The Pearls and the Swine
by Barry Pain
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
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
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.
"I am afraid," she said, "that you have troubled yourself, and
incidentally have troubled me, to no purpose. I am already insured
against burglary, fire, employers' liabilities, and all the rest of it,
and I am not proposing to take out any further policy."
"I am so glad," said the stranger, and in a flash stepped into the hall,
and shut the door behind him.
"What are you doing?" said Miss Markham. "You must not come in here like
that. Go away at once!"
"I know, my dear lady, it is quite unconventional and wrong, and I can
only assure you if you had not been insured against burglary I should
never have come in. You may believe me that in the exercise of my
profession, I have always done my best to consult the feelings of
"Your profession! What profession?"
"We won't give it a name. 'What's in a name?' Some of my confrères are
rough and violent; I am nothing of the kind. Naturally if you began to
make a noise, I should have to take some steps to prevent it. The police
in this neighbourhood are few in number and quite inefficient, and I
think there is no other bungalow within a quarter of a mile."
Miss Markham was now alive to the state of the case.
"I think," she said, "that a police-whistle can be heard at that
She raised her police-whistle just as he raised his revolver; the two
hands went up together.
"Really, Miss Markham, you ought not to force me into such a totally
false position. My feelings towards you are those of a chivalrous
gentleman; it absolutely repels me to do anything whatever which would
appear in the nature of a threat. You have put the police-whistle down?
That's right. Now then we can talk about this necklace. It would be
pleasanter if we sat down; we will go into the dining-room, shall we? I
say the dining-room rather than the drawing-room, because I think you
might possibly like to ask me to take a whisky-and-soda, and the
decanters are there."
Miss Markham followed him into the dining-room; she did not ask him to
take a whisky-and-soda. Notwithstanding this, he took it.
"Tell me one thing," she said, "how did you know about this necklace?"
"That is just it; servants will talk. They are an eternal nuisance,
aren't they? If their employer has anything which is believed to be
valuable, they like to brag about it a little. You know, one can
understand it; they enjoy reflected glory. It is exactly twelve months
ago since I learned in casual conversation with a lady of inferior
station to myself—your housemaid, I believe—that you not only
possessed a pearl necklace valued at £500, but that you always wore it."
"The jeweller told me that pearls should always be worn; they keep their
colour better that way."
"Yes," said the stranger, "they do give that advice; very useful advice
it is too."
"If there is nothing else that you want to take," said Miss Markham,
"perhaps you would not mind going."
"Certainly, my dear lady. I understand your point of view exactly. Here
we have an abominable intrusion at a late hour; my sex makes the
intrusion all the worse. When you are about to summon assistance, I
raise my revolver, and if you had not put the police-whistle down, I
should have been reluctantly compelled to shoot you dead. I then take
away from you, as I shall do presently, a pearl necklace, which you
value at £500, though I shall be quite satisfied if I get £120 for it
myself. Well, when you come to think of it, you must admit that you have
suffered nothing but a little inconvenience. The insurance company will
give you £500 to buy another necklace, and the one which I am about to
take away with me has no sentimental associations for you."
"How do you know that?"
"You bought the silly thing yourself; correct me if I am wrong."
She did not correct him. She said, "I don't see how you know."
"Ah!" said the burglar, "there we come to another point—my point of
view; we have had yours, but you have not had mine. I wonder if it would
interest you to hear it? It might possibly, simply on the score of
novelty. One hears a very great deal about the feelings of the
householder towards the burglar, but precious little of the feelings of
the burglar towards the householder; and I am not even a common burglar,
as I hope you have recognised. It might interest you to talk the thing
over for a few minutes, and it would be a great privilege and pleasure
to myself. It might not, and in that case I will leave you at once."
Miss Markham hesitated. Then she took a chair by the table and sat down.
"Well," she said, "I will hear what you have to say."
"I have never seen you before to-night. I opened the door and you stood
in the light. In the background were the white walls of the bungalow and
on them good mezzotints after the eighteenth-century masters, and on a
small rosewood table was your bedroom candlestick—Sheffield, and I
should say a very good piece; good Sheffield, as you know, fetches more
than silver nowadays. But it was upon you principally that my attention
was centred. The rest all came in a flash; your grey quaker dress, the
green serge curtains, the copper knocker, everything told the same story
of simplicity and taste. But in your face I read very much more, so much
that was not simple, so much that still perplexes me."
Miss Markham was slightly embarrassed. It was not usual for her to hear
herself discussed. One part of her said this was monumental
impertinence, and she must check it. The other part said that she rather
liked it. It was the other part of her that won. If he had not been an
unusually handsome man, with melancholy blue eyes and a beautiful
respectful manner, perhaps the other part would have won.
She laughed. "I do not see what there is to puzzle you."
"I saw the face of a saint. You have lived absolutely apart from the
world; in a walled-in garden as it were. Now I personally have all the
vices." He took from his pocket a gold cigarette case with another man's
monogram on it, took out a cigarette and lit it. "As I was saying, I
have all the vices, but that does not mean that I am without a very keen
appreciation of the other thing; perhaps the keener, because I have not
got it. I have seen faces like yours before, but they have always
belonged to someone who wore the garb of a nun. The nuns shut out the
world from them; you, on the contrary, have lived in the world, and have
still kept apart from it. I cannot make out how you have done it. I
cannot make out how you have been allowed to do it. Tell me, has no man
ever kissed you?"
"Never," she said fervently.
"I believe you," said the burglar. "I think I have never met another
woman in whom I would have believed a similar declaration. You will
observe that I did not offer you a cigarette, because I knew for a fact
that you have never smoked."
"Never," she said.
"I knew it; just as I knew that you had bought this pearl necklace
yourself; just as I knew that you had never been kissed; just as I knew
that you were good enough to compel even the abject reverence of as bad
a man as myself."
Her hand, toying nervously with things on the table, happened to strike
the decanter. "But won't you have some more of this?" she said.
He glanced at a gold watch, on the back of which another man's armorial
bearings were engraved. "I have only two minutes," he said, "but I must
drink your health at parting. Do you know that it is absolutely right
for you to wear pearls? Coloured stones would be quite wrong; diamonds
are too hard; pearls give just the right note of purity and softness. I
suppose you have realised that with the exception of one ring, you wear
no other gems. I noticed that ring as I came in. Those large table-cut
emeralds, when they are of that fine quality, fetch a good deal of
money. I should sell it if I were you. It is not in keeping. Perhaps it
seems to you a trifle not worth mentioning, but you remember what Walter
Pater says about some trifling and pretty graces being insignia of the
nobler world of aspiration and idea."
Miss Markham clasped her hands. "How strange," she said. "I was reading
that just as you came in. How strange that you should have known it!"
"My dear lady, you must not imagine that I am a romantic man, for I am
not, nor am I a good man. I am not highly connected, and I have not got
a better self; the only self I have got is the one before you. But I do
claim to be able to appreciate. I have appreciated this evening
immensely. Walter Pater is not the last word just now, but I have always
appreciated beautiful prose. Far more than beautiful prose I appreciate
the pure poetry of your own temperament." He raised his glass. "To your
good health, Miss Markham, and good night."
As he neared the door, she called him back. "You have forgotten the
pearls," she said.
"No, but I wanted you to remind me."
She unclasped them, and handed them to him. He held them in his hand for
a moment. "They are warm," he said, "from your soft, round neck." He
raised them to his lips for a moment and then dropped them into a
prosaic inside pocket of his coat.
"Yes," he said, "from time immemorial women have been fond of casting
their pearls before swine, haven't they? But you have kept the real
pearls." He bowed low to her, and in a moment was gone.
In a letter which Miss Markham wrote to Miss Ryles appeared the
"It was such a pity, dear, that you could not come down to the bungalow
the other week-end, it was so quiet and peaceful; incidentally, by mere
chance, I met quite the most charming man I have ever seen in my life.
No more news, except that I got tired of my old pearl necklace and am
"Oh, and I was quite forgetting; you said that if ever I wanted to part
with my emerald ring, I was to give you the first refusal of it. My
dear, you can have it. I have decided that pearls are the only things I
Naturally Miss Markham had to give notice to the police of the fact that
she had lost her pearl necklace.
She had heard something moving in her bedroom, and on entering it a man
had jumped out through the window. All she could say for certain was
that he was clean-shaven, and had close-cropped black hair.