And with a sigh but no words she took from her bag a long washleather pouch-it looked like a lean yellow ferret. And from a slit in the ferret’s belly she dropped pearls -ten pearls. They rolled from the slit in the ferret’s belly-one, two, three, four-like the eggs of some heavenly bird.
“All’s that’s left me, dear Mr. Bacon,” she moaned. Five, six, seven-down they rolled, down the slopes of the vast mountain sides that fell between her knees into one narrow valley-the eighth, the click this link now ninth, and the tenth. There they lay in the glow of the peach-blossom taffeta. Ten pearls.
Oliver stretched out and took one of the pearls between finger and thumb. It was round, it was lustrous. But real was it, or false? Was she lying again? Did she dare?
She laid her plump padded finger across her lips. “If the Duke knew. ” she whispered. “Dear Mr. Bacon, a bit of bad luck. “
The man with the chipped cheek bone? A bad ‘un. And the Duke was straight as a poker; with side whiskers; would cut her off, shut her up down there if he knew-what I know, thought Oliver, and glanced at the safe.
“You have all my secrets,” she leered. Tears slid; tears fell; tears, like diamonds, collecting powder in the ruts of her cherry blossom cheeks.
But was it real or false, the one he held in his hand? The Appleby cincture-hadn’t she sold it already? He would ring for Spencer or Hammond. “Take it and test it,” he would say. He stretched to the bell.
“You will come down to-morrow?” she urged, she interrupted. “The Prime Minister-His Royal Highness. ” She stopped. “And Diana. ” she added.
He looked past her, at the backs of the houses in Bond Street. But he saw, not the houses in Bond Street, but a dimpling river; and trout rising and salmon; and the Prime Minister; and himself too, in white waistcoat; and then, Diana. He looked down at the pearl in his hand. But how could he test it, in the light of the river, in the light of the eyes of Diana? But the eyes of the Duchess were on him.
“Twenty-” he wrote. Then he stopped writing. The eyes of the old woman in the picture were on him-of the old woman his mother.
And there opened all the flounces of the parasol, all the plumes of the peacock, the radiance of the wave, the swords and spears of Agincourt, as she rose from her chair. And the two old men and the two young men, Spencer and mond, flattened themselves behind the counter envying him as he led her through the shop to the door. And he waggled his yellow glove in their faces, and she held her honour-a Cheque for twenty thousand pounds with his signature-quite firmly in her hands.
“Are they false or are they real?” asked Oliver, shutting his private door. He took them to the window. He held them under his lens to the light. This, then, was the truffle he had routed out of the earth! Rotten at the centre-rotten at the core!
“Forgive me, oh, my mother!” he sighed, raising his hand as if he asked pardon of the old woman in the picture. And again he was a little boy in the alley where they sold dogs on Sunday.
“Slater’s pins have no points-don’t you always find that?” said Miss Craye, turning round as the rose fell out of Fanny Wilmot’s dress, and Fanny stooped, with her cars full of the music, to look for the pin on the floor.
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