Chapter XI. The Vision Recurs

I hated asking auntie questions, they seemed to worry and distress her so; but that evening, in view of my projected visit to Torquay, I was obliged to cross-examine her rather closely about many things. I wanted to know about my Torquay relations, and as far as possible about my mother's family. In the end I learned that the Willie Moores were cousins of ours on my mother's side who had never quarrelled with my father, like Aunt Emma, and through whom alone accordingly, in the days of my First State, Aunt Emma was able to learn anything about me. They had a house at Torquay, and connections all around; for the Moores were Devonshire people. Aunt Emma was very anxious, if I went down there at all, I should stop with Mrs. Moore: for Minnie would be so grieved, she said, if I went to an hotel or took private lodgings. But I wouldn't hear of that myself. I knew nothing of the Moores--in my present condition--and I didn't like to trust myself in the hands of those who to me were perfect strangers. So I decided on going to the Imperial Hotel, and calling on the Moores quietly to pursue my investigation.

Another question I asked in the course of the evening. I had wondered about it often, and now, in these last straits, curiosity overcame me.

"Aunt Emma," I said unexpectedly after a pause, without one word of introduction, "how ever did you get those scars on your hand? You've never told me."

In a moment, Aunt Emma blushed suddenly crimson like a girl of eighteen.

"Una," she answered very gravely, in a low strange tone, "oh, don't ask me about that, dear. Don't ask me about that. You could never understand it.... I got them... in climbing over a high stone wall... a high stone wall, with bits of glass stuck on top of it."

In spite of her prohibition, I couldn't help asking one virtual question more. I gave a start of horror:

"Not the wall at The Grange!" I cried. "Oh, Aunt Emma, how wonderful!"

She gazed at me, astonished.

"Yes, the wall at The Grange," she said simply. "But I don't know how you guessed it.... Oh, Una, don't talk to me any more about these things, I implore you. You can't think how they grieve me. They distress me unspeakably."

Much as I longed to know, I couldn't ask her again after that. She was trembling like an aspen-leaf. For some minutes we sat and looked at the fireplace in silence.

Then curiosity overcame me again.

"Only one question more, auntie," I said. "When I came to you first, you were at home here at Barton. You didn't come to Woodbury to fetch me after the murder. You didn't attend the inquest. I've often wondered at that. Why didn't you bring me yourself? Why didn't you hurry to nurse me as soon as you heard they'd shot my father?"

Aunt Emma gazed at me again with a face like a sheet.

"Darling," she said, quivering, "I was ill. I was in bed. I was obliged to stay away. I'd hurt myself badly a little before.... Oh, Una, leave off! If you go on like this, you'll drive me mad. Say no more, I implore of you."

I couldn't think what this meant; but as auntie wished it, I held my peace, all inwardly trembling with suppressed excitement.

That night, when I went up to bed, I lay awake long, thinking to myself of the Australian scene. In the silence of the night it came back to me vividly. Rain pattered on the roof, and helped me to remember it. I could see the blue-gum trees waving their long ribbon-like leaves in the wind: I could see the cottage, the verandah, my mother, our dog: nay, even, I remembered now, with a burst of recollection, his name was Carlo. The effort was more truly a recollection than before: it was part of myself: I felt aware it was really I myself, not another, who had seen all this, and lived and moved in it.

Slowly I fell asleep, and passed from thinking to dreaming. My dream was but a prolongation of the thoughts I had been turning over in my waking mind. I was still in Australia; still on the verandah of our wooden house; and my mamma was there, and papa beside her. I knew it was papa; for I held his hand and played with him. But he was so much altered, so grave and severe; though he smiled at me good-humouredly. Mamma was sitting behind, with baby on her lap. It seemed to me quite natural she should be there with baby. The scene was so distinct--very vivid and clear. It persisted for many minutes, perhaps even hours. It burnt itself into my brain. At last, it woke me up by its very intensity.

As I woke, a great many thoughts crowded in upon me all at once. This time I knew instantly it was no mere dream, but a true recollection. Yet what a strange recollection! how unexpeted! how incomprehensible! How much in it to settle! how much to investigate and hunt up and inquire about!

In the first place, though I was still in my dream a little girl, much time must have elapsed since the earlier vision; for my papa looked far older, and graver, and sterner. He had more hair about his face, too, a long brown beard and heavy moustache; and when I gazed hard at him mentally, I could recognise the likeness with the white-bearded man who lay dead on the floor: while in my former recollection, I could scarcely make out any resemblance of the features. This showed that the second scene came long after the first: my father must by that time have begun to resemble his later self. A weird feeling stole over me. Was I going to relive my previous life, piecemeal? Was the past going to unroll itself in slow but regular panorama to my sleeping vision? Was my First State to become known like this in successive scenes to my Second?

But that wasn't all. There were strange questions to decide, too, about this new dream of dead days. What could be the meaning of that mysterious baby? She seemed to be so vivid, so natural, so real; her presence there was so much a pure matter of course to me, that I couldn't for a moment separate her from the rest of the Picture. I remembered the baby, now; as I remembered my mother, and my father, and Australia. There was no room for doubt as to that. The baby was an integral part of my real recollection. Floating across the dim ocean of years, I was certain that night I had once lived in such a scene, with my mamma, and baby.

Yet oh, what baby? I never had a brother or sister of my own, except the half-sister that died--the clergyman's child, Mary Wharton. And Mary, from what I had learned from Aunt Emma and others, must have died when I was only just five months old, immediately before we left Australia. How, then, could I remember her, even in this exalted mental state of trance or dream? And, above all, how could I remember a far earlier scene, when my papa was younger, when his face was smooth, and when there was no other baby?

This mystery only heightened the other mysteries which surrounded my life. I was surfeited with them now. In very despair and listlessness, I turned round on my side, and dozed dreamily off again, unable to grapple with it.

But still that scene haunted me. And still, even in sleep, I asked myself over and over again, "How on earth can this be? What's the meaning of the baby?"

Perhaps it was a little sister that died young, whom I never had heard of. And perhaps not. In a life such as mine, new surprises are always possible.