In 1848, Gabriel Betteredge, Lady Verinder’s steward, has been charged by her nephew with telling the story of the Diamond 50 years later in England. He gives the history of the Herncastle family (Julia Verinder was Julia Herncastle before she married the now late John Verinder), as well as his own family; he has a daughter named Penelope. Lady Verinder’s nephew Franklin Blake will be coming back from his studies abroad, and also for her daughter Rachel’s 18th birthday. Gabriel remembers Franklin as having bad spending habits, and often being in debt. On the day of Franklin’s arrival, however, before he arrives, three Indians entertainers come up to the house asking after Lady Verinder, with an English boy in their troupe. Betteredge informs them that the Lady is out, and goes back to resting. Penelope later comes rushing to tell him that the Indians mean mischief to Franklin Blake; Penelope and her friend had overheard the Indians on the road. They poured strange black ink on the English boy’s hand, and asked him to perform clairvoyance about Franklin Blake’s arrival and whether or not Franklin had “It” about him.
Later that day, Rosanna, the second housemaid, is late for dinner. Gabriel tells about Rosanna and how the girl with the deformed shoulder used to be in the Reformatory for her thief crimes. She is the only new servant in the house, and not well liked by the other maids, even though they do not know about her history. Knowing that Rosanna often liked to go to the sands of the Yorkshire coast, Gabriel goes to the Shivering Sand, an area of quicksand between two spits. Rosanna has friends in Cobb’s Hole, a little fishing village nearby. He finds Rosanna there, and comforts the girl, who is thinking about her past, and says that she often thinks she will die in the Shivering Sand.
They are interrupted by the arrival of Franklin Blake. Rosanna blushes fiercely at the sight of him, and runs off abruptly, and nobody knows why. Franklin and Betteredge stay at the Shivering Sand and talk about private matters: Franklin says he has been followed by a dark-skinned stranger from London, inquires after the jugglers from the morning, and tells Betteredge that he has the Colonel’s Diamond on him. Franklin’s father was Colonel Herncastle’s executor, and John Herncastle had left the Diamond to Rachel Verinder for her 18th birthday.
Gabriel tells the history of the Herncastle family, and how the Colonel was estranged from his family because of his attitude and manners after his return from India. John Herncastle kept the Diamond and planned to give it to Rachel, provided that her mother, his sister, would still be alive at the time. If not, he wanted the Diamond to be cut up and its worth collected (the Diamond is worth even more when cut up). Franklin and Betteredge wonder if the Diamond is truly an apology to his sister as Herncastle says, or if he is delivering vengeance and ill will to her, as she once closed her doors to him on one of Rachel’s earlier birthdays. Betteredge recommends that Franklin deposit the Diamond in the Bank of the nearby Frizinghall, which he does accordingly.
Upon returning to the house, Betteredge finds out from Penelope that Rosanna is behaving strangely, asking many questions about Franklin, writing his name in her workbox, crying at her deformed shoulder, and being generally emotional. Penelope says that Rosanna is in love with Franklin, which Betteredge laughs off. Franklin deposits the Diamond successfully, and it becomes clear that he and Rachel take interest in each other. That night, Betteredge is locking up when he sees a person’s shadow; chasing after it, he finds a small bottle of inky black liquor, similar to what Penelope had described the Indians as having.
In waiting for Rachel’s birthday celebration, she and Franklin undertake the project of painting the door to her sitting room. Franklin has developed a new mixture to moisten paint with. The two grow closer, and it is very clear that Franklin is in love with Rachel, while it is more difficult to figure out Rachel’s interest. She is described as being stubborn, independent, and keeps her ideas to herself. Still before her birthday, the Ablewhites, Rachel’s cousins, come over. Their son, Godfrey, is also interested in Rachel; he seems to have the upper hand over Franklin when he comes, being taller and more gentleman-like, with a respectable profession as a lawyer. Franklin, being a habitual smoker, suddenly decides to quick smoking when Rachel tells him she dislikes the smell of it. One day, a strange gentleman with a foreign accent sees Franklin on business, and everyone suspects it of having to do with Franklin’s debts on the Continent. Rosanna begins to act strangely, often rude to Miss Rachel, eating less, and crying often.
Gabriel Betteredge is Lady Verinder’s aging steward, the head of her servants. He is a loquacious narrator, often using more words to describe something than he needs to. This is 1848—almost 50 years after the original theft of the Moonstone took place. Betteredge opens with a quote from Robinson Crusoe, a book which he uses religiously: “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" (39). He uses this to preface his narrative: he begins several times before hitting on the right track, and in the process gives a lot of background information. While verbose, the information given by Betteredge about the history of the Verinder family, for example, is helpful is visualizing the family tree and more. His talk about marrying Selina Goby informs readers of his views on gender roles, and so later comments align with a certain ideology, and do not come as a surprise.
The true narrative begins at Betteredge’s Chapter 3, on the recommendation of Penelope to begin on the day Franklin Blake came back from Europe. Betteredge describes everything in detail, particularly the characters that are of concern: he establishes Rosanna’s past, but also the girl’s plain features and strange behavior around Franklin. Franklin is described as “baffling” to Betteredge. He has come back a somewhat different man from Europe.
The setting of the Shivering Sand also immediately becomes important. Something dangerous and sinister lurks there—a dark place to close to the usually idyllic setting of Lady Verinder’s house. Rosanna’s talk of her own death possibly being there foreshadows her actual death. The Shivering Sand, as a location, is almost like a character, described as having a “face” which “shivers” and “trembles”, “in a manner most remarkable to see" (55).
Later, back at the house, after the Diamond has been deposited at the bank, Betteredge finds the bottle of black ink. The dark liquid foreshadows the mysterious darkness that is to come.
Betteredge also has a very unique commentary on social class. He is a servant, and content with his position, and respects his mistress incredibly, but he has acute observations on the way servants are treated by their masters. One interesting discussion is on the usage of free time by privileged people. Franklin and Rachel spend their time pursuing vanities. In Chapter 8, Betteredge remarks, “Gentlefolks in general have a very awkward rock ahead in life – the rock ahead of their own idleness. Their lives being, for the most part, passed in looking about them for something to do, it is curious to see…how often they drift blindfold into some nasty pursuit” (84). Nasty pursuits, in Betteredge’s opinion, include scientific analyses of insects and the like. While Franklin and Rachel do not engage in “nasty pursuits,” they do use a paint vehicle that Franklin invented. Betteredge says, frankly, “it stank.” However, just as the vehicle is a way to transfer paint, the painting of the door is a vehicle for moving forward Franklin and Rachel’s relationship.