In the meantime my eyes had gotten used to the lack of light and I could see that we had arrived at a small glade. In the shade of a tree I settled down and already mentally prepared myself to spend the night here. Holmes knelt down beside me.
The candle was only glimmering and flickering now, throwing a eerie light on the surroundings. The flame shone on Holmes' face and accentuated his keen features. For the first time in a critical situation I saw something like weariness in his eyes.
"Where would you suggest that we are going next?", I asked, for the sake of breaking the silence. "Anywhere. It's all the same to me." He said apathetically.
I was shocked by the lack of liveliness in his voice. I put my hand on his shoulder and forced myself to smile. "Look, we've already got that far. Without you we would not have made it at all!" He turned his head and looked away.
This time, I have failed to encourage him.
The light of the candle had begun to die some time ago, and now it was ultimately consumed. We sat in darkness.
By chance my hand brushed over the skin around my hurt ankle. I could feel some sort of sticky moisture on my fingers, and as I held them up I realized I was bleeding.
At first it seemed superficial. Then more and more blood was streaming down my leg.
"Good heavens, Watson! This is a serious wound!", Holmes suddenly burst out. He was able to see in darkness almost as well as in daylight, and had noticed my injury. He produced a handkerchief and tied it tightly around the joint to form a tentative and scant bandage. Before I could thank him, I turned my head in an alarmed way. This time I had actually noticed a sound.
"Holmes!" I whispered, "There's somebody else here!" I felt his warning fingers on my lips. "Shh. Don't move." His voice was slightly vibrating with trepidation. But for some moments we heard nothing but each other's breath. We almost felt safe again when a loud clacking sound interrupted the ominous silence.
Then I suddenly was blinded by a radiant, dazzling flash of white light. I pressed my eyes shut, and before I could open them again, Holmes pulled me aside by the sleeve. "What-"
He interrupted me: "Search lights."
Our backs were pressed to the bole of a tree. Now we could already hear distant voices shouting commands- the sound of the troops sent to find us. Holmes and I stood close, the forest illuminated with searchlights streaming through the cedar trees. "They have come for us." I said. "You must get away, Holmes."
In the gleam of the rays I could see his face, seeming hunted and exhausted. "And you too.", he replied. I calmly shook my head: "I'll give you cover. I can distract them. And you must disappear meanwhile. Just-"
He with immovable determination said: "No, Watson. By no means can I leave you here. You'll come with me. And if I have to carry you." A glance at my ankle told me that the once white handkerchief was already fully soaked with red.
"Holmes, I can not. If you'd take me with you I'd only slow you down. It's for the best that..."
A yell cut through the air. "Over here!" I gave a violent start at the cry, and turned to Holmes: "Go now! Leave me here, Holmes. I'll be fine." He did not move. I pleaded. He would stay.
"You must go now. They'll catch you otherwise, and then all will have been in vain!"
I could not persuade him. Instead he looked at me like he never had before.
Are these... tears in his eyes?
"Sorry, Watson. I have no choice."
With these words he turned away, in direction of the noises. In a fraction of a second I realized what he was about to do. I tried to catch him by the sleeve but it was too late. He had deliberately stepped into the beam of a search light.
"Hands up! Are you armed?" The yell was answered by Holmes by putting up his hands as commanded and shaking his head.
This all suddenly seemed insubstantial, and as in slow-motion to me- like a bad dream. I tried to stand up to help him but due to strong pain in my ankle I collapsed onto the soil again.
Like from far away, I could faintly hear Holmes in a rational voice negotiate with the guard: "We'll come with you unresistingly. But please help my friend- he's..."
There was a soughing sound filling my ears, muffling everything else.
So he did this for my sake? He gave up everything- for me?
The realization brought tears to my eyes. This meant that everything had been in vain. This meant we had lost the game. But the sadness and desperation suddenly blended with a strange warmth rising up and spreading in my chest. This also meant I was important to him.
It was rare for him to display such signs of emotion towards another, and this fact made me value this revelation even higher.
I hardly noticed how the armed men took us into custody, shoved us into a carriage and closed the door behind us.
Holmes and I sat in almost absolute darkness once again. There was a small window allowing very little light to flood in. The rays lit up a half of Holmes' face, lined with distress. For a minute, we remained silent. Then my friend asked: "How's your leg, Watson?"- "It will be taken care of.", said I, "Please don't worry about me." He answered: "I just couldn't risk..."
He trailed off, then cleared his throat and continued: "I was meaning to say... I'm so sorry that we couldn't make it, my friend. I failed. I should have known that the way through the woods was too dangerous and not a good decision. And now..." He suddenly fell silent. I reached for his hand, and though it was quite difficult due to the handcuffs that had been put on I managed to take it into mine. I couldn't help to notice how cold it was, and that it was shivering.
"It's not your fault, you know. If I had only been smarter... Anyway, there is no way that you should feel guilty for what happened. I... still... appreciate everything you did, Holmes.
Thank you. For giving up the chance of escape. And for all those years..."
I tried to smile through the veil of tears. "My dear Watson...", was all Holmes said, and nothing further. Grave silence took over the room and there was not a thing to be heard but the rattling of the carriage and the distant sound of hostile voices.