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10.21.2007
Sherlock Holmes - The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 3: The Problem

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I CONFESS that at these words a shudder passed through me. There was a thrill in the doctor’s voice which showed that he was himself deeply moved by that which he told us. Holmes leaned forward in his excitement and his eyes had the hard, dry glitter which shot from them when he was keenly interested.

“You saw this?”

“As clearly as I see you.”

“And you said nothing?”

“What was the use?”

“How was it that no one else saw it?”

“The marks were some twenty yards from the body and no one gave them a thought. I don’t suppose I should have done so had I not known this legend.”

“There are many sheep-dogs on the moor?”

“No doubt, but this was no sheep-dog.”

“You say it was large?”

“Enormous.”

“But it had not approached the body?”

“No.”

“What sort of night was it?”

“Damp and raw.”

“But not actually raining?”

“No.”

“What is the alley like?”

“There are two lines of old yew hedge, twelve feet high and impenetrable. The walk in the centre is about eight feet across.”

“Is there anything between the hedges and the walk?”

“Yes, there is a strip of grass about six feet broad on either side.”

“I understand that the yew hedge is penetrated at one point by a gate?”

“Yes, the wicket-gate which leads on to the moor.”

“Is there any other opening?”

“None.”

“So that to reach the yew alley one either has to come down it from the house or else to enter it by the moor-gate?”

“There is an exit through a summer-house at the far end.”

“Had Sir Charles reached this?”

“No; he lay about fifty yards from it.”

“Now, tell me, Dr. Mortimer–and this is important–the marks which you saw were on the path and not on the grass?”

“No marks could show on the grass.”

“Were they on the same side of the path as the moor-gate?”

“Yes; they were on the edge of the path on the same side as the moor-gate.”

“You interest me exceedingly. Another point. Was the wicket-gate closed?”

“Closed and padlocked.”

“How high was it?”

“About four feet high.”

“Then anyone could have got over it?”

“Yes.”

“And what marks did you see by the wicket-gate?”

“None in particular.”

“Good heaven! Did no one examine?”

“Yes, I examined, myself.”

“And found nothing?”

“It was all very confused. Sir Charles had evidently stood there for five or ten minutes.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because the ash had twice dropped from his cigar.”

“Excellent! This is a colleague, Watson, after our own heart. But the marks?”

“He had left his own marks all over that small patch of gravel. I could discern no others.”

Sherlock Holmes struck his hand against his knee with an impatient gesture.

“If I had only been there!” he cried. “It is evidently a case of extraordinary interest, and one which presented immense opportunities to the scientific expert. That gravel page upon which I might have read so much has been long ere this smudged by the rain and defaced by the clogs of curious peasants. Oh, Dr. Mortimer, Dr. Mortimer, to think that you should not have called me in! You have indeed much to answer for.”

“I could not call you in, Mr. Holmes, without disclosing these facts to the world, and I have already given my reasons for not wishing to do so. Besides, besides– –”

“Why do you hesitate?”

“There is a realm in which the most acute and most experienced of detectives is helpless.”

“You mean that the thing is supernatural?”

“I did not positively say so.”

“No, but you evidently think it.”

“Since the tragedy, Mr. Holmes, there have come to my ears several incidents which are hard to reconcile with the settled order of Nature.”

“For example?”

“I find that before the terrible event occurred several people had seen a creature upon the moor which corresponds with this Baskerville demon, and which could not possibly be any animal known to science. They all agreed that it was a huge creature, luminous, ghastly, and spectral. I have cross-examined these men, one of them a hard-headed countryman, one a farrier, and one a moorland farmer, who all tell the same story of this dreadful apparition, exactly corresponding to the hell-hound of the legend. I assure you that there is a reign of terror in the district, and that it is a hardy man who will cross the moor at night.”

“And you, a trained man of science, believe it to be supernatural?”

“I do not know what to believe.”

Holmes shrugged his shoulders.

“I have hitherto confined my investigations to this world,” said he. “In a modest way I have combated evil, but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task. Yet you must admit that the footmark is material.”

“The original hound was material enough to tug a man’s throat out, and yet he was diabolical as well.”

“I see that you have quite gone over to the supernaturalists. But now, Dr. Mortimer, tell me this. If you hold these views, why have you come to consult me at all? You tell me in the same breath that it is useless to investigate Sir Charles’s death, and that you desire me to do it.”

“I did not say that I desired you to do it.”

“Then, how can I assist you?”

“By advising me as to what I should do with Sir Henry Baskerville, who arrives at Waterloo Station”–Dr. Mortimer looked at his watch–“in exactly one hour and a quarter.”

“He being the heir?”

“Yes. On the death of Sir Charles we inquired for this young gentleman and found that he had been farming in Canada. From the accounts which have reached us he is an excellent fellow in every way. I speak now not as a medical man but as a trustee and executor of Sir Charles’s will.”
“There is no other claimant, I presume?”

“None. The only other kinsman whom we have been able to trace was Rodger Baskerville, the youngest of three brothers of whom poor Sir Charles was the elder. The second brother, who died young, is the father of this lad Henry. The third, Rodger, was the black sheep of the family. He came of the old masterful Baskerville strain and was the very image, they tell me, of the family picture of old Hugo. He made England too hot to hold him, fled to Central America, and died there in 1876 of yellow fever. Henry is the last of the Baskervilles. In one hour and five minutes I meet him at Waterloo Station. I have had a wire that he arrived at Southampton this morning. Now, Mr. Holmes, what would you advise me to do with him?”

“Why should he not go to the home of his fathers?”

“It seems natural, does it not? And yet, consider that every Baskerville who goes there meets with an evil fate. I feel sure that if Sir Charles could have spoken with me before his death he would have warned me against bringing this, the last of the old race, and the heir to great wealth, to that deadly place. And yet it cannot be denied that the prosperity of the whole poor, bleak countryside depends upon his presence. All the good work which has been done by Sir Charles will crash to the ground if there is no tenant of the Hall. I fear lest I should be swayed too much by my own obvious interest in the matter, and that is why I bring the case before you and ask for your advice.”


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