FIRST PERIOD: THE LOSS OF THE DIAMOND (1848)
6. CHAPTER VI
Keeping my private sentiments to myself, I respectfully requested Mr. Franklin
to go on. Mr. Franklin replied, "Don't fidget, Betteredge," and went on.
Our young gentleman's first words informed me that his discoveries,
concerning the wicked Colonel and the Diamond, had begun with a visit
which he had paid (before he came to us) to the family lawyer, at Hampstead.
A chance word dropped by Mr. Franklin, when the two were alone, one day,
after dinner, revealed that he had been charged by his father with a
birthday present to be taken to Miss Rachel. One thing led to another;
and it ended in the lawyer mentioning what the present really was,
and how the friendly connexion between the late Colonel and Mr. Blake,
senior, had taken its rise. The facts here are really so extraordinary,
that I doubt if I can trust my own language to do justice to them.
I prefer trying to report Mr. Franklin's discoveries, as nearly as may be,
in Mr. Franklin's own words.
"You remember the time, Betteredge," he said, "when my father
was trying to prove his title to that unlucky Dukedom?
Well! that was also the time when my uncle Herncastle returned
from India. My father discovered that his brother-in-law
was in possession of certain papers which were likely to be
of service to him in his lawsuit. He called on the Colonel,
on pretence of welcoming him back to England. The Colonel was
not to be deluded in that way. "You want something," he said,
"or you would never have compromised your reputation by calling
on ME." My father saw that the one chance for him was to show
his hand; he admitted, at once, that he wanted the papers.
The Colonel asked for a day to consider his answer.
His answer came in the shape of a most extraordinary letter,
which my friend the lawyer showed me. The Colonel began by saying
that he wanted something of my father, and that he begged
to propose an exchange of friendly services between them.
The fortune of war (that was the expression he used) had placed
him in possession of one of the largest Diamonds in the world;
and he had reason to believe that neither he nor his precious
jewel was safe in any house, in any quarter of the globe,
which they occupied together. Under these alarming circumstances,
he had determined to place his Diamond in the keeping of
another person. That person was not expected to run any risk.
He might deposit the precious stone in any place especially
guarded and set apart--like a banker's or jeweller's strong-room--
for the safe custody of valuables of high price.
His main personal responsibility in the matter was to be
of the passive kind. He was to undertake either by himself,
or by a trustworthy representative--to receive at a
prearranged address, on certain prearranged days in every year,
a note from the Colonel, simply stating the fact that he was
a living man at that date. In the event of the date passing
over without the note being received, the Colonel's silence
might be taken as a sure token of the Colonel's death by murder.
In that case, and in no other, certain sealed instructions
relating to the disposal of the Diamond, and deposited
with it, were to be opened, and followed implicitly.
If my father chose to accept this strange charge,
the Colonel's papers were at his disposal in return. That was