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 "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, cracking 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.

"Know then that in the time of the Great Rebellion (the history of which by the learned Lord Clarendon I most earnestly commend to your attention) this Manor of Baskerville was held by Hugo of that name, nor can it be gainsaid that he was a most wild, profane, and godless man. This, in truth, his neighbours might have pardoned, seeing that saints have never flourished in those parts, but there was in him a certain wanton and cruel humour which made his name a byword through the West. It chanced that this Hugo came to love (if, indeed, so dark a passion may be known under so bright a name) the daughter of a yeoman who held lands near the Baskerville estate. But the young maiden, being discreet and of good repute, would ever avoid him, for she feared his evil name. So it came to pass that one Michaelmas this Hugo, with five or six of his idle and wicked companions, stole down upon the farm and carried off the maiden, her father and brothers being from home, as he well knew. When they had brought her to the Hall the maiden was placed in an upper chamber, while Hugo and his friends sat down to a long carouse, as was their nightly custom. Now, the poor lass upstairs was like to have her wits turned at the singing and shouting and terrible oaths which came up to her from below, for they say that the words used by Hugo Baskerville, when he was in wine, were such as might blast the man who said them. At last in the stress of her fear she did that which might have daunted the bravest or most active man, for by the aid of the growth of ivy which covered (and still covers) the south wall she came down from under the eaves, and so homeward across the moor, there being three leagues betwixt the Hall and her father's farm.

"It chanced that some little time later Hugo left his guests to carry food and drink--with other worse things, perchance--to his captive, and so found the cage empty and the bird escaped. Then, as it would seem, he became as one that hath a devil, for, rushing down the stairs into the dining-hall, he sprang upon the great table, flagons and trenchers flying before him, and he cried aloud before all the company that he would that very night render his body and soul to the Powers of Evil if he might but overtake the wench. And while the revellers stood aghast at the fury of the man, one more wicked or, it may be, more drunken than the rest, cried out that they should put the hounds upon her. Whereat Hugo ran from the house, crying to his grooms that they should saddle his mare and unkennel the pack, and giving the hounds a kerchief of the maid's, he swung them to the line, and so off full cry in the moonlight over the moor.

"Now, for some space the revellers stood agape, unable to understand all that had been done in such haste. But anon their bemused wits awoke to the nature of the deed which was like to be done upon the moorlands. Everything was now in an uproar, some calling for their pistols, some for their horses, and some for another flask of wine. But at length some sense came back to their crazed minds, and the whole of them, thirteen in number, took horse and started in pursuit. The moon shone clear above them, and they rode swiftly abreast, taking that course which the maid must needs have taken if she were to reach her own home.

"They had gone a mile or two when they passed one of the night shepherds upon the moorlands, and they cried to him to know if he had seen the hunt. And the man, as the story goes, was so crazed with fear that he could scarce speak, but at last he said that he had indeed seen the unhappy maiden, with the hounds upon her track. 'But I have seen more than that,' said he, 'for Hugo Baskerville passed me upon his black mare, and there ran mute behind him such a hound of hell as God forbid should ever be at my heels.' So the drunken squires cursed the shepherd and rode onward. But soon their skins turned cold, for there came a galloping across the moor, and the black mare, dabbled with white froth, went past with trailing bridle and empty saddle. Then the revellers rode close together, for a great fear was on them, but they still followed over the moor, though each, had he been alone, would have been right glad to have turned his horse's head. Riding slowly in this fashion they came at last upon the hounds. These, though known for their valour and their breed, were whimpering in a cluster at the head of a deep dip or goyal, as we call it, upon the moor, some slinking away and some, with starting hackles and staring eyes, gazing down the narrow valley before them.

"The company had come to a halt, more sober men, as you may guess, than when they started. The most of them would by no means advance, but three of them, the boldest, or it may be the most drunken, rode forward down the goyal. Now, it opened into a broad space in which stood two of those great stones, still to be seen there, which were set by certain forgotten peoples in the days of old. The moon was shining bright upon the clearing, and there in the centre lay the unhappy maid where she had fallen, dead of fear and of fatigue. But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her, which raised the hair upon the heads of these three daredevil roysterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon. And even as they looked the thing tore the throat out of Hugo Baskerville, on which, as it turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them, the three shrieked with fear and rode for dear life, still screaming, across the moor. One, it is said, died that very night of what he had seen, and the other twain were but broken men for the rest of their days.

"Such is the tale, my sons, of the coming of the hound which is said to have plagued the family so sorely ever since. If I have set it down it is because that which is clearly known hath less terror than that which is but hinted at and guessed. Nor can it be denied that many of the family have been unhappy in their deaths, which have been sudden, bloody, and mysterious. Yet may we shelter ourselves in the infinite goodness of Providence, which would not forever punish the innocent beyond that third or fourth generation which is threatened in Holy Writ. To that Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel you by way of caution to forbear from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.

"[This from Hugo Baskerville to his sons Rodger and John, with instructions that they say nothing thereof to their sister Elizabeth.]"

When Dr. Mortimer had finished reading this singular narrative he pushed his spectacles up on his forehead and stared across at Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The latter yawned and tossed the end of his cigarette into the fire.

"Well?" said he.

"Do you not find it interesting?"

"To a collector of fairy tales."

Dr. Mortimer drew a folded newspaper out of his pocket.

"Now, Mr. Holmes, we will give you something a little more recent. This is the Devon County Chronicle of May 14th of this year. It is a short account of the facts elicited at the death of Sir Charles Baskerville which occurred a few days before that date."

My friend leaned a little forward and his expression became intent. Our visitor readjusted his glasses and began:--

"The recent sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose name has been mentioned as the probable Liberal candidate for Mid-Devon at the next election, has cast a gloom over the county. Though Sir Charles had resided at Baskerville Hall for a comparatively short period his amiability of character and extreme generosity had won the affection and respect of all who had been brought into contact with him. In these days of nouveaux riches it is refreshing to find a case where the scion of an old county family which has fallen upon evil days is able to make his own fortune and to bring it back with him to restore the fallen grandeur of his line. Sir Charles, as is well known, made large sums of money in South African speculation. More wise than those who go on until the wheel turns against them, he realized his gains and returned to England with them. It is only two years since he took up his residence at Baskerville Hall, and it is common talk how large were those schemes of reconstruction and improvement which have been interrupted by his death. Being himself childless, it was his openly expressed desire that the whole country-side should, within his own lifetime, profit by his good fortune, and many will have personal reasons for bewailing his untimely end. His generous donations to local and county charities have been frequently chronicled in these columns.

"The circumstances connected with the death of Sir Charles cannot be said to have been entirely cleared up by the inquest, but at least enough has been done to dispose of those rumours to which local superstition has given rise. There is no reason whatever to suspect foul play, or to imagine that death could be from any but natural causes. Sir Charles was a widower, and a man who may be said to have been in some ways of an eccentric habit of mind. In spite of his considerable wealth he was simple in his personal tastes, and his indoor servants at Baskerville Hall consisted of a married couple named Barrymore, the husband acting as butler and the wife as housekeeper. Their evidence, corroborated by that of several friends, tends to show that Sir Charles's health has for some time been impaired, and points especially to some affection of the heart, manifesting itself in changes of colour, breathlessness, and acute attacks of nervous depression. Dr. James Mortimer, the friend and medical attendant of the deceased, has given evidence to the same effect.

"The facts of the case are simple. Sir Charles Baskerville was in the habit every night before going to bed of walking down the famous Yew Alley of Baskerville Hall. The evidence of the Barrymores shows that this had been his custom. On the 4th of May Sir Charles had declared his intention of starting next day for London, and had ordered Barrymore to prepare his luggage. That night he went out as usual for his nocturnal walk, in the course of which he was in the habit of smoking a cigar. He never returned. At twelve o'clock Barrymore, finding the hall door still open, became alarmed, and, lighting a lantern, went in search of his master. The day had been wet, and Sir Charles's footmarks were easily traced down the Alley. Half-way down this walk there is a gate which leads out on to the moor. There were indications that Sir Charles had stood for some little time here. He then proceeded down the Alley, and it was at the far end of it that his body was discovered. One fact which has not been explained is the statement of Barrymore that his master's footprints altered their character from the time that he passed the moor-gate, and that he appeared from thence onward to have been walking upon his toes. One Murphy, a gipsy horse-dealer, was on the moor at no great distance at the time, but he appears by his own confession to have been the worse for drink. He declares that he heard cries, but is unable to state from what direction they came. No signs of violence were to be discovered upon Sir Charles's person, and though the doctor's evidence pointed to an almost incredible facial distortion--so great that Dr. Mortimer refused at first to believe that it was indeed his friend and patient who lay before him--it was explained that that is a symptom which is not unusual in cases of dyspnoea and death from cardiac exhaustion. This explanation was borne out by the post-mortem examination, which showed long-standing organic disease, and the coroner's jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence. It is well that this is so, for it is obviously of the utmost importance that Sir Charles's heir should settle at the Hall and continue the good work which has been so sadly interrupted. Had the prosaic finding of the coroner not finally put an end to the romantic stories which have been whispered in connection with the affair, it might have been difficult to find a tenant for Baskerville Hall. It is understood that the next of kin is Mr. Henry Baskerville, if he be still alive, the son of Sir Charles Baskerville's younger brother. The young man when last heard of was in America, and inquiries are being instituted with a view to informing him of his good fortune."

Dr. Mortimer refolded his paper and replaced it in his pocket.

"Those are the public facts, Mr. Holmes, in connection with the death of Sir Charles Baskerville."

"I must thank you," said Sherlock Holmes, "for calling my attention to a case which certainly presents some features of interest. I had observed some newspaper comment at the time, but I was exceedingly preoccupied by that little affair of the Vatican cameos, and in my anxiety to oblige the Pope I lost touch with several interesting English cases. This article, you say, contains all the public facts?"

"It does."

"Then let me have the private ones." He leaned back, put his finger-tips together, and assumed his most impassive and judicial expression.

"In doing so," said Dr. Mortimer, who had begun to show signs of some strong emotion, "I am telling that which I have not confided to anyone. My motive for withholding it from the coroner's inquiry is that a man of science shrinks from placing himself in the public position of seeming to indorse a popular superstition. I had the further motive that Baskerville Hall, as the paper says, would certainly remain untenanted if anything were done to increase its already rather grim reputation. For both these reasons I thought that I was justified in telling rather less than I knew, since no practical good could result from it, but with you there is no reason why I should not be perfectly frank.

"The moor is very sparsely inhabited, and those who live near each other are thrown very much together. For this reason I saw a good deal of Sir Charles Baskerville. With the exception of Mr. Frankland, of Lafter Hall, and Mr. Stapleton, the naturalist, there are no other men of education within many miles. Sir Charles was a retiring man, but the chance of his illness brought us together, and a community of interests in science kept us so. He had brought back much scientific information from South Africa, and many a charming evening we have spent together discussing the comparative anatomy of the Bushman and the Hottentot.

"Within the last few months it became increasingly plain to me that Sir Charles's nervous system was strained to the breaking point. He had taken this legend which I have read you exceedingly to heart--so much so that, although he would walk in his own grounds, nothing would induce him to go out upon the moor at night. Incredible as it may appear to you, Mr. Holmes, he was honestly convinced that a dreadful fate overhung his family, and certainly the records which he was able to give of his ancestors were not encouraging. The idea of some ghastly presence constantly haunted him, and on more than one occasion he has asked me whether I had on my medical journeys at night ever seen any strange creature or heard the baying of a hound. The latter question he put to me several times, and always with a voice which vibrated with excitement.

"I can well remember driving up to his house in the evening some three weeks before the fatal event. He chanced to be at his hall door. I had descended from my gig and was standing in front of him, when I saw his eyes fix themselves over my shoulder, and stare past me with an expression of the most dreadful horror. I whisked round and had just time to catch a glimpse of something which I took to be a large black calf passing at the head of the drive. So excited and alarmed was he that I was compelled to go down to the spot where the animal had been and look around for it. It was gone, however, and the incident appeared to make the worst impression upon his mind. I stayed with him all the evening, and it was on that occasion, to explain the emotion which he had shown, that he confided to my keeping that narrative which I read to you when first I came. I mention this small episode because it assumes some importance in view of the tragedy which followed, but I was convinced at the time that the matter was entirely trivial and that his excitement had no justification.

"It was at my advice that Sir Charles was about to go to London. His heart was, I knew, affected, and the constant anxiety in which he lived, however chimerical the cause of it might be, was evidently having a serious effect upon his health. I thought that a few months among the distractions of town would send him back a new man. Mr. Stapleton, a mutual friend who was much concerned at his state of health, was of the same opinion. At the last instant came this terrible catastrophe.

"On the night of Sir Charles's death Barrymore the butler, who made the discovery, sent Perkins the groom on horseback to me, and as I was sitting up late I was able to reach Baskerville Hall within an hour of the event. I checked and corroborated all the facts which were mentioned at the inquest. I followed the footsteps down the Yew Alley, I saw the spot at the moor-gate where he seemed to have waited, I remarked the change in the shape of the prints after that point, I noted that there were no other footsteps save those of Barrymore on the soft gravel, and finally I carefully examined the body, which had not been touched until my arrival. Sir Charles lay on his face, his arms out, his fingers dug into the ground, and his features convulsed with some strong emotion to such an extent that I could hardly have sworn to his identity. There was certainly no physical injury of any kind. But one false statement was made by Barrymore at the inquest. He said that there were no traces upon the ground round the body. He did not observe any. But I did--some little distance off, but fresh and clear."

"Footprints?"

"Footprints."

"A man's or a woman's?"

Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:--

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

“我口袋里有一篇手稿,”杰姆士·摩梯末医生说道。

“在您进屋时我就看出来了,”福尔摩斯说。

“是一张旧手稿。”

“是十八世纪初期的,否则就是假造的了。”

“您怎么知道的呢,先生?”

“在您说话的时候,我看到那手稿一直露着一两英寸的光景。如果一位专家不能把一份文件的时期估计得相差不出十年左右的话,那他就真是一位差劲儿的蹩脚专家了。可能您已经读过了我写的那篇关于这问题的小论吧。据我判断,这篇手稿是在一七三○年写成的。”

“确切的年代是一七四二年。”摩梯末医生从胸前的口袋里把它掏了出来,“这份祖传的家书,是查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士交托给我的,三个月前他忽遭惨死,在德文郡引起了很大的惊恐。可以说,我是他的朋友,同时又是他的医生。他是个意志坚强的人,先生,很敏锐,经验丰富,并和我一样地讲求实际。他把这份文件看得很认真,他心里早已准备接受这样的结局了;而结果,他竟真的得到了这样的结局。”

福尔摩斯接过了手稿,把它平铺在膝头上。

“华生,你注意看,长S和短S的换用,这就是使我能确定年代的几个特点之一。”

我凑在他的肩后看着那张黄纸和退了色的字迹。顶上写着“巴斯克维尔庄园”,再下面就是潦草的数字“1742”。

“看来好象是一篇什么记载似的。”

“对了,是关于一件在巴斯克维尔家流传的传说。”

“不过我想您来找我恐怕是为了当前的和更有实际意义的事情吧?”

“是近在眼前的事,这是一件最为现实和急迫的事了,必须在二十四小时之内做出决定。不过这份手稿很短,而且与这件事有着密切联系。如果您允许的话,我就把它读给您听。”

福尔摩斯靠在椅背上,两手的指尖对顶在一起,闭上了眼睛,显出一副听其自然的神情。摩梯末将手稿拿向亮处,以高亢而嘶哑的声音朗读着下面的奇特而古老的故事:

“关于巴斯克维尔的猎犬一事有过很多的说法,我所以要写下来是因为我相信确曾发生过象我所写的这样的事。我是修果·巴斯克维尔的直系后代,这件事是我从我父亲那里听来的,而我父亲又是直接听我祖父说的。儿子们,但愿你们相信,公正的神明能够惩罚那些有罪的人,但是只要他们能祈祷悔过,无论犯了多么深重的罪,也都能得到宽恕。你们知道了这件事,也不用因为前辈们所得的恶果而恐惧,只要自己将来谨慎就可以了,以免咱们这家族过去所尝到的深重的痛苦重新落在咱们这些败落的后代身上。

“据说是在大叛乱时期[指英国1642—1660年的内战而言。——译者注](我真心地向你们推荐,应该读一读博学的克莱仑顿男爵所写的历史),这所巴斯克维尔大厦本为修果·巴斯克维尔所占用,无可否认,他是个最卑俗粗野、最目无上帝的人了。事实上,如果只是这一点的话,乡邻本是可以原谅他的,因为在这一地区圣教从来就没有兴旺过。他的天性狂妄、残忍,在西部已是家喻户晓了。这位修果先生偶然地爱上了(如果还能用这样纯洁的字眼称呼他那卑鄙的情欲的话)在巴斯克维尔庄园附近种着几亩地的一个庄稼人的女儿。可是这位少女一向有着谨言慎行的好名声,当然要躲着他了,何况她还惧怕他的恶名。后来有一次,在米可摩斯节[基督教纪念圣徒麦可(St.Michael)的节日(每年9月29日)。——译者注]那天,这位修果先生知道她的父兄俩都出门去了,就和五六个游手好闲的下流朋友一起,偷偷地到她家去把这个姑娘抢了回来。他们把她弄进了庄园,关在楼上的一间小屋子里,修果就和朋友们围坐狂欢痛饮起来,他们在夜里是常常这样干的。这时,楼上的那位可怜的姑娘听到了楼下狂歌乱吼和那些不堪入耳的脏字,已是惊恐万分不知所措了。有人说,修果·巴斯克维尔酒醉时所说的那些话,不管是谁,即使是重说一遍都可能会遭到天谴。最后,她在恐惧已极的情况之下竟干出来一桩就连最勇敢和最狡黠的人都会为之咋舌的事来。 她从窗口出来,攀缘着至今仍爬满南墙的蔓藤由房檐下面一直爬了下来,然后就穿过沼地直往家里跑去了,庄园离她家约有九英里的样子。

“过了一会儿,修果离开了客人,带着食物和酒——说不定还有更糟糕的东西呢——就去找被他掳来的那个姑娘去了,可是竟发现笼中之鸟已经逃走了。随后,他就象中了魔似地冲下楼来,一到饭厅就跳上了大餐桌,眼前的东西,不管是酒瓶还是木盘全都被他踢飞了。他在朋友面前大嚷大闹着说:只要当晚他能追上那丫头,他愿把肉体和灵魂全都献给恶魔任其摆布。当那些纵酒狂饮的浪子们被他的暴怒吓得目瞪口呆的时候,有一个特别凶恶的家伙——也许是因为他比别人喝得更醉——大叫着说应当把猎狗都放出去追她。修果听他一说就跑了出去,高呼马夫牵马备鞍并把犬舍里的狗全都放出来,把那少女丢下的头巾给那些猎狗闻了闻就把它们一窝蜂地轰了出去,这些狗在一片狂吠声中往被月光照耀着的沼地上狂奔而去。

“这些浪子们目瞪口呆地站着,不知道这样匆匆忙忙地搞了半天究竟是怎么回事。过了一会儿他们才弄明白了到沼地里去要干什么,接着又都大喊大叫起来了,有的人喊着要带手枪,有的人找自己的马,有的人甚至还想再带一瓶酒。最后,他们那疯狂的头脑终于恢复了一点理智,十三个人全体上马追了下去。头顶上的月亮清清楚楚地照着他们,他们彼此紧靠一起顺着那少女返家的必经之途疾驰而去。

“在他们跑了一二英里路的时候,遇到了一个沼地里的牧人,他们大喊着问他看到了他们所追捕的人没有。据说那牧人当时被吓得简直都说不出话来了,后来,他终于说他确实看到了那个可怜的少女,后面还有一群追索着她的猎狗。‘我看到的还不止这些呢,’他说道,‘修果·巴斯克维尔也骑着他那黑马从这里过去了,还有一只魔鬼似的大猎狗一声不响地跟在他的后面。上帝啊,可别让那样的狗跟在我的后面!’那些醉鬼老爷们骂了那牧人一顿就又骑着马赶了下去。可是不久他们就被吓得浑身发冷了。因为他们听到沼地里传来了马跑的声音,随后就看到了那匹黑马,嘴里流着白沫跑了过去,鞍上无人,缰绳拖在地上。从那时起那些浪子们就都挤到了一起,因为他们已经感到万分恐怖了,可是他们总还是在沼地里前进着。如果他们只是一个人走在那里的话,无疑地早就会拨转马头跑回去了。他们就这样慢慢地骑着前进,最后终于赶上了那群猎狗。这些狗虽然都是以骁勇和优种出名的,可是这时竟也挤在沼地里的一条深沟的尽头处,竞相哀鸣起来,有些只已经逃之夭夭了,有些则颈毛直竖,两眼直瞪瞪地向前面一条窄窄的小沟里望着。

“这帮人勒住了马,可以猜想得到,他们现在已比出发的时候清醒得多了。其中大多数已经不想再前进了,可是有三个胆子最大的——也许是醉得最厉害的——继续策马向山沟走了下去。前面出现了一片宽阔的平地,中间立着两根大石柱——至今还可以看到——是古时不知是谁立起来的。月光把那块空地照得很亮,那因惊恐和疲惫而死的少女就躺在那块空地的中央。可是使这三个胆大包天的酒鬼毛骨悚然的既不是少女的尸体,也不是躺在她近旁的修果·巴斯克维尔的尸体,而是站在修果身旁撕扯着他喉咙的那个可怕的东西,一只既大又黑的畜生,样子象一只猎狗,可是谁也没见过这样大的猎狗。正当他们看着那家伙撕扯修果·巴斯克维尔的喉咙的时候,它把闪亮的眼睛和直流口涎的大嘴向他们转了过来。三个人一看就吓得大叫起来,赶忙拨转马头逃命去了,甚至在穿过沼地的时候还惊呼不已。据说其中的一个因为看到了那家伙当晚就吓死了,另外两个也落得个终身精神失常。

“我的儿子们啊,这就是那只猎狗的传说的来历,据说从那时起那只狗就一直可怕地骚扰着咱们的家族。我所以要把它写下来,还因为我觉得:随便听到的东西和猜测的东西要比知道得清清楚楚的东西可怕得多。不可否认,在咱家的人里,有许多都是未得善终的,死得突然、凄惨而又神秘。但愿能得上帝无边慈爱的庇护,不致降罚于我等三代以至四代唯圣经是听的人们。我的儿子们,我借上帝之名命令你们,并且劝你们要多加小心,千万要避免在黑夜降临、罪恶势力嚣张的时候走过沼地。

“〔这是修果·巴斯克维尔[此修果·巴斯克维尔为这篇家书开头所提到之修果·巴斯克维尔之同名后代。——译者注]留给两个儿子罗杰和约翰的家书,并敦嘱二人万勿将此事告知其姊伊莉莎白。〕”

摩梯末医生读完了这篇怪异的记载之后就把眼镜推上了前额,直望着歇洛克·福尔摩斯。福尔摩斯打完呵欠就把烟头扔进了炉火。

“嗯?”他说。

“您不觉得很有趣味吗?”

“对一个搜集神话的人来说,是很有趣味的。”

摩梯末医生从衣袋里掏出来一张折叠着的报纸。

“福尔摩斯先生,现在我要告诉您一件发生时间较近的事。这是一张今年五月十四日的《德文郡纪事报》。是一篇有关几天前查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士死亡的简短叙述。”

我的朋友上身稍向前倾,神色也变得专注起来。 我们的来客重新放好了眼镜,又开始读了起来:

“最近,查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士之暴卒,使本郡不胜哀悼。据云,在下届选举中,此人可能被选为中部德文郡自由党候选人。虽然查尔兹爵士在巴斯克维尔庄园居住不久,但其厚道与慷慨已深得周围群众之敬爱。值此暴发户充斥之时,如查尔兹这样一支名门之后,竟能致富还乡,重振因厄运而中衰之家声,诚为可喜之事。众所周知之查尔兹爵士曾在南非投机致富。但他较之一直于到倒霉为止的人们聪明,他带着变卖了的资财返回英伦。他来到巴斯克维尔庄园不过两年,人们普遍在谈论着他那庞大的重建和修幕的计划,然此计划已因其本人逝世而中断。因他并无子嗣,他曾公开表示,在他有生之日整个乡区将得到他的资助,因此,有很多人都悲悼他的暴亡。至于他对本地及郡慈善机关的慷慨捐输,本栏曾常有登载。

“验尸之结果尚未能将与查尔兹爵士之死亡相关之诸情况弄清,至少尚未能消除由于当地之迷信所引起之诸种谣传。毫无理由怀疑有任何犯罪成分,或想象死亡并非由于自然原因。查尔兹爵士为鳏夫,据说他在某些方面表现精神状态有些反常。他虽有如许财产,但个人所好却很简单。巴斯克维尔庄园中之仆人只有白瑞摩夫妇二人,丈夫是总管,妻子当管家妇。他们的已被几个朋友证实了的证词说明:查尔兹爵士曾有健康情况不良之征象,尤其是几点心脏症状;表现在面色改变、呼吸困难和严重的神经衰弱。死者的朋友和私人医生杰姆士·摩梯未也提供了同样的证明。

“案件实情甚为简单。查尔兹·巴斯克维尔有一种习惯,每晚在就寝前,须沿巴斯克维尔庄园出名之水松夹道散步。白瑞摩夫妇的证词说明死者之习惯确是如此。五月四日,查尔兹爵士曾声称他第二天想去伦敦,并曾命白瑞摩为他准备行李。当晚他照常出去作晚间散步,他常吸着雪茄散步,可是他再也没有回来。在十二点钟的时候,白瑞摩发现厅门还开着,他吃了一惊,于是就点了灯笼,出去寻找主人。当时外面很潮湿,所以沿着夹道下去很容易看到爵士的足迹,小路的中间有个通向沼地的栅门。种种迹象都说明查尔兹爵士曾站在门前,然后他就沿着夹道走了下去,他的尸体就是在夹道的末端被发现的。有一件尚未得到解释的事实就是:白瑞摩说,他主人的足迹在过了通往沼地的栅门后就变了样,好象是从那以后就换用足尖走路了。有一个叫作摩菲的吉卜赛马贩子,当时正在沼地里距出事地点不远的地方,可是他自己承认当时酒醉得很厉害。他说他曾听到过呼喊声,但说不清是来自哪方。在查尔兹爵士身上找不出遭受暴力袭击的痕迹,可是医生的证明中曾指出面容变形到几乎难以相信的程度的、躺在他面前的就是他的朋友和病人的尸体——据解释说,这是一种在因呼吸困难和心脏衰竭而死的时候常有的现象。这一解释已为尸体解剖所证明,说明存在着由来已久的官能上的病症。法院验尸官也缴呈了一份与医生证明相符的判断书。如此结束究属妥善,因查尔兹爵士之后代仍将在庄园居住,并将继续不幸为之中断的善行,因此,显然此点具有极端重要性,如验尸官平凡的发现不能最后扑灭那些邻里相传的有关此事的荒诞故事,则欲为巴斯克维尔庄园找个住户就很困难了。据了解,如果说爵士还有活着的最近的亲属的话,那就是他弟弟的儿子亨利·巴斯克维尔先生了。以前曾听说这位年轻人在美洲。现已进行调查,以便通知他来接受这笔为数庞大的财产。”

摩梯末把报纸叠好,放回口袋去。

“福尔摩斯先生,这些都是众所周知的有关查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士死亡的事实。”

“我真得感谢您,”歇洛克·福尔摩斯说,“能引起我对这件饶有兴趣的案件的注意。当时我曾读过一些报纸的报导,但那时我正专心致力于梵蒂冈宝石案那件小事,在受着教皇急迫的嘱托之下竟忽略了在英伦发生的一些案件。您说这段新闻已包括了全部公开的事实吗?”

“是的。”

“那么再告诉我一些内幕的事实吧!”他靠在椅背上,把两只手的指尖对顶在一起。显出了他那极为冷静的、法官似的表情。

“这样一来,”摩梯末医生一面说着,一面感情开始激动起来,“就会把我还没有告诉过任何人的事情都说出来了,我连验尸官都隐瞒了。因为一个从事科学工作的人,最怕在公众面前显得他似乎是相信了一种流传的迷信。我的另一个动机,就象报纸上所说的那样,如果有任何事情再进一步恶化它那已经相当可怕的名声,那么巴斯克维尔庄园就真的再不会有人敢住了。为了这两个原因,我想,不把我知道的全部事情都说出来还是正确的,因为那样做不会有什么好处,但是对你说来,我没有理由不开诚布公,彻底谈出来。

“沼地上的住户们住得彼此相距都很远,而彼此居住较近的人们就产生了密切的关系。因此我和查尔兹·巴斯克维尔爵士见面的机会就很多。除了赖福特庄园的弗兰克兰先生和生物学家斯台普吞先生而外,方圆数十英里之内就再没有受过教育的人了。查尔兹爵士是一位喜欢隐居独处的人,可是他的病把我们俩拉到了一起,而且对科学的共同兴趣也大大有助于使我们两人亲近起来。他从南非带回来很多科学资料,我还常常将整个美好动人的傍晚和他共同消磨在研讨对布史人[南非一种原始的、以游牧狩猎为生的种族。——译者注]和豪腾脱人[南非黑人中的一个种族。——译者注]的比较解剖学上。

“在最后的几个月里我看得愈来愈清楚,查尔兹爵士的神经系统已经紧张到极点了。他深信着我读给你听的那个传说——虽然他经常在自己的宅邸之内散步,但一到晚上就说什么也不肯到沼地上去了。福尔摩斯先生,在你看来是那样的不可信,可是,他竟深信他的家已经是厄运临头了。当然,他由上辈得知的传说确实使人不快。可怕的事就要在眼前出现的想法经常占据着他的身心,他不只一次地问过我,是否在夜间出诊的途中看到过什么奇怪的东西,或是听见过一只猎狗的嗥叫。后边这个问题他曾问过我好多次,而且总是带着惊慌颤抖的声调。

“我记得很清楚,有一天傍晚我驾着马车到他家去,那是在这件致命的事情发生以前约有三个星期的时候。碰巧他正在正厅门前。我已经从我的小马车上下来站在他的面前了,我忽然看到他的眼里带着极端恐怖的表情,死死地盯视着我的背后。我猛然转过身去,刚刚来得及看到一个象大牛犊似的黑东西飞快地跑了过去。他惊慌恐怖得那样厉害,我不得不走到那动物曾经走过的地方四下寻找了一番。它已经跑了。但是,这件事似乎在他心中造成了极为恶劣的影响。我陪着他呆了一晚,就在那时,为了解释他所表现的情绪,他就把我刚来的时候读给您听的那篇记载托我保存了。我所以要提到这一小小的插曲,是因为它在随后发生的悲剧中可能有些重要性,可是在当时,我确实认为那只是一件微不足道的小事,他的惊恐也是没有来由的。

“还是听从了我的劝告,查尔兹爵士才打算到伦敦去。我知道,他的心脏已经受了影响,他经常处于焦虑之中,不管其缘由是如何的虚幻,显然已严重地影响了他的健康。我想,几个月的都市生活就能把他变成一个新人了。我们共同的朋友斯台普吞先生非常关心他的健康状况,他和我的意见相同。 可是,这可怕的灾祸竟在临行前的最后一刻发生了。

“在查尔兹爵士暴死的当晚,总管白瑞摩发现以后,立刻就派了马夫波金斯骑着马来找我,因为我就寝很晚,所以在出事后一小时之内我就来到了巴斯克维尔庄园。我验证了所有在验尸过程中提到过的事实。我顺着水松夹道往前观察了他的脚印,看过了对着沼地的那扇栅门的地方,看来他曾在那儿等过人,我注意到由那一点以下的足迹形状的变化。我还发现了,除了白瑞摩在软土地上留下的那些足迹之外没有其他足迹。最后我又细心地检查了尸体,在我到达以前还没有人动过它。查尔兹爵士趴在地上,两臂伸出,他的手指插在泥土里;他的面部肌肉因强烈的情感而紧缩起来,甚至使我无法辨认,确实没有任何伤痕。可是在验尸的时候白瑞摩曾提供了一个不真实的证明。他说在尸体周围的地上没有任何痕迹,他什么也没有看到。可是,我倒看到了——就在相距不远的地方,不仅清晰而且是痕迹犹新。”

“足迹?”

“足迹。”

“是男人的还是女人的?”

摩梯末奇怪地望了我们一会儿,在回答的时候,声音低得几乎象耳语一样:

“福尔摩斯先生,是个极大的猎狗的爪印!”