Baring-Gould dates the Hound of the Baskervilles in September/October of 1888. While Watson suggests that the case took place in 1889, scholars are divided over the actual year; some scholars giving a date prior to Holmes’ death, others placing it after his return. Given that Watson is living in Baker Street during the case, and does not mention Mary Morstan, it is safe to assume that he was not married at the time. Evidence for a later date can be found in the numerous references to Watson’s publications, suggesting that the case took place sometime after the publication of SIGN (1890). The Hound of the Baskervilles was published in serial form between 1901 and 1902.
Few readers of Canon (if any) will forget the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, for the curse upon the Baskerville family, as first told by Dr. Mortimer, and later brought to life upon the moors of Dartmoor, is one of the most chilling of all the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sir Henry Baskerville, the last of the Baskerville line, finds himself heir to Baskerville Hall, and a terrible family curse involving a demonic hound, which has plagued the Baskerville family for centuries. Armed only with his courage, and a trusty companion in Watson, Sir Henry takes up his ancient family seat, while Holmes, operating from the shadows, sets about unravelling the mystery. HOUND is perhaps Doyle’s finest work, and is, in fact, the most popular of all the Sherlock Holmes stories; widely regarded by many as the pinnacle of Canon.
Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before.
The story begins in Baker Street, with Holmes enjoying his breakfast, and Watson examining the curious walking stick left behind by a missed visitor. Their conversation, which has become a familiar sight by now, is quite interesting, and, indeed, the perfect start of what will become a gripping tale.
“Well, Watson, what do you make of it?”
Holmes was sitting with his back to me, and I had given him no sign of my occupation.
“How did you know what I was doing? I believe you have eyes in the back of your head.”
“I have, at least, a well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot in front of me,” said he.
The above scene occurs only moments into the story, and it is interesting to note that, despite the sinister nature of the story, HOUND should open with so playful a scene. We have already remarked upon Holmes’ increasing tendency to engage Watson in his cases, and upon Holmes’ increased dependency on Watson’s observations, and yet this scene demands particular attention for it contains one very interesting characteristic.
“I have, at least, a well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot in front of me.”
If we use Baring-Gould’s date, then this case takes place seven years into their partnership (and it should be noted that Baring-Gould’s chronology is one of the earliest possible dates). It is remarkable, then, that Holmes should feel the need to observe Watson unseen. Indeed, that Holmes should pass his morning spying on his friend is very indicative of Holmes’ interest in Watson. Clearly, Holmes is still quite fascinated by Watson.
Watson, of course, is more than happy to use Holmes’ opening as an excuse to try his hand at observation and deduction. Holmes seems quite excited by Watson’s participation, going so far as to offer encouragement in the form of praise:
“Really, Watson, you excel yourself,” said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. “I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt.”
Aside from the obvious pride in Holmes’ statement, there are several points of interest which warrant particular attention.
First is Holmes’ acknowledgment that Watson understates his own abilities. The reader has long known this to be true (for Watson is far more skilled and intelligent than he gives himself credit for) and yet it is quite remarkable that Holmes should vocalize such a sentiment. Holmes, it would appear, is well aware of Watson’s talents and virtues, and while one would expect Holmes to demonstrate this solely through his actions (it need not be said that Holmes is a man of verbal restraint), that he should voice these thoughts is truly a sign of Holmes’ appreciation for his long-time friend and companion.
We then turn our attention to Holmes’ statement that Watson is a conductor of light, capable of stimulating genius. While the author would perhaps disagree with Holmes’ assessment that Watson lacks luminosity, it is clear here that Holmes appreciates Watson, not only for his usefulness in the field, but for his capacity to stimulate thought. For a man of Holmes’ nature, truly this must have been a very valuable character trait for Watson to possess. We begin to see why Holmes held Watson in such high regard.
Finally, we turn to Holmes’ confession that he is in Watson’s dept. Again, the reader will recall that Holmes is not known for his openness (nor for showing weakness in the company of others –Watson included), and yet, here he admits that Watson plays a far greater role in Holmes’ successes than Watson might have otherwise suspected.
That Holmes should voice such a confession is a sign, not only of the trust between them, or even of how valuable Watson has become, but of the comfort Holmes takes in Watson’s presence. One will note, too, that, although this is meant as a compliment, there is an air of insult buried within Holmes’ words. While this is very in keeping with the Great Detective, again it speaks to the security between the two men, for otherwise Holmes might have censored himself.
Naturally, Watson is quite pleased by Holmes’ compliment, and tells us:
He had never said as much before, and I must admit that his words gave me keen pleasure, for I had often been piqued by his indifference to my admiration and to the attempts which I had made to give publicity to his methods. I was proud, too, to think that I had so far mastered his system as to apply it in a way which earned his approval.
The above statement is quite telling, for here Watson admits to feeling piqued by Holmes’ indifference; an act which has become a reoccurring theme in Canon. It is obvious, then, that until this moment Watson felt certain that the admiration and affection that he displayed towards Holmes was entirely one-sided. That Holmes should demonstrate such confidence and admit to such appreciation likely pleased Watson beyond keenness. Watson’s reaction, one must confess, is that of an adoring pupil; indeed, one can almost picture the flush of pleasure that likely stained Watson’s cheeks at Holmes’ words.
It is clear here, too, that Watson has likely picked up on the patronizing tone of Holmes’ statement, and yet, Watson does not appear offended. Watson obviously knows Holmes well, and is able, through long association and intimate acquaintanceship, to read between the lines and know that this is Holmes’ way of showing his appreciation.
Watson has, of course, erred in part of his deduction, and Holmes, although reluctantly, feels it necessary to inform Watson of his mistake:
“I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous. When I said that you stimulated me I meant, to be frank, that in noting your fallacies I was occasionally guided towards the truth. Not that you are entirely wrong in this instance.”
While he does confess that Watson was not entirely wrong, Holmes still feels the need to point out one or two quibbles. We have remarked time and time again upon Holmes’ need to ‘show off’ in front of Watson, and this occasion does not differ in that respect. Indeed, Holmes is only too keenly aware that Watson’s interest stems largely from Holmes’ brilliance, and so, were Watson’s talents to ascend to the level of Holmes’, Holmes would undoubtedly fear losing Watson’s interest. It is therefore entirely necessary that Holmes should dispute Watson and attempt to disprove his theories.
Sadly, this display is interrupted by the arrival of a client; one Dr. Mortimer, the cause of their morning’s activities. It is curious here, that upon spotting Mortimer on the street, Holmes’ first thought (after confirming the breed of dog) is to request that Watson remain.
Don’t move, I beg you, Watson.
We have previously noted Holmes’ tendency to rely on Watson’s presence during his cases, and here we see no exception. In fact. Holmes resorts to begging in the hope that Watson might agree to remain and lend his assistance.
Although not directly related to the subtextual elements found within this story, it is interesting to note that both Watson and Holmes’ deductions were flawed:
“Only that you have disarranged our little deductions”.
Holmes, while disappointed, manages to maintain his sense of humour, and one cannot help but picture the scene which must have transpired shortly after Mortimer’s leaving; Watson, one cannot doubt, would have been quite pleased to learn that Holmes is also capable of erring.
Dr. Mortimer’s arrival does, however, provide for a very interesting presumption. Shortly after clarifying the origins of the stick, Mortimer states:
“I presume that it is Mr. Sherlock Holmes whom I am addressing and not –“
“No, this is my friend Dr. Watson.”
He then goes on to mention that he has heard your name mentioned in connection with that of your friend, a clear indication that Holmes and Watson are forever bound together in the public’s mind. It should be noted that this also provides evidence for a later date.
It is not long after arriving in Baker Street that Dr. Mortimer presents Holmes with a curious manuscript. This provides for a very interesting scene, for it gives Holmes the occasion to request Watson’s physical presence.
“You will observe, Watson, the alternative use of the long ‘s’ and the short ‘t’. It is one of several indications which enabled me to fix the date.”
I looked over his shoulder at the yellow paper and the faded script.
In examining Canon, we find numerous occasions in which Holmes arranges matters such that Watson is forced to glance over Holmes’ shoulder. Indeed, this occurs so frequently that one cannot help but wonder if perhaps this was done intentionally so that Holmes might occasion Watson’s nearness. Aside from the suggestive nature of Holmes’ request, it is interesting to note that Watson does not in the least find this odd. Clearly, Watson is quite used to Holmes’ demands for Watson’s proximity.
Dr. Mortimer’s visit lingers some time, and it is during his stay that we first learn of the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, and of the imminent arrival of Sir Henry Baskerville and Dr. Mortimer’s concerns for Sir Henry’s safety. Shortly after his leaving, Holmes falls into study, but not before remarking upon Watson’s leaving.
“Going out, Watson?”
“Unless I can help you.”
We know that Watson is living in Baker Street, and so Watson has no real reason to leave; he does not have wife, or a home, or patients to return to. It is obvious, then, that Watson has affairs of his own to see to, and yet, upon hearing Holmes’ question, Watson clearly offers to stay. This is highly suggestive, for it indicates that Watson places Holmes, and Holmes’ needs, before his own.
Holmes, naturally, sends Watson on his way, requesting that he not return until evening. Watson, obeying Holmes’ request to the letter, does exactly that, and upon his return, tells us:
My first impression as I opened the door was that a fire had broken out, for the room was so filled with smoke that the light of the lamp upon the table was blurred by it. As I entered, however, my fears were set at rest, for it was the acrid fumes of strong coarse tobacco which took me by the throat and set me coughing. Through the haze I had a vague vision of Holmes in his dressing-gown coiled up in an armchair with his black clay pipe between his lips. Several rolls of paper lay around him.
While the above passage is interesting in that it infers Watson’s fear that Holmes has been consumed by a great fire, and his relief upon discovering that the smoke is only tobacco smoke, what is perhaps more interesting is the conversation which follows:
“Caught cold, Watson?” said he.
“No, it’s this poisonous atmosphere.”
“I suppose it is pretty thick, now that you mention it.”
“Thick! It is intolerable.”
“Open the window, then! You have been at your club all day, I perceive.”
“My dear Holmes!”
“Am I right?”
“Certainly, but how?”
He laughed at my bewildered expression.
“There is a delightful freshness about you, Watson, which makes it a pleasure to exercise any small powers which I possess at your expense”.
Note that this is the second occasion contained within this story in which Holmes remarks to Watson his enjoyment of deducing at Watson’s expense. Indeed, there is a freshness about Watson, and it is obvious here that this freshness is part of the reason Holmes so enjoys Watson’s company.
The reader will undoubtedly recall the numerous occasions Watson has referred to Holmes’ lack of friends. It is interesting, then, that, in explaining the observations which led to his deduction of Watson having passed the day at his club, Holmes states:
“He [Watson] is not a man with intimate friends”.
Clearly, then, we have evidence that Watson, like Holmes, is lacking in outside friends. Curious, is it not, that Holmes is the only intimate friend Watson can claim; Watson the only intimate friend Holmes can claim.
Shortly after Watson’s return, the pair turn to discussing the case, Holmes describing the setting and some of his own insight, before finally asking Watson his opinion.
“Have you turned the case over in your mind?”
It has become increasingly clear that Watson has now assumed the role of full partner, rather than a mere helpmate.
While Watson is quite bewildered, he is able to inspire Holmes’ own deductions; a reoccurring theme within the story and it is quite evident that Watson’s role has increased significantly between this case and the last. If Baring-Gould’s date is correct, and Watson has only recently become engaged to Mary Morstan, then Holmes’ attitude towards Watson, and, indeed, his constant references to the role Watson plays in Holmes’ life, can be viewed in an entirely different, and entirely more subtextual, light. While your author prefers to date HOUND at a later date, the theory is worth mentioning.
It is obvious, however, that, Mary Morstan or no Mary Morstan, Holmes and Watson still reside together in Baker Street, and, indeed, lead a rather domestic life. The next morning allows us a glimpse of this life:
Our breakfast table was cleared early, and Holmes waited in his dressing-gown for the promised interview.
The reader will no doubt agree that Watson’s reference to our breakfast table and his description of Holmes’ attire paint a rather intimate portrait.
This scene of domesticity is cut short by the arrival of Dr. Mortimer and Sir Henry. While their meeting lasts some time, and presents little in the line of subtextual content, it is curious to note that, upon leaving, Sir Henry pauses to invite Holmes and Watson to lunch.
“Suppose you and your friend, Dr. Watson, come round and lunch with us at two”.
While Sir Henry has come with the express purpose of seeing Holmes, he still invites the pair to lunch. This is curious, as it again suggests that the public is more than well aware of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Indeed, that a client should presume that the pair would dine together is quite telling.
Perhaps even more telling, however, is Holmes’ response:
“Is that convenient to you, Watson?”
That Holmes’ first thought should be to inquire into Watson’s schedule (and he is, in essence, asking Watson’s permission), is far more indicative of a husband speaking to a wife than of a friend speaking to his companion.
Watson, of course, agrees to the lunch, and Holmes relays this information to Sir Henry, upon which Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer take their leave. Moments after they have departed from Baker Street, Holmes springs into action, and drags Watson down onto the street so that they might follow their departed guests.
Their delay, however, has set them back some two hundred yards and Watson, being the man of action that he is, offers to run on and stop them. Holmes’ reply, one will agree, borders on romantic.
“Not for the world, my dear Watson. I am perfectly satisfied with your company if you will tolerate mine. Our friends are wise, for it is certainly a very fine morning for a walk.”
While we will later learn Holmes’ reasons for wishing a walk, it is amusing to note Holmes’ explanation, for truly one cannot help but feel certain that Holmes spoke the truth when he suggested that he was satisfied with enjoying a fine morning stroll at Watson’s side.
Their walk comes to an end a short time later. Having scared off Sir Henry’s pursuer, Holmes and Watson make their way into the messenger’s office to dispatch an inquiry into the cab that was driving Sir Henry’s shadow. Upon leaving, Holmes realizes that there is nothing more that can be done until their lunch with Sir Henry, and so suggests they fill their time in some other capacity.
…”and then we will drop into one of the Bond Street picture galleries and fill in the time until we are due at the hotel.”
This is one of the many examples of Holmes’ desire to spend both his personal and his professional time by Watson’s side. Indeed, the two men seem to spend a great deal of time together, and yet, despite this, Holmes (a man perpetually bored by inactivity) never seems to tire of Watson’s company.
He would talk of nothing but art, of which he had the crudest ideas, from our leaving the gallery until we found ourselves at the Northumberland Hotel.
It is interesting, too, to note that Holmes apparently took Watson to see a collection of nudes.
Shortly after arriving at the Northumberland Hotel and seeing Sir Henry, Holmes decides that it is imperative that Sir Henry not return to Baskerville Hall alone. Indeed, Holmes tells Sir Henry:
“No, Sir Henry, you must take with you someone, a trusty man, who will be always by your side.”
Sir Henry, discovering that Holmes is otherwise engaged, inquires into whom Holmes might recommend. Holmes’ response, and indeed, his actions are quite touching.
Holmes laid his hand upon my arm.
“If my friend would undertake it there is no man who is better worth having at your side when you are in a tight place. No one can say so more confidently than I.”
Again we are witness to a great compliment from Holmes, for truly, no man can say so more confidently than he. That Holmes might accompany this compliment with such a tender gesture is also quite telling, for it is obvious here that Holmes does place his full confidence in Watson’s ability, and wishes, not only Sir Henry to know this, but for Watson to know it as well.
Naturally, Watson agrees, and arrangements are made. Upon returning to Baker Street, Holmes shows his appreciation and, indeed, his love for Watson by remarking upon his concern for Watson’s safety.
“I can only wish you better luck in Devonshire. But I’m not easy in my mind about it.”
“About sending you. It’s an ugly business, Watson, an ugly dangerous business, and the more I see of it the less I like it. Yes my dear fellow, you may laugh, but I give you my word that I shall be very glad to have you back safe and sound in Baker Street once more.”
If, indeed, we are using Baring-Gould’s chronology, and this case does take place shortly before Watson’s marriage, then Holmes’ remarkable behaviour can be attributed to his desire for Watson to know the true depth of his feelings. If, as your author suspects, this case can be dated after Watson’s marriage (and indeed, after Holmes’ return) then it is evident that Holmes and Watson are a very much established couple by this point, Holmes worrying, not only for a friend, by for a life-long, intimate partner. That he should vocalize these concerns is quite unlike Holmes, and speaks to the depth of his feelings for Watson.
Indeed, Holmes seems so preoccupied with Watson in this story that he goes so far as to travel with Watson to the train station (the modern day equivalent of taking one’s spouse to the airport).
Mr. Sherlock Holmes drove with me to the station and gave me his last parting injunctions and advice.
Holmes’ worry continues, as seen in his parting instructions.
“Most certainly. Keep your revolver near you night and day, and never relax your precautions.”
While Holmes has expressed concern for Watson’s safety before, never has he been more obvious than in this scene. Indeed, Holmes’ worry borders on paranoia, and one cannot help but wonder at the cause behind this. We have touched on the potential of Watson’s impending marriage and on the potential for a deepening relationship, and yet, Holmes’ manner around Watson seems to indicate that Holmes is truly incapable of spending any period of time apart from his Watson. It is not too far of a stretch, then, to assume that Holmes is officially ‘in over his head’ where Watson is concerned. That he should take to ‘wearing his heart on his sleeve’ is so unlike the detective that one can only look to Watson’s influence in order to find an explanation. Truly, Holmes’ relationship with Watson has changed Holmes for the better.
Watson’s leave-taking marks a shift in the story, for the tale now becomes Watson’s, Holmes disappearing into the background (to worry frantically over his Watson’s safety, no doubt).
Watson, ever Watson, seems unconcerned by the subtle shift in Holmes’ behaviour, and even goes so far as to admire the physical characteristics of another man. This occurs shortly after arriving at Baskerville Hall, where, upon meeting the butler, Watson states:
He was a remarkable-looking man, tall, handsome, with a square black beard and pale, distinguished features.
A clear indication of where Watson’s preferences lay; his heart may belong to Holmes, and yet his eyes are free to wander, and when they do wander, it is frequently his own sex that holds Watson’s attention.
Barrymore’s attractiveness cannot distract Watson for long, however, and shortly after arriving in Baskerville Hall, Watson finds his thoughts turning to Holmes. Indeed, Watson soon confesses his desire to have Holmes by his side, a clear indication of just how much Watson misses Holmes.
I prayed, as I walked back along the gray, lonely road, that my friend might soon be freed from his preoccupations and able to come down to take this heavy burden of responsibility from my shoulders.
Aside from feeling out of his depth, the reader is well aware that Watson is far more capable than he himself realizes. Could it be, then, that Watson’s subconscious was merely craving Holmes’ presence? That Watson, being the proper gentlemen that he was, expressed this in such a way as to suggest that it was Holmes’ insight he longed for?
Indeed, Watson’s subconscious seems quite distracted by Holmes’ absence, for, upon meeting Stapleton, Watson is quite taken aback by Stapleton’s question regarding Holmes’ interest in the matter.
“Has Mr. Sherlock Holmes?” [formed a theory on the case]
The words took away my breath for an instant…
We can, of course, forgive Watson for this momentary lapse of oxygen, for the thought of Holmes always leaves him quite flustered. It is, however, curious to note that, again, Watson’s presence is associated with Holmes. Clearly, the public is only too aware of the intimate bond between the two men. Indeed, Stapleton, upon explaining how he deduced Sherlock Holmes’ involvement, states:
“The records of your detective have reached us here…”
The author wishes to draw particular attention to Stapleton referring to Holmes as your detective. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that the entire world knows that Holmes belongs to Watson; and that Watson belongs to Holmes.
Of course, Watson does not soon forget about Holmes; indeed, he spends the bulk of his time alone in Dartmoor thinking of Holmes. This is particularly evident when one examines the several chapters devoted to Watson’s letters and diary entries. While I will not include the entirety of these letters and entries, they do speak to the informality and intimate familiarity of Holmes and Watson’s relationship. Several particularly noteworthy passages have been given:
All this, however, is foreign to the mission on which you sent me and will probably be very uninteresting to your severely practical mind. I can still remember your complete indifference as to whether the sun moved round the earth or the earth round the sun. Let me, therefore, return to the facts concerning Sir Henry Baskerville.
Watson has just spent some time describing the gloomy atmosphere of the moor, and then, remembering to whom it was he was writing, he quickly changes gears and apologizes for his distraction. This particular passage is interesting in that it not only indicates Watson’s complete awareness of Holmes and Holmes’ expectations, but calls to mind an incident that occurred some time ago (indeed, the exchange can be found in A Study In Scarlet, which, when using Baring-Gould’s chronology, occurred some seven years prior). Truly Watson’s memory is long, and it is curious to note that his memory is most keen when it comes to facts and incidences surrounding Sherlock Holmes.
His attention to detail in this first letter is also quite remarkable, for he writes to Holmes as though he is writing a story, despite knowing Holmes’ distaste for Watson’s ‘romanticisms’. This, coupled with Watson’s introduction of My Dear Holmes, gives the impression of a very intimate correspondence, rather than a mere progress report. Watson, then, is obviously writing, not to his colleague, but rather, to his close and intimate friend.
It becomes increasingly evident that Watson is writing for the sake of writing, rather than the sake of reporting, for although knows he must give Holmes the facts, he cannot help but discuss his day as though he were unwinding alongside Holmes in Baker Street.
You are aware that I am not a very sound sleeper, and since I have been on guard in this house my slumbers have been lighter than ever.
Watson then goes on to include several rather intimate suggestions, without providing explanation, for he knows that Holmes knows him more completely than any man ever could (for how else should Holmes know that Watson was a light sleeper?).
So personal are these letters that Watson even admits to several of his follies, trusting Holmes to do what he will with them, despite the fact that they are not entirely needed.
But when I came to think the matter over my conscience reproached me bitterly for having on any pretext allowed him to go out of my sight. I imagined what my feelings would be if I had to return to you and to confess that some misfortune had occurred through my disregard for your instructions. I assure you my cheeks flushed at the very thought.
The above passage comes shortly after Watson has allowed Sir Henry to head out upon the moor without escort. That Watson would confess to the flushing of his cheeks, and to his fear of disappointing Holmes, is quite remarkable.
In fact, we get the sense that Watson is quite concerned that he might somehow disappoint Holmes. This is to be expected, and yet, it is quite surprising to note how often Watson feels comfortable mentioning this to Holmes.
Congratulate me, my dear Holmes, and tell me that I have not disappointed you as an agent — that you do not regret the confidence which you showed in me when you sent me down.
The need for approval here is quite obvious, but so too is Watson’s desire to have Holmes by his side. He understands Holmes’ need to remain in London, and yet, feels unworthy of Holmes’ trust. His need for Holmes becomes so prevalent that Watson willing confesses:
Best of all would it be if you could come down to us.
Aside from the content of the letters, which are quite suggestive, there is the length of the letters; each of Watson’s letters spanning several pages, and one often gets the impression that he is rambling without direction. It is now blindingly obvious that Watson misses his Holmes.
In fact, Watson’s desire to have Holmes by his side leads to a single-minded obsession with a stranger he has seen upon the moor. This is quite significant, for we will later learn that this stranger is, in fact, Holmes.
He had not seen this lonely man upon the moor and could not feel the thrill which his strange presence and his commanding attitude had given to me.
It is quite curious that Watson, ignorant to Holmes’ presence, should feel such a thrill at this man’s commanding presence. That Watson finds himself drawn to this stranger should have perhaps clued him in to Holmes’ presence, and yet, it is enough that Watson is drawn: so drawn, in fact, that Watson expends a good portion of his diary entries in pondering over the man’s identity.
When Watson is not obsessing over this mysterious stranger, he is obsessing over Holmes. In fact, Watson, overcome by the uncertainty he feels at having heard the baying of a hound upon the moor, convinces himself that there is a natural explanation, stating that Holmes would not listen to such fancies, and I am his agent. It is quite suggestive that Watson, by imagining Holmes’ response, should so quickly alleviate his fears.
Watson’s preoccupation with Holmes is not limited to his thoughts. Indeed, Watson spends a good deal of his time in Dartmoor writing to Holmes.
I went at once to my room and drew up my report of the morning’s conversation for Holmes. It was evident to me that he had been very busy of late, for the notes which I had from Baker Street were few and short, with no comments upon the information which I had supplied and hardly any reference to my mission. No doubt his blackmailing case is absorbing all his faculties. And yet this new factor must surely arrest his attention and renew his interest. I wish that he were here.
It should be noted that this is neither the first nor the second time in which Watson has expressed his desire to have Holmes by his side. Watson is lost without his Holmes. Note, too, Watson’s wistful tone; the dejection he feels at having not heard from Holmes in some time.
Despite Holmes’ absence at this point in the story, we are, through Watson’s narrative, made aware of his presence. Again and again Watson refers to his friend, his narrative littered with subtle references to Holmes and Holmes’ involvement in the case.
I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing.
While providing clues to the time line, this statement also makes it clear that Watson has gained quite a lot through his residency with Holmes. Although, on occasion, Watson has been known to complain of Holmes, and his singular habits, it is obvious that Watson would endure all of Holmes’ vices for the chance to spend a lifetime at Holmes’ side.
It is here that the case slowly climbs to one of its climaxes. Watson, still obsessed with the mysterious man upon the moor, decides to head out in search of him. It is interesting to note Watson’s conviction; his certainty that he should find the man. This is tied, we will see, directly to Holmes, for Watson states:
Holmes had missed him in London. It would indeed be a triumph for me if I could run him to earth where my master had failed.
Watson has, of course, erred, and the man he seeks is not the man in the cab, but rather, Holmes himself. We will touch on Holmes’ dramatic unveiling in a moment, but, for now, allow us to examine Watson’s curious statement. That Watson should refer to Holmes as his master is quite remarkable, for this is perhaps the first occasion upon which Watson has, in his narrative, deferred so largely to Holmes’ masterful nature. Indeed, Watson’s eagerness to succeed where Holmes failed is not due to any competition, but rather, a blinding need to please Holmes. Truly, Watson is a man so enraptured by Holmes that he will do anything, and everything, within his power to succeed in the task entrusted to him.
Watson does not, of course, find his mysterious stranger, for it is upon his discovery of the stranger’s lair that we discover the stranger’s true identity.
Holmes dramatic appearance on the moor is one of the most shocking scenes in the entire story. It is of interest to the student of subtext as well, for Holmes’ opening remarks contain several points of interest.
“It is a lovely evening, my dear Watson,” said a well-known voice. “I really think that you will be more comfortable outside than in.”
We have learnt that Holmes has had Watson watched, and yet, he admits later to not knowing Watson was inside his secreted hide-away until spotting Watson’s cigarette stub. It is interesting, then, that Holmes should announce his presence in such a manner. He knows Watson is inside, but he knows Watson well enough to announce his presence; Holmes undoubtedly well aware of Watson’s tendency to draw his revolver in situations of danger. That Holmes should announce his arrival with so casual a remark is also evidence of the pride Holmes felt at Watson having fleshed him out.
Watson’s reaction, too, is of particular note:
For a moment or two I sat breathless, hardly able to believe my ears. Then my senses and my voice came back to me, while a crushing weight of responsibility seemed in an instant to be lifted from my soul. That cold, incisive, ironical voice could belong to but one man in all the world.
“Holmes!” I cried — “Holmes!”
One can almost hear the relief and delight in Watson’s tone. Watson’s momentary shock is penetrated by the realization that his Holmes has arrived, and Watson, weightless for the first time in weeks, is incapable of suppressing his glee. Indeed, that he should tell us that the voice belonged to but one man is very suggestive in itself, for it implies that there is but one man in the world.
So desperate to see Holmes again is Watson that his first thought it to categorize Holmes’ appearance, Watson likely spending several moments glancing over Holmes’ form and committing the sight to memory.
I stooped under the rude lintel, and there he sat upon a stone outside, his gray eyes dancing with amusement as they fell upon my astonished features. He was thin and worn, but clear and alert, his keen face bronzed by the sun and roughened by the wind. In his tweed suit and cloth cap he looked like any other tourist upon the moor, and he had contrived, with that catlike love of personal cleanliness which was one of his characteristics, that his chin should be as smooth and his linen as perfect as if he were in Baker Street.
Then, still unable to suppress his happiness, Watson confesses:
“I never was more glad to see anyone in my life,” said I as I wrung him by the hand.
And truly we do believe him. Note that Watson does not merely shake Holmes’ hand, but indeed, wrings him by the hand. One can easily imagine that it was only Watson’s strong sense of propriety that prevented him from drawing Holmes into a great hug: that, of course, and Watson’s intimate awareness that such an act would likely lead to Holmes’ discomfort. Still, he must find an outlet for his desire, and so a wrung hand will do.
While it is tempting to replicate their entire exchange, as it does present several points of interest, I will instead draw your attention to Watson’s second admission:
“Well, I am glad from my heart that you are here, for indeed the responsibility and the mystery were both becoming too much for my nerves”.
One can easily imagine that the loss of responsibility is not on its own cause for Watson’s gladness. Indeed, his happiness at seeing Holmes blares so bright that it becomes quite evident that Watson longs for Holmes’ presence for personal reasons, as well as professional.
Although quite thrilled by Holmes’ presence, Watson is also quite perplexed, and inquires into how Holmes came to be on the moor. Holmes’ answer, however, does not sit well with Watson, and Watson, upon discovering that Holmes has been in Dartmoor some time, cries:
“Then you use me, and yet do not trust me!” I cried with some bitterness. “I think that I have deserved better at your hands, Holmes.”
One can almost hear the sound of Watson’s heart breaking, and yet, Holmes is only too ready with a reply, his apology one of the most sincere apologies in all of Canon.
“My dear fellow, you have been invaluable to me in this as in many other cases, and I beg that you will forgive me if I have seemed to play a trick upon you. In truth, it was partly for your own sake that I did it, and it was my appreciation of the danger which you ran which led me to come down and examine the matter for myself.
Note the use of my dear fellow, Holmes truly concerned that Watson might bear some grudge. Then there are his assurances that Watson is invaluable to him; not to mention his begging for Watson’s forgiveness. Finally, there is his statement that he appreciated the danger which you ran, an indication, and confession, of Holmes’ fears for Watson’s safety. Clearly, Holmes adores his Watson, and would do anything to keep Watson safe, including risking Watson’s anger.
Watson is still hurt, however, and moved to near tears at the thought of having lost Holmes’ trust.
“Then my reports have all been wasted!” — My voice trembled as I recalled the pains and the pride with which I had composed them.
Holmes, sensing the torrent of emotion building within Watson’s breast, does not hesitate to produce Watson’s reports.
Holmes took a bundle of papers from his pocket.
“Here are your reports, my dear fellow, and very well thumbed, I assure you. I made excellent arrangements, and they are only delayed one day upon their way. I must compliment you exceedingly upon the zeal and the intelligence which you have shown over an extraordinarily difficult case.”
Here Holmes goes a step further and compliments Watson on his zeal and intelligence, a rare and yet touching compliment from Holmes.
Although still hurt by Holmes’ deception, Watson is swayed by the warmth of Holmes’s praise and is soon able to see the logic in Holmes’ actions. Holmes, we shall see, is quite relieved by this, and states:
“That’s better,” said he, seeing the shadow rise from my face.
Holmes then turns his attention to the case, hoping to distract Watson from his hurt and upset. The plan works, and the two men sit side by side, upon the lonely moor, lost in conversation.
The sun had set and dusk was settling over the moor. The air had turned chill and we withdrew into the hut for warmth. There sitting together in the twilight, I told Holmes of my conversation with the lady. So interested was he that I had to repeat some of it twice before he was satisfied.
A more romantic scene could not have been painted.
The conversation itself presents several points of interest, but perhaps the most fitting is Watson’s comment:
“Surely there is no need of secrecy between you and me.”
Indeed, the trust between them, built over the passage of years, has reached a point where Watson now demands all of Holmes’ secrets, and Holmes, trusting implicitly in Watson, gives them over freely.
Sadly, their hushed conversation is interrupted by a great cry of horror. Holmes, springing into action, dashes towards the door of the hut. Watson’s description, one must agree, is quite sensual in nature:
Holmes had sprung to his feet, and I saw his dark, athletic outline at the door of the hut…
Note Watson’s use of the term athletic, a description which calls to mind attraction. Clearly, despite everything that has passed between them, and everything that the case entails, Watson is not beyond pausing to admire Holmes’ form.
The pair rush out onto the moor, certain that they are on the trail of the hound. Holmes, we will see, is quite out of sorts, and turns, on several occasions, to Watson for reassurance and comfort.
“Where is it?” Holmes whispered; and I knew from the thrill of his voice that he, the man of iron, was shaken to the soul. “Where is it, Watson?”
Note the urgency in Holmes’ voice; the need to have Watson by his side. Truly, Holmes needs Watson just as much as Watson needs Holmes. Apart, they are incomplete.
They do not find the hound, but they do find a body they believe to be Sir Henry’s. Holmes is furious, and, indeed, quite distraught that his case should end in such a manner. Soon, however, they discover that the body is not that of Sir Henry, but that of Selden, the escaped convict. Holmes, filled with renewed purpose, surprises Watson by his actions.
Now he was dancing and laughing and wringing my hand. Could this be my stern, self-contained friend? These were hidden fires, indeed!
My dear Watson; you, of all people, should know of hidden fires.
Shortly after this discovery, and a chance meeting with Stapleton, Holmes and Watson return to Baskerville Hall, where, upon meeting with Sir Henry, they engage is a late supper. Sitting down to dinner, Holmes becomes distracted by a very singular painting, which leads to a most amusing conversation regarding art. Holmes, admiring the painting, states:
“Watson won’t allow that I know anything of art but that is mere jealousy because our views upon the subject differ.“
It is fascinating to note that Holmes and Watson engage their time discussing art, but perhaps even more fascinating is that it is a source of argument. That Holmes should comment on such a thing is suggestive not only in the implication that these discussions occur regularly, but that it seems more a comment one would make of a spouse than of a friend.
The completion of a late night supper leads them into the next morning, and the staging of the final climax. Holmes has arranged for Sir Henry to dine with the Stapleton’s, while he and Watson are to return to London. Watson, not knowing Holmes’ full plans, and not fully understanding the need to return to London, agrees to this course of events without question, placing his implicit trust in Holmes, as he has done on so many occasions.
But Holmes and Watson do not return to London, instead making their way in secret back out onto the moor, where they lay in wait to spring their trap. Despite the foggy gloom of the night, and the chill of the air, Watson pauses to admire Holmes’ features. He tells us:
I was at Holmes’s elbow, and I glanced for an instant at his face. It was pale and exultant, his eyes shining brightly in the moonlight.
One cannot help but picture Watson, pressed against Holmes’ side, glancing over his shoulder to look upon Holmes’ face, watching with such admiration and awe as Holmes stares, transfixed, into the darkness.
The moment of silence is broken, however, by the devilish howl of the hound, and soon Holmes and Watson are forced to spring into action. A dramatic chase ensues, and it is not until some time later, after the case has been put to rest, that Holmes and Watson once again find themselves in the warmth and comfort of Baker Street. Holmes, at Watson’s requests, narrates the chain of events which first led him to unravel the mystery of the Hound of the Baskervilles. He concludes his summation with an invitation and the student of subtext will be interested to note that this case, like so many others, ends in a pleasant evening out.
And now, my dear Watson, we have had some weeks of severe work, and for one evening, I think, we may turn our thoughts into more pleasant channels. I have a box for ‘Les Huguenots.’ Have you heard the De Reszkes? Might I trouble you then to be ready in half an hour, and we can stop at Marcini’s for a little dinner on the way?”
A date, Watson! A distinct date!