Copyright
E.W. Hornung.

Raffles, Further Adventures online

. (page 3 of 13)
Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 3 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


scheme to hang the lid up over it, so that you can see how thin it is.
I wonder if we could lift it, Bunny, by hook or crook?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Then where is he now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Any minute now, sir."

"Ah!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We!" I whispered. "We!"

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

"At the top of the stairs."

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

And we left them resuming their providential chat.

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

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

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

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

"Where the devil are you driving us?"

"Charing Cross, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course I did."

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

"There was no pretence about it, Bunny."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And meanwhile?"

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

"And suppose other eyes catch sight of it?"

"They never must; they never shall."

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

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

"Do you mean the cup?"

"I do."

"Then I congratulate you."

"Thanks."

"Upon the recovery of your senses."

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

"Quite time enough," said I.

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

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

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

"My dear man!"

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

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

"Now newspapers!"

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

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

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

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

"And what have you done with the cup?"

"Placed it!"

"How much for? How much for?"

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

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

"Nothing, my boy."

"Nothing!"

"Not a crimson cent."

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

"Sent it to the Queen."

"You haven't!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raffles was soon clinking his glass against mine.

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



THE FATE OF FAUSTINA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly he stopped in his stride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The house above was said to be on the identical site of a suburban
retreat of the admirable Tiberius; there was the old sinner's private
theatre with the tiers cut clean to this day, the well where he used to
fatten his lampreys on his slaves, and a ruined temple of those
ripping old Roman bricks, shallow as dominoes and ruddier than the
cherry. I never was much of an antiquary, but I could have become one


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 3 of 13)