Chapter II. Beginning Life Again

Wha happened after is far more vague to me. Compared with the vividness of that one initial Picture, the events of the next few months have only the blurred indistinctness of all childish memories. For I was a child once more, in all save stature, and had to learn to remember things just like other children.

I will try to tell the whole tale over again exactly as it then struck me.

After the Picture, I told you, I shut my eyes in alarm for a second. When I opened them once more there was a noise, a very great noise, and my recollection is that people had burst wildly into the room, and were lifting the dead body, and bending over it in astonishment, and speaking loud to me, and staring at me. I believe they broke the door open, though that's rather inference than memory; I learnt it afterwards. Soon some of them rushed to the open window and looked out into the garden. Then, suddenly, a man gave a shout, and leaping on to the sill, jumped down in pursuit, as I thought, of the murderer. As time went on, more people flocked in; and some of them looked at the body and the pool of blood; and some of them turned round and spoke to me. But what they said or what they meant I hadn't the slightest idea. The noise of the pistol-shot still rang loud in my ears: the ineffable Horror still drowned all my senses.

After a while, another man came in, with an air of authority, and felt my pulse and my brow, and lifted me on to a sofa. But I didn't even remember there was such a thing as a doctor. I lay there for a while, quite dazed; and the man, who was kindly-looking and close-shaven and fatherly, gave me something in a glass: after which he turned round and examined the body. He looked hard at the revolver, too, and chalked its place on the ground. Then I saw no more, for two women lifted me in their arms and took me up to bed; and with that, the first scene of my childhood seemed to end entirely.

I lay in bed for a day or two, during which time I was dimly aware of much commotion going on here and there in the house; and the doctor came night and morning, and tended me carefully. I suppose I may call him the doctor now, though at the time I didn't call him so--I knew him merely as a visible figure. I don't believe I thought at all during those earliest days, or gave things names in any known language. They rather passed before me dreamily in long procession, like a vague panorama. When people spoke to me, it was like the sound of a foreign tongue. I attached no more importance to anything they said than to the cawing of the rooks in the trees by the rectory.

At the end of five days, the doctor came once more, and watched me a great deal, and spoke in a low voice with a woman in a white cap and a clean white apron who waited on me daily. As soon as he was gone, my nurse, as I learned afterwards to call her,--it's so hard not to drop into the language of everyday life when one has to describe things to other people,--my nurse got me up, with much ado and solemnity, and dressed me in a new black frock, very dismal and ugly, and put on me a black hat, with a dreary-looking veil; and took me downstairs, with the aid of a man who wore a suit of blue clothes and a queer kind of helmet. The man was of the sort I now call a policeman. These pictures are far less definite in my mind than the one that begins my second life; but still, in a vague kind of way, I pretty well remember them.

On the ground floor, nurse made me walk; and I walked out to the door, where a cab was in waiting, drawn slowly by a pair of horses. People were looking on, on either side, between the door and the cab--great crowds of people, peering eagerly forward; and two more men in blue suits were holding them off by main force from surging against me and incommoding me. I don't think they wanted to hurt me: it was rather curiosity than anger I saw in their faces. But I was afraid, and shrank back. They were eager to see me, however, and pressed forward with loud cries, so that the men in blue suits had hard work to prevent them.

I know now there were two reasons why they wanted to see me. I was the murdered man's daughter, and I was a Psychological Phenomenon.

We drove away, through green lanes, in the cab, nurse and I; and in spite of the Horror, which surrounded me always, and the Picture, which recurred every time I shut my eyes to think, I enjoyed that drive very much, with all the fresh vividness of childish pleasure. Though I learnt later I was eighteen years old at least, I was in my inner self just like a baby of ten months, going ta-ta. At the end of the drive, we drew up sharp at a house, where some more men stood about, with red bands on their caps, and took boxes from the cab and put them into a van, while nurse and I got into a different carriage, drawn quickly by a thing that went puff-puff, puff-puff. I didn't know it was a railway, and yet in a way I did. I half forgot, half remembered it. Things that I'd seen in my previous state seemed to come back to me, in fact, as soon as I saw them; or at least to be more familiar to me than things I'd never seen before. Especially afterwards. But while things were remembered, persons, I found by-and-by, were completely forgotten. Or rather, while I remembered after a while generalities, such as houses and men, recognising them in the abstract as a house, or a man, or a horse, or a baby, I forgot entirely particulars, such as the names of people and the places I had lived in. Words soon came back to me: names and facts were lost: I knew the world as a whole, not my own old part in it.

Well, not to make my story too long in these early childish stages, we went on the train, as it seemed to me, a long way across fields to Aunt Emma's. I didn't know she was Aunt Emma then for, indeed, I had never seen her before; but I remember arriving there at her pretty little cottage, and seeing a sweet old lady--barely sixty, I should say, but with smooth white hair,--who stood on the steps of the house and cried like a child, and held out her hands to me, and hugged me and kissed me. And it was there that I learned my first word. A great many times over, she spoke about "Una." She said it so often, I caught vaguely at the sound. And nurse, when she answered her, said "Una" also. Then, when Aunt Emma called me, she always said "Una." So it came to me dimly that Una meant me. But I didn't exactly recollect it had been my name before, though I learned in due time afterwards that I'd always been called so. However, just at first, I picked up the word as a child might pick it up; and when, some months later, I began to talk easily, I spoke of myself always in the third person as Una. I can remember with a smile now how I went one day to Aunt Emma--I, a great girl of eighteen--and held up my skirt, that I'd muddied in the street, and said to her, with great gravity:

"Una naughty girl: Una got her frock wet. Aunt Emma going to scold poor Una for being so naughty!"

Not that I often smiled, in those days; for, in spite of Aunt Emma's kindness, my second girlhood, like my first, was a very unhappy one. The Horror and the Picture pursued me too close. It was months and months before I could get rid for a moment of that persistent nightmare. And yet I had everything else on earth to make me happy. Aunt Emma lived in a pretty east-coast town, with high bracken-clad downs, and breezy common beyond; while in front stretched great sands, where I loved to race about and to play cricket and tennis. It was the loveliest town that ever you saw in your life, with a broken chancel to the grand old church, and a lighthouse on a hill, with delicious views to seaward. The doctor had sent me there (I know now) as soon as I was well enough to move, in order to get me away from the terrible associations of The Grange at Woodbury. As long as I lived in the midst of scenes which would remind me of poor father, he said, and of his tragical death, there was no hope of my recovery. The only chance for me to regain what I had lost in that moment of shock was complete change of air, of life, of surroundings. Aunt Emma, for her part, was only too glad to take me in: and as poor papa had died intestate, Aunt Emma was now, of course, my legal guardian.

She was my mother's sister, I learned as time went on; and there had been feud while he lived between her and my father. Why, I couldn't imagine. She was the sweetest old soul I ever knew, indeed, and what on earth he could have quarrelled with her about I never could fathom. She tended me so carefully that as months went by, the Horror began to decrease and my soul to become calm again. I grew gradually able to remain in a room alone for a few minutes at a time, and to sleep at night in a bed by myself, if only there was a candle, and nurse was in another bed in the same room close by me.

Yet every now and again a fresh shivering fit came on. At such times I would cover my head with the bedclothes and cower, and see the Picture even so floating visibly in mid-air like a vision before me.

My second education must have been almost as much of a business as my first had been, only rather less longsome. I had first to relearn the English language, which came back to me by degrees, much quicker, of course, than I had picked it up in my childhood. Then I had to begin again with reading, writing, and arithmetic--all new to me in a way, and all old in another. Whatever I learned and whatever I read seemed novel while I learned it, but familiar the moment I had thoroughly grasped it. To put it shortly, I could remember nothing of myself, but I could recall many things, after a time, as soon as they were told me clearly. The process was rather a process of reminding than of teaching, properly so called. But it took some years for me to recall things, even when I was reminded of them.

I spent four years at Aunt Emma's, growing gradually to my own age again. At the end of that time I was counted a girl of twenty-two, much like any other. But I was older than my age; and the shadow of the Horror pursued me incessantly.

All that time I knew, too, from what I heard said in the house that my father's murderer had never been caught, and that nobody even knew who he was, or anything definite about him. The police gave him up as an uncaught criminal. He was still at large, and might always be so. I knew this from vague hints and from vague hints alone; for whenever I tried to ask, I was hushed up at once with an air of authority.

"Una, dearest," Aunt Emma would say, in her quiet fashion, "you mustn't talk about that night. I have Dr. Wade's strict orders that nothing must be said to you about it, and above all nothing that could in any way excite or arouse you."

So I was fain to keep my peace; for though Aunt Emma was kind, she ruled me still in all things like a little girl, as I was when I came to her.