Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 74.

A Letter.

Mr. Longcluse knocked at Sir Richard’s house in May Fair, and sent up-stairs for the baronet. It was about the same hour at which Mr. Levi was drinking his thirsty potation of brandy and soda at the “Guy of Warwick.” The streets were darker than that comparatively open place, and the gas lamp threw its red outline of the sashes upon the dark ceiling, as Mr. Longcluse stood in the drawing-room between the windows, in his great-coat, with his hat on, looking in the dark like an image made of fog.

Sir Richard Arden entered the room.

“You were not at Mortlake today,” said he.

“No.”

“There’s a cab at the door that will take you there; your absence for a whole day would excite surmise. Don’t stay more than five minutes, and don’t mention Louisa Diaper’s name, and account for the locking up of all the house, but one suite of rooms, I directed, and come to my house in Bolton Street, direct from Mortlake. That’s all.”

Without another word, Mr. Longcluse took his departure.

In this cavalier way, and in a cold tone that conveyed all the menace and insult involved in his ruined position, had this conceited young man been ordered about by his betrayer, on his cruel behests, ever since he had come under his dreadful rod. The iron trap that held him fast, locked him in a prison from which, except through the door of death, there seemed no escape.

Outraged pride, the terrors of suspense, the shame and remorse of his own enormous perfidy against his only sister, peopled it with spectres.

As he drove out to Mortlake, pale, frowning, with folded arms, his handsome face thinned and drawn by the cords of pain, he made up his mind. He knocked furiously at Mortlake Hall door. The woman in the canvas apron let him in. The strange face startled him; he had been thinking so intently of one thing. Going up, through the darkened house, with but one candle, and tapping at the door, on the floor above the drawing-room, within which Alice was sitting, with Louisa Diaper for company, and looking at her unsuspicious smile, he felt what a heinous conspirator he was.

He made an excuse for sending the maid to the next room after they had spoken a few words, and then he said —

“Suppose, Alice, we were to change our plan, would you like to come abroad? Out of this you must come immediately.” He was speaking low. “I am in great danger; I must go abroad. For your life, don’t seem to suspect anything. Do exactly as I tell you, or else I am utterly ruined, and you, Alice, on your account, very miserable. Don’t ask a question, or look a look, that may make Louisa Diaper suspect that you have any doubt as to your going to Arden, or any suspicion of any danger. She is quite true, but not wise, and your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing. Don’t be frightened, only be steady and calm. Get together any jewels and money you have, and as little else as you can possibly manage with. Do this yourself; Louisa Diaper must know nothing of it. I will mature our plans, and tomorrow or next day I shall see you again; I can stay but a moment now, and have but time to bid you good-night.”

Then he kissed her. How horribly agitated he looked! How cold was the pressure of his hand!

“Hush!” he whispered, and his dark eyes were fixed on the door through which he expected the return of the maid. And as he heard her step, “Not a word, remember!” he said; then bidding her good-night aloud, he quitted the room almost as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving her, for the first time, in the horrors of a growing panic.

Sir Richard leaned back in the cab as he drove into town. He had as yet no plan formed. It was a more complicated exploit than he was at the moment equal to. In Mortlake were two fellows, by way of protectors, placed there for security of the house and people.

These men held possession of the keys of the house, and sat and regaled themselves with their hot punch, or cold brandy and water, and pipes; always one awake, and with ears erect, they kept watch and ward in the room to the right of the hall-door, in which Sir Richard and Uncle David had conversed with the sad Mr. Plumes, on the evening after the old baronet’s death. To effect Alice’s escape, and reserve for himself a chance of accomplishing his own, was a problem demanding skill, cunning, and audacity.

While he revolved these things an alarm had been sounded in another quarter, which unexpectedly opened a chance of extrication, sudden and startling.

Mr. Longcluse was destined to a surprise to-night. Mr. Longcluse, at his own house, was awaiting the return of Sir Richard. Overlooked in his usually accurate though rapid selection, a particularly shabby and vulgar-looking letter had been thrown aside among circulars, pamphlets, and begging letters, to await his leisure. It was a letter from Paris, and vulgar and unbusiness-like as it looked, there was yet, in its peculiar scrivenery that which, a little more attentively scanned, thrilled him with a terrible misgiving. The post-mark showed it had been delivered four days before. When he saw from whom it came, and had gathered something of its meaning from a few phrases, his dark eyes gleamed and his face grew stern. Was this wretch’s hoof to strike to pieces the plans he had so nearly matured? The letter was as follows:—

“SIR,

“Mr Longcluse, I have been unfortunate With your money which you have Gave me to remove from England, and Keep me in New York. My boxes, and other things, and Ballens of the money in Gold, except about a Hundred pounds, which has kep me from want ever sense, went Down in the Mary Jane, of London, and my cousin went down in her also, which I might as well av Went down myself in her, only for me Stopping in Paris, where I made a trifle of Money, intending to go Out in August. Now, Sir, don’t you Seppose I am not in as good Possition as I was when I Harranged with sum difculty With you. The boot with The blood Mark on the Soul is not Lost nor Distroyed, but it is Safe in my Custody; so as Likewise in safe Keeping is The traising, in paper, of the foot Mark in blood on the Floar of the Smoaking Room in question, with the signatures of the witnesses attached; and, Moreover, my Staitment made in the Form of a Information, at the Time, and signed In witness of My signature by two Unekseptinible witnesses. And all Is ready to Produise whenevor his worshop shall Apoynt. i have wrote To mister david Arden on this Supget. i wrote to him just a week ago, he seaming To take a Intrast in this Heer case; and, moreover, the two ieyes that sawd a certain Person about the said smoaking Room, and in the saime, is Boath wide open at This presen Time. mister Longcluse i do not Want to have your Life, but gustice must Taike its coarse unless it is settled of hand Slik. i will harrange the Same as last time, And i must have two hundred And fifty pounds More on this Settlement than i Had last time, for Dellay and loss of Time in this town. I will sign any law paper in reason you may ask of me. My hadress is under cover to Monseer Letexier, air-dresser, and incloses his card, which you Will please send an Anser by return Of post, or else i Must sepose you chose The afare shall take Its coarse; and i am as ever,

“Your obeediant servant to command, “PAUL DAVIES.”

Never did paper look so dazzlingly white, or letters so intensely black, before Mr. Longcluse’s eyes, as those of this ominous letter. He crumpled it up, and thrust it in his trousers pocket, and gave to the position a few seconds of intense thought.

His first thought was, what a fool he was for not having driven Davies to the wall, and settled the matter with the high hand of the law at once. His next, what could bring him to Paris? He was there for something. To see possibly the family of Lebas, and collect and dovetail pieces of evidence, after his detective practice, a process which would be sure to conduct him to the Baron Vanboeren! Was this story of the boot and the tracing of the bloodstained foot-print true? Had this scoundrel reserved the strongest part of his case for this new extortion? Was his trouble to be never ending? If this accursed ferret were once to get into his warren, what power could unearth him, till the mischief was done?

His eye caught again the words, on which, in the expressive phrase which Mr. Davies would have used, his “sight spred” as he held the letter before his eyes —“Mister Loncluse, i do not want to have your life.” He ground his teeth, shook his fist in the air, and stamped on the floor with fury, at the thought that a brutal detective, not able to spell two words, and trained for such game as London thieves and burglars, should dare to hold such language to a man of thought and skill, altogether so masterly as he! That he should be outwitted by that clumsy scoundrel!

Well, it was now to begin all over again. It should all go right this time. He thought again for a moment, and then sat down and wrote, commencing with the date and address —

“PAUL DAVIES,

“I have just received your note, which states that you have succeeded in obtaining some additional information, which you think may lead to the conviction of the murderer of M. Lebas, in the Saloon Tavern. I shall be most happy to pay handsomely any expense of any kind you may be put to in that matter. It is, indeed, no more than I had already undertaken. I am glad to learn that you have also written on the subject to Mr. David Arden, who feels entirely with me. I shall take an early opportunity of seeing him. Persist in your laudable exertions, and I shall not shrink from rewarding you handsomely.

“Yours,

“WALTER LONGCLUSE.”

He addressed the letter carefully, and went himself and put it in the post-office.

By this time Sir Richard Arden was awaiting him at home in his drawing-room, and as he walked homeward, under the lamps, in inward pain, one might have moralised with Peter Pindar —

“These fleas have other fleas to bite ’em

And so on ad infinitum.”

The secret tyrant had in his turn found a secret tyrant, not less cruel perhaps, but more ignoble.

“You made your visit?” asked Mr. Longcluse.

“Yes.”

“Anything to report?”

“Absolutely nothing.”

A silence followed.

“Where is Mr. Arden, your uncle?”

“In Scotland.”

“How soon does he return?”

“He will not be in town till spring, I believe; he is going abroad, but he passes through Southampton on his way to the Continent, on Friday next.”

“And makes some little stay there?”

“I think he stays one night.”

“Then I’ll go down and see him, and you shall come with me.”

Sir Richard stared.

“Yes, and you had better not put your foot in it; and clear your head of all notion of running away,” he said, fixing his fiery eyes on Sir Richard, with a sudden ferocity that made him fancy that his secret thoughts had revealed themselves under that piercing gaze. “It is not easy to levant now-a-days, unless one has swifter wings than the wires can carry news with; and if you are false, what more do I need than to blast you? and with your name in the Hue-and-Cry, and a thousand pounds reward for the apprehension of Sir Richard Arden, Baronet, for forgery, I don’t see much more that infamy can do for you.”

A dark flush crossed Arden’s face as he rose.

“Not a word now,” cried Longcluse harshly, extending his hand quickly towards him; “I may do that which can’t be undone.”

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