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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"And now I have a very strange experience to tell you. I had, as
you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a
great coil at the bottom of my trunk. One evening, after the
child was in bed, I began to amuse myself by examining the
furniture of my room and by rearranging my own little things.
There was an old chest of drawers in the room, the two upper ones
empty and open, the lower one locked. I had filled the first two
with my linen. and as I had still much to pack away I was
naturally annoyed at not having the use of the third drawer. It
struck me that it might have been fastened by a mere oversight,
so I took out my bunch of keys and tried to open it. The very
first key fitted to perfection, and I drew the drawer open. There
was only one thing in it, but I am sure that you would never
guess what it was. It was my coil of hair.

"I took it up and examined it. It was of the same peculiar tint,
and the same thickness. But then the impossibility of the thing
obtruded itself upon me. How could my hair have been locked in
the drawer? With trembling hands I undid my trunk, turned out the
contents, and drew from the bonom my own hair. I laid the two
tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Was
it not extraordinary? Puzzle as I would, I could make nothing at
all of what it meant. I returned the strange hair to the drawer,
and I said nothing of the matter to the Rucastles as I felt that
I had put myself in the wrong by opening a drawer which they had
locked.

"I am naturally observant, as you may have remarked, Mr. Holmes,
and I soon had a pretty good plan of the whole house in my head.
There was one wing, however, which appeared not to be inhabited
at all. A door which faced that which led into the quarters of
the Tollers opened into this suite, but it was 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.'


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