First Period: The Loss of the Diamond (1848) - VI
Keeping my private sentiments to myself, I respectfully requested Mr. Franklin to go on. Mr. Franklin replied, “Don’t fidget, Betteredge,” and went on.
Our young gentleman’s first words informed me that his discoveries, concerning the wicked Colonel and the Diamond, had begun with a visit which he had paid (before he came to us) to the family lawyer, at Hampstead. A chance word dropped by Mr. Franklin, when the two were alone, one day, after dinner, revealed that he had been charged by his father with a birthday present to be taken to Miss Rachel. One thing led to another; and it ended in the lawyer mentioning what the present really was, and how the friendly connexion between the late Colonel and Mr. Blake, senior, had taken its rise. The facts here are really so extraordinary, that I doubt if I can trust my own language to do justice to them. I prefer trying to report Mr. Franklin’s discoveries, as nearly as may be, in Mr. Franklin’s own words.
“You remember the time, Betteredge,” he said, “when my father was trying to prove his title to that unlucky Dukedom? Well! that was also the time when my uncle Herncastle returned from India. My father discovered that his brother-in-law was in possession of certain papers which were likely to be of service to him in his lawsuit. He called on the Colonel, on pretence of welcoming him back to England. The Colonel was not to be deluded in that way. ‘You want something,’ he said, ‘or you would never have compromised your reputation by calling on ME.’ My father saw that the one chance for him was to show his hand; he admitted, at once, that he wanted the papers. The Colonel asked for a day to consider his answer. His answer came in the shape of a most extraordinary letter, which my friend the lawyer showed me. The Colonel began by saying that he wanted something of my father, and that he begged to propose an exchange of friendly services between them. The fortune of war (that was the expression he used) had placed him in possession of one of the largest Diamonds in the world; and he had reason to believe that neither he nor his precious jewel was safe in any house, in any quarter of the globe, which they occupied together. Under these alarming circumstances, he had determined to place his Diamond in the keeping of another person. That person was not expected to run any risk. He might deposit the precious stone in any place especially guarded and set apart—like a banker’s or jeweller’s strong-room—for the safe custody of valuables of high price. His main personal responsibility in the matter was to be of the passive kind. He was to undertake either by himself, or by a trustworthy representative—to receive at a prearranged address, on certain prearranged days in every year, a note from the Colonel, simply stating the fact that he was a living man at that date. In the event of the date passing over without the note being received, the Colonel’s silence might be taken as a sure token of the Colonel’s death by murder. In that case, and in no other, certain sealed instructions relating to the disposal of the Diamond, and deposited with it, were to be opened, and followed implicitly. If my father chose to accept this strange charge, the Colonel’s papers were at his disposal in return. That was the letter.”
“What did your father do, sir?” I asked.
“Do?” says Mr. Franklin. “I’ll tell you what he did. He brought the invaluable faculty, called common sense, to bear on the Colonel’s letter. The whole thing, he declared, was simply absurd. Somewhere in his Indian wanderings, the Colonel had picked up with some wretched crystal which he took for a diamond. As for the danger of his being murdered, and the precautions devised to preserve his life and his piece of crystal, this was the nineteenth century, and any man in his senses had only to apply to the police. The Colonel had been a notorious opium-eater for years past; and, if the only way of getting at the valuable papers he possessed was by accepting a matter of opium as a matter of fact, my father was quite willing to take the ridiculous responsibility imposed on him—all the more readily that it involved no trouble to himself. The Diamond and the sealed instructions went into his banker’s strong-room, and the Colonel’s letters, periodically reporting him a living man, were received and opened by our family lawyer, Mr. Bruff, as my father’s representative. No sensible person, in a similar position, could have viewed the matter in any other way. Nothing in this world, Betteredge, is probable unless it appeals to our own trumpery experience; and we only believe in a romance when we see it in a newspaper.”
It was plain to me from this, that Mr. Franklin thought his father’s notion about the Colonel hasty and wrong.
“What is your own private opinion about the matter, sir?” I asked.
“Let’s finish the story of the Colonel first,” says Mr. Franklin. “There is a curious want of system, Betteredge, in the English mind; and your question, my old friend, is an instance of it. When we are not occupied in making machinery, we are (mentally speaking) the most slovenly people in the universe.”
“So much,” I thought to myself, “for a foreign education! He has learned that way of girding at us in France, I suppose.”
Mr. Franklin took up the lost thread, and went on.
“My father,” he said, “got the papers he wanted, and never saw his brother-in-law again from that time. Year after year, on the prearranged days, the prearranged letter came from the Colonel, and was opened by Mr. Bruff. I have seen the letters, in a heap, all of them written in the same brief, business-like form of words: ‘Sir,—This is to certify that I am still a living man. Let the Diamond be. John Herncastle.’ That was all he ever wrote, and that came regularly to the day; until some six or eight months since, when the form of the letter varied for the first time. It ran now: ‘Sir,—They tell me I am dying. Come to me, and help me to make my will.’ Mr. Bruff went, and found him, in the little suburban villa, surrounded by its own grounds, in which he had lived alone, ever since he had left India. He had dogs, cats, and birds to keep him company; but no human being near him, except the person who came daily to do the house-work, and the doctor at the bedside. The will was a very simple matter. The Colonel had dissipated the greater part of his fortune in his chemical investigations. His will began and ended in three clauses, which he dictated from his bed, in perfect possession of his faculties. The first clause provided for the safe keeping and support of his animals. The second founded a professorship of experimental chemistry at a northern university. The third bequeathed the Moonstone as a birthday present to his niece, on condition that my father would act as executor. My father at first refused to act. On second thoughts, however, he gave way, partly because he was assured that the executorship would involve him in no trouble; partly because Mr. Bruff suggested, in Rachel’s interest, that the Diamond might be worth something, after all.”
“Did the Colonel give any reason, sir,” I inquired, “why he left the Diamond to Miss Rachel?”
“He not only gave the reason—he had the reason written in his will,” said Mr. Franklin. “I have got an extract, which you shall see presently. Don’t be slovenly-minded, Betteredge! One thing at a time. You have heard about the Colonel’s Will; now you must hear what happened after the Colonel’s death. It was formally necessary to have the Diamond valued, before the Will could be proved. All the jewellers consulted, at once confirmed the Colonel’s assertion that he possessed one of the largest diamonds in the world. The question of accurately valuing it presented some serious difficulties. Its size made it a phenomenon in the diamond market; its colour placed it in a category by itself; and, to add to these elements of uncertainty, there was a defect, in the shape of a flaw, in the very heart of the stone. Even with this last serious draw-back, however, the lowest of the various estimates given was twenty thousand pounds. Conceive my father’s astonishment! He had been within a hair’s-breadth of refusing to act as executor, and of allowing this magnificent jewel to be lost to the family. The interest he took in the matter now, induced him to open the sealed instructions which had been deposited with the Diamond. Mr. Bruff showed this document to me, with the other papers; and it suggests (to my mind) a clue to the nature of the conspiracy which threatened the Colonel’s life.”
“Then you do believe, sir,” I said, “that there was a conspiracy?”
“Not possessing my father’s excellent common sense,” answered Mr. Franklin, “I believe the Colonel’s life was threatened, exactly as the Colonel said. The sealed instructions, as I think, explain how it was that he died, after all, quietly in his bed. In the event of his death by violence (that is to say, in the absence of the regular letter from him at the appointed date), my father was then directed to send the Moonstone secretly to Amsterdam. It was to be deposited in that city with a famous diamond-cutter, and it was to be cut up into from four to six separate stones. The stones were then to be sold for what they would fetch, and the proceeds were to be applied to the founding of that professorship of experimental chemistry, which the Colonel has since endowed by his Will. Now, Betteredge, exert those sharp wits of yours, and observe the conclusion to which the Colonel’s instructions point!”
I instantly exerted my wits. They were of the slovenly English sort; and they consequently muddled it all, until Mr. Franklin took them in hand, and pointed out what they ought to see.
“Remark,” says Mr. Franklin, “that the integrity of the Diamond, as a whole stone, is here artfully made dependent on the preservation from violence of the Colonel’s life. He is not satisfied with saying to the enemies he dreads, ‘Kill me—and you will be no nearer to the Diamond than you are now; it is where you can’t get at it—in the guarded strong-room of a bank.’ He says instead, ‘Kill me—and the Diamond will be the Diamond no longer; its identity will be destroyed.’ What does that mean?”
Here I had (as I thought) a flash of the wonderful foreign brightness.
“I know,” I said. “It means lowering the value of the stone, and cheating the rogues in that way!”
“Nothing of the sort,” says Mr. Franklin. “I have inquired about that. The flawed Diamond, cut up, would actually fetch more than the Diamond as it now is; for this plain reason—that from four to six perfect brilliants might be cut from it, which would be, collectively, worth more money than the large—but imperfect single stone. If robbery for the purpose of gain was at the bottom of the conspiracy, the Colonel’s instructions absolutely made the Diamond better worth stealing. More money could have been got for it, and the disposal of it in the diamond market would have been infinitely easier, if it had passed through the hands of the workmen of Amsterdam.”
“Lord bless us, sir!” I burst out. “What was the plot, then?”
“A plot organised among the Indians who originally owned the jewel,” says Mr. Franklin—“a plot with some old Hindoo superstition at the bottom of it. That is my opinion, confirmed by a family paper which I have about me at this moment.”
I saw, now, why the appearance of the three Indian jugglers at our house had presented itself to Mr. Franklin in the light of a circumstance worth noting.
“I don’t want to force my opinion on you,” Mr. Franklin went on. “The idea of certain chosen servants of an old Hindoo superstition devoting themselves, through all difficulties and dangers, to watching the opportunity of recovering their sacred gem, appears to me to be perfectly consistent with everything that we know of the patience of Oriental races, and the influence of Oriental religions. But then I am an imaginative man; and the butcher, the baker, and the tax-gatherer, are not the only credible realities in existence to my mind. Let the guess I have made at the truth in this matter go for what it is worth, and let us get on to the only practical question that concerns us. Does the conspiracy against the Moonstone survive the Colonel’s death? And did the Colonel know it, when he left the birthday gift to his niece?”
I began to see my lady and Miss Rachel at the end of it all, now. Not a word he said escaped me.
“I was not very willing, when I discovered the story of the Moonstone,” said Mr. Franklin, “to be the means of bringing it here. But Mr. Bruff reminded me that somebody must put my cousin’s legacy into my cousin’s hands—and that I might as well do it as anybody else. After taking the Diamond out of the bank, I fancied I was followed in the streets by a shabby, dark-complexioned man. I went to my father’s house to pick up my luggage, and found a letter there, which unexpectedly detained me in London. I went back to the bank with the Diamond, and thought I saw the shabby man again. Taking the Diamond once more out of the bank this morning, I saw the man for the third time, gave him the slip, and started (before he recovered the trace of me) by the morning instead of the afternoon train. Here I am, with the Diamond safe and sound—and what is the first news that meets me? I find that three strolling Indians have been at the house, and that my arrival from London, and something which I am expected to have about me, are two special objects of investigation to them when they believe themselves to be alone. I don’t waste time and words on their pouring the ink into the boy’s hand, and telling him to look in it for a man at a distance, and for something in that man’s pocket. The thing (which I have often seen done in the East) is ‘hocus-pocus’ in my opinion, as it is in yours. The present question for us to decide is, whether I am wrongly attaching a meaning to a mere accident? or whether we really have evidence of the Indians being on the track of the Moonstone, the moment it is removed from the safe keeping of the bank?”
Neither he nor I seemed to fancy dealing with this part of the inquiry. We looked at each other, and then we looked at the tide, oozing in smoothly, higher and higher, over the Shivering Sand.
“What are you thinking of?” says Mr. Franklin, suddenly.
“I was thinking, sir,” I answered, “that I should like to shy the Diamond into the quicksand, and settle the question in THAT way.”
“If you have got the value of the stone in your pocket,” answered Mr. Franklin, “say so, Betteredge, and in it goes!”
It’s curious to note, when your mind’s anxious, how very far in the way of relief a very small joke will go. We found a fund of merriment, at the time, in the notion of making away with Miss Rachel’s lawful property, and getting Mr. Blake, as executor, into dreadful trouble—though where the merriment was, I am quite at a loss to discover now.
Mr. Franklin was the first to bring the talk back to the talk’s proper purpose. He took an envelope out of his pocket, opened it, and handed to me the paper inside.
“Betteredge,” he said, “we must face the question of the Colonel’s motive in leaving this legacy to his niece, for my aunt’s sake. Bear in mind how Lady Verinder treated her brother from the time when he returned to England, to the time when he told you he should remember his niece’s birthday. And read that.”
He gave me the extract from the Colonel’s Will. I have got it by me while I write these words; and I copy it, as follows, for your benefit:
“Thirdly, and lastly, I give and bequeath to my niece, Rachel Verinder, daughter and only child of my sister, Julia Verinder, widow—if her mother, the said Julia Verinder, shall be living on the said Rachel Verinder’s next Birthday after my death—the yellow Diamond belonging to me, and known in the East by the name of The Moonstone: subject to this condition, that her mother, the said Julia Verinder, shall be living at the time. And I hereby desire my executor to give my Diamond, either by his own hands or by the hands of some trustworthy representative whom he shall appoint, into the personal possession of my said niece Rachel, on her next birthday after my death, and in the presence, if possible, of my sister, the said Julia Verinder. And I desire that my said sister may be informed, by means of a true copy of this, the third and last clause of my Will, that I give the Diamond to her daughter Rachel, in token of my free forgiveness of the injury which her conduct towards me has been the means of inflicting on my reputation in my lifetime; and especially in proof that I pardon, as becomes a dying man, the insult offered to me as an officer and a gentleman, when her servant, by her orders, closed the door of her house against me, on the occasion of her daughter’s birthday.”
More words followed these, providing if my lady was dead, or if Miss Rachel was dead, at the time of the testator’s decease, for the Diamond being sent to Holland, in accordance with the sealed instructions originally deposited with it. The proceeds of the sale were, in that case, to be added to the money already left by the Will for the professorship of chemistry at the university in the north.
I handed the paper back to Mr. Franklin, sorely troubled what to say to him. Up to that moment, my own opinion had been (as you know) that the Colonel had died as wickedly as he had lived. I don’t say the copy from his Will actually converted me from that opinion: I only say it staggered me.
“Well,” says Mr. Franklin, “now you have read the Colonel’s own statement, what do you say? In bringing the Moonstone to my aunt’s house, am I serving his vengeance blindfold, or am I vindicating him in the character of a penitent and Christian man?”
“It seems hard to say, sir,” I answered, “that he died with a horrid revenge in his heart, and a horrid lie on his lips. God alone knows the truth. Don’t ask me.”
Mr. Franklin sat twisting and turning the extract from the Will in his fingers, as if he expected to squeeze the truth out of it in that manner. He altered quite remarkably, at the same time. From being brisk and bright, he now became, most unaccountably, a slow, solemn, and pondering young man.
“This question has two sides,” he said. “An Objective side, and a Subjective side. Which are we to take?”
He had had a German education as well as a French. One of the two had been in undisturbed possession of him (as I supposed) up to this time. And now (as well as I could make out) the other was taking its place. It is one of my rules in life, never to notice what I don’t understand. I steered a middle course between the Objective side and the Subjective side. In plain English I stared hard, and said nothing.
“Let’s extract the inner meaning of this,” says Mr. Franklin. “Why did my uncle leave the Diamond to Rachel? Why didn’t he leave it to my aunt?”
“That’s not beyond guessing, sir, at any rate,” I said. “Colonel Herncastle knew my lady well enough to know that she would have refused to accept any legacy that came to her from HIM.”
“How did he know that Rachel might not refuse to accept it, too?”
“Is there any young lady in existence, sir, who could resist the temptation of accepting such a birthday present as The Moonstone?”
“That’s the Subjective view,” says Mr. Franklin. “It does you great credit, Betteredge, to be able to take the Subjective view. But there’s another mystery about the Colonel’s legacy which is not accounted for yet. How are we to explain his only giving Rachel her birthday present conditionally on her mother being alive?”
“I don’t want to slander a dead man, sir,” I answered. “But if he HAS purposely left a legacy of trouble and danger to his sister, by the means of her child, it must be a legacy made conditional on his sister’s being alive to feel the vexation of it.”
“Oh! That’s your interpretation of his motive, is it? The Subjective interpretation again! Have you ever been in Germany, Betteredge?”
“No, sir. What’s your interpretation, if you please?”
“I can see,” says Mr. Franklin, “that the Colonel’s object may, quite possibly, have been—not to benefit his niece, whom he had never even seen—but to prove to his sister that he had died forgiving her, and to prove it very prettily by means of a present made to her child. There is a totally different explanation from yours, Betteredge, taking its rise in a Subjective-Objective point of view. From all I can see, one interpretation is just as likely to be right as the other.”
Having brought matters to this pleasant and comforting issue, Mr. Franklin appeared to think that he had completed all that was required of him. He laid down flat on his back on the sand, and asked what was to be done next.
He had been so clever, and clear-headed (before he began to talk the foreign gibberish), and had so completely taken the lead in the business up to the present time, that I was quite unprepared for such a sudden change as he now exhibited in this helpless leaning upon me. It was not till later that I learned—by assistance of Miss Rachel, who was the first to make the discovery—that these puzzling shifts and transformations in Mr. Franklin were due to the effect on him of his foreign training. At the age when we are all of us most apt to take our colouring, in the form of a reflection from the colouring of other people, he had been sent abroad, and had been passed on from one nation to another, before there was time for any one colouring more than another to settle itself on him firmly. As a consequence of this, he had come back with so many different sides to his character, all more or less jarring with each other, that he seemed to pass his life in a state of perpetual contradiction with himself. He could be a busy man, and a lazy man; cloudy in the head, and clear in the head; a model of determination, and a spectacle of helplessness, all together. He had his French side, and his German side, and his Italian side—the original English foundation showing through, every now and then, as much as to say, “Here I am, sorely transmogrified, as you see, but there’s something of me left at the bottom of him still.” Miss Rachel used to remark that the Italian side of him was uppermost, on those occasions when he unexpectedly gave in, and asked you in his nice sweet-tempered way to take his own responsibilities on your shoulders. You will do him no injustice, I think, if you conclude that the Italian side of him was uppermost now.
“Isn’t it your business, sir,” I asked, “to know what to do next? Surely it can’t be mine?”
Mr. Franklin didn’t appear to see the force of my question—not being in a position, at the time, to see anything but the sky over his head.
“I don’t want to alarm my aunt without reason,” he said. “And I don’t want to leave her without what may be a needful warning. If you were in my place, Betteredge, tell me, in one word, what would you do?”
In one word, I told him: “Wait.”
“With all my heart,” says Mr. Franklin. “How long?”
I proceeded to explain myself.
“As I understand it, sir,” I said, “somebody is bound to put this plaguy Diamond into Miss Rachel’s hands on her birthday—and you may as well do it as another. Very good. This is the twenty-fifth of May, and the birthday is on the twenty-first of June. We have got close on four weeks before us. Let’s wait and see what happens in that time; and let’s warn my lady, or not, as the circumstances direct us.”
“Perfect, Betteredge, as far as it goes!” says Mr. Franklin. “But between this and the birthday, what’s to be done with the Diamond?”
“What your father did with it, to be sure, sir!” I answered. “Your father put it in the safe keeping of a bank in London. You put in the safe keeping of the bank at Frizinghall.” (Frizinghall was our nearest town, and the Bank of England wasn’t safer than the bank there.) “If I were you, sir,” I added, “I would ride straight away with it to Frizinghall before the ladies come back.”
The prospect of doing something—and, what is more, of doing that something on a horse—brought Mr. Franklin up like lightning from the flat of his back. He sprang to his feet, and pulled me up, without ceremony, on to mine. “Betteredge, you are worth your weight in gold,” he said. “Come along, and saddle the best horse in the stables directly.”
Here (God bless it!) was the original English foundation of him showing through all the foreign varnish at last! Here was the Master Franklin I remembered, coming out again in the good old way at the prospect of a ride, and reminding me of the good old times! Saddle a horse for him? I would have saddled a dozen horses, if he could only have ridden them all!
We went back to the house in a hurry; we had the fleetest horse in the stables saddled in a hurry; and Mr. Franklin rattled off in a hurry, to lodge the cursed Diamond once more in the strong-room of a bank. When I heard the last of his horse’s hoofs on the drive, and when I turned about in the yard and found I was alone again, I felt half inclined to ask myself if I hadn’t woke up from a dream.