BUSINESS AFFAIRS

Clarice quite intended to ask Ferdy what was the meaning of Zara’s
strange remark, but other things took up her attention, and for the
time being she forgot the saying. As regards the murder, of course,
neither Clarice nor any one else thought that there was any mystery
about the death of Mr. Horran. Undoubtedly Osip had killed him, in due
accordance with the traditions of the Purple Fern. Only in this
instance it was difficult to guess why the crime had been committed on
an inoffensive man. The other seven victims, men and women, had been
selected for their wealth, and in every case either the body had been
robbed of jewellery, or the house of the dead–when the especial
murder took place in a house–had been looted. In the case of
Horran, nothing had been stolen, therefore robbery–as in the other
cases–could not be the motive for the crime.

However, Clarice did not trouble her head much about the matter,
although the facts of Mr. Horran (according to Ackworth) having been
in the company of Osip at the Shah’s Rooms, and the curious
observation of Zara to Ferdy, might have urged her to make enquiries.
Still, there was no mystery about the death, save the want of a
motive, and, therefore, there was nothing to unravel. Horran was dead,
the hue and cry was out against his assassin, and two days after the
inquest the funeral took place. Owing to the publicity of the death,
and the respect in which Horran was held by his fellow-townsmen, there
was a great crowd at the cemetery. Ferdy acted as chief mourner along
with Dr. Jerce, the life-long friend of the deceased, and Mr. Clarke
read the burial service. Clarice, according to custom, stopped at home
while her unfortunate guardian was being laid in his untimely grave.
It was then that she remembered Zara’s observation, and wondered anew
what it meant.

Did the girl mean that now Osip was accused there could be no danger
to Ferdy? Clarice asked herself this question, but without receiving
any answer from her consciousness. The facts of the murder were
sufficiently plain, save as to the motive, so in any case it had
nothing to do with Ferdy. Moreover, if Zara meant that Ferdy was
implicated in the matter–and on the face of it that seemed
absurd–such an accusation, if made, could be rebutted by Clarice
herself, since she had locked Ferdy in his room on the night when the
purposeless crime was committed. Miss Baird used the word purposeless
because she could not conjecture why Horran should have been killed in
so tragic a manner. Unless, of course, the motive for the committal of
the crime was connected with Horran’s acquaintanceship with Osip. Why
the dead man had been at the Shah’s Rooms, and in Osip’s company, was
yet to be explained, but only the assassin could give the reason for
that secret visit to London, and he was not likely to come forward,
considering that there was a price on his head. Clarice, at the
suggestion of Dr. Jerce, had offered a reward of two hundred pounds
for the apprehension of the man in grey, and the London detective,
Sims, had gone back to Town with the firm determination to win that
sum of money. But he admitted to Miss Baird herself, with a rueful
smile, that it was like looking for a needle in a haystack to capture
the remaining member of the Purple Fern Triumvirate.

As yet Barras had not put in an appearance, although he had been
expected to be present at the funeral. A telegram from him stated that
he would be down immediately afterwards, and would come to The Laurels
to read the will of the deceased. There had been some difficulty in
finding Mr. Barras in Paris, and only at the eleventh hour had he
returned to England.

Meanwhile Clarice, in deep mourning, sat in the drawing-room waiting
for the arrival of the solicitor, and for the return of the funeral
party. Ackworth had not come over to attend, as stern duty compelled
him to go to Southampton with a draft of men for India. But he
promised to return as soon as he was able. Clarice anxiously expected
him, as she had much to say about the property and about their
marriage. Especially about the latter, as, since the death of Horran,
Dr. Jerce had too openly displayed his interest in the girl. It was,
therefore, necessary to put an end to the doctor’s hopes by announcing
her engagement to Captain Ackworth.

While Clarice thought of these things, Mrs. Rebson, at her elbow, kept
up a cheerful conversation about the truths enshrined in the pages of
The Domestic Prophet. “One thing’s come true, Miss,” she said,
briskly; “I only hope the other won’t.”

“What other?” asked Miss Baird, listlessly.

“Why, the disgrace, Miss. We had the death to an elderly man, who
should have been beware of the midnight hour–death by a knife, too.”

“Only it was an assegai,” retorted Clarice, scornfully; “your prophet
made a mistake in the weapon.”

“The Domestic Prophet doesn’t condescend to tell everything,” said
Mrs. Rebson, much offended, “but you can’t say but what the murder
hasn’t taken place.”

“No,” sighed the girl, “poor Uncle Henry.”

“We’ve had death and sorrow,” went on the housekeeper, relentlessly,
“and disgrace has still to come.”

“Disgrace! What nonsense.”

“So you said before, Miss. Don’t scoff, when you know what’s happened.
Disgrace must come, as The Domestic Prophet plainly says.” She turned
over a few pages, and cleared her throat to read:–“If a crime of any
nature has been committed by any person during the months of December,
January, or February, that person, if hanged, will assuredly bring
disgrace on those nearest and dearest to them. Let degenerates beware,
says the seer.”

“Oh, what rubbish.”

Mrs. Rebson put the book in her pocket, took her spectacles off her
nose, and rose in a stately manner. “Death has come,” she said, in her
most scathing voice. “Sorrow has come. You scoffed at both, being hard
of heart. Now disgrace will befall this house, and—-”

“How can it?” asked Clarice, impatiently. “Osip doesn’t belong to this
house or to us. The disgrace falls on him since he is guilty.”

Mrs. Rebson had no answer for this, so retreated with dignity, her
faith in the Domestic Prophet still unshaken “Mark my words, Miss
Clarice, disgrace is coming,” and with that she left the room, much to
the relief of Miss Baird, who was very weary of the gimcrack sayings
and pinchbeck philosophy which Mrs. Rebson set such store by.

Scarcely had Mrs. Rebson departed, when Ferdy entered by the window.
He looked tall and slim in his deep mourning, and very well content
with himself. His grief for the guardian, who had been so kind to him,
was apparently swallowed up by the reflection that he could soon be
enjoying two thousand a year. His first glance round the drawing-room
was in search of Barras.

“Where’s that lawyer chap?” asked Ferdy, producing a cigarette.

“He has not arrived yet,” replied Clarice, rather disgusted at this
want of feeling. “How can you talk so, Ferdy, when poor Uncle Henry is
just buried? Tell me about the funeral.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” said Ferdy, flinging himself into the most
comfortable armchair; “it was much the same as other funerals.”

“You have no heart, Ferdy.”

“And no money,” retorted the youth, coolly; “but that will soon be
remedied, thank heaven.”

Clarice could not help smiling to herself, in spite of her grief, when
she thought of how Ferdy would be disappointed. It then occurred to
her that he had some especial desire in wanting the money so badly,
and, pending the arrival of the lawyer, she asked questions. “I
suppose you want your two thousand a year in order to marry Prudence.”

“Perhaps,” said Ferdy, cautiously.

“Perhaps,” echoed his sister, raising herself angrily. “Why, you have
proposed to Prudence.”

“I know that, and I love Prudence. All the same, a proposal doesn’t
invariably mean marriage.”

“Oh,” said Clarice, in disgust. “Then you still hanker after Zara?”

Ferdy lighted his cigarette calmly. “I don’t know what you’re talking
about,” he observed, obstinately.

“Mrs. Rebson says that you are always at the Savoy Hotel.”

“She had better mind her own business, the interfering old cat,” was
Ferdy’s retort; “besides, Zara doesn’t always live there.”

“She lives in town, and so do you, I know, Ferdy; I dare say you see a
lot of her there.”

“Oh! Has Jerce told you so?”

“No. But I am certain that you are familiar with her.”

“Are you, indeed?” said Ferdy, in an aggravating tone, “and on what
grounds, since you are so clever?”

Clarice leaned forward. “I heard Zara say to you immediately after the
inquest that, as Osip was accused, there could be no danger.”

This time Ferdy was startled. He dropped his cigarette and bent down
to pick it up, and to hide the sudden rush of colour which came to his
cheeks. “Did you hear anything else?” he asked, hesitating.

“No. But I want to know the meaning of the sentence I did hear.”

Ferdy rose and paced the drawing-room, shrugging his shoulders. “What
an inquisitive girl you are,” he said, carelessly. “Zara only meant
that as Osip was accused, there would be no danger of any other murder
being committed.”

This sounded a plausible enough explanation, yet Clarice doubted its
truth. “That is not the meaning,” she said, impetuously.

“What is the meaning, then?” asked Ferdy, sharply.

“I don’t know, unless she meant that you were free from danger.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Ferdy, angrily, and dropped his
cigarette again. “Do you think that I have anything to do with the
death of Uncle Henry?”

“Certainly not, seeing that I locked you up in your room on that
night. All the same, I shouldn’t be at all surprised if you knew this
man Osip, and that he had influenced you in some way.”

“I don’t know Osip from Moses,” said Ferdy, doggedly. “All I saw of
him was a glimpse on the night he searched Jerce, and then it was only
a casual glance when passing him in the High Street. How could I
possibly know such a blighter?”

“Uncle Henry might have introduced you.”

Ferdy wheeled round in genuine amazement. “Uncle Henry! Are you out of
your senses, Clarry? You know Uncle Henry never went out of his room
for years and years, and certainly this man in grey never came to The
Laurels until the time he searched Jerce.”

“Do you know the Shah’s Rooms, Ferdy?”

“Yes; I sometimes go there,” snapped Ferdy, unhesitatingly.

“You go there very often, I expect,” said his sister, bitterly, “well
then Anthony went there, and–”

“What!” scoffed Ferdy, “the immaculate Anthony!”

“He’s no more immaculate than any other man. Besides, when he was
there a couple or three months ago, he was not then engaged to me. But
Anthony saw Uncle Henry with this man Osip.”

Ferdy went quite white. “You–Anthony must be mistaken.”

“No! Anthony didn’t know Osip at the time–”

“And he doesn’t know him now.”

“He knows the looks of the man. The person with Uncle Henry at the
Shah’s Rooms was a tall, slim man with a criss-cross scar on his left
cheek.”

“That’s Osip, true enough,” muttered Ferdy, “judging from the glimpse
I caught of him in the High Street and in a bad light. But it is quite
absurd to say that Uncle Henry was at the Shah’s Rooms. You know that
his disease prevented him from leaving his room.”

“We did not know what the disease was at the time,” said Clarice,
coolly. “There may be some mistake, as you say, but Anthony is too
keen-eyed to make one. Did you ever see Uncle Henry in Town?”

“No, I never did.”

“Did you ever see this Osip?”

“Not in Town,” said Ferdy, truthfully, “but I saw him in the High
Street on that night when Jerce was searched. Look here, Clarry, let
us have an understanding, if you please. Do you accuse me of–”

“I accuse you of nothing,” interrupted Clarice, rising, a trifle
wearily. “Only the observation of Zara–”

“I have explained that.”

“In a lame way. I am certain that you know nothing about the murder,
Ferdy, as you were locked in and–”

“How dare you? how dare you?” burst out the young man, furiously red
and angry. “Even to hint at such things is an insult to me. I am not a
saint; all the same, I am not a devil.”

“Don’t excite yourself, Ferdy. We know that Osip is guilty, and that
no blame attaches to you. But I fail to see why Zara should have made
that observation to you.”

“Go and ask her,” snapped Ferdy, rudely.

“I don’t speak to persons of that sort,” said Clarice, icily.

“She’s a good, decent, pretty, hard-working girl.”

“What an array of adjectives. I never said that she was not. All I
wish to know–and my desire to know is suggested by the chance
observation I overheard–is, are you acquainted with Osip, or are you
in any way influenced by Osip?”

“I am not. How dare you suggest such a silly thing? As to Uncle Henry
having been at the Shah’s Rooms; that’s sheer rubbish.”

Clarice walked thoughtfully to the window. “I dare say I am worrying
myself unnecessarily,” she observed. “There is no mystery about Uncle
Henry’s death, and Anthony may have made a mistake. But you do make me
anxious, Ferdy, dear, with your wild ways. You are so unsophisticated,
that I fear lest you should be led astray.”

“I’m quite able to look after myself,” fumed the young man, again
producing his cigarette case, that unfailing resource in
embarrassment.

His sister sighed. Somehow, in everything that Ferdy said, or did,
there lurked a doubtful note. But on reflection, she could not but
confess that it seemed ridiculous to think that Ferdy knew an
assassin. Only for the overheard whisper, Clarice would never have
started so futile a conversation, and now wished to end it by
confessing her fault. “I beg your pardon, Ferdy,” she said, quietly,
“but my anxiety for you must be my excuse.”

Before Ferdy could accept her apology, and kiss her, as he seemed
inclined to do, there was a furious barking outside, and the angry
voice of a man. Clarice stepped out on to the terrace. “There’s Jane
at Dr. Jerce again,” she said, hastily, and went to the rescue.

Jerce, with a very white and angry face, was repelling with his
umbrella the assault of a tawny dog of the mongrel collie species,
with savage white teeth and blazing topaz eyes. Jane–as the animal
was called–cherished a deep hatred for Jerce, notwithstanding that he
had been her former master, and had presented her to Miss Baird. On
all occasions she attacked him, and was usually shut up when the
doctor was expected. That Jane was lame in the left hind-leg did not
prevent her from making furious darts at Jerce, until Clarice caught
her deftly by the collar.

“That damned dog will be the death of me,” said Jerce, when Jane,
handed over to Ferdy, was dragged away, growling and snapping. “I beg
your pardon for swearing, Miss Baird, but–”

“I am very sorry, doctor,” said Clarice, leading the way back to the
drawing-room. “Jane was shut up as usual, but must have got loose
while the groom was at the funeral. I wonder why she hates you so?”

“I don’t know,” said Jerce, seating himself, and recovering his
calmness. “I get on first-rate with dogs, but Jane never did like me.
I gave her to you, Miss Baird, because she never would be friends with
me. The she-devil–I beg your pardon again–but I am quite sure that
Jane will kill me some day.”

“Nonsense. Her bark is worse than her bite.”

“Then I hope she won’t bark again, that’s all. Ungrateful beast, I
picked her up in Whitechapel on a wet day, streaming with water and
starving with hunger. She had a good home with me, until her temper
made me get rid of her.”

“Perhaps her lameness makes her fractious,” said Clarice. “Jane is
really a good-tempered dog as a rule.”

“Her lameness,” echoed Jerce, after a pause, and then smiled in an odd
way. “Why, yes, Miss Baird. That might have something to do with her
temper. However, now that she’s tied up–”

“Shut up, you mean,” said Ferdy, who had now returned.

“Let us say disposed of,” observed the doctor, genially, “and end the
subject. Well, my dear Miss Baird,” he added, gently, “now that our
dear friend has been buried, we must learn how things are to be
arranged.”

“Mr. Barras will tell us that,” said Clarice, glancing at the French
clock on the mantelpiece. “He has not yet come!”

“He’ll be here in a few moments,” said Jerce, cheerily. “I saw him
walking up the High Street. Ah!”–as there came a sharp ring at the
front door–“there he is. Do you want me to remain?”

“Yes, do,” urged Clarice; “both Ferdy and I would like you to be
present at the reading of the will. You are our best friend.”

“I should like to be something nearer and dearer,” breathed Jerce, as
the door opened, and Clarice rose to welcome the lawyer.

She pretended that she had not heard him, but he guessed that she had,
from the flush which coloured her fair face. But by this time Barras
was shaking hands with the two young people, and bowed politely to the
famous doctor. “I am glad you’re here, sir,” he observed, sitting down
and laying aside a black bag. “I want to ask you a question.”

“What is it?” demanded Jerce, looking surprised. “You knew my late
client, Mr. Horran, intimately?”

“Yes, for years and years. We were at school and college together.”

“Then you would know.”

“Know what?” asked Jerce, still more astonished.

“If my late client, Mr. Horran, was an honest man or a scoundrel.”

An astonished silence ensued. The lawyer’s observation was so very
unexpected, that no one knew exactly how to reply. Mr. Barras did
not look like a man inclined to jest, being lean-faced, dour, and
clean-shaven, with a thin-lipped mouth, and scanty iron-grey hair. His
severe black eyes peered sternly at the world from under shaggy grey
eyebrows, and he constantly appeared to hold the attitude of a hanging
judge, sentencing a criminal to the gallows. Barras was not popular
with his fellows, but he had the name of an extremely honest man, and
was supposed to be aggressively just. Also he was deliberately
cautious in expressing an opinion; therefore it was scarcely to be
wondered at, that his late remark considerably startled the three
people who had assembled to hear the will read. Being a woman, Clarice
was the first of the trio to recover the use of her tongue, and spoke
indignantly.

“What do you mean by that, Mr. Barras?” she demanded, breathlessly.

“Exactly what I say, Miss Baird; and I would have you remark that I
addressed myself to Dr. Jerce here, who has not yet replied.”

“You take me by surprise, Barras,” said Jerce, with a shrug. “All I
can reply is that Horran was the most strictly honest man of my
acquaintance. Had he not been so, the late Mrs. Baird would hardly
have chosen him as her executor, or as the guardian of her children.”

“Exactly,” said the lawyer again, and opened his portentous black bag.
“But the question is, may not the late Mrs. Baird have been mistaken
as to the true character of the man?”

“Your own client?” said Clarice, indignantly.

“I am a man, as well as a lawyer,” retorted Barras, coldly.

“Still, Uncle Henry, whom every one liked–”

“Popularity implies weakness, to my mind, Miss Baird. Strength has its
enemies, I have always found.”

“What do you think, Ferdy?” asked Clarice, staggered by the lawyer’s
air of conviction.

“About Uncle Henry? Oh, it’s all rot. He was one of the best, even
though we didn’t get on over well.”

“There, Mr. Barras,” said Clarice, with an air of triumph.

He took no notice of her, but produced from his bag a sheaf of
important-looking documents. “I had better read the will,” said
Barras, coldly.

“One moment,” broke in Jerce, as Barras unfolded a sheet of parchment
with a judicial air. “We must tell you about the death, and–”

“I have heard everything,” interrupted the lawyer, mounting his golden
pince-nez. “I have read all that was to be read in the papers.”

“And you think?–”

“I think that my late client was the eighth victim of the Purple Fern
series, murdered by the surviving villain.”

“And the motive?” questioned Miss Baird, suddenly.

“The same motive that brought about the death of the other victims,”
was the solicitor’s cold reply–“wealth, or, if you like, robbery.”

“I don’t agree with you. Nothing was taken from the room.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know everything that is in the room, and nothing is
missing. That is plain enough.”

“On the face of it,” admitted Barras, “but I think that I can show you
your error.”

“Do you mean to say that the motive for Uncle Henry’s murder was
robbery?” asked Ferdy, sitting up from his lounging attitude.

“I do, and I have good reason to say so.”

“Then explain,” said Clarice, curtly, but secretly bewildered.

“I am about to do so, if you will permit me,” said Barras, with his
most acid smile.

“I beg your pardon. Go on.”

Mr. Barras made a short explanation before reading the will, as they
thought he was about to do. “Your parents,” he began, looking at the
twins, “Mr. and Mrs. Baird, lived at Tremby Hall, a short distance out
of this town. Mr. Baird died, and left the property, which came to
about four thousand a year, more or less, solely to his wife, your
mother. When she died, the property was handed over to my late client,
Mr. Henry Horran, who acted as your guardian. For this he received,
under the late Mrs. Baird’s will, five hundred a year. It was much
needed by Mr. Horran, as he was then desperately poor.”

“How do you know that?” questioned Clarice, listening intently.

“I was Mrs. Baird’s lawyer, and afterwards became Mr. Horran’s,” said
the iron-grey man, severely, “so I speak of what I know. Mr. Horran,
as I have just explained, received five hundred a year, as your
guardian. He had also, seeing that you both were infants, so to speak,
complete control of the property–that is, you each were left two
thousand a year, and it was arranged that you should come into
possession at the age of twenty-five. Meanwhile, Mr. Horran was to
look after you, educate you, and guide you.”

“He did all that,” said Clarice, with emotion, although Ferdy did not
openly second her speech, and wriggled uneasily.

“At five hundred a year,” remarked Barras, pointedly.

“Go on–go on,” said Jerce, impatiently.

“You, Mr. Baird, and you, Miss Baird, being twins, were each three
years of age when your mother died. You are now each three and twenty,
and in another two years will come into unfettered possession of four
thousand a year, divided equally. You, Mr. Baird, receive, at the age
of twenty-five, two thousand a year; and you, Miss Baird, also at the
age of twenty-five, receive the same sum, annually.”

“Yes, yes,” said Jerce, who appeared to be irritated by the minute way
in which the lawyer was detailing everything; “and, of course, there
is the accumulation on the income of four thousand a year, for–let me
see–twenty years, up to the present.”

“That is the whole point,” remarked Barras, solemnly, “but I shall
come to that point shortly. You, Mr. Baird, were allowed two hundred a
year from the age of twenty–that is for the last three years.”

“Yes,” snapped Ferdy, “and little enough it is.”

“I quite understand that, seeing you are young and gay,” said the
lawyer, drily. “Well, then, for three years you have been receiving
this allowance, which comes–I may tell you–from the letting of
Tremby Hall to those Americans. So you see, all of you, that the
income of Mr. Ferdinand Baird, coming from this outside source, so to
speak, leaves the four thousand a year intact.”

Clarice heaved a weary sigh. “Why explain all this?” she asked. “We
know the most part of it.”

“Quite so,” said Barras, deliberately, “but you do not know all.”

“All what?”

“All that I am about to tell you, if you will permit me to speak.”

The girl looked at him hard. There seemed to be a great deal lurking
behind the solicitor’s manner. “Go on, please,” she said,
apprehensively.

“When Dr. Jerce refers to the accumulation on the income of four
thousand a year for twenty years,” continued Mr. Barras, “he must not
forget, that besides the five hundred per annum to Mr. Horran, there
was also the sum required for education, for the keep of this house,
and for the clothing of the children–I allude to you two,” added
Barras, looking over his pince-nez.

Ferdy nodded. “I understand and so does Clarry.”

“Now, then,” said Mr. Barras, having reached this point, “I shall
read the will, as you no doubt understand exactly how the monies
stand–that is, how they were left by your late mother.”

“But we don’t understand about the accumulations,” protested Clarice.
“I am coming to that,” said the lawyer, significantly. “Allow me to
conduct this conversation in my own way, so as to make everything
plain. The will–listen–the will of Mr. Henry Horran–”

“But he had nothing to leave,” burst out Ferdy; “you said so.”

“I did not exactly say so,” said Barras, deliberately, “but it is a
fact. Since the five hundred a year ceased at Mr. Horran’s death,
seeing that he could not longer continue his duties as guardian, he
certainly had nothing to leave. But the will of the late Mrs. Baird
gave him the power to appoint a new guardian.”

“What a shame!” cried Ferdy, flushing; “we–Clarry and I–are old
enough to handle our own money.”

“Possibly, but the will must stand,” said Barras, drily, “and, after
all, as you will see, the new guardian is the best that could be
appointed. From what I have seen of this young lady”–he bowed to
Clarice–“and from the frequency with which I have come into contact
with her since Mr. Horran’s illness, I am quite sure that a better
appointment could not have been made.”

Ferdy started. “What has Clarry to do with it?” he demanded, angrily.

Barras took no notice, but read the will of Horran. It was short, and
to the point, containing a few legacies to servants, a disposal of his
jewellery to friends, and the appointment of Clarice Baird to the post
of guardian, which Horran’s death would leave vacant. Ferdy could
scarcely contain his wrath, when Barras ceased. “Do you mean to say
that Clarry has been appointed over my head?” he asked, white with
rage; “over my head, when I am the man.”

“I do say so,” said Barras, quietly, “and in my opinion, Seeing what I
know of Miss Baird, it is an excellent suggestion.”

“It’s a shame. I should have been made guardian.”

“Ferdy”–Clarice pulled the fuming youth down into his chair with a
strong hand–“you and I can talk of that later. Meanwhile, as the
appointment has been made, you can do nothing.”

“I’ll see a lawyer–I’ll go into court–I’ll–”

“You can do nothing,” said Jerce, calmly and soothingly. “Horran had
the full right to appoint whom he chose, and if he thought that Miss
Baird was the most suitable person, you must accept the decision.”

Ferdy sat down, silenced for once, but in a royal rage. Clarice laid
her hand on his arm, but he jerked himself angrily away, whereupon a
look of pain passed over her face. “You will not find me a hard
guardian,” she said, softly; then, as he still remained sullen, she
turned to Barras. “Are there any arrangements made as to where we
shall live?” she asked.

“No,” answered the solicitor, replacing the will in his bag. “You can
live here, or wherever you like. The will gives you complete control
of four thousand a year, until you reach the age of twenty-five in two
years, when you will, of course, give your brother half that income,
and then–as you know–your guardianship ceases.”

“I won’t have Clarice as my guardian,” cried Ferdy, wrathfully. “You
must,” said the girl, in a firm tone. “What is the use of going on
like this, Ferdy? The will is a good one in law.”

“A very excellent will,” said Barras, primly.

“A great responsibility for you, Miss Baird,” said Jerce, quietly.

“I am perfectly well able to bear it, doctor,” she replied, sharply.

“See here,” said young Baird, suddenly, and rousing himself from a
brown study; “this will gives Clarice control of the four thousand a
year.”

“Yes,” answered Barras, “and, of course, your allowance of two hundred
can continue, still arising from the letting of the Hall.”

“Well, then,” went on Ferdy, rapidly, “the will–so far as I can see
and so far as you tell me–does not say anything about the
accumulations on the four thousand during the last twenty years.”

“On two thousand, if you please, Mr. Baird,” said Barras, leisurely.
“Do not forget that the late Mr. Horran received five hundred for his
services–that is annually–and that the rest of two thousand was
required for the various items I have mentioned.”

“I remember,” said Ferdy, hastily. “Well, then, the accumulation on
two thousand a year for twenty years must be in the bank, or invested,
and free from Clarice’s control.”

“No. By the will, Miss Baird would deal with the accumulations, as
well as with the income. For the next two years she receives the four
thousand a year, and what she does not spend–having full power under
both wills–she can let out at interest.”

“Oh!” said Clarice, quickly. “Then two thousand of our united income
was let out at interest by Mr. Horran?”

“That I can’t tell you, Miss Baird.”

“But it must have been,” insisted Clarice, “for Mr. Clarke–”

“My late client certainly allowed him a loan of one thousand pounds
some years ago, at ten per cent.,” said Barras, politely, “but that is
all the loan I know of.”

“But the rest of the money?”

“What money?” asked Jerce, suddenly.

“The two thousand a year which Uncle Henry did not spend. Even if
nothing was done with it, the amount in twenty years would increase to
forty thousand pounds.”

“And that should be given to me,” put in Ferdy, quickly, “seeing that
Clarry has the full income.”

“Half of which is in trust for you, Mr. Baird,” said Barras, in his
dry way; “but the accumulations, Miss Baird,” he added, addressing
Clarice, “certainly amount to the sum you mention; and if these monies
were let out at the same rate of interest which my late client
extorted from Mr. Clarke, the amount in the banks ought to be much
greater. Unfortunately”–Mr. Barras stopped and hesitated.

“Well?” asked Clarice, impatiently. “Well, the money isn’t in the
bank. I have all the books of the late Mr. Horran, and all his
business papers, but in no instance can I find what he has done with
forty thousand pounds, or with possible accumulations.”

Jerce started up in dismay. “Is this the reason why you asked me if
Horran was a scoundrel?” he demanded.

“That is the reason,” replied Barras, serenely. “I want to know what
has become of that money. I think I can guess, however.”

“You can guess?” repeated Clarice, puzzled.

“Yes. You wondered why Mr. Horran was murdered. I answer, for the sum
of forty thousand pounds.”

Barras said this so quietly, that he took away the breath of his
hearers, and they looked at one another, unable to speak. Seeing this,
Barras explained himself still further. “I collected the rents of the
Baird property,” he said. “Two thousand a year I paid into the London
Bank, according to the directions of Mr. Horran, and that I can
account for, by the books and the papers, since it went in Mr.
Horran’s income as guardian, in keeping up this house, and in
educational and clothing expenses. But the remaining two thousand a
year I paid personally to Mr. Horran, as it came in, and he never
accounted to me for its use. There was no reason that he should do
so,” added the lawyer, coolly, “seeing that Mr. Horran had full power
under Mrs. Baird’s will to deal with the estate as he chose.
Certainly, judging from Mr. Clarke’s loan, which came under my notice,
I fancied that Mr. Horran might be investing the money, or letting it
out at large interest, but I can find nothing in the papers left by
the deceased likely to throw any light on its disposal.”

“It is most extraordinary,” said Clarice, thoughtfully. “Do you mean
to say, Mr. Barras, that Uncle Henry had forty thousand pounds in his
room when he died?”

Barras placed his finger-tips together and leaned back. “I leave it to
you, Miss Baird. Mr. Horran always insisted that I should bring to him
two thousand a year of the rents, in gold. I always, according to his
wish, paid him in gold. You sent me up the papers from his desk, and,
of course, I have all his business letters, deeds, and the rest of
such things in my office. But in no case can I find what has become of
this forty thousand pounds. When I saw in the papers that no cause
could be assigned for the murder of my late client, and recollected
that the Purple Fern villains always struck down the rich, it dawned
upon me that, instead of investing the two thousand a year, which he
regularly received–and in gold,” emphasised the lawyer, “Mr. Horran
kept the money in his room, and was murdered for its possession.”

“But why should he have kept the money in his room?”

“Instead of at the bank, you would say.” Mr. Barras shrugged his
shoulders again. “Well, my late client must have been a miser–that is
all the explanation I can give. But I am certain that he was murdered
for the sake of that forty thousand pounds, and that it has been
stolen. And now, Dr. Jerce, you will understand why I asked you if
your friend was an honest man or a scoundrel.”

“An honest man?” said Jerce, energetically. “You have supplied the
reason for the money being missed yourself. Horran may have been a
miser, although I never noticed that he was; he may have kept this
money in his room, and he may have been murdered for it.”

“I would have you observe, doctor,” said Barras, dryly, “that all your
sentences commence with ‘may.’ This is all theory.”

“But if the money has been stolen,” suggested Clarice, “it may be
traced in some way.”

“You can’t trace gold, Miss Baird, and Horran always insisted upon
having the money in gold. That is what makes me think that he was a
miser. I called him a scoundrel–if he spent the money on his own
pleasures he certainly was a scoundrel. If, on the other hand, he
merely kept the gold to enjoy looking at, and it was stolen from him
at the time of his death, he was simply a miser, and has paid, by his
painful end, for being a miser. However”–Barras stood up–“there is
no more to be said. I think that I have made myself plain, Miss Baird,
and whenever you like to come to my office, I shall talk over future
money arrangements. Meanwhile, I must prove the will, pay the death
duties and legacies, and put things straight. I shall now take my
leave.”

“Will you not stop to tea or dinner, Mr. Barras?”

“No, I thank you,” said the lawyer, stiffly, and, taking up his bag,
he walked in a stately manner out of the house. Ferdy rose, and after
hesitating for a moment, ran after him quickly. Jerce and Clarice were
left alone. “What will you do?” asked Jerce, slowly.

“I must ask Anthony,” said Clarice, mechanically.

“Captain Ackworth?”

“Anthony,” she repeated quietly, “the man I intend to marry.”

Dr. Jerce looked at Clarice with a lowering face, and his expressive
eyes flashed with anger. He was a strong-willed man, accustomed to
having his own way in the face of all obstacles, and the merest hint
of opposition annoyed him. Having set his heart on marrying Miss
Baird, he was determined to bring about the match, and,
notwithstanding the hint of refusal which she had given him, while
Horran was alive, his determination remained unchanged. To be sure, he
had then been ignorant of her engagement with Ackworth, and had
calculated upon an easier conquest of her objections. But now that he
knew her affections were engaged, he saw clearly that it would be
extremely difficult for him to achieve his purpose. Clarice, as he
knew, was no weak girl, to be talked into surrender; but for all that,
Jerce attempted to bend her to his will.

The doctor was too clever a man to give way to bad temper, knowing
that such a weakness might lose him the prize he aimed at. Inwardly
angry, he was outwardly calm, and after that first swift look of
annoyance, he regained his suavity. “Does Captain Ackworth know that
you intend to marry him?” asked Jerce, politely.

Clarice threw back her head haughtily. “Certainly. He has proposed to
me, and we are engaged.”

“Since when, may I ask?”

“You may ask, but I am not bound to answer.”

“I am your oldest friend, Miss Baird, now that poor Horran is dead.”

Clarice lifted her eyebrows. “Still I fail to see that being an old
friend gives you the right to cross-examine me about things which do
not concern you.”

“It concerns me a great deal that you should be happy,” said Jerce,
disconcerted by her calmness.

“Then you can set your mind at rest, doctor. I am happy.”

Jerce looked down at his neat boots. “I should have thought that a
girl of your strong character would have chosen otherwise.”

“Really,” said Clarice, indifferently.

“In fact,” stammered Jerce, flushing, “I thought of offering myself as
your husband.”

“Oh, I saw that long ago, doctor.”

“And you had no pity upon me?”

“Why should I have pity?” asked Clarice, with a perceptible smile. “I
have not played the coquette with you.”

“No,” said Jerce, bitterly; “I am bound to say that at the first hint
I gave you of my feelings, you recoiled, and have since held me at
arm’s length.”

“Seeing that I am engaged, that is as it should be.”

Jerce bit his lips. It angered him that she should be so calm, and so
completely mistress of herself. “There is no hope for me, I suppose?”
he inquired, with great humility.

“None. Anthony is the man I love, and Anthony will be my husband.”

“Perhaps,” said Jerce, under his breath, but she heard him.

“Why do you say that?” she asked, abruptly.

“There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.”

“That’s a very well-known proverb, doctor, but it does not explain
what you mean.”

“Then will you permit me to speak plainer?”

“If you are wise you will not,” said Clarice, quietly. “We are good
friends, doctor; why should we become strangers?”

“I could never be a stranger to you,” he said, fervently.

“Oh, I think so, if I chose.”

“And would you choose?”

“Certainly, if you would not accept the situation.”

“I cannot,” cried Jerce, his emotions getting the better of his
judgment. “I am a man, and I feel like a man. For years I have loved
you, and for a long time I have wished to make you my wife. I spoke to
Horran, and he was agreeable that I should marry you.”

“Indeed,” cried Clarice, with a flush of anger. “Then permit me to
remind you, doctor, that Mr. Horran, much as I loved him, had not the
right to dispose of my hand. That goes with my heart.”

“Which is possessed by Captain Ackworth,” said Jerce, bitterly.

“Exactly. You leave nothing to be desired in the way of explanation.”

“But Ackworth is not worthy of you,” urged the doctor.

“Really, and in what way?”

Jerce was puzzled how to reply. He knew next to nothing about Captain
Ackworth. “He doesn’t look as if he had brains.”

“Ah! Looks are deceptive sometimes. Now you, doctor, look as though
you had common sense, yet your conversation at present doesn’t reveal
that quality.”

“You are hard, Clarice.”

“I thought that you were not going to call me Clarice until you had
the right?”

“I wish to acquire the right.”

“It is too late. Come, doctor,” said Clarice, tired of this quibbling,
“it is useless to prolong this conversation. There are more important
things to talk about than my marriage, which, after all–as I have
reminded you–is entirely my own affair. Let us agree to be friends,”
and she held out her hand, smiling.

Jerce did not take it. “I can be nothing less than your husband,” he
said, drawing down his long upper lip obstinately.

“In that case, doctor, we may as well part for ever.”

“For ever?” Jerce started to his feet, much agitated. “Oh, Clarice,
you don’t mean that. I love you–I adore you–I worship you. No doubt
it may seem ridiculous to you that a man of my age should speak like a
schoolboy, and should show his deepest feelings so plainly. But I
have had a lonely life, and you are all the world to me. Don’t send me
away without hope. Only say that some day–in some sweet hour–I can
come and take your hand in mine.”

Clarice rose also, and her eyes sparkled with anger. “You are mad to
talk in this way,” she cried, passionately. “How can I say what you
want me to say, when I am engaged, and when I love?”

“I am rich,” pleaded Jerce, eagerly. “I have a great name. I have
heard that my name will be included in the list of New Year’s honours.
I shall be Sir Daniel Jerce, and you–”

“I shall be Mrs. Ackworth,” interrupted Clarice, imperiously. “Not a
word more, doctor; my mind is made up.”

“And so is mine,” said Jerce, with a snarl, his face livid, and his
eyes hard. “You shall not marry this man.”

“Who will prevent me?” asked Clarice, with superb disdain. “Who will
prevent me from becoming Anthony’s wife?”

“I will. You shall become my wife.”

“If there was not another man in the world, I would decline that
honour. And let me remind you that I am no school-girl to be
frightened by stage thunder. How dare you?–how dare you?” Clarice
stamped her foot, and clenched her hands. “Go away, and never come
near me again.”

Jerce remained silent for one moment. Then, without a word, he took up
his hat and walked slowly to the door. Only when he had opened it, and
stood with the handle in his hand, did he speak. “I shall go away,” he
said, with a steady look at the girl, “and I shall not return until
you summon me.”

When the door closed, Clarice sank back in her seat, overwhelmed with
emotion. She had small sympathy for the doctor, since he had merely
cried like a child for the moon, which he knew was entirely beyond his
reach. But his last words impressed her with a sense of danger, and
she wondered what he meant by this sudden obedience. Had he defied
her, and remained to argue, she would have felt safer. Dr. Jerce–as
she knew–was too strong a man to give in without a struggle, and that
he should do so in this instance was ominous. In the words of the
French proverb, he had but recoiled to spring the higher; yet Clarice
could not see how he could harm her, or Anthony in any way. She was
now her own mistress, free from supervision of any kind; Horran’s
death was no mystery, and although the murderer was still at large, he
would certainly be caught sooner or later; Ferdy–here Clarice rose
again, and her face grew white. What if Jerce could harm her by
harming Ferdy? Jerce knew all about the boy and his fast life, and
Jerce, if put to it, would not hesitate to sacrifice Ferdy, or anyone
else, to achieve his ends. But the question was–what did Jerce know
about Ferdy? While Clarice asked herself this, Ferdy himself entered,
looking very sulky.

“I do call it a shame, Clarry,” he said, flinging himself into a
chair, and thrusting his hands into his pockets. “Why should Uncle
Henry have treated me in this beastly way?”

“I think Uncle Henry has acted very wisely,” said Clarice, harshly.
The tone of her voice made Ferdy look up from his gloomy contemplation
of the carpet, and he was struck by the whiteness of her face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he inquired, crossly. “I should think
that you ought to be satisfied, seeing that everything has come your
way, Clarry.”

“Do you think that it is a pleasure for me to take your burdens upon
my shoulders?” asked Clarice, fiercely. “I would much rather that
Uncle Henry had named Dr. Jerce as your guardian, seeing that Dr.
Jerce knows so much about you.”

Ferdy started to his feet, changing colour like a chameleon. “What has
Jerce been saying about me?” he demanded, with a sick look.

“Nothing. He did not even mention your name.”

“Then what are you jawing about?” snapped Ferdy, sitting down again.

Clarice placed herself before him, and tried to make him meet her
eyes. But he would not, and kept them on the carpet, shuffling his
feet uneasily meanwhile. “Dr. Jerce asked me to marry him,” she said,
in a clear voice. “I refused him. He has accepted my refusal so calmly
that I am certain he intends mischief.”

“What rot,” said Ferdy, uneasily; “as though a great man like Jerce
would bother his head over you.”

“Oh,” said Clarice, with a chill smile. “Perhaps it is King Cophetua
and the Beggar-maid.”

“Bosh!”

“You are not polite, Ferdy,” said his sister, restraining a strong
impulse to box his ears. “Now, you listen to me. But that you are my
brother and my twin, I should let you go your own way to ruin and
destruction.”

“That’s rather strong.”

“But not too strong for your weakness,” she persisted. “I know you
thoroughly, Ferdy. You are a charming, weak, impulsive boy, with many
attractions of person and manner, likely to lead you into undesirable
company. People like you, and, as liking with the majority means
selfishness, they will make use of you–perhaps in bad ways.”

“What do you mean by bad ways?” asked Ferdy, crossly.

“Ways of pleasure–ways of folly–ways which do not lead to hard work
and an honoured name. You are the kind of person, neither good nor
bad, who goes dancing along the primrose path, out of sheer weakness,
because others dance beside you. If you were a wicked man, Ferdy, you
would be clever, as wickedness needs cleverness to aid its full
accomplishment. But you are merely weak, and that is dangerous to you
and to me.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Ferdy, restlessly.

“But I do,” cried Clarice, passionately. “I know you better than you
do yourself. I know that with your weakness you will bring disgrace on
yourself and on me. Were I selfish, as you are, I would decline this
guardianship, and let you have your money, to go your own silly, weak
way, which will lead to ruin. But I love you, and–”

“And so you bully me.”

“I am not bullying you; I am talking sense, if you only have the brain
power to enter into my feelings. Because you are my brother and my
twin, I accept the responsibility laid upon me. If you were not I
should marry Anthony next week, and forget much of the past.”

“What past are you referring to?”

“That which has just closed with the death of Uncle Henry. For years
you and I have gone with him down a long and pleasant lane. Now with
his death has come the turning, and another lane opens before us.
Whether it will be as pleasant remains with you.”

“With me?”

“Yes. I could marry Anthony, as I say, and let you go alone. But I
love you too well to see you ruin yourself. I shall take a house in
London, and we will live there together. Then I shall be able to look
after you.”

Ferdy rose, pale with anger. “And I am to be tied to your
apron-strings all my life.”

“God forbid, as I have my own life to look after. Even for love, one
should not sacrifice one’s whole life–that is, the kind of love, the
sisterly affection which I have for you. My love for Anthony is
different. I have no right to sacrifice him to you. But when you
are married to Prudence, my task will be ended. She will look after
you–she will take care of you, and I can then marry and be happy,
knowing that you are safe.”

“And suppose I object to this scheme you have, of taking a London
house?” asked Ferdy, savagely. “In that case I’ll stop your
allowance.”

“You can’t–you daren’t.”

“I can and I dare. I have complete power. There is only one other way.
If you will marry Prudence in a month or so, I’ll allow you one
thousand a year. I can do that as guardian, although you will not come
in for your full income for two years.”

“I’m sure I’d like to marry Prudence,” said Ferdy, uneasily.

“You are engaged to her.”

“Yes, but Mr. Clarke has been objecting.”

“I don’t see why he should. I’ll see Mr. Clarke and sweep away his
objections. I can do that, seeing he is in my debt to the tune of one
thousand odd pounds. Well, then, will you come and live with me in
London, or marry Prudence, and get the money?”

Ferdy shuffled. “If I do neither?”

“I have already said what I would do. You can’t live without money.”

“Dr. Jerce will look after me,” blurted out Ferdy, significantly.
Clarice shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps. He has the name of being a
philanthropist. But I should like to know if there is any chance of
Jerce threatening me through you?”

“What rubbish. Of course not.”

“I am not so certain,” said Clarice, dryly, and striving to read the
weak, handsome face before her. “Jerce is deeply in love with me, and
would give much to stop my marriage. He hinted as much. Now, I know
that he cannot hurt Anthony, or me, as both our lives are above
reproach. The sole trouble in my life is the death of Uncle Henry, and
the inquest has explained that. The motive for the crime undoubtedly
is robbery.”

“You believe that?”

“After what Mr. Barras explained, I do, although,” added Clarice, in a
thoughtful manner, “I never would have taken Uncle Henry to be a
miser. Chalks might know something about that money, if Uncle Henry
really had it concealed in his room. I’ll speak to him. However, you
can see that there is no reason why I should be afraid of Dr. Jerce.
Now, is there any reason why you should fear him?”

“No,” said Ferdy, earnestly, and, turning a frank face to his sister,
“I have been reckless and fast. Jerce has helped me with money, and I
have run up bills for motor-cars, and suppers, and tailors, and
flowers, and such-like things. But if you will pay these bills, Jerce
can say nothing against me.”

“How much do the bills amount to?”

“Two thousand pounds.”

Clarice sat down gasping. “Two thousand pounds and in one year,” she
said, utterly bewildered, “Ferdy, you–you fool.”

“There,” said the young man, bitterly. “I make a clean breast of it
because you want me to, and then you bullyrag me. But here,” he pulled
a sheaf of papers out of his breast pocket, “I had intended to give
these to Barras when the will was read, thinking that I would get my
own money, and that Barras would be able to arrange for the payment.
But when I spoke to him just now, he referred me to you as my
guardian. Here is a list of my debts with the bills attached. If you
will pay these off, Clarry, I swear to turn over a new leaf. You
needn’t look so angrily at me. I am no worse than other chaps.”

“My poor boy,” said Clarice, mournfully; “I am not angry, but only
sorry for your weakness. But I am forced to be strong, since I
have to deal with a reed. I shall take these”–she reached for the
bills–“and they will be paid, as soon as I can arrange–on
conditions.”

“Conditions.” Ferdy began to gloom again. “What conditions?”

“Firstly, that you have nothing more to do with Zara Dumps. I am quite
sure that she has led you into spending money.”

“There’s nothing wrong about her,” grumbled Ferdy, wincing; “Zara is
perfectly respectable.”

“I dare say, seeing that I have heard how she wishes to make a good
marriage. All the same, she is not averse to making use of you to
amuse her, and her amusements are expensive. You must give her up.”

“Oh, I’m quite agreeable,” said Ferdy, readily; then added, in a most
candid manner, “the fact is, Clarry, I must give her up, as she has
chucked me.”

“I see,” said Clarice, rather disgusted, “you make a virtue of
necessity. Still, so long as you give her up, I don’t ask for your
reason.”

“Well, then, you have it without asking,” retorted Ferdy, airily; “and
the other condition?”

“You must marry Prudence Clarke in two months–that will be a
sufficiently long time after Uncle Henry’s death, and I want you to be
settled as soon as possible.”

Ferdy looked at her very straightly, and then dropped his eyes on the
carpet. “I’ll marry Prudence, if she’ll marry me.”

“She’s engaged to you; she loves you.”

“As I said before, her father–”

“I’ll interview Mr. Clarke,” interrupted Miss Baird, quickly. “He was
delighted when your engagement was announced, and I do not see why he
should change his mind. If he refuses to permit the marriage–”

“Yes!” said Ferdy, hastily, “if he refuses.”

“You must agree to live with me in London for two years–that is until
you get your money.”

“I don’t know what Jerce will say.”

“Say? What should he say? You are not bound to him in any way.”

“No. But he is famous, and can help me a lot when I become a doctor.”

“Rely on your own brains, Ferdy,” said Clarice, quickly, “and not on
the patronage of any influential person. Besides, you can attend your
classes, and to your studies all the same, while we live together.”

“Very well,” assented the boy, sullenly, “if you don’t pull the
strings too tightly.”

“Of the money bags, do you mean?” asked Clarice, smiling. “You need
have no fear, Ferdy; I am not stingy.”

“You’re a good sort, Clarry,” said her brother with sudden emotion.
“I-I–I’ll do whatever you like, and–and I’ll always come to you in
trouble, dear.”

Hastily kissing her, he fairly ran out of the room, leaving Clarice
much puzzled. She had rarely seen Ferdy so moved, and wondered why he
had left so suddenly. Clarice may have been unduly suspicious, but she
did not think that the new epoch was opening auspiciously. And yet, so
far, she had got everything her own way.

The dead having been buried, and the will read, and the business
arranged by Mr. Barras, with the assistance of Clarice, things settled
down into the usual quiet jog-trot of existence. The reward offered
for the apprehension of Alfred Osip remained unclaimed, as neither
Sims, nor his fellow-detectives, could discover the whereabouts of the
assassin. He had vanished as completely as though the earth had
swallowed him up, and gradually all interest in the case died away.
Even in Crumel, people almost forgot, and, indeed, Horran had been
merely a name to the townspeople for so long, that he was not missed,
as a more prominent man would have been.

Ferdy returned to London and to his studies under Dr. Jerce on the day
after the funeral, leaving Clarice to manage affairs. The doctor
himself never reappeared again at Crumel for some time, and never even
sent a message through Ferdy when the boy wrote. Nevertheless, Clarice
could not help thinking that in some way Jerce was not inactive, and
that he would yet make trouble. She had attempted to see Mr. Clarke
and his daughter, after Ferdy had taken his departure; but found, to
her surprise–for the parson was a notable stay-at-home–that they had
gone to Brighton for a few weeks. A _locum tenens_ occupied the pulpit
of the ancient church, and his sermons pleased the congregation much
more than the discourses of Mr. Clarke. Prudence had left a note for
Clarice, saying that her father was ill, and had to take a rest, and
also asking her to do nothing about the thousand pound loan until the
vicar returned. But Clarice noted that the girl gave no address where
letters might be sent to, and on making enquiries at the vicarage,
found that the same reticence had been observed there. Mr. Clarke’s
letters, therefore, accumulated until his return–in three weeks.
Clarice heard the news, when she was conversing with Anthony.

Captain Ackworth came over nearly every day, and had long
conversations with Clarice. He urged her–now that she was her own
mistress–to marry him forthwith, and be happy, but this she
resolutely declined to do. On this very occasion, three weeks after
the burial of Henry Horran, the young man was still urging, and
Clarice was still refusing.

“Dear,” she said to her lover, “I have my duty to perform towards
Ferdy.”

Anthony, who was walking up and down the long drawing-room, uttered an
angry growl. “Why should you make yourself miserable over that silly
boy?” he demanded, crossly.

“Just because he is a silly boy and my brother. Wait until he is
married to Prudence, and then I’ll become your wife, whenever you
like, my dear. I’m sure,” added Clarice, with a sigh, “I would give
anything to marry you now, and be happy.”

“That rests with yourself,” said Anthony, coming to the sofa and
putting his arm round her waist. “Clarice, you suffer too much from a
very aggressive conscience.”

“All the better for our married life,” said the girl, gaily, “think
how anxious I shall be to please my fireside tyrant.”

“I am afraid you will be the tyrant, dearest. See how unable I am to
make you do what I want.”

“Because it would not be right, Anthony. I wish to settle all things
connected with the past before I begin a new life with you.”

“I fancied–according to your own way of putting it–that the new
epoch had begun,” joked Ackworth.

“It has, and it has not. My new epoch begins with my marriage to you,
darling, and the old epoch ended with Uncle Henry’s death. This is a
kind of interregnum–”

“Which will end–?”

“When Ferdy is married.”

“And when will that be?”

“As soon as I can arrange. Anthony, what is the use of talking more
about the matter? I have told you how necessary it is, that Ferdy
should have someone to guide him. While he is unmarried I must be his
guide, but when Prudence becomes his wife, I have every hope that she
will be able to keep him in order.”

“Well, then, I wish you would marry the young scamp as soon as you
can,” said Ackworth, rather wounded. “It seems to me, Clarice, that
you love him more than you do me.”

“My dearest, the weakest always require the most love. You are strong,
Anthony; you can walk alone. But poor weak Ferdy–”

“Selfish, greedy Ferdy,” contradicted Ackworth. “I should like to give
him a good thrashing.”

“Well,” said Clarice, musingly; “I don’t think that would hurt him.”

“It would,” said Ackworth, grimly, “if I administered it.”

“What nonsense! Don’t frown”–she smoothed away a wrinkle or two on
his forehead, and then kissed him as he was about to speak. “I do not
wish to argue any more, my dear, obstinate, darling sweetheart. I may
as well tell you that the Clarkes return to-morrow, as I heard this
morning. I’ll see them in the afternoon, and arrange as soon as
possible about Ferdy’s marriage. Then–and not till then–we,—-”

“All right,” interrupted Anthony, and stole a kiss in his turn, “but
will Ferdy give up that dancing girl?”

“Why, I told you that he had done so. Zara went away immediately after
the funeral, and her mother accompanied her to stop in Town for a week
or so. Ferdy has forgotten all about Zara by this time. It is just as
well,” sighed Clarice, “as I had to pay those awful bills. Two
thousand pounds, Anthony. Think of it.”

“Oh, I always knew that Ferdy could get through no end of cash,” said
Ackworth, coolly, “especially when Butterfly had him in tow. But now
that he has escaped her, I dare say he’ll marry Miss Clarke.”

“He is willing enough to do so,” said Clarice, “and I think that he
really loves her, as much as his weak nature will allow him to love
anyone but himself. The opposition–so I gathered from Ferdy–is on
the part of Mr. Clarke.”

“But why, seeing that Mr. Clarke is in your debt, and should be glad
that his daughter should make a rich marriage?”

“I can’t explain, Anthony. Mr. Clarke certainly seemed to be pleased
when the marriage was announced–that is, the engagement. Why he
should have changed his mind, I can’t say. But I’ll know to-morrow.”

“Well, then, when this is settled we can look after our own
happiness?” said the Captain.

“Yes. You know, I want to have you, all to myself.”

“I know, I know. I am of the same way of thinking. Also my father and
mother are most anxious to meet you again. They are old, and want a
sweet daughter in the house. I am an only child, you know, Clarice, so
when I marry you I’ll chuck the army, and we can live near the old
people.”

“I should not like you to leave the army,” said Clarice, thoughtfully;
“you must have something to do in life.”

“I’ll make love to you, dear. However, I’ll obey your slightest
command. Indeed, Clarice, I often wish that you would allow me to help
you now.”

“In what way. I have arranged all business affairs with Mr. Barras.
The search for Osip is in the hands of the detectives. I am arranging
about Ferdy’s future as I tell you, and–and–well, everything is
going smoothly. There’s nothing to be done.”

“Have you found out where that forty thousand pounds went?”

“Not a trace of it. Uncle Henry received it in gold, but we have
searched the room and the house and even the garden, without coming
upon any buried treasure. Chalks declares that he never heard Uncle
Henry say anything about money, and never saw him with any save a few
sovereigns.”

“Could Mr. Horran have hidden the gold without Chalks knowing anything
about the hiding?”

“Oh, yes. Chalks was not always with Uncle Henry. He was frequently
away for hours, and rarely sat up with him a night, unless by the
doctors’ orders. Uncle Henry received the gold in small sums, so could
easily hide it if he wished.”

“Or spend it in London,” said Ackworth, significantly.

“Ah, you mean that Uncle Henry went secretly to London,” said Clarice,
recalling the story Anthony had told about the Shah’s Rooms.

“Well, I saw him there with Osip, you know.”

“Are you sure that his companion was Osip?”

“Yes. I did not know at the time. But when Jerce described that
criss-cross scar and the thin, lean figure of the man, I am sure it
was Osip. And Mr. Horran also. I knew _him_ well enough,” ended
Ackworth, with emphasis, “and even in the glimpse I caught of him, I
was certain.”

“But I can’t see how Uncle Henry, ill as he was, could have travelled
to town,” objected Clarice.

“My dear, we argued all this before, and I stated then, as I state
now, that a quick motor-car could easily take Mr. Horran from here to
London. And now, Clarice, this large sum of money which is missing,
points to the fact that Mr. Horran must have secretly led a gay life,
and that his illness was merely an excuse to hide his real existence.”

“No, no!” said Clarice, with horror, “I can’t think Uncle Henry was so
wicked; and remember, the doctors found out what he suffered from, and
that it was a real disease.”

“Humph! Perhaps,” said Ackworth, grudgingly; “but the money?”

“I can’t say anything about that.”

“If Mr. Horran had forty thousand paid to him in gold,” said Anthony,
firmly, “he must either have spent it by secretly going to town, and
to places like the Shah’s Rooms, where I saw him; or he must have
concealed the money somewhere. Now you can’t find the money and the
lawyer can’t account for it in a business way. It only remains, from a
common-sense point of view, that Horran really was a profligate, and
used his illness as a mask.”

“But the doctors–both Dr. Jerce and Dr. Wentworth–say that the
post-mortem examination showed that Uncle Henry really was ill,”
persisted Clarice, much distressed. “The thing in the brain, whatever
they called it, quite accounted for the symptoms which so puzzled
them.”

“Then I give it up,” said Anthony.

“So do I,” replied Clarice, promptly. “I am not going to trouble any
more about that missing money, or about the capture of Osip, or about
anything else. I must settle Ferdy’s future, and then we can marry.”

This speech was quite agreeable to Ackworth, who had long wished to
bring her to this point. While they were talking about more pleasant
subjects connected with their marriage, Jane limped in at the open
window, and immediately went to Anthony. The dog was fond of the young
man, and showed her pleasure by rubbing her head against his knee, and
looking up at him with faithful eyes.

“Jane loves you as much as she hates Dr. Jerce,” said Clarice, patting
the dog’s shaggy coat.

“Why should she hate Jerce?”

“I don’t know, especially as he was kind to her. He found her in
Whitechapel, starving and wet, and took her home. But she hated him so
much that he had to get rid of her. He intended to have her poisoned,
but I asked him to give her to me. Dear Jane, she is so faithful. All
the same, she should like Dr. Jerce for his kindness.”

“I am glad she doesn’t,” said Anthony. “I don’t like Dr. Jerce.”

“Why not? Everyone does.”

“Clarice, how can you ask me that when you know that he had the cheek
to propose to you? I don’t like Jerce. Oh, he’s clever enough, and
very philanthropic, and all that. All the same, it was impertinent of
an old man to propose to you.”

“A famous man,” teased Clarice; “remember he is now Sir Daniel Jerce,
and more famous than ever. You need not be jealous of him, Anthony. He
has never come here since the day he proposed, and I refused.”

“Well, I hope we’ll never set eyes on him again.”

“I hope Jane won’t,” laughed the girl, “she will certainly bite him if
she does.”

“H’m!” said Ackworth, examining the dog’s strong white teeth; “I can’t
say I’d like to get a bite from these jaws. But anyone could run away,
seeing that Jane is lame.”

“I think Jane is obstinate enough to follow until she can get her
bite,” said Clarice, dryly. “I never knew so dogged a dog. There’s a
pun for you, Anthony. Why don’t you laugh?”

To please her Anthony did laugh, and was rebuked for the obvious
effort he made. Then Clarice romped with Jane, who barked and danced
as well as her lameness permitted. The trio in short behaved like
children, and their careless glee went far to dispel the gloomy
atmosphere, which for weeks had pervaded the house. And Clarice, by
this time, was recovering from the effects of the tragedy, and was
more like her old bright self. On this especial evening, Anthony
stopped to dinner, and, heedless of the necessity of a chaperon, they
enjoyed themselves greatly. It was quite a foretaste of the time when
they would be Darby and Joan by their own particular fireside.

However, after pleasure comes business, and next afternoon, Miss Baird
set out for the vicarage. She had ascertained that the Clarkes had
returned in the morning, and called a few hours later, anxious to get
Ferdy’s business settled, so that she could arrange her own life.
Often had the girl wondered why Mr. Clarke, who had seemed markedly
pleased when the engagement was announced, should have placed any bar
in the way of the marriage. She was resolved to come to a complete
understanding; to learn the reason for this whim, and to use any power
she possessed to bring about the desirable match. Whatever objection
Mr. Clarke could urge against Ferdy, Clarice was certain that Prudence
would remain true to her absent lover. Prudence had always loved Ferdy
deeply, from the time they were boy and girl together.

Mr. Clarke proved to be in his study, and Clarice found him unpacking
some parcels. She was astonished to see how ill the man looked. He had
never enjoyed the best of health, and was invariably badly dressed and
absent-minded. But now he looked leaner than ever, and his eyes
avoided her own, uneasily. Clarice sat down in a perfect state of
consternation.

“My dear Mr. Clarke,” she said, as soon as she could get her breath,
“what on earth is the matter?”

“Nothing,” said the vicar, with a weary sigh, and went on with his
unpacking in a restless, disturbed manner.

“But you went away for your health,” persisted Miss Baird, “and you
have been breathing the sea-air for three weeks. It doesn’t seem to
have done you a particle of good.

“When the mind is ill at ease, Clarice, there is no chance of the body
regaining health.”

“What’s the matter now?” asked Clarice, abruptly.

“My son Frank is dead,” said the vicar, with a sob.

“Oh!” Clarice was dreadfully shocked, and now quite understood the
sick looks of the bereaved father. She knew that Frank had been the
apple of Mr. Clarke’s eyes, notwithstanding that he had always behaved
like the rascal, he inherently was.

“I am sorry,” she said, rising; “perhaps you would like me to go
away.”

“No! no! Stop, please, I’ll send Prudence to you, as I have to attend
to some pastoral matters myself.”

“But your poor son—-”

“Don’t say anything more, Clarice,” interrupted the vicar, looking an
untidy but pathetic figure. “My son is dead, and I never wish to hear
his name mentioned again. As he has sown so has he reaped, and I hope
that God will have mercy upon his soul.”

“How did he die?”

“No! no! Say no more,” cried Mr. Clarke, and before Clarice could
apologise, he hurried from the room.

Clarice was puzzled. Frank was dead, and–strange to say–the vicar
seemed glad that he was dead. Frank, undoubtedly, was a prodigal son,
but his father had always condoned his follies and rascalities. Yet,
apparently, at the eleventh hour Frank had done something which even
the lenient parent could not forgive. Clarice did not wish to know
what the deed was. She had quite enough troubles of her own, without
thinking of those of other people. Still, the attitude and wild words
of Mr. Clarke astonished her not a little.

Prudence came in, looking almost as ill as her father had done. The
girl was tall, handsome, and dark, with a cool, confident manner, and
with a considerable fund of common sense. But she appeared very sick
and very ill at ease, and accepted the kiss of her old friend in a
mechanical way, which provoked Clarice into speech.

“You don’t seem very pleased to see me, Prudence?”

“I am,” said Prudence, in a dull, heavy voice; “if you had not come to
me, I should have called at The Laurels. I want help.”

“You shall have it,” said Clarice, impetuously. “Whatever is the
matter? Is it your brother’s death?”

“Yes–that is one thing. Father is worried about that, but there is
something else. If I explain myself to you, you must promise me never
to speak of what I say to anyone.”

“No, I won’t,” said Clarice, struck by her earnestness, and wondering
what fatal secret was about to be unfolded. “Is it something that
Ferdy has done?”

“Don’t speak of Ferdy–don’t speak of him. My poor, darling boy. I’ll
never see him again–never–never–never.”

A wild fear was in Clarice’s heart. “Prudence!” she exclaimed,
catching the girl’s arm; “has Ferdy been doing anything wrong?”

“No. Ferdy is all that can be desired, but I can never marry him.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” said Prudence, in a solemn manner, “if I marry Ferdy, my
father will be accused of murdering Mr. Horran.”