From the hiding-place into which I had been so swiftly hustled I heard the footfalls upon the stair, with the opening and the closing of the bedroom door. Then, to my surprise, there came a long silence, broken only by the heavy breathings and gaspings of the sick man. I could imagine that our visitor was standing by the bedside and looking down at the sufferer. At last that strange hush was broken.
"Holmes!" he cried. "Holmes!" in the insistent tone of one who awakens a sleeper. "Can't you hear me, Holmes?" There was a rustling, as if he had shaken the sick man roughly by the shoulder.
"Is that you, Mr. Smith?" Holmes whispered. "I hardly dared hope that you would come."
The other laughed.
"I should imagine not," he said. "And yet, you see, I am here. Coals of fire, Holmes--coals of fire!"
"It is very good of you--very noble of you. I appreciate your special knowledge."
Our visitor sniggered.
"You do. You are, fortunately, the only man in London who does. Do you know what is the matter with you?"
"The same," said Holmes.
"Ah! You recognize the symptoms?"
"Only too well."
"Well, I shouldn't be surprised, Holmes. I shouldn't be surprised if it WERE the same. A bad lookout for you if it is. Poor Victor was a dead man on the fourth day--a strong, hearty young fellow. It was certainly, as you said, very surprising that he should have contracted and out-of-the-way Asiatic disease in the heart of London--a disease, too, of which I had made such a very special study. Singular coincidence, Holmes. Very smart of you to notice it, but rather uncharitable to suggest that it was cause and effect."
"I knew that you did it."
"Oh, you did, did you? Well, you couldn't prove it, anyhow. But what do you think of yourself spreading reports about me like that, and then crawling to me for help the moment you are in trouble? What sort of a game is that--eh?"
I heard the rasping, laboured breathing of the sick man. "Give me the water!" he gasped.
"You're precious near your end, my friend, but I don't want you to go till I have had a word with you. That's why I give you water. There, don't slop it about! That's right. Can you understand what I say?"
"Do what you can for me. Let bygones be bygones," he whispered. "I'll put the words out of my head--I swear I will. Only cure me, and I'll forget it."
"Well, about Victor Savage's death. You as good as admitted just now that you had done it. I'll forget it."
"You can forget it or remember it, just as you like. I don't see you in the witnessbox. Quite another shaped box, my good Holmes, I assure you. It matters nothing to me that you should know how my nephew died. It's not him we are talking about. It's you."
"The fellow who came for me--I've forgotten his name--said that you contracted it down in the East End among the sailors."
"I could only account for it so."