Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 69.

The Meeting.

Near the appointed hour, he walked across the park, and through the Horse Guards, and in a few minutes more was between the tall old-fashioned houses of the street in which Mr. Levi’s office is to be found. He passes by a dingy hired coach, with a tarnished crest on the door, and sees two Jewish-looking men inside, both smiling over some sly joke. Whose door are they waiting at? He supposes another Jewish office seeks the shade of that pensive street.

Mr. Levi opened his office door for his handsome client. They were quite to themselves. Mr. Levi did not look well. He received him with a nod. He shut the door when Sir Richard was in the room.

“He’sh not come yet. We’ll talk to him inshide.” He indicates the door of the inner room, with a little side jerk of his head. “That’sh private. He hazh that —thing all right.”

Sir Richard says nothing. He follows Levi into a small inner room, which had, perhaps, originally been a lady’s boudoir, and had afterwards, one might have conjectured, served as the treasury of cash and jewels of a pawn-office; for its door was secured with iron bars, and two great locks, and the windows were well barred with iron. There were two huge iron safes in the room, built into the wall.

“I’ll show you a beauty of a dresshing-ca-ashe,” said Levi, rousing himself; “I’ll shell it a dead bargain, and give time for half, if you knowsh any young shwell as wantsh such a harticle. Look here; it was made for the Duchess of Horleans — all in gold, hemerald, and brilliantsh.”

And thus haranguing, he displayed its contents, and turned them over, staring on them with a livid admiration. Sir Richard is not thinking of the duchess’s dressing-case, nor is he much more interested when Mr. Levi goes on to tell him, “There’sh three executions against peersh out thish week — two gone down to the country. Sholomonsh nobbled Lord Bylkington’s carriage outshide Shyner’s at two o’clock in the morning, and his lordship had to walk home in the rain;” and Levi laughs and wriggles pleasantly over the picture. “I think he’sh coming,” says Levi suddenly, inclining his ear toward the door. He looked back over his shoulder with an odd look, a little stern, at the young gentleman.

“Who?” asked the young man, a little uncertain, in consequence of the character of that look.

“Your — that — your friend, of course,” said Levi, with his eyes again averted, and his ear near the door.

It was a moment of trepidation and of hope to Richard Arden. He hears the steps of several persons in the next room. Levi opens a little bit of the door, and peeps through, and with a quick glance towards the baronet, he whispers, “Ay, it’s him.”

Oh, blessed hope! here comes, at last, a powerful friend to take him by the hand, and draw him, in his last struggle, from the whirlpool.

Sir Richard glances towards the door through which the Jew is still looking, and signing with his hand as, little by little, he opens it wider and wider; and a voice in the next room, at sound of which Sir Richard starts to his feet, says sharply, “Is all right?”

“All right,” replies Levi, getting aside; and Mr. Longcluse entered the room and shut the door.

His pale face looked paler than usual, his thin cruel lips were closed, his nostrils dilated with a terrible triumph, and his eyes were fixed upon Arden, as he held the fatal parchment in his hand.

Levi saw a scowl so dreadful contract Sir Richard Arden’s face — was it pain, or was it fury? — that, drawing back as far as the wall would let him, he almost screamed, “It ain’t me! — it ain’t my fault! — I can’t help it! — I couldn’t! — I can’t!” His right hand was in his pocket, and his left, trembling violently, extended toward him, as if to catch his arm.

But Richard Arden was not thinking of him — did not hear him. He was overpowered. He sat down in his chair. He leaned back with a gasp and a faint laugh, like a man just overtaken by a wave, and lifted half-drowned from the sea. Then, with a sudden cry, he threw his hands and head on the table.

There was no token of relenting in Longcluse’s cruel face. There was a contemptuous pleasure in it. He did not remove his eyes from that spectacle of abasement as he replaced the parchment in his pocket. There is a silence of about a minute, and Sir Richard sits up and says vaguely —

“Thank God, it’s over! Take me away; I’m ready to go.”

“You shall go, time enough; I have a word to say first,” said Longcluse, and he signs to the Jew to leave them.

On being left to themselves, the first idea that struck Sir Richard was the wild one of escape. He glanced quickly at the window. It was barred with iron. There were men in the next room — he could not tell how many — and he was without arms. The hope lighted up, and almost at the same moment expired.

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