Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hound, Chapter Four: Now, we're talking story!

Stepping into the fourth chapter of The Hound of the Baskervilles is almost like stepping into an entirely new Sherlock Holmes story. In fact, it's almost like a 221B reboot (a word foreshadowing Baskerville events to come, if ever there was one). We first got to see Sherlock Holmes enjoying his morning coffee while keeping a sneaky eye on Watson so they can have a game of fetch-info-from-the-stick, now we're back gathered at the same breakfast table -- only this time Mrs. Hudson has cleared it early, having learned her lesson the day before. We are not, apparently, unexpected.

Which is good, because this chapter is as rich in detail and atmosphere as the last two were barren of it. Dr. Mortimer, it turns out, was more of a pre-client than a client, and we get our second-stage client about to walk in the door at ten. The light is such that we can't make out whether Holmes is wearing his blue or purple dressing gown -- both of which saw use in the year of this tale. I'm thinking it's a royal blue that could pass for purple, but you can be the judge.

I'll leave judgement to the ladies, as well, on whether Sir Henry Baskerville is a good-looking man, now that he's walked into the sitting room. He's a little fella, but the strong features and baronet thing could make him a lot more sexy. Dr. Watson is going to be spending some time with Sir Henry later, so it's good to start scoping out the slash fiction possibilities early on.

Like previous chapters, where we all stood around focussed on a manuscript, a newspaper article, or a map, we're soon back to staring at paper here. Sir Henry steps it up a notch, though, by bringing out the classic cut-out-words-pasted-to-form-a-message note one usually sees from kidnappers or extortionists. Here it's either a threat or a warning, but it gives Sherlock Holmes something to work with and show off his special skills. The coolest part of those special skills? Sherlock has been working on them since he was "very young," and actually talks about a time when he wasn't as good as he is now. When he was "very young."

The mental image one gets of little Sherlock staring at the typesetting of Leeds Mercury and Western Morning News is cute as can be, and it gives us even more of a cookie. What was young Sherlock's situation that he came to be seeing both a paper from a West Yorkshire up north and one from Devon and Cornwall down Baskervilles way? Was he raised in one area and visiting the other? There's a story in Holmes's statement on his type-studies, you can be sure.

Like I said, this is a rich, detailed chapter to wander around in. I could spend all day in this chapter, but even at that, we're going to get hustled out of 221B soon . . . which means more fun!

And while I don't know what the ladies have decided about Sir Henry, I know I like him. That point became decided the second he stepped up as the first client ever to go, "Hey, let's do lunch!" He even suggests Watson come along. Weird moor doggies, anonymous notes of threat, a new boot stolen -- none of this gets in the way of going out to lunch in London for Sir Henry Baskerville. Definitely my kind of guy.

But no time for thoughts of food, for when Holmes goes, "Your hat and boots, Watson, quick! Not a moment to lose!" things move as quickly as if there were a Bat-pole in 221B. Watson is tugging on his boots, Holmes is getting out of his languid dreamer robes. And Mortimer and Baskerville have already made it two hundred yards down the street by the time they see pavement. Given the average human walking speed of 3.1 miles per hour, that means it took Holmes and Watson about two minutes and twelve seconds to get frock coat and boots on  and get down those steps.

Me, I can throw on a coat and boots and descend seventeen steps in about thirty seconds, so as exciting as Holmes's call-to-arms was, there was about a minute and a half of tapping my foot there. Since Holmes was in and out of his room in a few seconds, the blame, I'm afraid, goes to Watson for the wait. But, him being the narrator, he's pretty good at covering his tracks.

But why am I bitching about Watson when there's fun to be had? Holmes dashing into traffic, a warm reception by Wilson at the messenger office, Holmes displaying his pocket full of shillings . . . really, he pulls out twenty-three shillings like it's nothing. We know he paid the Irregulars in shillings. Does this mean Sherlock constantly had one pocket heavy with a load of shillings? If it was a coat pocket, that actually might not have been a bad idea, as it could serve as a weapon in a pinch!

I know, I know, I'm very A.D.D. about the doings of The Hound of the Baskervilles these days, fixating on the time it takes Watson to put on his boots and pocket change when there are disguised stalkers and mysterious messages to track down. But in a really good Holmes adventure, I'm always getting hung up on the little stuff. There's just so much of it!

And just wait until next chapter! I hear picture galleries are coming up!


  1. Brad, I'm really enjoying your take on Hound of the Baskervilles. You really bring it to life. Thank you for refreshing my interest in the story.
    Carl L. Heifetz

  2. He is not carrying twenty three shillings, he had only a moment before asked Wilson for change.
    Approx. 20 shillings per pound, he asked for change for five pounds. That does't mean he only got shillings as change though.

  3. So he gave Cartwright 23 shillings for outside porters, and 23 shillings for hall porters and ten shillings for emergencies so that makes 56 shillings. So, depending on what a pound was worth back then, he probably had a few in his pocket.