Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hound, Chapter Seven: Sunlight, fresh air, and the inevitable odd duck.

 The fascinating thing about The Hound of the Baskervilles as a mystery is the great heaping piles of mystery that keep getting shoveled upon those who walk within it. Big mysteries, like demon hounds, and small mysteries, like Mrs. Barrymore's apparent weeping. Why does she sob in the night?

Given the evidence presented so far, we have  . . . well, what? Dr. Watson says her husband is handsome, and she is "large, impassive, heavy-featured . . ." with a "stern, set expression of mouth." Yikes.

Sherlock Holmes was always looking for a female presence to detect romance in a household, but Mrs. Barrymore is weeping after the arrival of a gentleman, known to live with another gentleman, who finds her husband handsome. Barrymore professes that "we were both very attached to Sir Charles," but perhaps it was he more than her, and Mrs. Barrymore found false hope in Sir Charles's death that she could finally regain her husband's affection. And yet here comes the new resident bringing a male companion and no wife nor family.

Hey, we have to look at all the angles here. Sherlock stayed behind in London, so somebody has to spin theories and eliminate them as impossible. Of course, he usually keeps his mouth shut on the most of what he's theorizing about.

There's a pleasant, four mile walk to the village of Grimpen ahead of us, which shall make excellent theory-spinning time . . . unless we're waiting for more facts, so as not to theorize ahead of them. Judging where the "time to theorize" line is can be tricky.

Has anyone ever mentioned the Green Acres quality to the Grimpen area in daylight? A visit to the village grover/postmaster (whose name is apparently not Mr. Drucker) always puts me in mind of that. His son James delivers the telegrams. We've already met Dr. Mortimer, whose house rivals the local inn in size, dwarfing the rest of the little town. And then there's the real character with a butterfly net and a tin box on the road . . . this place is Britain's answer to Hooterville.

Better yet, the guy on the road is a fan of Dr. Watson's Beeton's Christmas Annual work. In 1889, that was the only publication Watson had publicly celebrated his friend's skills in, so this guy has to be a fan who got in on the ground floor with A Study in Scarlet. And why would a Grimpen local be in so early, unless Holmes was as area boy made good?

I really need to keep my theories in my head until they prove out a little more thoroughly.

Watson's fan's name, of course, is "Stapleton of Merripit House" as houses are more important than first names . . . at least to local eccentrics who refer to the rest of the residents as "peasants." Stapleton is a real charmer, just the sort of chap you'd like to stroll through a pony-sucking moor with, while ghost-hounds moan and ravens croak. Who else is going to talk about cavemen couches?

His sister, whom Watson "remembered that I had hear someone describe her as a beauty" appears, which is apparently odd "since ladies of any sort must be few upon the moor." She has a curious lisp, and suddenly we're learning first names.

"Halloa, Beryl!"
"Well, Jack, you are very hot!"

Later, we'll see that Beryl is very hot, too, as these Stapletons are a running family, and yet not, apparently, in shape for it. But for now, we find that she doesn't seem to be the fan of A Study in Scarlet that her brother is, as she doesn't react to the name "Dr. Watson" at all.

Jack and Beryl Stapleton, their "strange, wizened" manservant, Jack's butterfly collection . . . even with Holmes's injunction to study the neighbors, none of these make Watson think its worth his time to stick around Merripit House for lunch. He seems more concerned about his bodyguard role than that of investigator, and wants to set eyes upon Sir Henry once more, just to make sure he's safe.

Personally, I'd stay for lunch. But given that Stapleton's last establishment fell to a serious epidemic, perhaps that's not the best idea. They never do say it wasn't the food.

P.S. That was two ravens croaking, which makes me wonder if Odin watches over the moor. Perhaps that wasn't the Hound of the Baskervilles, but Fenrir that was seen roaming the countryside.