To put this volume back on the shelf, please click here.
To return to the Table of Contents, please click here
The Diogenes Club Logo

Adventure XII:
The Adventure of the
Copper Beeches
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Strand Magazine
June, 1892

"Good old Index.  You can't beat it."
The Diogenes Club:  Information about The Copper Beeches
Information about
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, occasion-
ally to embellish, you have given prominence not so much to
the many causes celebres 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 unob-
servant 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 eve-
ning, 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 investiga-
tion. 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 colo-
nel 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 deport-
ment of a lady? There it is in a nutshell. If you have not, you are
not fined 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 wonn'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 suspect-
ing 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 inciined
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 Mlss 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 l 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, how-
ever, 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 dis-
tinctly 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 descend-
ing 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 ful-
filled. 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 gray 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 indigna-
tion 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 expla-
nation?"
  "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 step-
mother. As the daughter could not have been less than twenty, I
can quite imagine-that her position must have been uncomfort-
able 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 gray 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 dispro-
portionately 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 reper-
toire, 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 gray 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 be-
tween 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 bonom 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 invaria-
bly 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 occasion-
ally, 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 penetrat-
ing 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 some-
thing 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 an-
swered. '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 ali
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 insensi-
bility 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 fiance -- 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 after-
wards 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 suffi-
cient 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 enthusi-
asm. "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's 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 pris-
oner 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 ap-
peared 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 l? 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 gentle-
man," 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.

To return to the Table of Contents, please click here
The Diogenes Club:  (c) Copyright 1999-2000 The Diogenes Club All Rights Reserved