Story “A Thief in the Night”
A Thief in the Night
E. W. Hornung
Out of Paradise
If I must tell more tales of Raffles, I can but back to our earliest days together,
and fill in the blanks left by discretion in existing annals. In so doing I may indeed
fill some small part of an infinitely greater blank, across which you may conceive
me to have stretched my canvas for the first frank portrait of my friend. The whole
truth cannot harm him now. I shall paint in every wart. Raffles was a villain, when
all is written; it is no service to his memory to glaze the fact; yet I have done so
myself before to-day. I have omitted whole heinous episodes. I have dwelt unduly
on the redeeming side. And this I may do again, blinded even as I write by the
gallant glamour that made my villain more to me than any hero. But at least there
shall be no more reservations, and as an earnest I shall make no further secret of
the greatest wrong that even Raffles ever did me.
I pick my words with care and pain, loyal as I still would be to my friend, and yet
remembering as I must those Ides of March when he led me blindfold into
temptation and crime. That was an ugly office, if you will. It was a moral bagatelle
to the treacherous trick he was to play me a few weeks later. The second
offence, on the other hand, was to prove the less serious of the two against
society, and might in itself have been published to the world years ago. There
have been private reasons for my reticence. The affair was not only too intimately
mine, and too discreditable to Raffles. One other was involved in it, one dearer to
me than Raffles himself, one whose name shall not even now be sullied by
association with ours.
Suffice it that I had been engaged to her before that mad March deed. True, her
people called it “an understanding,” and frowned even upon that, as well they
might. But their authority was not direct; we bowed to it as an act of politic grace;
between us, all was well but my unworthiness. That may be gauged when I
confess that this was how the matter stood on the night I gave a worthless check
for my losses at baccarat, and afterward turned to Raffles in my need. Even after
that I saw her sometimes. But I let her guess that there was more upon my soul
than she must ever share, and at last I had written to end it all. I remember that
week so well! It was the close of such a May as we had never had since, and I
was too miserable even to follow the heavy scoring in the papers. Raffles was
the only man who could get a wicket up at Lord’s, and I never once went to see
him play. Against Yorkshire, however, he helped himself to a hundred runs as
well; and that brought Raffles round to me, on his way home to the Albany.
“We must dine and celebrate the rare event,” said he. “A century takes it out of
one at my time of life; and you, Bunny, you look quite as much in need of your
end of a worthy bottle. Suppose we make it the Caf‚ Royal, and eight sharp? I’ll
be there first to fix up the table and the wine.”
And at the Caf‚ Royal I incontinently told him of the trouble I was in. It was the
first he had ever heard of my affair, and I told him all, though not before our bottle
had been succeeded by a pint of the same exemplary brand. Raffles heard me
out with grave attention. His sympathy was the more grateful for the tactful
brevity with which it was indicated rather than expressed. He only wished that I
had told him of this complication in the beginning; as I had not, he agreed with
me that the only course was a candid and complete renunciation. It was not as
though my divinity had a penny of her own, or I could earn an honest one. I had
explained to Raffles that she was an orphan, who spent most of her time with an
aristocratic aunt in the country, and the remainder under the repressive roof of a
pompous politician in Palace Gardens. The aunt had, I believed, still a sneaking
softness for me, but her illustrious brother had set his face against me from the
“Hector Carruthers!” murmured Raffles, repeating the detested name with his
clear, cold eye on mine. “I suppose you haven’t seen much of him?”
“Not a thing for ages,” I replied. “I was at the house two or three days last year,
but they’ve neither asked me since nor been at home to me when I’ve called. The
old beast seems a judge of men.”
And I laughed bitterly in my glass.
“Nice house?” said Raffles, glancing at himself in his silver cigarette-case.
“Top shelf,” said I. “You know the houses in Palace Gardens, don’t you?”
“Not so well as I should like to know them, Bunny.”
“Well, it’s about the most palatial of the lot. The old ruffian is as rich as Croesus.
It’s a country-place in town.”
“What about the window-fastenings?” asked Raffles casually.
I recoiled from the open cigarette-case that he proffered as he spoke. Our eyes
met; and in his there was that starry twinkle of mirth and mischief, that sunny
beam of audacious devilment, which had been my undoing two months before,
which was to undo me as often as he chose until the chapter’s end. Yet for once I
withstood its glamour; for once I turned aside that luminous glance with front of
steel. There was no need for Raffles to voice his plans. I read them all between
the strong lines of his smiling, eager face. And I pushed back my chair in the
equal eagerness of my own resolve.
“Not if I know it!” said I. “A house I’ve dined in – a house I’ve seen her in – a
house where she stays by the month together! Don’t put it into words, Raffles, or
I’ll get up and go.”
“You mustn’t do that before the coffee and liqueur,” said Raffles laughing. “Have
a small Sullivan first: it’s the royal road to a cigar. And now let me observe that
your scruples would do you honor if old Carruthers still lived in the house in
“Do you mean to say he doesn’t?”
Raffles struck a match, and handed it first to me. “I mean to say, my dear Bunny,
that Palace Gardens knows the very name no more. You began by telling me you
had heard nothing of these people all this year. That’s quite enough to account
for our little misunderstanding. I was thinking of the house, and you were thinking
of the people in the house.”
“But who are they, Raffles? Who has taken the house, if old Carruthers has
moved, and how do you know that it is still worth a visit?”
“In answer to your first question – Lord Lochmaben,” replied Raffles, blowing
bracelets of smoke toward the ceiling. “You look as though you had never heard
of him; but as the cricket and racing are the only part of your paper that you
condescend to read, you can’t be expected to keep track of all the peers created
in your time. Your other question is not worth answering. How do you suppose
that I know these things? It’s my business to get to know them, and that’s all
there is to it. As a matter of fact, Lady Lochmaben has just as good diamonds as
Mrs. Carruthers ever had; and the chances are that she keeps them where Mrs.
Carruthers kept hers, if you could enlighten me on that point.”
As it happened, I could, since I knew from his niece that it was one on which Mr.
Carruthers had been a faddist in his time. He had made quite a study of the
cracksman’s craft, in a resolve to circumvent it with his own. I remembered
myself how the ground-floor windows were elaborately bolted and shuttered, and
how the doors of all the rooms opening upon the square inner hall were fitted
with extra Yale locks, at an unlikely height, not to be discovered by one within the
room. It had been the butler’s business to turn and to collect all these keys before
retiring for the night. But the key of the safe in the study was supposed to be in
the jealous keeping of the master of the house himself. That safe was in its turn
so ingeniously hidden that I never should have found it for myself. I well
remember how one who showed it to me (in the innocence of her heart) laughed
as she assured me that even her little trinkets were solemnly locked up in it every
night. It had been let into the wall behind one end of the book-case, expressly to
preserve the barbaric splendor of Mrs. Carruthers; without a doubt these
Lochmabens would use it for the same purpose; and in the altered circumstances
I had no hesitation in giving Raffles all the information he desired. I even drew
him a rough plan of the ground-floor on the back of my menu-card.
“It was rather clever of you to notice the kind of locks on the inner doors,” he
remarked as he put it in his pocket. “I suppose you don’t remember if it was a
Yale on the front door as well?”
“It was not,” I was able to answer quite promptly. “I happen to know because I
once had the key when – when we went to a theatre together.”
“Thank you, old chap,” said Raffles sympathetically. “That’s all I shall want from
you, Bunny, my boy. There’s no night like to-night!”
It was one of his sayings when bent upon his worst. I looked at him aghast. Our
cigars were just in blast, yet already he was signalling for his bill. It was
impossible to remonstrate with him until we were both outside in the street.
“I’m coming with you,” said I, running my arm through his.
“Why is it nonsense? I know every inch of the ground, and since the house has
changed hands I have no compunction. Besides, ‘I have been there’ in the other
sense as well: once a thief, you know! In for a penny, in for a pound!”
It was ever my mood when the blood was up. But my old friend failed to
appreciate the characteristic as he usually did. We crossed Regent Street in
silence. I had to catch his sleeve to keep a hand in his inhospitable arm.
“I really think you had better stay away,” said Raffles as we reached the other
curb. “I’ve no use for you this time.”
“Yet I thought I had been so useful up to now?”
“That may be, Bunny, but I tell you frankly I don’t want you to-night.”
“Yet I know the ground and you don’t! I tell you what,” said I: “I’ll come just to
show you the ropes, and I won’t take a pennyweight of the swag.”
Such was the teasing fashion in which he invariably prevailed upon me; it was
delightful to note how it caused him to yield in his turn. But Raffles had the grace
to give in with a laugh, whereas I too often lost my temper with my point.
“You little rabbit!” he chuckled. “You shall have your share, whether you come or
not; but, seriously, don’t you think you might remember the girl?”
“What’s the use?” I groaned. “You agree there is nothing for it but to give her up.
I am glad to say that for myself before I asked you, and wrote to tell her so on
Sunday. Now it’s Wednesday, and she hasn’t answered by line or sign. It’s
waiting for one word from her that’s driving me mad.”
“Perhaps you wrote to Palace Gardens?”
“No, I sent it to the country. There’s been time for an answer, wherever she may
We had reached the Albany, and halted with one accord at the Piccadilly portico,
red cigar to red cigar.
“You wouldn’t like to go and see if the answer’s in your rooms?” he asked.
“No. What’s the good? Where’s the point in giving her up if I’m going to straighten
out when it’s too late? It is too late, I have given her up, and I am coming with
The hand that bowled the most puzzling ball in England (once it found its length)
descended on my shoulder with surprising promptitude.
“Very well, Bunny! That’s finished; but your blood be on your own pate if evil
comes of it. Meanwhile we can’t do better than turn in here till you have finished
your cigar as it deserves, and topped up with such a cup of tea as you must learn
to like if you hope to get on in your new profession. And when the hours are
small enough, Bunny, my boy, I don’t mind admitting I shall be very glad to have
you with me.”
I have a vivid memory of the interim in his rooms. I think it must have been the
first and last of its kind that I was called upon to sustain with so much knowledge
of what lay before me. I passed the time with one restless eye upon the clock,
and the other on the Tantalus which Raffles ruthlessly declined to unlock. He
admitted that it was like waiting with one’s pads on; and in my slender experience
of the game of which he was a world’s master, that was an ordeal not to be
endured without a general quaking of the inner man. I was, on the other hand, all
right when I got to the metaphorical wicket; and half the surprises that Raffles
sprung on me were doubtless due to his early recognition of the fact.
On this occasion I fell swiftly and hopelessly out of love with the prospect I had
so gratuitously embraced. It was not only my repugnance to enter that house in
that way, which grew upon my better judgment as the artificial enthusiasm of the
evening evaporated from my veins. Strong as that repugnance became, I had an
even stronger feeling that we were embarking on an important enterprise far too
much upon the spur of the moment. The latter qualm I had the temerity to
confess to Raffles; nor have I often loved him more than when he freely admitted
it to be the most natural feeling in the world. He assured me, however, that he
had had my Lady Lochmaben and her jewels in his mind for several months; he
had sat behind them at first nights; and long ago determined what to take or to
reject; in fine, he had only been waiting for those topographical details which it
had been my chance privilege to supply. I now learned that he had numerous
houses in a similar state upon his list; something or other was wanting in each
case in order to complete his plans. In that of the Bond Street jeweller it was a
trusty accomplice; in the present instance, a more intimate knowledge of the
house. And lastly, this was a Wednesday night, when the tired legislator gets
early to his bed.
How I wish I could make the whole world see and hear him, and smell the smoke
of his beloved Sullivan, as he took me into these, the secrets of his infamous
trade! Neither look nor language would betray the infamy. As a mere talker, I
shall never listen to the like of Raffles on this side of the sod; and his talk was
seldom garnished by an oath, never in my remembrance by the unclean word.
Then he looked like a man who had dressed to dine out, not like one who had
long since dined; for his curly hair, though longer that another’s, was never untidy
in its length; and these were the days when it was still as black as ink. Nor were
there many lines as yet upon the smooth and mobile face; and its frame was still
that dear den of disorder and good taste, with the carved book-case, the dresser
and chests of still older oak, and the Wattses and Rossettis hung anyhow on the
It must have been one o’clock before we drove in a hansom as far as Kensington
Church, instead of getting down at the gates of our private road to ruin.
Constitutionally shy of the direct approach, Raffles was further deterred by a ball
in full swing at the Empress Rooms, whence potential witnesses were pouring
between dances into the cool deserted street. Instead he led me a little way up
Church Street, and so through the narrow passage into Palace Gardens. He
knew the house as well as I did. We made our first survey from the other side of
the road. And the house was not quite in darkness; there was a dim light over the
door, a brighter one in the stables, which stood still farther back from the road.
“That’s a bit of a bore,” said Raffles. “The ladies have been out somewhere – trust
them to spoil the show! They would get to bed before the stable folk, but
insomnia is the curse of their sex and our profession. Somebody’s not home yet;
that will be the son of the house; but he’s a beauty, who may not come home at
“Another Alick Carruthers,” I murmured, recalling the one I liked least of all the
household, as I remembered it.
“They might be brothers,” rejoined Raffles, who knew all the loose fish about
town. “Well, I’m not sure that I shall want you after all, Bunny.”
“If the front door’s only on the latch, and you’re right about the lock, I shall walk in
as though I were the son of the house myself.”
And he jingled the skeleton bunch that he carried on a chain as honest men carry
“You forget the inner doors and the safe.”
“True. You might be useful to me there. But I still don’t like leading you in where it
isn’t absolutely necessary, Bunny.”
“Then let me lead you, I answered, and forthwith marched across the broad,
secluded road, with the great houses standing back on either side in their ample
gardens, as though the one opposite belonged to me. I thought Raffles had
stayed behind, for I never heard him at my heels, yet there he was when I turned
round at the gate.
“I must teach you the step,” he whispered, shaking his head. “You shouldn’t use
your heel at all. Here’s a grass border for you: walk it as you would the plank!
Gravel makes a noise, and flower-beds tell a tale. Wait – I must carry you across
It was the sweep of the drive, and in the dim light from above the door, the soft
gravel, ploughed into ridges by the night’s wheels, threatened an alarm at every
step. Yet Raffles, with me in his arms, crossed the zone of peril softly as the
“Shoes in your pocket – that’s the beauty of pumps!” he whispered on the step;
his light bunch tinkled faintly; a couple of keys he stooped and tried, with the
touch of a humane dentist; the third let us into the porch. And as we stood
together on the mat, as he was gradually closing the door, a clock within chimed
a half-hour in fashion so thrillingly familiar to me that I caught Raffles by the arm.
My half-hours of happiness had flown to just such chimes! I looked wildly about
me in the dim light. Hat-stand and oak settee belonged equally to my past. And
Raffles was smiling in my face as he held the door wide for my escape.
“You told me a lie!” I gasped in whispers.
“I did nothing of the sort,” he replied. “The furniture’s the furniture of Hector
Carruthers; but the house is the house of Lord Lochmaben. Look here!”
He had stooped, and was smoothing out the discarded envelope of a telegram.
“Lord Lochmaben,” I read in pencil by the dim light; and the case was plain to me
on the spot. My friends had let their house, furnished, as anybody but Raffles
would have explained to me in the beginning.
“All right,” I said. “Shut the door.”
And he not only shut it without a sound, but drew a bolt that might have been
sheathed in rubber.
In another minute we were at work upon the study-door, I with the tiny lantern
and the bottle of rock-oil, he with the brace and the largest bit. The Yale lock he
had given up at a glance. It was placed high up in the door, feet above the
handle, and the chain of holes with which Raffles had soon surrounded it were
bored on a level with his eyes. Yet the clock in the hall chimed again, and two
ringing strokes resounded through the silent house before we gained admittance
to the room.
Raffle’s next care was to muffle the bell on the shuttered window (with a silk
handkerchief from the hat-stand) and to prepare an emergency exit by opening
first the shutters and then the window itself. Luckily it was a still night, and very
little wind came in to embarrass us. He then began operations on the safe,
revealed by me behind its folding screen of books, while I stood sentry on the
threshold. I may have stood there for a dozen minutes, listening to the loud hall
clock and to the gentle dentistry of Raffles in the mouth of the safe behind me,
when a third sound thrilled my every nerve. It was the equally cautious opening
of a door in the gallery overhead.
I moistened my lips to whisper a word of warning to Raffles. But his ears had
been as quick as mine, and something longer. His lantern darkened as I turned
my head; next moment I felt his breath upon the back of my neck. It was now too
late even for a whisper, and quite out of the question to close the mutilated door.
There we could only stand, I on the threshold, Raffles at my elbow, while one
carrying a candle crept down the stairs.
The study-door was at right angles to the lowest flight, and just to the right of one
alighting in the hall. It was thus impossible for us to see who it was until the
person was close abreast of us; but by the rustle of the gown we knew that it was
one of the ladies, and dressed just as she had come from theatre or ball.
Insensibly I drew back as the candle swam into our field of vision: it had not
traversed many inches when a hand was clapped firmly but silently across my
I could forgive Raffles for that, at any rate! In another breath I should have cried
aloud: for the girl with the candle, the girl in her ball-dress, at dead of night, the
girl with the letter for the post, was the last girl on God’s wide earth whom I
should have chosen thus to encounter – a midnight intruder in the very house
where I had been reluctantly received on her account!
I forgot Raffles. I forgot the new and unforgivable grudge I had against him now. I
forgot his very hand across my mouth, even before he paid me the compliment of
removing it. There was the only girl in all the world: I had eyes and brains for no
one and for nothing else. She had neither seen nor heard us, had looked neither
to the right hand nor the left. But a small oak table stood on the opposite side of
the hall; it was to this table that she went. On it was one of those boxes in which
one puts one’s letters for the post; and she stooped to read by her candle the
times at which this box was cleared.
The loud clock ticked and ticked. She was standing at her full height now, her
candle on the table, her letter in both hands, and in her downcast face a sweet
and pitiful perplexity that drew the tears to my eyes. Through a film I saw her
open the envelope so lately sealed and read her letter once more, as though she
would have altered it a little at the last. It was too late for that; but of a sudden
she plucked a rose from her bosom, and was pressing it in with her letter when I
How could I help it? The letter was for me: of that I was as sure as though I had
been looking over her shoulder. She was as true as tempered steel; there were
not two of us to whom she wrote and sent roses at dead of night. It was her one
chance of writing to me. None would know that she had written. And she cared
enough to soften the reproaches I had richly earned, with a red rose warm from
her own warm heart. And there, and there was I, a common thief who had broken
in to steal! Yet I was unaware that I had uttered a sound until she looked up,
startled, and the hands behind me pinned me where I stood.
I think she must have seen us, even in the dim light of the solitary candle. Yet not
a sound escaped her as she peered courageously in our direction; neither did
one of us move; but the hall clock went on and on, every tick like the beat of a
drum to bring the house about our ears, until a minute must have passed as in
some breathless dream. And then came the awakening – with such a knocking
and a ringing at the front door as brought all three of us to our senses on the
“The son of the house!” whispered Raffles in my ear, as he dragged me back to
the window he had left open for our escape. But as he leaped out first a sharp cry
stopped me at the sill. “Get back! Get back! We’re trapped!” he cried; and in the
single second that I stood there, I saw him fell one officer to the ground, and dart
across the lawn with another at his heels. A third came running up to the window.
What could I do but double back into the house? And there in the hall I met my
lost love face to face.
Till that moment she had not recognized me. I ran to catch her as she all but fell.
And my touch repelled her into life, so that she shook me off, and stood gasping:
“You, of all men! You, of all men!” until I could bear it no more, but broke again
for the study-window. “Not that way – not that way!” she cried in an agony at that.
Her hands were upon me now. “In there, in there,” she whispered, pointing and
pulling me to a mere cupboard under the stairs, where hats and coats were hung;
and it was she who shut the door on me with a sob.
Doors were already opening overhead, voices calling, voices answering, the
alarm running like wildfire from room to room. Soft feet pattered in the gallery and
down the stairs about my very ears. I do not know what made me put on my own
shoes as I heard them, but I think that I was ready and even longing to walk out
and give myself up. I need not say what and who it was that alone restrained me.
I heard her name. I heard them crying to her as though she had fainted. I
recognized the detested voice of my bete noir, Alick Carruthers, thick as might be
expected of the dissipated dog, yet daring to stutter out her name. And then I
heard, without catching, her low reply; it was in answer to the somewhat stern
questioning of quite another voice; and from what followed I knew that she had
never fainted at all.
“Upstairs, miss, did he? Are you sure?”
I did not hear her answer. I conceive her as simply pointing up the stairs. In any
case, about my very ears once more, there now followed such a patter and tramp
of bare and booted feet as renewed in me a base fear for my own skin. But
voices and feet passed over my head, went up and up, higher and higher; and I
was wondering whether or not to make a dash for it, when one light pair came
running down again, and in very despair I marched out to meet my preserver,
looking as little as I could like the abject thing I felt.
“Be quick!” she cried in a harsh whisper, and pointed peremptorily to the porch.
But I stood stubbornly before her, my heart hardened by her hardness, and
perversely indifferent to all else. And as I stood I saw the letter she had written, in
the hand with which she pointed, crushed into a ball.
“Quickly!” She stamped her foot. “Quickly – if you ever cared!”
This in a whisper, without bitterness, without contempt, but with a sudden wild
entreaty that breathed upon the dying embers of my poor manhood. I drew
myself together for the last time in her sight. I turned, and left her as she wished.