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Chapter 12 A Midsummer Night’s Work
The dense and total darkness was broken in one place, and one only, by a plateful of light proceeding from a tiny bulb of incandescence in its centre. This blinding atom of white heat lit up a hand hardly moving, a pen continually poised, over a disc of snowy paper; and on the other side, something that lay handy on the table, reflecting the light in its plated parts. It was Raffles at his latest deviltry. He had not heard me, and he could not see; but for that matter he never looked up from his task. Sometimes his face bent over it, and I could watch its absolute concentration. The brow was furrowed, and the mouth pursed, yet there was a hint of the same quiet and wary smile with which Raffles would bowl an over or drill holes in a door.

I stood for some moments fascinated, entranced, before creeping in to warn him of my presence in a whisper. But this time he heard my step, snatched up electric torch and glittering revolver, and covered me with the one in the other’s light.

“A.J.!” I gasped.

“Bunny!” he exclaimed in equal amazement and displeasure. “What the devil do you mean by this?”

“You’re in danger,” I whispered. “I came to warn you!”

“Danger? I’m never out of it. But how did you know where to find me, and how on God’s earth did you get here?”

“I’ll tell you some other time. You know those two brutes you dodged the other day?”

“I ought to.”

“They’re waiting below for you at this very moment.”

Raffles peered a few moments through the handful of white light between our faces.

“Let them wait!” said he, and replaced the torch upon the table and put down his revolver for his pen.

“They’re detectives!” I urged.

“Are they, Bunny?”

“What else could they be?”

“What, indeed!” murmured Raffles, as he fell to work again with bent head and deliberate pen.

“You gave them the slip on Friday, but they must have known your game and lain in wait for you here, one or other of them, ever since. It’s my belief Dan Levy put them up to it, and the yarn about the letter was just to tempt you into this trap and get you caught in the act. He didn’t want a copy one bit; for God’s sake, don’t stop to finish it now!”

“I don’t agree with you,” said Raffles without looking up, “and I don’t do things by halves, Your precious detectives must have patience. Bunny, and so must you.” He held his watch to the bulb. “In about twenty minutes there’ll be real danger, but we couldn’t be safer in our beds for the next ten. So perhaps you’ll let me finish without further interruption, or else get out by yourself as you came in.”

I turned away from Raffles and his light, and blundered back to the landing. The blood boiled in my veins. Here had I fought and groped my way to his side, through difficulties it might have taxed even him to surmount, as one man swims ashore with a rope from the wreck, at the same mortal risk, with the same humane purpose. And not a word of thanks, not one syllable of congratulation, but “get out by yourself as you came in!” I had more than half a mind to get out, and for good; nay, as I stood and listened on the landing, I could have found it in my outraged heart to welcome those very sleuthhounds from the square, with a cordon of police behind them.

Yet my boiling blood ran cold when warm breath smote my cheek and a hand my shoulder at one and the same awful moment.

“Raffles!” I cried in a strangled voice.

“Hush, Bunny!” he chuckled in my ear. “Didn’t you know who it was?”

“I never heard you; why did you steal on me like that?”

“You see you’re not the only one who can do it, Bunny! I own it would have served me right if you’d brought the square about our ears.”

“Have you finished in there?” I asked gruffly.

“Rather!”

“Then you’d better hurry up and put everything as you found it.”

“It’s all done, Bunny; red tape tied on such a perfect forgery that the crux will be to prove it is one; safe locked up, and every paper in its place.”

“I never heard a sound.”

“I never made one,” said Raffles, leading me upstairs by the arm. “You see how you put me on my mettle, Bunny, old boy!”

I said no more till we reached the self-contained flat at the top of the house; then I begged Raffles to be quiet in a lower whisper than his own.

“Why, Bunny? Do you think there are people inside?”

“Aren’t there?” I cried aloud in my relief.

“You flatter me, Bunny!” laughed Raffles, as we groped our way in. “This is where they keep their John Bulldog, a magnificent figure of a commissionaire with the V.C. itself on his manly bosom. Catch me come when he was at home; one of us would have had to die, and it would have been a shame either way. Poor pussy, then, poor puss!”

We had reached the kitchen and the cat was rubbing itself against Raffles’s legs.

“But how on earth did you get rid of him for the night?”

“Made friends with him when I called on Friday; didn’t I tell you I had an appointment with the bloated head of this notorious firm when I cleared out of Lord’s? I’m about to strengthen his already unrivalled list of clients; you shall hear all about that later. We had another interview this afternoon, when I asked my V.C. if he ever went to the theatre; you see he had spotted Tom Fool, and told me he never had a chance of getting to Lord’s. So I got him tickets for ‘Rosemary’ instead, but of course I swore they had just been given to me and I couldn’t use them. You should have seen how the hero beamed! So that’s where he is, he and his wife — or was, until the curtain went down.”

“Good Lord, Raffles, is the piece over?”

“Nearly ten minutes ago, but it’ll take ’em all that unless they come home in a cab.”

And Raffles had been sitting before the fire, on the kitchen table, encouraging the cat, when this formidable V.C. and his wife must be coming every instant nearer Gray’s Inn Square!

“Why, my dear Bunny, I should back myself to swarm up and out without making a sound or leaving a sign, if I heard our hero’s key in the lock this moment. After you, Bunny.”

I climbed up with trembling knees, Raffles holding the rope taut to make it easier. Once more I stood upright under the stars and the telephone wires, and leaned against a chimney-stack to wait for Raffles. But before I saw him, before I even heard his unnecessarily noiseless movements, I heard something else that sent a chill all through me.

It was not the sound of a key in the lock. It was something far worse than that. It was the sound of voices on the roof, and of footsteps drawing nearer through the very next valley of leads and tiles.

I was crouching on the leads outside the dormer window as Raffles climbed into sight within.

“They’re after us up here!” I whispered in his face. “On the next roof! I hear them!”

Up came Raffles with his hands upon the sill, then with his knees between his hands, and so out on all-fours into the narrow rivulet of lead between the sloping tiles. Out of the opposite slope, a yard or two on, rose a stout stack of masonry, a many-headed monster with a chimney-pot on each, and a full supply of wires for whiskers. Behind this Gorgon of the house-tops Raffles hustled me without a word, and himself took shelter as the muffled voices on the next roof grew more distinct. They were the voices that I had overheard already in the square, the voices but not the tones. The tones — the words — were those of an enemy divided against itself.

“And now we’ve gone and come too far!” grumbled the one who had been last to arrive upon the scene below.

“We did that,” the other muttered, “the moment we came in after ’em. We should’ve stopped where we were.”

“With that other cove driving up and going in without ever showing a glim?”

Raffles nudged me, and I saw what I had done. But the weakling of the pair still defended the position he had reluctantly abandoned on terra firma; he was all for returning while there was time; and there were fragments of the broken argument that were beginning to puzzle me when a soft oath from the man in front proclaimed the discovery of the open window and the rope.

“We got ’em,” he whispered, stagily, “like rats in a trap!”

“You forget what it is we’ve got to get.”

“Well, we must first catch our man, mustn’t we? And how d’ye know his pal hasn’t gone in to warn him where we were? If he has, and we’d stopped there, they’d do us easy.”

“They may do us easier down there in the dark,” replied the other, with a palpable shiver. “They’ll hear us and lie in wait. In the dark! We shan’t have a dog’s chance.”

“All right! You get out of it and save your skin. I’d rather work alone than with a blessed funk!”

The situation was identical with many a one in the past between Raffles and me. The poor brute in my part resented the charge against his courage as warmly as I had always done. He was merely for the better part of valour, and how right he was Raffles and I only knew. I hoped the lesson was not lost upon Raffles. Dialogue and action alike resembled one of our own performances far more than ordinary police methods as we knew them. We heard the squeeze of the leader’s clothes and the rattle of his buttons over the window ledge. “It’s like old times,” we heard him mutter; and before many moments the............
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