"Amyl - get me amyl!" he gasped. "The tin on the table by my bed."
I rushed into his room, and returned with a little tin of tiny cylinders done up like miniature crackers in scraps of calico; the spent youth broke one in his handkerchief, in which he immediately buried his face. I watched him closely as a subtle odor reached my nostrils; and it was like the miracle of oil upon the billows. His shoulders rested from long travail; the stertorous gasping died away to a quick but natural respiration; and in the sudden cessation of the cruel contest, an uncanny stillness fell upon the scene. Meanwhile the hidden face had flushed to the ears, and, when at length it was raised to mine, its crimson calm was as incongruous as an optical illusion.
"It takes the blood from the heart," he murmured, "and clears the whole show for the moment. If it only lasted! But you can't take two without a doctor; one's quite enough to make you smell the brimstone.... I say, what's up? You're listening to something! If it's the policeman we'll have a word with him."
It was not the policeman; it was no out-door sound that I had caught in the sudden cessation of the bout for breath. It was a noise, a footstep, in the room below us. I went to the window and leaned out: right underneath, in the conservatory, was the faintest glimmer of a light in the adjoining room.
"One of the rooms where the presents are!" whispered Medlicott at my elbow. And as we withdrew together, I looked him in the face as I had not done all. night.
I looked him in the face like an honest man, for a miracle was to make me one once more. My knot was cut - my course inevitable. Mine, after all., to prevent the very thing that I had come to do! My gorge had long since risen at the deed; the unforeseen circumstances had rendered it impossible from the first; but now I could afford to recognize the impossibility, and to think of Raffles and the asthmatic alike without a qualm. I could play the game by them both, for it was one and the same game. I could preserve thieves' honor, and yet regain some shred of that which I had forfeited as a man!
So I thought as we stood face to face, our ears straining for the least movement below, our eyes locked in a common anxiety. Another muffled foot-fall - felt rather than heard - and we exchanged grim nods of simultaneous excitement. But by this time Medlicott was as helpless as he had been before; the flush had faded from his face, and his breathing alone would have spoiled everything. In dumb show I had to order him to stay where he was, to leave my man to me. And then it was that in a gusty whisper, with the same shrewd look that had disconcerted me more than once during our vigil, young Medlicott froze and fired my blood by turns.
"I've been unjust to you," he said, with his right hand in his dressing-gown pocket. "I thought for a bit - never mind what I thought - I soon saw I was wrong. But - I've had this thing in my pocket all. the time!"