Chapter XXIV. All's Well That Ends Well
 

But why didn't you explain it all to me at the very first?" I exclaimed, all tremulous. "When you met me at Quebec, I mean--why didn't you tell me then? Did you and Elsie come there on purpose to meet me?"

"Yes, we came there to meet you," Jack answered. "But we were afraid to make ourselves known to you all at once just at first, because, you see, Una, I more than half suspected then, what I know now to be the truth, that you were coming out to Canada on purpose to hunt me up, not as your friend and future husband, but in enmity and suspicion as your father's murderer. And in any case we were uncertain which attitude you might adopt towards me. But I see I must explain a little more even now. I haven't told you yet why I came at all to Canada."

"Tell me now," I answered. "I must know everything to-day. I can never rest now till I've heard the whole story."

"Well," Jack went on more calmly, "after the first excitement wore off in the public mind, there came after a bit a lull of languid interest; the papers began to forget the supposed facts of the murder, and to dwell far more upon your own new role as a pyschological curiosity. They talked much about your strange new life and its analogies elsewhere. I was anxious to see you, of course, to satisfy myself of your condition; but the doctors who had charge of you refused to let you mix for a while with anyone you had known in your First State; and I now think wisely. It was best you should recover your general health and faculties by slow degrees, without being puzzled and distracted by constant upsetting recollections and suggestions of your past history.

"But for me, of course, at the time, the separation was terrible. Each morning, I read with feverish interest the reports of your health, and longed, day after day, to hear of some distinct improvement. And yet at the same time, I was terrified at every approach to complete convalescence: I feared that if you got better at all, you might remember too quick, and that then the sudden rush of recollection might kill you or upset your reason. But by-and-by, it became clear to me you could remember nothing of the actual shot itself. And I saw plainly why. It was the firing of the pistol that obliterated, as it were, every trace of your past life in your disorganised brain. And it obliterated itself too. Your new life began just one moment later, with the Picture of the dead man stretched before you in his blood on the floor, and a figure in the background disappearing through the window."

How clever he was, to be sure! I saw in a moment Jack had interpreted my whole frame of mind correctly and wonderfully.

"Well, I went back to Babbicombe," Jack continued, "and, lest my heart should break for want of human sympathy, I confided every word of my terrible story to Elsie. Elsie can trust me; and Elsie believed me. Gradually, as you began to recover, I realised the soundness of your doctor's idea that you should be allowed to come back to yourself by re-education from the very beginning, without any too early intrusion of reminiscences from your previous life to confuse and disturb you. But I couldn't go on with my profession, all the same, while I waited. I couldn't attend as I ought to my patients' wants and ailments: I was too concentrated upon you: the strain was too great upon me. So I threw up my practice, came out to Canada, bought a bit of land, and began farming here, and seeing a few patients now and again locally, just to fill up my time with. I felt confident in the end you would recover and remember me. I felt confident you would come to yourself and marry me. But still, it was very long work waiting. Every month, Elsie got news indirectly from Minnie Moore or someone of your state of health; and I intended to go back and try to see you as soon as ever you were in a condition to bear the shock of re-living your previous life again.

"Unfortunately, however, the police got hold of you before I could carry my plan into execution. As soon as I heard that, I made up my mind at once to go home by the first mail and break it all gently to you. So Elsie and I started for Quebec, meaning to sail by the Dominion steamer for England. But at the hotel at Quebec we saw the telegrams announcing that you were then on your way out to Canada. Well, of course we didn't feel sure whether you came as a friend or an enemy. We were certain it was to seek me out you were coming to America; but whether you remembered me still and still loved me, or whether you'd found out some stray clue to the missing man, and were anxious to hunt me down as your father's murderer, we hadn't the slightest conception. So under those circumstances, we thought it best not to meet you ourselves at the steamer, or to reveal our identity too soon, for fear of a catastrophe. I knew it would be better to wait and watch--to gain your confidence, if possible--in any case, to find out how you were affected on first seeing us and talking with us.

"Well then, as the time came on for the Sarmatian to arrive, it began to strike me by degrees that all Quebec was agog with curiosity to see you. I dared not go down to meet you at the quay myself; but the Chief Constable of Quebec, Major Tascherel, was an old friend and fellow-officer of my father's; and when I explained to him my fears that you might be mobbed by sightseers on your arrival at the harbour, and told him how afraid I was of the shock it might give you to meet an old friend unexpectedly at the steamer's side, he very kindly consented to go down and see you safe through the Custom House, It was so lucky I knew him. If it hadn't been for that, you might have been horribly inconvenienced.

"As you may imagine, when we first saw you get into the Pullman car, both Elsie and I felt our hearts come up into our months with suspense and anxiety. We'd arranged it all so on purpose, for we felt sure you were on your way to Palmyra to find us: but when it came to the actual crisis, we wondered most nervously what effect the sight of us might have upon your system. But in a moment, I saw you didn't remember us at all, or only vaguely attached to us some faint sense of friendliness. That was well, because it enabled us to gain your confidence easily. As we spoke with you, the sense of friendly interest deepened. I knew that, all unconsciously to yourself, you loved me still, and that in a very short time, if only I could see you and be with you, I might bring all back to you."

Jack paused and looked at me. As he paused, I felt my old self revive again more completely than ever with a rush.

"Oh, Jack," I cried, "so you have done; so you have brought all back to me! My Second State's over: I'm the same girl you used to know at Torquay once more. I remember everything--everything--such a world--such a lifetime! I feel as if my head would burst with all the things I remember. I don't know what to do with it. I'm so tired, so weary."

"Lay it here," Jack said simply.

And I laid it on his shoulder, just as I used to do years ago, and cried so long in silence, and was ever so much comforted. For I've admitted all along that I'm only a woman.

There we sat, hand in hand, for many minutes more, saying never another word, but sympathising silently, till Elsie returned from Palmyra.

When she burst into the room, she called out lightly as she entered:

"Well, I've got you your lemon, Una, and I do hope--" Then she broke short suddenly. "Oh, Jack," she cried, faltering, and half guessing the truth, "what's the meaning of this? Why, Una's been crying. You bad boy, you've been frightening her. I oughtn't to have left her ten minutes alone with you!"

Jack rose and held up his hand in warning.

"Don't talk to her at present, Elsie," he said. "You needn't be afraid. Una's found out everything. She remembers all now. And she knows how everything happened. And she's borne it so bravely, without any more shock to her health and strength than was absolutely inevitable.--Let her sleep if she can. It'll do her so much good.--But, Elsie, there's one thing I want to say to you both before I hand her over to you. After all that's happened, I don't think Una'll want to hear that hateful name of Callingham any more. It never was really hers, and it never shall be. We'll let bygones be bygones in every other respect, and not rake up any details of that hateful story. But she's been Una to us always, and she shall be Una still. It's a very good name for her: for there's only one of her. But next week, I propose, she shall be Una Ivor."

I threw myself on his neck, and cried again like a child.

"I accept, Jack," I said, sobbing. "Let it be Ivor, if you will. Next week, then, I'll be your wife at last, my darling!"