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there if I'd had nothing else to do; but I had lots. When I wasn't
busy with the boats I had to trim the vines, or gather the grapes, or
even help make the wine itself in a cool, dark, musty vault underneath
the temple, that I can see and smell as I jaw. And can't I hear it and
feel it too! Squish, squash, bubble; squash, squish, guggle; and your
feet as though you had been wading through slaughter to a throne. Yes,
Bunny, you mightn't think it, but this good right foot, that never was
on the wrong side of the crease when the ball left my hand, has also
been known to

'crush the lees of pleasure
From sanguine grapes of pain.'"

He made a sudden pause, as though he had stumbled on the truth in jest.
His face filled with lines. We were sitting in the room that had been
bare when first I saw it; there were basket-chairs and a table in it
now, all meant ostensibly for me; and hence Raffles would slip to his
bed, with schoolboy relish, at every tinkle of the bell. This
afternoon we felt fairly safe, for Theobald had called in the morning,
and Mrs. Theobald still took up much of his time. Through the open
window we could hear the piano-organ and "Mar - gar - ri" a few hundred
yards further on. I fancied Raffles was listening to it while he
paused. He shook his head abstractedly when I handed him the
cigarettes; and his tone hereafter was never just what it had been.

"I don't know, Bunny, whether you're a believer in transmigration of
souls. I have often thought it easier to believe than lots of other
things, and I have been pretty near believing in it myself since I had
my being on that villa of Tiberius. The brute who had it in my day, if
he isn't still running it with a whole skin, was or is as cold-blooded
a blackguard as the worst of the emperors, but I have often thought he
had a lot in common with Tiberius. He had the great high sensual Roman
nose, eyes that were sinks of iniquity in themselves, and that swelled
with fatness, like the rest of him, so that he wheezed if he walked a
yard; otherwise rather a fine beast to look at, with a huge gray
moustache, like a flying gull, and the most courteous manners even to
his men; but one of the worst, Bunny, one of the worst that ever was.
It was said that the vineyard was only his hobby; if so, he did his
best to make his hobby pay. He used to come out from Naples for the
week-ends - in the tub when it wasn't too rough for his nerves - and he
didn't always come alone. His very name sounded unhealthy - Corbucci.
I suppose I ought to add that he was a Count, though Counts are
two-a-penny in Naples, and in season all the year round.

"He had a little English, and liked to air it upon me, much to my
disgust; if I could not hope to conceal my nationality as yet, I at
least did not want to have it advertised; and the swine had English
friends. When he heard that I was bathing in November, when the bay is
still as warm as new milk, he would shake his wicked old head and say,
'You are very audashuss - you are very audashuss!' and put on no end of
side before his Italians. By God, he had pitched upon the right word
unawares, and I let him know it in the end!

"But that bathing, Bunny; it was absolutely the best I ever had
anywhere. I said just now the water was like wine; in my own mind I
used to call it blue champagne, and was rather annoyed that I had no
one to admire the phrase. Otherwise I assure you that I missed my own
particular kind very little indeed, though I often wished that YOU were
there, old chap; particularly when I went for my lonesome swim; first
thing in the morning, when the Bay was all rose-leaves, and last thing
at night, when your body caught phosphorescent fire! Ah, yes, it was a
good enough life for a change; a perfect paradise to lie low in;
another Eden until ...

"My poor Eve!"

And he fetched a sigh that took away his words; then his jaws snapped
together, and his eyes spoke terribly while he conquered his emotion.
I pen the last word advisedly. I fancy it is one which I have never
used before in writing of A. J. Raffles, for I cannot at the moment
recall any other occasion upon which its use would have been justified.
On resuming, however, he was not only calm, but cold; and this flying
for safety to the other extreme is the single instance of self-distrust
which the present Achates can record to the credit of his impious
AEneas.

"I called the girl Eve," said he. "Her real name was Faustina, and she
was one of a vast family who hung out in a hovel on the inland border
of the vineyard. And Aphrodite rising from the sea was less wonderful
and not more beautiful than Aphrodite emerging from that hole!

"It was the most exquisite face I ever saw or shall see in this life.
Absolutely perfect features; a skin that reminded you of old gold, so
delicate was its bronze; magnificent hair, not black but nearly; and
such eyes and teeth as would have made the fortune of a face without
another point. I tell you, Bunny, London would go mad about a girl
like that. But I don't believe there's such another in the world.
And there she was wasting her sweetness upon that lovely but desolate
little corner of it! Well, she did not waste it upon me. I would have
married her, and lived happily ever after in such a hovel as her
people's - with her. Only to look at her - only to look at her for the
rest of my days - I could have lain low and remained dead even to you!
And that's all I'm going to tell you about that, Bunny; cursed be he
who tells more! Yet don't run away with the idea that this poor
Faustina was the only woman I ever cared about. I don't believe in all
that 'only' rot; nevertheless I tell you that she was the one being who
ever entirely satisfied my sense of beauty; and I honestly believe I
could have chucked the world and been true to Faustina for that alone.

"We met sometimes in the little temple I told you about, sometimes
among the vines; now by honest accident, now by flagrant design; and
found a ready-made rendezvous, romantic as one could wish, in the cave
down all those subterranean steps. Then the sea would call us - my blue
champagne - my sparkling cobalt - and there was the dingy ready to our
hand. Oh, those nights! I never knew which I liked best, the moonlit
ones when you sculled through silver and could see for miles, or the
dark nights when the fishermen's torches stood for the sea, and a red
zig-zag in the sky for old Vesuvius. We were happy. I don't mind
owning it. We seemed not to have a care between us. My mates took no
interest in my affairs, and Faustina's family did not appear to bother
about her. The Count was in Naples five nights of the seven; the other
two we sighed apart.

"At first it was the oldest story in literature - Eden plus Eve. The
place had been a heaven on earth before, but now it was heaven itself.
So for a little; then one night, a Monday night, Faustina burst out
crying in the boat; and sobbed her story as we drifted without mishap
by the mercy of the Lord. And that was almost as old a story as the
other.

"She was engaged - what! Had I never heard of it? Did I mean to upset
the boat? What was her engagement beside our love? 'Niente, niente,'
crooned Faustina, sighing yet smiling through her tears. No, but what
did matter was that the man had threatened to stab her to the
heart - and would do it as soon as look at her - that I knew.

"I knew it merely from my knowledge of the Neapolitans, for I had no
idea who the man might be. I knew it, and yet I took this detail
better than the fact of the engagement, though now I began to laugh at
both. As if I was going to let her marry anybody else! As if a hair
of her lovely head should be touched while I lived to protect her! I
had a great mind to row away to blazes with her that very night, and
never go near the vineyard again, or let her either. But we had not a
lira between us at the time, and only the rags in which we sat barefoot
in the boat. Besides, I had to know the name of the animal who had
threatened a woman, and such a woman as this.

"For a long time she refused to tell me, with splendid obduracy; but I
was as determined as she; so at last she made conditions. I was not to
go and get put in prison for sticking a knife into him - he wasn't worth
it - and I did promise not to stab him in the back. Faustina seemed
quite satisfied, though a little puzzled by my manner, having herself
the racial tolerance for cold steel; and next moment she had taken away
my breath. 'It is Stefano,' she whispered, and hung her head.

"And well she might, poor thing! Stefano, of all creatures on God's
earth - for her!

"Bunny, he was a miserable little undersized
wretch - ill-favored - servile - surly - and second only to his master in
bestial cunning and hypocrisy. His face was enough for me; that was
what I read in it, and I don't often make mistakes. He was Corbucci's
own confidential body-servant, and that alone was enough to damn him in
decent eyes: always came out first on the Saturday with the spese, to
have all ready for his master and current mistress, and stayed behind
on the Monday to clear and lock up. Stefano! That worm! I could
well understand his threatening a woman with a knife; what beat me was
how any woman could ever have listened to him; above all, that Faustina
should be the one! It passed my comprehension. But I questioned her
as gently as I could; and her explanation was largely the thread-bare
one you would expect. Her parents were so poor. They were so many in
family. Some of them begged - would I promise never to tell? Then
some of them stole - sometimes - and all knew the pains of actual want.
She looked after the cows, but there were only two of them, and
brought the milk to the vineyard and elsewhere; but that was not
employment for more than one; and there were countless sisters waiting
to take her place. Then he was so rich, Stefano.

"'Rich!' I echoed. 'Stefano?'

"'Si, Arturo mio.'

"Yes, I played the game on that vineyard, Bunny, even to going my own
first name.

"'And how comes he to be rich?' I asked, suspiciously.

"She did not know; but he had given her such beautiful jewels; the
family had lived on them for months, she pretending an avocat had taken
charge of them for her against her marriage. But I cared nothing about
all that.

"'Jewels! Stefano!' I could only mutter.

"'Perhaps the Count has paid for some of them. He is very kind.'

"'To you, is he?'

"'Oh, yes, very kind.'

"'And you would live in his house afterwards?'

"'Not now, mia cara - not now!'

"'No, by God you don't!' said I in English. 'But you would have done
so, eh?'

"'Of course. That was arranged. The Count is really very kind.'

"'Do you see anything of him when he comes here?'

"Yes, he had sometimes brought her little presents, sweetmeats,
ribbons, and the like; but the offering had always been made through
this toad of a Stefano. Knowing the men, I now knew all. But
Faustina, she had the pure and simple heart, and the white soul, by the
God who made it, and for all her kindness to a tattered scapegrace who
made love to her in broken Italian between the ripples and the stars.
She was not to know what I was, remember; and beside Corbucci and his
henchman I was the Archangel Gabriel come down to earth.

"Well, as I lay awake that night, two more lines of Swinburne came into
my head, and came to stay:

"God said 'Let him who wins her take
And keep Faustine.'

"On that couplet I slept at last, and it was my text and watchword when
I awoke in the morning. I forget how well you know your Swinburne,
Bunny; but don't you run away with the idea that there was anything
else in common between his Faustine and mine. For the last time let me
tell you that poor Faustina was the whitest and the best I ever knew.

"Well, I was strung up for trouble when the next Saturday came, and
I'll tell you what I had done. I had broken the pledge and burgled
Corbucci's villa in my best manner during his absence in Naples. Not
that it gave me the slightest trouble; but no human being could have
told that I had been in, when I came out. And I had stolen nothing,
mark you, but only borrowed a revolver from a drawer in the Count's
desk, with one or two trifling accessories; for by this time I had the
measure of these damned Neapolitans. They are spry enough with a
knife, but you show them the business end of a shooting-iron, and
they'll streak like rabbits for the nearest hole. But the revolver
wasn't for my own use. It was for Faustina, and I taught her how to
use it in the cave down there by the sea, shooting at candles stuck
upon the rock. The noise in the cave was something frightful, but high
up above it couldn't be heard at all, as we proved to each other's
satisfaction pretty early in the proceedings. So now Faustina was
armed with munitions of self-defence; and I knew enough of her
character to entertain no doubt as to their spirited use upon occasion.
Between the two of us, in fact, our friend Stefano seemed tolerably
certain of a warm week-end.

"But the Saturday brought word that the Count was not coming this week,
being in Rome on business, and unable to return in time; so for a whole
Sunday we were promised peace; and made bold plans accordingly. There
was no further merit in hushing this thing up. 'Let him who wins her
take and keep Faustine.' Yes, but let him win her openly, or lose her
and be damned to him! So on the Sunday I was going to have it out with
her people - with the Count and Stefano as soon as they showed their
noses. I had no inducement, remember, ever to return to surreptitious
life within a cab-fare of Wormwood Scrubbs. Faustina and the Bay of
Naples were quite good enough for me. And the prehistoric man in me
rather exulted in the idea of fighting for my desire.

"On the Saturday, however, we were able to meet for the last time as
heretofore - just once more in secret - down there in the cave - as soon
as might be after dark. Neither of us minded if we were kept for
hours; each knew in the end that the other would come; and there was a
charm of its own even in waiting with such knowledge. But that night I
did lose patience: not in the cave, but up above, where first on one
pretext and then on another the direttore kept me going until I smelt a
rat. He was not given to exacting overtime, this direttore, whose only
fault was his servile subjection to our common boss. It seemed pretty
obvious, therefore, that he was acting upon some secret instructions
from Corbucci himself, and, the moment I suspected this, I asked him to
his face if it was not the case. And it was; he admitted it with many
shrugs, being a conveniently weak person, whom one felt almost ashamed
of bullying as the occasion demanded.

"The fact was, however, that the Count had sent for him on finding he
had to go to Rome, and had said he was very sorry to go just then, as
among other things he intended to speak to me about Faustina. Stefano
had told him all about his row with her, and moreover that it was on my
account, which Faustina had never told me, though I had guessed as much
for myself. Well, the Count was going to take his jackal's part for
all he was worth, which was just exactly what I had expected him to do.
He intended going for me on his return, but meanwhile I was not to make
hay in his absence, and so this tool of a direttore had orders to keep
me at it night and day. I undertook not to give the poor beast away,
but at the same time told him I had not the faintest intention of doing
another stroke of work that night.

"It was very dark, and I remember knocking my head against the oranges
as I ran up the long, shallow steps which ended the journey between the
direttore's lodge and the villa itself. But at the back of the villa
was the garden I spoke about, and also a bare chunk of the cliff where
it was bored by that subterranean stair. So I saw the stars close
overhead, and the fishermen's torches far below, the coastwise lights
and the crimson hieroglyph that spelt Vesuvius, before I plunged into
the darkness of the shaft. And that was the last time I appreciated
the unique and peaceful charm of this outlandish spot.

"The stair was in two long flights, with an air-hole or two at the top
of the upper one, but not another pin-prick till you came to the iron
gate at the bottom of the lower. As you may read of an infinitely
lighter place, in a finer work of fiction than you are ever likely to
write, Bunny, it was 'gloomy at noon, dark as midnight at dusk, and
black as the ninth plague of Egypt at midnight.' I won't swear to my
quotation, but I will to those stairs. They were as black that night
as the inside of the safest safe in the strongest strong-room in the
Chancery Lane Deposit. Yet I had not got far down them with my bare
feet before I heard somebody else coming up in boots. You may imagine
what a turn that gave me! It could not be Faustina, who went barefoot
three seasons of the four, and yet there was Faustina waiting for me
down below. What a fright she must have had! And all at once my own
blood ran cold: for the man sang like a kettle as he plodded up and up.
It was, it must be, the short-winded Count himself, whom we all
supposed to be in Rome!

"Higher he came and nearer, nearer, slowly yet hurriedly, now stopping
to cough and gasp, now taking a few steps by elephantine assault. I
should have enjoyed the situation if it had not been for poor Faustina
in the cave; as it was I was filled with nameless fears. But I could
not resist giving that grampus Corbucci one bad moment on account. A
crazy hand-rail ran up one wall, so I carefully flattened myself
against the other, and he passed within six inches of me, puffing and
wheezing like a brass band. I let him go a few steps higher, and then
I let him have it with both lungs.

"Buona sera, eccellenza, signori!' I roared after him. And a scream
came down in answer - such a scream! A dozen different terrors were in
it; and the wheezing had stopped, with the old scoundrel's heart.

"'Chi sta la?' he squeaked at last, gibbering and whimpering like a
whipped monkey, so that I could not bear to miss his face, and got a
match all ready to strike.

"'Arturo, signori.'

"He didn't repeat my name, nor did he damn me in heaps. He did nothing
but wheeze for a good minute, and when he spoke it was with insinuating
civility, in his best English.

"'Come nearer, Arturo. You are in the lower regions down there. I want
to speak with you.'

"'No, thanks. I'm in a hurry,' I said, and dropped that match back
into my pocket. He might be armed, and I was not.

"'So you are in a 'urry!' and he wheezed amusement. 'And you thought I
was still in Rome, no doubt; and so I was until this afternoon, when I
caught train at the eleventh moment, and then another train from Naples
to Pozzuoli. I have been rowed here now by a fisherman of Pozzuoli. I
had not time to stop anywhere in Naples, but only to drive from station
to station. So I am without Stefano, Arturo, I am without Stefano.'

"His sly voice sounded preternaturally sly in the absolute darkness,
but even through that impenetrable veil I knew it for a sham. I had
laid hold of the hand-rail. It shook violently in my hand; he also was
holding it where he stood. And these suppressed tremors, or rather
their detection in this way, struck a strange chill to my heart, just
as I was beginning to pluck it up.

"'It is lucky for Stefano,' said I, grim as death.

"'Ah, but you must not be too 'ard on 'im,' remonstrated the Count.
'You have stole his girl, he speak with me about it, and I wish to
speak with you. It is very audashuss, Arturo, very audashuss! Perhaps
you are even going to meet her now, eh?'"

I told him straight that I was.

"'Then there is no 'urry, for she is not there.'

"'You didn't see her in the cave?' I cried, too delighted at the
thought to keep it to myself.

"'I had no such fortune,' the old devil said.

"'She is there, all the same.'

"'I only wish I 'ad known.'

"'And I've kept her long enough!'

"In fact I threw this over my shoulder as I turned and went running
down.

"'I 'ope you will find her!' his malicious voice came croaking after
me. 'I 'ope you will - I 'ope so.'

"And find her I did."

Raffles had been on his feet some time, unable to sit still or to
stand, moving excitedly about the room. But now he stood still enough,
his elbows on the cast-iron mantelpiece, his head between his hands.

"Dead?" I whispered.

And he nodded to the wall.

"There was not a sound in the cave. There was no answer to my voice.
Then I went in, and my foot touched hers, and it was colder than the
rock ... Bunny, they had stabbed her to the heart. She had fought
them, and they had stabbed her to the heart!"

"You say 'they,'" I said gently, as he stood in heavy silence, his back
still turned. "I thought Stefano had been left behind?"

Raffles was round in a flash, his face white-hot, his eyes dancing
death.

"He was in the cave!" he shouted. "I saw him - I spotted him - it was
broad twilight after those stairs - and I went for him with my bare
hands. Not fists, Bunny; not fists for a thing like that; I meant
getting my fingers into his vile little heart and tearing it out by the
roots. I was stark mad. But he had the revolver - hers. He blazed it
at arm's length, and missed. And that steadied me. I had smashed his
funny-bone against the rock before he could blaze again; the revolver
fell with a rattle, but without going off; in an instant I had it
tight, and the little swine at my mercy at last."

"You didn't show him any?"

"Mercy? With Faustina dead at my feet? I should have deserved none in
the next world if I had shown him any in this! No, I just stood over
him, with the revolver in both hands, feeling the chambers with my
thumb; and as I stood he stabbed at me; but I stepped back to that one,
and brought him down with a bullet in his guts.

"'And I can spare you two or three more,' I said, for my poor girl
could not have fired a shot. 'Take that one to hell with you - and
that - and that!'

"Then I started coughing and wheezing like the Count himself, for the
place was full of smoke. When it cleared my man was very dead, and I
tipped him into the sea, to defile that rather than Faustina's cave.
And then - and then - we were alone for the last time, she and I, in our
own pet haunt; and I could scarcely see her, yet I would not strike a
match, for I knew she would not have me see her as she was. I could
say good-by to her without that. I said it; and I left her like a man,
and up the first open-air steps with my head in the air and the stars
all sharp in the sky; then suddenly they swam, and back I went like a
lunatic, to see if she was really dead, to bring her back to life ...
Bunny, I can't tell you any more."

"Not of the Count?" I murmured at last.

"Not even of the Count," said Raffles, turning round with a sigh. "I
left him pretty sorry for himself; but what was the good of that? I
had taken blood for blood, and it was not Corbucci who had killed
Faustina. No, the plan was his, but that was not part of the plan.
They had found out about our meetings in the cave: nothing simpler than
to have me kept hard at it overhead and to carry off Faustina by brute
force in the boat. It was their only chance, for she had said more to
Stefano than she had admitted to me, and more than I am going to repeat
about myself. No persuasion would have induced her to listen to him
again; so they tried force; and she drew Corbucci's revolver on them,
but they had taken her by surprise, and Stefano stabbed her before she
could fire."

"But how do you know all that?" I asked Raffles, for his tale was going
to pieces in the telling, and the tragic end of poor Faustina was no
ending for me.

"Oh," said he, "I had it from Corbucci at his own revolver's point. He
was waiting at his window, and I could have potted him at my ease where
he stood against the light listening hard enough but not seeing a
thing. So he asked whether it was Stefano, and I whispered, 'Si,
signore'; and then whether he had finished Arturo, and I brought the
same shot off again. He had let me in before he knew who was finished
and who was not."

"And did you finish him?"

"No; that was too good for Corbucci. But I bound and gagged him about
as tight as man was ever gagged or bound, and I left him in his room
with the shutters shut and the house locked up. The shutters of that


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