Chapter 3

THE prominent personage among the guests at the dinner-party I found to be Mr. Murthwaite.

On his appearance in England, after his wanderings, society had been greatly interested in the traveller, as a man who had passed through many dangerous adventures, and who had escaped to tell the tale. He had now announced his intention of returning to the scene of his exploits, and of penetrating into regions left still unexplored. This magnificent indifference to placing his safety in peril for the second time, revived the flagging interest of the worshippers in the hero. The law of chances was clearly against his escaping on this occasion. It is not every day that we can meet an eminent person at dinner, and feel that there is a reasonable prospect of the news of his murder being the news that we hear of him next.

When the gentlemen were left by themselves in the diningroom, I found myself sitting next to Mr. Murthwaite. The guests present being all English, it is needless to say that, as soon as the wholesome check exercised by the presence of the ladies was removed, the conversation turned on politics as a necessary result.

In respect to this all-absorbing national topic, I happen to be one of the most un-English Englishmen living. As a general rule, political talk appears to me to be of all talk the most dreary and the most profitless. Glancing at Mr. Murthwaite, when the bottles had made their first round of the table, I found that he was apparently of my way of thinking. He was doing it very dexterously--with all possible consideration for the feelings of his host--but it is not the less certain that he was composing himself for a nap. It struck me as an experiment worth attempting, to try whether a judicious allusion to the subject of the Moonstone would keep him awake, and, if it did, to see what he thought of the last new complication in the Indian conspiracy, as revealed in the prosaic precincts of my office.

`If I am not mistaken, Mr. Murthwaite,' I began, `you were acquainted with the late Lady Verinder, and you took some interest in the strange succession of events which ended in the loss of the Moonstone?'

The eminent traveller did me the honour of waking up in an instant, and asking me who I was.

I informed him of my professional connection with the Herncastle family, not forgetting the curious position which I had occupied towards the Colonel and his Diamond in the bygone time.

Mr. Murthwaite shifted round in his chair, so as to put the rest of the company behind him (Conservatives and Liberals alike), and concentrated his whole attention on plain Mr. Bruff, of Gray's Inn Square.

`Have you heard anything, lately, of the Indians?' he asked.

`I have every reason to believe,' I answered, `that one of them had an interview with me, in my office, yesterday.'

Mr. Murthwaite was not an easy man to astonish; but that last answer of mine completely staggered him. I described what had happened to Mr. Luker, and what had happened to myself, exactly as I have described it here. `It is clear that the Indian's parting inquiry had an object,' I added. `Why should he be so anxious to know the time at which a borrower of money is usually privileged to pay the money back?'

`Is it possible that you don't see his motive, Mr. Bruff?'

`I am ashamed of my stupidity, Mr. Murthwaite--but I certainly don't see it.'

The great traveller became quite interested in sounding the immense vacuity of my dullness to its lowest depths.

`Let me ask you one question,' he said. `In what position does the conspiracy to seize the Moonstone now stand?'

`I can't say,' I answered. `The Indian plot is a mystery to me.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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