Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 79.


David Arden entered this door, and found himself under a vaulted roof of brick. These were the chambers, for there was at least two, which the baron termed his catacombs. Along both walls of the narrow apartment were iron doors, in deep recesses, that looked like the huge ovens of an ogre, sunk deep in the wall, and the baron looked himself not an unworthy proprietor. The baron had the General’s faculty of remembering faces and names.

“Monsieur Yelland Mace? Yes, I will show you him; he is among ze dead.”


“Ay, zis right side is dead— all zese.”

“Do you mean,” says David Arden, “literally that Yelland Mace is no longer living?”

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” mutters the baron, slowly pointing his finger along the right wall.

“I beg your pardon, Baron, but I don’t think you heard me,” said David Arden.

Perfectly, excuse me: H, I, J, K, L, M— M. I will show you now, if you desire it, Yelland Mace; you shall see him now, and never behold him more. Do you wish very much?”

“Intensely —most intensely!” said Uncle David earnestly.

The baron turned full upon him, and leaned his shoulders against the iron door of the recess. He had taken from his pocket a bunch of heavy keys, which he dangled from his clenched fingers, and they made a faint jingle in the silence that followed, for a few seconds.

“Permit me to ask,” said the baron, “are your inquiries directed to a legal object?”

“I have no difficulty in saying yes,” answered he; “a legal object, strictly.”

“A legal object, by which you gain considerably?” he asked slowly.

“By which I gain the satisfaction of seeing justice done upon a villain.”

“That is fine, Monsieur. Eternal justice! I have thought and said that very often: Vive la justice eternelle! especially when her sword shears off the head of my enemy, and her scale is laden with napoleons for my purse.”

“Monsieur le Baron mistakes, in my case; I have absolutely nothing to gain by the procedure I propose; it is strictly criminal,” said David Arden drily.

“Not an estate? not a slice of an estate? Come, come! Thorheit! That is foolish talk.”

“I have told you already, nothing,” repeated David Arden.

“Then you don’t care, in truth, a single napoleon, whether you win or lose. We have been wasting our time, Sir. I have no time to bestow for nothing; my minutes count by the crown, while I remain in Paris. I shall soon depart, and practise no more; and my time will become my own — still my own, by no means yours. I am candid, Sir, and I think you cannot misunderstand me; I must be paid for my time and opportunities.”

“I never meant anything else,” said Mr. Arden sturdily; “I shall pay you liberally for any service you render me.”

“That, Sir, is equally frank; we understand now the principle on which I assist you. You wish to see Yelland Mace, so you shall.”

He turned about, and struck the key sharply on the iron door.

“There he waits,” said the baron, “and — did you ever see him?”


“Bah! what a wise man. Then I may show you whom I please, and you know nothing. Have you heard him described?”


“Well, there is some little sense in it, after all. You shall see.”

He unlocked the safe, opened the door, and displayed shelves, laden with rudely-made deal boxes, each of a little more than a foot square. On these were marks and characters in red, some, and some in black, and others in blue.

“Hé! you see,” said the baron, pointing with his key, “my mummies are cased in hieroglyphics. Come! Here is the number, the date, and the man.”

And lifting them carefully one off the other, he took out a deal box that had stood in the lowest stratum. The cover was loose, except for a string tied about it. He laid it upon the floor, and took out a plaster mask, and brushing and blowing off the saw-dust, held it up.

David Arden saw a face with large eyes closed, a very high and thin nose, a good forehead, a delicately chiselled mouth; the upper lip, though well formed after the Greek model, projected a little, and gave to the chin the effect of receding in proportion. This slight defect showed itself in profile; but the face, looked at full front, was on the whole handsome, and in some degree even interesting.

“You are quite sure of the identity of this?” asked Uncle David earnestly.

There was a square bit of parchment, with two or three short lines, in a character which he did not know, glued to the concave reverse of the mask. The baron took it, and holding the light near, read, “Yelland Mace, suspect for his politics, May 2nd, 1844.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Arden, having renewed his examination, “it very exactly tallies with the description; the nose aquiline, but very delicately formed. Is that writing in cypher?”

“Yes, in cypher.”

“And in what language?”


David Arden looked at it.

“You will make nothing of it. In these inscriptions, I have employed eight languages — five European, and three Asiatic — I am, you see, something of a linguist — and four distinct cyphers; so having that skill, I gave the benefit of it to my friends; this being secret.”

“Secret? — oh!” said Uncle David.

“Yes, secret; and you will please to say nothing of it to any living creature until the twenty-first of October next, when I retire. You understand commerce, Mr. Arden. My practice is confidential, and I should lose perhaps eighty thousand francs in the short space that intervenes, if I were thought to have played a patient such a trick. It is but twenty days of reserve, and then I go and laugh at them, every one. Piff, puff, paff! ha! ha!”

“Yes, I promise that also,” said Uncle David dryly, and to himself he thought, “What a consummate old scoundrel!”

“Very good, Sir; we shall want this of Yelland Mace again, just now; his face and coffin, ha! ha! can rest there for the present.” He had replaced the mask in its box, and that lay on the floor. The door of the iron press he shut and locked. “Next, I will show you Mr. Longcluse: those are dead.”

He waved his short hand toward the row of iron doors which he had just visited.

“Please, Sir, walk with me into this room. Ay, so. Here are the resurrections. Will you be good enough — L, Longcluse, M, one, two, three, four; three, yes, to hold this candlestick for a moment?”

The baron unlocked this door, and, after some rummaging, he took forth a box similar to that he had taken out before.

“Yes, right, Walter Longcluse. I tell you how you will see it best: there is brilliant moonlight, stand there.”

Through a circular hole in the wall there streamed a beam of moonlight, that fell upon the plaster-wall opposite with the distinctness of the circle of a magic-lantern.

“You see it — you know it! Ha! ha! His pretty face!”

He held the mask up in the moonlight, and the lineaments, sinister enough, of Mr. Longcluse stood, sharply defined in every line and feature, in intense white and black, against the vacant shadow behind. There was the flat nose, the projecting underjaw, the oblique, sarcastic eyebrow, even the line of the slight but long scar, than ran nearly from his eye to his nostril. The same, but younger.

“There is no doubt about that. But when was it taken? Will you read what is written upon it?”

Uncle David had taken out the candle, and he held it beside the mask. The baron turned it round, and read, “Walter Longcluse, 15th October, 1844.”

“The same year in which Mace’s was taken?”

“So it is, 1844.”

“But there is a great deal more than you have read, written upon the parchment in this one.”

“It looks more.”

“And is more. Why, count the words, one, two, four, six, eight. There must be thirty, or upwards.”

“Well, suppose there are, Sir: I have read, nevertheless, all I mean to read for the present. Suppose we bring these three masks together. We can talk a little then, and I will perhaps tell you more, and disclose to you some secrets of nature and art, of which perhaps you suspect nothing. Come, come, Monsieur! kindly take the candle.”

The baron shut the iron door with a clang, and locked it, and, taking up the box, marched into the next room, and placing the boxes one on top of the other, carried them in silence out upon the gallery, accompanied by David Arden.

How desolate seemed the silence of the vast house, in all which, by this time, perhaps, there did not burn another light!

They now reentered the large and strangely-littered chamber in which he had talked with the baron; they stop among the chips and sawdust with which his work has strewn the floor.

“Set the candle on this table,” says he. “I’ll light another for a time. See all the trouble and time you cost me!”

He placed the two boxes on the table.

“I am extremely sorry ——”

“Not on my account, you needn’t. You’ll pay me well for it.”

“So I will, Baron.”

“Sit you down on that, Monsieur.”

He placed a clumsy old chair, with a balloon-back, for his visitor, and, seating himself upon another, he struck his hand on the table, and said, arresting for a moment the restless movement of his eyes, and fixing on him a savage stare —

“You shall see wonders and hear marvels, if only you are willing to pay what they are worth.” The baron laughed when he had said this.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11