"Suspect you!" she exclaimed, her anger rising with mine. "YOU VILLAIN, I SAW YOU TAKE THE DIAMOND WITH MY OWN EYES!"
The revelation which burst upon me in those words, the overthrow which they instantly accomplished of the whole view of the case on which Mr. Bruff had relied, struck me helpless. Innocent as I was, I stood before her in silence. To her eyes, to any eyes, I must have looked like a man overwhelmed by the discovery of his own guilt.
She drew back from the spectacle of my humiliation and of her triumph. The sudden silence that had fallen upon me seemed to frighten her. "I spared you, at the time," she said. "I would have spared you now, if you had not forced me to speak." She moved away as if to leave the room - and hesitated before she got to the door. "Why did you come here to humiliate yourself?" she asked. "Why did you come here to humiliate me?" She went on a few steps, and paused once more. "For God's sake, say something!" she exclaimed, passionately. "If you have any mercy left, don't let me degrade myself in this way! Say something - and drive me out of the room!"
I advanced towards her, hardly conscious of what I was doing. I had possibly some confused idea of detaining her until she had told me more. From the moment when I knew that the evidence on which I stood condemned in Rachel's mind, was the evidence of her own eyes, nothing - not even my conviction of my own innocence - was clear to my mind. I took her by the hand; I tried to speak firmly and to the purpose. All I could say was, "Rachel, you once loved me."
She shuddered, and looked away from me. Her hand lay powerless and trembling in mine. "Let go of it," she said faintly.
My touch seemed to have the same effect on her which the sound of my voice had produced when I first entered the room. After she had said the word which called me a coward, after she had made the avowal which branded me as a thief - while her hand lay in mine I was her master still!
I drew her gently back into the middle of the room. I seated her by the side of me. "Rachel," I said, "I can't explain the contradiction in what I am going to tell you. I can only speak the truth as you have spoken it. You saw me - with your own eyes, you saw me take the Diamond. Before God who hears us, I declare that I now know I took it for the first time! Do you doubt me still?"
She had neither heeded nor heard me. "Let go of my hand," she repeated faintly. That was her only answer. Her head sank on my shoulder; and her hand unconsciously closed on mine, at the moment when she asked me to release it.
I refrained from pressing the question. But there my forbearance stopped. My chance of ever holding up my head again among honest men depended on my chance of inducing her to make her disclosure complete. The one hope left for me was the hope that she might have overlooked something in the chain of evidence some mere trifle, perhaps, which might nevertheless, under careful investigation, be made the means of vindicating my innocence in the end. I own I kept possession of her hand. I own I spoke to her with all that I could summon back of the sympathy and confidence of the bygone time.
"I want to ask you something," I said. "I want you to tell me everything that happened, from the time when we wished each other good night, to the time when you saw me take the Diamond."
She lifted her head from my shoulder, and made an effort to release her hand. "Oh, why go back to it!" she said. "Why go back to it!"
"I will tell you why, Rachel. You are the victim, and I am the victim, of some monstrous delusion which has worn the mask of truth. If we look at what happened on the night of your birthday together, we may end in understanding each other yet."
Her head dropped back on my shoulder. The tears gathered in her eyes, and fell slowly over her cheeks. "Oh!" she said, "have I never had that hope? Have I not tried to see it, as you are trying now?"
"You have tried by yourself," I answered. "You have not tried with me to help you."
Those words seemed to awaken in her something of the hope which I felt myself when I uttered them. She replied to my questions with more than docility - she exerted her intelligence; she willingly opened her whole mind to me.
"Let us begin," I said, "with what happened after we had wished each other good night. Did you go to bed? or did you sit up?"
"I went to bed."
"Did you notice the time? Was it late?"
"Not very. About twelve o'clock, I think."
"Did you fall asleep?"
"No. I couldn't sleep that night."
"You were restless?"
"I was thinking of you."
The answer almost unmanned me. Something in the tone, even more than in the words, went straight to my heart. It was only after pausing a little first that I was able to go on.
"Had you any light in your room?" I asked.
"None - until I got up again, and lit my candle."
"How long was that, after you had gone to bed?"
"About an hour after, I think. About one o'clock."
"Did you leave your bedroom?"
"I was going to leave it. I had put on my dressing-gown; and I was going into my sitting-room to get a book - - "
"Had you opened your bedroom door?"
"I had just opened it."
"But you had not gone into the sitting-room?"
"No - I was stopped from going into it."
"What stopped you?
"I saw a light, under the door; and I heard footsteps approaching it."
"Were you frightened?"
"Not then. I knew my poor mother was a bad sleeper; and I remembered that she had tried hard, that evening, to persuade me to let her take charge of my Diamond. She was unreasonably anxious about it, as I thought; and I fancied she was coming to me to see if I was in bed, and to speak to me about the Diamond again, if she found that I was up."
"What did you do?"
"I blew out my candle, so that she might think I was in bed. I was unreasonable, on my side - I was determined to keep my Diamond in the place of my own choosing."