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Convalescence

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In the darkness and the unrelenting storm, I waited for Raffles to return. I did not move even to ease the chafing of my wrists against the iron cuffs. I was brought down by my earlier beating, by the piercing wind and rain, and, most of all, by the indescribable mental shock of seeing a man fall to his death. The length and eventfulness of the night left me at once weary and restless. I could focus on nothing but my own quickened heartbeat, but every so often a vivid memory would leap to mind, and I would shake with more violence than before.

If I had been sober at the beginning of the evening, I might have had my doubts as to whether Raffles’ scheme to raid Lord Belville's rooms would work. Even then I would never have imagined that any plan could go so far awry. So far awry as to end with myself in chains upon the rooftop, and the lifeless Lord Belville far below. With these things in mind, the image of Belville's twisted figure came before me, as sharp as it had appeared in the flash of lightning that first revealed it.

Soon, however, Raffles was with me again, and he had brought soap and water to free me from my gyves.

 

Immediately we were inside our flat, Raffles left me to sit, still trembling, on a couch. He reappeared a moment later, trailing blankets, such a weight of them that I felt he must have left the linen cupboard a bare ruin. I had no more coherent thought than that for the next several hours. During that time, I was… not exactly asleep, as I don’t believe I had more than a minute’s true rest from that time till sunrise. I was, rather, shivering in the darkness, swaddled in blankets, and unable to hold onto a thought from one moment to the next. A fever is never pleasant but the shock of the night’s events made those hours near unbearable.

It must have been almost midday when I saw Raffles again.

“Awake at last, I see.”

“Awake?” I murmured. I was instantly reminded of the previous night’s injury by the ache of my jaw, “Was I ever asleep?”

I painfully brought myself up on my elbows. The ache seemed to have spread from my jaw to the rest of my body.

“You made a pretty act of it if you weren't,” came Raffles’ answer.

“Well,” I said, deciding to ignore what I knew to be an extravagant stretch of the truth, “Where have you been all this time?”

“My dear rabbit, I have been in this room keeping watch over you, except when I left to find a book and just now when I wanted a drink.”

I must, I suppose, have been too delirious to be aware of my own surroundings. And though Raffles’ jovial tone struck me as unsympathetic, I felt chastised to think that Raffles had been beside me all that time.

“You’ll be wanting to get up now, I expect. If you lie there any longer you’ll have missed the morning.”

My nursemaid was clearly tiring of his duties.

“But I’m ill!” I protested.

“Then you’ll want to lie down somewhere more comfortable.”

I watched as Raffles wheeled over the bath-chair - an item that had only recently entered the household. Raffles had insisted on its acquisition, to allow him the freedom of the city while keeping up his invalid act. I couldn't stir myself to move out of his way and though I turned to show my back to him, the best act of resistance I could muster, he scooped me up with only a little effort. I was deposited in the bath-chair.

I am afraid, to add to this indignity, he had the cruelty to laugh at me. And I, to my own discredit, was taking the bait.

“You’re very comical, I’m sure, but I am not in need of being tucked into bed.”

I regretted it as soon as it had been said. Raffles had shuttled me into his room. For a moment I was utterly perplexed as to why he had not taken me to my own room, but soon I realised that he wanted me in his own ‘sickbed’. I pushed myself out of the chair and onto the bed before he could manhandle me again. Within seconds, however, he had pinned me to the mattress and brought the sheets firmly up under my chin.

“What do you eat when you’re ill, Bunny?”

Bitterly, I replied, “I’m not often ill.”

“Yes, but when you are, what do you like to have?”

“My mother would give me beef tea… And sometimes boiled eggs. With toast.”

With that, Raffles left. Not long after, I fell asleep.

 

I can’t say how long I was asleep. It did not feel nearly as long as I might have liked. Nor can I say what woke me, as it took a while to come fully to my senses. My entire body ached, but especially my head and face. I became gradually aware of Raffles sitting on the bed beside me. Before even that, I was aware of the unmistakeable scent of incinerated bacon.

He had brought a plate of greasy slop.

“There you are,” he said.

“What is it?”

“Rabbit food. Eggs. Just as you asked for.”

I looked again at the plate.

“When did you realise we had a kitchen?” I remarked, dryly.

Raffles took a fork, scooped up a mouthful of his creation, and aimed it towards me. I opened my mouth obediently before I could think of anything but not getting eggs over myself. The grease made me feel sicker than ever. Raffles took a mouthful himself. I noticed him wince, even though he quickly made a display of enjoying it.

I suspect he thought to distract me because the next moment he had taken hold of my collar. It was by now damp with sweat rather than the rain of the night before.

“You’d better bathe,” he said, with a note of disgust, “Or pretty soon you’ll pong to high heaven.”

 

The heat of the bath came over me with a dousing of nausea and light-headedness. I felt my knees buckle and the hand gripping my arm tighten. Raffles’ other arm wrapped around my back to steady me. Slowly, eyes closed, hands fumbling for the sides of the tub, I eased myself into the bath. A shiver of heat ran down my body.

I was about to reach for the soap and flannel when I felt a hand upon my back. Raffles had taken up the flannel himself and, lightly, carefully, he began to wash my shoulders. This time, I didn't protest at being made an invalid. The gentleness with which he was working reminded me of how he had come to my aid the previous night. Amidst all of the chaos that had followed I had almost forgotten what he had said to Belville.

“If he stays… so do I.”

He had refused to abandon me.

Of course I knew that it wasn't the first time Raffles had saved my skin. I owed him enough lives to make one believe in reincarnation. However, I felt that he had never risked quite so much for me as he had done the previous night.

I had come to expect a few things from our friendship:
Rescue, expertly (and superciliously) executed
A certain degree of highhanded affection
A great deal of being lied to, tricked and left in the dark (mostly with the excuse that it was for my own good)

I had forgotten tenderness. But Raffles was capable of tenderness. In fact, his must have been among the best in the world, for when it was bestowed, you’d feel as though no unhappiness could touch you. I was honoured to think that I had so many times been the recipient of it; perhaps more times than anyone else alive.

There was, after all, a reason why I would follow him whenever he called.

 

Later in the day, when I was beginning to feel a little better, I got out of bed and took a promenade around the room to test my strength. Raffles kept to his seat on the edge of the bed and observed. I chanced a look out of the window. The street was bathing in the golden light of eventide and I realised it was far later than I had thought. Belville's body, I presumed, was long gone and so was the untidy spot he had left as legacy to several poor constables and street cleaners. The onlookers had dispersed, too, save for two gossiping housewives on their doorsteps. One of them turned a suspicious glance towards me and I backed quickly away from the sill.

I was still unsteady on my feet and came down rather heavily on the bed. Raffles put an arm out to support me. His other hand raised to touch my face, prodding rather harshly (not to say deliberately) at the hefty bruise on my chin. I gave a sharp intake of breath.

“Watch out,” I said, half joking, half wanting to elicit some small remorse from him.

He took his hand away but looked at me as he hadn't before, intently, studying my face as he often studied a lock he was longing to crack. For a moment, I sat as still as a crouching cat, utterly caught up in his stare. Then I began to feel uncomfortable.

When I started to fidget, Raffles laughed, and the spell was broken entirely.