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Chapter 16 Watch and Ward
I well remember, as I set reluctant foot upon the wooden stair, taking a last and somewhat lingering look at the dust and dirt of the lower chamber, as one who knew not what might happen before he saw it again. The stain as of red rust in the lavatory basin, the gritty deposit in the bath, the verdigris on all the taps, the foul opacity of the windows, are among the trivialities that somehow stamped themselves upon my mind. One of the windows was open at the top, had been so long open that the aperture was curtained with cobwebs at each extremity, but in between I got quite a poignant picture of the Thames as I went upstairs. It was only a sinuous perspective of sunlit ripples twinkling between wooded gardens and open meadows, a fisherman or two upon the tow-path, a canoe in mid-stream, a gaunt church crowning all against the sky. But inset in such surroundings it was like a flash from a magic-lantern in a coal-cellar. And very loth was I to exchange that sunny peep for an indefinite prospect of my prisoner’s person at close quarters.

Yet the first stage of my vigil proved such a sinecure as to give me some confidence for all the rest. Dan Levy opened neither his lips nor his eyes at my approach, but lay on his back with the Red Ensign drawn up to his chin, and the peaceful countenance of profound oblivion. I remember taking a good look at him, and thinking that his face improved remarkably in repose, that in death he might look fine. The forehead was higher and broader than I had realised, the thick lips were firm enough now, but the closing of the crafty little eyes was the greatest gain of all. On the whole, not only a better but a stronger face than it had been all the morning, a more formidable face by far. But the man had fallen asleep in his bonds, and forgotten them; he would wake up abject enough; if not, I had the means to reduce him to docility. Meanwhile, I was in no hurry to show my power, but stole on tiptoe to the locker, and took my seat by inches.

Levy did not move a muscle. No sound escaped him either, and somehow or other I should have expected him to snore; indeed, it might have come as a relief, for the silence of the tower soon got upon my nerves. It was not a complete silence; that was (and always is) the worst of it. The wooden stairs creaked more than once; there were little rattlings, faint and distant, as of a dried leaf or a loose window, in the bowels of the house; and though nothing came of any of these noises, except a fresh period of tension on my part, they made the skin act on my forehead every time. Then I remember a real anxiety over a blue-bottle, that must have come in through the open window just below, for suddenly it buzzed into my ken and looked like attacking Levy on the spot. Somehow I slew it with less noise than the brute itself was making; and not until after that breathless achievement did I realise how anxious I was to keep my prisoner asleep. Yet I had the revolver, and he lay handcuffed and bound down! It was in the next long silence that I became sensitive to another sound which indeed I had heard at intervals already, only to dismiss it from my mind as one of the signs of extraneous life which were bound to penetrate even to the top of my tower. It was a slow and regular beat, as of a sledge-hammer in a distant forge, or some sort of machinery only audible when there was absolutely nothing else to be heard. It could hardly be near at hand, for I could not hear it properly unless I held my breath. Then, however, it was always there, a sound that never ceased or altered, so that in the end I sat and listened to it and nothing else. I was not even looking at Levy when he asked me if I knew what it was.

His voice was quiet and civil enough, but it undoubtedly made me jump, and that brought a malicious twinkle into the little eyes that looked as though they had been studying me at their leisure. They were perhaps less violently bloodshot than before, the massive features calm and strong as they had been in slumber or its artful counterfeit.

“I thought you were asleep?” I snapped, and knew better for certain before he spoke.

“You see, that pint o’ pop did me prouder than intended,” he explained. “It’s made a new man o’ me, you’ll be sorry to ‘ear.”

I should have been sorrier to believe it, but I did not say so, or anything else just then. The dull and distant beat came back to the ear. And Levy again inquired if I knew what it was.

“Do you?” I demanded.

“Rather!” he replied, with cheerful certitude. “It’s the clock, of course.”

“What clock?”

“The one on the tower, a bit lower down, facing the road.”

“How do you know?” I demanded, with uneasy credulity.

“My good young man,” said Dan Levy, “I know the face of that clock as well as I know the inside of this tower.”

“Then you do know where you are!” I cried, in such surprise that Levy grinned in a way that ill became a captive.

“Why,” said he, “I sold the last tenant up, and nearly took the ’ouse myself instead o’ the place I got. It was what first attracted me to the neighhour’ood.”

“Why couldn’t you tell us the truth before?” I demanded, but my warmth merely broadened his grin.

“Why should I? It sometimes pays to seem more at a loss than you are.”

“It won’t in this case,” said I through my teeth. But for all my austerity, and all his bonds, the prisoner continued to regard me with quiet but most disquieting amusement.

“I’m not so sure of that,” he observed at length. “It rather paid, to my way of thinking, when Raffles went off to cash my cheque, and left you to keep an eye on me.”

“Oh, did it!” said I, with pregnant emphasis, and my right hand found comfort in my jacket pocket, on the butt of the old brute’s own weapon.

“I only mean,” he rejoined, in a more conciliatory voice, “that you strike me as being more open to reason than your flash friend.”

I said nothing to that.

“On the other ‘and,” continued Levy, still more deliberately, as though he really was comparing us in his mind; “on the other hand” stooping to pick up what he had dropped, “you don’t take so many risks. Raffles takes so many that he’s bound to land you both in the jug some day, if he hasn’t done it this time. I believe he has, myself. But it’s no use hollering before you’re out o’ the wood.”

I agreed, with more confidence than I felt.

“Yet I wonder he never thought of it,” my prisoner went on as if to himself.

“Thought of what?”

“Only the clock. He must’ve seen it before, if you never did; you don’t tell me this little bit o’ kidnapping was a sudden idea! It’s all been thought out and the ground gone over, and the clock seen, as I say. Seen going. Yet it never strikes our flash friend that a going clock’s got to be wound up once a week, and it might be as well to find out which day!”

“How do you know he didn’t?”

“Because this ‘appens to be the day!”

And Levy lay back in the bunk with the internal chuckle that I was beginning to know so well, but had little thought to hear from him in his present predicament. It galled me the more because I felt that Raffles would certainly not have heard it in my place. But at least I had the satisfaction of flatly and profanely refusing to believe the prisoner’s statement.

“That be blowed for a bluff!” was more or less what I said. “It’s too much of a coincidence to be anything else.”

“The odds are only six to one against it,” said Levy, indifferently. “One of you takes them with his eyes open. It seems rather a pity that the other should feel bound to follow him to certain ruin. But I suppose you know your own business best.”

“At all events,” I boasted, “I know better than to be bluffed by the most obvious lie I ever heard in my life. You tell me how you know about the man coming to wind the clock, and I may listen to you.”

“I know because I know the man; little Scotchman he is, nothing to run away from — though he looks as hard as nails — what there is of him,” said Levy, in a circumstantial and impartial flow that could not but carry some conviction. “He comes over from Kingston every Tuesday on his bike; some time before lunch he comes, and sees to my own clocks on the same trip. That’s how I know. But you needn’t believe me if you don’t like.”

“And where exactly does he come to wind this clock? I see nothing that can possibly have to do with it up here.”

“No,” said Levy; “he comes no higher than the floor below.” I seemed to remember a kind of cupboard at the head of the spiral stair. “But that’s near enough.”

“You mean that we shall hear him?”

“And he us!” added Levy, with unmistakable determination.

“Look here, Mr. Levy,” said I, showing him his own revolver, “if we do hear anybody, I shall hold this to your head, and if he does hear us I shall blow out your beastly brains!”

The mere feeling that I was, perhaps, the last person capable of any such deed enabled me to grind out this shocking threat in a voice worthy of it, and with a face, I hoped, not less in keeping. It was all the more mortifying when Dan Levy treated my tragedy as farce; in fact, if anything could have made me as bad as my word, it would have been the guttural laugh with which he greeted it.

“Excuse me,” said he, dabbing his red eyes with the edge of the red bunting, “but the thought of your letting that thing off in order to preserve silence — why, it’s as droll as your whole attempt to play the cold-blooded villain —you!”

“I shall play him to some purpose,” I hissed, “if you drive me to it. I laid you out last night, remember, and for two pins I’ll do the same thing again this morning. So now you know.”

“That wasn’t in cold blood,” said Levy, rolling his head from side to side; “that was when the lot of us were brawling in our cups. I don’t count that. You’re in a false position, my dear sir. I don’t mean last night or this morning — though I can see that you’re no brigand or blackmailer at bottom — and I shouldn’t wonder if you never forgave Raffles for letting you in for this partic’lar part of this partic’lar job. But that isn’t what I mean. You’ve got in with a villain, but you ain’t one yourself; that’s where you’re in the false position. He’s the magsman, you’re only the swell. I can see that. But the judge won’t. You’ll both get served the same, and in your case it’ll be a thousand shames!”

He had propped himself on one elbow, and was speaking eagerly, persuasively, with almost a fatherly solicitude; yet I felt that both his words and their effect on me were being weighed and measured with meticulous discretion. And I encouraged him with a countenance as deliberately rueful and depressed, to an end which had only occurred to me with the significance of his altered tone.

“I can’t help it,” I muttered. “I must go through with the whole thing now.”

“Why must you?” demanded Levy. “You’ve been led into a job that’s none of your business, on be’alf of folks who’re no friends of yours, and the job’s developed into a serious crime, and the crime’s going to be found out before you’re an hour older. Why go through with it to certain quod?”

“There’s nothing else for it,” I answered, with a sulky resignation, though my pulse was quick with eagerness for what I felt was coming.

And then it came.

“Why not get out of the whole thing,” suggested Levy, boldly, “before it’s too late?”

“How can I?” said I, to lead him on with a more explicit proposition.

“By first releasing me, and then clearing out yourself!”

I looked at him as though this was certainly an idea, as though I were actually considering it in spite of myself and Raffles; and his eagerness fed upon my apparent indecision. He held up his fettered hands, begging and cajoling me to remove his handcuffs, and I, instead of telling him it was not in my power to do so until Raffles returned, pretended to hesitate on quite different grounds.

“It’s all very well,” I said, “but are you going to make it worth my while?”

“Certainly!” cried he. “Give me my chequebook out of my own pocket, where you were good enough to stow it before that blackguard left, and I’ll write you one cheque for a hundred now, and another for another hundred before I leave this tower.”

“You really will?” I temporised.

“I swear it!” he asseverated; and I still believe he might have kept his word about that. But now I knew where he had been lying to me, and now was the time to let him know I knew it.

“Two hundred pounds,” said I, “for the liberty you are bound to get for nothing, as you yourself have pointed out, when the man turns up to wind the clock? A couple of hundred to save less than a couple of hours?”

Levy changed colour as he saw his mistake, and his eyes flashed with sudden fury; otherwise his self-command was only less admirable than his presence of mind.

“It wasn’t to save time,” said he; “it was to save my face in the neighbourhood. The well-known money-lender found bound and handcuffed in an empty house! It means the first laugh at my expen............
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