Grant Allen.

The Beckoning Hand, and Other Stories



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"Are they as alike in character, then, as they are in face?" asked Nellie.

"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 drapery."

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 tone.

"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 already."

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 time."

"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."

II

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 know."

"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 is she?"

"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 to it."

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 other one."

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 life together.

"Well?" said Ernest, inquiringly, looking in a hesitating way at his brother.

"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 accordingly."

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 rivals?"

"Yes, rivals," Harold answered; "and war to the knife if so you wish it."

"War?"

"War!"

"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.

III

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,
"Ernest Carnegie."

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 viv? 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 quiddits."



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