Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 57.

Levi’s Apologue.

The room had once been a stately one. Three tall windows looked toward the street. Its cornices and door-cases were ponderous, and its furniture was heterogeneous, and presented the contrasts that might be expected in a broker’s store. A second-hand Turkey carpet, in a very dusty state, covered part of the floor; and a dirty canvas sack lay by the door for people coming in to rub their feet on. The table was a round one, that turned on a pivot; it was oak, massive and carved, with drawers; there were two huge gilt arm-chairs covered with Utrecht velvet, a battered office-stool, and two or three bed-room chairs that did not match. There were two great iron safes on tressels. On the top of one was some valuable old china, and on the other an electrifying machine; a French harp with only half-a-dozen strings stood in the corner near the fire-place, and several dusty pictures of various sizes leaned with their faces against the wall. A jet of gas burned right over the table, and had blackened the ceiling by long use, and a dip candle, from which Mr. Levi lighted his cigars, burned in a brass candlestick on the hob of the empty grate. Over everything lay a dark grey drift of dust. And the two figures, the elegant young man in deep mourning, and the fierce vulgar little Jew, shimmering all over with chains, rings, pins, and trinkets, stood in a narrow circle of light, in strong relief against the dim walls of the large room.

“So you will want that bit o’ money in hand?” said Mr. Levi.

“I told you so.”

“Don’t you think they’ll ever get tired helpin’ you, if you keep pulling alwaysh the wrong way?”

“You said, this morning, I might reckon upon the help of that friend to any extent within reason,” said Sir Richard, a little sourly.

“Ye’re goin’ fashter than yer friendsh li-likesh; ye’re goin’ alash — ye’re goin’ a terrible lick, you are!” said Mr. Levi, solemnly.

His usually pale face was a little flushed; he was speaking rather thickly, and there came at intervals a small hiccough, which indicated that he had been making merry.

“That’s my own affair, I fancy,” replied Sir Richard, as haughtily as prudence would permit. “You are simply an agent.”

“Wish shome muff would take it off my hands; ‘shan agenshy tha’ll bring whoever takesh it more tr-tr-ouble than tin. By my shoul I’ll not keepsh long! I’m blowsh if I’ll be fool any longer!”

“I’m to suppose, then, that you have made up your mind to act no longer for my friend, whoever that friend may be?” said Sir Richard, who boded no good to himself from that step.

Mr. Levi nodded surlily.

“Have you drawn those bills?”

Mr. Levi gave the table a spin, unlocked a drawer, and threw two bills across to Sir Richard, who glancing at them said —

“The date is ridiculously short!”

“How can I ‘elp ’t? and the interesht shlesh than nothin’: sh-shunder the bank termsh f-or the besht paper going — I’m blesht if it ain’t — it ain’t f-fair interesh — the timesh short becaushe the partiesh, theysh — they shay they’re ‘ard hup, Shir, ‘eavy sharge to pay hoff, and a big purchashe in Austriansh!”

“My uncle, David Arden, I happen to know, is buying Austrian stock this week; and Lady May Penrose is to pay off a charge on her property next month.”

The Jew smiled mysteriously.

“You may as well be frank with me,” added Sir Richard Arden, pleased at having detected the coincidence, which was strengthened by his having, the day before, surprised his uncle in conference with Lady May.

“If you don’t like the time, why don’t you try shomwhere else? why don’t you try Lonclushe? There’sh a shwell! Two millionsh, if he’s worth a pig! A year, or a month, ‘twouldn’t matter a tizhy to him, and you and him’sh ash thick ash two pickpockets!”

“You’re mistaken; I don’t choose to have any transactions with Mr. Longcluse.”

There was a little pause.

“By-the-bye, I saw in some morning paper — I forget which — a day or two ago, a letter attacking Mr. Longcluse for an alleged share in the bank-breaking combination; and there was a short reply from him.”

“I know, in the Timesh,” interposed Levi.

“Yes,” said Arden, who, in spite of himself, was always drawn into talk with this fellow more than he intended; such was the force of the ambiguously confidential relations in which he found himself. “What is thought of that in the City?”

“There’sh lotsh of opinionsh about it; not a shafe chap to quar’l with. If you rub Lonclushe this year, he’ll tear you for itsh the next. He’sh a bish — a bish — a bit — bit of a bully, is Lonclushe, and don’t alwaysh treat ‘ish people fair. If you’ve quar’led with him, look oush — I shay, look oush!”

“Give me the cheque,” said Sir Richard, extending his fingers.

“Pleashe, Shir Richard, accept them billsh,” replied Levi, pushing an ink-stand toward him, “and I’ll get our cheque for you.”

So Mr. Levi took the dip candle and opened one of the safes, displaying for a moment cases of old-fashioned jewellery, and a number of watches. I daresay Mr. Levi and his partner made advances on deposits.

“Why don’t you cut them confounded rasesh, Shir Richard? I’m bleshed if I didn’t lose five pounds on the Derby myself! There’sh lotsh of field sportsh,” he continued, approaching the table with his cheque-book. “Didn’t you never shee a ferret kill a rabbit? It’sh a beautiful thing; it takesh it shomeway down the back, and bit by bit it mendsh itsh grip, moving up to-wards the head. It is really beautiful, and not a shound from either, only you’ll see the rabbitsh big eyes lookin’ sho wonderful! and the ferret hangsh on, swinging this way and that like a shna-ake —‘tish wery pretty! — till he worksh hish grip up to where the backbone joinish in with the brain; and then in with itsh teeth, through the shkull! and the rabbit givesh a screetch like a child in a fit. Ha, ha, ha! I’m blesht if it ain’t done ash clever ash a doctor could do it. ‘Twould make you laugh. That will do.”

And he took the bills from Sir Richard, and handed him two cheques, and as he placed the bills in the safe, and locked them up, he continued —

“It ish uncommon pretty! I’d rayther shee it than a terrier on fifty rats. The rabbit’s sho shimple — there’sh the fun of it — and looksh sho foolish; and every rabbit had besht look sharp,” he continued, turning about as he put the keys in his pocket, and looking with his burning black eyes full on Sir Richard, “and not let a ferret get a grip anywhere; for if he getsh a good purchase, he’ll never let go till he hash his teeth in his brain, and then he’sh off with a shqueak, and there’s an end of him.”

“I can get notes for one of these cheques to-night?” said Sir Richard.

“The shmall one, yesh, eashy,” answered Mr. Levi. “I’m a bachelor,” he added jollily, in something like a soliloquy, “and whenever I marry I’ll be the better of it; and I’m no muff, and no cove can shay that I ever shplit on no one. And what do I care for Lonclushe? Not the snuff of this can’le!” And he snuffed the dip scornfully with his fingers, and flung the sparkling wick over the bannister, as he stood at the door, to light Sir Richard down the stairs.

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