Sherlock Holmes - Hound of the Baskervilles

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - The Curse of the Baskervilles

"I have in my pocket a manuscript," said Dr. James Mortimer.

"I observed it as you entered the room," said Holmes.

"It is an old manuscript."

"Early eighteenth century, unless it is a forgery."

"How can you say that, sir?"

"You have presented an inch or two of it to my examination all the time that you
have been talking. It would be a poor expert who could not give the date of a
document within a decade or so. You may possibly have read my little monograph
upon the subject. I put that at 1730."

"The exact date is 1742." Dr. Mortimer drew it from his breast-pocket. "This family
paper was committed to my care by Sir Charles Baskerville, whose sudden and
tragic death some three months ago created so much excitement in Devonshire. I
may say that I was his personal friend as well as his medical attendant. He was a
strong-minded man, sir, shrewd, practical, and as unimaginative as I am myself.
Yet he took this document very seriously, and his mind was prepared for just such
an end as did eventually overtake him."

Holmes stretched out his hand for the manuscript and flattened it upon his knee.

"You will observe, Watson, the alternative use of the long s and the short. It is one
of several indications which enabled me to fix the date."

I looked over his shoulder at the yellow paper and the faded script. At the head
was written: "Baskerville Hall," and below in large, scrawling figures: "1742."

"It appears to be a statement of some sort."

"Yes, it is a statement of a certain legend which runs in the Baskerville family."

"But I understand that it is something more modern and practical upon which you
wish to consult me?"

"Most modern. A most practical, pressing matter, which must be decided within
twenty-four hours. But the manuscript is short and is intimately connected with the
affair. With your permission I will read it to you."

Holmes leaned back in his chair, placed his finger-tips together, and closed his
eyes, with an air of resignation. Dr. Mortimer turned the manuscript to the light and
read in a high, cracking voice the following curious, old-world narrative:

"Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been many
statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo Baskerville, and
as I had the story from my father, who also had it from his, I have set it
down with all belief that it occurred even as is here set forth. And I
would have you believe, my sons, that the same Justice which
punishes sin may also most graciously forgive it, and that no ban is so
heavy but that by prayer and repentance it may be removed. Learn
then from this story not to fear the fruits of the past, but rather to be
circumspect in the future, that those foul passions whereby our family
has suffered so grievously may not again be loosed to our undoing.
"Know then that in the time of the Great Rebellion (the history of which
by the learned Lord Clarendon I most earnestly commend to your
attention) this Manor of Baskerville was held by Hugo of that name, nor
can it be gainsaid that he was a most wild, profane, and godless man.
This, in truth, his neighbours might have pardoned, seeing that saints
have never flourished in those parts, but there was in him a certain
wanton and cruel humour which made his name a byword through the
West. It chanced that this Hugo came to love (if, indeed, so dark a
passion may be known under so bright a name) the daughter of a
yeoman who held lands near the Baskerville estate. But the young
maiden, being discreet and of good repute, would ever avoid him, for
she feared his evil name. So it came to pass that one Michaelmas this
Hugo, with five or six of his idle and wicked companions, stole down
upon the farm and carried off the maiden, her father and brothers
being from home, as he well knew. When they had brought her to the
Hall the maiden was placed in an upper chamber, while Hugo and his
friends sat down to a long carouse, as was their nightly custom. Now,
the poor lass upstairs was like to have her wits turned at the singing
and shouting and terrible oaths which came up to her from below, for
they say that the words used by Hugo Baskerville, when he was in
wine, were such as might blast the man who said them. At last in the
stress of her fear she did that which might have daunted the bravest or
most active man, for by the aid of the growth of ivy which covered (and
still covers) the south wall she came down from under the eaves, and
so homeward across the moor, there being three leagues betwixt the
Hall and her father's farm. "It chanced that some little time later Hugo
left his guests to carry food and drink -- with other worse things,
perchance -- to his captive, and so found the cage empty and the bird
escaped. Then, as it would seem, he became as one that hath a devil,
for, rushing down the stairs into the dining-hall, he sprang upon the
great table, flagons and trenchers flying before him, and he cried aloud
before all the company that he would that very night render his body
and soul to the Powers of Evil if he might but overtake the wench. And
while the revellers stood aghast at the fury of the man, one more
wicked or, it may be, more drunken than the rest, cried out that they
should put the hounds upon her Whereat Hugo ran from the house,
crying to his grooms that they should saddle his mare and unkennel the
pack, and giving the hounds a kerchief of the maid's, he swung them to
the line, and so off full cry in the moonlight over the moor. "Now, for
some space the revellers stood agape, unable to understand all that
had been done in such haste. But anon their bemused wits awoke to
the nature of the deed which was like to be done upon the moorlands.
Everything was now in an uproar, some calling for their pistols, some
for their horses, and some for another flask of wine. But at length some
sense came back to their crazed minds, and the whole of them,
thirteen in number, took horse and started in pursuit. The moon shone
clear above them, and they rode swiftly abreast, taking that course
which the maid must needs have taken if she were to reach her own
home. "They had gone a mile or two when they passed one of the night
shepherds upon the moorlands, and they cried to him to know if he had
seen the hunt. And the man, as the story goes, was so crazed with fear
that he could scarce speak, but at last he said that he had indeed seen
the unhappy maiden, with the hounds upon her track. 'But I have seen
more than that,' said he, 'for Hugo Baskerville passed me upon his
black mare, and there ran mute behind him such a hound of hell as
God forbid should ever be at my heels.' So the drunken squires cursed
the shepherd and rode onward. But soon their skins turned cold, for
there came a galloping across the moor, and the black mare, dabbled
with white froth, went past with trailing bridle and empty saddle. Then
the revellers rode close together, for a great fear was on them, but they
still followed over the moor, though each, had he been alone, would
have been right glad to have turned his horse's head. Riding slowly in
this fashion they came at last upon the hounds. These, though known
for their valour and their breed, were whimpering in a cluster at the
head of a deep dip or goyal, as we call it, upon the moor, some
slinking away and some, with starting hackles and staring eyes, gazing
down the narrow valley before them. "The company had come to a halt,
more sober men, as you may guess, than when they started. The most
of them would by no means advance, but three of them, the boldest, or
it may be the most drunken, rode forward down the goyal. Now, it
opened into a broad space in which stood two of those great stones,
still to be seen there, which were set by certain forgotten peoples in
the days of old. The moon was shining bright upon the clearing, and
there in the centre lay the unhappy maid where she had fallen, dead of
fear and of fatigue. But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it
that of the body of Hugo Baskerviile lying near her, which raised the
hair upon the heads of these three daredevil roysterers, but it was that,
standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing,
a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound
that ever mortal eye has rested upon. And even as they looked the
thing tore the throat out of Hugo Baskerville, on which, as it turned its
blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them, the three shrieked with fear
and rode for dear life, still screaming, across the moor. One, it is said,
died that very night of what he had seen, and the other twain were but
broken men for the rest of their days. "Such is the tale, my sons, of the
coming of the hound which is said to have plagued the family so sorely
ever since. If I have set it down it is because that which is clearly known
hath less terror than that which is but hinted at and guessed. Nor can it
be denied that many of the family have been unhappy in their deaths,
which have been sudden, bloody, and mysterious. Yet may we shelter
ourselves in the infinite goodness of Providence, which would not
forever punish the innocent beyond that third or fourth generation which
is threatened in Holy Writ. To that Providence, my sons, I hereby
commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from
crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are

"[This from Hugo Baskerville to his sons Rodger and John, with
instructions that they say nothing thereof to their sister Elizabeth.]"

When Dr. Mortimer had finished reading this singular narrative he pushed his
spectacles up on his forehead and stared across at Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The
latter yawned and tossed the end of his cigarette into the fire.

"Well?" said he.

"Do you not find it interesting?"

"To a collector of fairy tales."

Dr. Mortimer drew a folded newspaper out of his pocket.

"Now, Mr. Holmes, we will give you something a little more recent. This is the
Devon County Chronicle of May 14th of this year. It is a short account of the facts
elicited at the death of Sir Charles Baskerville which occurred a few days before
that date."

My friend leaned a little forward and his expression became intent. Our visitor
readjusted his glasses and began:

"The recent sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose name has
been mentioned as the probable Liberal candidate for Mid-Devon at
the next election, has cast a gloom over the county. Though Sir
Charles had resided at Baskerville Hall for a comparatively short
period his amiability of character and extreme generosity had won the
affection and respect of all who had been brought into contact with
him. In these days of nouveaux riches it is refreshing to find a case
where the scion of an old county family which has fallen upon evil days
is able to make his own fortune and to bring it back with him to restore
the fallen grandeur of his line. Sir Charles, as is well known, made
large sums of money in South African speculation. More wise than
those who go on until the wheel turns against them, he realized his
gains and returned to England with them. It is only two years since he
took up his residence at Baskerville Hall, and it is common talk how
large were those schemes of reconstruction and improvement which
have been interrupted by his death. Being himself childless, it was his
openly expressed desire that the whole countryside should, within his
own lifetime, profit by his good fortune, and many will have personal
reasons for bewailing his untimely end. His generous donations to
local and county charities have been frequently chronicled in these
columns. "The circumstances connected with the death of Sir Charles
cannot be said to have been entirely cleared up by the inquest, but at
least enough has been done to dispose of those rumours to which
local superstition has given rise. There is no reason whatever to
suspect foul play, or to imagine that death could be from any but
natural causes. Sir Charles was a widower, and a man who may be
said to have been in some ways of an eccentric habit of mind. In spite
of his considerable wealth he was simple in his personal tastes, and
bis indoor servants at Baskerville Hall consisted of a married couple
named Barrymore, the husband acting as butler and the wife as
housekeeper. Their evidence, corroborated by that of several friends,
tends to show that Sir Charles's health has for some time been
impaired, and points especially to some affection of the heart,
manifesting itself in changes of colour, breathlessness, and acute
attacks of nervous depression. Dr. James Mortimer, the friend and
medical attendant of the deceased, has given evidence to the same
effect. "The facts of the case are simple. Sir Charles Baskerville was
in the habit every night before going to bed of walking down the
famous yew alley of Baskerville Hall. The evidence of the Barrymores
shows that this had been his custom. On the fourth of May Sir Charles
had declared his intention of starting next day for London, and had
ordered Barrymore to prepare his luggage. That night he went out as
usual for his nocturnal walk, in the course of which he was in the habit
of smoking a cigar. He never returned. At twelve o'clock Barrymore,
finding the hall door still open, became alarmed, and, lighting a lantern,
went in search of his master. The day had been wet, and Sir Charles's
footmarks were easily traced down the alley. Halfway down this walk
there is a gate which leads out on to the moor. There were indications
that Sir Charles had stood for some little time here. He then
proceeded down the alley, and it was at the far end of it that his body
was discovered. One fact which has not been explained is the
statement of Barrymore that his master's footprints altered their
character from the time that he passed the moor-gate, and that he
appeared from thence onward to have been walking upon his toes.
One Murphy, a gipsy horse-dealer, was on the moor at no great
distance at the time, but he appears by his own confession to have
been the worse for drink. He declares that he heard cries but is unable
to state from what direction they came. No signs of violence were to
be discovered upon Sir Charles's person, and though the doctor's
evidence pointed to an almost incredible facial distortion -- so great
that Dr. Mortimer refused at first to believe that it was indeed his friend
and patient who lay before him -- it was explained that that is a
symptom which is not unusual in cases of dyspnoea and death from
cardiac exhaustion. This explanation was borne out by the
post-mortem examination, which showed long-standing organic
disease, and the coroner's jury returned a verdict in accordance with
the medical evidence. It is well that this is so, for it is obviously of the
utmost importance that Sir Charles's heir should settle at the Hall and
continue the good work which has been so sadly interrupted. Had the
prosaic finding of the coroner not finally put an end to the romantic
stories which have been whispered in connection with the affair, it
might have been difficult to find a tenant for Baskerville Hall. It is
understood that the next of kin is Mr. Henry Baskerville, if he be still
alive, the son of Sir Charles Baskerville's younger brother. The young
man when last heard of was in America, and inquiries are being
instituted with a view to informing him of his good fortune."

Dr. Mortimer refolded his paper and replaced it in his pocket.

"Those are the public facts, Mr. Holmes, in connection with the death of Sir
Charles Baskerville."

"I must thank you," said Sherlock Holmes, "for calling my attention to a case which
certainly presents some features of interest. I had observed some newspaper
comment at the time, but I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the
Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several
interesting English cases. This article, you say, contains all the public facts?"

"It does."

"Then let me have the private ones." He leaned back, put his finger-tips together,
and assumed his most impassive and judicial expression.

"In doing so," said Dr. Mortimer, who had begun to show signs of some strong
emotion, "I am telling that which I have not confided to anyone. My motive for
withholding it from the coroner's inquiry is that a man of science shrinks from
placing himself in the public position of seeming to indorse a popular superstition.
I had the further motive that Baskerville Hall, as the paper says, would certainly
remain untenanted if anything were done to increase its already rather grim
reputation. For both these reasons I thought that I was justified in telling rather less
than I knew, since no practical good could result from it, but with you there is no
reason why I should not be perfectly frank.

"The moor is very sparsely inhabited, and those who live near each other are
thrown very much together. For this reason I saw a good deal of Sir Charles
Baskerville. With the exception of Mr. Frankland, of Lafter Hall, and Mr. Stapleton,
the naturalist, there are no other men of education within many miles. Sir Charles
was a retiring man, but the chance of his illness brought us together, and a
community of interests in science kept us so. He had brought back much scientific
information from South Africa, and many a charming evening we have spent
together discussing the comparative anatomy of the Bushman and the Hottentot.

"Within the last few months it became increasingly plain to me that Sir Charles's
nervous system was strained to the breaking point. He had taken this legend
which I have read you exceedingly to heart -- so much so that, although he would
walk in his own grounds, nothing would induce him to go out upon the moor at
night. Incredible as it may appear to you, Mr. Holmes, he was honestly convinced
that a dreadful fate overhung his family, and certainly the records which he was
able to give of his ancestors were not encouraging. The idea of some ghastly
presence constantly haunted him, and on more than one occasion he has asked
me whether I had on my medical journeys at night ever seen any strange creature
or heard the baying of a hound. The latter question he put to me several times, and
always with a voice which vibrated with excitement.

"I can well remember driving up to his house in the evening some three weeks
before the fatal event. He chanced to be at his hall door. I had descended from my
gig and was standing in front of him, when I saw his eyes fix themselves over my
shoulder and stare past me with an expression of the most dreadful horror. I
whisked round and had just time to catch a glimpse of something which I took to
be a large black calf passing at the head of the drive. So excited and alarmed was
he that I was compelled to go down to the spot where the animal had been and
look around for it. It was gone, however, and the incident appeared to make the
worst impression upon his mind. I stayed with him all the evening, and it was on
that occasion, to explain the emotion which he had shown, that he confided to my
keeping that narrative which I read to you when first I came. I mention this small
episode because it assumes some importance in view of the tragedy which
followed, but I was convinced at the time that the matter was entirely trivial and that
his excitement had no justification.

"It was at my advice that Sir Charles was about to go to London. His heart was, I
knew, affected, and the constant anxiety in which he lived, however chimerical the
cause of it might be, was evidently having a serious effect upon his health. I
thought that a few months among the distractions of town would send him back a
new man. Mr. Stapleton, a mutual friend who was much concerned at his state of
health, was of the same opinion. At the last instant came this terrible catastrophe.

"On the night of Sir Charles's death Barrymore the butler who made the discovery,
sent Perkins the groom on horseback to me, and as I was sitting up late I was able
to reach Baskerville Hall within an hour of the event. I checked and corroborated all
the facts which were mentioned at the inquest. I followed the footsteps down the
yew alley, I saw the spot at the moor-gate where he seemed to have waited, I
remarked the change in the shape of the prints after that point, I noted that there
were no other footsteps save those of Barrymore on the soft gravel, and finally I
carefully examined the body, which had not been touched until my arrival. Sir
Charles lay on his face, his arms out, his fingers dug into the ground, and his
features convulsed with some strong emotion to such an extent that I could hardly
have sworn to his identity. TheFe was certainly no physical injury of any kind. But
one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there
were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did
-- some little distance off, but fresh and clear."


"Footprints. "

"A man's or a woman's?"

Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a
whisper as he answered:

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

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