THE DEATH OF SIR CHARLES
When Dr Mortimer had finished reading this strange story, he took off his glasses, folded the manuscript, then turned to Sherlock Holmes and said: 'Don't you find it interesting?'
'Only for a collector of fairy tales,' answered Holmes.
Dr Mortimer drew a newspaper out of his pocket.
'Now, Mr Holmes, this will probably interest you more. This is a local newspaper. It gives an account of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Let me read it to you.' Our visitor put on his glasses again and began reading.
'The sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville is a very sad event. Though he had lived at Baskerville Hall only for a short period of time, his kind and generous character had made his neighbours love and respect him. He was a rich man and it is well known how much he did for all the people who needed his help. He had no children and lived quietly at Baskerville Hall. There were only two servants: a butler named Barrymore and his wife who was the housekeeper.
'The facts of his death are quite simple. For some time Sir Charles's heart and nerves had been bad. He did not go out much. But in the evening he usually liked to walk down the famous yew alley of Baskerville Hall and smoke a cigar there before going to bed. On the fourth of June he told Barrymore that he intended to go to London the next day and ordered him to prepare his luggage. That evening he went out as usual for his walk in the yew alley. He never returned.
'At midnight Barrymore saw that the hall door was still open, and he grew anxious. He took a lantern and went out to look for his master. He followed the marks that Sir Charles's feet had made on the wet ground. Halfway down the alley there is a gate which leads to the moor. Probably Sir Charles had stood there for some time, because the ash of his cigar was discovered on the ground near the gate. He then continued his walk down the alley. His body was found at the far end of it. Barrymore says that his master's footmarks changed after he had passed the moor gate. It seemed that then he had walked on his toes. A farmer, who was on the moor that evening, says that he heard cries, but he cannot tell from which direction they came.
There were no signs of violence on Sir Charles's body. But his face was so much distorted that his friends and his doctor, Mr Mortimer, recognized him with difficulty. Such a change is the usual symptom when death comes from some organic disease of the heart. The postmortem examination proved that Sir Charles had died of heart failure.
'Mr Henry Baskerville, who is Sir Charles's nephew and heir, will probably return to England from Canada in the nearest future.'
Dr Mortimer put the paper back in his pocket.
'Those are the facts that people know, Mr Holmes,' he said.
Holmes had listened attentively to Dr Mortimer's reading.
'And now tell me the facts that people do not know, if there are any,' he said.
'I'll tell you something that I haven't told anyone,' said Dr Mortimer.
'I didn't speak about it, because I was afraid people would think that I was superstitious.
But I have come to you for help, Mr Holmes, and with you I want to be quite frank.
Please listen to what I'm going to tell you. Very few people live on the moor.
With the exception of Mr Frankland, Mr Stapleton, the naturalist, and two or three farmers, there are no other people for many miles. I became friends with Sir Charles during his illness and as we were both interested in science I often visited him and we spent many pleasant evenings together.
'During the last few months I saw clearly that Sir Charles's nerves were in a very bad state.
He was always speaking about this legend which I have just read to you and nothing could make him go out upon the moor at night. The idea of some terrible evil powers was always with him.
He often asked me if I had seen any strange creature, or heard the barking of a dog.
One evening, about three weeks before his death, we were standing at the door of his house and talking. Suddenly I noticed that he was looking at something over my shoulder.
There was such an expression of terror in his eyes that I turned round quickly to see what had frightened him so much: a large animal that I took for a black calf was passing at the end of the alley. It disappeared in a moment.
All that evening I stayed with Sir Charles who was in a very nervous state and when I was leaving he gave me the manuscript that you have just seen.
'The constant fear in which Sir Charles lived was very bad for his health, so I advised him to go to London. I thought that a few months in town would be good for my poor friend.
Mr Stapleton, the naturalist, who lives on the moor, was of the same opinion. Then at the last moment came this terrible event. Barrymore immediately sent for me.
I was able to reach Baskerville Hall within an hour. I followed the footprints down the yew alley.
I saw the place at the moor gate where he had stood. I noticed the change in the shape of the footprints. I noticed that there were no other footsteps but Sir Charles's and Barrymore's.
I carefully examined the body which had not been touched until my arrival.
Sir Charles lay on his face, and when I turned him over I saw that there were no wounds on his body, but I could hardly recognize him, for his face had changed so much.
Barrymore had not seen any marks on the ground round the body, but I saw them at some distance, and they were fresh and clear.'
'A man's or a woman's?'
Dr Mortimer looked strangely at us and then answered almost in a whisper:
'Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!'.