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

A Trap to Catch a Cracksman

I was just putting out my light when the telephone rang a furious tocsin in the next room. I flounced out of bed more asleep than awake; in another minute I should have been past ringing up. It was one o’clock in the morning, and I had been dining with Swigger Morrison at his club.

“Hulloa!”

“That you, Bunny?”

“Yes — are you Raffles?”

“What’s left of me! Bunny, I want you — quick.”

And even over the wire his voice was faint with anxiety and apprehension.

“What on earth has happened?”

“Don’t ask! You never know ——”

“I’ll come at once. Are you there, Raffles?”

“What’s that?”

“Are you there, man?”

“Ye — e — es.”

“At the Albany?”

“No, no; at Maguire’s.”

“You never said so. And where’s Maguire?”

“In Half-moon Street.”

“I know that. Is he there now?”

“No — not come in yet — and I’m caught.”

“Caught!”

“In that trap he bragged about. It serves me right. I didn’t believe in it. But I’m caught at last . . . caught . . . at last!”

“When he told us he set it every night! Oh, Raffles, what sort of a trap is it? What shall I do? What shall I bring?”

But his voice had grown fainter and wearier with every answer, and now there was no answer at all. Again and again I asked Raffles if he was there; the only sound to reach me in reply was the low metallic hum of the live wire between his ear and mine. And then, as I sat gazing distractedly at my four safe walls, with the receiver still pressed to my head, there came a single groan, followed by the dull and dreadful crash of a human body falling in a heap.

In utter panic I rushed back into my bedroom, and flung myself into the crumpled shirt and evening clothes that lay where I had cast them off. But I knew no more what I was doing than what to do next. I afterward found that I had taken out a fresh tie, and tied it rather better than usual; but I can remember thinking of nothing but Raffles in some diabolical man-trap, and of a grinning monster stealing in to strike him senseless with one murderous blow. I must have looked in the glass to array myself as I did; but the mind’s eye was the seeing eye, and it was filled with this frightful vision of the notorious pugilist known to fame and infamy as Barney Maguire.

It was only the week before that Raffles and I had been introduced to him at the Imperial Boxing Club. Heavy-weight champion of the United States, the fellow was still drunk with his sanguinary triumphs on that side, and clamoring for fresh conquests on ours. But his reputation had crossed the Atlantic before Maguire himself; the grandiose hotels had closed their doors to him; and he had already taken and sumptuously furnished the house in Half-moon Street which does not relet to this day. Raffles had made friends with the magnificent brute, while I took timid stock of his diamond studs, his jewelled watch-chain, his eighteen-carat bangle, and his six-inch lower jaw. I had shuddered to see Raffles admiring the gewgaws in his turn, in his own brazen fashion, with that air of the cool connoisseur which had its double meaning for me. I for my part would as lief have looked a tiger in the teeth. And when we finally went home with Maguire to see his other trophies, it seemed to me like entering the tiger’s lair. But an astounding lair it proved, fitted throughout by one eminent firm, and ringing to the rafters with the last word on fantastic furniture.

The trophies were a still greater surprise. They opened my eyes to the rosier aspect of the noble art, as presently practised on the right side of the Atlantic. Among other offerings, we were permitted to handle the jewelled belt presented to the pugilist by the State of Nevada, a gold brick from the citizens of Sacramento, and a model of himself in solid silver from the Fisticuff Club in New York. I still remember waiting with bated breath for Raffles to ask Maguire if he were not afraid of burglars, and Maguire replying that he had a trap to catch the cleverest cracksman alive, but flatly refusing to tell us what it was. I could not at the moment conceive a more terrible trap than the heavy-weight himself behind a curtain. Yet it was easy to see that Raffles had accepted the braggart’s boast as a challenge. Nor did he deny it later when I taxed him with his mad resolve; he merely refused to allow me to implicate myself in its execution. Well, there was a spice of savage satisfaction in the thought that Raffles had been obliged to turn to me in the end. And, but for the dreadful thud which I had heard over the telephone, I might have extracted some genuine comfort from the unerring sagacity with which he had chosen his night.

Within the last twenty-four hours Barney Maguire had fought his first great battle on British soil. Obviously, he would no longer be the man that he had been in the strict training before the fight; never, as I gathered, was such a ruffian more off his guard, or less capable of protecting himself and his possessions, than in these first hours of relaxation and inevitable debauchery for which Raffles had waited with characteristic foresight. Nor was the terrible Barney likely to be more abstemious for signal punishment sustained in a far from bloodless victory. Then what could be the meaning of that sickening and most suggestive thud? Could it be the champion himself who had received the coup de grâce in his cups? Raffles was the very man to administer it — but he had not talked like that man through the telephone.

And yet — and yet — what else could have happened? I must have asked myself the question between each and all of the above reflections, made partly as I dressed and partly in the hansom on the way to Half-moon Street. It was as yet the only question in my mind. You must know what your emergency is before you can decide how to cope with it; and to this day I sometimes tremble to think of the rashly direct method by which I set about obtaining the requisite information. I drove every yard of the way to the pugilist’s very door. You will remember that I had been dining with Swigger Morrison at his club.

Yet at the last I had a rough idea of what I meant to say when the door was opened. It seemed almost probable that the tragic end of our talk over the telephone had been caused by the sudden arrival and as sudden violence of Barney Maguire. In that case I was resolved to tell him that Raffles and I had made a bet about his burglar trap, and that I had come to see who had won. I might or might not confess that Raffles had rung me out of bed to this end. If, however, I was wrong about Maguire, and he had not come home at all, then my action would depend upon the menial who answered my reckless ring. But it should result in the rescue of Raffles by hook or crook.

I had the more time to come to some decision, since I rang and rang in vain. The hall, indeed, was in darkness; but when I peeped through the letter-box I could see a faint beam of light from the back room. That was the room in which Maguire kept his trophies and set his trap. All was quiet in the house: could they have haled the intruder to Vine Street in the short twenty minutes which it had taken me to dress and to drive to the spot? That was an awful thought; but even as I hoped against hope, and rang once more, speculation and suspense were cut short in the last fashion to be foreseen.

A brougham was coming sedately down the street from Piccadilly; to my horror, it stopped behind me as I peered once more through the letter-box, and out tumbled the dishevelled prize-fighter and two companions. I was nicely caught in my turn. There was a lamp-post right opposite the door, and I can still see the three of them regarding me in its light. The pugilist had been at least a fine figure of a bully and a braggart when I saw him before his fight; now he had a black eye and a bloated lip, hat on the back of his head, and made-up tie under one ear. His companions were his sallow little Yankee secretary, whose name I really forget, but whom I met with Maguire at the Boxing Club, and a very grand person in a second skin of shimmering sequins.

I can neither forget nor report the terms in which Barney Maguire asked me who I was and what I was doing there. Thanks, however, to Swigger Morrison’s hospitality, I readily reminded him of our former meeting, and of more that I only recalled as the words were in my mouth.

“You’ll remember Raffles,” said I, “if you don’t remember me. You showed us your trophies the other night, and asked us both to look you up at any hour of the day or night after the fight.”

I was going on to add that I had expected to find Raffles there before me, to settle a wager that we had made about the man-trap. But the indiscretion was interrupted by Maguire himself, whose dreadful fist became a hand that gripped mine with brute fervor, while with the other he clouted me on the back.

“You don’t say!” he cried. “I took you for some darned crook, but now I remember you perfectly. If you hadn’t’ve spoke up slick I’d have bu’st your face in, sonny. I would, sure! Come right in, and have a drink to show there’s — Jeehoshaphat!”

The secretary had turned the latch-key in the door, only to be hauled back by the collar as the door stood open, and the light from the inner room was seen streaming upon the banisters at the foot of the narrow stairs.

“A light in my den,” said Maguire in a mighty whisper, “and the blamed door open, though the key’s in my pocket and we left it locked! Talk about crooks, eh? Holy smoke, how I hope we’ve landed one alive! You ladies and gentlemen, lay round where you are, while I see.”

And the hulking figure advanced on tiptoe, like a performing elephant, until just at the open door, when for a second we saw his left revolving like a piston and his head thrown back at its fighting angle. But in another second his fists were hands again, and Maguire was rubbing them together as he stood shaking with laughter in the light of the open door.

“Walk up!” he cried, as he beckoned to us three. “Walk up and see one o’ their blamed British crooks laid as low as the blamed carpet, and nailed as tight!”

Imagine my feelings on the mat! The sallow secretary went first; the sequins glittered at his heels, and I must own that for one base moment I was on the brink of bolting through the street door. It had never been shut behind us. I shut it myself in the end. Yet it was small credit to me that I actually remained on the same side of the door as Raffles.

“Reel home-grown, low-down, unwashed White-chapel!” I had heard Maguire remark within. “Blamed if our Bowery boys ain’t cock-angels to scum like this. Ah, you biter, I wouldn’t soil my knuckles on your ugly face; but if I had my thick boots on I’d dance the soul out of your carcass for two cents!”

After this it required less courage to join the others in the inner room; and for some moments even I failed to identify the truly repulsive object about which I found them grouped. There was no false hair upon the face, but it was as black as any sweep’s. The clothes, on the other hand, were new to me, though older and more pestiferous in themselves than most worn by Raffles for professional purposes. And at first, as I say, I was far from sure whether it was Raffles at all; but I remembered the crash that cut short our talk over the telephone; and this inanimate heap of rags was lying directly underneath a wall instrument, with the receiver dangling over him.

“Think you know him?” asked the sallow secretary, as I stooped and peered with my heart in my boots.

“Good Lord, no! I only wanted to see if he was dead,” I explained, having satisfied myself that it was really Raffles, and that Raffles was really insensible. “But what on earth has happened?” I asked in my turn.

“That’s what I want to know,” whined the person in sequins, who had contributed various ejaculations unworthy of report, and finally subsided behind an ostentatious fan.

“I should judge,” observed the secretary, “that it’s for Mr. Maguire to say, or not to say, just as he darn pleases.”

But the celebrated Barney stood upon a Persian hearth-rug, beaming upon us all in a triumph too delicious for immediate translation into words. The room was furnished as a study, and most artistically furnished, if you consider outlandish shapes in fumed oak artistic. There was nothing of the traditional prize-fighter about Barney Maguire, except his vocabulary and his lower jaw. I had seen over his house already, and it was fitted and decorated throughout by a high-art firm which exhibits just such a room as that which was the scene of our tragedietta. The person in the sequins lay glistening like a landed salmon in a quaint chair of enormous nails and tapestry compact. The secretary leaned against an escritoire with huge hinges of beaten metal. The pugilist’s own background presented an elaborate scheme of oak and tiles, with inglenooks green from the joiner, and a china cupboard with leaded panes behind his bullet head. And his bloodshot eyes rolled with rich delight from the decanter and glasses on the octagonal table to another decanter in the quaintest and craftiest of revolving spirit tables.

“Isn’t it bully?” asked the prize-fighter, smiling on us each in turn, with his black and bloodshot eyes and his bloated lip. “To think that I’ve only to invent a trap to catch a crook, for a blamed crook to walk right into! You, Mr. Man,” and he nodded his great head at me, “you’ll recollect me telling you that I’d gotten one when you come in that night with the other sport? Say, pity he’s not with you now; he was a good boy, and I liked him a lot; but he wanted to know too much, and I guess he’d got to want. But I’m liable to tell you now, or else bu’st. See that decanter on the table?”

“I was just looking at it,” said the person in sequins. “You don’t know what a turn I’ve had, or you’d offer me a little something.”

“You shall have a little something in a minute,” rejoined Maguire. “But if you take a little anything out of that decanter, you’ll collapse like our friend upon the floor.”

“Good heavens!” I cried out, with involuntary indignation, and his fell scheme broke upon me in a clap.

“Yes, sir!” said Maguire, fixing me with his bloodshot orbs. “My trap for crooks and cracksmen is a bottle of hocussed whiskey, and I guess that’s it on the table, with the silver label around its neck. Now look at this other decanter, without any label at all; but for that they’re the dead spit of each other. I’ll put them side by side, so you can see. It isn’t only the decanters, but the liquor looks the same in both, and tastes so you wouldn’t know the difference till you woke up in your tracks. I got the poison from a blamed Indian away west, and it’s ruther ticklish stuff. So I keep the label around the trap-bottle, and only leave it out nights. That’s the idea, and that’s all there is to it,” added Maguire, putting the labelled decanter back in the stand. “But I figure it’s enough for ninety-nine crooks out of a hundred, and nineteen out of twenty’ll have their liquor before they go to work.”

“I wouldn’t figure on that,” observed the secretary, with a downward glance as though at the prostrate Raffles. “Have you looked to see if the trophies are all safe?”

“Not yet,” said Maguire, with a glance at the pseudo-antique cabinet in which he kept them.

“Then you can save yourself the trouble,” rejoined the secretary, as he dived under the octagonal table, and came up with a small black bag that I knew at a glance. It was the one that Raffles had used for heavy plunder ever since I had known him.

The bag was so heavy now that the secretary used both hands to get it on the table. In another moment he had taken out the jewelled belt presented to Maguire by the State of Nevada, the solid silver statuette of himself, and the gold brick from the citizens of Sacramento.

Either the sight of his treasures, so nearly lost, or the feeling that the thief had dared to tamper with them after all, suddenly infuriated Maguire to such an extent that he had bestowed a couple of brutal kicks upon the senseless form of Raffles before the secretary and I could interfere.

“Play light, Mr. Maguire!” cried the sallow secretary. “The man’s drugged, as well as down.”

“He’ll be lucky if he ever gets up, blight and blister him!”

“I should judge it about time to telephone for the police.”

“Not till I’ve done with him. Wait till he comes to! I guess I’ll punch his face into a jam pudding! He shall wash down his teeth with his blood before the coppers come in for what’s left!”

“You make me feel quite ill,” complained the grand lady in the chair. “I wish you’d give me a little something, and not be more vulgar than you can ‘elp.”

“Help yourself,” said Maguire, ungallantly, “and don’t talk through your hat. Say, what’s the matter with the ‘phone?”

The secretary had picked up the dangling receiver.

“It looks to me,” said he, “as though the crook had rung up somebody before he went off.”

I turned and assisted the grand lady to the refreshment that she craved.

“Like his cheek!” Maguire thundered. “But who in blazes should he ring up?”

“It’ll all come out,” said the secretary. “They’ll tell us at the central, and we shall find out fast enough.”

“It don’t matter now,” said Maguire. “Let’s have a drink and then rouse the devil up.”

But now I was shaking in my shoes. I saw quite clearly what this meant. Even if I rescued Raffles for the time being, the police would promptly ascertain that it was I who had been rung up by the burglar, and the fact of my not having said a word about it would be directly damning to me, if in the end it did not incriminate us both. It made me quite faint to feel that we might escape the Scylla of our present peril and yet split on the Charybdis of circumstantial evidence. Yet I could see no middle course of conceivable safety, if I held my tongue another moment. So I spoke up desperately, with the rash resolution which was the novel feature of my whole conduct on this occasion. But any sheep would be resolute and rash after dining with Swigger Morrison at his club.

“I wonder if he rang me up?” I exclaimed, as if inspired.

“You, sonny?” echoed Maguire, decanter in hand. “What in hell could he know about you?”

“Or what could you know about him?” amended the secretary, fixing me with eyes like drills.

“Nothing,” I admitted, regretting my temerity with all my heart. “But some one did ring me up about an hour ago. I thought it was Raffles. I told you I expected to find him here, if you remember.”

“But I don’t see what that’s got to do with the crook,” pursued the secretary, with his relentless eyes boring deeper and deeper into mine.

“No more do I,” was my miserable reply. But there was a certain comfort in his words, and some simultaneous promise in the quantity of spirit which Maguire splashed into his glass.

“Were you cut off sudden?” asked the secretary, reaching for the decanter, as the three of us sat round the octagonal table.

“So suddenly,” I replied, “that I never knew who it was who rang me up. No, thank you — not any for me.”

“What!” cried Maguire, raising a depressed head suddenly. “You won’t have a drink in my house? Take care, young man. That’s not being a good boy!”

“But I’ve been dining out,” I expostulated, “and had my whack. I really have.”

Barney Maguire smote the table with terrific fist.

“Say, sonny, I like you a lot,” said he. “But I shan’t like you any if you’re not a good boy!”

“Very well, very well,” I said hurriedly. “One finger, if I must.”

And the secretary helped me to not more than two.

“Why should it have been your friend Raffles?” he inquired, returning remorselessly to the charge, while Maguire roared “Drink up!” and then drooped once more.

“I was half asleep,” I answered, “and he was the first person who occurred to me. We are both on the telephone, you see. And we had made a bet ——”

The glass was at my lips, but I was able to set it down untouched. Maguire’s huge jaw had dropped upon his spreading shirt-front, and beyond him I saw the person in sequins fast asleep in the artistic armchair.

“What bet?” asked a voice with a sudden start in it. The secretary was blinking as he drained his glass.

“About the very thing we’ve just had explained to us,” said I, watching my man intently as I spoke. “I made sure it was a man-trap. Raffles thought it must be something else. We had a tremendous argument about it. Raffles said it wasn’t a man-trap. I said it was. We had a bet about it in the end. I put my money on the man-trap. Raffles put his upon the other thing. And Raffles was right — it wasn’t a man-trap. But it’s every bit as good — every little bit — and the whole boiling of you are caught in it except me!”

I sank my voice with the last sentence, but I might just as well have raised it instead. I had said the same thing over and over again to see whether the wilful tautology would cause the secretary to open his eyes. It seemed to have had the very opposite effect. His head fell forward on the table, with never a quiver at the blow, never a twitch when I pillowed it upon one of his own sprawling arms. And there sat Maguire bolt upright, but for the jowl upon his shirt-front, while the sequins twinkled in a regular rise and fall upon the reclining form of the lady in the fanciful chair. All three were sound asleep, by what accident or by whose design I did not pause to inquire; it was enough to ascertain the fact beyond all chance of error.

I turned my attention to Raffles last of all. There was the other side of the medal. Raffles was still sleeping as sound as the enemy — or so I feared at first. I shook him gently: he made no sign. I introduced vigor into the process: he muttered incoherently. I caught and twisted an unresisting wrist — and at that he yelped profanely. But it was many and many an anxious moment before his blinking eyes knew mine.

“Bunny!” he yawned, and nothing more until his position came back to him. “So you came to me,” he went on, in a tone that thrilled me with, its affectionate appreciation, “as I knew you would! Have they turned up yet? They will any minute, you know; there’s not one to lose.”

“No, they won’t, old man!” I whispered. And he sat up and saw the comatose trio for himself.

Raffles seemed less amazed at the result than I had been as a puzzled witness of the process; on the other hand, I had never seen anything quite so exultant as the smile that broke through his blackened countenance like a light. It was all obviously no great surprise, and no puzzle at all, to Raffles.

“How much did they have, Bunny?” were his first whispered words.

“Maguire a good three fingers, and the others at least two.”

“Then we needn’t lower our voices, and we needn’t walk on our toes. Eheu! I dreamed somebody was kicking me in the ribs, and I believe it must have been true.”

He had risen with a hand to his side and a wry look on his sweep’s face.

“You can guess which of them it was,” said I. “The beast is jolly well served!”

And I shook my fist in the paralytic face of the most brutal bruiser of his time.

“He is safe till the forenoon, unless they bring a doctor to him,” said Raffles. “I don’t suppose we could rouse him now if we tried. How much of the fearsome stuff do you suppose I took? About a tablespoonful! I guessed what it was, and couldn’t resist making sure; the minute I was satisfied, I changed the label and the position of the two decanters, little thinking I should stay to see the fun; but in another minute I could hardly keep my eyes open. I realized then that I was fairly poisoned with some subtle drug. If I left the house at all in that state, I must leave the spoil behind, or be found drunk in the gutter with my head on the swag itself. In any case I should have been picked up and run in, and that might have led to anything.”

“So you rang me up!”

“It was my last brilliant inspiration — a sort of flash in the brain-pan before the end — and I remember very little about it. I was more asleep than awake at the time.”

“You sounded like it, Raffles, now that one has the clue.”

“I can’t remember a word I said, or what was the end of it, Bunny.”

“You fell in a heap before you came to the end.”

“You didn’t hear that through the telephone?”

“As though we had been in the same room: only I thought it was Maguire who had stolen a march on you and knocked you out.”

I had never seen Raffles more interested and impressed; but at this point his smile altered, his eyes softened, and I found my hand in his.

“You thought that, and yet you came like a shot to do battle for my body with Barney Maguire! Jack-the-Giant-killer wasn’t in it with you, Bunny!”

“It was no credit to me — it was rather the other thing,” said I, remembering my rashness and my luck, and confessing both in a breath. “You know old Swigger Morrison?” I added in final explanation. “I had been dining with him at his club!”

Raffles shook his long old head. And the kindly light in his eyes was still my infinite reward.

“I don’t care,” said he, “how deeply you had been dining: in vino veritas, Bunny, and your pluck would always out! I have never doubted it, and I never shall. In fact, I rely on nothing else to get us out of this mess.”

My face must have fallen, as my heart sank at these words. I had said to myself that we were out of the mess already — that we had merely to make a clean escape from the house — now the easiest thing in the world. But as I looked at Raffles, and as Raffles looked at me, on the threshold of the room where the three sleepers slept on without sound or movement, I grasped the real problem that lay before us. It was twofold; and the funny thing was that I had seen both horns of the dilemma for myself, before Raffles came to his senses. But with Raffles in his right mind, I had ceased to apply my own, or to carry my share of our common burden another inch. It had been an unconscious withdrawal on my part, an instinctive tribute to my leader; but I was sufficiently ashamed of it as we stood and faced the problem in each other’s eyes.

“If we simply cleared out,” continued Raffles, “you would be incriminated in the first place as my accomplice, and once they had you they would have a compass with the needle pointing straight to me. They mustn’t have either of us, Bunny, or they will get us both. And for my part they may as well!”

I echoed a sentiment that was generosity itself in Raffles, but in my case a mere truism.

“It’s easy enough for me,” he went on. “I am a common house-breaker, and I escape. They don’t know me from Noah. But they do know you; and how do you come to let me escape? What has happened to you, Bunny? That’s the crux. What could have happened after they all dropped off?” And for a minute Raffles frowned and smiled like a sensation novelist working out a plot; then the light broke, and transfigured him through his burnt cork. “I’ve got it, Bunny!” he exclaimed. “You took some of the stuff yourself, though of course not nearly so much as they did.”

“Splendid!” I cried. “They really were pressing it upon me at the end, and I did say it must be very little.”

“You dozed off in your turn, but you were naturally the first to come to yourself. I had flown; so had the gold brick, the jewelled belt, and the silver statuette. You tried to rouse the others. You couldn’t succeed; nor would you if you did try. So what did you do? What’s the only really innocent thing you could do in the circumstances?”

“Go for the police,” I suggested dubiously, little relishing the prospect.

“There’s a telephone installed for the purpose,” said Raffles. “I should ring them up, if I were you. Try not to look blue about it, Bunny. They’re quite the nicest fellows in the world, and what you have to tell them is a mere microbe to the camels I’ve made them swallow without a grain of salt. It’s really the most convincing story one could conceive; but unfortunately there’s another point which will take more explaining away.”

And even Raffles looked grave enough as I nodded.

“You mean that they’ll find out you rang me up?”

“They may,” said Raffles. “I see that I managed to replace the receiver all right. But still — they may.”

“I’m afraid they will,” said I, uncomfortably. “I’m very much afraid I gave something of the kind away. You see, you had not replaced the receiver; it was dangling over you where you lay. This very question came up, and the brutes themselves seemed so quick to see its possibilities that I thought best to take the bull by the horns and own that I had been rung up by somebody. To be absolutely honest, I even went so far as to say I thought it was Raffles!”

“You didn’t, Bunny!”

“What could I say? I was obliged to think of somebody, and I saw they were not going to recognize you. So I put up a yarn about a wager we had made about this very trap of Maguire’s. You see, Raffles, I’ve never properly told you how I got in, and there’s no time now; but the first thing I had said was that I half expected to find you here before me. That was in case they spotted you at once. But it made all that part about the telephone fit in rather well.”

“I should think it did, Bunny,” murmured Raffles, in a tone that added sensibly to my reward. “I couldn’t have done better myself, and you will forgive my saying that you have never in your life done half so well. Talk about that crack you gave me on the head! You have made it up to me a hundredfold by all you have done to-night. But the bother of it is that there’s still so much to do, and to hit upon, and so precious little time for thought as well as action.”

I took out my watch and showed it to Raffles without a word. It was three o’clock in the morning, and the latter end of March. In little more than an hour there would be dim daylight in the streets. Raffles roused himself from a reverie with sudden decision.

“There’s only one thing for it, Bunny,” said he. “We must trust each other and divide the labor. You ring up the police, and leave the rest to me.”

“You haven’t hit upon any reason for the sort of burglar they think you were, ringing up the kind of man they know I am?”

“Not yet, Bunny, but I shall. It may not be wanted for a day or so, and after all it isn’t for you to give the explanation. It would be highly suspicious if you did.”

“So it would,” I agreed.

“Then will you trust me to hit on something — if possible before morning — in any case by the time it’s wanted? I won’t fail you, Bunny. You must see how I can never, never fail you after to-night!”

That settled it. I gripped his hand without another word, and remained on guard over the three sleepers while Raffles stole upstairs. I have since learned that there were servants at the top of the house, and in the basement a man, who actually heard some of our proceedings! But he was mercifully too accustomed to nocturnal orgies, and those of a far more uproarious character, to appear unless summoned to the scene. I believe he heard Raffles leave. But no secret was made of his exit: he let himself out, and told me afterward that the first person he encountered in the street was the constable on the beat. Raffles wished him good-morning, as well he might; for he had been upstairs to wash his face and hands; and in the prize-fighter’s great hat and fur coat he might have marched round Scotland Yard itself, in spite of his having the gold brick from Sacramento in one pocket, the silver statuette of Maguire in the other, and round his waist the jewelled belt presented to that worthy by the State of Nevada.

My immediate part was a little hard after the excitement of those small hours. I will only say that we had agreed that it would be wisest for me to lie like a log among the rest for half an hour, before staggering to my feet and rousing house and police; and that in that half-hour Barney Maguire crashed to the floor, without waking either himself or his companions, though not without bringing my beating heart into the very roof of my mouth.

It was daybreak when I gave the alarm with bell and telephone. In a few minutes we had the house congested with dishevelled domestics, irascible doctors, and arbitrary minions of the law. If I told my story once, I told it a dozen times, and all on an empty stomach. But it was certainly a most plausible and consistent tale, even without that confirmation which none of the other victims was as yet sufficiently recovered to supply. And in the end I was permitted to retire from the scene until required to give further information, or to identify the prisoner whom the good police confidently expected to make before the day was out.

I drove straight to the flat. The porter flew to help me out of my hansom. His face alarmed me more than any I had left in Half-moon Street. It alone might have spelled my ruin.

“Your flat’s been entered in the night, sir,” he cried. “The thieves have taken everything they could lay hands on.”

“Thieves in my flat!” I ejaculated aghast. There were one or two incriminating possessions up there, as well as at the Albany.

“The door’s been forced with a jimmy,” said the porter. “It was the milkman who found it out. There’s a constable up there now.”

A constable poking about in my flat of all others! I rushed upstairs without waiting for the lift. The invader was moistening his pencil between laborious notes in a fat pocketbook; he had penetrated no further than the forced door. I dashed past him in a fever. I kept my trophies in a wardrobe drawer specially fitted with a Bramah lock. The lock was broken — the drawer void.

“Something valuable, sir?” inquired the intrusive constable at my heels.

“Yes, indeed — some old family silver,” I answered. It was quite true. But the family was not mine.

And not till then did the truth flash across my mind. Nothing else of value had been taken. But there was a meaningless litter in all the rooms. I turned to the porter, who had followed me up from the street; it was his wife who looked after the flat.

“Get rid of this idiot as quick as you can,” I whispered. “I’m going straight to Scotland Yard myself. Let your wife tidy the place while I’m gone, and have the lock mended before she leaves. I’m going as I am, this minute!”

And go I did, in the first hansom I could find — but not straight to Scotland Yard. I stopped the cab in Piccadilly on the way.

Old Raffles opened his own door to me. I cannot remember finding him fresher, more immaculate, more delightful to behold in every way. Could I paint a picture of Raffles with something other than my pen, it would be as I saw him that bright March morning, at his open door in the Albany, a trim, slim figure in matutinal gray, cool and gay and breezy as incarnate spring.

“What on earth did you do it for?” I asked within.

“It was the only solution,” he answered, handing me the cigarettes. “I saw it the moment I got outside.”

“I don’t see it yet.”

“Why should a burglar call an innocent gentleman away from home?”

“That’s what we couldn’t make out.”

“I tell you I got it directly I had left you. He called you away in order to burgle you too, of course!”

And Raffles stood smiling upon me in all his incomparable radiance and audacity.

“But why me?” I asked. “Why on earth should he burgle me?”

“My dear Bunny, we must leave something to the imagination of the police. But we will assist them to a fact or two in due season. It was the dead of night when Maguire first took us to his house; it was at the Imperial Boxing Club we met him; and you meet queer fish at the Imperial Boxing Club. You may remember that he telephoned to his man to prepare supper for us, and that you and he discussed telephones and treasure as we marched through the midnight streets. He was certainly bucking about his trophies, and for the sake of the argument you will be good enough to admit that you probably bucked about yours. What happens? You are overheard; you are followed; you are worked into the same scheme, and robbed on the same night.”

“And you really think this will meet the case?”

“I am quite certain of it, Bunny, so far as it rests with us to meet the case at all.”

“Then give me another cigarette, my dear fellow, and let me push on to Scotland Yard.”

Raffles held up both hands in admiring horror.

“Scotland Yard!”

“To give a false description of what you took from that drawer in my wardrobe.”

“A false description! Bunny, you have no more to learn from me. Time was when I wouldn’t have let you go there without me to retrieve a lost umbrella — let alone a lost cause!”

And for once I was not sorry for Raffles to have the last unworthy word, as he stood once more at his outer door and gayly waved me down the stairs.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hornung/ew/thief-in-the-night/chapter6.html

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