The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIV

A Midnight Adventure

Something as to the jewels had been told to Lord George; and this was quite necessary, as Lord George intended to travel with the ladies from Portray to London. Of course he had heard of the diamonds, as who had not? He had heard too of Lord Fawn, and knew why it was that Lord Fawn had peremptorily refused to carry out his engagement. But, till he was told by Mrs. Carbuncle, he did not know that the diamonds were then kept within the castle, nor did he understand that it would be part of his duty to guard them on their way back to London.

“They are worth ever so much, ain’t they?” he said to Mrs. Carbuncle, when she first gave him the information.

“Ten thousand pounds,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, almost with awe.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” said Lord George.

“She says that they’ve been valued at that, since she’s had them.”

Lord George owned to himself that such a necklace was worth having, as also, no doubt, were Portray Castle and the income arising from the estate, even though they could be held in possession only for a single life. Hitherto in his very checkered career he had escaped the trammels of matrimony, and among his many modes of life had hardly even suggested to himself the expediency of taking a wife with a fortune, and then settling down for the future, if submissively, still comfortably. To say that he had never looked forward to such a marriage as a possible future arrangement would probably be incorrect. To men such as Lord George it is too easy a result of a career to be altogether banished from the mind. But no attempt had ever yet been made, nor had any special lady ever been so far honoured in his thoughts as to be connected in them with any vague ideas which he might have formed on the subject. But now it did occur to him that Portray Castle was a place in which he could pass two or three months annually without ennui; and that if he were to marry, little Lizzie Eustace would do as well as any other woman with money whom he might chance to meet. He did not say all this to any body, and therefore cannot be accused of vanity. He was the last man in the world to speak on such a subject to any one. And as even Lizzie certainly bestowed upon him many of her smiles, much of her poetry, and some of her confidence, it cannot be said that he was not justified in his views. But then she was such an — “infernal little liar.” Lord George was quite able to discover so much of her.

“She does lie, certainly,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, “but then who doesn’t?”

On the morning of their departure the box with the diamonds was brought down into the hall just as they were about to depart. The tall London footman again brought it down, and deposited it on one of the oak hall-chairs, as though it were a thing so heavy that he could hardly stagger along with it. How Lizzie did hate the man as she watched him, and regret that she had not attempted to carry it down herself. She had been with her diamonds that morning, and had had them out of the box and into it. Few days passed on which she did not handle them and gaze at them. Mrs. Carbuncle had suggested that the box, with all her diamonds in it, might be stolen from her, and as she thought of this her heart almost sank within her. When she had them once again in London she would take some steps to relieve herself from this embarrassment of carrying about with her so great a burden of care. The man, with a vehement show of exertion, deposited the box on a chair, and then groaned aloud. Lizzie knew very well that she could lift the box by her own unaided exertions, and the groan was at any rate unnecessary.

“Supposing somebody were to steal that on the way,” said Lord George to her, not in his pleasantest tone.

“Do not suggest anything so horrible,” said Lizzie, trying to laugh.

“I shouldn’t like it at all,” said Lord George.

“I don’t think it would make me a bit unhappy. You’ve heard about it all. There never was such a persecution. I often say that I should be well pleased to take the bauble and fling it into the ocean waves.”

“I should like to be a mermaid and catch it,” said Lord George.

“And what better would you be? Such things are all vanity and vexation of spirit. I hate the shining thing.” And she hit the box with the whip she held in her hand.

It had been arranged that the party should sleep at Carlisle. It consisted of Lord George, the three ladies, the tall man servant, Lord George’s own man, and the two maids. Miss Macnulty, with the heir and the nurses, were to remain at Portray for yet a while longer. The iron box was again put into the carriage, and was used by Lizzie as a footstool. This might have been very well, had there been no necessity for changing their train. At Troon the porter behaved well, and did not struggle much as he carried it from the carriage on to the platform. But at Kilmarnock, where they met the train from Glasgow, the big footman interfered again, and the scene was performed under the eyes of a crowd of people. It seemed to Lizzie that Lord George almost encouraged the struggling, as though he were in league with the footman to annoy her. But there was no further change between Kilmarnock and Carlisle, and they managed to make themselves very comfortable. Lunch had been provided; for Mrs. Carbuncle was a woman who cared for such things, and Lord George also liked a glass of champagne in the middle of the day. Lizzie professed to be perfectly indifferent on such matters; but nevertheless she enjoyed her lunch, and allowed Lord George to press upon her a second, and perhaps a portion of a third glass of wine. Even Lucinda was roused up from her general state of apathy, and permitted herself to forget Sir Griffin for a while.

During this journey to Carlisle Lizzie Eustace almost made up her mind that Lord George was the very Corsair she had been expecting ever since she had mastered Lord Byron’s great poem. He had a way of doing things and of saying things, of proclaiming himself to be master, and at the same time of making himself thoroughly agreeable to his dependents, and especially to the one dependent whom he most honoured at the time, which exactly suited Lizzie’s ideas of what a man should be. And then he possessed that utter indifference to all conventions and laws which is the great prerogative of Corsairs. He had no reverence for aught divine or human, which is a great thing. The Queen and Parliament, the bench of bishops, and even the police, were to him just so many fungi and parasites, and noxious vapours, and false hypocrites. Such were the names by which he ventured to call these bugbears of the world. It was so delightful to live with a man who himself had a title of his own, but who could speak of dukes and marquises as being quite despicable by reason of their absurd position. And as they became gay and free after their luncheon he expressed almost as much contempt for honesty as for dukes, and showed clearly that he regarded matrimony and marquises to be equally vain and useless. “How dare you say such things in our hearing?” exclaimed Mrs. Carbuncle.

“I assert that if men and women were really true, no vows would be needed; and if no vows, then no marriage vows. Do you believe such vows are kept?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Carbuncle enthusiastically.

“I don’t,” said Lucinda.

“Nor I,” said the Corsair. “Who can believe that a woman will always love her husband because she swears she will? The oath is false on the face of it.”

“But women must marry,” said Lizzie. The Corsair declared freely that he did not see any such necessity.

And then, though it could hardly be said that this Corsair was a handsome man, still he had fine Corsair eyes, full of expression and determination, eyes that could look love and bloodshed almost at the same time; and then he had those manly properties — power, bigness, and apparent boldness — which belong to a Corsair. To be hurried about the world by such a man, treated sometimes with crushing severity, and at others with the tenderest love, not to be spoken to for one fortnight, and then to be embraced perpetually for another, to be cast every now and then into some abyss of despair by his rashness, and then raised to a pinnacle of human joy by his courage — that, thought Lizzie, would be the kind of life which would suit her poetical temperament. But then, how would it be with her if the Corsair were to take to hurrying about the world without carrying her with him, and were to do so always at her expense? Perhaps he might hurry about the world and take somebody else with him. Medora, if Lizzie remembered rightly, had had no jointure or private fortune. But yet a woman must risk something if the spirit of poetry is to be allowed any play at all! “And now these weary diamonds again,” said Lord George, as the carriage was stopped against the Carlisle platform. “I suppose they must go into your bedroom, Lady Eustace?”

“I wish you’d let the man put the box in yours, just for this night,” said Lizzie.

“No, not if I know it,” said Lord George. And then he explained. Such property would be quite as liable to be stolen when in his custody as it would in hers; but if stolen while in his would entail upon him a grievous vexation which would by no means lessen the effect of her loss. She did not understand him, but finding that he was quite in earnest she directed that the box should be again taken to her own chamber. Lord George suggested that it should be intrusted to the landlord; and for a moment or two Lizzie submitted to the idea. But she stood for that moment thinking of it, and then decided that the box should go to her own room.

“There’s no knowing what that Mr. Camperdown mightn’t do,” she whispered to Lord George. The porter and the tall footman, between them, staggered along under their load, and the iron box was again deposited in the bedroom of the Carlisle inn.

The evening at Carlisle was spent very pleasantly. The ladies agreed that they would not dress — but of course they did so with more or less of care. Lizzie made herself to look very pretty, though the skirt of the gown in which she came down was that which she had worn during the journey. Pointing this out with much triumph, she accused Mrs. Carbuncle and Lucinda of great treachery, in that they had not adhered to any vestige of their travelling raiment. But the rancour was not vehement, and the evening was passed pleasantly. Lord George was infinitely petted by the three Houris around him, and Lizzie called him a Corsair to his face.

“And you are the Medora,” said Mrs. Carbuncle.

“Oh no. That is your place, certainly,” said Lizzie.

“What a pity Sir Griffin isn’t here,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, “that we might call him the Giaour.” Lucinda shuddered, without any attempt at concealing her shudder. “That’s all very well, Lucinda, but I think Sir Griffin would make a very good Giaour.”

“Pray don’t, aunt. Let one forget it all just for a moment.”

“I wonder what Sir Griffin would say if he was to hear this,” said Lord George.

Late in the evening Lord George strolled out, and of course all the ladies discussed his character in his absence. Mrs. Carbuncle declared that he was the soul of honour. In regard to her own feeling for him, she averred that no woman had ever had a truer friend. Any other sentiment was of course out of the question, for was she not a married woman? Had it not been for that accident Mrs. Carbuncle really thought that she could have given her heart to Lord George. Lucinda declared that she always regarded him as a kind of supplementary father.

“I suppose he is a year or two older than Sir Griffin,” said Lizzie.

“Lady Eustace, why should you make me unhappy?” said Lucinda.

Then Mrs. Carbuncle explained that whereas Sir Griffin was not yet thirty, Lord George was over forty.

“All I can say is, he doesn’t look it,” urged Lady Eustace enthusiastically.

“Those sort of men never do,” said Mrs. Carbuncle. Lord George, when he returned, was greeted with an allusion to angels’ wings, and would have been a good deal spoiled among them were it in the nature of such an article to receive injury. As soon as the clock had struck ten the ladies all went away to their beds.

Lizzie, when she was in her own room, of course found her maid waiting for her. It was necessarily part of the religion of such a woman as Lizzie Eustace that she could not go to bed, or change her clothes, or get up in the morning, without the assistance of her own young woman. She would not like to have it thought that she could stick a pin into her own belongings without such assistance. Nevertheless it was often the case with her that she was anxious to get rid of her girl’s attendance. It had been so on this morning and before dinner, and was so now again. She was secret in her movements, and always had some recess in her boxes and bags and dressing apparatuses to which she did not choose that Miss Patience Crabstick should have access. She was careful about her letters, and very careful about her money. And then as to that iron box in which the diamonds were kept! Patience Crabstick had never yet seen the inside of it. Moreover it may be said, either on Lizzie’s behalf or to her discredit, as the reader may be pleased to take it, that she was quite able to dress herself, to brush her own hair, to take off her own clothes; and that she was not, either by nature or education, an incapable young woman. But that honour and glory demanded it, she would almost as lief have had no Patience Crabstick to pry into her most private matters. All which Crabstick knew, and would often declare her missus to be “of all missuses the most slyest and least come-at-able.” On this present night she was very soon despatched to her own chamber. Lizzie, however, took one careful look at the iron box before the girl was sent away.

Crabstick, on this occasion, had not far to go to seek her own couch. Alongside of Lizzie’s larger chamber there was a small room, a dressing-room with a bed in it, which, for this night, was devoted to Crabstick’s accommodation. Of course she departed from attendance on her mistress by the door which opened from the one room to the other; but this had no sooner been closed than Crabstick descended to complete the amusements of the evening. Lizzie, when she was alone, bolted both the doors on the inside, and then quickly retired to rest. Some short prayer she said, with her knees close to the iron box. Then she put certain articles of property under her pillow, her watch and chain, and the rings from her fingers, and a packet which she had drawn from her travelling-desk, and was soon in bed, thinking that, as she fell away to sleep, she would revolve in her mind that question of the Corsair: would it be good to trust herself and all her belongings to one who might perhaps take her belongings away, but leave herself behind? The subject was not unpleasant, and while she was considering it she fell asleep.

It was, perhaps, about two in the morning when a man, very efficient at the trade which he was then following, knelt outside Lady Eustace’s door, and, with a delicately-made saw, aided probably by some other equally well-finished tools, absolutely cut out that portion of the bedroom door on which the bolt was fastened. He must have known the spot exactly, for he did not doubt a moment as he commenced his work; and yet there was nothing on the exterior of the door to show where the bolt was placed. The bit was cut out without the slightest noise, and then, when the door was opened, was placed just inside upon the floor. The man then with perfectly noiseless step entered the room, knelt again — just where poor Lizzie had knelt as she said her prayers — so that he might the more easily raise the iron box without a struggle, and left the room with it in his arms without disturbing the lovely sleeper. He then descended the stairs, passed into the coffee-room at the bottom of them, and handed the box through an open window to a man who was crouching on the outside in the dark. He then followed the box, pulled down the window, put on a pair of boots which his friend had ready for him; and the two, after lingering a few moments in the shade of the dark wall, retreated with their prize round a corner. The night itself was almost pitch-dark, and very wet. It was as nearly black with darkness as a night can be. So far, the enterprising adventurers had been successful, and we will now leave them in their chosen retreat, engaged on the longer operation of forcing open the iron safe. For it had been arranged between them that the iron safe should be opened then and there. Though the weight to him who had taken it out of Lizzie’s room had not been oppressive, as it had oppressed the tall serving-man, it might still have been an incumbrance to gentlemen intending to travel by railway with as little observation as possible. They were, however, well supplied with tools, and we will leave them at their work.

On the next morning Lizzie was awakened earlier than she had expected, and found not only Patience Crabstick in her bedroom, but also a chambermaid, and the wife of the manager of the hotel. The story was soon told to her. Her room had been broken open, and her treasure was gone. The party had intended to breakfast at their leisure, and proceed to London by a train leaving Carlisle in the middle of the day; but they were soon disturbed from their rest. Lady Eustace had hardly time to get her slippers from her feet, and to wrap herself in her dressing-gown, to get rid of her dishevelled nightcap, and make herself just fit for public view, before the manager of the hotel, and Lord George, and the tall footman, and the boots were in her bedroom. It was too plainly manifest to them all that the diamonds were gone. The superintendent of the Carlisle police was there almost as soon as the others; and following him very quickly came the important gentleman who was at the head of the constabulary of the county.

Lizzie, when she first heard the news, was awe-struck rather than outwardly demonstrative of grief. “There has been a regular plot,” said Lord George. Captain Fitzmaurice, the gallant chief, nodded his head.

“Plot enough,” said the superintendent, who did not mean to confide his thoughts to any man, or to exempt any human being from his suspicion. The manager of the hotel was very angry, and at first did not restrain his anger. Did not everybody know that if articles of value were brought into a hotel they should be handed over to the safe-keeping of the manager? He almost seemed to think that Lizzie had stolen her own box of diamonds.

“My dear fellow,” said Lord George, “nobody is saying a word against you or your house.”

“No, my lord; but ——”

“Lady Eustace is not blaming you, and do not you blame anybody else,” said Lord George. “Let the police do what is right.”

At last the men retreated, and Lizzie was left with Patience and Mrs. Carbuncle. But even then she did not give way to her grief, but sat upon the bed awe-struck and mute. “Perhaps I had better get dressed,” she said at last.

“I feared how it might be,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, holding Lizzie’s hand affectionately.

“Yes; you said so.”

“The prize was so great.”

“I was always a-telling my lady ——” began Crabstick.

“Hold your tongue!” said Lizzie angrily. “I suppose the police will do the best they can, Mrs. Carbuncle?”

“Oh yes; and so will Lord George.”

“I think I’ll lie down again for a little while,” said Lizzie. “I feel so sick I hardly know what to do. If I were to lie down for a little I should be better.” With much difficulty she got them to leave her. Then, before she again undressed herself, she bolted the door that still had a bolt, and turned the lock in the other. Having done this, she took out from under her pillow the little parcel which had been in her desk, and, untying it, perceived that her dear diamond necklace was perfect, and quite safe.

The enterprising adventurers had, indeed, stolen the iron case, but they had stolen nothing else. The reader must not suppose that because Lizzie had preserved her jewels, she was therefore a consenting party to the abstraction of the box. The theft had been a genuine theft, planned with great skill, carried out with much ingenuity, one in the perpetration of which money had been spent, a theft which for a while baffled the police of England, and which was supposed to be very creditable to those who had been engaged in it. But the box, and nothing but the box, had fallen into the hands of the thieves.

Lizzie’s silence when the abstraction of the box was made known to her, her silence as to the fact that the necklace was at that moment within the grasp of her own fingers, was not at first the effect of deliberate fraud. She was ashamed to tell them that she brought the box empty from Portray, having the diamonds in her own keeping because she had feared that the box might be stolen. And then it occurred to her, quick as thought could flash, that it might be well that Mr. Camperdown should be made to believe that they had been stolen. And so she kept her secret. The reflections of the next half-hour told her how very great would now be her difficulties. But, as she had not disclosed the truth at first, she could hardly disclose it now.

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