Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 23.

The Meeting.

As David Arden drove towards town, his confusion rather increased. Why should Mr. Longcluse select him for this confidence? There were men in the City whom he must know, if not intimately, at least much better than he knew him. It was a very strange occurrence; and was not Mr. Longcluse’s manner, also, strange? Was he not, somehow, very oddly cool under a charge of murder? There was something, it seemed, indefinably incongruous in the nature of his story, his request, and his manner.

It was five or ten minutes before the appointed time when David Arden and Longcluse met in the latter gentleman’s “study” in Bolton Street. There was a slight, odd flutter at Longcluse’s heart, although his pale face betrayed no sign of agitation, as the shuffling tread of a heavy foot was heard on the doorsteps, followed by a faint knock, like that of a tremulous postman. It was the preconcerted summons of Mr. Paul Davies.

Longcluse smiled at David Arden and raised his finger, as he lightly drew near the room door, with an air of warning. He wished to remind his companion that he was to receive their visitor alone. Mr. Arden nodded, and Mr. Longcluse withdrew. In a minute more the servant opened the study-door, and said —“Mr. Davies, Sir.”

And the tall exdetective entered, and looked with a silky simper stealthily to the right and to the left from the corners of his eyes, and glided in, shutting the door behind him.

Uncle David received this man without even a nod. He eyed him sternly, from his chair at the end of the table.

“Sit in that chair, please,” said he, pointing to a seat at the other end.

The expoliceman made his best bow, and turning out his toes very much, he shuffled with his habitual sly smirk on, to the chair, in which he seated himself, and with his big red hands on the table began turning, and twisting, and twiddling a short pencil, which was a good deal bitten at the uncut end, between his fingers and thumbs.

“You came here to see Mr. Longcluse?” asked David Arden.

“A few words of business at his desire. Sir, I ask your parding, I came, Sir, by his wishes, not mine, which has brought me here at his request.”

“And who am I, do you suppose?”

The man, still smiling, looked at him shrewdly. “Well, I don’t know, I’m sure; I may ‘a’ seen you.”

“Did you ever see that gentleman?” said David Arden, as Mr. Longcluse entered the room.

The exdetective looked also shrewdly at Longcluse, but without any light of recognition. “I may have seen him, Sir. Yes, I saw him in Saint George’s, Hanover Square, the day Lord Charles Dillingsworth married Miss Wygram, the hairess. I saw him at Sydenham the second week in February last when the Freemasons’ dinner was there; and I saw him on the night of the match between Hood and Markham, at the Saloon Tavern.”

“Do you know my name?” said David Arden.

“Well, no, I don’t at present remember.”

“Do you know that gentleman’s name?”

“His name?”

“Ay, his name.”

“Well, no; I may have heard it, and I may bring it to mind, by-and-by.”

Longcluse smiled and shrugged, looking at Mr. Arden, and he said to the man —

“So you don’t know that gentleman’s name, nor mine?”

The man looked at each, hard and a little anxiously, like a person who feels that he may be making a very serious mistake; but after a pause he said decisively —“No, I don’t at present. I say I don’t know your names, either of you gentlemen, and I don’t.”

The two gentlemen exchanged glances.

“Is either of us as tall as Mr. Longcluse?” asked David Arden, standing up.

The man stood up also, to make his inspection.

“You’re both,” he said, after a pause, “much about his height.”

“Is either of us like him?”

“No,” answered Davies, after a pause.

“Did you write these letters?” asked Mr. Longcluse laughing.

“Well, I did, or I didn’t, and what’s that to you?”

“Something, as you shall know presently.”

“I think you’re trying it on. I reckon this is a bit of a plant. I don’t care a scratch o’ that pencil if it be. I wrote them letters, and I said nothin’ but what’s true, and I’ll go with you now to the station if you like, and tell all I knows.”

The fellow seemed nettled, and laughed viciously a little, and swaggered at the close of his speech. The faintest flush imaginable tinged Longcluse’s forehead, as he shot a searching glance at him.

“No, we don’t want that,” said he; “but you may be of more use in another way, although just now you are in the wrong box, and have mistaken your man, for I am Mr. Longcluse. You have been misinformed, you see, as to the identity of the person you suspect; but some person you have, no doubt, in your mind, and possibly a case worth sifting, although you have been deceived as to his name. Describe the appearance of the man you supposed to be Mr. Longcluse. You may be frank with me; I mean you no harm.”

“I defy any man to harm me, Sir, if you please, so long as I do my dooty,” said Paul Davies. “Mr. Longcluse, if that be his name, the man I mean, he’s about your height, with round shoulders and red hair, and talks with a north-country twang on his tongue; he’s a bit rougher, and a swaggerin’ cove, and a yard o’ red beard over his waistcoat, and bigger hands a deal than you, and broader feet.”

“And have you a case against him?”

“Partly, but it ain’t, Sir, if you please, by no means so complete as would answer as yet. If I was sure you were really Mr. Longcluse, I could say more, for I partly guess who this other gent is — a most respectable party. I think I do know you, Sir, by appearance; if you had your ‘at on, Sir, I could say to a certainty. But I think, Sir, if you please, I’m not very far wrong when I say that I would identify you for Mr. David Arden.”

“So I am; that is quite true.”

“Thank you, Sir, I am obleeged; that’s very quietin’ to my mind, Sir, having full confidence in your character; and if you, Sir, please to tell me that gentleman is undoubtingly Mr. Longcluse, the propperieter of this house, I must ‘a’ been let into a mistake; I don’t think they was agreenin’ of me, but it was a mistake, if you please, Sir, if you say so.”

“This is Mr. Longcluse — I know of no other — and he resides in this house,” said David Arden. “But if you have information to give respecting that red-bearded fellow, there is no reason why you should not give it forthwith to the police.”

“Parding me, Sir, if you please, Mr. Arden. There is, I would say, strong reasons for a poor man in rayther anxious circumstances, like myself, Sir, ‘aving an affectionate mother to, in a measure, support, and been himself unfortunately rayther hard up, he can’t answer it nohow to his conscience if he lets a hoppertunity like the present pass him and his aged mother by unimproved. There been a reward offered, Sir, I naturally wish, Sir, if you please, to earn it myself by valuable evidence leading to the conviction of the guilty cove; and if I was to tell all I knows and ‘av’ made out by my own hindustry to the force, Sir, other persons would, don’t you conceive, Sir, draw the reward, and me and my mother should go without. If I could get a hinterview with the man I ‘av’ bin a-gettin’ things together for, I’d lead him, I ‘av’ no doubt, to make such hadmissions as would clench the prosecution, and vendicate justice.”

“I see what you mean,” said David Arden.

“And fair enough, I think,” added Longcluse.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57