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Authors: The Amateur Cracksman

E. W. Hornung_A J Raffles 01

BOOK: E. W. Hornung_A J Raffles 01
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THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN
* * *
E. W. HORNUNG
 
*
The Amateur Cracksman
First published in 1899
ISBN 978-1-62011-140-6
Duke Classics
© 2012 Duke Classics and its licensors. All rights reserved.
While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in this edition, Duke Classics does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. Duke Classics does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book.
Contents
*
The Ides of March
*
I

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
others—"

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
expression.

"Certainly, my dear man," said he; "as many minutes as you like.
Have a Sullivan and sit down." And he handed me his silver
cigarette-case.

"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?"

He nodded.

"I hadn't the money in my pocket."

"I remember."

"But I had my check-book, and I wrote each of you a check at that
desk."

"Well?"

"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
footfalls.

"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
do."

"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
it here?"

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
gun."

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
preceded it.

"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
mind!"

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
scandal."

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.

BOOK: E. W. Hornung_A J Raffles 01
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