My doubts ended in my calling at the hotel in London, at which I knew Mrs. Ablewhite and Miss Verinder to be staying. They informed me that they were going to Brighton the next day, and that an unexpected obstacle prevented Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite from accompanying them. I at once proposed to take his place. While I was only thinking of Rachel Verinder, it was possible to hesitate. When I actually saw her, my mind was made up directly, come what might of it, to tell her the truth.
I found my opportunity, when I was out walking with her, on the day after my arrival.
"May I speak to you," I asked, "about your marriage engagement?"
"Yes," she said, indifferently, "if you have nothing more interesting to talk about."
"I am marrying in despair, Mr. Bruff - on the chance of dropping into some sort of stagnant happiness which may reconcile me to my life."
Strong language! and suggestive of something below the surface, in the shape of a romance. But I had my own object in view, and I declined (as we lawyers say) to pursue the question into its side issues.
"Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite can hardly be of your way of thinking," I said. "HIS heart must be set on the marriage at any rate?"
"He says so, and I suppose I ought to believe him. He would hardly marry me, after what I have owned to him, unless he was fond of me."
Poor thing! the bare idea of a man marrying her for his own selfish and mercenary ends had never entered her head. The task I had set myself began to look like a harder task than I had bargained for.
"It sounds strangely," I went on, "in my old-fashioned ears - - "
"What sounds strangely?" she asked.
"To hear you speak of your future husband as if you were not quite sure of the sincerity of his attachment. Are you conscious of any reason in your own mind for doubting him?"
Her astonishing quickness of perception, detected a change in my voice, or my manner, when I put that question, which warned her that I had been speaking all along with some ulterior object in view. She stopped, and taking her arm out of mine, looked me searchingly in the face.
"Mr. Bruff," she said, "you have something to tell me about Godfrey Ablewhite. Tell it."
I knew her well enough to take her at her word. I told it.
She put her arm again into mine, and walked on with me slowly. I felt her hand tightening its grasp mechanically on my arm, and I saw her getting paler and paler as I went on - but, not a word passed her lips while I was speaking. When I had done, she still kept silence. Her head drooped a little, and she walked by my side, unconscious of my presence, unconscious of everything about her; lost - buried, I might almost say - in her own thoughts.
I made no attempt to disturb her. My experience of her disposition warned me, on this, as on former occasions, to give her time.
The first instinct of girls in general, on being told of anything which interests them, is to ask a multitude of questions, and then to run off, and talk it all over with some favourite friend. Rachel Verinder's first instinct, under similar circumstances, was to shut herself up in her own mind, and to think it over by herself. This absolute self-dependence is a great virtue in a man. In a woman it has a serious drawback of morally separating her from the mass of her sex, and so exposing her to misconstruction by the general opinion. I strongly suspect myself of thinking as the rest of the world think in this matter - except in the case of Rachel Verinder. The self-dependence in HER character, was one of its virtues in my estimation; partly, no doubt, because I sincerely admired and liked her; partly, because the view I took of her connexion with the loss of the Moonstone was based on my own special knowledge of her disposition. Badly as appearances might look, in the matter of the Diamond - shocking as it undoubtedly was to know that she was associated in any way with the mystery of an undiscovered theft - I was satisfied nevertheless that she had done nothing unworthy of her, because I was also satisfied that she had not stirred a step in the business, without shutting herself up in her own mind, and thinking it over first.
We had walked on, for nearly a mile I should say before Rachel roused herself. She suddenly looked up at me with a faint reflection of her smile of happier times - the most irresistible smile I have ever seen on a woman's face.
"I owe much already to your kindness," she said. "And I feel more deeply indebted to it now than ever. If you hear any rumours of my marriage when you get back to London contradict them at once, on my authority."
"Have you resolved to break your engagement?" I asked.
"Can you doubt it?" she returned proudly, "after what you have told me!"
"My dear Miss Rachel, you are very young - and you may find more difficulty in withdrawing from your present position than you anticipate. Have you no one - I mean a lady, of course - whom you could consult?"
"No one," she answered.
It distressed me, it did indeed distress me, to hear her say that. She was so young and so lonely - and she bore it so well! The impulse to help her got the better of any sense of my own unfitness which I might have felt under the circumstances; and I stated such ideas on the subject as occurred to me on the spur of the moment, to the best of my ability. I have advised a prodigious number of clients, and have dealt with some exceedingly awkward difficulties, in my time. But this was the first occasion on which I had ever found myself advising a young lady how to obtain her release from a marriage engagement. The suggestion I offered amounted briefly to this. I recommended her to tell Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite - at a private interview, of course - that he had, to her certain knowledge, betrayed the mercenary nature of the motive on his side. She was then to add that their marriage, after what she had discovered, was a simple impossibility - and she was to put it to him, whether he thought it wisest to secure her silence by falling in with her views, or to force her, by opposing them, to make the motive under which she was acting generally known. If he attempted to defend himself, or to deny the facts, she was, in that event, to refer him to ME.