The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXVIII

The Trial

Having told the tale of Lucy Morris to the end, the chronicler must now go back to the more important persons of this history. It was still early in April when Lizzie Eustace was taken down to Scotland by her cousin, and the trial of Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Smiler was fixed to take place at the Central Criminal Court about the middle of May. Early in May the attorneys for the prosecution applied to Greystock, asking him whether he would make arrangements for his cousin’s appearance on the occasion, informing him that she had already been formally summoned. Whereupon he wrote to Lizzie, telling her what she had better do, in the kindest manner — as though there had been no cessation of their friendly intercourse; offering to go with her into court — and naming a hotel at which he would advise her to stay, during the very short time that she need remain in London. She answered this letter at once. She was sorry to say that she was much too ill to travel, or even to think of travelling. Such was her present condition that she doubted greatly whether she would ever again be able to leave the two rooms to which she was at present confined. All that remained to her in life was to watch her own blue waves from the casement of her dear husband’s castle — that casement at which he had loved to sit — and to make herself happy in the smiles of her child. A few months would see the last of it all, and then, perhaps, they who had trampled her to death would feel some pang of remorse as they thought of her early fate. She had given her evidence once and had told all the truth — though she was now aware that she need not have done so, as she had been defrauded of a vast amount of property through the gross negligence of the police. She was advised now by persons who seemed really to understand the law, that she could recover the value of the diamonds which her dear, dear husband had given her, from the freeholders of the parish in which the robbery had taken place. She feared that her health did not admit of the necessary exertion. Were it otherwise she would leave no stone unturned to recover the value of her property — not on account of its value, but because she had been so ill-treated by Mr. Camperdown and the police. Then she added a postscript to say that it was quite out of the question that she should take any journey for the next six months.

The reader need hardly be told that Greystock did not believe a word of what she said. He felt sure that she was not ill. There was an energy in the letter hardly compatible with illness. But he could not make her come. He certainly did not intend to go down again to Scotland to fetch her; and even had he done so he could not have forced her to accompany him. He could only go to the attorneys concerned, and read to them so much of the letter as he thought fit to communicate to them.

“That won’t do at all,” said an old gentleman at the head of the firm. “She has been very leniently treated, and she must come.”

“You must manage it, then,” said Frank.

“I hope she won’t give us trouble, because if she does we must expose her,” said the second member.

“She has not even sent a medical certificate,” said the tyro of the firm, who was not quite so sharp as he will probably become when he has been a member of it for ten or twelve years. You should never ask the ostler whether he greases his oats. In this case Frank Greystock was not exactly in the position of the ostler; but he did inform his cousin by letter that she would lay herself open to all manner of pains and penalties if she disobeyed such a summons as she had received, unless she did so by a very strong medical advice, backed by a medical certificate.

Lizzie, when she received this, had two strings to her bow. A writer from Ayr had told her that the summons sent to her was not worth the paper on which it was printed in regard to a resident in Scotland; and she had also got a doctor from the neighbourhood who was satisfied that she was far too ill to travel up to London. Pulmonary debilitation was the complaint from which she was suffering, which, with depressed vitality in all the organs, and undue languor in all the bodily functions, would be enough to bring her to a speedy end if she so much as thought of making a journey up to London. A certificate to this effect was got in triplicate. One copy she sent to the attorneys, one to Frank, and one she kept herself.

The matter was very pressing indeed. It was considered that the trial could not be postponed till the next sitting at the Criminal Court, because certain witnesses in respect to the diamonds had been procured from Hamburg and Vienna, at a very great cost; they were actually on their way to London when Lizzie’s second letter was received. Mr. Camperdown had resolved to have the diamonds still, with a hope that they might be restored to the keeping of Messrs. Garnett, there to lie hidden and unused, at any rate for the next twenty years. The diamonds had been traced first to Hamburg and then to Vienna, and it was to be proved that they were now adorning the bosom of a certain enormously rich Russian princess. From the grasp of the Russian princess it was found impossible to rescue them; but the witnesses who, as it was hoped, might have aided Mr. Camperdown in his efforts, were to be examined at the trial.

A confidential clerk was sent down to Portray, but the confidential clerk altogether failed in making his way into Lizzie’s presence. Word was brought to him that nothing but force could take Lady Eustace from her bedchamber; and that force used to that effect might take her out dead, but certainly not alive. He made inquiry, however, about the doctor, and found that he certainly was a doctor. If a doctor will certify that a lady is dying, what can any judge do, or any jury? There are certain statements which, though they are false as hell, must be treated as though they were true as gospel. The clerk reported when he got back to London, that to his belief Lady Eustace was enjoying an excellent state of health; but that he was perfectly certain that she would not appear as a witness at the trial.

The anger felt by many persons as to Lizzie’s fraudulent obstinacy was intense. Mr. Camperdown thought that she ought to be dragged up to London by cart ropes. The attorneys engaged for the prosecution were almost beside themselves. They did send down a doctor of their own, but Lizzie would not see the doctor — would not see the doctor though threats of most frightful consequences were conveyed to her. She would be exposed, fined thousands of pounds, committed to jail for contempt of court, and prosecuted for perjury into the bargain. But she was firm. She wrote one scrap of a note to the doctor who came from London. “I shall not live to satisfy their rabid vengeance.” Even Frank Greystock felt almost more annoyed than gratified that she should be able thus to escape. People who had heard of the inquiry before the magistrate, had postponed their excitement and interest on the occasion because they knew that the day of the trial would be the great day; and when they heard that they were to be robbed of the pleasure of Lady Eustace’s cross-examination, there arose almost a public feeling of wrath that justice should be thus outraged. The doctor who had given the certificate was vilified in the newspapers, and long articles were written as to the impotence of the law. But Lizzie was successful, and the trial went on without her.

It appeared that though her evidence was very desirable it was not absolutely essential, as, in consequence of her certified illness, the statement which she had made at the police-court could be brought up and used against the prisoners. All the facts of the robbery were, moreover, proved by Patience Crabstick and Billy Cann; and the transfer of the diamonds by Mr. Benjamin to the man who recut them at Hamburg was also proved. Many other morsels of collateral evidence had also been picked up by the police, so that there was no possible doubt as to any detail of the affair in Hertford Street. There was a rumour that Mr. Benjamin intended to plead guilty. He might, perhaps, have done so had it not been for the absence of Lady Eustace; but as that was thought to give him a possible chance of escape, he stood his ground.

Lizzie’s absence was a great disappointment to the sightseers of London; but nevertheless the court was crowded. It was understood that the learned sergeant who was retained on this occasion to defend Mr. Benjamin, and who was assisted by the acute gentleman who had appeared before the magistrate, would be rather severe upon Lady Eustace, even in her absence; and that he would ground his demand for an acquittal on the combined facts of her retention of the diamonds, her perjury, and of her obstinate refusal to come forward on the present occasion. As it was known that he could be very severe, many came to hear him, and they were not disappointed. The reader shall see a portion of his address to the jury, which we hope may have had some salutary effect on Lizzie as she read it in her retreat at Portray looking out upon her own blue waves.

“And now, gentlemen of the jury, let me recapitulate to you the history of this lady as far as it relates to the diamonds, as to which my client is now in jeopardy. You have heard on the testimony of Mr. Camperdown that they were not hers at all, that, at any rate, they were not supposed to be hers by those in whose hands was left the administration of her husband’s estate, and that when they were first supposed to have been stolen at the inn at Carlisle, he had already commenced legal steps for the recovery of them from her clutches. A bill in Chancery had been filed because she had obstinately refused to allow them to pass out of her hands. It has been proved to you by Lord Fawn that though he was engaged to marry her he broke his engagement because he supposed her possession of these diamonds to be fraudulent and dishonest.” This examination had been terrible to the unfortunate undersecretary; and had absolutely driven him away from the India board and from Parliament for a month. “It has been proved to you that when the diamonds were supposed to have vanished at Carlisle, she there committed perjury. That she did so she herself stated on oath in that evidence which she gave before the magistrate when my client was committed, and which has, as I maintain, improperly and illegally been used against my client at this trial.” Here the judge looked over his spectacles and admonished the learned sergeant that his argument on that subject had already been heard, and the matter decided. “True, my lord; but my conviction of my duty to my client compels me to revert to it. Lady Eustace committed perjury at Carlisle, having the diamonds in her pocket at the very moment in which she swore that they had been stolen from her; and if justice had really been done in this case, gentlemen, it is Lady Eustace who should now be on her trial before you, and not my unfortunate client. Well, what is the next that we hear of it? It seems that she brought the diamonds up to London; but how long she kept them there nobody knows. It was, however, necessary to account for them. A robbery is got up between a young woman who seems to have been the confidential friend, rather than the maid, of Lady Eustace, and that other witness whom you have heard testifying against himself, and who is, of all the informers that ever came into my hands, the most flippant, the most hardened, the least conscientious, and the least credible. That those two were engaged in a conspiracy I cannot doubt. That Lady Eustace was engaged with them I will not say; but I will ask you to consider whether such may not probably have been the case. At any rate she then perjures herself again. She gives a list of the articles stolen from her, and omits the diamonds. She either perjures herself a second time, or else the diamonds, in regard to which my client is in jeopardy, were not in the house at all, and could not then have been stolen. It may very probably have been so. Nothing more probable. Mr. Camperdown and the managers of the Eustace estate had gradually come to a belief that the Carlisle robbery was a hoax, and therefore another robbery is necessary to account for the diamonds. Another robbery is arranged, and this young and beautiful widow, as bold as brass, again goes before the magistrate and swears. Either the diamonds were not stolen or else she commits a second perjury.

“And now, gentlemen, she is not here. She is sick forsooth at her own castle in Scotland, and sends to us a medical certificate; but the gentlemen who are carrying on this prosecution know their witness, and don’t believe a word of her sickness. Had she the feelings of woman in her bosom she ought indeed to be sick unto death. But they know her better and send down a doctor of their own. You have heard his evidence, and yet this wonderful lady is not before us. I say again that she ought to be here in that dock — in that dock in spite of her fortune, in that dock in spite of her title, in that dock in spite of her castle, her riches, her beauty, and her great relatives. A most wonderful woman, indeed, is the widow Eustace. It is she whom public opinion will convict as the guilty one in this marvellous mass of conspiracy and intrigue. In her absence, and after what she has done herself, can you convict any man either of stealing or of disposing of these diamonds?” The vigour, the attitude, and the indignant tone of the man were more even than his words; but, nevertheless, the jury found both Benjamin and Smiler guilty, and the judge sentenced them to penal servitude for fifteen years.

And this was the end of the Eustace diamonds, as far as anything was ever known of them in England. Mr. Camperdown altogether failed, even in his attempt to buy them back at something less than their value, and was ashamed himself to look at the figures, when he found how much money he had wasted for his clients in their pursuit. In discussing the matter afterwards with Mr. Dove, he excused himself by asserting his inability to see so gross a robbery perpetrated by a little minx, under his very eyes, without interfering with the plunder.

“I knew what she was,” he said, “from the moment of Sir Florian’s unfortunate marriage. He had brought a little harpy into the family, and I was obliged to declare war against her.” Mr. Dove seemed to be of opinion that the ultimate loss of the diamonds was, upon the whole, desirable as regarded the whole community.

“I should like to have had the case settled as to right of possession,” he said, “because there were in it one or two points of interest. We none of us know, for instance, what a man can, or what a man cannot, give away by a mere word.”

“No such word was ever spoken,” said Mr. Camperdown in wrath.

“Such evidence as there is would have gone to show that it had been spoken. But the very existence of such property so to be disposed of, or so not to be disposed of, is in itself an evil. Then, we have had to fight for six months about a lot of stones hardly so useful as the flags in the street, and then they vanish from us, leaving us nothing to repay us for our labour.” All of which Mr. Camperdown did not quite understand. Mr. Dove would be paid for his labour, as to which, however, Mr. Camperdown knew well that no human being was more indifferent than Mr. Dove.

There was much sorrow, too, among the police. They had no doubt succeeded in sending two scoundrels out of the social world, probably for life, and had succeeded in avoiding the reproach which a great robbery unaccounted for always entails upon them; but it was sad to them that the property should altogether have been lost; and sad also that they should have been constrained to allow Billy Cann to escape out of their hands. Perhaps the sadness may have been lessened to a certain degree in the breast of the great Mr. Gager by the charms and graces of Patience Crabstick, to whom he kept his word by making her his wife. This fact, or rather the prospect of this fact, as it then was, had also come to the knowledge of the learned sergeant, and in his hands had served to add another interest to the trial. Mr. Gager, when examined on the subject, did not attempt to deny the impeachment, and expressed a strong opinion that, though Miss Crabstick had given way to temptation under the wiles of the Jew, she would make an honest and an excellent wife. In which expectation let us trust that he may not be deceived.

Amusement had, indeed, been expected from other sources which failed. Mrs. Carbuncle had been summoned, and Lord George; but both of them had left town before the summons could reach them. It was rumoured that Mrs. Carbuncle, with her niece, had gone to join her husband at New York. At any rate, she disappeared altogether from London, leaving behind her an amount of debts which showed how extremely liberal in their dealings the great tradesmen of London will occasionally be. There were milliners’ bills which had been running for three years, and horse-dealers had given her credit year after year, though they had scarcely ever seen the colour of her money. One account, however, she had honestly settled. The hotel-keeper in Albemarle Street had been paid, and all the tribute had been packed and carried off from the scene of the proposed wedding banquet. What became of Lord George for the next six months nobody ever knew; but he appeared at Melton in the following November, and I do not know that any one dared to ask him questions about the Eustace diamonds.

Of Lizzie, and her future career, something further must be said in the concluding chapters of this work. She has been our heroine, and we must see her through her immediate troubles before we can leave her; but it may be as well to mention here that, although many threats had been uttered against her, not only by Mr. Camperdown and the other attorneys, but even by the judge himself, no punishment at all was inflicted upon her in regard to her recusancy, nor was any attempt made to punish her. The affair was over, and men were glad to avoid the necessity of troubling themselves further with the business. It was said that a case would be got up with the view of proving that she had not been ill at all, and that the Scotch doctor would be subjected to the loss of his degree, or whatever privileges in the healing art belonged to him; but nothing was done, and Lizzie triumphed in her success.

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