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Twin Spirits
by [?]

The “Terrace,” consisting of eight gaunt houses, faced the sea, while the back rooms commanded a view of the ancient little town some half mile distant. The beach, a waste of shingle, was desolate and bare except for a ruined bathing machine and a few pieces of linen drying in the winter sunshine. In the offing tiny steamers left a trail of smoke, while sailing-craft, their canvas glistening in the sun, slowly melted from the sight. On all these things the “Terrace” turned a stolid eye, and, counting up its gains of the previous season, wondered whether it could hold on to the next. It was a discontented “Terrace,” and had become prematurely soured by a Board which refused them a pier, a band-stand, and illuminated gardens.

From the front windows of the third storey of No. 1 Mrs. Cox, gazing out to sea, sighed softly.

The season had been a bad one, and Mr. Cox had been even more troublesome than usual owing to tightness in the money market and the avowed preference of local publicans for cash transactions to assets in chalk and slate. In Mr. Cox’s memory there never had been such a drought, and his crop of patience was nearly exhausted.

He had in his earlier days attempted to do a little work, but his health had suffered so much that his wife had become alarmed for his safety. Work invariably brought on a cough, and as he came from a family whose lungs had formed the staple conversation of their lives, he had been compelled to abandon it, and at last it came to be understood that if he would only consent to amuse himself, and not get into trouble, nothing more would be expected of him. It was not much of a life for a man of spirit, and at times it became so unbearable that Mr. Cox would disappear for days together in search of work, returning unsuccessful after many days with nerves shattered in the pursuit.

Mrs. Cox’s meditations were disturbed by a knock at the front door, and, the servants having been discharged for the season, she hurried downstairs to open it, not without a hope of belated lodgers–invalids in search of an east wind. A stout, middle-aged woman in widow’s weeds stood on the door-step.

“Glad to see you, my dear,” said the visitor, kissing her loudly.

Mrs. Cox gave her a subdued caress in return, not from any lack of feeling, but because she did everything in a quiet and spiritless fashion.

“I’ve got my Uncle Joseph from London staying with us,” continued the visitor, following her into the hall, “so I just got into the train and brought him down for a blow at the sea.”

A question on Mrs. Cox’s lips died away as a very small man who had been hidden by his niece came into sight.

“My Uncle Joseph,” said Mrs. Berry; “Mr. Joseph Piper,” she added.

Mr. Piper shook hands, and after a performance on the door-mat, protracted by reason of a festoon of hemp, followed his hostess into the faded drawing-room.

“And Mr. Cox?” inquired Mrs. Berry, in a cold voice.

Mrs. Cox shook her head. “He’s been away this last three days,” she said, flushing slightly.

“Looking for work?” suggested the visitor.

Mrs. Cox nodded, and, placing the tips of her fingers together, fidgeted gently.

“Well, I hope he finds it,” said Mrs. Berry, with more venom than the remark seemed to require. “Why, where’s your marble clock?”

Mrs. Cox coughed. “It’s being mended,” she said, confusedly.

Mrs. Berry eyed her anxiously. “Don’t mind him, my dear,” she said, with a jerk of her head in the direction of Mr. Piper, “he’s nobody. Wouldn’t you like to go out on the beach a little while, uncle?”

“No,” said Mr. Piper.

“I suppose Mr. Cox took the clock for company,” remarked Mrs. Berry, after a hostile stare at her relative.

Mrs. Cox sighed and shook her head. It was no use pretending with Mrs. Berry.