Chapter VI. Reliving My Life

Often, as you walk down a street, a man or woman passes you by. You look up at them and say to yourself, "I seem to know that face"; but you can put no name to it, attach to it no definite idea, no associations of any sort. That was just how Woodbury struck me when I first came back to it. The houses, the streets, the people, were in a way familiar; yet I could no more have found my way alone from the station to The Grange than I could find my way alone from here to Kamschatka.

So I drove up first in search of lodgings. At the station even several people had bowed or shaken hands with me respectfully as I descended from the train. They came up as if they thought I must recognise them at once: there was recognition in their eyes; but when they met my blank stare, they seemed to remember all about it, and merely murmured in strange tones:

"Good-morning, miss! So you're here: glad to see you've come back again at last to Woodbury."

This reception dazzled me. It was so strange, so uncanny. I was glad to get away in a fly by myself, and to be driven to lodgings in the clean little High Street. For to me, it wasn't really "coming back" at all: it was coming to a strange town, where everyone knew me, and I knew nobody.

"You'd like to go to Jane's, of course," the driver said to me with a friendly nod as he reached the High Street: and not liking to confess my forgetfulness of Jane, I responded with warmth that Jane's would, no doubt, exactly suit me.

We drew up at the door of a neat little house. The driver rang the bell.

"Miss Una's here," he said, confidentially; "and she's looking for lodgings."

It was inexpressibly strange and weird to me, this one-sided recognition, this unfamiliar familiarity: it gave me a queer thrill of the supernatural that I can hardly express to you. But I didn't know what to do, when a kindly-faced, middle-aged English upper-class servant rushed out at me, open-armed, and hugging me hard to her breast, exclaimed with many loud kisses:

"Miss Una, Miss Una! So it's you, dear; so it is! Then you've come back at last to us!"

I could hardly imagine what to say or do. The utmost I could assert with truth was, Jane's face wasn't exactly and entirely in all ways unfamiliar to me. Yet I could see Jane herself was so unfeignedly delighted to see me again, that I hadn't the heart to confess I'd forgotten her very existence. So I took her two hands in mine-- since friendliness begets friendliness--and holding her off a little way, for fear the kisses should be repeated, I said to her very gravely:

"You see, Jane, since those days I've had a terrible shock, and you can hardly expect me to remember anything. It's all like a dream to me. You must forgive me if I don't recall it just at once as I ought to do."

"Oh! yes, miss," Jane answered, holding my hands in her delight and weeping volubly. "We've read about all that, of course, in the London newspapers. But there, I'm glad anyhow you remembered to come and look for my lodgings. I think I should just have sat down and cried if they told me Miss Una'd come back to Woodbury, and never so much as asked to see me."

I don't think I ever felt so like a hypocrite in my life before. But I realised at least that even if Jane's lodgings were discomfort embodied, I must take them and stop in them, while I remained there, now. Nothing else was possible. I couldn't go elsewhere.

Fortunately, however, the rooms turned out to be as neat as a new pin, and as admirably kept as any woman in England could keep them. I gathered from the very first, of course, that Jane had been one of the servants at The Grange in the days of my First State; and while I drank my cup of tea, Jane herself came in and talked volubly to me, disclosing to me, parenthetically, the further fact that she was the parlour-maid at the time of my father's murder. That gave me a clue to her identity. Then she was the witness Greenfield who gave evidence at the inquest! I made a mental note of that, and determined to look up what she'd said to the coroner, in the book of extracts the Inspector gave me, as soon as I got alone in my bedroom that evening.

After dinner, however, Jane came in again, with the freedom of an old servant, and talked to me much about the Woodbury Mystery. Gradually, as time went on that night, though I remembered nothing definite of myself about her, the sense of familiarity and friendliness came home to me more vividly. The appropriate emotion seemed easier to rouse, I observed, than the intellectual memory. I knew Jane and I had been on very good terms, some time, somewhere. I talked with her easily, for I had a consciousness of companionship.

By-and-by, without revealing to her how little I could recollect about her own personality, I confessed to Jane, by slow degrees, that the whole past was still gone utterly from my shattered memory. I told her I knew nothing except the Picture and the facts it comprised; and to show her just how small that knowledge really was, I showed her (imprudently enough) the photograph the Inspector had left with me.

Jane looked at it long and slowly, with tears in her eyes. Then she said at last, after a deep pause, in a very hushed voice:

"Why, how did you get this? It wasn't put in the papers."

"No," I answered quietly, "it wasn't put in the papers. For reasons of their own, the police kept it unpublished."

Jane gazed at the proof still closer. "They oughtn't to have done that," she said.

"They ought to have sent it out everywhere broadcast--so that anybody who knew the man could tell him by his back."

That seemed to me such obvious good sense that I wondered to myself the police hadn't thought long since of it; but I supposed they had some good ground of their own for holding it all this time in their own possession.

Jane went on talking to me still for many minutes about the scene:

"Ah, yes; that was just how he lay, poor dear gentleman! And the book on the chair, too! Well, did you ever in your life see anything so like! And to think it was taken all by itself, as one might say, by magic. But there! your poor papa was a wonderful clever man. Such things as he used to invent! Such ideas and such machines! We were sorry for him, though we always thought, to be sure, he was dreadful severe with you, Miss Una. Such a gentleman to have his own way, too --so cold and reserved like. But one mustn't talk nothing but good about the dead, they say. And if he was a bit hard, he was more than hard treated for it in the end, poor gentleman!"

It interested me to get these half side-lights on my father's character. Knowing nothing of him, as I did, save the solitary fact that he was the white-haired gentleman I saw dead in my Picture, I naturally wanted to learn as much as I could from this old servant of ours as to the family conditions.

"Then you thought him harsh, in the servants'-hall?" I said tentatively to Jane. "You thought him hard and unbending?"

"Well, there, Miss," Jane ran on, putting a cushion to my back tenderly--it was strange to be the recipient of so much delicate attention from a perfect stranger,--"not exactly what you'd call harsh to us ourselves, you know: he was a good master enough, as long as one did what was ordered, though he was a little bit fidgetty. But to you, we all thought he was always rather hard. People said so in Woodbury. And yet, in a way, I don't know how it was, he always seemed more'n half afraid of you. He was careful about your health, and spoiled and petted you for that; yet he was always pulling you up, you know, and looking after what you did: and for one thing, I remember, there's many a time you were sent to bed when you were a good big girl for nothing on earth else but because he heard you talking to us in the hall about Australia."

"Talking to you about Australia!" I cried, pricking my ears. "Why, what harm was there in that? Why on earth didn't he want me to talk about Australia?"

"Ah! what harm indeed?" Jane echoed blandly. "That's what we often used to say among ourselves downstairs. But Mr. Callingham, he was always that way, miss--so strict and particular. He said he'd forbidden you to say a word to anybody about that confounded country; and you must do as you were told. He seemed to have a grudge against Australia, though it was there he made his money. And he always would have his own way, your father would."

While she spoke, I looked hard at the white head in the photograph. Even as I did so, a thought occurred to me that had never occurred before. Both in my mental Picture, and in looking at the photograph when I saw it first, the feeling that was uppermost in my mind was not sorrow, but horror. I didn't think with affection and regret and a deep sense of bereavement about my father's murder. The emotional accompaniment that had stamped itself upon the very fibre of my soul, was not pain but awe. I think my main feeling was a feeling that a foul crime had taken place in the house, not a feeling that I had lost a very dear and near relative. Rightly or wrongly, I drew from this the inference, which Jane's gossip confirmed, that I had probably rather feared than loved my father.

It was strange to be reduced to such indirect evidence on such a point as that; but it was all I could get, and I had to be content with it.

Jane, leaning over my shoulder, looked hard at the photograph too. I could see her eyes were fixed on the back of the man who was seen disappearing through the open window. He was dressed like a gentleman, in knickerbockers and jacket, as far as one could judge; for the evening light rather blurred that part of the picture. One hand was just waved, palm open, behind him. Jane regarded it hard. Then she gave an odd little start:

"Why, just look at that hand!" she cried, with a tremor of surprise. "Don't you see what it is? Don't you think it's a woman's?"

I gazed back at her incredulously.

"Impossible," I answered, shaking my head. "It belongs as clear as day to the man you see in the photograph. How on earth could his hand be a woman's then, I'd like to know? I can see the shirt-cuff."

"Why, yes," Jane answered, with simple common-sense: "it's dressed like a man, of course, and it's a man to look at; but the hand's a woman's, as true as I'm standing here. Why mightn't a woman dress in a man's suit on purpose? And perhaps it was just because they were so sure it was a man as did it, that the police has gone wrong so long in trying to find the murderer."

I looked hard at the hand myself. Then I shut my eyes, and thought of the corresponding object in my mental Picture. The result fairly staggered me. The impression in each case was exactly the same. It was a soft and delicate hand, very white and womanlike. But was it really a woman's? I couldn't feel quite sure in my own mind about that; but the very warning Jane gave me seemed to me a most useful one. It would be well, after all, to keep one's mind sedulously open to every possible explanation, and to take nothing for granted as to the murderer's personality.