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Suppose he had never gone down to Marvis Bay that time. He had wavered between half a dozen places; it was pure chance that he had chosen Marvis Bay. If he hadn't he would never have met old Nutcombe. Probably old Nutcombe had wavered between half a dozen places too. If they hadn't both happened to choose Marvis Bay they would never have met. And if they hadn't been the only visitors there they might never have got to know each other. And if old Nutcombe hadn't happened to slice his approach shots he would never have put him under an obligation. Queer old buster, old Nutcombe, leaving a fellow he hardly knew from Adam a cool million quid just because he cured him of slicing.

It was at this point in his meditations that it suddenly occurred to Bill that he had not yet given a thought to what was immeasurably the most important of any of the things that ought to be occupying his mind just now. What was he to do about this Lord Dawlish business?

Life at Brookport had so accustomed him to being plain Bill Chalmers that it had absolutely slipped his mind that he was really Lord Dawlish, the one man in the world whom Elizabeth looked on as an enemy. What on earth was he to do about that? Tell her? But if he told her, wouldn't she chuck him on the spot?

This was awful. The dreamy sense of well-being left him. He straightened himself to face this problem, ignoring the hint of James, who was weaving circles about his legs expectant of more tickling. A man cannot spend his time tickling cats when he has to concentrate on a dilemma of this kind.

Suppose he didn't tell her? How would that work out? Was a marriage legal if the cove who was being married went through it under a false name? He seemed to remember seeing a melodrama in his boyhood the plot of which turned on that very point. Yes, it began to come back to him. An unpleasant bargee with a black moustache had said, 'This woman is not your wife!' and caused the dickens of a lot of unpleasantness; but there in its usual slipshod way memory failed. Had subsequent events proved the bargee right or wrong? It was a question for a lawyer to decide. Jerry Nichols would know. Well, there was plenty of time, thank goodness, to send Jerry Nichols a cable, asking for his professional opinion, and to get the straight tip long before the wedding day arrived.

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Laying this part of it aside for the moment, and assuming that the thing could be worked, what about the money? Like a chump, he had told Elizabeth on the first day of his visit that he hadn't any money except what he made out of his job as secretary of the club. He couldn't suddenly spring five million dollars on her and pretend that he had forgotten all about it till then.

Of course, he could invent an imaginary uncle or something, and massacre him during the honeymoon. Something in that. He pictured the thing in his mind. Breakfast: Elizabeth doling out the scrambled eggs. 'What's the matter, Bill? Why did you exclaim like that? Is there some bad news in the letter you are reading?'

'Oh, it's nothing--only my Uncle John's died and left me five million dollars.'

The scene worked out so well that his mind became a little above itself. It suggested developments of serpentine craftiness. Why not get Jerry Nichols to write him a letter about his Uncle John and the five millions? Jerry liked doing that sort of thing. He would do it like a shot, and chuck in a lot of legal words to make it sound right. It began to be clear to Bill that any move he took--except full confession, at which he jibbed--was going to involve Jerry Nichols as an ally; and this discovery had a soothing effect on him. It made him feel that the responsibility had been shifted. He couldn't do anything till he had consulted Jerry, so there was no use in worrying. And, being one of those rare persons who can cease worrying instantly when they have convinced themselves that it is useless, he dismissed the entire problem from his mind and returned to the more congenial occupation of thinking of Elizabeth.

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It was a peculiar feature of his position that he found himself unable to think of Elizabeth without thinking of Claire. He tried to, but failed. Every virtue in Elizabeth seemed to call up the recollection of a corresponding defect in Claire It became almost mathematical. Elizabeth was so straight on the level they called it over here. Claire was a corkscrew among women. Elizabeth was sunny and cheerful. Querulousness was Claire's besetting sin. Elizabeth was such a pal. Claire had never been that. The effect that Claire had always had on him was to deepen the conviction, which never really left him, that he was a bit of an ass. Elizabeth, on the other hand, bucked him up and made him feel as if he really amounted to something.

How different they were! Their very voices--Elizabeth had a sort of quiet, soothing, pleasant voice, the kind of voice that somehow suggested that she thought a lot of a chap without her having to say it in so many words. Whereas Claire's voice--he had noticed it right from the beginning--Claire's voice--

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While he was trying to make clear to himself just what it was about Claire's voice that he had not liked he was granted the opportunity of analysing by means of direct observation its failure to meet his vocal ideals, for at this moment it spoke behind him.

She was standing in the road, her head still covered with that white, filmy something which had commended itself to Mr Pickering's eyes. She was looking at him in a way that seemed somehow to strike a note of appeal. She conveyed an atmosphere of softness and repentance, a general suggestion of prodigal daughters revisiting old homesteads.

'We seem always to be meeting at gates, don't we?' she said, with a faint smile.

It was a deprecating smile, wistful.

'Bill!' she said again, and stopped. She laid her left hand lightly on the gate. Bill had a sort of impression that there was some meaning behind this action; that, if he were less of a chump than Nature had made him, he would at this point receive some sort of a revelation. But, being as Nature had made him, he did not get it.

He was one of those men to whom a girl's left hand is simply a girl's left hand, irrespective of whether it wears rings on its third finger or not.

This having become evident to Claire after a moment of silence, she withdrew her hand in rather a disappointed way and prepared to attack the situation from another angle.