Raffles had vanished from the face of the town, and even I had no conception of his whereabouts until he cabled to me to meet the 7.31 at Charing Cross next night. That was on the Tuesday before the 'Varsity match, or a full fortnight after his mysterious disappearance. The telegram was from Carlsbad, of all places for Raffles of all men! Of course there was only one thing that could possibly have taken so rare a specimen of physical fitness to any such pernicious spot. But to my horror he emerged from the train, on the Wednesday evening, a cadaverous caricature of the splendid person I had gone to meet.
"Not a word, my dear Bunny, till I have bitten British beef!" said he, in tones as hollow as his cheeks. "No, I'm not going to stop to clear my baggage now. You can do that for me to-morrow, Bunny, like a dear good pal."
"Any time you like," said I, giving him my arm. "But where shall we dine? Kellner's? Neapolo's? The Carlton or the Club?"
But Raffles shook his head at one and all.
"I don't want to dine at all," he said. "I know what I want!"
And he led the way from the station, stopping once to gloat over the sunset across Trafalgar Square, and again to inhale the tarry scent of the warm wood-paving, which was perfume to his nostrils as the din of its traffic was music to his ears, before we came to one of those political palaces which permit themselves to be included in the list of ordinary clubs. Raffles, to my surprise, walked in as though the marble hall belonged to him, and as straight as might be to the grill-room where white-capped cooks were making things hiss upon a silver grill. He did not consult me as to what we were to have. He had made up his mind about that in the train. But he chose the fillet steaks himself, he insisted on seeing the kidneys, and had a word to say about the fried potatoes, and the Welsh rarebit that was to follow. And all this was as uncharacteristic of the normal Raffles (who was least fastidious at the table) as the sigh with which he dropped into the chair opposite mine, and crossed his arms upon the cloth.
"I didn't know you were a member of this place," said I, feeling really rather shocked at the discovery, but also that it was a safer subject for me to open than that of his late mysterious movements.
"There are a good many things you don't know about me, Bunny," said he wearily. "Did you know I was in Carlsbad, for instance?"
"Of course I didn't."
"Yet you remember the last time we sat down together?"
"You mean that night we had supper at the Savoy?"
"It's only three weeks ago, Bunny."
"It seems months to me."
"And years to me!" cried Raffles. "But surely you remember that lost tribesman at the next table, with the nose like the village pump, and the wife with the emerald necklace?"
"I should think I did," said I; "you mean the great Dan Levy, otherwise Mr. Shylock? Why, you told me all about him, A. J."
"Did I? Then you may possibly recollect that the Shylocks were off to Carlsbad the very next day. It was the old man's last orgy before his annual cure, and he let the whole room know it. Ah, Bunny, I can sympathise with the poor brute now!"
"But what on earth took you there, old fellow?"
"Can you ask? Have you forgotten how you saw the emeralds under their table when they'd gone, and how I forgot myself and ran after them with the best necklace I'd handled since the days of Lady Melrose?"
I shook my head, partly in answer to his question, but partly also over a piece of perversity which still rankled in my recollection. But now I was prepared for something even more perverse.
"You were quite right," continued Raffles, recalling my recriminations at the time; "it was a rotten thing to do. It was also the action of a tactless idiot, since anybody could have seen that a heavy necklace like that couldn't have dropped off without the wearer's knowledge."
"You don't mean to say she dropped it on purpose?" I exclaimed with more interest, for I suddenly foresaw the remainder of his tale.
"I do," said Raffles. "The poor old pet did it deliberately when stooping to pick up something else; and all to get it stolen and delay their trip to Carlsbad, where her swab of a husband makes her do the cure with him."
I said I always felt that we had failed to fulfil an obvious destiny in the matter of those emeralds; and there was something touching in the way Raffles now sided with me against himself.
"But I saw it the moment I had yanked them up," said he, "and heard that fat swine curse his wife for dropping them. He told her she'd done it on purpose, too; he hit the nail on the head all right; but it was her poor head, and that showed me my unworthy impulse in its true light, Bunny. I didn't need your reproaches to make me realise what a skunk I'd been all round. I saw that the necklace was morally yours, and there was one clear call for me to restore it to you by hook, crook, or barrel. I left for Carlsbad as soon after its wrongful owners as prudence permitted."
"Admirable!" said I, overjoyed to find old Raffles by no means in such bad form as he looked. "But not to have taken me with you, A. J., that's the unkind cut I can't forgive."
"My dear Bunny, you couldn't have borne it," said Raffles solemnly. "The cure would have killed you; look what it's done to me."
"Don't tell me you went through with it!" I rallied him.
"Of course I did, Bunny. I played the game like a prayer-book."
"But why, in the name of all that's wanton?"
"You don't know Carlsbad, or you wouldn't ask. The place is squirming with spies and humbugs. If I had broken the rules one of the prize humbugs laid down for me I should have been spotted in a tick by a spy, and bowled out myself for a spy and a humbug rolled into one. Oh, Bunny, if old man Dante were alive to-day I should commend him to that sink of salubrity for the redraw material of another and a worse Inferno!"
The steaks had arrived, smoking hot, with a kidney apiece and lashings of fried potatoes. And for a divine interval (as it must have been to him) Raffles's only words were to the waiter, and referred to successive tankards of bitter, with the superfluous rider that the man who said we couldn't drink beer was a liar. But indeed I never could myself, and only achieved the impossible in this case out of sheer sympathy with Raffles. And eventually I had my reward, in such a recital of malignant privation as I cannot trust myself to set down in any words but his.
"No, Bunny, you couldn't have borne it for half a week; you'd have looked like that all the time!" quoth Raffles. I suppose my face had fallen (as it does too easily) at his aspersion on my endurance. "Cheer up, my man; that's better," he went on, as I did my best. "But it was no smiling matter out there. No one does smile after the first week; your sense of humour is the first thing the cure eradicates. There was a hunting man at my hotel, getting his weight down to ride a special thoroughbred, and no doubt a cheery dog at home; but, poor devil, he hadn't much chance of good cheer there! Miles and miles on his poor feet before breakfast; mud-poultices all the morning; and not the semblance of a drink all day, except some aerated muck called Gieshübler. He was allowed to lap that up an hour after meals, when his tongue would be hanging out of his mouth. We went to the same weighing machine at cock-crow, and though he looked quite good-natured once when I caught him asleep in his chair, I have known him tear up his weight ticket when he had gained an ounce or two instead of losing one or two pounds. We began by taking our walks together, but his conversation used to get so physically introspective that one couldn't get in a word about one's own works edgeways."
"But there was nothing wrong with your works," I reminded Raffles; he shook his head as one who was not so sure.
"Perhaps not at first, but the cure soon sees to that! I closed in like a concertina, Bunny, and I only hope I shall be able to pull out like one. You see, it's the custom of the accursed place for one to telephone for a doctor the moment one arrives. I consulted the hunting man, who of course recommended his own in order to make sure of a companion on the rack. The old arch-humbug was down upon me in ten minutes, examining me from crown to heel, and made the most unblushing report upon my general condition. He said I had a liver! I'll swear I hadn't before I went to Carlsbad, but I shouldn't be a bit surprised if I'd brought one back."
And he tipped his tankard with a solemn face, before falling to work upon the Welsh rarebit which had just arrived.
"It looks like gold, and it's golden eating," said poor old Raffles. "I only wish that sly dog of a doctor could see me at it! He had the nerve to make me write out my own health-warrant, and it was so like my friend the hunting man's that it dispelled his settled gloom for the whole of that evening. We used to begin our drinking day at the same well of German damnably defiled, and we paced the same colonnade to the blare of the same well-fed band. That wasn't a joke, Bunny; it's not a thing to joke about; mud-poultices and dry meals, with teetotal poisons in between, were to be my portion too. You stiffen your lip at that, eh, Bunny? I told you that you never would or could have stood it; but it was the only game to play for the Emerald Stakes. It kept one above suspicion all the time. And then I didn't mind that part as much as you would, or as my hunting pal did; he was driven to fainting at the doctor's place one day, in the forlorn hope of a toothful of brandy to bring him round. But all he got was a glass of cheap Marsala."
"But did you win those stakes after all?"
"Of course I did, Bunny," said Raffles below his breath, and with a look that I remembered later. "But the waiters are listening as it is, and I'll tell you the rest some other time. I suppose you know what brought me back so soon?"
"Hadn't you finished your cure?"
"Not by three good days. I had the satisfaction of a row royal with the Lord High Humbug to account for my hurried departure. But, as a matter of fact, if Teddy Garland hadn't got his Blue at the eleventh hour I should be at Carlsbad still."
E.M. Garland (Eton and Trinity) was the Cambridge wicketkeeper, and one of the many young cricketers who owed a good deal to Raffles. They had made friends in some country-house week, and foregathered afterward in town, where the young fellow's father had a house at which Raffles became a constant guest. I am afraid I was a little prejudiced both against the father, a retired brewer whom I had never met, and the son whom I did meet once or twice at the Albany. Yet I could quite understand the mutual attraction between Raffles and this much younger man; indeed he was a mere boy, but like so many of his school he seemed to have a knowledge of the world beyond his years, and withal such a spontaneous spring of sweetness and charm as neither knowledge nor experience could sensibly pollute. And yet I had a shrewd suspicion that wild oats had been somewhat freely sown, and that it was Raffles who had stepped in and taken the sower in hand, and turned him into the stuff of which Blues are made. At least I knew that no one could be sounder friend or saner counsellor to any young fellow in need of either. And many there must be to bear me out in their hearts; but they did not know their Raffles as I knew mine; and if they say that was why they thought so much of him, let them have patience, and at last they shall hear something that need not make them think the less.
"I couldn't let poor Teddy keep at Lord's," explained Raffles, "and me not there to egg him on! You see, Bunny, I taught him a thing or two in those little matches we played together last August. I take a fatherly interest in the child."
"You must have done him a lot of good," I suggested, "in every way."
Raffles looked up from his bill and asked me what I meant. I saw he was not pleased with my remark, but I was not going back on it.
"Well, I should imagine you had straightened him out a bit, if you ask me."
"I didn't ask you, Bunny, that's just the point!" said Raffles. And I watched him tip the waiter without the least arriere-pensée on either side.
"After all," said I, on our way down the marble stair, "you have told me a good deal about the lad. I remember once hearing you say he had a lot of debts, for example."
"So I was afraid," replied Raffles, frankly; "and between ourselves, I offered to finance him before I went abroad. Teddy wouldn't hear of it; that hot young blood of his was up at the thought, though he was perfectly delightful in what he said. So don't jump to rotten conclusions, Bunny, but stroll up to the Albany and have a drink."
And when we had reclaimed our hats and coats, and lit our Sullivans in the hall, out we marched as though I were now part-owner of the place with Raffles.
"That," said I, to effect a thorough change of conversation, since I felt at one with all the world, "is certainly the finest grill in Europe."
"That's why we went there, Bunny."
"But must I say I was rather surprised to find you a member of a place where you tip the waiter and take a ticket for your hat!"
I was not surprised, however, to hear Raffles defend his own caravanserai.
"I would go a step further," he remarked, "and make every member show his badge as they do at Lord's."
"But surely the porter knows the members by sight?"
"Not he! There are far too many thousands of them."
"I should have thought he must."
"And I know he doesn't."
"Well, you ought to know, A.J., since you're a member yourself."
"On the contrary, my dear Bunny, I happen to know because I never was one!"