First Period: The Loss of the Diamond (1848) - XII
The Thursday night passed, and nothing happened. With the Friday morning came two pieces of news.
Item the first: the baker’s man declared he had met Rosanna Spearman, on the previous afternoon, with a thick veil on, walking towards Frizinghall by the foot-path way over the moor. It seemed strange that anybody should be mistaken about Rosanna, whose shoulder marked her out pretty plainly, poor thing—but mistaken the man must have been; for Rosanna, as you know, had been all the Thursday afternoon ill up-stairs in her room.
Item the second came through the postman. Worthy Mr. Candy had said one more of his many unlucky things, when he drove off in the rain on the birthday night, and told me that a doctor’s skin was waterproof. In spite of his skin, the wet had got through him. He had caught a chill that night, and was now down with a fever. The last accounts, brought by the postman, represented him to be light-headed—talking nonsense as glibly, poor man, in his delirium as he often talked it in his sober senses. We were all sorry for the little doctor; but Mr. Franklin appeared to regret his illness, chiefly on Miss Rachel’s account. From what he said to my lady, while I was in the room at breakfast-time, he appeared to think that Miss Rachel—if the suspense about the Moonstone was not soon set at rest—might stand in urgent need of the best medical advice at our disposal.
Breakfast had not been over long, when a telegram from Mr. Blake, the elder, arrived, in answer to his son. It informed us that he had laid hands (by help of his friend, the Commissioner) on the right man to help us. The name of him was Sergeant Cuff; and the arrival of him from London might be expected by the morning train.
At reading the name of the new police-officer, Mr. Franklin gave a start. It seems that he had heard some curious anecdotes about Sergeant Cuff, from his father’s lawyer, during his stay in London.
“I begin to hope we are seeing the end of our anxieties already,” he said. “If half the stories I have heard are true, when it comes to unravelling a mystery, there isn’t the equal in England of Sergeant Cuff!”
We all got excited and impatient as the time drew near for the appearance of this renowned and capable character. Superintendent Seegrave, returning to us at his appointed time, and hearing that the Sergeant was expected, instantly shut himself up in a room, with pen, ink, and paper, to make notes of the Report which would be certainly expected from him. I should have liked to have gone to the station myself, to fetch the Sergeant. But my lady’s carriage and horses were not to be thought of, even for the celebrated Cuff; and the pony-chaise was required later for Mr. Godfrey. He deeply regretted being obliged to leave his aunt at such an anxious time; and he kindly put off the hour of his departure till as late as the last train, for the purpose of hearing what the clever London police-officer thought of the case. But on Friday night he must be in town, having a Ladies’ Charity, in difficulties, waiting to consult him on Saturday morning.
When the time came for the Sergeant’s arrival, I went down to the gate to look out for him.
A fly from the railway drove up as I reached the lodge; and out got a grizzled, elderly man, so miserably lean that he looked as if he had not got an ounce of flesh on his bones in any part of him. He was dressed all in decent black, with a white cravat round his neck. His face was as sharp as a hatchet, and the skin of it was as yellow and dry and withered as an autumn leaf. His eyes, of a steely light grey, had a very disconcerting trick, when they encountered your eyes, of looking as if they expected something more from you than you were aware of yourself. His walk was soft; his voice was melancholy; his long lanky fingers were hooked like claws. He might have been a parson, or an undertaker—or anything else you like, except what he really was. A more complete opposite to Superintendent Seegrave than Sergeant Cuff, and a less comforting officer to look at, for a family in distress, I defy you to discover, search where you may.
“Is this Lady Verinder’s?” he asked.
“I am Sergeant Cuff.”
“This way, sir, if you please.”
On our road to the house, I mentioned my name and position in the family, to satisfy him that he might speak to me about the business on which my lady was to employ him. Not a word did he say about the business, however, for all that. He admired the grounds, and remarked that he felt the sea air very brisk and refreshing. I privately wondered, on my side, how the celebrated Cuff had got his reputation. We reached the house, in the temper of two strange dogs, coupled up together for the first time in their lives by the same chain.
Asking for my lady, and hearing that she was in one of the conservatories, we went round to the gardens at the back, and sent a servant to seek her. While we were waiting, Sergeant Cuff looked through the evergreen arch on our left, spied out our rosery, and walked straight in, with the first appearance of anything like interest that he had shown yet. To the gardener’s astonishment, and to my disgust, this celebrated policeman proved to be quite a mine of learning on the trumpery subject of rose-gardens.
“Ah, you’ve got the right exposure here to the south and sou’-west,” says the Sergeant, with a wag of his grizzled head, and a streak of pleasure in his melancholy voice. “This is the shape for a rosery—nothing like a circle set in a square. Yes, yes; with walks between all the beds. But they oughtn’t to be gravel walks like these. Grass, Mr. Gardener—grass walks between your roses; gravel’s too hard for them. That’s a sweet pretty bed of white roses and blush roses. They always mix well together, don’t they? Here’s the white musk rose, Mr. Betteredge—our old English rose holding up its head along with the best and the newest of them. Pretty dear!” says the Sergeant, fondling the Musk Rose with his lanky fingers, and speaking to it as if he was speaking to a child.
This was a nice sort of man to recover Miss Rachel’s Diamond, and to find out the thief who stole it!
“You seem to be fond of roses, Sergeant?” I remarked.
“I haven’t much time to be fond of anything,” says Sergeant Cuff. “But when I have a moment’s fondness to bestow, most times, Mr. Betteredge, the roses get it. I began my life among them in my father’s nursery garden, and I shall end my life among them, if I can. Yes. One of these days (please God) I shall retire from catching thieves, and try my hand at growing roses. There will be grass walks, Mr. Gardener, between my beds,” says the Sergeant, on whose mind the gravel paths of our rosery seemed to dwell unpleasantly.
“It seems an odd taste, sir,” I ventured to say, “for a man in your line of life.”
“If you will look about you (which most people won’t do),” says Sergeant Cuff, “you will see that the nature of a man’s tastes is, most times, as opposite as possible to the nature of a man’s business. Show me any two things more opposite one from the other than a rose and a thief; and I’ll correct my tastes accordingly—if it isn’t too late at my time of life. You find the damask rose a goodish stock for most of the tender sorts, don’t you, Mr. Gardener? Ah! I thought so. Here’s a lady coming. Is it Lady Verinder?”
He had seen her before either I or the gardener had seen her, though we knew which way to look, and he didn’t. I began to think him rather a quicker man than he appeared to be at first sight.
The Sergeant’s appearance, or the Sergeant’s errand—one or both—seemed to cause my lady some little embarrassment. She was, for the first time in all my experience of her, at a loss what to say at an interview with a stranger. Sergeant Cuff put her at her ease directly. He asked if any other person had been employed about the robbery before we sent for him; and hearing that another person had been called in, and was now in the house, begged leave to speak to him before anything else was done.
My lady led the way back. Before he followed her, the Sergeant relieved his mind on the subject of the gravel walks by a parting word to the gardener. “Get her ladyship to try grass,” he said, with a sour look at the paths. “No gravel! no gravel!”
Why Superintendent Seegrave should have appeared to be several sizes smaller than life, on being presented to Sergeant Cuff, I can’t undertake to explain. I can only state the fact. They retired together; and remained a weary long time shut up from all mortal intrusion. When they came out, Mr. Superintendent was excited, and Mr. Sergeant was yawning.
“The Sergeant wishes to see Miss Verinder’s sitting-room,” says Mr. Seegrave, addressing me with great pomp and eagerness. “The Sergeant may have some questions to ask. Attend the Sergeant, if you please!”
While I was being ordered about in this way, I looked at the great Cuff. The great Cuff, on his side, looked at Superintendent Seegrave in that quietly expecting way which I have already noticed. I can’t affirm that he was on the watch for his brother officer’s speedy appearance in the character of an Ass—I can only say that I strongly suspected it.
I led the way up-stairs. The Sergeant went softly all over the Indian cabinet and all round the “boudoir;” asking questions (occasionally only of Mr. Superintendent, and continually of me), the drift of which I believe to have been equally unintelligible to both of us. In due time, his course brought him to the door, and put him face to face with the decorative painting that you know of. He laid one lean inquiring finger on the small smear, just under the lock, which Superintendent Seegrave had already noticed, when he reproved the women-servants for all crowding together into the room.
“That’s a pity,” says Sergeant Cuff. “How did it happen?”
He put the question to me. I answered that the women-servants had crowded into the room on the previous morning, and that some of their petticoats had done the mischief, “Superintendent Seegrave ordered them out, sir,” I added, “before they did any more harm.”
“Right!” says Mr. Superintendent in his military way. “I ordered them out. The petticoats did it, Sergeant—the petticoats did it.”
“Did you notice which petticoat did it?” asked Sergeant Cuff, still addressing himself, not to his brother-officer, but to me.
He turned to Superintendent Seegrave upon that, and said, “You noticed, I suppose?”
Mr. Superintendent looked a little taken aback; but he made the best of it. “I can’t charge my memory, Sergeant,” he said, “a mere trifle—a mere trifle.”
Sergeant Cuff looked at Mr. Seegrave, as he had looked at the gravel walks in the rosery, and gave us, in his melancholy way, the first taste of his quality which we had had yet.
“I made a private inquiry last week, Mr. Superintendent,” he said. “At one end of the inquiry there was a murder, and at the other end there was a spot of ink on a table cloth that nobody could account for. In all my experience along the dirtiest ways of this dirty little world, I have never met with such a thing as a trifle yet. Before we go a step further in this business we must see the petticoat that made the smear, and we must know for certain when that paint was wet.”
Mr. Superintendent—taking his set-down rather sulkily—asked if he should summon the women. Sergeant Cuff, after considering a minute, sighed, and shook his head.
“No,” he said, “we’ll take the matter of the paint first. It’s a question of Yes or No with the paint—which is short. It’s a question of petticoats with the women—which is long. What o’clock was it when the servants were in this room yesterday morning? Eleven o’clock—eh? Is there anybody in the house who knows whether that paint was wet or dry, at eleven yesterday morning?”
“Her ladyship’s nephew, Mr. Franklin Blake, knows,” I said.
“Is the gentleman in the house?”
Mr. Franklin was as close at hand as could be—waiting for his first chance of being introduced to the great Cuff. In half a minute he was in the room, and was giving his evidence as follows:
“That door, Sergeant,” he said, “has been painted by Miss Verinder, under my inspection, with my help, and in a vehicle of my own composition. The vehicle dries whatever colours may be used with it, in twelve hours.”
“Do you remember when the smeared bit was done, sir?” asked the Sergeant.
“Perfectly,” answered Mr. Franklin. “That was the last morsel of the door to be finished. We wanted to get it done, on Wednesday last—and I myself completed it by three in the afternoon, or soon after.”
“To-day is Friday,” said Sergeant Cuff, addressing himself to Superintendent Seegrave. “Let us reckon back, sir. At three on the Wednesday afternoon, that bit of the painting was completed. The vehicle dried it in twelve hours—that is to say, dried it by three o’clock on Thursday morning. At eleven on Thursday morning you held your inquiry here. Take three from eleven, and eight remains. That paint had been EIGHT HOURS DRY, Mr. Superintendent, when you supposed that the women-servants’ petticoats smeared it.”
First knock-down blow for Mr. Seegrave! If he had not suspected poor Penelope, I should have pitied him.
Having settled the question of the paint, Sergeant Cuff, from that moment, gave his brother-officer up as a bad job—and addressed himself to Mr. Franklin, as the more promising assistant of the two.
“It’s quite on the cards, sir,” he said, “that you have put the clue into our hands.”
As the words passed his lips, the bedroom door opened, and Miss Rachel came out among us suddenly.
She addressed herself to the Sergeant, without appearing to notice (or to heed) that he was a perfect stranger to her.
“Did you say,” she asked, pointing to Mr. Franklin, “that HE had put the clue into your hands?”
(“This is Miss Verinder,” I whispered, behind the Sergeant.)
“That gentleman, miss,” says the Sergeant—with his steely-grey eyes carefully studying my young lady’s face—“has possibly put the clue into our hands.”
She turned for one moment, and tried to look at Mr. Franklin. I say, tried, for she suddenly looked away again before their eyes met. There seemed to be some strange disturbance in her mind. She coloured up, and then she turned pale again. With the paleness, there came a new look into her face—a look which it startled me to see.
“Having answered your question, miss,” says the Sergeant, “I beg leave to make an inquiry in my turn. There is a smear on the painting of your door, here. Do you happen to know when it was done? or who did it?”
Instead of making any reply, Miss Rachel went on with her questions, as if he had not spoken, or as if she had not heard him.
“Are you another police-officer?” she asked.
“I am Sergeant Cuff, miss, of the Detective Police.”
“Do you think a young lady’s advice worth having?”
“I shall be glad to hear it, miss.”
“Do your duty by yourself—and don’t allow Mr Franklin Blake to help you!”
She said those words so spitefully, so savagely, with such an extraordinary outbreak of ill-will towards Mr. Franklin, in her voice and in her look, that—though I had known her from a baby, though I loved and honoured her next to my lady herself—I was ashamed of Miss Rachel for the first time in my life.
Sergeant Cuff’s immovable eyes never stirred from off her face. “Thank you, miss,” he said. “Do you happen to know anything about the smear? Might you have done it by accident yourself?”
“I know nothing about the smear.”
With that answer, she turned away, and shut herself up again in her bed-room. This time, I heard her—as Penelope had heard her before—burst out crying as soon as she was alone again.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at the Sergeant—I looked at Mr. Franklin, who stood nearest to me. He seemed to be even more sorely distressed at what had passed than I was.
“I told you I was uneasy about her,” he said. “And now you see why.”
“Miss Verinder appears to be a little out of temper about the loss of her Diamond,” remarked the Sergeant. “It’s a valuable jewel. Natural enough! natural enough!”
Here was the excuse that I had made for her (when she forgot herself before Superintendent Seegrave, on the previous day) being made for her over again, by a man who couldn’t have had MY interest in making it—for he was a perfect stranger! A kind of cold shudder ran through me, which I couldn’t account for at the time. I know, now, that I must have got my first suspicion, at that moment, of a new light (and horrid light) having suddenly fallen on the case, in the mind of Sergeant Cuff—purely and entirely in consequence of what he had seen in Miss Rachel, and heard from Miss Rachel, at that first interview between them.
“A young lady’s tongue is a privileged member, sir,” says the Sergeant to Mr. Franklin. “Let us forget what has passed, and go straight on with this business. Thanks to you, we know when the paint was dry. The next thing to discover is when the paint was last seen without that smear. YOU have got a head on your shoulders—and you understand what I mean.”
Mr. Franklin composed himself, and came back with an effort from Miss Rachel to the matter in hand.
“I think I do understand,” he said. “The more we narrow the question of time, the more we also narrow the field of inquiry.”
“That’s it, sir,” said the Sergeant. “Did you notice your work here, on the Wednesday afternoon, after you had done it?”
Mr. Franklin shook his head, and answered, “I can’t say I did.”
“Did you?” inquired Sergeant Cuff, turning to me.
“I can’t say I did either, sir.”
“Who was the last person in the room, the last thing on Wednesday night?”
“Miss Rachel, I suppose, sir.”
Mr. Franklin struck in there, “Or possibly your daughter, Betteredge.” He turned to Sergeant Cuff, and explained that my daughter was Miss Verinder’s maid.
“Mr. Betteredge, ask your daughter to step up. Stop!” says the Sergeant, taking me away to the window, out of earshot, “Your Superintendent here,” he went on, in a whisper, “has made a pretty full report to me of the manner in which he has managed this case. Among other things, he has, by his own confession, set the servants’ backs up. It’s very important to smooth them down again. Tell your daughter, and tell the rest of them, these two things, with my compliments: First, that I have no evidence before me, yet, that the Diamond has been stolen; I only know that the Diamond has been lost. Second, that my business here with the servants is simply to ask them to lay their heads together and help me to find it.”
My experience of the women-servants, when Superintendent Seegrave laid his embargo on their rooms, came in handy here.
“May I make so bold, Sergeant, as to tell the women a third thing?” I asked. “Are they free (with your compliments) to fidget up and downstairs, and whisk in and out of their bed-rooms, if the fit takes them?”
“Perfectly free,” said the Sergeant.
“THAT will smooth them down, sir,” I remarked, “from the cook to the scullion.”
“Go, and do it at once, Mr. Betteredge.”
I did it in less than five minutes. There was only one difficulty when I came to the bit about the bed-rooms. It took a pretty stiff exertion of my authority, as chief, to prevent the whole of the female household from following me and Penelope up-stairs, in the character of volunteer witnesses in a burning fever of anxiety to help Sergeant Cuff.
The Sergeant seemed to approve of Penelope. He became a trifle less dreary; and he looked much as he had looked when he noticed the white musk rose in the flower-garden. Here is my daughter’s evidence, as drawn off from her by the Sergeant. She gave it, I think, very prettily—but, there! she is my child all over: nothing of her mother in her; Lord bless you, nothing of her mother in her!
Penelope examined: Took a lively interest in the painting on the door, having helped to mix the colours. Noticed the bit of work under the lock, because it was the last bit done. Had seen it, some hours afterwards, without a smear. Had left it, as late as twelve at night, without a smear. Had, at that hour, wished her young lady good night in the bedroom; had heard the clock strike in the “boudoir”; had her hand at the time on the handle of the painted door; knew the paint was wet (having helped to mix the colours, as aforesaid); took particular pains not to touch it; could swear that she held up the skirts of her dress, and that there was no smear on the paint then; could not swear that her dress mightn’t have touched it accidentally in going out; remembered the dress she had on, because it was new, a present from Miss Rachel; her father remembered, and could speak to it, too; could, and would, and did fetch it; dress recognised by her father as the dress she wore that night; skirts examined, a long job from the size of them; not the ghost of a paint-stain discovered anywhere. End of Penelope’s evidence—and very pretty and convincing, too. Signed, Gabriel Betteredge.
The Sergeant’s next proceeding was to question me about any large dogs in the house who might have got into the room, and done the mischief with a whisk of their tails. Hearing that this was impossible, he next sent for a magnifying-glass, and tried how the smear looked, seen that way. No skin-mark (as of a human hand) printed off on the paint. All the signs visible—signs which told that the paint had been smeared by some loose article of somebody’s dress touching it in going by. That somebody (putting together Penelope’s evidence and Mr. Franklin’s evidence) must have been in the room, and done the mischief, between midnight and three o’clock on the Thursday morning.
Having brought his investigation to this point, Sergeant Cuff discovered that such a person as Superintendent Seegrave was still left in the room, upon which he summed up the proceedings for his brother-officer’s benefit, as follows:
“This trifle of yours, Mr. Superintendent,” says the Sergeant, pointing to the place on the door, “has grown a little in importance since you noticed it last. At the present stage of the inquiry there are, as I take it, three discoveries to make, starting from that smear. Find out (first) whether there is any article of dress in this house with the smear of the paint on it. Find out (second) who that dress belongs to. Find out (third) how the person can account for having been in this room, and smeared the paint, between midnight and three in the morning. If the person can’t satisfy you, you haven’t far to look for the hand that has got the Diamond. I’ll work this by myself, if you please, and detain you no longer-from your regular business in the town. You have got one of your men here, I see. Leave him here at my disposal, in case I want him—and allow me to wish you good morning.”
Superintendent Seegrave’s respect for the Sergeant was great; but his respect for himself was greater still. Hit hard by the celebrated Cuff, he hit back smartly, to the best of his ability, on leaving the room.
“I have abstained from expressing any opinion, so far,” says Mr. Superintendent, with his military voice still in good working order. “I have now only one remark to offer on leaving this case in your hands. There IS such a thing, Sergeant, as making a mountain out of a molehill. Good morning.”
“There is also such a thing as making nothing out of a molehill, in consequence of your head being too high to see it.” Having returned his brother-officer’s compliments in those terms, Sergeant Cuff wheeled about, and walked away to the window by himself.
Mr. Franklin and I waited to see what was coming next. The Sergeant stood at the window with his hands in his pockets, looking out, and whistling the tune of “The Last Rose of Summer” softly to himself. Later in the proceedings, I discovered that he only forgot his manners so far as to whistle, when his mind was hard at work, seeing its way inch by inch to its own private ends, on which occasions “The Last Rose of Summer” evidently helped and encouraged him. I suppose it fitted in somehow with his character. It reminded him, you see, of his favourite roses, and, as HE whistled it, it was the most melancholy tune going.
Turning from the window, after a minute or two, the Sergeant walked into the middle of the room, and stopped there, deep in thought, with his eyes on Miss Rachel’s bed-room door. After a little he roused himself, nodded his head, as much as to say, “That will do,” and, addressing me, asked for ten minutes’ conversation with my mistress, at her ladyship’s earliest convenience.
Leaving the room with this message, I heard Mr. Franklin ask the Sergeant a question, and stopped to hear the answer also at the threshold of the door.
“Can you guess yet,” inquired Mr. Franklin, “who has stolen the Diamond?”
“NOBODY HAS STOLEN THE DIAMOND,” answered Sergeant Cuff.
We both started at that extraordinary view of the case, and both earnestly begged him to tell us what he meant.
“Wait a little,” said the Sergeant. “The pieces of the puzzle are not all put together yet.”