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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. Partly it came no doubt from his own masterful nature, which loved to dominate and surprise those who were around him. Partly also from his professional caution, which urged him never to take any chances. The result, however, 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. It was a relief to me, after that unnatural restraint, when we at last passed Frankland's house and knew that we were drawing near to the Hall and to the scene of action. We did not drive up to the door but got down near the gate of the avenue. The wagonette was paid off and ordered to return to Coombe Tracey forthwith, while we started to walk to Merripit House.

"Are you armed, Lestrade?"

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."

"Good! My friend and I are also ready for emergencies."

"You're mighty close about this affair, Mr. Holmes. What's the game now?"

"A waiting game."

"My word, it does not seem a very cheerful place," said the detective with a shiver, glancing round him at the gloomy slopes of the hill and at the huge lake of fog which lay over the Grimpen Mire. "I see the lights of a house ahead of us."

"That is Merripit House and the end of our journey. I must request you to walk on tiptoe and not to talk above a whisper."

We moved cautiously along the track as if we were bound for the house, but Holmes halted us when we were about two hundred yards from it.

"This will do," said he. "These rocks upon the right make an admirable screen."

"We are to wait here?"

"Yes, we shall make our little ambush here. Get into this hollow, Lestrade. You have been inside the house, have you not, Watson? Can you tell the position of the rooms? What are those latticed windows at this end?"

"I think they are the kitchen windows."

"And the one beyond, which shines so brightly?"

"That is certainly the dining-room."

"The blinds are up. You know the lie of the land best. Creep forward quietly and see what they are doing--but for heaven's sake don't let them know that they are watched!"

I tiptoed down the path and stooped behind the low wall which surrounded the stunted orchard. Creeping in its shadow I reached a point whence I could look straight through the uncurtained window.

There were only two men in the room, Sir Henry and Stapleton. They sat with their profiles towards me on either side of the round table. Both of them were smoking cigars, and coffee and wine were in front of them. Stapleton was talking with animation, but the baronet looked pale and distrait. Perhaps the thought of that lonely walk across the ill-omened moor was weighing heavily upon his mind.

As I watched them Stapleton rose and left the room, while Sir Henry filled his glass again and leaned back in his chair, puffing at his cigar. I heard the creak of a door and the crisp sound of boots upon gravel. The steps passed along the path on the other side of the wall under which I crouched. Looking over, I saw the naturalist pause at the door of an out-house in the corner of the orchard. A key turned in a lock, and as he passed in there was a curious scuffling noise from within. He was only a minute or so inside, and then I heard the key turn once more and he passed me and re-entered the house. I saw him rejoin his guest, and I crept quietly back to where my companions were waiting to tell them what I had seen.

"You say, Watson, that the lady is not there?" Holmes asked, when I had finished my report.

"No."

"Where can she be, then, since there is no light in any other room except the kitchen?"

"I cannot think where she is."

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?"

"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.

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."

"Shall we move farther back upon higher ground?"

"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. "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. 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, and I heard the sharp click of a cocking pistol. "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 and I both fired together, and the creature gave a hideous howl, which showed that one at least had hit him. He did not pause, however, but 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.

But that cry of pain from the hound had blown all our fears to the winds. If he was vulnerable he was mortal, and if we could wound him we could kill him. Never have I seen a man run as Holmes ran that night. I am reckoned fleet of foot, 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 the next instant Holmes had emptied five barrels of his revolver into the creature's flank. With a last howl of agony and a vicious snap in the air, it rolled upon its back, four feet pawing furiously, and then fell limp upon its side. I stooped, panting, and pressed my pistol to the dreadful, shimmering head, but it was useless to press the trigger. The giant hound was dead.

Sir Henry lay insensible where he had fallen. We tore away his collar, and Holmes breathed a prayer of gratitude when we saw that there was no sign of a wound and that the rescue had been in time. Already our friend's eyelids shivered and he made a feeble effort to move. Lestrade thrust his brandy-flask between the baronet's teeth, and two frightened eyes were looking up at us.

"My God!" he whispered. "What was it? What, in heaven's name, was it?"

"It's dead, whatever it is," said Holmes. "We've laid the family ghost once and forever."

In mere size and strength it was a terrible creature which was lying stretched before us. It was not a pure bloodhound and it was not a pure mastiff; but it appeared to be a combination of the two--gaunt, savage, and as large as a small lioness. Even now, in the stillness of death, the huge jaws seemed to be dripping with a bluish flame and the small, deep-set, cruel eyes were ringed with fire. I placed my hand upon the glowing muzzle, and as I held them up my own fingers smouldered and gleamed in the darkness.

"Phosphorus," I said.

"A cunning preparation of it," said Holmes, sniffing at the dead animal. "There is no smell which might have interfered with his power of scent. We owe you a deep apology, Sir Henry, for having exposed you to this fright. I was prepared for a hound, but not for such a creature as this. And the fog gave us little time to receive him."

"You have saved my life."

"Having first endangered it. Are you strong enough to stand?"

"Give me another mouthful of that brandy and I shall be ready for anything. So! Now, if you will help me up. What do you propose to do?"

"To leave you here. You are not fit for further adventures to-night. If you will wait, one or other of us will go back with you to the Hall."

He tried to stagger to his feet; but he was still ghastly pale and trembling in every limb. We helped him to a rock, where he sat shivering with his face buried in his hands.

"We must leave you now," said Holmes. "The rest of our work must be done, and every moment is of importance. We have our case, and now we only want our man.

"It's a thousand to one against our finding him at the house," he continued as we retraced our steps swiftly down the path. "Those shots must have told him that the game was up."

"We were some distance off, and this fog may have deadened them."

"He followed the hound to call him off--of that you may be certain. No, no, he's gone by this time! But we'll search the house and make sure."

The front door was open, so we rushed in and hurried from room to room to the amazement of a doddering old manservant, who met us in the passage. There was no light save in the dining-room, but Holmes caught up the lamp and left no corner of the house unexplored. No sign could we see of the man whom we were chasing. On the upper floor, however, one of the bedroom doors was locked.

"There's someone in here," cried Lestrade. "I can hear a movement. Open this door!"

A faint moaning and rustling came from within. Holmes struck the door just over the lock with the flat of his foot and it flew open. Pistol in hand, we all three rushed into the room.

But there was no sign within it of that desperate and defiant villain whom we expected to see. Instead we were faced by an object so strange and so unexpected that we stood for a moment staring at it in amazement.

The room had been fashioned into a small museum, and the walls were lined by a number of glass-topped cases full of that collection of butterflies and moths the formation of which had been the relaxation of this complex and dangerous man. In the centre of this room there was an upright beam, which had been placed at some period as a support for the old worm-eaten baulk of timber which spanned the roof. To this post a figure was tied, so swathed and muffled in the sheets which had been used to secure it that one could not for the moment tell whether it was that of a man or a woman. One towel passed round the throat and was secured at the back of the pillar. Another covered the lower part of the face, and over it two dark eyes--eyes full of grief and shame and a dreadful questioning--stared back at us. In a minute we had torn off the gag, unswathed the bonds, and Mrs. Stapleton sank upon the floor in front of us. As her beautiful head fell upon her chest I saw the clear red weal of a whiplash across her neck.

"The brute!" cried Holmes. "Here, Lestrade, your brandy-bottle! Put her in the chair! She has fainted from ill-usage and exhaustion."

She opened her eyes again.

"Is he safe?" she asked. "Has he escaped?"

"He cannot escape us, madam."

"No, no, I did not mean my husband. Sir Henry? Is he safe?"

"Yes."

"And the hound?"

"It is dead."

She gave a long sigh of satisfaction.

"Thank God! Thank God! Oh, this villain! See how he has treated me!" She shot her arms out from her sleeves, and we saw with horror that they were all mottled with bruises. "But this is nothing--nothing! It is my mind and soul that he has tortured and defiled. I could endure it all, ill-usage, solitude, a life of deception, everything, as long as I could still cling to the hope that I had his love, but now I know that in this also I have been his dupe and his tool." She broke into passionate sobbing as she spoke.

"You bear him no good will, madam," said Holmes. "Tell us then where we shall find him. If you have ever aided him in evil, help us now and so atone."

"There is but one place where he can have fled," she answered. "There is an old tin mine on an island in the heart of the mire. It was there that he kept his hound and there also he had made preparations so that he might have a refuge. That is where he would fly."

The fog-bank lay like white wool against the window. Holmes held the lamp towards it.

"See," said he. "No one could find his way into the Grimpen Mire to-night."

She laughed and clapped her hands. Her eyes and teeth gleamed with fierce merriment.

"He may find his way in, but never out," she cried. "How can he see the guiding wands to-night? We planted them together, he and I, to mark the pathway through the mire. Oh, if I could only have plucked them out to-day. Then indeed you would have had him at your mercy!"

It was evident to us that all pursuit was in vain until the fog had lifted. Meanwhile we left Lestrade in possession of the house while Holmes and I went back with the baronet to Baskerville Hall. The story of the Stapletons could no longer be withheld from him, but he took the blow bravely when he learned the truth about the woman whom he had loved. But the shock of the night's adventures had shattered his nerves, and before morning he lay delirious in a high fever, under the care of Dr. Mortimer. The two of them were destined to travel together round the world before Sir Henry had become once more the hale, hearty man that he had been before he became master of that ill-omened estate.

And now I come rapidly to the conclusion of this singular narrative, in which I have tried to make the reader share those dark fears and vague surmises which clouded our lives so long and ended in so tragic a manner. On the morning after the death of the hound the fog had lifted and we were guided by Mrs. Stapleton to the point where they had found a pathway through the bog. It helped us to realize the horror of this woman's life when we saw the eagerness and joy with which she laid us on her husband's track. We left her standing upon the thin peninsula of firm, peaty soil which tapered out into the widespread bog. From the end of it a small wand planted here and there showed where the path zigzagged from tuft to tuft of rushes among those green-scummed pits and foul quagmires which barred the way to the stranger. Rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay and a heavy miasmatic vapour onto our faces, while a false step plunged us more than once thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet. Its tenacious grip plucked at our heels as we walked, and when we sank into it it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths, so grim and purposeful was the clutch in which it held us. Once only we saw a trace that someone had passed that perilous way before us. From amid a tuft of cotton grass which bore it up out of the slime some dark thing was projecting. Holmes sank to his waist as he stepped from the path to seize it, and had we not been there to drag him out he could never have set his foot upon firm land again. He held an old black boot in the air. "Meyers, Toronto," was printed on the leather inside.

"It is worth a mud bath," said he. "It is our friend Sir Henry's missing boot."

"Thrown there by Stapleton in his flight."

"Exactly. He retained it in his hand after using it to set the hound upon the track. He fled when he knew the game was up, still clutching it. And he hurled it away at this point of his flight. We know at least that he came so far in safety."

But more than that we were never destined to know, though there was much which we might surmise. There was no chance of finding footsteps in the mire, for the rising mud oozed swiftly in upon them, but as we at last reached firmer ground beyond the morass we all looked eagerly for them. But no slightest sign of them ever met our eyes. If the earth told a true story, then Stapleton never reached that island of refuge towards which he struggled through the fog upon that last night. Somewhere in the heart of the great Grimpen Mire, down in the foul slime of the huge morass which had sucked him in, this cold and cruel-hearted man is forever buried.

Many traces we found of him in the bog-girt island where he had hid his savage ally. A huge driving-wheel and a shaft half-filled with rubbish showed the position of an abandoned mine. Beside it were the crumbling remains of the cottages of the miners, driven away no doubt by the foul reek of the surrounding swamp. In one of these a staple and chain with a quantity of gnawed bones showed where the animal had been confined. A skeleton with a tangle of brown hair adhering to it lay among the debris.

"A dog!" said Holmes. "By Jove, a curly-haired spaniel. Poor Mortimer will never see his pet again. Well, I do not know that this place contains any secret which we have not already fathomed. He could hide his hound, but he could not hush its voice, and hence came those cries which even in daylight were not pleasant to hear. On an emergency he could keep the hound in the out-house at Merripit, but it was always a risk, and it was only on the supreme day, which he regarded as the end of all his efforts, that he dared do it. This paste in the tin is no doubt the luminous mixture with which the creature was daubed. It was suggested, of course, by the story of the family hell-hound, and by the desire to frighten old Sir Charles to death. No wonder the poor devil of a convict ran and screamed, even as our friend did, and as we ourselves might have done, when he saw such a creature bounding through the darkness of the moor upon his track. It was a cunning device, for, apart from the chance of driving your victim to his death, what peasant would venture to inquire too closely into such a creature should he get sight of it, as many have done, upon the moor? I said it in London, Watson, and I say it again now, that never yet have we helped to hunt down a more dangerous man than he who is lying yonder"--he swept his long arm towards the huge mottled expanse of green-splotched bog which stretched away until it merged into the russet slopes of the moor.

福尔摩斯的缺点之一——真的,如果你能把它叫做缺点的话——就是:在计划实现之前,他极不愿将他的全部计划告诉任何人。无疑的,一部分是因为他本人高傲的天性,喜欢支配一切并使他周围的人们感到惊讶,一部分也是由于他本行工作上所需的谨慎,他从来不愿随便冒险。这样常常使那些做他的委托人和助手的人感到非常难堪,我就有过不止一次这样的不快的经历,可是再没有比这次长时间地在黑暗中驾车前进更使人感到难受了。严重的考验就在我们的眼前,我们的全部行动已经进入了最后的阶段,可是福尔摩斯什么也没有说,而我则只能主观地推测他行动的方向是如何如何。 后来我们的面孔感到了冷风的吹拂,狭窄的车道两旁黑洞洞的,都是一无所有的空间,我这才知道我们又回到沼地里来了。期待着将要发生的一切的那种心情,使我周身的神经都激动起来,马每走一步,车轮每转一周,都使我们更加接近了冒险的极峰。

由于有雇来的马车夫在场,我们不能畅所欲言,只好谈一些无聊的琐碎小事,而实际上我们的神经都已因情感的激动和焦虑被弄得非常紧张了。当我们经过了弗兰克兰的家,离庄园,也就是那出事地点已愈来愈近了的时候,才总算度过了那段不自然的紧张状态,我的心情也才舒畅了下来。我们没有把车赶到楼房门前,在靠近车道的大门口的地方就下了车。付了车钱,并让车夫马上回到库姆·特雷西去,然后,我们就向梅利琵宅邸走去了。

“你带着武器吗,雷斯垂德?”

那矮个儿侦探微笑了一下。

“只要我穿着裤子,屁股后面就有个口袋,既然有这个口袋,我就要在里面搁点什么。”

“好啊!我的朋友和我也都作好应急的准备了。”

“你对这件事瞒得可真够严密呀,福尔摩斯先生。现在咱们干什么呢?”

“就等着吧。”

“我说,这里可真不是个使人高兴的地方,”那侦探说着就打了个冷战,向四周望望那阴暗的山坡和在格林盆泥潭上面积成的雾海。“我看到了咱们前面一所房子里的灯光了。”

“那是梅利琵宅邸,也就是我们这次旅程的终点了。现在我要求你们一定得用足尖走路,说话也只能低声耳语。”

我们继续沿着小径前进,看样子我们是要到那房子那里去,可是到了离房子约两百码的地方,福尔摩斯就把我们叫住了。

“就在这里好了。”他说道,“右侧的这些山石是绝妙的屏障。”

“咱们就在这里等吗?”

“对了,咱们就要在这里作一次小规模的伏击。雷斯垂德,到这条沟里来吧。华生,你曾经到那所房子里面去过吧,是不是?你能说出各个房间的位置吗?这一头的几个格子窗是什么屋的窗户?”

“我想是厨房的窗子。”

“再往那边那个很亮的呢?”

“那一定是饭厅。”

“百叶窗是拉起来的。你最熟悉这里的地形。悄悄地走过去,看看他们正在做什么,可是千万不要让他们知道有人在监视着他们!”

我轻轻地顺着小径走去,弯身藏在一堵矮墙的后面,矮墙周围是长得很糟的果木林。借着阴影我到了一个地方,从那里可以直接望进没有挂窗帘的窗口。

屋里只有亨利爵士和斯台普吞两个人。他们面对面坐在一张圆桌的两边,侧面向着我。两人都在吸着雪茄,面前还放着咖啡和葡萄酒。斯台普吞正在兴致勃勃地谈论着,而准男爵却是面色苍白,心不在焉,也许是因为他想到要独自一人穿过那不祥的沼地,心头感到沉重。

正当我望着他们的时候,斯台普吞忽然站了起来,离开了房间,同时亨利爵士又斟满了酒杯,向后靠在椅背上,喷吐着雪茄烟。我听到一声门的吱咯声和皮鞋踏在石子路上发出的清脆的声音,脚步声走过了我所蹲着的那堵墙另一面的小路。由墙头一望,我看到那位生物学家在果木林角上的一所小房的门口站住了,钥匙在锁眼里拧了一下,他一进去,里面就发出了一阵奇怪的扭打的声音。他在里面只呆了一分钟左右,后来我又听到拧了一下钥匙,他又顺原路回到屋里去了。我看到他和他的客人又在一起了,于是我又悄悄地回到我的伙伴们等我的地方,告诉了他们我所看到的情形。

“华生,你是说那位女士不在吗?”在我报告完了之后,福尔摩斯问道。

“是的。”

“那么,她会在哪里呢?除了厨房之外哪一间屋子都没有灯光啊!”

“我想不出她在哪里。”

我曾说过的那种大格林盆泥潭上的浓厚的白雾,这时正向我们这个方向慢慢飘了过来,积聚起来,就好象在我们的旁边竖起一堵墙似的,虽低但是很厚,而且界线也很分明。再被月光一照,看上去就象一片闪闪发光的冰原,还有远方的一个个突起的岩岗,就象是在冰原上生出来的岩石一样。福尔摩斯的脸转向那边,一面望着缓缓飘行的浓雾,一面口中不耐烦地嘟囔着:

“雾正在向咱们这边前进呢,华生!”

“情况严重吗?”

“确实很严重,说不定会打乱我的计划呢。现在,他呆不了很久了,已经十点钟了。咱们能否成功和他的性命安危可能都要决定于他是否在浓雾遮住小路之前出来了。”

我们的头顶上,夜空皎洁而美好,星星闪耀着明澈的冷光,半个月亮高悬在空中,使整个沼地都浸沉在柔和而朦胧的光线之中。我们面前就是房屋的黑影,它那锯齿形的屋顶和矗立的烟囱的轮廓,被星光灿烂的天空清晰地衬托了出来。 下面那些窗户里射出了几道宽宽的金黄色的灯光,向着果木林和沼地的方向照去。其中的一道忽然灭了,说明仆人们已经离开了厨房;只剩下了饭厅里的灯光,里面的两个人还在抽着雪茄闲谈。一个是蓄意谋杀的主人,一个是毫无所知的客人。

遮住了沼地一半的大雾,白花花的象羊毛似的一片,每一分钟都在愈来愈近地向房屋飘了过来,先到的一些淡薄的雾气已经在发着金黄色光芒的方形窗前滚动了。果木林后面的墙已经看不到了,可是树木的上半部依然屹立在一股白色水气涡流的上面。在我们守望着的时候,滚滚的浓雾已经爬到了房子的两角,并且慢慢地堆积成了一堵厚墙,二楼象是一条奇怪的、浮游在可怕的海上的船。福尔摩斯用手急切地拍着面前的岩石,不耐烦地跺着脚。

“如果他在一刻钟之内再不出来,这条小路就要被遮住了,再过半小时,咱们把手伸到面前都要看不到了。”

“咱们要不要向后退到一处较高的地方去呢?”

“对了,我想这样也好。”

因此,当浓雾向我们流过来的时候,我们就向后退一退,这样一直退到了离房子有半里远的地方。可是那片上面闪耀着月光的浓白色的海洋,还在继续慢慢地、坚决地向着我们这个方向推进着。

“咱们走得太远了,”福尔摩斯说道,“他会在走近咱们之前就被人追上的。咱们可不能冒这个危险,一定得不惜任何代价坚守在这里。”他跪了下去,把耳朵贴在地面上。“感谢上帝,我想我已听到他走来了。”

一阵急速的脚步声打破了沼地的寂静。我们蹲在乱石之间,专心致志地盯着面前那段上缘呈银白色的雾墙。脚步声愈来愈响了,我们所期待的人穿过浓雾,就好象穿过一层帘幕似地在那里走着。当他走出了浓雾,站在被星光照耀着的清朗的夜色中的时候,他惊慌地向四周望了望,然后又迅速地顺着小路走来,经过了离我们隐藏之处很近的地方以后,就向着我们背后那漫长的山坡走去了。他一边走,一边心神不宁地左转右转地向后望着。

“嘘!”福尔摩斯嘘了一声,我听到了尖细而清脆的扳开手枪机头的声音,“注意,它来了!”

由徐徐前进的雾墙里传来了不断的轻轻的叭嗒叭嗒的声音。那云状的浓雾距我们藏匿的地方不到五十码远,我们三个人都死死地朝那里瞪大着眼睛,不知道那里将出现什么可怕的东西。我当时正在福尔摩斯的肘旁,我朝他的脸上望了一眼。他面色苍白,但显出狂喜的神情,双眼在月光照耀之下闪闪发光。忽然间,他两眼猛地向前死死盯住了一点,双唇因惊异而大张着。就在那时,雷斯垂德恐怖得叫了一声就伏在地上了。我跳了起来,我那已经变得不灵活的手紧抓着手枪。在雾影中向我们窜来的那形状可怕的东西吓得我魂飞天外。确是一只猎狗,一只黑得象煤炭似的大猎狗,但并不是一只人们平常看到过的那种狗。它那张着的嘴里向外喷着火,眼睛也亮得象冒火一样,嘴头、颈毛和脖子下部都在闪烁发光。象那个突然由雾障里向我们窜过来的黑色的躯体和狰狞的狗脸,就是疯子在最怪诞的梦里也不会看到比这家伙更凶恶、更可怕和更象魔鬼的东西了。

那只巨大的黑家伙,跨着大步,顺着小路窜了下去,紧紧地追赶着我们的朋友。我们被这个幽灵惊得竟发呆到了这样的程度,在我们的神志恢复之前,它已从我们的面前跑过去了。后来,福尔摩斯和我两人一起开了枪,那家伙难听地吼了一声,说明至少是有一枪已经打中了。可是它并没有停住脚步,还是继续向前窜去。在小路上远远的地方,我们看到亨利爵士正回头望着,在月光照耀之下,他面如白纸,恐怖得扬起手来,绝望地瞪眼望着那只对他穷追不舍的可怕的家伙。

那猎狗的痛苦的嗥叫已完全消除了我们的恐惧。只要它怕打,它就不是什么鬼怪,我们既能打伤它,也就能杀死它。 我从没见过谁能象福尔摩斯在那天夜里跑得那样快。我是一向被人称作飞毛腿的,可是他竟象我赶过那矮个的公家侦探一样地把我给落在后面了。在我们沿着小路飞奔前进的时候,我们听到前面亨利爵士发出来的一声接连一声的喊叫和那猎狗发出的深沉的吼声。当我赶到的时候,正好看到那野兽窜起来,把准男爵扑倒在地上要咬他的咽喉。在这万分危急的当儿,福尔摩斯一连气就把左轮手枪里的五颗子弹都打进了那家伙的侧腹。那狗发出了最后一声痛苦的呼叫并向空中凶狠地咬了一口,随后就四脚朝天地躺了下去,疯狂地乱蹬了一阵,便侧身瘫下去不动了。我喘着气弯身下去,把手枪顶着那可怕的淡淡发光的狗头,可是再抠扳机也没有什么用了,大猎狗已经死了。

亨利爵士躺在他摔倒的地方,失去了知觉。我们把他的衣领解开,当福尔摩斯看到了爵士身上并无伤痕,说明拯救还是及时的时候,他便感激地祷告起来。我们朋友的眼皮已经抖动起来了,他还有气无力地想要挪动一下。雷斯垂德把他那白兰地酒瓶塞进准男爵的上下牙齿中间,他那两只惊恐的眼睛向上瞧着我们。

“我的上帝啊!”他轻声说道,“那是什么?究竟是什么东西啊?”

“不管它是什么,反正它已经死了,”福尔摩斯说道,“我们已经把您家的妖魔永远地消灭了。”

躺在我们面前的四肢伸开的尸体,单就那身体的大小和它的力量来说,就已经很可怕了。它不是纯种血狸,也不是纯种的獒犬,倒象是这两类的混合种,外貌可怕而又凶暴,并且大得象个牝狮。即使是现在,在它死了不动的时候,那张大嘴好象还在向外滴嗒着蓝色的火焰,那小小的、深陷而残忍的眼睛周围现出了一圈火环。我摸了摸它那发光的嘴头,一抬起手来,我的手指也在黑暗中发出光来。

“是磷。”我说。

“这种布置多么狡猾啊,”福尔摩斯一边说着,一边闻着那只死狗,“并没有能影响它嗅觉的气味。我们太抱歉了,亨利爵士,竟使你受到这样的惊吓。我本想捉的是一只平常的猎狗,万没有想到会是这样的一只。雾也使我们未能截住它。”

“您总算是救了我的性命了。”

“可是却让您冒了这样一次大险。您还能站起来吗?”

“再给我喝一口白兰地,我就什么都不怕了。啊,请您扶我起来吧。根据您的意见,咱们该怎么办呢?”

“把您留在这里好了。今晚您已经不适于再作进一步的冒险了。如果您愿意等一等的话,我们之中总有一个会陪着您回到庄园去的。”

他想挣扎着站起来,可是他还苍白得厉害,四肢也都在哆嗦。我们扶着他走到一块石头旁边,他坐下用颤抖着的双手蒙着脸。

“我们现在非得离开您不可了,”福尔摩斯说道,“剩下的事还非得去干不可,每一分钟都很重要。证据已经齐全了,现在只需要抓那个人了。”

“要想在房子里头找到他只有千分之一的可能,”当我们又顺着小路迅速地走回去的时候,他接着说道,“那些枪声已经告诉了他——鬼把戏完蛋了。”

“那时,咱们离他还有一段路,这场雾可能会把枪声挡住呢。”

“他一定是追随着那只猎狗,好指挥它——这点你们完全可以相信。不,不,现在他已经走了!可是咱们还是搜查一下房子,肯定一下的好。”

前门开着,我们一冲而入,匆忙地由这间屋走进那间屋,在过道里遇到了一个惊恐万分的、衰老的男仆。除了饭厅之外,哪里也没有灯光。福尔摩斯急忙地把灯弄亮,房子里面没有一个角落未被找遍,但是丝毫没有看到我们所追寻的那人的踪影,最后在二楼上发现有一间寝室的门被锁了起来。

“里面有人!”雷斯垂德喊了起来,“我听到里面有东西在动。把这门打开!”

从里面传出了低弱的呻吟和沙沙的声音。福尔摩斯用脚底板往门锁上面一蹬,一下子就把门踢开了。我们三人端着手枪冲进屋去。

可是屋里并没有我们想要找的那个不顾一切、胆大妄为的坏蛋。面前却是一件非常奇怪而又想象不到的东西,我们惊愕得呆立在那里望着。

这间屋子被布置成小博物馆的样子,墙上装着一排安着玻璃盖的小匣,里边装的全是蝴蝶和飞蛾,那个诡计多端和危险的人把采集这些东西当作了娱乐消遣。在屋子中间有一根直立的木桩,是什么时候为了支持横贯屋顶、被虫蛀了的旧梁木才竖起来的。这根柱子上面捆着一个人,那人被布单捆绑得不能出声,你无法马上看出来是男是女。一条手巾绕着脖子系在背后的柱子上,另一条手巾蒙住了面孔的下半部,上面露出了两只黑眼睛——眼中充满了痛苦与羞耻的表情,还带着可怕的怀疑——死盯着我们。一会儿的功夫,我们就把那人嘴上和身上捆着的东西都解了下来,斯台普吞太太就在我们的面前倒了下去。当她那美丽的头下垂在胸前的时候,我在她的脖子上看到了清晰的红色鞭痕。

“这畜生!”福尔摩斯喊道,“喂,雷斯垂德,你的白兰地呢?把她安置在椅子上!她已因受虐待和疲竭而昏过去了。”

她又睁开了眼睛。

“他安全了吗?”她问道,“他跑掉了吗?”

“他从我们手里是逃不掉的,太太。”

“不是,不是,我不是指我丈夫。亨利爵士呢?他安全吗?”

“他很安全。”

“那只猎狗呢?”

“已经死了。”

她发出了一声长长的满意的叹息。

“感谢上帝!感谢上帝!噢,这个坏蛋!看他是怎样待我的呀!”她猛地拉起袖子露出胳臂来,我们惊恐地看到臂上伤痕累累。“可是这算不了什么——算不了什么!他折磨了、污损了我的心灵。只要我还存在着希望,他依然爱我的话,无论是虐待、寂寞、受骗的生活或是其他,我都能忍受,可是现在我明白了,就这一点说来,我也是他的欺骗对象和作恶的工具。”她说着说着就突然痛心地哭了起来。

“您对他已一无好感了,太太,”福尔摩斯说道,“那末,请告诉我们,在哪里可以找到他吧。如果您曾帮着他做过坏事的话,现在就来帮助我们以赎前愆吧。”

“他只能逃到一个地方去,”她回答道,“在泥潭中心的一个小岛上,有一座旧时的锡矿,他就是把猎狗藏在那里的,他还在那里做了准备,以供躲避之用。他一定会向那里跑的。”

雾墙象雪白的羊毛似的紧围在窗口外面。福尔摩斯端着灯走向窗前。

“看,”他说道,“今晚谁也找不出走进格林盆泥潭的道路的。”

她拍着手大笑起来。她的眼里和牙齿上都闪烁着可怕的狂喜的光芒。

“他也许能找到走进去的路,可是永远也别打算再出来了,”她喊了起来,“他今晚怎么能看得见那些木棍路标呢?是他和我两个人一起插的,用来标明穿过泥潭的小路,啊,如果我今天能够都给他拔掉有多好啊,那样您就真的能任意处置他了!”

显然,在雾气消散之前,任何追逐都是枉费心机的。当时我们留下了雷斯垂德,让他照看房子,而福尔摩斯和我就和准男爵一起回到巴斯克维尔庄园去了。关于斯台普吞家人的实情再也不能瞒着他了,当他听到了他所热爱的女人的真情的时候,竟能勇敢地承受了这个打击。可是夜间那场冒险的震惊已经使他的神经受了创伤,天亮之前他发起高烧来,神志昏迷地躺在床上,摩梯末医生被请了来照顾他。他们俩已经决定了,在亨利爵士恢复饱满的精神之前就要一起去作一次环球旅行,要知道他在变成这份不祥的财产的主人以前,他是个多么精神饱满的人啊。

现在我要很快地结束这段奇特的故事了,在故事里我想使读者也体会一下那些极端的恐怖和模糊的臆测,这些东西长时期地使我们的心上蒙了一层阴影,而结局竟是如此的悲惨。在那猎狗死后第二天的早晨,雾散了,我们由斯台普吞太太引导着到了他们找到过一条贯穿泥沼的小路的地方。看着她带领我们追踪她丈夫时所表现出来的急切心情和喜悦,使我们体会到这个女人过去的生活是多么地可怕。我们让她留在一个窄长的半岛似的、坚实的泥煤质的地面上站着。愈往泥沼里面走,这块地面就变得愈窄。从这块地面的尽头处起就这里一根那里一根地插着小木棍,沿着这些小木棍就是那条陌生人无法走过的,曲曲折折的,由一堆乱树丛到另一堆乱树丛的,蜿蜒在漂着绿沫的水洼和污浊的泥坑之间的小路,繁茂的芦苇和青葱多汁而又粘滑的水草散发着腐朽的臭味,浓重的浊气迎面袭来,我们不只一次地失足,陷入没膝的、黑色的、颤动着的泥坑里,走了数码之远,泥还是粘粘地沾在脚上甩不下去。在我们走着的时候,那些泥一直死死地拖住我们的脚跟。当我们陷入泥里的时候,就象是有一只恶毒的手把我们拖向污泥的深处,而且抓得那样紧那样坚决。

只有一次,我们看到了一点痕迹,说明曾有人在我们之先穿过了那条危险的路。在粘土地上的一堆棉草中间露着一件黑色的东西。福尔摩斯由小路上向旁边只迈了一步,想要抓住那件东西,就陷入了泥潭,直陷到了腰那样深。如果不是我们在那里把他拉了出来的话,他就再也不会站到坚硬的陆地上来了。他举起一只黑色的高筒皮鞋,里面印着“麦尔斯·多伦多”。

“这个泥浴还是值得一洗的,”他说道,“这就是咱们的朋友亨利爵士失去的那只皮鞋。”

“一定是斯台普吞逃跑时丢在那里的。”

“正是。他让猎狗闻了鞋味去追踪之后还把鞋留在手边,当他知道把戏已经被拆穿了而逃跑的时候,仍把它紧抓在手里,在逃跑的途中就丢在这里了。我们知道,至少一直到这里为止他还是安全的。”

我们虽然可以作很多推测,可是永远也不能知道比这更多的情况了,在沼地里根本无法找出脚印来。因为冒上来的泥浆很快就把它盖上了。一过了最后的一段泥淖小路,走到坚实的土地上的时候,我们就都急切地寻找起脚印来了,可是一点影子也没有看到。如果大地并没有说谎的话,那么斯台普吞就是昨天在挣扎着穿过浓雾走向他那隐蔽之所的小岛时并没有能达到目的地。在格林盆大泥潭中心的某个地方,大泥淖的污浊的黄泥浆已经把他吞了进去。这个残忍的、心肠冰冷的人就这样地永远被埋葬了。

在他隐藏他那凶猛的伙伴的、四周被泥潭所环绕的小岛上,我们找到了很多他所遗留下的痕迹。一只大的驾驶盘和一个一半装满了垃圾的竖坑,说明这是一个被废弃不用的矿坑的遗址。旁边还有支离破碎的矿工小屋的遗迹,开矿的人们无疑地是被周围泥潭的恶臭给熏跑了。在一个小房里,有一只马蹄铁、一条锁链和一些啃过的骨头,说明那里就是隐藏过那只畜生的地方。一具骨架,躺在断垣残壁之间,上面还粘着一团棕色的毛。

“一只狗!”福尔摩斯说道,“天哪,是一只卷毛长耳獚犬。 可怜的摩梯末再也看不到他所宠爱的那只狗了。嗯,我不相信这里还有什么我们还没有弄清楚的秘密。他可以把他的猎狗藏起来,可是他不能使它不出声,因此才出来了那些叫声,甚至在白天听来也不很好听。在急需的时候,他可以把那猎狗关在梅利琵房外的小屋里去,可是这样做总是很冒险的,而且只有在他认为一切均已准备就绪的时候,他才敢这样做。这只铁罐里的糊状的东西,无疑地就是抹在那畜生身上的发光的混合物。当然,他所以采取这种方法,是因为受到了世代相传的关于魔狗的故事的启发,并居心要吓死查尔兹老爵士的原故。难怪那可怜的恶鬼似的逃犯,一看到这样一只畜生在沼地的黑暗之中一窜一窜地由后面追了上来,就会象我们的朋友一样,一面跑一面狂呼,就连我们自己说不定也会那样呢。这确实是个狡猾的阴谋,因为这样不仅可以把要谋害的人置于死地,而且能使农民不敢深入调查这样一只畜生。在沼地里很多人都见过这只猎狗,哪个见过它的农民还敢于过问呢?我在伦敦曾经说过,华生,现在我再说一遍,咱们从来还没有协助追捕过比躺在那边的他更为危险的人物呢。”——他向着广袤而色彩斑驳的、散布着绿色斑点的泥潭挥舞着他那长长的臂膀,泥潭向远处伸延着,直到和赤褐色的沼地的山坡连成一片。