Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 81.

Broken.

“My hands were very full,” said the baron, displaying his stumpy fingers. “I received patients in this house; I had what you call many irons in ze fire. I was making napoleons then, I don’t mind telling you, as fast as a man could run bullets. My minutes counted by the crown. It was in the month of May, 1844, late at night, a man called here, wanting to consult me. He called himself Herr von Konigsmark. I went down and saw him in my audience room. He knew I was to be depended upon. Such people tell one another who may be trusted. He told me he was an Austrian proscribed: very good. He proposed to place himself in my hands: very well. I looked him in the face — you have there exactly what I saw.”

He extended his hand toward the mask of Yelland Mace.

“‘You are an Austrian,’ I said, ‘a native subject of the empire?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘Italian?’

“‘No.’

“‘Hungarian?’

“‘No.’

“‘Well, you are not German— ha, ha! — I can swear to that.’

“He was speaking to me in German.

“‘Your accent is foreign. Come, confidence. You must be no impostor. I must make no mistake, and blunder into a national type of features, all wrong; if I make your mask, it must do us credit. I know many gentlemen’s secrets, and as many ladies’ secrets. A man of honour! What are you afraid of?’”

“You were not a statuary?” said Uncle David, astonished at his versatility.

“Oh, yes! A statuary, but only in grotesque, you understand. I will show you some of my work by-and-by.”

“And I shall perhaps understand.”

“You shall, perfectly. With some reluctance, then, he admitted that what I positively asserted was true; for I told him I knew from his accent he was an Englishman. Then, with some little pressure, I invited him to tell his name. He did — it was Yelland Mace. That is Yelland Mace.”

He had now finished his pipe: he went over to the chimney-piece, and having knocked out the ashes, and with his pipe pointing to the tip of the long thin plaster nose, he said, “Look well at him. Look till you know all his features by rote. Look till you fix them for the rest of your days well in memory, and then say what in the devil’s name you could make of them. Look at that high nose, as thin as a fish-knife. Look at the line of the mouth and chin; see the mild gentlemanlike contour. If you find a fellow with a flat nose, and a pair of upper tusks sticking out an inch, and a squint that turns out one eye like the white of an egg, you pull out the tusks, you raise the skin of the nose, slice a bit out of the cheek, and make a false bridge, as high as you please; heal the cheek with a stitch or two, and operate with the lancet for the squint, and your bust is complete. Bravo! you understand?”

“I confess, Baron, I do not.”

“You shall, however. Here is the case — a political refugee, like Monsieur Yelland Mace ——”

“But he was no such thing.”

“Well, a criminal — any man in such a situation is, for me, a political refugee zat, for reasons, desires to revisit his country, and yet must be so thoroughly disguised zat by no surprise, and by no process, can he be satisfactorily recognised; he comes to me, tells me his case, and says, ‘I desire, Baron, to become your patient,’ and so he places himself in my hands, and so — ha, ha! You begin to perceive?”

“Yes, I do! I think I understand you clearly. But, Lord bless me! what a nefarious trade!” exclaimed Uncle David.

The baron was not offended; he laughed.

“Nevertheless,” said he, “There’s no harm in that. Not that I care much about the question of right or wrong in the matter; but there’s none. Bah! who’s the worse of his going back? or, if he did not, who’s the better?”

Uncle David did not care to discuss this point in ethics, but simply said —

“And Mr. Longcluse was also a patient of yours?”

“Yes, certainly,” said the baron.

“We Londoners know nothing of his history,” said Mr. Arden.

“A political refugee, like Mr. Mace,” said the baron. “Now, look at Herr Yelland Mace. It was a severe operation, but a beautiful one! I opened the skin with a single straight cut from the lachrymal gland to the nostril, and one underneath meeting it, you see” (he was tracing the line of the scalpel with the stem of his pipe), “along the base of the nose from the point. Then I drew back the skin over the bridge, and then I operated on the bone and cartilage, cutting them and the muscle at the extremity down to a level with the line of the face, and drew the flap of skin back, cutting it to meet the line of the skin of the cheek; there, you see, so much for the nose. Now see the curved eyebrow. Instead of that very well marked arch, I resolved it should slant from the radix of the nose in a straight line obliquely upward; to effect which I removed at the upper edge of each eyebrow, at the corner next the temple, a portion of the skin and muscle, which, being reunited and healed, produced the requisite contraction, and thus drew that end of each brow upward. And now, having disposed of the nose and brows, I come to the mouth. Look at the profile of this mask.”

He was holding that of Yelland Mace toward Mr. Arden, and with the bowl of the pipe in his right hand, pointed out the lines and features on which he descanted, with the amber point of the stem.

“Now, if you observe, the chin in this face, by reason of the marked prominence of the nose, has the effect of receding, but it does not. If you continue the perpendicular line of ze forehead, ze chin, you see, meets it. The upper lip, though short and well-formed, projects a good deal. Ze under lip rather retires, and this adds to the receding effect of the chin, you see. My coup-d’oeil assured me that it was practicable to give to this feature the character of a projecting under-jaw. The complete depression of the nose more than half accomplished it. The rest is done by cutting away two upper and four under-teeth, and substituting false ones at the desired angle. By that application of dentistry I obtained zis new line.” (He indicated the altered outline of the features, as before, with his pipe). “It was a very pretty operation. The effect you could hardly believe. He was two months recovering, confined to his bed, ha! ha! We can’t have an immovable mask of living flesh, blood, and bone for nothing. He was threatened with erysipelas, and there was a rather critical inflammation of the left eye. When he could sit up, and bear the light, and looked in the glass, instead of thanking me, he screamed like a girl, and cried and cursed for an hour, ha, ha, ha! He was glad of it afterward: it was so complete. Look at it” (he held up the mask of Yelland Mace): “a face, on the whole, good-looking, but a little of a parrot-face, you know. I took him into my hands with that face, and” (taking up the mask of Mr. Longcluse, and turning it with a slow oscillation so as to present it in every aspect), he added, “these are the features of Yelland Mace as I sent him into the world with the name of Herr Longcluse!”

“You mean to say that Yelland Mace and Walter Longcluse are the same person?” cried David Arden, starting to his feet.

“I swear that here is Yelland Mace before, and here after the operation, call him what you please. When I was in London, two months ago, I saw Monsieur Longcluse. He is Yelland Mace; and these two masks are both masks of the same Yelland Mace.”

“Then the evidence is complete,” said David Arden, with awe in his face, as he stood for a moment gazing on the masks which the Baron Vanboeren held up side by side before him.

“Ay, the masks and the witness to explain them,” said the baron, sturdily.

“It is a perfect identification,” murmured Mr. Arden, with his eyes still riveted on the plaster faces. “Good God! how wonderful that proof, so complete in all its parts, should remain!”

“Well, I don’t love Longcluse, since so he is named; he disobliged me when I was in London,” said the baron. “Let him hang, since so you ordain it. I’m ready to go to London, give my evidence, and produce these plaster casts. But my time and trouble must be considered.”

“Certainly.”

“Yes,” said the baron; “and to avoid tedious arithmetic, and for the sake of convenience, I will agree to visit London, at what time you appoint, to bring with me these two masks, and to give my evidence against Yelland Mace, otherwise Walter Longcluse, my stay in London not to exceed a fortnight, for ten thousand pounds sterling.”

“I don’t think, Baron, you can be serious,” said Mr. Arden, as soon as he had recovered breath.

“Donner-wetter! I will show you that I am!” bawled the baron. “Now or never, Sir. Do as you please. I sha’n’t abate a franc. Do you like my offer?”

On the event of this bargain are depending issues of which David Arden knows nothing; the dangers, the agonies, the salvation of those who are nearest to him on earth. The villain Longcluse, and the whole fabric of his machinations, may be dashed in pieces by a word.

How, then, did David Arden, who hated a swindle, answer the old extortioner, who asked him, “Do you like my offer?”

“Certainly not, Sir,” said David Arden, sternly.

“Then was scheert’s mich! What do I care! No more, no more about it!” yelled the baron in a fury, and dashed the two masks to pieces on the hearth-stone at his feet, and stamped the fragments into dust with his clumsy shoes.

With a cry, old Uncle David rushed forward to arrest the demolition, but too late. The baron, who was liable to such accesses of rage, was grinding his teeth, and rolling his eyes, and stamping in fury.

The masks, those priceless records, were gone, past all hope of restoration. Uncle David felt for a moment so transported with anger, that I think he was on the point of striking him. How it would have fared with him, if he had, I can’t tell.

“Now!” howled the baron, “ten times ten thousand pounds would not place you where you were, Sir. You fancied, perhaps, I would stand haggling with you all night, and yield at last to your obstinacy. What is my answer? The floor strewn with the fragments of your calculation. Where will you turn — what will you do now?”

“Suppose I do this,” said Uncle David fiercely —“report to the police what I have seen — your masks and all the rest, and accomplish, besides, all I require, by my own evidence as to what I myself saw?”

“And I will confront you, as a witness,” said the baron, with a cold sneer, “and deny it all — swear it is a dream, and aid your poor relatives in proving you unfit to manage your own money matters.”

Uncle David paused for a moment. The baron had no idea how near he was, at that moment, to a trial of strength with his English visitor. Uncle David thinks better of it, and he contents himself with saying, “I shall have advice, and you shall most certainly hear from me again.”

Forth from the room strides David Arden in high wrath. Fearing to lose his way, he bawls over the banister, and through the corridors, “Is any one there?” and after a time the old woman, who is awaiting him in the hall, replies, and he is once more in the open street.

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