John Eustace, Lady Eustace’s brother-inlaw, had told his friend Greystock, the lady’s cousin, that Mr. Camperdown the lawyer intended to “jump upon” that lady. Making such allowance and deduction from the force of these words as the slang expression requires, we may say that John Eustace was right. Mr. Camperdown was in earnest, and did intend to obtain the restoration of those jewels. Mr. Camperdown was a gentleman of about sixty, who had been lawyer to Sir Florian’s father, and whose father had been lawyer to Sir Florian’s grandfather. His connection with the property and with the family was of a nature to allow him to take almost any liberty with the Eustaces. When therefore John Eustace, in regard to those diamonds, had pleaded that the heir in his long minority would obtain ample means of buying more diamonds, and of suggesting that the plunder for the sake of tranquillity should be allowed, Mr. Camperdown took upon himself to say that he’d “be —— if he’d put up with it.”
“I really don’t know what you are to do,” said John Eustace.
“I’ll file a bill in Chancery, if it’s necessary,” said the old lawyer. “Heaven on earth! as trustee how are you to reconcile yourself to such a robbery? They represent £500 a year forever, and she is to have them simply because she chooses to take them!”
“I suppose Florian could have given them away. At any rate, he could have sold them.”
“I don’t know that,” said Mr. Camperdown. “I have not looked as yet, but I think that this necklace has been made an heirloom. At any rate, it represents an amount of property that shouldn’t and couldn’t be made over legally without some visible evidence of transfer. It’s as clear a case of stealing as I ever knew in my life, and as bad a case. She hadn’t a farthing, and she has got the whole of the Ayrshire property for her life. She goes about and tells everybody that it’s hers to sell tomorrow if she pleases to sell it. No, John”— Mr. Camperdown had known Eustace when he was a boy, and had watched him become a man, and hadn’t yet learned to drop the name by which he had called the boy —“we mustn’t allow it. What do you think of her applying to me for an income to support her child, a baby not yet two years old?” Mr. Camperdown had been very adverse to all the circumstances of Sir Florian’s marriage, and had subjected himself to Sir Florian’s displeasure for expressing his opinion. He had tried to explain that as the lady brought no money into the family she was not entitled to such a jointure as Sir Florian was determined to lavish upon her. But Sir Florian had been obstinate, both in regard to the settlement and the will. It was not till after Sir Florian’s death that this terrible master of the jewels had even suggested itself to Mr. Camperdown. The jewellers in whose custody the things had been since the death of the late Lady Eustace had mentioned the affair to him immediately on the young widow’s return from Naples. Sir Florian had withdrawn, not all the jewels, but by far the most valuable of them, from the jewellers’ care on his return to London from their marriage tour to Scotland, and this was the result. The jewellers were at that time without any doubt as to the date at which the necklace was taken from them.
Mr. Camperdown’s first attempt was made by a most courteous and even complimentary note, in which he suggested to Lady Eustace that it would be for the advantage of all parties that the family jewels should be kept together. Lizzie, as she read this note, smiled, and said to herself that she did not exactly see how her own interests would be best served by such an arrangement. She made no answer to Mr. Camperdown’s note. Some months after this, when the heir was born, and as Lady Eustace was passing through London on her journey from Bobsborough to Portray, a meeting had been arranged between her and Mr. Camperdown. She had endeavoured by all the wiles she knew to avoid this meeting, but it had been forced upon her. She had been almost given to understand that unless she submitted to it, she would not be able to draw her income from the Portray property. Messrs. Mowbray & Mopus had advised her to submit. “My husband gave me a necklace, and they want me to give it back,” she had said to Mr. Mopus. “Do nothing of the kind,” Mr. Mopus had replied. “If you find it necessary, refer Mr. Camperdown to us. We will answer him.” The interview had taken place, during which Mr. Camperdown took the trouble to explain very plainly and more than once that the income from the Portray property belonged to Lady Eustace for her life only. It would after her death be rejoined, of necessity, to the rest of the Eustace property. This was repeated to Lady Eustace in the presence of John Eustace; but she made no remark on being so informed. “You understand the nature of the settlement, Lady Eustace?” Mr. Camperdown had said. “I believe I understand everything,” she replied. Then, just at the close of the interview, he asked a question about the jewels. Lady Eustace at first made no reply. “They might as well be sent back to Messrs. Garnett,” said Mr. Camperdown. “I don’t know that I have any to send back,” she answered; and then she escaped before Mr. Camperdown was able to arrange any further attack. “I can manage with her better by letter than I can personally,” he said to John Eustace.
Lawyers such as Mr. Camperdown are slow, and it was three or four months after that when he wrote a letter in his own name to Lady Eustace, explaining to her, still courteously, that it was his business to see that the property of the Eustace family was placed in fit hands, and that a certain valuable necklace of diamonds, which was an heirloom of the family, and which was undeniably the property of the heir, was believed to be in her custody. As such property was peculiarly subject to risks, would she have the kindness to make arrangements for handing over the necklace to the custody of the Messrs. Garnett? To this letter Lizzie made no answer whatever, nor did she to a second note, calling attention to the first. When John Eustace told Greystock that. Camperdown intended to “jump upon” Lady Eustace, the following further letter had been written by the firm, but up to that time Lizzie had not replied to it:
“62 NEW SQUARE, LINCOLN’S INN,
“5 MAY, 186-.
“MADAM: It is our duty as attorneys acting on behalf of the estate of your late husband, Sir Florian Eustace, and in the interest of your son, his heir, to ask for restitution of a certain valuable diamond necklace which is believed to be now in the possession of your ladyship. Our senior partner, Mr. Camperdown, has written to your ladyship more than once on the subject, but has not been honoured with any reply. Doubtless had there been any mistake as to the necklace being in your hands we would have been so informed. The diamonds were withdrawn from Messrs. Garnett, the jewellers, by Sir Florian soon after his marriage, and were, no doubt, intrusted to your keeping. They are appanages of the family which should not be in your hands as the widow of the late baronet, and they constitute an amount of property which certainly cannot be alienated from the family without inquiry or right, as might any trifling article either of use or ornament. The jewels are valued at over £10,000.
“We are reluctantly compelled, by the fact of your having left unanswered three letters from Mr. Camperdown, Senior, on the subject, to explain to you that if attention be not paid to this letter, we shall be obliged, in the performance of our duty, to take legal steps for the restitution of the property.
“We have the honour to be, Madam,
“Your ladyship’s most obedient servants,
“CAMPERDOWN & SON.
“To LADY EUSTACE,” etc., etc.
A few days after it was sent, old Mr. Camperdown got the letter-book of the office and read the letter to John Eustace.
“I don’t see how you’re to get them,” said Eustace.
“We’ll throw upon her the burden of showing that they have become legally her property. She can’t do it.”
“Suppose she sold them?”
“We’ll follow them up. Ten thousand pounds, my dear John! God bless my soul! it’s a magnificent dowry for a daughter — an ample provision for a younger son. And she is to be allowed to filch it, as other widows filch china cups and a silver teaspoon or two! It’s quite a common thing, but I never heard of such a haul as this.”
“It will be very unpleasant,” said Eustace.
“And then she still goes about everywhere declaring that the Portray property is her own. She’s a bad lot. I knew it from the first. Of course we shall have trouble.” Then Mr. Eustace explained to the lawyer that their best way out of it all would be to get the widow married to some respectable husband. She was sure to marry sooner or later, so John Eustace said, and any “decently decent” fellow would be easier to deal with than she herself. “He must be very indecently indecent if he is not,” said Mr. Camperdown. But Mr. Eustace did not name Frank Graystock the barrister as the probable future decent husband.
When Lizzie first got the letter, which she did on the day after the visit at Fawn Court of which mention has been made, she put it by unread for a couple of days. She opened it, not knowing the clerk’s handwriting, but read only the first line and the signature. For two days she went on with the ordinary affairs and amusements of her life, as though no such letter had reached her; but was thinking of it all the time. The diamonds were in her possession, and she had had them valued by her old friend Mr. Benjamin of the firm of Harter & Benjamin. Mr. Benjamin had suggested that stones of such a value should not be left to the risk of an ordinary London house; but Lizzie had felt that if Mr. Benjamin got them into his hands, Mr. Benjamin might perhaps not return them. Messrs. Camperdown and Garnett between them might form a league with Mr. Benjamin. Where would she be, should Mr. Benjamin tell her that under some legal sanction he had given the jewels up to Mr. Camperdown? She hinted to Mr. Benjamin that she would perhaps sell them if she got a good offer. Mr. Benjamin, who was very familiar with her, hinted that there might be a little family difficulty. “Oh, none in the least,” said Lizzie; “but I don’t think I shall part with them.” Then she gave Mr. Benjamin an order for a strong box, which was supplied to her. The strong box, which was so heavy that she could barely lift it herself, was now in her London bedroom.
On the morning of the third day she read the letter. Miss Macnulty was staying with her, but she had not said a word to Miss Macnulty about the letter. She read it up in her own bedroom and then sat down to think about it. Sir Florian, as he had handed to her the stones for the purpose of a special dinner party which had been given to them when passing through London, had told her that they were family jewels. “That setting was done for my mother,” he said, “but it is already old. When we are at home again they shall be reset.” Then he had added some little husband’s joke as to a future daughter-inlaw who should wear them. Nevertheless she was not sure whether the fact of their being so handed to her did not make them her own. She had spoken a second time to Mr. Mopus, and Mr. Mopus had asked her whether there existed any family deed as to the diamonds. She had heard of no such deed, nor did Mr. Camperdown mention such a deed. After reading the letter once she read it a dozen times; and then, like a woman, made up her mind that her safest course would be not to answer it.
But yet she felt sure that something unpleasant would come of it. Mr. Camperdown was not a man to take up such a question and let it drop. Legal steps! What did legal steps mean, and what could they do to her? Would Mr. Camperdown be able to put her in prison, or to take away from her the estate of Portray? She could swear that her husband had given them to her, and could invent any form of words she pleased as accompanying the gift. No one else had been near them then. But she was, and felt herself to be absolutely, alarmingly ignorant, not only of the laws but of custom in such matters. Messrs. Mowbray & Mopus and Mr. Benjamin were the allies to whom she looked for guidance; but she was wise enough to know that Mowbray & Mopus and Harter & Benjamin were not trustworthy, whereas Camperdown & Son and the Messrs. Garnett were all as firm as rocks and as respectable as the Bank of England. Circumstances — unfortunate circumstances — drove her to Harter & Benjamin and to Mowbray & Mopus, while she would have taken so much delight in feeling the strong honesty of the other people to be on her side! She would have talked to her friends about Mr. Camperdown and the people at Garnetts’ with so much satisfaction! But ease, security, and even respectability may be bought too dearly. Ten thousand pounds! Was she prepared to surrender such a sum as that? She had, indeed, already realized the fact that it might be very difficult to touch the money. When she had suggested to Mr. Benjamin that he should buy the jewels, that worthy tradesman had by no means jumped at the offer. Of what use to her would be a necklace always locked up in an iron box, which box, for aught she knew, myrmidons from Mr. Camperdown might carry off during her absence from the house? Would it not be better to come to terms and surrender? But then what should the terms be?
If only there had been a friend whom she could consult — a friend whom she could consult on a really friendly footing! — not a simply respectable, off-handed, high-minded friend, who would advise her as a matter of course to make restitution. Her uncle the dean, or her cousin Frank, or old Lady Fawn, would be sure to give her such advice as that. There are people who are so very high-minded when they have to deal with the interests of their friends! What if she were to ask Lord Fawn?
Thoughts of a second marriage had, of course, crossed Lady Eustace’s mind, and they were by no means the worst thoughts that found a place there. She had a grand idea — this selfish, hard-fisted little woman, who could not bring herself to abandon the plunder on which she had laid her hand — a grand idea of surrendering herself and all her possessions to a great passion. For Florian Eustace she had never cared. She had sat down by his side, and looked into his handsome face, and read poetry to him, because of his wealth, and because it had been indispensable to her to settle herself well. And he had been all very well — a generous, open-hearted, chivalrous, irascible, but rather heavy-minded gentleman; but she had never been in love with him. Now she desired to be so in love that she could surrender everything to her love. There was as yet nothing of such love in her bosom. She had seen no one who had so touched her. But she was alive to the romance of the thing, and was in love with the idea of being in love. “Ah,” she would say to herself in her moments of solitude, “if I had a Corsair of my own, how I would sit on watch for my lover’s boat by the sea-shore!” And she believed it of herself that she could do so.
But it would also be very nice to be a peeress — so that she might, without any doubt, be one of the great ladies of London. As a baronet’s widow with a large income, she was already almost a great lady; but she was quite alive to a suspicion that she was not altogether strong in her position. The bishop’s people and the dean’s people did not quite trust her. The Camperdowns and Garnetts utterly distrusted her. The Mopuses and Benjamins were more familiar than they would be with a really great lady. She was sharp enough to understand all this. Should it be Lord Fawn or should it be a Corsair? The worst of Lord Fawn was the undoubted fact that he was not himself a great man. He could, no doubt, make his wife a peeress; but he was poor, encumbered with a host of sisters, dull as a blue-book, and possessed of little beyond his peerage to recommend him. If she could only find a peer, unmarried, with a dash of the Corsair about him! In the meantime what was she to do about the jewels?
There was staying with her at this time a certain Miss Macnulty, who was related, after some distant fashion, to old Lady Linlithgow, and who was as utterly destitute of possessions or means of existence as any unfortunate, well-born, and moderately-educated middle-aged woman in London. To live upon her friends, such as they might be, was the only mode of life within her reach. It was not that she had chosen such dependence; nor, indeed, had she endeavoured to reject it. It had come to her as a matter of course — either that or the poor-house. As to earning her bread, except by that attendance which a poor friend gives, the idea of any possibility that way had never entered her head. She could do nothing — except dress like a lady with the smallest possible cost, and endeavour to be obliging. Now, at this moment, her condition was terribly precarious. She had quarrelled with Lady Linlithgow, and had been taken in by her old friend Lizzie — her old enemy might, perhaps, be a truer expression — because of that quarrel. But a permanent home had not even been promised to her; and poor Miss Macnulty was aware that even a permanent home with Lady Eustace would not be an unmixed blessing. In her way, Miss Macnulty was an honest woman.
They were sitting together one May afternoon in the little back drawing-room in Mount Street. They had dined early, were now drinking tea, and intended to go to the opera. It was six o’clock, and was still broad day, but the thick coloured blind was kept across the single window, and the folding doors of the room were nearly closed, and there was a feeling of evening in the room. The necklace during the whole day had been so heavy on Lizzie’s heart that she had been unable to apply her thoughts to the building of that castle in the air in which the Corsair was to reign supreme, but not alone. “My dear,” she said — she generally called Miss Macnulty my dear —“you know that box I had made by the jewellers.”
“You mean the safe.”
“Well — yes; only it isn’t a safe. A safe is a great big thing. I had it made especially for the diamonds Sir Florian gave me.”
“I supposed it was so.”
“I wonder whether there’s any danger about it?”
“If I were you, Lady Eustace, I wouldn’t keep them in the house. I should have them kept where Sir Florian kept them. Suppose anybody should come and murder you.”
“I’m not a bit afraid of that,” said Lizzie.
“I should be. And what will you do with it when you go to Scotland?”
“I took them with me before — in my own care. I know that wasn’t safe. I wish I knew what to do with them.”
“There are people who keep such things,” said Miss Macnulty.
Then Lizzie paused a moment. She was dying for counsel and for confidence. “I cannot trust them anywhere,” she said. “It is just possible there may be a lawsuit about them.”
“How a lawsuit?”
“I cannot explain it all, but I am very unhappy about it. They want me to give them up; but my husband gave them to me, and for his sake I will not do so. When he threw them around my neck he told me that they were my own — so he did. How can a woman give up such a present — from a husband — who is dead? As to the value, I care nothing. But I won’t do it.” By this time Lady Eustace was in tears, and had so far succeeded as to have produced some amount of belief in Miss Macnulty’s mind.
“If they are your own, they can’t take them from you,” said Miss Macnulty.
“They shan’t. They shall find that I’ve got some spirit left.” Then she reflected that a real Corsair lover would protect her jewels for her — would guard them against a score of Camperdowns. But she doubted whether Lord Fawn would do much in that way. Then the door was opened, and Lord Fawn was announced. It was not at all unusual with Lord Fawn to call on the widow at this hour. Mount Street is not exactly in the way from the India Office to the House of Lords; but a hansom cab can make it almost in the way. Of neglect of official duty Lord Fawn was never guilty; but a half hour for private business or for relaxation between one stage of duty and another — can any Minister grudge so much to an indefatigable follower? Lady Eustace had been in tears as he was announced, but the light of the room was so low that the traces of them could hardly be seen. She was in her Corsair state of mind, divided between her jewels and her poetry, and caring not very much for the increased rank which Lord Fawn could give her. “The Sawab’s case is coming on in the House of Commons this very night,” he said, in answer to a question from Miss Macnulty. Then he turned to Lady Eustace. “Your cousin, Mr. Greystock, is going to ask a question in the House.”
“Shall you be there to answer him?” asked Miss Macnulty innocently.
“Oh dear, no. But I shall be present. A peer can go, you know.” Then Lord Fawn, at considerable length, explained to the two ladies the nature and condition of the British Parliament. Miss Macnulty experienced an innocent pleasure in having such things told to her by a lord. Lady Eustace knew that this was the way in which Lord Fawn made love, and thought that from him it was as good as any other way. If she were to marry a second time simply with a view of being a peeress, of having a respected husband, and making good her footing in the world, she would as lief listen to parliamentary details and the prospects of the Sawab as to any other matters. She knew very well that no Corsair propensities would be forthcoming from Lord Fawn. Lord Fawn had just worked himself round to the Sawab again, when Frank Greystock entered the room. “Now we have both the Houses represented,” said Lady Eustace, as she welcomed her cousin.
“You intend to ask your question about the Sawab tonight?” asked Lord Fawn with intense interest, feeling that had it been his lot to perform that task before he went to his couch, he would at this moment have been preparing his little speech.
But Frank Greystock had not come to his cousin’s house to talk of the Prince of the Mygawb territory. When his friend Eustace had suggested to him that he should marry the widow, he had ridiculed the idea. But nevertheless he had thought of it a good deal. He was struggling hard, working diligently, making for himself a character in Parliament, succeeding — so said all his friends — as a barrister. He was a rising young man, one of those whose names began to be much in the mouths of other men; but still he was poor. It seemed to himself that among other good gifts that of economy had not been bestowed upon him. He owed a little money, and though he owed it, he went on spending his earnings. He wanted just such a lift in the world as a wife with an income would give him. As for looking about for a girl whom he could honestly love, and who should have a fortune of her own, as well as beauty, birth, and all the other things — that was out of his reach. If he talked to himself of love, if he were ever to acknowledge to himself that love was to have sway over him, then must Lucy Morris be the mistress of his heart. He had come to know enough about himself to be aware of that; but he knew also that he had said nothing binding him to walk in that path. It was quite open to him to indulge a discreet ambition without dishonour. Therefore he also had come to call upon the beautiful widow. The courtship with her he knew need not be long. He could ask her to marry him tomorrow — as for that matter, today — without a feeling of hesitation. She might accept him, or might reject him; but, as he said to himself, in neither case would any harm be done.
An idea of the same kind flitted across Lizzie’s mind as she sat and talked to the two gentlemen. She knew that her cousin Frank was poor, but she thought that she could fall in love with him. He was not exactly a Corsair, but he was a man who had certain Corsair propensities. He was bold and dashing, unscrupulous and clever — a man to make a name for himself, and one to whom a woman could endure to be obedient. There could be no question as to choice between him and Lord Fawn if she were to allow herself to choose by liking. And she thought that Frank Greystock would keep the necklace, if he himself were made to have an interest in the necklace; whereas Lord Fawn would undoubtedly surrender it at once to Mr. Camperdown.
Lord Fawn had some slight idea of waiting to see the cousin go; but as Greystock had a similar idea, and as he was the stronger of the two, of course Lord Fawn went. He perhaps remembered that the hansom cab was at the door, costing sixpence every fifteen minutes, and that he wished to show himself in the House of Lords before the peers rose. Miss Macnulty also left the room, and Frank was alone with the widow.
“Lizzie,” said he, “you must be very solitary here.”
“I am solitary.”
“And hardly happy.”
“Anything but happy, Frank. I have things that make me very unhappy; one thing that I will tell you if you will let me.”
Frank had almost made up his mind to ask her on the spot to give him permission to console all her sorrows when there came a clattering double knock at the door.
“They know I shall be at home to nobody else now,” said Lady Eustace.
But Frank Greystock had hardly regained his self-possession when Miss Macnulty hurried into the room, and, with a look almost of horror, declared that Lady Linlithgow was in the parlour.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01