The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
illustrations by Sidney Paget
"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 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
"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
"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
"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.
"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,
"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
"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.
"'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
"'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
"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
"'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
"'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,
"'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?'
"'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
"'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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Just look up the trains in Bradshaw," said he, and turned back to his
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.
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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 repertoire, 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
"'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
"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
"'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
"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
"'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
"He looked surprised and, as it seemed to me, a little startled at my
"'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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"That is well. And the Rucastles go out to-night?"
"Is there a cellar with a good strong lock?"
"Yes, the wine-cellar."
"You seem to me to have acted all through this matter like a very brave
and sensible girl, Miss Hunter. Do you think that you could perform one more
feat? I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptional
"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 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."
"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?"
"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
"Mr. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free-handed gentleman," said Mrs.
"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
"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