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which was one to believe? I fell back upon my own old watch (it was my
own), which made it eighteen minutes to the hour as we swung across the
Serpentine bridge, and by the quarter we were in the Bayswater
Road - not up for once.

"Presto, presto," my pale guide murmured. "Affretatevi - avanti!"

"Ten bob if you do it," I cried through the trap, without the slightest
notion of what we were to do. But it was "una quistione di vita," and
"vostro amico" must and could only be my miserable Raffles.

What a very godsend is the perfect hansom to the man or woman in a
hurry! It had been our great good fortune to jump into a perfect
hansom; there was no choice, we had to take the first upon the rank,
but it must have deserved its place with the rest nowhere. New tires,
superb springs, a horse in a thousand, and a driver up to every trick
of his trade! In and out we went like a fast half-back at the Rugby
game, yet where the traffic was thinnest, there were we. And how he
knew his way! At the Marble Arch he slipped out of the main stream,
and so into Wigmore Street, then up and in and out and on until I saw
the gold tips of the Museum palisade gleaming between the horse's ears
in the sun. Plop, plop, plop; ting, ling, ling; bell and horse-shoes,
horse-shoes and bell, until the colossal figure of C. J. Fox in a grimy
toga spelt Bloomsbury Square with my watch still wanting three minutes
to the hour.

"What number?" cried the good fellow over-head.

"Trentotto, trentotto," said my guide, but he was looking to the right,
and I bundled him out to show the house on foot. I had not
half-a-sovereign after all, but I flung our dear driver a whole one
instead, and only wish that it had been a hundred.

Already the Italian had his latch-key in the door of 38, and in another
moment we were rushing up the narrow stairs of as dingy a London house
as prejudiced countryman can conceive. It was panelled, but it was
dark and evil-smelling, and how we should have found our way even to
the stairs but for an unwholesome jet of yellow gas in the hall, I
cannot myself imagine. However, up we went pell-mell, to the
right-about on the half-landing, and so like a whirlwind into the
drawing-room a few steps higher. There the gas was also burning behind
closed shutters, and the scene is photographed upon my brain, though I
cannot have looked upon it for a whole instant as I sprang in at my
leader's heels.

This room also was panelled, and in the middle of the wall on our left,
his hands lashed to a ring-bolt high above his head, his toes barely
touching the floor, his neck pinioned by a strap passing through
smaller ring-bolts under either ear, and every inch of him secured on
the same principle, stood, or rather hung, all that was left of
Raffles, for at the first glance I believed him dead. A black ruler
gagged him, the ends lashed behind his neck, the blood upon it caked to
bronze in the gaslight. And in front of him, ticking like a
sledge-hammer, its only hand upon the stroke of twelve, stood a
simple, old-fashioned, grandfather's clock - but not for half an instant
longer - only until my guide could hurl himself upon it and send the
whole thing crashing into the corner. An ear-splitting report
accompanied the crash, a white cloud lifted from the fallen clock, and
I saw a revolver smoking in a vice screwed below the dial, an
arrangement of wires sprouting from the dial itself, and the single
hand at once at its zenith and in contact with these.

"Tumble to it, Bunny?"

He was alive; these were his first words; the Italian had the
blood-caked ruler in his hand, and with his knife was reaching up to
cut the thongs that lashed the hands. He was not tall enough, I seized
him and lifted him up, then fell to work with my own knife upon the
straps. And Raffles smiled faintly upon us through his blood-stains.

"I want you to tumble to it," he whispered; "the neatest thing in
revenge I ever knew, and another minute would have fixed it. I've been
waiting for it twelve hours, watching the clock round, death at the end
of the lap! Electric connection. Simple enough. Hour-hand only - O
Lord!"

We had cut the last strap. He could not stand. We supported him
between us to a horsehair sofa, for the room was furnished, and I
begged him not to speak, while his one-eyed deliverer was at the door
before Raffles recalled him with a sharp word in Italian.

"He wants to get me a drink, but that can wait," said he, in firmer
voice; "I shall enjoy it the more when I've told you what happened.
Don't let him go, Bunny; put your back against the door. He's a
decent soul, and it's lucky for me I got a word with him before they
trussed me up. I've promised to set him up in life, and I will, but I
don't want him out of my sight for the moment."

"If you squared him last night," I exclaimed, "why the blazes didn't he
come to me till the eleventh hour?"

"Ah, I knew he'd have to cut it fine though I hoped not quite so fine
as all that. But all's well that ends well, and I declare I don't feel
so much the worse. I shall be sore about the gills for a bit - and what
do you think?"

He pointed to the long black ruler with the bronze stain; it lay upon
the floor; he held out his hand for it, and I gave it to him.


"The same one I gagged him with," said Raffles, with his still ghastly
smile; "he was a bit of an artist, old Corbucci, after all!"

"Now let's hear how you fell into his clutches," said I, briskly, for I
was as anxious to hear as he seemed to tell me, only for my part I
could have waited until we were safe in the flat.

"I do want to get it off my chest, Bunny," old Raffles admitted, "and
yet I hardly can tell you after all. I followed your friend with the
velvet eyes. I followed him all the way here. Of course I came up to
have a good look at the house when he'd let himself in, and damme if he
hadn't left the door ajar! Who could resist that? I had pushed it
half open and had just one foot on the mat when I got such a crack on
the head as I hope never to get again. When I came to my wits they
were hauling me up to that ring-bolt by the hands, and old Corbucci
himself was bowing to me, but how HE got here I don't know yet."

"I can tell you that," said I, and told how I had seen the Count for
myself on the pavement underneath our windows. "Moreover," I
continued, "I saw him spot you, and five minutes after in Earl's Court
Road I was told he'd driven off in a cab. He would see you following
his man, drive home ahead, and catch you by having the door left open
in the way you describe."

"Well," said Raffles, "he deserved to catch me somehow, for he'd come
from Naples on purpose, ruler and all, and the ring-bolts were ready
fixed, and even this house taken furnished for nothing else! He meant
catching me before he'd done, and scoring me off in exactly the same
way that I scored off him, only going one better of course. He told me
so himself, sitting where I am sitting now, at three o'clock this
morning, and smoking a most abominable cigar that I've smelt ever
since. It appears he sat twenty-four hours when I left HIM trussed up,
but he said twelve would content him in my case, as there was certain
death at the end of them, and I mightn't have life enough left to
appreciate my end if he made it longer. But I wouldn't have trusted
him if he could have got the clock to go twice round without firing off
the pistol. He explained the whole mechanism of that to me; he had
thought it all out on the vineyard I told you about; and then he asked
if I remembered what he had promised me in the name of the Camorra. I
only remembered some vague threats, but he was good enough to give me
so many particulars of that institution that I could make a European
reputation by exposing the whole show if it wasn't for my unfortunate
resemblance to that infernal rascal Raffles. Do you think they would
know me at the Yard, Bunny, after all this time? Upon my soul I've a
good mind to risk it!"

I offered no opinion on the point. How could it interest me then? But
interested I was in Raffles, never more so in my life. He had been
tortured all night and half a day, yet he could sit and talk like this
the moment we cut him down; he had been within a minute of his death,
yet he was as full of life as ever; ill-treated and defeated at the
best, he could still smile through his blood as though the boot were on
the other leg. I had imagined that I knew my Raffles at last. I was
not likely so to flatter myself again.

"But what has happened to these villains?" I burst out, and my
indignation was not only against them for their cruelty, but also
against their victim for his phlegmatic attitude toward them. It was
difficult to believe that this was Raffles.

"Oh," said he, "they were to go off to Italy INSTANTER; they should be
crossing now. But do listen to what I am telling you; it's
interesting, my dear man. This old sinner Corbucci turns out to have
been no end of a boss in the Camorra - says so himself. One of the capi
paranze, my boy, no less; and the velvety Johnny a giovano onorato,
Anglice, fresher. This fellow here was also in it, and I've sworn to
protect him from them evermore; and it's just as I said, half the
organ-grinders in London belong, and the whole lot of them were put on
my tracks by secret instructions. This excellent youth manufactures
iced poison on Saffron Hill when he's at home."

"And why on earth didn't he come to me quicker?"

"Because he couldn't talk to you, he could only fetch you, and it was
as much as his life was worth to do that before our friends had
departed. They were going by the eleven o'clock from Victoria, and
that didn't leave much chance, but he certainly oughtn't to have run
it as fine as he did. Still you must remember that I had to fix things
up with him in the fewest possible words, in a single minute that the
other two were indiscreet enough to leave us alone together."

The ragamuffin in question was watching us with all his solitary eye,
as though he knew that we were discussing him. Suddenly he broke out
in agonized accents, his hands clasped, and a face so full of fear that
every moment I expected to see him on his knees. But Raffles answered
kindly, reassuringly, I could tell from his tone, and then turned to me
with a compassionate shrug.

"He says he couldn't find the mansions, Bunny, and really it's not to
be wondered at. I had only time to tell him to hunt you up and bring
you here by hook or crook before twelve to-day, and after all he has
done that. But now the poor devil thinks you're riled with him, and
that we'll give him away to the Camorra."

"Oh, it's not with him I'm riled," I said frankly, "but with those
other blackguards, and - and with you, old chap, for taking it all as
you do, while such infamous scoundrels have the last laugh, and are
safely on their way to France!"

Raffles looked up at me with a curiously open eye, an eye that I never
saw when he was not in earnest. I fancied he did not like my last
expression but one. After all, it was no laughing matter to him.

"But are they?" said he. "I'm not so sure."

"You said they were!"

"I said they should be."

"Didn't you hear them go?"

"I heard nothing but the clock all night. It was like Big Ben striking
at the last - striking nine to the fellow on the drop."

And in that open eye I saw at last a deep glimmer of the ordeal through
which he had passed.

"But, my dear old Raffles, if they're still on the premises - "

The thought was too thrilling for a finished sentence.

"I hope they are," he said grimly, going to the door. "There's a gas
on! Was that burning when you came in?"

Now that I thought of it, yes, it had been.

"And there's a frightfully foul smell," I added, as I followed Raffles
down the stairs. He turned to me gravely with his hand upon the
front-room door, and at the same moment I saw a coat with an astrakhan
collar hanging on the pegs.

"They are in here, Bunny," he said, and turned the handle.

The door would only open a few inches. But a detestable odor came out,
with a broad bar of yellow gaslight. Raffles put his handkerchief to
his nose. I followed his example, signing to our ally to do the same,
and in another minute we had all three squeezed into the room.

The man with the yellow boots was lying against the door, the Count's
great carcass sprawled upon the table, and at a glance it was evident
that both men had been dead some hours. The old Camorrist had the stem
of a liqueur-glass between his swollen blue fingers, one of which had
been cut in the breakage, and the livid flesh was also brown with the
last blood that it would ever shed. His face was on the table, the
huge moustache projecting from under either leaden cheek, yet looking
itself strangely alive. Broken bread and scraps of frozen macaroni lay
upon the cloth and at the bottom of two soup-plates and a tureen; the
macaroni had a tinge of tomato; and there was a crimson dram left in
the tumblers, with an empty fiasco to show whence it came. But near
the great gray head upon the table another liqueur-glass stood,
unbroken, and still full of some white and stinking liquid; and near
that a tiny silver flask, which made me recoil from Raffles as I had
not from the dead; for I knew it to be his.

"Come out of this poisonous air," he said sternly, "and I will tell you
how it has happened."

So we all three gathered together in the hall. But it was Raffles who
stood nearest the street-door, his back to it, his eyes upon us two.
And though it was to me only that he spoke at first, he would pause
from point to point, and translate into Italian for the benefit of the
one-eyed alien to whom he owed his life.

"You probably don't even know the name, Bunny," he began, "of the
deadliest poison yet known to science. It is cyanide of cacodyl, and I
have carried that small flask of it about with me for months. Where I
got it matters nothing; the whole point is that a mere sniff reduces
flesh to clay. I have never had any opinion of suicide, as you know,
but I always felt it worth while to be forearmed against the very
worst. Well, a bottle of this stuff is calculated to stiffen an
ordinary roomful of ordinary people within five minutes; and I
remembered my flask when they had me as good as crucified in the small
hours of this morning. I asked them to take it out of my pocket. I
begged them to give me a drink before they left me. And what do you
suppose they did?"

I thought of many things but suggested none, while Raffles turned this
much of his statement into sufficiently fluent Italian. But when he
faced me again his face was still flaming.

"That beast Corbucci!" said he - "how can I pity him? He took the
flask; he would give me none; he flicked me in the face instead. My
idea was that he, at least, should go with me - to sell my life as
dearly as that - and a sniff would have settled us both. But no, he must
tantalize and torment me; he thought it brandy; he must take it
downstairs to drink to my destruction! Can you have any pity for a
hound like that?"

"Let us go," I at last said, hoarsely, as Raffles finished speaking in
Italian, and his second listener stood open-mouthed.

"We will go," said Raffles, "and we will chance being seen; if the
worst comes to the worst this good chap will prove that I have been
tied up since one o'clock this morning, and the medical evidence will
decide how long those dogs have been dead."

But the worst did not come to the worst, more power to my unforgotten
friend the cabman, who never came forward to say what manner of men he
had driven to Bloomsbury Square at top speed on the very day upon which
the tragedy was discovered there, or whence he had driven them. To be
sure, they had not behaved like murderers, whereas the evidence at the
inquest all went to show that the defunct Corbucci was little better.
His reputation, which transpired with his identity, was that of a
libertine and a renegade, while the infernal apparatus upstairs
revealed the fiendish arts of the anarchist to boot. The inquiry
resulted eventually in an open verdict, and was chiefly instrumental
in killing such compassion as is usually felt for the dead who die in
their sins.

But Raffles would not have passed this title for this tale.



TO CATCH A THIEF

I

Society persons are not likely to have forgotten the series of
audacious robberies by which so many of themselves suffered in turn
during the brief course of a recent season. Raid after raid was made
upon the smartest houses in town, and within a few weeks more than one
exalted head had been shorn of its priceless tiara. The Duke and
Duchess of Dorchester lost half the portable pieces of their historic
plate on the very night of their Graces' almost equally historic
costume ball. The Kenworthy diamonds were taken in broad daylight,
during the excitement of a charitable meeting on the ground floor, and
the gifts of her belted bridegroom to Lady May Paulton while the outer
air was thick with a prismatic shower of confetti. It was obvious that
all this was the work of no ordinary thief, and perhaps inevitable that
the name of Raffles should have been dragged from oblivion by callous
disrespecters of the departed and unreasoning apologists for the
police. These wiseacres did not hesitate to bring a dead man back to
life because they knew of no living one capable of such feats; it is
their heedless and inconsequent calumnies that the present paper is
partly intended to refute. As a matter of fact, our joint innocence in
this matter was only exceeded by our common envy, and for a long time,
like the rest of the world, neither of us had the slightest clew to the
identity of the person who was following in our steps with such
irritating results.

"I should mind less," said Raffles, "if the fellow were really playing
my game. But abuse of hospitality was never one of my strokes, and it
seems to me the only shot he's got. When we took old Lady Melrose's
necklace, Bunny, we were not staying with the Melroses, if you
recollect."

We were discussing the robberies for the hundredth time, but for once
under conditions more favorable to animated conversation than our
unique circumstances permitted in the flat. We did not often dine out.
Dr. Theobald was one impediment, the risk of recognition was another.
But there were exceptions, when the doctor was away or the patient
defiant, and on these rare occasions we frequented a certain
unpretentious restaurant in the Fulham quarter, where the cooking was
plain but excellent, and the cellar a surprise. Our bottle of '89
champagne was empty to the label when the subject arose, to be touched
by Raffles in the reminiscent manner indicated above. I can see his
clear eye upon me now, reading me, weighing me. But I was not so
sensitive to his scrutiny at the time. His tone was deliberate,
calculating, preparatory; not as I heard it then, through a head full
of wine, but as it floats back to me across the gulf between that
moment and this.

"Excellent fillet!" said I, grossly. "So you think this chap is as
much in society as we were, do you?"

I preferred not to think so myself. We had cause enough for jealousy
without that. But Raffles raised his eyebrows an eloquent half-inch.

"As much, my dear Bunny? He is not only in it, but of it; there's no
comparison between us there. Society is in rings like a target, and we
never were in the bull's-eye, however thick you may lay on the ink! I
was asked for my cricket. I haven't forgotten it yet. But this
fellow's one of themselves, with the right of entre into the houses
which we could only 'enter' in a professional sense. That's obvious
unless all these little exploits are the work of different hands, which
they as obviously are not. And it's why I'd give five hundred pounds
to put salt on him to-night!"

"Not you," said I, as I drained my glass in festive incredulity.

"But I would, my dear Bunny. Waiter! another half-bottle of this," and
Raffles leant across the table as the empty one was taken away. "I
never was more serious in my life," he continued below his breath.
"Whatever else our successor may be, he's not a dead man like me, or a
marked man like you. If there's any truth in my theory he's one of the
last people upon whom suspicion is ever likely to rest; and oh, Bunny,
what a partner he would make for you and me!"

Under less genial influences the very idea of a third partner would
have filled my soul with offence; but Raffles had chosen his moment
unerringly, and his arguments lost nothing by the flowing accompaniment
of the extra pint. They were, however, quite strong in themselves.
The gist of them was that thus far we had remarkably little to show for
what Raffles would call "our second innings." This even I could not
deny. We had scored a few "long singles," but our "best shots" had
gone "straight to hand," and we were "playing a deuced slow game."
Therefore we needed a new partner - and the metaphor failed Raffles.

It had served its turn. I already agreed with him. In truth I was
tired of my false position as hireling attendant, and had long fancied
myself an object of suspicion to that other impostor the doctor. A
fresh, untrammelled start was a fascinating idea to me, though two was
company, and three in our case might be worse than none. But I did not
see how we could hope, with our respective handicaps, to solve a
problem which was already the despair of Scotland Yard.

"Suppose I have solved it," observed Raffles, cracking a walnut in his
palm.

"How could you?" I asked, without believing for an instant that he had.

"I have been taking the Morning Post for some time now."

"Well?"

"You have got me a good many odd numbers of the less base society
papers."

"I can't for the life of me see what you're driving at."

Raffles smiled indulgently as he cracked another nut.

"That's because you've neither observation nor imagination, Bunny - and
yet you try to write! Well, you wouldn't think it, but I have a fairly
complete list of the people who were at the various functions under
cover of which these different little coups were brought off."

I said very stolidly that I did not see how that could help him. It was
the only answer to his good-humored but self-satisfied contempt; it
happened also to be true.

"Think," said Raffles, in a patient voice.

"When thieves break in and steal," said I, "upstairs, I don't see much
point in discovering who was downstairs at the time."

"Quite," said Raffles - "when they do break in."

"But that's what they have done in all these cases. An upstairs door
found screwed up, when things were at their height below; thief gone
and jewels with him before alarm could be raised. Why, the trick's so
old that I never knew you condescend to play it."

"Not so old as it looks," said Raffles, choosing the cigars and handing
me mine. "Cognac or Benedictine, Bunny?"

"Brandy," I said, coarsely.

"Besides," he went on, "the rooms were not screwed up; at Dorchester
House, at any rate, the door was only locked, and the key missing, so
that it might have been done on either side."

"But that was where he left his rope-ladder behind him!" I exclaimed in
triumph; but Raffles only shook his head.

"I don't believe in that rope-ladder, Bunny, except as a blind."

"Then what on earth do you believe?"

"That every one of these so-called burglaries has been done from the
inside, by one of the guests; and what's more I'm very much mistaken if
I haven't spotted the right sportsman."

I began to believe that he really had, there was such a wicked gravity
in the eyes that twinkled faintly into mine. I raised my glass in
convivial congratulation, and still remember the somewhat anxious eye
with which Raffles saw it emptied.

"I can only find one likely name," he continued, "that figures in all
these lists, and it is anything but a likely one at first sight. Lord
Ernest Belville was at all those functions. Know anything about him,
Bunny?"

"Not the Rational Drink fanatic?"

"Yes."

"That's all I want to know."

"Quite," said Raffles; "and yet what could be more promising? A man
whose views are so broad and moderate, and so widely held already
(saving your presence, Bunny), does not bore the world with them
without ulterior motives. So far so good. What are this chap's
motives? Does he want to advertise himself? No, he's somebody
already. But is he rich? On the contrary, he's as poor as a rat for


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