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Free Online Study Guide for The Hound of the Baskervilles

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SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)


When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead in the alley by the moor, Dr. Mortimer goes to London to get Sherlock Holmes’s help in deciding on the proper course of action for the new heir. He reads the manuscript about the family curse, supposedly begun over Hugo Baskerville’s inappropriate actions, and a newspaper article about Sir Charles’s death. After this, the doctor reveals that there is another piece of information-there were footprints of a hound a short distance from the fallen body. Holmes questions him over the details, wishing that he could have been called in earlier to examine the scene, but this was not possible, given the need for a tenant in the Hall and in the interest of preserving the doctor’s scientific reputation.

It is also told that Sir Charles appeared to be waiting for someone, though he was an elderly man; that his footprints showed he had been running away from the house in his fright; and that his heart was weak, so that he was to leave for London the next day. Though Holmes does not believe in the curse himself, he is intrigued by the case and agrees to meet the next day to discuss it.

Sir Henry (the heir) arrives from Canada and is already a little shaken. A note warning him to stay away from the moor was delivered at his hotel, where no one had known he would be staying. Holmes recognizes the cut-out letters from the previous day’s Times; being pressed for time, the sender had not been able to find the word “moor” and had handwritten it. The poor quality of the pen shows that it was written from a hotel, and the scent of perfume on the note points to a woman (this latter piece of evidence Holmes keeps to himself until the end). Sir Henry has also had a new boot stolen.

Once Sir Henry has been filled in, they make plans to meet again at the hotel later that day once he has had time to think, but it is clear that he will insist on going to Baskerville Hall. Holmes and Watson trail Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer on their way back to the hotel, and discover that a man with a black beard (likely a fake) is following the pair in a cab. The cab drives off when the man discovers Holmes has spotted him, but the detective is able to get the cab number. Holmes then stops in at the messenger office and employs Cartwright to go around to the hotels, bribe the employees, and look through the wastepaper in search of a cut-up copy of the Times.


By the time they go to the hotel, Sir Henry has had another boot stolen, an old one now. When the first missing boot is discovered before the meeting is over, Holmes begins to privately realize they must be dealing with a real hound (hence the emphasis on the scent of the item). When conversation turns to the man in the cab, Dr. Mortimer says that Barrymore, the servant at Baskerville Hall, has a beard, and a telegram is sent to check on his whereabouts. The inheritance is also discussed-while it is a sizable amount, the next in line is James Desmond, an older man with few interests in wealth.

At the end of the meeting, it is decided that, Holmes being tied up in London with other cases, Watson will accompany Sir Henry to the Hall and report back in detail. Later that evening, telegrams from Cartwright (who was unable to find the newspaper) and Baskerville Hall (where Barrymore apparently is) bring an end to those leads. Also, a visit from John Clayton, who was driving the cab with the black-bearded man, is of little help. He does say that the man told him that he was the detective Holmes, much to the shock and amusement of the actual Holmes.

Dr. Mortimer, Watson, and Sir Henry set off for Baskerville Hall the next day. The baronet is excited to see it and his connection with the land is clear, but the mood is soon dampened. Soldiers are about the area, on the lookout for the escaped convict Selden, Barrymore and his wife want to depart from the area as soon as convenient, and the Hall is in general a somber place. Watson has trouble sleeping that night, and hears a woman crying, though the next morning Barrymore denies that this could be so.

Watson checks with the postmaster and learns that the telegram was not actually delivered into the hands of Barrymore, so it is no longer certain that he was at the Hall, and not in London. On his way back, Watson meets Stapleton, a naturalist familiar with the moor even though he has only been in the area for two years. They hear a moan that the peasants attribute to the hound, but Stapleton attributes it to the cry of a bittern, or possibly the bog settling. He then runs off after a specimen, but Watson is not alone for long before Miss Stapleton approaches him. Mistaking him for Sir Henry, she urgently warns him to leave the area, but drops the subject when her brother returns. The three walk to Merripit House (the Stapleton’s home), and during the discussion, Watson learns that Stapleton used to run a school. Though he is offered lunch and a look at Stapleton’s collections, Watson departs for the Hall. Before he gets far along the path, Miss Stapleton overtakes him and plays off her warning.

Sir Henry soon meets her and becomes romantically interested, despite her brother’s intrusions. Watson meets another neighbor, Mr. Frankland, a harmless man whose primary focus is on lawsuits. Barrymore draws increasing suspicion, as Watson sees him walk with a candle into an empty room, hold it up to the window, and then leave. Realizing that the room’s only advantage is its view out on the moor, Watson and Sir Henry are determined to figure out what is going on.

Meanwhile, during the day, Sir Henry continues to pursue Miss Stapleton until her brother runs up on them and yells angrily. He later explains to the disappointed baronet that it was not personal, he was just afraid of losing his only companion so quickly. To show there are no hard feelings, he invites Sir Henry to dine with him and his sister on Friday.

Sir Henry then becomes the person doing the surprising, when he walks in with Watson on Barrymore, catching him at night in the room with the candle. He refuses to answer their questions, since it is not his secret to tell, but Mrs. Barrymore’s. She tells them that Selden is her brother and the candle is a signal to allow him to get food. When the couple returns to their room, Sir Henry and Watson go off to find the convict, despite the poor weather and frightening sound of the hound. They see Selden by another candle, but are unable to catch him. Watson notices the figure of another man, but he likewise gets away.

Barrymore is upset when he finds out that they tried to capture Selden, but when an agreement is reached to allow Selden to escape out of the country, he is willing to repay the favor. He tells them about a mostly-burned letter asking Sir Charles to be at the gate at the time of his death. It was signed with the initials L.L. Dr. Mortimer tells Watson the next day that it could be Laura Lyons, Frankland’s daughter who lives in Coombe Tracey. When Watson goes to talk to her, she admits to writing the letter after Stapleton told her Sir Charles would be willing to help her, but says she never kept the appointment.

Frankland has just won two cases and invites Watson in, as his carriage passes by, to help him celebrate. Barrymore had previously told Watson that another man lived out on the moor besides Selden, and Frankland unwittingly confirms this, when he shows Watson through his telescope the figure of a boy carrying food off. Watson departs the house and goes off in that direction. He finds the dwelling where the unknown man has been staying, goes in, sees a message reporting on his own activities, and waits.

Holmes turns out to be the unknown man, keeping his location a secret so that Watson would not be tempted to come out and so he would be able to appear on the scene of action at the critical moment. Watson’s reports have been of much help to him, and he then tells his friend some of the information he’s uncovered-Stapleton is actually married to the woman passing as Miss Stapleton, and was also promising marriage to Laura Lyons to get her cooperation. As they bring their conversation to an end, they hear a scream, the sounds of a man being pursued by the hound.

They take off running and when they see the figure, they mistake it for Sir Henry. As their misery and regret grow, they realize it is actually Selden, dressed in the baronet’s old clothes (which had been given to Barrymore by way of further apology for distrusting him). Then Stapleton appears, and while he makes excuses for his presence, Holmes pretends to be returning to London.

Holmes and Watson return to Baskerville Hall, where over dinner, the detective realizes the similarity between Hugo Baskerville’s portrait and Stapleton. This provides the motive in the crime-with Sir Henry gone, Stapleton, the son of Rodger, could claim the Baskerville fortune. When they return to Mrs. Lyons’s place, they get her to admit to Stapleton’s role in the letter setup, and then they go to meet Lestrade.

Under the threat of advancing fog, Watson, Holmes, and Lestrade lie in wait outside the Merripit House, where Sir Henry has been dining. When the baronet leaves and sets off across the moor, the hound is soon let loose. It really is a terrible beast, but Holmes and Watson manage to shoot it before it can hurt Sir Henry. They discover Mrs. Stapleton imprisoned in the bedroom, and when she is freed, she tells them of Stapleton’s hideout deep in Grimpen Mire. When they head out the next day to look for him, they are not able to find him, and he is presumed dead.


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