Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
SUMMARY AND NOTES - The Hound of the Baskervilles
CHAPTER FIVE: Three Broken Threads
Upon arriving at the Northumberland Hotel for the scheduled afternoon appointment, Holmes checks the register. Two guests had signed in after Sir Henry but after inquiring to the porter under the pretense of recognizing the names, it is clear that neither could be suspected of writing the note or being the follower. Therefore, the person must be someone recognizable.
Holmes and Watson see Sir Henry
then, who is quite flustered and attempting to rouse the staff into action. Another
of his shoes has gone missing; this time, an old black one. A waiter reports that
he has questioned many but is unable to locate it. The matter has now become of
concern to Holmes, and the later discovery of the original missing boot in Baskerville’s
hotel room does little to erase the curiousness of the incident.
Several pieces of information are revealed at the meeting. Barrymore, the servant, has a beard and so might possibly be the man spotted in the cab. He also has a motive, since keeping the building vacant means a comfortable and work-free life. A telegram is sent off immediately to make certain of whether or not he is indeed at the Hall. Also, Sir Henry’s inheritance is reported to be 740,000 pounds, a sizeable sum that he intends to use to restore the former glory of the Baskerville line. The money could certainly entice people to seedy behavior; however, the only (known, a distinction that is key to the mystery) heir after Sir Henry, is James Desmond, a man of “‘simple tastes’” and “‘saintly life’”.
Though Holmes agrees with Sir Henry’s decision to go to the Hall, he also insists that he will not be able to go with him. In his place, he recommends Watson, who, with flattery and the promise of adventure, readily agrees and will be responsible for insuring the protection of the baronet and reporting back to Holmes. The party will leave Saturday at 10:30 AM.
Back at home, Holmes receives two telegrams that evening. Sir Henry’s informs him of Barrymore’s presence at the Hall. The one from Cartwright reports that he was unable to find the cut up Times. With those two possible paths gone, the cabman, John Clayton, arrives at the door. He describes his mysterious passenger as about 40 years old, of middle height, and pale-faced, an account that is fairly accurate. Clayton is not able to provide any more information except that (to Holmes’s shock and then thrill, having found a worthy opponent) the man reported his name to be Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
As a murder mystery, the chapter title “Three Broken Threads” refers to the net that Holmes intends to use to catch the criminal, and will be referred to in this context again later in the story. As a piece of literature, the phrase (particularly potent with the line “‘Snap goes our third thread, and we end where we began’”) also has mythological connections-the three Fates who spin and cut the threads of life. It is unusual that Holmes, as an extremely practical man with likely little concern for such allusions, would be the one to deliver the line, but he is clearly worried for Watson’s sake and he had run out of time and ideas to save him the necessity of being in danger.
Perhaps more coincidental than anything, the name of the cabman is also that of a figure of incidental importance in biology. John Clayton’s (1694-1773) collection of plant specimens, one of the first in Virginia, formed the basis of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus’s (1707-1778) knowledge of North American species when he wrote his book on binomial nomenclature. The connection does take on some significance though, when the actual occupation of the passenger in cab is known.