. It’sh ten now. Three hoursh will do it. I’ll go on to my offish by one o’clock, and you come any time from one to two.”

Sir Richard was trembling.

“Between one and two, mind. Hang it! Shir Richard, don’t you be a fool about nothing,” whispers the Jew, as black as thunder.

He is fumbling in his breast-pocket, and pulling out a sheaf of letters; he selects one, which he throws upon the parchment that lies open on the table.

“That’sh the note you forgot in my offish yeshterday, with hish name shined to it. There, now you have everything.”

Without any form of valediction, the Jew had left the room. Sir Richard sits with his teeth set, and a strange frown upon his face, scarcely breathing. He hears the cab drive away. Before him on the table lie the papers.

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