B1 Intermediate US 14667 Folder Collection
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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Adventure XI. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BERYL CORONET
"Holmes," said I as I stood one morning in our bow-window looking down the street,
"here is a madman coming along. It seems rather sad that his relatives
should allow him to come out alone."
My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with his hands in the pockets of his
dressing-gown, looking over my shoulder.
It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snow of the day before still lay
deep upon the ground, shimmering brightly in the wintry sun.
Down the centre of Baker Street it had been ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the
traffic, but at either side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it still
lay as white as when it fell.
The grey pavement had been cleaned and scraped, but was still dangerously
slippery, so that there were fewer passengers than usual.
Indeed, from the direction of the Metropolitan Station no one was coming save
the single gentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention.
He was a man of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with a massive, strongly
marked face and a commanding figure.
He was dressed in a sombre yet rich style, in black frock-coat, shining hat, neat
brown gaiters, and well-cut pearl-grey trousers.
Yet his actions were in absurd contrast to the dignity of his dress and features, for
he was running hard, with occasional little springs, such as a weary man gives who is
little accustomed to set any tax upon his legs.
As he ran he jerked his hands up and down, waggled his head, and writhed his face into
the most extraordinary contortions.
"What on earth can be the matter with him?" I asked.
"He is looking up at the numbers of the houses."
"I believe that he is coming here," said Holmes, rubbing his hands.
"Here?" "Yes; I rather think he is coming to
consult me professionally.
I think that I recognise the symptoms. Ha! did I not tell you?"
As he spoke, the man, puffing and blowing, rushed at our door and pulled at our bell
until the whole house resounded with the clanging.
A few moments later he was in our room, still puffing, still gesticulating, but
with so fixed a look of grief and despair in his eyes that our smiles were turned in
an instant to horror and pity.
For a while he could not get his words out, but swayed his body and plucked at his hair
like one who has been driven to the extreme limits of his reason.
Then, suddenly springing to his feet, he beat his head against the wall with such
force that we both rushed upon him and tore him away to the centre of the room.
Sherlock Holmes pushed him down into the easy-chair and, sitting beside him, patted
his hand and chatted with him in the easy, soothing tones which he knew so well how to
employ.
"You have come to me to tell your story, have you not?" said he.
"You are fatigued with your haste.
Pray wait until you have recovered yourself, and then I shall be most happy to
look into any little problem which you may submit to me."
The man sat for a minute or more with a heaving chest, fighting against his
emotion.
Then he passed his handkerchief over his brow, set his lips tight, and turned his
face towards us. "No doubt you think me mad?" said he.
"I see that you have had some great trouble," responded Holmes.
"God knows I have!--a trouble which is enough to unseat my reason, so sudden and
so terrible is it.
Public disgrace I might have faced, although I am a man whose character has
never yet borne a stain.
Private affliction also is the lot of every man; but the two coming together, and in so
frightful a form, have been enough to shake my very soul.
Besides, it is not I alone.
The very noblest in the land may suffer unless some way be found out of this
horrible affair."
"Pray compose yourself, sir," said Holmes, "and let me have a clear account of who you
are and what it is that has befallen you." "My name," answered our visitor, "is
probably familiar to your ears.
I am Alexander Holder, of the banking firm of Holder & Stevenson, of Threadneedle
Street."
The name was indeed well known to us as belonging to the senior partner in the
second largest private banking concern in the City of London.
What could have happened, then, to bring one of the foremost citizens of London to
this most pitiable pass?
We waited, all curiosity, until with another effort he braced himself to tell
his story.
"I feel that time is of value," said he; "that is why I hastened here when the
police inspector suggested that I should secure your co-operation.
I came to Baker Street by the Underground and hurried from there on foot, for the
cabs go slowly through this snow. That is why I was so out of breath, for I
am a man who takes very little exercise.
I feel better now, and I will put the facts before you as shortly and yet as clearly as
I can.
"It is, of course, well known to you that in a successful banking business as much
depends upon our being able to find remunerative investments for our funds as
upon our increasing our connection and the number of our depositors.
One of our most lucrative means of laying out money is in the shape of loans, where
the security is unimpeachable.
We have done a good deal in this direction during the last few years, and there are
many noble families to whom we have advanced large sums upon the security of
their pictures, libraries, or plate.
"Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bank when a card was brought
in to me by one of the clerks.
I started when I saw the name, for it was that of none other than--well, perhaps even
to you I had better say no more than that it was a name which is a household word all
over the earth--one of the highest, noblest, most exalted names in England.
I was overwhelmed by the honour and attempted, when he entered, to say so, but
he plunged at once into business with the air of a man who wishes to hurry quickly
through a disagreeable task.
"'Mr. Holder,' said he, 'I have been informed that you are in the habit of
advancing money.' "'The firm does so when the security is
good.'
I answered. "'It is absolutely essential to me,' said
he, 'that I should have 50,000 pounds at once.
I could, of course, borrow so trifling a sum ten times over from my friends, but I
much prefer to make it a matter of business and to carry out that business myself.
In my position you can readily understand that it is unwise to place one's self under
obligations.' "'For how long, may I ask, do you want this
sum?'
I asked. "'Next Monday I have a large sum due to me,
and I shall then most certainly repay what you advance, with whatever interest you
think it right to charge.
But it is very essential to me that the money should be paid at once.'
"'I should be happy to advance it without further parley from my own private purse,'
said I, 'were it not that the strain would be rather more than it could bear.
If, on the other hand, I am to do it in the name of the firm, then in justice to my
partner I must insist that, even in your case, every businesslike precaution should
be taken.'
"'I should much prefer to have it so,' said he, raising up a square, black morocco case
which he had laid beside his chair. 'You have doubtless heard of the Beryl
Coronet?'
"'One of the most precious public possessions of the empire,' said I.
"'Precisely.'
He opened the case, and there, imbedded in soft, flesh-coloured velvet, lay the
magnificent piece of jewellery which he had named.
'There are thirty-nine enormous beryls,' said he, 'and the price of the gold chasing
is incalculable.
The lowest estimate would put the worth of the coronet at double the sum which I have
asked. I am prepared to leave it with you as my
security.'
"I took the precious case into my hands and looked in some perplexity from it to my
illustrious client. "'You doubt its value?' he asked.
"'Not at all.
I only doubt--' "'The propriety of my leaving it.
You may set your mind at rest about that.
I should not dream of doing so were it not absolutely certain that I should be able in
four days to reclaim it. It is a pure matter of form.
Is the security sufficient?'
"'Ample.' "'You understand, Mr. Holder, that I am
giving you a strong proof of the confidence which I have in you, founded upon all that
I have heard of you.
I rely upon you not only to be discreet and to refrain from all gossip upon the matter
but, above all, to preserve this coronet with every possible precaution because I
need not say that a great public scandal
would be caused if any harm were to befall it.
Any injury to it would be almost as serious as its complete loss, for there are no
beryls in the world to match these, and it would be impossible to replace them.
I leave it with you, however, with every confidence, and I shall call for it in
person on Monday morning.'
"Seeing that my client was anxious to leave, I said no more but, calling for my
cashier, I ordered him to pay over fifty 1000 pound notes.
When I was alone once more, however, with the precious case lying upon the table in
front of me, I could not but think with some misgivings of the immense
responsibility which it entailed upon me.
There could be no doubt that, as it was a national possession, a horrible scandal
would ensue if any misfortune should occur to it.
I already regretted having ever consented to take charge of it.
However, it was too late to alter the matter now, so I locked it up in my private
safe and turned once more to my work.
"When evening came I felt that it would be an imprudence to leave so precious a thing
in the office behind me. Bankers' safes had been forced before now,
and why should not mine be?
If so, how terrible would be the position in which I should find myself!
I determined, therefore, that for the next few days I would always carry the case
backward and forward with me, so that it might never be really out of my reach.
With this intention, I called a cab and drove out to my house at Streatham,
carrying the jewel with me.
I did not breathe freely until I had taken it upstairs and locked it in the bureau of
my dressing-room.
"And now a word as to my household, Mr. Holmes, for I wish you to thoroughly
understand the situation. My groom and my page sleep out of the
house, and may be set aside altogether.
I have three maid-servants who have been with me a number of years and whose
absolute reliability is quite above suspicion.
Another, Lucy Parr, the second waiting- maid, has only been in my service a few
months.
She came with an excellent character, however, and has always given me
satisfaction.
She is a very pretty girl and has attracted admirers who have occasionally hung about
the place.
That is the only drawback which we have found to her, but we believe her to be a
thoroughly good girl in every way. "So much for the servants.
My family itself is so small that it will not take me long to describe it.
I am a widower and have an only son, Arthur.
He has been a disappointment to me, Mr. Holmes--a grievous disappointment.
I have no doubt that I am myself to blame. People tell me that I have spoiled him.
Very likely I have.
When my dear wife died I felt that he was all I had to love.
I could not bear to see the smile fade even for a moment from his face.
I have never denied him a wish.
Perhaps it would have been better for both of us had I been sterner, but I meant it
for the best.
"It was naturally my intention that he should succeed me in my business, but he
was not of a business turn.
He was wild, wayward, and, to speak the truth, I could not trust him in the
handling of large sums of money.
When he was young he became a member of an aristocratic club, and there, having
charming manners, he was soon the intimate of a number of men with long purses and
expensive habits.
He learned to play heavily at cards and to squander money on the turf, until he had
again and again to come to me and implore me to give him an advance upon his
allowance, that he might settle his debts of honour.
He tried more than once to break away from the dangerous company which he was keeping,
but each time the influence of his friend, Sir George Burnwell, was enough to draw him
back again.
"And, indeed, I could not wonder that such a man as Sir George Burnwell should gain an
influence over him, for he has frequently brought him to my house, and I have found
myself that I could hardly resist the fascination of his manner.
He is older than Arthur, a man of the world to his finger-tips, one who had been
everywhere, seen everything, a brilliant talker, and a man of great personal beauty.
Yet when I think of him in cold blood, far away from the glamour of his presence, I am
convinced from his cynical speech and the look which I have caught in his eyes that
he is one who should be deeply distrusted.
So I think, and so, too, thinks my little Mary, who has a woman's quick insight into
character. "And now there is only she to be described.
She is my niece; but when my brother died five years ago and left her alone in the
world I adopted her, and have looked upon her ever since as my daughter.
She is a sunbeam in my house--sweet, loving, beautiful, a wonderful manager and
housekeeper, yet as tender and quiet and gentle as a woman could be.
She is my right hand.
I do not know what I could do without her. In only one matter has she ever gone
against my wishes.
Twice my boy has asked her to marry him, for he loves her devotedly, but each time
she has refused him.
I think that if anyone could have drawn him into the right path it would have been she,
and that his marriage might have changed his whole life; but now, alas! it is too
late--forever too late!
"Now, Mr. Holmes, you know the people who live under my roof, and I shall continue
with my miserable story.
"When we were taking coffee in the drawing- room that night after dinner, I told Arthur
and Mary my experience, and of the precious treasure which we had under our roof,
suppressing only the name of my client.
Lucy Parr, who had brought in the coffee, had, I am sure, left the room; but I cannot
swear that the door was closed.
Mary and Arthur were much interested and wished to see the famous coronet, but I
thought it better not to disturb it. "'Where have you put it?' asked Arthur.
"'In my own bureau.'
"'Well, I hope to goodness the house won't be burgled during the night.' said he.
"'It is locked up,' I answered. "'Oh, any old key will fit that bureau.
When I was a youngster I have opened it myself with the key of the box-room
cupboard.' "He often had a wild way of talking, so
that I thought little of what he said.
He followed me to my room, however, that night with a very grave face.
"'Look here, dad,' said he with his eyes cast down, 'can you let me have 200
pounds?'
"'No, I cannot!' I answered sharply.
'I have been far too generous with you in money matters.'
"'You have been very kind,' said he, 'but I must have this money, or else I can never
show my face inside the club again.' "'And a very good thing, too!'
I cried.
"'Yes, but you would not have me leave it a dishonoured man,' said he.
'I could not bear the disgrace.
I must raise the money in some way, and if you will not let me have it, then I must
try other means.' "I was very angry, for this was the third
demand during the month.
'You shall not have a farthing from me,' I cried, on which he bowed and left the room
without another word.
"When he was gone I unlocked my bureau, made sure that my treasure was safe, and
locked it again.
Then I started to go round the house to see that all was secure--a duty which I usually
leave to Mary but which I thought it well to perform myself that night.
As I came down the stairs I saw Mary herself at the side window of the hall,
which she closed and fastened as I approached.
"'Tell me, dad,' said she, looking, I thought, a little disturbed, 'did you give
Lucy, the maid, leave to go out to-night?' "'Certainly not.'
"'She came in just now by the back door.
I have no doubt that she has only been to the side gate to see someone, but I think
that it is hardly safe and should be stopped.'
"'You must speak to her in the morning, or I will if you prefer it.
Are you sure that everything is fastened?' "'Quite sure, dad.'
"'Then, good-night.'
I kissed her and went up to my bedroom again, where I was soon asleep.
"I am endeavouring to tell you everything, Mr. Holmes, which may have any bearing upon
the case, but I beg that you will question me upon any point which I do not make
clear."
"On the contrary, your statement is singularly lucid."
"I come to a part of my story now in which I should wish to be particularly so.
I am not a very heavy sleeper, and the anxiety in my mind tended, no doubt, to
make me even less so than usual. About two in the morning, then, I was
awakened by some sound in the house.
It had ceased ere I was wide awake, but it had left an impression behind it as though
a window had gently closed somewhere. I lay listening with all my ears.
Suddenly, to my horror, there was a distinct sound of footsteps moving softly
in the next room.
I slipped out of bed, all palpitating with fear, and peeped round the corner of my
dressing-room door. "'Arthur!'
I screamed, 'you villain! you thief!
How dare you touch that coronet?' "The gas was half up, as I had left it, and
my unhappy boy, dressed only in his shirt and trousers, was standing beside the
light, holding the coronet in his hands.
He appeared to be wrenching at it, or bending it with all his strength.
At my cry he dropped it from his grasp and turned as pale as death.
I snatched it up and examined it.
One of the gold corners, with three of the beryls in it, was missing.
"'You blackguard!' I shouted, beside myself with rage.
'You have destroyed it!
You have dishonoured me forever! Where are the jewels which you have
stolen?' "'Stolen!' he cried.
"'Yes, thief!'
I roared, shaking him by the shoulder. "'There are none missing.
There cannot be any missing,' said he. "'There are three missing.
And you know where they are.
Must I call you a liar as well as a thief? Did I not see you trying to tear off
another piece?' "'You have called me names enough,' said
he, 'I will not stand it any longer.
I shall not say another word about this business, since you have chosen to insult
me. I will leave your house in the morning and
make my own way in the world.'
"'You shall leave it in the hands of the police!'
I cried half-mad with grief and rage. 'I shall have this matter probed to the
bottom.'
"'You shall learn nothing from me,' said he with a passion such as I should not have
thought was in his nature. 'If you choose to call the police, let the
police find what they can.'
"By this time the whole house was astir, for I had raised my voice in my anger.
Mary was the first to rush into my room, and, at the sight of the coronet and of
Arthur's face, she read the whole story and, with a scream, fell down senseless on
the ground.
I sent the house-maid for the police and put the investigation into their hands at
once.
When the inspector and a constable entered the house, Arthur, who had stood sullenly
with his arms folded, asked me whether it was my intention to charge him with theft.
I answered that it had ceased to be a private matter, but had become a public
one, since the ruined coronet was national property.
I was determined that the law should have its way in everything.
"'At least,' said he, 'you will not have me arrested at once.
It would be to your advantage as well as mine if I might leave the house for five
minutes.'
"'That you may get away, or perhaps that you may conceal what you have stolen,' said
I.
And then, realising the dreadful position in which I was placed, I implored him to
remember that not only my honour but that of one who was far greater than I was at
stake; and that he threatened to raise a scandal which would convulse the nation.
He might avert it all if he would but tell me what he had done with the three missing
stones.
"'You may as well face the matter,' said I; 'you have been caught in the act, and no
confession could make your guilt more heinous.
If you but make such reparation as is in your power, by telling us where the beryls
are, all shall be forgiven and forgotten.'
"'Keep your forgiveness for those who ask for it,' he answered, turning away from me
with a sneer. I saw that he was too hardened for any
words of mine to influence him.
There was but one way for it. I called in the inspector and gave him into
custody.
A search was made at once not only of his person but of his room and of every portion
of the house where he could possibly have concealed the gems; but no trace of them
could be found, nor would the wretched boy
open his mouth for all our persuasions and our threats.
This morning he was removed to a cell, and I, after going through all the police
formalities, have hurried round to you to implore you to use your skill in
unravelling the matter.
The police have openly confessed that they can at present make nothing of it.
You may go to any expense which you think necessary.
I have already offered a reward of 1000 pounds.
My God, what shall I do! I have lost my honour, my gems, and my son
in one night.
Oh, what shall I do!" He put a hand on either side of his head
and rocked himself to and fro, droning to himself like a child whose grief has got
beyond words.
Sherlock Holmes sat silent for some few minutes, with his brows knitted and his
eyes fixed upon the fire. "Do you receive much company?" he asked.
"None save my partner with his family and an occasional friend of Arthur's.
Sir George Burnwell has been several times lately.
No one else, I think."
"Do you go out much in society?" "Arthur does.
Mary and I stay at home. We neither of us care for it."
"That is unusual in a young girl."
"She is of a quiet nature. Besides, she is not so very young.
She is four-and-twenty." "This matter, from what you say, seems to
have been a shock to her also."
"Terrible! She is even more affected than I."
"You have neither of you any doubt as to your son's guilt?"
"How can we have when I saw him with my own eyes with the coronet in his hands."
"I hardly consider that a conclusive proof. Was the remainder of the coronet at all
injured?"
"Yes, it was twisted." "Do you not think, then, that he might have
been trying to straighten it?" "God bless you!
You are doing what you can for him and for me.
But it is too heavy a task. What was he doing there at all?
If his purpose were innocent, why did he not say so?"
"Precisely. And if it were guilty, why did he not
invent a lie?
His silence appears to me to cut both ways. There are several singular points about the
case. What did the police think of the noise
which awoke you from your sleep?"
"They considered that it might be caused by Arthur's closing his bedroom door."
"A likely story! As if a man bent on felony would slam his
door so as to wake a household.
What did they say, then, of the disappearance of these gems?"
"They are still sounding the planking and probing the furniture in the hope of
finding them."
"Have they thought of looking outside the house?"
"Yes, they have shown extraordinary energy. The whole garden has already been minutely
examined."
"Now, my dear sir," said Holmes, "is it not obvious to you now that this matter really
strikes very much deeper than either you or the police were at first inclined to think?
It appeared to you to be a simple case; to me it seems exceedingly complex.
Consider what is involved by your theory.
You suppose that your son came down from his bed, went, at great risk, to your
dressing-room, opened your bureau, took out your coronet, broke off by main force a
small portion of it, went off to some other
place, concealed three gems out of the thirty-nine, with such skill that nobody
can find them, and then returned with the other thirty-six into the room in which he
exposed himself to the greatest danger of being discovered.
I ask you now, is such a theory tenable?" "But what other is there?" cried the banker
with a gesture of despair.
"If his motives were innocent, why does he not explain them?"
"It is our task to find that out," replied Holmes; "so now, if you please, Mr. Holder,
we will set off for Streatham together, and devote an hour to glancing a little more
closely into details."
My friend insisted upon my accompanying them in their expedition, which I was eager
enough to do, for my curiosity and sympathy were deeply stirred by the story to which
we had listened.
I confess that the guilt of the banker's son appeared to me to be as obvious as it
did to his unhappy father, but still I had such faith in Holmes' judgment that I felt
that there must be some grounds for hope as
long as he was dissatisfied with the accepted explanation.
He hardly spoke a word the whole way out to the southern suburb, but sat with his chin
upon his breast and his hat drawn over his eyes, sunk in the deepest thought.
Our client appeared to have taken fresh heart at the little glimpse of hope which
had been presented to him, and he even broke into a desultory chat with me over
his business affairs.
A short railway journey and a shorter walk brought us to Fairbank, the modest
residence of the great financier.
Fairbank was a good-sized square house of white stone, standing back a little from
the road.
A double carriage-sweep, with a snow-clad lawn, stretched down in front to two large
iron gates which closed the entrance.
On the right side was a small wooden thicket, which led into a narrow path
between two neat hedges stretching from the road to the kitchen door, and forming the
tradesmen's entrance.
On the left ran a lane which led to the stables, and was not itself within the
grounds at all, being a public, though little used, thoroughfare.
Holmes left us standing at the door and walked slowly all round the house, across
the front, down the tradesmen's path, and so round by the garden behind into the
stable lane.
So long was he that Mr. Holder and I went into the dining-room and waited by the fire
until he should return. We were sitting there in silence when the
door opened and a young lady came in.
She was rather above the middle height, slim, with dark hair and eyes, which seemed
the darker against the absolute pallor of her skin.
I do not think that I have ever seen such deadly paleness in a woman's face.
Her lips, too, were bloodless, but her eyes were flushed with crying.
As she swept silently into the room she impressed me with a greater sense of grief
than the banker had done in the morning, and it was the more striking in her as she
was evidently a woman of strong character, with immense capacity for self-restraint.
Disregarding my presence, she went straight to her uncle and passed her hand over his
head with a sweet womanly caress.
"You have given orders that Arthur should be liberated, have you not, dad?" she
asked. "No, no, my girl, the matter must be probed
to the bottom."
"But I am so sure that he is innocent. You know what woman's instincts are.
I know that he has done no harm and that you will be sorry for having acted so
harshly."
"Why is he silent, then, if he is innocent?"
"Who knows? Perhaps because he was so angry that you
should suspect him."
"How could I help suspecting him, when I actually saw him with the coronet in his
hand?" "Oh, but he had only picked it up to look
at it.
Oh, do, do take my word for it that he is innocent.
Let the matter drop and say no more. It is so dreadful to think of our dear
Arthur in prison!"
"I shall never let it drop until the gems are found--never, Mary!
Your affection for Arthur blinds you as to the awful consequences to me.
Far from hushing the thing up, I have brought a gentleman down from London to
inquire more deeply into it." "This gentleman?" she asked, facing round
to me.
"No, his friend. He wished us to leave him alone.
He is round in the stable lane now." "The stable lane?"
She raised her dark eyebrows.
"What can he hope to find there? Ah! this, I suppose, is he.
I trust, sir, that you will succeed in proving, what I feel sure is the truth,
that my cousin Arthur is innocent of this crime."
"I fully share your opinion, and I trust, with you, that we may prove it," returned
Holmes, going back to the mat to knock the snow from his shoes.
"I believe I have the honour of addressing Miss Mary Holder.
Might I ask you a question or two?" "Pray do, sir, if it may help to clear this
horrible affair up."
"You heard nothing yourself last night?" "Nothing, until my uncle here began to
speak loudly. I heard that, and I came down."
"You shut up the windows and doors the night before.
Did you fasten all the windows?" "Yes."
"Were they all fastened this morning?"
"Yes." "You have a maid who has a sweetheart?
I think that you remarked to your uncle last night that she had been out to see
him?"
"Yes, and she was the girl who waited in the drawing-room, and who may have heard
uncle's remarks about the coronet." "I see.
You infer that she may have gone out to tell her sweetheart, and that the two may
have planned the robbery."
"But what is the good of all these vague theories," cried the banker impatiently,
"when I have told you that I saw Arthur with the coronet in his hands?"
"Wait a little, Mr. Holder.
We must come back to that. About this girl, Miss Holder.
You saw her return by the kitchen door, I presume?"
"Yes; when I went to see if the door was fastened for the night I met her slipping
in. I saw the man, too, in the gloom."
"Do you know him?"
"Oh, yes! he is the green-grocer who brings our vegetables round.
His name is Francis Prosper."
"He stood," said Holmes, "to the left of the door--that is to say, farther up the
path than is necessary to reach the door?" "Yes, he did."
"And he is a man with a wooden leg?"
Something like fear sprang up in the young lady's expressive black eyes.
"Why, you are like a magician," said she. "How do you know that?"
She smiled, but there was no answering smile in Holmes' thin, eager face.
"I should be very glad now to go upstairs," said he.
"I shall probably wish to go over the outside of the house again.
Perhaps I had better take a look at the lower windows before I go up."
He walked swiftly round from one to the other, pausing only at the large one which
looked from the hall onto the stable lane.
This he opened and made a very careful examination of the sill with his powerful
magnifying lens. "Now we shall go upstairs," said he at
last.
The banker's dressing-room was a plainly furnished little chamber, with a grey
carpet, a large bureau, and a long mirror. Holmes went to the bureau first and looked
hard at the lock.
"Which key was used to open it?" he asked. "That which my son himself indicated--that
of the cupboard of the lumber-room." "Have you it here?"
"That is it on the dressing-table."
Sherlock Holmes took it up and opened the bureau.
"It is a noiseless lock," said he. "It is no wonder that it did not wake you.
This case, I presume, contains the coronet.
We must have a look at it." He opened the case, and taking out the
diadem he laid it upon the table.
It was a magnificent specimen of the jeweller's art, and the thirty-six stones
were the finest that I have ever seen.
At one side of the coronet was a cracked edge, where a corner holding three gems had
been torn away.
"Now, Mr. Holder," said Holmes, "here is the corner which corresponds to that which
has been so unfortunately lost. Might I beg that you will break it off."
The banker recoiled in horror.
"I should not dream of trying," said he. "Then I will."
Holmes suddenly bent his strength upon it, but without result.
"I feel it give a little," said he; "but, though I am exceptionally strong in the
fingers, it would take me all my time to break it.
An ordinary man could not do it.
Now, what do you think would happen if I did break it, Mr. Holder?
There would be a noise like a pistol shot.
Do you tell me that all this happened within a few yards of your bed and that you
heard nothing of it?" "I do not know what to think.
It is all dark to me."
"But perhaps it may grow lighter as we go. What do you think, Miss Holder?"
"I confess that I still share my uncle's perplexity."
"Your son had no shoes or slippers on when you saw him?"
"He had nothing on save only his trousers and shirt."
"Thank you.
We have certainly been favoured with extraordinary luck during this inquiry, and
it will be entirely our own fault if we do not succeed in clearing the matter up.
With your permission, Mr. Holder, I shall now continue my investigations outside."
He went alone, at his own request, for he explained that any unnecessary footmarks
might make his task more difficult.
For an hour or more he was at work, returning at last with his feet heavy with
snow and his features as inscrutable as ever.
"I think that I have seen now all that there is to see, Mr. Holder," said he; "I
can serve you best by returning to my rooms."
"But the gems, Mr. Holmes.
Where are they?" "I cannot tell."
The banker wrung his hands. "I shall never see them again!" he cried.
"And my son?
You give me hopes?" "My opinion is in no way altered."
"Then, for God's sake, what was this dark business which was acted in my house last
night?"
"If you can call upon me at my Baker Street rooms to-morrow morning between nine and
ten I shall be happy to do what I can to make it clearer.
I understand that you give me carte blanche to act for you, provided only that I get
back the gems, and that you place no limit on the sum I may draw."
"I would give my fortune to have them back."
"Very good. I shall look into the matter between this
and then.
Good-bye; it is just possible that I may have to come over here again before
evening."
It was obvious to me that my companion's mind was now made up about the case,
although what his conclusions were was more than I could even dimly imagine.
Several times during our homeward journey I endeavoured to sound him upon the point,
but he always glided away to some other topic, until at last I gave it over in
despair.
It was not yet three when we found ourselves in our rooms once more.
He hurried to his chamber and was down again in a few minutes dressed as a common
loafer.
With his collar turned up, his shiny, seedy coat, his red cravat, and his worn boots,
he was a perfect sample of the class.
"I think that this should do," said he, glancing into the glass above the
fireplace. "I only wish that you could come with me,
Watson, but I fear that it won't do.
I may be on the trail in this matter, or I may be following a will-o'-the-wisp, but I
shall soon know which it is. I hope that I may be back in a few hours."
He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two
rounds of bread, and thrusting this rude meal into his pocket he started off upon
his expedition.
I had just finished my tea when he returned, evidently in excellent spirits,
swinging an old elastic-sided boot in his hand.
He chucked it down into a corner and helped himself to a cup of tea.
"I only looked in as I passed," said he. "I am going right on."
"Where to?"
"Oh, to the other side of the West End. It may be some time before I get back.
Don't wait up for me in case I should be late."
"How are you getting on?"
"Oh, so so. Nothing to complain of.
I have been out to Streatham since I saw you last, but I did not call at the house.
It is a very sweet little problem, and I would not have missed it for a good deal.
However, I must not sit gossiping here, but must get these disreputable clothes off and
return to my highly respectable self."
I could see by his manner that he had stronger reasons for satisfaction than his
words alone would imply. His eyes twinkled, and there was even a
touch of colour upon his sallow cheeks.
He hastened upstairs, and a few minutes later I heard the slam of the hall door,
which told me that he was off once more upon his congenial hunt.
I waited until midnight, but there was no sign of his return, so I retired to my
room.
It was no uncommon thing for him to be away for days and nights on end when he was hot
upon a scent, so that his lateness caused me no surprise.
I do not know at what hour he came in, but when I came down to breakfast in the
morning there he was with a cup of coffee in one hand and the paper in the other, as
fresh and trim as possible.
"You will excuse my beginning without you, Watson," said he, "but you remember that
our client has rather an early appointment this morning."
"Why, it is after nine now," I answered.
"I should not be surprised if that were he. I thought I heard a ring."
It was, indeed, our friend the financier.
I was shocked by the change which had come over him, for his face which was naturally
of a broad and massive mould, was now pinched and fallen in, while his hair
seemed to me at least a shade whiter.
He entered with a weariness and lethargy which was even more painful than his
violence of the morning before, and he dropped heavily into the armchair which I
pushed forward for him.
"I do not know what I have done to be so severely tried," said he.
"Only two days ago I was a happy and prosperous man, without a care in the
world.
Now I am left to a lonely and dishonoured age.
One sorrow comes close upon the heels of another.
My niece, Mary, has deserted me."
"Deserted you?" "Yes. Her bed this morning had not been
slept in, her room was empty, and a note for me lay upon the hall table.
I had said to her last night, in sorrow and not in anger, that if she had married my
boy all might have been well with him. Perhaps it was thoughtless of me to say so.
It is to that remark that she refers in this note:
"'MY DEAREST UNCLE:--I feel that I have brought trouble upon you, and that if I had
acted differently this terrible misfortune might never have occurred.
I cannot, with this thought in my mind, ever again be happy under your roof, and I
feel that I must leave you forever.
Do not worry about my future, for that is provided for; and, above all, do not search
for me, for it will be fruitless labour and an ill-service to me.
In life or in death, I am ever your loving,--MARY.'
"What could she mean by that note, Mr. Holmes?
Do you think it points to suicide?"
"No, no, nothing of the kind. It is perhaps the best possible solution.
I trust, Mr. Holder, that you are nearing the end of your troubles."
"Ha!
You say so! You have heard something, Mr. Holmes; you
have learned something! Where are the gems?"
"You would not think 1000 pounds apiece an excessive sum for them?"
"I would pay ten." "That would be unnecessary.
Three thousand will cover the matter.
And there is a little reward, I fancy. Have you your check-book?
Here is a pen. Better make it out for 4000 pounds."
With a dazed face the banker made out the required check.
Holmes walked over to his desk, took out a little triangular piece of gold with three
gems in it, and threw it down upon the table.
With a shriek of joy our client clutched it up.
"You have it!" he gasped. "I am saved!
I am saved!"
The reaction of joy was as passionate as his grief had been, and he hugged his
recovered gems to his bosom.
"There is one other thing you owe, Mr. Holder," said Sherlock Holmes rather
sternly. "Owe!"
He caught up a pen.
"Name the sum, and I will pay it." "No, the debt is not to me.
You owe a very humble apology to that noble lad, your son, who has carried himself in
this matter as I should be proud to see my own son do, should I ever chance to have
one."
"Then it was not Arthur who took them?" "I told you yesterday, and I repeat to-day,
that it was not." "You are sure of it!
Then let us hurry to him at once to let him know that the truth is known."
"He knows it already.
When I had cleared it all up I had an interview with him, and finding that he
would not tell me the story, I told it to him, on which he had to confess that I was
right and to add the very few details which were not yet quite clear to me.
Your news of this morning, however, may open his lips."
"For heaven's sake, tell me, then, what is this extraordinary mystery!"
"I will do so, and I will show you the steps by which I reached it.
And let me say to you, first, that which it is hardest for me to say and for you to
hear: there has been an understanding between Sir George Burnwell and your niece
Mary.
They have now fled together." "My Mary?
Impossible!" "It is unfortunately more than possible; it
is certain.
Neither you nor your son knew the true character of this man when you admitted him
into your family circle.
He is one of the most dangerous men in England--a ruined gambler, an absolutely
desperate villain, a man without heart or conscience.
Your niece knew nothing of such men.
When he breathed his vows to her, as he had done to a hundred before her, she flattered
herself that she alone had touched his heart.
The devil knows best what he said, but at least she became his tool and was in the
habit of seeing him nearly every evening." "I cannot, and I will not, believe it!"
cried the banker with an ashen face.
"I will tell you, then, what occurred in your house last night.
Your niece, when you had, as she thought, gone to your room, slipped down and talked
to her lover through the window which leads into the stable lane.
His footmarks had pressed right through the snow, so long had he stood there.
She told him of the coronet. His wicked lust for gold kindled at the
news, and he bent her to his will.
I have no doubt that she loved you, but there are women in whom the love of a lover
extinguishes all other loves, and I think that she must have been one.
She had hardly listened to his instructions when she saw you coming downstairs, on
which she closed the window rapidly and told you about one of the servants'
escapade with her wooden-legged lover, which was all perfectly true.
"Your boy, Arthur, went to bed after his interview with you but he slept badly on
account of his uneasiness about his club debts.
In the middle of the night he heard a soft tread pass his door, so he rose and,
looking out, was surprised to see his cousin walking very stealthily along the
passage until she disappeared into your dressing-room.
Petrified with astonishment, the lad slipped on some clothes and waited there in
the dark to see what would come of this strange affair.
Presently she emerged from the room again, and in the light of the passage-lamp your
son saw that she carried the precious coronet in her hands.
She passed down the stairs, and he, thrilling with horror, ran along and
slipped behind the curtain near your door, whence he could see what passed in the hall
beneath.
He saw her stealthily open the window, hand out the coronet to someone in the gloom,
and then closing it once more hurry back to her room, passing quite close to where he
stood hid behind the curtain.
"As long as she was on the scene he could not take any action without a horrible
exposure of the woman whom he loved.
But the instant that she was gone he realised how crushing a misfortune this
would be for you, and how all-important it was to set it right.
He rushed down, just as he was, in his bare feet, opened the window, sprang out into
the snow, and ran down the lane, where he could see a dark figure in the moonlight.
Sir George Burnwell tried to get away, but Arthur caught him, and there was a struggle
between them, your lad tugging at one side of the coronet, and his opponent at the
other.
In the scuffle, your son struck Sir George and cut him over the eye.
Then something suddenly snapped, and your son, finding that he had the coronet in his
hands, rushed back, closed the window, ascended to your room, and had just
observed that the coronet had been twisted
in the struggle and was endeavouring to straighten it when you appeared upon the
scene." "Is it possible?" gasped the banker.
"You then roused his anger by calling him names at a moment when he felt that he had
deserved your warmest thanks.
He could not explain the true state of affairs without betraying one who certainly
deserved little enough consideration at his hands.
He took the more chivalrous view, however, and preserved her secret."
"And that was why she shrieked and fainted when she saw the coronet," cried Mr.
Holder.
"Oh, my God! what a blind fool I have been! And his asking to be allowed to go out for
five minutes!
The dear fellow wanted to see if the missing piece were at the scene of the
struggle. How cruelly I have misjudged him!"
"When I arrived at the house," continued Holmes, "I at once went very carefully
round it to observe if there were any traces in the snow which might help me.
I knew that none had fallen since the evening before, and also that there had
been a strong frost to preserve impressions.
I passed along the tradesmen's path, but found it all trampled down and
indistinguishable.
Just beyond it, however, at the far side of the kitchen door, a woman had stood and
talked with a man, whose round impressions on one side showed that he had a wooden
leg.
I could even tell that they had been disturbed, for the woman had run back
swiftly to the door, as was shown by the deep toe and light heel marks, while
Wooden-leg had waited a little, and then had gone away.
I thought at the time that this might be the maid and her sweetheart, of whom you
had already spoken to me, and inquiry showed it was so.
I passed round the garden without seeing anything more than random tracks, which I
took to be the police; but when I got into the stable lane a very long and complex
story was written in the snow in front of me.
"There was a double line of tracks of a booted man, and a second double line which
I saw with delight belonged to a man with naked feet.
I was at once convinced from what you had told me that the latter was your son.
The first had walked both ways, but the other had run swiftly, and as his tread was
marked in places over the depression of the boot, it was obvious that he had passed
after the other.
I followed them up and found they led to the hall window, where Boots had worn all
the snow away while waiting. Then I walked to the other end, which was a
hundred yards or more down the lane.
I saw where Boots had faced round, where the snow was cut up as though there had
been a struggle, and, finally, where a few drops of blood had fallen, to show me that
I was not mistaken.
Boots had then run down the lane, and another little smudge of blood showed that
it was he who had been hurt.
When he came to the highroad at the other end, I found that the pavement had been
cleared, so there was an end to that clue.
"On entering the house, however, I examined, as you remember, the sill and
framework of the hall window with my lens, and I could at once see that someone had
passed out.
I could distinguish the outline of an instep where the wet foot had been placed
in coming in. I was then beginning to be able to form an
opinion as to what had occurred.
A man had waited outside the window; someone had brought the gems; the deed had
been overseen by your son; he had pursued the thief; had struggled with him; they had
each tugged at the coronet, their united
strength causing injuries which neither alone could have effected.
He had returned with the prize, but had left a fragment in the grasp of his
opponent.
So far I was clear. The question now was, who was the man and
who was it brought him the coronet?
"It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever
remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Now, I knew that it was not you who had brought it down, so there only remained
your niece and the maids.
But if it were the maids, why should your son allow himself to be accused in their
place? There could be no possible reason.
As he loved his cousin, however, there was an excellent explanation why he should
retain her secret--the more so as the secret was a disgraceful one.
When I remembered that you had seen her at that window, and how she had fainted on
seeing the coronet again, my conjecture became a certainty.
"And who could it be who was her confederate?
A lover evidently, for who else could outweigh the love and gratitude which she
must feel to you?
I knew that you went out little, and that your circle of friends was a very limited
one. But among them was Sir George Burnwell.
I had heard of him before as being a man of evil reputation among women.
It must have been he who wore those boots and retained the missing gems.
Even though he knew that Arthur had discovered him, he might still flatter
himself that he was safe, for the lad could not say a word without compromising his own
family.
"Well, your own good sense will suggest what measures I took next.
I went in the shape of a loafer to Sir George's house, managed to pick up an
acquaintance with his valet, learned that his master had cut his head the night
before, and, finally, at the expense of six
shillings, made all sure by buying a pair of his cast-off shoes.
With these I journeyed down to Streatham and saw that they exactly fitted the
tracks."
"I saw an ill-dressed vagabond in the lane yesterday evening," said Mr. Holder.
"Precisely. It was I.
I found that I had my man, so I came home and changed my clothes.
It was a delicate part which I had to play then, for I saw that a prosecution must be
avoided to avert scandal, and I knew that so astute a villain would see that our
hands were tied in the matter.
I went and saw him. At first, of course, he denied everything.
But when I gave him every particular that had occurred, he tried to bluster and took
down a life-preserver from the wall.
I knew my man, however, and I clapped a pistol to his head before he could strike.
Then he became a little more reasonable. I told him that we would give him a price
for the stones he held--1000 pounds apiece.
That brought out the first signs of grief that he had shown.
'Why, dash it all!' said he, 'I've let them go at six hundred for the three!'
I soon managed to get the address of the receiver who had them, on promising him
that there would be no prosecution. Off I set to him, and after much chaffering
I got our stones at 1000 pounds apiece.
Then I looked in upon your son, told him that all was right, and eventually got to
my bed about two o'clock, after what I may call a really hard day's work."
"A day which has saved England from a great public scandal," said the banker, rising.
"Sir, I cannot find words to thank you, but you shall not find me ungrateful for what
you have done.
Your skill has indeed exceeded all that I have heard of it.
And now I must fly to my dear boy to apologise to him for the wrong which I have
done him.
As to what you tell me of poor Mary, it goes to my very heart.
Not even your skill can inform me where she is now."
"I think that we may safely say," returned Holmes, "that she is wherever Sir George
Burnwell is.
It is equally certain, too, that whatever her sins are, they will soon receive a more
than sufficient punishment."
>
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Adventure XII. THE ADVENTURE OF THE COPPER BEECHES
"To the man who loves art for its own sake," remarked Sherlock Holmes, tossing
aside the advertisement sheet of the Daily Telegraph, "it is frequently in its least
important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived.
It is pleasant to me to observe, Watson, that you have so far grasped this truth
that in these little records of our cases which you have been good enough to draw up,
and, I am bound to say, occasionally to
embellish, you have given prominence not so much to the many causes célèbres and
sensational trials in which I have figured but rather to those incidents which may
have been trivial in themselves, but which
have given room for those faculties of deduction and of logical synthesis which I
have made my special province."
"And yet," said I, smiling, "I cannot quite hold myself absolved from the charge of
sensationalism which has been urged against my records."
"You have erred, perhaps," he observed, taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs
and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay
when he was in a disputatious rather than a
meditative mood--"you have erred perhaps in attempting to put colour and life into each
of your statements instead of confining yourself to the task of placing upon record
that severe reasoning from cause to effect
which is really the only notable feature about the thing."
"It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter," I remarked with
some coldness, for I was repelled by the egotism which I had more than once observed
to be a strong factor in my friend's singular character.
"No, it is not selfishness or conceit," said he, answering, as was his wont, my
thoughts rather than my words.
"If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing--a thing
beyond myself. Crime is common.
Logic is rare.
Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.
You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales."
It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side
of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street.
A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing
windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths.
Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for
the table had not been cleared yet.
Sherlock Holmes had been silent all the morning, dipping continuously into the
advertisement columns of a succession of papers until at last, having apparently
given up his search, he had emerged in no
very sweet temper to lecture me upon my literary shortcomings.
"At the same time," he remarked after a pause, during which he had sat puffing at
his long pipe and gazing down into the fire, "you can hardly be open to a charge
of sensationalism, for out of these cases
which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat
of crime, in its legal sense, at all.
The small matter in which I endeavoured to help the King of Bohemia, the singular
experience of Miss Mary Sutherland, the problem connected with the man with the
twisted lip, and the incident of the noble
bachelor, were all matters which are outside the pale of the law.
But in avoiding the sensational, I fear that you may have bordered on the trivial."
"The end may have been so," I answered, "but the methods I hold to have been novel
and of interest."
"Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could
hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb, care about
the finer shades of analysis and deduction!
But, indeed, if you are trivial, I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases
are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all
enterprise and originality.
As to my own little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for
recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-
schools.
I think that I have touched bottom at last, however.
This note I had this morning marks my zero- point, I fancy.
Read it!"
He tossed a crumpled letter across to me. It was dated from Montague Place upon the
preceding evening, and ran thus:
"DEAR MR. HOLMES:--I am very anxious to consult you as to whether I should or
should not accept a situation which has been offered to me as governess.
I shall call at half-past ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenience you.
Yours faithfully, "VIOLET HUNTER." "Do you know the young lady?"
I asked.
"Not I." "It is half-past ten now."
"Yes, and I have no doubt that is her ring."
"It may turn out to be of more interest than you think.
You remember that the affair of the blue carbuncle, which appeared to be a mere whim
at first, developed into a serious investigation.
It may be so in this case, also."
"Well, let us hope so. But our doubts will very soon be solved,
for here, unless I am much mistaken, is the person in question."
As he spoke the door opened and a young lady entered the room.
She was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a
plover's egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in
the world.
"You will excuse my troubling you, I am sure," said she, as my companion rose to
greet her, "but I have had a very strange experience, and as I have no parents or
relations of any sort from whom I could ask
advice, I thought that perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me what I should do."
"Pray take a seat, Miss Hunter. I shall be happy to do anything that I can
to serve you."
I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of his
new client.
He looked her over in his searching fashion, and then composed himself, with
his lids drooping and his finger-tips together, to listen to her story.
"I have been a governess for five years," said she, "in the family of Colonel Spence
Munro, but two months ago the colonel received an appointment at Halifax, in Nova
Scotia, and took his children over to
America with him, so that I found myself without a situation.
I advertised, and I answered advertisements, but without success.
At last the little money which I had saved began to run short, and I was at my wit's
end as to what I should do.
"There is a well-known agency for governesses in the West End called
Westaway's, and there I used to call about once a week in order to see whether
anything had turned up which might suit me.
Westaway was the name of the founder of the business, but it is really managed by Miss
Stoper.
She sits in her own little office, and the ladies who are seeking employment wait in
an anteroom, and are then shown in one by one, when she consults her ledgers and sees
whether she has anything which would suit them.
"Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual, but I
found that Miss Stoper was not alone.
A prodigiously stout man with a very smiling face and a great heavy chin which
rolled down in fold upon fold over his throat sat at her elbow with a pair of
glasses on his nose, looking very earnestly at the ladies who entered.
As I came in he gave quite a jump in his chair and turned quickly to Miss Stoper.
"'That will do,' said he; 'I could not ask for anything better.
Capital! capital!' He seemed quite enthusiastic and rubbed his
hands together in the most genial fashion.
He was such a comfortable-looking man that it was quite a pleasure to look at him.
"'You are looking for a situation, miss?' he asked.
"'Yes, sir.'
"'As governess?' "'Yes, sir.'
"'And what salary do you ask?' "'I had 4 pounds a month in my last place
with Colonel Spence Munro.'
"'Oh, tut, tut! sweating--rank sweating!' he cried, throwing his fat hands out into
the air like a man who is in a boiling passion.
'How could anyone offer so pitiful a sum to a lady with such attractions and
accomplishments?' "'My accomplishments, sir, may be less than
you imagine,' said I.
'A little French, a little German, music, and drawing--'
"'Tut, tut!' he cried. 'This is all quite beside the question.
The point is, have you or have you not the bearing and deportment of a lady?
There it is in a nutshell.
If you have not, you are not fitted for the rearing of a child who may some day play a
considerable part in the history of the country.
But if you have why, then, how could any gentleman ask you to condescend to accept
anything under the three figures? Your salary with me, madam, would commence
at 100 pounds a year.'
"You may imagine, Mr. Holmes, that to me, destitute as I was, such an offer seemed
almost too good to be true.
The gentleman, however, seeing perhaps the look of incredulity upon my face, opened a
pocket-book and took out a note.
"'It is also my custom,' said he, smiling in the most pleasant fashion until his eyes
were just two little shining slits amid the white creases of his face, 'to advance to
my young ladies half their salary
beforehand, so that they may meet any little expenses of their journey and their
wardrobe.' "It seemed to me that I had never met so
fascinating and so thoughtful a man.
As I was already in debt to my tradesmen, the advance was a great convenience, and
yet there was something unnatural about the whole transaction which made me wish to
know a little more before I quite committed myself.
"'May I ask where you live, sir?' said I. "'Hampshire.
Charming rural place.
The Copper Beeches, five miles on the far side of Winchester.
It is the most lovely country, my dear young lady, and the dearest old country-
house.'
"'And my duties, sir? I should be glad to know what they would
be.' "'One child--one dear little romper just
six years old.
Oh, if you could see him killing cockroaches with a slipper!
Smack! smack! smack! Three gone before you could wink!'
He leaned back in his chair and laughed his eyes into his head again.
"I was a little startled at the nature of the child's amusement, but the father's
laughter made me think that perhaps he was joking.
"'My sole duties, then,' I asked, 'are to take charge of a single child?'
"'No, no, not the sole, not the sole, my dear young lady,' he cried.
'Your duty would be, as I am sure your good sense would suggest, to obey any little
commands my wife might give, provided always that they were such commands as a
lady might with propriety obey.
You see no difficulty, heh?' "'I should be happy to make myself useful.'
"'Quite so. In dress now, for example.
We are faddy people, you know--faddy but kind-hearted.
If you were asked to wear any dress which we might give you, you would not object to
our little whim.
Heh?' "'No,' said I, considerably astonished at
his words. "'Or to sit here, or sit there, that would
not be offensive to you?'
"'Oh, no.' "'Or to cut your hair quite short before
you come to us?' "I could hardly believe my ears.
As you may observe, Mr. Holmes, my hair is somewhat luxuriant, and of a rather
peculiar tint of chestnut. It has been considered artistic.
I could not dream of sacrificing it in this offhand fashion.
"'I am afraid that that is quite impossible,' said I.
He had been watching me eagerly out of his small eyes, and I could see a shadow pass
over his face as I spoke. "'I am afraid that it is quite essential,'
said he.
'It is a little fancy of my wife's, and ladies' fancies, you know, madam, ladies'
fancies must be consulted. And so you won't cut your hair?'
"'No, sir, I really could not,' I answered firmly.
"'Ah, very well; then that quite settles the matter.
It is a pity, because in other respects you would really have done very nicely.
In that case, Miss Stoper, I had best inspect a few more of your young ladies.'
"The manageress had sat all this while busy with her papers without a word to either of
us, but she glanced at me now with so much annoyance upon her face that I could not
help suspecting that she had lost a handsome commission through my refusal.
"'Do you desire your name to be kept upon the books?' she asked.
"'If you please, Miss Stoper.'
"'Well, really, it seems rather useless, since you refuse the most excellent offers
in this fashion,' said she sharply.
'You can hardly expect us to exert ourselves to find another such opening for
you. Good-day to you, Miss Hunter.'
She struck a gong upon the table, and I was shown out by the page.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, when I got back to my lodgings and found little enough in the
cupboard, and two or three bills upon the table, I began to ask myself whether I had
not done a very foolish thing.
After all, if these people had strange fads and expected obedience on the most
extraordinary matters, they were at least ready to pay for their eccentricity.
Very few governesses in England are getting 100 pounds a year.
Besides, what use was my hair to me?
Many people are improved by wearing it short and perhaps I should be among the
number.
Next day I was inclined to think that I had made a mistake, and by the day after I was
sure of it.
I had almost overcome my pride so far as to go back to the agency and inquire whether
the place was still open when I received this letter from the gentleman himself.
I have it here and I will read it to you:
"'The Copper Beeches, near Winchester. "'DEAR MISS HUNTER:--Miss Stoper has very
kindly given me your address, and I write from here to ask you whether you have
reconsidered your decision.
My wife is very anxious that you should come, for she has been much attracted by my
description of you.
We are willing to give 30 pounds a quarter, or 120 pounds a year, so as to recompense
you for any little inconvenience which our fads may cause you.
They are not very exacting, after all.
My wife is fond of a particular shade of electric blue and would like you to wear
such a dress indoors in the morning.
You need not, however, go to the expense of purchasing one, as we have one belonging to
my dear daughter Alice (now in Philadelphia), which would, I should think,
fit you very well.
Then, as to sitting here or there, or amusing yourself in any manner indicated,
that need cause you no inconvenience.
As regards your hair, it is no doubt a pity, especially as I could not help
remarking its beauty during our short interview, but I am afraid that I must
remain firm upon this point, and I only
hope that the increased salary may recompense you for the loss.
Your duties, as far as the child is concerned, are very light.
Now do try to come, and I shall meet you with the dog-cart at Winchester.
Let me know your train. Yours faithfully, JEPHRO RUCASTLE.'
"That is the letter which I have just received, Mr. Holmes, and my mind is made
up that I will accept it.
I thought, however, that before taking the final step I should like to submit the
whole matter to your consideration."
"Well, Miss Hunter, if your mind is made up, that settles the question," said
Holmes, smiling. "But you would not advise me to refuse?"
"I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine
apply for." "What is the meaning of it all, Mr.
Holmes?"
"Ah, I have no data. I cannot tell.
Perhaps you have yourself formed some opinion?"
"Well, there seems to me to be only one possible solution.
Mr. Rucastle seemed to be a very kind, good-natured man.
Is it not possible that his wife is a lunatic, that he desires to keep the matter
quiet for fear she should be taken to an asylum, and that he humours her fancies in
every way in order to prevent an outbreak?"
"That is a possible solution--in fact, as matters stand, it is the most probable one.
But in any case it does not seem to be a nice household for a young lady."
"But the money, Mr. Holmes, the money!"
"Well, yes, of course the pay is good--too good.
That is what makes me uneasy.
Why should they give you 120 pounds a year, when they could have their pick for 40
pounds? There must be some strong reason behind."
"I thought that if I told you the circumstances you would understand
afterwards if I wanted your help. I should feel so much stronger if I felt
that you were at the back of me."
"Oh, you may carry that feeling away with you.
I assure you that your little problem promises to be the most interesting which
has come my way for some months.
There is something distinctly novel about some of the features.
If you should find yourself in doubt or in danger--"
"Danger!
What danger do you foresee?" Holmes shook his head gravely.
"It would cease to be a danger if we could define it," said he.
"But at any time, day or night, a telegram would bring me down to your help."
"That is enough." She rose briskly from her chair with the
anxiety all swept from her face.
"I shall go down to Hampshire quite easy in my mind now.
I shall write to Mr. Rucastle at once, sacrifice my poor hair to-night, and start
for Winchester to-morrow."
With a few grateful words to Holmes she bade us both good-night and bustled off
upon her way.
"At least," said I as we heard her quick, firm steps descending the stairs, "she
seems to be a young lady who is very well able to take care of herself."
"And she would need to be," said Holmes gravely.
"I am much mistaken if we do not hear from her before many days are past."
It was not very long before my friend's prediction was fulfilled.
A fortnight went by, during which I frequently found my thoughts turning in her
direction and wondering what strange side- alley of human experience this lonely woman
had strayed into.
The unusual salary, the curious conditions, the light duties, all pointed to something
abnormal, though whether a fad or a plot, or whether the man were a philanthropist or
a villain, it was quite beyond my powers to determine.
As to Holmes, I observed that he sat frequently for half an hour on end, with
knitted brows and an abstracted air, but he swept the matter away with a wave of his
hand when I mentioned it.
"Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay."
And yet he would always wind up by muttering that no sister of his should ever
have accepted such a situation.
The telegram which we eventually received came late one night just as I was thinking
of turning in and Holmes was settling down to one of those all-night chemical
researches which he frequently indulged in,
when I would leave him stooping over a retort and a test-tube at night and find
him in the same position when I came down to breakfast in the morning.
He opened the yellow envelope, and then, glancing at the message, threw it across to
me.
"Just look up the trains in Bradshaw," said he, and turned back to his chemical
studies. The summons was a brief and urgent one.
"Please be at the Black Swan Hotel at Winchester at midday to-morrow," it said.
"Do come! I am at my wit's end.
HUNTER."
"Will you come with me?" asked Holmes, glancing up.
"I should wish to." "Just look it up, then."
"There is a train at half-past nine," said I, glancing over my Bradshaw.
"It is due at Winchester at 11:30." "That will do very nicely.
Then perhaps I had better postpone my analysis of the acetones, as we may need to
be at our best in the morning." By eleven o'clock the next day we were well
upon our way to the old English capital.
Holmes had been buried in the morning papers all the way down, but after we had
passed the Hampshire border he threw them down and began to admire the scenery.
It was an ideal spring day, a light blue sky, flecked with little fleecy white
clouds drifting across from west to east.
The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air,
which set an edge to a man's energy.
All over the countryside, away to the rolling hills around Aldershot, the little
red and grey roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light green of the
new foliage.
"Are they not fresh and beautiful?" I cried with all the enthusiasm of a man
fresh from the fogs of Baker Street. But Holmes shook his head gravely.
"Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn
like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject.
You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty.
I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation
and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."
"Good heavens!"
I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear
old homesteads?" "They always fill me with a certain horror.
It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest
alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the
smiling and beautiful countryside."
"You horrify me!" "But the reason is very obvious.
The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish.
There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a
drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and
then the whole machinery of justice is ever
so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between
the crime and the dock.
But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part
with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law.
Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in,
year out, in such places, and none the wiser.
Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never
have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of country which makes
the danger.
Still, it is clear that she is not personally threatened."
"No. If she can come to Winchester to meet us she can get away."
"Quite so.
She has her freedom." "What CAN be the matter, then?
Can you suggest no explanation?"
"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the
facts as far as we know them.
But which of these is correct can only be determined by the fresh information which
we shall no doubt find waiting for us.
Well, there is the tower of the cathedral, and we shall soon learn all that Miss
Hunter has to tell."
The Black Swan is an inn of repute in the High Street, at no distance from the
station, and there we found the young lady waiting for us.
She had engaged a sitting-room, and our lunch awaited us upon the table.
"I am so delighted that you have come," she said earnestly.
"It is so very kind of you both; but indeed I do not know what I should do.
Your advice will be altogether invaluable to me."
"Pray tell us what has happened to you."
"I will do so, and I must be quick, for I have promised Mr. Rucastle to be back
before three.
I got his leave to come into town this morning, though he little knew for what
purpose." "Let us have everything in its due order."
Holmes thrust his long thin legs out towards the fire and composed himself to
listen.
"In the first place, I may say that I have met, on the whole, with no actual ill-
treatment from Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle. It is only fair to them to say that.
But I cannot understand them, and I am not easy in my mind about them."
"What can you not understand?" "Their reasons for their conduct.
But you shall have it all just as it occurred.
When I came down, Mr. Rucastle met me here and drove me in his dog-cart to the Copper
Beeches.
It is, as he said, beautifully situated, but it is not beautiful in itself, for it
is a large square block of a house, whitewashed, but all stained and streaked
with damp and bad weather.
There are grounds round it, woods on three sides, and on the fourth a field which
slopes down to the Southampton highroad, which curves past about a hundred yards
from the front door.
This ground in front belongs to the house, but the woods all round are part of Lord
Southerton's preserves.
A clump of copper beeches immediately in front of the hall door has given its name
to the place.
"I was driven over by my employer, who was as amiable as ever, and was introduced by
him that evening to his wife and the child.
There was no truth, Mr. Holmes, in the conjecture which seemed to us to be
probable in your rooms at Baker Street. Mrs. Rucastle is not mad.
I found her to be a silent, pale-faced woman, much younger than her husband, not
more than thirty, I should think, while he can hardly be less than forty-five.
From their conversation I have gathered that they have been married about seven
years, that he was a widower, and that his only child by the first wife was the
daughter who has gone to Philadelphia.
Mr. Rucastle told me in private that the reason why she had left them was that she
had an unreasoning aversion to her stepmother.
As the daughter could not have been less than twenty, I can quite imagine that her
position must have been uncomfortable with her father's young wife.
"Mrs. Rucastle seemed to me to be colourless in mind as well as in feature.
She impressed me neither favourably nor the reverse.
She was a nonentity.
It was easy to see that she was passionately devoted both to her husband
and to her little son.
Her light grey eyes wandered continually from one to the other, noting every little
want and forestalling it if possible.
He was kind to her also in his bluff, boisterous fashion, and on the whole they
seemed to be a happy couple. And yet she had some secret sorrow, this
woman.
She would often be lost in deep thought, with the saddest look upon her face.
More than once I have surprised her in tears.
I have thought sometimes that it was the disposition of her child which weighed upon
her mind, for I have never met so utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little
creature.
He is small for his age, with a head which is quite disproportionately large.
His whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between savage fits of passion
and gloomy intervals of sulking.
Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems to be his one idea of
amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture of mice,
little birds, and insects.
But I would rather not talk about the creature, Mr. Holmes, and, indeed, he has
little to do with my story."
"I am glad of all details," remarked my friend, "whether they seem to you to be
relevant or not." "I shall try not to miss anything of
importance.
The one unpleasant thing about the house, which struck me at once, was the appearance
and conduct of the servants. There are only two, a man and his wife.
Toller, for that is his name, is a rough, uncouth man, with grizzled hair and
whiskers, and a perpetual smell of drink.
Twice since I have been with them he has been quite drunk, and yet Mr. Rucastle
seemed to take no notice of it.
His wife is a very tall and strong woman with a sour face, as silent as Mrs.
Rucastle and much less amiable.
They are a most unpleasant couple, but fortunately I spend most of my time in the
nursery and my own room, which are next to each other in one corner of the building.
"For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was very quiet; on
the third, Mrs. Rucastle came down just after breakfast and whispered something to
her husband.
"'Oh, yes,' said he, turning to me, 'we are very much obliged to you, Miss Hunter, for
falling in with our whims so far as to cut your hair.
I assure you that it has not detracted in the tiniest iota from your appearance.
We shall now see how the electric-blue dress will become you.
You will find it laid out upon the bed in your room, and if you would be so good as
to put it on we should both be extremely obliged.'
"The dress which I found waiting for me was of a peculiar shade of blue.
It was of excellent material, a sort of beige, but it bore unmistakable signs of
having been worn before.
It could not have been a better fit if I had been measured for it.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle expressed a delight at the look of it, which seemed
quite exaggerated in its vehemence.
They were waiting for me in the drawing- room, which is a very large room,
stretching along the entire front of the house, with three long windows reaching
down to the floor.
A chair had been placed close to the central window, with its back turned
towards it.
In this I was asked to sit, and then Mr. Rucastle, walking up and down on the other
side of the room, began to tell me a series of the funniest stories that I have ever
listened to.
You cannot imagine how comical he was, and I laughed until I was quite weary.
Mrs. Rucastle, however, who has evidently no sense of humour, never so much as
smiled, but sat with her hands in her lap, and a sad, anxious look upon her face.
After an hour or so, Mr. Rucastle suddenly remarked that it was time to commence the
duties of the day, and that I might change my dress and go to little Edward in the
nursery.
"Two days later this same performance was gone through under exactly similar
circumstances.
Again I changed my dress, again I sat in the window, and again I laughed very
heartily at the funny stories of which my employer had an immense répertoire, and
which he told inimitably.
Then he handed me a yellow-backed novel, and moving my chair a little sideways, that
my own shadow might not fall upon the page, he begged me to read aloud to him.
I read for about ten minutes, beginning in the heart of a chapter, and then suddenly,
in the middle of a sentence, he ordered me to cease and to change my dress.
"You can easily imagine, Mr. Holmes, how curious I became as to what the meaning of
this extraordinary performance could possibly be.
They were always very careful, I observed, to turn my face away from the window, so
that I became consumed with the desire to see what was going on behind my back.
At first it seemed to be impossible, but I soon devised a means.
My hand-mirror had been broken, so a happy thought seized me, and I concealed a piece
of the glass in my handkerchief.
On the next occasion, in the midst of my laughter, I put my handkerchief up to my
eyes, and was able with a little management to see all that there was behind me.
I confess that I was disappointed.
There was nothing. At least that was my first impression.
At the second glance, however, I perceived that there was a man standing in the
Southampton Road, a small bearded man in a grey suit, who seemed to be looking in my
direction.
The road is an important highway, and there are usually people there.
This man, however, was leaning against the railings which bordered our field and was
looking earnestly up.
I lowered my handkerchief and glanced at Mrs. Rucastle to find her eyes fixed upon
me with a most searching gaze.
She said nothing, but I am convinced that she had divined that I had a mirror in my
hand and had seen what was behind me. She rose at once.
"'Jephro,' said she, 'there is an impertinent fellow upon the road there who
stares up at Miss Hunter.' "'No friend of yours, Miss Hunter?' he
asked.
"'No, I know no one in these parts.' "'Dear me!
How very impertinent! Kindly turn round and motion to him to go
away.'
"'Surely it would be better to take no notice.'
"'No, no, we should have him loitering here always.
Kindly turn round and wave him away like that.'
"I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs. Rucastle drew down the blind.
That was a week ago, and from that time I have not sat again in the window, nor have
I worn the blue dress, nor seen the man in the road."
"Pray continue," said Holmes.
"Your narrative promises to be a most interesting one."
"You will find it rather disconnected, I fear, and there may prove to be little
relation between the different incidents of which I speak.
On the very first day that I was at the Copper Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a
small outhouse which stands near the kitchen door.
As we approached it I heard the sharp rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a
large animal moving about. "'Look in here!' said Mr. Rucastle, showing
me a slit between two planks.
'Is he not a beauty?' "I looked through and was conscious of two
glowing eyes, and of a vague figure huddled up in the darkness.
"'Don't be frightened,' said my employer, laughing at the start which I had given.
'It's only Carlo, my mastiff.
I call him mine, but really old Toller, my groom, is the only man who can do anything
with him.
We feed him once a day, and not too much then, so that he is always as keen as
mustard.
Toller lets him loose every night, and God help the trespasser whom he lays his fangs
upon.
For goodness' sake don't you ever on any pretext set your foot over the threshold at
night, for it's as much as your life is worth.'
"The warning was no idle one, for two nights later I happened to look out of my
bedroom window about two o'clock in the morning.
It was a beautiful moonlight night, and the lawn in front of the house was silvered
over and almost as bright as day.
I was standing, rapt in the peaceful beauty of the scene, when I was aware that
something was moving under the shadow of the copper beeches.
As it emerged into the moonshine I saw what it was.
It was a giant dog, as large as a calf, tawny tinted, with hanging jowl, black
muzzle, and huge projecting bones.
It walked slowly across the lawn and vanished into the shadow upon the other
side.
That dreadful sentinel sent a chill to my heart which I do not think that any burglar
could have done. "And now I have a very strange experience
to tell you.
I had, as you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great coil
at the bottom of my trunk.
One evening, after the child was in bed, I began to amuse myself by examining the
furniture of my room and by rearranging my own little things.
There was an old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones empty and open,
the lower one locked.
I had filled the first two with my linen, and as I had still much to pack away I was
naturally annoyed at not having the use of the third drawer.
It struck me that it might have been fastened by a mere oversight, so I took out
my bunch of keys and tried to open it. The very first key fitted to perfection,
and I drew the drawer open.
There was only one thing in it, but I am sure that you would never guess what it
was. It was my coil of hair.
"I took it up and examined it.
It was of the same peculiar tint, and the same thickness.
But then the impossibility of the thing obtruded itself upon me.
How could my hair have been locked in the drawer?
With trembling hands I undid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the
bottom my own hair.
I laid the two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical.
Was it not extraordinary? Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at
all of what it meant.
I returned the strange hair to the drawer, and I said nothing of the matter to the
Rucastles as I felt that I had put myself in the wrong by opening a drawer which they
had locked.
"I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked, Mr. Holmes, and I soon had a
pretty good plan of the whole house in my head.
There was one wing, however, which appeared not to be inhabited at all.
A door which faced that which led into the quarters of the Tollers opened into this
suite, but it was invariably locked.
One day, however, as I ascended the stair, I met Mr. Rucastle coming out through this
door, his keys in his hand, and a look on his face which made him a very different
person to the round, jovial man to whom I was accustomed.
His cheeks were red, his brow was all crinkled with anger, and the veins stood
out at his temples with passion.
He locked the door and hurried past me without a word or a look.
"This aroused my curiosity, so when I went out for a walk in the grounds with my
charge, I strolled round to the side from which I could see the windows of this part
of the house.
There were four of them in a row, three of which were simply dirty, while the fourth
was shuttered up. They were evidently all deserted.
As I strolled up and down, glancing at them occasionally, Mr. Rucastle came out to me,
looking as merry and jovial as ever.
"'Ah!' said he, 'you must not think me rude if I passed you without a word, my dear
young lady. I was preoccupied with business matters.'
"I assured him that I was not offended.
'By the way,' said I, 'you seem to have quite a suite of spare rooms up there, and
one of them has the shutters up.' "He looked surprised and, as it seemed to
me, a little startled at my remark.
"'Photography is one of my hobbies,' said he.
'I have made my dark room up there. But, dear me! what an observant young lady
we have come upon.
Who would have believed it? Who would have ever believed it?'
He spoke in a jesting tone, but there was no jest in his eyes as he looked at me.
I read suspicion there and annoyance, but no jest.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, from the moment that I understood that there was something about
that suite of rooms which I was not to know, I was all on fire to go over them.
It was not mere curiosity, though I have my share of that.
It was more a feeling of duty--a feeling that some good might come from my
penetrating to this place.
They talk of woman's instinct; perhaps it was woman's instinct which gave me that
feeling.
At any rate, it was there, and I was keenly on the lookout for any chance to pass the
forbidden door. "It was only yesterday that the chance
came.
I may tell you that, besides Mr. Rucastle, both Toller and his wife find something to
do in these deserted rooms, and I once saw him carrying a large black linen bag with
him through the door.
Recently he has been drinking hard, and yesterday evening he was very drunk; and
when I came upstairs there was the key in the door.
I have no doubt at all that he had left it there.
Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle were both downstairs, and the child was with them, so that I had
an admirable opportunity.
I turned the key gently in the lock, opened the door, and slipped through.
"There was a little passage in front of me, unpapered and uncarpeted, which turned at a
right angle at the farther end.
Round this corner were three doors in a line, the first and third of which were
open.
They each led into an empty room, dusty and cheerless, with two windows in the one and
one in the other, so thick with dirt that the evening light glimmered dimly through
them.
The centre door was closed, and across the outside of it had been fastened one of the
broad bars of an iron bed, padlocked at one end to a ring in the wall, and fastened at
the other with stout cord.
The door itself was locked as well, and the key was not there.
This barricaded door corresponded clearly with the shuttered window outside, and yet
I could see by the glimmer from beneath it that the room was not in darkness.
Evidently there was a skylight which let in light from above.
As I stood in the passage gazing at the sinister door and wondering what secret it
might veil, I suddenly heard the sound of steps within the room and saw a shadow pass
backward and forward against the little
slit of dim light which shone out from under the door.
A mad, unreasoning terror rose up in me at the sight, Mr. Holmes.
My overstrung nerves failed me suddenly, and I turned and ran--ran as though some
dreadful hand were behind me clutching at the skirt of my dress.
I rushed down the passage, through the door, and straight into the arms of Mr.
Rucastle, who was waiting outside. "'So,' said he, smiling, 'it was you, then.
I thought that it must be when I saw the door open.'
"'Oh, I am so frightened!' I panted.
"'My dear young lady! my dear young lady!'- -you cannot think how caressing and
soothing his manner was--'and what has frightened you, my dear young lady?'
"But his voice was just a little too coaxing.
He overdid it. I was keenly on my guard against him.
"'I was foolish enough to go into the empty wing,' I answered.
'But it is so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I was frightened and ran out
again.
Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!' "'Only that?' said he, looking at me
keenly. "'Why, what did you think?'
I asked.
"'Why do you think that I lock this door?' "'I am sure that I do not know.'
"'It is to keep people out who have no business there.
Do you see?'
He was still smiling in the most amiable manner.
"'I am sure if I had known--' "'Well, then, you know now.
And if you ever put your foot over that threshold again'--here in an instant the
smile hardened into a grin of rage, and he glared down at me with the face of a demon-
-'I'll throw you to the mastiff.'
"I was so terrified that I do not know what I did.
I suppose that I must have rushed past him into my room.
I remember nothing until I found myself lying on my bed trembling all over.
Then I thought of you, Mr. Holmes. I could not live there longer without some
advice.
I was frightened of the house, of the man, of the woman, of the servants, even of the
child. They were all horrible to me.
If I could only bring you down all would be well.
Of course I might have fled from the house, but my curiosity was almost as strong as my
fears.
My mind was soon made up. I would send you a wire.
I put on my hat and cloak, went down to the office, which is about half a mile from the
house, and then returned, feeling very much easier.
A horrible doubt came into my mind as I approached the door lest the dog might be
loose, but I remembered that Toller had drunk himself into a state of insensibility
that evening, and I knew that he was the
only one in the household who had any influence with the savage creature, or who
would venture to set him free.
I slipped in in safety and lay awake half the night in my joy at the thought of
seeing you.
I had no difficulty in getting leave to come into Winchester this morning, but I
must be back before three o'clock, for Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle are going on a visit, and
will be away all the evening, so that I must look after the child.
Now I have told you all my adventures, Mr. Holmes, and I should be very glad if you
could tell me what it all means, and, above all, what I should do."
Holmes and I had listened spellbound to this extraordinary story.
My friend rose now and paced up and down the room, his hands in his pockets, and an
expression of the most profound gravity upon his face.
"Is Toller still drunk?" he asked.
"Yes. I heard his wife tell Mrs. Rucastle that she could do nothing with him."
"That is well. And the Rucastles go out to-night?"
"Yes."
"Is there a cellar with a good strong lock?"
"Yes, the wine-cellar."
"You seem to me to have acted all through this matter like a very brave and sensible
girl, Miss Hunter. Do you think that you could perform one
more feat?
I should not ask it of you if I did not think you a quite exceptional woman."
"I will try. What is it?"
"We shall be at the Copper Beeches by seven o'clock, my friend and I.
The Rucastles will be gone by that time, and Toller will, we hope, be incapable.
There only remains Mrs. Toller, who might give the alarm.
If you could send her into the cellar on some errand, and then turn the key upon
her, you would facilitate matters immensely."
"I will do it."
"Excellent! We shall then look thoroughly into the
affair. Of course there is only one feasible
explanation.
You have been brought there to personate someone, and the real person is imprisoned
in this chamber. That is obvious.
As to who this prisoner is, I have no doubt that it is the daughter, Miss Alice
Rucastle, if I remember right, who was said to have gone to America.
You were chosen, doubtless, as resembling her in height, figure, and the colour of
your hair.
Hers had been cut off, very possibly in some illness through which she has passed,
and so, of course, yours had to be sacrificed also.
By a curious chance you came upon her tresses.
The man in the road was undoubtedly some friend of hers--possibly her fiancé--and no
doubt, as you wore the girl's dress and were so like her, he was convinced from
your laughter, whenever he saw you, and
afterwards from your gesture, that Miss Rucastle was perfectly happy, and that she
no longer desired his attentions.
The dog is let loose at night to prevent him from endeavouring to communicate with
her. So much is fairly clear.
The most serious point in the case is the disposition of the child."
"What on earth has that to do with it?" I ejaculated.
"My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the
tendencies of a child by the study of the parents.
Don't you see that the converse is equally valid.
I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by
studying their children.
This child's disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty's sake, and
whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from his
mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power."
"I am sure that you are right, Mr. Holmes," cried our client.
"A thousand things come back to me which make me certain that you have hit it.
Oh, let us lose not an instant in bringing help to this poor creature."
"We must be circumspect, for we are dealing with a very cunning man.
We can do nothing until seven o'clock.
At that hour we shall be with you, and it will not be long before we solve the
mystery."
We were as good as our word, for it was just seven when we reached the Copper
Beeches, having put up our trap at a wayside public-house.
The group of trees, with their dark leaves shining like burnished metal in the light
of the setting sun, were sufficient to mark the house even had Miss Hunter not been
standing smiling on the door-step.
"Have you managed it?" asked Holmes. A loud thudding noise came from somewhere
downstairs. "That is Mrs. Toller in the cellar," said
she.
"Her husband lies snoring on the kitchen rug.
Here are his keys, which are the duplicates of Mr. Rucastle's."
"You have done well indeed!" cried Holmes with enthusiasm.
"Now lead the way, and we shall soon see the end of this black business."
We passed up the stair, unlocked the door, followed on down a passage, and found
ourselves in front of the barricade which Miss Hunter had described.
Holmes cut the cord and removed the transverse bar.
Then he tried the various keys in the lock, but without success.
No sound came from within, and at the silence Holmes' face clouded over.
"I trust that we are not too late," said he.
"I think, Miss Hunter, that we had better go in without you.
Now, Watson, put your shoulder to it, and we shall see whether we cannot make our way
in."
It was an old rickety door and gave at once before our united strength.
Together we rushed into the room. It was empty.
There was no furniture save a little pallet bed, a small table, and a basketful of
linen. The skylight above was open, and the
prisoner gone.
"There has been some villainy here," said Holmes; "this beauty has guessed Miss
Hunter's intentions and has carried his victim off."
"But how?"
"Through the skylight. We shall soon see how he managed it."
He swung himself up onto the roof. "Ah, yes," he cried, "here's the end of a
long light ladder against the eaves.
That is how he did it." "But it is impossible," said Miss Hunter;
"the ladder was not there when the Rucastles went away."
"He has come back and done it.
I tell you that he is a clever and dangerous man.
I should not be very much surprised if this were he whose step I hear now upon the
stair.
I think, Watson, that it would be as well for you to have your pistol ready."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a man appeared at the door of the
room, a very fat and burly man, with a heavy stick in his hand.
Miss Hunter screamed and shrunk against the wall at the sight of him, but Sherlock
Holmes sprang forward and confronted him. "You villain!" said he, "where's your
daughter?"
The fat man cast his eyes round, and then up at the open skylight.
"It is for me to ask you that," he shrieked, "you thieves!
Spies and thieves!
I have caught you, have I? You are in my power.
I'll serve you!" He turned and clattered down the stairs as
hard as he could go.
"He's gone for the dog!" cried Miss Hunter. "I have my revolver," said I.
"Better close the front door," cried Holmes, and we all rushed down the stairs
together.
We had hardly reached the hall when we heard the baying of a hound, and then a
scream of agony, with a horrible worrying sound which it was dreadful to listen to.
An elderly man with a red face and shaking limbs came staggering out at a side door.
"My God!" he cried. "Someone has loosed the dog.
It's not been fed for two days.
Quick, quick, or it'll be too late!" Holmes and I rushed out and round the angle
of the house, with Toller hurrying behind us.
There was the huge famished brute, its black muzzle buried in Rucastle's throat,
while he writhed and screamed upon the ground.
Running up, I blew its brains out, and it fell over with its keen white teeth still
meeting in the great creases of his neck.
With much labour we separated them and carried him, living but horribly mangled,
into the house.
We laid him upon the drawing-room sofa, and having dispatched the sobered Toller to
bear the news to his wife, I did what I could to relieve his pain.
We were all assembled round him when the door opened, and a tall, gaunt woman
entered the room. "Mrs. Toller!" cried Miss Hunter.
"Yes, miss.
Mr. Rucastle let me out when he came back before he went up to you.
Ah, miss, it is a pity you didn't let me know what you were planning, for I would
have told you that your pains were wasted."
"Ha!" said Holmes, looking keenly at her. "It is clear that Mrs. Toller knows more
about this matter than anyone else." "Yes, sir, I do, and I am ready enough to
tell what I know."
"Then, pray, sit down, and let us hear it for there are several points on which I
must confess that I am still in the dark."
"I will soon make it clear to you," said she; "and I'd have done so before now if I
could ha' got out from the cellar.
If there's police-court business over this, you'll remember that I was the one that
stood your friend, and that I was Miss Alice's friend too.
"She was never happy at home, Miss Alice wasn't, from the time that her father
married again.
She was slighted like and had no say in anything, but it never really became bad
for her until after she met Mr. Fowler at a friend's house.
As well as I could learn, Miss Alice had rights of her own by will, but she was so
quiet and patient, she was, that she never said a word about them but just left
everything in Mr. Rucastle's hands.
He knew he was safe with her; but when there was a chance of a husband coming
forward, who would ask for all that the law would give him, then her father thought it
time to put a stop on it.
He wanted her to sign a paper, so that whether she married or not, he could use
her money.
When she wouldn't do it, he kept on worrying her until she got brain-fever, and
for six weeks was at death's door.
Then she got better at last, all worn to a shadow, and with her beautiful hair cut
off; but that didn't make no change in her young man, and he stuck to her as true as
man could be."
"Ah," said Holmes, "I think that what you have been good enough to tell us makes the
matter fairly clear, and that I can deduce all that remains.
Mr. Rucastle then, I presume, took to this system of imprisonment?"
"Yes, sir."
"And brought Miss Hunter down from London in order to get rid of the disagreeable
persistence of Mr. Fowler." "That was it, sir."
"But Mr. Fowler being a persevering man, as a good seaman should be, blockaded the
house, and having met you succeeded by certain arguments, metallic or otherwise,
in convincing you that your interests were the same as his."
"Mr. Fowler was a very kind-spoken, free- handed gentleman," said Mrs. Toller
serenely.
"And in this way he managed that your good man should have no want of drink, and that
a ladder should be ready at the moment when your master had gone out."
"You have it, sir, just as it happened."
"I am sure we owe you an apology, Mrs. Toller," said Holmes, "for you have
certainly cleared up everything which puzzled us.
And here comes the country surgeon and Mrs. Rucastle, so I think, Watson, that we had
best escort Miss Hunter back to Winchester, as it seems to me that our locus standi now
is rather a questionable one."
And thus was solved the mystery of the sinister house with the copper beeches in
front of the door.
Mr. Rucastle survived, but was always a broken man, kept alive solely through the
care of his devoted wife.
They still live with their old servants, who probably know so much of Rucastle's
past life that he finds it difficult to part from them.
Mr. Fowler and Miss Rucastle were married, by special license, in Southampton the day
after their flight, and he is now the holder of a government appointment in the
island of Mauritius.
As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no
further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his
problems, and she is now the head of a
private school at Walsall, where I believe that she has met with considerable success.
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Part 6 - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Audiobook by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Adventures 11-12)

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Berry published on August 11, 2014
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