Chapter XIV. My Welcome to Canada
 

The voyage across the Atlantic was long and uneventful. No whales, no icebergs, no excitement of any sort. My fellow-passengers said it was as dull as it was calm. But as for me, I had plenty to occupy my mind meanwhile. Strange things had happened in the interval, and were happening to me on the way. Strange things, in part, of my own internal history.

For before I left England, as I sat with Aunt Emma in her little drawing-room at Barton-on-the-Sea, discussing my plans and devising routes westward, she made me, quite suddenly, an unexpected confession.

"Una," she said, after a long pause, "you haven't told me, my dear, why you're going to Canada. And I don't want to ask you. I know pretty well. We needn't touch upon that. You're going to hunt up some supposed clue to the murderer."

"Perhaps so, Auntie," I said oracularly: "and perhaps not."

For I didn't want it to get talked about and be put into all the newspapers. And I knew now if I wanted to keep it out, I must first be silent.

Aunt Emma drew nearer and took my hand in hers. At the same time, she held up the other scarred and lacerated palm.

"Do you know when I got that, Una?" she asked with a sudden burst. "Well, I'll tell you, my child.... It was the night of your father's death. And I got it climbing over the wall at The Grange, to escape detection."

My blood ran cold once more. What on earth could this mean? Had Auntie--? But no. I had the evidence of my own senses that it was Courtenay Ivor. I'd tracked him down now. There was no room for doubt. The man on the wagon was the man who fired the shot. I could have sworn to that bent back, of my own knowledge, among a thousand.

I hadn't long to wait, however. Auntie went on after a short pause.

"I was there," she said, "by accident, trying for once to see you."

I looked at her fixedly still, and still I said nothing.

"I was stopping with friends at the time, ten miles off from Woodbury," Aunt Emma went on, smoothing my hand with hers, "and I longed so to see you. I came over by train that day, and stopped late about the town in hopes I might meet you in the street. But I was disappointed. Towards evening I ventured even to go into the grounds of The Grange, and look about everywhere on the chance that I might see you. Perhaps your father might be out. I went round towards the window, which I now know to be the library. As I went, I saw a bicycle leaning up against the wall by the window. I thought that must be some visitor, but still I went on. But just as I reached the window, I saw a flash of electric light; and by the light, I could make out your father's head and beard. He looked as if he were talking angrily and loudly to somebody. The window was open. I was afraid to stop longer. In a sudden access of fear, I ran across the shrubbery towards the garden-wall. To tell you the truth, I was horribly frightened. Why, I don't know; for nothing had happened as yet. I suppose it was just the dusk and the mean sense of intrusion."

She paused and wiped her brow. I sat still, and listened eagerly.

"Presently," she went on, very low, "as I ran and ran, I heard behind me a loud crash--a sound as of a pistol-shot. That terrified me still more. I thought I was being pursued. Perhaps they took me for a burglar. In the agony of my terror, I rushed at the wall in mad haste, and climbed over it anyhow. In climbing, I tore my hand, as you see, and made myself bleed, oh, terribly! However, I persevered, and got down on the other side, with my clothes very little the worse for the scramble. And, fortunately, I was carrying a small light dust-cloak: I put it on at once, and it covered up everything. Then I began to walk along the road as fast as I could in the direction of the station. As I did so, a bicycle shot out from the gate in the opposite direction, going as hard as it could spin, simply flying towards Whittingham. Three minutes later, a man came up to me, breathless. It was the gardener at The Grange, I believe.

"'Have you seen anybody go this way?' he asked. 'A young man, running hard? A young man in knickerbockers?'

"'N--no,' I answered, trembling; for I was afraid to confess. 'Not a soul has gone past!'

"Of course, I didn't know of the murder as yet; and I only wanted to get off unperceived to the station.

"I'd bound up my hand in my handkerchief by that time, and held it tight under my cloak. I went back by train unnoticed, and returned to my friends' house. I hadn't even told them I was going to Woodbury at all. I pretended I'd been spending the day at Whittingham. Next morning, I read in the paper of your father's murder."

I stared hard at Aunt Emma.

"Why didn't you tell me this long ago?" I cried, in an agony of suspense. "Why didn't you give evidence and say so at the inquest?"

"How could I?" Aunt Emma answered, looking back at me appealingly. "The circumstances were too suspicious. As it was, everybody was running after the young man in knickerbockers. Nobody took any notice of a little old lady in a long grey dust-cloak. But if once I'd confessed and shown my wounded hand, who would ever have believed I'd nothing to do with the murder?--except you, perhaps, Una. Oh no: I came back here to my own home as fast as ever I could; for I was really ill. I took to my bed at once. And as nobody called me to give evidence at the inquest, I said nothing to anybody."

"But the bicycle!" I cried. "The bicycle! You ought to have mentioned that. You were the only one who saw it. It was a clue to the murderer."

"If I'd told," Aunt Emma answered, "I should never have been allowed to take charge of you at all. I thought my one clear duty was to my sister's child: it was to take care of your health in your shattered condition. And even now, Una, I tell you only for this: if you find out anything new, in Canada or here, try not to drag me into it. I couldn't stand the strain. Cross-examination would kill me."

"I'll remember it, auntie," I said, wearied out with excitement. "But I think you did wrong, all the same. In a case like this, it's everybody's first duty to tell all he knows, in the interests of justice."

However, this confession of Aunt Emma's rendered one thing more certain to me than ever before. I was sure I was on the right track now, after Courtenay Ivor. The bicycle clinched the proof.

But I said nothing as yet to the police, or to my friendly Inspector. I was determined to hunt the whole thing up on my own account first, and then deliver my criminal, when fully secured, to the laws of my country.

Not that I was vindictive. Not that I wanted to punish the man. No; I shrank terribly from the task. But to relieve myself from this persistent sense of surrounding mystery, and to free others from suspicion, I felt compelled to discover him. It seemed to me like a duty laid upon me from without. I dared not shirk it.

On the way out to Quebec, the sea seemed to revive strange memories. I had never crossed it before, except long, long ago, on my way home from Australia. And now that I sat on deck, in a wicker-chair, and looked at the deep dark waves by myself, I began once more, in vague snatches, to recall that earlier voyage. It came back to me all of itself. And that was quite in keeping with my previous recollections. My past life, I felt sure, was unfolding itself slowly to me in regular succession, from childhood onward.

Sitting there on the quarter-deck, gazing hard at the waves, I remembered how I had played on a similar ship years and years before, a little girl in short frocks, with my mamma in a long folding-chair beside me. I could see my mamma, with a sort of frightened smile on her poor pale face; and she looked so unhappy. My papa was there too, somewhat older and greyer--very unlike the papa of my first Australian picture. His face was so much hairier. Mamma cried a good deal at times, and papa tried to comfort her. Besides, what struck me most, there was no more baby. I wasn't even allowed to speak about baby. That subject was tabooed--perhaps because it always made mamma cry so much, and press me hard to her bosom. At any rate, I remembered how once I spoke of baby to some fellow-passenger in the saloon, and papa was very angry, and caught me up in his arms and took me down to my berth; and there I had to stop all day by myself (though it was rolling hard) and could have no fruit for dinner, because I'd been naughty. I was strictly enjoined never to mention baby to anyone again, either then or at any time. I was to forget all about her.

Day after day, as we sailed on, reminiscences of the same sort crowded thicker and thicker upon me. Never reminiscences of my later life, but always early scenes brought up by distinct suggestion of that Australian voyage. When we passed a ship, it burst upon me how we'd passed such ships before: when there was fire-drill on deck, I remembered having assisted years earlier at just such fire-drill. The whole past came back like a dream, so that I could reconstruct now the first five or six years of my life almost entirely. And yet, even so there was a gap, a puzzle, a difficulty somehow. I couldn't make the chronology of this slow-returning memory fit in as it ought with the chronology of the facts given to me by Aunt Emma and the Moores of Torquay. There was a constant discrepancy. It seemed to me that I must be a year or two older at least than they made me out. I remembered the voyage home far too well for my age. I fancied I went back further in my Australian recollections than would be possible from the dates Aunt Emma assigned me.

Slowly, as I compared these mental pictures of my first childhood one with the other, a strange fact seemed to loom forth, incomprehensible, incredible. When first it struck me, all unnerved as I was, my reason staggered before it. But it was true, none the less: quite true, I felt certain. Had I had two papas, then?--for the pictures differed so. Was one, clean-shaven, trim, and in a linen coat, the same as the other, older, graver, and sterner, with much hair on his face, and a rough sort of look, whom I saw more persistently in my later childish memories? I could hardly believe it. One man couldn't alter so greatly in a few short years. Yet I thought of them both alike quite unquestioningly as papa: I thought of them too, I fancied, in a dim sort of way, as one and the same person.

These fresh mysteries occupied my mind for the greater part of that uneventful voyage. To throw them off, I laughed and talked as much as possible with the rest of the passengers. Indeed, I gained the reputation of being "an awfully jolly girl," so heartily did I throw myself into all the games and amusements, to escape from the burden of my pressing thoughts: and I believe many old ladies on board were thoroughly scandalised that a woman whose father had been brutally murdered should ever be able to seem so bright and lively again. How little they knew! And what a world of mystery seemed to oppress and surround me!

At last, early one morning, we reached the Gulf, and took in our pilot off the Straits of Belleisle. I was on deck at the time, playing a game called "Shovelboard." As the pilot reached the ship, he took the captain's hand, and, to my immense surprise, said in an audible voice:

"So you've the famous Miss Callingham for a passenger, I hear, this voyage. There's the latest Quebec papers. You'll see you're looked for. Our people are expecting her."

I rushed forward, fiery hot, and with a trembling hand took one of the papers he was distributing all round, right and left, to the people on deck. It was unendurable that the memory of that one event should thus dog me through life with such ubiquitous persistence. I tore open the sheet. There, with horrified eyes, I read this hateful paragraph, in the atrociously vulgar style of Transatlantic journalism:

"The Sarmatian, expected off Belleisle to-morrow morning, brings among her passengers, as we learn by telegram, the famous Una Callingham, whose connection with the so-called Woodbury Mystery is now a matter of historical interest. The mysterious two-souled lady possesses, at present, all her faculties intact, as before the murder, and is indeed, people say, a remarkably spry and intelligent young person; but she has most conveniently forgotten all the events of her past life, and more particularly the circumstances of her father's death, which is commonly conjectured to have been due to the pistol of some unknown lover. Such freaks of memory are common, we all know, in the matter of small debts and of newspaper subscriptions, but they seldom extend quite so far as the violent death of a near relation. However, Una knows her own business best. The Sarmatian is due alongside the Bonsecours Quay at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the 10th; and all Quebec will, no doubt, be assembled at the landing-stage to say 'Good-morning' to the two-souled lady."

The paper dropped from my hand. This was too horrible for anything! How I was ever to go through the ordeal of the landing at Quebec after that, I hadn't the faintest conception. And was I to be dogged and annoyed like this through all my Canadian trip by anonymous scribblers? Had these people no hearts? no consideration for the sensitiveness of an English lady?

I looked over the side of the ship at the dark-blue water. Oh, how I longed to plunge into it and be released for ever from this abiding nightmare!