DEATH ON THE MOOR
For a moment or two I was so much surprised that I could neither move nor speak. Then my voice came back to me, 'Holmes,' I cried, 'Holmes, is that really you?'
'Come out of the hut,' he said, 'and please be careful with the revolver.'
He was thin and looked tired, but the collar of his shirt was as white as if he were in Baker Street and his eyes were laughing as he asked: 'Why don't you say you are surprised?'
'My dear Holmes, I am surprised and I am so glad to see you.'
'If you are surprised to see me,' he said, 'I'm just as surprised to find you in this old hut. I understood that you were here only when I was about twenty steps from the hut.'
'Oh, you saw my footprints of course?'
'No, not your footprints, but the cigarette that you threw down, when you entered the hut. We have lived together so long. If you really want to deceive me, you must change your favourite cigarettes. But how did you find my hiding place?'
'I saw a boy carrying a bundle on his shoulder. He was climbing this hill and I followed him.'
'Ha, that was Cartwright, the boy who often helps me. He has brought me food and clean linen.'
'But my dear Holmes, why didn't you trust me? Why did you keep me in the dark? I thought you were in London.'
'My dear Watson, you mustn't be angry with me. Your reports have been a great help and I beg you to forgive me: I was obliged to deceive you, for I knew that this matter was very dangerous and difficult, and I couldn't leave you here alone. At the same time I thought it better to keep my presence a secret from everybody, even from you. I have discovered so many things living on the moor. Don't ask me about the details yet, but I can tell you that in a day or two my nets will close upon the murderer for I know now that there's cold-blooded murder in the case.'
The sun had set and the air had grown cold. We went into the hut and sat down on the blankets that lay in the corner. I told Holmes about my visit to Laura Lyons.
When I had finished he said: 'Do you know that this lady is Stapleton's great friend?'
'I had no idea,' I answered. 'There can be no doubt about it. They meet, they write to each other, there is a complete understanding between them. It's he who told her that Sir Charles was going to London and it's he who sent her money at the last moment.'
'But why, Holmes?'
'Because he wanted Sir Charles to be alone at the gate.'
As we sat in the darkness of that lonely hut on the moor Holmes told me what he had found out during that time. When he learned from my report that Stapleton had been a schoolmaster in the North of England he made inquiries. It turned out that Stapleton had robbed the school where he taught and escaped under a false name.
'The lady whom you call Miss Stapleton,' said Holmes, ' is in reality his wife.'
'His wife! Is it possible? Why then did he allow Sir Henry to fall in love with her?'
'That only helped him in his criminal plans.'
'Then he must be our enemy — the man who followed us in London?'
'I think so.' 'But if he has a wife, where does Mrs Laura Lyons come in?'
'Your talk with the lady shows that she hoped to become Stapleton's wife after a divorce from her husband.' As I listened to Holmes I began to see something terrible in that colourless man with his straw hat and his butterfly net. A cunning man with a smiling face and a murderous heart.
'One last question, Holmes,' I said. 'What does it all mean?'
'It's murder, Watson, cold-blooded murder. Don't ask me about the details yet. In a day or two I'll know everything, but there's one danger — the murderer may act before we are ready. So look after Sir Henry. Even now I'm sorry you aren't with him.'
A loud scream full of horror and fear broke the silence of the moor. We both jumped to our feet and ran out of the hut.
'Oh my God!' I exclaimed. 'What is it? What does it mean?'
'Hush!' whispered Holmes. 'Hush!' Again the terrible cry rang through the silent night, louder and nearer.
'Where is it?' Holmes whispered and I felt that even he was frightened.
'There, I think.' I pointed into the darkness.
'The hound!' cried Holmes. 'Come, Watson, come, or we may be too late.'
We ran quickly over the moor and soon heard a heavy fall somewhere quite near.
'He has beaten us, Watson,' cried Holmes, 'we are too late.' Blindly we ran through the gloom. The moor was now quite dark and we could see nothing. We stopped and Holmes struck a match. By its light we noticed something not far from the place where we stood. It was the body of a man who had fallen on his face and lay motionless on the ground. When we approached it Holmes struck another match and with horror we saw — that it was Sir Henry Baskerville.
We both recognized the brown suit he had worn in London. We stood near the body, our hearts full of sorrow and despair.
'Oh, why didn't I act before,' cried Holmes, 'and you, Watson, why did you leave him?' 'Oh, Holmes, I'll never forgive myself for leaving him today.'
'I'm more guilty than you, Watson. But how could I know — how could I know — that he would go out alone in spite of all my warnings. Stapleton will answer for this.'
'We must send for help, Holmes, we cannot carry him all the way to the Hall.' He bent over the body and suddenly uttered a cry of joy.
'A beard! A beard!' he exclaimed and began dancing and laughing. 'My God, Holmes,' I cried, 'are you mad?'
'The man has a beard! It isn't Sir Henry!' We turned the body over and looked into the dead face of... Selden — the escaped convict. Then in a moment all was clear to me. I remembered that Sir Henry had given Barrymore his old clothes. The butler had apparently passed them on to Selden to help him in his escape. But there really was a hound on the moor, for we had both heard its growls. Evidently the animal had chased the convict. In his terror he had fallen over a large stone and broken his head. There was blood on it. But why had he been so terrified? Where had the hound disappeared? Why had it chased Selden? This was a mystery.
'Why can't we arrest Stapleton at once, Holmes?' I asked.
'Because we cannot prove anything yet: we cannot prove the connection between him and the hound. If we aren't careful he may escape. But what's this, Watson? It's Stapleton himself coming across the moor. Not a word to show our suspicions!'
'Hallo, Dr Watson! What are you doing on the moor at this late hour?' said Stapleton, approaching us with a cigar between his fingers. 'Dear me!' he exclaimed, 'What's this? I hope it isn't our friend Sir Henry?'
'It's Selden, the escaped convict,' I answered, looking straight at Stapleton. For a moment he was silent, then, concealing his disappointment and surprise he said: 'I heard a cry. I was anxious about Sir Henry and ran out to see what had happened.'
'Why were you anxious about Sir Henry?' I asked.
'Because I was expecting him at Merripit House and he didn't come. Then I heard cries on the moor. By the way,' he looked from Holmes to me, 'how do you explain this poor fellow's death?'
'I suppose he fell over a stone and broke his head,' I answered.
'I think you're quite right,' said Stapleton. 'What do you think, Mr Holmes? For indeed you must be Mr Holmes. I hope you will throw some light on this dark matter.'
Holmes shrugged his shoulders. 'I'm returning to London tomorrow morning,' he said. 'I have nothing to do here. Now let's carry this poor fellow into that hut and leave him there till the morning. Good night, Mr Stapleton.'
A few minutes later we were on our way to Baskerville Hall, leaving the naturalist alone on the moor.
'What a man!' said Holmes, 'How well he concealed his disappointment when he saw that his victim wasn't Sir Henry. I told you in London, Watson, and I tell you again, that we have never had such a dangerous enemy.'
'Couldn't we arrest the man before he escapes?' I asked Holmes.
'My dear Watson, be patient. We can prove nothing as yet. We didn't see the animal, we only heard it. And then we cannot explain why Stapleton wanted the death of Sir Charles and Sir Henry. No, no, Watson, we must wait. I have my own plan, but say nothing to Sir Henry about the hound. A day or two will decide everything.'