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 douche1 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 ruin2 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 Excalibur3 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 alone4.”
“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 freehold5, 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 Africans6!” 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 dibs7. 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 hand8 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 toils9?” 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 property10 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 Egyptian11. 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.