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“God bless you!” I cried. “Forgive me for everything. I will tell you the truth. I DID think you might help me in my extremity, though I well knew that I had no claim upon you.
Still-for the old school’s sake–the sake of old times. I thought you might give me another chance. If you wouldn’t I meant to blow out my brains–and will still if you change your mind!”
In truth, I feared that it was changing, with his expression, even as I spoke, and in spite of his kindly tone and kindlier use of my old school nickname.
His next words showed me my mistake. “What a boy it is for jumping to conclusions! I have my vices, Bunny, but backing and filling are not one of them.
Sit down, my good fellow, and have a cigarette to soothe your nerves. I insist. Whiskey? The worst thing for you; here’s some coffee that I was brewing when you came in.
Now listen to me. You speak of another chance. What do you mean? Another chance at baccarat? Not if I know it! You think the luck must turn; suppose it didn’t?
We should only have made bad worse. No, my dear chap, you’ve plunged enough. Do you put yourself in my hands or do you not?
Very well, then you plunge no more, and I undertake not to present my check. Unfortunately, there are the other men, and still more unfortunately, Bunny, I’m as hard up at this moment as you are yourself!”
It was my turn to stare at Raffles. “You?” I vociferated. “You hard up? How am I to sit here and believe that?” “Did I refuse to believe it of you?” he returned, smiling.
He got up, lit a fresh cigarette, and fell to pacing the room once more, but with a slower and more thoughtful step, and for a much longer period than before.
Twice he stopped at my chair as though on the point of speaking, but each time he checked himself and resumed his
stride in silence.
Once he threw up the window, which he had shut some time since, and stood for some moments leaning out into the fog which filled the Albany courtyard.
Meanwhile a clock on the chimney-piece struck one, and one again for the half-hour, without a word between us.
Yet I not only kept my chair with patience, but I acquired an incongruous equanimity in that half-hour. Insensibly I had shifted my burden to the broad shoulders of this splendid friend, and my thoughts wandered with my eyes as the minutes passed.
The room was the goodsized, square one, with the folding doors, the marble mantel-piece, and the gloomy, oldfashioned distinction peculiar to the Albany.
It was charmingly furnished and arranged, with the right amount of negligence and the right amount of taste. What struck me most, however, was the absence of the usual insignia of a cricketer’s den.
Instead of the conventional rack of war-worn bats, a carved oak bookcase, with every shelf in a litter, filled the better part of one wall; and where I looked for cricketing groups, I found reproductions of such works as “Love
and Death” and “The Blessed Damozel,” in dusty frames and different parallels.
The man might have been a minor poet instead of an athlete of the first water.
But there had always been a fine streak of aestheticism in his complex composition; some of these very pictures I had myself dusted in his study at school; and they set me thinking of yet another of his many sides–and of the little incident to which he had just referred.
Everybody knows how largely the tone of a public school depends on that of the eleven, and on the character of the captain of cricket in particular; and I have never heard it denied that in A. J. Raffles’s time our tone was good, or that such influence as he troubled to exert was on the side of the angels.
Yet it was whispered in the school that he was in the habit of parading the town at night in loud checks and a false beard.
It was whispered, and disbelieved. I alone knew it for a fact; for night after night had I pulled the rope up after him when the rest of the dormitory were asleep, and kept awake by the hour to let it down again on a given signal.
Well, one night he was over-bold, and within an ace of ignominious expulsion in the hey-day of his fame.
Consummate daring and extraordinary nerve on his part, aided, doubtless, by some little presence of mind on mine, averted the untoward result; and no more need be said of a discreditable incident.
But I cannot pretend to have forgotten it in throwing myself on this man’s mercy in my desperation.
And I was wondering how much of his leniency was owing to the fact that Raffles had not forgotten it either, when he stopped and stood over my chair once more.
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