"I felt you'd swindled me," he quavered out "And I thought—I'd swindle—you."
"Bravo!" cried Raffles. "That's the first honest thing you've said; let me tell you, for your encouragement, that it reduces your punishment by twenty-five per cent. You will, nevertheless, pay a fine of fifteen hundred pounds for your latest little effort in low treason."
Though not unprepared for some such ultimatum, I must own I heard it with dismay. On all sorts of grounds, some of them as unworthy as itself, this last demand failed to meet with my approval; and I determined to expostulate with Raffles before it was too late. Meanwhile I hid my feelings as best I could, and admired the spirit with which Dan Levy expressed his.
"I'll see you damned first!" he cried. "It's blackmail!"
"Guineas," said Raffles, "for contempt of court."
And more to my surprise than ever, not a little indeed to my secret disappointment, our captive speedily collapsed again, whimpering, moaning, gnashing his teeth, and clutching at the Red Ensign, with closed eyes and distorted face, so much as though he were about to have a fit that I caught up the half-bottle of champagne, and began removing the wire at a nod from Raffles.
"Don't cut the string just yet," he added, however, with an eye on Levy—who instantly opened his.
"I'll pay up!" he whispered, feebly yet eagerly. "It serves me right. I promise I'll pay up!"
"Good!" said Raffles. "Here's your own cheque-book from your own room, and here's my fountain pen."
"You won't take my word?"
"It's quite enough to have to take your cheque; it should have been hard cash."
"So it shall be, Raffles, if you come up with me to my office!"
"I dare say."
"To my bank, then!"
"I prefer to go alone. You will kindly make it an open cheque payable to bearer."
The fountain pen was poised over the chequebook, but only because I had placed it in Levy's fingers, and was holding the cheque-book under them.
"And what if I refuse?" he demanded, with a last flash of his native spirit.
"We shall say good-bye, and give you until to-night."
"All day to call for help in!" muttered Levy, all but to himself.
"Do you happen to know where you are?" Raffles asked him.
"No, but I can find out."
"If you knew already you would also know that you might call till you were black in the face; but to keep you in blissful ignorance you will be bound a good deal more securely than you are at present. And to spare your poor voice you will also be very thoroughly gagged."
Levy took remarkably little notice of either threat or gibe.
"And if I give in and sign?" said he, after a pause.
"You will remain exactly as you are, with one of us to keep you company, while the other goes up to town to cash your cheque. You can't expect me to give you a chance of stopping it, you know."
This, again, struck me as a hard condition, if only prudent when one came to think of it from our point of view; still, it took even me by surprise, and I expected Levy to fling away the pen in disgust. He balanced it, however, as though also weighing the two alternatives very carefully in his mind, and during his deliberations his bloodshot eyes wandered from Raffles to me and back again to Raffles. In a word, the latest prospect appeared to disturb Mr. Levy less than, for obvious reasons, it did me. Certainly for him it was the lesser of the two evils, and as such he seemed to accept it when he finally wrote out the cheque for fifteen hundred guineas (Raffles insisting on these), and signed it firmly before sinking back as though exhausted by the effort.
Raffles was as good as his word about the champagne now: dram by dram he poured the whole pint into the cup belonging to his flask, and dram by dram our prisoner tossed it off, but with closed eyes, like a delirious invalid, and towards the end, with a head so heavy that Raffles had to raise it from the rolled flag, though foul talons still came twitching out for more. It was an unlovely process, I will confess; but what was a pint, as Raffles said? At any rate I could bear him out that these potations had not been hocussed, and Raffles whispered the same for the flask which he handed me with Levy's revolver at the head of the wooden stairs.
"I'm coming down," said I, "for a word with you in the room below."
Raffles looked at me with open eyes, then more narrowly at the red lids of Levy, and finally at his own watch.
"Very well, Bunny, but I must cut and run for my train in about a minute. There's a 9.24 which would get me to the bank before eleven, and back here by one or two."
"Why go to the bank at all?" I asked him point-blank in the lower room.
"To cash his cheque before he has a chance of stopping it. Would you like to go instead of me, Bunny?"
"No, thank you!"
"Well, don't get hot about it; you've got the better billet of the two."
"The softer one, perhaps."
"Infinitely, Bunny, with the old bird full of his own champagne, and his own revolver in your pocket or your hand! The worst he can do is to start yelling out, and I really do believe that not a soul would hear him if he did. The gardeners are always at work on the other side of the main road. A passing boatload is the only danger, and I doubt if even they would hear."
"My billet's all right," said I, valiantly. "It's yours that worries me."
"Mine!" cried Raffles, with an almost merry laugh. "My dear, good Bunny, you may make your mind easy about my little bit! Of course, it'll take some doing at the bank. I don't say it's a straight part there. But trust me to play it on my head."
"Raffles," I said, in a low voice that may have trembled, "it's not a part for you to play at all! I don't mean the little bit at the bank. I mean this whole blackmailing part of the business. It's not like you, Raffles. It spoils the whole thing!"
I had got it off my chest without a hitch. But so far Raffles had not discouraged me. There was a look on his face which even made me think that he agreed with me in his heart. Both hardened as he thought it over.
"It's Levy who's spoilt the whole thing," he rejoined obdurately in the end. "He's been playing me false all the time, and he's got to pay for it."
"But you never meant to make anything out of him, A.J.!"
"Well, I do now, and I've told you why. Why shouldn't I?"
"Because it's not your game!" I cried, with all the eager persuasion in my power. "Because it's the sort of thing Dan Levy would do himself—it's his game, all right—it simply drags you down to his level—"
But there he stopped me with a look, and not the kind of look I often had from Raffles, It was no new feat of mine to make him angry, scornful, bitterly cynical or sarcastic. This, however, was a look of pain and even shame, as though he had suddenly seen himself in a new and peculiarly unlovely light.
"Down to it!" he exclaimed, with an irony that was not for me. "As though there could be a much lower level than mine! Do you know, Bunny, I sometimes think my moral sense is ahead of yours?"
I could have laughed outright; but the humour that was the salt of him seemed suddenly to have gone out of Raffles.
"I know what I am," said he, "but I'm afraid you're getting a hopeless villain-worshipper!"
"It's not the villain I care about," I answered, meaning every word. "It's the sportsman behind the villain, as you know perfectly well."
"I know the villain behind the sportsman rather better," replied Raffles, laughing when I least expected it. "But you're by way of forgetting his existence altogether. I shouldn't wonder if some day you wrote me up into a heavy hero, Bunny, and made me turn in my quicklime! Let this remind you what I always was and shall be to the end."
And he took my hand, as I fondly hoped in surrender to my appeal to those better feelings which I knew I had for once succeeded in quickening within him.
But it was only to bid me a mischievous goodbye, ere he ran down the spiral stair, leaving me to listen till I lost his feathery foot-falls in the base of the tower, and then to mount guard over my tethered, handcuffed, somnolent, and yet always formidable prisoner at the top.
Watch and Ward
I well remember, as I set reluctant foot upon the wooden stair, taking a last and somewhat lingering look at the dust and dirt of the lower chamber, as one who knew not what might happen before he saw it again. The stain as of red rust in the lavatory basin, the gritty deposit in the bath, the verdigris on all the taps, the foul opacity of the windows, are among the trivialities that somehow stamped themselves upon my mind. One of the windows was open at the top, had been so long open that the aperture was curtained with cobwebs at each extremity, but in between I got quite a poignant picture of the Thames as I went upstairs. It was only a sinuous perspective of sunlit ripples twinkling between wooded gardens and open meadows, a fisherman or two upon the tow-path, a canoe in mid-stream, a gaunt church crowning all against the sky. But inset in such surroundings it was like a flash from a magic-lantern in a coal-cellar. And very loth was I to exchange that sunny peep for an indefinite prospect of my prisoner's person at close quarters.
Yet the first stage of my vigil proved such a sinecure as to give me some confidence for all the rest. Dan Levy opened neither his lips nor his eyes at my approach, but lay on his back with the Red Ensign drawn up to his chin, and the peaceful countenance of profound oblivion. I remember taking a good look at him, and thinking that his face improved remarkably in repose, that in death he might look fine. The forehead was higher and broader than I had realised, the thick lips were firm enough now, but the closing of the crafty little eyes was the greatest gain of all. On the whole, not only a better but a stronger face than it had been all the morning, a more formidable face by far. But the man had fallen asleep in his bonds, and forgotten them; he would wake up abject enough; if not, I had the means to reduce him to docility. Meanwhile, I was in no hurry to show my power, but stole on tiptoe to the locker, and took my seat by inches.
Levy did not move a muscle. No sound escaped him either, and somehow or other I should have expected him to snore; indeed, it might have come as a relief, for the silence of the tower soon got upon my nerves. It was not a complete silence; that was (and always is) the worst of it. The wooden stairs creaked more than once; there were little rattlings, faint and distant, as of a dried leaf or a loose window, in the bowels of the house; and though nothing came of any of these noises, except a fresh period of tension on my part, they made the skin act on my forehead every time. Then I remember a real anxiety over a blue-bottle, that must have come in through the open window just below, for suddenly it buzzed into my ken and looked like attacking Levy on the spot. Somehow I slew it with less noise than the brute itself was making; and not until after that breathless achievement did I realise how anxious I was to keep my prisoner asleep. Yet I had the revolver, and he lay handcuffed and bound down! It was in the next long silence that I became sensitive to another sound which indeed I had heard at intervals already, only to dismiss it from my mind as one of the signs of extraneous life which were bound to penetrate even to the top of my tower. It was a slow and regular beat, as of a sledge-hammer in a distant forge, or some sort of machinery only audible when there was absolutely nothing else to be heard. It could hardly be near at hand, for I could not hear it properly unless I held my breath. Then, however, it was always there, a sound that never ceased or altered, so that in the end I sat and listened to it and nothing else. I was not even looking at Levy when he asked me if I knew what it was.
His voice was quiet and civil enough, but it undoubtedly made me jump, and that brought a malicious twinkle into the little eyes that looked as though they had been studying me at their leisure. They were perhaps less violently bloodshot than before, the massive features calm and strong as they had been in slumber or its artful counterfeit.
"I thought you were asleep?" I snapped, and knew better for certain before he spoke.
"You see, that pint o' pop did me prouder than intended," he explained. "It's made a new man o' me, you'll be sorry to 'ear."
I should have been sorrier to believe it, but I did not say so, or anything else just then. The dull and distant beat came back to the ear. And Levy again inquired if I knew what it was.
"Do you?" I demanded.
"Rather!" he replied, with cheerful certitude. "It's the clock, of course."
"The one on the tower, a bit lower down, facing the road."
"How do you know?" I demanded, with uneasy credulity.
"My good young man," said Dan Levy, "I know the face of that clock as well as I know the inside of this tower."
"Then you do know where you are!" I cried, in such surprise that Levy grinned in a way that ill became a captive.
"Why," said he, "I sold the last tenant up, and nearly took the 'ouse myself instead o' the place I got. It was what first attracted me to the neighhour'ood."
"Why couldn't you tell us the truth before?" I demanded, but my warmth merely broadened his grin.
"Why should I? It sometimes pays to seem more at a loss than you are."
"It won't in this case," said I through my teeth. But for all my austerity, and all his bonds, the prisoner continued to regard me with quiet but most disquieting amusement.
"I'm not so sure of that," he observed at length. "It rather paid, to my way of thinking, when Raffles went off to cash my cheque, and left you to keep an eye on me."
"Oh, did it!" said I, with pregnant emphasis, and my right hand found comfort in my jacket pocket, on the butt of the old brute's own weapon.
"I only mean," he rejoined, in a more conciliatory voice, "that you strike me as being more open to reason than your flash friend."
I said nothing to that.
"On the other 'and," continued Levy, still more deliberately, as though he really was comparing us in his mind; "on the other hand" stooping to pick up what he had dropped, "you don't take so many risks. Raffles takes so many that he's bound to land you both in the jug some day, if he hasn't done it this time. I believe he has, myself. But it's no use hollering before you're out o' the wood."
I agreed, with more confidence than I felt.
"Yet I wonder he never thought of it," my prisoner went on as if to himself.
"Thought of what?"
"Only the clock. He must've seen it before, if you never did; you don't tell me this little bit o' kidnapping was a sudden idea! It's all been thought out and the ground gone over, and the clock seen, as I say. Seen going. Yet it never strikes our flash friend that a going clock's got to be wound up once a week, and it might be as well to find out which day!"
"How do you know he didn't?"
"Because this 'appens to be the day!"
And Levy lay back in the bunk with the internal chuckle that I was beginning to know so well, but had little thought to hear from him in his present predicament. It galled me the more because I felt that Raffles would certainly not have heard it in my place. But at least I had the satisfaction of flatly and profanely refusing to believe the prisoner's statement.
"That be blowed for a bluff!" was more or less what I said. "It's too much of a coincidence to be anything else."
"The odds are only six to one against it," said Levy, indifferently. "One of you takes them with his eyes open. It seems rather a pity that the other should feel bound to follow him to certain ruin. But I suppose you know your own business best."
"At all events," I boasted, "I know better than to be bluffed by the most obvious lie I ever heard in my life. You tell me how you know about the man coming to wind the clock, and I may listen to you."
"I know because I know the man; little Scotchman he is, nothing to run away from—though he looks as hard as nails—what there is of him," said Levy, in a circumstantial and impartial flow that could not but carry some conviction. "He comes over from Kingston every Tuesday on his bike; some time before lunch he comes, and sees to my own clocks on the same trip. That's how I know. But you needn't believe me if you don't like."
"And where exactly does he come to wind this clock? I see nothing that can possibly have to do with it up here."
"No," said Levy; "he comes no higher than the floor below." I seemed to remember a kind of cupboard at the head of the spiral stair. "But that's near enough."
"You mean that we shall hear him?"
"And he us!" added Levy, with unmistakable determination.
"Look here, Mr. Levy," said I, showing him his own revolver, "if we do hear anybody, I shall hold this to your head, and if he does hear us I shall blow out your beastly brains!"
The mere feeling that I was, perhaps, the last person capable of any such deed enabled me to grind out this shocking threat in a voice worthy of it, and with a face, I hoped, not less in keeping. It was all the more mortifying when Dan Levy treated my tragedy as farce; in fact, if anything could have made me as bad as my word, it would have been the guttural laugh with which he greeted it.
"Excuse me," said he, dabbing his red eyes with the edge of the red bunting, "but the thought of your letting that thing off in order to preserve silence—why, it's as droll as your whole attempt to play the cold-blooded villain—you!"
"I shall play him to some purpose," I hissed, "if you drive me to it. I laid you out last night, remember, and for two pins I'll do the same thing again this morning. So now you know."
"That wasn't in cold blood," said Levy, rolling his head from side to side; "that was when the lot of us were brawling in our cups. I don't count that. You're in a false position, my dear sir. I don't mean last night or this morning—though I can see that you're no brigand or blackmailer at bottom—and I shouldn't wonder if you never forgave Raffles for letting you in for this partic'lar part of this partic'lar job. But that isn't what I mean. You've got in with a villain, but you ain't one yourself; that's where you're in the false position. He's the magsman, you're only the swell. I can see that. But the judge won't. You'll both get served the same, and in your case it'll be a thousand shames!"
He had propped himself on one elbow, and was speaking eagerly, persuasively, with almost a fatherly solicitude; yet I felt that both his words and their effect on me were being weighed and measured with meticulous discretion. And I encouraged him with a countenance as deliberately rueful and depressed, to an end which had only occurred to me with the significance of his altered tone.
"I can't help it," I muttered. "I must go through with the whole thing now."
"Why must you?" demanded Levy. "You've been led into a job that's none of your business, on be'alf of folks who're no friends of yours, and the job's developed into a serious crime, and the crime's going to be found out before you're an hour older. Why go through with it to certain quod?"
"There's nothing else for it," I answered, with a sulky resignation, though my pulse was quick with eagerness for what I felt was coming.
And then it came.
"Why not get out of the whole thing," suggested Levy, boldly, "before it's too late?"
"How can I?" said I, to lead him on with a more explicit proposition.
"By first releasing me, and then clearing out yourself!"
I looked at him as though this was certainly an idea, as though I were actually considering it in spite of myself and Raffles; and his eagerness fed upon my apparent indecision. He held up his fettered hands, begging and cajoling me to remove his handcuffs, and I, instead of telling him it was not in my power to do so until Raffles returned, pretended to hesitate on quite different grounds.
"It's all very well," I said, "but are you going to make it worth my while?"
"Certainly!" cried he. "Give me my chequebook out of my own pocket, where you were good enough to stow it before that blackguard left, and I'll write you one cheque for a hundred now, and another for another hundred before I leave this tower."
"You really will?" I temporised.
"I swear it!" he asseverated; and I still believe he might have kept his word about that. But now I knew where he had been lying to me, and now was the time to let him know I knew it.
"Two hundred pounds," said I, "for the liberty you are bound to get for nothing, as you yourself have pointed out, when the man turns up to wind the clock? A couple of hundred to save less than a couple of hours?"
Levy changed colour as he saw his mistake, and his eyes flashed with sudden fury; otherwise his self-command was only less admirable than his presence of mind.
"It wasn't to save time," said he; "it was to save my face in the neighbourhood. The well-known money-lender found bound and handcuffed in an empty house! It means the first laugh at my expense, whoever has the last laugh. But you're quite right; it wasn't worth two hundred golden sovereigns. Let them laugh! At any rate you and your flash friend'll be laughing on the wrong side of your mouths before the day's out. So that's all there is to it, and you'd better start screwing up your courage if you want to do me in! I did mean to give you another chance in life—but by God I wouldn't now if you were to go down on your knees for one!"
Considering that he was bound and I was free, that I was armed and he defenceless, there was perhaps more humour than the prisoner saw in his picture of me upon my knees to him. Not that I saw it all at once myself. I was too busy wondering whether there could be anything in his clock-winding story after all. Certainly it was inconsistent with the big bribe offered for his immediate freedom; but it was with something more than mere adroitness that the money-lender had reconciled the two things. In his place I should have been no less anxious to keep my humiliating experience a secret from the world; with his means I could conceive myself prepared to pay as dearly for such secrecy. On the other hand, if his idea was to stop the huge cheque already given to Raffles, then there was indeed no time to be lost, and the only wonder was that Levy should have waited so long before making overtures to me.
Raffles had now been gone a very long time, as it seemed to me, but my watch had run down, and the clock on the tower did not strike. Why they kept it going at all was a mystery to me; but now that Dan Levy was lying still again, with set teeth and inexorable eyes, I heard it beating out the seconds more than ever like a distant sledgehammer, and sixty of these I counted up into a minute of such portentous duration that what had seemed many hours to me might easily have been less than one. I only knew that the sun, which had begun by pouring in at one port-hole and out at the other, which had bathed the prisoner in his bunk about the time of his trial by Raffles, now crowned me with fire if I sat upon the locker, and made its varnish sticky if I did not. The atmosphere of the place was fast becoming unendurable in its unwholesome heat and sour stagnation. I sat in my shirt-sleeves at the top of the stairs, where one got such air as entered by the open window below. Levy had kicked off his covering of scarlet bunting, with a sudden oath which must have been the only sound within the tower for an hour at least; all the rest of the time he lay with fettered fists clenched upon his breast, with fierce eyes fixed upon the top of the bunk, and something about the whole man that I was forced to watch, something indomitable and intensely alert, a curious suggestion of smouldering fires on the point of leaping into flame.
I feared this man in my heart of hearts. I may as well admit it frankly. It was not that he was twice my size, for I had the like advantage in point of years; it was not that I had any reason to distrust the strength of his bonds or the efficacy of the weapon in my possession. It was a question of personality, not of material advantage or disadvantage, or of physical fear at all. It was simply the spirit of the man that dominated mine. I felt that my mere flesh and blood would at any moment give a good account of his, as well they might with the odds that were on my side. Yet that did not lessen the sense of subtle and essential inferiority, which grew upon my nerves with almost every minute of that endless morning, and made me long for the relief of physical contest even on equal terms. I could have set the old ruffian free, and thrown his revolver out of the window, and then said to him, "Come on! Your weight against my age, and may the devil take the worse man!" Instead, I must sit glaring at him to mask my qualms. And after much thinking about the kind of conflict that could never be, in the end came one of a less heroic but not less desperate type, before there was time to think at all.
Levy had raised his head, ever so little, but yet enough for my vigilance. I saw him listening. I listened too. And down below in the core of the tower I heard, or thought I heard, a step like a feather, and then after some moments another. But I had spent those moments in gazing instinctively down the stair; it was the least rattle of the handcuffs that brought my eyes like lightning back to the bunk; and there was Levy with hollow palms about his mouth, and his mouth wide open for the roar that my own palms stifled in his throat.
Indeed, I had leapt upon him once more like a fiend, and for an instant I enjoyed a shameful advantage; it can hardly have lasted longer. The brute first bit me through the hand, so that I carry his mark to this day; then, with his own hands, he took me by the throat, and I thought that my last moments were come. He squeezed so hard that I thought my windpipe must burst, thought my eyes must leave their sockets. It was the grip of a gorilla, and it was accompanied by a spate of curses and the grin of a devil incarnate. All my dreams of equal combat had not prepared me for superhuman power on his part, such utter impotence on mine. I tried to wrench myself from his murderous clasp, and was nearly felled by the top of the bunk. I hurled myself out sideways, and out he came after me, tearing down the peg to which his handcuffs were tethered; that only gave him the better grip upon my throat, and he never relaxed it for an instant, scrambling to his feet when I staggered to mine, for by them alone was he fast now to the banisters.
Meanwhile I was feeling in an empty pocket for his revolver, which had fallen out as we struggled on the floor. I saw it there now with my starting eyeballs, kicked about by our shuffling feet. I tried to make a dive for it, but Levy had seen it also, and he kicked it through the banisters without relaxing his murderous hold. I could have sworn afterwards that I heard the weapon fall with a clatter on the wooden stairs. But what I still remember hearing most distinctly (and feeling hot upon my face) is the stertorous breathing that was unbroken by a single syllable after the first few seconds.
It was a brutal encounter, not short and sharp like the one over-night, but horribly protracted. Nor was all the brutality by any means on one side; neither will I pretend that I was getting much more than my deserts in the defeat that threatened to end in my extinction. Not for an instant had my enemy loosened his deadly clutch, and now he had me penned against the banisters, and my one hope was that they would give way before our united weight, and precipitate us both into the room below. That would be better than being slowly throttled, even if it were only a better death. Other chance there was none, and I was actually trying to fling myself over, beating the air with both hands wildly, when one of them closed upon the butt of the revolver that I thought had been kicked into the room below!
I was too far gone to realise that a miracle had happened—to be so much as puzzled by it then. But I was not too far gone to use that revolver, and to use it as I would have done on cool reflection. I thrust it under my opponent's armpit, and I fired through into space. The report was deafening. It did its work. Levy let go of me, and staggered back as though I had really shot him. And that instant I was brandishing his weapon in his face.
"You tried to shoot me! You tried to shoot me!" he gasped twice over through a livid mask.
"No, I didn't!" I panted. "I tried to frighten you, and I jolly well succeeded! But I'll shoot you like a dog if you don't get back to your kennel and lie down."
He sat and gasped upon the side of the bunk. There was no more fight in him. His very lips were blue. I put the pistol back in my pocket, and retracted my threat in a sudden panic.
"There! It's your own fault if you so much as see it again," I promised him, in a breathless disorder only second to his own.
"But you jolly nearly strangled me. And now we're a pretty pair!"
His hands grasped the edge of the bunk, and he leant his weight on them, breathing very hard. It might have been an attack of asthma, or it might have been a more serious seizure, but it was a case for stimulants if ever I saw one, and in the nick of time I remembered the flask that Raffles had left with me. It was the work of a very few seconds to pour out a goodly ration, and of but another for Daniel Levy to toss off the raw spirit like water. He was begging for more before I had helped myself. And more I gave him in the end; for it was no small relief to me to watch the leaden hue disappearing from the flabby face, and the laboured breathing gradually subside, even if it meant a renewal of our desperate hostilities.
But all that was at an end; the man was shaken to the core by his perfectly legitimate attempt at my destruction. He looked dreadfully old and hideous as he got bodily back into the bunk of his own accord. There, when I had yielded to his further importunities, and the flask was empty, he fell at length into a sleep as genuine as the last was not; and I was still watching over the poor devil, keeping the flies off him, and sometimes fanning him with a flag, less perhaps from humane motives than to keep him quiet as long as possible, when Raffles returned to light up the tableau like a sinister sunbeam.
Raffles had had his own adventures in town, and I soon had reason to feel thankful that I had not gone up instead of him. It seemed he had foreseen from the first the possibility of trouble at the bank over a large and absolutely open cheque. So he had gone first to the Chelsea studio in which he played the painter who never painted but kept a whole wardrobe of disguises for the models he never hired. Thence he had issued on this occasion in the living image of a well-known military man about town who was also well known to be a client of Dan Levy's. Raffles said the cashier stared at him, but the cheque was cashed without a word. The unfortunate part of it was that in returning to his cab he had encountered an acquaintance both of his own and of the spendthrift soldier, and had been greeted evidently in the latter capacity.
"It was a jolly difficult little moment, Bunny. I had to say there was some mistake, and I had to remember to say it in a manner equally unlike my own and the other beggar's! But all's well that ends well; and if you'll do exactly what I tell you I think we may flatter ourselves that a happy issue is at last in sight."
"What am I to do now?" I asked with some misgiving.
"Clear out of this, Bunny, and wait for me in town. You've done jolly well, old fellow, and so have I in my own department of the game. Everything's in order, down to those fifteen hundred guineas which are now concealed about my person in as hard cash as I can carry. I've seen old Garland and given him back his promissory note myself, with Levy's undertaking about the mortgage. It was a pretty trying interview, as you can understand; but I couldn't help wondering what the poor old boy would say if he dreamt what sort of pressure I've been applying on his behalf! Well, it's all over now except our several exits from the surreptitious stage. I can't make mine without our sleeping partner, but you would really simplify matters, Bunny, by not waiting for us."
There was a good deal to be said for such a course, though it went not a little against my grain. Raffles had changed his clothes and had a bath in town, to say nothing of his luncheon. I was by this time indescribably dirty and dishevelled, besides feeling fairly famished now that mental relief allowed a thought for one's lower man. Raffles had foreseen my plight, and had actually prepared a way of escape for me by the front door in broad daylight. I need not recapitulate the elaborate story he had told the caretaking gardener across the road; but he had borrowed the gardener's keys as a probable purchaser of the property, who had to meet his builder and a business friend at the house during the course of the afternoon. I was to be the builder, and in that capacity to give the gardener an ingenious message calculated to leave Raffles and Levy in uninterrupted possession until my return. And of course I was never to return at all.
The whole thing seemed to me a super-subtle means to a far simpler end than the one we had achieved by stealth in the dead of the previous night. But it was Raffles all over and I ultimately acquiesced, on the understanding that we were to meet again in the Albany at seven o'clock, preparatory to dining somewhere in final celebration of the whole affair.
But much was to happen before seven o'clock, and it began happening. I shook the dust of that derelict tower from my feet; for one of them trod on something at the darkest point of the descent; and the thing went tinkling down ahead on its own account, until it lay shimmering in the light on a lower landing, where I picked it up.
Now I had not said much to Raffles about my hitherto inexplicable experience with the revolver, when I thought it had gone through the banisters, but found it afterwards in my hand. Raffles said it would not have gone through, that I must have been all but over the banisters myself when I grasped the butt as it protruded through them on the level of the floor. This he said (like many another thing) as though it made an end of the matter. But it was not the end of the matter in my own mind; and now I could have told him what the explanation was, or at least to what conclusion I had jumped. I had half a mind to climb all the way up again on purpose to put him in the wrong upon the point. Then I remembered how anxious he had seemed to get rid of me, and for other reasons also I decided to let him wait a bit for his surprise.
Meanwhile my own plans were altered, and when I had delivered my egregious message to the gardener across the road, I sought the nearest shops on my way to the nearest station; and at one of the shops I got me a clean collar, at another a tooth-brush; and all I did at the station was to utilise my purchases in the course of such scanty toilet as the lavatory accommodation would permit.
A few minutes later I was inquiring my way to a house which it took me another twenty or twenty-five to find.
A Secret Service
This house also was on the river, but it was very small bricks-and-mortar compared with the other two. One of a semi-detached couple built close to the road, with narrow strips of garden to the river's brim, its dingy stucco front and its green Venetian blinds conveyed no conceivable attraction beyond that of a situation more likely to prove a drawback three seasons out of the four. The wooden gate had not swung home behind me before I was at the top of a somewhat dirty flight of steps, contemplating blistered paint and ground glass fit for a bathroom window, and listening to the last reverberations of an obsolete type of bell. There was indeed something oppressively and yet prettily Victorian about the riparian retreat to which Lady Laura Belsize had retired in her impoverished widowhood.
It was not for Lady Laura that I asked, however, but for Miss Belsize, and the almost slatternly maid really couldn't say whether Miss Belsize was in or whether she wasn't. She might be in the garden, or she might be on the river. Would I step inside and wait a minute? I would and did, but it was more minutes than one that I was kept languishing in an interior as dingy as the outside of the house. I had time to take the whole thing in. There were massive remnants of deservedly unfashionable furniture. The sofa I can still see in my mind's eye, and the steel fire-irons, and the crystal chandelier. An aged and gigantic Broadwood occupied nearly half the room; and in a cheap frame thereon, inviting all sorts of comparisons and contrasts, stood a full-length portrait of Camilla Belsize resplendent in contemporary court kit.
I was still studying that frankly barbaric paraphernalia—the feather, the necklace, the coiled train—and wondering what noble kinsman had come to the rescue for the great occasion, and why Camilla should have looked so bored with her finery, when the door opened and she herself entered—not even very smartly dressed—and looking anything but bored, although I say it.
But she did seem astonished, anxious, indignant, reproachful, and to my mind still more nervous and distressed, though this hardly showed through the loopholes of her pride. And as for her white serge coat and skirt, they looked as though they had seen considerable service on the river, and I immediately perceived that one of the large enamel buttons was missing from the coat.
Up to that moment, I may now confess, I had been suffering from no slight nervous anxiety of my own. But all qualms were lost in sheer excitement when I spoke.
"You may well wonder at this intrusion," I began. "But I thought this must be yours, Miss Belsize."
And from my waistcoat pocket I produced the missing button of enamel.
"Where did you find it?" inquired Miss Belsize, with an admirably slight increase of astonishment in voice and look. "And how did you know it was mine?" came quickly in the next breath.
"I didn't know," I answered. "I guessed. It was the shot of my life!"
"But you don't say where you found it?"
"In an empty house not far from here."
She had held her breath; now I felt it like the lightest zephyr. And quite unconsciously I had retained the enamel button.
"Well, Mr. Manders? I'm very much obliged to you. But may I have it back again?"
I returned her property. We had been staring at each other all the time. I stared still harder as she repeated her perfunctory thanks.
"So it was you!" I said, and was sorry to see her looking purposely puzzled at that, but thankful when the reckless light outshone all the rest in those chameleon eyes of hers.
"Who did you think it was?" she asked me with a frosty little smile.
"I didn't know if it was anybody at all. I didn't know what to think," said I, quite candidly. "I simply found his pistol in my hand."
"Good!" she said grimly. "That makes it all the better."
"You saved my life."
"I thought you had taken his—and I'd collaborated!"
There was not a tremor in her voice; it was cautious, eager, daring, intense, but absolutely her own voice now.
"No," I said, "I didn't shoot the fellow, but I made him think I had."
"You made me think so too, until I heard what you said to him."
"Yet you never made a sound yourself."
"I should think not! I made myself scarce instead."
"But, Miss Belsize, I shall go perfectly mad if you don't tell me how you happened to be there at all!"
"Don't you think it's for you to tell me that about yourself and—all of you?"
"Oh, I don't mind which of us fires first!" said I, excitedly.
"Then I will," she said at once, and took me to the dreadful sofa at the inner end of the room, and sat down as though it were the most ordinary experience she had to relate. Nor could I believe the things that had really happened, and all so recently, as we talked them over in that commonplace environment of faded gentility. There was a window behind us, overlooking the ribbon of lawn and the cord of gravel, and the bunch of willows that hedged them from the Thames. It all looked unreal to me, unreal in its very realism as the scene of our incredible conversation.
"You know what happened the other afternoon—I mean the day they couldn't play," began Miss Belsize, "because you were there; and though you didn't stay to hear all that came out afterwards, I expect you know everything now. Mr. Raffles would be sure to tell you; in fact, I heard poor dear Mr. Garland give him leave. It's a dreadful story from every point of view. Nobody comes out of it with flying colours, but what nice person could cope with a horrid money-lender? Mr. Raffles, perhaps—if you call him nice!"
I said that was about the worst thing I called him. I mentioned some of the other things. Miss Belsize listened to them with exemplary patience.
"Well," she resumed, "he was quite nice about this. I will say that for him. He said he knew Mr. Levy pretty well, and would see what could be done. But he spoke like an executioner who was going to see what could be done with the condemned man! And all the time I was wondering what had been done already at Carlsbad—what exactly that horrid creature meant when he was talking at Mr. Raffles before us all. Well, of course, I knew what he meant us to think he meant; but was there, could there be, anything in it?"
Miss Belsize looked at me as though she expected an answer, only to stop me the moment I opened my mouth to speak.
"I don't want to know, Mr. Manders! Of course you know all about Mr. Raffles"—there was a touch of feeling in this—"but it's nothing to me, though in this case I should certainly have been on his side. You said yourself that it could only have been a practical joke, if there was anything in it at all, and so I tried to think in spite of those horrid men who were following him about at Lord's, even in spite of the way he vanished with them after him. But he never came near the match again—though he had travelled all the way from Carlsbad to see it! Why had he ever been there? What had he really done there? And what could he possibly do to rescue anybody from Mr. Levy, if he himself was already in Levy's power?"
"You don't know Raffles," said I, promptly enough this time. "He never was in any man's power for many minutes. I would back him to save the most desperate situation you could devise."
"You mean by some desperate deed? That's what I feared," declared Miss Belsize, rather strenuously. "Something really had happened at Carlsbad; something worse was by way of happening next. For Teddy's sake," she whispered, "and his poor father's!"
I agreed that old Raffles stuck at nothing for his friends, and Miss Belsize again said that was what she had feared. Her tone had completely altered about Raffles, as well it might. I thought it would have broken with gratitude when she spoke of the unlucky father and son.
"And I was right!" she exclaimed, with that other kind of feeling to which I found it harder to put a name. "I came home miserable from the match on Saturday—"
"Though Teddy had done so well!" I was fool enough to interject.
"I couldn't help thinking about Mr. Raffles," replied Camilla, with a flash of her frank eyes, "and wondering, and wondering, what had happened. And then on Sunday I saw him on the river."
"He didn't tell me."
"He didn't know I recognised him; he was disguised—absolutely!" said Camilla Belsize under her breath. "But he couldn't disguise himself from me," she added as though glorying in her perspicacity.
"Did you tell him so, Miss Belsize?"
"Not I, indeed! I didn't speak to him; it was no business of mine. But there he was, at the bottom of Mr. Levy's garden, having a good look at the boathouse when nobody was about. Why? What could his object be? And why disguise himself? I thought of the affair at Carlsbad, and I felt certain that something of the kind was going to happen again!"
"What could I do? Should I do anything at all? Was it any business of mine? You may imagine the way I cross-questioned myself, and you may imagine the crooked answers I got! I won't bore you with the psychology of the thing; it's pretty obvious after all. It was not so much a case of doing the best as of knowing the worst. All day yesterday there were no developments of any sort, and there was no sign of Mr. Raffles; nothing had happened in the night, or we should have heard of it; but that made me all the more certain that something or other would happen last night. The week's grace was nearly up—you know what I mean—their last week at their own house. If anything was to be done, it was about time, and I knew Mr. Raffles was going to do something. I wanted to know what—that was all."
"Quite right, too!" I murmured. But I doubt if Miss Belsize heard me; she was in no need of my encouragement or my approval. The old light—her own light—the reckless light—was burning away in her brilliant eyes!
"The night before," she went on, "I hardly slept a wink; last night I preferred not to go to bed at all. I told you I sometimes did weird things that astonished the natives of these suburban shores. Well, last night, if it wasn't early this morning, I made my weirdest effort yet. I have a canoe, you know; just now I almost live in it. Last night I went out unbeknowns after midnight, partly to reassure myself, partly—I beg your pardon, Mr. Manders?"
"I didn't speak."
"Your face shouted!"
"I'd rather you went on."
"But if you know what I'm going to say?"
Of course I knew, but I dragged it from her none the less. The nebulous white-shirted figure in the canoe, that had skimmed past Dan Levy's frontage as we were trying to get him aboard his own pleasure-boat, and again past the empty house when we were in the act of disembarking him there, that figure was the trim and slim one now at my side. She had seen us—searched for us—each time. Our voices she had heard and recognised; only our actions, or rather that midnight deed of ours, had she misinterpreted. She would not admit it to me, but I still believe she feared it was a dead body that we had shipped at dead of night to hide away in that desolate tower.
Yet I cannot think she thought it in her heart. I rather fancy (what she indeed averred) that some vague inkling of the truth flashed across her at least as often as that monstrous hypothesis. But know she must; therefore, after boldly ascertaining that nothing was known of the master's whereabouts at Levy's house, but that no uneasiness was entertained on his account, this young woman, true to the audacity which I had seen in her eyes from the first, had taken the still bolder step of landing on the rank lawn and entering the empty tower to discover its secret, for herself. Her stealthy step upon the spiral stair had been the signal for my mortal struggle with Dan Levy. She had heard the whole, and even seen a little of that; in fact, she had gathered enough from Levy's horrible imprecations to form later a rough but not incorrect impression of the situation between him and Raffles and me. As for the moneylender's language, it was with a welcome gleam of humour that Miss Belsize assured me she had "gone too straight to hounds" in her time to be as completely paralysed by it as her mother's neighbours might have been. And as for the revolver, it had fallen at her feet, and first she thought I was going to follow it over the banisters, and before she could think again she had restored the weapon to my wildly clutching hand!
"But when you fired I felt a murderess," she said. "So you see I misjudged you for the second time."
If I am conveying a dash of flippancy in our talk, let me earnestly declare that it was hardly even a dash. It was but a wry and rueful humour on the girl's part, and that only towards the end, but I can promise my worst critic that I was never less facetious in my life. I was thinking in my heavy way that I had never looked into such eyes as these, so bold, so sad, so merry with it all! I was thinking that I had never listened to such a voice, or come across recklessness and sentiment so harmonised, save also in her eyes! I was thinking that there never was a girl to touch Camilla Belsize, or a man either except A. J. Raffles! And yet—
And yet it was over Raffles that she took all the wind from my sails, exactly as she had done at Lord's, only now she did it at parting, and sent me off into the dusk a slightly puzzled and exceedingly exasperated man.
"Of course," said Camilla at her garden gate, "of course you won't repeat a word of what I've told you, Mr. Manders?"
"You mean about your adventures last night and to-day?" said I, somewhat taken aback.
"I mean every single thing we've talked about!" was her sweeping reply. "Not a syllable must go an inch further; otherwise I shall be very sorry I ever spoke to you."
As though she had come and confided in me of her own accord! But I passed that, even if I noticed it at the time.
"I won't tell a soul, of course," I said, and fidgeted. "That is—except—I suppose you don't mind—"
"I do! There must be no exceptions."
"Not even old Raffles?"
"Mr. Raffles least of all!" cried Camilla Belsize, with almost a forked flash from those masterful eyes. "Mr. Raffles is the last person in the world who must ever know a single thing."
"Not even that it was you who absolutely saved the situation for him and me?" I asked, wistfully; for I much wanted these two to think better of each other; and it had begun to look as though I had my wish, so far as Camilla was concerned, while I had only to tell Raffles everything to make him her slave for life. But now she was adamant on the point, adamant heated in some hidden flame.
"It's rather hard lines on me, Mr. Manders, if because I go and get excited, and twist off a button in my excitement, as I suppose I must have done—unless it's a judgment on me—it's rather hard lines if you give me away when I never should have given myself away to you!"
This was unkind. It was still more unfair in view of the former passage between us to the same tune. I was evidently getting no credit for my very irksome fidelity. I helped myself to some at once.
"You gave yourself away to me at Lord's all right," said I, cheerfully. "And I never let out a word of that."
"Not even to Mr. Raffles?" she asked, with a quick unguarded intonation that was almost wistful.
"Not a word," was my reply. "Raffles has no idea you noticed anything, much less how keen you were for me to warn him."
Miss Belsize looked at me a moment with civil war in her splendid eyes. Then something won—I think it was only her pride—and she was holding out her hand.
"He must never know a word of this either," said she, firmly as at first. "And I hope you'll forgive me for not trusting you quite as I always shall for the future."
"I'll forgive you everything, Miss Belsize, except your dislike of dear old Raffles!"
I had spoken quite earnestly, keeping her hand; she drew it away as I made my point.
"I don't dislike him," she answered in a strange tone; but with a stranger stress she added, "I don't like him either."
And even then I could not see what the verb should have been, or why Miss Belsize should turn away so quickly in the end, and snatch her eyes away quicker still.
I saw them, and thought of her, all the way back to the station, but not an inch further. So I need no sympathy on that score. If I did, it would have been just the same that July evening, for I saw somebody else and had something else to think about from the moment I set foot upon the platform. It was the wrong platform. I was about to cross by the bridge when a down train came rattling in, and out jumped a man I knew by sight before it stopped.
The man was Mackenzie, the incorrigibly Scotch detective whom we had met at Milchester Abbey, who I always thought had kept an eye on Raffles ever since. He was across the platform before the train pulled up, and I did what Raffles would have done in my place. I ran after him.
"Ye ken Dan Levy's hoose by the river?" I heard him babble to his cabman, with wilful breadth of speech. "Then drive there, mon, like the deevil himsel'!"
The Death of a Sinner
What was I to do? I knew what Raffles would have done; he would have outstripped Mackenzie in his descent upon the moneylender, beaten the cab on foot most probably, and dared Dan Levy to denounce him to the detective. I could see a delicious situation, and Raffles conducting it inimitably to a triumphant issue. But I was not Raffles, and what was more I was due already at his chambers in the Albany. I must have been talking to Miss Belsize by the hour together; to my horror I found it close upon seven by the station clock; and it was some minutes past when I plunged into the first up train. Waterloo was reached before eight, but I was a good hour late at the Albany, and Raffles let me know it in his shirt-sleeves from the window.
"I thought you were dead, Bunny!" he muttered down as though he wished I were. I scaled his staircase at two or three bounds, and began all about Mackenzie in the lobby.
"So soon!" says Raffles, with a mere lift of the eyebrows. "Well, thank God, I was ready for him again."
I now saw that Raffles was not dressing, though he had changed his clothes, and this surprised me for all my breathless preoccupation. But I had the reason at a glance through the folding-doors into his bedroom. The bed was cumbered with clothes and an open suit-case. A Gladstone bag stood strapped and bulging; a travelling rug lay ready for rolling up, and Raffles himself looked out of training in his travelling tweeds.
"Going away?" I ejaculated.
"Rather!" said he, folding a smoking jacket. "Isn't it about time after what you've told me?"
"But you were packing before you knew!"
"Then for God's sake go and do the same yourself!" he cried, "and don't ask questions now. I was beginning to pack enough for us both, but you'll have time to shove in a shirt and collar of your own if you jump straight into a hansom. I'll take the tickets, and we'll meet on the platform at five to nine."
"What platform, Raffles?"
"Charing Cross. Continental train."
"But where the deuce do you think of going?"
"Australia, if you like! We'll discuss it in our flight across Europe."
"Our flight!" I repeated. "What has happened since I left you, Raffles?"
"Look here, Bunny, you go and pack!" was all my answer from a savage face, as I was fairly driven to the door. "Do you realise that you were due here one golden hour ago, and have I asked what happened to you? Then don't you ask rotten questions that there's no time to answer. I'll tell you everything in the train, Bunny."
And my name at the end in a different voice, and his hand for an instant on my shoulder as I passed out, were my only consolation for his truly terrifying behaviour, my only comfort and reassurance of any kind, until we really were off by the night mail from Charing Cross.
Raffles was himself again by that time, I was thankful to find, nor did he betray that dread or expectation of pursuit which would have tallied with his previous manner. He merely looked relieved when the Embankment lights ran right and left in our wake. I remember one of his remarks, that they made the finest necklace in the world when all was said, and another that Big Ben was the Koh-i-noor of the London lights. But he had also a quizzical eye upon the paper bag from which I was endeavouring to make a meal at last. And more than once he wagged his head with a humorous admixture of reproof and sympathy; for with shamefaced admissions and downcast pauses I was allowing him to suppose I had been drinking at some riverside public-house instead of hurrying up to town, but that the rencontre with Mackenzie had served to sober me.
"Poor Bunny! We won't pursue the matter any further; but I do know where we both should have been between seven and eight. It was as nice a little dinner as I ever ordered in my life. And to think that we never turned up to eat a bite of it!"
"Didn't you?" I queried, and my sense of guilt deepened to remorse as Raffles shook his head.
"No fear, Bunny! I wanted to see you safe and sound. That was what made me so stuffy when you did turn up."
Loud were my lamentations, and earnest my entreaties to Raffles to share the contents of my paper bag; but not he. To replace such a feast as he had ordered with sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs would be worse than going healthily hungry for once; it was all very well for me who knew not what I had missed. Not that Raffles was hungry by his own accounts; he had merely fancied a little dinner, more after my heart than his, for our last on British soil.
This, and the way he said it, brought me back to the heart of things; for beneath his frothy phrases I felt that the wine of life was bitter to his taste. His gayety now afforded no truer criterion to his real feelings than had his petulance at the Albany. What had happened since our parting in that fatal tower, to make this wild flight necessary without my news, and whither in all earnest were we to fly?
"Oh, nothing!" said Raffles, in unsatisfactory answer to my first question. "I thought you would have seen that we couldn't clear out too soon after restoring poor Shylock, like our brethren in the song, 'to his friends and his relations.'"
"But I thought you had something else for him to sign?"
"So I had, Bunny."
"What was that?"
"A plain statement of all he had suborned me to do for him, and what he had given me for doing it," said Raffles, as he lit a Sullivan from his last easeful. "One might almost call it a receipt for the letter I stole and he destroyed."
"And did he sign that?"
"I insisted on it for our protection."
"Then we are protected, and yet we cut and run?"
Raffles shrugged his shoulders as we hurtled between the lighted platforms of Herne Hill.
"There's no immunity from a clever cove like that, Bunny, unless you send him to another world or put the thick of this one between you. He may hold his tongue about the last twenty-four hours—I believe he will—but that needn't prevent him from setting old Mackenzie to watch us day and night. So we are not going to stay to be watched. We are starting off round the world for a change. Before we get very far Mr. Shylock may be in the jug himself; that accursed letter won't be the only incriminating thing against him, you take my word. Then we can come back trailing clouds of glory, and blowing clouds of Sullivan. Then we can have our secondes noces—meaning second knocks, Bunny, and more power to our elbows when we get them!"
But I was not convinced. There was something else at the bottom of this sudden impulse and its inconceivably sudden execution. Why had he never told me of this plan? Well, because it had never become one until after the morning's work at Levy's bank, in itself a reason for being out of the way, as I myself admitted. But he would have told me if only I had turned up at seven: he had never meant to give me time for much packing, added Raffles, as he was anxious that neither of us should leave the impression that we had gone far afield.
I thought this was childish, and treating me like a child, to which, however, I was used; but more than ever did I feel that Raffles was not being frank with me, that he for one was making good his escape from something or somebody besides Dan Levy. And in the end he admitted that this was so. But we had not dashed through Sitting-bourne and Faversham before I wormed my way to about the last discovery that I expected to make concerning A. J. Raffles.
"What an inquisitor you are, Bunny!" said he, putting down an evening paper that he had only just taken up. "Can't you see that this whole show has been no ordinary one for me? I've been fighting for a crowd I rather love. Their battle has got on my nerves as none of my own ever did; and now it's won I honestly funk their gratitude as much as anything."
That was another hard saying to swallow; and yet, as Raffles said it, I knew it to be true. He was looking me full in the face in the ample light of the first-class compartment, which we of course had to ourselves. Some softening influence seemed to have been at work upon him; he looked resolute as ever, but full of regret, than which nothing was rarer in A.J.
"I suppose," said I, "that poor old Garland has treated you to a pretty good dose already?"
"Yes, Bunny; that he has."
"And well he may, and well may Teddy and Camilla Belsize!"
"But I couldn't do with it from them," said Raffles, with quite a bitter little laugh. "Teddy wasn't there, of course; he's up north for that rotten match the team play nowadays against Liverpool. But the game's fizzling, he'll be home to-morrow, and I simply can't face him and his Camilla. He'll be a married man before we see him again," added Raffles, getting hold of his evening paper once more.
"Is that to come off so soon?"
"The sooner the better," said Raffles, strangely.
"You're not quite happy about it," said I, with execrable tact, I know, and yet deliberately, because his view of this marriage had always puzzled me.
"I'm happy as long as they are," responded Raffles, not without a laugh at his own meritorious sentiment. "I only wish," he sighed, "that they were both absolutely worthy of each other!"
"And you don't think they are?"
"No, I don't."
"You think such a lot of young Garland?"
"I'm very fond of him, Bunny."
"But you see his faults?"
"I've always seen them; they're not full-fathom-five like mine!"
"Yet you think she's not good enough for him?"
"Not good enough—she?" and he stopped himself at that. But his voice was enough for me; the unspoken antithesis was stronger than words could have made it. Scales fell from my eyes. "Where on earth did you get that idea?"
"I thought it was yours, A.J."
"You seemed to disapprove of the engagement from the first."
"So I did, after what poor Teddy had been up to in his extremity! I may as well be honest about that now. It was all right in a pal of ours, Bunny, but all wrong in the man who dreamt of marrying Camilla Belsize."
"Yet you have just been moving heaven and hell to make it possible for them to marry after all!"
Raffles made another attempt upon his paper. I marvel now that he let me catechise him as I was doing. But the truth had just dawned upon me, and I simply had to see it whole as the risen sun, whereas Raffles seemed under no such passionate necessity to keep it to himself.
"Teddy's all right," said he, inconsistently. "He'll never try anything of the kind again; he's had a lesson for life. Besides, I don't often take my hand from the plough, as you ought to know. Bunny. It was I who brought those two together. But it was none of my mundane business to put them asunder again."
"It was you who brought them together?" I repeated insidiously.
"More or less, Bunny. It was at some cricket week, if it wasn't two weeks running; they were pals already, but she and I were greater pals before the first week was over."
"And yet you didn't cut him out!"
"My dear Bunny, I should hope not."
"But you might have done, A.J.; don't tell me you couldn't if you'd tried."
Raffles played with his paper without replying. He was no coxcomb. But neither would he ape an alien humility.
"It wouldn't have been the game, Bunny—won or lost—Teddy or no Teddy: And yet," he added, with pensive candour, "we were getting on like a semi-detached house on fire! I burnt my fingers, I don't mind telling you; if I hadn't been what I am, Bunny, I might have taken my courage in all ten of 'em, and 'put it to the touch, to win or lose it all.'"
"I wish you had," I whispered, as he studied his paper upside down.
"Why, Bunny? What rot you do talk!" he cried, but only with the skin-deep irritation of a half-hearted displeasure.
"She's the only woman I ever met," I went on unguardedly, "who was your mate at heart—in pluck—in temperament!"
"How the devil do you know?" cried Raffles, off his own guard now, and staring in my guilty face.
But I have never denied that I could emulate his presence of mind upon occasion.
"You forget what a lot we saw of each other last Thursday in the rain."
"Did she talk about me then?"
"Had she her knife in me, Bunny?"
Raffles smiled stoically: it was a smile of duty done and odds well damned.
"Up to the hilt, Bunny, up to the hilt is what you mean. I stuck it in for her. It's easily done, and it needed doing, for my sake if not for hers. Sooner or later I should have choked her off, so the sooner the better. You play them false, you cut a dance, you let them down over something that doesn't matter, and they'll never give you a dog's chance over anything that does! I got her to write and never answered. What do you think of that for a cavalier swine? I said I'd call before I went abroad, and only wired to say sorry I couldn't. I don't say it would or could have been all right otherwise; but you see it was all right for Teddy before I got back! Which was as it was to be. She would hardly look at me at first last week; but, Bunny, she wasn't above looking when that old Shylock was playing at giving me away before them all. She looked at him, and she looked at me, and I've got one of the looks she gave him, and another that she never meant me to see, bottled in my blackguard heart forever!"
Raffles looked dim to me across the narrow compartment; but there was no nonsense in his look or voice. I longed to tell him all I knew, all that she had said to me and he had unwittingly interpreted; that she loved him, as now at last I knew she did; but I had given her my word, and after all it was a word to keep for both their sakes as well as for its own.
"You were made for each other, you two!"
That was all I said, and Raffles only laughed.
"All the more reason to hook it round the world, Bunny, before there's a dog's chance of our meeting again."
He opened his paper the proper way up at last. The train rushed on with flying sparks, and flying lights along the line. We were getting nearer Dover now. My next brilliant remark was that I could "smell the sea." Raffles let it pass; he had been talking of the close-of-play scores in the stop-press column, and I thought he was studying them rather silently. Or perhaps he was not studying them at all, but still thinking of Camilla Belsize, and the look from those brave bright eyes that she had never meant him to see. Then, suddenly, I perceived that his forehead was glistening white and wet in the lamplight.
"What is it, Raffles? What's the matter?"
He reversed his paper with a shaky hand, and thrust it upon me without a word, merely pointing out four or five ill-printed lines of latest news. This was the item that danced before my eyes:
TRAGIC DEATH OF FAMOUS MONEYLENDER
Mr. Daniel Levy, the financier, reported shot dead at front gates of his residence in Thames Valley at 5.30 this afternoon, by unknown man who made good his escape.
I looked up into a ghastly face.
"It was half-past five when I left him, Bunny!"
"You left him—"
I could not ask it. But the ghastly face had given me a ghastlier thought.
"As well as you are, Bunny!" so Raffles completed my sentence. "Do you think I'd leave him for dead at his own gates?"
Of course I denied the thought; but it had come to haunt me none the less; for if I had sailed so near such a deed, what about Raffles under equal provocation? And what such motive for the very flight that we were making with but a moment's preparation? It all fitted in, except the face and voice of Raffles as they had been while he was speaking of Camilla Belsize; but again, the fatal act would indeed have made him feel that he had lost her, and loosened his tongue upon his loss as something had done without doubt; and as for voice and face, there was no longer in either any lack of the mad excitement of the hunted man.
"But what were you doing at his gates, A.J.?"
"I saw him home. It was on my way. Why not?"
"And you say you left him at half-past five?"
"I swear it. I looked at my watch, thinking of my train, and my watch is plumb right."
"And you heard no shot as you went on?"
"No—I was hurrying. I even ran. I must have been seen running! And now I'm like Charley's Aunt," he went on with his sardonic laugh, "and bound to stick to it until they catch me by the leg. Now you know what Mackenzie was doing down there! The old hound may be on my track already. There's no going back now."
"Not for an innocent man?"
"Not for such dubious innocence as mine, Bunny! Remember all we've been up to with poor old Levy for the last twenty-four hours."
He paused, remembering everything himself, as I could see; and the human compassion in his face should have been sufficient answer to my vile misgivings. But there was contrition in his look as well, and that was a much rarer sign in Raffles. Rarer still was a glance of alarm almost akin to panic, alike without precedent in my experience of my friend and beyond belief in my reading of his character. But through all there peeped a conscious enjoyment of these new sensations, a very zest in the novelty of fear, which I knew to be at once signally characteristic, and yet compatible either with his story or with my own base dread.
"Nobody need ever know about that," said I, with the certainty that nobody ever would know through the one other who knew already. But Raffles threw cold water upon that poor little flicker of confidence and good hope.
"It's bound to come out, Bunny. They'll start accounting for his last hours on earth, and they'll stick ominously in the first five minutes working backwards. Then I am described as bolting from the scene, then identified with myself, then found to have fled the country! Then Carlsbad, then our first row with him, then yesterday's big cheque; my heavy double finds he was impersonated at the bank; it all comes out bit by bit, and if I'm caught it means that dingy Old Bailey dock on the capital charge!"
"Then I'll be with you," said I, "as accessory before and after the fact. That's one thing!"
"No, no, Bunny! You must shake me off and get back to town. I'll push you out as we slow down through the streets of Dover, and you can put up for the night at the Lord Warden. That's the sort of public place for the likes of us to lie low in, Bunny. Don't forget all my rules when I'm gone."
"You're not going without me, A.J."
"Not even if I did it, Bunny?"
"No; less than ever then!"
Raffles leant across and took my hand. There was a flash of mischief in his eyes, but a very tender light as well.
"It makes me almost wish I were what I do believe you thought I was," said he, "to see you stick to me all the same! But it's about time that we were making the lights of Dover," he added, beating an abrupt retreat from sentiment, even to the length of getting up and looking out as we clattered through a country station. His head was in again before the platform was left behind, a pale face peering into mine, real panic flaring in those altered eyes, like blue lights at sea. "My God, Bunny!" cried Raffles. "I believe Dover's as far as I shall ever get!"
"Why? What's the matter now?"
"A head sticking out of the next compartment but one!"
I had seen it in his face.
"After us already?"
"God knows! Not necessarily; they watch the ports after a big murder."
"Swagger detectives from Scotland Yard?"
Raffles did not answer; he had something else to do. Already he was turning his pockets inside out. A false beard rolled off the seat.
"That's for you," he said as I picked it up. "I'll finish making you up." He was busy on himself in one of the oblong mirrors, kneeling on the cushions to be near his work. "If it's a scent at all it must be a pretty hot one, Bunny, to have landed him in the very train and coach! But it mayn't be as bad as it looked at first sight. He can't have much to go upon yet. If he's only going to shadow us while they find out more at home, we shall give him the slip all right."
"Do you think he saw you?"
"Looking out? No, thank goodness, he was looking toward Dover too."
"But before we started?"
"No, Bunny, I don't believe he came aboard before Cannon Street. I remember hearing a bit of a fuss there. But our blinds were down, thank God!"
They were all down now, but by our decreasing speed I felt that we were already gliding over level crossings to the admiration of belated townsfolk waiting at the gates. Raffles turned from his mirror, and I from mine, simultaneously; and even to my initiated eye it was not Raffles at all, but another noble scamp who even in those days before the war was the observed of all observers about town.
"It's ever so much better than anonymous disguises," said Raffles, as he went to work upon me with his pocket make-up box and his lightning touch. "I was always rather like him, and I tried him on yesterday with such success at the bank that I certainly can't do better to-night. As for you, Bunny, if you slouch your hat and stick your beard in your bread basket, you ought to pass for a poor relation or a disreputable dun. But here we are, my lad, and now for Meester Mackenzie o' Scoteland Yarrd!"
The gaunt detective was in fact the first person we beheld upon the pier platform; raw-boned, stiff-jointed, and more than middle-aged, he must nevertheless have jumped out once again before the train stopped, and that almost on top of a diminutive telegraph boy, who was waiting while the old hound read his telegram with one eye and watched emerging passengers with both. Whether we should have passed him unobserved I cannot say. We could but have tried; but Raffles preferred to grasp the nettle and salute Mackenzie with a pleasant nod.
"Good evening, my lord!" says the Scotchman with a canny smirk.
"I can guess why you're down here," says Raffles, actually producing a palpable Sullivan under the nose of the law.
"Is that a fact?" inquires the other, oiling the rebuff with deferential grin.
"And I mustn't stand between you and poor Dan Levy's murderer," adds my lord, nodding finally, when Mackenzie steps after him to my horror. But it is only to show Raffles his telegram. And he does not follow us on board.
Neither did our disguises accompany our countenances across the Channel. It was at dead of night on the upper deck (whence all but us had fled) that Raffles showed me how to doff my beard and still look as though I had merely buttoned it inside my overcoat; meanwhile his own moustachios and imperial were disappearing by discreet degrees; and at last he told me why, though not by any means without pressing.
"I'm only afraid you'll want to turn straight back from Calais, Bunny!"
"Oh, no, I shan't."
"You'll come with me round the world, so to speak?"
"To its uttermost ends, A. J.!"
"You do know now who it really is that I don't want to see again just yet?"
"Yes. I know. Now tell me what Mackenzie told you."
"It was all in the wire he showed me," said Raffles. "The wire was to say that the murderer of Dan Levy had given himself up to the police!"
Profane expletives flew from my lips; those of much holier men might have been no less unguardedly emphatic in the self-same circumstances.
"But who was it?"
"I could have told you all along if you hadn't suspected me."
"It wasn't a suspicion, Raffles. It was never more than a dread, and I didn't even dread it in my heart of hearts. Do tell me now."
Raffles watched the red end of a ruined Sullivan make a fine trajectory as it flew to leeward between sea and stars.
"It was that poor unlucky little alien who was waiting for him the other morning in Jermyn Street, and again last night near his own garden gate. That's where he got him in the end. But it wasn't a shooting case at all, Bunny; that's why I never heard anything. It was a case of stabbing in accordance with the best traditions of the Latin races."
"God forgive both poor devils!" said I at last.
"And other two," said Raffles, "who have rather more to be forgiven."
On one of the worst days of last year, to wit the first day of the Eton and Harrow match, I had turned into the Hamman, in Jermyn Street, as the best available asylum for wet boots that might no longer enter any club. Mine had been removed by a little pinchbeck oriental in the outer courts, and I wandered within unpleasantly conscious of a hole in one sock, to find myself by no means the only obvious refugee from the rain. The bath was in fact inconveniently crowded. But at length I found a divan to suit me in an upstairs alcove. I had the choice indeed of more than one; but in spite of my antecedents I am fastidious about my cooling companions in a Turkish bath, and it was by no accident that I hung my clothes opposite to a newer morning coat and a pair of trousers more decisively creased than my own.
But the coincidence in pickle was no less remarkable. In ensuing stages of physical devastation one had dim glimpses of a not unfamiliar, reddish countenance; but with the increment of years it has been my lot to contract short sight as well as incipient obesity, and in the hot rooms my glasses lose their grip upon my nose. So it was not until I lay swathed upon my divan that I recognised E.M. Garland in the fine fresh-faced owner of the nice clothes opposite mine. A tawny moustache rather spoilt him as Phoebus, and there was a hint of old gold about the shaven jaw and chin; but I never saw better looks of the unintellectual order; and the amber eye was as clear as ever, the great strong wicket-keeper's hand unexpectedly hearty, when recognition dawned on Teddy in his turn.
He spoke of Raffles without hesitation or reserve, and of me and my Raffles writings as though there was nothing reprehensible in one or the other, displaying indeed a flattering knowledge of those pious memorials.
"But of course I take them with a grain of salt," said Teddy Garland; "you don't make me believe you were either of you such desperate dogs as all that. I can't see you climbing ropes or squirming through scullery windows—even for the fun of the thing!" he added with somewhat tardy tact.
It is certainly rather hard to credit now. I felt that after all there was something to be said for being too fat at forty, and that Teddy Garland had said it excellently.
"Now," he continued, "if only you would give us the row between Raffles and Dan Levy, I mean the whole battle royal that A.J. fought and won for me and my poor father, that would be something like! The world would see the sort of chap he really was."
"I am afraid it would have to see the sort of chaps we all were just then," said I, as I still think with exemplary delicacy; but Teddy lay silent and florid for some time. These athletes have their vanity. But this one rose superior to his.
"Manders," said he, leaving his divan and coming and sitting on the edge of mine, "you have my free leave to give me and mine away to the four winds, if you will tell the truth about that duel, and what Raffles did for the lot of us!"
"Perhaps he did more than you ever knew."
"Put it all in."
"It was a longer duel than you think. He once called it a guerilla duel."
"Then make a book of it."
"But I've written my last word about the old boy."
"Then by George I've a good mind to write it myself!"
This was an awful threat. Happily he lacked the materials, and so I told him. "I haven't got them all myself," I added, only to be politely but openly disbelieved. "I don't know where you were," said I, "all that first day of the match, when it rained."
Garland was beginning to smile when the surprise of my statement got home and changed his face.
"Do you mean to say A.J. never told you?" he cried, still incredulously.
"No; he wouldn't give you away."
"Not even to you—his pal?"
"No. I was naturally curious on the point. But he refused to tell me."
"What a chap!" murmured Teddy, with a tender enthusiasm that made me love him. "What a friend for a fellow! Well, Manders, if you don't write all this I certainly shall. So I may as well tell you where I was."
"I must say it would interest me to know."
My companion resumed his smile where he had left it off. "I wonder if you would ever guess?" he speculated, looking down into my face.
"I don't suppose I should."
"No more do I; not in a month of Sundays; for I spent that day on the very sofa I was on a minute ago!"
I looked at the striped divan opposite. I looked at Teddy Garland sitting on mine. His smile was a little wry with the remnant of his bygone shame; he hurried on before I could find a word.
"You remember that drug I had? Somnol I think it was. That was a risky game to play with any head but one's own; still A. J. was right in thinking I should have been worse without any sleep at all. I should," said Teddy, "but I should have rolled up at Lord's! The beastly stuff put me asleep all right, but it didn't keep me asleep long enough! I was awake before four, heard you both talking in the next room, remembered everything in a flash! But for that flash I should have dropped off again in a minute; but if you remember all I had to remember, Manders, you won't wonder that I lay madly awake all the rest of the night. My head was rotten with sleep, but my heart was in such hell as I couldn't describe to you if I tried."
"I've been there," said I, briefly.
"Well, then, you can imagine my frightful thoughts. Suicide was one; but to get out of that came first, to get away without looking either of you in the face in broad daylight. So I shammed sleep when Raffles looked in, and when you both went out I dressed in five minutes and slunk out too. I had no idea where I was going. I don't remember what brought me down into this street. It may have been my debt to Dan Levy. All I remember is finding myself opposite this place, my head splitting, and the sudden idea that a bath might freshen me up and couldn't make me worse. I remembered A.J. telling me he had once taken six wickets after one. So in I came. I had my bath, and some tea and toast in the hot-rooms; we were all to have a late breakfast together, if you recollect. I felt I should be in plenty of time for that and Lord's—if only I hadn't boiled all the cricket out of me. So I came up here and lay down there. But what I hadn't boiled out was that beastly drug. It got back on me like a boomerang. I closed my eyes for a minute—and it was well on in the afternoon when I awoke!"