`Stop!' I exclaimed. `Rosanna Spearman came to my aunt out of a reformatory? Rosanna Spearman had once been a thief?'
`There's no denying that, Mr. Franklin. What of it now, if you please?'
`What of it now? How do we know she may not have stolen the Diamond after all? How do we know she may not have smeared my nightgown purposely with the paint--?'
Betteredge laid his hand on my arm, and stopped me before I could say any more.
`You will be cleared of this, Mr. Franklin, beyond all doubt. But I hope you won't be cleared in that way. See what the letter says, sir. In justice to the girl's memory, see what it says.'
I felt the earnestness with which he spoke--felt it as a friendly rebuke to me. `You shall form your own judgment on her letter,' I said. `I will read it out.'
I began--and read these lines:
`SIR,--I have something to own to you. A confession which means much misery, may sometimes be made in very few words. This confession can be made in three words. I love you.'
The letter dropped from my hand. I looked at Betteredge. `In the name of Heaven,' I said, `what does it mean?'
He seemed to shrink from answering the question.
`You and Limping Lucy were alone together this morning, sir,' he said. `Did she say nothing about Rosanna Spearman?'
`She never even mentioned Rosanna Spearman's name.'
`Please to go back to the letter, Mr. Franklin. I tell you plainly, I can't find it in my heart to distress you, after what you have had to bear already. Let her speak for herself, sir. And get on with your grog. For your own sake, get on with your grog.'
I resumed the reading of the letter.
`It would be very disgraceful to me to tell you this, if I was a living woman when you read it. I shall be dead and gone, sir, when you find my letter. It is that which makes me bold. Not even my grave will be left to tell of me. I may own the truth--with the quicksand waiting to hide me when the words are written.
`Besides, you will find your nightgown in my hiding-place, with the smear of the paint on it; and you will want to know how it came to be hidden by me? and why I said nothing to you about it in my lifetime? I have only one reason to give. I did these strange things because I loved you.
`I won't trouble you with much about myself, or my life, before you came to my lady's house. Lady Varinder took me out of a reformatory. I had gone to the reformatory from the prison. I was put in the prison, because I was a thief. I was a thief, because my mother went on the streets when I was quite a little girl. My mother went on the streets, because the gentleman who was my father deserted her. There is no need to tell such a common story as this, at any length. It is told quite often enough in the news- papers.
`Lady Verinder was very kind to me, and Mr. Betteredge was very kind to me. Those two and the matron at the reformatory are the only good people I have ever met with in all my life. I might have got on in my place--not happily--but I might have got on, if you had not come visiting. I don't blame you, sir. It's my fault--all my fault.
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