|Sherlock Holmes & the dreaded hound|
in Princetown, Devon
In The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry Baskerville is staying in a hotel in the Charing Cross region of London when he receives a letter warning him not to travel to Baskerville Hall in Devonshire, England. Only one word in the letter was handwritten. The rest were clipped from a newspaper, apparently with nail scissors, and affixed to the foolscap paper with gum. From their distinctive type (or font), Sherlock Holmes identifies the words as having been clipped from the inside page of yesterday's Times. Holmes wishes to determine where the paper might have been sent from. So he instructs a boy named Cartwright to visit all twenty-three hotels near the one in which Henry Baskerville is staying. At each, he is to give the outside porter one shilling, and tell the man he wishes to see yesterday's waste paper.
In each case, the outside porter will send for the hall porter, to whom also you will give a shilling.
Holmes gives the boy an additional ten shillings, in case he encounters any unforeseen expenses.
In all, Holmes is entrusting the boy with two pounds and eighty pence. This may not seem like a lot in today's money, but it's probably equivalent to what the boy earned for a six-day work week, working ten hours a day. Apparently the boy showed some ability during a prior investigation. On this occasion however, young Cartwright could find no copies of yesterday's Times with parts of the second page cut out.
After Henry Baskerville left 221B Baker Street, Holmes and Watson followed him. As he hoped, Holmes spotted a man with a beard following Baskerville in a hansom cab. Holmes contacts the cab company, and the driver later visits him. Holmes offers the man half a sovereign if he can tell him the name of the man with the beard.
"His name," said the cabman, "was Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
For a moment Holmes sat in silent amazement. Then he burst into a hearty laugh.
I've no idea how much the cabdriver earned after expenses, but he was so concerned about his reputation that he visited Holmes when he learned of his inquiry. Yet he readily tells Holmes about his charge when Holmes offers him a half-sovereign, which equates to a half-pound. All total, Holmes has now spent three pounds and thirty pence on his investigation on Henry Baskerville's behalf. I wonder what that might equate to in today's money, don't you?
The investigation will prove much more expensive, as Holmes sends out Watson to stick by Henry's side while he stays at Baskerville Hall. And then Holmes will have many more expenses in research, sending wires (telegrams), food, and travel. It makes me wonder how much Holmes earned in comparison to other classes of people in London at the turn of the twentieth century. He certainly dresses well, and lives in an apartment in the heart of the city. And he has enough to send Watson out to purchase a pound of the strongest shag tobacco on the first day of the investigation, all of which he smokes while considering whether or not to take the Baskerville case.
Thankfully, Sherlock Holmes smoked so heavily before tobacco caused lung cancer. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case today. While I may not understand the value of wages and the cost of living in 1901, we all know what the cost of lung cancer is today, don't we?