MATRIMONIAL ARRANGEMENTS

Ralph did not call on Miss Pearl that day, as he intended to do, for
the simple reason that more important business demanded his attention.
After returning with Audrey to the Pink Shop he walked away, thinking,
with some irritation, over the disagreeable position in which the girl
was placed by the callous behaviour of her father. Certainly, as
Audrey was supposed to be going in for figure treatment, her stay with
Madame Coralie was reasonably accounted for, and Ralph guessed that
Sir Joseph would offer this excuse to his friends when they asked
after his daughter. There was no doubt that when the old man recovered
from the furious rage into which he had fallen when accused of the
crime he would think twice before admitting that he had turned Audrey
out of doors. Sir Joseph, in spite of his domineering ways, was a
coward, so far as social reputation was concerned, and would not risk
the finger of scorn being pointed at him. It assuredly would be, when
people came to hear of his brutal action.

So far everything was right. But Shawe did not care that the girl he
intended to make his wife should remain with Madame Coralie. Even
though the woman was Audrey’s aunt, and apparently intended to be kind
to her niece, Ralph knew that her reputation was none of the best. It
would do Audrey harm to remain long at the Pink Shop, especially as,
since the murder, it had obtained a most unenviable notoriety. And
Madame Coralie–as Shawe learnt through Perry Toat–was looked at
askance by the police. Nothing could be said against her, and she had
assuredly cleared herself of complicity in connection with Lady
Branwin’s death, thanks mainly, as Ralph now saw, to the false
evidence of the still-room clock. But she was watched nevertheless,
and was regarded as a person of doubtful character. Perhaps it was
hard on the poor creature that she should be so regarded, for she did
her best to conduct her business in a proper way. But that very
business was of a decidedly dubious character, and demanded secrecy
for obvious reasons. Ladies anxious to renew their youth did not care
about their visits to the Pink Shop to be talked about, and this very
necessary secrecy lent a doubtful air to Madame Coralie’s occupation.
On the whole, the young barrister thought that it would be just as
well to remove Audrey as soon as possible from that tainted
atmosphere.

This could only be done by marriage, as, failing her aunt, Audrey had
no friend with whom she could stay. Certainly, there were people who
liked her, and would be glad of her company, but an application to any
of these meant that awkward questions would be asked. If any woman
scented a scandal, she would assuredly be extremely pertinacious until
she learnt the whole truth. And as the whole truth involved a
confession of Audrey’s rash visit to the Temple, and an acknowledgment
of her father’s drastic behaviour, it was not right to risk such
things becoming known. Whereas, if Shawe married the girl quickly it
would be looked upon as a runaway match, and Sir Joseph’s anger would
be accounted for in this way. It was well known that he wished his
daughter to marry Lord Anvers, and had refused to permit the barrister
to pay his addresses. Therefore, an elopement–for that is what the
marriage with Shawe would amount to–would appeal to the romantic
nature of Audrey’s friends, and every woman would be on her side. The
more Ralph thought over the matter, the more he felt that a speedy
marriage was the only way in which to adjust the situation.

But this required thought to accomplish. Shawe had a small income, and
with economy it would be enough for two until he received larger fees.
Already he was a well-known man, and every day he made progress; so
there could be no doubt that in the near future he would be well able
to support a wife. But at the present moment he could not lay his
hands on ready money, which was what he wanted to do. In the ordinary
way Audrey would have to live in Kensington parish for three weeks,
and so would he, in order to get married. As Ralph wished to remove
his future wife from the Pink Shop as speedily as possible, this delay
was not to be thought of. There only remained to procure a special
licence, and this cost a large sum of money. “I shall go and see my
godmother,” decided Ralph, after he had turned the question of
immediate matrimony over in his mind.

Lady Sanby was the young man’s godmother, and had always professed
herself to be very fond and proud of him. She had often presented him
with a cheque when he was at college, and later when he was studying
for the Bar. Indeed, but for Lady Sanby’s help Ralph would not have
been able to wait for briefs, since his father, the Squire of
Bleakleigh, was not wealthy. But the godmother had always behaved
generously, and Ralph, therefore, went to her house that same
afternoon, instead of visiting Miss Pearl. But before going he wrote
to the star of the music-halls, asking her to see him the next morning
at eleven o’clock, saying that he had something important to say to
her. Having thus arranged matters, the young man went to Dorleigh
Crescent to interview Lady Sanby.

She was an ancient dowager, with a merry eye and a great liking for
young men, especially if they were handsome and rising. Ralph was
both, so Lady Sanby always made a great fuss over him when he called.
She went everywhere and knew everyone, and was altogether as gay an
old dame as could be found in Mayfair. Also, as she was very rich, her
son, the present Lord Sanby, and her daughter-in-law, together with
their numerous offspring, paid her the greatest attention. Grannie had
money to leave; therefore grannie was regarded as the oracle of the
family, and behaved always like a benevolent despot. For no one could
deny but what she was a charming old lady, if somewhat sharp in her
way of speaking.

“My dear boy,” said Lady Sanby, welcoming her godson with effusion,
and presenting her withered cheek for a kiss, “what have you been
doing all this time? I haven’t seen your name in the papers either in
connection with your profession. Are you not getting any briefs?”

“Not at present, grannie,” said Ralph–for Lady Sanby allowed him to
call her by this endearing name, as an acknowledgment of the interest
she took in him–“but they will come along all right when I am
married.”

“Oh!” Lady Sanby shook her old head knowingly, as she knew much of
Ralph’s love-story. “So you still adore the daughter of that wretched
woman who was murdered in the Pink Shop?”

“Yes. And you said you liked Audrey, grannie?”

“So I do; she’s a dear girl. But I didn’t like her vulgar old mother,
though I shouldn’t say that now, seeing she is dead. Nor do I like her
father. He’s a wicked, domineering navvy, and will probably be made a
Peer. Those sort of rich labourers always do get Peerages. Well, so
you are going to marry?”

“I must if I want to succeed in my profession,” said Ralph, quickly.
“My head is full of love matters, and I can’t think of my clients.
Yes, I want to get married in three days, and I have come to you for
help.”

“Oh, I shall do whatever you want, my dear boy. You are so clever that
I look on you as one likely to reflect credit on me. Sanby and his
family are all idiots. Well, and how can I assist you?”

“I shall explain. In the first place, I wish to tell you a rather
surprising story, about which you must promise to keep silence.

“Oh! my dear lad, I am a well–a very well–for keeping secrets. If I
said all I knew I could ruin half the men in London, and all the
women. Well?”

Shawe wasted no further talk in introducing his subject, but related
all that he knew about the case–from the time Lady Branwin had
entered the Pink Shop down to the last words Audrey had told him
concerning Badoura’s accusation of Eddy Vail. “Now, what do you
think?” he asked, when he had finished his long story, and felt vexed
that the old lady did not display more astonishment.

“It is a wonderful story,” Lady Sanby assured him, coolly, “and truth
is always stranger than fiction. But I have had so many surprises in
my long life that nothing astonishes me. I am glad you told me, and I
can well see that it is a thing one must hold one’s tongue about. So
vexing; one always has to keep silence about the most wonderful
things. Do you think that Sir Joseph Branwin–horrid man!–is guilty?”

“I can’t say.”

“Perhaps you suspect Eddy Vail?”

“I can’t be sure of that either.”

“Madame Coralie?”

“No,” said Ralph, positively. “I can safely say that I do not suspect
her, for she is behaving too well over Audrey’s matter.”

“That doesn’t mean to say she wouldn’t commit a crime if it suited
her,” said Lady Sanby, coolly. “She’s not a nice woman, my dear, and
the sooner you get that poor girl away from the Pink Shop the better
it will be.”

“I knew you would say that,” said Shawe, quickly, “and for that reason
I want you to help me, grannie–to help me and Audrey, that is.”

“Of course. I like Audrey; she is a girl of spirit, and will make you
a good wife. Well, what do you wish me to do? Ask her here to stay for
a time?”

“No, no! Although it is kind of you to suggest it,” said Shawe,
hurriedly. “But people would talk and ask questions. No. I wish you to
lend me one hundred pounds so that I can buy a special licence and
marry Audrey at once, and have sufficient cash to take a journey.”

“To go on your honeymoon, you mean,” said Lady Sanby, humorously.
“Well, your idea is a very good one. Marry her at once by special
licence, and go away to some quiet place so that she can recover from
all these troubles. Then bring her here as your wife, and she can stay
with me for a week until you can find a house.”

“Dear, dear grannie!”

“Silly, silly grannie, I think. I am a romantic old fool to waste
money at my time of life in–”

“It won’t be wasted. I shall pay you back.”

“No. I shall give you five hundred pounds as a wedding-gift.”

“Oh, I can’t take that, Lady Sanby.”

“Grannie, you foolish boy.”

“Well, then, I can’t take such a large sum, grannie.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” said Lady Sanby, going to her desk and
producing a cheque-book. “Five hundred pounds won’t go very far,
seeing that Audrey has been accustomed to millions.”

“She won’t be accustomed to them any more,” said the future
bridegroom, in a gloomy tone. “Her father has disowned her.”

“Never mind. You marry her, and we’ll put matters right between us.
There is your cheque.” She handed him an oblong slip of paper.

“I really can’t take so much.”

“Then you won’t get less, my dear man. Gracious, haven’t I dandled you
on my knee and slapped you and stuffed you with cakes and–”

“You have been always good, and that is why I don’t like to impose on
you.”

Lady Sanby laughed grimly. “You needn’t be afraid of doing that,
Ralph. No one, old or young, ever succeeded in imposing upon me. Now,
take your wedding-present and marry Audrey. And, by the way,” added
the old dame, just as if it was an after-thought, “you had better let
me know the time and place. I shall come to the wedding. It will look
better for Audrey, and that parvenu father of hers won’t dare to say a
word when I bestow my approval.”

“Grannie, you are an angel,” and Ralph, very greatly touched by her
kindness, kissed her warmly.

Grannie pushed him away. “Keep your kisses and nice words for Audrey,
or she will grow jealous. Now run away. I have heaps to do, and I
can’t afford to waste my time as a briefless barrister does.”

“Briefless,” laughed Ralph, who was now, and with very good reason, in
excellent spirits. “Well, grannie, I only ask that you will retain me
as Counsel in the breach of promise case you are sure to have with one
of your numerous admirers!”–a joke which pleased the gay old lady
immensely.

Shawe departed, and paid the welcome cheque into his bank. He could
now afford to marry Audrey at once, and take her away from all the
soiled circumstances of her life. He felt duly grateful to Madame
Coralie, but he did not wish Audrey, when she was Mrs. Shawe, to see
more of her than was consistent with her being a relation. For the
moment he felt inclined to go to Walpole Lane and tell Audrey all
about Lady Sanby’s offer and her kindness in giving him such a welcome
wedding-present; but he knew that Audrey would be disappointed if he
had nothing to tell about Miss Pearl, so resolved before he again
sought the Pink Shop to see the lady in question.

Miss Pearl wrote and said that she would be pleased to see him at the
time he mentioned. Therefore, the next morning, Ralph duly walked to
the quiet house in the quiet Bloomsbury Square wherein Miss Pearl had
her rooms. A demure maidservant admitted him into the house and
conducted him up the wide staircase–it was an old Georgian
mansion–to the sitting-room of the lady. When she departed to tell
Miss Pearl that her visitor had arrived, the young barrister glanced
round the room to see if he could gather from its furnishing what the
character of the future Lady Branwin was like. It struck him–oddly
enough, considering her profession of dancer and singer–that she was
something of a Puritan.

The room was spacious and had a lofty ceiling painted with wreaths of
flowers and love-knots of blue ribbon. Under this roof, which
suggested gay Pompadour fancies, the room looked cold and drab.
The furniture was of a dark wood upholstered in dark green. The
windows–two French windows which opened on to an iron balcony–were
draped with green curtains, and the carpet was also green, without any
pattern. In the centre of the apartment was a prim table on which
books were placed at regular intervals. One of these books Shawe found
to be the _Pilgrim’s Progress_, and another was the _Chronicles of the
Schonberg-Cotta Family_. He felt rather astonished as this was not the
class of literature he expected Miss Pearl to favour. Then the room
was altogether so stiff and formal, and so deadly cold, in spite of
its being warm in the open air, that the barrister was puzzled. “I
must have been shown into the apartment of some missionary by
mistake,” was his reflection, and he sat down greatly bewildered. “A
woman who dances at a music-hall can’t possibly like to live in such a
room; but I always heard that she was aggressively respectable.”

His reflections were cut short by the stately entrance of the lady he
was thinking about. And Miss Pearl _was_ stately, being a tall and
nobly-formed woman, who walked in quite a majestic way. She had large
feet, large hands, a large bust, and large limbs–indeed, she was
large in every way, and looked more like the Venus of Milo than a
modern woman. Her face was pale and grave and clear-cut, and she had a
rather severe mouth with compressed lips. To add to her resemblance to
the heathen goddess, her hair was smoothed back from her marble
forehead and coiled behind in a simple Greek knot. In a calm and
graceful way she moved forward, with her large brown unwinking eyes
fastened on the bewildered face of the young man. Those eyes almost
hypnotised Ralph, for their gaze was so steady, and made him think
that after all she was less like Venus than like the ox-eyed Juno.

“You are Mr. Shawe?” she said, in a low, deep contralto voice.

“Yes, Miss Pearl,” he stammered; then he observed her well-cut,
tailor-made dress, which was simplicity itself, and worn with a linen
collar. But it was the material that brought a startled look into his
eyes. “You–you wear a–a Harris tweed dress!” he gasped.

Miss Pearl eyed him with grave surprise. “Why should I not?” she
asked.

Miss Pearl’s question was awkward to answer on the spur of the moment,
as may be easily guessed. Ralph had intended to lead gradually up to
the object of his visit; but thrown off his guard by the sight of the
dress, he had committed himself in a most untimely manner. While
thinking of a possible answer which would delay explanations he stared
hard at Miss Pearl, trying to guess what kind of a woman she was. From
the furnishing of the room, from her looks and severe mode of dress,
he took her to be a religious woman of a Puritanic cast, who had
abjured the pomps and vanities of the world. Yet she was a music-hall
dancer, and that profession did not suit either her surroundings or
her appearance.

“I shall explain why I made that remark shortly,” said Shawe, evading
a direct reply as well as he was able; “and, truth to tell, my errand
is not a very pleasant one.”

Miss Pearl looked at the card she held in her large white hand, and
pondered thoughtfully. “Mr. Ralph Shawe,” she said, in her heavy
voice. “Ah! yes, I remember now. Perhaps, Mr. Ralph Shawe, I can guess
your errand.”

“Perhaps you can,” muttered Shawe, wondering what she would say.

“Sir Joseph Branwin,” pursued the dancer, “told me about you, as an
undesirable suitor for the hand of his daughter. Am I right in
assuming that you have called to enlist my sympathies?”

“Enlist your sympathies?” repeated the visitor, staring.

“Yes. You want me,” continued Miss Pearl, in a ponderously playful
manner, “to ask Sir Joseph to permit you to pay your addresses. I
shall do so with pleasure, as I have every sympathy with you and Miss
Branwin.”

Shawe still stared in a dazed way, as this speech completely puzzled
him, and–in vulgar parlance–took the wind out of his sails. Here he
had come practically to accuse a lady of being connected with the
murder of a woman whom she had wished to supplant, and this very lady
was now most generously offering her assistance to forward his private
aims. Shawe could not quite understand if this was cunning on Rosy
Pearl’s part or mere stupidity, or perhaps the liberal offer of a
generous nature. He noted the careful way in which she spoke and her
method of picking out well-sounding words, and mentally observed that
she was doing her best to correct a defective education by thinking
well before she spoke.

In the meantime Miss Pearl did not hurry him, as she appeared to be a
singularly leisurely person. With her large calm eyes gazing amiably
at him, her gracious, rounded figure, and whole placid pose, she
reminded Ralph of nothing so much as a sacred white cow. But cows can
be furious when aroused, and the barrister wondered if she would rise
in her majesty like Bellona, the goddess of war, when she learnt the
true meaning of his visit. But she must be stupid, he thought, else
she would have persisted in learning straight away the meaning of his
first enigmatic remark. Yet she accepted his postponement calmly, and
was quite ready to wait for an explanation.



“I am greatly obliged to you for your kindness, Miss Pearl,” he said
quietly; “but I fear your offer of help is too late. Sir Joseph has
had a serious quarrel with his daughter.”

“A serious quarrel with his daughter?” repeated the woman, slowly, as
if trying to get the idea well into her head; then she added, after a
pause; “I should like to hear what the quarrel is about.”

Ralph did not intend to tell her, and he was sure Branwin would be too
much ashamed of himself to give the information. “Well, you know, Miss
Pearl, that Sir Joseph wanted his daughter to marry Lord Anvers. She
refused him, so Miss Branwin left the house, as her father was so
furious with her.”

“Miss Branwin has left the house? And where is she staying now?”

“At the Pink Shop,” said Shawe, promptly. He was unwilling to name
Audrey’s temporary abode, but did so, to see what effect the name had
on this calm and undemonstrative woman.

It had an effect, indeed, for Miss Pearl’s white skin slowly became a
vivid crimson, and for the first time during the interview she
displayed emotion. Perhaps she was aware of the meaning in Shawe’s
gaze when he saw this agitation, for she gave an excuse.

“I don’t think that the Pink Shop is a proper place for a young lady
to stay at,” she remarked frigidly.

“Why not? You were there yourself, Miss Pearl.”

“I have frequently been there, Mr. Shawe. As an artist I have to take
the greatest care of what looks I possess, and I find Madame Coralie
invaluable.”

“You slept at the Pink Shop on the night Lady Branwin was–”

Miss Pearl displayed more agitation, and–a rare thing for so
slow-thinking a woman–interrupted somewhat sharply:

“I admit that I did, but I do not wish it to be known.”

“For what reason, Miss Pearl?” asked Ralph, pressing his advantage
mercilessly.

“You can guess the reason, Mr. Shawe,” she replied, with heavy
indignation. “I know what evil minds people have. Sir Joseph is an
admirer of mine–quite in a platonic way, you understand.”

“Of course,” murmured the barrister. “I have heard of your unblemished
reputation, Miss Pearl.”

“I should think it was unblemished,” said the dancer, speaking faster
than usual. “My dear mother, who was a consistent Baptist, always
warned me when I left home to keep myself unspotted from the world.
Circumstances have made me a music-hall dancer, but I have always
conducted myself discreetly, and I always shall do so. Not by way of
advertisement, Mr. Shawe, but because the principles, instilled by my
dear mother, will not permit me to behave in any other way.”

“It does you credit, Miss Pearl,” murmured Ralph, feeling called upon
to say something polite.

Rosy Pearl looked at him like an offended goddess. “I do not know
whether you mean to be sarcastic, Mr. Shawe, but let me tell you that
sarcasm is out of place. Are you one of those men who do not believe
that a woman can be virtuous in the midst of temptation?”

“Not at all, Miss Pearl. There are good women on the stage, and often
bad women in Church circles. It is a question of temperament.”

“It is a question of doing what is right, Mr. Shawe,” said the
goddess, with a disdainful look. “I am a dancer, it is true, but no
one can say a word against me.”

“I don’t think anyone has said a word,” Ralph ventured to remark.

“If they did,” said Miss Pearl, sharply, “I would bring a libel action
against them without delay. My solicitors have instructions to take
notice of any flippant remark made about me, and to deal with it as it
deserves.”

“With such precautions you must be, like Cæsar’s wife, above
suspicion.”

“I do not know Mrs. Cæsar,” said Rosy Pearl, coldly, and betrayed her
lack of educational knowledge in the remark. “I attend to my own
business and to nothing else. I daresay you wonder, Mr. Shawe, why,
with these sentiments, I am on the music-hall stage?”

“Well,” Ralph admitted, more and more puzzled by this simplicity, but
unable to tell if it were real or feigned, “I must say that I do
wonder.”

“It’s because I am stupid.”

“Stupid?” Shawe stared. He had never heard a woman admit as much
before.

“Yes, I am,” said Miss Pearl, in her rich, slow voice, and looking
more than ever like a sacred white cow. “My parents live in a small
Essex village, and have a large family. My father is a carpenter, and
my mother, as I told you, a consistent Baptist. Being poor, we–the
children, that is–have to work, and when I was eighteen I got a
housemaid’s place in London. But I could not do the work.”

“It is not difficult work,” said Shawe, marvelling at this candour.

“No, it is not difficult work,” said Miss Pearl, who seemed to have a
habit of repeating words, perhaps to fix them in her memory; “but I am
stupid, and I was always making mistakes, through forgetting things. I
lost place after place because of what was called my lack of
intelligence. I had to work in some way, and yet I could not, being
too slow and heavy. Then an old gentleman–he was a scholar–said that
I resembled a Greek statue. It gave me an idea, as a friend of mine
knew a music-hall manager. I went to this manager, and asked him to
let me appear in living pictures.”

“And he consented?”

“Not at once. He admired me for my looks,” said Miss Pearl, with great
simplicity, “and he made love to me. They all do, and it is a great
nuisance, as I don’t like that sort of thing. But this manager became
quite friendly when I boxed his ears.”

“He must have been an odd manager,” said Ralph, thinking that so
strong a white arm could hurt considerably.

“Oh, he was like the rest of them,” said Miss Pearl, heavily.
“However, he declared that he saw possibilities in me, and sent me to
someone to be taught. When I mentioned what the scholar had said about
my being like a Greek; this man–he was a professor of dancing–got an
idea of reviving some Attic dances. He taught me three chants–”

“Songs, you mean.”

“No, I do not mean songs. I mean chants, to which I dance. You have
seen my performance, have you not, Mr. Shawe?”

“Yes, and a very beautiful performance it is,” said Ralph. He
recalled the scene, which represented a Greek temple, before which
Miss Pearl, in scanty white robes, danced in a slow and graceful
manner, chanting–she was right, the word was chanting–stately words
to solemn music. Also she danced the Flower Dance of the Anthesterian
Festival, which was of a more lively character. “It is a very
beautiful performance,” repeated Ralph, emphatically.

“I am glad you think so,” said Miss Pearl, with a slow, sweet smile.
“Those three dances took me a year to learn. I thought I would never
master them; but in the end I did. Then I appeared, and was a success.
I don’t quite like the Greek dress,” added the dancer, confidentially,
“as it scarcely covers one; but, so long as I am respectable, what
does it matter?”

Ralph laughed in a somewhat embarrassed manner. He was beginning to
like Miss Pearl, because she was so childlike and unaffected. “I think
you look perfectly respectable,” he said with a smile.

“I am glad you think so,” said Miss Pearl once more. She did not seem
to have many ideas. “I get a good salary, and for three years I have
been dancing everywhere, so I have saved money, and I am able to help
mother. She was shocked at first, being a consistent Baptist; but now
she is reconciled to the idea, as she knows that I have never
forgotten my early teaching. But my success won’t last for ever. I am
clever enough to see that, so I intend to marry Sir Joseph Branwin,
and I hope to make him a good wife.”

“I am sure you will,” said Shawe, heartily, and felt as though he were
encouraging a child. “You have known him long?”

“For two years. He has always been a good friend to me, although I
have invariably kept him at arm’s length. But now that his wife is
dead he wants to marry me.”

“And you say that you will marry him?”

Miss Pearl looked at Shawe very directly. “I think I shall marry him;
but, of course, I may not. I have not yet made up my mind.”

“But you said just now–”

“Yes, I know what I said, Mr. Shawe. But one can never be sure of
anything in this world of trouble. However, it doesn’t much matter if
I marry him or not, as I have saved a lot of money, and I am quite
content to go back to my village and live with my parents. And now,
Mr. Shawe, that I have told you all about myself, perhaps you will
explain why you wish to see me.”

Time was getting on, and Shawe had learnt nothing definite as yet, so
he lost no further time, but plunged into the middle of his reason for
calling.

“I wish to know if you saw anything when you stayed at the Pink Shop
likely to lead you to suspect who is the assassin of Lady Branwin?”

“There,” said Miss Pearl, colouring again, “I knew some day that I
would be asked that question again.”

“Were you asked it before?”

“Yes. Inspector Lanton asked me. He learnt from Madame Coralie that I
slept in the upstairs room, and questioned me. Of course, I knew
nothing, as I was asleep all the time, and I told him so. I also asked
him to keep my name out of the papers, as such publicity would not
have been good for me. And now,” added Miss Pearl, emphatically, “it
would do me positive harm seeing that Sir Joseph wants to marry me.
People would say nasty things.”

“For instance, that you wished Lady Branwin to die?”

“I daresay,” said Miss Pearl, in quite a savage tone for so serene a
goddess. “But let them, that’s all. I have always my solicitors to
look after my reputation. Do you think that?” she asked suddenly.

“No,” said Ralph, frankly. “I might have entertained some such
suspicion, but after seeing you I do not suspect you in the least.
Still”–he paused–“you may know of something.”

“Know what, for instance?” asked Miss Pearl, sharply.

Ralph evaded an answer, and asked another question. “Did you wear a
Harris tweed dress when you were at the Pink Shop?”

“No, I did not. Why do you ask?”

“Because one of the assistants of Madame Coralie–the blind girl,
whose sense of smell is abnormal–scented the peaty fragrance of
Harris tweed in the lower passage about the time Lady Branwin was
murdered, or, at least, one hour later.”

“Oh, indeed,” said Miss Pearl, coolly. “Then you think that I wore
this dress and went downstairs to murder Lady Branwin so that I could
marry–”

“No, no! I don’t mean that. I said that Parizade smelt the perfume an
hour afterwards. You say that you did not wear the dress; but Sir
Joseph always, when in tweeds, prefers the Harris cloth.”

“Was he in the house?” asked Miss Pearl, bewildered.

“That is what I wish you to tell me.”

“I can’t.” She rose like an offended goddess. “And if he was, I
certainly should not tell you, Mr. Shawe. If Sir Joseph knew that you
dared to accuse him of murder–”

“He knows what I have told you, Miss Pearl, and knows also that I do
not accuse him directly of murder. But someone wearing Harris tweed
was in the lower passage. You deny wearing this dress, and as Sir
Joseph is partial to the cloth I conclude that he was lurking in the
house. He was certainly seen in the lane by Mrs. Mellop.”

“I think,” said Miss Pearl, frigidly, “that you had better tell this
story to Sir Joseph himself. I cannot assist you. I was asleep in the
upstairs room all the evening, and I know nothing, as I told Inspector
Lanton. As he is satisfied, I do not see why you should not be.”

“Of course, I take your word, but–”

“There is no ‘but’ about it,” interrupted the dancer, imperiously, and
Ralph found himself thinking what a beautiful creature she was. “My
mother always taught me never to tell a lie. And if you think that I
know anything of the crime, Mr. Shawe, I shall prove my sincerity and
ignorance by refusing to marry Sir Joseph Branwin. Good-day,” and she
walked out of the room, in as stately a manner as she had entered.

“I wonder,” murmured Ralph, leaving the house, “if she’s a born liar,
or if she is really and truly telling the truth?”