Betteredge (sternly). This is no joking matter, Master Franklin. The wicked Colonel sent you on a wicked errand when he sent you here with his diamond. Is he really dead, sir?
Franklin. Dead and buried--at Rome. I was with him in his last moments. In my judgment, the worst thing you could say about him was that he was mad. What did he do, Betteredge, to be called "the wicked Colonel"?
Betteredge. Do? I shouldn't get through the catalogue of the Colonel's misdeeds if I was to talk till to-morrow. My late lady, Miss Rachel's mother, was (as you know) the Colonel's sister. She refused to see him or to speak to him. She held him, rightly, to be a disgrace to the family. He was as proud as Lucifer, and his sister wounded him in his one tender place. "You have publicly shut your door in my face," he wrote to her. "Sooner or later I'll be even with you for doing that." Here (he holds up the box) is the proof that he was as good as his word. He knew by his own bitter experience that the Moonstone carried a curse with it; and he has left it to Miss Rachel in revenge.
Franklin. I wish I had offended the Colonel.
Betteredge. If you knew how he got this diamond, sir, you would wish nothing of the sort! It was in the Indian wars. The Moonstone was an ornament on one of their heathen images in those parts. The last place they defended against the English troops was their temple. The Colonel was the first of the storming party to get in. He killed the two priests who defended their idol, and he cut the diamond out of the wooden head of the image with his sword. "Loot" they call it in the army; I call it murder and robbery. And the curse of murder and robbery goes with the diamond. You are almost as fond of Miss Rachel, sir, as I am. While we have the chance, let's go out into the yard and chuck the Moonstone into the well!
Franklin. Stop a minute, Betteredge! Have you got ten thousand pounds anywhere about you?
Betteredge. I, Master Franklin!
Franklin. We can't afford the luxury of drowning the Moonstone. Say no more about it. It's Rachel's property. Give it back to me. (He takes the box from BETTEREDGE, puts it back in his pocket, and looks round him.) Ah! here's the great hall looking just as splendid as ever! Time that makes changes everywhere else makes no changes here. (He notices an old cabinet placed near the foot of the gallery stairs.) What have they been doing with this cabinet? It's shamefully neglected. It ought to be varnished.
Betteredge. It is to be varnished, sir. But Miss Rachel's sudden arrival has stopped the painters' work till further orders.
Franklin (noticing the painters' utensils). I see! Here are their pots and brushes. What's this? (He takes up a tin pot with a label on it.)
Betteredge. Don't you touch those things, sir! I'll take them out of the way.
Franklin (stopping him). Wait a minute. (He reads the label.) "The original Dutch polish. Restores old furniture, and is warranted to dry in five hours." This is the varnish! Betteredge, I have nothing to do till Rachel comes; I'll varnish the cabinet. (He pulls off his coat and chooses a brush.)
Betteredge. Mercy on us, Master Franklin! You don't mean it, do you? Think of the wet varnish and the ladies' dresses, sir, when the company come.
Franklin. The varnish dries in five hours. (He looks at the clock.) It's nine o'clock now. By two in the morning the cabinet will be as dry as a bone. (He begins to varnish.) You talked of company coming here. Who does Rachel bring with her?
Betteredge. She brings Miss Clack, sir, for one.
Franklin (varnishing). What! my old enemy? She will never forgive me. I once called her a Rampant Spinster. Does Miss Clack still go about the world reforming everybody? And when she is particularly spiteful does she open her bag and say: "Permit me to offer you a tract"?
Betteredge (dryly). Come, come, Master Franklin! Do the lady justice. She has a pretty taste in wine. Likes her champagne dry--and plenty of it.
Franklin (varnishing).Who else is expected?
Betteredge. Your other cousin, sir, Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite.
Franklin (varnishing). Worse and worse! A professional philanthropist and a ladies' man, both in one! Officially attached to half the female Societies in London. Wherever there is a table with a council of ladies sitting round it, there is Mr. Treasurer Ablewhite keeping the accounts of the committee, and leading the dear creatures along the thorny ways of business hat in hand! (He suddenly leaves off varnishing and looks round at BETTEREDGE.) I say, Betteredge! has Godfrey Ablewhite any particular motive for coming here? You don't think he is after Rachel, do you?
Betteredge. He has been after her, sir, and he's just the man to try it again at the first opportunity. Don't be alarmed! Miss Rachel has said "No" to him once, and now you're here she'll say "No" again.
Franklin (returning to his varnishing). Dear good girl, how I enjoy varnishing her cabinet! She wouldn't give me a definite answer, Betteredge, when I asked her to marry me before I left England. Do you think she has any serious objection to me?
Betteredge. You have been all your life in debts and difficulties, sir, and you take it as easy as if you had paid your way honestly from your birth upwards. Miss Rachel objects to that. In her way of thinking, a man who doesn't pay his creditors commits a dishonourable action. Be a little more careful in money matters, and Miss Rachel's objections to you will melt away like snow off a dyke. (He starts.) What's that I hear? Carriage wheels outside? (The door bell rings.) There's Miss Rachel! Leave it to me, Master Franklin, I'll tell her you're here! (He goes out by the hall door.)
Franklin (looking about him). Where's my coat? (He hurriedly puts on his coat.) Do I smell of varnish, I wonder? Is there time to get to my room and brush myself up? (RACHEL enters by the hall door, followed by MISS CLACK, carrying her black bag of tracts, and by GODFREY ABLEWHITE. MISS CLACK looks about her at the different objects in the hall, with an over-acted appearance of humility and admiration.)
Rachel (heartily). My dear Franklin! this is a pleasure I never hoped for. (FRANKLIN advances as if to kiss her. After a momentary hesitation, she offers him her cheek.) Oh, yes--you are my cousin--you may kiss me. Turn to the light, Franklin. Do you know that you are not looking at all well? What is the matter with you?
Franklin. I have given up smoking, Rachel, and I have not had a good night's rest since I left off my cigars.
Rachel. Why have you given up smoking?
Franklin (whispering). You dislike tobacco. I have given up smoking to please you. (GODFREY jealously approaches, as if to interrupt them, and speaks aside with RACHEL. She listens to him for a moment, and then turns away to take off her hat and cloak. FRANKLIN notices GODFREY'S jealousy when he approaches RACHEL, and speaks aside). Jealous of my whispering to Rachel! Mercenary humbug! (He addresses GODFREY coldly.) How do you do, Godfrey?
Godfrey (with excessive cordiality). Delighted to see you again, dear Franklin! (Aside.) He has designs on Rachel! Fortune-hunting vagabond!