Mr. Justice Raffles, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 18

The Death of a Sinner

What was I to do? I knew what Raffles would have done; he would have outstripped Mackenzie in his descent upon the moneylender, beaten the cab on foot most probably, and dared Dan Levy to denounce him to the detective. I could see a delicious situation, and Raffles conducting it inimitably to a triumphant issue. But I was not Raffles, and what was more I was due already at his chambers in the Albany. I must have been talking to Miss Belsize by the hour together; to my horror I found it close upon seven by the station clock; and it was some minutes past when I plunged into the first up train. Waterloo was reached before eight, but I was a good hour late at the Albany, and Raffles let me know it in his shirt-sleeves from the window.

“I thought you were dead, Bunny!” he muttered down as though he wished I were. I scaled his staircase at two or three bounds, and began all about Mackenzie in the lobby.

“So soon!” says Raffles, with a mere lift of the eyebrows. “Well, thank God, I was ready for him again.”

I now saw that Raffles was not dressing, though he had changed his clothes, and this surprised me for all my breathless preoccupation. But I had the reason at a glance through the folding-doors into his bedroom. The bed was cumbered with clothes and an open suit-case. A Gladstone bag stood strapped and bulging; a travelling rug lay ready for rolling up, and Raffles himself looked out of training in his travelling tweeds.

“Going away?” I ejaculated.

“Rather!” said he, folding a smoking jacket. “Isn’t it about time after what you’ve told me?”

“But you were packing before you knew!”

“Then for God’s sake go and do the same yourself!” he cried, “and don’t ask questions now. I was beginning to pack enough for us both, but you’ll have time to shove in a shirt and collar of your own if you jump straight into a hansom. I’ll take the tickets, and we’ll meet on the platform at five to nine.”

“What platform, Raffles?”

“Charing Cross. Continental train.”

“But where the deuce do you think of going?”

“Australia, if you like! We’ll discuss it in our flight across Europe.”

“Our flight!” I repeated. “What has happened since I left you, Raffles?”

“Look here, Bunny, you go and pack!” was all my answer from a savage face, as I was fairly driven to the door. “Do you realise that you were due here one golden hour ago, and have I asked what happened to you? Then don’t you ask rotten questions that there’s no time to answer. I’ll tell you everything in the train, Bunny.”

And my name at the end in a different voice, and his hand for an instant on my shoulder as I passed out, were my only consolation for his truly terrifying behaviour, my only comfort and reassurance of any kind, until we really were off by the night mail from Charing Cross.

Raffles was himself again by that time, I was thankful to find, nor did he betray that dread or expectation of pursuit which would have tallied with his previous manner. He merely looked relieved when the Embankment lights ran right and left in our wake. I remember one of his remarks, that they made the finest necklace in the world when all was said, and another that Big Ben was the Koh-i-noor of the London lights. But he had also a quizzical eye upon the paper bag from which I was endeavouring to make a meal at last. And more than once he wagged his head with a humorous admixture of reproof and sympathy; for with shamefaced admissions and downcast pauses I was allowing him to suppose I had been drinking at some riverside public-house instead of hurrying up to town, but that the rencontre with Mackenzie had served to sober me.

“Poor Bunny! We won’t pursue the matter any further; but I do know where we both should have been between seven and eight. It was as nice a little dinner as I ever ordered in my life. And to think that we never turned up to eat a bite of it!”

“Didn’t you?” I queried, and my sense of guilt deepened to remorse as Raffles shook his head.

“No fear, Bunny! I wanted to see you safe and sound. That was what made me so stuffy when you did turn up.”

Loud were my lamentations, and earnest my entreaties to Raffles to share the contents of my paper bag; but not he. To replace such a feast as he had ordered with sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs would be worse than going healthily hungry for once; it was all very well for me who knew not what I had missed. Not that Raffles was hungry by his own accounts; he had merely fancied a little dinner, more after my heart than his, for our last on British soil.

This, and the way he said it, brought me back to the heart of things; for beneath his frothy phrases I felt that the wine of life was bitter to his taste. His gayety now afforded no truer criterion to his real feelings than had his petulance at the Albany. What had happened since our parting in that fatal tower, to make this wild flight necessary without my news, and whither in all earnest were we to fly?

“Oh, nothing!” said Raffles, in unsatisfactory answer to my first question. “I thought you would have seen that we couldn’t clear out too soon after restoring poor Shylock, like our brethren in the song, ‘to his friends and his relations.’”

“But I thought you had something else for him to sign?”

“So I had, Bunny.”

“What was that?”

“A plain statement of all he had suborned me to do for him, and what he had given me for doing it,” said Raffles, as he lit a Sullivan from his last easeful. “One might almost call it a receipt for the letter I stole and he destroyed.”

“And did he sign that?”

“I insisted on it for our protection.”

“Then we are protected, and yet we cut and run?”

Raffles shrugged his shoulders as we hurtled between the lighted platforms of Herne Hill.

“There’s no immunity from a clever cove like that, Bunny, unless you send him to another world or put the thick of this one between you. He may hold his tongue about the last twenty-four hours — I believe he will — but that needn’t prevent him from setting old Mackenzie to watch us day and night. So we are not going to stay to be watched. We are starting off round the world for a change. Before we get very far Mr. Shylock may be in the jug himself; that accursed letter won’t be the only incriminating thing against him, you take my word. Then we can come back trailing clouds of glory, and blowing clouds of Sullivan. Then we can have our secondes noces— meaning second knocks, Bunny, and more power to our elbows when we get them!”

But I was not convinced. There was something else at the bottom of this sudden impulse and its inconceivably sudden execution. Why had he never told me of this plan? Well, because it had never become one until after the morning’s work at Levy’s bank, in itself a reason for being out of the way, as I myself admitted. But he would have told me if only I had turned up at seven: he had never meant to give me time for much packing, added Raffles, as he was anxious that neither of us should leave the impression that we had gone far afield.

I thought this was childish, and treating me like a child, to which, however, I was used; but more than ever did I feel that Raffles was not being frank with me, that he for one was making good his escape from something or somebody besides Dan Levy. And in the end he admitted that this was so. But we had not dashed through Sitting-bourne and Faversham before I wormed my way to about the last discovery that I expected to make concerning A. J. Raffles.

“What an inquisitor you are, Bunny!” said he, putting down an evening paper that he had only just taken up. “Can’t you see that this whole show has been no ordinary one for me? I’ve been fighting for a crowd I rather love. Their battle has got on my nerves as none of my own ever did; and now it’s won I honestly funk their gratitude as much as anything.”

That was another hard saying to swallow; and yet, as Raffles said it, I knew it to be true. He was looking me full in the face in the ample light of the first-class compartment, which we of course had to ourselves. Some softening influence seemed to have been at work upon him; he looked resolute as ever, but full of regret, than which nothing was rarer in A.J.

“I suppose,” said I, “that poor old Garland has treated you to a pretty good dose already?”

“Yes, Bunny; that he has.”

“And well he may, and well may Teddy and Camilla Belsize!”

“But I couldn’t do with it from them,” said Raffles, with quite a bitter little laugh. “Teddy wasn’t there, of course; he’s up north for that rotten match the team play nowadays against Liverpool. But the game’s fizzling, he’ll be home tomorrow, and I simply can’t face him and his Camilla. He’ll be a married man before we see him again,” added Raffles, getting hold of his evening paper once more.

“Is that to come off so soon?”

“The sooner the better,” said Raffles, strangely.

“You’re not quite happy about it,” said I, with execrable tact, I know, and yet deliberately, because his view of this marriage had always puzzled me.

“I’m happy as long as they are,” responded Raffles, not without a laugh at his own meritorious sentiment. “I only wish,” he sighed, “that they were both absolutely worthy of each other!”

“And you don’t think they are?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You think such a lot of young Garland?”

“I’m very fond of him, Bunny.”

“But you see his faults?”

“I’ve always seen them; they’re not full-fathom-five like mine!”

“Yet you think she’s not good enough for him?”

“Not good enough — she?” and he stopped himself at that. But his voice was enough for me; the unspoken antithesis was stronger than words could have made it. Scales fell from my eyes. “Where on earth did you get that idea?”

“I thought it was yours, A.J.”

“But why?”

“You seemed to disapprove of the engagement from the first.”

“So I did, after what poor Teddy had been up to in his extremity! I may as well be honest about that now. It was all right in a pal of ours, Bunny, but all wrong in the man who dreamt of marrying Camilla Belsize.”

“Yet you have just been moving heaven and hell to make it possible for them to marry after all!”

Raffles made another attempt upon his paper. I marvel now that he let me catechise him as I was doing. But the truth had just dawned upon me, and I simply had to see it whole as the risen sun, whereas Raffles seemed under no such passionate necessity to keep it to himself.

“Teddy’s all right,” said he, inconsistently. “He’ll never try anything of the kind again; he’s had a lesson for life. Besides, I don’t often take my hand from the plough, as you ought to know. Bunny. It was I who brought those two together. But it was none of my mundane business to put them asunder again.”

“It was you who brought them together?” I repeated insidiously.

“More or less, Bunny. It was at some cricket week, if it wasn’t two weeks running; they were pals already, but she and I were greater pals before the first week was over.”

“And yet you didn’t cut him out!”

“My dear Bunny, I should hope not.”

“But you might have done, A.J.; don’t tell me you couldn’t if you’d tried.”

Raffles played with his paper without replying. He was no coxcomb. But neither would he ape an alien humility.

“It wouldn’t have been the game, Bunny — won or lost — Teddy or no Teddy: And yet,” he added, with pensive candour, “we were getting on like a semi-detached house on fire! I burnt my fingers, I don’t mind telling you; if I hadn’t been what I am, Bunny, I might have taken my courage in all ten of ’em, and ‘put it to the touch, to win or lose it all.’”

“I wish you had,” I whispered, as he studied his paper upside down.

“Why, Bunny? What rot you do talk!” he cried, but only with the skin-deep irritation of a half-hearted displeasure.

“She’s the only woman I ever met,” I went on unguardedly, “who was your mate at heart — in pluck — in temperament!”

“How the devil do you know?” cried Raffles, off his own guard now, and staring in my guilty face.

But I have never denied that I could emulate his presence of mind upon occasion.

“You forget what a lot we saw of each other last Thursday in the rain.”

“Did she talk about me then?”

“A little.”

“Had she her knife in me, Bunny?”

“Well — yes — a little!”

Raffles smiled stoically: it was a smile of duty done and odds well damned.

“Up to the hilt, Bunny, up to the hilt is what you mean. I stuck it in for her. It’s easily done, and it needed doing, for my sake if not for hers. Sooner or later I should have choked her off, so the sooner the better. You play them false, you cut a dance, you let them down over something that doesn’t matter, and they’ll never give you a dog’s chance over anything that does! I got her to write and never answered. What do you think of that for a cavalier swine? I said I’d call before I went abroad, and only wired to say sorry I couldn’t. I don’t say it would or could have been all right otherwise; but you see it was all right for Teddy before I got back! Which was as it was to be. She would hardly look at me at first last week; but, Bunny, she wasn’t above looking when that old Shylock was playing at giving me away before them all. She looked at him, and she looked at me, and I’ve got one of the looks she gave him, and another that she never meant me to see, bottled in my blackguard heart forever!”

Raffles looked dim to me across the narrow compartment; but there was no nonsense in his look or voice. I longed to tell him all I knew, all that she had said to me and he had unwittingly interpreted; that she loved him, as now at last I knew she did; but I had given her my word, and after all it was a word to keep for both their sakes as well as for its own.

“You were made for each other, you two!”

That was all I said, and Raffles only laughed.

“All the more reason to hook it round the world, Bunny, before there’s a dog’s chance of our meeting again.”

He opened his paper the proper way up at last. The train rushed on with flying sparks, and flying lights along the line. We were getting nearer Dover now. My next brilliant remark was that I could “smell the sea.” Raffles let it pass; he had been talking of the close-of-play scores in the stop-press column, and I thought he was studying them rather silently. Or perhaps he was not studying them at all, but still thinking of Camilla Belsize, and the look from those brave bright eyes that she had never meant him to see. Then, suddenly, I perceived that his forehead was glistening white and wet in the lamplight.

“What is it, Raffles? What’s the matter?”

He reversed his paper with a shaky hand, and thrust it upon me without a word, merely pointing out four or five ill-printed lines of latest news. This was the item that danced before my eyes:

TRAGIC DEATH OF FAMOUS MONEYLENDER

Mr. Daniel Levy, the financier, reported shot dead at front gates of his residence in Thames Valley at 5.30 this afternoon, by unknown man who made good his escape.

I looked up into a ghastly face.

“It was half-past five when I left him, Bunny!”

“You left him —”

I could not ask it. But the ghastly face had given me a ghastlier thought.

“As well as you are, Bunny!” so Raffles completed my sentence. “Do you think I’d leave him for dead at his own gates?”

Of course I denied the thought; but it had come to haunt me none the less; for if I had sailed so near such a deed, what about Raffles under equal provocation? And what such motive for the very flight that we were making with but a moment’s preparation? It all fitted in, except the face and voice of Raffles as they had been while he was speaking of Camilla Belsize; but again, the fatal act would indeed have made him feel that he had lost her, and loosened his tongue upon his loss as something had done without doubt; and as for voice and face, there was no longer in either any lack of the mad excitement of the hunted man.

“But what were you doing at his gates, A.J.?”

“I saw him home. It was on my way. Why not?”

“And you say you left him at half-past five?”

“I swear it. I looked at my watch, thinking of my train, and my watch is plumb right.”

“And you heard no shot as you went on?”

“No — I was hurrying. I even ran. I must have been seen running! And now I’m like Charley’s Aunt,” he went on with his sardonic laugh, “and bound to stick to it until they catch me by the leg. Now you know what Mackenzie was doing down there! The old hound may be on my track already. There’s no going back now.”

“Not for an innocent man?”

“Not for such dubious innocence as mine, Bunny! Remember all we’ve been up to with poor old Levy for the last twenty-four hours.”

He paused, remembering everything himself, as I could see; and the human compassion in his face should have been sufficient answer to my vile misgivings. But there was contrition in his look as well, and that was a much rarer sign in Raffles. Rarer still was a glance of alarm almost akin to panic, alike without precedent in my experience of my friend and beyond belief in my reading of his character. But through all there peeped a conscious enjoyment of these new sensations, a very zest in the novelty of fear, which I knew to be at once signally characteristic, and yet compatible either with his story or with my own base dread.

“Nobody need ever know about that,” said I, with the certainty that nobody ever would know through the one other who knew already. But Raffles threw cold water upon that poor little flicker of confidence and good hope.

“It’s bound to come out, Bunny. They’ll start accounting for his last hours on earth, and they’ll stick ominously in the first five minutes working backwards. Then I am described as bolting from the scene, then identified with myself, then found to have fled the country! Then Carlsbad, then our first row with him, then yesterday’s big cheque; my heavy double finds he was impersonated at the bank; it all comes out bit by bit, and if I’m caught it means that dingy Old Bailey dock on the capital charge!”

“Then I’ll be with you,” said I, “as accessory before and after the fact. That’s one thing!”

“No, no, Bunny! You must shake me off and get back to town. I’ll push you out as we slow down through the streets of Dover, and you can put up for the night at the Lord Warden. That’s the sort of public place for the likes of us to lie low in, Bunny. Don’t forget all my rules when I’m gone.”

“You’re not going without me, A.J.”

“Not even if I did it, Bunny?”

“No; less than ever then!”

Raffles leant across and took my hand. There was a flash of mischief in his eyes, but a very tender light as well.

“It makes me almost wish I were what I do believe you thought I was,” said he, “to see you stick to me all the same! But it’s about time that we were making the lights of Dover,” he added, beating an abrupt retreat from sentiment, even to the length of getting up and looking out as we clattered through a country station. His head was in again before the platform was left behind, a pale face peering into mine, real panic flaring in those altered eyes, like blue lights at sea. “My God, Bunny!” cried Raffles. “I believe Dover’s as far as I shall ever get!”

“Why? What’s the matter now?”

“A head sticking out of the next compartment but one!”

“Mackenzie’s?”

“Yes!”

I had seen it in his face.

“After us already?”

“God knows! Not necessarily; they watch the ports after a big murder.”

“Swagger detectives from Scotland Yard?”

Raffles did not answer; he had something else to do. Already he was turning his pockets inside out. A false beard rolled off the seat.

“That’s for you,” he said as I picked it up. “I’ll finish making you up.” He was busy on himself in one of the oblong mirrors, kneeling on the cushions to be near his work. “If it’s a scent at all it must be a pretty hot one, Bunny, to have landed him in the very train and coach! But it mayn’t be as bad as it looked at first sight. He can’t have much to go upon yet. If he’s only going to shadow us while they find out more at home, we shall give him the slip all right.”

“Do you think he saw you?”

“Looking out? No, thank goodness, he was looking toward Dover too.”

“But before we started?”

“No, Bunny, I don’t believe he came aboard before Cannon Street. I remember hearing a bit of a fuss there. But our blinds were down, thank God!”

They were all down now, but by our decreasing speed I felt that we were already gliding over level crossings to the admiration of belated townsfolk waiting at the gates. Raffles turned from his mirror, and I from mine, simultaneously; and even to my initiated eye it was not Raffles at all, but another noble scamp who even in those days before the war was the observed of all observers about town.

“It’s ever so much better than anonymous disguises,” said Raffles, as he went to work upon me with his pocket make-up box and his lightning touch. “I was always rather like him, and I tried him on yesterday with such success at the bank that I certainly can’t do better to-night. As for you, Bunny, if you slouch your hat and stick your beard in your bread basket, you ought to pass for a poor relation or a disreputable dun. But here we are, my lad, and now for Meester Mackenzie o’ Scoteland Yarrd!”

The gaunt detective was in fact the first person we beheld upon the pier platform; raw-boned, stiff-jointed, and more than middle-aged, he must nevertheless have jumped out once again before the train stopped, and that almost on top of a diminutive telegraph boy, who was waiting while the old hound read his telegram with one eye and watched emerging passengers with both. Whether we should have passed him unobserved I cannot say. We could but have tried; but Raffles preferred to grasp the nettle and salute Mackenzie with a pleasant nod.

“Good evening, my lord!” says the Scotchman with a canny smirk.

“I can guess why you’re down here,” says Raffles, actually producing a palpable Sullivan under the nose of the law.

“Is that a fact?” inquires the other, oiling the rebuff with deferential grin.

“And I mustn’t stand between you and poor Dan Levy’s murderer,” adds my lord, nodding finally, when Mackenzie steps after him to my horror. But it is only to show Raffles his telegram. And he does not follow us on board.

Neither did our disguises accompany our countenances across the Channel. It was at dead of night on the upper deck (whence all but us had fled) that Raffles showed me how to doff my beard and still look as though I had merely buttoned it inside my overcoat; meanwhile his own moustachios and imperial were disappearing by discreet degrees; and at last he told me why, though not by any means without pressing.

“I’m only afraid you’ll want to turn straight back from Calais, Bunny!”

“Oh, no, I shan’t.”

“You’ll come with me round the world, so to speak?”

“To its uttermost ends, A. J.!”

“You do know now who it really is that I don’t want to see again just yet?”

“Yes. I know. Now tell me what Mackenzie told you.”

“It was all in the wire he showed me,” said Raffles. “The wire was to say that the murderer of Dan Levy had given himself up to the police!”

Profane expletives flew from my lips; those of much holier men might have been no less unguardedly emphatic in the self-same circumstances.

“But who was it?”

“I could have told you all along if you hadn’t suspected me.”

“It wasn’t a suspicion, Raffles. It was never more than a dread, and I didn’t even dread it in my heart of hearts. Do tell me now.”

Raffles watched the red end of a ruined Sullivan make a fine trajectory as it flew to leeward between sea and stars.

“It was that poor unlucky little alien who was waiting for him the other morning in Jermyn Street, and again last night near his own garden gate. That’s where he got him in the end. But it wasn’t a shooting case at all, Bunny; that’s why I never heard anything. It was a case of stabbing in accordance with the best traditions of the Latin races.”

“God forgive both poor devils!” said I at last.

“And other two,” said Raffles, “who have rather more to be forgiven.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 20:51