Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
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"'My sole duties, then,' I asked, 'are to take charge of a single
"'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.
"'No,' said I, considerably astonished at his words.
"'Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensive to
"'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
"'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
inciined 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
"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.