Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Raffles, Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman
Author: Hornung, E. W. (Ernest William), 1866-1921
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Raffles, Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



RAFFLES

FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN


BY

E. W. HORNUNG



CONTENTS


  NO SINECURE
  A JUBILEE PRESENT
  THE FATE OF FAUSTINA
  THE LAST LAUGH
  TO CATCH A THIEF
  AN OLD FLAME
  THE WRONG HOUSE
  THE KNEES OF THE GODS



RAFFLES



NO SINECURE


I

I am still uncertain which surprised me more, the telegram calling my
attention to the advertisement, or the advertisement itself.  The
telegram is before me as I write.  It would appear to have been handed
in at Vere Street at eight o'clock in the morning of May 11, 1897, and
received before half-past at Holloway B.O.  And in that drab region it
duly found me, unwashen but at work before the day grew hot and my
attic insupportable.

"See Mr. Maturin's advertisement Daily Mail might suit you earnestly
beg try will speak if necessary ---- ----"

I transcribe the thing as I see it before me, all in one breath that
took away mine; but I leave out the  initials at the end, which
completed the surprise.  They stood very obviously for the knighted
specialist whose consulting-room is within a cab-whistle of Vere
Street, and who once called me kinsman for his sins.  More recently he
had called me other names.  I was a disgrace, qualified by an adjective
which seemed to me another. I had made my bed, and I could go and lie
and die in it.  If I ever again had the insolence to show my nose in
that house,  I should go out quicker than I came in.  All this, and
more, my least distant relative could tell a poor devil to his face;
could ring for his man, and give him his brutal instructions on the
spot; and then relent to the tune of this telegram!  I have no phrase
for my amazement.  I literally could not believe my eyes.  Yet their
evidence was more and more conclusive: a very epistle could not have
been more characteristic of its sender. Meanly  elliptical, ludicrously
precise, saving half-pence at the expense of sense, yet paying like a
man for  "Mr." Maturin, that was my distinguished relative from his
bald patch to his corns.  Nor was all  the rest unlike him, upon second
thoughts. He  had a reputation for charity; he was going to live  up to
it after all.  Either that, or it was the sudden impulse of which the
most calculating are capable at times; the morning papers with the
early cup of tea, this advertisement seen by chance, and the rest upon
the spur of a guilty conscience.

Well, I must see it for myself, and the sooner the better, though work
pressed.  I was writing a series of articles upon prison life, and had
my nib into the whole System; a literary and philanthropical daily was
parading my "charges," the graver ones with the more gusto; and the
terms, if unhandsome for creative work, were temporary wealth to me.
It so happened that my first check  had just arrived by the eight
o'clock post; and my position should be appreciated when I say that I
had to cash it to obtain a Daily Mail.

Of the advertisement itself, what is to be said?  It should speak for
itself if I could find it, but I cannot, and only remember that it was
a "male  nurse and constant attendant" that was "wanted  for an elderly
gentleman in feeble health."  A  male nurse!  An absurd tag was
appended, offering "liberal salary to University or public-school man";
and of a sudden I saw that I should get this thing if I applied for it.
What other "University or public-school man" would dream of  doing so?
Was any other in such straits as I?  And then my relenting relative; he
not only promised to speak for me, but was the very man to do so.
Could any recommendation compete with his in the matter of a male
nurse?  And need the duties of such be necessarily loathsome and
repellent?  Certainly the surroundings would be better than those of my
common lodging-house and own particular garret; and the food; and every
other condition of life that I could think of on my way back to that
unsavory asylum.  So I dived into a pawnbroker's shop, where I was a
stranger only upon my present errand, and within the hour was  airing a
decent if antiquated suit, but little corrupted by the pawnbroker's
moth, and a new straw hat, on the top of a tram.

The address given in the advertisement was that of a flat at Earl's
Court, which cost me a cross-country journey, finishing with the
District Railway and a seven minutes' walk.  It was now past mid-day,
and the tarry wood-pavement was good to smell as I strode up the Earl's
Court Road.  It was great to walk the civilized world again.  Here were
men with coats on their backs, and ladies in gloves.  My only fear was
lest I might run up against one or other whom I had known of old.  But
it was my lucky day.  I felt it in my bones.  I was going to get this
berth; and sometimes I should be able to smell the wood-pavement on the
old boy's errands; perhaps he would insist on skimming over it in his
bath-chair, with me behind.

I felt quite nervous when I reached the flats.  They were a small pile
in a side street, and I pitied the doctor whose plate I saw upon the
palings before the ground-floor windows; he must be in a  very small
way, I thought.  I rather pitied myself as well. I had indulged in
visions of better flats than these.  There were no balconies.  The
porter was out of livery.  There was no lift, and my invalid on the
third floor!  I trudged up, wishing I  had never lived in Mount Street,
and brushed against a dejected individual coming down.  A  full-blooded
young fellow in a frock-coat flung the right door open at my summons.

"Does Mr. Maturin live here?" I inquired.

"That's right," said the full-blooded young man, grinning all over a
convivial countenance.

"I--I've come about his advertisement in the Daily Mail."

"You're the thirty-ninth," cried the blood; "that was the thirty-eighth
you met upon the stairs,  and the day's still young.  Excuse my staring
at you.  Yes, you pass your prelim., and can come inside; you're one of
the few.  We had most just after breakfast, but now the porter's
heading off the worst cases, and that last chap was the first for
twenty minutes. Come in here."

And I was ushered into an empty room with a good bay-window, which
enabled my full-blooded friend to inspect me yet more critically in a
good light; this he did without the least false delicacy;  then his
questions began.

"'Varsity man?"

"No."

"Public school?"

"Yes."

"Which one?"

I told him, and he sighed relief.

"At last!  You're the very first I've not had to argue with as to what
is and what is not a public school.  Expelled?"

"No," I said, after a moment's hesitation; "no, I was not expelled.
And I hope you won't expel me if I ask a question in my turn?"

"Certainly not."

"Are you Mr. Maturin's son?"

"No, my name's Theobald.  You may have seen it down below."

"The doctor?" I said.

"His doctor," said Theobald, with a satisfied  eye.  "Mr. Maturin's
doctor.  He is having a  male nurse and attendant by my advice, and he
wants a gentleman if he can get one.  I rather think he'll see you,
though he's only seen two or three all day. There are certain questions
which  he prefers to ask himself, and it's no good going over the same
ground twice.  So perhaps I had better tell him about you before we get
any further."

And he withdrew to a room still nearer the entrance, as I could hear,
for it was a very small flat indeed.  But now two doors were shut
between us, and I had to rest content with murmurs through the wall
until the doctor returned to summon me.

"I have persuaded my patient to see you," he whispered, "but I confess
I am not sanguine of the result.  He is very difficult to please.  You
must prepare yourself for a querulous invalid, and for no sinecure if
you get the billet."

"May I ask what's the matter with him?"

"By all means--when you've got the billet."

Dr. Theobald then led the way, his professional dignity so thoroughly
intact that I could not but smile as I followed his swinging coat-tails
to the sick-room.  I carried no smile across the  threshold of a
darkened chamber which reeked of drugs and twinkled with medicine
bottles, and in the middle of which a gaunt figure lay abed in the
half-light.

"Take him to the window, take him to the window," a thin voice snapped,
"and let's have a look  at him.  Open the blind a bit. Not as much as
that, damn you, not as much as that!"

The doctor took the oath as though it had been a fee.  I no longer
pitied him.  It was now very clear to me that he had one patient who
was a little practice in himself.  I determined there and then that he
should prove a little profession to me, if  we could but keep him alive
between us.  Mr. Maturin, however, had the whitest face that I have
ever seen, and his teeth gleamed out through the dusk as though the
withered lips no longer met about them; nor did they except in speech;
and anything ghastlier than the perpetual grin of his repose I defy you
to imagine.  It was with this grin that he lay regarding me while the
doctor held the blind.

"So you think you could look after me, do you?"

"I'm certain I could, sir."

"Single-handed, mind!  I don't keep another soul.  You would have to
cook your own grub and my slops.  Do you think you could do all that?"

"Yes, sir, I think so."

"Why do you?  Have you any experience of the kind?"

"No, sir, none."

"Then why do you pretend you have?"

"I only meant that I would do my best."

"Only meant, only meant!  Have you done your best at everything else,
then?"

I hung my head.  This was a facer.  And there was something in my
invalid which thrust the unspoken lie down my throat.

"No, sir, I have not," I told him plainly.

"He, he, he!" the old wretch tittered; "and you do well to own it; you
do well, sir, very well indeed.  If you hadn't owned up, out you would
have gone, out neck-and-crop!  You've saved your bacon.  You may do
more.  So you are a public-school boy, and a very good school yours is,
but you weren't at either University. Is that correct?"

"Absolutely."

"What did you do when you left school?"

"I came in for money."

"And then?"

"I spent my money."

"And since then?"

I stood like a mule.

"And since then, I say!"

"A relative of mine will tell you if you ask him.  He is an eminent
man, and he has promised to  speak for me.  I would rather say no more
myself."

"But you shall, sir, but you shall!  Do you suppose that I suppose a
public-school boy would apply for a berth like this if something or
other hadn't happened?  What I want is a gentleman of sorts, and I
don't much care what sort; but you've got to tell me what did happen,
if you don't tell anybody else.  Dr. Theobald, sir, you can go to the
devil if you won't take a hint. This man  may do or he may not.  You
have no more to say to it till I send him down to tell you one thing or
the other.  Clear out, sir, clear out; and if you think you've anything
to complain of, you stick it down in the bill!"

In the mild excitement of our interview the thin voice had gathered
strength, and the last shrill insult was screamed after the devoted
medico, as he retired in such order that I felt certain he was going to
take this trying patient at his word. The  bedroom door closed, then
the outer one, and the doctor's heels went drumming down the common
stair.  I was alone in the flat with this highly singular and rather
terrible old man.

"And a damned good riddance!" croaked the invalid, raising himself on
one elbow without  delay.  "I may not have much body left to boast
about, but at least I've got a lost old soul to call my own.  That's
why I want a gentleman of sorts  about me. I've been too dependent on
that chap.  He won't even let me smoke, and he's been in the flat all
day to see I didn't. You'll find the cigarettes behind the Madonna of
the Chair."

It was a steel engraving of the great Raffaelle, and the frame was
tilted from the wall; at a touch a packet of cigarettes tumbled down
from behind.

"Thanks; and now a light."

I struck the match and held it, while the invalid inhaled with normal
lips; and suddenly I sighed.  I was irresistibly reminded of my poor
dear old Raffles.  A smoke-ring worthy of the great A. J. was floating
upward from the sick man's lips.

"And now take one yourself.  I have smoked more poisonous cigarettes.
But even these are not Sullivans!"

I cannot repeat what I said.  I have no idea what I did.  I only
know--I only knew--that it was A. J. Raffles in the flesh!


II

"Yes, Bunny, it was the very devil of a swim;  but I defy you to sink
in the Mediterranean.  That  sunset saved me.  The sea was on fire.  I
hardly  swam under water at all, but went all I knew for the sun
itself; when it set I must have been a mile away; until it did I was
the invisible man.  I  figured on that, and only hope it wasn't set
down as a case of suicide.  I shall get outed quite soon enough, Bunny,
but I'd rather be dropped by the hangman than throw my own wicket away."

"Oh, my dear old chap, to think of having you by the hand again! I feel
as though we were both aboard that German liner, and all that's
happened since a nightmare.  I thought that time was  the last!"

"It looked rather like it, Bunny.  It was taking all the risks, and
hitting at everything.  But the game came off, and some day I'll tell
you how."

"Oh, I'm in no hurry to hear.  It's enough for me to see you lying
there.  I don't want to know how you came there, or why, though I fear
you must be pretty bad.  I must have a good look at you before I let
you speak another word!"

I raised one of the blinds, I sat upon the bed, and I had that look.
It left me all unable to conjecture his true state of health, but quite
certain  in my own mind that my dear Raffles was not and never would be
the man that he had been.  He had aged twenty years; he looked fifty at
the very least.  His hair was white; there was no trick  about that;
and his face was another white.  The lines about the corners of the
eyes and mouth were both many and deep.  On the other hand, the eyes
themselves were alight and alert as ever; they were still keen and gray
and gleaming, like finely tempered steel.  Even the mouth, with a
cigarette to close it, was the mouth of Raffles and no other:  strong
and unscrupulous as the man himself.  It was only the physical strength
which appeared to  have departed; but that was quite sufficient to make
my heart bleed for the dear rascal who had cost me every tie I valued
but the tie between us two.

"Think I look much older?" he asked at length.

"A bit," I admitted.  "But it is chiefly your hair."

"Whereby hangs a tale for when we've talked ourselves out, though I
have often thought it was that long swim that started it.  Still, the
Island of Elba is a rummy show, I can assure you.  And  Naples is a
rummier!"

"You went there after all?"

"Rather!  It's the European paradise for such as our noble selves.  But
there's no place that's a patch on little London as a non-conductor of
heat;  it never need get too hot for a fellow here;  if it does it's
his own fault.  It's the kind of wicket you don't get out on, unless
you get yourself out.  So here I am again, and have been for the last
six weeks.  And I mean to have another knock."

"But surely, old fellow, you're not awfully fit, are you?"

"Fit?  My dear Bunny, I'm dead--I'm at the bottom of the sea--and don't
you forget it for a  minute."

"But are you all right, or are you not?"

"No, I'm half-poisoned by Theobald's prescriptions and putrid
cigarettes, and as weak as a cat from lying in bed."

"Then why on earth lie in bed, Raffles?"

"Because it's better than lying in gaol, as I am afraid YOU know, my
poor dear fellow.  I tell you I am dead; and my one terror is of coming
to life again by accident.  Can't you see? I simply dare not show my
nose out of doors--by day.  You  have no idea of the number of
perfectly innocent things a dead man daren't do.  I can't even smoke
Sullivans, because no one man was ever so partial to them as I was in
my lifetime, and you never know when you may start a clew."

"What brought you to these mansions?"

"I fancied a flat, and a man recommended these on the boat; such a good
chap, Bunny; he was my reference when it came to signing the lease.
You see I landed on a stretcher--most pathetic case--old Australian
without a friend in old country--ordered Engadine as last chance--no
go--not an earthly--sentimental wish to die in London--that's the
history of Mr. Maturin.  If it doesn't  hit you hard, Bunny, you're the
first.  But it hit friend Theobald hardest of all.  I'm an income to
him.  I believe he's going to marry on me."

"Does he guess there's nothing wrong?"

"Knows, bless you!  But he doesn't know I know he knows, and there
isn't a disease in the  dictionary that he hasn't treated me for since
he's had me in hand.  To do him justice, I believe he thinks me a
hypochondriac of the first water; but that young man will go far if he
keeps on the wicket.  He has spent half his nights up here, at guineas
apiece."

"Guineas must be plentiful, old chap!"

"They have been, Bunny.  I can't say more.  But I don't see why they
shouldn't be again."

I was not going to inquire where the guineas came from.  As if I cared!
But I did ask old Raffles how in the world he had got upon my tracks;
and thereby drew the sort of smile with which old gentlemen rub their
hands, and old ladies nod their noses. Raffles merely produced a
perfect  oval of blue smoke before replying.

"I was waiting for you to ask that, Bunny; it's a long time since I did
anything upon which I plume myself more.  Of course, in the first
place, I spotted you at once by these prison articles; they were not
signed, but the fist was the fist of my sitting rabbit!"

"But who gave you my address?"

"I wheedled it out of your excellent editor; called on him at dead of
night, when I occasionally go afield like other ghosts, and wept it out
of him in five minutes.  I was your only relative;  your name was not
your own name; if he insisted  I would give him mine.  He didn't
insist, Bunny,  and I danced down his stairs with your address in my
pocket."

"Last night?"

"No, last week."

"And so the advertisement was yours, as well as the telegram!"

I had, of course, forgotten both in the high excitement of the hour, or
I should scarcely have announced my belated discovery with such an air.
As it was I made Raffles look at me as I had known  him look before,
and the droop of his eyelids  began to sting.

"Why all this subtlety?" I petulantly exclaimed.  "Why couldn't you
come straight away to me in a cab?"

He did not inform me that I was hopeless as ever.  He did not address
me as his good rabbit.

He was silent for a time, and then spoke in a tone which made me
ashamed of mine.

"You see, there are two or three of me now, Bunny: one's at the bottom
of the Mediterranean,  and one's an old Australian desirous of dying in
the old country, but in no immediate danger of  dying anywhere.  The
old Australian doesn't know a soul in town; he's got to be consistent,
or he's done.  This sitter Theobald is his only friend, and has seen
rather too much of him; ordinary dust won't do for his eyes.  Begin to
see?  To pick you out of a crowd, that was the game; to let old
Theobald help to pick you, better still!  To start with, he was dead
against my having anybody at all; wanted me all to himself, naturally;
but anything rather than kill the goose!  So he is to have a fiver a
week while he keeps me alive, and he's going to be married next month.
That's a pity in some ways, but a good thing in others; he will want
more money than he foresees, and he  may always be of use to us at a
pinch.  Meanwhile he eats out of my hand."

I complimented Raffles on the mere composition of his telegram, with
half the characteristics  of my distinguished kinsman squeezed into a
dozen odd words; and let him know how the old ruffian had really
treated me.  Raffles was not surprised; we had dined together at my
relative's in the old days, and filed for reference a professional
valuation of his household gods.  I now learnt that the telegram had
been posted, with the hour marked for its despatch, at the pillar
nearest Vere Street, on the night before the advertisement was due to
appear in the Daily Mail.  This also  had been carefully prearranged;
and Raffles's only fear had been lest it might be held over despite his
explicit instructions, and so drive me to the  doctor for an
explanation of his telegram.  But the adverse chances had been weeded
out and  weeded out to the irreducible minimum of  risk.

His greatest risk, according to Raffles, lay nearest home: bedridden
invalid that he was supposed to be, his nightly terror was of running
into Theobald's arms in the immediate neighborhood of the flat.  But
Raffles had characteristic methods of minimizing even that danger, of
which something anon; meanwhile he recounted more than one of  his
nocturnal adventures, all, however, of a singularly innocent type; and
one thing I noticed while  he talked.  His room was the first as you
entered  the flat.  The long inner wall divided the room  not merely
from the passage but from the outer landing as well. Thus every step
upon the bare stone stairs could be heard by Raffles where he lay;  and
he would never speak while one was ascending, until it had passed his
door.  The afternoon brought more than one applicant for the post which
it was my duty to tell them that I had already obtained.  Between three
and four, however, Raffles, suddenly looking at his watch, packed me
off in a hurry to the other end of  London for my things.

"I'm afraid you must be famishing, Bunny.  It's a fact that I eat very
little, and that at odd hours, but I ought not to have forgotten you.
Get yourself a snack outside, but not a square meal if you  can resist
one.  We've got to celebrate this day this night!"

"To-night?" I cried.

"To-night at eleven, and Kellner's the place.  You may well open your
eyes, but we didn't go there much, if you remember, and the staff seems
changed.  Anyway we'll risk it for once.  I was in last night, talking
like a stage American, and supper's ordered for eleven sharp."

"You made as sure of me as all that!"

"There was no harm in ordering supper.  We shall have it in a private
room, but you may as well dress if you've got the duds."

"They're at my only forgiving relative's."

"How much will get them out, and square you up, and bring you back bag
and baggage in good time?"

I had to calculate.

"A tenner, easily."

"I had one ready for you.  Here it is, and I wouldn't lose any time if
I were you.  On the way you might look up Theobald, tell him you've got
it and how long you'll be gone, and that I can't be left alone all the
time.  And, by Jove, yes!  You get me a stall for the Lyceum at the
nearest agent's; there are two or three in High Street; and say it was
given you when you come in. That young  man shall be out of the way
to-night."

I found our doctor in a minute consulting-room and his shirt-sleeves, a
tall tumbler at his elbow; at least I caught sight of the tumbler on
entering;  thereafter he stood in front of it, with a futility which
had my sympathy.

"So you've got the billet," said Dr. Theobald.  "Well, as I told you
before, and as you have since probably discovered for yourself, you
won't find it exactly a sinecure.  My own part of the business is by no
means that; indeed, there are those who would throw up the case, after
the kind of treatment that you have seen for yourself.  But
professional considerations are not the only ones, and one cannot make
too many allowances in such a case."

"But what is the case?" I asked him.  "You said you would tell me if I
was successful."

Dr. Theobald's shrug was worthy of the profession he seemed destined to
adorn; it was not incompatible with any construction which one chose to
put upon it.  Next moment he had stiffened. I suppose I still spoke
more or less like  a gentleman.  Yet, after all, I was only the  male
nurse.  He seemed to remember this suddenly, and he took occasion to
remind me of the fact.

"Ah," said he, "that was before I knew you were altogether without
experience; and I must  say that I was surprised even at Mr. Maturin's
engaging you after that; but it will depend upon yourself how long I
allow him to persist in so curious an experiment.  As for what is the
matter with him, my good fellow, it is no use my giving you an answer
which would be double Dutch to you; moreover, I have still to test your
discretionary powers.  I may say, however, that that  poor gentleman
presents at once the most complex and most troublesome case, which is
responsibility enough without certain features which make it all but
insupportable.  Beyond this I must refuse to discuss my patient for the
present; but I shall certainly go up if I can find time."

He went up within five minutes.  I found him there on my return at
dusk.  But he did not refuse my stall for the Lyceum, which Raffles
would not allow me to use myself, and presented to him off-hand without
my leave.

"And don't you bother any more about me till to-morrow," snapped the
high thin voice as he was off.  "I can send for you now when I want
you, and I'm hoping to have a decent night for once."


III

It was half-past ten when we left the flat, in an interval of silence
on the noisy stairs.  The silence was unbroken by our wary feet.  Yet
for me a surprise was in store upon the very landing.  Instead of going
downstairs, Raffles led me up two flights, and so out upon a perfectly
flat roof.

"There are two entrances to these mansions," he explained between stars
and chimney-stacks: "one to our staircase, and another round the
corner.  But there's only one porter, and he lives on the  basement
underneath us, and affects the door nearest home.  We miss him by using
the wrong stairs, and we run less risk of old Theobald.  I got the tip
from the postmen, who come up one way and down the other.  Now, follow
me, and look out!"

There was indeed some necessity for caution, for each half of the
building had its L-shaped well dropping sheer to the base, the parapets
so low that one might easily have tripped over them into  eternity.
However, we were soon upon the second staircase, which opened on the
roof like the first.  And twenty minutes of the next twenty-five we
spent in an admirable hansom, skimming east.

"Not much change in the old hole, Bunny.  More of these magic-lantern
advertisements ... and absolutely the worst bit of taste in town,
though it's saying something, in that equestrian statue with the gilt
stirrups and fixings; why don't they black the buffer's boots and his
horse's hoofs while they are about it? ...  More bicyclists, of course.
That was just beginning, if you remember.  It might have been useful to
us.... And there's the old club, getting put into a crate for the
Jubilee; by Jove, Bunny, we ought to be there.  I wouldn't lean forward
in Piccadilly, old chap.  If you're seen I'm thought of, and we shall
have to be jolly careful at Kellner's....  Ah, there it is!  Did I tell
you I was a low-down stage Yankee at Kellner's?  You'd better be
another, while the waiter's in the room."

We had the little room upstairs; and on the very threshold I, even I,
who knew my Raffles of old, was taken horribly aback. The table was
laid for three.  I called his attention to it in a whisper.

"Why, yep!" came through his nose.  "Say, boy, the lady, she's not
comin', but you leave that tackle where 'tis.  If I'm liable to pay, I
guess I'll have all there is to it."

I have never been in America, and the American public is the last on
earth that I desire to insult;  but idiom and intonation alike would
have imposed upon my inexperience.  I had to look at Raffles to make
sure that it was he who spoke, and I had my own reasons for looking
hard.

"Who on earth was the lady?" I inquired aghast at the first opportunity.

"She isn't on earth.  They don't like wasting this room on two, that's
all.  Bunny--my Bunny--here's to us both!"

And we clinked glasses swimming with the liquid gold of Steinberg,
1868; but of the rare delights of that supper I can scarcely trust
myself to write.  It was no mere meal, it was no coarse orgy, but a
little feast for the fastidious gods, not unworthy of Lucullus at his
worst.  And I who had bolted my skilly at Wormwood Scrubbs, and
tightened my  belt in a Holloway attic, it was I who sat down to this
ineffable repast!  Where the courses were few, but each a triumph of
its kind, it would be invidious to single out any one dish; but the
Jambon de Westphalie au Champagne tempts me sorely.  And then the
champagne that we drank, not the quantity but the quality!  Well, it
was Pol Roger, '84, and  quite good enough for me; but even so it was
not  more dry, nor did it sparkle more, than the merry  rascal who had
dragged me thus far to the devil, but should lead me dancing the rest
of the way.  I was beginning to tell him so.  I had done my honest best
since my reappearance in the world;  but the world had done its worst
by me.  A further antithesis and my final intention were both upon  my
tongue when the waiter with the Chateau Margaux cut me short; for he
was the bearer of more than that great wine; bringing also a card upon
a  silver tray.

"Show him up," said Raffles, laconically.

"And who is this?" I cried when the man was gone.  Raffles reached
across the table and gripped  my arm in a vice.  His eyes were steel
points fixed on mine.

"Bunny, stand by me," said he in the old irresistible voice, a voice
both stern and winning.  "Stand by me, Bunny--if there's a row!"

And there was time for nothing more, the door flying open, and a dapper
person entering with a bow; a frock-coat on his back, gold pince-nez on
his nose; a shiny hat in one hand, and a black bag in the other.

"Good-evening, gentlemen," said he, at home and smiling.

"Sit down," drawled Raffles in casual response.  "Say, let me introduce
you to Mr. Ezra B. Martin, of Shicawgo.  Mr. Martin is my future
brother-in-law.  This is Mr. Robinson, Ezra, manager to Sparks &
Company, the cellerbrated joolers on Re-gent Street."

I pricked up my ears, but contented myself with a nod.  I altogether
distrusted my ability to live up to my new name and address.

"I figured on Miss Martin bein' right here, too," continued Raffles,
"but I regret to say she's  not feelin' so good.  We light out for
Parrus on the 9 A. M. train to-morrer mornin', and she  guessed she'd
be too dead.  Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Robinson; but you'll see I'm
advertisin' your wares."

Raffles held his right hand under the electric light, and a diamond
ring flashed upon his little finger.  I could have sworn it was not
there five  minutes before.

The tradesman had a disappointed face, but for a moment it brightened
as he expatiated on the value of that ring and on the price his people
had accepted for it.  I was invited to guess the figure, but I shook a
discreet head.  I have seldom been more taciturn in my life.

"Forty-five pounds," cried the jeweller; "and it would be cheap at
fifty guineas."

"That's right," assented Raffles.  "That'd be dead cheap, I allow.  But
then, my boy, you gotten ready cash, and don't you forget it."

I do not dwell upon my own mystification in all this.  I merely pause
to state that I was keenly enjoying that very element. Nothing could
have been more typical of Raffles and the past. It was only my own
attitude that was changed.

It appeared that the mythical lady, my sister, had just become engaged
to Raffles, who seemed  all anxiety to pin her down with gifts of
price.  I could not quite gather whose gift to whom was the diamond
ring; but it had evidently been paid for; and I voyaged to the moon,
wondering when and how.  I was recalled to this planet by a deluge of
gems from the jeweller's bag.  They lay alight in their cases like the
electric lamps above.  We all three put our heads together over them,
myself  without the slightest clew as to what was coming, but not
unprepared for violent crime.  One does not do eighteen months for
nothing.

"Right away," Raffles was saying.  "We'll choose for her, and you'll
change anything she don't like.  Is that the idea?"

"That was my suggestion, sir."

"Then come on, Ezra.  I guess you know Sadie's taste.  You help me
choose."

And we chose--lord!  What did we not choose?  There was her ring, a
diamond half-hoop.  It cost L95, and there was no attempt to get it for
L90.  Then there was a diamond necklet--two  hundred guineas, but
pounds accepted.  That was  to be the gift of the bridegroom.  The
wedding  was evidently imminent.  It behooved me to play a  brotherly
part.  I therefore rose to the occasion; calculated she would like a
diamond star (L116), but reckoned it was more than I could afford; and
sustained a vicious kick under the table for either verb.  I was afraid
to open my mouth on finally  obtaining the star for the round hundred.
And then the fat fell in the fire; for pay we could not; though a
remittance (said Raffles) was "overdo from Noo York."

"But I don't know you, gentlemen," the jeweller exclaimed.  "I haven't
even the name of your hotel!"

"I told you we was stoppin' with friends," said Raffles, who was not
angry, though thwarted and crushed.  "But that's right, sir! Oh, that's
dead  right, and I'm the last man to ask you to take Quixotic risks.
I'm tryin' to figure a way out.  Yes, SIR, that's what I'm tryin' to
do."

"I wish you could, sir," the jeweller said, with feeling.  "It isn't as
if we hadn't seen the color  of your money.  But certain rules I'm
sworn to observe; it isn't as if I was in business for myself; and--you
say you start for Paris in the morning!"

"On the 9 A. M. train," mused Raffles; "and I've heard no-end yarns
about the joolers' stores in Parrus.  But that ain't fair; don't you
take no notice o' that.  I'm tryin' to figure a way out.  Yes, SIR!"

He was smoking cigarettes out of a twenty-five box; the tradesman and I
had cigars.  Raffles sat frowning with a pregnant eye, and it was only
too clear to me that his plans had miscarried.  I could not help
thinking, however, that they deserved to do so, if he had counted upon
buying credit for all but L400 by a single payment of some ten per
cent.  That again seemed unworthy of Raffles, and I, for my part, still
sat prepared to spring any moment at our visitor's throat.

"We could mail you the money from Parrus,"  drawled Raffles at length.
"But how should we know you'd hold up your end of the string, and mail
us the same articles we've selected to-night?"

The visitor stiffened in his chair.  The name of his firm should be
sufficient guarantee for that.

"I guess I'm no better acquainted with their name than they are with
mine," remarked Raffles, laughing.  "See here, though!  I got a scheme.
You pack 'em in this!"

He turned the cigarettes out of the tin box,  while the jeweller and I
joined wondering eyes.

"Pack 'em in this," repeated Raffles, "the three things we want, and
never mind the boxes; you can pack 'em in cotton-wool.  Then we'll ring
for string and sealing wax, seal up the lot right here,  and you can
take 'em away in your grip.  Within three days we'll have our
remittance, and mail you the money, and you'll mail us this darned box
with my seal unbroken!  It's no use you lookin' so sick, Mr. Jooler;
you won't trust us any, and yet  we're goin' to trust you some.  Ring
the bell, Ezra, and we'll see if they've gotten any sealing-wax and
string."

They had; and the thing was done.  The tradesman did not like it; the
precaution was absolutely unnecessary; but since he was taking all his
goods away with him, the sold with the unsold, his sentimental
objections soon fell to the ground.  He packed necklet, ring, and star,
with his own hands, in cotton-wool; and the cigarette-box held them so
easily that at the last moment, when the box was closed, and the string
ready, Raffles very nearly added a diamond bee-brooch at L51 10s.  This
temptation, however, he ultimately overcame, to the other's chagrin.
The cigarette-box was tied up, and the string sealed, oddly enough,
with the diamond of the ring that had been bought and paid for.

"I'll chance you having another ring in the store the dead spit of
mine," laughed Raffles, as he relinquished the box, and it disappeared
into the tradesman's bag.  "And now, Mr. Robinson, I hope you'll
appreciate my true hospitality in not offering you any thing to drink
while business was in progress.  That's Chateau Margaux, sir, and I
should judge it's what you'd call an eighteen-carat article."

In the cab which we took to the vicinity of the flat, I was instantly
snubbed for asking questions which the driver might easily overhear,
and took the repulse just a little to heart.  I could make  neither
head nor tail of Raffles's dealings with the man from Regent Street,
and was naturally inquisitive as to the meaning of it all.  But I held
my tongue until we had regained the flat in the cautious manner of our
exit, and even there until Raffles rallied me with a hand on either
shoulder and an old smile upon his face.

"You rabbit!" said he.  "Why couldn't you wait till we got home?"

"Why couldn't you tell me what you were going to do?" I retorted as of
yore.

"Because your dear old phiz is still worth its weight in innocence, and
because you never could act for nuts!  You looked as puzzled as the
other poor devil; but you wouldn't if you had known what my game really
was."

"And pray what was it?"

"That," said Raffles, and he smacked the cigarette-box down upon the
mantelpiece.  It was not tied.  It was not sealed.  It flew open from
the force of the impact.  And the diamond ring that cost L95, the
necklet for L200, and my flaming  star at another L100, all three lay
safe and snug in the jeweller's own cotton-wool!

"Duplicate boxes!" I cried.

"Duplicate boxes, my brainy Bunny.  One was already packed and
weighted, and in my pocket.  I don't know whether you noticed me
weighing the three things together in my hand?  I know that neither of
you saw me change the boxes, for I did it when I was nearest buying the
bee-brooch at the end, and you were too puzzled, and the other  Johnny
too keen.  It was the cheapest shot in the game; the dear ones were
sending old Theobald  to Southampton on a fool's errand yesterday
afternoon, and showing one's own nose down Regent Street in broad
daylight while he was gone;  but some things are worth paying for, and
certain  risks one must always take.  Nice boxes, aren't  they?  I only
wished they contained a better cigarette; but a notorious brand was
essential; a box  of Sullivans would have brought me to life to-morrow."

"But they oughtn't to open it to-morrow."

"Nor will they, as a matter of fact.  Meanwhile, Bunny, I may call upon
you to dispose of the boodle."

"I'm on for any mortal thing!"

My voice rang true, I swear, but it was the way  of Raffles to take the
evidence of as many senses  as possible.  I felt the cold steel of his
eyes through  mine and through my brain.  But what he saw seemed to
satisfy him no less than what he heard, for his hand found my hand, and
pressed it with a  fervor foreign to the man.

"I know you are, and I knew you would be.  Only remember, Bunny, it's
my turn next to pay the shot!"

You shall hear how he paid it when the time came.



A JUBILEE PRESENT

The Room of Gold, in the British Museum, is probably well enough known
to the inquiring alien and the travelled American.  A true Londoner,
however, I myself had never heard of it until Raffles casually proposed
a raid.

"The older I grow, Bunny, the less I think of your so-called precious
stones.  When did they ever bring in half their market value in L.s.d.
There was the first little crib we ever cracked together--you with
your innocent eyes shut.  A  thousand pounds that stuff was worth; but
how many hundreds did it actually fetch.  The Ardagh emeralds weren't
much better; old Lady Melrose's necklace was far worse; but that little
lot the other night has about finished me.  A cool hundred for goods
priced well over four; and L35 to come off for bait, since we only got
a tenner for the ring I bought and paid for like an ass.  I'll be shot
if I  ever touch a diamond again!  Not if it was the  Koh-I-noor; those
few whacking stones are too well known, and to cut them up is to
decrease their value by arithmetical retrogression.  Besides, that
brings you up against the Fence once more, and I'm done with the
beggars for good and all.  You talk about your editors and publishers,
you literary swine.  Barabbas was neither a robber nor a publisher, but
a six-barred, barbed-wired, spike-topped Fence.  What we really want is
an Incorporated Society of Thieves, with some public-spirited old
forger to run it for us on business lines."

Raffles uttered these blasphemies under his breath, not, I am afraid,
out of any respect for my one redeeming profession, but because we were
taking a midnight airing on the roof, after a whole day of June in the
little flat below.  The stars  shone overhead, the lights of London
underneath, and between the lips of Raffles a cigarette of the old and
only brand.  I had sent in secret for a box of the best; the boon had
arrived that night; and the foregoing speech was the first result.  I
could afford to ignore the insolent asides, however, where the apparent
contention was so manifestly unsound.

"And how are you going to get rid of your gold?" said I, pertinently.

"Nothing easier, my dear rabbit."

"Is your Room of Gold a roomful of sovereigns?"

Raffles laughed softly at my scorn.

"No, Bunny, it's principally in the shape of archaic ornaments, whose
value, I admit, is largely  extrinsic.  But gold is gold, from
Phoenicia to  Klondike, and if we cleared the room we should eventually
do very well."

"How?"

"I should melt it down into a nugget, and bring it home from the U.S.A.
to-morrow."

"And then?"

"Make them pay up in hard cash across the counter of the Bank of
England.  And you CAN make them."

That I knew, and so said nothing for a time, remaining a hostile though
a silent critic, while we paced the cool black leads with our bare
feet, softly as cats.

"And how do you propose to get enough away," at length I asked, "to
make it worth while?"

"Ah, there you have it," said Raffles.  "I only propose to reconnoitre
the ground, to see what we  can see.  We might find some hiding-place
for a night; that, I am afraid, would be our only chance."

"Have you ever been there before?"

"Not since they got the one good, portable piece which I believe that
they exhibit now.  It's a long time since I read of it--I can't
remember where--but I know they have got a gold cup of sorts worth
several thousands.  A number of the immorally  rich clubbed together
and presented it to the nation; and two of the richly immoral intend to
snaffle it for themselves.  At any rate we might go and have a look at
it, Bunny, don't you think?"

Think!  I seized his arm.

"When?  When?  When?" I asked, like a quick-firing gun.

"The sooner the better, while old Theobald's away on his honeymoon."

Our medico had married the week before, nor was any fellow-practitioner
taking his work--at least not that considerable branch of it which
consisted of Raffles--during his brief absence from  town.  There were
reasons, delightfully obvious to us, why such a plan would have been
highly unwise in Dr. Theobald.  I, however, was sending him daily
screeds, and both matutinal and nocturnal telegrams, the composition of
which afforded Raffles not a little enjoyment.

"Well, then, when--when?" I began to repeat.

"To-morrow, if you like."

"Only to look?"

The limitation was my one regret.

"We must do so, Bunny, before we leap."

"Very well," I sighed.  "But to-morrow it is!"

And the morrow it really was.

I saw the porter that night, and, I still think, bought his absolute
allegiance for the second coin of the realm.  My story, however,
invented by  Raffles, was sufficiently specious in itself.  That sick
gentleman, Mr. Maturin (as I had to remember to call him), was really,
or apparently, sickening for fresh air.  Dr. Theobald would allow him
none; he was pestering me for just one day in the country while the
glorious weather lasted. I was myself convinced that no possible harm
could come of the experiment.  Would the porter help me in so innocent
and meritorious an intrigue?  The  man hesitated.  I produced my
half-sovereign.  The man was lost.  And at half-past eight next
morning--before the heat of the day--Raffles and I drove to Kew Gardens
in a hired landau which was to call for us at mid-day and wait until we
came.  The porter had assisted me to carry my invalid downstairs, in a
carrying-chair hired (like  the landau) from Harrod's Stores for the
occasion.

It was little after nine when we crawled together into the gardens; by
half-past my invalid had had enough, and out he tottered on my arm; a
cab, a  message to our coachman, a timely train to Baker Street,
another cab, and we were at the British Museum--brisk pedestrians
now--not very many  minutes after the opening hour of 10 A.M.

It was one of those glowing days which will not be forgotten by many
who were in town at the  time.  The Diamond Jubilee was upon us, and
Queen's weather had already set in.  Raffles, indeed, declared it was
as hot as Italy and Australia  put together; and certainly the short
summer nights gave the channels of wood and asphalt and the continents
of brick and mortar but little time to cool.  At the British Museum the
pigeons were crooning among the shadows of the grimy colonnade, and the
stalwart janitors looked less stalwart  than usual, as though their
medals were too heavy for them.  I recognized some habitual Readers
going to their labor underneath the dome; of mere visitors we seemed
among the first.

"That's the room," said Raffles, who had bought the two-penny guide, as
we studied it openly on the nearest bench; "number 43, upstairs and
sharp round to the right.  Come on, Bunny!"

And he led the way in silence, but with a long methodical stride which
I could not understand until we came to the corridor leading to the
Room of Gold, when he turned to me for a moment.

"A hundred and thirty-nine yards from this to  the open street," said
Raffles, "not counting the stairs.  I suppose we COULD do it in twenty
seconds, but if we did we should have to jump the gates.  No, you must
remember to loaf out at slow march, Bunny, whether you like it or not."

"But you talked about a hiding-place for a night?"

"Quite so--for all night.  We should have to get back, go on lying low,
and saunter out with the crowd next day--after doing the whole show
thoroughly."

"What!  With gold in our pockets--"

"And gold in our boots, and gold up the sleeves and legs of our suits!
You leave that to me, Bunny, and wait till you've tried two pairs of
trousers sewn together at the foot!  This is only a preliminary
reconnoitre.  And here we are."

It is none of my business to describe the so-called Room of Gold, with
which I, for one, was not a little disappointed.  The glass cases,
which both fill and line it, may contain unique examples of the
goldsmith's art in times and places of which one heard quite enough in
the course of one's classical education; but, from a professional point
of view, I would as lief have the ransacking of a single window in the
West End as the pick of all those spoils of Etruria and of ancient
Greece. The  gold may not be so soft as it appears, but it certainly
looks as though you could bite off the business ends of the spoons, and
stop your own teeth in doing so.  Nor should I care to be seen wearing
one of the rings; but the greatest fraud of all  (from the aforesaid
standpoint) is assuredly that very cup of which Raffles had spoken.
Moreover, he felt this himself.

"Why, it's as thin as paper," said he, "and enamelled like a
middle-aged lady of quality!  But, by Jove, it's one of the most
beautiful things I ever saw in my life, Bunny.  I should like to have
it for its own sake, by all my gods!"

The thing had a little square case of plate-glass all to itself at one
end of the room.  It may have been the thing of beauty that Raffles
affected to consider it, but I for my part was in no mood to look at it
in that light.  Underneath were the names of the plutocrats who had
subscribed for this national gewgaw, and I fell to wondering where
their L8,000 came in, while Raffles devoured his  two-penny guide-book
as greedily as a school-girl with a zeal for culture.

"Those are scenes from the martyrdom of St. Agnes," said he ...
"'translucent on relief ... one of the finest specimens of its  kind.'
I should think it was!  Bunny, you Philistine, why can't you admire the
thing for its own  sake?  It would be worth having only to live up to!
There never was such rich enamelling on such thin gold; and what a good
scheme to hang the lid up over it, so that you can see how thin it is.
I wonder if we could lift it, Bunny, by hook or crook?"

"You'd better try, sir," said a dry voice at his elbow.

The madman seemed to think we had the room to ourselves.  I knew
better, but, like another madman, had let him ramble on unchecked.  And
here  was a stolid constable confronting us, in the short tunic that
they wear in summer, his whistle on its chain, but no truncheon at his
side.  Heavens!  how I see him now: a man of medium size, with a
broad, good-humored, perspiring face, and a limp moustache.  He looked
sternly at Raffles, and Raffles looked merrily at him.

"Going to run me in, officer?" said he.  "That WOULD be a joke--my hat!"

"I didn't say as I was, sir," replied the policeman.  "But that's queer
talk for a gentleman like you, sir, in the British Museum!"  And he
wagged  his helmet at my invalid, who had taken his airing in
frock-coat and top-hat, the more readily to assume his present part.

"What!" cried Raffles, "simply saying to my friend that I'd like to
lift the gold cup?  Why, so I should, officer, so I should! I don't
mind who hears me say so.  It's one of the most beautiful things I ever
saw in all my life."

The constable's face had already relaxed, and now a grin peeped under
the limp moustache.  "I  daresay there's many as feels like that, sir,"
said he.

"Exactly; and I say what I feel, that's all," said Raffles airily.
"But seriously, officer, is a valuable thing like this quite safe in a
case like that?"

"Safe enough as long as I'm here," replied the other, between grim jest
and stout earnest.  Raffles studied his face; he was still watching
Raffles; and I kept an eye on them both without putting in my word.

"You appear to be single-handed," observed Raffles.  "Is that wise?"

The note of anxiety was capitally caught; it was at once personal and
public-spirited, that of the enthusiastic savant, afraid for a national
treasure which few appreciated as he did himself.  And, to be sure, the
three of us now had this treasury to ourselves; one or two others had
been there when we entered; but now they were gone.

"I'm not single-handed," said the officer, comfortably.  "See that seat
by the door?  One of the attendants sits there all day long."

"Then where is he now?"

"Talking to another attendant just outside.  If you listen you'll hear
them for yourself."

We listened, and we did hear them, but not just outside.  In my own
mind I even questioned  whether they were in the corridor through which
we had come; to me it sounded as though they were just outside the
corridor.

"You mean the fellow with the billiard-cue who was here when we came
in?" pursued Raffles.

"That wasn't a billiard-cue!  It was a pointer," the intelligent
officer explained.

"It ought to be a javelin," said Raffles, nervously.  "It ought to be a
poleaxe!  The public treasure ought to be better guarded than this.  I
shall write to the Times about it--you see if I don't!"

All at once, yet somehow not so suddenly as to excite suspicion,
Raffles had become the elderly busybody with nerves; why, I could not
for the life of me imagine; and the policeman seemed equally at sea.

"Lor' bless you, sir," said he, "I'm all right; don't you bother your
head about ME."

"But you haven't even got a truncheon!"

"Not likely to want one either.  You see, sir, it's early as yet; in a
few minutes these here rooms will fill up; and there's safety in
numbers, as they say."

"Oh, it will fill up soon, will it?"

"Any minute now, sir."

"Ah!"

"It isn't often empty as long as this, sir.  It's the Jubilee, I
suppose."

"Meanwhile, what if my friend and I had been professional thieves?
Why, we could have over-powered you in an instant, my good fellow!"

"That you couldn't; leastways, not without bringing the whole place
about your ears."

"Well, I shall write to the Times, all the same.  I'm a connoisseur in
all this sort of thing, and I won't have unnecessary risks run with the
nation's property.  You said there was an attendant just  outside, but
he sounds to me as though he were at the other end of the corridor.  I
shall write to-day!"

For an instant we all three listened; and Raffles was right. Then I saw
two things in one glance.  Raffles had stepped a few inches backward,
and stood poised upon the ball of each foot, his arms half raised, a
light in his eyes.  And another kind  of light was breaking over the
crass features of our friend the constable.

"Then shall I tell you what I'LL do?" he cried, with a sudden clutch at
the whistle-chain on his chest.  The whistle flew out, but it never
reached his lips.  There were a couple of sharp smacks, like  double
barrels discharged all but simultaneously, and the man reeled against
me so that I could not help catching him as he fell.

"Well done, Bunny!  I've knocked him out--I've knocked him out! Run you
to the door and see if the attendants have heard anything, and take
them on if they have."

Mechanically I did as I was told.  There was no time for thought, still
less for remonstrance or reproach, though my surprise must have been
even more complete than that of the constable before Raffles knocked
the sense out of him.  Even in my  utter bewilderment, however, the
instinctive caution of the real criminal did not desert me.  I ran to
the door, but I sauntered through it, to plant myself before a
Pompeiian fresco in the corridor; and there were the two attendants
still gossiping outside the further door; nor did they hear the dull
crash which I heard even as I watched them out of the corner of each
eye.

It was hot weather, as I have said, but the perspiration on my body
seemed already to have turned into a skin of ice.  Then I caught the
faint  reflection of my own face in the casing of the fresco, and it
frightened me into some semblance of myself as Raffles joined me with
his hands in his pockets.  But my fear and indignation were redoubled
at the sight of him, when a single glance  convinced me that his
pockets were as empty as his hands, and his mad outrage the most wanton
and  reckless of his whole career.

"Ah, very interesting, very interesting, but nothing to what they have
in the museum at Naples or in Pompeii itself.  You must go there some
day, Bunny.  I've a good mind to take you myself.  Meanwhile--slow
march!  The beggar hasn't moved an eyelid.  We may swing for him if you
show indecent haste!"

"We!" I whispered.  "We!"

And my knees knocked together as we came up to the chatting attendants.
But Raffles must needs interrupt them to ask the way to the Prehistoric
Saloon.

"At the top of the stairs."

"Thank you.  Then we'll work round that way to the Egyptian part."

And we left them resuming their providential chat.

"I believe you're mad," I said bitterly as we went.

"I believe I was," admitted Raffles; "but I'm not now, and I'll see you
through.  A hundred and thirty-nine yards, wasn't it? Then it can't be
more than a hundred and twenty now--not as much.  Steady, Bunny, for
God's sake.  It's SLOW march--for our lives."

There was this much management.  The rest was our colossal luck. A
hansom was being paid off at the foot of the steps outside, and in we
jumped, Raffles shouting "Charing Cross!" for all Bloomsbury to hear.

We had turned into Bloomsbury Street without exchanging a syllable when
he struck the trap-door with his fist.

"Where the devil are you driving us?"

"Charing Cross, sir."

"I said King's Cross!  Round you spin, and drive like blazes, or we
miss our train!  There's one to York at 10:35," added Raffles as the
trap-door slammed; "we'll book there, Bunny, and then we'll slope
through the subway to the Metropolitan, and so to ground via Baker
Street and Earl's Court."

And actually in half an hour he was seated once more in the hired
carrying chair, while the porter and I staggered upstairs with my
decrepit charge, for whose shattered strength even one hour in Kew
Gardens had proved too much!  Then, and not until then, when we had got
rid of the porter and  were alone at last, did I tell Raffles, in the
most nervous English at my command, frankly and exactly what I thought
of him and of his latest deed.  Once started, moreover, I spoke as I
have seldom spoken to living man; and Raffles, of all men, stood my
abuse without a murmur; or rather he sat it out, too astounded even to
take off his hat, though I thought his eyebrows would have lifted it
from his head.

"But it always was your infernal way," I was  savagely concluding.
"You make one plan, and yet you tell me another--"

"Not to-day, Bunny, I swear!"

"You mean to tell me you really did start with the bare idea of finding
a place to hide in for a night?"

"Of course I did."

"It was to be the mere reconnoitre you pretended?"

"There was no pretence about it, Bunny."

"Then why on earth go and do what you did?"

"The reason would be obvious to anyone but you," said Raffles, still
with no unkindly scorn.  "It was the temptation of a minute--the final
impulse of the fraction of a second, when Roberto saw that I was
tempted, and let me see that he saw it. It's not a thing I care to do,
and I sha'n't be happy till the papers tell me the poor devil is alive.
But a knock-out shot was the only chance for us then."

"Why?  You don't get run in for being tempted, nor yet for showing that
you are!"

"But I should have deserved running in if I hadn't yielded to such a
temptation as that,  Bunny.  It was a chance in a hundred thousand!  We
might go there every day of our lives, and never again be the only
outsiders in the room, with  the billiard-marking Johnnie practically
out of ear-shot at one and the same time.  It was a gift from the gods;
not to have taken it would have been flying in the face of Providence."

"But you didn't take it," said I.  "You went and left it behind."

I wish I had had a Kodak for the little smile with which Raffles shook
his head, for it was one that he kept for those great moments of which
our vocation is not devoid.  All this time he had been wearing his hat,
tilted a little over eyebrows no longer raised.  And now at last I knew
where the gold cup was.

It stood for days upon his chimney-piece, this costly trophy whose
ancient history and final fate filled newspaper columns even in these
days of Jubilee, and for which the flower of Scotland Yard was said to
be seeking high and low.  Our constable, we learnt, had been stunned
only, and, from the moment that I brought him an evening paper with the
news, Raffles's spirits rose to a height inconsistent with his equable
temperament, and as unusual in him as the sudden impulse upon which he
had acted with such effect.  The cup itself appealed to me no more than
it had done  before.  Exquisite it might be, handsome it was,  but so
light in the hand that the mere gold of it would scarcely have poured
three figures out of melting-pot. And what said Raffles but that he
would never melt it at all!

"Taking it was an offence against the laws of the land, Bunny. That is
nothing.  But destroying it would be a crime against God and Art, and
may I be spitted on the vane of St. Mary Abbot's if I commit it!"

Talk such as this was unanswerable; indeed, the whole affair had passed
the pale of useful comment; and the one course left to a practical
person was to shrug his shoulders and enjoy the joke. This was not a
little enhanced by the newspaper reports, which described Raffles as a
handsome youth, and his unwilling accomplice as an older man of
blackguardly appearance and low type.

"Hits us both off rather neatly, Bunny," said he.  "But what none of
them do justice to is my dear cup.  Look at it; only look at it, man!
Was ever anything so rich and yet so chaste? St. Agnes must have had a
pretty bad time, but it would be almost worth it to go down to
posterity in such enamel upon such gold.  And then  the history of the
thing.  Do you realize that it's five hundred years old and has
belonged to Henry  the Eighth and to Elizabeth among others?  Bunny,
when you have me cremated, you can put my ashes in yonder cup, and lay
us in the deep-delved earth together!"

"And meanwhile?"

"It is the joy of my heart, the light of my life, the delight of mine
eye."

"And suppose other eyes catch sight of it?"

"They never must; they never shall."

Raffles would have been too absurd had he not been thoroughly alive to
his own absurdity; there was nevertheless an underlying sincerity in
his appreciation of any and every  form of beauty, which all his
nonsense could not conceal.  And his infatuation for the cup was, as he
declared, a very pure passion, since the circumstances debarred him
from the chief joy of the average collector, that of showing his
treasure to his friends.  At last, however, and at the height  of his
craze, Raffles and reason seemed to come together again as suddenly as
they had parted company in the Room of Gold.

"Bunny," he cried, flinging his newspaper across the room, "I've got an
idea after your own heart.  I know where I can place it after all!"

"Do you mean the cup?"

"I do."

"Then I congratulate you."

"Thanks."

"Upon the recovery of your senses."

"Thanks galore.  But you've been confoundedly unsympathetic about this
thing, Bunny, and I don't think I shall tell you my scheme till I've
carried  it out."

"Quite time enough," said I.

"It will mean your letting me loose for an hour or two under cloud of
this very night.  To-morrow's Sunday, the Jubilee's on Tuesday, and old
Theobald's coming back for it."

"It doesn't much matter whether he's back or not if you go late enough."

"I mustn't be late.  They don't keep open.  No, it's no use your asking
any questions.  Go out and buy me a big box of Huntley & Palmer's
biscuits; any sort you like, only they must be theirs, and  absolutely
the biggest box they sell."

"My dear man!"

"No questions, Bunny; you do your part and I'll do mine."

Subtlety and success were in his face.  It was enough for me, and I had
done his extraordinary bidding within a quarter of an hour.  In another
minute Raffles had opened the box and tumbled all the biscuits into the
nearest chair.

"Now newspapers!"

I fetched a pile.  He bid the cup of gold a ridiculous farewell,
wrapped it up in newspaper after newspaper, and finally packed it in
the empty  biscuit-box.

"Now some brown paper.  I don't want to be taken for the grocer's young
man."

A neat enough parcel it made, when the string had been tied and the
ends cut close; what was  more difficult was to wrap up Raffles himself
in such a way that even the porter should not recognize him if they
came face to face at the corner.  And the sun was still up.  But
Raffles would go, and when he did I should not have known him  myself.

He may have been an hour away.  It was barely dusk when he returned,
and my first question referred to our dangerous ally, the porter.
Raffles had passed him unsuspected in going, but had  managed to avoid
him altogether on the return journey, which he had completed by way of
the other entrance and the roof.  I breathed again.

"And what have you done with the cup?"

"Placed it!"

"How much for?  How much for?"

"Let me think.  I had a couple of cabs, and the postage was a tanner,
with another twopence for registration.  Yes, it cost me exactly
five-and-eight."

"IT cost YOU!  But what did you GET for it, Raffles?"

"Nothing, my boy."

"Nothing!"

"Not a crimson cent."

"I am not surprised.  I never thought it had a market value.  I told
you so in the beginning,"  I said, irritably.  "But what on earth have
you  done with the thing?"

"Sent it to the Queen."

"You haven't!"

Rogue is a word with various meanings, and Raffles had been one sort of
rogue ever since I had known him; but now, for once, he was the
innocent variety, a great gray-haired child, running over with
merriment and mischief.

"Well, I've sent it to Sir Arthur Bigge, to present to her Majesty,
with the loyal respects of the thief, if that will do for you," said
Raffles.  "I thought they might take too much stock of me at the G.P.O.
if I addressed it to the Sovereign her-self.  Yes, I drove over to St.
Martin's-le-Grand with it, and I registered the box into the bargain.
Do a thing properly if you do it at all."

"But why on earth," I groaned, "do such a thing at all?"

"My dear Bunny, we have been reigned over for sixty years by infinitely
the finest monarch the world has ever seen.  The world is taking the
present opportunity of signifying the fact for all it is worth.  Every
nation is laying of its best at her royal feet; every class in the
community is doing its little level--except ours.  All I have done is
to remove one reproach from our fraternity."

At this I came round, was infected with his spirit, called him the
sportsman he always was and would be, and shook his daredevil hand in
mine; but, at the same time, I still had my qualms.

"Supposing they trace it to us?" said I.

"There's not much to catch hold of in a biscuit-box by Huntley &
Palmer," replied Raffles; "that was why I sent you for one.  And I
didn't write  a word upon a sheet of paper which could possibly be
traced.  I simply printed two or three on a virginal post-card--another
half-penny to the bad--which might have been bought at any post-office
in the kingdom.  No, old chap, the G.P.O. was the one real danger;
there was one detective  I spotted for myself; and the sight of him has
left me with a thirst.  Whisky and Sullivans for two, Bunny, if you
please."

Raffles was soon clinking his glass against mine.

"The Queen," said he.  "God bless her!"



THE FATE OF FAUSTINA

  "Mar--ga--ri,
  e perzo a Salvatore!  Mar--ga--ri,
  Ma l'ommo e cacciatore!  Mar--ga--ri,
  Nun ce aje corpa tu!
  Chello ch' e fatto, e fatto, un ne parlammo cchieu!"

A piano-organ was pouring the metallic music through our open windows,
while a voice of brass brayed the words, which I have since  obtained,
and print above for identification by such  as know their Italy better
than I.  They will not  thank me for reminding them of a tune so lately
epidemic in that land of aloes and blue skies; but at least it is
unlikely to run in their heads as the ribald accompaniment to a
tragedy; and it does in mine.

It was in the early heat of August, and the hour that of the lawful and
necessary siesta for such as turn night into day.  I was therefore
shutting my window in a rage, and wondering whether I should  not do
the same for Raffles, when he appeared in the silk pajamas to which the
chronic solicitude of Dr. Theobald confined him from morning to  night.

"Don't do that, Bunny," said he.  "I rather like that thing, and want
to listen.  What sort of fellows are they to look at, by the way?"

I put my head out to see, it being a primary rule of our quaint
establishment that Raffles must never show himself at any of the
windows.  I remember now how hot the sill was to my elbows, as I leant
upon it and looked down, in order to satisfy a curiosity in which I
could see no point.

"Dirty-looking beggars," said I over my shoulder: "dark as dark; blue
chins, oleaginous curls, and ear-rings; ragged as they make them, but
nothing picturesque in their rags."

"Neapolitans all over," murmured Raffles behind me; "and that's a
characteristic touch, the one fellow singing while the other grinds;
they always have that out there."

"He's rather a fine chap, the singer," said I, as the song ended.  "My
hat, what teeth!  He's looking up here, and grinning all round his
head; shall I chuck him anything?"

"Well, I have no reason to love the Neapolitans; but it takes me
back--it takes me back!  Yes, here you are, one each."

It was a couple of half-crowns that Raffles put into my hand, but I had
thrown them into the street for pennies before I saw what they were.
Thereupon I left the Italians bowing to the mud, as well they might,
and I turned to protest against  such wanton waste.  But Raffles was
walking up and down, his head bent, his eyes troubled; and his one
excuse disarmed remonstrance.

"They took me back," he repeated.  "My God, how they took me back!"

Suddenly he stopped in his stride.

"You don't understand, Bunny, old chap; but if you like you shall.  I
always meant to tell you  some day, but never felt worked up to it
before,  and it's not the kind of thing one talks about for talking's
sake.  It isn't a nursery story, Bunny, and there isn't a laugh in it
from start to finish; on the contrary, you have often asked me what
turned my hair gray, and now you are going to hear."

This was promising, but Raffles's manner was something more.  It was
unique in my memory of the man.  His fine face softened and set hard by
turns.  I never knew it so hard.  I never knew it so soft.  And the
same might be said of his voice, now tender as any woman's, now flying
to the other extreme of equally unwonted ferocity.  But this was toward
the end of his tale; the beginning he treated characteristically
enough, though I could have wished for a less cavalier account of the
island of Elba, where, upon his own showing, he had met with much
humanity.

"Deadly, my dear Bunny, is not the word for that glorified snag, or for
the mollusks, its inhabitants.  But they started by wounding my vanity,
so perhaps I am prejudiced, after all.  I sprung myself upon them as a
shipwrecked sailor--a sole survivor--stripped in the sea and landed
without a stitch--yet they took no more interest in me than you do in
Italian organ-grinders.  They were decent enough.  I didn't have to
pick and steal for a square meal and a pair of trousers; it would have
been more exciting if I had.  But what a place!  Napoleon couldn't
stand it, you remember, but he held on longer than I did.  I put in a
few weeks in their infernal mines, simply to pick up a smattering of
Italian; then got across to the mainland in a little wooden
timber-tramp; and ungratefully glad I was to leave Elba blazing in just
such another sunset as the one you won't forget.

"The tramp was bound for Naples, but first it touched at Baiae, where I
carefully deserted in the night.  There are too many English in Naples
itself, though I thought it would make a first happy hunting-ground
when I knew the language better and had altered myself a bit more.
Meanwhile I got a billet of several sorts on one of the loveliest spots
that ever I struck on all my travels.  The place was a vineyard, but it
overhung the sea, and I got taken on as tame sailorman and emergency
bottle-washer.  The wages were the noble figure of a lira and a half,
which is just over a bob, a day, but there were lashings of sound wine
for one and all, and better wine to bathe in.  And for eight whole
months, my boy, I was an absolutely honest man.  The luxury of it,
Bunny!  I out-heroded Herod, wouldn't touch a grape, and went in the
most delicious danger of being knifed for my principles by the thieving
crew I had joined.

"It was the kind of place where every prospect pleases--and all the
rest of it--especially all the rest.  But may I see it in my dreams
till I die--as it was in the beginning--before anything began to
happen.  It was a wedge of rock sticking out into the bay, thatched
with vines, and with the rummiest old house on the very edge of all, a
devil of a height above the sea: you might have sat at the windows and
dropped your Sullivan-ends plumb into blue water a hundred and fifty
feet below.

"From the garden behind the house--such a garden, Bunny--oleanders and
mimosa, myrtles, rosemarys and red tangles of fiery, untamed
flowers--in a corner of this garden was the top of a subterranean stair
down to the sea; at least there were nearly two hundred steps tunnelled
through the solid rock; then an iron gate, and another eighty steps in
the open air; and last of all a cave fit for pirates,
a-penny-plain-and-two-pence-colored. This cave gave upon the sweetest
little thing in coves, all deep blue water and honest rocks; and here I
looked after the vineyard shipping, a pot-bellied tub with a brown
sail, and a sort of dingy.  The tub took the wine to Naples, and the
dingy was the tub's tender.

"The house above was said to be on the identical site of a suburban
retreat of the admirable Tiberius; there was the old sinner's private
theatre with the tiers cut clean to this day, the well where he used to
fatten his lampreys on his slaves, and a  ruined temple of those
ripping old Roman bricks, shallow as dominoes and ruddier than the
cherry.  I never was much of an antiquary, but I could have become one
there if I'd had nothing else to  do; but I had lots.  When I wasn't
busy with the  boats I had to trim the vines, or gather the grapes,  or
even help make the wine itself in a cool, dark, musty vault underneath
the temple, that I can see and smell as I jaw.  And can't I hear it and
feel it too!  Squish, squash, bubble; squash, squish, guggle; and your
feet as though you had been wading through slaughter to a throne.  Yes,
Bunny, you mightn't think it, but this good right foot, that never was
on the wrong side of the crease when the ball left my hand, has also
been known to

       'crush the lees of pleasure
         From sanguine grapes of pain.'"

He made a sudden pause, as though he had stumbled on the truth in jest.
His face filled with lines.  We were sitting in the room that had been
bare when first I saw it; there were basket-chairs and a table in it
now, all meant ostensibly for me; and hence Raffles would slip to his
bed, with schoolboy relish, at every tinkle of the bell.  This
afternoon we felt fairly safe, for Theobald had called in the morning,
and Mrs. Theobald still took up much of his time.  Through the open
window we could hear the piano-organ and "Mar--gar--ri" a  few hundred
yards further on.  I fancied Raffles was listening to it while he
paused.  He shook his head abstractedly when I handed him the
cigarettes; and his tone hereafter was never just what it had been.

"I don't know, Bunny, whether you're a believer in transmigration of
souls.  I have often thought it easier to believe than lots of other
things, and I have been pretty near believing in it myself since I had
my being on that villa of Tiberius.  The brute who had it in my day, if
he isn't still running it with a whole skin, was or is as cold-blooded
a blackguard as the worst of the emperors, but I have often thought he
had a lot in common with Tiberius.  He had the great high sensual Roman
nose, eyes that were sinks of iniquity in themselves, and that swelled
with fatness, like the rest of him, so that he wheezed if he walked a
yard; otherwise rather a fine beast to look at, with a huge gray
moustache, like a flying gull, and the most courteous manners even  to
his men; but one of the worst, Bunny, one of the worst that ever was.
It was said that the vineyard was only his hobby; if so, he did his
best to make his hobby pay.  He used to come out from Naples for the
week-ends--in the tub when it wasn't too rough for his nerves--and he
didn't always come alone.  His very name sounded unhealthy--Corbucci.
I suppose I ought to add that he was a Count, though Counts are
two-a-penny in  Naples, and in season all the year round.

"He had a little English, and liked to air it upon me, much to my
disgust; if I could not hope to conceal my nationality as yet, I at
least did not want to have it advertised; and the swine had English
friends.  When he heard that I was bathing in November, when the bay is
still as warm  as new milk, he would shake his wicked old head and say,
'You are very audashuss--you are very audashuss!' and put on no end of
side before his Italians.  By God, he had pitched upon the right word
unawares, and I let him know it in the end!

"But that bathing, Bunny; it was absolutely the best I ever had
anywhere.  I said just now the water was like wine; in my own mind I
used to call it blue champagne, and was rather annoyed that I had no
one to admire the phrase.  Otherwise I assure you that I missed my own
particular kind very little indeed, though I often wished that YOU were
there, old chap; particularly when I went for my lonesome swim; first
thing in the morning, when the Bay was all rose-leaves, and last thing
at night, when your body caught phosphorescent fire!  Ah, yes, it was a
good enough life for a change; a perfect paradise to lie low in;
another Eden until ...

"My poor Eve!"

And he fetched a sigh that took away his words; then his jaws snapped
together, and his eyes spoke terribly while he conquered his emotion.
I pen the last word advisedly.  I fancy it is one which  I have never
used before in writing of A. J. Raffles,  for I cannot at the moment
recall any other occasion upon which its use would have been justified.
On resuming, however, he was not only calm, but cold; and this flying
for safety to the other extreme is the single instance of self-distrust
which the present Achates can record to the credit of his impious
AEneas.

"I called the girl Eve," said he.  "Her real name was Faustina, and she
was one of a vast family who hung out in a hovel on the inland border
of the vineyard.  And Aphrodite rising from the sea was less wonderful
and not more beautiful than Aphrodite emerging from that hole!

"It was the most exquisite face I ever saw or shall see in this life.
Absolutely perfect features; a skin that reminded you of old gold, so
delicate was its bronze; magnificent hair, not black but nearly; and
such eyes and teeth as would have made the fortune of a face without
another point.  I tell you, Bunny, London would go mad about a girl
like that.  But I don't believe there's such  another in the world.
And there she was wasting her sweetness upon that lovely but desolate
little corner of it! Well, she did not waste it upon me.  I would have
married her, and lived happily ever after in such a hovel as her
people's--with her.  Only to look at her--only to look at her for the
rest of my days--I could have lain low and remained dead even to you!
And that's all I'm going to tell you about that, Bunny; cursed be he
who tells more!  Yet don't run away with the idea that this poor
Faustina was the only woman I ever cared about. I don't believe in all
that 'only' rot; nevertheless I tell you that she was the one being who
ever entirely satisfied my sense of beauty; and I honestly believe I
could have chucked the world and been true to Faustina for that alone.

"We met sometimes in the little temple I told you about, sometimes
among the vines; now by honest accident, now by flagrant design; and
found a ready-made rendezvous, romantic as one could wish, in the cave
down all those subterranean steps. Then the sea would call us--my blue
champagne--my sparkling cobalt--and there was the dingy  ready to our
hand.  Oh, those nights!  I never knew which I liked best, the moonlit
ones when you sculled through silver and could see for miles, or the
dark nights when the fishermen's torches stood for the sea, and a red
zig-zag in the sky for old Vesuvius.  We were happy.  I don't mind
owning it.  We seemed not to have a care between us.  My mates took no
interest in my affairs, and Faustina's family did not appear to bother
about her.  The Count was in Naples five nights of the seven; the other
two we sighed apart.

"At first it was the oldest story in literature--Eden plus Eve. The
place had been a heaven on earth before, but now it was heaven itself.
So for a little; then one night, a Monday night, Faustina burst out
crying in the boat; and sobbed her story as we drifted without mishap
by the mercy of the Lord.  And that was almost as old a story as the
other.

"She was engaged--what!  Had I never heard of it?  Did I mean to upset
the boat?  What was her engagement beside our love? 'Niente, niente,'
crooned Faustina, sighing yet smiling through her tears.  No, but what
did matter was that the man had threatened to stab her to the
heart--and  would do it as soon as look at her--that I knew.

"I knew it merely from my knowledge of the Neapolitans, for I had no
idea who the man might  be.  I knew it, and yet I took this detail
better than the fact of the engagement, though now I began to laugh at
both.  As if I was going to let her marry anybody else!  As if a hair
of her lovely head should be touched while I lived to protect her!  I
had a great mind to row away to blazes with her that very night, and
never go near the vineyard again, or let her either.  But we had not a
lira between us at the time, and only the rags in which we sat barefoot
in the boat.  Besides, I had to know the name of the animal who had
threatened a woman, and such a woman as this.

"For a long time she refused to tell me, with splendid obduracy; but I
was as determined as she; so at last she made conditions. I was not to
go and get put in prison for sticking a knife into him--he wasn't worth
it--and I did promise not to stab him in the back.  Faustina seemed
quite satisfied, though a little puzzled by my manner, having herself
the racial tolerance for cold steel; and next moment she had taken away
my breath.  'It is Stefano,' she whispered, and hung her head.

"And well she might, poor thing!  Stefano, of all creatures on God's
earth--for her!

"Bunny, he was a miserable little undersized
wretch--ill-favored--servile--surly--and second only to his master in
bestial cunning and hypocrisy.  His face was enough for me; that was
what I read in it, and I don't often make mistakes.  He was Corbucci's
own confidential body-servant, and that alone was enough to damn him in
decent eyes:  always came out first on the Saturday with the spese, to
have all ready for his master and current mistress, and stayed behind
on the Monday to clear and lock up.  Stefano!  That worm!  I  could
well understand his threatening a woman  with a knife; what beat me was
how any woman could ever have listened to him; above all, that Faustina
should be the one!  It passed my comprehension.  But I questioned her
as gently as I could; and her explanation was largely the thread-bare
one you would expect.  Her parents were so poor. They were so many in
family.  Some of  them begged--would I promise never to tell?  Then
some of them stole--sometimes--and all knew the pains of actual want.
She looked after the cows, but there were only two of them, and
brought the milk to the vineyard and elsewhere; but that was not
employment for more than one; and there were countless sisters waiting
to take her place.  Then he was so rich, Stefano.

"'Rich!' I echoed.  'Stefano?'

"'Si, Arturo mio.'

"Yes, I played the game on that vineyard, Bunny, even to going my own
first name.

"'And how comes he to be rich?' I asked, suspiciously.

"She did not know; but he had given her such beautiful jewels; the
family had lived on them for months, she pretending an avocat had taken
charge of them for her against her marriage. But I cared nothing about
all that.

"'Jewels!  Stefano!' I could only mutter.

"'Perhaps the Count has paid for some of them.  He is very kind.'

"'To you, is he?'

"'Oh, yes, very kind.'

"'And you would live in his house afterwards?'

"'Not now, mia cara--not now!'

"'No, by God you don't!' said I in English.  'But you would have done
so, eh?'

"'Of course.  That was arranged.  The Count is really very kind.'

"'Do you see anything of him when he comes here?'

"Yes, he had sometimes brought her little presents, sweetmeats,
ribbons, and the like; but the offering had always been made through
this toad of a Stefano.  Knowing the men, I now knew all.  But
Faustina, she had the pure and simple heart, and the white soul, by the
God who made it, and for all her kindness to a tattered scapegrace who
made love to her in broken Italian between the ripples and the stars.
She was not to know what I was, remember; and beside Corbucci and his
henchman I was the Archangel Gabriel come down  to earth.

"Well, as I lay awake that night, two more lines of Swinburne came into
my head, and came to  stay:

       "God said 'Let him who wins her take
         And keep Faustine.'

"On that couplet I slept at last, and it was my text and watchword when
I awoke in the morning.  I forget how well you know your Swinburne,
Bunny; but don't you run away with the idea that there was anything
else in common between his Faustine and mine.  For the last time let me
tell you that poor Faustina was the whitest and the best I ever knew.

"Well, I was strung up for trouble when the next Saturday came, and
I'll tell you what I had done.  I had broken the pledge and burgled
Corbucci's villa in my best manner during his absence in Naples.  Not
that it gave me the slightest trouble; but no human being could have
told that I had been in, when I came out. And I had stolen nothing,
mark you, but only borrowed a revolver from a drawer in the Count's
desk, with one or two trifling accessories; for by this time I had the
measure of these damned Neapolitans.  They are spry enough with a
knife, but you show them the  business end of a shooting-iron, and
they'll streak like rabbits for the nearest hole.  But the revolver
wasn't for my own use.  It was for Faustina, and I taught her how to
use it in the cave down there by the sea, shooting at candles stuck
upon the rock.  The noise in the cave was something frightful, but high
up above it couldn't be heard at all, as  we proved to each other's
satisfaction pretty early in the proceedings.  So now Faustina was
armed with munitions of self-defence; and I knew enough of her
character to entertain no doubt as to their spirited use upon occasion.
Between the two of us, in fact, our friend Stefano seemed tolerably
certain of a warm week-end.

"But the Saturday brought word that the Count was not coming this week,
being in Rome on business, and unable to return in time; so for a whole
Sunday we were promised peace; and made bold  plans accordingly.  There
was no further merit in hushing this thing up.  'Let him who wins her
take and keep Faustine.' Yes, but let him win her openly, or lose her
and be damned to him!  So on the Sunday I was going to have it out with
her people--with the Count and Stefano as soon as they showed their
noses.  I had no inducement, remember, ever to return to surreptitious
life within a cab-fare of Wormwood Scrubbs. Faustina and the Bay of
Naples were quite good enough for me. And the prehistoric man in me
rather exulted in the idea of fighting for my desire.

"On the Saturday, however, we were able to meet for the last time as
heretofore--just once more in secret--down there in the cave--as soon
as might be after dark.  Neither of us minded if we were kept for
hours; each knew in the end that the other would come; and there was a
charm of its own even in waiting with such knowledge.  But that night I
did lose patience: not in the cave, but up above, where first on one
pretext and then on another the direttore kept me going until I smelt a
rat.  He was not given to exacting overtime, this direttore, whose only
fault was his servile subjection to our common boss.  It seemed pretty
obvious, therefore, that he was acting upon some secret instructions
from Corbucci himself, and, the moment I suspected this, I asked him to
his face if it was not the case.  And it was; he admitted it with many
shrugs, being a conveniently weak person, whom one felt almost ashamed
of bullying as the occasion demanded.

"The fact was, however, that the Count had sent for him on finding he
had to go to Rome, and had said he was very sorry to go just then, as
among other things he intended to speak to me about Faustina.  Stefano
had told him all about his row with her, and moreover that it was on my
account, which Faustina had never told me, though I had guessed as much
for myself.  Well, the Count was going to take his jackal's part for
all he was worth, which was just exactly what I had expected him to do.
He intended going for me on his return, but meanwhile I was not to make
hay in his absence, and so this tool of a direttore had orders to keep
me at it night and day.  I undertook not to give the poor beast away,
but at the same time told him I had not the faintest intention of doing
another stroke of work that night.

"It was very dark, and I remember knocking my head against the oranges
as I ran up the long, shallow steps which ended the journey between the
direttore's lodge and the villa itself.  But at the  back of the villa
was the garden I spoke about, and also a bare chunk of the cliff where
it was bored by that subterranean stair.  So I saw the stars  close
overhead, and the fishermen's torches far below, the coastwise lights
and the crimson hieroglyph that spelt Vesuvius, before I plunged into
the darkness of the shaft.  And that was the last time I appreciated
the unique and peaceful charm of this outlandish spot.

"The stair was in two long flights, with an air-hole or two at the top
of the upper one, but not another pin-prick till you came to the iron
gate at the bottom of the lower.  As you may read of an infinitely
lighter place, in a finer work of fiction than you are ever likely to
write, Bunny, it was 'gloomy at noon, dark as midnight at dusk, and
black as the ninth plague of Egypt at midnight.'  I won't swear to my
quotation, but I will to those  stairs.  They were as black that night
as the inside  of the safest safe in the strongest strong-room in the
Chancery Lane Deposit.  Yet I had not got far down them with my bare
feet before I heard somebody else coming up in boots.  You may imagine
what a turn that gave me!  It could not be Faustina, who went barefoot
three seasons of the four, and yet there was Faustina waiting for me
down below.  What a fright she must have had!  And all at once my own
blood ran cold: for the man sang like a kettle as he plodded up and up.
It was, it must be, the short-winded Count himself, whom we all
supposed to be in Rome!

"Higher he came and nearer, nearer, slowly yet hurriedly, now stopping
to cough and gasp, now taking a few steps by elephantine assault.  I
should have enjoyed the situation if it had not been  for poor Faustina
in the cave; as it was I was filled with nameless fears.  But I could
not resist giving that grampus Corbucci one bad moment on account.  A
crazy hand-rail ran up one wall, so I  carefully flattened myself
against the other, and  he passed within six inches of me, puffing and
wheezing like a brass band.  I let him go a few steps higher, and then
I let him have it with both lungs.

"Buona sera, eccellenza, signori!' I roared  after him.  And a scream
came down in answer--such a scream!  A dozen different terrors were in
it; and the wheezing had stopped, with the old scoundrel's heart.

"'Chi sta la?' he squeaked at last, gibbering and whimpering like a
whipped monkey, so that I could not bear to miss his face, and got a
match all ready to strike.

"'Arturo, signori.'

"He didn't repeat my name, nor did he damn me in heaps.  He did nothing
but wheeze for a good minute, and when he spoke it was with insinuating
civility, in his best English.

"'Come nearer, Arturo.  You are in the lower regions down there. I want
to speak with you.'

"'No, thanks.  I'm in a hurry,' I said, and dropped that match back
into my pocket.  He  might be armed, and I was not.

"'So you are in a 'urry!' and he wheezed amusement.  'And you thought I
was still in Rome, no doubt; and so I was until this afternoon, when I
caught train at the eleventh moment, and then another train from Naples
to Pozzuoli.  I have been rowed here now by a fisherman of Pozzuoli.  I
had not time to stop anywhere in Naples, but only to drive from station
to station.  So I am without Stefano, Arturo, I am without Stefano.'

"His sly voice sounded preternaturally sly in the absolute darkness,
but even through that impenetrable veil I knew it for a sham.  I had
laid hold of the hand-rail.  It shook violently in my hand; he also was
holding it where he stood.  And  these suppressed tremors, or rather
their detection in this way, struck a strange chill to my heart, just
as I was beginning to pluck it up.

"'It is lucky for Stefano,' said I, grim as death.

"'Ah, but you must not be too 'ard on 'im,' remonstrated the Count.
'You have stole his girl, he speak with me about it, and I wish to
speak with you.  It is very audashuss, Arturo, very audashuss!  Perhaps
you are even going to meet her now, eh?'"

I told him straight that I was.

"'Then there is no 'urry, for she is not there.'

"'You didn't see her in the cave?' I cried, too delighted at the
thought to keep it to  myself.

"'I had no such fortune,' the old devil said.

"'She is there, all the same.'

"'I only wish I 'ad known.'

"'And I've kept her long enough!'

"In fact I threw this over my shoulder as I turned and went running
down.

"'I 'ope you will find her!' his malicious voice came croaking after
me.  'I 'ope you will--I 'ope so.'

"And find her I did."

Raffles had been on his feet some time, unable to sit still or to
stand, moving excitedly about the room.  But now he stood still enough,
his elbows on the cast-iron mantelpiece, his head between his  hands.

"Dead?" I whispered.

And he nodded to the wall.

"There was not a sound in the cave.  There was no answer to my voice.
Then I went in, and my foot touched hers, and it was colder than the
rock ...  Bunny, they had stabbed her to the heart.  She had fought
them, and they had stabbed her to the heart!"

"You say 'they,'" I said gently, as he stood in heavy silence, his back
still turned.  "I thought Stefano had been left behind?"

Raffles was round in a flash, his face white-hot, his eyes dancing
death.

"He was in the cave!" he shouted.  "I saw him--I spotted him--it was
broad twilight after those stairs--and I went for him with my bare
hands.  Not fists, Bunny; not fists for a thing like that; I meant
getting my fingers into his vile little heart and tearing it out by the
roots.  I was stark mad.  But he had the revolver--hers.  He blazed it
at arm's length, and missed.  And that steadied me.  I had smashed his
funny-bone against the rock before he could blaze again; the revolver
fell with  a rattle, but without going off; in an instant I had it
tight, and the little swine at my mercy at last."

"You didn't show him any?"

"Mercy?  With Faustina dead at my feet? I should have deserved none in
the next world if I had shown him any in this!  No, I just stood over
him, with the revolver in both hands, feeling the chambers with my
thumb; and as I stood he stabbed at me; but I stepped back to that one,
and brought him down with a bullet in his guts.

"'And I can spare you two or three more,' I said, for my poor girl
could not have fired a shot.  'Take that one to hell with you--and
that--and that!'

"Then I started coughing and wheezing like the Count himself, for the
place was full of smoke.  When it cleared my man was very dead, and I
tipped him into the sea, to defile that rather than Faustina's cave.
And then--and then--we were  alone for the last time, she and I, in our
own pet  haunt; and I could scarcely see her, yet I would not strike a
match, for I knew she would not have me see her as she was.  I could
say good-by to her without that.  I said it; and I left her like a man,
and up the first open-air steps with my head in the air and the stars
all sharp in the sky; then suddenly they swam, and back I went like a
lunatic, to see if she was really dead, to bring her back to life ...
Bunny, I can't tell you any more."

"Not of the Count?" I murmured at last.

"Not even of the Count," said Raffles, turning round with a sigh.  "I
left him pretty sorry for himself; but what was the good of that?  I
had taken blood for blood, and it was not Corbucci who had killed
Faustina.  No, the plan was his,  but that was not part of the plan.
They had found out about our meetings in the cave: nothing simpler than
to have me kept hard at it overhead and to carry off Faustina by brute
force in the boat.  It was their only chance, for she had said more to
Stefano than she had admitted to me, and more than I am going to repeat
about myself.  No persuasion would have induced her to listen to him
again; so they tried force; and she drew Corbucci's revolver on them,
but they had taken her by surprise, and Stefano stabbed her before she
could fire."

"But how do you know all that?" I asked Raffles, for his tale was going
to pieces in the telling, and the tragic end of poor Faustina was no
ending for me.

"Oh," said he, "I had it from Corbucci at his own revolver's point.  He
was waiting at his window, and I could have potted him at my ease where
he stood against the light listening hard enough  but not seeing a
thing.  So he asked whether it was Stefano, and I whispered, 'Si,
signore'; and then whether he had finished Arturo, and I brought the
same shot off again.  He had let me in before he knew who was finished
and who was not."

"And did you finish him?"

"No; that was too good for Corbucci.  But I bound and gagged him about
as tight as man was ever gagged or bound, and I left him in his room
with the shutters shut and the house locked up.  The shutters of that
old place were six inches thick, and the walls nearly six feet; that
was on the Saturday night, and the Count wasn't expected at the
vineyard before the following Saturday. Meanwhile he was supposed to be
in Rome.  But the dead would doubtless be discovered next day, and I am
afraid this would lead to his own discovery with the life still in him.
I believe he  figured on that himself, for he sat threatening me gamely
till the last.  You never saw such a sight as he was, with his head
split in two by a ruler tied at the back of it, and his great moustache
pushed up into his bulging eyes.  But I locked him  up in the dark
without a qualm, and I wished and still wish him every torment of the
damned."

"And then?"

"The night was still young, and within ten miles there was the best of
ports in a storm, and hundreds of holds for the humble stowaway to
choose from.  But I didn't want to go further than Genoa, for by this
time my Italian would wash, so I chose the old Norddeutscher Lloyd, and
had an excellent voyage in one of the boats slung in-board over the
bridge.  That's better than any hold, Bunny, and I did splendidly on
oranges brought from the vineyard."

"And at Genoa?"

"At Genoa I took to my wits once more, and have been living on nothing
else ever since.  But there I had to begin all over again, and at the
very bottom of the ladder.  I slept in the streets.  I begged.  I did
all manner of terrible things, rather hoping for a bad end, but never
coming to one.  Then one day I saw a white-headed old chap looking at
me through a shop-window--a window I had designs upon--and when I
stared at him he stared at me--and we wore the same rags.  So I had
come to that!  But one reflection makes many.  I had not recognized
myself; who on earth would recognize me?  London called me--and here I
am. Italy had broken my heart--and there it stays."

Flippant as a schoolboy one moment, playful even in the bitterness of
the next, and now no longer giving way to the feeling which had spoilt
the climax of his tale, Raffles needed knowing as I alone knew him for
a right appreciation of those last words.  That they were no mere words
I know full well. That, but for the tragedy of his Italian life, that
life would have sufficed him for years, if not for ever, I did and do
still believe.  But I alone see him as I saw him then, the lines upon
his face, and the pain behind the lines; how they came to disappear,
and what removed them, you will never guess.  It was the one thing you
would have expected to have the opposite effect, the thing indeed that
had forced his confidence, the organ and the voice once more beneath
our very windows:

       "Margarita de Parete,
         era a' sarta d' e' signore;
         se pugneva sempe e ddete
         pe penzare a Salvatore!
       "Mar--ga--ri,
         e perzo e Salvatore!
      Mar--ga--ri,
         Ma l'ommo e cacciatore!
      Mar--ga--ri,
         Nun ce aje corpa tu!
      Chello ch' e fatto, e fatto, un ne parlammo cchieu!"

I simply stared at Raffles.  Instead of deepening, his lines had
vanished.  He looked years younger, mischievous and merry and alert as
I remembered him of old in the breathless crisis of some madcap
escapade.  He was holding up his finger; he was stealing to the window;
he was peeping through the blind as though our side street were
Scotland Yard itself; he was stealing back again, all revelry,
excitement, and suspense.

"I half thought they were after me before," said he.  "That was why I
made you look.  I daren't take a proper look myself, but what a jest if
they were!  What a jest!"

"Do you mean the police?" said I.

"The police!  Bunny, do you know them and me so little that you can
look me in the face and ask  such a question?  My boy, I'm dead to
them--off their books--a good deal deader than being off the hooks!
Why, if I went to Scotland Yard this minute, to give myself up, they'd
chuck me out for a harmless lunatic.  No, I fear an enemy nowadays, and
I go in terror of the sometime friend, but I have the utmost confidence
in the dear police."

"Then whom do you mean?"

"The Camorra!"

I repeated the word with a different intonation.  Not that I had never
heard of that most powerful and sinister of secret societies; but I
failed to see on what grounds Raffles should jump to the conclusion
that these everyday organ-grinders belonged to it.

"It was one of Corbucci's threats," said he.  "If I killed him the
Camorra would certainly kill me; he kept on telling me so; it was like
his cunning not to say that he would put them on my tracks whether or
no."

"He is probably a member himself!"

"Obviously, from what he said."

"But why on earth should you think that these fellows are?" I demanded,
as that brazen voice came rasping through a second verse.

"I don't think.  It was only an idea.  That thing is so thoroughly
Neapolitan, and I never heard it on a London organ before.  Then again,
what should bring them back here?"

I peeped through the blind in my turn; and, to be sure, there was the
fellow with the blue chin  and the white teeth watching our windows,
and ours only, as he bawled.

"And why?" cried Raffles, his eyes dancing when I told him.

"Why should they come sneaking  back to us?  Doesn't that look
suspicious, Bunny; doesn't that promise a lark?"

"Not to me," I said, having the smile for once.  "How many people,
should you imagine, toss them five shilling for as many minutes of
their infernal row?  You seem to forget that's what you did an hour
ago!"

Raffles had forgotten.  His blank face confessed the fact.  Then
suddenly he burst outlaughing at  himself.

"Bunny," said he, "you've no imagination, and I never knew I had so
much!  Of course you're right.  I only wish you were not, for there's
nothing I should enjoy more than taking on another Neapolitan or two.
You see, I owe them something still!  I didn't settle in full.  I owe
them  more than ever I shall pay them on this side Styx!"

He had hardened even as he spoke: the lines and the years had come
again, and his eyes were flint and steel, with an honest grief behind
the glitter.



THE LAST LAUGH

As I have had occasion to remark elsewhere, the pick of our exploits,
from a frankly criminal point of view, are of least use for the
comparatively pure purposes of these papers.  They might be appreciated
in a trade journal (if only  that want could be supplied), by skilled
manipulators of the jemmy and the large light bunch; but, as records of
unbroken yet insignificant success, they would be found at once too
trivial and too technical, if not sordid and unprofitable into the
bargain.  The latter epithets, and worse, have indeed already been
applied, if not to Raffles and all his works, at least to mine upon
Raffles, by more than one worthy wielder of a virtuous pen.  I need not
say how heartily I disagree with that truly  pious opinion.  So far
from admitting a single word of it, I maintain it is the liveliest
warning that I am giving to the world.  Raffles was a genius, and he
could not make it pay!  Raffles had invention, resource, incomparable
audacity, and a  nerve in ten thousand. He was both strategian and
tactician, and we all now know the difference between the two.  Yet for
months he had been hiding like a rat in a hole, unable to show even his
altered face by night or day without risk, unless another risk were
courted by three inches of conspicuous crepe.  Then thus far our
rewards had oftener than not been no reward at all.  Altogether it was
a very different story from the old festive, unsuspected, club and
cricket days, with their noctes ambrosianae at the Albany.

And now, in addition to the eternal peril of recognition, there was yet
another menace of which I knew nothing.  I thought no more of our
Neapolitan organ-grinders, though I did often think of the moving page
that they had torn for me out of my friend's strange life in Italy.
Raffles never alluded to the subject again, and for my part I had
entirely forgotten his wild ideas connecting the organ-grinders with
the Camorra, and imagining them upon his own tracks.  I heard no more
of it, and thought as little, as I say.  Then one night in the
autumn--I shrink from shocking the susceptible for nothing--but there
was a certain house in Palace Gardens, and when we got there Raffles
would pass on.  I could see no soul in sight, no glimmer in the
windows.  But Raffles had my arm,  and on we went without talking about
it.  Sharp to the left on the Notting Hill side, sharper still up
Silver Street, a little tacking west and south, a plunge across High
Street, and presently we were home.

"Pyjamas first," said Raffles, with as much authority as though it
mattered.  It was a warm night, however, though September, and I did
not mind until I came in clad as he commanded to find the autocrat
himself still booted and capped.  He was peeping through the blind, and
the gas was still turned down.  But he said that I could turn it up, as
he helped himself to a cigarette and nothing with it.

"May I mix you one?" said I.

"No, thanks."

"What's the trouble?"

"We were followed."

"Never!"

"You never saw it."

"But YOU never looked round."

"I have an eye at the back of each ear, Bunny."

I helped myself and I fear with less moderation than might have been
the case a minute before.

"So that was why--"

"That was why," said Raffles, nodding; but he did not smile, and I put
down my glass untouched.

"They were following us then!"

"All up Palace Gardens."

"I thought you wound about coming back over the hill."

"Nevertheless, one of them's in the street below at this moment."

No, he was not fooling me.  He was very grim.  And he had not taken off
a thing; perhaps he did not think it worth while.

"Plain clothes?" I sighed, following the sartorial train of thought,
even to the loathly arrows  that had decorated my person once already
for a little aeon.  Next time they would give me double.  The skilly
was in my stomach when I saw Raffles's face.

"Who said it was the police, Bunny?" said he.  "It's the Italians.
They're only after me; they  won't hurt a hair of YOUR head, let alone
cropping it!  Have a drink, and don't mind me. I shall score them off
before I'm done."

"And I'll help you!"

"No, old chap, you won't.  This is my own little show.  I've known
about it for weeks.  I  first tumbled to it the day those Neapolitans
came back with their organs, though I didn't seriously  suspect things
then; they never came again, those two, they had done their part.
That's the Camorra  all over, from all accounts.  The Count I told you
about is pretty high up in it, by the way he spoke, but there will be
grades and grades between him  and the organ-grinders.  I shouldn't be
surprised if he had every low-down Neapolitan ice-creamer in the town
upon my tracks!  The organization's  incredible.  Then do you remember
the superior foreigner who came to the door a few days afterwards?  You
said he had velvet eyes."

"I never connected him with those two!"

"Of course you didn't, Bunny, so you threatened to kick the fellow
downstairs, and only made them keener on the scent.  It was too late to
say anything when you told me.  But the very next time I showed my nose
outside I heard a camera click as I passed, and the fiend was a person
with velvet eyes.  Then there was a lull--that happened weeks ago.
They had sent me to Italy for identification by Count Corbucci."

"But this is all theory," I exclaimed.  "How on earth can you know?"

"I don't know," said Raffles, "but I should like to bet.  Our friend
the bloodhound is hanging  about the corner near the pillar-box; look
through my window, it's dark in there, and tell me who  he is."

The man was too far away for me to swear to his face, but he wore a
covert-coat of un-English length, and the lamp across the road played
steadily on his boots; they were very yellow, and they  made no noise
when he took a turn.  I strained my  eyes, and all at once I remembered
the thin-soled, low-heeled, splay yellow boots of the insidious
foreigner, with the soft eyes and the brown-paper face, whom I had
turned from the door as a palpable fraud.  The ring at the bell was the
first I had heard of him, there had been no warning step upon the
stairs, and my suspicious eye had searched his feet for rubber soles.

"It's the fellow," I said, returning to Raffles, and I described his
boots.

Raffles was delighted.

"Well done, Bunny; you're coming on," said  he.  "Now I wonder if he's
been over here all the time, or if they sent him over expressly?  You
did better than you think in spotting those boots, for they can only
have been made in Italy, and that looks like the special envoy.  But
it's no use speculating.  I must find out."

"How can you?"

"He won't stay there all night."

"Well?"

"When he gets tired of it I shall return the compliment and follow HIM."

"Not alone," said I, firmly.

"Well, we'll see.  We'll see at once," said Raffles, rising. "Out with
the gas, Bunny, while I take a look.  Thank you.  Now wait a bit ... yes!
He's chucked it; he's off already; and so am I!"

But I slipped to our outer door, and held the passage.

"I don't let you go alone, you know."

"You can't come with me in pyjamas."

"Now I see why you made me put them on!"

"Bunny, if you don't shift I shall have to shift you.  This is my very
own private one-man show.  But I'll be back in an hour--there!"

"You swear?"

"By all my gods."

I gave in.  How could I help giving in?  He did not look the man that
he had been, but you never knew with Raffles, and I could not have him
lay a hand on me.  I let him go with a shrug and my blessing, then ran
into his room to see the last of him from the window.

The creature in the coat and boots had reached the end of our little
street, where he appeared to have hesitated, so that Raffles was just
in time to see which way he turned.  And Raffles was after him at an
easy pace, and had himself almost reached the corner when my attention
was distracted from the alert nonchalance of his gait.  I was
marvelling that it alone had not long ago betrayed him, for nothing
about him was so unconsciously characteristic, when suddenly I realized
that Raffles was not the only person in the little lonely street.
Another pedestrian had entered from the other end, a man heavily built
and clad, with an astrakhan collar to his coat on this warm  night, and
a black slouch hat that hid his features  from my bird's-eye view.  His
steps were the short and shuffling ones of a man advanced in years and
in fatty degeneration, but of a sudden they stopped beneath my very
eyes.  I could have dropped a  marble into the dinted crown of the
black felt hat.  Then, at the same moment, Raffles turned the corner
without looking round, and the big man below raised both his hands and
his face. Of the  latter I saw only the huge white moustache, like a
flying gull, as Raffles had described it; for at a  glance I divined
that this was his arch-enemy, the Count Corbucci himself.

I did not stop to consider the subtleties of the system by which the
real hunter lagged behind while his subordinate pointed the quarry like
a sporting dog.  I left the Count shuffling onward faster than before,
and I jumped into some clothes as though the flats were on fire.  If
the Count was going to follow Raffles in his turn, then I would follow
the Count in mine, and there would be a midnight procession of us
through the town.  But I found no sign of him in the empty street, and
no sign in the Earl's Court Road, that looked as empty for all its
length, save for a natural enemy standing like a waxwork figure with a
glimmer at his belt.

"Officer," I gasped, "have you seen anything of an old gentleman with a
big white mustache?"

The unlicked cub of a common constable seemed to eye me the more
suspiciously for the flattering form of my address.

"Took a hansom," said he at length.

A hansom!  Then he was not following the others on foot; there was no
guessing his game.  But something must be said or done.

"He's a friend of mine," I explained, "and I want to overtake him.  Did
you hear where he told the fellow to drive?"

A curt negative was the policeman's reply to that; and if ever I take
part in a night assault-at-arms, revolver versus baton, in the back
kitchen, I know which member of the Metropolitan Police Force I should
like for my opponent.

If there was no overtaking the Count, however, it should be a
comparatively simple matter in the case of the couple on foot, and I
wildly hailed the first hansom that crawled into my ken. I must tell
Raffles who it was that I had seen; the Earl's Court Road was long, and
the time since he vanished in it but a few short minutes.  I drove down
the length of that useful thoroughfare, with an  eye apiece on either
pavement, sweeping each as with a brush, but never a Raffles came into
the pan. Then I tried the Fulham Road, first to the west, then to the
east, and in the end drove home to the flat as bold as brass.  I did
not realize my indiscretion until I had paid the man and was on the
stairs.  Raffles never dreamt of driving all the way back; but I was
hoping now to find him waiting up above.  He had said an hour.  I had
remembered it suddenly.  And now the hour was more than up.  But the
flat was as empty as I had left it; the very light that had encouraged
me, pale though it was, as I turned the corner in my hansom, was but
the light that I myself had left burning in the desolate passage.

I can give you no conception of the night that I  spent.  Most of it I
hung across the sill, throwing  a wide net with my ears, catching every
footstep  afar off, every hansom bell farther still, only to  gather in
some alien whom I seldom even landed in our street.  Then I would
listen at the door.

He might come over the roof; and eventually some one did; but now it
was broad daylight, and  I flung the door open in the milkman's face,
which  whitened at the shock as though I had ducked him  in his own
pail.

"You're late," I thundered as the first excuse for my excitement.

"Beg your pardon," said he, indignantly, "but I'm half an hour before
my usual time."

"Then I beg yours," said I; "but the fact is, Mr. Maturin has had one
of his bad nights, and I seem to have been waiting hours for milk to
make him a cup of tea."

This little fib (ready enough for Raffles, though I say it) earned me
not only forgiveness but that obliging sympathy which is a branch of
the business of the man at the door.  The good fellow said that he
could see I had been sitting up all night, and he left me pluming
myself upon the accidental art with which I had told my very necessary
tarra-diddle.  On reflection I gave the credit to instinct, not
accident, and then sighed afresh as I realized how the influence of the
master was sinking into  me, and he Heaven knew where!  But my
punishment was swift to follow, for within the hour the bell rang
imperiously twice, and there was Dr. Theobald on our mat; in a yellow
Jaeger suit, with a chin as yellow jutting over the flaps that he had
turned up to hide his pyjamas.

"What's this about a bad night?" said he.

"He couldn't sleep, and he wouldn't let me," I  whispered, never
loosening my grasp of the door, and standing tight against the other
wall.  "But he's sleeping like a baby now."

"I must see him."

"He gave strict orders that you should not."

"I'm his medical man, and I--"

"You know what he is," I said, shrugging; "the least thing wakes him,
and you will if you insist on seeing him now.  It will be the last
time, I  warn you!  I know what he said, and you don't."

The doctor cursed me under his fiery moustache.

"I shall come up during the course of the morning," he snarled.

"And I shall tie up the bell," I said, "and if it doesn't ring he'll be
sleeping still, but I will not risk waking him by coming to the door
again."

And with that I shut it in his face.  I was improving, as Raffles had
said; but what would it profit me if some evil had befallen him?  And
now I was prepared for the worst.  A boy came up whistling and leaving
papers on the mats; it  was getting on for eight o'clock, and the
whiskey  and soda of half-past twelve stood untouched and stagnant in
the tumbler.  If the worst had happened to Raffles, I felt that I would
either never drink again, or else seldom do anything else.

Meanwhile I could not even break my fast, but roamed the flat in a
misery not to be described, my very linen still unchanged, my cheeks
and chin now tawny from the unwholesome night.  How long would it go
on?  I wondered for a time.  Then I changed my tune: how long could I
endure it?

It went on actually until the forenoon only, but my endurance cannot be
measured by the time, for to me every hour of it was an arctic night.
Yet it cannot have been much after eleven when the ring came at the
bell, which I had forgotten to tie up after all.  But this was not the
doctor;  neither, too well I knew, was it the wanderer returned.  Our
bell was the pneumatic one that tells  you if the touch be light or
heavy; the hand upon it now was tentative and shy.

The owner of the hand I had never seen before.  He was young and
ragged, with one eye blank,  but the other ablaze with some fell
excitement.  And straightway he burst into a low torrent of words, of
which all I knew was that they were Italian, and therefore news of
Raffles, if only I had known the language! But dumb-show might help us
somewhat, and in I dragged him, though against his will, a new alarm in
his one wild  eye.

"Non capite?" he cried when I had him inside and had withstood the
torrent.

"No, I'm bothered if I do!" I answered, guessing his question from his
tone.

"Vostro amico," he repeated over and over again; and then, "Poco tempo,
poco tempo, poco tempo!"

For once in my life the classical education of  my public-school days
was of real value.  "My  pal, my pal, and no time to be lost!" I
translated freely, and flew for my hat.

"Ecco, signore!" cried the fellow, snatching the watch from my
waistcoat pocket, and putting one  black thumb-nail on the long hand,
the other on  he numeral twelve.  "Mezzogiorno--poco tempo--poco
tempo!"  And again I seized his meaning,  that it was twenty past
eleven, and we must be there by twelve.  But where, but where?  It was
maddening to be summoned like this, and not to know  what had happened,
nor to have any means of finding out. But my presence of mind stood by
me still, I was improving by seven-league strides, and I crammed my
handkerchief between the drum and hammer of the bell before leaving.
The doctor could ring now till he was black in the face, but I was not
coming, and he need not think it.

I half expected to find a hansom waiting, but there was none, and we
had gone some distance down the Earl's Court Road before we got one; in
fact, we had to run to the stand.  Opposite is the church with the
clock upon it, as everybody knows, and at sight of the dial my
companion had wrung his hands; it was close upon the half-hour.

"Poco tempo--pochissimo!" he wailed.  "Bloom-buree Ske-warr," he then
cried to the cabman--"numero trentotto!"

"Bloomsbury Square," I roared on my own account, "I'll show you the
house when we get there, only drive like be-damned!"

My companion lay back gasping in his corner.  The small glass told me
that my own face was pretty red.

"A nice show!" I cried; "and not a word can you tell me.  Didn't you
bring me a note?"

I might have known by this time that he had not, still I went through
the pantomime of writing with my finger on my cuff.  But he shrugged
and  shook his head.

"Niente," said he.  "Una quistione di vita, di vita!"

"What's that?" I snapped, my early training come in again.  "Say it
slowly--andante--rallentando."

Thank Italy for the stage instructions in the songs one used to murder!
The fellow actually understood.

"Una--quistione--di--vita."

"Or mors, eh?" I shouted, and up went the trap-door over our heads.

"Avanti, avanti, avanti!" cried the Italian, turning up his one-eyed
face.

"Hell-to-leather," I translated, "and double fare if you do it by
twelve o'clock."

But in the streets of London how is one to know the time?  In the
Earl's Court Road it had not  been half-past, and at Barker's in High
Street it was but a minute later.  A long half-mile a minute, that was
going like the wind, and indeed we had done much of it at a gallop.
But the next hundred yards took us five minutes by the next clock, and
which was one to believe?  I fell back upon my own old watch (it was my
own), which made it eighteen minutes to the hour as we swung across the
Serpentine bridge, and by the quarter we were in the Bayswater
Road--not up for once.

"Presto, presto," my pale guide murmured.  "Affretatevi--avanti!"

"Ten bob if you do it," I cried through the trap, without the slightest
notion of what we were to do.  But it was "una quistione di vita," and
"vostro amico" must and could only be my miserable Raffles.

What a very godsend is the perfect hansom to the man or woman in a
hurry!  It had been our great good fortune to jump into a perfect
hansom; there was no choice, we had to take the first upon the rank,
but it must have deserved its place with the rest nowhere.  New tires,
superb springs, a horse in a thousand, and a driver up to every trick
of his trade!  In and out we went like a fast half-back at the Rugby
game, yet where the traffic was thinnest, there were we.  And how he
knew his way!  At the Marble Arch he slipped out of the main stream,
and so into Wigmore Street, then up and in and out and on until I saw
the gold tips of the Museum palisade gleaming between the horse's ears
in the sun.  Plop, plop, plop; ting, ling, ling; bell and horse-shoes,
horse-shoes and bell, until the colossal figure of C. J. Fox in a grimy
toga spelt Bloomsbury Square with my watch still wanting three minutes
to the hour.

"What number?" cried the good fellow over-head.

"Trentotto, trentotto," said my guide, but he was looking to the right,
and I bundled him out to show the house on foot.  I had not
half-a-sovereign after all, but I flung our dear driver a whole one
instead, and only wish that it had been a hundred.

Already the Italian had his latch-key in the door of 38, and in another
moment we were rushing up the narrow stairs of as dingy a London house
as prejudiced countryman can conceive.  It was panelled, but it was
dark and evil-smelling, and how we should have found our way even to
the stairs but for an unwholesome jet of yellow gas in the hall, I
cannot myself imagine.  However, up we went pell-mell, to the
right-about on the half-landing, and so like a whirlwind into the
drawing-room a few steps higher.  There the gas was also burning behind
closed shutters, and the scene is photographed upon my brain, though I
cannot have looked upon it for a whole instant as I sprang in at my
leader's heels.

This room also was panelled, and in the middle of the wall on our left,
his hands lashed to a ring-bolt high above his head, his toes barely
touching the floor, his neck pinioned by a strap passing through
smaller ring-bolts under either ear, and every inch of him secured on
the same principle, stood, or rather hung, all that was left of
Raffles, for at the first glance I believed him dead.  A black ruler
gagged him, the ends lashed behind his neck, the blood upon it caked to
bronze in the gaslight.  And in front of him, ticking like a
sledge-hammer, its only hand upon the stroke of twelve, stood a
simple, old-fashioned, grandfather's clock--but not for half an instant
longer--only until my guide could hurl himself upon it and send the
whole thing crashing into the corner.  An ear-splitting report
accompanied the crash, a white cloud lifted from the fallen clock, and
I saw a revolver smoking in a vice screwed below the dial, an
arrangement of wires sprouting from the dial itself, and the single
hand at once at its zenith and in contact with these.

"Tumble to it, Bunny?"

He was alive; these were his first words; the Italian had the
blood-caked ruler in his hand, and with his knife was reaching up to
cut the thongs that lashed the hands.  He was not tall enough, I seized
him and lifted him up, then fell to work with my own knife upon the
straps.  And Raffles smiled faintly upon us through his blood-stains.

"I want you to tumble to it," he whispered; "the neatest thing in
revenge I ever knew, and another minute would have fixed it. I've been
waiting for it twelve hours, watching the clock round, death at the end
of the lap!  Electric connection.  Simple enough.  Hour-hand only--O
Lord!"

We had cut the last strap.  He could not stand.  We supported him
between us to a horsehair sofa,  for the room was furnished, and I
begged him not to speak, while his one-eyed deliverer was at the  door
before Raffles recalled him with a sharp word in Italian.

"He wants to get me a drink, but that can wait,"  said he, in firmer
voice; "I shall enjoy it the more when I've told you what happened.
Don't let him  go, Bunny; put your back against the door.  He's  a
decent soul, and it's lucky for me I got a word with him before they
trussed me up.  I've promised to set him up in life, and I will, but I
don't want him out of my sight for the moment."

"If you squared him last night," I exclaimed, "why the blazes didn't he
come to me till the eleventh hour?"

"Ah, I knew he'd have to cut it fine though I  hoped not quite so fine
as all that.  But all's well that ends well, and I declare I don't feel
so much the worse.  I shall be sore about the gills for a bit--and what
do you think?"

He pointed to the long black ruler with the bronze stain; it lay upon
the floor; he held out his hand for it, and I gave it to him.


"The same one I gagged him with," said Raffles, with his still ghastly
smile; "he was a bit of an artist, old Corbucci, after all!"

"Now let's hear how you fell into his clutches," said I, briskly, for I
was as anxious to hear as he seemed to tell me, only for my part I
could have  waited until we were safe in the flat.

"I do want to get it off my chest, Bunny," old Raffles admitted, "and
yet I hardly can tell you after all.  I followed your friend with the
velvet eyes.  I followed him all the way here. Of course I came up to
have a good look at the house when he'd let himself in, and damme if he
hadn't left the door ajar!  Who could resist that?  I had  pushed it
half open and had just one foot on the mat when I got such a crack on
the head as I hope never to get again.  When I came to my wits they
were hauling me up to that ring-bolt by the hands, and old Corbucci
himself was bowing to me, but how HE got here I don't know yet."

"I can tell you that," said I, and told how I had seen the Count for
myself on the pavement underneath our windows.  "Moreover," I
continued, "I saw him spot you, and five minutes after in Earl's Court
Road I was told he'd driven off in a cab.  He would see you following
his man, drive home ahead, and catch you by having the door left open
in the way you describe."

"Well," said Raffles, "he deserved to catch me somehow, for he'd come
from Naples on purpose, ruler and all, and the ring-bolts were ready
fixed, and even this house taken furnished for nothing else!  He meant
catching me before he'd done, and scoring me off in exactly the same
way that I scored off him, only going one better of course.  He told me
so himself, sitting where I am sitting now, at three o'clock this
morning, and smoking a most abominable cigar that I've smelt ever
since.  It appears he sat twenty-four hours when I left HIM trussed up,
but he said twelve would content him in my case, as there was certain
death at the end of them, and I mightn't have life enough left to
appreciate my end if he made it longer.  But I wouldn't have trusted
him if he could have got the clock to go twice round without firing off
the  pistol.  He explained the whole mechanism of that to me; he had
thought it all out on the vineyard I told you about; and then he asked
if I remembered what he had promised me in the name of the  Camorra.  I
only remembered some vague threats,  but he was good enough to give me
so many particulars of that institution that I could make a European
reputation by exposing the whole show if it wasn't for my unfortunate
resemblance to that infernal rascal Raffles.  Do you think they would
know me at the Yard, Bunny, after all this time?  Upon my soul I've a
good mind to risk it!"

I offered no opinion on the point.  How could it interest me then?  But
interested I was in Raffles, never more so in my life.  He had been
tortured all night and half a day, yet he could sit and talk like this
the moment we cut him down; he had been within a minute of his death,
yet he was as full of life as ever; ill-treated and defeated at the
best, he could still smile through his blood as though the boot were on
the other leg.  I had imagined that I knew my Raffles at last.  I was
not likely so to flatter myself again.

"But what has happened to these villains?" I burst out, and my
indignation was not only against them for their cruelty, but also
against their victim  for his phlegmatic attitude toward them.  It was
difficult to believe that this was Raffles.

"Oh," said he, "they were to go off to Italy INSTANTER; they should be
crossing now.  But do listen to what I am telling you; it's
interesting, my dear man.  This old sinner Corbucci turns out to have
been no end of a boss in the Camorra--says so himself.  One of the capi
paranze, my  boy, no less; and the velvety Johnny a giovano onorato,
Anglice, fresher.  This fellow here was also in it, and I've sworn to
protect him from them evermore; and it's just as I said, half the
organ-grinders in London belong, and the whole lot of them were put on
my tracks by secret instructions.  This excellent youth manufactures
iced poison on Saffron Hill when he's at home."

"And why on earth didn't he come to me quicker?"

"Because he couldn't talk to you, he could only fetch you, and it was
as much as his life was worth  to do that before our friends had
departed.  They were going by the eleven o'clock from Victoria, and
that didn't leave much chance, but he certainly  oughtn't to have run
it as fine as he did.  Still you must remember that I had to fix things
up with him in the fewest possible words, in a single minute that the
other two were indiscreet enough to leave us alone together."

The ragamuffin in question was watching us with all his solitary eye,
as though he knew that we were discussing him.  Suddenly he broke out
in agonized accents, his hands clasped, and a face so full of fear that
every moment I expected to see him on his knees.  But Raffles answered
kindly, reassuringly, I could tell from his tone, and then turned to me
with a compassionate shrug.

"He says he couldn't find the mansions, Bunny, and really it's not to
be wondered at.  I had only time to tell him to hunt you up and bring
you here by hook or crook before twelve to-day, and after all he has
done that.  But now the poor devil thinks you're riled with him, and
that we'll give him away to the Camorra."

"Oh, it's not with him I'm riled," I said frankly, "but with those
other blackguards, and--and with you, old chap, for taking it all  as
you do, while such infamous scoundrels have the last laugh, and are
safely on their way to France!"

Raffles looked up at me with a curiously open eye, an eye that I never
saw when he was not in earnest.  I fancied he did not like my last
expression but one.  After all, it was no laughing matter to him.

"But are they?" said he.  "I'm not so sure."

"You said they were!"

"I said they should be."

"Didn't you hear them go?"

"I heard nothing but the clock all night.  It was like Big Ben striking
at the last--striking nine to the fellow on the drop."

And in that open eye I saw at last a deep glimmer of the ordeal through
which he had passed.

"But, my dear old Raffles, if they're still on the premises--"

The thought was too thrilling for a finished sentence.

"I hope they are," he said grimly, going to the door.  "There's a gas
on!  Was that burning when you came in?"

Now that I thought of it, yes, it had been.

"And there's a frightfully foul smell," I added, as I followed Raffles
down the stairs.  He turned to me gravely with his hand upon the
front-room door, and at the same moment I saw a coat with an astrakhan
collar hanging on the pegs.

"They are in here, Bunny," he said, and turned the handle.

The door would only open a few inches.  But a detestable odor came out,
with a broad bar of yellow gaslight.  Raffles put his handkerchief to
his nose.  I followed his example, signing to our ally to do the same,
and in another minute we had all three squeezed into the room.

The man with the yellow boots was lying against the door, the Count's
great carcass sprawled upon the table, and at a glance it was evident
that both men had been dead some hours.  The old Camorrist had the stem
of a liqueur-glass between his swollen blue fingers, one of which had
been cut in the breakage, and the livid flesh was also brown with the
last blood that it would ever shed.  His face was on the table, the
huge moustache projecting from under either leaden cheek, yet looking
itself strangely alive.  Broken bread and scraps of frozen macaroni lay
upon the cloth and at the bottom of two soup-plates and a tureen; the
macaroni had a tinge of tomato; and there was a crimson dram left in
the tumblers, with an empty fiasco to show whence it came.  But near
the great gray head upon the table another liqueur-glass stood,
unbroken, and still full of some white and stinking liquid; and near
that a tiny silver flask, which made me recoil from Raffles as I had
not from the dead; for I knew it to be his.

"Come out of this poisonous air," he said sternly, "and I will tell you
how it has happened."

So we all three gathered together in the hall.  But it was Raffles who
stood nearest the street-door, his back to it, his eyes upon us two.
And  though it was to me only that he spoke at first, he would pause
from point to point, and translate into Italian for the benefit of the
one-eyed alien to whom he owed his life.

"You probably don't even know the name, Bunny," he began, "of the
deadliest poison yet known to science.  It is cyanide of cacodyl, and I
have carried that small flask of it about with me for months.  Where I
got it matters nothing; the  whole point is that a mere sniff reduces
flesh to clay.  I  have never had any opinion of suicide, as you  know,
but I always felt it worth while to be forearmed against the very
worst.  Well, a bottle of  this stuff is calculated to stiffen an
ordinary roomful of ordinary people within five minutes;  and I
remembered my flask when they had me as good as crucified in the small
hours of this morning.  I asked them to take it out of my pocket.  I
begged them to give me a drink before they left  me.  And what do you
suppose they did?"

I thought of many things but suggested none, while Raffles turned this
much of his statement into sufficiently fluent Italian.  But when he
faced  me again his face was still flaming.

"That beast Corbucci!" said he--"how can I pity him?  He took the
flask; he would give me none; he flicked me in the face instead. My
idea  was that he, at least, should go with me--to sell my life as
dearly as that--and a sniff would have settled us both. But no, he must
tantalize and torment me; he thought it brandy; he must take it
downstairs to drink to my destruction!  Can  you have any pity for a
hound like that?"

"Let us go," I at last said, hoarsely, as Raffles finished speaking in
Italian, and his second listener stood open-mouthed.

"We will go," said Raffles, "and we will chance being seen; if the
worst comes to the worst this good chap will prove that I have been
tied up since one o'clock this morning, and the medical evidence will
decide how long those dogs have been dead."

But the worst did not come to the worst, more power to my unforgotten
friend the cabman, who never came forward to say what manner of men he
had driven to Bloomsbury Square at top speed on the very day upon which
the tragedy was discovered there, or whence he had driven them.  To be
sure, they had not behaved like murderers, whereas the evidence at the
inquest all went to show that the defunct Corbucci was little better.
His reputation, which transpired with his identity, was that of a
libertine and a renegade, while the infernal apparatus upstairs
revealed the fiendish arts of the anarchist to boot.  The inquiry
resulted  eventually in an open verdict, and was chiefly instrumental
in killing such compassion as is usually felt for the dead who die in
their sins.

But Raffles would not have passed this title for this tale.



TO CATCH A THIEF

I

Society persons are not likely to have forgotten the series of
audacious robberies by which so many of themselves suffered in turn
during the brief course of a recent season.  Raid after raid was made
upon the smartest houses in town, and within a few weeks more than one
exalted head had been shorn of its priceless tiara.  The Duke and
Duchess of Dorchester lost half the portable pieces of their historic
plate on the very night of their Graces' almost equally historic
costume ball.  The Kenworthy diamonds were taken in broad daylight,
during the excitement of a charitable meeting on the ground floor, and
the gifts of her belted bridegroom to Lady May Paulton while the outer
air was thick with a prismatic shower of confetti.  It was obvious that
all this was the work of no ordinary thief, and perhaps inevitable that
the name of Raffles should have been dragged from oblivion by callous
disrespecters of the departed and unreasoning apologists for the
police.  These wiseacres did not hesitate to bring a dead man back to
life because they knew of no living one capable of such feats; it is
their heedless and inconsequent calumnies that the present paper is
partly intended to refute.  As a matter of fact, our joint innocence in
this matter was only exceeded by our common envy, and for a long time,
like the rest of the world, neither of us had the slightest clew to the
identity of the person who was following in our steps with such
irritating results.

"I should mind less," said Raffles, "if the fellow were really playing
my game.  But abuse of hospitality was never one of my strokes, and it
seems to me the only shot he's got.  When we took old Lady Melrose's
necklace, Bunny, we were not staying with the Melroses, if you
recollect."

We were discussing the robberies for the hundredth time, but for once
under conditions more favorable to animated conversation than our
unique circumstances permitted in the flat.  We did not often dine out.
Dr. Theobald was one impediment, the risk of recognition was another.
But there were exceptions, when the doctor was away or the patient
defiant, and on these rare occasions we frequented a certain
unpretentious restaurant in the Fulham quarter, where the cooking was
plain but excellent, and the cellar a surprise.  Our bottle of '89
champagne was empty to the label when the subject arose, to be touched
by Raffles in the reminiscent manner indicated above.  I can see his
clear eye upon me now, reading me, weighing me.  But I was not so
sensitive to his scrutiny at the time.  His tone was deliberate,
calculating, preparatory; not as I heard it then, through a head full
of wine, but as it floats back to me across the gulf between that
moment and this.

"Excellent fillet!" said I, grossly.  "So you think this chap is as
much in society as we were, do you?"

I preferred not to think so myself.  We had cause enough for jealousy
without that.  But Raffles raised his eyebrows an eloquent half-inch.

"As much, my dear Bunny?  He is not only in it, but of it; there's no
comparison between us there.  Society is in rings like a target, and we
never were in the bull's-eye, however thick you may lay on the ink!  I
was asked for my cricket.  I haven't forgotten it yet.  But this
fellow's one of themselves,  with the right of entre into the houses
which we could only 'enter' in a professional sense.  That's obvious
unless all these little exploits are the work of different hands, which
they as obviously are not.  And it's why I'd give five hundred pounds
to put salt on him to-night!"

"Not you," said I, as I drained my glass in festive incredulity.

"But I would, my dear Bunny.  Waiter! another half-bottle of this," and
Raffles leant across the table as the empty one was taken away.  "I
never was more serious in my life," he continued below his breath.
"Whatever else our successor may be, he's not a dead man like me, or a
marked man like you.  If there's any truth in my theory he's one of the
last people upon whom suspicion is ever likely to rest; and oh, Bunny,
what a partner he would make for you and me!"

Under less genial influences the very idea of a third partner would
have filled my soul with offence; but Raffles had chosen his moment
unerringly, and his arguments lost nothing by the flowing accompaniment
of the extra pint.  They were, however, quite strong in themselves.
The gist of them was that thus far we had remarkably little to show for
what Raffles would call "our second innings."  This even I could not
deny.  We had scored a few "long singles," but our "best shots"  had
gone "straight to hand," and we were "playing a deuced slow game."
Therefore we needed a new partner--and the metaphor failed Raffles.

It had served its turn.  I already agreed with him.  In truth I was
tired of my false position as hireling attendant, and had long fancied
myself an object of suspicion to that other impostor the doctor.  A
fresh, untrammelled start was a fascinating idea to me, though two was
company, and three in our case might be worse than none.  But I did not
see how we could hope, with our respective handicaps, to solve a
problem which was already the despair of Scotland Yard.

"Suppose I have solved it," observed Raffles, cracking a walnut in his
palm.

"How could you?" I asked, without believing for an instant that he had.

"I have been taking the Morning Post for some time now."

"Well?"

"You have got me a good many odd numbers of the less base society
papers."

"I can't for the life of me see what you're driving at."

Raffles smiled indulgently as he cracked another nut.

"That's because you've neither observation nor imagination, Bunny--and
yet you try to write!  Well, you wouldn't think it, but I have a fairly
complete list of the people who were at the various functions under
cover of which these different little coups were brought off."

I said very stolidly that I did not see how that could help him. It was
the only answer to his  good-humored but self-satisfied contempt; it
happened also to be true.

"Think," said Raffles, in a patient voice.

"When thieves break in and steal," said I, "upstairs, I don't see much
point in discovering who was downstairs at the time."

"Quite," said Raffles--"when they do break in."

"But that's what they have done in all these cases.  An upstairs door
found screwed up, when things were at their height below; thief gone
and jewels with him before alarm could be raised. Why, the trick's so
old that I never knew you condescend to play it."

"Not so old as it looks," said Raffles, choosing the cigars and handing
me mine.  "Cognac or Benedictine, Bunny?"

"Brandy," I said, coarsely.

"Besides," he went on, "the rooms were not screwed up; at Dorchester
House, at any rate, the door was only locked, and the key missing, so
that it might have been done on either side."

"But that was where he left his rope-ladder behind him!" I exclaimed in
triumph; but Raffles only shook his head.

"I don't believe in that rope-ladder, Bunny, except as a blind."

"Then what on earth do you believe?"

"That every one of these so-called burglaries has been done from the
inside, by one of the guests; and what's more I'm very much mistaken if
I haven't spotted the right sportsman."

I began to believe that he really had, there was such a wicked gravity
in the eyes that twinkled faintly into mine.  I raised my glass in
convivial congratulation, and still remember the somewhat anxious eye
with which Raffles saw it emptied.

"I can only find one likely name," he continued, "that figures in all
these lists, and it is anything  but a likely one at first sight.  Lord
Ernest Belville was at all those functions.  Know anything about him,
Bunny?"

"Not the Rational Drink fanatic?"

"Yes."

"That's all I want to know."

"Quite," said Raffles; "and yet what could be more promising?  A man
whose views are so broad and moderate, and so widely held already
(saving your presence, Bunny), does not bore the world with them
without ulterior motives.  So far so good.  What are this chap's
motives?  Does he want to advertise himself?  No, he's somebody
already.  But is he rich?  On the contrary, he's as poor as a rat for
his position, and apparently without the least ambition to be anything
else;  certainly he won't enrich himself by making a public fad of what
all sensible people are agreed upon as it is.  Then suddenly one gets
one's own old idea--the alternative profession!  My cricket--his
Rational Drink!  But it is no use jumping to conclusions.  I must know
more than the newspapers can tell me.  Our aristocratic friend is
forty, and unmarried.  What has he been doing all these years?  How the
devil was I to find out?"

"How did you?" I asked, declining to spoil my digestion with a
conundrum, as it was his evident intention that I should.

"Interviewed him!" said Raffles, smiling slowly on my amazement.

"You--interviewed him?" I echoed.  "When--and where?"

"Last Thursday night, when, if you remember, we kept early hours,
because I felt done.  What  was the use of telling you what I had up my
sleeve, Bunny?  It might have ended in fizzle, as it still may.  But
Lord Ernest Belville was addressing  the meeting at Exeter Hall; I
waited for him when the show was over, dogged him home to King John's
Mansions, and interviewed him in his own rooms there before he turned
in."

My journalistic jealousy was piqued to the quick.  Affecting a
scepticism I did not feel (for  no outrage was beyond the pale of his
impudence), I inquired dryly which journal Raffles had pretended to
represent.  It is unnecessary to report his answer. I could not believe
him without further explanation.

"I should have thought," he said, "that even you would have spotted a
practice I never omit upon certain occasions.  I always pay a visit to
the drawing-room, and fill my waistcoat pocket from the card-tray.  It
is an immense help in any little temporary impersonation.  On Thursday
night I sent up the card of a powerful writer connected with a powerful
paper; if Lord Ernest had known him in the flesh I should have been
obliged to confess to a journalistic ruse; luckily he didn't--and I had
been sent by my editor to get the interview for next morning.  What
could be better--for the alternative profession?"

I inquired what the interview had brought forth.

"Everything," said Raffles.  "Lord Ernest has been a wanderer these
twenty years.  Texas, Fiji, Australia.  I suspect him of wives and
families in all three.  But his manners are a liberal education.  He
gave me some beautiful whiskey, and forgot all about his fad.  He is
strong and subtle, but I talked him off his guard.  He is going to the
Kirkleathams' to-night--I saw the card stuck up.  I stuck some wax into
his keyhole as he was switching off the lights."

And, with an eye upon the waiters, Raffles showed me a skeleton key,
newly twisted and filed;  but my share of the extra pint (I am afraid
no fair share) had made me dense.  I looked from the key to Raffles
with puckered forehead--for I happened to catch sight of it in the
mirror behind him.

"The Dowager Lady Kirkleatham," he whispered, "has diamonds as big as
beans, and likes to have 'em all on--and goes to bed early--and happens
to be in town!"

And now I saw.

"The villain means to get them from her!"

"And I mean to get them from the villain," said Raffles; "or, rather,
your share and mine."

"Will he consent to a partnership?"

"We shall have him at our mercy.  He daren't refuse."

Raffles's plan was to gain access to Lord Ernest's rooms before
midnight; there we were to lie in wait for the aristocratic rascal, and
if I left all details to Raffles, and simply stood by in case of a
rumpus, I should be playing my part and earning my share.  It was a
part that I had played before, not always with a good grace, though
there had never been any question about the share.  But to-night I was
nothing loath.  I had had just champagne enough--how Raffles knew my
measure!--and I was ready and eager for anything.  Indeed, I did not
wish to wait for the coffee, which was  to be especially strong by
order of Raffles. But on that he insisted, and it was between ten and
eleven when at last we were in our cab.

"It would be fatal to be too early," he said as we drove; "on the other
hand, it would be dangerous to leave it too late.  One must risk
something.  How I should love to drive down Piccadilly and see the
lights!  But unnecessary risks are another story."


II

King John's Mansions, as everybody knows, are the oldest, the ugliest,
and the tallest block  of flats in all London.  But they are built
upon a more generous scale than has since become the rule, and with a
less studious regard  for the economy of space. We were about to  drive
into the spacious courtyard when the gate-keeper checked us in order to
let another hansom  drive out.

It contained a middle-aged man of the military type, like ourselves in
evening dress.  That much I saw as his hansom crossed our bows,
because I could not help seeing it, but I should  not have given the
incident a second thought if it had not been for his extraordinary
effect upon Raffles.  In an instant he was out upon the curb, paying
the cabby, and in another he was leading me across the street, away
from the mansions.

"Where on earth are you going?" I naturally exclaimed.

"Into the park," said he.  "We are too early."

His voice told me more than his words.  It was strangely stern.

"Was that him--in the hansom?"

"It was."

"Well, then, the coast's clear," said I, comfortably.  I was for
turning back then and there, but Raffles forced me on with a hand that
hardened  on my arm.

"It was a nearer thing than I care about," said he.  "This seat will
do; no, the next one's further from a lamp-post.  We will give him a
good half-hour, and I don't want to talk."

We had been seated some minutes when Big Ben sent a languid chime over
our heads to the stars.  It was half-past ten, and a sultry night.
Eleven had struck before Raffles awoke from his sullen reverie, and
recalled me from mine with a slap on the back.  In a couple of minutes
we were in the lighted vestibule at the inner end of the courtyard of
King John's Mansions.

"Just left Lord Ernest at Lady Kirkleatham's," said Raffles. "Gave me
his key and asked us to wait for him in his rooms.  Will you send us up
in the lift?"

In a small way, I never knew old Raffles do anything better. There was
not an instant's demur.  Lord Ernest Belville's rooms were at the top
of the building, but we were in them as quickly as lift could carry and
page-boy conduct us.  And there was no need for the skeleton key after
all; the boy opened the outer door with one of his own, and switched on
the lights before leaving us.

"Now that's interesting," said Raffles, as soon as we were alone; "they
can come in and clean when he is out.  What if he keeps his swag at the
bank?  By Jove, that's an idea for him!  I don't believe he's getting
rid of it; it's all lying low somewhere, if I'm not mistaken, and he's
not a fool."

While he spoke he was moving about the sitting-room, which was
charmingly furnished in the antique style, and making as many remarks
as  though he were an auctioneer's clerk with an inventory to prepare
and a day to do it in, instead  of a cracksman who might be surprised
in his crib at any moment.

"Chippendale of sorts, eh, Bunny?  Not genuine, of course; but where
can you get genuine Chippendale now, and who knows it when they  see
it?  There's no merit in mere antiquity.  Yet the way people pose on
the subject!  If a thing's handsome and useful, and good
cabinet-making, it's good enough for me."

"Hadn't we better explore the whole place?"  I suggested nervously.  He
had not even bolted the outer door.  Nor would he when I called his
attention to the omission.

"If Lord Ernest finds his rooms locked up he'll raise Cain," said
Raffles; "we must let him come in and lock up for himself before we
corner him.  But he won't come yet; if he did it might be awkward, for
they'd tell him down below what I told them.  A new staff comes on at
midnight.  I discovered that the other night."

"Supposing he does come in before?"

"Well, he can't have us turned out without first seeing who we are, and
he won't try it on when I've had one word with him. Unless my
suspicions are unfounded, I mean."

"Isn't it about time to test them?"

"My good Bunny, what do you suppose I've been doing all this while?  He
keeps nothing in  here.  There isn't a lock to the Chippendale that you
couldn't pick with a penknife, and not a loose board in the floor, for
I was treading for one before the boy left us.  Chimney's no use in a
place like this where they keep them swept for you.  Yes, I'm quite
ready to try his bedroom."

There was but a bathroom besides; no kitchen, no servant's room;
neither are necessary in King John's Mansions.  I thought it as well to
put my  head inside the bathroom while Raffles went into the bedroom,
for I was tormented by the horrible idea that the man might all this
time be concealed somewhere in the flat.  But the bathroom blazed void
in the electric light.  I found Raffles hanging out of the starry
square which was the bedroom window, for the room was still in
darkness.  I felt for the switch at the door.

"Put it out again!" said Raffles fiercely.  He rose from the sill, drew
blind and curtains carefully, then switched on the light himself.  It
fell  upon a face creased more in pity than in anger, and Raffles only
shook his head as I hung mine.

"It's all right, old boy," said he; "but corridors have windows too,
and servants have eyes; and you and I are supposed to be in the other
room, not in this.  But cheer up, Bunny!  This is THE room; look at the
extra bolt on the door; he's had that put on, and there's an iron
ladder to his window in case of fire!  Way of escape ready against the
hour of need; he's a better man than I thought him, Bunny, after all.
But you may bet your bottom dollar that if there's any boodle in the
flat it's in this room."

Yet the room was very lightly furnished; and nothing was locked. We
looked everywhere, but we looked in vain.  The wardrobe was filled with
hanging coats and trousers in a press, the drawers with the softest
silk and finest linen.  It was a  camp bedstead that would not have
unsettled an anchorite; there was no place for treasure there.  I
looked up the chimney, but Raffles told me not to be a fool, and asked
if I ever listened to what he said. There was no question about his
temper now.  I never knew him in a worse.

"Then he has got it in the bank," he growled.  "I'll swear I'm not
mistaken in my man!"

I had the tact not to differ with him there.  But I could not help
suggesting that now was our time to remedy any mistake we might have
made.  We were on the right side of midnight still.

"Then we stultify ourselves downstairs," said Raffles.  "No, I'll be
shot if I do!  He may come in with the Kirkleatham diamonds! You do
what you like, Bunny, but I don't budge."

"I certainly shan't leave you," I retorted, "to be knocked into the
middle of next week by a better man than yourself."

I had borrowed his own tone, and he did not like it.  They never do.  I
thought for a moment that Raffles was going to strike me--for the first
and last time in his life.  He could if he liked.  My blood was up.  I
was ready to send him to the devil. And I emphasized my offence by
nodding and shrugging toward a pair of very large Indian clubs that
stood in the fender, on either side of the chimney up which I had
presumed to glance.

In an instant Raffles had seized the clubs, and  was whirling them
about his gray head in a mixture of childish pique and puerile bravado
which I should have thought him altogether above.

And  suddenly as I watched him his face changed, softened, lit up, and
he swung the clubs gently down upon the bed.

"They're not heavy enough for their size," said he rapidly; "and I'll
take my oath they're not the same weight!"

He shook one club after the other, with both hands, close to his ear;
then he examined their butt-ends under the electric light. I saw what
he  suspected now, and caught the contagion of his suppressed
excitement.  Neither of us spoke.  But Raffles had taken out the
portable tool-box that he called a knife, and always carried, and as he
opened the gimlet he handed me the club he held.  Instinctively I
tucked the small end under my arm, and presented the other to Raffles.

"Hold him tight," he whispered, smiling.  "He's not only a better man
than I thought him, Bunny; he's hit upon a better dodge than ever I
did, of its kind.  Only I should have weighted them evenly--to a hair."

He had screwed the gimlet into the circular butt, close to the edge,
and now we were wrenching in opposite directions.  For a moment or more
nothing happened.  Then all at once something gave, and Raffles swore
an oath as soft as any prayer.  And for the minute after that his hand
went round and round with the gimlet, as though he were grinding a
piano-organ, while the end wormed slowly out on its delicate thread of
fine hard wood.

The clubs were as hollow as drinking-horns, the pair of them, for we
went from one to the other without pausing to undo the padded packets
that poured out upon the bed.  These were deliciously heavy to the
hand, yet thickly swathed in cotton-wool, so that some stuck together,
retaining the shape of the cavity, as though they had been run out of a
mould.  And when we did open them--but let Raffles speak.

He had deputed me to screw in the ends of the clubs, and to replace the
latter in the fender where we had found them.  When I had done the
counterpane was glittering with diamonds where it was not shimmering
with pearls.

"If this isn't that tiara that Lady May was married in," said Raffles,
"and that disappeared out of the room she changed in, while it rained
confetti on the steps, I'll present it to her instead of the one she
lost....  It was stupid to keep these old gold spoons, valuable as they
are;  they made the difference in the weight....  Here we have probably
the Kenworthy diamonds....  I don't know the history of these
pearls.... This looks like one family of rings--left on the
basin-stand, perhaps--alas, poor lady!  And that's the lot."

Our eyes met across the bed.

"What's it all worth?" I asked, hoarsely.

"Impossible to say.  But more than all we ever took in all our lives.
That I'll swear to."

"More than all--"

My tongue swelled with the thought.

"But it'll take some turning into cash, old chap!"

"And--must it be a partnership?" I asked, finding a lugubrious voice at
length.

"Partnership be damned!" cried Raffles, heartily.  "Let's get out
quicker than we came in."

We pocketed the things between us, cotton-wool and all, not because we
wanted the latter, but to remove all immediate traces of our really
meritorious deed.

"The sinner won't dare to say a word when he does find out," remarked
Raffles of Lord Ernest; "but that's no reason why he should find out
before he must.  Everything's straight in here, I think; no, better
leave the window open as it was, and the blind up.  Now out with the
light.  One peep at the other room.  That's all right, too.  Out with
the passage light, Bunny, while I open--"

His words died away in a whisper.  A key was fumbling at the lock
outside.

"Out with it--out with it!" whispered Raffles in an agony; and as I
obeyed he picked me off my feet and swung me bodily but silently into
the bedroom, just as the outer door opened, and a masterful step strode
in.

The next five were horrible minutes.  We heard the apostle of Rational
Drink unlock one of the deep drawers in his antique sideboard, and
sounds followed suspiciously like the splash of spirits and the steady
stream from a siphon.  Never before or since did I experience such a
thirst as assailed me at that moment, nor do I believe that many
tropical explorers have known its equal.  But I  had Raffles with me,
and his hand was as steady and as cool as the hand of a trained nurse.
That I know because he turned up the collar of my overcoat for me, for
some reason, and buttoned it at the throat.  I afterwards found that he
had done the same to his own, but I did not hear him doing it.  The one
thing I heard in the bedroom was a tiny metallic click, muffled and
deadened in his overcoat pocket, and it not only removed my last
tremor, but strung me to a higher pitch of excitement than ever.  Yet I
had then no conception of the game that Raffles was deciding to play,
and that I was to play with him in another minute.

It cannot have been longer before Lord Ernest came into his bedroom.
Heavens, but my heart had not forgotten how to thump! We were standing
near the door, and I could swear he touched me; then his boots creaked,
there was a rattle in the fender--and Raffles switched on the light.

Lord Ernest Belville crouched in its glare with one Indian club held by
the end, like a footman with a stolen bottle.  A good-looking,
well-built, iron-gray, iron-jawed man; but a fool and a weakling at
that moment, if he had never been either before.

"Lord Ernest Belville," said Raffles, "it's no use.  This is a loaded
revolver, and if you force me I shall use it on you as I would on any
other desperate criminal.  I am here to arrest you for a series of
robberies at the Duke of Dorchester's,  Sir John Kenworthy's, and other
noblemen's and gentlemen's houses during the present season.  You'd
better drop what you've got in your hand.  It's empty."

Lord Ernest lifted the club an inch or two, and  with it his
eyebrows--and after it his stalwart frame as the club crashed back into
the fender.  And as he stood at his full height, a courteous but ironic
smile under the cropped moustache, he looked what he was, criminal or
not.

"Scotland Yard?" said he.

"That's our affair, my lord."

"I didn't think they'd got it in them," said Lord Ernest.  "Now I
recognize you.  You're my interviewer.  No, I didn't think any of you
fellows had got all that in you.  Come into the other room, and I'll
show you something else.  Oh, keep me covered by all means.  But look
at this!"

On the antique sideboard, their size doubled by reflection in the
polished mahogany, lay a coruscating cluster of precious stones, that
fell in festoons about Lord Ernest's fingers as he handed them to
Raffles with scarcely a shrug.

"The Kirkleatham diamonds," said he.  "Better add 'em to the bag."

Raffles did so without a smile; with his overcoat buttoned up to the
chin, his tall hat pressed  down to his eyes, and between the two his
incisive features and his keen, stern glance, he looked the ideal
detective of fiction and the stage.  What  _I_ looked God knows, but I
did my best to glower and show my teeth at his side.  I had thrown
myself into the game, and it was obviously a winning one.

"Wouldn't take a share, I suppose?" Lord Ernest said casually.

Raffles did not condescend to reply.  I rolled back my lips like a
bull-pup.

"Then a drink, at least!"

My mouth watered, but Raffles shook his head impatiently.

"We must be going, my lord, and you will have to come with us."

I wondered what in the world we should do with him when we had got him.

"Give me time to put some things together?  Pair of pyjamas and
tooth-brush, don't you know?"

"I cannot give you many minutes, my lord, but I don't want to cause a
disturbance here, so I'll tell them to call a cab if you like.  But I
shall be back in a minute, and you must be ready in five.  Here,
inspector, you'd better keep this while I am gone."

And I was left alone with that dangerous criminal!  Raffles nipped my
arm as he handed me the revolver, but I got small comfort out of that.

"'Sea-green Incorruptible?'" inquired Lord Ernest as we stood face to
face.

"You don't corrupt me," I replied through naked teeth.

"Then come into my room.  I'll lead the way.  Think you can hit me if I
misbehave?"

I put the bed between us without a second's delay.  My prisoner flung a
suit-case upon it, and tossed things into it with a dejected air;
suddenly, as he was fitting them in, without raising his  head (which I
was watching), his right hand closed over the barrel with which I
covered him.

"You'd better not shoot," he said, a knee upon his side of the bed; "if
you do it may be as bad for you as it will be for me!"

I tried to wrest the revolver from him.

"I will if you force me," I hissed.

"You'd better not," he repeated, smiling; and now I saw that if I did I
should only shoot into the bed or my own legs.  His hand was on the top
of mine, bending it down, and the revolver with it.  The strength of it
was as the strength of ten of mine; and now both his knees were on the
bed; and suddenly I saw his other hand, doubled into a fist, coming up
slowly over the suit-case.

"Help!" I called feebly.

"Help, forsooth!  I begin to believe YOU ARE from the Yard," he
said--and his upper-cut came with the "Yard."  It caught me under the
chin.

It lifted me off my legs.  I have a dim recollection of the crash that
I made in falling.


III

Raffles was standing over me when I recovered consciousness.  I lay
stretched upon the bed across which that blackguard Belville had struck
his knavish blow.  The suit-case was on the floor, but its dastardly
owner had disappeared.

"Is he gone?" was my first faint question.

"Thank God you're not, anyway!" replied Raffles, with what struck me
then as mere flippancy.  I managed to raise myself upon one elbow.

"I meant Lord Ernest Belville," said I, with dignity.  "Are you quite
sure that he's cleared  out?"

Raffles waved a hand towards the window, which stood wide open to the
summer stars.

"Of course," said he, "and by the route I intended him to take; he's
gone by the iron-ladder,  as I hoped he would.  What on earth should we
have done with him?  My poor, dear Bunny, I thought you'd take a bribe!
But it's really more convincing as it is, and just as well for Lord
Ernest to be convinced for the time being."

"Are you sure he is?" I questioned, as I found a rather shaky pair of
legs.

"Of course!" cried Raffles again, in the tone to make one blush for the
least misgiving on the  point.  "Not that it matters one bit," he
added, airily, "for we have him either way; and when he does tumble to
it, as he may any minute, he won't dare to open his mouth."

"Then the sooner we clear out the better," said I, but I looked askance
at the open window, for my head was spinning still.

"When you feel up to it," returned Raffles, "we shall STROLL out, and I
shall do myself the honor of ringing for the lift.  The force of habit
is too strong in you, Bunny.  I shall shut the window and leave
everything exactly as we found it.  Lord Ernest will probably tumble
before he is badly missed; and then he may come back to put salt on us;
but I should like to know what he can do even if he succeeds!  Come,
Bunny, pull yourself together, and you'll be a different man when
you're in the open air."

And for a while I felt one, such was my relief at getting out of those
infernal mansions with unfettered wrists; this we managed easily
enough; but once more Raffles's performance of a small part was no less
perfect than his more ambitious work upstairs, and something of the
successful artist's elation possessed him as we walked arm-in-arm
across St. James's Park.  It was long since I had known him so pleased
with himself, and only too long since he had had such reason.

"I don't think I ever had a brighter idea in my life," he said; "never
thought of it till he was in the next room; never dreamt of its coming
off so ideally even then, and didn't much care, because we had him all
ways up.  I'm only sorry you let him knock you out.  I was waiting
outside the door all the time, and it made me sick to hear it.  But I
once broke my own head, Bunny, if you  remember, and not in half such
an excellent cause!"

Raffles touched all his pockets in his turn, the pockets that contained
a small fortune apiece, and he smiled in my face as we crossed the
lighted avenues of the Mall.  Next moment he was hailing a hansom--for
I suppose I was still pretty  pale--and not a word would he let me
speak until we had alighted as near as was prudent to the  flat.

"What a brute I've been, Bunny!" he whispered  then, "but you take half
the swag, old boy, and right well you've earned it. No, we'll go in by
the wrong door and over the roof; it's too late for old Theobald to be
still at the play, and too early for him to be safely in his cups."

So we climbed the many stairs with cat-like stealth, and like cats
crept out upon the grimy leads.  But to-night they were no blacker than
their canopy of sky; not a chimney-stack stood out against the starless
night; one had to feel one's way in order to avoid tripping over the
low parapets of the L-shaped wells that ran from roof to basement to
light the inner rooms.  One of these wells was spanned by a flimsy
bridge with iron handrails that felt warm to the touch as Raffles led
the way across!  A hotter and a closer night I have never known.

"The flat will be like an oven," I grumbled, at the head of our own
staircase.

"Then we won't go down," said Raffles, promptly; "we'll slack it up
here for a bit instead.  No, Bunny, you stay where you are! I'll fetch
you a drink and a deck-chair, and you shan't come down till you feel
more fit."

And I let him have his way, I will not say as usual, for I had even
less than my normal power of resistance that night.  That villainous
upper-cut!  My head still sang and throbbed, as I seated  myself on one
of the aforesaid parapets, and buried it in my hot hands.  Nor was the
night one to dispel a headache; there was distinct thunder in the air.
Thus I sat in a heap, and brooded  over my misadventure, a pretty
figure of a subordinate villain, until the step came for which I
waited; and it never struck me that it came from the wrong direction.

"You have been quick," said I, simply.

"Yes," hissed a voice I recognized; "and you've got to be quicker
still!  Here, out with your wrists; no, one at a time; and if you utter
a syllable you're a dead man."

It was Lord Ernest Belville; his close-cropped, iron-gray moustache
gleamed through the darkness, drawn up over his set teeth.  In his hand
glittered a pair of handcuffs, and before I knew it one had snapped its
jaws about my right wrist.

"Now come this way," said Lord Ernest, showing me a revolver also, "and
wait for your friend.  And, recollect, a single syllable of warning
will be your death!"

With that the ruffian led me to the very bridge I had just crossed at
Raffles's heels, and handcuffed me to the iron rail midway across the
chasm.  It no longer felt warm to my touch, but icy as the blood in all
my veins.

So this high-born hypocrite had beaten us at our game and his, and
Raffles had met his match at last!  That was the most intolerable
thought, that Raffles should be down in the flat on my account, and
that I could not warn him of his impending fate; for how was it
possible without  making such an outcry as should bring the mansions
about our ears?  And there I shivered on that wretched plank, chained
like Andromeda to the rock, with a black infinity above and below; and
before my eyes, now grown familiar with the  peculiar darkness, stood
Lord Ernest Belville, waiting for Raffles to emerge with full hands and
unsuspecting heart! Taken so horribly unawares, even Raffles must fall
an easy prey to a desperado in resource and courage scarcely second to
himself, but one whom he had fatally underrated from the beginning.
Not that I paused to think how the thing had happened; my one concern
was for what was to happen next.

And what did happen was worse than my worst foreboding, for first a
light came flickering into the  sort of companion-hatch at the head of
the stairs, and finally Raffles--in his shirt-sleeves! He was  not only
carrying a candle to put the finishing touch to him as a target; he had
dispensed with coat and waistcoat downstairs, and was at once
full-handed and unarmed.

"Where are you, old chap?" he cried, softly, himself blinded by the
light he carried; and he advanced a couple of steps towards Belville.
"This isn't you, is it?"

And Raffles stopped, his candle held on high, a folding chair under the
other arm.

"No, I am not your friend," replied Lord Ernest, easily; "but kindly
remain standing exactly where you are, and don't lower that candle an
inch, unless you want your brains blown into the street."

Raffles said never a word, but for a moment did as he was bid; and the
unshaken flame of the candle was testimony alike to the stillness of
the night and to the finest set of nerves in Europe.

Then, to my horror, he coolly stooped, placing candle and chair on the
leads, and his hands in his pockets, as though it were but a popgun
that covered him.

"Why didn't you shoot?" he asked insolently as he rose. "Frightened of
the noise?  I should  be, too, with an old-pattern machine like that.
All very well for service in the field--but on the house-tops at dead
of night!"

"I shall shoot, however," replied Lord Ernest, as quietly in his turn,
and with less insolence, "and chance the noise, unless you instantly
restore my property.  I am glad you don't dispute the last word," he
continued after a slight pause.  "There  is no keener honor than that
which subsists, or ought to subsist, among thieves; and I need hardly
say that I soon spotted you as one of the fraternity.  Not in the
beginning, mind you!  For the moment I did think you were one of these
smart detectives jumped to life from some sixpenny  magazine; but to
preserve the illusion you ought to provide yourself with a worthier
lieutenant.  It  was he who gave your show away," chuckled the wretch,
dropping for a moment the affected style of speech which seemed
intended to enhance our humiliation; "smart detectives don't go about
with little innocents to assist them.  You needn't be  anxious about
him, by the way; it wasn't necessary to pitch him into the street; he
is to be seen though not heard, if you look in the right direction.
Nor must you put all the blame upon your friend; it  was not he, but
you, who made so sure that I had got out by the window.  You see, I was
in my bathroom all the time--with the door open."

"The bathroom, eh?" Raffles echoed with professional interest. "And you
followed us on foot across the park?"

"Of course."

"And then in a cab?"

"And afterwards on foot once more."

"The simplest skeleton would let you in down below."

I saw the lower half of Lord Ernest's face grinning in the light of the
candle set between them on the ground.

"You follow every move," said he; "there can be no doubt you are one of
the fraternity; and I shouldn't wonder if we had formed our style upon
the same model.  Ever know A. J. Raffles?"

The abrupt question took my breath away; but Raffles himself did not
lose an instant over his answer.

"Intimately," said he.

"That accounts for you, then," laughed Lord Ernest, "as it does for me,
though I never had the honor of the master's acquaintance.  Nor is it
for me to say which is the worthier disciple.  Perhaps, however, now
that your friend is handcuffed in mid-air, and you yourself are at my
mercy, you will concede me some little temporary advantage?"

And his face split in another grin from the cropped moustache downward,
as I saw no longer by candlelight but by a flash of lightning which
tore the sky in two before Raffles could  reply.

"You have the bulge at present," admitted Raffles; "but you have still
to lay hands upon your, or our, ill-gotten goods.  To shoot me is not
necessarily to do so; to bring either one of us to a violent end is
only to court a yet more violent and  infinitely more disgraceful one
for yourself.  Family considerations alone should rule that risk out of
your game.  Now, an hour or two ago, when the exact opposite--"

The remainder of Raffles's speech was drowned from my ears by the
belated crash of thunder  which the lightning had foretold.  So loud,
however, was the crash when it came, that the storm was evidently
approaching us at a high velocity; yet as the last echo rumbled away, I
heard Raffles talking as though he had never stopped.

"You offered us a share," he was saying; "unless you mean to murder us
both in cold blood, it will be worth your while to repeat that offer.
We should be dangerous enemies; you had far better make the best of us
as friends."

"Lead the way down to your flat," said Lord Ernest, with a flourish of
his service revolver, "and perhaps we may talk about it.  It is for me
to make the terms, I imagine, and in the first place I am not going to
get wet to the skin up here."

The rain was beginning in great drops, even as he spoke, and by a
second flash of lightning I saw Raffles pointing to me.

"But what about my friend?" said he.

And then came the second peal.

"Oh, HE'S all right," the great brute replied;  "do him good! You don't
catch me letting myself in for two to one!"

"You will find it equally difficult," rejoined Raffles, "to induce me
to leave my friend to the mercy of a night like this. He has not
recovered from the blow you struck him in your own rooms.  I am not
such a fool as to blame you for that, but you are a worse sportsman
than I take you for if you think of leaving him where he is.  If he
stays, however, so do I."

And, just as it ceased, Raffles's voice seemed distinctly nearer to me;
but in the darkness and the rain, which was now as heavy as hail, I
could see nothing clearly.  The rain had already extinguished the
candle.  I heard an oath from Belville, a laugh from Raffles, and for a
second that was all.  Raffles was coming to me, and the other could not
even see to fire; that was all I knew in the pitchy interval of
invisible rain before the next crash and the next flash.

And then!

This time they came together, and not till my dying hour shall I forget
the sight that the lightning lit and the thunder applauded.  Raffles
was on one of the parapets of the gulf that my foot-bridge spanned, and
in the sudden illumination he stepped across it as one might across a
garden path.  The width was scarcely greater, but the  depth!  In the
sudden flare I saw to the concrete bottom of the well, and it looked no
larger than the hollow of my hand.  Raffles was laughing in  my ear; he
had the iron railing fast; it was between us, but his foothold was as
secure as mine.  Lord Ernest Belville, on the contrary, was the fifth
of a second late for the light, and half a foot short in his spring.
Something struck our plank bridge so hard as to set it quivering like a
harp-string; there was half a gasp and half a sob in mid-air beneath
our feet; and then a sound far below that I prefer not to describe.  I
am not sure that I could hit upon the perfect simile; it is more than
enough for me that I can hear it still.  And with that sickening sound
came the loudest clap of thunder yet, and a great white glare that
showed us our enemy's body far below, with one white hand spread like a
starfish, but the head of him mercifully twisted underneath.

"It was all his own fault, Bunny.  Poor devil!  May he and all of us be
forgiven; but pull yourself together for your own sake. Well, you can't
fall; stay where you are a minute."

I remember the uproar of the elements while Raffles was gone; no other
sound mingled with it; not the opening of a single window, not the
uplifting of a single voice.  Then came Raffles with soap and water,
and the gyve was wheedled from one wrist, as you withdraw a ring for
which the finger has grown too large.  Of the rest, I only remember
shivering till morning in a pitch-dark flat, whose invalid occupier was
for once the nurse, and I his patient.

And that is the true ending of the episode in which we two set
ourselves to catch one of our own kidney, albeit in another place I
have shirked  the whole truth.  It is not a grateful task to show
Raffles as completely at fault as he really was on that occasion; nor
do I derive any subtle satisfaction from recounting my own twofold
humiliation, or from having assisted never so indirectly in the death
of a not uncongenial sinner.  The truth, however, has after all a merit
of its own, and the great kinsfolk of poor Lord Ernest have but little
to lose by its divulgence.  It would seem that they knew more of the
real character of the apostle of Rational Drink than was known at
Exeter Hall.  The tragedy was indeed hushed up, as tragedies only are
when they occur in such circles.  But the rumor that did get abroad, as
to the class of enterprise which the poor scamp was pursuing when he
met his death, cannot be too soon exploded, since it breathed upon the
fair fame of some of the most respectable flats in Kensington.



AN OLD FLAME

I

The square shall be nameless, but if you drive due west from Piccadilly
the cab-man will eventually find it on his left, and he ought to thank
you for two shillings.  It is not a fashionable square, but there are
few with a finer garden,  while the studios on the south side lend
distinction of another sort. The houses, however, are small and dingy,
and about the last to attract the expert practitioner in search of a
crib.  Heaven knows it was with no such thought I trailed Raffles
thither, one unlucky evening at the latter end of that same season,
when Dr. Theobald had at last insisted upon the bath-chair which I had
foreseen in the beginning.  Trees whispered in the green garden
aforesaid, and the cool, smooth lawns looked so inviting that I
wondered whether some philanthropic resident could not be induced to
lend us the key.  But Raffles would not listen to the suggestion, when
I stopped to make it, and what was worse, I found him looking wistfully
at the little houses instead.

"Such balconies, Bunny!  A leg up, and there you would be!"

I expressed a conviction that there would be nothing worth taking in
the square, but took care to have him under way again as I spoke.

"I daresay you're right," sighed Raffles.  "Rings and watches, I
suppose, but it would be hard luck to take them from people who live in
houses like these.  I don't know, though.  Here's one with an extra
story.  Stop, Bunny; if you don't stop I'll hold on to the railings!
This is a good house; look at the knocker and the electric bell.
They've had that put in.  There's some money here, my rabbit!  I dare
bet there's a silver-table in the drawing-room; and the windows are
wide open.  Electric light, too, by Jove!"

Since stop I must, I had done so on the other side of the road, in the
shadow of the leafy palings, and as Raffles spoke the ground floor
windows opposite had flown alight, showing as pretty a little
dinner-table as one could wish to see, with a man at his wine at the
far end, and the back  of a lady in evening dress toward us.  It was
like a lantern-picture thrown upon a screen. There were only the pair
of them, but the table was brilliant with silver and gay with flowers,
and the maid waited with the indefinable air of a good servant.  It
certainly seemed a good house.

"She's going to let down the blind!" whispered Raffles, in high
excitement.  "No, confound them, they've told her not to.  Mark down
her necklace, Bunny, and invoice his stud.  What a brute he looks!  But
I like the table, and that's her show.  She has the taste; but he must
have money.  See the festive picture over the sideboard?  Looks  to me
like a Jacques Saillard.  But that silver-table would be good enough
for me."

"Get on," said I.  "You're in a bath-chair."

"But the whole square's at dinner!  We should have the ball at our
feet.  It wouldn't take two twos!"

"With those blinds up, and the cook in the kitchen underneath?"

He nodded, leaning forward in the chair, his hands upon the wraps about
his legs.

"You must be mad," said I, and got back to my handles with the word,
but when I tugged the chair ran light.

"Keep an eye on the rug," came in a whisper from the middle of the
road; and there stood my invalid, his pale face in a quiver of pure
mischief, yet set with his insane resolve.  "I'm only going to see
whether that woman has a silver-table--"

"We don't want it--"

"It won't take a minute--"

"It's madness, madness--"

"Then don't you wait!"

It was like him to leave me with that, and this time I had taken him at
his last word had not  my own given me an idea.  Mad I had called him,
and mad I could declare him upon oath if  necessary. It was not as
though the thing had happened far from home.  They could learn all
about us at the nearest mansions.  I referred them  to Dr. Theobald;
this was a Mr. Maturin, one of his patients, and I was his keeper, and
he had never given me the slip before.  I heard myself making these
explanations on the doorstep, and pointing to the deserted bath-chair
as the proof, while the pretty parlor maid ran for the police.  It
would be a more serious matter for me than for my charge.  I should
lose my place.  No, he had never done such a thing before, and I would
answer for it that he never should again.

I saw myself conducting Raffles back to his chair, with a firm hand and
a stern tongue.  I  heard him thanking me in whispers on the way  home.
It would be the first tight place I had ever got him out of, and I was
quite anxious for him to get into it, so sure was I of every move.  My
whole position had altered in the few seconds that it took me to follow
this illuminating train of ideas; it was now so strong that I could
watch Raffles without much anxiety.  And he was worth watching.

He had stepped boldly but softly to the front door, and there he was
still waiting, ready to ring if the door opened or a face appeared in
the  area, and doubtless to pretend that he had rung already.  But he
had not to ring at all; and suddenly I saw his foot in the letter-box,
his left hand on the lintel overhead.  It was thrilling, even to a
hardened accomplice with an explanation up his  sleeve!  A tight grip
with that left hand of his,  as he leant backward with all his weight
upon those five fingers; a right arm stretched outward and upward to
its last inch; and the base of the low, projecting balcony was safely
caught.

I looked down and took breath.  The maid was removing the crumbs in the
lighted room, and the square was empty as before.  What a blessing it
was the end of the season!  Many of the houses remained in darkness.  I
looked up again, and Raffles was drawing his left leg over the balcony
railing.  In another moment he had disappeared through one of the
French windows which opened upon the balcony, and in yet another he had
switched on the electric light within.  This was bad enough, for now I,
at least, could see everything he did; but the crowning folly was still
to come. There was no point in it; the mad thing was done for my
benefit, as I knew at once and he afterward confessed; but the lunatic
reappeared on the balcony, bowing like a mountebank--in his crape mask!

I set off with the empty chair, but I came back.  I could not desert
old Raffles, even when I would, but must try to explain away his mask
as well, if  he had not the sense to take it off in time.  It  would be
difficult, but burglaries are not usually committed from a bath-chair,
and for the rest I put my faith in Dr. Theobald.  Meanwhile Raffles had
at least withdrawn from the balcony, and now  I could only see his head
as he peered into a cabinet at the other side of the room.  It was like
the opera of Aida, in which two scenes are enacted simultaneously, one
in the dungeon below, the other in the temple above.  In the same
fashion my attention now became divided between the picture of Raffles
moving stealthily about the upper room, and that of the husband and
wife at table underneath.  And all at once, as the man replenished his
glass with a shrug of the shoulders, the woman pushed back her chair
and sailed to the door.

Raffles was standing before the fireplace upstairs.  He had taken one
of the framed photographs from the chimney-piece, and was scanning it
at suicidal length through the eye-holes in the hideous mask which he
still wore.  He would need it after all. The lady had left the room
below, opening and shutting the door for herself; the man was filling
his glass once more.  I would have shrieked my warning to Raffles, so
fatally engrossed overhead, but at this moment (of all  others) a
constable (of all men) was marching sedately down our side of the
square.  There was nothing for it but to turn a melancholy eye upon the
bath-chair, and to ask the constable the time.  I was evidently to be
kept there all night, I remarked, and only realized with the words that
they disposed of my other explanations before they were uttered.  It
was a horrible moment for such a discovery. Fortunately the enemy was
on the pavement, from which he could scarcely have seen more than the
drawing-room ceiling, had he looked; but he was not many houses distant
when a door opened and a woman gasped so that I  heard both across the
road.  And never shall I forget the subsequent tableaux in the lighted
room behind the low balcony and the French windows.

Raffles stood confronted by a dark and handsome woman whose profile, as
I saw it first in the electric light, is cut like a cameo in my memory.
It had the undeviating line of brow and nose, the  short upper lip, the
perfect chin, that are united  in marble oftener than in the flesh; and
like marble she stood, or rather like some beautiful pale bronze; for
that was her coloring, and she lost none of it that I could see,
neither trembled; but her bosom rose and fell, and that was all.  So
she stood without flinching before a masked ruffian, who, I felt, would
be the first to appreciate her courage; to me it was so superb that I
could think of it in this way even then, and marvel how Raffles himself
could stand unabashed before so brave a figure.  He had not to do so
long.  The woman scorned him, and he stood unmoved, a framed
photograph still in his hand.  Then, with a quick, determined movement
she turned, not to the door or to the bell, but to the open window by
which Raffles had entered; and this with that accursed policeman still
in view. So far no word had passed between the pair.  But at this point
Raffles said something, I could not hear what, but at the sound of his
voice the woman wheeled.  And Raffles was looking humbly in her face,
the crape mask snatched from his own.

"Arthur!" she cried; and that might have been heard in the middle of
the square garden.

Then they stood gazing at each other, neither unmoved any more, and
while they stood the street-door opened and banged.  It was her husband
leaving the house, a fine figure of a man, but a dissipated face, and a
step even now distinguished  by the extreme caution which precedes
unsteadiness.  He broke the spell. His wife came to the  balcony, then
looked back into the room, and yet again along the road, and this time
I saw her face.  It was the face of one glancing indeed from Hyperion
to a satyr. And then I saw the rings flash, as her hand fell gently
upon Raffles's arm.

They disappeared from that window.  Their heads showed for an instant
in the next.  Then they dipped out of sight, and an inner ceiling
flashed out under a new light; they had gone into the back
drawing-room, beyond my ken.  The  maid came up with coffee, her
mistress hastily met her at the door, and once more disappeared.  The
square was as quiet as ever.  I remained some minutes where I was.  Now
and then I thought I heard their voices in the back drawing-room.  I
was seldom sure.

My state of mind may be imagined by those readers who take an interest
in my personal psychology.  It does not amuse me to look back upon it.
But at length I had the sense to put myself in Raffles's place.  He had
been recognized at last, he had come to life.  Only one person knew as
yet,  but that person was a woman, and a woman who had once been fond
of him, if the human face could speak.  Would she keep his secret?
Would  he tell her where he lived?  It was terrible to think we were
such neighbors, and with the thought that it was terrible came a little
enlightenment as to what could still be done for the best.  He would
not tell her where he lived.  I knew him too well for that. He would
run for it when he could, and the bath-chair and I must not be there to
give him away.  I dragged the infernal vehicle round the nearer corner.
Then I waited--there could be no harm in that--and at last he came.

He was walking briskly, so I was right, and he had not played the
invalid to her; yet I heard him cry out with pleasure as he turned the
corner, and he flung himself into the chair with a long-drawn sigh that
did me good.

"Well done, Bunny--well done!  I am on my way to Earl's Court, she's
capable of following me, but she won't look for me in a bath-chair.
Home, home, home, and not another word till we get there!"

Capable of following him?  She overtook us  before we were past the
studios on the south side of the square, the woman herself, in a hooded
opera-cloak.  But she never gave us a glance, and we saw her turn
safely in the right direction for Earl's Court, and the wrong one for
our humble mansions.  Raffles thanked his gods in a voice that
trembled, and five minutes later we were in the flat.  Then for once it
was Raffles who filled the tumblers and found the cigarettes, and for
once (and once only in all my knowledge of him) did he drain his glass
at a draught.

"You didn't see the balcony scene?" he asked at length; and they were
his first words since the woman passed us on his track.

"Do you mean when she came in?"

"No, when I came down."

"I didn't."

"I hope nobody else saw it," said Raffles devoutly.  "I don't say that
Romeo and Juliet were brother and sister to us.  But you might have
said so, Bunny!"

He was staring at the carpet with as wry a face as lover ever wore.

"An old flame?" said I, gently.

"A married woman," he groaned.

"So I gathered."

"But she always was one, Bunny," said he, ruefully.  "That's the
trouble.  It makes all the difference in the world!"

I saw the difference, but said I did not see how it could make any now.
He had eluded the lady, after all; had we not seen her off upon a scent
as false as scent could be?  There was occasion for redoubled caution
in the future, but none for immediate anxiety.  I quoted the bedside
Theobald, but Raffles did not smile.  His eyes had been downcast all
this time, and now, when he raised them, I perceived that my comfort
had been administered to deaf ears.

"Do you know who she is?" said he.

"Not from Eve."

"Jacques Saillard," he said, as though now I must know.

But the name left me cold and stolid.  I had heard it, but that was
all.  It was lamentable ignorance, I am aware, but I had specialized in
Letters at the expense of Art.

"You must know her pictures," said Raffles, patiently; "but I suppose
you thought she was a man.  They would appeal to you, Bunny; that
festive piece over the sideboard was her work. Sometimes they risk her
at the Academy, sometimes they fight shy. She has one of those studios
in the same square; they used to live up near  Lord's."

My mind was busy brightening a dim memory of nymphs reflected in woody
pools.  "Of course!"  I exclaimed, and added something about "a clever
woman."  Raffles rose at the phrase.

"A clever woman!" he echoed, scornfully; "if she were only that I
should feel safe as houses.  Clever women can't forget their
cleverness, they carry it as badly as a boy does his wine, and are
about as dangerous.  I don't call Jacques Saillard clever outside her
art, but neither do I call her a woman at all.  She does man's work
over a man's name, has the will of any ten men I ever knew, and I don't
mind telling you that I fear her more than any person on God's earth.
I broke with her once," said Raffles, grimly, "but I know her.  If I
had been asked to name the one person in London by whom I was keenest
NOT to be bowled out, I should have named Jacques Saillard."

That he had never before named her to me was as characteristic as the
reticence with which Raffles  spoke of their past relations, and even
of their conversation in the back drawing-room that evening.

It was a question of principle with him, and one that I like to
remember.  "Never give a woman away, Bunny," he used to say; and he
said it again to-night, but with a heavy cloud upon him, as though his
chivalry was sorely tried.

"That's all right," said I, "if you're not going to be given away
yourself."

"That's just it, Bunny!  That's just--"

The words were out of him, it was too late to recall them.  I had hit
the nail upon the head.

"So she threatened you," I said, "did she?"

"I didn't say so," he replied, coldly.

"And she is mated with a clown!" I pursued.

"How she ever married him," he admitted, "is a mystery to me."

"It always is," said I, the wise man for once, and rather enjoying the
role.

"Southern blood?"

"Spanish."

"She'll be pestering you to run off with her, old chap," said I.

Raffles was pacing the room.  He stopped in his stride for half a
second.  So she had begun pestering him already!  It is wonderful how
acute any fool can be in the affairs of his friend.

But  Raffles resumed his walk without a syllable, and I retreated to
safer ground.

"So you sent her to Earl's Court," I mused aloud; and at last he smiled.

"You'll be interested to hear, Bunny," said he, "that I am now living
in Seven Dials, and Bill Sikes couldn't hold a farthing dip to me.
Bless you, she had my old police record at her fingers' ends, but it
was fit to frame compared with the one  I gave her.  I had sunk as low
as they dig.  I divided my nights between the open parks and a thieves'
kitchen in Seven Dials.  If I was decently dressed it was because I had
stolen the suit down the Thames Valley beat the night before last.  I
was on my way back when first that sleepy square, and then her open
window, proved too much for me.  You should have heard me beg her to
let me push on to the devil in my own way; there I spread  myself, for
I meant every word; but I swore the final stage would be a six-foot
drop."

"You did lay it on," said I.

"It was necessary, and that had its effect.  She let me go.  But at the
last moment she said she didn't believe I was so black as I painted
myself, and then there was the balcony scene you missed."

So that was all.  I could not help telling him that he had got out of
it better than he deserved for ever getting in.  Next moment I
regretted the  remark.

"If I have got out of it," said Raffles, doubtfully.  "We are
dreadfully near neighbors, and I can't move in a minute, with old
Theobald taking a grave view of my case.  I suppose I had better lie
low, and thank the gods again for putting her off the scent for the
time being."

No doubt our conversation was carried beyond this point, but it
certainly was not many minutes later, nor had we left the subject, when
the electric bell thrilled us both to a sudden silence.

"The doctor?" I queried, hope fighting with my horror.

"It was a single ring."

"The last post?"

"You know he knocks, and it's long past his time."

The electric bell rang again, but now as though it never would stop.

"You go, Bunny," said Raffles, with decision.  His eyes were sparkling.
His smile was firm.

"What am I to say?"

"If it's the lady let her in."

It was the lady, still in her evening cloak, with her fine dark head
half-hidden by the hood, and an engaging contempt of appearances upon
her angry face.  She was even handsomer than I had thought, and her
beauty of a bolder type, but she was also angrier than I had
anticipated when I came so readily to the door.  The passage into which
it opened was an exceedingly narrow one, as I have often said, but I
never dreamt of barring this woman's way, though not a word did she
stoop to say to me.  I was only too glad to flatten myself against the
wall, as the rustling fury strode past me into the lighted room with
the open door.

"So this is your thieves' kitchen!" she cried, in high-pitched scorn.

I was on the threshold myself, and Raffles glanced towards me with
raised eyebrows.

"I have certainly had better quarters in my day," said he, "but you
need not call them absurd names before my man."

"Then send your 'man' about his business," said Jacques Saillard, with
an unpleasant stress upon the word indicated.

But when the door was shut I heard Raffles assuring her that I knew
nothing, that he was a real invalid overcome by a sudden mad
temptation, and all he had told her of his life a lie to hide his
whereabouts, but all he was telling her now she could prove for herself
without leaving that building.  It seemed, however, that she had proved
it already by going first to the porter below stairs.  Yet I do not
think she cared one atom which story was the truth.

"So you thought I could pass you in your chair,"  she said, "or ever in
this world again, without hearing from my heart that it was you!"


II

"Bunny," said Raffles, "I'm awfully sorry, old chap, but you've got to
go."

It was some weeks since the first untimely visitation of Jacques
Saillard, but there had been many others at all hours of the day, while
Raffles had  been induced to pay at least one to her studio in the
neighboring square.  These intrusions he had endured at first with an
air of humorous resignation which imposed upon me less than he
imagined.  The woman meant well, he said, after all, and could be
trusted to keep his secret loyally.  It was plain to me, however, that
Raffles did not trust her, and that his pretence upon the point was a
deliberate pose to conceal the extent to which she had him in her
power.  Otherwise there would have been little point in hiding anything
from the one person in possession of the cardinal secret of his
identity.

But Raffles thought it worth his while to hoodwink Jacques Saillard in
the subsidiary matter of his health, in which Dr. Theobald lent him
unwitting assistance, and, as we have seen, to impress upon  her that I
was actually his attendant, and as ignorant of his past as the doctor
himself.  "So you're all right, Bunny," he had assured me; "she thinks
you knew nothing the other night.  I told you she wasn't a clever woman
outside her work.  But hasn't she a will!"  I told Raffles it was very
considerate of him to keep me out of it, but that it seemed to me like
tying up the bag when the cat had escaped.  His reply was an admission
that one must be on the defensive with such a woman and in such a case.
Soon after this, Raffles, looking far  from well, fell back upon his
own last line of  defence, namely, his bed; and now, as always in the
end, I could see some sense in his subtleties, since it was
comparatively easy for me to turn even Jacques Saillard from the door,
with Dr. Theobald's explicit injunctions, and with my own honesty
unquestioned.  So for a day we had peace once more.  Then came letters,
then the doctor again and again, and finally my dismissal in the
incredible words which have necessitated these explanations.

"Go?" I echoed.  "Go where?"

"It's that ass Theobald," said Raffles.  "He insists."

"On my going altogether?"

He nodded.

"And you mean to let him have his way?"

I had no language for my mortification and disgust, though neither was
as yet quite so great as my  surprise.  I had foreseen almost every
conceivable consequence of the mad act which brought all this trouble
to pass, but a voluntary division between Raffles and me had certainly
never entered my calculations.  Nor could I think that it had occurred
to him before our egregious doctor's last visit, this very morning.
Raffles had looked irritated as he broke the news to me from his
pillow, and now there was some sympathy in the way he sat up in bed, as
though he felt the thing himself.

"I am obliged to give in to the fellow," said he.  "He's saving me from
my friend, and I'm bound to humor him.  But I can tell you that we've
been arguing about you for the last half hour, Bunny.  It was no use;
the idiot has had his knife in you from the first; and he wouldn't see
me through on any other conditions."

"So he is going to see you through, is he?"

"It tots up to that," said Raffles, looking at me rather hard. "At all
events he has come to my rescue for the time being, and it's for me to
manage the rest.  You don't know what it has been, Bunny,  these last
few weeks; and gallantry forbids that I should tell you even now.  But
would you rather elope against your will, or have your continued
existence made known to the world in general and the police in
particular?  That is practically the problem which I have had to solve,
and the temporary  solution was to fall ill.  As a matter of fact, I am
ill; and now what do you think?  I owe it to you to  tell you, Bunny,
though it goes against the grain.  She would take me 'to the dear, warm
underworld,  where the sun really shines,' and she would 'nurse me back
to life and love!'  The artistic temperament is a fearsome thing,
Bunny, in a woman with the devil's own will!"

Raffles tore up the letter from which he had read these piquant
extracts, and lay back on the pillows  with the tired air of the
veritable invalid which he seemed able to assume at will.  But for once
he did look as though bed was the best place for him; and I used the
fact as an argument for my own retention in defiance of Dr. Theobald.
The town was full of typhoid, I said, and certainly that autumnal
scourge was in the air.  Did he want me to leave him at the very moment
when he might be sickening for a serious illness?

"You know I don't, my good fellow," said Raffles, wearily; "but
Theobald does, and I can't  afford to go against him now.  Not that I
really care what happens to me now that that woman knows I'm in the
land of the living; she'll let it out, to a dead certainty, and at the
best there'll be  a hue and cry, which is the very thing I have escaped
all these years.  Now, what I want you  to do is to go and take some
quiet place somewhere, and then let me know, so that I may have a port
in the storm when it breaks."

"Now you're talking!" I cried, recovering my spirits.  "I thought you
meant to go and drop a fellow altogether!"

"Exactly the sort of thing you would think," rejoined Raffles, with a
contempt that was welcome enough after my late alarm. "No, my dear
rabbit, what you've got to do is to make a new burrow for us both.  Try
down the Thames, in some quiet nook that a literary man would naturally
select.  I've often thought that more use might be made of a boat,
while the family are at dinner, than there ever has been yet.  If
Raffles is to come to life, old chap, he shall go a-Raffling for all
he's worth!  There's something to be done with a bicycle, too.  Try Ham
Common or Roehampton, or some such sleepy hollow a trifle off the line;
and say you're expecting your brother from the colonies."

Into this arrangement I entered without the slightest hesitation, for
we had funds enough to carry it out on a comfortable scale, and Raffles
placed a sufficient share at my disposal for the nonce.  Moreover, I
for one was only too glad to seek fresh fields and pastures new--a
phrase which  I determined to interpret literally in my choice of fresh
surroundings.  I was tired of our submerged life in the poky little
flat, especially now that we  had money enough for better things.  I
myself of late had dark dealings with the receivers, with the result
that poor Lord Ernest Belville's successes were now indeed ours.
Subsequent complications had been the more galling on that account,
while the wanton way in which they had been  created was the most
irritating reflection of all.  But it had brought its own punishment
upon Raffles, and I fancied the lesson would prove salutary when we
again settled down.

"If ever we do, Bunny!" said he, as I took his hand and told him how I
was already looking forward to the time.

"But of course we will!" I cried, concealing the resentment at leaving
him which his tone and his appearance renewed in my breast.

"I'm not so sure of it," he said, gloomily.  "I'm in somebody's
clutches, and I've got to get out of them first."

"I'll sit tight until you do."

"Well," he said, "if you don't see me in ten days you never will."

"Only ten days?" I echoed.  "That's nothing at all."

"A lot may happen in ten days," replied Raffles, in the same depressing
tone, so very depressing in him; and with that he held out his hand a
second time, and dropped mine suddenly after as sudden a pressure for
farewell.

I left the flat in considerable dejection after all, unable to decide
whether Raffles was really ill, or only worried as I knew him to be.
And at the foot of the stairs the author of my dismissal, that
confounded Theobald, flung open his door and waylaid me.

"Are you going?" he demanded.

The traps in my hands proclaimed that I was, but I dropped them at his
feet to have it out with him then and there.

"Yes," I answered fiercely, "thanks to you!"

"Well, my good fellow," he said, his full-blooded face lightening and
softening at the same  time, as though a load were off his mind, "it's
no pleasure to me to deprive any man of his billet, but you never were
a nurse, and you know that as well as I do."

I began to wonder what he meant, and how much he did know, and my
speculations kept me silent.  "But come in here a moment," he
continued, just as I decided that he knew nothing at all.  And, leading
me into his minute consulting-room,  Dr. Theobald solemnly presented me
with a sovereign by way of compensation, which I pocketed as solemnly,
and with as much gratitude as if I had not fifty of them distributed
over my person as it was.  The good fellow had quite forgotten my
social status, about which he himself had been so particular at our
earliest interview; but he had  never accustomed himself to treat me as
a gentleman, and I do not suppose he had been improving his memory by
the tall tumbler which I saw him poke behind a photograph as we entered.

"There's one thing I should like to know before I go," said I, turning
suddenly on the doctor's mat, "and that is whether Mr. Maturin is
really ill or not!"

I meant, of course, at the present moment, but Dr. Theobald braced
himself like a recruit at the drill-sergeant's voice.

"Of course he is," he snapped--"so ill as to need a nurse who can
nurse, by way of a change."

With that his door shut in my face, and I had to go my way, in the dark
as to whether he had mistaken my meaning, and was telling me a lie, or
not.

But for my misgivings upon this point I might have extracted some very
genuine enjoyment out of the next few days.  I had decent clothes to my
back, with money, as I say, in most of the pockets, and more freedom to
spend it than was possible  in the constant society of a man whose
personal liberty depended on a universal supposition that  he was dead.
Raffles was as bold as ever, and I as fond of him, but whereas he would
run any risk in a professional exploit, there were many innocent
recreations still open to me which would have been sheer madness in
him.  He could not even watch a match, from the sixpenny seats, at
Lord's cricket-ground, where the Gentlemen were every year in a worse
way without him.  He never travelled by rail, and dining out was a risk
only to be run with some ulterior object in view.  In fact, much as it
had changed, Raffles could no longer show his face with perfect
impunity in any quarter or at any hour. Moreover, after the lesson he
had now learnt, I foresaw increased caution on his part in this
respect.  But I myself was under no such perpetual disadvantage, and,
while what was good enough for Raffles was quite good enough for me so
long as we were together, I saw no harm in profiting by the present
opportunity of "doing my-self well."

Such were my reflections on the way to Richmond in a hansom cab.
Richmond had struck us both as the best centre of operations in search
of the suburban retreat which Raffles wanted, and by road, in a
well-appointed, well-selected hansom, was certainly the most agreeable
way of getting there.  In a week or ten days Raffles was to write to me
at the Richmond post-office, but for at least a week I should be "on my
own."  It was not an unpleasant sensation as I leant back in the
comfortable hansom, and rather to one side, in order to have a good
look at myself in the bevelled mirror that is almost as great an
improvement in these vehicles as the rubber tires.  Really I was not an
ill-looking youth, if one may call one's self such at the age of
thirty.  I could lay no claim either to the striking cast of
countenance or to the peculiar charm of expression which made the face
of  Raffles like no other in the world.  But this very distinction was
in itself a danger, for its impression was indelible, whereas I might
still have been mistaken for a hundred other young fellows at large in
London.  Incredible as it may appear to the moralists, I had sustained
no external hallmark  by my term of imprisonment, and I am vain enough
to believe that the evil which I did had not a separate existence in my
face.  This afternoon, indeed, I was struck by the purity of my fresh
complexion,  and rather depressed by the general innocence of the
visage which peered into mine from the little  mirror.  My
straw-colored moustache, grown in the flat after a protracted holiday,
again preserved the most disappointing dimensions, and was still
invisible in certain lights without wax.  So far  from discerning the
desperate criminal who has "done time" once, and deserved it over and
over again, the superior but superficial observer might have imagined
that he detected a certain element of folly in my face.

At all events it was not the face to shut the doors of a first-class
hotel against me, without accidental evidence of a more explicit kind,
and it was with no little satisfaction that I directed the man to drive
to the Star and Garter.  I also told him to  go through Richmond Park,
though he warned me that it would add considerably to the distance and
his fare.  It was autumn, and it struck me that the tints would be
fine.  And I had learnt from Raffles to appreciate such things, even
amid the excitement of an audacious enterprise.

If I dwell upon my appreciation of this occasion it is because, like
most pleasures, it was exceedingly short-lived.  I was very comfortable
at the Star and Garter, which was so empty that I had a room worthy of
a prince, where I could  enjoy the finest of all views (in patriotic
opinion) every morning while I shaved.  I walked many miles through the
noble park, over the commons of Ham and Wimbledon, and one day as far
as  that of Esher, where I was forcibly reminded of a service we once
rendered to a distinguished resident in this delightful locality.  But
it was on Ham  Common, one of the places which Raffles had mentioned as
specially desirable, that I actually found an almost ideal retreat.
This was a cottage where I heard, on inquiry, that rooms were to be let
in  the summer.  The landlady, a motherly body, of  visible excellence,
was surprised indeed at receiving an application for the winter months;
but I  have generally found that the title of "author,"  claimed with
an air, explains every little innocent irregularity of conduct or
appearance, and even requires something of the kind to carry conviction
to the lay intelligence.  The present case was one in point, and when I
said that I could only write in a room facing north, on mutton chops
and milk,  with a cold ham in the wardrobe in case of nocturnal
inspiration, to which I was liable, my literary character was
established beyond dispute.  I secured the rooms, paid a month's rent
in advance at my own request, and moped in them dreadfully until the
week was up and Raffles due any day.  I explained that the inspiration
would not come, and asked abruptly if the mutton was New Zealand.

Thrice had I made fruitless inquiries at the Richmond post-office; but
on the tenth day I was in and out almost every hour.  Not a word was
there for me up to the last post at night. Home I trudged to Ham with
horrible forebodings, and  back again to Richmond after breakfast next
morning.  Still there was nothing.  I could bear it no more.  At ten
minutes to eleven I was climbing the station stairs at Earl's Court.

It was a wretched morning there, a weeping  mist shrouding the long,
straight street, and clinging to one's face in clammy caresses.  I felt
how  much better it was down at Ham, as I turned into our side street,
and saw the flats looming like mountains, the chimney-pots hidden in
the mist.  At our entrance stood a nebulous conveyance, that I took at
first for a tradesman's van; to my horror it proved to be a hearse; and
all at once the white breath ceased upon my lips.

I had looked up at our windows and the blinds were down!

I rushed within.  The doctor's door stood open.  I neither knocked nor
rang, but found him in his consulting-room with red eyes and a blotchy
face.  Otherwise he was in solemn black from head to  heel.

"Who is dead?" I burst out.  "Who is dead?"

The red eyes looked redder than ever as Dr. Theobald opened them at the
unwarrantable sight of me; and he was terribly slow in answering.  But
in the end he did answer, and did not kick me out as he evidently had a
mind.

"Mr. Maturin," he said, and sighed like a beaten man.

I said nothing.  It was no surprise to me.  I had known it all these
minutes.  Nay, I had dreaded this from the first, had divined it at the
last, though to the last also I had refused to entertain my own
conviction.  Raffles dead!  A real invalid after all!  Raffles dead,
and on the point of burial!

"What did he die of?" I asked, unconsciously drawing on that fund of
grim self-control which the weakest of us seem to hold in reserve for
real calamity.

"Typhoid," he answered.  "Kensington is full of it."

"He was sickening for it when I left, and you knew it, and could get
rid of me then!"

"My good fellow, I was obliged to have a more experienced nurse for
that very reason."

The doctor's tone was so conciliatory that I remembered in an instant
what a humbug the man was, and became suddenly possessed with the vague
conviction that he was imposing upon me now.

"Are you sure it was typhoid at all?" I cried fiercely to his face.
"Are you sure it wasn't suicide--or murder?"

I confess that I can see little point in this speech as I write it
down, but it was what I said in a burst of grief and of wild suspicion;
nor was it without effect upon Dr. Theobald, who turned bright scarlet
from his well-brushed hair to his immaculate collar.

"Do you want me to throw you out into the street?" he cried; and all at
once I remembered that I had come to Raffles as a perfect stranger, and
for his sake might as well preserve that character to the last.

"I beg your pardon," I said, brokenly.  "He  was so good to me--I
became so attached to him.  You forget I am originally of his class."

"I did forget it," replied Theobald, looking relieved at my new tone,
"and I beg YOUR pardon for doing so.  Hush!  They are bringing him
down.  I must have a drink before we start, and you'd  better join me."

There was no pretence about his drink this time, and a pretty stiff one
it was, but I fancy my own must have run it hard.  In my case it cast a
merciful haze over much of the next hour, which I can  truthfully
describe as one of the most painful of  my whole existence.  I can have
known very little of what I was doing.  I only remember finding myself
in a hansom, suddenly wondering why it was going so slowly, and once
more awaking to the truth.  But it was to the truth itself more than to
the liquor that I must have owed my dazed condition.  My next
recollection is of looking down into the open grave, in a sudden
passionate anxiety to see the name for myself.  It was not the name of
my friend, of course, but it was the one under which he had passed for
many months.

I was still stupefied by a sense of inconceivable loss, and had not
raised my eyes from that which was slowly forcing me to realize what
had happened, when there was a rustle at my elbow, and a shower of
hothouse flowers passed before them,  falling like huge snowflakes
where my gaze had  rested.  I looked up, and at my side stood a
majestic figure in deep mourning.  The face was  carefully veiled, but
I was too close not to recognize the masterful beauty whom the world
knew  as Jacques Saillard.  I had no sympathy with her; on the
contrary, my blood boiled with the vague conviction that in some way
she was responsible  for this death.  Yet she was the only woman
present--there were not a half a dozen of us altogether--and her
flowers were the only flowers.

The melancholy ceremony was over, and Jacques Saillard had departed in
a funeral brougham, evidently hired for the occasion. I had  watched
her drive away, and the sight of my own cabman, making signs to me
through the fog, had  suddenly reminded me that I had bidden him to
wait.  I was the last to leave, and had turned my back upon the
grave-diggers, already at their final task, when a hand fell lightly
but firmly upon my shoulder.

"I don't want to make a scene in a cemetery,"  said a voice, in a not
unkindly, almost confidential whisper.  "Will you get into your own cab
and come quietly?"

"Who on earth are you?" I exclaimed.

I now remembered having seen the fellow hovering about during the
funeral, and subconsciously taking him for the undertaker's head man.
He had certainly that appearance, and even now I could scarcely believe
that he was anything  else.

"My name won't help you," he said, pityingly.  "But you will guess
where I come from when I tell you I have a warrant for your arrest."

My sensations at this announcement may not be believed, but I solemnly
declare that I have seldom experienced so fierce a satisfaction.  Here
was a new excitement in which to drown my grief; here was something to
think about; and I should be spared the intolerable experience of a
solitary return to the little place at Ham.  It was as though I had
lost a limb and some one had struck me so hard in the face that the
greater agony was forgotten.  I got into the hansom without a word, my
captor following at my heels, and giving his own directions to the
cabman before taking his seat.  The word "station" was the only one I
caught, and I wondered whether it was to be Bow Street again.  My
companion's next words, however, or rather the tone in which he uttered
them, destroyed my capacity for idle speculation.

"Mr. Maturin!" said he.  "Mr. Maturin indeed!"

"Well," said I, "what about him?"

"Do you think we don't know who he was?"

"Who was he?" I asked, defiantly.

"You ought to know," said he.  "You got locked up through him the other
time, too.  His favorite name was Raffles then."

"It was his real name," I said, indignantly.  "And he has been dead for
years."

My captor simply chuckled.

"He's at the bottom of the sea, I tell you!"

But I do not know why I should have told him with such spirit, for what
could it matter to Raffles now?  I did not think; instinct was still
stronger than reason, and, fresh from his funeral,  I had taken up the
cudgels for my dead friend as though he were still alive.  Next moment
I saw this for myself, and my tears came nearer the surface than they
had been yet; but the fellow at my side laughed outright.

"Shall I tell you something else?" said he.

"As you like."

"He's not even at the bottom of that grave!  He's no more dead than you
or I, and a sham burial is his latest piece of villainy!"

I doubt whether I could have spoken if I had tried.  I did not try.  I
had no use for speech.  I  did not even ask him if he was sure, I was
so sure myself.  It was all as plain to me as riddles usually are when
one has the answer.  The doctor's alarms, his unscrupulous venality,
the simulated  illness, my own dismissal, each fitted in its obvious
place, and not even the last had power as yet to mar my joy in the one
central fact to which all the rest were as tapers to the sun.

"He is alive!" I cried.  "Nothing else matters--he is alive!"

At last I did ask whether they had got him  too; but thankful as I was
for the greater knowledge, I confess that I did not much care what
answer I received.  Already I was figuring out how much we might each
get, and how old we should  be when we came out.  But my companion
tilted his hat to the back of his head, at the same time putting his
face close to mine, and compelling my  scrutiny.  And my answer, as you
have already guessed, was the face of Raffles himself, superbly
disguised (but less superbly than his voice), and yet so thinly that I
should have known him in a trice had I not been too miserable in the
beginning to give him a second glance.

Jacques Saillard had made his life impossible, and this was the one
escape.  Raffles had bought the doctor for a thousand pounds, and the
doctor had bought a "nurse" of his own kidney, on his own account; me,
for some reason, he would not trust; he had insisted upon my dismissal
as an essential preliminary to his part in the conspiracy.  Here the
details were half-humorous, half-grewsome, each in turn as Raffles told
me the story.  At one period he had been very daringly drugged indeed,
and, in his own words, "as dead as a man need be"; but he had left
strict instructions that nobody but the nurse and "my devoted
physician" should "lay a finger on me" afterwards; and by virtue of
this proviso a library of books (largely acquired for the occasion) had
been impiously interred at Kensal Green.  Raffles had definitely
undertaken not to trust me with the secret, and, but for my untoward
appearance at the funeral (which he had attended for his own final
satisfaction), I was assured and am convinced that he would have kept
his promise to the letter.  In explaining this he gave me the one
explanation I desired, and in another moment we turned into Praed
Street, Paddington.

"And I thought you said Bow Street!" said I.  "Are you coming straight
down to Richmond with me?"

"I may as well," said Raffles, "though I did mean to get my kit first,
so as to start in fair and  square as the long-lost brother from the
bush.  That's why I hadn't written.  The function was a  day later than
I calculated.  I was going to write to-night."

"But what are we to do?" said I, hesitating when he had paid the cab.
"I have been playing the colonies for all they are worth!"

"Oh, I've lost my luggage," said he, "or a wave came into my cabin and
spoilt every stitch, or I  had nothing fit to bring ashore.  We'll
settle that in the train."



THE WRONG HOUSE

My brother Ralph, who now lived with me on the edge of Ham Common, had
come home from Australia with a curious affection of the eyes,  due to
long exposure to the glare out there, and necessitating the use of
clouded spectacles in the open air.  He had not the rich complexion of
the typical colonist, being indeed peculiarly pale, but it appeared
that he had been confined to his berth for the greater part of the
voyage, while his prematurely gray hair was sufficient proof that the
rigors of bush life had at last undermined an originally tough
constitution.  Our landlady, who spoilt my brother from the first, was
much concerned on his behalf, and wished to call in the local doctor;
but Ralph said dreadful things about the profession, and quite
frightened the good woman by arbitrarily forbidding her ever to let a
doctor inside her door.  I had to apologize to her for the painful
prejudices and violent language of "these colonists," but the old soul
was easily mollified.  She had fallen in love with my brother at first
sight, and she never could do too much for him.  It was owing to our
landlady that I took to calling him Ralph, for the first time in our
lives, on her beginning to speak of and to him as "Mr. Raffles."

"This won't do," said he to me.  "It's a name that sticks."

"It must be my fault!  She must have heard it from me," said I
self-reproachfully.

"You must tell her it's the short for Ralph."

"But it's longer."

"It's the short," said he; "and you've got to tell her so."

Henceforth I heard as much of "Mr. Ralph," his likes and dislikes, what
he would fancy and what he would not, and oh, what a dear gentleman he
was, that I often remembered to say "Ralph, old chap," myself.

It was an ideal cottage, as I said when I found it, and in it our
delicate man became rapidly  robust.  Not that the air was also ideal,
for, when  it was not raining, we had the same faithful mist from
November to March.  But it was something to Ralph to get any air at
all, other than  night-air, and the bicycle did the rest.  We taught
ourselves, and may I never forget our earlier rides,  through and
through Richmond Park when the  afternoons were shortest, upon the
incomparable Ripley Road when we gave a day to it.  Raffles  rode a
Beeston Humber, a Royal Sunbeam was good enough for me, but he insisted
on our both having Dunlop tires.

"They seem the most popular brand.  I had my eye on the road all the
way from Ripley to Cobham, and there were more Dunlop marks than any
other kind.  Bless you, yes, they all leave their special tracks, and
we don't want ours to be extra special; the Dunlop's like a
rattlesnake, and the Palmer leaves telegraph-wires, but surely the
serpent is more in our line."

That was the winter when there were so many burglaries in the Thames
Valley from Richmond upward.  It was said that the thieves used
bicycles in every case, but what is not said?  They were sometimes on
foot to my knowledge, and we took a great interest in the series, or
rather sequence of successful crimes.  Raffles would often get his
devoted old lady to read him the latest local accounts, while I was
busy with my writing (much I  wrote) in my own room.  We even rode out
by night ourselves, to see if we could not get on the tracks of the
thieves, and never did we fail to find hot coffee on the hob for our
return.  We had indeed fallen upon our feet.  Also, the misty nights
might have been made for the thieves.  But their success was not so
consistent, and never so enormous as people said, especially the
sufferers, who lost more valuables than they had ever been known to
possess. Failure was often the caitiff's portion,  and disaster once;
owing, ironically enough, to that very mist which should have served
them.  But as I am going to tell the story with some particularity, and
perhaps some gusto, you will see why who read.

The right house stood on high ground near the river, with quite a drive
(in at one gate and out at the other) sweeping past the steps.  Between
the  two gates was a half-moon of shrubs, to the left of the steps a
conservatory, and to their right the walk leading to the tradesmen's
entrance and the back premises; here also was the pantry window, of
which more anon.  The right house was the  residence of an opulent
stockbroker who wore a heavy watch-chain and seemed fair game.  There
would have been two objections to it had I been  the stockbroker.  The
house was one of a row, though a goodly row, and an army-crammer had
established himself next door.  There is a type of such institutions in
the suburbs; the youths go about in knickerbockers, smoking pipes,
except on Saturday nights, when they lead each other home from the last
train.  It was none of our business to spy upon these boys, but their
manners and customs fell within the field of observation.  And we did
not choose the night upon which the whole row was likely to be kept
awake.

The night that we did choose was as misty as even the Thames Valley is
capable of making them.  Raffles smeared vaseline upon the plated parts
of his Beeston Humber before starting, and our dear landlady cosseted
us both, and prayed we might see nothing of the nasty burglars, not
denying as the reward would be very handy to them that got it, to say
nothing of the honor and glory.  We had promised her a liberal
perquisite  in the event of our success, but she must not give other
cyclists our idea by mentioning it to a soul.  It was about midnight
when we cycled through  Kingston to Surbiton, having trundled our
machines across Ham Fields, mournful in the mist as those by Acheron,
and so over Teddington  Bridge.

I often wonder why the pantry window is the  vulnerable point of nine
houses out of ten.  This  house of ours was almost the tenth, for the
window  in question had bars of sorts, but not the right sort.  The
only bars that Raffles allowed to beat him were the kind that are let
into the stone outside; those fixed within are merely screwed to the
woodwork, and you can unscrew as many as necessary if you take the
trouble and have the time.  Barred windows are usually devoid of other
fasteners worthy the name; this one was no exception to that foolish
rule, and a push with the pen-knife did its business.  I am giving
householders some valuable hints, and perhaps deserving a good mark
from the critics.  These, in any case, are the points that I would see
to, were I a rich stockbroker in a riverside suburb.  In giving good
advice, however, I should not have omitted to say that we had left our
machines in the semi-circular  shrubbery in front, or that Raffles had
most ingeniously fitted our lamps with dark slides, which  enabled us
to leave them burning.

It proved sufficient to unscrew the bars at the bottom only, and then
to wrench them to either side.  Neither of us had grown stout with
advancing years, and in a few minutes we both had wormed through into
the sink, and thence to the floor.  It was not an absolutely noiseless
process, but once in the pantry we were mice, and no longer blind mice.
There was a gas-bracket, but we did not meddle with that.  Raffles went
armed these nights with a better light than gas; if it were not
immoral, I might recommend a dark-lantern which  was more or less his
patent.  It was that handy invention, the electric torch, fitted by
Raffles with a  dark hood to fulfil the functions of a slide. I had
held it through the bars while he undid the screws,  and now he held it
to the keyhole, in which a key was turned upon the other side.

There was a pause for consideration, and in the pause we put on our
masks.  It was never known that these Thames Valley robberies were all
committed by miscreants decked in the livery of crime, but that was
because until this night we had never even shown our masks.  It was a
point upon which  Raffles had insisted on all feasible occasions since
his furtive return to the world. To-night it twice nearly lost us
everything--but you shall hear.

There is a forceps for turning keys from the wrong side of the door,
but the implement is not so easy of manipulation as it might be.
Raffles for one preferred a sharp knife and the corner of  the panel.
You go through the panel because that is thinnest, of course in the
corner nearest the key,  and you use a knife when you can, because it
makes least noise.  But it does take minutes, and even I can remember
shifting the electric torch from one hand to the other before the
aperture was large enough to receive the hand and wrist of Raffles.

He had at such times a motto of which I might have made earlier use,
but the fact is that I have only once before described a downright
burglary in which I assisted, and that without knowing it at the time.
The most solemn student of these annals cannot affirm that he has cut
through many doors in our company, since (what was to me) the maiden
effort to which I allude.  I, however, have cracked only too many a
crib in conjunction with A. J. Raffles, and at the crucial moment he
would whisper "Victory or Wormwood Scrubbs, Bunny!"  or instead of
Wormwood Scrubbs it might be  Portland Bill.  This time it was neither
one nor the other, for with that very word "victory" upon his lips,
they whitened and parted with the first taste of defeat.

"My hand's held!" gasped Raffles, and the white of his eyes showed all
round the iris, a rarer thing than you may think.

At the same moment I heard the shuffling feet and the low, excited
young voices on the other side of the door, and a faint light shone
round Raffles's wrist.

"Well done, Beefy!"

"Hang on to him!"

"Good old Beefy!"

"Beefy's got him!"

"So have I--so have I!"

And Raffles caught my arm with his one free hand.  "They've got me
tight," he whispered.  "I'm done."

"Blaze through the door," I urged, and might have done it had I been
armed.  But I never was.  It was Raffles who monopolized that risk.

"I can't--it's the boys--the wrong house!" he  whispered.  "Curse the
fog--it's done me.  But you get out, Bunn, while you can; never mind
me; it's my turn, old chap."

His one hand tightened in affectionate farewell.  I put the electric
torch in it before I went, trembling in every inch, but without a word.

Get out!  His turn!  Yes, I would get out, but only to come in again,
for it was my turn--mine--not his.  Would Raffles leave me held by a
hand through a hole in a door?  What he would have done in my place was
the thing for me to do now.  I began by diving head-first through the
pantry window and coming to earth upon all fours.  But even as I stood
up, and brushed the gravel from the palms of my hands and the knees of
my knickerbockers, I had no notion what to do next.  And  yet I was
halfway to the front door before I remembered the vile crape mask upon
my face, and  tore it off as the door flew open and my feet were  on
the steps.

"He's into the next garden," I cried to a bevy of pyjamas with bare
feet and young faces at either end of them.

"Who?  Who?" said they, giving way before me.

"Some fellow who came through one of your windows head-first."

"The other Johnny, the other Johnny," the cherubs chorused.

"Biking past--saw the light--why, what have you there?"

Of course it was Raffles's hand that they had, but now I was in the
hall among them.  A red-faced barrel of a boy did all the holding, one
hand round the wrist, the other palm to palm, and his knees braced up
against the panel.  Another was rendering ostentatious but ineffectual
aid, and three or four others danced about in their pyjamas.  After
all, they were not more than four to one.  I had raised my voice, so
that Raffles might hear me and take heart, and now I raised it again.
Yet to this day I cannot account for my inspiration, that proved
nothing less.

"Don't talk so loud," they were crying below their breath; "don't wake
'em upstairs, this is our show."

"Then I see you've got one of them," said I, as desired.  "Well, if you
want the other you can have him, too.  I believe he's hurt himself."

"After him, after him!" they exclaimed as one.

"But I think he got over the wall--"

"Come on, you chaps, come on!"

And there was a soft stampede to the hall door.

"Don't all desert me, I say!" gasped the red-faced hero who held
Raffles prisoner.

"We must have them both, Beefy!"

"That's all very well--"

"Look here," I interposed, "I'll stay by you.  I've a friend outside,
I'll get him too."

"Thanks awfully," said the valiant Beefy.

The hall was empty now.  My heart beat high.

"How did you hear them?" I inquired, my eye running over him.

"We were down having drinks--game o' Nap--in there."

Beefy jerked his great head toward an open door, and the tail of my eye
caught the glint of  glasses in the firelight, but the rest of it was
otherwise engaged.

"Let me relieve you," I said, trembling.

"No, I'm all right."

"Then I must insist."

And before he could answer I had him round the neck with such a will
that not a gurgle passed my fingers, for they were almost buried in his
hot, smooth flesh.  Oh, I am not proud of it; the act was as vile as
act could be; but I was not going to see Raffles taken, my one desire
was to be the saving of him, and I tremble even now to think to what
lengths I might have gone for its fulfilment.  As it was, I squeezed
and tugged until one strong hand gave way after the other and came
feeling  round for me, but feebly because they had held on so long.
And what do you suppose was happening at the same moment?  The pinched
white hand of Raffles, reddening with returning blood, and with a clot
of blood upon the wrist, was craning upward and turning the key in the
lock without a moment's loss.

"Steady on, Bunny!"

And I saw that Beefy's ears were blue; but Raffles was feeling in his
pockets as he spoke.  "Now let him breathe," said he, clapping his
handkerchief over the poor youth's mouth.  An empty vial was in his
other hand, and the first few stertorous breaths that the poor boy took
were the end of him for the time being. Oh, but it was villainous, my
part especially, for he must have been far gone to go the rest of the
way so readily.  I began by saying I was not proud of this deed, but
its dastardly character has come home to me more than ever with the
penance of writing it out.  I see in myself, at least my then self,
things that I never saw quite so clearly before.  Yet let me be  quite
sure that I would not do the same again.  I  had not the smallest
desire to throttle this innocent lad (nor did I), but only to extricate
Raffles from the most hopeless position he was ever in; and after all
it was better than a blow from behind.  On the whole, I will not alter
a word, nor whine about the thing any more.

We lifted the plucky fellow into Raffles's place in the pantry, locked
the door on him, and put the key through the panel.  Now was the moment
for thinking of ourselves, and again that infernal mask which Raffles
swore by came near the undoing of us both.  We had reached the steps
when we were hailed by a voice, not from without but from within, and I
had just time to tear the accursed thing from Raffles's face before he
turned.

A stout man with a blonde moustache was on the stairs, in his pyjamas
like the boys.

"What are you doing here?" said he.

"There has been an attempt upon your house,"  said I, still spokesman
for the night, and still on the wings of inspiration.

"Your sons--"

"My pupils."

"Indeed.  Well, they heard it, drove off the thieves, and have given
chase."

"And where do you come in?" inquired the stout man, descending.

"We were bicycling past, and I actually saw one fellow come head-first
through your pantry window.  I think he got over the wall."

Here a breathless boy returned.

"Can't see anything of him," he gasped.

"It's true, then," remarked the crammer.

"Look at that door," said I.

But unfortunately the breathless boy looked also, and now he was being
joined by others equally short of wind.

"Where's Beefy?" he screamed.  "What on earth's happened to Beefy?"

"My good boys," exclaimed the crammer,  "will one of you be kind enough
to tell me what you've been doing, and what these gentlemen have been
doing for you?  Come in all, before you get your death.  I see lights
in the class-room, and  more than lights.  Can these be signs of a
carouse?"

"A very innocent one, sir," said a well set-up youth with more
moustache than I have yet.

"Well, Olphert, boys will be boys.  Suppose you tell me what happened,
before we come to recriminations."

The bad old proverb was my first warning.  I caught two of the youths
exchanging glances under raised eyebrows.  Yet their stout, easy-going
mentor had given me such a reassuring glance of side-long humor, as
between man of the world and man of the world, that it was difficult to
suspect him of suspicion.  I was nevertheless itching to be gone.

Young Olphert told his story with engaging candor.  It was true that
they had come down for an hour's Nap and cigarettes; well, and there
was no denying that there was whiskey in the glasses. The boys were now
all back in their class-room, I  think entirely for the sake of warmth;
but Raffles and I were in knickerbockers and Norfolk jackets, and very
naturally remained without, while the  army-crammer (who wore bedroom
slippers) stood on the threshold, with an eye each way.  The more I saw
of the man the better I liked and the more I feared him.  His chief
annoyance thus far was that they had not called him when they heard the
noise, that they had dreamt of leaving him out of the fun.  But he
seemed more hurt than angry about that.

"Well, sir," concluded Olphert, "we left old Beefy Smith hanging on to
his hand, and this gentleman with him, so perhaps he can tell us what
happened next?"

"I wish I could," I cried with all their eyes upon me, for I had had
time to think.  "Some of you must have heard me say I'd fetch my friend
in from the road?"

"Yes, I did," piped an innocent from within.

"Well, and when I came back with him things were exactly as you see
them now.  Evidently the man's strength was too much for the boy's; but
whether he ran upstairs or outside I know no more than you do."

"It wasn't like that boy to run either way," said the crammer, cocking
a clear blue eye on me.

"But if he gave chase!"

"It wasn't like him even to let go."

"I don't believe Beefy ever would," put in Olphert.  "That's why we
gave him the billet."

"He may have followed him through the pantry window," I suggested
wildly.

"But the door's shut," put in a boy.

"I'll have a look at it," said the crammer.

And the key no longer in the lock, and the insensible youth within!
The key would be missed,  the door kicked in; nay, with the man's eye
still upon me, I thought I could smell the chloroform.

I thought I could hear a moan, and prepared for either any moment.  And
how he did stare!  I  have detested blue eyes ever since, and blonde
moustaches, and the whole stout easy-going type that is not such a fool
as it looks.  I had brazened it out with the boys, but the first grown
man was too many for me, and the blood ran out of my heart as though
there was no Raffles at my back.  Indeed, I had forgotten him.  I had
so longed to put this thing through by myself!  Even in my extremity it
was almost a disappointment to me when his dear, cool voice fell like a
delicious  draught upon my ears.  But its effect upon the others is
more interesting to recall.  Until now  the crammer had the centre of
the stage, but at this point Raffles usurped a place which was always
his at will.  People would wait for what he had to say, as these people
waited now for the simplest and most natural thing in the world.

"One moment!" he had begun.

"Well?" said the crammer, relieving me of his eyes at last.

"I don't want to lose any of the fun--"

"Nor must you," said the crammer, with emphasis.

"But we've left our bikes outside, and mine's a Beeston Humber,"
continued Raffles.  "If you don't mind, we'll bring 'em in before these
fellows get away on them."

And out he went without a look to see the effect of his words, I after
him with a determined imitation of his self-control.  But I would have
given  something to turn round.  I believe that for one  moment the
shrewd instructor was taken in, but as  I reached the steps I heard him
asking his pupils whether any of them had seen any bicycles outside.

That moment, however, made the difference.  We were in the shrubbery,
Raffles with his electric torch drawn and blazing, when we heard the
kicking at the pantry door, and in the drive with our bicycles before
man and boys poured pell-mell  down the steps.

We rushed our machines to the nearer gate, for both were shut, and we
got through and swung it home behind us in the nick of time.  Even I
could mount before they could reopen the gate, which Raffles held
against them for half an instant with unnecessary gallantry.  But he
would see me in front of him, and so it fell to me to lead the way.

Now, I have said that it was a very misty night (hence the whole
thing), and also that these houses were on a hill.  But they were not
nearly on the top of the hill, and I did what I firmly believe that
almost everybody would have done in my place. Raffles, indeed, said he
would have done it himself, but that was his generosity, and he was the
one man who would not.  What I did was to turn in the opposite
direction to the other gate, where we might so easily have been cut
off, and to pedal for my life--up-hill!

"My God!" I shouted when I found it out.

"Can you turn in your own length?" asked Raffles, following loyally.

"Not certain."

"Then stick to it.  You couldn't help it.  But it's the devil of a
hill!"

"And here they come!"

"Let them," said Raffles, and brandished his electric torch, our only
light as yet.

A hill seems endless in the dark, for you cannot see the end, and with
the patter of bare feet gaining on us, I thought this one could have no
end at all.  Of course the boys could charge up it quicker than we
could pedal, but I even heard the voice of their stout instructor
growing louder through the mist.

"Oh, to think I've let you in for this!"  I groaned, my head over the
handle-bars, every ounce of my weight first on one foot and then on the
other.  I glanced at Raffles, and in the white light of his torch he
was doing it all with his ankles, exactly as though he had been riding
in a Gymkhana.

"It's the most sporting chase I was ever in,"  said he.

"All my fault!"

"My dear Bunny, I wouldn't have missed it for the world!"

Nor would he forge ahead of me, though he could have done so in a
moment, he who from his  boyhood had done everything of the kind so
much  better than anybody else.  No, he must ride a wheel's length
behind me, and now we could not only hear the boys running, but
breathing also.  And then of a sudden I saw Raffles on my right
striking with his torch; a face flew out of the darkness to meet the
thick glass bulb with the glowing wire enclosed; it was the face of the
boy Olphert, with his enviable moustache, but it vanished with the
crash of glass, and the naked wire thickened to the eye like a
tuning-fork struck red-hot.

I saw no more of that.  One of them had crept up on my side also; as I
looked, hearing him pant, he was grabbing at my left handle, and I
nearly sent Raffles into the hedge by the sharp turn I took to the
right.  His wheel's length saved him.  But my boy could run, was
overhauling me again, seemed certain of me this time, when all at once
the Sunbeam ran easily; every ounce of my weight with either foot once
more, and I was over the crest of the hill, the gray road reeling out
from under me as I felt for my brake. I looked back at Raffles.  He had
put up his feet.  I screwed my head round still further, and there were
the boys in their pyjamas, their hands upon their knees, like  so many
wicket-keepers, and a big man shaking his fist.  There was a lamp-post
on the hill-top, and that was the last I saw.

We sailed down to the river, then on through Thames Ditton as far as
Esher Station, when we turned sharp to the right, and from the dark
stretch by Imber Court came to light in Molesey,  and were soon
pedalling like gentlemen of leisure through Bushey Park, our lights
turned up, the broken torch put out and away.  The big gates had long
been shut, but you can manoeuvre a bicycle through the others.  We had
no further adventures on the way home, and our coffee was still warm
upon the hob.

"But I think it's an occasion for Sullivans," said Raffles, who now
kept them for such.  "By all my  gods, Bunny, it's been the most
sporting night we ever had in our lives!  And do you know which was the
most sporting part of it?"

"That up-hill ride?"

"I wasn't thinking of it."

"Turning your torch into a truncheon?"

"My dear Bunny!  A gallant lad--I hated hitting him."

"I know," I said.  "The way you got us out of the house!"

"No, Bunny," said Raffles, blowing rings.  "It came before that, you
sinner, and you know it!"

"You don't mean anything I did?" said I, self-consciously, for I began
to see that this was what he did mean.  And now at latest it will also
be  seen why this story has been told with undue and inexcusable gusto;
there is none other like it for me to tell; it is my one ewe-lamb in
all these annals.  But Raffles had a ruder name for it.

"It was the Apotheosis of the Bunny," said he, but in a tone I never
shall forget.

"I hardly knew what I was doing or saying," I said.  "The whole thing
was a fluke."

"Then," said Raffles, "it was the kind of fluke I always trusted you to
make when runs were wanted."

And he held out his dear old hand.


THE KNEES OF THE GODS

I

"The worst of this war," said Raffles, "is the way it puts a fellow off
his work."

It was, of course, the winter before last, and we had done nothing
dreadful since the early autumn.  Undoubtedly the war was the cause.
Not that we were among the earlier victims of the fever.  I took
disgracefully little interest in the Negotiations, while the Ultimatum
appealed to Raffles as a sporting flutter.  Then we gave the  whole
thing till Christmas. We still missed the cricket in the papers.  But
one russet afternoon  we were in Richmond, and a terrible type was
shouting himself hoarse with "'Eavy British  lorsses--orful slorter o'
the Bo-wers!  Orful slorter!  Orful slorter!  'Eavy British lorsses!"
I thought the terrible type had invented it, but Raffles gave him more
than he asked, and then I held the bicycle while he tried to pronounce
Eland's Laagte.  We were never again without our sheaf of evening
papers, and Raffles ordered three morning ones, and I gave up mine in
spite  of its literary page. We became strategists.  We  knew exactly
what Buller was to do on landing,  and, still better, what the other
Generals should  have done.  Our map was the best that could be
bought, with flags that deserved a better fate than standing still.
Raffles woke me to hear "The Absent-Minded Beggar" on the morning it
appeared; he was one of the first substantial subscribers to the fund.
By this time our dear landlady was more excited than we.  To our
enthusiasm for Thomas she added a personal bitterness against the Wild
Boars, as she persisted in calling them, each time as though it were
the first.  I could linger over our landlady's attitude in the whole
matter.  That was her only joke about it, and the  true humorist never
smiled at it herself.  But you had only to say a syllable for a
venerable gentleman, declared by her to be at the bottom of it all,  to
hear what she could do to him if she caught him.  She could put him in
a cage and go on tour with him, and make him howl and dance for his
food like a debased bear before a fresh audience every day.  Yet a more
kind-hearted woman I have never known.  The war did not uplift our
landlady as it did her lodgers.

But presently it ceased to have that precise effect upon us.  Bad was
being made worse and worse;  and then came more than Englishmen could
endure in that black week across which the names of  three African
villages are written forever in letters of blood.  "All three pegs,"
groaned Raffles on the last morning of the week; "neck-and-crop,
neck-and-crop!"  It was his first word of cricket since the beginning
of the war.

We were both depressed.  Old school-fellows had fallen, and I know
Raffles envied them; he spoke so wistfully of such an end. To cheer him
up I proposed to break into one of the many more or less royal
residences in our neighborhood; a tough crib was what he needed; but I
will not trouble you with what he said to me. There was less crime in
England that winter than for years past; there was none at all in
Raffles.  And yet there were those who could denounce the war!

So we went on for a few of those dark days,  Raffles very glum and
grim, till one fine morning the Yeomanry idea put new heart into us
all.  It  struck me at once as the glorious scheme it was to  prove,
but it did not hit me where it hit others.  I was not a fox-hunter, and
the gentlemen of England would scarcely have owned me as one of them.
The case of Raffles was in that respect still more  hopeless (he who
had even played for them at Lord's), and he seemed to feel it.  He
would not speak to me all the morning; in the afternoon he went for a
walk alone.  It was another man who came home, flourishing a small
bottle packed in white paper.

"Bunny," said he, "I never did lift my elbow; it's the one vice I never
had.  It has taken me all these years to find my tipple, Bunny; but
here it is, my panacea, my elixir, my magic philtre!"

I thought he had been at it on the road, and asked him the name of the
stuff.

"Look and see, Bunny."

And if it wasn't a bottle of ladies' hair-dye, warranted to change any
shade into the once fashionable yellow within a given number of
applications!

"What on earth," said I, "are you going to do with this?"

"Dye for my country," he cried, swelling.  "Dulce et decorum est,
Bunny, my boy!"

"Do you mean that you are going to the front?"

"If I can without coming to it."

I looked at him as he stood in the firelight, straight as a dart, spare
but wiry, alert, laughing, flushed from his wintry walk; and as I
looked, all the years that I had known him, and more besides, slipped
from him in my eyes.  I saw him captain of the eleven at school.  I saw
him running with the muddy ball on days like this, running round the
other fifteen as a sheep-dog round a flock of sheep.  He had his cap on
still, and but for the  gray hairs underneath--but here I lost him in a
sudden mist.  It was not sorrow at his going, for I did not mean to let
him go alone. It was enthusiasm, admiration, affection, and also, I
believe, a sudden regret that he had not always appealed to that part
of my nature to which he was appealing now.  It was a little thrill of
penitence.  Enough  of it.

"I think it great of you," I said, and at first that was all.

How he laughed at me.  He had had his innings; there was no better way
of getting out.  He had scored off an African millionaire, the Players,
a Queensland Legislator, the Camorra, the late Lord Ernest Belville,
and again and again off Scotland Yard.  What more could one man do in
one lifetime?  And at the worst it was the death to die: no bed, no
doctor, no temperature--and Raffles stopped himself.

"No pinioning, no white cap," he added, "if you like that better."

"I don't like any of it," I cried, cordially; "you've simply got to
come back."

"To what?" he asked, a strange look on him.

And I wondered--for one instant--whether my little thrill had gone
through him.  He was not a man of little thrills.

Then for a minute I was in misery.  Of course I wanted to go too--he
shook my hand without a word--but how could I?  They would never  have
me, a branded jailbird, in the Imperial Yeomanry!  Raffles burst out
laughing; he had been looking very hard at me for about three seconds.

"You rabbit," he cried, "even to think of it!  We might as well offer
ourselves to the Metropolitan Police Force.  No, Bunny, we go out to
the Cape on our own, and that's where we enlist.  One of these
regiments of irregular horse is the thing for us; you spent part of
your pretty penny on horse-flesh, I believe, and you remember how  I
rode in the bush!  We're the very men for them, Bunny, and they won't
ask to see our birthmarks out there. I don't think even my hoary locks
would put them off, but it would be too conspicuous in the ranks."

Our landlady first wept on hearing our determination, and then longed
to have the pulling of certain whiskers (with the tongs, and they
should be red-hot); but from that day, and for as many as were left to
us, the good soul made more of us than ever.  Not that she was at all
surprised; dear brave gentlemen who could look for burglars on their
bicycles at dead of night, it was only what  you might expect of them,
bless their lion hearts.  I wanted to wink at Raffles, but he would not
catch my eye.  He was a ginger-headed Raffles by the end of January,
and it was extraordinary what a difference it made.  His most elaborate
disguises had not been more effectual than this simple expedient, and,
with khaki to complete the subdual of his individuality, he had every
hope of escaping recognition in the field.  The man he dreaded was the
officer he had known in old days; there were ever so many of him at the
Front; and it was to minimize this risk that we went out second-class
at the beginning of February.

It was a weeping day, a day in a shroud, cold as clay, yet for that
very reason an ideal day upon which to leave England for the sunny
Front.  Yet my heart was heavy as I looked my last at her; it was heavy
as the raw, thick air, until Raffles came and leant upon the rail at my
side.

"I know what you are thinking, and you've got to stop," said he. "It's
on the knees of the gods,  Bunny, whether we do or we don't, and
thinking won't make us see over their shoulders."


II

Now I made as bad a soldier (except at heart) as Raffles made a good
one, and I could not say a harder thing of myself.  My ignorance of
matters military was up to that time unfathomable, and is still
profound.  I was always a fool with horses, though I did not think so
at one time, and I had  never been any good with a gun.  The average
Tommy may be my intellectual inferior, but he must know some part of
his work better than I ever knew any of mine.  I never even learnt to
be killed.  I do not mean that I ever ran away.  The South African
Field Force might have been strengthened if I had.

The foregoing remarks do not express a pose affected out of superiority
to the usual spirit of the conquering hero, for no man was keener on
the war than I, before I went to it.  But one can only write with gusto
of events (like that little affair at Surbiton) in which one has
acquitted oneself without discredit, and I cannot say that of my part
in the war, of which I now loathe the thought for other reasons.  The
battlefield was no place for me, and neither was the camp.  My
ineptitude made me the butt of the looting, cursing, swash-buckling lot
who formed the very irregular squadron which we joined; and it would
have gone hard with me but for Raffles, who was soon the darling devil
of them all, but never more loyally my friend.  Your fireside
fire-eater does not think of these  things.  He imagines all the
fighting to be with the enemy.  He will probably be horrified to hear
that men can detest each other as cordially in khaki as in any other
wear, and with a virulence seldom inspired by the bearded dead-shot in
the opposite trench.  To the fireside fire-eater, therefore (for you
have seen me one myself), I dedicate the story of Corporal Connal,
Captain Bellingham, the General, Raffles, and myself.

I must be vague, for obvious reasons.  The troop is fighting as I
write; you will soon hear why I am not; but neither is Raffles, nor
Corporal Connal.  They are fighting as well as ever, those other
hard-living, harder-dying sons of all soils; but I am not going to say
where it was that we fought with them.  I believe that no body of men
of equal size has done half so much heroic work.  But they had got
themselves a bad name off the field, so to speak; and I am not going to
make it worse by saddling them before the world with Raffles and
myself, and that ruffian Connal.

The fellow was a mongrel type, a Glasgow Irishman by birth and
upbringing, but he had been  in South Africa for years, and he
certainly knew the country very well.  This circumstance, coupled with
the fact that he was a very handy man with horses, as all colonists
are, had procured him the first small step from the ranks which
facilitates bullying if a man be a bully by nature, and is physically
fitted to be a successful one.  Connal was a hulking ruffian, and in me
had ideal game.  The  brute was offensive to me from the hour I joined.
The details are of no importance, but I stood up to him at first in
words, and finally for a few seconds on my feet.  Then I went down like
an ox, and Raffles came out of his tent.  Their fight lasted twenty
minutes, and Raffles was marked, but the net result was dreadfully
conventional, for the  bully was a bully no more.

But I began gradually to suspect that he was something worse. All this
time we were fighting  every day, or so it seems when I look back.
Never a great engagement, and yet never a day when we were wholly out
of touch with the enemy.  I had thus several opportunities of watching
the other enemy under fire, and had almost convinced myself of the
systematic harmlessness of his own shooting, when a more glaring
incident occurred.

One night three troops of our squadron were ordered to a certain point
whither they had patrolled the previous week; but our own particular
troop was to stay behind, and in charge of no other than the villanous
corporal, both our officer and sergeant having gone into hospital with
enteric.  Our detention, however, was very temporary, and Connal would
seem to have received the usual vague orders to proceed in the early
morning to the place where the other three companies had camped.  It
appeared that we were to form an escort to two squadron-wagons
containing kits, provisions, and ammunition.

Before daylight Connal had reported his departure to the commanding
officer, and we passed the outposts at gray dawn. Now, though I was
perhaps the least observant person in the troop, I was not the least
wideawake where Corporal Connal was concerned, and it struck me at once
that we were heading in the wrong direction.  My reasons are not
material, but as a matter of fact our last week's patrol had pushed its
khaki tentacles both east and west; and eastward they had met with
resistance so determined as to compel them to retire; yet it was
eastward that we were travelling now.  I at once spurred alongside
Raffles, as he rode, bronzed and bearded, with warworn wide-awake over
eyes grown keen as a hawk's, and a cutty-pipe sticking straight out
from his front teeth.  I can see him now, so gaunt and grim and
debonair, yet already with much of the nonsense gone out of him, though
I thought he only smiled on my misgivings.

"Did he get the instructions, Bunny, or did we?  Very well, then; give
the devil a chance."

There was nothing further to be said, but I felt more crushed than
convinced; so we jogged along into broad daylight, until Raffles
himself gave a whistle of surprise.

"A white flag, Bunny, by all my gods!"

I could not see it; he had the longest sight in all our squadron; but
in a little the fluttering emblem, which had gained such a sinister
significance in most of our eyes, was patent even to mine.  A little
longer, and the shaggy Boer was in our midst upon his shaggy pony, with
a half-scared, half-incredulous look in his deep-set eyes.  He was on
his way to our lines with some missive, and had little enough to say to
us, though frivolous and flippant questions were showered upon him from
most saddles.

"Any Boers over there?" asked one, pointing in the direction in which
we were still heading.

"Shut up!" interjected Raffles in crisp rebuke.

The Boer looked stolid but sinister.

"Any of our chaps?" added another.

The Boer rode on with an open grin.

And the incredible conclusion of the matter was that we were actually
within their lines in another hour; saw them as large as life within a
mile and a half on either side of us; and must every man of us have
been taken prisoner had not every man but Connal refused to go one inch
further, and had not the Boers themselves obviously suspected some
subtle ruse as the only conceivable explanation of so madcap a
manoeuvre.  They allowed us to retire  without firing a shot; and
retire you may be sure we did, the Kaffirs flogging their teams in a
fury of fear, and our precious corporal sullen but defiant.

I have said this was the conclusion of the matter, and I blush to
repeat that it practically was.  Connal was indeed wheeled up before
the colonel, but his instructions were not written instructions, and he
lied his way out with equal hardihood and tact.

"You said 'over there,' sir," he stoutly reiterated; and the vagueness
with which such orders were undoubtedly given was the saving of him for
the time being.

I need not tell you how indignant I felt, for one.

"The fellow is a spy!" I said to Raffles, with no nursery oath, as we
strolled within the lines that night.

He merely smiled in my face.

"And have you only just found it out, Bunny?  I have known it almost
ever since we joined; but this morning I did think we had him on toast."

"It's disgraceful that we had not," cried I.  "He ought to have been
shot like a dog."

"Not so loud, Bunny, though I quite agree; but I don't regret what has
happened as much as you do.  Not that I am less bloodthirsty than you
are in this case, but a good deal more so! Bunny, I'm  mad-keen on
bowling him out with my own unaided hand--though I may ask you to take
the wicket.  Meanwhile, don't wear all your animosity upon your sleeve;
the fellow has friends who still believe in him; and there is no need
for you to be more openly his enemy than you were before."

Well, I can only vow that I did my best to follow this sound advice;
but who but a Raffles can control his every look?  It was never my
forte, as you  know, yet to this day I cannot conceive what I did to
excite the treacherous corporal's suspicions.  He was clever enough,
however, not to betray them, and lucky enough to turn the tables on us,
as you shall hear.


III

Bloemfontein had fallen since our arrival, but there was plenty of
fight in the Free Staters still, and I will not deny that it was these
gentry who were showing us the sport for which our corps came in.
Constant skirmishing was our portion, with now and then an action that
you would know at least by name, did I feel free to mention them.  But
I do not, and indeed it is better so.  I have not to describe the war
even as I saw it, I am thankful to say, but only the martial story of
us two and those others of whom you wot.  Corporal Connal was the
dangerous blackguard you have seen.  Captain Bellingham is best known
for his position in the batting averages a year or two ago, and for his
subsequent failure to obtain a place in any of the five Test Matches.
But I only think of him as the officer who recognized Raffles.

We had taken a village, making quite a little name for it and for
ourselves, and in the village our division was reinforced by a fresh
brigade of the Imperial troops.  It was a day of rest, our first for
weeks, but Raffles and I spent no small part of it in seeking high and
low for a worthy means of quenching the kind of thirst which used to
beset Yeomen and others who had left good cellars for the veldt.  The
old knack came back to us both, though I believe that I alone was
conscious of it at the time; and we were leaving the house, splendidly
supplied, when we almost ran into the arms of an infantry officer, with
a scowl upon his red-hot face, and an eye-glass flaming at us in the
sun.

"Peter Bellingham!" gasped Raffles under his  breath, and then we
saluted and tried to pass on, with the bottles ringing like
church-bells under our  khaki.  But Captain Bellingham was a hard man.

"What have you men been doin'?" drawled he.

"Nothing, sir," we protested, like innocence with an injury.

"Lootin' 's forbidden," said he.  "You had better let me see those
bottles."

"We are done," whispered Raffles, and straightway we made a sideboard
of the stoop across which he had crept at so inopportune a moment.  I
had not the heart to raise my eyes again, yet it was many moments
before the officer broke silence.

"Uam Var!" he murmured reverentially at last.  "And Long John of Ben
Nevis!  The first drop that's been discovered in the whole
psalm-singing show!  What lot do you two belong to?"

I answered.

"I must have your names."

In my agitation I gave my real one.  Raffles had turned away, as though
in heart-broken contemplation of our lost loot.  I saw the officer
studying his half-profile with an alarming face.

"What's YOUR name?" he rapped out at last.

But his strange, low voice said plainly that he knew, and Raffles faced
him with the monosyllable of confession and assent.  I did not count
the seconds until the next word, but it was Captain Bellingham who
uttered it at last.

"I thought you were dead."

"Now you see I am not."

"But you are at your old games!"

"I am not," cried Raffles, and his tone was new to me.  I have seldom
heard one more indignant.  "Yes," he continued, "this is loot, and the
wrong  'un will out.  That's what you're thinking, Peter--I beg your
pardon--sir.  But he isn't let out in the field!  We're playing the
game as much as you are, old--sir."

The plural number caused the captain to toss me a contemptuous look.
"Is this the fellah who was taken when you swam for it?" he inquired,
relapsing into his drawl.  Raffles said I was, and with that took a
passionate oath upon our absolute rectitude as volunteers.  There could
be no doubting him; but the officer's eyes went back at the bottles on
the stoop.

"But look at those," said he; and as he looked himself the light eye
melted in his fiery face.  "And I've got Sparklets in my tent," he
sighed.  "You make it in a minute!"

Not a word from Raffles, and none, you may be sure, from me. Then
suddenly Bellingham told  me where his tent was, and, adding that our
case  was one for serious consideration, strode in its direction
without another word until some sunlit paces separated us.

"You can bring that stuff with you," he then flung over a
shoulder-strap, "and I advise you to  put it where you had it before."

A trooper saluted him some yards further on, and looked evilly at us as
we followed with our loot.  It was Corporal Connal of ours, and the
thought of him takes my mind off the certainly gallant captain who only
that day had joined our division with the reinforcements.  I could not
stand the man myself.  He added soda-water to our whiskey in his tent,
and would only keep a couple of bottles when we came away.  Softened by
the spirit, to which disuse made us all a little sensitive, our officer
was soon convinced of the honest part that we were playing for once,
and for fifty minutes of the hour we spent with him he and Raffles
talked cricket without a break.  On parting they even shook hands; that
was Long John in the captain's head; but the snob never addressed a
syllable to me.

And now to the gallows-bird who was still corporal of our troop: it was
not long before Raffles was to have his wish and the traitor's wicket.
We had resumed our advance, or rather our humble part in the great
surrounding movement then taking place, and were under pretty heavy
fire once more, when Connal was shot in the hand.  It was a curious
casualty in more than one respect, and nobody seems to have seen it
happen.  Though a flesh wound, it was a bloody one, and that may be why
the surgeon did not at once detect those features which afterwards
convinced him that the injury had been self-inflicted.  It was the
right hand, and until it healed the man could be of no further use in
the firing line; nor was the case serious enough for admission to a
crowded field-hospital; and Connal himself offered his services as
custodian of a number of our horses which we were keeping out of harm's
way in a donga.  They had come there in the following manner: That
morning we had been heliographed to reinforce the C.M.R., only to find
that the enemy had the range to a nicety when we reached the spot.
There were trenches for us men, but no place of safety for our horses
nearer than this long and narrow donga which ran from within our lines
towards those of the Boers.  So some of us galloped them thither,
six-in-hand, amid the whine of shrapnel and the whistle of shot. I
remember the man next me being killed by a shell with all his team, and
the tangle of flying harness, torn horseflesh, and crimson khaki, that
we left behind us on the veldt; also that a small red  flag,
ludicrously like those used to indicate a putting-green, marked the
single sloping entrance to the otherwise precipitous donga, which I for
one was duly thankful to reach alive.

The same evening Connal, with a few other light casualties to assist
him, took over the charge for which he had volunteered and for which he
was so admirably fitted by his knowledge of horses and his general
experience of the country; nevertheless, he managed to lose three or
four fine chargers in the course of the first night; and, early in the
second, Raffles shook me out of a heavy slumber in the trenches where
we had been firing all day.

"I have found the spot, Bunny," he whispered; "we ought to out him
before the night is over."

"Connal?"

Raffles nodded.

"You know what happened to some of his horses last night?  Well, he let
them go himself."

"Never!"

"I'm as certain of it," said Raffles, "as though I'd seen him do it;
and if he does it again I shall see him.  I can even tell you how it
happened.  Connal insisted on having one end of the donga to  himself,
and of course his end is the one nearest the Boers. Well, then, he
tells the other fellows to go to sleep at their end--I have it direct
from one of them--and you bet they don't need a second invitation.  The
rest I hope to see to-night."

"It seems almost incredible," said I.

"Not more so than the Light Horseman's dodge of poisoning the troughs;
that happened at Ladysmith before Christmas; and two kind friends did
for that blackguard what you and I are going to do for this one, and a
firing-party did the rest.  Brutes!  A mounted man's worth a file on
foot in  this country, and well they know it.  But this  beauty goes
one better than the poison; that was  wilful waste; but I'll eat my
wideawake if our loss last night wasn't the enemy's double gain!  What
we've got to do, Bunny, is to catch him in the act.  It may mean
watching him all night, but was ever game so well worth the candle?"

One may say in passing that, at this particular point of contact, the
enemy were in superior force, and for once in a mood as aggressive as
our own.  They were led with a dash, and handled with a skill, which
did not always characterize their commanders at this stage of the war.
Their position  was very similar to ours, and indeed we were to spend
the whole of next day in trying with an  equal will to turn each other
out.  The result will scarcely be forgotten by those who recognize the
occasion from these remarks.  Meanwhile it was  the eve of battle (most
evenings were), and there  was that villain with the horses in the
donga, and here were we two upon his track.

Raffles's plan was to reconnoitre the place, and then take up a
position from which we could watch our man and pounce upon him if he
gave us cause.  The spot that we eventually chose and stealthily
occupied was behind some bushes through which we could see down into
the donga; there were the precious horses; and there sure enough was
our wounded corporal, sitting smoking in his cloak, some glimmering
thing in his lap.

"That's his revolver, and it's a Mauser," whispered Raffles.  "He
shan't have a chance of using it on us; either we must be on him before
he knows we are anywhere near, or simply report.  It's easily proved
once we are sure; but I should like to have the taking of him too."

There was a setting moon.  Shadows were sharp and black.  The man
smoked steadily, and the hungry horses did what I never saw horses do
before; they stood and nibbled at each other's tails. I was used to
sleeping in the open, under the  jewelled dome that seems so much
vaster and  grander in these wide spaces of the earth.  I lay listening
to the horses, and to the myriad small strange voices of the veldt, to
which I cannot even now put a name, while Raffles watched.  "One  head
is better than two," he said, "when you don't want it to be seen."  We
were to take watch and watch about, however, and the other might sleep
if he could; it was not my fault that I did nothing else; it was
Raffles who could trust nobody but himself.  Nor was there any time for
recriminations when he did rouse me in the end.

But a moment ago, as it seemed to me, I had been gazing upward at the
stars and listening to the dear, minute sounds of peace; and in another
the great gray slate was clean, and every bone of me set in plaster of
Paris, and sniping beginning between pickets with the day.  It was an
occasional crack, not a constant crackle, but the whistle of a  bullet
as it passed us by, or a tiny transitory flame for the one bit of
detail on a blue hill-side, was an unpleasant warning that we two on
ours were a target in ourselves.  But Raffles paid no attention to
their fire; he was pointing downward through the bushes to where
Corporal Connal stood with his back to us, shooing a last charger out
of the mouth of the donga towards the Boer trenches.

"That's his third," whispered Raffles, "but it's the first I've seen
distinctly, for he waited for the blind spot before the dawn.  It's
enough to land him, I fancy, but we mustn't lose time.  Are you ready
for a creep?"

I stretched myself, and said I was; but I devoutly wished it was not
quite so early in the  morning.

"Like cats, then, till he hears, and then into him for all we're worth.
He's stowed his iron safe away, but he mustn't have time even to feel
for it.  You take his left arm, Bunny, and hang on to that like a
ferret, and I'll do the rest.  Ready?  Then  now!"

And in less time than it would take to tell, we were over the lip of
the donga and had fallen upon the fellow before he could turn his head;
nevertheless, for a few instants he fought like a wild beast, striking,
kicking, and swinging me off my feet as I obeyed my instructions to the
letter, and stuck to his left like a leech.  But he soon gave that up,
panting and blaspheming, demanded explanations in his hybrid tongue
that had half a brogue and  half a burr.  What were we doing?  What had
he done? Raffles at his back, with his right wrist twisted round and
pinned into the small of it, soon told him that, and I think the words
must have been the first intimation that he had as to who his
assailants were.

"So it's you two!" he cried, and a light broke over him.  He was no
longer trying to shake us off, and now he dropped his curses also, and
stood chuckling to himself instead.  "Well," he went on, "you're bloody
liars both, but I know something else that you are, so you'd better let
go."

A coldness ran through me, and I never saw  Raffles so taken aback.
His grip must have relaxed for a fraction of time, for our captive
broke out in a fresh and desperate struggle, but now we pinned him
tighter than ever, and soon I saw him turning green and yellow with the
pain.

"You're breaking my wrist!" he yelled at last.

"Then stand still and tell us who we are."

And he stood still and told us our real names.  But Raffles insisted on
hearing how he had found us out, and smiled as though he had known what
was coming when it came.  I was dumbfounded.

The accursed hound had followed us that evening to Captain Bellingham's
tent, and his undoubted cleverness in his own profession of spy had
done  the rest.

"And now you'd better let me go," said the master of the situation, as
I for one could not help  regarding him.

"I'll see you damned," said Raffles, savagely.

"Then you're damned and done for yourself, my cocky criminal. Raffles
the burglar!  Raffles  the society thief!  Not dead after all, but
'live and  'listed.  Send him home and give him fourteen years, and
won't he like 'em, that's all!"

"I shall have the pleasure of hearing you shot first," retorted
Raffles, through his teeth, "and  that alone will make them bearable.
Come on, Bunny, let's drive the swine along and get it over."

And drive him we did, he cursing, cajoling, struggling, gloating, and
blubbering by turns.  But Raffles never wavered for an instant, though
his face was tragic, and it went to my heart, where that look stays
still.  I remember at the time, though I never let my hold relax, there
was a moment when I added my entreaties to those of our prisoner.
Raffles did not even reply to me.  But I was thinking of him, I swear.
I was thinking of that gray set face that I never saw before or after.

"Your story will be tested," said the commanding officer, when Connal
had been marched to the guard-tent.  "Is there any truth in his?"

"It is perfectly true, sir."

"And the notorious Raffles has been alive all these years, and you are
really he?"

"I am, sir."

"And what are you doing at the front?"

Somehow I thought that Raffles was going to smile, but the grim set of
his mouth never altered, neither was there any change in the ashy
pallor which had come over him in the donga when Connal mouthed his
name.  It was only his eyes that lighted up at the last question.

"I am fighting, sir," said he, as simply as any subaltern in the army.

The commanding officer inclined a grizzled head perceptibly, and no
more.  He was not one of any school, our General; he had his own ways,
and we loved both him and them; and I believe that he loved the rough
but gallant corps that bore his name.  He once told us that he knew
something about most of us, and there were things that Raffles had done
of which he must have heard.  But he only moved his grizzled head.

"Did you know he was going to give you away?"  he asked at length, with
a jerk of it toward the guard-tent.

"Yes, sir."

"But you thought it worth while, did you?"

"I thought it necessary, sir."

The General paused, drumming on his table, making up his mind. Then his
chin came up with the decision that we loved in him.

"I shall sift all this," said he.  "An officer's name was mentioned,
and I shall see him myself.  Meanwhile you had better go on--fighting."


IV

Corporal Connal paid the penalty of his crime before the sun was far
above the hill held by the enemy.  There was abundance of
circumstantial evidence against him, besides the direct testimony of
Raffles and myself, and the wretch was shot at last with little
ceremony and less shrift.  And that was the one good thing that
happened on the day that broke upon us hiding behind the bushes
overlooking the donga; by noon it was my own turn.

I have avoided speaking of my wound before I need, and from the
preceding pages you would not gather that I am more or less lame for
life.  You will soon see now why I was in no hurry to recall the
incident.  I used to think of a wound received in one's country's
service as the proudest trophy a man could acquire. But the sight of
mine depresses me every morning of my life; it was due for one thing to
my own slow eye for cover, in taking which (to aggravate my case) our
hardy little corps happened to excel.

The bullet went clean through my thigh, drilling the bone, but happily
missing the sciatic nerve; thus the mere pain was less than it might
have been, but of course I went over in a light-brown heap.  We were
advancing on our stomachs to take the hill, and thus extend our
position, and it was at this point that the fire became too heavy for
us, so  that for hours (in the event) we moved neither  forward nor
back.  But it was not a minute before Raffles came to me through the
whistling scud, and in another I was on my back behind a shallow rock,
with him kneeling over me and unrolling my  bandage in the teeth of
that murderous fire.  It was on the knees of the gods, he said, when I
begged him to bend lower, but for the moment I thought his tone as
changed as his face had been earlier in the morning.  To oblige me,
however, he took more care; and, when he had done all that one comrade
could for another, he did avail himself of the cover he had found for
me.  So there  we lay together on the veldt, under blinding sun and
withering fire, and I suppose it is the veldt that I should describe,
as it swims and flickers before wounded eyes.  I shut mine to bring it
back, but all that comes is the keen brown face of Raffles, still a
shade paler than its wont; now bending to sight and fire; now peering
to see results, brows raised, eyes widened; anon turning to me with the
word to set my tight lips grinning.  He  was talking all the time, but
for my sake, and I knew it.  Can you wonder that I could not see an
inch beyond him?  He was the battle to me then; he is the whole war to
me as I look back  now.

"Feel equal to a cigarette?  It will buck you up, Bunny.  No, that one
in the silver paper, I've hoarded it for this.  Here's a light; and so
Bunny takes the Sullivan!  All honor to the sporting  rabbit!"

"At least I went over like one," said I, sending the only clouds into
the blue, and chiefly wishing  for their longer endurance. I was as hot
as a cinder from my head to one foot; the other leg was ceasing to
belong to me.

"Wait a bit," says Raffles, puckering; "there's a gray felt hat at deep
long-on, and I want to add  it to the bag for vengeance....
Wait--yes--no, no luck!  I must pitch 'em up a bit more. Hallo!
Magazine empty.  How goes the Sullivan, Bunny?  Rum to be smoking one
on the veldt with a hole in your leg!"

"It's doing me good," I said, and I believe it was.  But Raffles lay
looking at me as he lightened his bandolier.

"Do you remember," he said softly, "the day we first began to think
about the war?  I can see the pink, misty river light, and feel the
first bite there was in the air when one stood about; don't you wish we
had either here!  'Orful slorter, orful slorter;' that fellow's face, I
see it too; and here we have the thing he cried.  Can you believe it's
only six months ago?"

"Yes," I sighed, enjoying the thought of that afternoon less than he
did; "yes, we were slow to catch fire at first."

"Too slow," he said quickly.

"But when we did catch," I went on, wishing we never had, "we soon
burnt up."

"And then went out," laughed Raffles gayly.  He was loaded up again.
"Another over at the  gray felt hat," said he; "by Jove, though, I
believe he's having an over at me!"

"I wish you'd be careful," I urged.  "I heard it too."

"My dear Bunny, it's on the knees you wot of.  If anything's down in
the specifications surely that is.  Besides--that was nearer!"

"To you?"

"No, to him.  Poor devil, he has his specifications too; it's
comforting to think that....  I can't see where that one pitched; it
may have been a wide; and it's very nearly the end of the over again.
Feeling worse, Bunny?"

"No, I've only closed my eyes.  Go on talking."

"It was I who let you in for this," he said, at his bandolier again.

"No, I'm glad I came out."

And I believe I still was, in a way; for it WAS rather fine to be
wounded, just then, with the pain growing less; but the sensation was
not to last me  many minutes, and I can truthfully say that I have
never felt it since.

"Ah, but you haven't had such a good time as I  have!"

"Perhaps not."

Had his voice vibrated, or had I imagined it?  Pain-waves and loss of
blood were playing tricks with my senses; now they were quite dull, and
my leg alive and throbbing; now I had no leg at all, but more than all
my ordinary senses in every other part of me.  And the devil's
orchestra was  playing all the time, and all around me, on every class
of fiendish instrument, which you have been made to hear for yourselves
in every newspaper.  Yet all that I heard was Raffles talking.

"I have had a good time, Bunny."

Yes, his voice was sad; but that was all; the vibration must have been
in me.

"I know you have, old chap," said I.

"I am grateful to the General for giving me to-day.  It may be the
last.  Then I can only say it's been the best--by Jove!"

"What is it?"

And I opened my eyes.  His were shining.  I can see them now.

"Got him--got the hat!  No, I'm hanged if I have; at least he wasn't in
it.  The crafty cuss, he must have stuck it up on purpose.  Another
over ... scoring's slow....  I wonder if he's sportsman enough to take
a hint?  His hat-trick's foolish. Will he show his face if I show mine?"

I lay with closed ears and eyes.  My leg had come to life again, and
the rest of me was numb.

"Bunny!"

His voice sounded higher.  He must have been sitting upright.

"Well?"

But it was not well with me; that was all I thought as my lips made the
word.

"It's not only been the best time I ever had, old Bunny, but I'm not
half sure--"

Of what I can but guess; the sentence was not finished, and never could
be in this world.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Raffles, Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home