As I headed back to Baker Street, the harsh winds pierced my face. My head was spinning with the thought of Sir Charles. I hoped that I made the right decision not telling the coroner my suspicions. They said Sherlock Holmes was the best there was. He may probably be the only man in England who could confirm my inklings to be true—as much as I had hoped he would prove me wrong.
I stood at the doorstep of 221B and an old plump woman answered the door. She led me upstairs to the only room on the floor. The smell of cigarettes was so strong that I was afraid it would cloud my thoughts. Inside the room were seated two men—one tall, with slicked-back hair, smoking a pipe and the other round-faced, flushed and holding my cane. The plump woman from the door introduced me to the duo. The tall man—Sherlock handed me my cane and claimed it to be a remarkable present. How did he know that it was gifted to me? Once seated, having no time to spare, I gathered my thoughts.
I told Holmes that my friend was in grave danger. Upon hearing that it was Henry Baskerville, heir to the estate of Baskerville, Holmes and Watson exchanged a look of what seemed to be bemusement. I confessed to Holmes my fears—that Henry’s life would be snuffed out just like that of the four generations before. Holmes replied back with the death of Sir Charles’ due to “heart failure” as the news reported it. I chortled and narrated the incident at the coroner’s office once Sir Charles’ body had been found—wherein I was made to deem his death due to natural causes despite my doubts that I hid from the police and rushed to bring to the attention of Holmes himself. He remained silent, smoking his pipe while I explained the incident.
I waited a while before proceeding, hoping he would say something, but when he didn’t I took that as a signal to continue. I told him about the footprints I had seen a few yards away from Sir Charles’ corpse to which he questioned, “A man’s or a woman’s?” Would he believe me to be crazy if I told him what I really thought? Would he have a good laugh after which I would become another tea-party anecdote? I replied, “They were the footprints of a gigantic hound.”
He immediately asked me why I hadn’t reported it. I told him it was because the downpour of the following day had completely erased the footprints, leaving no room for belief that he was right. I was beginning to think that I was pushing him further towards chuckling and walking me out the door. In a desperate attempt to keep him listening, I pulled out the papers I had gotten hold of being an executive of the estate.
I handed him the legal document and he looked at it inquisitively. He read the title out loud—the legend of the Hound of Baskerville. Afraid that an official document would bore him, I offered to read it out.
Once I finished, Holmes stood up and started prancing across the room, deep in thought. He just muttered, “Interesting, very interesting” under his breath. Was he unable to grasp the dire nature of the situation? Henry was to arrive from Canada the very next day! The news had reported it too! Holmes turned around and said, “What I suggest is for you to bring Henry down here the moment he arrives.” It felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest and I took in my first breath in days.
Thanking him and Watson, I began to take my leave. Holmes stopped me near the doorway and handed me back my cane. He then knowingly looked at me and asked, “Dr. Mortimer, you have a dog, don’t you?”. I felt myself break into a sweat and replied rather harshly that I didn’t. He then pointed at the marks on my cane. Annoyed, I ended the conversation, saying, “I used to have a dog, a small spaniel.” Wishing the two of them good night, I left. As I descended the stairs, I heard the sound of a violin—a melancholy note that reminded me of the cruel death of my old friend.
The next day, I went to the docks to pick Henry up. He was tall, handsome and strutted like a man with purpose and ambition. While we were in the carriage on the way to his hotel, the most peculiar thing happened. A stone thrown from across the street shattered the window of our carriage. Along with the glass pieces, a note fell on the floor. Henry picked it up and opened it cautiously and it was exactly what I had foreseen—a threat written in newspaper cutouts from The London Times. Without thinking twice or consulting Henry, I ordered the driver to take a detour towards Baker Street.
Upon looking at the threat, Holmes asked Henry if anything else unusual had happened since his arrival in London. Henry chuckled and said, “Well, one of my shoes went missing. Say, what is all this about—Dr. Mortimer bringing me to see you, the letter…”
Holmes replied with an indifferent expression, “It is about your inheritance, Henry and Dr. Mortimer believes it to be unsafe for you to head down there, for looms there the threat of a supernatural creature—a hound.” With a boyish grin, Henry replied, “Oh a family ghost. Why didn’t you tell me earlier, Dr. Mortimer?”Holmes chimed in, “The doctor will tell you all about it now on the way back to your hotel.”
I narrated the story of The Hounds of Baskerville to Henry who insisted that we walk back to the hotel. By the time I had finished, he was convinced that all of it was a story told to children to make them go to bed. He had his mind set on going to Baskerville and nothing I could say would change that. At the hotel, we were joined by Holmes who informed Henry that he had been shadowed by a cabbie near Baker Street. Henry, much to my surprise, still seemed unbothered. Smoking a pipe, Holmes again brought up the missing boot. Henry replied that while the pair was back, a shoe from another pair was missing and the chambermaid who had made everyone look for it, was still unsuccessful in finding it.
The arrival of a jolly faced Watson intrigued me. Behind him was a small hunched man who was introduced to be John Clayton, the cabbie from Baker Street. When questioned about his assignment, Clayton, who seemed rather afraid, replied that he was approached by a detective named Sherlock Holmes for two guineas. While everyone in the room was amused by the imposter, I was only getting the jitters. Bidding adieu to Clayton, Henry looked at me and grinned. He declared that he was heading to Dartmoor tomorrow. I looked at Holmes and pleaded with him to join, to which he said he had engagements in London. To little reassurance, he pointed to Watson who would be joining us at Dartmoor.
The journey was a pleasant one spent getting to know my two companions. Dr Watson and Henry looked out the window as the climate got damper, Henry exclaiming with excitement at the sight of recognising the Devonshire scenery. It wasn’t long till the train stopped at the small station and we were descending. Our arrival was evidently a big deal since the station master and porters gathered around us to carry our luggage. Perkins, the Baskerville hall’s coachman, had come to receive us. This warm welcome filled my heart but I was surprised to see two armed guards by the gate. Ours is a small county and it is unusual to see armed guards running about. Perkins informed us that a convict named Selden was on the loose. This added a layer of gloom to the journey and we were rather quieter the rest of the way.
We were greeted by Barrymore and his wife upon arriving at the hall. They had been taking care of the estate during the absence of the owners. As they helped us with our baggage, I insisted on heading home but they compelled me to stay for supper. They had always been very pleasant people, which was why I was shocked to learn that they planned on leaving the Baskerville service once Henry was settled. They cited the reason to be their grief and fear over Sir Charles’ death. I hated to see them leave but definitely understood. I, myself, had been staying up at night thinking about his cruel fate.
It was right after supper that the front bell rang and Mrs Barrymore rushed to get the door. It was Mr Jack Stapleton and his sister Beryl, the next-door neighbours who had come to greet the Young Baskerville. We exchanged greetings and pleasantries. Jack seemed a bit different from his usual self. He acted over-friendly and asked too many questions. Beautiful Beryl, on the other hand, was her usual charming self, and warned Henry of the place, telling him to be careful. After the encounter, as I headed back home I heard a dog howling and started running. I bolted the door as soon as I reached home and stayed up in my bed till the candle wore out.
The next morning, a shadowy dread followed me all the way to the manor. I was informed by Dr Watson that he had his suspicions about Mrs Barrymore. He found her lurking around at night. A shadowy figure was also seen around the moor. He had also learned of connections between Sir Charles and Laura Lyons. Truly remarkable how good of a detective Dr Waston had shown himself to be, in one night at that. Throughout the next few days, Dr Watson kept an eye on Mys Barrymore who had been sneaking around at night. It was later discovered that she was helping the escaped convict, who was her brother, by giving him food at night. This was a huge shock but I was glad that she did not have anything to do with the murder. Laura Lyons however, seemed elusive with the answers.
Dr Watson tracked down the tall shadowy figure. When he told us the identity of this figure the next day, we couldn’t believe our ears.
“Holmes! You were the shadow? What? I don’t understand..”, these were the words I uttered when I thought my senses betrayed me. Turned out, Sherlock Holmes had been hiding in the moors all this while. I did not understand this strange joke, no matter how good of a detective he may have been. He said he wanted to observe the moors from a distance so he sent us here alone. He also said that he had already solved the case, the guts on this man.
According to Mr Holmes, the hound was real and belonged to Stapleton, who had seduced Laura and convinced her to lure Sir Charles out of his house by night, to frighten him with the apparition of the legendary hound. Stapleton was secretly a Baskerville and wanted the inheritance for himself. This sudden appearance of the hound frightened the superstitious Sir Charles and he suffered a heart attack.
The scattered pieces came together, it all suddenly made sense. Now I understood why Mr Holmes was considered such a great detective despite his eccentricities.
Henry was furious and wanted Stapleton to be punished. I suggested talking to the police, but Sherlock pointed out that the evidence would not be enough for the jury to incarcerate Stapleton. There was only one way left to prove his guilt—to catch him red-handed. The plan was made to use Henry as bait to lure Stapleton into attacking him with the hound.
That night, the opportunity came. Stapleton invited Henry for a late supper. Henry agreed, knowing that he would be attacked on his way back home. He headed home and as suspected was attacked by the enormous Stapleton pet. Despite the dense fog, Holmes and Watson were able to subdue the beast. Stapleton, upon discovering what had ensued, started to flee the scene in a panic but fell into the marshlands. We tried to save him before the quicksand engulfed him but were too late. The marsh swallowed him whole and he was gone. We went back to his house only to find Beryl Stapleton tied up there. It turns out she was his wife and not his sister. He only forced her to act as such so that she could seduce Young Henry. Sherlock deduced that Henry’s shoe that had been stolen was to give the hound his scent and that the anonymous warnings were from Beryl who had started developing feelings for Henry.
All these revelations were very difficult for me to process. Sir Charles was gone, his murderer gone as well. Henry had barely managed to stay alive. It was as if a storm had just hit me without any warning. Anyway, I couldn’t be happier that I had mustered my courage and made my way to London a week ago. Now it felt like the sun was finally shining on our small county as an age-old storm had just been cleared. And the sun was here to stay.
Written by Swagat Sarkar and Lekhya Reddy for MTTN
Edited by Anushka Bhattacharyya for MTTN
Featured image by Suprita V for MTTN