No, the lawyer had simply declined to discuss the question. He was himself satisfied that the Moonstone had been pledged to Mr. Luker. His eminent absent friend, Mr. Murthwaite (whose consummate knowledge of the Indian character no one could deny), was satisfied also. Under these circumstances, and with the many demands already made on him, he must decline entering into any disputes on the subject of evidence. Time would show; and Mr. Bruff was willing to wait for time.
It was quite plain - even if Mr. Blake had not made it plainer still by reporting the substance of the letter, instead of reading what was actually written - that distrust of me was at the bottom of all this. Having myself foreseen that result, I was neither mortified nor surprised. I asked Mr. Blake if his friend's protest had shaken him. He answered emphatically, that it had not produced the slightest effect on his mind. I was free after that to dismiss Mr. Bruff from consideration - and I did dismiss him accordingly.
A pause in the talk between us, followed - and Gabriel Betteredge came out from his retirement at the window.
"Can you favour me with your attention, sir?" he inquired, addressing himself to me.
"I am quite at your service," I answered.
Betteredge took a chair and seated himself at the table. He produced a huge old-fashioned leather pocket-book, with a pencil of dimensions to match. Having put on his spectacles, he opened the pocket-book, at a blank page, and addressed himself to me once more.
"I have lived," said Betteredge, looking at me sternly, "nigh on fifty years in the service of my late lady. I was page-boy before that, in the service of the old lord, her father. I am now somewhere between seventy and eighty years of age - never mind exactly where! I am reckoned to have got as pretty a knowledge and experience of the world as most men. And what does it all end in? It ends, Mr. Ezra Jennings, in a conjuring trick being performed on Mr. Franklin Blake, by a doctor's assistant with a bottle of laudanum - and by the living jingo, I'm appointed, in my old age, to be conjurer's boy!"
Mr. Blake burst out laughing. I attempted to speak. Betteredge held up his hand, in token that he had not done yet.
"Not a word, Mr. Jennings!" he said, "It don't want a word, sir, from you. I have got my principles, thank God. If an order comes to me, which is own brother to an order come from Bedlam, it don't matter. So long as I get it from my master or mistress, as the case may be, I obey it. I may have my own opinion, which is also, you will please to remember, the opinion of Mr. Bruff - the Great Mr. Bruff!" said Betteredge, raising his voice, and shaking his head at me solemnly. "It don't matter; I withdraw my opinion, for all that. My young lady says, 'Do it.' And I say, 'Miss, it shall be done.' Here I am, with my book and my pencil - the latter not pointed so well as I could wish, but when Christians take leave of their senses, who is to expect that pencils will keep their points? Give me your orders, Mr. Jennings. I'll have them in writing, sir. I'm determined not to be behind 'em, or before 'em, by so much as a hair's breadth. I'm a blind agent - that's what I am. A blind agent!" repeated Betteredge, with infinite relish of his own description of himself.
"I am very sorry," I began, "that you and I don't agree - - "
"Don't bring ME, into it!" interposed Betteredge. "This is not a matter of agreement, it's a matter of obedience. Issue your directions, sir - issue your directions!"
Mr. Blake made me a sign to take him at his word. I "issued my directions" as plainly and as gravely as I could.
"I wish certain parts of the house to be reopened," I said, "and to be furnished, exactly as they were furnished at this time last year."
Betteredge gave his imperfectly-pointed pencil a preliminary lick with his tongue. "Name the parts, Mr. Jennings!" he said loftily.
"First, the inner hall, leading to the chief staircase."
"'First, the inner hall,'" Betteredge wrote. "Impossible to furnish that, sir, as it was furnished last year - to begin with."
"Because there was a stuffed buzzard, Mr. Jennings, in the hall last year. When the family left, the buzzard was put away with the other things. When the buzzard was put away - he burst."
"We will except the buzzard then."
Betteredge took a note of the exception. "'The inner hall to be furnished again, as furnished last year. A burst buzzard alone excepted.' Please to go on, Mr. Jennings."
"The carpet to be laid down on the stairs, as before."
"'The carpet to be laid down on the stairs, as before.' Sorry to disappoint you, sir. But that can't be done either."
"Because the man who laid that carpet down is dead, Mr. Jennings - and the like of him for reconciling together a carpet and a corner, is not to be found in all England, look where you may."
"Very well. We must try the next best man in England."
Betteredge took another note; and I went on issuing my directions.
"Miss Verinder's sitting-room to be restored exactly to what it was last year. Also, the corridor leading from the sitting-room to the first landing. Also, the second corridor, leading from the second landing to the best bedrooms. Also, the bedroom occupied last June by Mr. Franklin Blake."
Betteredge's blunt pencil followed me conscientiously, word by word. "Go on, sir," he said, with sardonic gravity. "There's a deal of writing left in the point of this pencil yet."
I told him that I had no more directions to give. "Sir," said Betteredge, "in that case, I have a point or two to put on my own behalf." He opened the pocket-book at a new page, and gave the inexhaustible pencil another preliminary lick.