Mr. Justice Raffles, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 2

“His Own Familiar Friend”

How we laughed as we turned into Whitehall! I began to feel I had been wrong about Raffles after all, and that enhanced my mirth. Surely this was the old gay rascal, and it was by some uncanny feat of his stupendous will that he had appeared so haggard on the platform. In the London lamplight that he loved so well, under a starry sky of an almost theatrical blue, he looked another man already. If such a change was due to a few draughts of bitter beer and a few ounces of fillet steak, then I felt I was the brewers’ friend and the vegetarians’ foe for life. Nevertheless I could detect a serious side to my companion’s mood, especially when he spoke once more of Teddy Garland, and told me that he had cabled to him also before leaving Carlsbad. And I could not help wondering, with a discreditable pang, whether his intercourse with that honest lad could have bred in Raffles a remorse for his own misdeeds, such as I myself had often tried, but always failed, to produce.

So we came to the Albany in sober frame, for all our recent levity, thinking at least no evil for once in our lawless lives. And there was our good friend Barraclough, the porter, to salute and welcome us in the courtyard.

“There’s a gen’leman writing you a letter upstairs,” said he to Raffles. “It’s Mr. Garland, sir, so I took him up.”

“Teddy!” cried Raffles, and took the stairs two at a time.

I followed rather heavily. It was not jealousy, but I did feel rather critical of this mushroom intimacy. So I followed up, feeling that the evening was spoilt for me — and God knows I was right! Not till my dying day shall I forget the tableau that awaited me in those familiar rooms. I see it now as plainly as I see the problem picture of the year, which lies in wait for one in all the illustrated papers; indeed, it was a problem picture itself in flesh and blood.

Raffles had opened his door as only Raffles could open doors, with the boyish thought of giving the other boy a fright; and young Garland had very naturally started up from the bureau, where he was writing, at the sudden clap of his own name behind him. But that was the last of his natural actions. He did not advance to grasp Raffles by the hand; there was no answering smile of welcome on the fresh young face which used to remind me of the Phoebus in Guido’s Aurora, with its healthy pink and bronze, and its hazel eye like clear amber. The pink faded before our gaze, the bronze turned a sickly sallow; and there stood Teddy Garland as if glued to the bureau behind him, clutching its edge with all his might. I can see his knuckles gleaming like ivory under the back of each sunburnt hand.

“What is it? What are you hiding?” demanded Raffles. His love for the lad had rung out in his first greeting; his puzzled voice was still jocular and genial, but the other’s attitude soon strangled that. All this time I had been standing in vague horror on the threshold; now Raffles beckoned me in and switched on more light. It fell full upon a ghastly and a guilty face, that yet stared bravely in the glare. Raffles locked the door behind us, put the key in his pocket, and strode over to the desk.

No need to report their first broken syllables: enough that it was no note young Garland was writing, but a cheque which he was laboriously copying into Raffles’s cheque-book, from an old cheque abstracted from a pass-book with A. J. RAFFLES in gilt capitals upon its brown leather back. Raffles had only that year opened a banking account, and I remembered his telling me how thoroughly he meant to disregard the instructions on his cheque-book by always leaving it about to advertise the fact. And this was the result. A glance convicted his friend of criminal intent: a sheet of notepaper lay covered with trial signatures. Yet Raffles could turn and look with infinite pity upon the miserable youth who was still looking defiantly on him.

“My poor chap!” was all he said.

And at that the broken boy found the tongue of a hoarse and quavering old man.

“Won’t you hand me over and be done with it?” he croaked. “Must you torture me yourself?”

It was all I could do to refrain from putting in my word, and telling the fellow it was not for him to ask questions. Raffles merely inquired whether he had thought it all out before.

“God knows I hadn’t, A. J.! I came up to write you a note, I swear I did,” said Garland with a sudden sob.

“No need to swear it,” returned Raffles, actually smiling. “Your word’s quite good enough for me.”

“God bless you for that, after this!” the other choked, in terrible disorder now.

“It was pretty obvious,” said Raffles reassuringly.

“Was it? Are you sure? You do remember offering me a cheque last month, and my refusing it?”

“Why, of course I do!” cried Raffles, with such spontaneous heartiness that I could see he had never thought of it since mentioning the matter to me at our meal. What I could not see was any reason for such conspicuous relief, or the extenuating quality of a circumstance which seemed to me rather to aggravate the offence.

“I have regretted that refusal ever since,” young Garland continued very simply. “It was a mistake at the time, but this week of all weeks it’s been a tragedy. Money I must have; I’ll tell you why directly. When I got your wire last night it seemed as though my wretched prayers had been answered. I was going to someone else this morning, but I made up my mind to wait for you instead. You were the one I really could turn to, and yet I refused your great offer a month ago. But you said you would be back to-night; and you weren’t here when I came. I telephoned and found that the train had come in all right, and that there wasn’t another until the morning. Tomorrow morning’s my limit, and tomorrow’s the match.” He stopped as he saw what Raffles was doing. “Don’t, Raffles, I don’t deserve it!” he added in fresh distress.

But Raffles had unlocked the tantalus and found a syphon in the corner cupboard, and it was a very yellow bumper that he handed to the guilty youth.

“Drink some,” he said, “or I won’t listen to another word.”

“I’m going to be ruined before the match begins. I am!” the poor fellow insisted, turning to me when Raffles shook his head. “And it’ll break my father’s heart, and — and —”

I thought he had worse still to tell us, he broke off in such despair; but either he changed his mind, or the current of his thoughts set inward in spite of him, for when he spoke again it was to offer us both a further explanation of his conduct.

“I only came up to leave a line for Raffles,” he said to me, “in case he did get back in time. It was the porter himself who fixed me up at that bureau. He’ll tell you how many times I had called before. And then I saw before my nose in one pigeon-hole your cheque-book, Raffles, and your pass-book bulging with old cheques.”

“And as I wasn’t back to write one for you,” said Raffles, “you wrote it for me. And quite right, too!”

“Don’t laugh at me!” cried the boy, his lost colour rushing back. And he looked at me again as though my long face hurt him less than the sprightly sympathy of his friend.

“I’m not laughing, Teddy,” replied Raffles kindly. “I was never more serious in my life. It was playing the friend to come to me at all in your fix, but it was the act of a real good pal to draw on me behind my back rather than let me feel I’d ruined you by not turning up in time. You may shake your head as hard as you like, but I never was paid a higher compliment.”

And the consummate casuist went on working a congenial vein until a less miserable sinner might have been persuaded that he had done nothing really dishonourable; but young Garland had the grace neither to make nor to accept any excuse for his own conduct. I never heard a man more down upon himself, or confession of error couched in stronger terms; and yet there was something so sincere and ingenuous in his remorse, something that Raffles and I had lost so long ago, that in our hearts I am sure we took his follies more seriously than our own crimes. But foolish he indeed had been, if not criminally foolish as he said. It was the old story of the prodigal son of an indulgent father. There had been, as I suspected, a certain amount of youthful riot which the influence of Raffles had already quelled; but there had also been much reckless extravagance, of which Raffles naturally knew less, since your scapegrace is constitutionally quicker to confess himself as such than as a fool. Suffice it that this one had thrown himself on his father’s generosity, only to find that the father himself was in financial straits.

“What!” cried Raffles, “with that house on his hands?”

“I knew it would surprise you,” said Teddy Garland. “I can’t understand it myself; he gave me no particulars, but the mere fact was enough for me. I simply couldn’t tell my father everything after that. He wrote me a cheque for all I did own up to, but I could see it was such a tooth that I swore I’d never come on him to pay another farthing. And I never will!”

The boy took a sip from his glass, for his voice had faltered, and then he paused to light another cigarette, because the last had gone out between his fingers. So sensitive and yet so desperate was the blonde young face, with the creased forehead and the nervous mouth, that I saw Raffles look another way until the match was blown out.

“But at the time I might have done worse, and did,” said Teddy, “a thousand times! I went to the Jews. That’s the whole trouble. There were more debts — debts of honour — and to square up I went to the Jews. It was only a matter of two or three hundred to start with; but you may know, though I didn’t, what a snowball the smallest sum becomes in the hands of those devils. I borrowed three hundred and signed a promissory note for four hundred and fifty-six.”

“Only fifty per cent!” said Raffles. “You got off cheap if the percentage was per annum.”

“Wait a bit! It was by way of being even more reasonable than that. The four hundred and fifty-six was repayable in monthly instalments of twenty quid, and I kept them up religiously until the sixth payment fell due. That was soon after Christmas, when one’s always hard up, and for the first time I was a day or two late — not more, mind you; yet what do you suppose happened? My cheque was returned, and the whole blessed balance demanded on the nail!”

Raffles was following intently, with that complete concentration which was a signal force in his equipment. His face no longer changed at anything he heard; it was as strenuously attentive as that of any judge upon the bench. Never had I clearer vision of the man he might have been but for the kink in his nature which had made him what he was.

“The promissory note was for four-fifty-six,” said he, “and this sudden demand was for the lot less the hundred you had paid?”

“That’s it.”

“What did you do?” I asked, not to seem behind Raffles in my grasp of the case.

“Told them to take my instalment or go to blazes for the rest!”

“And they?”

“Absolutely drop the whole thing until this very week, and then come down on me for — what do you suppose?”

“Getting on for a thousand,” said Raffles after a moment’s thought.

“Nonsense!” I cried. Garland looked astonished too.

“Raffles knows all about it,” said he. “Seven hundred was the actual figure. I needn’t tell you I have given the bounders a wide berth since the day I raised the wind; but I went and had it out with them over this. And half the seven hundred is for default interest, I’ll trouble you, from the beginning of January down to date!”

“Had you agreed to that?”

“Not to my recollection, but there it was as plain as a pikestaff on my promissory note. A halfpenny in the shilling per week over and above everything else when the original interest wasn’t forthcoming.”

“Printed or written on your note of hand?”

“Printed — printed small, I needn’t tell you — but quite large enough for me to read when I signed the cursed bond. In fact I believe I did read it; but a halfpenny a week! Who could ever believe it would mount up like that? But it does; it’s right enough, and the long and short of it is that unless I pay up by twelve o’clock tomorrow the governor’s to be called in to say whether he’ll pay up for me or see me made a bankrupt under his nose. Twelve o’clock, when the match begins! Of course they know that, and are trading on it. Only this evening I had the most insolent ultimatum, saying it was my ‘dead and last chance.’”

“So then you came round here?”

“I was coming in any case. I wish I’d shot myself first!”

“My dear fellow, it was doing me proud; don’t let us lose our sense of proportion, Teddy.”

But young Garland had his face upon his hand, and once more he was the miserable man who had begun brokenly to unfold the history of his shame. The unconscious animation produced by the mere unloading of his heart, the natural boyish slang with which his tale had been freely garnished, had faded from his face, had died upon his lips. Once more he was a soul in torments of despair and degradation; and yet once more did the absence of the abject in man and manner redeem him from the depths of either. In these moments of reaction he was pitiful, but not contemptible, much less unlovable. Indeed, I could see the qualities that had won the heart of Raffles as I had never seen them before. There is a native nobility not to be destroyed by a single descent into the ignoble, an essential honesty too bright and brilliant to be dimmed by incidental dishonour; and both remained to the younger man, in the eyes of the other two, who were even then determining to preserve in him all that they themselves had lost. The thought came naturally enough to me. And yet I may well have derived it from a face that for once was easy to read, a clear-cut face that had never looked so sharp in profile, or, to my knowledge, half so gentle in expression.

“And what about these Jews?” asked Raffles at length.

“There’s really only one.”

“Are we to guess his name?”

“No, I don’t mind telling you. It’s Dan Levy.”

“Of course it is!” cried Raffles with a nod for me. “Our Mr. Shylock in all his glory!”

Teddy snatched his face from his hands.

“You don’t know him, do you?”

“I might almost say I know him at home,” said Raffles. “But as a matter of fact I met him abroad.”

Teddy was on his feet.

“But do you know him well enough —”

“Certainly. I’ll see him in the morning. But I ought to have the receipts for the various instalments you have paid, and perhaps that letter saying it was your last chance.”

“Here they all are,” said Garland, producing a bulky envelope. “But of course I’ll come with you —”

“Of course you’ll do nothing of the kind, Teddy! I won’t have your eye put out for the match by that old ruffian, and I’m not going to let you sit up all night either. Where are you staying, my man?”

“Nowhere yet. I left my kit at the club. I was going out home if I’d caught you early enough.”

“Stout fellow! You stay here.”

“My dear old man, I couldn’t think of it,” said Teddy gratefully.

“My dear young man, I don’t care whether you think of it or not. Here you stay, and moreover you turn in at once. I can fix you up with all you want, and Barraclough shall bring your kit round before you’re awake.”

“But you haven’t got a bed, Raffles?”

“You shall have mine. I hardly ever go to bed — do I, Bunny?”

“I’ve seldom seen you there,” said I.

“But you were travelling all last night?”

“And straight through till this evening, and I sleep all the time in a train,” said Raffles. “I hardly opened an eye all day; if I turned in to-night I shouldn’t get a wink.”

“Well, I shan’t either,” said the other hopelessly. “I’ve forgotten how to sleep!”

“Wait till I learn you!” said Raffles, and went into the inner room and lit it up.

“I’m terribly sorry about it all,” whispered young Garland, turning to me as though we were old friends now.

“And I’m sorry for you,” said I from my heart. “I know what it is.”

Garland was still staring when Raffles returned with a tiny bottle from which he was shaking little round black things into his left palm.

“Clean sheets yawning for you, Teddy,” said he. “And now take two of these, and one more spot of whisky, and you’ll be asleep in ten minutes.”

“What are they?”

“Somnol. The latest thing out, and quite the best.”

“But won’t they give me a frightful head?”

“Not a bit of it; you’ll be as right as rain ten minutes after you wake up. And you needn’t leave this before eleven tomorrow morning, because you don’t want a knock at the nets, do you?”

“I ought to have one,” said Teddy seriously. But Raffles laughed him to scorn.

“They’re not playing you for runs, my man, and I shouldn’t run any risks with those hands. Remember all the chances they’re going to lap up tomorrow, and all the byes they’ve not got to let!”

And Raffles had administered his opiate before the patient knew much more about it; next minute he was shaking hands with me, and the minute after that Raffles went in to put out his light. He was gone some little time; and I remember leaning out of the window in order not to overhear the conversation in the next room. The night was nearly as fine as ever. The starry ceiling over the Albany Courtyard was only less beautifully blue than when Raffles and I had come in a couple of hours ago. The traffic in Piccadilly came as crisply to the ear as on a winter’s night of hard frost. It was a night of wine, and sparkling wine, and the day at Lord’s must surely be a day of nectar. I could not help wondering whether any man had ever played in the University match with such a load upon his soul as E.M. Garland was taking to his forced slumbers; and then whether any heavy-laden soul had ever hit upon two such brother confessors as Raffles and myself!

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51