Mr. Justice Raffles, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 3

Council of War

Raffles was humming a snatch of something too choice for me to recognise when I drew in my head from the glorious night. The folding-doors were shut, and the grandfather’s clock on one side of them made it almost midnight. Raffles would not stop his tune for me, but he pointed to the syphon and decanter, and I replenished my glass. He had a glass beside him also, which was less usual, but he did not sit down beside his glass; he was far too fidgety for that; even bothering about a pair of pictures which had changed places under some zealous hand in his absence, or rather two of Mr. Hollyer’s fine renderings of Watts and Burne–Jones of which I had never seen Raffles take the slightest notice before. But it seemed that they must hang where he had hung them, and for once I saw them hanging straight. The books had also suffered from good intentions; he gave them up with a shrug. Archives and arcana he tested or examined, and so a good many minutes passed without a word. But when he stole back into the inner room, after waiting a little at the folding-doors, there was still some faint strain upon his lips; it was only when he returned, shutting the door none too quietly behind him, that he stopped humming and spoke out with a grimmer face than he had worn all night.

“That boy’s in a bigger hole than he thinks. But we must pull him out between us before play begins. It’s one clear call for us, Bunny!”

“Is it a bigger hole than you thought?” I asked, thinking myself of the conversation which I had managed not to overhear.

“I don’t say that, Bunny, though I never should have dreamt of his old father being in one too. I own I can’t understand that. They live in a regular country house in the middle of Kensington, and there are only the two of them. But I’ve given Teddy my word not to go to the old man for the money, so it’s no use talking about it.”

But apparently it was what they had been talking about behind the folding-doors; it only surprised me to see how much Raffles took it to heart.

“So you have made up your mind to raise the money elsewhere?”

“Before that lad in there opens his eyes.”

“Is he asleep already?”

“Like the dead,” said Raffles, dropping into his chair and drinking thoughtfully; “and so he will be till we wake him up. It’s a ticklish experiment, Bunny, but even a splitting head for the first hour’s play is better than a sleepless night; I’ve tried both, so I ought to know. I shouldn’t even wonder if he did himself more than justice tomorrow; one often does when just less than fit; it takes off that dangerous edge of over-keenness which so often cuts one’s own throat.”

“But what do you think of it all, A.J.?”

“Not so much worse than I let him think I thought.”

“But you must have been amazed?”

“I am past amazement at the worst thing the best of us ever does, and contrariwise of course. Your rich man proves a pauper, and your honest man plays the knave; we’re all of us capable of every damned thing. But let us thank our stars and Teddy’s that we got back just when we did.”

“Why at that moment?”

Raffles produced the unfinished cheque, shook his head over it, and sent it fluttering across to me.

“Was there ever such a childish attempt? They’d have kept him in the bank while they sent for the police. If ever you want to play this game, Bunny, you must let me coach you up a bit.”

“But it was never one of your games, A.J.!”

“Only incidentally once or twice; it never appealed to me,” said Raffles, sending expanding circlets of smoke to crown the girls on the Golden Stair that was no longer tilted in a leaning tower. “No, Bunny, an occasional exeat at school is my modest record as a forger, though I admit that augured ill. Do you remember how I left my cheque-book about on purpose for what’s happened? To be sinned against instead of sinning, in all the papers, would have set one up as an honest man for life. I thought, God forgive me, of poor old Barraclough or somebody of that kind. And to think it should be ‘the friend in whom my soul confided’! Not that I ever did confide in him, Bunny, much as I love this lad.”

Despite the tense of that last statement, it was the old Raffles who was speaking now, the incisively cynical old Raffles that I still knew the best, the Raffles of the impudent quotations and jaunty jeux d’esprit. This Raffles only meant half he said — but had generally done the other half! I met his mood by reminding him (out of his own Whitaker) that the sun rose at 3.51, in case he thought of breaking in anywhere that night. I had the honour of making Raffles smile.

“I did think of it, Bunny,” said he. “But there’s only one crib that we could crack in decency for this money; and our Mr. Shylock’s is not the sort of city that Caesar himself would have taken ex itinere. It’s a case for the testudo and all the rest of it. You must remember that I’ve been there, Bunny; at least I’ve visited his ‘moving tent,’ if one may jump from an ancient to an ‘Ancient and Modern.’ And if that was as impregnable as I found it, his permanent citadel must be perched upon the very rock of defence!”

“You must tell me about that, Raffles,” said I, tiring a little of his kaleidoscopic metaphors. Let him be as allusive as he liked when there was no risky work on hand, and I was his lucky and delighted audience till all hours of the night or morning. But for a deed of darkness I wanted fewer fireworks, a steadier light from his intellectual lantern. And yet these were the very moments that inspired his pyrotechnic displays.

“Oh, I shall tell you all right,” said Raffles. “But just now the next few hours are of more importance than the last few weeks. Of course Shylock’s the man for our money; but knowing our tribesmen as I do, I think we had better begin by borrowing it like simple Christians.”

“Then we have it to pay back again.”

“And that’s the psychological moment for raiding our ‘miser’s sunless coffers’— if he happens to have any. It will give us time to find out.”

“But he doesn’t keep open office all night,” I objected.

“But he opens at nine o’clock in the morning,” said Raffles, “to catch the early stockbroker who would rather be bled than hammered.”

“Who told you that?”

“Our Mrs. Shylock.”

“You must have made great friends with her?”

“More in pity than for the sake of secrets.”

“But you went where the secrets were?”

“And she gave them away wholesale.”

“She would,” I said, “to you.”

“She told me a lot about the impending libel action.”

“Shylock v. Fact?

“Yes; it’s coming on before the vacation, you know.”

“So I saw in some paper.”

“But you know what it’s all about, Bunny?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Another old rascal, the Maharajah of Hathipur, and his perfectly fabulous debts. It seems he’s been in our Mr. Shylock’s clutches for years, but instead of taking his pound of flesh he’s always increasing the amount. Of course that’s the whole duty of money-lenders, but now they say the figure runs well into six. No one has any sympathy with that old heathen; he’s said to have been a pal of Nana’s before the Mutiny, and in it up to the neck he only saved by turning against his own lot in time; in any case it’s the pot and the kettle so far as moral colour is concerned. But I believe it’s an actual fact that syndicates have been formed to buy up the black man’s debts and take a reasonable interest, only the dirty white man always gets to windward of the syndicate. They’re on the point of bringing it off, when old Levy inveigles the nigger into some new Oriental extravagance. Fact has exposed the whole thing, and printed blackmailing letters which Shylock swears are forgeries. That’s both their cases in a philippine! The leeches told the Jew he must do his Carlsbad this year before the case came on; and the tremendous amount it’s going to cost may account for his dunning old clients the moment he gets back.”

“Then why should he lend to you?”

“I’m a new client, Bunny; that makes all the difference. Then we were very good pals out there.”

“But you and Mrs. Shylock were better still?”

“Unbeknowns, Bunny! She used to tell me her troubles when I lent her an arm and took due care to look a martyr; my hunting friend had coarse metaphors about heavy-weights and the knacker’s yard.”

“And yet you came away with the poor soul’s necklace?”

Raffles was tapping the chronic cigarette on the table at his elbow; he stood up to light it, as one does stand up to make the dramatic announcements of one’s life, and he spoke through the flame of the match as it rose and fell between his puffs.

“No — Bunny — I did not!”

“But you told me you won the Emerald Stakes!” I cried, jumping up in my turn.

“So I did, Bunny, but I gave them back again.”

“You gave yourself away to her, as she’d given him away to you?”

“Don’t be a fool, Bunny,” said Raffles, subsiding into his chair. “I can’t tell you the whole thing now, but here are the main heads. They’re at the Savoy Hotel, in Carlsbad I mean. I go to Pupp’s. We meet. They stare. I come out of my British shell as the humble hero of the affair at the other Savoy. I crab my hotel. They swear by theirs. I go to see their rooms. I wait till I can get the very same thing immediately overhead on the second floor — where I can even hear the old swine cursing her from under his mud-poultice! Both suites have balconies that might have been made for me. Need I go on?”

“I wonder you weren’t suspected.”

“There’s no end to your capacity for wonder, Bunny. I took some sweet old rags with me on purpose, carefully packed inside a decent suit, and I had the luck to pick up a foul old German cap that some peasant had cast off in the woods. I only meant to leave it on them like a card; as it was — well, I was waiting for the best barber in the place to open his shop next morning.”

“What had happened?”

“A whole actful of unrehearsed effects; that’s why I think twice before taking on old Shylock again. I admire him, Bunny, as a steely foeman. I look forward to another game with him on his own ground. But I must find out the pace of the wicket before I put myself on.”

“I suppose you had tea with them, and all that sort of thing?”

“Gieshübler!” said Raffles with a shudder. “But I made it last as long as tea, and thought I had located the little green lamps before I took my leave. There was a japanned despatch box in one corner. ‘That’s the Emerald Isle,’ I thought, ‘I’ll soon have it out of the sea. The old man won’t trust ’em to the old lady after what happened in town,’ I needn’t tell you I knew they were there somewhere; he made her wear them even at the tragic travesty of a Carlsbad hotel dinner.”

Raffles was forgetting to be laconic now. I believe he had forgotten the lad in the next room, and everything else but the breathless battle that he was fighting over again for my benefit. He told me how he waited for a dark night, and then slid down from his sitting-room balcony to the one below. And my emeralds were not in the japanned box after all; and just as he had assured himself of the fact, the folding-doors opened “as it might be these,” and there stood Dan Levy “in a suit of swagger silk pyjamas.”

“They gave me a sudden respect for him,” continued Raffles; “it struck me, for the first time, that mud baths mightn’t be the only ones he ever took. His face was as evil as ever, but he was utterly unarmed, and I was not; and yet there he stood and abused me like a pickpocket, as if there was no chance of my firing, and he didn’t care whether I did or not. So I stuck my revolver nearly in his face, and pulled the hammer up and up. Good God, Bunny, if I had pulled too hard! But that made him blink a bit, and I was jolly glad to let it down again. ‘Out with those emeralds,’ says I in low German mugged up in case of need. Of course you realise that I was absolutely unrecognisable, a low blackguard with a blackened face. ‘I don’t know what you mean,’ says he, ‘and I’m damned if I care.’ ‘Das halsband, says I, which means the necklace. ‘Go to hell,’ says he. But I struck myself and shook my head and then my fist at him and nodded. He laughed in my face; and upon my soul we were at a deadlock. So I pointed to the clock and held up one finger. ‘I’ve one minute to live, old girl,’ says he through the doors, ‘if this rotter has the guts to shoot, and I don’t think he has. Why the hell don’t you get out the other way and alarm the ’ouse?’ And that raised the siege, Bunny. In comes the old woman, as plucky as he was, and shoves the necklace into my left hand. I longed to refuse it. I didn’t dare. And the old beast took her and shook her like a rat, until I covered him again, and swore in German that if he showed himself on the balcony for the next two minutes he’d be ein toter Englander! That was the other bit I’d got off pat; it was meant to mean ‘a dead Englishman.’ And I left the fine old girl clinging on to him, instead of him to her!”

I emptied my lungs and my glass too. Raffles took a sip himself.

“But the rope was fixed to your balcony, A.J.?”

“But I began by fixing the other end to theirs, and the moment I was safely up I undid my end and dropped it clear to the ground. They found it dangling all right when out they rushed together. Of course I’d picked the right ball in the way of nights; it was bone-dry as well as pitch-dark, and in five minutes I was helping the rest of the hotel to search for impossible footprints on the gravel, and to stamp out any there might conceivably have been.”

“So nobody ever suspected you?”

“Not a soul, I can safely say; I was the first my victims bored with the whole yarn.”

“Then why return the swag? It’s an old trick of yours, Raffles, but in a case like this, with a pig like that, I confess I don’t see the point.”

“You forget the poor old lady, Bunny. She had a dog’s life before; after that the beans he gave her weren’t even fit for a dog. I loved her for her pluck in standing up to him; it beat his hollow in standing up to me; there was only one reward for her, and it was in my gift.”

“But how on earth did you manage that?”

“Not by public presentation, Bunny, nor yet by taking the old dame into my confidence more cuniculi!“

“I suppose you returned the necklace anonymously?”

“As a low-down German burglar would be sure to do! No, Bunny, I planted it in the woods where I knew it would be found. And then I had to watch lest it was found by the wrong sort. But luckily Mr. Shylock had sprung a substantial reward, and all came right in the end. He sent his doctor to blazes, and had a buck feed and lashings on the night it was recovered. The hunting man and I were invited to the thanksgiving spread; but I wouldn’t budge from the diet, and he was ashamed to unless I did. It made a coolness between us, and now I doubt if we shall ever have that enormous dinner we used to talk about to celebrate our return from a living tomb.”

But I was not interested in that shadowy fox-hunter. “Dan Levy’s a formidable brute to tackle,” said I at length, and none too buoyantly.

“That’s a very true observation, Bunny; it’s also exactly why I so looked forward to tackling him. It ought to be the kind of conflict that the halfpenny press have learnt to call Homeric.”

“Are you thinking of tomorrow, or of when it comes to robbing Peter to pay Peter?”

“Excellent, Bunny!” cried Raffles, as though I had made a shot worthy of his willow. “How the small hours brighten us up!” He drew the curtains and displayed a window like a child’s slate with the sashes ruled across it. “You perceive how we have tired the stars with talking, and cleaned them from the sky! The mellifluous Heraclitus can have been no sitter up o’ nights, or his pal wouldn’t have boasted about tiring the sun by our methods. What a lot the two old pets must have missed!”

“You haven’t answered my question,” said I resignedly. “Nor have you told me how you propose to go to work to raise this money in the first instance.”

“If you like to light another Sullivan,” said Raffles, “and mix yourself another very small and final one, I can tell you now, Bunny.”

And tell me he did.

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