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 V

For some days after the interview in which Miss Warrender confessed her hatred of the secretary, things ran smoothly at Dunkelthwaite. I had several long conversations with her as we rambled about the woods and fields with the two little children, but I was never able to bring her round to the subject of her outburst in the library, nor did she tell me anything which threw any light at all upon the problem which interested me so deeply. Whenever I made any remark which might lead in that direction she either answered me in a guarded manner or else discovered suddenly that it was high time that the children were back in their nursery, so that I came to despair of ever learning anything from her lips.

During this time I studied spasmodically and irregularly. Occasionally old Uncle Jeremy would shuffle into my room with a roll of manuscript in his hand, and would read me extracts from his great epic poem. Whenever I felt in need of company I used to go a-visiting to John’s laboratory, and he in his turn would come to my chamber if he were lonely. Sometimes I used to vary the monotony of my studies by taking my books out into an arbour in the shrubbery and working there during the day. As to Copperthorne, I avoided him as much as possible, and he, for his part, appeared to be by no means anxious to cultivate my acquaintance.

One day about the second week in June, John came to me with a telegram in his hand and look of considerable disgust upon his face. “Here’s a pretty go!” he cried. “The governor wants me to go up at once and meet him in London. It’s some legal business, I suppose. He was always threatening to set his affairs in order, and now he has got an energetic fit and intends to do it.”

“I suppose you won’t be gone long?” I said.

“A week or two perhaps. It’s rather a nuisance, just when I was in a fair way towards separating that alkaloid.”

“You’ll find it there when you come back,” I said laughing. “There’s no one here who is likely to separate it in your absence.”

“What bothers me most is leaving you here,” he continued. “It seems such an inhospitable thing to ask a fellow down to a lonely place like this and then to run away and leave him.”

“Don’t you mind about me,” I answered, “I have too much to do to be lonely. Besides, I have found attractions in this place which I never expected. I don’t think any six weeks of my life have ever passed more quickly than the last.”

“Oh, they passed quickly, did they?” said John, and sniggered to himself. I am convinced that he was still under the delusion that I was hopelessly in love with the governess.

He went off that day by the early train, promising to write and tell us his address in town, for he did not know yet at which hotel his father would put up. I little knew what a difference this trifle would make, nor what was to occur before I set eyes upon my friend once more. At the time I was by no means grieved at his departure. It brought the four of us who were left into closer apposition, and seemed to favour the solving of that problem in which I found myself from day to day becoming more interested.

About a quarter of a mile from the house of Dunkelthwaite there is a straggling little village of the same name, consisting of some twenty or thirty slate-roofed cottages, with an ivy-clad church hard by and the inevitable beerhouse. On the afternoon of the very day on which John left us, Miss Warrender and the two children walked down to the post-office there, and I volunteered to accompany them.

Copperthorne would have liked well to have either prevented the excursion or to have gone with us, but fortunately Uncle Jeremy was in the throes of composition, and the services of his secretary were indispensable to him. It was a pleasant walk, I remember, for the road was well shaded by trees, and the birds were singing merrily overhead. We strolled along together, talking of many things, while the little boy and girl ran on, laughing and romping.

Before you get to the post-office you have to pass the beerhouse already mentioned. As we walked down the village street we became conscious that a small knot of people had assembled in front of this building. There were a dozen or so ragged boys and draggle-tailed girls, with a few bonnetless women, and a couple of loungers from the bar—probably as large an assemblage as ever met together in the annals of that quiet neighbourhood. We could not see what it was that was exciting their curiosity, but the children scampered on and quickly returned brimful of information.

“Oh, Miss Warrender,” Johnnie cried, as he dashed up, panting and eager, “there’s a black man there like the ones you tell us stories about!”

“A gipsy, I suppose,” I said.

“No, no,” said Johnnie, with decision; “he is blacker than that, isn’t he, May?”

“Blacker than that,” the little girl echoed.

“I suppose we had better go and see what this wonderful apparition is,” I said.

As I spoke I glanced at my companion. To my surprise, she was very pale, and her great black eyes appeared to be luminous with suppressed excitement.

“Aren’t you well?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. Come on!” she cried, eagerly, quickening her step; “come on!”

It was certainly a curious sight which met our eyes when we joined the little circle of rustics. It reminded me of the description of the opium-eating Malay whom De Quincey saw in the farmhouse in Scotland. In the centre of the circle of homely Yorkshire folk there stood an Oriental wanderer, tall, lithe, and graceful, his linen clothes stained with dust and his brown feet projecting through his rude shoes. It was evident that he had travelled far and long. He had a heavy stick in his hand, on which he leaned, while his dark eyes looked thoughtfully away into space, careless apparently of the throng around him. His picturesque attire, with his coloured turban and swarthy face, had a strange and incongruous effect amongst all the prosaic surroundings.

“Poor fellow!” Miss Warrender said to me, speaking in an excited, gasping voice. “He is tired and hungry, no doubt, and cannot explain his wants. I will speak to him;” and, going up to the Indian, she said a few words in his native dialect.

Never shall I forget the effect which those few syllables produced. Without a word the wanderer fell straight down upon his face on the dusty road and absolutely grovelled at the feet of my companion. I had read of Eastern forms of abasement when in the presence of a superior, but I could not have imagined that any human could have expressed such abject humility as was indicated in this man’s attitude.

Miss Warrender spoke again in a sharp and commanding voice, on which he sprang to his feet and stood with his hands clasped and his eyes cast down, like a slave in the presence of his mistress. The little crowd, who seemed to think that the sudden prostration had been the prelude to some conjuring feat or acrobatic entertainment, looked on amused and interested.

“Should you mind walking on with the children and posting the letters?” the governess said. “I should like to have a word with this man.”

I complied with her request, and when I returned in a few minutes the two were still conversing. The Indian appeared to be giving a narrative of his adventures or detailing the causes of his journey, for he spoke rapidly and excitedly, with quivering fingers and gleaming eyes. Miss Warrender listened intently, giving an occasional start or exclamation, which showed how deeply the man’s statement interested her.

“I must apologise for detaining you so long in the sun,” she said, turning to me at last. “We must go home, or we shall be late for dinner.”

With a few parting sentences, which sounded like commands, she left her dusky acquaintance still standing in the village street, and we strolled homewards with the children.

“Well?” I asked, with natural curiosity, when we were out of earshot of the visitors. “Who is he, and what is he?”

“He comes from the Central Provinces, near the land of the Mahrattas. He is one of us. It has been quite a shock to me to meet a fellow-countryman so unexpectedly; I feel quite upset.”

“It must have been pleasant for you,” I remarked. “Yes, very pleasant,” she said, heartily.

“And why did he fall down like that?”

“Because he knew me to be the daughter of Achmet Genghis Khan,” she said, proudly.

“And what chance has brought him here?”

“Oh, it’s a long story,” she said, carelessly. “He has led a wandering life. How dark it is in this avenue, and how the great branches shoot across! If you were to crouch on one of those you could drop down on the back of any one who passed, and they would never know that you were there until they felt your fingers on their throat.”

“What a horrible idea!” I exclaimed.

“Gloomy places always give me gloomy thoughts,” she said, lightly. “By the way, I want you to do me a favour, Mr. Lawrence.”

“What is that?” I asked.

“Don’t say anything at the house about this poor compatriot of mine. They might think him a rogue and a vagabond, you know, and order him to be driven from the village.”

“I’m sure Mr. Thurston would do nothing so unkind.”

“No; but Mr. Copperthorne might.”

“Just as you like,” I said; “but the children are sure to tell.”

“No, I think not,” she answered.

I don’t know how she managed to curb their little prattling tongues, but they certainly preserved silence upon the point, and there was no talk that evening of the strange visitor who had wandered into our little hamlet.

I had a shrewd suspicion that this stranger from the tropics was no chance wanderer, but had come to Dunkelthwaite upon some set errand. Next day I had the best possible evidence that he was still in the vicinity, for I met Miss Warrender coming down the garden walk with a basketful of scraps of bread and of meat in her hand. She was in the habit of taking these leavings to sundry old women in the neighbourhood, so I offered to accompany her.

“Is it old Dame Venables or old Dame Taylforth to-day?” I asked.

“Neither one nor the other,” she said, with a smile. “I’ll tell you the truth, Mr. Lawrence, because you have always been a good friend to me, and I feel I can trust you. These scraps are for my poor countryman. I’ll hang the basket here on this branch, and he will get it.”

“Oh, he’s still about, then,” I observed.

“Yes, he’s still in the neighbourhood.”

“You think he will find it?”

“Oh, trust him for that,” she said. “You don’t blame me for helping him, do you? You would do the same if you lived among Indians and suddenly came upon an Englishman. Come to the hothouse and look at the flowers.”

We walked round to the conservatory together. When we came back the basket was still hanging to the branch, but the contents were gone. She took it down with a laugh and carried it in with her.

It seemed to me that since this interview with her countryman the day before her spirits had become higher and her step freer and more elastic. It may have been imagination, but it appeared to me also that she was not as constrained as usual in the presence of Copperthorne, and that she met his glances more fearlessly, and was less under the influence of his will.

And now I am coming to that part of this statement of mine which describes how I first gained an insight into the relation which existed between those two strange mortals, and learned the terrible truth about Miss Warrender, or of the Princess Achmet Genghis, as I should prefer to call her, for assuredly she was the descendant of the fierce fanatical warrior rather than of her gentle mother.

To me the revelation came as a shock, the effect of which I can never forget. It is possible that in the way in which I have told the story, emphasising those facts which had a bearing upon her, and omitting those which had not, my readers have already detected the strain which ran in her blood. As for myself, I solemnly aver that up to the last moment I had not the smallest suspicion of the truth. Little did I know what manner of woman this was, whose hand I pressed in friendship, and whose voice was music to my ears. Yet it is my belief, looking back, that she was really well disposed to me, and would not willingly have harmed me.

It was in this manner that the revelation came about. I think I have mentioned that there was a certain arbour in the shrubbery in which I was accustomed to study during the daytime. One night, about ten o’clock, I found on going to my room that I had left a book on gynwcology in this summer-house, and as I intended to do a couple of hours’ work before turning in, I started off with the intention of getting it. Uncle Jeremy and the servants had already gone to bed, so I slipped downstairs very quietly and turned the key gently in the front door. Once in the open air, I hurried rapidly across the lawn, and so into the shrubbery, with the intention of regaining my property and returning as rapidly as possible.

I had hardly passed the little wooden gate and entered the plantation before I heard the sound of talking, and knew that I had chanced to stumble upon one of those nocturnal conclaves which I had observed from my window. The voices were those of the secretary and of the governess, and it was clear to me, from the direction in which they sounded, that they were sitting in the arbour and conversing together without any suspicion of the presence of a third person. I have ever held that eavesdropping, under any circumstances, is a dishonourable practice, and curious as I was to know what passed between these two, I was about to cough or give some other signal of my presence, when suddenly I heard some words of Copperthorne’s which brought me to a halt with every faculty overwhelmed with horrified amazement.

“They’ll think he died of apoplexy,” were the words which sounded clearly and distinctly through the peaceful air in the incisive tones of the amanuensis.

I stood breathless, listening with all my ears. Every thought of announcing my presence had left me. What was the crime which these ill-assorted conspirators were hatching upon this lovely summer’s night.

I heard the deep sweet tones of her voice, but she spoke so rapidly, and in such a subdued manner, that I could not catch the words. I could tell by the intonation that she was under the influence of deep emotion. I drew nearer on tip-toe, with my ears straining to catch every sound. The moon was not up yet, and under the shadows of the trees it was very dark. There was little chance of my being observed.

“Eaten his bread, indeed!” the secretary said, derisively. “You are not usually so squeamish. You did not think of that in the case of little Ethel.”

“I was mad! I was mad!” she ejaculated in a broken voice. “I had prayed much to Buddha and to the great Bhowanee, and it seemed to me that in this land of unbelievers it would be a great and glorious thing for me, a lonely woman, to act up to the teachings of my great father. There are few women who are admitted into the secrets of our faith, and it was but by an accident that the honour came upon me. Yet, having once had the path pointed out to me, I have walked straight and fearlessly, and the great Gooroo Ramdeen Singh has said that even in my fourteenth year I was worthy to sit upon the cloth of the Tupounee with the other Bhuttotees. Yet I swear by the sacred pickaxe that I have grieved much over this, for what had the poor child done that she should be sacrificed!”

“I fancy that my having caught you has had more to do with your repentance than the moral aspect of the case,” Copperthorne said, with a sneer. “I may have had my misgivings before, but it was only when I saw you rising up with the handkerchief in your hand that I knew for certain that we were honoured by the presence of a Princess of the Thugs. An English scaffold would be rather a prosaic end for such a romantic being.”

“And you have used your knowledge ever since to crush all the life out of me,” she said, bitterly. “You have made my existence a burden to me.”

“A burden to you!” he said, in an altered voice. “You know what my feelings are towards you. If I have occasionally governed you by the fear of exposure it was only because I found you were insensible to the milder influence of love.”

“Love!” she cried, bitterly. “How could I love a man who held a shameful death for ever before my eyes. But let us come to the point. You promise me my unconditional liberty if I do this one thing for you?”

“Yes,” Copperthorne answered; “you may go where you will when this is done. I shall forget what I saw here in the shrubbery.”

“You swear it?”

“Yes, I swear it.”

“I would do anything for my freedom,” she said.

“We can never have such a chance again,” Copperthorne cried. “Young Thurston is gone, and this friend of his sleeps heavily, and is too stupid to suspect. The will is made out in my favour, and if the old man dies every stock and stone of the great estate will be mine.”

“Why don’t you do it yourself, then?” she asked.

“It’s not in my line,” he said. “Besides, I have not got the knack. That roomal, or whatever you call it, leaves no mark. That’s the advantage of it.”

“It is an accursed thing to slay one’s benefactor.”

“But it is a great thing to serve Bhowanee, the goddess of murder. I know enough of your religion to know that. Would not your father do it if he were here?”

“My father was the greatest of all the Borkas of Jublepore,” she said, proudly. “He has slain more than there are days in the year.”

“I wouldn’t have met him for a thousand pounds,” Copperthorne remarked, with a laugh. “But what would Achmet Genghis Khan say now if he saw his daughter hesitate with such a chance before her of serving the gods? You have done excellently so far. He may well have smiled when the infant soul of young Ethel was wafted up to this god or ghoul of yours. Perhaps this is not the first sacrifice you have made. How about the daughter of this charitable German merchant? Ah, I see in your face that I am right again! After such deeds you do wrong to hesitate now when there is no danger and all shall be made easy to you. Besides that, the deed will free you from your existence here, which cannot be particularly pleasant with a rope, so to speak, round your neck the whole time. If it is to be done it must be done at once. He might rewrite his will at any moment, for he is fond of the lad, and is as changeable as a weather-cock.”

There was a long pause, and a silence so profound that I seemed to hear my own heart throbbing in the darkness.

“When shall it be done?” she asked at last.

“Why not to-morrow night?”

“How am I to get to him?”

“I shall leave his door open,” Copperthorne said. “He sleeps heavily, and I shall leave a night-light burning, so that you may see your way.”

“And afterwards?”

“Afterwards you will return to your room. In the morning it will be discovered that our poor employer has passed away in his sleep. It will also be found that he has left all his worldly goods as a slight return for the devoted labours of his faithful secretary. Then the services of Miss Warrender the governess being no longer required, she may go back to her beloved country or to anywhere else that she fancies. She can run away with Mr. John Lawrence, student of medicine, if she pleases.”

“You insult me,” she said, angrily; and then, after a pause. “You must meet me to-morrow night before I do this.”

“Why so?” he asked.

“Because there may be some last instructions which I may require.”

“Let it be here, then, at twelve,” he said.

“No, not here. It is too near the house. Let us meet under the great oak at the head of the avenue.”

“Where you will,” he answered, sulkily; “but mind, I’m not going to be with you when you do it.”

“I shall not ask you,” she said, scornfully. “I think we have said all that need be said to-night.”

I heard the sound of one or other of them rising to their feet, and though they continued to talk I did not stop to hear more, but crept quietly out from my place of concealment and scudded across the dark lawn and in through the door, which I closed behind me. It was only when I had regained my room and had sunk back into my armchair that I was able to collect my scattered senses and to think over the terrible conversation to which I had listened. Long into the hours of the night I sat motionless, meditating over every word that I had heard and endeavouring to form in my mind some plan of action for the future.

Uncle Jeremy’s Household VI

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