The Doings of Raffles Haw
Produced by Lionel G. Sear
THE DOINGS OF RAFFLES HAW
By Arthur Conan Doyle
1. A DOUBLE ENIGMA
2. THE TENANT OF THE NEW HALL.
3. A HOUSE OF WONDERS.
4. FROM CLIME TO CLIME.
5. LAURA'S REQUEST
6. A STRANGE VISITOR
7. THE WORKINGS OF WEALTH.
8. A BILLIONAIRE'S PLANS.
9. A NEW DEPARTURE
10. THE GREAT SECRET
11. A CHEMICAL DEMONSTRATION.
12. A FAMILY JAR.
13. A MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE
14. THE SPREAD OF THE BLIGHT.
15. THE GREATER SECRET.
CHAPTER I. A DOUBLE ENIGMA.
"I'm afraid that he won't come," said Laura McIntyre, in a disconsolatevoice.
"Oh, look at the weather; it is something too awful."
As she spoke a whirl of snow beat with a muffled patter against the cosyred-curtained window, while a long blast of wind shrieked and whistledthrough the branches of the great white-limbed elms which skirted thegarden.
Robert McIntyre rose from the sketch upon which he had been working, andtaking one of the lamps in his hand peered out into the darkness. Thelong skeleton limbs of the bare trees tossed and quivered dimly amid thewhirling drift. His sister sat by the fire, her fancy-work in her lap,and looked up at her brothers profile which showed against the brilliantyellow light. It was a handsome face, young and fair and clear cut, withwavy brown hair combed backwards and rippling down into that outwardcurve at the ends which one associates with the artistic temperament.There was refinement too in his slightly puckered eyes, his daintygold-rimmed _pince-nez_ glasses, and in the black velveteen coat whichcaught the light so richly upon its shoulder. In his mouth onlythere was something--a suspicion of coarseness, a possibility ofweakness--which in the eyes of some, and of his sister among them,marred the grace and beauty of his features. Yet, as he was wont himselfto say, when one thinks that each poor mortal is heir to a legacy ofevery evil trait or bodily taint of so vast a line of ancestors, luckyindeed is the man who does not find that Nature has scored up somelong-owing family debt upon his features.
And indeed in this case the remorseless creditor had gone so far as toexact a claim from the lady also, though in her case the extreme beautyof the upper part of the face drew the eye away from any weakness whichmight be found in the lower. She was darker than her brother--so darkthat her heavily coiled hair seemed to be black until the light shoneslantwise across it. The delicate, half-petulant features, the finelytraced brows, and the thoughtful, humorous eyes were all perfect intheir way, and yet the combination left something to be desired. Therewas a vague sense of a flaw somewhere, in feature or in expression,which resolved itself, when analysed, into a slight out-turning anddroop of the lower lip; small indeed, and yet pronounced enough to turnwhat would have been a beautiful face into a merely pretty one. Verydespondent and somewhat cross she looked as she leaned back in thearmchair, the tangle of bright-coloured silks and of drab holland uponher lap, her hands clasped behind her head, with her snowy forearms andlittle pink elbows projecting on either side.
"I know he won't come," she repeated.
"Nonsense, Laura! Of course he'll come. A sailor and afraid of theweather!"
"Ha!" She raised her finger, and a smile of triumph played over herface, only to die away again into a blank look of disappointment. "It isonly papa," she murmured.
A shuffling step was heard in the hall, and a little peaky man, with hisslippers very much down at the heels, came shambling into the room. Mr.McIntyre, sen., was pale and furtive-looking, with a thin stragglingred beard shot with grey, and a sunken downcast face. Ill-fortune andill-health had both left their marks upon him. Ten years before he hadbeen one of the largest and richest gunmakers in Birmingham, but a longrun of commercial bad luck had sapped his great fortune, and had finallydriven him into the Bankruptcy Court. The death of his wife on the veryday of his insolvency had filled his cup of sorrow, and he had goneabout since with a stunned, half-dazed expression upon his weak pallidface which spoke of a mind unhinged. So complete had been his downfallthat the family would have been reduced to absolute poverty were it notfor a small legacy of two-hundred a year which both the children hadreceived from one of their uncles upon the mother's side who had amasseda fortune in Australia. By combining their incomes, and by taking ahouse in the quiet country district of Tamfield, some fourteen milesfrom the great Midland city, they were still able to live with someapproach to comfort. The change, however, was a bitter one to all--toRobert, who had to forego the luxuries dear to his artistic temperament,and to think of turning what had been merely an overruling hobby into ameans of earning a living; and even more to Laura, who winced beforethe pity of her old friends, and found the lanes and fields ofTamfield intolerably dull after the life and bustle of Edgbaston. Theirdiscomfort was aggravated by the conduct of their father, whose lifenow was one long wail over his misfortunes, and who alternately soughtcomfort in the Prayer-book and in the decanter for the ills which hadbefallen him.
To Laura, however, Tamfield presented one attraction, which was nowabout to be taken from her. Their choice of the little country hamlet astheir residence had been determined by the fact of their old friend,the Reverend John Spurling, having been nominated as the vicar. HectorSpurling, the elder son, two months Laura's senior, had been engaged toher for some years, and was, indeed, upon the point of marrying her whenthe sudden financial crash had disarranged their plans. A sub-lieutenantin the Navy, he was home on leave at present, and hardly an eveningpassed without his making his way from the Vicarage to Elmdene, wherethe McIntyres resided. To-day, however, a note had reached them tothe effect that he had been suddenly ordered on duty, and that he mustrejoin his ship at Portsmouth by the next evening. He would look in,were it but for half-an-hour, to bid them adieu.
"Why, where's Hector?" asked Mr. McIntyre, blinking round from side toside.
"He's not come, father. How could you expect him to come on such a nightas this? Why, there must be two feet of snow in the glebe field."
"Not come, eh?" croaked the old man, throwing himself down upon thesofa. "Well, well, it only wants him and his father to throw us over,and the thing will be complete."
"How can you even hint at such a thing, father?" cried Lauraindignantly. "They have been as true as steel. What would they think ifthey heard you."
"I think, Robert," he said, disregarding his daughter's protest, "thatI will have a drop, just the very smallest possible drop, of brandy. Amere thimbleful will do; but I rather think I have caught cold duringthe snowstorm to-day."
Robert went on sketching stolidly in his folding book, but Laura lookedup from her work.
"I'm afraid there is nothing in the house, father," she said.
"Laura! Laura!" He shook his head as one more in sorrow than in anger."You are no longer a girl, Laura; you are a woman, the manager of ahousehold, Laura. We trust in you. We look entirely towards you. And yetyou leave your poor brother Robert without any brandy, to say nothing ofme, your father. Good heavens, Laura! what would your mother have said?Think of accidents, think of sudden illness, think of apoplectic fits,Laura. It is a very grave res--a very grave response--a very great riskthat you run."
"I hardly touch the stuff," said Robert curtly; "Laura need not provideany for me."
"As a medicine it is invaluable, Robert. To be used, you understand, andnot to be abused. That's the whole secret of it. But I'll step down tothe Three Pigeons for half an hour."
"My dear father," cried the young man "you surely are not going out upo
nsuch a night. If you must have brandy could I not send Sarah for some?Please let me send Sarah; or I would go myself, or--"
Pip! came a little paper pellet from his sister's chair on to thesketch-book in front of him! He unrolled it and held it to the light.
"For Heaven's sake let him go!" was scrawled across it.
"Well, in any case, wrap yourself up warm," he continued, laying barehis sudden change of front with a masculine clumsiness which horrifiedhis sister. "Perhaps it is not so cold as it looks. You can't lose yourway, that is one blessing. And it is not more than a hundred yards."
With many mumbles and grumbles at his daughter's want of foresight, oldMcIntyre struggled into his great-coat and wrapped his scarf round hislong thin throat. A sharp gust of cold wind made the lamps flicker as hethrew open the hall-door. His two children listened to the dull fall ofhis footsteps as he slowly picked out the winding garden path.
"He gets worse--he becomes intolerable," said Robert at last. "We shouldnot have let him out; he may make a public exhibition of himself."
"But it's Hector's last night," pleaded Laura. "It would be dreadful ifthey met and he noticed anything. That was why I wished him to go."
"Then you were only just in time," remarked her brother, "for I hear thegate go, and--yes, you see."
As he spoke a cheery hail came from outside, with a sharp rat-tat at thewindow. Robert stepped out and threw open the door to admit a tall youngman, whose black frieze jacket was all mottled and glistening with snowcrystals. Laughing loudly he shook himself like a Newfoundland dog, andkicked the snow from his boots before entering the little lamplit room.
Hector Spurling's profession was written in every line of his face.The clean-shaven lip and chin, the little fringe of side whisker, thestraight decisive mouth, and the hard weather-tanned cheeks all spoke ofthe Royal Navy. Fifty such faces may be seen any night of the year roundthe mess-table of the Royal Naval College in Portsmouth Dockyard--faceswhich bear a closer resemblance to each other than brother does commonlyto brother. They are all cast in a common mould, the products of asystem which teaches early self-reliance, hardihood, and manliness--afine type upon the whole; less refined and less intellectual, perhaps,than their brothers of the land, but full of truth and energy andheroism. In figure he was straight, tall, and well-knit, with keen greyeyes, and the sharp prompt manner of a man who has been accustomed bothto command and to obey.
"You had my note?" he said, as he entered the room. "I have to go again,Laura. Isn't it a bore? Old Smithers is short-handed, and wants me backat once." He sat down by the girl, and put his brown hand across herwhite one. "It won't be a very large order this time," he continued."It's the flying squadron business--Madeira, Gibraltar, Lisbon, andhome. I shouldn't wonder if we were back in March."
"It seems only the other day that you landed." she answered.
"Poor little girl! But it won't be long. Mind you take good care of her,Robert when I am gone. And when I come again, Laura, it will be the lasttime mind! Hang the money! There are plenty who manage on less. We neednot have a house. Why should we? You can get very nice rooms in Southseaat 2 pounds a week. McDougall, our paymaster, has just married, and heonly gives thirty shillings. You would not be afraid, Laura?"
"The dear old governor is so awfully cautious. Wait, wait, wait, that'salways his cry. I tell him that he ought to have been in the GovernmentHeavy Ordnance Department. But I'll speak to him tonight. I'll talk himround. See if I don't. And you must speak to your own governor. Roberthere will back you up. And here are the ports and the dates that we aredue at each. Mind that you have a letter waiting for me at every one."
He took a slip of paper from the side pocket of his coat, but, insteadof handing it to the young lady, he remained staring at it with theutmost astonishment upon his face.
"Well, I never!" he exclaimed. "Look here, Robert; what do you callthis?"
"Hold it to the light. Why, it's a fifty-pound Bank of England note.Nothing remarkable about it that I can see."
"On the contrary. It's the queerest thing that ever happened to me. Ican't make head or tail of it."
"Come, then, Hector," cried Miss McIntyre with a challenge in her eyes."Something very queer happened to me also to-day. I'll bet a pair ofgloves that my adventure was more out of the common than yours, though Ihave nothing so nice to show at the end of it."
"Come, I'll take that, and Robert here shall be the judge."
"State your cases." The young artist shut up his sketch-book, and restedhis head upon his hands with a face of mock solemnity. "Ladies first! Goalong Laura, though I think I know something of your adventure already."
"It was this morning, Hector," she said. "Oh, by the way, the story willmake you wild. I had forgotten that. However, you mustn't mind, because,really, the poor fellow was perfectly mad."
"What on earth was it?" asked the young officer, his eyes travellingfrom the bank-note to his _fiancee_.
"Oh, it was harmless enough, and yet you will confess it was very queer.I had gone out for a walk, but as the snow began to fall I took shelterunder the shed which the workmen have built at the near end of the greatnew house. The men have gone, you know, and the owner is supposed to becoming to-morrow, but the shed is still standing. I was sitting thereupon a packing-case when a man came down the road and stopped under thesame shelter. He was a quiet, pale-faced man, very tall and thin, notmuch more than thirty, I should think, poorly dressed, but with the lookand bearing of a gentleman. He asked me one or two questions about thevillage and the people, which, of course, I answered, until at last wefound ourselves chatting away in the pleasantest and easiest fashionabout all sorts of things. The time passed so quickly that I forgot allabout the snow until he drew my attention to its having stopped forthe moment. Then, just as I was turning to go, what in the world do yousuppose that he did? He took a step towards me, looked in a sad pensiveway into my face, and said: `I wonder whether you could care for me ifI were without a penny.' Wasn't it strange? I was so frightened that Iwhisked out of the shed, and was off down the road before he could addanother word. But really, Hector, you need not look so black, for whenI look back at it I can quite see from his tone and manner that he meantno harm. He was thinking aloud, without the least intention of beingoffensive. I am convinced that the poor fellow was mad."
"Hum! There was some method in his madness, it seems to me," remarkedher brother.
"There would have been some method in my kicking," said the lieutenantsavagely. "I never heard of a more outrageous thing in my life."
"Now, I said that you would be wild!" She laid her white hand upon thesleeve of his rough frieze jacket. "It was nothing. I shall never seethe poor fellow again. He was evidently a stranger to this part of thecountry. But that was my little adventure. Now let us have yours."
The young man crackled the bank-note between his fingers and thumb,while he passed his other hand over his hair with the action of a manwho strives to collect himself.
"It is some ridiculous mistake," he said. "I must try and set it right.Yet I don't know how to set about it either. I was going down to thevillage from the Vicarage just after dusk when I found a fellow in atrap who had got himself into broken water. One wheel had sunk into theedge of the ditch which had been hidden by the snow, and the whole thingwas high and dry, with a list to starboard enough to slide him out ofhis seat. I lent a hand, of course, and soon had the wheel in the roadagain. It was quite dark, and I fancy that the fellow thought that I wasa bumpkin, for we did not exchange five words. As he drove off he shovedthis into my hand. It is the merest chance that I did not chuck it away,for, feeling that it was a crumpled piece of paper, I imagined that itmust be a tradesman's advertisement or something of the kind. However,as luck would have it, I put it in my pocket, and there I found it whenI looked for the dates of our cruise. Now you know as much of the matteras I do."
Brother and sister stared at the black and white crinkled note withastonishment upon their face
"Why, your unknown traveller must have been Monte Cristo, or Rothschildat the least!" said Robert. "I am bound to say, Laura, that I think youhave lost your bet."
"Oh, I am quite content to lose it. I never heard of such a piece ofluck. What a perfectly delightful man this must be to know."
"But I can't take his money," said Hector Spurling, looking somewhatruefully at the note. "A little prize-money is all very well in its way,but a Johnny must draw the line somewhere. Besides it must have beena mistake. And yet he meant to give me something big, for he could notmistake a note for a coin. I suppose I must advertise for the fellow."
"It seems a pity too," remarked Robert. "I must say that I don't quitesee it in the same light that you do."
"Indeed I think that you are very Quixotic, Hector," said LauraMcIntyre. "Why should you not accept it in the spirit in which it wasmeant? You did this stranger a service--perhaps a greater service thanyou know of--and he meant this as a little memento of the occasion. I donot see that there is any possible reason against your keeping it."
"Oh, come!" said the young sailor, with an embarrassed laugh, "it is notquite the thing--not the sort of story one would care to tell at mess."
"In any case you are off to-morrow morning," observed Robert. "You haveno time to make inquiries about the mysterious Croesus. You must reallymake the best of it."
"Well, look here, Laura, you put it in your work-basket," cried HectorSpurling. "You shall be my banker, and if the rightful owner turns upthen I can refer him to you. If not, I suppose we must look on it as akind of salvage-money, though I am bound to say I don't feel entirelycomfortable about it." He rose to his feet, and threw the note down intothe brown basket of coloured wools which stood beside her. "Now, Laura,I must up anchor, for I promised the governor to be back by nine. Itwon't be long this time, dear, and it shall be the last. Good-bye,Robert! Good luck!"
"Good-bye, Hector! _Bon voyage!_"
The young artist remained by the table, while his sister followed herlover to the door. In the dim light of the hall he could see theirfigures and overhear their words.
"Next time, little girl?"
"Next time be it, Hector."
"And nothing can part us?"
"In the whole world?"
Robert discreetly closed the door. A moment later a thud from without,and the quick footsteps crunching on the snow told him that theirvisitor had departed.