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Produced by Judith Boss. HTML version by Al Haines.









RAFFLES

FURTHER ADVENTURES OF THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN


BY

E. W. HORNUNG



CONTENTS


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




RAFFLES



NO SINECURE


I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'Varsity man?"

"No."

"Public school?"

"Yes."

"Which one?"

I told him, and he sighed relief.

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

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

"Certainly not."

"Are you Mr. Maturin's son?"

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

"The doctor?" I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm certain I could, sir."

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

"Yes, sir, I think so."

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

"No, sir, none."

"Then why do you pretend you have?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Absolutely."

"What did you do when you left school?"

"I came in for money."

"And then?"

"I spent my money."

"And since then?"

I stood like a mule.

"And since then, I say!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Thanks; and now a light."

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

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

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


II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You went there after all?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What brought you to these mansions?"

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

"Does he guess there's nothing wrong?"

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

"Guineas must be plentiful, old chap!"

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

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

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

"But who gave you my address?"

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

"Last night?"

"No, last week."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"To-night?" I cried.

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

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

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

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

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

I had to calculate.

"A tenner, easily."

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah," said he, "that was before I knew you were altogether without
experience; and I must say that I was surprised even at Mr. Maturin's
engaging you after that; but it will depend upon yourself how long I
allow him to persist in so curious an experiment. As for what is the
matter with him, my good fellow, it is no use my giving you an answer


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