Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 8.

Concerning a Boot.

Several pairs of boots were placed in Mr. Longcluse’s dressing-room.

“Where are the boots that I wore yesterday?” asked he.

“If you please, Sir,” said Mr. Franklin, “the man called this morning for the right boot of that pair.”

“What man?” asked Mr. Longcluse, rather grimly.

“Mr. Armagnac’s man, Sir.”

“Did you desire him to call for it?” asked Mr. Longcluse.

“No, Sir. I thought you must have told some one else to order him to send for it,” said Franklin.

I? You ought to know I leave those things to you,” said Mr. Longcluse, staring at him more aghast and fierce than the possible mislaying of a boot would seem to warrant. “Did you see Armagnac’s man?”

“No, Sir. It was Charles who came up, at eight o’clock, when you were still asleep, and said the shoemaker had called for the right boot of the pair you wore yesterday. I had placed them outside the door, and I gave it him, Sir, supposing it all right.”

“Perhaps it was all right; but you know Charles has not been a week here. Call him up. I’ll come to the bottom of this.”

Franklin disappeared, and Mr. Longcluse, with a stern frown, was staring vaguely at the varnished boot, as if it could tell something about its missing companion. His brain was already at work. What the plague was the meaning of this manoeuvre about his boot? And why on earth, think I, should he make such a fuss and a tragedy about it? Charles followed Mr. Franklin up the stairs.

“What’s all this about my boot?” demanded Mr. Longcluse, peremptorily. “Who has got it?”

“A man called for it this morning, Sir.”

“What man?”

“I think he said he came from Mr. Armagnac’s, Sir.”

“You think. Say what you know, Sir. What did he say?” said Mr. Longcluse, looking dangerous.

“Well, Sir,” said the man, mending his case, “he did say, Sir, he came from Mr. Armagnac’s, and wanted the right boot.”

“What right boot? —any right boot?”

“No, Sir, please; the right boot of the pair you wore last night,” answered the servant.

“And you gave it to him?”

“Yes, Sir, ’twas me,” answered Charles.

“Well, you mayn’t be quite such a fool as you look. I’ll sift all this to the bottom. You go, if you please, this moment, to Monsieur Armagnac, and say I should be obliged to him for a line to say whether he this morning sent for my boot, and got it — and I must have it back, mind; you shall bring it back, you understand? And you had better make haste.”

“I made bold, Sir,” said Mr. Franklin, “to send for it myself, when you sent me down for Charles; and the boy will be back, Sir, in two or three minutes.”

“Well, come you and Charles here again when the boy comes back, and bring him here also. I’ll make out who has been playing tricks.”

Mr. Longcluse shut his dressing-room door sharply; he walked to the window, and looked out with a vicious scowl; he turned about, and lifted up his clenched hand, and stamped on the floor. A sudden thought now struck him.

“The right foot? By Jove! it may not be the one.”

The boot that was left was already in his hand. He was examining it curiously.

“Ay, by heaven! The right was the boot! What’s the meaning of this? Conspiracy? I should not wonder.”

He examined it carefully again, and flung it into its corner with violence.

“If it’s an accident, it is a very odd one. It is a suspicious accident. It may be, of course, all right. I daresay it is all right. The odds are ten, twenty, a thousand to one that Armagnac has got it. I should have had a warm bath last night, and taken a ten miles’ ride into the country this morning. It must be all right, and I am plaguing myself without a cause.”

Yet he took up the boot, and examined it once more; then, dropping it, went to the window and looked into the street — came back, opened his door, and listened for the messenger’s return.

It was not long deferred. As he heard them approach, Mr. Longcluse flung open his door and confronted them, in white waistcoat and shirt-sleeves, and with a very white and stern face — face and figure all white.

“Well, what about it? Where’s the boot?” he demanded, sharply.

“The boy inquired, Sir,” said Mr. Franklin, indicating the messenger with his open hand, and undertaking the office of spokesman; “and Mr. Armagnac did not send for the boot, Sir, and has not got it.”

“Oh, oh! very good. And now, Sir,” he said, in rising fury, turning upon Charles, “what have you got to say for yourself?”

“The man said he came from Mr. Armagnac, please, Sir,” said Charles, “and wanted the boot, which Mr. Franklin should have back as early as he could return it.”

“Then you gave it to a common thief with that cock-and-a-bull story, and you wish me to believe that you took it all for gospel. There are men who would pitch you over the bannisters for a less thing. If I could be certain of it, I’d put you beside him in the dock. But, by heavens! I’ll come to the bottom of the whole thing yet.”

He shut the door with a crash, in the faces of the three men, who stood on the lobby.

Mr. Franklin was a little puzzled at these transports, all about a boot. The servants looked at one another without a word. But just as they were going down, the dressing-room door opened, and the following dialogue ensued:—

“See, Charles, it was you who saw and spoke with that man?” said Longcluse.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Should you know him again?”

“Yes, Sir, I think I should.”

“What kind of man was he?”

“A very common person, Sir.”

“Was he tall or short? What sort of figure?”

“Tall, Sir.”

“Go on; what more? Describe him.”

“Tall, Sir, with a long neck, and held himself straight; very flat feet, I noticed; a thin man, broad in the shoulders — pretty well that.”

“Describe his face,” said Longcluse.

“Nothing very particular, Sir; a shabby sort of face — a bad colour.”

“How?”

“A bad white, Sir, and pock-marked something; a broad face and flat, and a very little bit of a nose; his eyes almost shut, and a sort of smile about his mouth, and stingy bits of red whiskers, in a curl, down each cheek.”

“How old?”

“He might be nigh fifty, Sir.”

“Ha, ha! very good. How was he dressed?”

“Black frock coat, Sir, a good deal worn; an old flowered satin waistcoat, worn and dirty, Sir; and a pair of raither dirty tweed trousers. Nothing fitted him, and his hat was brown and greasy, begging your parding, Sir; and he had a stick in his hand, and cotton gloves — a-trying to look genteel.”

“And he asked for the right boot?” asked Mr. Longcluse.

“Yes, Sir.”

“You are quite sure of that? Did he take the boot without looking at it, or did he examine it before he took it away?”

“He looked at it sharp enough, Sir, and turned up the sole, and he said ‘It’s all right,’ and he went away, taking it along with him.”

“He asked for the boot I wore yesterday, or last night — which did he say?” asked Mr. Longcluse.

“I think it was last night he said, Sir,” answered Charles.

“Try to recollect yourself. Can’t you be certain? Which was it?”

“I think it was last night, Sir, he said.”

“It doesn’t signify,” said Mr. Longcluse; “I wanted to see that your memory was pretty clear on the subject. You seem to remember all that passed pretty accurately.”

“I recollect it perfectly well, Sir.”

“H’m! That will do. Franklin, you’ll remember that description — let every one of you remember it. It is the description of a thief; and when you see that fellow again, hold him fast till you put him in the hands of a policeman. And, Charles, you must be prepared, d’ye see, to swear to that description; for I am going to the detective office, and I shall give it to the police.”

“Yes, Sir,” answered Charles.

“I sha’n’t want you, Franklin; let some one call a cab.”

So he returned to his dressing-room, and shut the door, and thought —“That’s the fellow whom that miserable little fool, Lebas, pointed out to me at the saloon last night. He watched him, he said, wherever he went. I saw him. There may be other circumstances. That is the fellow — that is the very man. Here’s matter to think over! By heaven! that fellow must be denounced, and discovered, and brought to justice. It is a strong case — a pretty hanging case against him. We shall see.”

Full of surmises about his lost boot, Atra Cura walking unheard behind him, with her cold hand on his shoulder, and with the image of the exdetective always gliding before or beside him, and peering with an odious familiarity over his shoulder into his face, Mr. Longcluse marched eastward with a firm tread and a cheerful countenance. Friends who nodded to him, as he walked along Piccadilly, down Saint James’s Street, and by Pall Mall, citywards, thought he had just been listening to an amusing story. Others, who, more deferentially, saluted the great man as he walked lightly by Temple Bar, towards Ludgate Hill, for a moment perplexed themselves with the thought, “What stock is up, and what down, on a sudden, today, that Longcluse looks so radiant?”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lefanu/checkmate/chapter8.html

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