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The Pearls And The Swine
by [?]

CHAPTER I

Miss Markham in certain respects was a fortunate lady. She had a flat in town and had recently acquired a little bungalow for week-end purposes on a cliff that overlooked the sea. There are one or two other little bungalows in the vicinity, and the people who own them do not give away the name of the place; they fear the penalties of popularity.

Miss Markham had sufficient means and no worries; she was good-looking enough for all practical purposes. She was forty-five years of age, had never been engaged, had never even come within a mile of being engaged.

In her London flat Miss Markham was quite conventional, and kept the usual servants; in the sacred privacy of her bungalow by the sea, she kept no regular servants at all. An old woman who lived in the village was paid to keep an eye on the place while Miss Markham was away, though no one could have said precisely what good it had done the place to have an eye kept there. The same old woman, when Miss Markham grew tired of town and came down for the week-end, spent the day at the bungalow, and–to use her own expression, which is not to be taken literally–“did for her”.

July in London was very hot that year. Miss Byles said that she would only be too delighted to go down to the bungalow, at the place which may not be mentioned, in company with Miss Markham. At the last moment Miss Byles was compelled, by health, to break her engagement. She did everything at the wrong time; she got hay fever at the wrong time; therefore Miss Markham went down alone, and the old woman made some perfunctory preparations for her, cooked an alleged dinner for her, and made no secret of the fact that she regarded it as a grievance that she should have to do anything whatever in return for the money which she received.

Having done as little as possible, she returned, so to speak, to her nest, and Miss Markham was left absolutely alone in the bungalow.

At ten o’clock that night Miss Markham, who was almost excessively refined, had just put down her copy of Walter Pater’s “Imaginary Portraits”, and was thinking of crossing the passage to go to bed. At that moment, her attention was attracted by a gentle tap on her front door: it was not the urgent, sharp, business tap of the Post Office; it was the rippling, social tap. Miss Markham was not nervous; she looked out of the window before deciding to open the door. Even with the moon to help her she could see nothing very distinctly, but it was obviously a man who was standing there, and he appeared to be a well-dressed man. She at once decided that he was a guest on his way to one of the other bungalows, and that he had called on her by mistake. Having come to this totally erroneous conclusion, she opened the door.

The visitor stood in the light now, and there was nothing about him to cause her perturbation. He was a tall man, about thirty years of age, with a short yellow beard and trustful, melancholy blue eyes. He wore a grey lounge suit and patent leather shoes, and he carried in his hand a very small brown bag.

“Miss Markham?” he said, raising his hat.

“I am Miss Markham.”

“I really must apologise for disturbing you at this time of night. The fact of the case is that you live in a lonely spot; I wish to inquire if you are insured against burglary.”

Miss Markham was rather amused by the impertinence of him. It was all very well for an insurance-office tout to call upon her to get her to take out a policy, but it did seem a little bit too much that he should call at so late an hour. If Miss Markham had not liked the man’s appearance, she would have been even more severe than she was.