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 IV

John Thurston was never a very observant man, and I believe that before I had been three days under his uncle’s roof I knew more of what was going on there than he did. My friend was ardently devoted to chemistry, and spent his days happily among his test-tubes and solutions, perfectly contented so long as he had a congenial companion at hand to whom he could communicate his results. For myself, I have always had a weakness for the study and analysis of human character, and I found much that was interesting in the microcosm in which I lived. Indeed, I became so absorbed in my observations that I fear my studies suffered to a considerable extent.

In the first place, I discovered beyond all doubt that the real master of Dunkelthwaite was not Uncle Jeremy, but Uncle Jeremy’s amanuensis. My medical instinct told me that the absorbing love of poetry, which had been nothing more than a harmless eccentricity in the old man’s younger days, had now become a complete monomania, which filled his mind to the exclusion of every other subject. Copperthorne, by humouring his employer upon this one point until he had made himself indispensable to him, had succeeded in gaining complete power over him in everything else. He managed his money matters and the affairs of the house unquestioned and uncontrolled. He had sense enough, however, to exert his authority so lightly that it galled no one’s neck, and therefore excited no opposition. My friend, busy with his distillations and analyses, was never allowed to realise that he was really a nonentity in the establishment.

I have already expressed my conviction that though Copperthorne had some tender feeling for the governess, she by no means favoured his addresses. After a few days I came to think, however, that there existed besides this unrequited affection some other link which bound the pair together. I had seen him more than once assume an air towards her which can only be described as one of authority. Two or three times also I had observed them pacing the lawn and conversing earnestly in the early hours of the night. I could not guess what mutual understanding existed between them, and the mystery piqued my curiosity.

It is proverbially easy to fall in love in a country house, but my nature has never been a sentimental one, and my judgment was not warped by any such feeling towards Miss Warrender. On the contrary, I set myself to study her as an entomologist might a specimen, critically, but without bias. With this object I used to arrange my studies in such a way as to be free at the times when she took the children out for exercise, so that we had many walks together, and I gained a deeper insight into her character than I should otherwise have done.

She was fairly well read, and had a superficial acquaintance with several languages, as well as a great natural taste for music. Underneath this veneer of culture, however, there was a great dash of the savage in her nature. In the course of her conversation she would every now and again drop some remark which would almost startle me by its primitive reasoning, and by its disregard for the conventionalities of civilisation. I could hardly wonder at this, however, when I reflected that she had been a woman before she left the wild tribe which her father ruled.

I remember one instance which sruck me as particularly characteristic, in which her wild original habits suddenly asserted themselves. We were walking along the country road, talking of Germany, in which she had spent some months, when she suddenly stopped short and laid her finger upon her lips. “Lend me your stick!” she said, in a whisper. I handed it to her, and at once, to my astonishment, she darted lightly and noiselessly through a gap in the hedge, and bending her body, crept swiftly along under the shelter of a little knoll. I was still looking after her in amazement, when a rabbit rose suddenly in front of her and scuttled away. She hurled the stick after it and struck it, but the creature made good its escape, though trailing one leg behind it.

She came back to me exultant and panting. “I saw it move among the grass,” she said. “I hit it.”

“Yes, you hit it. You broke its leg,” I said, somewhat coldly. “You hurt it,” the little boy cried, ruefully.

“Poor little beast!” she exclaimed, with a sudden change in her whole manner. “I am sorry I harmed it.” She seemed completely cast down by the incident, and spoke little during the remainder of our walk. For my own part I could not blame her much. It was evidently an outbreak of the old predatory instinct of the savage, though with a somewhat incongruous effect in the case of a fashionably dressed young lady on an English high road.

John Thurston made me peep into her private sitting-room one day when she was out. She had a thousand little Indian knickknacks there which showed that she had come well-laden from her native land. Her Oriental love for bright colours had exhibited itself in an amusing fashion. She had gone down to the market town and bought numerous sheets of pink and blue paper, and these she had pinned in patches over the sombre covering which had lined the walls before. She had some tinsel too, which she had put up in the most conspicuous places. The whole effect was ludicrously tawdry and glaring, and yet there seemed to me to be a touch of pathos in this attempt to reproduce the brilliance of the tropics in the cold English dwelling-house.

During the first few days of my visit the curious relationship which existed between Miss Warrender and the secretary had simply excited my curiosity, but as the weeks passed and I became more interested in the beautiful Anglo-Indian a deeper and more personal feeling took possession of me. I puzzled my brains as to what tie could exist between them. Why was it that while she showed every symptom of being averse to his company during the day she should walk about with him alone after nightfall? Could it be that the distaste which she showed for him before others was a blind to conceal her real feelings? Such a supposition seemed to involve a depth of dissimulation in her nature which appeared to be incompatible with her frank eyes and clear-cut proud features. And yet, what other hypothesis could account for the power which he most certainly exercised over her?

This power showed itself in many ways, but was exerted so quietly and silently that none but a close observer could have known that it existed. I have seen him glance at her with a look so commanding, and, as it seemed to me, so menacing, that next moment I could hardly believe that his white impassive face could be capable of so intense an expression. When he looked at her in this manner she would wince and quiver as though she had been in physical pain. “Decidedly,” I thought, “it is fear and not love which produces such effects.”

I was so interested in the question that I spoke to my friend John about it. He was in his little laboratory at the time, and was deeply immersed in a series of manipulations and distillations, which ended in the production of an evil-smelling gas, which set us both coughing and choking. I took advantage of our enforced retreat into the fresh air to question him upon one or two points on which I wanted information.

“How long did you say that Miss Warrender had been with your uncle?” I asked.

John looked at me slyly, and shook his acid-stained finger. “You seem to be wonderfully interested about the daughter of the late lamented Achmet Genghis,” he said.

“Who could help it?” I answered, frankly. “I think she is one of the most romantic characters I ever met.”

“Take care of the studies, my boy,” John said, paternally. “This sort of thing doesn’t do before examinations.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I remonstrated. “Any one would think that I was in love with Miss Warrender to hear the way in which you talk. I look on her as an interesting psychological problem, nothing more.”

“Quite so—an interesting psychological problem, nothing more.”

John seemed to have some of the vapours of the gas still hanging about his system, for his manner was decidedly irritating.

“To revert to my original question,” I said. “How long has she been here?”

“About ten weeks.”

“And Copperthorne?”

“Over two years.”

“Do you imagine that they could have known each other before?”

“Impossible!” said John, with decision. “She came from Germany. I saw the letter from the old merchant, in which he traced her previous life. Copperthorne has always been in Yorkshire except for two years at Cambridge. He had to leave the university under a cloud.”

“What sort of a cloud?”

“Don’t know,” John answered. “They kept it very quiet. I fancy Uncle Jeremy knows. He’s very fond of taking rapscallions up and giving them what he calls another start. Some of them will give him a start some of these fine days.”

“And so Copperthorne and Miss Warrender were absolute strangers until the last few weeks?”

“Quite so; and now I think we can go back and analyse the sediment.”

“Never mind the sediment,” I cried, detaining him. “There’s more I want to talk to you about. If these two have only known each other for this short time, how has he managed to gain his power over her?”

John stared at me open-eyed.

“His power?” he said.

“Yes, the power which he exercises over her.”

“My dear Hugh,” my friend said, gravely, “I’m not in the habit of thus quoting Scripture, but there is one text which occurs irresistibly to my mind, and that is, that ‘Much learning bath made thee mad.’ You’ve been reading too hard.”

“Do you mean to say,” I cried, “that you have never observed that there is some secret understanding between your uncle’s governess and his amanuensis?”

“Try bromide of potassium,” said John. “It’s very soothing in twenty-grain doses.”

“Try a pair of spectacles,” I retorted, “you most certainly need them;” with which parting shot I turned on my heel and went off in high dudgeon. I had not gone twenty yards down the gravel walk of the garden before I saw the very couple of whom we had just been speaking. They were some little way off, she leaning against the sundial, he standing in front of her and speaking earnestly, with occasional jerky gesticulations. With his tall, gaunt figure towering above her, and the spasmodic motions of his long arms, he might have been some great bat fluttering over a victim. I remember that that was the simile which rose in my mind at the time, heightened perhaps by the suggestion of shrinking and of fear which seemed to me to lie in every curve of her beautiful figure.

The little picture was such an illustration of the text upon which I had been preaching, that I had half a mind to go back to the laboratory and bring the incredulous John out to witness it. Before I had time to come to a conclusion, however, Copperthorne caught a glimpse of me, and turning away, he strolled slowly in the opposite direction into the shrubbery, his companion walking by his side and cutting at the flowers as she passed with her sunshade.

I went up to my room after this small episode with the intention of pushing on with my studies, but do what I would my mind wandered away from my books in order to speculate upon this mystery.

I had learned from John that Copperthorne’s antecedents were not of the best, and yet he had obviously gained enormous power over his almost imbecile employer. I could understand this fact by observing the infinite pains with which he devoted himself to the old man’s hobby, and the consummate tact with which he humoured and encouraged his strange poetic whims. But how could f account for the to me equally obvious power which he wielded over the governess? She had no whims to be humoured. Mutual love might account for the tie between them, but my instinct as a man of the world and as an observer of human nature told me most conclusively that no such love existed. If not love, it must be fear—a supposition which was favoured by all that I had seen.

What, then, had occurred during these two months to cause this high-spirited, dark-eyed princess to fear the white-faced Englishman with the soft voice and the gentle manner? That was the problem which I set myself to solve with an energy and earnestness which eclipsed my ardour for study, and rendered me superior to the terrors of my approaching examination.

I ventured to approach the subject that same afternoon to Miss Warrender, whom I found alone in the library, the two little children having gone to spend the day in the nursery of a neighbouring squire.

“You must be rather lonely when there are no visitors,” I remarked. “It does not seem to be a very lively part of the country.”

“Children are always good companions,” she answered. “Nevertheless I shall miss both Mr. Thornton and yourself very much when you go.”

“I shall be sorry when the time comes,” I said. “I never expected to enjoy this visit as I have done; still you won’t be quite cornpanionless when we are gone, you’ll always have Mr. Copperthorne.”

“Yes; we shall always have Mr. Copperthorne.” She spoke with a weary intonation.

“He’s a pleasant companion,” I remarked; “quiet, well informed, and amiable. I don’t wonder that old Mr. Thurston is so fond of him.”

As I spoke in this way I watched my companion intently. There was a slight flush on her dark cheeks, and she drummed her fingers impatiently against the arms of the chair.

“His manner may be a little cold sometimes—” I was continuing, but she interrupted me, turning on me furiously, with an angry glare in her black eyes.

“What do you want to talk to me about him for?” she asked.

“I beg pardon,” I answered, submissively, “I did not know it was a forbidden subject.”

“I don’t wish ever to hear his name,” she cried, passionately. “I hate it and I hate him. Oh, if I had only some one who loved me—that is, as men love away over the seas in my own land, I know what I should say to him.”

“What would you say?” I asked, astonished at this extraordinary outburst.

She leaned forward until I seemed to feel the quick pants of her warm breath upon my face.

“Kill Copperthorne,” she said. “That is what I should say to him. Kill Copperthorne. Then you can come and talk of love to me.”

Nothing can describe the intensity of fierceness with which she hissed these words out from between her white teeth.

She looked so venomous as she spoke that I involuntarily shrank away from her. Could this pythoness be the demure young lady who sat every day so primly and quietly at the table of Uncle Jeremy? I had hoped to gain some insight into her character by my leading question, but I had never expected to conjure up such a spirit as this. She must have seen the horror and surprise which was depicted on my face, for her manner changed and she laughed nervously.

“You must really think me mad,” she said. “You see it is the Indian training breaking out again. We do nothing by halves over there—either loving or hating.”

“And why is it that you hate Mr. Copperthorne?” I asked.

“Ah, well,” she answered, in a subdued voice, “perhaps hate is rather too strong a term after all. Dislike would be better. There are some people you cannot help having an antipathy to, even though you are unable to give any exact reason.”

It was evident that she regretted her recent outburst and was endeavouring to explain it away.

As I saw that she wished to change the conversation, I aided her to do so, and made some remark about a book of Indian prints which she had taken down before I came in, and which still lay upon her lap. Uncle Jeremy’s collection was an extensive one, and was particularly rich in works of this class.

“They are not very accurate,” she said, turning over the many-coloured leaves. “This is good, though,” she continued, picking out a picture of a chieftain clad in chain mail with a picturesque turban upon his head. “This is very good indeed. My father was dressed like that when he rode down on his white charger and led all the warriors of the Dooab to do battle with the Feringhees. My father was chosen out from amongst them all, for they knew that Achmet Genghis Khan was a great priest as well as a great soldier. The people would be led by none but a tried Borka. He is dead now, and of all those who followed his banner there are none who are not scattered or slain, whilst I, his daughter, am a servant in a far land.”

“No doubt you will go back to India some day,” I said, in a somewhat feeble attempt at consolation.

She turned the pages over listlessly for a few moments without answering. Then she gave a sudden little cry of pleasure as she paused at one of the prints.

“Look at this,” she cried, eagerly. “It is one of our wanderers. He is a Bhuttotee. It is very like.”

The picture which excited her so was one which represented a particularly uninviting-looking native with a small instrument which looked like a miniature pickaxe in one hand, and a striped handkerchief or roll of linen in the other.

“That handkerchief is his roomal,” she said. “Of course he wouldn’t go about with it openly like that, nor would he bear the sacred axe, but in every other respect he is as he should be. Many a time have I been with such upon the moonless nights when the Lughaees were on ahead and the heedless stranger heard the Pilhaoo away to the left and knew not what it might mean. Ah! that was a life that was worth the living!”

“And what may a roomal be—and the Lughaee and all the rest of it?” I asked.

“Oh, they are Indian terms,” she answered, with a laugh. “You would not understand them.”

“But,” I said, “this picture is marked as Dacoit, and I always thought that a Dacoit was a robber.”

“That is because the English know no better,” she observed. “Of course, Dacoits are robbers, but they call many people robbers who are not really so Now this man is a holy man and in all probability a Gooroo.”

She might have given me more information upon Indian manners and customs, for it was a subject upon which she loved to talk; but suddenly as I watched her I saw a change come over her face, and she gazed with a rigid stare at the window behind me. I looked round, and there peering stealthily round the corner at us was the face of the amanuensis. I confess that I was startled myself at the sight, for, with its corpse-like pallor, the head might have been one which had been severed from his shoulders. He threw open the sash when he saw that he was observed.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” he said, looking in, “but don’t you think, Miss Warrender, that it is a pity to be boxed up on such a fine day in a close room? Won’t you come out and take a stroll?”

Though his words were courteous they were uttered in a harsh and almost menacing voice, so as to sound more like a command than a request. The governess rose, and without protest or remark glided away to put on her bonnet. It was another example of Copperthorne’s authority over her. As he looked in at me through the open window a mocking smile played about his thin lips, as though he would have liked to have taunted me with this display of his power. With the sun shining in behind him he might have been a demon in a halo. He stood in this manner for a few moments gazing in at me with concentrated malice upon his face. Then I heard his heavy footfall scrunching along the gravel path as he walked round in the direction of the door.

Uncle Jeremy’s Household V

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