Chapter V: Three Broken Threads
After two hours in a museum - Watson remarks on Holmes's unique ability to divert his attention when necessary - they visit the Northumberland Hotel, where Sir Henry Baskerville is staying. Examining the register, Holmes pretends to know two of the hotel's visitors, and fools the clerk into revealing information about them.
As they are walking upstairs, they run into Sir Henry, who is angry because another of his boots is missing. He has no explanation for the disappearance.
Later, after lunch in the hotel room, Holmes approves of Sir Henry's decision to inhabit Baskerville Hall, since it will allow Holmes to flush out the culprit more easily than he can in crowded London. From Dr. Mortimer, Holmes and Watson learn that the only moor resident with a black beard is Barrymore, Baskerville Hall's butler. Intrigued, Holmes orders a telegram sent to Devonshire, to determine whether Barrymore is there.
Mortimer then discusses the contents of Sir Charles's will, in the hopes of sussing out a murder motive. Barrymore and his wife inherited money from Sir Charles's will, and they were aware of that intention. However, Dr. Mortimer adds that several people - himself included - were bequeathed money by the will. Sir Henry was naturally left the most money, and because he has no direct heir, that fortune and the estate would fall to some distant cousins, the Desmonds, if were to die.
Holmes then proposes that Watson accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall, as protection. Holmes will join them that Saturday, after completing some business on another case in London.
Before the men leave, Sir Henry finds one of his brown boot under a cabinet, which is confusing since Mortimer had thoroughly searched the room before lunch. They surmise a waiter had found and placed it there, but the waiter knows nothing of it when he is called and questioned.
That evening, Watson and Holmes receive two telegrams. The first is a return telegram from Barrymore, suggesting that he is indeed at Baskerville Hall. The second reports that Cartwright has been unable to find the cut sheet of the newspaper.
At that moment, the cab driver, whom Holmes had sent for earlier, appears at the door. He tells Holmes that the bearded man had claimed to be a detective, and had told him to say nothing to anyone. Strangest of all, the man had claimed to be named "Mr. Sherlock Holmes" (188). Holmes is surprised and amused.
He pays the cab driver for details of the day's journey, and then sends the driver away. Noting that "our third thread" has snapped, Holmes admires his adversary as "worthy of our steel" (189). He then wishes Watson luck in Devonshire, noting that this case is proving to be an ugly business.
In this section, three "threads" lead to dead-ends. On the one hand, this presents obstacles that challenge our detective. However, it is crucial to realize that even dead-ends provide central questions and clues for one as perceptive as Holmes. For instance: Who would steal a boot, then return it? How did this person get into the hotel unbeknownst to Holmes, Watson, Dr. Mortimer, and Sir Henry? Who could be so clever as to pose as Holmes? Does the mystery man in the cab already know who Sherlock Holmes is?
The criminal here proves to be as cunning as the detective, as Holmes himself declares that he has been "checkmated" (189). In other words, the wits of the detective and criminal are matched here. This is important for two reasons. The first is that it keeps the story interesting; the story gains momentum only because the adversary can think like the hero, and hence complicate the latter's pursuit of his objective. However, it is also important in context, considering that this was one of the later Holmes novels. Audiences would have been familiar with Holmes's genius by this point, and hence would themselves grow bored if the mystery were not beyond even the hero.
And yet the criminal's genius is important for Holmes as well. Notice his response to having been fooled; he laughs. It is a central part of Holmes's character - one that later writers have capitalized on even more than Doyle did - that Holmes is motivated by the game, and not by empathy. In other words, he does not want to solve the case to help someone - if he did, an easy victory would be preferable. Instead, he wants to be tested so that he can triumph. The criminal's trickery complicates his mission, and hence makes his eventual victory all the more satisfying.
Another character insight is provided by the museum visit at the top of this chapter. Though only a short paragraph, the incident touches on the elusive nature of genius. Holmes is able to divert his attention when there is no path to follow, again suggesting that he is not at all affected by the human element of his story. He is not worried about people, but only about the case. When the case is momentarily cold, he chooses to spend his time elsewhere. However, the idea that he would study paintings also provides some insight into Doyle's depiction of the mind, which employs both subconscious and conscious faculties to reach its potential. Certainly, there are times when Holmes confronts a problem through deliberate thought, but there are then others when he does not think explicitly on the case, leaving his mind to work in the background while he focuses on something else.
Some insight is given into the nature of Watson and Holmes's relationship in this chapter as well. Watson is surprised to hear that Holmes has volunteered him to accompany Sir Henry. What is implied here - and in the first chapter, when Holmes has Watson attempt to interpret Dr. Mortimer's walking stick - is a level of condescension that Holmes employs towards his friend. Watson is so immediately pleased to be of use that we are led to realize that he is not frequently of much use, at least not in a way that Holmes acknowledges. This inconsideration is made more explicit later, when Watson finds that Holmes is merely using him as a pawn in his greater game.