PULLING TOGETHER

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Raffles and Bunny attend what seems to be a perfectly normal country house party, consisting of dinners and a cricket match. However, they make a startling discovery which leads to them joining forces with someone who had hitherto been an adversary.

An established relationship story.

Written: July 2013. Word count: 24,015.

 

 

"I really do think we shouldn't do this, Raffles."

 

He smiled at me and shook his head in his fond way. "Well, my dear Bunny, it is a little late for that now, is it not?"

 

"Well, yes, but - Look, how about I find a hotel and -"

 

"Do you not wish to be with me, Bunny?"

 

"Raffles!" I frowned at him. "How could you ask such a thing?"

 

He shrugged. "It is just that you keep objecting, so I began to wonder if -"

 

"Well, don't. Of course I want to be with you, Raffles," I lowered my voice, leant a little nearer to him and said, "I always want to be with you, you know that."

 

He patted my thigh and smiled at me. "In that case we shall say nothing more about it."

 

I sighed and leant back in my seat and for a moment looked away from him out of the window of the cab which was taking us to Sir Highmore's home where we would be spending the next four days as guests at his house party. As was usual at country house parties, at least those to which Raffles was invited, there would be a cricket match in which Raffles would take part and I would almost certainly be asked to keep score. There would also, of course, be dinners presided over by Lady Highmore, where Raffles would be the centre of attention and I would have to watch him talk to, flirt with and quite possibly dance with an array of young ladies, all of whom would hang onto his every word and tell him how much they loved cricket.

 

Yes, it was a perfectly normal country house party, the kind we attended quite often during the summer months. Well it was with one exception: I had not actually been invited. Raffles had been corned one evening a few weeks ago at our club by a rather drunken Highmore who had insisted upon Raffles agreeing to attend the aforementioned country house party. Raffles, as he always does, had told Highmore that regretfully he already had plans to spend that long weekend with me. He had to repeat it several times until (and he assured me more than once that this was the case) Highmore had muttered something about 'bringing your little friend with you' before staggering off in the direction of the bar.

 

Raffles's invitation from Lady Highmore had arrived a few days later, however, none was forthcoming for me. Even though I hated the idea of being apart from Raffles for four days (yes, I know quite what that makes me sound like, but given it is the truth, I really do not care) I naturally assured him that I would be perfectly content to spend the days alone in London and that he could tell me all about the match upon his return.

 

However, my Raffles is not a man who is easily dissuaded and he had insisted that as Highmore had invited me, that I should simply accompany him. Now it wouldn't, I am a little ashamed to say, be the first time he had insisted upon me accompanying him when I hadn't been invited to the event he was attending, but it would be the first time an over-night stay was involved.

 

As such I had argued that it would be unfair on Lady Highmore to expect her to provide a room for an uninvited guest. Naturally though it was Raffles's will, which is more forceful than mine at the best of times and I must confess that even though I had argued with him somewhat, the truth was I did not wish to spend the time in London alone, which prevailed. This was why I was sitting with him in the hansom cab which would very shortly arrive at Sir and Lady Highmore's residence and why I was feeling more than a little uneasy and why I had raised an objection on more than one occasion during our journey from London.

 

The cab turned into the driveway and stopped in front of the house; Raffles alighted from the cab and I followed him and stared at the house which was at least twice the size of the house in which I had grown up. For a moment I felt a little less uneasy, surely it would be possible in a house of this size, to find a bedroom, no matter how small, for an unexpected guest? The driver took our bags from the cab and a footman immediately picked them up and took them into the house. Raffles handed the driver a coin and side by side we went up the steps and into the hallway where we were greeted by the butler.

 

"Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders," Raffles said.

 

The butler proved himself to be an excellent butler, as he gave no indication that one of the names which Raffles had given to him was a name he had not expected to hear. Instead he merely looked at Raffles, inclined his head slightly and said, "If you'd like to wait in the small sitting room, Mr. Raffles, Cranwell will show the way, I shall let Lady Highmore know that you have arrived."

 

"Thank you," Raffles nodded and we followed Cranwell into the small sitting room, which was at least half the size of my flat.

 

Cranwell was about to leave when I said quickly, "Would it be possible for me to," I paused for a second and not for the first time wish I was more like Raffles.

 

"If you come with me, sir, I shall show you where the facilities are," Cranwell said calmly.

 

I smiled at him. "Thank you," I said and left Raffles lighting a cigarette as I hurried after the departing Cranwell.

 

 

I was on my way back to Raffles when I heard his name mentioned. Now I am not the kind of man who listens at doors - I did not do such a thing even as a boy at school. However, when you hear the name of someone you know, it is human nature to want to know what is being said, is it not? As such I glanced around me and ascertained that no one else was about before I walked, in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner, over the partially closed door from behind which I had heard Raffles's name spoken.

 

"Well, William, I am waiting. Who is this Mr. Manders?"

 

"Who?" I heard the surprise in Highmore's voice.

 

"Mr. Manders; the gentleman who has arrived with Mr. Raffles," Lady Highmore spoke sharply, and I knew I would not want to get on the wrong side of her.

 

"Do you know, m'dear, I don't know." I rolled my eyes; so I had been correct: Raffles had not told me the truth.

 

"William, unless you are telling me that Mr. Raffles has simply turned up here with a friend by his side then you must know who Mr. Manders is."


"Raffles wouldn't do that. He's a gentleman. A gentleman."

 

"I am not disputing that, William, I merely wish to know who the other gentleman with him is." Several seconds went by before Lady Highmore demanded, "Well?"

 

"What does he look like?"

 

"I don't know, William, I have not seen him."

 

I heard the sound of a throat being cleared. "If I may, milady?" I had thought Sir and Lady Highmore to be alone, but clearly they were not.

 

"Oh, yes, Johnson, please do."

 

"Mr. Manders is several inches shorter than Mr. Raffles, sir, and has blond hair."

 

"Oh, Raffles's little friend. Yes, of course, I remember him. He was with Raffles at the club when I invited Raffles down - had to have Raffles, m'dear, he plays test cricket, you know."

 

"Yes, William, I am quite aware of Mr. Raffles's prowess on the cricket field - you have told me all about them at great length, I may add."

 

"A good man; a very good man. We'll beat Kingston this year, you see if we don't."

 

"William!"

 

"Yes, m'dear?"

 

"You were telling me who Mr. Manders was."

 

"Who?"

 

"The gentleman with Mr. Raffles, sir," I heard the respectful tone of the butler.

 

"Oh, yes, him. As I said he's Raffles's friend."

 

"So I understand. However, that does not tell me why he is here with Mr. Raffles. Did you invite him, William?"

 

"Um, well now, let me think. I . . . Well, I must have done, mustn't I? I mean he's here. If I hadn't invited him he wouldn't be here, would he? Ah, yes, now I remember."

 

"What exactly do you remember, William?" I could feel the chill from Lady Highmore's voice even though the closed door.

 

"I did invite him!"

 

"Did you?" Icy fingers began to move down my spine and I was glad I was not Sir Highmore.

 

"Yes, m'dear. You see Raffles was telling me how he and Matthews -"

 

"Manders, sir."

 

"What? Oh, yes, Manders, never been good at names, have I m'dear?" I suddenly wondered if that was why Highmore called his wife 'my dear' all the time - perhaps he couldn't actually remember her name.

 

"William!"

 

"Sorry, m'dear. As I was saying before I was interrupted, Raffles was telling me how he and Mat - Manders, Manders had plans and he really didn't feel he could let . . . Could let his friend down and cancel their plans. So I told him to bring his friend with him. And he has."

 

There was silence for a moment and then finally Lady Highmore spoke again. "And pray, William, why did you not tell me that you had invited Mr. Manders as well as Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Didn't I tell you, m'dear?" Highmore sounded genuinely surprised.

 

"No, William, you did not. Do you think that had you done that thing we would be having this conversation now?"

 

"I suppose we wouldn't, m'dear. Well, it's not a problem, is it?"

 

"As a matter of fact, William, it is rather."

 

"Oh, is it?"

 

"Yes. Firstly I have to find another young lady to invite -"

 

"What about the young gel whatshername from the Vicarage? She's always good value - invite her."

 

"I am sure Miss Cleaver will be happy to attend. However, the main problem is where am I going to put Mr. Manders and Miss Clever?"

 

"I donít understand, m'dear, you'll sit them next to one another at dinner."

 

"Where will they sleep, William?"

 

"Well, not in the same room. That would be totally -"

 

"There are no free bedrooms, William. None at all."

 

"Oh, aren't there?"

 

"No. Well, there's only one thing for it; they will both have to sleep in the nurseries."

 

"Now, look here, m'dear. You can put the gel up there, but you can't put Manderson up there - he's a gentleman. No, that simply wouldn't be proper."

 

The silence stretched out again and I began to think I really should return to Raffles, when I again heard the sound of a throat being cleared. "If you'll forgive me, milady?"

 

"Do you have a solution to the problem, Johnson?"

 

"Well, milady, I have a suggestion, whether it would be an acceptable one I do not know."

 

"Well? What is it?"

 

"Sir Highmore has a bed in his dressing room, does he not?"

 

"What's that got to do with it?"

 

"Do be quiet, William."

 

"Yes, m'dear."

 

"Well, milady, if Sir Highmore was to move to the bedroom you had assigned to Mr. Raffles, then Mr. Raffles could move to Sir Highmore's room and Mr. Manders could sleep in Sir Highmore's dressing room. It is a very generously sized room, there is a bathroom attached and as the gentlemen are friends, I would imagine they would be quiet happy with the arrangement."

 

"You, Johnson, are a genius. No, William, you can be quiet."

 

"But, m'dear, I can't -"

 

"This is all your fault, William. You are the one who failed to inform me that you had invited Mr. Manders as well as Mr. Raffles. Thus, you will have to be somewhat inconvenienced. It is an excellent idea. Johnson, pleased tell the maids they need to make up a bed for Miss Cleaver in the nursery and to change the linen on the beds in Sir Highmore's bedroom and dressing room. And tell Peterson to move his master's things into the room I had originally assigned for Mr. Raffles."

 

"Yes, milady." I prepared to hasten away from the door, but I heard the faint sound of another door being opened and closed and assumed the room had two doors.

 

"And you, William, you can go and inform Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders of the situation."

 

"But, m'dear, can't Johnson -"

 

"No! You are responsible for this problem. You will have to be the one to explain it to Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders - they are, after all, your friends."

 

"But I . . . Yes, m'dear."

 

"And I shall go and ring Miss Cleaver and explain to her how we failed to invite her and apologise for the oversight. And, William?"

 

"Yes, m'dear?"

 

"Never, ever do this again, do you hear me?"

 

"Yes, m'dear. I'm sorry, m'dear. It's just I was . . ." Highmore fell silent and I imagined Lady Highmore's look had quelled him into silence.

 

I decided it really was time I left and returned to Raffles.

 

 

"There you are, Bunny," he cried, as I hurried back into the small sitting room. "I confess I was becoming somewhat worried about you. I -"

 

"Listen, Raffles," I said, hurrying across the room and taking his arm and swiftly I told him what I had overheard.

 

"Well, my rabbit," he said when I finished a brief version of what I had overheard. "That -"

 

He fell silent as Highmore strode into the room. "Ah, there you are, Raffles! And . . ." He trailed off as he stared at me.

 

"Manders," Raffles said his tone was just a little hard.

 

"Yes, of course - Manders. I'm hopeless with names; I even forgot m'own brother's name once." And Highmore began to laugh. Raffles and I obligingly smiled a little, but I could see the smile did not touch Raffles's eyes. "And talking of m'brother," Highmore said when he stopped laughing, "he's only gone and upset Mildred's - that's the wife you know - arrangements," he paused and looked expectantly at Raffles.

 

"How so?" Raffles enquired dutifully.

 

"Only gone and turned up, hasn't he? After he'd told us he wasn't coming. I mean what could I do? Can't turn m'own brother away, can I?"

 

Raffles and I both shook our heads. "No, I imagine you cannot," Raffles said.

 

"No, no. Can't do that - not the thing a gentleman would do. But the thing is, Raffles old chap, it means there's a shortage of bedrooms."

 

"Oh, I see. Well, as I explained to you in London, Bunny and I already had plans so we could -"

 

"No!" Highmore cried, all but grabbing Raffles's arm. "We've got to have you, Raffles, we need you to win the cricket match. And," he added hurriedly glancing at me and I saw him hastily attempt to remember my name. He failed, "Your friend here - you don't play cricket by any chance, do you?"

 

I shook my head. "No, I'm afraid I do not."

 

"Bunny's an excellent score keeper though," Raffles said swiftly.

 

I saw Highmore frown and he looked at Raffles. "Thought you said his name was Manderson?"

 

Raffles sighed softly, "Manders," he said.

 

"Ah, yes, Manders. Sorry, old boy," he said looking at me. "I'm not good with names." I managed a faint smile and wondered if Highmore would remember about what he had been talking. Apparently not because he frowned, looked at Raffles and said, "What was I saying?"

 

"Your brother had turned up unexpectedly and that meant there was a shortage of bedrooms," Raffles said.

 

"Ah, yes. Poor Mildred didn't know what to do, with Manders here," he added. "I suggested she could put him in the nurseries - after all we public school boys are used to roughing it, right?" Raffles gave another of his half-smiles. "But Mildred said we couldn't make a gentleman sleep in the nurseries - you wouldn't have minded, would you?"

 

I shook my head. "No, of course not," I obligingly said.

 

"That's the spirit! Knew you wouldn't mind. Mind you, our nurseries are probably better than most public school dorms, don't you know?" And he laughed.

 

"So what arrangements have you made?" Raffles said interrupting Highmore, "for," he paused for a second before saying, "Manders?" Although of course it was the name by which everyone called me, hearing Raffles use the name was very strange indeed as it was not a name he had ever called me - well apart from fewer than a handful of times at school when he had a particular reason to so. He had given me the name 'Bunny' on the first day we met at school and I had been Bunny to him ever since. However, given it seemed to confuse Highmore when he referred to me as Bunny, I could understand why he had chosen to use my surname.

 

"What? Oh, yes, well the thing is, Raffles old chap, what I suggested to m'wife was that I move into the room she'd assigned to you; you can have my room and," he paused for a moment, frowned and then said, "Manders here can have my dressing room. It has a proper bed in it," he added. "Well you know how it is, I'm sure. You come home from dining out and get undressed and it's so far to the bedroom," he laughed. "Got a bathroom attached as well," he added. "And with you being such good friends and all . . ." he finally trailed off and stared at Raffles.

 

"That will be perfectly acceptable, will it not, Bunny?" he glanced at me.

 

I nodded. "Oh, yes, Raffles."

 

We both looked at Highmore who beamed back and looked very relieved. "Splendid!" he cried. "Splendid. Well, shall we have a drink?" And without waiting for either Raffles or me to reply he hurried over the sideboard on which stood several decanters and poured what I presumed to be whisky into three glasses.

 

He handed a glass to Raffles and then to me before returning to fetch his. "Your good health," he said and took a deep swallow of the whisky. Raffles and I murmured a response and took a small sip each from our glasses; I didn't know about Raffles, however, I would far rather have had a cup of tea.

 

Highmore started to pat his pockets. "Now where did I put my cigarette case?"

 

Raffles pulled his from his pocket and offered it to Highmore. "Have one of mine, Highmore," he said, offering it to me once Highmore had taken a cigarette. It also fell to Raffles to provide and strike the match the light the cigarettes.

 

We stood and smoked and Highmore regaled Raffles with the outcome of previous matches and how he knew they'd win this year because they had the great A. J. Raffles playing for them. And as I listened to Highmore, I found myself wondering if Lady Highmore's name actually was Mildred. After all, given quite how poor Highmore seemed to be with names (or maybe it was just my name) her actual name really could have been anything.

 

AN HOUR LATER

 

Highmore had left us some time before muttering something about checking to see if his valet had done a proper job of moving all of his belongings. I was quite certain he had - and even if he hadn't, I doubted Highmore would have noticed.

 

Raffles and I were sitting smoking another Sullivan when Johnson came in. "I do apologise, gentlemen," he said, looking from Raffles to me, "for the delay. However, if you would come with me, I shall show you to your rooms."

 

Raffles put his cigarette out and stood up and I did the same. "Thank you, Johnson," he said and smiled.

 

Johnson led us up the stairs, turned left at the top and led us to a door at the far end of the doorway. He opened it and stood back to let Raffles and me precede him into the room. I saw Raffles's bags by the bed and a door on the opposite of the large room stood ajar. "Your things are through there, Mr. Manders," Johnson said, and led us across the room.

 

"Thank you," I said going into the room and glancing around me - and this was Highmore's dressing room? It was actually quite a lot larger than some of the bedrooms I had been given when I had accompanied Raffles to other country house parties.

 

"The bathroom is through here," Johnson said, opening a door on the right of the door through which we had entered the room. "I do hope the fact that Mr. Raffles will have to come into your room in order to use the bathroom and that there is no door leading out into the hallway in this room, thus you will have to go through Mr. Raffles's room will not be a problem, Mr. Manders?"

 

"Oh, no," I said and smiled at Johnson, "no problem at all."

 

Johnson inclined his head. "I am gratified to hear that, sir. And I hope this will not inconvenience you at all, Mr. Raffles?"

 

Raffles was leaning against the doorframe with his hands in his pockets. He shook his head, "Not in the slightest, Johnson," he said in his reassuring tone.

 

Johnson again inclined his head. "In that case, unless there is anything else which either of you require I shall leave you gentlemen. Dinner will be served at eight o'clock and Lady Highmore expects her guests - all of her guests - to be present in the drawing room by seven o'clock at the very latest."

 

"We shall not keep Lady Highmore waiting," Raffles said, pushing himself upright and going back into the bedroom. Johnson waited until I had followed Raffles, before following both of us and with one more nod he quietly let himself out into the hall. We heard the door being closed firmly behind him and turned to stare at one another.

 

"Well, my dear Bunny," Raffles said, smiling the smile I knew only too well, the smile that immediately made my heart begin to beat just a little more quickly, my mouth to become slightly dry and my body begin to tingle. He closed the gap between us, put his arms around me and pulled me into an embrace, "I do believe this has all worked out rather well, do you not agree, my rabbit?" However, he didn't give me a chance to reply as he lowered his head and claimed my mouth with his.

 

I kissed him back for several moments, pressing against him and moaning softly as I felt both our bodies begin to react. I was about to lose myself in the kiss and encourage Raffles to do more than merely press his body against mine, when something occurred to me.

 

I hastily broke the embrace. "Raffles!" I exclaimed and stared at him.

 

"Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"We can't!" I cried.

 

He gave me the smile I had only ever seen him give me, "Oh, Bunny, I assure you that we can," he murmured.

 

I frowned at him. "I mean we shouldn't."

 

"Why on earth not, my rabbit?"

 

I frowned again. How could he suddenly be so unaware so seemingly unintelligent? "We're in someone else's home," I said, speaking more softly now.

 

"Yes, Bunny, I am quite aware of that." He took my hand and tugged it towards his mouth and slid two fingers into his mouth.

 

I moaned as my body reacted even more. "Raffles! What if one of the servants come in?"

 

He let my fingers slip from his mouth, but went on holding my hand. "Bunny, have you ever known a servant to simply go into a guest's bedroom without knocking first?"

 

I hesitated for a moment before saying, knowing that my cheeks had become just a little flushed, "Well, no, of course not, but - What if Sir Highmore comes to fetch something?"

 

"Bunny, Bunny, Bunny, do you really believe that even if Highmore's valet had forgotten something, which I do not for a moment believe he would have done, that Highmore himself would come to fetch it?" I shook my head slowly and felt a smile begin to touch my lips. "No, of course he wouldn't. He would send the estimable Peterson, I believe you said his name was," I nodded, "to fetch it and he, naturally, would knock on the door, would he not?" I nodded. "That's my good boy. Now," he said brightly, suddenly letting go of my hand to stride towards the door which he locked, "do you have any further objections or may I return to doing what I was doing before you let guilt overwhelm you?"

 

I smiled at him and moved towards him, meeting him in the middle of the room. It was I who put my arms around his neck and tugged his head down as I pressed my body against his. "No, Raffles," I murmured quite deliberately moving my lower body until I heard him moan softly, "I have no objections at all.

 

"Good," he said before he put his mouth on mine and kissed me as he hands slipped under my coat and began to caress my back, letting his fingers slide up and down my spine in the way he knew I liked. I moaned with pleasure into the kiss and felt myself harden even more as I pressed against him even more.

 

A few minutes of intense and passionate kissing went by, before Raffles took his mouth from mine, pulled off his coat and threw it along with mine which he also removed onto a nearby chair before he led me to the bed. He swiftly untied our ties, dropping out tie-pins onto the bedside table, before unbuttoning my waistcoat and then his, removing pocket watches and cuff-links whish he put with the tie-pins before pushing me down onto the bed. It was he who removed my boots before pulling his own off and joining me on the bed where his hands once more began to wander over my body - but this time over the front of my body.

 

 

We spent a very pleasant hour before Raffles suggested with more than a degree of reluctance that we really should bathe and dress for dinner.

 

Ten minutes later Raffles was bathing as I brushed my teeth, shaved carefully and washed my face. I then turned around and quite deliberately stared at Raffles in a way I once believed I would never deliberately stare at another person.

 

Even when he stood up and took the towel I held for him, I continued to stare at him, my gaze resting on one particular area. I moved back a little to let him get out of the bath and for a moment let my gaze flicker from his lower body to his face. To my faint surprise I saw his cheeks were just a little red - a colour I believe did not come from the steam of the bathroom or the warmth of the water.

 

"Do draw yourself a bath, my rabbit," he murmured softly as to my disappointment he wrapped the towel firmly around himself, "or we shall be in the bad books of our hostess."

 

I started to do as he bid and enquired, "How so, Raffles?"

 

"Because, my dear Bunny," he said, suddenly catching my hand and pulling me towards him, "if you continue to look at me in the way you were looking at me for one moment longer, I shall take you back to my bed." He kissed me hard for several moments before pushing me away and glancing down at the clear evidence of his words and kiss. I was wearing nothing more than a silk dressing gown he himself had bought for me and it did little to hide how desperately I wished he would do as he had said.

 

I gasped as the devil reached forward and lightly ran his fingers over my hardness, touching me though the thick silk and making me become even harder. He then merely kissed me once more, before turning away, grabbing his own dressing gown and going to the sink where he brushed his teeth and began to shave, leaving me to get into the bath and attempt to ignore what he had done to me. It really wasn't that easy to ignore the evidence of his kiss and touch as when I washed myself I hardened even more; in fact I became so hard I knew there was only one thing I could do.

 

Glancing at him swiftly to ensure he was still concentrating on shaving, I slipped my hand under the water, put it around me and did what I truly believed I would never do - not at least whilst in the company of another person. As aroused as I was it took mere seconds before another kind of wetness filled my hand and I bit my lip in an attempt to prevent the automatically gasp of pleasure escaping.

 

Now whether I had made an audible noise or whether he had completed his toilette at the very second I had - I do not know. But he turned and stared at me and I saw him widen his eyes as his gaze flickered from my face, which I knew was flushed and not from the heat of the water and the steam.

 

"Bunny?" he murmured, surprise as clear in his voice as on his face. "You haven't - Bunny!" He exclaimed when despite my best attempt to prevent it my cheeks flushed even more giving him his answer. "Well, well, well," he said, coming closer to the bath, sitting on the edge of it and sliding his damp hand into my hair, "my rabbit really can still surprise me. Bunny, I honestly never thought that you would . . ." He trailed off and tangled my hair around his fingers.

 

Suddenly I felt both guilty and deeply ashamed. What on earth had I been thinking of? I wasn't fifteen; it had not been necessary for me to have done what I had done. I could have ignored it; it would have gone away. "I'm so sorry, Raffles," I stammered out. "I don't know what . . . I am sorry," I whispered.

 

He shook his head in the fond way he had been doing from the moment we met, bent his head and kissed me briefly, before taking his hand from my hair and putting it on my shoulder, which he squeezed in a reassuring way. "You, my beloved rabbit, have nothing for which you need to apologise, nor," he added, clearly reading my expression as he has done since we first met, "do you have anything about which you need to feel guilty or ashamed."

 

"But, I . . . Raffles, it's not something . . . Well, you know. I don't know what . . ." And then to my horror I heard myself ask, "Have you ever -" I stopped abruptly and started to stumble out an apology.

 

His fingers on my lips silenced me. He shrugged. "At school, more than once. Since . . ." he trailed off and shrugged again and then said softly, "If you ever wish to watch me, my rabbit, you only have to ask - I would be more than happy to oblige you."

 

I stared up at him. "You would?" I blurted out once again without thought.

 

He smiled at me, kissed me briefly again before standing up. "Do finish bathing, Bunny, we really do not wish to make Lady Highmore aggrieved with us."

 

I swiftly did as he bid whilst he stood with his back against the wall and kept his gaze on me.

 

 

I was just putting my cuff-links on when Raffles strode though the open connecting door. He looked wonderful in anything, but when he wore evening clothes . . . Well, I had never seen anyone wear them better than he, and if I thought him handsome in an every day suit, it was nothing compared to the way he looked when he was dressed for dinner.

 

He came towards me and picked up my bowtie from the bed, slipped it under my collar and began, as he always did when we dined together, to tie it for me. I hid a sigh as I knew that once more he would be the centre of attention at the dinner, young ladies - and some older ones - would flock around him and vie for his attention and I - I would be left with Miss Cleaver, the poor unfortunate girl who would be expected at the last moment to drop whatever it was she might have had plans and join Lady Highmore's house party, simply because Highmore had forgotten to tell his wife that he had invited Mr. Raffles's insignificant little friend to accompany Raffles to the house party.

 

"Do not worry, Bunny," he said, as he finished tying my tie and made a small adjustment to it, before he picked my dining jacket up from where I had laid it on the bed and held it for me. "I may talk with the young ladies, flirt to a degree even, but that is all. You are the person with whom I shall be spending the night. No, my rabbit," he said putting his fingers on my lips. "I shall not listen to any objections; you will spend the night in my bed, in my arms. It is you I love, Bunny, you whom I adore; you I wish to be with. Just remember that when you see me paying attention to some brightly dressed, jewel bedecked young lady." And before I could say anything he had put his mouth on mine and kissed me gently for a minute or two before raising his head, brushing my hair for my forehead and putting his hand on my shoulder. "Well, my rabbit, I believe it is time we went downstairs."

 

"Yes, Raffles," I said obediently and let him guide me through his room and out into the hallway, where we made our way to the stairs and went down. It was only when we reached the door of the drawing room and were announced by Johnson, and we went inside that he let his hand fall from my shoulder. As my gaze fell on the smartly gowned, jewel bedecked young ladies, I hid a sigh and made myself remember instead Raffles words to me in my room.

 

"Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders," a lady, whom I presumed to be Lady Highmore, came hurrying across to us. "I am so glad you decided to attend out little party and I really must apologise to both of you, and to you in particular, Mr. Manders, for my husband's forgetfulness which led to your less than ideal sleeping arrangements."

 

"We really do not mind, Lady Highmore," Raffles said swiftly. "It is of no matter to us at all, is it, Bunny?"

 

"No, of course not," I said swiftly. "Please do not worry, Lady Highmore, Raffles and I are quite content with the arrangements."

 

"That really is so very kind of you both," she said. "However, William never should have put me in this position. He has forgotten other things, of course, but never before has he forgotten that he had invited a guest. But let us not talk of it any longer. Cranwell," she called, and a moment later Cranwell arrived with a tray of champagne.

 

Ever the gallant one, Raffles took a glass and handed it to Lady Highmore before taking two more and handing one to me. "Thank you, Mr. Raffles," she said. "I do believe that you are going to play in the cricket match?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, that is why I was invited," he said.

 

I saw a faint frown cross Lady Highmore's face and then she laughed a little. "Oh, dear, I must once again apologise for my husband, Mr. Raffles. He is obsessed with this cricket match; he simply has to win it - I do not understand it myself, surely it is only a game? Oh, dear," she added swiftly, "I did not mean to . . ."

 

"It is perfectly all right, Lady Highmore. Between you, Bunny and myself, I often think the relevance of the game is over-estimated."

 

She gave him a faint smile. "I see. Well, as I was saying I must apologise if William led you to believe that cricket was the only reason for which you were invited - that is not the case, not at all." Raffles inclined his head slightly and gave her a smile that did not touch his eyes, and was nothing at all like the smiles he gave me. "And do you play cricket as well, Mr. Manders?"

 

I shook my head. "No, Lady Highmore. I do not."

 

"Bunny however is excellent at keeping score."

 

"Oh, thank goodness for that," Lady Highmore said and her tone did indeed show more than a modicum of relief. "The servants will certainly be relieved!" Raffles raised an eyebrow. "Oh, dear, I really shouldn't - Oh, do smoke, gentlemen, if you wish to. I know that some hostesses insist on the gentlemen only smoking in certain rooms, but I not approve of that. It is quite ridiculous," she smiled and Raffles took out his cigarette case and offered it to me before striking a match and holding it to my Sullivan.

 

"Thank you, Lady Highmore," he said.

 

"It is my pleasure, Mr. Raffles."

 

We stood in silence for a moment or two before Raffles said, "You were saying how the servants would be happy that Bunny here will be keeping score."

 

"Oh, yes, so I was. Well, it is just that William believes that only he can keep score adequately - just as he believes that only he can bowl a decent ball or - But I am quite certain that will not apply when it comes to you, Mr. Raffles. Well," she said looking from Raffles to me, "he cannot shout at you, Mr. Manders, can he? Or at least he won't," she added, in a much harder tone. Seconds later she smiled at us, "Well, I really must circulate, gentlemen, and thank you again for being so understanding and so accommodating over William's forgetfulness. I shall see you both at diner."

 

Raffles inclined his head and smiled; I just smiled as she turned and swept away from us. Raffles stared after her than put his cigarette in the same hand as his glass of champagne and took my arm with his free hand and guided me across the room to a quiet corner. He dropped the spent match into the ashtray that was on the table and shook his head. "You know, Bunny," he said, inhaling for a moment and then blowing a perfect smoke ring, "I do not which one of them I dislike the more: Sir or Lady Highmore."

 

"Really?" I asked, not even attempting to blow a smoke ring of my own.

 

"Mmm, he lies to us; whereas she tells us the truth - you would have thought they would at least have agreed on their stories. However, it is not the fact that she did not support her husband's story that rather appals me, but the way in which she took pleasure in what was in effect belittling her husband. I do not particular like the man, oh, I do not dislike him, he's a fool, a fool who drinks too much and cannot remember things. However, I do not condone a wife who does not support her husband in public - no matter what she might say to him in private. Do you?"

 

"Well, no, Raffles, of course I don't but - Raffles?"

 

"Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"Just tell me honestly, did Sir Highmore really invite me? Or did you just . . . I don't mind, Raffles, I just want to know."

 

He shook his head in his fond way, let his fingers drift to my fringe for a moment as he said in a solemn tone, "Yes, Bunny, I give you my word, Highmore did indeed tell me that I could bring you with him. He simply forgot to inform Lady Highmore, that is all."

 

I smiled at him. "Thank you, Raffles," I said. For a moment we just stood and gazed at one another until a voice, a loud voice interrupted us.

 

"Raffles! There you are. Found your way down here all right, did you? Here let me get you and - Let me get you both another drink. Cranwell!" he bellowed, and a moment or two later the young man hurried over. "Quicker, boy, you need to be quicker than that - you've kept these gentlemen waiting."

 

Cranwell's cheeks reddened. Raffles took two glasses and handed one to me. "I assure you," he said, "we were not kept waiting." His tone was chilly, but it seemed to pass right over Highmore's head.

 

"Hmph," he said, "always said you were a true gentleman, Raffles, not like some of those so called gentlemen. Did you hear him, Cranwell, did you hear what he said?"

 

"Yes, Sir Highmore," the still red-cheeked Cranwell stammered. "Thank you, Mr. Raffles, sir, it's very kind of you to say so, sir."

 

Raffles shrugged. "It isn't kind, Cranwell; it is merely the truth - is it not, Bunny."

 

I nodded. "Yes, yes it is." And I smiled at the poor hapless young man.

 

"Thank you, Mr. Manders, sir," he said. "May I go now, Sir Highmore?"

 

"Yes. But don't take so long another time."

 

"No, sir. Thank you, sir." And with that Cranwell departed and Raffles took out his cigarette case and pointedly offered it to me before offering it to Highmore. The insult, however, was completely lost on Highmore, even I could see that.

 

Highmore stayed with us talking to Raffles and occasionally addressing (not by name) a remark to me until we were summoned into dinner. I didn't really mind, even though I too did not care for the man, as it did mean that whilst Highmore was talking to Raffles, the pretty young, doting ladies couldn't talk to him.

 

As I expected, Raffles and I were seated about as far apart as we could be placed at dinner. The ladies were already seated when we gentlemen were called in and in a glance I saw that he had been placed between two of the most well dressed, jewel bedecked, attractive young ladies, whereas I had been seated between a young lady whom I presumed to be Miss Cleaver and an elderly lady whose pearls dangled on the table.

 

I nodded first to the older lady before I turned and nodded at Miss Cleaver as I sat down. "Do you smoke, young man?" The older lady demanded.

 

I turned to her. "Er, yes, ma'am," I said, trying hard not to stammer.

 

"Good." She declared. "Every gentleman should smoke." And with those words she turned away from me and started to talk to the gentleman next to her.

 

I shook my head a little and turned back to the young lady who would be my companion and smiled at her. "Do I have the honour of sitting next to Miss Cleaver?" I asked.

 

She gave a soft laugh and her eyes sparkled in a way that made me think she was intelligent. "I am not quite sure I'd call it an honour, but yes, I am Miss Clever, Miss Eleanor Cleaver, and you must be Mr. Manders." She held out her hand.

 

I took it, shook it and bent my head slightly over it. "Harry Manders," I said, letting go of her hand.

 

She glance around her, leant a little nearer to me and said softly, "Tell me, Mr. Manders, did Sir Highmore really forget he had invited you?"

 

I stared at her. "How do you know -"

 

"Oh, the ladies talked about nothing else - well, there were those who believed that your Mr. Raffles simply brought you along with him."

 

"Which he did not!" I said, somewhat more loudly than I had intended to. "Sir Highmore simply forgot to tell Lady Highmore that he had invited me as well as Raffles," I said more softly.

 

Her eyes gleamed with pleasure and she smiled at me. Then the dazzling look she was giving me faded and she said, far more formally than she had hitherto spoken. "Do please forgive me, Mr. Manders. I spoke out of turn; it is not my place to talk about a titled gentleman like that. You see," she hurried on before I could assure her that she did not need to offer any apology to me. "I do not know if you have been told, I assume not, however, I am merely the daughter of a vicar, as such I do not strictly speaking belong at such an event as this." Her cheeks were slightly reddened and her hand shook a little as she reached for her glass.

 

I did what I had never done before (except for when dancing on the rare occasion I did dance) and touched her arm. "You don't have to apologise to me, Miss Cleaver," I said firmly. "Sir Highmore did forget that he invited me, it's as simple as that. You have as much right as anyone else to comment on it."

 

She smiled at me. "You are very kind, Mr. Manders."

 

"Nonsense," I said fairly forcefully for me. "And as for you being 'merely' a vicar's daughter, I can tell you quite honestly, Miss Cleaver, there isn't a young lady I would prefer to be seated by."

 

She flushed a little more, but this time I could tell it was with pleasure, not embarrassment. "Now you really are being kind, Mr. Manders."

 

I shook my head. "Actually, Miss Cleaver, I am not. You see, I too do not really fit in at these kinds of dinners. I am invited because Raffles is invited; I am invited as his 'insignificant little friend', that is all."

 

She frowned me. "But you are a gentleman, are you not? I hear that you and Mr. Raffles are extremely close friends."

 

I took a sip of wine and nodded. "Yes, I am and yes, we are. However, that does not detract from the fact that I am neither a good conversationalist, a good dancer and given I am even more hopeless at cricket than I am at dancing, you can see why I am not invited for myself."

 

"Well," she said, "I believe tomorrow there will be dancing and I for one hope you will invite me to dance and then, Mr. Manders, I can judge for myself just how well you dance."

 

"It will be my pleasure to dance with you, Miss Cleaver," I declared realising that I wasn't just being kind; I actually spoke the truth. She smiled at me and I found myself asking her, "If you do not mind me asking, Miss Cleaver, why were you -" I came to an abrupt halt realising I had relaxed in her company so much that I was about to ask her what really was a highly insulting question. I felt my own cheeks grow a little warm and I fumbled for my napkin and rearranged it on my lap.

 

"Was I invited?"

 

I swallowed hard and gave the smallest of nods. "I'm really sor-"

 

"Now it is my turn, Mr. Manders, to assure you there is nothing for which you need to apologise. Simply put whilst I may 'only' be the daughter of a vicar, my mother was a lady; she married beneath herself and the family showed their disapproval in the way families do. At least they did until I was born and my uncle, my mother's twin brother, calmly announced to the family that he had no intention of ever marrying and thus would not produce the expected heir. After that, although the family still refused to acknowledge my mother's marriage to my father or acknowledge me insofar as visiting us went, they did provide money for my upbringing and education - money my mother refused to accept until Uncle Peter made her. So I am considered socially acceptable, thus when Lady Highmore needs the presence of another young lady she always invites me as she knows I will not show her up by using the wrong fork or misusing my napkin or all the other things that are of such importance."

 

I stared at her, suddenly uncertain what to say. I gave her a half smile and again touched her arm, hoping both would convey what I couldnít find the words to say.

 

"I'm sorry, I did not mean to be quite so - Shall we talk about something else?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, let's. What would you like to talk about?"

 

We fell into an easy conversation, the easiest conversation I had ever had with a young lady and an easier one that I'd had with most men - Raffles aside. She mentioned Raffles a time or two and said she had once seen him play when a member of her father's parish had given her father two tickets to a match involving Middlesex.

 

As we talked about books, Raffles, art, what chances Highmore's gentlemen had of winning the match and many other things, I got the impression that whilst she clearly admired Raffles, she was the first young lady with whom I had ever conversed who did not consider Raffles her idol and thus was talking to me merely as a way of getting an introduction to Raffles. I got the impression that she was actually happy with my company - just as I was happy with hers.

 

LATER THAT NIGHT

 

Raffles closed the door to what I kept thinking of as our rooms behind us and firmly locked the door before turning and holding out his arms to me. I hesitated for a second or two and he sighed softly, "I assure you, my rabbit, I did not get close enough to any young lady to cause her perfume to be on me."

 

I smiled and hurried across the room and went quite happily into his embrace. Tomorrow evening there was to be dancing following dinner, and I would ensure he removed his dining jacket before he embraced me. I wasn't fond of perfume at the best of times, but I hated it when he kissed or held me and all I could smell was the scent from all the ladies with whom he had danced. Instead he smelt of cigarettes along with the lingering scent of the aftershave he used.

 

He held me closely against him for a moment of two before gently pushing me away just far enough to allow him to kiss me. I was a little surprised that the kiss became as deeply passionate as it did so quickly; he pulled me nearer to him and I felt both of our bodies begin to respond to the closeness. One of his hands, as it so often was, was tangled in my hair, the other was already beneath my dining jacket lightly caressing my back.

 

It was he who finally broke the kiss and allowed us both to breathe and he who, again somewhat to my surprise, pushed my head down onto his shoulder as he held me in a looser embrace. "So, my rabbit," he said, "you seemed to be enjoying the company of Miss Cleaver." His tone was light, but knowing every nuance of his voice as I did I could tell it also had an edge to it.

 

"She was a very nice young lady," I replied, smiling slightly into his shoulder.

 

"Was she now?"

 

I raised my head at the now clear edge in his tone and gazed at him. "Raffles!" I declared, "I do believe you are jealous."


He stared down at me and I fully expected him to deny my accusation. However, to my continued surprise, he gave a half shrug, glanced over my shoulder, before returning his gaze to my face. "Maybe I am," he said softly. I just stared at him, wondering if he had maybe had a glass or two of champagne too many. "You seemed very - contented to be in her company," he said.

 

"Raffles," I moved back a little more and put my hand on his cheek. "You do not honestly fear that I might . . . That I might prefer the company of Miss Cleaver to your company, do you?"

 

"I do not know, my rabbit. I do not believe so, but I saw what I saw."

 

"I was just being polite to her, Raffles!"

 

"Oh, come now, Bunny, it was a little more than that, was it not? Besides you yourself said only a moment or two ago that she was, and I quote, 'a nice young lady'. I do not believe I have ever heard you say such a thing before."

 

I stared at him, looking at him intently, trying to ascertain if he was maybe teasing me, as he still from time to time had the wont to do. However, I could see that he clearly wasnít; I could also see that he was just a little uneasy, but whether that was because of what I might say or because he was showing quite how important he regarded me, I wasn't certain.

 

"Raffles," I put both of my hands on his face, cupping it between them before I lightly brushed my lips over his. "I love you, you, Raffles, you know that - I know you do. You're everything to me, Raffles, everything. Yes, I did enjoy Miss Cleaver's company and yes, I am actually looking forward to dancing with her tomorrow, but that is all it is, of that I assure you. It is just rather pleasant to spend an evening in the company of a young lady who doesn't make it clear she is with me because she has to be when she would much rather be a part of the flock of ladies surrounding you."

 

He stared at me and then covered my hands with his, pulling one to his mouth so that he could kiss it. "I do apologise, Bunny," he said in a very formal tone.

 

"You don't have to apologise, Raffles. I must confess I am - Well . . ."

 

He shook his head. "As I told you earlier, my rabbit, I love you too. It is just - Oh, Bunny, I believe that tonight was the first time I ever truly understood quite how difficult it must be for you to stand and watch me dance with and talk to the young ladies who, to use your own term, flock around me."

 

I shrugged. "I love you, Raffles," I said and then dropped to my knees in front of him, swiftly unbuttoned his trousers, slipped my  hand inside his drawers, gently pulled him out, making sure I did not let his hardness brush against his drawers or trousers and took him into my mouth.

 

"Bunny," he murmured, as he hands came to rest one on my shoulder and the other in my hair. "If you are doing this simply in an attempt to prove your love to me, you do not need to."

 

I paused for a moment and gazed up at him. "I'm not," I said simply and returned to what I was doing until he said my name in a sharper tone and tried to pull my head away. I however, refused to let him and so once more crying my name softly he released into my mouth.

 

I stayed where I was for a minute of two longer, just holding his softening flesh and taking pleasure in the taste of him before he gently guided my head away, helped me to his feet and handed me his handkerchief, with which I wiped my mouth. "Take me to bed, Raffles," I whispered, brushing my lips over his and after a brief, shared visit to the bathroom that is exactly what he did.

 

AN HOUR OR SO LATER

 

I lay in his arms, my head on his shoulder, only wondering vaguely if I should insist upon getting up and going into the other room in order to sleep in that bed rather than share his. However, I doubted he would permit it and if I was honest, I didn't wish to do so. I would just have to remember in the morning to pull the covers back and ruffle the sheet a little before the maids made up the beds.

 

"Bunny?" he said suddenly, his hand sliding into my hair.

 

Instantly my completely relaxed state began to fade a little as I knew that tone: he was about to tell me something I didn't particularly wish to hear. "Yes, Raffles?"

 

His next words confirmed what I thought. "I'm afraid you aren't going to particularly like what I'm about to tell you, and in truth, my rabbit, I don't really care for it myself. However, I have made a decision.

 

I sighed and shifted slightly. "You wish me to go back to my own bed?"

 

"What? No of course I do not." And as if to prove his words, he tightened his grip on me and pulled me just a little nearer to him until the possessiveness of his embrace became more than a little clear.

 

"Then what is it you have decided, Raffles?"

 

"The thing is, Bunny, I didn't like to mention it before we came down here, but I'm afraid we are deucedly hard up and so -"

 

"You're going to spend a good part of your time at the dance tomorrow looking at the fine jewels the ladies bedeck themselves in and you wish me to do the same?"

 

"Um, well, not exactly - I confess that was my plan before we got here. However, and please, Bunny, do let me finish before you object."

 

I moved back a little and stared at him. "Very well, Raffles" I promised.

 

"It's like this, my rabbit. You see I have decided that for once I shall break my own rule and I shall, we shall, relieve the Highmores of some of their finery - of which I happen to know they have a great deal and all of it, all of it, Bunny, is of the finest quality." He hurried on, "I know it's terribly bad form and I really do feel badly about it, but, oh, Bunny, they are both obnoxious people, he cannot even trouble to remember your name and their daughters are if anything even worse."

 

"And you know this how?"

 

"Because, my dear Bunny, I had the misfortune to be seated between the two Miss Highmores, both of whom spent the entire dinner and quite some time afterwards - before their father rescued me so that he could once more tell me all about the match, I must confess that for once I was actually happy to see him - trying to outdo one another, and make certain she was the one I preferred. They openly told me all about the array of jewellery their parents, brother and they have and indeed where it is kept and what it is worth - as well as telling me what the house was worth. And if that wasn't enough, they were more than a little disrespectful about their parents. And whilst, as you know, I do not care for either Sir or Lady Highmore, I do have some standards and believe that . . . I'm sorry, Bunny," he said, "but some things really do irritate me."

 

Raffles may take what isn't his, may break the law by sharing his bed with me, may disparage some of our acquaintances, may have, before he gave me a vow of his fidelity to me, taken more than one young lady's virtue from her without any intent of offering to marry her, may in many respects, if you did not know him as I did, be considered an immoral man. However, in truth he is actually a very moral man and has a great sense of what is right and what is wrong.

 

I hesitated for a moment before speaking and then decided it was getting late (well early) and I had to remain awake and aware for the cricket match, as I certainly did not wish to be shouted at by Highmore (if only because I knew Raffles would not stand by and merely allow Highmore to berate me). I was pleasantly sleepy and thus decided that arguing with Raffles, especially as once he makes up his mind he rarely if ever changes it, was too much trouble.

 

Thus, I sighed softly, made myself more comfortable in his arms and simply said, "When do you intend to relieve them of their jewels?"

 

I had to hide a laugh when his hand came to rest on my forehead and the other took my wrist and held it as his fingers rest over my pulse - it was something he had done fairly often when we had been at school together. "I am quite well, Raffles," I said, moving back a little so that I could gaze at him. "I do not have a fever; I merely do not wish to debate what you have already decided. Now kiss me and let us go to sleep; we both have to be on form tomorrow, well later today, do we not?"

 

He smiled at me and put his head closer to mine and kissed me. "Never stop, my beloved rabbit," he said softly, after some minutes had gone by.

 

My eyes were growing very heavy and I felt my body slip even closer to sleep. "Never stop what, Raffles?"

 

"Surprising me," he murmured, kissing me lightly again, before he reached up and turned out the bedside lamp.

 

As I fell asleep, my head in a very comfortable place on his shoulder, held in his arms, I realised he had never told me when he had planned for us to carry out the burglary - but it didn't matter, he would tell me in due course.

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY

 

Raffles, as he always did when he wasn't playing test or county cricket, moderated his skills during the first day of the match in an attempt to make it somewhat fairer for the other side. However, despite him doing thus, Highmore (whom I am pleased to say did not shout at me once and in fact actually praised my score keeping abilities) got his wish and his team had a comfortable lead at the end of play.

 

From what I could tell, the other team, well certainly Sir Kingston (the captain) was not particularly happy that Highmore had brought Raffles in. I think he believed to allow a test and county cricket playing gentleman to play in such a match wasn't fair - wasn't, in fact, cricket. I even overheard him having a few words with Highmore who, of course, dismissed the comments - if indeed he ever understood them, which somehow I doubted.

 

However, no matter how much he may not have approved of Raffles's position on Highmore's team, Kingston was perfectly affable to Raffles, praising him, thanking him for moderating his abilities, commenting on the most recent test match in which Raffles had taken eight wickets in one innings and scored a century, and telling him he hoped the England selectors would pick Raffles for the next test. However, what pushed him up ever more in my estimation was the fact that he appeared to know who I was, addressing me by name, shaking my hand and thanking me for doing such a fine job of keeping score and thus making the match more enjoyable.

 

I do not know how Kingston knew my name (I was quite certain Highmore wouldn't have been able to tell him, even had he asked) I presumed it had to be that given I attended all of Raffles's matches and he was fond of cricket that at some point he may have seen me with Raffles and asked who I was. How he knew didn't matter, all that mattered to me (used as I was to people forgetting my name) was that he had taken the trouble to remember my name.

 

Kingston and his team and their ladies were to join the after dinner dance and as we bathed, shaved and dressed I wondered if I would see anything of Raffles that night - or at least see anything of him when he wasn't dancing one young lady after another around the room. However, for once the thought troubled me somewhat less than it had done on previous occasions. It wasn't just because we had spent a very pleasant hour in Raffles's bed after we had returned to our rooms, but also because for once I would have a pleasant companion with whom to spend the evening and with whom I could dance from time to time, but also because of what Raffles had said to me on the previous evening.

 

LATER THAT EVENING

 

When we returned to Raffles's bedroom, I made a point of insisting he removed his dining jacket and not only removed it but put it in the room I used for little more than keeping my clothes. He laughed softly but obliged me before insisting he was not the only one whose dining jacket had the scent of perfume on it. I had to admit he was correct; however, as least the scent from mine was only from one young lady and not the myriad of young ladies whom he had danced so very ably around the room.

 

I once more spent the night in his arms in his bed after an even longer time during which he seemed intent on proving to me quite how little his interest was in the beautiful young ladies whom had indeed flocked around him.

 

THE PENULTIMATE EVENING

 

Even with Raffles moderating his skills more than I had ever seen him do, Highmore's team finished the penultimate day's cricket so far ahead that I believe there was little point in playing on the morrow. However, Kingston was adamant the match would be completed, and thus after another lengthy dinner and a failed attempt by one of Highmore's daughter to persuade Raffles to take her outside to see the moon and take a walk through the flower borders, we once more retired to our rooms where Raffles informed me tonight was the night.

 

I was somewhat surprised due to the fact that guests were expected to remain for the final dinner after the final day's play and also to spend the night. I suggested that it might be safer to wait until then. However, Raffles had his reasons, which of course he did not bother to share with me and in truth I did not bother to press him for them. I merely asked him at what time we would be venturing down to the library - where apparently Highmore kept the majority of the family jewels, believing it was the safest place and the last place a burglar would think of looking. And upon learning we had a couple of hours before he was confident the servants would have finished clearing away for the night, I suggested we get into his bed and relax before our adventure. He laughed at my term, but within a very short time indeed we were indeed in his bed as mouths met and hands roamed over naked bodies.

 

"Well, my rabbit," he murmured, as he pulled his dressing gown on, "are you ready?"

 

I was actually as far from being 'ready' as I could be, having found my release in both Raffles's hand and mouth and having been kissed and loved until I could barely keep my eyes open. I gave consideration to asking him if he actually needed my assistance, but I knew that no matter how sleepy I felt now, if I let him go alone I would just lie in his bed wide awake, worrying about him and waiting for the moment the hue and cry told me he had been caught.

 

Thus I smiled, pulled my dressing gown on, let him turn the collar down properly for me and said, "Yes, Raffles."

 

"That's my good boy," he said, brushing my hair back from my forehead and then he lit a candle, put his arm under my elbow and led me out of the room. We paused for a moment and listened, but even I could hear that all was quiet.

 

Suddenly I felt his lips against my ear. "Remember, Bunny, don't sneak along; just walk normally. If anyone does see us, we are simply going to the library to find a book to read."

 

"Yes, Raffles," I replied, fighting the urge to ask him if he really thought any fellow guest would believe we had both awoken in the middle of the night and had the same desire to read. However, I told myself, why would they think anything else? What other reason could two gentlemen have for paying a visit to the library in the early hours of the morning?

 

To my surprise and relief (it was very dark and the candle Raffles carried didn't give as much light as it might) he slipped his arm though mine and guided me along the hallway, down the stairs and to the door of the library where he paused for a moment, glanced around him, put his hand around the flickering flame of the candle and nodded to me to turn the handle of the door.

 

A moment later we were inside and Raffles had left me by the door and had crossed to a table and turned the lamp on. A second later I was by his side, clutching his arm so tightly I knew the chances that he would show bruises from my fingers the next day were fairly high, biting my lip in order to prevent myself from crying aloud as we stared at the body of Cranwell that was sprawled across the sofa with a knife sticking out of his chest.

 

I went on clutching Raffles's arm as his other hand covered my mouth and he again put his lips to my ear. "Are you all right, Bunny? You're not going to be sick are you?" I nodded and then shook my head in that order, answering both questions - even though I wasn't certain my answer to either was correct. "That's my good boy," he said, straightening up and taking his hand from across my mouth. He let me stand and hold on to him for a moment or two before he said softly, "Let go of my arm, there's a good rabbit." Letting go of him was the last thing I wanted to do, but I forced myself to obey.

 

He hovered by my side for a moment or two, not doubt intent on assuring himself that I wasn't about to faint or collapse, before he carefully went across to Cranwell and put his fingers on his pulse and then lifted an eyelid.

 

I didn't need to ask him if Cranwell was dead; I may not know much about anatomy, but even I knew where the heart was and the knife was sticking out from that exact position. Nonetheless, as much to check if my voice was trembling, I said, "Is he dead?"

 

Raffles turned and came back to me. "Yes, Bunny," he said quietly, putting his hands on my shoulders and gazing down at me. "He is."

 

I swallowed hard and forced myself to stop trembling as I took comfort and strength from his presence. "What are we going to do?"

 

He was silent for no more than a second. Then he said firmly, "You, my beloved rabbit, are to go back to bed," I liked the sound of that - well, I liked it apart from the 'you'. "I shall wait a moment or two until I know you are safely upstairs and then I shall, like any responsible guest would do, go and awaken Highmore and tell him."

 

I stared at him, sighed silently, straightened my shoulders, swallowed hard and said firmly, "I'm coming with you, Raffles."

 

He smiled down at me and moved one hand from my shoulder to brush my hair from my forehead. "Are you quite certain, Bunny?" he said and I believe I heard a faint hint of almost pride in his voice.

 

I nodded. "Yes, Raffles. I am. We are in this together. I am going to come with you." And to my surprise, now that I had made my decision, I actually felt better than I had felt since we had left his bedroom.

 

My surprise doubled when he lowered his head and put his lips on mine, kissing me lightly for a moment or two, before he straightened up, picked up the candle he had put on the table, took my hand and led me across the room to the door.

 

Just before we reached it, he paused and turned his head sharply towards the window. "Raffles?" I murmured, "is something wrong?"

 

He shook his head and turned back to me. "No, Bunny, nothing at all. I thought for a second I - but it's just the presence of poor Cranwell's body." And still holding my hand, he led me out of the library, across the hallway and back up the stairs.

 

As we neared the top we both heard footsteps and he let go of my hand and held the candle up higher to reveal Sir Halbard, whom I recalled was a barrister or solicitor or something similar. He too held a candle and stared at us. "Hello, Raffles," he said, "Manders," he added glancing at me with a frown. "If it's not too impolite a thing to ask, may I enquire quite what you're doing out of bed at this time of night?"

 

Raffles explained quickly about us wanting something to read (whether or not Halbard believed him I had no idea) and thus going to the library where we found the body of Cranwell.

 

"Well, I'll be damned," Halbard declared. "Are you quite certain, Raffles? You didn't have a little too much champagne at dinner, maybe?"

 

Raffles shook his head. "I wish that was the case, Halbard. However, no, I am afraid I - we - did not imagine it. Cranwell is dead and he was murdered."

 

Halbard stared at him for a moment. "Murder you say?"

 

Raffles shrugged. "Well, I for one do not believe the poor man stabbed himself in the heart."

 

"No, I imagine not. What were you about to do?"

 

Raffles stared. "Inform Sir Highmore, of course."

 

Halbard was silent for a moment before saying, "I'll come with you."

 

TWENTY MINUTES LATER

 

The four of us stood in the now brightly lit library where Raffles and Highmore were arguing. "Come along, Raffles old chap, it was clearly an argument between two servants, we can just cover it up, bury the chap and be done with it. There's no need to call the police."

 

"Actually, Highmore, there is. The man has been murdered. Now it doesn't really matter if it was a servant or one of your other guests but -"

 

"Now, now, Raffles, be careful what you say. You may be a damn good cricket player, but I won't have you maligning your fellow guests. It had to be another servant; a gentleman would never - never - do you hear me murder someone? Never!" His voice had got considerably louder and I was glad Raffles had had the forethought to close the door behind us.

 

"I -" Raffles started to say.

 

However, Halbard interrupted him. "I hate to say it, Highmore, but Raffles here is correct. This is a matter for the police - well, for Scotland Yard."

 

"Now look here, Halbard, just because you're some blasted solicitor or something, it doesn't mean you can come into my home and -"

 

"Scotland Yard have to be called in, Highmore. This man - your servant - has been murdered. It isn't a case of a drunken brawl or a burglary gone wrong, the man has clearly been murdered. Now I happen to know the Commissioner of Scotland Yard and I know there is one man in particular who is, shall we say, discreet. He's the man we want; I'll ring the Commissioner now and see if he can be assigned."

 

Highmore glared at Halbard before saying, "You do what you want; I'm going back to bed."

 

"I really don't think that would be advisable, Highmore - the man did, after all, work for you. Do you want to show the detective quite how cold hearted you are?"

 

"Damn you, Halbard," Highmore said, turning on his heel. "Call your tame detective in if it makes you happy - I'm going to get myself a drink, unless you are going to object to that as well!" And without waiting for Halbard to reply, he flung open the door and strode out into the hallway.

 

Halbard sighed. "It's a shock for him," he said, but his tone belied his words.

 

"I'm sure it is," Raffles murmured.

 

Halbard glanced at him. "I think we'd all better wait somewhere else," he said. "I'll go and ring the Commissioner."

 

To my surprise Raffles guided me into Highmore's study where after glaring at us for a moment or two, he shrugged and poured brandy into two glasses and pushed them into our hands. I took a sip from mine; it wasn't that I actually wanted a drink at a little past three o'clock in the morning, but I was still feeling a little shaky and a little chilled and I thought a sip or two of brandy would help with both. Raffles I noticed just took the glass and held it.

 

A minute or two later Halbard reappeared. "Well, that's a bit of luck," he said, taking the glass Highmore held out for him. "The detective I had in mind is actually in the area on holiday. Thus he should be with us within half an hour or so."

 

"You call that luck?" Highmore muttered, however, his tone was less belligerent that it had hitherto been. He drained his glass, poured another one and opened the cigarette case that stood atop of his desk and offered it around. We all took one and accepted a light, murmuring our thanks, we then all waited in silence until we heard the faint sounds of a cab pulling up outside.

Highmore drained his glass and with Halbard by his side and Raffles and I slightly behind him he hurried to the front door, undid the bolts and opened it before the man could knock.

 

"Good evening, sir," a voice I believed I recognised said, "of maybe that should be good morning. I'm Inspector Mackenzie, I understand you have a murder that needs investigating."

 

"Keep your voice down, man," Highmore hissed. "Don't want to wake the whole house, do we. Ladies you know," he added. "Frail things, murder'll upset them. Come along to my study."

 

And without giving Mackenzie a chance to object, Highmore turned and strode off. I fought the urge to grab Raffles's arm and just stood by his side, attempting not to tremble too obviously. Suddenly I felt Raffles's hand come to rest on my shoulder and I swear I had never felt more pleased to feel it there.

 

"Mr. Halbard," Mackenzie said softly and nodded, his tone and the nod were respectful

 

"Inspector Mackenzie." Halbard's tone contained the same degree of respect.

 

Mackenzie reached Raffles and I and stopped. "Well, well, well, if it isn't Mr. Raffles and of course Mr. Manders. I dinna expect to see you two here."

 

Raffles smiled and held out the hand that wasnít still resting on my shoulder. "Good evening, Inspector," he said. "I have to say that Mr. Manders and I did not expect to see you either, did we, Bunny?" I swallowed and shook my head as I stared at Mackenzie.

 

"Do you know Raffles and Manders, Mackenzie?" Halbard asked, as he led the way into Highmore's study.

 

"Aye, Mr. Halbard, sir. That I do. We've," he paused and looked at Raffles and me before turning back to Halbard and saying, "run into one another a time or two in London, have we not Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Inspector, we have indeed." Raffles's hand tightened a little more on my shoulder as he firmly, but in a way that I was sure didn't look that way, all but pushed me into Highmore's study; Halbard closed the door behind us all.

 

"Well, sir," Mackenzie said, pulling out his notebook and looking at Highmore, "perhaps you can tell me what happened?"

 

"What? Oh, don't ask me, I only live here. Ask Raffles and," Highmore paused and glanced at me before ending with, "him. They found the body - although why they couldn't just ig-" Halbard cleared his throat loudly and stared at Highmore who glared back but fell silent.

 

Mackenzie waited for a moment or two before turning to look at Raffles and me; Raffles still had his hand on my shoulder and I was endless grateful for it being there. "Well, Mr. Raffles, do tell me what you and Mr. Manders found in the library. Oh, and you can begin by telling me exactly what you were doing in the library at that time of night."

 

Raffles shrugged and took his cigarette case from his pocket. "I trust you do not object, Inspector?" Mackenzie frowned but shook his head. "Thank you. Bunny?" I took one, hoping my hand wasn't shaking too much before Raffles left my side to offer his case firstly to Halbard, then to Highmore, both of whom took a Sullivan, and then to Mackenzie who shook his head.

 

"I thank you, Mr. Raffles, but no, I won't have a cigarette with you." He waited until Raffles had struck a match and offered it around and had returned to my side where once more his hand came to rest on my shoulder before he said, "Well, Mr. Raffles? I am waiting."

 

"Oh, yes, what were Mr. Manders and I doing out of bed? Well, you see Inspector due to a misunderstanding, shall we say, it became necessary for Mr. Manders and I to in effect, well share rooms here, shall we say."

 

"You and Mr. Manders shared a bedroom?"

 

"Not exactly, Inspector, no," Raffles said and quickly explained.

 

"Oh, I see. Well, what does that have to you both being out of bed and in the library when most good people are sleeping?"

 

"I was just coming to that. Mr. Manders woke up and realised he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep and decided to go and fetch a book in the hope it would help him feel sleepy - is that not so, Bunny?"

 

I nodded. "Yes," I managed.

 

"And he woke you up to go with him in case he couldn't find his own way?"

 

Raffles frowned. "No. However, as I explained the room in which Mr. Manders sleeps has no door to the hallway. Thus he had to come through my room, the room in which I was sleeping and somehow he tripped over and naturally I awoke and put the light on and there he was -"

 

"On the floor," I said quickly, deciding that it would look less strange if I at least said something.

 

"Exactly," Raffle said. "Well, I could hardly leave him there, turn over and go back to sleep now, could I?"

 

"I expect not, sir."

 

"Indeed. I ascertained that he didn't feel unwell and when he told me he what he was doing, I decided that I might as well find a book for myself."

 

"And did neither of you gentlemen think to bring a book with you?" Mackenzie said.

 

"Of course we did, Inspector. But you know what it's like when you are staying in someone else's house, do you not?"

 

"No, sir, I don't, as a matter of fact."

 

"Oh, really? Well, I don't suppose that matters. You see, Inspector, one has a natural curiosity to see what books one's host might have."

 

"You and Mr. Manders, at three o'clock in the morning, decided that you wanted to see what books Sir Highmore had in his library?" Mackenzie sounded sceptical and I couldn't blame him.

 

"Yes, Inspector, we did, did we not, Bunny?"

 

I nodded and forced myself to say brightly, "Yes, yes, we did."

 

"And you couldna have waited until the morning to fulfil this - urge, gentlemen?"

 

Raffles shrugged. "Well, Inspector, I am involved in a cricket match and would be expected to take to the field and Mr. Manders here is our score keeper, so he too would be expected to be present - so there wouldn't have been time."

 

Mackenzie stared at us. I was quite certain he didn't believe us, but as with all the other times he hadn't believed Raffles, I knew he couldn't prove it. So instead he just said, "Aye, sir. So you and Mr. Manders went to the library and what did you find?"

 

All hint of the slight sarcasm and humour that touched Raffles's voice every time he spoke to Mackenzie fled and he told him succinctly what we had found. His hand was still comfortingly warm on my shoulder and I was still grateful that it was there.

 

"Did you touch the body, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"I put my fingers on his pulse to confirm what of what I was already certain and I lifted one of his eyelids."

 

"Can you confirm that is all that Mr. Raffles did, Mr. Manders?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, Inspector."

 

"Thank you, both. Well, if one of you gentlemen will show me the way; I'll go and look at the body and the scene of the crime."

 

"Look here, Inspector whatever your name is. Do we have to do this? Can't you just - well, let it go? Declare it to be accidental death and all."

 

"And why would I do that, sir?"

 

"Blast it man, I can make a good contribution to the police widows and orphans fund, don't you know? All you have to do it -"

 

"Sir Highmore are you attempting to bribe a -"

 

"No, Mackenzie, of course he isn't," Halbard said swiftly. "He's just somewhat upset, which is perfectly understandable. After all finding a body of a dead man, a man who worked for him, in the library is bound to . . . Well you're used to it, but Highmore here, well - I'm sure you understand, Mackenzie."

 

Mackenzie stared at Halbard and then looked at Highmore. "Aye, sir," he said, "I'm sure I do. Mr. Raffles," he turned to Raffles, "perhaps you and Mr. Manders would be kind enough to show me where the -"

 

"Damn it all, I don't understand what the fuss is all about. It isn't as if the man was a gentleman, is it? He was only a servant; only a blasted servant, who cares who murdered him?"

 

"Highmore!" Halbard snapped.

 

I happened to be in the position to see both Raffles and Mackenzie's faces as Highmore had said the words 'only a servant' and I saw the same look of disgust pass over both faces - even though both of them covered it up swiftly.

 

"If you'll be so kind, Mr. Raffles," Mackenzie said curtly, after a moment or two had gone by.

 

"Of course, Inspector. Come along, Bunny, let us show the good Inspector where the library is." And I let Raffles guide me out of the study, across the hall where he stopped by the library door. "Here we are, Inspector," he said. "I imagine you will require Mr. Manders and myself to wait outside, will you not?"

 

Mackenzie glanced at us, his gaze coming to rest on the hand Raffles still had on my shoulder. "You may as well come in with me - given you've both already been inside." And with that, he pushed open the door and stood back to let Raffles and I precede him inside.

 

He closed the door behind us, paused to look slowly around the library before going over to Cranwell's body. Like Raffles had done some time earlier, he put his fingers on Cranwell's pulse for a moment which clearly confirmed what Raffles had told him.

 

He wrote something in his notebook, straightened up and looked at us. "So you and Mr. Manders came down to find a book?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, Inspector, that is what we told you - why do you think Mr. Manders and I had anything to do with the murder of poor unfortunate Cranwell?"

 

Mackenzie glanced at Raffles and shook his head. "No, Mr. Raffles, dinna worry, I dinna think you and Mr. Manders had anything to do with the murder of the poor man. You are many things, but murders you are not."

 

Raffles just held Mackenzie's stare and gave him a faint nod, as if acknowledging his words. "Well, I am suitably gratified to hear that, Inspector Mackenzie and I'm sure Mr. Manders is too - are you not, Bunny?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, yes, I am - we are."

 

Mackenzie made a noise in his throat and glanced at each of us in turn. He then began to ask questions. I let Raffles answer all of them, given they were addressed to both of us, rather than one of us - confirming what he said when asked to do so.

 

Finally, Mackenzie closed his notebook and nodded. "Thank you, gentlemen," he said, "you've been very helpful. There really isna anything else I need you for tonight - just make sure you don't leave the house."

 

"Oh, we won't, Inspector, I am expected to take to the field tomorrow and ensure Highmore's team does indeed win the match."

 

Mackenzie stared in surprise at Raffles. "You dinna think Mr. Highmore will continue with the match, do you, Mr. Raffles?"

 

Raffles stared at him. "I am quite certain that he will, Inspector Mackenzie." His tone was cold and hard and I saw Mackenzie raise an eyebrow.

 

"Well, maybe the gentleman will have had a change of heart in the morning," was all he said.

 

Raffles just shrugged; he was enough of a gentleman himself not to suggest that Highmore was not a gentleman. "Inspector?" he said suddenly.

 

"Aye, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Why do not you let Mr. Manders and I assist you?"

 

Mackenzie stared at Raffles. "And why would I do that, Mr. Raffles?"

"Because, Inspector, you were as disgusted as I was when Highmore dismissed Cranwell's murder as being that of 'only a servant'." He kept his steady gaze on Mackenzie and I also studied his face, wondering quite what he would say.

 

He stared at Raffles in silence for several minutes before turning to look at me. "And what do you think you and Mr. Manders could do that I couldna?"

 

Raffles shrugged. "We are here as guests, Inspector, we are," he paused for a second, before to my surprise saying, "forgive me, I mean no offence. However, we are gentlemen, and as such people are more likely to talk to us or at least talk in our presence, especially as we are the ones who found Cranwell, than they are to you."

 

Mackenzie again stared at Raffles. "Aye, Mr. Raffles," he said with what I thought was a hint of almost amusement in his tone, "I believe you dinna mean any offence and none is taken, sir." He fell silent and just went on staring at Raffles. "Very well, Mr. Raffles, I accept what you say and I do agree with it. You and Mr. Manders may 'assist' me - informally of course."

 

"Oh, of course, Inspector."

 

"Aye," Mackenzie said. "Well, you best be getting to your beds, gentlemen."

 

Raffles inclined his head. "Thank you, Inspector and goodbye for now." And with another nod, he turned me and guided me towards the door.

 

"Mr. Raffles?"

 

We stopped and turned around. "Yes, Inspector?"

 

"Just one thing, sir."

 

"Anything, Inspector," Raffle said brightly.

 

"Make sure you and Mr. Manders take care."

 

Raffles widened his eyes slightly and a small smile touched his lips. "Why, Inspector, I didn't know you cared."

 

To my surprise a faint smile touched Mackenzie's lips as well. "I dinna say that, Mr. Raffles, it's just that if anything happens to either of you gentlemen the paperwork . . ."

 

Raffles nodded. "We understand, Inspector," he said quietly. "Come along, Bunny, let us get back to bed," he turned me around and once more guided me towards the door; this time the Inspector did not stop us.

 

He kept his hand on my shoulder and we made our way across the hall, up the stairs and along to our bedrooms. As we walked I noticed he was trembling faintly and his hand gripped my shoulder more tightly and I heard him swallow hard a couple of times.

 

We reached the door and he opened it and we went inside. "Raffles," I began to say, closing the door behind us and looking up at him - I was shocked to see how pale and damp with perspiration his face was and how the faint tremble I had felt, was now obvious. "Are you -"

 

"Do excuse me for a moment, Bunny," he said, turning and hurrying across the room towards the bathroom.

 

I stood for a moment or two, no more, before I followed him. He was bent over the lavatory and was gripping the sink with one hand. I stood by his side and put my arm on his back - I remembered only too well the times he had been the one to hold my hair back for me and comfort me when I had been sick during our times at school.

 

After a moment or two he straightened up and fumbled in the pocket of his dressing gown, I presumed for his handkerchief. Swiftly I gave him mine before hurrying to the sink and filling a glass with water which I handed to him.

 

"Thank you," he murmured, taking the glass in a still shaking hand and drinking some of the water before he leant against the wall and slid down until he was sitting on the floor. I dropped down onto my knees in front of him and put my hand on his knee. "I do apologise, my rabbit," he said, covering my hand with his which was a little damp and clammy.

 

"Don't be foolish, Raffles," I said firmly and smiled at him. He gave me a faint smile back and tightened the grip he had on his hand as he placed the now empty glass on the floor next to him. "Are you unwell?" I asked.

 

He shook his head. "No, my rabbit," he said, his voice low with only a hint of a quiver in it. "It is just that finding poor Cranwell as we did brought back . . ." He trailed off and closed his eyes for a moment and the grip he had on my hand once more tightened. I covered his hand with my other hand and just waited for him to continue.

 

After sitting in silence for a short time, he opened his eyes, rested his head more firmly against the wall and said in a flat tone, "I never told you I was the one to find, Albert, did I?"

 

"Oh, Raffles," I murmured, not even attempting to imagine what it must have been like for him at the age of not quite eighteen to find his beloved younger brother dead.

 

"I awoke and was surprised that he wasn't in my room or calling for me from his. I thought he had just, for once, slept well. I didn't hurry through into his room to see him; I went to the bathroom first and then went in. I didn't realise at first even though . . . Well, he did occasionally have . . . I didn't realise, Bunny. I just pulled back the curtains, went over to his bed and - he was so still, so pale, so quiet and he looked so peaceful. I had never seen him look as peaceful as he looked, Bunny, it was as if - And that was when I realised that he was . . . That he was dead. And . . . I just stood staring down at him, I couldn't even call for Mother or Father or the nurse; I just stood and stared down at the boy I had loved so much; the boy who had suffered so much; the boy who had - And I . . . Oh, Bunny, I -" He put his hand over his mouth and I swiftly moved out of the way and helped him move from sitting against the wall to kneeling in front of the lavatory where I once more rested my hand on his back and murmured soothing words to him.

 

It was a rare thing indeed for me to be the comforter usually it was the other way round and I knew my Raffles well enough to know that is how he preferred it. I knew exactly what had made him vomit again, what thought had gone through his mind as he had stared down, all those years ago, at his finally at peace brother. I didn't tell him it was all right to think what he had thought - I wouldn't insult him by presuming to imagine how he had felt as the relief raced through his mind. I didn't tell him anything; I just did as he had done many times at school and murmured soothing, in many ways meaningless, words to him.

 

Finally he lifted his head, wiped his mouth with the handkerchief I had given him again and turned to look at me. "Oh, Bunny," he murmured, reaching out a somewhat shaky hand to me, "oh, my beloved rabbit, I -"

 

"Hush, Raffles," I said firmly. "Now come along, get up, wash your face and brush your teeth and we can go back to bed. No," I said, as he appeared to be about to argue with me, "don't try to argue. Wash your face and brush your teeth," I repeated, "and then . . ." I trailed off and just smiled at him.

 

Finally, he gave me a small smile back and reached out a still shaky hand to brush my fringe from my forehead, letting his fingers slide into my hair which he tangled around them for a moment or two. "My dear Bunny," he murmured, "my dearest, most beloved rabbit." And then in his less than elegant way, with me actually supporting more than a little, he got to his feet and did as I had instructed.

 

It was I who took his arm and led him back to the bedroom; I who helped him off with his dressing gown; I who urged him to get into bed whilst I checked the door was locked and turned off the main light before I pulled off my own dressing gown, got into bed next to him, put my arms around him and my mouth on his, and spent quite some considerable time showing him just how important, how vital, he was to me and just how much I loved him.

 

THE FOLLOWING EVENING

 

The day had been far from pleasant; I believe that both Raffles and I had thought that after a night to sleep on it, Sir Highmore would decide to abandon the day's cricket out of respect for his dead footman. However, that was not the case - he was as determined as he had been on the previous evening. Lady Highmore suggested tactfully that it might be for the best to cancel the match; however Highmore informed her that she did not understand, and as the dead man was only a servant, it meant nothing.

 

Thus the day had gone according to Highmore's plans. I sat on the bed and watched Raffles change into his cricketing whites and it was quite clear he was appalled by the idea of taking to the field; he even said he felt like playing completely beneath his abilities if only to ensure that the match was not won by Highmore. Even as I applauded the suggestion, I knew he would not do thus, Raffles is far too dedicated and professional a player to do such a thing.

 

Sir Kingston and the members of his team, once they had learnt of Cranwell's murder, seemed utterly appalled that Highmore would consider playing the match, indeed Kingston told Highmore he should just cancel it - even adding as far as he was concerned Highmore could claim victory. But Highmore was adamant and once more repeated his 'only a servant' and thus in the end the match was played out - with considerable bad grace. A handful of Highmore's guests seemed to be more than happy to play the match or stand and watch it and seemed to agree with Highmore, but for the most part no one was comfortable.

 

Raffles not only did not temper his game completely, he actually did what I had never seen him do when playing a country house match: he played to his full abilities, and as such the match was over before tea with a comfortable win for Highmore. I had wondered what Kingston reaction might be, but I saw him shake Raffles's hand and stand and talk to him for several minutes. Thus I got the impression that rather than be annoyed he was actually grateful to get away from Highmore's match and house.

 

I do not know what the rest of the guests did but once tea was over, Raffles and I went back to our room where he firmly shut and bolted the door and took me into his arms and kissed me. When he finally took his mouth from mine, I ventured to suggest we should return back down stairs and talk to people - after all he had persuaded Mackenzie to allow us to help him because the guests would be far more likely to talk to us than to Mackenzie.

 

However, Raffles had dismissed my idea saying there was no need and that he knew exactly with whom he needed to speak to and would do so that evening. Naturally, he did not tell me who the person was, nor why he was so certain he or she would be able to tell us anything, and naturally I did not ask.

 

We spent a very pleasant hour in bed doing things which in truth would disgust and shock the vast majority of people, both those who knew us and those who didn't, and which, were they discovered would end with us being ostracised from society and quite possibly imprisoned. Then Raffles suggest a short nap before we bathed.

 

I was bathing when Raffles, already fully dressed in his evening attire, came into the bathroom and told me he had someone he needed to talk to, but that he would be back in time to tie my tie for me.

 

And he was. I asked him what he had learnt and he had promised to tell me later, saying we really should go downstairs as it was getting a little late.

 

So we did.

 

When we arrived downstairs, Raffles was instantly surrounded and dragged off by the Miss Highmores which left me to take a drink from a tray and reach into my pocket for my cigarette case only to discover I had failed to pick it up.

 

I gave fleeting consideration to following Raffles and the Miss Highmores and asking him for a cigarette. However I decided that as I could not do that all evening, I would return to our rooms and get my own.

 

As I was going past one of the bedrooms I heard Highmore's voice and I paused to listen. "You fool, you bloody young fool."

 

"But, Father, as you said he was only a servant."

 

"Well, you have to get away."

 

"Why?"

 

"Do you wish to go to gaol?"


"Come on, Father, you said it yourself the Inspector chappie doesn't have any evidence and won't find any. And he's only a policeman."

 

"You will leave tonight when we are dining. You will take the train to -" I strained my ears but Highmore had moderated his voice and I could not hear what he was saying.

 

I hesitated for a second or two, before hurrying to the room Raffles and I shared, grabbing my cigarette case and hurrying back down stairs and into the room where I had last seen Raffles. He was no longer there.

 

"Where are you, Raffles?" I muttered, as I hurried across the room and into another room and saw him. He was still with Highmore's daughters - one of whom actually had her hand on his arm and the other was laughing at something he must have said.

 

I hurried across the room and took his other arm. "Raffles! I must talk to you; I must talk to you now." The two Miss Highmores stared at me in anger as well as surprise, and even Raffles looked a little startled by my forcefulness and complete lack of manners.

 

"Do you now, Bunny?" he said softly as his full attention now came to rest on me.

 

"Yes," I said firmly. "Now!" And without giving him a chance to say anything else or to object, I took his arm more firmly and using every ounce of my strength pulled him away.

 

"Well, really!" I heard one of Highmore's daughters say as I continued to drag Raffles across the room and out into the hallway.

 

I was aware that all around us people had fallen silent and were staring at us, but I didn't care; I had to talk to Raffles and I had to talk to him in private. But where could we go? There were guests everywhere as well as servants handing out drinks.

 

I gave fleeting but serious consideration to dragging him into the downstairs lavatory, and I think from the way he raised an eyebrow and murmured, "I think not, Bunny," he must have realised what I had in mind.

 

Finally, I pulled him around a corner and halfway down the hallway and just hoped no one followed us. "Well, my rabbit," he said, as I finally stopped, "quite what is of so importance you felt the need to - shall we say cause quite a scene?" I glanced up at him and for a moment wondered if he was angry with me.

 

However, to my relief his eyes twinkled and he seemed quite untroubled as he gazed down at me. "I think Highmore's son - what's his name?"

 

"I believe it is Gideon," Raffle said, taking his cigarette case out and offering it to me.

 

I took one automatically and let him light it for me as I went on, "May have been the person who killed Cranwell." I had lowered my voice and spoke in little more than a whisper

 

"I know he was," Raffles said calmly.

 

"Raffles!"

 

Raffles blinked at me. "Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"How do you - oh, that is of not matter. The thing is, Raffles, I'm almost certain that Highmore is going to get the young fool out of the country."

 

Now Raffles looked more alert. "Are you now, Bunny?" I nodded. "And how do you know this?" I quickly told him what I had overheard.

 

"You really are a splendid rabbit," he declared squeezing my shoulder as I felt my cheeks flush from the, it has to be said rare, praise he gave me.

 

"What shall we do?"

 

"We must ring the good Inspector. Right now, Bunny, I shall go and do that thing and you - you, my rabbit, must make sure that no one interrupts me."

 

I stared at him. "How am I to do that?"

 

"I don't know. Tell a  oke; faint - no, wait, don't do that. If you faint someone might decide to ring for a doctor. Come along, Bunny, use your imagination."

 

"I'll ring Mackenzie," I said, "and you can distract people."

 

He looked at me. "Are you quite certain, my rabbit?"

 

No, I wasn't, not really. The prospect of ringing Mackenzie, even though (for once) Raffles and I were completely innocent (as far as not having stolen anything or murdered anyone went) did not appeal to me. However, I knew my limitations and I knew only too well that should anyone decide that he wished to make a telephone call, I would never think of a good reason to prevent that person from just barging past me and over-hearing Raffles.

 

"Yes, Raffles," I said and nodded and even managed a faint smile. "You are so much better at thinking swiftly than I am. You would have no problem at all preventing someone from catching me on the telephone, whereas . . ."

 

"You downplay your talents, Bunny. However, I confess that maybe you are correct. Very well then, here is Mackenzie's number," and he pulled a piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket and handed it to me. "Just tell him what you told me and I am quite certain he will tell you he will be here as soon as he possibly can."

 

"Yes, Raffles," I said, I hesitated for no more than a second to allow him to squeeze my shoulder before I hurried off to make the call.

 

Mackenzie thanked me, and as Raffles had predicted told me he would be with us as soon as possible and asked me not to warn Highmore that he was coming - which of course I wouldn't have done.

 

I returned to Raffles to see him leaning against the wall telling a group of men and ladies a story about one of his test matches. "Are there you are, Bunny," he called as I appeared, "is everything all right?"

 

I ignored the looks some of the small group of people were casting in my direction and just smiled. "Yes, Raffles, everything is perfectly all right."

 

"Good." Raffles pushed himself away from the wall, glanced at the others and said, "If you'll excuse me, I really do need to have a word with our host." He smiled and in what was a seamless move turned me under his hand and keeping his hand on my shoulder led me out into the main hall.

 

I really did not wish to stand and talk to Highmore, but Raffles made it clear that is where we should be. So with me saying very little other than 'yes' or 'no' whenever Raffles invited a comment from me, I stood by Raffles's side and listened to him talk to Highmore about the match.

 

Suddenly Johnson appeared. "If you'll excuse me, Sir Highmore, there is an Inspector Mackenzie asking to see you, as well as Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders, sir."

 

Highmore spun around. "What?" he cried. "What does that blasted man think he's doing?"

 

"I rather think he's investigating a murder," Raffles said softly, his tone flat.

 

Highmore turned and glared at Raffles for a moment before saying, "Well, yes, of course he is. But it's not an appropriate time. Johnson tell Mackfisher or whatever his name is -"

 

"Mackenzie, sir."

 

"Yes. Yes, I know. Just tell him it isn't a convenient time - we are about to dine - and I shall ring him later or tomorrow."

 

Johnson cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Sir Highmore, but the Inspector was very insistent; he said it is vitally important that he see you and that -"

 

"The nerve of the man. Oh, very well, I'll come and tell him myself - find Sir Halbard, Johnson, and tell him to join us. Where is the man?"

 

"I put him in your study, sir."

 

"Right. Come along then, Raffles, Manderlin, let's go and see the blasted man. The sooner we get rid of him the sooner we can have dinner, right?"

 

Raffles gave him a cold look but also moved his lips just a little in what I was certain Highmore saw as a smile, but I, who knew Raffles's smiles so well, knew it was anything but. "Indeed, Highmore," he said. "Come along, Bunny," he said to me in a tone quite different from the way he had spoken to Highmore.

 

Johnson proved what I already knew: that he was indeed a first class butler, because by the time Raffles, Highmore and I reached Highmore's study, Halbard was waiting outside.

 

Highmore threw open the door and strode into the room; Halbard followed him and Raffles and I followed Halbard. "Now look here, Inspector," Highmore said in a loud voice, "I don't know what you think you're doing, but we're about to have dinner and thus whatever it is you want will have to wait."

 

"Highmore," Halbard said, cautioning his friend. "I believe we should hear what Inspector Mackenzie has to say."

 

"I'm damned if I will. Coming to my home at this time of night and expecting me to -"

 

"What is it you want, Inspector?" Halbard spoke quite loudly and ignored the glare Highmore shot him.

 

"I should like to see your son, Sir Highmore," Mackenzie said calmly as he stared at Highmore. "Gideon Highmore," he added.

 

"Well, you can't."

 

"Highmore." Again the cautionary tone was clear as Halbard spoke.

 

"I'm afraid I shall have to insist, Sir Highmore. You see, I wish to question him in relation to the murder of James Cranwell."

 

"My son had nothing to do with the murder and you have no right to say he did, no damned right. Halbard, don't just stand there - do something."

 

Halbard glanced at Highmore and then turned to Mackenzie. "Inspector," he said calmly, "may I ask for a moment or two alone with my," he paused and then added, his tone flat, "client."

 

Mackenzie stared at Halbard for a moment, then nodded and said, "Aye, Mr. Halbard, that you may. I'll wait outside with Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders."

 

It was as if Highmore had forgotten Raffles and I were present, because he suddenly looked at us and then at Mackenzie. "Wait a minute - how do you know these two aren't the murderers? They found the body, after all. And you said you knew them - professionally, maybe?"

 

I held my breath and tried not to tremble or let my expression give anything away. By my side Raffles, of course, seemed completely unconcerned; he did, however, glance at Mackenzie and raise an eyebrow.

 

Mackenzie met the glance and held it before looking back at Highmore. "Mr. Raffles here was generous enough to be part of a charity cricket match for the police widows and orphans," he said. "And Mr. Manders accompanied him in order to keep score - as he did for you, Sir Highmore, I believe."

 

Again I fought not to reveal my shock and surprise at the blatant lie Mackenzie had told Highmore.

 

"Oh, right. In that case - I guess I owe you an apology, Raffles," Raffles inclined his head slightly, "and you too, Mand- you too." He coughed to cover up the fact he had yet again managed to completely forget my name in a matter of seconds. I gave him a brief nod and then along with Raffles followed Mackenzie out into the hall.

 

"Well, Mr. Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Inspector Mackenzie?"

 

"Your Mr. Manders told me you knew Gideon Highmore was the murderer?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, Inspector."

 

"Would you care to tell me just how you know, sir?"

 

Raffles took out his cigarette case and offered it to me and to Mackenzie. I took one, whereas Mackenzie thanked Raffles but declined. "There was a witness," Raffles said calmly, shaking the match with which he had lit our Sullivans in order to extinguish it.

 

There was? I turned to look at Raffles and then suddenly I had a vague memory of us about to leave the library to go and tell Highmore about discovering Cranwell's body and how Raffles had suddenly looked sharply in the direction of the window. Had he seen someone? And if so was that the person to whom he had spoken whilst I had been bathing? And if someone had witnessed the murder, why had that person not come forward? And then to my horror I remembered that Raffles had kissed me briefly before we had left the library. Had this witness seen that? And if so were they - I pushed the thought from my mind and told myself that that did not matter at the moment.

 

"Was there now, Mr. Raffles?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, and I believe it better you hear the full story from," he paused for a moment, blew a smoke ring and said quietly, "she, do you not agree, Inspector?"

 

"Aye, Mr. Raffles, that I do. But if you don't mind me asking, sir, why has this young lady not come forward."

 

"Ah, well, you see, Inspector, strictly speaking she is not a young 'lady', she is a servant - and I need not remind you of Highmore's opinion of servants, do I?"

 

Mackenzie shook his head and a look of distaste crossed his face. "No, Mr. Raffles, you dinna."

 

"She was naturally afeared for her position and whether she would be believed - which I am quite certain had she told her story directly to the Highmores she would not be. And . . . Well, not everyone is as comfortable as speaking with the police as I am. I'm quite certain you can understand, can you not, Inspector Mackenzie?"

 

"Aye, Mr. Raffles, I can understand - as you rightly say not everyone, even those who are completely innocent, are comfortable speaking to the police." I didn't think I was imagining the hint of reluctant admiration in Mackenzie's tone.

 

Raffles spoke again and this time his tone was flatter and a little grim. "There is something else, Inspector, something I assured the girl I would tell you before she explained. Something that is, shall we say, somewhat delicate."

 

"And this something else is what exactly, Mr. Raffles."

 

Raffles paused for a second or two in order to put his Sullivan out in the ashtray that stood on the nearby table. "She is with child," he said.

 

Mackenzie accepted the news with a brief nod. "Well, Mr. Raffles, I should like to see this girl."

 

Raffles nodded and looked over Mackenzie's shoulder. "Ah," he said, "I do believe the man may be psychic. Johnson," he called and I turned to see Johnson appear at the end of the hallway. "I should be obliged if you would inform Edith that Inspector Mackenzie would like to speak with her."

 

"Yes, Mr. Raffles, sir," Johnson said and turned to go.

 

"Oh, and, Johnson?"

 

"Yes, sir." Johnson turned back around.

 

"Please assure Edith I shall be present when the Inspector talks to her."

 

This time Johnson paused for a second and I saw a hastily covered up flash of surprise on his face. "I shall deliver your message, Mr. Raffles," he said and once more turned to leave; this time Raffles did not stop him.

 

"I assume you'll have no objection, Inspector, to my presence. I believe it will put young Edith at ease."

 

"I have no objections, Mr. Raffles."

 

"Splendid. Well, what shall we -"

 

At the moment the door to Highmore's study opened and Highmore followed by Halbard strode out. He did not look happy, indeed I had never seen him more upright and angry and he kept clenching and unclenching his fist. He looked at Mackenzie with distaste as he said, "Very well, Inspector you may see my son - but I -" At the sound of Halbard ostentatiously clearing his throat he fell silent.

 

"Thank you, Sir Highmore. However, I have someone else to interview first."

 

"Someone else? Who?"

 

"A witness, sir, someone witnessed the murder."

 

"I don't believe it. I simply don't believe it. If that was the case why didn't he come forward? No, Inspector, I don't believe it."

 

"It isn't a he, sir, it's a she and I understand she is one of your servants."

 

"A servant? You'd listen to a servant? They're all liars, you know - can't believe a word they say. You mark my words, Inspector, you don't want to believe a blasted servant. A servant! And what do you want?" he growled. "Johnson, what is that girl doing here?"

 

"The Inspector wishes to speak with her, Sir Highmore. He asked to see her."

 

"Then you can do so in the kitchen - you can't talk to a servant here, what will m'guests think?"

 

"Highmore." Once more Halbard spoke in a cautionary tone.

 

Highmore glared at him, swallowed and said sharply, "Very well, let's get this charade over with. Come along then, girl, tell the Inspector what he wants to hear - just don't believe a word of what she says, Inspector, she's a liar."

 

"I'm not. I'm a good girl" Edith declared; her green eyes blazed as she stared at Highmore and I noticed quite clearly her accent was very similar to Mackenzie's. "I'm a good girl," she repeated more softly.

 

"Of course you are, Edith," Raffles said softly.

 

"Thank you, Mr. Raffles, sir."

 

Highmore glared at Raffles who simply stared back at him. "Damn you, Raffles," he growled, before he looked at Edith again. "Well!" he demanded. "Don't just stand there, girl, speak up."

 

"I'd like to talk to Miss -" He looked at Edith

 

"MacDonald, sir," she said softly. "Edith MacDonald - I'm a good girl, sir."

 

"I'm sure you are. As I was saying, Sir Highmore, I'd like to speak to Miss MacDonald alone."

 

"Well you can't. She's my servant - I own her. You can speak to her in front of me or not at all."

 

"Highmore."

 

"Damn you, Halbard, you're supposed to be on my side."

 

"I am, it's just -"

 

"Well, shut up or I'll find someone else. Well, Inspector?"

 

I waited for Mackenzie to insist. However, before he could do so, Edith spoke. "I dinna mind, sir," she said, looking at Mackenzie. "It's only the truth I'll be telling."

 

To my surprise Mackenzie nodded. "Very well, I trust you'll willna object to me using your study, Sir Highmore?"

 

"No," Halbard said swiftly, "of course not." Highmore muttered something but didn't offer any objection as he turned and strode back into his study followed by Halbard, Mackenzie and Edith; Raffles, hie hand on my shoulder, guided me into the study and he closed the door behind us. I expected Mackenzie or Highmore (or even Halbard) to insist that I at least leave, but after glancing swiftly at me as I stood by Raffles's side trying to be inconspicuous he said nothing.

 

Highmore sat behind his desk with Halbard standing by the side of the desk; Mackenzie moved two chairs somewhat away from the desk and insisted that Edith sit down; Raffles leant against the wall with me by his side.

 

"Well now, Miss MacDonald," Mackenzie said, his tone far less gruff than I had ever heard it, "Just tell me what happened last night. It's all right," he said as suddenly even I could see that her courage seemed to have deserted her, "just tell the truth and no harm will come to you."

 

"Yes, sir," she whispered and then she glanced at Raffles and said, "Canna you tell them, Mr. Raffles? Tell them what I told you, please, sir?"

 

"It would be better if you told Inspector Mackenzie yourself, Edith," Raffle said in a tone that was both gentle and reassuring. "Just tell him exactly what you told me and everything will be all right."

 

"Do you promise, sir?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, Edith, I promise." I hoped he spoke the truth and that it was a promise he could keep.

 

"I'm a good girl, sir," she whispered and tears began to fill her eyes.

 

Raffles was by her side in a second and handing him her handkerchief as he put a hand on her shoulder; just for a second I was taken back to my first day at school when he had done the same to me. "It will be all right," he repeated, which was what he had said to me.

 

She swallowed hard and wiped her eyes and then began to twist his handkerchief between her fingers. "Yes, sir," she said.

 

"Just tell the Inspector exactly what you told me."

 

"Everything, Mr. Raffles?"

 

Raffles nodded and smiled. "Everything, Edith - I promise you everything will be all right."

 

"Yes, sir," she whispered.

 

"That's a good girl." Raffles squeezed her shoulder again and returned to my side.

 

Edith sat for a moment or two composing herself and then she looked up, her eyes were still damp but they blazed with emotion. "It was the young master, sir," she said, turning to look at Mackenzie. "He killed James, sir. I saw him, sir. I watched him."

 

"Nonsense. You're lying. I told you, Mackenzie, she'd lie to you. All servants lie! Damn you, girl, I'll -" Highmore was on his feet, as was Mackenzie, by my side Raffles had straightened up, but it was Halbard who caught Highmore's hand.

 

"Sit down and keep quiet, Highmore. You are not helping any one - you asked for my advice, take it or find yourself someone else to advise you!"

 

If looks could kill, Halbard would have been struck down instantly as Highmore glared at him and snatched his hand away. However, he didn't say anything, instead, face white, eyes bulging he sat down heavily in his chair and kept silent.

 

"Are you quite certain, Miss MacDonald?"

 

"Aye, sir, that I am. Gideon Highmore killed James - he killed him." Edith's voice shook with clear emotion, but her eyes although still shining with unshed tears remained dry.

 

"Do you know why he did that?"

 

Edith nodded. "Aye, sir."

 

"I'll need you to tell me."

 

"I'm a good girl, sir. A good girl. James and me, we didn't, we were waiting, waiting until we wed - we were walking out, sir. And he - he didn't want to, said it wasn't right. We were waiting, sir. I'm a good girl, a good girl. But he's - He's the young master, sir. He made me, sir. He made me and, oh, sir." And with that she began to sob.

 

Mackenzie put his hand on her arm. "You're a brave lass, and a good girl. Mr. Raffles, I'd be obliged if you'd pour the poor girl a glass of brandy." Raffles nodded and moved across the room to where the decanters stood and poured a small measure of brandy into a glass.

 

"Now, look here -" Highmore fell silent as Halbard cleared his throat.

 

"Here you are, Edith." Raffles handed the glass to Edith and for a moment put his hand around her hand. As I had done on so many occasions, I envied him with ease with which he talked to lords and ladies and servants alike. I do not believe I look down on servants, and I certainly do not view them as Highmore views them, but apart from as a very young boy I had never known quite how to speak to them. Raffles of course did.

 

"Thank you, sir," she put the glass to her lips and took a small sip, then another and then a third before handing it back to Raffles and drying her eyes on the handkerchief which she still held. "I'm sorry, sir," she looked at Mackenzie.

 

"Dinna worry, Edith, you've done nothing wrong."

 

"I dinna want to, sir," she whispered, "I dinna want to - but he . . . He made me - he made me, sir, he made me. James said it dinna matter that he'd wed me anyway, give the baby his name. He was such a good man, sir."

 

"I'm sure he was. So what happened? What went wrong?"

 

"The young master, sir, found out. He said no," she paused, and her cheeks flamed but her voice was steady as she said softly, "bastard of his was gonna be born. He said he'd . . . He said he'd - Oh, Mr. Raffles, please, sir, dinna make me say it again - please, sir. Please."

 

Raffles face became pinched as he looked at Mackenzie. "Young Highmore told Edith, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he would do to her to ensure the baby would not be born."

 

I happened to be looking at Highmore and to my surprise it seemed that all hint of anger and fight had left him. He was slumped back in his chair, just staring at Edith - but I doubted he saw her. He was pale, his face was wet with perspiration and he shook; against my will I actually felt a modicum of pity for him. He was an obnoxious man, lacking in manners and common decency, but it wasn't he who had forced himself on Edith and then threatened her.

 

By now Mackenzie was standing and as I turned my attention from Highmore to look at him I saw his barely concealed fury. "Would you like to stop for now, Edith?" he asked.

 

She swallowed hard, reached for the glass of brandy which Raffles still held, took another two sips and shook her head. "No, sir. I'm all right, sir. I'll tell thee the rest, sir."

 

"You're a very good girl," Raffles said, squeezing her shoulder once more before he again returned to my side.

 

"James wanted papers, sir, that's all. He'd found us other positions, but we needed papers. He said he'd ask the young master, said it was the least he could do. We went to the library, last night, sir, and . . . And  . . . He didn't give James a chance, sir. He hit him, he hit him again and again and again - James fell down on the settee and the young master stabbed him, sir, Stabbed him just like that. He stabbed him, laughed and walked out still laughing."

 

"Did he not know you were in the room?"

 

Edith shook her head. "No, sir. James told me to stand quiet like by the window. I should have moved sir, I should have - I might have been able to . . . I could've stopped him."

 

"No, Edith," Mackenzie said softly as he now put his hand on her shoulder. "Nay, lass, you did the right thing. You couldna have stopped him - if you'd tried he'd have killed you and the wee bairn as well."

 

"I'm a good girl, sir. A good girl."

 

"Aye, Edith, I know you are." He was silent for a moment before asking, "Did you see Mr. Raffles and Mr. Manders come into the library?"

 

"Aye, sir. They'd come to find a book. I saw them; I saw Mr. Raffles touch James and say he was dead  - and . . . And then he told Mr. Manders they had to tell Sir Highmore. They left. I waited for a bit and then I left too. I left James." And she began to sob once more.

 

Raffles, Mackenzie, Halbard and I just stood and looked at one another, I was quite certain none of us - not even Raffles or Mackenzie - knew quite what to do or say. Highmore was still slumped in his chair looking even paler than he had done a short time before. Once more, against my will, I felt a flash of mild sympathy for him.

 

Suddenly Raffles spoke. "Bunny," he said looking at me. "Do you know if Miss Cleaver is here?"

 

I thought for a moment and then had a vague memory of seeing her standing a little apart from the other guests as I had hurried through the room to find Raffles. "I believe she is."

 

"Unless Inspector Mackenzie has any objections, I believe you should ask her to come here. Edith needs someone to care for her at the moment and I cannot think of anyone more suitable than Miss Cleaver - can you, Bunny?"

 

I shook my head. "No, Raffles. I cannot."

 

"Then with your permission, Inspector, may Mr. Manders fetch Miss Cleaver?"

 

"Aye, Mr. Raffles, sir. That would be a grand thing for Mr. Manders to do."

 

I hurried out of the room and returned a very short time later with Miss Cleaver. I had told her very little. Indeed I had told her I could not tell her anything other than one of the young maids was in need of a kind word and that we - I - could not think of anyone more suitable than Miss Cleaver.

 

I do not know how many young ladies would have been content with the lack of detail, but Miss Cleaver was. She hurried, at my side, into Highmore's study and looked at Edith who was still sobbing. "Oh, you poor girl," she said as she put her arms around Edith and helped her to her feet. "You poor, poor girl. Come along with me and I'll make you a cup of tea."

 

"I'm a good girl, miss," Edith managed through her sobs. "A good girl."

 

"I know you are, Edith," one thing Miss Cleaver had asked had been Edith's name. "I know you are. Now you come along with me. That's a good girl."

 

As he led Edith out of the room, Edith paused and looked through reddened streaming eyes at Raffles. "Mr. Raffles, sir?"

 

"You go with Miss Cleaver, Edith, there's a good girl. Go along now; I promise you everything will be all right."

 

"Yes, sir." And with Miss Cleaver guiding her firmly they left Highmore's study.

 

It was Raffles who closed the door behind them and leant against it as one by one he, Mackenzie, Halbard and I turned to look at Highmore.

 

No one spoke. I truly believed none of the others knew what to say to the man who suddenly seemed to have aged ten, if not twenty years; the man who had blustered his way through life, who had no respect for anyone - the man who now had to face the truth about his son.

 

Finally Mackenzie cleared his throat. "Sir Highmore, I shall -"

 

"I'll fetch him for you, Mackenzie. I'll fetch my son." His eyes were blank as he stared at Mackenzie and his voice was lifeless. And I suddenly realised he had actually managed to remember Mackenzie's name.

 

"I'll come with you, sir, if you donít mind." Mackenzie's tone was low and actually fairly gentle.

 

Highmore just stared at Mackenzie and gave a half nod. He moved from behind his desk and would have stumbled had Mackenzie not caught his arm. "Why dinna you wait here, sir, I'm sure Mr. Halbard can show me the way?"

 

"What? Oh, yes. Would you mind, Halbard? I'm feeling a little weary."

 

"Of course I don't mind, Highmore. Perhaps Raffles would pour you a brandy."

 

"Of course," Raffles said, once more crossing the room and picking up the decanter as Halbard led Mackenzie out of the study.

 

"Thank you, Raffles. And do pour one for yourself and Manders here as well."

 

Raffles glanced swiftly at me and I gave him a single nod. Suddenly I needed a drink in the way I had never needed one before.

 

 

"Do you think he knew? Sir Highmore, I mean," I said as I paused mid-packing - Raffles had decided we would leave the Highmore home immediately - even if it meant spending the rest of the night in the station whilst we awaited a train to take us back to London.

 

For once he seemed disinclined to pack carefully, and he was just throwing his clothes into his bags. He also paused and looked at me. "No," he said quietly, "at least not the full story. He knew his son had killed Cranwell, he may even have known of Edith's pregnancy. However, I am quite certain he did not know how abominably and disgustingly his son had behaved."

 

"I almost felt sorry for him," I said quietly as I returned to throwing my own clothes into my bags.

 

"As did I, Bunny. Are you nearly finished, my rabbit? I really wish to get out of this house and away from the area."

 

"Yes," I said, throwing the last shirt into my bag and ignoring the fact that it was clean and had been freshly ironed. "Raffles?"

 

"My rabbit?"

 

"What will happen to Edith?"

 

Raffles sighed. "Well," he said, "I am quite certain that Mary and Evie would happily employ her and help her raise the baby - indeed I promised as much when I spoke to Edith."

 

"You did?"

 

"Mmm, yes, Bunny, I did - and I assure you it was not a promise I made lightly, nor one I made simply to get her to talk to me. It was made with the full confidence that they would be quite happy to do that thing. However, maybe she will not need to - I have a feeling Miss Cleaver might be prepared to offer her a home. Or even . . ." He fell silent.

 

"Or even?"

 

"I have reason to believe that James Cranwell was not the only young man who was fond of Edith."

 

"Really?"

 

"Yes. The second footman - Frank Boswell - I believe was also a potential suitor. He may well be prepared to offer to marry Edith and take the baby as his own."

 

I didn't bother to ask him how he knew this - he was Raffles, he did find things out which mere mortals such as I wouldn't discover. "Would a man do that?" I asked and then added, "And what about Edith, she loved Cranwell, why would she marry someone she didn't love?"

 

He came towards me and put his arms around me. "Oh, Bunny," he murmured, pulling me close to him. "There are occasions when I wonder if I did the right thing by dragging you so far into my world and corrupting you so, times I tell myself I should not have done so, should not go on doing so, that I should never have taken that innocence from you. And then - then, my dearest rabbit - you say or do something that makes me remember the young, innocent boy I first met all those years ago, and I feel reassured because it seems I have not corrupted you quite as much as I feared."

 

I wasn't entirely certain if he had paid me a compliment or not, but I decided trying to work it out was involved too much effort. Thus I just rested against him for a moment before I said, "We should go."

 

He pushed me away from him just a little, lowered his head and gently brushed his lips over mine. "Yes, Bunny," he said after deepening the kiss for a moment or two. "I believe we should - let us go home, go back to London, back to the Albany and try to forget what has happened this week."

 

"Yes, please."

 

"And do you know what, my rabbit?" I gazed up at him. "I do believe it will be quite some time before I accept an invitation to play country house cricket again."

 

I stared at him, trying to ascertain how serious he was being. However, for once I was unable to read his unblinking gaze or the look he had on his face, so I just gave him a smile and touched his arm - and then I remembered something. "Raffles?"

 

"Yes, Bunny?"

 

"What are we going to do?"

 

He frowned a little. "About what?"

 

"The fact we are in your own words deucedly hard up. I mean we were going to . . ." I trailed off and stared at him.

 

To my surprise he glanced away from me and a faint touch of colour touched his cheeks and he looked just a little uncomfortable. Then he sighed and picked his coat up and from one of the inside pockets pulled a wad of notes - I had no idea how much was there but from the thickness of them I imagined it was some hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds.

 

I stared at him slightly open-mouthed. I had never before known him to take money, indeed he had more than once commented that it really was beneath him and made his craft into that of the common thief. I didn't know what to say and I knew even less what to say as he pushed the money back into the pocket and instead pulled out two handfuls of gentleman's jewellery - all of which was terribly ostentatious and highly bejewelled and clearly worth a considerable amount - and showed it to me.

 

"Raffles?" I whispered, as against my will I took some of the items from his hand and held them - they were not the kind of thing I would wear, but they drew me in.

 

"Yes, I know, my rabbit. It really is terribly wrong of me and completely against everything on which I have always prided and built my talent, shall we say? But truly, my dear, dear Bunny, we do need the money, and let us be honest the young fool is not going to need money or jewellery is, he?"

 

I handed the pieces I had taken back to him and after a second he put them back into his pockets and turned back to me. "No," I said quietly, "no, Raffles, he isn't." I didn't ask when or how he had obtained the money or the jewellery - I honestly did not wish to know.

 

The next second I felt him pull me into his arms, I rested my head against his shoulder and for a moment he put his cheek on my head. "If you wish me to do so, Bunny, I will return the money and the jewellery to young Highmore's room - he should have done as his Father bid and kept it in the library after all - and we can walk out of her with nothing that does not belong to us. Just say the word, my beloved rabbit, and I'll do as you bid."

 

"Would you? Would you really, Raffles?" I lifted my head and gazed up at him.

 

"Yes, my dear Bunny. I would; I really would. Do you wish me to do so?"

 

I was silent for no more than a second or two before I shook my head. "No, Raffles," I said firmly. "No, I do not wish for you to do so. All I wish for is to leave this house and go home."

 

He lowered his head for a moment or two and gently kissed me before he handed me my coat and put his own on. "In that case, my rabbit, let us do that thing," he said as he gathered his bags together and opened the door.

 


 

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