The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 12.

In which His Friends Visit the Sick.

MR. LEVI, when Sarah Rumble gave him her lodger’s message, did not, as he said, “vally it a turn of a half-penny.” He could not be very ill if he could send his attendant out of doors, and deliver the terms in which his messages were to be communicated. Mr. Levi’s diagnosis was that Mr. Dingwell’s attack was in the region of the purse or pocket-book, and that the “dodge” was simply to get the partners and Mr. Larkin together for the purpose of extracting more money.

Mr. Larkin was in town, and he had written to that gentleman’s hotel; also he had told Mr. Goldshed, who took the same view, and laughed in his lazy diapason over the weak invention of the enemy.

Levi accordingly took the matter very easily, and hours had passed before his visit, which was made pretty late in the afternoon, and he was smiling over his superior sagacity in seeing through Dingwell’s little dodge, as he walked into the court, when an officious little girl, in her mother’s bonnet, running by his knee, said, pompously —

“You’d better not go there, sir.”

“And why so, chickabiddy?” inquired Mr. Levi, derisively.

“No, you’d better not; there’s a gentleman as has took the fever there.”

“Where?” said Mr. Levi, suddenly interested.

“In Mrs. Rumble’s.”

Is there? — how do you know?”

“Lucy Maria Rumbles, please, sir, she told me, and he’s very bad.”

The fashion of Levi’s countenance was changed as he turned from her suddenly, and knocked so sharply at the door that the canary, hanging from the window in his cage over the way, arrested his song, and was agitated for an hour afterwards.

So Mr. Levi was now thoroughly aroused to the danger that had so suddenly overcast his hopes, and threatened to swallow in the bottomless sea of death the golden stake he had ventured.

It was not, nevertheless, until eight o’clock in the evening, so hard a thing is it to collect three given men [what then must be the office of whip to Whig or Tory side of the House?] that the two Jews and Mr. Larkin were actually assembled in Mr. Dingwell’s bed-room, now reeking with disinfectants and prophylactic fluids.

The party were in sore dismay, for the interesting patient had begun to maunder very preposterously in his talk. They listened, and heard him say —

“That’s a lie — I say, I’d nail his tongue to the table. Bells won’t ring for it — lots of bells in England; you’ll not find ’em here, though.”

And then it went off into a mumbling, and Mr. Goldshed, who was listening disconsolately, exclaimed, “My eyesh!”

“Well, how do you like it, guv’nor? I said he’d walk the plank, and so he will,” said Levi. “He will — he will;” and Levi clenched his white teeth, with an oath.

There, Mr. Levi, pray, pray, none of that,” said Mr. Larkin.

The three gentlemen were standing in a row, from afar off observing the patient, with an intense scrutiny of a gloomy and, I may say, a savage kind.

“He was an unfortunate agent — no energy, except for his pleasures,” resentfully resumed Mr. Larkin, who was standing furthest back of the three speculators. “Indolent, impracticable enough to ruin fifty cases; and now here he lies in a fever, contracted, you think, Mr. Levi, in some of his abominable haunts.”

Mr. Larkin did not actually say “d —— him,” but he directed a very dark, sharp look upon his acquaintance in the bed.

“Abawminable, to be sure, abawminable. Bah! It’s all true. The hornies has their eye on him these seven weeks past — curse the beasht,” snarled Mr. Levi, clenching his fists in his pockets, “and every da — a — m muff that helped to let me in for this here rotten business.”

“Meaning me, sir?” said Mr. Larkin, flushing up to the top of his head a fierce pink.

Levi answered nothing, and Mr. Larkin did not press his question.

It is very easy to be companionable and good-humoured while all goes pleasantly. It is failure, loss, and disappointment, that try the sociable qualities; even those three amiable men felt less amicable under the cloud than they had under the sunshine.

So they all three looked in their several ways angrily and thoughtfully at the gentleman in the typhus fever, who said rather abruptly —

“She killed herself, sir; foolish ‘oman! Capital dancing, gentlemen! Capital dancing, ladies! Capital — capital — admirable dancing. God help us!” and so it sunk again into mumbling.

“Capital da-a-ancing, and who pays the piper?” asked Mr. Goldshed, with a rather ferocious sneer. “It has cost us fifteen hundred to two thousand!”

“And a doctor,” suggested Levi.

“Doctor, the devil! I say; I’ve paid through the nose,” or, as he pronounced that organ through which his metallic declamation droned, noshe. “It’s Mr. Larkin’s turn now; it’s all da-a-am rot; a warm fellow like you, Mr. Larkin, putting all the loss on me; how can I sta-a-an’ that — sta-a-an’ all the losses, and share the profits — ba-a-ah, sir; that couldn’t pay nohow.”

“I think,” said Mr. Larkin, “it may be questionable how far a physician would be, just in this imminent stage of the attack, at all useful, or even desirable; but, Miss Rumble, if I understand you, he is quite compos— I mean, quite, so to speak, in his senses, in the early part of the day.”

He paused, and Miss Rumble from the other side of the bed contributed her testimony.

“Well, that being so,” began Mr. Larkin, but stopped short as Mr. Dingwell took up his parable, forgetting how wide of the mark the sick man’s interpolations were.

“That’s a vulture over there — devilish odd birds,” said Mr. Dingwell’s voice, with an unpleasant distinctness; “you just tie a turban on a stick,” and then he was silent.

Mr. Larkin cleared his voice and resumed —

“Well, as I was saying, when the attack, whatever it is, has developed itself, a medical man may possibly be available; but in the mean time, as he is spared the possession of his faculties, and we all agree, gentlemen, whatever particular form of faith may be respectively ours, that some respect is due to futurity; I would say, that a clergyman, at all events, might make him advantageously a visit tomorrow, and afford him an opportunity at least of considering the interests of his soul.”

“Oh! da — a — m his shoul, it’s his body. We must try to keep him together,” said Mr. Goldshed, impatiently. “If he dies the money’s all lost, every shtiver; if he don’t, he’s a sound speculation; we must raise a doctor among us, Mr. Larkin.”

“It is highly probable indeed that before long the unfortunate gentleman may require medical advice,” said Mr. Larkin, who had a high opinion of the “speculation,” whose pulse was at this moment unfortunately at a hundred and twenty. “The fever, my dear sir, if such it be, will have declared itself in a day or two; in the meantime, nursing is all that is really needful, and Miss Rumble, I have no doubt, will take care that the unhappy gentleman is properly provided in that respect.”

The attorney, who did not want at that moment to be drawn into a discussion on contributing to expenses, smiled affectionately on Miss Rumble, to whom he assigned the part of good Samaritan.

“He’ll want some one at night, sir, please; I could not undertake myself, sir, for both day and night,” said brown Miss Rumble, very quietly.

There! That’sh it!” exclaimed Levi, with a vicious chuckle, and a scowl, extending his open hand energetically toward Miss Rumble, and glaring from Mr. Larkin to his partner.

“Nothing but pay; down with the dust, Goldshed and Levi. Bleed like a pair o’ beashtly pigs, Goldshed and Levi, do! There’s death in that fellow’s face, I say. It’s all bosh, doctors and nurses; throwing good money after bad, and then, five pounds to bury him, drat him!”

“Bury? ho, no! the parish, the workhoushe-authorities shall bury him,” said Mr. Goldshed, briskly.

“Dead — dead — dead, as a Mameluke — dead as a Janizary — eh? eh? — bowstrung!” exclaimed, Mr. Dingwell, and went off into an indistinct conversation in a foreign language.

“Stuff a stocking down his throat, will you?” urged Mr. Levi; a duty, however, which no one undertook.

“I see that cove’s booked; he looks just like old Solomon’s looked when he had it. It isn’t no use; all rot, throwing good money arter bad, I say; let him be; let him die.”

“I’ll not let him die; no, he shan’t. I’ll make him pay. I made the Theatre of Fascination pay,” said Mr. Goldshed serenely, alluding to a venture of his devising, by which the partnership made ever so much money in spite of a prosecution and heavy fines and other expenses.

“I say ‘tisn’t my principle to throw up the game, by no means —no— with my ball in hand, and the stakes in the pocket —never!”

Here Mr. Goldshed wagged his head slowly with a solemn smile, and Mr. Dingwell, from the bed, said with a moan —

“Move it, will you? That way — I wish you’d help — b-bags, sir — sacks, sir — awfully hard lying — full of ears and — ay —noses— egad! — why not? cut them all off, I say. D— n the Greeks! Will you move it? Do move that sack — it hurts his ribs — ribs —I never got the bastinado.”

“Not but what you deserved it,” remarked Mr. Levi.

And Mr. Dingwell’s babbling went on, but too indistinctly to be unravelled.

“I say,” continued Mr. Goldshed, sublimely, “if that ’ere speculative thing in the bed there comes round, and gets all square and right, I’ll make him pay. I’m not funked — who’s afraid — wiry old brick!”

“I think so,” acquiesced Mr. Larkin with gentle solemnity; “Mr. Dingwell is certainly, as you say, wiry. There are many things in his favour, and Providence, Mr. Goldshed — Providence is over us all.”

“Providence, to be sure,” said Mr. Goldshed, who did not disdain help from any quarter. “Where does he keep his money, ma’am?”

“Under his bolster, please, sir — under his head,” answered Sarah Rumble.

“Take it out, please,” said Mr. Goldshed.

She hesitated.

Give the man hish money, woman, ca-a-ant you?” bawled Mr. Levi fiercely, and extending his arm toward the bed.

“You had better —yes, ma’am, the money belongs to Messrs. Goldshed and Levi,” said Mr. Larkin, interposing in the character of the vir pietate gravis.

Sally Rumble, recollecting Mr. Dingwell’s direction, “Let ’em have the money, too, if they press for it,” obeyed, and slid her hand under his bolster, and under his head, from the other side where she was standing; and Dingwell, feeling the motion, I suppose, raised his head and stared with sunken eyes dismally at the three gentlemen, whom he plainly did not recognise, or possibly saw in the shapes of foxes, wolves, or owls, which Æsop would have metaphorically assigned them, and with a weary groan he closed his wandering eyes again, and sank down on the pillow.

Miss Rumble drew forth a roll of bank-notes with a string tied round them.

“Take the money, Levi,” said Goldshed, drawing a step backward.

“Take it yourself, guv’nor,” said Levi, waving back Miss Sally Rumble, and edging back a little himself.

“Well,” said Goldshed, quietly, “I see you’re afraid of that infection.”

“I believe you,” answered Levi.

“So am I,” said Goldshed, uneasily.

“And no wonder!” added Mr. Larkin, anticipating himself an invitation to accept the questionable trust.

“Put them notes down on the table there,” said Mr. Goldshed.

And the three gentlemen eyed the precious roll of paper as I have seen people at a chemical lecture eye the explodable compounds on the professor’s table.

“I tell you what, ma’am,” said Goldshed, “you’ll please get a dry bottle and a cork, and put them notes into it, and cork it down, ma’am, and give it to Mr. Levi.”

“And count them first, please, Miss Rumble — shan’t she, Mr. Goldshed?” suggested Mr. Larkin.

“What for? — isn’t the money ours?” howled Mr. Levi, with a ferocious stare on the attorney’s meek face.

“Only, Mr. Goldshed, with a view to distinctness, and to prevent possible confusion in any future account,” said Mr. Larkin, who knew that Dingwell had got money from the Verneys, and thought that if there was anything recovered from the wreck he had as good a right to his salvage as another.

Mr. Goldshed met his guileless smile with an ugly sneer, and said —

“Oh, count them, to be sure, for the gentleman. It isn’t a ha’penny to me.”

So Miss Rumble counted seventy-five pounds in bank notes and four pounds in gold, which latter Mr. Goldshed committed to her in trust for the use of the patient, and the remainder were duly bottled and corked down according to Mr. Goldshed’s grotesque precaution, and in this enclosure Mr. Levi consented to take the money in hand, and so it was deposited for the night in the iron safe in Messrs. Goldshed and Levi’s office, to be uncorked in the morning by old Rosenthal, the cashier, who would, no doubt, be puzzled by the peculiarity of the arrangement, and with the aid of a cork-screw, lodged to the credit of the firm.

Mr. Goldshed next insisted that Dingwell’s life, fortunately for that person, was too important to the gentlemen assembled there to be trifled with; and said that sage —

“We’ll have the best doctor in London — six pounds’ worth of him— d’y see? And under him a clever young doctor to look in four times a day, and we’ll arrange with the young ’un on the principal of no cure no pay — that is, we’ll give fifty pounds this day six weeks, if the party in bed here is alive at that date.”

And upon this basis I believe an arrangement was actually completed. The great Doctor Langley, when he called, and questioned Miss Rumble, and inspected the patient, told Mr. Levi, who was in waiting, that the old gentleman had been walking about in a fever for more than a week before he took to his bed, and that the chances were very decidedly against his recovery.

A great anxiety overcame Mr. Larkin like a summer cloud, and the serene sunshine of that religious mind was overcast with storm and blackness. For the recovery of Mr. Dingwell were offered up, in one synagogue at least, prayers as fervent as any ever made for that of our early friend Charles Surface, and it was plain that never was patriarch, saint, or hero, mourned as the venerable Mr. Dingwell would be, by at least three estimable men, if the fates were to make away with him on this critical occasion.

The three gentlemen, as they left his room on the evening I have been describing, cast their eyes upon Mr. Dingwell’s desk, and hesitated, and looked at one another, darkly, for a moment in silence.

“There’sh no reason why we shouldn’t,” drawled Mr. Goldshed.

“I object to the removal of the desk,” said Mr. Larkin, with a shake of his head, closing his eyes, and raising his hand as if about to pronounce a benediction on the lid of it. “If he’s spared it might become a very serious thing — I decidedly object.”

“Who want’sh to take the man’s desk!” drawled Mr. Goldshed, surlily.

“Who want’sh to take it?” echoed Levi, and stared at him with an angry gape.

“But there will be no harm, I shay, in looking what paper’sh there,” continued Mr. Goldshed. “Does he get letters?”

“Only two, sir, please, as I can remember, since he came here.”

“By po-sht, or by ha-a-an’?” inquired Goldshed.

“By ‘and, sir, please; it was your Mr. Solomons as fetched ’em here, sir.”

He lifted up the desk, swayed it gently, and shook it a little, looking at it as if it were a musical box about to strike up, and so set it down again softly. “There’sh papersh in that box,” he hummed thoughtfully to himself.

“I think I may speak here,” said Mr. Larkin, looking up sadly and loftily, as he placed his hat upon his bald head, “with some little authority as a professional man — if in no higher capacity — and I may take upon myself to say, that by no possibility can the contents of that desk affect the very simple and, in a certain sense, direct transactions in which our clients’ interests, and in a degree ours also, are involved, and I object on higher grounds still, I hope, to any irregularity as respects that desk.”

“If you’re confident, Mr. Larkinsh, there’sh nothing in it can affect the bushiness we’re on, I would not give you a cancel’ Queen’s head for the lot.”

“Perfectly confident, my dear Mr. Goldshed.”

“He’sh perfectly confident,” repeated Mr. Levi in his guv’nor’s ear, from over his shoulder.

“Come along then,” said Mr. Goldshed, shuffling slowly out of the room, with his hands in his pockets.

“It’s agreed then, gentlemen, there’s no tampering with the desk?” urged Mr. Larkin, entreatingly.

“Shertainly,” said Mr. Goldshed, beginning to descend the stairs.

“Shertainly,” repeated Mr. Levi, following him.

And the three gentlemen, in grave and friendly guise, walked away together, over the flagged court. Mr. Larkin did not half like taking the arms of these gentlemen, but the quarter of the town was not one where he was likely to meet any of either the spiritual or the terrestrial aristocracy with whom he desired specially to stand well. So he moved along conscious, not unpleasantly, of the contrast which a high-bred gentleman must always present in juxtaposition with such persons as Goldshed and Levi. They walked through the dingy corridor called Caldwell Alley, and through Ive’s Lane, and along the market, already flaring and glaring with great murky jets of gas wavering in the darkening stalls, and thence by the turn to the left into the more open street, where the cab-stand is, and then having agreed to dine together at the “Three Roses” in Milk Lane in half an hour, the gentlemen parted — Messrs. Goldshed and Levi to fly in a cab to meet their lawyer at their office, and Mr. Larkin to fly westward to his hotel, to inquire for a letter which he expected. So smiling they parted; and, so soon as Mr. Larkin was quite out of sight, Mr. Levi descended from their cab, and with a few parting words which he murmured in Mr. Goldshed’s ear, left him to drive away by himself, while he retraced his steps at his leisure to Rosemary Court, and finding the door of Miss Rumble’s house open with Lucy Maria at it, entered and walked straight up to Mr. Dingwell’s drawing-room, with a bunch of small keys in his hand, in his coat-pocket.

He had got just two steps into the room towards the little table on which the patient’s desk stood, when from the other side of that piece of furniture, and the now open desk, there rose up the tall form of Mr. Jos. Larkin, of the Lodge.

The gentlemen eyed one another for a few seconds in silence, for the surprise was great. Mr. Larkin did not even set down the parcel of letters, which he had been sorting like a hand at whist, when Mr. Levi had stepped in to divert his attention.

“I thought, Mr. Larkinsh, I might as well drop in just to give you a lift,” said Levi, with an elaborate bow, a politeness, and a great smile, that rather embarrassed the good attorney.

“Certainly, Mr. Levi, I’m always happy to see you — always happy to see any man — I have never done anything I am ashamed of, nor shrunk from any duty, nor do I mean to do so now.”

“Your hands looksh pretty full.”

“Yes, sir, pretty tolerably full, sir,” said Mr. Larkin, placing the letters on the desk; “and I may add so do yours, Mr. Levi; those keys, as you observe, might have given one a lift in opening this desk, had I not preferred the other course,” said Mr. Larkin, loftily, “of simply requesting Mr. Dingwell’s friend, the lady at present in charge of his papers, to afford me, at her own discretion, such access to the papers possibly affecting my client as I may consider necessary or expedient, as his legal adviser.”

“You have changed your view of your duty, rather; haven’t you, Mr. Larkinsh?”

“No, sir, no; simply my action on a point of expediency. Of course, there was some weight, too, sir, in the suggestions made by a gentleman of Mr. Goldshed’s experience and judgment; and I don’t hesitate to say that his — his ideas had their proper weight with me. And I may say, once for all, Mr. Levi, I’ll not be hectored, or lectured, or bullied by you, Mr. Levi,” added Mr. Larkin, in a new style, feeling, perhaps, that his logical and moral vein was not quite so happy as usual.

“Don’t frighten ush, Larkins, pray don’t, only just give me leave to see what them letters is about,” said Levi, taking his place by him; “did you put any of them in your pocket?”

“No, sir; upon my soul, Mr. Levi, I did no such thing,” said Mr. Larkin, with a heartiness that had an effect upon the Jew. “The occasion is so serious that I hardly regret having used the expression,” said Mr. Larkin, who had actually blushed at his own oath. “There was just one letter possibly worth looking at.”

“That da-a-am foolish letter you wrote him to Constantinople?”

“I wrote him no foolish letter, sir. I wrote him no letter, sir, I should fear to have posted on the market cross, or read from the pulpit, Mr. Levi. I only wonder, knowing all you do of Mr. Dingwell’s unfortunate temper, and reckless habits of assertion, that you should attach the smallest weight to an expression thrown out by him in one of his diabolical and — and — lamentable frenzies. As to my having abstracted a letter of his — an imputation at which I smile — I can, happily, cite evidence other than my own.” He waved his hand toward Miss Rumble. “This lady has happily, I will say, been in the room during my very brief examination of my client’s half-dozen papers. Pray, madam, have I taken one of these — or, in fact, put it in my pocket?”

“No, sir, please,” answered Miss Rumble, who spoke in good faith, having, with a lively remembrance of Mr. Dingwell’s description of the three gentlemen who had visited the sick that day, as “three robbers,” kept her eye very steadily upon the excellent Mr. Larkin, during the period of his search.

Mr. Levi would have liked to possess that letter. It would have proved possibly a useful engine in the hands of the Firm in future dealings with the adroit and high-minded Mr. Larkin. It was not to be had, however, if it really existed at all; and when some more ironies and moralities had been fired off on both sides, the gentlemen subsided into their ordinary relations, and ultimately went away together to dine on turtle, sturgeon, salmon, and I know not what meats, at the famous “Three Roses” in Milk Lane.

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