Page:The Moonstone.djvu/178

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them that a fatal accident must have happened to her. He then picked out the fisherman from the rest, and put a question to him, turning about again toward the sea: "Tell me this," he said. "Could a boat have taken her off from that ledge of rock where her foot-marks stop?"

The fisherman pointed to the rollers tumbling in on the sand-bank, and to the great waves leaping up in clouds of foam against the headlands on either side of us.

"No boat that ever was built," he answered, "could have got to her through that."

Sergeant Cuff looked for the last time at the foot-marks on the sand, which the rain was now fast blurring out.

"There," he said, "is the evidence that she can't have left this place by land. And here," he went on, looking at the fisherman, "is the evidence that she can't have got away by sea." He stopped and considered for a minute. "She was seen running towards this place, half an hour before I got here from the house," he said to Yolland. "Some time has passed since then. Call it altogether an hour ago. How high would the water be at that time on this side of the rocks?" He pointed to the south side—otherwise, the side which was not filled up by the quicksand.

"As the tide makes to-day," said the fisherman, "there wouldn't have been water enough to drown a kitten on that side of the Spit an hour since."

Sergeant Cuff turned about northward toward the quicksand.

"How much on this side?" he asked.

"Less still," answered Yolland. "The Shivering Sand would have been just awash, and no more."

The Sergeant turned to me, and said that the accident must have happened on the side of the quicksand. My tongue was loosened at that. "No accident!" I told him. "When she came to this place she came, weary of her life, to end it here."

He started back from me. "How do you know?" he asked. The rest of them crowded round. The Sergeant recovered himself instantly. He put them back from me; he said I was an old man; he said the discovery had shaken me; he said, "Let him alone a little." Then he turned to Yolland and asked, "Is there any chance of finding her when the tide ebbs again?"

And Yolland answered, "None. What the Sand gets the Sand keeps forever." Having said that, the fisherman came a step nearer and addressed himself to me.

"Mr. Betteredge," he said, "I have a word to say to you