"She has just passed me, sir, with a very disturbed face, and in a very odd manner."
"I am afraid I am innocently the cause of that disturbance, Betteredge."
"I can't explain it," says Mr. Franklin; "but, if the girl IS concerned in the loss of the Diamond, I do really believe she was on the point of confessing everything - to me, of all the people in the world - not two minutes since."
Looking towards the swing-door, as he said those last words, I fancied I saw it opened a little way from the inner side.
Was there anybody listening? The door fell to, before I could get to it. Looking through, the moment after, I thought I saw the tails of Sergeant Cuff's respectable black coat disappearing round the corner of the passage. He knew, as well as I did, that he could expect no more help from me, now that I had discovered the turn which his investigations were really taking. Under those circumstances, it was quite in his character to help himself, and to do it by the underground way.
Not feeling sure that I had really seen the Sergeant - and not desiring to make needless mischief, where, Heaven knows, there was mischief enough going on already - I told Mr. Franklin that I thought one of the dogs had got into the house - and then begged him to describe what had happened between Rosanna and himself.
"Were you passing through the hall, sir?" I asked. "Did you meet her accidentally, when she spoke to you?"
Mr. Franklin pointed to the billiard-table.
"I was knocking the balls about," he said, "and trying to get this miserable business of the Diamond out of my mind. I happened to look up - and there stood Rosanna Spearman at the side of me, like a ghost! Her stealing on me in that way was so strange, that I hardly knew what to do at first. Seeing a very anxious expression in her face, I asked her if she wished to speak to me. She answered, 'Yes, if I dare.' Knowing what suspicion attached to her, I could only put one construction on such language as that. I confess it made me uncomfortable. I had no wish to invite the girl's confidence. At the same time, in the difficulties that now beset us, I could hardly feel justified in refusing to listen to her, if she was really bent on speaking to me. It was an awkward position; and I dare say I got out of it awkwardly enough. I said to her, 'I don't quite understand you. Is there anything you want me to do?' Mind, Betteredge, I didn't speak unkindly! The poor girl can't help being ugly - I felt that, at the time. The cue was still in my hand, and I went on knocking the balls about, to take off the awkwardness of the thing. As it turned out, I only made matters worse still. I'm afraid I mortified her without meaning it! She suddenly turned away. 'He looks at the billiard balls,' I heard her say. 'Anything rather than look atme!' Before I could stop her, she had left the hall. I am not quite easy about it, Betteredge. Would you mind telling Rosanna that I meant no unkindness? I have been a little hard on her, perhaps, in my own thoughts - I have almost hoped that the loss of the Diamond might be traced toher. Not from any ill-will to the poor girl: but - - " He stopped there, and going back to the billiard-table, began to knock the balls about once more.
After what had passed between the Sergeant and me, I knew what it was that he had left unspoken as well as he knew it himself.
Nothing but the tracing of the Moonstone to our second housemaid could now raise Miss Rachel above the infamous suspicion that rested on her in the mind of Sergeant Cuff. It was no longer a question of quieting my young lady's nervous excitement; it was a question of proving her innocence. If Rosanna had done nothing to compromise herself, the hope which Mr. Franklin confessed to having felt would have been hard enough on her in all conscience. But this was not the case. She had pretended to be ill, and had gone secretly to Frizinghall. She had been up all night, making something or destroying something, in private. And she had been at the Shivering Sand, that evening, under circumstances which were highly suspicious, to say the least of them. For all these reasons (sorry as I was for Rosanna) I could not but think that Mr. Franklin's way of looking at the matter was neither unnatural nor unreasonable, in Mr. Franklin's position. I said a word to him to that effect.
"Yes, yes!" he said in return. "But there is just a chance - a very poor one, certainly - that Rosanna's conduct may admit of some explanation which we don't see at present. I hate hurting a woman's feelings, Betteredge! Tell the poor creature what I told you to tell her. And if she wants to speak to me - I don't care whether I get into a scrape or not - send her to me in the library." With those kind words he laid down the cue and left me.
Inquiry at the servants' offices informed me that Rosanna had retired to her own room. She had declined all offers of assistance with thanks, and had only asked to be left to rest in quiet. Here, therefore, was an end of any confession on her part (supposing she really had a confession to make) for that night. I reported the result to Mr. Franklin, who, thereupon, left the library, and went up to bed.
I was putting the lights out, and making the windows fast, when Samuel came in with news of the two guests whom I had left in my room.
The argument about the white moss rose had apparently come to an end at last. The gardener had gone home, and Sergeant Cuff was nowhere to be found in the lower regions of the house.
I looked into my room. Quite true - nothing was to be discovered there but a couple of empty tumblers and a strong smell of hot grog. Had the Sergeant gone of his own accord to the bed-chamber that was prepared for him? I went up-stairs to see.
After reaching the second landing, I thought I heard a sound of quiet and regular breathing on my left-hand side. My left-hand side led to the corridor which communicated with Miss Rachel's room. I looked in, and there, coiled up on three chairs placed right across the passage - there, with a red handkerchief tied round his grizzled head, and his respectable black coat rolled up for a pillow, lay and slept Sergeant Cuff!
He woke, instantly and quietly, like a dog, the moment I approached him.
"Good night, Mr. Betteredge," he said. "And mind, if you ever take to growing roses, the white moss rose is all the better for not being budded on the dog-rose, whatever the gardener may say to the contrary!"
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "Why are you not in your proper bed?"
"I am not in my proper bed," answered the Sergeant, "because I am one of the many people in this miserable world who can't earn their money honestly and easily at the same time. There was a coincidence, this evening, between the period of Rosanna Spearman's return from the Sands and the period when Miss Verinder stated her resolution to leave the house. Whatever Rosanna may have hidden, it's clear to my mind that your young lady couldn't go away until she knew that it WAS hidden. The two must have communicated privately once already to-night. If they try to communicate again, when the house is quiet, I want to be in the way, and stop it. Don't blame me for upsetting your sleeping arrangements, Mr. Betteredge - blame the Diamond."
"I wish to God the Diamond had never found its way into this house!" I broke out.
Sergeant Cuff looked with a rueful face at the three chairs on which he had condemned himself to pass the night.
"So do I," he said, gravely.