The Ides of March
by E. W. HORNUNG
From The Amateur Cracksman
Detective (Correction! Make that "Gentleman Crook"):
A. J. Raffles
Note: E. W. Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law. His dedication in the book was:
"TO A. C. D., THIS FORM OF FLATTERY"
It was half-past twelve when I returned to the Albany as a last
desperate resort. The scene of my disaster was much as I had
left it. The baccarat-counters still strewed the table, with the
empty glasses and the loaded ash-trays. A window had been opened
to let the smoke out, and was letting in the fog instead. Raffles himself had merely discarded his dining jacket for one of
his innumerable blazers. Yet he arched his eyebrows as though I
had dragged him from his bed.
"Forgotten something?" said he, when he saw me on his mat.
"No," said I, pushing past him without ceremony. And I led the
way into his room with an impudence amazing to myself.
"Not come back for your revenge, have you? Because I'm afraid I
can't give it to you single-handed. I was sorry myself that the
We were face to face by his fireside, and I cut him short.
"Raffles," said I, "you may well be surprised at my coming back
in this way and at this hour. I hardly know you. I was never in
your rooms before to-night. But I fagged for you at school, and
you said you remembered me. Of course that's no excuse; but will
you listen to me--for two minutes?"
In my emotion I had at first to struggle for every word; but his
face reassured me as I went on, and I was not mistaken in its
"Certainly, my dear man," said he; "as many minutes as you like. Have a Sullivan and sit down." And he handed me his silver
"No," said I, finding a full voice as I shook my head; "no, I
won't smoke, and I won't sit down, thank you. Nor will you ask
me to do either when you've heard what I have to say."
"Really?" said he, lighting his own cigarette with one clear blue
eye upon me. "How do you know?"
"Because you'll probably show me the door," I cried bitterly;
"and you will be justified in doing it! But it's no use beating
about the bush. You know I dropped over two hundred just now?"
"I hadn't the money in my pocket."
"But I had my check-book, and I wrote each of you a check at that
"Not one of them was worth the paper it was written on, Raffles. I am overdrawn already at my bank!"
"Surely only for the moment?"
"No. I have spent everything."
"But somebody told me you were so well off. I heard you had come
in for money?"
"So I did. Three years ago. It has been my curse; now it's all
gone--every penny! Yes, I've been a fool; there never was nor
will be such a fool as I've been. . . . Isn't this enough for
you? Why don't you turn me out?" He was walking up and down
with a very long face instead.
"Couldn't your people do anything?" he asked at length.
"Thank God," I cried, "I have no people! I was an only child. I
came in for everything there was. My one comfort is that they're
gone, and will never know."
I cast myself into a chair and hid my face. Raffles continued to
pace the rich carpet that was of a piece with everything else in
his rooms. There was no variation in his soft and even
"You used to be a literary little cuss," he said at length;
"didn't you edit the mag. before you left? Anyway I recollect
fagging you to do my verses; and literature of all sorts is the
very thing nowadays; any fool can make a living at it."
I shook my head. "Any fool couldn't write off my debts," said I.
"Then you have a flat somewhere?" he went on.
"Yes, in Mount Street."
"Well, what about the furniture?"
I laughed aloud in my misery. "There's been a bill of sale on
every stick for months!"
And at that Raffles stood still, with raised eyebrows and stern
eyes that I could meet the better now that he knew the worst;
then, with a shrug, he resumed his walk, and for some minutes
neither of us spoke. But in his handsome, unmoved face I read my
fate and death-warrant; and with every breath I cursed my folly
and my cowardice in coming to him at all. Because he had been
kind to me at school, when he was captain of the eleven, and I
his fag, I had dared to look for kindness from him now; because I
was ruined, and he rich enough to play cricket all the summer,
and do nothing for the rest of the year, I had fatuously counted
on his mercy, his sympathy, his help! Yes, I had relied on him
in my heart, for all my outward diffidence and humility; and I
was rightly served. There was as little of mercy as of sympathy
in that curling nostril, that rigid jaw, that cold blue eye which
never glanced my way. I caught up my hat. I blundered to my
feet. I would have gone without a word; but Raffles stood
between me and the door.
"Where are you going?" said he.
"That's my business," I replied. "I won't trouble YOU any more."
"Then how am I to help you?"
"I didn't ask your help."
"Then why come to me?"
"Why, indeed!" I echoed. "Will you let me pass?"
"Not until you tell me where you are going and what you mean to
"Can't you guess?" I cried. And for many seconds we stood
staring in each other's eyes.
"Have you got the pluck?" said he, breaking the spell in a tone
so cynical that it brought my last drop of blood to the boil.
"You shall see," said I, as I stepped back and whipped the pistol
from my overcoat pocket. "Now, will you let me pass or shall I do
The barrel touched my temple, and my thumb the trigger. Mad with
excitement as I was, ruined, dishonored, and now finally
determined to make an end of my misspent life, my only surprise
to this day is that I did not do so then and there. The
despicable satisfaction of involving another in one's destruction
added its miserable appeal to my baser egoism; and had fear or
horror flown to my companion's face, I shudder to think I might
have died diabolically happy with that look for my last impious
consolation. It was the look that came instead which held my
hand. Neither fear nor horror were in it; only wonder,
admiration, and such a measure of pleased expectancy as caused me
after all to pocket my revolver with an oath.
"You devil!" I said. "I believe you wanted me to do it!"
"Not quite," was the reply, made with a little start, and a
change of color that came too late. "To tell you the truth,
though, I half thought you meant it, and I was never more
fascinated in my life. I never dreamt you had such stuff in you,
Bunny! No, I'm hanged if I let you go now. And you'd better not
try that game again, for you won't catch me stand and look on a
second time. We must think of some way out of the mess. I had
no idea you were a chap of that sort! There, let me have the
One of his hands fell kindly on my shoulder, while the other
slipped into my overcoat pocket, and I suffered him to deprive me
of my weapon without a murmur. Nor was this simply because
Raffles had the subtle power of making himself irresistible at
will. He was beyond comparison the most masterful man whom I
have ever known; yet my acquiescence was due to more than the
mere subjection of the weaker nature to the stronger. The forlorn
hope which had brought me to the Albany was turned as by magic
into an almost staggering sense of safety. Raffles would help me
after all! A. J. Raffles would be my friend! It was as though
all the world had come round suddenly to my side; so far
therefore from resisting his action, I caught and clasped his
hand with a fervor as uncontrollable as the frenzy which had
"God bless you!" I cried. "Forgive me for everything. I will
tell you the truth. I DID think you might help me in my
extremity, though I well knew that I had no claim upon you. Still--for the old school's sake--the sake of old times--I
thought you might give me another chance. If you wouldn't I
meant to blow out my brains--and will still if you change your
In truth I feared that it was changing, with his expression, even
as I spoke, and in spite of his kindly tone and kindlier use of
my old school nickname. His next words showed me my mistake.
"What a boy it is for jumping to conclusions! I have my vices,
Bunny, but backing and filling is not one of them. Sit down, my
good fellow, and have a cigarette to soothe your nerves. I
insist. Whiskey? The worst thing for you; here's some coffee
that I was brewing when you came in. Now listen to me. You
speak of 'another chance.' What do you mean? Another chance at
baccarat? Not if I know it! You think the luck must turn;
suppose it didn't? We should only have made bad worse. No, my
dear chap, you've plunged enough. Do you put yourself in my hands
or do you not? Very well, then you plunge no more, and I
undertake not to present my check. Unfortunately there are the
other men; and still more unfortunately, Bunny, I'm as hard up at
this moment as you are yourself!"
It was my turn to stare at Raffles. "You?" I vociferated. "You
hard up? How am I to sit here and believe that?"
"Did I refuse to believe it of you?" he returned, smiling. "And,
with your own experience, do you think that because a fellow has
rooms in this place, and belongs to a club or two, and plays a
little cricket, he must necessarily have a balance at the bank? I tell you, my dear man, that at this moment I'm as hard up as
you ever were. I have nothing but my wits to live on--absolutely
nothing else. It was as necessary for me to win some money this
evening as it was for you. We're in the same boat, Bunny; we'd
better pull together."
"Together!" I jumped at it. "I'll do anything in this world for
you, Raffles," I said, "if you really mean that you won't give me
away. Think of anything you like, and I'll do it! I was a
desperate man when I came here, and I'm just as desperate now. I
don't mind what I do if only I can get out of this without a
Again I see him, leaning back in one of the luxurious chairs with
which his room was furnished. I see his indolent, athletic
figure; his pale, sharp, clean-shaven features; his curly black
hair; his strong, unscrupulous mouth. And again I feel the clear
beam of his wonderful eye, cold and luminous as a star, shining
into my brain--sifting the very secrets of my heart.
"I wonder if you mean all that!" he said at length. "You do in
your present mood; but who can back his mood to last? Still,
there's hope when a chap takes that tone. Now I think of it,
too, you were a plucky little devil at school; you once did me
rather a good turn, I recollect. Remember it, Bunny? Well, wait
a bit, and perhaps I'll be able to do you a better one. Give me
time to think."
He got up, lit a fresh cigarette, and fell to pacing the room
once more, but with a slower and more thoughtful step, and for a
much longer period than before. Twice he stopped at my chair as
though on the point of speaking, but each time he checked himself
and resumed his stride in silence. Once he threw up the window,
which he had shut some time since, and stood for some moments
leaning out into the fog which filled the Albany courtyard. Meanwhile a clock on the chimney-piece struck one, and one again
for the half-hour, without a word between us.
Yet I not only kept my chair with patience, but I acquired an
incongruous equanimity in that half-hour. Insensibly I had
shifted my burden to the broad shoulders of this splendid friend,
and my thoughts wandered with my eyes as the minutes passed. The
room was the good-sized, square one, with the folding doors, the
marble mantel-piece, and the gloomy, old-fashioned distinction
peculiar to the Albany. It was charmingly furnished and
arranged, with the right amount of negligence and the right
amount of taste. What struck me most, however, was the absence
of the usual insignia of a cricketer's den. Instead of the
conventional rack of war-worn bats, a carved oak bookcase, with
every shelf in a litter, filled the better part of one wall; and
where I looked for cricketing groups, I found reproductions of
such works as "Love and Death" and "The Blessed Damozel," in
dusty frames and different parallels. The man might have been a
minor poet instead of an athlete of the first water. But there
had always been a fine streak of aestheticism in his
complex composition; some of these very pictures I had myself
dusted in his study at school; and they set me thinking of yet
another of his many sides--and of the little incident to which he
had just referred.
Everybody knows how largely the tone of a public school depends
on that of the eleven, and on the character of the captain of
cricket in particular; and I have never heard it denied that in
A. J. Raffles's time our tone was good, or that such influence as
he troubled to exert was on the side of the angels. Yet it was
whispered in the school that he was in the habit of parading the
town at night in loud checks and a false beard. It was
whispered, and disbelieved. I alone knew it for a fact; for
night after night had I pulled the rope up after him when the
rest of the dormitory were asleep, and kept awake by the hour to
let it down again on a given signal. Well, one night he was
over-bold, and within an ace of ignominious expulsion in the
hey-day of his fame. Consummate daring and extraordinary nerve
on his part, aided, doubtless, by some little presence of mind on
mine, averted the untoward result; and no more need be said of a
discreditable incident. But I cannot pretend to have forgotten
it in throwing myself on this man's mercy in my desperation. And
I was wondering how much of his leniency was owing to the fact
that Raffles had not forgotten it either, when he stopped and
stood over my chair once more.
"I've been thinking of that night we had the narrow squeak," he
began. "Why do you start?"
"I was thinking of it too."
He smiled, as though he had read my thoughts.
"Well, you were the right sort of little beggar then, Bunny; you
didn't talk and you didn't flinch. You asked no questions and you
told no tales. I wonder if you're like that now?"
"I don't know," said I, slightly puzzled by his tone. "I've made
such a mess of my own affairs that I trust myself about as little
as I'm likely to be trusted by anybody else. Yet I never in my
life went back on a friend. I will say that, otherwise perhaps I
mightn't be in such a hole to-night."
"Exactly," said Raffles, nodding to himself, as though in assent
to some hidden train of thought; "exactly what I remember of you,
and I'll bet it's as true now as it was ten years ago. We don't
alter, Bunny. We only develop. I suppose neither you nor I are
really altered since you used to let down that rope and I used to
come up it hand over hand. You would stick at nothing for a
"At nothing in this world," I was pleased to cry.
"Not even at a crime?" said Raffles, smiling.
I stopped to think, for his tone had changed, and I felt sure he
was chaffing me. Yet his eye seemed as much in earnest as ever,
and for my part I was in no mood for reservations.
"No, not even at that," I declared; "name your crime, and I'm
He looked at me one moment in wonder, and another moment in
doubt; then turned the matter off with a shake of his head, and
the little cynical laugh that was all his own.
"You're a nice chap, Bunny! A real desperate character--what? Suicide one moment, and any crime I like the next! What you want
is a drag, my boy, and you did well to come to a decent
law-abiding citizen with a reputation to lose. None the less we
must have that money to-night--by hook or crook."
"The sooner the better. Every hour after ten o'clock to-morrow
morning is an hour of risk. Let one of those checks get round to
your own bank, and you and it are dishonored together. No, we
must raise the wind to-night and re-open your account first thing
to-morrow. And I rather think I know where the wind can be
"At two o'clock in the morning?"
"But how--but where--at such an hour?"
"From a friend of mine here in Bond Street."
"He must be a very intimate friend!"
"Intimate's not the word. I have the run of his place and a
latch-key all to myself."
"You would knock him up at this hour of the night?"
"If he's in bed."
"And it's essential that I should go in with you?"
"Then I must; but I'm bound to say I don't like the idea,
"Do you prefer the alternative?" asked my companion, with a
sneer. "No, hang it, that's unfair!" he cried apologetically in
the same breath. "I quite understand. It's a beastly ordeal. But it would never do for you to stay outside. I tell you what,
you shall have a peg before we start--just one. There's the
whiskey, here's a syphon, and I'll be putting on an overcoat
while you help yourself."
Well, I daresay I did so with some freedom, for this plan of his
was not the less distasteful to me from its apparent
inevitability. I must own, however, that it possessed fewer
terrors before my glass was empty. Meanwhile Raffles rejoined
me, with a covert coat over his blazer, and a soft felt hat set
carelessly on the curly head he shook with a smile as I passed
him the decanter.
"When we come back," said he. "Work first, play afterward. Do
you see what day it is?" he added, tearing a leaflet from a
Shakespearian calendar, as I drained my glass. "March 15th. 'The Ides of March, the Ides of March, remember.' Eh, Bunny, my
boy? You won't forget them, will you?"
And, with a laugh, he threw some coals on the fire before turning
down the gas like a careful householder. So we went out together
as the clock on the chimney-piece was striking two.
Piccadilly was a trench of raw white fog, rimmed with blurred
street-lamps, and lined with a thin coating of adhesive mud. We
met no other wayfarers on the deserted flagstones, and were
ourselves favored with a very hard stare from the constable of
the beat, who, however, touched his helmet on recognizing my
"You see, I'm known to the police," laughed Raffles as we passed
on. "Poor devils, they've got to keep their weather eye open on
a night like this! A fog may be a bore to you and me, Bunny, but
it's a perfect godsend to the criminal classes, especially so
late in their season. Here we are, though--and I'm hanged if
the beggar isn't in bed and asleep after all!"
We had turned into Bond Street, and had halted on the curb a few
yards down on the right. Raffles was gazing up at some windows
across the road, windows barely discernible through the mist, and
without the glimmer of a light to throw them out. They were over
a jeweller's shop, as I could see by the peep-hole in the shop
door, and the bright light burning within. But the entire "upper
part," with the private street-door next the shop, was black and
blank as the sky itself.
"Better give it up for to-night," I urged. "Surely the morning
will be time enough!"
"Not a bit of it," said Raffles. "I have his key. We'll surprise
him. Come along."
And seizing my right arm, he hurried me across the road, opened
the door with his latch-key, and in another moment had shut it
swiftly but softly behind us. We stood together in the dark. Outside, a measured step was approaching; we had heard it through
the fog as we crossed the street; now, as it drew nearer, my
companion's fingers tightened on my arm.
"It may be the chap himself," he whispered. "He's the devil of a
night-bird. Not a sound, Bunny! We'll startle the life out of
The measured step had passed without a pause. Raffles drew a deep
breath, and his singular grip of me slowly relaxed.
"But still, not a sound," he continued in the same whisper;
"we'll take a rise out of him, wherever he is! Slip off your
shoes and follow me."
Well, you may wonder at my doing so; but you can never have met
A. J. Raffles. Half his power lay in a conciliating trick of
sinking the commander in the leader. And it was impossible not
to follow one who led with such a zest. You might question, but
you followed first. So now, when I heard him kick off his own
shoes, I did the same, and was on the stairs at his heels before
I realized what an extraordinary way was this of approaching a
stranger for money in the dead of night. But obviously Raffles
and he were on exceptional terms of intimacy, and I could not but
infer that they were in the habit of playing practical jokes upon
We groped our way so slowly upstairs that I had time to make more
than one note before we reached the top. The stair was
uncarpeted. The spread fingers of my right hand encountered
nothing on the damp wall; those of my left trailed through a dust
that could be felt on the banisters. An eerie sensation had been
upon me since we entered the house. It increased with every step
we climbed. What hermit were we going to startle in his cell?
We came to a landing. The banisters led us to the left, and to
the left again. Four steps more, and we were on another and a
longer landing, and suddenly a match blazed from the black. I
never heard it struck. Its flash was blinding. When my eyes
became accustomed to the light, there was Raffles holding up the
match with one hand, and shading it with the other, between bare
boards, stripped walls, and the open doors of empty rooms.
"Where have you brought me?" I cried. "The house is unoccupied!"
"Hush! Wait!" he whispered, and he led the way into one of the
empty rooms. His match went out as we crossed the threshold, and
he struck another without the slightest noise. Then he stood
with his back to me, fumbling with something that I could not
see. But, when he threw the second match away, there was some
other light in its stead, and a slight smell of oil. I stepped
forward to look over his shoulder, but before I could do so he
had turned and flashed a tiny lantern in my face.
"What's this?" I gasped. "What rotten trick are you going to
"It's played," he answered, with his quiet laugh.
"I am afraid so, Bunny."
"Is there no one in the house, then?"
"No one but ourselves."
"So it was mere chaff about your friend in Bond Street, who could
let us have that money?"
"Not altogether. It's quite true that Danby is a friend of
"The jeweller underneath."
"What do you mean?" I whispered, trembling like a leaf as his
meaning dawned upon me. "Are we to get the money from the
"Well, not exactly."
"The equivalent--from his shop."
There was no need for another question. I understood everything
but my own density. He had given me a dozen hints, and I had
taken none. And there I stood staring at him, in that empty room;
and there he stood with his dark lantern, laughing at me.
"A burglar!" I gasped. "You--you!"
"I told you I lived by my wits."
"Why couldn't you tell me what you were going to do? Why
couldn't you trust me? Why must you lie?" I demanded, piqued to
the quick for all my horror.
"I wanted to tell you," said he. "I was on the point of telling
you more than once. You may remember how I sounded you about
crime, though you have probably forgotten what you said yourself. I didn't think you meant it at the time, but I thought I'd put
you to the test. Now I see you didn't, and I don't blame you. I
only am to blame. Get out of it, my dear boy, as quick as you
can; leave it to me. You won't give me away, whatever else you
Oh, his cleverness! His fiendish cleverness! Had he fallen back
on threats, coercion, sneers, all might have been different even
yet. But he set me free to leave him in the lurch. He would not
blame me. He did not even bind me to secrecy; he trusted me. He
knew my weakness and my strength, and was playing on both with
his master's touch.
"Not so fast," said I. "Did I put this into your head, or were
you going to do it in any case?"
"Not in any case," said Raffles. "It's true I've had the key for
days, but when I won to-night I thought of chucking it; for, as a
matter of fact, it's not a one-man job."
"That settles it. I'm your man."
"You mean it?"
"Good old Bunny," he murmured, holding the lantern for one moment
to my face; the next he was explaining his plans, and I was
nodding, as though we had been fellow-cracksmen all our days.
"I know the shop," he whispered, "because I've got a few things
there. I know this upper part too; it's been to let for a month,
and I got an order to view, and took a cast of the key before
using it. The one thing I don't know is how to make a connection
between the two; at present there's none. We may make it up here,
though I rather fancy the basement myself. If you wait a minute
I'll tell you."
He set his lantern on the floor, crept to a back window, and
opened it with scarcely a sound: only to return, shaking his
head, after shutting the window with the same care.
"That was our one chance," said he; "a back window above a back
window; but it's too dark to see anything, and we daren't show an
outside light. Come down after me to the basement; and remember,
though there's not a soul on the premises, you can't make too
little noise. There--there--listen to that!"
It was the measured tread that we had heard before on the
flagstones outside. Raffles darkened his lantern, and again we
stood motionless till it had passed.
"Either a policeman," he muttered, "or a watchman that all these
jewellers run between them. The watchman's the man for us to
watch; he's simply paid to spot this kind of thing."
We crept very gingerly down the stairs, which creaked a bit in
spite of us, and we picked up our shoes in the passage; then down
some narrow stone steps, at the foot of which Raffles showed his
light, and put on his shoes once more, bidding me do the same in
a rather louder tone than he had permitted himself to employ
overhead. We were now considerably below the level of the
street, in a small space with as many doors as it had sides. Three were ajar, and we saw through them into empty cellars; but
in the fourth a key was turned and a bolt drawn; and this one
presently let us out into the bottom of a deep, square well of
fog. A similar door faced it across this area, and Raffles had
the lantern close against it, and was hiding the light with his
body, when a short and sudden crash made my heart stand still. Next moment I saw the door wide open, and Raffles standing within
and beckoning me with a jimmy.
"Door number one," he whispered. "Deuce knows how many more
there'll be, but I know of two at least. We won't have to make
much noise over them, either; down here there's less risk."
We were now at the bottom of the exact fellow to the narrow stone
stair which we had just descended: the yard, or well, being the
one part common to both the private and the business premises.
But this flight led to no open passage; instead, a singularly
solid mahogany door confronted us at the top.
"I thought so," muttered Raffles, handing me the lantern, and
pocketing a bunch of skeleton keys, after tampering for a few
minutes with the lock. "It'll be an hour's work to get through
"Can't you pick it?"
"No: I know these locks. It's no use trying. We must cut it out,
and it'll take us an hour."
It took us forty-seven minutes by my watch; or, rather, it took
Raffles; and never in my life have I seen anything more
deliberately done. My part was simply to stand by with the dark
lantern in one hand, and a small bottle of rock-oil in the other.
Raffles had produced a pretty embroidered case, intended
obviously for his razors, but filled instead with the tools of
his secret trade, including the rock-oil. From this case he
selected a "bit," capable of drilling a hole an inch in diameter,
and fitted it to a small but very strong steel "brace." Then he
took off his covert-coat and his blazer, spread them neatly on
the top step--knelt on them--turned up his shirt cuffs--and went
to work with brace-and-bit near the key-hole. But first he oiled
the bit to minimize the noise, and this he did invariably before
beginning a fresh hole, and often in the middle of one. It took
thirty-two separate borings to cut around that lock.
I noticed that through the first circular orifice Raffles thrust
a forefinger; then, as the circle became an ever-lengthening
oval, he got his hand through up to the thumb; and I heard him
swear softly to himself.
"I was afraid so!"
"What is it?"
"An iron gate on the other side!"
"How on earth are we to get through that?" I asked in dismay.
"Pick the lock. But there may be two. In that case they'll be
top and bottom, and we shall have two fresh holes to make, as the
door opens inwards. It won't open two inches as it is."
I confess I did not feel sanguine about the lock-picking, seeing
that one lock had baffled us already; and my disappointment and
impatience must have been a revelation to me had I stopped to
think. The truth is that I was entering into our nefarious
undertaking with an involuntary zeal of which I was myself quite
unconscious at the time. The romance and the peril of the whole
proceeding held me spellbound and entranced. My moral sense and
my sense of fear were stricken by a common paralysis. And there
I stood, shining my light and holding my phial with a keener
interest than I had ever brought to any honest avocation. And
there knelt A. J. Raffles, with his black hair tumbled, and the
same watchful, quiet, determined half-smile with which I have
seen him send down over after over in a county match!
At last the chain of holes was complete, the lock wrenched out
bodily, and a splendid bare arm plunged up to the shoulder
through the aperture, and through the bars of the iron gate
"Now," whispered Raffles, "if there's only one lock it'll be in
the middle. Joy! Here it is! Only let me pick it, and we're
through at last."
He withdrew his arm, a skeleton key was selected from the bunch,
and then back went his arm to the shoulder. It was a breathless
moment. I heard the heart throbbing in my body, the very watch
ticking in my pocket, and ever and anon the tinkle-tinkle of the
skeleton key. Then--at last--there came a single unmistakable
click. In another minute the mahogany door and the iron gate
yawned behind us; and Raffles was sitting on an office table,
wiping his face, with the lantern throwing a steady beam by his
We were now in a bare and roomy lobby behind the shop, but
separated therefrom by an iron curtain, the very sight of which
filled me with despair. Raffles, however, did not appear in the
least depressed, but hung up his coat and hat on some pegs in the
lobby before examining this curtain with his lantern.
"That's nothing," said he, after a minute's inspection; "we'll be
through that in no time, but there's a door on the other side
which may give us trouble."
"Another door!" I groaned. "And how do you mean to tackle this
"Prise it up with the jointed jimmy. The weak point of these
iron curtains is the leverage you can get from below. But it
makes a noise, and this is where you're coming in, Bunny; this is
where I couldn't do without you. I must have you overhead to
knock through when the street's clear. I'll come with you and
show a light."
Well, you may imagine how little I liked the prospect of this
lonely vigil; and yet there was something very stimulating in the
vital responsibility which it involved. Hitherto I had been a
mere spectator. Now I was to take part in the game. And the
fresh excitement made me more than ever insensible to those
considerations of conscience and of safety which were already as
dead nerves in my breast.
So I took my post without a murmur in the front room above the
shop. The fixtures had been left for the refusal of the incoming
tenant, and fortunately for us they included Venetian blinds
which were already down. It was the simplest matter in the world
to stand peeping through the laths into the street, to beat twice
with my foot when anybody was approaching, and once when all was
clear again. The noises that even I could hear below, with the
exception of one metallic crash at the beginning, were indeed
incredibly slight; but they ceased altogether at each double rap
from my toe; and a policeman passed quite half a dozen times
beneath my eyes, and the man whom I took to be the jeweller's
watchman oftener still, during the better part of an hour that I
spent at the window. Once, indeed, my heart was in my mouth, but
only once. It was when the watchman stopped and peered through
the peep-hole into the lighted shop. I waited for his whistle--I
waited for the gallows or the gaol! But my signals had been
studiously obeyed, and the man passed on in undisturbed serenity.
In the end I had a signal in my turn, and retraced my steps with
lighted matches, down the broad stairs, down the narrow ones,
across the area, and up into the lobby where Raffles awaited me
with an outstretched hand.
"Well done, my boy!" said he. "You're the same good man in a
pinch, and you shall have your reward. I've got a thousand
pounds' worth if I've got a penn'oth. It's all in my pockets. And here's something else I found in this locker; very decent
port and some cigars, meant for poor dear Danby's business
friends. Take a pull, and you shall light up presently. I've
found a lavatory, too, and we must have a wash-and-brush-up
before we go, for I'm as black as your boot."
The iron curtain was down, but he insisted on raising it until I
could peep through the glass door on the other side and see his
handiwork in the shop beyond. Here two electric lights were left
burning all night long, and in their cold white rays I could at
first see nothing amiss. I looked along an orderly lane, an
empty glass counter on my left, glass cupboards of untouched
silver on my right, and facing me the filmy black eye of the
peep-hole that shone like a stage moon on the street. The
counter had not been emptied by Raffles; its contents were in the
Chubb's safe, which he had given up at a glance; nor had he
looked at the silver, except to choose a cigarette case for me. He had confined himself entirely to the shop window. This was in
three compartments, each secured for the night by removable
panels with separate locks. Raffles had removed them a few hours
before their time, and the electric light shone on a corrugated
shutter bare as the ribs of an empty carcase. Every article of
value was gone from the one place which was invisible from the
little window in the door; elsewhere all was as it had been left
overnight. And but for a train of mangled doors behind the iron
curtain, a bottle of wine and a cigar-box with which liberties
had been taken, a rather black towel in the lavatory, a burnt
match here and there, and our finger-marks on the dusty
banisters, not a trace of our visit did we leave.
"Had it in my head for long?" said Raffles, as we strolled
through the streets towards dawn, for all the world as though we
were returning from a dance. "No, Bunny, I never thought of it
till I saw that upper part empty about a month ago, and bought a
few things in the shop to get the lie of the land. That reminds
me that I never paid for them; but, by Jove, I will to-morrow,
and if that isn't poetic justice, what is? One visit showed me
the possibilities of the place, but a second convinced me of its
impossibilities without a pal. So I had practically given up the
idea, when you came along on the very night and in the very
plight for it! But here we are at the Albany, and I hope there's
some fire left; for I don't know how you feel, Bunny, but for my
part I'm as cold as Keats's owl."
He could think of Keats on his way from a felony! He could
hanker for his fireside like another! Floodgates were loosed
within me, and the plain English of our adventure rushed over me
as cold as ice. Raffles was a burglar. I had helped him to
commit one burglary, therefore I was a burglar, too. Yet I could
stand and warm myself by his fire, and watch him empty his
pockets, as though we had done nothing wonderful or wicked!
My blood froze. My heart sickened. My brain whirled. How I had
liked this villain! How I had admired him! Now my liking and
admiration must turn to loathing and disgust. I waited for the
change. I longed to feel it in my heart. But--I longed and I
waited in vain!
I saw that he was emptying his pockets; the table sparkled with
their hoard. Rings by the dozen, diamonds by the score;
bracelets, pendants, aigrettes, necklaces, pearls, rubies,
amethysts, sapphires; and diamonds always, diamonds in
everything, flashing bayonets of light, dazzling me--blinding
me--making me disbelieve because I could no longer forget. Last
of all came no gem, indeed, but my own revolver from an inner
pocket. And that struck a chord. I suppose I said something--my
hand flew out. I can see Raffles now, as he looked at me once
more with a high arch over each clear eye. I can see him pick
out the cartridges with his quiet, cynical smile, before he would
give me my pistol back again.
"You mayn't believe it, Bunny," said he, "but I never carried a
loaded one before. On the whole I think it gives one confidence. Yet it would be very awkward if anything went wrong; one might
use it, and that's not the game at all, though I have often
thought that the murderer who has just done the trick must have
great sensations before things get too hot for him. Don't look
so distressed, my dear chap. I've never had those sensations,
and I don't suppose I ever shall."
"But this much you have done before?" said I hoarsely.
"Before? My dear Bunny, you offend me! Did it look like a first
attempt? Of course I have done it before."
"Well--no! Not often enough to destroy the charm, at all events;
never, as a matter of fact, unless I'm cursedly hard up. Did you
hear about the Thimbleby diamonds? Well, that was the last
time--and a poor lot of paste they were. Then there was the
little business of the Dormer house-boat at Henley last year. That was mine also--such as it was. I've never brought off a
really big coup yet; when I do I shall chuck it up."
Yes, I remembered both cases very well. To think that he was
their author! It was incredible, outrageous, inconceivable. Then my eyes would fall upon the table, twinkling and glittering
in a hundred places, and incredulity was at an end.
"How came you to begin?" I asked, as curiosity overcame mere
wonder, and a fascination for his career gradually wove itself
into my fascination for the man.
"Ah! that's a long story," said Raffles. "It was in the
Colonies, when I was out there playing cricket. It's too long a
story to tell you now, but I was in much the same fix that you
were in to-night, and it was my only way out. I never meant it
for anything more; but I'd tasted blood, and it was all over with
me. Why should I work when I could steal? Why settle down to
some humdrum uncongenial billet, when excitement, romance, danger
and a decent living were all going begging together? Of course
it's very wrong, but we can't all be moralists, and the
distribution of wealth is very wrong to begin with. Besides,
you're not at it all the time. I'm sick of quoting Gilbert's
lines to myself, but they're profoundly true. I only wonder if
you'll like the life as much as I do!"
"Like it?" I cried out. "Not I! It's no life for me. Once is
"You wouldn't give me a hand another time?"
"Don't ask me, Raffles. Don't ask me, for God's sake!"
"Yet you said you would do anything for me! You asked me to name
my crime! But I knew at the time you didn't mean it; you didn't
go back on me to-night, and that ought to satisfy me, goodness
knows! I suppose I'm ungrateful, and unreasonable, and all that. I ought to let it end at this. But you're the very man for me,
Bunny, the--very--man! Just think how we got through to-night.
Not a scratch--not a hitch! There's nothing very terrible in it,
you see; there never would be, while we worked together."
He was standing in front of me with a hand on either shoulder; he
was smiling as he knew so well how to smile. I turned on my
heel, planted my elbows on the chimney-piece, and my burning head
between my hands. Next instant a still heartier hand had fallen
on my back.
"All right, my boy! You are quite right and I'm worse than
wrong. I'll never ask it again. Go, if you want to, and come
again about mid-day for the cash. There was no bargain; but, of
course, I'll get you out of your scrape--especially after the way
you've stood by me to-night."
I was round again with my blood on fire.
"I'll do it again," I said, through my teeth.
He shook his head. "Not you," he said, smiling quite
good-humoredly on my insane enthusiasm.
"I will," I cried with an oath. "I'll lend you a hand as often
as you like! What does it matter now? I've been in it once. I'll be in it again. I've gone to the devil anyhow. I can't go
back, and wouldn't if I could. Nothing matters another rap! When you want me, I'm your man!"
And that is how Raffles and I joined felonious forces on the Ides
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