The Stapletons of Merripit House
At breakfast next morning, I asked Sir Henry, ‘Did you hear a woman crying in the night?’
‘I heard a sound like crying,’ said Sir Henry. ‘But I thought it was the wind on the moor.’
Sir Henry had many papers to read. I left him sitting at his desk and went for a walk on the moor.
I walked for two or three miles across the empty moor. Then, behind me, I heard a voice call, ‘Dr Watson!’ I looked round. I thought it was Dr Mortimer. But I saw a stranger walking towards me.
‘My name is Stapleton,’ said the man. ‘How do you do, Dr Watson. I saw Dr Mortimer this morning and he told me your name. I have heard about you. You are the friend of the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, Mr Stapleton, I am,’ I said.
‘And is Mr Holmes staying at Baskerville Hall too?’ asked Stapleton. ‘Is he interested in Dartmoor?’
‘Mr Holmes is in London,’ I said. ‘He is a busy man.’
‘Of course,’ said Stapleton. ‘Please come and see my house. It’s very near here. I live with my sister.’
Stapleton led me along a narrow path across a wide, flat part of the moor. The land around us was a strange, green colour. We walked towards a hill of grey rock.
‘Be very careful, Dr Watson,’ said Stapleton. ‘Stay on the path. We are in the Great Grimpen Mire. There is a sea of soft mud underneath the grass. If you fall in, you will never get out again.’
‘Thank you for telling me,’ I said. ‘But why do you live here? It is a dangerous and lonely place.’
‘I am a naturalist. I study nature,’ said Stapleton. ‘There are many interesting flowers and birds on the Great Grimpen Mire. And there are some unusual animals on Dartmoor.’
At that moment we heard a strange sound. It was a deep howling sound — the sound of a large dog. It came from some distance away.
‘Stapleton! Is that the sound of a dog?’ I asked.
‘It is only the sound of the wind,’ said Stapleton. ‘The wind blows through the rocks and makes strange sounds. But here is my house — Merripit House on the moor.’ He pointed to the long, low farmhouse which we could see near the hill. ‘And my sister is coming to meet us.’
Miss Stapleton was a very attractive woman. She was slim and tall, with beautiful dark eyes. I thought she looked very different from her brother. She had dark hair, but her brother had fair hair. They were both about thirty years old. Stapleton looked a little older. He was a small, thin, clean-shaven man, with a long face.
‘How do you do, Miss Stapleton,’ I said. ‘Your brother has told me about the Great Grimpen Mire and the unusual flowers and birds. Did you hear that strange sound a moment ago? Does the wind often make this sound?’
‘I heard nothing,’ Miss Stapleton said quickly. She looked at her brother and I saw fear in her eyes.
Her brother looked at her angrily. ‘Let us show Dr Watson our house,’ he said.
I stayed for a short time. Stapleton showed me his collection of flowers and butterflies.
‘I will come to Baskerville Hall to visit Sir Henry this afternoon,’ said Stapleton. ‘Will you tell him?’
‘Of course,’ I replied. ‘Now, if you will excuse me, I must go back to Baskerville Hall. I hope to see you again soon.’
‘Stay on the path,’ said Stapleton. ‘Remember the Great Grimpen Mire. Many men have died in it.’
Miss Stapleton walked outside with me. She spoke quickly, in a quiet voice. ‘Dr Watson, I want to tell you about the strange sound you heard. The people here say that it is the sound of the Hound of the Baskervilles. They say it killed Sir Charles and now it will kill Sir Henry. But, please, do not tell my brother that I spoke to you. Now, go back to London. Go back today!’
She went into the house quickly. I walked along the narrow path slowly, thinking about what she had said.