First Period: The Loss of the Diamond (1848) - XIV
The nearest way to the garden, on going out of my lady’s sitting-room, was by the shrubbery path, which you already know of. For the sake of your better understanding of what is now to come, I may add to this, that the shrubbery path was Mr. Franklin’s favourite walk. When he was out in the grounds, and when we failed to find him anywhere else, we generally found him here.
I am afraid I must own that I am rather an obstinate old man. The more firmly Sergeant Cuff kept his thoughts shut up from me, the more firmly I persisted in trying to look in at them. As we turned into the shrubbery path, I attempted to circumvent him in another way.
“As things are now,” I said, “if I was in your place, I should be at my wits’ end.”
“If you were in my place,” answered the Sergeant, “you would have formed an opinion—and, as things are now, any doubt you might previously have felt about your own conclusions would be completely set at rest. Never mind for the present what those conclusions are, Mr. Betteredge. I haven’t brought you out here to draw me like a badger; I have brought you out here to ask for some information. You might have given it to me no doubt, in the house, instead of out of it. But doors and listeners have a knack of getting together; and, in my line of life, we cultivate a healthy taste for the open air.”
Who was to circumvent THIS man? I gave in—and waited as patiently as I could to hear what was coming next.
“We won’t enter into your young lady’s motives,” the Sergeant went on; “we will only say it’s a pity she declines to assist me, because, by so doing, she makes this investigation more difficult than it might otherwise have been. We must now try to solve the mystery of the smear on the door—which, you may take my word for it, means the mystery of the Diamond also—in some other way. I have decided to see the servants, and to search their thoughts and actions, Mr. Betteredge, instead of searching their wardrobes. Before I begin, however, I want to ask you a question or two. You are an observant man—did you notice anything strange in any of the servants (making due allowance, of course, for fright and fluster), after the loss of the Diamond was found out? Any particular quarrel among them? Any one of them not in his or her usual spirits? Unexpectedly out of temper, for instance? or unexpectedly taken ill?”
I had just time to think of Rosanna Spearman’s sudden illness at yesterday’s dinner—but not time to make any answer—when I saw Sergeant Cuff’s eyes suddenly turn aside towards the shrubbery; and I heard him say softly to himself, “Hullo!”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“A touch of the rheumatics in my back,” said the Sergeant, in a loud voice, as if he wanted some third person to hear us. “We shall have a change in the weather before long.”
A few steps further brought us to the corner of the house. Turning off sharp to the right, we entered on the terrace, and went down, by the steps in the middle, into the garden below. Sergeant Cuff stopped there, in the open space, where we could see round us on every side.
“About that young person, Rosanna Spearman?” he said. “It isn’t very likely, with her personal appearance, that she has got a lover. But, for the girl’s own sake, I must ask you at once whether SHE has provided herself with a sweetheart, poor wretch, like the rest of them?”
What on earth did he mean, under present circumstances, by putting such a question to me as that? I stared at him, instead of answering him.
“I saw Rosanna Spearman hiding in the shrubbery as we went by,” said the Sergeant.
“When you said ‘Hullo’?”
“Yes—when I said ‘Hullo!’ If there’s a sweetheart in the case, the hiding doesn’t much matter. If there isn’t—as things are in this house—the hiding is a highly suspicious circumstance, and it will be my painful duty to act on it accordingly.”
What, in God’s name, was I to say to him? I knew the shrubbery was Mr. Franklin’s favourite walk; I knew he would most likely turn that way when he came back from the station; I knew that Penelope had over and over again caught her fellow-servant hanging about there, and had always declared to me that Rosanna’s object was to attract Mr. Franklin’s attention. If my daughter was right, she might well have been lying in wait for Mr. Franklin’s return when the Sergeant noticed her. I was put between the two difficulties of mentioning Penelope’s fanciful notion as if it was mine, or of leaving an unfortunate creature to suffer the consequences, the very serious consequences, of exciting the suspicion of Sergeant Cuff. Out of pure pity for the girl—on my soul and my character, out of pure pity for the girl—I gave the Sergeant the necessary explanations, and told him that Rosanna had been mad enough to set her heart on Mr. Franklin Blake.
Sergeant Cuff never laughed. On the few occasions when anything amused him, he curled up a little at the corners of the lips, nothing more. He curled up now.
“Hadn’t you better say she’s mad enough to be an ugly girl and only a servant?” he asked. “The falling in love with a gentleman of Mr. Franklin Blake’s manners and appearance doesn’t seem to me to be the maddest part of her conduct by any means. However, I’m glad the thing is cleared up: it relieves one’s mind to have things cleared up. Yes, I’ll keep it a secret, Mr. Betteredge. I like to be tender to human infirmity—though I don’t get many chances of exercising that virtue in my line of life. You think Mr. Franklin Blake hasn’t got a suspicion of the girl’s fancy for him? Ah! he would have found it out fast enough if she had been nice-looking. The ugly women have a bad time of it in this world; let’s hope it will be made up to them in another. You have got a nice garden here, and a well-kept lawn. See for yourself how much better the flowers look with grass about them instead of gravel. No, thank you. I won’t take a rose. It goes to my heart to break them off the stem. Just as it goes to your heart, you know, when there’s something wrong in the servants’ hall. Did you notice anything you couldn’t account for in any of the servants when the loss of the Diamond was first found out?”
I had got on very fairly well with Sergeant Cuff so far. But the slyness with which he slipped in that last question put me on my guard. In plain English, I didn’t at all relish the notion of helping his inquiries, when those inquiries took him (in the capacity of snake in the grass) among my fellow-servants.
“I noticed nothing,” I said, “except that we all lost our heads together, myself included.”
“Oh,” says the Sergeant, “that’s all you have to tell me, is it?”
I answered, with (as I flattered myself) an unmoved countenance, “That is all.”
Sergeant Cuff’s dismal eyes looked me hard in the face.
“Mr. Betteredge,” he said, “have you any objection to oblige me by shaking hands? I have taken an extraordinary liking to you.”
(Why he should have chosen the exact moment when I was deceiving him to give me that proof of his good opinion, is beyond all comprehension! I felt a little proud—I really did feel a little proud of having been one too many at last for the celebrated Cuff!)
We went back to the house; the Sergeant requesting that I would give him a room to himself, and then send in the servants (the indoor servants only), one after another, in the order of their rank, from first to last.
I showed Sergeant Cuff into my own room, and then called the servants together in the hall. Rosanna Spearman appeared among them, much as usual. She was as quick in her way as the Sergeant in his, and I suspect she had heard what he said to me about the servants in general, just before he discovered her. There she was, at any rate, looking as if she had never heard of such a place as the shrubbery in her life.
I sent them in, one by one, as desired. The cook was the first to enter the Court of Justice, otherwise my room. She remained but a short time. Report, on coming out: “Sergeant Cuff is depressed in his spirits; but Sergeant Cuff is a perfect gentleman.” My lady’s own maid followed. Remained much longer. Report, on coming out: “If Sergeant Cuff doesn’t believe a respectable woman, he might keep his opinion to himself, at any rate!” Penelope went next. Remained only a moment or two. Report, on coming out: “Sergeant Cuff is much to be pitied. He must have been crossed in love, father, when he was a young man.” The first housemaid followed Penelope. Remained, like my lady’s maid, a long time. Report, on coming out: “I didn’t enter her ladyship’s service, Mr. Betteredge, to be doubted to my face by a low police-officer!” Rosanna Spearman went next. Remained longer than any of them. No report on coming out—dead silence, and lips as pale as ashes. Samuel, the footman, followed Rosanna. Remained a minute or two. Report, on coming out: “Whoever blacks Sergeant Cuff’s boots ought to be ashamed of himself.” Nancy, the kitchen-maid, went last. Remained a minute or two. Report, on coming out: “Sergeant Cuff has a heart; HE doesn’t cut jokes, Mr. Betteredge, with a poor hard-working girl.”
Going into the Court of Justice, when it was all over, to hear if there were any further commands for me, I found the Sergeant at his old trick—looking out of window, and whistling “The Last Rose of Summer” to himself.
“Any discoveries, sir?” I inquired.
“If Rosanna Spearman asks leave to go out,” said the Sergeant, “let the poor thing go; but let me know first.”
I might as well have held my tongue about Rosanna and Mr. Franklin! It was plain enough; the unfortunate girl had fallen under Sergeant Cuff’s suspicions, in spite of all I could do to prevent it.
“I hope you don’t think Rosanna is concerned in the loss of the Diamond?” I ventured to say.
The corners of the Sergeant’s melancholy mouth curled up, and he looked hard in my face, just as he had looked in the garden.
“I think I had better not tell you, Mr. Betteredge,” he said. “You might lose your head, you know, for the second time.”
I began to doubt whether I had been one too many for the celebrated Cuff, after all! It was rather a relief to me that we were interrupted here by a knock at the door, and a message from the cook. Rosanna Spearman HAD asked to go out, for the usual reason, that her head was bad, and she wanted a breath of fresh air. At a sign from the Sergeant, I said, Yes. “Which is the servants’ way out?” he asked, when the messenger had gone. I showed him the servants’ way out. “Lock the door of your room,” says the Sergeant; “and if anybody asks for me, say I’m in there, composing my mind.” He curled up again at the corners of the lips, and disappeared.
Left alone, under those circumstances, a devouring curiosity pushed me on to make some discoveries for myself.
It was plain that Sergeant Cuff’s suspicions of Rosanna had been roused by something that he had found out at his examination of the servants in my room. Now, the only two servants (excepting Rosanna herself) who had remained under examination for any length of time, were my lady’s own maid and the first housemaid, those two being also the women who had taken the lead in persecuting their unfortunate fellow-servant from the first. Reaching these conclusions, I looked in on them, casually as it might be, in the servants’ hall, and, finding tea going forward, instantly invited myself to that meal. (For, NOTA BENE, a drop of tea is to a woman’s tongue what a drop of oil is to a wasting lamp.)
My reliance on the tea-pot, as an ally, did not go unrewarded. In less than half an hour I knew as much as the Sergeant himself.
My lady’s maid and the housemaid, had, it appeared, neither of them believed in Rosanna’s illness of the previous day. These two devils—I ask your pardon; but how else CAN you describe a couple of spiteful women?—had stolen up-stairs, at intervals during the Thursday afternoon; had tried Rosanna’s door, and found it locked; had knocked, and not been answered; had listened, and not heard a sound inside. When the girl had come down to tea, and had been sent up, still out of sorts, to bed again, the two devils aforesaid had tried her door once more, and found it locked; had looked at the keyhole, and found it stopped up; had seen a light under the door at midnight, and had heard the crackling of a fire (a fire in a servant’s bed-room in the month of June!) at four in the morning. All this they had told Sergeant Cuff, who, in return for their anxiety to enlighten him, had eyed them with sour and suspicious looks, and had shown them plainly that he didn’t believe either one or the other. Hence, the unfavourable reports of him which these two women had brought out with them from the examination. Hence, also (without reckoning the influence of the tea-pot), their readiness to let their tongues run to any length on the subject of the Sergeant’s ungracious behaviour to them.
Having had some experience of the great Cuff’s round-about ways, and having last seen him evidently bent on following Rosanna privately when she went out for her walk, it seemed clear to me that he had thought it unadvisable to let the lady’s maid and the housemaid know how materially they had helped him. They were just the sort of women, if he had treated their evidence as trustworthy, to have been puffed up by it, and to have said or done something which would have put Rosanna Spearman on her guard.
I walked out in the fine summer afternoon, very sorry for the poor girl, and very uneasy in my mind at the turn things had taken. Drifting towards the shrubbery, some time later, there I met Mr. Franklin. After returning from seeing his cousin off at the station, he had been with my lady, holding a long conversation with her. She had told him of Miss Rachel’s unaccountable refusal to let her wardrobe be examined; and had put him in such low spirits about my young lady that he seemed to shrink from speaking on the subject. The family temper appeared in his face that evening, for the first time in my experience of him.
“Well, Betteredge,” he said, “how does the atmosphere of mystery and suspicion in which we are all living now, agree with you? Do you remember that morning when I first came here with the Moonstone? I wish to God we had thrown it into the quicksand!”
After breaking out in that way, he abstained from speaking again until he had composed himself. We walked silently, side by side, for a minute or two, and then he asked me what had become of Sergeant Cuff. It was impossible to put Mr. Franklin off with the excuse of the Sergeant being in my room, composing his mind. I told him exactly what had happened, mentioning particularly what my lady’s maid and the house-maid had said about Rosanna Spearman.
Mr. Franklin’s clear head saw the turn the Sergeant’s suspicions had taken, in the twinkling of an eye.
“Didn’t you tell me this morning,” he said, “that one of the tradespeople declared he had met Rosanna yesterday, on the footway to Frizinghall, when we supposed her to be ill in her room?”
“If my aunt’s maid and the other woman have spoken the truth, you may depend upon it the tradesman did meet her. The girl’s attack of illness was a blind to deceive us. She had some guilty reason for going to the town secretly. The paint-stained dress is a dress of hers; and the fire heard crackling in her room at four in the morning was a fire lit to destroy it. Rosanna Spearman has stolen the Diamond. I’ll go in directly, and tell my aunt the turn things have taken.”
“Not just yet, if you please, sir,” said a melancholy voice behind us.
We both turned about, and found ourselves face to face with Sergeant Cuff.
“Why not just yet?” asked Mr. Franklin.
“Because, sir, if you tell her ladyship, her ladyship will tell Miss Verinder.”
“Suppose she does. What then?” Mr. Franklin said those words with a sudden heat and vehemence, as if the Sergeant had mortally offended him.
“Do you think it’s wise, sir,” said Sergeant Cuff, quietly, “to put such a question as that to me—at such a time as this?”
There was a moment’s silence between them: Mr. Franklin walked close up to the Sergeant. The two looked each other straight in the face. Mr. Franklin spoke first, dropping his voice as suddenly as he had raised it.
“I suppose you know, Mr. Cuff,” he said, “that you are treading on delicate ground?”
“It isn’t the first time, by a good many hundreds, that I find myself treading on delicate ground,” answered the other, as immovable as ever.
“I am to understand that you forbid me to tell my aunt what has happened?”
“You are to understand, if you please, sir, that I throw up the case, if you tell Lady Verinder, or tell anybody, what has happened, until I give you leave.”
That settled it. Mr. Franklin had no choice but to submit. He turned away in anger—and left us.
I had stood there listening to them, all in a tremble; not knowing whom to suspect, or what to think next. In the midst of my confusion, two things, however, were plain to me. First, that my young lady was, in some unaccountable manner, at the bottom of the sharp speeches that had passed between them. Second, that they thoroughly understood each other, without having previously exchanged a word of explanation on either side.
“Mr. Betteredge,” says the Sergeant, “you have done a very foolish thing in my absence. You have done a little detective business on your own account. For the future, perhaps you will be so obliging as to do your detective business along with me.”
He took me by the arm, and walked me away with him along the road by which he had come. I dare say I had deserved his reproof—but I was not going to help him to set traps for Rosanna Spearman, for all that. Thief or no thief, legal or not legal, I don’t care—I pitied her.
“What do you want of me?” I asked, shaking him off, and stopping short.
“Only a little information about the country round here,” said the Sergeant.
I couldn’t well object to improve Sergeant Cuff in his geography.
“Is there any path, in that direction, leading to the sea-beach from this house?” asked the Sergeant. He pointed, as he spoke, to the fir-plantation which led to the Shivering Sand.
“Yes,” I said, “there is a path.”
“Show it to me.”
Side by side, in the grey of the summer evening, Sergeant Cuff and I set forth for the Shivering Sand.