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BOOK SUMMARY AND NOTES - The Hound of the Baskervilles
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Stapletons of Merripit House
In the morning, the Hall does indeed have a more cheerful feel about it, but Watson is still thinking of the sound from last night of a woman sobbing. Sir Henry thinks he also heard it, and calls in Barrymore to question him. The servant denies that it was his wife, yet, when Watson sees her shortly afterward, she certainly looks as if she had been crying.
With growing suspicions, Watson leaves Sir Henry to his paperwork and goes to see the postmaster. It turns out that the telegram was actually given to Barrymore’s wife, and so is no longer proof that the man was indeed at the Hall, not London.
While walking back,
Watson encounters the equally suspicious Stapletons. The man, a naturalist with
an unintimidating figure, catches up with him and introduces himself. Stapleton
explains that Dr. Mortimer had pointed Watson out to him as he walked by, but
his interest in Holmes’s involvement is unsettling to the experienced detective’s
As the conversation turns away from the Baskerville case, Stapleton says that he and his sister have lived on the moor for two years, not long by the standards of the other residents, but his pursuit of the rare plants and butterflies that live deep in the Grimpen Mire has made him intimately familiar with the area. He strongly discourages Watson from likewise exploring though, saying that it is far too dangerous.
As if to underscore the point, “[a] long, low moan, indescribably sad” can be heard quite distinctly all about. It gets louder and then dies down, leaving Watson full of fear and wonder at what it was that made such a noise. Stapleton says some attribute to the hound, and, when further pressed, offers the not-quite-satisfactory possibilities of it being the bog settling or a cry of the almost-extinct bittern. He then points out to Watson how the dwellings of Neolithic man remain practically intact on the hillside, as further evidence of the strange atmosphere of the moor. Suddenly the naturalist excuses himself and takes off in pursuit of a Cyclopides, at which point Miss Stapleton comes into view. She is quite beautiful and her dark features are in contrast to her brother’s paleness. Mistaking Watson for Sir Henry, she tells him urgently to go back to London at once and never return to the moor. She quickly changes the subject as her brother returns, who eyes her suspiciously, especially when she appears overly anxious upon learning that she has been talking to Watson, not the baronet.
The small group continues onto the house. When Watson ponders why these people are in such a place, Stapleton says they moved there from the north country where he taught at a school (a slip of information that Holmes will find quite useful), but they are happy at the moor as well, with nature, studies, and neighbors to occupy the time. He has amassed a large collection for example, but Watson declines the chance to look at it and have lunch in the interest of getting back to Sir Henry.
Watson once again encounters a Stapleton on his way back to the Hall, this time Miss, who has run ahead and been waiting for him. She asks him to disregard her warning, and plays it off as a female overreaction.
There are several parallels in this chapter. Stapleton’s tin box for carrying specimens is similar to Holmes’s tin dispatch-box for keeping information on cases. The irony is of course that Stapleton will end up in a box (or his name, to be more exact) similar to the one in which he puts the very insects he studies.
Another parallel, though difficult to pick up on, gives a further clue as to who is behind the mysterious events. Miss Stapleton is rushed in the delivery of her grave message out of fear of interruption (once again). Furthermore, the Stapletons are the only suspects that have a chapter bearing their name, suggesting that there is more to them with regards to the case than others.