(*First published in a serialized fashion by The Strand Magazine August 1901 - April 1902. SPOILERS AHEAD)
In this chapter which shares the name of the book itself, we start amid the final countdown to the ultimate culmination. It all kicks off in a tense wagonette ride destined for Merripit House. Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade. Little Lestrade, the littleness of Lestrade seems hit on hard. Fear not, though, for "The little detective smiled. 'As long as I have my trousers I have a hip-pocket, and as long as I have my hip-pocket, I have something in it.'" You see, He's packing heat. Oh, boy. But packing heat to what? To "A waiting game." Also, he's diminutive.
The wait happens outside of Merripit House and under the cover of darkness and tip-toe silence upon the Grimpen Mire. A stake-out. Really, a trap. Lestrade notes immediately the unwelcoming environs. Get ready for the moor to as ever be a character but an even larger one. Watson dares a closer look and sees Stapleton and Sir Henry but no lady. No lady but a dense and growing-moving fog. "It was drifting slowly in our direction and banked itself up like a wall on the side of us, low, but thick and well defined." "It's moving toward us, Watson." This is a problem. A fly in the ointment.
A rather large fly, really. "Our success and even his [Henry's] life may depend on his coming out before the fog is over the path." So that the waiting game has been joined to a race and one in which our heroes have no say in but also a terrible stake. Some lovely setting description is shared and then a reminder of the ticking doomsday clock which hangs above the heads of all, swirling about in the fog. They retreat to less ideal for their purposes higher ground to procure a better view. Finally, Sir Henry is heard coming down the path. A pistol is readied. This is so damned good! The clock ticks...
The fog, the hound, Sir Henry Baskerville.
Holmes' mouth drops agape. Lestrade yells. Watson grabs his pistol. "A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen." A true fire and brimstone beast of a hellspawn thing, hot on the heels of Sir. Shots are fired and the beast can, in fact, be hurt. But it is nonetheless upon its prey and worrying at its throat! They run toward the scene, Holmes, Watson, and the 'little professional' in that order. He's diminutive, see. Holmes empties his revolver and the beast is no more. Lestrade jams the baronet full of brandy and the ordeal is at its end.
Watson finds phosphorous on the hellhound's carcass and that explains that. Although one might wonder if the chemical would have poisoned the beast but this is a story, not a science experiment and it works as such just fine and grand. Wait. Did I say the ordeal was a done deal? Well, it ain't. We still wait. This time for the evil orchestrator Jack Stapleton to make his appearance. Screw that, though, we'll go look in the house even though we all agree he'd never in a million years be there. Someone is there, however, and that someone is his Mrs., bound, gagged, and quite poorly treated. When she asks how he is, she means Sir Henry. A love story but also two ships passing upon the moor.
In any event, Sir Henry is on her mind and not her husband, who perhaps is the most cunning and dangerous man to have crossed Homes' path. A man who is known to have braved the fierce terrain of the mire many a time and maybe even moor than many. He could never, though, have seen the placed marker guides along the safe path in, and surely he could not have found his way out even if he did luck his way in. The moor prevails. So I'll ask again--does a case against Jack stick in a court of law? Who knows. Who, for that matter cares?
The justice Stapleton is brought to is not that of a mortal court of law. It was never meant to be. Sure, he could have tossed the boot into the muck and ran the other way but to where, exactly? Doyle lacks in his building of a case because his efforts go toward Jack being certainly dead and buried. While many a Sherlockian questions his demise, I feel that's mainly done in order to leave the door open for pastiche opportunities or worse yet fan-fiction, rather than simply properly ingesting and enjoying the actual text of the tale and intent of the author.
However, I could be made interested in a bit of shoddily done fanstuff focusing on the complex alternative relationship between the hound and the spaniel which ended in such deep tragedy.
That's a lie. The truth is yup, Jack Stapleton is dead as a doornail and it's a shame that Sir Henry doesn't get the girl in the end but he does get a trip with Mortimer around the world and back again, as well see. Speaking of dead and of Mortimer as alluded to and by the way, Watson was right about M's curly-haired spaniel. A shame, that. Not a shame at all is that this is such a fantastic and fantastically cinematic wrapping-up of our Victorian creeper story. (Although Doyle does get in his own way some in explaining how dead Stapleton truly is.)
But wait, there's one bit more...
Thoughts on Chapter 13
Thoughts on Chapter 15
::: very :::
Online sources for this article: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia (The Hound of the Baskervilles). You can read this tale in full there, so you know. READ MORE. Or LISTEN MORE, as I've found listening to the Bob Neufeld reading for LibriVox quite enjoyable and useful.