Copyright
E.W. Hornung.

Raffles, Further Adventures online

. (page 9 of 13)
Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 9 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


our humble mansions. Raffles thanked his gods in a voice that
trembled, and five minutes later we were in the flat. Then for once it
was Raffles who filled the tumblers and found the cigarettes, and for
once (and once only in all my knowledge of him) did he drain his glass
at a draught.

"You didn't see the balcony scene?" he asked at length; and they were
his first words since the woman passed us on his track.

"Do you mean when she came in?"

"No, when I came down."

"I didn't."

"I hope nobody else saw it," said Raffles devoutly. "I don't say that
Romeo and Juliet were brother and sister to us. But you might have
said so, Bunny!"

He was staring at the carpet with as wry a face as lover ever wore.

"An old flame?" said I, gently.

"A married woman," he groaned.

"So I gathered."

"But she always was one, Bunny," said he, ruefully. "That's the
trouble. It makes all the difference in the world!"

I saw the difference, but said I did not see how it could make any now.
He had eluded the lady, after all; had we not seen her off upon a scent
as false as scent could be? There was occasion for redoubled caution
in the future, but none for immediate anxiety. I quoted the bedside
Theobald, but Raffles did not smile. His eyes had been downcast all
this time, and now, when he raised them, I perceived that my comfort
had been administered to deaf ears.

"Do you know who she is?" said he.

"Not from Eve."

"Jacques Saillard," he said, as though now I must know.

But the name left me cold and stolid. I had heard it, but that was
all. It was lamentable ignorance, I am aware, but I had specialized in
Letters at the expense of Art.

"You must know her pictures," said Raffles, patiently; "but I suppose
you thought she was a man. They would appeal to you, Bunny; that
festive piece over the sideboard was her work. Sometimes they risk her
at the Academy, sometimes they fight shy. She has one of those studios
in the same square; they used to live up near Lord's."

My mind was busy brightening a dim memory of nymphs reflected in woody
pools. "Of course!" I exclaimed, and added something about "a clever
woman." Raffles rose at the phrase.

"A clever woman!" he echoed, scornfully; "if she were only that I
should feel safe as houses. Clever women can't forget their
cleverness, they carry it as badly as a boy does his wine, and are
about as dangerous. I don't call Jacques Saillard clever outside her
art, but neither do I call her a woman at all. She does man's work
over a man's name, has the will of any ten men I ever knew, and I don't
mind telling you that I fear her more than any person on God's earth.
I broke with her once," said Raffles, grimly, "but I know her. If I
had been asked to name the one person in London by whom I was keenest
NOT to be bowled out, I should have named Jacques Saillard."

That he had never before named her to me was as characteristic as the
reticence with which Raffles spoke of their past relations, and even
of their conversation in the back drawing-room that evening.

It was a question of principle with him, and one that I like to
remember. "Never give a woman away, Bunny," he used to say; and he
said it again to-night, but with a heavy cloud upon him, as though his
chivalry was sorely tried.

"That's all right," said I, "if you're not going to be given away
yourself."

"That's just it, Bunny! That's just - "

The words were out of him, it was too late to recall them. I had hit
the nail upon the head.

"So she threatened you," I said, "did she?"

"I didn't say so," he replied, coldly.

"And she is mated with a clown!" I pursued.

"How she ever married him," he admitted, "is a mystery to me."

"It always is," said I, the wise man for once, and rather enjoying the
role.

"Southern blood?"

"Spanish."

"She'll be pestering you to run off with her, old chap," said I.

Raffles was pacing the room. He stopped in his stride for half a
second. So she had begun pestering him already! It is wonderful how
acute any fool can be in the affairs of his friend.

But Raffles resumed his walk without a syllable, and I retreated to
safer ground.

"So you sent her to Earl's Court," I mused aloud; and at last he smiled.

"You'll be interested to hear, Bunny," said he, "that I am now living
in Seven Dials, and Bill Sikes couldn't hold a farthing dip to me.
Bless you, she had my old police record at her fingers' ends, but it
was fit to frame compared with the one I gave her. I had sunk as low
as they dig. I divided my nights between the open parks and a thieves'
kitchen in Seven Dials. If I was decently dressed it was because I had
stolen the suit down the Thames Valley beat the night before last. I
was on my way back when first that sleepy square, and then her open
window, proved too much for me. You should have heard me beg her to
let me push on to the devil in my own way; there I spread myself, for
I meant every word; but I swore the final stage would be a six-foot
drop."

"You did lay it on," said I.

"It was necessary, and that had its effect. She let me go. But at the
last moment she said she didn't believe I was so black as I painted
myself, and then there was the balcony scene you missed."

So that was all. I could not help telling him that he had got out of
it better than he deserved for ever getting in. Next moment I
regretted the remark.

"If I have got out of it," said Raffles, doubtfully. "We are
dreadfully near neighbors, and I can't move in a minute, with old
Theobald taking a grave view of my case. I suppose I had better lie
low, and thank the gods again for putting her off the scent for the
time being."

No doubt our conversation was carried beyond this point, but it
certainly was not many minutes later, nor had we left the subject, when
the electric bell thrilled us both to a sudden silence.

"The doctor?" I queried, hope fighting with my horror.

"It was a single ring."

"The last post?"

"You know he knocks, and it's long past his time."

The electric bell rang again, but now as though it never would stop.

"You go, Bunny," said Raffles, with decision. His eyes were sparkling.
His smile was firm.

"What am I to say?"

"If it's the lady let her in."

It was the lady, still in her evening cloak, with her fine dark head
half-hidden by the hood, and an engaging contempt of appearances upon
her angry face. She was even handsomer than I had thought, and her
beauty of a bolder type, but she was also angrier than I had
anticipated when I came so readily to the door. The passage into which
it opened was an exceedingly narrow one, as I have often said, but I
never dreamt of barring this woman's way, though not a word did she
stoop to say to me. I was only too glad to flatten myself against the
wall, as the rustling fury strode past me into the lighted room with
the open door.

"So this is your thieves' kitchen!" she cried, in high-pitched scorn.

I was on the threshold myself, and Raffles glanced towards me with
raised eyebrows.

"I have certainly had better quarters in my day," said he, "but you
need not call them absurd names before my man."

"Then send your 'man' about his business," said Jacques Saillard, with
an unpleasant stress upon the word indicated.

But when the door was shut I heard Raffles assuring her that I knew
nothing, that he was a real invalid overcome by a sudden mad
temptation, and all he had told her of his life a lie to hide his
whereabouts, but all he was telling her now she could prove for herself
without leaving that building. It seemed, however, that she had proved
it already by going first to the porter below stairs. Yet I do not
think she cared one atom which story was the truth.

"So you thought I could pass you in your chair," she said, "or ever in
this world again, without hearing from my heart that it was you!"


II

"Bunny," said Raffles, "I'm awfully sorry, old chap, but you've got to
go."

It was some weeks since the first untimely visitation of Jacques
Saillard, but there had been many others at all hours of the day, while
Raffles had been induced to pay at least one to her studio in the
neighboring square. These intrusions he had endured at first with an
air of humorous resignation which imposed upon me less than he
imagined. The woman meant well, he said, after all, and could be
trusted to keep his secret loyally. It was plain to me, however, that
Raffles did not trust her, and that his pretence upon the point was a
deliberate pose to conceal the extent to which she had him in her
power. Otherwise there would have been little point in hiding anything
from the one person in possession of the cardinal secret of his
identity.

But Raffles thought it worth his while to hoodwink Jacques Saillard in
the subsidiary matter of his health, in which Dr. Theobald lent him
unwitting assistance, and, as we have seen, to impress upon her that I
was actually his attendant, and as ignorant of his past as the doctor
himself. "So you're all right, Bunny," he had assured me; "she thinks
you knew nothing the other night. I told you she wasn't a clever woman
outside her work. But hasn't she a will!" I told Raffles it was very
considerate of him to keep me out of it, but that it seemed to me like
tying up the bag when the cat had escaped. His reply was an admission
that one must be on the defensive with such a woman and in such a case.
Soon after this, Raffles, looking far from well, fell back upon his
own last line of defence, namely, his bed; and now, as always in the
end, I could see some sense in his subtleties, since it was
comparatively easy for me to turn even Jacques Saillard from the door,
with Dr. Theobald's explicit injunctions, and with my own honesty
unquestioned. So for a day we had peace once more. Then came letters,
then the doctor again and again, and finally my dismissal in the
incredible words which have necessitated these explanations.

"Go?" I echoed. "Go where?"

"It's that ass Theobald," said Raffles. "He insists."

"On my going altogether?"

He nodded.

"And you mean to let him have his way?"

I had no language for my mortification and disgust, though neither was
as yet quite so great as my surprise. I had foreseen almost every
conceivable consequence of the mad act which brought all this trouble
to pass, but a voluntary division between Raffles and me had certainly
never entered my calculations. Nor could I think that it had occurred
to him before our egregious doctor's last visit, this very morning.
Raffles had looked irritated as he broke the news to me from his
pillow, and now there was some sympathy in the way he sat up in bed, as
though he felt the thing himself.

"I am obliged to give in to the fellow," said he. "He's saving me from
my friend, and I'm bound to humor him. But I can tell you that we've
been arguing about you for the last half hour, Bunny. It was no use;
the idiot has had his knife in you from the first; and he wouldn't see
me through on any other conditions."

"So he is going to see you through, is he?"

"It tots up to that," said Raffles, looking at me rather hard. "At all
events he has come to my rescue for the time being, and it's for me to
manage the rest. You don't know what it has been, Bunny, these last
few weeks; and gallantry forbids that I should tell you even now. But
would you rather elope against your will, or have your continued
existence made known to the world in general and the police in
particular? That is practically the problem which I have had to solve,
and the temporary solution was to fall ill. As a matter of fact, I am
ill; and now what do you think? I owe it to you to tell you, Bunny,
though it goes against the grain. She would take me 'to the dear, warm
underworld, where the sun really shines,' and she would 'nurse me back
to life and love!' The artistic temperament is a fearsome thing,
Bunny, in a woman with the devil's own will!"

Raffles tore up the letter from which he had read these piquant
extracts, and lay back on the pillows with the tired air of the
veritable invalid which he seemed able to assume at will. But for once
he did look as though bed was the best place for him; and I used the
fact as an argument for my own retention in defiance of Dr. Theobald.
The town was full of typhoid, I said, and certainly that autumnal
scourge was in the air. Did he want me to leave him at the very moment
when he might be sickening for a serious illness?

"You know I don't, my good fellow," said Raffles, wearily; "but
Theobald does, and I can't afford to go against him now. Not that I
really care what happens to me now that that woman knows I'm in the
land of the living; she'll let it out, to a dead certainty, and at the
best there'll be a hue and cry, which is the very thing I have escaped
all these years. Now, what I want you to do is to go and take some
quiet place somewhere, and then let me know, so that I may have a port
in the storm when it breaks."

"Now you're talking!" I cried, recovering my spirits. "I thought you
meant to go and drop a fellow altogether!"

"Exactly the sort of thing you would think," rejoined Raffles, with a
contempt that was welcome enough after my late alarm. "No, my dear
rabbit, what you've got to do is to make a new burrow for us both. Try
down the Thames, in some quiet nook that a literary man would naturally
select. I've often thought that more use might be made of a boat,
while the family are at dinner, than there ever has been yet. If
Raffles is to come to life, old chap, he shall go a-Raffling for all
he's worth! There's something to be done with a bicycle, too. Try Ham
Common or Roehampton, or some such sleepy hollow a trifle off the line;
and say you're expecting your brother from the colonies."

Into this arrangement I entered without the slightest hesitation, for
we had funds enough to carry it out on a comfortable scale, and Raffles
placed a sufficient share at my disposal for the nonce. Moreover, I
for one was only too glad to seek fresh fields and pastures new - a
phrase which I determined to interpret literally in my choice of fresh
surroundings. I was tired of our submerged life in the poky little
flat, especially now that we had money enough for better things. I
myself of late had dark dealings with the receivers, with the result
that poor Lord Ernest Belville's successes were now indeed ours.
Subsequent complications had been the more galling on that account,
while the wanton way in which they had been created was the most
irritating reflection of all. But it had brought its own punishment
upon Raffles, and I fancied the lesson would prove salutary when we
again settled down.

"If ever we do, Bunny!" said he, as I took his hand and told him how I
was already looking forward to the time.

"But of course we will!" I cried, concealing the resentment at leaving
him which his tone and his appearance renewed in my breast.

"I'm not so sure of it," he said, gloomily. "I'm in somebody's
clutches, and I've got to get out of them first."

"I'll sit tight until you do."

"Well," he said, "if you don't see me in ten days you never will."

"Only ten days?" I echoed. "That's nothing at all."

"A lot may happen in ten days," replied Raffles, in the same depressing
tone, so very depressing in him; and with that he held out his hand a
second time, and dropped mine suddenly after as sudden a pressure for
farewell.

I left the flat in considerable dejection after all, unable to decide
whether Raffles was really ill, or only worried as I knew him to be.
And at the foot of the stairs the author of my dismissal, that
confounded Theobald, flung open his door and waylaid me.

"Are you going?" he demanded.

The traps in my hands proclaimed that I was, but I dropped them at his
feet to have it out with him then and there.

"Yes," I answered fiercely, "thanks to you!"

"Well, my good fellow," he said, his full-blooded face lightening and
softening at the same time, as though a load were off his mind, "it's
no pleasure to me to deprive any man of his billet, but you never were
a nurse, and you know that as well as I do."

I began to wonder what he meant, and how much he did know, and my
speculations kept me silent. "But come in here a moment," he
continued, just as I decided that he knew nothing at all. And, leading
me into his minute consulting-room, Dr. Theobald solemnly presented me
with a sovereign by way of compensation, which I pocketed as solemnly,
and with as much gratitude as if I had not fifty of them distributed
over my person as it was. The good fellow had quite forgotten my
social status, about which he himself had been so particular at our
earliest interview; but he had never accustomed himself to treat me as
a gentleman, and I do not suppose he had been improving his memory by
the tall tumbler which I saw him poke behind a photograph as we entered.

"There's one thing I should like to know before I go," said I, turning
suddenly on the doctor's mat, "and that is whether Mr. Maturin is
really ill or not!"

I meant, of course, at the present moment, but Dr. Theobald braced
himself like a recruit at the drill-sergeant's voice.

"Of course he is," he snapped - "so ill as to need a nurse who can
nurse, by way of a change."

With that his door shut in my face, and I had to go my way, in the dark
as to whether he had mistaken my meaning, and was telling me a lie, or
not.

But for my misgivings upon this point I might have extracted some very
genuine enjoyment out of the next few days. I had decent clothes to my
back, with money, as I say, in most of the pockets, and more freedom to
spend it than was possible in the constant society of a man whose
personal liberty depended on a universal supposition that he was dead.
Raffles was as bold as ever, and I as fond of him, but whereas he would
run any risk in a professional exploit, there were many innocent
recreations still open to me which would have been sheer madness in
him. He could not even watch a match, from the sixpenny seats, at
Lord's cricket-ground, where the Gentlemen were every year in a worse
way without him. He never travelled by rail, and dining out was a risk
only to be run with some ulterior object in view. In fact, much as it
had changed, Raffles could no longer show his face with perfect
impunity in any quarter or at any hour. Moreover, after the lesson he
had now learnt, I foresaw increased caution on his part in this
respect. But I myself was under no such perpetual disadvantage, and,
while what was good enough for Raffles was quite good enough for me so
long as we were together, I saw no harm in profiting by the present
opportunity of "doing my-self well."

Such were my reflections on the way to Richmond in a hansom cab.
Richmond had struck us both as the best centre of operations in search
of the suburban retreat which Raffles wanted, and by road, in a
well-appointed, well-selected hansom, was certainly the most agreeable
way of getting there. In a week or ten days Raffles was to write to me
at the Richmond post-office, but for at least a week I should be "on my
own." It was not an unpleasant sensation as I leant back in the
comfortable hansom, and rather to one side, in order to have a good
look at myself in the bevelled mirror that is almost as great an
improvement in these vehicles as the rubber tires. Really I was not an
ill-looking youth, if one may call one's self such at the age of
thirty. I could lay no claim either to the striking cast of
countenance or to the peculiar charm of expression which made the face
of Raffles like no other in the world. But this very distinction was
in itself a danger, for its impression was indelible, whereas I might
still have been mistaken for a hundred other young fellows at large in
London. Incredible as it may appear to the moralists, I had sustained
no external hallmark by my term of imprisonment, and I am vain enough
to believe that the evil which I did had not a separate existence in my
face. This afternoon, indeed, I was struck by the purity of my fresh
complexion, and rather depressed by the general innocence of the
visage which peered into mine from the little mirror. My
straw-colored moustache, grown in the flat after a protracted holiday,
again preserved the most disappointing dimensions, and was still
invisible in certain lights without wax. So far from discerning the
desperate criminal who has "done time" once, and deserved it over and
over again, the superior but superficial observer might have imagined
that he detected a certain element of folly in my face.

At all events it was not the face to shut the doors of a first-class
hotel against me, without accidental evidence of a more explicit kind,
and it was with no little satisfaction that I directed the man to drive
to the Star and Garter. I also told him to go through Richmond Park,
though he warned me that it would add considerably to the distance and
his fare. It was autumn, and it struck me that the tints would be
fine. And I had learnt from Raffles to appreciate such things, even
amid the excitement of an audacious enterprise.

If I dwell upon my appreciation of this occasion it is because, like
most pleasures, it was exceedingly short-lived. I was very comfortable
at the Star and Garter, which was so empty that I had a room worthy of
a prince, where I could enjoy the finest of all views (in patriotic
opinion) every morning while I shaved. I walked many miles through the
noble park, over the commons of Ham and Wimbledon, and one day as far
as that of Esher, where I was forcibly reminded of a service we once
rendered to a distinguished resident in this delightful locality. But
it was on Ham Common, one of the places which Raffles had mentioned as
specially desirable, that I actually found an almost ideal retreat.
This was a cottage where I heard, on inquiry, that rooms were to be let
in the summer. The landlady, a motherly body, of visible excellence,
was surprised indeed at receiving an application for the winter months;
but I have generally found that the title of "author," claimed with
an air, explains every little innocent irregularity of conduct or
appearance, and even requires something of the kind to carry conviction
to the lay intelligence. The present case was one in point, and when I
said that I could only write in a room facing north, on mutton chops
and milk, with a cold ham in the wardrobe in case of nocturnal
inspiration, to which I was liable, my literary character was
established beyond dispute. I secured the rooms, paid a month's rent
in advance at my own request, and moped in them dreadfully until the
week was up and Raffles due any day. I explained that the inspiration
would not come, and asked abruptly if the mutton was New Zealand.

Thrice had I made fruitless inquiries at the Richmond post-office; but
on the tenth day I was in and out almost every hour. Not a word was
there for me up to the last post at night. Home I trudged to Ham with
horrible forebodings, and back again to Richmond after breakfast next
morning. Still there was nothing. I could bear it no more. At ten
minutes to eleven I was climbing the station stairs at Earl's Court.

It was a wretched morning there, a weeping mist shrouding the long,
straight street, and clinging to one's face in clammy caresses. I felt
how much better it was down at Ham, as I turned into our side street,
and saw the flats looming like mountains, the chimney-pots hidden in
the mist. At our entrance stood a nebulous conveyance, that I took at
first for a tradesman's van; to my horror it proved to be a hearse; and
all at once the white breath ceased upon my lips.

I had looked up at our windows and the blinds were down!

I rushed within. The doctor's door stood open. I neither knocked nor
rang, but found him in his consulting-room with red eyes and a blotchy
face. Otherwise he was in solemn black from head to heel.

"Who is dead?" I burst out. "Who is dead?"

The red eyes looked redder than ever as Dr. Theobald opened them at the
unwarrantable sight of me; and he was terribly slow in answering. But
in the end he did answer, and did not kick me out as he evidently had a
mind.

"Mr. Maturin," he said, and sighed like a beaten man.

I said nothing. It was no surprise to me. I had known it all these
minutes. Nay, I had dreaded this from the first, had divined it at the
last, though to the last also I had refused to entertain my own
conviction. Raffles dead! A real invalid after all! Raffles dead,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13

Online LibraryE.W. HornungRaffles, Further Adventures → online text (page 9 of 13)