The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - HTML preview
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It appeared to me--but I own I am a poor authority in such matters-- that the recovery of her freedom had set her thinking again of that other man whom she loved, and that she was furious with herself for not being able to control a revulsion of feeling of which she was secretly ashamed. Who was the man? I had my suspicions--but it was needless to waste time in idle speculation. When I had converted her, she would, as a matter of course, have no concealments from Me. I should hear all about the man; I should hear all about the Moonstone. If I had no higher object in stirring her up to a sense of spiritual things, the motive of relieving her mind of its guilty secrets would have been enough of itself to encourage me to go on.
Aunt Able white took her exercise in the afternoon in an invalid chair. Rachel accompanied her. "I wish I could drag the chair," she broke out, recklessly. "I wish I could fatigue myself till I was ready to drop."
She was in the same humor in the evening. I discovered in one of my friend's precious publications--the Life, Letters, and Labors of Miss Jane Ann Stamper, forty-fourth edition--passages which bore with a marvelous appropriateness on Rachel's present position. Upon my proposing to read them, she went to the piano. Conceive how little she must have known of serious people, if she supposed that my patience was to be exhausted in that way! I kept Miss Jane Ann Stamper by me, and waited for events with the most unfaltering trust in the future.
Old Mr. Able white never made his appearance that night. But I knew the importance which his worldly greed attached to his son's marriage with Miss VERINDER--and I felt a positive conviction (do what Mr. Godfrey might to prevent it) that we should see him the next day. With his interference in the matter, the storm on which I had counted would certainly come, and the salutary exhaustion of Rachel's resisting powers would as certainly follow. I am not ignorant that old Mr. Able white has the reputation generally (especially among his inferiors) of being a remarkably good-natured man. According to my observation of him, he deserves his reputation as long as he has his own way, and not a moment longer.
The next day, exactly as I had foreseen, Aunt Able white was as near to being astonished as her nature would permit, by the sudden appearance of her husband. He had barely been a minute in the house, before he was followed, to MY astonishment this time, by an unexpected complication in the shape of Mr. Bruff.
I never remember feeling the presence of the lawyer to be more unwelcome than I felt it at that moment. He looked ready for anything in the way of an obstructive proceeding-- capable even of keeping the peace with Rachel for one of the combatants!
"This is a pleasant surprise, sir," said Mr. Able white, addressing himself with his deceptive cordiality to Mr. Bruff. "When I left your office yesterday, I didn't expect to have the honor of seeing you at Brighton to-day."
"I turned over our conversation in my mind, after you had gone," replied Mr. Bruff. "And it occurred to me that I might perhaps be of some use on this occasion. I was just in time to catch the train, and I had no opportunity of discovering the carriage in which you were traveling."
Having given that explanation, he seated himself by Rachel. I retired modestly to a corner--with Miss Jane Ann Stamper on my lap, in case of emergency. My aunt sat at the window; placidly fanning herself as usual. Mr. Able white stood up in the middle of the room, with his bald head much pinker than I had ever seen it yet, and addressed himself in the most affectionate manner to his niece.
"Rachel, my dear," he said, "I have heard some very extraordinary news from Godfrey. And I am here to inquire about it. You have a sitting-room of your own in this house. Will you honor me by showing me the way to it?"
Rachel never moved. Whether she was determined to bring matters to a crisis, or whether she was prompted by some private sign from Mr. Bruff, is more than I can tell. She declined doing old Mr. Able white the honor of conducting him into her sitting-room.
"Whatever you wish to say to me," she answered, "can be said here-- in the presence of my relatives, and in the presence" (she looked at Mr. Bruff) "of my mother's trusted old friend."
"Just as you please, my dear," said the amiable Mr. Able white. He took a chair. The rest of them looked at his face-- as if they expected it, after seventy years of worldly training, to speak the truth. I looked at the top of his bald head; having noticed on other occasions that the temper which was really in him had a habit of registering itself THERE.
"Some weeks ago," pursued the old gentleman, "my son informed me that Miss VERINDER had done him the honor to engage herself to marry him. Is it possible, Rachel, that he can have misinterpreted--or presumed upon-- what you really said to him?"
"Certainly not," she replied. "I did engage myself to marry him."
"Very frankly answered!" said Mr. Able white. "And most satisfactory, my dear, so far. In respect to what happened some weeks since, Godfrey has made no mistake. The error is evidently in what he told me yesterday. I begin to see it now. You and he have had a lovers' quarrel--and my foolish son has interpreted it seriously. Ah! I should have known better than that at his age."
The fallen nature in Rachel--the mother Eve, so to speak-- began to chafe at this. "Pray let us understand each other, Mr. Able white," she said. "Nothing in the least like a quarrel took place yesterday between your son and me. If he told you that I proposed breaking off our marriage engagement, and that he agreed on his side-- he told you the truth."
The self-registering thermometer at the top of Mr. Able white's bald head began to indicate a rise of temper. His face was more amiable than ever-- but THERE was the pink at the top of his face, a shade deeper already!
"Come, come, my dear!" he said, in his most soothing manner, "now don't be angry, and don't be hard on poor Godfrey! He has evidently said some unfortunate thing. He was always clumsy from a child--but he means well, Rachel, he means well!"
"Mr. Able white, I have either expressed myself very badly, or you are purposely mistaking me. Once for all, it is a settled thing between your son and myself that we remain, for the rest of our lives, cousins and nothing more. Is that plain enough?"
The tone in which she said those words made it impossible, even for old Mr. Able white, to mistake her any longer. His thermometer went up another degree, and his voice when he next spoke, ceased to be the voice which is appropriate to a notoriously good-natured man.
"I am to understand, then," he said, "that your marriage engagement is broken off?"
"You are to understand that, Mr. Able white, if you please."
"I am also to take it as a matter of fact that the proposal to withdraw from the engagement came, in the first instance, from YOU?"
"It came, in the first instance, from me. And it met, as I have told you, with your son's consent and approval."
The thermometer went up to the top of the register. I mean, the pink changed suddenly to scarlet.
"My son is a mean-spirited hound!" cried this furious old worldling. "In justice to myself as his father--not in justice to HIM-- I beg to ask you, Miss VERINDER, what complaint you have to make of Mr. Godfrey Able white?"
Here Mr. Bruff interfered for the first time.
"You are not bound to answer that question," he said to Rachel. Old Mr. Able white fastened on him instantly.
"Don't forget, sir," he said, "that you are a self-invited guest here. Your interference would have come with a better grace if you had waited until it was asked for."
Mr. Bruff took no notice. The smooth varnish on HIS wicked old face never cracked. Rachel thanked him for the advice he had given to her, and then turned to old Mr. Able white-- preserving her composure in a manner which (having regard to her age and her sex) was simply awful to see.
"Your son put the same question to me which you have just asked," she said. "I had only one answer for him, and I have only one answer for you. I proposed that we should release each other, because reflection had convinced me that I should best consult his welfare and mine by retracting a rash promise, and leaving him free to make his choice elsewhere."
"What has my son done?" persisted Mr. Able white. "I have a right to know that. What has my son done?"
She persisted just as obstinately on her side.
"You have had the only explanation which I think it necessary to give to you, or to him," she answered.
"In plain English, it's your sovereign will and pleasure, Miss VERINDER, to jilt my son?"
Rachel was silent for a moment. Sitting close behind her, I heard her sigh. Mr. Bruff took her hand, and gave it a little squeeze. She recovered herself, and answered Mr. Able white as boldly as ever.
"I have exposed myself to worse misconstruction than that," she said. "And I have borne it patiently. The time has gone by, when you could mortify me by calling me a jilt."
She spoke with a bitterness of tone which satisfied me that the scandal of the Moonstone had been in some way recalled to her mind. "I have no more to say," she added, wearily, not addressing the words to anyone in particular, and looking away from us all, out of the window that was nearest to her.
Mr. Able white got upon his feet, and pushed away his chair so violently that it toppled over and fell on the floor.
"I have something more to say on my side," he announced, bringing down the flat of his hand on the table with a bang. "I have to say that if my son doesn't feel this insult, I do!"
Rachel started, and looked at him in sudden surprise. "Insult?" she repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Insult!" reiterated Mr. Able white. "I know your motive, Miss VERINDER, for breaking your promise to my son! I know it as certainly as if you had confessed it in so many words. Your cursed family pride is insulting Godfrey, as it insulted ME when I married your aunt. Her family--her beggarly family-- turned their backs on her for marrying an honest man, who had made his own place and won his own fortune. I had no ancestors. I wasn't descended from a set of cut-throat scoundrels who lived by robbery and murder. I. couldn't point to the time when the Able whites hadn't a shirt to their backs, and couldn't sign their own names. Ha! ha! I wasn't good enough for the Herncastle, when I married. And now, it comes to the pinch, my son isn't good enough for YOU. I suspected it, all along. You have got the Herncastle blood in you, my young lady! I suspected it all along."
"A very unworthy suspicion," remarked Mr. Bruff. "I am astonished that you have the courage to acknowledge it."
Before Mr. Able white could find words to answer in, Rachel spoke in a tone of the most exasperating contempt.
"Surely," she said to the lawyer, "this is beneath notice. If he can think in THAT way, let us leave him to think as he pleases."
From scarlet, Mr. Able white was now becoming purple. He gasped for breath; he looked backwards and forwards from Rachel to Mr. Bruff in such a frenzy of rage with both of them that he didn't know which to attack first. His wife, who had sat impenetrably fanning herself up to this time, began to be alarmed, and attempted, quite uselessly, to quiet him. I had, throughout this distressing interview, felt more than one inward call to interfere with a few earnest words, and had controlled myself under a dread of the possible results, very unworthy of a Christian Englishwoman who looks, not to what is meanly prudent, but to what is morally right. At the point at which matters had now arrived, I rose superior to all considerations of mere expediency. If I had contemplated interposing any remonstrance of my own humble devising, I might possibly have still hesitated. But the distressing domestic emergency which now confronted me, was most marvelously and beautifully provided for in the Correspondence of Miss Jane Ann Stamper--Letter one thousand and one, on "Peace in Families." I rose in my modest corner, and I opened my precious book.
"Dear Mr. Able white," I said, "one word!"
When I first attracted the attention of the company by rising, I could see that he was on the point of saying something rude to me. My sisterly form of address checked him. He stared at me in heathen astonishment.
"As an affectionate well-wisher and friend," I proceeded, "and as one long accustomed to arouse, convince, prepare, enlighten, and fortify others, permit me to take the most pardonable of all liberties--the liberty of composing your mind." He began to recover himself; he was on the point of breaking out-- he WOULD have broken out, with anybody else. But my voice (habitually gentle) possesses a high note or so, in emergencies. In this emergency, I felt imperatively called upon to have the highest voice of the two.
I held up my precious book before him; I rapped the open page impressively with my forefinger. "Not my words!" I exclaimed, in a burst of fervent interruption. "Oh, don't suppose that I claim attention for My humble words! Manna in the wilderness, Mr. Able white! Dew on the parched earth! Words of comfort, words of wisdom, words of love--the blessed, blessed, blessed words of Miss Jane Ann Stamper!"
I was stopped there by a momentary impediment of the breath. Before I could recover myself, this monster in human form shouted out furiously,--
"Miss Jane Ann Stamper be----!"
It is impossible for me to write the awful word, which is here represented by a blank. I shrieked as it passed his lips; I flew to my little bag on the side table; I shook out all my tracts; I seized the one particular tract on profane swearing, entitled, "Hush, for Heaven's Sake!"; I handed it to him with an expression of agonized entreaty. He tore it in two, and threw it back at me across the table. The rest of them rose in alarm, not knowing what might happen next. I instantly sat down again in my corner. There had once been an occasion, under somewhat similar circumstances, when Miss Jane Ann Stamper had been taken by the two shoulders and turned out of a room. I waited, inspired by HER spirit, for a repetition of HER martyrdom.
But no--it was not to be. His wife was the next person whom he addressed. "Who--who--who," he said, stammering with rage, "who asked this impudent fanatic into the house? Did you?"
Before Aunt Able white could say a word, Rachel answered for her. "Miss Clack is here," she said, "as my guest."
Those words had a singular effect on Mr. Able white. They suddenly changed him from a man in a state of red-hot anger to a man in a state of icy-cold contempt. It was plain to everybody that Rachel had said something--short and plain as her answer had been-- which gave him the upper hand of her at last.
"Oh?" he said. "Miss Clack is here as YOUR guest--in MY house?"
It was Rachel's turn to lose her temper at that. Her color rose, and her eyes brightened fiercely. She turned to the lawyer, and, pointing to Mr. Able white, asked haughtily, "What does he mean?"
Mr. Bruff interfered for the third time.
"You appear to forget," he said, addressing Mr. Able white, "that you took this house as Miss VERINDER's guardian, for Miss VERINDER's use."
"Not quite so fast," interposed Mr. Able white. "I have a last word to say, which I should have said some time since, if this----" He looked my way, pondering what abominable name he should call me--"if this Rampant Spinster had not interrupted us. I beg to inform you, sir, that, if my son is not good enough to be Miss VERINDER's husband, I cannot presume to consider his father good enough to be Miss VERINDER's guardian. Understand, if you please, that I refuse to accept the position which is offered to me by Lady VERINDER's will. In your legal phrase, I decline to act. This house has necessarily been hired in my name. I take the entire responsibility of it on my shoulders. It is my house. I can keep it, or let it, just as I please. I have no wish to hurry Miss VERINDER. On the contrary, I beg her to remove her guest and her luggage, at her own entire convenience." He made a low bow, and walked out of the room.
That was Mr. Able white's revenge on Rachel, for refusing to marry his son!
The instant the door closed, Aunt Able white exhibited a phenomenon which silenced us all. She became endowed with energy enough to cross the room!
"My dear," she said, taking Rachel by the hand, "I should be ashamed of my husband, if I didn't know that it is his temper which has spoken to you, and not himself. You," continued Aunt Able white, turning on me in my corner with another endowment of energy, in her looks this time instead of her limbs--"you are the mischievous person who irritated him. I hope I shall never see you or your tracts again." She went back to Rachel and kissed her. "I beg your pardon, my dear," she said, "in my husband's name. What can I do for you?"
Consistently perverse in everything--capricious and unreasonable in all the actions of her life--Rachel melted into tears at those commonplace words, and returned her aunt's kiss in silence.
"If I may be permitted to answer for Miss VERINDER," said Mr. Bruff, "might I ask you, Mrs. Able white, to send Penelope down with her mistress's bonnet and shawl. Leave us ten minutes together," he added, in a lower tone, "and you may rely on my setting matters right, to your satisfaction as well as to Rachel's."
The trust of the family in this man was something wonderful to see. Without a word more, on her side, Aunt Able white left the room.
"Ah!" said Mr. Bruff, looking after her. "The Herncastle blood has its drawbacks, I admit. But there IS something in good breeding after all!"
Having made that purely worldly remark, he looked hard at my corner, as if he expected me to go. My interest in Rachel--an infinitely higher interest than his-- riveted me to my chair.
Mr. Bruff gave it up, exactly as he had given it up at Aunt VERINDER's, in Montague Square. He led Rachel to a chair by the window, and spoke to her there.
"My dear young lady," he said, "Mr. Able white's conduct has naturally shocked you, and taken you by surprise. If it was worth while to contest the question with such a man, we might soon show him that he is not to have things all his own way. But it isn't worth while. You were quite right in what you said just now; he is beneath our notice."
He stopped, and looked round at my corner. I sat there quite immovable, with my tracts at my elbow and with Miss Jane Ann Stamper on my lap.
"You know," he resumed, turning back again to Rachel, "that it was part of your poor mother's fine nature always to see the best of the people about her, and never the worst. She named her brother-in-law your guardian because she believed in him, and because she thought it would please her sister. I had never liked Mr. Able white myself, and I induced your mother to let me insert a clause in the will, empowering her executors, in certain events, to consult with me about the appointment of a new guardian. One of those events has happened to-day; and I find myself in a position to end all these dry business details, I hope agreeably, with a message from my wife. Will you honor Mrs. Bruff by becoming her guest? And will you remain under my roof, and be one of my family, until we wise people have laid our heads together, and have settled what is to be done next?"
At those words, I rose to interfere. Mr. Bruff had done exactly what I had dreaded he would do, when he asked Mrs. Able white for Rachel's bonnet and shawl. Before I could interpose a word, Rachel had accepted his invitation in the warmest terms. If I suffered the arrangement thus made between them to be carried out--if she once passed the threshold of Mr. Bruff's door-- farewell to the fondest hope of my life, the hope of bringing my lost sheep back to the fold! The bare idea of such a calamity as this quite overwhelmed me. I cast the miserable trammels of worldly discretion to the winds, and spoke with the fervor that filled me, in the words that came first.
"Stop!" I said--"stop! I must be heard. Mr. Bruff! you are not related to her, and I am. I invite her--I summon the executors to appoint me guardian. Rachel, dearest Rachel, I offer you my modest home; come to London by the next train, love, and share it with me!"
Mr. Bruff said nothing. Rachel looked at me with a cruel astonishment which she made no effort to conceal.
"You are very kind, Drusilla," she said. "I shall hope to visit you whenever I happen to be in London. But I have accepted Mr. Bruff's invitation, and I think it will be best, for the present, if I remain under Mr. Bruff's care."
"Oh, don't say so!" I pleaded. "I can't part with you, Rachel--I can't part with you!"
I tried to fold her in my arms. But she drew back. My fervor did not communicate itself; it only alarmed her.
"Surely," she said, "this is a very unnecessary display of agitation? I don't understand it."
"No more do I," said Mr. Bruff.
Their hardness--their hideous, worldly hardness--revolted me.
"Oh, Rachel! Rachel!" I burst out. "Haven't you seen yet, that my heart yearns to make a Christian of you? Has no inner voice told you that I am trying to do for you, what I was trying to do for your dear mother when death snatched her out of my hands?"
Rachel advanced a step nearer, and looked at me very strangely.
"I don't understand your reference to my mother," she said. "Miss Clack, will you have the goodness to explain yourself?"
Before I could answer, Mr. Bruff came forward, and offering his arm to Rachel, tried to lead her out of the room.
"You had better not pursue the subject, my dear," he said. "And Miss Clack had better not explain herself."
If I had been a stock or a stone, such an interference as this must have roused me into testifying to the truth. I put Mr. Bruff aside indignantly with my own hand, and, in solemn and suitable language, I stated the view with which sound doctrine does not scruple to regard the awful calamity of dying unprepared. Rachel started back from me--I blush to write--with a scream of horror.
"Come away!" she said to Mr. Bruff. "Come away, for God's sake, before that woman can say any more! Oh, think of my poor mother's harmless, useful, beautiful life! You were at the funeral, Mr. Bruff; you saw how everybody loved her; you saw the poor helpless people crying at her grave over the loss of their best friend. And that wretch stands there, and tries to make me doubt that my mother, who was an angel on earth, is an angel in heaven now! Don't stop to talk about it! Come away! It stifles me to breathe the same air with her! It frightens me to feel that we are in the same room together!"
Deaf to all remonstrance, she ran to the door.
At the same moment, her maid entered with her bonnet and shawl. She huddled them on anyhow. "Pack my things," she said, "and bring them to Mr. Bruff's." I attempted to approach her-- I was shocked and grieved, but, it is needless to say, not offended. I only wished to say to her, "May your hard heart be softened! I freely forgive you!" She pulled down her veil, and tore her shawl away from my hand, and, hurrying out, shut the door in my face. I bore the insult with my customary fortitude. I remember it now with my customary superiority to all feeling of offense.
Mr. Bruff had his parting word of mockery for me, before he too hurried out, in his turn.
"You had better not have explained yourself, Miss Clack," he said, and bowed, and left the room.
The person with the cap-ribbons followed.
"It's easy to see who has set them all by the ears together," she said. "I'm only a poor servant--but I declare I'm ashamed of you!" She too went out, and banged the door after her.
I was left alone in the room. Reviled by them all, deserted by them all, I was left alone in the room.
Is there more to be added to this plain statement of facts-- to this touching picture of a Christian persecuted by the world? No! my diary reminds me that one more of the many checkered chapters in my life ends here. From that day forth, I never saw Rachel VERINDER again. She had my forgiveness at the time when she insulted me. She has had my prayerful good wishes ever since. And when I die-- to complete the return on my part of good for evil--she will have the LIFE, LETTERS, AND LABORS OF MISS JANE ANN STAMPER left her as a legacy by my will.