FIRST PERIOD: THE LOSS OF THE DIAMOND (1848)
15. CHAPTER XV
What he meant by slipping in this extraordinary question unawares,
I was at a total loss to imagine. Seeing no possible injury
to Rosanna if I owned the truth, I answered that the girl had
come to us rather sparely provided with linen, and that my lady,
in recompense for her good conduct (I laid a stress on her good
conduct), had given her a new outfit not a fortnight since.
"This is a miserable world," says the Sergeant. "Human life,
Mr. Betteredge, is a sort of target--misfortune is always firing
at it, and always hitting the mark. But for that outfit,
we should have discovered a new nightgown or petticoat
among Rosanna's things, and have nailed her in that way.
You're not at a loss to follow me, are you? You have examined
the servants yourself, and you know what discoveries two of them
made outside Rosanna's door. Surely you know what the girl
was about yesterday, after she was taken ill? You can't guess?
Oh dear me, it's as plain as that strip of light there,
at the end of the trees. At eleven, on Thursday morning,
Superintendent Seegrave (who is a mass of human infirmity)
points out to all the women servants the smear on the door.
Rosanna has her own reasons for suspecting her own things;
she takes the first opportunity of getting to her room,
finds the paint-stain on her night-gown, or petticoat,
or what not, shams ill and slips away to the town,
gets the materials for making a new petticoat or nightgown,
makes it alone in her room on the Thursday night lights a fire
(not to destroy it; two of her fellow-servants are prying outside
her door, and she knows better than to make a smell of burning,
and to have a lot of tinder to get rid of)--lights a fire, I say,
to dry and iron the substitute dress after wringing it out,
keeps the stained dress hidden (probably ON her), and is at this
moment occupied in making away with it, in some convenient place,
on that lonely bit of beach ahead of us. I have traced her this
evening to your fishing village, and to one particular cottage,
which we may possibly have to visit, before we go back.
She stopped in the cottage for some time, and she came
out with (as I believe) something hidden under her cloak.
A cloak (on a woman's back) is an emblem of charity--
it covers a multitude of sins. I saw her set off northwards
along the coast, after leaving the cottage. Is your sea-shore
here considered a fine specimen of marine landscape,