If I must tell more tales of Raffles, I can but back to our earliestdays together, and fill in the blanks left by discretion in existingannals. In so doing I may indeed fill some small part of an infinitelygreater blank, across which you may conceive me to have stretched mycanvas for the first frank portrait of my friend. The whole truthcannot harm him now. I shall paint in every wart. Raffles was avillain, when all is written; it is no service to his memory to glazethe fact; yet I have done so myself before to-day. I have omittedwhole heinous episodes. I have dwelt unduly on the redeeming side.And this I may do again, blinded even as I write by the gallant glamourthat made my villain more to me than any hero. But at least thereshall be no more reservations, and as an earnest I shall make nofurther secret of the greatest wrong that even Raffles ever did me.
I pick my words with care and pain, loyal as I still would be to myfriend, and yet remembering as I must those Ides of March when he ledme blindfold into temptation and crime. That was an ugly office, ifyou will. It was a moral bagatelle to the treacherous trick he was toplay me a few weeks later. The second offence, on the other hand, wasto prove the less serious of the two against society, and might initself have been published to the world years ago. There have beenprivate reasons for my reticence. The affair was not only toointimately mine, and too discreditable to Raffles. One other wasinvolved in it, one dearer to me than Raffles himself, one whose nameshall not even now be sullied by association with ours.
Suffice it that I had been engaged to her before that mad March deed.True, her people called it "an understanding," and frowned even uponthat, as well they might. But their authority was not direct; we bowedto it as an act of politic grace; between us, all was well but myunworthiness. That may be gauged when I confess that this was how thematter stood on the night I gave a worthless check for my losses atbaccarat, and afterward turned to Raffles in my need. Even after thatI saw her sometimes. But I let her guess that there was more upon mysoul than she must ever share, and at last I had written to end it all.I remember that week so well! It was the close of such a May as we hadnever had since, and I was too miserable even to follow the heavyscoring in the papers. Raffles was the only man who could get a wicketup at Lord's, and I never once went to see him play. AgainstYorkshire, however, he helped himself to a hundred runs as well; andthat brought Raffles round to me, on his way home to the Albany.
"We must dine and celebrate the rare event," said he. "A century takesit out of one at my time of life; and you, Bunny, you look quite asmuch in need of your end of a worthy bottle. Suppose we make it theCafé Royal, and eight sharp? I'll be there first to fix up the tableand the wine."
And at the Café Royal I incontinently told him of the trouble I was in.It was the first he had ever heard of my affair, and I told him all,though not before our bottle had been succeeded by a pint of the sameexemplary brand. Raffles heard me out with grave attention. Hissympathy was the more grateful for the tactful brevity with which itwas indicated rather than expressed. He only wished that I had toldhim of this complication in the beginning; as I had not, he agreed withme that the only course was a candid and complete renunciation. It wasnot as though my divinity had a penny of her own, or I could earn anhonest one. I had explained to Raffles that she was an orphan, whospent most of her time with an aristocratic aunt in the country, andthe remainder under the repressive roof of a pompous politician inPalace Gardens. The aunt had, I believed, still a sneaking softnessfor me, but her illustrious brother had set his face against me fromthe first.
"Hector Carruthers!" murmured Raffles, repeating the detested name withhis clear, cold eye on mine. "I suppose you haven't seen much of him?"
"Not a thing for ages," I replied. "I was at the house two or threedays last year, but they've neither asked me since nor been at home tome when I've called. The old beast seems a judge of men."
And I laughed bitterly in my glass.
"Nice house?" said Raffles, glancing at himself in his silvercigarette-case.
"Top shelf," said I. "You know the houses in Palace Gardens, don'tyou?"
"Not so well as I should like to know them, Bunny."
"Well, it's about the most palatial of the lot. The old ruffian is asrich as Croesus. It's a country-place in town."
"What about the window-fastenings?" asked Raffles casually.
I recoiled from the open cigarette-case that he proffered as he spoke.Our eyes met; and in his there was that starry twinkle of mirth andmischief, that sunny beam of audacious devilment, which had been myundoing two months before, which was to undo me as often as he choseuntil the chapter's end. Yet for once I withstood its glamour; foronce I turned aside that luminous glance with front of steel. Therewas no need for Raffles to voice his plans. I read them all betweenthe strong lines of his smiling, eager face. And I pushed back mychair in the equal eagerness of my own resolve.
"Not if I know it!" said I. "A house I've dined in--a house I'veseen her in--a house where she stays by the month together! Don'tput it into words, Raffles, or I'll get up and go."
"You mustn't do that before the coffee and liqueur," said Raffleslaughing. "Have a small Sullivan first: it's the royal road to acigar. And now let me observe that your scruples would do you honor ifold Carruthers still lived in the house in question."
"Do you mean to say he doesn't?"
Raffles struck a match, and handed it first to me. "I mean to say, mydear Bunny, that Palace Gardens knows the very name no more. You beganby telling me you had heard nothing of these people all this year.That's quite enough to account for our little misunderstanding. I wasthinking of the house, and you were thinking of the people in thehouse."
"But who are they, Raffles? Who has taken the house, if old Carruthershas moved, and how do you know that it is still worth a visit?"
"In answer to your first question--Lord Lochmaben," replied Raffles,blowing bracelets of smoke toward the ceiling. "You look as though youhad never heard of him; but as the cricket and racing are the only partof your paper that you condescend to read, you can't be expected tokeep track of all the peers created in your time. Your other questionis not worth answering. How do you suppose that I know these things?It's my business to get to know them, and that's all there is to it.As a matter of fact, Lady Lochmaben has just as good diamonds as Mrs.Carruthers ever had; and the chances are that she keeps them where Mrs.Carruthers kept hers, if you could enlighten me on that point."
As it happened, I could, since I knew from his niece that it was one onwhich Mr. Carruthers had been a faddist in his time. He had made quitea study of the cracksman's craft, in a resolve to circumvent it withhis own. I remembered myself how the ground-floor windows wereelaborately bolted and shuttered, and how the doors of all the roomsopening upon the square inner hall were fitted with extra Yale locks,at an unlikely height, not to be discovered by one within the room. Ithad been the butler's business to turn and to collect all these keysbefore retiring for the night. But the key of the safe in the studywas supposed to be in the jealous keeping of the master of the househimself. That safe was in its turn so ingeniously hidden that I nevershould have found it for myself. I well remember how one who showed itto me
in the innocence of her heart
laughed as she assured me thateven her little trinkets were solemnly locked up in it every night. Ithad been let into the wall behind one end of the book-case, expresslyto preserve the barbaric splendor of Mrs. Carruthers; without a doubtthese Lochmabens would use it for the same purpose; and in the alteredcircumstances I had no hesitation in giving Raffles all the informationhe desired. I even drew him a rough plan of the ground-floor on theback of my menu-card.
"It was rather clever of you to notice the kind of locks on the innerdoors," he remarked as he put it in his pocket. "I suppose you don'tremember if it was a Yale on the front door as well?"
"It was not," I was able to answer quite promptly. "I happen to knowbecause I once had the key when--when we went to a theatre together."
"Thank you, old chap," said Raffles sympathetically. "That's all Ishall want from you, Bunny, my boy. There's no night like to-night!"
It was one of his sayings when bent upon his worst. I looked at himaghast. Our cigars were just in blast, yet already he was signallingfor his bill. It was impossible to remonstrate with him until we wereboth outside in the street.
"I'm coming with you," said I, running my arm through his.
"Why is it nonsense? I know every inch of the ground, and since thehouse has changed hands I have no compunction. Besides, 'I have beenthere' in the other sense as well: once a thief, you know! In for apenny, in for a pound!"
It was ever my mood when the blood was up. But my old friend failed toappreciate the characteristic as he usually did. We crossed RegentStreet in silence. I had to catch his sleeve to keep a hand in hisinhospitable arm.
"I really think you had better stay away," said Raffles as we reachedthe other curb. "I've no use for you this time."
"Yet I thought I had been so useful up to now?"
"That may be, Bunny, but I tell you frankly I don't want you to-night."
"Yet I know the ground and you don't! I tell you what," said I: "I'llcome just to show you the ropes, and I won't take a pennyweight of theswag."
Such was the teasing fashion in which he invariably prevailed upon me;it was delightful to note how it caused him to yield in his turn. ButRaffles had the grace to give in with a laugh, whereas I too often lostmy temper with my point.
"You little rabbit!" he chuckled. "You shall have your share, whetheryou come or not; but, seriously, don't you think you might remember thegirl?"
"What's the use?" I groaned. "You agree there is nothing for it but togive her up. I am glad to say that for myself before I asked you, andwrote to tell her so on Sunday. Now it's Wednesday, and she hasn'tanswered by line or sign. It's waiting for one word from her that'sdriving me mad."
"Perhaps you wrote to Palace Gardens?"
"No, I sent it to the country. There's been time for an answer,wherever she may be."
We had reached the Albany, and halted with one accord at the Piccadillyportico, red cigar to red cigar.
"You wouldn't like to go and see if the answer's in your rooms?" heasked.
"No. What's the good? Where's the point in giving her up if I'm goingto straighten out when it's too late? It is too late, I have given herup, and I am coming with you!"
The hand that bowled the most puzzling ball in England
once it foundits length
descended on my shoulder with surprising promptitude.
"Very well, Bunny! That's finished; but your blood be on your own pateif evil comes of it. Meanwhile we can't do better than turn in heretill you have finished your cigar as it deserves, and topped up withsuch a cup of tea as you must learn to like if you hope to get on inyour new profession. And when the hours are small enough, Bunny, myboy, I don't mind admitting I shall be very glad to have you with me."
I have a vivid memory of the interim in his rooms. I think it musthave been the first and last of its kind that I was called upon tosustain with so much knowledge of what lay before me. I passed thetime with one restless eye upon the clock, and the other on theTantalus which Raffles ruthlessly declined to unlock. He admitted thatit was like waiting with one's pads on; and in my slender experience ofthe game of which he was a world's master, that was an ordeal not to beendured without a general quaking of the inner man. I was, on theother hand, all right when I got to the metaphorical wicket; and halfthe surprises that Raffles sprung on me were doubtless due to his earlyrecognition of the fact.
On this occasion I fell swiftly and hopelessly out of love with theprospect I had so gratuitously embraced. It was not only my repugnanceto enter that house in that way, which grew upon my better judgment asthe artificial enthusiasm of the evening evaporated from my veins.Strong as that repugnance became, I had an even stronger feeling thatwe were embarking on an important enterprise far too much upon the spurof the moment. The latter qualm I had the temerity to confess toRaffles; nor have I often loved him more than when he freely admittedit to be the most natural feeling in the world. He assured me,however, that he had had my Lady Lochmaben and her jewels in his mindfor several months; he had sat behind them at first nights; and longago determined what to take or to reject; in fine, he had only beenwaiting for those topographical details which it had been my chanceprivilege to supply. I now learned that he had numerous houses in asimilar state upon his list; something or other was wanting in eachcase in order to complete his plans. In that of the Bond Streetjeweller it was a trusty accomplice; in the present instance, a moreintimate knowledge of the house. And lastly, this was a Wednesdaynight, when the tired legislator gets early to his bed.
How I wish I could make the whole world see and hear him, and smell thesmoke of his beloved Sullivan, as he took me into these, the secrets ofhis infamous trade! Neither look nor language would betray the infamy.As a mere talker, I shall never listen to the like of Raffles on thisside of the sod; and his talk was seldom garnished by an oath, never inmy remembrance by the unclean word. Then he looked like a man who haddressed to dine out, not like one who had long since dined; for hiscurly hair, though longer that another's, was never untidy in itslength; and these were the days when it was still as black as ink. Norwere there many lines as yet upon the smooth and mobile face; and itsframe was still that dear den of disorder and good taste, with thecarved book-case, the dresser and chests of still older oak, and theWattses and Rossettis hung anyhow on the walls.
It must have been one o'clock before we drove in a hansom as far asKensington Church, instead of getting down at the gates of our privateroad to ruin. Constitutionally shy of the direct approach, Raffles wasfurther deterred by a ball in full swing at the Empress Rooms, whencepotential witnesses were pouring between dances into the cool desertedstreet. Instead he led me a little way up Church Street, and sothrough the narrow passage into Palace Gardens. He knew the house aswell as I did. We made our first survey from the other side of theroad. And the house was not quite in darkness; there was a dim lightover the door, a brighter one in the stables, which stood still fartherback from the road.
"That's a bit of a bore," said Raffles. "The ladies have been outsomewhere--trust them to spoil the show! They would get to bed beforethe stable folk, but insomnia is the curse of their sex and ourprofession. Somebody's not home yet; that will be the son of thehouse; but he's a beauty, who may not come home at all."
"Another Alick Carruthers," I murmured, recalling the one I liked leastof all the household, as I remembered it.
"They might be brothers," rejoined Raffles, who knew all the loose fishabout town. "Well, I'm not sure that I shall want you after all,Bunny."
"If the front door's only on the latch, and you're right about thelock, I shall walk in as though I were the son of the house myself."
And he jingled the skeleton bunch that he carried on a chain as honestmen carry their latchkeys.
"You forget the inner doors and the safe."
"True. You might be useful to me there. But I still don't likeleading you in where it isn't absolutely necessary, Bunny."
"Then let me lead you, I answered, and forthwith marched across thebroad, secluded road, with the great houses standing back on eitherside in their ample gardens, as though the one opposite belonged to me.I thought Raffles had stayed behind, for I never heard him at my heels,yet there he was when I turned round at the gate.
"I must teach you the step," he whispered, shaking his head. "Youshouldn't use your heel at all. Here's a grass border for you: walk itas you would the plank! Gravel makes a noise, and flower-beds tell atale. Wait--I must carry you across this."
It was the sweep of the drive, and in the dim light from above thedoor, the soft gravel, ploughed into ridges by the night's wheels,threatened an alarm at every step. Yet Raffles, with me in his arms,crossed the zone of peril softly as the pard.
"Shoes in your pocket--that's the beauty of pumps!" he whispered on thestep; his light bunch tinkled faintly; a couple of keys he stooped andtried, with the touch of a humane dentist; the third let us into theporch. And as we stood together on the mat, as he was graduallyclosing the door, a clock within chimed a half-hour in fashion sothrillingly familiar to me that I caught Raffles by the arm. Myhalf-hours of happiness had flown to just such chimes! I looked wildlyabout me in the dim light. Hat-stand and oak settee belonged equallyto my past. And Raffles was smiling in my face as he held the doorwide for my escape.
"You told me a lie!" I gasped in whispers.
"I did nothing of the sort," he replied. "The furniture's thefurniture of Hector Carruthers; but the house is the house of LordLochmaben. Look here!"
He had stooped, and was smoothing out the discarded envelope of atelegram. "Lord Lochmaben," I read in pencil by the dim light; and thecase was plain to me on the spot. My friends had let their house,furnished, as anybody but Raffles would have explained to me in thebeginning.
"All right," I said. "Shut the door."
And he not only shut it without a sound, but drew a bolt that mighthave been sheathed in rubber.
In another minute we were at work upon the study-door, I with the tinylantern and the bottle of rock-oil, he with the brace and the largestbit. The Yale lock he had given up at a glance. It was placed high upin the door, feet above the handle, and the chain of holes with whichRaffles had soon surrounded it were bored on a level with his eyes.Yet the clock in the hall chimed again, and two ringing strokesresounded through the silent house before we gained admittance to theroom.
Raffle's next care was to muffle the bell on the shuttered window
witha silk handkerchief from the hat-stand
and to prepare an emergencyexit by opening first the shutters and then the window itself. Luckilyit was a still night, and very little wind came in to embarrass us. Hethen began operations on the safe, revealed by me behind its foldingscreen of books, while I stood sentry on the threshold. I may havestood there for a dozen minutes, listening to the loud hall clock andto the gentle dentistry of Raffles in the mouth of the safe behind me,when a third sound thrilled my every nerve. It was the equallycautious opening of a door in the gallery overhead.
I moistened my lips to whisper a word of warning to Raffles. But hisears had been as quick as mine, and something longer. His lanterndarkened as I turned my head; next moment I felt his breath upon theback of my neck. It was now too late even for a whisper, and quite outof the question to close the mutilated door. There we could onlystand, I on the threshold, Raffles at my elbow, while one carrying acandle crept down the stairs.
The study-door was at right angles to the lowest flight, and just tothe right of one alighting in the hall. It was thus impossible for usto see who it was until the person was close abreast of us; but by therustle of the gown we knew that it was one of the ladies, and dressedjust as she had come from theatre or ball. Insensibly I drew back asthe candle swam into our field of vision: it had not traversed manyinches when a hand was clapped firmly but silently across my mouth.
I could forgive Raffles for that, at any rate! In another breath Ishould have cried aloud: for the girl with the candle, the girl in herball-dress, at dead of night, the girl with the letter for the post,was the last girl on God's wide earth whom I should have chosen thus toencounter--a midnight intruder in the very house where I had beenreluctantly received on her account!
I forgot Raffles. I forgot the new and unforgivable grudge I hadagainst him now. I forgot his very hand across my mouth, even beforehe paid me the compliment of removing it. There was the only girl inall the world: I had eyes and brains for no one and for nothing else.She had neither seen nor heard us, had looked neither to the right handnor the left. But a small oak table stood on the opposite side of thehall; it was to this table that she went. On it was one of those boxesin which one puts one's letters for the post; and she stooped to readby her candle the times at which this box was cleared.
The loud clock ticked and ticked. She was standing at her full heightnow, her candle on the table, her letter in both hands, and in herdowncast face a sweet and pitiful perplexity that drew the tears to myeyes. Through a film I saw her open the envelope so lately sealed andread her letter once more, as though she would have altered it a littleat the last. It was too late for that; but of a sudden she plucked arose from her bosom, and was pressing it in with her letter when Igroaned aloud.
How could I help it? The letter was for me: of that I was as sure asthough I had been looking over her shoulder. She was as true astempered steel; there were not two of us to whom she wrote and sentroses at dead of night. It was her one chance of writing to me. Nonewould know that she had written. And she cared enough to soften thereproaches I had richly earned, with a red rose warm from her own warmheart. And there, and there was I, a common thief who had broken in tosteal! Yet I was unaware that I had uttered a sound until she lookedup, startled, and the hands behind me pinned me where I stood.
I think she must have seen us, even in the dim light of the solitarycandle. Yet not a sound escaped her as she peered courageously in ourdirection; neither did one of us move; but the hall clock went on andon, every tick like the beat of a drum to bring the house about ourears, until a minute must have passed as in some breathless dream. Andthen came the awakening--with such a knocking and a ringing at thefront door as brought all three of us to our senses on the spot.
"The son of the house!" whispered Raffles in my ear, as he dragged meback to the window he had left open for our escape. But as he leapedout first a sharp cry stopped me at the sill. "Get back! Get back!We're trapped!" he cried; and in the single second that I stood there,I saw him fell one officer to the ground, and dart across the lawn withanother at his heels. A third came running up to the window. Whatcould I do but double back into the house? And there in the hall I metmy lost love face to face.
Till that moment she had not recognized me. I ran to catch her as sheall but fell. And my touch repelled her into life, so that she shookme off, and stood gasping: "You, of all men! You, of all men!" until Icould bear it no more, but broke again for the study-window. "Not thatway--not that way!" she cried in an agony at that. Her hands were uponme now. "In there, in there," she whispered, pointing and pulling meto a mere cupboard under the stairs, where hats and coats were hung;and it was she who shut the door on me with a sob.
Doors were already opening overhead, voices calling, voices answering,the alarm running like wildfire from room to room. Soft feet patteredin the gallery and down the stairs about my very ears. I do not knowwhat made me put on my own shoes as I heard them, but I think that Iwas ready and even longing to walk out and give myself up. I need notsay what and who it was that alone restrained me. I heard her name. Iheard them crying to her as though she had fainted. I recognized thedetested voice of my bete noir, Alick Carruthers, thick as might beexpected of the dissipated dog, yet daring to stutter out her name.And then I heard, without catching, her low reply; it was in answer tothe somewhat stern questioning of quite another voice; and from whatfollowed I knew that she had never fainted at all.
"Upstairs, miss, did he? Are you sure?"
I did not hear her answer. I conceive her as simply pointing up thestairs. In any case, about my very ears once more, there now followedsuch a patter and tramp of bare and booted feet as renewed in me a basefear for my own skin. But voices and feet passed over my head, went upand up, higher and higher; and I was wondering whether or not to make adash for it, when one light pair came running down again, and in verydespair I marched out to meet my preserver, looking as little as Icould like the abject thing I felt.
"Be quick!" she cried in a harsh whisper, and pointed peremptorily tothe porch.
But I stood stubbornly before her, my heart hardened by her hardness,and perversely indifferent to all else. And as I stood I saw theletter she had written, in the hand with which she pointed, crushedinto a ball.
"Quickly!" She stamped her foot. "Quickly--if you ever cared!"
This in a whisper, without bitterness, without contempt, but with asudden wild entreaty that breathed upon the dying embers of my poormanhood. I drew myself together for the last time in her sight. Iturned, and left her as she wished--for her sake, not for mine. And asI went I heard her tearing her letter into little pieces, and thelittle pieces falling on the floor.
Then I remembered Raffles, and could have killed him for what he haddone. Doubtless by this time he was safe and snug in the Albany: whatdid my fate matter to him? Never mind; this should be the end betweenhim and me as well; it was the end of everything, this dark night'swork! I would go and tell him so. I would jump into a cab and drivethere and then to his accursed rooms. But first I must escape from thetrap in which he had been so ready to leave me. And on the very stepsI drew back in despair. They were searching the shrubberies betweenthe drive and the road; a policeman's lantern kept flashing in and outamong the laurels, while a young man in evening-clothes directed himfrom the gravel sweep. It was this young man whom I must dodge, but atmy first step in the gravel he wheeled round, and it was Raffleshimself.
"Hulloa!" he cried. "So you've come up to join the dance as well! Hada look inside, have you? You'll be better employed in helping to drawthe cover in front here. It's all right, officer--only anothergentleman from the Empress Rooms."
And we made a brave show of assisting in the futile search, until thearrival of more police, and a broad hint from an irritable sergeant,gave us an excellent excuse for going off arm-in-arm. But it wasRaffles who had thrust his arm through mine. I shook him off as weleft the scene of shame behind.
"My dear Bunny!" he exclaimed. "Do you know what brought me back?"
I answered savagely that I neither knew nor cared.
"I had the very devil of a squeak for it," he went on. "I did thehurdles over two or three garden-walls, but so did the flyer who was onmy tracks, and he drove me back into the straight and down to HighStreet like any lamplighter. If he had only had the breath to sing outit would have been all up with me then; as it was I pulled off my coatthe moment I was round the corner, and took a ticket for it at theEmpress Rooms."
"I suppose you had one for the dance that was going on," I growled. Norwould it have been a coincidence for Raffles to have had a ticket forthat or any other entertainment of the London season.
"I never asked what the dance was," he returned. "I merely took theopportunity of revising my toilet, and getting rid of that ratherdistinctive overcoat, which I shall call for now. They're not tooparticular at such stages of such proceedings, but I've no doubt Ishould have seen someone I knew if I had none right in. I might evenhave had a turn, if only I had been less uneasy about you, Bunny."
"It was like you to come back to help me out," said I. "But to lie tome, and to inveigle me with your lies into that house of allhouses--that was not like you, Raffles--and I never shall forgive it oryou!"
Raffles took my arm again. We were near the High Street gates ofPalace Gardens, and I was too miserable to resist an advance which Imeant never to give him an opportunity to repeat.
"Come, come, Bunny, there wasn't much inveigling about it," said he. "Idid my level best to leave you behind, but you wouldn't listen to me."
"If you had told me the truth I should have listened fast enough," Iretorted. "But what's the use of talking? You can boast of your ownadventures after you bolted. You don't care what happened to me."
"I cared so much that I came back to see."
"You might have spared yourself the trouble! The wrong had been done.Raffles--Raffles--don't you know who she was?"
It was my hand that gripped his arm once more.
"I guessed," he answered, gravely enough even for me.
"It was she who saved me, not you," I said. "And that is the bitterestpart of all!"
Yet I told him that part with a strange sad pride in her whom I hadlost--through him--forever. As I ended we turned into High Street; inthe prevailing stillness, the faint strains of the band reached us fromthe Empress Rooms; and I hailed a crawling hansom as Raffles turnedthat way.
"Bunny," said he, "it's no use saying I'm sorry. Sorrow adds insult ina case like this--if ever there was or will be such another! Onlybelieve me, Bunny, when I swear to you that I had not the smallestshadow of a suspicion that she was in the house."
And in my heart of hearts I did believe him; but I could not bringmyself to say the words.
"You told me yourself that you had written to her in the country," hepursued.
"And that letter!" I rejoined, in a fresh wave of bitterness: "thatletter she had written at dead of night, and stolen down to post, itwas the one I have been waiting for all these days! I should have gotit to-morrow. Now I shall never get it, never hear from her again, norhave another chance in this world or in the next. I don't say it wasall your fault. You no more knew that she was there than I did. Butyou told me a deliberate lie about her people, and that I never shallforgive."
I spoke as vehemently as I could under my breath. The hansom waswaiting at the curb.
"I can say no more than I have said," returned Raffles with a shrug."Lie or no lie, I didn't tell it to bring you with me, but to get youto give me certain information without feeling a beast about it. But,as a matter of fact, it was no lie about old Hector Carruthers and LordLochmaben, and anybody but you would have guessed the truth."
"'What is the truth?"
"I as good as told you, Bunny, again and again."
"Then tell me now."
"If you read your paper there would be no need; but if you want toknow, old Carruthers headed the list of the Birthday Honors, and LordLochmaben is the title of his choice."
And this miserable quibble was not a lie! My lip curled, I turned myback without a word, and drove home to my Mount Street flat in a newfury of savage scorn. Not a lie, indeed! It was the one that is halfa truth, the meanest lie of all, and the very last to which I couldhave dreamt that Raffles would stoop. So far there had been a degreeof honor between us, if only of the kind understood to obtain betweenthief and thief. Now all that was at an end. Raffles had cheated me.Raffles had completed the ruin of my life. I was done with Raffles, asshe who shall not be named was done with me.
And yet, even while I blamed him most bitterly, and utterly abominatedhis deceitful deed, I could not but admit in my heart that the resultwas put of all proportion to the intent: he had never dreamt of doingme this injury, or indeed any injury at all. Intrinsically the deceithad been quite venial, the reason for it obviously the reason thatRaffles had given me. It was quite true that he had spoken of thisLochmaben peerage as a new creation, and of the heir to it in a fashiononly applicable to Alick Carruthers. He had given me hints, which Ihad been too dense to take, and he had certainly made more than oneattempt to deter me from accompanying him on this fatal emprise; had hebeen more explicit, I might have made it my business to deter him. Icould not say in my heart that Raffles had failed to satisfy such honoras I might reasonably expect to subsist between us. Yet it seems to meto require a superhuman sanity always and unerringly to separate causefrom effect, achievement from intent. And I, for one, was never quiteable to do so in this case.
I could not be accused of neglecting my newspaper during the next fewwretched days. I read every word that I could find about the attemptedjewel-robbery in Palace Gardens, and the reports afforded me my solecomfort. In the first place, it was only an attempted robbery; nothinghad been taken, after all. And then--and then--the one member of thehousehold who had come nearest to a personal encounter with either ofus was unable to furnish any description of the man--had even expresseda doubt as to the likelihood of identification in the event of anarrest!
I will not say with what mingled feelings I read and dwelt on thatannouncement It kept a certain faint glow alive within me until themorning brought me back the only presents I had ever made her. Theywere books; jewellery had been tabooed by the authorities. And thebooks came back without a word, though the parcel was directed in herhand.
I had made up my mind not to go near Raffles again, but in my heart Ialready regretted my resolve. I had forfeited love, I had sacrificedhonor, and now I must deliberately alienate myself from the one beingwhose society might yet be some recompense for all that I had lost.The situation was aggravated by the state of my exchequer. I expectedan ultimatum from my banker by every post. Yet this influence wasnothing to the other. It was Raffles I loved. It was not the dark lifewe led together, still less its base rewards; it was the man himself,his gayety, his humor, his dazzling audacity, his incomparable courageand resource. And a very horror of turning to him again in mere needof greed set the seal on my first angry resolution. But the anger wassoon gone out of me, and when at length Raffles bridged the gap bycoming to me, I rose to greet him almost with a shout.
He came as though nothing had happened; and, indeed, not very many dayshad passed, though they might have been months to me. Yet I fanciedthe gaze that watched me through our smoke a trifle less sunny than ithad been before. And it was a relief to me when he came with fewpreliminaries to the inevitable point.
"Did you ever hear from her, Bunny?" he asked.
"In a way," I answered. "We won't talk about it, if you don't mind,Raffles."
"That sort of way!" he exclaimed. He seemed both surprised anddisappointed.
"Yes," I said, "that sort of way. It's finished. What did you expect?"
"I don't know," said Raffles. "I only thought that the girl who wentso far to get a fellow out of a tight place might go a little fartherto keep him from getting into another."
"I don't see why she should," said I, honestly enough, yet with theirritation of a less just feeling deep down in my inmost consciousness.
"Yet you did hear from her?" he persisted.
"She sent me back my poor presents, without a word," I said, "if youcall that hearing."
I could not bring myself to own to Raffles that I had given her onlybooks. He asked if I was sure that she had sent them back herself; andthat was his last question. My answer was enough for him. And to thisday I cannot say whether it was more in relief than in regret that helaid a hand upon my shoulder.
"So you are out of Paradise after all!" said Raffles. "I was not sure,or I should have come round before. Well, Bunny, if they don't wantyou there, there's a little Inferno in the Albany where you will be aswelcome as ever."
And still, with all the magic mischief of his smile, there was thattouch of sadness which I was yet to read aright.