TWINS

THE train to Crumel was late. Due at four o’clock, it failed to reach
its destination, until ten minutes past the hour. This was not the
fault of the branch-line authorities. The London express had been
behind time at Werry Junction, whereby the local had been forced to
wait. The delay mattered little to the majority of the passengers, as
time in the wilds of Essex is of less value than a similar commodity
in the metropolis. But Dr. Jerce, being a famous urban physician, felt
annoyed, as he had come down hurriedly, in this unpleasant weather, to
see a patient, and wished to be back in Harley Street by nine o’clock.
Also Dr. Jerce was Napoleonic in his love for precision, and the
failure of the Company to obey the time-table irritated his usually
bland temper.

Jerce was not unlike the great Corsican in looks,–that is, he was
short and stout, calm in his manner and impenetrable in expression.
His clean-shaven face, classical in outline, save that the jaw was of
the bull-dog order, did not betray his present feelings of
exasperation at the pin-prick of delay. When the belated local finally
steamed leisurely into the terminus, he buttoned his sable-lined coat,
adjusted his shining silk hat, and dusted unnecessarily his smart
patent leather boots, so unsuitable to the season. Finally, with the
same imperturbable air, he collected the Christmas magazines he had
been reading on the way down, and stepped on to the thronged platform.
A man in a grey coat, grey gloves, grey trousers, and a grey Homburg
hat, leaped from the adjoining carriage, and followed closely at the
heels of the popular physician. Jerce did not turn his head, as no
sixth sense told him that he was being watched.

It wanted only a week to Christmas, and the weather was quite of the
traditional Dickens kind. Deep snow almost overwhelmed the quaint
little Essex town, and this, hardened by many nights of frost,
sparkled like jewels in the clear radiance of street-lamps and
shop-lights. The short winter’s day drew to a bitterly cold close, and
although the pedestrians, crowding the narrow, twisted streets, were,
for the most part, warmly clad, many of the more sensitive shivered in
the cutting east wind. But Jerce, having a sufficiency of flesh to
cover his bones, and a fur-lined overcoat to protect that same flesh,
stepped out briskly and comfortably, without regard to the chills of
the season. The man in grey followed him at a respectful distance,
keenly observant.

The shops, already decked for Yule-tide, looked unusually lavish with
their blaze of lights, their mistletoe, and red-berried holly
branches, and their extra display of Santa Claus presents and
Christmas provisions. But the doctor did not look at the glittering
windows, nor did the man in grey. Jerce, who appeared to be well
known, nodded smilingly, right and left, to respectful townspeople,
and his follower took note of this popularity. Finally, the physician
turned down a somewhat dark side-lane–for it was not yet an official
street–and entered an iron gate on the left-hand side, some distance
down. This admitted him into the grounds of a large, square Georgian
mansion of mellow red brick, covered with ivy and snow, and looking
like a house with a history. The watcher was compelled to remain
outside the high iron railings, as he was unable to give any plausible
reason for entering. When Jerce rang the bell and finally disappeared
inside the mansion, the grey man muttered an impatient word or two,
and resigned himself to sauntering up and down the lane, until such
time as the doctor should emerge.

But the air was nipping, while the man in grey was thin and thinly
clothed. Shortly he began to shiver and turn blue. Glancing down the
semi-lane, where it led into the truly rural country, he noticed the
brilliant lights of an ambitious inn. Measuring with his eye the
distance from the Georgian mansion to this hostel, the man in grey saw
that he could shelter therein, and yet keep an eye on the gate, out of
which the doctor presumably would come. The opportunity was too
tempting. Crossing the road, he entered the bar, which looked warm and
cheery. Jerce would scarcely return to London for an hour or so,
therefore the watcher thought that, with an occasional glance out of
the bar-room door, he could very well keep guard over the doctor’s
comings and goings. But the first thing he did, when inside, was to
demand a Bradshaw.

“Lor’ now,” prattled the lady behind the counter, in a thin mincing
voice, the very ghost of speech and with restless volubility, “if I
didn’t see it only an hour ago. Yes, I did, say what you like. Mr.
Ferdinand,–though to be sure you don’t know him,–but Mr. Ferdinand
came in for a Scotch and Polly, and asked to look up the London trains
for this evening. He had that Bradshaw in the private bar, if I
remember, which I can’t be certain. Through that door, sir, if you
please. I’m sure I’ll be able to oblige, though I can’t be positive.”

When this incoherent speech terminated, the thin stranger passed
through a narrow door in a partition, plastered with gaudy almanacks
and sober advertisement sheets, to enter a small cupboard cut off from
the bar by the aforesaid partition. It contained two deal chairs, a
deal table covered with a red cloth and strewn with newspapers and
guide books, and nothing else. Dimly lighted by a smelling swing lamp
dangling over the table, and better illuminated by a bright fire, it
looked comfortable enough, when contrasted with the snowy world
outside. The lady who talked so much, suddenly appeared from somewhere
like a jack-in-the-box, and after turning up the lamp, poked the fire
vigorously and unnecessarily, chattering all the time.

“You see, sir, only the gentry come to this private bar,” she said, in
her high-pitched voice, and taking stock of the stranger all the time,
“and there’s no gentry hereabouts to-night. Mr. Ferdinand,–but you
don’t know him, of course, but Mr. Ferdinand, and a pleasant young
gentleman he is, was the last to look at that Bradshaw. Oh, yes, you
were asking for it, sir,–of course, you were, though where it can be,
I can’t say, happy as I’d be to oblige you. But the table is so very
untidy, sir,–” making it worse by tossing about papers and books and
pamphlets,–“people won’t leave things where they ought to, and this
Bradshaw, which is a new one,–oh, here you are, sir. You’ll be sure
to find the train you want, or perhaps the local time-table,” she
snatched up a pink sheet, “which is published as an advertisement by
my uncle, who keeps the baker’s shop on the left hand side of our High
Street, going towards the station. Oh, you prefer Bradshaw, sir. Well,
sir, some likes this and some that, but I never, never could
understand Bradshaw myself, my head for figures not being like my
brother, who is truly wonderful, and quite a phenomenon. Figures is
child’s bricks to him, and–oh, there’s someone asking for beer.
You’ll excuse me, sir, won’t you,” with a winning smile. “I’ll attend
to this customer and return, when I set Lydia to watch the others.”

With these highly unnecessary remarks to a wearied listener, the brisk
landlady, who was thin and small, tight-laced, and highly-coloured,
disappeared as suddenly as she had presented herself, and was heard a
moment later exchanging interminable greetings with the last person
who had entered to toast the Season. The man in grey shrugged his lean
shoulders and breathed a sigh of relief, when Mrs. Talkative departed.
Shortly he nodded contentedly over the Bradshaw. The next London train
did not leave Crumel until seven o’clock, so if Dr. Jerce intended to
go to town on this night, he would have to be at the station at that
hour. Of course, there was a chance that the doctor might remain, but
the grey man did not think that this was likely, as he had observed
the absence of a bag. Still, it was as well to provide against
emergencies, and, when the landlady returned, the stranger asked a
question in a deep, grave voice, which suggested, in some uncanny way,
cemeteries and funerals.

“I may have to remain here to-night,” said he, surveying the
brightly-dressed, would-be fashionable lady, “can I have a bed,
please?”

With all her frivolous exterior, the little woman had a head for
business, and first glanced round the room to see if the visitor had
brought a bag. He guessed the meaning of her hesitation.

“I shall pay for a bed and for two meals in advance,” he remarked,
solemnly, “that is, if I find it necessary to remain, Miss–Miss–”

“There, now,” giggled the hotel fairy, pleasantly confused, “if I
ain’t always saying to Lydia–who is the housemaid–that strangers
will call me Miss, though I should look married, having heard the
wedding service three times, and the funeral words as often. My last
name was Dumps, if you please, sir,–John Dumps, and a dear man he
was, though not extraordinarily handsome. He left me this hotel–the
Savoy Hotel,” added the landlady, with emphasis, “and you can call me
Mrs. Dumps.”

The grave man listened impassively, with his keen eyes on the airy
female, so gorgeously arrayed. He might have been of bronze for all
the impression this speech seemed to make. Yet it conveyed to him the
idea that Mrs. Dumps was a confirmed gossip, and sufficiently free
with her tongue to tell him everything he wished to know concerning
Crumel and its inhabitants. Making a mental note of this, the grey man
reverted to his first statement. “I shall pay in advance, Mrs. Dumps,”
he remarked, “and the price.”

“Seven shillings for supper and bed and breakfast. I can’t say fairer
than that, look as you like, Mr.–Mr.–lor, now, I don’t know your–”

“Osip is my name,” interrupted the man, and tendered two halfcrowns
and a single florin.

Mrs. Dumps’ claw-like fingers closed on the money in a way which
suggested the miser. “Osip. Really! Osip! A strange name, Osip.”

“I am a strange man,” replied the other curtly, “would you mind
getting me a glass of ginger beer, Mrs. Dumps?”

“Oh, Mr. Osip, really, Mr. Osip. Surely, port or whiskey at Christmas,
let alone the freezing weather, and the frost causing thirst.”

“I never drink alcohol, Mrs. Dumps.”

“Lor now,” said the landlady, confidentially, “if you aren’t exactly
like me on the mother’s side, as I come of a full-blooded family given
to choking and apoplexy. I don’t believe in strong drink myself, Mr.
Osip, say what you like.”

“Then why sell it?” was the not unnatural question.

“I must live,” said Mrs. Dumps, plaintively; then to avoid further
remarks, she hopped into the bar like a wren, although her plumage was
less sober. Presently she returned with the ginger beer. “And won’t
you take something to eat, Mr. Osip?” she asked, with her fashionable
head on one side, more like a bird than ever.

“No, thank you,” Osip paused, then faced her abruptly. “I am a
stranger in Crumel and I think of taking a house here. Do you know of
any to let, Mrs. Dumps?”

“My cousin does, Mr. Osip. Arthur Grinder, Grocer and Land-agent, with
an insurance office and a dog-cart, in which he drives round our
beautiful and interesting country. All orders—-”

Osip cut Mrs. Dumps short in her description, which was evidently
culled from the local guide-book, or from one of Mr. Grinder’s
pamphlets. “I shall see him to-morrow, if I stay,” said he, hurriedly.

“But, surely, Mr. Osip, you’ll stay, seeing you have paid?”

“Circumstances may arise which may make it necessary for me to return
to London to-night. But I can afford the loss.”

This speech made the landlady sweeter than ever. Apparently the
stranger was rich, so she prepared to make herself aggressively
agreeable. “If you become one of us,” chirped Mrs. Dumps, more like a
roguish bird than ever. “I dare say you’ll like to know about the
town.”

Osip sat down near the fire and folded his arms.

“Information of that kind has its advantages,” he said, dryly, “can
you tell me anything about Crumel and its inhabitants?”

“Can I tell?” echoed Mrs. Dumps, shrilly contemptuous, “why, I was
born and bred here. It is thirty years since I saw the light of day in
dear Crumel. Thirty years,” repeated Mrs. Dumps, challenging
contradiction, which she seemed to expect with regard to her age. Osip
might have suggested with some truth that she was over forty, but he
did not judge it wise to interrupt the flowing current of her gossip.
Nodding gravely he looked into the fire and Mrs. Dumps talked on
rapidly, reverting again to the guide-book or to the pamphlet of Mr.
Grinder, who was her cousin.

“Crumel,” explained Mrs. Dumps, breathlessly, “has three thousand
inhabitants, more or less, chiefly less, and the surrounding country
is dotted with the delightful residence of well-to-do gentry. Formerly
the place was called Legby, in the time of Charles the First; but when
General Cromwell visited the then village, during one of his wars, the
prosperity increased so greatly through his having made it his
headquarters, that the inhabitants, in compliment to the great man,
called the then village, Cromwell, which by time has become corrupted
to Crumel.”

“Very interesting,” yawned Osip, visibly bored.

“The minster is tenth century, and very fine,” continued the
guide-book, “and also Low Church, the vicar being the Rev. Nehemiah
Clarke, who is quite a Puritan, out of compliment, no doubt, to
Cromwell, or Crumel, to whom the town, formerly the village of Legby,
owes its greatness. And they do say,” continued Mrs. Dumps, dropping
the guide-book, to become merely a gossip, “that Mr. Clarke’s
daughter, Miss Prudence,–did you ever hear such a name, sir, and she
isn’t a bit prudent, well, then, Miss Prudence would rather her pa was
High Church. I dare say Mr. Ferdinand, who loves Miss Prudence, would
like it also, he being quite artistic.”

“You have mentioned Mr. Ferdinand several times, Mrs. Dumps. Who is
he?”

“An orphan, and so is his sister, Miss Clarice Baird,–wealthy
orphans, too, Mr. Osip, I assure you,” and Mrs. Dumps nodded
vigorously.

Osip showed that he was becoming weary of this conversation, since he
was not gathering precisely the information he required. Abruptly he
changed the subject. “In this lane—-”

“Street,” interpolated Mrs. Dumps, indignantly.

“Very good: street. And nearly opposite to this inn—-”

“Hotel, if you please, Mr. Osip. The Savoy Hotel.”

“So be it, Mrs. Dumps. Well, then, in this street and nearly opposite
to the Savoy Hotel, there is a red brick mansion, which I should like
to purchase, if it is for sale.”

“Lor, now, how funny that is, say what you like, seeing it’s the very
house where the Baird orphans live.”

“Alone, Mrs. Dumps?”

“Oh, dear me, no, sir. They board, so to speak, with their guardian,
Mr. Henry Horran, who suffers from some disease the doctors can’t put
a name to. He’s been ailing, off and on, for over ten years; but the
doctors can’t cure him nohow, not knowin’ what’s wrong with his
inside. Mr. Ferdinand ought to find out, seeing he’s lived with Mr.
Horran all his life, though to be sure, he ain’t old, being but three
and twenty.”

“Mr. Ferdinand Baird is not a doctor, then?”

“He will be some day, if his brains hold out. He’s a medical student,
and what you might call an apprentice to Dr. Jerce.”

“Ha!” said Osip, quickly, “your local doctor?”

“Lor, no, whatever made you think that, Mr. Osip. Dr. Wentworth’s our
local, and he isn’t bad, though I know more about insides than he
does. But what can you expect, as I always say, when he’s unmarried,
and can’t understand ladies? Why, Sampson Tait can cure better than
our Dr. Wentworth.”

“Sampson Tait?”

“Our chemist,” explained Mrs. Dumps, “my second cousin on my father’s
side.”

“You seem to have endless relatives, Mrs. Dumps.”

“Heaps and heaps, and they’re always dying, which makes mourning come
expensive. But I’m lonely, all the same, Mr. Osip, I do assure you, as
no one can live lightheartedly, after burying three husbands. Of
course, there’s my daughter Zara, but she’s in London. Her pa had her
christened Sarah, but Zara to my mind is more romantic.”

“Undoubtedly. Well, then, this Dr. Jerce?”

“Not to know him,” interrupted Mrs. Dumps, throwing up her hands, “is
to argue yourself unknown. He’s famous in Harley Street, London, and
they do say that he’ll be knighted some day soon. A great day for
Crumel that will be, as he’s a native, and we’re proud of him, not
that it’s to be wondered at, for a better man never lived.”

“A better doctor?” said Osip, inquiringly.

“A better man,” reiterated Mrs. Dumps, firmly. “He’s kind to the poor,
and lavish with money, and why, with such a loving heart, as I know he
has, he never will marry, beats me hollow. But they do say as he loves
Miss Clarice, though he’ll never get her, say what you like, she being
engaged, I do hear, to a soldier officer, called Captain Anthony
Ackworth, who fires guns at Gattlinsands, five miles away on the
seashore.”

“Oh, and is Miss Baird rich?”

“She will be and so will her brother, when they and reach the age of
five and twenty, being twins, though she’s got the brains of the two.
Mr. Horran is the guardian, and looks after the money, but since he’s
ill–and Lord knows what his illness is about–I dare say Dr. Jerce
helps him to see that things are kept straight. The Bairds were a
Scotch family in the time of James the First,” added Mrs. Dumps,
becoming again like a guide-book, “and that Stuart king gave them
lands about Crumel, then the village of Legby. The old Manor-House is
three miles from Crumel, and is let to a rich American, until the
Baird orphans prefer to live in it; they meanwhile dwelling with Mr.
Horran, who is their guardian by law constituted. That is Miss
Clarice,–bless her–lives with Mr. Horran, but Mr. Ferdinand is
usually in town, where he boards with Dr. Jerce, who is like a father
to him, and I dare say would like to be a brother-in-law, not that
he’s likely to be so, with Captain Ackworth in the way.”

“Does Dr. Jerce come down often?”

“Once a week at least, Mr. Osip, to see Mr. Horran. He’s interested no
end in the case, but he don’t know what’s wrong with the man.”

“And Dr. Jerce is a good fellow,” said Osip, thoughtfully.

“One of the very best. But won’t you drink up your ginger beer, sir,
and partake of some more? We must rejoice at Christmas time.”

“I’ll rejoice when I return,” said Osip; then rose unexpectedly, and
buttoned up his threadbare overcoat. “Meanwhile, I’ll stroll through
the town and inspect the shops.”

“Be sure you look into the butcher’s window,” screamed Mrs. Dumps, as
he passed out, “he being my nephew by his mother’s side.”

Osip made no reply, but vanished into the night, as Mrs. Dumps
fluttered back to the bar, to charm fresh customers. A clouded sky
revealed neither moon nor stars, but the hard snow emitted a kind of
sepulchral radiance, which created a luminous atmosphere. By an odd
inversion the light seemed to come from below, instead of being shed
from above, as usual, and the effect was weird in the extreme.

Walking towards the red-brick mansion, Osip pondered over what he had
heard from the chattering landlady, and congratulated himself on
securing information, while not appearing to seek for the same.
Opposite the Georgian mansion, he halted for a few seconds, and, as
there appeared to be no one about, he made up his mind to venture into
the grounds. Noiselessly opening the gate, he skirted the leafless
hedge, and reached the side of the house. Here he found two French
windows, giving on to a miniature terrace. The blinds were not down,
nor were the curtains drawn, so the lamp-light poured forth across the
snow in a gleaming stream. Osip cautiously peered in, and beheld Jerce
talking to a pretty young girl, whom he took to be Clarice Baird.
Without hesitation, he pressed his ear against the wall, and listened
with all his ears.

“I am extremely puzzled,” said Dr. Jerce, scratching his plump chin
with his right fore-finger–a favourite gesture of his.

“Oh!–a clever man like you.”

“Ah-a,–what pleasant feminine flattery.”

“The truth. You are celebrated.”

“Humph! So is a charlatan, if he advertises himself sufficiently.”

“Charlatans don’t cure people as you do, doctor,–nor can they ever
hope to be knighted, like someone I know.”

“Well,” answered the stout man, again tickling his chin. “I am not so
sure of that. Humbug often succeeds, where merit fails. Perhaps,” his
little black eyes twinkled, “perhaps that is why I can look forward to
being Sir Daniel Jerce.”

The girl looked closely into his bland face. “A charlatan would never
confess to being puzzled.”

“In this case,” Jerce shrugged, and resumed a quarter-deck walk in the
long drawing-room, “the Archangel Gabriel would be puzzled.”

“What can be the matter with Uncle Henry?” observed his listener,
pensively.

“Ask the Archangel Gabriel, Miss Baird.”

“Miss Baird?” Like a woman her train of thought switched up a siding.

Jerce coloured all over his large waxen face, and he gulped with
embarrassment. “Of course, I have known you since you were a little
girl,” he began, awkwardly, “but—-”

She cut him short. “Then why not call me Clarice?”

“Only too delighted,” he stuttered. “Clarice, then.”

“Clarice _now_, I rather think,” she laughed, and, wondering at the
confusion of this usually self-contained physician, returned forthwith
to the topic which had created this conversation. “What can be the
matter with Uncle Henry?” she said again.

Jerce became the medical man at once, and shook his head. “Ten years
of attendance on Horran have left me where I was at the beginning.”

“How strange.”

“Everything connected with medicine is strange. The human body is a
box of tricks, with which we play, in the dark.”

“A box of bricks, you mean.”

“As you please. We doctors build up the bodies of the sick, so I
suppose flesh and bones, muscles and nerves, are the bricks. But this
case–Horran’s case–humph!” he resumed his walk with knitted brows,
“yes, quite so. I confess that a post-mortem would settle the matter.”

Clarice rose with a horrified look. “What a cold-blooded speech. He is
your oldest friend.”

“Forgive me. Science is not quite human at times. Of course, I am here
to cure Horran, not to kill him. I should indeed regret losing my
best, and, as you say, my oldest friend. But how can I cure a man,
when I don’t know what is the matter with him?”

“What does Dr. Wentworth say?”

Jerce looked at the girl’s pretty face and fairly laughed. “Wentworth
is not a prospective knight,” said he, dryly.

“Which means–?”

“That I don’t wish to boast.”

This time Clarice coloured. “I beg your pardon, doctor. I know that
you are everybody and that Dr. Wentworth is nobody. You live in Harley
Street and attend to titled people, while he works in a quiet Essex
town amongst the middle-class and the poor. All the same,” she was
determined to have the last word, “the mouse may be able to assist the
lion.”

“I prefer a feminine mouse,” said the doctor, smiling. “Suppose you
assist me by detailing exactly what has happened.”

Clarice leaned an elbow on the mantelpiece, and absently ruffled her
brown hair before replying. “Mr. Horran has been complaining of
headaches,” she said at length, “and once or twice he has been sick.
Also on rising suddenly from a chair, he has always felt giddy.”

“You tell me nothing new, Miss–I mean Clarice. For ten years Horran
has suffered in this way. Humph! The attacks of giddiness have not
been so frequent, Wentworth tells me.”

“No. Only every now and then.”

“Humph! And his behaviour?”

“Well,” Clarice hesitated, “he has been a trifle excited at times, and
by Dr. Wentworth’s advice he gave up his one glass of whisky at
night.”

“I see,” Jerce once more scratched his chin. “Alcohol excites him.”

“Anything unusual seems to excite him, doctor. Mr. Horran gets quite
hysterical at times, and is always thinking of his health.”

“Hypochondria!” muttered Jerce, with his eyes on the ground. “And on
this particular occasion?”

“Didn’t Dr. Wentworth tell you? Mr. Horran fell down in an epileptic
fit and bit his tongue. We got him to bed, and sent for Dr. Wentworth,
who insisted upon wiring for you.”

“Quite so–quite so. Wentworth knows that I am deeply interested in
this most mysterious case. What do these symptoms mean? Whence do they
arise? I wish–” he cast a look on the girl, “no, I won’t suggest a
post-mortem again. All the same only a post-mortem can explain these
things.”

“Oh, doctor, do you think he will die?”

“No! no! There, there,” the doctor patted her hand, “don’t cry. Horran
may go on living for the next twenty years–as he is only fifty-four,
I don’t see why he shouldn’t.”

“Then you can’t see death?”

“I can’t see death, or life, or anything, but a series of most
puzzling symptoms, which neither I, nor Wentworth, nor the whole
College of Surgeons can understand. However, we’ll drop the subject
just now, and think of tea.”

“Oh, doctor, how can you think of food when–”

“When my patient is sleeping quietly. Why shouldn’t I? There’s nothing
to be done until he awakes. Then I’ll make another examination,
although I don’t expect I’ll learn anything. I return to town,” Jerce
consulted a handsome gold watch, “by the seven train.”

“It is very good of you to have come down so promptly.”

“Not at all. I would go to the ends of the earth at a moment’s notice,
to attend to so interesting a case. Ha! ha! Cold-blooded science
again, Clarice, you see. Come, come, let us say that I came willingly
to see my old and valued friend, Henry Horran.”

“Doctor, you are a great man.”

“Flattering–very flattering. And why?”

“Great men, I have always read and heard, will never spare anyone in
their aim to attain their ends.”

“Humph. That is not quite so flattering. And my ends?”

“You want to find out the cause of this trouble.”

“Naturally. I can’t cure Horran unless I do.”

“Yes. But you are more curious to learn the reason for the disease
than to cure him.”

“You wrong me,” said the doctor quickly, “and to prove that you wrong
me, I shall assuredly cure Horran, if it be in the power of man to set
him on his legs again. Now you had better go and have some tea and
toast. I’ll return to Horran’s room, and see Wentworth when he comes
in.”

“I can’t eat, doctor,” said Clarice, making no motion to obey. “That
is foolish. Starving yourself will not cure your guardian. I dare say
you are fond of him. Eh?”

“Have you known me more than twenty years to ask such a question? Of
course, I am very fond of uncle Henry. He is the best of men.”

“I agree with you there,” said Jerce, earnestly, “but I don’t think
your brother agrees with you. That is strange.”

“Why so, doctor?”

“You and Ferdy are twins,–twins may have the same likes and
dislikes.”

Clarice laughed. “For a clever medical man that is certainly not a
clever speech. Twins are often alike in looks, and entirely different
in disposition.”

“I am aware of that,” responded Jerce, calmly, “but I have always
noted that you and Ferdy think alike, or did, until lately.”

“That is because Ferdy is removed from my influence,” said Clarice,
sadly. “He always followed my lead. But since he has gone to town to
stop with you and become a student of medicine, he thinks very
differently from what I do. Naturally, perhaps, since he is seeing
more of the world than I, and is a man.”

“You should have been the man, Clarice, and Ferdy, the woman. I wish
to do my best for your brother, because he is your brother, but—-”
Jerce made a gesture of annoyance, “Ferdy is so terribly weak.”

“Don’t be hard on him, doctor,” she pleaded. “Ferdy never got on well
with uncle Henry.”

“He gets on with no one, my dear, save with those people who pander to
his weaknesses.” Clarice clasped her hands and looked anxious.
“Doctor, there is nothing very wrong with Ferdy?” she asked,
faltering. “No! no!” Jerce stopped in his walk to pat her shoulder. “I
look after him as much as I can. Yet I must not disguise from you,
Clarice, that Ferdy is–well, rather wild.”

“Rather wild,” echoed the girl. “He frequents music-halls, and goes
with people who make pleasure their aim in life. Also he has sometimes
been the worse for alcohol. These things, Clarice, do not lead to
peace, or to greatness.”

The girl sat down and covered her face. “When Ferdy came down
yesterday, I noticed that he was not himself. He seems to have
something on his mind.”

Jerce shrugged his shoulders. “I dare say he is ashamed of himself.”

“Can’t something be done? If I spoke–”

“No, my dear,” said the doctor, very decidedly, “you will only make
matters worse. Ferdy, for the last twelve months, has been out of
leading strings, and if you try, however delicately, to lecture him,
he will only become obstreperous. But you need not be alarmed. I’ll do
what I can. I would do much for you, Clarice.”

There was a note in his voice which made the girl look up. The usually
pale face of the doctor was red, and his eyes had a look in them,
which she was woman enough to understand. Rising with a nervous laugh,
Clarice grappled with the situation at once. She did not wish to lose
her amiable companion in a disappointed suitor. “Do what you can for
Ferdy, doctor, and I’ll ever be your–friend.”

“But suppose I–”

“Friend, doctor,” reiterated Clarice, steadily, and withdrew the hand
he had clasped too warmly. “I wonder,” stammered the medical man,
nervously, “if you understand exactly what I mean.” Clarice smiled. “I
should not be a woman else. I understand, and so I say–friend.”

“There is someone else?” asked Jerce, chagrined. Clarice turned the
leading question with an embarrassing laugh. “There is always someone
else, and in this instance the someone else, is my brother Ferdinand.
I rely on you to bring him to his senses.”

“Well,” said Jerce, struggling back to calmness, “that may be
difficult. You see, Miss Baird–”

“Clarice.”

“No,” said Jerce, steadily, “never again, until I have the right to
call you Clarice.”

“What right? No, no! that’s a foolish question,” she added hurriedly.
“Doctor, doctor, do not put your feelings into words. Let things
remain as they are. Help Ferdy and cure Uncle Henry, and then–”

“And then?” he bent forward eagerly.

“Then I shall ask you to dance at my wedding,” replied the girl, and
fairly ran out of the room. Jerce was so determined that she could
scarcely avoid hearing him speak plainer than she wished. And if he
did speak out, the answer her emotion would force her to give him,
would inevitably create a disagreeable feeling, if not a positive
breach of friendship. This was not to be thought of, as Jerce was
necessary both to help poor weak Ferdy Baird, and to cure Henry Horran
of his mysterious disease. Discretion, as Clarice rightly thought, was
the better part of valour in this especial instance, and therefore she
deliberately ran away. Jerce was left alone.

Naturally, he thought that he was unobserved, and the watcher at the
window could see the various expressions which chased each other
across his usually calm face. Judging from these, Jerce was annoyed
that he had spoken so inopportunely. The fruit was not yet ripe, as he
reflected, after recalling the few words he and Clarice had exchanged.
First, he would have to bring Ferdy back to the paths of virtue; well,
what then? Clarice might–on the other hand she might not. Certainly,
she had laughed away his leading question, but also she had invited
him to dance at her wedding–also laughingly. No! there could be no
one else, and if Jerce saved the two men in which she was most
interested, she might reward him by loving him, as he wished to be
loved. Thanks to the gossip of Mrs. Dumps, the watcher at the window
knew well that Jerce was dwelling in a fool’s paradise, but it was not
his intention, or will, to inform Jerce of the gunner officer at
Gattlinsands, five miles away by the seashore.

Jerce, even though presumably alone, did not allow all his feelings to
be seen on his face. But he felt that the room was stifling in spite
of its being a cold winter’s evening, and opened the window to gain a
breath of sharp air. As he stepped out, he was suddenly grasped from
behind, and the skilful exercise of a Ju-Jitsu motion placed him
prostrate at the mercy of his assailant. In the light of the
drawing-room lamps streaming through the open window, Jerce could see
that the man wore grey clothes. He would have spoken, or would have
called for assistance, but the grey man placed his hand on what is
called Adam’s apple, and paralyzed by pressure the vocal chords. Jerce
lay voiceless and motionless, as though in a state of catalepsy, while
the man went systematically through his pockets with the dexterity of
a thief. In less time than it takes to tell, the assailant had failed
to find what he sought, and, rising quickly, disappeared like a
shadow, or a ghost. All the time he had spoken no word, and had not
allowed his face to be seen. As his retreating feet scrunched the
snow, Jerce, too shaken to rise immediately, lay where he was,
wondering what had taken place, and wondering, most of all, why this
very dexterous thief had gone through his pockets so thoroughly. Then
he rose to his feet and found that his gold watch, his not
inconsiderable sum of money, his rings and his silver match-box were
all safe. Evidently, the assailant was no common thief. He had desired
to find something, and had failed to find it, but what that something
might be, Jerce could not think.

When he came quite to himself–for the shock of the assault had
somewhat stunned him–he rushed along the terrace, and into the
garden, which was parted by a single iron railing from the lane. But
there was no one to be seen. The man in grey had vanished swiftly into
the night, and Jerce could no more guess in which direction he had
gone, than he could surmise why the man had assaulted him. He stared
from the elevation upon which he stood, over the spectral wastes of
snow, and then turned to re-enter. For the moment it was in his mind to
send for the police; but he could give so scanty a description of his
daring opponent, that it hardly seemed worth while. Not even the
cleverest detective could recognise the man, from the mere fact that
he wore grey clothes.

However, just as Jerce turned the corner of the terrace to re-enter by
the still open French window, he heard the click of the iron gate as
it swung to. A tall figure walked briskly up the snowy path, and,
seeing him at the corner of the terrace, advanced towards him with an
ejaculation of astonishment.

“Doctor,” exclaimed the new-comer, bending forward to examine the
features of the outraged man in the uncertain light. “I knew you were
coming down, but I did not expect to find you out of doors on this
freezing night.”

“Ferdinand!” gasped Jerce, and stretching out his hand, he gripped the
young man by his overcoat collar. Before Baird could expostulate, he
was drawn unresistingly along towards the light streaming from the
open window, and Jerce was looking fiercely at his tall form and grey
clothes. “Tell me why you knocked me down just now?” demanded the
doctor, much ruffled, and short of breath.

Ferdinand started back in genuine surprise. “I knock you down?” he
repeated. “Why, doctor, you must be out of your senses. Why on earth
should I knock you down?”

“To search my pockets for some reason.”

Baird laughed at the monstrous charge. “Do you accuse me of robbery?”

“Oh, no! You took nothing, but you searched me. Why?” and Jerce looked
closely at the handsome, weak face of the spruce young gentleman.

“But that you are a rabid teetotaler, doctor,” said Ferdinand, with a
shrug, “I should think you had been drinking. I have been for the last
hour at the vicarage seeing Prudence, and before that I visited Mrs.
Dumps’ Savoy Hotel to look up the last train to town to-night. I have
just returned, and you accuse me of assaulting you. It’s too
ridiculous!” And Baird, annoyed at being kept standing in the cold,
began to fume like a spoilt child.

“I tell you, Ferdinand, that you knocked me down, here–where we are
standing, and searched my pockets thoroughly. I recognise you by the
grey overcoat you are wearing, although you were clever enough to hide
your face.”

“Grey clothes, eh?” mused Ferdinand, slowly. “There may be something
in what you say, after all. A tall man in grey clothes, hat and all,
passed me in the High Street, near Grinder’s shop.”

“Did you see his face?” asked Jerce, doubtfully.

“Yes. I don’t usually take notice of a man’s face, but this chap was a
stranger here, and looked like a Londoner. He had a lean face, so far
as I could see–yes, and a small black moustache. And–and,–oh, yes,
doctor, there was a criss-cross scar on his cheek, I fancy. But, of
course, he passed too quickly for me to observe him closely.”

“A scar on his cheek,” said the doctor, loosening his grip. “Humph! I
congratulate you on your rapid powers of observation. Only a woman
could have gathered so much in one moment. I ask your pardon,
Ferdinand. Doubtless, it was this fellow who knocked me down.”

“And here,” Ferdinand looked round, “in our grounds. What cheek. I
expected he wished to rob you.”

“If so, he certainly did not fulfil his intention, even though he had
me at his mercy,” said Jerce, dryly, and stepped into the room.

“Shall I go for the police, doctor?”

“No. We’ll say no more about it, my boy.”

“Do you know this man?” asked Baird, puzzled.

“I fancy I do, if you describe the scar accurately.”

“Oh, it was a criss-cross scar, right enough. But if he did not rob
you, or wish to rob you, why did he go through your pockets.”

“That,” said Jerce, with emphasis, “is as much a mystery to me, as it
is to you.”

Next morning, Clarice and her brother were at breakfast together in a
cheerful little octagon-shaped room, all enamelled white panels,
delicately painted wreaths of flowers and profuse gilding. More snow
had fallen during the night, and through the tall, narrow windows
could be seen a spotless world, almost as white as the breakfast-room
itself. But a cheerful fire of oak logs blazing in the brass basket,
where the bluish tiles took the smoke, and in the centre of the
apartment a round table, large enough for two, was covered with dainty
linen upon which stood a silver service, delicate china, and many
appetizing dishes. Clarice was a notable housekeeper, and knowing that
Ferdinand was fond of a good breakfast, used her best endeavours to
provide him with the toothsome food he loved. And this was somewhat in
the nature of a bribe.

“By jove!” said the young man, attacking a devilled kidney, “Jerce’s
housekeeper doesn’t feed me like this.”

“Then why don’t you come down here oftener, Ferdy, and allow me to
feed you,” suggested Clarice, artfully, and filled him another cup of
hot fragrant coffee.

“What rot–as if I could. Jerce keeps me at work, I can tell you. I
scarcely have a minute to myself.”

“And the minutes you have are given to other people than your sister,”
said Clarice, dryly.

“Ho! ho!” Ferdinand chuckled. “Jealous of Prudence.”

“No! I should like to see you married to Prudence. She would keep you
in order.”

“Bosh! Jerce does that.”

“I doubt it, after what he told me last night.”

Knife and fork fell from Ferdinand’s hands, and his rosy complexion
became as white as the snow out of doors. “Wh-a-t–what–did he tell
you?” he quavered, while Clarice looked at him, astonished.

“Only that you are a trifle wild,” she hastened to explain. “Why
should you look so alarmed?”

“I’m–I’m not alarmed,” denied Baird, and absently wiped his forehead
with his napkin. “That is, of course if Jerce talks about my being
wild to you, and you speak to Prudence, she’ll give me the go-by, like
a shot. Prudence is awfully jealous.”

“I’m not in the habit of telling tales,” said Clarice, dryly.

“Jerce is, then. Why can’t he hold his tongue?”

“Is what he says true?”

“I don’t exactly know what he did say,” said Ferdinand, irritably, and
pushed back his plate. “You’ve spoilt my breakfast. I don’t like
shocks.”

“Why should you receive a shock from my very simple observation?”

“Because–well, because of Prudence. I’m fond of Prudence, and I don’t
want her to know that I–well, that I–enjoy myself.”

Clarice tried to catch his eye, so as to see if he was speaking the
truth, but Ferdinand evaded her gaze, and rising, went to the
fireplace, where he lighted a cigarette. The girl remained seated
where she was, resting her elbows on the table, and with a frown
knitting her brow. Ferdy was so weak, that she always feared lest his
weakness should land him in trouble. Moreover, he was not truthful,
when anything was to be gained by telling a falsehood. His confused
manner showed that he had something to hide; but, she reflected
bitterly, that to ply him with questions, would only make his
recording angel take to shorthand, so rapidly would the lies pour out.

Ferdy, leaning his elbows on the mantelpiece, admired his own handsome
face in the round mirror, and furtively glanced at the reflection
of his sister. The twins were wonderfully alike, and wonderfully
good-looking, but Clarice, strange to say, was the more manly of the
two. That is her manner was more masculine and decisive, her mouth was
firmer, and she had the squarer chin. With his rosy oval face, his
Grecian nose, his full lips, and soft brown hair, which lay in silky
waves on his white forehead, Ferdinand was much too pretty for a man.
He possessed a slim, shapely figure, and wore the smartest of clothes
with an aristocratic air. Curiously enough, considering his delicate
looks, he was an excellent athlete, and also had proved his bravery
more than once, when in the Wild Waste Lands at the Back of Beyond,
whither he had gone a year previously on a tramp steamer. From that
wild excursion he had returned brown and healthy, and full of life;
but within twenty-four hours, Clarice, who had rejoiced at the
apparently virile change, knew that Ferdy was as weak and wavering as
ever. He was a weed to voyage with every current, a feather to be
wafted hither and thither, on every breath of wind.

“I should have been the man,” said Clarice, suddenly rising, and
placing her hands on her hips with a throw-back of her shoulders.

“Eh–er–what’s that you say?” asked Ferdy, absently.

His sister came to where he stood, and placed her face beside his. “I
should have been the man, and you the woman,” she declared, as they
looked at their delicate, youthful faces in the mirror. “You and I are
alike, Ferdy, but there is a difference.”

“If we are alike, how can there be a difference?” asked the wise
youth, pettishly.

“Can’t you see? I can. Look at my chin, and at your own. Gaze into my
eyes, see the firmness of my lips. There’s a dash of the man in me,
Ferdy, and much of the woman about you.”

Baird dropped into an armchair and kicked his long legs in the air
with a light laugh. “I suppose you say that, because I’m like you.”

“You aren’t like me. I wish you were.”

“Come, now–your face and mine. Where’s the difference?”

“In the points I have named,” she replied, quickly. “I am not talking
of the physical, Ferdy. I know you are brave enough, dear, and can
hold your own with anyone, where fighting is concerned.”

“I should jolly well think I could,” muttered Baird, bending his arm
and feeling his muscle. “I’ve never been licked in a fight yet.”

“But,” went on Clarice, with emphasis, “it’s your nature I talk of.
You are so weak–so very, very weak.”

“I’m not,” snapped Ferdy, flushing. “I always have my own way.”

“Ah, that’s obstinacy, not strength. Because a person said no, you
would say yes, and vice-versa. But you are the prey of your own
passions, Ferdy. You deny yourself nothing.”

“Why should I?”

“Because it is by denial–by self-denial, that we make ourselves
strong, Ferdy. Why, any woman could twist you round her finger.”

“Any woman can twist any man, you mean. If you bring the sex question
into the matter, Clarice, I admit that man is the weaker vessel. A
woman can do what she likes with a man. Women rule the world, and why
they should bother about this suffragette business, beats me.”

“All men can’t be twisted by women, Ferdy. Dr. Jerce, for instance.”

“Pooh. He’s so wrapped up in medicine and science that he hates the
sex–your sex, I mean.”

“I don’t think so,” said Clarice, recalling a scene on the previous
night. “Dr. Jerce is a man like other men in that way, only he is
sufficiently strong to hold his own with women.”

“I say,” cried Ferdy, restlessly, “what’s all this chatter about?”

“About you, if you’ll only listen,” said his sister, looking down at
the weak frowning face. “I’m worried about you, Ferdy. When you were
here with me, I could manage you, but since you came back from that
trip a year ago, and went in for medicine, you have changed for the
worse.”

“I don’t see that,” said Baird, sulkily.

“I do. There are lines on your face, which should not be there at your
age. Look at the black circles under your eyes. You’re getting the
look of a man who stops up night after night, and you do.”

“Who says that?”

“Dr. Jerce says it. You don’t attend to your work, he says. You are
always at music-halls; you take more drink than is good for you; you
gamble above what you can afford, and I dare say that you make love to
all manner of women.”

“Oh, I say, you shouldn’t say that last.”

“Because I’m a girl–an unmarried woman,” flashed out Clarice. “What
rubbish! I’ll say what I think to you, who are my only brother and my
twin. Do you think that I am going to see you ruin yourself with wine
and women and cards, simply because there are things a girl is not
supposed to know? I am twenty-three. I have had endless responsibility
since Uncle Henry took ill, so I am quite able to speak out and to
save you if possible.”

Ferdinand rose and flung his cigarette into the fire. “I won’t have
you talk like that to me,” he declared, his voice thick with anger. “I
am a man, and you are a woman.”

“The reverse, I think,” retorted Clarice, bitterly.

“You have got far too high an opinion of yourself,” foamed Ferdy,
kicking the logs angrily, “and when Uncle Henry dies, I’ll show you
who is to be master here.”

Clarice ignored the latter part of this speech. “Why do you suggest
that Uncle Henry may die?”

“He’s ill–he can’t last long,” stammered Ferdy, evasively.

“How do you know? How does Dr. Jerce know? He told me himself that he
could not understand this strange illness, and could not say whether
Uncle Henry would live or die. Do you call yourself more clever than
Dr. Jerce?”

“I have studied medicine, and–”

“For twelve months, and what you call study, I call pursuit of
pleasure. You are wasting your life, and there is no one to stand
between you and ruin, but me. I dare not tell Uncle Henry what Dr.
Jerce reported to me, as his health is too delicate to stand shocks.”

“You can tell him what you like,” mumbled Ferdy, knowing very well
that he was safe in giving the permission.

“I shall tell him nothing, but,” added Clarice, with emphasis, “I’ll
tell Prudence, if you don’t mend.”

Ferdy clenched his hands and his eyes flashed.

“Prudence won’t believe one word of what you say,” he declared,
angrily. “She loves me, as I love her, and–”

“Do you love her?” asked Clarice, sharply, and Ferdinand recoiled
before the look in her eyes. “Dr. Jerce–”

“What has he dared to say?”

“Nothing more than what I have told you,” said the girl, “but no man
who is behaving as you are, can possibly love a woman truly.”

“Oh, bother, leave these sort of things alone. You are a girl, and you
don’t understand. As to Jerce, he has his own secrets.”

He turned on his heel to leave the room, but Clarice swiftly placed
herself in his way. “Now, what do you mean by that?” she asked,
wondering if Jerce had related the scene of the previous night in
order to enlist Ferdy on his side to forward his suit.

“Well,” mumbled the young man, pausing and fishing out another
cigarette from mere habit, “there’s no reason why I shouldn’t tell you
about the row. Jerce never said I wasn’t to.”

“What row–as you call it?”

“I don’t know what else you would call it,” retorted Ferdy, who had
regained his good humour, with the shallow capacity of his nature. “I
don’t know who that chap in grey can be, but Jerce knows. And what’s
more, I believe he hunted him out last night. I was going to town with
Jerce and he said that I could stop down here for a couple of days. If
he wasn’t after that grey chap, why didn’t he want my company?”

Clarice listened to all this with a puzzled expression. “I don’t
understand a word you’re talking about,” she said, tartly; “what grey
man–what row?”

“Well,” drawled Baird, lighting his cigarette, and strolling back to
his seat, “it’s like this.” And he related all that had taken place on
the terrace, and described the man with the criss-cross scar on his
face, ending up with a few comments of his own. “And Jerce must know
the chap, for he wouldn’t let me go for the police. Oh, Jerce has his
secrets, and if a chap has to knock him down and go through his
pockets, those secrets ain’t respectable–that’s all I have to say. A
nice chap Jerce is, to talk of my being wild, when he’s old enough to
know better, and has larks like this.”

“Why don’t you tell him so?” asked Clarice, sarcastically.

“Oh, it’s none of my business,” replied Ferdy, airily. All the same
his delicate colour came and went in a way which showed Clarice that
he was afraid of Dr. Jerce. And very rightly, too, considering their
relative ages and different positions in the world.

“It’s a strange thing,” said Clarice, thoughtfully, kilting up her
dress and resting one slender foot on the fender. “I wonder Dr. Jerce
didn’t speak of the matter.”

“Oh, he wants you to have a good opinion of him, so doesn’t give away
his little wickednesses.”

“Ferdy!” said Miss Baird, sharply, for his flippant tone jarred on
her, “you have no right to speak like this of Dr. Jerce. Everyone who
knows him, is aware that his character is of the highest. He is
charitable and attends to poor people in some London slum for nothing.
No one can breathe a word against him. A man like Dr. Jerce would not
hold the position he does, or expect to be knighted, unless his
reputation and life were spotless. However, there’s an easy way of
learning the truth. Dr. Jerce is coming down again to-morrow to
consult with Dr. Wentworth over Uncle Henry’s case; I’ll tell him what
you say!”

“No! no!” This time Ferdinand went quite white and spoke with dry
lips. “You’ll only get me into a row. I dare say Jerce is all right. I
never heard anyone speak of him save with the highest praise, and he
has been a good friend to me. I don’t want to quarrel with him.”

“There is no need that you should do so, Ferdy. All I mean to ask Dr.
Jerce is, why the man assaulted him and went through his pockets.”

“He says that he doesn’t know,” said Ferdy gruffly.

“You say that he knows the man?”

“He might–that is, I think so. Anyhow, he wouldn’t let me go for the
police, so it looks as though he didn’t want a public row. But you’d
better not say anything, Clarice. Jerce may get his back up at my
telling you. He’d row me. I don’t want that. Jerce is a brick, you
know, Clarry. He’s lent me money when Uncle Henry kept me short.”

Remembering the hopes expressed by the doctor, Clarice was vastly
indignant at this revelation, and faced her weak twin with clenched
hands. “How dare you borrow money from Dr. Jerce?” she said, and her
eyes flashed. “Uncle Henry gives you all you want.”

“He doesn’t,” said Ferdy, sulkily. “He allows me next to nothing. I
call him a skinflint. What’s two hundred a year?”

“Very good pocket-money. He pays your bills, keeps you for nothing,
and gives you four pounds a week to waste. Yet with all that, you
borrow from Dr. Jerce. How much have you had?”

“That’s my business.”

“Mine also. Tell me, or I’ll tell Uncle Henry.”

“Only a few hundreds,” snarled Ferdy, reluctantly.

“A few hundreds!” Clarice sank into her seat and looked at Ferdy with
consternation. “And how on earth have you spent so much, in addition
to your own income?”

“Money will go,” lamented Ferdy. “Whenever I break a pound, I never
have any left within the hour.”

“You’ll bring disgrace on us some day,” said Clarice, with a pained
look. “Why didn’t you come to me?”

“You’re so high and mighty. You wouldn’t have understood.”

“I understand this much, that Dr. Jerce is the last man I should wish
you to have money from.”

“I thought you liked him.”

“I did–I do, and I respect him. All the same, I wish you hadn’t
borrowed from him.” Ferdinand rose and kicked the logs again in his
petulant fashion. “I must have money somehow to enjoy myself.”

“You have four pounds a week.”

“What’s that–I want fifty. And after all, it’s my own money. When we
come of age in two years we each have two thousand a year. I don’t see
why Uncle Henry should grudge me cash in the way he does. If you don’t
want to spend it, I do. And what’s more,” cried Ferdy, working himself
into a rage, “I’m going to.”

“You shan’t spend Dr. Jerce’s money,” said Clarice, and her mouth shut
firmly, while her eyes glittered like steel.

“How can you stop me from getting it?” scoffed Fred, uneasily. “I can
ask him to refuse you more. Dr. Jerce will do anything for me.”

Ferdy scowled. “I know that,” he said, moodily.

“He hinted that he was in love with you. If you were only a decent
sort, Clarry, you would marry him and help me. He’s got heaps of tin,
and you’d be Lady Jerce some day, you know.”

“Oh!” said Clarice, and her voice was as hard as her eyes, “did Dr.
Jerce ask you to speak to me?”

“No! no, on my honour he didn’t; but he hinted that he’d like you to
be his wife. I never said anything.”

“Not even that I am engaged to Anthony Ackworth.”

Ferdy looked up in genuine surprise. “Oh, by Jove, you ain’t!”

“Yes, I am. He asked me to become his wife only six days ago. I
consented, and we are engaged. Uncle Henry knows, and I intended to
tell you later. I thought you might have guessed. Apparently you did
not, being so wrapped up in yourself. I’m glad of that, as I want to
tell Dr. Jerce myself. You would only bungle the matter.”

“Ackworth’s only a gunner chap,” muttered Ferdinand, in dismay. “You
had much better marry Jerce. He could help me, you know.”

“With more money, I suppose.”

“Well, not exactly that,” confessed Ferdy, with an engaging air of
candour, “though I shouldn’t mind asking him for a fiver, if I were
hard up, which I generally am. But when I become a doctor, Jerce could
retire and hand over his patients to me, you know. Oh, there are lots
of ways in which he could be useful to me, if you are nice to him. If
you ain’t, he may cut up rough, and Jerce isn’t pleasant when he’s in
a rage, I can tell you.”

“Oh!” said Clarice, contemptuously, “so to please you, I am to marry a
man old enough to be my father.”

“He’s only fifty-five, and rich, and he’ll have a title soon.”

“So will Anthony, if it comes to that. His father is a baronet.”

“A poor baronet,” sneered Ferdy, with emphasis. “I’ll have two
thousand a year of my own when I am twenty-five,” said the girl,
ignoring the speech, “and Anthony has his pay and an allowance from
his father. We will be able to live very comfortably on what we can
get. Besides, Uncle Henry likes Anthony, and is delighted that I
should marry him. As to Dr. Jerce–” she hesitated.

“What about him?” murmured Baird, nervously.

“I’ll inform him of my engagement, when he comes down again. Also,
I’ll ask him about this row, as you call it, and request him to refuse
you more money.”

“You’ll ruin me,” gasped Ferdinand, on whose forehead the drops of
perspiration were standing thickly.

“In what way?”

“Jerce will chuck me. He can be a beast when he likes.”

“Let him be a beast,” said Clarice, impatiently, “although I think you
exaggerate. He’ll say nothing. He has no right to say anything.”

“Clarice!” He caught her hands. “For my sake you must marry Jerce.”

The girl released herself, angrily. “What do you mean by that?”

“Jerce could help me so much,” said Ferdy, feebly.

“Is that all?” asked Clarice, keeping her eyes steadfastly fixed on
the weak, handsome face of her brother.

“Of course–of course,” he replied, testily. “What else could there
be, you stupid girl?”

“I don’t know,” she said, coldly, “but I do know, Ferdy, that you
never by any chance tell the whole truth. You always keep something
back, and that makes it difficult to know how to advise you.”

“I don’t ask for advice.”

“No,” she answered, bitterly, “you ask for a sacrifice which in your
egotistic eyes is no sacrifice. And you are keeping something back
from me. What reason have you to be afraid of Dr. Jerce?”

“I have no reason. I never said that I was afraid.”

“And yet—-”

“And yet–and yet,” he broke in, snappishly, “you are making a
mountain out of a mole-hill. I only suggest that you should marry–”

“Marry a man I don’t love. My word is passed to Anthony.”

“Clarice?”

The girl pushed him aside and opened the door. “That is enough. Go
your own silly way, but don’t ask me to come with you.”

“Ah! You are always selfish.”

“Always,” said Clarice, sadly, and thinking of the many small
sacrifices she had made for the fool before her, “therefore, I marry
the man I love!” and she hastened from the room, unwilling to break
down before one who would take such emotion as a sign of yielding.

Ferdy, left alone, kicked over the breakfast table, and vented his
rage on the furniture generally. The room was quite a wreck by the
time his feelings were completely relieved.