It was a blistering night in August. All day long the mercury in the thermometer had been flirting with the figures at the top of the tube, and the promised shower at night which a mendacious Weather Bureau had been prophesying as a slight mitigation of our sufferings was conspicuous wholly by its absence. I had but one comfort in the sweltering hours of the day, afternoon and evening, and that was that my family were away in the mountains, and there was no law against my sitting around all day clad only in my pajamas, and otherwise concealed from possibly intruding eyes by the wreaths of smoke that I extracted from the nineteen or twenty cigars which, when there is no protesting eye to suggest otherwise, form my daily allowance. I had tried every method known to the resourceful flat-dweller of modern times to get cool and to stay so, but alas, it was impossible. Even the radiators, which all winter long had never once given forth a spark of heat, now hissed to the touch of my moistened finger. Enough cooling drinks to float an ocean greyhound had passed into my inner man, with no other result than to make me perspire more profusely than ever, and in so far as sensations went, to make me feel hotter than before. Finally, as a last resource, along about midnight, its gridiron floor having had a chance to lose some of its stored-up warmth, I climbed out upon the fire-escape at the rear of the Richmere, hitched my hammock from one of the railings thereof to the leader running from the roof to the area, and swung myself therein some eighty feet above the concealed pavement of our backyard— so called, perhaps, because of its dimensions which were just about that square. It was a little improvement, though nothing to brag of. What fitful zéphyrs there might be, caused no doubt by the rapid passage to and fro on the roof above and fence-tops below of vagrant felines on Cupid’s contentious battles bent, to the disturbance of the still air, soughed softly through the meshes of my hammock and gave some measure of relief, grateful enough for which I ceased the perfervid language I had been using practically since sunrise, and dozed off. And then there entered upon the scene that marvelous man, Raffles Holmes, of whose exploits it is the purpose of these papers to tell.
I had dozed perhaps for a full hour when the first strange sounds grated upon my ear. Somebody had opened a window in the kitchen of the first-floor apartment below, and with a dark lantern was inspecting the iron platform of the fire-escape without. A moment later this somebody crawled out of the window, and with movements that in themselves were a sufficient indication of the questionable character of his proceedings, made for the ladder leading to the floor above, upon which many a time and oft had I too climbed to home and safety when an inconsiderate janitor had locked me out. Every step that he took was stealthy— that much I could see by the dim starlight. His lantern he had turned dark again, evidently lest he should attract attention in the apartments below as he passed their windows in his upward flight.
“Ha! ha!” thought I to myself. “It’s never too hot for Mr. Sneak to get in his fine work. I wonder whose stuff he is after?”
Turning over flat on my stomach so that I might the more readily observe the man’s movements, and breathing pianissimo lest he in turn should observe mine, I watched him as he climbed. Up he came as silently as the midnight mouse upon a soft carpet— up past the Jorkins apartments on the second floor; up stealthily by the Tinkletons’ abode on the third; up past the fire-escape Italian garden of little Mrs. Persimmon on the fourth; up past the windows of the disagreeable Garraways’ kitchen below mine, and then, with the easy grace of a feline, zip! he silently landed within reach of my hand on my own little iron veranda, and craning his neck to one side, peered in through the open window and listened intently for two full minutes.
“Humph!” whispered my inner consciousness to itself. “He is the coolest thing I’ve seen since last Christmas left town. I wonder what he is up to? There’s nothing in my apartment worth stealing, now that my wife and children are away, unless it be my Jap valet, Nogi, who might make a very excellent cab driver if I could only find words to convey to his mind the idea that he is discharged.”
And then the visitor, apparently having correctly assured himself that there was no one within, stepped across the window sill and vanished into the darkness of my kitchen. A moment later I too entered the window in pursuit, not so close a one, however, as to acquaint him with my proximity. I wanted to see what the chap was up to; and also being totally unarmed and ignorant as to whether or not he carried dangerous weapons, I determined to go slow for a little while. Moreover, the situation was not wholly devoid of novelty, and it seemed to me that here at last was abundant opportunity for a new sensation. As he had entered, so did he walk cautiously along the narrow bowling alley that serves for a hallway connecting my drawing-room and library with the dining-room, until he came to the library, into which he disappeared. This was not reassuring to me, because, to tell the truth, I value my books more than I do my plate, and if I were to be robbed I should much have preferred his taking my plated plate from the dining-room than any one of my editions-deluxe sets of the works of Marie Corelli, Hall Caine, and other standard authors from the library shelves. Once in the library, he quietly drew the shades at the windows thereof to bar possible intruding eyes from without, turned on the electric lights, and proceeded to go through my papers as calmly and coolly as though they were his own. In a short time, apparently, he found what he wanted in the shape of a royalty statement recently received by me from my publishers, and, lighting one of my cigars from a bundle of brevas in front of him, took off his coat and sat down to peruse the statement of my returns. Simple though it was, this act aroused the first feeling of resentment in my breast, for the relations between the author and his publishers are among the most sacred confidences of life, and the peeping Tom who peers through a keyhole at the courtship of a young man engaged in wooing his fiancée is no worse an intruder than he who would tear aside the veil of secrecy which screens the official returns of a “best seller” from the public eye. Feeling, therefore, that I had permitted matters to proceed as far as they might with propriety, I instantly entered the room and confronted my uninvited guest, bracing myself, of course, for the defensive onslaught which I naturally expected to sustain. But nothing of the sort occurred, for the intruder, with a composure that was nothing short of marvelous under the circumstances, instead of rising hurriedly like one caught in some disreputable act, merely leaned farther back in the chair, took the cigar from his mouth, and greeted me with:
“Howdy do, sir. What can I do for you this beastly hot night?”
The cold rim of a revolver-barrel placed at my temple could not more effectually have put me out of business than this nonchalant reception. Consequently I gasped out something about its being the sultriest 47th of August in eighteen years, and plumped back into a chair opposite him. “I wouldn’t mind a Remsen cooler myself,” he went on, “but the fact is your butler is off for to-night, and I’m hanged if I can find a lemon in the house. Maybe you’ll join me in a smoke?” he added, shoving my own bundle of brevas across the table. “Help yourself.”
“I guess I know where the lemons are,” said I. “But how did you know my butler was out?”
“I telephoned him to go to Philadelphia this afternoon to see his brother Yoku, who is ill there,” said my visitor. “You see, I didn’t want him around to-night when I called. I knew I could manage you alone in case you turned up, as you see you have, but two of you, and one a Jap, I was afraid might involve us all in ugly complications. Between you and me, Jenkins, these Orientals are pretty lively fighters, and your man Nogi particularly has got jiu-jitsu down to a pretty fine point, so I had to do something to get rid of him. Our arrangement is a matter for two, not three, anyhow.”
“So,” said I, coldly. “You and I have an arrangement, have we? I wasn’t aware of it.”
“Not yet,” he answered. “But there’s a chance that we may have. If I can only satisfy myself that you are the man I’m looking for, there is no earthly reason that I can see why we should not come to terms. Go on out and get the lemons and the gin and soda, and let’s talk this thing over man to man like a couple of good fellows at the club. I mean you no harm, and you certainly don’t wish to do any kind of injury to a chap who, even though appearances are against him, really means to do you a good turn.”
“Appearances certainly are against you, sir,” said I, a trifle warmly, for the man’s composure was irritating. “A disappearance would be more likely to do you credit at this moment.”
“Tush, Jenkins!” he answered. “Why waste breath saying self-evident things? Here you are on the verge of a big transaction, and you delay proceedings by making statements of fact, mixed in with a cheap wit which, I must confess, I find surprising, and so obvious as to be visible even to the blind. You don’t talk like an author whose stuff is worth ten cents a word— more like a penny-a-liner, in fact, with whom words are of such small value that no one’s the loser if he throws away a whole dictionary. Go out and mix a couple of your best Remsen coolers, and by the time you get back I’ll have got to the gist of this royalty statement of yours, which is all I’ve come for. Your silver and books and love letters and manuscripts are safe from me. I wouldn’t have ’em as a gift.”
“What concern have you with my royalties?” I demanded.
“A vital one,” said he. “Mix the coolers, and when you get back I’ll tell you. Go on. There’s a good chap. It’ll be daylight before long, and I want to close up this job if I can before sunrise.”
What there was in the man’s manner to persuade me to compliance with his wishes, I am sure I cannot say definitely. There was a cold, steely glitter in his eye, for one thing. With it, however, was a strengthfulness of purpose, a certain pleasant masterfulness, that made me feel that I could trust him, and it was to this aspect of his nature that I yielded. There was something frankly appealing in his long, thin, ascetic looking face, and I found it irresistible.
“All right,” said I with a smile and a frown to express the conflicting quality of my emotions. “So be it. I’ll get the coolers, but you must remember, my friend, that there are coolers and coolers, just as there are jugs and jugs. The kind of jug that remains for you will depend upon the story you have to tell when I get back, so you’d better see that it’s a good one.”
“I am not afraid, Jenkins, old chap,” he said with a hearty laugh as I rose. “If this royalty statement can prove to me that you are the literary partner I need in my business, I can prove to you that I’m a good man to tie up to— so go along with you.”
With this he lighted a fresh cigar and turned to a perusal of my statement, which, I am glad to say, was a good one, owing to the great success of my book, Wild Animals I Have Never Met— the seventh-best seller at Rochester, Watertown, and Miami in June and July, 1905— while I went out into the dining-room and mixed the coolers. As you may imagine, I was not long at it, for my curiosity over my visitor lent wings to my corkscrew, and in five minutes I was back with the tempting beverages in the tall glasses, the lemon curl giving it the vertebrate appearance that all stiff drinks should have, and the ice tinkling refreshingly upon the sultry air.
“There,” said I, placing his glass before him. “Drink hearty, and then to business. Who are you?”
“There is my card,” he replied, swallowing a goodly half of the cooler and smacking his lips appreciatively, and tossing a visiting card across to me on the other side of the table. I picked up the card and read as follows: “Mr. Raffles Holmes, London and New York.”
“Raffles Holmes?” I cried in amazement.
“The same, Mr. Jenkins,” said he. “I am the son of Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, and grandson of A. J. Raffles, the distinguished— er— ah— cricketer, sir.”
I gazed at him, dumb with astonishment.
“You’ve heard of my father, Sherlock Holmes?” asked my visitor.
I confessed that the name of the gentleman was not unfamiliar to me.
“And Mr. Raffles, my grandfather?” he persisted.
“If there ever was a story of that fascinating man that I have not read, Mr. Holmes,” said I, “I beg you will let me have it.”
“Well, then,” said he with that quick, nervous manner which proved him a true son of Sherlock Holmes, “did it never occur to you as an extraordinary happening, as you read of my father’s wonderful powers as a detective, and of Raffles’ equally wonderful prowess as a— er— well, let us not mince words— as a thief, Mr. Jenkins, the two men operating in England at the same time, that no story ever appeared in which Sherlock Holmes’s genius was pitted against the subtly planned misdeeds of Mr. Raffles? Is it not surprising that with two such men as they were, working out their destinies in almost identical grooves of daily action, they should never have crossed each other’s paths as far as the public is the wiser, and in the very nature of the conflicting interests of their respective lines of action as foemen, the one pursuing, the other pursued, they should to the public’s knowledge never have clashed?”
“Now that you speak of it,” said I, “it was rather extraordinary that nothing of the sort happened. One would think that the sufferers from the depredations of Raffles would immediately have gone to Holmes for assistance in bringing the other to justice. Truly, as you intimate, it was strange that they never did.”
“Pardon me, Jenkins,” put in my visitor. “I never intimated anything of the sort. What I intimated was that no story of any such conflict ever came to light. As a matter of fact, Sherlock Holmes was put upon a Raffles case in 1883, and while success attended upon every step of it, and my grandfather was run to earth by him as easily as was ever any other criminal in Holmes’s grip, a little naked god called Cupid stepped in, saved Raffles from jail, and wrote the word failure across Holmes’s docket of the case. I, sir, am the only tangible result of Lord Dorrington’s retainers to Sherlock Holmes.”
“You speak enigmatically, after the occasional fashion of your illustrious father,” said I. “The Dorrington case is unfamiliar to me.”
“Naturally so,” said my vis-a-vis. “Because, save to my father, my grandfather, and myself, the details are unknown to anybody. Not even my mother knew of the incident, and as for Dr. Watson and Bunny, the scribes through whose industry the adventures of those two great men were respectively narrated to an absorbed world, they didn’t even know there had ever been a Dorrington case, because Sherlock Holmes never told Watson and Raffles never told Bunny. But they both told me, and now that I am satisfied that there is a demand for your books, I am willing to tell it to you with the understanding that we share and share alike in the profits if perchance you think well enough of it to write it up.”
“Go on!” I said. “I’ll whack up with you square and honest.”
“Which is more than either Watson or Bunny ever did with my father or my grandfather, else I should not be in the business which now occupies my time and attention,” said Raffles Holmes with a cold snap to his eyes which I took as an admonition to hew strictly to the line of honor, or to subject myself to terrible consequences. “With that understanding, Jenkins, I’ll tell you the story of the Dorrington Ruby Seal, in which some crime, a good deal of romance, and my ancestry are involved.”