The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

CHAPTER I

In the first part of ROBINSON CRUSOE, at page one hundred and
twenty-nine, you will find it thus written:

“Now I saw, though too late, the Folly of beginning a Work before we
count the Cost, and before we judge rightly of our own Strength to go
through with it.”

Only yesterday, I opened my ROBINSON CRUSOE at that place. Only this
morning (May twenty-first, Eighteen hundred and fifty), came my lady’s
nephew, Mr. Franklin Blake, and held a short conversation with me, as
follows:–

“Betteredge,” says Mr. Franklin, “I have been to the lawyer’s about some
family matters; and, among other things, we have been talking of the
loss of the Indian Diamond, in my aunt’s house in Yorkshire, two years
since. Mr. Bruff thinks as I think, that the whole story ought, in the
interests of truth, to be placed on record in writing–and the sooner
the better.”

Not perceiving his drift yet, and thinking it always desirable for the
sake of peace and quietness to be on the lawyer’s side, I said I thought
so too. Mr. Franklin went on.

“In this matter of the Diamond,” he said, “the characters of innocent
people have suffered under suspicion already–as you know. The memories
of innocent people may suffer, hereafter, for want of a record of the
facts to which those who come after us can appeal. There can be no doubt
that this strange family story of ours ought to be told. And I think,
Betteredge, Mr. Bruff and I together have hit on the right way of
telling it.”

Very satisfactory to both of them, no doubt. But I failed to see what I
myself had to do with it, so far.

“We have certain events to relate,” Mr. Franklin proceeded; “and we have
certain persons concerned in those events who are capable of relating
them. Starting from these plain facts, the idea is that we should all
write the story of the Moonstone in turn–as far as our own personal
experience extends, and no farther. We must begin by showing how the
Diamond first fell into the hands of my uncle Herncastle, when he was
serving in India fifty years since. This prefatory narrative I have
already got by me in the form of an old family paper, which relates the
necessary particulars on the authority of an eye-witness. The next thing
to do is to tell how the Diamond found its way into my aunt’s house in
Yorkshire, two years ago, and how it came to be lost in little more than
twelve hours afterwards. Nobody knows as much as you do, Betteredge,
about what went on in the house at that time. So you must take the pen
in hand, and start the story.”

In those terms I was informed of what my personal concern was with the
matter of the Diamond. If you are curious to know what course I took
under the circumstances, I beg to inform you that I did what you would
probably have done in my place. I modestly declared myself to be quite
unequal to the task imposed upon me–and I privately felt, all the time,
that I was quite clever enough to perform it, if I only gave my own
abilities a fair chance. Mr. Franklin, I imagine, must have seen my
private sentiments in my face. He declined to believe in my modesty; and
he insisted on giving my abilities a fair chance.

Two hours have passed since Mr. Franklin left me. As soon as his back
was turned, I went to my writing desk to start the story. There I have
sat helpless (in spite of my abilities) ever since; seeing what Robinson
Crusoe saw, as quoted above–namely, the folly of beginning a work
before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own
strength to go through with it. Please to remember, I opened the book
by accident, at that bit, only the day before I rashly undertook the
business now in hand; and, allow me to ask–if THAT isn’t prophecy, what
is?

I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am
a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active
memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please,
as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such
a book as ROBINSON CRUSOE never was written, and never will be written
again. I have tried that book for years–generally in combination with
a pipe of tobacco–and I have found it my friend in need in all the
necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad–ROBINSON
CRUSOE. When I want advice–ROBINSON CRUSOE. In past times when my wife
plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much–ROBINSON
CRUSOE. I have worn out six stout ROBINSON CRUSOES with hard work in my
service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop
too much on the strength of it; and ROBINSON CRUSOE put me right again.
Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into
the bargain.

Still, this don’t look much like starting the story of the Diamond–does
it? I seem to be wandering off in search of Lord knows what, Lord knows
where. We will take a new sheet of paper, if you please, and begin over
again, with my best respects to you.

CHAPTER II

I spoke of my lady a line or two back. Now the Diamond could never have
been in our house, where it was lost, if it had not been made a present
of to my lady’s daughter; and my lady’s daughter would never have been
in existence to have the present, if it had not been for my lady who
(with pain and travail) produced her into the world. Consequently, if we
begin with my lady, we are pretty sure of beginning far enough back. And
that, let me tell you, when you have got such a job as mine in hand, is
a real comfort at starting.

If you know anything of the fashionable world, you have heard tell of
the three beautiful Miss Herncastles. Miss Adelaide; Miss Caroline;
and Miss Julia–this last being the youngest and the best of the three
sisters, in my opinion; and I had opportunities of judging, as you shall
presently see. I went into the service of the old lord, their father
(thank God, we have got nothing to do with him, in this business of the
Diamond; he had the longest tongue and the shortest temper of any man,
high or low, I ever met with)–I say, I went into the service of the old
lord, as page-boy in waiting on the three honourable young ladies, at
the age of fifteen years. There I lived till Miss Julia married the late
Sir John Verinder. An excellent man, who only wanted somebody to manage
him; and, between ourselves, he found somebody to do it; and what is
more, he throve on it and grew fat on it, and lived happy and died
easy on it, dating from the day when my lady took him to church to be
married, to the day when she relieved him of his last breath, and closed
his eyes for ever.

I have omitted to state that I went with the bride to the bride’s
husband’s house and lands down here. “Sir John,” she says, “I can’t
do without Gabriel Betteredge.” “My lady,” says Sir John, “I can’t do
without him, either.” That was his way with her–and that was how I
went into his service. It was all one to me where I went, so long as my
mistress and I were together.

Seeing that my lady took an interest in the out-of-door work, and the
farms, and such like, I took an interest in them too–with all the more
reason that I was a small farmer’s seventh son myself. My lady got me
put under the bailiff, and I did my best, and gave satisfaction, and got
promotion accordingly. Some years later, on the Monday as it might be,
my lady says, “Sir John, your bailiff is a stupid old man. Pension him
liberally, and let Gabriel Betteredge have his place.” On the Tuesday
as it might be, Sir John says, “My lady, the bailiff is pensioned
liberally; and Gabriel Betteredge has got his place.” You hear more than
enough of married people living together miserably. Here is an
example to the contrary. Let it be a warning to some of you, and an
encouragement to others. In the meantime, I will go on with my story.

Well, there I was in clover, you will say. Placed in a position of trust
and honour, with a little cottage of my own to live in, with my rounds
on the estate to occupy me in the morning, and my accounts in the
afternoon, and my pipe and my ROBINSON CRUSOE in the evening–what more
could I possibly want to make me happy? Remember what Adam wanted when
he was alone in the Garden of Eden; and if you don’t blame it in Adam,
don’t blame it in me.

The woman I fixed my eye on, was the woman who kept house for me at my
cottage. Her name was Selina Goby. I agree with the late William Cobbett
about picking a wife. See that she chews her food well and sets her foot
down firmly on the ground when she walks, and you’re all right. Selina
Goby was all right in both these respects, which was one reason for
marrying her. I had another reason, likewise, entirely of my own
discovering. Selina, being a single woman, made me pay so much a week
for her board and services. Selina, being my wife, couldn’t charge for
her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing. That was
the point of view I looked at it from. Economy–with a dash of love. I
put it to my mistress, as in duty bound, just as I had put it to myself.

“I have been turning Selina Goby over in my mind,” I said, “and I think,
my lady, it will be cheaper to marry her than to keep her.”

My lady burst out laughing, and said she didn’t know which to be most
shocked at–my language or my principles. Some joke tickled her, I
suppose, of the sort that you can’t take unless you are a person of
quality. Understanding nothing myself but that I was free to put it next
to Selina, I went and put it accordingly. And what did Selina say? Lord!
how little you must know of women, if you ask that. Of course she said,
Yes.

As my time drew nearer, and there got to be talk of my having a new coat
for the ceremony, my mind began to misgive me. I have compared notes
with other men as to what they felt while they were in my interesting
situation; and they have all acknowledged that, about a week before it
happened, they privately wished themselves out of it. I went a trifle
further than that myself; I actually rose up, as it were, and tried to
get out of it. Not for nothing! I was too just a man to expect she would
let me off for nothing. Compensation to the woman when the man gets
out of it, is one of the laws of England. In obedience to the laws,
and after turning it over carefully in my mind, I offered Selina Goby a
feather-bed and fifty shillings to be off the bargain. You will hardly
believe it, but it is nevertheless true–she was fool enough to refuse.

After that it was all over with me, of course. I got the new coat as
cheap as I could, and I went through all the rest of it as cheap as I
could. We were not a happy couple, and not a miserable couple. We were
six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. How it was I don’t understand,
but we always seemed to be getting, with the best of motives, in one
another’s way. When I wanted to go up-stairs, there was my wife coming
down; or when my wife wanted to go down, there was I coming up. That is
married life, according to my experience of it.

After five years of misunderstandings on the stairs, it pleased an
all-wise Providence to relieve us of each other by taking my wife. I
was left with my little girl Penelope, and with no other child. Shortly
afterwards Sir John died, and my lady was left with her little girl,
Miss Rachel, and no other child. I have written to very poor purpose
of my lady, if you require to be told that my little Penelope was taken
care of, under my good mistress’s own eye, and was sent to school and
taught, and made a sharp girl, and promoted, when old enough, to be Miss
Rachel’s own maid.

As for me, I went on with my business as bailiff year after year up to
Christmas 1847, when there came a change in my life. On that day, my
lady invited herself to a cup of tea alone with me in my cottage. She
remarked that, reckoning from the year when I started as page-boy in the
time of the old lord, I had been more than fifty years in her service,
and she put into my hands a beautiful waistcoat of wool that she had
worked herself, to keep me warm in the bitter winter weather.

I received this magnificent present quite at a loss to find words to
thank my mistress with for the honour she had done me. To my great
astonishment, it turned out, however, that the waistcoat was not an
honour, but a bribe. My lady had discovered that I was getting old
before I had discovered it myself, and she had come to my cottage to
wheedle me (if I may use such an expression) into giving up my hard
out-of-door work as bailiff, and taking my ease for the rest of my
days as steward in the house. I made as good a fight of it against the
indignity of taking my ease as I could. But my mistress knew the weak
side of me; she put it as a favour to herself. The dispute between us
ended, after that, in my wiping my eyes, like an old fool, with my new
woollen waistcoat, and saying I would think about it.

The perturbation in my mind, in regard to thinking about it, being truly
dreadful after my lady had gone away, I applied the remedy which I have
never yet found to fail me in cases of doubt and emergency. I smoked a
pipe and took a turn at ROBINSON CRUSOE. Before I had occupied myself
with that extraordinary book five minutes, I came on a comforting bit
(page one hundred and fifty-eight), as follows: “To-day we love, what
to-morrow we hate.” I saw my way clear directly. To-day I was all for
continuing to be farm-bailiff; to-morrow, on the authority of ROBINSON
CRUSOE, I should be all the other way. Take myself to-morrow while in
to-morrow’s humour, and the thing was done. My mind being relieved
in this manner, I went to sleep that night in the character of Lady
Verinder’s farm bailiff, and I woke up the next morning in the character
of Lady Verinder’s house-steward. All quite comfortable, and all through
ROBINSON CRUSOE!

My daughter Penelope has just looked over my shoulder to see what I have
done so far. She remarks that it is beautifully written, and every word
of it true. But she points out one objection. She says what I have done
so far isn’t in the least what I was wanted to do. I am asked to tell
the story of the Diamond and, instead of that, I have been telling the
story of my own self. Curious, and quite beyond me to account for. I
wonder whether the gentlemen who make a business and a living out of
writing books, ever find their own selves getting in the way of their
subjects, like me? If they do, I can feel for them. In the meantime,
here is another false start, and more waste of good writing-paper.
What’s to be done now? Nothing that I know of, except for you to keep
your temper, and for me to begin it all over again for the third time.