Chapter VI: Baskerville Hall
On the day of Watson, Dr. Mortimer and Sir Henry's departure, Holmes drives Watson to the station. En route, he instructs Watson to report only the facts to him, leaving his theories out of the letters. He also shares his own theories. He does not believes that the Desmond man - who would inherit Sir Henry's estate - is involved, but he believes that Barrymore and his wife are viable suspects. His other suspects include: a groom at the Hall, two farmers on the moor, Dr. Mortimer himself, Mortimer's wife, Stapleton the naturalist, and Mr. Frankland. (These names were provided by Mortimer in their early discussions.) Watson has brought his gun, in case he needs it.
When they arrive in Devonshire, Sir Henry is impressed by the surroundings, never having seen the moor before. Watson imagines what it must be like for him to see the land where the men of his blood have made their mark.
On their way to Baskerville Hall, they meet a man guarding part of the moor. Apparently, a convict had escaped three days earlier from the prison at nearby Princetown. This convict's name is Selden, and he is known as the Notting Hill murderer. Watson recalls Sherlock's interest in that case because of the criminal's brutality, and imagines Selden hiding out on the moor.
At Baskerville Hall, Dr. Mortimer shows Sir Henry the yew alley where Sir Charles died, and then departs. Barrymore then tours them around the estate, admitting in the process that he and his wife plan to leave once Sir Henry has hired more staff. Having spent their lives there, they would like to travel with the money Sir Charles bequeathed them.
Watson describes the bedrooms as seeming newer the rest of the house, and the dining room as having a somber atmosphere. Feeling the same way, Sir Henry comments that he understands why Sir Charles grew so anxious in such a place.
That night, Watson does not sleep well. In the dead of night, he hears a woman's sob, and listens carefully for more. However, no more noise comes.
The chapter begins with Holmes's instructions to Watson to "report the facts" (191). Most immediately, Holmes's instructions touch on why he trusts Watson as a good "conductor of light" (138). Watson inspires Holmes's genius not by collaborating on his interpretations, but rather on relating facts that Holmes can then use to deduce hidden truths. As a doctor, Watson is well-acquainted with the importance of detail, an approach Holmes takes to a singular level.
However, these instructions also pose a crucial question: what does a bare fact look like? Can we describe facts without already having some explanation as to how that fact came to be? Put another way, can a fact ever be disclosed without containing some trace of interpretation? For example, in Chapter II, Sir Charles's footprints of Sir Charles are described as "tiptoe" footprints (164). The description contained within it an assumption. Whereas most readers would take this interpretation as fact, Holmes took a step back to consider that the indentations might indicate the opposite: running instead of tip-toeing. By describing something, we naturally put an interpretation on it. In other words, so-called "facts" already come pre-interpreted (191).
Holmes's instructions then, are most notable for what he instructs Watson not to do: to theorize. What makes Holmes's approach so unique is that he considers a detail from several possible angles at once, eliminating impossible options to determine the most likely option. His instructions are not only to Watson, but to us: to correctly deduce meaning, one must first see the detail in itself, not with any pre-conceived notion.
Watson's description of the house both conforms to and works against those instructions. He makes judgments - the rooms seems newer than the rest of the house - and in fact focuses on atmosphere. His failure to simply 'describe' the rooms are entirely forgivable, especially since they help to relate the atmosphere that would have made Sir Charles so anxious.
Watson's description also serve Doyle's purpose of crafting an engaging and spooky tale. One of the novel's most intriguing contrasts - between the supernatural and the rational - is at work here. Clearly, Doyle wants us to view this location as haunted and possessed. The moor was often used as an atmospheric locale in the work of British writers, and Doyle takes great advantage of its natural allure. In fact, he furthers the atmosphere through the incident of the woman's screams. Read out of context, the second half of this chapter could work in a Gothic novel, or even in a children's scary story.
The contrast with the rational will be most clearly made through Holmes's interference, but is already present through Sir Henry. His first instinct at noting the house's gloominess is to brighten it with electric lamps. He represents the technological mindset of America, from which he has traveled. He is more like Holmes than he is like Dr. Mortimer; instead of considering the house's haunted potential, he considers how the products of man's rationality might counteract such gloominess. Whether he will remain so aloof to its spooky atmosphere now becomes one of the novel's dramatic questions.