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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"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
gray roofs of the farm-steadings peeped out from amid the light
green of the new foliage.

"Are they not fresh and beautiful?" I cried with all the
enthusiasm of a man fresh from the fogs of Baker Street.

But Holmes shook his head gravely.

"Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of
a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with
reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered
houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them,
and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their
isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed
there."

"Good heavens!" I cried. "Who would associate crime with these
dear old homesteads?"

"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief,
Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest
alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin
than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

"You horrify me!"

"But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion
can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no
lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of
a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among
the neighbors, 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 colorless in mind as well as
in feature. She impressed me neither favorably nor the reverse.
She was a nonentity. It was easy to see that she was passionately
devoted both to her husband and to her little son. Her light gray
eyes wandered continually from one to the other, noting every
little want and forestalling it if possible. He was kind to her
also in his bluff, boisterous fashion, and on the whole they
seemed to be a happy couple. And yet she had some secret sorrow,
this woman. She would often be lost in deep thought, with the
saddest look upon her face. More than once I have surprised her
in tears. I have thought sometimes that it was the disposition of
her child which weighed upon her mind, for I have never met so
utterly spoiled and so ill-natured a little creature. He is small
for his age, with a head which is quite disproportionately large.
His whole life appears to be spent in an alternation between
savage fits of passion and gloomy intervals of sulking. Giving
pain to any creature weaker than himself seems to be his one idea
of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning
the capture of mice, little birds, and insects. But I would
rather not talk about the creature, Mr. Holmes, and, indeed, he
has little to do with my story."

"I am glad of all details," remarked my friend, "whether they
seem to you to be relevant or not."

"I shall try not to miss anything of importance. The one
unpleasant thing about the house, which struck me at once, was
the appearance and conduct of the servants. There are only two, a
man and his wife. Toller, for that is his name, is a rough,
uncouth man, with grizzled hair and whiskers, and a perpetual
smell of drink. Twice since I have been with them he has been
quite drunk, and yet Mr. Rucastle seemed to take no notice of it.
His wife is a very tall and strong woman with a sour face, as
silent as Mrs. Rucastle and much less amiable. They are a most
unpleasant couple, but fortunately I spend most of my time in the
nursery and my own room, which are next to each other in one
corner of the building.

"For two days after my arrival at the Copper Beeches my life was
very quiet; on the third, Mrs. Rucastle came down just after
breakfast and whispered something to her husband.

"'Oh, yes,' said he, turning to me, 'we are very much obliged to
you, Miss Hunter, for falling in with our whims so far as to cut
your hair. I assure you that it has not detracted in the tiniest
iota from your appearance. We shall now see how the electric-blue
dress will become you. You will find it laid out upon the bed in
your room, and if you would be so good as to put it on we should
both be extremely obliged.'

"The dress which I found waiting for me was of a peculiar shade
of blue. It was of excellent material, a sort of beige, but it
bore unmistakable signs of having been worn before. It could not
have been a better fit if I had been measured for it. Both Mr.
and Mrs. Rucastle expressed a delight at the look of it, which
seemed quite exaggerated in its vehemence. They were waiting for
me in the drawing-room, which is a very large room, stretching
along the entire front of the house, with three long windows
reaching down to the floor. A chair had been placed close to the
central window, with its back turned towards it. In this I was
asked to sit, and then Mr. Rucastle, walking up and down on the
other side of the room, began to tell me a series of the funniest
stories that I have ever listened to. You cannot imagine how
comical he was, and I laughed until I was quite weary. Mrs.
Rucastle, however, who has evidently no sense of humour, never so
much as smiled, but sat with her hands in her lap, and a sad,
anxious look upon her face. After an hour or so, Mr. Rucastle
suddenly remarked that it was time to commence the duties of the
day, and that I might change my dress and go to little Edward in
the nursery.

"Two days later this same performance was gone through under
exactly similar circumstances. Again I changed my dress, again I
sat in the window, and again I laughed very heartily at the funny
stories of which my employer had an immense repertoire, and which
he told inimitably. Then he handed me a yellow-backed novel, and
moving my chair a little sideways, that my own shadow might not
fall upon the page, he begged me to read aloud to him. I read for
about ten minutes, beginning in the heart of a chapter, and then
suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he ordered me to cease and
to change my dress.

"You can easily imagine, Mr. Holmes, how curious I became as to
what the meaning of this extraordinary performance could possibly
be. They were always very careful, I observed, to turn my face
away from the window, so that I became consumed with the desire
to see what was going on behind my back. At first it seemed to be
impossible, but I soon devised a means. My hand-mirror had been
broken, so a happy thought seized me, and I concealed a piece of
the glass in my handkerchief. On the next occasion, in the midst
of my laughter, I put my handkerchief up to my eyes, and was able
with a little management to see all that there was behind me. I
confess that I was disappointed. There was nothing. At least that
was my first impression. At the second glance, however, I
perceived that there was a man standing in the Southampton Road,
a small bearded man in a gray suit, who seemed to be looking in
my direction. The road is an important highway, and there are
usually people there. This man, however, was leaning against the
railings which bordered our field and was looking earnestly up. I
lowered my handkerchief and glanced at Mrs. Rucastle to find her
eyes fixed upon me with a most searching gaze. She said nothing,
but I am convinced that she had divined that I had a mirror in my
hand and had seen what was behind me. She rose at once.

"'Jephro,' said she, 'there is an impertinent fellow upon the
road there who stares up at Miss Hunter.'

"'No friend of yours, Miss Hunter?' he asked.

"'No, I know no one in these parts.'

"'Dear me! How very impertinent! Kindly turn round and motion to
him to go away.'

"'Surely it would be better to take no notice.'

"'No, no, we should have him loitering here always. Kindly turn
round and wave him away like that.'

"I did as I was told, and at the same instant Mrs. Rucastle drew
down the blind. That was a week ago, and from that time I have
not sat again in the window, nor have I worn the blue dress, nor
seen the man in the road."

"Pray continue," said Holmes. "Your narrative promises to be a
most interesting one."

"You will find it rather disconnected, I fear, and there may
prove to be little relation between the different incidents of
which I speak. On the very first day that I was at the Copper
Beeches, Mr. Rucastle took me to a small outhouse which stands
near the kitchen door. As we approached it I heard the sharp
rattling of a chain, and the sound as of a large animal moving
about.

"'Look in here!' said Mr. Rucastle, showing me a slit 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.



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