Chapter XIV: The Hound of the Baskervilles
The men - Watson, Holmes, and Lestrade - take up position about 200 yards from Merripit House, each armed with a pistol. Filled with anticipation, Watson sneaks closer to the house, and sees Sir Henry and Stapleton drinking inside. Miss Stapleton is nowhere to be seen. After a few minutes, Stapleton leaves the house and enters a nearby out-house. While he is inside, Watson hears some sounds from within. After Stapleton returns to the main house, Watson reports back to the others.
Meanwhile, a fog begins to roll in, upsetting Holmes since it will compromise their visibility. They retreat a bit, to find some higher ground. From that vantage, they soon see Sir Henry anxiously pass. A moment later, Holmes cries out that the hound is coming. As quickly as he registers Holmes's terror, Watson sees an enormous hound, which does not look mortal at all. Fire bursts from its mouth and its body sparkles in the night. All three men are paralyzed by the savage sight.
Regaining their composure, Holmes and Watson shoot at the beast. Though the shots do not stop it, it does cry out in pain. Holmes chases after the beast, and finds it prepared to tear out Sir Henry's throat. Holmes shoots the animal five times, killing it.
Sir Henry is unwounded, but paralyzed in fear. They examine the hound's corpse, to discover that it is cross-breed of mastiff and bloodhound. Phosphorus has been placed around its muzzle, which explains why it seemed to spew fire, and its fur was covered with a glittery substance.
Holmes then leads the others towards Stapleton, whom he fears has fled after hearing gunshots. The culprit's house is empty, though they find there that Miss Stapleton has been tied up and gagged in a locked room full of collected butterflies and moths. Her first inquiry after being released is for Sir Henry. Crying, she claims she would have suffered Stapleton's abuse had he actually loved her, but she now knows she was only his pawn. She also tells them that he probably fled to an old tin mine on an island in the heart of Grimpen Mire. This was the place where he kept the hound locked away.
They decide not to pursue Stapleton that night, since there are too many dangerous pitfalls in Grimpen Mire. Miss Stapleton adds that even Stapleton himself will have faced dangers attempting the perilous path at night.
The next morning, Sir Henry falls into a delirious fever. Watson tells the reader that the man does not recover until after a year of world travels, taken with Dr. Mortimer as companion.
Miss Stapleton leads Holmes and Watson out into the mire, where they find nothing but Stapleton's boot, and therefore assume that he was lost in the bog while trying to escape. They also find traces of Mortimer's dog, as well as gnawed bones which suggest that Stapleton fed the hound in this place. Lastly, Holmes finds some paste in a tin, which he believes holds a trace of the phosphorus used.
The main story ends as Holmes admits that Stapleton is the most dangerous man he has ever tracked.
Chapter XV: A Retrospection
In this final chapter, Watson recounts everything Holmes later told him about the case.
At the end of November, about a month after the events near Baskerville, Watson feels comfortable asking for more information, since Holmes has since solved two other cases. Holmes declares that the case was only difficult because they did not know Stapleton's motive, but that he has learned much from two long conversations with Miss Stapleton.
Stapleton - as Holmes continues to call him - was the son of Rodger Baskerville, Sir Charles's younger brother. When he died in South America, Rodger left behind one son, also named Rodger. This boy, who would later be known as Stapleton, stole money and fled to England, where he set up a school and changed his name to Vandeleur. When the school failed, he made inquiries into the Baskerville estate, and then moved to Devonshire. Though he had not yet formed an exact plan, he cultivated a friendship with Sir Charles and passed Beryl off as his sister. It was there that he learned about the legend of the hound, as well as about Sir Charles's weak heart and innate fear of the legend. It was then that he concocted his plan: he bought a large dog in London, devised the artificial means of making the creature seem so fearsome, and intended to use his wife to lure Sir Charles out into the moor at night. However, when she refused, he struck up a relationship with Laura Lyons to accomplish that purpose.
Laura lured Sir Charles out that night by appealing to his mercy; he was going to give her money to secure her divorce. Stapleton convinced her not to go, and set the hound out, which terrified poor Sir Charles to death. The hound then retreated, leaving the pawprint that Dr. Mortimer would later see. Both women at that point suspected Stapleton of the murder, but were too much under his influence to take any action.
When Sir Henry was set to arrive to England, Stapleton took his wife with him to London, as he distrusted her. From that place, she sent the note of warning that Sir Henry received. Stapleton stole one of Sir Henry's boots from the hotel, in order to acquaint the hound with his scent. But when Stapleton discovered that the first boot was too new to carry any personal scent, he had to steal an older one. It was the robbery of this second boot that initially convinced Holmes that they were indeed dealing with a real hound.
Partially because of how cleverly Stapleton eluded him while in London, Holmes believes that the man's criminal past was greater than they know. He cites four unsolved burglaries in the area around the moor, in one of which a page lost his life after surprising the burglar. Holmes suspects that Stapleton returned to Devonshire only after realizing that Holmes was on the case in London.
Watson then inquires as to how Stapleton took care of the hound while he was away. Holmes speculates that an old manservant took care of it. This man, named Anthony, has since disappeared from Merripit House, and Holmes believes that this man was actually a South American named Antonio.
Holmes then adds that he could smell white jessamine on the warning note that was sent to Sir Henry. From that detail, he immediately suspected the Stapletons, since Dr. Mortimer had not mentioned many other females who lived out on the moor. Knowing he needed to watch Stapleton, but that the culprit would be too cautious if Holmes were out on the moor, Holmes engineered the ruse of sending Watson alone. However, even from his hidden position, Holmes discovered that he could not collect enough evidence to convict Stapleton unless he caught the man red-handed.
Finally, they discuss Miss Stapleton. Both men believe that Sir Henry's turmoil after the incident is due in large part to a broken heart; he actually did love Miss Stapleton. However, his world trip with Dr. Mortimer is proving an excellent salve to his pain. Though he has no proof of her true feelings for Sir Henry, Holmes does know that Miss Stapleton attempted to stop her husband on the night of the murder, which is why he tied her up.
Watson asks two follow-up questions. First, how could Stapleton have known that the hound would kill Sir Henry, especially since the man had no known health problems? Holmes replies that the animal had been starved, and that its savage appearance would certainly have incapacitated Sir Henry's resistance, even if it did not immediately terrify him to death.
Secondly, how was Stapleton going to explain that he was actually a Baskerville after Sir Henry's death, without raising suspicion?
To this question, Holmes admits that he does not know the answer: "The past and the present are within the field of my inquiry, but what a man may do in the future is a hard question to answer" (318). He speculates that Stapleton might have returned to South America to establish his claim from there, or that he might have taken a disguise in London. Finally, he considers that Stapleton might have used someone else to claim the estate.
Holmes then invites Watson to join him for dinner and a show.
In the last chapter, we receive all the details of the case which were not accounted for through the adventure. This is notable because it reveals one responsibility of the detective story: it must tie up all loose ends and clues. Many Holmes scholars have tried to re-interpret some of his cases, to prove Sherlock Holmes wrong. Wanting to prevent this and ensure narrative conviction for all his readers, Doyle ensures that the details of his construction are firmly established, along with the final caveat that Holmes cannot tell the future.
This final chapter also frames the detective story as something of a historical genre as well. It functions by revisiting past events, and re-interpreting the details that readers might have missed. Several small details - like the existence and death of a Rodger Baskerville, or Dr. Mortimer's missing dog - are later shown to be important, while others - like the smell on the warning letter - were even outside of Watson's observation. This quality is important because it inspires the reader to never assume he or she has observed everything. Sometimes, a past event will only reveal its meaning in the light of future events.
Of course, what makes Hound of the Baskervilles so unique amongst Holmes stories is the quality of its adventure. Chapter XIV serves as an exciting climax, in many ways. First is the way that it brings the central conflict - of rationality versus superstition - to a head. It is fascinating that even Holmes is shocked into paralysis when the hound first appears. No matter the strength of our intellect, we have a tendency to believe our senses, and Holmes is struck dumb by the appearance of a supernatural being. However, it is more than just the savage appearance - of flames and glitter - and the gothic atmosphere - the overwhelming fog - that make the hound terrifying. It is also the mythology, which all the characters have internalized even if they doubt its veracity. In other words, Doyle does not simply write off the power of fear as subservient to the intellect, but rather gives it its due. One of other element of fearful uncertainty is that Stapleton's body is never found - it is entirely possible that he remains alive.
In the end, Doyle obviously comes down on the side of rationality. Even this horrific beast can be rationally understood, its most savage qualities explained. But the idea - that everything has a scientific explanation if one knows how to look - is all the more powerful because it follows such an exciting climax, one that exploits all the atmosphere, gloom and terror of the novel's earlier chapters to engineer a deadly chase. Knowledge is most certainly power, as the novel has made clear, but one has to sometimes transcend one's instinctual fears and superstitions to obtain this knowledge.
Finally, the reader might have some moral qualms about the end of the tale. The criminal has died, and Sir Henry is so traumatized that he must take a year long vacation. A modern reader might find Stapleton's inexorable evil a bit off-putting, since we tend to think any criminal can be reformed. However, as mentioned previously, attitudes on crime in Doyle's day tended to see depravity as an inherent, unfixable problem. Therefore, a criminal must be caught in the act, as Holmes does. The idea of acting proactively - whether through social programs or personal psychology - was simply not something Holmes or Doyle would have explicitly considered.