First Period: The Loss of the Diamond (1848) - XXII
My mistress having left us, I had leisure to think of Sergeant Cuff. I found him sitting in a snug corner of the hall, consulting his memorandum book, and curling up viciously at the corners of the lips.
“Making notes of the case?” I asked.
“No,” said the Sergeant. “Looking to see what my next professional engagement is.”
“Oh!” I said. “You think it’s all over then, here?”
“I think,” answered Sergeant Cuff, “that Lady Verinder is one of the cleverest women in England. I also think a rose much better worth looking at than a diamond. Where is the gardener, Mr. Betteredge?”
There was no getting a word more out of him on the matter of the Moonstone. He had lost all interest in his own inquiry; and he would persist in looking for the gardener. An hour afterwards, I heard them at high words in the conservatory, with the dog-rose once more at the bottom of the dispute.
In the meantime, it was my business to find out whether Mr. Franklin persisted in his resolution to leave us by the afternoon train. After having been informed of the conference in my lady’s room, and of how it had ended, he immediately decided on waiting to hear the news from Frizinghall. This very natural alteration in his plans—which, with ordinary people, would have led to nothing in particular—proved, in Mr. Franklin’s case, to have one objectionable result. It left him unsettled, with a legacy of idle time on his hands, and, in so doing, it let out all the foreign sides of his character, one on the top of another, like rats out of a bag.
Now as an Italian-Englishman, now as a German-Englishman, and now as a French-Englishman, he drifted in and out of all the sitting-rooms in the house, with nothing to talk of but Miss Rachel’s treatment of him; and with nobody to address himself to but me. I found him (for example) in the library, sitting under the map of Modern Italy, and quite unaware of any other method of meeting his troubles, except the method of talking about them. “I have several worthy aspirations, Betteredge; but what am I to do with them now? I am full of dormant good qualities, if Rachel would only have helped me to bring them out!” He was so eloquent in drawing the picture of his own neglected merits, and so pathetic in lamenting over it when it was done, that I felt quite at my wits’ end how to console him, when it suddenly occurred to me that here was a case for the wholesome application of a bit of ROBINSON CRUSOE. I hobbled out to my own room, and hobbled back with that immortal book. Nobody in the library! The map of Modern Italy stared at ME; and I stared at the map of Modern Italy.
I tried the drawing-room. There was his handkerchief on the floor, to prove that he had drifted in. And there was the empty room to prove that he had drifted out again.
I tried the dining-room, and discovered Samuel with a biscuit and a glass of sherry, silently investigating the empty air. A minute since, Mr. Franklin had rung furiously for a little light refreshment. On its production, in a violent hurry, by Samuel, Mr. Franklin had vanished before the bell downstairs had quite done ringing with the pull he had given to it.
I tried the morning-room, and found him at last. There he was at the window, drawing hieroglyphics with his finger in the damp on the glass.
“Your sherry is waiting for you, sir,” I said to him. I might as well have addressed myself to one of the four walls of the room; he was down in the bottomless deep of his own meditations, past all pulling up. “How do YOU explain Rachel’s conduct, Betteredge?” was the only answer I received. Not being ready with the needful reply, I produced ROBINSON CRUSOE, in which I am firmly persuaded some explanation might have been found, if we had only searched long enough for it. Mr. Franklin shut up ROBINSON CRUSOE, and floundered into his German-English gibberish on the spot. “Why not look into it?” he said, as if I had personally objected to looking into it. “Why the devil lose your patience, Betteredge, when patience is all that’s wanted to arrive at the truth? Don’t interrupt me. Rachel’s conduct is perfectly intelligible, if you will only do her the common justice to take the Objective view first, and the Subjective view next, and the Objective-Subjective view to wind up with. What do we know? We know that the loss of the Moonstone, on Thursday morning last, threw her into a state of nervous excitement, from which she has not recovered yet. Do you mean to deny the Objective view, so far? Very well, then—don’t interrupt me. Now, being in a state of nervous excitement, how are we to expect that she should behave as she might otherwise have behaved to any of the people about her? Arguing in this way, from within-outwards, what do we reach? We reach the Subjective view. I defy you to controvert the Subjective view. Very well then—what follows? Good Heavens! the Objective-Subjective explanation follows, of course! Rachel, properly speaking, is not Rachel, but Somebody Else. Do I mind being cruelly treated by Somebody Else? You are unreasonable enough, Betteredge; but you can hardly accuse me of that. Then how does it end? It ends, in spite of your confounded English narrowness and prejudice, in my being perfectly happy and comfortable. Where’s the sherry?”
My head was by this time in such a condition, that I was not quite sure whether it was my own head, or Mr. Franklin’s. In this deplorable state, I contrived to do, what I take to have been, three Objective things. I got Mr. Franklin his sherry; I retired to my own room; and I solaced myself with the most composing pipe of tobacco I ever remember to have smoked in my life.
Don’t suppose, however, that I was quit of Mr. Franklin on such easy terms as these. Drifting again, out of the morning-room into the hall, he found his way to the offices next, smelt my pipe, and was instantly reminded that he had been simple enough to give up smoking for Miss Rachel’s sake. In the twinkling of an eye, he burst in on me with his cigar-case, and came out strong on the one everlasting subject, in his neat, witty, unbelieving, French way. “Give me a light, Betteredge. Is it conceivable that a man can have smoked as long as I have without discovering that there is a complete system for the treatment of women at the bottom of his cigar-case? Follow me carefully, and I will prove it in two words. You choose a cigar, you try it, and it disappoints you. What do you do upon that? You throw it away and try another. Now observe the application! You choose a woman, you try her, and she breaks your heart. Fool! take a lesson from your cigar-case. Throw her away, and try another!”
I shook my head at that. Wonderfully clever, I dare say, but my own experience was dead against it. “In the time of the late Mrs. Betteredge,” I said, “I felt pretty often inclined to try your philosophy, Mr. Franklin. But the law insists on your smoking your cigar, sir, when you have once chosen it.” I pointed that observation with a wink. Mr. Franklin burst out laughing—and we were as merry as crickets, until the next new side of his character turned up in due course. So things went on with my young master and me; and so (while the Sergeant and the gardener were wrangling over the roses) we two spent the interval before the news came back from Frizinghall.
The pony-chaise returned a good half hour before I had ventured to expect it. My lady had decided to remain for the present, at her sister’s house. The groom brought two letters from his mistress; one addressed to Mr. Franklin, and the other to me.
Mr. Franklin’s letter I sent to him in the library—into which refuge his driftings had now taken him for the second time. My own letter, I read in my own room. A cheque, which dropped out when I opened it, informed me (before I had mastered the contents) that Sergeant Cuff’s dismissal from the inquiry after the Moonstone was now a settled thing.
I sent to the conservatory to say that I wished to speak to the Sergeant directly. He appeared, with his mind full of the gardener and the dog-rose, declaring that the equal of Mr. Begbie for obstinacy never had existed yet, and never would exist again. I requested him to dismiss such wretched trifling as this from our conversation, and to give his best attention to a really serious matter. Upon that he exerted himself sufficiently to notice the letter in my hand. “Ah!” he said in a weary way, “you have heard from her ladyship. Have I anything to do with it, Mr. Betteredge?”
“You shall judge for yourself, Sergeant.” I thereupon read him the letter (with my best emphasis and discretion), in the following words:
“MY GOOD GABRIEL,—I request that you will inform Sergeant Cuff, that I have performed the promise I made to him; with this result, so far as Rosanna Spearman is concerned. Miss Verinder solemnly declares, that she has never spoken a word in private to Rosanna, since that unhappy woman first entered my house. They never met, even accidentally, on the night when the Diamond was lost; and no communication of any sort whatever took place between them, from the Thursday morning when the alarm was first raised in the house, to this present Saturday afternoon, when Miss Verinder left us. After telling my daughter suddenly, and in so many words, of Rosanna Spearman’s suicide—this is what has come of it.”
Having reached that point, I looked up, and asked Sergeant Cuff what he thought of the letter, so far?
“I should only offend you if I expressed MY opinion,” answered the Sergeant. “Go on, Mr. Betteredge,” he said, with the most exasperating resignation, “go on.”
When I remembered that this man had had the audacity to complain of our gardener’s obstinacy, my tongue itched to “go on” in other words than my mistress’s. This time, however, my Christianity held firm. I proceeded steadily with her ladyship’s letter:
“Having appealed to Miss Verinder in the manner which the officer thought most desirable, I spoke to her next in the manner which I myself thought most likely to impress her. On two different occasions, before my daughter left my roof, I privately warned her that she was exposing herself to suspicion of the most unendurable and most degrading kind. I have now told her, in the plainest terms, that my apprehensions have been realised.
“Her answer to this, on her own solemn affirmation, is as plain as words can be. In the first place, she owes no money privately to any living creature. In the second place, the Diamond is not now, and never has been, in her possession, since she put it into her cabinet on Wednesday night.
“The confidence which my daughter has placed in me goes no further than this. She maintains an obstinate silence, when I ask her if she can explain the disappearance of the Diamond. She refuses, with tears, when I appeal to her to speak out for my sake. ‘The day will come when you will know why I am careless about being suspected, and why I am silent even to you. I have done much to make my mother pity me—nothing to make my mother blush for me.’ Those are my daughter’s own words.
“After what has passed between the officer and me, I think—stranger as he is—that he should be made acquainted with what Miss Verinder has said, as well as you. Read my letter to him, and then place in his hands the cheque which I enclose. In resigning all further claim on his services, I have only to say that I am convinced of his honesty and his intelligence; but I am more firmly persuaded than ever, that the circumstances, in this case, have fatally misled him.”
There the letter ended. Before presenting the cheque, I asked Sergeant Cuff if he had any remark to make.
“It’s no part of my duty, Mr. Betteredge,” he answered, “to make remarks on a case, when I have done with it.”
I tossed the cheque across the table to him. “Do you believe in THAT part of her ladyship’s letter?” I said, indignantly.
The Sergeant looked at the cheque, and lifted up his dismal eyebrows in acknowledgment of her ladyship’s liberality.
“This is such a generous estimate of the value of my time,” he said, “that I feel bound to make some return for it. I’ll bear in mind the amount in this cheque, Mr. Betteredge, when the occasion comes round for remembering it.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Her ladyship has smoothed matters over for the present very cleverly,” said the Sergeant. “But THIS family scandal is of the sort that bursts up again when you least expect it. We shall have more detective-business on our hands, sir, before the Moonstone is many months older.”
If those words meant anything, and if the manner in which he spoke them meant anything—it came to this. My mistress’s letter had proved, to his mind, that Miss Rachel was hardened enough to resist the strongest appeal that could be addressed to her, and that she had deceived her own mother (good God, under what circumstances!) by a series of abominable lies. How other people, in my place, might have replied to the Sergeant, I don’t know. I answered what he said in these plain terms:
“Sergeant Cuff, I consider your last observation as an insult to my lady and her daughter!”
“Mr. Betteredge, consider it as a warning to yourself, and you will be nearer the mark.”
Hot and angry as I was, the infernal confidence with which he gave me that answer closed my lips.
I walked to the window to compose myself. The rain had given over; and, who should I see in the court-yard, but Mr. Begbie, the gardener, waiting outside to continue the dog-rose controversy with Sergeant Cuff.
“My compliments to the Sairgent,” said Mr. Begbie, the moment he set eyes on me. “If he’s minded to walk to the station, I’m agreeable to go with him.”
“What!” cries the Sergeant, behind me, “are you not convinced yet?”
“The de’il a bit I’m convinced!” answered Mr. Begbie.
“Then I’ll walk to the station!” says the Sergeant.
“Then I’ll meet you at the gate!” says Mr. Begbie.
I was angry enough, as you know—but how was any man’s anger to hold out against such an interruption as this? Sergeant Cuff noticed the change in me, and encouraged it by a word in season. “Come! come!” he said, “why not treat my view of the case as her ladyship treats it? Why not say, the circumstances have fatally misled me?”
To take anything as her ladyship took it was a privilege worth enjoying—even with the disadvantage of its having been offered to me by Sergeant Cuff. I cooled slowly down to my customary level. I regarded any other opinion of Miss Rachel, than my lady’s opinion or mine, with a lofty contempt. The only thing I could not do, was to keep off the subject of the Moonstone! My own good sense ought to have warned me, I know, to let the matter rest—but, there! the virtues which distinguish the present generation were not invented in my time. Sergeant Cuff had hit me on the raw, and, though I did look down upon him with contempt, the tender place still tingled for all that. The end of it was that I perversely led him back to the subject of her ladyship’s letter. “I am quite satisfied myself,” I said. “But never mind that! Go on, as if I was still open to conviction. You think Miss Rachel is not to be believed on her word; and you say we shall hear of the Moonstone again. Back your opinion, Sergeant,” I concluded, in an airy way. “Back your opinion.”
Instead of taking offence, Sergeant Cuff seized my hand, and shook it till my fingers ached again.
“I declare to heaven,” says this strange officer solemnly, “I would take to domestic service to-morrow, Mr. Betteredge, if I had a chance of being employed along with You! To say you are as transparent as a child, sir, is to pay the children a compliment which nine out of ten of them don’t deserve. There! there! we won’t begin to dispute again. You shall have it out of me on easier terms than that. I won’t say a word more about her ladyship, or about Miss Verinder—I’ll only turn prophet, for once in a way, and for your sake. I have warned you already that you haven’t done with the Moonstone yet. Very well. Now I’ll tell you, at parting, of three things which will happen in the future, and which, I believe, will force themselves on your attention, whether you like it or not.”
“Go on!” I said, quite unabashed, and just as airy as ever.
“First,” said the Sergeant, “you will hear something from the Yollands—when the postman delivers Rosanna’s letter at Cobb’s Hole, on Monday next.”
If he had thrown a bucket of cold water over me, I doubt if I could have felt it much more unpleasantly than I felt those words. Miss Rachel’s assertion of her innocence had left Rosanna’s conduct—the making the new nightgown, the hiding the smeared nightgown, and all the rest of it—entirely without explanation. And this had never occurred to me, till Sergeant Cuff forced it on my mind all in a moment!
“In the second place,” proceeded the Sergeant, “you will hear of the three Indians again. You will hear of them in the neighbourhood, if Miss Rachel remains in the neighbourhood. You will hear of them in London, if Miss Rachel goes to London.”
Having lost all interest in the three jugglers, and having thoroughly convinced myself of my young lady’s innocence, I took this second prophecy easily enough. “So much for two of the three things that are going to happen,” I said. “Now for the third!”
“Third, and last,” said Sergeant Cuff, “you will, sooner or later, hear something of that money-lender in London, whom I have twice taken the liberty of mentioning already. Give me your pocket-book, and I’ll make a note for you of his name and address—so that there may be no mistake about it if the thing really happens.”
He wrote accordingly on a blank leaf—“Mr. Septimus Luker, Middlesex-place, Lambeth, London.”
“There,” he said, pointing to the address, “are the last words, on the subject of the Moonstone, which I shall trouble you with for the present. Time will show whether I am right or wrong. In the meanwhile, sir, I carry away with me a sincere personal liking for you, which I think does honour to both of us. If we don’t meet again before my professional retirement takes place, I hope you will come and see me in a little house near London, which I have got my eye on. There will be grass walks, Mr. Betteredge, I promise you, in my garden. And as for the white moss rose——”
“The de’il a bit ye’ll get the white moss rose to grow, unless you bud him on the dogue-rose first,” cried a voice at the window.
We both turned round. There was the everlasting Mr. Begbie, too eager for the controversy to wait any longer at the gate. The Sergeant wrung my hand, and darted out into the court-yard, hotter still on his side. “Ask him about the moss rose, when he comes back, and see if I have left him a leg to stand on!” cried the great Cuff, hailing me through the window in his turn. “Gentlemen, both!” I answered, moderating them again as I had moderated them once already.
“In the matter of the moss rose there is a great deal to be said on both sides!” I might as well (as the Irish say) have whistled jigs to a milestone. Away they went together, fighting the battle of the roses without asking or giving quarter on either side. The last I saw of them, Mr. Begbie was shaking his obstinate head, and Sergeant Cuff had got him by the arm like a prisoner in charge. Ah, well! well! I own I couldn’t help liking the Sergeant—though I hated him all the time.
Explain that state of mind, if you can. You will soon be rid, now, of me and my contradictions. When I have reported Mr. Franklin’s departure, the history of the Saturday’s events will be finished at last. And when I have next described certain strange things that happened in the course of the new week, I shall have done my part of the Story, and shall hand over the pen to the person who is appointed to follow my lead. If you are as tired of reading this narrative as I am of writing it—Lord, how we shall enjoy ourselves on both sides a few pages further on!