A Thief in the Night, by E. W. Hornung

A bad Night

There was to be a certain little wedding in which Raffles and I took a surreptitious interest. The bride-elect was living in some retirement, with a recently widowed mother and an asthmatical brother, in a mellow hermitage on the banks of the Mole. The bridegroom was a prosperous son of the same suburban soil which had nourished both families for generations. The wedding presents were so numerous as to fill several rooms at the pretty retreat upon the Mole, and of an intrinsic value calling for a special transaction with the Burglary Insurance Company in Cheapside. I cannot say how Raffles obtained all this information. I only know that it proved correct in each particular. I was not indeed deeply interested before the event, since Raffles assured me that it was “a one-man job,” and naturally intended to be the one man himself. It was only at the eleventh hour that our positions were inverted by the wholly unexpected selection of Raffles for the English team in the Second Test Match.

In a flash I saw the chance of my criminal career. It was some years since Raffles had served his country in these encounters; he had never thought to be called upon again, and his gratification was only less than his embarrassment. The match was at Old Trafford, on the third Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in July; the other affair had been all arranged for the Thursday night, the night of the wedding at East Molesey. It was for Raffles to choose between the two excitements, and for once I helped him to make up his mind. I duly pointed out to him that in Surrey, at all events, I was quite capable of taking his place. Nay, more, I insisted at once on my prescriptive right and on his patriotic obligation in the matter. In the country’s name and in my own, I implored him to give it and me a chance; and for once, as I say, my arguments prevailed. Raffles sent his telegram — it was the day before the match. We then rushed down to Esher, and over every inch of the ground by that characteristically circuitous route which he enjoined on me for the next night. And at six in the evening I was receiving the last of my many instructions through a window of the restaurant car.

“Only promise me not to take a revolver,” said Raffles in a whisper. “Here are my keys; there’s an old life-preserver somewhere in the bureau; take that, if you like — though what you take I rather fear you are the chap to use!”

“Then the rope be round my own neck!” I whispered back. “Whatever else I may do, Raffles, I shan’t give you away; and you’ll find I do better than you think, and am worth trusting with a little more to do, or I’ll know the reason why!”

And I meant to know it, as he was borne out of Euston with raised eyebrows, and I turned grimly on my heel. I saw his fears for me; and nothing could have made me more fearless for myself. Raffles had been wrong about me all these years; now was my chance to set him right. It was galling to feel that he had no confidence in my coolness or my nerve, when neither had ever failed him at a pinch. I had been loyal to him through rough and smooth. In many an ugly corner I had stood as firm as Raffles himself. I was his right hand, and yet he never hesitated to make me his catspaw. This time, at all events, I should be neither one nor the other; this time I was the understudy playing lead at last; and I wish I could think that Raffles ever realized with what gusto I threw myself into his part.

Thus I was first out of a crowded theatre train at Esher next night, and first down the stairs into the open air. The night was close and cloudy; and the road to Hampton Court, even now that the suburban builder has marked much of it for his own, is one of the darkest I know. The first mile is still a narrow avenue, a mere tunnel of leaves at mid-summer; but at that time there was not a lighted pane or cranny by the way. Naturally, it was in this blind reach that I fancied I was being followed. I stopped in my stride; so did the steps I made sure I had heard not far behind; and when I went on, they followed suit. I dried my forehead as I walked, but soon brought myself to repeat the experiment when an exact repetition of the result went to convince me that it had been my own echo all the time. And since I lost it on getting quit of the avenue, and coming out upon the straight and open road, I was not long in recovering from my scare. But now I could see my way, and found the rest of it without mishap, though not without another semblance of adventure. Over the bridge across the Mole, when about to turn to the left, I marched straight upon a policeman in rubber soles. I had to call him “officer” as I passed, and to pass my turning by a couple of hundred yards, before venturing back another way.

At last I had crept through a garden gate, and round by black windows to a black lawn drenched with dew. It had been a heating walk, and I was glad to blunder on a garden seat, most considerately placed under a cedar which added its own darkness to that of the night. Here I rested a few minutes, putting up my feet to keep them dry, untying my shoes to save time, and generally facing the task before me with a coolness which I strove to make worthy of my absent chief. But mine was a self-conscious quality, as far removed from the original as any other deliberate imitation of genius. I actually struck a match on my trousers, and lit one of the shorter Sullivans. Raffles himself would not have done such a thing at such a moment. But I wished to tell him that I had done it; and in truth I was not more than pleasurably afraid; I had rather that impersonal curiosity as to the issue which has been the saving of me in still more precarious situations. I even grew impatient for the fray, and could not after all sit still as long as I had intended. So it happened that I was finishing my cigarette on the edge of the wet lawn, and about to slip off my shoes before stepping across the gravel to the conservatory door, when a most singular sound arrested me in the act. It was a muffled gasping somewhere overhead. I stood like stone; and my listening attitude must have been visible against the milky sheen of the lawn, for a labored voice hailed me sternly from a window.

“Who on earth are you?” it wheezed.

“A detective officer,” I replied, “sent down by the Burglary Insurance Company.”

Not a moment had I paused for my precious fable. It had all been prepared for me by Raffles, in case of need. I was merely repeating a lesson in which I had been closely schooled. But at the window there was pause enough, filled only by the uncanny wheezing of the man I could not see.

“I don’t see why they should have sent you down,” he said at length. “We are being quite well looked after by the local police; they’re giving us a special call every hour.”

“I know that, Mr. Medlicott,” I rejoined on my own account. “I met one of them at the corner just now, and we passed the time of night.”

My heart was knocking me to bits. I had started for myself at last.

“Did you get my name from him?” pursued my questioner, in a suspicious wheeze.

“No; they gave me that before I started,” I replied. “But I’m sorry you saw me, sir; it’s a mere matter of routine, and not intended to annoy anybody. I propose to keep a watch on the place all night, but I own it wasn’t necessary to trespass as I’ve done. I’ll take myself off the actual premises, if you prefer it.”

This again was all my own; and it met with a success that might have given me confidence.

“Not a bit of it,” replied young Medlicott, with a grim geniality. “I’ve just woke up with the devil of an attack of asthma, and may have to sit up in my chair till morning. You’d better come up and see me through, and kill two birds while you’re about it. Stay where you are, and I’ll come down and let you in.”

Here was a dilemma which Raffles himself had not foreseen! Outside, in the dark, my audacious part was not hard to play; but to carry the improvisation indoors was to double at once the difficulty and the risk. It was true that I had purposely come down in a true detective’s overcoat and bowler; but my personal appearance was hardly of the detective type. On the other hand as the soi-disant guardian of the gifts one might only excite suspicion by refusing to enter the house where they were. Nor could I forget that it was my purpose to effect such entry first or last. That was the casting consideration. I decided to take my dilemma by the horns.

There had been a scraping of matches in the room over the conservatory; the open window had shown for a moment, like an empty picture-frame, a gigantic shadow wavering on the ceiling; and in the next half-minute I remembered to tie my shoes. But the light was slow to reappear through the leaded glasses of an outer door farther along the path. And when the door opened, it was a figure of woe that stood within and held an unsteady candle between our faces.

I have seen old men look half their age, and young men look double theirs; but never before or since have I seen a beardless boy bent into a man of eighty, gasping for every breath, shaken by every gasp, swaying, tottering, and choking, as if about to die upon his feet. Yet with it all, young Medlicott overhauled me shrewdly, and it was several moments before he would let me take the candle from him.

“I shouldn’t have come down — made me worse,” he began whispering in spurts. “Worse still going up again. You must give me an arm. You will come up? That’s right! Not as bad as I look, you know. Got some good whiskey, too. Presents are all right; but if they aren’t you’ll hear of it indoors sooner than out. Now I’m ready — thanks! Mustn’t make more noise than we can help — wake my mother.”

It must have taken us minutes to climb that single flight of stairs. There was just room for me to keep his arm in mine; with the other he hauled on the banisters; and so we mounted, step by step, a panting pause on each, and a pitched battle for breath on the half-landing. In the end we gained a cosey library, with an open door leading to a bedroom beyond. But the effort had deprived my poor companion of all power of speech; his laboring lungs shrieked like the wind; he could just point to the door by which we had entered, and which I shut in obedience to his gestures, and then to the decanter and its accessories on the table where he had left them overnight. I gave him nearly half a glassful, and his paroxysm subsided a little as he sat hunched up in a chair.

“I was a fool . . . to turn in,” he blurted in more whispers between longer pauses. “Lying down is the devil . . . when you’re in for a real bad night. You might get me the brown cigarettes . . . on the table in there. That’s right . . . thanks awfully . . . and now a match!”

The asthmatic had bitten off either end of the stramonium cigarette, and was soon choking himself with the crude fumes, which he inhaled in desperate gulps, to exhale in furious fits of coughing. Never was more heroic remedy; it seemed a form of lingering suicide; but by degrees some slight improvement became apparent, and at length the sufferer was able to sit upright, and to drain his glass with a sigh of rare relief. I sighed also, for I had witnessed a struggle for dear life by a man in the flower of his youth, whose looks I liked, whose smile came like the sun through the first break in his torments, and whose first words were to thank me for the little I had done in bare humanity.

That made me feel the thing I was. But the feeling put me on my guard. And I was not unready for the remark which followed a more exhaustive scrutiny than I had hitherto sustained.

“Do you know,” said young Medlicott, “that you aren’t a bit like the detective of my dreams?”

“Only to proud to hear it,” I replied. “There would be no point in my being in plain clothes if I looked exactly what I was.”

My companion reassured me with a wheezy laugh.

“There’s something in that,” said he, “although I do congratulate the insurance people on getting a man of your class to do their dirty work. And I congratulate myself,” he was quick enough to add, “on having you to see me through as bad a night as I’ve had for a long time. You’re like flowers in the depths of winter. Got a drink? That’s right! I suppose you didn’t happen to bring down an evening paper?”

I said I had brought one, but had unfortunately left it in the train.

“What about the Test Match?” cried my asthmatic, shooting forward in his chair.

“I can tell you that,” said I. “We went in first ——”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he interrupted. “I’ve seen the miserable score up to lunch. How many did we scrape altogether?”

“We’re scraping them still.”

“No! How many?”

“Over two hundred for seven wickets.”

“Who made the stand?”

“Raffles, for one. He was 62 not out at close of play!”

And the note of admiration rang in my voice, though I tried in my self-consciousness to keep it out. But young Medlicott’s enthusiasm proved an ample cloak for mine; it was he who might have been the personal friend of Raffles; and in his delight he chuckled till he puffed and blew again.

“Good old Raffles!” he panted in every pause. “After being chosen last, and as a bowler-man! That’s the cricketer for me, sir; by Jove, we must have another drink in his honor! Funny thing, asthma; your liquor affects your head no more than it does a man with a snake-bite; but it eases everything else, and sees you through. Doctors will tell you so, but you’ve got to ask ’em first; they’re no good for asthma! I’ve only known one who could stop an attack, and he knocked me sideways with nitrite of amyl. Funny complaint in other ways; raises your spirits, if anything. You can’t look beyond the next breath. Nothing else worries you. Well, well, here’s luck to A. J. Raffles, and may he get his century in the morning!”

And he struggled to his feet for the toast; but I drank it sitting down. I felt unreasonably wroth with Raffles, for coming into the conversation as he had done — for taking centuries in Test Matches as he was doing, without bothering his head about me. A failure would have been in better taste; it would have shown at least some imagination, some anxiety on one’s account. I did not reflect that even Raffles could scarcely be expected to picture me in my cups with the son of the house that I had come to rob; chatting with him, ministering to him; admiring his cheery courage, and honestly attempting to lighten his load! Truly it was an infernal position: how could I rob him or his after this? And yet I had thrust myself into it; and Raffles would never, never understand!

Even that was not the worst. I was not quite sure that young Medlicott was sure of me. I had feared this from the beginning, and now (over the second glass that could not possibly affect a man in his condition) he practically admitted as much to me. Asthma was such a funny thing (he insisted) that it would not worry him a bit to discover that I had come to take the presents instead of to take care of them! I showed a sufficiently faint appreciation of the jest. And it was presently punished as it deserved, by the most violent paroxysm that had seized the sufferer yet: the fight for breath became faster and more furious, and the former weapons of no more avail. I prepared a cigarette, but the poor brute was too breathless to inhale. I poured out yet more whiskey, but he put it from him with a gesture.

“Amyl — get me amyl!” he gasped. “The tin on the table by my bed.”

I rushed into his room, and returned with a little tin of tiny cylinders done up like miniature crackers in scraps of calico; the spent youth broke one in his handkerchief, in which he immediately buried his face. I watched him closely as a subtle odor reached my nostrils; and it was like the miracle of oil upon the billows. His shoulders rested from long travail; the stertorous gasping died away to a quick but natural respiration; and in the sudden cessation of the cruel contest, an uncanny stillness fell upon the scene. Meanwhile the hidden face had flushed to the ears, and, when at length it was raised to mine, its crimson calm was as incongruous as an optical illusion.

“It takes the blood from the heart,” he murmured, “and clears the whole show for the moment. If it only lasted! But you can’t take two without a doctor; one’s quite enough to make you smell the brimstone. . . . I say, what’s up? You’re listening to something! If it’s the policeman we’ll have a word with him.”

It was not the policeman; it was no out-door sound that I had caught in the sudden cessation of the bout for breath. It was a noise, a footstep, in the room below us. I went to the window and leaned out: right underneath, in the conservatory, was the faintest glimmer of a light in the adjoining room.

“One of the rooms where the presents are!” whispered Medlicott at my elbow. And as we withdrew together, I looked him in the face as I had not done all night.

I looked him in the face like an honest man, for a miracle was to make me one once more. My knot was cut — my course inevitable. Mine, after all, to prevent the very thing that I had come to do! My gorge had long since risen at the deed; the unforeseen circumstances had rendered it impossible from the first; but now I could afford to recognize the impossibility, and to think of Raffles and the asthmatic alike without a qualm. I could play the game by them both, for it was one and the same game. I could preserve thieves’ honor, and yet regain some shred of that which I had forfeited as a man!

So I thought as we stood face to face, our ears straining for the least movement below, our eyes locked in a common anxiety. Another muffled foot-fall — felt rather than heard — and we exchanged grim nods of simultaneous excitement. But by this time Medlicott was as helpless as he had been before; the flush had faded from his face, and his breathing alone would have spoiled everything. In dumb show I had to order him to stay where he was, to leave my man to me. And then it was that in a gusty whisper, with the same shrewd look that had disconcerted me more than once during our vigil, young Medlicott froze and fired my blood by turns.

“I’ve been unjust to you,” he said, with his right hand in his dressing-gown pocket. “I thought for a bit — never mind what I thought — I soon saw I was wrong. But — I’ve had this thing in my pocket all the time!”

And he would have thrust his revolver upon me as a peace-offering, but I would not even take his hand, as I tapped the life-preserver in my pocket, and crept out to earn his honest grip or to fall in the attempt. On the landing I drew Raffles’s little weapon, slipped my right wrist through the leathern loop, and held it in readiness over my right shoulder. Then, down-stairs I stole, as Raffles himself had taught me, close to the wall, where the planks are nailed. Nor had I made a sound, to my knowledge; for a door was open, and a light was burning, and the light did not flicker as I approached the door. I clenched my teeth and pushed it open; and there was the veriest villain waiting for me, his little lantern held aloft.

“You blackguard!” I cried, and with a single thwack I felled the ruffian to the floor.

There was no question of a foul blow. He had been just as ready to pounce on me; it was simply my luck to have got the first blow home. Yet a fellow-feeling touched me with remorse, as I stood over the senseless body, sprawling prone, and perceived that I had struck an unarmed man. The lantern only had fallen from his hands; it lay on one side, smoking horribly; and a something in the reek caused me to set it up in haste and turn the body over with both hands.

Shall I ever forget the incredulous horror of that moment?

It was Raffles himself!

How it was possible, I did not pause to ask myself; if one man on earth could annihilate space and time, it was the man lying senseless at my feet; and that was Raffles, without an instant’s doubt. He was in villainous guise, which I knew of old, now that I knew the unhappy wearer. His face was grimy, and dexterously plastered with a growth of reddish hair; his clothes were those in which he had followed cabs from the London termini; his boots were muffled in thick socks; and I had laid him low with a bloody scalp that filled my cup of horror. I groaned aloud as I knelt over him and felt his heart. And I was answered by a bronchial whistle from the door.

“Jolly well done!” cheered my asthmatical friend. “I heard the whole thing — only hope my mother didn’t. We must keep it from her if we can.”

I could have cursed the creature’s mother from my full heart; yet even with my hand on that of Raffles, as I felt his feeble pulse, I told myself that this served him right. Even had I brained him, the fault had been his, not mine. And it was a characteristic, an inveterate fault, that galled me for all my anguish: to trust and yet distrust me to the end, to race through England in the night, to spy upon me at his work — to do it himself after all!

“Is he dead?” wheezed the asthmatic coolly.

“Not he,” I answered, with an indignation that I dared not show.

“You must have hit him pretty hard,” pursued young Medlicott, “but I suppose it was a case of getting first knock. And a good job you got it, if this was his,” he added, picking up the murderous little life-preserver which poor Raffles had provided for his own destruction.

“Look here,” I answered, sitting back on my heels. “He isn’t dead, Mr. Medlicott, and I don’t know how long he’ll be as much as stunned. He’s a powerful brute, and you’re not fit to lend a hand. But that policeman of yours can’t be far away. Do you think you could struggle out and look for him?”

“I suppose I am a bit better than I was,” he replied doubtfully. “The excitement seems to have done me good. If you like to leave me on guard with my revolver, I’ll undertake that he doesn’t escape me.”

I shook my head with an impatient smile.

“I should never hear the last of it,” said I. “No, in that case all I can do is to handcuff the fellow and wait till morning if he won’t go quietly; and he’ll be a fool if he does, while there’s a fighting chance.”

Young Medlicott glanced upstairs from his post on the threshold. I refrained from watching him too keenly, but I knew what was in his mind.

“I’ll go,” he said hurriedly. “I’ll go as I am, before my mother is disturbed and frightened out of her life. I owe you something, too, not only for what you’ve done for me, but for what I was fool enough to think about you at the first blush. It’s entirely through you that I feel as fit as I do for the moment. So I’ll take your tip, and go just as I am, before my poor old pipes strike up another tune.”

I scarcely looked up until the good fellow had turned his back upon the final tableau of watchful officer and prostrate prisoner and gone out wheezing into the night. But I was at the door to hear the last of him down the path and round the corner of the house. And when I rushed back into the room, there was Raffles sitting cross-legged on the floor, and slowly shaking his broken head as he stanched the blood.

“Et tu, Bunny!” he groaned. “Mine own familiar friend!”

“Then you weren’t even stunned!” I exclaimed. “Thank God for that!”

“Of course I was stunned,” he murmured, “and no thanks to you that I wasn’t brained. Not to know me in the kit you’ve seen scores of times! You never looked at me, Bunny; you didn’t give me time to open my mouth. I was going to let you run me in so prettily! We’d have walked off arm-inarm; now it’s as tight a place as ever we were in, though you did get rid of old blow-pipes rather nicely. But we shall have the devil’s own run for our money!”

Raffles had picked himself up between his mutterings, and I had followed him to the door into the garden, where he stood busy with the key in the dark, having blown out his lantern and handed it to me. But though I followed Raffles, as my nature must, I was far too embittered to answer him again. And so it was for some minutes that might furnish forth a thrilling page, but not a novel one to those who know their Raffles and put up with me. Suffice it that we left a locked door behind us, and the key on the garden wall, which was the first of half a dozen that we scaled before dropping into a lane that led to a foot-bridge higher up the backwater. And when we paused upon the foot-bridge, the houses along the bank were still in peace and darkness.

Knowing my Raffles as I did, I was not surprised when he dived under one end of this bridge, and came up with his Inverness cape and opera hat, which he had hidden there on his way to the house. The thick socks were peeled from his patent-leathers, the ragged trousers stripped from an evening pair, bloodstains and Newgate fringe removed at the water’s edge, and the whole sepulchre whited in less time than the thing takes to tell. Nor was that enough for Raffles, but he must alter me as well, by wearing my overcoat under his cape, and putting his Zingari scarf about my neck.

“And now,” said he, “you may be glad to hear there’s a 3:12 from Surbiton, which we could catch on all fours. If you like we’ll go separately, but I don’t think there’s the slightest danger now, and I begin to wonder what’s happening to old blow-pipes.”


The ragged trousers stripped from an evening pair

So, indeed, did I, and with no small concern, until I read of his adventures (and our own) in the newspapers. It seemed that he had made a gallant spurt into the road, and there paid the penalty of his rashness by a sudden incapacity to move another inch. It had eventually taken him twenty minutes to creep back to locked doors, and another ten to ring up the inmates. His description of my personal appearance, as reported in the papers, is the only thing that reconciles me to the thought of his sufferings during that half-hour.

But at the time I had other thoughts, and they lay too deep for idle words, for to me also it was a bitter hour. I had not only failed in my self-sought task; I had nearly killed my comrade into the bargain. I had meant well by friend and foe in turn, and I had ended in doing execrably by both. It was not all my fault, but I knew how much my weakness had contributed to the sum. And I must walk with the man whose fault it was, who had travelled two hundred miles to obtain this last proof of my weakness, to bring it home to me, and to make our intimacy intolerable from that hour. I must walk with him to Surbiton, but I need not talk; all through Thames Ditton I had ignored his sallies; nor yet when he ran his arm through mine, on the river front, when we were nearly there, would I break the seal my pride had set upon my lips.

“Come, Bunny,” he said at last, “I have been the one to suffer most, when all’s said and done, and I’ll be the first to say that I deserved it. You’ve broken my head; my hair’s all glued up in my gore; and what yarn I’m to put up at Manchester, or how I shall take the field at all, I really don’t know. Yet I don’t blame you, Bunny, and I do blame myself. Isn’t it rather hard luck if I am to go unforgiven into the bargain? I admit that I made a mistake; but, my dear fellow, I made it entirely for your sake.”

“For my sake!” I echoed bitterly.

Raffles was more generous; he ignored my tone.

“I was miserable about you — frankly — miserable!” he went on. “I couldn’t get it out of my head that somehow you would be laid by the heels. It was not your pluck that I distrusted, my dear fellow, but it was your very pluck that made me tremble for you. I couldn’t get you out of my head. I went in when runs were wanted, but I give you my word that I was more anxious about you; and no doubt that’s why I helped to put on some runs. Didn’t you see it in the paper, Bunny? It’s the innings of my life, so far.”

“Yes,” I said, “I saw that you were in at close of play. But I don’t believe it was you — I believe you have a double who plays your cricket for you!”

And at the moment that seemed less incredible than the fact.

“I’m afraid you didn’t read your paper very carefully,” said Raffles, with the first trace of pique in his tone. “It was rain that closed play before five o’clock. I hear it was a sultry day in town, but at Manchester we got the storm, and the ground was under water in ten minutes. I never saw such a thing in my life. There was absolutely not the ghost of a chance of another ball being bowled. But I had changed before I thought of doing what I did. It was only when I was on my way back to the hotel, by myself, because I couldn’t talk to a soul for thinking of you, that on the spur of the moment I made the man take me to the station instead, and was under way in the restaurant car before I had time to think twice about it. I am not sure that of all the mad deeds I have ever done, this was not the maddest of the lot!”

“It was the finest,” I said in a low voice; for now I marvelled more at the impulse which had prompted his feat, and at the circumstances surrounding it, than even at the feat itself.

“Heaven knows,” he went on, “what they are saying and doing in Manchester! But what can they say? What business is it of theirs? I was there when play stopped, and I shall be there when it starts again. We shall be at Waterloo just after half-past three, and that’s going to give me an hour at the Albany on my way to Euston, and another hour at Old Trafford before play begins. What’s the matter with that? I don’t suppose I shall notch any more, but all the better if I don’t; if we have a hot sun after the storm, the sooner they get in the better; and may I have a bowl at them while the ground bites!”

“I’ll come up with you,” I said, “and see you at it.”

“My dear fellow,” replied Raffles, “that was my whole feeling about you. I wanted to ‘see you at it’— that was absolutely all. I wanted to be near enough to lend a hand if you got tied up, as the best of us will at times. I knew the ground better than you, and I simply couldn’t keep away from it. But I didn’t mean you to know that I was there; if everything had gone as I hoped it might, I should have sneaked back to town without ever letting you know I had been up. You should never have dreamt that I had been at your elbow; you would have believed in yourself, and in my belief in you, and the rest would have been silence till the grave. So I dodged you at Waterloo, and I tried not to let you know that I was following you from Esher station. But you suspected somebody was; you stopped to listen more than once; after the second time I dropped behind, but gained on you by taking the short cut by Imber Court and over the foot-bridge where I left my coat and hat. I was actually in the garden before you were. I saw you smoke your Sullivan, and I was rather proud of you for it, though you must never do that sort of thing again. I heard almost every word between you and the poor devil upstairs. And up to a certain point, Bunny, I really thought you played the scene to perfection.”

The station lights were twinkling ahead of us in the fading velvet of the summer’s night. I let them increase and multiply before I spoke.

“And where,” I asked, “did you think I first went wrong?”

“In going indoors at all,” said Raffles. “If I had done that, I should have done exactly what you did from that point on. You couldn’t help yourself, with that poor brute in that state. And I admired you immensely, Bunny, if that’s any comfort to you now.”

Comfort! It was wine in every vein, for I knew that Raffles meant what he said, and with his eyes I soon saw myself in braver colors. I ceased to blush for the vacillations of the night, since he condoned them. I could even see that I had behaved with a measure of decency, in a truly trying situation, now that Raffles seemed to think so. He had changed my whole view of his proceedings and my own, in every incident of the night but one. There was one thing, however, which he might forgive me, but which I felt that I could forgive neither Raffles nor myself. And that was the contused scalp wound over which I shuddered in the train.

“And to think that I did that,” I groaned, “and that you laid yourself open to it, and that we have neither of us got another thing to show for our night’s work! That poor chap said it was as bad a night as he had ever had in his life; but I call it the very worst that you and I ever had in ours.”

Raffles was smiling under the double lamps of the first-class compartment that we had to ourselves.

“I wouldn’t say that, Bunny. We have done worse.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you did anything at all?”

“My dear Bunny,” replied Raffles, “you should remember how long I had been maturing this felonious little plan, what a blow it was to me to have to turn it over to you, and how far I had travelled to see that you did it and yourself as well as might be. You know what I did see, and how well I understood. I tell you again that I should have done the same thing myself, in your place. But I was not in your place, Bunny. My hands were not tied like yours. Unfortunately, most of the jewels have gone on the honeymoon with the happy pair; but these emerald links are all right, and I don’t know what the bride was doing to leave this diamond comb behind. Here, too, is the old silver skewer I’ve been wanting for years — they make the most charming paper-knives in the world — and this gold cigarette-case will just do for your smaller Sullivans.”

Nor were these the only pretty things that Raffles set out in twinkling array upon the opposite cushions. But I do not pretend that this was one of our heavy hauls, or deny that its chief interest still resides in the score of the Second Test Match of that Australian tour.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hornung/ew/thief-in-the-night/chapter5.html

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