The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Chapter 7 : The Stapletons of Merripit House | Summary

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Summary

The next morning Watson and Sir Henry agree that in sunlight the atmosphere in the manor seems less ominous, and yet they both heard a woman sob the previous night. Barrymore claims that his wife was not crying, so they must be mistaken. But when Watson runs into Mrs. Barrymore, her eyes are red and swollen as if from crying. Watson wonders why Barrymore would lie and why his wife would cry and resolves to make sure that the trick Holmes used to ascertain that Barrymore was in Devonshire actually worked as planned. However, the postmaster's messenger reveals that he gave the cable to Mrs. Barrymore instead.

On his way back to Baskerville Hall, Watson runs into Jack Stapleton, an entomologist out hunting butterflies. Stapleton knows about Holmes and Watson and seems interested in the case he must be investigating, yet Watson remains tightlipped. Stapleton describes the area, pointing out the Neolithic ruins of stone huts as well as the dangers of the moor. The danger of Grimpen Mire becomes palpable when they witness from afar as a pony drowns in the mire. Their conversation is suddenly interrupted by a loud moan. Stapleton suggests that the locals might ascribe the sound to the hound, yet he claims that it could just as well be the sound of a rare bird.

When Stapleton runs after a butterfly, his sister, an exotic beauty, who looks nothing like her brother, mistakes Watson for Sir Henry and warns him to leave the area. At Merripit House Watson learns that Stapleton used to be a schoolmaster.

Analysis

Although sunlight seems to dispel the ominous feel of the first night, old mysteries remain and new ones appear. Barrymore is now a more suspicious character than ever, given that it seems rather obvious that he lies about his wife's crying, which in turn adds another layer of mystery to the events at Baskerville Hall.

Stapleton at first seems like a steadfast representative of reason when he suggests that the howls the locals ascribe to the hound of the Baskerville legend could actually be the sound of a rare bird. As a naturalist he seems like an authority on the matter. However, his level of information on Holmes and Watson and his interest in the case goes above neighborly curiosity and suggests an ulterior motive. His sister's warning issued to Watson yet meant for Sir Henry casts suspicion on her as the author of the letter cut from the Times. As a result the Stapletons are as suspicious as the Barrymores.

Watson's description of Beryl Stapleton seems innocent enough at first, yet his commentary on her exotic beauty hides a clue as to her real identity, which is disclosed far later in the novel. A discerning reader, who interprets every detail like a detective analyzes evidence found at a crime scene, might notice that her complexion is nothing like her brother's, which casts doubt on the relationship between them. Watson, however, the reader's stand in, completely misses the significance of her looks.

Stapleton's past employment as a schoolmaster seems just as innocent as his sister's appearance, yet in a later chapter it turns out to be the very clue that unravels their disguise. The fact that Watson does not notice these early clues paints Sherlock Holmes as the supreme intellect who alone can solve the puzzle.

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