The Spectral Hound

I walked into the quarters at Baker Street that I shared with Sherlock Holmes and noticed two things out of the ordinary. There was a rather worse-for-wear walking stick lying on the sofa and a note attached to the desk with a knife. I picked up the stick, noting that it had been chewed on by a small dog, came from "friends at C.C.H… probably Charring Cross Hospital, and belonged to a country doctor who did a great deal of walking. He was also absent-minded, having left it here. I set the stick back down and picked up the note.

"Sherwood," it read. "Dr. Mortimer will call at eleven o'clock this morning. I expect to be back before then, but if not…."

There was a knock at the door. I called "come in!" and was immediately set upon by a small spaniel. There was a youngish man with spectacles, flushed cheeks, and dark hair not far behind him. He also had the faintly quizzical look of the academic who spent very little time in the real world, which perhaps explained his absent-mindedness.

"Dr. Mortimer," I asked.

"Yes," he said in a rather breathy voice that was more air than voice. "Very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Holmes."

"Miss Sherwood, actually," I said, keeping my tone pleasant and conversational. "Is that your walking stick there?"

"Oh yes, it is. Thank you very much. I must have left it here, earlier. Is uh, Mr. Holmes about?"

"He should be here any minute. Would you care for something to drink while we wait for him?"

"Yes, thank you."

As I was reaching for the bottle on top of the mantelpiece I heard the downstairs door bang open. "Oh there he is."

"How do you know?"

"Well, our landlady doesn't open the door that way."

Holmes appeared at the doorway, and Dr. Mortimer practically quivered in excitement.

"Mister Holmes," he said, enthusiastically wringing my mentor's hand. "What a pleasure it is to meet you! Would you have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure?"

The glass stopper of the bottle clanged noisily against the silver tray.

"Please, Dr. Mortimer," Holmes said, removing his grey tweed Inverness coat with a flourish.

"I covet your skull," Mortimer said greedily, then like a child asking for a sweet went on, "Would it be possible for me to have a cast of it until the real one becomes available?"

I drank the contents of the glass I had been filling, refilled it, and then set to the other two.

"Behave and sit down, Dr. Mortimer," Holmes said sternly. "Surely it was not your phrenological passion that brought you here."

"Sadly, no," Mortimer admitted. "I come to you because I have a serious and extraordinary problem. Are you familiar with the Curse of the Baskervilles of Baskerville Hall?"

We assured him that we were not, and he went on to tell us the tale of the evil Sir Hugo who met a grisly death while pursuing an unfortunate young maid out on the moors, several centuries ago. She died from exhaustion, but he was killed by the jaws of a ghostly hound, black as the night itself with eyes like burning coals.

"All of his friends were changed men after that night," Mortimer continued. "Sir Charles Baskerville entrusted me with the manuscript of the legend before his death… under mysterious circumstances."

"This is a fairy tale," Holmes said, leaning back in his chair.

"Sir Charles took the legend to heart. He was convinced that the same terrible fate that Sir Hugo suffered overhung his family. I was the one who found his body on the grounds of Baskerville Hall; there were no marks of violence upon him, but there were footprints some distance off."

Holmes opened his eyes. "Man's or a woman's?"

Dr. Mortimer took off his glasses and leaned closer to Holmes. "They were the footprints of an enormous hound."

On cue the little spaniel barked shrilly, only to be quieted by his master's hand.

Holmes hooked his fingers together and placed them at the back of his desirable skull. "This is a case of extraordinary interest. What is it that you wish me to do, Dr. Mortimer?"

"Advise me what I should do with Sir Henry Baskerville, the only heir to the great wealth," he replied. "He arrives in London tonight. I fear that he may also meet an evil fate."

"We will meet you both at ten o'clock tomorrow. Where are you staying?"

Mortimer gave the address of the Northumberland Hotel, said goodbye, whistled to the dog, and left.

"Good God," I said. "And he's married. What that woman must put up with! Run his fingers along your parietal fissure, indeed!"

Holmes burst out laughing.

The next day Holmes and I were at Sir Henry's door at exactly 9:58 am. However, Dr. Mortimer was not yet there, and Sir Henry mistook Holmes for the manager of the hotel, and took to berating him for the service, and the loss of a boot. Before Holmes could correct the young man, Dr. Mortimer appeared.

"Good morning, Mr. Holmes," the doctor said, causing Sir Henry to then berate him for allowing him to make such a fool of himself.

He talked too much, but Sir Henry seemed an intelligent, attractive, young man. He was taller than both Mortimer and Holmes, with dark hair, dark eyes, and either naturally dark or much tanned skin. He had been in South Africa, so either theory was possible.

Sir Henry apologized to Holmes for mistaking him for the hotel manager, shook his hand, and kissed my hand, addressing me as "Mrs. Holmes."

"Miss Sherwood," I said, before Holmes could say anything that I would regret and that would put Sir Henry back into a foul mood.

To cover this second mistake, he showed us a note he had received with his breakfast that morning. It was letters and words cut from newspaper reading, "As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor." The word "moor" was written by hand, however.

"Why is the word 'moor' written while the others are cut?" Mortimer asked.

"I don't suppose that it would have appeared in the average London newspaper," I said, as Holmes was still scrutinizing the paper.

"This letter shows that someone knows more about what goes on at the moor than we do," Holmes said. "What are your intentions, Sir Henry?"

"I will go to Devonshire," Sir Henry said. "It is my home after all. I'm still not convinced that I need the services of a detective. The real mystery," he crossed the room and picked up a brown boot, "Is what happened to my other boot."

Something crawled out of the boot and onto Sir Henry's wrist.

"Don't move," Holmes shouted, "as you value your life, do not move!"

Sir Henry froze, but his eyes travelled down his arm to the humongous loathsome creature creeping up his arm. His eyes widened and sweat beaded on his temple. Holmes had his riding crop with him, with which he brushed the spider onto the floor. It scuttled across the floor, and up a chair leg, where I put an end to it with my knife. It twitched a few times then was still.

I lifted up the knife, which the nasty thing was speared to, and looked for something to put it in. Sir Henry was slumped in a chair, having brandy poured into him by Dr. Mortimer, so I decided not to bother him by asking if I could have the small box I saw on the nearby table. Carefully, with a pen, I slid the spider off the blade and into the box, closing the lid on top of it.

"Leaving London seems to be a wise idea, Sir Henry," Holmes said, quite cheerfully. "When do you leave?"

"In two days' time," he replied, wiping his brow. "Will you accompany me?"

"I have other business to attend to in London," Holmes said and turned to me. "Sherwood, I want you to accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall. You will be my eyes and ears in Devon. I will join you when I can."

Sir Henry looked uncertain about this arrangement, but perhaps the knife stained with spider blood that I was still holding made him keep his mouth shut.

From the hotel we went to the British Museum, with me cradling the spider box in my hands. Someone pointed us in the direction of a specialist who would look at Sir Henry's would-be assassin. He was an old man with grizzled gray hair, a very large nose, and a peering expression from looking at specimens in poor lighting for too long.

"Oh this is lovely," he said, opening the box. "Tsk… he's been roughly handled. Where did you find him?"

"He was in a boot," Holmes said.

"Ah yes, just come from South America, no doubt," the old codger said. "Happened to me a few years ago, look."

He rolled up his sleeve revealing a nasty puckered scar with two x-shaped lines leading out from it. Then he went on to describe the nature of his injury and how long it took to suck the venom out and several other grisly details from the incident that I wished I had not heard.

"Yes, sir," he told Holmes. "You were lucky. If she had bitten you and you hadn't got immediate medical attention, you would be dead by now."

"She?" Holmes asked.

"Yes. The females are larger and much more vicious in this species… the black jaguar1."

Holmes looked at me as if he expected me to suddenly sprout chelicerae and bite him to death. I rolled my eyes.

"Well, Holmes," I said as we left the museum. "That sinks the theory that the spider came in Sir Henry's luggage."

"Yes. There are sinister forces at work, here, Sherwood. Don't let Sir Henry go unaccompanied on the moors; send me daily reports, and take your revolver."

"What is this other pressing business, Holmes?"

He didn't reply but lit his pipe, letting me know that whatever it was, it was none of my business.

1 Fictional spider, as tarantulas can't do more than give you a good pinch.