The Two Carnegies by Grant Allen
"Harold," said Ernest Carnegie to his twin-brother at breakfast one
morning, "have you got a tooth aching slightly to-day?"
"Yes, by Jove, I have!" Harold answered, laying down the Times, and
looking across the table with interest to his brother; "which one was
"The third from the canine on the upper left side," Ernest replied
quickly. "And yours?"
"Let me see. This is the canine, isn't it? One, two, three; yes. The
same, of course. It's really a very singular coincidence. How about the
time? Was that as usual?"
"I'll tell you in a minute. Mine came on the day of the Guthries' hop. I
was down at Brighton that morning. What date? Let me think; why, the
9th, I'm certain. To-day's what, mother?"
"The 23rd," said Harold, glancing for confirmation at the paper. "The
law works itself out once more as regularly as if by machinery. I'm just
a fortnight later than you, Ernest, as always."
Ernest drummed upon the table with his finger for a minute. "I'm afraid
you'll have it rather badly to-day, Harold," he said, after a pause.
"Mine got unbearable towards midday, and if I hadn't had it looked to
in the afternoon, I couldn't have danced a single dance to save my life
that evening. I advise you to go round to the dentist's immediately, and
try to get it stopped before it goes any further."
Harold finished his cup of coffee, and looked out of the window blankly
at the fog outside. "It's an awful thought," he said at last, "this
living, as we two do, by clockwork! Everybody else lives exactly the
same way, but they don't have their attention called to it, as we do.
Just to think that from the day you and I were born, Ernest, it was
written in the very fabric of our constitutions that when we were
twenty-three years and five months old, the third molar in our upper
left jaws should begin to fail us! It's really appalling in its
unanswerable physical fatalism, when ones comes to think upon it."
"So I said to myself at the Guthries', the morning it began to give me a
twinge," said Ernest, in the self-same tone. "It seemed to me such a
terrible idea that in a fortnight's time, as certain as the sun, the
very same tooth in your head would begin to go, as the one that was
going in mine. It's too appalling, really."
"But do you actually mean to say," asked pretty little Nellie Holt, the
visitor, newly come the day before from Cheshire, "that whenever one of
you gets a toothache, the other one gets a toothache in the same tooth a
"Not a toothache only," Ernest answered—he was studying for his degree
as a physician, and took this department upon himself as by right—"but
every other disease or ailment whatsoever. We're like two clocks wound
up to strike at fixed moments; only, we're not wound up to strike
exactly together. I'm fourteen days in advance of Harold, so to speak,
and whatever happens to me to-day will happen to him, in all
probability, exactly a fortnight later."
"How very extraordinary!" said Nellie, looking quickly, from one
handsome clear-cut face to its exact counterpart in the other. "And yet
not so extraordinary, after all,—when one comes to think how very much
alike you both are."
"Ah, that's not all," said Ernest, slowly; "it's something that goes a
good deal deeper than that, Miss Holt. Consider that every one of us is
born with a certain fixed and recognizable constitution, which we
inherit from our fathers and mothers. In us, from our birth upward, are
the seeds of certain diseases, the possibilities of certain actions and
achievements. One man is born with hereditary consumption; another man
with hereditary scrofula; a third with hereditary genius or hereditary
drunkenness, each equally innate in the very threads and strands of his
system. And it's all bound to come out, sooner or later, in its own due
and appointed time. Here's a fellow whose father had gout at forty: he's
born with such a constitution that, as the hands on his life-dial reach
forty, out comes the gout in his feet, wherever he may be, as certain as
fate. It's horrible to think of, but it's the truth, and there's no good
in disguising it."
Nellie Holt shuddered slightly. "What a dreadful materialistic creed,
Mr. Carnegie," she said, looking at him with a half-frightened air.
"It's almost as bad as Mohammedan fatalism."
"No, not so bad as that," Ernest Carnegie answered; "not nearly so bad
as that. The Oriental belief holds that powers above you compel your
life against your will: we modern scientific thinkers only hold that
your own inborn constitution determines your whole life for you, will
included. But whether we like it or dislike it, Miss Holt, there are the
facts, and nobody can deny them. If you'd lived with a twin-sister, as
Harold and I have lived together for twenty-three years, you'd see that
the clocks go as they are set, with fixed and predestined regularity.
Twins, you know, are almost exactly alike in all things, and in the
absolute coincidence of their constitutions you can see the inexorable
march of disease, and the inexorable unfolding of the predetermined
life-history far better than in any other conceivable case. I'm a
scientific man myself, you see, and I have such an opportunity of
watching it all as no other man ever yet had before me."
"My dear," said Mrs. Carnegie, the mother, from the head of the table,
"you've no idea how curiously their two lives have always resembled one
other. When they were babies, they were so much alike that we had to tie
red and blue ribbons round their necks to distinguish them. Ernest was
red and Harold blue—no, Ernest was blue and Harold red: at least, I'm
not quite certain which way it was, but I know we have a note of it in
the family Bible, for Mr. Carnegie made it at the time for fear we
should get confused between them when we were bathing them. So we put
the ribbons on the moment they were christened, and never took them both
off together for a second, even to bathe them, so as to prevent
accidents. Well, do you know, dear, from the time they were babies, they
were always alike in everything; but Ernest was always a fortnight
before Harold. He said "Mamma" one day, and just a fortnight later
Harold said the very same word. Then Ernest said "sugar," and so did
Harold in another fortnight. Ernest began to toddle a fortnight the
earliest. They took the whooping cough and the measles in the same
order; and they cut all their teeth so, too, the same teeth first on
each side, and just at a fortnight's distance from one another. It's
really quite an extraordinary coincidence."
"The real difficulty would be," said Harold, "to find anything in which
we didn't exactly resemble one another. Well, now I must be off to this
horrid office with the Pater. Are you ready, Pater? I'll call in at
Estwood's in the course of the morning, Ernest, and tell him to look
after my teeth. I don't want to miss the Balfours' party this evening.
Curious that we should be going to a party this evening too. That
isn't fated in our constitutions, anyhow, is it, Ernest? Good morning,
Miss Holt; the first waltz, remember. Come along, Pater." And he went
out, followed immediately by his father.
"I must be going too," said Ernest, looking at his watch; "I have an
appointment with Dowson at Guy's at half-past ten—a very interesting
case: hereditary cataract; three brothers, all of them get it, each as
he reaches twelve years old, and Dowson has performed the operation on
two, and is going to perform it on the other this very day. Good
morning, Miss Holt; the second waltz for me; you won't forget, will
"How awfully alike they really are, Mrs. Carnegie," said Nellie, as they
were left alone. "I'm sure I shall never be able to tell them apart. I
don't even know their names yet. The one that has just gone out, the one
that's going to be a doctor—that's Mr. Harold, isn't it?"
"Oh no, dear," Mrs. Carnegie answered, putting her arm round Nellie's
waist affectionately, "that's Ernest. Harold's the lawyer. You'll soon
learn the difference between them. You can tell Ernest easily, because
he usually wears a horrid thing for a scarf-pin, an ivory skull and
cross-bones: he wears it, he says, just to distinguish him
professionally from Harold. Indeed, that was partly why Mr. Carnegie was
so anxious that Harold should go into his own office; so as to make a
distinction of profession between them. If Harold had followed his own
bent, he would have been a doctor too; they're both full of what they
call physiological ideas—dreadful things, I think them. But Mr.
Carnegie thought as they were so very much alike already we ought to do
something to give them some individuality, as he says: for if they were
both to be doctors or both solicitors, you know, there'd really be no
knowing them apart, even for ourselves; and I assure you, my dear, as
it is now even they're exactly like one person."
"Are they as alike in character, then, as they are in face?" asked
"Alike in character! My dear, they're absolutely identical. Whatever the
one thinks, or says, or does, the other thinks, says, and does at the
same time, independently. Why, once Ernest went over to Paris for a
week's holiday, while Harold went on some law business of his father's
to Brussels. Would you believe it, when they came back they'd each got a
present for the other. Ernest had seen a particular Indian silver
cigar-case in a shop on the Boulevards, and he brought it home as a
surprise for Harold. Well, Harold had bought an exactly similar one in
the Montagne de la Cour, and brought it home as a surprise for Ernest.
And what was odder still, each of them had had the other's initials
engraved upon the back in some sort of heathenish Oriental characters."
"How very queer," said Nellie. "And yet they seem very fond of one
another. As a rule, one's always told that people who are exactly alike
in character somehow don't get on together."
"My dear child, they're absolutely inseparable. Their devotion to one
another's quite unlimited. You see they've been brought up together,
played together, sympathized with one another in all their troubles and
ailments, and are sure of a response from each other about everything.
It was the greatest trouble of their lives when Mr. Carnegie decided
that Harold must become a solicitor for the sake of the practice. They
couldn't bear at first to be separated all day; and when they got home
in the evening, Ernest from the hospital and Harold from the office,
they met almost like a pair of lovers. They've talked together about
their work so much that Harold knows almost as much medicine now as
Ernest, while Ernest's quite at home, his father declares, in 'Benjamin
on Sales,' and 'Chitty on Contract.' It's quite delightful to see how
fond they are of one another."
At five o'clock Ernest Carnegie returned from his hospital. He brought
two little bunches of flowers with him—some lilies of the valley and a
carnation—and he handed them with a smile, one to his sister and one to
pretty little Nellie. "I thought you'd like them for this evening, Miss
Holt," he said. "I chose a carnation on purpose, because I fancied it
would suit your hair."
"Oh, Ernest," said his sister, "you ought to have got a red camelia.
That's the proper thing for a brunette like Nellie."
"Nonsense, Edie," Ernest answered, "I hate camelias. Ugliest flowers
out: so stiff and artificial. One might as well wear a starchy gauze
thing from the milliner's."
"I'm so glad you brought Nellie Holt a flower. She's a sweet girl,
Ernest, isn't she?" said Mrs. Carnegie a minute or two later, as Edie
and Nelly ran upstairs. "I wish either of you two boys could take a
fancy to a nice girl like her, now."
"My dear mother," Ernest answered, turning up his eyes appealingly. "A
little empty-headed, pink-and-white thing like that! I don't know what
Harold thinks, but she'd never do for me, at any rate. Very pretty to
look at, very timid to talk to, very nice and shrinking, and all that
kind of thing, I grant you; but nothing in her. Whenever I marry, I
shall marry a real live woman, not a dainty piece of delicate empty
At six o'clock, Mr. Carnegie and Harold came in from the office. Harold
carried in his hand two little button-hole bouquets, of a few white
lilies and a carnation. "Miss Holt," he said, as he entered the
drawing-room, "I've brought you and Edie a flower to wear at the
Balfours' this evening. This is for you, Edie, with the pale pink; the
dark will suit Miss Holt's hair best."
Edie looked at Ernest, and smiled significantly. "Why didn't you get us
camelias, Harold?" she asked, with a faint touch of mischief in her
"Camelias! My dear girl, what a question! I gave Miss Holt credit for
better taste than liking camelias. Beastly things, as stiff and
conventional as dahlias or sunflowers. You might just as well have a wax
rose from an artificial flower-maker while you are about it."
Edie laughed and looked at Nellie. "See here," she said, taking up
Ernest's bunches from the little specimen vases where she had put them
to keep them fresh in water, "somebody else has thought of the flowers
Harold laughed, too, a little uneasily. "Aha," he said, "I see Ernest
has been beforehand with me as usual. I'm always a day too late. It
seems to me I'm the Esau of this duet, and Ernest's the Jacob. Well,
Miss Holt, you must take the will for the deed; and after all, one will
do for your dress and the other for your hair, won't they?"
"Harold," said his father, as they went upstairs together to dress for
dinner, "Nellie Holt's a very nice girl, and I've reason to believe—you
know I don't judge these matters without documentary evidence—I have
reason to believe that she'll come into the greater part of old Stanley
Holt's money. She's his favourite niece, and she benefits largely, as I
happen to know, under his will. Verbum sap., my dear boy; she's a
pretty girl, and has sweet manners. In my opinion, she'd make——"
"My dear Pater," Harold exclaimed, interrupting him, "for Heaven's sake
don't say so. Pretty enough, I grant you; and no doubt old Stanley
Holt's money would be a very nice thing in its way; but just seriously
consider now, if you were a young man yourself, what on earth could you
see in Nellie Holt to attract your love or admiration? Why, she shrinks
and blushes every time she speaks to you. No, no, whenever I marry I
should like to marry a girl of some presence and some character."
"Well, well," said his father, pausing a second at his bedroom door,
"perhaps if she don't suit you, Harold, she'll suit Ernest."
"I should have thought, Pater, you knew us two better than that by this
"But, my dear Harold, you can't both marry the same woman!"
"No, we can't, Pater, but it's my opinion we shall both fall unanimously
in love with her, at any rate, whenever we happen to see her."
The Balfours were very rich people—city people; "something in the
stockbroking or bankruptcy line, I believe," Ernest Carnegie told Nelly
Holt succinctly as they drove round in the brougham with his sister; and
their dance was of the finest modern moneyed fashion. "Positively reeks
with Peruvian bonds and Deferred Egyptians, doesn't it?" said Harold, as
they went up the big open staircase and through the choice exotic
flowers on the landing. "Old Balfour has so much money, they say, that
if he tries his hardest he can't spend his day's income in the
twenty-four hours. He had a good hard try at it once. Prince of Wales or
somebody came to a concert for some sort of public purpose—hospital, or
something—and old B. got the whole thing up on the tallest possible
scale of expenditure. Spent a week in preparation. Had in dozens of
powdered footmen; ordered palms and orange-trees in boxes from Nice;
hung electric lights all over the drawing-room; offered Pattalini and
Goldoni three times as much for their services as the total receipts for
the charity were worth; and at the end of it all he called in a crack
accountant to reckon up the cost of the entertainment. Well, he found,
with all his efforts, he'd positively lived fifty pounds within his
week's income. Extraordinary, isn't it?"
"Very extraordinary indeed," said Nellie, "if it's quite true, you
"You owe me the first waltz," Harold said, without noticing the
reservation. "Don't forget it, please, Miss Holt."
"I say, Balfour," Ernest Carnegie observed to the son of the house,
shortly after they had entered the ballroom, "who's that beautiful tall
dark girl over there? No, not the pink one, that other girl behind her
in the deep red satin."
"She? oh, she's nothing in particular," Harry Balfour answered
carelessly (the girl in pink was worth eighty thousand, and her figure
cast into the shade all her neighbours in Harry Balfour's arithmetical
eyes). "Her name's Walters, Isabel Walters, daughter of a lawyer
fellow—no offence meant to your profession, Carnegie. Let me see: you
are the lawyer, aren't you? No knowing you two fellows apart, you
know, especially when you've got white ties on."
"No, I'm not the lawyer fellow," Ernest answered quietly; "I'm the
doctor fellow. But it doesn't at all matter; we're used to it. Would you
mind introducing me to Miss Walters?"
"Certainly not. Come along. I believe she's a very nice girl in her way,
you know, and dances capitally; but not exactly in our set, you see; not
exactly in our set."
"I should have guessed as much to look at her," Ernest answered, with a
faint undertone of sarcasm in his voice that was quite thrown away upon
Harry Balfour. And he walked across the room after his host to ask
Isabel Walters for the first waltz.
"Tall," he thought to himself as he looked at her: "dark, fine face,
beautiful figure, large eyes; makes her own dresses; strange sort of
person to meet at the Balfours' dances."
Isabel Walters danced admirably. Isabel Walters talked cleverly. Isabel
Walters had a character and an individuality of her own. In five minutes
she had told Ernest Carnegie that she was the Poor Relation, and in that
quality she was asked once yearly to one of the Balfours' Less
Distinguished dances. "This is a Less Distinguished," she said quickly;
"but I suppose you go to the More Distinguished too?"
"On the contrary," Ernest answered, laughing; "though I didn't know the
nature of the difference before, I've no doubt that I have to thank the
fact of my being Less Distinguished myself for the pleasure of meeting
you here this evening."
Isabel smiled quietly. "It's a family distinction only," she said. "Of
course the Balfours wouldn't like the people they ask to know it. But we
always notice the difference ourselves. My mother, you know, was the
first Mrs. Balfour's half-sister. But in those days, I need hardly tell
you, Mr. Balfour hadn't begun to do great things in Grand Trunk
Preferences. Do you know anything about Grand Trunk Preferences?"
"Absolutely nothing," Ernest replied. "But, to come down to a more
practical question: Are you engaged for the next Lancers?"
"A square dance. Oh, why a square dance? I hate square dances."
"I like them," said Ernest. "You can talk better."
"And yet you waltz capitally. As a rule, I notice the men who like
square dances are the sticks who can't waltz without upsetting one. No,
I'm not engaged for the next Lancers. Yes, with pleasure."
Ernest went off to claim little Nellie Holt from his brother.
"By Jove, Ernest," Harold said, as he met him again a little later in
the evening, "that's a lovely girl you were dancing with just now. Who
"A Miss Walters," Ernest answered drily.
"I'll go and get introduced to her," Harold went on, looking at his
brother with a searching glance. "She's the finest girl in the room, and
I should like to dance with her."
"You think so?" said Ernest. And he turned away a little coldly to join
a group of loungers by the doorway.
"This is not our Lancers yet, Mr. Carnegie," Isabel said, as Harold
stalked up to her with her cousin by his side. "Ours is number seven."
"I'm not the same Mr. Carnegie," Harold said, smiling, "though I see I
need no introduction now. I'm number seven's brother, and I've come to
ask whether I may have the pleasure of dancing number six with you."
Isabel looked up at him in doubt. "You are joking, surely," she said.
"You danced with me just now, the first waltz."
"You see my brother over by the door," Harold answered. "But we're quite
accustomed to be taken for one another. Pray don't apologize; we're used
Before the end of the evening Isabel Walters had danced three times with
Ernest Carnegie, and twice with Harold. Before the end of the evening,
too, Ernest and Harold were both at once deeply in love with her. She
was not perhaps what most men would call a lovable girl; but she was
handsome, clever, dashing, and decidedly original. Now, to both the
Carnegies alike, there was no quality in a woman so admirable as
individuality. Perhaps it was their own absolute identity of tastes and
emotions that made them prize the possession of a distinct personality
by others so highly; but in any case, there was no denying the fact that
they were both head over ears in love with Isabel Walters.
"She's a splendid girl, Edie," said Harold, as he went down with his
sister to the cab in which he was to take her home; "a splendid girl;
just the sort of girl I should like to marry."
"Not so nice by half as Nellie Holt," said Edie simply. "But there,
brothers never do marry the girls their sisters want them to."
"Very unreasonable of the brothers, no doubt," Harold replied, with a
slight curl of his lip: "but possibly explicable upon the ground that a
man prefers choosing a wife who'll suit himself to choosing one who'll
suit his sisters."
"Mother," said Ernest, as he took her down to the brougham, with little
Nellie Holt on his other arm, "that's a splendid girl, that Isabel
Walters. I haven't met such a nice girl as that for a long time."
"I know a great many nicer," his mother answered, glancing half
unconsciously towards Nellie, "but boys never do marry as their parents
would wish them."
"They do not, mother dear," said Ernest quietly. "It's a strange fact,
but I dare say it's partly dependent upon the general principle that a
man is more anxious to live happily with his own wife than to provide a
model daughter-in-law for his father and mother."
"Isabel," Mrs. Walters said to her daughter, as they took their seats in
the cab that was waiting for them at the door, "what on earth did you
mean by dancing five times in one evening with that young man with the
light moustache? And who on earth is he, tell me?"
"He's two people, mamma," Isabel answered seriously; "and I danced three
times with one of him, and twice with the other, I believe; at least so
he told me. His name's Carnegie, and half of him's called Ernest and the
other half Harold, though which I danced with which time I'm sure I
can't tell you. He's a pair of twins, in fact, one a doctor and one a
lawyer; and he talks just the same sort of talk in either case, and is
an extremely nice young man altogether. I really like him immensely."
"Carnegie!" said Mrs. Walters, turning the name over carefully. "Two
young Carnegies! How very remarkable! I remember somebody was speaking
to me about them, and saying they were absolutely indistinguishable.
Not sons of Mr. Carnegie, your uncle's solicitor, are they?"
"Yes; so Harry Balfour told me."
"Then, Isabel, they're very well off, I understand. I hope people won't
think you danced five times in the evening with only one of them. They
ought to wear some distinctive coat or something to prevent
misapprehensions. Which do you like best, the lawyer or the doctor?"
"I like them both exactly the same, mamma. There isn't any difference at
all between them, to like one of them better than the other for. They
both seem very pleasant and very clever. And as I haven't yet discovered
which is which, and didn't know from one time to another which I was
dancing with, I can't possibly tell you which I prefer of two
identicals. And as to coats, mamma, you know you couldn't expect one of
them to wear a grey tweed suit in a ballroom, just to show he isn't the
In the passage at the Carnegies', Ernest and Harold stopped one moment,
candle in hand, to compare notes with one another before turning into
their bedrooms. There was an odd constraint about their manner to each
other that they had never felt before during their twenty-three years of
"Well?" said Ernest, inquiringly, looking in a hesitating way at his
"Well?" Harold echoed, in the same tone.
"What did you think of it all, Harold?"
"I think, Ernest, I shall propose to Miss Walters."
There was a moment's silence, and a black look gathered slowly on Ernest
Carnegie's brow. Then he said very deliberately, "You are in a great
hurry coming to conclusions, Harold. You've seen very little of her yet;
and remember, it was I who first discovered her!"
Harold glanced at him angrily and half contemptuously.
"You discovered her first!" he said. "Yes, and you are always
beforehand with me; but you shall not be beforehand with me this time. I
shall propose to her at once, to prevent your anticipating me. So now
you know my intentions plainly, and you can govern yourself
Ernest looked back at him with a long look from head to foot.
"It is war then," he said, "Harold; war, you will have it? We are
"Yes, rivals," Harold answered; "and war to the knife if so you wish
"Good night, Harold."
"Good night, Ernest."
And they turned in to their bedrooms, in anger with one another, for the
first time since they had quarrelled in boyish fashion over tops and
marbles years ago together.
That night the two Carnegies slept very little. They were both in love,
very seriously in love; and anybody who has ever been in the same
condition must have noticed that the symptoms, which may have been very
moderate or undecided during the course of the evening, become rapidly
more pronounced and violent as you lie awake in the solitude of your
chamber through the night watches. But more than that, they had both
begun to feel simultaneously the stab of jealousy. Each of them had been
very much taken indeed by Isabel Walters; still, if they had seen no
chance of a rival looming in the distance, they might have been content
to wait a little, to see a little more of her, to make quite sure of
their own affection before plunging headlong into a declaration. After
all, it's very absurd to ask a girl to be your companion for life on the
strength of an acquaintanceship which has extended over the time
occupied by three dances in a single evening. But then, thought each,
there was the chance of Ernest's proposing to her, or of Harold's
proposing to her, before I do. That idea made precipitancy positively
imperative; and by the next morning each of the young men had fully made
up his mind to take the first opportunity of asking Isabella Walters to
be his wife.
Breakfast passed off very silently, neither of the twins speaking much
to one another; but nobody noticed their reticence much; for the morning
after the occasional orgy or dance is apt to prove a very limp affair
indeed in professional homes, where dances are not of nightly
occurrence. After breakfast, Harold went off quickly to the office, and
Ernest, having bespoken a holiday at the hospital, joined his sister and
Nellie Holt in the library.
"Do you know, Ernest," Edie said to him, mindful of her last night's
conversation with her other brother, "I really believe Harold has fallen
desperately in love at first sight with that tall Miss Walters."
"I can easily believe it," Ernest answered testily; "she's very handsome
and very clever."
Edie raised her eyebrows a little. "But it's awfully foolish, Ernest, to
fall in love blindfold in that way, isn't it now?" she said, with a
searching look at her brother. "He can't possibly know what sort of a
girl she really is from half an hour's conversation in a ballroom."
"For my part, I don't at all agree with you, Edie," said Ernest, in his
coldest manner. "I don't believe there's any right way of falling in
love except at first sight. If a girl is going to please you, she ought
to please you instantaneously and instinctively; at least, so I think.
It isn't a thing to be thought about and reasoned about, but a thing to
be felt and apprehended intuitively. I couldn't reason myself into
marrying a girl, and what's more, I don't want to."
He sat down to the table, took out a sheet or two of initialed
notepaper, and began writing a couple of letters. One of them, which he
marked "Private" in the corner, ran as follows:—
"My dear Miss Walters
"Perhaps you will think it very odd of me to venture upon writing
to you on the strength of such a very brief and casual acquaintance
as that begun last night; but I have a particular reason for doing
so, which I think I can justify to you when I see you. You
mentioned to me that you were asked to the Montagus' steam-launch
expedition up the river from Surbiton to-morrow; but I understood
you to say you did not intend to accept the invitation. I write now
to beg of you to be there, as I am going, and I am particularly
anxious to meet you and have a little conversation with you on a
subject of importance. I know you are not a very conventional
person, and therefore I think you will excuse me for asking this
favour of you. Please don't take the trouble to write in reply; but
answer by going to the Montagus', and I shall then be able to
explain this very queer letter. In haste,
"Yours very truly,
He read this note two or three times over to himself, looking not very
well satisfied with its contents; and then at last, with the air of a
man who determines to plunge and stake all upon a single venture, he
folded it up and put it in its envelope. "It'll mystify her a little, no
doubt," he thought to himself; "and being a woman, she'll be naturally
anxious to unravel the mystery. But of course she'll know I mean to make
her an offer, and perhaps she'll think me a perfect idiot for not doing
it outright, instead of beating about the bush in this incomprehensible
fashion. However, it's too cold-blooded, proposing to a girl on paper; I
very much prefer the vivâ voce system. It's only till to-morrow; and I
doubt if Harold will manage to be beforehand with me in that time. He'll
be deep in business all morning, and have no leisure to think about her.
Anyhow, all's fair in love and war; he said it should be war; and I'll
try to steal a march upon him, for all his lawyer's quibbles and
He took another sheet from his blotting-book, and wrote a second note,
much more rapidly than the first one. It ran after this fashion—
"Dear Mrs. Montagu
"Will you think it very rude of me if I ask you to let me be one of
your party on your expedition up the river to-morrow? I heard of it
from your son Algernon last night at the Balfours', and I happen to
be very anxious to meet one of the ladies you have invited. Now,
I know you're kindness itself to all your young friends in all
these little matters, and I'm sure you won't be angry with me for
so coolly inviting myself. If I hadn't felt perfect confidence in
your invariable goodness, I wouldn't have ventured to do so. Please
don't answer unless you've no room for me, but expect me to turn up
at half-past two.
"Yours very sincerely,
"P.S.—We might call at Lady Portlebury's lawn, and look over the
"Now, that's bold, but judicious," Ernest said to himself, admiringly,
as he held the letter at arm's-length, after blotting it. "She might
have been angry at my inviting myself, though I don't think she would
be; but I'm sure she'll be only too delighted if I offer to take her
guests over Aunt Portlebury's conservatories. The postscript's a stroke
of genius. What a fuss these people will make, even over the widow of a
stupid old cavalry officer, because her husband happens to have been
knighted. It's all the better that she's a widow, indeed. The delicious
vagueness of the title 'Lady' is certainly one of its chief
recommendations. Sir Antony being out of the way, Mrs. Montagu's guests
can't really tell but that poor dear old Aunt Portlebury may be a real
live Countess." And he folded his second letter up with the full
satisfaction of an approving conscience.
When Isabel Walters received Ernest Carnegie's mysterious note, she was
certainly mystified by it as he had expected, and also not a little
gratified. He meant to propose to her, that was certain; and there was
never a woman in the whole world who was not flattered by a handsome
young man's marked attentions. It was a very queer letter, no doubt; but
it had been written skilfully enough to suit the particular personality
of Isabel Walters: for Ernest Carnegie was a keen judge of character,
and he flattered himself that he knew how to adapt his correspondence to
the particular temperament of the persons he happened to be addressing.
And though Isabel had no very distinct idea of what the two Carnegies
were severally like (it could hardly have been much more distinct if she
had known them both intimately), she felt they were two very
good-looking, agreeable young men, and she was not particularly averse
to the attentions of either. After all, upon what straws we all usually
hang our love-making! We see one another once or twice under
exceptionally deceptive circumstances; we are struck at first sight with
something that attracts us on either side; we find the attraction is
mutual; we flounder at once into a declaration of undying attachment; we
get married, and on the whole we generally find we were right after all,
in spite of our precipitancy, and we live happily ever afterwards. So
it was not really very surprising that Isabel Walters, getting such a
note from one of the two handsome young Mr. Carnegies, should have been
in some doubt which of the two identicals it actually was, and yet
should have felt indefinitely pleased and flattered at the implied
attention. Which was Ernest and which Harold could only mean to her,
when she came to think on it, which was the one she danced with first
last night, and which the one she danced with second. She decided in her
own mind that it would be better for her to go to the Montagus' picnic
to-morrow, but to say nothing about it to her mother. "Mamma wouldn't
understand the letter," she said to herself complacently; "she's so
conventional; and when I come back to-morrow I can tell her one of the
young Carnegies was there, and that he proposed to me. She need never
know there was any appointment."
At six o'clock, Harold Carnegie returned from the office. He, too, had
been thinking all day of Isabel Walters, and the moment he got home he
went into the library to write a short note to her, before Ernest had,
as usual, forestalled him. As he did so he happened to see a few words
dimly transferred to the paper in the blotting-book. They were in
Ernest's handwriting, and he was quite sure the four first words read,
"My dear Miss Walters." Then Ernest had already been beforehand with
him, after all! But not by a fortnight: that was one good point; not
this time by a fortnight! He would be even with him yet; he would catch
up this anticipatory twin-brother of his, by force or fraud, rather than
let him steal away Isabel Walters from him once and for ever. "All's
fair in love and war," he muttered to himself, taking up the
blotting-book carefully, and tearing out the tell-tale leaf in a
furtive fashion. "Thank Heaven, Ernest writes a thick black hand, the
same as I do; and I shall probably be able to read it by holding it up
to the light." In his own soul Harold Carnegie loathed himself for such
an act of petty meanness; but he did it; with love and jealousy goading
him on, and the fear of his own twin-brother stinging him madly, he did
it; remorsefully and shamefacedly, but still did it.
He took the page up to his own bedroom, and held it up to the
window-pane. Blurred and indistinct, the words nevertheless came out
legibly in patches here and there, so that with a little patient
deciphering Harold could spell out the sense of both letters, though
they crossed one another obliquely at a slight angle. "Very brief and
casual acquaintance ... Montagus' steam-launch expedition up the river
from Surbiton to-morrow ... am going and am particularly anxious to meet
you ... this favour of you...." "So that's his plan, is it?" Harold said
to himself. "Softly, softly, Mr. Ernest, I think I can checkmate you!
What's this in the one to Mrs. Montagu? 'Expect me to turn up at
half-past two.' Aha, I thought so! Checkmate, Mr. Ernest, checkmate: a
scholar's mate for you! He'll be at the hospital till half-past one;
then he'll take the train to Clapham Junction, expecting to catch the
South-Western at 2.10. But to-morrow's the first of the month; the new
time-tables come into force; I've got one and looked it out already. The
South-Western now leaves at 2.4, three minutes before Mr. Ernest's train
arrives at Clapham Junction. I have him now, I have him now, depend upon
it. I'll go down instead of him. I'll get the party under way at once.
I'll monopolize Isabel, pretty Isabel. I'll find my opportunity at Aunt
Portlebury's, and Ernest won't get down to Surbiton till the 2.50 train.
Then he'll find his bird flown already. Aha! that'll make him angry.
Checkmate, my young friend, checkmate. You said it should be war, and
war you shall have it. I thank thee, friend, for teaching me that word.
Rivals now, you said; yes, rivals. 'Dolus an virtus, quis in hoste
requirat?' Why, that comes out of the passage about Androgeos! An omen,
a good omen. There's nothing like war for quickening the intelligence. I
haven't looked at a Virgil since I was in the sixth form; and yet the
line comes back to me now, after five years, as pat as the Catechism."
Chuckling to himself at the fraud to stifle conscience (for he had a
conscience), Harold Carnegie dressed hastily for dinner, and went down
quickly in a state of feverish excitement. Dinner passed off grimly
enough. He knew Ernest had written to Isabel; and Ernest guessed from
the other's excited, triumphant manner (though he tried hard to
dissemble the note of triumph in it) that Harold must have written
too—perhaps forestalling him by a direct proposal. In a dim way Mrs.
Carnegie guessed vaguely that some coldness had arisen between her two
boys, the first time for many years; and so she held her peace for the
most part, or talked in asides to Nellie Holt and her daughter. The
conversation was therefore chiefly delegated to Mr. Carnegie himself,
who discoursed with much animation about the iniquitous nature of the
new act for reducing costs in actions for the recovery of small debts—a
subject calculated to arouse the keenest interest in the minds of Nellie
Next morning, Harold Carnegie started for the office with prospective
victory elate in his very step, and yet with the consciousness of his
own mean action grinding him down to the pavement as he walked along it.
What a dirty, petty, dishonourable subterfuge! and still he would go
through with it. What a self-degrading bit of treachery! and yet he
would carry it out. "Pater," he said, as he walked along, "I mean to
take a holiday this afternoon. I'm going to the Montagus' water-party."
"Very inconvenient, Harold, my boy; 'Wilkins versus the Great Northern
Railway Company' coming on for hearing; and, besides, Ernest's going
there too. They won't want a pair of you, will they?"
"Can't help it, Pater," Harold answered. "I have particular business at
Surbiton, much more important to me than 'Wilkins versus the Great
Northern Railway Company.'"
His father looked at him keenly. "Ha!" he said, "a lady in the case, is
there? Very well, my boy, if you must you must, and that's the end of
it. A young man in love never does make an efficient lawyer. Get it over
quickly, pray; get it over quickly, that's all I beg of you."
"I shall get it over, I promise you," Harold answered, "this very
The father whistled. "Whew," he said, "that's sharp work, too, Harold,
isn't it? You haven't even told me her name yet. This is really very
sudden." But as Harold volunteered no further information, Mr. Carnegie,
who was a shrewd man of the world, held it good policy to ask him
nothing more about it for the present; and so they walked on the rest of
the way to the father's office in unbroken silence.
At one o'clock, Harold shut up his desk at the office and ran down to
Surbiton. At Clapham Junction he kept a sharp look-out for Ernest, but
Ernest was not there. Clearly, as Harold anticipated, he hadn't learnt
the alteration in the time-tables, and wouldn't reach Clapham Junction
till the train for Surbiton had started.
At Surbiton, Harold pushed on arrangements as quickly as possible, and
managed to get the party off before Ernest arrived upon the scene. Mrs.
Montagu, seeing "one of the young Carnegies" duly to hand, and never
having attempted to discriminate between them in any way, was perfectly
happy at the prospect of getting landed at Lady Portlebury's without
any minute investigation of the intricate question of Christian names.
The Montagus were nouveaux riches in the very act of pushing
themselves into fashionable society; and a chance of invading the
Portlebury lawn was extremely welcome to them upon any terms whatsoever.
Isabel Walters was looking charming. A light morning dress became her
even better than the dark red satin of the night before last; and she
smiled at Harold with the smile of a mutual confidence when she took his
hand, in a way that made his heart throb fast within him. From that
moment forward, he forgot Ernest and the unworthy trick he was playing,
and thought wholly and solely of Isabel Walters.
What a handsome young man he was, really, and how cleverly and
brilliantly he talked all the way up to Portlebury Lodge! Everybody
listened to him; he was the life and soul of the party. Isabel felt more
flattered than ever at his marked attention. He was the doctor, wasn't
he? No, the lawyer. Well, really, how impossible it was to distinguish
and remember them. And so well connected, too. If he were to propose to
her, now, she could afford to be so condescending to Amy Balfour.
At Lady Portlebury's lawn the steam-launch halted, and Harold managed to
get Isabel alone among the walks, while his aunt escorted the main body
of visitors thus thrust upon her hands over the conservatories. Eager
and hasty, now, he lost no time in making the best of the situation.
"I guessed as much, of course, from your letter, Mr. Carnegie," Isabel
said, playing with her fan with downcast eyes, as he pressed his offer
upon her; "and I really didn't know whether it was right of me to come
here without showing it to mamma and asking her advice about it. But I'm
quite sure I oughtn't to give you an answer at once, because I've seen
so very little of you. Let us leave the question open for a little.
It's asking so much to ask one for a definite reply on such a very short
"No, no, Miss Walters," Harold said quickly. "For Heaven's sake, give me
an answer now, I beg of you—I implore you. I must have an answer at
once, immediately. If you can't love me at first sight, for my own
sake—as I loved you the moment I saw you—you can never, never, never
love me! Doubt and hesitation are impossible in true love. Now, or
refuse me for ever! Surely you must know in your own heart whether you
can love me or not; if your heart tells you that you can, then trust
it—trust it—don't argue and reason with it, but say at once you will
make me happy for ever."
"Mr. Carnegie," Isabel said, lifting her eyes for a moment, "I do think,
perhaps—I don't know—but perhaps, after a little while, I could love
you. I like you very much; won't that do for the present? Why are you in
such a hurry for an answer? Why can't you give me a week or two to
"Because," said Harold, desperately, "if I give you a week my brother
will ask you, and perhaps you will marry him instead of me. He's always
before me in everything, and I'm afraid he'll be before me in this. Say
you'll have me, Miss Walters—oh, do say you'll have me, and save me
from the misery of a week's suspense!"
"But, Mr. Carnegie, how can I say anything when I haven't yet made up my
own mind about it? Why, I hardly know you yet from your brother."
"Ah, that's just it," Harold cried, in a voice of positive pain. "You
won't find any difference at all between us, if you come to know us; and
then perhaps you'll be induced to marry my brother. But you know this
much already, that here am I, begging and pleading before you this very
minute, and surely you won't send me away with my prayer unanswered!"
There was such a look of genuine anguish and passion in his face that
Isabel Walters, already strongly prepossessed in his favour, could
resist no longer. She bent her head a little, and whispered very softly,
"I will promise, Mr. Carnegie; I will promise."
Harold seized her hand eagerly, and covered it with kisses. "Isabel," he
cried in a fever of joy, "you have promised. You are mine—mine—mine.
You are mine, now and for ever!"
Isabel bowed her head, and felt a tear standing dimly in her eye, though
she brushed it away hastily. "Yes," she said gently; "I will be yours. I
think—I think—I feel sure I can love you."
Harold took her ungloved hand tenderly in his, and drew a ring off her
finger. "Before I give you mine," he said, "you will let me take this
one? I want it for a keepsake and a memorial."
Isabel whispered, "Yes."
Harold drew another ring from his pocket and slipped it softly on her
third finger. Isabel saw by the glitter that there was a diamond in it.
Harold had bought it the day before for that very purpose. Then he took
from a small box a plain gold locket, with the letter H raised on it. "I
want you to wear this," he said, "as a keepsake for me."
"But why H?" Isabel asked him, looking a little puzzled. "Your name's
Ernest, isn't it?"
Harold smiled as well as he was able. "How absurd it is!" he said, with
an effort at gaiety. "This ridiculous similarity pursues us everywhere.
No, my name's Harold."
Isabel stood for a moment surprised and hesitating. She really hardly
knew for the second which brother she ought to consider herself engaged
to. "Then it wasn't you who wrote to me?" she said, with a tone of some
surprise and a little start of astonishment.
"No, I certainly didn't write to you; but I came here to-day expecting
to see you, and meaning to ask you to be my wife. I learned from my
brother ("there can be no falsehood in putting it that way," he thought
vainly to himself) that you were to be here; and I determined to seize
the opportunity. Ernest meant to have come, too, but I believe he must
have lost the train at Clapham Junction." That was all literally true,
and yet it sounded simple and plausible enough.
Isabel looked at him with a puzzled look, and felt almost compelled to
laugh, the situation was so supremely ridiculous. It took a moment to
think it all out rationally. Yet, after all, though the letter came from
the other brother, Ernest, it was this particular brother, Harold, she
had been talking to and admiring all the day; it was this particular
brother, Harold, who had gained her consent, and whom she had promised
to love and to marry. And at that moment it would have been doing Isabel
Walters an injustice not to admit that in her own soul she did then and
there really love Harold Carnegie.
"Harold," she said slowly, as she took the locket and hung it round her
neck, "Harold. Yes, now I know. Then, Harold Carnegie, I shall take your
locket and wear it always as a keepsake from you." And she looked up at
him with a smile in which there was something more than mere passing
coquettish fancy. You see, he was really terribly in earnest; and the
very fact that he should have been so anxious to anticipate his brother,
and should have anticipated him successfully, made her woman's heart go
forth toward him instinctively. As Harold himself said, he was there
bodily present before her; while Ernest, the writer of the mysterious
letter, was nothing more to her in reality than a name and a shadow.
Harold had asked her, and won her; and she was ready to love and cleave
to Harold from that day forth for that very reason. What woman of them
all has a better reason to give in the last resort for the faith that is
Meanwhile, at Clapham Junction, Ernest Carnegie had arrived three
minutes too late for the Surbiton train, and had been forced to wait for
the 2.40. Of that he thought little: they would wait for him, he knew,
if they waited an hour; for Mrs. Montagu would not for worlds have
missed the chance of showing her guests round Lady Portlebury's gardens.
So he settled himself down comfortably in the snug corner of his
first-class carriage, and ran down by the later train in perfect
confidence that he would find the steam launch waiting.
"No, sir, they've gone up the river in the launch, sir," said the man
who opened the door for him; "and, I beg pardon, sir, but I thought you
were one of the party."
In a moment Ernest's fancy, quickened by his jealousy, jumped
instinctively at the true meaning of the man's mistake. "What," he said,
"was there a gentleman very like me, in a grey coat and straw hat—same
ribbon as this one?"
"Yes, sir. Exactly, sir. Well, indeed, I should have said it was
yourself, sir; but I suppose it was the other Mr. Carnegie."
"It was!" Ernest answered between his clenched teeth, almost
inarticulate with anger. "It was he. Not a doubt of it. Harold! I see it
all. The treachery—the base treachery! How long have they been gone, I
say? How long, eh?"
"About half an hour, sir; they went up towards Henley, sir."
Ernest Carnegie turned aside, reeling with wrath and indignation.
That his brother, his own familiar twin-brother, should have played
him this abominable, disgraceful trick! The meanness of it! The deceit
of it! The petty spying and letter-opening of it! For somehow or
other—inconceivable how—Harold must have opened his brother's letters.
And then, quick as lightning, for those two brains jumped together, the
thought of the blotting-book flashed across Ernest's mind. Why, he had
noticed this morning that a page was gone out of it. He must have read
the letters. And then the trains! Harold always got a time-table on the
first of each month, with his cursed methodical lawyer ways. And he had
never told him about the change of service. The dirty low trick! The
mean trick! Even to think of it made Ernest Carnegie sick at heart and
In a minute he saw it all and thought it all out. Why did he—how did
he? Why, he knew as clearly as if he could read Harold's thoughts,
exactly how the whole vile plot had first risen upon him, and worked
itself out within his traitorous brain. How? Ah, how? That was the
bitterest, the most horrible, the deadliest part of it all. Ernest
Carnegie knew, because he felt in his own inmost soul that, had he been
put in the same circumstances, he would himself have done exactly as
Harold had done.
Yes, exactly in every respect. Harold must have seen the words in the
blotting-book, "My dear Miss Walters"—Ernest remembered how thickly and
blackly he had written—must have seen those words; and in their present
condition, either of the twins, jealous, angry, suspicious, half driven
by envy of one another out of their moral senses, would have torn out
the page then and there and read it all. He, too, would have kept
silence about the train; he would have gone down to Surbiton; he would
have proposed to Isabel Walters; he would have done in everything
exactly as he knew Harold must have done it; but that did not make his
anger and loathing for his brother any the weaker. On the contrary, it
only made them all the more terrible. His consciousness of his own equal
potential meanness roused his rage against Harold to a white heat. He
would have done the same himself, no doubt; yes; but Harold, the mean,
successful, actually accomplishing villain—Harold had really gone down
and done it all in positive fact and reality.
Flushing scarlet and blanching white alternately with the fierceness of
his anger, Ernest Carnegie turned down, all on fire, to the river's
edge. Should he take a boat and row up after them to prevent the
supplanter at least from proposing to Isabel unopposed? That would at
any rate give him something to do—muscular work for his arms, if
nothing else, to counteract the fire within him; but on second thoughts,
no, it would be quite useless. The steam launch had had a good start of
him, and no oarsman could catch up with it now by any possibility. So he
walked about up and down near the river, chafing in soul and nursing his
wrath against Harold for three long weary hours. And all that time
Harold, false-hearted, fair-spoken, mean-spirited Harold, was enjoying
himself and playing the gallant to Isabel Walters!
Minute by minute the hours wore away, and with every minute Ernest's
indignation grew deeper and deeper. At last he heard the snort of the
steam-launch ploughing its way lustily down the river, and he stood on
the bank waiting for the guilty Harold to disembark.
As Harold stepped from the launch, and gave his hand to Isabel, he saw
the white and bloodless face of his brother looking up at him
contemptuously and coldly from beside the landing. Harold passed ashore
and close by him, but Ernest never spoke a word. He only looked a moment
at Isabel, and said to her with enforced calmness, "You got my letter,
Isabel, hardly comprehending the real solemnity of the occasion,
answered with a light smile, "I did, Mr. Carnegie, but you didn't keep
your appointment. Your brother came, and he has been beforehand with
you." And she touched his hand lightly and went on to join her hostess.
Still Ernest Carnegie said nothing, but walked on, as black as night,
beside his brother. Neither spoke a word; but after the shaking of hands
and farewells were over, both turned together to the railway station.
The carriage was crowded, and so Ernest still held his tongue.
At last, when they reached home and stood in the passage together,
Ernest looked at his brother with a look of withering scorn, and, livid
with anger, found his voice at last.
"Harold Carnegie," he said, in a low husky tone, "you are a mean
intercepter of other men's letters; a sneaking supplanter of other men's
appointments; a cur and a traitor whom I don't wish any longer to
associate with. I know what you have done, and I know how you have done
it. You have kept my engagement with Isabel Walters by reading the
impression of my notes on the blotting-book. You are unfit for a
gentleman to speak to, and I cast you off, now and for ever."
Harold looked at him defiantly, but said never a word.
"Harold Carnegie," Ernest said again, "I could hardly believe your
treachery until it was forced upon me. This is the last time I shall
ever speak to you."
Harold looked at him again, this time perhaps with a tinge of remorse in
his expression, and said nothing but, "Oh, Ernest."
Ernest made a gesture with his hands as though he would repel him.
"Don't come near me," he said; "Harold Carnegie, don't touch me! Don't
call me by my name! I will have nothing more to say or do with you."
Harold turned away in dead silence, and went to his own room, trembling
with conscious humiliation and self-reproach. But he did not attempt to
make the only atonement in his power by giving up Isabel Walters. That
would have been too much for human nature.
When Harold Carnegie was finally married to Isabel Walters, Ernest
stopped away from the wedding, and would have nothing whatever to say
either to bride or bridegroom. He would leave his unnatural brother, he
said, solely and entirely to the punishment of his own guilty
Still, he couldn't rest quiet in his father's house after Harold was
gone, so he took himself small rooms near the hospital, and there he
lived his lonely life entirely by himself, a solitary man, brooding
miserably over his own wrongs and Harold's treachery. There was only one
single woman in the world, he said, with whom he could ever have been
really happy—Isabel Walters: and Harold had stolen Isabel Walters away
from him by the basest treason. Once he could have loved Isabel, and her
only; now, because she was Harold's wife, he bitterly hated her. Yes,
hated her! With a deadly hatred he hated both of them.
Months went by slowly for Ernest Carnegie, in the dull drudgery of his
hopeless professional life, for he cared nothing now for ambition or
advancement; he lived wholly in the past, nursing his wrath, and
devouring his own soul in angry regretfulness. Months went by, and at
last Harold's wife gave birth to a baby—a boy, the exact image of his
father and his uncle. Harold looked at the child in the nurse's arms,
and said remorsefully, "We will call him Ernest. It is all we can do
now, Isabel. We will call him Ernest, after my dear lost brother." So
they called him Ernest, in the faint hope that his uncle's heart might
relent a little; and Harold wrote a letter full of deep and bitter
penitence to his brother, piteously begging his forgiveness for the
grievous wrong he had wickedly and deliberately done him. But Ernest
still nursed his righteous wrath silently in his own bosom, and tore up
the letter into a thousand fragments, unanswered.
When the baby was five months old, Edie Carnegie came round hurriedly
one morning to Ernest's lodgings near the hospital. "Ernest, Ernest,"
she cried, running up the stairs in great haste, "we want you to come
round and see Harold. We're afraid he's very ill. Don't say you won't
come and see him!"
Ernest Carnegie listened and smiled grimly. "Very ill," he muttered,
with a dreadful gleam in his eyes. "Very ill, is he? and I have had
nothing the matter with me! How curious! Very ill! I ought to have had
the same illness a fortnight ago. Ha, ha! The cycle is broken! The
clocks have ceased to strike together! His marriage has altered the run
of his constitution—mine remains the same steady striker as ever. I
thought it would! I thought it would! Perhaps he'll die, now, the mean,
Edie Carnegie looked at him in undisguised horror. "Oh, Ernest," she
cried, with the utmost dismay; "your own brother! Your own brother!
Surely you'll come and see him, and tell us what's the matter."
"Yes, I'll come and see him," Ernest answered, unmoved, taking up his
hat. "I'll come and see him, and find out what's the matter." But there
was an awful air of malicious triumph in his tone, which perfectly
horrified his trembling sister.
When Ernest reached his brother's house, he went at once to Harold's
bedside, and without a word of introduction or recognition he began
inquiring into the nature of his symptoms, exactly as he would have done
with any unknown and ordinary patient. Harold told him them all, simply
and straightforwardly, without any more preface than he would have used
with any other doctor. When Ernest had finished his diagnosis, he leaned
back carelessly in his easy chair, folded his arms sternly, and said in
a perfectly cold, clear, remorseless voice, "Ah, I thought so; yes, yes,
I thought so. It's a serious functional disorder of the heart; and
there's very little hope indeed that you'll ever recover from it. No
hope at all, I may say; no hope at all, I'm certain. The thing has been
creeping upon you, creeping upon you, evidently, for a year past, and it
has gone too far now to leave the faintest hope of ultimate recovery."
Isabel burst into tears at the words—calmly spoken as though they were
perfectly indifferent to both speaker and hearers; but Harold only rose
up fiercely in the bed, and cried in a tone of the most imploring agony,
"Oh, Ernest, Ernest, if I must die, for Heaven's sake, before I die, say
you forgive me, do say, do say you forgive me. Oh, Ernest, dear Ernest,
dear brother Ernest, for the sake of our long, happy friendship, for the
sake of the days when we loved one another with a love passing the love
of women, do, do say you will at last forgive me."
Ernest rose and fumbled nervously for a second with the edge of his hat.
"Harold Carnegie," he said at last, in a voice trembling with
excitement, "I can never forgive you. You acted a mean, dirty part, and
I can never forgive you. Heaven may, perhaps it will; but as for me, I
can never, never, never forgive you!"
Harold fell back feebly and wearily upon the pillows. "Ernest, Ernest,"
he cried, gasping, "you might forgive me! you ought to forgive me! you
must forgive me! and I'll tell you why. I didn't want to say it, but now
you force me. I know it as well as if I'd seen you do it. In my place, I
know to a certainty, Ernest, you'd have done exactly as I did. Ernest
Carnegie, you can't look me straight in the face and tell me that you
wouldn't have acted exactly as I did."
That terrible unspoken truth, long known, but never confessed, even to
himself, struck like a knife on Ernest's heart. He raised his hat
blindly, and walked with unsteady steps out of the sick-room. At that
moment, his own conscience smote him with awful vividness. Looking into
the inmost recesses of his angry heart, he felt with a shudder that
Harold had spoken the simple truth, and he dared not lie by
contradicting him. In Harold's place he would have done exactly as
Harold did! And that was just what made his deathless anger burn all the
more fiercely and fervidly against his brother!
Groping his way down the stairs alone in a stunned and dazzled fashion,
Ernest Carnegie went home in his agony to his lonely lodgings, and sat
there solitary with his own tempestuous thoughts for the next
eight-and-forty hours. He did not undress or lie down to sleep, though
he dozed a little at times uneasily in his big arm-chair; he did not eat
or drink much; he merely paced up and down his room feverishly, and sent
his boy round at intervals of an hour or two to know how the doctor
thought Mr. Harold Carnegie was getting on. The boy returned every time
with uniformly worse and worse reports. Ernest rubbed his hands in
horrid exultation: "Ah," he said to himself, eagerly, "he will die! he
will die! he will pay the penalty of his dirty treachery! He has brought
it all upon himself by marrying that wicked woman! He deserves it every
bit for his mean conduct."
On the third morning, Edie came round again, this time with her mother.
Both had tears in their eyes, and they implored Ernest with sobs and
entreaties to come round and see Harold once more before he died. Harold
was raving and crying for him in his weakness and delirium. But Ernest
was like adamant. He would not go to see him, he said, not if they went
down bodily on their knees before him.
At midday, the boy went again, and stayed a little longer than usual.
When he returned, he brought back word that Mr. Harold Carnegie had died
just as the clock was striking the hour. Ernest listened with a look of
terror and dismay, and then broke down into a terrible fit of sobbing
and weeping. When Edie came round a little later to tell him that all
was over, she found him crying like a child in his own easy chair, and
muttering to himself in a broken fashion how dearly he and Harold had
loved one another years ago, when they were both happy children
Edie took him round to his brother's house, and there, over the deaf and
blind face that lay cold upon the pillows, he cried the cry that he
would not cry over his living, imploring brother. "Oh, Harold, Harold,"
he groaned in his broken agony, "I forgive you, I forgive you. I too
sinned as you did. What you would do, I would do. It was bound up in
both our natures. In your place I would have done as you did. But now
the curse of Cain is upon me! A worse curse than Cain's is upon me! I
have more than killed my brother!"
For a day or two Ernest went back, heart-broken, to his father's house,
and slept once more in the old room where he used to sleep so long, next
door to Harold's. At the end of three days, he woke once from one of his
short snatches of sleep with a strange fluttering feeling in his left
side. He knew in a moment what it was. It was the same disease that
Harold had died of.
"Thank Heaven!" he said to himself eagerly, "thank Heaven, thank Heaven
for that! Then I didn't wholly kill him! His blood isn't all upon my
poor unhappy head. After all, his marriage didn't quite upset the
harmony of the two clocks; it only made the slower one catch up for a
while and pass the faster. I'm a fortnight later in striking than Harold
this time; that's all. In three days more the clock will run down, and I
shall die as he did."
And, true to time, in three days more, as the clock struck twelve,
Ernest Carnegie died as his brother Harold had done before him, with the
agonized cry for forgiveness trembling on his fevered lips—who knows
whether answered or unanswered?