"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.
"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 ninepence, 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 humoured 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 ninepence 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. Betteredge."
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. Betteredge," 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. Betteredge (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."