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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER ONE: Mr. Sherlock Holmes
In the morning hours of a day in 1889, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson awake to discover that a visitor had been to their apartment the previous night but departed before seeing either man. However, he left behind a walking stick. The walking stick bears the inscription: "To James Mortimer, M.R.C.S., from his friends of the C.C.H." This allows the two to begin making some deductions about his character and occupation using Holmes’s methods (basically picking out details of an object and making likely inferences from it).
Watson describes a likeable old country doctor who
received the stick from a local hunt, a theory that Holmes has several objections
to. He argues instead for the case of a young practitioner presented with the
stick when he left London’s Charing Cross Hospital (C.C.H.) to move to the country.
Watson checks on some of the details and, with the appearance of the curly-haired
spaniel whose teeth marks are imprinted on the cane, followed shortly by his owner,
James Mortimer, the rest of the deductions are able to be investigated. As it
turns out, Holmes is only slightly off, as Mortimer had been given the cane when
he was married (which the detective had not guessed), and that in turn had brought
about the departure from the city.
Dr. Mortimer is tall, though his frame is hunched over. He wears glasses and appropriate dress, if somewhat shabby. Though a man with scientific leanings (an M.R.C.S. is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons), he is also vulnerable to superstitions. He admits himself to be “an unpractical man” and so has come to get advice on his problem.
Though Holmes feels slightly offended at Mortimer’s ranking of him as secondary in “precisely scientific” matters to Monsieur Bertillon, he asks him to expand on the trouble that has brought him there.
Watson’s Medical Directory citation of the article “‘Some Freaks of Atavism’” is an early example of foreshadowing. Atavism is the presence of a characteristic found in remote ancestors but absent in more recent generations (basically, the resurfacing of a long gone trait in an individual) and, as the reader will shortly find out, the Baskerville family is said to be under a deadly curse as a result of the actions of an ancestor, Hugo. Dr. Mortimer’s problem revolves around the question of what to do when the Baskerville heir arrives, not knowing whether he will also be under danger.
The other expert that Dr. Mortimer mentions in competition with Holmes is Alphonse Bertillon. The Frenchman changed police work with his invention of the later-discredited system of anthropometry, or bertillonage, which identified criminals based primarily on physical measurements. He is also credited with bringing uniformity to taking mug shots and pictures of evidence, as well as advancing forensics, with creations such as the dynamometer (used to measure the strength of a break-in).