When such a man as Barrington Erle undertakes to send information to such a correspondent as Lady Glencora in reference to such a matter as Lady Eustace’s diamonds, he is bound to be full rather than accurate. We may say, indeed, that perfect accuracy would be detrimental rather than otherwise, and would tend to disperse that feeling of mystery which is so gratifying. No suggestion had in truth been made to Lord George de Bruce Carruthers as to the searching of his lordship’s boxes and desks. That very eminent detective officer, Mr. Bunfit, had, however, called upon Lord George more than once, and Lord George had declared very plainly that he did not like it.
“If you’ll have the kindness to explain to me what it is you want, I’ll be much obliged to you,” Lord George had said to Mr. Bunfit.
“Well, my lord,” said Bunfit, “what we want is these diamonds.”
“Do you believe that I’ve got them?”
“A man in my situation, my lord, never believes anything. “We has to suspect, but we never believes.”
“You suspect that I stole them?”
“No, my lord; I didn’t say that. But things are very queer; aren’t they?” The immediate object of Mr. Bunfit’s visit on this morning had been to ascertain from Lord George whether it was true that his lordship had been with Messrs. Harter & Benjamin, the jewellers, on the morning after his arrival in town. No one from the police had as yet seen either Harter or Benjamin in connection with this robbery; but it may not be too much to say that the argus eyes of Major Mackintosh were upon Messrs. Harter & Benjamin’s whole establishment, and it was believed that if the jewels were in London they were locked up in some box within that house. It was thought more than probable by Major Mackintosh and his myrmidons that the jewels were already at Hamburg; and by this time, as the major had explained to Mr. Camperdown, every one of them might have been reset, or even recut. But it was known that Lord George had been at the house of Messrs. Harter & Benjamin early on the morning after his return to town, and the ingenuous Mr. Bunfit, who, by reason of his situation, never believed anything and only suspected, had expressed a very strong opinion to Major Mackintosh that the necklace had in truth been transferred to the Jews on that morning. That there was nothing “too hot or too heavy” for Messrs. Harter & Benjamin, was quite a creed with the police of the west end of London. Might it not be well to ask Lord George what he had to say about the visit? Should Lord George deny the visit, such denial would go far to confirm Mr. Bunfit. The question was asked, and Lord George did not deny the visit.
“Unfortunately they hold acceptances of mine,” said Lord George, “and I am often there.”
“We know as they have your lordship’s name to paper,” said Mr. Bunfit, thanking Lord George, however, for his courtesy. It may be understood that all this would be unpleasant to Lord George, and that he should be indignant almost to madness.
But Mr. Erle’s information, though certainly defective in regard to Lord George de Bruce Carruthers, had been more correct when he spoke of the lady. An interview that was very terrible to poor Lizzie did take place between her and Mr. Bunfit in Mrs. Carbuncle’s house on Tuesday the 3Oth of January. There had been many interviews between Lizzie and various members of the police force in reference to the diamonds, but the questions put to her had always been asked on the supposition that she might have mislaid the necklace. Was it not possible that she might have thought that she locked it up, but have omitted to place it in the box? As long as these questions had reference to a possible oversight in Scotland, to some carelessness which she might have committed on the night before she left her home, Lizzie upon the whole seemed rather to like the idea. It certainly was possible. She believed thoroughly that the diamonds had been locked by her in the box, but she acknowledged that it might be the case that they had been left on one side. This had happened when the police first began to suspect that the necklace had not been in the box when it was carried out of the Carlisle hotel, but before it had occurred to them that Lord George had been concerned in the robbery, and possibly Lady Eustace herself. Men had been sent down from London, of course at considerable expense, and Portray Castle had been searched, with the consent of its owner, from the weathercock to the foundation-stone, much to the consternation of Miss Macnulty and to the delight of Andy Gowran. No trace of the diamonds was found, and Lizzie had so far fraternised with the police. But when Mr. Bunfit called upon her, perhaps for the fifth or sixth time, and suggested that he should be allowed, with the assistance of the female whom he had left behind him in the hall, to search all her ladyship’s boxes, drawers, presses, and receptacles in London, the thing took a very different aspect. “You see, my lady,” said Mr. Bunfit, excusing the peculiar nature of his request, “it may have got anywhere among your ladyship’s things unbeknownst.” Lady Eustace and Mrs. Carbuncle were at the time sitting together, and Mrs. Carbuncle was the first to protest. If Mr. Bunfit thought that he was going to search her things, Mr. Bunfit was very much mistaken. What she had suffered about this necklace no man or woman knew, and she meant that there should be an end of it. It was her opinion that the police should have discovered every stone of it days and days ago. At any rate her house was her own, and she gave Mr. Bunfit to understand that his repeated visits were not agreeable to her. But when Mr. Bunfit, without showing the slightest displeasure at the evil things said of him, suggested that the search should be confined to the rooms used exclusively by Lady Eustace, Mrs. Carbuncle absolutely changed her views, and recommended that he should be allowed to have his way.
At that moment the condition of poor Lizzie Eustace was very sad. He who recounts these details has scorned to have a secret between himself and his readers. The diamonds were at this moment locked up within Lizzie’s desk. For the last three weeks they had been there — if it may not be more truly said that they were lying heavily on her heart. For three weeks had her mind with constant stretch been working on that point — whither should she take the diamonds, and what should she do with them? A certain very wonderful strength she did possess, or she could not have endured the weight of so terrible an anxiety; but from day to day the thing became worse and worse with her, as gradually she perceived that suspicion was attached to herself. Should she confide the secret to Lord George, or to Mrs. Carbuncle, or to Frank Greystock? She thought she could have borne it all if only some one would have borne it with her. But when the moments came in which such confidence might be made, her courage failed her. Lord George she saw frequently; but he was unsympathetic and almost rough with her. She knew that he also was suspected, and she was almost disposed to think that he had planned the robbery. If it were so, if the robbery had been his handiwork, it was not singular that he should be unsympathetic with the owner and probable holder of the prey which he had missed. Nevertheless Lizzie thought that if he would have been soft with her, like a dear, good, genuine Corsair, for half an hour, she would have told him all, and placed the necklace in his hands. And there were moments in which she almost resolved to tell her secret to Mrs. Carbuncle. She had stolen nothing; so she averred to herself. She had intended only to defend and save her own property. Even the lie that she had told, and the telling of which was continued from day to day, had in a measure been forced upon her by circumstances. She thought that Mrs. Carbuncle would sympathise with her in that feeling which had prevented her from speaking the truth when first the fact of the robbery was made known to herself in her own bedroom. Mrs. Carbuncle was a lady who told many lies, as Lizzie well knew, and surely could not be horrified at a lie told in such circumstances. But it was not in Lizzie’s nature to trust a woman. Mrs. Carbuncle would tell Lord George, and that would destroy everything. When she thought of confiding everything to her cousin, it was always in his absence. The idea became dreadful to her as soon as he was present. She could not dare to own to him that she had sworn falsely to the magistrate at Carlisle. And so the burden had to be borne, increasing every hour in weight, and the poor creature’s back was not broad enough to bear it. She thought of the necklace every waking minute, and dreamed of it when she slept. She could not keep herself from unlocking her desk and looking at it twenty times a day, although she knew the peril of such nervous solicitude. If she could only rid herself of it altogether, she was sure now that she would do so. She would throw it into the ocean fathoms deep, if only she could find herself alone upon the ocean. But she felt that, let her go where she might, she would be watched. She might declare tomorrow her intention of going to Ireland, or, for that matter, to America. But, were she to do so, some horrid policeman would be on her track. The iron box had been a terrible nuisance to her; but the iron box had been as nothing compared to the necklace locked up in her desk. From day to day she meditated a plan of taking the thing out into the streets and dropping it in the dark; but she was sure that were she to do so some one would have watched her while she dropped it. She was unwilling to trust her old friend Mr. Benjamin; but in these days her favourite scheme was to offer the diamonds for sale to him at some very low price. If he would help her, they might surely be got out of their present hiding-place into his hands. Any man would be powerful to help if there were any man whom she could trust. In furtherance of this scheme she went so far as to break a brooch — a favourite brooch of her own — in order that she might have an excuse for calling at the jewellers’. But even this she postponed from day to day. Circumstances, as they had occurred, had taught her to believe that the police could not insist on breaking open her desk unless some evidence could be brought against her. There was no evidence, and her desk was so far safe. But the same circumstances had made her understand that she was already suspected of some intrigue with reference to the diamonds — though of what she was suspected she did not clearly perceive. As far as she could divine the thoughts of her enemies, they did not seem to suppose that the diamonds were in her possession. It seemed to be believed by those enemies that they had passed into the hands of Lord George. As long as her enemies were on a scent so false, might it not be best that she should remain quiet?
But all the ingenuity, the concentrated force, and trained experience of the police of London would surely be too great and powerful for her in the long run. She could not hope to keep her secret and the diamonds till they should acknowledge themselves to be baffled. And then she was aware of a morbid desire on her own part to tell the secret — of a desire that amounted almost to a disease. It would soon burst her bosom open, unless she could share her knowledge with some one. And yet, as she thought of it all, she told herself that she had no friend so fast and true as to justify such confidence. She was ill with anxiety, and — worse than that — Mrs. Carbuncle knew that she was ill. It was acknowledged between them that this affair of the necklace was so terrible as to make a woman ill. Mrs. Carbuncle at present had been gracious enough to admit so much as that. But might it not be probable that Mrs. Carbuncle would come to suspect that she did not know the whole secret? Mrs. Carbuncle had already, on more than one occasion, said a little word or two which had been unpleasant. Such was Lizzie’s condition when Mr. Bunfit came, with his authoritative request to be allowed to inspect Lizzie’s boxes — and when Mrs. Carbuncle, having secured her own privacy, expressed her opinion that Mr. Bunfit should be allowed to do as he desired.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14