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.
AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR
One morning, after I’d been four whole years at Aunt Emma’s, I heard a ring at the bell, and, looking over the stairs, saw a tall and handsome man in a semi-military coat, who asked in a most audible voice for Miss Callingham.
Maria, the housemaid, hesitated a moment.
“Miss Callingham’s in, sir,” she answered in a somewhat dubious tone; “but I don’t know whether I ought to let you see her or not. My mistress is out; and I’ve strict orders that no strangers are to call on Miss Callingham when her aunt’s not here.”
And she held the door ajar in her hand undecidedly.
The tall man smiled, and seemed to me to slip a coin quietly into Maria’s palm.
“So much the better,” he answered, with unobtrusive persistence; “I thought Miss Moore was out. That’s just why I’ve come. I’m an officer from Scotland Yard, and I want to see Miss Callingham—alone—most particularly.”
Maria drew herself up and paused.
My heart stood still within me at this chance of enlightenment. I guessed what he meant; so I called over the stairs to her, in a tremor of excitement:
“Show the gentleman into the drawing-room, Maria. I ’ll come down to him at once.”
For I was dying to know the explanation of the Picture that haunted me so persistently; and as nobody at home would ever tell me anything worth knowing about it, I thought this was as good an opportunity as I could get for making a beginning towards the solution of the mystery.
Well, I ran into my own room as quick as quick could be, and set my front hair straight, and slipped on a hat and jacket (for I was in my morning dress), and then went down to the drawing-room to see the Inspector.
He rose as I entered. He was a gentleman, I felt at once. His manner was as deferential, as kind, and as considerate to my sensitiveness, as anything it’s possible for you to imagine in anyone.