Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
CHAPTER ANALYSIS AND SUMMARY - The Hound of the Baskervilles
CHAPTER TWELVE: Death on the Moor
The man who has returned to the hut is none other than Sherlock Holmes, who, spotting the remains of Watson’s discarded cigarette outside, knew Watson had discovered his hideaway. The detective has been staying at the moor in secret, having Watson’s reports forwarded there and using Cartwright to get additional information and supplies. Though Watson is initially upset over the deception, he realizes that there have been certain advantages to maintaining secrecy and the wound is further healed when Holmes tells him that his reports have been of great value.
After Watson relays his conversation with Mrs. Lyons, Holmes
explains the relationships further. Stapleton is actually married to the woman
he has been passing off as his sister. By keeping this secret, he was able to
use her to attract Sir Henry and himself to cultivate a relationship with Mrs.
Lyons. With her divorce underway, Mrs. Lyons planned on remarrying to Stapleton
and was willing to do what he said.
His current wife proved to be less agreeable to being a part of the plan and it was she who sent the note warning Sir Henry while her husband was trailing the newly-arrived heir. Holmes has found all this out when Stapleton let it slip that he used to be a schoolmaster. They plan to use this information to get more out of Mrs. Lyons when they go to visit her the next day. Holmes is almost prepared to catch his man.
As Watson is about to return to the Hall, a horrible scream fills the air again and again. Another sound can be made out as well, that of the pursuing hound. Then with a thud, all is quiet again.
Watson and Holmes continue running, fearing they are too late to save Sir Henry. Indeed, when they do discover the twisted body on the rocks, the man is clothed in the same tweed suit that Sir Henry had been wearing that first day they had met. They vow revenge on the cruel Stapleton. The deep regret they both feel is then suddenly lifted, as Holmes realizes that the dead man before them has a beard and is in fact Selden. Barrymore had passed on some of Sir Henry’s old clothes to help Selden escape and the hound had been tracking the scent that matched the old boot stolen at the hotel.
They are about to carry the body into one of the abandoned houses for the time being when Stapleton appears. He tries to hide his surprise that the body is not Sir Henry’s, claiming that he only thought it might be because the baronet had not shown up at the Merripit House. They claim not to have heard the hound and attribute Selden’s death to insanity from the pressure of remaining hidden. Holmes also uses the opportunity to pretend that he will be returning to London the next day. They then go their separate ways, Holmes going with Watson back to the Hall.
Light, as a symbol, is used in a reverse manner from the expected. Usually light indicates goodness but, in this story, it is Stapleton, from his house and cigar, that has the light about him. The other noted instance of light is from the candlelight used to communicate between Barrymore and Selden, but when their situation becomes known and they are no longer thought of having something to do with the Baskerville hound, the light goes away. For Barrymore, this is when his wife confesses what he is doing, and as for Selden, he is last seen lying dead in the darkness. In these cases, the light symbolizes possible suspects, the solution to the darkness associated with the unsolved case, rather than innocence.
“‘But now we have to prove the connection between the man and the beast,’” Holmes says. As it pertains literally to the case, it simply refers to Stapleton’s control over the hound, but it can also relate to the two sides of Stapleton himself. In this chapter, Watson’s last impressions of a harmless naturalist are brought down as Holmes replaces vague suspicions with facts, so that “[i]n that impassive, colourless man, with his straw hat and his butterfly-net, I [Watson] seemed to see something terrible-a creature of infinite patience and craft, with a smiling face and a murderous heart.”
False impressions also come into play in the subplot about Selden and not in a way that reflects especially well on the society. It was while wearing the tweed suit of a baronet, signs of civilization, that the man living wild and (somewhat) free on the moor was killed. Once among the dwellings of ancient man, at the close of the chapter, he is a broken figure on the ground behind a contemporary cold-hearted murderer. Of course since Selden is also a criminal, if he had not escaped, he would have been killed anyhow. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place (most quite literally); society doomed him to death either way.