Two days later Sir Henry, Dr. Mortimer, Spot (his spaniel), and I set off for the Devon. The landscape was wild, craggy, and very cold. I thought of the events of Wuthering Heights (a book I loved but Holmes refused to look at) and wondered what awaited us at Baskerville Hall. As Holmes had said on numerous occasions, in the city there was always someone to hear a scream, while in the country people were free to commit any horrendous act with little worry of getting caught.
About three miles or so from Baskerville Hall an official-looking person stopped the carriage and warned us about an escaped convict… a murderer.
"One of our largest prisons is housed on the moors," Mortimer explained to Sir Henry and me, "Dartmoor. It's about seven miles from the Hall, so about four from here. Is the fellow especially dangerous?"
The man shrugged. "He's a murderer, ain't he? Don't venture out too far if you don't want your throats cut."
I'd come close enough to that fate in earlier in the year at the hands of Jack the Ripper. I was saved by a courageous little flower vendor with a bucket. That was in January of 1889; it was now March, and I had every intention of keeping my throat free of cuts. All the more reason not to stray too far off the grounds of Baskerville Hall, I thought, as Dr. Mortimer started on about skulls again. Apparently there were fossils to be found on the moors, or at least the remains of primitive peoples. I had little interest in thing found underground; there's no future there.
Arriving at Baskerville Hall, we were greeted by a very handsome middle-aged man, the butler, who introduced himself as Barrymore. His wife was also handsome, though she seemed very nervous. I could not exactly blame her; the ancestral home was not what one could call inviting, and the previous master had just died under somewhat shady circumstances.
Dr. Mortimer declined to stay for dinner (his wife was waiting for him), said goodbye, and returned to his own home. Sir Henry and I went to our rooms to freshen up a bit before dinner, and to explore the house a bit. My room adjoined the empty one next to mine, and it overlooked a particularly rocky section of land. I told Mrs. Barrymore that I could manage unpacking, did some of that, and started my first letter back to Holmes, describing the scenery, the Barrymores, and mentioning what the official had said about the escape from Dartmoor.
The rest of the day was uneventful, but in the evening something rather unusual happened. I did not go to bed at my usual hour, I did not even undress. I sat up reading, and was surprised by a faint knocking on my outer door. It was Sir Henry; he made the "shh" gesture and pointed down the hall. I tiptoed behind him, and let him lead me to Barrymore, who was standing at the window with a candle in his hand.
"What are you doing, Barrymore?" Sir Henry asked.
Barrymore jumped and turned around, looking very guilty. He was not much taller than I, so Sir Henry towered over him, no doubt adding to the intimidation. "Nothing, sir… just checking to see that this window's locked."
"Go to bed, Barrymore."
Sir Henry took the candle from his servant, who disappeared into the dark hallway. I in turn took the candle from Sir Henry, and on a whim waved it once in front of the window. A light far in the distance blinked back at me.
"He was signaling someone," I said. "It looks like the someone is down at the ruins."
"Is he plotting against me?" Sir Henry asked, sounding more irked than frightened.
"I don't know. Shall we investigate?"
"I'll get a lantern."
Out on the moors it was so dark that even with the lantern we could barely see. The wild wind threatened to completely extinguish the flame, but we managed to reach the ruins without being plunged into complete darkness. The smell of campfire was in the air, along with a few others that were not so pleasant. Sir Henry held the lantern above his head, casting a wide circle of light around the two of us. It was an innocent logical gesture, but it brought back an unpleasant memory of an American Indian story about a vampire skeleton that was kept at bay by torchlight in a setting very similar to this.
I shook my head like a dog clearing its ears of water, sending the skeleton back into the recesses of my memory.
"Uh someone's definitely been camping here," I said. "And you can smell the fire."
"Yes," Sir Henry lowered the lantern somewhat. "But who?"
"I don't know, but it would probably be in our best interests to go back to the Hall. Whoever Barrymore was signaling to probably knows this place better than we."
We retraced our steps, but before we were even halfway there an unearthly howl rent the air. Sir Henry grabbed my elbow, damn near cutting off my circulation. Luckily it was my left elbow, and I was able to draw my revolver with the hand I could shoot with.
"Raise the light," I said, almost in a whisper.
He did, and we could just see the faint outline of a dog in the distance. It was roughly the size of a Shetland pony. Then it was gone.
"God in Heaven," Sir Henry said, letting go of my arm to cross himself. "It's true."
"Possibly," I said, just to be the voice of reason, but I have a strong conviction in the existence of ghosts, and the moors of Devonshire seemed an ideal place for them. "We saw a dog. That could mean anything, including nothing."
"Yes." Sir Henry resumed walking at a respectable clip. "But it's sent sleep to the Devil for me."
"And me, too. I'll sit up and read until daylight, or walk in the yard."
Sir Henry did not reply, and we reached the house safely. I retrieved Wuthering Heights and sat up with my host until he dozed off in his chair. Quietly, I left my chair and carried book and light over to the window. I hoped that Heathcliff and Cathy wherever they were, that they were finally happy, and I hoped that the spectral hound was just a hound. If it really was a beast from beyond the grave then there was not a lot that Holmes and I could do.
"What are you doing?"
I jumped and turned around to find Sir Henry sitting up with his eyes open.
"Pondering," I said. "I thought you were asleep."
"Just resting my eyes. I'm tired even though I can't sleep."
"I'll make some coffee," I offered.
"You don't have to."
"I'd like some, and if you need some sustenance I have motives beyond my own greed."
"All right then, if only to save you from greed."
I smiled, picked up my candle, and navigated the darkened hallways until I found the kitchen. Mrs. Barrymore kept things in wonderful order, so it was very easy for me to find exactly what I needed, and soon the smell of brewing coffee was seeping through the air, making the Hall seem somewhat friendlier. Sir Henry appeared in the doorway, but seemed uncertain about coming inside.
"Oh, come in," I said, taking two cups off a shelf. "The kitchen isn't catching. Sit."
He pulled out a chair at the table and sat. Moments later, with coffee and brandy, I joined him. We sat in silence with the first swallow or so of the hot dark liquid then he broke the silence with a question.
"How did you come to this… situation?" He asked.
I chuckled and set my cup down. "That's a question not a lot of people have the courage to ask me, and I'm afraid I don't have a very good answer. There are quite a lot of things that got me interested in the science of detection, as Holmes puts it, but if you're asking how I ended up sharing the flat with him, I'm not sure. What I mean is, I can tell you the events that led to it, but not really the why… do you understand?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
"Well, neither do I, but there are some things that become part of your life, or how you live your life without you really knowing why."
"I think I begin to see what you're getting at," Sir Henry said. "But it's a bit melodramatic, isn't it?"
"And what's going on in your life right now isn't?"
He smiled, revealing very white though somewhat crowded teeth. "Touché. My life has become a dime novel."