But it was hardly likely to be the last excitement of the night, as I saw for myself before Raffles joined me at Vauxhall1. An arch-traitor like Daniel Levy might at least be trusted to play the game out with loaded dice; no single sportsman could compete against his callous machinations; and that was obviously where I was coming in. I only wished I had not come in before! I saw now the harm that I had done by my rash proceedings in Gray’s Inn, the extra risk entailed already and a worse one still impending. If the wretches who had shadowed him were really Levy’s mercenaries, and if they really had been taken in their own trap, their first measure of self-defence would be the denunciation of Raffles to the real police. Such at least was my idea, and Raffles himself made light enough of it; he thought they could not expose him without dragging in Levy, who had probably made it worth their while not to do that on any consideration. His magnanimity in the matter, which he flatly refused to take as seriously as I did, made it difficult for me to press old Raffles, as I otherwise might have done, for an outline of those further plans in which I hoped to atone for my blunders by being of some use to him after all. His nonchalant manner convinced me that they were cut-and-dried; but I was left perhaps deservedly in the dark as to the details. I merely gathered that he had brought down some document for Levy to sign in execution of the verbal agreement made between them in town; not until that agreement was completed by his signature was the harpy2 to receive the precious epistle he pretended never to have written. Raffles, in fine, had the air of a man who has the game in his hands, who is none the less prepared for foul play on the other side, and by no means perturbed at the prospect.
We left the train at a sweet-smelling platform, on which the lights were being extinguished as we turned into a quiet road where bats flew over our heads between the lamp-posts, and a policeman was passing a disc of light over a jerry-built abuse of the name of Queen Anne3. Our way led through quieter roads of larger houses standing further back, until at last we came to the enemy’s gates. They were wooden gates without a lodge4, yet the house set well beyond them, on the river’s brim, was a mansion of considerable size and still greater peculiarity. It was really two houses, large and small, connected by a spine of white posts and joists and glimmering glass. In the more substantial building no lights were to be seen from the gates, but in the annex a large French window made a lighted square at right angles with the river and the road. We had set foot in the gravel drive; with a long line of poplars down one side, and on the other a wide lawn dotted with cedars and small shrubs, when Raffles strode among these with a smothered exclamation, and a wild figure started from the ground.
“What are you doing here?” demanded Raffles, with all the righteous austerity of a law-abiding citizen.
“Nutting, sare!” replied an alien tongue, a gleam of good teeth in the shadow of his great soft hat. “I been see Mistare Le-vie in ze ‘ouse, on ze beezness, shentlemen.”
“Seen him, have you? Then if I were you I should make a decent departure,” said Raffles, “by the gate—” to which he pointed with increased severity of tone and bearing.
The weird figure uncovered a shaggy head of hair, made us a grotesque bow with his right hand melodramatically buried in the folds of a voluminous cape, and stalked off in the starlight with much dignity. But we heard him running in the road before the gate had clicked behind him.
“Isn’t that the fellow we saw in Jermyn Street last Thursday?” I asked Raffles in a whisper.
“That’s the chap,” he whispered back. “I wonder if he spotted us, Bunny? Levy’s treated him scandalously, of course; it all came out in a torrent the other morning. I only hope he hasn’t been serving Dan Levy as Jack Rutter served old Baird! I could swear that was a weapon of sorts he’d got under his cloak.”
And as we stood together under the stars, listening to the last of the runaway footfalls, I recalled the killing of another and a less notorious usurer by a man we both knew, and had even helped to shield from the consequences of his crime5. Yet the memory of our terrible discovery on that occasion had not the effect of making me shrink from such another now; nor could I echo the hope of Raffles in my heart of hearts. If Dan Levy also had come to a bad end—well, it was no more than he deserved, if only for his treachery to Raffles, and, at any rate, it would put a stop to our plunging from bad to worse in an adventure of which the sequel might well be worst of all. I do not say that I was wicked enough absolutely to desire the death of this sinner for our benefit; but I saw the benefit at least as plainly as the awful possibility, and it was not with unalloyed relief that I beheld a great figure stride through the lighted windows at our nearer approach.
Though his back was to the light before I saw his face, and the whole man might have been hacked out of ebony, it was every inch the living Levy who stood peering in our direction, one hand hollowed at an ear, the other shading both eyes.
“Is that you, boys?” he croaked in sepulchral salute.
“It depends which boys you mean,” replied Raffles, marching into the zone of light. “There are so many of us about to-night!”
Levy’s arms dropped at his sides, and I heard him mutter “Raffles!” with a malediction. Next moment he was inquiring whether we had come down alone, yet peering past us into the velvet night for his answer.
“I brought our friend Bunny,” said Raffles, “but that’s all.”
“Then what do you mean by saying there are so many of you about?”
“I was thinking of the gentleman who was here just before us.”
“Here just before you? Why, I haven’t seen a soul since my ‘ousehold went to bed.”
“But we met the fellow just this minute within your gates: a little foreign devil with a head like a mop and the cloak of an operatic conspirator.”
“That beggar!” cried Levy, flying into a high state of excitement on the spot. “That blessed little beggar on my tracks down here! I’ve ‘ad him thrown out of the office in Jermyn Street; he’s threatened me by letter and telegram; so now he thinks he’ll come and try it on in person down ‘ere. Seen me, eh? I wish I’d seen ‘im! I’m ready for biters like that, gentlemen. I’m not to be caught on the ‘op6 down here!”
And a plated revolver twinkled and flashed in the electric light as Levy drew it from his hip pocket and flourished it in our faces; he would have gone prowling through the grounds with it if Raffles had not assured him that the foreign foe had fled on our arrival. As it was the pistol was not put back in his pocket when Levy at length conducted us indoors; he placed it on an occasional table beside the glass that he drained on entering; and forthwith set his back to a fire which seemed in keeping with the advanced hour, and doubly welcome in an apartment so vast that the billiard table was a mere item at one end, and sundry trophies of travel and the chase a far more striking and unforeseen feature.
“Why, that’s a better grisly than the one at Lord’s7!” exclaimed Raffles, pausing to admire a glorious fellow near the door, while I mixed myself the drink he had declined.
“Yes,” said Levy, “the man that shot all this lot used to go about saying he’d shoot me at one time; but I need ‘ardly tell you he gave it up as a bad job, and went an’ did what some folks call a worse instead8. He didn’t get much show ‘ere, I can tell you; that little foreign snipe won’t either, nor yet any other carrion that think they want my blood. I’d empty this shooter o’ mine into their in’ards as soon as look at ’em, I don’t give a curse who they are! Just as well I wasn’t brought up to your profession, eh, Raffles?”
“I don’t quite follow you, Mr. Levy.”
“Oh yes you do!” said the money-lender, with his gastric chuckle. “How’ve you got on with that little bit o’ burgling?”
And I saw him screw up his bright eyes, and glance through the open windows into the outer darkness, as though there was still a hope in his mind that we had not come down alone. I formed the impression that Levy had returned by a fairly late train himself, for he was in morning dress, in dusty boots, and there was an abundant supply of sandwiches on the table with the drinks. But he seemed to have confined his own attentions to the bottle, and I liked to think that the sandwiches had been cut for the two emissaries for whom he was welcome to look out for all night.
“How did you get on?” he repeated when he had given them up for the present.
“For a first attempt,” replied Raffles, without a twinkle, “I don’t think I’ve done so badly.”
“Ah! I keep forgetting you’re a young beginner,” said Levy, catching the old note in his turn.
“A beginner who’s scarcely likely to go on, Mr. Levy, if all cribs are as easy to crack as that lawyers’ office of yours in Gray’s Inn Square.”
Raffles recollected his pose.
“It was enormous fun,” said he. “Of course one couldn’t know that there would be no hitch. There was an exciting moment towards the end. I have to thank you for quite a new thrill of sorts. But, my dear Mr. Levy, it was as easy as ringing the bell and being shown in; it only took rather longer.”
“What about the caretaker?” asked the usurer, with a curiosity no longer to be concealed.
“He obliged me by taking his wife to the theatre.”
“At your expense?”
“No, Mr. Levy, the item will be debited to you in due course.”
“So you got in without any difficulty?”
“Over the roof.”
“I hit upon the right room.”
“And then, Raffles?”
“I opened the right safe.”
“Go on, man!”
But the man was only going on at his own rate, and the more Levy pressed him, the greater his apparent reluctance to go on at all.
“Well, I found the letter all right. Oh, yes, I made a copy of it. Was it a good copy? Almost too good, if you ask me.” Thus Raffles under increasing pressure.
“Well? Well? You left that one there, I suppose? What happened next?”
There was no longer any masking the moneylender’s eagerness to extract the dénouement of Raffles’s adventure; that it required extracting must have seemed a sufficient earnest of the ultimate misadventure so craftily plotted by Levy himself. His great nose glowed with the imminence of victory. His strong lips loosened their habitual hold upon each other, and there was an impressionist daub of yellow fang between. The brilliant little eyes were reduced to sparkling pinheads of malevolent glee. This was not the fighting face I knew better and despised less, it was the living epitome of low cunning and foul play.
“The next thing that happened,” said Raffles, in his most leisurely manner, “was the descent of Bunny like a bolt from the blue.”
“Had he gone in with you?”
“No; he came in after me as bold as blazes to say that a couple of common, low detectives were waiting for me down below in the square!”
“That was very kind of ‘im,” snarled Levy, pouring a murderous fire upon my person from his little black eyes.
“Kind!” cried Raffles. “It saved the whole show.”
“It did, did it?”
“I had time to dodge the limbs of the law by getting out another way, and never letting them know that I had got out at all.”
“Then you left them there?”
“In their glory!” said Raffles, radiant in his own.
Though I must confess I could not see them at the time, there were excellent reasons for not stating there and then the delicious plight in which we had really left Levy’s myrmidons. I myself would have driven home our triumph and his treachery by throwing our winning cards upon the table and simultaneously exposing his false play. But Raffles was right, and I should have been wrong, as I was soon enough to see for myself.
“And you came away, I suppose,” suggested the money-lender, ironically, “with my original letter in your pocket?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t,” replied Raffles, with a reproving shake of the head.
“I thought not!” cried Levy in a gust of exultation.
“I came away,” said Raffles, “if you’ll pardon the correction, with the letter you never dreamt of writing, Mr. Levy!”
The Jew turned a deeper shade of yellow; but he had the wisdom and the self-control otherwise to ignore the point against him. “You’d better let me see it,” said he, and flung out his open hand with a gesture of authority which it took a Raffles to resist.
Levy was still standing with his back to the fire, and I was at his feet in a saddle-bag chair, with my yellow beaker on the table at my elbow. But Raffles remained aloof upon his legs, and he withdrew still further from the fire as he unfolded a large sheet of office paper, stamped with the notorious address in Jermyn Street, and displayed it on high like a phylactery9.
“You may see, by all means, Mr. Levy,” said Raffles, with a slight but sufficient emphasis on his verb.
“But I’m not to touch—is that it?”
“I’m afraid I must ask you to look first,” said Raffles, smiling. “I should suggest, however, that you exercise the same caution in showing me that part of your quid pro quo which you have doubtless in readiness; the other part is in my pocket ready for you to sign; and after that, the three little papers can change hands simultaneously.”
Nothing could have excelled the firmness of this intimation, except the exggravating10 delicacy with which it was conveyed. I saw Levy clench and unclench his great fists, and his canine jaw working protuberantly as he ground his teeth. But not a word escaped him, and I was admiring the monster’s self-control when of a sudden he swooped upon the table at my side, completely filled his empty glass with neat whiskey, and, spluttering and blinking from an enormous gulp, made a lurch for Raffles with his drink in one hand and his plated pistol in the other.
“Now I’ll have a look,” he hiccoughed, “an’ a good look, unless you want a lump of lead in your liver!”
Raffles awaited his uncertain advance with a contemptuous smile.
“You’re not such a fool as all that, Mr. Levy, drunk or sober,” said he; but his eye was on the waving weapon, and so was mine; and I was wondering how a man could have got so very suddenly drunk, when the nobbler11 of crude spirit was hurled with most sober aim, glass and all, full in the face of Raffles, and the letter plucked from his grasp and flung upon the fire, while Raffles was still reeling in his blindness, and before I had struggled to my feet.
Raffles, for the moment, was absolutely blinded; as I say, his face was streaming with blood and whiskey, and the prince of traitors already crowing over his vile handiwork. But that was only for a moment, too; the blackguard had been fool enough to turn his back on me; and, first jumping upon my chair, I sprang upon him like any leopard, and brought him down with my ten fingers in his neck, and such a crack on the parquet with his skull as left it a deadweight on my hands. I remember the rasping of his bristles as I disengaged my fingers and let the leaden head fall back; it fell sideways now, and if it had but looked less dead I believe I should have stamped the life out of the reptile on the spot.
I know that I rose exultant from my deed….