|Chapter Number||Second period. Third narrative: IV|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||The Moonstone|
Contributed by Franklin Blake.
CHAPTER IV —(Continued).
BY WILKIE COLLINS. Author of "The Woman in White," "No Name," etc.
"Not a glimmer of light so far, Mr. Frank- lin," said the old man, taking off his heavy tortoiseshell spectacles, and pushing Rosanna Spearman's confession a little away from him.
" Have you come to any conclusion, sir, in your own mind, while I have been reading ?" " Finish the letter first, Betteredge ; there may be something to enlighten us at the end of it. I shall have a word or two to say to you after that." " Very good, sir. I'll just rest my eyes, and then I'll go on again. In the meantime, Mr. Franklin—I don't want to hurry you—but would you mind telling me, in one word, whether you see your way out of this dreadful- mess yet ?" " I see my way back to London," I said, " to consult Mr. Bruff. If he can't help me—" "Yes, sir?" " And if the sergeant won't leave his retire- ment at Dorking " " He won't, Mr. Franklin !" " Then, Betteredge—as far as I can see now —I am at the end of my resources. After Mr. Bruff and the sergeant, I don't know of a living creature who can be of the slightest use to me." As the words passed my lips, some person outside knocked at the door of the room. Betteredge looked surprised as well as an- noyed by the interruption. " Come in," he called out, irritably, " whoever you are!" The door opened, and there entered to us, quietly, the most remarkable looking man I had ever seen. Judging him by his figure and his movements, he was still young. Judging him by his face, and comparing him with Better- edge, he looked the elder of the two. His com- plexion was of a gipsy darkness ; his fleshless cheeks had fallen into deep hollows, over which the bone projected like a penthouse. His nose presented the fine shape and modelling so often found among the ancient people of the east, so seldom visible among the newer races of the west. His forehead rose high and straight from the brow. His marks and wrinkles were innu- merable. From this strange face, eyes, stranger still, of the softest brown—eyes dreamy and mournful, and deeply sunk in their orbits— looked out at you, and (in my case, at least) took your attention captive at their will. Add to this a quantity of thick closely curling hair, which, by some freak of Nature, had lost its color in the most startlingly partial and capri- cious manner. Over the top of his head it was still of the deep black which was its natural color. Round the sides of his head—without the slightest gradation of grey to break the force of the extraordinary contrast—it had taped completely white. The line between the two colors preserved no sort of regularity. At one place, the white hair ran up into the black ; at another, the black hair ran down into the white. I looked at the man with a curiosity which, I am ashamed to say, I found it quite impossible to control. His soft brown eyes looked back at me gently ; and he met my in- voluntary rudeness in staring at him, with an apology which I was conscious that I had not deserved. "I beg your pardon," he said. "I had no idea that Mr. Betteredge was engaged." He took a slip of paper from his pocket, and handed it to Betteredge. " The list for next week," he said. His eyes just rested on me again—and he left the room as quietly as he had entered it. " Who is that ?" I asked. "Mr. Candy's assistant," said Betteredge. " By-the-bye, Mr. Franklin, you will be sorry to hear that the little doctor has never recovered that illness he caught, going home from the birthday dinner. He's pretty well in health ; but he lost his memory in the fever, and he has never recovered more than the wreck of it since. The work all falls on his assistant. Not much of it now, except among the poor. They can't help themselves, you know. They must put up with the man with the piebald hair, and the gipsy complexion—or they would get no doctor- ing at all." " You don't seem to like him, Betteredge ?" " Nobody likes him, sir." "Why is he so unpopular ?" "Well, Mr. Franklin, his appearance is against him, to begin with. And then there's a story that Mr. Candy took him with a very doubtful character. Nobody knows who he is —and he hasn't a friend in the place. How can you expect one to like him, after that?" " Quite impossible, of course! May I ask what he wanted with you, when he gave you that bit of paper ?" " Only to bring me the weekly list of the sick people about here, sir, who stand in need of a little wine. My lady always had a regular dis- tribution of good sound port and sherry among the infirm poor ; and Miss Rachel wishes the custom to be kept up. Times have changed! times have changed! I remember when Mr. Candy himself brought the list to my mistress. Now it's Mr. Candy's assistant who brings the list to me. I'll go on with the letter, if you will allow me, sir," said Betteredge, drawing Ro- sanna Spearman's confession back to him. "It isn't lively reading, I grant you. But, there! it keeps me from getting sour with thinking of the past." He put on his spectacles, and wagged his head gloomily. " There's a bottom of good sense, Mr. Franklin, in our conduct to our mothers, when they first start us on the journey of life. We are all of us more or less unwilling to be brought into the world. And we are all of us right." Mr. Candy's assistant had produced too strong an impression on me to be immediately dismissed from my thoughts. I passed over the last un- answerable utterance of the Betteredge philo- sophy ; and returned to the subject of the man with the piebald hair. " What is his name ?" I asked. "As ugly a name as need be," Betteredge answered, gruffly. " Ezra Jennings." ________ CHAPTER V. Having told me the name of Mr. Candy's assistant, Betteredge appeared to think that we had wasted enough of our time on an insignifi- cant subject. He resumed the perusal of Ro- sanna Spearman's letter. On my side, I sat at the window, waiting until he had done. Little by little, the impres- sion produced on me by Ezra Jennings—it seemed perfectly unaccountable, in such a situation as mine, that any human being should have produced an impression on me at all!—
faded from my mind. My thoughts flowed back into their former channel. Once more, I forced myself to look my own incredible position re- solutely in the face. Once more, I reviewed in my own mind the course which I had at last summoned composure enough to plan out for the future. To go back to London that day ; to put the whole case before Mr. Bruff ; and, last and most important, to obtain (no matter by what means or at what sacrifice) a personal interview with Rachel —this was my plan of action, so far as I was capable of forming it at the time. There was more than an hour still to spare be- fore the train started. And there was the bare chance that Betteredge might discover some thing in the unread portion of Rosanna Spear- man's letter, which it might be useful for me to know before I left the house in which the dia- mond had been lost. For that chance I was now waiting. The letter ended in these terms : " You have no need to be angry, Mr. Franklin, even if I did feel some little triumph at know- ing that I held all your prospects in life in my own bands. Anxieties and fears soon came back to me. With the view Sergeant Cuff took of the loss of the diamond, he would be sure to end in examining our linen and our dresses. There was no place in my room—there was no place in the house—which I could feel satisfied would be safe from him. How to hide the nightgown so that not even the sergeant could find it ? and how to do that without losing one moment of precious time ?—these were not easy questions to answer. My uncertainties ended in my taking a way that may make you laugh. I undressed, and put the night gown on me. You had worn it—and I had an other little moment of pleasure in wearing it after you. "The next news that reached us in the servant's hall showed that I had not made sure of the nightgown a moment too soon. Sergeant Cuff wanted to see the washing book. " I found it and took it to him in my lady's sitting-room. The sergeant and I had come across each other more than once in former days. I was certain he would know me again —and I was not certain of what he might do when he found me employed as servant in a house in which a valuable jewel had been lost. In this suspense, I felt it would be a re- lief to me to get the meeting between us over, and to know the worst of it at once. " He looked at me as if I was a stranger, when I handed him the washing-book ; and he was very specially polite in thanking me for bring- ing it. I thought those were both bad signs. There was no knowing what he might say of me behind my back ; there was no knowing how soon I might not find myself taken in custody on suspicion, and searched. It was then time for your return from seeing Mr. God- frey Ablewhite off by the railway ; and I went to your favorite walk in the shrubbery, to try for another chance of speaking to you—the last chance, for all I knew to the contrary, that I might have. " You never appeared ; and, what was worse still, Mr. Betteredge and Sergeant Cuff passed by the place where I was hiding —and the ser- geant saw me. " I had no choice, after that, but to return to my proper place and my proper work, before more disasters happened to me. Just as I was going to step across the path, you came back from the railway. You were making straight for the shrubbery, when you saw me—I am certain, sir, you saw me—and you turned away as if I had got the plague, and went into the house. " I made the best of my way indoors again, re- turning by the servants' entrance. There was nobody in the laundry-room at that time ; and I sat down there alone. I have told you al- ready of the thoughts which the Shivering Sand put into my head. Those thoughts came back to me now. I wondered in myself which it would be hardest to do, if things went on in this way—to bear Mr. Franklin Blake's indiffer- ence to me, or to jump into the quicksand and end it for ever in that way ? " It's useless to ask me to account for my own conduct, at this time. I try—and I can't under- stand it myself. " Why didn't I stop you, when you avoided me in that cruel manner ? Why didn't I call out, Mr. Franklin, I have got something to say to you ; it concerns yourself, and you must, and shall hear it ?' You were at my mercy—I had got the whip-hand of you, as they say. And better than that, I had the means (if I could only make you trust me) of being useful to you in the future. Of course, I never supposed that you—a gentleman—had stolen the diamond for the mere pleasure of stealing it. No. Pene- lope had heard Miss Rachel, and I had heard Mr. Betteredge, talk about your extravagance and your debts. It was plain enough to me that you had taken the diamond to sell it, or pledge it, and so to get the money of which you stood in need. Well! I could have told you of a man in London who would have advanced a good large sum on the jewel, and who would have asked no awkward questions about it either. "Why didn't I speak to you! why didn't I speak to you! " I wonder whether the risks and difficulties of keeping the nightgown were as much as I could manage, without having other risks and diffi- culties added to them? This might have been the case with some women—but how could it be the case with me ? In the days when I was a thief, I had run fifty times greater risks, and found my way out of difficulties to which this difficulty was mere child's play. I had been apprenticed, as you may say, to frauds and de- ceptions—some of them on such a grand scale, and managed so cleverly, that they became famous, and appeared in the newspapers. Was such a little thing as the keeping of the night gown likely to weigh on my spirits, and to set my heart sinking within me, at the time when I ought to have spoken to you ? What nonsense to ask the question! the thing couldn't be. " Where is the use of my dwelling in this way on my own folly ? The plain truth is plain enough, surely ? Behind your back I loved you with all my heart and soul. Before your face —there's no denying it—I was frightened of you ; frightened of making you angry with me ; frightened of what you might say to me (though you had taken the diamond) if I presumed to tell you that I had found it out. I had gone as near to it as I dared when I spoke to you in the library. You had not turned your back on me then. You had not started away from me as if I had got the plague. I tried to provoke my self into feeling angry with you, and to rouse up my courage in that way. No! I couldn't feel anything but the misery and the mortifica- tion of it. ' You're a plain girl ; you have got a crooked shoulder ; you're only a housemaid what do you mean by attempting to speak to me ?' You never uttered a word of that, Mr. Franklin ; but you said it all to me, neverthe- less ! Is such madness as this to be accounted for ? No. There is nothing to be done but to confess it, and let it be. " I ask your pardon, once more, for this wander- ing of my pen. There is no fear of its happen- ing again. I am close at the end now. " The first person who disturbed me by coming into the empty room was Penelope. She had found out my secret long since, and she had done her best to bring me to my senses—and done it kindly too. "' Ah!' she said,' I know why you're sitting here, and fretting, all by yourself. The best thing that can happen for your advantage, Ro- sanna, will be for Mr. Franklin's visit here to come to an end. It's my belief that he won't be long now before he leaves the house.' "In all my thoughts of you I had never thought of your going away. I couldn't speak to Penelope. I could only look at her. " ' I've just left Miss Rachel,' Penelope went on. ' And a hard matter I have had of it to put up with her temper. She says the house is unbearable to her with the police in it ; and she's determined to speak to my lady this evening, and to go to her aunt Ablewhite to- ____* NOTE: by Franklin Blake.—The writer is entirely mistaken, poor creature. I never noticed her. My in- tention was certainly to have taken a turn in the shrub- bery. But, remembering at the same moment that my aunt might wish to see me, after my return from the railway, I altered my mind, and went into the house. ___
morrow. If she does that, Mr. Franklin will be the next to find a reason for going away, you may depend on it!' " I recovered the use of my tongue at that. 'Do you mean to say Mr. Franklin will go with her ?' I asked. " ' Only too gladly, if she would let him ; but she won't. He has been made to feel her temper ; he is in her black books too—and that after having done all he can to help her, poor fellow! No, no! If they don't make it up before to-morrow, you will see Miss Rachel go one way, and Mr. Franklin another. Where he may betake himself to I can't say. But he will never stay here, Rosanna, after Miss Rachel has left us.' " I managed to master the despair I felt at the prospect of your going away. To own the truth, I saw a little glimpse of hope for my self if there was really a serious disagreement between Miss Rachel and you. 'Do you know,' I asked, ' what the quarrel is between them ?' " ' It's all on Miss Rachel's side,' Penelope said. ' And, for anything I know to the con- trary, it's all Miss Rachel's temper, and nothing else. I am loath to distress you, Rosanna ; but don't run away with the notion that Mr. Franklin is ever likely to quarrel with her. He's a great deal to fond of her for that!' " She had only just spoken those cruel words when there came a call to us from Mr. Better- edge. All the indoor servants were to assemble in the hall. And then we were to go in, one by one, and he questioned in Mr. Betteredge's room by Sergeant Cuff. " It came to my turn to go in, after her lady- ship's maid and the upper housemaid had been questioned first. Sergeant Cuff's inquiries— though he wrapped them up very cunningly— soon showed me that those two women (the bitterest enemies I had in the house) had made their discoveries outside my door, on the Thurs- day afternoon, and again on the Thursday night. They had told the sergeant enough to open his eyes to some part of the truth. He rightly be- lieved me to have made a new nightgown secretly, but he wrongly believed the paint stained nightgown to be mine. I felt satisfied of another thing, from what he said, which it puzzled me to understand. He suspected me, of course, of being concerned in the disappear- ance of the diamond. But, at the same, he let me see—purposely, as I thought—that he did not consider me as the person chiefly answer- able for the loss of the jewel. He appeared to think that I had been acting under the direction of somebody else. Who that person might be, I couldn't guess then, and can't guess now. " In this uncertainty one thing was plain—that Sergeant Cuff was miles away from knowing the whole truth. You were safe as long as the night gown was safe—and not a moment longer. " I quite despair of making you understand the distress and terror which pressed upon me now. It was impossible for me to risk wearing your nightgown any longer. I might find my- self taken off, at a moment's notice, to the police court at Frizinghall, to be charged on suspicion, and searched accordingly. While Sergeant Cuff still left me free, I had to choose —and that at once—between destroying the nightgown, or hiding it in some safe place, at some safe distance from the house. " If I had only been a little less fond of you, I think I should have destroyed it. But, oh! how could I destroy the only thing I had which proved that I had saved you from discovery ? If we did come to an explanation together, and if you suspected me of having some bad motive, and denied it all, how could I win upon you to trust me, unless I had the nightgown to pro- duce ? Was it wronging you to believe, as I did, and do still, that you might hesitate to let a poor girl like me be the sharer of your secret, and your accomplice in the theft which your money-troubles had tempted you to commit ? Think of your cold behaviour to me, sir, and you will hardly wonder at my unwillingness to destroy the only claim on your confidence and your gratitude which it was my fortune to possess. " I determined to hide it ; and the place I fixed on was the place I knew best—the Shiver- ing Sand. " As soon as the questioning was over, I made the first excuse that came into my head, and got leave to go out for a breath of fresh air. I went straight to Cobb's Hole, to Mr. Yolland's cot- tage. His wife and daughter were the best friends I had. Don't suppose I trusted them with your secret—I have trusted nobody. All I wanted was to write this letter to you, and to have a safe opportunity of taking the nightgown off me. Suspected as I was, I could do neither of those things, with any sort of security, up at the house. " And now I have nearly got through my long letter, writing it alone in Lucy Yolland's bed- room. When it is done I shall go down-stairs with the nightgown rolled up, and hidden under my cloak. I shall find the means I want for keeping it safe and dry in its hiding-place, among the litter of old things in Mrs. Yolland's kitchen. And then I shall go to the Shivering Sand—don't be afraid of my letting my footmarks betray me! —and hide the nightgown down in the sand, where no living creature can find it without being first let into the secret by myself. " And, when that is done, what then ? " Then, Mr. Franklin, I shall have two reasons for making another attempt to say the words to you which I have not said yet. If you leave the house, as Penelope believes you will leave it, and if I haven't spoken to you before that, I shall loose my opportunity for ever. That is one reason. Then, again, there is the comfort- ing knowledge—if my speaking does make you angry—that I have got the nightgown ready to plead my cause for me as nothing else can. That is my other reason. If these two together don't harden my heart against the coldness which has hitherto frozen it up (I mean the coldness of your treatment of me), there will be the end of my efforts—and the end of my life. " Yes. If I miss my next opportunity—if you are as cruel as ever, and if I felt it again as I have felt it already—good-bye to the world which has grudged me the happiness that it gives to others. Good-bye to life, which nothing but a little kindness from you can ever make pleasurable to me again. Don't blame yourself, sir, if it ends in this way. But try —do try to feel some forgiving sorrow for me! I shall take care that you find out what I have done for you, when I am past telling you of it myself. Will you say something kind of me then—in the same gentle way that you have when you speak to Miss Rachel ? If you do that, and if there are such things as ghosts, I believe my ghost will hear it, and tremble with the pleasure of it. " It's time I left off. I am making myself cry. How am I to see my way to the hiding place if I let these useless tears come and blind me? " Besides, why should I look at the gloomy side ? Why not believe, while I can, that it will end well after all ? I may find you in a good humor to-night—or, if not, I may succeed better to-morrow morning. I shan't improve my poor plain face by fretting—shall I ? Who knows but I may have filled all these weary long pages of paper for nothing ? They will go, for safety's sake (never mind now for what other reason) into the hiding-place, along with the nightgown. It has been hard, hard work writing my letter. Oh! if we only end in understanding each other, how I shall enjoy tearing it up! " I beg to remain, sir, your true lover and humble servant, " ROSANNA SPEARMAN." The reading of the letter was completed by Betteredge in silence. After carefully putting it back in the envelope, he sat thinking, with his head bowed down, and his eyes on the ground. " Betteredge," I said, "is there any hint to guide us at the end of the letter?" He looked up slowly, with a heavy sigh. " There is nothing to guide you, Mr. Frank- lin," he answered. "If you will take my advice, you will keep the letter in the cover till these present anxieties of yours have come to an end. It will sorely distress you whenever you read it. Don't read it now." I put the letter away in my pocket-book. A glance back at the sixteenth and seven- teenth chapters of Betteredge's narrative will show that there really was a reason for my thus sparing myself, at a time when my fortitude had
been already cruelly tried. Twice over, the un- happy woman had made her last attempt to speak to me. And twice over, it had been my misfor- tune (God knows how innocently !) to repel the advances she had made to me. On the Friday night, as Betteredge truly describes it, she had found me alone at the billiard table. Her man- ner and her language had suggested to me— and would have suggested to any man, under the circumstances—that she was about to con- fess a guilty knowledge of the disappearance of the diamond. For her own sake, I had pur- posely shown no special interest in what was coming; for her own sake, I had purposely looked at the billiard balls, instead of looking at her—and what had been the result ? I had sent her away from me, wounded to the heart! On the Saturday again—on the day when she must have foreseen, after what Penelope had told her, that my departure was close at hand —the same fatality still pursued us. She had once more attempted to meet me in the shrub- bery walk, and she had found me there in com- pany with Betteredge and Sergeant Cuff. In her hearing, the sergeant, with his own under hand object in view, had appealed to my in- terest in Rosanna Spearman. Again, for the poor creature's own sake, I had met the police- officer with a flat denial, and had declared— loudly declared, so that she might hear me too —that I felt "no interest whatever in Rosanna Spearman." At those words, solely designed to warn her against attempting to gain my private ear, she had turned away, and left the place : cautioned of her danger, as I then be- lieved ; self-doomed to destruction, as I know now. From that point, I have already traced the succession of events which led me to the astounding discovery at the quicksand. The re- trospect is now complete. I may leave the miserable story of Rosanna Spearman—to which, even at this distance of time, I cannot revert without a pang of distress—to suggest for itself all that is here purposely left unsaid. I may pass from the suicide at the Shivering Sand, with its strange and terrible influence on my present position and my future prospects, to interests which concern the living people of this narrative, and to events which were already paving my way for the slow and toilsome jour- ney from the darkness to the light. [TO BE CONTINUED.]