I was past arguing, and away he went. There was no help for it but to follow as best I could. Yet I had vastly preferred to collapse on the spot, and trust to Raffles's resource, as before very long I must. I had never enjoyed long wind and the hours that we kept in town may well have aggravated the deficiency. Raffles, however, was in first-class training from first-class cricket, and he had no mercy on Nab or me. But the master himself was an old Oxford miler, who could still bear it better than I; nay, as I flagged and stumbled, I heard him pounding steadily behind.
"Come on, come on, or he'll do us!" cried Raffles shrilly over his shoulder; and a gruff sardonic laugh came back over mine. It was pearly morning now, but we had run into a shallow mist that took me by the throat and stabbed me to the lungs. I coughed and coughed, and stumbled in my stride, until down I went, less by accident than to get it over, and so lay headlong in my tracks. And old Nab dealt me a verbal kick as he passed.
"You beast!" he growled, as I have known him growl it in form.
But Raffles himself had abandoned the flight on hearing my downfall, and I was on hands and knees just in time to see the meeting between him and old Nab. And there stood Raffles in the silvery mist, laughing with his whole light heart, leaning back to get the full flavor of his mirth; and, nearer me, sturdy old Nab, dour and grim, with beads of dew on the hoary beard that had been lamp-black in our time.
"So I've caught you at last!" said he. "After more years than I mean to count!"
"Then you're luckier than we are, sir," answered Raffles, "for I fear our man has given us the slip."
"Your man!" echoed Nab. His bushy eyebrows had shot up: it was as much as I could do to keep my own in their place.
"We were indulging in the chase ourselves," explained Raffles, "and one of us has suffered for his zeal, as you can see. It is even possible that we, too, have been chasing a perfectly innocent man."
"Not to say a reformed character," said our pursuer dryly. "I suppose you don't mean a member of the school?" he added, pinking his man suddenly as of yore, with all the old barbed acumen. But Raffles was now his match.
"That would be carrying reformation rather far, sir. No, as I say, I may have been mistaken in the first instance; but I had put out my light and was looking out of the window when I saw a fellow behaving quite suspiciously. He was carrying his boots and creeping along in his socks—which must be why you never heard him, sir. They make less noise than rubber soles even—that is, they must, you know! Well, Bunny had just left me, so I hauled him out and we both crept down to play detective. No sign of the fellow! We had a look in the colonnade—I thought I heard him—and that gave us no end of a hunt for nothing. But just as we were leaving he came padding past under our noses, and that's where we took up the chase. Where he'd been in the meantime I have no idea; very likely he'd done no harm; but it seemed worth while finding out. He had too good a start, though, and poor Bunny had too bad a wind."
"You should have gone on and let me rip," said I, climbing to my feet at last.
"As it is, however, we will all let the other fellow do so," said old Nab in a genial growl. "And you two had better turn into my house and have something to keep the morning cold out."
You may imagine with what alacrity we complied; and yet I am bound to confess that I had never liked Nab at school. I still remember my term in his form. He had a caustic tongue and fine assortment of damaging epithets, most of which were levelled at my devoted skull during those three months. I now discovered that he also kept a particularly mellow Scotch whiskey, an excellent cigar, and a fund of anecdote of which a mordant wit was the worthy bursar. Enough to add that he kept us laughing in his study until the chapel bells rang him out.
As for Raffles, he appeared to me to feel far more compunction for the fable which he had been compelled to foist upon one of the old masters than for the immeasurably graver offence against society and another Old Boy. This, indeed, did not worry him at all; and the story was received next day with absolute credulity on all sides. Nasmyth himself was the first to thank us both for our spirited effort on his behalf; and the incident had the ironic effect of establishing an immediate entente cordiale between Raffles and his very latest victim. I must confess, however, that for my own part I was thoroughly uneasy during the Old Boys' second innings, when Raffles made a selfish score, instead of standing by me to tell his own story in his own way. There was never any knowing with what new detail he was about to embellish it: and I have still to receive full credit for the tact that it required to follow his erratic lead convincingly. Seldom have I been more thankful than when our train started next morning, and the poor, unsuspecting Nasmyth himself waved us a last farewell from the platform.
"Lucky we weren't staying at Nab's," said Raffles, as he lit a Sullivan and opened his Daily Mail at its report of the robbery. "There was one thing Nab would have spotted like the downy old bird he always was and will be."
"What was that?"
"The front door must have been found duly barred and bolted in the morning, and yet we let them assume that we came out that way. Nab would have pounced on the point, and by this time we might have been nabbed ourselves."
It was but a little over a hundred sovereigns that Raffles had taken, and, of course, he had resolutely eschewed any and every form of paper money. He posted his own first contribution of twenty-five pounds to the Founder's Fund immediately on our return to town, before rushing off to more first-class cricket, and I gathered that the rest would follow piecemeal as he deemed it safe. By an odd coincidence, however, a mysterious but magnificent donation of a hundred guineas was almost simultaneously received in notes by the treasurer of the Founder's Fund, from one who simply signed himself "Old Boy." The treasurer happened to be our late host, the new man at our old house, and he wrote to congratulate Raffles on what he was pleased to consider a direct result of the latter's speech. I did not see the letter that Raffles wrote in reply, but in due course I heard the name of the mysterious contributor. He was said to be no other than Nipper Nasmyth himself. I asked Raffles if it was true. He replied that he would ask old Nipper point-blank if he came up as usual to the Varsity match, and if they had the luck to meet. And not only did this happen, but I had the greater luck to be walking round the ground with Raffles when we encountered our shabby friend in front of the pavilion.
"My dear fellow," cried Raffles, "I hear it was you who gave that hundred guineas by stealth to the very movement you denounced. Don't deny it, and don't blush to find it fame. Listen to me. There was a great lot in what you said; but it's the kind of thing we ought all to back, whether we strictly approve of it in our hearts or not."
"Exactly, Raffles, but the fact is—"
"I know what you're going to say. Don't say it. There's not one in a thousand who would do as you've done, and not one in a million who would do it anonymously."
"But what makes you think I did it, Raffles?"
"Everybody is saying so. You will find it all over the place when you get back. You will find yourself the most popular man down there, Nasmyth!"
I never saw a nobler embarrassment than that of this awkward, ungainly, cantankerous man: all his angles seemed to have been smoothed away: there was something quite human in the flushed, undecided, wistful face.
"I never was popular in my life," he said. "I don't want to buy my popularity now. To be perfectly candid with you, Raffles—"
"Don't! I can't stop to hear. They're ringing the bell. But you shouldn't have been angry with me for saying you were a generous good chap, Nasmyth, when you were one all the time. Good-by, old fellow!"
But Nasmyth detained us a second more. His hesitation was at an end. There was a sudden new light in his face.
"Was I?" he cried. "Then I'll make it two hundred, and damn the odds!"
Raffles was a thoughtful man as we went to our seats. He saw nobody, would acknowledge no remark. Neither did he attend to the cricket for the first half-hour after lunch; instead, he eventually invited me to come for a stroll on the practice ground, where, however, we found two chairs aloof from the fascinating throng.
"I am not often sorry, Bunny, as you know," he began. "But I have been sorry since the interval. I've been sorry for poor old Nipper Nasmyth. Did you see the idea of being popular dawn upon him for the first time in his life?"
"I did; but you had nothing to do with that, my dear man."
Raffles shook his head over me as our eyes met. "I had everything to do with it. I tried to make him tell the meanest lie. I made sure he would, and for that matter he nearly did. Then, at the last moment, he saw how to hedge things with his conscience. And his second hundred will be a real gift."
"You mean under his own name—"
"And with his own free-will. My good Bunny, is it possible you don't know what I did with the hundred we drew from that bank!"
"I knew what you were going to do with it," said I. "I didn't know you had actually got further than the twenty-five you told me you were sending as your own contribution."
Raffles rose abruptly from his chair.
"And you actually thought that came out of his money?"
"In my name?"
"I thought so."
Raffles stared at me inscrutably for some moments, and for some more at the great white numbers over the grand-stand.
"We may as well have another look at the cricket," said he. "It's difficult to see the board from here, but I believe there's another man out."
A Bad Night
There was to be a certain little wedding in which Raffles and I took a surreptitious interest. The bride-elect was living in some retirement, with a recently widowed mother and an asthmatical brother, in a mellow hermitage on the banks of the Mole. The bridegroom was a prosperous son of the same suburban soil which had nourished both families for generations. The wedding presents were so numerous as to fill several rooms at the pretty retreat upon the Mole, and of an intrinsic value calling for a special transaction with the Burglary Insurance Company in Cheapside. I cannot say how Raffles obtained all this information. I only know that it proved correct in each particular. I was not indeed deeply interested before the event, since Raffles assured me that it was "a one-man job," and naturally intended to be the one man himself. It was only at the eleventh hour that our positions were inverted by the wholly unexpected selection of Raffles for the English team in the Second Test Match.
In a flash I saw the chance of my criminal career. It was some years since Raffles had served his country in these encounters; he had never thought to be called upon again, and his gratification was only less than his embarrassment. The match was at Old Trafford, on the third Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in July; the other affair had been all arranged for the Thursday night, the night of the wedding at East Molesey. It was for Raffles to choose between the two excitements, and for once I helped him to make up his mind. I duly pointed out to him that in Surrey, at all events, I was quite capable of taking his place. Nay, more, I insisted at once on my prescriptive right and on his patriotic obligation in the matter. In the country's name and in my own, I implored him to give it and me a chance; and for once, as I say, my arguments prevailed. Raffles sent his telegram—it was the day before the match. We then rushed down to Esher, and over every inch of the ground by that characteristically circuitous route which he enjoined on me for the next night. And at six in the evening I was receiving the last of my many instructions through a window of the restaurant car.
"Only promise me not to take a revolver," said Raffles in a whisper. "Here are my keys; there's an old life-preserver somewhere in the bureau; take that, if you like—though what you take I rather fear you are the chap to use!"
"Then the rope be round my own neck!" I whispered back. "Whatever else I may do, Raffles, I shan't give you away; and you'll find I do better than you think, and am worth trusting with a little more to do, or I'll know the reason why!"
And I meant to know it, as he was borne out of Euston with raised eyebrows, and I turned grimly on my heel. I saw his fears for me; and nothing could have made me more fearless for myself. Raffles had been wrong about me all these years; now was my chance to set him right. It was galling to feel that he had no confidence in my coolness or my nerve, when neither had ever failed him at a pinch. I had been loyal to him through rough and smooth. In many an ugly corner I had stood as firm as Raffles himself. I was his right hand, and yet he never hesitated to make me his catspaw. This time, at all events, I should be neither one nor the other; this time I was the understudy playing lead at last; and I wish I could think that Raffles ever realized with what gusto I threw myself into his part.
Thus I was first out of a crowded theatre train at Esher next night, and first down the stairs into the open air. The night was close and cloudy; and the road to Hampton Court, even now that the suburban builder has marked much of it for his own, is one of the darkest I know. The first mile is still a narrow avenue, a mere tunnel of leaves at midsummer; but at that time there was not a lighted pane or cranny by the way. Naturally, it was in this blind reach that I fancied I was being followed. I stopped in my stride; so did the steps I made sure I had heard not far behind; and when I went on, they followed suit. I dried my forehead as I walked, but soon brought myself to repeat the experiment when an exact repetition of the result went to convince me that it had been my own echo all the time. And since I lost it on getting quit of the avenue, and coming out upon the straight and open road, I was not long in recovering from my scare. But now I could see my way, and found the rest of it without mishap, though not without another semblance of adventure. Over the bridge across the Mole, when about to turn to the left, I marched straight upon a policeman in rubber soles. I had to call him "officer" as I passed, and to pass my turning by a couple of hundred yards, before venturing back another way.
At last I had crept through a garden gate, and round by black windows to a black lawn drenched with dew. It had been a heating walk, and I was glad to blunder on a garden seat, most considerately placed under a cedar which added its own darkness to that of the night. Here I rested a few minutes, putting up my feet to keep them dry, untying my shoes to save time, and generally facing the task before me with a coolness which I strove to make worthy of my absent chief. But mine was a self-conscious quality, as far removed from the original as any other deliberate imitation of genius. I actually struck a match on my trousers, and lit one of the shorter Sullivans. Raffles himself would not have done such a thing at such a moment. But I wished to tell him that I had done it; and in truth I was not more than pleasurably afraid; I had rather that impersonal curiosity as to the issue which has been the saving of me in still more precarious situations. I even grew impatient for the fray, and could not after all sit still as long as I had intended. So it happened that I was finishing my cigarette on the edge of the wet lawn, and about to slip off my shoes before stepping across the gravel to the conservatory door, when a most singular sound arrested me in the act. It was a muffled gasping somewhere overhead. I stood like stone; and my listening attitude must have been visible against the milky sheen of the lawn, for a labored voice hailed me sternly from a window.
"Who on earth are you?" it wheezed.
"A detective officer," I replied, "sent down by the Burglary Insurance Company."
Not a moment had I paused for my precious fable. It had all been prepared for me by Raffles, in case of need. I was merely repeating a lesson in which I had been closely schooled. But at the window there was pause enough, filled only by the uncanny wheezing of the man I could not see.
"I don't see why they should have sent you down," he said at length. "We are being quite well looked after by the local police; they're giving us a special call every hour."
"I know that, Mr. Medlicott," I rejoined on my own account. "I met one of them at the corner just now, and we passed the time of night."
My heart was knocking me to bits. I had started for myself at last.
"Did you get my name from him?" pursued my questioner, in a suspicious wheeze.
"No; they gave me that before I started," I replied. "But I'm sorry you saw me, sir; it's a mere matter of routine, and not intended to annoy anybody. I propose to keep a watch on the place all night, but I own it wasn't necessary to trespass as I've done. I'll take myself off the actual premises, if you prefer it."
This again was all my own; and it met with a success that might have given me confidence.
"Not a bit of it," replied young Medlicott, with a grim geniality. "I've just woke up with the devil of an attack of asthma, and may have to sit up in my chair till morning. You'd better come up and see me through, and kill two birds while you're about it. Stay where you are, and I'll come down and let you in."
Here was a dilemma which Raffles himself had not foreseen! Outside, in the dark, my audacious part was not hard to play; but to carry the improvisation in-doors was to double at once the difficulty and the risk. It was true that I had purposely come down in a true detective's overcoat and bowler; but my personal appearance was hardly of the detective type. On the other hand as the soi-disant guardian of the gifts one might only excite suspicion by refusing to enter the house where they were. Nor could I forget that it was my purpose to effect such entry first or last. That was the casting consideration. I decided to take my dilemma by the horns.
There had been a scraping of matches in the room over the conservatory; the open window had shown for a moment, like an empty picture-frame, a gigantic shadow wavering on the ceiling; and in the next half-minute I remembered to tie my shoes. But the light was slow to reappear through the leaded glasses of an outer door farther along the path. And when the door opened, it was a figure of woe that stood within and held an unsteady candle between our faces.
I have seen old men look half their age, and young men look double theirs; but never before or since have I seen a beardless boy bent into a man of eighty, gasping for every breath, shaken by every gasp, swaying, tottering, and choking, as if about to die upon his feet. Yet with it all, young Medlicott overhauled me shrewdly, and it was several moments before he would let me take the candle from him.
"I shouldn't have come down—made me worse," he began whispering in spurts. "Worse still going up again. You must give me an arm. You will come up? That's right! Not as bad as I look, you know. Got some good whiskey, too. Presents are all right; but if they aren't you'll hear of it in-doors sooner than out. Now I'm ready—thanks! Mustn't make more noise than we can help—wake my mother."
It must have taken us minutes to climb that single flight of stairs. There was just room for me to keep his arm in mine; with the other he hauled on the banisters; and so we mounted, step by step, a panting pause on each, and a pitched battle for breath on the half-landing. In the end we gained a cosey library, with an open door leading to a bedroom beyond. But the effort had deprived my poor companion of all power of speech; his laboring lungs shrieked like the wind; he could just point to the door by which we had entered, and which I shut in obedience to his gestures, and then to the decanter and its accessories on the table where he had left them overnight. I gave him nearly half a glassful, and his paroxysm subsided a little as he sat hunched up in a chair.
"I was a fool ... to turn in," he blurted in more whispers between longer pauses. "Lying down is the devil ... when you're in for a real bad night. You might get me the brown cigarettes ... on the table in there. That's right ... thanks awfully ... and now a match!"
The asthmatic had bitten off either end of the stramonium cigarette, and was soon choking himself with the crude fumes, which he inhaled in desperate gulps, to exhale in furious fits of coughing. Never was more heroic remedy; it seemed a form of lingering suicide; but by degrees some slight improvement became apparent, and at length the sufferer was able to sit upright, and to drain his glass with a sigh of rare relief. I sighed also, for I had witnessed a struggle for dear life by a man in the flower of his youth, whose looks I liked, whose smile came like the sun through the first break in his torments, and whose first words were to thank me for the little I had done in bare humanity.
That made me feel the thing I was. But the feeling put me on my guard. And I was not unready for the remark which followed a more exhaustive scrutiny than I had hitherto sustained.
"Do you know," said young Medlicott, "that you aren't a bit like the detective of my dreams?"
"Only to proud to hear it," I replied. "There would be no point in my being in plain clothes if I looked exactly what I was."
My companion reassured me with a wheezy laugh.
"There's something in that," said he, "although I do congratulate the insurance people on getting a man of your class to do their dirty work. And I congratulate myself," he was quick enough to add, "on having you to see me through as bad a night as I've had for a long time. You're like flowers in the depths of winter. Got a drink? That's right! I suppose you didn't happen to bring down an evening paper?"
I said I had brought one, but had unfortunately left it in the train.
"What about the Test Match?" cried my asthmatic, shooting forward in his chair.
"I can tell you that," said I. "We went in first—"
"Oh, I know all about that," he interrupted. "I've seen the miserable score up to lunch. How many did we scrape altogether?"
"We're scraping them still."
"No! How many?"
"Over two hundred for seven wickets."
"Who made the stand?"
"Raffles, for one. He was 62 not out at close of play!"
And the note of admiration rang in my voice, though I tried in my self-consciousness to keep it out. But young Medlicott's enthusiasm proved an ample cloak for mine; it was he who might have been the personal friend of Raffles; and in his delight he chuckled till he puffed and blew again.
"Good old Raffles!" he panted in every pause. "After being chosen last, and as a bowler-man! That's the cricketer for me, sir; by Jove, we must have another drink in his honor! Funny thing, asthma; your liquor affects your head no more than it does a man with a snake-bite; but it eases everything else, and sees you through. Doctors will tell you so, but you've got to ask 'em first; they're no good for asthma! I've only known one who could stop an attack, and he knocked me sideways with nitrite of amyl. Funny complaint in other ways; raises your spirits, if anything. You can't look beyond the next breath. Nothing else worries you. Well, well, here's luck to A. J. Raffles, and may he get his century in the morning!"
And he struggled to his feet for the toast; but I drank it sitting down. I felt unreasonably wroth with Raffles, for coming into the conversation as he had done—for taking centuries in Test Matches as he was doing, without bothering his head about me. A failure would have been in better taste; it would have shown at least some imagination, some anxiety on one's account I did not reflect that even Raffles could scarcely be expected to picture me in my cups with the son of the house that I had come to rob; chatting with him, ministering to him; admiring his cheery courage, and honestly attempting to lighten his load! Truly it was an infernal position: how could I rob him or his after this? And yet I had thrust myself into it; and Raffles would never, never understand!
Even that was not the worst. I was not quite sure that young Medlicott was sure of me. I had feared this from the beginning, and now (over the second glass that could not possibly affect a man in his condition) he practically admitted as much to me. Asthma was such a funny thing (he insisted) that it would not worry him a bit to discover that I had come to take the presents instead of to take care of them! I showed a sufficiently faint appreciation of the jest. And it was presently punished as it deserved, by the most violent paroxysm that had seized the sufferer yet: the fight for breath became faster and more furious, and the former weapons of no more avail. I prepared a cigarette, but the poor brute was too breathless to inhale. I poured out yet more whiskey, but he put it from him with a gesture.
"Amyl—get me amyl!" he gasped. "The tin on the table by my bed."
I rushed into his room, and returned with a little tin of tiny cylinders done up like miniature crackers in scraps of calico; the spent youth broke one in his handkerchief, in which he immediately buried his face. I watched him closely as a subtle odor reached my nostrils; and it was like the miracle of oil upon the billows. His shoulders rested from long travail; the stertorous gasping died away to a quick but natural respiration; and in the sudden cessation of the cruel contest, an uncanny stillness fell upon the scene. Meanwhile the hidden face had flushed to the ears, and, when at length it was raised to mine, its crimson calm was as incongruous as an optical illusion.
"It takes the blood from the heart," he murmured, "and clears the whole show for the moment. If it only lasted! But you can't take two without a doctor; one's quite enough to make you smell the brimstone... I say, what's up? You're listening to something! If it's the policeman we'll have a word with him."
It was not the policeman; it was no out-door sound that I had caught in the sudden cessation of the bout for breath. It was a noise, a footstep, in the room below us. I went to the window and leaned out: right underneath, in the conservatory, was the faintest glimmer of a light in the adjoining room.
"One of the rooms where the presents are!" whispered Medlicott at my elbow. And as we withdrew together, I looked him in the face as I had not done all night.
I looked him in the face like an honest man, for a miracle was to make me one once more. My knot was cut—my course inevitable. Mine, after all, to prevent the very thing that I had come to do! My gorge had long since risen at the deed; the unforeseen circumstances had rendered it impossible from the first; but now I could afford to recognize the impossibility, and to think of Raffles and the asthmatic alike without a qualm. I could play the game by them both, for it was one and the same game. I could preserve thieves' honor, and yet regain some shred of that which I had forfeited as a man!
So I thought as we stood face to face, our ears straining for the least movement below, our eyes locked in a common anxiety. Another muffled foot-fall—felt rather than heard—and we exchanged grim nods of simultaneous excitement. But by this time Medlicott was as helpless as he had been before; the flush had faded from his face, and his breathing alone would have spoiled everything. In dumb show I had to order him to stay where he was, to leave my man to me. And then it was that in a gusty whisper, with the same shrewd look that had disconcerted me more than once during our vigil, young Medlicott froze and fired my blood by turns.
"I've been unjust to you," he said, with his right hand in his dressing-gown pocket. "I thought for a bit—never mind what I thought—I soon saw I was wrong. But—I've had this thing in my pocket all the time!"
And he would have thrust his revolver upon me as a peace-offering, but I would not even take his hand, as I tapped the life-preserver in my pocket, and crept out to earn his honest grip or to fall in the attempt. On the landing I drew Raffles's little weapon, slipped my right wrist through the leathern loop, and held it in readiness over my right shoulder. Then, down-stairs I stole, as Raffles himself had taught me, close to the wall, where the planks are nailed. Nor had I made a sound, to my knowledge; for a door was open, and a light was burning, and the light did not flicker as I approached the door. I clenched my teeth and pushed it open; and here was the veriest villain waiting for me, his little lantern held aloft.
"You blackguard!" I cried, and with a single thwack I felled the ruffian to the floor.
There was no question of a foul blow. He had been just as ready to pounce on me; it was simply my luck to have got the first blow home. Yet a fellow-feeling touched me with remorse, as I stood over the senseless body, sprawling prone, and perceived that I had struck an unarmed man. The lantern only had fallen from his hands; it lay on one side, smoking horribly; and a something in the reek caused me to set it up in haste and turn the body over with both hands.
Shall I ever forget the incredulous horror of that moment?
It was Raffles himself!
How it was possible, I did not pause to ask myself; if one man on earth could annihilate space and time, it was the man lying senseless at my feet; and that was Raffles, without an instant's doubt. He was in villainous guise, which I knew of old, now that I knew the unhappy wearer. His face was grimy, and dexterously plastered with a growth of reddish hair; his clothes were those in which he had followed cabs from the London termini; his boots were muffled in thick socks; and I had laid him low with a bloody scalp that filled my cup of horror. I groaned aloud as I knelt over him and felt his heart. And I was answered by a bronchial whistle from the door.
"Jolly well done!" cheered my asthmatical friend. "I heard the whole thing—only hope my mother didn't. We must keep it from her if we can."
I could have cursed the creature's mother from my full heart; yet even with my hand on that of Raffles, as I felt his feeble pulse, I told myself that this served him right. Even had I brained him, the fault had been his, not mine. And it was a characteristic, an inveterate fault, that galled me for all my anguish: to trust and yet distrust me to the end, to race through England in the night, to spy upon me at his work—to do it himself after all!
"Is he dead?" wheezed the asthmatic coolly.
"Not he," I answered, with an indignation that I dared not show.
"You must have hit him pretty hard," pursued young Medlicott, "but I suppose it was a case of getting first knock. And a good job you got it, if this was his," he added, picking up the murderous little life-preserver which poor Raffles had provided for his own destruction.
"Look here," I answered, sitting back on my heels. "He isn't dead, Mr. Medlicott, and I don't know how long he'll be as much as stunned. He's a powerful brute, and you're not fit to lend a hand. But that policeman of yours can't be far away. Do you think you could struggle out and look for him?"
"I suppose I am a bit better than I was," he replied doubtfully. "The excitement seems to have done me good. If you like to leave me on guard with my revolver, I'll undertake that he doesn't escape me."
I shook my head with an impatient smile.
"I should never hear the last of it," said I. "No, in that case all I can do is to handcuff the fellow and wait till morning if he won't go quietly; and he'll be a fool if he does, while there's a fighting chance."
Young Medlicott glanced upstairs from his post on the threshold. I refrained from watching him too keenly, but I knew what was in his mind.
"I'll go," he said hurriedly. "I'll go as I am, before my mother is disturbed and frightened out of her life. I owe you something, too, not only for what you've done for me, but for what I was fool enough to think about you at the first blush. It's entirely through you that I feel as fit as I do for the moment. So I'll take your tip, and go just as I am, before my poor old pipes strike up another tune."
I scarcely looked up until the good fellow had turned his back upon the final tableau of watchful officer and prostrate prisoner and gone out wheezing into the night. But I was at the door to hear the last of him down the path and round the corner of the house. And when I rushed back into the room, there was Raffles sitting cross-legged on the floor, and slowly shaking his broken head as he stanched the blood.
"Et tu, Bunny!" he groaned. "Mine own familiar friend!"
"Then you weren't even stunned!" I exclaimed. "Thank God for that!"
"Of course I was stunned," he murmured, "and no thanks to you that I wasn't brained. Not to know me in the kit you've seen scores of times! You never looked at me, Bunny; you didn't give me time to open my mouth. I was going to let you run me in so prettily! We'd have walked off arm-in-arm; now it's as tight a place as ever we were in, though you did get rid of old blow-pipes rather nicely. But we shall have the devil's own run for our money!"
Raffles had picked himself up between his mutterings, and I had followed him to the door into the garden, where he stood busy with the key in the dark, having blown out his lantern and handed it to me. But though I followed Raffles, as my nature must, I was far too embittered to answer him again. And so it was for some minutes that might furnish forth a thrilling page, but not a novel one to those who know their Raffles and put up with me. Suffice it that we left a locked door behind us, and the key on the garden wall, which was the first of half a dozen that we scaled before dropping into a lane that led to a foot-bridge higher up the backwater. And when we paused upon the foot-bridge, the houses along the bank were still in peace and darkness.
Knowing my Raffles as I did, I was not surprised when he dived under one end of this bridge, and came up with his Inverness cape and opera hat, which he had hidden there on his way to the house. The thick socks were peeled from his patent-leathers, the ragged trousers stripped from an evening pair, bloodstains and Newgate fringe removed at the water's edge, and the whole sepulchre whited in less time than the thing takes to tell. Nor was that enough for Raffles, but he must alter me as well, by wearing my overcoat under his cape, and putting his Zingari scarf about my neck.
"And now," said he, "you may be glad to hear there's a 3:12 from Surbiton, which we could catch on all fours. If you like we'll go separately, but I don't think there's the slightest danger now, and I begin to wonder what's happening to old blow-pipes."
So, indeed, did I, and with no small concern, until I read of his adventures (and our own) in the newspapers. It seemed that he had made a gallant spurt into the road, and there paid the penalty of his rashness by a sudden incapacity to move another inch. It had eventually taken him twenty minutes to creep back to locked doors, and another ten to ring up the inmates. His description of my personal appearance, as reported in the papers, is the only thing that reconciles me to the thought of his sufferings during that half-hour.
But at the time I had other thoughts, and they lay too deep for idle words, for to me also it was a bitter hour. I had not only failed in my self-sought task; I had nearly killed my comrade into the bargain. I had meant well by friend and foe in turn, and I had ended in doing execrably by both. It was not all my fault, but I knew how much my weakness had contributed to the sum. And I must walk with the man whose fault it was, who had travelled two hundred miles to obtain this last proof of my weakness, to bring it home to me, and to make our intimacy intolerable from that hour. I must walk with him to Surbiton, but I need not talk; all through Thames Ditton I had ignored his sallies; nor yet when he ran his arm through mine, on the river front, when we were nearly there, would I break the seal my pride had set upon my lips.
"Come, Bunny," he said at last, "I have been the one to suffer most, when all's said and done, and I'll be the first to say that I deserved it. You've broken my head; my hair's all glued up in my gore; and what yarn I'm to put up at Manchester, or how I shall take the field at all, I really don't know. Yet I don't blame you, Bunny, and I do blame myself. Isn't it rather hard luck if I am to go unforgiven into the bargain? I admit that I made a mistake; but, my dear fellow, I made it entirely for your sake."
"For my sake!" I echoed bitterly.
Raffles was more generous; he ignored my tone.
"I was miserable about you—frankly—miserable!" he went on. "I couldn't get it out of my head that somehow you would be laid by the heels. It was not your pluck that I distrusted, my dear fellow, but it was your very pluck that made me tremble for you. I couldn't get you out of my head. I went in when runs were wanted, but I give you my word that I was more anxious about you; and no doubt that's why I helped to put on some runs. Didn't you see it in the paper, Bunny? It's the innings of my life, so far."
"Yes," I said, "I saw that you were in at close of play. But I don't believe it was you—I believe you have a double who plays your cricket for you!"
And at the moment that seemed less incredible than the fact.
"I'm afraid you didn't read your paper very carefully," said Raffles, with the first trace of pique in his tone. "It was rain that closed play before five o'clock. I hear it was a sultry day in town, but at Manchester we got the storm, and the ground was under water in ten minutes. I never saw such a thing in my life. There was absolutely not the ghost of a chance of another ball being bowled. But I had changed before I thought of doing what I did. It was only when I was on my way back to the hotel, by myself, because I couldn't talk to a soul for thinking of you, that on the spur of the moment I made the man take me to the station instead, and was under way in the restaurant car before I had time to think twice about it. I am not sure that of all the mad deeds I have ever done, this was not the maddest of the lot!"
"It was the finest," I said in a low voice; for now I marvelled more at the impulse which had prompted his feat, and at the circumstances surrounding it, than even at the feat itself.
"Heaven knows," he went on, "what they are saying and doing in Manchester! But what can they say? 'What business is it of theirs? I was there when play stopped, and I shall be there when it starts again. We shall be at Waterloo just after half-past three, and that's going to give me an hour at the Albany on my way to Euston, and another hour at Old Trafford before play begins. What's the matter with that? I don't suppose I shall notch any more, but all the better if I don't; if we have a hot sun after the storm, the sooner they get in the better; and may I have a bowl at them while the ground bites!"
"I'll come up with you," I said, "and see you at it."
"My dear fellow," replied Raffles, "that was my whole feeling about you. I wanted to 'see you at it'—that was absolutely all. I wanted to be near enough to lend a hand if you got tied up, as the best of us will at times. I knew the ground better than you, and I simply couldn't keep away from it. But I didn't mean you to know that I was there; if everything had gone as I hoped it might, I should have sneaked back to town without ever letting you know I had been up. You should never have dreamt that I had been at your elbow; you would have believed in yourself, and in my belief in you, and the rest would have been silence till the grave. So I dodged you at Waterloo, and I tried not to let you know that I was following you from Esher station. But you suspected somebody was; you stopped to listen more than once; after the second time I dropped behind, but gained on you by taking the short cut by Imber Court and over the foot-bridge where I left my coat and hat. I was actually in the garden before you were. I saw you smoke your Sullivan, and I was rather proud of you for it, though you must never do that sort of thing again. I heard almost every word between you and the poor devil upstairs. And up to a certain point, Bunny, I really thought you played the scene to perfection."
The station lights were twinkling ahead of us in the fading velvet of the summer's night. I let them increase and multiply before I spoke.
"And where," I asked, "did you think I first went wrong?"
"In going in-doors at all," said Raffles. "If I had done that, I should have done exactly what you did from that point on. You couldn't help yourself, with that poor brute in that state. And I admired you immensely, Bunny, if that's any comfort to you now."
Comfort! It was wine in every vein, for I knew that Raffles meant what he said, and with his eyes I soon saw myself in braver colors. I ceased to blush for the vacillations of the night, since he condoned them. I could even see that I had behaved with a measure of decency, in a truly trying situation, now that Raffles seemed to think so. He had changed my whole view of his proceedings and my own, in every incident of the night but one. There was one thing, however, which he might forgive me, but which I felt that I could forgive neither Raffles nor myself. And that was the contused scalp wound over which I shuddered in the train.
"And to think that I did that," I groaned, "and that you laid yourself open to it, and that we have neither of us got another thing to show for our night's work! That poor chap said it was as bad a night as he had ever had in his life; but I call it the very worst that you and I ever had in ours."
Raffles was smiling under the double lamps of the first-class compartment that we had to ourselves.
"I wouldn't say that, Bunny. We have done worse."
"Do you mean to tell me that you did anything at all?"
"My dear Bunny," replied Raffles, "you should remember how long I had been maturing felonious little plan, what a blow it was to me to have to turn it over to you, and how far I had travelled to see that you did it and yourself as well as might be. You know what I did see, and how well I understood. I tell you again that I should have done the same thing myself, in your place. But I was not in your place, Bunny. My hands were not tied like yours. Unfortunately, most of the jewels have gone on the honeymoon with the happy pair; but these emerald links are all right, and I don't know what the bride was doing to leave this diamond comb behind. Here, too, is the old silver skewer I've been wanting for years—they make the most charming paper-knives in the world—and this gold cigarette-case will just do for your smaller Sullivans."
Nor were these the only pretty things that Raffles set out in twinkling array upon the opposite cushions. But I do not pretend that this was one of our heavy hauls, or deny that its chief interest still resides in the score of the Second Test Match of that Australian tour.
A Trap to Catch a Cracksman
I was just putting out my light when the telephone rang a furious tocsin in the next room. I flounced out of bed more asleep than awake; in another minute I should have been past ringing up. It was one o'clock in the morning, and I had been dining with Swigger Morrison at his club.
"That you, Bunny?"
"Yes—are you Raffles?"
"What's left of me! Bunny, I want you—quick."
And even over the wire his voice was faint with anxiety and apprehension.
"What on earth has happened?"
"Don't ask! You never know—"
"I'll come at once. Are you there, Raffles?"
"Are you there, man?"
"At the Albany?"
"No, no; at Maguire's."
"You never said so. And where's Maguire?"
"In Half-moon Street."
"I know that. Is he there now?"
"No—not come in yet—and I'm caught."
"In that trap he bragged about. It serves me right. I didn't believe in it. But I'm caught at last ... caught ... at last!"
"When he told us he set it every night! Oh, Raffles, what sort of a trap is it? What shall I do? What shall I bring?"
But his voice had grown fainter and wearier with every answer, and now there was no answer at all. Again and again I asked Raffles if he was there; the only sound to reach me in reply was the low metallic hum of the live wire between his ear and mine. And then, as I sat gazing distractedly at my four safe walls, with the receiver still pressed to my head, there came a single groan, followed by the dull and dreadful crash of a human body falling in a heap.
In utter panic I rushed back into my bedroom, and flung myself into the crumpled shirt and evening clothes that lay where I had cast them off. But I knew no more what I was doing than what to do next I afterward found that I had taken out a fresh tie, and tied it rather better than usual; but I can remember thinking of nothing but Raffles in some diabolical man-trap, and of a grinning monster stealing in to strike him senseless with one murderous blow. I must have looked in the glass to array myself as I did; but the mind's eye was the seeing eye, and it was filled with this frightful vision of the notorious pugilist known to fame and infamy as Barney Maguire.
It was only the week before that Raffles and I had been introduced to him at the Imperial Boxing Club. Heavy-weight champion of the United States, the fellow was still drunk with his sanguinary triumphs on that side, and clamoring for fresh conquests on ours. But his reputation had crossed the Atlantic before Maguire himself; the grandiose hotels had closed their doors to him; and he had already taken and sumptuously furnished the house in Half-moon Street which does not re-let to this day. Raffles had made friends with the magnificent brute, while I took timid stock of his diamond studs, his jewelled watch-chain, his eighteen-carat bangle, and his six-inch lower jaw. I had shuddered to see Raffles admiring the gewgaws in his turn, in his own brazen fashion, with that air of the cool connoisseur which had its double meaning for me. I for my part would as lief have looked a tiger in the teeth. And when we finally went home with Maguire to see his other trophies, it seemed to me like entering the tiger's lair. But an astounding lair it proved, fitted throughout by one eminent firm, and ringing to the rafters with the last word on fantastic furniture.
The trophies were a still greater surprise. They opened my eyes to the rosier aspect of the noble art, as presently practised on the right side of the Atlantic. Among other offerings, we were permitted to handle the jewelled belt presented to the pugilist by the State of Nevada, a gold brick from the citizens of Sacramento, and a model of himself in solid silver from the Fisticuff Club in New York. I still remember waiting with bated breath for Raffles to ask Maguire if he were not afraid of burglars, and Maguire replying that he had a trap to catch the cleverest cracksman alive, but flatly refusing to tell us what it was. I could not at the moment conceive a more terrible trap than the heavy-weight himself behind a curtain. Yet it was easy to see that Raffles had accepted the braggart's boast as a challenge. Nor did he deny it later when I taxed him with his mad resolve; he merely refused to allow me to implicate myself in its execution. Well, there was a spice of savage satisfaction in the thought that Raffles had been obliged to turn to me in the end. And, but for the dreadful thud which I had heard over the telephone, I might have extracted some genuine comfort from the unerring sagacity with which he had chosen his night.
Within the last twenty-four hours Barney Maguire had fought his first great battle on British soil. Obviously, he would no longer be the man that he had been in the strict training before the fight; never, as I gathered, was such a ruffian more off his guard, or less capable of protecting himself and his possessions, than in these first hours of relaxation and inevitable debauchery for which Raffles had waited with characteristic foresight. Nor was the terrible Barney likely to be more abstemious for signal punishment sustained in a far from bloodless victory. Then what could be the meaning of that sickening and most suggestive thud? Could it be the champion himself who had received the coup de grace in his cups? Raffles was the very man to administer it—but he had not talked like that man through the telephone.
And yet—and yet—what else could have happened? I must have asked myself the question between each and all of the above reflections, made partly as I dressed and partly in the hansom on the way to Half-moon Street. It was as yet the only question in my mind. You must know what your emergency is before you can decide how to cope with it; and to this day I sometimes tremble to think of the rashly direct method by which I set about obtaining the requisite information. I drove every yard of the way to the pugilist's very door. You will remember that I had been dining with Swigger Morrison at his club.
Yet at the last I had a rough idea of what I meant to say when the door was opened. It seemed almost probable that the tragic end of our talk over the telephone had been caused by the sudden arrival and as sudden violence of Barney Maguire. In that case I was resolved to tell him that Raffles and I had made a bet about his burglar trap, and that I had come to see who had won. I might or might not confess that Raffles had rung me out of bed to this end. If, however, I was wrong about Maguire, and he had not come home at all, then my action would depend upon the menial who answered my reckless ring. But it should result in the rescue of Raffles by hook or crook.
I had the more time to come to some decision, since I rang and rang in vain. The hall, indeed, was in darkness; but when I peeped through the letter-box I could see a faint beam of light from the back room. That was the room in which Maguire kept his trophies and set his trap. All was quiet in the house: could they have haled the intruder to Vine Street in the short twenty minutes which it had taken me to dress and to drive to the spot? That was an awful thought; but even as I hoped against hope, and rang once more, speculation and suspense were cut short in the last fashion to be foreseen.
A brougham was coming sedately down the street from Piccadilly; to my horror, it stopped behind me as I peered once more through the letter-box, and out tumbled the dishevelled prizefighter and two companions. I was nicely caught in my turn. There was a lamp-post right opposite the door, and I can still see the three of them regarding me in its light. The pugilist had been at least a fine figure of a bully and a braggart when I saw him before his fight; now he had a black eye and a bloated lip, hat on the back of his head, and made-up tie under one ear. His companions were his sallow little Yankee secretary, whose name I really forget, but whom I met with Maguire at the Boxing Club, and a very grand person in a second skin of shimmering sequins.
I can neither forget nor report the terms in which Barney Maguire asked me who I was and what I was doing there. Thanks, however, to Swigger Morrison's hospitality, I readily reminded him of our former meeting, and of more that I only recalled as the words were in my mouth.
"You'll remember Raffles," said I, "if you don't remember me. You showed us your trophies the other night, and asked us both to look you up at any hour of the day or night after the fight."
I was going on to add that I had expected to find Raffles there before me, to settle a wager that we had made about the man-trap. But the indiscretion was interrupted by Maguire himself, whose dreadful fist became a hand that gripped mine with brute fervor, while with the other he clouted me on the back.
"You don't say!" he cried. "I took you for some darned crook, but now I remember you perfectly. If you hadn't've spoke up slick I'd have bu'st your face in, sonny. I would, sure! Come right in, and have a drink to show there's—Jeehoshaphat!"
The secretary had turned the latch-key in the door, only to be hauled back by the collar as the door stood open, and the light from the inner room was seen streaming upon the banisters at the foot of the narrow stairs.
"A light in my den," said Maguire in a mighty whisper, "and the blamed door open, though the key's in my pocket and we left it locked! Talk about crooks, eh? Holy smoke, how I hope we've landed one alive! You ladies and gentlemen, lay round where you are, while I see."
And the hulking figure advanced on tiptoe, like a performing elephant, until just at the open door, when for a second we saw his left revolving like a piston and his head thrown back at its fighting angle. But in another second his fists were hands again, and Maguire was rubbing them together as he stood shaking with laughter in the light of the open door.
"Walk up!" he cried, as he beckoned to us three. "Walk up and see one o' their blamed British crooks laid as low as the blamed carpet, and nailed as tight!"
Imagine my feelings on the mat! The sallow secretary went first; the sequins glittered at his heels, and I must own that for one base moment I was on the brink of bolting through the street door. It had never been shut behind us. I shut it myself in the end. Yet it was small credit to me that I actually remained on the same side of the door as Raffles.
"Reel home-grown, low-down, unwashed Whitechapel!" I had heard Maguire remark within. "Blamed if our Bowery boys ain't cock-angels to scum like this. Ah, you biter, I wouldn't soil my knuckles on your ugly face; but if I had my thick boots on I'd dance the soul out of your carcass for two cents!"
After this it required less courage to join the others in the inner room; and for some moments even I failed to identify the truly repulsive object about which I found them grouped. There was no false hair upon the face, but it was as black as any sweep's. The clothes, on the other hand, were new to me, though older and more pestiferous in themselves than most worn by Raffles for professional purposes. And at first, as I say, I was far from sure whether it was Raffles at all; but I remembered the crash that cut short our talk over the telephone; and this inanimate heap of rags was lying directly underneath a wall instrument, with the receiver dangling over him.
"Think you know him?" asked the sallow secretary, as I stooped and peered with my heart in my boots.
"Good Lord, no! I only wanted to see if he was dead," I explained, having satisfied myself that it was really Raffles, and that Raffles was really insensible. "But what on earth has happened?" I asked in my turn.
"That's what I want to know," whined the person in sequins, who had contributed various ejaculations unworthy of report, and finally subsided behind an ostentatious fan.
"I should judge," observed the secretary, "that it's for Mr. Maguire to say, or not to say, just as he darn pleases."
But the celebrated Barney stood upon a Persian hearth-rug, beaming upon us all in a triumph too delicious for immediate translation into words. The room was furnished as a study, and most artistically furnished, if you consider outlandish shapes in fumed oak artistic. There was nothing of the traditional prize-fighter about Barney Maguire, except his vocabulary and his lower jaw. I had seen over his house already, and it was fitted and decorated throughout by a high-art firm which exhibits just such a room as that which was the scene of our tragedietta. The person in the sequins lay glistening like a landed salmon in a quaint chair of enormous nails and tapestry compact. The secretary leaned against an escritoire with huge hinges of beaten metal. The pugilist's own background presented an elaborate scheme of oak and tiles, with inglenooks green from the joiner, and a china cupboard with leaded panes behind his bullet head. And his bloodshot eyes rolled with rich delight from the decanter and glasses on the octagonal table to another decanter in the quaintest and craftiest of revolving spirit tables.
"Isn't it bully?" asked the prize-fighter, smiling on us each in turn, with his black and bloodshot eyes and his bloated lip. "To think that I've only to invent a trap to catch a crook, for a blamed crook to walk right into! You, Mr. Man," and he nodded his great head at me, "you'll recollect me telling you that I'd gotten one when you come in that night with the other sport? Say, pity he's not with you now; he was a good boy, and I liked him a lot; but he wanted to know too much, and I guess he'd got to want. But I'm liable to tell you now, or else bu'st. See that decanter on the table?"
"I was just looking at it," said the person in sequins. "You don't know what a turn I've had, or you'd offer me a little something."
"You shall have a little something in a minute," rejoined Maguire. "But if you take a little anything out of that decanter, you'll collapse like our friend upon the floor."
"Good heavens!" I cried out, with involuntary indignation, and his fell scheme broke upon me in a clap.
"Yes, sir!" said Maguire, fixing me with his bloodshot orbs. "My trap for crooks and cracksmen is a bottle of hocussed whiskey, and I guess that's it on the table, with the silver label around its neck. Now look at this other decanter, without any label at all; but for that they're the dead spit of each other. I'll put them side by side, so you can see. It isn't only the decanters, but the liquor looks the same in both, and tastes so you wouldn't know the difference till you woke up in your tracks. I got the poison from a blamed Indian away west, and it's ruther ticklish stuff. So I keep the label around the trap-bottle, and only leave it out nights. That's the idea, and that's all there is to it," added Maguire, putting the labelled decanter back in the stand. "But I figure it's enough for ninety-nine crooks out of a hundred, and nineteen out of twenty 'll have their liquor before they go to work."
"I wouldn't figure on that," observed the secretary, with a downward glance as though at the prostrate Raffles. "Have you looked to see if the trophies are all safe?"
"Not yet," said Maguire, with a glance at the pseudo-antique cabinet in which he kept them. "Then you can save yourself the trouble," rejoined the secretary, as he dived under the octagonal table, and came up with a small black bag that I knew at a glance. It was the one that Raffles had used for heavy plunder ever since I had known him.
The bag was so heavy now that the secretary used both hands to get it on the table. In another moment he had taken out the jewelled belt presented to Maguire by the State of Nevada, the solid silver statuette of himself, and the gold brick from the citizens of Sacramento.
Either the sight of his treasures, so nearly lost, or the feeling that the thief had dared to tamper with them after all, suddenly infuriated Maguire to such an extent that he had bestowed a couple of brutal kicks upon the senseless form of Raffles before the secretary and I could interfere.
"Play light, Mr. Maguire!" cried the sallow secretary. "The man's drugged, as well as down."
"He'll be lucky if he ever gets up, blight and blister him!"
"I should judge it about time to telephone for the police."
"Not till I've done with him. Wait till he comes to! I guess I'll punch his face into a jam pudding! He shall wash down his teeth with his blood before the coppers come in for what's left!"
"You make me feel quite ill," complained the grand lady in the chair. "I wish you'd give me a little something, and not be more vulgar than you can 'elp."
"Help yourself," said Maguire, ungallantly, "and don't talk through your hat. Say, what's the matter with the 'phone?"
The secretary had picked up the dangling receiver.
"It looks to me," said he, "as though the crook had rung up somebody before he went off."
I turned and assisted the grand lady to the refreshment that she craved.
"Like his cheek!" Maguire thundered. "But who in blazes should he ring up?"
"It'll all come out," said the secretary. "They'll tell us at the central, and we shall find out fast enough."
"It don't matter now," said Maguire. "Let's have a drink and then rouse the devil up."
But now I was shaking in my shoes. I saw quite clearly what this meant. Even if I rescued Raffles for the time being, the police would promptly ascertain that it was I who had been rung up by the burglar, and the fact of my not having said a word about it would be directly damning to me, if in the end it did not incriminate us both. It made me quite faint to feel that we might escape the Scylla of our present peril and yet split on the Charybdis of circumstantial evidence. Yet I could see no middle course of conceivable safety, if I held my tongue another moment. So I spoke up desperately, with the rash resolution which was the novel feature of my whole conduct on this occasion. But any sheep would be resolute and rash after dining with Swigger Morrison at his club.
"I wonder if he rang me up?" I exclaimed, as if inspired.
"You, sonny?" echoed Maguire, decanter in hand. "What in hell could he know about you?"
"Or what could you know about him?" amended the secretary, fixing me with eyes like drills.
"Nothing," I admitted, regretting my temerity with all my heart. "But some one did ring me up about an hour ago. I thought it was Raffles. I told you I expected to find him here, if you remember."
"But I don't see what that's got to do with the crook," pursued the secretary, with his relentless eyes boring deeper and deeper into mine.
"No more do I," was my miserable reply. But there was a certain comfort in his words, and some simultaneous promise in the quantity of spirit which Maguire splashed into his glass.
"Were you cut off sudden?" asked the secretary, reaching for the decanter, as the three of us sat round the octagonal table.
"So suddenly," I replied, "that I never knew who it was who rang me up. No, thank you—not any for me."
"What!" cried Maguire, raising a depressed head suddenly. "You won't have a drink in my house? Take care, young man. That's not being a good boy!"
"But I've been dining out," I expostulated, "and had my whack. I really have."
Barney Maguire smote the table with terrific
"Say, sonny, I like you a lot," said he. "But I shan't like you any if you're not a good boy!"
"Very well, very well," I said hurriedly. "One finger, if I must."
And the secretary helped me to not more than two.
"Why should it have been your friend Raffles?" he inquired, returning remorselessly to the charge, while Maguire roared "Drink up!" and then drooped once more.
"I was half asleep," I answered, "and he was the first person who occurred to me. We are both on the telephone, you see. And we had made a bet—"
The glass was at my lips, but I was able to set it down untouched. Maguire's huge jaw had dropped upon his spreading shirt-front, and beyond him I saw the person in sequins fast asleep in the artistic armchair.
"What bet?" asked a voice with a sudden start in it. The secretary was blinking as he drained his glass.
"About the very thing we've just had explained to us," said I, watching my man intently as I spoke. "I made sure it was a man-trap. Raffles thought it must be something else. We had a tremendous argument about it. Raffles said it wasn't a man-trap. I said it was. We had a bet about it in the end. I put my money on the man-trap. Raffles put his upon the other thing. And Raffles was right—it wasn't a man-trap. But it's every bit as good—every little bit—and the whole boiling of you are caught in it except me!"
I sank my voice with the last sentence, but I might just as well have raised it instead. I had said the same thing over and over again to see whether the wilful tautology would cause the secretary to open his eyes. It seemed to have had the very opposite effect. His head fell forward on the table, with never a quiver at the blow, never a twitch when I pillowed it upon one of his own sprawling arms. And there sat Maguire bolt upright, but for the jowl upon his shirt-front, while the sequins twinkled in a regular rise and fall upon the reclining form of the lady in the fanciful chair. All three were sound asleep, by what accident or by whose design I did not pause to inquire; it was enough to ascertain the fact beyond all chance of error.
I turned my attention to Raffles last of all. There was the other side of the medal. Raffles was still sleeping as sound as the enemy—or so I feared at first I shook him gently: he made no sign. I introduced vigor into the process: he muttered incoherently. I caught and twisted an unresisting wrist—and at that he yelped profanely. But it was many and many an anxious moment before his blinking eyes knew mine.
"Bunny!" he yawned, and nothing more until his position came back to him. "So you came to me," he went on, in a tone that thrilled me with its affectionate appreciation, "as I knew you would! Have they turned up yet? They will any minute, you know; there's not one to lose."
"No, they won't, old man!" I whispered. And he sat up and saw the comatose trio for himself.
Raffles seemed less amazed at the result than I had been as a puzzled witness of the process; on the other hand, I had never seen anything quite so exultant as the smile that broke through his blackened countenance like a light. It was all obviously no great surprise, and no puzzle at all, to Raffles.
"How much did they have, Bunny?" were his first whispered words.
"Maguire a good three fingers, and the others at least two."
"Then we needn't lower our voices, and we needn't walk on our toes. Eheu! I dreamed somebody was kicking me in the ribs, and I believe it must have been true."
He had risen with a hand to his side and a wry look on his sweep's face.
"You can guess which of them it was," said I. "The beast is jolly well served!"
And I shook my fist in the paralytic face of the most brutal bruiser of his time.
"He is safe till the forenoon, unless they bring a doctor to him," said Raffles. "I don't suppose we could rouse him now if we tried. How much of the fearsome stuff do you suppose I took? About a tablespoonful! I guessed what it was, and couldn't resist making sure; the minute I was satisfied, I changed the label and the position of the two decanters, little thinking I should stay to see the fun; but in another minute I could hardly keep my eyes open. I realized then that I was fairly poisoned with some subtle drug. If I left the house at all in that state, I must leave the spoil behind, or be found drunk in the gutter with my head on the swag itself. In any case I should have been picked up and run in, and that might have led to anything."
"So you rang me up!"
"It was my last brilliant inspiration—a sort of flash in the brain-pan before the end—and I remember very little about it. I was more asleep than awake at the time."
"You sounded like it, Raffles, now that one has the clue."
"I can't remember a word I said, or what was the end of it, Bunny."
"You fell in a heap before you came to the end."
"You didn't hear that through the telephone?"
"As though we had been in the same room: only I thought it was Maguire who had stolen a march on you and knocked you out."
I had never seen Raffles more interested and impressed; but at this point his smile altered, his eyes softened, and I found my hand in his.
"You thought that, and yet you came like a shot to do battle for my body with Barney Maguire! Jack-the-Giant-killer wasn't in it with you, Bunny!"
"It was no credit to me—it was rather the other thing," said I, remembering my rashness and my luck, and confessing both in a breath. "You know old Swigger Morrison?" I added in final explanation. "I had been dining with him at his club!"
Raffles shook his long old head. And the kindly light in his eyes was still my infinite reward.
"I don't care," said he, "how deeply you had been dining: in vino veritas, Bunny, and your pluck would always out! I have never doubted it, and I never shall. In fact, I rely on nothing else to get us out of this mess."
My face must have fallen, as my heart sank at these words. I had said to myself that we were out of the mess already—that we had merely to make a clean escape from the house—now the easiest thing in the world. But as I looked at Raffles, and as Raffles looked at me, on the threshold of the room where the three sleepers slept on without sound or movement, I grasped the real problem that lay before us. It was twofold; and the funny thing was that I had seen both horns of the dilemma for myself, before Raffles came to his senses. But with Raffles in his right mind, I had ceased to apply my own, or to carry my share of our common burden another inch. It had been an unconscious withdrawal on my part, an instinctive tribute to my leader; but, I was sufficiently ashamed of it as we stood and faced the problem in each other's eyes.
"If we simply cleared out," continued Raffles, "you would be incriminated in the first place as my accomplice, and once they had you they would have a compass with the needle pointing straight to me. They mustn't have either of us, Bunny, or they will get us both. And for my part they may as well!"
I echoed a sentiment that was generosity itself in Raffles, but in my case a mere truism.
"It's easy enough for me," he went on. "I am a common house-breaker, and I escape. They don't know me from Noah. But they do know you; and how do you come to let me escape? What has happened to you, Bunny? That's the crux. What could have happened after they all dropped off?" And for a minute Raffles frowned and smiled like a sensation novelist working out a plot; then the light broke, and transfigured him through his burnt cork. "I've got it, Bunny!" he exclaimed. "You took some of the stuff yourself, though of course not nearly so much as they did.
"Splendid!" I cried. "They really were pressing it upon me at the end, and I did say it must be very little."
"You dozed off in your turn, but you were naturally the first to come to yourself. I had flown; so had the gold brick, the jewelled belt, and the silver statuette. You tried to rouse the others. You couldn't succeed; nor would you if you did try. So what did you do? What's the only really innocent thing you could do in the circumstances?"
"Go for the police," I suggested dubiously, little relishing the prospect.
"There's a telephone installed for the purpose," said Raffles. "I should ring them up, if I were you. Try not to look blue about it, Bunny. They're quite the nicest fellows in the world, and what you have to tell them is a mere microbe to the camels I've made them swallow without a grain of salt. It's really the most convincing story one could conceive; but unfortunately there's another point which will take more explaining away."
And even Raffles looked grave enough as I nodded.
"You mean that they'll find out you rang me up?"
"They may," said Raffles. "I see that I managed to replace the receiver all right. But still—they may."
"I'm afraid they will," said I, uncomfortably. "I'm very much afraid I gave something of the kind away. You see, you had not replaced the receiver; it was dangling over you where you lay. This very question came up, and the brutes themselves seemed so quick to see its possibilities that I thought best to take the bull by the horns and own that I had been rung up by somebody. To be absolutely honest, I even went so far as to say I thought it was Raffles!"
"You didn't, Bunny!"
"What could I say? I was obliged to think of somebody, and I saw they were not going to recognize you. So I put up a yarn about a wager we had made about this very trap of Maguire's. You see, Raffles, I've never properly told you how I got in, and there's no time now; but the first thing I had said was that I half expected to find you here before me. That was in case they spotted you at once. But it made all that part about the telephone fit in rather well."
"I should think it did, Bunny," murmured Raffles, in a tone that added sensibly to my reward. "I couldn't have done better myself, and you will forgive my saying that you have never in your life done half so well. Talk about that crack you gave me on the head! You have made it up to me a hundredfold by all you have done to-night. But the bother of it is that there's still so much to do, and to hit upon, and so precious little time for thought as well as action."
I took out my watch and showed it to Raffles without a word. It was three o'clock in the morning, and the latter end of March. In little more than an hour there would be dim daylight in the streets. Raffles roused himself from a reverie with sudden decision.
"There's only one thing for it, Bunny," said he. "We must trust each other and divide the labor. You ring up the police, and leave the rest to me."
"You haven't hit upon any reason for the sort of burglar they think you were, ringing up the kind of man they know I am?"
"Not yet, Bunny, but I shall. It may not be wanted for a day or so, and after all it isn't for you to give the explanation. It would be highly suspicious if you did."
"So it would," I agreed.
"Then will you trust me to hit on something—if possible before morning—in any case by the time it's wanted? I won't fail you, Bunny. You must see how I can never, never fail you after to-night!"
That settled it. I gripped his hand without another word, and remained on guard over the three sleepers while Raffles stole upstairs. I have since learned that there were servants at the top of the house, and in the basement a man, who actually heard some of our proceedings! But he was mercifully too accustomed to nocturnal orgies, and those of a far more uproarious character, to appear unless summoned to the scene. I believe he heard Raffles leave. But no secret was made of his exit: he let himself out and told me afterward that the first person he encountered in the street was the constable on the beat. Raffles wished him good-morning, as well he might; for he had been upstairs to wash his face and hands; and in the prize-fighter's great hat and fur coat he might have marched round Scotland Yard itself, in spite of his having the gold brick from Sacramento in one pocket, the silver statuette of Maguire in the other, and round his waist the jewelled belt presented to that worthy by the State of Nevada.
My immediate part was a little hard after the excitement of those small hours. I will only say that we had agreed that it would be wisest for me to lie like a log among the rest for half an hour, before staggering to my feet and rousing house and police; and that in that half-hour Barney Maguire crashed to the floor, without waking either himself or his companions, though not without bringing my beating heart into the very roof of my mouth.
It was daybreak when I gave the alarm with bell and telephone. In a few minutes we had the house congested with dishevelled domestics, irascible doctors, and arbitrary minions of the law. If I told my story once, I told it a dozen times, and all on an empty stomach. But it was certainly a most plausible and consistent tale, even without that confirmation which none of the other victims was as yet sufficiently recovered to supply. And in the end I was permitted to retire from the scene until required to give further information, or to identify the prisoner whom the good police confidently expected to make before the day was out.
I drove straight to the flat. The porter flew to help me out of my hansom. His face alarmed me more than any I had left in Half-moon Street. It alone might have spelled my ruin.
"Your flat's been entered in the night, sir," he cried. "The thieves have taken everything they could lay hands on."
"Thieves in my flat!" I ejaculated aghast. There were one or two incriminating possessions up there, as well as at the Albany.
"The door's been forced with a jimmy," said the porter. "It was the milkman who found it out. There's a constable up there now."
A constable poking about in my flat of all others! I rushed upstairs without waiting for the lift. The invader was moistening his pencil between laborious notes in a fat pocketbook; he had penetrated no further than the forced door. I dashed past him in a fever. I kept my trophies in a wardrobe drawer specially fitted with a Bramah lock. The lock was broken—the drawer void.
"Something valuable, sir?" inquired the intrusive constable at my heels.
"Yes, indeed—some old family silver," I answered. It was quite true. But the family was not mine.
And not till then did the truth flash across my mind. Nothing else of value had been taken. But there was a meaningless litter in all the rooms. I turned to the porter, who had followed me up from the street; it was his wife who looked after the flat.
"Get rid of this idiot as quick as you can," I whispered. "I'm going straight to Scotland Yard myself. Let your wife tidy the place while I'm gone, and have the lock mended before she leaves. I'm going as I am, this minute!"
And go I did, in the first hansom I could find—but not straight to Scotland Yard. I stopped the cab in Picadilly on the way.
Old Raffles opened his own door to me. I cannot remember finding him fresher, more immaculate, more delightful to behold in every way. Could I paint a picture of Raffles with something other than my pen, it would be as I saw him that bright March morning, at his open door in the Albany, a trim, slim figure in matutinal gray, cool and gay and breezy as incarnate spring.
"What on earth did you do it for?" I asked within.
"It was the only solution," he answered, handing me the cigarettes. "I saw it the moment I got outside."
"I don't see it yet."
"Why should a burglar call an innocent gentleman away from home?"
"That's what we couldn't make out."
"I tell you I got it directly I had left you. He called you away in order to burgle you too, of course!"
And Raffles stood smiling upon me in all his incomparable radiance and audacity.
"But why me?" I asked. "Why on earth should he burgle me?"
"My dear Bunny, we must leave something to the imagination of the police. But we will assist them to a fact or two in due season. It was the dead of night when Maguire first took us to his house; it was at the Imperial Boxing Club we met him; and you meet queer fish at the Imperial Boxing Club. You may remember that he telephoned to his man to prepare supper for us, and that you and he discussed telephones and treasure as we marched through the midnight streets. He was certainly bucking about his trophies, and for the sake of the argument you will be good enough to admit that you probably bucked about yours. What happens? You are overheard; you are followed; you are worked into the same scheme, and robbed on the same night."
"And you really think this will meet the case?"
"I am quite certain of it, Bunny, so far as it rests wit us to meet the case at all."
"Then give me another cigarette, my dear fellow, and let me push on to Scotland Yard."
Raffles held up both hands in admiring horror. "Scotland Yard!"
"To give a false description of what you took from that drawer in my wardrobe."
"A false description! Bunny, you have no more to learn from me. Time was when I wouldn't have let you go there without me to retrieve a lost umbrella—let alone a lost cause!"
And for once I was not sorry for Raffles to have the last unworthy word, as he stood once more at his outer door and gayly waved me down the stairs.
The Spoils of Sacrilege
There was one deed of those days which deserved a place in our original annals. It is the deed of which I am personally most ashamed. I have traced the course of a score of felonies, from their source in the brain of Raffles to their issue in his hands. I have omitted all mention of the one which emanated from my own miserable mind. But in these supplementary memoirs, wherein I pledged myself to extenuate nothing more that I might have to tell of Raffles, it is only fair that I should make as clean a breast of my own baseness. It was I, then, and I alone, who outraged natural sentiment, and trampled the expiring embers of elementary decency, by proposing and planning the raid upon my own old home.
I would not accuse myself the more vehemently by making excuses at this point. Yet I feel bound to state that it was already many years since the place had passed from our possession into that of an utter alien, against whom I harbored a prejudice which was some excuse in itself. He had enlarged and altered the dear old place out of knowledge; nothing had been good enough for him as it stood in our day. The man was a hunting maniac, and where my dear father used to grow prize peaches under glass, this vandal was soon stabling his hothouse thoroughbreds, which took prizes in their turn at all the country shows. It was a southern county, and I never went down there without missing another greenhouse and noting a corresponding extension to the stables. Not that I ever set foot in the grounds from the day we left; but for some years I used to visit old friends in the neighborhood, and could never resist the temptation to reconnoiter the scenes of my childhood. And so far as could be seen from the road—which it stood too near—the house itself appeared to be the one thing that the horsey purchaser had left much as he found it.
My only other excuse may be none at all in any eyes but mine. It was my passionate desire at this period to "keep up my end" with Raffles in every department of the game felonious. He would insist upon an equal division of all proceeds; it was for me to earn my share. So far I had been useful only at a pinch; the whole credit of any real success belonged invariably to Raffles. It had always been his idea. That was the tradition which I sought to end, and no means could compare with that of my unscrupulous choice. There was the one house in England of which I knew every inch, and Raffles only what I told him. For once I must lead, and Raffles follow, whether he liked it or not. He saw that himself; and I think he liked it better than he liked me for the desecration in view; but I had hardened my heart, and his feelings were too fine for actual remonstrance on such a point.
I, in my obduracy, went to foul extremes. I drew plans of all the floors from memory. I actually descended upon my friends in the neighborhood, with the sole object of obtaining snap-shots over our own old garden wall. Even Raffles could not keep his eyebrows down when I showed him the prints one morning in the Albany. But he confined his open criticisms to the house.
"Built in the late 'sixties, I see," said Raffles, "or else very early in the 'seventies."
"Exactly when it was built," I replied. "But that's worthy of a sixpenny detective, Raffles! How on earth did you know?"
"That slate tower bang over the porch, with the dormer windows and the iron railing and flagstaff atop makes us a present of the period. You see them on almost every house of a certain size built about thirty years ago. They are quite the most useless excrescences I know."
"Ours wasn't," I answered, with some warmth. "It was my sanctum sanctorum in the holidays. I smoked my first pipe up there, and wrote my first verses."
Raffles laid a kindly hand upon my shoulder—"Bunny, Bunny, you can rob the old place, and yet you can't hear a word against it?"
"That's different," said I relentlessly. "The tower was there in my time, but the man I mean to rob was not."
"You really do mean to do it, Bunny?"
"By myself, if necessary? I averred.
"Not again, Bunny, not again," rejoined Raffles, laughing as he shook his head. "But do you think the man has enough to make it worth our while to go so far afield?"
"Far afield! It's not forty miles on the London and Brighton."
"Well, that's as bad as a hundred on most lines. And when did you say it was to be?"
"I don't much like a Friday, Bunny. Why make it one?"
"It's the night of their Hunt Point-to-Point. They wind up the season with it every year; and the bloated Guillemard usually sweeps the board with his fancy flyers."
"You mean the man in your old house?"
"Yes; and he tops up with no end of dinner there," I went on, "to his hunting pals and the bloods who ride for him. If the festive board doesn't groan under a new regiment of challenge cups, it will be no fault of theirs, and old Guillemard will have to do them top-hole all the same."
"So it's a case of common pot-hunting," remarked Raffles, eyeing me shrewdly through the cigarette smoke.
"Not for us, my dear fellow," I made answer in his own tone. "I wouldn't ask you to break into the next set of chambers here in the Albany for a few pieces of modern silver, Raffles. Not that we need scorn the cups if we get a chance of lifting them, and if Guillemard does so in the first instance. It's by no means certain that he will. But it is pretty certain to be a lively night for him and his pals—and a vulnerable one for the best bedroom!"
"Capital!" said Raffles, throwing coils of smoke between his smiles. "Still, if it's a dinner-party, the hostess won't leave her jewels upstairs. She'll wear them, my boy."
"Not all of them, Raffles; she has far too many for that. Besides, it isn't an ordinary dinner-party; they say Mrs. Guillemard is generally the only lady there, and that she's quite charming in herself. Now, no charming woman would clap on all sail in jewels for a roomful of fox-hunters."
"It depends what jewels she has."
"Well, she might wear her rope of pearls."
"I should have said so."
"And, of course, her rings."
"But not necessarily her diamond tiara—"
"Has she got one?"
"—and certainly not her emerald and diamond necklace on top of all!"
Raffles snatched the Sullivan from his lips, and his eyes burned like its end.
"Bunny, do you mean to tell me there are all these things?"
"Of course I do," said I. "They are rich people, and he's not such a brute as to spend everything on his stable. Her jewels are as much the talk as his hunters. My friends told me all about both the other day when I was down making inquiries. They thought my curiosity as natural as my wish for a few snapshots of the old place. In their opinion the emerald necklace alone must be worth thousands of pounds."
Raffles rubbed his hands in playful pantomime.
"I only hope you didn't ask too many questions, Bunny! But if your friends are such old friends, you will never enter their heads when they hear what has happened, unless you are seen down there on the night, which might be fatal. Your approach will require some thought: if you like I can work out the shot for you. I shall go down independently, and the best thing may be to meet outside the house itself on the night of nights. But from that moment I am in your hands."
And on these refreshing lines our plan of campaign was gradually developed and elaborated into that finished study on which Raffles would rely like any artist of the footlights. None were more capable than he of coping with the occasion as it rose, of rising himself with the emergency of the moment, of snatching a victory from the very dust of defeat. Yet, for choice, every detail was premeditated, and an alternative expedient at each finger's end for as many bare and awful possibilities. In this case, however, the finished study stopped short at the garden gate or wall; there I was to assume command; and though Raffles carried the actual tools of trade of which he alone was master, it was on the understanding that for once I should control and direct their use.
I had gone down in evening-clothes by an evening train, but had carefully overshot old landmarks, and alighted at a small station some miles south of the one where I was still remembered. This committed me to a solitary and somewhat lengthy tramp; but the night was mild and starry, and I marched into it with a high stomach; for this was to be no costume crime, and yet I should have Raffles at my elbow all the night. Long before I reached my destination, indeed, he stood in wait for me on the white highway, and we finished with linked arms.
"I came down early," said Raffles, "and had a look at the races. I always prefer to measure my man, Bunny; and you needn't sit in the front row of the stalls to take stock of your friend Guillemard. No wonder he doesn't ride his own horses! The steeple-chaser isn't foaled that would carry him round that course. But he's a fine monument of a man, and he takes his troubles in a way that makes me blush to add to them."
"Did he lose a horse?" I inquired cheerfully.
"No, Bunny, but he didn't win a race! His horses were by chalks the best there, and his pals rode them like the foul fiend, but with the worst of luck every time. Not that you'd think it, from the row they're making. I've been listening to them from the road—you always did say the house stood too near it."
"Then you didn't go in?"
"When it's your show? You should know me better. Not a foot would I set on the premises behind your back. But here they are, so perhaps you'll lead the way."
And I led it without a moment's hesitation, through the unpretentious six-barred gate into the long but shallow crescent of the drive. There were two such gates, one at each end of the drive, but no lodge at either, and not a light nearer than those of the house. The shape and altitude of the lighted windows, the whisper of the laurels on either hand, the very feel of the gravel underfoot, were at once familiar to my senses as the sweet, relaxing, immemorial air that one drank deeper at every breath. Our stealthy advance was to me like stealing back into one's childhood; and yet I could conduct it without compunction. I was too excited to feel immediate remorse, albeit not too lost in excitement to know that remorse for every step that I was taking would be my portion soon enough. I mean every word that I have written of my peculiar shame for this night's work. And it was all to come over me before the night was out. But in the garden I never felt it once.
The dining-room windows blazed in the side of the house facing the road. That was an objection to peeping through the venetian blinds, as we nevertheless did, at our peril of observation from the road. Raffles would never have led me into danger so gratuitous and unnecessary, but he followed me into it without a word. I can only plead that we both had our reward. There was a sufficient chink in the obsolete venetians, and through it we saw every inch of the picturesque board. Mrs. Guillemard was still in her place, but she really was the only lady, and dressed as quietly as I had prophesied; round her neck was her rope of pearls, but not the glimmer of an emerald nor the glint of a diamond, nor yet the flashing constellation of a tiara in her hair. I gripped Raffles in token of my triumph, and he nodded as he scanned the overwhelming majority of flushed fox-hunters. With the exception of one stripling, evidently the son of the house, they were in evening pink to a man; and as I say, their faces matched their coats. An enormous fellow, with a great red face and cropped moustache, occupied my poor father's place; he it was who had replaced our fruitful vineries with his stinking stables; but I am bound to own he looked a genial clod, as he sat in his fat and listened to the young bloods boasting of their prowess, or elaborately explaining their mishaps. And for a minute we listened also, before I remembered my responsibilities, and led Raffles round to the back of the house.
There never was an easier house to enter. I used to feel that keenly as a boy, when, by a prophetic irony, burglars were my bugbear, and I looked under my bed every night in life. The bow-windows on the ground floor finished in inane balconies to the first-floor windows. These balconies had ornamental iron railings, to which a less ingenious rope-ladder than ours could have been hitched with equal ease. Raffles had brought it with him, round his waist, and he carried the telescopic stick for fixing it in place. The one was unwound, and the other put together, in a secluded corner of the red-brick walls, where of old I had played my own game of squash-rackets in the holidays. I made further investigations in the starlight, and even found a trace of my original white line along the red wall.
But it was not until we had effected our entry through the room which had been my very own, and made our parlous way across the lighted landing, to the best bedroom of those days and these, that I really felt myself a worm. Twin brass bedsteads occupied the site of the old four-poster from which I had first beheld the light. The doors were the same; my childish hands had grasped these very handles. And there was Raffles securing the landing door with wedge and gimlet, the very second after softly closing it behind us.
"The other leads into the dressing-room, of course? Then you might be fixing the outer dressing-room door," he whispered at his work, "but not the middle one Bunny, unless you want to. The stuff will be in there, you see, if it isn't in here."
My door was done in a moment, being fitted with a powerful bolt; but now an aching conscience made me busier than I need have been. I had raised the rope-ladder after us into my own old room, and while Raffles wedged his door I lowered the ladder from one of the best bedroom windows, in order to prepare that way of escape which was a fundamental feature of his own strategy. I meant to show Raffles that I had not followed in his train for nothing. But I left it to him to unearth the jewels. I had begun by turning up the gas; there appeared to be no possible risk in that; and Raffles went to work with a will in the excellent light. There were some good pieces in the room, including an ancient tallboy in fruity mahogany, every drawer of which was turned out on the bed without avail. A few of the drawers had locks to pick, yet not one triffle to our taste within. The situation became serious as the minutes flew. We had left the party at its sweets; the solitary lady might be free to roam her house at any minute. In the end we turned our attention to the dressing-room. And no sooner did Raffles behold the bolted door than up went his hands.
"A bathroom bolt," he cried below his breath, "and no bath in the room! Why didn't you tell me, Bunny? A bolt like that speaks volumes; there's none on the bedroom door, remember, and this one's worthy of a strong room! What if it is their strong room, Bunny! Oh, Bunny, what if this is their safe?"
Raffles had dropped upon his knees before a carved oak chest of indisputable antiquity. Its panels were delightfully irregular, its angles faultlessly faulty, its one modern defilement a strong lock to the lid. Raffles was smiling as he produced his jimmy. R—r—r—rip went lock or lid in another ten seconds—I was not there to see which. I had wandered back into the bedroom in a paroxysm of excitement and suspense. I must keep busy as well as Raffles, and it was not too soon to see whether the rope-ladder was all right. In another minute...
I stood frozen to the floor. I had hooked the ladder beautifully to the inner sill of wood, and had also let down the extended rod for the more expeditious removal of both on our return to terra firma. Conceive my cold horror on arriving at the open window just in time to see the last of hooks and bending rod, as they floated out of sight and reach into the outer darkness of the night, removed by some silent and invisible hand below!
"Raffles-Raffles—they've spotted us and moved the ladder this very instant!"
So I panted as I rushed on tiptoe to the dressing-room. Raffles had the working end of his jimmy under the lid of a leathern jewel case. It flew open at the vicious twist of his wrist that preceded his reply.
"Did you let them see that you'd spotted that?"
"Good! Pocket some of these cases—no time to open them. Which door's nearest the backstairs?"
"Come on then?"
"No, no, I'll lead the way. I know every inch of it."
And, as I leaned against the bedroom door, handle in hand, while Raffles stooped to unscrew the gimlet and withdraw the wedge, I hit upon the ideal port in the storm that was evidently about to burst on our devoted heads. It was the last place in which they would look for a couple of expert cracksmen with no previous knowledge of the house. If only we could gain my haven unobserved, there we might lie in unsuspected hiding, and by the hour, if not for days and nights.
Alas for that sanguine dream! The wedge was out, and Raffles on his feet behind me. I opened the door, and for a second the pair of us stood upon the threshold.
Creeping up the stairs before us, each on the tip of his silken toes, was a serried file of pink barbarians, redder in the face than anywhere else, and armed with crops carried by the wrong end. The monumental person with the short moustache led the advance. The fool stood still upon the top step to let out the loudest and cheeriest view-holloa that ever smote my ears.