Fourth Narrative: Chapter I (Page 2)
"I see a coincidence--nothing more."
"You don't feel at all shaken, Mr. Jennings, in respect to this medical enterprise of yours?
"Not the least in the world."
Betteredge stared hard at me, in dead silence. He closed the book with great deliberation; he locked it up again in the cupboard with extraordinary care; he wheeled round, and stared hard at me once more. Then he spoke.
"Sir," he said gravely, "there are great allowances to be made for a man who has not read ROBINSON CRUSOE since he was a child. I wish you good morning."
He opened his door with a low bow, and left me at liberty to find my own way into the garden. I met Mr. Blake returning to the house.
"You needn't tell me what has happened," he said. "Betteredge has played his last card: he has made another prophetic discovery in ROBINSON CRUSOE. Have you humoured his favourite delusion? No? You have let him see that you don't believe in ROBINSON CRUSOE? Mr. Jennings! you have fallen to the lowest possible place in Betteredge's estimation. Say what you like, and do what you like, for the future. You will find that he won't waste another word on you now."
June 21st.--A short entry must suffice in my journal to-day.
Mr. Blake has had the worst night that he has passed yet. I have been obliged, greatly against my will, to prescribe for him. Men of his sensitive organisation are fortunately quick in feeling the effect of remedial measures. Otherwise, I should be inclined to fear that he will be totally unfit for the experiment when the time comes to try it.
As for myself, after some little remission of my pains for the last two days I had an attack this morning, of which I shall say nothing but that it has decided me to return to the opium. I shall close this book, and take my full dose--five hundred drops.
June 22nd.--Our prospects look better to-day. Mr. Blake's nervous suffering is greatly allayed. He slept a little last night. MY night, thanks to the opium, was the night of a man who is stunned. I can't say that I woke this morning; the fitter expression would be, that I recovered my senses.
We drove to the house to see if the refurnishing was done. It will be completed to-morrow--Saturday. As Mr. Blake foretold, Betteredge raised no further obstacles. From first to last, he was ominously polite, and ominously silent.
My medical enterprise (as Betteredge calls it) must now, inevitably, be delayed until Monday next. Tomorrow evening the workmen will be late in the house. On the next day, the established Sunday tyranny which is one of the institutions of this free country, so times the trains as to make it impossible to ask anybody to travel to us from London. Until Monday comes, there is nothing to be done but to watch Mr. Blake carefully, and to keep him, if possible, in the same state in which I find him to-day.
In the meanwhile, I have prevailed on him to write to Mr. Bruff, making a point of it that he shall be present as one of the witnesses. I especially choose the lawyer, because he is strongly prejudiced against us. If we convince HIM, we place our victory beyond the possibility of dispute.
Mr. Blake has also written to Sergeant Cuff; and I have sent a line to Miss Verinder. With these, and with old Betteredge
(who is really a person of importance in the family) we shall have witnesses enough for the purpose--without including Mrs. Merridew, if Mrs. Merridew persists in sacrificing herself to the opinion of the world.
June 23rd.--The vengeance of the opium overtook me again last night. No matter; I must go on with it now till Monday is past and gone.
Mr. Blake is not so well again to-day. At two this morning, he confesses that he opened the drawer in which his cigars are put away. He only succeeded in locking it up again by a violent effort. His next proceeding, in case of temptation, was to throw the key out of window. The waiter brought it in this morning, discovered at the bottom of an empty cistern--such is Fate! I have taken possession of the key until Tuesday next.
June 24th.--Mr. Blake and I took a long drive in an open carriage. We both felt beneficially the blessed influence of the soft summer air. I dined with him at the hotel. To my great relief--for I found him in an over-wrought, over-excited state this morning--he had two hours' sound sleep on the sofa after dinner. If he has another bad night, now--I am not afraid of the consequence.
June 25th, Monday.--The day of the experiment! It is five o'clock in the afternoon. We have just arrived at the house.
The first and foremost question, is the question of Mr. Blake's health.
So far as it is possible for me to judge, he promises
(physically speaking) to be quite as susceptible to the action of the opium to-night as he was at this time last year. He is, this afternoon, in a state of nervous sensitiveness which just stops short of nervous irritation. He changes colour readily; his hand is not quite steady; and he starts at chance noises, and at unexpected appearances of persons and things.
These results have all been produced by deprivation of sleep, which is in its turn the nervous consequence of a sudden cessation in the habit of smoking, after that habit has been carried to an extreme. Here are the same causes at work again, which operated last year; and here are, apparently, the same effects. Will the parallel still hold good, when the final test has been tried? The events of the night must decide.
While I write these lines, Mr. Blake is amusing himself at the billiard table in the inner hall, practising different strokes in the game, as he was accustomed to practise them when he was a guest in this house in June last. I have brought my journal here, partly with a view to occupying the idle hours which I am sure to have on my hands between this and to-morrow morning; partly in the hope that something may happen which it may be worth my while to place on record at the time.
Have I omitted anything, thus far? A glance at yesterday's entry shows me that I have forgotten to note the arrival of the morning's post. Let me set this right before I close these leaves for the present, and join Mr. Blake.
I received a few lines then, yesterday, from Miss Verinder. She has arranged to travel by the afternoon train, as I recommended. Mrs. Merridew has insisted on accompanying her. The note hints that the old lady's generally excellent temper is a little ruffled, and requests all due indulgence for her, in consideration of her age and her habits. I will endeavour, in my relations with Mrs. Merridew, to emulate the moderation which Betteredge displays in his relations with me. He received us to-day, portentously arrayed in his best black suit, and his stiffest white cravat. Whenever he looks my way, he remembers that I have not read ROBINSON CRUSOE since I was a child, and he respectfully pities me.
Yesterday, also, Mr. Blake had the lawyer's answer. Mr. Bruff accepts the invitation--under protest. It is, he thinks, clearly necessary that a gentleman possessed of the average allowance of common sense, should accompany Miss Verinder to the scene of, what we will venture to call, the proposed exhibition. For want of a better escort, Mr. Bruff himself will be that gentleman.--So here is poor Miss Verinder provided with two "chaperones." It is a relief to think that the opinion of the world must surely be satisfied with this!
Nothing has been heard of Sergeant Cuff. He is no doubt still in Ireland. We must not expect to see him to-night.
Betteredge has just come in, to say that Mr. Blake has asked for me. I must lay down my pen for the present.
* * * * * * * * * *
Seven o'clock.--We have been all over the refurnished rooms and staircases again; and we have had a pleasant stroll in the shrubbery, which was Mr. Blake's favourite walk when he was here last. In this way, I hope to revive the old impressions of places and things as vividly as possible in his mind.
We are now going to dine, exactly at the hour at which the birthday dinner was given last year. My object, of course, is a purely medical one in this case. The laudanum must find the process of digestion, as nearly as may be, where the laudanum found it last year.
At a reasonable time after dinner I propose to lead the conversation back again--as inartificially as I can--to the subject of the Diamond, and of the Indian conspiracy to steal it. When I have filled his mind with these topics, I shall have done all that it is in my power to do, before the time comes for giving him the second dose.
* * * * * * * * * *
Half-past eight.--I have only this moment found an opportunity of attending to the most important duty of all; the duty of looking in the family medicine chest, for the laudanum which Mr. Candy used last year.
Ten minutes since, I caught Betteredge at an unoccupied moment, and told him what I wanted. Without a word of objection, without so much as an attempt to produce his pocket-book, he led the way (making allowances for me at every step) to the store-room in which the medicine chest is kept.
I discovered the bottle, carefully guarded by a glass stopper tied over with leather. The preparation which it contained was, as I had anticipated, the common Tincture of Opium. Finding the bottle still well filled, I have resolved to use it, in preference to employing either of the two preparations with which I had taken care to provide myself, in case of emergency.
The question of the quantity which I am to administer presents certain difficulties. I have thought it over, and have decided on increasing the dose.
My notes inform me that Mr. Candy only administered twenty-five minims. This is a small dose to have produced the results which followed-- even in the case of a person so sensitive as Mr. Blake. I think it highly probable that Mr. Candy gave more than he supposed himself to have given-- knowing, as I do, that he has a keen relish of the pleasures of the table, and that he measured out the laudanum on the birthday, after dinner. In any case, I shall run the risk of enlarging the dose to forty minims. On this occasion, Mr. Blake knows beforehand that he is going to take the laudanum--which is equivalent, physiologically speaking, to his having
(unconsciously to himself) a certain capacity in him to resist the effects. If my view is right, a larger quantity is therefore imperatively required, this time, to repeat the results which the smaller quantity produced, last year.
* * * * * * * * * *
Ten o'clock.--The witnesses, or the company (which shall I call them?) reached the house an hour since.
A little before nine o'clock, I prevailed on Mr. Blake to accompany me to his bedroom; stating, as a reason, that I wished him to look round it, for the last time, in order to make quite sure that nothing had been forgotten in the refurnishing of the room. I had previously arranged with Betteredge, that the bedchamber prepared for Mr. Bruff should be the next room to Mr. Blake's, and that I should be informed of the lawyer's arrival by a knock at the door. Five minutes after the clock in the hall had struck nine, I heard the knock; and, going out immediately, met Mr. Bruff in the corridor.
My personal appearance (as usual) told against me. Mr. Bruff's distrust looked at me plainly enough out of Mr. Bruff's eyes. Being well used to producing this effect on strangers, I did not hesitate a moment in saying what I wanted to say, before the lawyer found his way into Mr. Blake's room.
"You have travelled here, I believe, in company with Mrs. Merridew and Miss Verinder?" I said.
"Yes," answered Mr. Bruff, as drily as might be.
"Miss Verinder has probably told you, that I wish her presence in the house
(and Mrs. Merridew's presence of course) to be kept a secret from Mr. Blake, until my experiment on him has been tried first?"
"I know that I am to hold my tongue, sir!" said Mr. Bruff, impatiently. "Being habitually silent on the subject of human folly, I am all the readier to keep my lips closed on this occasion. Does that satisfy you?"
I bowed, and left Betteredge to show him to his room. Betteredge gave me one look at parting, which said, as if in so many words, "You have caught a Tartar, Mr. Jennings-- and the name of him is Bruff."
It was next necessary to get the meeting over with the two ladies. I descended the stairs--a little nervously, I confess--on my way to Miss Verinder's sitting-room.
The gardener's wife (charged with looking after the accommodation of the ladies) met me in the first-floor corridor. This excellent woman treats me with an excessive civility which is plainly the offspring of down-right terror. She stares, trembles, and curtseys, whenever I speak to her. On my asking for Miss Verinder, she stared, trembled, and would no doubt have curtseyed next, if Miss Verinder herself had not cut that ceremony short, by suddenly opening her sitting-room door.
"Is that Mr. Jennings?" she asked.
Before I could answer, she came out eagerly to speak to me in the corridor. We met under the light of a lamp on a bracket. At the first sight of me, Miss Verinder stopped, and hesitated. She recovered herself instantly, coloured for a moment--and then, with a charming frankness, offered me her hand.
"I can't treat you like a stranger, Mr. Jennings," she said. "Oh, if you only knew how happy your letters have made me!"
She looked at my ugly wrinkled face, with a bright gratitude so new to me in my experience of my fellow-creatures, that I was at a loss how to answer her. Nothing had prepared me for her kindness and her beauty. The misery of many years has not hardened my heart, thank God. I was as awkward and as shy with her, as if I had been a lad in my teens.
"Where is he now?" she asked, giving free expression to her one dominant interest--the interest in Mr. Blake. "What is he doing? Has he spoken of me? Is he in good spirits? How does he bear the sight of the house, after what happened in it last year? When are you going to give him the laudanum? May I see you pour it out? I am so interested; I am so excited-- I have ten thousand things to say to you, and they all crowd together so that I don't know what to say first. Do you wonder at the interest I take in this?"
"No," I said. "I venture to think that I thoroughly understand it."
She was far above the paltry affectation of being confused. She answered me as she might have answered a brother or a father.
"You have relieved me of indescribable wretchedness; you have given me a new life. How can I be ungrateful enough to have any concealment from you? I love him," she said simply, "I have loved him from first to last-- even when I was wronging him in my own thoughts; even when I was saying the hardest and the cruellest words to him. Is there any excuse for me, in that? I hope there is--I am afraid it is the only excuse I have. When to-morrow comes, and he knows that I am in the house, do you think----"
She stopped again, and looked at me very earnestly.
"When to-morrow comes," I said, "I think you have only to tell him what you have just told me."
Her face brightened; she came a step nearer to me. Her fingers trifled nervously with a flower which I had picked in the garden, and which I had put into the button-hole of my coat.
"You have seen a great deal of him lately," she said. "Have you, really and truly, seen THAT?"
"Really and truly," I answered. "I am quite certain of what will happen to-morrow. I wish I could feel as certain of what will happen to-night."
At that point in the conversation, we were interrupted by the appearance of Betteredge with the tea-tray. He gave me another significant look as he passed on into the sitting-room. "Aye! aye! make your hay while the sun shines. The Tartar's upstairs, Mr. Jennings--the Tartar's upstairs!"
We followed him into the room. A little old lady, in a corner, very nicely dressed, and very deeply absorbed over a smart piece of embroidery, dropped her work in her lap, and uttered a faint little scream at the first sight of my gipsy complexion and my piebald hair.
"Mrs. Merridew," said Miss Verinder, "this is Mr. Jennings."
"I beg Mr. Jennings's pardon," said the old lady, looking at Miss Verinder, and speaking at me. "Railway travelling always makes me nervous. I am endeavouring to quiet my mind by occupying myself as usual. I don't know whether my embroidery is out of place, on this extraordinary occasion. If it interferes with Mr. Jennings's medical views, I shall be happy to put it away of course."
I hastened to sanction the presence of the embroidery, exactly as I had sanctioned the absence of the burst buzzard and the Cupid's wing. Mrs. Merridew made an effort--a grateful effort--to look at my hair. No! it was not to be done. Mrs. Merridew looked back again at Miss Verinder.
"If Mr. Jennings will permit me," pursued the old lady, "I should like to ask a favour. Mr. Jennings is about to try a scientific experiment to-night. I used to attend scientific experiments when I was a girl at school. They invariably ended in an explosion. If Mr. Jennings will be so very kind, I should like to be warned of the explosion this time. With a view to getting it over, if possible, before I go to bed."
I attempted to assure Mrs. Merridew that an explosion was not included in the programme on this occasion.
"No," said the old lady. "I am much obliged to Mr. Jennings-- I am aware that he is only deceiving me for my own good. I prefer plain dealing. I am quite resigned to the explosion-- but I DO want to get it over, if possible, before I go to bed."
Here the door opened, and Mrs. Merridew uttered another little scream. The advent of the explosion? No: only the advent of Betteredge.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Jennings," said Betteredge, in his most elaborately confidential manner. "Mr. Franklin wishes to know where you are. Being under your orders to deceive him, in respect to the presence of my young lady in the house, I have said I don't know. That you will please to observe, was a lie. Having one foot already in the grave, sir, the fewer lies you expect me to tell, the more I shall be indebted to you, when my conscience pricks me and my time comes."
There was not a moment to be wasted on the purely speculative question of Betteredge's conscience. Mr. Blake might make his appearance in search of me, unless I went to him at once in his own room. Miss Verinder followed me out into the corridor.
"They seem to be in a conspiracy to persecute you," she said. "What does it mean?"
"Only the protest of the world, Miss Verinder--on a very small scale-- against anything that is new."
"What are we to do with Mrs. Merridew?"
"Tell her the explosion will take place at nine to-morrow morning."
"So as to send her to bed?"
"Yes--so as to send her to bed."
Miss Verinder went back to the sitting-room, and I went upstairs to Mr. Blake.
To my surprise I found him alone; restlessly pacing his room, and a little irritated at being left by himself.
"Where is Mr. Bruff?" I asked.
He pointed to the closed door of communication between the two rooms. Mr. Bruff had looked in on him, for a moment; had attempted to renew his protest against our proceedings; and had once more failed to produce the smallest impression on Mr. Blake. Upon this, the lawyer had taken refuge in a black leather bag, filled to bursting with professional papers. "The serious business of life," he admitted, "was sadly out of place on such an occasion as the present. But the serious business of life must be carried on, for all that. Mr. Blake would perhaps kindly make allowance for the old-fashioned habits of a practical man. Time was money--and, as for Mr. Jennings, he might depend on it that Mr. Bruff would be forthcoming when called upon." With that apology, the lawyer had gone back to his own room, and had immersed himself obstinately in his black bag.
I thought of Mrs. Merridew and her embroidery, and of Betteredge and his conscience. There is a wonderful sameness in the solid side of the English character--just as there is a wonderful sameness in the solid expression of the English face.
"When are you going to give me the laudanum?" asked Mr. Blake impatiently.
"You must wait a little longer," I said. "I will stay and keep you company till the time comes."
It was then not ten o'clock. Inquiries which I had made, at various times, of Betteredge and Mr. Blake, had led me to the conclusion that the dose of laudanum given by Mr. Candy could not possibly have been administered before eleven. I had accordingly determined not to try the second dose until that time.
We talked a little; but both our minds were preoccupied by the coming ordeal. The conversation soon flagged--then dropped altogether. Mr. Blake idly turned over the books on his bedroom table. I had taken the precaution of looking at them, when we first entered the room. THE GUARDIAN; THE TATLER; Richardson's PAMELA; Mackenzie's MAN OF FEELING; Roscoe's LORENZO DE MEDICI; and Robertson's CHARLES THE FIFTH--all classical works; all (of course) immeasurably superior to anything produced in later times; and all (from my present point of view) possessing the one great merit of enchaining nobody's interest, and exciting nobody's brain. I left Mr. Blake to the composing influence of Standard Literature, and occupied myself in making this entry in my journal.
My watch informs me that it is close on eleven o'clock. I must shut up these leaves once more.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two o'clock A.M.--The experiment has been tried. With what result, I am now to describe.
At eleven o'clock, I rang the bell for Betteredge, and told Mr. Blake that he might at last prepare himself for bed.
I looked out of the window at the night. It was mild and rainy, resembling, in this respect, the night of the birthday-- the twenty-first of June, last year. Without professing to believe in omens, it was at least encouraging to find no direct nervous influences--no stormy or electric perturbations-- in the atmosphere. Betteredge joined me at the window, and mysteriously put a little slip of paper into my hand. It contained these lines:
"Mrs. Merridew has gone to bed, on the distinct understanding that the explosion is to take place at nine to-morrow morning, and that I am not to stir out of this part of the house until she comes and sets me free. She has no idea that the chief scene of the experiment is my sitting-room-- or she would have remained in it for the whole night! I am alone, and very anxious. Pray let me see you measure out the laudanum; I want to have something to do with it, even in the unimportant character of a mere looker-on.--R.V."
I followed Betteredge out of the room, and told him to remove the medicine-chest into Miss Verinder's sitting-room.
The order appeared to take him completely by surprise. He looked as if he suspected me of some occult medical design on Miss Verinder! "Might I presume to ask," he said, "what my young lady and the medicine-chest have got to do with each other?"
"Stay in the sitting-room, and you will see."
Betteredge appeared to doubt his own unaided capacity to superintend me effectually, on an occasion when a medicine-chest was included in the proceedings.
"Is there any objection, sir" he asked, "to taking Mr. Bruff into this part of the business?"
"Quite the contrary! I am now going to ask Mr. Bruff to accompany me down-stairs."
Betteredge withdrew to fetch the medicine-chest, without another word. I went back into Mr. Blake's room, and knocked at the door of communication. Mr. Bruff opened it, with his papers in his hand--immersed in Law; impenetrable to Medicine.
"I am sorry to disturb you," I said. "But I am going to prepare the laudanum for Mr. Blake; and I must request you to be present, and to see what I do."
"Yes?" said Mr. Bruff, with nine-tenths of his attention riveted on his papers, and with one-tenth unwillingly accorded to me. "Anything else?"
"I must trouble you to return here with me, and to see me administer the dose."
"One thing more. I must put you to the inconvenience of remaining in Mr. Blake's room, and of waiting to see what happens."
"Oh, very good!" said Mr. Bruff. "My room, or Mr. Blake's room-- it doesn't matter which; I can go on with my papers anywhere. Unless you object, Mr. Jennings, to my importing THAT amount of common sense into the proceedings?"
Before I could answer, Mr. Blake addressed himself to the lawyer, speaking from his bed.
"Do you really mean to say that you don't feel any interest in what we are going to do?" he asked. "Mr. Bruff, you have no more imagination than a cow!"
"A cow is a very useful animal, Mr. Blake," said the lawyer. With that reply he followed me out of the room, still keeping his papers in his hand.
We found Miss Verinder, pale and agitated, restlessly pacing her sitting-room from end to end. At a table in a corner stood Betteredge, on guard over the medicine-chest. Mr. Bruff sat down on the first chair that he could find, and (emulating the usefulness of the cow) plunged back again into his papers on the spot.
Miss Verinder drew me aside, and reverted instantly to her one all-absorbing interest--her interest in Mr. Blake.
"How is he now?" she asked. "Is he nervous? is he out of temper? Do you think it will succeed? Are you sure it will do no harm?"
"Quite sure. Come, and see me measure it out."
"One moment! It is past eleven now. How long will it be before anything happens?"
"It is not easy to say. An hour perhaps."
"I suppose the room must be dark, as it was last year?"
"I shall wait in my bedroom--just as I did before. I shall keep the door a little way open. It was a little way open last year. I will watch the sitting-room door; and the moment it moves, I will blow out my light. It all happened in that way, on my birthday night. And it must all happen again in the same way, musn't it?"
"Are you sure you can control yourself, Miss Verinder?"
"In HIS interests, I can do anything!" she answered fervently.
One look at her face told me that I could trust her. I addressed myself again to Mr. Bruff.
"I must trouble you to put your papers aside for a moment," I said.
"Oh, certainly!" He got up with a start--as if I had disturbed him at a particularly interesting place--and followed me to the medicine-chest. There, deprived of the breathless excitement incidental to the practice of his profession, he looked at Betteredge--and yawned wearily.
Miss Verinder joined me with a glass jug of cold water, which she had taken from a side-table. "Let me pour out the water," she whispered. "I must have a hand in it!"
I measured out the forty minims from the bottle, and poured the laudanum into a medicine glass. "Fill it till it is three parts full," I said, and handed the glass to Miss Verinder. I then directed Betteredge to lock up the medicine chest; informing him that I had done with it now. A look of unutterable relief overspread the old servant's countenance. He had evidently suspected me of a medical design on his young lady!
After adding the water as I had directed, Miss Verinder seized a moment-- while Betteredge was locking the chest, and while Mr. Bruff was looking back to his papers--and slyly kissed the rim of the medicine glass. "When you give it to him," said the charming girl, "give it to him on that side!"
I took the piece of crystal which was to represent the Diamond from my pocket, and gave it to her.
"You must have a hand in this, too," I said. "You must put it where you put the Moonstone last year."
She led the way to the Indian cabinet, and put the mock Diamond into the drawer which the real Diamond had occupied on the birthday night. Mr. Bruff witnessed this proceeding, under protest, as he had witnessed everything else. But the strong dramatic interest which the experiment was now assuming, proved (to my great amusement) to be too much for Betteredge's capacity of self restraint. His hand trembled as he held the candle, and he whispered anxiously, "Are you sure, miss, it's the right drawer?"
I led the way out again, with the laudanum and water in my hand. At the door, I stopped to address a last word to Miss Verinder.
"Don't be long in putting out the lights," I said.
I will put them out at once," she answered. "And I will wait in my bedroom, with only one candle alight."
She closed the sitting-room door behind us. Followed by Mr. Bruff and Betteredge, I went back to Mr. Blake's room.
We found him moving restlessly from side to side of the bed, and wondering irritably whether he was to have the laudanum that night. In the presence of the two witnesses, I gave him the dose, and shook up his pillows, and told him to lie down again quietly and wait.
His bed, provided with light chintz curtains, was placed, with the head against the wall of the room, so as to leave a good open space on either side of it. On one side, I drew the curtains completely--and in the part of the room thus screened from his view, I placed Mr. Bruff and Betteredge, to wait for the result. At the bottom of the bed I half drew the curtains--and placed my own chair at a little distance, so that I might let him see me or not see me, speak to me or not speak to me, just as the circumstances might direct. Having already been informed that he always slept with a light in the room, I placed one of the two lighted candles on a little table at the head of the bed, where the glare of the light would not strike on his eyes. The other candle I gave to Mr. Bruff; the light, in this instance, being subdued by the screen of the chintz curtains. The window was open at the top, so as to ventilate the room. The rain fell softly, the house was quiet. It was twenty minutes past eleven, by my watch, when the preparations were completed, and I took my place on the chair set apart at the bottom of the bed.Next