Dead Men Tell No Tales
9. My Convalescent Home
The man Braithwaite met me at the station with a spring cart. The very porters
seemed to expect me, and my luggage was in the cart before I had given up my
ticket. Nor had we started when I first noticed that Braithwaite did not speak
when I spoke to him. On the way, however, a more flagrant instance recalled
young Rattray's remark, that the man was "not like other people." I had imagined
it to refer to a mental, not a physical, defect; whereas it was clear to me now that
my prospective landlord was stone-deaf, and I presently discovered him to be
dumb as well. Thereafter I studied him with some attention during our drive of
four or five miles. I called to mind the theory that an innate physical deficiency is
seldom without its moral counterpart, and I wondered how far this would apply to
the deaf-mute at my side, who was ill-grown, wizened, and puny into the bargain.
The brow-beaten face of him was certainly forbidding, and he thrashed his horse
up the hills in a dogged, vindictive, thorough-going way which at length made me
jump out and climb one of them on foot. It was the only form of protest that
occurred to me.
The evening was damp and thick. It melted into night as we drove. I could form
no impression of the country, but this seemed desolate enough. I believe we met
no living soul on the high road which we followed for the first three miles or more.
At length we turned into a narrow lane, with a stiff stone wall on either hand, and
this eventually led us past the lights of what appeared to be a large farm; it was
really a small hamlet; and now we were nearing our destination. Gates had to be
opened, and my poor driver breathed hard from the continual getting down and
up. In the end a long and heavy cart-track brought us to the loneliest light that I
have ever seen. It shone on the side of a hill - in the heart of an open wilderness
- as solitary as a beacon-light at sea. It was the light of the cottage which was to
be my temporary home.
A very tall, gaunt woman stood in the doorway against the inner glow. She
advanced with a loose, long stride, and invited me to enter in a voice harsh (I
took it) from disuse. I was warming myself before the kitchen fire when she came
in carrying my heaviest box as though it had nothing in it. I ran to take it from her,
for the box was full of books, but she shook her head, and was on the stairs with
it before I could intercept her.
I conceive that very few men are attracted by abnormal strength in a woman; we
cannot help it; and yet it was not her strength which first repelled me in Mrs.
Braithwaite. It was a combination of attributes. She had a poll of very dirty and
untidy red hair; her eyes were set close together; she had the jowl of the
traditional prize-fighter. But far more disagreeable than any single feature was
the woman's expression, or rather the expression which I caught her assuming
naturally, and banishing with an effort for my benefit. To me she was strenuously
civil in her uncouth way. But I saw her give her husband one look, as he
staggered in with my comparatively light portmanteau, which she instantly
snatched out of his feeble arms. I saw this look again before the evening was