As soon as the words were out of Mrs. Carbuncle’s mouth — those ill-natured words in which she expressed her assent to Mr. Bunfit’s proposition that a search should be made after the diamonds among all the possessions of Lady Eustace which were now lodged in her own house — poor Lizzie’s courage deserted her entirely. She had been very courageous; for, though her powers of endurance had sometimes nearly deserted her, though her heart had often failed her, still she had gone on and had endured and been silent. To endure and to be silent in her position did require great courage. She was all alone in her misery, and could see no way out of it. The diamonds were heavy as a load of lead within her bosom. And yet she had persevered. Now, as she heard Mrs. Carbuncle’s words, her courage failed her. There came some obstruction in her throat, so that she could not speak. She felt as though her heart were breaking. She put out both her hands and could not draw them back again. She knew that she was betraying herself by her weakness. She could just hear the man explaining that the search was merely a thing of ceremony — just to satisfy everybody that there was no mistake — and then she fainted. So far, Barrington Erle was correct in the information given by him to Lady Glencora. She pressed one hand against her heart, gasped for breath, and then fell back upon the sofa. Perhaps she could have done nothing better. Had the fainting been counterfeit, the measure would have shown ability. But the fainting was altogether true. Mrs. Carbuncle first, and then Mr. Bunfit, hurried from their seats to help her. To neither of them did it occur for a moment that the fit was false.
“The whole thing has been too much for her,” said Mrs. Carbuncle severely, ringing the bell at the same time for further aid.
“No doubt — mum; no doubt. We has to see a deal of this sort of thing. Just a little air, if you please, mum — and as much water as’d go to christen a babby. That’s always best, mum.”
“If you’ll have the kindness to stand on one side,” said Mrs. Carbuncle, as she stretched Lizzie on the sofa.
“Certainly, mum,” said Bunfit, standing erect by the wall, but not showing the slightest disposition to leave the room.
“You had better go,” said Mrs. Carbuncle — loudly and very severely.
“I’ll just stay and see her come to, mum. I won’t do her a morsel of harm, mum. Sometimes they faints at the very first sight of such as we; but we has to bear it. A little more air, if you could, mum — and just dash the water on in drops like. They feels a drop more than they would a bucket-full — and then when they comes to they hasn’t to change theirselves.”
Bunfit’s advice, founded on much experience, was good, and Lizzie gradually came to herself and opened her eyes. She immediately clutched at her breast, feeling for her key. She found it unmoved, but before her finger had recognised the touch, her quick mind had told her how wrong the movement had been. It had been lost upon Mrs. Carbuncle, but not on Mr. Bunfit. He did not at once think that she had the diamonds in her desk; but he felt almost sure that there was something in her possession — probably some document — which, if found, would place him on the track of the diamonds. But he could not compel a search. “Your ladyship’ll soon be better,” said Bunfit graciously. Lizzie endeavoured to smile as she expressed her assent to this proposition. “As I was saying to the elder lady ——”
“Saying to who, sir?” exclaimed Mrs. Carbuncle, rising up in wrath. “Elder indeed!”
“As I was venturing to explain, these fits of fainting come often in our way. Thieves, mum — that is, the regulars — don’t mind us a bit, and the women is more hardeneder than the men; but when we has to speak to a lady, it is so often that she goes off like that! I’ve known’m do it just at being looked at.”
“Don’t you think, sir, that you’d better leave us now?” said Mrs. Carbuncle.
“Indeed you had,” said Lizzie. “I’m fit for nothing just at present.”
“We won’t disturb your ladyship the least in life,” said Mr. Bunfit, “if you’ll only just let us have your keys. Your servant can be with us, and we won’t move one tittle of anything.” But Lizzie, though she was still suffering that ineffable sickness which always accompanies and follows a real fainting-fit, would not surrender her keys. Already had an excuse for not doing so occurred to her. But for a while she seemed to hesitate. “I don’t demand it, Lady Eustace,” said Mr. Bunfit, “but if you’ll allow me to say so, I do think it will look better for your ladyship.”
“I can take no step without consulting my cousin, Mr. Greystock,” said Lizzie; and having thought of this she adhered to it. The detective supplied her with many reasons for giving up her keys, alleging that it would do no harm, and that her refusal would create infinite suspicions. But Lizzie had formed her answer and stuck to it. She always consulted her cousin, and always acted upon his advice. He had already cautioned her not to take any steps without his sanction. She would do nothing till he consented. If Mr. Bunfit would see Mr. Greystock, and if Mr. Greystock would come to her and tell her to submit — she would submit. Ill as she was, she could be obstinate, and Bunfit left the house without having been able to finger that key which he felt sure that Lady Eustace carried somewhere on her person.
As he walked back to his own quarters in Scotland Yard, Bunfit was by no means dissatisfied with his morning’s work. He had not expected to find anything with Lady Eustace, and, when she fainted, had not hoped to be allowed to search. But he was now sure that her ladyship was possessed, at any rate, of some guilty knowledge. Bunfit was one of those who, almost from the first, had believed that the box was empty when taken out of the hotel. “Stones like them must turn up more or less,” was Bunfit’s great argument. That the police should already have found the stones themselves was not perhaps probable; but had any ordinary thieves had them in their hands, they could not have been passed on without leaving a trace behind them. It was his opinion that the box had been opened and the door cut by the instrumentality and concurrence of Lord George de Bruce Carruthers, with the assistance of some one well-skilled mechanical thief. Nothing could be made out of the tall footman. Indeed, the tall footman had already been set at liberty, although he was known to have evil associates; and the tall footman was now loud in demanding compensation for the injury done to him. Many believed that the tall footman had been concerned in the matter, many, that is, among the experienced craftsmen of the police force. Bunfit thought otherwise. Bunfit believed that the diamonds were now either in the possession of Lord George or of Harter & Benjamin, that they had been handed over to Lord George to save them from Messrs. Camperdown and the lawsuit, and that Lord George and the lady were lovers. The lady’s conduct at their last interview, her fit of fainting, and her clutching for the key, all confirmed Bunfit in his opinion. But unfortunately for Bunfit he was almost alone in his opinion. There were men in the force, high in their profession as detectives, who avowed that certainly two very experienced and well-known thieves had been concerned in the business. That a certain Mr. Smiler had been there, a gentleman for whom the whole police of London entertained a feeling which approached to veneration, and that most diminutive of full-grown thieves, Billy Cann, most diminutive but at the same time most expert, was not doubted by some minds which were apt to doubt till conviction had become certainty. The traveller who had left the Scotch train at Dumfries had been a very small man, and it was a known fact that Mr. Smiler had left London by train from the Euston Square station, on the day before that on which Lizzie and her party had reached Carlisle. If it were so, if Mr. Smiler and Billy Cann had both been at work at the hotel, then — so argued they who opposed the Bunfit theory — it was hardly conceivable that the robbery should have been arranged by Lord George. According to the Bunfit theory the only thing needed by the conspirators had been that the diamonds should be handed over by Lady Eustace to Lord George in such a way as to escape suspicion that such transfer had been made. This might have been done with very little trouble, by simply leaving the box empty, with the key in it. The door of the bedroom had been opened by skilful professional men, and the box had been forced by the use of tools which none but professional gentlemen would possess. Was it probable that Lord George would have committed himself with such men, and incurred the very heavy expense of paying for their services, when he was, according to the Bunfit theory, able to get at the diamonds without any such trouble, danger, and expenditure? There was a young detective in the force, very clever — almost too clever, and certainly a little too fast — Gager by name, who declared that the Bunfit theory “warn’t on the cards.” According to Gager’s information, Smiler was at this moment a brokenhearted man, ranging between mad indignation and suicidal despondency, because he had been treated with treachery in some direction. Mr. Gager was as fully convinced as Bunfit that the diamonds had not been in the box. There was bitter, raging, heart-breaking disappointment about the diamonds in more quarters than one. That there had been a double robbery Gager was quite sure; or rather a robbery in which two sets of thieves had been concerned, and in which one set had been duped by the other set. In this affair Mr. Smiler and poor little Billy Cann had been the dupes. So far Gager’s mind had arrived at certainty. But then how had they been duped, and who had duped them? And who had employed them? Such a robbery would hardly have been arranged and executed except on commission. Even Mr. Smiler would not have burdened himself with such diamonds without knowing what to do with them, and what he should get for them. That they were intended ultimately for the hands of Messrs. Harter & Benjamin, Gager almost believed. And Gager was inclined to think that Messrs. Harter & Benjamin — or rather Mr. Benjamin, for Mr. Harter himself was almost too old for work requiring so very great mental activity — that Mr. Benjamin, fearing the honesty of his executive officer Mr. Smiler, had been splendidly treacherous to his subordinate. Gager had not quite completed his theory; but he was very firm on one great point, that the thieves at Carlisle had been genuine thieves, thinking that they were stealing the diamonds, and finding their mistake out when the box had been opened by them under the bridge. “Who have ’em, then?” asked Bunfit of his younger brother, in a disparaging whisper.
“Well; yes; who ‘ave ’em? It’s easy to say, who ‘ave ’em? Suppose ‘e ‘ave ’em.” The “he” alluded to by Gager was Lord George de Bruce Carruthers. “But laws, Bunfit, they’re gone — weeks ago. You know that, Bunfit.” This had occurred before the intended search among poor Lizzie’s boxes, but Bunfit’s theory had not been shaken. Bunfit could see all round his own theory. It was a whole, and the motives as well as the operations of the persons concerned were explained by it. But the Gager theory only went to show what had not been done, and offered no explanation of the accomplished scheme. Then Bunfit went a little further in his theory, not disdaining to accept something from Gager. Perhaps Lord George had engaged these men, and had afterwards found it practicable to get the diamonds without their assistance. On one great point all concerned in the inquiry were in unison — that the diamonds had not been in the box when it was carried out of the bedroom at Carlisle. The great point of difference consisted in this, that whereas Gager was sure that the robbery when committed had been genuine, Bunfit was of opinion that the box had been first opened, and then taken out of the hotel in order that the police might be put on a wrong track.
The matter was becoming very important. Two or three of the leading newspapers had first hinted at and then openly condemned the incompetence and slowness of the police. Such censure, as we all know, is very common, and in nine cases out of ten it is unjust. They who write it probably know but little of the circumstances; and, in speaking of a failure here and a failure there, make no reference to the numerous successes, which are so customary as to partake of the nature of routine. It is the same in regard to all public matters; army matters, navy matters, poor-law matters, and post-office matters. Day after day, and almost every day, one meets censure which is felt to be unjust; but the general result of all this injustice is increased efficiency. The coach does go the faster because of the whip in the coachman’s hand, though the horse driven may never have deserved the thong. In this matter of the Eustace diamonds the police had been very active; but they had been unsuccessful and had consequently been abused. The robbery was now more than three weeks old. Property to the amount of ten thousand pounds had been abstracted, and as yet the police had not even formed an assured opinion on the subject! Had the same thing occurred in New York or Paris every diamond would by this time have been traced. Such were the assertions made, and the police were instigated to new exertions. Bunfit would have jeopardised his right hand, and Gager his life, to get at the secret. Even Major Mackintosh was anxious.
The facts of the claim made by Mr. Camperdown, and of the bill which had been filed in Chancery for the recovery of the diamonds, were of course widely known, and added much to the general interest and complexity. It was averred that Mr. Camperdown’s determination to get the diamonds had been very energetic, and Lady Eustace’s determination to keep them equally so. Wonderful stories were told of Lizzie’s courage, energy, and resolution. There was hardly a lawyer of repute but took up the question, and had an opinion as to Lizzie’s right to the necklace. The Attorney and Solicitor-General were dead against her, asserting that the diamonds certainly did not pass to her under the will, and could not have become hers by gift. But they were members of a Liberal government, and of course Antilizzieite. Gentlemen who were equal to them in learning, who had held offices equally high, were distinctly of a different opinion. Lady Eustace might probably claim the jewels as paraphernalia properly appertaining to her rank; in which claim the bestowal of them by her husband would no doubt assist her. And to these gentlemen — who were Lizzieites and of course Conservatives in politics — it was by no means clear that the diamonds did not pass to her by will. If it could be shown that the diamonds had been lately kept in Scotland, the ex-Attorney-General thought that they would so pass. All which questions, now that the jewels had been lost, were discussed openly, and added greatly to the anxiety of the police. Both Lizzieites and Antilizzieites were disposed to think that Lizzie was very clever.
Frank Greystock in these days took up his cousin’s part altogether in good faith. He entertained not the slightest suspicion that she was deceiving him in regard to the diamonds. That the robbery had been a bona fide robbery, and that Lizzie had lost her treasure, was to him beyond doubt. He had gradually convinced himself that Mr. Camperdown was wrong in his claim, and was strongly of opinion that Lord Fawn had disgraced himself by his conduct to the lady. When he now heard, as he did hear, that some undefined suspicion was attached to his cousin, and when he heard also — as unfortunately he did hear — that Lord Fawn had encouraged that suspicion, he was very irate, and said grievous things of Lord Fawn. It seemed to him to be the extremity of cruelty that suspicion should be attached to his cousin because she had been robbed of her jewels. He was among those who were most severe in their denunciation of the police — and was the more so, because he had heard it asserted that the necklace had not in truth been stolen. He busied himself very much in the matter, and even interrogated John Eustace as to his intentions. “My dear fellow,” said Eustace, “if you hated those diamonds as much as I do, you would never mention them again.” Greystock declared that this expression of aversion to the subject might be all very well for Mr. Eustace, but that he found himself bound to defend his cousin. “You cannot defend her against me,” said Eustace, “for I do not attack her. I have never said a word against her. I went down to Portray when she asked me. As far as I am concerned she is perfectly welcome to wear the necklace, if she can get it back again. I will not make or meddle in the matter one way or the other.” Frank, after that, went to Mr. Camperdown, but he could get no satisfaction from the attorney. Mr. Camperdown would say only that he had a duty to do, and that he must do it. On the matter of the robbery he refused to give an opinion. That was in the hands of the police. Should the diamonds be recovered, he would, of course, claim them on behalf of the estate. In his opinion, whether the diamonds were recovered or not, Lady Eustace was responsible to the estate for their value. In opposition, first to the entreaties, and then to the demands, of her late husband’s family, she had insisted on absurdly carrying about with her an enormous amount of property which did not belong to her. Mr. Camperdown opined that she must pay for the lost diamonds out of her jointure. Frank, in a huff, declared that, as far as he could see, the diamonds belonged to his cousin; in answer to which Mr. Camperdown suggested that the question was one for the decision of the Vice-Chancellor. Frank Greystock found that he could do nothing with Mr. Camperdown, and felt that he could wreak his vengeance only on Lord Fawn.
Bunfit, when he returned from Mrs. Carbuncle’s house to Scotland Yard, had an interview with Major Mackintosh. “Well, Bunfit, have you seen the lady?”
“Yes, I did see her, sir.”
“And what came of it?”
“She fainted away, sir — just as they always do.”
“There was no search, I suppose?”
“No, sir; no search. She wouldn’t have it, unless her cousin. Mr. Greystock, permitted.”
“I didn’t think she would.”
“Nor yet didn’t I, sir. But I’ll tell you what it is, major. She knows all about it.”
“You think she does, Bunfit?”
“She does, sir; and she’s got something locked up somewhere in that house as’d elucidate the whole of this aggravating mystery, if only we could get at it, Major ——”
“I ain’t noways sure as she ain’t got them very diamonds themselves locked up, or, perhaps, tied round her person.”
“Neither am I sure that she has not,” said the major.
“The robbery at Carlisle was no robbery,” continued Bunfit. “It was a got-up plant, and about the best as I ever knowed. It’s my mind that it was a got-up plant between her ladyship and his lordship; and either the one or the other is just keeping the diamonds till it’s safe to take ’em into the market.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01