The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
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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
"'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
"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 about.
"'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 is worth.'
"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 locked.
"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 business matters.'
"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
"He looked surprised and, as it seemed to me, a little startled at my
"'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 forbidden door.
"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 as though some dreadful hand were behind me clutching at the skirt of
my dress. I rushed down the passage, through the door, and straight into the
arms of Mr. Rucastle, who was waiting outside.
"'So,' said he, smiling, 'it was you, then. I thought that it must be when
I saw the door open.'
"'Oh, I am so frightened!' I panted.
"'My dear young lady! my dear young lady!'--you cannot think how caressing
and soothing his manner was--'and what has frightened you, my dear young lady?'
"But his voice was just a little too coaxing. He overdid it. I was keenly
on my guard against him.
"'I was foolish enough to go into the empty wing,' I answered. 'But it is
so lonely and eerie in this dim light that I was frightened and ran out again.
Oh, it is so dreadfully still in there!'
"'Only that?' said he, looking at me keenly.
"'Why, what did you think?' I asked.
"'Why do you think that I lock this door?'
"'I am sure that I do not know.'
"'It is to keep people out who have no business there. Do you see?' He was
still smiling in the most amiable manner.
"'I am sure if I had known--'
"'Well, then, you know now. And if you ever put your foot over that
threshold again'--here in an instant the smile hardened into a grin of rage, and
he glared down at me with the face of a demon--'I'll throw you to the mastiff.'
"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
"That is well. And the Rucastles go out to-night?"
"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.