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First published in The Novel Magazine, #147, June 1917

Collected in Paul Beck, Detective, Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-14

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"Paul Beck—Detective,"
Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929, with "The Pearl in the Pill Box"



M. McDonnell Bodkin

Irish barrister and author of detective and mystery stories Bodkin was appointed a judge in County Clare and also served as a Nationalist member of Parliament. His native country and years in the courtroom are recalled in the autobiographical Recollections of an Irish Judge (1914).

Bodkin's witty stories, collected in Dora Myrl, the Lady Detective (1900) and Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898), have been unjustly neglected.

Beck, his first detective (when he first appeared in print in Pearson's Magazine in 1897, he was named "Alfred Juggins"), claims to be not very bright, saying, "I just go by the rule of thumb, and muddle and puzzle out my cases as best I can."

...In The Capture of Paul Beck (1909) he and Dora begin on opposite sides in a case, but in the end they are married. They have a son who solves a crime at his university in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).

Other Bodkin books are The Quests of Paul Beck (1908), Pigeon Blood Rubies (1915), and Guilty or Not Guilty? (1929).

Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, Steinbrunner & Penzler, 1976.

DORA BECK poured her husband out another cup of tea, sweetened and creamed it exactly to his liking, and gave him one of his favourite tea-cakes.

"I have been rummaging this morning," she said.

"In the tin box again?"

"Yes; in the wonderful tin box. I found all sorts of queer, delightful odds and ends, but this is about the queerest of the lot. What does it mean? Why have you kept it?"

She picked from a pill-box something bright and glossy, about the size of a large pea, and held it between thumb and forefinger under his eyes.

"I got it in a flower-bed under a rose-bush where a lady had thrown it. I kept it as a memento."

"I knew there was a story hanging on to it!" cried Dora. "Tell it to me at once."

She tossed him across his cigar-case. He nipped a cigar, and Dora held a light.

"Now," she said, planting herself on a cushion at his feet. "Oh, Paul, I love to hear of the times before I knew you! Please!"

"Well, here goes! The story begins when Lady May bought the big rope of pearls.

"Lady Mary Cassover was her full name, but no one ever called her by anything but Lady May since her elderly husband died, nearly three years ago. She had amused herself pretty well before he died, and even better afterwards. Bright, pretty, lively, with wavy brown hair and big, innocent brown eyes and the complexion of a child, she was the most popular woman in London—with men. Some of her admirers thought her a sweet little girl, others a gay little devil, but all confessed her fascination, and the confession generally took the shape of handsome jewellery.

"But she bought the rope of pearls off her own bat, depositing two-thirds of the price, and sported it at ball and opera. Then she went on the Continent, carrying the pearls with her to Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Naples, and so, by P. and O. steamer, back to London for the autumn season.

"A week after her arrival the famous pearls were stolen. I heard all about it from the Universal Insurance Company, from which I had a permanent retainer, and by which the pearls were insured for the tidy sum of ten thousand pounds.

"Within an hour after the theft I was in Lady May's boudoir in a pretty little house with a garden—a big garden for a London house—at the back. I look a fancy to Lady May at first sight."

"You would," murmured Dora, and her husband pinched her ear.

"If you sneer I'll stop. I took a fancy to Lady May," he repeated emphatically, and paused defiantly. "I thought the section of her admirers were right who described her as a sweet little girl. I had gone there believing that she had stolen the pearls, but I abandoned the notion at sight.

"I had hardly time to admire the pretty little boudoir, hung in blue brocade, with two big round mirrors that each held a miniature room in its shining centre, when Lady May rushed into the room dressed in a pale blue evening dress, cut very low. Impulsively she held out both hands to me.

"'Oh, Mr. Beck!' she cried. 'I hear you are wonderfully clever. I hope you are clever enough to find out who stole my pearls.'

"'If they were stolen,' I suggested.

"An angry sparkle kindled in her eyes.

"'What do you mean by that?' she snapped out.

"'They may have been mislaid,' I answered meekly.

"'Oh, that's it? I thought for a moment——never mind what I thought. Of course, you didn't know what had happened. My pearls were snapped from my maid Agatha by some man. If you will come to my room she will tell you the whole story. Poor girl, she is in a desperate way about it. There is no doubt at all the pearls were stolen; the only doubtful point is who stole them.'

"As we entered the bedroom I fancied I noticed a faint smell of something which gradually resolved itself into chloroform. Agatha Narcott, a tall, shapely, rather good-looking girl of the sharp-featured type, was sitting in an easy-chair looking very frightened or exhausted or both.

"She jumped up as her mistress came into the room, but she swayed on her feet, holding on to the edge of the dressing-table, and Lady May ordered her instantly to sit down again, and even helped her back into her seat.

"I began by a quick look round the room, which was full of light from a big window opening on to the garden at the back of the house. There was plain evidence of a struggle. The bed was disordered as if somebody had been flung violently upon it, and two chairs lay on the floor, their legs in the air, and the top rail of one was broken.

"One look was enough for that room. In a moment my eyes came back to the girl who lay in the easy-chair, breathing quickly. Her black hair, loose at one side, fell in a single, thick, heavy rope to her waist. It was fastened on top at the other side, giving her head a curious, lop-sided appearance.

"'Agatha will tell you all about it, Mr. Beck,' said Lady May, nodding at the girl; 'Agatha, this is Mr. Beck, the great detective, who has come to catch the thief.'

"The girl looked up with a sudden gleam of eagerness in her face.

"'I did my best,' she gasped out.

"'Of course you did,' said Lady May soothingly. I thought it very decent of Lady May. 'No one blames you for one moment.' She turned to me. 'Perhaps it would be better if I left you alone; she might be less excited.'

"I nodded. I thought the girl was hysterical, and gentleness is no use for hysteria. Lady May left the room, closing the door behind her.

"'Now, my girl,' I said, speaking sharply, 'just you tell me what happened.'

"My tone seemed to revive her like a splash of cold water. She sat up straight in her chair and looked me in the face. I noticed that her blouse was torn at the neck.

"'Well, it was this way, sir. Her ladyship had an early dinner alone; she said she would dress and go to the opera after dinner, and I was to have everything ready when she came up. I wasn't long getting her things out. I laid out her dress and jewels, then I waited, and then——' She hesitated.

"'Yes; go on.'

"'I had nothing to do, sir, so——'


"'I tried on her ladyship's jewels. I didn't ought to, I know, but I meant no harm, and I was standing at the glass with the pearls looped up in both my hands when I felt the door open softly behind me. I turned sharp round on the instant. He just made one step across the room and he had me caught before I could cry out—one hand on my throat and the other on my mouth.

"'I struggled as hard as I could till I felt something going against my breath—some hot, smelly stuff—and I began weakening all over and seemed just to float away into nowhere. When I awoke again I was lying on the floor with my back against the bed and the pearls were gone. That's all I know.

"'I staggered to the door, but I couldn't open it; it was locked on the outside. Then I made for the bell, and I rang for all I was worth till William came running up and her ladyship after him. She put William out of the room and got me some smelling salts and eau-de-Cologne and things, and in a minute or two I was able to tell her what had happened. In all my born days I never got such a fright. I was sure at first he was going to murder me.'

"I could see faint finger-marks on her throat; they would be black and blue in the morning, but it would never do to let her collapse into hysterics.

"'Steady on,' I said. 'Drink this.'

"'This' was a glass of cold water. She gulped it down obediently. 'No one is going to hurt you now; you have got to keep your wits about you, my girl. You saw the man—what was he like?'

"'I didn't rightly see him, sir; his face was covered with some black stuff. I only saw the brightness of his eyes through two holes. He was a tall man with dark hair, and he had his hat on when he came into the room, but it fell off when he got hold of me.'

"'Have you any notion how he got there?'

"'It would be easy for a man to hide in the house; there are two or three empty rooms. A lot of gentlemen came to see her ladyship during the day.'

"Was there a twinkle in her dark eyes as she said this, or did I fancy it? If there were it was gone in a second.

"'So you think——?'

"'I don't think anything; it is not for me to think. I have told you the truth, sir,' she added with energy.

"'The whole truth?' I asked.

"For a moment she hesitated. I could see she hesitated.

"'There was one other thing. I don't know if her ladyship would wish——but it can't make much matter either way. When I came to I found three pearls gripped tight in my left hand; I must have broken them in the struggle. I thought they might help, but when I showed them to her ladyship she cried out "Stupid!" and caught them from my hand and sent them flying out through the open window into the garden.'

"Here was something at last.

"'I thought she was angry at first—her face got so pale; but she wasn't really; she came back to herself with a little laugh. "That was very silly of me, Agatha," she said, "but I couldn't help it."'

"'Why not? Did she tell you why?'

"'I think I understand. When she saw those three pearls—all that was left out of her splendid necklace—it just made her mad.'

"Women understand women; what do you think, Dora?"

Dora shook her head and laughed up into his face.

"I think what you think, Paul; you don't catch me out like that."

"Well, for three days we got no forrader. There was no trace of any man having hidden in any of the rooms. No man was seen in the house or seen leaving it after six o'clock. I got the cards of the callers that day; there were half-a-dozen of them, all gentlemen, but not one of the lot in the least likely to steal a pearl necklace.

"Lady May was awfully nice to me from the start. The whole business seemed to her an exciting kind of game, and she played it as eagerly as a child plays blind man's buff. She was constantly coming to me with clues that led nowhere. When I congratulated her on taking the thing so cheerily she just laughed in my face.

"'If I don't get the pearls I get the money from your old company, and can buy myself another rope or anything else I like,' she said.

"She was giving me afternoon tea in her boudoir when I suggested I would like to search the garden.

"'But what for?' she asked quickly. 'Agatha said that the man came in, through the door; he must have gone out the same way, since he locked her in.'

"'He may have got into the house through the garden.'

"'Oh, footprints and things, of course! That's splendid! I'll come and search with you, if I may; I have got a small microscope in the house somewhere if that would be any use.'

"She looked me straight in the face with the wide-open, innocent eyes of a child. There was not a quiver of a smile on her lips or in her eyes.

"For a good hour we searched, she and I, close up to the window, until she got deadly tired of the game, and, of course we found nothing. When she left me I searched farther out on my own account in the wide flower-bed, groping carefully among the leaves of the flowers where I couldn't see, feeling with my finger-tips over the surface of the earth. I was dog-tired, and my back ached with the stooping; it was so stiff, I thought I never could straighten it. At last, when I was beginning to think I couldn't have stuck it out five minutes longer, right under a snail in a patch of mignonette I found that pearl."

He rolled the big pearl round and round, rattling it in the box.

"Look at it again, Dora; have a good look."

She took it out on her hand, and held it where the sunshine slanted on its shining, silken surface, and turned it over tenderly with her finger-tip. Beck watched her with a broad grin on his good-humoured face, waiting.

The frown smoothed out of her forehead, the dimple laughed suddenly in her cheek as she turned and met the expectant eyes of Mr. Beck.

"Oh!" she said softly. "What a neat trick! How clever of her!"

"Wasn't it?" said Beck. "So you have guessed it. I had a notion of how the matter stood when Agatha told her story about throwing the pearls out of the window, but I couldn't make quite sure till I found that one."

"What did you do about it, Paul?"

"I took up the character of good-looking Miss Agatha. She had been dismissed for theft from her last place but one; they had her thumb-marks before that at the Yard. Lady May had taken her on a forged character, and had made no inquiries. If she wanted to have her pearl necklace stolen she could not have been more careless.

"I didn't have her arrested just then; I felt sure the jury wouldn't convict on the evidence, so I just waited and watched.

"Then there was a startling new development in the case; the pearl necklace was found and a man was arrested for stealing it. That the necklace was found was hardly the way to put it; the stolen rope of pearls was forced on the notice of the public.

"By general consent the most brilliant barrister of the day was Robyn Hood, K.C. He had a wonderful career all the way up, and got his silk gown in record time. But a big peerage case, which he had just won off his own bat after a forty days' tussle, put the finishing touch to his career. The rumour was that he had a thousand-guinea fee on the brief and a hundred a day while the case lasted. While everyone was talking about him he married a pretty girl without a penny, and started off on his honeymoon round the world.

"They were back in London for a few days before the robbery, and while the papers were still full of the story Mr. Hood appeared in a box at the opera with his bride beside him, a triple loop of great pearls on her bosom.

"Every eye in the house was on these pearls, and it chanced that among the eyes in the house was a very keen pair belonging to Mr. Sydney Brandal, the junior partner of Ophir and Co., the very man who had sold the rope of pearls to Lady May.

"For a full half hour Mr. Brandal's glasses were pointing at Mrs. Hood's throat, undeviating as a needle to the North Pole. The opera-house was one great glow of colour and light, a blaze of beauty and gems; he saw nothing of it. The music flowed gloriously, now in a torrent of sound, now in the clear, pure notes of a single voice; he heard nothing of it—he was fascinated by the pearls.

"At last he closed his glasses with a snap and went out in the middle of a soprano solo, to the disgust of the scandalised music-lovers whom he brushed past in the stalls, and took a taxi straight to Scotland Yard.

"As Mr. Hood walked down the great, crimson-carpeted stairs with his wife's hand resting caressingly on his arm he felt a discreet touch on his felt elbow, and, looking round, saw a man in evening dress going down beside him. The face puzzled him for a moment—only for a moment.

"'Hullo, Johnson!' he said in mixed surprise and amusement. 'What brings you here?'

"'Hush, Mr. Hood!' the detective whispered. 'I came to find you, sir. I want you on most important business.'

"'Well, it must wait.'

"'It can't wait, Mr. Hood.'

"Mr. Hood looked frowningly at the man, who met his eyes firmly. 'You hear what this chap says, Connie,' he said, turning to his wife. 'Important business—can't wait. Do you mind going home by yourself? I'll be with you in half-an-hour.'

"As she stepped into the car that was waiting, Johnson interposed.

"'One moment, sir. Do you think it is safe for Mrs. Hood to wear those pearls going home alone?'

"The King's Counsel turned sharply on the detective.

"'What do you mean——?' he began, with a threat in his voice; but his wife overheard.

"'The gentleman is quite right, Robyn; I should be horribly nervous,' and she loosed her furs to lift the gleaming loops from her neck and pass them to her husband, who dropped them into the side-pocket of his overcoat.

"'Where to?' he asked Johnson as the car drove off with his wife in it.

"'Scotland Yard,' replied Johnson. 'I'm very sorry, Mr. Hood, but I've got to do my duty. I did not want to let the lady know.'

"'I'm much obliged to you, Johnson,' replied Hood, stepping into a taxi before the detective, 'but somebody's got to pay for this piece of work.'

"Mr. Sydney Brandal was at the station, and he identified the pearls produced from Hood's coat-pocket as the pearls he sold to Lady May. At first Mr. Hood was very angry, and the detectives had to hold him back from assaulting the young jeweller, but in a moment he recovered himself and became the self-possessed, clear-witted counsel who dominated judge and jury in the law courts. He laughed at the charge as midsummer madness.

"'Of course, I take all the responsibility,' he said. 'I bought the pearls for my wife at Amsterdam not a fortnight ago. She has nothing to say in the matter, anyway. Now, Johnson, what are you going to do? I will facilitate you in every way; naturally I would desire as little publicity as possible until the truth is known.'

"'If you could get bail for to-night, sir, it would save a deal of trouble; we could arrange with the magistrate to hear the thing quietly in the morning, and no one a penny the wiser.'

"'Can I use the telephone, Johnson?'

"Hood laughed as he took the instrument in his hand, and the others went discreetly out of earshot.

"'My bail will be here in a quarter of an hour,' he said quietly. 'What hour did you say for to-morrow, Johnson?'

"'I didn't say any, sir. But I think I could arrange for nine, if that would suit.'

"'Admirably; it will allow me to get to court in time when the farce is over.'

"Within a quarter of an hour a humming motor drove up the street, and a man with a pointed grey beard and shrewd light blue eyes came into the office. Johnson recognised him at once as Sir Ashley Evans, the Secretary for War. With a shiver of fright he realised what a big fish he had caught, and felt glad he had played him so gently.

"'Hullo, Robyn!' cried the newcomer. 'What's this yarn you told me? Is it a scene out of the Arabian Nights?'

"'I'm up for prigging pearls, Ashley, and I want you to bail me out.'

"'Really?' said Evans. 'No larks?'

"'Really and truly. It's absurd, of course, but there you are. I should be glad if you would look in at the police-station to-morrow. I am to go before the court for the first time in an unprofessional character. It won't take more than five minutes, I expect.'

"But it took a good deal more than five minutes.

"Hood was very easy and frank in his explanation. He had bought the pearls tor his wife more than a week before from a German Jew named Scheissner in Amsterdam for five thousand two hundred and fifty pounds, the exact amount of his fees in a recent case. Mr. Brandal was utterly mistaken in supposing that they were or could be the pearls sold to Lady May.

"But the evidence began to close in round him in a curious way. Scheissner, in reply to a wire from Scotland Yard, said that he had never sold the pearls to Mr. Hood, and Lady May's footman stated that Mr. Hood was her ladyship's last visitor on the evening the pearls were stolen, and that he had not heard him leave the house. Above all, Mr. Sydney Brandal, unaffected by Mr. Hood's vigorous cross-examination, persisted in his evidence that the pearls were those he sold to Lady May. He had collected them, he had arranged them—it was not possible that he could be mistaken. The case was adjourned for a fortnight, bail being accepted under great pressure—Mr. Hood himself for twenty thousand pounds and two sureties of ten thousand pounds each.

"It was after that I first got to know that the famous King's Counsel was tangled up in Lady May's pearl rope. All that I have told you up to this about him was hearsay.

"But I was brought straight into the case when he came with Johnson to Lady May's house to see if the maid Agatha could recognise him. She didn't. Mr. Hood was a tall, dark, handsome man with a long, high-hooked nose that stood clean out from his face, and a good, firm mouth and chin. Most women liked the look of him, but Agatha didn't, that was a sure thing. She was horribly nervous; neither Johnson nor I could get her to look straight in his face.

"'It isn't him,' she cried, without once turning her eyes in his direction. 'I tell you it isn't him; what more do you want? It isn't the least like him in any way.'

"According to her own story, all that she had seen of the thief was that he was tall and dark, with flashing black eyes. Mr. Hood answered this bill in every particular, so her denial didn't help much.

"Lady May laughed at the charge.

"'My dear Mr. Beck,' she said to me, after Johnson and Hood had left—Lady May and I had come to very friendly terms by this time——"

"I don't doubt it," murmured Dora.

"Silence, madam, or I'll let you finish the story for yourself.

"'My dear Mr. Beck, the thing is preposterous. Mr. Hood is a dear old friend of mine; he came that evening because I wanted to talk to him about a law point.'

"'What law point?'

"'Well, about that stupid old Insurance Company of yours, if you want to know; but he would be as likely to steal my pearls as the Archbishop of Canterbury or the famous detective, Mr. Beck. Did you ever steal a pearl necklace, Mr. Beck?'

"'I once stole a diamond necklace, Lady May, but that's not the question. What about Mr. Sydney Brandal?'

"'Mr. Sydney Brandal is a fool—a preposterous, audacious fool—to say Robyn stole the pearls.'

"'He didn't say that exactly. All he said was that the pearls Mrs. Hood wore at the opera, the pearls that Mr. Hood says he bought at Amsterdam, were the identical pearls he sold to you.'

"'Did he look at the clasp?' asked Lady May impetuously; then she stopped short with a flush on her cheeks and fright in her eyes.

"I kept the amusement I felt out of my face and stared back at her as solemnly as an owl. 'I don't know, Lady May,' I said, 'but I looked at it myself; it was a quaint, old-fashioned clasp.'

"'And the necklace I bought—the necklace I lost—had a modern clasp made by the people themselves. That ought to settle it, Mr. Beck.'

"'It would if we could find the necklace you lost,' I remarked.

"Lady May didn't look pleased at this. From the first she hadn't been keen on the recovery of the stolen necklace. It may be she preferred the insurance money.

"I was at the railway station next morning, with my Gladstone-bag in my hand and a return ticket to Amsterdam in my waistcoat-pocket, when a young lady accosted me.

"'Mr. Beck, I believe?'

"A slim young slip of a girl she seemed, nothing out of the common, at first sight, anyway.

"'I wanted to say a few words in private; can you give me a minute?'

"'My train starts at once, and it is an important journey.'

"'I am sorry you are leaving London—very sorry! May I go with you to the next station? Will you get me a return ticket? I must talk to you—I must keep you in London if I can!'

"I noticed she didn't offer to pay for the ticket, which showed me she was very much in earnest."

"Naturally," said Dora. "If she were an impostor she'd have gone and bought it herself."

"As we slid out of the station—I had managed a first-class carriage all to ourselves—she put back the veil she wore and laid one hand on my arm.

"'I ought to apologise to you, Mr. Beck,' she said, 'for forcing myself on you like this, but I'm Mrs. Hood.'

"Then I saw she was by no means a commonplace slip of a girl."

"Oh, Paul, Paul, you old villain!" cried his wife, shaking a menacing forefinger at him. "I guessed that was coming."

"'My husband is quite innocent,' were her next words.

"'I know he is, Mrs. Hood.'

"'You know he is?' she cried in a delighted flutter of surprise. 'Then you must stay in London and help him!'

"'I am going to Amsterdam to help him,' I replied. 'I expect to be back again in a couple of days, and I hope to see you wearing your pearls within a week at the outside.'

"'I don't care twopence about the old pearls!' she cried. 'Oh, I don't mean that. I just love them, and Robyn gave them to me on our honeymoon; but I came after you from your office to-day, Mr. Beck, to tell you I would give you the pearls as a fee if you saved my husband.'

"'I'm afraid the pearls wouldn't suit my style of beauty,' I said; 'but I hope to save your husband all right.'

"I left her on the platform waiting for the return train, and shaped a straight course for Amsterdam. Two mornings later I walked into the big shop of Jacob Scheissner, and was fortunate enough to find the proprietor at home. I had known Jacob before—a plump, shiny man with a nose entirely too big for his face and too thick at the lip: fuzzy black hair, and round, piercing eyes as black as sloes, as glassy and as opaque.

"It had been a case of illicit diamond trading in which Jacob had sailed very close to the wind, and I had helped him out by catching the real culprit. Still, I hardly think Jacob was so delighted to see me as he pretended to be when I met him in the shop.

"'Oh, Mr. Beck, it is good to see you here! What might bring you in Amsterdam to do?'

"'I came about those pearls you sold to Mr. Hood,' I said.

"'But I no pearls to him sold. I have said it. I have telegraph to Scotland Yard, London. I will swear if you like.'

"I held up my finger, and he stopped in the middle of a sentence.

"'But I don't like, Mr. Scheissner; I don't like useless lies either. I know all about it. Listen now, and correct me if I am wrong. You bought the necklace from a very bright and pretty English lady about a month or two ago; I don't know if she gave you her name.'

"'She did not give it,' he said incautiously. 'I mean that——'

"'That's all right; I know what you mean, but it's no use meaning it. This lady got you to make a facsimile of the necklace and to change the clasp from the real to the imitation one. What did you pay her?'

"'That is my affair.'

"'You might as well tell me; I am curious about it.'

"'Three thousand five hundred and the new set.'

"'You made a very decent profit. Mr. Hood gave you five thousand five hundred for it.'

"'He got the great bargain; the necklace was worth seven, nine, ten thousand pounds.'

"'I don't doubt it,' I said. 'Now I want to see the entry in your private ledger.'

"'But, Mr. Beck——'

"'There are no buts, Mr. Scheissner; I must have it. You are in no danger if you tell the truth. You can trust me. I suppose you thought the lady had stolen the necklace? Well, she didn't; she bought it for seven thousand five hundred.'

"'Oh, I understand now!'

"'What do you understand now?'

"'The bargain the lady made. I agreed that I would not sell the necklace for a year, and that I would sell it back to her for five thousand.'

"'And you broke your bargain?'

"'Well, you see, Mr. Beck, I thought it was what you call bluff; I thought she——'

"'Stole it?'

"Scheissner nodded twice.

"'I was anxious to have it out of my shop as soon as I could.'

"'You denied you ever had it?'

"'I was afraid that——'

"'All right; but now that we have smoothed things out, you just show me the entry of the sale.'

"I made a copy of the entry, had it verified on oath by the old rogue Scheissner, and got back to London as quick as boat and train could carry me.

"'Lady May,' I said, as I walked into her dainty boudoir (everything appertaining to Lady May was dainty), 'you want Mr. Hood out of this trouble about the necklace, don't you?'

"'Of course I do! He had nothing to say to it; the charge is too foolish for words.'

"'I expect to be able to clear him to-day; I also expect to be able to find your necklace to-day.'

"She didn't say 'I'm so glad!' She tried to. I saw the words forming on her lips, but she couldn't get them out. She just stared at me.

"'Will you come with me to your bedroom?' I said; and she came with me as obediently as a frightened child.

"'Now ring for Agatha.'

"'But what is the use, Mr. Beck?' she pleaded. 'Agatha has already told you everything she knows, poor girl!'

"'Not quite everything,' I answered. 'Will you ring, Lady May, or shall I?'

"Agatha came into the room as softly as a shadow; she started a little when she saw me, or I thought so.

"'Mr. Beck wants to question you about those tiresome pearls!' Lady May broke out impetuously.

"If she meant to put the girl on her guard it was no use. There was fright unmistakable in the quick look the girl gave me out of those big eyes of hers.

"'By the way, Agatha,' I said, 'where are the pearls?'

"'I don't know, sir,' she stammered out.

"'Oh yes, you do! They are somewhere in this room, and you are going to tell me where; I don't want the trouble of hunting round for them.'

"The girl looked utterly bewildered. She stood stock still and silent, glancing from me to Lady May and back again.

"'It is no use,' I said, 'the game is up. You see that pearl?' I held it up between my finger and thumb. 'That is one of those three that Lady May flung out of the window.'

"'What!' cried Lady May, frankly frightened.

"I could not help smiling as I saw the dismay in her pretty face, the lips apart, the big eyes round and wide.

"'Yes, that's it, my lady—that's what gave the show away; that one bit of truth from Agatha. I guessed why you threw three presumably valuable pearls into the garden. I searched for them and could only find one, but one was enough. The pearl I found was false, the other two were false—the whole necklace that Agatha stole was false. You sold the real one in Amsterdam.'

"I pitied the poor little woman, she was so completely dumbfounded; she just sat back in her chair and stared without a word. The maid looked at her and knew the truth.

"'Now, Agatha,' I said, 'won't you save me the bother of hunting? What is the use of hiding imitation pearls?'

"For answer Agatha went to a long, wasp-waisted vase on the chimney-piece—the kind you couldn't put flowers in. It was one of the most prominent objects in the room; I had, as it happened, turned it up and shaken it, and looked into it.

"Fishing in the vase with a hairpin, she drew up a thick coil of cotton-wool such as jewellers use, and shook the pearls out into the palm of her hand, which they filled to overflowing.

"Then Lady May showed herself a good sort.

"'It wasn't Agatha's fault really!' she broke in impetuously. 'It was mine. I knew she had been a thief when I took her. That was the reason I look her. I knew the character she gave me was forged. I wanted her to steal the imitation necklace. I tempted her to steal it. I told her when we talked about it that it would be no loss to me if they were gone, that the old insurance company would pay me more than their value. Of course I knew her story about the burglar was a lie, but I pretended to believe it. I was furious when she showed me the three she had torn from the necklace.'

"I liked her ladyship for her defence of the girl, but I gave no sign.

"'Here are your pearls,' I said soberly. 'Aren't you pleased to have them back again?'

"I took the imitation lot from the girl's hand and offered them to her ladyship, but she put my offer aside so sharply that the handful of pearls nearly rolled on to the floor.

"'I don't want the stupid old things!' she said, with a queer little quiver in her voice that suggested that tears were very near her eyes. 'What are you going to do with me, Mr. Beck? Must I go to prison?'

"'What do you deserve, Lady May?'

"'Oh, I suppose I deserve anything, but I was awfully hard up! I had just bought a diamond and ruby pendant that was much nicer than the pearls, and I didn't mean to cheat your old company at the time. I arranged that I was to buy back the pearls from Scheissner; you won't believe me, but I did.'

"'Oh, yes!' I said. 'I believe you all right, for I happen to know; but that doesn't alter the law. Five years' penal servitude is what the judge would say to it.'

"'Five years in prison? Good heavens! You won't do it, Mr. Beck?'

"She looked more like a child than ever.

"'You must write to the insurance company and say that your necklace is found,' I told her.

"'Of course I'll write. I didn't want Mr. Hood to get into trouble.'

"'Next you must send to Ophir and Co. a cheque for the balance of the price of the pearls.'

"'But I haven't got the money.'

"'The bank will lend it on the security of the diamond pendant.'

"'My diamond pendant! I haven't even worn it yet.'

"'They don't allow ladies to wear diamond pendants in prison.'

"'Oh, I'll do it—I'll do it! Then will you let me off?'

"'That would be compounding a felony.'

"'Oh, well, confound it! It's a confounded nuisance, anyway.'

"All the time the girl Agatha stood at the chimney-piece, the picture of misery and despair.

"'Do you want to prosecute the girl?' I asked.

"'I prosecute the girl? Of course not. It was all my own fault.'

"'Well,' I said to the maid, 'what have you got to say for yourself?'

"'Give me a chance, sir. I was very young when it first happened. I look a loan of my mistress's watch, and I was caught before I could put it back. I never had a chance since that. Who'd take a thief—who'd give a thief a character? There was a woman blackmailing me; I had to get money somehow. But I would have confessed—I swear I would—if Mr. Hood were held for it!'

"'If Lady May lets you off, I will,' I said; 'and what's more, I'll try to get you a chance to run straight if you want to.'

"'No, you needn't trouble,' said Lady May; 'I'll keep her on.'

"'You're a brick, Lady May, if you'll excuse my saying so! There is one thing more—you must be at the police court to-morrow morning.'

"'The police-court?' she shrieked. 'Didn't you promise that——'

"'Only as a witness,' I explained.

"We had a very pleasant little function at the police-court when the magistrate took up the case in his own private room a little after twelve o'clock. Lady May was there, dressed to the nines, her own lively, lovely little self, as if trouble had never come within miles of her. Mrs. Hood was there, beaming gratitude. I produced the certified copy of the entry in Mr. Scheissner's private ledger of the sale to Mr. Hood. Lady May swore she had found her own pearls.

"'The necklace you thought was stolen?' asked the magistrate.

"'Certainly, the necklace I thought was stolen. Mr. Beck there found it. I have written to the insurance company.'

"Mr. Brandal looked glum, though he had the comfort of knowing that the balance of the price was paid. He examined the clasp on the Hood necklace.

"'It is certainly not the clasp of the necklace I sold,' he stammered out at last. 'I must have been mistaken. I offer my heartfelt apologies to Mr. Hood.'

"I must confess I felt horribly ashamed of myself, knowing the poor man was right all the time.

"It was Hood's notion that we should all celebrate the happy ending of the little comedy at lunch in the Great Babylon Hotel. Mrs. Hood wore the pearls over her pale blue costume, and the loops reached to her waist. Lady May wore no jewellery.

"'Here's your health, Beck!' cried Hood—'the prince of pearl divers!' We all four clinked glasses. 'How did you fish them out?'

"'Oh, that's a trade secret!'

"'You must have been delighted, Lady May,' said Mrs. Hood, 'when Mr. Beck found your pearls for you.'

"'Delighted is not the word,' said poor Lady May, with a crooked little smile. 'But yours are much finer, my dear!' she added, and touched the shining gems wistfully with a slim forefinger.

"'And cost less,' said innocent Mrs. Hood,

"'Much less,' said Lady May. 'Mine almost ruined me, didn't they, Mr. Beck?'"


Roy Glashan's Library
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