Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 70.

Mr. Longcluse Proposes.

“Clear your head,” says Mr. Longcluse, sternly, seating himself before Sir Richard, with the table between; “you must conceive a distinct idea of your situation, Sir, and I shall then tell you something that remains. You have committed a forgery under aggravated circumstances, for which I shall have you convicted and sentenced to penal servitude at the next sessions. I have been a good friend to you on many occasions; you have been a false one to me — who baser? — and while I was anonymously helping you with large sums of money, you forged my name to a legal instrument for ten thousand pounds, to swindle your unknown benefactor, little suspecting who he was.”

Longcluse smiled.

“I have heard how you spoke of me. I’m an adventurer, a leg, an assassin, a person whom you were compelled to drop; rather a low person, I fear, if a felon can’t afford to sit beside me! You were always too fine a man for me. Your get up was always peculiar; you were famous for that. It will soon be more singular still, when your hair and your clothes are cut after the fashion of the great world you are about to enter. How your friends will laugh!”

Sir Richard heard all this with a helpless stare.

“I have only to stamp on the ground, to call up the men who will accomplish your transformation. I can change your life by a touch, into convict dress, diet, labour, lodging, for the rest of your days. What plea have you to offer to my mercy?”

Sir Richard would have spoken, but his voice failed him. With a second effort, however, he said —“Would it not be more manly if you let me meet my fate, without this.”

“And you are such an admirable judge of what is manly, or even gentlemanlike!” said Longcluse. “Now, mind, I shall arrest you in five minutes, on your three over-due bills. The men with the writ are in the next room. I sha’n’t immediately arrest you for the forgery. That shall hang over you. I mean to make you, for a while, my instrument. Hear, and understand; I mean to marry your sister. She don’t like me, but she suits me; I have chosen her, and I’ll not be baulked. When that is accomplished, you are safe. No man likes to see his brother a spectacle of British justice, with cropped hair, and a log to his foot. I may hate and despise you, as you deserve, but that would not do. Failing that, however, you shall have justice, I promise you. The course I propose taking is this: you shall be arrested here, for debt. You will be good enough to allow the people who take you, to select your present place of confinement. It is arranged. I will then, by a note, appoint a place of meeting for this evening, where I shall instruct you as to the particulars of that course of conduct I prescribe for you. If you mean to attempt an escape, you had better try it now; I will give you fourteen hours’ start, and undertake to catch and bring you back to London as a forger. If you make up your mind to submit to fate, and do precisely as you are ordered, you may emerge. But on the slightest evasion, prevarication, or default, the blow descends. In the meantime we treat each other civilly before these people. Levi is in my hands, and you, I presume, keep your own secret.”

“That is all?” inquired Sir Richard, faintly, after a minute’s silence.

“All for the present,” was the reply; “you will see more clearly, by-and-by, that you are my property, and you will act accordingly.”

The two Jewish-looking gentlemen, whom Richard had passed in a conference in their carriage which stood now at the steps of the house, were the sheriff’s officers destined to take charge of the fallen gentleman, and convey him, by Levi’s direction, to a “sponging house,” which, I believe, belonged jointly to him and his partner, Mr. Goldshed.

It was on the principle, perhaps, on which hunters tame wild beasts, by a sojourn at the bottom of a pit-fall, that Mr. Longcluse doomed the young baronet to some ten hours’ solitary contemplation of his hopeless immeshment in that castle of Giant Despair, before taking him out and setting him again before him, for the purpose of instructing him in the conditions and duties of the direful life on which he was about to enter.

Mr. Longcluse left the baronet suddenly, and returned to Levi’s office no more.

Sir Richard’s rôle was cast. He was to figure, at least first, as a captive in the drama for which fate had selected him. He had no wish to retard the progress of the piece. Nothing more odious than his present situation was likely to come.

“You have something to say to me?” said the baronet, making tender, as it were, of himself. The offer was, obligingly, accepted, and the sheriffs, by his lieutenants, made prisoner of Sir Richard Arden, who strode down the stairs between them, and entered the seedy coach, and sitting as far back as he could, drove rapidly toward the City.

Stunned and confused, there was but one image vividly present to his recollection, and that was the baleful face of Walter Longcluse.

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