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The Purple Stain
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"It has not gone yet," interrupted Mrs. Howett. "I was making up the list when you brought me Mr. Harley's message."
Paul Harley turned to her.
"May I ask you to bring the actual linen used at table on that occasion, Mrs. Howett?" he said. "My request must appear singular, I know, but I assure you it is no idle one."
Benson looked positively stupid, but Mrs. Howett, who had conceived a sort of reverence for Paul Harley, hurried away excitedly.
"Finally, Benson," said Harley, "what else did you bring into the room after Sir Charles and I had entered?"
"Soup, sir. Here is the tureen, on the sideboard, and all the soup plates of the service in use that night. Of course, sir, I can't say which were the actual plates used."
Paul Harley inspected the plates, a set of fine old Derby ware, and gazed meditatively at the silver ladle. "Did the maid, Jones, handle any of these?" he asked.
"No, sir"--emphatically. "She was preparing to bring the trout from the kitchen."
"But I saw her in the room."
"She had brought in the fish plates, a sauce boat, and two toast racks, sir. She put them here, on the sideboard. But they were never brought to the table."
"H'm. Has Jones left?"
"Yes, sir. She was under notice. But after her rudeness, Mrs. Howett packed her off right away. She left the very next day after poor Sir Charles died."
"Where has she gone?"
"To a married sister, I believe, until she finds a new job. Mrs. Howett has the address."
At this moment Mrs. Howett entered, bearing a tablecloth and a number of serviettes.
"This was the cloth," she said, spreading it out, "but which of the serviettes were used I cannot say."
"Allow me to look," replied Paul Harley.
One by one he began to inspect the serviettes, opening each in turn and examining it critically.
"What have we here!" he exclaimed, presently. "Have blackberries been served within the week, Mrs. Howett?"
"We never had them on the table, Mr. Harley. Sir Charles--God rest him--said they irritated the stomach. Good gracious!" She turned to Benson. "How is it I never noticed those stains, and what can have caused them?"
The serviette which Paul Harley held outstretched was covered all over with dark purple spots.
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