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.)


Roy Exum: One Nameless Ghost

One hundred years ago the United States was at war. The most intense fighting during World War I was on what was called The Western Front. The Germans wanted to invade France from the north and in order to do it, they had to push through Flanders province in Belgium. It has been described as a hell unequalled in raw hand-to-hand combat, In just four months on Flanders fields, ... (click for more)

Remembering Mitch Beard On Memorial Day

A little over two years ago, my friend Mitchell "Mitch" Beard passed away from injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident at 24 years old. This was not as it should be. Mitch had made it through war. He was a combat-decorated United States Marine who served in Afghanistan. I first met Mitch when I was a college student at Tennessee Temple in 2004. Mitch’s parents, Steve ... (click for more)

Strong Thunderstorm Causes Damage, Power Outages In Dalton

Shortly before  5 p.m. , a strong thunderstorm went through downtown Dalton, knocking down numerous trees, causing power outages and also causing damage. At this time, no injuries have been reported.  The Dalton Fire Department and Dalton Police Department responded to multiple reports of damage. The DPD closed several roads due to downed trees and power lines. ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Honors Military Veterans

A Memorial Day service was held at the National Cemetery on Monday. (click for more)

Seth Ruhling Wins Chattanooga Chase 8K And One Mile

It has been six years since Seth Ruhling ran the Chattanooga Chase and maybe he had forgotten just how tough that 8K course really is, but that’s didn’t seem to matter Monday morning as he celebrated Memorial Day with victory in the Chattanooga Track Club’s oldest race. Ruhling graduated from Collegedale Academy in 2013 and is now a 21-year-old student at Southern Adventist ... (click for more)

Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic Set For Saturday at CCS

The 13th Annual Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic, presented by Great Clips, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday June 4 at Chattanooga Christian School in Chattanooga. Tennessee defeated Georgia 38-14 last June at McCallie School in Chattanooga. It was Tennessee's fourth consecutive victory in the series that dates back to the first game held at Ridgeland High in ... (click for more)