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A Thief in the Night

[A Book of Raffles' Adventures]


by

E. W. Hornung




Contents

Out of Paradise
The Chest of Silver
The Rest Cure
The Criminologists' Club
The Field of Phillipi
A Bad Night
A Trap to Catch a Cracksman
The Spoils of Sacrilege
The Raffles Relics




Out of Paradise

If I must tell more tales of Raffles, I can but back to our earliest
days together, and fill in the blanks left by discretion in existing
annals. In so doing I may indeed fill some small part of an infinitely
greater blank, across which you may conceive me to have stretched my
canvas for the first frank portrait of my friend. The whole truth
cannot harm him now. I shall paint in every wart. Raffles was a
villain, when all is written; it is no service to his memory to glaze
the fact; yet I have done so myself before to-day. I have omitted
whole heinous episodes. I have dwelt unduly on the redeeming side.
And this I may do again, blinded even as I write by the gallant glamour
that made my villain more to me than any hero. But at least there
shall be no more reservations, and as an earnest I shall make no
further secret of the greatest wrong that even Raffles ever did me.

I pick my words with care and pain, loyal as I still would be to my
friend, and yet remembering as I must those Ides of March when he led
me blindfold into temptation and crime. That was an ugly office, if
you will. It was a moral bagatelle to the treacherous trick he was to
play me a few weeks later. The second offence, on the other hand, was
to prove the less serious of the two against society, and might in
itself have been published to the world years ago. There have been
private reasons for my reticence. The affair was not only too
intimately mine, and too discreditable to Raffles. One other was
involved in it, one dearer to me than Raffles himself, one whose name
shall not even now be sullied by association with ours.

Suffice it that I had been engaged to her before that mad March deed.
True, her people called it "an understanding," and frowned even upon
that, as well they might. But their authority was not direct; we bowed
to it as an act of politic grace; between us, all was well but my
unworthiness. That may be gauged when I confess that this was how the
matter stood on the night I gave a worthless check for my losses at
baccarat, and afterward turned to Raffles in my need. Even after that
I saw her sometimes. But I let her guess that there was more upon my
soul than she must ever share, and at last I had written to end it all.
I remember that week so well! It was the close of such a May as we had
never had since, and I was too miserable even to follow the heavy
scoring in the papers. Raffles was the only man who could get a wicket
up at Lord's, and I never once went to see him play. Against
Yorkshire, however, he helped himself to a hundred runs as well; and
that brought Raffles round to me, on his way home to the Albany.

"We must dine and celebrate the rare event," said he. "A century takes
it out of one at my time of life; and you, Bunny, you look quite as
much in need of your end of a worthy bottle. Suppose we make it the
Café Royal, and eight sharp? I'll be there first to fix up the table
and the wine."

And at the Café Royal I incontinently told him of the trouble I was in.
It was the first he had ever heard of my affair, and I told him all,
though not before our bottle had been succeeded by a pint of the same
exemplary brand. Raffles heard me out with grave attention. His
sympathy was the more grateful for the tactful brevity with which it
was indicated rather than expressed. He only wished that I had told
him of this complication in the beginning; as I had not, he agreed with
me that the only course was a candid and complete renunciation. It was
not as though my divinity had a penny of her own, or I could earn an
honest one. I had explained to Raffles that she was an orphan, who
spent most of her time with an aristocratic aunt in the country, and
the remainder under the repressive roof of a pompous politician in
Palace Gardens. The aunt had, I believed, still a sneaking softness
for me, but her illustrious brother had set his face against me from
the first.

"Hector Carruthers!" murmured Raffles, repeating the detested name with
his clear, cold eye on mine. "I suppose you haven't seen much of him?"

"Not a thing for ages," I replied. "I was at the house two or three
days last year, but they've neither asked me since nor been at home to
me when I've called. The old beast seems a judge of men."

And I laughed bitterly in my glass.

"Nice house?" said Raffles, glancing at himself in his silver
cigarette-case.

"Top shelf," said I. "You know the houses in Palace Gardens, don't
you?"

"Not so well as I should like to know them, Bunny."

"Well, it's about the most palatial of the lot. The old ruffian is as
rich as Croesus. It's a country-place in town."

"What about the window-fastenings?" asked Raffles casually.

I recoiled from the open cigarette-case that he proffered as he spoke.
Our eyes met; and in his there was that starry twinkle of mirth and
mischief, that sunny beam of audacious devilment, which had been my
undoing two months before, which was to undo me as often as he chose
until the chapter's end. Yet for once I withstood its glamour; for
once I turned aside that luminous glance with front of steel. There
was no need for Raffles to voice his plans. I read them all between
the strong lines of his smiling, eager face. And I pushed back my
chair in the equal eagerness of my own resolve.

"Not if I know it!" said I. "A house I've dined in - a house I've
seen her in - a house where she stays by the month together! Don't
put it into words, Raffles, or I'll get up and go."

"You mustn't do that before the coffee and liqueur," said Raffles
laughing. "Have a small Sullivan first: it's the royal road to a
cigar. And now let me observe that your scruples would do you honor if
old Carruthers still lived in the house in question."

"Do you mean to say he doesn't?"

Raffles struck a match, and handed it first to me. "I mean to say, my
dear Bunny, that Palace Gardens knows the very name no more. You began
by telling me you had heard nothing of these people all this year.
That's quite enough to account for our little misunderstanding. I was
thinking of the house, and you were thinking of the people in the
house."

"But who are they, Raffles? Who has taken the house, if old Carruthers
has moved, and how do you know that it is still worth a visit?"

"In answer to your first question - Lord Lochmaben," replied Raffles,
blowing bracelets of smoke toward the ceiling. "You look as though you
had never heard of him; but as the cricket and racing are the only part
of your paper that you condescend to read, you can't be expected to
keep track of all the peers created in your time. Your other question
is not worth answering. How do you suppose that I know these things?
It's my business to get to know them, and that's all there is to it.
As a matter of fact, Lady Lochmaben has just as good diamonds as Mrs.
Carruthers ever had; and the chances are that she keeps them where Mrs.
Carruthers kept hers, if you could enlighten me on that point."

As it happened, I could, since I knew from his niece that it was one on
which Mr. Carruthers had been a faddist in his time. He had made quite
a study of the cracksman's craft, in a resolve to circumvent it with
his own. I remembered myself how the ground-floor windows were
elaborately bolted and shuttered, and how the doors of all the rooms
opening upon the square inner hall were fitted with extra Yale locks,
at an unlikely height, not to be discovered by one within the room. It
had been the butler's business to turn and to collect all these keys
before retiring for the night. But the key of the safe in the study
was supposed to be in the jealous keeping of the master of the house
himself. That safe was in its turn so ingeniously hidden that I never
should have found it for myself. I well remember how one who showed it
to me (in the innocence of her heart) laughed as she assured me that
even her little trinkets were solemnly locked up in it every night. It
had been let into the wall behind one end of the book-case, expressly
to preserve the barbaric splendor of Mrs. Carruthers; without a doubt
these Lochmabens would use it for the same purpose; and in the altered
circumstances I had no hesitation in giving Raffles all the information
he desired. I even drew him a rough plan of the ground-floor on the
back of my menu-card.

"It was rather clever of you to notice the kind of locks on the inner
doors," he remarked as he put it in his pocket. "I suppose you don't
remember if it was a Yale on the front door as well?"

"It was not," I was able to answer quite promptly. "I happen to know
because I once had the key when - when we went to a theatre together."

"Thank you, old chap," said Raffles sympathetically. "That's all I
shall want from you, Bunny, my boy. There's no night like to-night!"

It was one of his sayings when bent upon his worst. I looked at him
aghast. Our cigars were just in blast, yet already he was signalling
for his bill. It was impossible to remonstrate with him until we were
both outside in the street.

"I'm coming with you," said I, running my arm through his.

"Nonsense, Bunny!"

"Why is it nonsense? I know every inch of the ground, and since the
house has changed hands I have no compunction. Besides, 'I have been
there' in the other sense as well: once a thief, you know! In for a
penny, in for a pound!"

It was ever my mood when the blood was up. But my old friend failed to
appreciate the characteristic as he usually did. We crossed Regent
Street in silence. I had to catch his sleeve to keep a hand in his
inhospitable arm.

"I really think you had better stay away," said Raffles as we reached
the other curb. "I've no use for you this time."

"Yet I thought I had been so useful up to now?"

"That may be, Bunny, but I tell you frankly I don't want you to-night."

"Yet I know the ground and you don't! I tell you what," said I: "I'll
come just to show you the ropes, and I won't take a pennyweight of the
swag."

Such was the teasing fashion in which he invariably prevailed upon me;
it was delightful to note how it caused him to yield in his turn. But
Raffles had the grace to give in with a laugh, whereas I too often lost
my temper with my point.

"You little rabbit!" he chuckled. "You shall have your share, whether
you come or not; but, seriously, don't you think you might remember the
girl?"

"What's the use?" I groaned. "You agree there is nothing for it but to
give her up. I am glad to say that for myself before I asked you, and
wrote to tell her so on Sunday. Now it's Wednesday, and she hasn't
answered by line or sign. It's waiting for one word from her that's
driving me mad."

"Perhaps you wrote to Palace Gardens?"

"No, I sent it to the country. There's been time for an answer,
wherever she may be."

We had reached the Albany, and halted with one accord at the Piccadilly
portico, red cigar to red cigar.

"You wouldn't like to go and see if the answer's in your rooms?" he
asked.

"No. What's the good? Where's the point in giving her up if I'm going
to straighten out when it's too late? It is too late, I have given her
up, and I am coming with you!"

The hand that bowled the most puzzling ball in England (once it found
its length) descended on my shoulder with surprising promptitude.

"Very well, Bunny! That's finished; but your blood be on your own pate
if evil comes of it. Meanwhile we can't do better than turn in here
till you have finished your cigar as it deserves, and topped up with
such a cup of tea as you must learn to like if you hope to get on in
your new profession. And when the hours are small enough, Bunny, my
boy, I don't mind admitting I shall be very glad to have you with me."

I have a vivid memory of the interim in his rooms. I think it must
have been the first and last of its kind that I was called upon to
sustain with so much knowledge of what lay before me. I passed the
time with one restless eye upon the clock, and the other on the
Tantalus which Raffles ruthlessly declined to unlock. He admitted that
it was like waiting with one's pads on; and in my slender experience of
the game of which he was a world's master, that was an ordeal not to be
endured without a general quaking of the inner man. I was, on the
other hand, all right when I got to the metaphorical wicket; and half
the surprises that Raffles sprung on me were doubtless due to his early
recognition of the fact.

On this occasion I fell swiftly and hopelessly out of love with the
prospect I had so gratuitously embraced. It was not only my repugnance
to enter that house in that way, which grew upon my better judgment as
the artificial enthusiasm of the evening evaporated from my veins.
Strong as that repugnance became, I had an even stronger feeling that
we were embarking on an important enterprise far too much upon the spur
of the moment. The latter qualm I had the temerity to confess to
Raffles; nor have I often loved him more than when he freely admitted
it to be the most natural feeling in the world. He assured me,
however, that he had had my Lady Lochmaben and her jewels in his mind
for several months; he had sat behind them at first nights; and long
ago determined what to take or to reject; in fine, he had only been
waiting for those topographical details which it had been my chance
privilege to supply. I now learned that he had numerous houses in a
similar state upon his list; something or other was wanting in each
case in order to complete his plans. In that of the Bond Street
jeweller it was a trusty accomplice; in the present instance, a more
intimate knowledge of the house. And lastly, this was a Wednesday
night, when the tired legislator gets early to his bed.

How I wish I could make the whole world see and hear him, and smell the
smoke of his beloved Sullivan, as he took me into these, the secrets of
his infamous trade! Neither look nor language would betray the infamy.
As a mere talker, I shall never listen to the like of Raffles on this
side of the sod; and his talk was seldom garnished by an oath, never in
my remembrance by the unclean word. Then he looked like a man who had
dressed to dine out, not like one who had long since dined; for his
curly hair, though longer that another's, was never untidy in its
length; and these were the days when it was still as black as ink. Nor
were there many lines as yet upon the smooth and mobile face; and its
frame was still that dear den of disorder and good taste, with the
carved book-case, the dresser and chests of still older oak, and the
Wattses and Rossettis hung anyhow on the walls.

It must have been one o'clock before we drove in a hansom as far as
Kensington Church, instead of getting down at the gates of our private
road to ruin. Constitutionally shy of the direct approach, Raffles was
further deterred by a ball in full swing at the Empress Rooms, whence
potential witnesses were pouring between dances into the cool deserted
street. Instead he led me a little way up Church Street, and so
through the narrow passage into Palace Gardens. He knew the house as
well as I did. We made our first survey from the other side of the
road. And the house was not quite in darkness; there was a dim light
over the door, a brighter one in the stables, which stood still farther
back from the road.

"That's a bit of a bore," said Raffles. "The ladies have been out
somewhere - trust them to spoil the show! They would get to bed before
the stable folk, but insomnia is the curse of their sex and our
profession. Somebody's not home yet; that will be the son of the
house; but he's a beauty, who may not come home at all."

"Another Alick Carruthers," I murmured, recalling the one I liked least
of all the household, as I remembered it.

"They might be brothers," rejoined Raffles, who knew all the loose fish
about town. "Well, I'm not sure that I shall want you after all,
Bunny."

"Why not?"

"If the front door's only on the latch, and you're right about the
lock, I shall walk in as though I were the son of the house myself."

And he jingled the skeleton bunch that he carried on a chain as honest
men carry their latchkeys.

"You forget the inner doors and the safe."

"True. You might be useful to me there. But I still don't like
leading you in where it isn't absolutely necessary, Bunny."

"Then let me lead you, I answered, and forthwith marched across the
broad, secluded road, with the great houses standing back on either
side in their ample gardens, as though the one opposite belonged to me.
I thought Raffles had stayed behind, for I never heard him at my heels,
yet there he was when I turned round at the gate.

"I must teach you the step," he whispered, shaking his head. "You
shouldn't use your heel at all. Here's a grass border for you: walk it
as you would the plank! Gravel makes a noise, and flower-beds tell a
tale. Wait - I must carry you across this."

It was the sweep of the drive, and in the dim light from above the
door, the soft gravel, ploughed into ridges by the night's wheels,
threatened an alarm at every step. Yet Raffles, with me in his arms,
crossed the zone of peril softly as the pard.

"Shoes in your pocket - that's the beauty of pumps!" he whispered on the
step; his light bunch tinkled faintly; a couple of keys he stooped and
tried, with the touch of a humane dentist; the third let us into the
porch. And as we stood together on the mat, as he was gradually
closing the door, a clock within chimed a half-hour in fashion so
thrillingly familiar to me that I caught Raffles by the arm. My
half-hours of happiness had flown to just such chimes! I looked wildly
about me in the dim light. Hat-stand and oak settee belonged equally
to my past. And Raffles was smiling in my face as he held the door
wide for my escape.

"You told me a lie!" I gasped in whispers.

"I did nothing of the sort," he replied. "The furniture's the
furniture of Hector Carruthers; but the house is the house of Lord
Lochmaben. Look here!"

He had stooped, and was smoothing out the discarded envelope of a
telegram. "Lord Lochmaben," I read in pencil by the dim light; and the
case was plain to me on the spot. My friends had let their house,
furnished, as anybody but Raffles would have explained to me in the
beginning.

"All right," I said. "Shut the door."

And he not only shut it without a sound, but drew a bolt that might
have been sheathed in rubber.

In another minute we were at work upon the study-door, I with the tiny
lantern and the bottle of rock-oil, he with the brace and the largest
bit. The Yale lock he had given up at a glance. It was placed high up
in the door, feet above the handle, and the chain of holes with which
Raffles had soon surrounded it were bored on a level with his eyes.
Yet the clock in the hall chimed again, and two ringing strokes
resounded through the silent house before we gained admittance to the
room.

Raffle's next care was to muffle the bell on the shuttered window (with
a silk handkerchief from the hat-stand) and to prepare an emergency
exit by opening first the shutters and then the window itself. Luckily
it was a still night, and very little wind came in to embarrass us. He
then began operations on the safe, revealed by me behind its folding
screen of books, while I stood sentry on the threshold. I may have
stood there for a dozen minutes, listening to the loud hall clock and
to the gentle dentistry of Raffles in the mouth of the safe behind me,
when a third sound thrilled my every nerve. It was the equally
cautious opening of a door in the gallery overhead.

I moistened my lips to whisper a word of warning to Raffles. But his
ears had been as quick as mine, and something longer. His lantern
darkened as I turned my head; next moment I felt his breath upon the
back of my neck. It was now too late even for a whisper, and quite out
of the question to close the mutilated door. There we could only
stand, I on the threshold, Raffles at my elbow, while one carrying a
candle crept down the stairs.

The study-door was at right angles to the lowest flight, and just to
the right of one alighting in the hall. It was thus impossible for us
to see who it was until the person was close abreast of us; but by the
rustle of the gown we knew that it was one of the ladies, and dressed
just as she had come from theatre or ball. Insensibly I drew back as
the candle swam into our field of vision: it had not traversed many
inches when a hand was clapped firmly but silently across my mouth.

I could forgive Raffles for that, at any rate! In another breath I
should have cried aloud: for the girl with the candle, the girl in her
ball-dress, at dead of night, the girl with the letter for the post,
was the last girl on God's wide earth whom I should have chosen thus to
encounter - a midnight intruder in the very house where I had been
reluctantly received on her account!

I forgot Raffles. I forgot the new and unforgivable grudge I had
against him now. I forgot his very hand across my mouth, even before
he paid me the compliment of removing it. There was the only girl in
all the world: I had eyes and brains for no one and for nothing else.
She had neither seen nor heard us, had looked neither to the right hand
nor the left. But a small oak table stood on the opposite side of the
hall; it was to this table that she went. On it was one of those boxes
in which one puts one's letters for the post; and she stooped to read
by her candle the times at which this box was cleared.

The loud clock ticked and ticked. She was standing at her full height
now, her candle on the table, her letter in both hands, and in her
downcast face a sweet and pitiful perplexity that drew the tears to my
eyes. Through a film I saw her open the envelope so lately sealed and
read her letter once more, as though she would have altered it a little
at the last. It was too late for that; but of a sudden she plucked a
rose from her bosom, and was pressing it in with her letter when I
groaned aloud.

How could I help it? The letter was for me: of that I was as sure as
though I had been looking over her shoulder. She was as true as
tempered steel; there were not two of us to whom she wrote and sent
roses at dead of night. It was her one chance of writing to me. None
would know that she had written. And she cared enough to soften the
reproaches I had richly earned, with a red rose warm from her own warm
heart. And there, and there was I, a common thief who had broken in to
steal! Yet I was unaware that I had uttered a sound until she looked
up, startled, and the hands behind me pinned me where I stood.

I think she must have seen us, even in the dim light of the solitary
candle. Yet not a sound escaped her as she peered courageously in our
direction; neither did one of us move; but the hall clock went on and
on, every tick like the beat of a drum to bring the house about our
ears, until a minute must have passed as in some breathless dream. And
then came the awakening - with such a knocking and a ringing at the
front door as brought all three of us to our senses on the spot.

"The son of the house!" whispered Raffles in my ear, as he dragged me
back to the window he had left open for our escape. But as he leaped
out first a sharp cry stopped me at the sill. "Get back! Get back!
We're trapped!" he cried; and in the single second that I stood there,
I saw him fell one officer to the ground, and dart across the lawn with
another at his heels. A third came running up to the window. What
could I do but double back into the house? And there in the hall I met
my lost love face to face.

Till that moment she had not recognized me. I ran to catch her as she
all but fell. And my touch repelled her into life, so that she shook
me off, and stood gasping: "You, of all men! You, of all men!" until I
could bear it no more, but broke again for the study-window. "Not that
way - not that way!" she cried in an agony at that. Her hands were upon
me now. "In there, in there," she whispered, pointing and pulling me
to a mere cupboard under the stairs, where hats and coats were hung;
and it was she who shut the door on me with a sob.


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