The Curse of the Baskervilles`I have in my pocket a manuscript,' said Dr. James Mortimer.
`I observed it as you entered the room,' said Holmes.
`It is an old manuscript.'
`Early eighteenth century, unless it is a forgery.'
`How can you say that, sir?'
`You have presented an inch or two of it to my examination all the time that you have been talking. It would be a poor expert who could not give the date of a document within a decade or so. You may possibly have read my little monograph upon the subject. I put that at 1730.'
`The exact date is 1742.' Dr. Mortimer drew it from his breast-pocket. `This family paper was committed to my care by Sir Charles Baskerville, whose sudden and tragic death some three months ago created so much excitement in Devonshire. I may say that I was his personal friend as well as his medical attendant. He was a strong-minded man, sir, shrewd, practical, and as unimaginative as I am myself. Yet he took this document very seriously, and his mind was prepared for just such an end as did eventually overtake him.'
Holmes stretched out his hand for the manuscript and flattened it upon his knee.
`You will observe, Watson, the alternative use of the long s and the short.
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. At the head was written: `Baskerville Hall,' and below in large, scrawling figures: `1742.'
`It appears to be a statement of some sort.'
`Yes, it is a statement of a certain legend which runs in the Baskerville family.'
`But I understand that it is something more modern and practical upon which you wish to consult me?'
`Most modern. A most practical, pressing matter, which must be decided within twenty-four hours. But the manuscript is short and is intimately connected with the affair. With your permission I will read it to you.'
Holmes leaned back in his chair, placed his finger-tips together, and closed his eyes, with an air of resignation. Dr. Mortimer turned the manuscript to the light and read in a high, crackling voice the following curious, old-world narrative:
`Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been many statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo Baskerville, and as I had the story from my father, who also had it from his, I have set it down with all belief that it occurred even as is here set forth. And I would have you believe, my sons, that the same Justice which punishes sin may also most graciously forgive it, and that no ban is so heavy but that by prayer and repentance it may be removed. Learn then from this story not to fear the fruits of the past, but rather to be circumspect in the future, that those foul passions whereby our family has suffered so grievously may not again be loosed to our undoing.
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|