Chapter XXXIV

The apartment was one belonging to the older portion of the house, and had been, in fact, an annex to the great library. The walls were oak-panelled, and hung with a collection of old prints. There were some easy-chairs, a writing-table, and some well-laden bookcases. There were one or two bronze statues of gladiators, a wonderful study of two wrestlers, no minor ornaments. Sir Timothy plunged at once into what he had to say.

"I promised you, Lady Cynthia, and you, Ledsam," he said, "to divulge exactly the truth as regards these much-talked-of entertainments here. You, Margaret, under present circumstances, are equally interested. You, Wilmore, are Ledsam's friend, and you happen to have an interest in this particular party. Therefore, I am glad to have you all here together. The superficial part of my entertainment you have seen. The part which renders it necessary for me to keep closed doors, I shall now explain. I give prizes here of considerable value for boxing contests which are conducted under rules of our own. One is due to take place in a very few minutes. The contests vary in character, but I may say that the chief officials of the National Sporting Club are usually to be found here, only, of course, in an unofficial capacity. The difference between the contests arranged by me, and others, is that my men are here to fight. They use sometimes an illegal weight of glove and they sometimes hurt one another. If any two of the boxing fraternity have a grudge against one another, and that often happens, they are permitted here to fight it out, under the strictest control as regards fairness, but practically without gloves at all. You heard of the accident, for instance, to Norris? That happened in my gymnasium. He was knocked out by Burgin. It was a wonderful fight.

"However, I pass on. There is another class of contest which frequently takes place here. Two boxers place themselves unreservedly in my hands. The details of the match are arranged without their knowledge. They come into the ring without knowing whom they are going to fight. Sometimes they never know, for my men wear masks. Then we have private matches. There is one to-night. Lord Meadowson and I have a wager of a thousand guineas. He has brought to-night from the East End a boxer who, according to the terms of our bet, has never before engaged in a professional contest. I have brought an amateur under the same conditions. The weight is within a few pounds the same, neither has ever seen the other, only in this case the fight is with regulation gloves and under Queensberry rules."

"Who is your amateur, Sir Timothy?" Wilmore asked harshly.

"Your brother, Mr. Wilmore," was the prompt reply. "You shall see the fight if I have your promise not to attempt in any way to interfere."

Wilmore rose to his feet.

"Do you mean to tell me," he demanded, "that my brother has been decoyed here, kept here against his will, to provide amusement for your guests?"

"Mr. Wilmore, I beg that you will be reasonable," Sir Timothy expostulated. "I saw your brother box at his gymnasium in Holborn. My agent made him the offer of this fight. One of my conditions had to be that he came here to train and that whilst he was here he held no communication whatever with the outside world. My trainer has ideas of his own and this he insists upon. Your brother in the end acquiesced. He was at first difficult to deal with as regards this condition, and he did, in fact, I believe, Mr. Ledsam, pay a visit to your office, with the object of asking you to become an intermediary between him and his relatives."

"He began a letter to me," Francis interposed, "and then mysteriously disappeared."

"The mystery is easily explained," Sir Timothy continued. "My trainer, Roger Hagon, a Varsity blue, and the best heavyweight of his year, occupies the chambers above yours. He saw from the window the arrival of Reginald Wilmore--which was according to instructions, as they were to come down to Hatch End together --went down the stairs to meet him, and, to cut a long story short, fetched him out of your office, Ledsam, without allowing him to finish his letter. This absolute isolation seems a curious condition, perhaps, but Hagon insists upon it, and I can assure you that he knows his business. The mystery, as you have termed it, of his disappearance that morning, is that he went upstairs with Hagon for several hours to undergo a medical examination, instead of leaving the building forthwith."

"Queer thing I never thought of Hagon," Francis remarked. "As a matter of fact, I never see him in the Temple, and I thought that he had left."

"May I ask," Wilmore intervened, "when my brother will be free to return to his home?"

"To-night, directly the fight is over," Sir Timothy replied. "Should he be successful, he will take with him a sum of money sufficient to start him in any business he chooses to enter."

Wilmore frowned slightly.

"But surely," he protested, "that would make him a professional pugilist?"

"Not at all," Sir Timothy replied. "For one thing, the match is a private one in a private house, and for another the money is a gift. There is no purse. If your brother loses, he gets nothing. Will you see the fight, Mr. Wilmore?"

"Yes, I will see it," was the somewhat reluctant assent.

"You will give me your word not to interfere in any way?"

"I shall not interfere," Wilmore promised. "If they are wearing regulation gloves, and the weights are about equal, and the conditions are what you say, it is the last thing I should wish to do."

"Capital!" Sir Timothy exclaimed. "Now to pass on. There is one other feature of my entertainments concerning which I have something to say--a series of performances which takes place on my launch at odd times. There is one fixed for tonight. I can say little about it except that it is unusual. I am going to ask you, Lady Cynthia, and you, Ledsam, to witness it. When you have seen that, you know everything. Then you and I, Ledsam, can call one another's hands. I shall have something else to say to you, but that is outside the doings here."

"Are we to see the fight in the gymnasium?" Lady Cynthia enquired.

Sir Timothy shook his head.

"I do not allow women there under any conditions," he said. "You and Margaret had better stay here whilst that takes place. It will probably be over in twenty minutes. It will be time then for us to find our way to the launch. After that, if you have any appetite, supper. I will order some caviare sandwiches for you," Sir Timothy went on, ringing the bell, "and some wine."

Lady Cynthia smiled.

"It is really a very wonderful party," she murmured.

Their host ushered the two men across the hall, now comparatively deserted, for every one had settled down to his or her chosen amusement--down a long passage, through a private door which he unlocked with a Yale key, and into the gymnasium. There were less than fifty spectators seated around the ring, and Francis, glancing at them hastily, fancied that he recognised nearly every one of them. There was Baker, a judge, a couple of actors, Lord Meadowson, the most renowned of sporting peers, and a dozen who followed in his footsteps; a little man who had once been amateur champion in the bantam class, and who was now considered the finest judge of boxing in the world; a theatrical manager, the present amateur boxing champion, and a sprinkling of others. Sir Timothy and his companions took their chairs amidst a buzz of welcome. Almost immediately, the man who was in charge of the proceedings, and whose name was Harrison, rose from his place.

"Gentlemen," he said, "this is a sporting contest, but one under usual rules and usual conditions. An amateur, who tips the scales at twelve stone seven, who has never engaged in a boxing contest in his life, is matched against a young man from a different sphere of life, who intends to adopt the ring as his profession, but who has never as yet fought in public. Names, gentlemen, as you know, are seldom mentioned here. I will only say that the first in the ring is the nominee of our friend and host, Sir Timothy Brast; second comes the nominee of Lord Meadowson."

Wilmore, notwithstanding his pre-knowledge, gave a little gasp. The young man who stood now within a few yards of him, carelessly swinging his gloves in his hand, was without a doubt his missing brother. He looked well and in the pink of condition; not only well but entirely confident and at his ease. His opponent, on the other hand, a sturdier man, a few inches shorter, was nervous and awkward, though none the less determined-looking. Sir Timothy rose and whispered in Harrison's ear. The latter nodded. In a very few moments the preliminaries were concluded, the fight begun.