Jody Baker: A Cunning Preparation - The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Thursday, November 14, 2013 - by Jody Baker

Watson describes the ending of the Baskerville Hound upon the moor with his customary artistic talent. Several of Watson’s descriptive passages are quoted here for convenience in review:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> 

“A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame.”

* * * * *

“I was in time to see the beast spring upon its victim, hurl him to the ground, and worry at his throat. But the next instant Holmes had emptied five barrels of his revolver into the creature’s flank. With a last howl of agony and a vicious snap in the air, it rolled upon its back, four feet pawing furiously, and then fell limp upon its side. I stooped, panting, and pressed my pistol to the dreadful, shimmering head, but it was useless to press the trigger. The giant hound was dead.”

 * * * * * 

“ It was not a pure bloodhound and it was not a pure mastiff; but it appeared to be a combination of the two–gaunt, savage, and as large as a small lioness. Even now, in the stillness of death, the huge jaws seemed to be dripping with a bluish flame and the small, deep-set, cruel eyes were ringed with fire. I placed my hand upon the glowing muzzle, and as I held them up my own fingers smouldered and gleamed in the darkness.

 “Phosphorus,” I said.  “A cunning preparation of it,” said Holmes, sniffing at the dead animal. “There is no smell which might have interfered with his power of scent.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

A question is often raised about the Hound of the Baskervilles --- and the gleaming or glowing appearance of that hound even after its death upon the moor. Just what was it that caused the gleaming appearance of the Hound ?

When Watson saw the glowing of the recently deceased hound, Watson exclaimed "Phosphorous!" 

Holmes responded, "A very cunning preparation of it." [Doubleday, p. 757]. 

The late Bob Burr, who was a great Sherlockian from Peoria, once pointed out with scientific accuracy that: “Phosphorus is not only extremely poisonous, it ignites spontaneously in air, burning to phosphorus pentoxide…… Had it been applied to the Hound, the pooch would have been incinerated within minutes." 

Mrs. Baynes, who is ever ready to come to the defense of Dr. Watson, has her own explanation for the events which are the subject of this scientific phorphoric question.

Mrs. Baynes (who is often in error, but never in doubt) has strong views about most things. She asserts that Watson was under extreme stress and was greatly excited when he placed his hand upon the gleaming muzzle of the hound and saw his own fingers glow in the dark… and exclaimed “Phosphorus.”

"Dr. Watson mis-spoke himself," claims Mrs. Baynes. "He really intended to say ‘phosphorescent’ –and by that, what he meant was ‘luminescent.’ "

She continued, " Phosphorescence, you see, is one form of luminescence, and  luminescence includes all those things which are bioluminescent. Bioluminescence is the emission of energy in the form of light from living organisms. It results from natural luciferin, a chemical substance found in the cells of luminescent organisms, such as fireflies. This, when acted upon by luciferase, undergoes oxidation and produces heatless light.

"This phenomenon," she continued, "is found in certain fish, jelly-fish and protozoa; but the most familiar form is in fireflies." 

"Mr. Stapleton," she speculates, "was catching moths and butterflies by day, but he spent his nights chasing around the yard for fireflies. These he kept in a jar until, when the need arose, he would take lit fireflies out of his jar and sqush them against the head and muzzle of his dog. That was the preparation which Watson observed and which Mr. Holmes referred to as cunning."

That is the theory of Mrs. Baynes on the matter. It is a theory to which I do not subscribe, but from which I do not care to publicly disagree.

But, believe me, that word "sqush" is her word -- not mine. 

Respectfully,
Inspector Baynes

(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at josiahbaker@bkhcw.com.)


Policeman: Modern Day "Boogie Man"

As a child I was under the impression that a ghastly, grotesque creature had taken up residence in my bedroom closet, the proverbial “Boogie Man” I suppose.  This is not an uncommon thing among children and most likely to some fault of my own as I subjected myself to some pretty iconic 1980’s horror flicks. There were other kids in the neighborhood that not only claimed to ... (click for more)

Why Ferguson Matters In Chattanooga

The recent verdict in Ferguson has thrown race relations in the spotlight again. It is far too easy to get caught up in the debate as to who was right. But the plain fact is that the community lost, the police force lost and the nation lost. So why does Ferguson matter in Chattanooga? Because a police force mainly composed of whites got into a conflict with a community mainly ... (click for more)

1 Dies, 1 Critically Injured In North Chattanooga House Fire

For the second time in three days, a house fire has resulted in tragedy with a 35-year-old woman dying and a man critically injured in North Chattanooga. At 10:13 a.m. on Wednesday, Chattanooga firefighters were dispatched to a reported house fire with entrapment at 220 Houser St. The first firefighters on the scene saw flames shooting out windows and part of the roof. Having ... (click for more)

Kiser Post-Conviction Hearing To Resume April 6

A post-conviction hearing in which Marlon Duane Kiser is seeking a new trial in the 2001 slaying of Deputy Donald Bond will resume April 6. Attorneys for Kiser, who is on Death Row, said they have additional witnesses to call. Kiser on Tuesday took the witness stand for the first time, blaming the killing on the man he was living with at the time - Mike Chattin. Chattin, who ... (click for more)

UTC Men Defeat Robert Morris, 61-46

For the Chattanooga Mocs men’s basketball team, it’s good to be home. Just ask sophomore point guard Greg Pryor whose 13 points, including a trio of   3–pointers sparked a second half offensive surge as the Mocs defeated visiting Robert Morris (Pa.), 61-46 Wednesday afternoon in McKenzie Arena. The Mocs (2-3) advance to Thursday’s championship game at noon of the ... (click for more)

McCallie Continues Winning Ways At Lee Tournament

McCallie used balanced scoring on Wednesday at the Lee Invitational to stay undefeated. Fourteen players scored for the Blue Tornado as they defeated Walker Valley 58-45. Adrian Thomas had 8 and Jordan Atkins 7. Alex Clark and Jonathan Hewitt tallied 6 apiece. McCallie trailed 23-22 at halftime, but put up 27 points in the third quarter while holding Walker Valley to 6. ... (click for more)