E.W. Hornung.

Raffles, Further Adventures online

. (page 8 of 13)
Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 8 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

their canopy of sky; not a chimney-stack stood out against the starless
night; one had to feel one's way in order to avoid tripping over the
low parapets of the L-shaped wells that ran from roof to basement to
light the inner rooms. One of these wells was spanned by a flimsy
bridge with iron handrails that felt warm to the touch as Raffles led
the way across! A hotter and a closer night I have never known.

"The flat will be like an oven," I grumbled, at the head of our own

"Then we won't go down," said Raffles, promptly; "we'll slack it up
here for a bit instead. No, Bunny, you stay where you are! I'll fetch
you a drink and a deck-chair, and you shan't come down till you feel
more fit."

And I let him have his way, I will not say as usual, for I had even
less than my normal power of resistance that night. That villainous
upper-cut! My head still sang and throbbed, as I seated myself on one
of the aforesaid parapets, and buried it in my hot hands. Nor was the
night one to dispel a headache; there was distinct thunder in the air.
Thus I sat in a heap, and brooded over my misadventure, a pretty
figure of a subordinate villain, until the step came for which I
waited; and it never struck me that it came from the wrong direction.

"You have been quick," said I, simply.

"Yes," hissed a voice I recognized; "and you've got to be quicker
still! Here, out with your wrists; no, one at a time; and if you utter
a syllable you're a dead man."

It was Lord Ernest Belville; his close-cropped, iron-gray moustache
gleamed through the darkness, drawn up over his set teeth. In his hand
glittered a pair of handcuffs, and before I knew it one had snapped its
jaws about my right wrist.

"Now come this way," said Lord Ernest, showing me a revolver also, "and
wait for your friend. And, recollect, a single syllable of warning
will be your death!"

With that the ruffian led me to the very bridge I had just crossed at
Raffles's heels, and handcuffed me to the iron rail midway across the
chasm. It no longer felt warm to my touch, but icy as the blood in all
my veins.

So this high-born hypocrite had beaten us at our game and his, and
Raffles had met his match at last! That was the most intolerable
thought, that Raffles should be down in the flat on my account, and
that I could not warn him of his impending fate; for how was it
possible without making such an outcry as should bring the mansions
about our ears? And there I shivered on that wretched plank, chained
like Andromeda to the rock, with a black infinity above and below; and
before my eyes, now grown familiar with the peculiar darkness, stood
Lord Ernest Belville, waiting for Raffles to emerge with full hands and
unsuspecting heart! Taken so horribly unawares, even Raffles must fall
an easy prey to a desperado in resource and courage scarcely second to
himself, but one whom he had fatally underrated from the beginning.
Not that I paused to think how the thing had happened; my one concern
was for what was to happen next.

And what did happen was worse than my worst foreboding, for first a
light came flickering into the sort of companion-hatch at the head of
the stairs, and finally Raffles - in his shirt-sleeves! He was not only
carrying a candle to put the finishing touch to him as a target; he had
dispensed with coat and waistcoat downstairs, and was at once
full-handed and unarmed.

"Where are you, old chap?" he cried, softly, himself blinded by the
light he carried; and he advanced a couple of steps towards Belville.
"This isn't you, is it?"

And Raffles stopped, his candle held on high, a folding chair under the
other arm.

"No, I am not your friend," replied Lord Ernest, easily; "but kindly
remain standing exactly where you are, and don't lower that candle an
inch, unless you want your brains blown into the street."

Raffles said never a word, but for a moment did as he was bid; and the
unshaken flame of the candle was testimony alike to the stillness of
the night and to the finest set of nerves in Europe.

Then, to my horror, he coolly stooped, placing candle and chair on the
leads, and his hands in his pockets, as though it were but a popgun
that covered him.

"Why didn't you shoot?" he asked insolently as he rose. "Frightened of
the noise? I should be, too, with an old-pattern machine like that.
All very well for service in the field - but on the house-tops at dead
of night!"

"I shall shoot, however," replied Lord Ernest, as quietly in his turn,
and with less insolence, "and chance the noise, unless you instantly
restore my property. I am glad you don't dispute the last word," he
continued after a slight pause. "There is no keener honor than that
which subsists, or ought to subsist, among thieves; and I need hardly
say that I soon spotted you as one of the fraternity. Not in the
beginning, mind you! For the moment I did think you were one of these
smart detectives jumped to life from some sixpenny magazine; but to
preserve the illusion you ought to provide yourself with a worthier
lieutenant. It was he who gave your show away," chuckled the wretch,
dropping for a moment the affected style of speech which seemed
intended to enhance our humiliation; "smart detectives don't go about
with little innocents to assist them. You needn't be anxious about
him, by the way; it wasn't necessary to pitch him into the street; he
is to be seen though not heard, if you look in the right direction.
Nor must you put all the blame upon your friend; it was not he, but
you, who made so sure that I had got out by the window. You see, I was
in my bathroom all the time - with the door open."

"The bathroom, eh?" Raffles echoed with professional interest. "And you
followed us on foot across the park?"

"Of course."

"And then in a cab?"

"And afterwards on foot once more."

"The simplest skeleton would let you in down below."

I saw the lower half of Lord Ernest's face grinning in the light of the
candle set between them on the ground.

"You follow every move," said he; "there can be no doubt you are one of
the fraternity; and I shouldn't wonder if we had formed our style upon
the same model. Ever know A. J. Raffles?"

The abrupt question took my breath away; but Raffles himself did not
lose an instant over his answer.

"Intimately," said he.

"That accounts for you, then," laughed Lord Ernest, "as it does for me,
though I never had the honor of the master's acquaintance. Nor is it
for me to say which is the worthier disciple. Perhaps, however, now
that your friend is handcuffed in mid-air, and you yourself are at my
mercy, you will concede me some little temporary advantage?"

And his face split in another grin from the cropped moustache downward,
as I saw no longer by candlelight but by a flash of lightning which
tore the sky in two before Raffles could reply.

"You have the bulge at present," admitted Raffles; "but you have still
to lay hands upon your, or our, ill-gotten goods. To shoot me is not
necessarily to do so; to bring either one of us to a violent end is
only to court a yet more violent and infinitely more disgraceful one
for yourself. Family considerations alone should rule that risk out of
your game. Now, an hour or two ago, when the exact opposite - "

The remainder of Raffles's speech was drowned from my ears by the
belated crash of thunder which the lightning had foretold. So loud,
however, was the crash when it came, that the storm was evidently
approaching us at a high velocity; yet as the last echo rumbled away, I
heard Raffles talking as though he had never stopped.

"You offered us a share," he was saying; "unless you mean to murder us
both in cold blood, it will be worth your while to repeat that offer.
We should be dangerous enemies; you had far better make the best of us
as friends."

"Lead the way down to your flat," said Lord Ernest, with a flourish of
his service revolver, "and perhaps we may talk about it. It is for me
to make the terms, I imagine, and in the first place I am not going to
get wet to the skin up here."

The rain was beginning in great drops, even as he spoke, and by a
second flash of lightning I saw Raffles pointing to me.

"But what about my friend?" said he.

And then came the second peal.

"Oh, HE'S all right," the great brute replied; "do him good! You don't
catch me letting myself in for two to one!"

"You will find it equally difficult," rejoined Raffles, "to induce me
to leave my friend to the mercy of a night like this. He has not
recovered from the blow you struck him in your own rooms. I am not
such a fool as to blame you for that, but you are a worse sportsman
than I take you for if you think of leaving him where he is. If he
stays, however, so do I."

And, just as it ceased, Raffles's voice seemed distinctly nearer to me;
but in the darkness and the rain, which was now as heavy as hail, I
could see nothing clearly. The rain had already extinguished the
candle. I heard an oath from Belville, a laugh from Raffles, and for a
second that was all. Raffles was coming to me, and the other could not
even see to fire; that was all I knew in the pitchy interval of
invisible rain before the next crash and the next flash.

And then!

This time they came together, and not till my dying hour shall I forget
the sight that the lightning lit and the thunder applauded. Raffles
was on one of the parapets of the gulf that my foot-bridge spanned, and
in the sudden illumination he stepped across it as one might across a
garden path. The width was scarcely greater, but the depth! In the
sudden flare I saw to the concrete bottom of the well, and it looked no
larger than the hollow of my hand. Raffles was laughing in my ear; he
had the iron railing fast; it was between us, but his foothold was as
secure as mine. Lord Ernest Belville, on the contrary, was the fifth
of a second late for the light, and half a foot short in his spring.
Something struck our plank bridge so hard as to set it quivering like a
harp-string; there was half a gasp and half a sob in mid-air beneath
our feet; and then a sound far below that I prefer not to describe. I
am not sure that I could hit upon the perfect simile; it is more than
enough for me that I can hear it still. And with that sickening sound
came the loudest clap of thunder yet, and a great white glare that
showed us our enemy's body far below, with one white hand spread like a
starfish, but the head of him mercifully twisted underneath.

"It was all his own fault, Bunny. Poor devil! May he and all of us be
forgiven; but pull yourself together for your own sake. Well, you can't
fall; stay where you are a minute."

I remember the uproar of the elements while Raffles was gone; no other
sound mingled with it; not the opening of a single window, not the
uplifting of a single voice. Then came Raffles with soap and water,
and the gyve was wheedled from one wrist, as you withdraw a ring for
which the finger has grown too large. Of the rest, I only remember
shivering till morning in a pitch-dark flat, whose invalid occupier was
for once the nurse, and I his patient.

And that is the true ending of the episode in which we two set
ourselves to catch one of our own kidney, albeit in another place I
have shirked the whole truth. It is not a grateful task to show
Raffles as completely at fault as he really was on that occasion; nor
do I derive any subtle satisfaction from recounting my own twofold
humiliation, or from having assisted never so indirectly in the death
of a not uncongenial sinner. The truth, however, has after all a merit
of its own, and the great kinsfolk of poor Lord Ernest have but little
to lose by its divulgence. It would seem that they knew more of the
real character of the apostle of Rational Drink than was known at
Exeter Hall. The tragedy was indeed hushed up, as tragedies only are
when they occur in such circles. But the rumor that did get abroad, as
to the class of enterprise which the poor scamp was pursuing when he
met his death, cannot be too soon exploded, since it breathed upon the
fair fame of some of the most respectable flats in Kensington.



The square shall be nameless, but if you drive due west from Piccadilly
the cab-man will eventually find it on his left, and he ought to thank
you for two shillings. It is not a fashionable square, but there are
few with a finer garden, while the studios on the south side lend
distinction of another sort. The houses, however, are small and dingy,
and about the last to attract the expert practitioner in search of a
crib. Heaven knows it was with no such thought I trailed Raffles
thither, one unlucky evening at the latter end of that same season,
when Dr. Theobald had at last insisted upon the bath-chair which I had
foreseen in the beginning. Trees whispered in the green garden
aforesaid, and the cool, smooth lawns looked so inviting that I
wondered whether some philanthropic resident could not be induced to
lend us the key. But Raffles would not listen to the suggestion, when
I stopped to make it, and what was worse, I found him looking wistfully
at the little houses instead.

"Such balconies, Bunny! A leg up, and there you would be!"

I expressed a conviction that there would be nothing worth taking in
the square, but took care to have him under way again as I spoke.

"I daresay you're right," sighed Raffles. "Rings and watches, I
suppose, but it would be hard luck to take them from people who live in
houses like these. I don't know, though. Here's one with an extra
story. Stop, Bunny; if you don't stop I'll hold on to the railings!
This is a good house; look at the knocker and the electric bell.
They've had that put in. There's some money here, my rabbit! I dare
bet there's a silver-table in the drawing-room; and the windows are
wide open. Electric light, too, by Jove!"

Since stop I must, I had done so on the other side of the road, in the
shadow of the leafy palings, and as Raffles spoke the ground floor
windows opposite had flown alight, showing as pretty a little
dinner-table as one could wish to see, with a man at his wine at the
far end, and the back of a lady in evening dress toward us. It was
like a lantern-picture thrown upon a screen. There were only the pair
of them, but the table was brilliant with silver and gay with flowers,
and the maid waited with the indefinable air of a good servant. It
certainly seemed a good house.

"She's going to let down the blind!" whispered Raffles, in high
excitement. "No, confound them, they've told her not to. Mark down
her necklace, Bunny, and invoice his stud. What a brute he looks! But
I like the table, and that's her show. She has the taste; but he must
have money. See the festive picture over the sideboard? Looks to me
like a Jacques Saillard. But that silver-table would be good enough
for me."

"Get on," said I. "You're in a bath-chair."

"But the whole square's at dinner! We should have the ball at our
feet. It wouldn't take two twos!"

"With those blinds up, and the cook in the kitchen underneath?"

He nodded, leaning forward in the chair, his hands upon the wraps about
his legs.

"You must be mad," said I, and got back to my handles with the word,
but when I tugged the chair ran light.

"Keep an eye on the rug," came in a whisper from the middle of the
road; and there stood my invalid, his pale face in a quiver of pure
mischief, yet set with his insane resolve. "I'm only going to see
whether that woman has a silver-table - "

"We don't want it - "

"It won't take a minute - "

"It's madness, madness - "

"Then don't you wait!"

It was like him to leave me with that, and this time I had taken him at
his last word had not my own given me an idea. Mad I had called him,
and mad I could declare him upon oath if necessary. It was not as
though the thing had happened far from home. They could learn all
about us at the nearest mansions. I referred them to Dr. Theobald;
this was a Mr. Maturin, one of his patients, and I was his keeper, and
he had never given me the slip before. I heard myself making these
explanations on the doorstep, and pointing to the deserted bath-chair
as the proof, while the pretty parlor maid ran for the police. It
would be a more serious matter for me than for my charge. I should
lose my place. No, he had never done such a thing before, and I would
answer for it that he never should again.

I saw myself conducting Raffles back to his chair, with a firm hand and
a stern tongue. I heard him thanking me in whispers on the way home.
It would be the first tight place I had ever got him out of, and I was
quite anxious for him to get into it, so sure was I of every move. My
whole position had altered in the few seconds that it took me to follow
this illuminating train of ideas; it was now so strong that I could
watch Raffles without much anxiety. And he was worth watching.

He had stepped boldly but softly to the front door, and there he was
still waiting, ready to ring if the door opened or a face appeared in
the area, and doubtless to pretend that he had rung already. But he
had not to ring at all; and suddenly I saw his foot in the letter-box,
his left hand on the lintel overhead. It was thrilling, even to a
hardened accomplice with an explanation up his sleeve! A tight grip
with that left hand of his, as he leant backward with all his weight
upon those five fingers; a right arm stretched outward and upward to
its last inch; and the base of the low, projecting balcony was safely

I looked down and took breath. The maid was removing the crumbs in the
lighted room, and the square was empty as before. What a blessing it
was the end of the season! Many of the houses remained in darkness. I
looked up again, and Raffles was drawing his left leg over the balcony
railing. In another moment he had disappeared through one of the
French windows which opened upon the balcony, and in yet another he had
switched on the electric light within. This was bad enough, for now I,
at least, could see everything he did; but the crowning folly was still
to come. There was no point in it; the mad thing was done for my
benefit, as I knew at once and he afterward confessed; but the lunatic
reappeared on the balcony, bowing like a mountebank - in his crape mask!

I set off with the empty chair, but I came back. I could not desert
old Raffles, even when I would, but must try to explain away his mask
as well, if he had not the sense to take it off in time. It would be
difficult, but burglaries are not usually committed from a bath-chair,
and for the rest I put my faith in Dr. Theobald. Meanwhile Raffles had
at least withdrawn from the balcony, and now I could only see his head
as he peered into a cabinet at the other side of the room. It was like
the opera of Aida, in which two scenes are enacted simultaneously, one
in the dungeon below, the other in the temple above. In the same
fashion my attention now became divided between the picture of Raffles
moving stealthily about the upper room, and that of the husband and
wife at table underneath. And all at once, as the man replenished his
glass with a shrug of the shoulders, the woman pushed back her chair
and sailed to the door.

Raffles was standing before the fireplace upstairs. He had taken one
of the framed photographs from the chimney-piece, and was scanning it
at suicidal length through the eye-holes in the hideous mask which he
still wore. He would need it after all. The lady had left the room
below, opening and shutting the door for herself; the man was filling
his glass once more. I would have shrieked my warning to Raffles, so
fatally engrossed overhead, but at this moment (of all others) a
constable (of all men) was marching sedately down our side of the
square. There was nothing for it but to turn a melancholy eye upon the
bath-chair, and to ask the constable the time. I was evidently to be
kept there all night, I remarked, and only realized with the words that
they disposed of my other explanations before they were uttered. It
was a horrible moment for such a discovery. Fortunately the enemy was
on the pavement, from which he could scarcely have seen more than the
drawing-room ceiling, had he looked; but he was not many houses distant
when a door opened and a woman gasped so that I heard both across the
road. And never shall I forget the subsequent tableaux in the lighted
room behind the low balcony and the French windows.

Raffles stood confronted by a dark and handsome woman whose profile, as
I saw it first in the electric light, is cut like a cameo in my memory.
It had the undeviating line of brow and nose, the short upper lip, the
perfect chin, that are united in marble oftener than in the flesh; and
like marble she stood, or rather like some beautiful pale bronze; for
that was her coloring, and she lost none of it that I could see,
neither trembled; but her bosom rose and fell, and that was all. So
she stood without flinching before a masked ruffian, who, I felt, would
be the first to appreciate her courage; to me it was so superb that I
could think of it in this way even then, and marvel how Raffles himself
could stand unabashed before so brave a figure. He had not to do so
long. The woman scorned him, and he stood unmoved, a framed
photograph still in his hand. Then, with a quick, determined movement
she turned, not to the door or to the bell, but to the open window by
which Raffles had entered; and this with that accursed policeman still
in view. So far no word had passed between the pair. But at this point
Raffles said something, I could not hear what, but at the sound of his
voice the woman wheeled. And Raffles was looking humbly in her face,
the crape mask snatched from his own.

"Arthur!" she cried; and that might have been heard in the middle of
the square garden.

Then they stood gazing at each other, neither unmoved any more, and
while they stood the street-door opened and banged. It was her husband
leaving the house, a fine figure of a man, but a dissipated face, and a
step even now distinguished by the extreme caution which precedes
unsteadiness. He broke the spell. His wife came to the balcony, then
looked back into the room, and yet again along the road, and this time
I saw her face. It was the face of one glancing indeed from Hyperion
to a satyr. And then I saw the rings flash, as her hand fell gently
upon Raffles's arm.

They disappeared from that window. Their heads showed for an instant
in the next. Then they dipped out of sight, and an inner ceiling
flashed out under a new light; they had gone into the back
drawing-room, beyond my ken. The maid came up with coffee, her
mistress hastily met her at the door, and once more disappeared. The
square was as quiet as ever. I remained some minutes where I was. Now
and then I thought I heard their voices in the back drawing-room. I
was seldom sure.

My state of mind may be imagined by those readers who take an interest
in my personal psychology. It does not amuse me to look back upon it.
But at length I had the sense to put myself in Raffles's place. He had
been recognized at last, he had come to life. Only one person knew as
yet, but that person was a woman, and a woman who had once been fond
of him, if the human face could speak. Would she keep his secret?
Would he tell her where he lived? It was terrible to think we were
such neighbors, and with the thought that it was terrible came a little
enlightenment as to what could still be done for the best. He would
not tell her where he lived. I knew him too well for that. He would
run for it when he could, and the bath-chair and I must not be there to
give him away. I dragged the infernal vehicle round the nearer corner.
Then I waited - there could be no harm in that - and at last he came.

He was walking briskly, so I was right, and he had not played the
invalid to her; yet I heard him cry out with pleasure as he turned the
corner, and he flung himself into the chair with a long-drawn sigh that
did me good.

"Well done, Bunny - well done! I am on my way to Earl's Court, she's
capable of following me, but she won't look for me in a bath-chair.
Home, home, home, and not another word till we get there!"

Capable of following him? She overtook us before we were past the
studios on the south side of the square, the woman herself, in a hooded
opera-cloak. But she never gave us a glance, and we saw her turn
safely in the right direction for Earl's Court, and the wrong one for

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 8 of 13)