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"So the fair Australian has been playing Delilah?" said I.
"In a very harmless, innocent sort of way."
"She got his mission out of him?"
"Yes, I've forced him to score all the points he could, and that was his great stroke, as I hoped it would be. He has even shown Amy the pearl."
"Amy, eh! and she promptly told you?"
"Nothing of the kind. What makes you think so? I had the greatest trouble in getting it out of her."
His tone should have been a sufficient warning to me. I had not the tact to take it as such. At last I knew the meaning of his furious flirtation, and stood wagging my head and shaking my finger, blinded to his frowns by my own enlightenment.
"Wily worm!" said I. "Now I see through it all; how dense I've been!"
"Sure you're not still?"
"No; now I understand what has beaten me all the week. I simply couldn't fathom what you saw in that little girl. I never dreamt it was part of the game."
"So you think it was that and nothing more?"
"You deep old dog--of course I do!"
"You didn't know she was the daughter of a wealthy squatter?"
"There are wealthy women by the dozen who would marry you to-morrow."
"It doesn't occur to you that I might like to draw stumps, start clean, and live happily ever after--in the bush?"
"With that voice? It certainly does not!"
"Bunny!" he cried, so fiercely that I braced myself for a blow.
But no more followed.
"Do you think you would live happily?" I made bold to ask him.
"God knows!" he answered. And with that he left me, to marvel at his look and tone, and, more than ever, at the insufficiently exciting cause.
Of all the mere feats of cracksmanship which I have seen Raffles perform, at once the most delicate and most difficult was that which he accomplished between one and two o'clock on the Tuesday morning, aboard the North German steamer Uhlan, lying at anchor in Genoa harbor.
Not a hitch occurred. Everything had been foreseen; everything happened as I had been assured everything must. Nobody was about below, only the ship's boys on deck, and nobody on the bridge. It was twenty-five minutes past one when Raffles, without a stitch of clothing on his body, but with a glass phial, corked with cotton-wool, between his teeth, and a tiny screw-driver behind his ear, squirmed feet first through the ventilator over his berth; and it was nineteen minutes to two when he returned, head first, with the phial still between his teeth, and the cotton-wool rammed home to still the rattling of that which lay like a great gray bean within. He had taken screws out and put them in again; he had unfastened von Heumann's ventilator and had left it fast as he had found it--fast as he instantly proceeded to make his own. As for von Heumann, it had been enough to place the drenched wad first on his mustache, and then to hold it between his gaping lips; thereafter the intruder had climbed both ways across his shins without eliciting a groan.
And here was the prize--this pearl as large as a filbert--with a pale pink tinge like a lady's fingernail--this spoil of a filibustering age--this gift from a European emperor to a South Sea chief. We gloated over it when all was snug. We toasted it in whiskey and soda-water laid in overnight in view of the great moment. But the moment was greater, more triumphant, than our most sanguine dreams. All we had now to do was to secrete the gem (which Raffles had prised from its setting, replacing the latter), so that we could stand the strictest search and yet take it ashore with us at Naples; and this Raffles was doing when I turned in. I myself would have landed incontinently, that night, at Genoa and bolted with the spoil; he would not hear of it, for a dozen good reasons which will be obvious.
On the whole I do not think that anything was discovered or suspected before we weighed anchor; but I cannot be sure. It is difficult to believe that a man could be chloroformed in his sleep and feel no tell-tale effects, sniff no suspicious odor, in the morning. Nevertheless, von Heumann reappeared as though nothing had happened to him, his German cap over his eyes and his mustaches brushing the peak. And by ten o'clock we were quit of Genoa; the last lean, blue-chinned official had left our decks; the last fruitseller had been beaten off with bucketsful of water and left cursing us from his boat; the last passenger had come aboard at the last moment--a fussy graybeard who kept the big ship waiting while he haggled with his boatman over half a lira. But at length we were off, the tug was shed, the lighthouse passed, and Raffles and I leaned together over the rail, watching our shadows on the pale green, liquid, veined marble that again washed the vessel's side.
Von Heumann was having his innings once more; it was part of the design that he should remain in all day, and so postpone the inevitable hour; and, though the lady looked bored, and was for ever glancing in our direction, he seemed only too willing to avail himself of his opportunities. But Raffles was moody and ill-at-ease. He had not the air of a successful man. I could but opine that the impending parting at Naples sat heavily on his spirit.
He would neither talk to me, nor would he let me go.
"Stop where you are, Bunny. I've things to tell you. Can you swim?"
"Ten?" I burst out laughing. "Not one! Why do you ask?"
"We shall be within a ten miles' swim of the shore most of the day."
"What on earth are you driving at, Raffles?"
"Nothing; only I shall swim for it if the worst comes to the worst. I suppose you can't swim under water at all?"
I did not answer his question. I scarcely heard it: cold beads were bursting through my skin.
"Why should the worst come to the worst?" I whispered. "We aren't found out, are we?"
"Then why speak as though we were?"
"We may be; an old enemy of ours is on board."
"An old enemy?"
"The man with the beard who came aboard last."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure! I was only sorry to see you didn't recognize him too."
I took my handkerchief to my face; now that I thought of it, there had been something familiar in the old man's gait, as well as something rather youthful for his apparent years; his very beard seemed unconvincing, now that I recalled it in the light of this horrible revelation. I looked up and down the deck, but the old man was nowhere to be seen.
"That's the worst of it," said Raffles. "I saw him go into the captain's cabin twenty minutes ago."
"But what can have brought him?" I cried miserably. "Can it be a coincidence--is it somebody else he's after?"
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