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Sir Charles Baskerville, baronet, is found lying dead among yew trees in the grounds of his seat, Baskerville Hall. The cause of death is ascribed to a heart attack. Fearing for the safety of Sir Charles’ nephew and only known heir, Sir Henry Baskerville—who was coming to London from North America to collect his inheritance—Dr. James Mortimer travels from Devon to London, and appeals for help to Sherlock Holmes. Mortimer explains to Holmes and Doctor Watson that the Baskerville family is said to be afflicted by a curse. He reads a description of the origin of the curse, as written down by a descendant of one Hugo Baskerville, who had lived two centuries earlier. According to this old account, Hugo Baskerville became infatuated with a yeoman's daughter, kidnapped her, and imprisoned her in his bedchamber. She escaped while he was talking with his friends. A drunken and furious Hugo cried that he would give his soul to the Powers of Evil if he could only overtake her. Hugo, aided by his friends and hunting hounds, rode after her on to the desolate moor. Sometime later, Hugo and the girl were found dead. She had died from fear and fatigue, while a giant spectral hound stood over Hugo's body. With his friends watching, the hound plucked out Hugo's throat and vanished into the night. Apparently, prior to his death, Sir Charles had become fearful of the legendary curse and its retributive hellhound. Furthermore, Mortimer has deduced that Sir Charles had been waiting for someone at the time of his death. Sir Charles' face was contorted into a ghastly expression, while his footprints suggested that he was desperately running from something. It was known that elderly Sir Charles' heart was not strong, and that he planned to go to London the next day. Mortimer also reveals that he observed the footprints "of a gigantic hound" near Sir Charles' body, a fact that he did not reveal at the inquest. Intrigued by the case, Holmes meets with Sir Henry, newly arrived from Canada. Sir Henry is puzzled by an anonymous note delivered to his London hotel room, warning him to avoid the Devon moors. Holmes says that the note had been composed largely of letters cut from The Times, probably in a hotel, judging by other clues. The fact that the letters were cut with nail scissors suggested an authoress, as did a remnant whiff of perfume. Holmes keeps this last detail to himself. When Holmes and Watson later join Sir Henry at his hotel, they learn one of the baronet's new boots has gone missing. No good explanation can be found for the loss. Holmes asks if there were any other living relatives besides Sir Henry. Mortimer tells him that Charles had two brothers. Sir Henry is the sole child of a namesake Henry, who settled in Canada and raised his son there. Another brother, Roger, was known to be the black sheep of the family. A wastrel and inveterate gambler, he fled to South America to avoid creditors. He is believed to have died there alone. Despite the note's warning, Sir Henry insists on visiting Baskerville Hall. As Sir Henry leaves Holmes' Baker Street apartment, Holmes and Doctor Watson follow him. They realize that a man with a fake-looking black beard in a cab also following him. Holmes and Watson pursue this man, but he escapes; however, Holmes memorizes the cab number. Holmes stops in at a messenger office and employs a young boy, Cartwright, to go visit London's hotels and look through wastepaper in search of cut-up copies of The Times.

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