The Copper Beeches

07/16/2011 at 1:47 AM (Adventure, Books, Mystery, Short Stories, TV) (, , , , , )

When I was a little girl of about eight, I found a set of abridged books that had once belonged to my mother when she was a child. They included Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, a set of three macabre tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and my favourite, a set of three Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book included these following stories: The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band and The Copper Beeches.

This post is about The Adventure of the Copper Beeches – namely the television version. It belongs to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes story collection. We are introduced to Holmes while he is having an ardent discussion with Watson regarding the chronicling of his cases. Then afterwards he produces a letter in which a red-haired young lady, Violet Hunter, asks him advice on whether she should accept a position as a governess in the Rucastle household in the countryside. She is offered an overly generous salary, only one six-year-old male child is under her charge and the offer of pay is increased when she rejects the offer after learning that cutting her tresses is a necessary condition of her employment. After some deliberation, she thinks her rejection is hasty and accepts the position when Mr. Rucastle writes to her. But she does consult Sherlock Holmes before she leaves and he warns her to take care and to send him a telegram if she would need his assistance.

Violet finds the situation she is in very odd. The estate is very large and she is told that there is a mastiff that is only fed every two days to keep him perpetually hungry if intruders break in to the premises. Her discovery of a set of tresses similar of colour to that she cut off from her own head puzzles her. The two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Toller seem like an unsavoury pair. She is sometimes told to wear an electric blue dress (electric blue came into vogue in 1890 – two years before the publication of the story in Strand magazine) and with her back to the window, she is told a series of funny stories by Mr. Rucastle which makes her laugh. Mrs. Rucastle sits in on these sessions but does not ever laugh and when Violet sneaks a glance in a mirror hidden in her handkerchief, she notices a bearded man behind the bars of the gates. She is most frightened when she wanders into the mystery wing with the shuttered turret and then Mr. Rucastle discovers her intrusion as she wanders out. He first makes a pretense of soothing her fears but when he threatens her with the dog, she decides its high time Holmes became involved in the affair.

Holmes and Watson arrive at the Rucastle estate when the master and mistress are away. They decide to break into the tower but finds the room empty but obviously someone had been kept shut up there. Mr. Rucastle returns and with the thought the trio had helped his daughter to escape with her lover goes to release the mastiff. Unfortunately he is mauled by the dog as it turns on him because Mr. Toller had not fed the hound for two days. Watson shoots the dog with his revolver. It turns out Miss Hunter had been hired for the express purpose of impersonation due to a matter of inheritance.

Mr. Rucastle (played by Joss Ackland) comes across as a bit of a creep from the start owing to his tone of voice. I think the sinister veneer this bestowed on him made it rather obvious he was the villain of the piece but you rather expect him to be more dastardly in his actions. Violet Hunter (played by Natasha Richardson) is incredibly beautiful and was a wonderful actress until her life was tragically cut short. The fact the TV version is highly faithful to the original is a credit to its producers as you feel it would have met with distinct appreciation by its original author.

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The Priory School

07/15/2011 at 1:11 AM (Adventure, Books, Mystery, TV) (, , , , , )

The Sherlock Holmes series in which Jeremy Brett plays Sherlock is quite addictive. It is a little more sombre in character than Poirot or Marple – the latter two have touches of modern influence in the set lighting. The story I will focus on today is called The Adventure of the Priory School. Part of this story is said to pay tribute to this Greek myth.

 The ten-year-old Lord Saltire, son of the Duke of Holdernesse, is kidnapped from his preparatory school. Not only the boy missing because it seems the school’s German teacher, Master Heidigger and his bicycle have also gone. The principal, Thorneycroft Huxtable, employs the services of Sherlock Holmes. The Duke is offering a princely sum to those who can inform him about the whereabouts of his missing son and the kidnappers involved. Holmes accompanies the principal and investigates the school and the residence of the Duke. He finds out the boy used to cry at night and disappeared on a day that he received a letter. James Wilder, the personal secretary of the Duke lets slip the information that the Duke is divorced from the boy’s mother who lives in Italy. But the Duke insists that his ex-wife is not involved, no ransom note comes forward and the Duke’s letter to his son which was posted by James Wilder has been taken so nobody can find out its contents.

Holmes and Watson scour the moor for clues and stumble upon some bicycle tracks. It turns out the tyres don’t match with Heidigger’s bike. Eventually the body of the poor German master is discovered with his head smashed in. There are only cow hoofprints near the scene but it seems to Holmes that the cow had walked, cantered and galloped – highly improbable behaviour for such a placid animal. After Watson expresses a desire to dine after the walk in the desolate moors, they find an establishment with a man who has a scar imprint upon his cheek. The food is terrible . In the stable, there is a horse and Holmes examines its hooves – it has been recently adorned with new nails on its old horseshoes. Watson tells Holmes that he has an instinctive feeling the gruff man, who uses the name of Hayes, knows all about the missing boy.

When a cyclist arrives from the direction of the Duke’s residence, Holmes and Watson hide and observe it is James Wilder. After Holmes examines the bicycle tyres, he knows he has found his culprit. The episode culminates in a chase scene where James Wilder takes the boy as his hostage into an underground cavern while Holmes follows closely behind. Unfortunately, things take an unexpected turn for both the villain and the detective but the Duke is reunited with his missing son. It turns out James was jealous of the boy because he was an illegitimate son and wanted manoeuvring power to force the Duke to change his current will. This ending is not similar to that of the book although three-fourths of the storyline subscribes to the original plot.

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