But amid these varied ornaments there were scattered the trophies which brought back strongly to my recollection the fact that Lord John Roxton was one of the great all-round sportsmen and athletes of his day.
A dark-blue oar crossed with a cherry-pink one above his mantel-piece spoke of the old Oxonian and Leander man, while the foils and boxing-gloves above and below them were the tools of a man who had won supremacy with each.
Like a dado round the room was the jutting line of splendid heavy game-heads, the best of their sort from every quarter of the world, with the rare white rhinoceros of the Lado Enclave drooping its supercilious lip above them all.
In the center of the rich red carpet was a black and gold Louis Quinze table, a lovely antique, now sacrilegiously desecrated with marks of glasses and the scars of cigar-stumps.
On it stood a silver tray of smokables and a burnished spirit-stand, from which and an adjacent siphon my silent host proceeded to charge two high glasses.
Having indicated an arm-chair to me and placed my refreshment near it, he handed me a long, smooth Havana.
Then, seating himself opposite to me, he looked at me long and fixedly with his strange, twinkling, reckless eyes—eyes of a cold light blue, the color of a glacier lake.
Through the thin haze of my cigar-smoke I noted the details of a face which was already familiar to me from many photographs—the strongly-curved nose, the hollow, worn cheeks, the dark, ruddy hair, thin at the top, the crisp, virile moustaches, the small, aggressive tuft upon his projecting chin.
Something there was of Napoleon III., something of Don Quixote, and yet again something which was the essence of the English country gentleman, the keen, alert, open-air lover of dogs and of horses.
His skin was of a rich flower-pot red from sun and wind.
His eyebrows were tufted and overhanging, which gave those naturally cold eyes an almost ferocious aspect, an impression which was increased by his strong and furrowed brow.
In figure he was spare, but very strongly built—indeed, he had often proved that there were few men in England capable of such sustained exertions.
His height was a little over six feet, but he seemed shorter on account of a peculiar rounding of the shoulders.
Such was the famous Lord John Roxton as he sat opposite to me, biting hard upon his cigar and watching me steadily in a long and embarrassing silence.
"Well," said he, at last, "we've gone and done it, young fellah my lad." (This curious phrase he pronounced as if it were all one word—"young-fellah-me-lad.")
"Yes, we've taken a jump, you an' me.
I suppose, now, when you went into that room there was no such notion in your head—what?"
"No thought of it."
"The same here.
No thought of it.
And here we are, up to our necks in the tureen.
Why, I've only been back three weeks from Uganda, and taken a place in Scotland, and signed the lease and all.
Pretty goin's on—what?
How does it hit you?"
"Well, it is all in the main line of my business. I am a journalist on the Gazette."
"Of course—you said so when you took it on.
By the way, I've got a small job for you, if you'll help me."
"Don't mind takin' a risk, do you?"
"What is the risk?"
"Well, it's Ballinger—he's the risk.
You've heard of him?"
"Why, young fellah, where HAVE you lived?
Sir John Ballinger is the best gentleman jock in the north country.
I could hold him on the flat at my best, but over jumps he's my master.
Well, it's an open secret that when he's out of trainin' he drinks hard—strikin' an average, he calls it.
He got delirium on Toosday, and has been ragin' like a devil ever since.
His room is above this.
The doctors say that it is all up with the old dear unless some food is got into him, but as he lies in bed with a revolver on his coverlet, and swears he will put six of the best through anyone that comes near him, there's been a bit of a strike among the serving-men.
He's a hard nail, is Jack, and a dead shot, too, but you can't leave a Grand National winner to die like that—what?"
"What do you mean to do, then?" I asked.
"Well, my idea was that you and I could rush him.
He may be dozin', and at the worst he can only wing one of us, and the other should have him.
If we can get his bolster-cover round his arms and then 'phone up a stomach-pump, we'll give the old dear the supper of his life."
It was a rather desperate business to come suddenly into one's day's work.
I don't think that I am a particularly brave man.
I have an Irish imagination which makes the unknown and the untried more terrible than they are.
On the other hand, I was brought up with a horror of cowardice and with a terror of such a stigma.
I dare say that I could throw myself over a precipice, like the Hun in the history books, if my courage to do it were questioned, and yet it would surely be pride and fear, rather than courage, which would be my inspiration.