The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 5.

A Council of Three.

MESSRS. GOLDSHED and LEVI have a neat office in Scroop Street. As stockbrokers, strictly, they don’t, I am told, do anything like so large a business as many of their brethren. Those brethren, for the most part, are not proud of them. Their business is of a somewhat contraband sort. They have been examined once or twice uncomfortably before Parliamentary Committees. They have been savagely handled by the great Mr. Hackle, the Parliamentary counsel. In the great insurance case of “The executors of Shakerly v. The Philanthropic Union Company,” they were hideously mangled and eviscerated by Sergeant Bilhooke, whose powers are well known. They have been called “harpies,” “ghouls,” “Madagascar bats,” “vermin,” “wolves,” and “mousing owls,” and are nothing the worse of it. Some people think, on the contrary, rather the better, as it has helped to advertise them in their particular line, which is in a puffing, rigging, fishy, speculative, “queerish” business, at which moral stockbrokers turn up their eyes and noses, to the amusement of Messrs. Goldshed and Levi, who have — although the sober office in Scroop Street looks sometimes a little neglected — no end of valuable clients, of the particular kind whom they covet, and who frequent the other office, in Wormwood Court, which looks so dirty, mean, and neglected, and yet is the real seat of power.

The “office” in Wormwood Court is an old-fashioned, narrow-fronted, dingy house. It stands apart, and keeps its own secrets, having an uninhabited warehouse on one side, and a shabby timber-yard at the other. In front is a flagged court-yard, with dingy grass sprouting here and there, and lines of slimy moss, grimed with soot.

The gate is, I believe, never opened — I don’t know that its hinges would work now. If you have private business with the firm on a wet day, you must jump out of your cab in the street, and run up through the side door, through the rain, over the puddled flags, and by the famous log of mahogany which the Messrs. Goldshed and Levi and their predecessors have sold, in bill transactions, nearly six thousand distinct times, without ever losing sight of it.

In the street this day there stood a cab, at that door. Mr. Jos. Larkin, the Gylingden attorney, was in consultation with the firm. They were sitting in “the office,” the front room which you enter at your right from the hall. A high, old-fashioned chimney-piece cuts off the far angle of the room, obliquely. It is wainscoted in wood, in tiny square panels, except over the fireplace, where one great panel runs across, and up to the ceiling, with somebody’s coat of arms carved in relief upon it. This woodwork has been painted white, long ago, but the tint has degenerated to a cream or buff colour, and a good washing would do it no harm. Mr. Levi and others have pencilled little sums in addition, subtraction, and multiplication on it. You can see the original oak where the hat-rack was removed, near the window, as also in those places where gentlemen have cut their names or initials.

The window is covered with dust and dirt, beaten by the rain into all sorts of patterns. A chastened light enters through this screen, and you can’t see from without who is in the room.

People wonder why Messrs. Goldshed and Levi, with so well-appointed an office in Scroop Street, will keep this private office in so beggarly a state; without a carpet, only a strip of nearly-obliterated oil-cloth on its dirty floor. Along the centre of the room extends a great old, battered, oblong mahogany quadrangle, full of drawers, with dingy brass handles, and having midway a sort of archway, like a bridge under a railway embankment, covered with oil-cloth of an undistinguishable pattern, blotched with old stains of red ink and black, and dribblings of sealing-wax, curling up here and there dustily, where office-knives, in fiddling fingers, have scarred its skin. On top of this are two clumsy desks. Behind one sits the junior partner, on a high wooden stool, and behind the other, the senior, on a battered office chair, with one of its haircloth angles protruding, like the corner of a cocked hat, in front, dividing the short, thick legs of Mr. Goldshed, whose heels were planted on the rungs, bending his clumsy knees, and reminding one of the attitude in which an indifferent rider tries to keep his seat on a restive horse.

Goldshed is the senior in every sense. He is bald, he is fat, he is short. He has gems on his stumpy fingers, and golden chains, in loops and curves, cross the old black velvet waistcoat, which is always wrinkled upward by the habit he has of thrusting his broad, short hands into his trousers pockets.

At the other side, leaning back in his chair, and offering, he flatters himself, a distinguished contrast to the vulgar person opposite, sat Mr. Jos. Larkin, of the Lodge, Gylingden. His tall, bald head was thrown a little back; one arm, in its glossy black sleeve, hung over the back of his chair, with his large red knuckles near the floor. His pink eyes wore their meek and dove-like expression; his mouth a little open, in repose; an air of resignation and beatitude, which, together with his well-known elegance, his long, lavender tinted trousers, and ribbed silk waistcoat of the same favourite hue, presented a very perfect picture, in this vulgar Jewish setting, of a perfect Christian gentleman.

“If everything favours, Mr. Goldshed, Mr. Dingwell may be in town tomorrow evening. He sends for me immediately on his arrival, to my quarters, you understand, and I will send him on to you, and you to Mrs. Sarah Rumble’s lodgings.”

Mish Rumble,” drawled Goldshed; “not married —a girl, Mish.”

“Yes, Mrs. Rumble,” continued Larkin, gently, “there’s no harm in saying Mrs.; many ladies in a position of responsibility, prefer that style to Miss, for obvious reasons.”

Here Goldshed, who was smiling lazily, winked at his junior, who returned that signal in safety, for Mr. Larkin, whose countenance was raised toward the ceiling, had closed his eyes. The chaste attorney’s discretion amused them, for Miss Sarah Rumble was an industrious, careworn girl of two-and-fifty, taciturn, and with a brown pug face, and tresses somewhat silvery.

“We are told by the apostle,” continued Mr. Larkin, musingly, “not only to avoid evil, but the appearance of evil. I forgot, however, our religions differ.”

“Yes — ay — our religions differ, he says; they differ, Levi, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do,” drawled that theologian.

“Yes, they do; we see our way to that,” concluded Goldshed.

Larkin sighed.

There was a short silence here. Mr. Larkin opened his pink eyelids, and showing his small, light blue eyes, while he maintained his easy and gentlemanlike attitude.

The senior member of the firm looked down on his desk, thoughtfully, and picked at an old drop of sealing wax with his office knife, and whistled a few slow bars, and Mr. Levi, looking down also, scribbled the cipher of the firm thirteen times, with flourishes, on a piece of paper.

Mr. Goldshed worked his short thick knees and his heels a little uneasily; the office chair was growing a little bit frisky, it seemed.

“Nishe shailing, Mr. Larkin, and oh, dear! a great lot of delicashy! What do you think?” said Mr. Goldshed, lifting up the office knife, with the edge toward the attorney, and letting it fall back two or three times, between his finger and thumb, dubiously. “The parties being swells, makesh it more delicate — ticklish — ticklish; do you shinsherely think it’s all quite straight?”

“Of course, it’s straight. I should hope, Mr. Goldshed, I have never advised any course that was not so,” said Mr. Larkin, loftily.

“I don’t mean religious — law blesh you — I mean safe,” said Mr. Goldshed, soothingly.

A light pink flush touched the bald forehead of the attorney.

“Whatever is right, sir, is safe; and that, I think, can hardly be wrong — I hope not — by which all parties are benefited,” said the attorney.

“All parties be diddled — except our shelves. I’m thinking of my shelf — and Mr. Levi, here — and, of courshe, of you. Very much of you,” he added, courteously.

Mr. Larkin acknowledged his care by a faint meek bow.

“They’re swells,” repeated Mr. Goldshed.

“He saysh they’re swelsh,” repeated Mr. Levi, whose grave look had something of the air of a bully in it, fixing his dark prominent eyes on Mr. Larkin, and turning his cheek that way a little, also. “There’s a danger in handling a swell — in them matters specially.”

“Suppose theresh a contempt?” said Mr. Goldshed, whose chair grew restive, and required management as he spoke.

“He saysh a contempt,” repeated Mr. Levi, “or shomething worse,” and he heightened the emphasis with an oath.

“I’ll guarantee you for twopence, Mr. Levi; and pray consider me, and do not swear,” urged Mr. Larkin.

“If you guarantee us, with a penalty,” began Mr. Levi, who chose to take him literally.

“I said that, of course, Mr. Levi, by way of illustration, only; no one, of course, dreams of guaranteeing another without a proper consideration. I should have hoped you could not have misunderstood me. I don’t understand guarantees, it is a business I have never touched. I’m content, I hope, with the emoluments of my profession, and what my landed property gives me. I only mean this — that there is no risk. What do we know of Mr. Dingwell, that is not perfectly above board — perfectly? I challenge the world upon that. If anything should happen to fall through, we, surely, are not to blame. At the same time if you — looking at it with your experience — apprehend any risk, of course, I couldn’t think of allowing you to go on. I can arrange, this evening, and not very far from this house, either.”

As Mr. Larkin concluded, he made a feint of rising.

“Ba-ah!” exclaimed Levi. “You don’t think we want to back out of thish transhaction, Mr. Larkin? no-o-oh! That’s not the trick of thish offishe — is it, gov’nor? He saysh no.”

“No,” echoed Goldshed.

“No, never — noways! you hear him?” reiterated Mr. Levi. “In for a penny, in for a pound — in for a shilling, in for a thousand. Ba-ah! — No, never.”

“No, noways — never!” reverberated Goldshed, in deep, metallic tones. “But, Levi, there, must look an inch or two before his noshe — and sho must I— and sho, my very good friend, Mr. Larkin, must you— a bit before your noshe. I don’t see no great danger. We all know, the Honourable Arthur Verney is dead. We are sure of that— and all the rest is not worth the odd ha’pensh in that book,” and he touched the mighty ledger lying by him, in which millions were entered. “The rest is Dingwell’s affair.”

“Just so, Mr. Goldshed,” acquiesced Mr. Larkin. “We go together in that view.”

“Dingwell be blowed! — what need we care for Dingwell?” tolled out Mr. Goldshed, with his ringing bass.

“Ba-ah! — drat him!” echoed the junior.

“Yes — a — quite as you say — but where’s the good of imprecation? With that exception, I quite go with you. It’s Dingwell’s affair — not ours. We, of course, go straight — and I certainly have no reason to suspect Dingwell of anything crooked or unworthy.”

“Oh, no — ba-ah! —nothing!” said Levi.

“Nor I,” added Goldshed.

“It’sh delicate — it izh delicate — but very promishing,” said Mr. Goldshed, who was moistening a cigar in his great lips. “Very — and no-thing crooked about it.”

“No-thing crooked —no!” repeated Mr. Levi, shaking his glossy curls slowly. “But very delicate.”

“Then, gentlemen, it’s understood — I’m at liberty to assume — that Mr. Dingwell finds one or other of you here whenever he calls after dark, and you’ll arrange at once about the little payments.”

To which the firm having promptly assented, Mr. Larkin took his leave, and, being a client of consideration, was accompanied to the shabby doorstep by Mr. Levi, who, standing at the hall-door, with his hands in his pockets, nodded slily to him across the flagged court-yard, into the cab window, in a way which Mr. Jos. Larkin of the Lodge thought by many degrees too familiar.

“Well —there’s a cove!” said Mr. Levi, laughing lazily, and showing his long rows of ivory fangs, as he pointed over his shoulder, with the point of his thumb, towards the street.

“Rum un!” said Mr. Goldshed, laughing likewise, as he held his lighted cigar between his fingers.

And they laughed together tranquilly for a little, till, with a sudden access of gravity, Mr. Goldshed observed, with a little wag of his head —

“He’s da-a-am clever!”

“Ay — yes — da-a-am clever!” echoed Levi.

“Not as much green as you’d put your finger on — I tell you — no muff — devilish good lay, as you shall see,” continued Goldshed.

“Devilish good — no, no muff — nothing green,” repeated Mr. Levi, lighting his cigar. “Good head for speculation — might be a bit too clever, I’m thinking,” and he winked gently at his governor.

“Believe you, my son, if we’d let him — but we won’t — will we?” drawled Mr. Goldshed, jocosely.

“Not if I knows it,” said Mr. Levi, sitting on the table, with his feet on the stool, and smoking towards the wall.

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