Mr. Justice Raffles, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 4

“Our Mr. Shylock”

I have often wondered in what pause or phase of our conversation Raffles hit upon the plan which we duly carried out; for we had been talking incessantly, since his arrival about eight o’clock at night, until two in the morning. Yet that which we discussed between two and three was what we actually did between nine and ten, with the single exception necessitated by an altogether unforeseen development, of which the less said the better until the proper time. The foresight and imagination of a Raffles are obviously apt to outstrip his spoken words; but even in the course of speech his ideas would crystallise, quite palpably to the listener, and the sentence that began by throwing out a shadowy idea would culminate in a definite project, as the image comes into focus under the lens, and with as much detail into the bargain.

Suffice it that after a long night of it at the Albany, and but a bath and a cup of tea at my own flat, I found Raffles waiting for me in Piccadilly, and down we went together to the jaws of Jermyn Street. There we nodded, and I was proceeding down the hill when I turned on my heel as though I had forgotten something, and entered Jermyn Street not fifty yards behind Raffles. I had no thought of catching him up. But it so happened that I was in his wake in time to witness a first contretemps which did not amount to much at the time; this was merely the violent exit of another of Dan Levy’s early callers into the very arms of Raffles. There was a heated apology, accepted with courteous composure, and followed by an excited outpouring which I did not come near enough to overhear. It was delivered by a little man in an aureole of indigo hair, who brushed his great sombrero violently as he spoke and Raffles listened. I could see from their manner that the collision which had just occurred was not the subject under discussion; but I failed to distinguish a word, though I listened outside a hatter’s until Raffles had gone in and his new acquaintance had passed me with blazing eyes and a volley of husky vows in broken English.

“Another of Mr. Shylock’s victims,” thought I; and indeed he might have been bleeding internally from the loss of his pound of flesh; at any rate there was bloodshed in his eyes.

I stood a long time outside that hatter’s window, and finally went in to choose a cap. But the light is wicked in those narrow shops, and this necessitated my carrying several caps to the broad daylight of the threshold to gauge their shades, and incidentally to achieve a swift survey of the street. Then they crowned me with an ingenious apparatus like a typewriter, to get the exact shape and measure of my skull, for I had intimated that I had no desire to dress it anywhere else for the future. All this must have taken up the most of twenty minutes, yet after getting as far as Mr. Shylock’s I remembered that I required what one’s hatter (and no one else) calls a “boater,” and back I went to order one in addition to the cap. And as the next tack fetches the buoy, so my next perambulation (in which, however, I was thinking seriously of a new bowler) brought me face to face with Raffles once more.

We shouted and shook hands; our encounter had taken place almost under the money-lender’s windows, and it was so unEnglish in its cordiality that between our slaps and grasps Raffles managed deftly to insert a stout packet in my breast pocket. I cannot think the most critical pedestrian could have seen it done. But streets have as many eyes as Argus, and some of them are always on one.

“They had to send to the bank for it,” whispered Raffles. “It barely passed through their hands. But don’t you let Shylock spot his own envelope!”

In another second he was saying something very different that anybody might have heard, and in yet another he was hustling me across Shylock’s threshold. “I’ll take you up and introduce you,” he cried aloud. “You couldn’t come to a better man, my dear fellow — he’s the only honest one in Europe. Is Mr. Levy disengaged?”

A stunted young gentleman, who spoke as though he had a hare-lip or was in liquor, neither calamity having really befallen him, said that he thought so, but would see, which he proceeded to do through a telephone, after shifting the indicator from “Through” to “Private.” He slid off his stool at once, and another youth, of similar appearance and still more similar peculiarity of speech, who entered in a hurry at that moment, was told to hold on while he showed the gentlemen up-stairs. There were other clerks behind the mahogany bulwark, and we heard the newcomer greeting them hoarsely as we climbed up into the presence.

Dan Levy, as I must try to call him when Raffles is not varnishing my tale, looked a very big man at his enormous desk, but by no means so elephantine as at the tiny table in the Savoy Restaurant a month earlier. His privations had not only reduced his bulk to the naked eye, but made him look ten years younger. He wore the habiliments of a gentleman; even as he sat at his desk his well-cut coat and well-tied tie filled me with that inconsequent respect which the silk pyjamas had engendered in Raffles. But the great face that greeted us with a shrewd and rather scornful geniality impressed me yet more powerfully. In its massive features and its craggy contour it displayed the frank pugnacity of the pugilist rather than the low cunning of the traditional usurer; and the nose in particular, while of far healthier appearance than when I had seen it first and last, was both dominant and menacing in its immensity. It was a comfort to turn from this formidable countenance to that of Raffles, who had entered with his own serene unconscious confidence, and now introduced us with that inimitable air of light-hearted authority which stamped him in all shades of society.

“‘Appy to meet you, sir. I hope you’re well?” said Mr. Levy, dropping one aspirate but putting in the next with care. “Take a seat, sir, please.”

But I kept my legs, though I felt them near to trembling, and, diving a hand into a breast pocket, I began working the contents out of the envelope that Raffles had given me, while I spoke out in a tone sufficiently rehearsed at the Albany overnight.

“I’m not so sure about the happiness,” said I. “I mean about its lasting, Mr. Levy. I come from my friend, Mr. Edward Garland.”

“I thought you came to borrow money!” interposed Raffles with much indignation. The moneylender was watching me with bright eyes and lips I could no longer see.

“I never said so,” I rapped out at Raffles; and I thought I saw approval and encouragement behind his stare like truth at the bottom of the well.

“Who is the little biter?” the money-lender inquired of him with delightful insolence.

“An old friend of mine,” replied Raffles, in an injured tone that made a convincing end of the old friendship. “I thought he was hard up, or I never should have brought him in to introduce to you.”

“I didn’t ask you for your introduction, Raffles,” said I offensively. “I simply met you coming out as I was coming in. I thought you damned officious, if you ask me!”

Whereupon, with an Anglo–Saxon threat of subsequent violence to my person, Raffles flung open the door to leave us to our interview. This was exactly as it had been rehearsed. But Dan Levy called Raffles back. And that was exactly as we had hoped.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” said the Jew. “Please don’t make a cockpit of my office, gentlemen; and pray, Mr. Raffles, don’t leave me to the mercies of your very dangerous friend.”

“You can be two to one if you like,” I gasped valiantly. “I don’t care.”

And my chest heaved in accordance with my stage instructions, as also with a realism to which it was a relief to give full play.

“Come now,” said Levy. “What did Mr. Garland send you about?”

“You know well enough,” said I: “his debt to you.”

“Don’t be rude about it,” said Levy. “What about the debt?”

“It’s a damned disgrace!” said I.

“I quite agree,” he chuckled. “It ought to ‘ave been settled months ago.”

“Months ago?” I echoed. “It’s only twelve months since he borrowed three hundred pounds from you, and now you’re sticking him for seven!”

“I am,” said Levy, opening uncompromising lips that entirely disappeared again next instant.

“He borrows three hundred for a year at the outside, and you blackmail him for eight hundred when the year’s up.”

“You said ‘seven’ just now,” interrupted Raffles, but in the voice of a man who was getting a fright.

“You also said ‘blackmailing,’” added Dan Levy portentously. “Do you want to be thrown downstairs?”

“Do you deny the figures?” I retorted.

“No, I don’t; have you got his repayment cards?”

“Yes, here in my hands, and they shan’t leave them. You see, you’re not aware,” I added severely, as I turned to Raffles, “that this young fellow has already paid up one hundred in instalments; that’s what makes the eight; and all this is what’ll happen to you if you’ve been fool enough to get into the same boat.”

The money-lender had borne with me longer than either of us had expected that he would; but now he wheeled back his chair and stood up, a pillar of peril and a mouthful of oaths.

“Is that all you’ve come to say?” he thundered. “If so, you young devil, out you go!”

“No, it isn’t,” said I, spreading out a document attached to the cards of receipt which Raffles had obtained from Teddy Garland; these I had managed to extract without anything else from the inner pocket in which I had been trying to empty out Raffles’s envelope. “Here,” I continued, “is a letter, written only yesterday, by you to Mr. Garland, in which you say, among other very insolent things: ‘This is final, and absolutely no excuses of any kind will be tolerated or accepted. You have given ten times more trouble than your custom is worth, and I shall be glad to get rid of you. So you had better pay up before twelve o’clock tomorrow, as you may depend that the above threats will be carried out to the very letter, and steps will be taken to carry them into effect at that hour. This is your dead and last chance, and the last time I will write you on the subject.’”

“So it is,” said Levy with an oath. “This is a very bad case, Mr. Raffles.”

“I agree,” said I. “And may I ask if you propose to ‘get rid’ of Mr. Garland by making him ‘pay up’ in full?”

“Before twelve o’clock today,” said Dan Levy, with a snap of his prize-fighting jaws.

“Eight hundred, first and last, for the three hundred he borrowed a year ago?”

“That’s it.”

“Surely that’s very hard on the boy,” I said, reaching the conciliatory stage by degrees on which Raffles paid me many compliments later; but at the time he remarked, “I should say it was his own fault.”

“Of course it is, Mr. Raffles,” cried the moneylender, taking a more conciliatory tone himself. “It was my money; it was my three ‘undred golden sovereigns; and you can sell what’s yours for what it’ll fetch, can’t you?”

“Obviously,” said Raffles.

“Very well, then, money’s like anything else; if you haven’t got it, and can’t beg or earn it, you’ve got to buy it at a price. I sell my money, that’s all. And I’ve a right to sell it at a fancy price if I can get a fancy price for it. A man may be a fool to pay my figure; that depends ‘ow much he wants the money at the time, and it’s his affair, not mine. Your gay young friend was all right if he hadn’t defaulted, but a defaulter deserves to pay through the nose, and be damned to him. It wasn’t me let your friend in; he let in himself, with his eyes open. Mr. Garland knew very well what I was charging him, and what I shouldn’t ‘esitate to charge over and above if he gave me half a chance. Why should I? Wasn’t it in the bond? What do you all think I run my show for? It’s business, Mr. Raffles, not robbery, my dear sir. All business is robbery, if you come to that. But you’ll find mine is all above-board and in the bond.”

“A very admirable exposition,” said Raffles weightily.

“Not that it applies to you, Mr. Raffles,” the other was adroit enough to add. “Mr. Garland was no friend of mine, and he was a fool, whereas I hope I may say that you’re the one and not the other.”

“Then it comes to this,” said I, “that you mean him to pay up in full this morning?”

“By noon, and it’s just gone ten.”

“The whole seven hundred pounds?”

“Sterling,” said Mr. Levy “No cheques entertained.”

“Then,” said I, with an air of final defeat, “there’s nothing for it but to follow my instructions and pay you now on the nail!”

I did not look at Levy, but I heard the sudden intake of his breath at the sight of my bank-notes, and I felt its baleful exhalation on my forehead as I stooped and began counting them out upon his desk. I had made some progress before he addressed me in terms of protest. There was almost a tremor in his voice. I had no call to be so hasty; it looked as though I had been playing a game with him. Why couldn’t I tell him I had the money with me all the time? The question was asked with a sudden oath, because I had gone on counting it out regardless of his overtures. I took as little notice of his anger.

“And now, Mr. Levy,” I concluded, “may I ask you to return me Mr. Garland’s promissory note?”

“Yes, you may ask and you shall receive!” he snarled, and opened his safe so violently that the keys fell out. Raffles replaced them with exemplary promptitude while the note of hand was being found.

The evil little document was in my possession at last. Levy roared down the tube, and the young man of the imperfect diction duly appeared.

“Take that young biter,” cried Levy, “and throw him into the street. Call up Moses to lend you a ‘and.”

But the first murderer stood nonplussed, looking from Raffles to me, and finally inquiring which biter his master meant.

“That one!” bellowed the money-lender, shaking a lethal fist at me. “Mr. Raffles is a friend o’ mine.”

“But ‘e’th a friend of ‘ith too,” lisped the young man. “Thimeon Markth come acroth the thtreet to tell me tho. He thaw them thake handth outthide our plathe, after he’d theen ’em arm-inarm in Piccadilly, ‘an he come in to thay tho in cathe —”

But the youth of limited articulation was not allowed to finish his explanation; he was grasped by the scruff of the neck and kicked and shaken out of the room, and his collar flung after him. I heard him blubbering on the stairs as Levy locked the door and put the key in his pocket. But I did not hear Raffles slip into the swivel chair behind the desk, or know that he had done so until the usurer and I turned round together.

“Out of that!” blustered Levy.

But Raffles tilted the chair back on its spring and laughed softly in his face.

“Not if I know it,” said he. “If you don’t open the door in about one minute I shall require this telephone of yours to ring up the police.”

“The police, eh?” said Levy, with a sinister recovery of self-control. “You’d better leave that to me, you precious pair of swindlers!”

“Besides,” continued Raffles, “of course you keep an argumentum ad hominem in one of these drawers. Ah, here it is, and just as well in my hands as in yours!”

He had opened the top drawer in the right-hand pedestal, and taken therefrom a big bulldog revolver; it was the work of few moments to empty its five chambers, and hand the pistol by its barrel to the owner.

“Curse you!” hissed the latter, hurling it into the fender with a fearful clatter. “But you’ll pay for this, my fine gentlemen; this isn’t sharp practice, but criminal fraud.”

“The burden of proof,” said Raffles, “lies with you. Meanwhile, will you be good enough to open that door instead of looking as sick as a cold mud-poultice?”

The money-lender had, indeed, turned as grey as his hair; and his eyebrows, which were black and looked dyed, stood out like smears of ink. Nevertheless, the simile which Raffles had employed with his own unfortunate facility was more picturesque than discreet. I saw it set Mr. Shylock thinking. Luckily, the evil of the day was sufficient for it and him; but so far from complying, he set his back to the locked door and swore a sweet oath never to budge.

“Oh, very well!” resumed Raffles, and the receiver was at his ear without more ado. “Is that the Exchange? Give me nine-two-double-three Gerrard, will you?”

“It’s fraud,” reiterated Levy. “And you know it.”

“It’s nothing of the sort, and you know it,” murmured Raffles, with the proper preoccupation of the man at the telephone.

“You lent the money,” I added. “That’s your business. It’s nothing to do with you what he chooses to do with it.”

“He’s a cursed swindler,” hissed Levy. “And you’re his damned decoy!”

I was not sorry to see Raffles’s face light up across the desk.

“Is that Howson, Anstruther and Martin? — they’re only my solicitors, Mr. Levy. . . . Put me through to Mr. Martin, please. . . . That you, Charlie? . . . You might come in a cab to Jermyn Street — I forget the number — Dan Levy’s, the money-lender’s — thanks, old chap! . . . Wait a bit, Charlie — a constable. . . . ”

But Dan Levy had unlocked his door and flung it open.

“There you are, you scoundrels! But we’ll meet again, my fine swell-mobsmen!”

Raffles was frowning at the telephone.

“I’ve been cut off,” said he. “Wait a bit! Clear call for you, Mr. Levy, I believe!”

And they changed places, without exchanging another word until Raffles and I were on the stairs.

“Why, the ‘phone’s not even through!” yelled the money-lender, rushing out.

“But we are, Mr. Levy!” cried Raffles. And down we ran into the street.

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