An Analysis of Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of the
Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of the Copper Beeches'
Commentary by Karen Bernardo
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In Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,' Sherlock Holmes is again consulted by a young
woman -- this time an unemployed governess. Violet Hunter has been assiduously looking for a job for some time, and
is getting desperate; so when she is finally offered a position -- for much more money than she had been getting in
her previous job -- it seems ridiculous to hesitate.
At the same time, the job requirements sound extremely strange. Violet's prospective employer, Jephro Rucastle
of the Copper Beeches in Winchester, is not even remotely interested in her educational qualifications; his grown
daughter Alice is now living in America and his small son is virtually uneducable due to severe behavioral
problems. Rucastle's one inflexible requirement of his new employee is that she cut off her long auburn hair.
Because in Victorian times long, beautiful hair was considered central to a woman's beauty, Violet initially
refuses. But Mr. Rucastle writes her the following day and urges her to reconsider. He raises his salary offer, but
adds one more requirement; not only would she have to cut off her hair, but she would have to wear a bright blue
dress, which he would provide.
The salary is certainly tempting to a person as broke as Violet Hunter. But his requirements seem so peculiar
that she decides to consult Sherlock Holmes before accepting Mr. Rucastle's offer. He tells her that as of this
moment, he sees no reason for her not to accept the job, although he agrees she has reason to be cautious.
Nonetheless, after Violet leaves, he tells Watson he expects to hear from her again soon.
And so he does. In a few weeks he receives a telegram from Violet urging him to come to her aid, and he and
Watson leave for Winchester at once. When they meet at a local hotel, Violet tells Holmes that the situation at the
Rucastles' is even stranger than she had suspected. One of the oddest things the Rucastles have asked her to do is
put on the blue dress at a certain time every day and sit in front of the window while Mr. Rucastle tells her
jokes. He is tremendously amusing and she laughs until she nearly weeps, but she cannot see the point of this
activity. On another occasion, Mr. Rucastle asked her to sit in the same spot and read to him, while wearing the
blue dress. She does so, reading for quite a while, but then he suddenly interrupts her and tells her to go
upstairs and change her clothes.
She begins to suspect that she is, in fact, putting on some sort of performance for someone who may be outside
the house looking in. So she conceals a small mirror in her hand and sees that there is indeed a man looking toward
the house as she laughs, or chats, or reads. However, Mrs. Rucastle detects the mirror in her hand, and asks Violet
to get up, face the window, and motion the man away. Since that, Violet has not been asked to wear the blue dress
or sit in the window.
Several other odd things occur in the Rucastle house. In a bureau drawer, Violet finds a long coil of cut hair
that looks just like her own -- but it's not. And Mr. Rucastle makes a point of showing her his vicious dog, and
warns her never to go out of the house at night. When she ventures into an unoccupied wing of the house -- a wing
that she's been told is off-limits to her -- Mr. Rucastle tells her that if he ever catches her there again he'll
set the dog on her. This causes her to wire Sherlock Holmes for help.
Holmes tells her that she has behaved bravely and with great intelligence throughout this entire episode.
Consequently, he feels secure in asking her to do one more thing: when he and Watson arrive at the Copper Beeches
that night, Violet is to lock the servant Mrs. Toller in the cellar while the Rucastles are away. That will give
Holmes and Watson free rein of the estate. Holmes suspects that Violet was actually hired to impersonate Mr.
Rucastle's daughter, who is probably being kept prisoner in the locked wing of the house. The cropped hairstyle and
blue dress are intended to fool Alice's suitor -- the man snooping outside the front window -- into thinking that
she simply no longer wants to see him.
When they break into the locked wing, however, they find it unoccupied. The skylight is open, and a ladder
reaches from the eaves to the ground. Holmes assumes that Mr. Rucastle has smuggled Alice out of the house, but
when Rucastle returns, furious, Holmes is forced to change his mind. As Rucastle runs outside again, Violet cries
that he's going for the dog -- but an agonized scream tells them the vicious dog got to Mr. Rucastle first.
The housekeeper, freed from the cellar, tells them the whole story. Mr. Rucastle's daughter was actually the
child of his first marriage, and upon her mother's death was willed money which her father freely used. Her
engagement to a seaman, however, threatened Mr. Rucastle's position. When Alice conveniently became ill, he locked
her up in the unused wing and hired Violet to impersonate her, and thus give Alice's seaman the impression that his
fiance was giving him the cold shoulder. The intrepid seaman, however, sees through the ruse and rescues Alice
through the skylight. They are now long gone and on the way to a new life.
As always in the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, evil is punished and order is restored -- all thanks to the
logical deductions of Sherlock Holmes.
This story is available in "The Complete Sherlock Holmes."
It is available in paperback from Amazon here:
and as a Kindle download from Amazon here:
It is also available in paperback from Barnes and Noble here:
and as a Nook download in "A Study in Scarlet and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," available here: