baskervilles, part two: never relax your precautions


“As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor.”

So reads a note received by Sir Henry, heir to the estate [worth millions] called Baskerville Hall. He’s arrived back in England after spending most of his adult life in North America. If all goes well he aims to take up residence at his new digs on the more than usually weird moors. However Mortimer [the friend who introduced him to Holmes] is worried about a big black dog suspected of killing the uncle from whom Henry inherited this delightful country home. It’s rumoured he died of fright from simply having ‘seen’ this beast. Once dead the thing began chomping on his remains. Nice neighbourhood. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

Part One can be read here.

Onward with Part Two…

“What in thunder is the meaning of that?”

This is Sir Henry asking about the above-mentioned note, which, it’s worth mentioning, is made up of words cut out from The Times. Sherlock has of course not only determined it’s from The Times but which edition of the paper… and has had waste bins in all twenty-three area hotels searched for remnants. To no avail. The only word not cut from newsprint is moor. This is in the villain’s handwriting… and will be his downfall. If indeed it is a villain at work. Or, for that matter, a he. There’s some thought to it being a do-gooder who knows of evil lurking and doesn’t want dear Sir Henry to come to harm.

Yeah, right.

More clues are the paper it’s written on [although Sherlock is pretending this is insignificant]. Ditto Sir Henry’s missing boots. One brown, one black, on consecutive days. Then the brown one is returned. Not the black. Again, Sherlock is playing casual but, being sharp as a tack, I’m taking note of all this. As for Sir Henry—he appears to be a bit of a dolt and possibly materialistic. His greatest concern is that the tan boots were new. And he can’t figure out why the thief would want only one. Oh, Henry…

Still, he’s smart enough to at least worry a little about showing up at Baskerville Hall.

Here’s how he puts it:  “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.”

Now isn’t that a civilized way to come to a decision? Take a quiet hour, meet for lunch, have a chat over a chicken Caesar and fries…  So much better than I’ll text you.

In the end, Henry decides to risk it if Watson will go with him [Sherlock’s too busy at the moment; he is Sherlock Holmes after all]. Plus, Henry’s friend, Mortimer, lives nearby somewhere on the moor. And there’s staff at the estate, Barrymore and his wife. So it’s not like he’ll be alone.

Instead of taking a cab back to the hotel, Sir Henry says… “I’d prefer to walk, for this affair has flurried me rather.”

Naturally, a cab follows Henry and Mortimer [Sherlock notices this because he is secretly following them also]. The passenger of the cab has a big black beard, which Watson sees as a clue but Sherlock says it’s probably a fake beard “… a clever man upon so delicate an errand has no use for a beard save to conceal his features.”

As Watson sets off to accompany Sir Henry, Sherlock advises: “Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions.”

Watson and Henry take the train, during which journey Watson notices that Sir Henry has “sensitive nostrils”. Once on the moor they travel by wagonette and are advised by police in the area that the Notting Hill murderer has escaped prison and is suspected to be somewhere on the moor. Oh crap [or the genteel equivalent]… just what they need.

Turns out that Barrymore, the butler at Baskerville Hall, has a black beard. And he’s acting weird. And his wife keeps crying in the night. And the local naturalist with a very pretty unmarried sister takes Watson out on the moor where they hear a “low, long moan, indescribably sad… the peasants say it is the hound of the Baskervilles calling for its prey.” The naturalist, Stapleton, says it could also be a bird, or maybe be the bog. “…the mud settling, or the water rising, or something.” Those naturalists, eh? Takes a lot to ruffle their feathers. The bog, by the way, is called Grimpen Mire… a dangerous place, filled with something like mossy quicksand. Horses are forever getting sucked into oblivion there.

Beryl Stapleton, beautiful sister of the naturalist, mistakes Watson for Henry and begs him to leave Baskerville Hall for his own safety. When she realizes her mistake she pretty much says oh, well, then, never mind. There’s a weird tension between brother and sister. He’s clearly pissed off that she’s ‘said something’ and even more pissed off that he didn’t hear what it was.

A problem of inbreeding… or are these two actually in the know?

Next up: Watson reports to Sherlock by letter. And the big question: Will this prompt a visit to nutsville by the great one himself??


what we talk about when we talk about fog


The Hounds of the Baskervilles, right?

At least that’s what I think of every single time it’s foggy. But don’t go by me. Having never read a word of Sherlock Holmes, all I know of the sleuth and Conan Doyle’s stories, generally, are bits I’ve gleaned through… I’m not sure what means… eavesdropping? It’s how I learn most things. And somewhere along the line the Baskervilles and fog got united in my mind.

This may be a sad admission but it’s a happy day for today I am reading my first Sherlockian tale and the reason is, yes, fog, which, for years I’ve referred to as being Hounds of the Baskerville weather without knowing what I’m talking about. So this foggy morning when, once again I said: Whoa, it’s all Hounds of the Baskervilles out there… I decided it was time to find out if indeed there is in fact any fog at all among these mythic puppies.

Though never cracked open, I have a The Complete Sherlock Holmes in two volumes and—on cracking it open today—the first thing I learn is that the story in question is not a story. It’s a book. News to me. There are fifteen chapters. Of which I have so far read four. I will read the rest over the weekend and report accordingly. I do this sort of thing rarely, report a reading in real time… the last being from a garret.

Right then. Off we go.

[By the way, the first thing I learn is that it’s Hound not Hounds as I’ve been saying for eons like a great pillock. Although in the context of weather, I still prefer the plural.]

Hound begins, as most doggish things do, with a stick. In this case a walking stick. And because this is a mystery, there are questions about said stick. Watson makes a few good guesses but Sherlock pooh-poohs them for reasons he makes obvious. Watson, the ideal straight man, likes to flatter Sherlock, which begs the question: does he do this because he [being DR. Watson to Sherlock’s MR. status] is privately convinced he’s the smarter of the two, or is he just a merry old soul who doesn’t like to keep score? I’m hoping it’s a combination of both.

“Some people, without possessing genius, have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”

This is Sherlock to Watson. I submit it as Exhibit ‘A’ in my case that Watson is indeed a pretty decent pal to take stuff like that on the chin.

The owner of the stick, Mortimer, has a problem. He’s to pick up Henry Baskerville, last of the [seemingly] doomed Baskervilles, and doesn’t know how to tell him the grounds of the swanky family home he’s inherited are possibly under siege by a giant black dog that renders those who see it catatonic. And then it tears your throat out. [The stick, it is worth mentioning I think, has tooth marks along its middle, as if carried by some sort of pup. Sherlock feels it’s larger than a terrier but smaller than a mastiff.]

Once again, Sherlock is flattered. This time by Mortimer who says: “It is not my intention to be fulsome but I admit that I covet your skull.”

Which goes to show how our conversational skills have changed and, I daresay, declined in the last century or so… Go ahead and covet a stranger’s skull today and see where it gets you.

Another line that wouldn’t make you super popular today:

“I observe from your forefinger that you make your own cigarettes.” [Sherlock to Mortimer]

Later, once Sherlock has agreed to help Mortimer with the Baskerville problem but not yet sure how… and Mortimer has set off to pick up the clueless heir… Sherlock settles down to work out the situation, but first shuts the window to create a “concentration of atmosphere” which he believes “helps a concentration of thought”.

So that’s his secret. I always keep my windows open.

To be continued…