old place were six inches thick, and the walls nearly six feet; that
was on the Saturday night, and the Count wasn't expected at the
vineyard before the following Saturday. Meanwhile he was supposed to be
in Rome. But the dead would doubtless be discovered next day, and I am
afraid this would lead to his own discovery with the life still in him.
I believe he figured on that himself, for he sat threatening me gamely
till the last. You never saw such a sight as he was, with his head
split in two by a ruler tied at the back of it, and his great moustache
pushed up into his bulging eyes. But I locked him up in the dark
without a qualm, and I wished and still wish him every torment of the
"The night was still young, and within ten miles there was the best of
ports in a storm, and hundreds of holds for the humble stowaway to
choose from. But I didn't want to go further than Genoa, for by this
time my Italian would wash, so I chose the old Norddeutscher Lloyd, and
had an excellent voyage in one of the boats slung in-board over the
bridge. That's better than any hold, Bunny, and I did splendidly on
oranges brought from the vineyard."
"And at Genoa?"
"At Genoa I took to my wits once more, and have been living on nothing
else ever since. But there I had to begin all over again, and at the
very bottom of the ladder. I slept in the streets. I begged. I did
all manner of terrible things, rather hoping for a bad end, but never
coming to one. Then one day I saw a white-headed old chap looking at
me through a shop-window - a window I had designs upon - and when I
stared at him he stared at me - and we wore the same rags. So I had
come to that! But one reflection makes many. I had not recognized
myself; who on earth would recognize me? London called me - and here I
am. Italy had broken my heart - and there it stays."
Flippant as a schoolboy one moment, playful even in the bitterness of
the next, and now no longer giving way to the feeling which had spoilt
the climax of his tale, Raffles needed knowing as I alone knew him for
a right appreciation of those last words. That they were no mere words
I know full well. That, but for the tragedy of his Italian life, that
life would have sufficed him for years, if not for ever, I did and do
still believe. But I alone see him as I saw him then, the lines upon
his face, and the pain behind the lines; how they came to disappear,
and what removed them, you will never guess. It was the one thing you
would have expected to have the opposite effect, the thing indeed that
had forced his confidence, the organ and the voice once more beneath
our very windows:
"Margarita de Parete,
era a' sarta d' e' signore;
se pugneva sempe e ddete
pe penzare a Salvatore!
"Mar - ga - ri,
e perzo e 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!"
I simply stared at Raffles. Instead of deepening, his lines had
vanished. He looked years younger, mischievous and merry and alert as
I remembered him of old in the breathless crisis of some madcap
escapade. He was holding up his finger; he was stealing to the window;
he was peeping through the blind as though our side street were
Scotland Yard itself; he was stealing back again, all revelry,
excitement, and suspense.
"I half thought they were after me before," said he. "That was why I
made you look. I daren't take a proper look myself, but what a jest if
they were! What a jest!"
"Do you mean the police?" said I.
"The police! Bunny, do you know them and me so little that you can
look me in the face and ask such a question? My boy, I'm dead to
them - off their books - a good deal deader than being off the hooks!
Why, if I went to Scotland Yard this minute, to give myself up, they'd
chuck me out for a harmless lunatic. No, I fear an enemy nowadays, and
I go in terror of the sometime friend, but I have the utmost confidence
in the dear police."
"Then whom do you mean?"
I repeated the word with a different intonation. Not that I had never
heard of that most powerful and sinister of secret societies; but I
failed to see on what grounds Raffles should jump to the conclusion
that these everyday organ-grinders belonged to it.
"It was one of Corbucci's threats," said he. "If I killed him the
Camorra would certainly kill me; he kept on telling me so; it was like
his cunning not to say that he would put them on my tracks whether or
"He is probably a member himself!"
"Obviously, from what he said."
"But why on earth should you think that these fellows are?" I demanded,
as that brazen voice came rasping through a second verse.
"I don't think. It was only an idea. That thing is so thoroughly
Neapolitan, and I never heard it on a London organ before. Then again,
what should bring them back here?"
I peeped through the blind in my turn; and, to be sure, there was the
fellow with the blue chin and the white teeth watching our windows,
and ours only, as he bawled.
"And why?" cried Raffles, his eyes dancing when I told him.
"Why should they come sneaking back to us? Doesn't that look
suspicious, Bunny; doesn't that promise a lark?"
"Not to me," I said, having the smile for once. "How many people,
should you imagine, toss them five shilling for as many minutes of
their infernal row? You seem to forget that's what you did an hour
Raffles had forgotten. His blank face confessed the fact. Then
suddenly he burst outlaughing at himself.
"Bunny," said he, "you've no imagination, and I never knew I had so
much! Of course you're right. I only wish you were not, for there's
nothing I should enjoy more than taking on another Neapolitan or two.
You see, I owe them something still! I didn't settle in full. I owe
them more than ever I shall pay them on this side Styx!"
He had hardened even as he spoke: the lines and the years had come
again, and his eyes were flint and steel, with an honest grief behind
THE LAST LAUGH
As I have had occasion to remark elsewhere, the pick of our exploits,
from a frankly criminal point of view, are of least use for the
comparatively pure purposes of these papers. They might be appreciated
in a trade journal (if only that want could be supplied), by skilled
manipulators of the jemmy and the large light bunch; but, as records of
unbroken yet insignificant success, they would be found at once too
trivial and too technical, if not sordid and unprofitable into the
bargain. The latter epithets, and worse, have indeed already been
applied, if not to Raffles and all his works, at least to mine upon
Raffles, by more than one worthy wielder of a virtuous pen. I need not
say how heartily I disagree with that truly pious opinion. So far
from admitting a single word of it, I maintain it is the liveliest
warning that I am giving to the world. Raffles was a genius, and he
could not make it pay! Raffles had invention, resource, incomparable
audacity, and a nerve in ten thousand. He was both strategian and
tactician, and we all now know the difference between the two. Yet for
months he had been hiding like a rat in a hole, unable to show even his
altered face by night or day without risk, unless another risk were
courted by three inches of conspicuous crepe. Then thus far our
rewards had oftener than not been no reward at all. Altogether it was
a very different story from the old festive, unsuspected, club and
cricket days, with their noctes ambrosianae at the Albany.
And now, in addition to the eternal peril of recognition, there was yet
another menace of which I knew nothing. I thought no more of our
Neapolitan organ-grinders, though I did often think of the moving page
that they had torn for me out of my friend's strange life in Italy.
Raffles never alluded to the subject again, and for my part I had
entirely forgotten his wild ideas connecting the organ-grinders with
the Camorra, and imagining them upon his own tracks. I heard no more
of it, and thought as little, as I say. Then one night in the
autumn - I shrink from shocking the susceptible for nothing - but there
was a certain house in Palace Gardens, and when we got there Raffles
would pass on. I could see no soul in sight, no glimmer in the
windows. But Raffles had my arm, and on we went without talking about
it. Sharp to the left on the Notting Hill side, sharper still up
Silver Street, a little tacking west and south, a plunge across High
Street, and presently we were home.
"Pyjamas first," said Raffles, with as much authority as though it
mattered. It was a warm night, however, though September, and I did
not mind until I came in clad as he commanded to find the autocrat
himself still booted and capped. He was peeping through the blind, and
the gas was still turned down. But he said that I could turn it up, as
he helped himself to a cigarette and nothing with it.
"May I mix you one?" said I.
"What's the trouble?"
"We were followed."
"You never saw it."
"But YOU never looked round."
"I have an eye at the back of each ear, Bunny."
I helped myself and I fear with less moderation than might have been
the case a minute before.
"So that was why - "
"That was why," said Raffles, nodding; but he did not smile, and I put
down my glass untouched.
"They were following us then!"
"All up Palace Gardens."
"I thought you wound about coming back over the hill."
"Nevertheless, one of them's in the street below at this moment."
No, he was not fooling me. He was very grim. And he had not taken off
a thing; perhaps he did not think it worth while.
"Plain clothes?" I sighed, following the sartorial train of thought,
even to the loathly arrows that had decorated my person once already
for a little aeon. Next time they would give me double. The skilly
was in my stomach when I saw Raffles's face.
"Who said it was the police, Bunny?" said he. "It's the Italians.
They're only after me; they won't hurt a hair of YOUR head, let alone
cropping it! Have a drink, and don't mind me. I shall score them off
before I'm done."
"And I'll help you!"
"No, old chap, you won't. This is my own little show. I've known
about it for weeks. I first tumbled to it the day those Neapolitans
came back with their organs, though I didn't seriously suspect things
then; they never came again, those two, they had done their part.
That's the Camorra all over, from all accounts. The Count I told you
about is pretty high up in it, by the way he spoke, but there will be
grades and grades between him and the organ-grinders. I shouldn't be
surprised if he had every low-down Neapolitan ice-creamer in the town
upon my tracks! The organization's incredible. Then do you remember
the superior foreigner who came to the door a few days afterwards? You
said he had velvet eyes."
"I never connected him with those two!"
"Of course you didn't, Bunny, so you threatened to kick the fellow
downstairs, and only made them keener on the scent. It was too late to
say anything when you told me. But the very next time I showed my nose
outside I heard a camera click as I passed, and the fiend was a person
with velvet eyes. Then there was a lull - that happened weeks ago.
They had sent me to Italy for identification by Count Corbucci."
"But this is all theory," I exclaimed. "How on earth can you know?"
"I don't know," said Raffles, "but I should like to bet. Our friend
the bloodhound is hanging about the corner near the pillar-box; look
through my window, it's dark in there, and tell me who he is."
The man was too far away for me to swear to his face, but he wore a
covert-coat of un-English length, and the lamp across the road played
steadily on his boots; they were very yellow, and they made no noise
when he took a turn. I strained my eyes, and all at once I remembered
the thin-soled, low-heeled, splay yellow boots of the insidious
foreigner, with the soft eyes and the brown-paper face, whom I had
turned from the door as a palpable fraud. The ring at the bell was the
first I had heard of him, there had been no warning step upon the
stairs, and my suspicious eye had searched his feet for rubber soles.
"It's the fellow," I said, returning to Raffles, and I described his
Raffles was delighted.
"Well done, Bunny; you're coming on," said he. "Now I wonder if he's
been over here all the time, or if they sent him over expressly? You
did better than you think in spotting those boots, for they can only
have been made in Italy, and that looks like the special envoy. But
it's no use speculating. I must find out."
"How can you?"
"He won't stay there all night."
"When he gets tired of it I shall return the compliment and follow HIM."
"Not alone," said I, firmly.
"Well, we'll see. We'll see at once," said Raffles, rising. "Out with
the gas, Bunny, while I take a look. Thank you. Now wait a bit ... yes!
He's chucked it; he's off already; and so am I!"
But I slipped to our outer door, and held the passage.
"I don't let you go alone, you know."
"You can't come with me in pyjamas."
"Now I see why you made me put them on!"
"Bunny, if you don't shift I shall have to shift you. This is my very
own private one-man show. But I'll be back in an hour - there!"
"By all my gods."
I gave in. How could I help giving in? He did not look the man that
he had been, but you never knew with Raffles, and I could not have him
lay a hand on me. I let him go with a shrug and my blessing, then ran
into his room to see the last of him from the window.
The creature in the coat and boots had reached the end of our little
street, where he appeared to have hesitated, so that Raffles was just
in time to see which way he turned. And Raffles was after him at an
easy pace, and had himself almost reached the corner when my attention
was distracted from the alert nonchalance of his gait. I was
marvelling that it alone had not long ago betrayed him, for nothing
about him was so unconsciously characteristic, when suddenly I realized
that Raffles was not the only person in the little lonely street.
Another pedestrian had entered from the other end, a man heavily built
and clad, with an astrakhan collar to his coat on this warm night, and
a black slouch hat that hid his features from my bird's-eye view. His
steps were the short and shuffling ones of a man advanced in years and
in fatty degeneration, but of a sudden they stopped beneath my very
eyes. I could have dropped a marble into the dinted crown of the
black felt hat. Then, at the same moment, Raffles turned the corner
without looking round, and the big man below raised both his hands and
his face. Of the latter I saw only the huge white moustache, like a
flying gull, as Raffles had described it; for at a glance I divined
that this was his arch-enemy, the Count Corbucci himself.
I did not stop to consider the subtleties of the system by which the
real hunter lagged behind while his subordinate pointed the quarry like
a sporting dog. I left the Count shuffling onward faster than before,
and I jumped into some clothes as though the flats were on fire. If
the Count was going to follow Raffles in his turn, then I would follow
the Count in mine, and there would be a midnight procession of us
through the town. But I found no sign of him in the empty street, and
no sign in the Earl's Court Road, that looked as empty for all its
length, save for a natural enemy standing like a waxwork figure with a
glimmer at his belt.
"Officer," I gasped, "have you seen anything of an old gentleman with a
big white mustache?"
The unlicked cub of a common constable seemed to eye me the more
suspiciously for the flattering form of my address.
"Took a hansom," said he at length.
A hansom! Then he was not following the others on foot; there was no
guessing his game. But something must be said or done.
"He's a friend of mine," I explained, "and I want to overtake him. Did
you hear where he told the fellow to drive?"
A curt negative was the policeman's reply to that; and if ever I take
part in a night assault-at-arms, revolver versus baton, in the back
kitchen, I know which member of the Metropolitan Police Force I should
like for my opponent.
If there was no overtaking the Count, however, it should be a
comparatively simple matter in the case of the couple on foot, and I
wildly hailed the first hansom that crawled into my ken. I must tell
Raffles who it was that I had seen; the Earl's Court Road was long, and
the time since he vanished in it but a few short minutes. I drove down
the length of that useful thoroughfare, with an eye apiece on either
pavement, sweeping each as with a brush, but never a Raffles came into
the pan. Then I tried the Fulham Road, first to the west, then to the
east, and in the end drove home to the flat as bold as brass. I did
not realize my indiscretion until I had paid the man and was on the
stairs. Raffles never dreamt of driving all the way back; but I was
hoping now to find him waiting up above. He had said an hour. I had
remembered it suddenly. And now the hour was more than up. But the
flat was as empty as I had left it; the very light that had encouraged
me, pale though it was, as I turned the corner in my hansom, was but
the light that I myself had left burning in the desolate passage.
I can give you no conception of the night that I spent. Most of it I
hung across the sill, throwing a wide net with my ears, catching every
footstep afar off, every hansom bell farther still, only to gather in
some alien whom I seldom even landed in our street. Then I would
listen at the door.
He might come over the roof; and eventually some one did; but now it
was broad daylight, and I flung the door open in the milkman's face,
which whitened at the shock as though I had ducked him in his own
"You're late," I thundered as the first excuse for my excitement.
"Beg your pardon," said he, indignantly, "but I'm half an hour before
my usual time."
"Then I beg yours," said I; "but the fact is, Mr. Maturin has had one
of his bad nights, and I seem to have been waiting hours for milk to
make him a cup of tea."
This little fib (ready enough for Raffles, though I say it) earned me
not only forgiveness but that obliging sympathy which is a branch of
the business of the man at the door. The good fellow said that he
could see I had been sitting up all night, and he left me pluming
myself upon the accidental art with which I had told my very necessary
tarra-diddle. On reflection I gave the credit to instinct, not
accident, and then sighed afresh as I realized how the influence of the
master was sinking into me, and he Heaven knew where! But my
punishment was swift to follow, for within the hour the bell rang
imperiously twice, and there was Dr. Theobald on our mat; in a yellow
Jaeger suit, with a chin as yellow jutting over the flaps that he had
turned up to hide his pyjamas.
"What's this about a bad night?" said he.
"He couldn't sleep, and he wouldn't let me," I whispered, never
loosening my grasp of the door, and standing tight against the other
wall. "But he's sleeping like a baby now."
"I must see him."
"He gave strict orders that you should not."
"I'm his medical man, and I - "
"You know what he is," I said, shrugging; "the least thing wakes him,
and you will if you insist on seeing him now. It will be the last
time, I warn you! I know what he said, and you don't."
The doctor cursed me under his fiery moustache.
"I shall come up during the course of the morning," he snarled.
"And I shall tie up the bell," I said, "and if it doesn't ring he'll be
sleeping still, but I will not risk waking him by coming to the door
And with that I shut it in his face. I was improving, as Raffles had
said; but what would it profit me if some evil had befallen him? And
now I was prepared for the worst. A boy came up whistling and leaving
papers on the mats; it was getting on for eight o'clock, and the
whiskey and soda of half-past twelve stood untouched and stagnant in
the tumbler. If the worst had happened to Raffles, I felt that I would
either never drink again, or else seldom do anything else.
Meanwhile I could not even break my fast, but roamed the flat in a
misery not to be described, my very linen still unchanged, my cheeks
and chin now tawny from the unwholesome night. How long would it go
on? I wondered for a time. Then I changed my tune: how long could I
It went on actually until the forenoon only, but my endurance cannot be
measured by the time, for to me every hour of it was an arctic night.
Yet it cannot have been much after eleven when the ring came at the
bell, which I had forgotten to tie up after all. But this was not the
doctor; neither, too well I knew, was it the wanderer returned. Our
bell was the pneumatic one that tells you if the touch be light or
heavy; the hand upon it now was tentative and shy.
The owner of the hand I had never seen before. He was young and
ragged, with one eye blank, but the other ablaze with some fell
excitement. And straightway he burst into a low torrent of words, of
which all I knew was that they were Italian, and therefore news of
Raffles, if only I had known the language! But dumb-show might help us
somewhat, and in I dragged him, though against his will, a new alarm in
his one wild eye.
"Non capite?" he cried when I had him inside and had withstood the
"No, I'm bothered if I do!" I answered, guessing his question from his
"Vostro amico," he repeated over and over again; and then, "Poco tempo,
poco tempo, poco tempo!"
For once in my life the classical education of my public-school days
was of real value. "My pal, my pal, and no time to be lost!" I
translated freely, and flew for my hat.
"Ecco, signore!" cried the fellow, snatching the watch from my
waistcoat pocket, and putting one black thumb-nail on the long hand,
the other on he numeral twelve. "Mezzogiorno - poco tempo - poco
tempo!" And again I seized his meaning, that it was twenty past
eleven, and we must be there by twelve. But where, but where? It was
maddening to be summoned like this, and not to know what had happened,
nor to have any means of finding out. But my presence of mind stood by
me still, I was improving by seven-league strides, and I crammed my
handkerchief between the drum and hammer of the bell before leaving.
The doctor could ring now till he was black in the face, but I was not
coming, and he need not think it.
I half expected to find a hansom waiting, but there was none, and we
had gone some distance down the Earl's Court Road before we got one; in
fact, we had to run to the stand. Opposite is the church with the
clock upon it, as everybody knows, and at sight of the dial my
companion had wrung his hands; it was close upon the half-hour.
"Poco tempo - pochissimo!" he wailed. "Bloom-buree Ske-warr," he then
cried to the cabman - "numero trentotto!"
"Bloomsbury Square," I roared on my own account, "I'll show you the
house when we get there, only drive like be-damned!"
My companion lay back gasping in his corner. The small glass told me
that my own face was pretty red.
"A nice show!" I cried; "and not a word can you tell me. Didn't you
bring me a note?"
I might have known by this time that he had not, still I went through
the pantomime of writing with my finger on my cuff. But he shrugged
and shook his head.
"Niente," said he. "Una quistione di vita, di vita!"
"What's that?" I snapped, my early training come in again. "Say it
slowly - andante - rallentando."
Thank Italy for the stage instructions in the songs one used to murder!
The fellow actually understood.
"Una - quistione - di - vita."
"Or mors, eh?" I shouted, and up went the trap-door over our heads.
"Avanti, avanti, avanti!" cried the Italian, turning up his one-eyed
"Hell-to-leather," I translated, "and double fare if you do it by
But in the streets of London how is one to know the time? In the
Earl's Court Road it had not been half-past, and at Barker's in High
Street it was but a minute later. A long half-mile a minute, that was
going like the wind, and indeed we had done much of it at a gallop.
But the next hundred yards took us five minutes by the next clock, and