Chapter 1: The Tears of Amphitrite

"Foxy, darling, would you please stop jogging your leg?" Lady Caroline Chatroy, known to me and all her family as Caro, threw me an exasperated look over her neat fan of playing-cards.

"Sorry," I responded sullenly, twining my ankles together.  I was feeling extremely tense after two solid weeks of chastity—well, as I define chastity, anyway: the pleasure of one's own company doesn't count—and finding it increasingly difficult to sit still.  I felt like a clock that's been wound as tight as can be but not allowed to tick.

"Gin," she said a moment later, with exquisite smugness, laying her fan face-up on the table.

"I don't know why I bother playing cards with you," I shook my head sadly, sorting out my pitiful fistful of cards and totting up a shaming minus-score, "You always win."

"Because there's precious little else to do in the country at night," she answered, sweeping up the cards with a graceful gesture.

"I've been spoiled, living in Town," I took the deck and dealt a new hand, "I haven't had a single adventure since I left London."

"One would think you'd need the rest, after all the adventures you had this summer," she smiled slyly.  One of the many things that I love about Caro is that we can confide in each-other about our romantic interests: she goes to many of the same queer nightclubs that I frequent—dressed as Charley, her male alter-ego, an exquisitely handsome young man; and though she isn't interested in men, as a rule, she does have a soft spot for pretty boys like me.

You wouldn't think it to look at her, especially in the evening gown of pale-pink chiffon and swansdown she was wearing; when she's not in male drag, she is the most frothingly feminine dresser of our social set.  She likes the play of opposites, I suppose.  She's got me into drag on a couple of memorable occasions, frilled to the earlobes in her very dainty wardrobe; and while I don't see myself making a life-style of it the way she does, I found it quite enjoyable.

It was for this reason, alongside our eminent mutual suitability (she's the eldest daughter of the twelfth Duke of Buckland, one of the oldest noble lines in England), that we decided to become engaged at a not-too-distant date—the end of next Season, to be exact.  In the meantime we hadn't announced our plans to anyone.

"I'd give anything for a stroll through Soho right about now," I told her.

"You could always take a poke at Claude," she said, and I couldn't tell if she was joking or not.  Claude Chatroy is her cousin, a seventeen-year-old Adonis whom I'd recently rescued from a sadomasochist white-slavery ring.  He's not precisely one of Our Sort, but he's so obliging that I probably could take a poke at him if I wanted to.

"I don't even like to use a crop on my horse," I dismissed the notion, joking or no.  After going to a great deal of trouble to rescue Claude, I ended up handing him over to a dominatrix (a lady who dominates and subjugates men for their mutual pleasure, don't you know), with whom he subsequently formed a very strong attachment.  Apparently he liked that sort of thing, and the rescue turned out to have been rather in vain.  Besides, though Claude is as sweet and enthusiastically affectionate as a puppy, his intelligence is that of a puppy, too.  I like my men with a little more of a spark between the ears.

"What are you playing?" the object of our discussion was suddenly beside the table, no doubt drawn by the sound of his own name. 

"We're playing Mop The Floor With Foxy," I said disgustedly as I drew yet another useless card from the stack, "Otherwise known as gin rummy.  Would you care to join?"

"No, thanks," he perched on the arm of my chair and draped his arm over my shoulders.  His heat was unnerving, "I stink at cards.  Can I watch?"

"Of course, darling," Caro answered before I could object, enjoying my obvious discomfiture, "Foxy loves an audience."

For those just joining us, I should explain 'Foxy': it's my school nickname, and not a very imaginative one, simply abbreviating my title.  In Society, the only people who call me that are people who were at Eton or Oxford with me, or whom I met through a school-friend.  But Caro's eldest brother, Marquess of Petterby (called Petie-Boy at school, like a canary) was in my House, though a few years older than me; so Caro started using it, and then by osmosis most of the Chatroy clan started calling me Foxy.

I actually rather like the name, I think it suits my personality as well as my colouring, and so I use it when I'm out on the town—calling myself Lord Foxbridge in the depths of Soho would give people the wrong idea of what I'm there for (I like mollie-boys just fine, but I prefer the nonprofessionals).  Though some of the people I know in the queer demimonde are aware of my real name, I am nevertheless known in those circles as Foxy Saint-Clair.

As the game progressed, and my score regressed, Claude continued to get cozy with me, rubbing my neck  and stroking my hair as he watched the game; and though my heart and my brain were deeply indifferent to Claude's many charms, the rest of me was not bothered with such niceties and demanded satisfaction.

When Caro finally won the game, I excused myself to the lavatory for some relief.  Even if I wanted to take Claude to my room for a little fun, I really didn't dare.  When you're planning on marrying into a family, you simply don't start fooling around with its junior members.  Especially when the junior member in question has all the sober discretion of a fireworks display.

Claude and his three younger brothers hadn't been sent to school, you see, never had a nanny, and had been allowed to run wild by his parents (a beautiful and passionate Italian mother and a handsome but wooly-minded Academic father); as a result, the four of them were incredibly childlike, having never been given the institutionalized introduction to the rigors of adulthood the rest of us had.  Sometimes it was very charming, but often it was alarming, the things they'd blurt out in company the way small children do.  I shuddered to think what he might say over dinner one night if I became more intimate with him than I already was.

Instead of returning to the drawing room (or the Red Drawing Room, I should say: Castoris Castle is equipped with several drawing-rooms, but the Red is closest to the dining-room and therefore used for smaller after-dinner gatherings), I went to work off some excess energy with a brisk walk through the gardens, where I tore around so fast that I was practically running.  Once fully tired out, I climbed back up to my room and out of my clothes, falling gratefully into bed.  It was all of ten o'clock.


"I think I'll run up to London for a day, Pond," I decided aloud over the next morning's coffee, "When's there a train?"

"I am not sure, my lord," he seemed a bit startled.  After his week playing bedroom-lotto at Foxbridge, he had become wonderfully complacent by the sameness of daily life at Castoris, "I will ask Mr. Underdown for an A.B.C.  Will your lordship be staying overnight?"

"Oh, definitely, that's the whole point," I told him, "And you needn't pack anything but toiletries and fresh linens for tomorrow.  You can stay here, if you like."

"I would prefer to accompany your lordship," he bowed, and I could see by the glitter in his eye that he had a very similar purpose in mind as I had, "If that is amenable."

"Accompany away," I waved a magisterial hand, nearly upsetting my coffee-cup, "I only wish I'd brought my motor, I wouldn't have to wait for a train."

"I'll go look up the trains while your lordship is in the bath."

"Thank you, Pond."

I got out of bed and slipped into my bathrobe and slippers, preparing for the long trek down a terrifically draughty corridor.  Unlike Foxbridge, Castoris Castle is a real castle, occupying a site that had been fortified by the Romans and become increasingly fortified over the centuries, reaching its zenith of fastness in the rowdy days of the Plantagenets.  And though its living-quarters had been expanded and remodeled over the centuries, growing like a great stone bramble against a thick curtain-wall that rises straight out of the rocky banks of the Beve River, it could still be defended as a fortress (though only if it were attacked by a fourteenth-century army).

The place was never warm, not even in summer, and there were enough moaning draughts and inexplicable cold spots that one could easily believe the place was well and truly haunted; it felt like a good quarter mile from my circular turret bedroom to the converted garderobe against the outside wall that had been turned into a bathroom some time in the last century, though it was probably only a couple hundred feet.

After using the really ancient commode (like a sedan chair with a painted china tank on top) and soaking in the incredibly deep copper tub for as long as the hot water lasted, I bundled back up and dashed for my room, nearly mowing down a fellow in the corridor.  I didn't pause to see who it was, guest or servant or spectre, as the corridor was especially frigid that morning and I needed to get near a fire before I froze.

Pond was already there with my tweeds laid out, the fire built up, and a copy of the A.B.C. on the dressing-table; the pages were already marked, so I read through it while he dolled me up for the day.  I'd already missed the morning London train out of Beverborough, the nearest town; but if I could cadge a ride into Melton Mowbray, I could catch an express at lunchtime.  That settled, I started rehearsing excuses I could make to my hostess for why I had to scurry away to Town in the middle of my stay.

Pond suggested a special emergency meeting at one of my clubs, which I leapt upon gladly.  He really is the cleverest man I know, when it comes to the little details of life.


The first thing I did when I got off the train was call Twister at his office in New Scotland Yard.  Though I had mentioned Soho and adventuring while talking to Caro, painting the picture of a young rakehell on the loose, what I really wanted was a night with the man I love. 

I was disappointed to not find him in his office when I called, but the constable who answered said he was expected to arrive back around four o'clock.  Pond vanished the moment we set foot in St. Pancras Station, so I took a taxi to my rooms in St. James's Street to drop off my bag, then walked over to the Oxford & Cambridge in Pall Mall to kill some time until I could call again and ask Twister to have tea with me.

"Twister, I need you," I gasped into the phone when he finally answered.

"Who is this?" he asked—and, like Caro, I frequently can't tell when he's kidding.

"It's Foxy!" I explained, just in case he wasn't kidding, "I'm in London for the day.  Can you come have tea with me?  Or dinner if you're free then?  I need to talk to you."

"I'm not really able to get away, right now," he said, professionally bored for the benefit of any nosy-parkers on the switchboard, but with a tone of regret underneath, "I'm working tonight."

"Oh!" I was stumped: I had been counting on him, "But you still need your tea, don't you?  I could meet you at St. Stephen's in ten minutes.  It's important."

"All right," he said as if it was a terrible imposition, "But make it twenty minutes, I have some work to do first."

"Thank you, Twister."

"See you, Foxy," he rung off.

I had the porter get me a cab and in less than five minutes was standing in front of St. Stephen's Tavern, across the street from Westminster Palace, taking a table in the front window so I could see him arrive; they don't really do tea at St. Stephen's, so I ordered a substantial ploughman's with coffee and Guinness for two.

"What's so important?" he asked when he arrived, looking as delicious as a twelve-layer chocolate cake, though he was not particularly well-groomed: his handsome face had a mist of golden stubble on the jaw, his wavy hair was badly combed, his darting amber eyes looked tired, and his fusty brown suit was rumpled.  But I had missed him so terribly during the two weeks I was in the country, and hadn't even realized how badly I'd missed him until I saw him coming at me through the crowded pub, that he looked as dazzling as Apollo and Siegfried rolled up in one.

"I love you," I blurted out immediately, surprising both myself and him.

"You dragged me out of my office to tell me that?" he asked, glancing around warily.  He had a lot more to lose than I had, with his nascent career in the Metropolitan Police already made difficult by his baronetcy, and so has to be a lot cagier than I am in public.  Even in private, he was careful of declarations—and for some reason, I found that more endearing than irritating.

"No, but I came down on the train today expressly to see you," I dropped my voice so it wouldn't be heard further away than our table, "and hoped that you would spend the night with me."

"Oh, Foxy, I wish I could," he looked almost as disappointed as I felt, which was a nice change from his distant tone over the telephone, "But I'm on a stake-out tonight.  I won't get off duty until nearly dawn."

"A stake-out?  That sounds like something out of the sort of book you always scold me for reading," I smiled at him.

"It's the most incredibly boring duty one can pull at the Yard," he groused, washing down a hunk of bread-and-cheese with a healthy gulp of beer, "Sitting all night in a patrol car, watching a door like a cat waiting for a mouse. It wouldn't be so bad if I could walk about a bit, but Brigham says I'm too good-looking to do the loungers-and-passersby stuff, I draw too much attention."

"Brigham said that?" I was amazed; Twister's superior, Chief Inspector James Brigham, was like the typical  stoic officer in a Boer War fantasy from the Boy's Own Paper, stiff as a tin soldier and just about as warm.  He loathed me, viewing me as an idiot layabout who was always getting in the way of his work.  True, I did seem to pop out of a hat every other week in his cases, but it wasn't my fault.  Well, not usually, anyway.

"Brigham has let his hair down a bit since he found out about me," he smiled a funny smile that I couldn't place, something between astonishment and relief, "He thinks I should stay away from you, and is always urging greater caution, but he says things when we're alone that make me wonder if he isn't queer himself."

"Well, we do turn up in the most unexpected places, don't we?" I laughed, envisioning the rigid and regimented Brigham with his indelible snarl of contempt trying to pull at a queer pub, "And his generation is terribly sensitive about their secrecy, after the Wilde trial."

"What do you know about Brigham's generation?" a wry smile curled across his face.

"A very good friend of mine is of the same generation.  You'll meet him when you come down to Foxbridge.  You are still coming, aren't you?"

"Yes, I have my two-week holiday down on the schedule," he assured me with a warm grin, "Nothing short of a national emergency will stop me coming down."

"Well, that's a relief, anyway," I relaxed in my chair and took a sip of the unbelievably vile coffee, "So, what time is your stake-out over?  I can leave word with the night porter to send you right up."

"I don't know what you think I'm made of, Foxy," he laughed at me in disbelief, "But after ten hours sitting up in a car, on top of a full eight hours of regular duty, I will be in no condition for... canoodling when I get off work."

"Canoodling is not at all what I had in mind," I blinked at the ludicrous word, "Whatever canoodling is. Is it American?"

"I'm sorry, Foxy, but I can't tonight, and not in the morning, either.  How long are you in town?"

"I told the Duchess overnight.  I'll have to think of another excuse to stay another night."

"Is it that important to spend the night with me?" he wondered.

"I'm so wound up after two weeks on my own that I'm in actual pain," I whined.

"I'm not the only man in London, Foxy," he frowned at me as if I was being particularly silly.

"What?" I gaped at him, thunderstruck, "I thought you didn't want me seeing other men."

"I never said so," he pointed out equably, like a tutor pointing out a flaw in one's syllogism, gripping my foot between both his instead of taking my hand, "I don't like it, but I accept it as part of who you are.  Just as you accept the strictures that my job places on me, because they're part of who I am."

"That has got to be the most reasonable thing I've ever heard," I scowled at him, "You can't possibly love me if you're this reasonable about it."

"Don't tell me how I can and can't love, you insolent whelp," he arched his eyebrow but laughed, pulling out his notebook and scribbling in it for a moment, then tearing the page out, folding it in half, and putting it under my coffee-cup, "Thank you for the grub, but I really do have to get back to the office now.  Good-bye."

"Good-bye," I said, watching him weave his way through the crowd, then watching him dash out the front door of the tavern and walk fast up Bridge Street to the Embankment.  He didn't even shake my hand before leaving.

But then I remembered the slip of paper under my cup: on the torn foolscap stained at one corner with coffee, written in his neat policeman's hand, were the words I really do love you, my beautiful Foxy.  I folded it back up and put it inside my cigarette case, grinning like an idiot.

Pond had an idiot grin of his own when he came down to help me dress  the next morning before we returned to Castoris on another train, so I had to assume that he'd been at least as successful in his quest as I had been in mine.  I spent most of the return trip dozing in my compartment, having got very little sleep the night before; I'd forced Pond to share my compartment rather than take his preferred place in third, and he went out like a light, though sitting bolt upright.  When he woke, we shared tidbits of our adventures with each other, comparing notes and congratulations.

"You look like the cat that ate the canary," Caro met me on the platform at Beverborough, a vision in pale blue crêpe-de-chine and the biggest hat you ever saw outside of Ascot.

"More like the cat that's been in the cream," I smirked at her, "No birds involved whatever."

"Filthy beast," she said happily, hooking her arm around my elbow as we walked toward the Duchess's stately limousine parked outside, "Tell me everything...leaving out the mechanics, of course."

"Pond's was a mechanic.  Mine was a rugger-playing parson."

"A man of the cloth!  Quel scandale!" she crowed joyously as we got into the car, "Now I wish I'd come to London with you."

"How do you stand being in the country week after week?" I wondered, "Do you have a girlfriend in the village?"

"Women don't need constant activity the way you men do," she sniffed haughtily, "We can carry on grand romances for years by post alone."

"Mm-hmmm.  That's why five different girls asked after you at the Green Parrot when I was there, practically writhing with frustration at your continued absence."

"Yes, well, some of us are made of sterner stuff than others," she shrugged, then dropped the superior act like a dirty handkerchief,  "Which girls? Tell me all about it."

We had a lovely gossip all the way back to the Castle, where I rejoined the party as seamlessly as if I'd never been gone.

There weren't a lot of guests staying, just me and three married couples who were acquainted with Petterby through his job on the stock exchange, staid professional men and terribly correct women who weren't very interesting.  The rest were a small sample of Chatroys, since the Duke was still in London and the four youngest were all at school, leaving only the Duchess, Petterby, Caro, Claude, and the Duchess's cousin and companion-secretary, Miss Gertrude FitzHenry, to represent the family.

For variety, guests from the surrounding county would come just for dinner; and if there was a single guest for dinner who needed to be balanced out, there were two stopgaps in the house: Miss Martin, the governess, who tutored the servants' children since the Chatroy children were all at school, and was writing a novel in the evenings; and Rev. Woodward, the chaplain, who was mostly occupied cataloguing the library, though he also performed morning and evening prayers every day and a sermon on Sunday in the large medieval chapel built into the castle walls.

It was actually a necessity to have a chaplain on the premises, since the park is so vast that the nearest village stands some miles away.  The Castle keeps a charabanc that makes a daily journey to and from the village for the servants, and of course there are motors and horses for the guests.  Still, though not a particularly religious bunch, the Chatroys have had to keep their chapel going just so the guests, servants, and workers on the home farm wouldn't have to make the journey on a Sunday.

Caro and I went for our daily ride after luncheon, as we always did, returning to the Castle in time for tea in the Great Hall.  Then I went up for my bath and a rest before dressing, just as always, and went down again to the White Parlour, a large square room between the family wing and the Great Hall, for cocktails before dinner.  Then it was dinner, after which we retired to the Red Drawing Room for cards and music and chit-chat before going to bed.

I suppose the monotony was soothing for the City guests, whose daily lives are a great deal more hurly-burly than my rather idle existence; but I found it dull.  All the time I was at Castoris Castle, I was making notes of how I would do things differently when my guests came to Foxbridge, having games and musical evenings and maybe even amateur theatricals to liven things up a bit.  I even phoned up my London solicitors and asked them to find me a theatrical agent who could supply me with orchestras, magicians, dancers, opera-singers, whatever could be imported to Gloucestershire for an evening's entertainment.

I was being dressed for dinner on my second evening back from London when I was interrupted by the Duchess's page-boy at my door.  He was an ostentatiously pretty child of some ten or eleven years, with curly golden hair and enormous liquid brown eyes, dressed up in a navy velvet Fauntleroy suit, scarlet stockings, and patent-leather pumps with bows on.  I admired the boy's nerve: I wouldn't have been caught dead in such a get-up at his age, the teasing would have been unbearable.

"Her Grace's compliments, and would your lordship please come to her room immediately?" the boy bowed gracefully but appeared somewhat flustered, breathing hard as if he'd run all the way across the castle.

"You can tell Her Grace I'll be along shortly," I replied, not sure if that was the proper form or if I should dress it up a bit with compliments and whatnot.  The Duchess was probably the only woman in England who still kept a page.

"Please, my lord, I am to wait and bring your lordship back," he replied, still trying to catch his breath.

"All right.  Pour on some speed, Pond, I'm wanted elsewhere," I wondered what was amiss that the Duchess needed me so urgently.

Once I was dressed, I followed the boy back through the circuitous route to the Duchess's chambers in the family wing, literally on the other side of the castle from the guest rooms, down flights of stairs and up again, and I was breathing a little heavily myself by the time we arrived.

I found the Duchess sitting on a little sofa in her small but opulent sitting-room, dressed for the evening in mulberry taffeta and white lace of somewhat old-fashioned style, your typical pre-War matriarch with imperious bosom and piled-up Titian hair; her throat and wrists were awash with diamonds, but the inevitable double-rope of pearls was conspicuously absent.

"Oh, Lord Foxbridge, thank goodness you're here!" she wailed, reaching out for my hands, which she gripped hard, "It's a terrible imposition, but Petterby has told us so many stories of your detective skills.  You must tell me what to do."

"Your pearls have been stolen?" I asked, getting down to brass tacks immediately.  She always wore those pearls, day and night, town and country—usually augmented with a great many more pearls for daytime and diamond bibs for evening, not to mention dog-collar chokers, numerous brooches, lorgnettes on long chains, and the occasional tiara.  She subscribed to Her Majesty the Queen's belief that there was no such thing as too much jewelry.

The necklace is a famous jewel, called the Tears of Amphitrite, a waist-length double-strand of perfectly matched pure white pearls as big as gooseberries, which have been in the Chatroy family since Elizabeth's day.  They were rumoured to be worth half a million pounds, though I never understood how anything less spectacular than the King's crown and scepter could be worth so much.

"Yes, how did you know?" her violet eyes went wide with surprise.

"I've never seen you without them before," I replied simply, sitting down beside her on the sofa and patting her hands consolingly, "When did you have them on last?"

"Before I went in for my bath," she said, blushing a little at the mention of so intimate an activity as bathing, "Plender, my maid, laid them on their cushion by my dressing-table, just like always, and when I went to put them on for dinner, they were gone!"

"Well, that's a nice, tidy range of time, which should make our job easier.  Let's organize ourselves," I said, getting up to pace a bit, my mind racing.  The Duchess couldn't possibly go down to dinner without those pearls, everyone would know they were gone and I wouldn't be able to investigate properly; the castle would have to be sealed shut, lest anyone abscond with them before I could find them; and I would need both Pond and Plender to help me search the Duchess's rooms.  I turned and beckoned the pageboy over from his station by the door, "What's your name, lad?"

"Lucius, my lord," he said promptly, standing up like a soldier in response to the authoritative tone I'd adopted.  Rather an unfortunate name for a boy as pretty as that; but I suppose if you had the nerve to go about calling yourself Lucius, going about dressed in velvet and bows would be a breeze.

"Lucius, I need you to run some messages.  First, go to Lady Caroline and tell her the Duchess is indisposed and she'll have to act as hostess this evening.  Next, go to Underdown and tell him that nobody is to leave the Castle tonight or tomorrow, but to not be obvious about it, just bring down the portcullis and say the chain is broken or something.  Finally, bring Pond and Plender here. Do not tell anyone about the pearls."

"Yes, my lord," he saluted instead of bowing, the light of excitement enlivening his flowerlike face, "Right away, my lord."

While waiting for Plender and Pond to turn up (they sound like a music-hall act when you put them together, don't they?) I started poking around in the Duchess's sitting-room, which is hung in peach jacquard and crammed full of plump chairs and fragile little tables in the belle époque fashion, making a show of checking the windows and doors for signs of a break-in while she made a show of weeping and wringing her hands.  But the window is in the outside curtain-wall, with a sheer drop of at least a hundred feet to the river, and neither the door into the corridor nor to the dressing-room had a key in its lock

Plender arrived almost immediately, a very jovial-looking little woman with bobbed gray hair and a well-rounded figure in black linen and a short apron, and she gave me a tour of the rest of the apartments.  The pale blue satin dressing-room was next to the sitting-room, then the pink-marble-tiled bathroom and then the mauve damask bedroom, linked together as an enfilade with the doors lined up in the French manner, and all but the bath had doors to the corridor.  The bedroom and dressing-room doors had keys but were not locked, and felt very stiff, as if they'd not been turned in many years.

The cushion beside the Duchess's dressing-table was especially made for the pearls, a big pillow covered in dark blue plush that stood on its own dainty-legged pedestal.  They were never put anywhere else when the Duchess was in residence: if they weren't on her, they were on the cushion.  It must have been incredibly shocking for her to find them gone, like missing the last step in a staircase.  I asked Plender to guide me through her routine in between getting the Duchess undressed for the bath and then dressing her for dinner.

It was a complex but unvarying routine: the Duchess returned to her room every evening at six, or shortly thereafter; Plender divested her of her afternoon frock and took down her hair, brushing it out thoroughly; then the Duchess went into the bathroom by herself and stayed there half an hour or so; Plender took the discarded clothes into the clothes-press that opens off the dressing-room, sorting out the things that go to the laundry, then removing any brooches and brushing the gown and shoes before putting them in the airing-cupboard.

After her bath, the Duchess came back into the dressing-room and lay down on the day-bed, telling Plender which dress and jewels she wanted for the evening, and then napped for a bit while the maid laid out the clothes and went down to the silver-safe off the butler's pantry to get the jewels.  Then Plender dressed the Duchess's hair and put her into her evening gown, completing the process no later than seven-thirty, when the first dinner-gong went and the guests began to gather.

Neither of them noticed the pearls were gone until the Duchess reached for them to put them on.  The only time that the room lay empty was when Plender went into the clothes-press while the Duchess bathed, during which time the pearls had most likely been taken; it was also possible that, if the Duchess slept soundly while Plender was gone to the safe, someone might have sneaked in and grabbed them—though this seemed rather risky and therefore less likely.  This indicated to me that the pearls were taken by someone who was familiar with the routine, narrowing our investigation to the family and the Castle servants.

"Not necessarily, my lord," Pond said when I gave this conclusion, "An observant person could assume the routine by watching Miss Plender's comings and goings, and there are enough little nooks and crannies in this corridor that someone could hide, then listen at a door and figure it out.  Any of the guests or guests' servants could have discovered the routine.  Also, a professional cat-burglar might have sneaked into the castle at any time and observed the routine.  Since the pearls are not locked up, they would be the easiest target."

"True, true," I agreed, though I was annoyed by the expansion of the field of suspects, "I think the idea of a cat-burglar is unlikely, romantic as it may be, though perhaps we should wait and see if anything else has been stolen before we rule him out.  First, though, we track down alibis for everyone and see who was alone and unobserved in between, say, six-fifteen and seven.  If all else fails, we search the Castle, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.  This place would take a year to search completely."

"Does your lordship propose we act as detectives in this matter, or merely curious parties?" he asked.

"I think we're going to have to do the full Scotland Yard routine.  The Duchess doesn't want the police, and this is rather too specific a crime to just ask lots of silly questions and hope someone spills.  When dinner's over, you can tackle the servants' hall, and I'll cover the drawing-room."

"Very good, my lord," Pond bowed smartly, "If you think it advisable, I would like to recruit young Lucius as my deputy."

"Oh, absolutely.  So long as you're sure he didn't pinch the pearls himself."

"If he did, I'll find out faster if he thinks I trust him," Pond grinned a smug little grin, "But I'm more concerned that he'll blab if I don't have him under my eye."

"Practical as ever, Pond.  Carry on."

Plender put the Duchess to bed and I went down to the drawing-room, where the ladies had just arrived after dinner.  I pulled Caro to the side and told her what had happened, and she sent the footman who was serving coffee back to the dining-room to fetch the gentlemen from their port and cigars.  When everyone was assembled and wondering what was up, I took a position in front of the fireplace and prepared to humiliate myself.

"Ladies and gentlemen," I began portentously, my hands clasped behind my back like a stage detective, "I have an unpleasant duty to perform.  A crime has been committed in this house, and I must ask each of you where you were at the time it was committed.  If you would please join me, one at a time, in the study, I would be very grateful."

This caused something of a sensation, of course, and the room erupted into chatter.  They seemed to think it was a dramatic sort of parlour-game, though, which I suppose is better than having everyone get all indignant with me like they always do with the police.  I took Underdown the butler as my deputy, asking him to bring each person in, one after the other, observing precedence so I didn't ruffle anyone's feathers.  With a stack of writing-paper, a fountain pen, and a plate of fruit and cheese (I'd missed my dinner, and was starving), I set myself up at the immense desk with a comfortable chair opposite for visitors.

My first comer was Petterby, of course, acting as host in his father's absence.  He's a good-looking young man, not quite beautiful but very pleasing, with the same crystal-blue eyes and silvery-gold hair as most of the Chatroy clan; since leaving Oxford early and joining a brokerage firm in the City (much to his family's distress) he'd put on a bit of weight, and his heart-shaped face had gone round and merry with the beginnings of a double chin.

"I say, Foxy," he began jovially, helping himself to a whiskey from the nearby drinks table, "This is a novel sort of sport.  Did you and Caro cook this up between you?"

"I'm afraid not, Petie," I said very gravely, bringing him up short, "The Tears of Amphitrite have been stolen."

"Mamà's pearls!?" he went pale and wide-eyed with shock, "But those things are worth more than this whole ruddy castle!"

"I know you could have no reason to take them, yourself," I said in preamble to the inevitable rudeness of questioning, "I just have to ask everyone.  The Duchess doesn't want police, but if I can't find them we'll have to go to Scotland Yard.  It will look better if I'm thorough now, and ask the same questions they would."

"Yes, of course," he gulped down his whiskey and poured another glass, "Quite."

"What were you doing in between teatime and dinner?" I poised my pen and put an expectant look on my face.

"I went to the business room after tea," he said thoughtfully, trying to remember clearly, "Some estate accounts had to be gone over with a comb.  Our estate manager is a good egg, but he sometimes tries to cut corners by not paying people on time.  Can't have our people suffering."

"Quite," I agreed, just to keep him going, "Did you see or speak to anyone while you were in the business room?"

"Not a soul."

"Then what?"

"Then I went up to change for dinner."

"What time, exactly?  Do you know?"

"I couldn't say to the minute," he frowned at the gap in his memory, "But my valet will.  Doyle.  A very precise johnnie."

"If you had to guess?" I prompted, noting the valet's name to follow up with Pond.

"I'd guess around six-thirty.  I like to have a bath before I dress, and I have to get in before Claude makes a wallowing mess of the place."

"How're things on the Exchange?" I changed the subject.

"How do you mean?" he looked confused, as I'd intended.

"Have you been making lots of money?  Losing money?  Breaking even?"

"Breaking even, mostly.  I'm still learning, so I don't handle big accounts.  Mostly my own money to practice with.  Why do you ask that?"

"Establishing motive.  If you'd suffered some heavy losses, you might be inclined to pawn the pearls for cover."

"That's ridiculous," he said, though not angrily, "I have the Castle keys while Papà's in Town, I can walk right into the safe and get at dozens of Mamà's jewels.  She'd never even notice they were gone, she hasn't touched her court stuff in years.  But the pearls would be missed immediately.  Damn silly thing to do, what?"

"Extremely silly," I agreed, "How much are the pearls worth, anyway?  I've heard the most ridiculous sums."

"Those pearls do get talked up a bit," he smiled at the gossip, "They were valued for insurance at a hundred and ten thousand.  But that was in '05, they'll be worth a bit more now."

"What would they be worth to a thief, do you think?"

"Fences are rather more your line than mine, hey Foxy?" he grinned at me; my career as an amateur detective at Eton had involved busting a crooked pawnbroker who was quietly disposing of school silver with the help of an equally crooked servant, "I don't see how anyone could sell a famous jewel like that, and it'd be worth a hell of a lot less if the necklace was broken up.  Each pearl could bring a couple hundred, I think, so you couldn't get more than fifteen thousand for them if sold individually.  The thing with pearls is the matched collection, that's where most of the value is; and with an historical piece like this, its longevity makes a big difference."

"Oh, I see," I racked my brains for another question, but came up blank, "Well, thank you for being so forthcoming, Petie.  Would you be a lamb and go to the library instead of the drawing-room?  I don't want the others to know what's happened until I tell them.  The reaction is crucial."

"How did I react, old son?" he wanted to know, getting up to leave.

"Like I'd beaned you with a pole-axe," I stood and shook his hand, "I'll keep you posted about anything I find."

"Thanks, Foxy.  It's very kind of you to take this on."

"My pleasure," I said quite honestly.  Though I looked a hopeless prat, playing Poirot in a country-house mystery straight out of a book, I was having more fun than I'd had in weeks.

Caro should have been next in precedence, as the daughter of a duke, but I wanted to save her for last.  Besides, she couldn't possibly need to steal the pearls: if she was in financial straits, she knew she could come to me, her friend and soon-to-be-fiancé—I am simply rolling in the stuff.

Instead, I had one of the City gents in next, Sir Alec Ware, the managing director of the brokerage where Petterby worked.  He looked exactly like a stockbroker should look, rather sleek with graying temples and elaborate mustaches, though he was only forty or so.  He didn't smile much, and his answers to my questions were quite clipped.

He'd gone to the library directly after tea, and read the afternoon papers under the eye of the chaplain, who was doing some cataloguing nearby.  He went up to dress for dinner at precisely six-thirty, for which his valet could easily vouch, and he chatted with his wife through the open dressing-room door while she dressed in the bedroom with her maid.

"I don't find this game very entertaining, Lord Foxbridge," he said when he'd finished giving me the details of his movements, "Your questions border on rudeness."

"I am sorry Sir Alec, but it's not actually a game.  The Duchess's pearls have been stolen."

"Then why are you asking questions, and not the police?" he asked, very sensibly.  The necklace itself seemed of little interest to him.

"The Duchess is anxious to avoid scandal, of course," I explained.

"Very irregular.  The insurers will kick up a fuss if the police aren't called right away.  I'll advise Petterby on the matter.  Do you have any other questions?"

"Only a terrifically rude one that I will quite understand if you don't wish to answer," I laid out my preamble like a lure.

"Yes?" his curiosity was piqued.

"How is the Exchange behaving these days?  Gains, losses, or just pottering along as usual?"

"That's a matter of public record, Lord Foxbridge," he smiled a little, "The Exchange has been in a small rise for the last few weeks.  Our clients have profited at an average rate of about eight per cent above standard dividend."

"And your own finances?  Swimming along nicely?"

"Quite nicely," the smile fell off his face like a chunk of loose plaster.

"Do you gamble, Sir Alec?"

"That is impertinent, Lord Foxbridge," he stood furiously and made to leave.  I told him that Petterby was in the library awaiting his advice, rather than asking him to go there, worried that he might actually strike me if I gave him an order.

His reaction to the gambling question was very interesting, for though it is impertinent, it's not nearly as impertinent as asking about his finances.  Was it because he'd already lost his patience from the previous question, or because he did gamble and was anxious that it not be found out?  He did not, after all, answer the question.

Next came Lady Ware, a strenuously chic woman with rigid nut-brown hair and small features who always looked like she was in some discomfort and smiling bravely to cover it.  She started off our interview being terribly charming, as is her duty when confronted with someone who has pots and pots of money that her husband might invest.  But she became even more clipped than Sir Alec when I pressed her about her movements between tea and dinner.

She grudgingly admitted that she'd spent the hours between five and six-thirty in the bathroom, lying in a cool milk-bath with her face and neck covered in sliced bananas, a beauty preparation currently in vogue; her maid had been with her throughout, reading aloud from a popular novel.  She preened a bit with pleasure when I said her efforts had been well worth it, as she looked quite radiant (which was a shameless lie: she looked exactly like she always looked, her face as tight as a drum and her neck as stringy as a turkey's).

"Do you like pearls, Lady Ware?" I asked, startling her with the non-sequitur.

"Not very much," she said, her head tilted to one side in curiosity, "One needs a long strand of pearls for informal dressing, but pearls can be imitated so easily that I don't see the point in investing a great deal of money into them.  I prefer gold or platinum pieces.  Of course, I always wear diamonds in the evening."

"What do you think of the Duchess's pearls?"

"Which ones?" she smirked a little viciously, "She wears so many.  I quite see the point of the famous ones, though they should be kept in a bank, not worn all the time. She rather overdoes the jewelry, don't you think?  Very old-fashioned."

"I wouldn't know," I smiled self-deprecatingly, "I can barely dress myself without my valet's advice, the niceties of ladies' fashion are quite beyond my powers.  Do you ever gamble, Lady Ware?"

"If you call playing bridge for shillings 'gambling,' then yes I do,"  she smiled again, warming up a bit.

"How long has your maid been with you?"

"You do ask the oddest questions, Lord Foxbridge," she regarded me closely, perhaps wondering if I was quite sane, "And this is the oddest game."

"It's not a game, Lady Ware.  The Duchess's pearls, the famous ones in fact, have been stolen."

"Oh, I see," she relaxed, my behaviour explained, "Well, I didn't take them.  And my maid has been with me since I was married.  Longer ago than I care to admit.  Is there anything else you wanted to know?"

"I can't think of anything," I stood and took her hand, giving her my most beguiling smile and kissing her knuckles wetly, examining her bracelet while I was at it.  I'm not an expert in jewels, but I can tell diamonds from paste: the bracelet was unmistakably real and quite valuable.  That bunked one of my ideas, that she might have some drain on her finances, gambling or blackmail or an expensive lover, and had already pawned her own jewels before turning her eyes on other womens'—that remark about imitation pearls had been very suggestive.

My next companion at the desk was Bertie Pargeter, another young novice in Petterby's firm, whose father Sir Roderick was one of the firm's partners.  He seemed to be aware that his father is the only reason that he was given a job in charge of other people's money, and so did not presume to actually do any work at the firm of Pargeter Ellis Ltd., which I suppose indicated at least a glimmer of intelligence where none other showed: he is a chubby, chinless, cheerful idiot with bulging cow-brown eyes and a disturbingly sensual mouth, extraordinarily well-dressed but otherwise a bit boring.

He had no recollection of what time he left the billiards room, whence he'd repaired after tea to 'knock a few balls around, what?' His valet would know, of course, an excellent fellow named Maynard, who'd come to fetch him; he came back downstairs when he was dressed, whenever that might have been.  When asked about his finances, he shrugged eloquently, saying he left all that sort of thing to greater minds than his own—so long as his tailors were paid and his cheques didn't bounce, he hadn't the tiniest interest.  He gambled when other fellows did, but wasn't especially keen.  When I asked him about pearls, he wasn't sure he'd ever noticed them particularly, they were just decoration.

After he left, I wondered if it could possibly be an act; nobody would suspect such a driveling moron of pulling off such a delicate robbery.  He could rob his father's brokerage blind and make it look like a mistake, even.  It seemed unlikely, such an act couldn't be carried on for years and years: though he'd been at Rugby rather than Eton, Petterby had known him since boyhood.  Nevertheless, I would withhold judgment until I got Pond's evidence from the excellent Maynard.

His wife came next and demonstrated that she was definitely the brains in the family: the Honourable Julia Pargeter, daughter of a new-minted baron who was a big noise in the City (it amazed me how many knights and peers were being made on the Exchange), had taken on the goof Bertie largely to bring off a financial coup between his father and hers.  She was a few years older than he, and as remarkably plain as he is remarkably stupid, so perhaps their fathers thought it was the only way of unloading the both of them.

However, I got the impression that she really loved her husband, and was somewhat annoyed with herself for doing so. And, plain though she was, I found her very attractive, her mousy hair pampered and extremely neat, her well-made clothes exquisitely simple, and a brilliant spark of humour and intelligence in her small storm-gray eyes that she was very careful to keep subdued under a mask of bland propriety.

She was also very precise about the time of her movements: after tea, she had gone to her room to write letters; at six o'clock, her maid came in and began laying out her evening clothes while she supervised; at six-thirty, she went to the bathroom to freshen up, and passed her husband in the corridor as he went in to shave and wash, returning to her room at six-fifty; her maid helped her dress, and she completed her toilette at seven-fifteen; fetching her husband from the next room, they left their servants and went down to the White Parlour at seven-twenty.

"Do you like pearls, Mrs. Pargeter?" I asked, writing fast to get all those details down.

"Not particularly, Lord Foxbridge.  Do you?"

"I'm rather ignorant about jewels," I smiled one of my best smiles, but she didn't seem impressed, "What are those you're wearing?"

"They're costume, coloured glass and rhodium plate," she reached up and pulled off an earring, a long elegant thing with a large pink stone that I had assumed to be tourmaline or spinel or some such, holding it up to the light, "I think it rather silly to wear a significant portion of one's wealth, tying up assets in baubles that can be stolen or lost instead of putting them out in the marketplace earning dividends.  Those pearls the Duchess wears all the time, for example.  They're worth more than the land we're sitting on, and the Duke spends money insuring them, rather than making interest on the amount for which they've been valued.  It's rather backward, don't you think?"

"I hadn't thought of it that way," I admitted, "But you make a lot of sense.  I rather wish you were my stockbroker."

"I could be, if you wish," she screwed her earring back in and gave me a shrewd, assessing look, "I run all of Bertie's accounts for him, over the telephone with his secretary—though he doesn't know it, poor fish.  I'll have Miss Mellon send you a prospectus."

"Oh! Thank you," I was taken quite aback. 

"Now, about the Duchess's pearls.  I have an alibi in between six and seven-thirty, which appear to be the times you're interested in, so I can't have stolen them."

"How did you know the pearls were stolen?" I asked, wondering if I'd just tripped her up, "I never said."

"Your eyes practically leapt out of your head when I mentioned them," she laughed, "You really ought to work on your poker-face, Lord Foxbridge, if you intend to persist in this amateur detective hobby of yours."

"You're not the first to tell me that," I felt my face go red.

"In your position, I would treat this as the parlour-game that people already think it is," she stood and gave me her hand to shake, "Giggle and cajole, you're harder to read when you're acting silly.  People are more likely to be honest if they don't take you seriously."

"Thank you, I'll do that," I promised and bade her goodnight.  I had to wonder if she'd given her husband the same advice.

After her, I felt like I needed a moment to reassemble my dignity; but Underdown was in a rhythm now, and the next guest was shot into the presence without any wait.

I found myself confronted by something of a void, who went under the name of Edgar Bradley, though I wouldn't have remembered that if Underdown hadn't announced him.  He's a very medium sort of gent, neither tall nor short, fat nor thin, dark nor fair, young nor old, handsome nor ugly.  He was just sort of there, but not so terribly there that you'd notice it.

He also didn't have a substantiated alibi, which gave me a bit of a thrill: he'd gone to his room to lie down after tea, reading a book and having a think.  He didn't have a valet, and he dressed early, starting a little before six, because he didn't have anything better to do.  He went back downstairs at six-thirty, before his wife came in to dress, and sat in the White Parlour with his book.  The servants came in after a while, and he watched them set up for cocktails, but did not speak to them nor take any particular notice of what time they came or left.

I regretted asking him about the Exchange, as he launched into the most incredibly detailed disquisition on everything that had happened in the stock market over the last quarter, delivered in a buzzing monotone that made me sleepy, and so dense with jargon that I hadn't the tiniest idea what he was talking about.  When asked questions about gambling, blackmail, and pearls, he simply blinked at me as if I'd started speaking Urdu and he didn't want to embarrass me by pointing it out.

His wife, Laura, was so like him that I would have guessed they were brother and sister rather than husband and wife.  Her alibi was unsubstantiated, too, as she did not have a maid and did not remember seeing anybody in between tea and dinner; she'd gone for a walk in the garden after tea, making note of what flowers were growing (which she related to me, in excruciating detail and the same buzzing monotone as her husband's), then went up to dress, but did not know what time it was: her wristwatch was broken.  She arrived in the White Parlour a little after seven, though not sure exactly when, though the footman in charge of the cocktail table could probably say.

She never gambled, she never noticed other people's jewelry, and she didn't wear any jewelry herself except her wedding-ring, her watch (even though it was broken), and a tiny glass pendant on a fine gold chain that held a lock of her late mother's hair.  Like Bertie Pargeter, I wondered if the Bradleys were putting on an act, as it seemed unlikely that anyone could be so intensely dull by accident; but again like Bertie, I deferred judgement until I could talk to Pond.

Claude Chatroy came in next, and I didn't seriously question him, since I didn't believe for a moment that he would have or even could have snitched his aunt's necklace.  However, as I'd told Petterby, I had to treat everyone equally; I was also still of a mind that the thief had to be a member of the family or a Castle servant: though Pond was correct that anyone could have figured out the Duchess's routine, the fact remained that the family wing and the guest wing are completely separate buildings, connected only by the Great Hall and a couple of service passages.  The difficulty of a guest getting into the family wing without being seen and noticed would discourage even the most intrepid of thieves.

When asked what he'd been doing in between tea and dinner, he blushed and stammered and said he was in his room alone, leading me to believe he was up to some private naughtiness that didn't bear thinking about; he had a bath afterward, though he had to wait in the corridor for a few minutes because Petterby was already in there and had locked the door.  He got dressed on his own, though one of the footmen, George, came in to help him with his tie and brush down his jacket as he usually did.  He had no idea what time any of that was, though he did remember the first gong had gone while George was with him, and he was the last one to arrive in the White Parlour—aside from me and the Duchess, of course.

I asked him about gambling and his allowance and things like that, but I already knew that his pocket-money was something like a pound a month and he never got an opportunity to gamble because he was never let out on his own.  While he'd been allowed to run wild all his life, he only ran wild within the confines of the Castoris estate or his father's old manor near Cambridge, where Lord John was a professor of English history; Claude's sojourn in the care of his kidnappers and his dominatrix had been the first time he'd been out of his family's sight for more than a few hours in all his seventeen years.

Of course he knew all about the pearls and where they were kept, and had ample opportunity to take them; but he also pointed out that it would have been much easier to steal them at night when they were completely unattended in an unlocked room while the Duchess slept.

That piece of inarguable practicality surprised me, coming from him, and sent me down a whole different path of thought: why had the thief chosen to take the pearls in that one tiny, risky moment, when it would have been infinitely easier to wait until everyone went to bed, walk right into a room that was never locked, and stroll casually away with the pearls?  There was an unnecessary bravado to the theft that didn't make sense.

Next in line was Miss FitzHenry, a dead ringer for her cousin the Duchess, though in a more sensible and modern mould: her Titian hair was neatly shingled, her clothes were up-to-date but not flashy or frilly, and her speech quite forthright in an almost masculine way.  I like her immensely, as she has an amazing sense of humour, and one could not be in her company for more than an hour without being reduced to giggles at least once.

She was also extremely unlikely in terms of suspicion, since she had been the Duchess's secretary-companion for well over twenty years and could have taken the pearls at any time.  And, like Claude, she never went anywhere on her own, so had no opportunity to get into the sorts of situations that require a theft to cover sudden secret demands on one's resources.

Nevertheless, I asked her all the same questions as the others.  She reported returning to her room at the same time the Duchess retired to her own, six o'clock; she undressed and took an hour's nap, after which she rose and had a quick wash, then put on her evening clothes and went downstairs.  She didn't have or want a maid, since her hair only needed a quick brushing and her dresses all went on over her head without any fiddly hooks in hard-to-reach places (she had me roaring while she told me this, demonstrating it all in broad pantomime).

Unfortunately, the lack of a maid made it impossible to corroborate her story; and since her bedroom was right next to the Duchess's sitting-room, and she was the only other person on that floor, she was the best placed to effect the theft.  I had also recently learned, at some peril to myself, that jovial and kind-hearted people are just as capable of committing crimes as anyone else.  I ended the interview with a big question-mark at the bottom of Miss FitzHenry's page.

"How is my sweet Sherlock getting on?" Caro asked when she came in at last.

"The only ones who could have stolen them are the Bradleys, Claude, Miss FitzHenry, and maybe Bertie Pargeter.  Everyone else has cast-iron alibis for the whole period in question," I shrugged, "Unless one of them was lying, in which case Pond will have found out from their servants."

"How vexing," she frowned.

"I can't believe that anyone who could have taken them would have taken them.  Unless the Bradleys are criminal masterminds who have cunningly disguised themselves as the two most boring creatures on God's green Earth.  So far that's the only theory that holds together."

"We could always search their rooms," Caro suggested.

"If they're criminal masterminds, they wouldn't hide the loot in their rooms, they'll have found someplace they could access at some later time that we'd never think of looking in."

"I'm beginning to like your Bradley theory," she reached over to nab a handful of grapes off my plate and munched on them thoughtfully, "I don't believe Nature can create something as dull as the two of them.  And then they look so much alike, maybe they're not really husband and wife.  A brother and sister team of jewel-thieves!"

"But even brilliant jewel-thieves wouldn't bother with such a long-term deception. Bradley has been working at Pargeter Ellis for donkey's years."

"If it puts them in contact with people who have jewels to steal, it might be worthwhile," she pointed out.

"Do you know why Petterby invited them?" I should have asked Petterby, but hadn't thought of it at the time.

"I can't imagine why he invited any of them.  The Pargeters are at least semi-interesting, but Sir Alec is a bore and Lady Ware makes my teeth ache, and I wouldn't have bet money that Petterby even knew Bradley existed."

"I'll follow up with Petterby about that," I said, pulling my papers together into a neat pile, then noticed that the last page was still blank, "Out of interest, what were you doing in between six and seven-thirty?"

"Bathing and dressing, same as Mamà," she smiled knowingly at me, "But Pond will have already established that with my maid."

"Then there's nothing left but to go back to my room and wait," I got up and trudged out of the dining-room, feeling a little bit defeated.  I didn't really think I'd solve the theft with my interviews, but I had hoped I'd end up with more answers than questions.


"How did you get on in the servant's hall?" I asked Pond when he came into my room nearly an hour later; it was getting on, so I'd already undressed myself and got into my pajamas and dressing-gown.

"It was an arduous task, my lord," he sighed, though he smiled when he saw that I'd laid my discarded evening clothes neatly over a chair, "But I have been able to reconstruct the movements of every servant in the Castle between six o'clock and seven-thirty."

"All of them?  How many are there?"

"Thirty-four, my lord, counting myself and young Lucius."

"Golly!" I gasped, impressed.  I'd found my eight interviews wearying, I couldn't imagine conducting over thirty.

"It sounds more impressive than it is," he smiled at my shock, "The majority of the staff were in the kitchen, the serving pantries, or the dining room.  Any absence would have been missed immediately.  Between six and eight, every servant connected to the kitchen or the dining room is extremely busy preparing or serving dinner.  During that period, personal attendants are also very busy."

"So, who isn't busy?"

"The housemaids, my lord.  It is their only quiet time of day, unless they are required to assist a guest or member of the family in dressing for dinner.  Since all but Mrs. Bradley and Miss FitzHenry have their own maids, and those two ladies have declined the offer of assistance, their evenings are essentially free."

"So they are our best suspects," I decided, "How many are there?"

"There are six housemaids, my lord, four of whom were together in the housekeeper's room, listening to the wireless and doing their personal mending.  The other two were out strolling in the kitchen garden and vouch for each-other.  I gather they are sweethearts, though of course it is not generally known."

"Hmph," I was faintly annoyed to have the housemaids dangled before me and then snatched away, "Anyone else idle in between six and seven-thirty?"

"Her grace's page is not usually busy," he said, "Nor the boot-boy.  But they, too, were together."

"Isn't Lucius rather young for that sort of thing?" I was shocked.  I'd thought myself precocious, but I'd not tasted that forbidden fruit until I was twelve.

"To play marbles, my lord?" he laughed at my salacious assumption, making me blush, "Lucius is nominally on duty at that time, but is almost never required, so his friend sneaks upstairs to help him pass the time with marbles or cards or some other amusement."

"So none of the servants were unobserved or idle during the period the pearls were stolen?"

"The personal attendants would not have been idle, but were by and large unobserved by other servants.  I made note of the times they corroborated for their masters and mistresses, to compare to your lordship's notes of those same times."

"Oh, absolutely.  I made note of the times for exactly that reason.  Most of my interviews claimed their servants as alibis."

I brought my notes over to the little writing desk and sat down to compare them to Pond's notes.  But his information wasn't mere notes, it was a massive chart drafted on a big sheet of pale blue wrapping-paper.  The vertical axis listed each of the thirty-four servants, including himself and Lucius, as well as the family and guests—and the governess and the chaplain, whose existence I'd completely forgotten; the horizontal axis was done in ten-minute increments of time, and the intersections bore a note of each person's location at each time.

The kitchen and dining-room staff were a forest of ditto-marks, but the personal attendants were all over the place.  However, every one of them corroborated with the times I had noted for family and guests, and the ones where my correspondent had not known the time, the servants they claimed as witnesses did.  Pretty much everyone was accounted for at every point in the hour and a half of interest.

"Well, no busted alibis.  I'm assuming that you interviewed the personal servants about their employers' habits, finances, and dirty little secrets?"

"I wasn't born yesterday, my lord," he laughed again; he was enjoying himself at least as much as I was, if not more, "But sadly, they have very little in the way of dirty secrets; and among the guests, the finances are beyond reproach.  The Pargeters in particular are a great deal better off than they appear.  Apparently, the Honourable Mrs. Pargeter is a genius with capital, and has parlayed her dowry and her husband's patrimony into quite an impressive fortune."

"I'm not surprised.  Julia Pargeter is one of the smartest woman I've ever met.  She had some very interesting notions about jewels, how the money one might realize on them would be better used in the market, making more money instead of costing for insurance."

"A novel approach to the market, considering how much of it is made up of insurance premiums," Pond frowned, "I wonder if Mrs. Pargeter decided to go ahead and realise the value of the pearls merely to be able to invest it?"

"I thought of that, but she wouldn't likely be able to realise their full value, since to sell them safely she'd have to break up the collection, so I doubt she'd bother.  I can't imagine her settling for a tenth of the value of something."

"And unless her maid, her husband, and her husband's valet are in collaboration with her, she has an essentially cast-iron alibi," he steered me back to the business at hand.

"The only guests who don't have alibis are the Bradleys, who have no servants.  And they're so dun-coloured, they could probably slip through the Great Hall without anyone noticing them.  I have a pet theory that they're jewel-thieves in disguise."

"Unfortunately, my lord, Lucius and Benjamin were playing marbles in an alcove that anyone coming from the Great Hall would have to pass to achieve her grace's rooms.  Both boys are very sharp, even absorbed in a game they'd have noticed."

"That's not the only way through, is it?" I tried to remember the layout of the family wing.

"One can enter through the service passage on the ground floor and take the back stairs; but the chances of going that way undetected are just as bad: that passage is used by servants circumventing the crowded pantries.  Besides, though the Bradleys have no servants of their own, their movements have been noted.  I saw Mr. Bradley myself during the most likely time the pearls could have been stolen, my lord.  Mrs. Bradley was seen coming in from the garden well after that."

 "Well, that's very annoying of them, but it was just a fancy of mine.  As I read your chart, and the mutual corroboration of my witnesses, absolutely every single solitary servant is exonerated, at least," I was glad: I hate stories where the butler did it.

"Almost as if someone chose that moment so that no servants would fall under suspicion," he opined.

"That's it!" I gasped, excited, "That's why the thief chose that particular moment."

"My lord?" he didn't follow.

"Claude, of all people, pointed out to me how much easier it would have been to steal the necklace in the middle of the night, when it lies unattended in the Duchess's unlocked dressing-room for eight hours or more.  I was racking my brains to figure out why, in that case, someone would choose that very awkward and incredibly brief moment in the day to steal the pearls.  I think it's because the thief didn't want any servants to fall under suspicion."

"Why not?" he frowned at the notion, "Wouldn't that make it easier for the thief to get away with the crime?"

"Some sort of Raffles-like sense of nobility?" I offered, getting up to pace around so I could think.

"Or because the theft was a collaboration between a servant and a guest... no, a thieving servant would be just as anxious that blame fall elsewhere.  It doesn't make sense."

"Because the thief didn't want anybody to get in trouble for the crime!" my head lit up with the solution, which came to me all at once like a switch being turned on, "Because the thief wanted the crime to be insoluble!  Because there was no crime!"

"What do you mean?" Pond was shocked.

"Lady Caroline or her maid could easily have taken those pearls," I crowed, "Her rooms are directly above her mother's, she could take the back stair, Lucius and the boot-boy wouldn't see her; and if anybody did see her, she could just delay the theft for a more opportune time.  There's nobody else on that floor with her, since all her sisters are away at school.  And she chose that precise moment because everybody in the house was busy and had an alibi, or she thought they did.  She wanted to fake an insoluble crime.  I didn't even question her!"

"Why would she do that?" Pond looked rather offended by the idea.

"To entertain me, of course! And it worked, I'm having the time of my life," I felt immensely relieved, and snatched up Pond's chart to find Caro's maid, "Where's Partridge on here?  Did you question her beyond where she was at what time?"

"Well, of course, but you know Partridge.  She just looks at you like you're not even there.  She could have been lying through her teeth."

"Exactly.  Lady Caroline is a past-master of illusions, with her dual genders and a whole secret life, so pulling off a little stunt like this would be a snap for her; and Partridge is about as emotive as a cigar-store Indian, the poker-face of all poker-faces.  They are the only witnesses for each-other's whereabouts."

"It's kind of brilliant in its way," he said, grudgingly.

"It's entirely brilliant," I amended, dancing about the room in my joy over solving the crime, "Now we have to get her back."

"Steal the pearls from her, you mean?" he grinned a crocodile grin.

"Oh, no, that would be too easy. We'll have to cook up something really special to end the game: we'll steal the pearls and plant them on someone else.  Whom shall we accuse?  Who would it upset her to have fall under suspicion?  Who arouses her protective instincts?"

"Young Mr. Chatroy," he answered immediately.

"Exactly.  Now, let us devise some spoils and stratagems."

"'Treasons, stratagems, and spoils,' I think your lordship will find."


The next morning I got up unusually early, needing to prepare my trap in time to spring it on the largest possible audience over breakfast.  Pond had already been to Caro's room to get the pearls, and Claude's room to get some props for our play; I had bribed Underdown to stall people in the dining-room, to go slow with the toast and coffee or whatever else he could think of, so that everyone would be sitting there waiting when I came down.

"Good morning, all," I bellowed out cheerfully when I entered the dining room, a vast baronial hall with banners hanging from the wooden traceries of the arched ceiling and family portraits covering every square inch of its walls, "I'm glad to find you all together."

There was a bit of groaning and eye-rolling at this introduction; I suppose my detective game of the night before had already palled on the guests.  Caro looked as innocent as a cherub in an Annunciation, turning to me with an intrigued and expectant face.

"As I'm sure you're all aware, Her Grace's extremely valuable pearl necklace, the Tears of Amphitrite, was stolen yesterday evening.  With the able assistance of my man, Pond, and your kind cooperation, I have reconstructed the movements of almost everyone in this castle between the hours of six and seven-thirty, during which time the pearls were abstracted.  Most of you will be glad to hear that your alibis have been corroborated.  Some of you, however, have no alibis whatever.  One of you stole those pearls."

"I say, Foxy," Petterby objected, "Is this display necessary?"

"Vitally necessary, I'm afraid," I said with all the gravity I could muster, "Mr Bradley, you told me that you went down to the White Parlour at six-thirty, is that not so?"

"Why, yes," he said meekly, surprised to find himself the centre of attention.

"Would it interest you to know that you were observed entering the White Parlour at six-forty?"

"Oh?" he didn't see the significance.

"I put it to you, Mr. Bradley, that you could have left your room at six-thirty, crossed the Great Hall unobserved, entered the family wing via the service passage, abstracted the Duchess's pearls at six-thirty-five, and returned stealthily to the White Parlour at six-forty.  I myself have timed the trip, and it took me exactly ten minutes."

"Oh," he said plainly.

"However," I smiled at him, "I have determined that the pearls could only have been stolen either between six-fifteen and six-thirty, when Plender was in the clothes-press and Her Grace in the bath, or between six-forty-five and six-fifty-five while Her Grace was asleep and Plender went to the safe."


"But then Pond saw you in the corridor of the guest wing, coming out of your room at approximately six-thirty-five, and you were in the White Parlour during the second period in question.  So you are exonerated."

"Thank you," he replied, then went back to eating.

"Mrs. Bradley, on the other hand, reported not seeing anyone in between the hours of five and seven."

"Yes," she replied, as monosyllabic as her husband.

"You could easily have taken the pearls and returned to your room, hidden them, and come down to the White Parlour without being seen."

"Yes?" she looked at me politely.  I wanted to do something to shake the Bradleys out of their misty vagueness, but they wouldn't be drawn.  I guess if you know you didn't do something, and hadn't the imagination to believe someone might think you had, it's hard to generate any interest in the event.

"You are fortunate, though: while you saw no one, you were nevertheless seen.  You were in the garden until six-forty, wearing a tweed suit; you arrived in the White Parlour at seven-ten wearing a dark blue evening-gown.  Even if you were a quick-change artist, you couldn't have stolen the pearls during the two possible times and changed your clothes."

"No," she agreed blankly.

"Which brings us to Miss Gertrude FitzHenry," I started strolling around the table, hoping to make people a little more tense if they weren't sure where I was going, "Nobody saw you in between six and seven-thirty.  Your room is right next to the Duchess's suite.  You are familiar with the Duchess's routine.  It would be the easiest thing in the world for you to nip into her dressing-room and steal the pearls."

"Indeed, it would," she grinned heartily at me, "I'm always telling Hermione that she ought to keep those things locked up.  Putting a temptation like that in people's way is just sinful."

"I am not going to insult my family and servants by acting like I'm surrounded by thieves, Gertie," the Duchess responded immediately; I assumed this was a long-standing argument between them.

"Well, maybe this little episode will change your mind," she said smugly.

"I put it to you, Miss FitzHenry," I turned and pointed at her, rudely but dramatically, "that you stole the pearls in order to teach your cousin a lesson."

"I rather wish I had," she looked at me with a shade of disapproval, disliking being pointed at, "That's a wonderful idea.  But I didn't think of it, so I'm afraid I will have to disappoint you."

"I am not disappointed," I returned to my place at the head of the table, "Your having not been seen is actually to your benefit.  Young Lucius was in the alcove at the turn of the corridor, awaiting her grace's orders; and though not in view of her grace's doors, he had a perfect view of your door, Miss FitzHenry.  If you'd come out of your room at any time between six and seven-fifteen, he would have seen you."

"If everyone has alibis, even those of us who didn't know we had alibis, why are you persisting with this rather hackneyed theatrical, Lord Foxbridge?" Miss FitzHenry asked me, more than a little annoyed at being accused and then excused so quickly.

"I'm stalling," I admitted, "In order to give the real culprit an opportunity to confess."

"Get on with it, Foxy," Petterby growled at me.

"Claude stole the pearls," I said suddenly, very loudly, facing the boy but with my eyes on Caro.  She was holding herself very, very still to keep from giving away a reaction.

"What?" Claude gasped, going red in the face and blundering to his feet, "Why?"

"You were the only person with the opportunity.  Nobody saw you in between six and seven-thirty, except Petterby when he encountered you upon leaving the bath at six-fifty.  You claim that you were waiting for the bathroom, but you could just as easily have been on your way back from your aunt's room, with the pearls in your dressing-gown pocket."

"But, I couldn't," he sputtered, his handsome face a picture of confusion, "I never would."

"Why not?  You got a taste of freedom this summer," I persisted, "You liked it.  Those pearls could buy you a great deal more freedom.  You could leave this castle, get out from under the eyes of your family, set yourself up in Paris or New York and do whatever you like, whenever you like, with whomever you like, without any interference.  Even with the necklace broken up and realizing only a tenth of its value, that's more than enough to live on for the rest of your life."

"No!" he gasped out weakly, sinking back into his chair.  I was starting to feel sorry for him.

"Foxy, you leave Claude alone!" Caro stood and faced me furiously, putting her arms protectively around her cousin's shoulders and giving me a glare that would have turned me to stone if I wasn't braced for it, "I took those pearls.  Now stop this nonsense at once."

"I'm sorry, Caro, but while I admire your desire to protect Claude, you couldn't have taken the pearls.  Your maid corroborates your alibi, you never left your room between six and seven-thirty.  Besides, I've caught Claude red-handed," I turned to Pond, who was standing right behind me, "Bring the box, Pond."

"I lied!" Caro protested, "Partridge lied.  It was meant to be a joke!"

"Do you recognize this box, Claude?" I ignored her as Pond set a very nice gold-stamped morocco writing-case in front of me on the table, one of those slant-topped things that people travel with to keep their correspondence.

"It's mine," Claude whispered, his eyes going wide and his face going white—and I didn't blame him, the illustrated magazines and novelettes I'd removed from the writing-case before bringing it downstairs would have made the Marquis de Sade blush like a maiden.

"It's locked," I went on inexorably, "Do you have the key on you?"

"Yes," he whispered even more quietly, reaching under his collar and bringing out a key and a gold crucifix (an heirloom from his Italian mother, not a religious token: Lord John raised his children atheist) on a long black cord that had been hanging around his neck.  Pond walked over and retrieved it from him, whispered something quickly in his ear while Caro's eyes were on me, and brought it back to me at the head of the table.  Claude relaxed a little, but not too much: I could see from the mischievous glitter in his eye that he was going to play along.

I took the key and opened the case, raising the lid and turning the thing around so the rest of the table could see it.  Sitting on top of some perfectly blameless correspondence, the Tears of Amphitrite glowed as if lit from within.

"But... how?" Caro was dumbfounded, falling into her chair with a satisfying thud.

"I already explained how," I said to Caro, enjoying her confusion as much as she must have enjoyed watching me make an ass of myself playing detective.

"All right, I admit it!" Claude declared, not very convincingly from the point of view of stagecraft, but enough to throw Caro into further confusion, "I took them.  You're right, I want my freedom, I want to go live in a city and be wicked."

"Claude!" the Duchess gasped out, shocked to the core.

"My only regret," he said magnificently, standing up again and striking an unmistakably stagey attitude, "is that I was caught.  Curse you and your meddling, Foxbridge!"

"Oh, ha bloody ha," Caro finally caught on, clapping her hands in sarcastically slow applause, "Very good, boys.  You got me."

"Caroline!" the Duchess gasped again, "Language!"

"You mean this whole thing was a setup?" Petterby roared, coming to his feet as well "The theft last night, all your stupid questions, and this ridiculous melodrama this morning?"

"This morning's ridiculous melodrama was a setup, and I apologize if I insulted or discomfited anyone," I confessed, dripping humility from every pore, "The rest was quite genuine.  The pearls were stolen, and Her Grace asked me to investigate, so I did.  I acted in all honesty until I discovered that Caro was the thief."

"How did you discover it?" Mrs. Pargeter asked, fascinated by the whole thing.

"It was the timing," I explained, "It was too dramatic, too difficult.  To choose one of two tiny, incredibly risky moments, when there was a much better moment available: while Her Grace leaves the pearls in her dressing-room, which is never locked, when she goes to bed at night.  Anyone familiar enough with the Duchess's routine to know when the pearls could be taken in the evening would know how much easier it would be to take them at night."

"But aren't thieves, especially jewel-thieves, rather fond of the dramatic?" Miss FitzHenry wondered.

"Only in books, I'm afraid. In the real world, a criminal is a particularly lazy sort of person," I shrugged, despairing of the lack of romance in the world, "Real thieves don't make spectacular heists, they grab what's easiest."

"And so you realized that this couldn't be a real theft," Mrs. Pargeter prompted.

"I really should have realized it earlier," I went over to the buffet so I could get some breakfast: all this prating on had made me hungry, "But unfortunately, I am as much a sucker for romance as anyone else.  And I wasn't aware, until Claude told me, that the pearls are left out in the open at night.  I'd naturally assumed they'd be locked up."

"As they should be," Miss FitzHenry said to the Duchess, who snorted back in exasperation.

"At any rate, when I nailed down all of the alibis, and discovered that nobody had the opportunity to steal those pearls—not even Claude—that the thief had chosen the one moment of the day in which everyone in the castle is busy preparing dinner or dressing for dinner, I knew it was a fake.  And the only person whose alibi rested on only one other person, and who is mischievous enough to pull off such a prank, is Caro."

"Caroline, you should be ashamed of yourself," the Duchess said to her daughter with all the awful majesty of an irate parent, "Go to your room."

"But, Mamà..." Caro gasped in shock to be spoken to like a child.

"To your room, now," the Duchess pointed to the door, as inexorable as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni.

"Yes, ma'am," she mumbled sullenly and slunk out of the room.

"If I may have my pearls back, Lord Foxbridge?" she turned to me, and my legs went to jelly for fear of what she was going to do to me.

"By all means," I took them carefully from Claude's writing-case and handed them to her like a ceremonial offering.

"Thank you," she plucked them out of my hands and slung them over her head, taking a moment to adjust them against her dress, "I felt quite naked without them."

"I am sorry for my part in the prank, your grace," I apologized.

"Nonsense, dear boy.  You acted in good faith," she smiled beatifically at me, "This morning's scene was a little outrageous, but Caro deserved it, and I daresay the rest of us enjoyed it."

"I didn't," Petterby grouched, shoving his fork angrily into a sausage, "Aside from insulting my guests and making use of them in some silly game, you let me think the most valuable part of this estate had been stolen, a grave loss to this family and our heritage.  The Tears of Amphitrite are a serious thing, one of the great treasures of England, and you two played with them like a toy."

"Don't be such a bore, Petterby," the Duchess scolded gently, "They're just pearls.  Valuable of course, but I think Mrs. Pargeter will agree with me that a thing has no actual value if it cannot be sold.  Isn't that what you were telling me yesterday, my dear?"

"Well, yes," Mrs. Pargeter said, then amended herself, "Though that was in reference to the castle, which could never be sold at a price that would repay all the money that's been invested in it over the years; but you can't carry the castle away in a bag, Your Grace."

"No, and much as it pains me to say, I will start locking my pearls up at night.  It was much too shocking to not have them, like losing a limb," she fondled the necklace thoughtfully, "I'm not letting them out of my sight again.  Even when I'm not wearing them, they will go where I go, behind a locked door. And if you gloat at me for even one second, Gertrude FitzHenry, I will snatch you baldheaded."

"I didn't say a thing," Miss FitzHenry put up a hand in mock defense, grinning like a Cheshire cat.


"You're not cross with me, are you Foxy?" Caro asked pitifully, perched on my bed and trying to pick the lock on my writing-case with a hairpin, when I came back to my room a little while later.

"Not at all," I assured her, sitting beside her and taking the case out of her hands, "It was incredibly enjoyable.  Though I'm sorry I got you in trouble with your mother.  That must have been a trifle humiliating."

"I've had worse, and I've done worse, Mamà will forget about it by tea-time," she got up and took the case back, "Will you show me how to pick a lock?  That was a brilliant piece of work, putting the pearls in Claude's writing-case. Or did Pond do that?"

"I didn't have to pick the lock—which, incidentally, is a great deal more difficult than the novelists would like us to believe," I took the case back a second time and put it in a drawer, "I just slid a paper-knife under the catch and popped it open.  I'm going to buy him a better case with a proper lock on, to make up for using him in my scene this morning.

"You can if you like, but if you really want to make it up to him, invite him to Foxbridge."

"Whatever for?  He'll be years younger than everyone else, he'll be bored stiff."

"He's years younger than everyone here, and it doesn't seem to bother him," she pointed out, "More importantly, though, Lady Beatrice is invited, isn't she?"

"Well, yes, but..."  Lady Beatrice Todmore is the dominatrix who'd had charge of Claude for a few days after his rescue from the white-slavers.  She is also a very good friend of mine, so of course I wanted her for my house-party, "I'm not sure I want that sort of thing going on in my house."

"Unusually judgemental of you," she frowned in surprise, "I doubt she'd parade him through the drawing-room on a leash."

"Well, yes, I suppose not," I agreed (though the illustrations in Claude's writing-case had convinced me otherwise), falling into a chair and putting my feet up on the fireplace fender, "I guess we're all a little less forgiving of vices that we don't share ourselves. I'm still not entirely comfortable with this business of sadomasochism."

"I don't know," she said thoughtfully, sitting down in the other chair and putting her feet next to mine, "I might like to try it, with someone I trusted of course."

"Well, you're welcome to my share of it," I shrugged.  I could be stuffy sometimes, but I needn't prevent others enjoying themselves, "Of course I'll ask Claude to come."

"Good," she got up again, planted a kiss on top of my head, "I'd better get back to my room before Mamà finds out I'm not there.  Oh, and by the bye, there is another route from the guest wing to the family wing that you neglected to consider."

"Really?" I got up as well, following her across the room, "Show me!"

Right outside my window, there was a fairly wide ledge, along which Caro scrambled ahead of me; once around the curve of the turret, we came onto some steps up to the parapet at the top of the outside curtain wall, where two could walk abreast quite easily, enjoying a spectacular view across the valley.  We passed the shallow roof of the Great Hall to the steeper roof of the family wing, then crawled through an attic window.  Two flights down the back stairs of that wing and we were outside Caro's own room.

"See? You could have stolen the pearls!" she crowed happily, then went into her room, snapping the door closed behind her.