|Chapter Number||Second period. Third narrative: VI|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||The Moonstone|
Contributed by Franklin Blake.
BY WILKIE COLLINS. Author of "The Woman in White," "No Name," etc.
I WALKED to the railway station accompanied, it is needless to say, by Gabriel Betteredge. I had the letter in my pocket, and the nightgown safely packed in a little bag—both to be sub-
mitted, before I slept that night, to the investi- gation of Mr. Bruff. We left the house in silence. For the first time in my experience of him, I found old Betteredge in my company without a word to say to me. Having something to say on my side, I open the conversation as soon as we were clear of the lodge gates. "Before I go to London," I began, " I have two questions to ask you. They relate to my- self, and I believe they will rather surprise you." " If they will put that poor creature's letter out of my head, Mr. Franklin, they may do any thing else they like with me. Please to begin surprising me, sir, as soon as you can." "My first question, Betteredge, is this. Was I drunk on the night of Rachel's birthday ?" "You drunk!" exclaimed the old man. " Why it's the great defect of your character, Mr. Franklin, that you only drink with your dinner, and never touch a drop of liquor after- wards!" " But the birthday was a special occasion. I might have abandoned my regular habits, on that night of all others." Betteredge considered for a moment. " You did go out of your habits, sir," he said. "And I'll tell you how. You looked wretchedly ill —and we persuaded you to have a drop of brandy and water to cheer you up a little." "I am not used to brandy and water. It is quite possible " "Wait a bit, Mr. Franklin. I knew you were not used, too. I poured you out half a wine-glass full of our fifty-year-old Cognac ; and (more shame for me!) I drowned that noble liquor in nigh on a tumbler-full of cold water. A child couldn't have got drunk on it—let alone a grown man !" I knew I could depend on his memory, in a matter of this kind. It was plainly impossible that I could have been intoxicated. I passed on to the second question. " Before I was sent abroad, Betteredge, you saw a great deal of me when I was a boy ? Now tell me plainly, do you remember anything strange of me, after I had gone to bed at night ? Did you ever discover me walking in my sleep ?" Betteredge stopped, looked at me for a mo- ment, nodded his head, and walked on again. " I see your drift now, Mr. Franklin!" he said. " You're trying to account for how you got the paint on your nightgown, without knowing it yourself. It won't do, sir. You're miles away still from getting at the truth. Walk in your sleep ? You never did such a thing in your life!" Here again, I felt that Betteredge must be right. Neither at home nor abroad had my life ever been of the solitary sort. If I had been a sleep-walker, there were hundreds on hundreds of people who must have discovered me, and who ; in the interests of my own safety, would have warned me of the habit, and have taken precautions to restrain it. Still, admitting all this, I clung —with an obstinacy which was surely natural and excus- able, under the circumstances—to one or other of the only two explanations that I could see which accounted for the unendurable position in which I then stood. Observing that I was not yet satisfied, Betteredge shrewdly adverted to certain later events in the history of the Moonstone ; and scattered both my theories to the winds at once and for ever. "Let's try it another way, sir," he said. Keep your own opinion, and see how far it will take you towards finding out the truth. If we are to believe the nightgown—which I don't for one—you not only smeared off the paint from the door, without knowing it, but you also took the diamond without knowing it. Is that right, so far?" "Quite right. Go on." " Very good, sir. We'll say you were drunk, or walking in your sleep, when you took the jewel. That accounts for the night and morn- ing after the birthday. But how does it ac- count for what has happened since that time ? The diamond has been taken to London since that time. The diamond has been pledged to Mr. Luker since that time. Did you do those two things, without knowing it, too? Were you drunk when I saw you off in the pony-chaise on that Saturday evening ? And did you walk in your sleep to Mr. Luker's, when the train had brought you to your journey's end ? Excuse me for saying it, Mr. Franklin, but this business has so upset you, that you're not fit yet to judge for yourself. The sooner you lay your head alongside of Mr. Bruff's head, the sooner you will see your way out of the dead lock that has got you now." We reached the station, with only a minute or two to spare. I hurriedly gave Betteredge my address in London, so that he might write to me, if neces- sary ; promising, on my side, to inform him of any news which I might have to communicate. This done, and just as I was bidding him fare- well, I happened to glance towards the book- and-newspaper stall. There was Mr. Candy's remarkable-looking assistant again, speaking to the keeper of the stall! Our eyes met at the same moment. Ezra Jennings took off his hat too me. I returned the salute, and got into a carriage just as the train started. It was a relief to my mind, I suppose, to dwell on any subject which appeared to be, personally, of no sort of importance to me. At all events, I began the momentous journey back which was to take me to Mr. Bruff, wondering—absurdly enough, I admit—that I should have seen the man with the piebald hair twice in one day! The hour at which I arrived in London pre- cluded all hope of my finding Mr. Bruff at his place of business. I drove from the railway to his private residence at Hampstead, and disturbed the old lawyer dozing alone in his dining-room, with his favorite pug-dog on his lap, and his bottle of wine at his elbow. I shall best describe the effect which my story produced on the mind of Mr. Bruff by relating his proceedings when he had heard it to the end. He ordered lights and strong tea to be taken into his study ; and he sent a message to the
ladies of his family, forbidding them to disturb us on any pretence whatever. These prelimi- naries disposed of, he first examined the night- gown, and then devoted himself to the reading of Rosanna Spearman's letter. The reading completed, Mr. Bruff addressed me for the first time since we had been shut up together in the seclusion of his own room. "Franklin Blake," said the old gentleman, " this is a very serious matter, in more respects than one. In my opinion, it concerns Rachel quite as nearly as it concerns you. Her extra- ordinary conduct is no mystery now. She be- lieves you have stolen the diamond." I had shrunk from reasoning my own way fairly to that revolting conclusion. But it had forced itself on me, nevertheless. My resolu- tion to obtain a personal interview with Rachel rested really and truely on the ground just stated by Mr. Bruff. " The first step to take in this investigation," the lawyer proceeded, " is to appeal to Rachel. She has been silent all this time, from motives which I (who know her character) can readily understand. It is impossible after what has happened, to submit to that silence any longer. She must be persuaded to tell us, or she must be forced to tell us, on what grounds she bases her belief that you took the Moonstone. The chances are, that the whole of this case, serious as it seems now, will tumble to pieces, if we can only break through Rachel's inveterate reserve, and prevail upon her to speak out." " That is a very comforting opinion for me," I said. " I own I should like to know—" " You would like to know how I can justify it," interposed Mr. Bruff. " I can tell you in two minutes. Understand, in the first place, that I look at this matter from a lawyer's point of view. It's a question of evidence with me. Very well. The evidence breaks down, at the outset, on one important point." "On what point?" " You shall hear. I admit that the mark of the name proves the nightgown to be yours. I admit that the mark of the paint proves the nightgown to have made the smear on Rachel's door. But what evidence is there, before you or before me, to prove that you are the person who wore the nightgown ?" The objection electrified me. It had never occurred to my mind until that moment. " As to this," pursued the lawyer, taking up Rosanna Spearman's confession, " I can under- stand that the letter is a distressing one to you I can understand that you may hesitate to analyse it from a purely impartial point of view. But I am not in your position. I can bring my professional experience to bear on this document just as I should bring it to bear on any other. Without alluding to the woman's career as a thief, I will merely remark that the letter proves her to have been an adept at deception, on her own showing ; and I argue from that, that I am justified in suspecting her of not having told the whole truth. I won't start any theory, at present, as to what she may or may not have done. I will only say that, if Rachel has sus- pected you on the evidence of the nightgown only, the chances are ninety-nine to a hundred that Rosanna Spearman was the person who showed it to her. In that case, there is the woman's letter confessing that she was jealous of Rachel, confessing that she changed the roses, confessing that she saw a glimpse of hope for herself, in the prospect of a quarrel between Rachel and you. I don't stop to ask who took the Moonstone (as a means to her end, Rosanna Spearman would have taken fifty Moonstones) —I only say that the disappearance of the jewel gave this reclaimed thief who was in love with you an opportunity of setting you and Ra- chel at variance for the rest of your lives. She had not decided on destroying herself then re- member ; and, having the opportunity, I dis- tinctly assert that it was in her character, and in her position at the time, to take it. What do you say to that ?" " Some such suspicion," I answered, " crossed my own mind, as soon as I opened the letter." "Exactly! And when you had read the letter, you pitied the poor creature, and couldn't find it in your heart to suspect her. Does you credit, my dear sir—does you credit." "But suppose it turns out that I did wear the nightgown ? What then ?" " I don't see how that fact is to be proved," said Mr. Bruff. " But assuming the proof to be possible, the vindication of your innocence would be no easy matter. We won't go into that now. Let us wait and see whether Rachel hasn't suspected you on the evidence of the nightgown only." " Good God, how coolly you talk of Rachel suspecting me!" I broke out. " What right has she to suspect me on any evidence, of being a thief?" "A very sensible question, my dear sir. Rather hotly put—but well worth considering for all that. What puzzles you, puzzles me too. Search your memory, and tell me this. Did any- thing happen while you were staying at the house—not, of course, to shake Rachel's belief in your honor—but let us say, to shake her be- lief (no matter with how little reason) in your principles generally ?" I started, in ungovernable agitation, to my feet. The lawyer's question reminded me, for the first time since I had left England, that something had happened. In the eighth chapter of Betteredge's narra- tive, an allusion will be found to the arrival of a foreigner and a stranger at my aunt's house, who came to see me on business. The nature of his business was this : I had been foolish enough (being, as usual, straightened for money at the time) to accept a loan from the keeper of a small restaurant in Paris, to whom I was well known as a customer. A time was settled between us for paying the money back ; and when the time came, I found it (as thousands of other honest men have found it) impossible to keep my engagement. I sent the man a bill. My name was unfortunately too well known on such documents : he failed to negociate it. His affairs had fallen into dis- order, in the interval since I had borrowed of him ; bankruptcy stared him in the face ; and a relative of his, a French lawyer, came to Eng- land to find me, and to insist on the payment of my debt. He was a man of violent temper ; and he took the wrong way with me. High words passed on both sides ; and my aunt and Rachel were unfortunately in the next room, and heard us. Lady Verinder came in, and insisted on knowing what was the matter. The Frenchman produced his credentials, and declared me to be responsible for the ruin of a poor man, who had trusted in my honor. My aunt instantly paid him the money, and sent him off. She knew me better of course than to take the Frenchman's view of the transaction. But she was shocked at my carelessness, and justly angry with me for placing myself in a position, which, but for her interference, might have become a very disgrace- ful one. Either her mother told her, or Rachel
heard what passed—I can't say which. She took her own romantic, high-flown view of the matter. I was " heartless" ; I was " dishonor- able" ; I had "no principle" ; there was "no knowing what I might do next"—in short, she said some of the severest things to me which I had ever heard from a young lady's lips. The breach between us lasted for the whole of the next day. The day after, I succeeded in mak- ing my peace, and thought no more of it. Had Rachel reverted to this unlucky accident, at the critical moment when my place in her estima- tion was again, and far more seriously, assailed ? Mr. Bruff, when I had mentioned the circum- stances to him, answered that question at once in the affirmative. "It would have its effect on her mind," he said gravely. " And I wish, for your sake, the thing had not happened. However, we have discovered that there was a predisposing in- fluence against you —and there is one uncer- tainty cleared out of our way, at any rate. I see nothing more that we can do now. Our next step in this inquiry must be the step that takes us to Rachel." He rose, and began walking thoughtfully up and down the room. Twice, I was on the point of telling him that I had determined on seeing Rachel personally ; and twice, having regard to his age and his character, I hesitated to take him by surprise at an unfavorable mo- ment. " The grand difficulty is," he resumed, " how to make her show her whole mind in this mat- ter, without reserve. Have you any suggestion to offer?" " I have made up my mind, Mr. Bruff, to speak to Rachel myself." " You!" He suddenly stopped in his walk, and looked at me as if he thought I had taken leave of my senses. " You, of all the people in the world!" He abruptly checked himself, and took another turn in the room. " Wait a little," he said. "In cases of this extraordinary kind, the rash way is sometimes the best way." He considered the question for a moment or two, under that new light, and ended boldly by a decision in my favor. "Nothing venture, nothing have," the old gentleman resumed. "You have a chance in your favor which I don't possess—and you shall be the first to try the experiment." " A chance in my favor?" I repeated, in the greatest surprise. Mr. Bruff's face softened, for the first time, into a smile. "This is how it stands," he said. "I tell you fairly, I don't trust your discretion, and I don't trust your temper. But I do trust in Rachel's still preserving, in some remote little corner of her heart, a certain perverse weakness for you. Touch that—and trust to the conse- quences for the fullest disclosure that can flow from a woman's lips! The question is—how are you to see her ?" " She has been been a guest of your's at this house," I answered. " May I venture to sug- gest—if nothing was said about me beforehand —that I might see her here ?" "Cool!" said Mr. Bruff. With that one word of comment on the reply that I had made to him, he took another turn up and down the room. " In plain English," he said, " my house is to be turned into a trap to catch Rachel ; with a bait to tempt her, in the shape of an invitation from my wife and daughters. If you were anybody else but Franklin Blake, and if this matter was one atom less serious than it really is, I should refuse point blank. As things are, I firmly believe Rachel will live to thank me for turning traitor to her in my old age. Consider me your accomplice. Rachel shall be asked to spend the day here ; and you shall receive due notice of it." " When ? To-morrow ?" " To-morrow won't give us time enough to get her answer. Say the day after." " How shall I hear from you ?" " Stay at home all the morning and expect me to call on you." I thanked him for the inestimable assistance which he was rendering to me, with the grati- tude which I really felt; and, declining a hospit- able invitation to sleep that night at Hampstead, returned to my lodgings in London. Of the day that followed, I have only to say that it was the longest day of my life. Inno- cent as I knew myself to be, certain as I was that the abominable imputation which rested on me must sooner or later be cleared off, there was nevertheless a sense of self-abasement in my mind which instinctively disinclined me to see any of my friends. We often hear (almost invariably, however, from superficial observers) that guilt can look like innocence. I believe it to be infinitely the truer axiom of the two that innocence can look like guilt. I caused myself to be denied, all day, to every visitor who called ; and I only ventured out under cover of the night. The next morning, Mr. Bruff surprised me at the breakfast table. He handed me a large key, and announced that he felt ashamed of himself for the first time in his life. " Is she coming ?" " She is coming to-day, to lunch and spend the afternoon with my wife and my girls." "Are Mrs. Bruff and your daughters in the secret ?" " Inevitably. But women, as you may have observed, have no principles. My family don't feel my pangs of conscience. The end being to bring you and Rachel together again, my wife and daughters pass over the means employed to gain it, as composedly as if they were Jesuits." "I am infinitely obliged to them. What is this key ?" "The key of the gate in my back-garden wall. Be there at 3 this afternoon. Let your- self into the garden, and make your way in by the conservatory door. Cross the small draw- ing-room, and open the door in front of you which leads into the music-room. There, you will find Rachel—and find her, alone." " How can I thank you!" " I will tell you how. Don't blame me for what happens afterwards." With those words, he went out. I had many weary hours still to wait through. To while away the time, I looked at my letters. Among them was a letter from Betteredge. I opened it eagerly. To my surprise and dis- appointment, it began with an apology warning me to expect no news of any importance. In the next sentence the everlasting Ezra Jennings appeared again ! He had stopped Betteredge on the way out of the station, and had asked who I was. Informed of this point he had mentioned having seen me to his master, Mr. Candy." Mr. Candy hearing of this, had himself driven over to Betteredge, to express his regret at our hav- ing missed each other. He had a reason for wishing particularly to speak to me ; and when I was next in the neighborhood of Frizinghall, he begged I would let him know. Apart from a few characteristic utterances of the Better-
edge philosophy, this was the sum and sub- stance of my correspondent's letter. The warm- hearted, faithful old man acknowledged that he had written " mainly for the pleasure of writing to me." I crumpled up the letter in my pocket, and forgot it the moment after, in the all-absorbing interest of my coming interview with Rachel. As the clock of Hampstead church struck 3, I put Mr. Bruff's key into the lock of the door in the wall. When I first stepped into the garden, and while I was securing the door again on the inner side, I own to having felt a certain guilty doubtfulness about what might happen next. I looked furtively on either side of me, suspicious of the presence of some unexpected witness in some unknown corner of the garden. Nothing appeared to justify my apprehensions. The walks were, one and all, solitudes ; and the birds and the bees were the only witnesses. I passed through the garden ; entered the conservatory ; and crossed the small drawing room. As I laid my hand on the door opposite, I heard a few plaintive chords struck on the piano in the room within. She had often idled over the instrument in this way, when I was staying at her mother's house. I was obliged to wait a little, to steady myself. The past and present rose, side by side, at that supreme moment—and the contrast shook me. After the lapse of a few moments, I roused my manhood, and opened the door. _______ CHAPTER VII. At the moment when I showed myself in the doorway, Rachel rose from the piano. I closed the door behind me. We confronted each other in silence, with the full length of the room between us. The movement she had made in rising, appeared to be the one exertion of which she was capable. All use of every other faculty, bodily or mental, seemed to be merged in the mere act of looking at me. A fear crossed my mind that I had shown myself too suddenly. I advanced a few steps towards her. I said gently, " Rachel!" The sound of my voice brought the life back to her limbs, and the color to her face. She advanced, on her side, still without speaking. Slowly, as if she was acting under some in- fluence independent of her own will, she came nearer and nearer to me ; the warm dusky color flushing her cheeks, the light of reviving intelligence brightening every instant in her eyes. I forgot the object that had brought me into her presence ; I forgot the vile suspicion that rested on my good name—I forgot every con- sideration, past, present, and future, which I was bound to remember. I saw nothing but the woman I loved coming nearer and nearer to me. She trembled ; she stood irresolute. I could resist it no longer—I caught her in my arms, and covered her face with kisses. There was a moment when I thought the kisses were returned ; a moment when it seemed as if she, too, might have forgotten. Almost before the idea could shape itself in my mind, her first voluntary action made me feel that she remembered. With a cry which was like a cry of horror—with a strength which I doubt if I could have resisted if I had tried—she thrust me back from her. I saw merciless anger in her eyes ; I saw merciless contempt on her lips. She looked me over, from head to foot, as she might have looked at a stranger who had in- sulted her. "You coward!" she said. "You mean, miserable, heartless coward!" Those were her first words! the most un- endurable reproach that a woman can address to a man, was the reproach that she picked out to address to me. "I remember the time, Rachel," I said, "when you could have told me that I had offended you in a worthier way than that. I beg your pardon." Something of the bitterness that I felt may have communicated itself to my voice. At the first words of my reply, her eyes, which had been turned away the moment before, looked back at me unwillingly. She answered in a low tone, with a sullen submission of manner which was quite new in my experience of her. '' Perhaps there is some excuse for me," she said. " After what you have done, it seems a mean action, on your part, to find your way to me as you have found it to day. It seems a cowardly experiment, to try an experiment on my weakness for you. It seems a cowardly sur- prise, to surprise me into letting you kiss me. But that is only a woman's view. I ought to have known it couldn't be your view. I should have done better if I had controlled myself, and said nothing." The apology was more unendurable than the insult. The most degraded man living would have felt humiliated by it. " If my honor was not in your hands," I said, " I would leave you this instant, and never see you again. You have spoken of what I have done. What have I done ?" " What have you done! You ask that ques- tion of me?" " I ask it." "I have kept your infamy a secret," she answered. "And I have suffered the conse- quences of concealing it. Have I no claim to be spared the insult of your asking me what you have done ? Is all sense of gratitude dead in you? You were once a gentleman. You were once dear to my mother, and dearer still to me " Her voice failed her. She dropped into a chair, and turned her back on me, and covered her face with her hands. I waited a little before I trusted myself to say any more. In that moment of silence, I hardly knew which I felt most keenly—the sting which her contempt had planted in me, or the proud resolution which shut me out from all community with her distress. "If you will not speak first," I said, " I must. I have come here with something serious to say to you. Will you do me the common justice of listening while I say it ?" She neither moved nor answered. I made no second appeal to her ; I never advanced an inch nearer to her chair. With a pride which was as obstinate as her pride, I told her of my dis- covery at the Shivering Sand, and of all that had led to it. The narrative, of necessity, occupied some little time. From beginning to end, she never looked round at me, and she never uttered a word. I kept my temper. My whole future de- pended, in all probability, on my not losing possession of myself at that moment. The time had come to put Mr. Bruff's theory to the test. In the breathless interest of trying that experi- ment, I moved round so as to place myself in front of her. " I have a question to ask you," I said. "It obliges me again to refer to a painful subject. Did Rosanna Spearman show you the night gown ? Yes, or No ?" She started to her feet ; and walked close up to me of her own accord. Her eyes looked me searchingly in the face, as if to read something there which they had never read yet. " Are you mad ?" she asked. I still restrained myself. I said quietly, " Rachel, will you answer my question ?" She went on, without heeding me. " Have you some object to gain which I don't understand ? Some mean fear about the future, in which I am concerned? They say your father's death has made you a rich man. Have you come here to compensate me for the loss of my diamond ? And have you heart enough left to feel ashamed of your errand ? Is that the secret of your pretence of innocence, and your story about Rosanna Spearman? Is there a motive of shame at the bottom of all the false- hood, this time ?" I stopped her there. I could control myself no longer. " You have done me an infamous wrong !" I broke out hotly. " You suspect me of stealing your diamond. I have a right to know, and I will know, the reason why !" " Suspect you!" she exclaimed, her anger rising with mine. " You villain, I saw you take the diamond with my own eyes.'" (TO BE CONTINUED.)