“Wait here,” he said, “and I will show you my justification.”
MY FATHER’S LETTER
I heard Ray’s heavy footsteps ascending the stairs to his room. In a few moments he returned, bearing in his hand a letter.
“Guy,” he said thoughtfully, “I am a man who is slow to place trust in any one. For that reason, and perhaps because ignorance was better for you, I have told you little of the events of that night. Now my first opinion of you has undergone some modifications. You are stronger than I thought, you have shown faith in me too, or I should not be here practically a guest under your roof to-night. Listen! The man whom you found dead in the marshes was not your father!”
I was not surprised. Always I had doubted it.
“Who was he, then?” I asked calmly.
“When your father went mad at Gibraltar,” Ray said, “he needed help. This man, Clery by name, supplied it. When I knew them both he was your father’s valet. Since then he has been his confederate in many schemes. Your father on many occasions manifested the remnants of a sense of honour. This creature set himself deliberately and successfully to corrupt it. He was a parasite, a nerveless, bloodless thing without a single human attribute. He and that woman were alike responsible for your father’s ruined life.”
“Once before,” Ray continued, after a moment’s pause, “I had told him that if ever we should meet where his life would cost me nothing, I would kill him as I would set my heel upon an adder—and he only smiled as though I had paid him some delicate compliment. And that night, Guy, a hundred yards from your cottage, he sidled up to me in that lonely road, and bade me direct him to the abode of Mr. Guy Ducaine. A moment after he recognized me.”
A grim smile parted Ray’s lips, but I could not repress a shudder. Invariably at any reference to that awful night the old fear came back.
“He seemed at first paralyzed with fear,” Ray continued. “He tried to slip away into the marshes, but I caught him easily, and held him so that he could not escape. He admitted that he had come to find you with a message from your father. He denied at first having a letter, but I searched him until I found it. As you see, it is addressed to you. Nevertheless I struck matches, opened it, and with some difficulty managed to read it. All the time this creature was doubling about like an eel trying to get away. Read the letter.”
I drew it from the envelope. It was dated from the Savoy Hotel.
“My dear son,—I do not deserve that you should read beyond these three words. I have as little right to call you my son as you can have desire to claim me for your father. I am here, however, purely on an errand of justice. I have learned that you have been robbed of the sum set aside to give you a start in life. I am here to endeavor to replace it, for which purpose I desire that you will grant me a business interview within the next few days. I beg your reply by Clery, my faithful companion and servant. I am known here as