Even my aunt's torpor was roused by those words.
"My dear Rachel," she remonstrated, "you have really no right to say that!"
She looked back at Mr. Godfrey, with what appeared to be a sudden pity for him. She went the length - the very unladylike length - of taking him by the hand.
"I am certain," she said, "that I have found out the true reason of your unwillingness to speak of this matter before my mother and before me. An unlucky accident has associated you in people's minds with Mr. Luker. You have told me what scandal says of HIM. What does scandal say of you?"
Even at the eleventh hour, dear Mr. Godfrey - always ready to return good for evil - tried to spare her.
"Don't ask me!" he said. "It's better forgotten, Rachel - it is, indeed."
"I WILL hear it!" she cried out, fiercely, at the top of her voice.
"Tell her, Godfrey!" entreated my aunt. "Nothing can do her such harm as your silence is doing now!"
Mr. Godfrey's fine eyes filled with tears. He cast one last appealing look at her - and then he spoke the fatal words:
"If you will have it, Rachel - scandal says that the Moonstone is in pledge to Mr. Luker, and that I am the man who has pawned it."
She started to her feet with a scream. She looked backwards and forwards from Mr. Godfrey to my aunt, and from my aunt to Mr. Godfrey, in such a frantic manner that I really thought she had gone mad.
"Don't speak to me! Don't touch me!" she exclaimed, shrinking back from all of us (I declare like some hunted animal!) into a corner of the room. "This is my fault! I must set it right. I have sacrificed myself - I had a right to do that, if I liked. But to let an innocent man be ruined; to keep a secret which destroys his character for life - Oh, good God, it's too horrible! I can't bear it!"
My aunt half rose from her chair, then suddenly sat down again. She called to me faintly, and pointed to a little phial in her work-box.
"Quick!" she whispered. "Six drops, in water. Don't let Rachel see."
Under other circumstances, I should have thought this strange. There was no time now to think - there was only time to give the medicine. Dear Mr. Godfrey unconsciously assisted me in concealing what I was about from Rachel, by speaking composing words to her at the other end of the room.
"Indeed, indeed, you exaggerate," I heard him say. "My reputation stands too high to be destroyed by a miserable passing scandal like this. It will be all forgotten in another week. Let us never speak of it again." She was perfectly inaccessible, even to such generosity as this. She went on from bad to worse.
"I must, and will, stop it," she said. "Mamma! hear what I say. Miss Clack! hear what I say. I know the hand that took the Moonstone. I know - " she laid a strong emphasis on the words; she stamped her foot in the rage that possessed her - "I KNOW THAT GODFREY ABLEWHITE IS INNOCENT. Take me to the magistrate, Godfrey! Take me to the magistrate, and I will swear it!"
My aunt caught me by the hand, and whispered, "Stand between us for a minute or two. Don't let Rachel see me." I noticed a bluish tinge in her face which alarmed me. She saw I was startled. "The drops will put me right in a minute or two," she said, and so closed her eyes, and waited a little.
While this was going on, I heard dear Mr. Godfrey still gently remonstrating.
"You must not appear publicly in such a thing as this," he said. "YOUR reputation, dearest Rachel, is something too pure and too sacred to be trifled with."
"MY reputation!" She burst out laughing. "Why, I am accused, Godfrey, as well as you. The best detective officer in England declares that I have stolen my own Diamond. Ask him what he thinks - and he will tell you that I have pledged the Moonstone to pay my private debts!" She stopped, ran across the room - and fell on her knees at her mother's feet. "Oh mamma! mamma! mamma! I must be mad - mustn't I? - not to own the truth NOW?" She was too vehement to notice her mother's condition - she was on her feet again, and back with Mr. Godfrey, in an instant. "I won't let you - I won't let any innocent man - be accused and disgraced through my fault. If you won't take me before the magistrate, draw out a declaration of your innocence on paper, and I will sign it. Do as I tell you, Godfrey, or I'll write it to the newspapers I'll go out, and cry it in the streets!"
We will not say this was the language of remorse - we will say it was the language of hysterics. Indulgent Mr. Godfrey pacified her by taking a sheet of paper, and drawing out the declaration. She signed it in a feverish hurry. "Show it everywhere - don't think of ME," she said, as she gave it to him. "I am afraid, Godfrey, I have not done you justice, hitherto, in my thoughts. You are more unselfish - you are a better man than I believed you to be. Come here when you can, and I will try and repair the wrong I have done you."
She gave him her hand. Alas, for our fallen nature! Alas, for Mr. Godfrey! He not only forgot himself so far as to kiss her hand - he adopted a gentleness of tone in answering her which, in such a case, was little better than a compromise with sin. "I will come, dearest," he said, "on condition that we don't speak of this hateful subject again." Never had I seen and heard our Christian Hero to less advantage than on this occasion.
Before another word could be said by anybody, a thundering knock at the street door startled us all. I looked through the window, and saw the World, the Flesh, and the Devil waiting before the house - as typified in a carriage and horses, a powdered footman, and three of the most audaciously dressed women I ever beheld in my life.