First Period: The Loss of the Diamond (1848) - XIII
I found my lady in her own sitting room. She started and looked annoyed when I mentioned that Sergeant Cuff wished to speak to her.
“MUST I see him?” she asked. “Can’t you represent me, Gabriel?”
I felt at a loss to understand this, and showed it plainly, I suppose, in my face. My lady was so good as to explain herself.
“I am afraid my nerves are a little shaken,” she said. “There is something in that police-officer from London which I recoil from—I don’t know why. I have a presentiment that he is bringing trouble and misery with him into the house. Very foolish, and very unlike ME—but so it is.”
I hardly knew what to say to this. The more I saw of Sergeant Cuff, the better I liked him. My lady rallied a little after having opened her heart to me—being, naturally, a woman of a high courage, as I have already told you.
“If I must see him, I must,” she said. “But I can’t prevail on myself to see him alone. Bring him in, Gabriel, and stay here as long as he stays.”
This was the first attack of the megrims that I remembered in my mistress since the time when she was a young girl. I went back to the “boudoir.” Mr. Franklin strolled out into the garden, and joined Mr. Godfrey, whose time for departure was now drawing near. Sergeant Cuff and I went straight to my mistress’s room.
I declare my lady turned a shade paler at the sight of him! She commanded herself, however, in other respects, and asked the Sergeant if he had any objection to my being present. She was so good as to add, that I was her trusted adviser, as well as her old servant, and that in anything which related to the household I was the person whom it might be most profitable to consult. The Sergeant politely answered that he would take my presence as a favour, having something to say about the servants in general, and having found my experience in that quarter already of some use to him. My lady pointed to two chairs, and we set in for our conference immediately.
“I have already formed an opinion on this case,” says Sergeant Cuff, “which I beg your ladyship’s permission to keep to myself for the present. My business now is to mention what I have discovered upstairs in Miss Verinder’s sitting-room, and what I have decided (with your ladyship’s leave) on doing next.”
He then went into the matter of the smear on the paint, and stated the conclusions he drew from it—just as he had stated them (only with greater respect of language) to Superintendent Seegrave. “One thing,” he said, in conclusion, “is certain. The Diamond is missing out of the drawer in the cabinet. Another thing is next to certain. The marks from the smear on the door must be on some article of dress belonging to somebody in this house. We must discover that article of dress before we go a step further.”
“And that discovery,” remarked my mistress, “implies, I presume, the discovery of the thief?”
“I beg your ladyship’s pardon—I don’t say the Diamond is stolen. I only say, at present, that the Diamond is missing. The discovery of the stained dress may lead the way to finding it.”
Her ladyship looked at me. “Do you understand this?” she said.
“Sergeant Cuff understands it, my lady,” I answered.
“How do you propose to discover the stained dress?” inquired my mistress, addressing herself once more to the Sergeant. “My good servants, who have been with me for years, have, I am ashamed to say, had their boxes and rooms searched already by the other officer. I can’t and won’t permit them to be insulted in that way a second time!”
(There was a mistress to serve! There was a woman in ten thousand, if you like!)
“That is the very point I was about to put to your ladyship,” said the Sergeant. “The other officer has done a world of harm to this inquiry, by letting the servants see that he suspected them. If I give them cause to think themselves suspected a second time, there’s no knowing what obstacles they may not throw in my way—the women especially. At the same time, their boxes must be searched again—for this plain reason, that the first investigation only looked for the Diamond, and that the second investigation must look for the stained dress. I quite agree with you, my lady, that the servants’ feelings ought to be consulted. But I am equally clear that the servants’ wardrobes ought to be searched.”
This looked very like a dead-lock. My lady said so, in choicer language than mine.
“I have got a plan to meet the difficulty,” said Sergeant Cuff, “if your ladyship will consent to it. I propose explaining the case to the servants.”
“The women will think themselves suspected directly,” I said, interrupting him.
“The women won’t, Mr. Betteredge,” answered the Sergeant, “if I can tell them I am going to examine the wardrobes of EVERYBODY—from her ladyship downwards—who slept in the house on Wednesday night. It’s a mere formality,” he added, with a side look at my mistress; “but the servants will accept it as even dealing between them and their betters; and, instead of hindering the investigation, they will make a point of honour of assisting it.”
I saw the truth of that. My lady, after her first surprise was over, saw the truth of it also.
“You are certain the investigation is necessary?” she said.
“It’s the shortest way that I can see, my lady, to the end we have in view.”
My mistress rose to ring the bell for her maid. “You shall speak to the servants,” she said, “with the keys of my wardrobe in your hand.”
Sergeant Cuff stopped her by a very unexpected question.
“Hadn’t we better make sure first,” he asked, “that the other ladies and gentlemen in the house will consent, too?”
“The only other lady in the house is Miss Verinder,” answered my mistress, with a look of surprise. “The only gentlemen are my nephews, Mr. Blake and Mr. Ablewhite. There is not the least fear of a refusal from any of the three.”
I reminded my lady here that Mr. Godfrey was going away. As I said the words, Mr. Godfrey himself knocked at the door to say good-bye, and was followed in by Mr. Franklin, who was going with him to the station. My lady explained the difficulty. Mr. Godfrey settled it directly. He called to Samuel, through the window, to take his portmanteau up-stairs again, and he then put the key himself into Sergeant Cuff’s hand. “My luggage can follow me to London,” he said, “when the inquiry is over.” The Sergeant received the key with a becoming apology. “I am sorry to put you to any inconvenience, sir, for a mere formality; but the example of their betters will do wonders in reconciling the servants to this inquiry.” Mr. Godfrey, after taking leave of my lady, in a most sympathising manner, left a farewell message for Miss Rachel, the terms of which made it clear to my mind that he had not taken No for an answer, and that he meant to put the marriage question to her once more, at the next opportunity. Mr. Franklin, on following his cousin out, informed the Sergeant that all his clothes were open to examination, and that nothing he possessed was kept under lock and key. Sergeant Cuff made his best acknowledgments. His views, you will observe, had been met with the utmost readiness by my lady, by Mr. Godfrey, and by Mr. Franklin. There was only Miss. Rachel now wanting to follow their lead, before we called the servants together, and began the search for the stained dress.
My lady’s unaccountable objection to the Sergeant seemed to make our conference more distasteful to her than ever, as soon as we were left alone again. “If I send you down Miss Verinder’s keys,” she said to him, “I presume I shall have done all you want of me for the present?”
“I beg your ladyship’s pardon,” said Sergeant Cuff. “Before we begin, I should like, if convenient, to have the washing-book. The stained article of dress may be an article of linen. If the search leads to nothing, I want to be able to account next for all the linen in the house, and for all the linen sent to the wash. If there is an article missing, there will be at least a presumption that it has got the paint-stain on it, and that it has been purposely made away with, yesterday or to-day, by the person owning it. Superintendent Seegrave,” added the Sergeant, turning to me, “pointed the attention of the women-servants to the smear, when they all crowded into the room on Thursday morning. That may turn out, Mr. Betteredge, to have been one more of Superintendent Seegrave’s many mistakes.”
My lady desired me to ring the bell, and order the washing-book. She remained with us until it was produced, in case Sergeant Cuff had any further request to make of her after looking at it.
The washing-book was brought in by Rosanna Spearman. The girl had come down to breakfast that morning miserably pale and haggard, but sufficiently recovered from her illness of the previous day to do her usual work. Sergeant Cuff looked attentively at our second housemaid—at her face, when she came in; at her crooked shoulder, when she went out.
“Have you anything more to say to me?” asked my lady, still as eager as ever to be out of the Sergeant’s society.
The great Cuff opened the washing-book, understood it perfectly in half a minute, and shut it up again. “I venture to trouble your ladyship with one last question,” he said. “Has the young woman who brought us this book been in your employment as long as the other servants?”
“Why do you ask?” said my lady.
“The last time I saw her,” answered the Sergeant, “she was in prison for theft.”
After that, there was no help for it, but to tell him the truth. My mistress dwelt strongly on Rosanna’s good conduct in her service, and on the high opinion entertained of her by the matron at the reformatory. “You don’t suspect her, I hope?” my lady added, in conclusion, very earnestly.
“I have already told your ladyship that I don’t suspect any person in the house of thieving—up to the present time.”
After that answer, my lady rose to go up-stairs, and ask for Miss Rachel’s keys. The Sergeant was before-hand with me in opening the door for her. He made a very low bow. My lady shuddered as she passed him.
We waited, and waited, and no keys appeared. Sergeant Cuff made no remark to me. He turned his melancholy face to the window; he put his lanky hands into his pockets; and he whistled “The Last Rose of Summer” softly to himself.
At last, Samuel came in, not with the keys, but with a morsel of paper for me. I got at my spectacles, with some fumbling and difficulty, feeling the Sergeant’s dismal eyes fixed on me all the time. There were two or three lines on the paper, written in pencil by my lady. They informed me that Miss Rachel flatly refused to have her wardrobe examined. Asked for her reasons, she had burst out crying. Asked again, she had said: “I won’t, because I won’t. I must yield to force if you use it, but I will yield to nothing else.” I understood my lady’s disinclination to face Sergeant Cuff with such an answer from her daughter as that. If I had not been too old for the amiable weaknesses of youth, I believe I should have blushed at the notion of facing him myself.
“Any news of Miss Verinder’s keys?” asked the Sergeant.
“My young lady refuses to have her wardrobe examined.”
“Ah!” said the Sergeant.
His voice was not quite in such a perfect state of discipline as his face. When he said “Ah!” he said it in the tone of a man who had heard something which he expected to hear. He half angered and half frightened me—why, I couldn’t tell, but he did it.
“Must the search be given up?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the Sergeant, “the search must be given up, because your young lady refuses to submit to it like the rest. We must examine all the wardrobes in the house or none. Send Mr. Ablewhite’s portmanteau to London by the next train, and return the washing-book, with my compliments and thanks, to the young woman who brought it in.”
He laid the washing-book on the table, and taking out his penknife, began to trim his nails.
“You don’t seem to be much disappointed,” I said.
“No,” said Sergeant Cuff; “I am not much disappointed.”
I tried to make him explain himself.
“Why should Miss Rachel put an obstacle in your way?” I inquired. “Isn’t it her interest to help you?”
“Wait a little, Mr. Betteredge—wait a little.”
Cleverer heads than mine might have seen his drift. Or a person less fond of Miss Rachel than I was, might have seen his drift. My lady’s horror of him might (as I have since thought) have meant that she saw his drift (as the scripture says) “in a glass darkly.” I didn’t see it yet—that’s all I know.
“What’s to be done next?” I asked.
Sergeant Cuff finished the nail on which he was then at work, looked at it for a moment with a melancholy interest, and put up his penknife.
“Come out into the garden,” he said, “and let’s have a look at the roses.”