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The Amateur Cracksman

The Amateur Cracksman

Author:E. W. Hornung


It was half-past twelve when I returned to the Albany as a last desperate resort. The scene of my disaster was much as I had left it. The baccarat-counters still...
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  It was half-past twelve when I returned to the Albany as a lastdesperate resort. The scene of my disaster was much as I had left it.The baccarat-counters still strewed the table, with the empty glassesand the loaded ash-trays. A window had been opened to let the smokeout, and was letting in the fog instead. Raffles himself had merelydiscarded his dining jacket for one of his innumerable blazers. Yet hearched his eyebrows as though I had dragged him from his bed.

  "Forgotten something?" said he, when he saw me on his mat.

  "No," said I, pushing past him without ceremony. And I led the wayinto his room with an impudence amazing to myself.

  "Not come back for your revenge, have you? Because I'm afraid I can'tgive it to you single-handed. I was sorry myself that the others--"

  We were face to face by his fireside, and I cut him short.

  "Raffles," said I, "you may well be surprised at my coming back in thisway and at this hour. I hardly know you. I was never in your roomsbefore to-night. But I fagged for you at school, and you said youremembered me. Of course that's no excuse; but will you listen tome--for two minutes?"

  In my emotion I had at first to struggle for every word; but his facereassured me as I went on, and I was not mistaken in its expression.

  "Certainly, my dear man," said he; "as many minutes as you like. Havea Sullivan and sit down." And he handed me his silver cigarette-case.

  "No," said I, finding a full voice as I shook my head; "no, I won'tsmoke, and I won't sit down, thank you. Nor will you ask me to doeither when you've heard what I have to say."

  "Really?" said he, lighting his own cigarette with one clear blue eyeupon me. "How do you know?"

  "Because you'll probably show me the door," I cried bitterly; "and youwill be justified in doing it! But it's no use beating about the bush.You know I dropped over two hundred just now?"

  He nodded.

  "I hadn't the money in my pocket."

  "I remember."

  "But I had my check-book, and I wrote each of you a check at that desk."


  "Not one of them was worth the paper it was written on, Raffles. I amoverdrawn already at my bank!"

  "Surely only for the moment?"

  "No. I have spent everything."

  "But somebody told me you were so well off. I heard you had come in formoney?"

  "So I did. Three years ago. It has been my curse; now it's allgone--every penny! Yes, I've been a fool; there never was nor will besuch a fool as I've been.... Isn't this enough for you? Why don't youturn me out?" He was walking up and down with a very long face instead.

  "Couldn't your people do anything?" he asked at length.

  "Thank God," I cried, "I have no people! I was an only child. I camein for everything there was. My one comfort is that they're gone, andwill never know."

  I cast myself into a chair and hid my face. Raffles continued to pacethe rich carpet that was of a piece with everything else in his rooms.There was no variation in his soft and even footfalls.

  "You used to be a literary little cuss," he said at length; "didn't youedit the mag. before you left? Anyway I recollect fagging you to do myverses; and literature of all sorts is the very thing nowadays; anyfool can make a living at it."

  I shook my head. "Any fool couldn't write off my debts," said I.

  "Then you have a flat somewhere?" he went on.

  "Yes, in Mount Street."

  "Well, what about the furniture?"

  I laughed aloud in my misery. "There's been a bill of sale on everystick for months!"

  And at that Raffles stood still, with raised eyebrows and stern eyesthat I could meet the better now that he knew the worst; then, with ashrug, he resumed his walk, and for some minutes neither of us spoke.But in his handsome, unmoved face I read my fate and death-warrant; andwith every breath I cursed my folly and my cowardice in coming to himat all. Because he had been kind to me at school, when he was captainof the eleven, and I his fag, I had dared to look for kindness from himnow; because I was ruined, and he rich enough to play cricket all thesummer, and do nothing for the rest of the year, I had fatuouslycounted on his mercy, his sympathy, his help! Yes, I had relied on himin my heart, for all my outward diffidence and humility; and I wasrightly served. There was as little of mercy as of sympathy in thatcurling nostril, that rigid jaw, that cold blue eye which never glancedmy way. I caught up my hat. I blundered to my feet. I would havegone without a word; but Raffles stood between me and the door.

  "Where are you going?" said he.

  "That's my business," I replied. "I won't trouble YOU any more."

  "Then how am I to help you?"

  "I didn't ask your help."

  "Then why come to me?"

  "Why, indeed!" I echoed. "Will you let me pass?"

  "Not until you tell me where you are going and what you mean to do."

  "Can't you guess?" I cried. And for many seconds we stood staring ineach other's eyes.

  "Have you got the pluck?" said he, breaking the spell in a tone socynical that it brought my last drop of blood to the boil.

  "You shall see," said I, as I stepped back and whipped the pistol frommy overcoat pocket. "Now, will you let me pass or shall I do it here?"

  The barrel touched my temple, and my thumb the trigger. Mad withexcitement as I was, ruined, dishonored, and now finally determined tomake an end of my misspent life, my only surprise to this day is that Idid not do so then and there. The despicable satisfaction of involvinganother in one's destruction added its miserable appeal to my baseregoism; and had fear or horror flown to my companion's face, I shudderto think I might have died diabolically happy with that look for mylast impious consolation. It was the look that came instead which heldmy hand. Neither fear nor horror were in it; only wonder, admiration,and such a measure of pleased expectancy as caused me after all topocket my revolver with an oath.

  "You devil!" I said. "I believe you wanted me to do it!"

  "Not quite," was the reply, made with a little start, and a change ofcolor that came too late. "To tell you the truth, though, I halfthought you meant it, and I was never more fascinated in my life. Inever dreamt you had such stuff in you, Bunny! No, I'm hanged if I letyou go now. And you'd better not try that game again, for you won'tcatch me stand and look on a second time. We must think of some wayout of the mess. I had no idea you were a chap of that sort! There,let me have the gun."

  One of his hands fell kindly on my shoulder, while the other slippedinto my overcoat pocket, and I suffered him to deprive me of my weaponwithout a murmur. Nor was this simply because Raffles had the subtlepower of making himself irresistible at will. He was beyond comparisonthe most masterful man whom I have ever known; yet my acquiescence wasdue to more than the mere subjection of the weaker nature to thestronger. The forlorn hope which had brought me to the Albany wasturned as by magic into an almost staggering sense of safety. Raffleswould help me after all! A. J. Raffles would be my friend! It was asthough all the world had come round suddenly to my side; so fartherefore from resisting his action, I caught and clasped his hand witha fervor as uncontrollable as the frenzy which had preceded it.

  "God bless you!" I cried. "Forgive me for everything. I will tell youthe truth. I DID think you might help me in my extremity, though Iwell knew that I had no claim upon you. Still--for the old school'ssake--the sake of old times--I thought you might give me anotherchance. If you wouldn't I meant to blow out my brains--and will stillif you change your mind!"

  In truth I feared that it was changing, with his expression, even as Ispoke, and in spite of his kindly tone and kindlier use of my oldschool nickname. His next words showed me my mistake.

  "What a boy it is for jumping to conclusions! I have my vices, Bunny,but backing and filling is not one of them. Sit down, my good fellow,and have a cigarette to soothe your nerves. I insist. Whiskey? Theworst thing for you; here's some coffee that I was brewing when youcame in. Now listen to me. You speak of 'another chance.' What doyou mean? Another chance at baccarat? Not if I know it! You thinkthe luck must turn; suppose it didn't? We should only have made badworse. No, my dear chap, you've plunged enough. Do you put yourself inmy hands or do you not? Very well, then you plunge no more, and Iundertake not to present my check. Unfortunately there are the othermen; and still more unfortunately, Bunny, I'm as hard up at this momentas you are yourself!"

  It was my turn to stare at Raffles. "You?" I vociferated. "You hardup? How am I to sit here and believe that?"

  "Did I refuse to believe it of you?" he returned, smiling. "And, withyour own experience, do you think that because a fellow has rooms inthis place, and belongs to a club or two, and plays a little cricket,he must necessarily have a balance at the bank? I tell you, my dearman, that at this moment I'm as hard up as you ever were. I havenothing but my wits to live on--absolutely nothing else. It was asnecessary for me to win some money this evening as it was for you.We're in the same boat, Bunny; we'd better pull together."

  "Together!" I jumped at it. "I'll do anything in this world for you,Raffles," I said, "if you really mean that you won't give me away.Think of anything you like, and I'll do it! I was a desperate man whenI came here, and I'm just as desperate now. I don't mind what I do ifonly I can get out of this without a scandal."

  Again I see him, leaning back in one of the luxurious chairs with whichhis room was furnished. I see his indolent, athletic figure; his pale,sharp, clean-shaven features; his curly black hair; his strong,unscrupulous mouth. And again I feel the clear beam of his wonderfuleye, cold and luminous as a star, shining into my brain--sifting thevery secrets of my heart.

  "I wonder if you mean all that!" he said at length. "You do in yourpresent mood; but who can back his mood to last? Still, there's hopewhen a chap takes that tone. Now I think of it, too, you were a pluckylittle devil at school; you once did me rather a good turn, Irecollect. Remember it, Bunny? Well, wait a bit, and perhaps I'll beable to do you a better one. Give me time to think."

  He got up, lit a fresh cigarette, and fell to pacing the room oncemore, but with a slower and more thoughtful step, and for a much longerperiod than before. Twice he stopped at my chair as though on thepoint of speaking, but each time he checked himself and resumed hisstride in silence. Once he threw up the window, which he had shut sometime since, and stood for some moments leaning out into the fog whichfilled the Albany courtyard. Meanwhile a clock on the chimney-piecestruck one, and one again for the half-hour, without a word between us.

  Yet I not only kept my chair with patience, but I acquired anincongruous equanimity in that half-hour. Insensibly I had shifted myburden to the broad shoulders of this splendid friend, and my thoughtswandered with my eyes as the minutes passed. The room was thegood-sized, square one, with the folding doors, the marblemantel-piece, and the gloomy, old-fashioned distinction peculiar to theAlbany. It was charmingly furnished and arranged, with the rightamount of negligence and the right amount of taste. What struck memost, however, was the absence of the usual insignia of a cricketer'sden. Instead of the conventional rack of war-worn bats, a carved oakbookcase, with every shelf in a litter, filled the better part of onewall; and where I looked for cricketing groups, I found reproductionsof such works as "Love and Death" and "The Blessed Damozel," in dustyframes and different parallels. The man might have been a minor poetinstead of an athlete of the first water. But there had always been afine streak of aestheticism in his complex composition; some of thesevery pictures I had myself dusted in his study at school; and they setme thinking of yet another of his many sides--and of the littleincident to which he had just referred.

  Everybody knows how largely the tone of a public school depends on thatof the eleven, and on the character of the captain of cricket inparticular; and I have never heard it denied that in A. J. Raffles'stime our tone was good, or that such influence as he troubled to exertwas on the side of the angels. Yet it was whispered in the school thathe was in the habit of parading the town at night in loud checks and afalse beard. It was whispered, and disbelieved. I alone knew it for afact; for night after night had I pulled the rope up after him when therest of the dormitory were asleep, and kept awake by the hour to let itdown again on a given signal. Well, one night he was over-bold, andwithin an ace of ignominious expulsion in the hey-day of his fame.Consummate daring and extraordinary nerve on his part, aided,doubtless, by some little presence of mind on mine, averted theuntoward result; and no more need be said of a discreditable incident.But I cannot pretend to have forgotten it in throwing myself on thisman's mercy in my desperation. And I was wondering how much of hisleniency was owing to the fact that Raffles had not forgotten iteither, when he stopped and stood over my chair once more.

  "I've been thinking of that night we had the narrow squeak," he began."Why do you start?"

  "I was thinking of it too."

  He smiled, as though he had read my thoughts.

  "Well, you were the right sort of little beggar then, Bunny; you didn'ttalk and you didn't flinch. You asked no questions and you told notales. I wonder if you're like that now?"

  "I don't know," said I, slightly puzzled by his tone. "I've made sucha mess of my own affairs that I trust myself about as little as I'mlikely to be trusted by anybody else. Yet I never in my life went backon a friend. I will say that, otherwise perhaps I mightn't be in sucha hole to-night."

  "Exactly," said Raffles, nodding to himself, as though in assent tosome hidden train of thought; "exactly what I remember of you, and I'llbet it's as true now as it was ten years ago. We don't alter, Bunny.We only develop. I suppose neither you nor I are really altered sinceyou used to let down that rope and I used to come up it hand over hand.You would stick at nothing for a pal--what?"

  "At nothing in this world," I was pleased to cry.

  "Not even at a crime?" said Raffles, smiling.

  I stopped to think, for his tone had changed, and I felt sure he waschaffing me. Yet his eye seemed as much in earnest as ever, and for mypart I was in no mood for reservations.

  "No, not even at that," I declared; "name your crime, and I'm your man."

  He looked at me one moment in wonder, and another moment in doubt; thenturned the matter off with a shake of his head, and the little cynicallaugh that was all his own.

  "You're a nice chap, Bunny! A real desperate character--what? Suicideone moment, and any crime I like the next! What you want is a drag, myboy, and you did well to come to a decent law-abiding citizen with areputation to lose. None the less we must have that money to-night--byhook or crook."

  "To-night, Raffles?"

  "The sooner the better. Every hour after ten o'clock to-morrow morningis an hour of risk. Let one of those checks get round to your ownbank, and you and it are dishonored together. No, we must raise thewind to-night and re-open your account first thing to-morrow. And Irather think I know where the wind can be raised."

  "At two o'clock in the morning?"


  "But how--but where--at such an hour?"

  "From a friend of mine here in Bond Street."

  "He must be a very intimate friend!"

  "Intimate's not the word. I have the run of his place and a latch-keyall to myself."

  "You would knock him up at this hour of the night?"

  "If he's in bed."

  "And it's essential that I should go in with you?"


  "Then I must; but I'm bound to say I don't like the idea, Raffles."

  "Do you prefer the alternative?" asked my companion, with a sneer."No, hang it, that's unfair!" he cried apologetically in the samebreath. "I quite understand. It's a beastly ordeal. But it wouldnever do for you to stay outside. I tell you what, you shall have apeg before we start--just one. There's the whiskey, here's a syphon,and I'll be putting on an overcoat while you help yourself."

  Well, I daresay I did so with some freedom, for this plan of his wasnot the less distasteful to me from its apparent inevitability. I mustown, however, that it possessed fewer terrors before my glass wasempty. Meanwhile Raffles rejoined me, with a covert coat over hisblazer, and a soft felt hat set carelessly on the curly head he shookwith a smile as I passed him the decanter.

  "When we come back," said he. "Work first, play afterward. Do you seewhat day it is?" he added, tearing a leaflet from a Shakespeariancalendar, as I drained my glass. "March 15th. 'The Ides of March, theIdes of March, remember.' Eh, Bunny, my boy? You won't forget them,will you?"

  And, with a laugh, he threw some coals on the fire before turning downthe gas like a careful householder. So we went out together as theclock on the chimney-piece was striking two.