“The Hound of the Baskervilles” was serialized in The Strand Magazine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from August 1901 through April 1902. It is a brilliantly written mystery set on Dartmoor in Devon in England’s West Country. In the story, a mythical beast is terrorizing the Baskerville family.
The story begins with the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville. His doctor and friend enlist Sherlock Holmes to ascertain if bringing the young heir to Baskerville into the picture is safe. The quandary of the beast so interests Sherlock that he and his partner, Doctor John Watson decide to investigate.
Soon, Watson is deep in the secretive world of Baskerville and Sherlock is undercover. They discover a duplicitous villain using a beast to kill. In Baskerville, Watson discovers a husband and wife covering for an escaped convict, a woman abandoned by her father, and her husband, forced to beg for her sustenance. After being abused by her husband, she is used and betrayed by her lover. And, Sherlock discovers a husband and wife posing as brother and sister.
All these secrets set to the background of a terrifying beast that lives in the moors and kills at random, but has a special taste for the Lord of the Manor, because of a former baron who kidnapped a young girl, then when she escaped, he used his dogs to run her to ground, where she died. But, instead of basking in his victory, the hound or demon of the Baskervilles tore his throat out.
Our story opens at 221B Baker Street, the home and office of one Mr. Sherlock Holmes. His trusty some times assistant, Doctor John Watson, is studying a cane. Dr. Watson has always admired Sherlock’s ability to access mountains of information from a small clue, so he thought he would try his hand at it. The cane had been left by the visitor of 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’.”
Sherlock, whose back was to Watson, asked what he thought of it. When Watson asked how Sherlock knew what he was doing, he replied that he saw Watson’s reflection in the coffee pot. Watson begins to give his deductions, trying to use some of Sherlock’s powers of observation. He speculates that the cane belonged to an older doctor, who was given the cane as appreciation for years of service. Getting a bit of encouragement from Sherlock, he continues with the idea that the doctor walked a lot since the cane was well worn. He further reasons that the ‘C.C.H’ stands for the “Something Hunt” a local hunt that the doctor must have performed a service.
While Watson is thinking how brilliantly he used his deductive powers, Sherlock tells him it was, “interesting, though elementary.” Then Sherlock begins to list the observations he has made. While Watson is right about the man being a county practitioner, the C.C.H stands for Charing Cross Hospital. Since the cane would have been given as a going away present, the man must be fairly young, not old as Watson had surmised. And, the man must have a small spaniel dog since there are bite marks on the bottom of the cane. Also, the man and dog are at the door.
The man introduces himself as Mortimer. He is a phrenologist, (he studies skulls to determine intelligence and character). Relieved to see that he had left his cane there, Mortimer proceeds to consult Holmes on a case, since he considers Holmes “the second highest expert in Europe –” When Holmes asks the first is, the man replies, “Monsieur Bertillon”. (Doyle was a huge fan of Bertillon who discovered the method of anthropomorphic identification. Before fingerprinting, the exact measurement system Bertillon developed was important in identifying criminals.)
Sherlock suggests that Mortimer go see Bertillon if he’s so great. Mortimer replies that Sherlock would be the best choice for this case, and he hoped he didn’t offend. Sherlock says for him to get on with it. Of course, now Sherlock must seem even smarter. So, when Mortimer pulls a manuscript from his pocket, Sherlock tells him, before it’s even completely out, that the manuscript is from 1730. The manuscript is actually dated 1742 and tells the story of the curse of the Baskervilles. During the time of the revolution, Hugo Baskerville, who held the manor of Baskerville at the time, was a lecherous, profane and “godless man”. Hugo desired a local farmer’s daughter, who he kidnapped and held her in a room upstairs.
While Hugo was downstairs carousing with his friends, the girl escaped down an ivy-covered wall and set off across the moorland. The furious Hugo made a deal with the devil and released his hounds to chase her. Hugo took off with his dogs and his drunken friends followed afterward. When they found Hugo and the girl, they were both dead. She had died of fear and fatigue, he had had his throat ripped out by some great beast. Since that time the beast has haunted the family of Baskervilles. The most recent victim is Sir Charles Baskerville.
Next, Mortimer shows Sherlock the newspaper article mentioning the death of Sir Charles, a well respected, philanthropic man, who had remade his families fortune in South Africa. The story stated that his servants, Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore and Mortimer were all interviewed. According to their reports, Sir Charles was found dead of a heart attack at the site of his nightly walk down Yew Alley, an area bordering the moorlands, where the beast is rumored to roam. The article mentioned the myth of the curse upon the Baskervilles, but only to discount it. The article goes on to name the new owner of Baskerville, Sir Charles’ younger brother, Henry, who is in America.
Next, Mortimer tells Sherlock of the facts he left out of the paper. For an unknown reason, Sir Charles had lately become more and more agitated. The curse was playing on his nerves and he thought he saw shadows in the moors. On the night he died, evidence suggested Charles dawdled at the gate to the alley. His footsteps down the alley were curious. He seemed to alternate between tiptoeing and running. But, the most surprising addition, that the newspapers didn’t know about, was the footprints of a colossal hound next to Sir Charles’ tiptoes.
Now, he has piqued Sherlock’s interest. He begins to question Dr. Mortimer. He learns the footprints could not have come from a sheep dog, the paw prints did not approach the body, but were twenty yards away, and the night was damp and raw, but not raining. Then Sherlock wants to know what the alley looks like. He’s told there is a strip of grass about six feet wide on either side and it is bordered by an old twelve-foot high yew hedge on each side. The yew is impenetrable. The walk itself is about eight feet across. There is only one opening, a wicket gate leading on to the moor. The exit is through a summer house at the far end, but Sir Charles was within fifty yards of it. The paw prints were on the same side of the path as the moor-gate, and the gate was padlocked, but, it is only four feet high, so anyone could have gotten over it.
After answering all Sherlock’s questions, Mortimer said that the reason he hesitated about investigating further, was that, as a man of science, he did not want to entertain the idea of a demon haunting the Baskervilles. But, after interviewing many of the locals, he is left with questions. When Sherlock asks him if he wants him to investigate, Mortimer says that’s not why he is there, he just wants advice on what to do about Sir Henry Baskerville, who is due to arrive in an hour from Canada. Sherlock inquires if Sir Henry is the only claimant, and Mortimer tells him that another brother, Rodger, was the black sheep of the family. He fled England to Central America, where he contacted yellow fever and died. There were three brothers; Charles, the second brother, who is Henry’s father, and Rodger.
Even though, Mortimer fears for the safety of Sir Henry, he knows the county needs a Lord of the manor at Baskerville to keep the economy moving. Sherlock points out that if the danger is supernatural as Mortimer infers, then he is not safe no matter where he is, so there is no reason to stop him. But, not to tell him of the curse until Sherlock had some time to ruminate on the subject. He will have an answer the next day, at ten o’clock. Mortimer heads to meet Sir Henry, and Sherlock settles down with his pipe and thinking.
When Dr. Watson returns he finds Sherlock in the room, billowing in smoke. Sherlock surmises Watson went to the club, and then pulls out a map to study the area in question. He wants to discount all the natural possibilities before settling on the supernatural. What would draw a man who was elderly and infirm to go out into the night, wait by the gate for quite a while and, as the change in the footsteps indicate, run, as if for his life, but away from the house, not towards.
Deciding to put aside the thoughts on the mystery until he sees Sir Henry and Mortimer on the next day, Sherlock takes up his violin, to relax.
When Sir Henry arrives the next morning, he bears a note that he received warning him away from the Manor House if he valued his life and sanity.
After reviewing the note, Sherlock concludes the note is in a plain envelope with plain rough writing. The note is composed of words cut out of the newspaper, except for the word, moor. Holmes deduces the writer must be following Sir Henry, how else would he know where to find him. The words were cut out of the Times, yesterday’s to be exact. Also, the writer used a pair of short nail clippers. Also, the writer must be well educated since only the well educated read the Times. Since the writer was trying to conceal his / her handwriting, their signature must be easily recognizable. And, he must have been in a hurry as the words are glued carelessly. Recognizing he has impressed his audience. Sherlock continues to point out that since the pen was running low on ink, the person is probably staying in a hotel. He tells them that if they try the hotel nearest Charing Cross, they will probably find the rest of the newspaper the words were clipped from.
Sherlock asks Sir Henry if anything unusual has happened and he replied that when he put his boots outside his room for polishing, one was stolen. Holmes decides to tell Sir Henry the story of the curse, but, Sir Henry wants to go to Baskerville anyway. He wants to determine if his uncle’s death needed a policeman or a clergyman. After inviting Holmes and Watson to lunch later in the day, he and Dr. Mortimer leave.
Sherlock springs to action. He and Watson will grab a cab and follow Sir Henry. They hope to spot the letter writer. When they catch sight of him, they can only make out a bushy black beard. Unfortunately, Sherlock makes a rookie mistake and is spotted by the man. He does manage to note the cab number, though. Sherlock asks a young boy to go through the trash in the hotels in the Charing Cross looking for the cut up Times while he and Watson investigate the cab before they have to meet Sir Henry for lunch. After sending a wire to learn the information on the cab and its occupant, Sherlock and Watson spend some time in a gallery while waiting for their lunch meeting.
When they arrive at the hotel, the desk clerk allows Sherlock to check the registry, where he deduces the spy is not staying in the hotel. When they go upstairs, they find Sir Henry enraged. Another boot has been stolen. This one an older boot. Sir Henry is surprised that Holmes now thinks the thefts may be related to the case.
During lunch, the men discuss the case at length. Holmes discovers that the butler, Mr. Barrymore matches the description of the bearded man. So, Holmes sends a telegram to Baskerville. If Barrymore is not there, it will return to him. Mortimer says that Barrymore inherits 500 pounds and an easy job on Charles’ death. Also, Mortimer, himself, receives 1000 pounds and Sir Henry 740,000 pounds. The next in line to inherit is a couple of distant cousins, a couple named Desmond. Since Sherlock has prior commitments and can’t go to Baskerville right away, he suggests Watson go as a bodyguard to Sir Henry. Before they leave the lunch room, Sir Henry finds his boot.
Back at 221B Bakers Street, Holmes and Watson go over the case but find even fewer answers. Barrymore was not in London, and the cut up newspaper was not located. But, when they interview the cab driver, they think they finally have a clue, until he tells them the fare used the name, Sherlock Holmes.
When Watson leaves the next day to accompany Sir Henry, Sherlock tells him to only send him the facts and not conjectures, and that he has eliminated the Desmond’s as suspects. Then reminds him to bring his gun. Upon arriving at Baskerville, Sir Henry, Mortimer, and Watson see some armed policemen. Apparently, a convict, Seldon, the Notting Hill murderer has escaped and is suspected to be in the area. Mortimer parts ways and heads to his own home. At Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry and Watson are met by Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore. At dinner that night, Sir Henry learns the Barrymore’s plan to leave his employ and use their inheritance to open a shop. Later, Sir Henry remarks on how creepy the place is, and Watson thinks he hears a woman crying after he goes to bed.
The next morning Watson deduces the crying woman was Mrs. Barrymore and then wonders if perhaps the person in London was Mr. Barrymore after all. So, he questions the post master’s boy, only to discover the wire was delivered to Mrs. Barrymore, who said her husband was upstairs. As the mystery deepens, Watson wishes for Sherlock to hurry.
On the way back to Baskerville Watson meets the Stapleton siblings. Brother and sister. He is a naturalist, running around with a butterfly net, and she is beautiful, but a little creepy. Mr. Stapleton walks ways with Watson, giving him a guided tour of the area, saying how glad he is to have Sir Henry there and hoping he is as philanthropic as his uncle. Mr. Stapleton is very nosy, and asks about Sherlock and the case, Watson doesn’t comment. While Stapleton runs after a butterfly, Miss Stapleton comes up, to warn Watson to leave. She seems to think he is Sir Henry. But, when she learns otherwise, recants her warning.
In his first report to Sherlock, Watson relates the budding romance between Sir Henry and Miss Stapleton, that her brother doesn’t quite approve. He tells of meeting Mr. Frankland, who uses a telescope to search the moors for the escaped convict, who no one has seen for two weeks, so residents think he has left the area. And, also, that he doesn’t trust Mr. Barrymore. Sir Henry questioned him about the wire, but he insists he was home. Then there is the candle. One night, Watson follows Barrymore down a hall. He is toting a candle, which he brings to the window, then seems to signal someone outside. Also, Mrs. Barrymore cries every night.
In his second report, Watson speculates that Barrymore is having an affair with a country girl, since the window he signals from faces the moor, and his wife cries so much. When he tells Sir Henry, they decide to stake out the window and confront Barrymore. But, before that can happen, there is a scene between Sir Henry and Miss Stapleton, who he is courting. When he wanted to talk about romance, she kept warning him away from Baskerville, and when he tried to kiss her, her brother came upon them and began to rant. Afterward, he apologized and asked Sir Henry over for dinner next Friday.
After two nights of the stakeout, Watson, and Sir Henry finally, get the chance to catch Barrymore. They find out from Mrs. Barrymore, that the signal is to the escaped convict, who is her brother. They have been bringing him food. Sir Henry and Watson go out to capture the convict for the good of the community. They find him, but he gets away. They hear the moan of a wolf while in the moors, and Watson sees the silhouette of a mysterious tall figure, but it disappears.
Sir Henry and Watson try to convince Barrymore that he needs to help them capture his brother-in-law. But, he asserts the man is harmless and is just waiting to board a ship to South America. They agree to let the matter drop, and as thanks, Barrymore tells them that Sir Charles was supposed to meet a woman the night of his death. They learn the woman was the daughter of Frankland, Laura Lyons. Years ago, she had married a man against her father’s wishes. Her father disowned her and then her husband left her. She is destitute. Sir Charles and Mortimer have been helping her.
As for the silhouette, Selden, the convict has seen him, too. He seems to be a gentleman who lies in a Neolithic hut by the moor. A young boy brings him food. The mystery of the stranger has an entertaining build up, that culminates in finding out the stranger is Sherlock Holmes. He has been staying in the hut, undercover investigation.
He and Watson compare notes. Holmes has discovered that Laura and Mr. Stapleton are close and that Miss Stapleton is actually his wife. Stapleton is actually the villain. He used his wife to lure Sir Henry and Laura. Then he seduced Laura and used her to get to Sir Charles. Sherlock and Watson decide to tell Laura the truth about Stapleton, hoping to change her loyalties. But first, they hear a scream from the moors. At first, they think they have discovered the body of Sir Henry, but, it turns out that Barrymore had given some old clothes of Sir Henry’s to Selden. The hound was given Sir Henry’s lost boot to sniff and went for Seldon wearing the clothes. Stapleton arrives thinking to find Sir Henry and is surprised it is not him. Sherlock leads Stapleton to believe he is finished with this case and is going back to London.
After arriving back at Baskerville Hall, Sherlock informs Mrs. Barrymore of the death of her brother and notices a portrait of Hugo Baskerville. He suddenly knows the motive for Stapelton’s villainy. He is a blood relative of Hugo’s and obviously just as cruel.
The next morning the plan to prove Stapleton’s guilt begins. Sherlock tells Sir Henry to keep his appointment for dinner at Stapleton’s and then walk home through the moors. He also, tells him that he and Watson are going back to London and to tell Stapleton they have left. Then they go to the train station where Sherlock arranges for a wire to be sent from London to Sir Henry, confirming their arrival. Afterward, he and Watson go to Laura and convince her of the truth, that Stapleton is already married and is using her. They learn that Stapleton told her he would marry her and had her contact Sir Charles for help and to meet her. Then had her miss the appointment. Meanwhile, the indomitable Detective Lestrade of Scotland Yard arrives on the scene after being contacted by Sherlock.
Sherlock, Watson and Lestrade spy at the window while Sir Henry and Stapleton are eating dinner. Stapleton goes to a shed and then back inside to his guest. Unfortunately, the weather is not cooperating for following Sir Henry to protect him, but, when he leaves across the moor they manage. When the huge beast comes after him, they all shoot it. Finally, Sherlock empties enough bullets in it to stop it just in time to save Sir Henry. They discover it is a huge dog, mastiff and bloodhound mix. It is as big as a lion and covered with phosphorescent paint. It was truly terrifying enough to frighten Sir Charles to death.
When the detectives go back to Stapleton’s home, the find Mrs. Stapleton bound and gagged. Upon release she tells them she tried to warn Sir Henry, and where to find her husband. The fog is too thick, still. So they decide to wait for the morning. Meanwhile, they will protect Mrs. Stapleton.
The next morning, Mrs. Stapleton leads them on a marked path to her husband’s hide out. They find all the proof necessary. But, no Stapleton. Sherlock thinks the swamp killed him.
Back in London, Sir Henry and Mortimer arrive at 221B Baker Street. They ask Sherlock to clarify the mystery to them. He tells them that Stapleton is actually Rodger Baskerville’s son. After some legal trouble, he and his wife moved to the area hoping to cash in on his inheritance. He made friends with Sir Charles and discovered his bad heart. Mrs. Stapleton refused to help her husband with his plan, so he romanced Laura. She sent the note and then missed the meeting.
Once Sir Henry arrived on the scene, the Stapleton’s came to London. Mrs. Stapleton tried to warn Sir Henry, but Stapleton stole his boot for the dog. Unfortunately, the first boot he took was new with no scent, so he had to take another, older boot. Sherlock had suspected the Stapleton’s from the time of the mysterious note in London because it smelled like perfume.
Mrs. Stapleton did not want to expose her husband until she learned of his relationship with Laura. That was when he tied her up and gagged her. The only loose end Sherlock has is how Stapleton planned on claiming the inheritance. Maybe from South America?
The story ends with Sir Henry accompanying Mortimer on his vacation so he can get some rest. Sherlock and Dr. Watson, plan an outing to dinner and the opera.
Sherlock Holmes – the most famous detective in literature. Sherlock Holmes is a man of indeterminate age, somewhere in his 40’s, slim with sharp eyes. He began as a detective while in school and continued through adulthood. He is an eccentric with a far-reaching education. He is a master at chemistry, cryptography, philosophy, astronomy, law, politics, geology, etc. Sherlock is also a champion boxer and swordsmen. His use of firearms is astounding. His analytical reasoning solves cases but his disregard of the accepted laws means the authorities don’t always know he’s solved them.
Dr. John Watson – a medical doctor and friend of Sherlock Holmes. He served in the Anglo-Afghan War where he was wounded. When he first arrived in London, he took a room with Sherlock at 221 B Baker St., but during these stories, he is married and just assists Sherlock on his cases. He writes Sherlock’s stories and publishes them, which has boosted Sherlock’s fame. Watson is continually amazed by Sherlock’s skills of deduction. He is often called upon by Sherlock for his medical skills and to bring his gun along. Watson is a crack shot. His character is the one that moves the story along by asking the right questions.
Inspector Lestrade – a detective with Scotland Yard. They think he is the best detective at Scotland Yard because Sherlock allows him to take credit for his discoveries. He is a regular visitor to Baker St. and often shares stories of his cases with Sherlock. Although Sherlock has little regard for policemen, he does think Lestrade is the best. Although at times, his speech is a bit rustic, he his well educated and dresses impeccably. As a character, his job is to make Sherlock seem even smarter. Representing the above average detectives of Scotland Yard, he still falls grossly short of Sherlock. But, he looks at Sherlock like he’s a resource and Lestrade is not afraid to use him.
Sir Henry Baskerville – the nephew of Sir Charles Baskerville. He inherits Baskerville Hall and the problems that bring. He is a robust young man of about thirty, with dark eyes. When he begins the story he is ready to battle any demon and find out what happened to his uncle. But, by the end of the story, he is tired and a bit traumatized. He survives a few attempts on his life.
Mortimer – a physician and friend to the Baskervilles. He is a genuinely nice guy who is tall and thin, dressing quite sloppy. He is also, the executor of Charles Baskerville’s estate. His intellectual interest is in phrenology, and he hopes someday to get to study Sherlock’s head.
Mr. Jack Stapleton – the son of Rodger Baskerville, the youngest Baskerville brother and the black sheep of the family. Jack is a con man. He plays himself off as an entomologist studying butterflies. But, he is actually the villain of the piece. Seducing and using a woman, even his wife, he is determined to skip to the part where he inherits all of the Baskerville. And, he doesn’t care who he has to kill to get the money.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Biography
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. A prolific writer of much renown, his books were mostly detective fiction. He is most famous for the Sherlock Holmes stories, but also wrote such things as the Lost World. He also popularized the mystery of the wreck of the Mary Celeste and wrote about Professor Challenger, a rude, crude, genius.
Doyle was a highly trained doctor who started out his career as a ship’s doctor. When he came to settle in London, he opened up a practice and while waiting for patients, he began to write. When he first tried to get his stories published, he had trouble, like most writers. But, when he finally started selling his Sherlock Holmes stories to the Strand Magazine, they began to gather a following. When he became tired of Sherlock he tried to stop writing him, even charging a huge price. But, his publisher agreed to the price, making Doyle one of the highest paid authors of his time. Doyle tried to kill Sherlock along with Professor Moriarty. But, the outcry was so huge, that he had to bring him back and write that only Moriarty had died.
After writing The War in South Africa: It’s Cause and Conduct, Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted by King Edward VII. The English government had taken a lot of flack for their part in the war. They hoped that the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would redeem them. He had already written books and articles that could be used for propaganda. As the author of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle was often mistaken for the fictitious character. But, since the books took an untold amount of research, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was often able to assist the police. He also helped investigate a few criminal cases and opened up two cold cases, exonerating the men falsely accused. Because of his work The Court of Criminal Appeal was established.
Because of a string of losses of loved ones close together, including his wife, son and two brothers, Doyle became a spiritualist. He joined the Ghost Club, and became friends with Harry Houdini, until Harry refused to admit his magic was more than just illusion. Doyle became convinced Houdini was a mystic. When Houdini denied the charge, their friendship ended.
In July of 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle passed away due to a heart attack. His last words were to his wife, he said, “you are wonderful.” He was originally buried in the rose garden behind his manor, because he was a spiritualist and not a Christian, he couldn’t be buried in a church. But, when his wife passed, he was reburied next to his wife in Minstead churchyard in Hamshire. The inscription on his gravestone is; “Steel True/ Blade Straight/ Arthur Conan Doyle/ Knight, Patriot, Physician, and a Man of Letters.”