The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 14 : The Hound of the Baskervilles | Summary

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Summary

Holmes and Watson pick up Lestrade and go to the moor near Merripit House to wait for Sir Henry to walk home after dinner. Holmes sends Watson to spy on the house, where he only sees Henry and Stapleton in the dining room, chatting over coffee after dinner. Beryl Stapleton is nowhere in sight. Stapleton goes to an outhouse, and Watson hears scuffling inside. Watson then returns to report, as the fog comes in faster than expected. Worried that his plan may fail if they can't watch Sir Henry, Holmes and his companions retreat to a higher post above the fog.

Moments later they see Sir Henry leave just before the fog swallows him. They hear the thunderous steps of a hound, and suddenly a huge hound, its muzzle seemingly spewing fire, just as the legend predicted, jumps out of the fog and attacks Sir Henry. Holmes kills the dog, which turns out to be a bloodhound-mastiff with phosphorus around its mouth to make it glow.

Sir Henry is not injured, and they leave him to settle down as they approach Merripit House to arrest Stapleton. But they only find Beryl Stapleton bound and gagged in an upstairs room. She reveals that she is an abused woman, who both loved and feared her husband but could not go along with killing Sir Henry. She tells them that Stapleton left for his hideout in Grimpen Mire. As he is stuck there for the night due to the thick fog, they decide to go after him the next day.

The next day Beryl Stapleton leads them to Grimpen Mire. They find nothing but Sir Henry's old boot where the trail of Stapleton's footsteps ends abruptly. Holmes assumes that Stapleton stepped off the pathway and was swallowed up by the mire. As they keep going they find the shack where he kept the hound.

Analysis

In an already very suspenseful novel, this chapter stands out with layer upon layer of hair-raising suspense. Doyle pulls all the stops when creating the Gothic atmosphere of doom and gloom that runs through much of the narrative. The fast-approaching fog, however, crowns it all on several levels.

Sir Henry is in immediate peril, for although Holmes and his companions are watching over him, they may not be able to come to his rescue if they can see neither him nor the danger that pursues him. Still not exactly sure what Stapleton has planned, the fog makes it even harder for Holmes and his companions to be prepared and react accordingly. This is the issue on a realistic, empirical level.

On a metaphorical level the fog marks the moment in which the legend of the hound of the Baskervilles is most real. The fog makes it impossible for the senses, our most empirical tools, to determine who or what it is that chases Sir Henry, and hence, even Holmes and his companions are susceptible to their imagination. Watson's narrative speaks of the "horror" that is about to break through the wall of fog, evoking images of fire and brimstone and hellish beasts. And indeed, "an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen" jumps at them from the fog. It seems that they are not fighting Stapleton after all but a hound from hell. Only when Watson and Holmes fire and wound the beast do they know that the beast is not supernatural after all, but mortal. The moment in which the legend seems most real is also the moment in which the legend is finally debunked.

Killing the beast, unmasking the final disguise by explaining that it was phosphorous that made the dog seem fiery, brings the legend to the realm of the real. Man has conquered the beast: Holmes can even tell its breed and classifies it, thus reclaiming control and restoring order.

And indeed immediately the group goes after Stapleton so that Lestrade can arrest him. Although they only find his wife bound and gagged, they delay the search until the fog has cleared. While this shows respect for the real dangers of the moor, this also shows homage to the steadfast belief that justice will be served. There is no doubt in Holmes's brilliant mind that no one and nothing can escape him. Although they can't find him they find proof that he has drowned in the moor. Justice has been served indeed.

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