Uncle Jeremy’s Household by Arthur Conan Doyle
Uncle Jeremy’s Household I
Uncle Jeremy’s Household II
Uncle Jeremy’s Household III
Uncle Jeremy’s Household IV
Uncle Jeremy’s Household V
Uncle Jeremy’s Household VI

Uncle Jeremy’s Household III

I was up betimes in the morning and out on the lawn, where I found Miss Warrender, who was picking primroses and making them into a little bunch for the breakfast-table. I approached her before she saw me, and I could not help admiring the beautiful litheness of her figure as she stooped over the flowers. There was a feline grace about her every movement such as I never remember to have seen in any woman. I recalled Thurston’s words as to the impression which she had made upon the secretary, and ceased to wonder at it. As she heard my step, she stood up and turned her dark handsome face towards me.

“Good morning, Miss Warrender,” I said. “You are an early riser, like myself.”

“Yes,” she answered. “I have always been accustomed to rise at daybreak.”

“What a strange, wild view!” I remarked, looking out over the wide stretch of fells. “I am a stranger to this part of the country, like yourself. How do you like it?”

“I don’t like it,” she said, frankly. “I detest it. It is cold and bleak and wretched. Look at these”—holding up her bunch of primroses—”they call these things flowers. They have not even a smell.”

“You have been used to a more genial climate and a tropical vegetation?”

“Oh, then, Mr. Thurston has been telling you about me,” she said, with a smile. “Yes, I have been used to something better than this.”

We were standing together when a shadow fell between us, and looking round I found that Copperthorne was standing close behind us. He held out his thin white hand to me with a constrained smile.

“You seem to be able to find your way about already,” he remarked, glancing backwards and forwards from my face to that of Miss Warrender. “Let me hold your flowers for you, miss.”

“No, thank you,” the other said, coldly. “I have picked enough and am going inside.”

She swept past him and across the lawn to the house. Copperthorne looked after her with a frowning brow.

“You are a student of medicine, Mr. Lawrence?” he said, turning towards me and stamping one of his feet up and down in a jerky, nervous fashion, as he spoke.

“Yes, I am.”

“Oh, we have heard of you students of medicine,” he cried in a raised voice, with a little crackling laugh. “You are dreadful fellows, are you not? We have heard of you. There is no standing against you.”

“A medical student, sir,” I answered, “is usually a gentleman.”

“Quite so,” he said, in a changed voice. “Of course I was only joking.” Nevertheless I could not help noticing that at breakfast he kept his eyes persistently fixed upon me while Miss Warrender was speaking, and if I chanced to make a remark he would flash a glance round at her as though to read in our faces what our thoughts were of each other. It was clear that he took a more than common interest in the beautiful governess, and it seemed to me to be equally evident that his feelings were by no means reciprocated.

We had an illustration that morning of the simple nature of these primitive Yorkshire folk. It appears that the housemaid and the cook, who sleep together, were alarmed during the night by something which their superstitious minds contorted into an apparition. I was sitting after breakfast with Uncle Jeremy, who, with the help of continual promptings from his secretary, was reciting some Border poetry, when there was a tap at the door and the housemaid appeared. Close at her heels came the cook, buxom but timorous, the two mutually encouraging and abetting each other. They told their story in a strophe and antistrophe, like a Greek chorus, Jane talking until her breath failed, when the narrative was taken up by the cook, who, in turn, was supplanted by the other. Much of what they said was almost unintelligible to me owing to their extraordinary dialect, but I could make out the main thread of their story. It appears that in the early morning the cook had been awakened by something touching her face, and starting up had seen a shadowy figure standing by her bed, which figure had at once glided noiselessly from the room. The housemaid was awakened by the cook’s cry, and averred stoutly that she had seen the apparition. No amount of cross-examination or reasoning could shake them, and they wound up by both giving notice, which was a practical way of showing that they were honestly scared. They seemed considerably indignant at our want of belief, and ended by bouncing out of the room, leaving Uncle Jeremy angry, Copperthorne contemptuous, and myself very much amused.

I spent nearly the whole of the second day of my visit in my room, and got over a considerable amount of work. In the evening John and I went down to the rabbit-warren with our guns. I told John as we came back of the absurd scene with the servants in the morning, but it did not seem to strike him in the same ridiculous light that it had me.

“The fact is,” he said, “in very old houses like ours, where you have the timber rotten and warped, you get curious effects sometimes which predispose the mind to superstition. I have heard one or two things at night during this visit which might have frightened a nervous man, and still more an uneducated servant. Of course all this about apparitions is mere nonsense, but when once the imagination is excited there’s no checking it.”

“What have you heard, then?” I asked with interest.

“Oh, nothing of any importance,” he answered. “Here are the youngsters and Miss Warrender. We mustn’t talk about these things before her, or else we shall have her giving warning too, and that would be a loss to the establishment.”

She was sitting on a little stile which stood on the outskirts of the wood which surrounds Dunkelthwaite, and the two children were leaning up against her, one on either side, with their hands clasped round her arms, and their chubby faces turned up to hers. It was a pretty picture and we both paused to look at it. She had heard our approach, however, and springing lightly down she came towards us, with the two little ones toddling behind her.

“You must aid me with the weight of your authority,” she said to John. “These little rebels are fond of the night air and won’t be persuaded to come indoors.”

“Don’t want to come,” said the boy, with decision. “Want to hear the rest of the story.”

“Yes—the ‘tory,” lisped the younger one.

“You shall hear the rest of the story to-morrow if you are good. Here is Mr. Lawrence, who is a doctor he will tell you how bad it is for little boys and girls to be out when the dew falls.”

“So you have been hearing a story?” John said as we moved on together.

“Yes—such a good story!” the little chap said with enthusiasm. “Uncle Jeremy tells us stories, but they are in po’try and they are not nearly so nice as Miss Warrender’s stories. This one was about elephants—”

“And tigers—and gold—” said the other.

“Yes, and wars and fighting, and the king of the Cheroots—”

“Rajpoots, my dear,” said the governess.

“And the scattered tribes that know each other by signs, and the man that was killed in the wood. She knows splendid stories. Why don’t you make her tell you some, Cousin John?”

“Really, Miss Warrender, you have excited our curiosity,” my companion said. “You must tell us of these wonders.”

“They would seem stupid enough to you,” she answered, with a laugh. “They are merely a few reminiscences of my early life.”

As we strolled along the pathway which led through the wood we met Copperthorne coming from the opposite direction.

“I was looking for you all,” he said, with an ungainly attempt at geniality. “I wanted to tell you that it was dinner-time.”

“Our watches told us that,” said John, rather ungraciously as I thought.

“And you have been all rabbiting together?” the secretary continued, as he stalked along beside us.

“Not all,” I answered. “We met Miss Warrender and the children on our way back.”

“Oh, Miss Warrender came to meet you as you came back!” said he. This quick contortion of my words, together with the sneering way in which he spoke, vexed me so much that I should have made a sharp rejoinder had it not been for the lady’s presence.

I happened to turn my eyes towards the governess at the moment, and I saw her glance at the speaker with an angry sparkle in her eyes which showed that she shared my indignation. I was surprised, however, that same night when about ten o’clock I chanced to look out of the window of my study, to see the two of them walking up and down in the moonlight engaged in deep conversation. I don’t know how it was, but the sight disturbed me so much that after several fruitless attempts to continue my studies I threw my books aside and gave up work for the night. About eleven I glanced out again, but they were gone, and shortly afterwards I heard the shuffling step of Uncle Jeremy, and the firm heavy footfall of the secretary, as they ascended the staircase which led to their bedrooms upon the upper floor.

Uncle Jeremy’s Household IV

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