The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 15.

Mr. Cleve Verney Pays a Visit to Rosemary Court.

THAT evoked spirit, Dingwell, was now functus officio, and might be dismissed. He was as much afraid of the light of London — even the gaslight — as a man of his audacity could be of anything. Still he lingered there.

Mr. Larkin had repeatedly congratulated the Verney peer, and his young friend and patron, Cleve, upon his own masterly management, and the happy result of the case, as he called it. And although, with scriptural warning before him, he would be the last man in the world to say, “Is not this great Babylon that I have builded?” Yet he did wish Lord Viscount Verney, and Cleve Verney, M.P., distinctly to understand that he, Mr. Larkin, had been the making of them. There were some things — very many things, in fact, all desirable — which those distinguished persons could effect for the good attorney of Glyngden, and that excellent person in consequence presented himself diligently at Verney House.

On the morning I now speak of, he was introduced to the library, where he found the peer and his nephew.

“I ventured to call, my lord — how do you do, Mr. Verney? — to invite your lordship’s attention to the position of Mr. Dingwell, who is compelled by lack of funds to prolong his stay in London. He is, I may say, most anxious to take his departure quietly and expeditiously, for Constantinople, where, I venture to think, it is expedient for all parties, that his residence should be fixed, rather than in London, where he is in hourly danger of detection and arrest, the consequence of which, my lord; — it will probably have struck your lordship’s rapid apprehension already — would be, I venture to think, a very painful investigation of his past life, and a concomitant discrediting of his character, which although, as your lordship would point out to me, it cannot disturb that which is already settled, would yet produce an unpleasant effect out of doors, which, it is to be feared, he would take care to aggravate by all means in his power, were he to refer his detention here, and consequent arrest, to any fancied economy on your lordship’s part.”

“I don’t quite follow you about it, Mr. Larkin,” said Lord Verney, who generally looked a little stern when he was puzzled. “I don’t quite apprehend the drift — be good enough to sit down — about it — of your remarks, as they bear upon Mr. Dingwell’s wishes, and my conduct. Do you, Cleve?”

“I conjecture that Dingwell wants more money, and can’t be got out of London without it,” said Cleve.

“Eh? Well, that did occur to me; of course, that’s plain enough — about it — and what a man that must be! and — God bless me! about it — all the money he has got from me! It’s incredible, Mr. — a —Larkin, three hundred pounds, you know, and he wanted five, and that absurdly enormous weekly payment besides!”

“Your lordship has exactly, as usual, touched the point, and anticipated, with your wonted accuracy, the line at the other side; and indeed, I may also say, all that may be urged by way of argument, pro and con. It is a wonderful faculty!” added Mr. Larkin, looking down with a contemplative smile, and a little wondering shake of the head.

“Ha, ha! Something of the same sort has been remarked in our family about it,” said the Viscount, much pleased. “It facilitates business, rather, I should hope — about it.”

The attorney shook his head, reflectively, raising his hands, and said, “No one but a professional man can have an idea!”

“And what do you suggest?” asked Cleve, who was perhaps a little tired of the attorney’s compliments.

“Yes, what do you suggest, Mr. — Mr. Larkin? Your suggestion I should be prepared to consider. Anything, Mr. Larkin, suggested by you shall be considered,” said Lord Verney grandly, leaning back in his chair, and folding his hands.

“I am much — very much — flattered by your lordship’s confidence. The former money, I have reason to think, my lord, went to satisfy an old debt, and I have reason to know that his den has been discovered by another creditor, from whom, even were funds at his disposal to leave England to-night, escape would be difficult, if not impossible.”

“How much money does he want?” asked Mr. Cleve Verney.

“A moment, a moment, please. I was going to say,” said Lord Verney, “if he wants money — about it — it would be desirable to state the amount.”

Mr. Larkin, thus called on, cleared his voice, and his dove-like eyes contracted, and assumed their rat-like look, and he said, watching Lord Verney’s face —

“I am afraid, my lord, that less than three hundred ——”

Lord Verney contracted his brows, and nodded, after a moment.

“Three hundred pounds. Less, I say, my lord, will not satisfy the creditor, and there will remain something still in order to bring him back, and to keep him quiet there for a time; and I think, my lord, if you will go the length of five hundred ——”

“‘Gad, it’s growing quite serious, Mr. — Mr. Sir, I confess I don’t half understand this person, Mr. Ding — Dong — whatever it is — it’s going rather too fast about it. I— I— and that’s my clear opinion —” and Lord Verney gazed and blinked sternly at the attorney, and patted his fragrant pocket-handkerchief several times to his chin —“very unreasonable and monstrous, and, considering all I’ve done, very ungrateful.”

“Quite so, my lord; monstrously ungrateful. I can’t describe to your lordship the trouble I have had with that extraordinary and, I fear I must add, fiendish person. I allude, of course, my lord, in my privileged character as having the honour of confidential relations with your lordship, to that unfortunate man, Dingwell. I assure you, on one occasion, he seized a poker in his lodgings, and threatened to dash my brains out.”

“Very good, sir,” said Lord Verney, whose mind was busy upon quite another point; “and suppose I do, what do we gain, I ask, by assisting him?”

“Simply, my lord, he is so incredibly reckless, and, as I have said, fiendish, that if he were disappointed, I do think he will stick at nothing, even to the length of swearing that his evidence for your lordship was perjured, for the purpose of being revenged, and your generosity to him pending the inquiry, or rather the preparation of proofs, would give a colour unfortunately even to that monstrous allegation. Your lordship can have no idea — the elevation of your own mind prevents it — of the desperate character with whom we have had to deal.”

“Upon my life, sir, a pleasant position you seem to have brought me into,” said Lord Verney, flushing a good deal.

“My lord, it was inevitable,” said Mr. Larkin, sadly.

“I don’t think he could have helped it, really,” said Cleve Verney.

“And who says he could?” asked Lord Verney, tartly. “I’ve all along said it could not well be helped, and that’s the reason I did it, don’t you see? but I may be allowed to say, I suppose, that the position is a most untoward one; and so it is, egad!” and Lord Verney got up in his fidget, and walked over to the window, and to the chimney-piece, and to the table, and fiddled with a great many things.

“I remember my late brother, Shadwell Verney — he’s dead, poor Shadwell — had a world of trouble with a fellow — about it — who used to extort money from him — something I suppose — like this Mr. Ringwood — or I mean — you know his name — till he called in the police, and put an end to it.”

“Quite true, my lord, quite true; but don’t you think, my lord, such a line with Mr. Dingwell might lead to a fraycas, and the possible unpleasantness to which I ventured to allude? You have seen him, Mr. Verney?”

“Yes; he’s a beast, he really is; a little bit mad, I almost think.”

“A little bit mad, precisely so; it really is, my lord, most melancholy. And I am so clearly of opinion that if we quarrel definitively with Mr. Dingwell, we may find ourselves in an extremely difficult position, that were the case my own, I should have no hesitation in satisfying Mr. Dingwell, even at a sacrifice, rather than incur the annoyance I anticipate. If you allow me, my lord, to conduct the matter with Mr. Dingwell, I think I shall succeed in getting him away quietly.”

“It seems to me a very serious sum, Mr. Larkin,” said Lord Verney.

“Precisely so, my lord; serious — very serious; but your lordship made a remark once in my hearing which impressed me powerfully: it was to the effect that where an object is to be accomplished, it is better to expend a little too much power, than anything too little.” I think that Mr. Larkin invented this remark of Lord Verney’s, which, however, his lordship was pleased to recognise, notwithstanding.

So the attorney took his departure, to call again next day.

“Clever man that Mr. — Mr. Larkin — vastly clever,” said Lord Verney. “I rather think there’s a great deal in what he says — it’s very disgusting — about it; but one must consider, you know — there’s no harm in considering — and — and that Mr. — Dong — Dingleton, isn’t it? — about it — a most offensive person. I must consider — I shall think it over, and give him my ideas tomorrow.”

Cleve did not like an expression which had struck him in the attorney’s face that day, and he proposed next day to write to Mr. Dingwell, and actually did so, requesting that he would be so good as to call at Verney House.

Mr. Dingwell did not come; but a note came by post, saying that the writer, Mr. Dingwell, was not well enough to venture a call.

What I term Mr. Larkin’s rat-like eyes, and a certain dark and even wicked look that crosses the attorney’s face, when they appear, had left a profound sense of uncertainty in Cleve’s mind respecting that gentleman’s character and plans. It was simply a conviction that the attorney meditated something odd about Mr. Dingwell, and that no good man could look as he had looked.

There was no use in opening his suspicion, grounded on so slight a thing as a look, to his uncle, who, though often timid and hesitating, and in secret helpless, and at his wits’ end for aid in arriving at a decision, was yet, in a matter where vanity was concerned, or a strong prejudice or caprice involved, often incredibly obstinate.

Mr. Larkin’s look teased Cleve. Larkin might grow into an influence very important to that young gentleman, and was not lightly to be quarrelled with. He would not quarrel with him; but he would see Dingwell, if indeed that person were still in London; a fact about which he had begun to have some odd misgivings. The note was written in a straight, cramp hand, and Mr. Larkin’s face was in the background always. He knew Mr. Dingwell’s address; an answer, real or forged, had reached him from it. So, full of dark dreams and conjectures, he got into a cab, and drove to the entrance of Rosemary Court, and knocked at Miss Sarah Rumble’s door.

That good lady, from the shadow, looked suspiciously on him.

“Is Mr. Dingwell at home?”

“Mr. Dingwell, sir?” she repeated.

“Yes. Is he at home?”

“Mr. Dingwell, sir? No sir.”

“Does not Mr. Dingwell live here?”

“There was a gentleman, please, sir, with a name like that. Go back, child,” she said, sharply to Lucy Maria, who was peeping in the background, and who might not be edified, perhaps, by the dialogue. “Beg parding, sir,” she continued, as the child disappeared; “they are so tiresome! There was an old gentleman lodging here, sir, please, which his name was like that I do remember.”

Cleve Verney did not know what to think.

“Is there anyone in the house who knows Mr. Dingwell? I’ve come to be of use to him; perhaps he could see me. Will you say Mr. Verney?”

“Mr. —what, sir, please?”

“Verney — here’s my card; perhaps it is better.”

As the conversation continued, Miss Rumble had gradually come more and more forward, closing the door more and more as she did so, so that she now confronted Cleve upon the step, and could have shut the door at her back, had he made any attempt to get in; and she called over her shoulder to Lucy Maria, and whispered something, and gave her, I suppose, the card; and in a minute more Miss Rumble opened the door wide, and showed “the gentleman” upstairs, and told him on the lobby she hoped he would not be offended, but that she had such positive orders as to leave her no choice; and that in fact Mr. Dingwell was in the drawing-room, and would be happy to see him, and almost at the same moment she threw open the door and introduced him, with a little courtesy, and —

“This way, please, sir; here’s the gentleman, please, sir.”

There he did find Mr. Dingwell, smoking a cigar, in his fez, slippers, and pea-green silk dressing-gown, with a cup of black coffee on the little table beside him, his Times and a few magazines there also. He looked, in vulgar parlance, “seedy,” like an old fellow who had been raking the night before, and was wofully tired, and in no very genial temper.

“Will you excuse an old fellow, Mr. Verney, and take a chair for yourself? I’m not very well today. I suppose, from your note, you thought I had quitted London. It was not to be expected so old a plant should take root; but it’s sometimes not worth moving ’em again, and they remain where they are, to wither, ha, ha, ha!”

“I should be sorry it was for any such purpose; but I am happy to find you still here, for I was really anxious to call and thank you.”

Anxious— to thank me! Are you really serious, Mr. Verney?” said Dingwell, lowering his cigar again, and looking with a stern smile in his visitor’s face.

“Yes, sir; I did wish to call and tell you,” said Cleve, determined not to grow angry; “and I am here to say that we are very much obliged.”

We?

“Yes; my uncle and I.”

“Oh, yes; well, it is something. I hope the coronet becomes him, and his robes. I venture to say he has got up the masquerading properties already; it’s a pity there isn’t a coronation or something at hand; and I suppose he’ll put up a monument to my dear friend Arthur — a mangy old dog he was, you’ll allow me to say, though he was my friend, and very kind to me; and I, the most grateful fellow he ever met; I’ve been more grieved about him than any other person I can remember, upon my soul and honour — and a devilish dirty dog he was.”

This last reflection was delivered in a melancholy aside, after the manner of a soliloquy, and Cleve did not exactly know how to take this old fellow’s impertinence.

“Arthur Verney — poor fellow! your uncle. He had a great deal of the pride of his family, you know, along with utter degradation. Filthy dog! — pah!” And Mr. Dingwell lifted both his hands, and actually used that unpleasant utensil called a “spittoon,” which is seen in taverns, to give expression, it seemed, to his disgust.

“But he had his pride, dear Arthur; he was proud, and wished for a tombstone. When he was dying, he said, ‘I should like a monument — not of course in a cathedral, for I have been living so darkly, and a good deal talked about; but there’s an old church or abbey near Malory (that I’m sure was the name of the place) where our family has been accustomed to bury its quiet respectabilities and its mauvais sujets; and I think they might give me a pretty little monument there, quite quietly.’ I think you’ll do it, for you’re a grateful person, and like thinking people; and he certainly did a great deal for his family by going out of it, and the little vanity of a monument would not cost much, and, as he said himself, no one would ever see it; and I promised, if I ever had an opportunity, to mention the subject to your uncle.”

Cleve bowed.

“‘And,’ said he, ‘there will be a little conflict of feeling. I am sure they’d like the monument, but they would not make an ostentation of me. But remind them of my Aunt Deborah. Poor old girl! she ran away with a fiddler.’ Egad, sir! these were his very words, and I’ve found, on inquiring here, they were quite true. She ran away with a fiddler — egad! and I don’t know how many little fiddlers she had; and, by Jove! he said if I came back I should recognise a possible cousin in every street-fiddler I met with, for music is a talent that runs in families. And so, when Atropos cut his fiddlestring, and he died, she took, he said, to selling mutton pies, for her maintenance, in Chester, and being properly proud as a Verney, though as a fiddler’s widow necessitous, he said she used to cry, behind her little table, ‘Hot mutton pies!’ and then, sotto voce, ‘I hope nobody hears me;’ and you may rely upon that family anecdote, for I had it from the lips of that notorious member of your family, your uncle Arthur, and he hoped that they would comply with the tradition, and reconcile the Verney pride with Verney exigencies, and concede him the secret celebration of a monument.”

“If you are serious ——”

“Serious about a monument, sir! who the devil could be lively on such a subject?” and Mr. Dingwell looked unaccountably angry, and ground his teeth, and grew white. “A monument, cheap and nasty, I dare say; it isn’t much for a poor devil from whom you’ve got everything. I suppose you’ll speak to your uncle, sir.”

“I’ll speak to him, sir.”

“Yes, do, pray, and prevail. I’m not very strong, sir, and there’s something that remains for you and me to do, sir.”

“What is that?”

“To rot under ground, sir; and as I shall go first, it would be pleasant to me to be able to present your affectionate regards to your uncle, when I meet him, and tell him that you had complied with his little fancy about the monument, as he seemed to make a point that his name should not be blotted totally from the records of his family.”

Cleve was rather confirmed in his suspicions about the sanity of this odious old man — as well he might — and, at all events, was resolved to endure him without a row.

“I shall certainly remember, and mention all you have said, sir,” said Cleve.

“Yes,” said the old man, in a grim meditation, looking down, and he chucked away the stump of his cigar, “it’s a devilish hard case, Kismet!” he muttered.

“I suppose you find our London climate very different from that you have grown accustomed to?” said Cleve, approaching the point on which he desired some light.

“I lived in London for a long time, sir. I was — as perhaps you know — junior partner in the great Greek house of Prinkipi and Dingwell — d —— n Prinkipi! say I. He ran us into trouble, sir; then came a smash, sir, and Prinkipi levanted, making a scapegoat of me, the most vilified and persecuted Greek merchant that ever came on ‘Change! And, egad! if they could catch me, even now, I believe they’d bury me in a dungeon for the rest of my days, which, in that case, would not be many. I’m here, therefore, I may say, at the risk of my life.”

“A very anxious situation, indeed, Mr. Dingwell; and I conclude you intend but a short stay here?”

“Quite the contrary, sir. I mean to stay as long as I please, and that may be as long as I live.”

“Oh! I had thought from something that Mr. Larkin said,” began Cleve Verney.

“Larkin! He’s a religious man, and does not put his candle under a bushel. He’s very particular to say his prayers; and provided he says them, he takes leave to say what he likes beside.”

Mr. Dingwell was shooting his arrows as freely as Cupid does; but Cleve did not take this satire for more than its worth.

“He may think it natural I should wish to be gone, and so I do,” continued the old man, setting down his coffee cup, “if I could get away without the trouble of going, or was sure of a tolerably comfortable berth, at my journey’s end; but I’m old, and travelling shakes me to pieces, and I have enemies elsewhere, as well as here; and the newspapers have been printing sketches of my life and adventures, and poking up attention about me, and awakening the slumbering recollection of persons by whom I had been, in effect, forgotten, every-where. No rest for the wicked, sir. I’m pursued; and, in fact, what little peace I might have enjoyed in this, the closing period of my life, has been irreparably wrecked by my visit and public appearance here, to place your uncle, and by consequence you, in the position now secured to you. What do you think of me?”

“I think, sir, you have done us a great service; and I know we are very much obliged,” said Cleve, with his most engaging smile.

“And do you know what I think of myself? I think I’m a d —— d fool, unless I look for some advantage.”

“Don’t you think, sir, you have found it, on the whole, advantageous, your coming here?” insinuated Cleve.

“Barren, sir, as a voyage on the Dead Sea. The test is this — what have I by it? not five pounds, sir, in the world. Now, I’ve opened my mind a little to you upon this subject, and I’m of the same mind still; and if I’ve opened Aladdin’s garden to you, with its fruitage of emeralds, rubies, and so forth, I expect to fill my snuff-box with the filings and chippings of your gigantic jewellery.”

Cleve half repented his visit, now that the presence of the insatiable Mr. Dingwell, and his evident appetite for more money, had justified the representations of the suspected attorney.

“I shall speak to Mr. Larkin on the subject,” said Cleve Verney.

“D——n Larkin, sir! Speak to me.”

“But, Mr. Dingwell, I have really, as I told you before, no authority to speak; and no one has the least power in the matter but my uncle.”

“And what the devil did you come here for?” demanded Mr. Dingwell, suddenly blazing up into one of his unaccountable furies. “I suppose you expected me to congratulate you on your success, and to ask leave to see your uncle in his coronet — ha, ha, ha! — or his cap and bells, or whatever he wears. By —— sir, I hope he holds his head high, and struts like a peacock, and has pleasant dreams; time enough for nightmares, sir, hereafter, eh? Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown! Good evening, sir; I’ll talk to Mr. Larkin.”

And with these words Mr. Dingwell got up, looking unaccountably angry, and made a half-sarcastic, half-furious bow, wherewith he dismissed Mr. Cleve Verney, with more distinct convictions than ever that the old gentleman was an unmitigated beast, and more than half a lunatic.

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