A Sherlock Holmes Adventure: 12 The Copper Beeches

A Sherlock Holmes Adventure: 12 The Copper Beeches


THE COPPER BEECHES “To the man who loves art for its own sake,”
remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph,
“it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest
pleasure is to be derived. It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so
far grasped this truth that in these little records of our cases which you have been good
enough to draw up, and, I am bound to say, occasionally to embellish, you have given
prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres and sensational trials in which
I have figured but rather to those incidents which may have been trivial in themselves,
but which have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which
I have made my special province.” “And yet,” said I, smiling, “I cannot
quite hold myself absolved from the charge of sensationalism which has been urged against
my records.” “You have erred, perhaps,” he observed,
taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood
pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative
mood—“you have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and life into each of your statements
instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record that severe reasoning
from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature about the thing.”
“It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter,” I remarked with
some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had more than once observed to be
a strong factor in my friend’s singular character.
“No, it is not selfishness or conceit,” said he, answering, as was his wont, my thoughts
rather than my words. “If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal
thing—a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic
rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have
been a course of lectures into a series of tales.”
It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side
of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between the
lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs
through the heavy yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer
of china and metal, for the table had not been cleared yet. Sherlock Holmes had been
silent all the morning, dipping continuously into the advertisement columns of a succession
of papers until at last, having apparently given up his search, he had emerged in no
very sweet temper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings.
“At the same time,” he remarked after a pause, during which he had sat puffing at
his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, “you can hardly be open to a charge of sensationalism,
for out of these cases which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair
proportion do not treat of crime, in its legal sense, at all. The small matter in which I
endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular experience of Miss Mary Sutherland,
the problem connected with the man with the twisted lip, and the incident of the noble
bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law. But in avoiding the sensational,
I fear that you may have bordered on the trivial.” “The end may have been so,” I answered,
“but the methods I hold to have been novel and of interest.”
“Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly
tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb, care about the finer shades
of analysis and deduction! But, indeed, if you are trivial, I cannot blame you, for the
days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise
and originality. As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency
for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools.
I think that I have touched bottom at last, however. This note I had this morning marks
my zero-point, I fancy. Read it!” He tossed a crumpled letter across to me.
It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and ran thus: 
“DEAR MR. HOLMES:—I am very anxious to consult you as to whether I should or should
not accept a situation which has been offered to me as governess. I shall call at half-past
ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenience you. Yours faithfully, “VIOLET HUNTER.”
“Do you know the young lady?” I asked. “Not I.”
“It is half-past ten now.” “Yes, and I have no doubt that is her ring.”
“It may turn out to be of more interest than you think. You remember that the affair
of the blue carbuncle, which appeared to be a mere whim at first, developed into a serious
investigation. It may be so in this case, also.”
“Well, let us hope so. But our doubts will very soon be solved, for here, unless I am
much mistaken, is the person in question.” As he spoke the door opened and a young lady
entered the room. She was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled
like a plover’s egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way
to make in the world. “You will excuse my troubling you, I am
sure,” said she, as my companion rose to greet her, “but I have had a very strange
experience, and as I have no parents or relations of any sort from whom I could ask advice,
I thought that perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me what I should do.”
“Pray take a seat, Miss Hunter. I shall be happy to do anything that I can to serve
you.” I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed
by the manner and speech of his new client. He looked her over in his searching fashion,
and then composed himself, with his lids drooping and his finger-tips together, to listen to
her story. “I have been a governess for five years,”
said she, “in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the colonel received
an appointment at Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took his children over to America with
him, so that I found myself without a situation. I advertised, and I answered advertisements,
but without success. At last the little money which I had saved began to run short, and
I was at my wit’s end as to what I should do.
“There is a well-known agency for governesses in the West End called Westaway’s, and there
I used to call about once a week in order to see whether anything had turned up which
might suit me. Westaway was the name of the founder of the business, but it is really
managed by Miss Stoper. She sits in her own little office, and the ladies who are seeking
employment wait in an anteroom, and are then shown in one by one, when she consults her
ledgers and sees whether she has anything which would suit them.
“Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual, but I found
that Miss Stoper was not alone. A prodigiously stout man with a very smiling face and a great
heavy chin which rolled down in fold upon fold over his throat sat at her elbow with
a pair of glasses on his nose, looking very earnestly at the ladies who entered. As I
came in he gave quite a jump in his chair and turned quickly to Miss Stoper.
“ ‘That will do,’ said he; ‘I could not ask for anything better. Capital! capital!’
He seemed quite enthusiastic and rubbed his hands together in the most genial fashion.
He was such a comfortable-looking man that it was quite a pleasure to look at him.
“ ‘You are looking for a situation, miss?’ he asked.
“ ‘Yes, sir.’ “ ‘As governess?’
“ ‘Yes, sir.’ “ ‘And what salary do you ask?’
“ ‘I had £4 a month in my last place with Colonel Spence Munro.’
“ ‘Oh, tut, tut! sweating—rank sweating!’ he cried, throwing his fat hands out into
the air like a man who is in a boiling passion. ‘How could anyone offer so pitiful a sum
to a lady with such attractions and accomplishments?’ “ ‘My accomplishments, sir, may be less
than you imagine,’ said I. ‘A little French, a little German, music, and drawing—’
“ ‘Tut, tut!’ he cried. ‘This is all quite beside the question. The point is,
have you or have you not the bearing and deportment of a lady? There it is in a nutshell. If you
have not, you are not fitted for the rearing of a child who may some day play a considerable
part in the history of the country. But if you have why, then, how could any gentleman
ask you to condescend to accept anything under the three figures? Your salary with me, madam,
would commence at £100 a year.’ “You may imagine, Mr. Holmes, that to me,
destitute as I was, such an offer seemed almost too good to be true. The gentleman, however,
seeing perhaps the look of incredulity upon my face, opened a pocket-book and took out
a note. “ ‘It is also my custom,’ said he,
smiling in the most pleasant fashion until his eyes were just two little shining slits
amid the white creases of his face, ‘to advance to my young ladies half their salary
beforehand, so that they may meet any little expenses of their journey and their wardrobe.’
“It seemed to me that I had never met so fascinating and so thoughtful a man. As I
was already in debt to my tradesmen, the advance was a great convenience, and yet there was
something unnatural about the whole transaction which made me wish to know a little more before
I quite committed myself. “ ‘May I ask where you live, sir?’
said I. “ ‘Hampshire. Charming rural place. The
Copper Beeches, five miles on the far side of Winchester. It is the most lovely country,
my dear young lady, and the dearest old country-house.’ “ ‘And my duties, sir? I should be glad
to know what they would be.’ “ ‘One child—one dear little romper
just six years old. Oh, if you could see him killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack!
smack! smack! Three gone before you could wink!’ He leaned back in his chair and laughed
his eyes into his head again. “I was a little startled at the nature of
the child’s amusement, but the father’s laughter made me think that perhaps he was
joking. “ ‘My sole duties, then,’ I asked,
‘are to take charge of a single child?’ “ ‘No, no, not the sole, not the sole,
my dear young lady,’ he cried. ‘Your duty would be, as I am sure your good sense would
suggest, to obey any little commands my wife might give, provided always that they were
such commands as a lady might with propriety obey. You see no difficulty, heh?’
“ ‘I should be happy to make myself useful.’ “ ‘Quite so. In dress now, for example.
We are faddy people, you know—faddy but kind-hearted. If you were asked to wear any
dress which we might give you, you would not object to our little whim. Heh?’
“ ‘No,’ said I, considerably astonished at his words.
“ ‘Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensive to you?’
“ ‘Oh, no.’ “ ‘Or to cut your hair quite short before
you come to us?’ “I could hardly believe my ears. As you
may observe, Mr. Holmes, my hair is somewhat luxuriant, and of a rather peculiar tint of
chestnut. It has been considered artistic. I could not dream of sacrificing it in this
offhand fashion. “ ‘I am afraid that that is quite impossible,’
said I. He had been watching me eagerly out of his small eyes, and I could see a shadow
pass over his face as I spoke. “ ‘I am afraid that it is quite essential,’
said he. ‘It is a little fancy of my wife’s, and ladies’ fancies, you know, madam, ladies’
fancies must be consulted. And so you won’t cut your hair?’
“ ‘No, sir, I really could not,’ I answered firmly.
“ ‘Ah, very well; then that quite settles the matter. It is a pity, because in other
respects you would really have done very nicely. In that case, Miss Stoper, I had best inspect
a few more of your young ladies.’ “The manageress had sat all this while busy
with her papers without a word to either of us, but she glanced at me now with so much
annoyance upon her face that I could not help suspecting that she had lost a handsome commission
through my refusal. “ ‘Do you desire your name to be kept
upon the books?’ she asked. “ ‘If you please, Miss Stoper.’
“ ‘Well, really, it seems rather useless, since you refuse the most excellent offers
in this fashion,’ said she sharply. ‘You can hardly expect us to exert ourselves to
find another such opening for you. Good-day to you, Miss Hunter.’ She struck a gong
upon the table, and I was shown out by the page.
“Well, Mr. Holmes, when I got back to my lodgings and found little enough in the cupboard,
and two or three bills upon the table, I began to ask myself whether I had not done a very
foolish thing. After all, if these people had strange fads and expected obedience on
the most extraordinary matters, they were at least ready to pay for their eccentricity.
Very few governesses in England are getting £100 a year. Besides, what use was my hair to me?
Many people are improved by wearing it short and perhaps I should be among the number.
Next day I was inclined to think that I had made a mistake, and by the day after I was
sure of it. I had almost overcome my pride so far as to go back to the agency and inquire
whether the place was still open when I received this letter from the gentleman himself. I
have it here and I will read it to you: “ ‘The Copper Beeches, near Winchester.
“ ‘DEAR MISS HUNTER:—Miss Stoper has very kindly given me your address, and I write
from here to ask you whether you have reconsidered your decision. My wife is very anxious that
you should come, for she has been much attracted by my description of you. We are willing to
give £30 a quarter, or £120 a year, so as to recompense you for any little inconvenience
which our fads may cause you. They are not very exacting, after all. My wife is fond
of a particular shade of electric blue and would like you to wear such a dress indoors
in the morning. You need not, however, go to the expense of purchasing one, as we have
one belonging to my dear daughter Alice (now in Philadelphia), which would, I should think,
fit you very well. Then, as to sitting here or there, or amusing yourself in any manner
indicated, that need cause you no inconvenience. As regards your hair, it is no doubt a pity,
especially as I could not help remarking its beauty during our short interview, but I am
afraid that I must remain firm upon this point, and I only hope that the increased salary
may recompense you for the loss. Your duties, as far as the child is concerned, are very
light. Now do try to come, and I shall meet you with the dog-cart at Winchester. Let me
know your train. Yours faithfully, “ ‘JEPHRO RUCASTLE.’
“That is the letter which I have just received, Mr. Holmes, and my mind is made up that I
will accept it. I thought, however, that before taking the final step I should like to submit
the whole matter to your consideration.” “Well, Miss Hunter, if your mind is made
up, that settles the question,” said Holmes, smiling.
“But you would not advise me to refuse?” “I confess that it is not the situation
which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for.”
“What is the meaning of it all, Mr. Holmes?” “Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps
you have yourself formed some opinion?” “Well, there seems to me to be only one
possible solution. Mr. Rucastle seemed to be a very kind, good-natured man. Is it not
possible that his wife is a lunatic, that he desires to keep the matter quiet for fear
she should be taken to an asylum, and that he humours her fancies in every way in order
to prevent an outbreak?” “That is a possible solution—in fact,
as matters stand, it is the most probable one. But in any case it does not seem to be
a nice household for a young lady.” “But the money, Mr. Holmes, the money!”
“Well, yes, of course the pay is good—too good. That is what makes me uneasy. Why should
they give you £120 a year, when they could have their pick for £40? There must be some
strong reason behind.” “I thought that if I told you the circumstances
you would understand afterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger
if I felt that you were at the back of me.” “Oh, you may carry that feeling away with
you. I assure you that your little problem promises to be the most interesting which
has come my way for some months. There is something distinctly novel about some of the
features. If you should find yourself in doubt or in danger—”
“Danger! What danger do you foresee?” Holmes shook his head gravely. “It would
cease to be a danger if we could define it,” said he. “But at any time, day or night,
a telegram would bring me down to your help.” “That is enough.” She rose briskly from
her chair with the anxiety all swept from her face. “I shall go down to Hampshire
quite easy in my mind now. I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair
to-night, and start for Winchester to-morrow.” With a few grateful words to Holmes she bade
us both good-night and bustled off upon her way.
“At least,” said I as we heard her quick, firm steps descending the stairs, “she seems
to be a young lady who is very well able to take care of herself.”
“And she would need to be,” said Holmes gravely. “I am much mistaken if we do not
hear from her before many days are past.” It was not very long before my friend’s
prediction was fulfilled. A fortnight went by, during which I frequently found my thoughts
turning in her direction and wondering what strange side-alley of human experience this
lonely woman had strayed into. The unusual salary, the curious conditions, the light
duties, all pointed to something abnormal, though whether a fad or a plot, or whether
the man were a philanthropist or a villain, it was quite beyond my powers to determine.
As to Holmes, I observed that he sat frequently for half an hour on end, with knitted brows
and an abstracted air, but he swept the matter away with a wave of his hand when I mentioned
it. “Data! data! data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”
And yet he would always wind up by muttering that no sister of his should ever have accepted
such a situation. The telegram which we eventually received
came late one night just as I was thinking of turning in and Holmes was settling down
to one of those all-night chemical researches which he frequently indulged in, when I would
leave him stooping over a retort and a test-tube at night and find him in the same position
when I came down to breakfast in the morning. He opened the yellow envelope, and then, glancing
at the message, threw it across to me. “Just look up the trains in Bradshaw,”
said he, and turned back to his chemical studies. The summons was a brief and urgent one. 
“Please be at the Black Swan Hotel at Winchester at midday to-morrow,” it said. “Do come!
I am at my wit’s end. “HUNTER.”
“Will you come with me?” asked Holmes, glancing up.
“I should wish to.” “Just look it up, then.”
“There is a train at half-past nine,” said I, glancing over my Bradshaw. “It is
due at Winchester at 11:30.” “That will do very nicely. Then perhaps
I had better postpone my analysis of the acetones, as we may need to be at our best in the morning.” 
By eleven o’clock the next day we were well upon our way to the old English capital. Holmes
had been buried in the morning papers all the way down, but after we had passed the
Hampshire border he threw them down and began to admire the scenery. It was an ideal spring
day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white clouds drifting across from west
to east. The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the
air, which set an edge to a man’s energy. All over the countryside, away to the rolling
hills around Aldershot, the little red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out
from amid the light green of the new foliage. “Are they not fresh and beautiful?” I
cried with all the enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.
But Holmes shook his head gravely. “Do you know, Watson,” said he, “that
it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with
reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed
by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of
their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.”
“Good heavens!” I cried. “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?”
“They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience,
that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin
than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” “You horrify me!”
“But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what
the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child,
or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours,
and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can
set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these
lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk
who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness
which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this lady
who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear
for her. It is the five miles of country which makes the danger. Still, it is clear that
she is not personally threatened.” “No. If she can come to Winchester to meet
us she can get away.” “Quite so. She has her freedom.”
“What can be the matter, then? Can you suggest no explanation?”
“I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far
as we know them. But which of these is correct can only be determined by the fresh information
which we shall no doubt find waiting for us. Well, there is the tower of the cathedral,
and we shall soon learn all that Miss Hunter has to tell.”
The Black Swan is an inn of repute in the High Street, at no distance from the station,
and there we found the young lady waiting for us. She had engaged a sitting-room, and
our lunch awaited us upon the table. “I am so delighted that you have come,”
she said earnestly. “It is so very kind of you both; but indeed I do not know what
I should do. Your advice will be altogether invaluable to me.”
“Pray tell us what has happened to you.” “I will do so, and I must be quick, for
I have promised Mr. Rucastle to be back before three. I got his leave to come into town this
morning, though he little knew for what purpose.” “Let us have everything in its due order.”
Holmes thrust his long thin legs out towards the fire and composed himself to listen.
“In the first place, I may say that I have met, on the whole, with no actual ill-treatment
from Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle. It is only fair to them to say that. But I cannot understand
them, and I am not easy in my mind about them.” “What can you not understand?”
“Their reasons for their conduct. But you shall have it all just as it occurred. When
I came down, Mr. Rucastle met me here and drove me in his dog-cart to the Copper Beeches.
It is, as he said, beautifully situated, but it is not beautiful in itself, for it is a
large square block of a house, whitewashed, but all stained and streaked with damp and
bad weather. There are grounds round it, woods on three sides, and on the fourth a field
which slopes down to the Southampton highroad, which curves past about a hundred yards from
the front door. This ground in front belongs to the house, but the woods all round are
part of Lord Southerton’s preserves. A clump of copper beeches immediately in front of
the hall door has given its name to the place. “I was driven over by my employer, who was
as amiable as ever, and was introduced by him that evening to his wife and the child.
There was no truth, Mr. Holmes, in the conjecture which seemed to us to be probable in your
rooms at Baker Street. Mrs. Rucastle is not mad. I found her to be a silent, pale-faced
woman, much younger than her husband, not more than thirty, I should think, while he
can hardly be less than forty-five. From their conversation I have gathered that they have
been married about seven years, that he was a widower, and that his only child by the
first wife was the daughter who has gone to Philadelphia. Mr. Rucastle told me in private
that the reason why she had left them was that she had an unreasoning aversion to her
stepmother. As the daughter could not have been less than twenty, I can quite imagine
that her position must have been uncomfortable with her father’s young wife.
“Mrs. Rucastle seemed to me to be colourless in mind as well as in feature. She impressed
me neither favourably nor the reverse. She was a nonentity. It was easy to see that she
was passionately devoted both to her husband and to her little son. Her light grey eyes
wandered continually from one to the other, noting every little want and forestalling
it if possible. He was kind to her also in his bluff, boisterous fashion, and on the
whole they seemed to be a happy couple. And yet she had some secret sorrow, this woman.
She would often be lost in deep thought, with the saddest look upon her face. More than
once I have surprised her in tears. I have thought sometimes that it was the disposition
of her child which weighed upon her mind, for I have never met so utterly spoiled and
so ill-natured a little creature. He is small for his age, with a head which is quite disproportionately
large. His whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion
and gloomy intervals of sulking. Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems
to be his one idea of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture
of mice, little birds, and insects. But I would rather not talk about the creature,
Mr. Holmes, and, indeed, he has little to do with my story.”
“I am glad of all details,” remarked my friend, “whether they seem to you to be
relevant or not.” “I shall try not to miss anything of importance.
The one unpleasant thing about the house, which struck me at once, was the appearance
and conduct of the servants. There are only two, a man and his wife. Toller, for that
is his name, is a rough, uncouth man, with grizzled hair and whiskers, and a perpetual
smell of drink. Twice since I have been with them he has been quite drunk, and yet Mr.
Rucastle seemed to take no notice of it. His wife is a very tall and strong woman with
a sour face, as silent as Mrs. Rucastle and much less amiable. They are a most unpleasant
couple, but fortunately I spend most of my time in the nursery and my own room, which
are next to each other in one corner of the building.
“For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was very quiet; on the third,
Mrs. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whispered something to her husband.
“ ‘Oh, yes,’ said he, turning to me, ‘we are very much obliged to you, Miss Hunter,
for falling in with our whims so far as to cut your hair. I assure you that it has not
detracted in the tiniest iota from your appearance. We shall now see how the electric-blue dress
will become you. You will find it laid out upon the bed in your room, and if you would
be so good as to put it on we should both be extremely obliged.’
“The dress which I found waiting for me was of a peculiar shade of blue. It was of
excellent material, a sort of beige, but it bore unmistakable signs of having been worn
before. It could not have been a better fit if I had been measured for it. Both Mr. and
Mrs. Rucastle expressed a delight at the look of it, which seemed quite exaggerated in its
vehemence. They were waiting for me in the drawing-room, which is a very large room,
stretching along the entire front of the house, with three long windows reaching down to the
floor. A chair had been placed close to the central window, with its back turned towards
it. In this I was asked to sit, and then Mr. Rucastle, walking up and down on the other
side of the room, began to tell me a series of the funniest stories that I have ever listened
to. You cannot imagine how comical he was, and I laughed until I was quite weary. Mrs.
Rucastle, however, who has evidently no sense of humour, never so much as smiled, but sat
with her hands in her lap, and a sad, anxious look upon her face. After an hour or so, Mr.
Rucastle suddenly remarked that it was time to commence the duties of the day, and that
I might change my dress and go to little Edward in the nursery.
“Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactly similar circumstances.
Again I changed my dress, again I sat in the window, and again I laughed very heartily
at the funny stories of which my employer had an immense répertoire, and which he
told inimitably. Then he handed me a yellow-backed novel, and moving my chair a little sideways,
that my own shadow might not fall upon the page, he begged me to read aloud to him. I
read for about ten minutes, beginning in the heart of a chapter, and then suddenly, in
the middle of a sentence, he ordered me to cease and to change my dress.
“You can easily imagine, Mr. Holmes, how curious I became as to what the meaning of
this extraordinary performance could possibly be. They were always very careful, I observed,
to turn my face away from the window, so that I became consumed with the desire to see what
was going on behind my back. At first it seemed to be impossible, but I soon devised a means.
My hand-mirror had been broken, so a happy thought seized me, and I concealed a piece
of the glass in my handkerchief. On the next occasion, in the midst of my laughter, I put
my handkerchief up to my eyes, and was able with a little management to see all that there
was behind me. I confess that I was disappointed. There was nothing. At least that was my first
impression. At the second glance, however, I perceived that there was a man standing
in the Southampton Road, a small bearded man in a grey suit, who seemed to be looking in
my direction. The road is an important highway, and there are usually people there. This man,
however, was leaning against the railings which bordered our field and was looking earnestly
up. I lowered my handkerchief and glanced at Mrs. Rucastle to find her eyes fixed upon
me with a most searching gaze. She said nothing, but I am convinced that she had divined that
I had a mirror in my hand and had seen what was behind me. She rose at once.
“ ‘Jephro,’ said she, ‘there is an impertinent fellow upon the road there who
stares up at Miss Hunter.’ “ ‘No friend of yours, Miss Hunter?’
he asked. “ ‘No, I know no one in these parts.’
“ ‘Dear me! How very impertinent! Kindly turn round and motion to him to go away.’
“ ‘Surely it would be better to take no notice.’
“ ‘No, no, we should have him loitering here always. Kindly turn round and wave him
away like that.’ “I did as I was told, and at the same instant
Mrs. Rucastle drew down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not
sat again in the window, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road.”
“Pray continue,” said Holmes. “Your narrative promises to be a most interesting
one.” “You will find it rather disconnected, I
fear, and there may prove to be little relation between the different incidents of which I
speak. On the very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to
a small outhouse which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp
rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about.
“ ‘Look in here!’ said Mr. Rucastle, showing me a slit between two planks. ‘Is
he not a beauty?’ “I looked through and was conscious of two
glowing eyes, and of a vague figure huddled up in the darkness.
“ ‘Don’t be frightened,’ said my employer, laughing at the start which I had
given. ‘It’s only Carlo, my mastiff. I call him mine, but really old Toller, my groom,
is the only man who can do anything with him. We feed him once a day, and not too much then,
so that he is always as keen as mustard. Toller lets him loose every night, and God help the
trespasser whom he lays his fangs upon. For goodness’ sake don’t you ever on any pretext
set your foot over the threshold at night, for it’s as much as your life is worth.’
“The warning was no idle one, for two nights later I happened to look out of my bedroom
window about two o’clock in the morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the
lawn in front of the house was silvered over and almost as bright as day. I was standing,
rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was aware that something was moving
under the shadow of the copper beeches. As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it
was. It was a giant dog, as large as a calf, tawny tinted, with hanging jowl, black muzzle,
and huge projecting bones. It walked slowly across the lawn and vanished into the shadow
upon the other side. That dreadful sentinel sent a chill to my heart which I do not think
that any burglar could have done. “And now I have a very strange experience
to tell you. I had, as you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great
coil at the bottom of my trunk. One evening, after the child was in bed, I began to amuse
myself by examining the furniture of my room and by rearranging my own little things. There
was an old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones empty and open, the lower one
locked. I had filled the first two with my linen, and as I had still much to pack away
I was naturally annoyed at not having the use of the third drawer. It struck me that
it might have been fastened by a mere oversight, so I took out my bunch of keys and tried to
open it. The very first key fitted to perfection, and I drew the drawer open. There was only
one thing in it, but I am sure that you would never guess what it was. It was my coil of
hair. “I took it up and examined it. It was of
the same peculiar tint, and the same thickness. But then the impossibility of the thing obtruded
itself upon me. How could my hair have been locked in the drawer? With trembling hands
I undid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the bottom my own hair. I laid
the two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Was it not extraordinary?
Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at all of what it meant. I returned the strange
hair to the drawer, and I said nothing of the matter to the Rucastles as I felt that
I had put myself in the wrong by opening a drawer which they had locked.
“I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked, Mr. Holmes, and I soon had a pretty
good plan of the whole house in my head. There was one wing, however, which appeared not
to be inhabited at all. A door which faced that which led into the quarters of the Tollers
opened into this suite, but it was invariably locked. One day, however, as I ascended the
stair, I met Mr. Rucastle coming out through this door, his keys in his hand, and a look
on his face which made him a very different person to the round, jovial man to whom I
was accustomed. His cheeks were red, his brow was all crinkled with anger, and the veins
stood out at his temples with passion. He locked the door and hurried past me without
a word or a look. “This aroused my curiosity, so when I went
out for a walk in the grounds with my charge, I strolled round to the side from which I
could see the windows of this part of the house. There were four of them in a row, three
of which were simply dirty, while the fourth was shuttered up. They were evidently all
deserted. As I strolled up and down, glancing at them occasionally, Mr. Rucastle came out
to me, looking as merry and jovial as ever. “ ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘you must not think
me rude if I passed you without a word, my dear young lady. I was preoccupied with business
matters.’ “I assured him that I was not offended.
‘By the way,’ said I, ‘you seem to have quite a suite of spare rooms up there, and
one of them has the shutters up.’ “He looked surprised and, as it seemed to
me, a little startled at my remark. “ ‘Photography is one of my hobbies,’
said he. ‘I have made my dark room up there. But, dear me! what an observant young lady
we have come upon. Who would have believed it? Who would have ever believed it?’ He
spoke in a jesting tone, but there was no jest in his eyes as he looked at me. I read
suspicion there and annoyance, but no jest. “Well, Mr. Holmes, from the moment that
I understood that there was something about that suite of rooms which I was not to know,
I was all on fire to go over them. It was not mere curiosity, though I have my share
of that. It was more a feeling of duty—a feeling that some good might come from my
penetrating to this place. They talk of woman’s instinct; perhaps it was woman’s instinct
which gave me that feeling. At any rate, it was there, and I was keenly on the lookout
for any chance to pass the forbidden door. “It was only yesterday that the chance came.
I may tell you that, besides Mr. Rucastle, both Toller and his wife find something to
do in these deserted rooms, and I once saw him carrying a large black linen bag with
him through the door. Recently he has been drinking hard, and yesterday evening he was
very drunk; and when I came upstairs there was the key in the door. I have no doubt at
all that he had left it there. Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle were both downstairs, and the child
was with them, so that I had an admirable opportunity. I turned the key gently in the
lock, opened the door, and slipped through. “There was a little passage in front of
me, unpapered and uncarpeted, which turned at a right angle at the farther end. Round
this corner were three doors in a line, the first and third of which were open. They each
led into an empty room, dusty and cheerless, with two windows in the one and one in the
other, so thick with dirt that the evening light glimmered dimly through them. The centre
door was closed, and across the outside of it had been fastened one of the broad bars
of an iron bed, padlocked at one end to a ring in the wall, and fastened at the other
with stout cord. The door itself was locked as well, and the key was not there. This barricaded
door corresponded clearly with the shuttered window outside, and yet I could see by the
glimmer from beneath it that the room was not in darkness. Evidently there was a skylight
which let in light from above. As I stood in the passage gazing at the sinister door
and wondering what secret it might veil, I suddenly heard the sound of steps within the
room and saw a shadow pass backward and forward against the little slit of dim light which
shone out from under the door. A mad, unreasoning terror rose up in me at the sight, Mr. Holmes.
My overstrung nerves failed me suddenly, and I turned and ran—ran as though some dreadful
hand were behind me clutching at the skirt of my dress. I rushed down the passage, through
the door, and straight into the arms of Mr. Rucastle, who was waiting outside.
“ ‘So,’ said he, smiling, ‘it was you, then. I thought that it must be when
I saw the door open.’ “ ‘Oh, I am so frightened!’ I panted.
“ ‘My dear young lady! my dear young lady!’—you cannot think how caressing
and soothing his manner was—‘and what has frightened you, my dear young lady?’
“But his voice was just a little too coaxing. He overdid it. I was keenly on my guard against
him. “ ‘I was foolish enough to go into the
empty wing,’ I answered. ‘But it is so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I
was frightened and ran out again. Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!’
“ ‘Only that?’ said he, looking at me keenly.
“ ‘Why, what did you think?’ I asked. “ ‘Why do you think that I lock this
door?’ “ ‘I am sure that I do not know.’
“ ‘It is to keep people out who have no business there. Do you see?’ He was still
smiling in the most amiable manner. “ ‘I am sure if I had known—’
“ ‘Well, then, you know now. And if you ever put your foot over that threshold again’—here
in an instant the smile hardened into a grin of rage, and he glared down at me with the
face of a demon—‘I’ll throw you to the mastiff.’
“I was so terrified that I do not know what I did. I suppose that I must have rushed past
him into my room. I remember nothing until I found myself lying on my bed trembling all
over. Then I thought of you, Mr. Holmes. I could not live there longer without some advice.
I was frightened of the house, of the man, of the woman, of the servants, even of the
child. They were all horrible to me. If I could only bring you down all would be well.
Of course I might have fled from the house, but my curiosity was almost as strong as my
fears. My mind was soon made up. I would send you a wire. I put on my hat and cloak, went
down to the office, which is about half a mile from the house, and then returned, feeling
very much easier. A horrible doubt came into my mind as I approached the door lest the
dog might be loose, but I remembered that Toller had drunk himself into a state of insensibility
that evening, and I knew that he was the only one in the household who had any influence
with the savage creature, or who would venture to set him free. I slipped in in safety and
lay awake half the night in my joy at the thought of seeing you. I had no difficulty
in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must be back before three o’clock,
for Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle are going on a visit, and will be away all the evening, so that
I must look after the child. Now I have told you all my adventures, Mr. Holmes, and I should
be very glad if you could tell me what it all means, and, above all, what I should do.”
Holmes and I had listened spellbound to this extraordinary story. My friend rose now and
paced up and down the room, his hands in his pockets, and an expression of the most profound
gravity upon his face. “Is Toller still drunk?” he asked.
“Yes. I heard his wife tell Mrs. Rucastle that she could do nothing with him.”
“That is well. And the Rucastles go out to-night?”
“Yes.” “Is there a cellar with a good strong lock?”
“Yes, the wine-cellar.” “You seem to me to have acted all through
this matter like a very brave and sensible girl, Miss Hunter. Do you think that you could
perform one more feat? I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptional
woman.” “I will try. What is it?”
“We shall be at the Copper Beeches by seven o’clock, my friend and I. The Rucastles
will be gone by that time, and Toller will, we hope, be incapable. There only remains
Mrs. Toller, who might give the alarm. If you could send her into the cellar on some
errand, and then turn the key upon her, you would facilitate matters immensely.”
“I will do it.” “Excellent! We shall then look thoroughly
into the affair. Of course there is only one feasible explanation. You have been brought
there to personate someone, and the real person is imprisoned in this chamber. That is obvious.
As to who this prisoner is, I have no doubt that it is the daughter, Miss Alice Rucastle,
if I remember right, who was said to have gone to America. You were chosen, doubtless,
as resembling her in height, figure, and the colour of your hair. Hers had been cut off,
very possibly in some illness through which she has passed, and so, of course, yours had
to be sacrificed also. By a curious chance you came upon her tresses. The man in the
road was undoubtedly some friend of hers—possibly her fiancé—and no doubt, as you wore the
girl’s dress and were so like her, he was convinced from your laughter, whenever he
saw you, and afterwards from your gesture, that Miss Rucastle was perfectly happy, and
that she no longer desired his attentions. The dog is let loose at night to prevent him
from endeavouring to communicate with her. So much is fairly clear. The most serious
point in the case is the disposition of the child.”
“What on earth has that to do with it?” I ejaculated.
“My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies
of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see that the converse is equally valid.
I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying
their children. This child’s disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty’s
sake, and whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from
his mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power.”
“I am sure that you are right, Mr. Holmes,” cried our client. “A thousand things come
back to me which make me certain that you have hit it. Oh, let us lose not an instant
in bringing help to this poor creature.” “We must be circumspect, for we are dealing
with a very cunning man. We can do nothing until seven o’clock. At that hour we shall
be with you, and it will not be long before we solve the mystery.”
We were as good as our word, for it was just seven when we reached the Copper Beeches,
having put up our trap at a wayside public-house. The group of trees, with their dark leaves
shining like burnished metal in the light of the setting sun, were sufficient to mark
the house even had Miss Hunter not been standing smiling on the door-step.
“Have you managed it?” asked Holmes. A loud thudding noise came from somewhere
downstairs. “That is Mrs. Toller in the cellar,” said she. “Her husband lies snoring
on the kitchen rug. Here are his keys, which are the duplicates of Mr. Rucastle’s.”
“You have done well indeed!” cried Holmes with enthusiasm. “Now lead the way, and
we shall soon see the end of this black business.” We passed up the stair, unlocked the door,
followed on down a passage, and found ourselves in front of the barricade which Miss Hunter
had described. Holmes cut the cord and removed the transverse bar. Then he tried the various
keys in the lock, but without success. No sound came from within, and at the silence
Holmes’ face clouded over. “I trust that we are not too late,” said
he. “I think, Miss Hunter, that we had better go in without you. Now, Watson, put your shoulder
to it, and we shall see whether we cannot make our way in.”
It was an old rickety door and gave at once before our united strength. Together we rushed
into the room. It was empty. There was no furniture save a little pallet bed, a small
table, and a basketful of linen. The skylight above was open, and the prisoner gone.
“There has been some villainy here,” said Holmes; “this beauty has guessed Miss Hunter’s
intentions and has carried his victim off.” “But how?”
“Through the skylight. We shall soon see how he managed it.” He swung himself up
onto the roof. “Ah, yes,” he cried, “here’s the end of a long light ladder against the
eaves. That is how he did it.” “But it is impossible,” said Miss Hunter;
“the ladder was not there when the Rucastles went away.”
“He has come back and done it. I tell you that he is a clever and dangerous man. I should
not be very much surprised if this were he whose step I hear now upon the stair. I think,
Watson, that it would be as well for you to have your pistol ready.”
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a man appeared at the door of the room, a
very fat and burly man, with a heavy stick in his hand. Miss Hunter screamed and shrunk
against the wall at the sight of him, but Sherlock Holmes sprang forward and confronted
him. “You villain!” said he, “where’s your
daughter?” The fat man cast his eyes round, and then
up at the open skylight. “It is for me to ask you that,” he shrieked,
“you thieves! Spies and thieves! I have caught you, have I? You are in my power. I’ll
serve you!” He turned and clattered down the stairs as hard as he could go.
“He’s gone for the dog!” cried Miss Hunter.
“I have my revolver,” said I. “Better close the front door,” cried Holmes,
and we all rushed down the stairs together. We had hardly reached the hall when we heard
the baying of a hound, and then a scream of agony, with a horrible worrying sound which
it was dreadful to listen to. An elderly man with a red face and shaking limbs came staggering
out at a side door. “My God!” he cried. “Someone has loosed
the dog. It’s not been fed for two days. Quick, quick, or it’ll be too late!”
Holmes and I rushed out and round the angle of the house, with Toller hurrying behind
us. There was the huge famished brute, its black muzzle buried in Rucastle’s throat,
while he writhed and screamed upon the ground. Running up, I blew its brains out, and it
fell over with its keen white teeth still meeting in the great creases of his neck.
With much labour we separated them and carried him, living but horribly mangled, into the
house. We laid him upon the drawing-room sofa, and having dispatched the sobered Toller to
bear the news to his wife, I did what I could to relieve his pain. We were all assembled
round him when the door opened, and a tall, gaunt woman entered the room.
“Mrs. Toller!” cried Miss Hunter. “Yes, miss. Mr. Rucastle let me out when
he came back before he went up to you. Ah, miss, it is a pity you didn’t let me know
what you were planning, for I would have told you that your pains were wasted.”
“Ha!” said Holmes, looking keenly at her. “It is clear that Mrs. Toller knows more
about this matter than anyone else.” “Yes, sir, I do, and I am ready enough to
tell what I know.” “Then, pray, sit down, and let us hear it
for there are several points on which I must confess that I am still in the dark.”
“I will soon make it clear to you,” said she; “and I’d have done so before now
if I could ha’ got out from the cellar. If there’s police-court business over this,
you’ll remember that I was the one that stood your friend, and that I was Miss Alice’s
friend too. “She was never happy at home, Miss Alice
wasn’t, from the time that her father married again. She was slighted like and had no say
in anything, but it never really became bad for her until after she met Mr. Fowler at
a friend’s house. As well as I could learn, Miss Alice had rights of her own by will,
but she was so quiet and patient, she was, that she never said a word about them but
just left everything in Mr. Rucastle’s hands. He knew he was safe with her; but when there
was a chance of a husband coming forward, who would ask for all that the law would give
him, then her father thought it time to put a stop on it. He wanted her to sign a paper,
so that whether she married or not, he could use her money. When she wouldn’t do it,
he kept on worrying her until she got brain-fever, and for six weeks was at death’s door. Then
she got better at last, all worn to a shadow, and with her beautiful hair cut off; but that
didn’t make no change in her young man, and he stuck to her as true as man could be.”
“Ah,” said Holmes, “I think that what you have been good enough to tell us makes
the matter fairly clear, and that I can deduce all that remains. Mr. Rucastle then, I presume,
took to this system of imprisonment?” “Yes, sir.”
“And brought Miss Hunter down from London in order to get rid of the disagreeable persistence
of Mr. Fowler.” “That was it, sir.”
“But Mr. Fowler being a persevering man, as a good seaman should be, blockaded the
house, and having met you succeeded by certain arguments, metallic or otherwise, in convincing
you that your interests were the same as his.” “Mr. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free-handed
gentleman,” said Mrs. Toller serenely. “And in this way he managed that your good
man should have no want of drink, and that a ladder should be ready at the moment when
your master had gone out.” “You have it, sir, just as it happened.”
“I am sure we owe you an apology, Mrs. Toller,” said Holmes, “for you have certainly cleared
up everything which puzzled us. And here comes the country surgeon and Mrs. Rucastle, so
I think, Watson, that we had best escort Miss Hunter back to Winchester, as it seems to
me that our locus standi now is rather a questionable one.”
And thus was solved the mystery of the sinister house with the copper beeches in front of
the door. Mr. Rucastle survived, but was always a broken man, kept alive solely through the
care of his devoted wife. They still live with their old servants, who probably know
so much of Rucastle’s past life that he finds it difficult to part from them. Mr.
Fowler and Miss Rucastle were married, by special license, in Southampton the day after
their flight, and he is now the holder of a government appointment in the island of
Mauritius. As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested
no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems,
and she is now the head of a private school at Walsall, where I believe that she has met
with considerable success.

10 Comments

  1. Who was looking after the kid when the housekeeper was locked in the cellar and her husband was drunk. The parents went off and left him behind. I am not worried on account of him being a little sh*t! 😂

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