|The Hound of the Baskervilles|
SIR HENRY BASKERVILLE and Dr. Mortimer
were ready upon the appointed day, and we started as arranged for Devonshire. Mr. Sherlock
Holmes drove with me to the station and gave me his last parting injunctions and advice.
No, we have no news of any kind, said Dr. Mortimer in answer to my friends questions. I can swear to one thing, and that is that we have not been shadowed during the last two days. We have never gone out without keeping a sharp watch, and no one could have escaped our notice.
You have always kept together, I presume?
Except yesterday afternoon. I usually give up one day to pure amusement when I come to town, so I spent it at the Museum of the College of Surgeons.
And I went to look at the folk in the park, said Baskerville. But we had no trouble of any kind.
It was imprudent, all the same, said Holmes, shaking his head and looking very grave. I beg, Sir Henry, that you will not go about alone. Some great misfortune will befall you if you do. Did you get your other boot?
No, sir, it is gone forever.
Indeed. That is very interesting. Well, good-bye, he added as the train began to glide down the platform. Bear in mind, Sir Henry, one of the phrases in that queer old legend which Dr. Mortimer has read to us and avoid the moor in those hours of darkness when the powers of evil are exalted.
I looked back at the platform when we had left it far behind and saw the tall, austere figure of Holmes standing motionless and gazing after us.
The journey was a swift and pleasant one, and I spent it in making the more intimate acquaintance of my two companions and in playing with Dr. Mortimers spaniel. In a very few hours the brown earth had become ruddy, the brick had changed to granite, and red cows grazed in well-hedged fields where the lush grasses and more luxuriant vegetation spoke of a richer, if a damper, climate. Young Baskerville stared eagerly out of the window and cried aloud with delight as he recognized the familiar features of the Devon scenery.
 Ive been over a good part of the world since I left it, Dr. Watson, said he; but I have never seen a place to compare with it.
I never saw a Devonshire man who did not swear by his county, I remarked.
It depends upon the breed of men quite as much as on the county, said Dr. Mortimer. A glance at our friend here reveals the rounded head of the Celt, which carries inside it the Celtic enthusiasm and power of attachment. Poor Sir Charless head was of a very rare type, half Gaelic, half Ivernian in its characteristics. But you were very young when you last saw Baskerville Hall, were you not?
I was a boy in my teens at the time of my fathers death and had never seen the Hall, for he lived in a little cottage on the South Coast. Thence I went straight to a friend in America. I tell you it is all as new to me as it is to Dr. Watson, and Im as keen as possible to see the moor.
Are you? Then your wish is easily granted, for there is your first sight of the moor, said Dr. Mortimer, pointing out of the carriage window.
Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a gray, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream. Baskerville sat for a long time, his eyes fixed upon it, and I read upon his eager face how much it meant to him, this first sight of that strange spot where the men of his blood had held sway so long and left their mark so deep. There he sat, with his tweed suit and his American accent, in the corner of a prosaic railway-carriage, and yet as I looked at his dark and expressive face I felt more than ever how true a descendant he was of that long line of high-blooded, fiery, and masterful men. There were pride, valour, and strength in his thick brows, his sensitive nostrils, and his large hazel eyes. If on that forbidding moor a difficult and dangerous quest should lie before us, this was at least a comrade for whom one might venture to take a risk with the certainty that he would bravely share it.
The train pulled up at a small wayside station and we all descended. Outside, beyond the low, white fence, a wagonette with a pair of cobs was waiting. Our coming was evidently a great event, for station-master and porters clustered round us to carry out our luggage. It was a sweet, simple country spot, but I was surprised to observe that by the gate there stood two soldierly men in dark uniforms who leaned upon their short rifles and glanced keenly at us as we passed. The coachman, a hard-faced, gnarled little fellow, saluted Sir Henry Baskerville, and in a few minutes we were flying swiftly down the broad, white road. Rolling pasture lands curved upward on either side of us, and old gabled houses peeped out from amid the thick green foliage, but behind the peaceful and sunlit countryside there rose ever, dark against the evening sky, the long, gloomy curve of the moor, broken by the jagged and sinister hills.
The wagonette swung round into a side road, and we curved upward through deep lanes worn by centuries of wheels, high banks on either side, heavy with dripping moss and fleshy harts-tongue ferns. Bronzing bracken and mottled bramble gleamed in the light of the sinking sun. Still steadily rising, we passed over a narrow granite bridge and skirted a noisy stream which gushed swiftly down, foaming and roaring amid the gray boulders. Both road and stream wound up through a valley dense with scrub oak and fir. At every turn Baskerville gave an exclamation of delight, looking eagerly about him and asking countless questions. To his eyes all seemed beautiful, but to me a tinge of melancholy lay upon the countryside, which bore so clearly the mark of the waning year. Yellow leaves carpeted the  lanes and fluttered down upon us as we passed. The rattle of our wheels died away as we drove through drifts of rotting vegetationsad gifts, as it seemed to me, for Nature to throw before the carriage of the returning heir of the Baskervilles.
Halloa! cried Dr. Mortimer, what is this?
A steep curve of heath-clad land, an outlying spur of the moor, lay in front of us. On the summit, hard and clear like an equestrian statue upon its pedestal, was a mounted soldier, dark and stern, his rifle poised ready over his forearm. He was watching the road along which we travelled.
What is this, Perkins? asked Dr. Mortimer.
Our driver half turned in his seat.
Theres a convict escaped from Princetown, sir. Hes been out three days now, and the warders watch every road and every station, but theyve had no sight of him yet. The farmers about here dont like it, sir, and thats a fact.
Well, I understand that they get five pounds if they can give information.
Yes, sir, but the chance of five pounds is but a poor thing compared to the chance of having your throat cut. You see, it isnt like any ordinary convict. This is a man that would stick at nothing.
Who is he, then?
It is Selden, the Notting Hill murderer.
I remembered the case well, for it was one in which Holmes had taken an interest on account of the peculiar ferocity of the crime and the wanton brutality which had marked all the actions of the assassin. The commutation of his death sentence had been due to some doubts as to his complete sanity, so atrocious was his conduct. Our wagonette had topped a rise and in front of us rose the huge expanse of the moor, mottled with gnarled and craggy cairns and tors. A cold wind swept down from it and set us shivering. Somewhere there, on that desolate plain, was lurking this fiendish man, hiding in a burrow like a wild beast, his heart full of malignancy against the whole race which had cast him out. It needed but this to complete the grim suggestiveness of the barren waste, the chilling wind, and the darkling sky. Even Baskerville fell silent and pulled his overcoat more closely around him.
We had left the fertile country behind and beneath us. We looked back on it now, the slanting rays of a low sun turning the streams to threads of gold and glowing on the red earth new turned by the plough and the broad tangle of the woodlands. The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with no creeper to break its harsh outline. Suddenly we looked down into a cuplike depression, patched with stunted oaks and firs which had been twisted and bent by the fury of years of storm. Two high, narrow towers rose over the trees. The driver pointed with his whip.
Baskerville Hall, said he.
Its master had risen and was staring with flushed cheeks
and shining eyes. A few minutes later we had reached the lodge-gates, a maze of fantastic
tracery in wrought iron, with weather-bitten pillars on either side, blotched with
lichens, and surmounted by the boars heads of the Baskervilles. The lodge was a ruin
of black granite and bared ribs of rafters, but facing it was a new building, half
constructed, the first fruit of Sir Charless South African gold.
A tall man had stepped from the shadow of the porch to open
the door of the wagonette. The figure of a woman was silhouetted against the yellow light
of the hall. She came out and helped the man to hand down our bags.
My word, it isnt a very cheerful place,
said Sir Henry. I suppose one can tone down to it, but I feel a bit out of the
picture at present. I dont wonder that my uncle got a little jumpy if he lived all
alone in such a house as this. However, if it suits you, we will retire early to-night,
and perhaps things may seem more cheerful in the morning.
|David Soucek, 1998|