English > ESL Library Index

Online ESL Literature Library
Great literature free and accessible for everyone.


THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

by Arthur Conan Doyle


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's 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.


Many Thanks for Using the ESL Literature Library from 1-language.com.


Copyright © 2013 All rights reserved.