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his position, and apparently without the least ambition to be anything
else; certainly he won't enrich himself by making a public fad of what
all sensible people are agreed upon as it is. Then suddenly one gets
one's own old idea - the alternative profession! My cricket - his
Rational Drink! But it is no use jumping to conclusions. I must know
more than the newspapers can tell me. Our aristocratic friend is
forty, and unmarried. What has he been doing all these years? How the
devil was I to find out?"

"How did you?" I asked, declining to spoil my digestion with a
conundrum, as it was his evident intention that I should.

"Interviewed him!" said Raffles, smiling slowly on my amazement.

"You - interviewed him?" I echoed. "When - and where?"

"Last Thursday night, when, if you remember, we kept early hours,
because I felt done. What was the use of telling you what I had up my
sleeve, Bunny? It might have ended in fizzle, as it still may. But
Lord Ernest Belville was addressing the meeting at Exeter Hall; I
waited for him when the show was over, dogged him home to King John's
Mansions, and interviewed him in his own rooms there before he turned
in."

My journalistic jealousy was piqued to the quick. Affecting a
scepticism I did not feel (for no outrage was beyond the pale of his
impudence), I inquired dryly which journal Raffles had pretended to
represent. It is unnecessary to report his answer. I could not believe
him without further explanation.

"I should have thought," he said, "that even you would have spotted a
practice I never omit upon certain occasions. I always pay a visit to
the drawing-room, and fill my waistcoat pocket from the card-tray. It
is an immense help in any little temporary impersonation. On Thursday
night I sent up the card of a powerful writer connected with a powerful
paper; if Lord Ernest had known him in the flesh I should have been
obliged to confess to a journalistic ruse; luckily he didn't - and I had
been sent by my editor to get the interview for next morning. What
could be better - for the alternative profession?"

I inquired what the interview had brought forth.

"Everything," said Raffles. "Lord Ernest has been a wanderer these
twenty years. Texas, Fiji, Australia. I suspect him of wives and
families in all three. But his manners are a liberal education. He
gave me some beautiful whiskey, and forgot all about his fad. He is
strong and subtle, but I talked him off his guard. He is going to the
Kirkleathams' to-night - I saw the card stuck up. I stuck some wax into
his keyhole as he was switching off the lights."

And, with an eye upon the waiters, Raffles showed me a skeleton key,
newly twisted and filed; but my share of the extra pint (I am afraid
no fair share) had made me dense. I looked from the key to Raffles
with puckered forehead - for I happened to catch sight of it in the
mirror behind him.

"The Dowager Lady Kirkleatham," he whispered, "has diamonds as big as
beans, and likes to have 'em all on - and goes to bed early - and happens
to be in town!"

And now I saw.

"The villain means to get them from her!"

"And I mean to get them from the villain," said Raffles; "or, rather,
your share and mine."

"Will he consent to a partnership?"

"We shall have him at our mercy. He daren't refuse."

Raffles's plan was to gain access to Lord Ernest's rooms before
midnight; there we were to lie in wait for the aristocratic rascal, and
if I left all details to Raffles, and simply stood by in case of a
rumpus, I should be playing my part and earning my share. It was a
part that I had played before, not always with a good grace, though
there had never been any question about the share. But to-night I was
nothing loath. I had had just champagne enough - how Raffles knew my
measure! - and I was ready and eager for anything. Indeed, I did not
wish to wait for the coffee, which was to be especially strong by
order of Raffles. But on that he insisted, and it was between ten and
eleven when at last we were in our cab.

"It would be fatal to be too early," he said as we drove; "on the other
hand, it would be dangerous to leave it too late. One must risk
something. How I should love to drive down Piccadilly and see the
lights! But unnecessary risks are another story."


II

King John's Mansions, as everybody knows, are the oldest, the ugliest,
and the tallest block of flats in all London. But they are built
upon a more generous scale than has since become the rule, and with a
less studious regard for the economy of space. We were about to drive
into the spacious courtyard when the gate-keeper checked us in order to
let another hansom drive out.

It contained a middle-aged man of the military type, like ourselves in
evening dress. That much I saw as his hansom crossed our bows,
because I could not help seeing it, but I should not have given the
incident a second thought if it had not been for his extraordinary
effect upon Raffles. In an instant he was out upon the curb, paying
the cabby, and in another he was leading me across the street, away
from the mansions.

"Where on earth are you going?" I naturally exclaimed.

"Into the park," said he. "We are too early."

His voice told me more than his words. It was strangely stern.

"Was that him - in the hansom?"

"It was."

"Well, then, the coast's clear," said I, comfortably. I was for
turning back then and there, but Raffles forced me on with a hand that
hardened on my arm.

"It was a nearer thing than I care about," said he. "This seat will
do; no, the next one's further from a lamp-post. We will give him a
good half-hour, and I don't want to talk."

We had been seated some minutes when Big Ben sent a languid chime over
our heads to the stars. It was half-past ten, and a sultry night.
Eleven had struck before Raffles awoke from his sullen reverie, and
recalled me from mine with a slap on the back. In a couple of minutes
we were in the lighted vestibule at the inner end of the courtyard of
King John's Mansions.

"Just left Lord Ernest at Lady Kirkleatham's," said Raffles. "Gave me
his key and asked us to wait for him in his rooms. Will you send us up
in the lift?"

In a small way, I never knew old Raffles do anything better. There was
not an instant's demur. Lord Ernest Belville's rooms were at the top
of the building, but we were in them as quickly as lift could carry and
page-boy conduct us. And there was no need for the skeleton key after
all; the boy opened the outer door with one of his own, and switched on
the lights before leaving us.

"Now that's interesting," said Raffles, as soon as we were alone; "they
can come in and clean when he is out. What if he keeps his swag at the
bank? By Jove, that's an idea for him! I don't believe he's getting
rid of it; it's all lying low somewhere, if I'm not mistaken, and he's
not a fool."

While he spoke he was moving about the sitting-room, which was
charmingly furnished in the antique style, and making as many remarks
as though he were an auctioneer's clerk with an inventory to prepare
and a day to do it in, instead of a cracksman who might be surprised
in his crib at any moment.

"Chippendale of sorts, eh, Bunny? Not genuine, of course; but where
can you get genuine Chippendale now, and who knows it when they see
it? There's no merit in mere antiquity. Yet the way people pose on
the subject! If a thing's handsome and useful, and good
cabinet-making, it's good enough for me."

"Hadn't we better explore the whole place?" I suggested nervously. He
had not even bolted the outer door. Nor would he when I called his
attention to the omission.

"If Lord Ernest finds his rooms locked up he'll raise Cain," said
Raffles; "we must let him come in and lock up for himself before we
corner him. But he won't come yet; if he did it might be awkward, for
they'd tell him down below what I told them. A new staff comes on at
midnight. I discovered that the other night."

"Supposing he does come in before?"

"Well, he can't have us turned out without first seeing who we are, and
he won't try it on when I've had one word with him. Unless my
suspicions are unfounded, I mean."

"Isn't it about time to test them?"

"My good Bunny, what do you suppose I've been doing all this while? He
keeps nothing in here. There isn't a lock to the Chippendale that you
couldn't pick with a penknife, and not a loose board in the floor, for
I was treading for one before the boy left us. Chimney's no use in a
place like this where they keep them swept for you. Yes, I'm quite
ready to try his bedroom."

There was but a bathroom besides; no kitchen, no servant's room;
neither are necessary in King John's Mansions. I thought it as well to
put my head inside the bathroom while Raffles went into the bedroom,
for I was tormented by the horrible idea that the man might all this
time be concealed somewhere in the flat. But the bathroom blazed void
in the electric light. I found Raffles hanging out of the starry
square which was the bedroom window, for the room was still in
darkness. I felt for the switch at the door.

"Put it out again!" said Raffles fiercely. He rose from the sill, drew
blind and curtains carefully, then switched on the light himself. It
fell upon a face creased more in pity than in anger, and Raffles only
shook his head as I hung mine.

"It's all right, old boy," said he; "but corridors have windows too,
and servants have eyes; and you and I are supposed to be in the other
room, not in this. But cheer up, Bunny! This is THE room; look at the
extra bolt on the door; he's had that put on, and there's an iron
ladder to his window in case of fire! Way of escape ready against the
hour of need; he's a better man than I thought him, Bunny, after all.
But you may bet your bottom dollar that if there's any boodle in the
flat it's in this room."

Yet the room was very lightly furnished; and nothing was locked. We
looked everywhere, but we looked in vain. The wardrobe was filled with
hanging coats and trousers in a press, the drawers with the softest
silk and finest linen. It was a camp bedstead that would not have
unsettled an anchorite; there was no place for treasure there. I
looked up the chimney, but Raffles told me not to be a fool, and asked
if I ever listened to what he said. There was no question about his
temper now. I never knew him in a worse.

"Then he has got it in the bank," he growled. "I'll swear I'm not
mistaken in my man!"

I had the tact not to differ with him there. But I could not help
suggesting that now was our time to remedy any mistake we might have
made. We were on the right side of midnight still.

"Then we stultify ourselves downstairs," said Raffles. "No, I'll be
shot if I do! He may come in with the Kirkleatham diamonds! You do
what you like, Bunny, but I don't budge."

"I certainly shan't leave you," I retorted, "to be knocked into the
middle of next week by a better man than yourself."

I had borrowed his own tone, and he did not like it. They never do. I
thought for a moment that Raffles was going to strike me - for the first
and last time in his life. He could if he liked. My blood was up. I
was ready to send him to the devil. And I emphasized my offence by
nodding and shrugging toward a pair of very large Indian clubs that
stood in the fender, on either side of the chimney up which I had
presumed to glance.

In an instant Raffles had seized the clubs, and was whirling them
about his gray head in a mixture of childish pique and puerile bravado
which I should have thought him altogether above.

And suddenly as I watched him his face changed, softened, lit up, and
he swung the clubs gently down upon the bed.

"They're not heavy enough for their size," said he rapidly; "and I'll
take my oath they're not the same weight!"

He shook one club after the other, with both hands, close to his ear;
then he examined their butt-ends under the electric light. I saw what
he suspected now, and caught the contagion of his suppressed
excitement. Neither of us spoke. But Raffles had taken out the
portable tool-box that he called a knife, and always carried, and as he
opened the gimlet he handed me the club he held. Instinctively I
tucked the small end under my arm, and presented the other to Raffles.

"Hold him tight," he whispered, smiling. "He's not only a better man
than I thought him, Bunny; he's hit upon a better dodge than ever I
did, of its kind. Only I should have weighted them evenly - to a hair."

He had screwed the gimlet into the circular butt, close to the edge,
and now we were wrenching in opposite directions. For a moment or more
nothing happened. Then all at once something gave, and Raffles swore
an oath as soft as any prayer. And for the minute after that his hand
went round and round with the gimlet, as though he were grinding a
piano-organ, while the end wormed slowly out on its delicate thread of
fine hard wood.

The clubs were as hollow as drinking-horns, the pair of them, for we
went from one to the other without pausing to undo the padded packets
that poured out upon the bed. These were deliciously heavy to the
hand, yet thickly swathed in cotton-wool, so that some stuck together,
retaining the shape of the cavity, as though they had been run out of a
mould. And when we did open them - but let Raffles speak.

He had deputed me to screw in the ends of the clubs, and to replace the
latter in the fender where we had found them. When I had done the
counterpane was glittering with diamonds where it was not shimmering
with pearls.

"If this isn't that tiara that Lady May was married in," said Raffles,
"and that disappeared out of the room she changed in, while it rained
confetti on the steps, I'll present it to her instead of the one she
lost.... It was stupid to keep these old gold spoons, valuable as they
are; they made the difference in the weight.... Here we have probably
the Kenworthy diamonds.... I don't know the history of these
pearls.... This looks like one family of rings - left on the
basin-stand, perhaps - alas, poor lady! And that's the lot."

Our eyes met across the bed.

"What's it all worth?" I asked, hoarsely.

"Impossible to say. But more than all we ever took in all our lives.
That I'll swear to."

"More than all - "

My tongue swelled with the thought.

"But it'll take some turning into cash, old chap!"

"And - must it be a partnership?" I asked, finding a lugubrious voice at
length.

"Partnership be damned!" cried Raffles, heartily. "Let's get out
quicker than we came in."

We pocketed the things between us, cotton-wool and all, not because we
wanted the latter, but to remove all immediate traces of our really
meritorious deed.

"The sinner won't dare to say a word when he does find out," remarked
Raffles of Lord Ernest; "but that's no reason why he should find out
before he must. Everything's straight in here, I think; no, better
leave the window open as it was, and the blind up. Now out with the
light. One peep at the other room. That's all right, too. Out with
the passage light, Bunny, while I open - "

His words died away in a whisper. A key was fumbling at the lock
outside.

"Out with it - out with it!" whispered Raffles in an agony; and as I
obeyed he picked me off my feet and swung me bodily but silently into
the bedroom, just as the outer door opened, and a masterful step strode
in.

The next five were horrible minutes. We heard the apostle of Rational
Drink unlock one of the deep drawers in his antique sideboard, and
sounds followed suspiciously like the splash of spirits and the steady
stream from a siphon. Never before or since did I experience such a
thirst as assailed me at that moment, nor do I believe that many
tropical explorers have known its equal. But I had Raffles with me,
and his hand was as steady and as cool as the hand of a trained nurse.
That I know because he turned up the collar of my overcoat for me, for
some reason, and buttoned it at the throat. I afterwards found that he
had done the same to his own, but I did not hear him doing it. The one
thing I heard in the bedroom was a tiny metallic click, muffled and
deadened in his overcoat pocket, and it not only removed my last
tremor, but strung me to a higher pitch of excitement than ever. Yet I
had then no conception of the game that Raffles was deciding to play,
and that I was to play with him in another minute.

It cannot have been longer before Lord Ernest came into his bedroom.
Heavens, but my heart had not forgotten how to thump! We were standing
near the door, and I could swear he touched me; then his boots creaked,
there was a rattle in the fender - and Raffles switched on the light.

Lord Ernest Belville crouched in its glare with one Indian club held by
the end, like a footman with a stolen bottle. A good-looking,
well-built, iron-gray, iron-jawed man; but a fool and a weakling at
that moment, if he had never been either before.

"Lord Ernest Belville," said Raffles, "it's no use. This is a loaded
revolver, and if you force me I shall use it on you as I would on any
other desperate criminal. I am here to arrest you for a series of
robberies at the Duke of Dorchester's, Sir John Kenworthy's, and other
noblemen's and gentlemen's houses during the present season. You'd
better drop what you've got in your hand. It's empty."

Lord Ernest lifted the club an inch or two, and with it his
eyebrows - and after it his stalwart frame as the club crashed back into
the fender. And as he stood at his full height, a courteous but ironic
smile under the cropped moustache, he looked what he was, criminal or
not.

"Scotland Yard?" said he.

"That's our affair, my lord."

"I didn't think they'd got it in them," said Lord Ernest. "Now I
recognize you. You're my interviewer. No, I didn't think any of you
fellows had got all that in you. Come into the other room, and I'll
show you something else. Oh, keep me covered by all means. But look
at this!"

On the antique sideboard, their size doubled by reflection in the
polished mahogany, lay a coruscating cluster of precious stones, that
fell in festoons about Lord Ernest's fingers as he handed them to
Raffles with scarcely a shrug.

"The Kirkleatham diamonds," said he. "Better add 'em to the bag."

Raffles did so without a smile; with his overcoat buttoned up to the
chin, his tall hat pressed down to his eyes, and between the two his
incisive features and his keen, stern glance, he looked the ideal
detective of fiction and the stage. What _I_ looked God knows, but I
did my best to glower and show my teeth at his side. I had thrown
myself into the game, and it was obviously a winning one.

"Wouldn't take a share, I suppose?" Lord Ernest said casually.

Raffles did not condescend to reply. I rolled back my lips like a
bull-pup.

"Then a drink, at least!"

My mouth watered, but Raffles shook his head impatiently.

"We must be going, my lord, and you will have to come with us."

I wondered what in the world we should do with him when we had got him.

"Give me time to put some things together? Pair of pyjamas and
tooth-brush, don't you know?"

"I cannot give you many minutes, my lord, but I don't want to cause a
disturbance here, so I'll tell them to call a cab if you like. But I
shall be back in a minute, and you must be ready in five. Here,
inspector, you'd better keep this while I am gone."

And I was left alone with that dangerous criminal! Raffles nipped my
arm as he handed me the revolver, but I got small comfort out of that.

"'Sea-green Incorruptible?'" inquired Lord Ernest as we stood face to
face.

"You don't corrupt me," I replied through naked teeth.

"Then come into my room. I'll lead the way. Think you can hit me if I
misbehave?"

I put the bed between us without a second's delay. My prisoner flung a
suit-case upon it, and tossed things into it with a dejected air;
suddenly, as he was fitting them in, without raising his head (which I
was watching), his right hand closed over the barrel with which I
covered him.

"You'd better not shoot," he said, a knee upon his side of the bed; "if
you do it may be as bad for you as it will be for me!"

I tried to wrest the revolver from him.

"I will if you force me," I hissed.

"You'd better not," he repeated, smiling; and now I saw that if I did I
should only shoot into the bed or my own legs. His hand was on the top
of mine, bending it down, and the revolver with it. The strength of it
was as the strength of ten of mine; and now both his knees were on the
bed; and suddenly I saw his other hand, doubled into a fist, coming up
slowly over the suit-case.

"Help!" I called feebly.

"Help, forsooth! I begin to believe YOU ARE from the Yard," he
said - and his upper-cut came with the "Yard." It caught me under the
chin.

It lifted me off my legs. I have a dim recollection of the crash that
I made in falling.


III

Raffles was standing over me when I recovered consciousness. I lay
stretched upon the bed across which that blackguard Belville had struck
his knavish blow. The suit-case was on the floor, but its dastardly
owner had disappeared.

"Is he gone?" was my first faint question.

"Thank God you're not, anyway!" replied Raffles, with what struck me
then as mere flippancy. I managed to raise myself upon one elbow.

"I meant Lord Ernest Belville," said I, with dignity. "Are you quite
sure that he's cleared out?"

Raffles waved a hand towards the window, which stood wide open to the
summer stars.

"Of course," said he, "and by the route I intended him to take; he's
gone by the iron-ladder, as I hoped he would. What on earth should we
have done with him? My poor, dear Bunny, I thought you'd take a bribe!
But it's really more convincing as it is, and just as well for Lord
Ernest to be convinced for the time being."

"Are you sure he is?" I questioned, as I found a rather shaky pair of
legs.

"Of course!" cried Raffles again, in the tone to make one blush for the
least misgiving on the point. "Not that it matters one bit," he
added, airily, "for we have him either way; and when he does tumble to
it, as he may any minute, he won't dare to open his mouth."

"Then the sooner we clear out the better," said I, but I looked askance
at the open window, for my head was spinning still.

"When you feel up to it," returned Raffles, "we shall STROLL out, and I
shall do myself the honor of ringing for the lift. The force of habit
is too strong in you, Bunny. I shall shut the window and leave
everything exactly as we found it. Lord Ernest will probably tumble
before he is badly missed; and then he may come back to put salt on us;
but I should like to know what he can do even if he succeeds! Come,
Bunny, pull yourself together, and you'll be a different man when
you're in the open air."

And for a while I felt one, such was my relief at getting out of those
infernal mansions with unfettered wrists; this we managed easily
enough; but once more Raffles's performance of a small part was no less
perfect than his more ambitious work upstairs, and something of the
successful artist's elation possessed him as we walked arm-in-arm
across St. James's Park. It was long since I had known him so pleased
with himself, and only too long since he had had such reason.

"I don't think I ever had a brighter idea in my life," he said; "never
thought of it till he was in the next room; never dreamt of its coming
off so ideally even then, and didn't much care, because we had him all
ways up. I'm only sorry you let him knock you out. I was waiting
outside the door all the time, and it made me sick to hear it. But I
once broke my own head, Bunny, if you remember, and not in half such
an excellent cause!"

Raffles touched all his pockets in his turn, the pockets that contained
a small fortune apiece, and he smiled in my face as we crossed the
lighted avenues of the Mall. Next moment he was hailing a hansom - for
I suppose I was still pretty pale - and not a word would he let me
speak until we had alighted as near as was prudent to the flat.

"What a brute I've been, Bunny!" he whispered then, "but you take half
the swag, old boy, and right well you've earned it. No, we'll go in by
the wrong door and over the roof; it's too late for old Theobald to be
still at the play, and too early for him to be safely in his cups."

So we climbed the many stairs with cat-like stealth, and like cats
crept out upon the grimy leads. But to-night they were no blacker than


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