"Put my pipe on the table, and the tobacco-slipper. Come in each morning and we will plan our campaign," Holmes concluded with a long sigh, his gaze becoming abstract. It sharpened when he realized I was making no move to fetch the requested items. "Watson? My pipe, please."
"I don't think smoking is in your best interest right now, Holmes."
"Do you think me so incapacitated I cannot hold a pipe?"
"It's the morphine that worries me; suppose you drop off to sleep when I've left? You could get seriously burned and you don't need that, not on top of everything else."
"Oh don't be such a fool, if I find myself getting tired I shall lay the pipe on the table. Come on old fellow," he added in a self-deprecating tone. "I may have nerves of iron but they did get rather bent last night; I've not had a chance to smoke since yesterday afternoon. And having to deal with the press hounding for news—so, do bring my pipe? Be a good fellow?"
"Holmes, I think it poor judgment and I'm not going to--"
Holmes's brows, which had been drawn up as piously as a church steeple, came crashing down. His breathing became more audible, and as he sat with a black scowl I was alarmed to see the crimson patch spread a little further over the compress.
"Well—wait a bit, why don't I consult with Sir Leslie Oakshott," I said hurriedly. "Just a moment, I'll only be a moment, Holmes."
When I returned from my consultation, Holmes had sat himself up in bed and was pressing his fingertips together delicately; he looked up at me with a much-tried expression. "The verdict, Watson?"
"Only one pipeful," said I, crossing the bedroom to retrieve the pipe and slipper. "And Sir Leslie gave me permission to change the compress, the blood's soaking through."
"I understood that to be a normal result of lacerations. No, I have matches here already. Thanks." He reached out his hand.
I set about giving my hands a quick scrub in a nearby basin, as he polished his pipe gently on the sleeve of his nightshirt. "Sir Oakshott said you had bruises, as well as the lacerations."
"Nothing worthy of note, they'll fade in a few days," he dismissed, beginning to pack his pipe.
I began looking through the medical bag on the floor; the surgeon had given me permission as a fellow doctor to use what I needed and I quickly found some more linen compresses and cotton-wool. Since Holmes was still packing in the tobacco with rapt focus, I thought it a good time to begin carefully peeling off the soaked compress. He flinched a little but didn't seem too bothered. I was glad his attention was on his pipe, for the expression on my face might have caused him alarm, had he seen it.
My breath seemed caught in my throat for a moment, and then I inhaled, quietly putting aside the bandage. Of course they'd had to clip some of his hair away, I should have expected…and the surgeon had told me there were stitches…I fumbled in the bag again, drawing out a container of Boric crystals and beginning to make a solution with a fresh basin of water. "You have enough tobacco for the pipe, don't you," I said at last, dipping a piece of cotton-wool into the basin.
"More than even, and ready for the match." He turned on his side to reach for the match-book; he stiffened, even his face, and he seemed breathless when he sat himself back against the pillows, match-book in hand. "Perhaps they hit me harder than I remember," he said at last, feeling at his side with something like wonder. He glanced up and saw my face; he smiled too quickly and looked to the matches. "You're going to apply more antiseptic now, I suppose?"
"Just a touch, yes. I'll wait 'til you've got your pipe going."
He struck the match and carefully dipped the flame to the pipe bowl; in the darkened room the glowing effect of the flamelight on his face was startling. His long hand guided the match in slow and delicate circles, evenly awaking the tobacco and giving the effect of a priest slowly swinging a fragrant censer.
When he shook the match out and laid it aside, I leaned forward tentatively, the antiseptic-soaked cotton in my hand. "You will tell me if it hurts too badly?"
He made a noncommittal sound, and for the next few minutes the room was quiet save for the slow, even puffing on the pipe and the drops of water in the basin as I wrung the cloth, like a hesitant handful of birdsong.
He had smoked probably half the tobacco in the pipe when I tried to speak; I had finished gently re-bandaging his head and I was washing my hands slowly, keeping an eye on him. The intervals between puffs had lengthened slightly. I say I tried to speak, for that was all that happened. There he lay, suffering but perfectly content now he had his pipe, with no ire at all toward his attackers. Here I was, shaking my hands dry and wishing, somehow, that the bandaging had lasted longer, that I had been able to sit in the darkened room for hours, listening to him smoke and looking at the wallpaper in the fading light—the late afternoon light was already changing on it, making it different, forbidding me to believe in the halting of time.
The intervals were growing even longer between puffs, and he drew lighter on the pipe. He watched me through half-closed eyes as I finished drying my hands, and for a moment there was the ghost of a smile on his lips round the pipe, and then it was gone, and the pipe was drooping. I took it gently from his mouth and set it aside to let it go out.