"Go? Of course I'll go! This is a real honour!"
Some of his family and friends were less enthusiastic, however. Among them was his brother-in-law E. W. Hornung, who had contrived one of the most remarkable switches in modern literature by dreaming up Raffles, the gentleman burglar, some years after brother-in-law Arthur thought of Sherlock Holmes. Hornung lacked Conan Doyle's comprehensive love of sport. Of golf, for instance, he once remarked: "It's unsportsmanlike to hit a sitting ball."
In his memoirs Sir Arthur wrote: "I was much inclined to accept...though my friends pictured me as winding up with a revolver at one ear and a razor at the other. However, the distance and my engagements presented a final bar."
One of the engagements referred to was the campaign that Sir Arthur, a champion of good causes, was then carrying on against old King Leopold of Belgium as a result of the exposure of cruelties practiced on natives in the Congo. Sir Arthur always had a crusade of some sort on his hands, and his conscience was unresting.
So in the end he expressed his polite regrets, undoubtedly to the disappointment of Mr. Lewis and the Morning Telegraph and perhaps of Tex Rickard, Jeffries and Johnson. The promoter and the principals in the fight were not what you could fairly call reading men, but they knew who Conan Doyle was, and they felt for him the respect and confidence that he had won and deserved.
He would probably have made a good referee. He was big enough and strong enough to handle the fighters, and he knew the rules of the game. For many years he kept up his boxing, and said of himself: "I suppose I might describe my form as that of a fair average amateur." He was a frequent patron of the National Sporting Club in London when that exclusive body was the headquarters of British boxing. The club was stiffly aristocratic in tone, with white and black ties in all the seats except for a section kept apart for professional bruisers. But when Sir Arthur came he would say: "Put me at the back, among the boxers."
That was how Sir Arthur was able to write Rodney Stone in a manner so convincing that it brought him one of his most cherished tributes. A friend who was at the deathbed of an Australian pugilist was reading him the chapter describing the fight between the young hero and the ruffian Joe Berks. A second gives counsel to Boy Jim: "Get your left on his mark, boy! Then go to his head with the right!"
The dying fighter raised himself and said: "By God, that's got him!"