The Tenants of Malory, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 21.

Mr. Larkin’s Two Moves.

THE hatch of the Steward’s House stood open, and Mr. Larkin entered. There was a girl’s voice crying in the room next the hall, and he opened the door.

The little girl was sobbing with her apron to her eyes, and hearing the noise she lowered it and looked at the door, when the lank form of the bald attorney and his sinister face peering in met her eyes, and arrested her lamentation with a new emotion.

“It’s only I— Mr. Larkin,” said he. He liked announcing himself wherever he went. “I want to know how Mrs. Mervyn is now.”

“Gone dead, sir — about a quarter of an hour ago;” and the child’s lamentation recommenced.

“Ha! very sad. The doctor here?”

“He’s gone, sir.”

“And you’re certain she’s dead?”

“Yes, sure, sir,” and she sobbed on.

“Stop that,” he said, sternly, “just a moment — thanks. I want to see Mr. Dingwell, the old gentleman who has been staying here — where is he?”

“In the drawing-room, sir, please,” said the child, a good deal frightened. And to the drawing-room he mounted.

Light was streaming from a door a little open, and a fragrance also of a peculiar tobacco, which he recognised as that of Mr. Dingwell’s chibouque. There was a sound of feet upon the floor of the room above, which Mr. Larkin’s ear received as those of persons employed in arranging the dead body.

I would be perhaps wronging Mr. Dingwell, as I still call him, to say that he smoked like a man perfectly indifferent. On the contrary, his countenance looked lowering and furious — so much so that Mr. Larkin removed his hat, a courtesy which he had intended studiously to omit.

“Oh! Mr. Dingwell,” said he, “I need not introduce myself.”

“No, I prefer your withdrawing yourself and shutting the door,” said Dingwell.

“Yes, in a moment, sir. I merely wish to mention that Lord Verney — I mean your brother, sir — has fully apprized me of the conversation with which you thought it prudent to favour him.”

“You’d rather have been the medium yourself, I fancy. Something to be made of such a situation? Hey! but you shan’t.”

“I don’t know what you mean, sir, by something to be made. If I chose to mention your name and abode in the city, sir, you’d not enjoy the power of insulting others long.”

“Pooh, sir! I’ve got your letter and my brother’s secret. I know my strength. I’m steering the fire-ship that will blow you all up, if I please; and you talk of flinging a squib at me, you blockhead! I tell you, sir, you’ll make nothing of me; and now you may as well withdraw. There are two things in this house you don’t like, though you’ll have enough of them one day; there’s death up stairs, sir, and some thing very like the devil here.”

Mr. Larkin thought he saw signs of an approaching access of the Dingwell mania, so he made his most dignified bow, and at the door remarked, “I take my leave, sir, and when next we meet I trust I may find you in a very different state of mind, and one more favourable to business.”

He had meditated a less covert sneer and menace, but modified his speech prudently as he uttered it; but there was still quite enough that was sinister in his face, as he closed the door, to strike Mr. Dingwell’s suspicion.

“Only I’ve got that fellow in my pocket, I’d say he was bent on mischief; but he’s in my pocket; and suppose he did, no great matter, after all — only dying. I’m not gathering up my strength; no — I shall never be the same man again — and life so insipid — and that poor old doll up stairs. So many things going on under the stars, all ending so!”

Yes — so many things. There was Cleve, chief mourner today, chatting now wonderfully gaily, with a troubled heart, and a kind of growing terror, to that foolish victim who no more suspected him than he did the resurrection of his uncle Arthur, smoking his chibouque only a mile away.

There, too, far away, is a pale, beautiful young mother, sitting on the bed-side of her sleeping boy, weeping silently, as she looks on his happy face, and —thinks.

Mr. Dingwell arrayed in travelling costume, suddenly appeared before Lord Verney again.

“I’m not going to plague you — only this. I’ve an idea I shall lose my life if I don’t go to London to-night, and I must catch the mail train. Tell your people to put the horses to your brougham, and drop me at Llwynan.”

Lord Verney chose to let his brother judge for himself in this matter, being only too glad to get rid of him.

Shrieking through tunnels, thundering through lonely valleys, gliding over wide, misty plains, spread abroad like lakes, the mail train bore Arthur Verney, and also — each unconscious of the other’s vicinity — Mr. Jos. Larkin toward London.

Mr. Larkin had planned a checkmate in two moves. He had been brooding over it in his mufflers, sometimes with his eyes shut, sometimes with his eyes open — all night, in the corner of his carriage. When he stepped out in the morning, with his despatch-box in his hand, whom should he meet in the cold gray light upon the platform, full front, but Mr. Dingwell. He was awfully startled.

Dingwell had seen him, too; Larkin had felt, as it were, his quick glance touch him, and he was sure that Dingwell had observed his momentary but significant change of countenance. He, therefore, walked up to him, touched him on the arm, and said, with a smile —

“I thought, sir, I recognized you. I trust you have an attendant? Can I do anything for you? Cold, this morning. Hadn’t you better draw your muffler up a little about your face?” There was a significance about this last suggestion which Mr. Dingwell could not mistake, and he complied. “Running down again to Malory in a few days, I suppose?”

“Yes,” said Dingwell.

“So shall I, and if quite convenient to you, I should wish, sir, to talk that little matter over much more carefully, and — can I call a cab for you? I should look in upon you today only I must be at Brighton, not to return till tomorrow, and very busy then, too.”

They parted. Dingwell did not like it.

“He’s at mischief. I’ve thought of every thing, and I can’t see any thing that would answer his game. I don’t like his face.”

Dingwell felt very oddly. It was all like a dream; an unaccountable horror overcame him. He sent out for a medicine that day, which the apothecary refused to give to Mrs. Rumble. But he wrote an explanatory note alleging that he was liable to fits, and so got back just a little, at which he pooh’d and psha’d, and wrote to some other apothecaries, and got together what he wanted, and told Mrs. Rumble he was better.

He had his dinner as usual in his snuggery in Rosemary Court, and sent two letters to the post by Mrs. Rumble. That to Lord Verney contained Larkin’s one unguarded letter inviting him to visit England, and with all the caution compatible with being intelligible, but still not enough — suggesting the audacious game which had been so successfully played. A brief and pointed commentary in Mr. Dingwell’s handwriting, accompanied this.

The other enclosed to Wynne Williams, to whose countenance he had taken a fancy; the certificate of his marriage to Rebecca Mervyn, and a reference to the Rev. Thomas Bartlett; and charged him to make use of it to quiet any unfavourable rumours about that poor lady, who was the only human being he believed who had ever cared much about him.

When Wynne Williams opened this letter he lifted up his hands in wonder.

“A miracle, by heaven!” he exclaimed. “The most providential and marvellous interposition — the only thing we wanted!”

“Perhaps I was wrong to break with that villain, Larkin,” brooded Mr. Dingwell. “We must make it up when we meet. I don’t like it. When he saw me this morning his face looked like the hangman’s.”

It was now evening, and having made a very advantageous bargain with the Hebrew gentleman who had that heavy judgment against the late Hon. Arthur Verney, an outlaw, &c. — Mr. Larkin played his first move, and amid the screams of Mrs. Rumble, old Dingwell was arrested on a warrant against the Hon. Arthur Verney, and went away, protesting it was a false arrest, to the Fleet.

Things now looked very awful, and he wrote to Mr. Larkin at his hotel, begging of him to come and satisfy “some fools” that he was Mr. Dingwell. But Jos. Larkin was not at his inn. He had not been there that day, and Dingwell began to think that Jos. Larkin had, perhaps, told the truth for once, and was actually at Brighton. Well, one night in the Fleet was not very much; Larkin would appear next morning, and Larkin could, of course, manage the question of identity, and settle everything easily, and they would shake hands, and make it up. Mr. Dingwell wondered why they had not brought him to a sponging-house, but direct to the prison. But as things were done under the advice of Mr. Jos. Larkin, in whom I have every confidence, I suppose there was a reason.

Mr. Dingwell was of a nature which danger excites rather than cows. The sense of adventure was uppermost. The situation by an odd reaction stimulated his spirits, and he grew frolicsome. He felt a recklessness that recalled his youth. He went down to the flagged yard, and made an acquaintance or two, one in slippers and dressing-gown, another in an evening coat buttoned across his breast, and without much show of shirt. “Very amusing and gentlemanlike men,” he thought, “though out at elbows a little;” and not caring for solitude, he invited them to his room, to supper; and they sat up late; and the gentleman in the black evening coat — an actor in difficulties — turned out to be a clever mimic, an inimitable singer of comic songs, and an admirable raconteur—“a very much cleverer man than the Prime Minister, egad!” said Mr. Dingwell.

One does see very clever fellows in odd situations. The race is not always to the swift. The moral qualities have something to do with it, and industry everything; and thus very dull fellows are often in very high places. The curse implies a blessing to the man who accepts its condition. “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” Labour is the curse and the qualification, also; and so the dullard who toils shall beat the genius who idles.

Dingwell enjoyed it vastly, and lent the pleasant fellow a pound, and got to his bed at three o’clock in the morning, glad to have cheated so much of the night. But tired as he was by his journey of the night before, he could not sleep till near six o’clock, when he fell into a doze, and from it he was wakened oddly.

It was by Mr. Jos. Larkin’s “second move.” Mr. Larkin has great malice, but greater prudence. No one likes better to give the man who has disappointed him a knock, the condition being that he disturbs no interest of his own by so doing. Where there is a proper consideration, no man is more forgiving. Where interest and revenge point the same way, he hits very hard indeed.

Mr. Larkin had surveyed the position carefully. The judgment of the criminal court was still on record, nullum tempus occurrit, &c. It was a case in which a pardon was very unlikely. There was but one way of placing the head of the Honourable Kiffyn Fulke Verney firmly in the vacant coronet, and of establishing him, Jos. Larkin Esq., of the Lodge, in the valuable management of the estates and affairs of that wealthy peerage. It was by dropping the extinguisher upon the flame of that solitary lamp, the Hon. Arthur Verney. Of course Jos. Larkin’s hand must not appear. He himself communicated with no official person. That was managed easily and adroitly.

He wrote, too, from Brighton to Lord Verney at Malory, the day after his interview with that exnobleman, expressing the most serious uneasiness, in consequence of having learned from a London legal acquaintance at Brighton, that a report prevailed in certain quarters of the city, that the person styling himself Mr. Dingwell had proved to be the Hon. Arthur Verney, and that the Verney peerage was, in consequence, once more on the shelf. “I treated this report slightly, in very serious alarm notwithstanding for your brother’s safety,” wrote Mr. Larkin, “and your lordship will pardon my expressing my regret that you should have mentioned, until the Hon. Arthur Verney had secured an asylum outside England, the fact of his being still living, which has filled the town unfortunately with conjecture and speculation of a most startling nature. I was shocked to see him this morning on the public platform of the railway, where, very possibly, he was recognised. It is incredible how many years are needed to obliterate recollection by the hand of time. I quietly entreated him to conceal his face a little, a precaution which, I am happy to add, he adopted. I am quite clear that he should leave London as expeditiously and secretly as possible, for some sequestered spot in France, where he can, without danger, await your lordship’s decision as to plans for his ultimate safety. May I entreat your lordship’s instantaneous attention to this most urgent and alarming subject. I shall be in town tomorrow evening, where my usual address will reach me, and I shall, without a moment’s delay, apply myself to carry out whatever your lordship’s instructions may direct.”

“Yes, he has an idea of my judgment — about it,” said Lord Verney when he had read this letter, “and a feeling about the family — very loyal — yes, he’s a very loyal person; I shall turn it over, I will — I’ll write to him.”

Mr. Dingwell, however, had been wakened by two officers with a warrant by which they were ordered to take his body and consign it to a gaoler. Mr. Dingwell read it, and his instinct told him that Jos. Larkin was at the bottom of his misfortune, and his heart sank.

“Very well, gentlemen,” said he, briskly, “very good; it is not for me; my name is Dingwell, and my solicitor is Mr. Jos. Larkin, and all will be right. I must get my clothes on, if you please.”

And he sat up in the bed, and bit his lip, and raised his eyebrows, and shrugged his shoulders drearily.

“Poor linnet — ay, ay — she was not very wise, but the only one — I’ve been a great fool — let us try.”

There came over his face a look of inexpressible fatigue and something like resignation — and he looked all at once ten years older.

“I’ll be with you, I’ll be with you, gentlemen,” he said very gently.

There was a flask with some noyeau in it, relics of last night’s merry-making, to which these gentlemen took the liberty of helping themselves.

When they looked again at their prisoner he was lying nearly on his face, in a profound sleep, his chin on his chest.

“Choice stuff — smell o’ nuts in it,” said constable Ruddle, licking his lips. “Git up, sir; ye can take a nap when you git there.”

There was a little phial in the old man’s fingers; the smell of kernels was stronger about the pillow. “The old man of the mountains” was in a deep sleep, the deepest of all sleeps — death.

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