Second Period: The Discovery of Truth (1848-1849) - Fourth Narrative
Extracted from the Journal of EZRA JENNINGS
1849.—June 15.... With some interruption from patients, and some interruption from pain, I finished my letter to Miss Verinder in time for to-day’s post. I failed to make it as short a letter as I could have wished. But I think I have made it plain. It leaves her entirely mistress of her own decision. If she consents to assist the experiment, she consents of her own free will, and not as a favour to Mr. Franklin Blake or to me.
June 16th.—Rose late, after a dreadful night; the vengeance of yesterday’s opium, pursuing me through a series of frightful dreams. At one time I was whirling through empty space with the phantoms of the dead, friends and enemies together. At another, the one beloved face which I shall never see again, rose at my bedside, hideously phosphorescent in the black darkness, and glared and grinned at me. A slight return of the old pain, at the usual time in the early morning, was welcome as a change. It dispelled the visions—and it was bearable because it did that.
My bad night made it late in the morning, before I could get to Mr. Franklin Blake. I found him stretched on the sofa, breakfasting on brandy and soda-water, and a dry biscuit.
“I am beginning, as well as you could possibly wish,” he said. “A miserable, restless night; and a total failure of appetite this morning. Exactly what happened last year, when I gave up my cigars. The sooner I am ready for my second dose of laudanum, the better I shall be pleased.”
“You shall have it on the earliest possible day,” I answered. “In the meantime, we must be as careful of your health as we can. If we allow you to become exhausted, we shall fail in that way. You must get an appetite for your dinner. In other words, you must get a ride or a walk this morning, in the fresh air.”
“I will ride, if they can find me a horse here. By-the-by, I wrote to Mr. Bruff, yesterday. Have you written to Miss Verinder?”
“Yes—by last night’s post.”
“Very good. We shall have some news worth hearing, to tell each other to-morrow. Don’t go yet! I have a word to say to you. You appeared to think, yesterday, that our experiment with the opium was not likely to be viewed very favourably by some of my friends. You were quite right. I call old Gabriel Betteredge one of my friends; and you will be amused to hear that he protested strongly when I saw him yesterday. ‘You have done a wonderful number of foolish things in the course of your life, Mr. Franklin, but this tops them all!’ There is Betteredge’s opinion! You will make allowance for his prejudices, I am sure, if you and he happen to meet?”
I left Mr. Blake, to go my rounds among my patients; feeling the better and the happier even for the short interview that I had had with him.
What is the secret of the attraction that there is for me in this man? Does it only mean that I feel the contrast between the frankly kind manner in which he has allowed me to become acquainted with him, and the merciless dislike and distrust with which I am met by other people? Or is there really something in him which answers to the yearning that I have for a little human sympathy—the yearning, which has survived the solitude and persecution of many years; which seems to grow keener and keener, as the time comes nearer and nearer when I shall endure and feel no more? How useless to ask these questions! Mr. Blake has given me a new interest in life. Let that be enough, without seeking to know what the new interest is.
June 17th.—Before breakfast, this morning, Mr. Candy informed me that he was going away for a fortnight, on a visit to a friend in the south of England. He gave me as many special directions, poor fellow, about the patients, as if he still had the large practice which he possessed before he was taken ill. The practice is worth little enough now! Other doctors have superseded HIM; and nobody who can help it will employ me.
It is perhaps fortunate that he is to be away just at this time. He would have been mortified if I had not informed him of the experiment which I am going to try with Mr. Blake. And I hardly know what undesirable results might not have happened, if I had taken him into my confidence. Better as it is. Unquestionably, better as it is.
The post brought me Miss Verinder’s answer, after Mr. Candy had left the house.
A charming letter! It gives me the highest opinion of her. There is no attempt to conceal the interest that she feels in our proceedings. She tells me, in the prettiest manner, that my letter has satisfied her of Mr. Blake’s innocence, without the slightest need (so far as she is concerned) of putting my assertion to the proof. She even upbraids herself—most undeservedly, poor thing!—for not having divined at the time what the true solution of the mystery might really be. The motive underlying all this proceeds evidently from something more than a generous eagerness to make atonement for a wrong which she has innocently inflicted on another person. It is plain that she has loved him, throughout the estrangement between them. In more than one place the rapture of discovering that he has deserved to be loved, breaks its way innocently through the stoutest formalities of pen and ink, and even defies the stronger restraint still of writing to a stranger. Is it possible (I ask myself, in reading this delightful letter) that I, of all men in the world, am chosen to be the means of bringing these two young people together again? My own happiness has been trampled under foot; my own love has been torn from me. Shall I live to see a happiness of others, which is of my making—a love renewed, which is of my bringing back? Oh merciful Death, let me see it before your arms enfold me, before your voice whispers to me, “Rest at last!”
There are two requests contained in the letter. One of them prevents me from showing it to Mr. Franklin Blake. I am authorised to tell him that Miss Verinder willingly consents to place her house at our disposal; and, that said, I am desired to add no more.
So far, it is easy to comply with her wishes. But the second request embarrasses me seriously.
Not content with having written to Mr. Betteredge, instructing him to carry out whatever directions I may have to give, Miss Verinder asks leave to assist me, by personally superintending the restoration of her own sitting-room. She only waits a word of reply from me to make the journey to Yorkshire, and to be present as one of the witnesses on the night when the opium is tried for the second time.
Here, again, there is a motive under the surface; and, here again, I fancy that I can find it out.
What she has forbidden me to tell Mr. Franklin Blake, she is (as I interpret it) eager to tell him with her own lips, BEFORE he is put to the test which is to vindicate his character in the eyes of other people. I understand and admire this generous anxiety to acquit him, without waiting until his innocence may, or may not, be proved. It is the atonement that she is longing to make, poor girl, after having innocently and inevitably wronged him. But the thing cannot be done. I have no sort of doubt that the agitation which a meeting between them would produce on both sides—reviving dormant feelings, appealing to old memories, awakening new hopes—would, in their effect on the mind of Mr. Blake, be almost certainly fatal to the success of our experiment. It is hard enough, as things are, to reproduce in him the conditions as they existed, or nearly as they existed, last year. With new interests and new emotions to agitate him, the attempt would be simply useless.
And yet, knowing this, I cannot find it in my heart to disappoint her. I must try if I can discover some new arrangement, before post-time, which will allow me to say Yes to Miss Verinder, without damage to the service which I have bound myself to render to Mr. Franklin Blake.
Two o’clock.—I have just returned from my round of medical visits; having begun, of course, by calling at the hotel.
Mr. Blake’s report of the night is the same as before. He has had some intervals of broken sleep, and no more. But he feels it less to-day, having slept after yesterday’s dinner. This after-dinner sleep is the result, no doubt, of the ride which I advised him to take. I fear I shall have to curtail his restorative exercise in the fresh air. He must not be too well; he must not be too ill. It is a case (as a sailor would say) of very fine steering.
He has not heard yet from Mr. Bruff. I found him eager to know if I had received any answer from Miss Verinder.
I told him exactly what I was permitted to tell, and no more. It was quite needless to invent excuses for not showing him the letter. He told me bitterly enough, poor fellow, that he understood the delicacy which disinclined me to produce it. “She consents, of course, as a matter of common courtesy and common justice,” he said. “But she keeps her own opinion of me, and waits to see the result.” I was sorely tempted to hint that he was now wronging her as she had wronged him. On reflection, I shrank from forestalling her in the double luxury of surprising and forgiving him.
My visit was a very short one. After the experience of the other night, I have been compelled once more to give up my dose of opium. As a necessary result, the agony of the disease that is in me has got the upper hand again. I felt the attack coming on, and left abruptly, so as not to alarm or distress him. It only lasted a quarter of an hour this time, and it left me strength enough to go on with my work.
Five o’clock.—I have written my reply to Miss Verinder.
The arrangement I have proposed reconciles the interests on both sides, if she will only consent to it. After first stating the objections that there are to a meeting between Mr. Blake and herself, before the experiment is tried, I have suggested that she should so time her journey as to arrive at the house privately, on the evening when we make the attempt. Travelling by the afternoon train from London, she would delay her arrival until nine o’clock. At that hour, I have undertaken to see Mr. Blake safely into his bedchamber; and so to leave Miss Verinder free to occupy her own rooms until the time comes for administering the laudanum. When that has been done, there can be no objection to her watching the result, with the rest of us. On the next morning, she shall show Mr. Blake (if she likes) her correspondence with me, and shall satisfy him in that way that he was acquitted in her estimation, before the question of his innocence was put to the proof.
In that sense, I have written to her. This is all that I can do to-day. To-morrow I must see Mr. Betteredge, and give the necessary directions for reopening the house.
June 18th.—Late again, in calling on Mr. Franklin Blake. More of that horrible pain in the early morning; followed, this time, by complete prostration, for some hours. I foresee, in spite of the penalties which it exacts from me, that I shall have to return to the opium for the hundredth time. If I had only myself to think of, I should prefer the sharp pains to the frightful dreams. But the physical suffering exhausts me. If I let myself sink, it may end in my becoming useless to Mr. Blake at the time when he wants me most.
It was nearly one o’clock before I could get to the hotel to-day. The visit, even in my shattered condition, proved to be a most amusing one—thanks entirely to the presence on the scene of Gabriel Betteredge.
I found him in the room, when I went in. He withdrew to the window and looked out, while I put my first customary question to my patient. Mr. Blake had slept badly again, and he felt the loss of rest this morning more than he had felt it yet.
I asked next if he had heard from Mr. Bruff.
A letter had reached him that morning. Mr. Bruff expressed the strongest disapproval of the course which his friend and client was taking under my advice. It was mischievous—for it excited hopes that might never be realised. It was quite unintelligible to HIS mind, except that it looked like a piece of trickery, akin to the trickery of mesmerism, clairvoyance, and the like. It unsettled Miss Verinder’s house, and it would end in unsettling Miss Verinder herself. He had put the case (without mentioning names) to an eminent physician; and the eminent physician had smiled, had shaken his head, and had said—nothing. On these grounds, Mr. Bruff entered his protest, and left it there.
My next inquiry related to the subject of the Diamond. Had the lawyer produced any evidence to prove that the jewel was in London?
No, the lawyer had simply declined to discuss the question. He was himself satisfied that the Moonstone had been pledged to Mr. Luker. His eminent absent friend, Mr. Murthwaite (whose consummate knowledge of the Indian character no one could deny), was satisfied also. Under these circumstances, and with the many demands already made on him, he must decline entering into any disputes on the subject of evidence. Time would show; and Mr. Bruff was willing to wait for time.
It was quite plain—even if Mr. Blake had not made it plainer still by reporting the substance of the letter, instead of reading what was actually written—that distrust of me was at the bottom of all this. Having myself foreseen that result, I was neither mortified nor surprised. I asked Mr. Blake if his friend’s protest had shaken him. He answered emphatically, that it had not produced the slightest effect on his mind. I was free after that to dismiss Mr. Bruff from consideration—and I did dismiss him accordingly.
A pause in the talk between us, followed—and Gabriel Betteredge came out from his retirement at the window.
“Can you favour me with your attention, sir?” he inquired, addressing himself to me.
“I am quite at your service,” I answered.
Betteredge took a chair and seated himself at the table. He produced a huge old-fashioned leather pocket-book, with a pencil of dimensions to match. Having put on his spectacles, he opened the pocket-book, at a blank page, and addressed himself to me once more.
“I have lived,” said Betteredge, looking at me sternly, “nigh on fifty years in the service of my late lady. I was page-boy before that, in the service of the old lord, her father. I am now somewhere between seventy and eighty years of age—never mind exactly where! I am reckoned to have got as pretty a knowledge and experience of the world as most men. And what does it all end in? It ends, Mr. Ezra Jennings, in a conjuring trick being performed on Mr. Franklin Blake, by a doctor’s assistant with a bottle of laudanum—and by the living jingo, I’m appointed, in my old age, to be conjurer’s boy!”
Mr. Blake burst out laughing. I attempted to speak. Betteredge held up his hand, in token that he had not done yet.
“Not a word, Mr. Jennings!” he said, “It don’t want a word, sir, from you. I have got my principles, thank God. If an order comes to me, which is own brother to an order come from Bedlam, it don’t matter. So long as I get it from my master or mistress, as the case may be, I obey it. I may have my own opinion, which is also, you will please to remember, the opinion of Mr. Bruff—the Great Mr. Bruff!” said Betteredge, raising his voice, and shaking his head at me solemnly. “It don’t matter; I withdraw my opinion, for all that. My young lady says, ‘Do it.’ And I say, ‘Miss, it shall be done.’ Here I am, with my book and my pencil—the latter not pointed so well as I could wish, but when Christians take leave of their senses, who is to expect that pencils will keep their points? Give me your orders, Mr. Jennings. I’ll have them in writing, sir. I’m determined not to be behind ‘em, or before ‘em, by so much as a hair’s breadth. I’m a blind agent—that’s what I am. A blind agent!” repeated Betteredge, with infinite relish of his own description of himself.
“I am very sorry,” I began, “that you and I don’t agree——”
“Don’t bring ME, into it!” interposed Betteredge. “This is not a matter of agreement, it’s a matter of obedience. Issue your directions, sir—issue your directions!”
Mr. Blake made me a sign to take him at his word. I “issued my directions” as plainly and as gravely as I could.
“I wish certain parts of the house to be reopened,” I said, “and to be furnished, exactly as they were furnished at this time last year.”
Betteredge gave his imperfectly-pointed pencil a preliminary lick with his tongue. “Name the parts, Mr. Jennings!” he said loftily.
“First, the inner hall, leading to the chief staircase.”
“‘First, the inner hall,’” Betteredge wrote. “Impossible to furnish that, sir, as it was furnished last year—to begin with.”
“Because there was a stuffed buzzard, Mr. Jennings, in the hall last year. When the family left, the buzzard was put away with the other things. When the buzzard was put away—he burst.”
“We will except the buzzard then.”
Betteredge took a note of the exception. “‘The inner hall to be furnished again, as furnished last year. A burst buzzard alone excepted.’ Please to go on, Mr. Jennings.”
“The carpet to be laid down on the stairs, as before.”
“‘The carpet to be laid down on the stairs, as before.’ Sorry to disappoint you, sir. But that can’t be done either.”
“Because the man who laid that carpet down is dead, Mr. Jennings—and the like of him for reconciling together a carpet and a corner, is not to be found in all England, look where you may.”
“Very well. We must try the next best man in England.”
Betteredge took another note; and I went on issuing my directions.
“Miss Verinder’s sitting-room to be restored exactly to what it was last year. Also, the corridor leading from the sitting-room to the first landing. Also, the second corridor, leading from the second landing to the best bedrooms. Also, the bedroom occupied last June by Mr. Franklin Blake.”
Betteredge’s blunt pencil followed me conscientiously, word by word. “Go on, sir,” he said, with sardonic gravity. “There’s a deal of writing left in the point of this pencil yet.”
I told him that I had no more directions to give. “Sir,” said Betteredge, “in that case, I have a point or two to put on my own behalf.” He opened the pocket-book at a new page, and gave the inexhaustible pencil another preliminary lick.
“I wish to know,” he began, “whether I may, or may not, wash my hands——”
“You may decidedly,” said Mr. Blake. “I’ll ring for the waiter.”
“——of certain responsibilities,” pursued Betteredge, impenetrably declining to see anybody in the room but himself and me. “As to Miss Verinder’s sitting-room, to begin with. When we took up the carpet last year, Mr. Jennings, we found a surprising quantity of pins. Am I responsible for putting back the pins?”
Betteredge made a note of that concession, on the spot.
“As to the first corridor next,” he resumed. “When we moved the ornaments in that part, we moved a statue of a fat naked child—profanely described in the catalogue of the house as ‘Cupid, god of Love.’ He had two wings last year, in the fleshy part of his shoulders. My eye being off him, for the moment, he lost one of them. Am I responsible for Cupid’s wing?”
I made another concession, and Betteredge made another note.
“As to the second corridor,” he went on. “There having been nothing in it, last year, but the doors of the rooms (to every one of which I can swear, if necessary), my mind is easy, I admit, respecting that part of the house only. But, as to Mr. Franklin’s bedroom (if THAT is to be put back to what it was before), I want to know who is responsible for keeping it in a perpetual state of litter, no matter how often it may be set right—his trousers here, his towels there, and his French novels everywhere. I say, who is responsible for untidying the tidiness of Mr. Franklin’s room, him or me?”
Mr. Blake declared that he would assume the whole responsibility with the greatest pleasure. Betteredge obstinately declined to listen to any solution of the difficulty, without first referring it to my sanction and approval. I accepted Mr. Blake’s proposal; and Betteredge made a last entry in the pocket-book to that effect.
“Look in when you like, Mr. Jennings, beginning from to-morrow,” he said, getting on his legs. “You will find me at work, with the necessary persons to assist me. I respectfully beg to thank you, sir, for overlooking the case of the stuffed buzzard, and the other case of the Cupid’s wing—as also for permitting me to wash my hands of all responsibility in respect of the pins on the carpet, and the litter in Mr. Franklin’s room. Speaking as a servant, I am deeply indebted to you. Speaking as a man, I consider you to be a person whose head is full of maggots, and I take up my testimony against your experiment as a delusion and a snare. Don’t be afraid, on that account, of my feelings as a man getting in the way of my duty as a servant! You shall be obeyed. The maggots notwithstanding, sir, you shall be obeyed. If it ends in your setting the house on fire, Damme if I send for the engines, unless you ring the bell and order them first!”
With that farewell assurance, he made me a bow, and walked out of the room.
“Do you think we can depend on him?” I asked.
“Implicitly,” answered Mr. Blake. “When we go to the house, we shall find nothing neglected, and nothing forgotten.”
June 19th.—Another protest against our contemplated proceedings! From a lady this time.
The morning’s post brought me two letters. One from Miss Verinder, consenting, in the kindest manner, to the arrangement that I have proposed. The other from the lady under whose care she is living—one Mrs. Merridew.
Mrs. Merridew presents her compliments, and does not pretend to understand the subject on which I have been corresponding with Miss Verinder, in its scientific bearings. Viewed in its social bearings, however, she feels free to pronounce an opinion. I am probably, Mrs. Merridew thinks, not aware that Miss Verinder is barely nineteen years of age. To allow a young lady, at her time of life, to be present (without a “chaperone”) in a house full of men among whom a medical experiment is being carried on, is an outrage on propriety which Mrs. Merridew cannot possibly permit. If the matter is allowed to proceed, she will feel it to be her duty—at a serious sacrifice of her own personal convenience—to accompany Miss Verinder to Yorkshire. Under these circumstances, she ventures to request that I will kindly reconsider the subject; seeing that Miss Verinder declines to be guided by any opinion but mine. Her presence cannot possibly be necessary; and a word from me, to that effect, would relieve both Mrs. Merridew and myself of a very unpleasant responsibility.
Translated from polite commonplace into plain English, the meaning of this is, as I take it, that Mrs. Merridew stands in mortal fear of the opinion of the world. She has unfortunately appealed to the very last man in existence who has any reason to regard that opinion with respect. I won’t disappoint Miss Verinder; and I won’t delay a reconciliation between two young people who love each other, and who have been parted too long already. Translated from plain English into polite commonplace, this means that Mr. Jennings presents his compliments to Mrs. Merridew, and regrets that he cannot feel justified in interfering any farther in the matter.
Mr. Blake’s report of himself, this morning, was the same as before. We determined not to disturb Betteredge by overlooking him at the house to-day. To-morrow will be time enough for our first visit of inspection.
June 20th.—Mr. Blake is beginning to feel his continued restlessness at night. The sooner the rooms are refurnished, now, the better.
On our way to the house, this morning, he consulted me, with some nervous impatience and irresolution, about a letter (forwarded to him from London) which he had received from Sergeant Cuff.
The Sergeant writes from Ireland. He acknowledges the receipt (through his housekeeper) of a card and message which Mr. Blake left at his residence near Dorking, and announces his return to England as likely to take place in a week or less. In the meantime, he requests to be favoured with Mr. Blake’s reasons for wishing to speak to him (as stated in the message) on the subject of the Moonstone. If Mr. Blake can convict him of having made any serious mistake, in the course of his last year’s inquiry concerning the Diamond, he will consider it a duty (after the liberal manner in which he was treated by the late Lady Verinder) to place himself at that gentleman’s disposal. If not, he begs permission to remain in his retirement, surrounded by the peaceful horticultural attractions of a country life.
After reading the letter, I had no hesitation in advising Mr. Blake to inform Sergeant Cuff, in reply, of all that had happened since the inquiry was suspended last year, and to leave him to draw his own conclusions from the plain facts.
On second thoughts I also suggested inviting the Sergeant to be present at the experiment, in the event of his returning to England in time to join us. He would be a valuable witness to have, in any case; and, if I proved to be wrong in believing the Diamond to be hidden in Mr. Blake’s room, his advice might be of great importance, at a future stage of the proceedings over which I could exercise no control. This last consideration appeared to decide Mr. Blake. He promised to follow my advice.
The sound of the hammer informed us that the work of re-furnishing was in full progress, as we entered the drive that led to the house.
Betteredge, attired for the occasion in a fisherman’s red cap, and an apron of green baize, met us in the outer hall. The moment he saw me, he pulled out the pocket-book and pencil, and obstinately insisted on taking notes of everything that I said to him. Look where we might, we found, as Mr. Blake had foretold that the work was advancing as rapidly and as intelligently as it was possible to desire. But there was still much to be done in the inner hall, and in Miss Verinder’s room. It seemed doubtful whether the house would be ready for us before the end of the week.
Having congratulated Betteredge on the progress that he had made (he persisted in taking notes every time I opened my lips; declining, at the same time, to pay the slightest attention to anything said by Mr. Blake); and having promised to return for a second visit of inspection in a day or two, we prepared to leave the house, going out by the back way. Before we were clear of the passages downstairs, I was stopped by Betteredge, just as I was passing the door which led into his own room.
“Could I say two words to you in private?” he asked, in a mysterious whisper.
I consented of course. Mr. Blake walked on to wait for me in the garden, while I accompanied Betteredge into his room. I fully anticipated a demand for certain new concessions, following the precedent already established in the cases of the stuffed buzzard, and the Cupid’s wing. To my great surprise, Betteredge laid his hand confidentially on my arm, and put this extraordinary question to me:
“Mr. Jennings, do you happen to be acquainted with ROBINSON CRUSOE?”
I answered that I had read ROBINSON CRUSOE when I was a child.
“Not since then?” inquired Betteredge.
“Not since then.”
He fell back a few steps, and looked at me with an expression of compassionate curiosity, tempered by superstitious awe.
“He has not read ROBINSON CRUSOE since he was a child,” said Betteredge, speaking to himself—not to me. “Let’s try how ROBINSON CRUSOE strikes him now!”
He unlocked a cupboard in a corner, and produced a dirty and dog’s-eared book, which exhaled a strong odour of stale tobacco as he turned over the leaves. Having found a passage of which he was apparently in search, he requested me to join him in the corner; still mysteriously confidential, and still speaking under his breath.
“In respect to this hocus-pocus of yours, sir, with the laudanum and Mr. Franklin Blake,” he began. “While the workpeople are in the house, my duty as a servant gets the better of my feelings as a man. When the workpeople are gone, my feelings as a man get the better of my duty as a servant. Very good. Last night, Mr. Jennings, it was borne in powerfully on my mind that this new medical enterprise of yours would end badly. If I had yielded to that secret Dictate, I should have put all the furniture away again with my own hand, and have warned the workmen off the premises when they came the next morning.”
“I am glad to find, from what I have seen up-stairs,” I said, “that you resisted the secret Dictate.”
“Resisted isn’t the word,” answered Betteredge. “Wrostled is the word. I wrostled, sir, between the silent orders in my bosom pulling me one way, and the written orders in my pocket-book pushing me the other, until (saving your presence) I was in a cold sweat. In that dreadful perturbation of mind and laxity of body, to what remedy did I apply? To the remedy, sir, which has never failed me yet for the last thirty years and more—to This Book!”
He hit the book a sounding blow with his open hand, and struck out of it a stronger smell of stale tobacco than ever.
“What did I find here,” pursued Betteredge, “at the first page I opened? This awful bit, sir, page one hundred and seventy-eight, as follows.—‘Upon these, and many like Reflections, I afterwards made it a certain rule with me, That whenever I found those secret Hints or Pressings of my Mind, to doing, or not doing any Thing that presented; or to going this Way, or that Way, I never failed to obey the secret Dictate.’ As I live by bread, Mr. Jennings, those were the first words that met my eye, exactly at the time when I myself was setting the secret Dictate at defiance! You don’t see anything at all out of the common in that, do you, sir?”
“I see a coincidence—nothing more.”
“You don’t feel at all shaken, Mr. Jennings, in respect to this medical enterprise of yours?
“Not the least in the world.”
Betteredge stared hard at me, in dead silence. He closed the book with great deliberation; he locked it up again in the cupboard with extraordinary care; he wheeled round, and stared hard at me once more. Then he spoke.
“Sir,” he said gravely, “there are great allowances to be made for a man who has not read ROBINSON CRUSOE since he was a child. I wish you good morning.”
He opened his door with a low bow, and left me at liberty to find my own way into the garden. I met Mr. Blake returning to the house.
“You needn’t tell me what has happened,” he said. “Betteredge has played his last card: he has made another prophetic discovery in ROBINSON CRUSOE. Have you humoured his favourite delusion? No? You have let him see that you don’t believe in ROBINSON CRUSOE? Mr. Jennings! you have fallen to the lowest possible place in Betteredge’s estimation. Say what you like, and do what you like, for the future. You will find that he won’t waste another word on you now.”
June 21st.—A short entry must suffice in my journal to-day.
Mr. Blake has had the worst night that he has passed yet. I have been obliged, greatly against my will, to prescribe for him. Men of his sensitive organisation are fortunately quick in feeling the effect of remedial measures. Otherwise, I should be inclined to fear that he will be totally unfit for the experiment when the time comes to try it.
As for myself, after some little remission of my pains for the last two days I had an attack this morning, of which I shall say nothing but that it has decided me to return to the opium. I shall close this book, and take my full dose—five hundred drops.
June 22nd.—Our prospects look better to-day. Mr. Blake’s nervous suffering is greatly allayed. He slept a little last night. MY night, thanks to the opium, was the night of a man who is stunned. I can’t say that I woke this morning; the fitter expression would be, that I recovered my senses.
We drove to the house to see if the refurnishing was done. It will be completed to-morrow—Saturday. As Mr. Blake foretold, Betteredge raised no further obstacles. From first to last, he was ominously polite, and ominously silent.
My medical enterprise (as Betteredge calls it) must now, inevitably, be delayed until Monday next. To-morrow evening the workmen will be late in the house. On the next day, the established Sunday tyranny which is one of the institutions of this free country, so times the trains as to make it impossible to ask anybody to travel to us from London. Until Monday comes, there is nothing to be done but to watch Mr. Blake carefully, and to keep him, if possible, in the same state in which I find him to-day.
In the meanwhile, I have prevailed on him to write to Mr. Bruff, making a point of it that he shall be present as one of the witnesses. I especially choose the lawyer, because he is strongly prejudiced against us. If we convince HIM, we place our victory beyond the possibility of dispute.
Mr. Blake has also written to Sergeant Cuff; and I have sent a line to Miss Verinder. With these, and with old Betteredge (who is really a person of importance in the family) we shall have witnesses enough for the purpose—without including Mrs. Merridew, if Mrs. Merridew persists in sacrificing herself to the opinion of the world.
June 23rd.—The vengeance of the opium overtook me again last night. No matter; I must go on with it now till Monday is past and gone.
Mr. Blake is not so well again to-day. At two this morning, he confesses that he opened the drawer in which his cigars are put away. He only succeeded in locking it up again by a violent effort. His next proceeding, in case of temptation, was to throw the key out of window. The waiter brought it in this morning, discovered at the bottom of an empty cistern—such is Fate! I have taken possession of the key until Tuesday next.
June 24th.—Mr. Blake and I took a long drive in an open carriage. We both felt beneficially the blessed influence of the soft summer air. I dined with him at the hotel. To my great relief—for I found him in an over-wrought, over-excited state this morning—he had two hours’ sound sleep on the sofa after dinner. If he has another bad night, now—I am not afraid of the consequence.
June 25th, Monday.—The day of the experiment! It is five o’clock in the afternoon. We have just arrived at the house.
The first and foremost question, is the question of Mr. Blake’s health.
So far as it is possible for me to judge, he promises (physically speaking) to be quite as susceptible to the action of the opium to-night as he was at this time last year. He is, this afternoon, in a state of nervous sensitiveness which just stops short of nervous irritation. He changes colour readily; his hand is not quite steady; and he starts at chance noises, and at unexpected appearances of persons and things.
These results have all been produced by deprivation of sleep, which is in its turn the nervous consequence of a sudden cessation in the habit of smoking, after that habit has been carried to an extreme. Here are the same causes at work again, which operated last year; and here are, apparently, the same effects. Will the parallel still hold good, when the final test has been tried? The events of the night must decide.
While I write these lines, Mr. Blake is amusing himself at the billiard table in the inner hall, practising different strokes in the game, as he was accustomed to practise them when he was a guest in this house in June last. I have brought my journal here, partly with a view to occupying the idle hours which I am sure to have on my hands between this and to-morrow morning; partly in the hope that something may happen which it may be worth my while to place on record at the time.
Have I omitted anything, thus far? A glance at yesterday’s entry shows me that I have forgotten to note the arrival of the morning’s post. Let me set this right before I close these leaves for the present, and join Mr. Blake.
I received a few lines then, yesterday, from Miss Verinder. She has arranged to travel by the afternoon train, as I recommended. Mrs. Merridew has insisted on accompanying her. The note hints that the old lady’s generally excellent temper is a little ruffled, and requests all due indulgence for her, in consideration of her age and her habits. I will endeavour, in my relations with Mrs. Merridew, to emulate the moderation which Betteredge displays in his relations with me. He received us to-day, portentously arrayed in his best black suit, and his stiffest white cravat. Whenever he looks my way, he remembers that I have not read ROBINSON CRUSOE since I was a child, and he respectfully pities me.
Yesterday, also, Mr. Blake had the lawyer’s answer. Mr. Bruff accepts the invitation—under protest. It is, he thinks, clearly necessary that a gentleman possessed of the average allowance of common sense, should accompany Miss Verinder to the scene of, what we will venture to call, the proposed exhibition. For want of a better escort, Mr. Bruff himself will be that gentleman.—So here is poor Miss Verinder provided with two “chaperones.” It is a relief to think that the opinion of the world must surely be satisfied with this!
Nothing has been heard of Sergeant Cuff. He is no doubt still in Ireland. We must not expect to see him to-night.
Betteredge has just come in, to say that Mr. Blake has asked for me. I must lay down my pen for the present.
Seven o’clock.—We have been all over the refurnished rooms and staircases again; and we have had a pleasant stroll in the shrubbery, which was Mr. Blake’s favourite walk when he was here last. In this way, I hope to revive the old impressions of places and things as vividly as possible in his mind.
We are now going to dine, exactly at the hour at which the birthday dinner was given last year. My object, of course, is a purely medical one in this case. The laudanum must find the process of digestion, as nearly as may be, where the laudanum found it last year.
At a reasonable time after dinner I propose to lead the conversation back again—as inartificially as I can—to the subject of the Diamond, and of the Indian conspiracy to steal it. When I have filled his mind with these topics, I shall have done all that it is in my power to do, before the time comes for giving him the second dose.
Half-past eight.—I have only this moment found an opportunity of attending to the most important duty of all; the duty of looking in the family medicine chest, for the laudanum which Mr. Candy used last year.
Ten minutes since, I caught Betteredge at an unoccupied moment, and told him what I wanted. Without a word of objection, without so much as an attempt to produce his pocket-book, he led the way (making allowances for me at every step) to the store-room in which the medicine chest is kept.
I discovered the bottle, carefully guarded by a glass stopper tied over with leather. The preparation which it contained was, as I had anticipated, the common Tincture of Opium. Finding the bottle still well filled, I have resolved to use it, in preference to employing either of the two preparations with which I had taken care to provide myself, in case of emergency.
The question of the quantity which I am to administer presents certain difficulties. I have thought it over, and have decided on increasing the dose.
My notes inform me that Mr. Candy only administered twenty-five minims. This is a small dose to have produced the results which followed—even in the case of a person so sensitive as Mr. Blake. I think it highly probable that Mr. Candy gave more than he supposed himself to have given—knowing, as I do, that he has a keen relish of the pleasures of the table, and that he measured out the laudanum on the birthday, after dinner. In any case, I shall run the risk of enlarging the dose to forty minims. On this occasion, Mr. Blake knows beforehand that he is going to take the laudanum—which is equivalent, physiologically speaking, to his having (unconsciously to himself) a certain capacity in him to resist the effects. If my view is right, a larger quantity is therefore imperatively required, this time, to repeat the results which the smaller quantity produced, last year.
Ten o’clock.—The witnesses, or the company (which shall I call them?) reached the house an hour since.
A little before nine o’clock, I prevailed on Mr. Blake to accompany me to his bedroom; stating, as a reason, that I wished him to look round it, for the last time, in order to make quite sure that nothing had been forgotten in the refurnishing of the room. I had previously arranged with Betteredge, that the bedchamber prepared for Mr. Bruff should be the next room to Mr. Blake’s, and that I should be informed of the lawyer’s arrival by a knock at the door. Five minutes after the clock in the hall had struck nine, I heard the knock; and, going out immediately, met Mr. Bruff in the corridor.
My personal appearance (as usual) told against me. Mr. Bruff’s distrust looked at me plainly enough out of Mr. Bruff’s eyes. Being well used to producing this effect on strangers, I did not hesitate a moment in saying what I wanted to say, before the lawyer found his way into Mr. Blake’s room.
“You have travelled here, I believe, in company with Mrs. Merridew and Miss Verinder?” I said.
“Yes,” answered Mr. Bruff, as drily as might be.
“Miss Verinder has probably told you, that I wish her presence in the house (and Mrs. Merridew’s presence of course) to be kept a secret from Mr. Blake, until my experiment on him has been tried first?”
“I know that I am to hold my tongue, sir!” said Mr. Bruff, impatiently. “Being habitually silent on the subject of human folly, I am all the readier to keep my lips closed on this occasion. Does that satisfy you?”
I bowed, and left Betteredge to show him to his room. Betteredge gave me one look at parting, which said, as if in so many words, “You have caught a Tartar, Mr. Jennings—and the name of him is Bruff.”
It was next necessary to get the meeting over with the two ladies. I descended the stairs—a little nervously, I confess—on my way to Miss Verinder’s sitting-room.
The gardener’s wife (charged with looking after the accommodation of the ladies) met me in the first-floor corridor. This excellent woman treats me with an excessive civility which is plainly the offspring of down-right terror. She stares, trembles, and curtseys, whenever I speak to her. On my asking for Miss Verinder, she stared, trembled, and would no doubt have curtseyed next, if Miss Verinder herself had not cut that ceremony short, by suddenly opening her sitting-room door.
“Is that Mr. Jennings?” she asked.
Before I could answer, she came out eagerly to speak to me in the corridor. We met under the light of a lamp on a bracket. At the first sight of me, Miss Verinder stopped, and hesitated. She recovered herself instantly, coloured for a moment—and then, with a charming frankness, offered me her hand.
“I can’t treat you like a stranger, Mr. Jennings,” she said. “Oh, if you only knew how happy your letters have made me!”
She looked at my ugly wrinkled face, with a bright gratitude so new to me in my experience of my fellow-creatures, that I was at a loss how to answer her. Nothing had prepared me for her kindness and her beauty. The misery of many years has not hardened my heart, thank God. I was as awkward and as shy with her, as if I had been a lad in my teens.
“Where is he now?” she asked, giving free expression to her one dominant interest—the interest in Mr. Blake. “What is he doing? Has he spoken of me? Is he in good spirits? How does he bear the sight of the house, after what happened in it last year? When are you going to give him the laudanum? May I see you pour it out? I am so interested; I am so excited—I have ten thousand things to say to you, and they all crowd together so that I don’t know what to say first. Do you wonder at the interest I take in this?”
“No,” I said. “I venture to think that I thoroughly understand it.”
She was far above the paltry affectation of being confused. She answered me as she might have answered a brother or a father.
“You have relieved me of indescribable wretchedness; you have given me a new life. How can I be ungrateful enough to have any concealment from you? I love him,” she said simply, “I have loved him from first to last—even when I was wronging him in my own thoughts; even when I was saying the hardest and the cruellest words to him. Is there any excuse for me, in that? I hope there is—I am afraid it is the only excuse I have. When to-morrow comes, and he knows that I am in the house, do you think——”
She stopped again, and looked at me very earnestly.
“When to-morrow comes,” I said, “I think you have only to tell him what you have just told me.”
Her face brightened; she came a step nearer to me. Her fingers trifled nervously with a flower which I had picked in the garden, and which I had put into the button-hole of my coat.
“You have seen a great deal of him lately,” she said. “Have you, really and truly, seen THAT?”
“Really and truly,” I answered. “I am quite certain of what will happen to-morrow. I wish I could feel as certain of what will happen to-night.”
At that point in the conversation, we were interrupted by the appearance of Betteredge with the tea-tray. He gave me another significant look as he passed on into the sitting-room. “Aye! aye! make your hay while the sun shines. The Tartar’s upstairs, Mr. Jennings—the Tartar’s upstairs!”
We followed him into the room. A little old lady, in a corner, very nicely dressed, and very deeply absorbed over a smart piece of embroidery, dropped her work in her lap, and uttered a faint little scream at the first sight of my gipsy complexion and my piebald hair.
“Mrs. Merridew,” said Miss Verinder, “this is Mr. Jennings.”
“I beg Mr. Jennings’s pardon,” said the old lady, looking at Miss Verinder, and speaking at me. “Railway travelling always makes me nervous. I am endeavouring to quiet my mind by occupying myself as usual. I don’t know whether my embroidery is out of place, on this extraordinary occasion. If it interferes with Mr. Jennings’s medical views, I shall be happy to put it away of course.”
I hastened to sanction the presence of the embroidery, exactly as I had sanctioned the absence of the burst buzzard and the Cupid’s wing. Mrs. Merridew made an effort—a grateful effort—to look at my hair. No! it was not to be done. Mrs. Merridew looked back again at Miss Verinder.
“If Mr. Jennings will permit me,” pursued the old lady, “I should like to ask a favour. Mr. Jennings is about to try a scientific experiment to-night. I used to attend scientific experiments when I was a girl at school. They invariably ended in an explosion. If Mr. Jennings will be so very kind, I should like to be warned of the explosion this time. With a view to getting it over, if possible, before I go to bed.”
I attempted to assure Mrs. Merridew that an explosion was not included in the programme on this occasion.
“No,” said the old lady. “I am much obliged to Mr. Jennings—I am aware that he is only deceiving me for my own good. I prefer plain dealing. I am quite resigned to the explosion—but I DO want to get it over, if possible, before I go to bed.”
Here the door opened, and Mrs. Merridew uttered another little scream. The advent of the explosion? No: only the advent of Betteredge.
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Jennings,” said Betteredge, in his most elaborately confidential manner. “Mr. Franklin wishes to know where you are. Being under your orders to deceive him, in respect to the presence of my young lady in the house, I have said I don’t know. That you will please to observe, was a lie. Having one foot already in the grave, sir, the fewer lies you expect me to tell, the more I shall be indebted to you, when my conscience pricks me and my time comes.”
There was not a moment to be wasted on the purely speculative question of Betteredge’s conscience. Mr. Blake might make his appearance in search of me, unless I went to him at once in his own room. Miss Verinder followed me out into the corridor.
“They seem to be in a conspiracy to persecute you,” she said. “What does it mean?”
“Only the protest of the world, Miss Verinder—on a very small scale—against anything that is new.”
“What are we to do with Mrs. Merridew?”
“Tell her the explosion will take place at nine to-morrow morning.”
“So as to send her to bed?”
“Yes—so as to send her to bed.”
Miss Verinder went back to the sitting-room, and I went upstairs to Mr. Blake.
To my surprise I found him alone; restlessly pacing his room, and a little irritated at being left by himself.
“Where is Mr. Bruff?” I asked.
He pointed to the closed door of communication between the two rooms. Mr. Bruff had looked in on him, for a moment; had attempted to renew his protest against our proceedings; and had once more failed to produce the smallest impression on Mr. Blake. Upon this, the lawyer had taken refuge in a black leather bag, filled to bursting with professional papers. “The serious business of life,” he admitted, “was sadly out of place on such an occasion as the present. But the serious business of life must be carried on, for all that. Mr. Blake would perhaps kindly make allowance for the old-fashioned habits of a practical man. Time was money—and, as for Mr. Jennings, he might depend on it that Mr. Bruff would be forthcoming when called upon.” With that apology, the lawyer had gone back to his own room, and had immersed himself obstinately in his black bag.
I thought of Mrs. Merridew and her embroidery, and of Betteredge and his conscience. There is a wonderful sameness in the solid side of the English character—just as there is a wonderful sameness in the solid expression of the English face.
“When are you going to give me the laudanum?” asked Mr. Blake impatiently.
“You must wait a little longer,” I said. “I will stay and keep you company till the time comes.”
It was then not ten o’clock. Inquiries which I had made, at various times, of Betteredge and Mr. Blake, had led me to the conclusion that the dose of laudanum given by Mr. Candy could not possibly have been administered before eleven. I had accordingly determined not to try the second dose until that time.
We talked a little; but both our minds were preoccupied by the coming ordeal. The conversation soon flagged—then dropped altogether. Mr. Blake idly turned over the books on his bedroom table. I had taken the precaution of looking at them, when we first entered the room. THE GUARDIAN; THE TATLER; Richardson’s PAMELA; Mackenzie’s MAN OF FEELING; Roscoe’s LORENZO DE MEDICI; and Robertson’s CHARLES THE FIFTH—all classical works; all (of course) immeasurably superior to anything produced in later times; and all (from my present point of view) possessing the one great merit of enchaining nobody’s interest, and exciting nobody’s brain. I left Mr. Blake to the composing influence of Standard Literature, and occupied myself in making this entry in my journal.
My watch informs me that it is close on eleven o’clock. I must shut up these leaves once more.
Two o’clock A.M.—The experiment has been tried. With what result, I am now to describe.
At eleven o’clock, I rang the bell for Betteredge, and told Mr. Blake that he might at last prepare himself for bed.
I looked out of the window at the night. It was mild and rainy, resembling, in this respect, the night of the birthday—the twenty-first of June, last year. Without professing to believe in omens, it was at least encouraging to find no direct nervous influences—no stormy or electric perturbations—in the atmosphere. Betteredge joined me at the window, and mysteriously put a little slip of paper into my hand. It contained these lines:
“Mrs. Merridew has gone to bed, on the distinct understanding that the explosion is to take place at nine to-morrow morning, and that I am not to stir out of this part of the house until she comes and sets me free. She has no idea that the chief scene of the experiment is my sitting-room—or she would have remained in it for the whole night! I am alone, and very anxious. Pray let me see you measure out the laudanum; I want to have something to do with it, even in the unimportant character of a mere looker-on.—R.V.”
I followed Betteredge out of the room, and told him to remove the medicine-chest into Miss Verinder’s sitting-room.
The order appeared to take him completely by surprise. He looked as if he suspected me of some occult medical design on Miss Verinder! “Might I presume to ask,” he said, “what my young lady and the medicine-chest have got to do with each other?”
“Stay in the sitting-room, and you will see.”
Betteredge appeared to doubt his own unaided capacity to superintend me effectually, on an occasion when a medicine-chest was included in the proceedings.
“Is there any objection, sir” he asked, “to taking Mr. Bruff into this part of the business?”
“Quite the contrary! I am now going to ask Mr. Bruff to accompany me down-stairs.”
Betteredge withdrew to fetch the medicine-chest, without another word. I went back into Mr. Blake’s room, and knocked at the door of communication. Mr. Bruff opened it, with his papers in his hand—immersed in Law; impenetrable to Medicine.
“I am sorry to disturb you,” I said. “But I am going to prepare the laudanum for Mr. Blake; and I must request you to be present, and to see what I do.”
“Yes?” said Mr. Bruff, with nine-tenths of his attention riveted on his papers, and with one-tenth unwillingly accorded to me. “Anything else?”
“I must trouble you to return here with me, and to see me administer the dose.”
“One thing more. I must put you to the inconvenience of remaining in Mr. Blake’s room, and of waiting to see what happens.”
“Oh, very good!” said Mr. Bruff. “My room, or Mr. Blake’s room—it doesn’t matter which; I can go on with my papers anywhere. Unless you object, Mr. Jennings, to my importing THAT amount of common sense into the proceedings?”
Before I could answer, Mr. Blake addressed himself to the lawyer, speaking from his bed.
“Do you really mean to say that you don’t feel any interest in what we are going to do?” he asked. “Mr. Bruff, you have no more imagination than a cow!”
“A cow is a very useful animal, Mr. Blake,” said the lawyer. With that reply he followed me out of the room, still keeping his papers in his hand.
We found Miss Verinder, pale and agitated, restlessly pacing her sitting-room from end to end. At a table in a corner stood Betteredge, on guard over the medicine-chest. Mr. Bruff sat down on the first chair that he could find, and (emulating the usefulness of the cow) plunged back again into his papers on the spot.
Miss Verinder drew me aside, and reverted instantly to her one all-absorbing interest—her interest in Mr. Blake.
“How is he now?” she asked. “Is he nervous? is he out of temper? Do you think it will succeed? Are you sure it will do no harm?”
“Quite sure. Come, and see me measure it out.”
“One moment! It is past eleven now. How long will it be before anything happens?”
“It is not easy to say. An hour perhaps.”
“I suppose the room must be dark, as it was last year?”
“I shall wait in my bedroom—just as I did before. I shall keep the door a little way open. It was a little way open last year. I will watch the sitting-room door; and the moment it moves, I will blow out my light. It all happened in that way, on my birthday night. And it must all happen again in the same way, musn’t it?”
“Are you sure you can control yourself, Miss Verinder?”
“In HIS interests, I can do anything!” she answered fervently.
One look at her face told me that I could trust her. I addressed myself again to Mr. Bruff.
“I must trouble you to put your papers aside for a moment,” I said.
“Oh, certainly!” He got up with a start—as if I had disturbed him at a particularly interesting place—and followed me to the medicine-chest. There, deprived of the breathless excitement incidental to the practice of his profession, he looked at Betteredge—and yawned wearily.
Miss Verinder joined me with a glass jug of cold water, which she had taken from a side-table. “Let me pour out the water,” she whispered. “I must have a hand in it!”
I measured out the forty minims from the bottle, and poured the laudanum into a medicine glass. “Fill it till it is three parts full,” I said, and handed the glass to Miss Verinder. I then directed Betteredge to lock up the medicine chest; informing him that I had done with it now. A look of unutterable relief overspread the old servant’s countenance. He had evidently suspected me of a medical design on his young lady!
After adding the water as I had directed, Miss Verinder seized a moment—while Betteredge was locking the chest, and while Mr. Bruff was looking back to his papers—and slyly kissed the rim of the medicine glass. “When you give it to him,” said the charming girl, “give it to him on that side!”
I took the piece of crystal which was to represent the Diamond from my pocket, and gave it to her.
“You must have a hand in this, too,” I said. “You must put it where you put the Moonstone last year.”
She led the way to the Indian cabinet, and put the mock Diamond into the drawer which the real Diamond had occupied on the birthday night. Mr. Bruff witnessed this proceeding, under protest, as he had witnessed everything else. But the strong dramatic interest which the experiment was now assuming, proved (to my great amusement) to be too much for Betteredge’s capacity of self restraint. His hand trembled as he held the candle, and he whispered anxiously, “Are you sure, miss, it’s the right drawer?”
I led the way out again, with the laudanum and water in my hand. At the door, I stopped to address a last word to Miss Verinder.
“Don’t be long in putting out the lights,” I said.
“I will put them out at once,” she answered. “And I will wait in my bedroom, with only one candle alight.”
She closed the sitting-room door behind us. Followed by Mr. Bruff and Betteredge, I went back to Mr. Blake’s room.
We found him moving restlessly from side to side of the bed, and wondering irritably whether he was to have the laudanum that night. In the presence of the two witnesses, I gave him the dose, and shook up his pillows, and told him to lie down again quietly and wait.
His bed, provided with light chintz curtains, was placed, with the head against the wall of the room, so as to leave a good open space on either side of it. On one side, I drew the curtains completely—and in the part of the room thus screened from his view, I placed Mr. Bruff and Betteredge, to wait for the result. At the bottom of the bed I half drew the curtains—and placed my own chair at a little distance, so that I might let him see me or not see me, speak to me or not speak to me, just as the circumstances might direct. Having already been informed that he always slept with a light in the room, I placed one of the two lighted candles on a little table at the head of the bed, where the glare of the light would not strike on his eyes. The other candle I gave to Mr. Bruff; the light, in this instance, being subdued by the screen of the chintz curtains. The window was open at the top, so as to ventilate the room. The rain fell softly, the house was quiet. It was twenty minutes past eleven, by my watch, when the preparations were completed, and I took my place on the chair set apart at the bottom of the bed.
Mr. Bruff resumed his papers, with every appearance of being as deeply interested in them as ever. But looking towards him now, I saw certain signs and tokens which told me that the Law was beginning to lose its hold on him at last. The suspended interest of the situation in which we were now placed was slowly asserting its influence even on HIS unimaginative mind. As for Betteredge, consistency of principle and dignity of conduct had become, in his case, mere empty words. He forgot that I was performing a conjuring trick on Mr. Franklin Blake; he forgot that I had upset the house from top to bottom; he forgot that I had not read ROBINSON CRUSOE since I was a child. “For the Lord’s sake, sir,” he whispered to me, “tell us when it will begin to work.”
“Not before midnight,” I whispered back. “Say nothing, and sit still.”
Betteredge dropped to the lowest depth of familiarity with me, without a struggle to save himself. He answered by a wink!
Looking next towards Mr. Blake, I found him as restless as ever in his bed; fretfully wondering why the influence of the laudanum had not begun to assert itself yet. To tell him, in his present humour, that the more he fidgeted and wondered, the longer he would delay the result for which we were now waiting, would have been simply useless. The wiser course to take was to dismiss the idea of the opium from his mind, by leading him insensibly to think of something else.
With this view, I encouraged him to talk to me; contriving so to direct the conversation, on my side, as to lead it back again to the subject which had engaged us earlier in the evening—the subject of the Diamond. I took care to revert to those portions of the story of the Moonstone, which related to the transport of it from London to Yorkshire; to the risk which Mr. Blake had run in removing it from the bank at Frizinghall: and to the unexpected appearance of the Indians at the house, on the evening of the birthday. And I purposely assumed, in referring to these events, to have misunderstood much of what Mr. Blake himself had told me a few hours since. In this way, I set him talking on the subject with which it was now vitally important to fill his mind—without allowing him to suspect that I was making him talk for a purpose. Little by little, he became so interested in putting me right that he forgot to fidget in the bed. His mind was far away from the question of the opium, at the all-important time when his eyes first told me that the opium was beginning to lay its hold on his brain.
I looked at my watch. It wanted five minutes to twelve, when the premonitory symptoms of the working of the laudanum first showed themselves to me.
At this time, no unpractised eyes would have detected any change in him. But, as the minutes of the new morning wore away, the swiftly-subtle progress of the influence began to show itself more plainly. The sublime intoxication of opium gleamed in his eyes; the dew of a stealthy perspiration began to glisten on his face. In five minutes more, the talk which he still kept up with me, failed in coherence. He held steadily to the subject of the Diamond; but he ceased to complete his sentences. A little later, the sentences dropped to single words. Then, there was an interval of silence. Then, he sat up in bed. Then, still busy with the subject of the Diamond, he began to talk again—not to me, but to himself. That change told me that the first stage in the experiment was reached. The stimulant influence of the opium had got him.
The time, now, was twenty-three minutes past twelve. The next half hour, at most, would decide the question of whether he would, or would not, get up from his bed, and leave the room.
In the breathless interest of watching him—in the unutterable triumph of seeing the first result of the experiment declare itself in the manner, and nearly at the time, which I had anticipated—I had utterly forgotten the two companions of my night vigil. Looking towards them now, I saw the Law (as represented by Mr. Bruff’s papers) lying unheeded on the floor. Mr. Bruff himself was looking eagerly through a crevice left in the imperfectly-drawn curtains of the bed. And Betteredge, oblivious of all respect for social distinctions, was peeping over Mr. Bruff’s shoulder.
They both started back, on finding that I was looking at them, like two boys caught out by their schoolmaster in a fault. I signed to them to take off their boots quietly, as I was taking off mine. If Mr. Blake gave us the chance of following him, it was vitally necessary to follow him without noise.
Ten minutes passed—and nothing happened. Then, he suddenly threw the bed-clothes off him. He put one leg out of bed. He waited.
“I wish I had never taken it out of the bank,” he said to himself. “It was safe in the bank.”
My heart throbbed fast; the pulses at my temples beat furiously. The doubt about the safety of the Diamond was, once more, the dominant impression in his brain! On that one pivot, the whole success of the experiment turned. The prospect thus suddenly opened before me was too much for my shattered nerves. I was obliged to look away from him—or I should have lost my self-control.
There was another interval of silence.
When I could trust myself to look back at him he was out of his bed, standing erect at the side of it. The pupils of his eyes were now contracted; his eyeballs gleamed in the light of the candle as he moved his head slowly to and fro. He was thinking; he was doubting—he spoke again.
“How do I know?” he said. “The Indians may be hidden in the house.”
He stopped, and walked slowly to the other end of the room. He turned—waited—came back to the bed.
“It’s not even locked up,” he went on. “It’s in the drawer of her cabinet. And the drawer doesn’t lock.”
He sat down on the side of the bed. “Anybody might take it,” he said.
He rose again restlessly, and reiterated his first words.
“How do I know? The Indians may be hidden in the house.”
He waited again. I drew back behind the half curtain of the bed. He looked about the room, with a vacant glitter in his eyes. It was a breathless moment. There was a pause of some sort. A pause in the action of the opium? a pause in the action of the brain? Who could tell? Everything depended, now, on what he did next.
He laid himself down again on the bed!
A horrible doubt crossed my mind. Was it possible that the sedative action of the opium was making itself felt already? It was not in my experience that it should do this. But what is experience, where opium is concerned? There are probably no two men in existence on whom the drug acts in exactly the same manner. Was some constitutional peculiarity in him, feeling the influence in some new way? Were we to fail on the very brink of success?
No! He got up again abruptly. “How the devil am I to sleep,” he said, “with THIS on my mind?”
He looked at the light, burning on the table at the head of his bed. After a moment, he took the candle in his hand.
I blew out the second candle, burning behind the closed curtains. I drew back, with Mr. Bruff and Betteredge, into the farthest corner by the bed. I signed to them to be silent, as if their lives had depended on it.
We waited—seeing and hearing nothing. We waited, hidden from him by the curtains.
The light which he was holding on the other side of us moved suddenly. The next moment he passed us, swift and noiseless, with the candle in his hand.
He opened the bedroom door, and went out.
We followed him along the corridor. We followed him down the stairs. We followed him along the second corridor. He never looked back; he never hesitated.
He opened the sitting-room door, and went in, leaving it open behind him.
The door was hung (like all the other doors in the house) on large old-fashioned hinges. When it was opened, a crevice was opened between the door and the post. I signed to my two companions to look through this, so as to keep them from showing themselves. I placed myself—outside the door also—on the opposite side. A recess in the wall was at my left hand, in which I could instantly hide myself, if he showed any signs of looking back into the corridor.
He advanced to the middle of the room, with the candle still in his hand: he looked about him—but he never looked back.
I saw the door of Miss Verinder’s bedroom, standing ajar. She had put out her light. She controlled herself nobly. The dim white outline of her summer dress was all that I could see. Nobody who had not known it beforehand would have suspected that there was a living creature in the room. She kept back, in the dark: not a word, not a movement escaped her.
It was now ten minutes past one. I heard, through the dead silence, the soft drip of the rain and the tremulous passage of the night air through the trees.
After waiting irresolute, for a minute or more, in the middle of the room, he moved to the corner near the window, where the Indian cabinet stood.
He put his candle on the top of the cabinet. He opened, and shut, one drawer after another, until he came to the drawer in which the mock Diamond was put. He looked into the drawer for a moment. Then he took the mock Diamond out with his right hand. With the other hand, he took the candle from the top of the cabinet.
He walked back a few steps towards the middle of the room, and stood still again.
Thus far, he had exactly repeated what he had done on the birthday night. Would his next proceeding be the same as the proceeding of last year? Would he leave the room? Would he go back now, as I believed he had gone back then, to his bed-chamber? Would he show us what he had done with the Diamond, when he had returned to his own room?
His first action, when he moved once more, proved to be an action which he had not performed, when he was under the influence of the opium for the first time. He put the candle down on a table, and wandered on a little towards the farther end of the room. There was a sofa there. He leaned heavily on the back of it, with his left hand—then roused himself, and returned to the middle of the room. I could now see his eyes. They were getting dull and heavy; the glitter in them was fast dying out.
The suspense of the moment proved too much for Miss Verinder’s self-control. She advanced a few steps—then stopped again. Mr. Bruff and Betteredge looked across the open doorway at me for the first time. The prevision of a coming disappointment was impressing itself on their minds as well as on mine.
Still, so long as he stood where he was, there was hope. We waited, in unutterable expectation, to see what would happen next.
The next event was decisive. He let the mock Diamond drop out of his hand.
It fell on the floor, before the doorway—plainly visible to him, and to everyone. He made no effort to pick it up: he looked down at it vacantly, and, as he looked, his head sank on his breast. He staggered—roused himself for an instant—walked back unsteadily to the sofa—and sat down on it. He made a last effort; he tried to rise, and sank back. His head fell on the sofa cushions. It was then twenty-five minutes past one o’clock. Before I had put my watch back in my pocket, he was asleep.
It was all over now. The sedative influence had got him; the experiment was at an end.
I entered the room, telling Mr. Bruff and Betteredge that they might follow me. There was no fear of disturbing him. We were free to move and speak.
“The first thing to settle,” I said, “is the question of what we are to do with him. He will probably sleep for the next six or seven hours, at least. It is some distance to carry him back to his own room. When I was younger, I could have done it alone. But my health and strength are not what they were—I am afraid I must ask you to help me.”
Before they could answer, Miss Verinder called to me softly. She met me at the door of her room, with a light shawl, and with the counterpane from her own bed.
“Do you mean to watch him while he sleeps?” she asked.
“Yes, I am not sure enough of the action of the opium in his case to be willing to leave him alone.”
She handed me the shawl and the counterpane.
“Why should you disturb him?” she whispered. “Make his bed on the sofa. I can shut my door, and keep in my room.”
It was infinitely the simplest and the safest way of disposing of him for the night. I mentioned the suggestion to Mr. Bruff and Betteredge—who both approved of my adopting it. In five minutes I had laid him comfortably on the sofa, and had covered him lightly with the counterpane and the shawl. Miss Verinder wished us good night, and closed the door. At my request, we three then drew round the table in the middle of the room, on which the candle was still burning, and on which writing materials were placed.
“Before we separate,” I began, “I have a word to say about the experiment which has been tried to-night. Two distinct objects were to be gained by it. The first of these objects was to prove, that Mr. Blake entered this room, and took the Diamond, last year, acting unconsciously and irresponsibly, under the influence of opium. After what you have both seen, are you both satisfied, so far?”
They answered me in the affirmative, without a moment’s hesitation.
“The second object,” I went on, “was to discover what he did with the Diamond, after he was seen by Miss Verinder to leave her sitting-room with the jewel in his hand, on the birthday night. The gaining of this object depended, of course, on his still continuing exactly to repeat his proceedings of last year. He has failed to do that; and the purpose of the experiment is defeated accordingly. I can’t assert that I am not disappointed at the result—but I can honestly say that I am not surprised by it. I told Mr. Blake from the first, that our complete success in this matter depended on our completely reproducing in him the physical and moral conditions of last year—and I warned him that this was the next thing to a downright impossibility. We have only partially reproduced the conditions, and the experiment has been only partially successful in consequence. It is also possible that I may have administered too large a dose of laudanum. But I myself look upon the first reason that I have given, as the true reason why we have to lament a failure, as well as to rejoice over a success.”
After saying those words, I put the writing materials before Mr. Bruff, and asked him if he had any objection—before we separated for the night—to draw out, and sign, a plain statement of what he had seen. He at once took the pen, and produced the statement with the fluent readiness of a practised hand.
“I owe you this,” he said, signing the paper, “as some atonement for what passed between us earlier in the evening. I beg your pardon, Mr. Jennings, for having doubted you. You have done Franklin Blake an inestimable service. In our legal phrase, you have proved your case.”
Betteredge’s apology was characteristic of the man.
“Mr. Jennings,” he said, “when you read ROBINSON CRUSOE again (which I strongly recommend you to do), you will find that he never scruples to acknowledge it, when he turns out to have been in the wrong. Please to consider me, sir, as doing what Robinson Crusoe did, on the present occasion.” With those words he signed the paper in his turn.
Mr. Bruff took me aside, as we rose from the table.
“One word about the Diamond,” he said. “Your theory is that Franklin Blake hid the Moonstone in his room. My theory is, that the Moonstone is in the possession of Mr. Luker’s bankers in London. We won’t dispute which of us is right. We will only ask, which of us is in a position to put his theory to the test?”
“The test, in my case,” I answered, “has been tried to-night, and has failed.”
“The test, in my case,” rejoined Mr. Bruff, “is still in process of trial. For the last two days I have had a watch set for Mr. Luker at the bank; and I shall cause that watch to be continued until the last day of the month. I know that he must take the Diamond himself out of his bankers’ hands—and I am acting on the chance that the person who has pledged the Diamond may force him to do this by redeeming the pledge. In that case I may be able to lay my hand on the person. If I succeed, I clear up the mystery, exactly at the point where the mystery baffles us now! Do you admit that, so far?”
I admitted it readily.
“I am going back to town by the morning train,” pursued the lawyer. “I may hear, when I return, that a discovery has been made—and it may be of the greatest importance that I should have Franklin Blake at hand to appeal to, if necessary. I intend to tell him, as soon as he wakes, that he must return with me to London. After all that has happened, may I trust to your influence to back me?”
“Certainly!” I said.
Mr. Bruff shook hands with me, and left the room. Betteredge followed him out; I went to the sofa to look at Mr. Blake. He had not moved since I had laid him down and made his bed—he lay locked in a deep and quiet sleep.
While I was still looking at him, I heard the bedroom door softly opened. Once more, Miss Verinder appeared on the threshold, in her pretty summer dress.
“Do me a last favour?” she whispered. “Let me watch him with you.”
I hesitated—not in the interests of propriety; only in the interest of her night’s rest. She came close to me, and took my hand.
“I can’t sleep; I can’t even sit still, in my own room,” she said. “Oh, Mr. Jennings, if you were me, only think how you would long to sit and look at him. Say, yes! Do!”
Is it necessary to mention that I gave way? Surely not!
She drew a chair to the foot of the sofa. She looked at him in a silent ecstasy of happiness, till the tears rose in her eyes. She dried her eyes, and said she would fetch her work. She fetched her work, and never did a single stitch of it. It lay in her lap—she was not even able to look away from him long enough to thread her needle. I thought of my own youth; I thought of the gentle eyes which had once looked love at me. In the heaviness of my heart I turned to my Journal for relief, and wrote in it what is written here.
So we kept our watch together in silence. One of us absorbed in his writing; the other absorbed in her love.
Hour after hour he lay in his deep sleep. The light of the new day grew and grew in the room, and still he never moved.
Towards six o’clock, I felt the warning which told me that my pains were coming back. I was obliged to leave her alone with him for a little while. I said I would go up-stairs, and fetch another pillow for him out of his room. It was not a long attack, this time. In a little while I was able to venture back, and let her see me again.
I found her at the head of the sofa, when I returned. She was just touching his forehead with her lips. I shook my head as soberly as I could, and pointed to her chair. She looked back at me with a bright smile, and a charming colour in her face. “You would have done it,” she whispered, “in my place!”
It is just eight o’clock. He is beginning to move for the first time.
Miss Verinder is kneeling by the side of the sofa. She has so placed herself that when his eyes first open, they must open on her face.
Shall I leave them together?
Eleven o’clock.—The house is empty again. They have arranged it among themselves; they have all gone to London by the ten o’clock train. My brief dream of happiness is over. I have awakened again to the realities of my friendless and lonely life.
I dare not trust myself to write down, the kind words that have been said to me especially by Miss Verinder and Mr. Blake. Besides, it is needless. Those words will come back to me in my solitary hours, and will help me through what is left of the end of my life. Mr. Blake is to write, and tell me what happens in London. Miss Verinder is to return to Yorkshire in the autumn (for her marriage, no doubt); and I am to take a holiday, and be a guest in the house. Oh me, how I felt, as the grateful happiness looked at me out of her eyes, and the warm pressure of her hand said, “This is your doing!”
My poor patients are waiting for me. Back again, this morning, to the old routine! Back again, to-night, to the dreadful alternative between the opium and the pain!
God be praised for His mercy! I have seen a little sunshine—I have had a happy time.