ADVENTURE VI. THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP
Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D.D., Principal
of the Theological College of St. George's, was much addicted
opium. The habit grew upon him, as I understand, from some
foolish freak when he was at college; for having read De
Quincey's description of his dreams and sensations, he had
drenched his tobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the
same effects. He found, as so many more have done, that the
practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many
years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of
mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. I can see
him now, with yellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point
pupils, all huddled in a chair, the wreck and ruin of a noble
One night--it was in June, '89--there came a ring to my bell,
about the hour when a man gives his first yawn and glances at
clock. I sat up in my chair, and my wife laid her needle-work
down in her lap and made a little face of disappointment.
"A patient!" said she. "You'll have to go out."
I groaned, for I was newly come back from a weary day.
We heard the door open, a few hurried words, and then quick steps
upon the linoleum. Our own door flew open, and a lady, clad in
some dark-colored stuff, with a black veil, entered the room.
"You will excuse my calling so late," she began, and
suddenly losing her self-control, she ran forward, threw her arms
about my wife's neck, and sobbed upon her shoulder. "Oh,
such trouble!" she cried; "I do so want a little help."
"Why," said my wife, pulling up her veil, "it
is Kate Whitney.
How you startled me, Kate! I had not an idea who you were when
you came in."
"I didn't know what to do, so l came straight to you."
always the way. Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds
to a light-house.
"It was very sweet of you to come. Now, you must have some
and water, and sit here comfortably and tell us all about it.
should you rather that I sent James off to bed?"
"Oh, no, no! I want the doctor's advice and help, too. It's
Isa. He has not been home for two days. I am so frightened about
It was not the first time that she had spoken to us of her
husband's trouble, to me as a doctor, to my wife as an old friend
and school companion. We soothed and comforted her by such words
as we could find. Did she know where her husband was? Was it
possible that we could bring him back to her?
It seems that it was. She had the surest information that of
he had, when the fit was on him, made use of an opium den in the
farthest east of the City. Hitherto his orgies had always been
confined to one day, and he had come back, twitching and
shattered, in the evening. But now the spell had been upon him
eight-and-forty hours, and he lay there, doubtless among the
dregs of the docks, breathing in the poison or sleeping off the
effects. There he was to be found, she was sure of it, at the
of Gold, in Upper Swandam Lane. But what was she to do? How could
she, a young and timid woman, make her way into such a place and
pluck her husband out from among the ruffians who surrounded him?
There was the case, and of course there was but one way out of
it. Might I not escort her to this place? And then, as a second
thought, why should she come at all? I was Isa Whitney's medical
adviser, and as such I had influence over him. I could manage
better if I were alone. I promised her on my word that I would
send him home in a cab within two hours if he were indeed at the
address which she had given me. And so in ten minutes I had left
my armchair and cheery sitting-room behind me, and was speeding
eastward in a hansom on a strange errand, as it seemed to me at
the time, though the future only could show how strange it was
But there was no great difficulty in the first stage of my
adventure. Upper Swandam Lane is a vile alley lurking behind the
high wharves which line the north side of the river to the east
of London Bridge. Between a slop-shop and a gin-shop, approached
by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the
mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search.
Ordering my cab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow
the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the
light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch
and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the
brown opium smoke, and terraced with wooden berths, like the
forecastle of an emigrant ship.
Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying
in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads
thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a
dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black
shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright,
now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of
the metal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to
themselves, and others talked together in a strange, low,
monotonous voice, their conversation coming in gushes, and then
suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out his own
thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbor.
the farther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside
which on a three-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old
man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon
his knees, staring into the fire.
As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a
for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth.
"Thank you. I have not come to stay," said I. "There
is a friend
of mine here, Mr. Isa Whitney, and I wish to speak with him."
There was a movement and an exclamation from my right, and
peering through the gloom I saw Whitney, pale, haggard, and
unkempt, staring out at me.
"My God! It's Watson," said he. He was in a pitiable
reaction, with every nerve in a twitter. "I say, Watson,
o'clock is it?"
"Of what day?"
"Of Friday, June 19th."
"Good heavens! I thought it was Wednesday. It is Wednesday.
d'you want to frighten the chap for?" He sank his face onto
arms and began to sob in a high treble key.
"I tell you that it is Friday, man. Your wife has been waiting
this two days for you. You should be ashamed of yourself!"
"So I am. But you've got mixed, Watson, for I have only
a few hours, three pipes, four pipes--I forget how many. But I'll
go home with you. I wouldn't frighten Kate--poor little Kate.
Give me your hand! Have you a cab?"
"Yes, I have one waiting."
"Then I shall go in it. But I must owe something. Find what
owe, Watson. I am all off color. I can do nothing for myself."
I walked down the narrow passage between the double row of
sleepers, holding my breath to keep out the vile, stupefying
fumes of the drug, and looking about for the manager. As I passed
the tall man who sat by the brazier I felt a sudden pluck at my
skirt, and a low voice whispered, "Walk past me, and then
back at me." The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear.
glanced down. They could only have come from the old man at my
side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very
wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between
his knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his
fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It took all
self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of
astonishment. He had turned his back so that none could see him
but I. His form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull
eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire and
grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes.
made a slight motion to me to approach him, and instantly, as
turned his face half round to the company once more, subsided
into a doddering, loose-lipped senility.
"Holmes!" I whispered, "what on earth are you
doing in this den?"
"As low as you can," he answered; "I have excellent
ears. If you
would have the great kindness to get rid of that sottish friend
of yours I should be exceedingly glad to have a little talk with
"I have a cab outside."
"Then pray send him home in it. You may safely trust him,
appears to be too limp to get into any mischief. I should
recommend you also to send a note by the cabman to your wife to
say that you have thrown in your lot with me. If you will wait
outside, I shall be with you in five minutes."