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.)


Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

In Favor Of Dean And Wamp

I don't normally endorse political candidates (I always recall the joke about the hardware store selling more hip boots and shovels during election years). This year I will make an exception. I have known Vince Dean for over 30 years. I know him to be an honest person that you can actually talk to even when there isn't an election going on. When he was at the police department, ... (click for more)

One Of Oldest Log Homes At University Of The South Suffers Heavy Fire Damage

The oldest log home at the University of the South at Sewanne suffered heavy damage on Friday night. Fire broke out at the historic Rebel’s Rest at approximately 11:30 p.m. Fire units arrived a short time later, but flames were shooting high in the air. Rebel's Roost was built as the family home of Major George Fairbanks a year after the close of the Civil War. The house ... (click for more)

Corker Says Congress Needs Time To Review Plan For VA Reforms

As negotiations between the Senate and the House of Representatives over legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continue,  Senator Bob Corker urged that lawmakers have the opportunity to review a complete Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on any final conference VA bill before taking a vote. “Our veterans deserve solutions to the systemic problems ... (click for more)

Chattanooga FC Hosts Sacramento Gold Saturday At 7:30

The Chattanooga Football Club will host yet another playoff soccer game on Saturday as Sacramento Gold comes to town in the National NPSL final four semifinal game.  The NPSL National semifinals are powered by Mitre.  Midwest region champions Lansing United will play Northeast region champions Red Buls U23s in New York on Sunday in the other semifinal match.  The ... (click for more)

Lookouts Get 8-7 9th Inning Win Over Biscuits

Chris O’Brien’s only hit of the game was the one that mattered the most, giving the Chattanooga Lookouts (12-21)  a win in the bottom of the ninth inning on his RBI single against the Montgomery Biscuits (19-16) before a raucous sell-out crowd of 6,378. The first inning came and went innocuously, but the second showed the first offensive outburst of the night as the ... (click for more)