The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVIII

Mr. Dove in His Chambers

The scene between Lord Fawn and Greystock had taken place in Mr. Camperdown’s chambers, and John Eustace had also been present. The lawyer had suffered considerable annoyance, before the arrival of the two first-named gentlemen, from reiterated assertions made by Eustace that he would take no further trouble whatsoever about the jewels. Mr. Camperdown had in vain pointed out to him that a plain duty lay upon him as executor and guardian to protect the property on behalf of his nephew; but Eustace had asserted that, though he himself was comparatively a poor man, he would sooner replace the necklace out of his own property than be subject to the nuisance of such a continued quarrel. “My dear John; ten thousand pounds!” Mr. Camperdown had said. “It is a fortune for a younger son.”

“The boy is only two years old, and will have time enough to make fortunes for his own younger sons, if he does not squander everything. If he does, ten thousand pounds will make no difference.”

“But the justice of the thing, John!”

“Justice may be purchased too dearly.”

“Such a harpy as she is, too!” pleaded the lawyer. Then Lord Fawn had come in, and Greystock had followed immediately afterwards.

“I may as well say at once,” said Greystock, “that Lady Eustace is determined to maintain her right to the property; and that she will not give up the diamonds till some adequate court of law shall have decided that she is mistaken in her views. Stop one moment, Mr. Camperdown. I feel myself bound to go further than that, and express my own opinion that she is right.”

“I can hardly understand such an opinion as coming from you,” said Mr. Camperdown.

“You have changed your mind, at any rate,” said John Eustace.

“Not so, Eustace. Mr. Camperdown, you’ll be good enough to understand that my opinion expressed here is that of a friend, and not that of a lawyer. And you must understand, Eustace,” continued Greystock, “that I am speaking now of my cousin’s right to the property. Though the value be great, I have advised her to give up the custody of it for a while, till the matter shall be clearly decided. That has still been my advice to her, and I have in no respect changed my mind. But she feels that she is being cruelly used, and with a woman’s spirit will not, in such circumstances, yield anything. Mr. Camperdown actually stopped her carriage in the street.”

“She would not answer a line that anybody wrote to her,” said the lawyer.

“And I may say plainly — for all here know the circumstances — that Lady Eustace feels the strongest possible indignation at the manner in which she is being treated by Lord Fawn.”

“I have only asked her to give up the diamonds till the question should be settled,” said Lord Fawn.

“And you backed your request, my lord, by a threat! My cousin is naturally most indignant; and, my lord, you must allow me to tell you that I fully share the feeling.”

“There is no use in making a quarrel about it,” said Eustace.

“The quarrel is already made,” replied Greystock. “I am here to tell Lord Fawn in your presence, and in the presence of Mr. Camperdown, that he is behaving to a lady with ill-usage, which he would not dare to exercise did he not know that her position saves him from legal punishment, as do the present usages of society from other consequences.”

“I have behaved to her with every possible consideration,” said Lord Fawn.

“That is a simple assertion,” said the other. “I have made one assertion, and you have made another. The world will have to judge between us. What right have you to take upon yourself to decide whether this thing or that belongs to Lady Eustace or to any one else?”

“When the thing was talked about I was obliged to have an opinion,” said Lord Fawn, who was still thinking of words in which to reply to the insult offered him by Greystock without injury to his dignity as an Under-Secretary of State.

“Your conduct, sir, has been altogether inexcusable.” Then Frank turned to the attorney. “I have been given to understand that you are desirous of knowing where this diamond necklace is at present. It is at Lady Eustace’s house in Scotland; at Portray Castle.” Then he shook hands with John Eustace, bowed to Mr. Camperdown, and succeeded in leaving the room before Lord Fawn had so far collected his senses as to be able to frame his anger into definite words.

“I will never willingly speak to that man again,” said Lord Fawn. But as it was not probable that Greystock would greatly desire any further conversation with Lord Fawn, this threat did not carry with it any powerful feeling of severity.

Mr. Camperdown groaned over the matter with thorough vexation of spirit. It seemed to him as though the harpy, as he called her, would really make good her case against him, at any rate would make it seem to be good for so long a time that all the triumph of success would be hers. He knew that she was already in debt, and gave her credit for a propensity to fast living, which almost did her an injustice. Of course the jewels would be sold for half their value, and the harpy would triumph. Of what use to him or to the estate would be a decision of the courts in his favour when the diamonds should have been broken up and scattered to the winds of heaven? Ten thousand pounds! It was, to Mr. Camperdown’s mind, a thing quite terrible that, in a country which boasts of its laws and of the execution of its laws, such an impostor as was this widow should be able to lay her dirty, grasping fingers on so great an amount of property, and that there should be no means of punishing her. That Lizzie Eustace had stolen the diamonds, as a pickpocket steals a watch, was a fact as to which Mr. Camperdown had in his mind no shadow of a doubt. And, as the reader knows, he was right. She had stolen them. Mr. Camperdown knew that she had stolen them, and was a wretched man. From the first moment of the late Sir Florian’s infatuation about this woman, she had worked woe for Mr. Camperdown. Mr. Camperdown had striven hard, to the great and almost permanent offence of Sir Florian, to save Portray from its present condition of degradation; but he had striven in vain. Portray belonged to the harpy for her life; and moreover, he himself had been forced to be instrumental in paying over to the harpy a large sum of Eustace money almost immediately on her becoming a widow. Then had come the affair of the diamonds — an affair of ten thousand pounds! — as Mr. Camperdown would exclaim to himself, throwing his eyes up to the ceiling. And now it seemed that she was to get the better of him even in that, although there could not be a shadow of doubt as to her falsehood and fraudulent dishonesty! His luck in the matter was so bad! John Eustace had no backbone, no spirit, no proper feeling as to his own family. Lord Fawn was as weak as water, and almost disgraced the cause by the accident of his adherence to it. Greystock, who would have been a tower of strength, had turned against him, and was now prepared to maintain that the harpy was right. Mr. Camperdown knew that the harpy was wrong, that she was a harpy, and he would not abandon the cause; but the difficulties in his way were great and the annoyance to which he was subjected was excessive. His wife and daughters were still at Dawlish, and he was up in town in September, simply because the harpy had the present possession of these diamonds.

Mr. Camperdown was a man turned sixty, handsome, grey-haired, healthy, somewhat florid, and carrying in his face and person external signs of prosperity and that kind of self-assertion which prosperity always produces. But they who knew him best were aware that he did not bear trouble well. In any trouble, such as was this about the necklace, there would come over his face a look of weakness which betrayed the want of real inner strength. How many faces one sees which, in ordinary circumstances, are comfortable, self-asserting, sufficient, and even bold; the lines of which, under difficulties, collapse and become mean, spiritless, and insignificant. There are faces which, in their usual form, seem to bluster with prosperity, but which the loss of a dozen points at whist will reduce to that currish aspect which reminds one of a dog-whip. Mr. Camperdown’s countenance, when Lord Fawn and Mr. Eustace left him, had fallen away into this meanness of appearance. He no longer carried himself as a man owning a dog-whip, but rather as the hound that feared it.

A better attorney for the purposes to which his life was devoted did not exist in London than Mr. Camperdown. To say that he was honest is nothing. To describe him simply as zealous would be to fall very short of his merits. The interests of his clients were his own interests, and the legal rights of the properties of which he had the legal charge were as dear to him as his own blood. But it could not be said of him that he was a learned lawyer. Perhaps in that branch of a solicitor’s profession in which he had been called upon to work, experience goes further than learning. It may be doubted, indeed, whether it is not so in every branch of every profession. But it might, perhaps, have been better for Mr. Camperdown had he devoted more hours of his youth to reading books on conveyancing. He was now too old for such studies, and could trust only to the reading of other people. The reading, however, of other people was always at his command, and his clients were rich men who did not mind paying for an opinion. To have an opinion from Mr. Dove, or some other learned gentleman, was the every-day practice of his life; and when he obtained, as he often did, little coigns of legal vantage and subtle definitions as to property which were comfortable to him, he would rejoice to think that he could always have a Dove at his hand to tell him exactly how far he was justified in going in defence of his clients’ interests. But now there had come to him no comfort from his corner of legal knowledge. Mr. Dove had taken extraordinary pains in the matter, and had simply succeeded in throwing over his employer. “A necklace can’t be an heirloom!” said Mr. Camperdown to himself, telling off on his fingers half a dozen instances in which he had either known or had heard that the head of a family had so arranged the future possession of the family jewels. Then he again read Mr. Dove’s opinion, and actually took a law-book off his shelves with the view of testing the correctness of the barrister in reference to some special assertion. A pot or a pan might be an heirloom, but not a necklace! Mr. Camperdown could hardly bring himself to believe that this was law. And then as to paraphernalia! Up to this moment, though he had been called upon to arrange great dealings in reference to widows, he had never as yet heard of a claim made by a widow for paraphernalia. But then the widows with whom he had been called upon to deal had been ladies quite content to accept the good things settled upon them by the liberal prudence of their friends and husbands, not greedy, blood-sucking harpies such as this Lady Eustace. It was quite terrible to Mr. Camperdown that one of his clients should have fallen into such a pit. Mors omnibus est communis. But to have left such a widow behind one!

“John,” he said, opening his door. John was his son and partner, and John came to him, having been summoned by a clerk from another room. “Just shut the door. I’ve had such a scene here; Lord Fawn and Mr. Greystock almost coming to blows about that horrid woman.”

“The Upper House would have got the worst of it, as it usually does,” said the younger attorney.

“And there is John Eustace cares no more what becomes of the property than if he had nothing to do with it; absolutely talks of replacing the diamonds out of his own pocket; a man whose personal interest in the estate is by no means equal to her own.”

“He wouldn’t do it, you know,” said Camperdown Junior, who did not know the family.

“It’s just what he would do,” said the father, who did. “There’s nothing they wouldn’t give away when once the idea takes them. Think of that woman having the whole Portray estate, perhaps for the next sixty years — nearly the fee-simple of the property — just because she made eyes to Sir Florian.”

“That’s done and gone, father.”

“And here’s Dove tells us that a necklace can’t be an heirloom unless it belongs to the Crown.”

“Whatever he says, you’d better take his word for it.”

“I’m not so sure of that! It can’t be. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go over and see him. We can file a bill in Chancery, I don’t doubt, and prove that the property belongs to the family and must go by the will. But she’ll sell them before we can get the custody of them.”

“Perhaps she has done that already.”

“Greystock says they are Portray, and I believe they are. She was wearing them in London only in July, a day or two before I saw her as she was leaving town. If anybody like a jeweller had been down at the castle, I should have heard of it. She hasn’t sold ’em yet, but she will.”

“She could do that just the same if they were an heirloom.”

“No, John. I think not. We could have acted much more quickly and have frightened her.”

“If I were you, father, I’d drop the matter altogether and let John Eustace replace them if he pleases. We all know that he would never be called on to do anything of the kind. It isn’t our sort of business.”

“Not ten thousand pounds!” said Camperdown Senior, to whom the magnitude of the larceny almost ennobled the otherwise mean duty of catching the thief. Then Mr. Camperdown rose, and slowly walked across the New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, under the low archway, by the entrance to the old court in which Lord Eldon used to sit, to the Old Square, in which the Turtle Dove had built his legal nest on a first floor, close to the old gateway.

Mr. Dove was a gentleman who spent a very great portion of his life in this somewhat gloomy abode of learning. It was not now term time, and most of his brethren were absent from London, recruiting their strength among the Alps, or drinking in vigour for fresh campaigns with the salt sea breezes off Kent and Sussex, or perhaps shooting deer in Scotland, or catching fish in Connemara. But Mr. Dove was a man of iron, who wanted no such recreation. To be absent from his law-books and the black, littered, ink-stained old table on which he was wont to write his opinions, was, to him, to be wretched. The only exercise necessary to him was that of putting on his wig and going into one of the courts that were close to his chambers; but even that was almost distasteful to him. He preferred sitting in his old arm-chair, turning over his old books in search of old cases, and producing opinions which he would be prepared to back against all the world of Lincoln’s Inn. He and Mr. Camperdown had known each other intimately for many years, and though the rank of the two men in their profession differed much, they were able to discuss questions of law without any appreciation of that difference between themselves. The one man knew much, and the other little; the one was not only learned, but possessed also of great gifts, while the other was simply an ordinary clear-headed man of business; but they had sympathies in common which made them friends; they were both honest and unwilling to sell their services to dishonest customers; and they equally entertained a deep-rooted contempt for that portion of mankind who thought that property could be managed and protected without the intervention of lawyers. The outside world to them was a world of pretty, laughing, ignorant children; and lawyers were the parents, guardians, pastors, and masters, by whom the children should be protected from the evils incident to their childishness.

“Yes, sir; he’s here,” said the Turtle Dove’s clerk. “He is talking of going away, but he won’t go. He’s told me I can have a week, but I don’t know that I like to leave him. Mrs. Dove and the children are down at Ramsgate, and he’s here all night. He hadn’t been out for so long that when he wanted to go as far as the Temple yesterday we couldn’t find his hat.” Then the clerk opened the door, and ushered Mr. Camperdown into the room. Mr. Dove was the younger man by five or six years, and his hair was still black. Mr. Camperdown’s was nearer white than gray; but, nevertheless, Mr. Camperdown looked as though he were the younger man. Mr. Dove was a long, thin man, with a stoop in his shoulders, with deep-set, hollow eyes, and lantern cheeks, and sallow complexion, with long, thin hands, who seemed to acknowledge by every movement of his body and every tone of his voice that old age was creeping on him; whereas the attorney’s step was still elastic, and his speech brisk. Mr. Camperdown wore a blue frock-coat, and a coloured cravat, and a light waist-coat. With Mr. Dove every visible article of his raiment was black, except his shirt, and he had that peculiar blackness which a man achieves when he wears a dress-coat over a high black waistcoat in the morning.

“You didn’t make much, I fear, of what I sent you about heirlooms,” said Mr. Dove, divining the purport of Mr. Camperdown’s visit.

“A great deal more than I wanted, I can assure you, Mr. Dove.”

“There is a common error about heirlooms.”

“Very common, indeed, I should say. God bless my soul! when one knows how often the word occurs in family deeds, it does startle one to be told that there isn’t any such thing.”

“I don’t think I said quite so much as that. Indeed, I was careful to point out that the law does acknowledge heirlooms.”

“But not diamonds,” said the attorney.

“I doubt whether I went quite so far as that.”

“Only the Crown diamonds.”

“I don’t think I even debarred all other diamonds. A diamond in a star of honour might form a part of an heirloom; but I do not think that a diamond itself could be an heirloom.”

“If in a star of honour, why not in a necklace?” argued Mr. Camperdown almost triumphantly.

“Because a star of honour, unless tampered with by fraud, would naturally be maintained in its original form. The setting of a necklace will probably be altered from generation to generation. The one, like a picture or a precious piece of furniture ——”

“Or a pot or a pan,” said Mr. Camperdown, with sarcasm.

“Pots and pans may be precious, too,” replied Mr. Dove. “Such things can be traced, and can be held as heirlooms without imposing too great difficulties on their guardians. The Law is generally very wise and prudent, Mr. Camperdown; much more so often than are they who attempt to improve it.”

“I quite agree with you there, Mr. Dove.”

“Would the Law do a service, do you think, if it lent its authority to the special preservation in special hands of trinkets only to be used for vanity and ornament? Is that a kind of property over which an owner should have a power of disposition more lasting, more autocratic, than is given him even in regard to land? The land, at any rate, can be traced. It is a thing fixed and known. A string of pearls is not only alterable, but constantly altered, and cannot easily be traced.”

“Property of such enormous value should, at any rate, be protected,” said Mr. Camperdown indignantly.

“All property is protected, Mr. Camperdown; although, as we know too well, such protection can never be perfect. But the system of heirlooms, if there can be said to be such a system, was not devised for what you and I mean when we talk of protection of property.”

“I should have said that that was just what it was devised for.”

“I think not. It was devised with the more picturesque idea of maintaining chivalric associations. Heirlooms have become so, not that the future owners of them may be assured of so much wealth, whatever the value of the thing so settled may be, but that the son or grandson or descendant may enjoy the satisfaction which is derived from saying, My father or my grandfather or my ancestor sat in that chair, or looked as he now looks in that picture, or was graced by wearing on his breast that very ornament which you now see lying beneath the glass. Crown jewels are heirlooms in the same way, as representing not the possession of the sovereign, but the time-honoured dignity of the Crown. The Law, which, in general, concerns itself with our property or lives and our liberties, has in this matter bowed gracefully to the spirit of chivalry and has lent its aid to romance! but it certainly did not do so to enable the discordant heirs of a rich man to settle a simple dirty question of money, which, with ordinary prudence, the rich-man should himself have settled before he died.”

The Turtle Dove had spoken with emphasis and had spoken well, and Mr. Camperdown had not ventured to interrupt him while he was speaking. He was sitting far back on his chair, but with his neck bent and with his head forward, rubbing his long thin hands slowly over each other, and with his deep bright eyes firmly fixed on his companion’s face. Mr. Camperdown had not unfrequently heard him speak in the same fashion before, and was accustomed to his manner of unravelling the mysteries and searching into the causes of Law with a spirit which almost lent a poetry to the subject. When Mr. Dove would do so, Mr. Camperdown would not quite understand the words spoken, but he would listen to them with an undoubting reverence. And he did understand them in part, and was conscious of an infusion of a certain amount of poetic spirit into his own bosom. He would think of these speeches afterwards, and would entertain high but somewhat cloudy ideas of the beauty and the majesty of Law. Mr. Dove’s speeches did Mr. Camperdown good, and helped to preserve him from that worst of all diseases, a low idea of humanity.

“You think, then, we had better not claim them as heirlooms?” he asked.

“I think you had better not.”

“And you think that she could claim them — as paraphernalia?”

“That question has hardly been put to me, though I allowed myself to wander into it. But for my intimacy with you, I should hardly have ventured to stray so far.”

“I need hardly say how much obliged we are. But we will submit one or two other cases to you.”

“I am inclined to think the court would not allow them to her as paraphernalia, seeing that their value is excessive as compared with her income and degree; but if it did, it would do so in a fashion that would guard them from alienation.”

“She would sell them — under the rose.”

“Then she would be guilty of stealing them, which she would hardly attempt, even if not restrained by honesty, knowing, as she would know, that the greatness of the value would almost assuredly lead to detection. The same feeling would prevent buyers from purchasing.”

“She says, you know, that they were given to her, absolutely.”

“I should like to know the circumstances.”

“Yes; of course.”

“But I should be disposed to think that in equity no allegation by the receiver of such a gift, unsubstantiated either by evidence or by deed, would be allowed to stand. The gentleman left behind him a will, and regular settlements. I should think that the possession of these diamonds — not, I presume, touched on in the settlements —-”

“Oh dear no; not a word about them.”

“I should think, then, that, subject to any claim to paraphernalia, the possession of the diamonds would be ruled by the will.” Mr. Camperdown was rushing into the further difficulty of chattels in Scotland and those in England, when the Turtle Dove stopped him, declaring that he could not venture to discuss matters as to which he knew none of the facts.

“Of course not; of course not,” said Mr. Camperdown. “We’ll have cases prepared. I’d apologise for coming at all, only that I get so much from a few words.”

“I’m always delighted to see you, Mr. Camperdown,” said the Turtle Dove, bowing.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43