THE WHOLE TRUTH

Sir Daniel looked surprised when he heard Clarice’s remark, and
glanced from her to Ferdy. He saw that both brother and sister were
white and troubled, but, feeling absolutely safe, he never ascribed
their emotion to anything connected with himself. Advancing to the
fire, he warmed his hands, and smiled more blandly than ever. “I
should think you should know me by this time, Miss Baird,” he said,
cheerfully. “Wet weather, isn’t it?”

Clarice said nothing, and Ferdy evaded the eye of Jerce, while
Anthony, having put Jane out into the garden, returned and closed the
drawing-room door. Considering what was to be said, it was best, as he
thought, to keep the conversation as private as possible. The doctor
also noted that Ackworth looked stern and white. By this time, he
showed a slight uneasiness, as trouble was too palpably in the air for
him to ignore it. Perhaps some thought of betrayal crossed his mind,
for he suddenly looked apprehensively at young Baird. Ferdy dodged his
eye again, and the doctor, to break an oppressive silence, made an
uneasy joke.

“You are all very quiet,” said he, smiling in a wry way. “Is it
because I have forgotten my manners, and have not shaken hands? I ask
all your pardons, and will do so now, Miss Baird.”

“No,” said Clarice, putting her hands behind her back, “and I wonder
that you have the assurance even to speak to me.”

“Considering that you asked me down, that is a strange speech,” said
Jerce, frowning, and losing his suave looks. “I thought that you were
satisfied with my assurance that I never wrote that anonymous letter
of which you complained?”

“I know that you did not write it.”

“In that case, I shall be glad to know why you greet me in this way?”
said Jerce, in icy tones. “Is it that Captain Ackworth is angry with
me because I dared to love you?”

“No,” said Anthony, in his turn, “and to save you further surmises as
to what is the matter, allow me to inform you, Dr. Jerce–”

“Sir Daniel, if you please,” interrupted the other, his large face
becoming watchful and cunning; “give me my proper title.”

“I can do that,” said Clarice, who was restraining her wrath with
great difficulty, “you are a scoundrel.”

“Indeed,” said Jerce, blanching and wincing, but maintaining his
composure in a most wonderful manner, considering the provocation. “I
regret that you should call an old friend by so harsh a name.”

“An old friend who plotted the death of–”

“It’s a lie,” broke in Jerce, with a sudden flash of rage. “I never
intended Horran any harm.”

“By your own mouth you are condemned,” said Anthony, quickly. “Miss
Baird never mentioned names. Why should you think that she meant Mr.
Horran, I ask you?”

“Because Horran is dead, and death was mentioned,” said Jerce,
striving to extricate himself from the difficulty. “Perhaps you will
explain why I have been asked here to be insulted?”

“Would you rather that the police insulted you?” asked Anthony,
coldly.

“You speak in riddles, Captain Ackworth.”

“I think you can answer them, Sir Daniel.”

“I fear that I cannot,” rejoined Jerce, shrugging.

But with all his calmness, an air of fear pervaded his whole bearing,
and his cold eyes glanced uneasily from one person to another. “Will
you explain the meaning of all this, Ferdinand?” he said, addressing
himself to the one person in the room who had not yet spoken.

“I have explained,” said Ferdy, half afraid and half defiantly; “they
know everything.”

“Concerning what?” asked Jerce, wincing again, but still
self-controlled.

“Clarice and Anthony know the whole business,” cried the young man,
his voice loud and angry, as he strove to assert himself in the
presence of the man he so greatly feared. “I have told them how you
got the Purple Fern stamp, and how you tried to make me kill Uncle
Henry. There! You can say what you like now.”

Sir Daniel’s nostrils dilated, and his eyes grew hard. “You are
talking nonsense, I think,” he said, perfectly calmly.

“Nonsense!” stormed Ferdy, quailing under those stern eyes. “It is not
nonsense, and you know it. I have had quite enough of being bullied by
you, Jerce”–he did not pay him the compliment of a respectful use of
the great man’s title. “You have been my master too long. It is my
turn now. And who are you to dictate to me?–you, who lead a fast
life, who squander money, who play fast and loose with women of the
worst–”

“Stop!” cried Jerce, so loudly that the young man’s voice died away.
“Remember that your sister is present. My character is high enough to
need no denial to the charges you bring against it. The King does not
honour men such as you have described, with knighthoods.”

“Ah, you have always been clever enough to keep things dark,” said
Ferdy, bitterly. “But I overheard you talking to Barras. I know that
you were in league with him to cheat Uncle Henry out of our money, and
the forty thousand pounds went into–”

“You lie–you lie,” interrupted the doctor, losing his temper, and a
perspiration broke out on his high bald forehead. “You know that you
lie. You can’t prove a word you say.”

“Barras can, and Barras will.”

“Barras will not. Send for Barras now. I appear to you, Miss Baird. I
appeal to you, Captain Ackworth. My character is at stake. I demand
that you telegraph to London for Barras, that he may be confronted
with this young liar. I am not afraid to face the truth.”

The doctor spoke so bravely and so fiercely that for the moment
Anthony and Clarice wavered in their belief of Ferdy’s story. They
knew well that Ferdy was a supreme liar, and, on the face of it, Sir
Daniel Jerce’s character had always been above reproach. The doctor
saw that he had made an impression, and followed up his advantage,
swiftly and vehemently.

“That Ferdinand should accuse me is no surprise,” he went on, in a
ringing voice. “I have done so much for him, that it is natural he
should be ungrateful. I have always found that those I have helped
have been my worst enemies. Ferdinand is indebted to me for money, for
advice, for education, and for liberty.”

“For liberty?” echoed Clarice, drawing near to the speaker.

“Yes! That young whelp received a cheque from me for twenty pounds as
a loan. He altered the figures and the writing to two hundred pounds
with a cleverness which would have done credit to an accomplished
forger. I could have put him in gaol. But I forgave him, and this
ingratitude is my reward.”

“One moment, Ferdy,” said Clarice, checking her brother’s speech with
a gesture, “where is the forged cheque, Sir Daniel?”

Jerce was taken aback. “I gave it to Ferdinand,” he said, sullenly.

“You did, when you could have used it to stop his evil doings?”

“I wished to give him another chance of reforming,” protested Jerce.

“You liar!” shouted Ferdy, beside himself with rage. “You gave me the
cheque after I had stamped Uncle Henry’s dead body with the Purple
Fern according to your directions.”

“Yes,” said Jerce, rashly losing his self-control, “and after you had
murdered your guardian.”

“I did not! I did not!”

“On what grounds do you base this accusation, Jerce?” asked Ackworth.

“On the grounds that Felix Exton, the young man who died in Tea
Street, Whitechapel, gave me the stamp of the Purple Fern—-”

“You never said that before.”

“There was no need. I never said so, because Ferdinand stole the stamp
from me, and I thought that he might make use of it. Horran was angry
with him, and Ferdinand wished to get rid of him, thinking that he
would then come into the money. I base my accusation upon the fact
that the Purple Fern was stamped on my poor friend’s forehead, and
only Ferdinand, who possessed the stamp, could have done that. For
your sake, Miss Baird, I have held my peace, cruelly though you have
treated me; but now, when Ferdinand seeks to throw the blame of his
wickedness on me, I must speak out, to protect myself. If need be I
shall go to the police, and tell all that I know. I am not a man to be
defied with impunity.”

The clever turn which the doctor gave to Ferdy’s story startled
Clarice, as she saw how dangerous the man was, and to what lengths he
was prepared to go to save his own skin. “You had the gold box,” she
said, rather weakly.

“Pardon me. Osip dropped that when he searched me.”

“He denies that. He said that you had the box, for which he was
looking, and threw it away.”

“Osip says that–and how comes it that you have seen Osip?”

“I saw him by appointment at the Shah’s Rooms last night,” said
Clarice, boldly; “and there I also saw you and Mr. Barras.”

“What of that?” said Jerce, coolly. “I have a right to go to any place
I choose, I should hope. So you saw Osip, and you did not have him
arrested for the murder of your guardian.”

“You forget,” said Anthony, swiftly, “you have just accused Ferdinand
of that crime, Sir Daniel.”

“And I do still. Ferdinand is Osip’s accomplice. Both of them are
concerned in the matter. And I am accused falsely. There is no one can
prove that I am guilty in any way.”

A knock came to the door, and Mrs. Rebson made her appearance. “Will
you please to come out here, Miss?” she said, “there is a gentleman
wants to see you.”

Sir Daniel wriggled uneasily, and went a shade whiter. But he still
maintained his defiant attitude; while Clarice, wondering who had come
to visit her, and anticipating fresh trouble with a sinking heart,
went into the hall, closing the drawing-room door after her. Here she
found Mr. Clarke, looking more wild and wan than ever, and very much
agitated. On seeing her, he came up at once, while Mrs. Rebson
discreetly withdrew to her own room.

“Is it true that Sir Daniel Jerce is here?” asked Clarke, abruptly.

“Yes, I sent for him to clear up things. Why did you not come in?”

“I don’t wish to see Sir Daniel,” said Clarke, nervously; “he has
behaved very badly to me. He threatened to tell about something
connected with a–a–a–a relative,” ended Clarke, evasively.

Clarice knew as well as if he had spoken openly that the vicar
referred to his scapegoat son. However, it was not her aim to frighten
Clarke away by pretending to know too much, so she merely picked up
some newly arrived letters from the hall table, as she replied, “You
must come in and face Sir Daniel Jerce,” she said quietly; “We are
bringing him to book.”

“Bringing him to book. What do you mean?”

“Go in and you’ll hear,” said Clarice, and was about to usher the
vicar into the room, when she caught sight of the writing on one of
the letters. “Go in–go in,” she said, hurriedly. “I’ll follow
shortly.”

Rather perplexed, and not at all anxious to face Jerce, the vicar
approached the drawing-room door with hesitating steps. There he
glanced back, and saw Clarice hurriedly reading a letter, with a white
face and an agitated manner. For the moment, he was inclined to
return, but gathering his courage together, he boldly opened the door,
and saw Sir Daniel Jerce, facing Ferdy, defiantly.

“You can say what you like,” were the words which struck the parson’s
ear, “but you know that I am as innocent of Horran’s death as you are
guilty. You stabbed him, you—-”

“No!” cried Clarke, coming forward rapidly. “What do you mean, Sir
Daniel, by accusing this young man of such a crime?”

Jerce wheeled, and his eyes flashed when he beheld Clarke. The vicar
had quite thrown aside his nervous, hesitating manner, and with an
unflinching face he looked at the great doctor. Anthony, anticipating
some fresh revelation, rose from his seat, while Ferdy stared
open-mouthed at Prudence’s father. He had never seen the vicar look so
bold.

“I accuse him,” said Jerce, with a snarl, and keeping his hard eyes
firmly on the weak face of the parson, “because he is guilty.”

“Not of murder. I swear not of murder.”

“There, you see,” cried Ferdy, triumphantly. “I never killed Uncle
Henry.”

“You did!” said Jerce, fiercely. “I defy Clarke to contradict me.”

“I do contradict you.”

“Remember, Clarke, what I know, said Jerce, menacingly.

“Know,” said the vicar, despairingly, “yes, you know, and you have
made use of what you know to make me act unjustly towards Ferdinand. I
should have had him for a son-in-law but for you, and my poor girl
would have been happy. I held my peace, because you threatened to
expose my unhappy son’s guilt. But I shall do so no longer. I refuse
to stand by and see Ferdinand accused of murder.”

“Your own son is a murderer,” said Jerce, savagely.

“Ah,” said Anthony, significantly, “So you knew that.”

“He knew it, and he threatened me with it. He wanted to let all the
world know that Felix Exton was Frank Clarke,” cried the vicar, “and
I–for my daughter’s sake–held my peace.”

“About what?” asked Anthony, quickly.

“Take care, Clarke–take care,” said Jerce, despairingly.

“I take care no longer,” said the parson, fiercely; “I have told my
son’s shame here, and if necessary I shall tell it to all the world,
rather than let Ferdinand suffer unjustly. He did not murder Horran.”

“Then who did?” asked Clarice, entering swiftly, and standing with her
back to the door.

Clarke pointed to the doctor. “Sir Daniel Jerce.”

“You liar!” foamed the accused man.

“I saw you in your motor coming along by the common during my midnight
walk,” said Clarke, rapidly. “I saw you hide the motor in the woods. I
followed you secretly to the house. You entered by the window, and I
stole up to see you kill Horran with the assegai, which you tore from
the wall. You fled, and I ran after you. I caught you in the lane,
near the wood, and accused you. Then you told me that Frank was a
murderer–one of the Purple Fern gang–and swore to denounce him, dead
though he was, unless I held my peace. I did so–yes, God help me–I
did so, and concealed your wickedness to save the good name of my dead
son. While Osip was accused, I still held my peace, for another murder
set down to him mattered little. But now that you accuse Ferdinand, I
say boldly, and I will say it to the police, that you and none other
murdered Henry Horran.”

“It’s false,” gasped Jerce, quailing and shrinking, and looking
towards the window, as though anxious to escape.

“It is true. After I left you, I went back to the room—-”

“That was when I was under the bed,” said Ferdy, quickly.

“Were you? I did not know; but you are innocent, my poor boy. I
arranged the bedclothes, and then returned home. Zara Dumps accused
me and I said nothing, although I knew the truth. But there stands the
murderer,” he pointed to Jerce, who trembled; “go for the police.”

“No! No!” cried Sir Daniel, ghastly white. “Let me go. I promise to
destroy myself. Anything rather than public shame.”

“I’ll have you in gaol to-night,” said Ferdy, triumphantly.

“Take care!” snarled Jerce. “If I killed Horran, you stamped the fern
on the forehead of the dead. I’ll swear that you were my accomplice.”

“Clarice,” cried Ferdy, gasping with fear, “you hear.”

“I hear, and I know how to act,” said Clarice, calm and white.
“Anthony, have you pen and ink and paper? There they are,” she
indicated a rosewood desk in the corner of the drawing-room. “Sit down
and write what Sir Daniel says.”

“What would you do?” asked Ackworth, obeying her.

“I would save Ferdy.”

“And hang Jerce,” cried Ferdy, viciously.

“Hold your tongue,” cried his sister, harshly; “Sir Daniel,” she
added, turning towards the miserable doctor, “if you will confess your
crime, and sign the confession, you shall leave this house free.”

“No! No! No!” cried Anthony, from the desk, “you are wrong.”

“I am right,” insisted the girl; “with such a confession, we are safe.
Ferdy will say nothing, neither will Mr. Clarke.”

“I shall hold my tongue, so long as Ferdinand is not arrested for a
crime he never committed,” said the parson, “and so long as Frank’s
good name is saved. Frank was an evil man, but he was also my son.”

“Confess, then,” said Clarice to Jerce.

He wiped his brow and accepted the situation without argument. It was
impossible for him to face the direct evidence of Clarke. “I thank you
for the chance of escape,” he said to the girl, quietly, “and I
promise you that to-night I shall die. I will not live to run the risk
of being hanged. Write, Captain Ackworth, and I shall sign.”

Anthony dipped the pen into the ink, and waited. Ferdy sat down. Mr.
Clarke leaned against the wall, listening intently, and Clarice,
determined not to let Jerce go until the confession was signed, stood
with her back to the door. Sir Daniel cast a glance around, and,
composing himself with a mighty effort, which showed the strong nature
of the man, he began to speak quietly:

“I did murder Horran,” he said, slowly, “and for two reasons. One was
that I wished to learn the nature of the disease which he suffered
from, and that could only be made plain by a post-mortem examination.
The other, and more ignoble motive, was that I was in league with
Barras to get money out of him.”

“Then you had the forty thousand pounds?” inquired Clarice, quickly.

“And more,” answered the doctor, coolly. “I have a double nature–a
Jekyl and Hyde nature, as in Stevenson’s wonderful story. As Sir
Daniel Jerce, I have won my position by brain power and hard work, and
am a philanthropist and a reasonable man. But as Daniel Jerce, the
creature, I am devoured by passions, and am capable of lowering myself
to the level of the beasts. My life in Harley Street was, and is,
above reproach–but my other life—-”

“Oh!” cried Clarice, with sudden horror. “Ferdy has told us something
of that. Say no more–it’s too terrible.”

Jerce bowed. “You have been so kind, Miss Baird, that your wish is my
law,” he said, politely. “Well, then, for my secret life. I required
money. I made much, and spent it, and I wanted more. Horran, being
only your guardian and not having money of his own, was too honest to
help me. Barras came to me, years and years ago, to be cured of a
disease. I did cure him, and he was grateful. He lent me his own money
for a time, but I still wanted more. Then he lent me some that
belonged to the estate, when I was in difficulties, and he lent it out
of sheer gratitude to me. Don’t blame Barras, Miss Baird. He was as
good a man as was Henry Horran. But to make a long story short, from
the moment Barras tampered with the trust money, he was in my power,
and I threatened to tell Horran unless I received more.”

“Blackmail,” muttered Anthony, with disgust, and swiftly writing.

“Yes, I told you that the Jekyl side of my character was unpleasant,
Captain Ackworth. Well, then, Barras cooked the accounts—-”

“I thought so–I said so,” muttered Clarice.

“Then you are very clever,” said Jerce, calmly, “for Barras managed to
conceal things in a wonderful way. Of course, when Horran became ill,
and gave Barras a power of attorney, it was easier to deceive him. And
Barras also deceived you, Miss Baird, clever as you thought you were.
Your ignorance of business helped him.”

“I quite understand,” said Clarice, coldly; “a girl such as I am, was
unequal to such clever scoundrels. You got the money.”

“And I spent it,” said Jerce, coolly; “forty thousand pounds. Barras
gave me the money as it came in, and used some himself. He made up the
story about giving it to Horran in gold—-”

“So that we might be deceived,” interposed Miss Baird. “Well, we
were.”

“Oh, don’t blame yourself,” said Jerce, in a jeering manner; “Barras
would have cheated a much more clever person than you are, Miss Baird,
with the facilities at his command–Horran’s illness, the power of
attorney–no one to interfere, and all the rest of it.”

“Spare me more details, Sir Daniel. You got the forty thousand pounds
and spent it. Then you determined to kill Uncle Henry.”

“I did, because he was getting dangerous. Barras, according to
Horran’s wish, had given Clarke here one thousand pounds–but on his
own account he charged ten per cent. Clarke tried to see Horran, but
to keep back that fact I used my medical power as Horran’s physician
to prevent an interview.”

“But I did see him at length,” said the vicar, triumphantly.

“Yes,” snapped Jerce, “and so sealed Horran’s death warrant. Do you
remember on the day preceding the murder that I had an interview with
Horran?” he asked, turning to Clarice.

“Yes, and you said that Uncle Henry was angry with Ferdy.”

“He was angry with Barras, and declared that he would get the accounts
looked into by a clever City man. I knew that was fatal. Barras and I
could deceive Horran and you, but we couldn’t hope to deceive this
accountant who was mentioned. I then determined to prevent the
exposure by murdering Horran.”

“You villain!” cried Clarice, shuddering. “Your old friend.”

“He would have been my new enemy had he learned the truth about the
accounts,” said Jerce, cynically. “However, we must get on,” he looked
at his watch, “it is getting late. Well, then I went up to town,
having arranged with Ferdinand here, that he should kill Horran and
stamp his forehead with the Purple Fern. I need not tell you how I got
that, Miss Baird.”

“I know,” she replied, with horror. “But were you arranging a
deliberate murder with my brother, when Anthony and I saw you walking
to the station?”

“Yes. You were driving, I believe. Ferdinand agreed to kill—-”

“I did,” interrupted Ferdy, quickly, “but I intended to tell Uncle
Henry everything. I never intended murder.”

“So I thought,” said Jerce, with a shrug; “you are such a weak fool
that I fancied you would flinch at the last moment. That was why I
came down during the night. I pretended to go to Whitechapel, and did
not take my chauffeur, which was often the case. No suspicion was thus
aroused in Harley Street as to my destination. I motored down to
Crumel in a little over two hours, and acted in the way Clarke here
has told you.”

“But the murder?”

“I expected to find Horran dead,” said Jerce, “and yet, knowing what a
weak fool this boy is, I feared lest he should fail. I entered by the
window, which that ass of a Wentworth had ordered to be opened, as I
knew he would, and Horran raised himself in bed. He recognised me,
and, unable to explain my intrusion, I caught an assegai from the wall
and stabbed him to the heart. He cried out, but only feebly. Then I
ran away and Clarke caught me. I kept him quiet by saying that I would
tell about Frank. Afterwards, I motored back to town in another two
hours and a trifle more, and regained my house in safety.”

“Oh, you villain!” said Clarice again, striking her hands together.

“Next day, as you know, I came down and played my part in the comedy,
Miss Baird. I saw the mark of the Purple Fern, and Ferdinand here told
me how he had stamped the dead body. I gave him back my cheque, and so
acted honourably. So that is all, unless,” added Jerce, with
hesitation, “my love for you–my true and genuine love—-”

“Oh, no, no,” cried Clarice, with horror, and ran across to Anthony;
“have you got it written down? Then let that wretch sign it, and send
him out of the house.”

“But the police ought to be told,” said Ackworth, in a low voice.

“I say no,” cried Clarice, stamping her foot. “I will tell you why at
a later period. Sign, Sir Daniel, sign, and rid this house of your
wicked presence.”

Jerce looked at her gravely, then deliberately signed the paper on the
spot pointed out by Ackworth. Anthony and Clarke signed as witnesses,
and then the soldier handed the paper to Clarice, who thrust it into
her bosom. This having been done, she went to the window and opened
it. “Go!” she said to Sir Daniel.

“Surely, you will let me get my coat and hat,” he said, quietly, and,
with a last look at her, he went into the hall. Shortly he appeared at
the door again. “Good-bye for ever,” he said, in an unemotional voice.
“I’ll go this way–by the front door. And to-morrow you shall hear of
my death.”

“Unhappy man!” cried Clarke. “Do not add sin to sin—-” But Jerce was
gone. He went out of the house, and into the gathering darkness of the
night–but not to the merciful death he designed for himself. As he
passed through the gate, Jane limped after him quietly, not barking as
was her custom. She seemed to know that her time had come. And so
Jerce, all unknowingly, went to his doom.

Hardly had Sir Daniel Jerce disappeared, when Clarice dropped like a
log to the ground. The strain had been too much for her, and for the
second time in her life she fainted. Anthony hastily summoned Mrs.
Rebson, and the poor girl was taken up to her room. Then Captain
Ackworth left the house. Business must go on, in spite of all untoward
events, and he was forced to return to Gattlinsands and to his duties.
But before leaving he told Mrs. Rebson that he would come over the
next day, and then addressed himself to Ferdy. “You had better remain
in the house,” he said, coldly, “as it will be necessary for Clarice
and myself to arrange to-morrow about your future. You have escaped a
great danger, and everything must be made safe, for your sister’s
sake.”

“I can arrange my own future, thank you,” said Ferdy, haughtily.

“You will do exactly what you are told,” said Ackworth, stern and
unbending, “or else I shall inform the police.”

“You would not dare–for Clarice’s sake.”

“For her sake I would dare. You have made her life miserable for
years, and I won’t permit you to spoil it any longer. Also I wish to
avoid a public scandal. If Osip holds his tongue this may be done. But
my forbearance depends entirely upon your obeying orders.”

“But Clarry will rage at me all the evening,” whimpered Ferdy, now
very afraid for his skin. “Let me go to the Vicarage.”

“Yes,” interposed the vicar, “let him come with me and see Prudence.
Now there is no bar to the marriage.”

“What?” cried Ackworth, recoiling. “Would you have a scamp like this
for your son-in-law?”

“I’m not a scamp,” cried Ferdy, furiously.

Clarke raised his hand mildly. “My own son is worse than this
boy–that is, he was worse, seeing that he is dead. Frank was a
murderer, so who am I to blame Ferdinand for his wickedness? He is all
right if he is kept in the strait way, and Prudence shall do this.”

“Oh!” Anthony was too disgusted for words. “Would you force the girl
to marry him?”

“No. But he shall tell Prudence everything. The acceptance, or
refusal, shall rest with her.”

“You hear?” cried Ferdy, in triumph. “Other people are not so hard on
me as you and Clarry are. Can I go to the Vicarage?”

“Yes,” said Ackworth, seeing the hopelessness of bringing Ferdy to a
sense of his sins. “Go, and, for heaven’s sake, never let me see you
again. You are worse than a villain, Ferdy–you are a fool,” and he
walked out, wondering how a girl like Clarice ever came to have such a
blackguard for a brother. The next morning Clarice rose, feeling as
though a black cloud had been lifted from her life. Things were bad,
certainly, but they were not so bad as they had been. She dressed
herself with great care and ate a good breakfast in her room. Ferdy
had sent up to ask her to come down to the meal, but she felt that she
could not sit opposite to him again. Like Anthony, she wished to see
the last of Ferdy, even though he was her twin brother. When she was
getting ready to go downstairs and meet Ackworth, who was expected at
eleven o’clock, Mrs. Rebson rushed in.

“Oh, deary me–oh, deary me,” she cried, wringing her hands, “what bad
news, Miss Clarice–what dreadful news!”

“What is it now?” asked the girl, quietly. She had received so many
shocks that one more or less mattered little. “Has Ferdy—-?”

“He’s all right, miss–the darling boy. You have saved him, though
what you had to save him from I don’t know, and he won’t tell his own
dear Nanny.”

“Better not ask, Mrs. Rebson,” said Clarice, with a weary sigh. “But
your news–what is it?”

“That doctor and Jane.”

“Dr. Jerce?”

“Yes, lovey–Sir Daniel as was.”

“Oh I he is dead. I quite expected to hear that.” Mrs. Rebson stared.
“You expected to hear that Sir Daniel was torn in pieces by Jane?” she
asked, incredulously. “What!” Clarice could scarcely believe her ears.
“It’s true, miss. You know that Jane always hated Sir Daniel, though
why she did so—-”

“I know why,” said Clarice, thinking of the vivisection. “Go on.”

“Well, then, miss, Jane followed Sir Daniel when he went away last
night. The groom–Thomas–saw her. This morning he found her with her
jaws all over blood, footsore and weary, as though she had come a long
way. And she’s been stabbed in the side with a penknife, miss, as the
wounds–three of them–are so small.”

“Well? Well?” asked Clarice, impatiently, while Mrs. Rebson stopped
for sheer want of breath. “What has this to do with Sir Daniel?”

“What’s it got to do with him?” screeched the housekeeper, sitting
down. “Why, miss, news has just come by a couple of labourers that the
body of Sir Daniel has been found on Barnes Common, fifteen miles
away, with his throat tore out, and the poor man as dead as a herring.
It is thought that the dog did it, since she hated him, and the police
are coming in an hour to make enquiries.”

“It’s impossible,” said Clarice, hardly able to believe that Jane had
thus revenged herself on her enemy. “Sir Daniel went up to London by
the train.”

“No, miss, he didn’t, begging your pardon. Mrs. Dumps saw him at the
gate hesitating, and he really did walk towards the High Street, on
his way to the station, may be. But then he changed his mind and went
down the lane. She saw him pass, and Jane following him as good as
gold. No doubt he walked on to Barnes Common, and there Jane killed
him. Oh, ain’t it dreadful?” cried Mrs. Rebson, again wringing her
wrinkled hands. “The Domestic Prophet never said anything like that.”

Clarice did not reply. She wondered why Jerce had walked. He must have
seen the dog, who hated him, follow. But, perhaps, because Jane
limped–the doctor’s own work–he did not think that she was
dangerous. And it might be that Jerce intended to kill himself in the
open instead of in his Harley Street house. But, be this as it may,
Jerce was dead, and Jane had killed him. No doubt she had followed
persistently all that long way, and, having been left behind, Jerce
had sat down to rest. Clarice could picture the grim yellow-eyed dog
stealing up in the dark night to the unsuspecting man, seated on some
dripping bench on the Common. She could picture the silent spring, the
closing of those long, white teeth on Jerce’s fat throat. And then the
end, with the dead body lying on the soaking ground, and the dog
trailing home, weary but satisfied, with blood-stained jaws. Truly,
Jerce had not escaped punishment after all, and the gods had brought
home his crime to him in a terrible way.

“Master Ferdy wants to see you, deary,” said Mrs. Rebson, after she
had expressed her conviction that Jane would be shot, and had
mentioned twice her wonder that a limping dog should have caught up
with a smart walker. “I am coming down now,” said the girl, quietly,
and leaving Mrs. Rebson to shake her head over the wickedness of Jane,
she went into the breakfast-room, where Ferdy was impatiently waiting
for her. “Clarry, have you heard the news?” he asked, shaking a
newspaper. “Don’t call me that,” said Clarice, coldly. “I have done
with you, Ferdinand. You are not worthy to be my brother.”

“Don’t go on like that, Clarice,” said the young man, struck to the
heart by the stiff way in which she addressed him. “I’m in such
trouble. That Osip will tell the police about my having the stamp, and
then I’ll be arrested.”

“You deserve the worst that can befall you, Ferdinand. But Osip—-”

“He’s arrested, and Barras is dead.”

Clarice sat down. How many more tragedies was she to hear of? Ferdy
pointed out a sensational heading in the “Daily Planet.” “See
Jerce–have you heard, Clarry?–has been killed by Jane, and now Osip
has killed Barras. Their crimes have come home to them.”

“And your crimes ought to come home to you,” cried Clarice, feeling
sick with Ferdy’s egotism. “You are–you are–but I can’t say what you
are. Your wickedness and weakness are beyond the power of language to
express. How did Osip kill Mr. Barras?”

Ferdy grew sulky, and apparently regarded himself as a very ill-used
person. “Osip went to Barras’ office yesterday to get money out of
him, and Barras kicked at the idea. Osip then murdered him, and rifled
the safe with keys taken from Barras’ pocket. He stamped the Purple
Fern on Barras’ forehead, and was cutting with the money, when someone
came into the room. The alarm was given, and Osip fled down the street
with everyone after him. A policeman caught him, and now he is in
gaol. And I dare say he’ll give me away,” lamented Ferdy, selfishly.
“So hard on me, just when everything is settled nicely. Prudence has
promised to marry me and–”

“Prudence?” cried Clarice, starting to her feet, and throwing down the
“Daily Planet” which she was reading. “Does she know what you are?”

“Yes,” said Ferdy, sulkily, “and she knows that I am not a bad sort
either. Her brother was a murderer, so she says that I’m not so bad as
he was; and Mr. Clarke thinks the same. But we don’t want to stop in
Crumel after we are married. Mr. Clarke says he will come with us to
Australia. I think I shall like that,” ended Ferdy, musingly. “I hear
it’s a ripping climate.”

Clarice looked at him helplessly. It seemed impossible to do anything
with this blind fool. However, she made an attempt to frighten him.

“I suppose you forget that you may be arrested if Osip speaks?”

“Oh, Clarry, you must stop that,” said Ferdy, imploringly. “I know I’m
not so good as I might be; but there are worse than I am–Jerce, for
instance. Look what a bad—-”

“Oh, be silent,” said Clarice, in sheer despair, “and listen. You are
in no danger of arrest. Do you know why I allowed Sir Daniel Jerce to
leave yesterday after he had signed the confession?”

“No, but I’m glad you did, as if he had been arrested he might have
turned nasty.”

“Quite so. Well, then, I received a letter when I went to meet Mr.
Clarke in the hall. It was from Osip. He said that because I had been
so brave in trying to save you by meeting him at the Shah’s Rooms, and
because I had not told the police about him, that he would acknowledge
that he was guilty of Uncle Henry’s death.”

“No,” said Ferdy, delighted. “What a good chap. But why—-”

“Ugh!” said his sister, her teeth on edge with Ferdy’s joy. “Osip can
easily take a fifth murder on his conscience, since he will certainly
be hanged for the other four. You can make yourself easy, Ferdinand;
Osip will plead guilty to Jerce’s crime, and as the police and the
public already believe in his guilt, no enquiries will be made. Sir
Daniel Jerce’s wickedness will never be discovered, nor–as I will not
move in the matter–will the defalcations of Mr. Barras come to light.
The world will say that two good men are gone, and Osip will be
hanged, while poor Jane will be shot for having killed a villain who
thoroughly deserved his doom.”

So Clarice spoke, and after-events proved that she was a true
prophetess. Jane was shot, Osip was hanged, keeping silence to the
end, out of some odd admiration for her bravery in facing him, and the
notices about Jerce and Barras were all that could be desired in the
way of praising their good deeds and wonderful lives and amiable
dispositions. There was something ironical about the whole business,
and not the least ironical part was that Ferdy should be happy, when
he deserved punishment.

There was only one danger, namely, that Zara Dumps, sooner than lose
Ferdy, might reveal what she knew, and thus re-open the business. But
when Anthony came an hour later to see Clarice, he found her alone,
and was enabled to set her mind at rest on this point.

“I am late,” explained Anthony, when the two were seated on the old
familiar sofa, “because I have been seeing Mrs. Dumps and her
daughter.”

“Is Zara in Crumel?”

“Yes. She came yesterday, as she is not acting just now. A new man to
play the part of the Chrysalis has to be obtained, and Zara finds some
difficulty in getting the person she wants. I have explained to her
that she and her mother must hold their tongues unless Zara wants to
get into trouble.”

“In what way?” asked Clarice, quickly.

“Can you see? Zara could get into trouble for not having given the
alarm when she saw Ferdy–as she thought–kill Horran. Then, again,
the mere fact that Osip was in Zara’s company is suspicious. I have
made it clear that Ferdy is innocent, and that Jerce was guilty, and
that now the doctor and Barras are dead, and Osip is arrested, the
best thing will be for Zara to give up Ferdy and hold her tongue for
her own sake and for her mother’s.”

“And what does she say?”

“She has agreed, and so has Mrs. Dumps. They will neither of them say
a single word.”

“But Mrs. Dumps has such a long tongue.”

“About other people’s affairs, but about her own she can be silent
enough. You need have no fear, Clarice. The Purple Fern murders are at
an end with the death of Barras.”

“But it is strange, dearest, that Osip should act in this way towards
me,” said Clarice, who had explained the letter. Anthony agreed. “I
can’t understand the man’s nature,” he said, “except that we are told
that everything evil has some good in it. I suppose he was touched by
your devotion to Ferdy.”

“I suppose he was,” said Clarice, wearily. “But now, Anthony, you must
see the new lawyer”–she gave him the name–“and arrange everything
for me. Send Ferdy to Australia with Prudence. I never wish to see him
again. I am so sick and tired, and ill–oh”–she put her arms round
his neck, and placed her cheek against his–“I am ill–I am very, very
ill.”

And she was. Anthony had to carry her to her room, and there she lay
for three weeks between life and death. Wentworth said that she had
narrowly escaped an attack of brain fever. But the devotion of Mrs.
Rebson brought her successfully back to health. Yet for weeks she was
still weak, although out of danger, and Anthony would not allow her to
talk of the past. She never asked for Ferdy, although the brother she
had been devoted to never put in an appearance. Ackworth saw the new
lawyer and arranged the affairs of the estate, and made all provisions
for his marriage.

Six months later they were married very quietly in the parish church
of Anthony’s native town, and went for the honeymoon to Switzerland.
There, one day, while sitting on the mountains above Les Avants,
watching the grey peak of Jaman soaring into the cloudless summer sky,
Clarice heard all that her husband knew about the conclusion of the
troubles which had begun with the death of Horran.

“Ferdy is in Australia, as you know, darling,” Said the lover-husband,
“and is married to Prudence. Mr. Clarke writes me that Ferdy is
behaving very well, and is studying for a doctor. Mr. Clarke himself
has got a church up the country in Victoria. I think everything is
right there.”

“He is getting the five hundred a year, as you arranged, my dear. When
he is twenty-five, of course, he will get the two thousand, and let us
hope he will be more sensible.”

“I hope so,” sighed Mrs. Ackworth, “but Ferdy is a most extraordinary
character. He never seems to think that he is in the wrong.”

“Well, a wife like Prudence will keep him straight. Then Osip, as you
know, is dead–”

“No! no!”–Clarice clung to her husband–“don’t talk of such things in
this place, Anthony. I never wish to hear the man’s name again.”

“I won’t mention it,” said Anthony, gravely. “But for your peace of
mind, dear, I may tell you that he held his tongue to the last.
Everyone thinks that Osip killed Horran, as he killed Barras, and
Jerce is looked upon as a martyr. Would you like me to read his
obituary notices? I kept them.”

“No! I don’t wish to hear. But there are two things I should like to
know,” added Clarice, thoughtfully. “Firstly, how you fancied that you
saw Uncle Henry at the Shah’s Rooms?”

“Oh! Ferdy informed me that Barras masqueraded as his client, so as to
deceive people into thinking that Mr. Horran was spending the money,
and that his illness was a blind for profligacy.”

“What a wretch Mr. Barras was!”

“Well, he is dead, so we’ll forgive him.”

“Now,” said Clarice, “secondly? How did Zara know that the stamp was
hidden in Ferdy’s bedroom?”

“She made him tell her where he had put it,” replied Anthony; “you
know how weak Ferdy was.”

Clarice sighed: “It is weak people who usually get into trouble,” she
said, “and know no escape. Has Zara held her tongue?

“Yes, and they say–the Press says, I mean–that she is going to marry
a wealthy American. For her own sake she will be silent. I don’t think
we need worry any more about that past.”

“I am glad of that, Anthony. It is more pleasant to look forward to a
bright and quiet future. But I still worry about Ferdy. After all, he
is my twin brother, you know.”

“Don’t trouble about him, sweetest. He is not worth it, and you may be
sure that he never gives you a thought.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Ackworth, gravely, “I don’t know that I mind. I have
you, and you are my world. But there’s only one thing, Anthony–I’ll
never wear purple, however fashionable it may become.”

Ackworth laughed at this truly feminine speech. “And you will never
look at this again?” he said, teasingly, picking a fern.

“Ugh!” said Clarice, and, catching it from his hand, she flung it down
on the sunny grass. “There–the past is gone with that.”

“The Purple Fern has gone with the green fern,” said Anthony. “Well,
let it go, darling heart. You and I are together—-”

“For ever and ever and ever,” said Clarice, nestling in his arms.

“Amen,” breathed the husband, piously, and truly meant it.