Hanging out in chapter nine of The Hound of the Baskervilles, one can see how desperate Watson gets for entertainment out here on the moor. Sure, he's all about protecting Sir Henry, but when we find ourselves hiding among the rocks on the top of a hill just to watch the baronet pantomiming "Love Victorian Style" in the distance . . . well, maybe we should just be napping back at the Hall.
I mean, look at them.
"I'm Sir Henry of Baskerville, I own this whooooooole moor!"
"I'm Beryl Stapleton, blink, blink. I'm the prettiest girl on this whooooooole moor!"
"I should own you, then!"
"No, I will run away and a dog will eat you!"
Okay, Watson's looking a little testy at the play-by-play, and Stapleton is running in like a referee to break up the hold Sir Henry got Beryl into anyway. This whole Sir Henry - Beryl - Stapleton weirdness has at least gotten Stapleton to quit going on and on about the legend of Hugo Baskerville and the hound. Though he claims to be a naturalist, he almost seems like more of a supernaturalist.
If you've ever been through The Hound of the Baskervilles before, the romance between Sir Henry Baskerville and Beryl Stapleton has to be the most spoiler-killed part of the story. I mean, the dark, creepy moor at night is still a dark, creepy moor at night. The giant black dog is still a giant black dog. But this love story between the Canadian and the girl with the exotic foreign look? Once you've been to the end of this book, there's no unseeing what you've seen, right?
But eventually we get to see Watson in solo action as a mystery-solver as he recruits Sir Henry in some sneaky-sneaky to see what John Barrymore (not the actor) is up to. We've seen Watson do the late night vigil with Sherlock Holmes to a successful result. But when he tries it with Sir Henry Baskerville? Let's see.
Sitting in Sir Henry's room silently until three A.M. -- check!
Turning down the lamp to look like everyone's asleep -- check!
Lighting up cigarettes and smoking like fiends -- WATSON!!!
No wonder it takes two nights for Barrymore to finally give up and try to creep past this obvious stakeout. Sure, he's a little deaf, but his nose still works! I bet he can even smell what's cooking when Sir Henry and Doctor John start grilling him. But he's a good man, that Barrymore. He doesn't spill his wife's problems. Luckily, Eliza Selden Barrymore is made of just as sturdy stuff, and gives us all the next big key to this adventure. I say "key," because what she says gets us into one of the best moments of our little visit to Dartmoor.
Out into the autumn night, the smell of damp decaying foliage, the rustle of dry leaves as a light rain starts to fall. Armed with guns and riding crops to beef up our courage. And then, the minute Sir Henry mentions "that hour of darkness in which the power of evil is exalted," the slow rising howl coming across the moor, "the whole air throbbing with it."
The spirit of the moor, the howl of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Even when Watson names the beast, you can hear the capital "H" Hound in his voice. It doesn't stop the two brave chaps, though. On they go, chilled to the bone, stumbling over the rocks, but pressing onward until they find a single candle burning behind some rocks. And in the light of that candle, they find a man who would seem to have been infected by that very howling spirit of the moor, a bestial fellow who primally heaves a rock at them and escapes.
But then, we get a moment that to the enlightened Sherlock Holmes fan is the Bat Signal appearing over Gotham City. A vision that, just as the howl of the Hound possessed their world just moments before, now takes back the night. High on a granite tor, silhouetted againet the full moon is a tall, thin man with crossed arms, seeming to ponder the land before him before passing god-like judgement upon all that lays beneath.
"He might have been the very spirit of that terrible place," Watson will write when he's safely back indoors. Watson has the right idea, but this isn't the spirit of the moor. This is a spirit of uncovered truth. A spirit of bright light shown on dark corners. A spirit of justice . . . basically, the Batman of his day, so the dark outline against the moon thing suits him well. A mystery to those who don't know him, but to those who do . . . .
The answer to a giant ghostly hound has come to the moor.
Time to cheer, because this bit's about to get real.