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10.20.2007
Sherlock Holmes - The Hound of The Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 13: Fixing The Nets

Page 1 of 2

“WE’RE at close grips at last,” said Holmes as we walked together across the moor. “What a nerve the fellow has! How he pulled himself together in the face of what must have been a paralyzing shock when he found that the wrong man had fallen a victim to his plot. I told you in London, Watson, and I tell you now again, that we have never had a foeman more worthy of our steel.”

“I am sorry that he has seen you.”

“And so was I at first. But there was no getting out of it.”

“What effect do you think it will have upon his plans now that he knows you are here?”

“It may cause him to be more cautious, or it may drive him to desperate measures at once. Like most clever criminals, he may be too confident in his own cleverness and imagine that he has completely deceived us.”

“Why should we not arrest him at once?”

“My dear Watson, you were born to be a man of action. Your instinct is always to do something energetic. But supposing, for argument’s sake, that we had him arrested to-night, what on earth the better off should we be for that? We could prove nothing against him. There’s the devilish cunning of it! If he were acting through a human agent we could get some evidence, but if we were to drag this great dog to the light of day it would not help us in putting a rope round the neck of its master.”

“Surely we have a case.”

“Not a shadow of one–only surmise and conjecture. We should be laughed out of court if we came with such a story and such evidence.”

“There is Sir Charles’s death.”

“Found dead without a mark upon him. You and I know that he died of sheer fright, and we know also what frightened him; but how are we to get twelve stolid jurymen to know it? What signs are there of a hound? Where are the marks of its fangs? Of course we know that a hound does not bite a dead body and that Sir Charles was dead before ever the brute overtook him. But we have to prove all this, and we are not in a position to do it.”

“Well, then, to-night?”

“We are not much better off to-night. Again, there was no direct connection between the hound and the man’s death. We never saw the hound. We heard it, [748] but we could not prove that it was running upon this man’s trail. There is a complete absence of motive. No, my dear fellow; we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have no case at present, and that it is worth our while to run any risk in order to establish one.”

“And how do you propose to do so?”

“I have great hopes of what Mrs. Laura Lyons may do for us when the position of affairs is made clear to her. And I have my own plan as well. Sufficient for to-morrow is the evil thereof; but I hope before the day is past to have the upper hand at last.”

I could draw nothing further from him, and he walked, lost in thought, as far as the Baskerville gates.

“Are you coming up?”

“Yes; I see no reason for further concealment. But one last word, Watson. Say nothing of the hound to Sir Henry. Let him think that Selden’s death was as Stapleton would have us believe. He will have a better nerve for the ordeal which he will have to undergo to-morrow, when he is engaged, if I remember your report aright, to dine with these people.”

“And so am I.”

“Then you must excuse yourself and he must go alone. That will be easily arranged. And now, if we are too late for dinner, I think that we are both ready for our suppers.”

Sir Henry was more pleased than surprised to see Sherlock Holmes, for he had for some days been expecting that recent events would bring him down from London. He did raise his eyebrows, however, when he found that my friend had neither any luggage nor any explanations for its absence. Between us we soon supplied his wants, and then over a belated supper we explained to the baronet as much of our experience as it seemed desirable that he should know. But first I had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to Barrymore and his wife. To him it may have been an unmitigated relief, but she wept bitterly in her apron. To all the world he was the man of violence, half animal and half demon; but to her he always remained the little wilful boy of her own girlhood, the child who had clung to her hand. Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him.

“I’ve been moping in the house all day since Watson went off in the morning,” said the baronet.

“I guess I should have some credit, for I have kept my promise. If I hadn’t sworn not to go about alone I might have had a more lively evening, for I had a message from Stapleton asking me over there.”

“I have no doubt that you would have had a more lively evening,” said Holmes drily. “By the way, I don’t suppose you appreciate that we have been mourning over you as having broken your neck?”

Sir Henry opened his eyes. “How was that?”

“This poor wretch was dressed in your clothes. I fear your servant who gave them to him may get into trouble with the police.”

“That is unlikely. There was no mark on any of them, as far as I know.”

“That’s lucky for him–in fact, it’s lucky for all of you, since you are all on the wrong side of the law in this matter. I am not sure that as a conscientious detective my first duty is not to arrest the whole household. Watson’s reports are most incriminating documents.”

“But how about the case?” asked the baronet. “Have you made anything out of the tangle? I don’t know that Watson and I are much the wiser since we came down.”

“I think that I shall be in a position to make the situation rather more clear to you before long. It has been an exceedingly difficult and most complicated business. There are several points upon which we still want light –but it is coming all the same.”

“We’ve had one experience, as Watson has no doubt told you. We heard the hound on the moor, so I can swear that it is not all empty superstition. I had something to do with dogs when I was out West, and I know one when I hear one. If you can muzzle that one and put him on a chain I’ll be ready to swear you are the greatest detective of all time.”

“I think I will muzzle him and chain him all right if you will give me your help.”

“Whatever you tell me to do I will do.”

“Very good; and I will ask you also to do it blindly, without always asking the reason.”

“Just as you like.”

“If you will do this I think the chances are that our little problem will soon be solved. I have no doubt– –”

He stopped suddenly and stared fixedly up over my head into the air. The lamp beat upon his face, and so intent was it and so still that it might have been that of a clear-cut classical statue, a personification of alertness and expectation.

“What is it?” we both cried.

I could see as he looked down that he was repressing some internal emotion. His features were still composed, but his eyes shone with amused exultation.

“Excuse the admiration of a connoisseur,” said he as he waved his hand towards the line of portraits which covered the opposite wall. “Watson won’t allow that I know anything of art, but that is mere jealousy because our views upon the subject differ. Now, these are a really very fine series of portraits.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you say so,” said Sir Henry, glancing with some surprise at my friend. “I don’t pretend to know much about these things, and I’d be a better judge of a horse or a steer than of a picture. I didn’t know that you found time for such things.”

“I know what is good when I see it, and I see it now. That’s a Kneller, I’ll swear, that lady in the blue silk over yonder, and the stout gentleman with the wig ought to be a Reynolds. They are all family portraits, I presume?”

“Every one.”

“Do you know the names?”

“Barrymore has been coaching me in them, and I think I can say my lessons fairly well.”

“Who is the gentleman with the telescope?”

“That is Rear-Admiral Baskerville, who served under Rodney in the West Indies. The man with the blue coat and the roll of paper is Sir William Baskerville, who was Chairman of Committees of the House of Commons under Pitt.”

“And this Cavalier opposite to me–the one with the black velvet and the lace?”

“Ah, you have a right to know about him. That is the cause of all the mischief, the wicked Hugo, who started the Hound of the Baskervilles. We’re not likely to forget him.”

I gazed with interest and some surprise upon the portrait.

“Dear me!” said Holmes, “he seems a quiet, meek-mannered man enough, but I dare say that there was a lurking devil in his eyes. I had pictured him as a more robust and ruffianly person.”

“There’s no doubt about the authenticity, for the name and the date, 1647, are on the back of the canvas.”

Holmes said little more, but the picture of the old roysterer seemed to have a fascination for him, and his eyes were continually fixed upon it during supper. It was not until later, when Sir Henry had gone to his room, that I was able to follow the trend of his thoughts. He led me back into the banqueting-hall, his bedroom candle in his hand, and he held it up against the time-stained portrait on the wall.

“Do you see anything there?”

I looked at the broad plumed hat, the curling love-locks, the white lace collar, and the straight, severe face which was framed between them. It was not a brutal countenance, but it was prim, hard, and stern, with a firm-set, thin-lipped mouth, and a coldly intolerant eye.

“Is it like anyone you know?”

“There is something of Sir Henry about the jaw.”

“Just a suggestion, perhaps. But wait an instant!” He stood upon a chair, and, holding up the light in his left hand, he curved his right arm over the broad hat and round the long ringlets.

“Good heavens!” I cried in amazement.

The face of Stapleton had sprung out of the canvas.

“Ha, you see it now. My eyes have been trained to examine faces and not their trimmings. It is the first quality of a criminal investigator that he should see through a disguise.”

“But this is marvellous. It might be his portrait.”

“Yes, it is an interesting instance of a throwback, which appears to be both physical and spiritual. A study of family portraits is enough to convert a man to the doctrine of reincarnation. The fellow is a Baskerville–that is evident.”

“With designs upon the succession.”

“Exactly. This chance of the picture has supplied us with one of our most obvious missing links. We have him, Watson, we have him, and I dare swear that before to-morrow night he will be fluttering in our net as helpless as one of his own butterflies. A pin, a cork, and a card, and we add him to the Baker Street collection!” He burst into one of his rare fits of laughter as he turned away from the picture. I have not heard him laugh often, and it has always boded ill to somebody.


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