STAPLETON, THE NATURALIST
The morning was bright and sunny, and the room looked quite cheerful as Sir Henry and I sat down to breakfast.
'We were tired and cold after our journey last night,' said Sir Henry, 'so the place seemed gloomy. It looks much more cheerful today.'
'That is true,' I answered, 'but didn't you hear the sobbing of a woman in the night?'
'It is strange,' exclaimed Sir Henry, 'for when I was half asleep I heard something of the sort. I thought it was in my dream.'
'I heard it clearly and I'm sure that it was really the sobbing of a woman,' I said.
'We'll ask Barrymore about it,' said Sir Henry ringing the bell.
The butler became pale when he heard his master's question. 'There are only two women in the house, sir,' he said. 'One of them lives in the other wing. The second woman is my wife and I can give my word that she didn't cry.'
And yet he lied, for after breakfast I met Mrs Barrymore in the corridor and noticed that her eyes were red and swollen.
Why had Barrymore lied and why had his wife sobbed so bitterly? There was an atmosphere of mystery and gloom round this pale, handsome black-bearded man.
He had discovered the body of Sir Charles and only he knew all the circumstances which had led to the old man's death. Was it possible that it was Barrymore who had followed Sir Henry in the cab? I decided to go and see the Grimpen postmaster.
I wanted to make sure that the telegram which Holmes had sent from London had really been delivered in Barrymore's hands.
Sir Henry was busy examining different papers after breakfast and I started for the village of Grimpen alone. I soon found the postmaster's house and learned from him that the telegram had been delivered into Mrs Barrymore's hands. Her husband was busy in the loft at that time.
'Did you see Mr Barrymore?' I asked.
'No, sir, I tell you he was in the loft.'
'If you didn't see him, how do you know he was in the loft?'
'His wife told me,' was the answer.
I was walking back to Baskerville Hall when suddenly I heard the sound of running feet. I turned round and saw a stranger running after me. He was a small, thin, clean-shaven man between thirty and forty, wearing a grey suit and a straw hat. A box was hanging over his shoulder and he carried a green butterfly net in one hand.
'You will excuse me, Dr Watson,' said the stranger, coming up to me. 'Here on the moor we are simple people and we don't wait for formal introductions. Our mutual friend, Dr Mortimer, has possibly spoken to you about me. I am Stapleton, the naturalist.'
'But how did you know me?' I asked in surprise.
'I was in Dr Mortimer's house and he pointed you out to me from his window. As I am going your way I wanted to introduce myself to you. How is Sir Henry after his journey?'
'He is very well, thank you.'
'We were all afraid that after the tragic death of Sir Charles his nephew would refuse to live here. But Sir Henry, I suppose, has no superstitious fears?'
'I don't think so.'
'Of course you know the legend of the Baskerville hound?'
'I have heard it.'
'The story made a great impression on Sir Charles and I'm sure that it led to his tragic death.'
'His nerves were so bad that the appearance of any hound might have frightened him, and his heart was very weak.'
'You think then that the hound pursued Sir Charles and he died of fright?'
'Have you any better explanation?'
'I haven't come to any conclusion.'
'And your friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes?'
I was amazed. 'How do you know I'm his friend?'
'It's useless to pretend that we don't know you, Dr Watson. If you are here, then it follows that Mr Sherlock Holmes is interested in the matter, and naturally I would like to know his opinion about this matter.'
'I'm afraid I cannot tell you anything definite about his opinion.'
'May I ask if he is going to visit us himself?'
'Mr Sherlock Holmes cannot leave London at present. He isn't coming here.'
'What a pity! He might throw some light on what is so dark to us. But if you want my help in anything I'll be very pleased to do what I can.'
'Thank you, but I'm simply a guest of my friend Sir Henry and I need no help of any kind.'
'You must excuse me, I will not speak of the matter again,' said Stapleton.
While talking we had walked along the road and were now near a path which ran through the moor.
'This path will soon bring us to Merripit House,' said Stapleton. 'Perhaps you will allow me to introduce you to my sister?'
I did not want to leave Sir Henry, but I remembered that Holmes had told me to study the neighbours. So I accepted the naturalist's invitation and we turned together down the path which led through the moor.