Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 86.


Arrived at Mortlake, when Mr. Longcluse had discovered with certainty the flight of Alice Arden, his first thought was that Sir Richard had betrayed him. There was a momentary paroxysm of insane violence, in which, if he could only have discovered that he was the accomplice of Alice’s escape, I think he would have killed him.

It subsided. How could Alice Arden have possessed such an influence over this man, who seemed to hate her? He sat down, and placed his hand to his broad, pale forehead, his dark eyes glaring on the floor, in what seemed an intensity of thought and passion. He was seized with a violent trembling fit. It lasted only for a few minutes. I sometimes think he loved that girl desperately, and would have made her an idolatrous husband.

He walked twice or thrice up and down the great parlour in which they sat, and then with cold malignity said to Sir Richard —

“But for you she would have married me; but for you I should have secured her now. Consider, how shall I settle with you?”

“Settle how you will — do what you will. I swear (and he did swear hard enough, if an oath could do it, to satisfy any man) I’ve had nothing to do with it. I’ve never had a hint that she meditated leaving this place. I can’t conceive how it was done, nor who managed it, and I know no more than you do where she is gone.” And he clenched his vehement disclaimer with an imprecation.

Longcluse was silent for a minute.

“She has gone, I assume, to David Arden’s house,” he said, looking down. “There is no other house to receive her in town, and she does not know that he is away still. She knows that Lady May, and other friends, have gone. She’s there. The will makes you, colourably, her guardian. You shall claim the custody of her person. We’ll go there, and remove her.”

Old Sir Reginald’s will, I may remark, had been made years before, when Richard was not twenty-two, and Alice little more than a child, and the baronet and his son good friends.

He stalked out. At the steps was his trap, which was there to take Levi into town. That gentleman, I need not say, he did not treat with much ceremony. He mounted, and Sir Richard Arden beside him; and, leaving the Jew to shift for himself, he drove at a furious pace down the avenue. The porter placed there by Longcluse, of course, opened the gate instantaneously at his call. Outside stood a cab, with a trunk on it. An old woman at the lodge-window, knocking and clamouring, sought admission.

“Let no one in,” said Longcluse sternly to the man, who locked the iron gate on their passing out.

“Hallo! What brings her here? That’s the old housekeeper!” said Longcluse, pulling up suddenly.

It was quite true. Her growing uneasiness about Alice had recalled the old woman from the North. Martha Tansey, who had heard the clang of the gate and the sound of wheels and hoofs, turned about and came to the side of the tax-cart, over which Longcluse was leaning. In the brilliant moonlight, on the white road, the branches cast a network of black shadow. A patch of light fell clear on the side of the trap, and on Longcluse’s ungloved hand as he leaned on it.

“Here am I, Martha Tansey, has lived fifty year wi’ the family, and what for am I shut out of Mortlake now?” she demanded, with stern audacity.

A sudden change, however, came over her countenance, which contracted in horror, and her old eyes opened wide and white as she gazed on the back of Longcluse’s hand, on which was a peculiar star-shaped scar. She drew back with a low sound, like the growl of a wicked old cat; it rose gradually to such a yell and a cry to God as made Richard’s blood run cold, and lifting her hand toward her temple, waveringly, the old woman staggered back, and fell in a faint on the road.

Longcluse jumped down and hammered at the window. “Hallo!” he cried to the man, “send one of your people with this old woman; she’s ill. Let her go in that cab to Sir Richard Arden’s house in town; you know it.” And he cried to the cabman, “Lift her in, will you?”

And having done his devoir thus by the old woman, he springs again into his tax-cart, snatches the reins from Sir Richard, and drives on at a savage pace for town.

Longcluse threw the reins to Sir Richard when they reached David Arden’s house, and himself thundered at the door.

They had searched Mortlake House for Alice, and that vain quest had not wasted more than half-an-hour. He rightly conjectured that, if Alice had fled to David Arden’s house, some of the servants who received her must be still on the alert. The door is opened promptly by an elderly servant woman.

“Sir Richard Arden is at the door, and he wants to know whether his sister, Miss Arden, has arrived here from Mortlake.”

“Yes, Sir; she’s up-stairs; but not by no means well, Sir.”

Longcluse stepped in, to secure a footing, and beckoning excitedly to Sir Richard, called, “Come in; all right. Don’t mind the horse; it will take its chance.” He walked impatiently to the foot of the stairs, and turned again toward the street door.

At this moment, and before Sir Richard had time to come in, there come swarming out of David Arden’s study, most unexpectedly, nearly a dozen men, more than half of whom are in the garb of gentlemen, and some three of them police. Uncle David himself, in deep conversation with two gentlemen, one of whom is placing in his breast-pocket a paper which he has just folded, leads the way into the hall.

As they there stand for a minute under the lamp, Mr. Longcluse, gazing at him sternly from the stair, caught his eye. Old David Arden stepped back a little, growing pale, with a sudden frown.

“Oh! Mr. Arden?” says Longcluse, advancing as if he had come in search of him.

“That’s enough, Sir,” cries Mr. Arden, extending his hand peremptorily toward him; and he adds, with a glance at the constables, “There’s the man. That is Walter Longcluse.”

Longcluse glances over his shoulder, and then grimly at the group before him, and gathered himself as if for a struggle; the next moment he walks forward frankly, and asks, “What is the meaning of all this?”

“A warrant, Sir,” answers the foremost policeman, clutching him by the collar.

“No use, Sir, making a row,” expostulates the next, also catching him by the collar and arm.

“Mr. Arden, can you explain this?” says Mr. Longcluse coolly.

“You may as well give in quiet,” says the third policeman, producing the warrant. “A warrant for murder. Walter Longcluse, alias Yelland Mace, I arrest you in the Queen’s name.”

“There’s a magistrate here? Oh! yes, I see. How d’ye do, Mr. Harman? My name is Longcluse, as you know. The name Mays, or any other alias, you’ll not insult me by applying to me, if you please. Of course this is obvious and utter trumpery. Are there informations, or what the devil is it?”

“They have just been sworn before me, Sir,” answered the magistrate, who was a little man, with a wave of his hand, and his head high.

“Well, really! don’t you see the absurdity? Upon my soul! It is really too ridiculous! You won’t inconvenience me, of course, unnecessarily. My own recognisance, I suppose, will do?”

“Can’t entertain your application; quite out of the question,” said his worship, with his hands in his pockets, rising slightly on his toes, and descending on his heels, as he delivered this sentence with a stoical shake of his head.

“You’ll send for my attorney, of course? I’m not to be humbugged, you know.”

“I must tell you, Mr. Longcluse, I can’t listen to such language,” observes Mr. Harman sublimely.

“If you have informations, they are the dreams of a madman. I don’t blame any one here. I say, policeman, you need not hold me quite so hard. I only say, joke or earnest, I can’t make head or tail of it; and there’s not a man in London who won’t be shocked to hear how I’ve been treated. Once more, Mr. Harman, I tender bail, any amount. It’s too ridiculous. You can’t really have a difficulty.”

“The informations are very strong, Sir, and the offence, you know as well as I do, Mr. Longcluse, is not bailable.”

Mr. Longcluse shrugged, and laughed gently.

“I may have a cab or something? My trap’s at the door. It’s not solemn enough, eh, Mr. Harman? Will you tell one of your fellows to pick up a cab? Perhaps, Mr. Arden, you’ll allow me a chair to sit down upon?”

“You can sit in the study, if you please,” says David Arden.

And Longcluse enters the room with the police about him, while the servant goes to look for a cab. Sir Richard Arden, you may be sure, was not there. He saw that something was wrong, and he had got away to his own house. On arriving there, he sent to make inquiry, cautiously, at his uncle’s, and thus learned the truth.

Standing at the window, he saw his messenger return, let him in himself, and then considered, as well as a man in so critical and terrifying a situation can, the wisest course for him to adopt. The simple one of flight he ultimately resolved on. He knew that Longcluse had still two executions against him, on which, at any moment, he might arrest him. He knew that he might launch at him, at any moment, the thunderbolt which would blast him. He must wait, however, until the morning had confirmed the news; that certain, he dared not act.

With a cold and fearless bearing, Longcluse had by this time entered the dreadful door of a prison. His attorney was with him nearly the entire night.

David Arden, as he promised, had dictated to him in outline the awful case he had massed against his client.

“I don’t want any man taken by surprise or at disadvantage; I simply wish for truth,” said he.

A copy of the written statement of Paul Davies, whatever it was worth, duly witnessed, was already in his hands; the sworn depositions of the same person, made in his last illness, were also there. There were also the sworn depositions of Vanboeren, who had, after all, recovered speech and recollection; and a deposition, besides, very unexpected, of old Martha Tansey, who swore distinctly to the scar, a very peculiar mark indeed, on the back of his left hand. This the old woman had recognised with horror, at a moment so similar, as the scar, long forgotten, which she had for a terrible moment seen on the hand of Yelland Mace, as he clutched the rail of the gig while engaged in the murder.

The plaster masks, which figured in the affidavits of Vanboeren, and of David Arden, were recast from the moulds, and made an effectual identification, corroborated, in a measure, by Mr. Plumes’ silhouette of Yelland Mace.

Other surviving witnesses had also turned up, who had deposed when the murder of Harry Arden was a recent event. The whole case was, in the eyes of the attorney, a very awful one. Mr. Longcluse’s counsel was called up, like a physician whose patient is in extremis, at dead of night, and had a talk with the attorney, and kept his notes to ponder over.

As early as prison rules would permit, he was with Mr. Longcluse, where the attorney awaited him.

Mr. Blinkinsop looked very gloomy.

“Do you despair?” asked Mr. Longcluse sharply, after a long disquisition.

“Let me ask you one question, Mr. Longcluse. You have, before I ask it, I assume, implicit confidence in us; am I right?”

“Certainly — implicit.”

“If you are innocent, we might venture on a line of defence which may possibly break down the case for the Crown. If you are guilty, that line would be fatal.” He hesitated, and looked at Mr. Longcluse.

“I know such a question has been asked in like circumstances, and I have no hesitation in telling you that I am not innocent. Assume my guilt.”

The attorney, who had been drumming a little tattoo on the table, watches Longcluse earnestly as he speaks, suspending his tune, now lowers his eyes to the table, and resumed his drumming slowly with a very dismal countenance. He had been talking over the chances with this eminent counsel, Mr. Blinkinsop, Q.C., and he knew what his opinion would now be.

“One effect of a judgment in this case is forfeiture?” inquired Mr. Longcluse.

“Yes,” answered counsel.

“Everything goes to the Crown, eh?”

“Yes; clearly.”

“Well, I have neither wife nor children. I need not care; but suppose I make my will now; that’s a good will, ain’t it, between this and judgment, if things should go wrong?”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Blinkinsop. “No judgment no forfeiture.”

“And now, Doctor, don’t be afraid; tell me truly, shall I do?” said Mr. Longcluse, leaning back, and looking darkly and steadily in his face.

“It is a nasty case.”

“Don’t be afraid, I say. I should like to know, are the chances two to one against me?”

“I’m afraid they are.”

“Ten to one? Pray say what you think.”

“Well, I think so.”

Mr. Longcluse grew paler. They were all three silent. After about a minute, he said, in a very low tone —

“You don’t think I have a chance? Don’t mislead me.”

“It is very gloomy.”

Mr. Longcluse pressed his hand to his mouth. There was a silence. Perhaps he wished to hide some nervous movement there. He stood up, walked about a little, and then stood by Mr. Blinkinsop’s chair, with his fingers on the back of it.

“We must make a great fight of this,” said Mr. Longcluse suddenly. “We’ll fight it hard; we must win it. We shall win it, by ——”

And after a short pause, he added gently —

“That will do. I think I’ll rest now; more, perhaps, another time. Good-bye.”

As they left the room, he signed to the attorney to stay.

“I have something for you — a word or two.”

The attorney turned back, and they remained closeted for a time.

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