"Broad daylight," says Mr. Franklin.
"And plenty of people in the streets?"
"You settled, of course, to arrive at Lady Verinder's house at a certain time? It's a lonely country between this and the station. Did you keep your appointment?"
"No. I arrived four hours earlier than my appointment."
"I beg to congratulate you on that proceeding! When did you take the Diamond to the bank at the town here?"
"I took it an hour after I had brought it to this house - and three hours before anybody was prepared for seeing me in these parts."
"I beg to congratulate you again! Did you bring it back here alone?"
"No. I happened to ride back with my cousins and the groom."
"I beg to congratulate you for the third time! If you ever feel inclined to travel beyond the civilised limits, Mr. Blake, let me know, and I will go with you. You are a lucky man."
Here I struck in. This sort of thing didn't at all square with my English ideas.
"You don't really mean to say, sir," I asked, "that they would have taken Mr. Franklin's life, to get their Diamond, if he had given them the chance?"
"Do you smoke, Mr. Betteredge?" says the traveller.
"Do you care much for the ashes left in your pipe when you empty it?"
"In the country those men came from, they care just as much about killing a man, as you care about emptying the ashes out of your pipe. If a thousand lives stood between them and the getting back of their Diamond - and if they thought they could destroy those lives without discovery - they would take them all. The sacrifice of caste is a serious thing in India, if you like. The sacrifice of life is nothing at all."
I expressed my opinion upon this, that they were a set of murdering thieves. Mr. Murthwaite expressed HIS opinion that they were a wonderful people. Mr. Franklin, expressing no opinion at all, brought us back to the matter in hand.
"They have seen the Moonstone on Miss Verinder's dress," he said. "What is to be done?"
"What your uncle threatened to do," answered Mr. Murthwaite. "Colonel Herncastle understood the people he had to deal with. Send the Diamond to-morrow (under guard of more than one man) to be cut up at Amsterdam. Make half a dozen diamonds of it, instead of one. There is an end of its sacred identity as The Moonstone - and there is an end of the conspiracy."
Mr. Franklin turned to me.
"There is no help for it," he said. "We must speak to Lady Verinder to-morrow."
"What about to-night, sir?" I asked. "Suppose the Indians come back?"
Mr. Murthwaite answered me before Mr. Franklin could speak.
"The Indians won't risk coming back to-night," he said. "The direct way is hardly ever the way they take to anything - let alone a matter like this, in which the slightest mistake might be fatal to their reaching their end."
"But suppose the rogues are bolder than you think, sir?" I persisted.
"In that case," says Mr. Murthwaite, "let the dogs loose. Have you got any big dogs in the yard?"
"Two, sir. A mastiff and a bloodhound."
"They will do. In the present emergency, Mr. Betteredge, the mastiff and the bloodhound have one great merit - they are not likely to be troubled with your scruples about the sanctity of human life."
The strumming of the piano reached us from the drawing-room, as he fired that shot at me. He threw away his cheroot, and took Mr. Franklin's arm, to go back to the ladies. I noticed that the sky was clouding over fast, as I followed them to the house. Mr. Murthwaite noticed it too. He looked round at me, in his dry, droning way, and said:
"The Indians will want their umbrellas, Mr. Betteredge, to-night!"
It was all very well for HIM to joke. But I was not an eminent traveller - and my way in this world had not led me into playing ducks and drakes with my own life, among thieves and murderers in the outlandish places of the earth. I went into my own little room, and sat down in my chair in a perspiration, and wondered helplessly what was to be done next. In this anxious frame of mind, other men might have ended by working themselves up into a fever; I ended in a different way. I lit my pipe, and took a turn at ROBINSON CRUSOE.
Before I had been at it five minutes, I came to this amazing bit - page one hundred and sixty-one - as follows:
"Fear of Danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than Danger itself, when apparent to the Eyes; and we find the Burthen of Anxiety greater, by much, than the Evil which we are anxious about."
The man who doesn't believe in ROBINSON CRUSOE, after THAT, is a man with a screw loose in his understanding, or a man lost in the mist of his own self-conceit! Argument is thrown away upon him; and pity is better reserved for some person with a livelier faith.
I was far on with my second pipe, and still lost in admiration of that wonderful book, when Penelope (who had been handing round the tea) came in with her report from the drawing-room. She had left the Bouncers singing a duet - words beginning with a large "O," and music to correspond. She had observed that my lady made mistakes in her game of whist for the first time in our experience of her. She had seen the great traveller asleep in a corner. She had overheard Mr. Franklin sharpening his wits on Mr. Godfrey, at the expense of Ladies' Charities in general; and she had noticed that Mr. Godfrey hit him back again rather more smartly than became a gentleman of his benevolent character. She had detected Miss Rachel, apparently engaged in appeasing Mrs. Threadgall by showing her some photographs, and really occupied in stealing looks at Mr. Franklin, which no intelligent lady's maid could misinterpret for a single instant. Finally, she had missed Mr. Candy, the doctor, who had mysteriously disappeared from the drawing-room, and had then mysteriously returned, and entered into conversation with Mr. Godfrey. Upon the whole, things were prospering better than the experience of the dinner gave us any right to expect. If we could only hold on for another hour, old Father Time would bring up their carriages, and relieve us of them altogether.
Everything wears off in this world; and even the comforting effect of ROBINSON CRUSOE wore off, after Penelope left me. I got fidgety again, and resolved on making a survey of the grounds before the rain came. Instead of taking the footman, whose nose was human, and therefore useless in any emergency, I took the bloodhound with me. HIS nose for a stranger was to be depended on. We went all round the premises, and out into the road - and returned as wise as we went, having discovered no such thing as a lurking human creature anywhere.
The arrival of the carriages was the signal for the arrival of the rain. It poured as if it meant to pour all night. With the exception of the doctor, whose gig was waiting for him, the rest of the company went home snugly, under cover, in close carriages. I told Mr. Candy that I was afraid he would get wet through. He told me, in return, that he wondered I had arrived at my time of life, without knowing that a doctor's skin was waterproof. So he drove away in the rain, laughing over his own little joke; and so we got rid of our dinner company.
The next thing to tell is the story of the night.