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"It's all right, Bunny; you do what I tell you and leave the rest to me. It's a tight corner, but I don't despair. What you've got to do is to stick to these chaps, especially if they search my rooms; they mustn't poke about more than necessary, and they won't if you're there."
"But where will you be? You're never going to leave me to be landed alone?"
"If I do, it will be to turn up trumps at the right moment. Besides, there are such things as windows, and Crawshay's the man to take his risks. You must trust me, Bunny; you've known me long enough."
"Are you going now?"
"There's no time to lose. Stick to them, old chap; don't let them suspect YOU, whatever else you do." His hand lay an instant on my shoulder; then he left me at the window, and recrossed the room.
"I've got to go now," I heard him say; "but my friend will stay and see this through, and I'll leave the gas on in my rooms, and my key with the constable downstairs. Good luck, Mackenzie; only wish I could stay."
"Good-by, sir," came in a preoccupied voice, "and many thanks."
Mackenzie was still busy at his window, and I remained at mine, a prey to mingled fear and wrath, for all my knowledge of Raffles and of his infinite resource. By this time I felt that I knew more or less what he would do in any given emergency; at least I could conjecture a characteristic course of equal cunning and audacity. He would return to his rooms, put Crawshay on his guard, and--stow him away? No--there were such things as windows. Then why was Raffles going to desert us all? I thought of many things--lastly of a cab. These bedroom windows looked into a narrow side-street; they were not very high; from them a man might drop on to the roof of a cab--even as it passed--and be driven away even under the noses of the police! I pictured Raffles driving that cab, unrecognizable in the foggy night; the vision came to me as he passed under the window, tucking up the collar of his great driving-coat on the way to his rooms; it was still with me when he passed again on his way back, and stopped to hand the constable his key.
"We're on his track," said a voice behind me. "He's got up on the leads, sure enough, though how he managed it from yon window is a myst'ry to me. We're going to lock up here and try what like it is from the attics. So you'd better come with us if you've a mind."
The top floor at the Albany, as elsewhere, is devoted to the servants--a congeries of little kitchens and cubicles, used by many as lumber-rooms--by Raffles among the many. The annex in this case was, of course, empty as the rooms below; and that was lucky, for we filled it, what with the manager, who now joined us, and another tenant whom he brought with him to Mackenzie's undisguised annoyance.
"Better let in all Piccadilly at a crown a head," said he. "Here, my man, out you go on the roof to make one less, and have your truncheon handy."
We crowded to the little window, which Mackenzie took care to fill; and a minute yielded no sound but the crunch and slither of constabulary boots upon sooty slates. Then came a shout.
"What now?" cried Mackenzie.
"A rope," we heard, "hanging from the spout by a hook!"
"Sirs," purred Mackenzie, "yon's how he got up from below! He would do it with one o' they telescope sticks, an' I never thocht o't! How long a rope, my lad?"
"Quite short. I've got it."
"Did it hang over a window? Ask him that!" cried the manager. "He can see by leaning over the parapet."
The question was repeated by Mackenzie; a pause, then "Yes, it did."
"Ask him how many windows along!" shouted the manager in high excitement.
"Six, he says," said Mackenzie next minute; and he drew in his head and shoulders. "I should just like to see those rooms, six windows along."
"Mr. Raffles," announced the manager after a mental calculation.
"Is that a fact?" cried Mackenzie. "Then we shall have no difficulty at all. He's left me his key down below."
The words had a dry, speculative intonation, which even then I found time to dislike; it was as though the coincidence had already struck the Scotchman as something more.
"Where is Mr. Raffles?" asked the manager, as we all filed downstairs.
"He's gone out to his dinner," said Mackenzie.
"Are you sure?"
"I saw him go," said I. My heart was beating horribly. I would not trust myself to speak again. But I wormed my way to a front place in the little procession, and was, in fact, the second man to cross the threshold that had been the Rubicon of my life. As I did so I uttered a cry of pain, for Mackenzie had trod back heavily on my toes; in another second I saw the reason, and saw it with another and a louder cry.
A man was lying at full length before the fire on his back, with a little wound in the white forehead, and the blood draining into his eyes. And the man was Raffles himself!
"Suicide," said Mackenzie calmly. "No--here's the poker--looks more like murder." He went on his knees and shook his head quite cheerfully. "An' it's not even murder," said he, with a shade of disgust in his matter-of-fact voice; "yon's no more than a flesh-wound, and I have my doubts whether it felled him; but, sirs, he just stinks o' chloryform!"
He got up and fixed his keen gray eyes upon me; my own were full of tears, but they faced him unashamed.
"I understood ye to say ye saw him go out?" said he sternly.
"I saw that long driving-coat; of course, I thought he was inside it."
"And I could ha' sworn it was the same gent when he give me the key!"
It was the disconsolate voice of the constable in the background; on him turned Mackenzie, white to the lips.
"You'd think anything, some of you damned policemen," said he. "What's your number, you rotter? P 34? You'll be hearing more of this, Mr. P 34! If that gentleman was dead--instead of coming to himself while I'm talking--do you know what you'd be? Guilty of his manslaughter, you stuck pig in buttons! Do you know who you've let slip, butter-fingers? Crawshay--no less--him that broke Dartmoor yesterday. By the God that made ye, P 34, if I lose him I'll hound ye from the forrce!"
Working face--shaking fist--a calm man on fire. It was a new side of Mackenzie, and one to mark and to digest. Next moment he had flounced from our midst.
"Difficult thing to break your own head," said Raffles later; "infinitely easier to cut your own throat. Chloroform's another matter; when you've used it on others, you know the dose to a nicety. So you thought I was really gone? Poor old Bunny! But I hope Mackenzie saw your face?"
"He did," said I. I would not tell him all Mackenzie must have seen, however.
"That's all right. I wouldn't have had him miss it for worlds; and you mustn't think me a brute, old boy, for I fear that man, and, know, we sink or swim together."
"And now we sink or swim with Crawshay, too," said I dolefully.
"Not we!" said Raffles with conviction. "Old Crawshay's a true sportsman, and he'll do by us as we've done by him; besides, this makes us quits; and I don't think, Bunny, that we'll take on the professors again!"
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