Third Narrative - VIII
Late that evening, I was surprised at my lodgings by a visit from Mr. Bruff.
There was a noticeable change in the lawyer’s manner. It had lost its usual confidence and spirit. He shook hands with me, for the first time in his life, in silence.
“Are you going back to Hampstead?” I asked, by way of saying something.
“I have just left Hampstead,” he answered. “I know, Mr. Franklin, that you have got at the truth at last. But, I tell you plainly, if I could have foreseen the price that was to be paid for it, I should have preferred leaving you in the dark.”
“You have seen Rachel?”
“I have come here after taking her back to Portland Place; it was impossible to let her return in the carriage by herself. I can hardly hold you responsible—considering that you saw her in my house and by my permission—for the shock that this unlucky interview has inflicted on her. All I can do is to provide against a repetition of the mischief. She is young—she has a resolute spirit—she will get over this, with time and rest to help her. I want to be assured that you will do nothing to hinder her recovery. May I depend on your making no second attempt to see her—except with my sanction and approval?”
“After what she has suffered, and after what I have suffered,” I said, “you may rely on me.”
“I have your promise?”
“You have my promise.”
Mr. Bruff looked relieved. He put down his hat, and drew his chair nearer to mine.
“That’s settled!” he said. “Now, about the future—your future, I mean. To my mind, the result of the extraordinary turn which the matter has now taken is briefly this. In the first place, we are sure that Rachel has told you the whole truth, as plainly as words can tell it. In the second place—though we know that there must be some dreadful mistake somewhere—we can hardly blame her for believing you to be guilty, on the evidence of her own senses; backed, as that evidence has been, by circumstances which appear, on the face of them, to tell dead against you.”
There I interposed. “I don’t blame Rachel,” I said. “I only regret that she could not prevail on herself to speak more plainly to me at the time.”
“You might as well regret that Rachel is not somebody else,” rejoined Mr. Bruff. “And even then, I doubt if a girl of any delicacy, whose heart had been set on marrying you, could have brought herself to charge you to your face with being a thief. Anyhow, it was not in Rachel’s nature to do it. In a very different matter to this matter of yours—which placed her, however, in a position not altogether unlike her position towards you—I happen to know that she was influenced by a similar motive to the motive which actuated her conduct in your case. Besides, as she told me herself, on our way to town this evening, if she had spoken plainly, she would no more have believed your denial then than she believes it now. What answer can you make to that? There is no answer to be made to it. Come, come, Mr. Franklin! my view of the case has been proved to be all wrong, I admit—but, as things are now, my advice may be worth having for all that. I tell you plainly, we shall be wasting our time, and cudgelling our brains to no purpose, if we attempt to try back, and unravel this frightful complication from the beginning. Let us close our minds resolutely to all that happened last year at Lady Verinder’s country house; and let us look to what we CAN discover in the future, instead of to what we can NOT discover in the past.”
“Surely you forget,” I said, “that the whole thing is essentially a matter of the past—so far as I am concerned?”
“Answer me this,” retorted Mr. Bruff. “Is the Moonstone at the bottom of all the mischief—or is it not?”
“It is—of course.”
“Very good. What do we believe was done with the Moonstone, when it was taken to London?”
“It was pledged to Mr. Luker.”
“We know that you are not the person who pledged it. Do we know who did?”
“Where do we believe the Moonstone to be now?”
“Deposited in the keeping of Mr. Luker’s bankers.”
“Exactly. Now observe. We are already in the month of June. Towards the end of the month (I can’t be particular to a day) a year will have elapsed from the time when we believe the jewel to have been pledged. There is a chance—to say the least—that the person who pawned it, may be prepared to redeem it when the year’s time has expired. If he redeems it, Mr. Luker must himself—according to the terms of his own arrangement—take the Diamond out of his banker’s hands. Under these circumstances, I propose setting a watch at the bank, as the present month draws to an end, and discovering who the person is to whom Mr. Luker restores the Moonstone. Do you see it now?”
I admitted (a little unwillingly) that the idea was a new one, at any rate.
“It’s Mr. Murthwaite’s idea quite as much as mine,” said Mr. Bruff. “It might have never entered my head, but for a conversation we had together some time since. If Mr. Murthwaite is right, the Indians are likely to be on the lookout at the bank, towards the end of the month too—and something serious may come of it. What comes of it doesn’t matter to you and me except as it may help us to lay our hands on the mysterious Somebody who pawned the Diamond. That person, you may rely on it, is responsible (I don’t pretend to know how) for the position in which you stand at this moment; and that person alone can set you right in Rachel’s estimation.”
“I can’t deny,” I said, “that the plan you propose meets the difficulty in a way that is very daring, and very ingenious, and very new. But——”
“But you have an objection to make?”
“Yes. My objection is, that your proposal obliges us to wait.”
“Granted. As I reckon the time, it requires you to wait about a fortnight—more or less. Is that so very long?”
“It’s a life-time, Mr. Bruff, in such a situation as mine. My existence will be simply unendurable to me, unless I do something towards clearing my character at once.”
“Well, well, I understand that. Have you thought yet of what you can do?”
“I have thought of consulting Sergeant Cuff.”
“He has retired from the police. It’s useless to expect the Sergeant to help you.”
“I know where to find him; and I can but try.”
“Try,” said Mr. Bruff, after a moment’s consideration. “The case has assumed such an extraordinary aspect since Sergeant Cuff’s time, that you may revive his interest in the inquiry. Try, and let me hear the result. In the meanwhile,” he continued, rising, “if you make no discoveries between this, and the end of the month, am I free to try, on my side, what can be done by keeping a lookout at the bank?”
“Certainly,” I answered—“unless I relieve you of all necessity for trying the experiment in the interval.”
Mr. Bruff smiled, and took up his hat.
“Tell Sergeant Cuff,” he rejoined, “that I say the discovery of the truth depends on the discovery of the person who pawned the Diamond. And let me hear what the Sergeant’s experience says to that.”
So we parted.
Early the next morning, I set forth for the little town of Dorking—the place of Sergeant Cuff’s retirement, as indicated to me by Betteredge.
Inquiring at the hotel, I received the necessary directions for finding the Sergeant’s cottage. It was approached by a quiet bye-road, a little way out of the town, and it stood snugly in the middle of its own plot of garden ground, protected by a good brick wall at the back and the sides, and by a high quickset hedge in front. The gate, ornamented at the upper part by smartly-painted trellis-work, was locked. After ringing at the bell, I peered through the trellis-work, and saw the great Cuff’s favourite flower everywhere; blooming in his garden, clustering over his door, looking in at his windows. Far from the crimes and the mysteries of the great city, the illustrious thief-taker was placidly living out the last Sybarite years of his life, smothered in roses!
A decent elderly woman opened the gate to me, and at once annihilated all the hopes I had built on securing the assistance of Sergeant Cuff. He had started, only the day before, on a journey to Ireland.
“Has he gone there on business?” I asked.
The woman smiled. “He has only one business now, sir,” she said; “and that’s roses. Some great man’s gardener in Ireland has found out something new in the growing of roses—and Mr. Cuff’s away to inquire into it.”
“Do you know when he will be back?”
“It’s quite uncertain, sir. Mr. Cuff said he should come back directly, or be away some time, just according as he found the new discovery worth nothing, or worth looking into. If you have any message to leave for him, I’ll take care, sir, that he gets it.”
I gave her my card, having first written on it in pencil: “I have something to say about the Moonstone. Let me hear from you as soon as you get back.” That done, there was nothing left but to submit to circumstances, and return to London.
In the irritable condition of my mind, at the time of which I am now writing, the abortive result of my journey to the Sergeant’s cottage simply aggravated the restless impulse in me to be doing something. On the day of my return from Dorking, I determined that the next morning should find me bent on a new effort at forcing my way, through all obstacles, from the darkness to the light.
What form was my next experiment to take?
If the excellent Betteredge had been present while I was considering that question, and if he had been let into the secret of my thoughts, he would, no doubt, have declared that the German side of me was, on this occasion, my uppermost side. To speak seriously, it is perhaps possible that my German training was in some degree responsible for the labyrinth of useless speculations in which I now involved myself. For the greater part of the night, I sat smoking, and building up theories, one more profoundly improbable than another. When I did get to sleep, my waking fancies pursued me in dreams. I rose the next morning, with Objective-Subjective and Subjective-Objective inextricably entangled together in my mind; and I began the day which was to witness my next effort at practical action of some kind, by doubting whether I had any sort of right (on purely philosophical grounds) to consider any sort of thing (the Diamond included) as existing at all.
How long I might have remained lost in the mist of my own metaphysics, if I had been left to extricate myself, it is impossible for me to say. As the event proved, accident came to my rescue, and happily delivered me. I happened to wear, that morning, the same coat which I had worn on the day of my interview with Rachel. Searching for something else in one of the pockets, I came upon a crumpled piece of paper, and, taking it out, found Betteredge’s forgotten letter in my hand.
It seemed hard on my good old friend to leave him without a reply. I went to my writing-table, and read his letter again.
A letter which has nothing of the slightest importance in it, is not always an easy letter to answer. Betteredge’s present effort at corresponding with me came within this category. Mr. Candy’s assistant, otherwise Ezra Jennings, had told his master that he had seen me; and Mr. Candy, in his turn, wanted to see me and say something to me, when I was next in the neighbourhood of Frizinghall. What was to be said in answer to that, which would be worth the paper it was written on? I sat idly drawing likenesses from memory of Mr. Candy’s remarkable-looking assistant, on the sheet of paper which I had vowed to dedicate to Betteredge—until it suddenly occurred to me that here was the irrepressible Ezra Jennings getting in my way again! I threw a dozen portraits, at least, of the man with the piebald hair (the hair in every case, remarkably like), into the waste-paper basket—and then and there, wrote my answer to Betteredge. It was a perfectly commonplace letter—but it had one excellent effect on me. The effort of writing a few sentences, in plain English, completely cleared my mind of the cloudy nonsense which had filled it since the previous day.
Devoting myself once more to the elucidation of the impenetrable puzzle which my own position presented to me, I now tried to meet the difficulty by investigating it from a plainly practical point of view. The events of the memorable night being still unintelligible to me, I looked a little farther back, and searched my memory of the earlier hours of the birthday for any incident which might prove of some assistance to me in finding the clue.
Had anything happened while Rachel and I were finishing the painted door? or, later, when I rode over to Frizinghall? or afterwards, when I went back with Godfrey Ablewhite and his sisters? or, later again, when I put the Moonstone into Rachel’s hands? or, later still, when the company came, and we all assembled round the dinner-table? My memory disposed of that string of questions readily enough, until I came to the last. Looking back at the social event of the birthday dinner, I found myself brought to a standstill at the outset of the inquiry. I was not even capable of accurately remembering the number of the guests who had sat at the same table with me.
To feel myself completely at fault here, and to conclude, thereupon, that the incidents of the dinner might especially repay the trouble of investigating them, formed parts of the same mental process, in my case. I believe other people, in a similar situation, would have reasoned as I did. When the pursuit of our own interests causes us to become objects of inquiry to ourselves, we are naturally suspicious of what we don’t know. Once in possession of the names of the persons who had been present at the dinner, I resolved—as a means of enriching the deficient resources of my own memory—to appeal to the memory of the rest of the guests; to write down all that they could recollect of the social events of the birthday; and to test the result, thus obtained, by the light of what had happened afterwards, when the company had left the house.
This last and newest of my many contemplated experiments in the art of inquiry—which Betteredge would probably have attributed to the clear-headed, or French, side of me being uppermost for the moment—may fairly claim record here, on its own merits. Unlikely as it may seem, I had now actually groped my way to the root of the matter at last. All I wanted was a hint to guide me in the right direction at starting. Before another day had passed over my head, that hint was given me by one of the company who had been present at the birthday feast!
With the plan of proceeding which I now had in view, it was first necessary to possess the complete list of the guests. This I could easily obtain from Gabriel Betteredge. I determined to go back to Yorkshire on that day, and to begin my contemplated investigation the next morning.
It was just too late to start by the train which left London before noon. There was no alternative but to wait, nearly three hours, for the departure of the next train. Was there anything I could do in London, which might usefully occupy this interval of time?
My thoughts went back again obstinately to the birthday dinner.
Though I had forgotten the numbers, and, in many cases, the names of the guests, I remembered readily enough that by far the larger proportion of them came from Frizinghall, or from its neighbourhood. But the larger proportion was not all. Some few of us were not regular residents in the country. I myself was one of the few. Mr. Murthwaite was another. Godfrey Ablewhite was a third. Mr. Bruff—no: I called to mind that business had prevented Mr. Bruff from making one of the party. Had any ladies been present, whose usual residence was in London? I could only remember Miss Clack as coming within this latter category. However, here were three of the guests, at any rate, whom it was clearly advisable for me to see before I left town. I drove off at once to Mr. Bruff’s office; not knowing the addresses of the persons of whom I was in search, and thinking it probable that he might put me in the way of finding them.
Mr. Bruff proved to be too busy to give me more than a minute of his valuable time. In that minute, however, he contrived to dispose—in the most discouraging manner—of all the questions I had to put to him.
In the first place, he considered my newly-discovered method of finding a clue to the mystery as something too purely fanciful to be seriously discussed. In the second, third, and fourth places, Mr. Murthwaite was now on his way back to the scene of his past adventures; Miss Clack had suffered losses, and had settled, from motives of economy, in France; Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite might, or might not, be discoverable somewhere in London. Suppose I inquired at his club? And suppose I excused Mr. Bruff, if he went back to his business and wished me good morning?
The field of inquiry in London, being now so narrowed as only to include the one necessity of discovering Godfrey’s address, I took the lawyer’s hint, and drove to his club.
In the hall, I met with one of the members, who was an old friend of my cousin’s, and who was also an acquaintance of my own. This gentleman, after enlightening me on the subject of Godfrey’s address, told me of two recent events in his life, which were of some importance in themselves, and which had not previously reached my ears.
It appeared that Godfrey, far from being discouraged by Rachel’s withdrawal from her engagement to him had made matrimonial advances soon afterwards to another young lady, reputed to be a great heiress. His suit had prospered, and his marriage had been considered as a settled and certain thing. But, here again, the engagement had been suddenly and unexpectedly broken off—owing, it was said, on this occasion, to a serious difference of opinion between the bridegroom and the lady’s father, on the question of settlements.
As some compensation for this second matrimonial disaster, Godfrey had soon afterwards found himself the object of fond pecuniary remembrance, on the part of one of his many admirers. A rich old lady—highly respected at the Mothers’ Small-Clothes-Conversion-Society, and a great friend of Miss Clack’s (to whom she left nothing but a mourning ring)—had bequeathed to the admirable and meritorious Godfrey a legacy of five thousand pounds. After receiving this handsome addition to his own modest pecuniary resources, he had been heard to say that he felt the necessity of getting a little respite from his charitable labours, and that his doctor prescribed “a run on the Continent, as likely to be productive of much future benefit to his health.” If I wanted to see him, it would be advisable to lose no time in paying my contemplated visit.
I went, then and there, to pay my visit.
The same fatality which had made me just one day too late in calling on Sergeant Cuff, made me again one day too late in calling on Godfrey. He had left London, on the previous morning, by the tidal train, for Dover. He was to cross to Ostend; and his servant believed he was going on to Brussels. The time of his return was rather uncertain; but I might be sure he would be away at least three months.
I went back to my lodgings a little depressed in spirits. Three of the guests at the birthday dinner—and those three all exceptionally intelligent people—were out of my reach, at the very time when it was most important to be able to communicate with them. My last hopes now rested on Betteredge, and on the friends of the late Lady Verinder whom I might still find living in the neighbourhood of Rachel’s country house.
On this occasion, I travelled straight to Frizinghall—the town being now the central point in my field of inquiry. I arrived too late in the evening to be able to communicate with Betteredge. The next morning, I sent a messenger with a letter, requesting him to join me at the hotel, at his earliest convenience.
Having taken the precaution—partly to save time, partly to accommodate Betteredge—of sending my messenger in a fly, I had a reasonable prospect, if no delays occurred, of seeing the old man within less than two hours from the time when I had sent for him. During this interval, I arranged to employ myself in opening my contemplated inquiry, among the guests present at the birthday dinner who were personally known to me, and who were easily within my reach. These were my relatives, the Ablewhites, and Mr. Candy. The doctor had expressed a special wish to see me, and the doctor lived in the next street. So to Mr. Candy I went first.
After what Betteredge had told me, I naturally anticipated finding traces in the doctor’s face of the severe illness from which he had suffered. But I was utterly unprepared for such a change as I saw in him when he entered the room and shook hands with me. His eyes were dim; his hair had turned completely grey; his face was wizen; his figure had shrunk. I looked at the once lively, rattlepated, humorous little doctor—associated in my remembrance with the perpetration of incorrigible social indiscretions and innumerable boyish jokes—and I saw nothing left of his former self, but the old tendency to vulgar smartness in his dress. The man was a wreck; but his clothes and his jewellery—in cruel mockery of the change in him—were as gay and as gaudy as ever.
“I have often thought of you, Mr. Blake,” he said; “and I am heartily glad to see you again at last. If there is anything I can do for you, pray command my services, sir—pray command my services!”
He said those few commonplace words with needless hurry and eagerness, and with a curiosity to know what had brought me to Yorkshire, which he was perfectly—I might say childishly—incapable of concealing from notice.
With the object that I had in view, I had of course foreseen the necessity of entering into some sort of personal explanation, before I could hope to interest people, mostly strangers to me, in doing their best to assist my inquiry. On the journey to Frizinghall I had arranged what my explanation was to be—and I seized the opportunity now offered to me of trying the effect of it on Mr. Candy.
“I was in Yorkshire, the other day, and I am in Yorkshire again now, on rather a romantic errand,” I said. “It is a matter, Mr. Candy, in which the late Lady Verinder’s friends all took some interest. You remember the mysterious loss of the Indian Diamond, now nearly a year since? Circumstances have lately happened which lead to the hope that it may yet be found—and I am interesting myself, as one of the family, in recovering it. Among the obstacles in my way, there is the necessity of collecting again all the evidence which was discovered at the time, and more if possible. There are peculiarities in this case which make it desirable to revive my recollection of everything that happened in the house, on the evening of Miss Verinder’s birthday. And I venture to appeal to her late mother’s friends who were present on that occasion, to lend me the assistance of their memories——”
I had got as far as that in rehearsing my explanatory phrases, when I was suddenly checked by seeing plainly in Mr. Candy’s face that my experiment on him was a total failure.
The little doctor sat restlessly picking at the points of his fingers all the time I was speaking. His dim watery eyes were fixed on my face with an expression of vacant and wistful inquiry very painful to see. What he was thinking of, it was impossible to divine. The one thing clearly visible was that I had failed, after the first two or three words, in fixing his attention. The only chance of recalling him to himself appeared to lie in changing the subject. I tried a new topic immediately.
“So much,” I said, gaily, “for what brings me to Frizinghall! Now, Mr. Candy, it’s your turn. You sent me a message by Gabriel Betteredge——”
He left off picking at his fingers, and suddenly brightened up.
“Yes! yes! yes!” he exclaimed eagerly. “That’s it! I sent you a message!”
“And Betteredge duly communicated it by letter,” I went on. “You had something to say to me, the next time I was in your neighbourhood. Well, Mr. Candy, here I am!”
“Here you are!” echoed the doctor. “And Betteredge was quite right. I had something to say to you. That was my message. Betteredge is a wonderful man. What a memory! At his age, what a memory!”
He dropped back into silence, and began picking at his fingers again. Recollecting what I had heard from Betteredge about the effect of the fever on his memory, I went on with the conversation, in the hope that I might help him at starting.
“It’s a long time since we met,” I said. “We last saw each other at the last birthday dinner my poor aunt was ever to give.”
“That’s it!” cried Mr. Candy. “The birthday dinner!” He started impulsively to his feet, and looked at me. A deep flush suddenly overspread his faded face, and he abruptly sat down again, as if conscious of having betrayed a weakness which he would fain have concealed. It was plain, pitiably plain, that he was aware of his own defect of memory, and that he was bent on hiding it from the observation of his friends.
Thus far he had appealed to my compassion only. But the words he had just said—few as they were—roused my curiosity instantly to the highest pitch. The birthday dinner had already become the one event in the past, at which I looked back with strangely-mixed feelings of hope and distrust. And here was the birthday dinner unmistakably proclaiming itself as the subject on which Mr. Candy had something important to say to me!
I attempted to help him out once more. But, this time, my own interests were at the bottom of my compassionate motive, and they hurried me on a little too abruptly, to the end I had in view.
“It’s nearly a year now,” I said, “since we sat at that pleasant table. Have you made any memorandum—in your diary, or otherwise—of what you wanted to say to me?”
Mr. Candy understood the suggestion, and showed me that he understood it, as an insult.
“I require no memorandum, Mr. Blake,” he said, stiffly enough. “I am not such a very old man, yet—and my memory (thank God) is to be thoroughly depended on!”
It is needless to say that I declined to understand that he was offended with me.
“I wish I could say the same of my memory,” I answered. “When I try to think of matters that are a year old, I seldom find my remembrance as vivid as I could wish it to be. Take the dinner at Lady Verinder’s, for instance——”
Mr. Candy brightened up again, the moment the allusion passed my lips.
“Ah! the dinner, the dinner at Lady Verinder’s!” he exclaimed, more eagerly than ever. “I have got something to say to you about that.”
His eyes looked at me again with the painful expression of inquiry, so wistful, so vacant, so miserably helpless to see. He was evidently trying hard, and trying in vain, to recover the lost recollection. “It was a very pleasant dinner,” he burst out suddenly, with an air of saying exactly what he wanted to say. “A very pleasant dinner, Mr. Blake, wasn’t it?” He nodded and smiled, and appeared to think, poor fellow, that he had succeeded in concealing the total failure of his memory, by a well-timed exertion of his own presence of mind.
It was so distressing that I at once shifted the talk—deeply as I was interested in his recovering the lost remembrance—to topics of local interest.
Here, he got on glibly enough. Trumpery little scandals and quarrels in the town, some of them as much as a month old, appeared to recur to his memory readily. He chattered on, with something of the smooth gossiping fluency of former times. But there were moments, even in the full flow of his talkativeness, when he suddenly hesitated—looked at me for a moment with the vacant inquiry once more in his eyes—controlled himself—and went on again. I submitted patiently to my martyrdom (it is surely nothing less than martyrdom to a man of cosmopolitan sympathies, to absorb in silent resignation the news of a country town?) until the clock on the chimney-piece told me that my visit had been prolonged beyond half an hour. Having now some right to consider the sacrifice as complete, I rose to take leave. As we shook hands, Mr. Candy reverted to the birthday festival of his own accord.
“I am so glad we have met again,” he said. “I had it on my mind—I really had it on my mind, Mr. Blake, to speak to you. About the dinner at Lady Verinder’s, you know? A pleasant dinner—really a pleasant dinner now, wasn’t it?”
On repeating the phrase, he seemed to feel hardly as certain of having prevented me from suspecting his lapse of memory, as he had felt on the first occasion. The wistful look clouded his face again: and, after apparently designing to accompany me to the street door, he suddenly changed his mind, rang the bell for the servant, and remained in the drawing-room.
I went slowly down the doctor’s stairs, feeling the disheartening conviction that he really had something to say which it was vitally important to me to hear, and that he was morally incapable of saying it. The effort of remembering that he wanted to speak to me was, but too evidently, the only effort that his enfeebled memory was now able to achieve.
Just as I reached the bottom of the stairs, and had turned a corner on my way to the outer hall, a door opened softly somewhere on the ground floor of the house, and a gentle voice said behind me:—
“I am afraid, sir, you find Mr. Candy sadly changed?”
I turned round, and found myself face to face with Ezra Jennings.