Checkmate, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 9.

The Man Without a Name.

Mr. Longcluse had made up his mind to a certain course — a sharp and bold one. At the police office he made inquiry. “He understood a man had been lately dismissed from the force, answering to a certain description, which he gave them; and he wished to know whether he was rightly informed, because a theft had been that morning committed at his house by a man whose appearance corresponded, and against whom he hoped to have sufficient evidence.”

“Yes, a man like that had been dismissed from the detective department within the last fortnight.”

“What was his name?” Mr. Longcluse asked.

“Paul Davies, Sir.”

“If it should turn out to be the same, I may have a more serious charge to bring against him,” said Mr. Longcluse.

“Do you wish to go before his worship, and give an information, Sir?” urged the officer, invitingly.

“Not quite ripe for that yet,” said Mr. Longcluse, “but it is likely very soon.”

“And what might be the nature of the more serious charge, Sir?” inquired the officer, insinuatingly.

“I mean to give my evidence at the coroner’s inquest that will be held today, on the Frenchman who was murdered last night at the Saloon Tavern. It is not conclusive — it does not fix anything upon him; it is merely inferential.”

“Connecting him with the murder?” whispered the man, something like reverence mingling with his curiosity, as he discovered the interesting character of his interrogator.

“I can only say possibly connecting him in some way with it. Where does the man live?”

“He did live in Rosemary Court, but he left that, I think. I’ll ask, if you please, Sir. Tompkins — hi! You know where Paul Davies puts up. Left Rosemary Court?”

“Yes, five weeks. He went to Gold Ring Alley, but he’s left that a week ago, and I don’t know where he is now, but will easy find him. Will it answer at eight this evening, Sir?”

“Quite. I want a servant of mine to have a sight of him,” said Longcluse.

“If you like, Sir, to leave your address and a stamp, we’ll send you the information by post, and save you calling here.”

“Thanks, yes, I’ll do that.”

So Mr. Longcluse took his leave, and proceeded to the place where the coroner was sitting. Mr. Longcluse was received in that place with distinction. The moneyed man was honoured — eyes were gravely fixed on him, and respectful whispers went about. A seat was procured for him; and his evidence, when he came to give it, was heard with marked attention, and a general hush of expectation.

The reader, with his permission, must now pass away, seaward, from this smoky London, for a few minutes, into a clear air, among the rustling foliage of ancient trees, and the fragrance of hay-fields, and the song of small birds.

On the London and Dover road stands, as you know, the “Royal Oak,” still displaying its ancient signboard, where you behold King Charles II sitting with laudable composure, and a crown of Dutch gold on his head, and displaying his finery through an embrasure in the foliage, with an ostentation somewhat inconsiderate, considering the proximity of the halberts of the military emissaries in search of him to the royal features. As you drive towards London, it shows at the left side of the road, a good old substantial inn and posting-house. Its business has dwindled to something very small indeed, for the traffic prefers the rail, and the once bustling line of road is now quiet. The sun had set, but a reflected glow from the sky was still over everything; and by this somewhat lurid light Mr. Truelock, the innkeeper, was observing from the steps the progress of a chaise, with four horses and two postilions, which was driving at a furious pace down the gentle declivity about a quarter of a mile away, from the Dover direction towards the “Royal Oak” and London.

“It’s a runaway. Them horses has took head. What do you think, Thomas?” he asked of the old waiter who stood beside him.

“No. See, the post-boys is whipping the hosses. No, Sir, it’s a gallop, but no runaway.”

“There’s luggage a’ top?” said the innkeeper.

“Yes, Sir, there’s something,” answered Tom.

“I don’t see nothing a-followin’ them,” said Mr. Truelock, shading his eyes with his hand as he gazed.

“No — there is nothing,” said Tom.

“They’re in fear o’ summat, or they’d never go at that lick,” observed Mr. Truelock, who was inwardly conjecturing the likelihood of their pulling up at his door.

“Lawk! there was a jerk. They was nigh over at the finger-post turn,” said Tom, with a grin.

And now the vehicle and the reeking horses were near. The post-boys held up their whips by way of signal to the “Royal Oak” people on the steps, and pulled up the horses with all their force before the door. Trembling, snorting, rolling up wreaths of steam, the exhausted horses stood.

“See to the gentleman, will ye?” cried one of the postilions.

Mr. Truelock, with the old-fashioned politeness of the English innkeeper, had run down in person to the carriage door, which Tom had opened. Master and man were a little shocked to behold inside an old gentleman, with a very brown, or rather a very bilious visage, thin, and with a high nose, who looked, as he lay stiffly back in the corner of the carriage, enveloped in shawls, with a velvet cap on, as if he were either dead or in a fit. His eyes were half open, and nothing but the white balls partly visible. There was a little froth at his lips. His mouth and delicately-formed hands were clenched, and all the furrows and lines of a selfish face fixed, as it seemed, in the lock of death. John Truelock said not a word, but peered at this visitor with a horrible curiosity.

“If he’s dead,” whispered Tom in his ear, “we don’t take in no dead men here. Ye’ll have the coroner and his jury in the house, and the place knocked up-side down; and if ye make five pounds one way ye’ll lose ten the tother.”

“Ye’ll have to take him on, I’m thinkin’,” said Mr. Truelock, rousing himself, stepping back a little, and addressing the post-boys sturdily. “You’ve no business bringin’ a deceased party to my house. You must go somewhere else, if so be he is deceased.”

“He’s not gone dead so quick as that,” said the postilion, dismounting from the near leader, and throwing the bridle to a boy who stood by, as he strutted round bandily to have a peep into the chaise. The postilion on the “wheeler” had turned himself about in the saddle in order to have a peep through the front window of the carriage. The innkeeper returned to the door.

If the old London and Dover road had been what it once was, there would have been a crowd about the carriage by this time. Except, however, two or three servants of the “Royal Oak,” who had come out to see, no one had yet joined the little group but the boy who was detained, bridle in hand, at the horse’s head.

“He’ll not be dead yet,” repeated the postilion dogmatically.

“What happened him?” asked Mr. Truelock.

“I don’t know,” answered the post-boy.

“Then how can you say whether he be dead or no?” demanded the innkeeper.

“Fetch me a pint of half-and-half,” said the dismounted post-boy, aside, to one of the “Royal Oak” people at his elbow.

“We was just at this side of High Hixton,” said his brother in the saddle, “when he knocked at the window with his stick, and I got a cove to hold the bridle, and I came round to the window to him. He had scarce any voice in him, and looked awful bad, and he said he thought he was a-dying. ‘And how far on is the next inn?’ he asked; and I told him the ‘Royal Oak’ was two miles; and he said, ‘Drive like lightning, and I’ll give you half a guinea a-piece’— I hope he’s not gone dead —‘if you get there in time.’”

By this time their heads were in the carriage again.

“Do you notice a sort of a little jerk in his foot, just the least thing in the world?” inquired the landlord, who had sent for the doctor. “It will be a fit, after all. If he’s living, we’ll fetch him into the ’ouse.”

The doctor’s house was just round the corner of the road, where the clump of elms stands, little more than a hundred yards from the sign of the “Royal Oak.”

“Who is he?” inquired Mr. Truelock.

“I don’t know,” answered the postilion.

“What’s his name?”

“Don’t know that, neither.”

“Why, it’ll be on that box, won’t it?” urged the innkeeper, pointing to the roof, where a portmanteau with a glazed cover was secured.

“Nothing on that but ‘R. A.,’” answered the man, who had examined it half an hour before, with the same object.

“Royal Artillery, eh?”

While they were thus conjecturing, the doctor arrived. He stepped into the chaise, felt the old man’s hand, tried his pulse, and finally applied the stethoscope.

“It is a nervous seizure. He is in a very exhausted state,” said the doctor, stepping out again, and addressing Truelock. “You must get him into bed, and don’t let his head down; take off his handkerchief, and open his shirt-collar — do you mind? I had best arrange him myself.”

So the forlorn old man, without a servant, without a name, is carried from the chaise, possibly to die in an inn.

The Rev. Peter Sprott, the rector, passing that way a few minutes later, and hearing what had befallen, went up to the bed-room, where the old gentleman lay in a four-poster, still unconscious.

“Here’s a case,” said the doctor to his clerical friend. “A nervous attack. He’d be all right in no time, but he’s so low. I daresay he crossed the herring-pond today, and was ill; he’s in such an exhausted state. I should not wonder if he sank; and here we are, without a clue to his name or people. No servant, no name on his trunk; and, certainly, it would be awkward if he died unrecognised, and without a word to apprise his relations.”

“Is there no letter in his pockets?”

“Not one,” Truelock says.

The rector happened to take up the great-coat of the old gentleman, in which he found a small breast pocket, that had been undiscovered till now, and in this a letter. The envelope was gone, but the letter, in a lady’s hand began: “My dearest papa.”

“We are all right, by Jove, we’re in luck!”

“How does she sign herself?” said the doctor.

“‘Alice Arden,’ and she dates from 8, Chester Terrace,” answered the clergyman.

“We’ll telegraph forthwith,” said the doctor. “It had best be in your name — the clergyman, you know — to a young lady.”

So together they composed the telegram.

“Shall it be ill simply, or dangerously ill?” inquired the clergyman.

“Dangerously,” said the doctor.

“But dangerously may terrify her.”

“And if we say only ill, she mayn’t come at all,” said the doctor.

So the telegram was placed in Truelock’s hands, who went himself with it to the office; and we shall follow it to its destination.

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