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PLOT SYNOPSIS AND ANALYSIS - The Hound of the Baskervilles
CHAPTER NINE: Second Report of Dr. Watson
The second report is dated two days later and the beginning tells of Sir Henry’s continued attempts at a romance with Miss Stapleton, including an ill-fated rendezvous one morning. When he leaves to go out on the moor to meet her, he discourages Watson from coming along. However, he does anyhow, unable to disregard Holmes’s instructions and risk letting the detective down.
From atop a hill, Watson sees Sir Henry but, since Miss Stapleton is already by
the baronet’s side, he decides that it would be better to keep his distance and
then later apologize for having to watch the couple. The two are engaged in their
conversation, which consists of Miss Stapleton trying to warn Sir Henry of the
danger he is in at the moor and Sir Henry trying to turn the subject back to love.
When he goes to kiss her, she resists, and at that point, Stapleton arrives, quite
furious. After the two men exchange a few angry words, Stapleton departs, taking
his sister with him.
As Sir Henry heads back to the Hall, Watson leaves his spot and goes to join him. The baronet takes Watson’s confession to spying in stride, and is much more upset over his neighbor’s behavior. Though Stapleton does not appear crazy, considering Sir Henry’s position and personality, it is a puzzling matter to both men that the brother would have any objections and make such efforts to prevent anything from happening.
That afternoon though, Stapleton comes to the Hall and apologizes to Sir Henry, explaining that his sister means a lot to him and he feared losing his most constant companion. Matters are settled when Sir Henry agrees to put the romance on hold to give Stapleton time to adjust. The brother then invites them to dinner next Friday.
The subtitle “The Light Upon the Moor” comes into play in the second chain of events. Watson has realized the advantage of the particular window that Barrymore held his candle up to in the night-it offers a much better view of the moor than all the others, looking directly out on it. His poor opinion of the butler extends beyond spousal abuse to include a possible love affair.
Not knowing that such accusations are incorrect, Watson tells Sir Henry what he has seen and, the baronet, who is already aware of the activity and knows that Barrymore is partially deaf, suggests that they shadow him. Nothing happens the first night of their vigil but on the second, they watch Barrymore with the candle once again go into the same room. Sir Henry walks right in to confront him, much to the man’s shock and anxiety, but he will not answer questions, saying that it is not his secret to reveal.
Watson realizes that the light is a signal and when he holds it up to the window, another light not far out on the moor shines back. At this point, Mrs. Barrymore enters the room and explains the situation to clear her husband’s name. The escaped Selden is her younger brother and the lights are a signal system to get food to him every other night. She still sees him as a child and could not bear to let him starve so close by.
Sir Henry sends the Barrymores back to their room and then Watson and he decide to go out in pursuit of the convict. With sporadic moonlight and a light rain, the weather is well suited to the occasion. As Sir Henry brings up Holmes’s previous warning about the dangers of the moor at night, the frightening sound that Watson heard before once again fills the air. When it gives way to silence, Sir Henry is quite shaken, and confident that the sound was a hound, as the countryside said.
Nonetheless, they continue towards the light, which they realize has been placed between the rocks so as to be visible only from the Hall. A savage-looking man is hiding out close by, and, fearing he will soon leave, Watson and Sir Henry jump out to make their move. The convict throws a rock in their direction and then takes off down the hillside. They try to pursue him, but it is clearly a lost cause, given the speed and agility of the fleeing man.
As the two get ready to head back to the Hall, Watson sees a man standing on a rocky outcrop, watching them. He is only able to make out the outline before the person disappears but the possibility of following is discouraged by Sir Henry, who is still nervous from the sound of the hound.
As in the previous report when worrying over the Stapletons at the mercy of a criminal, Watson again unknowingly writes a significant line, in light of the ending. When Mrs. Barrymore confesses that Selden is her brother, he asks if “it is possible that this stolidly respectable person was of the same blood as one of the most notorious criminals in the country?” The word “stolidly” (and the previous chapter’s description of her being “a heavy, solid person”) is not unlike Watson’s phrase “very sturdily built” when he first meets Sir Henry, both referring to a certain steadfastness in their characters, whether physically or intellectually. The true impact of the line though comes when Sir Henry is later discovered to be “of the same blood” as the person behind the Baskerville mystery.