The Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle Study Guide

About the Story

“The Adventure of the Dying Detective” also known as “The Dying Detective” in some versions, is one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories. It is included in the collection His Last Bow, along with seven other stories.

The current story is around the dying detective, Sherlock Holmes, who is actually not dying but successfully plays out the drama of a fatal infection. In this manner, he captures the murderer. This criminal could not have been apprehended sooner because there was no compelling evidence against him to prove his crime. Sherlock Holmes arranged favourable circumstances for Mr. Culverton Smith to confess his crime with the assistance of his assistant, Watson, and the police officer in plain clothes. Everything was done extremely cleverly by the gifted detective, and he collected proof of the killer’s confession. Only in the end do we learn that his illness was a ruse to catch the recognised perpetrator who murdered his own nephew. The storey is engrossing, and the reader is continually curious about what will happen next. The storey also demonstrates how Sherlock Holmes utilises various techniques to feign illness and fool practically everyone involved in the action, including his friend Watson and the landlady.

Summary of The Dying Detective

The narrator began the storey by complaining about Sherlock Holmes’ oddities and charming and pleasant manners to his landlady. She was bothered by her tenant’s unwelcome visitors, yet she bore it all because she admired his intelligence. He lived a strange and irregular life. He would leave the house in a state of disarray, listen to music at unusual hours, practise shooting through doors, and experiment with chemicals that generated foul odours. There would always be a sense of danger and violence around him. All of these features of Sherlock Holmes’ life have the potential to make him the worst tenant in London. But he would pay a magnificent rent, enough to buy a new house. Mrs. Hudson, the landlord, would not interfere with his work as a result. Furthermore, the compassion and civility he constantly showed to women endeared him to the landlady. Despite his disdain and suspicion of the fairer sex, he was a “chivalrous opponent.” The narrator only partially listened to Mrs. Hudson and learned of his condition, which seemed to have reached a critical stage.

She appeared to be quite concerned, observing that Sherlock Holmes’ health was rapidly deteriorating and that he could die on the same day. The patient refused to see a doctor, and when Mrs. Hudson persisted on calling one in, he requested that Dr. Watson, the story’s narrator, be summoned. Fearful, the narrator hurriedly drove to Mr. Holmes’ house. When the narrator inquired about the ailment’s symptoms, the lady explained that his tenant had been working on a case at Rotherhithe and had brought the disease with him. She also stated that he had not eaten or drunk anything for the previous three days. She went on to say that the man was a skilled wordsmith, and she could not refuse his request not to bring in any doctors without his permission.

It was terrible to catch a glance of the sickroom, which appeared depressed. When the narrator got a good look at Sherlock Holmes’s slim and thin face, he became nervous. The narrator was saddened by his eyes, cheekbones, and lips. His skeletal hands trembled, his voice croaked and convulsed, and he appeared to be devoid of excitement and energy. The narrator approached him, but Sherlock Holmes sternly warned him to back off. Sherlock Holmes urged Watson not to be angry with him because he was sick with a contagious Sumatran ailment. He went on to say that it was a terrible sickness with little knowledge in Western countries. When he motioned the narrator away and stated, “Contagious by touch,” his long hands twitched. Because the narrator admired Sherlock Holmes’ peculiar qualities, he never went against his requests. But, as a doctor, Mr. Watson saw it as his primary responsibility to diagnose the sickness and assist him. He then insisted on checking the disease’s symptoms, but Holmes stared at him with disapproving eyes and told him to summon a doctor. He noted that, as a friend, he trusted the narrator, but he was not a well-known doctor with lousy credentials. The narrator was offended and thought his friend was unworthy of expressing such an opinion on his ability. He did, however, agree to have another doctor come in. Sherlock Holmes pressed the storyteller on whether he was aware of Tapanuli sickness or black Formosa corruption. Watson has never heard of any of these illnesses. During his latest investigation, he became a victim of this lethal condition, he noted. Mr. Watson insisted on summoning Dr. Ainstree, a tropical illness expert, and turned to face the entrance.

Throughout this conversation, the detective was stumbling and stumbling. His movements were evident evidence of his frail and failing health. But now he is stopped the narration, locked the door, and returned to his bed, fatigued and panting. He asked Watson to stay till six of the clock and then summon the doctor. Waiting for two hours seemed insane to the narrator. But he was helpless and did not have a choice. He added another condition: he would call the doctor of Sherlock Holmes’ choice. “By all means,” Watson concurred. The detective appreciated the gesture and asked him to resume their conversation at six o’clock.

The narrator took a few moments to observe Sherlock Holmes, who appeared to be sleeping. Then he took a cautious tour around the room, arriving at the mantelpiece, where various items were displayed. Aside from that, there was a black and white ivory box with a sliding top. The detective cried out in agony as the narrator extended his hand to inspect the box. He told the narrator to replace the box right away and felt relieved only when it was done. He requested the narrator to sit quietly and not bother him by touching his belongings. The narrator sat down and saw that the fine mind of the detective was severely chaotic.

When the appointed time arrived, the dying detective inquired if Watson had any spare change in his pocket. He then ordered Watson to divide his money among his pockets in order to achieve a proper balance. The narrator was taken aback and determined that it was “raving insanity.” The detective then instructed him to start the gas and leave it half-lit. He also asked him to place some letters, documents, and other items from the mantelpiece on the table and to lift the ivory box with the sugar-tongs. Finally, he directed him to bring Mr. Culverton Smith. Sherlock Holmes also informed the narrator that this individual was not a doctor, but rather a planter. When the disease invaded his plantation, he investigated it. Sherlock Holmes asked Watson to explain the man’s dying and incoherent state to him. He then went on a rant about how the ocean is not a solid mass of oysters and how the brain regulates itself. He also stated that the man harboured ill will toward him since he doubted the man was the murderer of his own nephew. He implored the narrator to beg and beg him to come there and save his life. When Watson offered to take the man in a cab, the detective simply refused and urged him to return alone.

The narrator walked away from Sherlock Holmes, who was speaking incoherently. He was waiting for a cab when Inspector Morton approached him in plain clothes and inquired about the detective’s health. “He is very ill,” the narrator replied. After then, the narrator ordered a cab to take him to the planter. He was greeted by the butler of the planter’s house, who handed him his visiting card to Mr. Culverton Smith. He overheard the man reprimanding his butler for bothering him in his study. When the butler described the situation, the planter asked him to inform Watson that he was not at home. The narrator recalled the dying detective and decided to act immediately. He walked into the room and was met by a yellow-faced, double-chinned man with threatening grey eyes. He was bald, had a large skull, and was short and frail. The man became enraged at the narrator’s entrance and yelled aggressively at him. Watson apologised and mentioned Sherlock Holmes’ sad situation. He discovered that the term Sherlock Holmes lightened his demeanour, and a malignant smile emerged on his face.

The planter, on the other hand, was concerned about Sherlock Holmes’s predicament. He expressed his admiration for the detective’s talent and character. Then he discussed his research on bacteria, the “very worst offenders” responsible for the deadly disease. When pressed, the storyteller explained to the planter how the detective became infected with that contagious sickness. The narrator also stated that Sherlock Holmes had been sick for three days and was periodically delusional. The planter took the problem seriously and prepared to leave with Watson right away. Watson, on the other hand, made an excuse and asked the planter to go to the detective’s address on his own and meet him there in half an hour.

The worried narrator returned to Sherlock Holmes and was glad to find him in better condition. When Holmes learned that Watson had successfully persuaded the man to visit him, he referred to the storyteller as “the best of messengers.” He then urged Watson to leave the site before the planter came. He asked Watson to hide beneath his bed in the room. He specifically instructed him not to make any noise or movement and to focus solely on their conversation. Following this, the detective appeared to be feeble and mumbled like a semi-delirious guy.

When the planter inquired about the situation, the detective said, “the same.” The visitor showed no signs of awe. Victor, his nephew, died on the fourth day of the same Asiatic sickness, he said. Sherlock Holmes stated that he was aware of the planter’s planned murder of his nephew. The planter stated that he could not establish such charge at the time.

He asked the detective why he needed his help after circulating rumours against him. The detective encouraged him to ignore everything and do something for him. He went on to say that if he could cure Victor Savage, he would forget about his death. He ironically stated that the detective was proud of his intellect, but this time he had encountered someone who was smarter than him. He asked the detective if he could think of any other ways he could have contracted the sickness. The detective, on the other hand, need his assistance in order to be alleviated of agony. When the visitor inquired whether the pain was caused by a cramp, the detective admitted that it was. The planter requested that Sherlock Holmes recall the ivory box he had received on Wednesday. The detective stated that there was a spring in the box and that it was possibly a joke played by someone. The planter assured him it was not a prank, but there were bacteria from that sickness in the box. He went on to say that if he had not intervened in his case, he would have spared him. When he discovered the ivory box on the table, he pocketed it to remove the last piece of evidence. He told Sherlock Holmes that he would die knowing who killed him. He was sending him to share Victor Savage’s destiny.

Following this, the planter sat and watched the detective’s demise. He turned on the gas, lit the room up, and asked Sherlock Holmes what he could do for him. “A match and a cigarette,” the detective added. The narrator, who was hiding himself, was taken aback when the detective talked in his real voice. Culverton Smith was curious about its significance. “The best way to successfully act a part is to be it,” stated Sherlock Holmes. He went on to say that he did not take anything for three days. He then took a cigarette and lit it. He also called his acquaintance Inspector Morton. The police officer arrived and issued the standard warning that he was arresting Culverton Smith on the charge of Victor Smith’s murder. The detective requested that the accusation of attempted murder against one Sherlock Holmes be added. He instructed the inspector to grab the ivory box from the man’s right hand pocket since it might be useful in the trial. It was dubbed a “nice trap” by the planter. He threatened Sherlock Holmes with dragging him to court.

The detective called Watson and apologised for ignoring him up to this point. He requested that the Inspector take the planter with him and stated that he would return later. He then began to renew himself and told Watson everything. He explained that due of his irregular habits, it was simple for him to pretend and convince everyone that he was sick. He went on to say that he did not tell him about his phoney illness on purpose since it would have been impossible for him to convince the owner of Sumatra plantations that he was terribly and seriously ill. When Watson inquired about his physical appearance, Sherlock Holmes explained that he had not eaten for three days and had used sponge, vaseline, belladonna, rouge, and beeswax crusts to make himself look like a critically ill patient. He went on to say that his meaningless chit-chat about oysters, etc. made him appear even more insane. He explained to Watson that he kept him away on purpose since he was talented and could see through the ruse. “At four yards, I could fool you,” the detective admitted, but not when he got closer. He stated that he had always been cautious with his packages, which is why he did not allow Watson to open it. His pretext that he became ill as a result of bacteria provided by Culverton Smith forced the planter to confess his crime. He directed Watson to proceed to the police station and complete the necessary tasks.

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Study Questions

Short-Answer Questions

Question 1: Why does Mrs. Hudson visit Dr. Watson?
Answer: Mrs. Hudson was Sherlock Holmes’ landlady, a detective whose oddities and strange habits made him the city’s worst renter. Despite these annoyances, Mrs. Hudson held a high regard for her brilliant tenant. When he did not leave his rooms for three days, she became anxious. She assumed he was gravely unwell and in serious need of medical attention. She noticed he was suffering from a bad illness and wanted to summon a doctor. The detective, on the other hand, encouraged the lady to summon Dr. Watson. That is why the landlady came to see Dr. Watson and informed him of the seriousness and urgency of the situation.

Question 2: What type of tenant is Sherlock Holmes?
Answer: Because of his peculiar features, Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’ landlady, thought he was the worst of tenants in London. Unwanted visitors came to him at all hours of the day and night. His actions had a hint of strangeness to them. He would be untidy for the rest of his life. He would also listen to music at weird hours and practise with his revolver behind closed doors. His scientific experiments used to fill the room with foul odours. He was also surrounded by a hostile and dangerous environment. Despite these flaws, the landlady held him in high regard for his brilliance. He also paid a good rent, which she enjoyed.

Question 3: Why does Sherlock Holmes ask Watson to stand back when the latter goes to enquire about him?
Answer: Sherlock Holmes wanted to catch Culverton Smith and force him to confess to the murder of his nephew. He had to pretend to be ill with a contagious and incurable ailment in order to do so. Watson was medically gifted, and he was able to identify Holmes’ true state. Sherlock Holmes would not let Watson touch him because he was afraid he would notice his make-up and phoney illness. “At four yards, I could fool you,” the detective admitted.

Question 4: What disease does Sherlock Holmes say he is suffering from?
Answer: “The Dying Detective” tells the story of a gifted detective’s ability to apprehend a killer who murdered his own nephew but escaped punishment due to a lack of evidence. Sherlock Holmes claimed to be infected with a Sumatran coolie sickness. He explained that little was known about the condition and that it was extremely contagious. It was also “infallibly deadly,” he added. He pretended to be terribly weak, spoke in a faint voice, and talked in a delusional manner. Everyone was certain that he was terminally ill and would die as a result of this.

Question 5: What remark by Holmes hurts Watson bitterly when he wants to examine him?
Answer: In order to catch a criminal, Sherlock Holmes feigned to be critically ill. Watson rushed over to see him after learning of his sickness. Watson emphasised his intention to research the signs of the sickness and cure it in an attempt to save the dying detective. The detective, on the other hand, wanted to keep him away, claiming that he did not trust him as a doctor. According to the detective, he had little experience and mediocre credentials. Watson was extremely offended by this low judgement of his ability as a doctor.

Question 6: What does Sherlock Holmes do when Watson turns to go and fetch Dr. Ainstree?
Answer: Watson planned to get Dr. Ainstree, one of the world’s foremost experts on tropical diseases, to assist the dying detective. At that point in time, the doctor happened to be in London. When Watson turned to go, Sherlock Holmes sprung from his bed, dashed ahead of him, closed the door, and returned to his bed before Watson could react. He told Watson to go to the doctor only at six of the clock and to wait until then. All of this seemed unreasonable and absurd to Watson.

Question 7: What is Sherlock Holmes’ reaction when Watson lifts a small ivory box from the mantelpiece?
Answer: Sherlock Holmes let out a dreadful yell as Watson extended his hand to pick up the small black and white ivory box with the sliding top. It was unusually loud, and it could be heard from across the street. Watson was startled by the cry and became immobile. Watson was told to put the small ivory box down right away by the detective. He went on to say that he despised it when people touched his belongings without his permission. Actually, when an attempt was made to open the lid, a needle bearing the bacteria of the deadly sickness was hurled out, potentially fatally infecting Watson. This was something Holmes want to avoid.

Question 8: What makes Watson believe that Sherlock Holmes is “obviously delirious”?
Answer:  Sherlock Holmes feigned to be afflicted with a fatal disease, as if he were a master of the stage. In order to persuade Watson, he kept a safe distance from him and acted irrationally and incoherently. He inquired if Watson had any loose change in his pocket. When he received a positive response, he told him to keep silver and half-crowns in separate pockets. He also stated his perplexity as to why the water was not a solid mass of oysters. Watson thought it was also irrational to place a few items on the table next the detective. All of this led Watson to the conclusion that the detective’s mind was jumbled and delusional.

Question 9: Why does Sherlock Holmes forbid Watson to accompany Culverton Smith?
Answer:  Sherlock Holmes was convinced that Culverton Smith had murdered his own nephew, but he lacked evidence. He barred Watson from accompanying the man because the individual would not confess his crime in that circumstance. He wanted Watson to arrive earlier so that he could be present in the room but hidden from Culverton’s gaze when he arrived. Actually, Sherlock Holmes wanted Watson to listen to the planter confessing his crime and to be a witness who could testify in court and prove the perpetrator’s guilt. The entire event of his feigned illness was effectively conducted by the detective in order to obtain a witness.

Question 10: What conversation takes place between Watson and Inspector Morton?
Answer: Watson ran into Inspector Morton of Scotland Yard as he was leaving Sherlock Holmes to summon Culverton Smith. Watson had known him for a long time. The Inspector, who was dressed in civilian clothing, inquired about Sherlock Holmes’ health. He had actually heard a rumour about the detective’s condition and had come to confirm it. The brief encounter suggests that the Inspector was aware of the detective’s phoney illness and the trap he had set for Culverton Smith. But he pretended to Watson that he had come to visit Holmes because he had heard he was critically unwell.

Question 11: Why does Culverton Smith want to kill Sherlock Holmes?
Answer: Culverton Smith was accused of murdering his own nephew. Despite his best efforts, Sherlock Holmes was unable to show that Culverton was the perpetrator of the crime. After that, Culverton Smith harboured ill will toward the detective. He desired vengeance and sent him a black and white ivory box with a microbe capable of spreading terrible sickness. He wanted to get rid of the man who was constantly threatening him with gathering enough evidence against him to convict him of murdering his nephew. That is why, out of hatred for the detective, he plotted to assassinate Sherlock Holmes.

Question 12: How does Sherlock Holmes simulate the ghastly face?
Answer: First and foremost, Sherlock Holmes fasted for three days. That made him frail, and his face reflected that weakness, giving the appearance that he was terminally ill. He applied vaseline to his brow and belladonna to his eyes. He also applied rouge to his cheeks and beeswax crusts to his lips. Furthermore, he left the bulb half-lit so that no one could see the phoney symptoms of his illness. That is how he feigned to have coolie illness, which was highly contagious and lethal.

Question 13: What does Holmes ask Watson do when he returns to the sick-room?
Answer: Sherlock Holmes desired a witness when Culverton Smith confessed to murdering his own nephew. He instructed Watson to quickly cover himself and not to make any movement or make any sound that would reveal his presence in the room until he was summoned to come before Holmes. In actuality, Sherlock Holmes wished to speak with Culverton Smith alone and force him to confess his crime. He was certain that the planter would not confess to his wrongdoing in front of anyone else. As a result, he requested that Watson conceal himself.

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Long-Answer Questions

Question 1:  “At four yards, I could deceive you”, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson. Explain.
Answer: “The Dying Detective” describes how Sherlock Holmes devised a plan to apprehend Culverton Smith, who murdered his own nephew but escaped punishment due to a lack of evidence. Holmes feigned to have a coolie ailment that was very contagious and “infallibly lethal.” Watson, on the other hand, was unaware that the detective’s illness was a ruse designed to lure the perpetrator into providing evidence against himself. Watson rushed to Holmes’ chambers after learning of her tenant’s critical sickness from the landlady.
When Watson insisted on analysing the disease’s symptoms, the detective told him to keep his distance. Sherlock Holmes was aware of Watson’s acute judgement and afraid that he would recognise the phoney signs of simulated illness he had created on his face. He hoped to persuade Watson that he was dying of a fatal sickness. The detective also tried to reassure Watson that it was a rare ailment that only Culverton Smith could handle. That is how Sherlock Holmes kept him “at four yards” and successfully misled him.

Question 2: Describe how Holmes tricks Watson into believing he is really ill. Why does he do so?
Answer: In “The Dying Detective”, Sherlock Holmes feigned to be a victim of a communicable and fatal disease. It was an attempt to trap Culverton Smith who had killed his own nephew and escaped punishment from the law courts because there was no proof against him. The detective did not eat anything for three days and looked extremely miserable by posing that he was suffering acute pain and was mentally confused. He put vaseline on his forehead and belladonna on his eyes. He also smeared rouge over his cheekbones and rusts of beeswax round his lips.
Sherlock Holmes could successfully convince Watson that he was physically ill and mentally deranged. He said that he wondered why the sea was not a solid mass of oysters. In addition, he asked Watson if he had any change and then advised to put silver and half-crowns in separate pockets to balance himself. This irrelevant talk convinced Watson that the dying detective was delirious. Sherlock Holmes did so because only this could convince Watson fully and feel seriously concerned about his fate and persuade Culverton Smith to visit him.

Question 3: Explain how Sherlock Holmes manages to get Culverton Smith arrested?
Answer: Sherlock Holmes wished to apprehend Culverton Smith, the murderer of his own nephew who had evaded punishment in the law courts due to a lack of evidence against him. Sherlock Holmes despatched Watson to Culverton Smith after convincing him of his condition. Before the man came, the detective had already called Inspector Morton and placed Watson behind his bed, where he could discreetly listen in on the conversation without being discovered by Culverton Smith. When the planter arrived at the sick room, he discovered the detective in his bed. During their conversation, Holmes prodded Culverton Smith into confessing his crime. The planter boasted that he was smarter than the detective since he was able to avoid being charged with murder despite the investigator’s best efforts. In his eagerness and arrogance, the planter added that he had sent him a black and white ivory box containing bacteria from that coolie sickness. The detective quickly summoned the Inspector, who apprehended the planter. Then he summoned Watson, who had witnessed Culverton Smith’s confession.

Question 4: ‘The best way of acting a part is to be it,’ reveals Holmes. Describe the means he adopts to simulate a dying, delirious man.
Answer: In “The Dying Detective,” Sherlock Holmes plots to entrap Culverton Smith in the clutches of the authorities. He feigned to be ill with an extremely contagious and fatal ailment. In reality, the detective not only faked convincingly, but he also acted convincingly. He did not eat for three days to give everyone the impression that he was seriously ill. He also applied make-up to his face in order to convince everyone that he was in a terrible state. He also acted strangely and spoke rubbish to give the impression that he was delirious. That is why he remarked, “The best way to play a part is to be it.”
The entire episode demonstrates that Sherlock Holmes was not only a brilliant detective, but also an accomplished actor who performed the character of an ailing man on the point of death. All of this was done to catch the murderer who had killed his own nephew by infecting him with a fatal sickness.

Question 5: What do we come to know about Culverton Smith at the end of the story?
Answer: When Sherlock Holmes mentions Culverton Smith for the first occasion, he introduces him as an expert on the “coolie disease.” Culverton Smith was a diligent man who was also fussy and difficult to persuade to do anything that did not directly touch him. He had a yellow face and a double chin. He was small and frail. When he heard the name Sherlock Holmes, he immediately got awake and began paying close attention to what Watson told him. However, when some time has passed, we discover that this man was the cunning murderer of his own nephew. He could not be imprisoned because his crime could not be proven in court due to a lack of proof. He confessed his crime to the detective since he believed he would die soon as a result of the dreadful disease he had induced by the bacteria he had sent to him in the ivory box. He revealed to Holmes that he was the cause of the detective’s “coolie disease.” He told him that he had done to him exactly what he had done to his nephew earlier. Culverton Smith was a cunning assassin. He mocked the law and escaped its clutches. He was a cruel man who would go to any length to exact revenge or injure someone who had irritated him. But, in the end, he received his just deserts and was arrested.

Question 6: Why does Sherlock Holmes keep Watson in the dark about his feigned illness?
Answer: Sherlock Holmes kept it a secret from everyone save Inspector Morton that his illness was a ruse. He was trying to persuade everyone that he was terminally ill and counting his final breaths. For three days, he did not eat anything. He used the skill of malingering to make himself appear unwell and infected with the highly contagious and lethal “coolie disease.” If he had notified Watson about his fictitious sickness, the detective subsequently admitted that he would not have been able to persuade Culverton Smith that the detective was nearing the end of his life and could die at any moment. Culverton Smith could only be persuaded to pay a visit to the dying detective if he had this impression. This judgement of Sherlock Holmes is likewise convincing to us. The only reason the detective kept Watson in the dark about his phoney illness was because of this.

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