"Rather thicker than a lead-pencil."
"They sometimes bear you," said Raffles, slipping on a pair of white kid gloves, and stuffing his handkerchief into the palm of one. "The difficulty is to keep a grip; but I've been up and down them before to-night. And it's our only chance. I'll go first, Bunny: you watch me, and do exactly as I do if I get down all. right."
"If I don't," whispered Raffles, as he wormed through the window feet foremost, "I'm afraid you'll have to face the music where you are, and I shall have the best of it down in Acheron!"
And he slid out of reach without another word, leaving me to shudder alike at his levity and his peril; nor could I follow him very far by the wan light of the April stars; but I saw his forearms resting a moment in the spout that ran around the tower, between bricks and slates, on the level of the floor; and I had another dim glimpse of him lower still, on the eaves over the very room that we had ransacked. Thence the conductor ran straight to earth in an angle of the facade. And since it had borne him thus far without mishap, I felt that Raffles was as good as down. But I had neither his muscles nor his nerves, and my head swam as I mounted to the window and prepared to creep out backward in my turn.
So it was that at the last moment I had my first unobstructed view of the little old tower of other days. Raffles was out of the way; the bit of candle was still burning on the floor, and in its dim light the familiar haunt was cruelly like itself of innocent memory. A lesser ladder still ascended to a tinier trap-door in the apex of the tower; the fixed seats looked to me to be wearing their old, old coat of grained varnish; nay the varnish had its ancient smell, and the very vanes outside creaked their message to my ears. I remembered whole days that I had spent, whole books that I had read, here in this favorite fastness of my boyhood. The dirty little place, with the dormer window in each of its four sloping sides, became a gallery hung with poignant pictures of the past. And here was I leaving it with my life in my hands and my pockets full of stolen jewels! A superstition seized me. Suppose the conductor came down with me . . . suppose I slipped . . . and was picked up dead, with the proceeds of my shameful crime upon me, under the very windows
. . . where the sun Came peeping in at dawn . . .
I hardly remember what I did or left undone. I only know that nothing broke, that somehow I kept my hold, and that in the end the wire ran red-hot through my palms so that both were torn and bleeding when I stood panting beside Raffles in the flower-beds. There was no time for thinking then. Already there was a fresh commotion in-doors; the tidal wave of excitement which had swept all. before it to the upper regions was subsiding in as swift a rush downstairs; and I raced after Raffles along the edge of the drive without daring to look behind.
We came out by the opposite gate to that by which we had stolen in. Sharp to the right ran the private lane behind the stables and sharp to the right dashed Raffles, instead of straight along the open road. It was not the course I should have chosen, but I followed Raffles without a murmur, only too thankful that he had assumed the lead at last. Already the stables were lit up like a chandelier; there was a staccato rattle of horseshoes in the stable yard, and the great gates were opening as we skimmed past in the nick of time. In another minute we were skulking in the shadow of the kitchen-garden wall while the high-road rang with the dying tattoo of galloping hoofs.