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Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman

Raffles: Further Adventures of the Amateur Cracksman

Author:E. W. Hornung


I am still uncertain which surprised me more, the telegram calling my attention to the advertisement, or the advertisement itself. The telegram is before me as I write. It would...
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  I am still uncertain which surprised me more, the telegram calling myattention to the advertisement, or the advertisement itself. Thetelegram is before me as I write. It would appear to have been handedin at Vere Street at eight o'clock in the morning of May 11, 1897, andreceived before half-past at Holloway B.O. And in that drab region itduly found me, unwashen but at work before the day grew hot and myattic insupportable.

  "See Mr. Maturin's advertisement Daily Mail might suit you earnestlybeg try will speak if necessary ---- ----"

  I transcribe the thing as I see it before me, all in one breath thattook away mine; but I leave out the initials at the end, whichcompleted the surprise. They stood very obviously for the knightedspecialist whose consulting-room is within a cab-whistle of VereStreet, and who once called me kinsman for his sins. More recently hehad called me other names. I was a disgrace, qualified by an adjectivewhich seemed to me another. I had made my bed, and I could go and lieand die in it. If I ever again had the insolence to show my nose inthat house, I should go out quicker than I came in. All this, andmore, my least distant relative could tell a poor devil to his face;could ring for his man, and give him his brutal instructions on thespot; and then relent to the tune of this telegram! I have no phrasefor my amazement. I literally could not believe my eyes. Yet theirevidence was more and more conclusive: a very epistle could not havebeen more characteristic of its sender. Meanly elliptical, ludicrouslyprecise, saving half-pence at the expense of sense, yet paying like aman for "Mr." Maturin, that was my distinguished relative from hisbald patch to his corns. Nor was all the rest unlike him, upon secondthoughts. He had a reputation for charity; he was going to live up toit after all. Either that, or it was the sudden impulse of which themost calculating are capable at times; the morning papers with theearly cup of tea, this advertisement seen by chance, and the rest uponthe spur of a guilty conscience.

  Well, I must see it for myself, and the sooner the better, though workpressed. I was writing a series of articles upon prison life, and hadmy nib into the whole System; a literary and philanthropical daily wasparading my "charges," the graver ones with the more gusto; and theterms, if unhandsome for creative work, were temporary wealth to me.It so happened that my first check had just arrived by the eighto'clock post; and my position should be appreciated when I say that Ihad to cash it to obtain a Daily Mail.

  Of the advertisement itself, what is to be said? It should speak foritself if I could find it, but I cannot, and only remember that it wasa "male nurse and constant attendant" that was "wanted for an elderlygentleman in feeble health." A male nurse! An absurd tag wasappended, offering "liberal salary to University or public-school man";and of a sudden I saw that I should get this thing if I applied for it.What other "University or public-school man" would dream of doing so?Was any other in such straits as I? And then my relenting relative; henot only promised to speak for me, but was the very man to do so.Could any recommendation compete with his in the matter of a malenurse? And need the duties of such be necessarily loathsome andrepellent? Certainly the surroundings would be better than those of mycommon lodging-house and own particular garret; and the food; and everyother condition of life that I could think of on my way back to thatunsavory asylum. So I dived into a pawnbroker's shop, where I was astranger only upon my present errand, and within the hour was airing adecent if antiquated suit, but little corrupted by the pawnbroker'smoth, and a new straw hat, on the top of a tram.

  The address given in the advertisement was that of a flat at Earl'sCourt, which cost me a cross-country journey, finishing with theDistrict Railway and a seven minutes' walk. It was now past mid-day,and the tarry wood-pavement was good to smell as I strode up the Earl'sCourt Road. It was great to walk the civilized world again. Here weremen with coats on their backs, and ladies in gloves. My only fear waslest I might run up against one or other whom I had known of old. Butit was my lucky day. I felt it in my bones. I was going to get thisberth; and sometimes I should be able to smell the wood-pavement on theold boy's errands; perhaps he would insist on skimming over it in hisbath-chair, with me behind.

  I felt quite nervous when I reached the flats. They were a small pilein a side street, and I pitied the doctor whose plate I saw upon thepalings before the ground-floor windows; he must be in a very smallway, I thought. I rather pitied myself as well. I had indulged invisions of better flats than these. There were no balconies. Theporter was out of livery. There was no lift, and my invalid on thethird floor! I trudged up, wishing I had never lived in Mount Street,and brushed against a dejected individual coming down. A full-bloodedyoung fellow in a frock-coat flung the right door open at my summons.

  "Does Mr. Maturin live here?" I inquired.

  "That's right," said the full-blooded young man, grinning all over aconvivial countenance.

  "I--I've come about his advertisement in the Daily Mail."

  "You're the thirty-ninth," cried the blood; "that was the thirty-eighthyou met upon the stairs, and the day's still young. Excuse my staringat you. Yes, you pass your prelim., and can come inside; you're one ofthe few. We had most just after breakfast, but now the porter'sheading off the worst cases, and that last chap was the first fortwenty minutes. Come in here."

  And I was ushered into an empty room with a good bay-window, whichenabled my full-blooded friend to inspect me yet more critically in agood light; this he did without the least false delicacy; then hisquestions began.

  "'Varsity man?"


  "Public school?"


  "Which one?"

  I told him, and he sighed relief.

  "At last! You're the very first I've not had to argue with as to whatis and what is not a public school. Expelled?"

  "No," I said, after a moment's hesitation; "no, I was not expelled.And I hope you won't expel me if I ask a question in my turn?"

  "Certainly not."

  "Are you Mr. Maturin's son?"

  "No, my name's Theobald. You may have seen it down below."

  "The doctor?" I said.

  "His doctor," said Theobald, with a satisfied eye. "Mr. Maturin'sdoctor. He is having a male nurse and attendant by my advice, and hewants a gentleman if he can get one. I rather think he'll see you,though he's only seen two or three all day. There are certain questionswhich he prefers to ask himself, and it's no good going over the sameground twice. So perhaps I had better tell him about you before we getany further."

  And he withdrew to a room still nearer the entrance, as I could hear,for it was a very small flat indeed. But now two doors were shutbetween us, and I had to rest content with murmurs through the walluntil the doctor returned to summon me.

  "I have persuaded my patient to see you," he whispered, "but I confessI am not sanguine of the result. He is very difficult to please. Youmust prepare yourself for a querulous invalid, and for no sinecure ifyou get the billet."

  "May I ask what's the matter with him?"

  "By all means--when you've got the billet."

  Dr. Theobald then led the way, his professional dignity so thoroughlyintact that I could not but smile as I followed his swinging coat-tailsto the sick-room. I carried no smile across the threshold of adarkened chamber which reeked of drugs and twinkled with medicinebottles, and in the middle of which a gaunt figure lay abed in thehalf-light.

  "Take him to the window, take him to the window," a thin voice snapped,"and let's have a look at him. Open the blind a bit. Not as much asthat, damn you, not as much as that!"

  The doctor took the oath as though it had been a fee. I no longerpitied him. It was now very clear to me that he had one patient whowas a little practice in himself. I determined there and then that heshould prove a little profession to me, if we could but keep him alivebetween us. Mr. Maturin, however, had the whitest face that I haveever seen, and his teeth gleamed out through the dusk as though thewithered lips no longer met about them; nor did they except in speech;and anything ghastlier than the perpetual grin of his repose I defy youto imagine. It was with this grin that he lay regarding me while thedoctor held the blind.

  "So you think you could look after me, do you?"

  "I'm certain I could, sir."

  "Single-handed, mind! I don't keep another soul. You would have tocook your own grub and my slops. Do you think you could do all that?"

  "Yes, sir, I think so."

  "Why do you? Have you any experience of the kind?"

  "No, sir, none."

  "Then why do you pretend you have?"

  "I only meant that I would do my best."

  "Only meant, only meant! Have you done your best at everything else,then?"

  I hung my head. This was a facer. And there was something in myinvalid which thrust the unspoken lie down my throat.

  "No, sir, I have not," I told him plainly.

  "He, he, he!" the old wretch tittered; "and you do well to own it; youdo well, sir, very well indeed. If you hadn't owned up, out you wouldhave gone, out neck-and-crop! You've saved your bacon. You may domore. So you are a public-school boy, and a very good school yours is,but you weren't at either University. Is that correct?"


  "What did you do when you left school?"

  "I came in for money."

  "And then?"

  "I spent my money."

  "And since then?"

  I stood like a mule.

  "And since then, I say!"

  "A relative of mine will tell you if you ask him. He is an eminentman, and he has promised to speak for me. I would rather say no moremyself."

  "But you shall, sir, but you shall! Do you suppose that I suppose apublic-school boy would apply for a berth like this if something orother hadn't happened? What I want is a gentleman of sorts, and Idon't much care what sort; but you've got to tell me what did happen,if you don't tell anybody else. Dr. Theobald, sir, you can go to thedevil if you won't take a hint. This man may do or he may not. Youhave no more to say to it till I send him down to tell you one thing orthe other. Clear out, sir, clear out; and if you think you've anythingto complain of, you stick it down in the bill!"

  In the mild excitement of our interview the thin voice had gatheredstrength, and the last shrill insult was screamed after the devotedmedico, as he retired in such order that I felt certain he was going totake this trying patient at his word. The bedroom door closed, thenthe outer one, and the doctor's heels went drumming down the commonstair. I was alone in the flat with this highly singular and ratherterrible old man.

  "And a damned good riddance!" croaked the invalid, raising himself onone elbow without delay. "I may not have much body left to boastabout, but at least I've got a lost old soul to call my own. That'swhy I want a gentleman of sorts about me. I've been too dependent onthat chap. He won't even let me smoke, and he's been in the flat allday to see I didn't. You'll find the cigarettes behind the Madonna ofthe Chair."

  It was a steel engraving of the great Raffaelle, and the frame wastilted from the wall; at a touch a packet of cigarettes tumbled downfrom behind.

  "Thanks; and now a light."

  I struck the match and held it, while the invalid inhaled with normallips; and suddenly I sighed. I was irresistibly reminded of my poordear old Raffles. A smoke-ring worthy of the great A. J. was floatingupward from the sick man's lips.

  "And now take one yourself. I have smoked more poisonous cigarettes.But even these are not Sullivans!"

  I cannot repeat what I said. I have no idea what I did. I onlyknow--I only knew--that it was A. J. Raffles in the flesh!