Never have I had such a shock! In an instant, with a
tiger-spring, the dying man had intercepted me. I heard the sharp snap of a twisted key.
The next moment he had staggered back to his bed, exhausted and panting after his one
tremendous outflame of energy.
You wont take the key from me by force, Watson,
Ive got you, my friend. Here you are, and here you will stay until I will otherwise.
But Ill humour you. (All this in little gasps, with terrible struggles for
breath between.) Youve only my own good at heart. Of course I know that very
well. You shall have your way, but give me time to get my strength. Not now, Watson, not
now. Its four oclock. At six you can go.
This is insanity, Holmes.
Only two hours, Watson. I promise you will go at six.
Are you content to wait?
I seem to have no choice.
None in the world, Watson. Thank you, I need no help in
arranging the clothes. You will please keep your distance. Now, Watson, there is one other
condition that I would make. You will seek help, not from the man you mention, but from
the one that I choose.
By all means.
The first three sensible words that you have uttered
since you entered this room, Watson. You will find some books over there. I am somewhat
exhausted; I wonder how a battery feels when it pours electricity into a non-conductor? At
six, Watson, we resume our conversation.
But it was destined to be resumed long before that hour, and
in circumstances which gave me a shock hardly second to that caused by his spring to the
door. I had stood for some minutes looking at the silent figure in the bed. His face was
almost covered by the clothes and he appeared to be asleep. Then, unable to settle down to
reading, I walked slowly round the room, examining the pictures of celebrated criminals
with which every wall was adorned. Finally, in my aimless perambulation, I came to the
mantelpiece. A litter of pipes, tobacco-pouches, syringes, penknives, revolver-cartridges,
and other debris was scattered over it. In the midst of these was a small black and white
ivory box with a sliding lid. It was a neat little thing, and I had stretched out my hand
to examine it more closely when
It was a dreadful cry that he gavea yell which might
have been heard down the street. My skin went cold and my hair bristled at that horrible
scream. As I turned I caught a glimpse of a convulsed face and frantic eyes. I stood
paralyzed, with the little box in my hand.
it down! Down, this instant, Watsonthis instant, I say! His head sank back
upon the pillow and he gave a deep sigh of relief as I replaced the box upon the
mantelpiece. I hate to have my things touched, Watson. You know that I hate it. You
fidget me beyond endurance. You, a doctoryou are enough to drive a patient into an
asylum. Sit down, man, and let me have my rest!
The incident left a most unpleasant impression upon my mind.
The violent and causeless excitement, followed by this brutality of speech, so far removed
from his usual suavity, showed me how deep was the disorganization of his mind. Of all
ruins, that of a noble mind is the most deplorable. I sat in silent dejection until the
stipulated time had passed. He seemed to have been watching the clock as well as I, for it
was hardly six before he began to talk with the same feverish animation as before.
Now, Watson, said he. Have you any change in
A good deal.
How many half-crowns?
I have five.
Ah, too few! Too few! How very unfortunate, Watson!
However, such as they are you can put them in your watchpocket. And all the rest of your
money in your left trouserpocket. Thank you. It will balance you so much better like
This was raving insanity. He shuddered, and again made a sound
between a cough and a sob.
You will now light the gas, Watson, but you will be very
careful that not for one instant shall it be more than half on. I implore you to be
careful, Watson. Thank you, that is excellent. No, you need not draw the blind. Now you
will have the kindness to place some letters and papers upon this table within my reach.
Thank you. Now some of that litter from the mantelpiece. Excellent, Watson! There is a
sugar-tongs there. Kindly raise that small ivory box with its assistance. Place it here
among the papers. Good! You can now go and fetch Mr. Culverton Smith, of 13 Lower Burke
To tell the truth, my desire to fetch a doctor had somewhat
weakened, for poor Holmes was so obviously delirious that it seemed dangerous to leave
him. However, he was as eager now to consult the person named as he had been obstinate in
I never heard the name, said I.
Possibly not, my good Watson. It may surprise you to
know that the man upon earth who is best versed in this disease is not a medical man, but
a planter. Mr. Culverton Smith is a well-known resident of Sumatra, now visiting London.
An outbreak of the disease upon his plantation, which was distant from medical aid, caused
him to study it himself, with some rather far-reaching consequences. He is a very
methodical person, and I did not desire you to start before six, because I was well aware
that you would not find him in his study. If you could persuade him to come here and give
us the benefit of his unique experience of this disease, the investigation of which has
been his dearest hobby, I cannot doubt that he could help me.
I give Holmess remarks as a consecutive whole and will
not attempt to indicate how they were interrupted by gaspings for breath and those
clutchings of his hands which indicated the pain from which he was suffering. His
appearance had changed  for
the worse during the few hours that I had been with him. Those hectic spots were more
pronounced, the eyes shone more brightly out of darker hollows, and a cold sweat glimmered
upon his brow. He still retained, however, the jaunty gallantry of his speech. To the last
gasp he would always be the master.
You will tell him exactly how you have left me,
said he. You will convey the very impression which is in your own minda dying
mana dying and delirious man. Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean
is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem. Ah, I am wandering!
Strange how the brain controls the brain! What was I saying, Watson?
My directions for Mr. Culverton Smith.
Ah, yes, I remember. My life depends upon it. Plead with
him, Watson. There is no good feeling between us. His nephew, WatsonI had suspicions
of foul play and I allowed him to see it. The boy died horribly. He has a grudge against
me. You will soften him, Watson. Beg him, pray him, get him here by any means. He can save
I will bring him in a cab, if I have to carry him down
You will do nothing of the sort. You will persuade him
to come. And then you will return in front of him. Make any excuse so as not to come with
him. Dont forget, Watson. You wont fail me. You never did fail me. No doubt
there are natural enemies which limit the increase of the creatures. You and I, Watson, we
have done our part. Shall the world, then, be overrun by oysters? No, no; horrible!
Youll convey all that is in your mind.
I left him full of the image of this magnificent intellect
babbling like a foolish child. He had handed me the key, and with a happy thought I took
it with me lest he should lock himself in. Mrs. Hudson was waiting, trembling and weeping,
in the passage. Behind me as I passed from the flat I heard Holmess high, thin voice
in some delirious chant. Below, as I stood whistling for a cab, a man came on me through
How is Mr. Holmes, sir? he asked.
It was an old acquaintance, Inspector Morton, of Scotland
Yard, dressed in unofficial tweeds.
He is very ill, I answered.
He looked at me in a most singular fashion. Had it not been
too fiendish, I could have imagined that the gleam of the fanlight showed exultation in
I heard some rumour of it, said he.
The cab had driven up, and I left him.
Lower Burke Street proved to be a line of fine houses lying in
the vague borderland between Notting Hill and Kensington. The particular one at which my
cabman pulled up had an air of smug and demure respectability in its old-fashioned iron
railings, its massive folding-door, and its shining brasswork. All was in keeping with a
solemn butler who appeared framed in the pink radiance of a tinted electric light behind
Yes, Mr. Culverton Smith is in. Dr. Watson! Very good,
sir, I will take up your card.
My humble name and title did not appear to impress Mr.
Culverton Smith. Through the half-open door I heard a high, petulant, penetrating voice.
Who is this person? What does he want? Dear me, Staples,
how often have I said that I am not to be disturbed in my hours of study?
There came a gentle flow of soothing explanation from the
I wont see him, Staples. I cant have my work interrupted like this. I am not
at home. Say so. Tell him to come in the morning if he really must see me.
Again the gentle murmur.
Well, well, give him that message. He can come in the
morning, or he can stay away. My work must not be hindered.
I thought of Holmes tossing upon his bed of sickness and
counting the minutes, perhaps, until I could bring help to him. It was not a time to stand
upon ceremony. His life depended upon my promptness. Before the apologetic butler had
delivered his message I had pushed past him and was in the room.
With a shrill cry of anger a man rose from a reclining chair
beside the fire. I saw a great yellow face, coarse-grained and greasy, with heavy,
double-chin, and two sullen, menacing gray eyes which glared at me from under tufted and
sandy brows. A high bald head had a small velvet smoking-cap poised coquettishly upon one
side of its pink curve. The skull was of enormous capacity, and yet as I looked down I saw
to my amazement that the figure of the man was small and frail, twisted in the shoulders
and back like one who has suffered from rickets in his childhood.
Whats this? he cried in a high, screaming
voice. What is the meaning of this intrusion? Didnt I send you word that I
would see you to-morrow morning?
I am sorry, said I, but the matter cannot be
delayed. Mr. Sherlock Holmes
The mention of my friends name had an extraordinary
effect upon the little man. The look of anger passed in an instant from his face. His
features became tense and alert.
Have you come from Holmes? he asked.
I have just left him.
What about Holmes? How is he?
He is desperately ill. That is why I have come.
The man motioned me to a chair, and turned to resume his own.
As he did so I caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror over the mantelpiece. I could
have sworn that it was set in a malicious and abominable smile. Yet I persuaded myself
that it must have been some nervous contraction which I had surprised, for he turned to me
an instant later with genuine concern upon his features.
I am sorry to hear this, said he. I only
know Mr. Holmes through some business dealings which we have had, but I have every respect
for his talents and his character. He is an amateur of crime, as I am of disease. For him
the villain, for me the microbe. There are my prisons, he continued, pointing to a
row of bottles and jars which stood upon a side table. Among those gelatine
cultivations some of the very worst offenders in the world are now doing time.
It was on account of your special knowledge that Mr.
Holmes desired to see you. He has a high opinion of you and thought that you were the one
man in London who could help him.
The little man started, and the jaunty smoking-cap slid to the
Why? he asked. Why should Mr. Holmes think
that I could help him in his trouble?
Because of your knowledge of Eastern diseases.
But why should he think that this disease which he has
contracted is Eastern?
Because, in some professional inquiry, he has been
working among Chinese sailors down in the docks.
Mr. Culverton Smith smiled pleasantly and picked up his
thats itis it? said he. I trust the matter is not so grave as you
suppose. How long has he been ill?
About three days.
Is he delirious?
Tut, tut! This sounds serious. It would be inhuman not
to answer his call. I very much resent any interruption to my work, Dr. Watson, but this
case is certainly exceptional. I will come with you at once.
I remembered Holmess injunction.
I have another appointment, said I.
Very good. I will go alone. I have a note of Mr.
Holmess address. You can rely upon my being there within half an hour at most.
It was with a sinking heart that I reentered Holmess
bedroom. For all that I knew the worst might have happened in my absence. To my enormous
relief, he had improved greatly in the interval. His appearance was as ghastly as ever,
but all trace of delirium had left him and he spoke in a feeble voice, it is true, but
with even more than his usual crispness and lucidity.
Well, did you see him, Watson?
Yes; he is coming.
Admirable, Watson! Admirable! You are the best of
He wished to return with me.
That would never do, Watson. That would be obviously
impossible. Did he ask what ailed me?
I told him about the Chinese in the East End.
Exactly! Well, Watson, you have done all that a good
friend could. You can now disappear from the scene.
I must wait and hear his opinion, Holmes.
Of course you must. But I have reasons to suppose that
this opinion would be very much more frank and valuable if he imagines that we are alone.
There is just room behind the head of my bed, Watson.
My dear Holmes!
I fear there is no alternative, Watson. The room does
not lend itself to concealment, which is as well, as it is the less likely to arouse
suspicion. But just there, Watson, I fancy that it could be done. Suddenly he sat up
with a rigid intentness upon his haggard face. There are the wheels, Watson. Quick,
man, if you love me! And dont budge, whatever happenswhatever happens, do you
hear? Dont speak! Dont move! Just listen with all your ears. Then in an
instant his sudden access of strength departed, and his masterful, purposeful talk droned
away into the low, vague murmurings of a semi-delirious man.
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. Cant 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.
I should imagine not, he said. And yet, you
see, I am here. Coals of fire, Holmescoals of fire!
It is very good of youvery 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 shouldnt be surprised, Holmes. I
shouldnt be surprised if it were the same. A bad lookout for you if it is. Poor
Victor was a dead man on the fourth daya strong, hearty young fellow. It was
certainly, as you said, very surprising that he should have contracted an out-of-the-way
Asiatic disease in the heart of Londona 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 couldnt 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
I heard the rasping, laboured breathing of the sick man.
Give me the water! he gasped.
Youre precious near your end, my friend, but I
dont want you to go till I have had a word with you. Thats why I give you
water. There, dont slop it about! Thats right. Can you understand what I
Do what you can for me. Let bygones be bygones, he
whispered. Ill put the words out of my headI swear I will. Only cure me,
and Ill forget it.
Well, about Victor Savages death. You as good as
admitted just now that you had done it. Ill forget it.
You can forget it or remember it, just as you like. I
dont see you in the witness-box. Quite another shaped box, my good Holmes, I assure
you. It matters nothing to me that you should know how my nephew died. Its not him
we are talking about. Its you.
The fellow who came for meIve forgotten his
namesaid that you contracted it down in the East End among the sailors.
I could only account for it so.
You are proud of your brains, Holmes, are you not? Think
yourself smart, dont 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
I cant think. My mind is gone. For heavens
sake help me!
Yes, I will help you. Ill help you to understand
just where you are and how you got there. Id 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; 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
No, no; nothing.
Im too ill to think.
Well, then, Ill help you. Did anything come by
A box by chance?
Im faintingIm 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
boxan ivory box? It came on Wednesday. You opened itdo 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.
Holmess 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 voicea 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.
Whats 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?
There were footfalls outside, the door opened, and Inspector
All is in order and this is your man, said Holmes.
The officer gave the usual cautions.
I arrest you on the charge of the murder of one Victor
Savage, he concluded.
And you might add of the attempted murder of one
Sherlock Holmes, remarked my friend with a chuckle. To save an invalid
trouble, Inspector, Mr. Culverton Smith was good enough to give our signal by turning up
the gas. By the way, the prisoner has a small box in the right-hand pocket of his coat
which it  would be as
well to remove. Thank you. I would handle it gingerly if I were you. Put it down here. It
may play its part in the trial.
There was a sudden rush and a scuffle, followed by the clash
of iron and a cry of pain.
Youll only get yourself hurt, said the
inspector. Stand still, will you? There was the click of the closing
A nice trap! cried the high, snarling voice.
It will bring you into the dock, Holmes, not me. He asked me to come here to cure
him. I was sorry for him and I came. Now he will pretend, no doubt, that I have said
anything which he may invent which will corroborate his insane suspicions. You can lie as
you like, Holmes. My word is always as good as yours.
Good heavens! cried Holmes. I had totally
forgotten him. My dear Watson, I owe you a thousand apologies. To think that I should have
overlooked you! I need not introduce you to Mr. Culverton Smith, since I understand that
you met somewhat earlier in the evening. Have you the cab below? I will follow you when I
am dressed, for I may be of some use at the station.
I never needed it more, said Holmes as he
refreshed himself with a glass of claret and some biscuits in the intervals of his toilet.
However, as you know, my habits are irregular, and such a feat means less to me than
to most men. It was very essential that I should impress Mrs. Hudson with the reality of
my condition, since she was to convey it to you, and you in turn to him. You wont be
offended, Watson? You will realize that among your many talents dissimulation finds no
place, and that if you had shared my secret you would never have been able to impress
Smith with the urgent necessity of his presence, which was the vital point of the whole
scheme. Knowing his vindictive nature, I was perfectly certain that he would come to look
upon his handiwork.
But your appearance, Holmesyour ghastly
Three days of absolute fast does not improve ones
beauty, Watson. For the rest, there is nothing which a sponge may not cure. With vaseline
upon ones forehead, belladonna in ones eyes, rouge over the cheek-bones, and
crusts of beeswax round ones lips, a very satisfying effect can be produced.
Malingering is a subject upon which I have sometimes thought of writing a monograph. A
little occasional talk about half-crowns, oysters, or any other extraneous subject
produces a pleasing effect of delirium.
But why would you not let me near you, since there was
in truth no infection?
Can you ask, my dear Watson? Do you imagine that I have
no respect for your medical talents? Could I fancy that your astute judgment would pass a
dying man who, however weak, had no rise of pulse or temperature? At four yards, I could
deceive you. If I failed to do so, who would bring my Smith within my grasp? No, Watson, I
would not touch that box. You can just see if you look at it sideways where the sharp
spring like a vipers tooth emerges as you open it. I dare say it was by some such
device that poor Savage, who stood between this monster and a reversion, was done to
death. My correspondence, however, is, as you know, a varied one, and I am somewhat upon
my guard against any packages which reach me. It was clear to me, however, that by
pretending that he had really succeeded in his design I might surprise a confession. That
pretence I have carried out with the thoroughness of the true artist. Thank you, Watson,
you must help me on with my coat. When we have finished at the police-station I think that
something nutritious at Simpsons would not be out of place.