Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before. It was a fine, thick piece of wood, bulbous-headed, of the sort which is known as a ‘Penang lawyer.’ Just under the head was a broad silver band nearly an inch across. ‘To James Mortimer, M.R.C.S., from his friends of the C.C.H.,’ was engraved upon it, with the date ‘1884.’ It was just such a stick as the old-fashioned family practitioner used to carry – dignified, solid, and reassuring.
‘Well, Watson, what do you make of it?’
Holmes was sitting with his back to me, and I had given him no sign of my occupation.
‘How did you know what I was doing? I believe you have eyes in the back of your head.’
‘I have, at least, a well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot in front of me,’ said he. ‘But, tell me, Watson, what do you make of our visitor’s stick? Since we have been so unfortunate as to miss him and have no notion of his errand, this accidental souvenir becomes of importance. Let me hear you reconstruct the man by an examination of it.’
‘I think,’ said I, following as far as I could the methods of my companion, ‘that Dr. Mortimer is a successful, elderly medical man, well-esteemed since those who know him give him this mark of their appreciation.’
‘Good!’ said Holmes. ‘Excellent!’
‘I think also that the probability is in favour of his being a country practitioner who does a great deal of his visiting on foot.’
‘Because this stick, though originally a very handsome one has been so knocked about that I can hardly imagine a town practitioner carrying it. The thick-iron ferrule is worn down, so it is evident that he has done a great amount of walking with it.’
‘Perfectly sound!’ said Holmes.
‘And then again, there is the ”friends of the C.C.H.” I should guess that to be the Something Hunt, the local hunt to whose members he has possibly given some surgical assistance, and which has made him a small presentation in return.’
‘Really, Watson, you excel yourself,’ said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. ‘I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.’
He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. I was proud, too, to think that I had so far mastered his system as to apply it in a way which earned his approval. He now took the stick from my hands and examined it for a few minutes with his naked eyes. Then with an expression of interest he laid down his cigarette, and carrying the cane to the window, he looked over it again with a convex lens.
‘Interesting, though elementary,’ said he as he returned to his favourite corner of the settee. ‘There are certainly one or two indications upon the stick. It gives us the basis for several deductions.’
‘I have in my pocket a manuscript,’ said Dr. James Mortimer.
‘I observed it as you entered the room,’ said Holmes.
‘It is an old manuscript.’
‘Early eighteenth century, unless it is a forgery.’
‘How can you say that, sir?’
‘You have presented an inch or two of it to my examination all the time that you have been talking. It would be a poor expert who could not give the date of a document within a decade or so. You may possibly have read my little monograph upon the subject. I put that at 1730.’
‘The exact date is 1742.’ Dr. Mortimer drew it from his breast-pocket. ‘This family paper was committed to my care by Sir Charles Baskerville, whose sudden and tragic death some three months ago created so much excitement in Devonshire. I may say that I was his personal friend as well as his medical attendant. He was a strong-minded man, sir, shrewd, practical, and as unimaginative as I am myself. Yet he took this document very seriously, and his mind was prepared for just such an end as did eventually overtake him.’
Holmes stretched out his hand for the manuscript and flattened it upon his knee.
‘You will observe, Watson, the alternative use of the long s and the short.
It is one of several indications which enabled me to fix the date.’
I looked over his shoulder at the yellow paper and the faded script. At the head was written: ‘Baskerville Hall,’ and below in large, scrawling figures: ‘1742.’
‘It appears to be a statement of some sort.’
‘Yes, it is a statement of a certain legend which runs in the Baskerville family.’
‘But I understand that it is something more modern and practical upon which you wish to consult me?’
‘Most modern. A most practical, pressing matter, which must be decided within twenty-four hours. But the manuscript is short and is intimately connected with the affair. With your permission I will read it to you.’
Holmes leaned back in his chair, placed his finger-tips together, and closed his eyes, with an air of resignation. Dr. Mortimer turned the manuscript to the light and read in a high, crackling voice the following curious, old-world narrative:
‘Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been many statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo Baskerville, and as I had the story from my father, who also had it from his, I have set it down with all belief that it occurred even as is here set forth. And I would have you believe, my sons, that the same Justice which punishes sin may also most graciously forgive it, and that no ban is so heavy but that by prayer and repentance it may be removed. Learn then from this story not to fear the fruits of the past, but rather to be circumspect in the future, that those foul passions whereby our family has suffered so grievously may not again be loosed to our undoing.
‘Know then that in the time of the Great Rebellion (the history of which by the learned Lord Clarendon I most earnestly commend to your attention) this Manor of Baskerville was held by Hugo of that name, nor can it be gainsaid that he was a most wild, profane, and godless man. This, in truth, his neighbours might have pardoned, seeing that saints have never flourished in those parts, but there was in him a
I confess 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?’
‘But it had not approached the body?’
‘What sort of night was it? ‘
‘ Damp and raw. ‘
‘But not actually raining?’
‘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?’
‘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?
Our breakfast table was cleared early, and Holmes waited in his dressing-gown for the promised interview. Our clients were punctual to their appointment, for the clock had just struck ten when Dr. Mortimer was shown up, followed by the young baronet. The latter was a small, alert, dark-eyed man about thirty years of age, very sturdily built, with thick black eyebrows and a strong, pugnacious face. He wore a ruddy-tinted tweed suit and had the weather-beaten appearance of one who has spent most of his time in the open air, and yet there was something in his steady eye and the quiet assurance of his bearing which indicated the gentleman.
‘This is Sir Henry Baskerville,’ said Dr. Mortimer.
‘Why, yes,’ said he, ‘and the strange thing is, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, that if my friend here had not proposed coming round to you this morning I should have come on my own account. I understand that you think out little puzzles, and I’ve had one this morning which wants more thinking out than I am able to give it.’
‘Pray take a seat, Sir Henry. Do I understand you to say that you have yourself had some remarkable experience since you arrived in London?’
‘Nothing of much importance, Mr. Holmes. Only a joke, as like as not. It was this letter, if you can call it a letter, which reached me this morning.’
He laid an envelope upon the table, and we all bent over it. It was of common quality, grayish in colour. The address, ‘Sir Henry Baskerville, Northumberland Hotel,’ was printed in rough characters; the post- mark ‘Charing Cross,’ and the date of posting the preceding evening.
‘Who knew that you were going to the Northumberland Hotel?’ asked Holmes, glancing keenly across at our visitor.
‘No one could have known. We only decided after I met Dr. Mortimer.’
‘But Dr. Mortimer was no doubt already stopping there?’
‘No, I had been staying with a friend,’ said the doctor. ‘There was no possible indication that we intended to go to this hotel.’
‘Hum! Someone seems to be very deeply interested in your movements.’ Out of the envelope he took a half-sheet of foolscap paper folded into four. This he opened and spread flat upon the table. Across the middle of it a single sentence had been formed by the expedient of pasting printed words upon it. It ran:
As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.
The word ‘moor’ only was printed in ink.
‘Now,’ said Sir Henry Baskerville, ‘perhaps you will tell me, Mr. Holmes, what in thunder is the meaning of that, and who it is that takes so much interest in my affairs?’
‘What do you make of it, Dr. Mortimer? You must allow that there is nothing supernatural about this, at any rate?’
‘No, sir, but it might very well come from someone who was convinced that the business is supernatural.’
‘What business?’ asked Sir Henry sharply. ‘It seems to me that all you gentlemen know a great deal more than I do about my own affairs.’
‘You shall share our knowledge before you leave this room, Sir Henry. I promise you that,’ said Sherlock Holmes. ‘We will confine ourselves for the present with your permission to this very interesting document, which must have been put together and posted yesterday evening. Have you yesterday’s Times, Watson?’