“My God! I can’t stand it any longer!” he babbled, and threw himself upon Smith, who was foremost, clutching pitifully at him for support. “Come and see him, sir—for Heaven’s sake come in! I think he’s dying; and he’s going mad. I never disobeyed an order in my life before, but I can’t help myself—I can’t help myself!”
“Brace up!” I cried, seizing him by the shoulders as, still clutching at Nayland Smith, he turned his ghastly face to me. “Who are you, and what’s your trouble?”
“I’m Beeton, Sir Gregory Hale’s man.”
Smith started visibly, and his gaunt, tanned face seemed to me to have grown perceptively paler.
“Come on, Petrie!” he snapped. “There’s some devilry here.”
Thrusting Beeton aside he rushed in at the open door—upon which, as I followed him, I had time to note the number, 14a. It communicated with a suite of rooms almost identical with our own. The sitting-room was empty and in the utmost disorder, but from the direction of the principal bedroom came a most horrible mumbling and gurgling sound—a sound utterly indescribable. For one instant we hesitated at the threshold—hesitated to face the horror beyond; then almost side by side we came into the bedroom....
Only one of the two lamps was alight—that above the bed; and on the bed a man lay writhing. He was incredibly gaunt, so that the suit of tropical twill which he wore hung upon him in folds, showing if such evidence were necessary, how terribly he was fallen away from his constitutional habit. He wore a beard of at least ten days’ growth, which served to accentuate the cavitous hollowness of his face. His eyes seemed starting from their sockets as he lay upon his back uttering inarticulate sounds and plucking with skinny fingers at his lips.
Smith bent forward peering into the wasted face; and then started back with a suppressed cry.
“Merciful God! can it be Hale?” he muttered. “What does it mean? what does it mean?”
I ran to the opposite side of the bed, and placing my arms under the writhing man, raised him and propped a pillow at his back. He continued to babble, rolling his eyes from side to side hideously; then by degrees they seemed to become less glazed, and a light of returning sanity entered them. They became fixed; and they were fixed upon Nayland Smith, who bending over the bed, was watching Sir Gregory (for Sir Gregory I concluded this pitiable wreck to be) with an expression upon his face compound of many emotions.
“A glass of water,” I said, catching the glance of the man Beeton, who stood trembling at the open doorway.
Spilling a liberal quantity upon the carpet, Beeton ultimately succeeded in conveying the glass to me. Hale, never taking his gaze from Smith, gulped a little of the water and then thrust my hand away. As I turned to place the tumbler upon a small table the resumed the wordless babbling, and now, with his index finger, pointed to his mouth.