The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 4.

Mr. Benjamin Levi Recognises an Acquaintance.

MR. BENJAMIN LEVI, having turned the corner of the steward’s house, found himself before two great piers, passing through the gate of which he entered the stable-yard, at the further side of which was a second gate, which he rightly conjectured would give him access to that back avenue through which he meant to make his exit.

He glanced round this great quadrangle, one end of which was over-looked by the rear of the old house, and that quaint old refectory with its clumsy flight of stone steps, from the windows of which our friend Sedley had observed the ladies of Malory while engaged in their garden work.

There was grass growing between the paving stones, and moss upon the walls, and the stable doors were decaying upon their rusty hinges. Commenting, as so practical a genius naturally would, upon the surrounding capabilities and decay, Mr. Levi had nearly traversed this solitude when he heard some one call, “Thomas Jones!” twice or thrice, and the tones of the voice arrested him instantly.

He was a man with a turn for musical business, and not only dabbled in concerts and little operatic speculations, but, having a naturally musical ear, had a retentive memory for voices — and this blind man’s faculty stood him in stead here, for, with a malicious thrill of wonder and delight, he instantly recognised this voice.

The door of that smaller yard which is next the house opened now, and Sir Booth Fanshawe entered, bawling with increased impatience —“Thomas Jones!”

Sir Booth’s eye lighted on the figure of Mr. Levi, as he stood close by the wall at the other side, hoping to escape observation.

With the same instinct Sir Booth stepped backward hastily into an open stable door, and Mr. Levi skipped into another door, within which unfortunately, a chained dog, Neptune, was dozing.

The dog flew the length of his tether at Mr. Levi’s legs, and the Jewish gentleman sprang forth more hastily even than he had entered.

At the same moment, Sir Booth’s pride determined his vacillation, and he strode boldly forward and said —

“I think I know you, sir; don’t I?”

As there was still some little distance between them, Mr. Levi affected near-sightedness, and, compressing his eyelids, smiled dubiously, and said —

“Rayther think not, sir. No, sir — I’m a stranger; my name is Levi — of Goldshed and Levi — and I’ve been to see Mrs. Mervyn, who lives here, about her young man. I don’t know you, sir — no — it is a mishtake.”

“No, Mr. Levi — you do know me — you do,” replied Sir Booth, with a grim oath, approaching, while his fingers clutched at his walking-stick with an uneasy gripe, as if he would have liked to exercise it upon the shoulders of the Israelite.

“Oh! crikey! Ay, to be sure — why, it’s Sir Booth Fanshawe! I beg pardon, Sir Booth. We thought you was in France; but no matter, Sir Booth Fanshawe, none in the world, for all that little bushiness is blow’d over, quite. We have no interest — no more than your horse — in them little securities, upon my shoul; we sold them two months ago to Sholomons; we were glad to sell them to Sholomons, we were; he hit us pretty hard with some of Wilbraham and Cumming’s paper, and I don’t care if he never sees a shilling of it — we would rayther like it.” And Mr. Levi again made oath to that confession of feeling.

“Will you come into the house and have a glass of sherry or something?” said Sir Booth, on reflection.

“Well, I don’t mind,” said Mr. Levi.

And in he went and had a glass of sherry and a biscuit, and grew friendly and confidential.

“Don’t you be running up to town, Sir Booth — Sholomons is looking for you. Clever man, Sholomons, and you should get quietly out of this country as soon as you conveniently can. He thinks you’re in France now. He sent Rogers — you know Rogers?”

He paused so long here that Sir Booth had to answer “No.”

“Well, he sent him — a good man, Rogers, you know, but drinks a bit — after you to Vichy, ha, ha, ha! Crikey! it was rich. Sholomons be blowed! It was worth a pound to see his face — ugly fellow. You know Sholomons?”

And so Mr. Levi entertained his host, who neither loved nor trusted him, and at his departure gave him all sorts of friendly warnings and sly hints, and walked and ran partly to the “George,” and got a two-horse vehicle as quickly as they could harness the horses, and drove at great speed to Llywnan, where he telegraphed to his partner to send a writ down by the next train for Sir Booth, the message being from Benjamin Levi, George Inn, Cardyllian, to Goldshed and Levi, &c., &c., London.

Mr. Levi took his ease in his inn, sipped a good deal of brandy and water, and smoked many cigars, with a serene mind and pleasant anticipations, for, if nothing went wrong, the telegram would be in his partner’s hand in ample time to enable him, with his accustomed diligence, to send down a “beak” with the necessary documents by the night train who would reach Cardyllian early, and pay his little visit at Malory by nine o’clock in the morning.

Mr. Levi, as prosperous gentlemen will, felt his solitude, though luxurious, too dull for the effervescence of his spirits, and having questioned his host as to the amusements of Cardyllian, found that its normal resources of that nature were confined to the billiard and reading rooms, where, on payment of a trifling benefaction to the institution, he enjoyed, as a “visitor,” the exhilarating privileges of a member of the club.

In the billiard-room, accordingly, that night, was the fragrance of Mr. Levi’s cheroot agreeably perceptible, the sonorous drawl of his peculiar accent vocal amongst pleasanter intonations, and his “cuts,” “double doubles,” and “long crosses,” painfully admired by the gentlemen whose shillings he pocketed at pool. And it was pleasant to his exquisitively commercial genius to think that the contributions of the gentlemen to whom he had “given a lesson,” and whose “eyes he had opened,” would constitute a fund sufficient to pay his expenses at the “George,” and even to leave something towards his return fare to London.

The invalid who was suffering from asthma in the bed-room next his was disturbed by his ejaculations as he undressed, and by his repeated bursts of laughter, and rang his bell and implored the servant to beg of the two gentlemen who were conversing in the next room to make a little less noise, in consideration of his indisposition.

The manner in which he had “potted” the gentlemen in the billiard-room, right and left, and the uncomfortable admiration of his successes exhibited in their innocent countenances, had, no doubt, something to do with these explosions of merriment. But the chief source of his amusement was the anticipated surprise of Sir Booth, when the little domiciliary visit of the next morning should take place, and the recollection of his own adroitness in mystifying the Baronet.

So he fell into a sweet slumber, uncrossed by even an ominous dream, not knowing that the shrewd old bird for whom his chaff was spread and his pot simmering had already flown with the scream of the whistle on the wings of the night train to Chester, and from that centre to an unknown nook, whence, in a day or two more, he had flitted to some continental roost, which even clever Mr. Levi could not guess.

Next morning early, the ladies were on their way to London, through which they were to continue their journey, and to join Sir Booth abroad.

Two persons were, therefore, very much disappointed next day at Malory; but it could not be helped. One was Cleve Verney, who tried the inexorable secrecy of the servant in every way, but in vain; possibly because the servant did not himself know where “the family” were gone. The other was Mr. Benjamin Levi, who resented Sir Booth’s selfish duplicity with an exasperation which would hardly have been appeased by burning that “old mizzled robber” alive.

Mr. Levi flew to Chester with his “beak” in a third-class carriage, and thence radiated telegraphic orders and entreaties affecting Sir Booth wherever he had a friend, and ready, on a hint by the wires, to unleash his bailiff on his track, and fix him on the soil, immovable as the petrified witch of Mucklestane Muir, by the spell of his parchment legend.

But no gleam of light rewarded his labours. It was enough to ruffle even Mr. Levi’s temper, which, accordingly, was ruffled. To have been so near! To have had his hand, as it were, upon the bird. If he had only had the writ himself in his pocket he might have dropped, with his own fingers, the grain of salt upon his tail. But it was not to be. At the moment of possession, Mr. Levi was balked. He could grind curses under his white teeth, and did not spare them now. Some of them were, I dare say, worthy of that agile witch, “Cuttie Sark,” as she stood baffled on the “key-stane” of the bridge, with Meggie’s severed tail in her grip.

In the meantime, for Cleve Verney, Malory is stricken with a sudden blight. Its woods are enchanted no longer; it is dark, now, and empty. His heart aches when he looks at it.

He missed his accustomed walk with the Etherage girls. He wrote to tell old Vane Etherage that he was suffering from a severe cold, and could not dine with him, as he had promised. The cold was a lie — but was he really well? Are the spirits no part of health; and where were his?

About a fortnight later, came a letter from his good friend, Miss Sheckleton. How delightfully interesting, though it contained next to nothing. But how interesting! How often he read it through! How every solitary moment was improved by a glance into it!

It was a foreign letter. It would be posted, she said, by a friend in Paris. She could not yet tell, even to a friend so kind as he, the address which would find them. She hoped, however, very soon to be at liberty to do so. All were well. Her young friend had never alluded since to the subject of the last painful interview. She, Miss Sheckleton, could not, unless a favourable opening presented, well invite a conversation on the matter. She had no doubt, however, that an opportunity would occur. She understood the peculiar character of her beautiful young cousin, and saw a difficulty, and even danger, in pressing the question upon her, possibly prematurely. When he, Cleve, wrote — which she supposed he would so soon as he was in possession of her address — he could state exactly what he wished her to say. Meanwhile, although as she had before hinted, dear Margaret was admired and sought by a man both of rank and fortune, with very great constancy, (she thought it not improbable that Cleve had already suspected that affair,) there was in her opinion nothing to apprehend, at least at present, in that gentleman’s suit — flattered, of course, she must be by a constancy so devoted; but she hardly thought there was a chance that the feeling would grow to anything beyond that. So, she bid God bless him, and wrote Anne Sheckleton at the foot of the page.

The physician who, mistaking a complaint, administers precisely the concoction which debilitates the failing organ, or inflames the tortured nerve, commits just such an innocent cruelty as good Miss Sheckleton practised, at the close of her letter, upon Cleve Verney.

She had fancied that he knew something of the suit to which she referred for the purpose of relieving an anxiety to which her thoughtful allusion introduced him, in fact, for the first time.

Who was this faithful swain? He knew enough of Sir Booth Fanshawe’s surroundings, his friends and intimates, to count up four, or five, or six possible rivals. He knew what perseverance might accomplish, and absence undo, and his heart was disquieted within him.

If he had consulted his instinct, he would have left Ware forthwith, and pursued to the Continent, and searched every town in France; but he could not act quite according to impulse. He had told the Cardyllian people that he was not to leave Ware till the fourteenth; would no remark attend his sudden departure, following immediately upon the mysterious flitting of the Malory people? He knew what wonderful stories might thereupon arise in Cardyllian, and how sure they would be, one way or another, to reach his uncle Kiffyn, and how that statesman’s suspicions might embarrass him. Then a letter might easily reach Ware while he was away, and be lost, or worse.

So he resolved to see out the rest of his time where he was. In Cardyllian church, how dark and cold looked the cavity of the Malory pew! The saints and martyrs in the great eastern window were subdued, and would not glow, and their glories did not burn, but only smouldered that day. And oh! how long was Dr. Splayfoot’s sermon! And how vague was his apprehension of the “yarn” to which Miss Charity Etherage treated him all the way from the church porch to the top of Castle Street.

He was glad when the fifteenth, which was to call him away from Ware, approached. He was glad to leave this changed place, glad to go to London —anywhere.

Just as all was ready for his flight by the night train, on the evening of the 14th, to his great joy, came a letter, a note, almost, so short, from kind Anne Sheckleton.

All— underlined — were well. There was nothing more, in fact, but one satisfactory revelation, which was the address which would now find them.

So Cleve Verney made the journey to London that night in better spirits.

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