The burden of his position was so heavy on Lord Fawn’s mind that, on the Monday morning after leaving Fawn Court, he was hardly as true to the affairs of India as he himself would have wished. He was resolved to do what was right — if only he could find out what would be the right thing in his present difficulty. Not to break his word, not to be unjust, not to deviate by a hair’s breadth from that line of conduct which would be described as “honourable” in the circle to which he belonged; not to give his political enemies an opportunity for calumny — this was all in all to him. The young widow was very lovely and very rich, and it would have suited him well to marry her. It would still suit him well to do so, if she would make herself amenable to reason and the laws. He had assured himself that he was very much in love with her, and had already, in his imagination, received the distinguished heads of his party at Portray Castle. But he would give all this up — love, income, beauty, and castle — without a doubt, rather than find himself in the mess of having married a wife who had stolen a necklace, and who would not make restitution. He might marry her, and insist on giving it up afterwards; but he foresaw terrible difficulties in the way of such an arrangement. Lady Eustace was self-willed, and had already told him that she did not intend to keep the jewels in his house — but in her own! What should he do, so that no human being — not the most bigoted Tory that ever expressed scorn for a Whig lord — should be able to say that he had done wrong? He was engaged to the lady, and could not simply change his mind and give no reason. He believed in Mr. Camperdown; but he could hardly plead that belief, should he hereafter be accused of heartless misconduct. For aught he knew Lady Eustace might bring an action against him for breach of promise, and obtain a verdict and damages, and annihilate him as an Under-Secretary. How should he keep his hands quite clean?
Frank Greystock was, as far as he knew, Lizzie’s nearest relative in London. The dean was her uncle, but then the dean was down at Bobsborough. It might be necessary for him to go down to Bobsborough; but in the mean time he would see Frank Greystock. Greystock was as bitter a Tory as any in England. Greystock was the very man who had attacked him, Lord Fawn, in the House of Commons respecting the Sawab — making the attack quite personal — and that without a shadow of a cause! Within the short straight grooves of Lord Fawn’s intellect the remembrance of this supposed wrong was always running up and down, renewing its own soreness. He regarded Greystock as an enemy who would lose no opportunity of injuring him. In his weakness and littleness he was quite unable to judge of other men by himself. He would not go a hair’s breadth astray, if he knew it; but because Greystock had, in debate, called him timid and tyrannical, he believed that Greystock would stop short of nothing that might injure him. And yet he must appeal to Greystock. He did appeal, and in answer to his appeal Frank came to him at the India House. But Frank, before he saw Lord Fawn, had, as was fitting, been with his cousin.
Nothing was decided at this interview. Lord Fawn became more than ever convinced that the member for Bobsborough was his determined enemy, and Frank was more convinced than ever that Lord Fawn was an empty, stiff-necked, self-sufficient prig.
Greystock, of course, took his cousin’s part. He was there to do so; and he himself did not really know whether Lizzie was or was not entitled to the diamonds. The lie which she had first fabricated for the benefit of Mr. Benjamin when she had the jewels valued, and which she had since told with different degrees of precision to various people — to Lady Linlithgow, to Mr. Camperdown, to Lucy, and to Lord Fawn — she now repeated with increased precision to her cousin. Sir Florian, in putting the trinket into her hands, had explained to her that it was very valuable, and that she was to regard it as her own peculiar property. “If it was an heirloom he couldn’t do it,” Frank had said, with all the confidence of a practising barrister.
“He made it over as an heirloom to me,” said Lizzie, with plaintive tenderness.
“That’s nonsense, dear Lizzie.” Then she smiled sweetly on him, and patted the back of his hand with hers. She was very gentle with him, and bore his assumed superiority with pretty meekness. “He could not make it over as an heirloom to you. If it was his to give, he could give it to you.”
“It was his — certainly.”
“That is just what I cannot tell as yet, and what must be found out. If the diamonds formed part of an heirloom — and there is evidence that it is so — you must give them up. Sir Florian could only give away what was his own to give.”
“But Lord Fawn had no right to dictate.”
“Certainly not,” said Frank; and then he made a promise, which he knew to be rash, that he would stand by his pretty cousin in this affair. “I don’t see why you should assume that Lady Eustace is keeping property that doesn’t belong to her,” he said to Lord Fawn.
“I go by what Camperdown tells me,” said Lord Fawn.
“Mr. Camperdown is a very excellent attorney, and a most respectable man,” said Greystock. “I have nothing on earth to say against Mr. Camperdown. But Mr. Camperdown isn’t the law and the prophets, nor yet can we allow him to be judge and jury in such a case as this.”
“Surely, Mr. Greystock, you wouldn’t wish it to go before a jury.”
“You don’t understand me, Lord Fawn. If any claim be really made for these jewels by Mr. John Eustace on the part of the heir, or on behalf of the estate, a statement had better be submitted to counsel. The family deeds must be inspected, and no doubt counsel would agree in telling my cousin, Lady Eustace, what she should or what she should not do. In the mean time, I understand that you are engaged to marry her.”
“I was engaged to her, certainly,” said Lord Fawn.
“You can hardly mean to assert, my lord, that you intend to be untrue to your promise, and to throw over your own engagement because my cousin has expressed her wish to retain property which she believes to be her own!” This was said in a tone which made Lord Fawn surer than ever that Greystock was his enemy to the knife. Personally, he was not a coward; and he knew enough of the world to be quite sure that Greystock would not attempt any personal encounter. But morally, Lord Fawn was a coward, and he did fear that the man before him would work him some bitter injury. “You cannot mean that,” continued Frank, “and you will probably allow me to assure my cousin that she misunderstood you in the matter.”
“I’d sooner see Mr. Camperdown again before I say anything.”
“I cannot understand, Lord Fawn, that a gentleman should require an attorney to tell him what to do in such a case as this.” They were standing now, and Lord Fawn’s countenance was heavy, troubled, and full of doubt. He said nothing, and was probably altogether unaware how eloquent was his face. “My cousin, Lady Eustace,” continued Frank, “must not be kept in this suspense. I agree on her behalf that her title to these trinkets must be made the subject of inquiry by persons adequate to form a judgment. Of course, I, as her relative, shall take no part in that inquiry. But as her relative, I must demand from you an admission that your engagement with her cannot in any way be allowed to depend on the fate of those jewels. She has chosen to accept you as her future husband, and I am bound to see that she is treated with good faith, honour, and fair observance.”
Frank made his demand very well, while Lord Fawn was looking like a whipped dog. “Of course,” said his lordship, “all I want is, that the right thing should be done.”
“The right thing will be done. My cousin wishes to keep nothing that is not her own. I may tell her, then, that she will receive from you an assurance that you have had no intention of departing from your word.” After this, Lord Fawn made some attempt at a stipulation that this assurance to Lizzie was to be founded on the counter-assurance given to him that the matter of the diamonds should be decided by proper legal authority; but Frank would not submit to this, and at last the Under-Secretary yielded. The engagement was to remain in force. Counsel were to be employed. The two lovers were not to see each other just at present. And when the matter had been decided by the lawyers, Lord Fawn was to express his regret for having suspected his lady-love! That was the verbal agreement, according to Frank Greystock’s view of it. Lord Fawn, no doubt, would have declared that he had never consented to the latter stipulation.
About a week after this there was a meeting at Mr. Camperdown’s chambers. Greystock, as his cousin’s friend, attended to hear what Mr. Camperdown had to say in the presence of Lord Fawn and John Eustace. He, Frank, had in the mean time been down to Richmond, had taken Lucy to his arms as his future bride, and had been closeted with Lady Fawn. As a man who was doing his duty by Lucy Morris, he was welcomed and made much of by her ladyship; but it had been impossible to leave Lizzie’s name altogether unmentioned, and Frank had spoken as the champion of his cousin. Of course there had arisen something of ill-feeling between the two. Lady Fawn had taught herself to hate Lizzie, and was desirous that the match should be over, diamonds or no diamonds. She could not quite say this to her visitor, but she showed her feeling very plainly. Frank was courteous, cold, and resolute in presuming, or pretending to presume, that as a matter of course the marriage would take place. Lady Fawn intended to be civil, but she could not restrain her feeling; and though she did not dare to say that her son would have nothing more to do with Lizzie Eustace, she showed very plainly that she intended to work with that object. Of course the two did not part as cordial friends, and of course poor Lucy perceived that it was so. Before the meeting took place, Mr. Camperdown had been at work looking over old deeds. It is undoubtedly the case that things often become complicated which, from the greatness of their importance, should have been kept clear as running water. The diamonds in question had been bought, with other jewels, by Sir Florian’s grandfather, on the occasion of his marriage with the daughter of a certain duke, on which occasion old family jewels, which were said to have been heirlooms, were sold or given in exchange as part value for those then purchased. This grandfather, who had also been Sir Florian in his time, had expressly stated in his will that these jewels were to be regarded as an heirloom in the family, and had as such left them to his eldest son, and to that son’s eldest son, should such a child be born. His eldest son had possessed them, but not that son’s son. There was such a Eustace born, but he had died before his father. The younger son of that old Sir Florian had then succeeded as Sir Thomas, and he was the father of that Florian who had married Lizzie Eustace. That last Sir Florian had therefore been the fourth in succession from the old Sir Florian by whom the will had been made, and who had directed that these jewels should be regarded as heirlooms in the family. The two intermediate baronets had made no allusion to the diamonds in any deeds executed by them. Indeed, Sir Florian’s father had died without a will. There were other jewels, larger but much less valuable than the diamonds, still in the hands of the Messrs. Garnett, as to which no question was raised. The late Sir Florian had, by his will, left all the property in his house at Portray to his widow, but all property elsewhere to his heir. This was what Mr. Camperdown had at last learned, but he had been forced to admit to himself, while learning this, that there was confusion.
He was confident enough, however, that there was no difficulty in the matter. The Messrs. Garnett were able to say that the necklace had been in their keeping, with various other jewels still in their possession, from the time of the death of the late Lady Eustace, up to the marriage of the late Sir Florian, her son. They stated the date on which the jewels were given up to be the 24th of September, which was the day after Sir Florian’s return from Scotland with his bride. Lizzie’s first statement had coincided with this entry in the Messrs. Garnett’s books; but latterly she had asserted that the necklace had been given to her in Scotland. When Mr. Camperdown examined the entry himself in the jeweller’s book, he found the figures to be so blotted that they might represent either the 4th or 24th September. Now, the 4th September had been the day preceding Sir Florian’s marriage. John Eustace only knew that he had seen the necklace worn in Scotland by his mother. The bishop only knew that he had often seen them on the neck of his sister-inlaw when, as was very often the case, she appeared in full-blown society. Mr. Camperdown believed that he had traced two stories to Lizzie — one, repeated more than once, that the diamonds had been given to her in London, and a second, made to himself, that they had been given to her at Portray. He himself believed that they had never been in Scotland since the death of the former Lady Eustace; but he was quite confident that he could trust altogether to the disposition made of them by the old Sir Florian. There could be no doubt as to these being the diamonds there described, although the setting had been altered. Old Mr. Garnett stated that he would swear to them if he saw the necklace.
“You cannot suppose that Lady Eustace wishes to keep anything that is not her own,” said Frank Greystock.
“Of course not,” said John Eustace.
“Nobody imagines it,” said Mr. Camperdown. Lord Fawn, who felt that he ought not to be there, and who did not know whether he might with a better grace take Lizzie’s part or a part against her, said nothing. “But,” continued Mr. Camperdown, “there is luckily no doubt as to the facts. The diamonds in question formed a part of a set of most valuable ornaments settled in the family by Sir Florian Eustace in 1799. The deed was drawn up by my grandfather, and is now here. I do not know how we are to have further proof. Will you look at the deed, Mr. Greystock, and at the will?” Frank suggested that as it might probably be expedient to take advice on the subject professionally, he had rather not look at the deed. Anything which he might say, on looking at the document now, could have no weight. “But why should any advice be necessary,” said Mr. Camperdown, “when the matter is so clear?”
“My dear sir,” said Frank, “my cousin, Lady Eustace, is strong in her confidence that her late husband intended to give them to her as her own, and that he would not have done this without the power of doing so.” Now Mr. Camperdown was quite sure that Lizzie was lying in this, and could therefore make no adequate answer. “Your experience must probably have told you,” continued Frank, “that there is considerable difficulty in dealing with the matter of heirlooms.”
“I never heard of any such difficulty,” said Mr. Camperdown.
“People generally understand it all so clearly,” said Lord Fawn.
“The late Sir Florian does not appear to have understood it very clearly,” said Frank.
“Let her put them into the hands of any indifferent person or firm till the matter is decided,” said Mr. Camperdown. “They will be much safer so than in her keeping.”
“I think they are quite safe,” said Frank.
And this was all that took place at that meeting. As Mr. Camperdown said to John Eustace, it was manifest enough that she meant “to hang on to them.” “I only hope Lord Fawn will not be fool enough to marry her,” said Mr. Camperdown. Lord Fawn himself was of the same way of thinking; but then how was he to clear his character of the charge which would be brought against him; and how was he to stand his ground before Frank Greystock?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14