The Adventure Of 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
"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
It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and
"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,
"Do you know the young lady?" I asked.
"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
"'You are looking for a situation, miss?' he asked.
"'And what salary do you ask?'
"'I had 4 pounds a month in my last place with Colonel Spence
"'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 pounds 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
"'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
"'My sole duties, then,' I asked, 'are to take charge of a single
"'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.
"'No,' said I, considerably astonished at his words.
"'Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensive to
"'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
"'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 pounds 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 pounds a quarter, or 120 pounds 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
"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 pounds a year, when
they could have their pick for 40 pounds? 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
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
"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
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
"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
"'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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"'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
"'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
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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"There has been some villainy here," said Holmes; "this beauty
has guessed Miss Hunter's intentions and has carried his victim
"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
"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
"You villain!" said he, "where's your daughter?"
The fat man cast his eyes round, and then up at the open
"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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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
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.
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