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PLOT SUMMARY AND NOTES - The Hound of the Baskervilles
CHAPTER EIGHT: First Report of Dr. Watson
In his letter to Holmes dated October 13th , Watson has first to report on the relief of the countryside, which (incorrectly) believes the convict Selden has gone, since two weeks have passed and food is scarce at best.
Of other news, Stapleton did go and see Sir Henry, as he had suggested doing upon meeting Watson that same day. He takes the young Baskerville to the spot where the ancestor Hugo supposedly met his end. Though a scientific man, the naturalist seems inclined to accept the legend when questioned.
They then stop at the Merripit House and, from their first meeting, Sir Henry takes a romantic interest in Miss Stapleton. Her brother’s decidedly disapproving attitude and interferences in the match are puzzling however.
A few days
later, Dr. Mortimer comes to lunch and shows them all where the more recent Baskerville,
Sir Charles, died that mysterious night. As with the site of Hugo’s demise, the
surroundings are with all the feel of gloomy peril that was expected.
Watson has also had a chance to meet Mr. Frankland, a nearby elderly inhabitant who is mostly concerned with challenging the law through numerous litigation cases and astronomy (though he has recently been employing his telescope in searching the moor for the convict). Judged as a pleasant distraction from life on the moor and mostly harmless, there is little reason to suspect him.
The Barrymores, in contrast, continue to stir up doubts. Mrs. Barrymore puts up an unemotional front, but Watson suspects she is weighed down by a great sadness. And, when Watson informs Sir Henry of the case and the baronet questions him directly, Mr. Barrymore concedes that the telegram was not actually placed in his hands.
When he later adds that he hopes the inquiries do no indicate a loss of trust, Sir Henry, by way of assurance that this is not the case, gives Barrymore some of his old clothes. But the uncertainties surrounding the butler’s behavior resurface quickly. When the ever-fitful sleeper Watson hears Barrymore pass by his room, barefoot and by candlelight, he follows at a distance and sees him enter an empty room. There, he holds the light to the window for a few minutes, then puts it out, and returns back down the corridor. Later on that night, Watson hears a key turn in a lock. He reports these occurrences to Sir Henry in the morning and the two make plans.
Sherlock Holmes’s noted indifference over whether the Earth goes around the Sun or vice versa is a comment that dates back to A Study in Scarlet (1887), when he explained that it “makes not a penny-worth of difference to me or my work.” It was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first work on the detective.
Fast-forwarding to take into account the outcome of this story, there is a pleasant degree of unknowing in Watson’s report. He says that the Stapletons “would be helpless in the hands of a desperate fellow like this Notting Hill criminal,” the irony being that they are in fact not helpless, but rather criminals themselves. This would not be lost on Holmes, who already had strong suspicions about the Stapletons by the time he was reading this.