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The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung

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He said that Von Heumann was certain to sleep with a bolted door,
which he, of course, would leave unbolted, and spoke of other
ways of laying a false scent while rifling the cabin. Not that
Raffles anticipated a tiresome search. The pearl would be about
von Heumann's person; in fact, Raffles knew exactly where and in
what he kept it. Naturally I asked how he could have come by such
knowledge, and his answer led up to a momentary unpleasantness.

"It's a very old story, Bunny. I really forget in what Book it
comes; I'm only sure of the Testament. But Samson was the
unlucky hero, and one Delilah the heroine."

And he looked so knowing that I could not be in a moment's doubt
as to his meaning.

"So the fair Australian has been playing Delilah?" said I.

"In a very harmless, innocent sort of way."

"She got his mission out of him?"

"Yes, I've forced him to score all the points he could, and that
was his great stroke, as I hoped it would be. He has even shown
Amy the pearl."

"Amy, eh! and she promptly told you?"

"Nothing of the kind. What makes you think so? I had the
greatest trouble in getting it out of her."

His tone should have been a sufficient warning to me. I had not
the tact to take it as such. At last I knew the meaning of his
furious flirtation, and stood wagging my head and shaking my
finger, blinded to his frowns by my own enlightenment.

"Wily worm!" said I. "Now I see through it all; how dense I've

"Sure you're not still?"

"No; now I understand what has beaten me all the week. I simply
couldn't fathom what you saw in that little girl. I never dreamt
it was part of the game."

"So you think it was that and nothing more?"

"You deep old dog--of course I do!"

"You didn't know she was the daughter of a wealthy squatter?"

"There are wealthy women by the dozen who would marry you

"It doesn't occur to you that I might like to draw stumps, start
clean, and live happily ever after--in the bush?"

"With that voice? It certainly does not!"

"Bunny!" he cried, so fiercely that I braced myself for a blow.

But no more followed.

"Do you think you would live happily?" I made bold to ask him.

"God knows!" he answered. And with that he left me, to marvel at
his look and tone, and, more than ever, at the insufficiently
exciting cause.


Of all the mere feats of cracksmanship which I have seen Raffles
perform, at once the most delicate and most difficult was that
which he accomplished between one and two o'clock on the Tuesday
morning, aboard the North German steamer Uhlan, lying at anchor
in Genoa harbor.

Not a hitch occurred. Everything had been foreseen; everything
happened as I had been assured everything must. Nobody was about
below, only the ship's boys on deck, and nobody on the bridge.
It was twenty-five minutes past one when Raffles, without a
stitch of clothing on his body, but with a glass phial, corked
with cotton-wool, between his teeth, and a tiny screw-driver
behind his ear, squirmed feet first through the ventilator over
his berth; and it was nineteen minutes to two when he returned,
head first, with the phial still between his teeth, and the
cotton-wool rammed home to still the rattling of that which lay
like a great gray bean within. He had taken screws out and put
them in again; he had unfastened von Heumann's ventilator and had
left it fast as he had found it--fast as he instantly proceeded
to make his own. As for von Heumann, it had been enough to place
the drenched wad first on his mustache, and then to hold it
between his gaping lips; thereafter the intruder had climbed both
ways across his shins without eliciting a groan.

And here was the prize--this pearl as large as a filbert--with a
pale pink tinge like a lady's fingernail--this spoil of a
filibustering age--this gift from a European emperor to a South
Sea chief. We gloated over it when all was snug. We toasted it
in whiskey and soda-water laid in overnight in view of the great
moment. But the moment was greater, more triumphant, than our
most sanguine dreams. All we had now to do was to secrete the
gem (which Raffles had prised from its setting, replacing the
latter), so that we could stand the strictest search and yet take
it ashore with us at Naples; and this Raffles was doing when I
turned in. I myself would have landed incontinently, that night,
at Genoa and bolted with the spoil; he would not hear of it, for
a dozen good reasons which will be obvious.

On the whole I do not think that anything was discovered or
suspected before we weighed anchor; but I cannot be sure. It is
difficult to believe that a man could be chloroformed in his
sleep and feel no tell-tale effects, sniff no suspicious odor, in
the morning. Nevertheless, von Heumann reappeared as though
nothing had happened to him, his German cap over his eyes and his
mustaches brushing the peak. And by ten o'clock we were quit of
Genoa; the last lean, blue-chinned official had left our decks;
the last fruitseller had been beaten off with bucketsful of water
and left cursing us from his boat; the last passenger had come
aboard at the last moment--a fussy graybeard who kept the big
ship waiting while he haggled with his boatman over half a lira.
But at length we were off, the tug was shed, the lighthouse
passed, and Raffles and I leaned together over the rail, watching
our shadows on the pale green, liquid, veined marble that again
washed the vessel's side.

Von Heumann was having his innings once more; it was part of the
design that he should remain in all day, and so postpone the
inevitable hour; and, though the lady looked bored, and was for
ever glancing in our direction, he seemed only too willing to
avail himself of his opportunities. But Raffles was moody and
ill-at-ease. He had not the air of a successful man. I could
but opine that the impending parting at Naples sat heavily on his

He would neither talk to me, nor would he let me go.

"Stop where you are, Bunny. I've things to tell you. Can you

"A bit."

"Ten miles?"

"Ten?" I burst out laughing. "Not one! Why do you ask?"

"We shall be within a ten miles' swim of the shore most of the

"What on earth are you driving at, Raffles?"

"Nothing; only I shall swim for it if the worst comes to the
worst. I suppose you can't swim under water at all?"

I did not answer his question. I scarcely heard it: cold beads
were bursting through my skin.

"Why should the worst come to the worst?" I whispered. "We
aren't found out, are we?"


"Then why speak as though we were?"

"We may be; an old enemy of ours is on board."

"An old enemy?"



"The man with the beard who came aboard last."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure! I was only sorry to see you didn't recognize him too."

I took my handkerchief to my face; now that I thought of it,
there had been something familiar in the old man's gait, as well
as something rather youthful for his apparent years; his very
beard seemed unconvincing, now that I recalled it in the light of
this horrible revelation. I looked up and down the deck, but the
old man was nowhere to be seen.

"That's the worst of it," said Raffles. "I saw him go into the
captain's cabin twenty minutes ago."

"But what can have brought him?" I cried miserably. "Can it be a
coincidence--is it somebody else he's after?"

Raffles shook his head.

"Hardly this time."

"Then you think he's after you?"

"I've been afraid of it for some weeks."

"Yet there you stand!"

"What am I to do? I don't want to swim for it before I must. I
begin to wish I'd taken your advice, Bunny, and left the ship at
Genoa. But I've not the smallest doubt that Mac was watching
both ship and station till the last moment. That's why he ran it
so fine."

He took a cigarette and handed me the case, but I shook my head

"I still don't understand," said I. "Why should he be after you?
He couldn't come all this way about a jewel which was perfectly
safe for all he knew. What's your own theory?"

"Simply that he's been on my track for some time, probably ever
since friend Crawshay slipped clean through his fingers last
November. There have been other indications. I am really not
unprepared for this. But it can only be pure suspicion. I'll
defy him to bring anything home, and I'll defy him to find the
pearl! Theory, my dear Bunny? I know how he's got here as well
as though I'd been inside that Scotchman's skin, and I know what
he'll do next. He found out I'd gone abroad, and looked for a
motive; he found out about von Heumann and his mission, and there
was his motive cut-and-dried. Great chance--to nab me on a new
job altogether. But he won't do it, Bunny; mark my words, he'll
search the ship and search us all, when the loss is known; but
he'll search in vain. And there's the skipper beckoning the
whippersnapper to his cabin: the fat will be in the fire in five

Yet there was no conflagration, no fuss, no searching of the
passengers, no whisper of what had happened in the air; instead
of a stir there was portentous peace; and it was clear to me that
Raffles was not a little disturbed at the falsification of all
his predictions. There was something sinister in silence under
such a loss, and the silence was sustained for hours during which
Mackenzie never reappeared. But he was abroad during the
luncheon-hour--he was in our cabin! I had left my book in
Raffles's berth, and in taking it after lunch I touched the
quilt. It was warm from the recent pressure of flesh and blood,
and on an instinct I sprang to the ventilator; as I opened it the
ventilator opposite was closed with a snap.

I waylaid Raffles. "All right! Let him find the pearl."

"Have you dumped it overboard?"

"That's a question I shan't condescend to answer."

He turned on his heel, and at subsequent intervals I saw him
making the most of his last afternoon with the inevitable Miss
Werner. I remember that she looked both cool and smart in quite
a simple affair of brown holland, which toned well with her
complexion, and was cleverly relieved with touches of scarlet. I
quite admired her that afternoon, for her eyes were really very
good, and so were her teeth, yet I had never admired her more
directly in my own despite. For I passed them again and again in
order to get a word with Raffles, to tell him I knew there was
danger in the wind; but he would not so much as catch my eye. So
at last I gave it up. And I saw him next in the captain's cabin.

They had summoned him first; he had gone in smiling; and smiling
I found him when they summoned me. The state-room was spacious,
as befitted that of a commander. Mackenzie sat on the settee,
his beard in front of him on the polished table; but a revolver
lay in front of the captain; and, when I had entered, the chief
officer, who had summoned me, shut the door and put his back to
it. Von Heumann completed the party, his fingers busy with his

Raffles greeted me.

"This is a great joke!" he cried. "You remember the pearl you
were so keen about, Bunny, the emperor's pearl, the pearl money
wouldn't buy? It seems it was entrusted to our little friend
here, to take out to Canoodle Dum, and the poor little chap's
gone and lost it; ergo, as we're Britishers, they think we've got

"But I know ye have," put in Mackenzie, nodding to his beard.

"You will recognize that loyal and patriotic voice," said
Raffles. "Mon, 'tis our auld acquaintance Mackenzie, o'
Scoteland Yarrd an' Scoteland itsel'!"

"Dat is enough," cried the captain. "Have you submid to be
searge, or do I vorce you?"

"What you will," said Raffles, "but it will do you no harm to
give us fair play first. You accuse us of breaking into Captain
von Heumann's state-room during the small hours of this morning,
and abstracting from it this confounded pearl. Well, I can prove
that I was in my own room all night long, and I have no doubt my
friend can prove the same."

"Most certainly I can," said I indignantly. "The ship's boys can
bear witness to that."

Mackenzie laughed, and shook his head at his reflection in the
polished mahogany.

"That was ver clever," said he, "and like enough it would ha'
served ye had I not stepped aboard. But I've just had a look at
they ventilators, and I think I know how ye worrked it. Anyway,
captain, it makes no matter. I'll just be clappin' the derbies
on these young sparks, an' then--"

"By what right?" roared Raffles, in a ringing voice, and I never
saw his face in such a blaze. "Search us if you like; search
every scrap and stitch we possess; but you dare to lay a finger
on us without a warrant!"

"I wouldna' dare," said Mackenzie, as he fumbled in his breast
pocket, and Raffles dived his hand into his own. "Haud his
wrist!" shouted the Scotchman; and the huge Colt that had been
with us many a night, but had never been fired in my hearing,
clattered on the table and was raked in by the captain.

"All right," said Raffles savagely to the mate. "You can let go
now. I won't try it again. Now, Mackenzie, let's see your

"Ye'll no mishandle it?"

"What good would that do me? Let me see it," said Raffles,
peremptorily, and the detective obeyed. Raffles raised his
eyebrows as he perused the document; his mouth hardened, but
suddenly relaxed; and it was with a smile and a shrug that he
returned the paper.

"Wull that do for ye?" inquired Mackenzie.

"It may. I congratulate you, Mackenzie; it's a strong hand, at
any rate. Two burglaries and the Melrose necklace, Bunny!" And
he turned to me with a rueful smile.

"An' all easy to prove," said the Scotchman, pocketing the
warrant. "I've one o' these for you," he added, nodding to me,
"only not such a long one."

"To think," said the captain reproachfully, "that my shib should
be made a den of thiefs! It shall be a very disagreeable madder,
I have been obliged to pud you both in irons until we get to

"Surely not!" exclaimed Raffles. "Mackenzie, intercede with him;
don't give your countrymen away before all hands! Captain, we
can't escape; surely you could hush it up for the night? Look
here, here's everything I have in my pockets; you empty yours,
too, Bunny, and they shall strip us stark if they suspect we've
weapons up our sleeves. All I ask is that we are allowed to get
out of this without gyves upon our wrists!"

"Webbons you may not have," said the captain; "but wad aboud der
bearl dat you were sdealing?"

"You shall have it!" cried Raffles. "You shall have it this
minute if you guarantee no public indignity on board!"

"That I'll see to," said Mackenzie, "as long as you behave
yourselves. There now, where is't?"

"On the table under your nose."

My eyes fell with the rest, but no pearl was there; only the
contents of our pockets--our watches, pocket-books, pencils,
penknives, cigarette cases--lay on the shiny table along with the
revolvers already mentioned.

"Ye're humbuggin' us," said Mackenzie. "What's the use?"

"I'm doing nothing of the sort," laughed Raffles. "I'm testing
you. Where's the harm?"

"It's here, joke apart?"

"On that table, by all my gods."

Mackenzie opened the cigarette cases and shook each particular
cigarette. Thereupon Raffles prayed to be allowed to smoke one,
and, when his prayer was heard, observed that the pearl had been
on the table much longer than the cigarettes. Mackenzie promptly
caught up the Colt and opened the chamber in the butt.

"Not there, not there," said Raffles; "but you're getting hot.
Try the cartridges."

Mackenzie emptied them into his palm, and shook each one at his
ear without result.

"Oh, give them to me!"

And, in an instant, Raffles had found the right one, had bitten
out the bullet, and placed the emperor's pearl with a flourish in
the centre of the table.

"After that you will perhaps show me such little consideration as
is in your power. Captain, I have been a bit of a villain, as
you see, and as such I am ready and willing to lie in irons all
night if you deem it requisite for the safety of the ship. All I
ask is that you do me one favor first."

"That shall debend on wad der vafour has been."

"Captain, I've done a worse thing aboard your ship than any of
you know. I have become engaged to be married, and I want to say

I suppose we were all equally amazed; but the only one to express
his amazement was von Heumann, whose deep-chested German oath was
almost his first contribution to the proceedings. He was not
slow to follow it, however, with a vigorous protest against the
proposed farewell; but he was overruled, and the masterful
prisoner had his way. He was to have five minutes with the girl,
while the captain and Mackenzie stood within range (but not
earshot), with their revolvers behind their backs. As we were
moving from the cabin, in a body, he stopped and gripped my hand.

"So I 've let you in at last, Bunny--at last and after all! If
you knew how sorry I am. . . . But you won't get much--I don't
see why you should get anything at all. Can you forgive me? This
may be for years, and it may be for ever, you know! You were a
good pal always when it came to the scratch; some day or other
you mayn't be so sorry to remember you were a good pal at the

There was a meaning in his eye that I understood; and my teeth
were set, and my nerve strung ready, as I wrung that strong and
cunning hand for the last time in my life.

How that last scene stays with me, and will stay to my death!
How I see every detail, every shadow on the sunlit deck! We were
among the islands that dot the course from Genoa to Naples; that
was Elba falling back on our starboard quarter, that purple patch
with the hot sun setting over it. The captain's cabin opened to
starboard, and the starboard promenade deck, sheeted with
sunshine and scored with shadow, was deserted, but for the group
of which I was one, and for the pale, slim, brown figure further
aft with Raffles. Engaged? I could not believe it, cannot to
this day. Yet there they stood together, and we did not hear a
word; there they stood out against the sunset, and the long,
dazzling highway of sunlit sea that sparkled from Elba to the
Uhlan's plates; and their shadows reached almost to our feet.

Suddenly--an instant--and the thing was done--a thing I have
never known whether to admire or to detest. He caught her--he
kissed her before us all--then flung her from him so that she
almost fell. It was that action which foretold the next. The
mate sprang after him, and I sprang after the mate.

Raffles was on the rail, but only just.

"Hold him, Bunny!" he cried. "Hold him tight!"

And, as I obeyed that last behest with all my might, without a
thought of what I was doing, save that he bade me do it, I saw
his hands shoot up and his head bob down, and his lithe, spare
body cut the sunset as cleanly and precisely as though he had
plunged at his leisure from a diver's board!

* * * * * *

Of what followed on deck I can tell you nothing, for I was not
there. Nor can my final punishment, my long imprisonment, my
everlasting disgrace, concern or profit you, beyond the interest
and advantage to be gleaned from the knowledge that I at least
had my deserts. But one thing I must set down, believe it who
will--one more thing only and I am done.

It was into a second-class cabin, on the starboard side, that I
was promptly thrust in irons, and the door locked upon me as
though I were another Raffles. Meanwhile a boat was lowered, and
the sea scoured to no purpose, as is doubtless on record
elsewhere. But either the setting sun, flashing over the waves,
must have blinded all eyes, or else mine were victims of a
strange illusion.

For the boat was back, the screw throbbing, and the prisoner
peering through his porthole across the sunlit waters that he
believed had closed for ever over his comrade's head. Suddenly
the sun sank behind the Island of Elba, the lane of dancing
sunlight was instantaneously quenched and swallowed in the
trackless waste, and in the middle distance, already miles
astern, either my sight deceived me or a black speck bobbed amid
the gray. The bugle had blown for dinner: it may well be that all
save myself had ceased to strain an eye. And now I lost what I
had found, now it rose, now sank, and now I gave it up utterly.
Yet anon it would rise again, a mere mote dancing in the dim gray
distance, drifting towards a purple island, beneath a fading
western sky, streaked with dead gold and cerise. And night fell
before I knew whether it was a human head or not.

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