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and on the point of burial!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who on earth are you?" I exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who was he?" I asked, defiantly.

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

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

My captor simply chuckled.

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

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

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

"As you like."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THE WRONG HOUSE

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

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

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

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

"But it's longer."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well done, Beefy!"

"Hang on to him!"

"Good old Beefy!"

"Beefy's got him!"

"So have I - so have I!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"After him, after him!" they exclaimed as one.

"But I think he got over the wall - "

"Come on, you chaps, come on!"

And there was a soft stampede to the hall door.

"Don't all desert me, I say!" gasped the red-faced hero who held
Raffles prisoner.

"We must have them both, Beefy!"

"That's all very well - "

"Look here," I interposed, "I'll stay by you. I've a friend outside,
I'll get him too."

"Thanks awfully," said the valiant Beefy.

The hall was empty now. My heart beat high.

"How did you hear them?" I inquired, my eye running over him.

"We were down having drinks - game o' Nap - in there."

Beefy jerked his great head toward an open door, and the tail of my eye
caught the glint of glasses in the firelight, but the rest of it was
otherwise engaged.

"Let me relieve you," I said, trembling.

"No, I'm all right."

"Then I must insist."

And before he could answer I had him round the neck with such a will
that not a gurgle passed my fingers, for they were almost buried in his
hot, smooth flesh. Oh, I am not proud of it; the act was as vile as
act could be; but I was not going to see Raffles taken, my one desire
was to be the saving of him, and I tremble even now to think to what
lengths I might have gone for its fulfilment. As it was, I squeezed
and tugged until one strong hand gave way after the other and came
feeling round for me, but feebly because they had held on so long.
And what do you suppose was happening at the same moment? The pinched
white hand of Raffles, reddening with returning blood, and with a clot
of blood upon the wrist, was craning upward and turning the key in the
lock without a moment's loss.

"Steady on, Bunny!"

And I saw that Beefy's ears were blue; but Raffles was feeling in his
pockets as he spoke. "Now let him breathe," said he, clapping his
handkerchief over the poor youth's mouth. An empty vial was in his
other hand, and the first few stertorous breaths that the poor boy took
were the end of him for the time being. Oh, but it was villainous, my
part especially, for he must have been far gone to go the rest of the
way so readily. I began by saying I was not proud of this deed, but
its dastardly character has come home to me more than ever with the
penance of writing it out. I see in myself, at least my then self,
things that I never saw quite so clearly before. Yet let me be quite
sure that I would not do the same again. I had not the smallest
desire to throttle this innocent lad (nor did I), but only to extricate
Raffles from the most hopeless position he was ever in; and after all
it was better than a blow from behind. On the whole, I will not alter
a word, nor whine about the thing any more.

We lifted the plucky fellow into Raffles's place in the pantry, locked
the door on him, and put the key through the panel. Now was the moment
for thinking of ourselves, and again that infernal mask which Raffles
swore by came near the undoing of us both. We had reached the steps
when we were hailed by a voice, not from without but from within, and I
had just time to tear the accursed thing from Raffles's face before he
turned.

A stout man with a blonde moustache was on the stairs, in his pyjamas
like the boys.

"What are you doing here?" said he.

"There has been an attempt upon your house," said I, still spokesman
for the night, and still on the wings of inspiration.

"Your sons - "

"My pupils."

"Indeed. Well, they heard it, drove off the thieves, and have given


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Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 10 of 13)