Chapter 3: The Problem |
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 5: Three Broken Threads
Sir Henry Baskerville
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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,
"It is here in the corner."
"Might I trouble you for it — the inside page, please, with the
leading articles?" He glanced swiftly over it, running his eyes up
and down the columns. "Capital article this on free trade. Permit
me to give you an extract from it.
"You may be cajoled into imagining that your own special trade or your own industry will be encouraged by a
protective tariff, but it stands to reason that such legislation
must in the long run keep away wealth from the country,
diminish the value of our imports, and lower the general
conditions of life in this island.
"What do you think of that, Watson?" cried Holmes in high glee,
rubbing his hands together with satisfaction. "Don't you think
that is an admirable sentiment?"
Dr. Mortimer looked at Holmes with an air of professional
interest, and Sir Henry Baskerville turned a pair of puzzled dark
eyes upon me.
"I don't know much about the tariff and things of that kind,"
said he, "but it seems to me we've got a bit off the trail so far as
that note is concerned."
"On the contrary, I think we are particularly hot upon the
trail, Sir Henry. Watson here knows more about my methods
than you do, but I fear that even he has not quite grasped the
significance of this sentence."
"No, I confess that I see no connection."
"And yet, my dear Watson, there is so very close a connection that the one is extracted out of the other. 'You,' 'your,'
'your,' 'life,' 'reason,' 'value,' 'keep away,' 'from the.' Don't
you see now whence these words have been taken?"
"By thunder, you're right! Well, if that isn't smart!" cried Sir
"If any possible doubt remained it is settled by the fact that
'keep away' and 'from the' are cut out in one piece."
"Well, now — so it is!"
"Really, Mr. Holmes, this exceeds anything which I could
have imagined," said Dr. Mortimer, gazing at my friend in
amazement. "I could understand anyone saying that the words
were from a newspaper; but that you should name which, and
add that it came from the leading article, is really one of the
most remarkable things which I have ever known. How did you
"I presume, Doctor, that you could tell the skull of a negro
from that of an Esquimau?"
"Because that is my special hobby. The differences are obvious. The supra-orbital crest, the facial angle, the maxillary curve,
"But this is my special hobby, and the differences are equally
obvious. There is as much difference to my eyes between the
leaded bourgeois type of a Times article and the slovenly print of
an evening half-penny paper as there could be between your
negro and your Esquimau. The detection of types is one of the
most elementary branches of knowledge to the special expert in
crime, though I confess that once when I was very young I
confused the Leeds Mercury with the Western Morning News.
But a Times leader is entirely distinctive, and these words could
have been taken from nothing else. As it was done yesterday the
strong probability was that we should find the words in yesterday's issue."
"So far as I can follow you, then, Mr. Holmes," said Sir
Henry Baskerville, "someone cut out this message with a
"Nail-scissors," said Holmes. "You can see that it was a
very short-bladed scissors, since the cutter had to take two snips
over 'keep away.' "
"That is so. Someone, then, cut out the message with a pair
of short-bladed scissors, pasted it with paste —"
"Gum," said Holmes.
"With gum on to the paper. But I want to know why the word
'moor' should have been written?"
"Because he could not find it in print. The other words were
all simple and might be found in any issue, but 'moor' would be
"Why, of course, that would explain it. Have you read anything else in this message, Mr. Holmes?"
"There are one or two indications, and yet the utmost pains
have been taken to remove all clues. The address, you observe
is printed in rough characters. But the Times is a paper which is
seldom found in any hands but those of the highly educated. We
may take it, therefore, that the letter was composed by an
educated man who wished to pose as an uneducated one, and his
effort to conceal his own writing suggests that that writing might
be known, or come to be known, by you. Again, you will
observe that the words are not gummed on in an accurate line,
but that some are much higher than others. 'Life,' for example
is quite out of its proper place. That may point to carelessness or
it may point to agitation and hurry upon the part of the cutter. On
the whole I incline to the latter view, since the matter was
evidently important, and it is unlikely that the composer of such
a letter would be careless. If he were in a hurry it opens up the
interesting question why he should be in a hurry, since any letter
posted up to early morning would reach Sir Henry before he
would leave his hotel. Did the composer fear an interruption —
and from whom?"
"We are coming now rather into the region of guesswork,"
said Dr. Mortimer.
"Say, rather, into the region where we balance probabilities
and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination, but we have always some material basis on which to start
our speculation. Now, you would call it a guess, no doubt, but I
am almost certain that this address has been written in a hotel."
"How in the world can you say that?"
"If you examine it carefully you will see that both the pen and
the ink have given the writer trouble. The pen has spluttered
twice in a single word and has run dry three times in a short
address, showing that there was very little ink in the bottle.
Now, a private pen or ink-bottle is seldom allowed to be in such
a state, and the combination of the two must be quite rare. But
you know the hotel ink and the hotel pen, where it is rare to get
anything else. Yes, I have very little hesitation in saying that
could we examine the waste-paper baskets of the hotels around
Charing Cross until we found the remains of the mutilated Times
leader we could lay our hands straight upon the person who sent
this singular message. Halloa! Halloa! What's this?"
He was carefully examining the foolscap, upon which the
words were pasted, holding it only an inch or two from his eyes.
"Nothing," said he, throwing it down. "It is a blank half-sheet of paper, without even a water-mark upon it. I think we
have drawn as much as we can from this curious letter; and now,
Sir Henry, has anything else of interest happened to you since
you have been in London?"
"Why, no, Mr. Holmes. I think not."
"You have not observed anyone follow or watch you?"
"I seem to have walked right into the thick of a dime novel,"
said our visitor. "Why in thunder should anyone follow or watch
"We are coming to that. You have nothing else to report to us
before we go into this matter?"
"Well, it depends upon what you think worth reporting."
"I think anything out of the ordinary routine of life well worth
Sir Henry smiled.
"I don't know much of British life yet, for I have spent nearly
all my time in the States and in Canada. But I hope that to lose
one of your boots is not part of the ordinary routine of life over
"You have lost one of your boots?"
"My dear sir," cried Dr. Mortimer, "it is only mislaid. You
will find it when you return to the hotel. What is the use of
troubling Mr. Holmes with trifles of this kind?"
"Well, he asked me for anything outside the ordinary routine."
"Exactly," said Holmes, "however foolish the incident may
seem. You have lost one of your boots, you say?"
"Well, mislaid it, anyhow. I put them both outside my door
last night, and there was only one in the morning. I could get no
sense out of the chap who cleans them. The worst of it is that I
only bought the pair last night in the Strand, and I have never
had them on."
"If you have never worn them, why did you put them out to
"They were tan boots and had never been varnished. That was
why I put them out."
"Then I understand that on your arrival in London yesterday
you went out at once and bought a pair of boots?"
"I did a good deal of shopping. Dr. Mortimer here went round
with me. You see, if I am to be squire down there I must dress
the part, and it may be that I have got a little careless in my ways
out West. Among other things I bought these brown boots — gave
six dollars for them — and had one stolen before ever I had them
on my feet."
"It seems a singularly useless thing to steal," said Sherlock
Holmes. "I confess that I share Dr. Mortimer's belief that it will
not be long before the missing boot is found."
"And, now, gentlemen," said the baronet with decision, "it
seems to me that I have spoken quite enough about the little that
I know. It is time that you kept your promise and gave me a full
account of what we are all driving at."
"Your request is a very reasonable one," Holmes answered.
"Dr. Mortimer, I think you could not do better than to tell your
story as you told it to us."
Thus encouraged, our scientific friend drew his papers from
his pocket and presented the whole case as he had done upon the
morning before. Sir Henry Baskerville listened with the deepest
attention and with an occasional exclamation of surprise.
"Well, I seem to have come into an inheritance with a vengeance," said he when the long narrative was finished. "Of
course, I've heard of the hound ever since I was in the nursery.
It's the pet story of the family, though I never thought of taking
it seriously before. But as to my uncle's death — well, it all
seems boiling up in my head, and I can't get it clear yet. You
don't seem quite to have made up your mind whether it's a case
for a policeman or a clergyman."
"And now there's this affair of the letter to me at the hotel. I
suppose that fits into its place."
"It seems to show that someone knows more than we do about
what goes on upon the moor," said Dr. Mortimer.
"And also," said Holmes, "that someone is not ill-disposed
towards you, since they warn you of danger."
"Or it may be that they wish, for their own purposes, to scare
"Well, of course, that is possible also. I am very much
indebted to you, Dr. Mortimer, for introducing me to a problem
which presents several interesting alternatives. But the practical
point which we now have to decide, Sir Henry, is whether it is or
is not advisable for you to go to Baskerville Hall."
"Why should I not go?"
"There seems to be danger."
"Do you mean danger from this family fiend or do you mean
danger from human beings?"
"Well, that is what we have to find out."
"Whichever it is, my answer is fixed. There is no devil in
hell, Mr. Holmes, and there is no man upon earth who can
prevent me from going to the home of my own people, and you
may take that to be my final answer." His dark brows knitted
and his face flushed to a dusky red as he spoke. It was evident
that the fiery temper of the Baskervilles was not extinct in this
their last representative. "Meanwhile," said he, "I have hardly
had time to think over all that you have told me. It's a big thing
for a man to have to understand and to decide at one sitting. I
should like to have a quiet hour by myself to make up my mind.
Now, look here, Mr. Holmes, it's half-past eleven now and I am
going back right away to my hotel. Suppose you and your friend,
Dr. Watson, come round and lunch with us at two. I'll be able to
tell you more clearly then how this thing strikes me."
"Is that convenient to you, Watson?"
"Then you may expect us. Shall I have a cab called?"
"I'd prefer to walk, for this affair has flurried me rather."
"I'll join you in a walk, with pleasure," said his companion.
"Then we meet again at two o'clock. Au revoir, and good morning!"
We heard the steps of our visitors descend the stair and the
bang of the front door. In an instant Holmes had changed from
the languid dreamer to the man of action.
"Your hat and boots, Watson, quick! Not a moment to lose!"
He rushed into his room in his dressing-gown and was back
again in a few seconds in a frock-coat. We hurried together down
the stairs and into the street. Dr. Mortimer and Baskerville were
still visible about two hundred yards ahead of us in the direction
of Oxford Street.
"Shall I run on and stop them?"
"Not for the world, my dear Watson. I am perfectly satisfied
with your company if you will tolerate mine. Our friends are
wise, for it is certainly a very fine morning for a walk."
He quickened his pace until we had decreased the distance
which divided us by about half. Then, still keeping a hundred
yards behind, we followed into Oxford Street and so down
Regent Street. Once our friends stopped and stared into a shop
window, upon which Holmes did the same. An instant afterwards he gave a little cry of satisfaction, and, following the
direction of his eager eyes, I saw that a hansom cab with a man
inside which had halted on the other side of the street was now
proceeding slowly onward again.
"There's our man, Watson! Come along! We'll have a good
look at him, if we can do no more."
At that instant I was aware of a bushy black beard and a pair
of piercing eyes turned upon us through the side window of the
cab. Instantly the trapdoor at the top flew up, something was
screamed to the driver, and the cab flew madly off down Regent
Street. Holmes looked eagerly round for another, but no empty
one was in sight. Then he dashed in wild pursuit amid the stream
of the traffic, but the start was too great, and already the cab was
out of sight.
"There now!" said Holmes bitterly as he emerged panting and
white with vexation from the tide of vehicles. "Was ever such
bad luck and such bad management, too? Watson, Watson, if
you are an honest man you will record this also and set it against
"Who was the man?"
"I have not an idea."
"Well, it was evident from what we have heard that Baskerville has been very closely shadowed by someone since he has
been in town. How else could it be known so quickly that it was
the Northumberland Hotel which he had chosen? If they had
followed him the first day I argued that they would follow him
also the second. You may have observed that I twice strolled
over to the window while Dr. Mortimer was reading his legend."
"Yes, I remember."
"I was looking out for loiterers in the street, but I saw none.
We are dealing with a clever man, Watson. This matter cuts very
deep, and though I have not finally made up my mind whether it
is a benevolent or a malevolent agency which is in touch with us,
I am conscious always of power and design. When our friends
left I at once followed them in the hopes of marking down their
invisible attendant. So wily was he that he had not trusted
himself upon foot, but he had availed himself of a cab so that he
could loiter behind or dash past them and so escape their notice.
His method had the additional advantage that if they were to take
a cab he was all ready to follow them. It has, however, one
"It puts him in the power of the cabman."
"What a pity we did not get the number!"
"My dear Watson, clumsy as I have been, you surely do not
seriously imagine that I neglected to get the number? No. 2704
is our man. But that is no use to us for the moment."
"I fail to see how you could have done more."
"On observing the cab I should have instantly turned and
walked in the other direction. I should then at my leisure have
hired a second cab and followed the first at a respectful distance,
or, better still, have driven to the Northumberland Hotel and
waited there. When our unknown had followed Baskerville home
we should have had the opportunity of playing his own game
upon himself and seeing where he made for. As it is, by an
indiscreet eagerness, which was taken advantage of with extraordinary quickness and energy by our opponent, we have betrayed
ourselves and lost our man."
We had been sauntering slowly down Regent Street during this
conversation, and Dr. Mortimer, with his companion, had long
vanished in front of us.
"There is no object in our following them," said Holmes.
"The shadow has departed and will not return. We must see
what further cards we have in our hands and play them with
decision. Could you swear to that man's face within the cab?"
"I could swear only to the beard."
"And so could I — from which I gather that in all probability it
was a false one. A clever man upon so delicate an errand has no
use for a beard save to conceal his features. Come in here,
He turned into one of the district messenger offices, where he
was warmly greeted by the manager.
"Ah, Wilson, I see you have not forgotten the little case in
which I had the good fortune to help you?"
"No, sir, indeed I have not. You saved my good name, and
perhaps my life."
"My dear fellow, you exaggerate. I have some recollection,
Wilson, that you had among your boys a lad named Cartwright,
who showed some ability during the investigation."
"Yes, sir, he is still with us."
"Could you ring him up? — thank you! And I should be glad to
have change of this five-pound note."
A lad of fourteen, with a bright, keen face, had obeyed the
summons of the manager. He stood now gazing with great
reverence at the famous detective.
"Let me have the Hotel Directory," said Holmes. "Thank
you! Now, Cartwright, there are the names of twenty-three
hotels here, all in the immediate neighbourhood of Charing
Cross. Do you see?"
"You will visit each of these in turn."
"You will begin in each case by giving the outside porter one
shilling. Here are twenty-three shillings."
"You will tell him that you want to see the waste-paper of
yesterday. You will say that an important telegram has miscarried and that you are looking for it. You understand?"
"But what you are really looking for is the centre page of the
Times with some holes cut in it with scissors. Here is a copy of
the Times. It is this page. You could easily recognize it, could
"In each case the outside porter will send for the hall porter,
to whom also you will give a shilling. Here are twenty-three
shillings. You will then learn in possibly twenty cases out of the
twenty-three that the waste of the day before has been burned or
removed. In the three other cases you will be shown a heap of
paper and you will look for this page of the Times among it. The
odds are enormously against your finding it. There are ten
shillings over in case of emergencies. Let me have a report by
wire at Baker Street before evening. And now, Watson, it only
remains for us to find out by wire the identity of the cabman,
No. 2704, and then we will drop into one of the Bond Street
picture galleries and fill in the time until we are due at the
Chapter 3: The Problem |
The Hound of the Baskervilles |
Chapter 5: Three Broken Threads