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If Miss Pink could, by any possible conjuncture of circumstances, have disappeared mysteriously from her house and her friends, the police would have found the greatest difficulty in composing the necessary description of the missing lady. The acutest observer could have discovered nothing that was noticeable or characteristic in her personal appearance. The pen of the present writer portrays her in despair by a series of negatives. She was not young, she was not old; she was neither tall nor short, nor stout nor thin; nobody could call her features attractive, and nobody could call them ugly; there was nothing in her voice, her expression, her manner, or her dress that differed in any appreciable degree from the voice, expression, manner, and dress of five hundred thousand other single ladies of her age and position in the world. If you had asked her to describe herself, she would have answered, “I am a gentlewoman”; and if you had further inquired which of her numerous accomplishments took highest rank in her own esteem, she would have replied, “My powers of conversation.” For the rest, she was Miss Pink, of South Morden; and, when that has been said, all has been said.

“Pray be seated, sir. We have had a beautiful day, after the long-continued wet weather. I am told that the season is very unfavorable for wall-fruit. May I offer you some refreshment after your journey?” In these terms and in the smoothest of voices, Miss Pink opened the interview.

Mr. Troy made a polite reply, and added a few strictly conventional remarks on the beauty of the neighborhood. Not even a lawyer could sit in Miss Pink’s presence, and hear Miss Pink’s conversation, without feeling himself called upon (in the nursery phrase) to “be on his best behavior”.

“It is extremely kind of you, Mr. Troy, to favor me with this visit,” Miss Pink resumed. “I am well aware that the time of professional gentlemen is of especial value to them; and I will therefore ask you to excuse me if I proceed abruptly to the subject on which I desire to consult your experience.”

Here the lady modestly smoothed out her dress over her knees, and the lawyer made a bow. Miss Pink’s highly-trained conversation had perhaps one fault — it was not, strictly speaking, conversation at all. In its effect on her hearers it rather resembled the contents of a fluently conventional letter, read aloud.

“The circumstances under which my niece Isabel has left Lady Lydiard’s house,” Miss Pink proceeded, “are so indescribably painful — I will go further, I will say so deeply humiliating — that I have forbidden her to refer to them again in my presence, or to mention them in the future to any living creature besides myself. You are acquainted with those circumstances, Mr. Troy; and you will understand my indignation when I first learnt that my sister’s child had been suspected of theft. I have not the honor of being acquainted with Lady Lydiard. She is not a Countess, I believe? Just so! Her husband was only a Baron. I am not acquainted with Lady Lydiard; and I will not trust myself to say what I think of her conduct to my niece.”

“Pardon me, madam,” Mr. Troy interposed. “Before you say any more about Lady Lydiard, I really must beg leave to observe —”

“Pardon me,” Miss Pink rejoined. “I never form a hasty judgment. Lady Lydiard’s conduct is beyond the reach of any defense, no matter how ingenious it may be. You may not be aware, sir, that in receiving my niece under her roof her Ladyship was receiving a gentlewoman by birth as well as by education. My late lamented sister was the daughter of a clergyman of the Church of England. I need hardly remind you that, as such, she was a born lady. Under favoring circumstances, Isabel’s maternal grandfather might have been Archbishop of Canterbury, and have taken precedence of the whole House of Peers, the Princes of the blood Royal alone excepted. I am not prepared to say that my niece is equally well connected on her father’s side. My sister surprised — I will not add shocked — us when she married a chemist. At the same time, a chemist is not a tradesman. He is a gentleman at one end of the profession of Medicine, and a titled physician is a gentleman at the other end. That is all. In inviting Isabel to reside with her, Lady Lydiard, I repeat, was bound to remember that she was associating herself with a young gentlewoman. She has not remembered this, which is one insult; and she has suspected my niece of theft, which is another.”

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Miss Pink paused to take breath. Mr. Troy made a second attempt to get a hearing.

“Will you kindly permit me, madam, to say a few words?”

“No!” said Miss Pink, asserting the most immovable obstinacy under the blandest politeness of manner. “Your time, Mr. Troy, is really too valuable! Not even your trained intellect can excuse conduct which is manifestly inexcusable on the face of it. Now you know my opinion of Lady Lydiard, you will not be surprised to hear that I decline to trust her Ladyship. She may, or she may not, cause the necessary inquiries to be made for the vindication of my niece’s character. In a matter so serious as this — I may say, in a duty which I owe to the memories of my sister and my parents — I will not leave the responsibility to Lady Lydiard. I will take it on myself. Let me add that I am able to pay the necessary expenses. The earlier years of my life, Mr. Troy, have been passed in the tuition of young ladies. I have been happy in meriting the confidence of parents; and I have been strict in observing the golden rules of economy. On my retirement, I have been able to invest a modest, a very modest, little fortune in the Funds. A portion of it is at the service of my niece for the recovery of her good name; and I desire to place the necessary investigation confidentially in your hands. You are acquainted with the case, and the case naturally goes to you. I could not prevail on myself — I really could not prevail on myself — to mention it to a stranger. That is the business on which I wished to consult you. Please say nothing more about Lady Lydiard — the subject is inexpressibly disagreeable to me. I will only trespass on your kindness to tell me if I have succeeded in making myself understood.”

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Miss Pink leaned back in her chair, at the exact angle permitted by the laws of propriety; rested her left elbow on the palm of her right hand, and lightly supported her cheek with her forefinger and thumb. In this position she waited Mr. Troy’s answer — the living picture of human obstinacy in its most respectable form.

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If Mr. Troy had not been a lawyer — in other words, if he had not been professionally capable of persisting in his own course, in the face of every conceivable difficulty and discouragement — Miss Pink might have remained in undisturbed possession of her own opinions. As it was, Mr. Troy had got his hearing at last; and no matter how obstinately she might close her eyes to it, Miss Pink was now destined to have the other side of the case presented to her view.

“I am sincerely obliged to you, madam, for the expression of your confidence in me,” Mr. Troy began; “at the same time, I must beg you to excuse me if I decline to accept your proposal.”