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The Duchess and the Jeweller
by [?]

“Good morning, Mr. Bacon,” said the Duchess. And she held out her hand which came through the slit of her white glove. And Oliver bent low as he shook it. And as their hands touched the link was forged between them once more. They were friends, yet enemies; he was master, she was mistress; each cheated the other, each needed the other, each feared the other, each felt this and knew this every time they touched hands thus in the little back room with the white light outside, and the tree with its six leaves, and the sound of the street in the distance and behind them the safes.

“And today, Duchess—what can I do for you today?” said Oliver, very softly.

The Duchess opened; her heart, her private heart, gaped wide. And with a sigh, but no words, she took from her bag a long wash-leather 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 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 ninth, and the tenth. There they lay in the glow of the peach–blossom taffeta. Ten pearls.

“From the Appleby cincture,” she mourned. “The last… the last of them all. ”

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. . . ”

Been gambling again, had she?

“That villain! That sharper!” she hissed.

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.

“Araminta, Daphne, Diana,” she moaned. “It’s for them. ”

The ladies Araminta, Daphne, Diana—her daughters. He knew them; adored them. But it was Diana he loved.

“You have all my secrets,” she leered. Tears slid; tears fell; tears, like diamonds, collecting powder in the ruts of her cherry-blossom cheeks.

“Old friend,” she murmured, “old friend. ”

“Old friend,” he repeated, “old friend,” as if he licked the words.

“How much?” he queried.

She covered the pearls with her hand.

“Twenty thousand,” she whispered.

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 tomorrow?” she urged, she interrupted. “The Prime Minister—His Royal Highness… ” She stopped. “And Diana… ” she added.

Oliver took his hand off the bell.

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 thousand,” she moaned. “My honour!”

The honour of the mother of Diana! He drew his cheque book towards him; he took out his pen.

“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.

“Oliver!” she warned him. “Have sense! Don’t be a fool!”

“Oliver!” the Duchess entreated—it was “Oliver” now, not “Mr. Bacon. ” “You’ll come for a long weekend?”

Alone in the woods with Diana! Riding alone in the woods with Diana!

“Thousand,” he wrote, and signed it.

“Here you are,” he said.

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 Marshall, Wicks and Hammond, 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. There they were, ten pearls on the blotting paper on the table. 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.

“For,” he murmured, laying the palms of his hands together, “it is to be a long week–end. ”