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
plovers egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in
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
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 wits end as to what I should do.
There is a well-known agency for governesses in the West
End called Westaways, 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
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?
And what salary do you ask?
I had £4 a month in my last place with Colonel
Oh, tut, tut! sweatingrank 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 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 childone 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
childs amusement, but the fathers laughter made me think that perhaps he was
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
Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be
offensive to you?
Or to cut your hair quite short before you come
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 wifes, and ladies fancies, you know,
madam, ladies fancies must be consulted. And so you wont cut your hair?
No, sir, I really could not, I answered
Ah, very well; then that quite settles the
matter. It is a pity, because in other respects you would really have done very nicely. In
that case, Miss Stoper, I had best inspect a few more of your young ladies.
The manageress had sat all this while busy with her
papers without a word to either of us, but she glanced at me now with so much annoyance
upon her face that I could not help suspecting that she had lost a handsome commission
through my refusal.
Do you desire your name to be kept upon the
books? she asked.
If you please, Miss Stoper.
Well, really, it seems rather useless, since you
refuse the most excellent offers in this fashion, said she sharply. You can
hardly expect us to exert ourselves to find another such opening for you. Good-day to you,
Miss Hunter. She struck a gong upon the table, and I was shown out by the page.
Well, Mr. Holmes, when I got back to my lodgings and
found little enough in the cupboard, and two or three bills upon the table, I began to ask
myself whether I had not done a very foolish thing. After all, if these people had strange
fads and expected obedience on the most extraordinary matters, they were at least ready to
pay for their eccentricity. Very few governesses in England are getting £100 a year.
Besides, what use was my hair to me? Many people are improved by wearing it short, and
perhaps I should be among the number. Next day I was inclined to think that I had made a
mistake, and by the day after I was sure of it. I had almost overcome my pride so far as
to go back to the agency and inquire whether the place was still open when I received this
letter from the gentleman himself. I have it here, and I will read it to you:
- The Copper Beeches, near Winchester.
- DEAR MISS HUNTER:
Miss Stoper has very kindly given me your address, and I
write from here to ask you whether you have reconsidered your decision. My wife is very
anxious that you should come, for she has been much attracted by my description of you. We
are willing to give £30 a quarter, or £120 a year, so as to recompense you for any
little inconvenience which our fads may cause you. They are not very exacting, after all.
My wife is fond of a particular shade of electric blue, and would like you to wear such a
dress indoors in  the
morning. You need not, however, go to the expense of purchasing one, as we have one
belonging to my dear daughter Alice (now in Philadelphia), which would, I should think,
fit you very well. Then, as to sitting here or there, or amusing yourself in any manner
indicated, that need cause you no inconvenience. As regards your hair, it is no doubt a
pity, especially as I could not help remarking its beauty during our short interview, but
I am afraid that I must remain firm upon this point, and I only hope that the increased
salary may recompense you for the loss. Your duties, as far as the child is concerned, are
very light. Now do try to come, and I shall meet you with the dog-cart at Winchester. Let
me know your train.
- Yours faithfully,
- JEPHRO RUCASTLE.
That is the letter which I have just received, Mr.
Holmes, and my mind is made up that I will accept it. I thought, however, that before
taking the final step I should like to submit the whole matter to your
Well, Miss Hunter, if your mind is made up, that settles
the question, said Holmes, smiling.
But you would not advise me to refuse?
I confess that it is not the situation which I should
like to see a sister of mine apply for.
What is the meaning of it all, Mr. Holmes?
Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell. Perhaps you have
yourself formed some opinion?
Well, there seems to me to be only one possible
solution. Mr. Rucastle seemed to be a very kind, good-natured man. Is it not possible that
his wife is a lunatic, that he desires to keep the matter quiet for fear she should be
taken to an asylum, and that he humours her fancies in every way in order to prevent an
That is a possible solutionin 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 goodtoo good. That
is what makes me uneasy. Why should they give you £120 a year, when they could have their
pick for £40? There must be some strong reason behind.
I thought that if I told you the circumstances you would
understand afterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger if I felt that
you were at the back of me.
Oh, you may carry that feeling away with you. I assure
you that your little problem promises to be the most interesting which has come my way for
some months. There is something distinctly novel about some of the features. If you should
find yourself in doubt or in danger
Danger! What danger do you foresee?
Holmes shook his head gravely. It would cease to be a
danger if we could define it, said he. But at any time, day or night, a
telegram would bring me down to your help.
That is enough. She rose briskly from her chair
with the anxiety all swept from her face. I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in
my mind now. I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair to-night, and
start for Winchester  to-morrow.
With a few grateful words to Holmes she bade us both good-night and bustled off upon her
At least, said I as we heard her quick, firm steps
descending the stairs, she seems to be a young lady who is very well able to take
care of herself.
And she would need to be, said Holmes gravely.
I am much mistaken if we do not hear from her before many days are past.
It was not very long before my friends 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 cant 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 wits end.
Will you come with me? asked Holmes, glancing
I should wish to.
Just look it up, then.
There is a train at half-past nine, said I,
glancing over my Bradshaw. It is due at Winchester at 11:30.
That will do very nicely. Then perhaps I had better
postpone my analysis of the acetones, as we may need to be at our best in the
By eleven oclock 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 mans 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.
Holmes shook his head gravely.
Do you know, Watson, said he, that it is one
of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with
reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are
impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a
feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed
Good heavens! I cried. Who would associate
crime with these dear old homesteads?
They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my
belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do
not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful
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 drunkards blow, does not beget
sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is
ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between
the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled
for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds
of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such
places, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in
Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of country which
makes the danger. Still, it is clear that she is not personally threatened.
No. If she can come to Winchester to meet us she can get
Quite so. She has her freedom.
What can be the matter, then? Can you suggest
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
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 Southertons preserves. A clump of copper beeches immediately in front of the
hall door has given its name to the place.
I was driven over by my employer, who was as amiable as
ever, and was introduced by him that evening to his wife and the child. There was no
truth, Mr. Holmes, in the conjecture which seemed to us to be probable in your rooms at
Baker Street. Mrs. Rucastle is not mad. I found her to be a silent, pale-faced woman, much
younger than her husband, not more than thirty, I should think, while he can hardly be
less than forty-five. From their conversation I have gathered that they have been married
about seven years, that he was a widower, and that his only child by the first wife was
the daughter who has gone to Philadelphia. Mr. Rucastle told me in private that the reason
why she had left them was that she had an unreasoning aversion to her stepmother. As the
daughter could not have been less than twenty, I can quite imagine that her position must
have been uncomfortable with her fathers 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 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
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
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 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
No, no, we should have him loitering here always.
Kindly turn round and wave him away like that.
I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs.
Rucastle drew down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again
in the window, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road.
Pray continue, said Holmes. Your narrative
promises to be a most interesting one.
You will find it rather disconnected, I fear, and there
may prove to be little relation between the different incidents of which I speak. On the
very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a small outhouse
which stands near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp rattling of a
chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving about.
Look in here! said Mr. Rucastle, showing me
a slit between two planks. Is he not a beauty?
I looked through and was conscious of two glowing eyes,
and of a vague figure huddled up in the darkness.
Dont be frightened, said my employer,
laughing at the start which I had given. Its 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 dont you ever on any pretext set your foot over the
threshold at night, for its 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 oclock in the morning. It was a
beautiful moonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered over and almost
as bright as day. I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was
aware that something was moving under the shadow of the copper beeches. As it emerged into
the moonshine I saw what it was. It was a giant dog, as large as a calf, tawny tinted,
with hanging jowl, black muzzle, and huge projecting bones. It walked slowly across the
lawn and vanished into the shadow upon the other side. That dreadful sentinel sent a chill
to my heart which I do not think that any burglar could have done.
And now I have a very strange experience to tell you. I
had, as you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great coil at the
bottom of my trunk. One evening, after the child was in bed, I began to amuse myself by
examining the furniture of my room and by rearranging my own little things. There was an
old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones empty and open, the lower one locked.
I had filled the first two with my linen, and as I had still much to pack away I was
naturally annoyed at not having the use of the third drawer. It struck me that it might
have been fastened by a mere oversight, so I took out my bunch of keys and tried to open
it. The very first key fitted to perfection, and I  drew the drawer open. There was only one thing in it,
but I am sure that you would never guess what it was. It was my coil of hair.
I took it up and examined it. It was of the same
peculiar tint, and the same thickness. But then the impossibility of the thing obtruded
itself upon me. How could my hair have been locked in the drawer? With trembling hands I
undid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the bottom my own hair. I laid the
two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Was it not extraordinary?
Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at all of what it meant. I returned the strange
hair to the drawer, and I said nothing of the matter to the Rucastles as I felt that I had
put myself in the wrong by opening a drawer which they had locked.
I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked,
Mr. Holmes, and I soon had a pretty good plan of the whole house in my head. There was one
wing, however, which appeared not to be inhabited at all. A door which faced that which
led into the quarters of the Tollers opened into this suite, but it was invariably locked.
One day, however, as I ascended the stair, I met Mr. Rucastle coming out through this
door, his keys in his hand, and a look on his face which made him a very different person
to the round, jovial man to whom I was accustomed. His cheeks were red, his brow was all
crinkled with anger, and the veins stood out at his temples with passion. He locked the
door and hurried past me without a word or a look.
This aroused my curiosity; so when I went out for a walk
in the grounds with my charge, I strolled round to the side from which I could see the
windows of this part of the house. There were four of them in a row, three of which were
simply dirty, while the fourth was shuttered up. They were evidently all deserted. As I
strolled up and down, glancing at them occasionally, Mr. Rucastle came out to me, looking
as merry and jovial as ever.
Ah! said he, you must not think me
rude if I passed you without a word, my dear young lady. I was preoccupied with business
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 dutya feeling that some good might come from my penetrating to this
place. They talk of womans instinct; perhaps it was womans instinct which gave
me that feeling. At any rate, it was there, and I was keenly on the lookout for any chance
to pass the forbidden door.
It was only yesterday that the chance came. I may tell
you that, besides Mr. Rucastle, both Toller and his wife find something to do in these
deserted rooms, and I once saw him carrying a large black linen bag with him through the
door. Recently he has been drinking hard, and yesterday evening he was very drunk; and
when I came upstairs there was the key in the door. I have no doubt at all that he  had left it there. Mr. and Mrs.
Rucastle were both downstairs, and the child was with them, so that I had an admirable
opportunity. I turned the key gently in the lock, opened the door, and slipped through.
There was a little passage in front of me, unpapered and
uncarpeted, which turned at a right angle at the farther end. Round this corner were three
doors in a line, the first and third of which were open. They each led into an empty room,
dusty and cheerless, with two windows in the one and one in the other, so thick with dirt
that the evening light glimmered dimly through them. The centre door was closed, and
across the outside of it had been fastened one of the broad bars of an iron bed, padlocked
at one end to a ring in the wall, and fastened at the other with stout cord. The door
itself was locked as well, and the key was not there. This barricaded door corresponded
clearly with the shuttered window outside, and yet I could see by the glimmer from beneath
it that the room was not in darkness. Evidently there was a skylight which let in light
from above. As I stood in the passage gazing at the sinister door and wondering what
secret it might veil, I suddenly heard the sound of steps within the room and saw a shadow
pass backward and forward against the little slit of dim light which shone out from under
the door. A mad, unreasoning terror rose up in me at the sight, Mr. Holmes. My overstrung
nerves failed me suddenly, and I turned and ranran 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 wasand
what has frightened you, my dear young lady?
But his voice was just a little too coaxing. He overdid
it. I was keenly on my guard against him.
I was foolish enough to go into the empty
wing, I answered. But it is so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I was
frightened and ran out again. Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!
Only that? said he, looking at me keenly.
Why, what did you think? I asked.
Why do you think that I lock this door?
I am sure that I do not know.
It is to keep people out who have no business
there. Do you see? He was still smiling in the most amiable manner.
I am sure if I had known
Well, then, you know now. And if you ever put
your foot over that threshold againhere in an instant the smile hardened into
a grin of rage, and he glared down at me with the face of a demonIll
throw you to the mastiff.
I was so terrified that I do not know what I did. I
suppose that I must have rushed past him into my room. I remember nothing until I found
myself lying on my bed trembling all over. Then I thought of you, Mr. Holmes. I could not
live there longer without some advice. I was frightened of the house, of the man, of the
woman, of the servants, even of the child. They were all horrible to me. If I could only
bring you down all would be well. Of course I might have fled from the house, but my
curiosity was almost as strong as my fears. My mind was  soon made up. I would send you a wire. I put on my hat
and cloak, went down to the office, which is about half a mile from the house, and then
returned, feeling very much easier. A horrible doubt came into my mind as I approached the
door lest the dog might be loose, but I remembered that Toller had drunk himself into a
state of insensibility that evening, and I knew that he was the only one in the household
who had any influence with the savage creature, or who would venture to set him free. I
slipped in in safety and lay awake half the night in my joy at the thought of seeing you.
I had no difficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I must be
back before three oclock, 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?
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 oclock,
my friend and I. The Rucastles will be gone by that time, and Toller will, we hope, be
incapable. There only remains Mrs. Toller, who might give the alarm. If you could send her
into the cellar on some errand, and then turn the key upon her, you would facilitate
I will do it.
Excellent! We shall then look thoroughly into the
affair. Of course there is only one feasible explanation. You have been brought there to
personate someone, and the real person is imprisoned in this chamber. That is obvious. As
to who this prisoner is, I have no doubt that it is the daughter, Miss Alice Rucastle, if
I remember right, who was said to have gone to America. You were chosen, doubtless, as
resembling her in height, figure, and the colour of your hair. Hers had been cut off, very
possibly in some illness through which she has passed, and so, of course, yours had to be
sacrificed also. By a curious chance you came upon her tresses. The man in the road was
undoubtedly some friend of herspossibly her fianceand no doubt, as you wore
the girls 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
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. Dont 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 childs disposition is abnormally cruel,
merely for crueltys sake, and whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I
should suspect, or from his mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their
I am sure that you are right, Mr. Holmes, cried
our client. A thousand things come back to me which make me certain that you have
hit it. Oh, let us lose not an instant in bringing help to this poor creature.
We must be circumspect, for we are dealing with a very
cunning man. We can do nothing until seven oclock. 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
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. Rucastles.
You have done well indeed! cried Holmes with
enthusiasm. Now lead the way, and we shall soon see the end of this black
We passed up the stair, unlocked the door, followed on down a
passage, and found ourselves in front of the barricade which Miss Hunter had described.
Holmes cut the cord and removed the transverse bar. Then he tried the various keys in the
lock, but without success. No sound came from within, and at the silence Holmess
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 Hunters intentions and has carried his victim
Through the skylight. We shall soon see how he managed
it. He swung himself up onto the roof. Ah, yes, he cried,
heres the end of a long light ladder against the eaves. That is how he did
But it is impossible, said Miss Hunter; the
ladder was not there when the Rucastles went away.
He has come back and done it. I tell you that he is a
clever and dangerous man. I should not be very much surprised if this were he whose step I
hear now upon the stair. I think, Watson, that it would be as well for you to have your
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a man appeared
at the door of the room, a very fat and burly man, with a heavy stick in his hand. Miss
Hunter  screamed and
shrunk against the wall at the sight of him, but Sherlock Holmes sprang forward and
You villain! said he, wheres your
The fat man cast his eyes round, and then up at the open
It is for me to ask you that, he shrieked,
you thieves! Spies and thieves! I have caught you, have I? You are in my power.
Ill serve you! He turned and clattered down the stairs as hard as he could go.
Hes 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. Its not been fed for two days. Quick, quick, or itll 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 Rucastles 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 didnt 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
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 Id have done so before now if I could ha got out from the cellar. If
theres police-court business over this, youll remember that I was the one that
stood your friend, and that I was Miss Alices friend too.
She was never happy at home, Miss Alice wasnt,
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
friends 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. Rucastles 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 wouldnt do it,
he kept on worrying her until she got brain-fever, and for six weeks was at deaths
door. Then she got better at last, all worn to a shadow, and  with her beautiful hair cut off; but that didnt
make no change in her young man, and he stuck to her as true as man could be.
Ah, said Holmes, I think that what you have
been good enough to tell us makes the matter fairly clear, and that I can deduce all that
remains. Mr. Rucastle then, I presume, took to this system of imprisonment?
And brought Miss Hunter down from London in order to get
rid of the disagreeable persistence of Mr. Fowler.
That was it, sir.
But Mr. Fowler being a persevering man, as a good seaman
should be, blockaded the house, and having met you succeeded by certain arguments,
metallic or otherwise, in convincing you that your interests were the same as his.
Mr. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free-handed
gentleman, said Mrs. Toller serenely.
And in this way he managed that your good man should
have no want of drink, and that a ladder should be ready at the moment when your master
had gone out.
You have it, sir, just as it happened.
I am sure we owe you an apology, Mrs. Toller, said
Holmes, for you have certainly cleared up everything which puzzled us. And here
comes the country surgeon and Mrs. Rucastle, so I think, Watson, that we had best escort
Miss Hunter back to Winchester, as it seems to me that our locus standi now is
rather a 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 Rucastles 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.