It was the intermittent sound of cautious movements, the creak of a sole not repeated for a great many seconds, the all but inaudible passing of a hand over the unseen side of the door leading into the lobby. It may be that I imagined more than I actually heard of the last detail; nevertheless I was as sure of what was happening as though the door had been plate-glass. Yet there was the outer door between lobby and landing and that I distinctly remembered Raffles shutting behind him when we entered. Unable to attract his attention now, and never sorry to be the one to take the other by surprise, I listened without breathing until assurance was doubly sure1, then bounded out of my chair without a word. And there was a resounding knock at the inner door, even as I flung it open upon a special evening edition of Mr. Daniel Levy, a resplendent figure with a great stud blazing in a frilled shirt, white waistcoat and gloves, opera-hat and cigar, and all the other insignia of a nocturnal vulgarian about town.
“May I come in?” said he with unctuous affability.
“May you!” I took it upon myself to shout. “I like that, seeing that you came in long ago! I heard you all right—you were listening at the door—probably looking through the keyhole—and you only knocked when I jumped up to open it!”
“My dear Bunny!” exclaimed Raffles, a reproving hand upon my shoulder.
And he bade the unbidden guest a jovial welcome.
“But the outer door was shut,” I expostulated. “He must have forced it or else picked the lock.”
“Why not, Bunny? Love isn’t the only thing that laughs at locksmiths2,” remarked Raffles with exasperating geniality.
“Neither are swell mobsmen!” cried Dan Levy, not more ironically than Raffles, only with a heavier type of irony.
Raffles conducted him to a chair. Levy stepped behind it and grasped the back as though prepared to break the furniture on our heads if necessary. Raffles offered him a drink; it was declined with a crafty grin that made no secret of a base suspicion.
“I don’t drink with the swell mob,” said the money-lender.
“My dear Mr. Levy,” returned Raffles, “you’re the very man I wanted to see, and nobody could possibly be more welcome in my humble quarters; but that’s the fourth time to-day I’ve heard you make use of an obsolete expression. You know as well as I do that the slap-bang-here-we-are-again type of work is a thing of the past. Where are the jolly dogs of the old song now?”3
“‘Ere at the Albany!” said Levy. “Here in your rooms, Mr. A.J. Raffles.”
“Well, Bunny,” said Raffles, “I suppose we must both plead guilty to a hair of the jolly dog that bit him—eh?”
“You know what I mean,” our visitor ground out through his teeth. “You’re cracksmen, magsmen4, mobsmen, the two of you; so you may as well both own up to it.”
“Cracksmen? Magsmen? Mobsmen?” repeated Raffles, with his head on one side. “What does the kind gentleman mean, Bunny? Wait! I have it—thieves! Common thieves!”
And he laughed loud and long in the moneylender’s face and mine.
“You may laugh,” said Levy. “I’m too old a bird for your chaff; the only wonder is I didn’t spot you right off when we were abroad.” He grinned malevolently. “Shall I tell you when I did tumble to it—Mr. Ananias J. Raffles?”
“Daniel in the liars’ den,”5 murmured Raffles, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Oh, yes, do tell us anything you like; this is the best entertainment we’ve had for a long time, isn’t it, Bunny?”
“Chalks6!” said I.
“I thought of it this morning,” proceeded the money-lender, with a grim contempt for all our raillery, “when you played your pretty trick upon me, so glib and smooth, and up to every move, the pair of you! One borrowing the money, and the other paying me back in my very own actual coin!”
“Well,” said I, “there was no crime in that.”
“Oh, yes, there was,” replied Levy, with a wide wise grin; “there was the one crime you two ought to know better than ever to commit, if you call yourselves what I called you just now. The crime that you committed was the crime of being found out; but for that I should never have suspected friend Ananias of that other job at Carlsbad; no, not even when I saw his friends so surprised to hear that he’d been out there—a strapping young chap like ‘im! Yes,” cried the money-lender, lifting the chair and jobbing it down on the floor;7“this morning was when I thought of it, but this afternoon was when I jolly well knew.”
Raffles was no longer smiling; his eyes were like points of steel, his lips like a steel trap.
“I saw what you thought,” said he, disdainfully. “And you still seriously think I took your wife’s necklace and hid it in the woods?”
“I know you did.”
“Then what the devil are you doing here alone?” cried Raffles. “Why didn’t you bring along a couple of good men and true8from Scotland Yard? Here I am, Mr. Levy, entirely at your service. Why don’t you give me in charge9?”
Levy chuckled consumedly—ventriloquously—behind his three gold buttons and his one diamond stud.
“P’r’aps I’m not such a bad sort as you think,” said he. “An’ p’r’aps you two gentlemen are not such bad sorts as I thought.”
“Gentlemen once more, eh?” said Raffles. “Isn’t that rather a quick recovery for swell magsmen, or whatever we were a minute ago?”
“P’r’aps I never really thought you quite so bad as all that, Mr. Raffles.”
“Perhaps you never really thought I took the necklace, Mr. Levy?”
“I know you took it,” returned Levy, his new tone of crafty conciliation softening to a semblance of downright apology. “But I believe you did put it back where you knew it’d be found. And I begin to think you only took it for a bit o’ fun!”
“If he took it at all,” said I. “Which is absurd.”
“I only wish I had!” exclaimed Raffles, with gratuitous audacity. “I agree with you, Mr. Levy, it would have been more like a bit of fun than anything that came my way on the human rubbish-heap we were both inhabiting for our sins.”
“The kind of fun that appeals to you?” suggested Levy, with a very shrewd glance.
“It would,” said Raffles, “I feel sure.”
“‘Ow would you care for another bit o’ fun like it, Mr. Raffles?”
“Don’t say ‘another,’ please.”
“Well, would you like to try your ‘and at the game again?”
“Not ‘again,’ Mr. Levy; and my ‘prentice’ hand, if you don’t mind.”
“I beg pardon; my mistake,” said Levy, with becoming gravity.
“How would I like to try my prentice hand10on picking and stealing for the pure fun of the thing? Is that it, Mr. Levy?”
Raffles was magnificent now; but so was the other in his own way. And once more I could but admire the tact with which Levy had discarded his favourite cudgels, and the surprising play that he was making with the buttoned foil11.
“It’d be more picking than stealing,” said he. “Tricky picking too, Raffles, but innocent enough even for an amatoor.”
“I thank you, Mr. Levy. So you have a definite case in mind?”
“I have—a case of recovering a man’s own property.”
“You being the man, Mr. Levy?”
“I being the man, Mr. Raffles.”
“Bunny, I begin to see why he didn’t bring the police with him!”
I affected to have seen it for some time; thereupon our friend the enemy protested that in no circumstances could he have taken such a course. By the searchlight of the present he might have detected things which had entirely escaped his notice in the past—incriminating things—things that would put together into a Case. But, after all, what evidence had he against Raffles as yet? Mr. Levy himself propounded the question with unflinching candour. He might inform the Metropolitan Police of his strong suspicions; and they might communicate with the Austrian police, and evidence beyond the belated evidence of his own senses be duly forthcoming; but nothing could be done at once, and if Raffles cared to endorse his theory of the practical joke, by owning up to that and nothing more, then, so far as Mr. Levy was concerned, nothing should ever be done at all.
“Except this little innocent recovery of your own property,” suggested
Raffles. “I suppose that’s the condition?”
“Condition’s not the word I should have employed,” said Levy, with a shrug.
“Indemnity is more the idea. You put me to a lot of trouble by abstracting Mrs. Levy’s jewels for your own amusement—”
“So you assert, Mr. Levy.”
“Well, I may be wrong; that remains to be seen—or not—as you decide,” rejoined the Jew, lifting his mask for the moment. “At all events you admit that it’s the sort of adventure you would like to try. And so I ask you to amuse yourself by abstracting something else of mine that ‘appens to have got into the wrong hands; then, I say, we shall be quits.”
“Well,” said Raffles, “there’s no harm in our hearing what sort of property it is, and where you think it’s to be found.”
The usurer leant forward in his chair; he had long been sitting in the one which at first he had seemed inclined to wield as a defensive weapon. We all drew together into a smaller triangle. And I found our visitor looking specially hard at me for the first time.
“I’ve seen you, too, before to-day,” said he. “I thought I had, after you’d gone this morning, and when we met in the afternoon I made sure. It was at the Savoy when me and my wife were dining there and you gentlemen were at the next table.” There was a crafty twinkle in his eye, but the natural allusion to the necklace was not made. “I suppose,” he continued, “you are partners in—amusement? Otherwise I should insist on speaking to Mr. Raffles alone.”
“Bunny and I are one,” said Raffles airily.
“Though two to one—numerically speaking,” remarked Levy, with a disparaging eye on me. “However, if you’re both in the job, so much the more chance of bringing it off, I daresay. But you’ll never ‘ave to ‘andle a lighter swag, gentlemen!”
“More jewellery?” inquired Raffles, as one thoroughly enjoying the joke.
“No—lighter than that—a letter!”
“One little letter?”
“Of your own writing, Mr. Levy?”
“No, sir!” thundered the money-lender, just when I could have sworn his lips were framing an affirmative.
“I see; it was written to you, not by you.”
“Wrong again, Raffles!”
“Then how can the letter be your property, my dear Mr. Levy?”
There was a pause. The money-lender was at visible grips with some new difficulty. I watched his heavy but not unhandsome face, and timed the moment of mastery by the sudden light in his crafty eyes.
“They think it was written by me,” said he. “It’s a forgery, written on my office paper; if that isn’t my property, I should like to know what is?”
“It certainly ought to be,” returned Raffles, sympathetically. “Of course you’re speaking of the crucial letter in your case against Fact?”
“I am,” said Levy, rather startled; “but ‘ow did you know I was?”
“I am naturally interested in the case.”
“And you’ve read about it in the papers; they’ve had a fat sight too much to say about it, with the whole case still sub judice12.”
“I read the original articles in Fact,” said Raffles.
“And the letters I’m supposed to have written?”
“Yes; there was only one of them that struck me as being slap in the wind’s eye.”
“That’s the one I want.”
“If it’s genuine, Mr. Levy, it might easily form the basis of a more serious sort of case.”
“But it isn’t genuine.”
“Nor would you be the first plaintiff in the High Court of Justice” pursued Raffles, blowing soft grey rings into the upper air, “who has been rather rudely transformed into the defendant at the Old Bailey13.”
“But it isn’t genuine, I’m telling you!” cried Dan Levy with a curse.
“Then what in the world do you want with the letter? Let the prosecution love and cherish it, and trump it up in court for all it’s worth; the less it is worth, the more certain to explode and blow their case to bits. A palpable forgery in the hands of Mr. Attorney!” cried Raffles, with a wink at me. “It’ll be the best fun of its kind since the late lamented Mr. Pigott14; my dear Bunny, we must both be there.”
Mr. Levy’s uneasiness was a sight for timid eyes. He had presented his case to us naked and unashamed15; already he was in our hands more surely than Raffles was in his. But Raffles was the last person to betray his sense of an advantage a second too soon: he merely gave me another wink. The usurer was frowning at the carpet. Suddenly he sprang up and burst out in a bitter tirade upon the popular and even the judicial prejudice against his own beneficent calling. No money-lender would ever get justice in a British court of law; easier for the camel to thread the needle’s eye16. That flagrant forgery would be accepted at sight by our vaunted British jury. The only chance was to abstract it before the case came on.
“But if it can be proved to be a forgery,” urged Raffles, “nothing could possibly turn the tables on the other side with such complete and instantaneous effect.”
“I’ve told you what I reckon my only chance,” said Levy fiercely. “Let me remind you that it’s yours as well!”
“If you talk like that,” said Raffles, “I shan’t consider it.”
“You won’t in any case, I should hope,” said I.
“Oh, yes, I might; but not if he talks like that.”
Levy stopped talking quite like that.
“Will you do it, Mr. Raffles, or will you not?”
“Wherever it may be; their solicitors’ safe, I suppose.”
“Who are the solicitors to Fact?”
“Burroughs and Burroughs.”
“Of Gray’s Inn Square17?”
“The strongest firm in England for a criminal case,” said Raffles, with a grimace at me. “Their strong-room is probably the strongest strong-room!”
“I said it was a tricky job,” rejoined the moneylender.
Raffles looked more than dubious.
“Big game for a first shoot, eh, Bunny?”
“Too big by half.”
“And you merely wish to have their letter—withdrawn, Mr. Levy?”
“That’s the way to put it.”
And the diamond stud sparkled again as it heaved upon the billows of an intestine chuckle.
“Withdrawn—and nothing more?”
“That’ll be good enough for me, Mr. Raffles.”
“Even though they miss it the very next morning?”
“Let them miss it.”
Raffles joined his finger-tips judicially, and shook his head in serene dissent.
“It would do you more harm than good, Mr. Levy. I should be inclined to go one better—if I went into the thing at all,” he added, with so much point that I was thankful to think he was beginning to decide against it.
“What improvement do you suggest?” inquired Dan Levy, who had evidently no such premonition.
“I should take a sheet of your paper with me, and forge the forgery!” said Raffles, a light in his eye and a gusto in his voice that I knew only too well. “But I shouldn’t do my work as perfectly as—the other cove—did his. My effort would look the same as yours—his—until Mr. Attorney fixed it with his eyeglass in open court. And then the bottom would be out of the defense in five minutes!”
Dan Levy came straight over to Raffles—quivering like a jelly—beaming at every pore.
“Shake!” he cried. “I always knew you were a man after my own heart, but I didn’t know you were a man of genius until this minute.”
“It’s no use my shaking,” replied Raffles, the tips of his sensitive fingers still together, “until I make up my mind to take on the job. And I’m a very long way from doing that yet, Mr. Levy.”
I breathed again.
“But you must, my dear friend, you simply must!” said Levy, in a new tone of pure persuasion. I was sorry he forgot to threaten instead. Perhaps it was not forgetfulness; perhaps he was beginning to know his Raffles as I knew mine; if so, I was sorrier still.
“It’s a case of quid pro quo18,” said Raffles calmly. “You can’t expect me to break out into downright crime—however technical the actual offense—unless you make it worth my while.”
Levy became the man I wanted him to be again. “I fancy it’s worth your while not to hear anything more about Carlsbad,” said he, though still with less of the old manner than I could have wished.
“What!” cried Raffles, “when you own yourself that you’ve no evidence against me there?”
“Evidence is to be got that may mean five years to you; don’t you make any mistake about that.”
“Whereas the evidence of this particular letter against yourself has, on your own showing, already been obtained! It’s as you like, of course,” added Raffles, getting up with a shrug. “But if the Old Bailey sees us both, Mr. Levy, I’ll back my chance against yours—and your sentence against mine!”
Raffles helped himself to a drink, after a quizzical look at his guest, decanter in hand; the usurer snatched it from him and splashed out half a tumbler. Certainly he was beginning to know his Raffles perilously well.
“There, damn you!” said he, blinking into an empty glass. “I trust you further than I’d trust any other young blood of your kidney; name your price, and you shall earn it if you can.”
“You may think it a rather long one, Mr. Levy.”
“Never mind; you say what you want.”
“Leave that money of yours on the mortgage with Mr. Garland; forgive him his other debt as you hope to be forgiven19; and either that letter shall be in your hands, or I’ll be in the hands of the police, before a week is up!”
Spoken from man to man with equal austerity and resolution, yet in a voice persuasive and conciliatory rather than arbitrary or dictatorial, the mere form and manner of this quixotic undertaking thrilled all my fibres in defiance of its sense. It was like the blare of bugles in a dubious cause; one’s blood responded before one’s brain; and but for Raffles, little as his friends were to me, and much as I repudiated his sacrifices on their behalf, that very minute I might have led the first assault on their oppressor. In a sudden fury the savage had hurled his empty tumbler into the fireplace, and followed the crash with such a volley of abuse as I have seldom heard from human brute.
“I’m surprised at you, Mr. Levy,” said Raffles, contemptuously; “if we copied your tactics we should throw you through that open window!”
And I stood by for my share in the deed.
“Yes! I know it’d pay you to break my neck,” retorted Levy. “You’d rather swing than do time, wouldn’t you?”
“And you prefer the other alternative,” said Raffles, “to loosing your grip upon a man who’s done you no harm whatever! In interest alone he’s almost repaid all you lent him in the first instance; you’ve first-class security for the rest; yet you must ruin him to revenge yourself upon us. On us, mark you! It’s against us you’ve got your grievance, not against old Garland or his son. You’ve lost sight of that fact. That little trick this morning was our doing entirely. Why don’t you take it out of us? Why refuse a fair offer to spite people who have done you no harm?”
“It’s not a fair offer,” growled Levy. “I made you the fair offer.”
But his rage had moderated; he was beginning to listen to Raffles and to reason, with however ill a grace. It was the very moment which Raffles was the very man to improve.
“Mr. Levy,” said he, “do you suppose I care whether you hold your tongue or not on a matter of mere suspicion, which you can’t support by a grain of evidence? You lose a piece of jewellery abroad; you recover it intact; and after many days you get the bright idea that I’m the culprit because I happen to have been staying in your hotel at the time. It never occurred to you there or then, though you interviewed the gentleman face to face, as you were constantly interviewing me. But as soon as I borrow some money from you, here in London in the ordinary way, you say I must be the man who borrowed Mrs. Levy’s necklace in that extraordinary way at Carlsbad! I should say it to the marines, Mr. Levy, if I were you; they’re the only force that are likely to listen to you.20”
“I do say it, all the same; and what’s more you don’t deny it. If you weren’t the man you wouldn’t be so ready for another game like it now.”
“Ready for it?” cried Raffles, more than ready for an undeniable point. “I’m always your man for a new sensation, Mr. Levy, and for years I’ve taken an academic interest in the very fine art of burglary; isn’t that so, Bunny?”
“I’ve often heard you say so,” I replied without mishap.
“In these piping times21,” continued Raffles, “it’s about the one exciting and romantic career open to us. If it were not so infernally dishonest I should have half a mind to follow it myself. And here you come and put up a crib for me to crack in the best interests of equity and justice; not to enrich the wicked cracksman, but to restore his rightful property to the honest financier; a sort of teetotal felony—the very ginger-ale of crime! Is that a beverage to refuse—a chance to miss—a temptation to resist? Yet the risks are just as great as if it were a fine old fruity felony; you can’t expect me to run them for nothing, or even for their own exciting sake. You know my terms, Mr. Levy; if you don’t accept them, it’s already two in the morning, and I should like to get to bed before it’s light.”
“And if I did accept them?” said Levy, after a considerable pause.
“The letter to which you attach such importance would most probably be in your possession by the beginning of next week.”
“And I should have to take my hands off a nice little property that has tumbled into them?”
“Only for a time,” said Raffles. “On the other hand, you would be permanently out of danger of figuring in the dock on a charge of blackmail. And you know your profession isn’t popular in the courts, Mr. Levy; it’s in nearly as bad odour as the crime of blackmail!”
A singular docility had descended like a mantle upon Daniel Levy: no uncommon reaction in the case of very passionate men, and yet in this case ominous, sinister, and completely unconvincing so far as I personally was concerned. I longed to tell Raffles what I thought, to put him on his guard against his obvious superior in low cunning. But Raffles would not even catch my eye. And already he looked insanely pleased with himself and his apparent advantage.
“Will you give me until to-morrow morning?” said Levy, taking up his hat.
“If you mean the morning; by eleven I must be at Lord’s.”
“Say ten o’clock in Jermyn Street?”
“It’s a strange bargain, Mr. Levy. I should prefer to clinch it out of earshot of your clerks.”
“Then I will come here.”
“I shall be ready for you at ten.”
There was a sidelong glance at me with the proviso.
“You shall search the premises yourself and seal up all the doors.”
“Meanwhile,” said Levy, putting on his hat, “I shall think about it, but that’s all. I haven’t agreed yet, Mr. Raffles; don’t you make too sure that I ever shall. I shall think about it—but don’t you make too sure.”
He was gone like a lamb, this wild beast of five minutes back. Raffles showed him out, and down into the courtyard, and out again into Piccadilly. There was no question but that he was gone for good; back came Raffles, rubbing his hands for joy.
“A fine night, Bunny! A finer day to follow! But a nice, slow, wicket-keeper’s wicket if ever Teddy had one in his life!”
I came to my point with all vehemence.
“Confound Teddy!” I cried from my heart. “I should have thought you had run risks enough for his sake as it was!”
“How do you know it’s for his sake—or anybody’s?” asked Raffles, quite hotly. “Do you suppose I want to be beaten by a brute like Levy, Garlands or no Garlands? Besides, there’s far less risk in what I mean to do than in what I’ve been doing; at all events it’s in my line.”
“It’s not in your line,” I retorted, “to strike a bargain with a swine who won’t dream of keeping his side.”
“I shall make him,” said Raffles. “If he won’t do what I want he shan’t have what he wants.”
“But how could you trust him to keep his word?”
“His word!” cried Raffles, in ironical echo. “We shall have to carry matters far beyond his word, of course; deeds, not words, Bunny, and the deeds properly prepared by solicitors and executed by Dan Levy before he lays a finger on his own blackmailing letter. You remember old Mother Hubbard in our house at school? He’s a little solicitor22 somewhere in the City; he’ll throw the whole thing into legal shape for us, and ask no questions and tell no tales. You leave Mr. Shylock to me and Mother, and we’ll bring him up to the scratch23at as he ought to go.”
There was no arguing with Raffles in such a mood; argue I did, but he paid no attention to what I said. He had unlocked a drawer in the bureau, and taken out a map that I had never seen before. I looked over his shoulder as he spread it out in the light of his reading-lamp. And it was a map of London capriciously sprinkled with wheels and asterisks of red ink; there was a finished wheel in Bond Street24, another in Half-Moon Street25, one on the site of Thornaby House, Park Lane26, and others as remote as St. John’s Wood27 and Peter Street, Campden Hill28; the asterisks were fewer, and I have less reason to remember their latitude and longitude.
“What’s this, A.J.?” I asked. “It looks exactly like a war-map.”
“It is one, Bunny,” said he; “it’s the map of one man’s war against the ordered forces of society. The spokes are only the scenes of future operations, but each finished wheel marks the field of some past engagement, in which you have usually been the one man’s one and only accomplice.”
And he stooped and drew the neatest of blood-red asterisks at the southern extremity of Gray’s Inn Square.