Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 80.


“You shall sit here, Mr. Arden,” said the baron, placing a chair for him. “You shall be comfortable. I grow in confidence with you. I feel inwardly an intuition when I speak wis a man of honour; my demon, as it were, whispers ‘Trust him, honour him, make much of him.’ Will you take a pipe, or a mug of beer?”

This abrupt invitation Mr. Arden civilly declined.

“Well, I shall have my pipe and beer. See, there is ze barrel — not far to go.” He raised the candle, and David Arden saw for the first time the outline of a veritable beer-barrel in the corner, on tressels, such as might have regaled a party of boors in the clear shadow of a Teniers.

“There is the comely beer-cask, not often seen in Paris, in the corner of our boudoir, resting against the only remaining rags of the sky-blue and gold silk — it is rotten now — with which the room was hung, and a gilded cornice — it is black now — over its head; and now, instead of beautiful women and graceful youths, in gold lace and cut velvets and perfumed powder, there are but one rheumatic and crooked old woman, and one old Prussian doctor, in his shirt-sleeves, ha! ha! mutat terra vices! Come, we shall look at these again, and you shall hear more.”

He placed the two masks upon the chimney-piece, leaning against the wall.

“And we will illuminate them,” says he; and he takes, one after the other, half a dozen pieces of wax candle, and dripping the melting wax on the chimney-piece, he sticks each candle in turn in a little pool of its own wax.

“I spare nothing, you see, to make all plain. Those two faces present a marked contrast. Do you, Mr. Arden, know anything, ever so little, of the fate of Yelland Mace?”

“Nothing. Is he living?”

“Suppose he is dead, what then?”

“In that case, of course, I take my leave of the inquiry, and of you, asking you simply one question, whether there was any correspondence between Yelland Mace and Walter Longcluse?”

“A very intimate correspondence,” said the baron.

“Of what nature?”

“Ha! They have been combined in business, in pleasures, in crimes,” said the baron. “Look at them. Can you believe it? So dissimilar! They are opposites in form and character, as if fashioned in expression and in feature each to contradict the other; yet so united!”

“And in crime, you say?”

“Ay, in crime — in all things.”

“Is Yelland Mace still living?” urged David Arden.

“Those features, in life, you will never behold, Sir.”

“He is dead. You said that you took that mask from among the dead. Is he dead?”

“No, Sir; not actually dead, but under a strange condition. Bah; Don’t you see I have a secret? Do you prize very highly learning where he is?”

“Very highly, provided he may be secured and brought to trial; and you, Baron, must arrange to give your testimony to prove his identity.”

“Yes; that would be indispensible,” said the baron, whose eyes were sweeping the room from corner to corner, fiercely and swiftly. “Without me you can never lift the veil; without me you can never unearth your stiff and pale Yelland Mace, nor without me identify and hang him.”

“I rely upon your aid, Baron,” said Mr. Arden, who was becoming agitated. “Your trouble shall be recompensed; you may depend upon my honour.”

“I am running a certain risk. I am not a fool, though, like little Lebas. I am not to be made away with like a kitten; and once I move in this matter, I burn my ships behind me, and return to my splendid practice, under no circumstances, ever again.”

The baron’s pallid face looked more bloodless, his accent was fiercer, and his countenance more ruffianly as he uttered all this.

“I understood, Baron, that you had quite made up your mind to retire within a very few weeks,” said David Arden.

“Does any man who has lived as long as you or I quite trust his own resolution? No one likes to be nailed to a plan of action an hour before he need be. I find my practice more lucrative every day. I may be tempted to postpone my retirement, and for a while longer to continue to gather the golden harvest that ripens round me. But once I take this step, all is up with that. You see — you understand. Bah! you are no fool; it is plain, all I sacrifice.”

“Of course, Baron, you shall take no trouble, and make no sacrifice, without ample compensation. But are you aware of the nature of the crime committed by that man?”

“I never trouble my head about details; it is enough, the man is a political refugee, and his object concealment.”

“But he was no political refugee; he had nothing to do with politics — he was simply a murderer and a robber.”

“What a little rogue! Will you excuse my smoking a pipe and drinking a little beer? Now, he never hinted that, although I knew him very intimately, for he was my patient for some months; never hinted it, he was so sly.”

“And Mr. Longcluse, was he your patient also?”

“Ha! to be sure he was. You won’t drink some beer? No; well, in a moment.”

He drew a little jugful from the cask, and placed it, and a pewter goblet, on the table, and then filled, lighted, and smoked his pipe as he proceeded.

“I will tell you something concerning those gentlemen, Mr. Longcluse and Mr. Mace, which may amuse you. Listen.”

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