THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS

In the dingy study an eloquent silence prevailed. After making her
startling announcement, Prudence sat tearless, and with a drawn white
face, plucking at the damp handkerchief she carried in her hands. Poor
girl, she had wept until she could weep no more, and all she could do,
with worn-out emotions, was to hold her peace, until Clarice could
help her to continue the conversation. That young lady, as white-faced
as her hostess, sat tongue-tied and horrified. She looked at the sad
figure before her, at the grim line of theological books bound in
calf, at the unclean window with its ragged curtains, and at the grimy
carpet, worn and faded. It took her some time to collect her thoughts.
When she did recover her speech, it was to energetically deny the
truth of the girl’s speech.

“I don’t believe it,” cried Clarice, decisively; “don’t talk to me,
Prudence,” she went on, as the girl was about to speak, “you know
perfectly well that Uncle Henry was murdered by that wretched Osip,
and that a verdict to that effect was brought in by the jury. Besides,
what possible object could your father have to commit murder?”

Prudence looked up with a scared look, and stealthily glanced at the
door, as she answered in a whisper. “The loan–the interest,” said
Prudence, in the voice of a ghost, so thin and low was her speech.

Clarice started and reflected. There certainly was a motive here to
make Clarke commit a crime–that is, if Horran, grinding him to the
dust, had proposed to sell him up. But that is exactly what the dead
man never intended to do. “Uncle Henry would never have behaved like a
usurer,” said Clarice.

“He charged father ten per cent.,” said Prudence, scathingly.

“If he had been a Shylock, he would have charged him fifty per cent.,
my dear, and also he would not have allowed the interest to run on for
three years without claiming his own. And now I think of it,” added
Clarice, recalling a late conversation with Mr. Barras, “Uncle Henry
knew very little about the matter. He instructed Mr. Barras to lend
your father one thousand pounds, and omitted to mention the interest.
Mr. Barras charged ten per cent. on his own. It is a large percentage,
but then Mr. Barras is not the most amiable of men. And, I suppose, he
thought he was doing right in getting as much as he could for the
money.”

“Father owed Mr. Horran one thousand pounds and three hundred for
interest,” said Prudence, “and—-”

“One moment, dear. He owed this, and still owes this to the estate of
myself and Ferdy. Mr. Horran had a settled income for acting as our
guardian, but the money he lent was ours, and not his. I have taken
this debt upon myself, and when you marry Ferdy, I’ll give your father
a discharge.”

Prudence lifted up her hands with a low wail. “I can never marry
Ferdy,” she said, in a broken voice.

“What nonsense; you shall marry him.”

“And see my father stand in the dock as a felon.”

“There is no chance of that, Prudence. What does your father say?”

“Clarice! Do you think that I have told him?” she said, vehemently.
“Oh, no. Poor father has enough troubles to bear, without my heaping
more on him. He knows nothing of my reason for refusing to marry.”

“But he objects himself?” said Clarice, much perplexed.

“Yes, because of my brother. Frank has brought disgrace on us, and has
died in disgrace.”

“When and where, Prudence?”

“I can’t tell you anything,” rejoined the girl; “all I know is that
just after the burial of your guardian, father received some bad news
about Frank. I have not seen Frank for years, nor have I heard
anything about him. He was always in trouble, and father was always
sending him money. He borrowed that thousand to help Frank and get him
out of some scrape. But this time the news must have been awful, for
father came to me, and, saying that Frank was dead, and that he never
wished to hear his name mentioned again, he wrote off to get another
clergyman, and arranged that we should go away for a time.”

“But has he never told you what your brother did?”

“No. I have asked him three or four times; he will not say a word
about poor dead Frank. And then father told me that because Frank had
done something wicked, that I was to give up all thought of marrying
Ferdy.”

“Did you agree to that?”

“No. I said that Frank’s sins should never spoil my life, and father
was very angry with me.”

“That was perfectly right,” said Clarice, heartily, her common sense
coming to her aid; “if the sins of the father are visited on the
children, that is no reason that the additional burden of a brother’s
faults should be heaped on a sister’s shoulders. You were quite right
to stick to Ferdy, my dear. But what caused you to change your mind,
Prudence?”

“I was told that my father had murdered Mr. Horran,” said the poor
girl again, and in the same terrified whisper; “and that if I married
Ferdy, information would be given to the police, which would lead to
his arrest.”

“What a preposterous story,” said Clarice, indignantly, “did you
believe it, Prudence?”

The girl glanced round again, and seemed to shrink into nothing as she
whispered, “Yes!”

Clarice stared at her. “You ought to stick up for your father,” said
she, with some slang, but with great truth.

“God help me, I wish I could,” wailed Prudence, clasping her hands.

Clarice caught one of her hands. “Be more explicit,” she said,
quickly; “you have told me so much that you must tell me all.”

“You won’t let the police know about father’s guilt?”

“No, because I don’t believe that he is guilty. Why, the jury brought
in a verdict against Osip. The evidence was perfectly plain. Go on,
tell me all you know.”

Prudence drew her chair close to that of her visitor’s, and placed her
lips to Clarice’s ear. “Father owed that money, as you know,” she
explained, hurriedly; “and Mr. Barras wrote, saying that, unless the
interest was paid immediately after New Year, father would be sold up.
He was nearly frenzied, as he could not have stopped in the parish if
such a sale had taken place, and we are so poor that we had nowhere to
go to. Then, as father said, the Bishop might have interfered.”

“Private matters of this sort have nothing to do with the Bishop.”

“Father thought otherwise, and went about the house moaning that he
was in disgrace, and did not know what to do. Then you came on the day
Ferdy and I became engaged. Father was more cheerful after you had
gone, both on account of my engagement, and from something which you
said to him.”

“I said that I would speak to Uncle Henry and settle the loan,” said
Clarice, rapidly; “go on, dear, I want to know all before your father
returns.”

“Afterwards father fell into low spirits again, and wanted to see Mr.
Horran for himself. He tried to, but was refused admittance.”

“I know,” nodded Clarice. “Dr. Jerce thought that such a visit would
irritate Uncle Henry. Now that I know Mr. Barras charged ten per
cent., and that Uncle Henry, who respected your father, was ignorant
of such extortion, I quite understand why Dr. Jerce did not want Uncle
Henry to be upset. He was quite right. But then, Prudence, your father
did see my guardian.”

“Yes. He went in by the open French window, and—-”

“I remember what he said at the inquest,” interrupted Clarice, with a
musing air. “Ah!” She started as the memory came back to her; “he
stated that Uncle Henry denied giving Mr. Barras permission to lend
the money.”

“No,” said Prudence, quickly; “if you will refer to the newspaper
report, Clarice, he really said that Mr. Horran declared that he had
not given Mr. Barras permission to lend the money at ten per cent. So
that agrees with what you say. Mr. Barras was allowed to make the
loan, but charged ten per cent. on his own account, so to speak.”

Clarice nodded. “Well, then, Uncle Henry told your father not to
worry, and said that he would write to Mr. Barras.”

Prudence nodded. “Yes, I remember.”

There was a pause. Then Clarice said, impatiently: “Well, then, my
dear girl, if matters were thus adjusted by my Uncle Henry and your
father, I don’t see what motive Mr. Clarke had to kill my guardian.”

Prudence thought for a few moments. “Clarice, it may be that my father
did not tell the exact truth about the interview at the inquest. You
see, he wished to avert suspicion from himself.”

“But he was never suspected.”

“Wait, Clarice. My father was very much agitated after the interview
with Mr. Horran, although he said very little about it to me. I heard
no more about the matter until the inquest, when father gave his
evidence. I thought that he spoke truly, until—-”

“Until what?”

“Until that woman called to see me, while everyone was at the
funeral.”

Clarice started. “Woman–what woman?”

“Mrs. Dumps’ daughter.”

“Zara Dumps–Butterfly?”

“Yes. You know her as well as I do, Clarice. Sarah Dumps is her name,
although she chooses to call herself Zara. She was always a most
disagreeable girl, as I knew when I had anything to do with her in the
Sunday School. That was before she went away to appear on the stage as
Butterfly.”

“I never did think much of her,” said Clarice, contemptuously, “and,
indeed, I never thought about her at all, until I learned accidentally
that Ferdy admired her.”

“And she admires Ferdy,” said Prudence, panting, and with her dark
eyes flashing. “I hate her! Oh, how I hate her! It is wonderful, all
the same, Clarice, how that dowdy little country girl has blossomed
into a well-dressed woman of the world.”

“All superficial, Prudence. I dare say she’s as ignorant as ever. I
know from what little I saw of her at Church festivals and school
treats, that she couldn’t speak English.”

“She speaks it very well now,” said Prudence, bitterly; “well enough,
at all events to tell me that I must give up Ferdy.”

“And you did–at that minx’s bidding?” Clarice clenched her fist so
that the glove split. “I would have turned her out of the house–the
insolent creature. To dare to love Ferdy–to dare to address you in
such a way. What did you say?”

“At first I laughed at her, but when she spoke–”

“Well,” asked Clarice, seeing that the girl hesitated, “what did she
say?”

“She told me that my father had murdered Mr. Horran, and that if I did
not refuse to marry Ferdy, she would tell the police.”

Clarice laughed derisively. “And you believed this story–a story
which such a brazen girl had every inducement to tell.”

“Not at first, but afterwards I found proof.”

“Against your father? I can never believe that,” said Miss Baird, very
decidedly. “What proof–no, tell me first, on what grounds this Dumps
woman based her accusation.”

“She said that she was stopping at the Savoy Hotel, with her mother,
for a rest.”

“Quite right. I know she was. Mrs. Rebson told me. Go on.”

“Mrs. Dumps on that night—-”

“What night?”

“The night when Mr. Horran was killed.”

“He was murdered between one and two in the morning.”

“Well, then, during the hours of darkness,” said Prudence,
impatiently, “on that night, or morning, if you like, Mrs. Dumps was
taken ill, and Sarah was awakened to attend to her. Sal volatile was
needed, so Sarah put on her things, and went out to the chemist.”

“I don’t believe it; the chemist would not attend to anyone at that
hour. By the way, what do you say the hour was?”

“Two o’clock,” said Prudence, softly. “And then the chemist is a
relative of Mrs. Dumps, Clarice, and would probably give Sarah what
she wanted.”

“Sal volatile. Humph!” said Clarice, inelegantly. “Well?”

“Sarah said that she went along quietly, and passed your house—-”

“She would have to if she came up the lane to go to the High Street,”
remarked Clarice, trying mentally to follow the wanderings of
Butterfly, so as to be certain of the truth of her evidence.

“It was a moonlight night, and Sarah kept in the shadow on the other
side of the lane, so that no one should see her going out so late.”

“Why should she have done that? Did she expect to meet anyone?”

“She said something about the chances of meeting a policeman,” was
Prudence’s reply. “Do let me get on with the story, Clarice, or I’ll
never get it finished.”

“I am all attention.”

“Well, then, Sarah says that she saw my father come quickly out of the
window of your uncle’s bedroom, and run out of the garden and up the
lane. She was in the shadow, and he passed her rapidly, but she saw
for one second in the moonlight, his face, white and terrified. She
went and got the sal volatile, and told no one of what she had seen,
not even her mother, until she came to use her knowledge to part me
from Ferdy.”

When Prudence paused, Clarice looked at her with an unmoved face.
“Well, my dear?”

“Well,” said Prudence, “that is Sarah Dumps’ story.”

“A very weak one. I believe she made it up. She could not get your
father arrested on that evidence.”

“But, Clarice,” Prudence placed her lips at the girl’s ear; “I laughed
at Sarah’s wild story. But when she went I examined my father’s
bedroom. I found a shirt thrown into the washing basket, which had not
been called for–the basket, I mean–owing to the holidays. I found
that the wrists were spotted with blood.”

“Oh!” Clarice started. “Are you certain that it was blood?”

“Quite certain. I dipped one of the cuffs in water, and the spots
turned perfectly red. Clarice,” she gripped her friend’s hand tightly,
“do you think that my father really is guilty?”

“I can’t think that, Prudence. He had no reason–everything was
arranged between him and Uncle Henry.”

“Yes. Father said that at the inquest, but he may have told an untruth
to shield himself.”

“Prudence, do you believe that your father is guilty?”

“Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. Father has had so much worry
that he is not always accountable for his actions. He may have gone
out in a frenzy, and, finding the window open, he may have–oh!” The
poor girl broke off, weeping. “What am I to do?”

“Ask your father to prove his innocence.”

“I dare not, Clarice. What with his own troubles and the death of
Frank, and this mysterious wickedness of which Frank has been guilty,
poor father is nearly crazy. Did he know that he was accused of murder
he would go out of his mind altogether.”

“But if Sarah Dumps tells the police, he—-”

“She will hold her tongue. I said that I would give up Ferdy. I wrote
and told Ferdy that I could not marry him, and said that my father did
not approve of the match.”

“Ferdy said something about this,” said Clarice. “Well, then,
Prudence, you leave everything to me. I’ll speak to Anthony. He is
very clever and will be able to help me. Don’t worry, and–hush! Your
father.”

Clarke entered the room with a wild look, hurriedly, and frowned when
he saw the two girls together. “I thought you had gone, Clarice,” he
said, fretfully. “I wish you would go. Prudence has much to do.”

“I am going,” said Clarice, pressing the girl’s arm, so as to make her
humour the excited man. “I only waited to tell you, Mr. Clarke, that I
have seen Mr. Barras, and have assumed the rights of your loan. You
will have no further trouble about it.”

“It is good of you,” said Clarke, gloomily, “and a few days ago, I
should have hailed your news with joy. But it is now too late. I am an
outcast and accursed, and—-”

“Father! Father!” said Prudence, placing her hand on his arm.

He shook it off. “I tell you, girl, we must leave this house, and hide
our shameful heads. The Angel of the Lord will pursue me–me, my
child, and not you–with a fiery brand.”

“Mr. Clarke,” said Clarice, in a firm way, and fastening her eyes very
steadily on the excited face of the poor parson, “you are talking
nonsense. Sit down and—–”

“No. You shall not direct me in my own house.”

“It is for your good.” Speaking softly, Clarice placed her hand on
Clarke’s arm, and drew him gently towards the arm chair, with her eyes
fixed on his all the time. Prudence watched in awestricken silence, as
Miss Baird seemed to be quite mistress of the situation. “Sit down,
sit down,” whispered Clarice, softly, and when the parson dropped
heavily into the chair, she placed a cool hand on his burning brow.
“You will sleep now, and wake feeling much better.”

“I will not sleep,” said Clarke, trying to remove his eyes from her as
the mesmeric influence was dominating him; “go away—-”

“Yes, when you sleep. Sleep! Sleep! Sleep!” Clarice’s voice took on a
kind of sing-song, and she drew her warm, firm hand gently across the
man’s wrinkled brow. Gradually Clarke’s muscles relaxed, and his eyes
grew calmer. Then they closed, and he began to breath gently. “Wake up
in an hour, feeling perfectly well,” commanded Clarice, and then
beckoned the astonished Prudence from the room.

“I used to do that to Uncle Henry for his headaches,” she laughed.

Having thus quieted the overwrought vicar, Clarice took leave of poor
Prudence. However, she left the girl in a much more cheerful frame of
mind, as she asserted her belief in Mr. Clarke’s innocence, in spite
of all appearance to the contrary, and promised every assistance. But
when Miss Baird returned home, and thought over what she had learned,
it appeared difficult to keep her word.

Certainly, she did not think that the parson was guilty, even though
the evidence of the blood-spotted cuffs was almost proof positive. In
some way this might be explained, although at the moment, Clarice
could not suggest to herself any possible explanation. But she
believed that Clarke had given true evidence at the inquest, and that
Horran had quite intended to put matters right. For years her late
guardian had known the vicar, and had always respected him, although
he had never approved of Clarke’s devotion to his miserable son. It
was quite probable that Horran had instructed Barras to give the vicar
a loan of one thousand pounds, but it was improbable that he had
insisted upon ten per cent., or indeed–knowing Clarke’s
circumstances–upon any percentage whatsoever. Owing to Horran’s
illness, he had given Barras a power of attorney to execute small
matters connected with the estate, and thus save himself trouble, so
it was probable that Barras, for the benefit of the estate, had
charged the large percentage. This could easily be ascertained by a
conversation with the lawyer, and Clarice determined to pay a visit to
London and see him, as soon as she could.

With regard to the story told by Sarah Dumps, the girl was doubtful.
It might or it might not be true. Assuredly, Zara Dumps, anxious to
marry Ferdy, had every reason to get Mr. Clarke into trouble, so as to
prevent the marriage of Prudence. Then, again, she really might have
seen Clarke leave the death chamber, and thus have made use of her
secret knowledge to gain her ends. If this was the case, Clarice asked
herself what Clarke was doing in her guardian’s room at such an early
hour of the morning. According to the medical evidence, Horran was
murdered between one and two, and it was at the latter hour–according
to Zara Dumps–that Clarke had left the Laurels. This question could
be settled by asking the vicar bluntly to explain. But, seeing that
the poor man was so overwrought, it was impossible to question him for
the moment. The examination would have to come sooner or later, if
things were to be put right; but Miss Baird thought that it would be
as well to wait for a few days.

The irony of the situation lay in the fact that Zara need not have
accused the vicar, so as to gain the refusal of Prudence, and procure
the stoppage of the marriage. Mr. Clarke himself refused to allow the
ceremony to take place, and for some reason connected with the
prodigal son. What that reason was, Clarice very much wanted to know,
and determined to insist upon an explanation, when she questioned the
vicar about his presumed midnight visit. Clarice was naturally of an
impatient character, and would have been delighted to then and there
have interviewed Clarke so as to learn the truth. But the man was not
in a fit state of mind to calmly discuss his troubles, and Clarice
trusted that a few days would reduce his excitement to normal limits.
Then she could have a quiet conversation, and induce him to be frank
with her. Meanwhile, she reflected upon what was best to be done.

After some cogitation, she determined to go the next day to see Mr.
Barras, and learn exactly how the matter stood, as regards the loan;
afterwards she could return and see Mr. Clarke; and, meanwhile, she
intended to explain matters to Anthony, so as to have the benefit of
his common sense. Having thus arranged things, Clarice possessed her
soul in patience for the day. But all her schemes were upset when
Ferdy unexpectedly arrived about seven o’clock, and just in time for
dinner. He looked nervous, and shirked all explanation of his
appearance until dinner was over, and he was seated with his puzzled
sister in the drawing-room.

“Now, then, Ferdy,” said Clarice, when coffee was served, and her
brother had lighted his inevitable cigarette, “perhaps you will tell
me why you have come down?”

“Aren’t you glad to see me?” questioned Ferdy, evasively.

“Delighted; but that does not answer my question. Why did you come?”

“To see you, Clarry.”

“Of course, and your other reason?”

Ferdy hesitated, and sought inspiration from the ceiling. Then, in his
usual crafty way, he began to explain by degrees. “I suppose you know
that everything is ended between myself and Prudence,” he said.

Clarice looked hard at him, and wondered if it would be wise for her
to admit that she had seen Prudence, and knew the reason why the
engagement had been broken off. A moment’s reflection convinced her
that, in dealing with so shifty a young man as he was, it would be
better to deny all knowledge. Ferdy was playing some game, she was
certain, and what the game might be, she wanted very much to learn. If
she gave him rope enough he would assuredly hang himself, so this she
proceeded to do, by pretending ignorance. “You hinted when we last met
that there was some misunderstanding between you.”

“There is no misunderstanding on my part,” cried Ferdy, falling at
once into the trap. “I love Prudence, and I am willing to marry her.
But she refuses to marry me, and has broken off the engagement.”

“Indeed. And what reason does she assign for this sudden change?”

“Her father will not accept me as his son-in-law.”

“On what grounds?”

Ferdy shrugged his shoulders. “Mr. Clarke, according to Prudence, does
not approve of the match.”

“Have you been doing anything to make him disapprove?” asked Clarice,
quickly and pointedly.

“No!” replied Ferdy, indignantly, “I don’t know why you are always
suspecting me of doing wrong, Clarry. I’m straight–that is, I am as
straight as most fellows.”

“That is not saying much,” rejoined Clarice, sarcastically.

“Well, then, I am as straight as Ackworth.”

“That you are not, Ferdy. Anthony always speaks the truth.”

“So do I. You have no right to say otherwise.”

“Ferdy, all your life you have told half-truths, and those are much
worse than right-down lies.”

“Oh, hang it, that’s too bad. I tell you what it is, Clarry. If you
have such a bad opinion of me, I am not fit for your society. Give me
my income, and let me go out of your life.”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Clarice, sternly. “You are not
fit to look after your own life. If I gave you the two thousand a
year–and remember I cannot do that until the two years are past–you
would simply go headlong to ruin. No, Ferdy, you must marry Prudence,
and she will look after you.”

“How impossible you are, Clarry,” cried Ferdy, greatly exasperated. “I
tell you that I should like to marry Prudence, but she won’t allow me
to. Both herself and her father are against my becoming her husband.
You can ask them, if you doubt me.”

“Oh, I believe what you say,” remarked Clarice, readily.

“Then what am I to do?”

“Leave it to time to right things. I dare say Mr. Clarke will change
his mind again.”

“He may not for years, even if he changes it at all,” grumbled Ferdy,
“and I can’t wait on his pleasure for ever.”

“If you love Prudence you can.”

“I don’t know. I do love her, but she doesn’t love me,” said the young
man, sulkily, “and if I can’t get love in one quarter, I must in
another. Do you see?”

“Oh, yes,” said Clarice, cruelly. “I see that you love only one
person, and that is yourself. What’s the other woman’s name?”

Ferdy started, and grew red. “The–the–the–other woman?”

“Yes. You talk about getting love in another quarter. In the Dumps
quarter, I dare say.”

“She’s a lovely girl, and as good as they make them,” said Ferdy, in a
furious way; “don’t you say a word against her, Clarry, for I won’t
stand it. You must respect her—-”

“As my future sister-in-law?”

“Yes,” said Ferdy, getting up to add dignity to his declaration. “Oh,”
remarked Miss Baird, coolly; “so you have proposed?”

“I have proposed, because Prudence chucked me, and Zara has accepted
my hand.”

“How delightfully you have arranged it all, Ferdy. Does Miss Dumps
know about your income?”

“She knows everything, and she is willing to wait for two years until
I come in for my money.”

“How considerate of her. She must love you very much, Ferdy, to be
willing to accept you with a paltry two thousand a year.”

“She does love me,” said Ferdy, with sulky dignity.

“And you love her?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What about your love for Prudence?”

“I love her, but in a different way.”

Clarice laughed. “Really, Ferdy, you must have a large heart. Why not
turn Turk or Mormon?”

“It’s all very well to laugh,” said Ferdy, with a wounded air; “but if
you had been chucked by one you loved, you would seek love elsewhere.
I am certain of that.”

“Ah. You judge me by yourself. Well, then, Ferdy, suppose I refuse to
allow you to marry Zara?”

“You can’t. I am my own master and over age.”

“You are not master of your money.”

“I shall be in two years.”

“Quite so, and Zara, who must be a most self-denying person, is
willing to wait until you are rich in two years. I understand; but in
the meantime, Ferdy, what if I stop your allowance?”

“I shall go to law,” said Ferdy, pompously.

“I am afraid that won’t do you much good,” retorted his sister, with a
calm smile. “In the first place, you have no money, and no lawyer will
undertake the case unless certain fees are paid down. In the second
place, you will fail in your action. The will is perfectly clear as to
my powers and duties as guardian. I have full power to do what I like
until you are legally of age in two years.”

“It’s an infernal shame,” muttered Ferdy, who had sense enough to see
that she spoke the truth.

“I don’t think so, and any sensible person who understood the position
of things would not think so either. However, you can see that it is
waste of time for you to go to law. What else can you do?”

“I can go on the stage.”

“With Zara?”

“Yes,” said Ferdy, triumphantly, and rubbing his hands. “Ah, you
didn’t think I’d say that, did you?”

“I expected to hear anything, so long as it was sufficiently silly,”
said Clarice, in her coldest tone. “Really, Ferdy, you are a child.”

“You won’t find it so when I take my own way.”

“What is your own way?”

“I have told you. I am engaged to Zara, and I intend to marry her, now
that Prudence has behaved so badly. If you refuse to allow me money,
I’ll chuck the medical profession and go on the stage to act with Zara
in her Butterfly sketch at the Mascot Music Hall. She isn’t satisfied
with the Chrysalis, and I can act that.”

“Act what?” asked Clarice, puzzled by the scientific word.

“The Chrysalis. In the sketch–it is called the Birth of a
Butterfly–there’s a Chrysalis, acted by a man, which wriggles about
the stage. Out of it comes Zara as the Butterfly, and—-”

“Oh, I understand. What a high ambition you have. I should think a
worm of that acrobatic kind would just suit you. So this is your plan,
is it?”

“Yes. I came down especially to tell you.”

“What does Dr. Jerce say?”

“He says nothing. Jerce is sulky with me, because you—-”

“Because I refused to marry him. What a child the man is, in spite of
his fame and knighthood. As much a child as you are.”

“I am not here to discuss Jerce,” said Ferdy, loftily, “but to hear
what you have to say to my plan. If you will allow me my income as
usual, I won’t go on the stage.”

“But you’ll marry Zara, all the same.”

“Yes. She loves me and I love her.”

“No, you don’t. You love Prudence, and are only dominated by a
stronger will in the person of this dancer. I know that Prudence has
treated you badly, and so has Mr. Clarke. All the same, if you truly
love the lady and not the dancer, you will wait until time brings Mr.
Clarke round to accepting you as his son-in-law.”

“No,” said Ferdy, very decidedly; “and I want your answer, please, so
that I can arrange what to do.”

“Ah, that means you must decide whether you are to be a doctor or a
Chrysalis,” said Clarice, quietly and contemptuously. “Give me a few
minutes to consider the matter, Ferdy.”

Her brother looked at her suddenly, apparently thinking that she was
about to give way. However, he was sufficiently wise not to press his
advantage for the time being. “I’ll play for a time,” he said,
crossing to the piano, “while you think. Will the music disturb you in
any way?”

“No,” said Clarice, absently, and Ferdy began to play a soft,
murmurous piece of music, which suggested waving green forests and
gentle summer winds. He played very well in an amateur sort of way,
and played also softly, so Clarice was quite able to follow her own
thoughts, as the music echoed through the room.

In Ferdy’s defiance she saw again the hand of Zara Dumps. Apparently
the dancer was bent upon marrying the boy, and would stop at nothing
to accomplish her aim. Perhaps she was in love, as Ferdy undoubtedly
was a handsome and charming fellow. Also in two years he would be in
possession of a very respectable income. Anthony had hinted that Zara
wished to marry money; but either she had not chanced upon a
millionaire sufficiently susceptible, or else she had a genuine love
for Ferdy Baird, and was prepared to be happy with him on a moderate
income. Clarice saw very plainly that her brother was absolutely
dominated by the will of the dancer, and that if she refused the
allowance she would only throw him more completely into the arms of
this clever woman. On the other hand, by letting things remain as they
were, she would be able, by holding the purse strings, to keep a
certain hold over the headstrong boy. It was out of the question to
allow Ferdy to ruin his career by going on the music hall stage.

Moreover, Clarice began to feel piqued by Zara. That this woman should
set herself to intrigue in this manner annoyed her. Zara apparently
thought that she could get everything her own way. Clarice was
determined that she should not be triumphant all along the line, and
looked forward with pleasure to thwarting the dancer. Also, in the
accusation of Clarke by Miss Dumps, Clarice saw that much larger
issues than Ferdy’s future were involved. Zara evidently quite
expected that Clarice would refuse Ferdy’s allowance, and thus would
compel him to rely on her. Miss Baird at once resolved to countercheck
the dancer by acting in a contrary way. As she had done with Ferdy, so
would she do with Zara–that is, she intended to give the dancer rope
enough to hang herself. Clarice wished to find out what string Zara
was pulling, and time was required to look into matters. Time could be
gained by checkmating her in this manner, so having made up her mind,
Clarice called Ferdy away from the piano.

“My dear boy,” she said gently. “I don’t want you to be unhappy. I
know, as I said before, that Prudence has treated you badly, so it is
not to be wondered at that you should go to a woman who loves you.”

“Zara does–oh, she does,” said Ferdy, promptly.

“Well, then,” said Clarice, in a caressing tone, “I shall continue
your allowance, as I don’t want you to go on the stage. But if I do
this, you must make me a promise.”

“Anything,” cried Ferdy, delighted at having secured his end.

“Promise me that you will not contract a secret marriage with this
dancer,” said Miss Baird, earnestly.

“I promise, with all my heart,” replied Ferdy; and so the agreement
was made, and Clarice thus gained time to fathom the schemes of Miss
Dumps, which had to do with greater things than Ferdy imagined.

It was at this moment, or a little later, that Anthony appeared in
full mess kit. He looked excited when he burst into the room, which he
did more noisily than usual. “I apologise for my dress,” he said,
coming forward to kiss Clarice, “but I was in such a hurry to see you
that I came over without changing, in another fellow’s motor-car. It’s
waiting outside, and I can’t stop more than a few minutes.”

“And I expect you want to speak to Clarry,” said Ferdy, quickly; “I’ll
go out and have a look at the car.”

Anthony seemed pleased when the boy left the room, and at once brought
out a letter. “I came to see you about this,” he said, handing it to
the girl; “it came by to-night’s post, and I lost no time in bringing
it to you. What does it mean?”

Clarice opened the letter, which was written in a delicate hand, and
very neatly, on fine thick paper. The few lines ran as follows:–

“If Captain Anthony Ackworth marries Miss Clarice Baird, his future
brother-in-law will be placed in the dock, as guilty of the murder of
his guardian, Mr. Henry Horran. From a Friend.”

Anthony looked apprehensively at Clarice, as she read the anonymous
letter, for he quite expected that she would be greatly agitated, and
had been rather afraid of showing it to her, lest the shock of such an
accusation brought against Ferdy should be too great. But the girl was
perfectly cool, and read the letter twice. After the second reading,
she looked at her lover.

“It’s a conspiracy,” she said, calmly.

Anthony was puzzled. “What do you mean by that?”

“Someone wants to prevent our marriage,” she explained; “and so this
accusation has been brought against Ferdy.”

“I can see that. Of course”–Anthony looked anxiously at her again–“of
course, the accusation is ridiculous.”

“Perfectly ridiculous!” replied Clarice, quietly.

“And yet,” hesitated the soldier, “would anyone bring forward such a
direct accusation, unless she had evidence to go upon?”

Clarice, who had been musing, looked up, “Why do you say ‘she?'”

Ackworth pointed to the caligraphy of the letter, which lay on the
table before them. “The handwriting is like that of a woman.”

“Men and women write exactly alike nowadays, my dear. Besides, if a
woman had written it, she certainly would have assumed even a more
masculine style of writing.”

“Then you think that the letter was written by a man?”

“Of course. Can’t you think of a man who desires to prevent our
marriage?”

Ackworth considered for one moment, and drew inspiration from her
steadfast eyes. “Dr. Jerce,” he said, suddenly.

“Sir Daniel Jerce! Give him his proper title!”

“What makes you think that?”

“Several things. One is that Sir Daniel quoted the slip betwixt cup
and lip proverb. In fact, he hinted, more in manner than words, that I
should never become your wife.”

“Confounded cheek!” said Anthony, seating himself–he had been
standing hitherto. “What right has he to interfere?”

“The right of a man who is in love with a woman,” said Clarice.

“With an engaged woman,” corrected Anthony. “Humph!” He took up the
letter again. “Do you really think—-”

“I am certain of it.”

“But a man in such a position–a great doctor–a famous medical
man–surely would not—-”

Clarice again did not allow him to finish. “Yes, he would, if he
wanted his own way, as Sir Daniel Jerce wants his. You see, Anthony
dear, that Sir Daniel had always gained his ends by force of will. He
tried to dominate me, but I was too strong for him. Naturally, he is
irritated, and thus is ready to condescend to this”—she pointed to
the letter–“in order to gain his ends.”

“Well, I’m hanged. But you can’t be certain.”

“I’ll soon find out if I can be certain.”

“In what way–by what means?”

“I’ll ask Sir Daniel himself if he wrote the letter!”

“He will deny that he did,” rejoined Ackworth, quickly.

“You trust a woman to get at the truth, denial or no denial,” said
Miss Baird, coolly. “And there’s another thing, Anthony. Ferdy is
perfectly innocent.”

“Of course,” hesitated the Captain; “still, can you prove it?”

“Very easily. Ferdy came home drunk on the night the crime was
committed. I locked him in his own room, and took the key to mine. He
could not have got out, and did not, until I released him next
morning–hours after the murder was perpetrated.”

Anthony nodded his satisfaction. “That settles the business. This
letter is all bluff. Anything more?”

Clarice nodded in her turn. “Ferdy was engaged to marry Prudence
Clarke,” she said.

“_Was_ engaged! Is the engagement at an end?”

“Yes. Had you not come over, I should have sent for you. I saw
Prudence to-day, and she declines to marry Ferdy.”

“Why, I thought she was in love with him.”

“She was–she is. But Zara, the dancer—-”

“Butterfly. Yes, I know. Go on.”

“Well, she called on Prudence on the day my guardian was buried, and
told her that if she married Ferdy, Mr. Clarke would be accused of the
murder.”

“What rubbish. Everyone knows that Osip is guilty.”

“Quite so,” said Clarice, slowly; “but I am beginning to doubt that,
Anthony. I thought that there was no mystery about this crime, but
from this letter and from the attitude of Zara, I begin to think that
there is.”

“H’m!” from Ackworth. “You believe that there is a conspiracy?”

“Yes, I do, and Sir Daniel has to do with it. Also Zara. The man wants
to marry me, and the woman to marry Ferdy. But I had better tell you
everything I have learned, so that you may be in a position to see
things from your point of view.”

Anthony listened carefully, while Clarice detailed her interview with
Prudence, and also related what Clarke had said. “I am perfectly
sure,” she ended, firmly, “that there is some connection between Zara
and Sir Daniel.”

“I don’t see that, Clarice–upon my word, I can’t see it. Zara
evidently went on her own, so as to get Ferdy to herself. Sir Daniel
fried his own fish–if, indeed, that letter is written by him.”

“I’ll soon learn that,” rejoined Miss Baird, putting the letter into
the pocket of her dinner gown. “Then, I have to tell you something
about Ferdy,” and she related how the boy had attempted to bluff her,
and how she had got the better of him.

“It seems to me,” said Ackworth, when she finished, “that Ferdy is
being made use of in some way.”

“I am quite certain of that, and the crime is being used as a threat
to make him do what he is told.”

“By Jerce?”

“Or by Zara. I grant that the whole thing is a mystery, although you
and I can see the reasons for the actions of Jerce and this dancer.”

“Marriage in both cases,” said Anthony, musingly. “But why not
question Ferdy?”

Clarice’s lip curled. “Ferdy would only tell lies,” she said,
disdainfully. “No, I must learn what Ferdy has to do with these
matters in some way which will not arouse his suspicions.
Anthony”–she placed her hands on his shoulders–“you trust me?”

He placed his hands on hers–“Dearest, what a question.”

“Well, then, I am going to do something very daring.”

“What is it?” asked Ackworth, anxiously.

“I can’t tell you. I only ask you to trust me.”

Ackworth looked at her closely. “Of course, I’ll trust you.”

“That is true love,” said Clarice, and kissed him. “Now, in the first
place, I shall write this night to Sir Daniel, and ask him to come and
see me. Then I can learn if indeed he wrote the letter which I have in
my pocket. Next–and this is your share of the plot I have in my
head–you must ask Ferdy down for a couple of days and nights to
Gattlinsands. He is always glad to stop with you.”

“I’ll do so willingly,” said Anthony; “but why do you want him out of
the way?”

“You have answered your own question. I want him out of the way,
because I want him out of the way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am mysterious, am I not? But in this case everything is now
becoming extremely mysterious, and we must beat these people with
their own weapons. I want to marry you; I want Ferdy to marry
Prudence. To bring these things about I have to learn the meaning of
these threats. When I know, then I can act.”

“But what do you intend to do?” asked Anthony, dubiously.

“You promised to trust me.”

“Yes, but–but don’t be rash.”

“Dearest, am I ever rash?”

“No, you are a very level-headed girl, as I know. I’ll trust you, only
I hope you won’t get into any difficulty.”

“If I do, I’ll send for you at once. Now, when you get back to your
quarters, write and ask Ferdy down for to-morrow night and for the
next night.”

“I can ask him now. He’s in the house.”

“No, I want you to ask him by letter. Write to him at Sir Daniel’s.”

Anthony nodded. “Very good. Anything else?”

“Yes. When Ferdy leaves you–in a couple of days–go up to London, and
to Tea Street, Whitechapel.”

“What for, Clarice?”

“To find out all you can concerning the young man who died of
consumption there–the man who was one of the Purple Fern murderers. I
want to know his name, and all about him.”

“What good will that do?”

“It may lead us to discover the whereabouts of Osip. When we catch
him, then we can be certain of his guilt, and both Sir Daniel and Zara
will be unable to accuse Ferdy or Mr. Clarke. Do you see?”

“In a way. And yet—-”

“No, don’t raise objections, or ask questions. I know exactly how to
act. When you learn what I want you to learn, come here and tell it to
me. In the meantime, I’ll be searching on my own account.”

“Not in Whitechapel I hope,” said Anthony, quickly.

“No, I am sending you to Whitechapel,” she laughed. “Do you know, my
dear boy, I am quite enjoying this excitement. It gives me something
to do, and I love a life of action.”

She looked so brilliant, and her eyes were so bright, that Anthony did
what any lover would have done under the like circumstances. He took
her in his arms and kissed her. Then, as it was growing late, Clarice
insisted that he should go, and escorted him to the door.

Ferdy was conversing with Anthony’s brother officer, who had brought
over the car; and, of course, the amateur chauffeur was introduced to
Miss Baird. She chatted so gaily for a few minutes that Anthony could
not believe she had anything on her mind. Yet he knew very well that
she was extremely anxious, and was nerving herself to face her
enemies. Finally, he insisted that she should go indoors, as the night
was chilly, and the car surged off down the lane, with the buzz of an
angry bee. Clarice stood on the steps and watched it vanish. Then she
went inside and spoke to Ferdy.

“I want you to take a letter to Sir Daniel to-morrow for me,” she said,
going to her desk. “When do you start in the morning?”

“By the eight fifty-five. I’ll be in town by ten, or a trifle later.
Why are you writing?”

“I want Sir Daniel to come down, as I wish to speak with him about
business connected with the estate.”

“What business?” asked Ferdy, persistently.

“Oh, nothing particular,” said Clarice, airily; “it has to do with a
ring which poor Uncle Henry wished me to give the doctor. Aha-a-a!”
she shivered–“I believe that I have caught cold.”

She had indeed, for the next morning Ferdy had to go to her bedroom to
receive the letter for Jerce, as Clarice did not get up. Her eyes were
brilliant, her cheeks vividly red, and her voice was somewhat hoarse.
Ferdy guessed that she had caught cold from standing in the porch on
the previous night, and declined to kiss her when he went, in case he
should suffer also. That was Ferdy all over–he never ran the chance
of getting into trouble, if it was not likely to benefit himself.
Clarice sighed when he departed, and then laughed. Sad as she was at
Ferdy’s selfishness, the thought of her plot cheered her up. The
boy–as she was resolved–should be saved from Zara Dumps in spite of
himself.

Sir Daniel was extremely astonished to receive Clarice’s note asking
him to come down, and his elderly heart beat rapidly, as he reflected
that she had called him back. He had told her that he would not see
her again, unless she asked him to come, and here the very message,
for which he had longed, was in his hand. He went down to Crumel by
the midday train, and shortly arrived at The Laurels. Here he found
Clarice up and dressed, and seated in the drawing-room, looking very
unwell. She occupied a large chair near the fire, and was enveloped in
a multiplicity of wraps to keep her from shivering. When Sir Daniel
entered, she did not rise or offer him her hand.

“I might give you my cold,” said Clarice, hoarsely.

“Dear, dear! you are very sick,” remarked Jerce, quite at his ease in
the presence of ill-health. “How did you get this cold?”

“I was standing in the porch last night, talking to Anthony.”

Jerce bit his lip as she mentioned the name, and stretched out his
hand. “Let me feel your pulse.”

Clarice kept her hands under the shawl. “No; I have asked you to come
for another reason than to prescribe for me. Also, I have taken some
simple remedies, and will be well in a few days.”

“Still—-”

“No, I can’t ask the famous Sir Daniel Jerce to attend to a trifling
case like mine.”

“Since the famous Sir Daniel is here,” observed the doctor,
good-humouredly, “he may as well exercise his profession. And you
know,” he added, earnestly, “I would do anything for you, even though
you have treated me so cruelly.”

“You will persist in saying that,” cried Clarice, petulantly, “when
you know that I never loved you; that I never gave you any
encouragement, and that you have no reason to blame me in any way. If
you have come here to make yourself disagreeable—-”

“I have come because you sent for me,” said Jerce, calmly; “and, if
you remember, I said that I would never see you again unless you did
send for me.”

“Oh! And I suppose you thought that my invitation meant that I had
changed my mind about marrying Anthony?”

“I did hope that,” said Sir Daniel, plainly, “as I can conceive no
other reason why you should ask me down; unless,” he added, with some
bitterness, “you wish to torture me.”

“Your own conscience should do that, Sir Daniel.”

“My own conscience? I don’t understand you, Miss Baird.”

“Think again. You hinted that I should never marry Anthony.”

“I did,” rejoined Jerce, steadily, “and I hope you won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I wish to marry you myself.”

“I see.” Clarice drew the anonymous letter from her pocket, and placed
it in his hand; “and to gain your ends you are willing to go to these
lengths?”

The doctor read the few lines gravely, and then handed back the
letter. “Still I don’t understand.”

“Yes, you do, Sir Daniel. You wrote that letter.”

Jerce sprang to his feet with an agility astonishing in so stout a
man. “You insult me,” he said, with cold, suppressed fury.

“Have I not reason to,” she flashed out, “when you seek to prevent my
marriage by accusing Ferdy, of murder?”

“I did not accuse him; I never wrote that letter; it is not in my
handwriting; it is not written on my own stationery.”

“Of course not. You would have signed your name if it had been.”

“Did you ask me down to accuse me of this?” asked Sir Daniel,
contemptuously. “Yes, I did, and I tell you that your plot will fail,
as Ferdy is perfectly innocent.”

“I never said that he was guilty.”

“That letter–”

“I did not write that letter.” Clarice looked at him steadily. His
face was calm, his nerves were unshaken. Either she had failed to take
him unawares with her abrupt accusation, or the man was innocent. “If
I have made a mistake I ask your pardon,” she said, quietly, “but you
have read the letter?”

“Just this moment. I never set eyes on it before.”

“What do you think of the accusation?”

“I don’t know what to think,” said Jerce, coolly.

“Oh! Then you believe that the writer–if not yourself–has certain
grounds upon which to accuse my brother of murder?”

“I don’t know the writer and I don’t know the grounds. Any other man
would have lost his temper at the insult you have offered. But being
in love with you, I forgive your unfair suspicions. Still, in justice
to myself, I shall take my leave, as I cannot inflict upon you the
company of a man of whom you think so meanly.”

“One moment,” said Clarice, who could not tell if he was really
innocent, or if he was acting a part. “What would you do about the
letter if you were me?”

“I should obey the writer,” said Jerce, promptly.

“Ah! Then you _have_ an interest in stopping my marriage?”

“I have. I would do anything in my power to break off your engagement
with Ackworth.”

“So that I could marry you?”

“Precisely.”

“I believe you wrote the letter, after all,” said Clarice, between her
clenched teeth. “I defy you to look me in the face and deny it.”

“I do look you in the face, and I do deny it,” said Jerce, coldly;
“but the writer of that letter has done me a good turn, and I thank
him.”

“How do you know it is a man?”

Sir Daniel shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know; I only surmise.”

“Surmise what?”

“That a man wrote it.”

“Why not a woman?” sneered Clarice.

“Why not, indeed. You know as much about the matter as I do.”

Beaten by his imperturbability, the girl adopted another mode of
attack. “Why should Ferdy be accused?”

“I don’t know, unless it is that Ferdy lives a wild life, as I told
you, and would do much for money.”

“For money? What do you mean?”

“I mean that the forty thousand pounds is yet unaccounted for.”

“Oh, and Ferdy murdered Uncle Henry for that money?”

“The writer accuses him of the crime,” said Jerce, quietly. “I am not
prepared to endorse the accusation, as I know nothing.”

“But I know,” cried Clarice, vehemently. “Ferdy was locked in his room
by me on the night of the crime, because he had been taking too much
to drink.”

“You had better answer this letter and say so,” retorted Jerce.

“To whom should I write–to what address?”

“I can’t say,” he answered, steadily, “but you will be wise if you
break off your engagement with Captain Ackworth. Ferdinand may be
innocent in one way, and yet guilty in another.”

“Explain.”

“He may be an accomplice after the fact.”

“Doctor,” cried Clarice, rising quickly, “you know something.”

“I know nothing, save that Ferdy lives a wild and fast life, and is of
an undisciplined nature.” He walked to the door. “I take my leave with
a last warning. Obey that anonymous note, and give up Ackworth, or
else–”

“Or else?” questioned Clarice, eagerly.

“Or else Ferdinand may be hanged.”

Clarice sank back in her chair, as Jerce left the room, wondering if
she had heard aright. Sir Daniel had certainly said in plain English
that, failing the breaking of the engagement, Ferdy would be hanged.
That meant the guilt of Ferdy, and yet she could prove that the boy
had been locked in his room. What was meant by being an accessory
after the fact? She would have to ask Mr. Barras the meaning of that
legal phrase. In some way, however–she guessed that much,–it
implicated Ferdy in the crime. Ferdy was, wild, assuredly, and to get
money would do much. But he would never dare to commit a vile murder.
In the first place, his nature was too mild, and in the second, he was
too timid. Ferdy must be innocent. And yet–it was strange that he
should always be so mysterious, and so ready to take alarm. Clarice:
recalled several occasions when Ferdy had appeared: startled by
apparently innocent remarks. Then, again, Ferdy was in the toils of
Zara Dumps; and Zara–from her accusation of Mr. Clarke–knew
something about the crime. What if she was throwing the blame on the
parson to shield Ferdy, whom she loved?

At this point of her agonised reflections, the door opened, and Sir
Daniel Jerce again appeared. “I think,” he said, coldly, yet very
pointedly, “that if you take a walk, and put away those medicine
bottles, you will find that your illness will vanish. Good-day.” And
he was gone in a moment.

Clarice flung off the shawl and ran to the door. Jerce, then, saw
through her feigned disorder. What a fool she was to try and deceive
so clever a physician. By the time she gained the hall, Jerce had
already passed out of the front door, and when she opened that, he was
passing out of the gate. For the moment she felt inclined to call him
back, and insist upon her illness, but knowing that she could not
deceive so capable a judge, she closed the door again, and returned to
the drawing-room.

There she wrapped herself up again. It was necessary to deceive those
in the house, since no one was so acute as Jerce, to tell a false
illness from a real one. She could not carry out her plot unless she
pretended to be ill, and so had taken advantage of being in the porch
on the previous night to secure her ends. Intending to go secretly to
London on that same evening, Clarice wished to keep to her room,
so that no one save Mrs. Rebson–in whom she would have to
confide–should know that she was out of the house. And especially had
she wished to deceive Jerce. Yet he had seen through her scheme of
pretended sickness, and would be on the look-out to see why she had
acted in such a manner. Clarice was certain that in some way Jerce was
plotting against her and Anthony, notwithstanding his denial of the
anonymous letter. It would take her all her ingenuity, clever as she
thought herself, to circumvent the doctor. He was uncommonly sharp and
uncommonly suspicious, and if he found out what she intended to do, he
would nullify the success of her plot in some way. What a fool she had
been to see him, especially when she had gained nothing by the
interview.

In the face of this first failure to impose upon a clever man who
wanted his own way, many a woman would have thrown up the sponge. But
Clarice only stiffened her back in the face of the increasing
difficulties. Come what may, she would masquerade as she intended, and
learn the truth of Ferdy’s hidden life. Her plan was at once daring
and simple. In looks she exactly resembled Ferdy, and, dressed in a
suit of his clothes, no one would be able to recognise her as his
sister. Also she could mimic Ferdy’s tricks of speech and ordinary
gestures exactly, and thus: would be able to pass as her brother, even
with those who knew him well. Once arrayed as Ferdy, Clarice intended
to go to London and pass the evening at the Mascot Music Hall, in
order to witness the performance of Sarah Dumps. Then–as Ferdy–she
would go round and see the dancer, and perhaps Zara might let slip
something which would put her on the track of the boy’s delinquencies.
If she could arrive at the truth of Ferdy’s fast life, at which Jerce
had hinted, she might learn how he came to be implicated in the crime.
And he was implicated rather than Clarke, since Clarice believed that
Zara had only accused Clarke to save her lover, as well as to prevent
the marriage with Prudence. Also the direct accusation in the
anonymous letter hinted that someone–if not Jerce–knew that Ferdy
had some connection with the death of Henry Horran. Jerce himself
hinted that Ferdy was mixed up in the matter, and was ready to use his
information–whatever it might be–to place Ferdy in the dock, if the
match with Ackworth was not broken off.

It can thus be seen why Clarice had asked Anthony to invite her
brother to Gattlinsands on that evening, and to detain him, if
possible, for the next night. She did not want to run the risk of
meeting Ferdy at the Mascot Music Hall, or to have–as it were–two
Richmonds in the field. On this one night she hoped to learn
sufficient to force Ferdy into open confession, and when she knew all,
she might be able to save him. But failing success on this night, she
trusted to be more successful on the ensuing evening. But in any case,
she felt that she must be successful if Ferdy was to be saved from the
tricksters who were around him and from his own weak self. Of course,
her experiment was a daring one, and Anthony certainly would not
approve of it. But too much was at stake to hesitate, so Clarice went
up to her room about five o’clock to get ready for her masquerade. On
the stroke of the hour, Mrs. Rebson appeared with a telegram, which
proved to be from Anthony. He wired that Ferdy had accepted his
invitation, and was on his way to Gattlinsands.

“That’s all right,” said Clarice, putting the wire carefully away.

“What’s all right, deary?” asked Mrs. Rebson, who was smoothing her
nursling’s bed.

“Nanny, come here,” said the girl, and led Mrs. Rebson to a chair. “I
dare say you remember what you said about disgrace?”

“The Domestic Prophet,” replied Mrs. Rebson, smoothing her apron;
“yes, and disgrace will come, say what you like.”

“It will come, I fear.”

Mrs. Rebson clapped her gnarled old hands. “I’ve brought you to your
senses,” she cried, in her cracked voice, and with great triumph; “you
will never doubt the Domestic Prophet again.”

“Oh, no,” answered Clarice, artfully. “Disgrace is coming, I fear,
Nanny, and to Ferdy.”

Mrs. Rebson’s hands fell by her side, and she began to shake.
“Disgrace, and to my darling boy,” she whimpered. “Oh, Miss Clarice,
what is it? What have you been doing?”

“It’s not what I have been doing, but what I am about to do,” said
Miss Baird, resolutely. “Now, Nanny, if you want to save Ferdy from
disgrace, from imprisonment, and perhaps from worse, you must hold
your tongue about what I am going to tell you.”

“I swear it on the Bible,” whimpered Mrs. Rebson again. “Oh, my pretty
boy–my sweet darling!” She began to cry in a senile manner.

Clarice knew that she could trust the old woman to be silent, as her
affection for the unworthy Ferdy would have sealed her lips, even had
she been threatened with the gallows to open them. If Clarice wanted
to leave The Laurels secretly for her masquerade, and to return
without her absence being known, it was absolutely necessary that she
should trust the old woman. Therefore, she risked telling Mrs. Rebson
all that she knew, and again impressed upon her, at the end of the
confession, the absolute necessity–for Ferdy’s sake–of silence.

Mrs. Rebson wept all the time and cried out at intervals, and
exclaimed indignantly at Ferdy’s enemies, and altogether conducted
herself as a partisan of that shifty youth. “But I knew that the
Domestic Prophet could not lie,” cried Mrs. Rebson, “though I never
thought he meant my precious lamb. Oh, Miss Clarice, what is to be
done? They will hang and quarter my darling baby.”

“No, no, Nanny. I can save him,” said Clarice, soothingly.

“And you will–you will?”

“If you will consent to help me.”

“I would go to the scaffold for my Ferdy, sweetheart,” said Mrs.
Rebson, fervently, whereupon Clarice explained how she meant to
masquerade as her twin brother. Mrs. Rebson was startled, and
expostulated in alarm. “Oh, my deary, it’s a dreadful thing you would
do. What would the world say?”

“The world will never know, Nanny. That is why I want you to help me.
I am supposed to be ill with this cold, so I can be thought to be in
this room nursing it. While I am away don’t let anyone enter, but
attend to me as if I were really ill in bed. Everyone will think that,
I am indisposed.”

“When will you be back?” asked Mrs. Rebson, shaking and nervous.

“To-morrow some time. I can stop at some hotel in town.”

“Oh, Miss Clarice, a young lady without a chaperon.”

“I won’t be a young lady, but a young man,” said Clarice, impatiently,
and crossing the room to look into a Gladstone bag which she had
packed with masculine belongings.

“A young gentleman, seeing that you are to be Master Ferdy,” said Mrs.
Rebson, with dignity. Then she began to beat her hands on her old
knees. “Oh, dear, it is all very dreadful, and I don’t know what your
poor pa and ma would say. I don’t think I should allow it.”

Clarice forbore to tell Mrs. Rebson that she had no power to forbid,
since she was not now a nursery autocrat. But she wanted to set the
old woman entirely on her side so as to carry out her plans. “If you
think it would be better to let Ferdy get into trouble—-”

“No! no! oh, dear me, no, Miss Clarice! Anything but that. I’ll say
that you are ill in bed, and I shan’t allow anyone into the room. But
how will you get out of the house and away from the station without
being recognised?”

“I can dress as Ferdy, and slip out of the drawing-room window,”
explained Clarice, quietly, and getting a pair of scissors; “as to the
station, there will probably be a crowd there, and I can get unnoticed
into a carriage. Besides, everyone will take me to be Ferdy.”

“Not those who know you.”

“Oh, yes, I think so. I can imitate Ferdy exactly. I shall have to, if
I want to deceive Zara Dumps.”

“The hussy” said Mrs. Rebson, vigorously; then, with a cracked scream,
“Miss Clarice, what are you doing to your hair?”

“Cutting it off,” said Clarice, snipping vigorously. “I can’t expect
to masquerade successfully with a woman’s hair.”

“Oh, Miss Clarry, Miss Clarry, your lovely hair,” wept Mrs. Rebson,
and but that Ferdy’s life–as she thought–depended upon the
assumption of Ferdy’s personality, she would then and there have
refused to join in, what seemed to her, to be a mad, fantastic scheme.

“What’s the use of going on in this way?” asked Clarice, angrily.
“Perhaps I am acting foolishly, but it’s the only chance that I can
see of saving Ferdy from his enemies. Come, Nanny, cut my hair, and
trim it–not too short.”

Mrs. Rebson, with the tears streaming down her wrinkled face,
manipulated the scissors. “What will the captain say?”

“Nothing,” retorted Clarice, “when I tell him my reason. Anthony has
every confidence in me. I dare say he’ll be shocked, but I can’t help
that. There “–she surveyed her cropped head in the glass, and was
surprised to see how remarkably she resembled Ferdy–“no one will ever
guess that I am not my brother.”

“Ah!” said Mrs. Rebson, pointedly, “you may deceive a man, but you’ll
never get a woman to believe in you.”

“I’ll try, at all events,” said Clarice, thinking of Zara. “Come,
Nanny, help me to dress.”

Mrs. Rebson was not of much use, and she wept most of the time, so
Clarice set her to work to re-pack the Gladstone bag. In it was stowed
a tweed suit, since Clarice was rapidly assuming a spare evening dress
of Ferdy’s. Also he had left behind him, luckily, a fur-lined coat,
and Clarice had purchased in the High Street a silk hat, ostensibly
for her brother, but really for her masquerade. Ferdy was very
extravagant in the matter of clothes, and no doubt much of the
squandered two thousand pounds had gone on his wardrobe, so that the
girl was easily able to array herself in the evening purple and fine
linen of a young man about town.

When she was dressed–when the fur coat was on, when the silk hat was
worn, and when Clarice placed a cigarette in her mouth–even Mrs.
Rebson was startled, and stared, open-mouthed, at the change. “Oh,
deary, mercy me,” cried Mrs. Rebson, raising her hands, “I really
should take you for Master Ferdy, my dear.”

“Rippin’ old Nanny,” said Clarice, with so exact an imitation of her
brother’s voice that Mrs. Rebson jumped.

“It’s not right–it really ain’t right,” she blubbered. “You might be
my darling boy from the looks of you and the voice of you.”

“That’s as it should be. Now, Nanny, kiss me, and wish me God speed.”

“Never,” said Mrs. Rebson, energetically, “when you’re doing exactly
what Moses said you shouldn’t do, and wearing man’s clothes.”

“To save Ferdy, Nanny,” murmured Clarice, and, gained the kiss and the
blessing. Then, the servants being at their tea, she slipped down with
the Gladstone bag in her hand, and went out by the French window of
the drawing-room. Mrs. Rebson, at the bedroom window, saw her
disappear up the lane.

“It might be Master Ferdy himself,” said Mrs. Rebson, with a heavy
heart, and prepared to carry out her part of the deception.

There was, as Clarice had anticipated, a crowd at the station, as it
was market day in Crumel, and many sellers and buyers were leaving by
the 6.30 train. Slipping unnoticed through the crowd, she obtained her
ticket from a clerk too busy to glance up, and got into an empty
first-class smoking carriage. She did not like the atmosphere, as her
sense of smell was delicate, but it was necessary to keep up the
deception of manliness, and, moreover, in a smoker she was not likely
to meet with any local women friends, who might penetrate her
disguise. Also Clarice smoked herself a little, having first done so
out of bravado, because Anthony had laughed at her early attempt. She,
therefore, lighted a cigarette, and tried to feel herself a man. What
she did feel was undoubtedly a delightful sense of freedom, and
regretted again, as she had often regretted before, that she had not
been born with a beard. Nature had undoubtedly made a mistake in
creating Clarice a woman. Perhaps owing to the similarity of the
twin’s looks, she had confused the souls, and had given to Clarice the
body which was truly Ferdy’s.

In due time the young gentleman–Clarice felt herself to be truly a
young gentleman–arrived at Liverpool Street Station, and hailed a
cab. She told the man to drive to a quiet West End hotel, where Ferdy
sometimes stopped, when it was too late to return home to his quarters
in Dr. Jerce’s Harley Street house. Here Clarice was quite delighted
with the result of her masquerade. Everyone, including the landlord,
the barmaid, and the waiters, took her for Ferdy, and she was given
the dinner table at which Ferdy usually sat. And from the smirk of the
barmaid, who inquired if Mr. Baird would take a glass of sherry before
dinner, Clarice gathered some information as to Ferdy’s urban habits.

After Clarice had placed her bag in the bedroom–and only then did
it occur to her that she could have assumed her evening dress in
Town–she ordered a hansom, and drove to the Mascot Music Hall. It was
a magnificent, palatial structure, decorated and painted and gilded
like the Golden House of Nero. For the first time in her quiet life
Clarice found herself in such a place, and was astonished at the blaze
of light, the number of well-dressed people, the quantity of flowers,
and the numerous aids to pleasure which she beheld on every hand.
Also, she was surprised to see what a lot of liquor was drunk, and
wondered if it was necessary to keep up her assumed character by
ordering a whisky and soda. Although some acrobats were performing on
the splendid stage, it was yet early, and the house was not yet quite
full. Clarice was thus enabled to secure a very comfortable stall. As
the evening grew later, the seats on all sides of her were gradually
filled, but she found that the one next to her remained empty.

The performance was of the usual class, and showed little originality,
although it was entirely new to the girl, who had lived most of her
life in Crumel. Acrobats tumbled, thought-readers performed their
wonders, musical Americans played various instruments, and
interspersed their jangling with United States slang, delivered in
nasal voices, and various crack comedians sang the comic songs of the
day, which were–Clarice thought–but dreary productions. She enjoyed
the performance, however, as it was all new to her, but wondered what
Ferdy could find in the “turns” to come there night after night.
Perhaps “The Birth of the Butterfly” would be more artistic and
amusing, and it came on at nine o’clock. This was the especial moment
for which Clarice had waited all the evening.

Immediately before the curtain rose on the sketch, a little
overdressed woman came pushing along to the vacant seat beside Miss
Baird. She turned to see who it was, and to her dismay recognised Mrs.
Dumps. The little woman also recognised–as she thought–Clarice’s
brother, and exchanged greetings very affably.

“Though I’m not astonished to see you here, Mr. Ferdinand,” said Mrs.
Dumps, in her voluble way, “Zara says that you come nearly every night
to see her sketch.”

“Don’t you come yourself, Mrs. Dumps?” said Clarice, carefully
imitating her brother’s voice, and rejoiced to see that even keen-eyed
Mrs. Dumps did not know her.

“I don’t,” said Mrs. Dumps, screwing up her mouth. “I’ve been weeks in
London, but this is the first time I’ve been to see Zara play,
although she has begged me on her bended knees. But I was brought up a
Churchwoman, and I don’t hold with theatres, much less with ungodly
music-halls. Zara would go on the stage, being always bent on having
her own way, although I said I’d curse her if she did.”

“And did you?” asked Clarice, quietly, perfectly certain that her
disguise could not be penetrated.

“What would have been the good?” said Mrs. Dumps, crossly, “seeing
that Zara is my own daughter, and my only one, and not Dumps’ child
either, though she took his name. My first husband was her father, Mr.
Ferdinand, so when you marry her, you will have to take her as Sarah
Twine, that being the poor man’s name. Hush! here’s the piece
beginning. I do hope it’s respectable. Zara said it was, else I should
not have come. Oh, dear me,” wailed Mrs. Dumps, in an under tone, “how
dreadful it is to have my child and Twine’s appearing on the wicked,
wicked, bad, evil, shameless stage.”

Clarice would have liked to question Mrs. Dumps further about the
marriage, but that the curtain rose, and she had to pay attention to
the sketch. The scene represented, very picturesquely, a garden of
roses, and at the back was a Brobdignagian flower, upon which lay
stretched out a gigantic green worm. This was probably the Chrysalis,
which it had been Ferdy’s ambition to act. While the music thrilled
through the air, and the lights rapidly changed, the worm began to
writhe and to execute acrobatic feats. It twisted and turned on the
small space–comparatively speaking–of the flower, and finally
crawled across the stage, wriggling grotesquely. Mrs. Dumps was
annoyed.

“To think that a child of mine and Twine should make such an
exhibition of herself,” she said, indignantly.

“That is not Zara,” whispered Clarice, smiling; “she appears as the
Butterfly, you know.”

“Then all I can say is that she ain’t like the butterflies I’ve met
with,” said Mrs. Dumps, angrily, “me having chased them as a girl.”

“Wait till Zara appears,” was the reply of the charming, handsome
young gentleman, whom the landlady of the Savoy Hotel took to be Mr.
Ferdinand Baird, of The Laurels.

Mrs. Dumps sniffed aggressively, and sat very rigid, with the fullest
intention of giving her daughter a good talking to for daring to lower
the dignity of the Twine name. Meanwhile, the eyes of all were
watching the pretty picture on the stage. A wind swept through the
garden of flowers, and the blossoms withered under its blighting
breath. In one moment the radiant Paradise of Roses took on a wintry
aspect. Snow fell thickly, the trees shed their leaves, the sky turned
dark, and the ungainly green chrysalis shivered and wriggled in a
wonderful manner to the shrill blowing of flutes and trumpets in the
orchestra. It was so realistic that the audience could almost–as one
enthusiast declared–feel the cold.

Then came the mellow sound of flutes, and the delicate trilling of
stringed instruments. The roses began to bloom again, the sky regained
its brilliant blue, and the trees budded afresh, under the touch of
sudden spring. The green worm writhed its way to the gigantic rose,
and lay there exhausted and still, until the rising petals of the
flower concealed it from sight. Then came a pause, and afterwards,
with a triumphal burst of music, out of the closed rose sprang a light
and airy figure, with glittering, glorious butterfly wings,
scintillating and vast. Zara shot up to the flies like a rocket, and
then swooped gracefully down to the front of the stage. Supported in
her airy flights by invisible wires, she fluttered amongst the
blossoms like an immense jewelled insect, coquetting and caressing and
hovering marvellously on iridescent pinions. Over all played the
ever-changing limelights, so that the girl floated lightly as
thistle-down in the midst of a King-Opal of prismatic hues. Then she
dropped lightly on to the stage, and began a dreamy, sensuous dance,
which would have driven St. Anthony out of his senses. When the dance
was at its height, and Zara whirled fast and furious in the radiant
lights and colours, a dismal note sounded in the orchestra. The
butterfly paused, and shivered, as a cold wind bent the flowers, and
chilled them. Again the dance commenced, but this time it was slower.
The music grew sadder, the many flowers began to fade once more, and
finally the snow began to fall in feathery white flakes. Shortly the
garden was again strewn in ruins, and the poor Butterfly, frozen and
dying, sank weakly to the ground, while the snow piled a white mound
over its short-lived beauty. When the dancer was completely buried,
the curtain fell.

It rose again in answer to thunderous applause, and Zara appeared,
leading by the hand her fellow-artiste, who had so wonderfully
performed the Chrysalis. He had put aside his mask, and came to the
front of the stage, where he could be plainly seen. Clarice looked at
him indifferently, but when she glanced aside at Mrs. Dumps, she saw
that the little woman’s face was bloodless and pinched.

“Oh, Mr. Ferdinand,” gasped Mrs. Dumps, clutching her companion’s arm,
“that’s Osip–that’s the murderer!”