|Table of Contents|
Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle
11: The Man on the Tor
extract from my private diary which forms the last chapter has brought my
narrative up to the eighteenth of October, a time when these strange
events began to move swiftly towards their terrible conclusion. The
incidents of the next few days are indelibly graven upon my recollection,
and I can tell them without reference to the notes made at the time. I
start them from the day which succeeded that upon which I had established
two facts of great importance, the one that Mrs. Laura Lyons of Coombe
Tracey had written to Sir Charles Baskerville and made an appointment with
him at the very place and hour that he met his death, the other that the
lurking man upon the moor was to be found among the stone huts upon the
hillside. With these two facts in my possession I felt that either my
intelligence or my courage must be deficient if I could not throw some
further light upon these dark places.
had no opportunity to tell the baronet what I had learned about Mrs. Lyons
upon the evening before, for Dr. Mortimer remained with him at cards until
it was very late. At breakfast, however, I informed him about my discovery
and asked him whether he would care to accompany me to Coombe Tracey. At
first he was very eager to come, but on second thoughts it seemed to both
of us that if I went alone the results might be better. The more formal we
made the visit the less information we might obtain. I left Sir Henry
behind, therefore, not without some prickings of conscience, and drove off
upon my new quest.
I reached Coombe Tracey I told Perkins to put up the horses, and I made
inquiries for the lady whom I had come to interrogate. I had no difficulty
in finding her rooms, which were central and well appointed. A maid showed
me in without ceremony, and as I entered the sitting-room a lady, who was
sitting before a Remington typewriter, sprang up with a pleasant smile of
welcome. Her face fell, however, when she saw that I was a stranger, and
she sat down again and asked me the object of my visit.
first impression left by Mrs. Lyons was one of extreme beauty. Her eyes
and hair were of the same rich hazel colour, and her cheeks, though
considerably freckled, were flushed with the exquisite bloom of the
brunette, the dainty pink which lurks at the heart of the sulphur rose.
Admiration was, I repeat, the first impression. But the second was
criticism. There was something subtly wrong with the face, some coarseness
of expression, some hardness, perhaps, of eye, some looseness of lip which
marred its perfect beauty. But these, of course, are afterthoughts. At the
moment I was simply conscious that I was in the presence of a very
handsome woman, and that she was asking me the reasons for my visit. I had
not quite understood until that instant how delicate my mission was.
have the pleasure,' said I, `of knowing your father.' It was a clumsy
introduction, and the lady made me feel it.
is nothing in common between my father and me,' she said. `I owe him
nothing, and his friends are not mine. If it were not for the late Sir
Charles Baskerville and some other kind hearts I might have starved for
all that my father cared.'
was about the late Sir Charles Baskerville that I have come here to see
freckles started out on the lady's face.
can I tell you about him?' she asked, and her fingers played nervously
over the stops of her typewriter.
knew him, did you not?'
have already said that I owe a great deal to his kindness. If I am able to
support myself it is largely due to the interest which he took in my unhappy
you correspond with him?'
lady looked quickly up with an angry gleam in her hazel eyes.
is the object of these questions?' she asked sharply.
object is to avoid a public scandal. It is better that I should ask them
here than that the matter should pass outside our control.'
was silent and her face was still very pale. At last she looked up with
something reckless and defiant in her manner.
I'll answer,' she said. `What are your questions?'
you correspond with Sir Charles?'
certainly wrote to him once or twice to acknowledge his delicacy and his
you the dates of those letters?'
you ever met him?'
once or twice, when he came into Coombe Tracey. He was a very retiring man,
and he preferred to do good by stealth.'
if you saw him so seldom and wrote so seldom, how did he know enough about
your affairs to be able to help you, as you say that he has done?'
met my difficulty with the utmost readiness.
were several gentlemen who knew my sad history and united to help me. One
was Mr. Stapleton, a neighbour and intimate friend of Sir Charles's. He was
exceedingly kind, and it was through him that Sir Charles learned about my
knew already that Sir Charles Baskerville had made Stapleton his almoner
upon several occasions, so the lady's statement bore the impress of truth
you ever write to Sir Charles asking him to meet you?' I continued.
Lyons flushed with anger again.
sir, this is a very extraordinary question.'
am sorry, madam, but I must repeat it.'
I answer, certainly not.'
on the very day of Sir Charles's death?'
flush had faded in an instant, and a deathly face was before me. Her dry
lips could not speak the `No' which I saw rather than heard.
your memory deceives you,' said I. `I could even quote a passage of your
letter. It ran ``Please, please, as you are a gentleman, burn this letter,
and be at the gate by ten o'clock.''
thought that she had fainted, but she recovered herself by a supreme effort.
there no such thing as a gentleman?' she gasped.
do Sir Charles an injustice. He did burn the letter. But sometimes a letter
may be legible even when burned. You acknowledge now that you wrote it?'
I did write it,' she cried, pouring out her soul in a torrent of words. `I
did write it. Why should I deny it? I have no reason to be ashamed of it. I
wished him to help me. I believed that if I had an interview I could gain
his help, so I asked him to meet me.'
why at such an hour?'
I had only just learned that he was going to London next day and might be
away for months. There were reasons why I could not get there earlier.'
why a rendezvous in the garden instead of a visit to the house?'
you think a woman could go alone at that hour to a bachelor's house?'
what happened when you did get there?'
I swear it to you on all I hold sacred. I never went. Something intervened
to prevent my going.'
is a private matter. I cannot tell it.'
acknowledge then that you made an appointment with Sir Charles at the very
hour and place at which he met his death, but you deny that you kept the
is the truth.'
and again I cross-questioned her, but I could never get past that point.
Lyons,' said I as I rose from this long and inconclusive interview, `you are
taking a very great responsibility and putting yourself in a very false
position by not making an absolutely clean breast of all that you know. If I
have to call in the aid of the police you will find how seriously you are
compromised. If your position is innocent, why did you in the first instance
deny having written to Sir Charles upon that date?'
I feared that some false conclusion might be drawn from it and that I might
find myself involved in a scandal.'
why were you so pressing that Sir Charles should destroy your letter?'
you have read the letter you will know.'
did not say that I had read all the letter.'
quoted some of it.'
quoted the postscript. The letter had, as I said, been burned and it was not
all legible. I ask you once again why it was that you were so pressing that
Sir Charles should destroy this letter which he received on the day of his
matter is a very private one.'
more reason why you should avoid a public investigation.'
will tell you, then. If you have heard anything of my unhappy history you
will know that I made a rash marriage and had reason to regret it.'
have heard so much.'
life has been one incessant persecution from a husband whom I abhor. The law
is upon his side, and every day I am faced by the possibility that he may
force me to live with him. At the time that I wrote this letter to Sir
Charles I had learned that there was a prospect of my regaining my freedom
if certain expenses could be met. It meant everything to me - peace of mind,
happiness, self-respect - everything. I knew Sir Charles's generosity, and I
thought that if he heard the story from my own lips he would help me.'
how is it that you did not go?'
I received help in the interval from another source.'
then, did you not write to Sir Charles and explain this?'
I should have done had I not seen his death in the paper next morning.'
woman's story hung coherently together, and all my questions were unable to
shake it. I could only check it by finding if she had, indeed, instituted
divorce proceedings against her husband at or about the time of the tragedy.
was unlikely that she would dare to say that she had not been to Baskerville
Hall if she really had been, for a trap would be necessary to take her
there, and could not have returned to Coombe Tracey until the early hours of
the morning. Such an excursion could not be kept secret. The probability
was, therefore, that she was telling the truth, or, at least, a part of the
truth. I came away baffled and disheartened. Once again I had reached that
dead wall which seemed to be built across every path by which I tried to get
at the object of my mission. And yet the more I thought of the lady's face
and of her manner the more I felt that something was being held back from
me. Why should she turn so pale? Why should she fight against every
admission until it was forced from her? Why should she have been so reticent
at the time of the tragedy? Surely the explanation of all this could not be
as innocent as she would have me believe. For the moment I could proceed no
farther in that direction, but must turn back to that other clue which was
to be sought for among the stone huts upon the moor.
that was a most vague direction. I realized it as I drove back and noted how
hill after hill showed traces of the ancient people. Barrymore's only
indication had been that the stranger lived in one of these abandoned huts,
and many hundreds of them are scattered throughout the length and breadth of
the moor. But I had my own experience for a guide since it had shown me the
man himself standing upon the summit of the Black Tor. That, then, should be
the centre of my search. From there I should explore every hut upon the moor
until I lighted upon the right one. If this man were inside it I should find
out from his own lips, at the point of my revolver if necessary, who he was
and why he had dogged us so long. He might slip away from us in the crowd of
Regent Street, but it would puzzle him to do so upon the lonely moor. On the
other hand, if I should find the hut and its tenant should not be within it
I must remain there, however long the vigil, until he returned. Holmes had
missed him in London. It would indeed be a triumph for me if I could run him
to earth where my master had failed.
had been against us again and again in this inquiry, but now at last it came
to my aid. And the messenger of good fortune was none other than Mr.
Frankland, who was standing, gray-whiskered and red-faced, outside the gate
of bis garden, which opened on to the highroad along which I travelled.
Dr. Watson,' cried he with unwonted good humour, `you must really give your
horses a rest and come in to have a glass of wine and to congratulate me.'
feelings towards him were very far from being friendly after what I had
heard of his treatment of his daughter, but I was anxious to send Perkins
and the wagonette home, and the opportunity was a good one. I alighted and
sent a message to Sir Henry that I should walk over in time for dinner. Then
I followed Frankland into his dining-room.
is a great day for me, sir - one of the red-letter days of my life,' he
cried with many chuckles. `I have brought off a double event. I mean to
teach them in these parts that law is law, and that there is a man here who
does not fear to invoke it. I have established a right of way through the
centre of old Middleton's park, slap across it, sir, within a hundred yards
of his own front door. What do you think of that? We'll teach these magnates
that they cannot ride roughshod over the rights of the commoners, confound
them! And I've closed the wood where the Fernworthy folk used to picnic.
These infernal people seem to think that there are no rights of property,
and that they can swarm where they like with their papers and their bottles.
Both cases decided Dr. Watson, and both in my favour. I haven't had such a
day since I had Sir John Morland for trespass because he shot in his own
on earth did you do that?'
it up in the books, sir. It will repay reading - Frankland v. Morland, Court
of Queen's Bench. It cost me 200 pounds, but I got my verdict.'
it do you any good?'
sir, none. I am proud to say that I had no interest in the matter. I act
entirely from a sense of public duty. I have no doubt, for example, that the
Fernworthy people will burn me in effigy to-night. I told the police last
time they did it that they should stop these disgraceful exhibitions. The
County Constabulary is in a scandalous state, sir, and it has not afforded
me the protection to which I am entitled. The case of Frankland v. Regina
will bring the matter before the attention of the public. I told them that
they would have occasion to regret their treatment of me, and already my
words have come true.'
so?' I asked.
old man put on a very knowing expression.
I could tell them what they are dying to know; but nothing would induce me
to help the rascals in any way.'
had been casting round for some excuse by which I could get away from his
gossip, but now I began to wish to hear more of it. I had seen enough of the
contrary nature of the old sinner to understand that any strong sign of
interest would be the surest way to stop his confidences.
poaching case, no doubt?' said I with an indifferent manner.
ha, my boy, a very much more important matter than that! What about the
convict on the moor?'
stared. `You don't mean that you know where he is?' said I.
may not know exactly where he is, but I am quite sure that I could help the
police to lay their hands on him. Has it never struck you that the way to
catch that man was to find out where he got his food and so trace it to
certainly seemed to be getting uncomfortably near the truth. `No doubt,'
said I; `but how do you know that he is anywhere upon the moor?'
know it because I have seen with my own eyes the messenger who takes him his
heart sank for Barrymore. It was a serious thing to be in the power of this
spiteful old busybody. But his next remark took a weight from my mind.
be surprised to hear that his food is taken to him by a child. I see him
every day through my telescope upon the roof. He passes along the same path
at the same hour, and to whom should he be going except to the convict?'
was luck indeed! And yet I suppressed all appearance of interest. A child!
Barrymore had said that our unknown was supplied by a boy. It was on his
track, and not upon the convict's, that Frankland had stumbled. If I could
get his knowledge it might save me a long and weary hunt. But incredulity
and indifference were evidently my strongest cards.
should say that it was much more likely that it was the son of one of the
moorland shepherds taking out his father's dinner.'
least appearance of opposition struck fire out of the old autocrat. His eyes
looked malignantly at me, and his gray whiskers bristled like those of an
sir!' said he, pointing out over the wide-stretching moor. `Do you see that
Black Tor over yonder? Well, do you see the low hill beyond with the
thornbush upon it? It is the stoniest part of the whole moor. Is that a
place where a shepherd would be likely to take his station? Your suggestion,
sir, is a most absurd one.'
meekly answered that I had spoken without knowing all the facts. My
submission pleased him and led him to further confidences.
may be sure, sir, that I have very good grounds before I come to an opinion.
I have seen the boy again and again with his bundle. Every day, and
sometimes twice a day, I have been able - but wait a moment, Dr. Watson. Do
my eyes deceive me, or is there at the present moment something moving upon
was several miles off, but I could distinctly see a small dark dot against
the dull green and gray.
sir, come!' cried Frankland, rushing upstairs. `You will see with your own
eyes and judge for yourself.'
telescope, a formidable instrument mounted upon a tripod, stood upon the
flat leads of the house. Frankland clapped his eye to it and gave a cry of
Dr. Watson, quick, before he passes over the hill!'
he was, sure enough, a small urchin with a little bundle upon his shoulder,
toiling slowly up the hill. When he reached the crest I saw the ragged
uncouth figure outlined for an instant against the cold blue sky. He looked
round him with a furtive and stealthy air, as one who dreads pursuit. Then
he vanished over the hill.
Am I right?'
there is a boy who seems to have some secret errand.'
what the errand is even a county constable could guess. But not one word
shall they have from me, and I bind you to secrecy also, Dr. Watson. Not a
word! You understand!'
as you wish.'
have treated me shamefully - shamefully. When the facts come out in
Frankland v. Regina I venture to think that a thrill of indignation will run
through the country. Nothing would induce me to help the police in any way.
For all they cared it might have been me, instead of my effigy, which these
rascals burned at the stake. Surely you are not going! You will help me to
empty the decanter in honour of this great occasion!'
I resisted all his solicitations and succeeded in dissuading him from his
announced intention of walking home with me. I kept the road as long as his
eye was on me, and then I struck off across the moor and made for the stony
hill over which the boy had disappeared. Everything was working in my favour,
and I swore that it should not be through lack of energy or perseverance
that I should miss the chance which fortune had thrown in my way.
sun was already sinking when I reached the summit of the hill, and the long
slopes beneath me were all golden-green on one side and gray shadow on the
other. A haze lay low upon the farthest sky-line, out of which jutted the
fantastic shapes of Belliver and Vixen Tor. Over the wide expanse there was
no sound and no movement. One great gray bird, a gull or curlew, soared
aloft in the blue heaven. He and I seemed to be the only living things
between the huge arch of the sky and the desert beneath it. The barren
scene, the sense of loneliness, and the mystery and urgency of my task all
struck a chill into my heart. The boy was nowhere to be seen. But down
beneath me in a cleft of the hills there was a circle of the old stone huts,
and in the middle of them there was one which retained sufficient roof to
act as a screen against the weather. My heart leaped within me as I saw it.
This must be the burrow where the stranger lurked. At last my foot was on
the threshold of his hiding place - his secret was within my grasp.
I approached the hut, walking as warily as Stapleton would do when with
poised net he drew near the settled butterfly, I satisfied myself that the
place had indeed been used as a habitation. A vague pathway among the
boulders led to the dilapidated opening which served as a door. All was
silent within. The unknown might be lurking there, or he might be prowling
on the moor. My nerves tingled with the sense of adventure. Throwing aside
my cigarette, I closed my hand upon the butt of my revolver and, walking
swiftly up to the door, I looked in. The place was empty.
there were ample signs that I had not come upon a false scent. This was
certainly where the man lived. Some blankets rolled in a waterproof lay upon
that very stone slab upon which neolithic man had once slumbered. The ashes
of a fire were heaped in a rude grate. Beside it lay some cooking utensils
and a bucket half-full of water. A litter of empty tins showed that the
place had been occupied for some time, and I saw, as my eyes became
accustomed to the checkered light, a pannikin and a half-full bottle of
spirits standing in the corner. In the middle of the hut a flat stone served
the purpose of a table, and upon this stood a small cloth bundle - the same,
no doubt, which I had seen through the telescope upon the shoulder of the
boy. It contained a loaf of bread, a tinned tongue, and two tins of
preserved peaches. As I set it down again, after having examined it, my
heart leaped to see that beneath it there lay a sheet of paper with writing
upon it. I raised it, and this was what I read, roughly scrawled in pencil:
`Dr. Watson has gone to Coombe Tracey.'
a minute I stood there with the paper in my hands thinking out the meaning
of this curt message. It was I, then, and not Sir Henry, who was being
dogged by this secret man.
had not followed me himself, but he had set an agent - the boy, perhaps -
upon my track, and this was his report. Possibly I had taken no step since I
had been upon the moor which had not been observed and reported. Always
there was this feeling of an unseen force, a fine net drawn round us with
infinite skill and delicacy, holding us so lightly that it was only at some
supreme moment that one realized that one was indeed-entangled in its
there was one report there might be others, so I looked round the hut in
search of them. There was no trace, however, of anything of the kind, nor
could I discover any sign which might indicate the character or intentions
of the man who lived in this singular place, save that he must be of Spartan
habits and cared little for the comforts of life. When I thought of the
heavy rains and looked at the gaping roof I understood how strong and
immutable must be the purpose which had kept him in that inhospitable abode.
Was he our malignant enemy, or was he by chance our guardian angel? I swore
that I would not leave the hut until I knew.
the sun was sinking low and the west was blazing with scarlet and gold. Its
reflection was shot back in ruddy patches by the distant pools which lay
amid the great Grimpen Mire. There were the two towers of Baskerville Hall,
and there a distant blur of smoke which marked the village of Grimpen.
Between the two, behind the hill, was the house of the Stapletons. All was
sweet and mellow and peaceful in the golden evening light, and yet as I
looked at them my soul shared none of the peace of Nature but quivered at
the vagueness and the terror of that interview which every instant was
bringing nearer. With tingling nerves but a fixed purpose, I sat in the dark
recess of the hut and waited with sombre patience for the coming of its
then at last I heard him. Far away came the sharp clink of a boot striking
upon a stone. Then another and yet another, coming nearer and nearer. I
shrank back into the darkest corner and cocked the pistol in my pocket,
determined not to discover myself until I had an opportunity of seeing
something of the stranger. There was a long pause which showed that he had
stopped. Then once more the footsteps approached and a shadow fell across
the opening of the hut.
is a lovely evening, my dear Watson,' said a well-known voice. `I really
think that you will be more comfortable outside than in.'
|Table of Contents|