Let it not be supposed that Lady Eustace during these summer weeks was living the life of a recluse. The London season was in its full splendour, and she was by no means a recluse. During the first year of her widowhood she had been every inch a widow, as far as crape would go, and a quiet life either at Bobsborough or Portray Castle. During this year her child was born, and she was in every way thrown upon her good behaviour, living with bishops’ wives and deans’ daughters. Two years of retreat from the world is generally thought to be the proper thing for a widow. Lizzie had not quite accomplished her two years before she reopened the campaign in Mount Street with very small remnants of weeds, and with her crape brought down to a minimum; but she was young and rich, and the world is aware that a woman of twenty-two can hardly afford to sacrifice two whole years. In the matter of her widowhood Lizzie did not encounter very much reproach. She was not shunned, or so ill spoken of as to have a widely-spread bad name among the streets and squares in which her carriage-wheels rolled. People called her a flirt, held up their hands in surprise at Sir Florian’s foolish generosity — for the accounts of Lizzie’s wealth were greatly exaggerated — and said that of course she would marry again.
The general belief which often seizes upon the world in regard to some special falsehood is very surprising. Everybody on a sudden adopts an idea that some particular man is over head and ears in debt, so that he can hardly leave his house for fear of the bailiffs; or that some ill-fated woman is cruelly ill-used by her husband; or that some eldest son has ruined his father; whereas the man doesn’t owe a shilling, the woman never hears a harsh word from her lord, and the eldest son in question has never succeeded in obtaining a shilling beyond his allowance. One of the lies about London this season was founded on the extent of Lady Eustace’s jointure. Indeed the lie went to state that the jointure was more than a jointure. It was believed that the property in Ayrshire was her own, to do what she pleased with it. That the property in Ayrshire was taken at double its value was a matter of course. It had been declared, at the time of his marriage, that Sir Florian had been especially generous to his penniless wife, and the generosity was magnified in the ordinary way. No doubt Lizzie’s own diligence had done much to propagate the story as to her positive ownership of Portray. Mr. Camperdown had been very busy denying this. John Eustace had denied it whenever occasion offered. The bishop in his quiet way had denied it. Lady Linlithgow had denied it. But the lie had been set on foot and had thriven, and there was hardly a man about town who didn’t know that Lady Eustace had eight or nine thousand a year, altogether at her own disposal, down in Scotland. Of course a woman so endowed, so rich, so beautiful, so clever, so young, would marry again, and would marry well. No doubt, added to this there was a feeling that “Lizzie,” as she was not uncommonly called by people who had hardly ever seen her, had something amiss with it all. “I don’t know where it is she’s lame,” said that very clever man, Captain Boodle, who had lately reappeared among his military friends at his club, “but she don’t go flat all round.”
“She has the devil of a temper, no doubt,” said Lieutenant Griggs.
“No mouth, I should say,” said Boodle. It was thus that Lizzie was talked about at the clubs; but she was asked to dinners and balls, and gave little dinners herself, and to a certain extent was the fashion. Everybody had declared that of course she would marry again, and now it was known everywhere that she was engaged to Lord Fawn.
“Poor dear Lord Fawn!” said Lady Glencora Palliser to her dear friend Madame Max Goesler; “do you remember how violently he was in love with Violet Effingham two years ago?”
“Two years is a long time, Lady Glencora; and Violet Effingham has chosen another husband.”
“But isn’t this a fall for him? Violet was the sweetest girl out, and at one time I really thought she meant to take him.”
“I thought she meant to take another man whom she did not take,” said Mme. Goesler, who had her own recollections, who was a widow herself, and who, at the period to which Lady Glencora was referring, had thought that perhaps she might cease to be a widow. Not that she had ever suggested to herself that Lord Fawn might be her second husband.
“Poor Lord Fawn!” continued Lady Glencora. “I suppose he is terribly in want of money.”
“But surely Lady Eustace is very pretty.”
“Yes; she is very pretty; nay more, she is quite lovely to look at. And she is clever, very. And she is rich, very. But ——”
“Well, Lady Glencora. What does your ‘but’ mean?”
“Who ever explains a ‘but’? You’re a great deal too clever, Mme. Goesler, to want any explanation. And I couldn’t explain it. I can only say I’m sorry for poor Lord Fawn, who is a gentleman, but will never set the Thames on fire.”
“No, indeed. All the same, I like Lord Fawn extremely,” said Mme. Goesler, “and I think he’s just the man to marry Lady Eustace. He’s always at his office or at the House.”
“A man may be a great deal at his office, and a great deal more at the House than Lord Fawn,” said Lady Glencora laughing, “and yet think about his wife, my dear.” For of all men known, no man spent more hours at the House or in his office than did Lady Glencora’s husband, Mr. Palliser, who at this time, and had now for more than two years, filled the high place of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
This conversation took place in Mme. Goesler’s little drawing-room in Park Lane; but, three days after this, the same two ladies met again at the house then occupied by Lady Chiltern in Portman Square — Lady Chiltern, with whom, as Violet Effingham, poor Lord Fawn had been much in love. “I think it the nicest match in the world for him,” Lady Chiltern had said to Mme. Goesler.
“But have you heard of the diamonds?” asked Lady Glencora.
“What diamonds?” “Whose diamonds?” Neither of the others had heard of the diamonds, and Lady Glencora was able to tell her story. Lady Eustace had found all the family jewels belonging to the Eustace family in the strong plate-room at Portray Castle, and had taken possession of them as property found in her own house. John Eustace and the bishop had combined in demanding them on behalf of the heir, and a lawsuit had been commenced! The diamonds were the most costly belonging to any commoner in England, and had been valued at twenty-four thousand pounds! Lord Fawn had retreated from his engagement the moment he heard that any doubt was thrown on Lady Eustace’s right to their possession! Lady Eustace had declared her intention of bringing an action against Lord Fawn, and had also secreted the diamonds! The reader will be aware that this statement was by no means an accurate history of the difficulty as far as it had as yet progressed. It was, indeed, absolutely false in every detail; but it sufficed to show that the matter was becoming public.
“You don’t mean to say that Lord Fawn is off?” asked Mme. Goesler.
“I do,” said Lady Glencora.
“Poor Lord Fawn!” exclaimed Lady Chiltern. “It really seems as though he never would be settled.”
“I don’t think he has courage enough for such conduct as that,” said Mme. Goesler.
“And besides, Lady Eustace’s income is quite certain,” said Lady Chiltern, “and poor dear Lord Fawn does want money so badly.”
“But it is very disagreeable,” said Lady Glencora, “to believe that your wife has got the finest diamonds in England, and then to find that she has only — stolen them. I think Lord Fawn is right. If a man does marry for money, he should have the money. I wonder she ever took him. There is no doubt about her beauty, and she might have done better.”
“I won’t hear Lord Fawn belittled,” said Lady Chiltern.
“Done better!” said Mme. Goesler. “How could she have done better? He is a peer, and her son would be a peer. I don’t think she could have done better.” Lady Glencora in her time had wished to marry a man who had sought her for her money. Lady Chiltern in her time had refused to be Lady Fawn. Mme. Goesler in her time had declined to marry an English peer. There was, therefore, something more of interest in the conversation to each of them than was quite expressed in the words spoken. “Is she to be at your party on Friday, Lady Glencora?” asked Mme. Goesler.
“She has said she would come, and so has Lord Fawn; for that matter, Lord Fawn dines with us. She’ll find that out, and then she’ll stay away.”
“Not she,” said Lady Chiltern. “She’ll come for the sake of the bravado. She’s not the woman to show the white feather.”
“If he’s ill-using her she’s quite right,” said Mme. Goesler.
“And wear the very diamonds in dispute,” said Lady Chiltern. It was thus that the matter was discussed among ladies in the town.
“Is Fawn’s marriage going on?” This question was asked of Mr. Legge Wilson by Barrington Erle. Mr. Legge Wilson was the Secretary of State for India, and Barrington Erle was in the Government.
“Upon my word I don’t know,” said Mr. Wilson. “The work goes on at the office; that’s all I know about Fawn. He hasn’t told me of his marriage, and therefore I haven’t spoken to him about it.”
“He hasn’t made it official?”
“The papers haven’t come before me yet,” said Mr. Wilson.
“When they do they’ll be very awkward papers, as far as I hear,” said Barrington Erle. “There is no doubt they were engaged, and I believe there is no doubt that he has declared off, and refused to give any reason.”
“I suppose the money is not all there,” suggested Mr. Wilson.
“There’s a queer story going about as to some diamonds. No one knows whom they belong to, and they say that Fawn has accused her of stealing them. He wants to get hold of them, and she won’t give them up. I believe the lawyers are to have a shy at it. I’m sorry for Fawn. It’ll do him a deal of mischief.”
“You’ll find he won’t come out much amiss,” said Mr. Legge Wilson. “He’s as cautious a man as there is in London. If there is anything wrong ——”
“There’s a great deal wrong,” said Barrington Erle.
“You’ll find it will be on her side.”
“And you’ll find also that she’ll contrive that all the blame shall lie upon him. She’s clever enough for anything! Who’s to be the new bishop?”
“I have not heard Gresham say as yet; Jones, I should think,” said Mr. Wilson.
“And who is Jones?”
“A clergyman, I suppose, of the safe sort. I don’t know that anything else is necessary.” From which it will be seen that Mr. Wilson had his own opinion about church matters, and also that people very high up in the world were concerning themselves about poor Lizzie’s affairs.
Lady Eustace did go to Lady Glencora’s evening party, in spite of Mr. Camperdown and all her difficulties. Lady Chiltern had been quite right in saying that Lizzie was not the woman to show the white feather. She went, knowing that she would meet Lord Fawn, and she did wear the diamonds. It was the first time that they had been round her neck since the occasion in respect to which Sir Florian had placed them in her hands, and it had not been without much screwing up of her courage that she had resolved to appear on this occasion with the much talked-of ornament upon her person. It was now something over a fortnight since she had parted with Lord Fawn at Fawn Court; and, although they were still presumed to be engaged to marry each other, and were both living in London, she had not seen him since. A sort of message had reached her, through Frank Greystock, to the effect that Lord Fawn thought it as well that they should not meet till the matter was settled. Stipulations had been made by Frank on her behalf, and this had been inserted among them. She had received the message with scorn — with a mixture of scorn and gratitude — of scorn in regard to the man who had promised to marry her, and of affectionate gratitude to the cousin who had made the arrangement. “Of course I shall not wish to see him while he chooses to entertain such an idea,” she had said, “but I shall not keep out of his way. You would not wish me to keep out of his way, Frank?” When she received a card for Lady Glencora’s party, very soon after this, she was careful to answer it in such a manner as to impress Lady Glencora with a remembrance of her assent. Lord Fawn would probably be there, unless he remained away in order to avoid her. Then she had ten days in which to make up her mind as to wearing the diamonds. Her courage was good; but then her ignorance was so great! She did not know whether Mr. Camperdown might not contrive to have them taken by violence from her neck, even on Lady Glencora’s stairs. Her best security, so she thought, would be in the fact that Mr. Camperdown would not know of her purpose. She told no one, not even Miss Macnulty, but she appeared before that lady, arrayed in all her beauty, just as she was about to descend to her carriage.
“You’ve got the necklace on!” said Miss Macnulty.
“Why should I not wear my own necklace?” she asked, with assumed anger.
Lady Glencora’s rooms were already very full when Lizzie entered them, but she was without a gentleman, and room was made for her to pass quickly up the stairs. The diamonds had been recognised by many before she had reached the drawing-room; not that these very diamonds were known, or that there was a special memory for that necklace; but the subject had been so generally discussed, that the blaze of the stones immediately brought it to the minds of men and women. “There she is, with poor Eustace’s twenty thousand pounds round her neck,” said Laurence Fitzgibbon to his friend Barrington Erle. “And there is Lord Fawn going to look after them,” replied the other.
Lord Fawn thought it right, at any rate, to look after his bride. Lady Glencora had whispered into his ear before they went down to dinner that Lady Eustace would be there in the evening, so that he might have the option of escaping or remaining. Could he have escaped without any one knowing that he had escaped, he would not have gone up-stairs after dinner; but he knew that he was observed; he knew that people were talking about him; and he did not like it to be said that he had run away. He went up, thinking much of it all, and as soon as he saw Lady Eustace he made his way to her and accosted her. Many eyes were upon them, but no ear probably heard how infinitely unimportant were the words which they spoke to each other. Her manner was excellent. She smiled and gave him her hand — just her hand without the slightest pressure — and spoke a half-whispered word, looking into his face, but betraying nothing by her look. Then he asked her whether she would dance. Yes; she would stand up for a quadrille; and they did stand up for a quadrille. As she danced with no one else, it was clear that she treated Lord Fawn as her lover. As soon as the dance was done she took his arm and moved for a few minutes about the room with him. She was very conscious of the diamonds, but she did not show the feeling in her face. He also was conscious of them, and he did show it. He did not recognise the necklace, but he knew well that this was the very bone of contention. They were very beautiful, and seemed to him to outshine all other jewelry in the room. And Lady Eustace was a woman of whom it might almost be said that she ought to wear diamonds. She was made to sparkle, to be bright with outside garniture — to shine and glitter, and be rich in apparel. The only doubt might be whether paste diamonds might not better suit her character. But these were not paste, and she did shine and glitter and was very rich. It must not be brought as an accusation against Lady Glencora’s guests that they pressed round to look at the necklace. Lady Glencora’s guests knew better than to do that. But there was some slight ferment — slight, but still felt both by Lord Fawn and by Lady Eustace. Eyes were turned upon the diamonds, and there were whispers here and there. Lizzie bore it very well; but Lord Fawn was uncomfortable.
“I like her for wearing them,” said Lady Glencora to Lady Chiltern.
“Yes — if she means to keep them. I don’t pretend, however, to know anything about it. You see the match isn’t off.”
“I suppose not. What do you think I did? He dined here, you know, and, before going down-stairs, I told him that she was coming. I thought it only fair.”
“And what did he say?”
“I took care that he shouldn’t have to say anything; but, to tell the truth, I didn’t expect him to come up.”
“There can’t be any quarrel at all,” said Lady Chiltern.
“I’m not sure of that,” said Lady Glencora. “They are not so very loving.”
Lady Eustace made the most of her opportunity. Soon after the quadrille was over she asked Lord Fawn to get her carriage for her. Of course he got it, and of course he put her into it, passing up and down stairs twice in his efforts on her behalf. And of course all the world saw what he was doing. Up to the last moment not a word had been spoken between them that might not have passed between the most ordinary acquaintance; but, as she took her seat, she put her face forward and did say a word. “You had better come to me soon,” she said.
“I will,” said Lord Fawn.
“Yes; you had better come soon. All this is wearing me — perhaps more than you think.”
“I will come soon,” said Lord Fawn, and then he returned among Lady Glencora’s guests, very uncomfortable. Lizzie got home in safety and locked up her diamonds in the iron box.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14