Recalled to Life by Grant Allen
Chapter X. Yet Another Photograph
Next morning my head ached. After all I'd suffered, I could hardly bear to recur to the one subject that now always occupied my thoughts. And yet, on the other hand, I couldn't succeed in banishing it. To relieve my mind a little, I took out the photographs I had brought from the box at The Grange, and began to sort them over according to probable date and subject.
They were of different periods, some old, some newer. I put them together in series, as well as I could, by the nature of the surroundings. The most recent of all were my father's early attempts at instantaneous electric photography--the attempts which led up at last to his automatic machine, the acmegraph, that produced all unconsciously the picture of the murder. Some of these comparatively recent proofs represented men running and horses trotting: but the best of all, tied together with a bit of tape, clearly belonged to a single set, and must have been taken at the same time at an athletic meeting. There was one of a flat race, viewed from a little in front, with the limbs of the runners in seemingly ridiculous attitudes, so instantaneous and therefore so grotesquely rigid were they. There was another of a high jump, seen from one side at the very moment of clearing the pole, so that the figure poised solid in mid-air as motionless as a statue. And there was a third, equally successful, of a man throwing the hammer, in which the hammer, in the same way, seemed to hang suspended of itself like Mahomet's coffin between earth and heaven.
But the one that attracted my attention the most was a photograph of an obstacle-race, in which the runners had to mount and climb over a wagon placed obtrusively sideways across the course on purpose to baffle them. This picture was taken from a few yards in the rear; and the athletes were seen in it in the most varied attitudes. Some of them were just climbing up one side of the wagon: others had mounted to the top ledge of the body: and one, standing on the further edge, was in the very act of leaping down to the ground in front of him. He was bent double, to spring, with a stoop like a hunchback, and balanced himself with one hand held tightly behind him.
As my eye fell on that figure, a cold thrill ran through me. For a moment I only knew something important had happened. Next instant I realised what the thrill portended. I could only see the man's back, to be sure, but I knew him in a second. I had no doubt as to who it was. This was him--the murderer!
Yes, yes! There could be no mistaking that arched round back that had haunted me so long in my waking dreams. I knew him at sight. It was the man I had seen on the night of the murder getting out of the window!
Perhaps I was overwrought. Perhaps my fancy ran away with me. But I didn't doubt for a second. I rose from my seat, and in a tremulous voice called Jane into the room. Without one word I laid both pictures down before her together. Jane glanced first at the one, then turned quickly to the other. A sharp little cry broke from her lips all unbidden. She saw it as fast and as instinctively as I had done.
"That's him!" she exclaimed, aghast, and as pale as a sheet. "That's him, right enough, Miss Una. That's the very same back! That's the very same hand! That's the man! That's the murderer!"
And indeed, this unanimity was sufficiently startling. For nothing could have been more different than the dress in the two cases. In the murder scene, the man seemed to wear a tweed suit and knickerbockers,--he was indistinct, as I said before, against the blurred light of the window: while in the athletic scene, he wore just a thin jersey and running-drawers, cut short at the knee, with his arms and legs bare, and his muscles contracted. Yet for all that, we both knew him for the same man at once. That stooping back was unmistakable; that position of the hand was characteristic and unique. We were sure he was the same man. I trembled with agitation. I had a clue to the murderer!
Yet, strange to say, that wasn't the first thought that occurred to my mind. In the relief of the moment, I looked up into Jane's eyes, and exclaimed with a sigh of profound relief:
"Then you see how mistaken you were about the hands and Aunt Emma!"
Jane looked close at the hand in the photograph once more.
"Well, it's curious," she said, slowly. "That's a man, sure enough: but he'd ought to be a Moore. The palm's your aunt's as clear as ever you could paint it!"
I glanced over her shoulder. She was perfectly right. It was a man beyond all doubt, the figure on the wagon. Yet the hand was Aunt Emma's, every line and every stroke of it; except, of course, the scars. Those, I saw at a glance, were wholly wanting.
And now I had really a clue to the murderer.
Yet how slight a clue! Just a photograph of men's backs. What men? When and where? It was an athletic meeting. Of what club or society? That was the next question now I had to answer. Instinctively I made up my mind to answer it myself, without giving any notice to the police of my discovery.
Perhaps I should never have been able to answer it at all but for one of the photographs which, as I thought, though lying loose by itself, formed part of the same series. It represented the end of a hundred-yard race, with the winners coming in at the tape by a pavilion with a flag-staff. On the staff a big flag was flying loosely in the wind. The folds hid half of the words on its centre from sight. But this much at least I could read:
I gazed at them long and earnestly. After a minute or two of thought, I made out the last two words. The inscription must surely be Something-or-other Athletic Club.
But what was "Er... om.. oy..."? That question staggered me. Gazing harder at it than ever, I could come to no conclusion. It was the name of a place, no doubt: but what place, I knew not.
"Er"? No, "Ber": just a suspicion of a B came round the corner of a fold. If B was the first letter, I might possibly identify it.
I took the photograph down to Aunt Emma, without telling her what I meant. She couldn't bear to think I was ever engaged in thinking of my First State at all.
"Can you read the inscription on that flag, auntie?" I asked. "It's an old photograph I picked up in the attic at The Grange, and I'd like to know, if I could, at what place it was taken."
Aunt Emma gazed at it long and earnestly. Her colour never changed. Then she shook her head quietly.
"I don't know the place," she said; "and I don't know the name. I can't quite make it out. That's E, and R, and O. You see, the letters in between might be almost anything."
I wasn't going to be put off, however, with the port thus in sight. One fact was almost certain. Wherever that pavilion might be, the murderer was there on the day unknown when those photo-graphs were taken. And whatever that day might be, my father and the murderer were there together. That brought the two into connection, and brought me one step nearer a solution than ever the police had been; for hitherto no one had even pretended to have the slightest clue to the personality of the man who jumped out of the window.
I went into the library and took down the big atlas. Opening the map of England and Wales, I began a hopeless search, county by county, from Northumberland downward, for any town or village that would fit these mysterious letters. It was a wild and foolish idea. In the first place not a quarter of the villages were marked in the map; and in the second place, my brain soon got muddled and dazed with trying to fit in the names with the letters on the flag. Two hours had passed away, and I'd only got as far down as Lancashire and Durham. And, most probably even so, I would never come upon it.
Then suddenly, a bright idea broke on my brain at once. The Index! The Index! Presumably, as no fold seemed to obscure the first words, the name began with what looked like a B. That was always something.
A man would have thought of that at once, of course: but then, I have the misfortune to be only a woman.
I turned to the Index in haste, and looked down it with hurried eyes. Almost sooner than I could have hoped, the riddle unread itself. "Ber-, Berb-, Berc-, Berd-," I read out: "Berkshire: Berham: Berhampore: that won't do: Berlin: Berling: Bernina: Berry--what's that? Oh, great heavens!"--my brain reeled--"Berry Pomeroy!"
It was as clear as day. How could I have missed it before? There it seemed to stand out almost legible on the flagstaff. I read it now with ease: "Berry Pomeroy Athletic Club."
I looked up the map once more, following the lines with my fingers, till I found the very place where the name was printed. A village in Devonshire, not far from Torquay. Yes! That's it; Berry Pomeroy. The murderer was there on the day of that athletic meeting!
My heart came up into my mouth with mingled horror and triumph. I felt like a bloodhound who gets on the trail of his man. I would track him down now, no doubt--my father's murderer!
I had no resentment against him, no desire for vengeance. But I had a burning wish to free myself from this environing mystery.
I wouldn't tell the police or the inspector, however, what clue I had obtained. I'd find it all out for myself without anyone's help. I remembered what Dr. Marten had said, and determined to be wise. I'd work on my own lines till all was found out: and then, be it who it might, I sternly resolved I'd let justice be done on him.
So I said nothing even to Jane about the discovery I'd just made. I said nothing to anybody till we sat down at dinner. Then, in the course of conversation, I got on the subject of Devonshire.
"Auntie," I ventured to ask at last, in a very casual way, "did I ever, so far as you know, go anywhere near a place called Berry Pomeroy?"
Aunt Emma gave a start.
"Oh, darling, why do you ask?" she cried.
"You don't mean to say you remember that, do you? What do you want to know for, Una? You can't possibly recollect your Torquay visit, surely!"
I trembled all over. Then I was on the right track!
"Was I ever at Torquay?" I asked once more, as firmly as I could. "And when I was there, did I go over one day to Berry Pomeroy?"
Aunt Emma grew all at once as white as death.
"This is wonderful!" she cried in an agitated voice. "This is wonderful--wonderful! If you can remember that, my child, you can remember anything."
"I don't remember it auntie," I answered, not liking to deceive her. "To tell you the truth, I simply guessed at it. But when and why was I at Torquay? Please tell me. And did I go to Berry Pomeroy?" For I stuck to my point, and meant to get it out of her.
Aunt Emma gazed at me fixedly.
"You went to Torquay, dear," she said in a very slow voice, "in the spring of the same year your poor father was killed: that's more than four years ago. The Willie Moores live at Torquay, and several more of your cousins. You went to stop with Willie's wife, and you stayed five weeks. I don't know whether you ever went over to Berry Pomeroy. You may have, and you mayn't: it's within an easy driving distance. Minnie Moore has often written to ask me whether you could go there again; Minnie was always fond of you, and thinks you'd remember her: but I've been afraid to allow you, for fear it should recall sad scenes. She's about your own age, Minnie is; and she's a daughter of Willie Moore, who's my own first cousin, and of course your dear mother's."
I never hesitated a moment. I was strung up too tightly by that time.
"Auntie dear," I said quietly, "I go to-morrow to Torquay. I must know all now. I must hunt up these people."
Auntie knew from my tone it was no use trying to stand in my way any longer.
"Very well, dear," she said resignedly. "I don't believe it's good for you: but you must do as you like. You have your father's will, Una. You were always headstrong."