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THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


"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 color of your hair. Hers had been cut off, very
possibly in some illness through which she has passed, and so, of
course, yours had to be sacrificed also. By a curious chance you
came upon her tresses. The man in the road was undoubtedly some
friend of hers--possibly her fiance--and no doubt, as you wore
the girl's dress and were so like her, he was convinced from your
laughter, whenever he saw you, and afterwards from your gesture,
that Miss Rucastle was perfectly happy, and that she no longer
desired his attentions. The dog is let loose at night to prevent
him from endeavoring 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."


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