|The Hound of the Baskervilles|
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
ONE of Sherlock Holmess defectsif, indeed, one may call it a
defect was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other
person until the instant of their fulfilment. Partly it came no doubt from his own
masterful nature, which loved to dominate and surprise those who were around him. Partly
also from his professional caution, which urged him never to take any chances. The result,
however, was very trying for those who were acting as his agents and assistants. I had
often suffered under it, but never more so than during that long drive in the darkness.
The great ordeal was in front of us; at last we were about to make our final effort, and
yet Holmes had said nothing, and I could only surmise what his course of action would be.
My nerves thrilled with anticipation when at last the cold wind upon our faces and the
dark, void spaces on either side of the narrow road told me that we were back upon the
moor once again. Every stride of the horses and every turn of the wheels was taking us
nearer to our supreme adventure.
There were only two men in the room, Sir Henry and Stapleton. They sat with their profiles towards me on either side of the round table. Both of them were smoking cigars, and coffee and wine were in front of them. Stapleton was talking with animation, but the baronet looked pale and distrait. Perhaps the thought of that lonely walk across the ill-omened moor was weighing heavily upon his mind.
As I watched them Stapleton rose and left the room, while Sir Henry filled his glass again and leaned back in his chair, puffing at his cigar. I heard the creak of a door and the crisp sound of boots upon gravel. The steps passed along the path on the other side of the wall under which I crouched. Looking over, I saw the naturalist pause at the door of an out-house in the corner of the orchard. A key turned in a lock, and as he passed in there was a curious scuffling noise from within. He was only a minute or so inside, and then I heard the key turn once more and he passed me and reentered the house. I saw him rejoin his guest, and I crept quietly back to where my companions were waiting to tell them what I had seen.
You say, Watson, that the lady is not there? Holmes asked when I had finished my report.
Where can she be, then, since there is no light in any other room except the kitchen?
I cannot think where she is.
I have said that over the great Grimpen Mire there hung a dense, white fog. It was drifting slowly in our direction and banked itself up like a wall on that side of us, low but thick and well defined. The moon shone on it, and it looked like a great shimmering ice-field, with the heads of the distant tors as rocks borne upon its surface. Holmess face was turned towards it, and he muttered impatiently as he watched its sluggish drift.
 Its moving towards us, Watson.
Is that serious?
Very serious, indeedthe one thing upon earth which could have disarranged my plans. He cant be very long, now. It is already ten oclock. Our success and even his life may depend upon his coming out before the fog is over the path.
The night was clear and fine above us. The stars shone cold and bright, while a half-moon bathed the whole scene in a soft, uncertain light. Before us lay the dark bulk of the house, its serrated roof and bristling chimneys hard outlined against the silver-spangled sky. Broad bars of golden light from the lower windows stretched across the orchard and the moor. One of them was suddenly shut off. The servants had left the kitchen. There only remained the lamp in the dining-room where the two men, the murderous host and the unconscious guest, still chatted over their cigars.
Every minute that white woolly plain which covered one-half of the moor was drifting closer and closer to the house. Already the first thin wisps of it were curling across the golden square of the lighted window. The farther wall of the orchard was already invisible, and the trees were standing out of a swirl of white vapour. As we watched it the fog-wreaths came crawling round both corners of the house and rolled slowly into one dense bank, on which the upper floor and the roof floated like a strange ship upon a shadowy sea. Holmes struck his hand passionately upon the rock in front of us and stamped his feet in his impatience.
If he isnt out in a quarter of an hour the path will be covered. In half an hour we wont be able to see our hands in front of us.
Shall we move farther back upon higher ground?
Yes, I think it would be as well.
So as the fog-bank flowed onward we fell back before it until we were half a mile from the house, and still that dense white sea, with the moon silvering its upper edge, swept slowly and inexorably on.
We are going too far, said Holmes. We dare not take the chance of his being overtaken before he can reach us. At all costs we must hold our ground where we are. He dropped on his knees and clapped his ear to the ground. Thank God, I think that I hear him coming.
A sound of quick steps broke the silence of the moor. Crouching among the stones we stared intently at the silver-tipped bank in front of us. The steps grew louder, and through the fog, as through a curtain, there stepped the man whom we were awaiting. He looked round him in surprise as he emerged into the clear, starlit night. Then he came swiftly along the path, passed close to where we lay, and went on up the long slope behind us. As he walked he glanced continually over either shoulder, like a man who is ill at ease.
Hist! cried Holmes, and I heard the sharp click
of a cocking pistol. Look out! Its coming!
With long bounds the huge black creature was leaping down
the track, following hard upon the footsteps of our friend. So paralyzed were we by the
apparition that we allowed him to pass before we had recovered our nerve. Then Holmes and
I both fired together, and the creature gave a hideous howl, which showed that one at
least had hit him. He did not pause, however, but bounded onward. Far away on the path we
saw Sir Henry looking back, his face white in the moonlight, his hands raised in horror,
glaring helplessly at the frightful thing which was hunting him down.
Sir Henry lay insensible where he had fallen. We tore away
his collar, and Holmes breathed a prayer of gratitude when we saw that there was no sign
of a wound and that the rescue had been in time. Already our friends eyelids
shivered and he made a feeble effort to move. Lestrade thrust his brandy-flask between the
baronets teeth, and two frightened eyes were looking up at us.
Phosphorus, I said.
The brute! cried Holmes. Here, Lestrade,
your brandy-bottle! Put her in the chair! She has fainted from ill-usage and
And now I come rapidly to the conclusion of this singular narrative, in which I have tried to make the reader share those dark fears and vague surmises which clouded our lives so long and ended in so tragic a manner. On the morning after the death of the hound the fog had lifted and we were guided by Mrs. Stapleton to the point where they had found a pathway through the bog. It helped us to realize the horror of this womans life when we saw the eagerness and joy with which she laid us on her husbands track. We left her standing upon the thin peninsula of firm, peaty soil which tapered out into the widespread bog. From the end of it a small wand planted here and there showed where the path zigzagged from tuft to tuft of rushes among those green-scummed pits and foul quagmires which barred the way to the stranger. Rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay and a heavy miasmatic vapour onto our faces, while a false step plunged us more than once thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which  shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet. Its tenacious grip plucked at our heels as we walked, and when we sank into it it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths, so grim and purposeful was the clutch in which it held us. Once only we saw a trace that someone had passed that perilous way before us. From amid a tuft of cotton-grass which bore it up out of the slime some dark thing was projecting. Holmes sank to his waist as he stepped from the path to seize it, and had we not been there to drag him out he could never have set his foot upon firm land again. He held an old black boot in the air. Meyers, Toronto, was printed on the leather inside.
It is worth a mud bath, said he. It is
our friend Sir Henrys missing boot.
A dog! said Holmes. By Jove, a curly-haired spaniel. Poor Mortimer will never see his pet again. Well, I do not know that this place contains any secret which we have not already fathomed. He could hide his hound, but he could not hush its voice, and hence came those cries which even in daylight were not pleasant to hear. On an emergency he could keep the hound in the out-house at Merripit, but it was always a risk, and it was only on the supreme day, which he regarded as the end of all his efforts, that he dared do it. This paste in the tin is no doubt the luminous mixture with which the creature was daubed. It was suggested, of course, by the story of the family hell-hound, and by the desire to frighten old Sir Charles to death. No wonder the poor devil of a convict ran and screamed, even as our friend did, and as we ourselves might have done, when he saw such a creature bounding through the darkness of the moor upon his track. It was a cunning device, for, apart from the chance of driving your victim to his death, what peasant would venture to inquire too closely into such a creature should he get sight of it, as many have done, upon the moor? I said it in London, Watson, and I say it again now, that never yet have we helped to hunt down a more dangerous man than he who is lying yonderhe swept his long arm towards the huge mottled expanse of green-splotched bog which stretched away until it merged into the russet slopes of the moor.
|David Soucek, 1998|