The True Ending of The Hound of the Baskervilles – Page Three
I have said that over the great Grimpen Mire there hung a dense, white fog. It was drifting slowly in our direction and banked itself up like a wall on that side of us, low but thick and well defined. The moon shone on it, and it looked like a great shimmering ice-field, with the heads of the distant tors as rocks borne upon its surface. Holmes’s face was turned towards it, and he muttered impatiently as he watched its sluggish drift.
“It’s moving towards us, Watson.”
“Is that serious?” I asked.
“It is very serious, indeed – the one thing upon earth which could have disarranged my plans. He can’t be very long, now. It is already ten o’clock. Our success and even his life may depend upon his coming out before the fog is over the path.”
The night was clear and fine above us. The stars shone cold and bright, while a half-moon bathed the whole scene in a soft, uncertain light. Before us lay the dark bulk of the house, its serrated roof and bristling chimneys hard outlined against the silver-spangled sky. Broad bars of golden light from the lower windows stretched across the orchard and the moor. One of them was suddenly shut off. The servants had left the kitchen. There only remained the lamp in the dining-room where the two men, the murderous host and the unconscious guest, still chatted over their cigars. When I say that he was unconscious, of course, I mean that he was unconscious of the danger he was in, not that he had passed out or anything like that.
Every minute that white woolly plain which covered one-half of the moor was drifting closer and closer to the house. Already the first thin wisps of it were curling across the golden square of the lighted window. The farther wall of the orchard was already invisible, and the trees were standing out of a swirl of white vapour. As we watched it the fog-wreaths came crawling round both corners of the house and rolled slowly into one dense bank on which the upper floor and the roof floated like a strange ship upon a shadowy sea. Holmes struck his hand passionately upon the rock in front of us and stamped his feet in his impatience.
“If he isn’t out in a quarter of an hour the path will be covered. In half an hour we won’t be able to see our hands in front of us.”
“Why should we want to see our hands in front of us, Mr. Holmes?” asked Lestrade. “We know what our hands look like.”
“God almighty!” Holmes muttered.
“Shall we move farther back upon higher ground?” I asked, proving that I was at least smarter than Lestrade.
“Yes, I think it would be as well.”
So as the fog-bank flowed onward we fell back before it until we were half a mile from the house, and still that dense white sea, with the moon silvering its upper edge, swept slowly and inexorably on.
“We are going too far,” said Holmes. “We dare not take the chance of his being overtaken before he can reach us. At all costs we must hold our ground where we are.” He dropped on his knees and clapped his ear to the ground. “Eeew!” he exclaimed when he realized that he had put his ear into a pile of cow dung. As he got up and wiped himself off with a handkerchief he said, “Thank God, I think that I hear him coming.”
A sound of quick steps broke the silence of the moor. Crouching among the stones we stared intently at the silver-tipped bank in front of us. The steps grew louder, and through the fog, as through a curtain, there stepped the man whom we were awaiting. He looked round him in surprise as he emerged into the clear, starlit night. “Ah! Betelgeuse!” he said, looking up. Lestrade and I glanced at each other as if to say, “Oh, no! Him, too?” Then he came swiftly along the path, passed close to where we lay, and went on up the long slope behind us. As he walked he glanced continually over either shoulder, like a man who is ill at ease.
“Hist!” cried Holmes. “Look out! It’s coming!”
There was a thin, crisp, continuous patter from somewhere in the heart of that crawling bank. The cloud was within fifty yards of where we lay, and we glared at it, all three, uncertain what horror was about to break from the heart of it. I was at Holmes’s elbow, and I glanced for an instant at his face. It was pale and exultant, his eyes shining brightly in the moonlight. But suddenly they started forward in a rigid, fixed stare, and his lips parted in amazement. At the same instant Lestrade gave a yell of terror and threw himself face downward upon the ground. I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.
With long bounds the huge black creature was leaping down the track, following hard upon the footsteps of our friend. So paralyzed were we by the apparition that we allowed him to pass before we had recovered our nerve. Then Holmes dashed out from behind our rock and chased the hound, which bounded onward. Far away on the path we saw Sir Henry looking back, his face white in the moonlight, his hands raised in horror, glaring helplessly at the frightful thing which was hunting him down.
Never have I seen a man run as Holmes ran that night. I am reckoned fleet of foot in spite of the fact that I had my subclavian artery grazed by a Jezail bullet in Afghanistan and have walked with a limp ever since, because in my case the subclavian artery is not in the shoulder, as it is in everyone else in the world, but in the leg; but he outpaced me as much as I outpaced the little professional. In front of us as we flew up the track we heard scream after scream from Sir Henry and the deep roar of the hound. I was in time to see the beast spring upon its victim, hurl him to the ground, and worry at his throat. But as we got closer I could see, to my amazement, that the hound was not ripping out Sir Henry’s esophagus and trachea but licking his face! Sir Henry was quite unaware of the situation, as he had passed out
cold. Now he was unconscious.