The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins - HTML preview
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"That's a pity," says Sergeant Cuff. "How did it happen?"
He put the question to me. I answered that the women-servants had crowded into the room on the previous morning, and that some of their petticoats had done the mischief, "Superintendent See grave ordered them out, sir," I added, "before they did any more harm."
"Right!" says Mr. Superintendent in his military way. "I ordered them out. The petticoats did it, Sergeant--the petticoats did it."
"Did you notice which petticoat did it?" asked Sergeant Cuff, still addressing himself, not to his brother-officer, but to me.
He turned to Superintendent See grave upon that, and said, "You noticed, I suppose?"
Mr. Superintendent looked a little taken aback; but he made the best of it. "I can't charge my memory, Sergeant," he said, "a mere trifle--a mere trifle."
Sergeant Cuff looked at Mr. See grave, as he had looked at the gravel walks in the ropery, and gave us, in his melancholy way, the first taste of his quality which we had yet.
"I made a private inquiry last week, Mr. Superintendent," he said. "At one end of the inquiry there was a murder, and at the other end there was a spot of ink on a table cloth that nobody could account for. In all my experience along the dirtiest ways of this dirty little world, I have never met with such a thing as a trifle yet. Before we go a step further in this business we must see the petticoat that made the smear, and we must know for certain when that paint was wet."
Mr. Superintendent--taking his set-down rather sulkily-- asked if he should summon the women. Sergeant Cuff, after considering a minute, sighed, and shook his head.
"No," he said, "we'll take the matter of the paint first. It's a question of Yes or No with the paint--which is short. It's a question of petticoats with the women--which is long. What o'clock was it when the servants were in this room yesterday morning? Eleven o'clock--eh? Is there anybody in the house who knows whether that paint was wet or dry, at eleven yesterday morning?"
"Her ladyship's nephew, Mr. Franklin Blake, knows," I said. "Is the gentleman in the house?"
Mr. Franklin was as close at hand as could be--waiting for his first chance of being introduced to the great Cuff. In half a minute he was in the room, and was giving his evidence as follows:
"That door, Sergeant," he said, "has been painted by Miss VERINDER, under my inspection, with my help, and in a vehicle of my own composition. The vehicle dries whatever colors may be used with it, in twelve hours."
"Do you remember when the smeared bit was done, sir?" asked the Sergeant.
"Perfectly," answered Mr. Franklin. "That was the last morsel of the door to be finished. We wanted to get it done, on Wednesday last--and I myself completed it by three in the afternoon, or soon after."
"To-day is Friday," said Sergeant Cuff, addressing himself to Superintendent See grave. "Let us reckon back, sir. At three on the Wednesday afternoon, that bit of the painting was completed. The vehicle dried it in twelve hours--that is to say, dried it by three o'clock on Thursday morning. At eleven on Thursday morning you held your inquiry here. Take three from eleven, and eight remains. That paint had been EIGHT HOURS DRY, Mr. Superintendent, when you supposed that the women-servants' petticoats smeared it."
First knock-down blow for Mr. See grave! If he had not suspected poor Penelope, I should have pitied him.
Having settled the question of the paint, Sergeant Cuff, from that moment, gave his brother-officer up as a bad job-- and addressed himself to Mr. Franklin, as the more promising assistant of the two.
"It's quite on the cards, sir," he said, "that you have put the clue into our hands." As the words passed his lips, the bedroom door opened, and Miss Rachel came out among us suddenly.
She addressed herself to the Sergeant, without appearing to notice (or to heed)
that he was a perfect stranger to her.
"Did you say," she asked, pointing to Mr. Franklin, "that HE had put the clue into your hands?"
("This is Miss VERINDER," I whispered, behind the Sergeant.)
"That gentleman, miss," says the Sergeant--with his steely-grey eyes carefully studying my young lady's face--"has possibly put the clue into our hands."
She turned for one moment, and tried to look at Mr. Franklin. I say, tried, for she suddenly looked away again before their eyes met. There seemed to be some strange disturbance in her mind. She colored up, and then she turned pale again. With the paleness, there came a new look into her face--a look which it startled me to see.
"Having answered your question, miss," says the Sergeant, "I beg leave to make an inquiry in my turn. There is a smear on the painting of your door, here. Do you happen to know when it was done? or who did it?"
Instead of making any reply, Miss Rachel went on with her questions, as if he had not spoken, or as if she had not heard him.
"Are you another police-officer?" she asked.
"I am Sergeant Cuff, miss, of the Detective Police."
" Do you think a young lady's advice worth having?"
" I shall be glad to hear it, miss."
"Do your duty by yourself--and don't allow Mr Franklin Blake to help you!"
She said those words so spitefully, so savagely, with such an extraordinary outbreak of ill-will towards Mr. Franklin, in her voice and in her look, that--though I had known her from a baby, though I loved and honored her next to my lady herself-- I was ashamed of Miss Rachel for the first time in my life.
Sergeant Cuff's immovable eyes never stirred from off her face. "Thank you, miss," he said. "Do you happen to know anything about the smear? Might you have done it by accident yourself?"
"I know nothing about the smear."
With that answer, she turned away, and shut herself up again in her bed-room. This time, I heard her--as Penelope had heard her before-- burst out crying as soon as she was alone again.
I couldn't bring myself to look at the Sergeant--I looked at Mr. Franklin, who stood nearest to me. He seemed to be even more sorely distressed at what had passed than I was.
"I told you I was uneasy about her," he said. "And now you see why."
"Miss VERINDER appears to be a little out of temper about the loss of her Diamond," remarked the Sergeant. "It's a valuable jewel. Natural enough! natural enough!"
Here was the excuse that I had made for her (when she forgot herself before Superintendent See grave, on the previous day) being made for her over again, by a man who couldn't have had MY interest in making it--for he was a perfect stranger! A kind of cold shudder ran through me, which I couldn't account for at the time. I know, now, that I must have got my first suspicion, at that moment, of a new light (and horrid light) having suddenly fallen on the case, in the mind of Sergeant Cuff-- purely and entirely in consequence of what he had seen in Miss Rachel, and heard from Miss Rachel, at that first interview between them.
"A young lady's tongue is a privileged member, sir," says the Sergeant to Mr. Franklin. "Let us forget what has passed, and go straight on with this business. Thanks to you, we know when the paint was dry. The next thing to discover is when the paint was last seen without that smear. YOU have got a head on your shoulders--and you understand what I mean."
Mr. Franklin composed himself, and came back with an effort from Miss Rachel to the matter in hand.
"I think I do understand," he said. "The more we narrow the question of time, the more we also narrow the field of inquiry."
"That's it, sir," said the Sergeant. "Did you notice your work here, on the Wednesday afternoon, after you had done it?"
Mr. Franklin shook his head, and answered, "I can't say I did."
" Did you?" inquired Sergeant Cuff, turning to me.
"I can't say I did either, sir."
"Who was the last person in the room, the last thing on Wednesday night?"
" Miss Rachel, I suppose, sir."
Mr. Franklin struck in there, "Or possibly your daughter, Better edge." He turned to Sergeant Cuff, and explained that my daughter was Miss VERINDER's maid.
"Mr. Better edge, ask your daughter to step up. Stop!" says the Sergeant, taking me away to the window, out of earshot, "Your Superintendent here," he went on, in a whisper, "has made a pretty full report to me of the manner in which he has managed this case. Among other things, he has, by his own confession, set the servants' backs up. It's very important to smooth them down again. Tell your daughter, and tell the rest of them, these two things, with my compliments: First, that I have no evidence before me, yet, that the Diamond has been stolen; I only know that the Diamond has been lost. Second, that my business here with the servants is simply to ask them to lay their heads together and help me to find it." My experience of the women-servants, when Superintendent See grave laid his embargo on their rooms, came in handy here.
"May I make so bold, Sergeant, as to tell the women a third thing?" I asked. "Are they free (with your compliments) to fidget up and downstairs, and whisk in and out of their bed-rooms, if the fit takes them?"
"Perfectly free," said the Sergeant.
"THAT will smooth them down, sir," I remarked, "from the cook to the scullion."
" Go, and do it at once, Mr. Better edge."
I did it in less than five minutes. There was only one difficulty when I came to the bit about the bed-rooms. It took a pretty stiff exertion of my authority, as chief, to prevent the whole of the female household from following me and Penelope up- stairs, in the character of volunteer witnesses in a burning fever of anxiety to help Sergeant Cuff.
The Sergeant seemed to approve of Penelope. He became a trifle less dreary; and he looked much as he had looked when he noticed the white musk rose in the flower-garden. Here is my daughter's evidence, as drawn off from her by the Sergeant. She gave it, I think, very prettily--but, there! she is my child all over: nothing of her mother in her; Lord bless you, nothing of her mother in her! Penelope examined: Took a lively interest in the painting on the door, having helped to mix the colors. Noticed the bit of work under the lock, because it was the last bit done. Had seen it, some hours afterwards, without a smear. Had left it, as late as twelve at night, without a smear. Had, at that hour, wished her young lady good night in the bedroom; had heard the clock strike in the "boudoir"; had her hand at the time on the handle of the painted door; knew the paint was wet (having helped to mix the colors, as aforesaid); took particular pains not to touch it; could swear that she held up the skirts of her dress, and that there was no smear on the paint then; could not swear that her dress mightn't have touched it accidentally in going out; remembered the dress she had on, because it was new, a present from Miss Rachel; her father remembered, and could speak to it, too; could, and would, and did fetch it; dress recognized by her father as the dress she wore that night; skirts examined, a long job from the size of them; not the ghost of a paint-stain discovered anywhere. End of Penelope's evidence--and very pretty and convincing, too. Signed, Gabriel Better edge.
The Sergeant's next proceeding was to question me about any large dogs in the house who might have got into the room, and done the mischief with a whisk of their tails. Hearing that this was impossible, he next sent for a magnifying-glass, and tried how the smear looked, seen that way. No skin-mark (as of a human hand) printed off on the paint. All the signs visible--signs which told that the paint had been smeared by some loose article of somebody's dress touching it in going by. That somebody (putting together Penelope's evidence and Mr. Franklin's evidence) must have been in the room, and done the mischief, between midnight and three o'clock on the Thursday morning.
Having brought his investigation to this point, Sergeant Cuff discovered that such a person as Superintendent See grave was still left in the room, upon which he summed up the proceedings for his brother-officer's benefit, as follows:
"This trifle of yours, Mr. Superintendent," says the Sergeant, pointing to the place on the door, "has grown a little in importance since you noticed it last. At the present stage of the inquiry there are, as I take it, three discoveries to make, starting from that smear. Find out (first) whether there is any article of dress in this house with the smear of the paint on it. Find out (second) who that dress belongs to. Find out (third) how the person can account for having been in this room, and smeared the paint, between midnight and three in the morning. If the person can't satisfy you, you haven't far to look for the hand that has got the Diamond. I'll work this by myself, if you please, and detain you no longer-from your regular business in the town. You have got one of your men here, I see. Leave him here at my disposal, in case I want him-- and allow me to wish you good morning."
Superintendent See grave's respect for the Sergeant was great; but his respect for himself was greater still. Hit hard by the celebrated Cuff, he hit back smartly, to the best of his ability, on leaving the room.
"I have abstained from expressing any opinion, so far," says Mr. Superintendent, with his military voice still in good working order. "I have now only one remark to offer on leaving this case in your hands. There IS such a thing, Sergeant, as making a mountain out of a molehill. Good morning."
"There is also such a thing as making nothing out of a molehill, in consequence of your head being too high to see it." Having returned his brother-officer's compliments in those terms, Sergeant Cuff wheeled about, and walked away to the window by himself.
Mr. Franklin and I waited to see what was coming next. The Sergeant stood at the window with his hands in his pockets, looking out, and whistling the tune of "The Last Rose of Summer" softly to himself. Later in the proceedings, I discovered that he only forgot his manners so far as to whistle, when his mind was hard at work, seeing its way inch by inch to its own private ends, on which occasions "The Last Rose of Summer" evidently helped and encouraged him. I suppose it fitted in somehow with his character. It reminded him, you see, of his favorite roses, and, as HE whistled it, it was the most melancholy tune going. Turning from the window, after a minute or two, the Sergeant walked into the middle of the room, and stopped there, deep in thought, with his eyes on Miss Rachel's bed-room door. After a little he roused himself, nodded his head, as much as to say, "That will do," and, addressing me, asked for ten minutes' conversation with my mistress, at her ladyship's earliest convenience.
Leaving the room with this message, I heard Mr. Franklin ask the Sergeant a question, and stopped to hear the answer also at the threshold of the door.
"Can you guess yet," inquired Mr. Franklin, "who has stolen the Diamond?"
" NOBODY HAS STOLEN THE DIAMOND," answered Sergeant Cuff.
We both started at that extraordinary view of the case, and both earnestly begged him to tell us what he meant.
"Wait a little," said the Sergeant. "The pieces of the puzzle are not all put together yet."
I found my lady in her own sitting room. She started and looked annoyed when I mentioned that Sergeant Cuff wished to speak to her.
"MUST I see him?" she asked. "Can't you represent me, Gabriel?"
I felt at a loss to understand this, and showed it plainly, I suppose, in my face. My lady was so good as to explain herself.
"I am afraid my nerves are a little shaken," she said. "There is something in that police-officer from London which I recoil from--I don't know why. I have a presentiment that he is bringing trouble and misery with him into the house. Very foolish, and very unlike ME--but so it is."
I hardly knew what to say to this. The more I saw of Sergeant Cuff, the better I liked him. My lady rallied a little after having opened her heart to me--being, naturally, a woman of a high courage, as I have already told you.
"If I must see him, I must," she said. "But I can't prevail on myself to see him alone. Bring him in, Gabriel, and stay here as long as he stays."
This was the first attack of the meg rims that I remembered in my mistress since the time when she was a young girl. I went back to the "boudoir." Mr. Franklin strolled out into the garden, and joined Mr. Godfrey, whose time for departure was now drawing near. Sergeant Cuff and I went straight to my mistress's room.
I declare my lady turned a shade paler at the sight of him! She commanded herself, however, in other respects, and asked the Sergeant if he had any objection to my being present. She was so good as to add, that I was her trusted adviser, as well as her old servant, and that in anything which related to the household I was the person whom it might be most profitable to consult. The Sergeant politely answered that he would take my presence as a favor, having something to say about the servants in general, and having found my experience in that quarter already of some use to him. My lady pointed to two chairs, and we set in for our conference immediately.
"I have already formed an opinion on this case, says Sergeant Cuff, "which I beg your ladyship's permission to keep to myself for the present. My business now is to mention what I have discovered up-stairs in Miss VERINDER's sitting-room, and what I have decided (with your ladyship's leave) on doing next."
He then went into the matter of the smear on the paint, and stated the conclusions he drew from it--just as he had stated them (only with greater respect of language) to Superintendent See grave. "One thing," he said, in conclusion, "is certain. The Diamond is missing out of the drawer in the cabinet. Another thing is next to certain. The marks from the smear on the door must be on some article of dress belonging to somebody in this house. We must discover that article of dress before we go a step further."
"And that discovery," remarked my mistress, "implies, I presume, the discovery of the thief?"
"I beg your ladyship's pardon--I don't say the Diamond is stolen. I only say, at present, that the Diamond is missing. The discovery of the stained dress may lead the way to finding it."
Her ladyship looked at me. "Do you understand this?" she said. "Sergeant Cuff understands it, my lady," I answered.
"How do you propose to discover the stained dress?" inquired my mistress, addressing herself once more to the Sergeant. "My good servants, who have been with me for years, have, I am ashamed to say, had their boxes and rooms searched already by the other officer. I can't and won't permit them to be insulted in that way a second time!"
(There was a mistress to serve! There was a woman in ten thousand, if you like!) "That is the very point I was about to put to your ladyship," said the Sergeant. "The other officer has done a world of harm to this inquiry, by letting the servants see that he suspected them. If I give them cause to think themselves suspected a second time, there's no knowing what obstacles they may not throw in my way–- the women especially. At the same time, their boxes must be searched again-- for this plain reason, that the first investigation only looked for the Diamond, and that the second investigation must look for the stained dress. I quite agree with you, my lady, that the servants' feelings ought to be consulted. But I am equally clear that the servants' wardrobes ought to be searched."
This looked very like a dead-lock. My lady said so, in choicer language than mine.
"I have got a plan to meet the difficulty," said Sergeant Cuff, "if your ladyship will consent to it. I propose explaining the case to the servants."
"The women will think themselves suspected directly, I said, interrupting him.
"The women won't, Mr. Better edge," answered the Sergeant, "if I can tell them I am going to examine the wardrobes of EVERYBODY-- from her ladyship downwards--who slept in the house on Wednesday night. It's a mere formality," he added, with a side look at my mistress; "but the servants will accept it as even dealing between them and their betters; and, instead of hindering the investigation, they will make a point of honor of assisting it."
I saw the truth of that. My lady, after her first surprise was over, saw the truth of it also.
"You are certain the investigation is necessary?" she said.
"It's the shortest way that I can see, my lady, to the end we have in view."
My mistress rose to ring the bell for her maid. "You shall speak to the servants," she said, "with the keys of my wardrobe in your hand."
Sergeant Cuff stopped her by a very unexpected question.
"Hadn't we better make sure first," he asked, "that the other ladies and gentlemen in the house will consent, too?"
"The only other lady in the house is Miss VERINDER," answered my mistress, with a look of surprise. "The only gentlemen are my nephews, Mr. Blake and Mr. Able white. There is not the least fear of a refusal from any of the three."
I reminded my lady here that Mr. Godfrey was going away. As I said the words, Mr. Godfrey himself knocked at the door to say good-bye, and was followed in by Mr. Franklin, who was going with him to the station. My lady explained the difficulty. Mr. Godfrey settled it directly. He called to Samuel, through the window, to take his portmanteau up-stairs again, and he then put the key himself into Sergeant Cuff's hand. "My luggage can follow me to London," he said, "when the inquiry is over." The Sergeant received the key with a becoming apology. "I am sorry to put you to any inconvenience, sir, for a mere formality; but the example of their betters will do wonders in reconciling the servants to this inquiry." Mr. Godfrey, after taking leave of my lady, in a most sympathizing manner? left a farewell message for Miss Rachel, the terms of which made it clear to my mind that he had not taken No for an answer, and that he meant to put the marriage question to her once more, at the next opportunity. Mr. Franklin, on following his cousin out, informed the Sergeant that all his clothes were open to examination, and that nothing he possessed was kept under lock and key. Sergeant Cuff made his best acknowledgments. His views, you will observe, had been met with the utmost readiness by my lady, by Mr. Godfrey, and by Mr. Franklin. There was only Miss. Rachel now wanting to follow their lead, before we-called the servants together, and began the search for the stained dress.
My lady's unaccountable objection to the Sergeant seemed to make our conference more distasteful to her than ever, as soon as we were left alone again. "If I send you down Miss VERINDER's keys," she said to him, "I presume I shall have done all you want of me for the present?"
"I beg your ladyship's pardon," said Sergeant Cuff. "Before we begin, I should like, if convenient, to have the washing-book. The stained article of dress may be an article of linen. If the search leads to nothing, I want to be able to account next for all the linen in the house, and for all the linen sent to the wash. If there is an article missing, there will be at least a presumption that it has got the paint-stain on it, and that it has been purposely made away with, yesterday or to-day, by the person owning it. Superintendent See grave," added the Sergeant, turning to me, "pointed the attention of the women-servants to the smear, when they all crowded into the room on Thursday morning. That may turn out, Mr. Better edge, to have been one more of Superintendent See grave's many mistakes."
My lady desired me to ring the bell, and order the washing-book. She remained with us until it was produced, in case Sergeant Cuff had any further request to make of her after looking at it.
The washing-book was brought in by Rosanna Spearman. The girl had come down to breakfast that morning miserably pale and haggard, but sufficiently recovered from her illness of the previous day to do her usual work. Sergeant Cuff looked attentively at our second housemaid--at her face, when she came in; at her crooked shoulder, when she went out.
"Have you anything more to say to me?" asked my lady, still as eager as ever to be out of the Sergeant's society.
The great Cuff opened the washing-book, understood it perfectly in half a minute, and shut it up again. "I venture to trouble your ladyship with one last question," he said. "Has the young woman who brought us this book been in your employment as long as the other servants?"
"Why do you ask?" said my lady.
"The last time I saw her," answered the Sergeant, "she was in prison for theft."
After that, there was no help for it, but to tell him the truth. My mistress dwelt strongly on Rosanna's good conduct in her service, and on the high opinion entertained of her by the matron at the reformatory. "You don't suspect her, I hope?" my lady added, in conclusion, very earnestly.
"I have already told your ladyship that I don't suspect any person in the house of thieving--up to the present time."
After that answer, my lady rose to go up-stairs, and ask for Miss Rachel's keys. The Sergeant was before-hand with me in opening the door for her. He made a very low bow. My lady shuddered as she passed him.
We waited, and waited, and no keys appeared. Sergeant Cuff made no remark to me. He turned his melancholy face to the window; he put his lanky hands into his pockets; and he whistled "The Last Rose of Summer" softly to himself.
At last, Samuel came in, not with the keys, but with a morsel of paper for me. I got at my spectacles, with some fumbling and difficulty, feeling the Sergeant's dismal eyes fixed on me all the time. There were two or three lines on the paper, written in pencil by my lady. They informed me that Miss Rachel flatly refused to have her wardrobe examined. Asked for her reasons, she had burst out crying. Asked again, she had said: "I won't, because I won't. I must yield to force if you use it, but I will yield to nothing else." I understood my lady's disinclination to face Sergeant Cuff with such an answer from her daughter as that. If I had not been too old for the amiable weaknesses of youth, I believe I should have blushed at the notion of facing him myself.
"Any news of Miss VERINDER's keys?" asked the Sergeant. "My young lady refuses to have her wardrobe examined."
" Ah!" said the Sergeant.
His voice was not quite in such a perfect state of discipline as his face. When he said "Ah!" he said it in the tone of a man who had heard something which he expected to hear. He half angered and half frightened me--why, I couldn't tell, but he did it.
"Must the search be given up?" I asked.
"Yes," said the Sergeant, "the search must be given up, because your young lady refuses to submit to it like the rest. We must examine all the wardrobes in the house or none. Send Mr. Able white's portmanteau to London by the next train, and return the washing-book, with my compliments and thanks, to the young woman who brought it in."
He laid the washing-book on the table, and taking out his penknife, began to trim his nails.
"You don't seem to be much disappointed," I said.
"No," said Sergeant Cuff; "I am not much disappointed." I tried to make him explain himself.
"Why should Miss Rachel put an obstacle in your way?" I inquired. "Isn't it her interest to help you?"
"Wait a little, Mr. Better edge--wait a little."
Cleverer heads than mine might have seen his drift. Or a person less fond of Miss Rachel than I was, might have seen his drift. My lady's horror of him might (as I have since thought) have meant that she saw his drift (as the scripture says) "in a glass darkly." I didn't see it yet--that's all I know.
"What's to be done next?" I asked.
Sergeant Cuff finished the nail on which he was then at work, looked at it for a moment with a melancholy interest, and put up his penknife.
"Come out into the garden," he said " and let's have a look at the roses."
The nearest way to the garden, on going out of my lady's sitting-room, was by the shrubbery path, which you already know of. For the sake of your better understanding of what is now to come, I may add to this, that the shrubbery path was Mr. Franklin's favorite walk. When he was out in the grounds, and when we failed to find him anywhere else, we generally found him here.
I am afraid I must own that I am rather an obstinate old man. The more firmly Sergeant Cuff kept his thoughts shut up from me, the more firmly I persisted in trying to look in at them. As we turned into the shrubbery path, I attempted to circumvent him in another way.
"As things are now," I said, "if I was in your place, I should be at my wits' end."
"If you were in my place," answered the Sergeant, "you would have formed an opinion--and, as things are now, any doubt you might previously have felt about your own conclusions would be completely set at rest. Never mind for the present what those conclusions are, Mr. Better edge. I haven't brought you out here to draw me like a badger; I have brought you out here to ask for some information. You might have given it to me no doubt, in the house, instead of out of it. But doors and listeners have a knack of getting together; and, in my line of life, we cultivate a healthy taste for the open air."
Who was to circumvent THIS man? I gave in--and waited as patiently as I could to hear what was coming next.
"We won't enter into your young lady's motives," the Sergeant went on; "we will only say it's a pity she declines to assist me, because, by so doing, she makes this investigation more difficult than it might otherwise have been. We must now try to solve the mystery of the smear on the door--which, you may take my word for it, means the mystery of the Diamond also--in some other way. I have decided to see the servants, and to search their thoughts and actions, Mr. Better edge, instead of searching their wardrobes. Before I begin, however, I want to ask you a question or two. You are an observant man--did you notice anything strange in any of the servants (making due allowance, of course, for fright and fluster), after the loss of the Diamond was found out? Any particular quarrel among them? Any one of them not in his or her usual spirits? Unexpectedly out of temper, for instance? or unexpectedly taken ill?"
I had just time to think of Rosanna Spearman's sudden illness at yesterday's dinner--but not time to make any answer--when I saw Sergeant Cuff's eyes suddenly turn aside towards the shrubbery; and I heard him say softly to himself, "Hullo!"
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"A touch of the rheumatics in my back," said the Sergeant, in a loud voice, as if he wanted some third person to hear us. "We shall have a change in the weather before long."
A few steps further brought us to the corner of the house. Turning off sharp to the right, we entered on the terrace, and went down, by the steps in the middle, into the garden below. Sergeant Cuff stopped there, in the open space, where we could see round us on every side.
"About that young person, Rosanna Spearman?" he said. "It isn't very likely, with her personal appearance, that she has got a lover. But, for the girl's own sake, I must ask you at once whether SHE has provided herself with a sweetheart, poor wretch, like the rest of them?"
What on earth did he mean, under present circumstances, by putting such a question to me as that? I stared at him, instead of answering him.
"I saw Rosanna Spearman hiding in the shrubbery as we went by," said the Sergeant.
"When you said 'Hullo'?"
"Yes--when I said 'Hullo!' If there's a sweetheart in the case, the hiding doesn't much matter. If there isn't--as things are in this house--the hiding is a highly suspicious circumstance, and it will be my painful duty to act on it accordingly." What, in God's name, was I to say to him? I knew the shrubbery was Mr. Franklin's favorite walk; I knew he would most likely turn that way when he came back from the station; I knew that Penelope had over and over again caught her fellow-servant hanging about there, and had always declared to me that Rosanna's object was to attract Mr. Franklin's attention. If my daughter was right, she might well have been lying in wait for Mr. Franklin's return when the Sergeant noticed her. I was put between the two difficulties of mentioning Penelope's fanciful notion as if it was mine, or of leaving an unfortunate creature to suffer the consequences, the very serious consequences, of exciting the suspicion of Sergeant Cuff. Out of pure pity for the girl--on my soul and my character, out of pure pity for the girl--I gave the Sergeant the necessary explanations, and told him that Rosanna had been mad enough to set her heart on Mr. Franklin Blake.
Sergeant Cuff never laughed. On the few occasions when anything amused him, he curled up a little at the corners of the lips, nothing more. He curled up now. "Hadn't you better say she's mad enough to be an ugly girl and only a servant?" he asked. "The falling in love with a gentleman of Mr. Franklin Blake's manners and appearance doesn't seem to me to be the maddest part of her conduct by any means. However, I'm glad the thing is cleared up: it relieves one's mind to have things cleared up. Yes, I'll keep it a secret, Mr. Better edge. I like to be tender to human infirmity-- though I don't get many chances of exercising that virtue in my line of life. You think Mr. Franklin Blake hasn't got a suspicion of the girl's fancy for him? Ah! he would have found it out fast enough if she had been nice-looking. The ugly women have a bad time of it in this world; let's hope it will be made up to them in another. You have got a nice garden here, and a well-kept lawn. See for yourself how much better the flowers look with grass about them instead of gravel. No, thank you. I won't take a rose. It goes to my heart to break them off the stem. Just as it goes to your heart, you know, when there's something wrong in the servants' hall. Did you notice anything you couldn't account for in any of the servants when the loss of the Diamond was first found out?"
I had got on very fairly well with Sergeant Cuff so far. But the slyness with which he slipped in that last question put me on my guard. In plain English, I didn't at all relish the notion of helping his inquiries, when those inquiries took him (in the capacity of snake in the grass) among my fellow-servants.
"I noticed nothing," I said, "except that we all lost our heads together, myself included."
"Oh," says the Sergeant, "that's all you have to tell me, is it?"
I answered, with (as I flattered myself) an unmoved countenance, "That is all." Sergeant Cuff's dismal eyes looked me hard in the face.
"Mr. Better edge," he said, "have you any objection to oblige me by shaking hands? I have taken an extraordinary liking to you."
(Why he should have chosen the exact moment when I was deceiving him to give me that proof of his good opinion, is beyond all comprehension! I felt a little proud--I really did feel a little proud of having been one too many at last for the celebrated Cuff!) We went back to the house; the Sergeant requesting that I would give him a room to himself, and then send in the servants (the indoor servants only), one after another, in the order of their rank, from first to last.
I showed Sergeant Cuff into my own room, and then called the servants together in the hall. Rosanna Spearman appeared among them, much as usual. She was as quick in her way as the Sergeant in his, and I suspect she had heard what he said to me about the servants in general, just before he discovered her. There she was, at any rate, looking as if she had never heard of such a place as the shrubbery in her life.
I sent them in, one by one, as desired. The cook was the first to enter the Court of Justice, otherwise my room. She remained but a short time. Report, on coming out: "Sergeant Cuff is depressed in his spirits; but Sergeant Cuff is a perfect gentleman." My lady's own maid followed. Remained much longer. Report, on coming out: "If Sergeant Cuff doesn't believe a respectable woman, he might keep his opinion to himself, at any rate!" Penelope went next. Remained only a moment or two. Report, on coming out: "Sergeant Cuff is much to be pitied. He must have been crossed in love, father, when he was a young man." The first housemaid followed Penelope. Remained, like my lady's maid, a long time. Report, on coming out: "I didn't enter her ladyship's service, Mr. Better edge, to be doubted to my face by a low police-officer!" Rosanna Spearman went next. Remained longer than any of them. No report on coming out-- dead silence, and lips as pale as ashes. Samuel, the footman, followed Rosanna. Remained a minute or two. Report, on coming out: "Whoever blacks Sergeant Cuff's boots ought to be ashamed of himself." Nancy, the kitchen-maid, went last. Remained a minute or two. Report, on coming out: "Sergeant Cuff has a heart; HE doesn't cut jokes, Mr. Better edge, with a poor hard-working girl."
Going into the Court of Justice, when it was all over, to hear if there were any further commands for me, I found the Sergeant at his old trick-- looking out of window, and whistling "The Last Rose of Summer" to himself.
"Any discoveries, sir?" I inquired.
"If Rosanna Spearman asks leave to go out," said the Sergeant, "let the poor thing go; but let me know first."
I might as well have held my tongue about Rosanna and Mr. Franklin! It was plain enough; the unfortunate girl had fallen under Sergeant Cuff's suspicions, in spite of all I could do to prevent it.
"I hope you don't think Rosanna is concerned in the loss of the Diamond?" I ventured to say.
The corners of the Sergeant's melancholy mouth curled up, and he looked hard in my face, just as he had looked in the garden.
"I think I had better not tell you, Mr. Better edge," he said. "You might lose your head, you know, for the second time."
I began to doubt whether I had been one too many for the celebrated Cuff, after all! It was rather a relief to me that we were interrupted here by a knock at the door, and a message from the cook. Rosanna Spearman HAD asked to go out, for the usual reason, that her head was bad, and she wanted a breath of fresh air. At a sign from the Sergeant, I said, Yes. "Which is the servants' way out?" he asked, when the messenger had gone. I showed him the servants' way out. "Lock the door of your room," says the Sergeant; "and if anybody asks for me, say I'm in there, composing my mind." He curled up again at the corners of the lips, and disappeared.
Left alone, under those circumstances, a devouring curiosity pushed me on to make some discoveries for myself.
It was plain that Sergeant Cuff's suspicions of Rosanna had been roused by something that he had found out at his examination of the servants in my room. Now, the only two servants (excepting Rosanna herself) who had remained under examination for any length of time, were my lady's own maid and the first housemaid, those two being also the women who had taken the lead in persecuting their unfortunate fellow-servant from the first. Reaching these conclusions, I looked in on them, casually as it might be, in the servants' hall, and, finding tea going forward, instantly invited myself to that meal. (For, NOTA BENE, a drop of tea is to a woman's tongue what a drop of oil is to a wasting lamp.)
My reliance on the tea-pot, as an ally, did not go unrewarded. In less than half an hour I knew as much as the Sergeant himself.
My lady's maid and the housemaid, had, it appeared, neither of them believed in Rosanna's illness of the previous day. These two devils-- I ask your pardon; but how else CAN you describe a couple of spiteful women?-- had stolen up-stairs, at intervals during the Thursday afternoon; had tried Rosanna's door, and found it locked; had knocked, and not been answered; had listened, and not heard a sound inside. When the girl had come down to tea, and had been sent up, still out of sorts, to bed again, the two devils aforesaid had tried her door once more, and found it locked; had looked at the keyhole, and found it stopped up; had seen a light under the door at midnight, and had heard the crackling of a fire (a fire in a servant's bed-room in the month of June!) at four in the morning. All this they had told Sergeant Cuff, who, in return for their anxiety to enlighten him, had eyed them with sour and suspicious looks, and had shown them plainly that he didn't believe either one or the other. Hence, the unfavorable reports of him which these two women had brought out with them from the examination. Hence, also (without reckoning the influence of the tea-pot), their readiness to let their tongues run to any length on the subject of the Sergeant's ungracious behavior to them.
Having had some experience of the great Cuff's round-about ways, and having last seen him evidently bent on following Rosanna privately when she went out for her walk, it seemed clear to me that he had thought it unadvisable to let the lady's maid and the housemaid know how materially they had helped him. They were just the sort of women, if he had treated their evidence as trustworthy, to have been puffed up by it, and to have said or done something which would have put Rosanna Spearman on her guard.
I walked out in the fine summer afternoon, very sorry for the poor girl, and very uneasy in my mind at the turn things had taken. Drifting towards the shrubbery, some time later, there I met Mr. Franklin. After returning from seeing his cousin off at the station, he had been with my lady, holding a long conversation with her. She had told him of Miss Rachel's unaccountable refusal to let her wardrobe be examined; and had put him in such low spirits about my young lady that he seemed to shrink from speaking on the subject. The family temper appeared in his face that evening, for the first time in my experience of him.
"Well, Better edge," he said, "how does the atmosphere of mystery and suspicion in which we are all living now, agree with you? Do you remember that morning when I first came here with the Moonstone? I wish to God we had thrown it into the quicksand!"
After breaking out in that way, he abstained from speaking again until he had composed himself. We walked silently, side by side, for a minute or two, and then he asked me what had become of Sergeant Cuff. It was impossible to put Mr. Franklin off with the excuse of the Sergeant being in my room, composing his mind. I told him exactly what had happened, mentioning particularly what my lady's maid and the house-maid had said about Rosanna Spearman.
Mr. Franklin's clear head saw the turn the Sergeant's suspicions had taken, in the twinkling of an eye.
"Didn't you tell me this morning," he said, "that one of the tradespeople declared he had met Rosanna yesterday, on the footway to , when we supposed her to be ill in her room?"
"If my aunt's maid and the other woman have spoken the truth, you may depend upon it the tradesman did meet her. The girl's attack of illness was a blind to deceive us. She had some guilty reason for going to the town secretly. The paint- stained dress is a dress of hers; and the fire heard crackling in her room at four in the morning was a fire lit to destroy it. Rosanna Spearman has stolen the Diamond. I'll go in directly, and tell my aunt the turn things have taken."
"Not just yet, if you please, sir," said a melancholy voice behind us.
We both turned about, and found ourselves face to face with Sergeant Cuff. "Why not just yet?" asked Mr. Franklin.
"Because, sir, if you tell her ladyship, her ladyship will tell Miss VERINDER."
" Suppose she does. What then?" Mr. Franklin said those words with a sudden heat and vehemence, as if the Sergeant had mortally offended him.
"Do you think it's wise, sir," said Sergeant Cuff, quietly, "to put such a question as that to me--at such a time as this?"
There was a moment's silence between them: Mr. Franklin walked close up to the Sergeant. The two looked each other straight in the face. Mr. Franklin spoke first, dropping his voice as suddenly as he had raised it.
"I suppose you know, Mr. Cuff," he said, "that you are treading on delicate ground?"
"It isn't the first time, by a good many hundreds, that I find myself treading on delicate ground," answered the other, as immovable as ever.
"I am to understand that you forbid me to tell my aunt what has happened?"
"You are to understand, if you please, sir, that I throw up the case, if you tell Lady VERINDER, or tell anybody, what has happened, until I give you leave."
That settled it. Mr. Franklin had no choice but to submit. He turned away in anger--and left us.
I had stood there listening to them, all in a tremble; not knowing whom to suspect, or what to think next. In the midst of my confusion, two things, however, were plain to me. First, that my young lady was, in some unaccountable manner, at the bottom of the sharp speeches that had passed between them. Second, that they thoroughly understood each other, without having previously exchanged a word of explanation on either side.
"Mr. Better edge," says the Sergeant, "you have done a very foolish thing in my absence. You have done a little detective business on your own account. For the future, perhaps you will be so obliging as to do your detective business along with me."
He took me by the arm, and walked me away with him along the road by which he had come. I dare say I had deserved his reproof-- but I was not going to help him to set traps for Rosanna Spearman, for all that. Thief or no thief, legal or not legal, I don't care-- I pitied her.
"What do you want of me?" I asked, shaking him off, and stopping short. "Only a little information about the country round here," said the Sergeant. I couldn't well object to improve Sergeant Cuff in his geography.
"Is there any path, in that direction, leading to the sea-beach from this house?" asked the Sergeant. He pointed, as he spoke, to the fir-plantation which led to the Shivering Sand.
"Yes," I said, "there is a path."
" Show it to me."
Side by side, in the grey of the summer evening, Sergeant Cuff and I set forth for the Shivering Sand.
The Sergeant remained silent, thinking his own thoughts, till we entered the plantation of firs which led to the quicksand. There he roused himself, like a man whose mind was made up, and spoke to me again.
"Mr. Better edge," he said, "as you have honored me by taking an oar in my boat, and as you may, I think, be of some assistance to me before the evening is out, I see no use in our mystifying one another any longer, and I propose to set you an example of plain speaking on my side. You are determined to give me no information to the prejudice of Rosanna Spearman, because she has been a good girl to YOU, and because you pity her heartily. Those humane considerations do you a world of credit, but they happen in this instance to be humane considerations clean thrown away. Rosanna Spearman is not in the slightest danger of getting into trouble-- no, not if I fix her with being concerned in the disappearance of the Diamond, on evidence which is as plain as the nose on your face!"
"Do you mean that my lady won't prosecute?" I asked.
"I mean that your lady CAN'T prosecute," said the Sergeant. "Rosanna Spearman is simply an instrument in the hands of another person, and Rosanna Spearman will be held harmless for that other person's sake."
He spoke like a man in earnest--there was no denying that. Still, I felt something stirring uneasily against him in my mind. "Can't you give that other person a name?" I said.
"Can't you, Mr. Better edge?"
Sergeant Cuff stood stock still, and surveyed me with a look of melancholy interest.
"It's always a pleasure to me to be tender towards human infirmity," he said. "I feel particularly tender at the present moment, Mr. Better edge, towards you. And you, with the same excellent motive, feel particularly tender towards Rosanna Spearman, don't you? Do you happen to know whether she has had a new outfit of linen lately?"
What he meant by slipping in this extraordinary question unawares, I was at a total loss to imagine. Seeing no possible injury to Rosanna if I owned the truth, I answered that the girl had come to us rather sparely provided with linen, and that my lady, in recompense for her good conduct (I laid a stress on her good conduct), had given her a new outfit not a fortnight since.
"This is a miserable world," says the Sergeant. "Human life, Mr. Better edge, is a sort of target--misfortune is always firing at it, and always hitting the mark. But for that outfit, we should have discovered a new nightgown or petticoat among Rosanna's things, and have nailed her in that way. You're not at a loss to follow me, are you? You have examined the servants yourself, and you know what discoveries two of them made outside Rosanna's door. Surely you know what the girl was about yesterday, after she was taken ill? You can't guess? Oh dear me, it's as plain as that strip of light there, at the end of the trees. At eleven, on Thursday morning, Superintendent See grave (who is a mass of human infirmity) points out to all the women servants the smear on the door. Rosanna has her own reasons for suspecting her own things; she takes the first opportunity of getting to her room, finds the paint-stain on her night-gown, or petticoat, or what not, shams ill and slips away to the town, gets the materials for making a new petticoat or nightgown, makes it alone in her room on the Thursday night lights a fire (not to destroy it; two of her fellow-servants are prying outside her door, and she knows better than to make a smell of burning, and to have a lot of tinder to get rid of)--lights a fire, I say, to dry and iron the substitute dress after wringing it out, keeps the stained dress hidden (probably ON her), and is at this moment occupied in making away with it, in some convenient place, on that lonely bit of beach ahead of us. I have traced her this evening to your fishing village, and to one particular cottage, which we may possibly have to visit, before we go back. She stopped in the cottage for some time, and she came out with (as I believe) something hidden under her cloak. A cloak (on a woman's back) is an emblem of charity-- it covers a multitude of sins. I saw her set off northwards along the coast, after leaving the cottage. Is your sea-shore here considered a fine specimen of marine landscape, Mr. Better edge?"
I answered, "Yes," as shortly as might be.
"Tastes differ," says Sergeant Cuff. "Looking at it from my point of view, I never saw a marine landscape that I admired less. If you happen to be following another person along your sea-coast, and if that person happens to look round, there isn't a scrap of cover to hide you anywhere. I had to choose between taking Rosanna in custody on suspicion, or leaving her, for the time being, with her little game in her own hands. For reasons which I won't trouble you with, I decided on making any sacrifice rather than give the alarm as soon as to-night to a certain person who shall be nameless between us. I came back to the house to ask you to take me to the north end of the beach by another way. Sand--in respect of its printing off people's footsteps--is one of the best detective officers I know. If we don't meet with Rosanna Spearman by coming round on her in this way, the sand may tell us what she has been at, if the light only lasts long enough. Here IS the sand. If you will excuse my suggesting it--suppose you hold your tongue, and let me go first?"
If there is such a thing known at the doctor's shop as a DETECTIVE-FEVER, that disease had now got fast hold of your humble servant. Sergeant Cuff went on between the hillocks of sand, down to the beach. I followed him (with my heart in my mouth); and waited at a little distance for what was to happen next.
As it turned out, I found myself standing nearly in the same place where Rosanna Spearman and I had been talking together when Mr. Franklin suddenly appeared before us, on arriving at our house from London. While my eyes were watching the Sergeant, my mind wandered away in spite of me to what had passed, on that former occasion, between Rosanna and me. I declare I almost felt the poor thing slip her hand again into mine, and give it a little grateful squeeze to thank me for speaking kindly to her. I declare I almost heard her voice telling me again that the Shivering Sand seemed to draw her to it against her own will, whenever she went out-- almost saw her face brighten again, as it brightened when she first set eyes upon Mr. Franklin coming briskly out on us from among the hillocks. My spirits fell lower and lower as I thought of these things--and the view of the lonesome little bay, when I looked about to rouse myself, only served to make me feel more uneasy still.
The last of the evening light was fading away; and over all the desolate place there hung a still and awful calm. The heave of the main ocean on the great sandbank out in the bay, was a heave that made no sound. The inner sea lay lost and dim, without a breath of wind to stir it. Patches of nasty ooze floated, yellow- white, on the dead surface of the water. Scum and slime shone faintly in certain places, where the last of the light still caught them on the two great spits of rock jutting out, north and south, into the sea. It was now the time of the turn of the tide: and even as I stood there waiting, the broad brown face of the quicksand began to dimple and quiver-- the only moving thing in all the horrid place.
I saw the Sergeant start as the shiver of the sand caught his eye. After looking at it for a minute or so, he turned and came back to me.
"A treacherous place, Mr. Better edge," he said; "and no signs of Rosanna
Spearman anywhere on the beach, look where you may."
He took me down lower on the shore, and I saw for myself that his footsteps and mine were the only footsteps printed off on the sand.
"How does the fishing village bear, standing where we are now?" asked Sergeant Cuff.
"Cob's Hole," I answered (that being the name of the place), "bears as near as may be, due south."
"I saw the girl this evening, walking northward along the shore, from Cob's Hole," said the Sergeant. "Consequently, she must have been walking towards this place. Is Cob's Hole on the other side of that point of land there? And can we get to it--now it's low water-- by the beach?"
I answered, "Yes," to both those questions.
"If you'll excuse my suggesting it, we'll step out briskly," said the Sergeant. "I want to find the place where she left the shore, before it gets dark."
We had walked, I should say, a couple of hundred yards towards Cob's Hole, when Sergeant Cuff suddenly went down on his knees on the beach, to all appearance seized with a sudden frenzy for saying his prayers.
"There's something to be said for your marine landscape here, after all," remarked the Sergeant. "Here are a woman's footsteps, Mr. Better edge! Let us call them Rosanna's footsteps, until we find evidence to the contrary that we can't resist. Very confused footsteps, you will please to observe-- purposely confused, I should say. Ah, poor soul, she understands the detective virtues of sand as well as I do! But hasn't she been in rather too great a hurry to tread out the marks thoroughly? I think she has. Here's one footstep going FROM Cob's Hole; and here is another going back to it. Isn't that the toe of her shoe pointing straight to the water's edge? And don't I see two heel-marks further down the beach, close at the water's edge also? I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I'm afraid Rosanna is sly. It looks as if she had determined to get to that place you and I have just come from, without leaving any marks on the sand to trace her by. Shall we say that she walked through the water from this point till she got to that ledge of rocks behind us, and came back the same way, and then took to the beach again where those two heel marks are still left? Yes, we'll say that. It seems to fit in with my notion that she had something under her cloak, when she left the cottage. No! not something to destroy--for, in that case, where would have been the need of all these precautions to prevent my tracing the place at which her walk ended? Something to hide is, I think, the better guess of the two. Perhaps, if we go on to the cottage, we may find out what that something is?"
At this proposal, my detective-fever suddenly cooled. "You don't want me," I said. "What good can I do?"
"The longer I know you, Mr. Better edge," said the Sergeant, "the more virtues I discover. Modesty--oh dear me, how rare modesty is in this world! and how much of that rarity you possess! If I go alone to the cottage, the people's tongues will be tied at the first question I put to them. If I go with you, I go introduced by a justly respected neighbor, and a flow of conversation is the necessary result. It strikes me in that light; how does it strike you?"
Not having an answer of the needful smartness as ready as I could have wished, I tried to gain time by asking him what cottage he wanted to go to.
On the Sergeant describing the place, I recognized it as a cottage inhabited by a fisherman named Yolland, with his wife and two grown-up children, a son and a daughter. If you will look back, you will find that, in first presenting Rosanna Spearman to your notice, I have described her as occasionally varying her walk to the Shivering Sand, by a visit to some friends of hers at Cob's Hole. Those friends were the Yolland--respectable, worthy people, a credit to the neighborhood. Rosanna's acquaintance with them had begun by means of the daughter, who was afflicted with a misshapen foot, and who was known in our parts by the name of Limping Lucy. The two deformed girls had, I suppose, a kind of fellow-feeling for each other. Anyway, the Yolland and Rosanna always appeared to get on together, at the few chances they had of meeting, in a pleasant and friendly manner. The fact of Sergeant Cuff having traced the girl to THEIR cottage, set the matter of my helping his inquiries in quite a new light. Rosanna had merely gone where she was in the habit of going; and to show that she had been in company with the fisherman and his family was as good as to prove that she had been innocently occupied so far, at any rate. It would be doing the girl a service, therefore, instead of an injury, if I allowed myself to be convinced by Sergeant Cuff's logic. I professed myself convinced by it accordingly.
We went on to Cob's Hole, seeing the footsteps on the sand, as long as the light lasted.
On reaching the cottage, the fisherman and his son proved to be out in the boat; and Limping Lucy, always weak and weary, was resting on her bed up-stairs. Good Mrs. Yolland received us alone in her kitchen. When she heard that Sergeant Cuff was a celebrated character in London, she clapped a bottle of Dutch gin and a couple of clean pipes on the table, and stared as if she could never see enough of him.
I sat quiet in a corner, waiting to hear how the Sergeant would find his way to the subject of Rosanna Spearman. His usual roundabout manner of going to work proved, on this occasion, to be more roundabout than ever. How he managed it is more than I could tell at the time, and more than I can tell now. But this is certain, he began with the Royal Family, the Primitive Methodists, and the price of fish; and he got from that (in his dismal, underground way) to the loss of the Moonstone, the spitefulness of our first house-maid, and the hard behavior of the women-servants generally towards Rosanna Spearman. Having reached his subject in this fashion, he described himself as making his inquiries about the lost Diamond, partly with a view to find it, and partly for the purpose of clearing Rosanna from the unjust suspicions of her enemies in the house. In about a quarter of an hour from the time when we entered the kitchen, good Mrs. Yolland was persuaded that she was talking to Rosanna's best friend, and was pressing Sergeant Cuff to comfort his stomach and revive his spirits out of the Dutch bottle.
Being firmly persuaded that the Sergeant was wasting his breath to no purpose on Mrs. Yolland, I sat enjoying the talk between them, much as I have sat, in my time, enjoying a stage play. The great Cuff showed a wonderful patience; trying his luck drearily this way and that way, and firing shot after shot, as it were, at random, on the chance of hitting the mark. Everything to Rosanna's credit, nothing to Rosanna's prejudice-- that was how it ended, try as he might; with Mrs. Yolland talking nineteen to the dozen, and placing the most entire confidence in him. His last effort was made, when we had looked at our watches, and had got on our legs previous to taking leave.
"I shall now wish you good-night, ma'am," says the Sergeant. "And I shall only say, at parting, that Rosanna Spearman has a sincere well-wisher in myself, your obedient servant. But, oh dear me! she will never get on in her present place; and my advice to her is--leave it."
"Bless your heart alive! she is GOING to leave it!" cries Mrs. Yolland. (NOTA BENE--I translate Mrs. Yolland out of the Yorkshire language into the English language. When I tell you that the all-accomplished Cuff was every now and then puzzled to understand her until I helped him, you will draw your own conclusions as to what your state of mind would be if I reported her in her native tongue.) Rosanna Spearman going to leave us! I pricked up my ears at that. It seemed strange, to say the least of it, that she should have given no warning, in the first place, to my lady or to me. A certain doubt came up in my mind whether Sergeant Cuff's last random shot might not have hit the mark. I began to question whether my share in the proceedings was quite as harmless a one as I had thought it. It might be all in the way of the Sergeant's business to mystify an honest woman by wrapping her round in a network of lies but it was my duty to have remembered, as a good Protestant, that the father of lies is the Devil--and that mischief and the Devil are never far apart. Beginning to smell mischief in the air, I tried to take Sergeant Cuff out. He sat down again instantly, and asked for a little drop of comfort out of the Dutch bottle. Mrs Yolland sat down opposite to him, and gave him his nip. I went on to the door, excessively uncomfortable, and said I thought I must bid them good-night--and yet I didn't go.
"So she means to leave?" says the Sergeant. "What is she to do when she does leave? Sad, sad! The poor creature has got no friends in the world, except you and me."
"Ah, but she has though!" says Mrs. Yolland. "She came in here, as I told you, this evening; and, after sitting and talking a little with my girl Lucy and me she asked to go up-stairs by herself, into Lucy's room. It's the only room in our place where there's pen and ink. "I want to write a letter to a friend," she says "and I can't do it for the prying and peeping of the servants up at the house." Who the letter was written to I can't tell you: it must have been a mortal long one, judging by the time she stopped up-stairs over it. I offered her a postage-stamp when she came down. She hadn't got the letter in her hand, and she didn't accept the stamp. A little close, poor soul (as you know), about herself and her doings. But a friend she has got somewhere, I can tell you; and to that friend you may depend upon it, she will go."
"Soon?" asked the Sergeant.
"As soon as she can." says Mrs. Yolland.
Here I stepped in again from the door. As chief of my lady's establishment, I couldn't allow this sort of loose talk about a servant of ours going, or not going, to proceed any longer in my presence, without noticing it.
"You must be mistaken about Rosanna Spearman, I said. "If she had been going to leave her present situation, she would have mentioned it, in the first place, to ME.
"Mistaken?" cries Mrs. Yolland. "Why, only an hour ago she bought some things she wanted for traveling--of my own self, Mr. Better edge, in this very room. And that reminds me," says the wearisome woman, suddenly beginning to feel in her pocket, "of something I have got it on my mind to say about Rosanna and her money. Are you either of you likely to see her when you go back to the house?"
" I'll take a message to the poor thing, with the greatest pleasure," answered Sergeant Cuff, before I could put in a word edgewise.
Mrs. Yolland produced out of her pocket, a few shillings and sixpences, and counted them out with a most particular and exasperating carefulness in the palm of her hand. She offered the money to the Sergeant, looking mighty loth to part with it all the while.
"Might I ask you to give this back to Rosanna, with my love and respects?" says Mrs. Yolland. "She insisted on paying me for the one or two things she took a fancy to this evening-- and money's welcome enough in our house, I don't deny it. Still, I m not easy in my mind about taking the poor thing's little savings. And to tell you the truth, I don't think my man would like to hear that I had taken Rosanna Spearman's money, when he comes back to-morrow morning from his work. Please say she's heartily welcome to the things she bought of me--as a gift. And don't leave the money on the table," says Mrs. Yolland, putting it down suddenly before the Sergeant, as if it burnt her fingers--"don't, there's a good man! For times are hard, and flesh is weak; and I MIGHT feel tempted to put it back in my pocket again."
"Come along!" I said, "I can't wait any longer: I must go back to the house."
" I'll follow you directly," says Sergeant Cuff.
For the second time, I went to the door; and, for the second time, try as I might, I
couldn't cross the threshold.
"It's a delicate matter, ma'am," I heard the Sergeant say, "giving money back. You charged her cheap for the things, I'm sure?"
"Cheap!" says Mrs. Yolland. "Come and judge for yourself."
She took up the candle and led the Sergeant to a corner of the kitchen. For the life of me, I couldn't help following them. Shaken down in the corner was a heap of odds and ends (mostly old metal), which the fisherman had picked up at different times from wrecked ships, and which he hadn't found a market for yet, to his own mind. Mrs. Yolland dived into this rubbish, and brought up an old japanned tin case, with a cover to it, and a hasp to hang it up by-- the sort of thing they use, on board ship, for keeping their maps and charts, and such-like, from the wet.
"There!" says she. "When Rosanna came in this evening, she bought the fellow to that. 'It will just do,' she says, 'to put my cuffs and collars in, and keep them from being crumpled in my box.' One and nine pence, Mr. Cuff. As I live by bread, not a halfpenny more!"
"Dirt cheap!" says the Sergeant, with a heavy sigh.
He weighed the case in his hand. I thought I heard a note or two of "The Last Rose of Summer" as he looked at it. There was no doubt now! He had made another discovery to the prejudice of Rosanna Spearman, in the place of all others where I thought her character was safest, and all through me! I leave you to imagine what I felt, and how sincerely I repented having been the medium of introduction between Mrs. Yolland and Sergeant Cuff.
"That will do," I said. "We really must go."
Without paying the least attention to me, Mrs. Yolland took another dive into the rubbish, and came up out of it, this time, with a dog-chain.
"Weigh it in your hand, sir," she said to the Sergeant. "We had three of these; and Rosanna has taken two of them. 'What can you want, my dear, with a couple of dog's chains?' says I. 'If I join them together they'll do round my box nicely,' says she. 'Rope's cheapest,' says I. 'Chain's surest,' says she. 'Who ever heard of a box corded with chain,' says I. 'Oh, Mrs. Yolland, don't make objections!' says she; 'let me have my chains!' A strange girl, Mr. Cuff-- good as gold, and kinder than a sister to my Lucy--but always a little strange. There! I humored her. Three and sixpence. On the word of an honest woman, three and sixpence, Mr. Cuff!"
"Each?" says the Sergeant.
"Both together!" says Mrs. Yolland. "Three and sixpence for the two."
"Given away, ma'am," says the Sergeant, shaking his head. "Clean given away!"
" There's the money," says Mrs. Yolland, getting back sideways to the little heap of silver on the table, as if it drew her in spite of herself. "The tin case and the dog chains were all she bought, and all she took away. One and nine pence and three and sixpence--total, five and three. With my love and respects--and I can't find it in my conscience to take a poor girl's savings, when she may want them herself."
"I can't find it in MY conscience, ma'am, to give the money back," says Sergeant Cuff. "You have as good as made her a present of the things-- you have indeed."
" Is that your sincere opinion, sir?" says Mrs. Yolland brightening up wonderfully. "There can't be a doubt about it," answered the Sergeant. "Ask Mr. Better edge."
It was no use asking ME. All they got out of ME was, "Good-night."
"Bother the money!" says Mrs. Yolland. With these words, she appeared to lose all command over herself; and, making a sudden snatch at the heap of silver, put it back, holus-bolus, in her pocket. "It upsets one's temper, it does, to see it lying there, and nobody taking it," cries this unreasonable woman, sitting down with a thump, and looking at Sergeant Cuff, as much as to say, "It's in my pocket again now--get it out if you can!"
This time, I not only went to the door, but went fairly out on the road back. Explain it how you may, I felt as if one or both of them had mortally offended me. Before I had taken three steps down the village, I heard the Sergeant behind me. "Thank you for your introduction, Mr. Better edge," he said. "I am indebted to the fisherman's wife for an entirely new sensation. Mrs. Yolland has puzzled me."
It was on the tip of my tongue to have given him a sharp answer, for no better reason than this--that I was out of temper with him, because I was out of temper with myself. But when he owned to being puzzled, a comforting doubt crossed my mind whether any great harm had been done after all. I waited in discreet silence to hear more.
"Yes," says the Sergeant, as if he was actually reading my thoughts in the dark. "Instead of putting me on the scent, it may console you to know, Mr. Better edge (with your interest in Rosanna), that you have been the means of throwing me off. What the girl has done, to-night, is clear enough, of course. She has joined the two chains, and has fastened them to the hasp in the tin case. She has sunk the case, in the water or in the quicksand. She has made the loose end of the chain fast to some place under the rocks, known only to herself. And she will leave the case secure at its anchorage till the present proceedings have come to an end; after which she can privately pull it up again out of its hiding-place, at her own leisure and convenience. All perfectly plain, so far. But," says the Sergeant, with the first tone of impatience in his voice that I had heard yet, "the mystery is-- what the devil has she hidden in the tin case?"
I thought to myself, "The Moonstone!" But I only said to Sergeant Cuff, "Can't you guess?"
"It's not the Diamond," says the Sergeant. "The whole experience of my life is at fault, if Rosanna Spearman has got the Diamond."
On hearing those words, the infernal detective-fever began, I suppose, to burn in me again. At any rate, I forgot myself in the interest of guessing this new riddle. I said rashly, "The stained dress!"
Sergeant Cuff stopped short in the dark, and laid his hand on my arm.
"Is anything thrown into that quicksand of yours, ever thrown up on the surface again?" he asked.
"Never," I answered. "Light or heavy whatever goes into the Shivering Sand is sucked down, and seen no more."
"Does Rosanna Spearman know that?"
"She knows it as well as I do."