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A Thief in the Night

It was only the week before that Raffles and I had been introduced to him at the
Imperial Boxing Club. Heavy-weight champion of the United States, the fellow
was still drunk with his sanguinary triumphs on that side, and clamoring for fresh
conquests on ours. But his reputation had crossed the Atlantic before Maguire
himself; the grandiose hotels had closed their doors to him; and he had already
taken and sumptuously furnished the house in Half-moon Street which does not
re-let to this day. Raffles had made friends with the magnificent brute, while I
took timid stock of his diamond studs, his jewelled watch-chain, his eighteen-
carat bangle, and his six-inch lower jaw. I had shuddered to see Raffles admiring
the gewgaws in his turn, in his own brazen fashion, with that air of the cool
connoisseur which had its double meaning for me. I for my part would as lief
have looked a tiger in the teeth. And when we finally went home with Maguire to
see his other trophies, it seemed to me like entering the tiger's lair. But an
astounding lair it proved, fitted throughout by one eminent firm, and ringing to the
rafters with the last word on fantastic furniture.
The trophies were a still greater surprise. They opened my eyes to the rosier
aspect of the noble art, as presently practised on the right side of the Atlantic.
Among other offerings, we were permitted to handle the jewelled belt presented
to the pugilist by the State of Nevada, a gold brick from the citizens of
Sacramento, and a model of himself in solid silver from the Fisticuff Club in New
York. I still remember waiting with bated breath for Raffles to ask Maguire if he
were not afraid of burglars, and Maguire replying that he had a trap to catch the
cleverest cracksman alive, but flatly refusing to tell us what it was. I could not at
the moment conceive a more terrible trap than the heavy-weight himself behind a
curtain. Yet it was easy to see that Raffles had accepted the braggart's boast as
a challenge. Nor did he deny it later when I taxed him with his mad resolve; he
merely refused to allow me to implicate myself in its execution. Well, there was a
spice of savage satisfaction in the thought that Raffles had been obliged to turn
to me in the end. And, but for the dreadful thud which I had heard over the
telephone, I might have extracted some genuine comfort from the unerring
sagacity with which he had chosen his night.
Within the last twenty-four hours Barney Maguire had fought his first great battle
on British soil. Obviously, he would no longer be the man that he had been in the
strict training before the fight; never, as I gathered, was such a ruffian more off
his guard, or less capable of protecting himself and his possessions, than in
these first hours of relaxation and inevitable debauchery for which Raffles had
waited with characteristic foresight. Nor was the terrible Barney likely to be more
abstemious for signal punishment sustained in a far from bloodless victory. Then
what could be the meaning of that sickening and most suggestive thud? Could it
be the champion himself who had received the coup de grace in his cups?
Raffles was the very man to administer it - but he had not talked like that man
through the telephone.
And yet - and yet - what else could have happened? I must have asked myself
the question between each and all. of the above reflections, made partly as I
dressed and partly in the hansom on the way to Half-moon Street. It was as yet
the only question in my mind. You must know what your emergency is before you