LATE that evening, I was surprised at my lodgings by a visit from Mr. Bruff.
There was a noticeable change in the lawyer's manner. It had lost its usual confidence and spirit. He shook hands with me, for the first time in his life, in silence.
`Are you going back to Hampstead?' I asked, by way of saying something.
`I have just left Hampstead,' he answered. `I know, Mr. Franklin, that you have got at the truth at last. But, I tell you plainly, if I could have foreseen the price that was to be paid for it, I should have preferred leaving you in the dark.'
`You have seen Rachel?'
`I have come here after taking her back to Portland Place; it was impossible to let her return in the carriage by herself. I can hardly hold you responsible--considering that you saw her in my house and by my permission-- for the shock that this unlucky interview has inflicted on her. All I can do is to provide against a repetition of the mischief. She is young--she has a resolute spirit--she will get over this, with time and rest to help her. I want to be assured that you will do nothing to hinder her recovery. May I depend on your making no second attempt to see her--except with my sanction and approval?'
`After what she has suffered, and after what I have suffered,' I said, `you may rely on me.'
`I have your promise?'
`You have my promise.'
Mr. Bruff looked relieved. He put down his hat, and drew his chair nearer to mine.
`That's settled!' he said. `Now, about the future--your future, I mean. To my mind, the result of the extraordinary turn which the matter has now taken is briefly this. In the first place, we are sure that Rachel has told you the whole truth, as plainly as words can tell it. In the second place--though we know that there must be some dreadful mistake somewhere--we can hardly blame her for believing you to be guilty, on the evidence of her own senses; backed, as that evidence has been, by circumstances which appear, on the face of them, to tell dead against you.'
There I interposed. `I don't blame Rachel,' I said. `I only regret that she could not prevail on herself to speak more plainly to me at the time.'
`You might as well regret that Rachel is not somebody else,' rejoined Mr. Bruff. `And even then, I doubt if a girl of any delicacy, whose heart had been set on marrying you, could have brought herself to charge you to your face with being a thief. Anyhow, it was not in Rachel's nature to do it. In a very different matter to this matter of yours--which placed her, however, in a position not altogether unlike her position towards you--I happen to know that she was influenced by a similar motive to the motive which actuated her conduct in your case. Besides, as she told me herself, on our way to town this evening, if she had spoken plainly, she would no more have believed your denial then than she believes it now. What answer can you make to that? There is no answer to be made to it. Come, come, Mr. Franklin! my view of the case has been proved to be all wrong, I admit--but, as things are now, my advice may be worth having for all that. I tell you plainly, we shall be wasting our time, and cudgelling our brains to no purpose, if we attempt to try back, and unravel this frightful complication from the beginning. Let us close our minds resolutely to all that happened last year at Lady Verinder's country house; and let us look to what we can discover in the future, instead of to what we can not discover in the past.'
`Surely you forget,' I said, `that the whole thing is essentially a matter of the past--so far as I am concerned?'
`Answer me this,' retorted Mr. Bruff. `Is the Moonstone at the bottom of all the mischief--or is it not?'
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