William Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This story was the most popular of all the author's tales of mystery, and has gone through numerous editions.
HERE is a lonely little bay on the coast of Yorkshire, where two spits of rock run out into the sea, with a great stretch of quicksand between them, which at the turn of the tide trembles in a remarkable manner. It was a lonely retreat, yet this was the favorite walk of Rosanna Spear-man, and here she sat in gloomy meditation one summer afternoon. The girl had been a thief, and though now a member of kind Lady Verinder's household, the secret of her past preyed continually on her mind, and Gabriel Betteredge, the old house-steward, found her crying bitterly.
As he sent her back to the house with a friendly word, Gabriel was accosted by a merry voice, and the next moment he greeted Franklin Blake, a nephew of Lady Verinder's, who had returned that day to his old home neighborhood after years spent abroad in study. When Rosanna saw him she stopped and seemed to brighten; then, catching Mr. Blake's eye, she blushed in great confusion as she continued to walk toward the house. The two men wondered a moment at her odd behavior, but dropped immediately into conversation on more interesting subjects. Presently the young man, who was slim and hand-some, with a foreign vivacity of manner, asked abruptly:
"What about these three Indian jugglers who, as I heard from your daughter, were at Lady Verinder's house today?"
"I ordered them off the place," answered old Betteredge, "but my daughter told me of some hocus-pocus she witnessed in the shrubbery near the road. They put a little boy they had with them into a clairvoyant state, and asked him questions in regard to some gentleman, who the boy stated would pass on a road near there to-day, with a certain package about him."
"They meant me," said Franklin decidedly. "And the package was this—my Uncle Herncastle's famous diamond, the Moonstone."
"My uncle, who was called the `Wicked Colonel," continued Franklin, as Betteredge looked at him in amazement, "obtained possession of this diamond at the storming of Seringapatam in 1799. It was the greatest treasure in a temple consecrated to the Moon-God, and they say he killed three priests in securing it. However that may be, he has rewarded the coldness of his sister, Lady Verinder, by leaving the great diamond, valued at twenty thousand pounds, to her daughter, my cousin Rachel. He died six months ago, and the instruction in his will was to give it to Rachel on the twenty-first of June, her next birthday."
"No good can come of his legacy," growled the old servant. "But what connection have the Indians with it?"
"There is a legend attached to the stone," said Franklin, "that when it fell into the hands of a Mohammedan conqueror, ages ago, three Brahman priests, succeeding one another, generation after generation, kept watch over it until finally they recovered it. I learned these facts from my uncle's lawyer.
"My Uncle Herncastle believed he would be murdered if he retained possession of the diamond, so he persuaded my father to place it at his banker's as his own property. In event of his death from natural causes the stone was to go to Rachel; but in case he died by violence the jewel was to be sent to Amsterdam and cut into six separate stones.
"In other words, he said to his enemies : `Kill me and the diamond will be the diamond no longer; its identity will be destroyed.'
"I will add to this that, after taking the diamond from the bank, I was followed by a shabby, dark-complexioned man,. and believe I escaped on the road here by coming several hours earlier than I intended at first."
Under these strange circumstances, it was determined that Franklin should at once ride to Frizinghall, and deposit the diamond in the bank until Rachel's birthday, a month later, and that nothing should be said to alarm the ladies.
Gabriel Betteredge kept an observant eye on the actions and affairs of the family, and during the time that intervened between Mr. Blake's arrival and Rachel's birthday he took note of three things.
First, Rosanna's habit of putting herself in the way of Mr. Blake, and her endeavors to attract his attention convinced him that the poor girl, despite her plain face and a slight deformity in figure, was desperately in love with him.
Second, in making a tour of the grounds one night he heard someone running away, and picked up an article he remembered to have seen in possession of the East Indian strollers who had recently visited the place.
And third, there was no doubt that Franklin Blake had fallen in love with the pretty but self-willed Miss Rachel.
There was no mistaking Franklin's devotion; he even gave up his habit of smoking because once she happened to criticize it, and his dabbling genius directed the two into many half-idle pursuits. Among these was the decorating of the door to Miss Rachel's boudoir, Franklin having invented a new mixture to moisten paint, which he called a " vehicle."
June twenty-first came without misadventure, and Franklin, who had said nothing to the family of his uncle's legacy, arranged to ride over to Frizinghall and return with Godfrey Ablewhite and his sisters, who were to attend Rachel's birth-day party.
Godfrey Ablewhite was the ornament of many ladies' charitable societies in London, but his persuasive eloquence had not yet been sufficient to prevail on Miss Rachel to marry him, though in the opinion of Betteredge he still stood an even chance with Franklin Blake.
The marvelous Moonstone was presented just before dinner; it was as large as a plover's egg, and its golden flashes illumined the curtained drawing-room like the harvest moon, with only a single flaw discernible in its mellow heart.
Miss Rachel was fascinated; her cousins screamed; only Godfrey smiled at such vanities.
Several other guests were present at the dinner; among them Dr. Candy and Mr. Murthwaite, the celebrated traveler in the Orient. The latter looked at the Moonstone with grave interest.
"If you ever travel in India, Miss Verinder," he said, "don't take the diamond with you."
The dinner-party was not a brilliant success. The mysterious Eastern jewel seemed to cast an oppressive spell over the company, and the only enlivening incident was a dispute between Dr. Candy and Mr. Blake. The latter had not slept well since giving up his cigars, and the doctor wished him to take a course of medicine.
"Taking medicine and groping in the dark are the same thing," said Franklin; and the dispute as to the efficacy of drugs finally rose so high that Lady Verinder silenced the argument.
After dinner the party gathered on the terrace and were chatting quietly, when suddenly the three Indian jugglers reappeared and proceeded to give their little entertainment. Mr. Murthwaite, quietly approaching from behind, spoke suddenly to one of them in his own language. The fellow started and turned ashy pale.
"They are not jugglers," he told Franklin later, "but high-caste Brahmans, who have made a tremendous sacrifice in appearing thus; they have patience, and the ferocity of tigers, and I do not doubt they purpose to recover the Moon-stone. My advice is, take it away and have it cut up at once."
During this conversation they met Godfrey Ablewhite and the doctor walking in the garden, and soon all four reentered the drawing-room. The guests departed in a pouring storm that had blown up suddenly, and Rachel's mother, with an instinctive suspicion of the wicked Colonel's good will, asked Rachel to let her keep the diamond until morning.
But the young lady declared: "What, are there thieves in the house? I shall put it in the Indian cabinet in my room."
In spite of their rivalry, Godfrey, noticing the depressed look of his cousin Franklin, pressed him to drink something before he went to bed.
" Very well, send up some brandy to my room," said Franklin, and the butler, having despatched the footman with the liquor, went out to release his two great dogs, for he was uneasy over the reappearance of the Indians.
But, in spite of these precautions, with not an alarm during the night, with every locked door and window unforced, between that time and morning the diamond vanished.
Not a trace could be found of it, nor a plausible theory advanced as to the manner of its disappearance. There was alarm and confusion throughout the house, though Betteredge and Franklin Blake, with the occult history of the Moonstone in mind, were the most troubled, with the exception of Rachel. The effect on her was overwhelming. She shut herself in her room, admitting even her mother with great reluctance, and absolutely refusing to discuss the mystery of the diamond.
Franklin, after telling Lady Verinder of the conspiracy to recover the Moonstone, insisted on the immediate arrest of the three Indians and an investigation. He went to Frizinghall, and the superintendent of police came over and took up the affair.
Though the immates of the house had been going and coming all morning, he insisted now that no one should be permitted to leave the house. To express their protest against this implied suspicion, the servants whisked upstairs in a body.
But he cowed them with his military voice: "You women get downstairs, every one of you," he vociferated. "Look!" pointing to a little smear on the decorative painting of Miss Rachel's door. "Look what mischief the skirts of some of you have done already." The servants obeyed, and later their effects were searched. Though the Indians were arrested as vagabonds, they proved an alibi; and as the fastenings of doors and windows were unbroken, the conclusion was inevitable that the diamond must have been taken by some one in the house. But not a clue could be discovered, and, most strange of all, Miss Rachel refused to assist, or even to see the officer.
Finally, Franklin Blake telegraphed to London for a detective. An incident that morning directed his suspicion toward Rosanna Spearman. She had approached him in a half-frightened way, and said: "This is a curious thing about the diamond. But they will never find it, sir, nor the person who took it, either—I'll answer for that."
Blake was astonished, but Betteredge's approach put an end to her remarks.
The old steward noticed later that Rosanna was not at dinner with the other servants. His daughter brought word that she had had a hysterical attack, and would be obliged to stay in bed the rest of the day.
On the second day after the birthday, two pieces of news reached Betteredge. The baker's man remarked that he had seen Rosanna walking towards Frizinghall the day before; though there seemed to be no doubt that she had been ill in bed at the time. And Dr. Candy had been taken with a fever as a result of driving home through the rain.
The same afternoon a stranger appeared at the house. He was dressed in decent black; he had a steely gray eye, a hatchet face, and a soft melancholy voice. This was the celebrated detective, Sergeant Cuff.
The Sergeant's first step was to examine Miss Rachel's room. He went about it quietly, almost inattentively, then he laid a lean finger on the smeared spot on the door.
He listened to the superintendent's account of how it came there. "A mere trifle," added the latter contemptuously. But Cuff sent for Franklin Blake, and learned that this paint had been put on not later than three o'clock the afternoon of Rachel's birthday. "The vehicle dries it in twelve hours," added Franklin.
"Then," remarked Cuff, "it must have been eight hours dry when one of the servants' dresses were supposed to have smeared it. You have put the clue into our hands."
As these words were on his lips, the bedroom door opened, and Rachel came out hurriedly.
"Did you say," she asked, pointing to Franklin, "that he put the clue into your hands?"
Her mind seemed strangely disturbed, and, as the Sergeant nodded, she went on savagely :
"If you are a police officer, do your duty by yourself and don't allow Franklin Blake to help you."
"Do you know anything about the smear?" asked Cuff immovably.
"I do not," she answered and returning to her room she shut herself in.
As Rachel's maid had been the last person in this room on the night of the twenty-first, she was questioned next. She had taken an interest in the painting of the door, and had looked at it the last thing before going to bed, about midnight. There was no smear on it then. The gown she had worn was produced and there was no paint-stain on it.
Sergeant Cuff requested permission to examine the ward-robe of every person in the house. To this everyone consented, except Rachel, who flatly refused.
Cuff then examined the servants severally. "If Rosanna wants to go out, let her go," he said privately to Betteredge. Two of the servants had told Cuff that on the afternoon Rosanna was supposed to be ill they had tried her door and found it locked, with the keyhole stopped up. At midnight they had seen a light under her door and heard the crackling of a fire.
When Franklin heard this he said: "The girl's illness was a blind. She had a guilty reason for slipping away to town—the time when the baker met her—and the fire in her room that night destroyed the paint-stained dress."
He wished to tell Lady Verinder, but Cuff forbade. "She will tell her daughter, Miss Rachel, who refused to let her own wardrobe be examined," he said. Franklin was deeply offended at this remark, and from that moment refused his cooperation to the Sergeant.
That afternoon Cuff saw Rosanna set out towards Cobb's Hole, the village near the Shivering Sands, and followed her in company with Betteredge. On the beach near the quicksand the Sergeant found small footprints, as if a woman had walked to that point from the village, and had then retraced her steps.
"From here she has walked both ways through the water to that ledge of rocks," said Cuff, " and her tracks are washed away. Now, after obtaining in town the cloth to make a substitute night-dress—as I have learned she did—Rosanna did not burn the gown with the paint-smear. She is far too wily to have the odor in her room and such ashes on the hearth. Instead she will hide it, and she has come here for that purpose."
They proceeded to a fisherman's cottage that Rosanna sometimes visited, where the Sergeant's tactful conversation elicited several important facts.
Rosanna had that afternoon written a long letter, saying that she intended to leave Lady Verinder's service. Then she had bought an old japanned tin case from the fisherman's wife to pack some of her things in, and a dog-chain to cord it.
"She has thrown me off the scent," said Cuff, as they walked away. "Of course she has fastened one end of the chain to the tin case and the other to a rock, and sunk the box in the quicksand for the present. But what the devil's in it? If she merely wanted to hide that telltale dress, she could have tied a rock to it and thrown it into the sands."
On their return they learned that Miss Verinder had suddenly determined to leave the house.
That night Rosanna spoke to Franklin again, but the young man, gloomy and preoccupied, answered absently, and with a look of pain she abruptly left the room.
"I believe she wants to make a confession to me," he told Betteredge, and Sergeant Cuff overheard him. That night the old steward discovered the latter sleeping in front of Miss Verinder's door, and was indignant.
"Whatever Rosanna has hidden," Cuff explained coolly, "it is evident Miss Verinder couldn't go away till she knew it was hidden. If they try to communicate again I wish to stop it."
The next morning, when Franklin was walking in the shrubbery, Rosanna appeared again, as if determined to speak to him.
Sergeant Cuff, on the watch, came up rapidly, and said, "One of the female servants spoke to you privately last night!"
Franklin replied coldly that he had nothing to say; but the Sergeant raised his voice so Rosanna could overhear:
"If you have any interest in Rosanna Spearman you need not be afraid to tell me what she said."
Franklin, pretending not to see the girl, and determined not to cause her trouble, answered in the same voice :
"I take no interest whatever in Rosanna Spearman," at which the girl walked away.
Rachel departed as she had resolved, without heeding a remonstrance from Cuff, and ignoring Franklin Blake entirely. Rosanna eluded the vigilance of Cuff's assistant that morning, and gave a letter to the marketman to mail for her. This letter was addressed to the daughter of Yolland, the fisherman. That afternoon she left a pathetic little note to Betteredge and gave her body to the Shivering Sands.
Then the Sergeant made known to Lady Verinder his conviction that Rachel had had the Moonstone in her possession from first to last.
"Probably she had some secret debt to pay," he conjectured, " and her unreasoning anger against Mr. Blake is because of his activity at first in the attempt to find it. As for Rosanna Spearman, I know her antecedents, and she would have been the very instrument to aid in raising money on the diamond."
Absolutely unconvinced, Lady Verinder dismissed the Sergeant with a liberal fee. The Indian jugglers had been liberated and Mr. Blake went abroad, heart-broken by Rachel's cruel determination never to see him again.
Lady Verinder and her daughter went immediately to Lon-don, the latter continuing in her nervous half-distracted state of mind. They learned in London of a curious affair that concerned Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite. A day or two after the arrival of the latter from Yorkshire, he had met a gentleman in the doorway of the bank where he transacted business. Although strangers, there was the usual contest of politeness as to precedence. Then they bowed and parted. On returning home Godfrey met a messenger, who lured him to a strange house. After being throttled and bound his pockets were carefully searched, but on being released later he found his belongings intact.
The strange gentleman he had encountered at the bank had had precisely the same experience, and in both instances the assailants were three East Indians.
The stranger was Mr. Septimus Luker, a well-known and not too scrupulous money-lender, who reported to the police that he had been robbed of a receipt for a valuable of great price, that he had that day deposited with his bankers.
The circumstances concerning the disappearance of the Moonstone had become public; and now, as the missing jewel seemed to have some connection with the mysterious assaults upon Luker and Ablewhite, popular curiosity caused considerable gossip. Of course, this reached Rachel's ears, and when Godfrey Albewhite called on her she insisted, with great agitation, on learning the particulars of the recent assault.
Godfrey said then he would not stoop to deny certain charges that he had taken the diamond and placed it in pawn with Mr. Luker; and he wished to drop the subject.
"I know you are innocent," Rachel declared in the presence of her mother, "and hitherto I have not done you justice. But I here write a declaration, and sign it, that you did not take the Moonstone. As for my own reputation—why, the best detective in England declares that I have stolen my own diamond!"
Godfrey burned this declaration in Lady Verinder's presence; and the public continued to ask: Why had the Indians searched Mr. Ablewhite, and why Mr. Luker also, apparently only because he had met the other gentleman incidentally?
Rachel was so favorably impressed with Godfrey's self-sacrifice that she consented to marry him. Her mother's death obliged them to postpone the marriage, and later Matthew Bruff, Rachel's solicitor, discovered that Godfrey had somehow obtained a copy of Lady Verinder's will. So, convinced of his mercenary motives, Rachel broke the engagement, Godfrey coolly acquiescing, as he had learned that Rachel was to have only a life interest in the estate.
About this time a man of Oriental aspect entered Matthew Bruff's office and asked for a loan on a casket of Indian workmanship. Of course he declined to make the loan, and the stranger then said:
"Suppose I obtain the loan somewhere? In what time would it be the customary thing for me to pay it back?"
"In one year," replied the solicitor. The same question and answer had previously passed between this seeming Oriental and Mr. Luker.
After thinking this over, Mr. Bruff concluded : "We may look for a reappearance of the Indians the last of next June, when the man who evidently has placed the diamond in pawn with Luker will probably repay the loan."
Nearly a year passed before Franklin Blake was recalled to England, and as Rachel still declined to see him he was more determined than ever to solve the mystery of the missing diamond.
When Blake reached Yorkshire, Betteredge informed him that the letter Rosanna Spearman had mailed to the Yollands enclosed another addressed to Franklin Blake, which they were to deliver only into his hands. The next day he received it.
It began with the girl's confession of love for him, and her despair at his indifference, which at last caused her suicide. Franklin was greatly distressed by all this, but his motive in solving the affair was dominant; so, accompanied by Better-edge, he set out for the Shivering Sands, with a memorandum Rosanna had enclosed in her letter to him.
Following its directions, he went out on the spit of rock, and after some groping among the weeds on its edge, grasped a chain. Feeling that he was on the threshold of a great discovery, he drew it in, and brought up from its burial place below the japanned case. He opened it and drew out a night-gown, bearing a smear of paint from the door of Rachel's room, and marked with his own name. He had discovered himself as the thief !
In the latter half of her letter the girl had written that, while putting Mr. Blake's room in order the morning after the robbery, she had discovered the stain on his gown. At once reaching the conclusion that he had stolen the diamond, she had feigned illness, slipped away unnoticed, and obtained the material to make a substitute gown. The original she had hid-den for some purpose of love or revenge.
After recovering somewhat from the shock of this disclosure, Franklin returned to London, where Mr. Bruff arranged for him to meet Rachel at Bruff's own house, without apprising her of the arrangement.
The interview was painful and excited. Rachel responded angrily to Blake's pleading, and when he asked whether Rosanna had shown her his night-gown with its evidence of guilt, she answered vehemently:
"Are you mad, to deny it? You villain, I saw you take the diamond with my own eyes!"
Finally she submitted to his questioning, and told of sitting in her room alone on the night of the robbery, when she suddenly saw a light under her door. Then Franklin had entered her room bearing a candle. Blowing out her own light she had shrunk into a corner, and had seen him glance around boldly. Then taking the diamond from the Indian cabinet, he had passed again into the hall.
After making this revelation she became hysterical, and Franklin terminated the interview. Through it all she had shown a kind of horror of him, yet at times she had apparently a longing to trust him, and Franklin believed that in her heart she loved him.
Having received a letter from Betteredge that Dr. Candy wished to see him, Blake returned to Yorkshire. On the night of the birthday party the doctor had been caught in the rain, with a resulting fever that had destroyed his memory.
He endeavored repeatedly but in vain to impart to Franklin something that seemed to weigh on his mind. At last the doctor's assistant, a discerning, studious man, cleared up the situation. During the doctor's delirium the assistant had written down his broken utterances, in order to substantiate some pathological theory of his own; then he had tried to fill them in to make sense.
This strange document proved that the doctor, abetted by Godfrey Ablewhite, had managed to drop a dose of laudanum in the brandy Franklin had drunk that night. He had done this half-maliciously to confute Franklin's argument against the efficacy of medicine in cases of insomnia.
"And so, Mr. Blake, you stole that diamond under the influence of opium," declared Ezra Jennings, the doctor's assistant. "I am convinced of it, because I am one of its victims, and a student of its effects."
Franklin could not but subscribe to this opinion and, as a last means of convincing Rachel that he had committed the theft guiltlessly, he consented to make, with Jennings's assistance, a dramatic experiment.
Rachel's house was arranged precisely as it had been the night of the birthday party; and Franklin, having been thrown into the same nervous condition by a sudden discontinuance of smoking, took one night a similar dose of opium, given by Mr. Jennings.
In the presence of the incredulous Mr. Bruff, Betteredge, and Sergeant Cuff, Franklin, under the influence of the potent drug, actually reentered Rachel's room and once more committed the theft, a piece of glass having been substituted for the diamond in the Indian cabinet.
The experiment was a success in every particular but one. Immediately after taking the piece of glass, Blake succumbed to the drug, and sank into a sleep on a couch in Rachel's room; so that what had been done with the Moonstone remained as much a mystery as ever.
Rachel, unknown to Blake, had come down to witness the experiment, and watched by the couch till he awoke, overcome with happiness at the proof of her lover's innocence.
The party returned to London, where Mr. Bruff received a report from detectives that Luker, the money-lender, with two guards, had left his house to go to the bank. It was then just a year since the disappearance of the Moonstone.
Franklin and Bruff hastened to the bank in time to see Mr. Luker walk through the crowd to the door, brushing against a swarthy man with a bushy black beard, who might have been one of the Indians in disguise. Bruff's office-boy, who was with his employer and Blake, disappeared at that moment, and did not return until the next morning, when he appeared at Franklin's lodging and told of following the swarthy man to a sailor's resort near the river, after seeing Mr. Luker pass him something stealthily as he hurried out of the bank.
Franklin and Sergeant Cuff immediately drove to the sailor's resort, and inquired for the swarthy man. The door of the sailor's room was locked, but it was broken in. On the bed lay the corpse of the dark-bearded man. Sergeant Cuff looked at it closely, then tore from the face a false beard and wig, and the features of Godfrey Ablewhite were exposed.
On a table stood a small empty box; beside it was a paper with a broken seal and an inscription : " Deposited with Messrs. Bushe, by Mr. Septimus Luker, a small wooden box, sealed in this envelope, and containing a valuable of great price. The box to be given, when claimed, only on the personal application of Mr. Luker."
These words cleared up all doubt on one point : this man had had the Moonstone in his possession when he left the bank on the previous day. When cornered by Sergeant Cuff Luker admitted that Godfrey had pawned the Moonstone to him, with a story that when Franklin was returning along the hall to his own room, the night of the birthday dinner, he—Godfrey —had met him, and that Franklin had drowsily given him the stone to keep for him, with instructions to put it in a safe place. Ablewhite had led a double life and, being hard pressed for money, he had yielded to temptation and made away with the diamond.
Several years later Mr. Murthwaite, the celebrated traveler in the Orient, reported that he had witnessed in northern India a great sacred festival of the Brahmans in honor of the Moon-God. Three priests officiated at the unveiling of the idol, and then, turning from one another, took their several ways out into the world, never to meet again, for in pursuit of the long-missing chief treasure and ornament of that sacred figure they had mingled with the Christians and had become degraded from their caste. And in the forehead of the great idol glittered the star of their accomplished destiny, once more returned from its varying orbit of mystery and blood—the Moonstone.