Lizzie Eustace was speechless as she continued to look up into the Corsair’s face. She ought to have answered him briskly, either with indignation or with a touch of humour. But she could not answer him at all. She was desired to tell him all that she knew about the robbery, and she was unable to declare that she knew nothing. How much did he suspect? What did he believe? Had she been watched by Mrs. Carbuncle, and had something of the truth been told to him? And then would it not be better for her that he should know it all? Unsupported and alone she could not bear the trouble which was on her. If she were driven to tell her secret to any one, had she not better tell it to him? She knew that if she did so, she would be a creature in his hands to be dealt with as he pleased; but would there not be a certain charm in being so mastered? He was but a pinchbeck lord. She had wit enough to know that; but then she had wit enough also to feel that she herself was but a pinchbeck lady. He would be fit for her, and she for him, if only he would take her. Since her daydreams first began, she had been longing for a Corsair; and here he was, not kneeling at her feet, but standing over her, as became a Corsair. At any rate he had mastered her now, and she could not speak to him.
He waited perhaps a minute, looking at her, before he renewed his question; and the minute seemed to her to be an age. During every second her power beneath his gaze sank lower and lower. There gradually came a grim smile over his face, and she was sure that he could read her very heart. Then he called her by her Christian name, as he had never called her before. “Come, Lizzie,” he said, “you might as well tell me all about it. You know.”
“Know what?” The words were audible to him, though they were uttered in the lowest whisper.
“About this d —— necklace. What is it all? Where are they? And how did you manage it?”
“I didn’t manage anything!”
“But you know where they are?” He paused again, still gazing at her. Gradually there came across his face, or she fancied that it was so, a look of ferocity which thoroughly frightened her. If he should turn against her, and be leagued with the police against her, what chance would she have? “You know where they are,” he said, repeating his words. Then at last she nodded her head, assenting to his assertion. “And where are they? Come, out with it! If you won’t tell me, you must tell some one else. There has been a deal too much of this already.”
“You won’t betray me?”
“Not if you deal openly with me.”
“I will; indeed I will. And it was all an accident. When I took them out of the box, I only did it for safety.”
“You did take them out of the box then?” Again she nodded her head. “And have got them now?” There was another nod. “And where are they? Come; with such an enterprising spirit as yours, you ought to be able to speak. Has Benjamin got them?”
“And he knows nothing about them?”
“Then I have wronged in my thoughts that son of Abraham.”
“Nobody knows anything,” said Lizzie.
“Not even Jane or Lucinda?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Then you have kept your secret marvellously. And where are they?”
“In your bedroom?”
“In my desk in the little sitting-room.”
“The Lord be good to us!” ejaculated Lord George. “All the police in London, from the chief downwards, are agog about this necklace. Every well-known thief in the town is envied by every other thief because he is thought to have had a finger in the pie. I am suspected, and Mr. Benjamin is suspected; Sir Griffin is suspected, and half the jewellers in London and Paris are supposed to have the stones in their keeping. Every man and woman is talking about it, and people are quarrelling about it till they almost cut each other’s throats; and all the while you have got them locked up in your desk! How on earth did you get the box broken open and then conveyed out of your room at Carlisle?”
Then Lizzie, in a frightened whisper, with her eyes often turned on the floor, told the whole story. “If I’d had a minute to think of it,” she said, “I would have confessed the truth at Carlisle. Why should I want to steal what was my own? But they came to me all so quickly, and I didn’t like to say that I had them under my pillow.”
“I dare say not.”
“And then I couldn’t tell anybody afterwards. I always meant to tell you, from the very first, because I knew you would be good to me. They are my own. Surely I might do what I liked with my own?”
“Well, yes; in one way. But you see there was a lawsuit in Chancery going on about them; and then you committed perjury at Carlisle. And altogether, it’s not quite straight sailing, you know.”
“I suppose not.”
“Hardly. Major Mackintosh, and the magistrates, and Messrs. Bunfit and Gager won’t settle down, peaceable and satisfied, when they hear the end of the story. And I think Messrs. Camperdown will have a bill against you. It’s been uncommonly clever, but I don’t see the use of it.”
“I’ve been very foolish,” said Lizzie; “but you won’t desert me?”
“Upon my word I don’t know what I’m to do.”
“Will you have them as a present?”
“They’re worth ever so much; ten thousand pounds! And they are my own, to do just what I please with them.”
“You are very good; but what should I do with them?”
“Who’d buy them? And before a week was over I should be in prison, and in a couple of months should be standing at the Old Bailey at my trial. I couldn’t just do that, my dear.”
“What will you do for me? You are my friend — ain’t you?” The diamond necklace was not a desirable possession in the eyes of Lord George de Bruce Carruthers; but Portray Castle, with its income, and the fact that Lizzie Eustace was still a very young woman, was desirable. Her prettiness too was not altogether thrown away on Lord George, though, as he was wont to say to himself, he was too old now to sacrifice much for such a toy as that. Something he must do, if only because of the knowledge which had come to him. He could not go away and leave her, and neither say nor do anything in the matter. And he could not betray her to the police.
“You will not desert me,” she said, taking hold of his hand, and kissing it as a suppliant.
He passed his arm round her waist, but more as though she were a child than a woman, as he stood thinking. Of all the affairs in which he had ever been engaged, it was the most difficult. She submitted to his embrace, and leaned upon his shoulder, and looked up into his face. If he would only tell her that he loved her, then he would be bound to her, then must he share with her the burthen of the diamonds, then must he be true to her. “George,” she said, and burst into a low suppressed wailing, with her face hidden upon his arm.
“That’s all very well,” said he, still holding her, for she was pleasant to hold, “but what the d —— is a fellow to do? I don’t see my way out of it. I think you’d better go to Camperdown, and give them up to him, and tell him the truth.” Then she sobbed more violently than before, till her quick ear caught the sound of a footstep on the stairs, and in a moment she was out of his arms and seated on the sofa, with hardly a trace of tears in her eyes. It was the footman, who desired to know whether Lady Eustace would want the carriage that afternoon. Lady Eustace, with her cheeriest voice, sent her love to Mrs. Carbuncle, and her assurance that she would not want the carriage before the evening. “I don’t know that you can do anything else,” continued Lord George, “except just give them up and brazen it out. I don’t suppose they’d prosecute you.”
“Prosecute me!” ejaculated Lizzie.
“For perjury, I mean.”
“And what could they do to me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Lock you up for five years, perhaps.”
“Because I had my own necklace under the pillow in my own room?”
“Think of all the trouble you’ve given.”
“I’ll never give them up to Mr. Camperdown. They are mine; my very own. My cousin, Mr. Greystock, who is much more of a lawyer than Mr. Camperdown, says so. Oh, George, do think of something. Don’t tell me that I must give them up. Wouldn’t Mr. Benjamin buy them?”
“Yes, for half nothing; and then go and tell the whole story and get money from the other side. You can’t trust Benjamin.”
“But I can trust you.” She clung to him and implored him, and did get from him a renewed promise that he would not reveal her secret. She wanted him to take the terrible packet from her there and then, and use his own judgment in disposing of it. But this he positively refused to do. He protested that they were safer with her than they could be with him. He explained to her that if they were found in his hands, his offence in having them in his possession would be much greater than hers. They were her own, as she was ever so ready to assert; or if not her own, the ownership was so doubtful that she could not be accused of having stolen them. And then he needed to consider it all, to sleep upon it, before he could make up his mind what he would do.
But there was one other trouble on her mind as to which he was called upon to give her counsel before he was allowed to leave her. She had told the detective officer that she would submit her boxes and desks to be searched if her cousin Frank should advise it. If the policeman were to return with her cousin while the diamonds were still in her desk, what should she do? He might come at any time; and then she would be bound to obey him.
“And he thinks that they were stolen at Carlisle?” asked Lord George.
“Of course he thinks so,” said Lizzie, almost indignantly.
“They would never ask to search your person,” suggested Lord George. Lizzie could not say. She had simply declared that she would be guided by her cousin.
“Have them about you when he comes. Don’t take them out with you; but keep them in your pocket while you are in the house during the day. They will hardly bring a woman with them to search you.”
“But there was a woman with the man when he came before.”
“Then you must refuse in spite of your cousin. Show yourself angry with him and with everybody. Swear that you did not intend to submit yourself to such indignity as that. They can’t do it without a magistrate’s order, unless you permit it. I don’t suppose they will come at all; and if they do they will only look at your clothes and your boxes. If they ask to do more, be stout with them and refuse. Of course, they’ll suspect you, but they do that already. And your cousin will suspect you; but you must put up with that. It will be very bad; but I see nothing better. But, of all things, say nothing of me.”
“Oh, no,” said Lizzie, promising to be obedient to him. And then he took his leave of her.
“You will be true to me, will you not?” she said, still clinging to his arm. He promised her that he would. “Oh, George,” she said, “I have no friend now but you. You will care for me?” He took her in his arms and kissed her, and promised her that he would care for her. How was he to save himself from doing so? When he was gone, Lizzie sat down to think of it all, and felt sure that at last she had found her Corsair.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01