Mortimer produces a manuscript, which he says was created in 1742. It was given to him by Sir Charles Baskerville, who was Mortimer’s friend and patient. Mortimer says that Sir Charles was a serious, intelligent man who was not prone to flights of fancy or superstition. Nevertheless, Baskerville was very concerned about the contents of the manuscript.
The introduction of the manuscript marks the story’s turn to the gothic. An old, handwritten document from a long-dead relative calls forth images of haunted houses and hauntings into what had been a decidedly rational space.
The document contains a family legend regarding Hugo Baskerville, a wicked, drunken man who kidnapped a young woman from a nearby town with the intent of raping and otherwise brutalizing her at his home of Baskerville Hall. However, before Hugo could have his way with her, the woman escaped.
It’s interesting that Doyle chooses to create Hugo Baskerville as such a despicable figure—certainly, no one will have pity for him, and even engendering pity for his innocent descendants might prove difficult.
In a drunken rage, Hugo was said to have made a pact with the devil. He would give the devil his soul if only he could catch the woman before she made it back to town. The devil held up his part of the bargain, and Hugo located and killed the woman before she found safety. Hugo, in turn, was made to pay his dues quite quickly: the legend states that he was found alongside the dead woman, being consumed by a giant hellhound.
Obviously, Hugo had more on his mind than simply catching the girl before he gave the devil his soul. Hugo is such an evil man, however, that it’s relieving when the devil manages to dupe him so easily. Here, again, Doyle makes it difficult to feel sympathy for the Baskerville plight.
The legend claims that the hound has terrorized the Baskerville family ever since, often bringing them to bloody ends whenever they’ve been found alone on the moors outside of Baskerville Hall at night.
Mortimer then produces a newspaper article describing the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. It says that Sir Charles had only lived at Baskerville Hall for a short time, but that he had quickly become loved by his neighbors due to his philanthropic activities and his desire to use his wealth to improve the Dartmoor moors where Baskerville Hall is located.
The juxtaposition of the antique manuscript with the crisp, modern newsprint further reinforces the weird friction between Holmes’ hyper-rational world and the seemingly supernatural mystery he’s about to take on.
Regarding Sir Charles’ death, the article quotes Mortimer. He says that Sir Charles was in poor health, with a bad heart, but that he nevertheless was in the habit of taking an evening walk with a cigar. When he failed to return from this walk one evening, Mr. Barrymore went out to search for him. Barrymore found Sir Charles’ body near the moor gate.
Doyle continues to work at painting Mortimer as a red herring. Mortimer is not only the person supplying Holmes with all of the case’s information, he’s also supplying the newspaper’s information as well. A true criminal would use all of that control to hide evidence and manipulate the case’s outcome.
The official explanation for the death was “cardiac exhaustion,” which, the article states, has been generally believed—this, in turn, has put an end to rumors that the death was the result of the Baskerville hound. The article ends with the statement that Sir Henry Baskerville, the last known Baskerville heir, has been summoned from America to receive his inheritance and take his place at Baskerville Hall.
It’s important to note that the Baskerville curse seems to be well-known amongst neighbors of Baskerville Hall. This means that the locals would attribute Sir Henry’s death either to his health or to the hound long before they would ever suspect foul play.
Mortimer adds to the article, saying that Sir Charles had become obsessed with the Baskerville legend and refused utterly to go out onto the moors at night. He adds three things that the newspaper article failed to mention: Sir Charles died with a look of terror on his face; he died while running away from something; and, near Sir Charles’ body, Mortimer discovered the footprints of a “gigantic hound.”