Chapter XVIII. Murder Will Out

He was gone but for three minutes. Meanwhile, I buried my face in my burning hands, and cried to myself in unspeakable misery.

For, horrible as it sounds to say so, I knew perfectly well now that Jack was Dr. Ivor: yet, in spite of that knowledge, I loved him still. He was my father's murderer; and I couldn't help loving him!

It was that that filled up the cup of my misery to overflowing. I loved the man well: and I must turn to denounce him.

He came back, flushed and hot, expecting thanks for his pains.

"Well, she'll get you the lemon, Una," he said, panting. "I overtook her by the big tulip-tree."

I gazed at him fixedly, taking my hands from my face, with the tears still wet on my burning cheek.

"You've deceived me!" I cried sternly. "Jack, you've given me a false name. I know who you are, now. You're no Jack at all. You're Courtenay Ivor!"

He drew back, quite amazed. Yet he didn't seem thunderstruck. Not fear but surprise was the leading note on his features.

"So you've found that out at last, Una!" he exclaimed, staring hard at me. "Then you remember me after all, darling! You know who I am. You haven't quite forgotten me. And you recall what has gone, do you?"

I rose from the sofa, ill as I was, in my horror.

"You dare to speak to me like that, sir!" I cried. "You, whom I've tracked out to your hiding-place and discovered! You, whom I've come across the ocean to hunt down! You, whom I mean to give up this very day to Justice! Let me go from your house at once! How dare you ever bring me here? How dare you stand unabashed before the daughter of the man you so cruelly murdered?"

He drew back like one stung.

"The daughter of the man I murdered!" he faltered out slowly, as in a turmoil of astonishment. "The man I murdered! Oh, Una, is it possible you've forgotten so much, and yet remember me myself? I can't believe it, darling. Sit down, my child, and think. Surely, surely the rest will come back to you gradually."

His calmness unnerved me. What could he mean by these words? No actor on earth could dissemble like this. His whole manner was utterly unlike the manner of a man just detected in a terrible crime. He seemed rather to reproach me, indeed, than to crouch; to be shocked and indignant.

"Explain yourself," I said coldly, in a very chilly voice. "Courtenay Ivor, I give you three minutes to explain. At the end of that time, if you can't exonerate yourself, I walk out of this house to give you up, as I ought, to the arm of Justice!"

He looked at me, all pity, yet inexpressibly reproachful.

"Oh, Una," he cried, clasping his hands--those small white hands of his--Aunt Emma's hands--the murderer's hands--how had I never before noticed them?--"and I, who have suffered so much for you! I, who have wrecked my whole life for you, ungrudgingly, willingly! I, who have sacrificed even Elsie's happiness and Elsie's future for you! This is too, too hard! Una, Una, spare me!"

A strange trembling seized me. It was in my heart to rush forward and clasp him to my breast. Murderer or no murderer, his look, his voice, cut me sharply to the heart. Words trembled on the tip of my tongue: "Oh, Jack, I love you!" But with a violent effort, I repressed them sternly. This horrible revulsion seemed to tear me in two. I loved him so much. Though till the moment of the discovery, I never quite realised how deeply I loved him.

"Courtenay Ivor," I said slowly, steeling myself once more for a hard effort, "I knew who you were at once when I saw you poise yourself on the parapet. Once before in my life I saw you like that, and the picture it produced has burned itself into the very fibre and marrow of my being. As long as I live, I can never get rid of it. It was when you leapt from the window at The Grange, at Woodbury, after murdering my father!"

He started once more.

"Una," he said solemnly, in a very clear voice, "there's some terrible error somewhere. You're utterly mistaken about what took place that night. But oh, great heavens! how am I ever to explain the misconception to you? If you still think thus, it would be cruel to undeceive you. I daren't tell you the whole truth. It would kill you! It would kill you!"

I drew myself up like a pillar of ice.

"Go on," I said, in a hard voice; for I saw he had something to say. "Don't mind for my heart. Tell me the truth. I can stand it."

He hesitated for a minute or two.

"I can't!" he cried huskily. "Dear Una, don't ask me! Won't you trust me, without? Won't you believe me when I tell you, I never did it?"

"No, I can't," I answered with sullen resolution, though my eyes belied my words. "I can't disbelieve the evidence of my own senses. I saw you escape that night. I see you still. I've seen you for years. I know it was you, and you only, who did it!"

He flung himself down in a chair, and let his arms drop listlessly.

"Oh! what can I ever do to disillusion you?" he cried in despair. "Oh! what can I ever do? This is too, too terrible!"

I moved towards the door.

"I'm going," I said, with a gulp. "You've deceived me, Jack. You've lied to me. You have given me feigned names. You have decoyed me to your house under false pretences. And I recognise you now. I know you in all your baseness. You're my father's murderer! Don't hope to escape by playing on my feelings. I'd deserve to be murdered myself, if I could act like that! I'm on my way to the police-office, to give you in custody on the charge of murdering Vivian Callingham at Woodbury!"

He jumped up again, all anxiety.

"Oh, no, you mustn't walk!" he cried, laying his hand upon my arm. "Give me up, if you like; but wait till the buggy comes back, and Elsie'll drive you round with me. You're not fit to go a step as you are at present... Oh! what shall I ever do, though. You're so weak and ill. Elsie'll never allow it."

"Elsie'll never allow what?" I asked; though I felt it was rather more grotesque than undignified and inconsistent thus to parley and make terms with my father's murderer. Though, to be sure, it was Jack, and I couldn't bear to refuse him.

He kept his hand on my arm with an air of authority.

"Una, my child," he said, thrusting me back--and even at that moment of supreme horror, a thrill ran all through my body at his touch and his words--"you mustn't go out of this house as you are this minute. I refuse to allow it. I'm your doctor, and I forbid it. You're under my charge, and I won't let you stir. If I did, I'd be responsible."

He pushed me gently into a chair.

"I gave you but one false name," he said slowly--"the name of Cheriton. To be sure I, was never christened John, but I'm Jack to my intimates. It was my nickname from a baby. Jack's what I've always been called at home--Jack's what, in the dear old days at Torquay, you always called me. But I saw if I let you know who I was at once, there'd be no chance of recalling the past, and so saving you from yourself. To save you, I consented to that one mild deception. It succeeded in bringing you here, and in keeping you here till Elsie and I were once more what we'd always been to you. I meant to tell you all in the end, when the right time came. Now, you've forced my hand, and I don't know how I can any longer refrain from telling you."

"Telling me what?" I said icily. "What do you mean by your words? Why all these dark hints? If you've anything to say, why not say it like a man?"

For I loved him so much that in my heart of hearts, I half hoped there might still be some excuse, some explanation.

He looked at me solemnly. Then he leant back in his chair and drew his hand across his brow. I could see now why I hadn't recognised that delicate hand before: white as it was by nature, hard work on the farm had long bronzed and distorted it. But I saw also, for the first time, that the palm was scarred with cuts and rents--exactly like Minnie Moore's, exactly like Aunt Emma's.

"Una," he began slowly, in a very puzzled tone, "if I could, I'd give myself up and be tried, and be found guilty and executed for your sake, sooner than cause you any further distress, or expose you to the shock of any more disclosures. But I can't do that, on Elsie's account. Even if I decided to put Elsie to that shame and disgrace--which would hardly be just, which would hardly be manly of me--Elsie knows all, and Elsie'd never consent to it. She'd never let her brother be hanged for a crime of which (as she knows) he's entirely innocent. And she'd tell out all in full court--every fact, every detail--which would be worse for you ten thousand times in the end than learning it here quietly."

"Tell me all," I said, growing stony, yet trembling from head to foot. "Oh, Jack,"--I seized his hand,--"I don't know what you mean! But I somehow trust you. I want to know all. I can bear anything--anything--better than this suspense. You must tell me! You must explain to me!"

"I will," he said slowly, looking hard into my eyes, and feeling my pulse half unconsciously with his finger as he spoke. "Una darling, you must make up your mind now for a terrible shock. I won't tell you in words, for you'd never believe it. I'll show you who it was that fired the shot at Mr. Callingham."

He moved over to the other side of the room, and unlocking drawer after drawer, took a bundle of photographs from the inmost secret cabinet of a desk in the corner.

"There, Una," he said, selecting one of them and holding it up before my eyes. "Prepare yourself, darling. That's the person who pulled the trigger that night in the library!"

I looked at it and fell back with a deadly shriek of horror. It was an instantaneous photograph. It represented a scene just before the one the Inspector gave me. And there, in its midst, I saw myself as a girl, with a pistol in my hand. The muzzle flashed and smoked. I knew the whole truth. It was I myself who held the pistol and fired at my father!