The Ablest Man in the World

by Edward Page Mitchell

The Ablest Man in the World  by Edward Page Mitchell

In 1878, General Ignatieff spent several weeks of July in Baden, Germany. The newspapers said that he visited the place for his health. But everybody knew that the Russian Emperor was unhappy with him and that was the real reason he was in Germany.

My friend Fisher from New York, who arrived at Baden on the day after Ignatieff, told me the story about the general that I am going to tell you.

It was still early in summer. The hotels were not even half full, and the shops were not doing good business. Few tourists disturbed the old caretaker of the famous tower. Fisher found the place very boring. He was impatient to get to Switzerland, but his wife had become friends with a lady from Poland and she wanted to stay.

One afternoon Fisher was standing on one of the little bridges, lazily looking into the water, when the porter of the hotel came running towards him.

"Doctor" shouted the porter. "I am sorry, but the Baron Savitch from Moscow, one of General Ignatieff's staff, is very ill and looks like he’s going to die."

Fisher explained that he was not a doctor, but the porter wouldn’t listen. Pulled towards the hotel, Fisher decided to go quietly with him and explain to the Baron's friends.

The Russian's rooms were on the second floor, not far from Fisher’s. A French servant came hurrying out of the room to meet the porter and the doctor. Fisher again tried to explain, but it did no good. The man asked Fisher to lose no time talking, but to hurry to the Baron who was already in great pain.

Fisher followed the servant into the bedroom. The Baron, in his boots, lay on the bed, his body eaten up by the pain. His teeth were tightly shut. Every few seconds a long scream was heard. Then, he would put both hands on his stomach and shake.

Although he was not a doctor, Fisher knew what the problem was. He also knew that he had some medicine in his room. He brought it and quickly gave it to the patient. In a few minutes, Fisher was pleased to see the Baron sit up in bed. The pain had disappeared.

Fisher now had a chance to look at the Russian baron more carefully. He was a man of about thirty-five, with a very handsome face, but a strange head. It seemed to be perfectly round on top. It looked even stranger because he had no hair. There was nothing on the Baron's head but a black cap. A wig hung next to the bed.

Baron Savitch nodded his head at Fisher.

"How do you feel now?" asked Fisher, in French.

"Very much better, thanks to you," replied the Baron, in excellent English, spoken in a beautiful voice. "Very much better, though I feel dizzy." And he pressed his hand to his forehead.

The servant left the room and was followed by the porter. Fisher went to the bedside and took the Baron's hand. Even he could tell that the pulse was very high. He was worried about the medicine he had given. "Have I got myself and the Russian into a lot of trouble?" he thought.

The Baron began to feel worse and worse and that made Fisher very worried. Savitch's face became as white as ice. He started to fall, as he sat on the bed and he held his head with both hands, as if he was worried that it would explode.

"I'd better call your servant," said Fisher.

"No, no!" screamed the Baron. "You are a medical man and I trust you. There is something wrong here." He pointed to the top of his head.

"But I am not …" said Fisher.

"No words!" shouted the Russian. "You must not wait. Unscrew the top of my head!"

Savitch threw off his cap. Fisher had no words to describe the surprise with which he saw the baron's head. The cap had hidden the fact that the top of Savitch's head was made of silver.

"Unscrew it!" said Savitch again.

Fisher reluctantly placed both his hands on the silver skull. The top turned easily.

"Faster!" said the baron, faintly. "I tell you there’s no time to lose."

At that moment, there was a sound of voices in the other room, and the door into the Baron's bedroom door was loudly opened and just as loudly closed. The newcomer was a short man of middle age, with angry little grey eyes. He stood for a few seconds looking at Fisher jealously.

The Baron opened his eyes.

"Dr. Rapperschwyll!" he shouted.

Without waiting for a reply he put his hand rudely on Fisher's arm and pulled him from the Baron. Fisher, more and more surprised, was pushed towards the door. Dr. Rapperschwyll opened the door wide enough to let the American out, and then slammed it closed. The key was turned in the lock.


The next morning Fisher met Savitch. The Baron said hello with cold politeness and moved on. Later in the day a servant handed Fisher a small parcel, with the message: "Dr. Rapperschwyll supposes that this will be enough." The parcel contained two gold pieces.

Fisher was angry. "He’ll have his money back," he said to himself, "but I will have his secret in return."

Mrs. Fisher's friend was very helpful when Fisher’s wife asked her about the Baron Savitch of Moscow. Her story was this:

The Baron Savitch was not from an old family. Nobody knew where he came from. After he graduated from the University of Dorpat, he worked in the Russian embassies in Vienna, London and Paris. He was made a Baron before his twenty-fifth birthday for his wonderful ability in meetings of great importance with the Austrians.

But the Polish lady said very little about this handsome young man's successes in politics. She was more interested in his social career. Although no-one knew his father's name, he had a lot of influence on the Russian Emperor. He was also very rich. Everything he did, in business or politics, was a success because of his intelligence and his wonderful management.

About Dr. Rapperschwyll? He was the doctor looking after the Baron Savitch, who often had sudden and alarming illnesses. Dr. Rapperschwyll was from Switzerland and had been a watchmaker. He was very loyal to the Baron, but seemed like a very ordinary person.

After he heard this, Fisher decided to find a time to speak to Rapperschwyll and find out his secret. Six days later he got a chance.

Late in the afternoon, he went to look at the famous tower. He met the caretaker on the way, who said that he was leaving for an hour or two. Dr. Rapperschwyll was there too. The upper part of this tower was in poor condition. The stairs were broken, so you got to the top by using a ladder. Fisher pretended to fall and made a lot of noise, at the same time kicking the top of the ladder so that it fell down about ten metres.

Dr. Rapperschwyll saw that they were trapped on top of the tower and looked upset. He was even more upset when he recognized Fisher.

"It’s unfortunate," said Fisher calmly. "We shall be trapped here a couple of hours at the least. But we have good company and beautiful views to look at. I also want to take this opportunity to return some money of yours, which reached me, I think, by mistake."

He put the gold pieces directly under the nose of the Swiss.

"I could not think of accepting any fee," he said. "It was enough to see such an interesting and unusual case."

The Swiss looked carefully at the American's face. At last he said:

“Are you a man of science?"

"Yes," lied Fisher.

"Then," continued Dr. Rapperschwyll, "you will agree that this is a very beautiful example. And you will also understand, as a doctor, that the Baron and his friends are very sensitive about it. That’s why I seemed so rude to you when you found out about it."

"That's a pity," said Fisher, "I would like to write an article about what I saw in one of the scientific magazines of England or America. People would be very interested to read about it."

"What you saw?" shouted the Swiss. "It’s not true. You saw nothing – when I entered you had not even removed the …"

Here he stopped and muttered to himself angrily.

"As you force me to tell you everything," Dr. Rapperschwyll went on, getting more and more nervous, "I will tell you that the Baron has promised me that you saw nothing. I arrived when you were starting to remove the silver cap."

"I will be direct," replied Fisher. “The Baron does not remember clearly. He was unconscious for a long time before you entered. Perhaps I was removing the silver cap when you interrupted me …"

Dr. Rapperschwyll turned pale.

"And, perhaps," said Fisher, coolly, "I was replacing it."

Rapperschwyll put his hands before his eyes and cried like a child, or, rather, like a broken old man.

"He’ll publish it! He will publish it to the world!" he cried. Turning again to Fisher, he said:

“How much money do you want?”

Fisher laughed.

"Then," said Rapperschwyll, "if, if I could ask you a favour…"

"Well?" asked Fisher.

"Could you promise not to talk about what you have seen?"

"Not to talk as long as the Baron Savitch is alive?"

"That will do," said Rapperschwyll. “And your conditions?"

"The whole story, here and now, leaving nothing out."

"It’s a terrible price to ask me," said Rapperschwyll, "but you shall hear the story.

"I trained as a watchmaker in Switzerland, and I became incredibly good at it. I was not just an expert at making watches but at making all kinds of machines. I became especially interested in computers. I got an idea to use computers to do something important for the world.

"Then I gave up my business and went to Paris to study anatomy. I spent three years at university and learnt everything I needed to know. After that I studied psychology and sociology.

"At last, after years of preparation and study, I got my big idea.

"Firstly, I made a computer that calculated things perfectly, unlike human beings, who always make mistakes. Secondly, I discovered that a body could stay alive even if you took the brain out. Thirdly, I had also discovered that great geniuses were only a little bit cleverer than the people around them, so someone who was a little bit cleverer than a genius could rule the world.

"Now, to put these three things together: what if I took a man and removed his brain and replaced it with a computer? This man would be more intelligent than any other human being and would eventually rule the world.

“That is exactly what I have done. In Moscow, my friend Dr. Duchat was in charge of a hospital for brain-damaged children. There I found a boy of eleven they called Borovitch. Since he was born, he had not seen, heard, spoken or thought. The only thing he ever did was sit and put his fingers together.

"I asked Dr Duchat if I could take Stépan with me to my home and operated on him. That was a little more than twenty years ago. Today Stépan has more power than any other man in the world. In ten years he will rule Europe and soon he will be the master of the world. He never makes mistakes; because the machine in his silver skull never makes a mistake."

Fisher pointed at the old caretaker of the tower who was coming up the hill.

"Here is our ladder,” said Rapperschwyll. “I’ve kept my part of the deal. Remember yours."


After two months of travelling in Switzerland and Italy, the Fishers found themselves at the Hotel Splendide in Paris with many people from the States. Fisher learned that the Baron Savitch was also in the city. Dr. Rapperschwyll was not with him. He was in Switzerland, where his mother was dying.

The information was welcome to Fisher. The more he thought about Rapperschwyll’s story, the more he wanted to believe that the Doctor was lying. But then he remembered what he saw in the Baron's bedroom at the hotel and he knew the story was true. It was horrible. The Baron was dangerous. His brain was a computer and he had no morals – only logic. Fisher was glad that he would soon be back in America, far away from the Baron.

Unfortunately the Baron made friends with some of the Americans, and often visited them at the Hotel Splendide. Everyone except Fisher thought he was wonderful, but Fisher knew the truth. He wanted to tell everyone the Baron’s secret, but he had promised Rapperschwyll that he would tell no-one. He knew that he had to do something.

On the day that the Americans were leaving Paris to return to the States, the Baron joined them for lunch. Fisher quickly went to his room and brought the medicine he had given to the baron the first time he met him. When no-one was looking, he put some into his glass of fruit juice. The Baron drank the juice without noticing.

After a few minutes, Savitch suddenly pressed his hands to his forehead.

"It is nothing," he said faintly, "I’m just dizzy."

Fisher quickly led the Baron to his own bedroom. Savitch fell on the bed. In two minutes the Russian was unconscious.

Fisher looked at his watch. He had three minutes. He turned the key in the lock of the door and rang for a servant.

Fisher pulled the wig from the baron's head. Quickly, but with a sure hand, he unscrewed the silver top. The computer brain lay before his eyes. Fisher took out the machine. He had no time to look at it. He picked up a newspaper and put the machine in it and then into his open bag. Then he screwed the silver top back on the baron's head, and replaced the cap and the wig.

All this was done before the servant arrived. "The Baron Savitch is ill," said Fisher, when he came. "There is nothing to worry about. Send a message to the Baron’s servant.” In twenty seconds, Fisher was in a taxi, hurrying towards the train station.

When the ship was at sea, and the water was very deep, Fisher took a parcel from his bag. He carried it to the side of the ship and dropped it into the Atlantic. Fisher thought that he heard a cry of fear and put his hands to his ears to shut out the sound. A bird came flying over the ship – the cry may have been the bird’s.