"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in print in the issue of The Strand magazine for June 1892. It would be published again in October of the same year as part of the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
In the story, a young woman named Violet Hunter seeks the advice of the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes. A man named Jephro Rucastle has offered Miss Hunter a job as governess to his son. The position is an extremely well paid one. However, in order to get the job, Miss Hunter has to agree to some highly unusual conditions, which Mr. Rucastle claims are his wife's ideas. Miss Hunter wants Holmes' advice as to whether she should accept the job or not. Although Holmes advises her not to, Violet Hunter decides to work for the Rucastles. She is reassured when Holmes says that she can contact him if she finds herself in trouble. Shortly afterwards, Violet Hunter contacts Holmes again. She is disturbed by her employers' strange behavior and by the strange things which they ask her to do. Holmes realizes that Violet Hunter is being made to impersonate someone else and comes to the conclusion that Jephro Rucastle is a wicked and dangerous man.
The story has been adapted for radio, film and television.
Sherlock Holmes complains that many of his recent cases, which Dr. Watson has recorded as "A Scandal in Bohemia", "A Case of Identity", "The Man with the Twisted Lip" and "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" have not involved any crime for which anybody could be prosecuted. He laments that his detective business, "seems to be degenerating into an agency for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding schools". He shows Watson a letter which he says represents a new low in his investigative career. The letter is from a young woman who is due to arrive at Holmes' apartment soon. Her name is Violet Hunter and she wants to ask Holmes' advice as to whether or not she should accept a job offer. Watson points out that the case which he recorded as "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" appeared at first to be a very trivial matter but became an investigation into a serious crime. He tells Holmes that the same might be true in the case which Violet Hunter is bringing to him.
Violet Hunter explains that she had been the governess to the children of Colonel Spence Munro for five years but lost her job when the colonel and his family moved to Canada. She soon began to run out of money and had to look for another job. She often went to an employment agency for governesses managed by a woman called Mrs. Stoper. She would usually be called into an office where Mrs. Stoper, seated alone, would look through her files to try to find a suitable position. One day, she was called into the office and found a cheerful looking man with Mrs. Stoper. The man is later revealed to be Mr. Jephro Rucastle who lives in a house called the Copper Beeches in the Hampshire countryside near Winchester. As soon as he saw Violet Hunter, Mr. Rucastle declared that she would be perfect for the job. He offered to pay her one hundred pounds a year, more than double her previous salary, and to give her half of that in advance. He explained that she would only have to look after one child, his six-year-old son, but that she would also have to obey any commands that his wife might give. Mr. Rucastle went on to say that Violet hunter would need to have her hair cut very short in order to get the job. Since she could not bear the idea of having her long hair cut short, Violet Hunter turned down the job offer. Mrs. Stoper remarked that she could not bring herself to make much effort to find another job for Miss Hunter after she had turned down an excellent one.
Soon afterwards, having little food and little money with which to buy any more, Violet Hunter began to regret her decision. She was about to return to the agency and ask if the job vacancy was still open when she received a letter from Mr. Rucastle. In the letter, Mr. Rucastle offers to pay her a hundred and twenty pounds a year. She is told that she will still be obliged to have her hair cut short and that she will be asked to put on a dress of electric blue, Mrs. Rucastle's favorite color.
Violet Hunter tells Holmes that she has decided to accept the job. Holmes comments that he would not be happy if a sister of his accepted it. The fact that the job is well paid is what troubles him most. The Rucastles clearly have some motive for offering Miss Hunter three times the usual salary of a governess but Holmes does not know what that motive is. He thinks that Violet Hunter's theory that Mrs. Rucastle is insane and that Mr. Rucastle is trying to cover that fact up is possible. He has the feeling that Miss Hunter is in danger of some kind. He tells her that she can send him a telegram if she needs his help again.
A few weeks later, Holmes and Watson receive a telegram from Miss Hunter. She tells them she is at her wit's end and asks them to meet her at the Black Swan hotel in Winchester the following day. When Holmes and Watson arrive at the hotel, Violet Hunter explains that she will have to return to the Copper Beeches at three o'clock in the afternoon because the Rucastles are going out and she will have to take care of their son. She comments that Mrs. Rucastle is not mad, although she finds her lacking in personality. However, she is deeply troubled by the Rucastles' behavior which she does not understand.
The Rucastles have been married for seven years. Jephro Rucastle was a widower and has one daughter, Alice, from his first marriage. Alice is said to have emigrated to Philadelphia. The Rucastles' young son Edward is an extremely unpleasant child. He delights in torturing and killing small animals. The Rucastles have only two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Toller. Mr. Toller constantly smells of alcohol and Violet Hunter has seen him drunk on more than one occasion. On the day that Violet Hunter arrived at the Copper Beeches, Jephro Rucastle showed Miss Hunter that he kept a large mastiff. The dog is kept in a kennel during the day and let out at night. It is kept half starved so that it will bite any trespassers. Mr. Toller is the only person who can control the dog.
Two days after she arrived at the Copper Beeches, Violet Hunter was told to put on the electric blue dress which had been laid out on her bed. The dress had clearly previously been worn by someone else but it fit Miss Hunter perfectly. She was then asked to come into the house's large living room and to sit with her back to a large window which looked out onto the main road. Jephro Rucastle proceeded to tell several very funny stories and violet Hunter could not help laughing when she heard them. After an hour, she was told to change her clothes and attend to Edward. Two days later, she was again told to put on the electric blue dress and sit in the same chair in the living room. Again, Jephro Rucastle told funny stories which made Miss Hunter laugh. She was then asked to read aloud from a novel for ten minutes. Violet Hunter did not understand why she was asked to put on the dress and sit in the living room but she noticed that the Rucastles did not want her to look out of the window behind her.
On the third occasion on which Violet Hunter was asked to put on the dress and sit in front of the large window in the living room, she concealed a piece of broken mirror in her handkerchief. When she laughed, she put the handkerchief to her eye. in the piece of mirror, she could see that a man was standing in the road and looking at the house. Although she did not say anything about the piece of mirror, Mrs. Rucastle appeared to notice what Violet Hunter was doing. She told her husband that there was a man in the road staring at Miss Hunter. Mr. Rucastle told Miss Hunter to make a sign to shoo the man away. At the same time, Mrs. Rucastle pulled down the blind. Violet Hunter was not asked to put on the electric blue dress and sit in front of the window again.
Violet Hunter had her hair cut short before she came to the Copper Beeches. She took the hair that had been cut off with her, placing it at the bottom of her trunk. One evening, she found that one drawer in her dresser was locked but that she had a key to open it. When she opened the drawer, she was surprised to find her hair inside it. However, when she looked in the bottom of her trunk, she found that her hair was still there. The hair in the drawer was not hers, although it was of exactly the same color and texture.
Miss Hunter noticed that nobody ever went to one wing of the Copper Beeches. Three windows of that wing could be seen from the outside. Two of them were dirty and one of them was boarded up. The only door which led to that part of the house was usually kept locked. One day, Miss Hunter was surprised to see Jephro Rucastle come out of that door. He later explained that he had a dark room for developing photographs in that part of the house but Miss Hunter did not believe him. She felt that she needed to find out what was behind the locked door.
On the evening before Holmes and Watson met her in Winchester, Miss Hunter noticed that Mr. Toller had gone into that part of the house and, because he was very drunk, he left the key in the door. Violet Hunter found that there were three rooms. Two of the rooms had doors which were unlocked and were empty. The door of the room in the middle, the room with the boarded up window, was locked and had an iron bar across it. Some light coming from underneath the door indicated that the room had a skylight. Mr. Rucastle saw Miss Hunter and told her that he would throw her to the mastiff if he ever caught her in that part of the house again. Violet Hunter was able to go out and send a telegram to Holmes. She knew that Mr. Toller would have been too drunk to remember to release the mastiff that night.
Sherlock Holmes says that Violet Hunter is obviously being made to impersonate someone else. That person must be Alice Rucastle, who must have had her long hair cut short as part of treatment for a disease. Jephro Rucastle has lied about her having emigrated to America and is keeping her prisoner in the room with the boarded up window. The man who was looking at the house from the road was either a friend of Alice Rucastle or her fiancé. Violet Hunter was made to laugh to create the impression that Alice Rucastle was happy without that man in her life.The mastiff is intended to prevent that man from getting near to the house at night. Holmes is certain that the Rucastles are dangerous people, concluding that the cruel nature of young Edward Rucastle is the true nature of his parents.
Holmes sees an opportunity to rescue Alice Rucastle that evening, since Mr. and Mrs. Rucastle will be out and Mr. Toller has been in a drunken stupor all day. So that Mrs. Toller will not interfere with the rescue mission, he tells Violet Hunter to send her to the wine cellar on some pretext and then lock her inside. Holmes and Watson arrive at the Copper Beeches at seven o'clock in the evening. Violet Hunter leads them to the room with the boarded up window. The two men break the door down but find the room empty. Looking out of the skylight, Holmes sees that there is a ladder next to it. Violet Hunter says that the ladder was not there when Jephro Rucastle left that evening.
Jephro Rucastle appears. He accuses Holmes of having abducted his daughter and goes to get the mastiff. The dog, which has not been fed for two days, can be heard attacking its master. The sound makes Mr. Toller sober up immediately. He, Holmes and Watson go out to rescue Mr. Rucastle. Watson shoots the dog dead. Mr. Rucastle is carried into the living room where Watson tends to him.
Mrs. Toller, who was freed from the wine cellar when Mr. Rucastle came home, says that she would have gladly helped Miss Hunter, Holmes and Watson. She explains that Alice Rucastle had her own inheritance which made her independently wealthy. She allowed her father to keep that money but he was afraid that he would lose it if she got married. After she fell in love with a seaman named Fowler, Jephro Rucastle tried to persuade her to sign some papers which would allow him to keep the money even after she got married. The constant pressure that she was put under to sign the papers made Alice sick with a brain fever. As part of her treatment for the illness, Alice Rucastle was obliged to have her long hair cut, although Mr. Fowler continued to love her. Mrs. Toller confirms that Violet Hunter was hired because she looks very similar to Alice Rucastle. Jephro Rucastle wanted to persuade Mr. Fowler that Alice was happy without him so that he would not marry her. By offering them money and alcohol, Mr. Fowler was able to take the Tollers into his confidence and get them to help him. Mr. Toller agreed to have a long ladder ready whenever the Rucastles went out. Mr. Fowler had used it to rescue Alice that evening.
Mr. Rucastle is left an invalid after having been attacked by his own mastiff. The Rucastles continue to keep the Tollers on as their servants, probably to prevent them from telling the police what they know. Alice Rucastle and Mr. Fowler marry and move to Mauritius. Miss Hunter becomes the headmistress of a private school in central England and Holmes loses all interest in her after her case is solved.
A short silent film adaptation of the story, starring Georges Trévaille as Holmes, was released in 1912. The Copper Beeches is one of eight Anglo-French Sherlock Holmes films which were made in the early 20th century under the supervision of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. It is, however, the only one of those eight films to have survived. The film is a rather loose adaptation of the story. The characters of Mrs. Rucastle, Mr. and Mrs. Toller and Dr. Watson are omitted. There is also no mastiff in the movie. As in the short story, Jephro Rucastle wants to fool Mr. Fowler into thinking that Violet Hunter is his daughter but his motivation for doing so is different. He plans to lure Fowler to the house so that he can kill him.
A second silent movie adaptation, starring Ellie Norwood as Holmes, was released in the United Kingdom in 1921.
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" was adapted as the third episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes , starring Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as Watson. It was first shown in the United Kingdom on March 6, 1965.
The eighth episode of the Granada TV series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke as Watson, is an adaptation of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". It first aired on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on August 25, 1985. Violet Hunter is played by Natasha Richardson and Jephro Rucastle is played by Joss Ackland.
A radio adaptation, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the United Kingdom on February 6, 1991. Violet Hunter is played by Imogen Stubbs.
- Sound file of public domain aufiobook of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" from LibriVox
- Video of the 1912 silent film The Copper Beeches