Chapter 5: Three Broken Threads |
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 7: The Stapletons of Merripit House
Sir Henry Baskerville and Dr. Mortimer were ready upon
the appointed day, and we started as arranged for Devonshire. Mr.
Sherlock Holmes drove with me to the station and gave me his
last parting injunctions and advice.
"I will not bias your mind by suggesting theories or suspicions, Watson," said he; "I wish you simply to report facts in
the fullest possible manner to me, and you can leave me to do
"What sort of facts?" I asked.
"Anything which may seem to have a bearing however indirect upon the case, and especially the relations between young
Baskerville and his neighbours or any fresh particulars concerning the death of Sir Charles. I have made some inquiries myself
in the last few days, but the results have, I fear, been negative.
One thing only appears to be certain, and that is that Mr. James
Desmond, who is the next heir, is an elderly gentleman of a very
amiable disposition, so that this persecution does not arise from
him. I really think that we may eliminate him entirely from our
calculations. There remain the people who will actually surround
Sir Henry Baskerville upon the moor."
"Would it not be well in the first place to get rid of this
"By no means. You could not make a greater mistake. If they
are innocent it would be a cruel injustice, and if they are guilty
we should be giving up all chance of bringing it home to them.
No, no, we will preserve them upon our list of suspects. Then
there is a groom at the Hall, if I remember right. There are two
moorland farmers. There is our friend Dr. Mortimer, whom I
believe to be entirely honest, and there is his wife, of whom we
know nothing. There is this naturalist, Stapleton, and there is his
sister, who is said to be a young lady of attractions. There is Mr.
Frankland, of Lafter Hall, who is also an unknown factor. and
there are one or two other neighbours. These are the folk who
must be your very special study."
"I will do my best."
"You have arms, I suppose?"
"Yes, I thought it as well to take them."
"Most certainly. Keep your revolver near you night and day,
and never relax your precautions."
Our friends had already secured a first-class carriage and were
waiting for us upon the platform.
"No, we have no news of any kind," said Dr. Mortimer in
answer to my friend's questions. "I can swear to one thing, and
that is that we have not been shadowed during the last two days.
We have never gone out without keeping a sharp watch, and no
one could have escaped our notice."
"You have always kept together, I presume?"
"Except yesterday afternoon. I usually give up one day to
pure amusement when I come to town, so I spent it at the
Museum of the College of Surgeons."
"And I went to look at the folk in the park," said Baskerville.
"But we had no trouble of any kind."
"It was imprudent, all the same," said Holmes, shaking his
head and looking very grave. "I beg, Sir Henry, that you will
not go about alone. Some great misfortune will befall you if you
do. Did you get your other boot?"
"No, sir, it is gone forever."
"Indeed. That is very interesting. Well, good-bye," he added
as the train began to glide down the platform. "Bear in mind, Sir
Henry, one of the phrases in that queer old legend which Dr.
Mortimer has read to us and avoid the moor in those hours of
darkness when the powers of evil are exalted."
I looked back at the platform when we had left it far behind
and saw the tall, austere figure of Holmes standing motionless
and gazing after us.
The journey was a swift and pleasant one, and I spent it in
making the more intimate acquaintance of my two companions
and in playing with Dr. Mortimer's spaniel. In a very few hours
the brown earth had become ruddy, the brick had changed to
granite, and red cows grazed in well-hedged fields where the
lush grasses and more luxuriant vegetation spoke of a richer, if a
damper, climate. Young Baskerville stared eagerly out of the
window and cried aloud with delight as he recognized the familiar features of the Devon scenery.
"I've been over a good part of the world since I left it, Dr.
Watson," said he; "but I have never seen a place to compare
"l never saw a Devonshire man who did not swear by his
county," I remarked.
"It depends upon the breed of men quite as much as on the
county," said Dr. Mortimer. "A glance at our friend here
reveals the rounded head of the Celt, which carries inside it the
Celtic enthusiasm and power of attachment. Poor Sir Charles's
head was of a very rare type, half Gaelic, half Ivernian in its
characteristics. But you were very young when you last saw
Baskerville Hall, were you not?"
"I was a boy in my teens at the time of my father's death and
had never seen the Hall, for he lived in a little cottage on the
South Coast. Thence I went straight to a friend in America. I tell
you it is all as new to me as it is to Dr. Watson, and I'm as keen
as possible to see the moor."
"Are you? Then your wish is easily granted, for there is your
first sight of the moor," said Dr. Mortimer, pointing out of the
Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a
wood there rose in the distance a gray, melancholy hill, with a
strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some
fantastic landscape in a dream. Baskerville sat for a long time
his eyes fixed upon it, and I read upon his eager face how much
it meant to him, this first sight of that strange spot where the men
of his blood had held sway so long and left their mark so deep.
There he sat, with his tweed suit and his American accent, in the
corner of a prosaic railway-carriage, and yet as I looked at his
dark and expressive face I felt more than ever how true a
descendant he was of that long line of high-blooded, fiery, and
masterful men. There were pride, valour, and strength in his
thick brows, his sensitive nostrils, and his large hazel eyes. If on
that forbidding moor a difficult and dangerous quest should lie
before us, this was at least a comrade for whom one might
venture to take a risk with the certainty that he would bravely
The train pulled up at a small wayside station and we all
descended. Outside, beyond the low, white fence, a wagonette
with a pair of cobs was waiting. Our coming was evidently a
great event, for station-master and porters clustered round us to
carry out our luggage. It was a sweet, simple country spot, but I
was surprised to observe that by the gate there stood two soldierly men in dark uniforms who leaned upon their short rifles
and glanced keenly at us as we passed. The coachman, a hardfaced, gnarled little fellow, saluted Sir Henry Baskerville, and in
a few minutes we were flying swiftly down the broad, white
road. Rolling pasture lands curved upward on either side of us,
and old gabled houses peeped out from amid the thick green
foliage, but behind the peaceful and sunlit countryside there rose
ever, dark against the evening sky, the long, gloomy curve of the
moor, broken by the jagged and sinister hills.
The wagonette swung round into a side road, and we curved
upward through deep lanes worn by centuries of wheels, high
banks on either side, heavy with dripping moss and fleshy
hart's-tongue ferns. Bronzing bracken and mottled bramble gleamed
in the light of the sinking sun. Still steadily rising, we passed
over a narrow granite bridge and skirted a noisy stream which
gushed swiftly down, foaming and roaring amid the gray boulders. Both road and stream wound up through a valley dense
with scrub oak and fir. At every turn Baskerville gave an exclamation of delight, looking eagerly about him and asking countless questions. To his eyes all seemed beautiful, but to me a
tinge of melancholy lay upon the countryside, which bore so
clearly the mark of the waning year. Yellow leaves carpeted the
lanes and fluttered down upon us as we passed. The rattle of our
wheels died away as we drove through drifts of rotting vegetation —
sad gifts, as it seemed to me, for Nature to throw before the
carriage of the returning heir of the Baskervilles.
"Halloa!" cried Dr. Mortimer, "what is this?"
A steep curve of heath-clad land, an outlying spur of the
moor, lay in front of us. On the summit, hard and clear like an
equestrian statue upon its pedestal, was a mounted soldier, dark
and stern, his rifle poised ready over his forearm. He was
watching the road along which we travelled.
"What is this, Perkins?" asked Dr. Mortimer.
Our driver half turned in his seat.
"There's a convict escaped from Princetown, sir. He's been
out three days now, and the warders watch every road and every
station, but they've had no sight of him yet. The farmers about
here don't like it, sir, and that's a fact."
"Well, I understand that they get five pounds if they can give
"Yes, sir, but the chance of five pounds is but a poor thing
compared to the chance of having your throat cut. You see, it
isn't like any ordinary convict. This is a man that would stick at
"Who is he, then?"
"It is Selden, the Notting Hill murderer."
I remembered the case well, for it was one in which Holmes
had taken an interest on account of the peculiar ferocity of the
crime and the wanton brutality which had marked all the actions
of the assassin. The commutation of his death sentence had been
due to some doubts as to his complete sanity, so atrocious was
his conduct. Our wagonette had topped a rise and in front of us
rose the huge expanse of the moor, mottled with gnarled and
craggy cairns and tors. A cold wind swept down from it and set
us shivering. Somewhere there, on that desolate plain, was
lurking this fiendish man, hiding in a burrow like a wild beast,
his heart full of malignancy against the whole race which had
cast him out. It needed but this to complete the grim suggestiveness of the barren waste, the chilling wind, and the darkling sky.
Even Baskerville fell silent and pulled his overcoat more closely
We had left the fertile country behind and beneath us. We
looked back on it now, the slanting rays of a low sun turning the
streams to threads of gold and glowing on the red earth new
turned by the plough and the broad tangle of the woodlands. The
road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and
olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we
passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with
no creeper to break its harsh outline. Suddenly we looked down
into a cuplike depression, patched with stunted oaks and firs
which had been twisted and bent by the fury of years of storm.
Two high, narrow towers rose over the trees. The driver pointed
with his whip.
"Baskerville Hall," said he.
Its master had risen and was staring with flushed cheeks and
shining eyes. A few minutes later we had reached the lodge-gates, a maze of fantastic tracery in wrought iron, with weather-bitten pillars on either side, blotched with lichens, and surmounted
by the boars' heads of the Baskervilles. The lodge was a ruin of
black granite and bared ribs of rafters, but facing it was a new
building, half constructed, the first fruit of Sir Charles's South
Through the gateway we passed into the avenue, where the
wheels were again hushed amid the leaves, and the old trees shot
their branches in a sombre tunnel over our heads. Baskerville
shuddered as he looked up the long, dark drive to where the
house glimmered like a ghost at the farther end.
"Was it here?" he asked in a low voice.
"No, no, the yew alley is on the other side."
The young heir glanced round with a gloomy face.
"It's no wonder my uncle felt as if trouble were coming on
him in such a place as this," said he. "It's enough to scare any
man. I'll have a row of electric lamps up here inside of six
months, and you won't know it again, with a thousand candle-power Swan and Edison right here in front of the hall door."
The avenue opened into a broad expanse of turf, and the house
lay before us. In the fading light I could see that the centre was a
heavy block of building from which a porch projected. The
whole front was draped in ivy, with a patch clipped bare here
and there where a window or a coat of arms broke through the
dark veil. From this central block rose the twin towers, ancient,
crenelated, and pierced with many loopholes. To right and left
of the turrets were more modern wings of black granite. A dull
light shone through heavy mullioned windows, and from the
high chimneys which rose from the steep, high-angled roof there
sprang a single black column of smoke.
"Welcome, Sir Henry! Welcome to Baskerville Hall!"
A tall man had stepped from the shadow of the porch to open
the door of the wagonette. The figure of a woman was silhouetted against the yellow light of the hall. She came out and helped
the man to hand down our bags.
"You don't mind my driving straight home, Sir Henry?" said
Dr. Mortimer. "My wife is expecting me."
"Surely you will stay and have some dinner?"
"No, I must go. I shall probably find some work awaiting me.
I would stay to show you over the house, but Barrymore will be
a better guide than I. Good-bye, and never hesitate night or day
to send for me if I can be of service."
The wheels died away down the drive while Sir Henry and I
turned into the hall, and the door clanged heavily behind us. It
was a fine apartment in which we found ourselves, large, lofty,
and heavily raftered with huge baulks of age-blackened oak. In
the great old-fashioned fireplace behind the high iron dogs a
log-fire crackled and snapped. Sir Henry and I held out our
hands to it, for we were numb from our long drive. Then we
gazed round us at the high, thin window of old stained glass, the
oak panelling, the stags' heads, the coats of arms upon the walls,
all dim and sombre in the subdued light of the central lamp.
"It's just as I imagined it," said Sir Henry. "Is it not the very
picture of an old family home? To think that this should be the
same hall in which for five hundred years my people have lived.
It strikes me solemn to think of it."
I saw his dark face lit up with a boyish enthusiasm as he gazed
about him. The light beat upon him where he stood, but long
shadows trailed down the walls and hung like a black canopy
above him. Barrymore had returned from taking our luggage to
our rooms. He stood in front of us now with the subdued manner
of a well-trained servant. He was a remarkable-looking man,
tall, handsome, with a square black beard and pale, distinguished
"Would you wish dinner to be served at once, sir?"
"Is it ready?"
"In a very few minutes, sir. You will find hot water in your
rooms. My wife and I will be happy, Sir Henry, to stay with you
until you have made your fresh arrangements, but you will
understand that under the new conditions this house will require
a considerable staff."
"What new conditions?"
"I only meant, sir, that Sir Charles led a very retired life, and
we were able to look after his wants. You would, naturally, wish
to have more company, and so you will need changes in your
"Do you mean that your wife and you wish to leave?"
"Only when it is quite convenient to you, sir."
"But your family have been with us for several generations,
have they not? I should be sorry to begin my life here by
breaking an old family connection."
I seemed to discern some signs of emotion upon the butler's
"I feel that also, sir, and so does my wife. But to tell the truth,
sir, we were both very much attached to Sir Charles and his
death gave us a shock and made these surroundings very painful
to us. I fear that we shall never again be easy in our minds at
"But what do you intend to do?"
"I have no doubt, sir, that we shall succeed in establishing
ourselves in some business. Sir Charles's generosity has given us
the means to do so. And now, sir, perhaps I had best show you
to your rooms."
A square balustraded gallery ran round the top of the old hall,
approached by a double stair. From this central point two long
corridors extended the whole length of the building, from which
all the bedrooms opened. My own was in the same wing as
Baskerville's and almost next door to it. These rooms appeared
to be much more modern than the central part of the house, and
the bright paper and numerous candles did something to remove
the sombre impression which our arrival had left upon my mind.
But the dining-room which opened out of the hall was a place
of shadow and gloom. It was a long chamber with a step
separating the dais where the family sat from the lower portion
reserved for their dependents. At one end a minstrel's gallery
overlooked it. Black beams shot across above our heads, with a
smoke-darkened ceiling beyond them. With rows of flaring torches
to light it up, and the colour and rude hilarity of an old-time
banquet, it might have softened; but now, when two black-clothed gentlemen sat in the little circle of light thrown by a
shaded lamp, one's voice became hushed and one's spirit subdued. A dim line of ancestors, in every variety of dress, from the
Elizabethan knight to the buck of the Regency, stared down upon
us and daunted us by their silent company. We talked little, and I
for one was glad when the meal was over and we were able to
retire into the modern billiard-room and smoke a cigarette.
"My word, it isn't a very cheerful place," said Sir Henry. "I
suppose one can tone down to it, but I feel a bit out of the
picture at present. I don't wonder that my uncle got a little
jumpy if he lived all alone in such a house as this. However, if it
suits you, we will retire early to-night, and perhaps things may
seem more cheerful in the morning."
I drew aside my curtains before I went to bed and looked out
from my window. It opened upon the grassy space which lay in
front of the hall door. Beyond, two copses of trees moaned and
swung in a rising wind. A half moon broke through the rifts of
racing clouds. In its cold light I saw beyond the trees a broken
fringe of rocks, and the long, low curve of the melancholy moor.
I closed the curtain, feeling that my last impression was in
keeping with the rest.
And yet it was not quite the last. I found myself weary and yet
wakeful, tossing restlessly from side to side, seeking for the
sleep which would not come. Far away a chiming clock struck
out the quarters of the hours, but otherwise a deathly silence lay
upon the old house. And then suddenly, in the very dead of the
night, there came a sound to my ears, clear, resonant, and
unmistakable. It was the sob of a woman, the muffled, strangling
gasp of one who is torn by an uncontrollable sorrow. I sat up in
bed and listened intently. The noise could not have been far
away and was certainly in the house. For half an hour I waited
with every nerve on the alert, but there came no other sound save
the chiming clock and the rustle of the ivy on the wall.
Chapter 5: Three Broken Threads |
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 7: The Stapletons of Merripit House