Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 87.

Conclusion.

Sir Richard Arden had learned how matters were with Mr. Longcluse. He hesitated. Flight might provoke action of the kind for which there seemed no longer a motive.

In an agony of dubitation, as the day wore on, he was interrupted. Mr. Rooke, Mr. Longcluse’s attorney, had called. There was no good in shirking a meeting. He was shown in.

“This is for you, Sir Richard,” said Mr. Rooke, presenting a large letter. “Mr. Longcluse wrote it about three hours ago, and requested me to place it in your own hand, as I now do.”

“It is not any legal paper ——” began Sir Richard.

“I haven’t an idea,” answered he. “He gave it to me thus. I had some things to do for him afterwards, and a call to make, at his desire, at Mr. David Arden’s. When I got home I was sent for again. I suppose you heard the news?”

“No; what is it?”

“Oh, dear, really! They have heard it some time at Mr. Arden’s. You didn’t hear about Mr. Longcluse?”

“No, nothing, excepting what we all know — his arrest.”

The attorney’s countenance darkened, and he said, dropping his voice as low as he would have given a message in church —

“Oh, poor gentleman! he died today. Some kind of fit, I believe; he’s gone!”

Then Mr. Rooke went into particulars, so far as he knew them, and mentioned that the coroner’s inquest would be held that afternoon; and so he departed.

Unmixed satisfaction accompanied the hearing of this news in Sir Richard’s mind. But with reflection came the terrifying question, “Has Levi got hold of that instrument of torture and ruin — the forged signature?”

In this new horror he saw the envelope which Rooke had handed to him, upon the table. He opened it, and saw the forged deed. Written across it, in Longcluse’s hand, were the words —

“Paid by W. Longcluse before due.

“W. LONGCLUSE.”

That day’s date was added.

So the evidence of his guilt was no longer in the hands of a stranger, and Sir Richard Arden was saved.

David Arden had already received under like circumstances, and by the same hand, two papers of immense importance. The first written in Rooke’s hand and duly witnessed, was a very short will, signed by the testator, Walter Longcluse, and leaving his enormous wealth absolutely to David Arden. The second was a letter which attached a trust to this bequest. The letter said —

“I am the son of Edwin Raikes, your cousin. He had cast me off for my vices, when I committed the crime, not intended to have amounted to murder. It was Harry Arden’s determined resistance and my danger that cost him his life. I did kill Lebas. I could not help it. He was a fool, and might have ruined me; and that villain, Vanboeren, has spoken truth for once.

“I meant to set up the Arden family in my person. I should have taken the name. My father relented on his death-bed, and left me his money. I went to New York, and received it. I made a new start in life. On the Bourse in Paris, and in Vienna, I made a fortune by speculation; I improved it in London. You may take it all by my will. Do with half the interest as you please, during your lifetime. The other half pay to Miss Alice Arden, and the entire capital you are to secure to her on your death.

“I had taken assignments of all the mortgages affecting the Arden estates. They must go to Miss Arden, and be secured unalienably to her.

“My life has been arduous and direful. That miserable crime hung over me, and its dangers impeded me at every turn.

“You have played your game well, but with all the odds of the position in your favour. I am tired, beaten. The match is over, and you may rise now and say Checkmate.

“WALTER LONGCLUSE.”

That Longcluse had committed suicide, of course I can have no doubt. It must have been effected by some unusually subtle poison. The post-mortem examination failed to discover its presence. But there was found in his desk a curious paper, in French, published about five months before, upon certain vegetable poisons, whose presence in the system no chemical test detects, and no external trace records. This paper was noted here and there on the margin, and had been obviously carefully read. Any of these tinctures he could without much trouble have procured from Paris. But no distinct light was ever thrown upon this inquiry.

In a small and lonely house, tenanted by Longcluse, in the then less crowded region of Richmond, were found proofs, no longer needed, of Longcluse’s identity, both with the horseman who had met Paul Davies on Hampstead Heath, and the person who crossed the Channel from Southampton with David Arden, and afterwards met him in the streets of Paris, as we have seen. There he had been watching his movements, and traced him, with dreadful suspicion, to the house of Vanboeren. The turn of a die had determined the fate of David Arden that night. Longcluse had afterwards watched and seized an opportunity of entering Vanboeren’s house. He knew that the baron expected the return of his messenger, rang the bell, and was admitted. The old servant had gone to her bed, and was far away in that vast house.

Longcluse would have stabbed him, but the baron recognised him, and sprang back with a yell. Instantly Longcluse had used his revolver; but before he could make assurance doubly sure, his quick ear detected a step outside. He then made his exit through a window into a deserted lane at the side of the house, and had not lost a moment in commencing his flight for London.

With respect to the murder of Lebas, the letter of Longcluse pretty nearly explains it. That unlucky Frenchman had attended him through his recovery under the hands of Vanboeren; and Longcluse feared to trust, as it now might turn out, his life, in his giddy keeping. Of course, Lebas had no idea of the nature of his crime, or that in England was the scene of its perpetration. Longcluse had made up his mind promptly on the night of the billiard-match played in the Saloon Tavern. When every eye was fixed upon the balls, he and Lebas met, as they had ultimately agreed, in the smoking-room. A momentary meeting it was to have been. The dagger which he placed in his keeping, Longcluse plunged into his heart. In the stream of blood that instantaneously flowed from the wound Longcluse stepped, and made one distinct impression of his boot-sole on the boards. A tracing of this Paul Davies had made, and had got the signatures of two or three respectable Londoners before the room filled, attesting its accuracy, he affecting, while he did so, to be a member of the detective police, from which body, for a piece of over-cleverness, he had been only a few weeks before dismissed. Having made his tracing, he obscured the blood-mark on the floor.

The opportunity of distinguishing himself at his old craft, to the prejudice of the force, whom he would have liked to mortify, while earning, perhaps, his own restoration, was his first object. The delicacy of the shape of the boot struck him next. He then remembered having seen Longcluse — and his was the only eye that observed him — pass swiftly from the passage leading to the smoking-room at the beginning of the game. His mind had now matter to work upon; and hence his visit to Bolton Street to secure possession of the boot, which he did by an audacious ruse.

His subsequent interview with Mr. Longcluse, in presence of David Arden, was simply a concerted piece of acting, on which Longcluse, when he had made his terms with Davies, insisted, as a security against the reopening of the extortion.

Nothing will induce Alice to accept one farthing of Longcluse’s magnificent legacy. Secretly Uncle David is resolved to make it up to her from his own wealth, which is very great.

Richard Arden’s story is not known to any living person but the Jew Levi, and vaguely to his sister, in whose mind it remains as something horrible, but never approached.

Levi keeps the secret for reasons more cogent than charitable. First he kept it to himself as a future instrument of profit. But on his insinuating something that promised such relations to Sir Richard, the young gentleman met it with so bold a front, with fury so unaffected, and with threats so alarming, founded upon a trifling matter of which the Jew had never suspected his knowledge, that Mr. Levi has not ventured either to “utilise” his knowledge, in a profitable way, or afterwards to circulate the story for the solace of his malice. They seem, in Mr. Rooke’s phrase, to have turned their backs on one another; and as some years have passed, and lapse of time does not improve the case of a person in Mr. Levi’s position, we may safely assume that he will never dare to circulate any definite stories to Sir Richard’s prejudice. A sufficient motive, indeed, for doing so exists no longer, for Sir Richard, who had lived an unsettled life travelling on the Continent, and still playing at foreign tables when he could afford it, died suddenly at Florence in the autumn of ‘69.

Vivian Darnley has been in “the House,” now, nearly four years. Uncle David is very proud of him; and more impartial people think that he will, at last, take an honourable place in that assembly. His last speech has been spoken of everywhere with applause. David Arden’s immensely increased wealth enables him to entertain very magnificent plans for this young man. He intends that he shall take the name of Arden, and earn the transmission of the title, or the distinction of a greater one.

A year ago Vivian Darnley married Alice Arden, and no two people can be happier.

Lady May, although her girlish ways have not forsaken her, has no present thoughts of making any man happy. She had a great cry all to herself when Sir Richard died, and she now persuades herself that he never meant one word he said of her, and that if the truth were known, although after that day she never spoke to him more, he had never really cared for more than one woman on earth. It was all spite of that odious Lady Wynderbroke!

Alice has never seen Mortlake since the night of her flight from its walls.

The two old servants, Crozier and Martha Tansey, whose acquaintance we made in that suburban seat of the Ardens, are both, I am glad to say, living still, and extremely comfortable.

Phoebe Chiffinch, I am glad to add, was jilted by her uninteresting lover, who little knew what a fortune he was slighting. His desertion does not seem to have broken her heart, or at all affected her spirits. The gratitude of Alice Arden has established her in the prosperous little Yorkshire town, the steep roof, chimneys, and church tower of which are visible, among the trees, from the windows of Arden Court. She is the energetic and popular proprietress of the “Cat and Fiddle,” to which thriving inn, at a nominal rent, a valuable farm is attached. A fortune of two thousand pounds from the same grateful friend awaits her marriage, which can’t be far off, with the handsome son of rich Farmer Shackleton.

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