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Being the Adventures ofAn Amateur Crackswoman
Edited byJohn Kendrick Bangs
The original text for this book is in the public domain. Cover and added text are copyright © 2017 Midwest Journal Press. All Rights Reserved.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE HERALD PERSONAL
THE ADVENTURE OF THE NEWPORT VILLA
THE ADVENTURE OF MRS. GASTER'S MAID
THE PEARL ROPE OF MRS. GUSHINGTON-ANDREWS
THE ADVENTURE OF THE STEEL BONDS
THE ADVENTURE OF THE FRESH-AIR FUND
THE ADVENTURE OF MRS. ROCKERBILT'S TIARA
THE ADVENTURE OF THE CARNEGIE LIBRARY
THE ADVENTURE OF THE HOLD-UP
THE ADVENTURE OF MRS. SHADD'S MUSICALE
THE ADVENTURE OF MRS. INNITT'S COOK
THE LAST ADVENTURE
That I was in a hard case is best attested by the fact that when I had paid for my Sunday Herald there was left in my purse just one tuppence-ha'penny stamp and two copper cents, one dated 1873, the other 1894. The mere incident that at this hour eighteen months later I can recall the dates of these coins should be proof, if any were needed, of the importance of the coppers in my eyes, and therefore of the relative scarcity of funds in my possession. Raffles was dead—killed as you may remember at the battle of Spion Kop—and I, his companion, who had never known want while his deft fingers were able to carry out the plans of that insinuating and marvellous mind of his, was now, in the vernacular of the American, up against it. I had come to the United States, not because I had any liking for that country or its people, who, to tell the truth, are too sharp for an ordinary burglar like myself, but because with the war at an end I had to go somewhere, and English soil was not safely to be trod by one who was required for professional reasons to evade the eagle eye of Scotland Yard until the Statute of Limitations began to have some bearing upon his case. That last affair of Raffles and mine, wherein we had successfully got away with the diamond stomacher of the duchess of Herringdale, was still a live matter in British detective circles, and the very audacity of the crime had definitely fastened the responsibility for it upon our shoulders. Hence it was America for me, where one could be as English as one pleased without being subject to the laws of his Majesty, King Edward VII., of Great Britain and Ireland and sundry other possessions upon which the sun rarely if ever sets. For two years I had led a precarious existence, not finding in the land of silk and money quite as many of those opportunities to add to the sum of my prosperity as the American War Correspondent I had met in the Transvaal led me to expect. Indeed, after six months of successful lecturing on the subject of the Boers before various lyceums in the country, I was reduced to a state of penury which actually drove me to thievery of the pettiest and most vulgar sort. There was little in the way of mean theft that I did not commit. During the coal famine, for instance, every day passing the coal-yards to and fro, I would appropriate a single piece of the precious anthracite until I had come into possession of a scuttleful, and this I would sell to the suffering poor at prices varying from three shillings to two dollars and a half—a precarious living indeed. The only respite I received for six months was in the rape of the hansom-cab, which I successfully carried through one bitter cold night in January. I hired the vehicle at Madison Square and drove to a small tavern on the Boston Post Road, where the icy cold of the day gave me an excuse for getting my cabby drunk in the guise of kindness. Him safely disposed of in a drunken stupor, I drove his jaded steed back to town, earned fifteen dollars with him before daybreak, and then, leaving the cab in the Central Park, sold the horse for eighteen dollars to a snow-removal contractor over on the East Side. It was humiliating to me, a gentleman born, and a partner of so illustrious a person as the late A. J. Raffles, to have to stoop to such miserable doings to keep body and soul together, but I was forced to confess that, whatever Raffles had left to me in the way of example, I was not his equal either in the conception of crime or in the nerve to carry a great enterprise through. My biggest coups had a way of failing at their very beginning—which was about the only blessing I enjoyed, since none of them progressed far enough to imperil my freedom, and, lacking confederates, I was of course unable to carry through the profitable series of abductions in the world of High Finance that I had contemplated. Hence my misfortunes, and now on this beautiful Sunday morning, penniless but for the coppers and the postage-stamp, with no breakfast in sight, and, fortunately enough, not even an appetite, I turned to my morning paper for my solace.
Running my eye up and down the personal column, which has for years been my favorite reading of Sunday mornings, I found the usual assortment of matrimonial enterprises recorded: pathetic appeals from P. D. to meet Q. on the corner of Twenty-third Street at three; imploring requests from J. A. K. to return at once to "His Only Mother," who promises to ask no questions; and finally—could I believe my eyes now riveted upon the word?—my own sobriquet, printed as boldly and as plainly as though I were some patent cure for all known human ailments. It seemed incredible, but there it was beyond all peradventure:
"Wanted.—A Butler. BUNNY preferred. Apply to Mrs. A. J. Van Raffles, Bolivar Lodge, Newport, R.I."
To whom could that refer if not to myself, and what could it mean? Who was this Mrs. A. J. Van Raffles?—a name so like that of my dead friend that it seemed almost identical. My curiosity was roused to concert pitch. If this strange advertiser should be— But no, she would not send for me after that stormy interview in which she cast me over to take the hand of Raffles: the brilliant, fascinating Raffles, who would have won his Isabella from Ferdinand, Chloe from her Corydon, Pierrette from Pierrot—ay, even Heloise from Abelard. I never could find it in my heart to blame Henriette for losing her heart to him, even though she had already promised it to me, for I myself could not resist the fascination of the man at whose side I faithfully worked even after he had stolen from me this dearest treasure of my heart. And yet who else could it be if not the lovely Henriette? Surely the combination of Raffles, with or without the Van, and Bunny was not so usual as to permit of so remarkable a coincidence.
"I will go to Newport at once," I cried, rising and pacing the floor excitedly, for I had many times, in cursing my loneliness, dreamed of Henriette, and had oftener and oftener of late found myself wondering what had become of her, and then the helplessness of my position burst upon me with full force. How should I, the penniless wanderer in New York, get to Bolivar Lodge at Newport? It takes money in this sordid country to get about, even as it does in Britain—in sorry truth, things in detail differ little whether one lives under a king or a president; poverty is quite as hard to bear, and free passes on the railroad are just as scarce.
"Curses on these plutocrats!" I muttered, as I thought of the railway directors rolling in wealth, running trains filled with empty seats to and from the spot that might contain my fortune, and I unable to avail myself of them for the lack of a paltry dollar or two. But suddenly the thought flashed over me—telegraph collect. If it is she, she will respond at once.
And so it was that an hour later the following message was ticked over the wires:
"Personal to-day's Herald received. Telegraph railway fare and I will go to you instantly.
For three mortal hours I paced the streets feverishly awaiting the reply, and at two-thirty it came, disconcerting enough in all conscience:
"If you are not a bogus Bunny you will know how to raise the cash. If you are a bogus Bunny I don't want you."
It was simple, direct, and convincing, and my heart fluttered like the drum-beat's morning call to action the moment I read it.
"By Jove!" I cried. "The woman is right, of course. It must be Henriette, and I'll go to her if I have to rob a nickel-in-the-slot machine."
It was as of old. Faint-hearted I always was until some one gave me a bit of encouragement. A word of praise or cheer from Raffles in the old days and I was ready to batter down Gibraltar, a bit of discouragement and a rag was armor-plate beside me.
"'If you are not a bogus Bunny you will know,'" I read, spreading the message out before me. "That is to say, she believes that if I am really myself I can surmount the insurmountable. Gad! I'll do it." And I set off hot-foot up Fifth Avenue, hoping to discover, or by cogitation in the balmy air of the spring-time afternoon, to conceive of some plan to relieve my necessities. But, somehow or other, it wouldn't come. There were no pockets about to be picked in the ordinary way. I hadn't the fare for a ride on the surface or elevated cars, where I might have found an opportunity to relieve some traveller of his purse, and as for snatching such a thing from some shopper, it was Sunday and the women who would have been an easy prey on a bargain-day carried neither purse nor side-bag with them. I was in despair, and then the pealing bells of St. Jondy's, the spiritual home of the multi-millionaires of New York, rang out the call to afternoon service. It was like an invitation—the way was clear. My plan was laid in an instant, and it worked beyond my most hopeful anticipations. Entering the church, I was ushered to a pew about halfway up the centre aisle—despite my poverty, I had managed to keep myself always well-groomed, and no one would have guessed, to look at my faultless frock-coat and neatly creased trousers, at my finely gloved hand and polished top-hat, that my pockets held scarcely a brass farthing. The service proceeded. A good sermon on the Vanity of Riches found lodgment in my ears, and then the supreme moment came. The collection-plate was passed, and, gripping my two pennies in my hand, I made as if to place them in the salver, but with studied awkwardness I knocked the alms-platter from the hands of the gentleman who passed it. The whole contents and the platter as well fell at my feet, and from my lips in reverent whispers poured forth no end of most abject apologies. Of course I assisted in recovering the fallen bills and coins, and in less time than it takes to tell it the vestryman was proceeding on his way up the aisle, gathering in the contributions from other generously disposed persons as he went, as unconsciously as though the contretemps had never occurred, and happily unaware that out of the moneys cast to the floor by my awkward act two yellow-backed fifty-dollar bills, five half-dollars, and a dime remained behind under the hassock at my feet, whither I had managed to push them with my toe while offering my apologies.
An hour later, having dined heartily at Delsherrico's, I was comfortably napping in a Pullman car on my way to the Social Capital of the United States.
There is little need for me to describe in detail the story of my railway journey from New York to Newport. It was uneventful and unproductive save as to the latter end of it, when, on the arrival of the train at Wickford, observing that the prosperous-looking gentleman bound for Boston who occupied the seat next mine in the Pullman car was sleeping soundly, I exchanged my well-worn covert coat for his richly made, sable-lined surtout, and made off as well with his suit-case on the chance of its holding something that might later serve some one of my many purposes. I mention this in passing only because the suit-case, containing as it did all the essential features of a gentleman's evening attire, even to three superb pearl studs in the bosom of an immaculately white shirt, all of them, marvellously enough, as perfectly fitting as though they had been made for me, with a hundred unregistered first-mortgage bonds of the United States Steel Company—of which securities there will be more anon—enabled me later to appear before Mrs. Van Raffles in a guise so prosperous as to win an immediate renewal of her favor.
"We shall be almost as great a combination as the original Bunny," she cried, enthusiastically, when I told her of this coup. "With my brains and your blind luck nothing can stop us."
My own feelings as I drove up to Bolivar Lodge were mixed. I still loved Henriette madly, but the contrast between her present luxury and my recent misery grated harshly upon me. I could not rid myself of the notion that Raffles had told her of the secret hiding-place of the diamond stomacher of the duchess of Herringdale, and that she had appropriated to her own use all the proceeds of its sale, leaving me, who had risked my liberty to obtain it, without a penny's worth of dividend for my pains. It did not seem quite a level thing to do, and I must confess that I greeted the lady in a reproachful spirit. It was, indeed, she, and more radiantly beautiful than ever—a trifle thinner perhaps, and her eyes more coldly piercing than seductively winning as of yore, but still Henriette whom I had once so madly loved and who had jilted me for a better man.
"Dear old Bunny!" she murmured, holding out both hands in welcome. "Just to think that after all these years and in a strange land and under such circumstances we should meet again!"
"It is strange," said I, my eye roving about the drawing-room, which from the point of view of its appointments and decoration was about the richest thing I had ever seen either by light of day or in the mysterious glimpses one gets with a dark lantern of the houses of the moneyed classes. "It seems more than strange," I added, significantly, "to see you surrounded by such luxury. A so-called lodge built of the finest grade of Italian marble; gardens fit for the palace of a king; a retinue of servants such as one scarcely finds on the ducal estates of the proudest families of England and a mansion that is furnished with treasures of art, any one of which is worth a queen's ransom."
"I do not wonder you are surprised," she replied, looking about the room with a smile of satisfaction that did little to soothe my growing wrath.