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Chapter 17 A Secret Service
This house also was on the river, but it was very small bricks-and-mortar compared with the other two. One of a semi-detached couple built close to the road, with narrow strips of garden to the river’s brim, its dingy stucco front and its green Venetian blinds conveyed no conceivable attraction beyond that of a situation more likely to prove a drawback three seasons out of the four. The wooden gate had not swung home behind me before I was at the top of a somewhat dirty flight of steps, contemplating blistered paint and ground glass fit for a bathroom window, and listening to the last reverberations of an obsolete type of bell. There was indeed something oppressively and yet prettily Victorian about the riparian retreat to which Lady Laura Belsize had retired in her impoverished widowhood.

It was not for Lady Laura that I asked, however, but for Miss Belsize, and the almost slatternly maid really couldn’t say whether Miss Belsize was in or whether she wasn’t. She might be in the garden, or she might be on the river. Would I step inside and wait a minute? I would and did, but it was more minutes than one that I was kept languishing in an interior as dingy as the outside of the house. I had time to take the whole thing in. There were massive remnants of deservedly unfashionable furniture. The sofa I can still see in my mind’s eye, and the steel fire-irons, and the crystal chandelier. An aged and gigantic Broadwood occupied nearly half the room; and in a cheap frame thereon, inviting all sorts of comparisons and contrasts, stood a full-length portrait of Camilla Belsize resplendent in contemporary court kit.

I was still studying that frankly barbaric paraphernalia — the feather, the necklace, the coiled train — and wondering what noble kinsman had come to the rescue for the great occasion, and why Camilla should have looked so bored with her finery, when the door opened and she herself entered — not even very smartly dressed — and looking anything but bored, although I say it.

But she did seem astonished, anxious, indignant, reproachful, and to my mind still more nervous and distressed, though this hardly showed through the loopholes of her pride. And as for her white serge coat and skirt, they looked as though they had seen considerable service on the river, and I immediately perceived that one of the large enamel buttons was missing from the coat.

Up to that moment, I may now confess, I had been suffering from no slight nervous anxiety of my own. But all qualms were lost in sheer excitement when I spoke.

“You may well wonder at this intrusion,” I began. “But I thought this must be yours, Miss Belsize.”

And from my waistcoat pocket I produced the missing button of enamel.

“Where did you find it?” inquired Miss Belsize, with an admirably slight increase of astonishment in voice and look. “And how did you know it was mine?” came quickly in the next breath.

“I didn’t know,” I answered. “I guessed. It was the shot of my life!”

“But you don’t say where you found it?”

“In an empty house not far from here.”

She had held her breath; now I felt it like the lightest zephyr. And quite unconsciously I had retained the enamel button.

“Well, Mr. Manders? I’m very much obliged to you. But may I have it back again?”

I returned her property. We had been staring at each other all the time. I stared still harder as she repeated her perfunctory thanks.

“So it was you!” I said, and was sorry to see her looking purposely puzzled at that, but thankful when the reckless light outshone all the rest in those chameleon eyes of hers.

“Who did you think it was?” she asked me with a frosty little smile.

“I didn’t know if it was anybody at all. I didn’t know what to think,” said I, quite candidly. “I simply found his pistol in my hand.”

“Whose pistol?”

“Dan Levy’s.”

“Good!” she said grimly. “That makes it all the better.”

“You saved my life.”

“I thought you had taken his — and I’d collaborated!”

There was not a tremor in her voice; it was cautious, eager, daring, intense, but absolutely her own voice now.

“No,” I said, “I didn’t shoot the fellow, but I made him think I had.”

“You made me think so too, until I heard what you said to him.”

“Yet you never made a sound yourself.”

“I should think not! I made myself scarce instead.”

“But, Miss Belsize, I shall go perfectly mad if you don’t tell me how you happened to be there at all!”

“Don’t you think it’s for you to tell me that about yourself and — all of you?”

“Oh, I don’t mind which of us fires first!” said I, excitedly.

“Then I will,” she said at once, and took me to the dreadful sofa at the inner end of the room, and sat down as though it were the most ordinary experience she had to relate. Nor could I believe the things that had really happened, and all so recently, as we talked them over in that commonplace environment of faded gentility. There was a window behind us, overlooking the ribbon of lawn and the cord of gravel, and the bunch of willows that hedged them from the Thames. It all looked unreal to me, unreal in its very realism as the scene of our incredible conversation.

“You know what happened the other afternoon — I mean the day they couldn’t play,” began Miss Belsize, “because you were there; and though you didn’t stay to hear all that came out afterwards, I expect you know everything now. Mr. Raffles would be sure to tell you; in fact, I heard poor dear Mr. Garland give him leave. It’s a dreadful story from every point of view. Nobody comes out of it with flying colours, but what nice person could cope with a horrid money-lender? Mr. Raffles, perhaps — if you call him nice!”

I said that was about the worst thing I called him. I mentioned some of the other things. Miss Belsize listened to them with exemplary patience.

“Well,” she resumed, “he was quite nice about this. I will say that for him. He said he knew Mr. Levy pretty well, and would see what could be done. But he spoke like an executioner who was going to see what could be done with the condemned man! And all the time I was wondering what had been done already at Carlsbad — what exactly that horrid creature meant when he was talking at Mr. Raffles before us all. Well, of course, I knew what he meant us to think he meant; but was there, could there be, anything in it?”

Miss Belsize looked at me as though she expected an answer, only to stop me the moment I opened my mouth to speak.

“I don’t want to know, Mr. Manders! Of course you know all about Mr. Raffles”— there was a touch of feeling in this —“but it’s nothing to me, though in this case I should certainly have been on his side. You said yourself that it could only have been a practical joke, if there was anything in it at all, and so I tried to think in spite of those horrid men who were following him about at Lord’s, even in spite of the way he vanished with them after him. But he never came near the match again — though he had travelled all the way from Carlsbad to see it! Why had he ever been there? What had he really done there? And what could he possibly do to rescue anybody from Mr. Levy, if he himself was already in Levy’s power?”

“You don’t know Raffles,” said I, promptly enough this time. “He never was in any man’s power for many minutes. I would back him to save the most desperate situation you could devise.”

“You mean by some desperate deed? That’s what I feared,” declared Miss Belsize, rather strenuously. “Something really had happened at Carlsbad; something worse was by way of happening next. For Teddy’s sake,” she whispered, “and his poor father’s!”

I agreed that old Raffles stuck at nothing for his friends, and Miss Belsize again said that was what she had feared. Her tone had completely altered about Raffles, as well it might. I thought it would have broken with gratitude when she spoke of the unlucky father and son.

“And I was right!” she exclaimed, with that other kind of feeling to which I found it harder to put a name. “I came home miserable from the match on Saturday —”

“Though Teddy had done so well!” I was fool enough to interject.

“I couldn’t help thinking about Mr. Raffles,” replied Camilla, with a flash of her frank eyes, “and wondering, and wondering, what had happened. And then on Sunday I saw him on the river.”

“He didn’t tell me.”

“He didn’t know I recognised him; he was disguised — absolutely!” said Camilla Belsize under her breath. “But he couldn’t disguise himself from me,” she added as though glorying in her perspicacity.

“Di............
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