Adventure of the Noble Bachelor
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 Next page
"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
"'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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
"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