My blood ran cold at such a tale of deadly treachery. I remembered now to have heard some small part of it before. But much of it, as Jack told it to me, was quite new and unexpected. No wonder I had turned in horror that night from the man I long believed to be my own father, when I learned by what vile and cruelly treacherous means he had succeeded in imposing his supposed relationship upon me! But still, all this brought me no nearer the real question of questions—why did I shoot him?
THE PLOT UNRAVELS ITSELF
As Jack went on unfolding that strange tale of fraud and heartless wrong, my interest every moment grew more and more absorbing. But I can’t recall it now exactly as Jack told me it. I can only give you the substance of that terrible story.
When Richard Wharton first learned of his wife’s second marriage during his own lifetime to that wicked wretch who had ousted and supplanted him, he believed also, on the strength of Vivian Callingham’s pretences, that his own daughter had died in her babyhood in Australia. He fancied, therefore, that no person of his kin remained alive at all, and that he might proceed to denounce and punish Vivian Callingham. With that object in view, he tramped down all the way from London to Torquay, to make himself known to his wife’s relations, the Moores, and to their cousin, Courtenay Ivor of Babbicombe—my Jack, as I called him. For various reasons of his own, he called first on Jack, and proceeded to detail to him this terrible family story.
At first hearing, Jack could hardly believe such a tale was true—of his Una’s father, as he still thought Vivian Callingham. But a strange chance happened to reveal a still further complication. It came out in this way. I had given Jack a recent photograph of myself in fancy dress, which hung up over his mantelpiece. As the weather-worn visitor’s eye fell on the picture, he started and grew pale.
“Why, that’s her!” he cried with a sudden gasp. “That’s my daughter—Mary Wharton!”
Well, naturally enough Jack thought, to begin with, this was a mere mistake on his strange visitor’s part.
“That’s her half-sister,” he said, “Una Callingham—your wife’s child by her second marriage. She may be like her, no doubt, as half-sisters often are. But Mary Wharton, I know, died some eighteen years ago or so, when Una was quite a baby, I believe. I’ve heard all about it, because, don’t you see, I’m engaged to Una.”
The poor wreck of a clergyman, however, shook his head with profound conviction. He knew better than that.
“Oh no,” he said decisively: “that’s my child, Mary Wharton. Even after all these years, I couldn’t possibly be mistaken. Blood is thicker than water: I’d know her among ten thousand. She’d be just that age now, too. I see the creature’s vile plot. His daughter died young, and he’s palmed off my Mary as his own child, to keep her money in his hands. But never mind the money. Thank Heaven, she’s alive! That’s her! That’s my Mary!”