Chapter 1: Mr. Sherlock Holmes |
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 3: The Problem
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
"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 by-word 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
"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
"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 Baskerville lying near her,
which raised the hair upon the heads of these three dare-devil 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 exalted.
"[This from Hugo Baskerville to his sons Rodger and
John, with instructions that they say nothing thereof to their
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 country-side 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 his 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
"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?"
"Then let me have the private ones." He leaned back, put his
finger-tips together, and assumed his most impassive and judicial
"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
"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. There 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."
"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!"
Chapter 1: Mr. Sherlock Holmes |
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 3: The Problem