The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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sensational, I fear that you may have bordered on the trivial."
"The end may have been so," I answered, "but the methods I hold to have
been novel and of interest."
"Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public,
who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth or a compositor by his left thumb,
care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction! But, indeed, if you are
trivial. I cannot blame you, for the days of the great cases are past. Man, or
at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. As to my own
little practice, it seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost
lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding-schools. I think
that I have touched bottom at last, however. This note I had this morning marks
my zero-point, I fancy. Read it!" He tossed a crumpled letter across to me.
It was dated from Montague Place upon the preceding evening, and ran thus:
"DEAR MR. HOLMES:--I am very anxious to consult you as to whether I should
or should not accept a situation which has been offered to me as governess. I
shall call at half-past ten to-morrow if I do not inconvenience you.
Yours faithfully, VIOLET HUNTER."
"Do you know the young lady?" I asked.
"It is half-past ten now."
"Yes, and I have no doubt that is her ring."
"It may turn out to be of more interest than you think. You remember that
the affair of the blue carbuncle, which appeared to be a mere whim at first,
developed into a serious investigation. It may be so in this case, also."
"Well, let us hope so. But our doubts will very soon be solved, for here,
unless I am much mistaken, is the person in question."
As he spoke the door opened and a young lady entered the room. She was
plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover's
egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the
"You will excuse my troubling you, I am sure," said she, as my companion
rose to greet her, "but I have had a very strange experience, and as I have no
parents or relations of any sort from whom I could ask advice, I thought that
perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me what I should do."
"Pray take a seat, Miss Hunter. I shall be happy to do anything that I can
to serve you."
I could see that Holmes was favorably impressed by the manner and speech of
his new client. He looked her over in his searching fashion, and then composed
himself, with his lids drooping and his finger-tips together, to listen to her
"I have been a governess for five years," said she, "in the family of
Colonel Spence Munro, but two months ago the colonel received an appointment at
Halifax, in Nova Scotia, and took his children over to America with him, so that
I found myself without a situation. I advertised, and I answered advertisements,
but without success. At last the little money which I had saved began to run
short, and I was at my wit's end as to what I should do.
"There is a well-known agency for governesses in the West End called
Westaway's, and there I used to call about once a week in order to see whether
anything had turned up which might suit me. Westaway was the name of the founder
of the business, but it is really managed by Miss Stoper. She sits in her own
little office, and the ladies who are seeking employment wait in an anteroom,
and are then shown in one by one, when she consults her ledgers and sees whether
she has anything which would suit them.
"Well, when I called last week I was shown into the little office as usual,
but I found that Miss Stoper was not alone. A prodigiously stout man with a very
smiling face and a great heavy chin which rolled down in fold upon fold over his
throat sat at her elbow with a pair of glasses on his nose, looking very
earnestly at the ladies who entered. As I came in he gave quite a jump in his
chair and turned quickly to Miss Stoper.
"'That will do,' said he; 'I could not ask for anything better. Capital!
capital!' He seemed quite enthusiastic and rubbed his hands together in the most
genial fashion. He was such a comfortable-looking man that it was quite a
pleasure to look at him.
"'You are looking for a situation, miss?' he asked.
"'And what salary do you ask?'
"'I had 4 pounds a month in my last place with Colonel Spence Munro.'
"'Oh, tut, tut! sweating--rank sweating!' he cried, throwing his fat hands
out into the air like a man who is in a boiling passion. 'How could anyone offer
so pitiful a sum to a lady with such attractions and accomplishments?'
"'My accomplishments, sir, may be less than you imagine,' said I. 'A little
French, a little German, music, and drawing --'
"'Tut, tut!' he cried. 'This is all quite beside the question. The point
is, have you or have you not the bearing and deportment of a lady? There it is
in a nutshell. If you have not, you are not fined for the rearing of a child who
may some day play a considerable part in the history of the country. But if you
have why, then, how could any gentleman ask you to condescend to accept anything
under the three figures? Your salary with me, madam, would commence at 100
pounds a year.'
"You may imagine, Mr. Holmes, that to me, destitute as I was, such an offer
seemed almost too good to be true. The gentleman, however, seeing perhaps the
look of incredulity upon my face, opened a pocket-book and took out a note.
"'It is also my custom,' said he, smiling in the most pleasant fashion
until his eyes were just two little shining slits amid the white creases of his
face, 'to advance to my young ladies half their salary beforehand, so that they
may meet any little expenses of their journey and their wardrobe.'
"It seemed to me that I had never met so fascinating and so thoughtful a
man. As I was already in debt to my tradesmen, the advance was a great
convenience, and yet there was something unnatural about the whole transaction
which made me wish to know a little more before I quite committed myself.
"'May I ask where you live, sir?' said I.
"'Hampshire. Charming rural place. The Copper Beeches, five miles on the
far side of Winchester. It is the most lovely country, my dear young lady, and
the dearest old country-house.'
"'And my duties, sir? I should be glad to know what they would be.'
"'One child--one dear little romper just six years old. Oh, if you could
see him killing cockroaches with a slipper! Smack! smack! smack! Three gone
before you could wink!' He leaned back in his chair and laughed his eyes into
his head again.
"I was a little startled at the nature of the child's amusement, but the
father's laughter made me think that perhaps he was joking.
"'My sole duties, then,' I asked, 'are to take charge of a single child?'
"'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. Heh?'
"'No,' said I, considerably astonished at his words.
"'Or to sit here, or sit there, that would not be offensive to you?'
"'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
"'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 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 hair?'
"'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
"'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 inclined 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
"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
"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
"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?"