"I will come," said I.
"Then get your revolver and put on your boots. The sooner we start the better, as the fellow may put out his light and be off."
In five minutes we were outside the door, starting upon our expedition. We hurried through the dark shrubbery, amid the dull moaning of the autumn wind and the rustle of the falling leaves. The night air was heavy with the smell of damp and decay. Now and again the moon peeped out for an instant, but clouds were driving over the face of the sky, and just as we came out on the moor a thin rain began to fall. The light still burned steadily in front.
"Are you armed?" I asked.
"I have a hunting-crop."
"We must close in on him rapidly, for he is said to be a desperate fellow. We shall take him by surprise and have him at our mercy before he can resist."
"I say, Watson," said the baronet, "what would Holmes say to this? How about that hour of darkness in which the power of evil is exalted?"
As if in answer to his words there rose suddenly out of the vast gloom of the moor that strange cry which I had already heard upon the borders of the great Grimpen Mire. It came with the wind through the silence of the night, a long, deep mutter, then a rising howl, and then the sad moan in which it died away. Again and again it sounded, the whole air throbbing with it, strident, wild, and menacing. The baronet caught my sleeve and his face glimmered white through the darkness.
"My God, what's that, Watson?"
"I don't know. It's a sound they have on the moor. I heard it once before."
It died away, and an absolute silence closed in upon us. We stood straining our ears, but nothing came.
"Watson," said the baronet, "it was the cry of a hound."
My blood ran cold in my veins, for there was a break in his voice which told of the sudden horror which had seized him.
"What do they call this sound?" he asked.
"The folk on the country-side."
"Oh, they are ignorant people. Why should you mind what they call it?"
"Tell me, Watson. What do they say of it?"
I hesitated but could not escape the question.
"They say it is the cry of the Hound of the Baskervilles."
He groaned and was silent for a few moments.
"A hound it was," he said, at last, "but it seemed to come from miles away, over yonder, I think."
"It was hard to say whence it came."
"It rose and fell with the wind. Isn't that the direction of the great Grimpen Mire?"
"Yes, it is."
"Well, it was up there. Come now, Watson, didn't you think yourself that it was the cry of a hound? I am not a child. You need not fear to speak the truth."
"Stapleton was with me when I heard it last. He said that it might be the calling of a strange bird."
"No, no, it was a hound. My God, can there be some truth in all these stories? Is it possible that I am really in danger from so dark a cause? You don't believe it, do you, Watson?"
"And yet it was one thing to laugh about it in London, and it is another to stand out here in the darkness of the moor and to hear such a cry as that. And my uncle! There was the footprint of the hound beside him as he lay. It all fits together. I don't think that I am a coward, Watson, but that sound seemed to freeze my very blood. Feel my hand!"
It was as cold as a block of marble.
"You'll be all right to-morrow."
"I don't think I'll get that cry out of my head. What do you advise that we do now?"
"Shall we turn back?"
"No, by thunder; we have come out to get our man, and we will do it. We after the convict, and a hell-hound, as likely as not, after us. Come on! We'll see it through if all the fiends of the pit were loose upon the moor."
We stumbled slowly along in the darkness, with the black loom of the craggy hills around us, and the yellow speck of light burning steadily in front. There is nothing so deceptive as the distance of a light upon a pitch-dark night, and sometimes the glimmer seemed to be far away upon the horizon and sometimes it might have been within a few yards of us.