This division of the book is narrated by Gabriel Betteredge, who is the house-steward of Julia, Lady Verinder. He begins by citing the passage he discovered upon opening his copy of Robinson Crusoe at random the previous day: “Now I saw, though too late, the Folly of beginning a Work before we count the Cost, and before we judge rightly of our own Strength to go through with it.”
The novel is divided in two periods; the first consists of Betteredge’s lengthy narrative alone, and the second consists of eight separate narrations by seven separate authors. (All but the shortest narratives are divided into chapters, the openings of which will be marked throughout this guide.) By quoting Robinson Crusoe, Collins not only invokes a wildly popular precedent for his readers but also foreshadows Betteredge’s trouble in his first few chapters and the constant dead ends and fresh starts that later drive the narrative.
In the morning, Mr. Franklin Blake (Lady Verinder’s nephew) tells Betteredge that the family lawyer, Mr. Bruff, thinks they should make a written record about the Indian Diamond’s disappearance from Lady Verinder’s house two years before. So as to avoid incriminating the innocent, Blake explains, everyone related to the incident should tell the story “as far as our own personal experience extends, and no farther.” The first document shall be the “prefatory narrative” about how Herncastle, Blake’s uncle, obtained the Diamond. Two years ago, the Diamond came to Lady Verinder’s house, and it disappeared within twelve hours. Since Betteredge knows more than anyone else, Blake thinks he should write the next account. Betteredge modestly insisted he was “quite unequal to the task imposed upon me,” although he secretly knew he could do it, and Blake seemed to understand this hidden feeling.
Betteredge reveals that he is narrating retrospectively, relying on his memory after the novel’s events have already concluded. Blake’s plan speaks to both the necessity of having documentary evidence in the emerging British bureaucratic state and the rational, scientific belief in the reliability of personal experience, told under a promise of honesty (the same principle that forms the basis for legal evidence). Of course, the Preface’s fantastical story already challenges the pure reliability of testimonial evidence. Betteredge demonstrates that his humility is a performance, one clearly associated with his job as a house-steward, which also makes him the best person to tell the story because it gives him access to everyone across the class line dividing servants from the Verinder family.
For the first two hours, Betteredge stares at a blank page, contemplating the passage from Robinson Crusoe and deciding that, “if that isn’t prophecy, what is?” Although he is in his seventies, Betteredge explains that he reads actively and considers himself “a scholar in my own way,” and Robinson Crusoe a consistent source of advice and inspiration. He is now on his seventh copy. But his writing “seem[s] to be wandering off,” and he decides to start writing “the story of the Diamond” on a new sheet of paper.
For the first of many times, Betteredge’s fantastical belief in the mystical power of Robinson Crusoe proves accurate, which points to the interplay between mystical and scientific forms of knowledge and prediction in this book, brought together in detective work’s method of interpreting clues. Perhaps Betteredge simply interprets the vague passage in a narrow way that applies to his situation, or perhaps he unconsciously allows Robinson Crusoe to become a self-fulfilling prophecy—like the Moonstone’s curse, an otherworldly proposition that really expresses a principle of reality: the violent and underhanded methods people will resort to in order to take an object of value.