Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
At the moment when I showed myself in the doorway, Rachel rose from the
I closed the door behind me. We confronted each other in silence, with
the full length of the room between us. The movement she had made in
rising appeared to be the one exertion of which she was capable. All
use of every other faculty, bodily or mental, seemed to be merged in the
mere act of looking at me.
A fear crossed my mind that I had shown myself too suddenly. I advanced
a few steps towards her. I said gently, "Rachel!"
The sound of my voice brought the life back to her limbs, and the colour
to her face. She advanced, on her side, still without speaking. Slowly,
as if acting under some influence independent of her own will, she came
nearer and nearer to me; the warm dusky colour flushing her cheeks, the
light of reviving intelligence brightening every instant in her eyes.
I forgot the object that had brought me into her presence; I forgot
the vile suspicion that rested on my good name; I forgot every
consideration, past, present, and future, which I was bound to remember.
I saw nothing but the woman I loved coming nearer and nearer to me. She
trembled; she stood irresolute. I could resist it no longer--I caught
her in my arms, and covered her face with kisses.
There was a moment when I thought the kisses were returned; a moment
when it seemed as if she, too might have forgotten. Almost before the
idea could shape itself in my mind, her first voluntary action made
me feel that she remembered. With a cry which was like a cry of
horror--with a strength which I doubt if I could have resisted if I had
tried--she thrust me back from her. I saw merciless anger in her eyes;
I saw merciless contempt on her lips. She looked me over, from head to
foot, as she might have looked at a stranger who had insulted her.
"You coward!" she said. "You mean, miserable, heartless coward!"
Those were her first words! The most unendurable reproach that a woman
can address to a man, was the reproach that she picked out to address to
"I remember the time, Rachel," I said, "when you could have told me that
I had offended you, in a worthier way than that. I beg your pardon."
Something of the bitterness that I felt may have communicated itself
to my voice. At the first words of my reply, her eyes, which had been
turned away the moment before, looked back at me unwillingly. She
answered in a low tone, with a sullen submission of manner which was
quite new in my experience of her.
"Perhaps there is some excuse for me," she said. "After what you have
done, is it a manly action, on your part, to find your way to me as
you have found it to-day? It seems a cowardly experiment, to try an
experiment on my weakness for you. It seems a cowardly surprise, to
surprise me into letting you kiss me. But that is only a woman's view. I
ought to have known it couldn't be your view. I should have done better
if I had controlled myself, and said nothing."
The apology was more unendurable than the insult. The most degraded man
living would have felt humiliated by it.
"If my honour was not in your hands," I said, "I would leave you this
instant, and never see you again. You have spoken of what I have done.
What have I done?"
"What have you done! YOU ask that question of ME?"
"I ask it."
"I have kept your infamy a secret," she answered. "And I have suffered
the consequences of concealing it. Have I no claim to be spared the
insult of your asking me what you have done? Is ALL sense of gratitude
dead in you? You were once a gentleman. You were once dear to my mother,
and dearer still to me----"
Her voice failed her. She dropped into a chair, and turned her back on
me, and covered her face with her hands.
I waited a little before I trusted myself to say any more. In that
moment of silence, I hardly know which I felt most keenly--the sting
which her contempt had planted in me, or the proud resolution which shut
me out from all community with her distress.
"If you will not speak first," I said, "I must. I have come here with
something serious to say to you. Will you do me the common justice of
listening while I say it?"
She neither moved, nor answered. I made no second appeal to her; I
never advanced an inch nearer to her chair. With a pride which was as
obstinate as her pride, I told her of my discovery at the Shivering
Sand, and of all that had led to it. The narrative, of necessity,
occupied some little time. From beginning to end, she never looked round
at me, and she never uttered a word.
I kept my temper. My whole future depended, in all probability, on my
not losing possession of myself at that moment. The time had come to
put Mr. Bruff's theory to the test. In the breathless interest of trying
that experiment, I moved round so as to place myself in front of her.
"I have a question to ask you," I said. "It obliges me to refer again to
a painful subject. Did Rosanna Spearman show you the nightgown. Yes, or
She started to her feet; and walked close up to me of her own accord.
Her eyes looked me searchingly in the face, as if to read something
there which they had never read yet.
"Are you mad?" she asked.
I still restrained myself. I said quietly, "Rachel, will you answer my
She went on, without heeding me.
"Have you some object to gain which I don't understand? Some mean fear
about the future, in which I am concerned? They say your father's death
has made you a rich man. Have you come here to compensate me for the
loss of my Diamond? And have you heart enough left to feel ashamed of
your errand? Is THAT the secret of your pretence of innocence, and your
story about Rosanna Spearman? Is there a motive of shame at the bottom
of all the falsehood, this time?"
I stopped her there. I could control myself no longer.
"You have done me an infamous wrong!" I broke out hotly. "You suspect me
of stealing your Diamond. I have a right to know, and I WILL know, the
"Suspect you!" she exclaimed, her anger rising with mine. "YOU VILLAIN,
I SAW YOU TAKE THE DIAMOND WITH MY OWN EYES!"
The revelation which burst upon me in those words, the overthrow which
they instantly accomplished of the whole view of the case on which Mr.
Bruff had relied, struck me helpless. Innocent as I was, I stood before
her in silence. To her eyes, to any eyes, I must have looked like a man
overwhelmed by the discovery of his own guilt.
She drew back from the spectacle of my humiliation and of her triumph.
The sudden silence that had fallen upon me seemed to frighten her. "I
spared you, at the time," she said. "I would have spared you now, if you
had not forced me to speak." She moved away as if to leave the room--and
hesitated before she got to the door. "Why did you come here to
humiliate yourself?" she asked. "Why did you come here to humiliate
me?" She went on a few steps, and paused once more. "For God's sake, say
something!" she exclaimed, passionately. "If you have any mercy left,
don't let me degrade myself in this way! Say something--and drive me out
of the room!"
I advanced towards her, hardly conscious of what I was doing. I had
possibly some confused idea of detaining her until she had told me more.
From the moment when I knew that the evidence on which I stood condemned
in Rachel's mind, was the evidence of her own eyes, nothing--not even my
conviction of my own innocence--was clear to my mind. I took her by the
hand; I tried to speak firmly and to the purpose. All I could say was,
"Rachel, you once loved me."
She shuddered, and looked away from me. Her hand lay powerless and
trembling in mine. "Let go of it," she said faintly.
My touch seemed to have the same effect on her which the sound of my
voice had produced when I first entered the room. After she had said
the word which called me a coward, after she had made the avowal which
branded me as a thief--while her hand lay in mine I was her master
I drew her gently back into the middle of the room. I seated her by the
side of me. "Rachel," I said, "I can't explain the contradiction in what
I am going to tell you. I can only speak the truth as you have spoken
it. You saw me--with your own eyes, you saw me take the Diamond. Before
God who hears us, I declare that I now know I took it for the first
time! Do you doubt me still?"
She had neither heeded nor heard me. "Let go of my hand," she repeated
faintly. That was her only answer. Her head sank on my shoulder; and her
hand unconsciously closed on mine, at the moment when she asked me to
I refrained from pressing the question. But there my forbearance
stopped. My chance of ever holding up my head again among honest men
depended on my chance of inducing her to make her disclosure complete.
The one hope left for me was the hope that she might have overlooked
something in the chain of evidence some mere trifle, perhaps, which
might nevertheless, under careful investigation, be made the means of
vindicating my innocence in the end. I own I kept possession of her
hand. I own I spoke to her with all that I could summon back of the
sympathy and confidence of the bygone time.
"I want to ask you something," I said. "I want you to tell me everything
that happened, from the time when we wished each other good night, to
the time when you saw me take the Diamond."
She lifted her head from my shoulder, and made an effort to release her
hand. "Oh, why go back to it!" she said. "Why go back to it!"
"I will tell you why, Rachel. You are the victim, and I am the victim,
of some monstrous delusion which has worn the mask of truth. If we look
at what happened on the night of your birthday together, we may end in
understanding each other yet."
Her head dropped back on my shoulder. The tears gathered in her eyes,
and fell slowly over her cheeks. "Oh!" she said, "have I never had that
hope? Have I not tried to see it, as you are trying now?"
"You have tried by yourself," I answered. "You have not tried with me to
Those words seemed to awaken in her something of the hope which I felt
myself when I uttered them. She replied to my questions with more than
docility--she exerted her intelligence; she willingly opened her whole
mind to me.
"Let us begin," I said, "with what happened after we had wished each
other good night. Did you go to bed? or did you sit up?"
"I went to bed."
"Did you notice the time? Was it late?"
"Not very. About twelve o'clock, I think."
"Did you fall asleep?"
"No. I couldn't sleep that night."
"You were restless?"
"I was thinking of you."
The answer almost unmanned me. Something in the tone, even more than in
the words, went straight to my heart. It was only after pausing a little
first that I was able to go on.
"Had you any light in your room?" I asked.
"None--until I got up again, and lit my candle."
"How long was that, after you had gone to bed?"
"About an hour after, I think. About one o'clock."
"Did you leave your bedroom?"
"I was going to leave it. I had put on my dressing-gown; and I was going
into my sitting-room to get a book----"
"Had you opened your bedroom door?"
"I had just opened it."
"But you had not gone into the sitting-room?"
"No--I was stopped from going into it."
"What stopped you?
"I saw a light, under the door; and I heard footsteps approaching it."
"Were you frightened?"
"Not then. I knew my poor mother was a bad sleeper; and I remembered
that she had tried hard, that evening, to persuade me to let her take
charge of my Diamond. She was unreasonably anxious about it, as I
thought; and I fancied she was coming to me to see if I was in bed, and
to speak to me about the Diamond again, if she found that I was up."
"What did you do?"
"I blew out my candle, so that she might think I was in bed. I was
unreasonable, on my side--I was determined to keep my Diamond in the
place of my own choosing."
"After blowing out the candle, did you go back to bed?"
"I had no time to go back. At the moment when I blew the candle out, the
sitting-room door opened, and I saw----"
"Dressed as usual?"
"In my nightgown?"
"In your nightgown--with your bedroom candle in your hand."
"Could you see my face?"
"Quite plainly. The candle in your hand showed it to me."
"Were my eyes open?"
"Did you notice anything strange in them? Anything like a fixed, vacant
"Nothing of the sort. Your eyes were bright--brighter than usual. You
looked about in the room, as if you knew you were where you ought not to
be, and as if you were afraid of being found out."
"Did you observe one thing when I came into the room--did you observe
how I walked?"
"You walked as you always do. You came in as far as the middle of the
room--and then you stopped and looked about you."
"What did you do, on first seeing me?"
"I could do nothing. I was petrified. I couldn't speak, I couldn't call
out, I couldn't even move to shut my door."
"Could I see you, where you stood?"
"You might certainly have seen me. But you never looked towards me. It's
useless to ask the question. I am sure you never saw me."
"How are you sure?"
"Would you have taken the Diamond? would you have acted as you did
afterwards? would you be here now--if you had seen that I was awake and
looking at you? Don't make me talk of that part of it! I want to answer
you quietly. Help me to keep as calm as I can. Go on to something else."
She was right--in every way, right. I went on to other things.
"What did I do, after I had got to the middle of the room, and had
"You turned away, and went straight to the corner near the window--where
my Indian cabinet stands."
"When I was at the cabinet, my back must have been turned towards you.
How did you see what I was doing?"
"When you moved, I moved."
"So as to see what I was about with my hands?"
"There are three glasses in my sitting-room. As you stood there, I saw
all that you did, reflected in one of them."
"What did you see?"
"You put your candle on the top of the cabinet. You opened, and shut,
one drawer after another, until you came to the drawer in which I had
put my Diamond. You looked at the open drawer for a moment. And then you
put your hand in, and took the Diamond out."
"How do you know I took the Diamond out?"
"I saw your hand go into the drawer. And I saw the gleam of the stone
between your finger and thumb, when you took your hand out."
"Did my hand approach the drawer again--to close it, for instance?"
"No. You had the Diamond in your right hand; and you took the candle
from the top of the cabinet with your left hand."
"Did I look about me again, after that?"
"Did I leave the room immediately?"
"No. You stood quite still, for what seemed a long time. I saw your face
sideways in the glass. You looked like a man thinking, and dissatisfied
with his own thoughts."
"What happened next?"
"You roused yourself on a sudden, and you went straight out of the
"Did I close the door after me?"
"No. You passed out quickly into the passage, and left the door open."
"Then, your light disappeared, and the sound of your steps died away,
and I was left alone in the dark."
"Did nothing happen--from that time, to the time when the whole house
knew that the Diamond was lost?"
"Are you sure of that? Might you not have been asleep a part of the
"I never slept. I never went back to my bed. Nothing happened until
Penelope came in, at the usual time in the morning."
I dropped her hand, and rose, and took a turn in the room. Every
question that I could put had been answered. Every detail that I could
desire to know had been placed before me. I had even reverted to the
idea of sleep-walking, and the idea of intoxication; and, again, the
worthlessness of the one theory and the other had been proved--on the
authority, this time, of the witness who had seen me. What was to be
said next? what was to be done next? There rose the horrible fact of the
Theft--the one visible, tangible object that confronted me, in the midst
of the impenetrable darkness which enveloped all besides! Not a glimpse
of light to guide me, when I had possessed myself of Rosanna Spearman's
secret at the Shivering Sand. And not a glimpse of light now, when I had
appealed to Rachel herself, and had heard the hateful story of the night
from her own lips.
She was the first, this time, to break the silence.
"Well?" she said, "you have asked, and I have answered. You have made me
hope something from all this, because you hoped something from it. What
have you to say now?"
The tone in which she spoke warned me that my influence over her was a
lost influence once more.
"We were to look at what happened on my birthday night, together," she
went on; "and we were then to understand each other. Have we done that?"
She waited pitilessly for my reply. In answering her I committed a
fatal error--I let the exasperating helplessness of my situation get the
better of my self-control. Rashly and uselessly, I reproached her for
the silence which had kept me until that moment in ignorance of the
"If you had spoken when you ought to have spoken," I began; "if you had
done me the common justice to explain yourself----"
She broke in on me with a cry of fury. The few words I had said seemed
to have lashed her on the instant into a frenzy of rage.
"Explain myself!" she repeated. "Oh! is there another man like this in
the world? I spare him, when my heart is breaking; I screen him when my
own character is at stake; and HE--of all human beings, HE--turns on me
now, and tells me that I ought to have explained myself! After believing
in him as I did, after loving him as I did, after thinking of him by
day, and dreaming of him by night--he wonders I didn't charge him with
his disgrace the first time we met: 'My heart's darling, you are a
Thief! My hero whom I love and honour, you have crept into my room under
cover of the night, and stolen my Diamond!' That is what I ought to have
said. You villain, you mean, mean, mean villain, I would have lost fifty
diamonds, rather than see your face lying to me, as I see it lying now!"
I took up my hat. In mercy to HER--yes! I can honestly say it--in mercy
to HER, I turned away without a word, and opened the door by which I had
entered the room.
She followed, and snatched the door out of my hand; she closed it, and
pointed back to the place that I had left.
"No!" she said. "Not yet! It seems that I owe a justification of my
conduct to you. You shall stay and hear it. Or you shall stoop to the
lowest infamy of all, and force your way out."
It wrung my heart to see her; it wrung my heart to hear her. I answered
by a sign--it was all I could do--that I submitted myself to her will.
The crimson flush of anger began to fade out of her face, as I went
back, and took my chair in silence. She waited a little, and steadied
herself. When she went on, but one sign of feeling was discernible in
her. She spoke without looking at me. Her hands were fast clasped in her
lap, and her eyes were fixed on the ground.
"I ought to have done you the common justice to explain myself," she
said, repeating my own words. "You shall see whether I did try to do
you justice, or not. I told you just now that I never slept, and never
returned to my bed, after you had left my sitting-room. It's useless to
trouble you by dwelling on what I thought--you would not understand my
thoughts--I will only tell you what I did, when time enough had passed
to help me to recover myself. I refrained from alarming the house, and
telling everybody what had happened--as I ought to have done. In spite
of what I had seen, I was fond enough of you to believe--no matter
what!--any impossibility, rather than admit it to my own mind that you
were deliberately a thief. I thought and thought--and I ended in writing
"I never received the letter."
"I know you never received it. Wait a little, and you shall hear why. My
letter would have told you nothing openly. It would not have ruined you
for life, if it had fallen into some other person's hands. It would
only have said--in a manner which you yourself could not possibly have
mistaken--that I had reason to know you were in debt, and that it was
in my experience and in my mother's experience of you, that you were
not very discreet, or very scrupulous about how you got money when you
wanted it. You would have remembered the visit of the French lawyer, and
you would have known what I referred to. If you had read on with some
interest after that, you would have come to an offer I had to make to
you--the offer, privately (not a word, mind, to be said openly about
it between us!), of the loan of as large a sum of money as I could
get.--And I would have got it!" she exclaimed, her colour beginning
to rise again, and her eyes looking up at me once more. "I would have
pledged the Diamond myself, if I could have got the money in no other
way! In those words I wrote to you. Wait! I did more than that. I
arranged with Penelope to give you the letter when nobody was near. I
planned to shut myself into my bedroom, and to have the sitting-room
left open and empty all the morning. And I hoped--with all my heart and
soul I hoped!--that you would take the opportunity, and put the Diamond
back secretly in the drawer."
I attempted to speak. She lifted her hand impatiently, and stopped me.
In the rapid alternations of her temper, her anger was beginning to rise
again. She got up from her chair, and approached me.
"I know what you are going to say," she went on. "You are going to
remind me again that you never received my letter. I can tell you why. I
tore it up.
"For what reason?" I asked.
"For the best of reasons. I preferred tearing it up to throwing it away
upon such a man as you! What was the first news that reached me in the
morning? Just as my little plan was complete, what did I hear? I heard
that you--you!!!--were the foremost person in the house in fetching the
police. You were the active man; you were the leader; you were working
harder than any of them to recover the jewel! You even carried your
audacity far enough to ask to speak to ME about the loss of the
Diamond--the Diamond which you yourself had stolen; the Diamond which
was all the time in your own hands! After that proof of your horrible
falseness and cunning, I tore up my letter. But even then--even when I
was maddened by the searching and questioning of the policeman, whom
you had sent in--even then, there was some infatuation in my mind which
wouldn't let me give you up. I said to myself, 'He has played his vile
farce before everybody else in the house. Let me try if he can play it
before me.' Somebody told me you were on the terrace. I went down to
the terrace. I forced myself to look at you; I forced myself to speak to
you. Have you forgotten what I said?"
I might have answered that I remembered every word of it. But what
purpose, at that moment, would the answer have served?
How could I tell her that what she had said had astonished me, had
distressed me, had suggested to me that she was in a state of dangerous
nervous excitement, had even roused a moment's doubt in my mind whether
the loss of the jewel was as much a mystery to her as to the rest of
us--but had never once given me so much as a glimpse at the truth?
Without the shadow of a proof to produce in vindication of my innocence,
how could I persuade her that I knew no more than the veriest stranger
could have known of what was really in her thoughts when she spoke to me
on the terrace?
"It may suit your convenience to forget; it suits my convenience to
remember," she went on. "I know what I said--for I considered it with
myself, before I said it. I gave you one opportunity after another
of owning the truth. I left nothing unsaid that I COULD say--short of
actually telling you that I knew you had committed the theft. And
all the return you made, was to look at me with your vile pretence of
astonishment, and your false face of innocence--just as you have looked
at me to-day; just as you are looking at me now! I left you, that
morning, knowing you at last for what you were--for what you are--as
base a wretch as ever walked the earth!"
"If you had spoken out at the time, you might have left me, Rachel,
knowing that you had cruelly wronged an innocent man."
"If I had spoken out before other people," she retorted, with another
burst of indignation, "you would have been disgraced for life! If I had
spoken out to no ears but yours, you would have denied it, as you are
denying it now! Do you think I should have believed you? Would a man
hesitate at a lie, who had done what I saw YOU do--who had behaved about
it afterwards, as I saw YOU behave? I tell you again, I shrank from the
horror of hearing you lie, after the horror of seeing you thieve. You
talk as if this was a misunderstanding which a few words might have set
right! Well! the misunderstanding is at an end. Is the thing set right?
No! the thing is just where it was. I don't believe you NOW! I don't
believe you found the nightgown, I don't believe in Rosanna Spearman's
letter, I don't believe a word you have said. You stole it--I saw you!
You affected to help the police--I saw you! You pledged the Diamond to
the money-lender in London--I am sure of it! You cast the suspicion of
your disgrace (thanks to my base silence!) on an innocent man! You fled
to the Continent with your plunder the next morning! After all that
vileness, there was but one thing more you COULD do. You could come here
with a last falsehood on your lips--you could come here, and tell me
that I have wronged you!"
If I had stayed a moment more, I know not what words might have escaped
me which I should have remembered with vain repentance and regret. I
passed by her, and opened the door for the second time. For the second
time--with the frantic perversity of a roused woman--she caught me by
the arm, and barred my way out.
"Let me go, Rachel" I said. "It will be better for both of us. Let me
The hysterical passion swelled in her bosom--her quickened convulsive
breathing almost beat on my face, as she held me back at the door.
"Why did you come here?" she persisted, desperately. "I ask you
again--why did you come here? Are you afraid I shall expose you? Now you
are a rich man, now you have got a place in the world, now you may marry
the best lady in the land--are you afraid I shall say the words which I
have never said yet to anybody but you? I can't say the words! I can't
expose you! I am worse, if worse can be, than you are yourself." Sobs
and tears burst from her. She struggled with them fiercely; she held
me more and more firmly. "I can't tear you out of my heart," she said,
"even now! You may trust in the shameful, shameful weakness which can
only struggle against you in this way!" She suddenly let go of me--she
threw up her hands, and wrung them frantically in the air. "Any other
woman living would shrink from the disgrace of touching him!" she
exclaimed. "Oh, God! I despise myself even more heartily than I despise
The tears were forcing their way into my eyes in spite of me--the horror
of it was to be endured no longer.
"You shall know that you have wronged me, yet," I said. "Or you shall
never see me again!"
With those words, I left her. She started up from the chair on which she
had dropped the moment before: she started up--the noble creature!--and
followed me across the outer room, with a last merciful word at parting.
"Franklin!" she said, "I forgive you! Oh, Franklin, Franklin! we shall
never meet again. Say you forgive ME!"
I turned, so as to let my face show her that I was past speaking--I
turned, and waved my hand, and saw her dimly, as in a vision, through
the tears that had conquered me at last.
The next moment, the worst bitterness of it was over. I was out in the
garden again. I saw her, and heard her, no more.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.