Gabriel’s encounter with Mr. Murthwaite on Rachel’s birthday builds tension to foreshadow the coming mysterious events of the night, as well as characterizes Gabriel as a practical man that trusts his routines to deal with anxiety.
The quarrel between the two begins with Mr. Murthwaite’s snide comment, “they are not likely to be troubled with your scruples about the sanctity of human life,” suggesting that Gabriel is too naïve to know how to protect his family with the threat of the Indians returning (Collins 85). The diction choices following, “strumming,” “fired,” “shot,” “threw,” and “took,” further increase the tension between the characters, as they are mostly action verbs with aggressive tones (85). The phrase “he fired that shot at me” is a metaphor that compares Gabriel’s reception of Mr. Murthwaite’s comment to taking a bullet, clearly an indication that Gabriel senses a negative feeling in Mr. Murthwaite’s tone. Gabriel then “noticed that the sky was clouding over fast,” and “Mr. Murthwaite noticed it too” (85). This back and forth repetition of “notice,” as well as the imagery of the approaching storm, gives a competitive sense between the two characters, continuing the rising strained relation. In addition, the weather sets an ominous mood for the future events of the night, perhaps foreshadowing the stealing of the Moonstone.
Then, almost challenging Gabriel, Mr. Murthwaite “looked round at [Gabriel], in his dry, drolling way, and said: ‘The Indians will want their umbrellas, Mr. Betteredge, tonight!’,” mocking Gabriel’s ability to protect the house (85). Gabriel replies to himself, “[i]t was all very well for him a joke,” resenting the casual attitude that Mr. Murthwaite has about the suspicions surrounding the Indians (85). The choice of italicizing “him” is emphasized in the following phrase, “[b]ut I was not an eminent traveller,” Gabriel specifically contrasting himself with Mr. Murthwaite, and stressing that the matter of the Indians and his family’s safety was definitely not a joke to Gabriel (85). Instead, Gabriel says, “my way in this world had not led me into playing ducks and drakes with my own life, among thieves and murderers in the outlandish places of the earth,” criticizing the style in which Mr. Murthwaite has chosen to live his life, reckless adventure (85-86). While, in contrast, Gabriel explains, “I went into my own little room, and sat down in my chair,” emphasizing with the pronouns “I” and “my” that Gabriel is proud of his consistent living space (86). Yet he is “in a perspiration, and wondered helplessly… in this anxious frame of mind,” revealing that the tension of the conversation with Mr. Murthwaite has caught up with him (86). But he then distinguishes himself from all other men by how he deals with this anxiety, “other men might have ended by working themselves up into a fever; I ended in a different way,” the italicized “I” mirroring the previous “him” to specifically highlight how he is different from Mr. Murthwaite (86). He then ends by saying, “I lit my pipe, and took a turn at Robinson Crusoe,” indicating that Gabriel finds peace and comfort through sameness and repetition, and even though he is not a famous or respected world traveler, Gabriel is wise and sensible, which he believes makes a better man when dealing with conflict.