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Chapter 9 A Triple Alliance
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 sure, 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 locksmiths,” 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 today 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?”

“‘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, magsmen, 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,” 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?”

“Chalks!” 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; “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 true from Scotland Yard? Here I am, Mr. Levy, entirely at your service. Why don’t you give me in charge?”

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 hand on 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 foil.

“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.

“Preliminary, then?”

“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 today,” 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?”

“That’s all.”

“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 judice.”

“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 Bailey.”

“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. Pigott; 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 unashamed; 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 eye. That flagrant forgery would be accepted at sight by our vaunted British jury. The only chance was to abstract it ............
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