The True Ending of The Hound of the Baskervilles

By Phil Dematteis

(This paper was read by the author at a meeting of The Hansom Wheels, reputedly one of the
 most active Sherlockian scion societies in the world, in Columbia, SC on April 17, 2003)

            I am Italian on my father’s side, but on my mother’s side I’m a mixture of English, Irish, German, and who knows what else. In April 1912—ninety-one years ago this month—one of my English ancestors was planning to immigrate to the United States and needed money for his passage.
            To get it, I’m ashamed to say, one night he broke into the vault of the bank of Cox & Company in Charing Cross, London. He was not a particularly competent thief, and he almost immediately set off the alarm. All he had time to do before escaping was to grab some papers from a battered old tin dispatch-box. In the darkness he thought that they were negotiable securities, but they turned out to be Dr. Watson’s original notes on the case that had been published in The Strand Magazine from December 1901 to April 1902 as The Hound of the Baskervilles. My ancestor was unable to sail on the ship he had originally planned to take, which was just as well, since it was the Titanic. But he stowed away on a later one and made it to America, where he led an honest life and, consequently, never amounted to anything. All he left behind were the notes that he stole, which have been passed down through my family to me. For the most part they are close to the published version, but the ending is strikingly different and throws a new light on everything that comes before it. That is what I will now read to you.

Chapter 14

One of Sherlock Holmes’s defects – if, indeed, one may call it a defect – was that he was exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfilment. The result was very trying for those who were acting as his agents and assistants. I had often suffered under it, but never more so than during that long drive in the darkness. The great ordeal was in front of us; at last we were about to make our final effort, and yet Holmes had said nothing, and I could only surmise what his course of action would be. My nerves thrilled with anticipation when at last the cold wind upon our faces and the dark, void spaces on either side of the narrow road told me that we were back upon the moor once again. Every stride of the horses and every turn of the wheels was taking us nearer to our supreme adventure.

            Our conversation was hampered by the presence of the driver of the hired wagonette, so that we were forced to talk of trivial matters when our nerves were tense with emotion and anticipation. Holmes discoursed at length on the obliquity of the ecliptic—or the ecliptity of the oblique, or something like that.  This discussion provoked me to point out to him that early in our relationship he had claimed not to know or care whether the earth went around the sun or around the moon, and now here he was going on and on about some arcane bit of astronomical theory.

            “Yes, Watson,” he said, “I was pulling your leg. Having a bit of fun at your expense, don’t you know. As a matter of fact, I knew even then that the Polish priest Nikolaus Copernicus elaborated the heliocentric theory of the solar system in his book The Little Commentary in 1514, replacing the old Ptolemaic theory that put the Earth in the center. I read the book in the original Latin, of course. In 1610 Galileo, using a telescope he had built himself, discovered that Jupiter had moons of its own, which gave empirical proof that bodies other than the Earth have satellites. And in 1619 Johannes Kepler, using the observations of Tycho Brahe, modified the theory to make the orbits of the planets elliptical, rather than circular.”

            “But, Holmes,” I pointed out, “I wrote about your feigned lack of knowledge in the account I titled A Study in Scarlet. So now the whole world believes that you are an ignorant nincompoop who does not even know something that


every schoolboy learns at the age of six. So it seems that, after all, the joke is upon you.”

            “Har, har!” chortled Lestrade. “Dr. Watson here has always made me look like a dummy in his writings, and now it seems that he has done the same for you! And you helped him to do it by playing a trick on him! Oh, that’s a good one, that is!”

As usual, Holmes retorted with a witty and cutting riposte: “Oh, shut up, Lestrade,” said he.

“What about your theory,” I persisted, “that the brain is like a little attic, so that for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before? You said you wanted to stock your brain-attic with facts that would be useful to you in your work as a consulting detective.”

“I still maintain that theory,” replied Holmes. “But you see, my brain-attic is fifty times the size of other people’s, so there is plenty of room for all sorts of esoteric information. Why, it is not even a quarter full yet, even though I can name all of the constellations and the stars in them.” And he proceeded to do so.