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“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 to-day, Duchess — what can I do for you to-day?” 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 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 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…”