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

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 pounds 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 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

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 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

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 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

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.





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