The historic sward1 had just been cleared for action when Raffles and I met at Lord’s next day. I blush to own I had been knave and fool enough to suggest that he should smuggle me into the pavilion; but perhaps the only laws of man that Raffles really respected were those of the M.C.C.2, and it was in Block B. that he joined me a minute or so before eleven. The sun was as strong and the sky as blue as though the disastrous day before had been just such another. But its tropical shower-bath had left the London air as cleanly and as clear as crystal3; the neutral tints of every day were splashes of vivid colour, the waiting umpires animated snow-men, the heap of sawdust4 at either end a pyramid of powdered gold upon an emerald ground. And in the expectant hush before the appearance of the fielding side, I still recall the Yorkshire accent of the Surrey Poet5, hawking his latest lyric on some “Great Stand by Mr. Webbe and Mr. Stoddart,”6 and incidentally assuring the crowd that Cambridge was going to win because everybody said Oxford would.
“Just in time,” said Raffles, as he sat down and the Cambridge men emerged from the pavilion, capped and sashed in varying shades of light blue.7The captain’s colours were bleached by service; but the wicket-keeper’s were the newest and the bluest of the lot, and as a male historian I shrink from saying how well they suited him.
“Teddy Garland looks as though nothing had happened,” was what I said at the time, as I peered through my binocular at the padded figure with the pink face and the gigantic gloves.
“That’s because he knows there’s a chance of nothing more happening,” was the reply. “I’ve seen him and his poor old governor up here since I saw Dan Levy.”
I eagerly inquired as to the upshot of the earlier interview, but Raffles looked as though he had not heard. The Oxford captain had come out to open the innings with a player less known to fame; the first ball of the match hurtled down the pitch, and the Oxford captain left it severely alone. Teddy took it charmingly, and almost with the same movement the ball was back in the bowler’s hands.
“He’s all right!” muttered Raffles with a long breath. “So is our Mr. Shylock, Bunny; we fixed things up in no time after all. But the worst of it is I shall only be able to stop—”
He broke off, mouth open as it might have been mine. A ball had been driven hard to extra cover, and quite well fielded; another had been taken by Teddy as competently as the first, but not returned to the bowler. The Oxford captain had played at it, and we heard something even in Block B.
“How’s that?” came almost simultaneously in Teddy’s ringing voice. Up went the umpire’s finger, and down came Raffles’s hand upon my thigh.
“He’s caught him, Bunny!” he cried in my ear above the Cambridge cheers. “The best bat on either side, and Teddy’s outed him third ball!” He stopped to watch the defeated captain’s slow return, the demonstration on the pitch in Teddy’s honour; then he touched me on the arm and dropped his voice. “He’s forgotten all his troubles now, Bunny, if you like; nothing’s going to worry him till lunch, unless he misses a sitting chance8. And he won’t, you’ll see; a good start means even more behind the sticks than in front of ’em.”
Raffles was quite right. Another wicket fell cheaply in another way; then came a long spell of plucky cricket, a stand not masterly but dogged and judicious, in which many a ball outside the off-stump was allowed to pass unmolested, and a few were unfortunate in just beating the edge of the bat. On the tricky wicket9 Teddy’s work was cut out for him, and beautifully he did it. It was a treat to see his lithe form crouching behind the bails, to rise next instant with the rising ball; his great gloves were always in the right place, always adhesive. Once only he held them up prematurely, and a fine ball brushed the wicket on its way for four byes; it was his sole error all the morning. Raffles sat enchanted; so in truth did I; but between the overs I endeavoured to obtain particulars of his latest parley with Dan Levy, and once or twice extracted a stray detail.
“The old sinner has a place on the river, Bunny, though I have my suspicions of a second establishment nearer town10. But I’m to find him at his lawful home all the next few nights, and sitting up for me till two in the morning.”
“Then you’re going to Gray’s Inn Square this week?”
“I’m going there this morning for a peep at the crib; there’s no time to be lost, but on the other hand there’s a devil of a lot to learn. I say, Bunny, there’s going to be another change of bowling; the fast stuff, too, by Jove!”
A massive youth had taken the ball at the top end, and the wicket-keeper was retiring to a more respectful distance behind the stumps.
“You’ll let me know when it’s to be?” I whispered, but Raffles only answered, “I wonder Jack Studley didn’t wait till there was more of a crust on the mud pie. That tripe’s no use without a fast wicket!”
The technical slang of the modern cricket-field is ever a weariness11; at the moment it was something worse, and I resigned myself to the silent contemplation of as wild an over as ever was bowled at Lord’s. A shocking thing to the off was sent skipping past point for four. “Tripe!” muttered Raffles to himself. A very good one went over the bails and thud into Garland’s gloves like a round-shot. “Well bowled!” said Raffles with less reserve. Another delivery was merely ignored, both at the wicket and at my side, and then came a high full-pitch to leg which the batsman hit hard but very late. It was a hit that might have smashed the pavilion palings. But it never reached them; it stuck in Teddy’s left glove instead, and none of us knew it till we saw him staggering towards long-leg, and tossing up the ball as he recovered balance.
“That’s the worst ball that ever took a wicket in this match!” vowed a reverend veteran as the din died down.
“And the best catch!” cried Raffles. “Come on, Bunny; that’s my nunc dimittis12 for the day. There would be nothing to compare with it if I could stop to see every ball bowled, and I mustn’t see another.”
“But why?” I asked, as I followed Raffles into the press behind the carriages.
“I’ve already told you why,” said he.
I got as close to him as one could in that crowd.
“You’re not thinking of doing it to-night, A.J.?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you’ll let me know?”
“Not if I can help it, Bunny; didn’t I promise not to drag you any further through this particular mire?”
“But if I can help you?” I whispered, after a momentary separation in the throng.
“Oh! if I can’t get on without you,” said Raffles, not nicely, “I’ll let you know fast enough. But do drop the subject now; here come old Garland and Camilla Belsize!”
They did not see us quite so soon as we saw them, and for a moment one felt a spy; but it was an interesting moment even to a person smarting from a snub. The ruined man looked haggard, ill, unfit to be about, the very embodiment of the newspaper report concerning him. But the spirit beamed through the shrinking flesh, the poor old fellow was alight with pride and love, exultant in spite of himself and his misfortunes. He had seen his boy’s great catch; he had heard the cheers, he would hear them till his dying hour. Camilla Belsize had also seen and heard, but not with the same exquisite appreciation. Cricket was a game to her, it was not that quintessence and epitome of life it would seem to be to some of its devotees13; and real life was pressing so heavily upon her that the trivial consolation which had banished her companion’s load could not lighten hers. So at least I thought as they approached, the man so worn and radiant, the girl so pensive for all her glorious youth and beauty: his was the old head bowed with sorrow, his also the simpler and the younger heart.
“That catch will console me for a lot,” I heard him say quite heartily to Raffles. But Camilla’s comment was altogether perfunctory; indeed, I wondered that so sophisticated a person did not affect some little enthusiasm. She seemed more interested, however, in the crowd than in the cricket. And that was usual enough.
Raffles was already saying he must go, with an explanatory murmur to Mr. Garland, who clasped his hand with a suddenly clouded countenance. But Miss Belsize only bowed, and scarcely took her eyes off a couple of outwardly inferior men, who had attracted my attention through hers, until they also passed out of the ground.
Mr. Garland was on tip-toes watching the game again with mercurial ardour.
“Mr. Manders will look after me,” she said to him, “won’t you, Mr. Manders?” I made some suitable asseveration, and she added: “Mr. Garland’s a member, you know, and dying to go into the Pavilion14.”
“Only just to hear what they think of Teddy,” the poor old boy confessed; and when we had arranged where to meet in the interval, away he hurried with his keen, worn face.
Miss Belsize turned to me the moment he was gone.
“I want to speak to you, Mr. Manders,” she said quickly but without embarrassment. “Where can we talk?”
“And watch as well?” I suggested, thinking of the young man at his best behind the sticks.
“I want to speak to you first,” she said, “where we shan’t be overheard. It’s about Mr. Raffles!” added Miss Belsize as she met my stare.
About Raffles again! About Raffles, after all that she had learnt the day before! I did not enjoy the prospect as I led the way past the ivy-mantled tennis-court of those days to the practice-ground, turned for the nonce into a tented lawn.
“And what about Raffles?” I asked as we struck out for ourselves across the grass.
“I’m afraid he’s in some danger,” replied Miss Belsize. And she stopped in her walk and confronted me as frankly as though we had the animated scene to ourselves.
“Danger!” I repeated, guiltily enough, no doubt. “What makes you think that, Miss Belsize?”
My companion hesitated for the first time.
“You won’t tell him I told you, Mr. Manders?”
“Not if you don’t want me to,” said I, taken aback more by her manner than by the request itself.
“You promise me that?”
“Then tell me, did you notice two men who passed close to us just after we had all met?”
“There are so many men to notice,” said I to gain time.
“But these were not the sort one expects to see here to-day.”
“Did they wear bowlers and short coats?”
“You did notice them!”
“Only because I saw you watching them,” said I, recalling the whole scene.
“They wanted watching,” rejoined Miss Belsize dryly. “They followed Mr. Raffles out of the ground!”
“So they did!” I reflected aloud in my alarm.
“They were following you both when you met us.”
“The dickens they were! Was that the first you saw of them?”
“No; the first time was over there at the nets before play began. I noticed those two men behind Teddy’s net. They were not watching him; that called my attention to them. It’s my belief they were lying in wait for Mr. Raffles; at any rate, when he came they moved away. But they followed us afterwards across the ground.”
“You are sure of that?”
“I looked round to see,” said Miss Belsize, avoiding my eyes for the first time.
“Did you think the men—detectives?”
And I forced a laugh.
“I was afraid they might be, Mr. Manders, though I have never seen one off the stage.”
“Still,” I pursued, with painfully sustained amusement, “you were ready to find A.J. Raffles being shadowed here at Lord’s of all places in the world?”
“I was ready for anything, anywhere,” said Miss Belsize, “after all I heard yesterday afternoon.”
“You mean about poor Mr. Garland and his affairs?”
It was an ingenuously disingenuous suggestion; it brought my companion’s eyes back to mine, with something of the scorn that I deserved.
“No, Mr. Manders, I meant after what we all heard between Mr. Levy and Mr. Raffles; and you knew very well what I meant,” added Miss Belsize severely.
“But surely you didn’t take all that seriously?” said I, without denying the just impeachment.
“How could I help it? The insinuation was serious enough, in all conscience!” exclaimed Camilla Belsize.
“That is,” said I, since she was not to be wilfully misunderstood, “that poor old Raffles had something to do with this jewel robbery at Carlsbad?”
“If it was a robbery.”
She winced at the word.
“Do you mean it might have been a trick?” said I, recalling the victim’s own make-believe at the Albany. And not only did Camilla appear to embrace that theory with open arms; she had the nerve to pretend that it really was what she had meant.
“Obviously!” says she, with an impromptu superiority worthy of Raffles himself. “I wonder you never thought of that, Mr. Manders, when you know what a trick you both played Mr. Levy only yesterday. Mr. Raffles himself told us all about that; and I’m very grateful to you both; you must know I am—for Teddy’s sake,” added Miss Belsize, with one quick remorseful glance towards the great arena. “Still it only shows what Mr. Raffles is—and—and it’s what I meant when we were talking about him yesterday.”
“I don’t remember,” said I, remembering fast enough.
“In the rockery,” she reminded me. “When you asked what people said about him, and I said that about living on his wits.”
“And being a paid amateur!”
“But the other was the worst.”
“I’m not so sure,” said I. “But his wits wouldn’t carry him very far if he only took necklaces and put them back again.”
“But it was all a joke,” she reminded us both with a bit of a start. “It must have been a joke, if Mr. Raffles did it at all. And it would be dreadful if anything happened to him because of a wretched practical joke!”
There was no mistake about her feeling now; she really felt that it would be “dreadful if anything happened” to the man whom yesterday she had seemed both to dislike and to distrust. Her voice vibrated with anxiety. A bright film covered the fine eyes, and they were finer than ever as they continued to face me unashamed; but I was fool enough to speak my mind, and at that they flashed themselves dry.
“I thought you didn’t like him?” had been my remark, and “Who says I do?” was hers. “But he has done a lot for Teddy,” she went on, “and never more than yesterday,” with her hand for an instant on my arm, “when you helped him! I am dreadfully sorry for Mr. Garland, sorrier than I am for poor Teddy. But Mr. Raffles is more than sorry. I know he means to do what he can. He seems to think there must be something wrong; he spoke of bringing that brute to reason—if not to justice. It would be too dreadful if such a creature could turn the tables on Mr. Raffles by trumping up any charge against him!”
There was an absolute echo of my own tone in “trumping up any charge,” and I thought the echo sounded even more insincere. But at least it showed me where we were. Miss Belsize was not deceived; she only wanted me to think she was. Miss Belsize had divined what I knew, but neither of us would admit to the other that the charge against Raffles would be true enough.
“But why should these men follow him?” said I, really wondering why they should. “If there were anything definite against old Raffles, don’t you think he would be arrested?”
“Oh! I don’t know,” was the slightly irritable answer. “I only think he should be warned that he is being followed.”
“Whatever he has done?” I ventured.
“Yes!” said she. “Whatever he has done—after what he did for Teddy yesterday!”
“You want me to warn him?”
“Yes—but not from me!”
“And suppose he really did take Mrs. Levy’s necklace?”
“That’s just what we are supposing.”
“But suppose it wasn’t for a joke at all?”
I spoke as one playfully plumbing the abysmally absurd; what I did desire to sound was the loyalty of this new, unexpected, and still captious ally. And I thought myself strangely successful at the first cast; for Miss Belsize looked me in the face as I was looking her, and I trusted her before she spoke.
“Well, after yesterday,” she said, “I should warn him all the same!”
“You would back your Raffles right or wrong?15” I murmured, perceiving that Camilla Belsize was, after all, like all the rest of us.
“Against a vulgar extortioner, most decidedly!” she returned, without repudiating the possessive pronoun. “It doesn’t follow that I think anything of him—apart from what you did between you for Teddy yesterday.”
We had continued our stroll some time ago, and now it was I who stood still. I looked at my watch. It still wanted some minutes to the luncheon interval.
“If Raffles took a cab to his rooms,” I said, “he must be nearly there and I must telephone to him.”
“Is there a call-office on the ground?”
“Only in the pavilion, I believe, for the use of the members.”
“Then you must go to the nearest one outside.”
“And what about you?”
Miss Belsize brightened with her smile of perfect and unconscious independence16.
“Oh, I shall be all right,” she said. “I know where to find Mr. Garland, even if I don’t pick up an escort on the way.”
But it was she who escorted me to the tall turnstile nearest Wellington Road.
“And you do see why I want to put Mr. Raffles on his guard?” she said pointedly as we shook hands. “It’s only because you and he have done so much for Teddy!”
And because she did not end by reminding me of my promise, I was all the more reluctantly determined to keep it to the letter, even though Raffles should think as ill as ever of one who was at least beginning to think better of him.