It would be hard to find a better refuge on a rainy day than the amphibious retreat described by Raffles as a "country house in Kensington." There was a good square hall, full of the club comforts so welcome in a home, such as magazines and cigarettes, and a fire when the rain set in. The usual rooms opened off the hall, and the library was not the only one that led on into the conservatory; the drawing-room was another, in which I heard voices as I lit a cigarette among the palms and tree-ferns. It struck me that poor Mr. Garland was finding it hard work to propitiate the lady whom Raffles had deemed unworthy of mention overnight. But I own I was in no hurry to take over the invidious task. To me it need prove nothing more; to him, anguish; but I could not help feeling that even as matters stood I was quite sufficiently embroiled in these people's affairs. Their name had been little more than a name to me until the last few hours. Only yesterday I might have hesitated to nod to Teddy Garland at the club, so seldom had we met. Yet here was I helping Raffles to keep the worst about the son from the father's knowledge, and on the point of helping that father to keep what might easily prove worse still from his daughter-in-law to be. And all the time there was the worst of all to be hidden from everybody concerning Raffles and me!
Meanwhile I explored a system of flower-houses and vineries that ran out from the conservatory in a continuous chain—each link with its own temperature and its individual scent—and not a pane but rattled and streamed beneath the timely torrent. It was in a fernery where a playing fountain added its tuneful drop to the noisy deluge that the voices of the drawing-room sounded suddenly at my elbow, and I was introduced to Miss Belsize before I could recover from my surprise. My foolish face must have made her smile in spite of herself, for I did not see quite the same smile again all day; but it made me her admirer on the spot, and I really think she warmed to me for amusing her even for a moment.
So we began rather well; and that was a mercy in the light of poor Mr. Garland's cynically prompt departure; but we did not go on quite as well as we had begun. I do not say that Miss Belsize was in a bad temper, but emphatically she was not pleased, and I for one had the utmost sympathy with her displeasure. She was simply but exquisitely dressed, with unostentatious touches of Cambridge blue and a picture hat that really was a picture. Yet on a perfect stranger in a humid rockery she was wasting what had been meant for mankind at Lord's. The only consolation I could suggest was that by this time Lord's would be more humid still.
"And so there's something to be said for being bored to tears under shelter, Miss Belsize." Miss Belsize did not deny that she was bored.
"But there's plenty of shelter there," said she.
"Packed with draggled dresses and squelching shoes! You might swim for it before they admitted you to that Pavilion, you know."
"But if the ground's under water, how can they play to-day?"
"They can't, Miss Belsize, I don't mind betting."
That was a rash remark.
"Then why doesn't Teddy come back?"
"Oh, well, you know," I hedged, "you can never be quite absolutely sure. It might clear up. They're bound to give it a chance until the afternoon. And the players can't leave till stumps are drawn."
"I should have thought Teddy could have come home to lunch," said Miss Belsize, "even if he had to go back afterwards."
"I shouldn't wonder if he did come," said I, conceiving the bare possibility: "and A.J. with him."
"Do you mean Mr. Raffles?"
"Yes, Miss Belsize; he's the only A.J. that counts!"
Camilla Belsize turned slightly in the basket-chair to which she had confided her delicate frock, and our eyes met almost for the first time. Certainly we had not exchanged so long a look before, for she had been watching the torpid goldfish in the rockery pool, and I admiring her bold profile and the querulous poise of a fine head as I tried to argue her out of all desire for Lord's. Suddenly our eyes met, as I say, and hers dazzled me; they were soft and yet brilliant, tender and yet cynical, calmly reckless, audaciously sentimental—all that and more as I see them now on looking back; but at the time I was merely dazzled.
"So you and Mr. Raffles are great friends?" said Miss Belsize, harking back to a remark of Mr. Garland's in introducing us.
"Rather!" I replied.
"Are you as great a friend of his as Teddy is?"
I liked that, but simply said I was an older friend. "Raffles and I were at school together," I added loftily.
"Really? I should have thought he was before your time."
"No, only senior to me. I happened to be his fag."
"And what sort of a schoolboy was Mr. Raffles?" inquired Miss Belsize, not by any means in the tone of a devotee. But I reflected that her own devotion was bespoke, and not improbably tainted with some little jealousy of Raffles.
"He was the most Admirable Crichton who was ever at the school," said I: "captain of the eleven, the fastest man in the fifteen, athletic champion, and an ornament of the Upper Sixth."
"And you worshipped him, I suppose?"
My companion had been taking renewed interest in the goldfish; now she looked at me again with the cynical light full on in her eyes.
"You must be rather disappointed in him now!"
"Disappointed! Why?" I asked with much outward amusement. But I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
"Of course I don't know much about him," remarked Miss Belsize as though she cared less.
"But does anybody know anything of Mr. Raffles except as a cricketer?"
"I do," said I, with injudicious alacrity.
"Well," said Miss Belsize, "what else is he?"
"The best fellow in the world, among other things."
"But what other things?"
"Ask Teddy!" I said unluckily.
"I have," replied Miss Belsize. "But Teddy doesn't know. He often wonders how Mr. Raffles can afford to play so much cricket without doing any work."
"Does he, indeed!"
"Many people do."
"And what do they say about him?"
Miss Belsize hesitated, watching me for a moment and the goldfish rather longer. The rain sounded louder, and the fountain as though it had been turned on again, before she answered:
"More than their prayers, no doubt!"
"Do you mean," I almost gasped, "as to the way Raffles gets his living?"
"You might tell me the kind of things they say, Miss Belsize!"
"But if there's no truth in them?"
"I'll soon tell you if there is or not."
"But suppose I don't care either way?" said Miss Belsize with a brilliant smile.
"Then I care so much that I should be extremely grateful to you."
"Mind, I don't believe it myself, Mr. Manders."
"You don't believe—"
"That Mr. Raffles lives by his wits and—his cricket!"
I jumped to my feet.
"Is that all they say about him?" I cried.
"Isn't it enough?" asked Miss Belsize, astonished in her turn at my demeanour.
"Oh, quite enough, quite enough!" said I. "It's only the most scandalously unfair and utterly untrue report that ever got about—that's all!"
This heavy irony was, of course, intended to convey the impression that one's first explosion of relief had been equally ironical. But I was to discover that Camilla Belsize was never easily deceived; it was unpleasantly apparent in her bold eyes before she opened her firm mouth.
"Yet you seemed to expect something worse," she said at length.
"What could be worse?" I asked, my back against the wall of my own indiscretion. "Why, a man like A.J. Raffles would rather be any mortal thing than a paid amateur!"
"But you haven't told me what he is, Mr. Manders."
"And you haven't told me, Miss Belsize, why you're so interested in A. J. after all!" I retorted, getting home for once, and sitting down again on the strength of it.
But Miss Belsize was my superior to the last; in the single moment of my ascendency she made me blush for it and for myself. She would be quite frank with me: my friend Mr. Raffles did interest her rather more than she cared to say. It was because Teddy thought so much of him, that was the only reason, and her one excuse for all inquisitive questions and censorious remarks. I must have thought her very rude; but now I knew. Mr. Raffles had been such a friend to Teddy; sometimes she wondered whether he was quite a good friend; and there I had "the whole thing in a nutshell."
I had indeed! And I knew the nut, and had tasted its bitter kernel too often to make any mistake about it. Jealousy was its other name. But I did not care how jealous Miss Belsize became of Raffles as long as jealousy did not beget suspicion; and my mind was not entirely relieved on that point.
We dropped the whole subject, however, with some abruptness; and the rest of our conversation in the rockery, and in the steaming orchid-house and further vineries which we proceeded to explore together, was quite refreshingly tame. Yet I think it was on this desultory tour, to the still incessant accompaniment of rain on the glasshouses, that Camilla's mother took shape in my mind as the Lady Laura Belsize, an apparently impecunious widow reduced to "semi-detachment down the river" and suburban neighbours whose manners and customs my companion hit off with vivacious intolerance. She told me how she had shocked them by smoking cigarettes in the back garden, and pronounced a gratuitous conviction that I of all people would have been no less scandalised! That was in the uttermost vinery, and in another minute two Sullivans were in full blast under the vines. I remember discovering that the great brand was not unfamiliar to Miss Belsize, and even gathering that it was Raffles himself who had made it known to her. Raffles, whom she did not "know much about," or consider "quite a good friend" for Teddy Garland!
I was becoming curious to see this antagonistic pair together; but it was the middle of the afternoon before Raffles reappeared, though Mr. Garland told me he had received an optimistic note from him by special messenger earlier in the day. I felt I might have been told a little more, considering the intimate part I was already playing as a stranger in a strange house. But I was only too thankful to find that Raffles had so far infected our host with his confidence as to tide us through luncheon with far fewer embarrassments than before; nor did Mr. Garland desert us again until the butler with a visitor's card brought about his abrupt departure from the conservatory.
Then my troubles began afresh. It stopped raining at last; if Miss Belsize could have had her way we should all have started for Lord's that minute. I took her into the garden to show her the state of the lawns, coldly scintillant with standing water and rimmed by regular canals. Lord's would be like them, only fifty times worse; play had no doubt been abandoned on that quagmire for the day. Miss Belsize was not so sure about that; why should we not drive over and find out? I said that was the surest way of missing Teddy. She said a hansom would take us there and back in a half-an-hour. I gained time disputing that statement, but said if we went at all I was sure Mr. Garland would want to go with us, and that in his own brougham. All this on the crown of a sloppy path, and when Miss Belsize asked me how many more times I was going to change my ground, I could not help looking at her absurd shoes sinking into the softened gravel, and saying I thought it was for her to do that. Miss Belsize took my advice to the extent of turning upon a submerged heel, though with none too complimentary a smile; and then it was that I saw what I had been curious to see all day. Raffles was coming down the path towards us. And I saw Miss Belsize hesitate and stiffen before shaking hands with him.
"They've given it up as a bad job at last," said he. "I've just come from Lord's, and Teddy won't be very long."
"Why didn't you bring him with you?" asked Miss Belsize pertinently.
"Well, I thought you ought to know the worst at once," said Raffles, rather lamely for him; "and then a man playing in a 'Varsity match is never quite his own master, you know. Still, he oughtn't to keep you waiting much longer."
It was perhaps unfortunately put; at any rate Miss Belsize took it pretty plainly amiss, and I saw her colour rise as she declared she had been waiting in the hope of seeing some cricket. Since that was at an end she must be thinking of getting home, and would just say good-bye to Mr. Garland. This sudden decision took me as much by surprise as I believe it took Miss Belsize herself; but having announced her intention, however hot-headedly, she proceeded to action by way of the conservatory and the library door, while Raffles and I went through into the hall the other way.
"I'm afraid I've put my foot in it," said he to me. "But it's just as well, since I needn't tell you there's no sign of Teddy up at Lord's."
"Have you been there all day?" I asked him under my breath.
"Except when I went to the office of this rag," replied Raffles, brandishing an evening paper that ill deserved his epithet. "See what they say about Teddy here."
And I held my breath while Raffles showed me a stupendous statement in the stop-press column: it was to the effect that E.M. Garland (Eton and Trinity) might be unable to keep wicket for Cambridge after all, "owing to the serious illness of his father."
"His father!" I exclaimed. "Why, his father's closeted with somebody or other at this very moment behind the door you're looking at!"
"I know, Bunny. I've seen him."
"But what an extraordinary fabrication to get into a decent paper! I don't wonder you went to the office about it."
"You'll wonder still less when I tell you I have an old pal on the staff."
"Of course you made him take it straight out?"
"On the contrary, Bunny, I persuaded him to put it in!"
And Raffles chuckled in my face as I have known him chuckle over many a more felonious—but less incomprehensible—exploit.
"Didn't you see, Bunny, how bad the poor old boy looked in his library this morning? That gave me my idea; the fiction is at least founded on fact. I wonder you don't see the point; as a matter of fact, there are two points, just as there were two jobs I took on this morning; one was to find Teddy, and the other was to save his face at Lord's. Well, I haven't actually found him yet; but if he's in the land of the living he will see this statement, and when he does see it even you may guess what he will do! Meanwhile, there's nothing but sympathy for him at Lord's. Studley couldn't have been nicer; a place will be kept for Teddy up to the eleventh hour to-morrow. And if that isn't killing two birds with one stone, Bunny, may I never perform the feat!"
"But what will old Garland say, A. J.?"
"He has already said, Bunny. I told him what I was doing in a note before lunch, and the moment I arrived just now he came out to hear what I had done. He doesn't mind what I do so long as I find Teddy and save his face before the world at large and Miss Belsize in particular. Look out, Bunny—here she is!"
The excitement in his whisper was not characteristic of Raffles, but it was less remarkable than the change in Camilla Belsize as she entered the hall through the drawing-room as we had done before her. For one moment I suspected her of eavesdropping; then I saw that all traces of personal pique had vanished from her face, and that some anxiety for another had taken its place. She came up to Raffles and me as though she had forgiven both of us our trespasses of two or three minutes ago.
"I didn't go into the library after all," she said, looking askance at the library door. "I am afraid Mr. Garland is having a trying interview with somebody. I had just a glimpse of the man's face as I hesitated, and I thought I recognised him."
"Who was it?" I asked, for I myself had wondered who the rather mysterious visitor might be for whom Mr. Garland had deserted us so abruptly in the conservatory, and with whom he was still conferring in the hour of so many issues.
"I believe it's a dreadful man I know by sight down the river," said Miss Belsize; and hardly had she spoke before the library door opened and out came the dreadful man in the portentous person of Dan Levy, the usurer of European notoriety, our victim of the morning and our certain enemy for life.
In Which We Fail to Score
Mr. Levy sailed in with frock-coat flying, shiny hat in hand; he was evidently prepared for us, and Raffles for once behaved as though we were prepared for Mr. Levy. Of myself I cannot speak. I was ready for a terrific scene. But Raffles was magnificent, and to do our enemy justice he was quite as good; they faced each other with a nod and a smile of mutual suavity, shot with underlying animosity on the one side and delightful defiance on the other. Not a word was said or a tone employed to betray the true situation between the three of us; for I took my cue from the two protagonists just in time to preserve the triple truce. Meanwhile Mr. Garland, obviously distressed as he was, and really ill as he looked, was not the least successful of us in hiding his emotions; for having expressed a grim satisfaction in the coincidence of our all knowing each other, he added that he supposed Miss Belsize was an exception, and presented Mr. Levy forthwith as though he were an ordinary guest.
"You must find a better exception than this young lady!" cried that worthy with a certain aplomb. "I know you very well by sight, Miss Belsize, and your mother, Lady Laura, into the bargain."
"Really?" said Miss Belsize, without returning the compliment at her command.
"The bargain!" muttered Raffles to me with sly irony. The echo was not meant for Levy's ears, but it reached them nevertheless, and was taken up with adroit urbanity.
"I didn't mean to use a trade term," explained the Jew, "though bargains, I confess, are somewhat in my line; and I don't often get the worst of one, Mr. Raffles; when I do, the other fellow usually lives to repent it."
It was said with a laugh for the lady's benefit, but with a gleam of the eyes for ours. Raffles answered the laugh with a much heartier one; the look he ignored. I saw Miss Belsize beginning to watch the pair, and only interrupted by the arrival of the tea-tray, over which Mr. Garland begged her to preside. Mr. Garland seemed to have an anxious eye upon us all in turn; at Raffles he looked wistfully as though burning to get him to himself for further consultation; but the fact that he refrained from doing so, coupled with a grimly punctilious manner towards the money-lender, gave the impression that his son's whereabouts was no longer the sole anxiety.
"And yet," remarked Miss Belsize, as we formed a group about her in the firelight, "you seem to have met your match the other day, Mr. Levy?"
"Where was that, Miss Belsize?"
"Somewhere on the Continent, wasn't it? It got into the newspapers, I know, but I forget the name of the place."
"Do you mean when my wife and I were robbed at Carlsbad?"
I was holding my breath now as I had not held it all day. Raffles was merely smiling into his teacup as one who knew all about the affair.
"Carlsbad it was!" certified Miss Belsize, as though it mattered. "I remember now."
"I don't call that meeting your match," said the money-lender. "An unarmed man with a frightened wife at his elbow is no match for a desperate criminal with a loaded revolver."
"Was it as bad as all that?" whispered Camilla Belsize.
Up to this point one had felt her to be forcing the unlucky topic with the best of intentions towards us all; now she was interested in the episode for its own sake, and eager for more details than Mr. Levy had a mind to impart.
"It makes a good tale, I know," said he, "but I shall prefer telling it when they've got the man. If you want to know any more, Miss Belsize, you'd better ask Mr. Raffles; 'e was in our hotel, and came in for all the excitement. But it was just a trifle too exciting for me and my wife."
"Raffles at Carlsbad?" exclaimed Mr. Garland.
Miss Belsize only stared.
"Yes," said Raffles. "That's where I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Levy."
"Didn't you know he was there?" inquired the money-lender of our host. And he looked sharply at Raffles as Mr. Garland replied that this was the first he had heard of it.
"But it's the first we've seen of each other, sir," said Raffles, "except those few minutes this morning. And I told you I only got back last night."
"But you never told me you had been at Carlsbad, Raffles!"
"It's a sore subject, you see," said Raffles, with a sigh and a laugh. "Isn't it, Mr. Levy?"
"You seem to find it so," replied the moneylender.
They were standing face to face in the firelight, each with a shoulder against the massive chimney-piece; and Camilla Belsize was still staring at them both from her place behind the tea-tray; and I was watching the three of them by turns from the other side of the hall.
"But you're the fittest man I know. Raffles," pursued old Garland with terrible tact. "What on earth were you doing at a place like Carlsbad?"
"The cure," said Raffles. "There's nothing else to do there—is there, Mr. Levy?"
Levy replied with his eyes on Raffles:
"Unless you've got to cope with a swell mobsman who steals your wife's jewels and then gets in such a funk that he practically gives them back again!"
The emphasised term was the one that Dan Levy had applied to Raffles and myself in his own office that very morning.
"Did he give them back again?" asked Camilla Belsize, breaking her silence on an eager note.
Raffles turned to her at once.
"The jewels were found buried in the woods," said he. "Out there everybody thought the thief had simply hidden them. But no doubt Mr. Levy has the better information."
Mr. Levy smiled sardonically in the firelight. And it was at this point I followed the example of Miss Belsize and put in my one belated word.
"I shouldn't have thought there was such a thing as a swell mob in the wilds of Austria," said I.
"There isn't," admitted the money-lender readily. "But your true mobsman knows his whole blooming Continent as well as Piccadilly Circus. His 'ead-quarters are in London, but a week's journey at an hour's notice is nothing to him if the swag looks worth it. Mrs. Levy's necklace was actually taken at Carlsbad, for instance, but the odds are that it was marked down at some London theatre—or restaurant, eh, Mr. Raffles?"
"I'm afraid I can't offer an expert opinion," said Raffles very merrily as their eyes met. "But if the man was an Englishman and knew that you were one, why didn't he bully you in the vulgar tongue?"
"Who told you he didn't?" cried Levy, with a sudden grin that left no doubt about the thought behind it. To me that thought had been obvious from its birth within the last few minutes; but this expression of it was as obvious a mistake.
"Who told me anything about it," retorted Raffles, "except yourself and Mrs. Levy? Your gospels clashed a little here and there; but both agreed that the fellow threatened you in German as well as with a revolver."
"We thought it was German," rejoined Levy, with dexterity. "It might 'ave been 'Industani or 'Eathen Chinee for all I know! But there was no error about the revolver. I can see it covering me, and his shooting eye looking along the barrel into mine—as plainly as I'm looking into yours now, Mr. Raffles."
Raffles laughed outright.
"I hope I'm a pleasanter spectacle, Mr. Levy? I remember your telling me that the other fellow looked the most colossal cut-throat."
"So he did," said Levy; "he looked a good deal worse than he need to have done. His face was blackened and disguised, but his teeth were as white as yours are."
"Any other little point in common?"
"I had a good look at the hand that pointed the revolver."
Raffles held out his hands.
"Better have a good look at mine."
"His were as black as his face, but even yours are no smoother or better kept."
"Well, I hope you'll clap the bracelets on them yet, Mr. Levy."
"You'll get your wish, I promise you, Mr. Raffles."
"You don't mean to say you've spotted your man?" cried A.J. airily.
"I've got my eye on him!" replied Dan Levy, looking Raffles through and through.
"And won't you tell us who he is?" asked Raffles, returning that deadly look with smiling interest, but answering a tone as deadly in one that maintained the note of persiflage in spite of Daniel Levy.
For Levy alone had changed the key with his last words; to that point I declare the whole passage might have gone for banter before the keenest eyes and the sharpest ears in Europe. I alone could know what a duel the two men were fighting behind their smiles. I alone could follow the finer shades, the mutual play of glance and gesture, the subtle tide of covert battle. So now I saw Levy debating with himself as to whether he should accept this impudent challenge and denounce Raffles there and then. I saw him hesitate, saw him reflect. The crafty, coarse, emphatic face was easily read; and when it suddenly lit up with a baleful light, I felt we might be on our guard against something more malign than mere reckless denunciation.
"Yes!" whispered a voice I hardly recognised. "Won't you tell us who it was?"
"Not yet," replied Levy, still looking Raffles full in the eyes. "But I know all about him now!"
I looked at Miss Belsize; she it was who had spoken, her pale face set, her pale lips trembling. I remembered her many questions about Raffles during the morning. And I began to wonder whether after all I was the only entirely understanding witness of what had passed here in the firelit hall.
Mr. Garland, at any rate, had no inkling of the truth. Yet even in that kindly face there was a vague indignation and distress, though it passed almost as our eyes met. Into his there had come a sudden light; he sprang up as one alike rejuvenated and transfigured; there was a quick step in the porch, and next instant the truant Teddy was in our midst.
Mr. Garland met him with outstretched hand but not a question or a syllable of surprise; it was Teddy who uttered the cry of joy, who stood gazing at his father and raining questions upon him as though they had the hall to themselves. What was all this in the evening papers? Who had put it in? Was there any truth in it at all?
"None, Teddy," said Mr. Garland, with some bitterness; "my health was never better in my life."
"Then I can't understand it," cried the son, with savage simplicity. "I suppose it's some rotten practical joke; if so, I would give something to lay hands on the joker!"
His father was still the only one of us he seemed to see, or could bring himself to face in his distress. Not that young Garland had the appearance of one who had been through fresh vicissitudes; on the contrary, he looked both trimmer and ruddier than overnight; and in his sudden fit of passionate indignation, twice the man that one remembered so humiliated and abased.
Raffles came forward from the fireside.
"There are some of us," said he, "who won't be so hard on the beggar for bringing you back from Lord's at last! You must remember that I'm the only one here who has been up there at all, or seen anything of you all day."
Their eyes met; and for one moment I thought that Teddy Garland was going to repudiate this cool suggestio falsi, and tell us all where he had really been; but that was now impossible without giving Raffles away, and then there was his Camilla in evident ignorance of the disappearance which he had expected to find common property. The double circumstance was too strong for him; he took her hand with a confused apology which was not even necessary. Anybody could see that the boy had burst among us with eyes for his father only, and thoughts of nothing but the report about his health; as for Miss Belsize, she looked as though she liked him the better for it, or it may have been for an excitability rare in him and rarely becoming. His pink face burnt like a flame. His eyes were brilliant; they met mine at last, and I was warmly greeted; but their friendly light burst into a blaze of wrath as almost simultaneously they fell upon his bugbear in the background.
"So you've kept your threat, Mr. Levy!" said young Garland, quietly enough once he had found his voice.
"I generally do," remarked the money-lender, with a malevolent laugh.
"His threat!" cried Mr. Garland sharply. "What are you talking about, Teddy?"
"I will tell you," said the young man. "And you, too!" he added almost harshly, as Camilla Belsize rose as though about to withdraw. "You may as well know what I am—while there's time. I got into debt—I borrowed from this man."
"You borrowed from him?"
It was Mr. Garland speaking in a voice hard to recognise, with an emphasis harder still to understand; and as he spoke he glared at Levy with new loathing and abhorrence.
"Yes," said Teddy; "he had been pestering me with his beastly circulars every week of my first year at Cambridge. He even wrote to me in his own fist. It was as though he knew something about me and meant getting me in his clutches; and he got me all right in the end, and bled me to the last drop as I deserved. I don't complain so far as I'm concerned. It serves me right. But I did mean to get through without coming to you again, father! I was fool enough to tell him so the other day; that was when he threatened to come to you himself. But I didn't think he was such a brute as to come to-day!"
"Or such a fool?" suggested Raffles, as he put a piece of paper into Teddy's hands.
It was his own original promissory note, the one we had recovered from Dan Levy in the morning. Teddy glanced at it, clutched Raffles by the hand, and went up to the money-lender as though he meant to take him by the throat before us all.
"Does this mean that we're square?" he asked hoarsely.
"It means that you are," replied Dan Levy.
"In fact it amounts to your receipt for every penny I ever owed you?"
"Every penny that you owed me, certainly."
"Yet you must come to my father all the same; you must have it both ways—your money and your spite as well!"
"Put it that way if you like," said Levy, with a shrug of his massive shoulders. "It isn't the case, but what does that matter so long as you're 'appy?"
"No," said Teddy through his teeth; "nothing matters now that I've come back in time."
"In time for what?"
"To turn you out of the house if you don't clear out this instant!"
The great gross man looked upon his athletic young opponent, and folded his arms with a guttural chuckle.
"So you mean to chuck me out, do you?"
"By all my gods, if you make me, Mr. Levy! Here's your hat; there's the door; and never you dare to set foot in this house again."
The money-lender took his shiny topper, gave it a meditative polish with his sleeve, and actually went as bidden to the threshold of the porch; but I saw the suppression of a grin beneath the pendulous nose, a cunning twinkle in the inscrutable eyes, and it did not astonish me when the fellow turned to deliver a Parthian shot. I was only surprised at the harmless character of the shot.
"May I ask whose house it is?" were his words, in themselves notable chiefly for the aspirates of undue deliberation.
"Not mine, I know; but I'm the son of the house," returned Teddy truculently, "and out you go!"
"Are you so sure that it's even your father's house?" inquired Levy with the deadly suavity of which he was capable when he liked. A groan from Mr. Garland confirmed the doubt implied in the words.
"The whole place is his," declared the son, with a sort of nervous scorn—"freehold and everything."
"The whole place happens to be mine—'freehold and everything!'" replied Levy, spitting his iced poison in separate syllables. "And as for clearing out, that'll be your job, and I've given you a week to do it in—the two of you!"
He stood a moment in the open doorway, towering in his triumph, glaring on us all in turn, but at Raffles longest and last of all.
"And you needn't think you're going to save the old man," came with a passionate hiss, "like you did the son—because I know all about you now!"
The State of the Case
Of course I made all decent haste from the distressing scene, and of course Raffles stayed behind at the solicitation of his unhappy friends. I was sorry to desert him in view of one aspect of the case; but I was not sorry to dine quietly at the club after the alarms and excitements of that disastrous day. The strain had been the greater after sitting up all night, and I for one could barely realise all that had happened in the twenty-four hours. It seemed incredible that the same midsummer night and day should have seen the return of Raffles and our orgy at the club to which neither of us belonged; the dramatic douche that saluted us at the Albany; the confessions and conferences of the night, the overthrow of the money-lender in the morning; and then the untimely disappearance of Teddy Garland, my day of it at his father's house, and the rain and the ruse that saved the passing situation, only to aggravate the crowning catastrophe of the money-lender's triumph over Raffles and all his friends.
Already a bewildering sequence to look back upon; but it is in the nature of a retrospect to reverse the order of things, and it was the new risk run by Raffles that now loomed largest in my mind, and Levy's last word of warning to him that rang the loudest in my ears. The apparently complete ruin of the Garlands was still a profound mystery to me. But no mere mystery can hold the mind against impending peril; and I was less exercised to account for the downfall of these poor people than in wondering whether it would be followed by that of their friend and mine. Had his Carlsbad crime really found him out? Had Levy only refrained from downright denunciation of Raffles in order to denounce him more effectually to the police? These were the doubts that dogged me at my dinner, and on through the evening until Raffles himself appeared in my corner of the smoking-room, with as brisk a step and as buoyant a countenance as though the whole world and he were one.
"My dear Bunny! I've never given the matter another thought," said he in answer to my nervous queries, "and why the deuce should Dan Levy? He has scored us off quite handsomely as it is; he's not such a fool as to put himself in the wrong by stating what he couldn't possibly prove. They wouldn't listen to him at Scotland Yard; it's not their job, in the first place. And even if it were, no one knows better than our Mr. Shylock that he hasn't a shred of evidence against me."
"Still," said I, "he happens to have hit upon the truth, and that's half the battle in a criminal charge."
"Then it's a battle I should love to fight, if the odds weren't all on Number One! What happens, after all? He recovers his property—he's not a pin the worse off—but because he has a row with me about something else he thinks he can identify me with the Teutonic thief! But not in his heart, Bunny; he's not such a fool as that. Dan Levy's no fool at all, but the most magnificent knave I've been up against yet. If you want to hear all about his tactics, come round to the Albany and I'll open your eyes for you."
His own were radiant with light and life, though he could not have closed them since his arrival at Charing Cross the night before. But midnight was his hour. Raffles was at his best when the stars of the firmament are at theirs; not at Lord's in the light of day, but at dead of night in the historic chambers to which we now repaired. Certainly he had a congenial subject in the celebrated Daniel, "a villain after my own black heart, Bunny! A foeman worthy of Excalibur itself."
And how he longed for the fierce joy of further combat for a bigger stake! But the stake was big enough for even Raffles to shake a hopeless head over it. And his face grew grave as he passed from the fascinating prowess of his enemy to the pitiful position of his friends.
"They said I might tell you, Bunny, but the figures must keep until I have them in black and white. I've promised to see if there really isn't a forlorn hope of getting these poor Garlands out of the spider's web. But there isn't, Bunny, I don't mind telling you."
"What I can't understand," said I, "is how father and son seem to have walked into the same parlour—and the father a business man!"
"Just what he never was," replied Raffles; "that's at the bottom of the whole thing. He was born into a big business, but he wasn't born a business man. So his partners were jolly glad to buy him out some years ago; and then it was that poor old Garland lashed out into the place where you spent the day, Bunny. It has been his ruin. The price was pretty stiff to start with; you might have a house in most squares and quite a good place in the country for what you've got to pay for a cross between the two. But the mixture was exactly what attracted these good people; for it was not only in Mrs. Garland's time, but it seems she was the first to set her heart upon the place. So she was the first to leave it for a better world—poor soul—before the glass was on the last vinery. And the poor old boy was left to pay the shot alone."
"I wonder he didn't get rid of the whole show," said I, "after that."
"I've no doubt he felt like it, Bunny, but you don't get rid of a place like that in five minutes; it's neither fish nor flesh; the ordinary house-hunter, with the money to spend, wants to be nearer in or further out. On the other hand there was a good reason for holding on. That part of Kensington is being gradually rebuilt; old Garland had bought the freehold, and sooner or later it was safe to sell at a handsome profit for building sites. That was the one excuse for his dip; it was really a fine investment, or would have been if he had left more margin for upkeep and living expenses. As it was he soon found himself a bit of a beggar on horseback. And instead of selling his horse at a sacrifice, he put him at a fence that's brought down many a better rider."
"What was that?"
"South Africans!" replied Raffles succinctly. "Piles were changing hands over them at the time, and poor old Garland began with a lucky dip himself; that finished him off. There's no tiger like an old tiger that never tasted blood before. Our respected brewer became a reckless gambler, lashed at everything, and in due course omitted to cover his losses. They were big enough to ruin him, without being enormous. Thousands were wanted at almost a moment's notice; no time to fix up an honest mortgage; it was a case of pay, fail, or borrow through the nose! And old Garland took ten thousand of the best from Dan Levy—and had another dip!"
"And lost again?"
"And lost again, and borrowed again, this time on the security of his house; and the long and short of it is that he and every stick, brick and branch he is supposed to possess have been in Dan Levy's hands for months and years."
"On a sort of mortgage?"
"On a perfectly nice and normal mortgage so far as interest went, only with a power to call in the money after six months. But old Garland is being bled to the heart for iniquitous interest on the first ten thousand, and of course he can't meet the call for another fifteen when it comes; but he thinks it's all right because Levy doesn't press for the dibs. Of course it's all wrong from that moment. Levy has the right to take possession whenever he jolly well likes; but it doesn't suit him to have the place empty on his hands, it might depreciate a rising property, and so poor old Garland is deliberately lulled into a false sense of security. And there's no saying how long that state of things might have lasted if we hadn't taken a rise out of old Shylock this morning."
"Then it's our fault, A.J.?"
"It's mine," said Raffles remorsefully. "The idea, I believe, was altogether mine, Bunny; that's why I'd give my bowing hand to take the old ruffian at his word, and save the governor as we did the boy!"
"But how do you account for his getting them both into his toils?" I asked. "What was the point of lending heavily to the son when the father already owed more than he could pay?"
"There are so many points," said Raffles. "They love you to owe more than you can pay; it's not their principal that they care about nearly so much as your interest; what they hate is to lose you when once they've got you. In this case Levy would see how frightfully keen poor old Garland was about his boy—to do him properly and, above all, not to let him see what an effort it's become. Levy would find out something about the boy; that he's getting hard up himself, that he's bound to discover the old man's secret, and capable of making trouble and spoiling things when he does. 'Better give him the same sort of secret of his own to keep,' says Levy, 'then they'll both hold their tongues, and I'll have one of 'em under each thumb till all's blue.' So he goes for Teddy till he gets him, and finances father and son in watertight compartments until this libel case comes along and does make things look a bit blue for once. Not blue enough, mind you, to compel the sale of a big rising property at a sacrifice; but the sort of thing to make a man squeeze his small creditors all round, while still nursing his top class. So you see how it all fits in. They say the old blackguard is briefing Mr. Attorney himself; that along with all the rest to scale, will run him into thousands even if he wins his case."
"May he lose it!" said I, drinking devoutly, while Raffles lit the inevitable Egyptian. I gathered that this plausible exposition of Mr. Levy's tactics had some foundation in the disclosures of his hapless friends; but his ready grasp of an alien subject was highly characteristic of Raffles. I said I supposed Miss Belsize had not remained to hear the whole humiliating story, but Raffles replied briefly that she had. By putting the words into his mouth, I now learnt that she had taken the whole trouble as finely as I should somehow have expected from those fearless eyes of hers; that Teddy had offered to release her on the spot, and that Camilla Belsize had refused to be released; but when I applauded her spirit, Raffles was ostentatiously irresponsive. Nothing, indeed, could have been more marked than the contrast between his reluctance to discuss Miss Belsize and the captious gusto with which she had discussed him. But in each case the inference was that there was no love lost between the pair; and in each case I could not help wondering why.
There was, however, another subject upon which Raffles exercised a much more vexatious reserve. Had I been more sympathetically interested in Teddy Garland, no doubt I should have sought an earlier explanation of his sensational disappearance, instead of leaving it to the last. My interest in the escapade, however, was considerably quickened by the prompt refusal of Raffles to tell me a word about it.
"No, Bunny," said he, "I'm not going to give the boy away. His father knows, and I know—and that's enough."
"Was it your paragraph in the papers that brought him back?"
Raffles paused, cigarette between fingers, in a leonine perambulation of his cage; and his smile was a sufficient affirmative.
"I mustn't talk about it, really, Bunny," was his actual reply. "It wouldn't be fair."
"I don't think it's conspicuously fair on me," I retorted, "to set me to cover up your pal's tracks, to give me a lie like that to act all day, and then not to take one into the secret when he does turn up. I call it trading on a fellow's good-nature—not that I care a curse!"
"Then that's all right, Bunny," said Raffles genially. "If you cared I should feel bound to apologise to you for the very rotten way you've been treated all round; as it is I give you my word not to take you in with me if I have another dip at Dan Levy."
"But you're not seriously thinking of it, Raffles?"
"I am if I see half a chance of squaring him short of wilful murder."
"You mean a chance of settling his account against the Garlands?"
"To say nothing of my own account against Dan Levy! I'm spoiling for another round with that sportsman, Bunny, for its own sake quite apart from these poor pals of mine."
"And you really think the game would be worth a candle that might fire the secret mine of your life and blow your character to blazes?"
One could not fraternise with Raffles without contracting a certain facility in fluent and florid metaphor; and this parody of his lighter manner drew a smile from my model. But it was the bleak smile of a man thinking of other things, and I thought he nodded rather sadly. He was standing by the open window; he turned and leant out as I had done that interminable twenty-four hours ago; and I longed to know his thoughts, to guess what it was that I knew he had not told me, that I could not divine for myself. There was something behind his mask of gay pugnacity; nay, there was something behind the good Garlands and their culpably commonplace misfortunes. They were the pretext. But could they be the Cause?
The night was as still as the night before. In another moment a flash might have enlightened me. But, in the complete cessation of sound in the room, I suddenly heard one, soft and stealthy but quite distinct, outside the door.
A Triple Alliance
It was the intermittent sound of cautious movements, the creak of a sole not repeated for a great many seconds, the all but inaudible passing of a hand over the unseen side of the door leading into the lobby. It may be that I imagined more than I actually heard of the last detail; nevertheless I was as sure of what was happening as though the door had been plate-glass. Yet there was the outer door between lobby and landing and that I distinctly remembered Raffles shutting behind him when we entered. Unable to attract his attention now, and never sorry to be the one to take the other by surprise, I listened without breathing until assurance was doubly sure, then bounded out of my chair without a word. And there was a resounding knock at the inner door, even as I flung it open upon a special evening edition of Mr. Daniel Levy, a resplendent figure with a great stud blazing in a frilled shirt, white waistcoat and gloves, opera-hat and cigar, and all the other insignia of a nocturnal vulgarian about town.
"May I come in?" said he with unctuous affability.
"May you!" I took it upon myself to shout. "I like that, seeing that you came in long ago! I heard you all right—you were listening at the door—probably looking through the keyhole—and you only knocked when I jumped up to open it!"
"My dear Bunny!" exclaimed Raffles, a reproving hand upon my shoulder. And he bade the unbidden guest a jovial welcome.
"But the outer door was shut," I expostulated. "He must have forced it or else picked the lock."
"Why not, Bunny? Love isn't the only thing that laughs at locksmiths," remarked Raffles with exasperating geniality.
"Neither are swell mobsmen!" cried Dan Levy, not more ironically than Raffles, only with a heavier type of irony.
Raffles conducted him to a chair. Levy stepped behind it and grasped the back as though prepared to break the furniture on our heads if necessary. Raffles offered him a drink; it was declined with a crafty grin that made no secret of a base suspicion.
"I don't drink with the swell mob," said the money-lender.
"My dear Mr. Levy," returned Raffles, "you're the very man I wanted to see, and nobody could possibly be more welcome in my humble quarters; but that's the fourth time to-day I've heard you make use of an obsolete expression. You know as well as I do that the slap-bang-here-we-are-again type of work is a thing of the past. Where are the jolly dogs of the old song now?"
"'Ere at the Albany!" said Levy. "Here in your rooms, Mr. A.J. Raffles."
"Well, Bunny," said Raffles, "I suppose we must both plead guilty to a hair of the jolly dog that bit him—eh?"
"You know what I mean," our visitor ground out through his teeth. "You're cracksmen, magsmen, mobsmen, the two of you; so you may as well both own up to it."
"Cracksmen? Magsmen? Mobsmen?" repeated Raffles, with his head on one side. "What does the kind gentleman mean, Bunny? Wait! I have it—thieves! Common thieves!"
And he laughed loud and long in the moneylender's face and mine.
"You may laugh," said Levy. "I'm too old a bird for your chaff; the only wonder is I didn't spot you right off when we were abroad." He grinned malevolently. "Shall I tell you when I did tumble to it—Mr. Ananias J. Raffles?"
"Daniel in the liars' den," murmured Raffles, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Oh, yes, do tell us anything you like; this is the best entertainment we've had for a long time, isn't it, Bunny?"
"Chalks!" said I.
"I thought of it this morning," proceeded the money-lender, with a grim contempt for all our raillery, "when you played your pretty trick upon me, so glib and smooth, and up to every move, the pair of you! One borrowing the money, and the other paying me back in my very own actual coin!"
"Well," said I, "there was no crime in that."
"Oh, yes, there was," replied Levy, with a wide wise grin; "there was the one crime you two ought to know better than ever to commit, if you call yourselves what I called you just now. The crime that you committed was the crime of being found out; but for that I should never have suspected friend Ananias of that other job at Carlsbad; no, not even when I saw his friends so surprised to hear that he'd been out there—a strapping young chap like 'im! Yes," cried the money-lender, lifting the chair and jobbing it down on the floor; "this morning was when I thought of it, but this afternoon was when I jolly well knew."
Raffles was no longer smiling; his eyes were like points of steel, his lips like a steel trap.
"I saw what you thought," said he, disdainfully. "And you still seriously think I took your wife's necklace and hid it in the woods?"
"I know you did."
"Then what the devil are you doing here alone?" cried Raffles. "Why didn't you bring along a couple of good men and true from Scotland Yard? Here I am, Mr. Levy, entirely at your service. Why don't you give me in charge?"
Levy chuckled consumedly—ventriloquously—behind his three gold buttons and his one diamond stud.
"P'r'aps I'm not such a bad sort as you think," said he. "An' p'r'aps you two gentlemen are not such bad sorts as I thought."
"Gentlemen once more, eh?" said Raffles. "Isn't that rather a quick recovery for swell magsmen, or whatever we were a minute ago?"
"P'r'aps I never really thought you quite so bad as all that, Mr. Raffles."
"Perhaps you never really thought I took the necklace, Mr. Levy?"
"I know you took it," returned Levy, his new tone of crafty conciliation softening to a semblance of downright apology. "But I believe you did put it back where you knew it'd be found. And I begin to think you only took it for a bit o' fun!"
"If he took it at all," said I. "Which is absurd."
"I only wish I had!" exclaimed Raffles, with gratuitous audacity. "I agree with you, Mr. Levy, it would have been more like a bit of fun than anything that came my way on the human rubbish-heap we were both inhabiting for our sins."
"The kind of fun that appeals to you?" suggested Levy, with a very shrewd glance.
"It would," said Raffles, "I feel sure."
"'Ow would you care for another bit o' fun like it, Mr. Raffles?"
"Don't say 'another,' please."
"Well, would you like to try your 'and at the game again?"
"Not 'again,' Mr. Levy; and my 'prentice' hand, if you don't mind."
"I beg pardon; my mistake," said Levy, with becoming gravity.
"How would I like to try my prentice hand on picking and stealing for the pure fun of the thing? Is that it, Mr. Levy?"
Raffles was magnificent now; but so was the other in his own way. And once more I could but admire the tact with which Levy had discarded his favourite cudgels, and the surprising play that he was making with the buttoned foil.
"It'd be more picking than stealing," said he. "Tricky picking too, Raffles, but innocent enough even for an amatoor."
"I thank you, Mr. Levy. So you have a definite case in mind?"
"I have—a case of recovering a man's own property."
"You being the man, Mr. Levy?"
"I being the man, Mr. Raffles."
"Bunny, I begin to see why he didn't bring the police with him!"
I affected to have seen it for some time; thereupon our friend the enemy protested that in no circumstances could he have taken such a course. By the searchlight of the present he might have detected things which had entirely escaped his notice in the past—incriminating things—things that would put together into a Case. But, after all, what evidence had he against Raffles as yet? Mr. Levy himself propounded the question with unflinching candour. He might inform the Metropolitan Police of his strong suspicions; and they might communicate with the Austrian police, and evidence beyond the belated evidence of his own senses be duly forthcoming; but nothing could be done at once, and if Raffles cared to endorse his theory of the practical joke, by owning up to that and nothing more, then, so far as Mr. Levy was concerned, nothing should ever be done at all.
"Except this little innocent recovery of your own property," suggested Raffles. "I suppose that's the condition?"
"Condition's not the word I should have employed," said Levy, with a shrug.
"Indemnity is more the idea. You put me to a lot of trouble by abstracting Mrs. Levy's jewels for your own amusement—"
"So you assert, Mr. Levy."
"Well, I may be wrong; that remains to be seen—or not—as you decide," rejoined the Jew, lifting his mask for the moment. "At all events you admit that it's the sort of adventure you would like to try. And so I ask you to amuse yourself by abstracting something else of mine that 'appens to have got into the wrong hands; then, I say, we shall be quits."
"Well," said Raffles, "there's no harm in our hearing what sort of property it is, and where you think it's to be found."
The usurer leant forward in his chair; he had long been sitting in the one which at first he had seemed inclined to wield as a defensive weapon. We all drew together into a smaller triangle. And I found our visitor looking specially hard at me for the first time.
"I've seen you, too, before to-day," said he. "I thought I had, after you'd gone this morning, and when we met in the afternoon I made sure. It was at the Savoy when me and my wife were dining there and you gentlemen were at the next table." There was a crafty twinkle in his eye, but the natural allusion to the necklace was not made. "I suppose," he continued, "you are partners in—amusement? Otherwise I should insist on speaking to Mr. Raffles alone."
"Bunny and I are one," said Raffles airily.
"Though two to one—numerically speaking," remarked Levy, with a disparaging eye on me. "However, if you're both in the job, so much the more chance of bringing it off, I daresay. But you'll never 'ave to 'andle a lighter swag, gentlemen!"
"More jewellery?" inquired Raffles, as one thoroughly enjoying the joke.
"No—lighter than that—a letter!"
"One little letter?"
"Of your own writing, Mr. Levy?"
"No, sir!" thundered the money-lender, just when I could have sworn his lips were framing an affirmative.
"I see; it was written to you, not by you."
"Wrong again, Raffles!"
"Then how can the letter be your property, my dear Mr. Levy?"
There was a pause. The money-lender was at visible grips with some new difficulty. I watched his heavy but not unhandsome face, and timed the moment of mastery by the sudden light in his crafty eyes.
"They think it was written by me," said he. "It's a forgery, written on my office paper; if that isn't my property, I should like to know what is?"
"It certainly ought to be," returned Raffles, sympathetically. "Of course you're speaking of the crucial letter in your case against Fact?"
"I am," said Levy, rather startled; "but 'ow did you know I was?"
"I am naturally interested in the case."
"And you've read about it in the papers; they've had a fat sight too much to say about it, with the whole case still sub judice."
"I read the original articles in Fact" said Raffles.
"And the letters I'm supposed to have written?"
"Yes; there was only one of them that struck me as being slap in the wind's eye."
"That's the one I want."
"If it's genuine, Mr. Levy, it might easily form the basis of a more serious sort of case."
"But it isn't genuine."
"Nor would you be the first plaintiff in the High Court of Justice," pursued Raffles, blowing soft grey rings into the upper air, "who has been rather rudely transformed into the defendant at the Old Bailey."
"But it isn't genuine, I'm telling you!" cried Dan Levy with a curse.
"Then what in the world do you want with the letter? Let the prosecution love and cherish it, and trump it up in court for all it's worth; the less it is worth, the more certain to explode and blow their case to bits. A palpable forgery in the hands of Mr. Attorney!" cried Raffles, with a wink at me. "It'll be the best fun of its kind since the late lamented Mr. Pigott; my dear Bunny, we must both be there."
Mr. Levy's uneasiness was a sight for timid eyes. He had presented his case to us naked and unashamed; already he was in our hands more surely than Raffles was in his. But Raffles was the last person to betray his sense of an advantage a second too soon: he merely gave me another wink. The usurer was frowning at the carpet. Suddenly he sprang up and burst out in a bitter tirade upon the popular and even the judicial prejudice against his own beneficent calling. No money-lender would ever get justice in a British court of law; easier for the camel to thread the needle's eye. That flagrant forgery would be accepted at sight by our vaunted British jury. The only chance was to abstract it before the case came on.
"But if it can be proved to be a forgery," urged Raffles, "nothing could possibly turn the tables on the other side with such complete and instantaneous effect."
"I've told you what I reckon my only chance," said Levy fiercely. "Let me remind you that it's yours as well!"
"If you talk like that," said Raffles, "I shan't consider it."
"You won't in any case, I should hope," said I.
"Oh, yes, I might; but not if he talks like that."
Levy stopped talking quite like that.
"Will you do it, Mr. Raffles, or will you not?"
"Wherever it may be; their solicitors' safe, I suppose."
"Who are the solicitors to Fact?"
"Burroughs and Burroughs."
"Of Gray's Inn Square?"
"The strongest firm in England for a criminal case," said Raffles, with a grimace at me. "Their strong-room is probably the strongest strong-room!"
"I said it was a tricky job," rejoined the moneylender.
Raffles looked more than dubious.
"Big game for a first shoot, eh, Bunny?"
"Too big by half."
"And you merely wish to have their letter—withdrawn, Mr. Levy?"
"That's the way to put it."
And the diamond stud sparkled again as it heaved upon the billows of an intestine chuckle.
"Withdrawn—and nothing more?"
"That'll be good enough for me, Mr. Raffles."
"Even though they miss it the very next morning?"
"Let them miss it."
Raffles joined his finger-tips judicially, and shook his head in serene dissent.
"It would do you more harm than good, Mr. Levy. I should be inclined to go one better—if I went into the thing at all," he added, with so much point that I was thankful to think he was beginning to decide against it.
"What improvement do you suggest?" inquired Dan Levy, who had evidently no such premonition.
"I should take a sheet of your paper with me, and forge the forgery!" said Raffles, a light in his eye and a gusto in his voice that I knew only too well. "But I shouldn't do my work as perfectly as—the other cove—did his. My effort would look the same as yours—his—until Mr. Attorney fixed it with his eyeglass in open court. And then the bottom would be out of the defence in five minutes!"
Dan Levy came straight over to Raffles—quivering like a jelly—beaming at every pore.
"Shake!" he cried. "I always knew you were a man after my own heart, but I didn't know you were a man of genius until this minute."
"It's no use my shaking," replied Raffles, the tips of his sensitive fingers still together, "until I make up my mind to take on the job. And I'm a very long way from doing that yet, Mr. Levy."
I breathed again.
"But you must, my dear friend, you simply must!" said Levy, in a new tone of pure persuasion. I was sorry he forgot to threaten instead. Perhaps it was not forgetfulness; perhaps he was beginning to know his Raffles as I knew mine; if so, I was sorrier still.
"It's a case of quid pro quo," said Raffles calmly. "You can't expect me to break out into downright crime—however technical the actual offence—unless you make it worth my while."
Levy became the man I wanted him to be again. "I fancy it's worth your while not to hear anything more about Carlsbad," said he, though still with less of the old manner than I could have wished.
"What!" cried Raffles, "when you own yourself that you've no evidence against me there?"
"Evidence is to be got that may mean five years to you; don't you make any mistake about that."
"Whereas the evidence of this particular letter against yourself has, on your own showing, already been obtained! It's as you like, of course," added Raffles, getting up with a shrug. "But if the Old Bailey sees us both, Mr. Levy, I'll back my chance against yours—and your sentence against mine!"
Raffles helped himself to a drink, after a quizzical look at his guest, decanter in hand; the usurer snatched it from him and splashed out half a tumbler. Certainly he was beginning to know his Raffles perilously well.
"There, damn you!" said he, blinking into an empty glass. "I trust you further than I'd trust any other young blood of your kidney; name your price, and you shall earn it if you can."
"You may think it a rather long one, Mr. Levy."
"Never mind; you say what you want."
"Leave that money of yours on the mortgage with Mr. Garland; forgive him his other debt as you hope to be forgiven; and either that letter shall be in your hands, or I'll be in the hands of the police, before a week is up!"
Spoken from man to man with equal austerity and resolution, yet in a voice persuasive and conciliatory rather than arbitrary or dictatorial, the mere form and manner of this quixotic undertaking thrilled all my fibres in defiance of its sense. It was like the blare of bugles in a dubious cause; one's blood responded before one's brain; and but for Raffles, little as his friends were to me, and much as I repudiated his sacrifices on their behalf, that very minute I might have led the first assault on their oppressor. In a sudden fury the savage had hurled his empty tumbler into the fireplace, and followed the crash with such a volley of abuse as I have seldom heard from human brute.
"I'm surprised at you, Mr. Levy," said Raffles, contemptuously; "if we copied your tactics we should throw you through that open window!"
And I stood by for my share in the deed.
"Yes! I know it'd pay you to break my neck," retorted Levy. "You'd rather swing than do time, wouldn't you?"
"And you prefer the other alternative," said Raffles, "to loosing your grip upon a man who's done you no harm whatever! In interest alone he's almost repaid all you lent him in the first instance; you've first-class security for the rest; yet you must ruin him to revenge yourself upon us. On us, mark you! It's against us you've got your grievance, not against old Garland or his son. You've lost sight of that fact. That little trick this morning was our doing entirely. Why don't you take it out of us? Why refuse a fair offer to spite people who have done you no harm?"
"It's not a fair offer," growled Levy. "I made you the fair offer."
But his rage had moderated; he was beginning to listen to Raffles and to reason, with however ill a grace. It was the very moment which Raffles was the very man to improve.
"Mr. Levy," said he, "do you suppose I care whether you hold your tongue or not on a matter of mere suspicion, which you can't support by a grain of evidence? You lose a piece of jewellery abroad; you recover it intact; and after many days you get the bright idea that I'm the culprit because I happen to have been staying in your hotel at the time. It never occurred to you there or then, though you interviewed the gentleman face to face, as you were constantly interviewing me. But as soon as I borrow some money from you, here in London in the ordinary way, you say I must be the man who borrowed Mrs. Levy's necklace in that extraordinary way at Carlsbad! I should say it to the marines, Mr. Levy, if I were you; they're the only force that are likely to listen to you."
"I do say it, all the same; and what's more you don't deny it. If you weren't the man you wouldn't be so ready for another game like it now."
"Ready for it?" cried Raffles, more than ready for an undeniable point. "I'm always your man for a new sensation, Mr. Levy, and for years I've taken an academic interest in the very fine art of burglary; isn't that so, Bunny?"
"I've often heard you say so," I replied without mishap.
"In these piping times," continued Raffles, "it's about the one exciting and romantic career open to us. If it were not so infernally dishonest I should have half a mind to follow it myself. And here you come and put up a crib for me to crack in the best interests of equity and justice; not to enrich the wicked cracksman, but to restore his rightful property to the honest financier; a sort of teetotal felony—the very ginger-ale of crime! Is that a beverage to refuse—a chance to miss—a temptation to resist? Yet the risks are just as great as if it were a fine old fruity felony; you can't expect me to run them for nothing, or even for their own exciting sake. You know my terms, Mr. Levy; if you don't accept them, it's already two in the morning, and I should like to get to bed before it's light."
"And if I did accept them?" said Levy, after a considerable pause.
"The letter to which you attach such importance would most probably be in your possession by the beginning of next week."
"And I should have to take my hands off a nice little property that has tumbled into them?"
"Only for a time," said Raffles. "On the other hand, you would be permanently out of danger of figuring in the dock on a charge of blackmail. And you know your profession isn't popular in the courts, Mr. Levy; it's in nearly as bad odour as the crime of blackmail!"
A singular docility had descended like a mantle upon Daniel Levy: no uncommon reaction in the case of very passionate men, and yet in this case ominous, sinister, and completely unconvincing so far as I personally was concerned. I longed to tell Raffles what I thought, to put him on his guard against his obvious superior in low cunning. But Raffles would not even catch my eye. And already he looked insanely pleased with himself and his apparent advantage.
"Will you give me until to-morrow morning?" said Levy, taking up his hat.
"If you mean the morning; by eleven I must be at Lord's."
"Say ten o'clock in Jermyn Street?"
"It's a strange bargain, Mr. Levy. I should prefer to clinch it out of earshot of your clerks."
"Then I will come here."
"I shall be ready for you at ten."
There was a sidelong glance at me with the proviso.
"You shall search the premises yourself and seal up all the doors."
"Meanwhile," said Levy, putting on his hat, "I shall think about it, but that's all. I haven't agreed yet, Mr. Raffles; don't you make too sure that I ever shall. I shall think about it—but don't you make too sure."
He was gone like a lamb, this wild beast of five minutes back. Raffles showed him out, and down into the courtyard, and out again into Piccadilly. There was no question but that he was gone for good; back came Raffles, rubbing his hands for joy.
"A fine night, Bunny! A finer day to follow! But a nice, slow, wicket-keeper's wicket if ever Teddy had one in his life!"
I came to my point with all vehemence.
"Confound Teddy!" I cried from my heart. "I should have thought you had run risks enough for his sake as it was!"
"How do you know it's for his sake—or anybody's?" asked Raffles, quite hotly. "Do you suppose I want to be beaten by a brute like Levy, Garlands or no Garlands? Besides, there's far less risk in what I mean to do than in what I've been doing; at all events it's in my line."
"It's not in your line," I retorted, "to strike a bargain with a swine who won't dream of keeping his side."
"I shall make him," said Raffles. "If he won't do what I want he shan't have what he wants."
"But how could you trust him to keep his word?"
"His word!" cried Raffles, in ironical echo. "We shall have to carry matters far beyond his word, of course; deeds, not words, Bunny, and the deeds properly prepared by solicitors and executed by Dan Levy before he lays a finger on his own blackmailing letter. You remember old Mother Hubbard in our house at school? He's a little solicitor somewhere in the City; he'll throw the whole thing into legal shape for us, and ask no questions and tell no tales. You leave Mr. Shylock to me and Mother, and we'll bring him up to the scratch as he ought to go."
There was no arguing with Raffles in such a mood; argue I did, but he paid no attention to what I said. He had unlocked a drawer in the bureau, and taken out a map that I had never seen before. I looked over his shoulder as he spread it out in the light of his reading-lamp. And it was a map of London capriciously sprinkled with wheels and asterisks of red ink; there was a finished wheel in Bond Street, another in Half-Moon Street, one on the site of Thornaby House, Park Lane, and others as remote as St. John's Wood and Peter Street, Campden Hill; the asterisks were fewer, and I have less reason to remember their latitude and longitude.
"What's this, A.J.?" I asked. "It looks exactly like a war-map."
"It is one, Bunny," said he; "it's the map of one man's war against the ordered forces of society. The spokes are only the scenes of future operations, but each finished wheel marks the field of some past engagement, in which you have usually been the one man's one and only accomplice."
And he stooped and drew the neatest of blood-red asterisks at the southern extremity of Gray's Inn Square.
"My Raffles Right or Wrong"
The historic sward had just been cleared for action when Raffles and I met at Lord's next day. I blush to own I had been knave and fool enough to suggest that he should smuggle me into the pavilion; but perhaps the only laws of man that Raffles really respected were those of the M.C.C., and it was in Block B. that he joined me a minute or so before eleven. The sun was as strong and the sky as blue as though the disastrous day before had been just such another. But its tropical shower-bath had left the London air as cleanly and as clear as crystal; the neutral tints of every day were splashes of vivid colour, the waiting umpires animated snow-men, the heap of sawdust at either end a pyramid of powdered gold upon an emerald ground. And in the expectant hush before the appearance of the fielding side, I still recall the Yorkshire accent of the Surrey Poet, hawking his latest lyric on some "Great Stand by Mr. Webbe and Mr. Stoddart," and incidentally assuring the crowd that Cambridge was going to win because everybody said Oxford would.
"Just in time," said Raffles, as he sat down and the Cambridge men emerged from the pavilion, capped and sashed in varying shades of light blue. The captain's colours were bleached by service; but the wicket-keeper's were the newest and the bluest of the lot, and as a male historian I shrink from saying how well they suited him.
"Teddy Garland looks as though nothing had happened," was what I said at the time, as I peered through my binocular at the padded figure with the pink face and the gigantic gloves.
"That's because he knows there's a chance of nothing more happening," was the reply. "I've seen him and his poor old governor up here since I saw Dan Levy."
I eagerly inquired as to the upshot of the earlier interview, but Raffles looked as though he had not heard. The Oxford captain had come out to open the innings with a player less known to fame; the first ball of the match hurtled down the pitch, and the Oxford captain left it severely alone. Teddy took it charmingly, and almost with the same movement the ball was back in the bowler's hands.
"He's all right!" muttered Raffles with a long breath. "So is our Mr. Shylock, Bunny; we fixed things up in no time after all. But the worst of it is I shall only be able to stop—"
He broke off, mouth open as it might have been mine. A ball had been driven hard to extra cover, and quite well fielded; another had been taken by Teddy as competently as the first, but not returned to the bowler. The Oxford captain had played at it, and we heard something even in Block B.
"How's that?" came almost simultaneously in Teddy's ringing voice. Up went the umpire's finger, and down came Raffles's hand upon my thigh.
"He's caught him, Bunny!" he cried in my ear above the Cambridge cheers. "The best bat on either side, and Teddy's outed him third ball!" He stopped to watch the defeated captain's slow return, the demonstration on the pitch in Teddy's honour; then he touched me on the arm and dropped his voice. "He's forgotten all his troubles now, Bunny, if you like; nothing's going to worry him till lunch, unless he misses a sitting chance. And he won't, you'll see; a good start means even more behind the sticks than in front of 'em."
Raffles was quite right. Another wicket fell cheaply in another way; then came a long spell of plucky cricket, a stand not masterly but dogged and judicious, in which many a ball outside the off-stump was allowed to pass unmolested, and a few were unfortunate in just beating the edge of the bat. On the tricky wicket Teddy's work was cut out for him, and beautifully he did it. It was a treat to see his lithe form crouching behind the bails, to rise next instant with the rising ball; his great gloves were always in the right place, always adhesive. Once only he held them up prematurely, and a fine ball brushed the wicket on its way for four byes; it was his sole error all the morning. Raffles sat enchanted; so in truth did I; but between the overs I endeavoured to obtain particulars of his latest parley with Dan Levy, and once or twice extracted a stray detail.
"The old sinner has a place on the river, Bunny, though I have my suspicions of a second establishment nearer town. But I'm to find him at his lawful home all the next few nights, and sitting up for me till two in the morning."
"Then you're going to Gray's Inn Square this week?"
"I'm going there this morning for a peep at the crib; there's no time to be lost, but on the other hand there's a devil of a lot to learn. I say, Bunny, there's going to be another change of bowling; the fast stuff, too, by Jove!"
A massive youth had taken the ball at the top end, and the wicket-keeper was retiring to a more respectful distance behind the stumps.
"You'll let me know when it's to be?" I whispered, but Raffles only answered, "I wonder Jack Studley didn't wait till there was more of a crust on the mud pie. That tripe's no use without a fast wicket!"
The technical slang of the modern cricket-field is ever a weariness; at the moment it was something worse, and I resigned myself to the silent contemplation of as wild an over as ever was bowled at Lord's. A shocking thing to the off was sent skipping past point for four. "Tripe!" muttered Raffles to himself. A very good one went over the bails and thud into Garland's gloves like a round-shot. "Well bowled!" said Raffles with less reserve. Another delivery was merely ignored, both at the wicket and at my side, and then came a high full-pitch to leg which the batsman hit hard but very late. It was a hit that might have smashed the pavilion palings. But it never reached them; it stuck in Teddy's left glove instead, and none of us knew it till we saw him staggering towards long-leg, and tossing up the ball as he recovered balance.
"That's the worst ball that ever took a wicket in this match!" vowed a reverend veteran as the din died down.
"And the best catch!" cried Raffles. "Come on, Bunny; that's my nunc dimittis for the day. There would be nothing to compare with it if I could stop to see every ball bowled, and I mustn't see another."
"But why?" I asked, as I followed Raffles into the press behind the carriages.
"I've already told you why," said he.
I got as close to him as one could in that crowd.
"You're not thinking of doing it to-night, A.J.?"
"I don't know."
"But you'll let me know?"
"Not if I can help it, Bunny; didn't I promise not to drag you any further through this particular mire?"
"But if I can help you?" I whispered, after a momentary separation in the throng.
"Oh! if I can't get on without you," said Raffles, not nicely, "I'll let you know fast enough. But do drop the subject now; here come old Garland and Camilla Belsize!"
They did not see us quite so soon as we saw them, and for a moment one felt a spy; but it was an interesting moment even to a person smarting from a snub. The ruined man looked haggard, ill, unfit to be about, the very embodiment of the newspaper report concerning him. But the spirit beamed through the shrinking flesh, the poor old fellow was alight with pride and love, exultant in spite of himself and his misfortunes. He had seen his boy's great catch; he had heard the cheers, he would hear them till his dying hour. Camilla Belsize had also seen and heard, but not with the same exquisite appreciation. Cricket was a game to her, it was not that quintessence and epitome of life it would seem to be to some of its devotees; and real life was pressing so heavily upon her that the trivial consolation which had banished her companion's load could not lighten hers. So at least I thought as they approached, the man so worn and radiant, the girl so pensive for all her glorious youth and beauty: his was the old head bowed with sorrow, his also the simpler and the younger heart.
"That catch will console me for a lot," I heard him say quite heartily to Raffles. But Camilla's comment was altogether perfunctory; indeed, I wondered that so sophisticated a person did not affect some little enthusiasm. She seemed more interested, however, in the crowd than in the cricket. And that was usual enough.
Raffles was already saying he must go, with an explanatory murmur to Mr. Garland, who clasped his hand with a suddenly clouded countenance. But Miss Belsize only bowed, and scarcely took her eyes off a couple of outwardly inferior men, who had attracted my attention through hers, until they also passed out of the ground.
Mr. Garland was on tip-toes watching the game again with mercurial ardour.
"Mr. Manders will look after me," she said to him, "won't you, Mr. Manders?" I made some suitable asseveration, and she added: "Mr. Garland's a member, you know, and dying to go into the Pavilion."
"Only just to hear what they think of Teddy," the poor old boy confessed; and when we had arranged where to meet in the interval, away he hurried with his keen, worn face.
Miss Belsize turned to me the moment he was gone.
"I want to speak to you, Mr. Manders," she said quickly but without embarrassment. "Where can we talk?"
"And watch as well?" I suggested, thinking of the young man at his best behind the sticks.
"I want to speak to you first," she said, "where we shan't be overheard. It's about Mr. Raffles!" added Miss Belsize as she met my stare.
About Raffles again! About Raffles, after all that she had learnt the day before! I did not enjoy the prospect as I led the way past the ivy-mantled tennis-court of those days to the practice-ground, turned for the nonce into a tented lawn.
"And what about Raffles?" I asked as we struck out for ourselves across the grass.
"I'm afraid he's in some danger," replied Miss Belsize. And she stopped in her walk and confronted me as frankly as though we had the animated scene to ourselves.
"Danger!" I repeated, guiltily enough, no doubt. "What makes you think that, Miss Belsize?"
My companion hesitated for the first time.
"You won't tell him I told you, Mr. Manders?"
"Not if you don't want me to," said I, taken aback more by her manner than by the request itself.
"You promise me that?"
"Then tell me, did you notice two men who passed close to us just after we had all met?"
"There are so many men to notice," said I to gain time.
"But these were not the sort one expects to see here to-day."
"Did they wear bowlers and short coats?"
"You did notice them!"
"Only because I saw you watching them," said I, recalling the whole scene.
"They wanted watching," rejoined Miss Belsize dryly. "They followed Mr. Raffles out of the ground!"
"So they did!" I reflected aloud in my alarm.
"They were following you both when you met us."
"The dickens they were! Was that the first you saw of them?"
"No; the first time was over there at the nets before play began. I noticed those two men behind Teddy's net. They were not watching him; that called my attention to them. It's my belief they were lying in wait for Mr. Raffles; at any rate, when he came they moved away. But they followed us afterwards across the ground."
"You are sure of that?"
"I looked round to see," said Miss Belsize, avoiding my eyes for the first time.
"Did you think the men—detectives?"
And I forced a laugh.
"I was afraid they might be, Mr. Manders, though I have never seen one off the stage."
"Still," I pursued, with painfully sustained amusement, "you were ready to find A.J. Raffles being shadowed here at Lord's of all places in the world?"
"I was ready for anything, anywhere," said Miss Belsize, "after all I heard yesterday afternoon."
"You mean about poor Mr. Garland and his affairs?"
It was an ingenuously disingenuous suggestion; it brought my companion's eyes back to mine, with something of the scorn that I deserved.
"No, Mr. Manders, I meant after what we all heard between Mr. Levy and Mr. Raffles; and you knew very well what I meant," added Miss Belsize severely.
"But surely you didn't take all that seriously?" said I, without denying the just impeachment.
"How could I help it? The insinuation was serious enough, in all conscience!" exclaimed Camilla Belsize.
"That is," said I, since she was not to be wilfully misunderstood, "that poor old Raffles had something to do with this jewel robbery at Carlsbad?"
"If it was a robbery."
She winced at the word.
"Do you mean it might have been a trick?" said I, recalling the victim's own make-believe at the Albany. And not only did Camilla appear to embrace that theory with open arms; she had the nerve to pretend that it really was what she had meant.
"Obviously!" says she, with an impromptu superiority worthy of Raffles himself. "I wonder you never thought of that, Mr. Manders, when you know what a trick you both played Mr. Levy only yesterday. Mr. Raffles himself told us all about that; and I'm very grateful to you both; you must know I am—for Teddy's sake," added Miss Belsize, with one quick remorseful glance towards the great arena. "Still it only shows what Mr. Raffles is—and—and it's what I meant when we were talking about him yesterday."
"I don't remember," said I, remembering fast enough.
"In the rockery," she reminded me. "When you asked what people said about him, and I said that about living on his wits."
"And being a paid amateur!"
"But the other was the worst."
"I'm not so sure," said I. "But his wits wouldn't carry him very far if he only took necklaces and put them back again."
"But it was all a joke," she reminded us both with a bit of a start. "It must have been a joke, if Mr. Raffles did it at all. And it would be dreadful if anything happened to him because of a wretched practical joke!"
There was no mistake about her feeling now; she really felt that it would be "dreadful if anything happened" to the man whom yesterday she had seemed both to dislike and to distrust. Her voice vibrated with anxiety. A bright film covered the fine eyes, and they were finer than ever as they continued to face me unashamed; but I was fool enough to speak my mind, and at that they flashed themselves dry.
"I thought you didn't like him?" had been my remark, and "Who says I do?" was hers. "But he has done a lot for Teddy," she went on, "and never more than yesterday," with her hand for an instant on my arm, "when you helped him! I am dreadfully sorry for Mr. Garland, sorrier than I am for poor Teddy. But Mr. Raffles is more than sorry. I know he means to do what he can. He seems to think there must be something wrong; he spoke of bringing that brute to reason—if not to justice. It would be too dreadful if such a creature could turn the tables on Mr. Raffles by trumping up any charge against him!"
There was an absolute echo of my own tone in "trumping up any charge," and I thought the echo sounded even more insincere. But at least it showed me where we were. Miss Belsize was not deceived; she only wanted me to think she was. Miss Belsize had divined what I knew, but neither of us would admit to the other that the charge against Raffles would be true enough.
"But why should these men follow him?" said I, really wondering why they should. "If there were anything definite against old Raffles, don't you think he would be arrested?"
"Oh! I don't know," was the slightly irritable answer. "I only think he should be warned that he is being followed."
"Whatever he has done?" I ventured.
"Yes!" said she. "Whatever he has done—after what he did for Teddy yesterday!"
"You want me to warn him?"
"Yes—but not from me!"
"And suppose he really did take Mrs. Levy's necklace?"
"That's just what we are supposing."
"But suppose it wasn't for a joke at all?"
I spoke as one playfully plumbing the abysmally absurd; what I did desire to sound was the loyalty of this new, unexpected, and still captious ally. And I thought myself strangely successful at the first cast; for Miss Belsize looked me in the face as I was looking her, and I trusted her before she spoke.
"Well, after yesterday," she said, "I should warn him all the same!"
"You would back your Raffles right or wrong?" I murmured, perceiving that Camilla Belsize was, after all, like all the rest of us.
"Against a vulgar extortioner, most decidedly!" she returned, without repudiating the possessive pronoun. "It doesn't follow that I think anything of him—apart from what you did between you for Teddy yesterday."
We had continued our stroll some time ago, and now it was I who stood still. I looked at my watch. It still wanted some minutes to the luncheon interval.
"If Raffles took a cab to his rooms," I said, "he must be nearly there and I must telephone to him."
"Is there a call-office on the ground?"
"Only in the pavilion, I believe, for the use of the members."
"Then you must go to the nearest one outside."
"And what about you?"
Miss Belsize brightened with her smile of perfect and unconscious independence.
"Oh, I shall be all right," she said. "I know where to find Mr. Garland, even if I don't pick up an escort on the way."
But it was she who escorted me to the tall turnstile nearest Wellington Road.
"And you do see why I want to put Mr. Raffles on his guard?" she said pointedly as we shook hands. "It's only because you and he have done so much for Teddy!"
And because she did not end by reminding me of my promise, I was all the more reluctantly determined to keep it to the letter, even though Raffles should think as ill as ever of one who was at least beginning to think better of him.
A Dash in the Dark
In a few lines which I found waiting for me at the club, and have somewhat imprudently preserved, Raffles professes to have known he was being shadowed even before we met at Lord's: "but it was no use talking about it until the foe were in the cart." He goes on to explain the simple means by which he reduced the gentlemen in billycocks to the pitch of discomfiture implied in his metaphor. He had taken a hansom to the Burlington Gardens entrance to the Albany, and kept it waiting while he went in and changed his clothes; then he had sent Barraclough to pay off the cab, and himself marched out into Piccadilly, what time the billycock brims were still shading watchful eyes in Burlington Gardens. There, to be sure, I myself had spotted one of the precious pair when I drove up after vain exertions at the call-office outside Lord's; but by that time his confederate was on guard at the Piccadilly end, and Raffles had not only shown a clean pair of wings, but left the poor brutes to watch an empty cage. He dismisses them not unfairly with the epithet "amateurish." Thus I was the more surprised, but not the less relieved, to learn that he was "running down into the country for the weekend, to be out of their way"; but he would be back on the Monday night, "to keep an engagement you wot of, Bunny. And if you like you may meet me under the clock at Waterloo (in flannel kit and tennis-shoes for choice) at the witching hour of twelve sharp."
If I liked! I had a premature drink in honour of an invitation more gratifying to my vanity than any compliment old Raffles had paid me yet; for I could still hear his ironical undertaking to let me know if he could not do without me, and there was obviously no irony in this delightfully early intimation of that very flattering fact. It altered my whole view of the case. I might disapprove of the risks Raffles was running for his other friends, but the more I was allowed to share in them the less critical I was inclined to be. Besides I was myself clearly implicated in the issue as between my own friend and the common enemy; it was no more palatable to me than it was to Raffles, to be beaten by Dan Levy after our initial victory over him. So I drank like a man to his destruction, and subsequently stole forth to spy upon his foolish myrmidons, who flattered themselves that they were spying on Raffles. The imbeciles were at it still! The one hanging about Burlington Gardens looked unutterably bored, but with his blots of whisker and his grimy jowl, as flagrant a detective officer as ever I saw, even if he had not so considerately dressed the part. The other bruiser was an equally distinctive type, with a formidable fighting face and a chest like a barrel; but in Piccadilly he seemed to me less occupied in taking notice than in avoiding it. In innocuous futility one could scarcely excel the other; and between them they raised my spirits to the zenith.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at their own game, dogging Miss Belsize about Lord's until at last I had an opportunity of informing her that Raffles was quite safe. It may be that I made my report with too much gusto when my chance came; at any rate, it was only the fact that appeared to interest Miss Belsize; the details, over which I gloated, seemed to inspire in her a repugnance consistent with the prejudice she had displayed against Raffles yesterday, but not with her grateful solicitude on his behalf as revealed to me that very morning. I could only feel that gratitude was the beginning and the end of her new regard for him. Raffles had never fascinated this young girl as he did the rest of us; ordinarily engaged to an ordinary man, she was proof against the glamour that dazzled us. Nay, though she would not admit it even to me his friend, though like Levy she pretended to embrace the theory of the practical joke, making it the pretext for her anxiety, I felt more certain than ever that she now guessed, and had long suspected, what manner of man Raffles really was, and that her natural antipathy was greater even than before. Still more certain was I that she would never betray him by word or deed; that, whatever harm might come of his present proceedings, it would not be through Camilla Belsize.
But I was now determined to do my own utmost to minimise the dangers, to be a real help to Raffles in the act of altruistic depravity to which he had committed himself, and not merely a fifth wheel to his dashing chariot. Accordingly I went into solemn training for the event before us: a Turkish bath on the Saturday, a quiet Sunday between Mount Street and the club, and most of Monday lying like a log in cold-blooded preparation for the night's work. And when night fell I took it upon me to reconnoitre the ground myself before meeting Raffles at Waterloo.
Another cool and starry evening seemed to have tempted all the town and his wife into the streets. The great streams of traffic were busier than ever, the backwaters emptier, and Gray's Inn a basin drained to the last dreg of visible humanity. In one moment I passed through gateway and alley from the voices and lights of Holborn into a perfectly deserted square of bare ground and bright stars. The contrast was altogether startling, for I had never been there before; but for the same reason I had already lost my bearings, believing myself to be in Gray's Inn Square when I was only in South Square, Gray's Inn. Here I entered upon a hopeless search for the offices of Burroughs and Burroughs. Door after door had I tried in vain, and was beginning to realise my mistake, when a stray molecule of the population drifted in from Holborn as I had done, but with the quick step of the man who knows his way. I darted from a doorway to inquire mine, but he was across the square before I could cut him off, and as he passed through the rays of a lamp beside a second archway, I fell back thanking Providence and Raffles for my rubber soles. The man had neither seen nor heard me, but at the last moment I had recognised him as the burlier of the two blockheads who had shadowed Raffles three days before.
He passed under the arch without looking round. I flattened myself against the wall on my side of the arch; and in so standing I was all but eye-witness of a sudden encounter in the square beyond.
The quick steps stopped, and there was a "Here you are!" on one side, and a "Well! Where is he?" on the other, both very eager and below the breath.
"On the job," whispered the first voice. "Up to the neck!"
"When did 'e go in?"
"Nearly an hour ago; when I sent the messenger."
"Up through number seventeen."
"Next door, eh?"
"Over the roof?"
"Can't say; he's left no tracks. I been up to see."
"I suppose there's the usual ladder and trapdoor?"
"Yes, but the ladder's hanging in its proper place. He couldn't have put it back there, could he?"
The other grunted; presently he expressed a doubt whether Raffles (and it thrilled me to hear the very name) had succeeded in breaking into the lawyer's office at all. The first man on the scene, however, was quite sure of it—and so was I.
"And we've got to hang about," grumbled the newcomer, "till he comes out again?"
"That's it. We can't miss him. He must come back into the square or through into the gardens, and if he does that he'll have to come over these here railings into Field Court. We got him either way, and there's a step just here where we can sit and see both ways as though it had been made for us. You come and try ... a door into the old hall ..."
That was all I heard distinctly; first their footsteps, and then the few extra yards, made the rest unintelligible. But I had heard enough. "The usual ladder and trap-door!" Those blessed words alone might prove worth their weight in great letters of solid gold.
Now I could breathe again; now I relaxed my body and turned my head, and peered through the arch with impunity, and along the whole western side of Gray's Inn Square, with its dusky fringe of plane-trees and its vivid line of lamps, its strip of pavement, and its wall of many-windowed houses under one unbroken roof. Dim lights smouldered in the column of landing windows over every door; otherwise there was no break in the blackness of that gaunt facade. Yet in some dark room or other behind those walls I seemed to see Raffles at work as plainly as I had just heard our natural enemies plotting his destruction. I saw him at a safe. I saw him at a desk. I saw him leaving everything as he had found it, only to steal down and out into the very arms of the law. And I felt that even that desperate denouement was little more than he deserved for letting me think myself accessory before the fact, when all the time he meant me to have nothing whatever to do with it! Well, I should have everything to do with it now; if Raffles was to be saved from the consequences of his own insanity, I and I alone must save him. It was the chance of my life to show him my real worth. And yet the difficulty of the thing might have daunted Raffles himself.
I knew what to do if only I could gain the house which he had made the base of his own operations; at least I knew what to attempt, and what Raffles had done I might do. So far the wily couple within earshot had helped me out of their own mouths. But they were only just round the corner that hid them from my view; stray words still reached me; and they knew me by sight, would recognise me at a glance, might pounce upon me as I passed. Unless—
I had it!
The crowd in Holborn seemed strange and unreal as I jostled in its midst once more. I was out of it in a moment, however, and into a 'bus, and out of the 'bus in a couple of minutes by my watch. One more minute and I was seeing how far back I could sit in a hansom bound for Gray's Inn Square.
"I forget the number," I had told the cabman, "but it's three or four doors beyond Burroughs and Burroughs, the solicitors."
The gate into Holborn had to be opened for me, but the gate-keeper had not seen me on my previous entrance and exit afoot through the postern. It was when we drove under the further arch into the actual square that I pressed my head hard against the back of the hansom, and turned my face towards Field Court. The enemy might have abandoned their position, they might meet me face to face as I landed on the pavement; that was my risk, and I ran it without disaster. We passed the only house with an outer door to it in the square (now there is none), and on the plate beside it I read BURROUGHS AND BURROUGHS with a thrill. Up went my stick; my shilling (with a peculiarly superfluous sixpence for luck) I thrust through the trap with the other hand; and I was across the pavement, and on the stairs four clear doors beyond the lawyer's office, before the driver had begun to turn his horse.