The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 2: The curse of the Baskervilles
Mr. Sherlock Holmes
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
"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
"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
"Has anything escaped me?" I asked with some self-importance. "I trust that there is nothing of consequence which I
"I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions
were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to
be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided
towards the truth. Not that you are entirely wrong in this instance. The man is certainly a country practitioner. And he walks
a good deal."
"Then I was right."
"To that extent."
"But that was all."
"No, no, my dear Watson, not all — by no means all. I would
suggest, for example, that a presentation to a doctor is more
likely to come from a hospital than from a hunt, and that when
the initials 'C.C.' are placed before that hospital the words
'Charing Cross' very naturally suggest themselves."
"You may be right."
"The probability lies in that direction. And if we take this as a
working hypothesis we have a fresh basis from which to start our
construction of this unknown visitor."
"Well, then, supposing that 'C.C.H.' does stand for 'Charing
Cross Hospital,' what further inferences may we draw?"
"Do none suggest themselves? You know my methods. Apply
"I can only think of the obvious conclusion that the man has
practised in town before going to the country."
"I think that we might venture a little farther than this. Look
at it in this light. On what occasion would it be most probable
that such a presentation would be made? When would his friends
unite to give him a pledge of their good will? Obviously at the
moment when Dr. Mortimer withdrew from the service of the
hospital in order to start in practice for himself. We know there
has been a presentation. We believe there has been a change
from a town hospital to a country practice. Is it, then, stretching
our inference too far to say that the presentation was on the
occasion of the change?"
"It certainly seems probable."
"Now, you will observe that he could not have been on the
staff of the hospital, since only a man well-established in a
London practice could hold such a position, and such a one
would not drift into the country. What was he, then? If he was in
the hospital and yet not on the staff he could only have been a
house-surgeon or a house-physician — little more than a senior
student. And he left five years ago — the date is on the stick. So
your grave, middle-aged family practitioner vanishes into thin
air, my dear Watson, and there emerges a young fellow under
thirty, amiable, unambitious, absent-minded, and the possessor
of a favourite dog, which I should describe roughly as being
larger than a terrier and smaller than a mastiff."
I laughed incredulously as Sherlock Holmes leaned back in his
settee and blew little wavering rings of smoke up to the ceiling.
"As to the latter part, I have no means of checking you," said
I, "but at least it is not difficult to find out a few particulars
about the man's age and professional career." From my small
medical shelf I took down the Medical Directory and turned up
the name. There were several Mortimers, but only one who
could be our visitor. I read his record aloud.
"Mortimer, James, M.R.C.S., 1882, Grimpen, Dartmoor,
Devon. House-surgeon, from 1882 to 1884, at Charing
Cross Hospital. Winner of the Jackson prize for Comparative Pathology, with essay entitled 'Is Disease a Reversion?'
Corresponding member of the Swedish Pathological Society. Author of 'Some Freaks of Atavism' (Lancet 1882).
'Do We Progress?' (Journal of Psychology, March, 1883).
Medical Officer for the parishes of Grimpen, Thorsley, and
"No mention of that local hunt, Watson," said Holmes with a
mischievous smile, "but a country doctor, as you very astutely
observed. I think that I am fairly justified in my inferences. As
to the adjectives, I said, if I remember right, amiable, unambitious, and absent-minded. It is my experience that it is only an
amiable man in this world who receives testimonials, only an
unambitious one who abandons a London career for the country,
and only an absent-minded one who leaves his stick and not his
visiting-card after waiting an hour in your room."
"And the dog?"
"Has been in the habit of carrying this stick behind his
master. Being a heavy stick the dog has held it tightly by the
middle, and the marks of his teeth are very plainly visible. The
dog's jaw, as shown in the space between these marks, is too
broad in my opinion for a terrier and not broad enough for a
mastiff. It may have been — yes, by Jove, it is a curly-haired
He had risen and paced the room as he spoke. Now he halted
in the recess of the window. There was such a ring of conviction
in his voice that I glanced up in surprise.
"My dear fellow, how can you possibly be so sure of that?"
"For the very simple reason that I see the dog himself on our
very door-step, and there is the ring of its owner. Don't move, I
beg you, Watson. He is a professional brother of yours, and your
presence may be of assistance to me. Now is the dramatic
moment of fate, Watson, when you hear a step upon the stair
which is walking into your life, and you know not whether for
good or ill. What does Dr. James Mortimer, the man of science,
ask of Sherlock Holmes, the specialist in crime? Come in!"
The appearance of our visitor was a surprise to me, since I
had expected a typical country practitioner. He was a very tall,
thin man, with a long nose like a beak, which jutted out between
two keen, gray eyes, set closely together and sparkling brightly
from behind a pair of gold-rimmed glasses. He was clad in a
professional but rather slovenly fashion, for his frock-coat was
dingy and his trousers frayed. Though young, his long back was
already bowed, and he walked with a forward thrust of his head
and a general air of peering benevolence. As he entered his eyes
fell upon the stick in Holmes's hand, and he ran towards it with
an exclamation of joy. "I am so very glad," said he. "I was not
sure whether I had left it here or in the Shipping Office. I would
not lose that stick for the world."
"A presentation, I see," said Holmes.
"From Charing Cross Hospital?"
"From one or two friends there on the occasion of my
"Dear, dear, that's bad!" said Holmes, shaking his head.
Dr. Mortimer blinked through his glasses in mild astonishment.
"Why was it bad?"
"Only that you have disarranged our little deductions. Your
marriage, you say?"
"Yes, sir. I married, and so left the hospital, and with it all
hopes of a consulting practice. It was necessary to make a home
of my own."
"Come, come, we are not so far wrong, after all," said
Holmes. "And now, Dr. James Mortimer —"
"Mister, sir, Mister — a humble M.R.C.S."
"And a man of precise mind, evidently."
"A dabbler in science, Mr. Holmes, a picker up of shells on
the shores of the great unknown ocean. I presume that it is Mr.
Sherlock Holmes whom I am addressing and not —"
"No, this is my friend Dr. Watson."
"Glad to meet you, sir. I have heard your name mentioned in
connection with that of your friend. You interest me very much,
Mr. Holmes. I had hardly expected so dolichocephalic a skull or
such well-marked supra-orbital development. Would you have
any objection to my running my finger along your parietal
fissure? A cast of your skull, sir, until the original is available,
would be an ornament to any anthropological museum. It is not
my intention to be fulsome, but I confess that I covet your
Sherlock Holmes waved our strange visitor into a chair. "You
are an enthusiast in your line of thought, I perceive, sir, as I am
in mine," said he. "I observe from your forefinger that you
make your own cigarettes. Have no hesitation in lighting one."
The man drew out paper and tobacco and twirled the one up in
the other with surprising dexterity. He had long, quivering fingers as agile and restless as the antennae of an insect.
Holmes was silent, but his little darting glances showed me
the interest which he took in our curious companion.
"I presume, sir," said he at last, "that it was not merely for
the purpose of examining my skull that you have done me the
honour to call here last night and again to-day?"
"No, sir, no; though I am happy to have had the opportunity
of doing that as well. I came to you, Mr. Holmes, because I
recognized that I am myself an unpractical man and because I am
suddenly confronted with a most serious and extraordinary problem. Recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert
in Europe —"
"Indeed, sir! May I inquire who has the honour to be the
first?" asked Holmes with some asperity.
"To the man of precisely scientific mind the work of Monsieur Bertillon must always appeal strongly."
"Then had you not better consult him?"
"I said, sir, to the precisely scientific mind. But as a practical
man of affairs it is acknowledged that you stand alone. I trust,
sir, that I have not inadvertently —"
"Just a little," said Holmes. "I think, Dr. Mortimer, you
would do wisely if without more ado you would kindly tell me
plainly what the exact nature of the problem is in which you
demand my assistance."
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 2: The curse of the Baskervilles