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The Adventure of the Creeping Man

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Front cover of an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" for learners of English as a foreign language.

"The Adventure of the Creeping Man" is a Sherlock Holmes short story with some science fiction and horror elements by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in print in the March 1926 issue of The Strand magazine in the United Kingdom and in the March 1926 issue of Hearst's International Magazine in the United States. It would be republished in June 1927 as part of the anthology The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

In the story, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is approached for help by a young man called Jack Bennett from the university town of Camford. Bennett is concerned about his employer and future father-in-law Professor Presbury. The professor's personality and behavior have suddenly changed. Bennett fears that Professor Presbury could become dangerous, as does the professor's daughter Edith. The changes in the professor's character have coincided with his dog, an Irish Wolfhound named Roy, taking a sudden violent dislike towards him. While Bennett is discussing the case with Holmes, Edith arrives. She says that she saw her father's face at her bedroom window the previous night. This is in spite of the fact that her bedroom is three floors up and cannot easily be accessed from the outside of the house.

"The Adventure of the Creeping Man" has been adapted for radio and television.

Plot

On Sunday September 6, 1903, Dr. Watson receives a note from the private detective Sherlock Holmes, his friend and former housemate, telling him to come over at once. Holmes begins telling Watson about his latest case when his client, Jack Bennett, arrives. Bennett is a man of about 30 years of age. He has a degree in medicine but now works as assistant and secretary to Professor Presbury of Camford. He shares a house with Professor Presbury and is engaged to the professor's daughter Edith. Both Jack Bennett and Edith are concerned about the strange changes which have recently come over the professor.

Professor Presbury is a 61 year-old widower. He has recently become engaged to Alice Morphy, the 24 year-old daughter of one of his colleagues. Soon after getting engaged, for the first time in his life, Professor Presbury went away for two weeks without telling anybody where he was going. When he returned, he did not say anything about where he had been. The only clue to where the professor had been during that time is a letter that Bennet received from a friend in Prague, saying that he saw Professor Presbury there. It was after he returned from his travels that Professor Presbury's personality began to change. There was "something new, something sinister and unexpected" about him. He became "furtive and sly" and his relationship with his daughter rapidly worsened.

Bennett, as Professor Presbury's secretary, had previously handled all of his correspondence. After his return from Prague, the professor told Bennett that he should not read or open any letters from London that would be distinguished by a cross under the stamp on the envelope. Bennett also noticed a wooden box, "one of those quaint carved things which one associates with Germany", which Professor Presbury appeared to have brought back from Prague. The professor kept the key to the box on his watch chain and kept the box in a cabinet. On July 2, while looking for something else in the cabinet, Bennett picked up the wooden box. This made Professor Presbury extremely angry and he accused Bennett of being excessively curious. Bennett explained that he had only touched the box by accident but the professor did not forgive him for the rest of the day.

It was also on July 2 that Professor Presbury's dog, an Irish Wolfhound named Roy who had previously been well behaved and affectionate, attacked the professor for the first time. The dog attacked him again on July 11 and July 20. After the third attack, the dog was banished from the house and kept chained up in the stable.

Two nights earlier, on September 4, Bennett was awoken late at night by a noise. When he opened his bedroom door, Bennett saw Professor Presbury walking on all fours. When Bennett asked the professor if he could help, Presbury suddenly stood up, shouted and swore at Bennett, went downstairs and did not return to his bedroom until after dawn.

Edith Presbury arrives at Sherlock Holmes' apartment. She says that her father now "lives in a strange dream" and that he cannot remember what he has done on certain days. She says that the previous day, September 5, was such a day. That night, Edith saw her father at her bedroom window. Even though her bedroom is on the second floor[1] and cannot easily be reached from the outside of the house, Edith is certain that she did not imagine it. Professor Presbury tried unsuccessfully to open Edith's window. In the morning, he said nothing about the incident but was "sharp and fierce in manner". The frightened Edith was able to get out of the house and come to London on some pretext.

Sherlock Holmes asks to borrow Bennett's notebook, which has details of incidents involving Professor Presbury's strange behavior and the dates on which they happened. Holmes says that he and Watson should go to Camford as soon as possible. Taking advantage of the professor being unable to remember what he has done on certain days, Holmes says that he and Watson should claim that they made an appointment to see him on one of those days.

The following day, Holmes and Watson are in Camford. Having consulted Bennett's notebook, Holmes claims that he and Watson made an appointment to see Professor Presbury on August 26 and they are admitted into the professor's house. Holmes tells the professor that someone contacted him and said that Professor Presbury may need his services. The professor demands to know who contacted him but Holmes refuses to say. When the professor asks, "I presume that you do not go so far as to assert that I summoned you?" Holmes neither confirms nor denies this. Professor Presbury rings a bell and summons Bennett. The professor asks if he wrote any letters to Holmes. Bennett is able to honestly answer that the professor did not write to the detective. Holmes apologizes for the intrusion and he and Watson get up to leave. The professor, however, does not accept Holmes' apology. He stops Holmes and Watson from getting to the door, shouts and raises his fists. Bennett is only able to calm the professor down by telling him of the scandal that would occur if he attacked the famous Sherlock Holmes.

As Holmes and Watson are leaving the grounds of the professor's house, Bennett runs up to them to apologize and say that he has never seen the professor in a more dangerous or sinister mood. Bennett says that he has found out that the man who has been writing to Professor Presbury from London is named Dorak. Holmes comments that Dorak is probably an Eastern European name. Bennett shows Holmes and Watson Edith's bedroom window. Holmes notices an ivy vine and a water pipe near the window but comments that it would be extremely difficult for an ordinary man to climb up to it. Holmes reassures Bennett that there are not likely to be any more major incidents involving the professor until the Tuesday of the following week. Fortunately, Edith Presbury is able to extend her stay in London for her own safety.

Holmes sends a telegram to one of his informants in London. He receives a reply which says that there is a general store in the Commercial Road run by a man named Dorak from Bohemia. Holmes connects Dorak's nationality to Professor Presbury's trip to Prague. From Bennett's notebook, Holmes has learned that most major incidents involving the professor have occurred at nine day intervals. Holmes concludes that the professor must be taking a drug which alters his personality every nine days. He began taking the drug in Prague and it is now being supplied to him by the Bohemian Dorak.

On Tuesday of the following week, Holmes and Watson return to Camford. Bennett tells them that a package from Dorak arrived for the professor that morning. At night, Holmes, Watson and Bennett observe Professor Presbury's house. Eventually, the professor comes outside, walking on all fours. He begins to climb up the ivy on the outside wall of his house. He then goes over to the chained up dog Roy, who is already angry and barking loudly. The professor tries to make the dog angrier by poking it with a stick and throwing pebbles at it. Although its chain does not break, the dog manages to get free because its collar is designed for a much larger animal. It savagely attacks the professor, biting him in the neck. Watson and Bennett treat the professor. Although he is seriously injured, he will live.

Having taken the key from Professor Presbury's watch chain, Holmes opens the professor's carved wooden box. It contains two small bottles, one empty and the other almost full, a hypodermic syringe and letters from Dorak. The letters are mostly receipts for money which the professor sent or notes saying that another bottle of serum has been sent. There is also a letter, postmarked Prague, from H. Lowenstein. Watson remembers that there was a scientist named Lowenstein of Prague who carried out investigations related to the prolonging of life and the regaining of lost youth. He developed a serum which had some remarkable effects but was shunned by the scientific community after he refused to reveal what was in it. In his letter to Presbury, Lowenstein says that the serum is made from a Himalayan monkey called a langur, which Lowenstein describes as a "crawler and creeper". Lowenstein says that he can understand Presbury's reasons for wanting to take the serum but warns that it has side effects.

After having become engaged to a much younger woman, Professor Presbury wanted to regain his lost youth. The serum which he took had the side effect of making him take on the characteristics of a monkey. Due to its advanced sense of smell, the dog Roy was the first one to notice this change and, "it was the monkey, not the professor whom Roy attacked." Holmes says that he will write to Lowenstein and say that he holds him criminally responsible for the "poisons which he circulates."

Adaptations

Langur, Pench National Park

A langur in Pench National Park, India.

The sixth episode of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, the third Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, is a loose adaptation of "The Adventure of the Creeping Man". It was first shown on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on March 28, 1991. In the episode, Edith Presbury does not see her father's face at her bedroom window. She simply sees the silhouette of a man there. Bennett contacts Sherlock Holmes not because he is worried about Professor Presbury's behavior but because he is worried about the prowler which Edith might have seen. It is only in the episode's climax, shortly before its end, that Professor Presbury and the "creeping man" are revealed to be one and the same. Unlike in the original short story, Professor Presbury is a knowing accomplice in a crime. The serum which he takes is made by Dorak from parts taken from monkeys and apes that have been stolen from zoos across Britain.

A largely faithful radio adaptation, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, first aired on BBC Radio 4 in the United kingdom on March 1, 1996. In the adaptation, all references to the fictional university town of Camford are replaced by ones to the real university town of Cambridge.

In the 1974 Sherlock Holmes novel The Seven Per-Cent Solution by the American author Nicholas Meyer, Dr. Watson dismisses "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" as "drivel" and denies having written it. he claims that it is one of four Sherlock Holmes stories, the other three being "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane", "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" and "The Adventure of the Three Gables", which are complete forgeries.

See also

Footnotes

  1. The "second floor" in British English refers to what is known as the "third floor' in American English. What is called the "first floor" in American English is called the "ground floor" in British English.

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