If I must tell more tales of Raffles, I can but go back to our earliest days together, and fill in the blanks left by discretion in existing annals. In so doing I may indeed fill some small part of an infinitely greater blank, across which you may conceive me to have stretched my canvas for the first frank portrait of my friend. The whole truth cannot harm him now. I shall paint in every wart. Raffles was a villain, when all is written; it is no service to his memory to gloze the fact; yet I have done so myself before today. I have omitted whole heinous episodes. I have dwelt unduly on the redeeming side. And this I may do again, blinded even as I write by the gallant glamour that made my villain more to me than any hero. But at least there shall be no more reservations, and as an earnest I shall make no further secret of the greatest wrong that even Raffles ever did me.
I pick my words with care and pain, loyal as I still would be to my friend, and yet remembering as I must those Ides of March when he led me blindfold into temptation and crime. That was an ugly office, if you will. It was a moral bagatelle to the treacherous trick he was to play me a few weeks later. The second offence, on the other hand, was to prove the less serious of the two against society, and might in itself have been published to the world years ago. There have been private reasons for my reticence. The affair was not only too intimately mine, and too discreditable to Raffles. One other was involved in it, one dearer to me than Raffles himself, one whose name shall not even now be sullied by association with ours.
Suffice it that I had been engaged to her before that mad March deed. True, her people called it “an understanding,” and frowned even upon that, as well they might. But their authority was not direct; we bowed to it as an act of politic grace; between us, all was well but my unworthiness. That may be gauged when I confess that this was how the matter stood on the night I gave a worthless check for my losses at baccarat, and afterward turned to Raffles in my need. Even after that I saw her sometimes. But I let her guess that there was more upon my soul than she must ever share, and at last I had written to end it all. I remember that week so well! It was the close of such a May as we had never had since, and I was too miserable even to follow the heavy scoring in the papers. Raffles was the only man who could get a wicket up at Lord’s, and I never once went to see him play. Against Yorkshire, however, he helped himself to a hundred runs as well; and that brought Raffles round to me, on his way home to the Albany.
“We must dine and celebrate the rare event,” said he. “A century takes it out of one at my time of life; and you, Bunny, you look quite as much in need of your end of a worthy bottle. Suppose we make it the Café Royal, and eight sharp? I’ll be there first to fix up the table and the wine.”
And at the Café Royal I incontinently told him of the trouble I was in. It was the first he had ever heard of my affair, and I told him all, though not before our bottle had been succeeded by a pint of the same exemplary brand. Raffles heard me out with grave attention. His sympathy was the more grateful for the tactful brevity with which it was indicated rather than expressed. He only wished that I had told him of this complication in the beginning; as I had not, he agreed with me that the only course was a candid and complete renunciation. It was not as though my divinity had a penny of her own, or I could earn an honest one. I had explained to Raffles that she was an orphan, who spent most of her time with an aristocratic aunt in the country, and the remainder under the repressive roof of a pompous politician in Palace Gardens. The aunt had, I believed, still a sneaking softness for me, but her illustrious brother had set his face against me from the first.
“Hector Carruthers!” murmured Raffles, repeating the detested name with his clear, cold eye on mine. “I suppose you haven’t seen much of him?”
“Not a thing for ages,” I replied. “I was at the house two or three days last year, but they’ve neither asked me since nor been at home to me when I’ve called. The old beast seems a judge of men.”
And I laughed bitterly in my glass.
“Nice house?” said Raffles, glancing at himself in his silver cigarette-case.
“Top shelf,” said I. “You know the houses in Palace Gardens, don’t you?”
“Not so well as I should like to know them, Bunny.”
“Well, it’s about the most palatial of the lot. The old ruffian is as rich as Croesus. It’s a country-place in town.”
“What about the window-fastenings?” asked Raffles casually.
I recoiled from the open cigarette-case that he proffered as he spoke. Our eyes met; and in his there was that starry twinkle of mirth and mischief, that sunny beam of audacious devilment, which had been my undoing two months before, which was to undo me as often as he chose until the chapter’s end. Yet for once I withstood its glamour; for once I turned aside that luminous glance with front of steel. There was no need for Raffles to voice his plans. I read them all between the strong lines of his smiling, eager face. And I pushed back my chair in the equal eagerness of my own resolve.
“Not if I know it!” said I. “A house I’ve dined in-a house I’ve seen her in-a house where she stays by the month together! Don’t put it into words, Raffles, or I’ll get up and go.”
“You mustn’t do that before the coffee and liqueur,” said Raffles laughing. “Have a small Sullivan first: it’s the royal road to a cigar. And now let me observe that your scruples would do you honor if old Carruthers still lived in the house in question.”
“Do you mean to say he doesn’t?”
Raffles struck a match, and handed it first to me. “I mean to say, my dear Bunny, that Palace Gardens knows the very name no more. You began by telling me you had heard nothing of these people all this year. That’s quite enough to account for our little misunderstanding. I was thinking of the house, and you were thinking of the people in the house.”
“But who are they, Raffles? Who has taken the house, if old Carruthers has moved, and how do you know that it is still worth a visit?”
“In answer to your first question — Lord Lochmaben,” replied Raffles, blowing bracelets of smoke toward the ceiling. “You look as though you had never heard of him; but as the cricket and racing are the only part of your paper that you condescend to read, you can’t be expected to keep track of all the peers created in your time. Your other question is not worth answering. How do you suppose that I know these things? It’s my business to get to know them, and that’s all there is to it. As a matter of fact, Lady Lochmaben has just as good diamonds as Mrs. Carruthers ever had; and the chances are that she keeps them where Mrs. Carruthers kept hers, if you could enlighten me on that point.”
As it happened, I could, since I knew from his niece that it was one on which Mr. Carruthers had been a faddist in his time. He had made quite a study of the cracksman’s craft, in a resolve to circumvent it with his own. I remembered myself how the ground-floor windows were elaborately bolted and shuttered, and how the doors of all the rooms opening upon the square inner hall were fitted with extra Yale locks, at an unlikely height, not to be discovered by one within the room. It had been the butler’s business to turn and to collect all these keys before retiring for the night. But the key of the safe in the study was supposed to be in the jealous keeping of the master of the house himself. That safe was in its turn so ingeniously hidden that I never should have found it for myself. I well remember how one who showed it to me (in the innocence of her heart) laughed as she assured me that even her little trinkets were solemnly locked up in it every night. It had been let into the wall behind one end of the book-case, expressly to preserve the barbaric splendor of Mrs. Carruthers; without a doubt these Lochmabens would use it for the same purpose; and in the altered circumstances I had no hesitation in giving Raffles all the information he desired. I even drew him a rough plan of the ground-floor on the back of my menu-card.
“It was rather clever of you to notice the kind of locks on the inner doors,” he remarked as he put it in his pocket. “I suppose you don’t remember if it was a Yale on the front door as well?”
“It was not,” I was able to answer quite promptly. “I happen to know because I once had the key when — when we went to a theatre together.”
“Thank you, old chap,” said Raffles sympathetically. “That’s all I shall want from you, Bunny, my boy. There’s no night like to-night!”
It was one of his sayings when bent upon his worst. I looked at him aghast. Our cigars were just in blast, yet already he was signalling for his bill. It was impossible to remonstrate with him until we were both outside in the street.
“I’m coming with you,” said I, running my arm through his.
“Why is it nonsense? I know every inch of the ground, and since the house has changed hands I have no compunction. Besides, ‘I have been there’ in the other sense as well: once a thief, you know! In for a penny, in for a pound!”
It was ever my mood when the blood was up. But my old friend failed to appreciate the characteristic as he usually did. We crossed Regent Street in silence. I had to catch his sleeve to keep a hand in his inhospitable arm.
“I really think you had better stay away,” said Raffles as we reached the other curb. “I’ve no use for you this time.”
“Yet I thought I had been so useful up to now?”
“That may be, Bunny, but I tell you frankly I don’t want you to-night.”
“Yet I know the ground and you don’t! I tell you what,” said I: “I’ll come just to show you the ropes, and I won’t take a pennyweight of the swag.”
Such was the teasing fashion in which he invariably prevailed upon me; it was delightful to note how it caused him to yield in his turn. But Raffles had the grace to give in with a laugh, whereas I too often lost my temper with my point.
“You little rabbit!” he chuckled. “You shall have your share, whether you come or not; but, seriously, don’t you think you might remember the girl?”
“What’s the use?” I groaned. “You agree there is nothing for it but to give her up. I am glad to say that for myself before I asked you, and wrote to tell her so on Sunday. Now it’s Wednesday, and she hasn’t answered by line or sign. It’s waiting for one word from her that’s driving me mad.”
“Perhaps you wrote to Palace Gardens?”
“No, I sent it to the country. There’s been time for an answer, wherever she may be.”
We had reached the Albany, and halted with one accord at the Piccadilly portico, red cigar to red cigar.
“You wouldn’t like to go and see if the answer’s in your rooms?” he asked.
“No. What’s the good? Where’s the point in giving her up if I’m going to straighten out when it’s too late? It is too late, I have given her up, and I am coming with you!”
The hand that bowled the most puzzling ball in England (once it found its length) descended on my shoulder with surprising promptitude.
“Very well, Bunny! That’s finished; but your blood be on your own pate if evil comes of it. Meanwhile we can’t do better than turn in here till you have finished your cigar as it deserves, and topped up with such a cup of tea as you must learn to like if you hope to get on in your new profession. And when the hours are small enough, Bunny, my boy, I don’t mind admitting I shall be very glad to have you with me.”
I have a vivid memory of the interim in his rooms. I think it must have been the first and last of its kind that I was called upon to sustain with so much knowledge of what lay before me. I passed the time with one restless eye upon the clock, and the other on the Tantalus which Raffles ruthlessly declined to unlock. He admitted that it was like waiting with one’s pads on; and in my slender experience of the game of which he was a world’s master, that was an ordeal not to be endured without a general quaking of the inner man. I was, on the other hand, all right when I got to the metaphorical wicket; and half the surprises that Raffles sprung on me were doubtless due to his early recognition of the fact.
On this occasion I fell swiftly and hopelessly out of love with the prospect I had so gratuitously embraced. It was not only my repugnance to enter that house in that way, which grew upon my better judgment as the artificial enthusiasm of the evening evaporated from my veins. Strong as that repugnance became, I had an even stronger feeling that we were embarking on an important enterprise far too much upon the spur of the moment. The latter qualm I had the temerity to confess to Raffles; nor have I often loved him more than when he freely admitted it to be the most natural feeling in the world. He assured me, however, that he had had my Lady Lochmaben and her jewels in his mind for several months; he had sat behind them at first nights; and long ago determined what to take or to reject; in fine, he had only been waiting for those topographical details which it had been my chance privilege to supply. I now learned that he had numerous houses in a similar state upon his list; something or other was wanting in each case in order to complete his plans. In that of the Bond Street jeweller it was a trusty accomplice; in the present instance, a more intimate knowledge of the house. And lastly, this was a Wednesday night, when the tired legislator gets early to his bed.
How I wish I could make the whole world see and hear him, and smell the smoke of his beloved Sullivan, as he took me into these, the secrets of his infamous trade! Neither look nor language would betray the infamy. As a mere talker, I shall never listen to the like of Raffles on this side of the sod; and his talk was seldom garnished by an oath, never in my remembrance by the unclean word. Then he looked like a man who had dressed to dine out, not like one who had long since dined; for his curly hair, though longer than another’s, was never untidy in its length; and these were the days when it was still as black as ink. Nor were there many lines as yet upon the smooth and mobile face; and its frame was still that dear den of disorder and good taste, with the carved book-case, the dresser and chests of still older oak, and the Wattses and Rossettis hung anyhow on the walls.
It must have been one o’clock before we drove in a hansom as far as Kensington Church, instead of getting down at the gates of our private road to ruin. Constitutionally shy of the direct approach, Raffles was further deterred by a ball in full swing at the Empress Rooms, whence potential witnesses were pouring between dances into the cool deserted street. Instead he led me a little way up Church Street, and so through the narrow passage into Palace Gardens. He knew the house as well as I did. We made our first survey from the other side of the road. And the house was not quite in darkness; there was a dim light over the door, a brighter one in the stables, which stood still farther back from the road.
“That’s a bit of a bore,” said Raffles. “The ladies have been out somewhere — trust them to spoil the show! They would get to bed before the stable folk, but insomnia is the curse of their sex and our profession. Somebody’s not home yet; that will be the son of the house; but he’s a beauty, who may not come home at all.”
“Another Alick Carruthers,” I murmured, recalling the one I liked least of all the household, as I remembered it.
“They might be brothers,” rejoined Raffles, who knew all the loose fish about town. “Well, I’m not sure that I shall want you after all, Bunny.”
“If the front door’s only on the latch, and you’re right about the lock, I shall walk in as though I were the son of the house myself.”
And he jingled the skeleton bunch that he carried on a chain as honest men carry their latch-keys.
“You forget the inner doors and the safe.”
“True. You might be useful to me there. But I still don’t like leading you in where it isn’t absolutely necessary, Bunny.”
“Then let me lead you,” I answered, and forthwith marched across the broad, secluded road, with the great houses standing back on either side in their ample gardens, as though the one opposite belonged to me. I thought Raffles had stayed behind, for I never heard him at my heels, yet there he was when I turned round at the gate.
“I must teach you the step,” he whispered, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t use your heel at all. Here’s a grass border for you: walk it as you would the plank! Gravel makes a noise, and flower-beds tell a tale. Wait — I must carry you across this.”
It was the sweep of the drive, and in the dim light from above the door, the soft gravel, ploughed into ridges by the night’s wheels, threatened an alarm at every step. Yet Raffles, with me in his arms, crossed the zone of peril softly as the pard.
“Shoes in your pocket — that’s the beauty of pumps!” he whispered on the step; his light bunch tinkled faintly; a couple of keys he stooped and tried, with the touch of a humane dentist; the third let us into the porch. And as we stood together on the mat, as he was gradually closing the door, a clock within chimed a half-hour in fashion so thrillingly familiar to me that I caught Raffles by the arm. My half-hours of happiness had flown to just such chimes! I looked wildly about me in the dim light. Hat-stand and oak settee belonged equally to my past. And Raffles was smiling in my face as he held the door wide for my escape.
“You told me a lie!” I gasped in whispers.
“I did nothing of the sort,” he replied. “The furniture’s the furniture of Hector Carruthers, but the house is the house of Lord Lochmaben. Look here!”
He had stooped, and was smoothing out the discarded envelope of a telegram. “Lord Lochmaben,” I read in pencil by the dim light; and the case was plain to me on the spot. My friends had let their house, furnished, as anybody but Raffles would have explained to me in the beginning.
“All right,” I said. “Shut the door.”
And he not only shut it without a sound, but drew a bolt that might have been sheathed in rubber.
In another minute we were at work upon the study-door, I with the tiny lantern and the bottle of rock-oil, he with the brace and the largest bit. The Yale lock he had given up at a glance. It was placed high up in the door, feet above the handle, and the chain of holes with which Raffles had soon surrounded it were bored on a level with his eyes. Yet the clock in the hall chimed again, and two ringing strokes resounded through the silent house before we gained admittance to the room.
Raffle’s next care was to muffle the bell on the shuttered window (with a silk handkerchief from the hat-stand) and to prepare an emergency exit by opening first the shutters and then the window itself. Luckily it was a still night, and very little wind came in to embarrass us. He then began operations on the safe, revealed by me behind its folding screen of books, while I stood sentry on the threshold. I may have stood there for a dozen minutes, listening to the loud hall clock and to the gentle dentistry of Raffles in the mouth of the safe behind me, when a third sound thrilled my every nerve. It was the equally cautious opening of a door in the gallery overhead.
I moistened my lips to whisper a word of warning to Raffles. But his ears had been as quick as mine, and something longer. His lantern darkened as I turned my head; next moment I felt his breath upon the back of my neck. It was now too late even for a whisper, and quite out of the question to close the mutilated door. There we could only stand, I on the threshold, Raffles at my elbow, while one carrying a candle crept down the stairs.
The study-door was at right angles to the lowest flight, and just to the right of one alighting in the hall. It was thus impossible for us to see who it was until the person was close abreast of us; but by the rustle of the gown we knew that it was one of the ladies, and dressed just as she had come from theatre or ball. Insensibly I drew back as the candle swam into our field of vision: it had not traversed many inches when a hand was clapped firmly but silently across my mouth.
I could forgive Raffles for that, at any rate! In another breath I should have cried aloud: for the girl with the candle, the girl in her ball-dress, at dead of night, the girl with the letter for the post, was the last girl on God’s wide earth whom I should have chosen thus to encounter — a midnight intruder in the very house where I had been reluctantly received on her account!
I forgot Raffles. I forgot the new and unforgivable grudge I had against him now. I forgot his very hand across my mouth, even before he paid me the compliment of removing it. There was the only girl in all the world: I had eyes and brains for no one and for nothing else. She had neither seen nor heard us, had looked neither to the right hand nor the left. But a small oak table stood on the opposite side of the hall; it was to this table that she went. On it was one of those boxes in which one puts one’s letters for the post; and she stooped to read by her candle the times at which this box was cleared.
The loud clock ticked and ticked. She was standing at her full height now, her candle on the table, her letter in both hands, and in her downcast face a sweet and pitiful perplexity that drew the tears to my eyes. Through a film I saw her open the envelope so lately sealed and read her letter once more, as though she would have altered it a little at the last. It was too late for that; but of a sudden she plucked a rose from her bosom, and was pressing it in with her letter when I groaned aloud.
How could I help it? The letter was for me: of that I was as sure as though I had been looking over her shoulder. She was as true as tempered steel; there were not two of us to whom she wrote and sent roses at dead of night. It was her one chance of writing to me. None would know that she had written. And she cared enough to soften the reproaches I had richly earned, with a red rose warm from her own warm heart. And there, and there was I, a common thief who had broken in to steal! Yet I was unaware that I had uttered a sound until she looked up, startled, and the hands behind me pinned me where I stood.
I think she must have seen us, even in the dim light of the solitary candle. Yet not a sound escaped her as she peered courageously in our direction; neither did one of us move; but the hall clock went on and on, every tick like the beat of a drum to bring the house about our ears, until a minute must have passed as in some breathless dream. And then came the awakening — with such a knocking and a ringing at the front door as brought all three of us to our senses on the spot.
“The son of the house!” whispered Raffles in my ear, as he dragged me back to the window he had left open for our escape. But as he leaped out first a sharp cry stopped me at the sill. “Get back! Get back! We’re trapped!” he cried; and in the single second that I stood there, I saw him fell one officer to the ground, and dart across the lawn with another at his heels. A third came running up to the window. What could I do but double back into the house? And there in the hall I met my lost love face to face.
Till that moment she had not recognized me. I ran to catch her as she all but fell. And my touch repelled her into life, so that she shook me off, and stood gasping: “You, of all men! You, of all men!” until I could bear it no more, but broke again for the study-window. “Not that way — not that way!” she cried in an agony at that. Her hands were upon me now. “In there, in there,” she whispered, pointing and pulling me to a mere cupboard under the stairs, where hats and coats were hung; and it was she who shut the door on me with a sob.
Doors were already opening overhead, voices calling, voices answering, the alarm running like wildfire from room to room. Soft feet pattered in the gallery and down the stairs about my very ears. I do not know what made me put on my own shoes as I heard them, but I think that I was ready and even longing to walk out and give myself up. I need not say what and who it was that alone restrained me. I heard her name. I heard them crying to her as though she had fainted. I recognized the detested voice of my bête noir, Alick Carruthers, thick as might be expected of the dissipated dog, yet daring to stutter out her name. And then I heard, without catching, her low reply; it was in answer to the somewhat stern questioning of quite another voice; and from what followed I knew that she had never fainted at all.
“Upstairs, miss, did he? Are you sure?”
I did not hear her answer. I conceive her as simply pointing up the stairs. In any case, about my very ears once more, there now followed such a patter and tramp of bare and booted feet as renewed in me a base fear for my own skin. But voices and feet passed over my head, went up and up, higher and higher; and I was wondering whether or not to make a dash for it, when one light pair came running down again, and in very despair I marched out to meet my preserver, looking as little as I could like the abject thing I felt.
“Be quick!” she cried in a harsh whisper, and pointed peremptorily to the porch.
But I stood stubbornly before her, my heart hardened by her hardness, and perversely indifferent to all else. And as I stood I saw the letter she had written, in the hand with which she pointed, crushed into a ball.
“Quickly!” She stamped her foot. “Quickly —if you ever cared!”
This in a whisper, without bitterness, without contempt, but with a sudden wild entreaty that breathed upon the dying embers of my poor manhood. I drew myself together for the last time in her sight. I turned, and left her as she wished — for her sake, not for mine. And as I went I heard her tearing her letter into little pieces, and the little pieces falling on the floor.
Then I remembered Raffles, and could have killed him for what he had done. Doubtless by this time he was safe and snug in the Albany: what did my fate matter to him? Never mind; this should be the end between him and me as well; it was the end of everything, this dark night’s work! I would go and tell him so. I would jump into a cab and drive there and then to his accursed rooms. But first I must escape from the trap in which he had been so ready to leave me. And on the very steps I drew back in despair. They were searching the shrubberies between the drive and the road; a policeman’s lantern kept flashing in and out among the laurels, while a young man in evening-clothes directed him from the gravel sweep. It was this young man whom I must dodge, but at my first step in the gravel he wheeled round, and it was Raffles himself.
“Hulloa!” he cried. “So you’ve come up to join the dance as well! Had a look inside, have you? You’ll be better employed in helping to draw the cover in front here. It’s all right, officer — only another gentleman from the Empress Rooms.”
And we made a brave show of assisting in the futile search, until the arrival of more police, and a broad hint from an irritable sergeant, gave us an excellent excuse for going off arm-inarm. But it was Raffles who had thrust his arm through mine. I shook him off as we left the scene of shame behind.
“My dear Bunny!” he exclaimed. “Do you know what brought me back?”
I answered savagely that I neither knew nor cared.
“I had the very devil of a squeak for it,” he went on. “I did the hurdles over two or three garden-walls, but so did the flyer who was on my tracks, and he drove me back into the straight and down to High Street like any lamplighter. If he had only had the breath to sing out it would have been all up with me then; as it was I pulled off my coat the moment I was round the corner, and took a ticket for it at the Empress Rooms.”
“I suppose you had one for the dance that was going on,” I growled. Nor would it have been a coincidence for Raffles to have had a ticket for that or any other entertainment of the London season.
“I never asked what the dance was,” he returned. “I merely took the opportunity of revising my toilet, and getting rid of that rather distinctive overcoat, which I shall call for now. They’re not too particular at such stages of such proceedings, but I’ve no doubt I should have seen someone I knew if I had gone right in. I might even have had a turn, if only I had been less uneasy about you, Bunny.”
“It was like you to come back to help me out,” said I. “But to lie to me, and to inveigle me with your lies into that house of all houses — that was not like you, Raffles — and I never shall forgive it or you!”
Raffles took my arm again. We were near the High Street gates of Palace Gardens, and I was too miserable to resist an advance which I meant never to give him an opportunity to repeat.
“Come, come, Bunny, there wasn’t much inveigling about it,” said he. “I did my level best to leave you behind, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
“If you had told me the truth I should have listened fast enough,” I retorted. “But what’s the use of talking? You can boast of your own adventures after you bolted. You don’t care what happened to me.”
“I cared so much that I came back to see.”
“You might have spared yourself the trouble! The wrong had been done. Raffles — Raffles — don’t you know who she was?”
It was my hand that gripped his arm once more.
“I guessed,” he answered, gravely enough even for me.
“It was she who saved me, not you,” I said. “And that is the bitterest part of all!”
Yet I told him that part with a strange sad pride in her whom I had lost — through him — forever. As I ended we turned into High Street; in the prevailing stillness, the faint strains of the band reached us from the Empress Rooms; and I hailed a crawling hansom as Raffles turned that way.
“Bunny,” said he, “it’s no use saying I’m sorry. Sorrow adds insult in a case like this — if ever there was or will be such another! Only believe me, Bunny, when I swear to you that I had not the smallest shadow of a suspicion that she was in the house.”
And in my heart of hearts I did believe him; but I could not bring myself to say the words.
“You told me yourself that you had written to her in the country,” he pursued.
“And that letter!” I rejoined, in a fresh wave of bitterness: “that letter she had written at dead of night, and stolen down to post, it was the one I have been waiting for all these days! I should have got it tomorrow. Now I shall never get it, never hear from her again, nor have another chance in this world or in the next. I don’t say it was all your fault. You no more knew that she was there than I did. But you told me a deliberate lie about her people, and that I never shall forgive.”
I spoke as vehemently as I could under my breath. The hansom was waiting at the curb.
“I can say no more than I have said,” returned Raffles with a shrug. “Lie or no lie, I didn’t tell it to bring you with me, but to get you to give me certain information without feeling a beast about it. But, as a matter of fact, it was no lie about old Hector Carruthers and Lord Lochmaben, and anybody but you would have guessed the truth.”
“What is the truth?”
“I as good as told you, Bunny, again and again.”
“Then tell me now.”
“If you read your paper there would be no need; but if you want to know, old Carruthers headed the list of the Birthday Honors, and Lord Lochmaben is the title of his choice.”
And this miserable quibble was not a lie! My lip curled, I turned my back without a word, and drove home to my Mount Street flat in a new fury of savage scorn. Not a lie, indeed! It was the one that is half a truth, the meanest lie of all, and the very last to which I could have dreamt that Raffles would stoop. So far there had been a degree of honor between us, if only of the kind understood to obtain between thief and thief. Now all that was at an end. Raffles had cheated me. Raffles had completed the ruin of my life. I was done with Raffles, as she who shall not be named was done with me.
And yet, even while I blamed him most bitterly, and utterly abominated his deceitful deed, I could not but admit in my heart that the result was out of all proportion to the intent: he had never dreamt of doing me this injury, or indeed any injury at all. Intrinsically the deceit had been quite venial, the reason for it obviously the reason that Raffles had given me. It was quite true that he had spoken of this Lochmaben peerage as a new creation, and of the heir to it in a fashion only applicable to Alick Carruthers. He had given me hints, which I had been too dense to take, and he had certainly made more than one attempt to deter me from accompanying him on this fatal emprise; had he been more explicit, I might have made it my business to deter him. I could not say in my heart that Raffles had failed to satisfy such honor as I might reasonably expect to subsist between us. Yet it seems to me to require a superhuman sanity always and unerringly to separate cause from effect, achievement from intent. And I, for one, was never quite able to do so in this case.
I could not be accused of neglecting my newspaper during the next few wretched days. I read every word that I could find about the attempted jewel-robbery in Palace Gardens, and the reports afforded me my sole comfort. In the first place, it was only an attempted robbery; nothing had been taken, after all. And then — and then — the one member of the household who had come nearest to a personal encounter with either of us was unable to furnish any description of the man — had even expressed a doubt as to the likelihood of identification in the event of an arrest!
I will not say with what mingled feelings I read and dwelt on that announcement. It kept a certain faint glow alive within me until the morning brought me back the only presents I had ever made her. They were books; jewellery had been tabooed by the authorities. And the books came back without a word, though the parcel was directed in her hand.
I had made up my mind not to go near Raffles again, but in my heart I already regretted my resolve. I had forfeited love, I had sacrificed honor, and now I must deliberately alienate myself from the one being whose society might yet be some recompense for all that I had lost. The situation was aggravated by the state of my exchequer. I expected an ultimatum from my banker by every post. Yet this influence was nothing to the other. It was Raffles I loved. It was not the dark life we led together, still less its base rewards; it was the man himself, his gayety, his humor, his dazzling audacity, his incomparable courage and resource. And a very horror of turning to him again in mere need of greed set the seal on my first angry resolution. But the anger was soon gone out of me, and when at length Raffles bridged the gap by coming to me, I rose to greet him almost with a shout.
He came as though nothing had happened; and, indeed, not very many days had passed, though they might have been months to me. Yet I fancied the gaze that watched me through our smoke a trifle less sunny than it had been before. And it was a relief to me when he came with few preliminaries to the inevitable point.
“Did you ever hear from her, Bunny?” he asked.
“In a way,” I answered. “We won’t talk about it, if you don’t mind, Raffles.”
“That sort of way!” he exclaimed. He seemed both surprised and disappointed.
“Yes,” I said, “that sort of way. It’s finished. What did you expect?”
“I don’t know,” said Raffles. “I only thought that the girl who went so far to get a fellow out of a tight place might go a little farther to keep him from getting into another.”
“I don’t see why she should,” said I, honestly enough, yet with the irritation of a less just feeling deep down in my inmost consciousness.
“Yet you did hear from her?” he persisted.
“She sent me back my poor presents, without a word,” I said, “if you call that hearing.”
I could not bring myself to own to Raffles that I had given her only books. He asked if I was sure that she had sent them back herself; and that was his last question. My answer was enough for him. And to this day I cannot say whether it was more in relief than in regret that he laid a hand upon my shoulder.
“So you are out of Paradise after all!” said Raffles. “I was not sure, or I should have come round before. Well, Bunny, if they don’t want you there, there’s a little Inferno in the Albany where you will be as welcome as ever!”
And still, with all the magic mischief of his smile, there was that touch of sadness which I was yet to read aright.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09