home | authors | books | about

Home -> Arthur Conan Doyle -> The Hound of the Baskervilles -> Chapter 8 - First Report of Dr. Watson

The Hound of the Baskervilles - Chapter 8 - First Report of Dr. Watson

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







From this point onward I will follow the course of events by
transcribing my own letters to Mr. Sherlock Holmes which lie
before me on the table. One page is missing, but otherwise they
are exactly as written and show my feelings and suspicions of the
moment more accurately than my memory, clear as it is upon these
tragic events, can possibly do.

Baskerville Hall, October 13th.

MY DEAR HOLMES,--My previous letters and telegrams have kept you
pretty well up to date as to all that has occurred in this most
God-forsaken corner of the world. The longer one stays here the
more does the spirit of the moor sink into one's soul, its
vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its
bosom you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but
on the other hand you are conscious everywhere of the homes and
the work of the prehistoric people. On all sides of you as you
walk are the houses of these forgotten folk, with their graves
and the huge monoliths which are supposed to have marked their
temples. As you look at their gray stone huts against the scarred
hill-sides you leave your own age behind you, and if you were to
see a skin-clad, hairy man crawl out from the low door fitting a
flint-tipped arrow on to the string of his bow, you would feel
that his presence there was more natural than your own. The
strange thing is that they should have lived so thickly on what
must always have been most unfruitful soil. I am no antiquarian,
but I could imagine that they were some unwarlike and harried
race who were forced to accept that which none other would
occupy.

All this, however, is foreign to the mission on which you sent me
and will probably be very uninteresting to your severely
practical mind. I can still remember your complete indifference
as to whether the sun moved round the earth or the earth round
the sun. Let me, therefore, return to the facts concerning Sir
Henry Baskerville.

If you have not had any report within the last few days it is
because up to to-day there was nothing of importance to relate.
Then a very surprising circumstance occurred, which I shall tell
you in due course. But, first of all, I must keep you in touch
with some of the other factors in the situation.

One of these, concerning which I have said little, is the escaped
convict upon the moor. There is strong reason now to believe that
he has got right away, which is a considerable relief to the
lonely householders of this district. A fortnight has passed
since his flight, during which he has not been seen and nothing
has been heard of him. It is surely inconceivable that he could
have held out upon the moor during all that time. Of course, so
far as his concealment goes there is no difficulty at all. Any
one of these stone huts would give him a hiding-place. But there
is nothing to eat unless he were to catch and slaughter one of
the moor sheep. We think, therefore, that he has gone, and the
outlying farmers sleep the better in consequence.

We are four able-bodied men in this household, so that we could
take good care of ourselves, but I confess that I have had uneasy
moments when I have thought of the Stapletons. They live miles
from any help. There are one maid, an old manservant, the sister,
and the brother, the latter not a very strong man. They would be
helpless in the hands of a desperate fellow like this Notting
Hill criminal, if he could once effect an entrance. Both Sir
Henry and I were concerned at their situation, and it was
suggested that Perkins the groom should go over to sleep there,
but Stapleton would not hear of it.

The fact is that our friend, the baronet, begins to display a
considerable interest in our fair neighbour. It is not to be
wondered at, for time hangs heavily in this lonely spot to an
active man like him, and she is a very fascinating and beautiful
woman. There is something tropical and exotic about her which
forms a singular contrast to her cool and unemotional brother.
Yet he also gives the idea of hidden fires. He has certainly a
very marked influence over her, for I have seen her continually
glance at him as she talked as if seeking approbation for what
she said. I trust that he is kind to her. There is a dry glitter
in his eyes, and a firm set of his thin lips, which goes with a
positive and possibly a harsh nature. You would find him an
interesting study.

He came over to call upon Baskerville on that first day, and the
very next morning he took us both to show us the spot where the
legend of the wicked Hugo is supposed to have had its origin. It
was an excursion of some miles across the moor to a place which
is so dismal that it might have suggested the story. We found a
short valley between rugged tors which led to an open, grassy
space flecked over with the white cotton grass. In the middle of
it rose two great stones, worn and sharpened at the upper end,
until they looked like the huge corroding fangs of some monstrous
beast. In every way it corresponded with the scene of the old
tragedy. Sir Henry was much interested and asked Stapleton more
than once whether he did really believe in the possibility of the
interference of the supernatural in the affairs of men. He spoke
lightly, but it was evident that he was very much in earnest.
Stapleton was guarded in his replies, but it was easy to see that
he said less than he might, and that he would not express his
whole opinion out of consideration for the feelings of the
baronet. He told us of similar cases, where families had suffered
from some evil influence, and he left us with the impression that
he shared the popular view upon the matter.

On our way back we stayed for lunch at Merripit House, and it was
there that Sir Henry made the acquaintance of Miss Stapleton.
>From the first moment that he saw her he appeared to be strongly
attracted by her, and I am much mistaken if the feeling was not
mutual. He referred to her again and again on our walk home, and
since then hardly a day has passed that we have not seen
something of the brother and sister. They dine here to-night, and
there is some talk of our going to them next week. One would
imagine that such a match would be very welcome to Stapleton, and
yet I have more than once caught a look of the strongest
disapprobation in his face when Sir Henry has been paying some
attention to his sister. He is much attached to her, no doubt,
and would lead a lonely life without her, but it would seem the
height of selfishness if he were to stand in the way of her
making so brilliant a marriage. Yet I am certain that he does not
wish their intimacy to ripen into love, and I have several times
observed that he has taken pains to prevent them from being
tąte-Ö-tąte. By the way, your instructions to me never to allow
Sir Henry to go out alone will become very much more onerous if a
love affair were to be added to our other difficulties. My
popularity would soon suffer if I were to carry out your orders
to the letter.

The other day--Thursday, to be more exact--Dr. Mortimer lunched
with us. He has been excavating a barrow at Long Down, and has
got a prehistoric skull which fills him with great joy. Never was
there such a single-minded enthusiast as he! The Stapletons came
in afterwards, and the good doctor took us all to the Yew Alley,
at Sir Henry's request, to show us exactly how everything
occurred upon that fatal night. It is a long, dismal walk, the
Yew Alley, between two high walls of clipped hedge, with a narrow
band of grass upon either side. At the far end is an old
tumble-down summer-house. Half-way down is the moor-gate, where
the old gentleman left his cigar-ash. It is a white wooden gate
with a latch. Beyond it lies the wide moor. I remembered your
theory of the affair and tried to picture all that had occurred.
As the old man stood there he saw something coming across the
moor, something which terrified him so that he lost his wits, and
ran and ran until he died of sheer horror and exhaustion. There
was the long, gloomy tunnel down which he fled. And from what? A
sheep-dog of the moor? Or a spectral hound, black, silent, and
monstrous? Was there a human agency in the matter? Did the pale,
watchful Barrymore know more than he cared to say? It was all dim
and vague, but always there is the dark shadow of crime behind
it.

One other neighbour I have met since I wrote last. This is Mr.
Frankland, of Lafter Hall, who lives some four miles to the south
of us. He is an elderly man, red-faced, white-haired, and
choleric. His passion is for the British law, and he has spent a
large fortune in litigation. He fights for the mere pleasure of
fighting and is equally ready to take up either side of a
question, so that it is no wonder that he has found it a costly
amusement. Sometimes he will shut up a right of way and defy the
parish to make him open it. At others he will with his own hands
tear down some other man's gate and declare that a path has
existed there from time immemorial, defying the owner to
prosecute him for trespass. He is learned in old manorial and
communal rights, and he applies his knowledge sometimes in favour
of the villagers of Fernworthy and sometimes against them, so
that he is periodically either carried in triumph down the
village street or else burned in effigy, according to his latest
exploit. He is said to have about seven lawsuits upon his hands
at present, which will probably swallow up the remainder of his
fortune and so draw his sting and leave him harmless for the
future. Apart from the law he seems a kindly, good-natured
person, and I only mention him because you were particular that I
should send some description of the people who surround us. He is
curiously employed at present, for, being an amateur astronomer,
he has an excellent telescope, with which he lies upon the roof
of his own house and sweeps the moor all day in the hope of
catching a glimpse of the escaped convict. If he would confine
his energies to this all would be well, but there are rumours
that he intends to prosecute Dr. Mortimer for opening a grave
without the consent of the next-of-kin, because he dug up the
Neolithic skull in the barrow on Long Down. He helps to keep our
lives from being monotonous and gives a little comic relief where
it is badly needed.

And now, having brought you up to date in the escaped convict,
the Stapletons, Dr. Mortimer, and Frankland, of Lafter Hall, let
me end on that which is most important and tell you more about
the Barrymores, and especially about the surprising development
of last night.

First of all about the test telegram, which you sent from London
in order to make sure that Barrymore was really here. I have
already explained that the testimony of the postmaster shows that
the test was worthless and that we have no proof one way or the
other. I told Sir Henry how the matter stood, and he at once, in
his downright fashion, had Barrymore up and asked him whether he
had received the telegram himself. Barrymore said that he had.

"Did the boy deliver it into your own hands?" asked Sir Henry.

Barrymore looked surprised, and considered for a little time.

"No," said he, "I was in the box-room at the time, and my wife
brought it up to me."

"Did you answer it yourself?"

"No; I told my wife what to answer and she went down to write
it."

In the evening he recurred to the subject of his own accord.

"I could not quite understand the object of your questions this
morning, Sir Henry," said he. "I trust that they do not mean that
I have done anything to forfeit your confidence?"

Sir Henry had to assure him that it was not so and pacify him by
giving him a considerable part of his old wardrobe, the London
outfit having now all arrived.

Mrs. Barrymore is of interest to me. She is a heavy, solid
person, very limited, intensely respectable, and inclined to be
puritanical. You could hardly conceive a less emotional subject.
Yet I have told you how, on the first night here, I heard her
sobbing bitterly, and since then I have more than once observed
traces of tears upon her face. Some deep sorrow gnaws ever at her
heart. Sometimes I wonder if she has a guilty memory which haunts
her, and sometimes I suspect Barrymore of being a domestic
tyrant. I have always felt that there was something singular and
questionable in this man's character, but the adventure of last
night brings all my suspicions to a head.

And yet it may seem a small matter in itself. You are aware that
I am not a very sound sleeper, and since I have been on guard in
this house my slumbers have been lighter than ever. Last night,
about two in the morning, I was aroused by a stealthy step
passing my room. I rose, opened my door, and peeped out. A long
black shadow was trailing down the corridor. It was thrown by a
man who walked softly down the passage with a candle held in his
hand. He was in shirt and trousers, with no covering to his feet.
I could merely see the outline, but his height told me that it
was Barrymore. He walked very slowly and circumspectly, and there
was something indescribably guilty and furtive in his whole
appearance.

I have told you that the corridor is broken by the balcony which
runs round the hall, but that it is resumed upon the farther
side. I waited until he had passed out of sight and then I
followed him. When I came round the balcony he had reached the
end of the farther corridor, and I could see from the glimmer of
light through an open door that he had entered one of the rooms.
Now, all these rooms are unfurnished and unoccupied, so that his
expedition became more mysterious than ever. The light shone
steadily as if he were standing motionless. I crept down the
passage as noiselessly as I could and peeped round the corner of
the door.

Barrymore was crouching at the window with the candle held
against the glass. His profile was half turned towards me, and
his face seemed to be rigid with expectation as he stared out
into the blackness of the moor. For some minutes he stood
watching intently. Then he gave a deep groan and with an
impatient gesture he put out the light. Instantly I made my way
back to my room, and very shortly came the stealthy steps passing
once more upon their return journey. Long afterwards when I had
fallen into a light sleep I heard a key turn somewhere in a lock,
but I could not tell whence the sound came. What it all means I
cannot guess, but there is some secret business going on in this
house of gloom which sooner or later we shall get to the bottom
of. I do not trouble you with my theories, for you asked me to
furnish you only with facts. I have had a long talk with Sir
Henry this morning, and we have made a plan of campaign founded
upon my observations of last night. I will not speak about it
just now, but it should make my next report interesting reading.




© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary