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The Hound of the Baskervilles - Chapter 15 - A Retrospection

1. Chapter 1 - Mr. Sherlock Holmes

2. Chapter 2 - The Curse of the Baskervilles

3. Chapter 3 - The Problem

4. Chapter 4 - Sir Henry Baskerville

5. Chapter 5 - Three Broken Threads

6. Chapter 6 - Baskerville Hall

7. Chapter 7 - The Stapletons of Merripit House

8. Chapter 8 - First Report of Dr. Watson

9. Chapter 9 - The Light Upon the Moor

10. Chapter 10 - Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson

11. Chapter 11 - The Man on the Tor

12. Chapter 12 - Death on the Moor

13. Chapter 13 - Fixing the Nets

14. Chapter 14 - The Hound of the Baskervilles

15. Chapter 15 - A Retrospection

It was the end of November and Holmes and I sat, upon a raw and
foggy night, on either side of a blazing fire in our sitting-room
in Baker Street. Since the tragic upshot of our visit to
Devonshire he had been engaged in two affairs of the utmost
importance, in the first of which he had exposed the atrocious
conduct of Colonel Upwood in connection with the famous card
scandal of the Nonpareil Club, while in the second he had
defended the unfortunate Mme. Montpensier from the charge of
murder which hung over her in connection with the death of her
step-daughter, Mlle. Carere, the young lady who, as it will be
remembered, was found six months later alive and married in New
York. My friend was in excellent spirits over the success which
had attended a succession of difficult and important cases, so
that I was able to induce him to discuss the details of the
Baskerville mystery. I had waited patiently for the opportunity,
for I was aware that he would never permit cases to overlap, and
that his clear and logical mind would not be drawn from its
present work to dwell upon memories of the past. Sir Henry and
Dr. Mortimer were, however, in London, on their way to that long
voyage which had been recommended for the restoration of his
shattered nerves. They had called upon us that very afternoon, so
that it was natural that the subject should come up for

"The whole course of events," said Holmes, "from the point of
view of the man who called himself Stapleton was simple and
direct, although to us, who had no means in the beginning of
knowing the motives of his actions and could only learn part of
the facts, it all appeared exceedingly complex. I have had the
advantage of two conversations with Mrs. Stapleton, and the case
has now been so entirely cleared up that I am not aware that
there is anything which has remained a secret to us. You will
find a few notes upon the matter under the heading B in my
indexed list of cases."

"Perhaps you would kindly give me a sketch of the course of
events from memory."

"Certainly, though I cannot guarantee that I carry all the facts
in my mind. Intense mental concentration has a curious way of
blotting out what has passed. The barrister who has his case at
his fingers' ends, and is able to argue with an expert upon his
own subject finds that a week or two of the courts will drive it
all out of his head once more. So each of my cases displaces the
last, and Mlle. Carere has blurred my recollection of Baskerville
Hall. To-morrow some other little problem may be submitted to my
notice which will in turn dispossess the fair French lady and the
infamous Upwood. So far as the case of the Hound goes, however, I
will give you the course of events as nearly as I can, and you
will suggest anything which I may have forgotten.

"My inquiries show beyond all question that the family portrait
did not lie, and that this fellow was indeed a Baskerville. He
was a son of that Rodger Baskerville, the younger brother of Sir
Charles, who fled with a sinister reputation to South America,
where he was said to have died unmarried. He did, as a matter of
fact, marry, and had one child, this fellow, whose real name is
the same as his father's. He married Beryl Garcia, one of the
beauties of Costa Rica, and, having purloined a considerable sum
of public money, he changed his name to Vandeleur and fled to
England, where he established a school in the east of Yorkshire.
His reason for attempting this special line of business was that
he had struck up an acquaintance with a consumptive tutor upon
the voyage home, and that he had used this man's ability to make
the undertaking a success. Fraser, the tutor, died however, and
the school which had begun well sank from disrepute into infamy.
The Vandeleurs found it convenient to change their name to
Stapleton, and he brought the remains of his fortune, his schemes
for the future, and his taste for entomology to the south of
England. I learned at the British Museum that he was a recognized
authority upon the subject, and that the name of Vandeleur has
been permanently attached to a certain moth which he had, in his
Yorkshire days, been the first to describe.

"We now come to that portion of his life which has proved to be
of such intense interest to us. The fellow had evidently made
inquiry and found that only two lives intervened between him and
a valuable estate. When he went to Devonshire his plans were, I
believe, exceedingly hazy, but that he meant mischief from the
first is evident from the way in which he took his wife with him
in the character of his sister. The idea of using her as a decoy
was clearly already in his mind, though he may not have been
certain how the details of his plot were to be arranged. He meant
in the end to have the estate, and he was ready to use any tool
or run any risk for that end. His first act was to establish
himself as near to his ancestral home as he could, and his second
was to cultivate a friendship with Sir Charles Baskerville and
with the neighbours.

"The baronet himself told him about the family hound, and so
prepared the way for his own death. Stapleton, as I will continue
to call him, knew that the old man's heart was weak and that a
shock would kill him. So much he had learned from Dr. Mortimer.
He had heard also that Sir Charles was superstitious and had
taken this grim legend very seriously. His ingenious mind
instantly suggested a way by which the baronet could be done to
death, and yet it would be hardly possible to bring home the
guilt to the real murderer.

"Having conceived the idea he proceeded to carry it out with
considerable finesse. An ordinary schemer would have been content
to work with a savage hound. The use of artificial means to make
the creature diabolical was a flash of genius upon his part. The
dog he bought in London from Ross and Mangles, the dealers in
Fulham Road. It was the strongest and most savage in their
possession. He brought it down by the North Devon line and walked
a great distance over the moor so as to get it home without
exciting any remarks. He had already on his insect hunts learned
to penetrate the Grimpen Mire, and so had found a safe
hiding-place for the creature. Here he kennelled it and waited
his chance.

"But it was some time coming. The old gentleman could not be
decoyed outside of his grounds at night. Several times Stapleton
lurked about with his hound, but without avail. It was during
these fruitless quests that he, or rather his ally, was seen by
peasants, and that the legend of the demon dog received a new
confirmation. He had hoped that his wife might lure Sir Charles
to his ruin, but here she proved unexpectedly independent. She
would not endeavour to entangle the old gentleman in a
sentimental attachment which might deliver him over to his enemy.
Threats and even, I am sorry to say, blows refused to move her.
She would have nothing to do with it, and for a time Stapleton
was at a deadlock.

"He found a way out of his difficulties through the chance that
Sir Charles, who had conceived a friendship for him, made him the
minister of his charity in the case of this unfortunate woman,
Mrs. Laura Lyons. By representing himself as a single man he
acquired complete influence over her, and he gave her to
understand that in the event of her obtaining a divorce from her
husband he would marry her. His plans were suddenly brought to a
head by his knowledge that Sir Charles was about to leave the
Hall on the advice of Dr. Mortimer, with whose opinion he himself
pretended to coincide. He must act at once, or his victim might
get beyond his power. He therefore put pressure upon Mrs. Lyons
to write this letter, imploring the old man to give her an
interview on the evening before his departure for London. He
then, by a specious argument, prevented her from going, and so
had the chance for which he had waited.

"Driving back in the evening from Coombe Tracey he was in time to
get his hound, to treat it with his infernal paint, and to bring
the beast round to the gate at which he had reason to expect that
he would find the old gentleman waiting. The dog, incited by its
master, sprang over the wicket-gate and pursued the unfortunate
baronet, who fled screaming down the Yew Alley. In that gloomy
tunnel it must indeed have been a dreadful sight to see that huge
black creature, with its flaming jaws and blazing eyes, bounding
after its victim. He fell dead at the end of the alley from heart
disease and terror. The hound had kept upon the grassy border
while the baronet had run down the path, so that no track but the
man's was visible. On seeing him lying still the creature had
probably approached to sniff at him, but finding him dead had
turned away again. It was then that it left the print which was
actually observed by Dr. Mortimer. The hound was called off and
hurried away to its lair in the Grimpen Mire, and a mystery was
left which puzzled the authorities, alarmed the country-side, and
finally brought the case within the scope of our observation.

"So much for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. You perceive
the devilish cunning of it, for really it would be almost
impossible to make a case against the real murderer. His only
accomplice was one who could never give him away, and the
grotesque, inconceivable nature of the device only served to make
it more effective. Both of the women concerned in the case, Mrs.
Stapleton and Mrs. Laura Lyons, were left with a strong suspicion
against Stapleton. Mrs. Stapleton knew that he had designs upon
the old man, and also of the existence of the hound. Mrs. Lyons
knew neither of these things, but had been impressed by the death
occurring at the time of an uncancelled appointment which was
only known to him. However, both of them were under his
influence, and he had nothing to fear from them. The first half
of his task was successfully accomplished but the more difficult
still remained.

"It is possible that Stapleton did not know of the existence of
an heir in Canada. In any case he would very soon learn it from
his friend Dr. Mortimer, and he was told by the latter all
details about the arrival of Henry Baskerville. Stapleton's first
idea was that this young stranger from Canada might possibly be
done to death in London without coming down to Devonshire at all.
He distrusted his wife ever since she had refused to help him in
laying a trap for the old man, and he dared not leave her long
out of his sight for fear he should lose his influence over her.
It was for this reason that he took her to London with him. They
lodged, I find, at the Mexborough Private Hotel, in Craven
Street, which was actually one of those called upon by my agent
in search of evidence. Here he kept his wife imprisoned in her
room while he, disguised in a beard, followed Dr. Mortimer to
Baker Street and afterwards to the station and to the
Northumberland Hotel. His wife had some inkling of his plans; but
she had such a fear of her husband--a fear founded upon brutal
ill-treatment--that she dare not write to warn the man whom she
knew to be in danger. If the letter should fall into Stapleton's
hands her own life would not be safe. Eventually, as we know, she
adopted the expedient of cutting out the words which would form
the message, and addressing the letter in a disguised hand. It
reached the baronet, and gave him the first warning of his

"It was very essential for Stapleton to get some article of Sir
Henry's attire so that, in case he was driven to use the dog, he
might always have the means of setting him upon his track. With
characteristic promptness and audacity he set about this at once,
and we cannot doubt that the boots or chamber-maid of the hotel
was well bribed to help him in his design. By chance, however,
the first boot which was procured for him was a new one and,
therefore, useless for his purpose. He then had it returned and
obtained another--a most instructive incident, since it proved
conclusively to my mind that we were dealing with a real hound,
as no other supposition could explain this anxiety to obtain an
old boot and this indifference to a new one. The more outre and
grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be
examined, and the very point which appears to complicate a case
is, when duly considered and scientifically handled, the one
which is most likely to elucidate it.

"Then we had the visit from our friends next morning, shadowed
always by Stapleton in the cab. From his knowledge of our rooms
and of my appearance, as well as from his general conduct, I am
inclined to think that Stapleton's career of crime has been by no
means limited to this single Baskerville affair. It is suggestive
that during the last three years there have been four
considerable burglaries in the West Country, for none of which
was any criminal ever arrested. The last of these, at Folkestone
Court, in May, was remarkable for the cold-blooded pistoling of
the page, who surprised the masked and solitary burglar. I cannot
doubt that Stapleton recruited his waning resources in this
fashion, and that for years he has been a desperate and dangerous

"We had an example of his readiness of resource that morning when
he got away from us so successfully, and also of his audacity in
sending back my own name to me through the cabman. From that
moment he understood that I had taken over the case in London,
and that therefore there was no chance for him there. He returned
to Dartmoor and awaited the arrival of the baronet."

"One moment!" said I. "You have, no doubt, described the sequence
of events correctly, but there is one point which you have left
unexplained. What became of the hound when its master was in

"I have given some attention to this matter and it is undoubtedly
of importance. There can be no question that Stapleton had a
confidant, though it is unlikely that he ever placed himself in
his power by sharing all his plans with him. There was an old
manservant at Merripit House, whose name was Anthony. His
connection with the Stapletons can be traced for several years,
as far back as the schoolmastering days, so that he must have
been aware that his master and mistress were really husband and
wife. This man has disappeared and has escaped from the country.
It is suggestive that Anthony is not a common name in England,
while Antonio is so in all Spanish or Spanish-American countries.
The man, like Mrs. Stapleton herself, spoke good English, but
with a curious lisping accent. I have myself seen this old man
cross the Grimpen Mire by the path which Stapleton had marked
out. It is very probable, therefore, that in the absence of his
master it was he who cared for the hound, though he may never
have known the purpose for which the beast was used.

"The Stapletons then went down to Devonshire, whither they were
soon followed by Sir Henry and you. One word now as to how I
stood myself at that time. It may possibly recur to your memory
that when I examined the paper upon which the printed words were
fastened I made a close inspection for the water-mark. In doing
so I held it within a few inches of my eyes, and was conscious of
a faint smell of the scent known as white jessamine. There are
seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that a criminal
expert should be able to distinguish from each other, and cases
have more than once within my own experience depended upon their
prompt recognition. The scent suggested the presence of a lady,
and already my thoughts began to turn towards the Stapletons.
Thus I had made certain of the hound, and had guessed at the
criminal before ever we went to the west country.

"It was my game to watch Stapleton. It was evident, however, that
I could not do this if I were with you, since he would be keenly
on his guard. I deceived everybody, therefore, yourself included,
and I came down secretly when I was supposed to be in London. My
hardships were not so great as you imagined, though such trifling
details must never interfere with the investigation of a case. I
stayed for the most part at Coombe Tracey, and only used the hut
upon the moor when it was necessary to be near the scene of
action. Cartwright had come down with me, and in his disguise as
a country boy he was of great assistance to me. I was dependent
upon him for food and clean linen. When I was watching Stapleton,
Cartwright was frequently watching you, so that I was able to
keep my hand upon all the strings.

"I have already told you that your reports reached me rapidly,
being forwarded instantly from Baker Street to Coombe Tracey.
They were of great service to me, and especially that one
incidentally truthful piece of biography of Stapleton's. I was
able to establish the identity of the man and the woman and knew
at last exactly how I stood. The case had been considerably
complicated through the incident of the escaped convict and the
relations between him and the Barrymores. This also you cleared
up in a very effective way, though I had already come to the same
conclusions from my own observations.

"By the time that you discovered me upon the moor I had a
complete knowledge of the whole business, but I had not a case
which could go to a jury. Even Stapleton's attempt upon Sir Henry
that night which ended in the death of the unfortunate convict
did not help us much in proving murder against our man. There
seemed to be no alternative but to catch him red-handed, and to
do so we had to use Sir Henry, alone and apparently unprotected,
as a bait. We did so, and at the cost of a severe shock to our
client we succeeded in completing our case and driving Stapleton
to his destruction. That Sir Henry should have been exposed to
this is, I must confess, a reproach to my management of the case,
but we had no means of foreseeing the terrible and paralyzing
spectacle which the beast presented, nor could we predict the fog
which enabled him to burst upon us at such short notice. We
succeeded in our object at a cost which both the specialist and
Dr. Mortimer assure me will be a temporary one. A long journey
may enable our friend to recover not only from his shattered
nerves but also from his wounded feelings. His love for the lady
was deep and sincere, and to him the saddest part of all this
black business was that he should have been deceived by her.

"It only remains to indicate the part which she had played
throughout. There can be no doubt that Stapleton exercised an
influence over her which may have been love or may have been
fear, or very possibly both, since they are by no means
incompatible emotions. It was, at least, absolutely effective. At
his command she consented to pass as his sister, though he found
the limits of his power over her when he endeavoured to make her
the direct accessory to murder. She was ready to warn Sir Henry
so far as she could without implicating her husband, and again
and again she tried to do so. Stapleton himself seems to have
been capable of jealousy, and when he saw the baronet paying
court to the lady, even though it was part of his own plan, still
he could not help interrupting with a passionate outburst which
revealed the fiery soul which his self-contained manner so
cleverly concealed. By encouraging the intimacy he made it
certain that Sir Henry would frequently come to Merripit House
and that he would sooner or later get the opportunity which he
desired. On the day of the crisis, however, his wife turned
suddenly against him. She had learned something of the death of
the convict, and she knew that the hound was being kept in the
out-house on the evening that Sir Henry was coming to dinner. She
taxed her husband with his intended crime, and a furious scene
followed, in which he showed her for the first time that she had
a rival in his love. Her fidelity turned in an instant to bitter
hatred and he saw that she would betray him. He tied her up,
therefore, that she might have no chance of warning Sir Henry,
and he hoped, no doubt, that when the whole country-side put down
the baronet's death to the curse of his family, as they certainly
would do, he could win his wife back to accept an accomplished
fact and to keep silent upon what she knew. In this I fancy that
in any case he made a miscalculation, and that, if we had not
been there, his doom would none the less have been sealed. A
woman of Spanish blood does not condone such an injury so
lightly. And now, my dear Watson, without referring to my notes,
I cannot give you a more detailed account of this curious case. I
do not know that anything essential has been left unexplained."

"He could not hope to frighten Sir Henry to death as he had done
the old uncle with his bogie hound."

"The beast was savage and half-starved. If its appearance did not
frighten its victim to death, at least it would paralyze the
resistance which might be offered."

"No doubt. There only remains one difficulty. If Stapleton came
into the succession, how could he explain the fact that he, the
heir, had been living unannounced under another name so close to
the property? How could he claim it without causing suspicion and

"It is a formidable difficulty, and I fear that you ask too much
when you expect me to solve it. The past and the present are
within the field of my inquiry, but what a man may do in the
future is a hard question to answer. Mrs. Stapleton has heard her
husband discuss the problem on several occasions. There were
three possible courses. He might claim the property from South
America, establish his identity before the British authorities
there and so obtain the fortune without ever coming to England at
all; or he might adopt an elaborate disguise during the short
time that he need be in London; or, again, he might furnish an
accomplice with the proofs and papers, putting him in as heir,
and retaining a claim upon some proportion of his income. We
cannot doubt from what we know of him that he would have found
some way out of the difficulty. And now, my dear Watson, we have
had some weeks of severe work, and for one evening, I think, we
may turn our thoughts into more pleasant channels. I have a box
for 'Les Huguenots.' Have you heard the De Reszkes? Might I
trouble you then to be ready in half an hour, and we can stop at
Marcini's for a little dinner on the way?"

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