"You are proud of your brains, Holmes, are you not? Think yourself smart, don't you? You came across someone who was smarter this time. Now cast your mind back, Holmes. Can you think of no other way you could have got this thing?"
"I can't think. My mind is gone. For heaven's sake help me!"
"Yes, I will help you. I'll help you to understand just where you are and how you got there. I'd like you to know before you die."
"Give me something to ease my pain."
"Painful, is it? Yes, the coolies used to do some squealing towards the end. Takes you as cramp, I fancy."
"Yes, yes; it is cramp."
"Well, you can hear what I say, anyhow. Listen now! Can you remember any unusual incident in your life just about the time your symptoms began?"
"No, no; nothing."
"I'm too ill to think."
"Well, then, I'll help you. Did anything come by post?"
"A box by chance?"
"I'm fainting--I'm gone!"
"Listen, Holmes!" There was a sound as if he was shaking the dying man, and it was all that I could do to hold myself quiet in my hiding-place. "You must hear me. You SHALL hear me. Do you remember a box--an ivory box? It came on Wednesday. You opened it--do you remember?"
"Yes, yes, I opened it. There was a sharp spring inside it. Some joke--"
"It was no joke, as you will find to your cost. You fool, you would have it and you have got it. Who asked you to cross my path? If you had left me alone I would not have hurt you."
"I remember," Holmes gasped. "The spring! It drew blood. This box--this on the table."
"The very one, by George! And it may as well leave the room in my pocket. There goes your last shred of evidence. But you have the truth now, Holmes, and you can die with the knowledge that I killed you. You knew too much of the fate of Victor Savage, so I have sent you to share it. You are very near your end, Holmes. I will sit here and I will watch you die."
Holmes's voice had sunk to an almost inaudible whisper.
"What is that?" said Smith. "Turn up the gas? Ah, the shadows begin to fall, do they? Yes, I will turn it up, that I may see you the better." He crossed the room and the light suddenly brightened. "Is there any other little service that I can do you, my friend?"
"A match and a cigarette."
I nearly called out in my joy and my amazement. He was speaking in his natural voice--a little weak, perhaps, but the very voice I knew. There was a long pause, and I felt that Culverton Smith was standing in silent amazement looking down at his companion.
"What's the meaning of this?" I heard him say at last in a dry, rasping tone.
"The best way of successfully acting a part is to be it," said Holmes. "I give you my word that for three days I have tasted neither food nor drink until you were good enough to pour me out that glass of water. But it is the tobacco which I find most irksome. Ah, here ARE some cigarettes." I heard the striking of a match. "That is very much better. Halloa! halloa! Do I hear the step of a friend?"